A few things changed since I’ve been gone. I half expected to come back and see another crisis going on that needs me to fix it. It’s October. A zombie uprising wouldn’t be out of place, especially with the High Technolutionary working with the U.S. Government. Or maybe evil clowns. Those are slightly less used, and I probably wouldn’t get some obscure Romanian or Sumerian version that barely resembles the fun ones.
Heck, even when I save a bunch of aliens, the only reward I get is being dropped on a cow patty with a new mask for my suit and a long-ass hike back to almost-civilization. But the air smells right. The animals sound familiar. And the food is made of less crap. Ah, I’m hardly back and I’m already complaining. I don’t know if that means I’m glad to be back, or I’m just an asshole. A bit of column A and a bit of column B. If the only thing people at that diner have to worry about is me being a grouch after so long without my meds or knowing anything about my family.
I think she’s doing ok. There’s stuff about me being deposed, me gaining godlike powers, and me invading my own country that was trying to establish a Constitutional Monarchy. It’s foreign affairs, so most of the world’s coverage was sketchy, but at least the BBC had some articles and video on the big fight and the effects show of Omega being banished. I got to watch as I got tossed through the same hole in reality. Captain Lightning tried to fetch me before it could happen, but it was closing while I went through. At least it’s clear I’m in the correct universe.
Afterwards, it went pretty smoothly. No talk about my heir, though. Ricca decided it’s going to drop the monarchy part and trust in democracy. Bold choice after the past few years. Queen Beetrice of North Korea formally separated from Ricca and relations with South Korea are friendlier than ever. Most of the colonies on Mu are friendly, but a community of supers and aliens has sprung up calling itself Godland. That’d be the Three Hares colony. The Bronze City recalled its soldiers peacefully and has also separated while they explore options related to more distant relatives of the king I replaced. All of it handled relatively peacefully.
It’s hardly a utopia. There’s lots of rebuilding to be done, and that portal that sucked Omega and me up was followed intermittently by smaller portals all over the world that dropped off junk and creatures that had been lost between universes. Nothing too disruptive, it seems. Nothing like the White House coming back.
In fact, the government under their current asshole is throwing together some Department of ExtraNormal Affairs to handle any of that transdimensional detritus and special superhuman threats to “the country”. I’ll guarantee that last part’s going to be abused. This is the guy who assembled his own gang of faceless superhero bodyguards, then ignored California. Which is in all kinds of interesting legal shape after that mess.
With an ok burger and fries down the gullet, I sat back and let it digest while I looked into Medusa specifically. She seemed like the most obvious one to look for. A quick search later and I found I was right. She’s been busy. She pulled a jailbreak in Hong Kong, stole a bunch of oil from a pipeline in Canada, and destroying a bunch of land-clearing equipment in Brazil. She didn’t do it alone. Some of the soldiers were in repainted Riccan power armor, or costumes. She’s got herself a team.
The latest thing they pulled was wrecking a bank IT center, with some stories saying she stole from it and others claiming she just data. And after that, she left a message that was quickly taken down off Youtube, but not before various news agencies reported on it.
“My name is Medusa. I was a hero. I still am,” it started with her wearing her mask but not her armor. She made eye contact with the camera, which is something her armor’s visor prevented. “I realized the world needs saving in a way most superheroes can’t. You can’t punch climate change. Dirty cops protect each other and put heroes in jail. The rich and powerful take what they want, and sometimes the criminal organization is our government. I thought I did more good as an exemplar for the world to come around to. I was trained to be that model hero, but I can’t do it anymore. I have to save the world. Sometimes, I have to save it from itself. I’m still a hero, but now, I am Medusa. Some call me a terrorist. Now, we are Exemplar.”
Eh, not the name I’d have gone with. I would have picked something like Nox or Dusk, personally. It was a solid piece of monologuing, though. And the name did lead to a handy bit of wordplay when she was referred to as an ex-hero turned exemplar. It gave me a name to search for, too.
On VillaiNet, I was glad to see my old access still worked. I was old news by now. That happens in such a fast-paced news cycle, though there was something of a betting pool on wondering when I’d return. Their logic was sound. I’ve either faked my own death or nearly died enough times before that it’s not confirmed until the body is seen publicly. Others thing it’s a waste of time because I might change my appearance completely and hide as someone else.
Medusa’s not on there. Mix N’Max has an account, but it says he hasn’t logged in for a couple months. But a little look-see revealed that some villains claim to be working for Exemplar. My lead came from one named Core who supposedly got arrested.
Core got nabbed in Louisiana. Some town called Belle Blanc. The Freedom Legion had been there, and he’s currently being held in some specialized super jail in Shreveport. I ordered some applie pie to go as I made up my mind to help him with bail. I didn’t know if his talk of working with Medusa was just boasting, but I’d figure it out a lot more quickly after I got him out. He was a lead, one I knew how to find.
I walked out, across the street to a two-story motel, and looked at my options. On the one hand, there was a trio of motorcycles crowding a parking space. Tempting. Another had an autumn red Plymouth fury in it. I’m kinda sick of that color at the moment. The only other occupied space held an RV. That really narrowed my options down.
I made great time, like many people do when traveling through the early hours of the night and ignore all those pesky signs about speed limits. That meant the guards at the William J. Lepetomane Correctional Facility For The Differently Criminal got one hell of a surprise when, a little after noon, an “Aoooga!” horn heralded the RV crashing through the fence and then wall of the facility.
At first, I thought I landed in some forsaken and forgotten series of back rooms they use for the hidden torture, but the supply closet and printing room clued me in to having crashed the Administrative section. It wasn’t a full-blown prison, and it was shockingly cozy. Everything was some shade of sickly yellow or shit brown. But not the kind of rich brown you think could grow a mighty oak from it. The kind of pale brown where you wonder if you’re getting sick. Listen, I normally keep a weapon handy in the bathroom. Of course I’m going to check to make sure nobody’s trying to assassinate me up the shit shute.
Speaking of shit shutes, the people who responded did not look like they’d seen their best days. The first one bounced off of me, made easier by me being invisible. The one after him skidded to a stop to help their comrade up. They left themselves wide open and their shirt untucked. I’ve heard the sounds of the dead on the battlefield and the rattle of murder victims in damp alleyways. The ripping noise of grabbing somebody’s underwear and tugging it up onto his head is one of my favorites. Throwing him onto his back and hearing his head bounce off the linoleum is a bit of a letdown by comparison.
I tried to have fun with it. I mean, if I can’t, it’d make this miserable work. Medusa has to like beating people up, too, otherwise it’d be really miserable for her and any other heroes pretending to be villains. Like, take this one woman who rounded the corner and smacked into me. She didn’t go down like the other guy, but did bounce back slightly. I grabbed her chest and the bra underneath her shirt and undershirt. Setting a boot on her belly, I kicked her, knocking her into another couple of guards and bowling them over even as I removed her bra right through her tops.
Nah, guards and the desk workers were easy. I made it into the holding area before too long, and the doors seemed to be built to mundane security specifications. The reason why became apparent when I got into the main holding area and found the rooms there where people were stacked four deep. Each one had a power dampening collar on. I became visible again, looking like an indistinct figure in a black robe and hood that completely hid my face. I tore began tearing open doors, asking, “Anybody seen Core around here?”
The first bunch stayed where they were. The second group scurried out without bothering to answer, but this guy with a teardrop tattoo under his eye nodded his head toward a second-story room across the cell block. “He’s in A27.”
I flourished a bow. “Thank you, my good dude.”
I still tore open a few more doors on my way over there. Not all of them would try to escape. Most had to realize they couldn’t get too far with their powers turned off. Maybe some weren’t thinking, or some had plans in case something like this happened. But enough of them began running for it that I thought made for useful chaos.
I tore open the door indicated by teardrop tattoo. “Hey, y’all? Is this 2B or not 2B?”
“This is A27,” said a guy in a radiation suit. Couldn’t get a look at his face through the blue glow from inside.
“I’m looking for Core,” I said.
Behind him, the other three inmates silently pointed at the guy in the radiation suit, who raised his hand and pointed at himself with a thumb. “That’s me. Did Medusa send you?”
“Not exactly, but I’m a friend,” I said. “Do you need that suit? I didn’t have a plan for that much conspicuousness.”
“I can’t control the nuclear core without my powers. I have to have it with the collar on.” He pointed at his neck. I felt around through that section of the suit and found a bulge. I got both hands on it. “I’m going to need you to tone down the glowing and irradiating as soon as I tear this off. You ready for this?”
Core nodded. The other three inmates behind him shook their heads in rapid disagreement. I tore the collar apart, tearing Core’s suit open in the process. The blue light quickly faded and he pulled off the suit to reveal a man in pale, sickly brown poo-colored pants and a chest with shifting metal armor plates built into it that closed over a core.
I stepped back so he could follow me out, catching the sounds of fighting and the crackle of electrical discharge. Core followed me out. “Do you have a way to get us out?”
Behind me, somebody who had gotten their collar off let out a trumpet as he transformed into a bipedal elephant man and jumped through what had been a reinforced window just prior to his impact with it.
“Depends,” I responded. “You need to recover anything they took from you?” When he shook his head, I pointed up to the hole. “Then that’s how we’re getting out.”
He actually paused to raise his face to the sky and smell the air. The guy got caught like a week ago. I had to grab him and drag him along with me. “Escape now, sniff later.”
In the paraphrased words of deceased cyborg president Richard Nixon: “Gecko’s back!”
I didn’t much care for the Imperial Institute of Science on my first tour. Even on this auspicious day, I didn’t much care for the place. Ok, so I made sure to bring Qiang along with me, as usual. She’s still clingy, but this time I had something in mind. We talked about it beforehand. She doesn’t know much, but she knows I haven’t hurt her like she was told would happen to her. Instead, I cook for her, I’ve given her a nice place to stay and warm bed, and I don’t mind when she wants to practice her hiding. I think she’s impressed I can find her so easily, and I like the fact that a tiny person who likes owning a knife enjoys hiding around the place, so long as she’s my tiny person.
We’ve compromised on that. I’ve taught her some knifeplay, including safety, and she asks me before carrying around a knife with her. I think it and I both make her feel safe. Not so fond of waking up in bed with the blade near my crotch, though. She can hug onto me all she wants, but I don’t want to get an accidental circumcision because she had a bad dream about snakes.
Things have been fairly smooth so far between myself and Qiang, and I think it helps that I don’t give a crap about some of the messes and we have a pair of maids. I don’t even think I’m that bad to them. I cook for myself. I don’t puke all over the place. Hell, I haven’t even been taking them up on the offers to bathe me or sing me to sleep. It’s not that I dislike sex or anything, but sex with unwilling partners brings back bad memories. I don’t trust them to be making those offers of their own volition, given my situation here.
If these goose-stepping fuckbots ever decide to have me assassinated, I’d rather the people in what amounts to my household don’t have any extra reasons to help them.
And I do expect assassination. If I had to guess, they’ll watch me while I make bombs until they know enough to recreate them, then off me. I’m considered something of an untrustworthy person, I believe.
That’s why I was incredibly suspicious of the special underground route to the Imperial Institute of Science. The second time around wasn’t much better, but it was an important day. The day to get my species back, when I could start working over Russia and the Ukraine. I also had something in mind with Qiang, which is why I made sure to bring her, knife and all.
I had been ushered down to the underground maglev line for the event, the servant not arguing with me bringing a knife-wielding little girl with me. Huh. Didn’t I have some other little girl following me at some point? Pale, long black hair, all that? Or am I thinking about the tall, thin guy in the suit with the weird arms and no face? It’s hard to keep track of these things.
It was also hard to gauge the route to the Institute of Science. Between the speed, the turns, and the various giant doors that blocked off regular intervals of the track, they didn’t want anybody know how to get from point A to point B. Those doors were a big problem for me. All it would take is one of them “malfunctioning” and I’d be nothing more but a pretty splat.
The arrival platform was gleaming white. Seriously, how many people does the Claw force to work in janitorial around here? Everything’s clean, and there’s way too much white.
We walked between a pair of arching stone arms that rose up to hold a sword in one and an atom in the other. The room appeared to narrow, but not as a trick of perspective; it actually narrowed to a single metal door that held an elevator. This time, the assistant didn’t take me down to the Experimental Warfare labs, which was all about lateral thinking in warfare. I was impressed by their suicide drone bombers. I can see all kinds of handy situations for those.
This time, we went down to Soldier Enhancement. The door opened, leading to a long corridor. This is the part where you’d expect windows showing cyborgs and genetic experiments and all, but this was one of those cases where the Claw chose practicality over theatricality. I’d been told on the first trip this is where they did that kind of thing, but I hadn’t been down here myself.
The assistant led us down, then took a right at the crossroads. When the door opened, it looked like some mixture of an emergency room and quarantine. Think one huge semi-private room, with some sort of thick plastic cubes with decontamination showers outside each of the doors. They weren’t perfectly clear, so at least the people inside had a tiny bit of privacy.
We were greeted by a man in close-fitting purple and blue power armor with a lab coat, a smile across his exposed face. “Psycho Gecko, how wonderful to see you again!”
“Technolutionary, you’re here,” I said. Power armor notwithstanding, he’d long been studying the merging of man and machine. My ability to do so naturally turned him into something of a stalker for me. I worked with him to save the Earth from alien invasion. We came up with a process to turn humans into my species, homo machina. When Master Academy saved my life but rendered me human, it wasn’t a surprise to learn he’d been part of it. Now, time to render unto Emperor Gecko that which is Emperor Gecko’s.
“The dynamic, devilish duo, together again at last!” exclaimed my former stalker.
“Word,” I said. “I’ve certainly been waiting a long time for this meeting.”
He looked down and noticed Qiang, who hid against my leg. “And who is this?”
“This is my daughter, Qiang,” I said. I felt her grip around my leg tighten.
“I didn’t know you had a daughter. I didn’t know you would bring little Qiang to watch her daddy’s transformation.” He looked up at me. “I have everything ready to get started.”
“What about the homo machina DNA? That’s still good to go?” I asked.
He nodded enthusiastically. “Oh yes. The Buzzkills from Korea have all the samples we would ever need, you dog you.” He pointed to a wall, where fuzzy black carapace floated in a jar. Buzzkills, insectoid bee people I used as my minions for a little bit, mostly related to the alien thing. Their queen, Beetrice, had something of a crush on me for some reason. Strange bee reasons, and I think because I’d been such an important presence in her life. While bigger and stronger than me, I’m not opposed to the bee look or the Amazonian stuff, so I did eventually go for some snoo snoo with her. So now I guess I have lots of kids. Not sure how I feel about whatever put one in a jar for all this.
“There is an additional concern I have,” I said. As near as I can tell, Qiang has no understanding of English. She can tell when she’s being addressed and called, but that tends to involve her name, too. “Do not look at her, but I would like her to be altered as well.”
His head cocked slightly. “She isn’t homo machina?”
I shook my head. “In fact, we might need to replace an X chromosome of hers.
He thought it over for a moment, eyes looking upward. “She’s not really your daughter, is she?”
I grabbed his chin and looked him in the eyes. “Yes, she is.”
I settled into my quarantine square. Qiang insisted on holding my hand and staying with me, which would make my plans for her easier. I spoke to her in her language. “I am getting back my powers, but they have to treat me and I might get sick. You may get sick too. The man I spoke to said we will be stuck in here for at least a day, and you will have to stay with me, ok?”
“How will we eat?” she asked.
“They’ll bring us food,” I said.
The process had supposedly been made safer, but it still felt like shit. I was loaded up with regenerative nanites to keep myself running and to help spread a retrovirus that went in and inserted the correct DNA where it needed to go, while helping accelerate growth so I don’t have to wait until everything gets replaced. Hell, some parts of the human body would take far too long for that.
I got achy, tired, weak. They certainly suspected the range of options to trigger the dead man’s switch I bragged about having connected myself to my bomb. Anything to keep my heart from stopping, though. I recognized a strange smell at one point, soon accompanied by a little dulling of the senses. Qiang, in a chair next to my bed, fell right to sleep without ever dropping my hand.
Some of Technolutionary’s team came in, immediately prepping a little bed to set as closely next to mine as they could. By the time she woke up, I was there to hold her hand and tell her she had gotten sick like I said might happen. Things got a bit messy there. She threw up. While cleaning her up, I threw up. That prompted her to throw up some more. She started crying, so I held her and told her she’d be just fine, all the while grinding puke into us both.
And it was. We were fine the next day, and they let us shower thoroughly.
Technolutionary was there to greet us as we came out, all clean. “How are we feeling today?”
Qiang doesn’t understand English, but from the glare on her face, she didn’t appreciate his cheerfulness. I concurred, I just didn’t show it so well. “I feel more like myself.”
“You want to test it out?” he asked.
Five minutes later, he showed us into one of the Soldier Enhancement labs that had its own firing range. “Here is where we test our weapons,” he said, showing off a gun that featured no trigger. “And that is Hyuk. He was a prisoner of war, but he is useful and cooperative, so he has been put to work here.” He nodded toward a guy cleaning standing out on the range, messing with something hanging from the ceiling.
“Cool,” I said, grabbing the gun and grinning wide as I felt my body reach out and connect to it. I could feel the system inside and find the simplistic program to fire it. I raised my arm and the gun. “At last, my arm is complete!” Lovely musical, though not the best quote for the situation in retrospect. I turned and fired, shooting some bright blue ball projectile, hitting Hyuk in the hip and collapsing him. Then I noticed he’d hung a target up for me. I’d just assumed, him being a prisoner and all.
“He’s not the target!” Technolutionary called out.
I shrugged and pulled away, removing my hand a bit too soon. It’s been awhile. “You’re right, I need to work on my aim. Was trying to hit him in the dick. Hey, you still got a dick, right?!” I then turned to Qiang, who was looking back and forth between the gun and Hyuk. “Want to play too?”
So now my Qiang is homo machina, like me.
“If reasonably possible, try to take resistors alive. If they act more like mindless zombies, don’t bother. We could restore their brains, but that’s just the hardware. The software would be gone. And if they’re aliens, kill them. Unless they offer a surrender,” I informed the men in my Australian expedition via Electric Eye Sydney. They didn’t look too happy to be working for me, and it didn’t help that this Electric Eye wore a dark cloak and black leather clothing to hide its appearance.
Elsewhere, a voice asked, “Talking to yourself?” My actual physical head swiveled toward the source of the voice. Someone was actually there in my “throne room” back in The Hague in the Neither World. My eyes found Venus, my longtime archenemy. She’d escaped awhile back, and apparently traded in her Slave Leia costume for something more practical. I ignored her while my mind concentrated on the task of dealing with the situation in Australia.
“We know Technolutionary is using the Sydney Opera House as a forward base. It’s a supervillain thing.” It really is. I wrecked the Statue of Liberty once, and destroyed the Empyre State Building in Empyreal City. It’s about showing off. Rarely does a supervillain gain infamy from blowing up Alberto’s Taco Cart or burning down a Burrito Bell. Depending on the frequency of dysentery in a population, the latter might even make them a hero.
“It doesn’t matter to him if anyone volunteers for any of his experiments. Some of the locals claim that anyone who does volunteer, he turns into the same species of human as Pyscho Gecko. Those who don’t gain a new outlook on life. A computer-in-the-brain outlook on life. Simmons, what are the Fluidics doing?”
Back in the Hague, my translation program worked to solve the problem of military jargon and give me a basic understanding of what the man said. Roughly speaking, there are between a dozen and two dozen aliens in Sydney attacking cell towers, radio towers, satellite uplinks, and anything else that extends my control over the population there. They are scavenging parts and equipment as well. We couldn’t get close enough to see what. On top of that, they’re fighting Technolutionary. They launch attacks every now and then, especially whenever Technolutionary sends a convoy of human-bots off into the wilderness of the Australian interior. If I had to guess, they weren’t onboard with Technolutionary’s little rebellion. It might even be why the shield wasn’t operating at full capacity, though there were too many other factors to tell for sure.
The original briefing involved significantly more acronyms.
“Yes, we’ll try to avoid taking on the aliens. Remember: the enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. Don’t get me started on enemies who like to keep sea life as pets, because that’s my enemy’s anemones and signficantly more complicated,” I warned them, in part because “enemy’s anemones” is really fun to say. “I suspect following a convoy would lead us to the ship. I won’t tell you the best way to do your jobs, since y’all have your own way of kicking ass and taking names. The Recon Marines have secured transportation, so they’re task is to find the enemy ship, infiltrate it, and damage to the point of failure anything that looks like one of these drawings.”
Electric Eye passed around some drawings I worked hard on, in the sense that I had the robot connect to a printer and create them based on what I managed to pull off the ship I’d commandeered that time, and the shuttle I crashed back to Earth on. They presented the soliders with depictions of the ship’s reactor and capacitor, power transfer nodes and a few important backup fuses, and the shield system itself. Any one set of targets and redundancies should incapacitate the shield.
The marines left, a pretty good bunch. While some would disparage the brains of men and women in the armed forces, recon marines have to be especially tough and bright for their job. Typically, they leave the officers behind and head into hostile territory in smaller groups, to infiltrate, sabotage, and neutralize. A hands-off mission to sneak in and blow shit up is right up their alley. So off they went to slay a dragon and win a fancy-ass sabre while I nailed the kidnapped princess.
“Don’t you ever turn on a light in here?” Venus asked again from where I sat. I preferred the darkness there, actually.
I broke away from Electric Eye to address her. “I’m surprised you came back, but I’m busy.”
“You were busy the other day, too,” she said. Then I remembered her comment on me talking to myself hadn’t been the same day.
“You could say I’ve been distant. Mind elsewhere.” I looked down at her as she approached. Instead of looking directly at me or even sizing up my armor, she focused on the IVs pumping needed nutrients into my body.
She read one of the bags. “What are you doing?”
“Eating takes up time. There are too many problems. One moment, there’s a riot starting in Texas.” I concentrated a moment, going elsewhere. “It’s over with. One riot, no rangers.”
“Step down, please. This is going to end badly for you when it ends. Why is it so important for you to kill yourself?” she asked.
“Killing myself, secondary concern. You got what you wanted. I am putting my talents to better use, helping people. One phone-recorded mass rape in India stopped. Mass transit groping in Japan detected. Terminating. I appear to be one of the few thinking with the correct head on this planet. I- oh come on, you Pakistani bastard, it’s a fucking chicken!”
She turned on a light. “At least something’s ending the robot speak of yours. You can’t control the world. It isn’t right. Someone will kill you. It’s the only way anyone can put up with you now.”
“Didn’t I tell you, under the influence of truth potion, that I was distracting myself before? This is me without distractions. One moment, someone in Kenya is wearing a leisure suit. There, another injustice fixed. This is the greatest good I can do for the world. This is the only way I can protect it.”
“The only way you’ll protect it without admitting you are wrong.”
Keeping track of her peripherally, my eye flitted all over the place as I saw things that weren’t there in the room with me, checking up on the world and keeping a portion of my attention fixed in the fuzzy image of Australia. “What are you trying to solve by talking to me here? This is useless and will not end the threat you perceive of me. Besides, it is within the right and potential responsibility of those gifted above their fellow man to guide the rest, as !Chinin said. Sorry, as one of the Founders of the United States said, too. I can look it up later, but this is why I prefer references your world can understand. Either way, the reasoning to the superiority of representative government over pure democracy is sound.”
Venus slapped me across the helmet. “This isn’t what I wanted from you. This isn’t being a hero!”
“I’m sorry if I defied your expectations, my dear Venus. I am not maintaining a status quo I do not believe in. I am helping billions instead of dozens. I just put out a fire in Irkutsk. I just reticulated a number of splines in Macedonia. Someone attempted and failed to rob a bank in Lima. I-…I wish I could sleep. There are too many problems. I am everywhere. Every cry for help I ever imagined, I now hear. I can’t stop them all. I can’t save them all. I can’t even punish them all. At least I’m trying. How dare you, Venus? How dare you hate me! How dare any of you?! Not one of you ‘heroes’ has even tried.”
Venus folded her arms. “Yes, some of us have. Remember Sexahol? You thought that was wrong, too.”
I remembered. An intoxicant hit the streets. Anyone who took it experienced affection and lust. It all turned out to be a plot by an old, retired hero to fix the world. His name was Breakdown. I resented being drugged and used my armor’s life support and filtering to stay sober. I also resented him trying to make a deal with me by offering me various Sexahol-drugged women, including Venus and Leah, a runaway that I went on to mentor briefly.
“You are seeing why we can’t. Even you can’t save everyone, and you’ve done something no one ever has before. No one wants to move forward with all these things you want to do, and I bet they move slowly in spite of your threats. We had to be drugged to be nice and loving to each other. It made us something we aren’t. You haven’t quite done that yet, but it would be the only way to accomplish what you want, and you don’t like it,” she went on, making a good case. She hadn’t yet gotten used to the fact that she herself was no longer human, it seemed. Thank Technolutionary for that one.
“I hate you so much sometimes, Venus. You’re like the little conscience I never had. I’m trying, ok? Not even that’s good enough for you, I guess. Now, I have to deal with aliens and Technolutionary in Australia.”
She looked disappointed, but told me, “Kick his ass.”
I hate her and love her so much. I sure did pick a good archnemesis.
Over the next few days, the SEALs and Eye struck against Technolutinary. Between the Australian military, the Fluidic aliens, and my guys, he could no longer risk convoys or even hunting parties to obtain more human-bot bodies. It didn’t help him any that the Aussies were evacuating their people as much as possible now they had a clearer understanding of what Technolutionary did to people.
Taking out the other supervillain didn’t even matter so much to me. The primary goal of the expedition was the shield. Once it fell, I’d have a world’s worth of military might to rain down on him. Under siege, Technolutionary could no longer reinforce the ship.
Finally, Eye received an acknowledgment from the marines that they found the ship and were going in. Technolutionary must have had some sort of communication with his minions there as well, because he made a push with all his forces, heading in that direction.
Well, as many of his forces as he could. The humans helping him seemed to peel off and stop in the face of the firepower arrayed against them, having neither the loyalty of the human-bots, nor the flying power armor of Technolutionary himself. Eye saw his form-fitting purple armor fly off, emotionless metal face hiding any panic in his real one.
But Electric Eye had rockets. Eye flew and caught up to Technolutionary, timing it so Eye’d catch him just past the edge of the city. He turned and unleashed a cloud of micro missiles. Eye threw off my cloak, letting them suffer premature detonation as the robot closed the distance. He seemed surprised when Eye reached into the top of my back-mounted aquarium, pulled out an octopus with a bit of blue on it, and tosses it at him. Unfortunately, it hadn’t kept very well. Neither did those really bitey clams. Even worse, there had simply been no way to bring in a shark.
Still, it distracted him enough for me to get close. He could blast those animals all he wanted, so long as it let me close enough to whip out my Koala-chuks. The critters were ornery and more than happy to claw away at the armored man Eye swung them at. Then again, most animals would have that response if they had a stick of wood shoved up their ass with a chain attaching it to another of stick of wood shoved in another koala’s ass.
“Who are you?” he asked, bringing his palms together to fire a burst of white-hot plasma at me that Eye effortlessly deflected with a now-sizzling marsupial. He maneuvered backward, firing to suppress me and keep his distance.
A distorted voice answered, singing. “I’m made of metal! My circuits gleam! I am perpetual, I keep the country clean! I’m electric, Electric Eye. I’m protecting, electric spy.”
With that, Eye switched the Koala-Chuks to my left arm. I fired the rocket on that arm, which disconnected and flew at him, koala’s spinning. While he shot at it, Eye fired my right arm on a course for the other villain’s metal codpiece. Ding, ding, ding! It’s not the sound of game show victory so much as repeated armored groin punches.
Technolutionary punched something into a control panel on his left wrist, then slashed at the groin punching arm. A glowing beam sword erupted just in front of his left hand and cut through the rocket. He swung it up to disarm the other hand of its koalas, leaving one to scream for help as it plummeted back to earth.
Seeing that, Eye fired the legs next. They circled him for a few seconds. Then he jerked around, remembering the ship. His armor carried him off, with Electric Eye following. The robot tried to throw him off while avoiding the blade, doing little more than banging its foot uselessly against an ass ensconced in purple armor. Eye even managed a good headbutt at one point, which I like to think justified the decision to add a robotic butt to this Electric Eye robot.
Before long, Eye saw the ship in the distance. But before either of us could reach it, the transparent shield rippled and faded away. I felt whole again. And angry. And like a man who suddenly controlled a lot of aircraft, anti-air missiles, and drones. Electric Eye stopped and let him continue his useless pursuit of the ship. The missiles launched by those lovely American aircraft under my command convinced him to do the same as he dove into the wilderness avoid them. We lost track of him, last heading so far west, he’s probably at the Hutt River. Well, he’s Jabba’s problem now, and if he ever resurfaces, he’ll be in deep Bantha poodoo.
A helicopter helped get the recon marines out of the area before another set of missiles made sure Technolutionary wouldn’t have any more alien ships or forcefields to cause trouble with.
As for the aliens, if they hadn’t surrendered, I’d have housed them in a smoking crater. The fact that they did…well, I could say that I listened to my conscience, annoying as she is, and let someone live. Or I could focus on preparing this new statement I’ll release in a few days about how, thanks to the treasonous efforts of a resistance leader named Technolutionary, the evil, genocidal, mind controlling Fluidics managed to escape in a pair of shuttles, no doubt to gather reinforcements. If I keep this up, I’ll have people practically salivating to follow my lead every time I ring a bell and claim “Aliens want to attack us for our freedoms!”
Just think, some critics actually claim I can’t control what people think.
Well, The Empire of Gecko is unofficially at war with Australia. I say unofficially, because there’s this whole technical definition thing at work where a country can only be at war with another country. Technically, I’m putting down a rebellion, which is hard for me to admit. With an accent like that, it’s difficult to claim the Australians are revolting.
And it isn’t really their fault. That alien ship that hid in the Australian outback turned out to contain Technolutionary, the mad genius who allied with the aliens. He had something of an obsession with me. While it’s true that I am clearly a superior lifeform to the humans of earth, he had this idea that he could study my organs and tissues and such to turn regular homo sapiens into homo machina like me. This was one of those obsessions like “We could be so great together! I broke into your room and left you a model replica of you compiled out of your discarded boogers because I love you!” He’s not a mentally stable guy.
On top of that, went phenotypically female for awhile there and he felt that was even more evidence that he and I were soulmates. Which is ridiculous. Clearly, Wildbow-senpai is my soulmate. I’m just kidding. He probably barely even thinks of me.
Anyway, I caved to some of Technolutionary’s demands in light of the oncoming alien invasion and we figured out a way to transform humans into a superior form. He was supposed to get on that more, but then broke away to join with the aliens and started turning the humans they captured into people like me. On the plus side, his stalker-esque love for me led to him dealing with the aliens to try and give me amnesty too. I took it long enough to get out of Empyreal City, then figured out a way I actually could stop the aliens and gave neutrality the finger.
I know a bit of a recap, but not everyone has such a fine memory as me. I have a mind like a…uh…thingy that holds stuff really well. Like a hooker with boobs, a dick, a high-tech sledgehammer, and a suit of metal power armor, maybe. I dunno, it’ll come to me. The phrase, I mean, though his experiments mean there could very well be hookers in power armor flying around somewhere. Hell, he even turned Venus into a homo machina like myself.
So he’s in Australia, stirring up trouble. He activated his ship’s forcefield in such a way that it surrounds the continent. It’s not perfect, though. Probably damaged, or maybe he wants people to actually live. But he turned on a forcefield that made it fuzzier for me to connect to Elecric Eye Sydney and any of my nanite-infected potential minions down there.
Then, he declared to the people of Australia that he was Technolutonary and he was there to save them from the evil Psycho Gecko. I heard that through Electric Eye, concentrated on staying connected to me at the expense of keeping track of people I could control.
Technolutionary even had a way to undo exposure to the nanites, which he sorta does. I can control nanites by touch because of my species’s unique natural abilities. Any of them converted to the same species could, too, though he’s more likely to scoop out their brains and replace them with CPUs programmed to do his bidding. He always preferred his human-bots to homo machina.
None of that announcement got out to the outside world, which still whined and moaned at me like a Young Earth Creationist reading a science textbook. So I was like “Fuck it.” They keep wanting to resist. Hardly anybody picked a leader for their zones, and a few smartasses tried to get together and elect the same representative for multiple zones. For those fuckers, I liquidated the would-be leader. I know, it sounds harsh, but if they’d only let them control one zone, the others nearby might have picked someone who’d be subordinate to them as another loophole.
Some of my picks weren’t entirely random, either. Ouroroboros of Paradise City already had experience leading things. I don’t trust him, but my stranglehold on Earth means I don’t have to trust anybody. I just have to be able to kill them or a few million of their best friends. Plus, many criminal leaders would be at least somewhat amenable to my way of doing things as it could afford them even more power in the new system. That’s one reason why I went with some of them. That, and they would be excellent at putting down anybody rebelling against me and, by happy new coincidence, them.
Over on the West Coast of North America, I went with Victor Mender, the head of Master Academy. That whole “killing people if you disobey me” thing is even more effective on good guys like him, which is part of the reason why I liked picking leaders who had a conscience. They’re more common than most would think. Good, respected leaders like that might be held hostage by the nanites in their own body, but they’d definitely think twice before crossing someone who would kill half their zone. And folks being respectful of their leadership would be less likely to rebel against it or me.
I rushed through the process of picking people in part so I could reveal what happened to Australia to them and the rest of the world.
“My fellow Earthicans, we have a grave danger at our doorstep. The threat that I initially saved the world from has not been completely vanquished. That’s right, in the time when some thought me dead, the world’s leaders ignored at least one alien vessel that hid on Terra Firma. My protectiveness for this planet in the face of so much is part of the reason I took the reins of power from the incompetent. I may be a fearsome leader to many of you, but I am your fearsome leader! Like a mama bear tearing a head off aliens coming to anally probe my cubs, I vow to keep Earth safe from this alien threat and any others! Yes, others, because I’m afraid your former leaders have allowed the ship to send off a transmission that is bringing reinforcements. I now urge all of you to look to your representatives and myself. Help us to keep you safe. Help us to keep Earth strong. Help us to show these xeno scum that we will not abide our conquest by them and their slimy tentacles. All hail Earth!”
I really wanted to add an “All hail Emperor Gecko!” to that, but I was pushing my luck as is. I think the announcement went well for the most part. I probably lost the Japanese at fighting against alien tentacles, but I’m sure I can figure out some way to continue compelling their loyalty. Oh, that’s right, the ability to kill almost everyone in their country. That oughta do it.
The transmission bit was total bullshit, too. I just got tired of trying to be the nicest fellow around with ruling them. I took a shortcut, and one of the easiest ways to unite a people is by invoking an external threat. The English had the French, the French had the English, Greece had Persia, China had everyone whose ancestors hadn’t boned the Yellow Emperor, and the Slavs had all the people who enslaved their women. But, come on, have you seen Slavic women? The only reason nobody’s enslaving them nowadays is because it’s easier to pay to look at them naked online. See a spicy latina online? They’ll call her Marta, but you’ll find out her real name is something like Zdenka Malkova.
But enough about porn. This is the internet, not a place for porn. I lied about the transmission because if they feel threatened, they’ll be more likely to stick with my leadership, no matter how bad it is. It happens all the time, and it’s much better I do it this way rather than try to consolidate my rule by going apeshit on people of a different color or religion. Although, technically speaking, most aliens are a different skin color and believe in different religions. Eh, it’ll all work out, I’m sure.
That little announcement sure sent various news sources buzzing. Good. Many of them had chosen to stick with their chosen profession even though I’m trying to still get rid of currency, so it’s nice to see the ones that stuck with it aren’t just assholes. I don’t know, maybe I’ll scrap the idea of a post-currency for now and work on easing my way there. I’ll have to design proper money though. Get a picture of my face to go on the front, and one of my ass to go on the back. If they think that’s bad, wait until I do the same for stamps.
The fact of Australia being cut off from the rest of the world only helped my case. Yep, with my fledgling economy going through such major upheavals, nothing distracts quite like a war, but that also put it on me to muster some forces and prove my worth. Luckily, I had the U.S. Navy.
I know, all this seems focused on the West and U.S.-centric, but this is one where anyone doing their homework will know what I’m talking about. The United States Navy is like the Mastercard of Navy’s: it’s everywhere you want to be. Most European countries’ navies are smaller and restricted to their particular area of interest. The United Kingdom and Canada don’t have to bother too much because the Yankees have their back if any military problem breaks out. Russia doesn’t have much coastline for its size, though I’ll definitely call them if we ever get invaded by icebergs. And countries like China and India are just emerging as industrial and technological powers. They’re getting there, but they aren’t there yet. Unlike armies, navies require a lot of technical expertise and logistics.
So the damn Yanks simply had the best navy for me to begin bombarding the crap out of this forcefield. The barrier let light through enough to see everything, but did an excellent job of preventing missiles and shells from penetrating. But if anything could break through Australian protection, it’s American seamen. At my request, they chummed the waters a bit. Spread powerful shortwave radio beacons into the water for sharks and other underwater critters to munch on, then herded them toward the barrier. Upon confirmation that the chicken of the sea could slip their peckers through, they began to bombard the barrier again, with the intention of drawing attention away from the approach of SEALs and Marines.
They were met by Electric Eye Sydney, who relocated to help secure their landing zone, scout for staging areas, and otherwise help them to infiltrate the country.
So that’s what y’all have to look forward to from me next time. Over the next few days, my seamen are going down under and deep outback.
Just bear with me here, folks. See, sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Ignore my boobs for the purposes of this lesson. Just keep that in mind as I recount what happened.
See, there was the usual ranting, raving, and distrust in the Master Academy Camp, so much so that I began to hope the invaders would just zap the place like they did the broadcast station. No luck. I actually watched as they tried, and somehow failed. Something the supers here did, good to keep in mind. There wasn’t much else to do for entertainment in between working on the D-bomb. The broad strokes of it are done, it’s more a matter of adjusting it to only affect a certain radius. After all, if you think of spacetime as a sheet on which massive objects sit and distort, then you have to be careful how big of a whole you punch through the sheet…
Ah, hell, that’s getting too technical. But anyway, I didn’t have too much to do. There’s been little to no TV ever since the field went up around the city, and the internet has abandoned us as well. Oh internet, we are but worms without you! Come back to us! Bring the porn!
At least I had a few games stored in my head to alleviate it, though I almost missed having teammates in Payday 2, except for the part where they bitch about how the people who make their game keep wanting to be paid. It’s one thing to steal porn off the internet; it’s another to insist all the porn should be free.
But enough about various sorts of pussies.
So, between building a better bomb and listening to Elmore James perform “The Sky is Crying,” I also got the skinny from the scouts. I almost said hero scouts, but at least some of the ones around the campus were villains who resisted assimilation after a couple of misty downpours. With the sheer numbers on the aliens’ side, it was looking futile. I put out the call to Beetrice and the Buzzkills in the bunker under Double Cross Tower, but phone lines were iffy and I didn’t quite know if bee people were immune to everything. They’re not human, but neither am I or many other supers, strictly speaking.
One fine morning, I hopped up to the wall to take a look out and saw people. Just people. A sea of human beings, unpowered and powered alike. There was no earth visible ringing the school. Further on, I mechanical tendrils reached down from the sky, and presumably a vessel rivaling Empyreal City in size. Kind of a bad sign when you can’t tell the size of a craft even when it’s right next to a city.
I dropped down just inside the wall and didn’t quite catch myself, landing on my ass. I took a minute to sit against the wall. Ya know, just for a minute. Or five. Or thirty.
I had to think. I let so many pieces get away from me. So many things I couldn’t keep track of. I even vaguely wondered how Crash and the others at the company were doing. Probably trying to kill me. Just for good measure, probably have to kill Crash with her own car. I’ve kept on wrecking them anyway. And a few other things. But at least I had an idea or two to go with it.
To my surprise, Venus walked out to retrieve me. She had her armor on, too. Kinda risky to go outside without it, even though it’d been a day since the last light misting. “Why didn’t you just send Wildflower? I’m tired of this stupid fantasy you have about reforming me, and you hate dealing with me anyway.”
She turned around and plopped in the mud next to me. “Yeah. It looks bad out there. You know it isn’t your fault, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, not so much I could have done to just plain stop them, but that doesn’t mean nothing was my fault. Even I can’t stop an army, and now I am fated to die. I did…every damn thing I did…to live. You can stomach almost anything if it’s to save your own ass, ya know? Lots of dead people. Hurt. Wounded. Taken apart. Things. Except I’ve almost certainly failed, so all that was meaningless.”
I pushed my hands against my helmet, wishing I could shove them in my mouth to hide the noises that began to burst forth. I couldn’t. I wound up holding my head, uncontrollable laughter issuing forth. I just couldn’t stop.
Venus reached out and put a hand on my shoulder, as much to try and stop me as comfort me. It took a minute of effort to force myself to stop long enough to hear the worthless words, like so many others that she employed to deter me from actions that, in the end, didn’t matter one way or another. “I failed too. I thought I could save you. We aren’t so different, you and I. I wanted to save you in spite of yourself. You wanted to make me kill you.”
“Didn’t matter anyway,” I responded. “None of it does. I think, somehow, I fooled myself about that. Or forgot it. Its very freeing, though, to realize that everything is permitted, that there isn’t guilt, just responsibility. I have always had an end coming for me, whether I made it happen or not. Maybe what I did pushed it back. Maybe not. It was always there regardless. In thinking I was so smart for knowing life was absurd, and yet I still was the victim, controlled by my past and my fear. Those bozos out there better hope they kill me. Because I feel like fetters are off that I didn’t even realize weighed me down.”
I jumped to my feet. Venus rose beside me and stepped in front of me. “We give the world meaning, Gecko. We live for a short time and use it to make the world a better place for all who come before. If they enslave me, they will know I resisted. It matters if it slows them down one second. And if I die, I died fighting. Maybe humanity will die fighting. These bastards will look down on a dead world full of dead people who would rather fight with everything they have than submit. We are not puppets.”
I gave her a golf clap, but was interrupted by something a little worse.
Someone yelling for us on the outside over a completely silent crowd. “Dear friends! Come out! Let us have a talk!”
I thought about it a moment. “I know that voice. This guy’s a jackass!”
I poked my head up first, then turned visible, then hauled up Venus when it seemed no one was in a sniping mood. I saw the alien ambassador again, who had looked so Nazi just a short while ago. Since then, he’d undergone a few changes. For starters, there was the way his skin looked a bit rotten, and how his eyes were all black with black goo dripping from them in lines down his cheeks. And how his mouth looked to be filled with nothing but more black slime, even covering his teeth. He wore one of those rough encounter suits his bodyguards had, but with round plugs or holes on the sides.
It wasn’t just him backing up the army of enslaved people around us, either. He brought friends. Most of them looked robotic. I saw spheres that waved some sort of barrels at us, usually with a smaller secondary sphere attached by a metal shaft. Balls and shaft aside, they also had a few of these things that looked like an orgy of octopi all pointed tentacles full of black slime toward the air above us. Some sort of artillery, then? I couldn’t see their bases very well.
There were definitely more of those bodyguard types, but with mechanical tendrils hanging off their suits. And giant discs with four big tentacles that ended in gleaming metal tips.
I suddenly understood why the Japanese so hated to see an invasion by tentacle monsters: no matter whether hostile or peaceful, you’re still getting fucked.
I nodded toward Venus. “You want to take this one, or do you want me to talk smack about his momma?” To the diplomat, I yelled, “Hey, your momma sucks so hard, they called her a whirlpool!”
Venus pointed toward the huge army with her chin. “I would tell you this isn’t helping, but I don’t think they stopped by for enrollment.”
“That’s right, this is a school. Maybe you ought to get the kids out here to learn some important lessons. See how many of them can name all the different types of word that ‘fuck’ counts as. Tell ya what, I’ll even spot them prepositions in light of these fuckers right fucking here.”
While she dropped down and made for the school, the voice of the aliens spoke up again, the slimy bastard. “It is time you joined us. The city is against you. Soon, the world!”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. You don’t frighten us, English pig dogs! Go and butter your bottom, sons of a silly person! I blow my nose at your ambassador, you and your sssssshitheads!” I started blowing him raspberries and patting the top of my helmet, the put my thumbs where my ears would be to make a funny gesture.
“This-!” started the ambassador, before I interrupted.
“I don’t wanna talk to you no more you empty-headed urinal cake licker. I would fart in your general direction if it didn’t make you horny. Your mother was a hamster, and your father did time for bestiality!”
With what amounted to wit on their planet, the alien asked, “Is there an adult at home I could talk to?!”
“No! Now go away, or I’ll taunt you a second time!” I gave him the V sign with one hand and the middle finger with the other.
That was when the slime-filled tentacle whipped up over the wall, wrapped around my waist, and tossed me into the middle of a huge crowd of people. They got all handsy, too. It was like being in the middle of a zombie movie, which would normally be a bad thing if I was a horror movie character. The mean, foul-mouthed lesbian who drinks and has lots of sex?
Then again, the joke’s on them. A regular person would be restrained. A regular person wouldn’t have Gecko’s patented fists of fuckin’ fury, motherfucker! Wham! Bam! Pow, right in the kisser! It’s not like the city would really miss a person or twelve. They have reinforcements, and busting a few skulls gave me room to get my feet under me and jump, narrowly avoiding an explosion from one of the tenta-mortars. Not exactly watching where I was going, I missed a large burst of blue laser from one of those floating orbs and shafts. It missed me because I clanged into it and spun off before I could even wreck its shit.
I landed ass first on someone’s head, snapping something on them in the process. Good thing, too. Helped me land on my feet, like a cat of death or a buttery piece of toasted destruction.
I landed, snapping elbows to faces and throats. Headbutt a nose, kick a ball. When the surging crowd gave me some room, I popped the Nasty Surprise out and used it to skewer some poor idiot in front of me, and the person behind him. I withdrew the mini chainsaw and and grabbed hold of the second person’s intestines. I drew them out through his friend and wrapped them around the throat of another attacker, tightening it into choking and tying it off in a knot.
My efforts to make a pretty bow went surprisingly undisturbed by other expendable slaves, but then one of those human-shaped suits stepped over the crowd using the tendrils that stuck out of its back and sides. It tried to put one through my neck, but I ducked and he impaled his friend’s face. I turned and deflected the next few blows aimed at me with my fists, though he backed me up. Despite the wild thrashing of that part of his body, he settled on the humanoid legs and slowly crumpled forward like some sort of folding-up puppet. I didn’t have all the room in the world, unfortunately, so I resorted to dodging in place until I could grab one. Before he could follow up or wiggle free, I slid under the legs of the encounter-suited liquid alien thingy, then jammed the end of the tendril right where the poop chute would be.
The tendrils flailed for a moment, so maybe that still hurt. I grabbed the base of a pair of them, set my boot on the one I shoved up his ass, and used the leverage to really ream it in there, spurting black goo all over him. To be fair, dark-colored fluid often gets on my boot when I stick it up there on a human.
Before I could dig my hand in to grab hold of its core, a mortar blast threw me onto it and tossed us both forward in a heap. Then a follow up blast reverberated the entire world around me. Felt like my teeth were going to shake out and left me unable to breath from the pressure of the blast. A third shot didn’t come in as quick succession, giving me a moment to roll to my feet and desperately try to jump for freedom. That one hit just after I left the ground.
The resulting mess of a jump spun me around enough that I almost lost my lunch and didn’t quite comprehend when I stopped flying. When I gained the ability to think again, i turned out I’d been caught by someone. I almost put my elbow through the jaw of the person who grabbed me before I noticed its yellow and black exoskeleton, antenna, and its compound eyes. You know, it’s not until you’re face to face with a half-bee, half-human monstrosity that you appreciate the beauty of its five eyes. He, or more likely she, soared above the crowd on wings that really shouldn’t have been able to lift it, let alone me.
But this is the battle where aliens are fighting superheroes, so perhaps it’s the wrong time to analyze things. And as it set me down in front of a small army of Buzzkills, it seemed like a pretty good time to give the analysis a second look.
I heard Beetrice a split second before I felt the giant, multi-armed bee person squeeze me against her yellow exoskeleton in a hug. “Weeeee! So happy to see you!” It had been an exclamation point sort of day by then.
“You’re here. Great. I mean, great! But maybe ease up on the lovin’? It’s time to do some seriously hating…”
Beetrice let me slip out of her arms to the ground while bee-people and slave-people fought before the earthen wall in the distance. “Sure thing, most important drone! But who do you want us to hate?”
“There’s not a lot of options here, but not the heroes. For once. Odd to say it, I know,” I pointed over at the wall where Master Academy capes had mounted it to blast the attackers.
“What about them?” she asked.
She picked me up again, but this time to show me another force, approaching to flank both the Buzzkills and slaves.
This time, it was a bunch of people with all sorts of mechanical add-ons marching in lockstep toward the fight, but stopping short of engaging anyone. Above them floated Technolutionary, floating in form-fitting purple armor. I hopped over in front of him and the metal monstrosities he’d built. They looked like more of his human-robots, but their bodies had various gadgets built into him. This guy watched too many Borg episodes of Star Trek.
Technolutionary laughed as he floated over. “How do you like my creations?” He held his hands out to encompass the mass of mechanized abominations. “The proud merger of my work and your natural gifts. You should be proud of our children.”
“I got ya, you’re back to the weird semi-romantic thoughts. Ya know what really turns me on, though? Killin’ aliens. Come on. You, me, a bunch of expendable idiots. Let’s make this massacre happen, right?”
Technolutionary stared down at me. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”
I pointed toward the battle, where all other forces were hard at work beating the crap out of each other in an orgy of violence and explosions that would bring Michael Bay to tears. “Come on, man. Expendable stuff was made to be expended. This IS why we did all that collaboration, ya know. Saving my ass from the aliens.”
Technolutionary floated down and pressed a button on one of his forearms. A panel on his belt opened and some glowing thing floated out. He raised his hands and it floated over them before forming into a perfectly symmetrical crystalline structure about the size of his forearm. “I have saved you. This is the key.”
I looked it over. “Looks like a rock. Most people at least stick it in a ring first. What is it?”
He cupped it close. “This is a transponder from the aliens themselves. A sign of my willing cooperation.” He turned his head and spoke to his human bots. “Move on the heroes. Capture them all for our allies.”
He looked toward me, then pressed another button on his forearm, causing the metal face that covered his real one to fold up. He smiled at me with that freaky look in his eye, like he wanted to get freaky. “I did this for you and I. You will be safe, and I will usher in the next evolution of mankind.”
“What does it do?” I asked, probing for information.
A voice echoed forth from the crystal thing, a rough digitized voice. “This is a sign of your cooperation. Join us willingly and become a great asset, Psycho Gecko. Your ingenuity is welcome and your willingness to serve your best interests appears infamous by our understanding of Earth’s superhumans.”
The crystal glowed, then split into two identical smaller versions. Technolutionary added his last bit to the pitch. “Come on, Gecko. Join me. Save yourself. We can watch the world evolve together.” He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t even have to fight here. Let’s just leave this city and watch the fight from afar.”
“Kind of a shield up right now.” Off to my left, humans swarmed a crack in the wall while aliens worked to pull it apart.
“It lets you out.” Technolutionary smiled. “They will know where you are, but also not to attack you.”
It took a second of thought, but I stepped close and reached out with my left hand.
Technolutionary set down on the ground. “Yes. Smart girl.”
“And if I don’t want to help, but just have a truce here?”
That provoked a response from the crystal. “Parameters acceptable.”
A puzzled Technolutionary looked between me and the crystal, then at the inside of his eyelids after I tried to fist his eye hole. On the off chance it’d negate the transponder thingy, I left him alive. I shouldn’t have, but I did. It was more than he deserved. Then I took one of those damn floating crystals, which folded in on itself until it became small enough to fit in a pouch on my armor.
“Helping you isn’t exactly on my agenda. But if this gets me out of here and doesn’t get me killed…ok then.” I muttered to myself.
Like I said, don’t judge. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. It’s not like I’m going to help them. I’m just ensuring my survival. I mean, fucking alien invasion, dudes. What am I supposed to do?
I mean, I did call Beetrice up again and tell her to get her people and hide. Lock themselves in the bunker. All that. Gave her a fighting chance. I still never found Crash or Carl since all the rain and assimilation stuff. But I did get Moai out. He helped me haul out the Dimension Bomb. And me. I rode out on his head, the energy barrier around the edge of the city opening up to accommodate everything around me as we approached.
I didn’t look back while the others fought for their lives. I’d saved mine, after all.
That was the most important thing. Sure, right. The most important thing.
But it’s not my fight anymore.
Nope. Not my fight.
I’m glad I was here in Washington for the latest and greatest in Presidential speeches.
“My fellow Americans, I’m here to address a few points I didn’t cover in my recent State of the Union Address. First, I’d like to address the friendly rivals of the opposing party: kiss my ass, you ignorant butt monkey fuckers. I hate every one of you cumsucking scum nuts, drag-assing around for no other reason than to make me look bad. Furthermore, I have proposed some executive actions to several of your wives, and gave their pussies one hell of a filibuster. By the way, if my daughters are watching this right now, babies, you’ll want to change the channel. It’s about to get nasty. Now lets move on to a sackless bunch of so-called allies I’ve seen since Italy joined the Triple Alliance. Once again, for members of the opposing party, getting that joke involves knowing a little something about history. It’s that thing you’ve been repeating since you don’t know shit from shiitake. But you got nothing on these two-faced sons of bitches that couldn’t pass a bill if I filled it with corn and shoved it down their throats. Now, I’d like to thank God for providing an example here of the biggest room of pale, soulless dicks since the gay ginger porn awards.” The President started to point around the room. “I hate you, I hate you, I don’t even know you, but I hate your guts. I hope all the bad things in life happen to you and nobody else. You’re cool. And I would just like to say to all of you: kiss my ass, you rotten motherfuckers.”
Of course, then they ruin the whole thing by showing me getting chased out by the Secret Service and the real President who hasn’t gotten through his wrist ties yet while going “Whoopwhoopwhoopwhoopwhoop!” I had to. You can’t put me around so many important people trying to maintain imagined dignity and not get something like that.
As for temporarily incapacitating the POTUS, that was also a fun little achievement to pull off. It almost messed up my performance, since I had to wait in that mini fridge for more than an hour before he decided to wet his whistle on the way to his Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech.
It certainly turned out to be worth it. I think. It’s debatable, since it was another instance of prominent supervillain crime affecting a politician. But it was funny and didn’t actually hurt anyone, so that looks better. And it served to forward another part of what I’m doing around here.
Technolutionary couldn’t stand the crack house, so he tried renting his own motel by the interstate. To be fair, cheap motels often serve as amateur laboratories to the methamphetamine-inclined. I’m fairly sure he’s not going to cook up any of that. He’s too uptight. Like, maybe he’s a cocaine guy? But even though he wanted to stare at all that, he told me he’d stay in town until we were finished so he could lend a hand if needed. With him out, I redecorated the crack house to mark it as my property and prevent stray people from strolling on in. You’d be amazed what you can use as a nice lamp cover when your only raw materials are a bunch of drug addicts.
He said he’d keep an eye out about Constellation, too. Decent of him, though he didn’t have the sort of information-gathering resources at his disposal as Harlon, Fortune Cookie, or Double Cross. I’d gotten them in on the act of hunting down the Voluntary Super Registration List and/or Captain Lightning so I could call in a favor.
While Gecko’s Amazing Spy Squad ran down the possible locations of Constellation Consortium bases and/or got a message through to Captain Lightning, I decided to look into a hunch I had and pay a visit to the Booth Busters. That’s the informal name of the District of Columbia Anti-Superhuman Enforcement. While the Secret Service handles superhuman threats to the President, Washington itself gets DCASE and their containment facility.
They kept the few supers they captured in a rounded, three-story tower erected next to Fort Washington in Maryland. It’d be pretty damn tough to get someone out of there without a lot of heavy firepower. Or a presidential pardon.
Sorry to disappoint, folks, but I released Max Muscles the legal way: impersonating the president.
The New Jerseyite strongman looked dazed as they let him go. I mean, they didn’t know what was going on any more than he did, but mine was the only car around. I stopped right by Max and the pair of guards with him. “Gentlemen!” I exclaimed on exiting the car. To them, I looked like any other man who happened to be wearing a red, white, and blue costume with my cape, ballistic vest, and eagle-themed helmet.
Max Muscles, who I’d met in one of my aliases back in New Jersey, kindly provided exposition for the guards. “Missile Patriot!”
“That’s right! I have been sent to retrieve you on the orders of the President of these United States, by the power vested in me by the grand ole flag, the grand old party, and the grand ol’ opry! By the way, here’s a little something for you boys, the President said to go out, find some strippers with really big cans, and start making some regrets.” I handed the nearest guard a briefcase full of ones.
She held out a clipboard in return. “You’re going to need to sign for the prisoner.”
Eh, fine, whatever. Makes no difference to me. I gave her my John Hancock and she undid the useless restrains on Max’s wrists. “Thank you, Mr. Hancock.”
“Don’t mention it. And you go have fun with those strippers, now!”
I looked Max over as he got in the car. A bit leaner than last time. Unshaven. No slick hair this time around. “How have you been, Max?”
“I don’t know, bro. Things got crazy. Brian is schoolin’ it up in college, just totally crushin’ the coed pussy. Oh, but right after you left, Gastrolord disappeared. Cops found his stuff, though. So I been able to party and lay down the law on my own since then. Matter fact, Gastrolord being gone’s why Brian figured he’d be fine gettin’ his college on.”
Bulletproof Brian is Max Muscles’s friend. Together, they were known as Generation Flex. I killed Gastrolord. I was hanging around in Jersey, fighting an organization called Hephaestus that maintained a warehouse there because Hephaestus refused to pay me on a job. Gastrolord was a snail-themed villain who tried to collect on a bounty they put on my head. Unfortunately for him, I upgraded his ejector seat in the cockpit of this giant snail vehicle he drove around. Extra power and the ability for me to engage it remotely. It was very messy. No wonder they never identified the body.
“So, that’s it? Gastrolord disappeared, Brian went to college, you were on your own; one thing led to another and you attack the Capital.” My visor precluded me showing off a raised eyebrow of incredulity.
He looked ahead. “Can we get away from here, first?”
I nodded and took us away. Not a fan of discussing it in the parking lot, I guess. “Why’d you do it? Someone pay you? It’s just not anything like what you’d pull. I mean, maybe party around the place, but not throwing cars around and all.”
“I think I drank too much, or it was too much ex. I started losing time. Blackout, man. Not cool, bro. I got out of control, just too much fun. One of my bros recommended AA, so I went there. It was like one of those things where you realize somethin’. I mean, they tell you to put your life in God’s hands, pray to him, confess your sins to him, and try to spread his message ‘n all. I started talkin’ to God, and he gave me this feeling. He guided me. He told me I could make the world a better place. Like, a heaven on earth. He brought me here, and then he said I needed to make a sacrifice for the good of everyone. See, everything’s better now. You’re here, and you got me out!”
I digested that mentally at a stoplight. “So no bribe? Nothing?”
“No, nobody paid me.”
“Ever heard of Constellation or Senator Powers?”
“Let’s have a bite somewhere and I’ll set you up to head back to Jersey, how’s that?”
“You’re a bro, bro.”
Another meal, another bit of cash tossed away, but at least a little information. I believe someone spoke to Max Muscles, but I doubt it was any deity. A super with telepathy, maybe? It’s a great power to pull off a scam like that. “Tina? This is Jesus. I need you to make out a check and send it to this P.O. Box, and you’ll get your eternal rewards in the afterlife.” If anything, it’s more surprising none of them have gone for a bigger prize. Then again, how would I know they haven’t?
Now there’s a question, but not one I have to answer. I’m not the hero of this story.
But I did get a visit from one. It was shortly after that, while trying to figure out which sex to go with. I was male, due to Fortune Cookie sending me a text message to call a number that in no way resembled a phone number for the United States. Celebration! I’ll have to bring her back a souvenir…the Washington Memorial, maybe? Hmm, knowing her, she wouldn’t want any phallic symbol I’d been carrying around with me. I’ll think of something. Maybe I can get her the Constitution.
At first, I wondered if dialing this number would send me backwards in time to go meet Socrates and ask him why I was kicking his ass. I used a burner phone because it’s easier to ditch a phone than my head. One call later, a man picked up and asked, “Hello?”
“Hello?” I echoed.
Him. “Who is this?”
Me. “Who is THIS?”
“My name is Captain Lightning.”
“Oh, hey dude, it’s Psycho Gecko. Remember me? I fought you to the death inside a nightmarish hellscape that time. How ya been?”
“How are you calling me on this number? This is an abandoned hospital in…a country I’m not allowed to identify.”
“To be honest, I don’t entirely know how I’m doing this either, but I’m probably going to put someone’s face on Mt. Rushmore because of this. Oh, and I need to call in one of those favors you owe me.”
He sighed. “I don’t think I can help you put a new face on Rushmore.”
“That’s not what I called for. I’m trying to find information on a PMC,” that’s private military company, or contractor, or concerto, “called Constellation.”
“Stay where you are. Where are you?”
I looked around at the crack house and its visceral aesthetic. I’m not sure if dead druggies is in style for entertaining guests. “If you’re wanting to meet me, you’ll want to meet me somewhere else than here.” I glanced at a pair of legs sticking out from a hole in the wall. The pants were stained with blood, urine, and what I could only assume is a large quantity of chocolate pudding. I could assume that, but I won’t. “Plus, I’ve got nothing to eat to offer you for hospitality.” Which was true. Some people can tie a cherry stem with their tongue, but I challenge you to find anyone else who can stick a whole coconut up someone’s nose. Not their own nose, but someone’s.
“Fine. Jefferson Memorial. Meet me there as soon as possible. I’ll be there in ten.” He hung up.
Huh. Well, I made there just about on time with the help of my armor. We met in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson’s statue. He had some good ideas, and some bad. They mostly stuck the good ones in the building, since it wouldn’t do to have uncomfortable mentions of slave-fucking.
Nice quotes though. “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Almost sounds like my kinda guy, though my favorite was a bit longer: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
The little attention I pay to politics makes that one hilarious. The assumption that people move away from barbarism just because they know better, especially. Makes me want to knock out half the wall and build an encroaching Nixon Memorial, because my experience shows that people will still kill, suppress, threaten, steal, and rape no matter how advanced they are. Civilization just means you wear nicer clothes while you do it.
Though some people do dream about a place where being a dick to someone isn’t the default. Bleh, now I’m starting to sound like Max Muscles, or Senator Powers, or even Oligarch.
“You never struck me as a tourist,” said someone behind me. The 360 display showed Captain Lightning floating down from roof level, having flown in real quick from spreading democracy to countries the United States isn’t supposed to have forces in. He wore a bright red costume with a white and gold lightning bold on his chest. He didn’t have a cape this time. Despite having fought in World War II, he looked to be in his early forties, maybe. No grey in his hair. Overall, he looked better than when he was in thrall to Spinetingler, the horror villain.
“Let us remember the past so we can better destroy the future, that sort of thing.” I shrugged and turned around. “You didn’t want to discuss Constellation over the phone?”
A nod. “The government loves private contractors in everything from wet works to intelligence gathering. I remember when we trusted the country’s protection and management to those with higher ideals.”
“Or people who were at least better about hiding it, which shows more competence and discernment. Anyway, I need to know where Constellation might have any secure servers that require a physical presence to get into. They have some data I need. I mean, I don’t expect you to know all that, so I’ll settle on a base of theirs and hopefully pry out the location from there. Or from other people.”
“Can you tell me a little more about why?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
A holographic ring of crazy brown hair appeared on the back of my helmet as I told him, “Aliens.”
He shook his head.
“No, I’m serious. Aliens. They’re up to something. We’re going to need all hands on deck to stop them. I’m not even killing as many heroes as I normally do because of this.”
“You think Constellation is part of it?” He floated down to touch the ground. Off in the distance, I think I noticed some snapshots. I threw up a hologram of me looking like an anonymous man in black.
“No, but I think they’re involved in something that’s going to weaken the superpowered community. Like it or not, I’m kind of a murderous referee.”
Captain Lightning mulled it over for half a minute. “Officially, I’m not helping you, because Constellation’s affiliates are not involved in the theft of foreign artwork and gold or the smuggling of illegal narcotics into the country, are we clear?” He smirked as he said it.
I cocked my head to the side like a confused dog or a man with a broken neck or a man hit upside the head with a dog with a broken neck. “…no?”
“Good. So whatever you do, do not attack the nearest Constellation base, which is a mobile headquarters stationed in the Potomac.” He pointed behind him, to the west where the Potomac river flowed.
“Really? Can you clarify where it is, so I won’t get too close by accident? Because I don’t see any boats or islands or anything.”
“It should be easy to avoid a submarine, but you wouldn’t believe how many times they run into things.” He shook his head. “That’s a discussion for another time, unless you want me to help you. That would be another favor.”
I shook my head. “Nope, I got this.”
“You’ve got a submarine?”
“Not yet, but I’m about to.”
He shook his head this time. “I hope I’m doing the right thing.”
I pointed back to the statue of Thomas Jefferson. “As a famous president once said when discussing a possible war with Napoleon, ‘I’m gonna fuck them so hard, they’re gonna call me ‘Master’.”
“That’s not-” he looked behind me where someone had etched that very line onto a wall. “Gecko!”
“Whoopwhoopwhoopwhoopwhoopwhoop!” I turned invisible and scuttled out of there.
I wore my Norma Mortenson identity again. It’s a false assumption for many people that someone who changes their outward identity as much as I do can’t easily keep track of who they really are. The Barbellian, Missile Patriot, Banshee, Norma Mortenson, the Lord of Misrule, any others I’ve missed by now: how can I possibly maintain who I really am? But that’s easy. I know who I am. I’m not my boobs or my penis, but I am the sort who will use both for any advantage they can give me.
Once you know who you are inside, the outside is only icing on the cake.
So I once again became Norma and used my assets against Senator Powers. I may have enhanced the mammary glands a bit, because me and him, baby, weren’t nothin’ but mammals. I didn’t actively flirt, though. He’s not my type. I prefer the innocent and naive, I think.
We stopped at a barbecue place, the Senator having an odd taste for the messy food. Perhaps he just wanted to see fluids smeared all over my face. Eh, probably a power play.
“Good day, Miss Mortenson,” he stood up and offered a handshake.
I smiled as I shook, “Good day to you too, Senator. Thank you for meeting with me.”
“I always have time for prominent citizens like yourself. Please, let’s order first. I’m known for my love affair with the ribs here.”
Not to mention his love affair with Latino masseuse, though I think baby oil factored into it more than love ever did.
I had the salisbury steak myself, filling up. All the physical activity of supervillainy burns a lot of calories and increases the appetite. Then there’s the physical cost of restructuing myself with regenerative nanites. If I use them enough without restoring my chemical energy reserves, I’ll shrink. Priscilla Powers will also be chowing down more than ever, but that’s because she’s got to power her hand and feet. I don’t have that issue. I have a power core embedded in my chest that can wipe out a city if cracked.
That’s a good way to make sure people don’t want to kill you, along with always keeping at least one syringe of nanites on me, though I did compromise a core once to beat Captain Lightning. Temporarily. Still managed to knock some sense into the guy. He thanked me, since he was being controlled by the horror-villain Spinetingler at the time. He even told me he owed me a couple after we managed to save the entire city from being ruled by a villain other than me.
So we enjoyed a filling meal and made small talk about a few topics, like the craziness in Empyreal City, the weather in Paradise City, and how cleaned up Kingscrow had become recently. I guess Mix N’Max liked Vegas, but I realized I hadn’t kept up with him very well. My former druggy partner-in-crime might be surprised to see me now. Then again, I met his brother that time, who I’m pretty sure is his sister now. He may not be that surprised.
Wiping dabbing at my mouth all gentle and ladylike after inhaling the last of my food, I asked, “Now, Senator, how about we get down to business?”
He wiped his hands on his napkin and left it crumpled up in his plate, “Yes, Hero.Net, right? There are rumors that heroes are organizing on it.”
I shrugged. “That’s a strong word for it. It’s like a social network. It makes it easier to share clues, team up, and manage patrols. Plus, it gives them a forum for discussions. This reaches a lot of heroes at once.” I showed him a few screenshots
He glanced over the papers. “You could have made these, but it doesn’t say much about their competence that they’ve organized so well but can’t stop crime.”
“I could say the same about every branch of law enforcement in the U.S., but no one’s trying to abolish the police and FBI. It does seem daunting that the villains aren’t out yet after all that, but that’s easy to explain.” I showed some printouts of The Order. “The villains’ version came first as a remnant of that alliance that briefly took over the entire city.”
“How do you have these?” he asked, apparently convinced of the villainous version.
I held up two tablets, each one logged into one of the networks. “I get access to both. Not only could I help you find heroes and villains for your registration gag, but my servers are trusted by them. Both groups willingly help to keep them more secure. What better place for a registration list, right?”
He gaped. “This sounds like quite the confession.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t hear a confession, but I did hear an opportunity.”
Powers looked around, “I refuse to be a party like yourself. I do what I do for the good of everyone. To make the world a better place. You’re the worst sort of corpora-.”
“Look at your phone.” I told him, smirking. He did, then looked around again, more closely this time. Lots of puzzled people with phones. A frantic hostess at the register, trying to get the machine to process a credit card. For some reason, communications in and out just weren’t working. Except for those tablets of mine. I winked at him.
The Senator settled down, showing no more reluctance to work with a criminal. “You’ve made a very good point about security, but I’ve already made that deal. Constellation has the contract to maintain the security of the list.”
Constellation Consortium. Mercenaries.
I grinned. “Senator, you’re counting on the patriotism of mercenaries? They fight for money. I have plenty of that on my own.”
The Senator pointed at me. “They’re soldiers from the U.S. Of A. that fight for their country, and they use better equipment and receive better pay for their sacrifice.”
I rolled my eyes, “And they run off and let real patriots die in pitched firefights so they can collect their checks.”
The Senator didn’t take kindly to that. “Say what you want, they’re still a security firm and your company is some silly little medical supply company that owns coffee shops.”
“Hey, everyone needs medical treatment from time to time, including mercenaries. Speaking of which, I understand your daughter has recently been given some illicit treatment of her own. It’s why you’re in town.”
“Yes, the doctors are amazed, excited at the quality of the wo-, the limbs. You indicated before you can do better?”
I put up all the tablets and everything, released my little embargo on communications, and pulled out a small flash drive. “Easily. Take a look at these demonstrations. I can give her skin on them, and you won’t have to choose between denying your daughter the ability to walk, or benefiting from superhumans even as you seek to corral them.”
The main points of the meeting dealt with, we quickly got out of there.
Shame about Senator Powers, though. Accidentally emailed some very nasty stuff to people from his office computer and tried to pin it all on a virus of some sort. Real nasty stuff that really let a lot of people down. I guess I’m the only one who found the clowns and their “cream” pies funny, but even the normal ones terrify a lot of people somehow.
Poor fellow. What a political downfall. Thoroughly discredited, even moreso with another email released from Psycho Gecko, and some funny business coming out about his Powers PAC bank accounts transferring money to a non-extradition country.
The next part of the plan, getting a copy of the list, probably won’t be as easy as all that. For starters, I’m dealing with Constellation Consortium. They’re one of those corporations that owns a bunch of smaller corporations. They’re private military contractors made up of ex-military. Mercenaries, in other words, though they mainly do work for the United States Military. They’ve helped with disaster relief, which helps make them look better considering they also bought out Universitas. Universitas used to be Darkwater until they massacred a few civilians and had to change their name. Name brand is important, after all.
I mentioned before Senator Powers dealt with a lot of security folks, so that explains their involvement. I guess I expected the Pinkerton Detective Agency would be involved instead, especially since they employ superpowered operatives. Of course, knowing who I’m messing with doesn’t make it any easier to find out where they’d store a list like that.
And, as much as I’d like to fire off one of Chekhov’s guns and cash in a favor with Captain Lightning, I don’t have his number. Whoops.
And it’s not like Constellation’s mercenaries are easily identifiable. This would be so much easier if they ran around in yellow and green shouting, “Hail Hydra!” But don’t count me out yet. I might have been able to use the stolen phones… if they hadn’t been blown up in my hotel room. I could pretend to be a hero willing to register, but why? With Senators Powers having a really bad day, how would anyone know to contact them about it?
Shot myself in the foot there, I guess.
Luckily, I have ways of getting what I want. Ways like Harlon. He’s a high-up executive of a news organization I’d rather keep secret. A few years back, he had what could have been a bad encounter with me. After killing some of his coworkers, I took pity on him. Every now and then, he and I scratch each others’ backs for information. While a lot of the pundits on news channels are pretty much useless, like that fake CIA agent who got outed recently, their sources are usually legit. I left him a message on my way back to our crack den hideaway.
I saw all the druggies were lying still when I got there. I shrugged and headed upstairs. “Tech, did you kill all the crackheads? I’m proud of you, man.”
I found him upstairs, poring over data on holographic screen projected by his gauntlet. “No, it’s merely a sedative.”
I shook my head. “Someday, you’ll have to learn that drugs won’t solve all your problems. Just look at the people downstairs, for instance.”
“Oh?” he asked, paying the conversation little attention. “What does solve problems?”
“Violence of course. And sometimes blackmail, but always violence.”
I had time to ponder my predicament as I changed out of his sight, having excused my appearance as Norma as just another trick to Technolutionary. Then I stopped my precious nanites in their not-quite-tracks. I had a brilliant idea. It should have been so obvious to me before. I paused the nanites long enough to do some shopping, no doubt shocking people with an my asymmetric appearance. But it worked for me. I just needed a close enough outfit and a car for Moai to drive toward the Capital Complex while my nanites finished setting me up again. I know, why not the armor? Because when I walked past security looking and sounding like Senator Powers, I didn’t need to give them any special reason to stop me. And while it might be hard on an aide or page who forgets their identification, it’s much easier as a known Senator. Same for a Senator needing help to find his own office.
At least I’d gotten the building right. There’s like three of them for the use of Senators. I found the staff packing up in a hurry, the sound of a shredder chewing through documents in the background. “What’s the happy hap, people?” I asked cheerfully, trying my best to maintain his accent instead of mine.
“Senator!” a young man rushed over. “What are you doing here? You said you were going back home after you made bail.”
I raised a finger, “I did say that, my good lad, but I have to wrap up one last thing.”
“Sir?” He almost dropped the file folders he was carrying.
I put my hands on his shoulders. “You are my number one guy on this. I need you to talk to Constellations. You hear me? For God’s sake, you better hear me. I need the list. They’ll know what I’m talking about. I need a copy. It’s my salvation. My own personal Jesus. I need someone to be my friend, someone who cares. Are you that someone?”
Emboldened, the staffer nodded and walked off as fast as his energetic little legs could take him. Meanwhile, I adjusted my phoney bologna tie to keep from choking. That’s when I noticed a group of men and women huddled around a TV, some of them wearing worried expressions. “What’s upizzle in the hizzle? Why so glum? Don’t you have work to do?” I said, putting my arms around a pair of them. One short, plump woman of Asian ancestry turned to me and jumped like she’d seen a ghost. Others looked surprised to see me as well.
That’s when I paid attention to the news coverage, “…if you’re just joining us, Robert Powers, the Senator leading the charge on superhuman registration, was attacked by the supervillain Mary Malady at his home less than an hour ago. The Senator is fine. We go now live to where he is commenting on this turn of events.”
The image then changed to Senator Powers walking away from a house that looked like it’d been eaten by giant termites or something. “This is more evidence of what I’ve been saying in the recent days. There is a superpowered conspiracy aimed at my red, white, and blue American heart because they’re afraid I’ll expose them and their treachery to the world. They’re false friends who seek to stab us in the back. The superpowers are afraid of letting America be the superpower it deserves to be.”
Big talk, saying I’m afraid of being exposed after I jumped out of a cake wearing post-its. But I have to appreciate the brilliant damage control. He must have some way to get people to attack him. Well, aside from being an ass.
I looked around at the people who had seen “me” elsewhere on live TV. I shrugged. “You know they include a delay with live television. What if I’d given everyone the bird?”
Still, good time to leave before my treachery and false face is exposed to the world. And make a note for later: Maybe if I check with the guy who tore up D.C., I’ll find the Senator behind him, too. I headed after the aide I stopped originally. “Yo, yo, guy. Man. Fellow. Buddy.”
I found him in an office down the hall with a big desk and family pictures of the Powers family on the desk. He had set aside his folders and rifled through one of those rolling index card holders. He looked up when I entered. “Senator, I haven’t called them yet. I’m sorry, if you’ll just give me a minute.”
I waved my hand in the air like wiping away something. A grin, maybe. “That’s ok. I need to run, so if you’ll just give me the number now, I’ll handle it on my own.”
“It’s in here somewhere, Senator,” he told me, pleadingly. I glanced down at the index and noticed a picture of Priscilla set on top of the folders. I reached over and grabbed it. “Oh, that! I was just grabbing that to pack up for you, Senator.”
A ringing phone stopped him. He glanced down, then back up at me, then stopped to answer the phone. “Hello?”
I looked over the photo while he took his call. Priscilla looked happy, grinning and showing off her chair with a set of fake spinner hubcaps on the wheels. Word. “Come to daddy,” I said, then giggled to myself.
“Sir? Is this some sort of prank?” asked the unfortunate aide. He held up the phone, showing that Senator Powers was calling. The Senator’s voice asked, “Hello? Kent? Are you there?”
“Just a private joke. In here, you said?” I told him, pointing to the index. He nodded. I nodded too. “Good. I’ll go ahead and relieve you, then. I’m sure you have a splitting headache.”
“Actually-” he started, but didn’t get to finish as I embedded the corner of the picture frame into the middle of his forehead.
“Here’s blood in your eye, kiddo.” I winked at him, then pushed him over and wiped off my face where a spray had gotten me. The phone dropped to the floor, the Senator left talking to no one. I pocketed the index, then slipped out my survival syringe of nanites for a quickie. At least the ill-fitting suit looked appropriate on a random fleeing aide, who had good reason to get out of a haunted Senate office building before Capital police locked it down.
The bad news, I still don’t have the list, and Senator Powers might just recover from this. The good news, I can find what I need with a little more time, and the Senator still has a lot more to lose. If I want to get really mean, I could even knock up his daughter. I mean, I’ve already spent enough time giving her my DNA.
I am elated our work proved satisfactory to you in spite of your attempt to renege and elminate your daughter. I don’t know what you have planned for her as an asset, but I assure you our work will easily stand up to the wear and tear of everyday life, such as walking, running, cake decorating, and feasting on the hearts of your daughter’s enemies. Preferably with a well-decorated heart cake. We still await the funds you promised us. Also, I know you have hired a few other villains like myself before, but make sure you remember to thoroughly destroy this email. Just a friendly reminder considering all the leaks and investigations that have gone on lately.
Hugs and kisses,
Ah, such a lovely way to implicate daddy dearest in everything. I figured out I could get more mileage out of this entire thing by framing him as being a party to the kidnapping, which helps to create a good narrative for why he tried to blow us up. I mean, he went on TV and assured everyone he had nothing to do with that, but we had already said our piece first. It’s hard to play catch up on TV and the internet.
The past few days haven’t been kind to the Senator, but I’d rank it as more of a shitshower than a shitstorm. For starters, Priscilla has been talking in front of the cameras. She used to be a nice little set piece, the daughter in the wheelchair thanks to a super fight. She was a supporting character in his narrative. Now, she’s got a story all her own. An exclusive story of being kidnapped, experimented on, cut apart, and put back together with parts and pieces she doesn’t yet fully understand. I noticed she didn’t mention anything about her powers, so she’s probably talked to her dad. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the fact that she could identify me as currently being a woman. When I saw that, I doubled back to the hotel and wiped their records. I hope I got to it in time, but I’m not yet sure. For starters, I don’t even know how someone found us there at the hotel in the first place.
So let’s see where our goals stand. In order to continue pressuring the Senator and screwing up his career, I need to transfer some money out of an account connected to him so that it looks like he paid for something. A less important goal is making sure the email I sent him leaks out to the press. To help kill the Registration movement aside from the Senator’s efforts, I need to find out more about that list the Senator mentioned awhile back. The voluntary one. I have some ideas on that. And another minor goal would be to determine how someone found me at the hotel and if they’ve linked me back to my Norma Mortenson alias.
Yay, some other bunch of complications, like people finding out where I am. Is it too much to ask to mutilate someone in peace? Seriously, there’s always gotta be some secret conspiracy trying to outdo me for evil in everything nowadays.
Don’t laugh. Sometimes, a guy just feels like he isn’t stacking up in the evil department anymore. It was horrible. I had to go give a bunch of orphans food poisoning to feel better about myself. You know, if you set them to music, you could make a show of it like the Belaggio Casino in Vegas.
The account transfer went smoothly enough. The First Capital Bank here in Washington is home to at least one account from most of Congress, making the entire thing much easier than trying to get to the Cayman Islands. I snuck in with my usual pizazz: being delivered right into their clutches. Technolutionary didn’t want to do the undercover work, so I let him stay at the crack house we are borrowing from the tenants and look over the data from Priscilla. Instead, I just had a delivery service take me into the belly of the beast, where the workers took over carting me around.
That belly part is barely an exaggeration. I traveled by cake. A giant birthday cake for the manager working on the ground level. A VP would have more authority, but it’s still the little guys who move the money. And everyone loves a birthday cake. They all gathered around. I heard someone mention, “Wow, this is a big cake. You don’t think there’s a stripper in there, do you?”
When I was pretty sure everyone was around, which was right after someone yelled out, “There’s the birthday boy!” I pressed the release on the gas tanks I’d hid in the cake with me. Now, one of the tricky things about gas meant to render someone unconscious is that it’s hard to handle all the factors without risking death. There’s stuff to factor in like fat content, body size, whether someone has eaten recently, whether someone has had alcohol recently. But all of that only matters if the person with the gas cares about human life. I do not.
I waited two seconds after the gas shot out into the room, then burst out, my personal music player set to “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor.” I popped out of the top of that cake wearing a gas mask, nipples covered with a Post-it note each that read “This is a stickup!” I found myself in a break room.
It didn’t occur to me until I was climbing out of the cake that it probably would have been funnier if I was still a dude. And that Technolutionary probably would have agreed if he’d known my plans, being a dude who likes to oggle my dudettes. Ah well, more fun for me. And more cake. Er, almost. It occurred to me after I scooped up a handful that all the gas would make it dangerous to eat.
Darn. I smeared it all over the wall as I skipped along, looking for the manager’s office. Cheap drywall down here. A bank like this, you’d think they’d spend more money on walls. Maybe they only cared about the external ones. A woman rounded the corner and stopped abruptly, still holding a bunch of files out in front of her. “Hey sugar,” I told her. I grabbed the files with one hand and grabbed her hand with my other, getting icing all in it. Then I slammed her head into the wall. Imagine my surprise when it only dented it the first time around. A little better drywall than I thought. “Huh. Stud, maybe?” While she tried to scream, I rammed her head against the opposite wall, which didn’t dent so much and sounded a bit different. It also shut her up. “No, THAT was a stud.” I sent her into the first wall again, embedding her face this time. I heard her slump down to the floor after I passed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t run into anyone else on my way to the office, no matter how long I took. No, please, if everyone wants to poke their heads into my business, poke away. I like a little extra head. Except I found the computer without incident. The manager was still logged in and everything. I’d say it was insultingly easy, but that probably would have led to me discovering a bomb stuck under my chair or mysteriously shoved up my ass.
Now there’d be a twist ending. A bunch of FBI agents trapped in a building looking for activity from a terrorist or something are given a clue that one of their own is involved in the plot. It soon turns into a psychological thriller when they all suspect each other. The numbers dwindle as paranoia takes hold, only for the final survivor to realize at the last minute that he has a Trojan Ass. Dun dun duuuun! Then the title comes up: One Nation Under Ass-ault.
Now we just need to convince Danny Trejo he’s perfect as the lead.
At that point, escape was as easy as I looked. I just walked out and caught a cab. Hell, when I called out for one, I had two cabs, a limo, a bike courier, and a bus all stop for me. Pretending to fan myself in my gas mask, I said, “Wow, anyone care to give a lady a ride?”
Must have been the legs. I made them long this time.
After that, I figured I’d work on the mystery of this voluntary superhero list. I figured it probably wasn’t in government hands for a few reasons. One, there’s never been one to public knowledge, and recent Congresses have been so screwed up that they couldn’t pass a bong. Two, any really secret list would defeat the purpose of letting people voluntarily sign up for it, but it also would have leaked by now. Three, this guy’s major contributors are private security firms specializing in everything from investigations and forensics to small-scale military operations.
That just goes back to one of those basic lessons about the power of money. One of the few people to have a political say in the world’s most powerful nation, and all it takes to make him drop to his knees and whore out that purty little mouth is waving money around. Making money to finance reelection to stay in office to make money to finance reelection…
Which actually presented me with a way to get information from the Senator that I didn’t figure out at first. One little spoofed phone call later and… “Hello, this is Norma Mortenson of Double Cross Incorporated, calling for Senator Powers. I have a proposition for him.”
“Uh huh. Are you a contributor, ma’am?”
“I’ll go you one better. I’ll pay you personally a thousand dollars to put me through to him, but the offer’s only food until the count of five. One…two…three-”
The phone clicked and started ringing again as the aide on the other end transferred me, apparently without realizing I didn’t know who they were. And I’d have paid, too.
“Hello, this is Robert Powers. Who is speaking?” He’s probably going to kill that aide now. Maybe I can contribute the thousand towards the coffin fund, or maybe booze for the wake.
“My name is Norma Mortenson, owner of Double Cross Incorporated out of Empyreal City.”
“Yes, Mrs. Mortenson.”
“Miss Mortenson, what can I do for you this day?”
“I caught your interview the other day, the one about a voluntary list of superhumans, and it interested me a great deal. There’s money in that sort of business.”
“I suppose it can be, Miss Mortenson, but I only care for helping my constituency, who are tired of living in fear from the superhuman menace.”
“I understand. I too am devoted to making the world a better place.” A less populated place. “And I believe we can help each other. I have many contacts with the Empyreal City superhero community that I believe would be willing to hear you out if I asked them to. Oh, and perhaps your daughter would be interested in some of our premium custom limbs. She’s become something of a celebrity as of late, and Double Cross has been looking for famous endorsements. Strangely, current sports stars aren’t accommodating.”
“Miss Mortenson, I’ve been hearing tall tales from everyone about the superheroes they know. This is the first we’ve talked, and I don’t know you from Adam or Eve. Why should I believe you?”
“Because I can get you into the actual secret network for Empyreal City’s heroes. Namedrop Hero.Net to one of them and see if that makes a dent.”
He must have already heard of something to that effect, because he turned right around and said, “Miss Mortenson, I’d like to meet you. I am in D.C. for the week. I think we should meet and have lunch. I would be very interested to hear what someone in your position thinks of my bill. Do you mind if I transfer you back to my aide to get everything scheduled?”
“Not at all, Senator.”
So there. I feel like I have all the subtlety of James Bond during the last thirty minutes of a movie, but it works. I suppose I could just kill him, but that’d be that whole “martyr” thing. Perhaps instead I can drive him to suicide. Hmm. I think I have an idea on that, but I’m going to keep that under wraps until I can make it happen.
It’s been such a BORING few days since we started the treatment. Ya know, aside from fighting to keep Priscilla alive. Technolutionary knows his robotics and genetics, but sometimes he gets too caught up in watching stuff happen to stop it. Like this nasty infection in Priscilla’s fingers. I poked and prodded at the darkened flesh, flinching at the smell.
“What are you doing down there? My hand hurts like hell. Is something wrong?” Priscilla asked, weakly.
I got up in her face. Well, a few inches from her face. I then reached down and pulled up a can of silver spray paint. “Well, I gotta tell ya, you could look better. If you’re really determined to go, I could give you a shot of this to get you pumped while you pull some big stunt. Or, if you’re too big a baby for that sort of thing, I can do something about this infection to your hand.”
Priscilla squeezed her blue eyes shut.Yeah, she could be better. I walked over to Technolutionary, who watched something on a tablet instead. It looked like cells infecting other cells, over and over again.
“Hey, what’s that?” I asked. When he looked up, I sprayed him in the face with the paint. He sputtered and fell over.
“You’re making me miss the best part!” he said, jumping to his feet. “What are you doing with paint in here, anyway? This is a delicate medical area.”
“I ran out to improve one of the monuments. I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln recently and thought I’d give him a cool reboot.” The news, meanwhile, speculated on the vandal who painted the Lincoln Memorial statue’s face silver, gave him a mohawk and upside-down skull for a mask, stuck giant spiky football pads on him, and left giant spears embedded with points sticking up all around the place. There’s also the fire hazard of someone leaving all those burning coals to form a barrier around the base. Unfortunately, I didn’t get leave a customized Lincoln town car nearby. Moai suggested it too late into the project, but there’s still a chance to pimp out Thomas Jefferson’s memorial.
“Aaand,” I continued, “you sound like you’re missing the forest for the trees in your delicate medical area. She’s got an infection in her hand. Smells gangrenous.” I pointed over to the offending hand with my can.
As much as Technolutionary liked staring at my ass, it helped draw his eyes to the area in question. That got him in motion. He walked over, tapping the tablet. It switched to different cells, showing a very different picture. They didn’t look healthy, and were being swarmed by bacteria. “Yes, gangrene. That shouldn’t have happened.”
“What are you doing to me?” Priscilla asked.
“Hush, we’re fixing you,” Technolutionary answered.
“Is this happening in the other cells being converted?” I asked him.
He swiped through a few images, then brought up about a dozen more onscreen at once. “No. I think we have an isolated case. The immunosuppresants left her vulnerable. She’s infected, and it’s attempting to spread to her blood. She’s at risk of sepsis and septic shock. That is not good.”
“No, no, no, no, no…” continued Priscilla.
“Normally, there’s nothing more I’d do than listen to you say ‘No’ in just that tone, but this is no time to flirt,” I told her. Then I walked out of the room. We’d used a guest room of the private suite to hold her, not far from a fully-furnished kitchen. It helped that kitchens often have interchangeable tools with operating rooms. I walked back in with a big bottle of vodka in one hand.
Technolutionary took one look at it while hooking up a new IV line and shook his head. “That’s no good. Alcohol will not sterilize this. In fact, it can cause this very infection if used on surgical instruments!”
“Shut up,” I told him, then took a long pull of vodka. Then I held it out toward Priscilla. “Want some?”
“Germs,” she answered, looking at the mouth of the bottle.
I rolled my eyes, then set it down. “If not that, then do you want something, anything for the pain in your arm?”
“There’s the magic word, starshine.” I nodded, pulling a kitchen knife from my pocket. There’s a trick to keeping sharp knives there safely, folks. I recommend you learn it before trying any of this at home. I knelt down underneath the table we had her on. One quick stab later, she jerked against her restraints and I had to lay a cereal bowl down to catch a small drip.
“What did you do? I can’t feel my arms. WHAT DID YOU DO?!” she screamed over and over.
“Geez, the thanks I get. Just trying to be nice. ‘Hey, Psycho Gecko, save my life please.’ ‘Oh, sure I will. I’m awesomesauce at that.’ It’s almost like you wanted to be able to feel this.” I brought the knife down hard, getting a spurt of nasty blood all over me. “Moai, we need suction over here!” Priscilla watched, mouth agape, as I hacked a second time. Right about the first time I heard the knife stick into bone, her mouth bulged then released a fountain of spew onto herself and some onto us.
“Wonderful job, Gecko. Have you ever heard of tourniquets? We only have so much blood!” Technolutionary wiped the puke off his face. Not like it was all that gross. Slightly-yellow stomach bile, mostly, though not something you want to leave on you or your clothes. He grabbed a strap he over on his cart and started tying off the arm while I wiped my own forehead.
Impatient, I yelled for my chief minion. “Moai, where’s that suction?”
He rushed with the vacuum cleaner, trailing the cord. “Ah, good. Get her face. She can’t be puking all over herself, not in this position.” Moai pulled off the hose attachment and used it on Priscilla’s pretty and pale physiognomy. When it looked like she had another big vomit incoming, he raised the entire vacuum and held it up against her mouth for it.
Most of the blood problems stopped once Technolutionary got the strap hitched up nice and tight. I had the hand mostly off, too, but this one last section of bone refused to give. I even dropped the knife and tried muscling it off with my hand in hers, really trying to get some leverage with my elbow on the table. With a snap, I fell forward and took the disconnected hand with me.
I jumped to my feet. “And the new Extreme Arm Wrestling Champ is…Psycho Gecko! High five, everyone!” Technolutionary and Moai ignored me, so I high fived the severed hand instead. Then I pointed at it, “This guy knows what I’m talkin’ about.”
“Your methods were not ideal, but I believe she can be stabilized until the transformation is complete. We planned to fix her legs then. Do you want to make her new hand, or should I?”
“You work on keeping her alive, I’ll handle the cosmetics.” I answered. “Does she have any other trouble spots?”
“Good question.” He raised the tablet and scanned her with the camera. It took a couple minutes, time I spent helping Moai clean up the table.
“There, there,” I said, brushing Priscilla’s curly hair out of her freckled face with her own hand held in my right.
She stared up at her former digits. “Is..is that…?”
“Nope,” I tossed the hand away.
“Hmm,” hummed Technolutionary. “Her appendix doesn’t look good.”
I raised the knife I still held in my left hand.
He frowned and turned so he couldn’t catch me in his peripheral vision. “I believe the antibiotics will prevent appendicitis. I’m more interested in what you did to numb the pain of your impromptu surgery.”
“Oh, right, I’ll have to fix that my own way. Just gave her a little nick in the spine. Nothing much. Just can’t move her arms now.”
“You paralyzed me?” Priscilla broke down into tears.
Technolutionary didn’t bother looking up from the screen. “We can fix that.”
“My hand!” she yelled.
I shrugged. “We can fix that.”
“You can’t treat me like this. I’m a human being.”
“We can fix that,” Tech and I said simultaneously, then glanced at each other.
She started sobbing again after that, mouthing words like “Dad” and “Mom” to herself.
I turned to Technolutionary. “Would it hurt anything to sedate her?”
He still didn’t look up from his tablet. “Why? I doubt she can feel much now that you damaged her spine.”
I walked over and gave Priscilla a good, long sip of the vodka.
There’s a cliche that the night is always darkest before the dawn, which is bullshit. The sky lightens gradually, since the light is provided by the Earth rotating toward a star. It’s not like flipping a switch. But in this case, that was Priscilla’s lowest moment. Her condition improved considerably that night, and the next day.
I kept a close eye on her, too. I stayed in the room with her, watching over her, assembling a new hand out of materials I sent Moai out for. To better help me, and to get Technolutionary out of the room part of the time, I stole the med tablet and hung it over her to allow a constant scan, then steamed the feed to the television in the living room. When she got well enough, I even fixed her spine with a few of my nanites.
And when she had moments calm and lucid enough to ask, I answered her questions about what we did to her. And why. And even why we didn’t take her wheelchair. “Eh, he probably had some sort of tracer on there. Ever heard of a lo-jack? Hijacking is taking a vehicle, lo-jacking is planting something on it to track its location. Why did you even ride in that thing? I’m sure you could have gotten some good legs, like those ones you can run races in.”
“My dad didn’t think fake feet were necessary. Um, it’s more convincing than that when he says it.” She sniffled. “God, you only did this to me to get to him.”
“A lesson well-associated with superheroes. Not to say he is one. He just has a daughter who lost part of her legs to a superhuman fight, then convinced you to stay in a nice, wieldy wheelchair so he could start campaigning on superhuman control and registration. I know heroes can be dicks, but I’m not sure of many who would stoop that low. Ooh, speak of the devil.”
On TV, a reporter with a weird name like Major, or Wolf, or Brit stated that Senator Powers would be addressing the press about his daughter’s disappearance in thirty minutes. “Hey, look at that. Your dad’s going to betray his own bill, all to protect his darling daughter.”
When that press conference started, amazingly, Powers was back in his home state, with his wife and son. He got out of here in a hurry. Then again, the Senate only stayed in session like one day this entire month. The man looked ill, looking more thin in the face. He must have had some really bad bags under his eyes for them to look that visible after makeup. “Ladies and gentlemen of this great nation, I stand before you a battered man. As you all will have heard, my daughter was taken from us on New Year’s Eve. A madman named Psycho Gecko, a superhuman who has been left unchecked for far too long, kidnapped her. Recently, he contacted me. I expected a list of demands. Instead he showed me…he showed…he murdered my little girl.”
Speaking over the speech, I muttered, “Wow. He REALLY wants to be THAT much of an asshole on this.” I shook my head, thinking what this means. He’d probably spin Priscilla as, I don’t know, a cyborg under my thrall? A clone? A surgically-altered lookalike? Otherwise, he’d pretty much have to kill her.
Hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I called up Moai and Tech. “Moai, check the halls, see if we’ve been made. Technolutionary, en garde. The Senator is saying I killed his daughter. I think we’re in the crosshairs.”
I grabbed Priscilla’s table and IV hook and wheeled them both out to the living room. I stopped when Moai tossed me my armor on his way out to check the hallway. While I slipped into it, I expanded my mind and tried to sense anything unusual. Nothing, really. Except, wait…a single cell phone for the entire floor below us. A maid?
Taking a risk, I stepped over to an out of the way portion of the floor and punched my way down. I landed in a heap of dust, drywall, and insulation, with wiring trying to hold onto me.
The suite below looked smaller, but the biggest difference was the stack of C4 sitting on a cable. At first, I couldn’t see the detonator. Then I figured out they actually rigged a manual detonator up to it. The cable. I started following it, stepping past the dead body of a maid. At first, I thought I’d find a guy with one of those plunger boxes from cartoons. Instead, it stopped at the ceiling just above the elevator. I stopped to puzzle that out, then called up to the others. “The elevator’s rigged. The next time someone on our floor calls it, a bomb down here goes off and blows us the fuck up. Technolutionary, let’s take our guest down the stairs.”
“She won’t go on this table,” he told me.
“Unstrap her and lower her down with her medicine. Moai, make sure to grab the feet and hand.”
Technolutionary chimed in. “And the tablet. It has all the relevant medical data we need to recreate the process.”
Technolutionary carried Priscilla down, having suited up in his own armor in the meantime. I let the girl ride me piggbyback as we headed downstairs, Moai taking point in case whoever planted the explosives thought to watch the stairs as well. About halfway down this tedious exercise, I had a flash of a magnificently evil idea. In my head, I called down to Room Service and requested more towels.
We were easily clear of the explosion when ripped through the building high above us like a constipated dragon. Funny thing is, I jumped without meaning to. I don’t mean I was startled. I was expecting the blast, but then I jumped forward and had to catch myself, then my helmet started flipping through its vision modes like crazy. I hadn’t been paying attention, otherwise I should have noticed it. It had been years since I’d been on the same planet as anyone who could do that. “Our little butterfly has emerged from her cocoon,” I sent out as message along the circuits.
“What’s going on?” Priscilla asked out loud behind me. “I can feel your armor like it’s a part of me.”
“That it is,” I told her, also out loud. “Moai should carry you from here.”
The rest of our descent even gave time for emergency services to arrive. They spotted my little entourage as we exited in full gasping fanfare, but stayed back. Priscilla, the doll that she was, looked into the nearest camera she could find in the crowd. Big Brother doesn’t need to watch anyone when they’re all willing to record their own lives, but this time it helped me. “My name is Priscilla Powers. I’m not dead. Psycho Gecko kidnapped me, but I’m alive, see?” she waved her handless stump for people. “My little brother’s middle name is Juneaux, but he hates it. My mom’s best dish is her spinach shells. I wanted to call my first dog Sparkles, but Dad put Zeus on the tag. It’s me! I’m alive! It’s me!”
I walked over and slid the replacement hand onto her stump, then turned to that same camera. “Trying to assassinate me AND your daughter at the same time while claiming I killed her? That’s low, even for a politician. Now, everyone, let’s get some room so Cinderella can try on her glass slippers.”
Priscilla’s face lit up as her body made the connections and the hand came to life. I made a small improvement on the fingers. They were boneless, more like finger-shaped tentacles. Those things had lots of nifty little tricks. While she played around with her new range of motion, Technolutionary handed me one of the prosthetic feet. We both knelt and slipped the three-toed feet onto the ends of her legs, then stood back. In a matter of seconds, they flexed and curled then moved about.
“I can walk!” Priscilla declared just before Moai eased her to her feet. Then, of course, she fell down and we had to help her up.
“The muscles in your legs have atrophied. You need physical therapy to regain your ability to walk,” Technolutionary told her.
“Get away from the girl!” called out a pair of DCPD officers. Behind them, I noticed a reporter and cameraman rushing to the scene, who stopped to get a view of the cops with more sack than brains. Moai, Priscilla, Tech, and I all turned to these officers at once. They sheepishly removed their hands from their holstered guns and stepped back.
“What do we do with them?” asked Technolutionary, stepping toward them. The crowd and officers took a step back in response.
“Nothing for now. This part is done. More publicly than I hoped, but her own father blew up my original plans the same time when he tried to blow up his own daughter.” I threw my hands up to the sky. “What sort of man tries to kill his own daughter?! What foul agenda was he willing to advance through such a murder plot? Oh, may the Furies pick the flesh from his bones!”
“If you do not wish to engage in a fight with the police, we ought to leave before we have no choice in the matter,” Technolutionary interrupted.
I lowered my arms. “Good call. You’ve been a wonderful crowd, folks. I’m available for parties, Bar Mitzvahs, even the occasional adult diaper commercial.” Feigning a sniff, I pointed at one of the cops. “This guy knows what I mean.”
And with that, we disappeared, leaving our metaphorical butterfly Cinderella behind as we fled to one of the bad neighborhoods of D.C. where crime is rampant and police fear to tread.
Truly, it’s a tale fit for Disney.
Okily dokily, folks. I had Priscilla Powers, daughter of Senator Powers, both of whom exhibited an odd trait of being appropriately named for their involvement in all this. And despite kidnapping the daughter of a Senator, I didn’t even make the biggest splash in news.
Nah, that was the big battle between Terrorjaw, the human-shark of the seven seas, versus Kelly Kaiju, the growing man. The official story is that Kaiju went fishing for Terrorjaw to put an end to his evil, ship-interdicting ways. Terrorjaw’s a bit of a pirate, you see. I asked him about it once, but he said he preferred torrents to raiding boats.
The unofficial story, as spread in The Order Forums and on Outlaw X, the underworld pirate radio show, is that fans of Kaiju got together to make him a giant bologna sandwich. He dropped it in the water, tried to get it out real quick, and found Terrorjaw clamped down on the other end. As sometimes happens when someone steals a lunch, war were declared.
On the one hand, Terrorjaw was punching a little out of his weight-class, but Kaiju is a one-trick pony. Terrorjaw has one hell of a bite, but Kaiju can lay some major brute-force smackdown if he hits someone. Kaiju lost a finger or two, but ended up skipping Terrorjaw like a stone. Authorities in the UK have been put on alert.
The report of a kidnapping seemed small potatoes next to two people running into each other and randomly getting into a fight. That’s what sells newspapers, though, and it’s guaranteed that the press are going to give this matter a huge amount of attention any day now.
She is a missing white woman. I’m half surprised that twat Nancy Grace hasn’t deafened half the nation yelling at them through their TV sets to find Priscilla.
I mentioned a speech last time, and that’s because I wanted to chat with our friend Senator Powers. But first, I think I owe y’all an explanation. See, this whole superhuman registration thing, it’s just stupid. Accident of birth, or just accident around radiation, and someone now has to register with the government? At least gun owners gave others a reason to be worried, namely the desire to own a weapon.
Aside from that, it’s also just stupid as hell to trust that some government database of superheroes can remain a secret. That’s the sort of thing that separates real conspiracies, like the coup planned against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from the fake ones, like the moon landing. The former was broken up when the business executives planning the entire thing trusted the wrong person, who turned them all over. The latter has never been proven, despite requiring the silence of hundreds of people in NASA, the rest of the executive branch, the astronomy community, the Soviet Union, independent observers, and anyone who fires a laser at the lunar laser ranging array left up there.
Two can keep a secret, so long as one of them is dead. Which means harassed or dead heroes when the list gets out, and possibly people kidnapping supers for their own diabolical purposes. I don’t want that. I want supers for MY diabolical purposes. And I don’t want some alien invasion to get a heads-up on where to find all the superhumans that could potentially oppose them.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by smacking peanut butter on my genitals and running around backwards I would do that,” or something. Truly, he was a man after my own heart. Lincoln, gimme five!
Speaking of five dollar bills, I had to make it very clear to Senator Powers that money couldn’t buy back his daughter. Only one thing could do that: the reversal of his support for this idiotic law.
I sent Moai to drop off a tablet I gutted and modified to allow a single video call. Then I called up the Senator and ignored his questions and other attempts to draw out the conversation. I know the average time for police and the FBI to trace a phone call, but now we’re talking the full might of the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security and whatever else they oversee. Homeland Security and Sandwich Standards. They might have a trick or two to trace calls more quickly.
I’m sure they wanted to take their time, examine it, look for prints and all that. Funny thing about fingerprints, you can lift them off all sorts of things. Like stolen watches and phones. That’d be a dead end, but I also called five minutes after they took it from the drop site.
“Hello, hello!” I said into the camera held by Technolutionary, remotely monitoring it myself to see how he framed me. “Make sure you’re getting my bad side.”
I let them get a good look at me in my grey and orange armor. Strips of armor curved in like a V to meet a central chest and spine piece. A helmet with a visor dipped in the middle to look like it glared, with the visor continuing to a pair of horns like a jester’s cap. The third such horn stuck out from my the front, over the visor. The helmet was grey, with the throat and visor orange. The vertical plates were orange as well, going into an orange starburst around the neck. I know I still call them gloves, but my handware is more like grey with orange barbed wiring used to project the energy sheath.
The pants were made of an orange nanomaterial that can’t easily be penetrated by blade or bullet, with grey armor plates, braces, and pseudomuscles held in it. Boots were orange and grey, not particularly armored except the usual stab and shot resistance. I painted eyes and teeth onto the front of them as if I had skulls up there, but they didn’t look too special from the outside.
In short, while I can look like anybody, the armor was distinctly Psycho Gecko. And then I added a wide-brimmed straw hat, a pair of swim trunks, a Hawaiian shirt, and hung a camera around my neck. I’m a tourist in this town, after all. “Good morning, TV land. This is the one, the only, the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko here to show you our dear Priscilla.” I stepped out of the way to show where Priscilla sat in a wood chair, tied down.
“You monster, if you-!” the Senator started from his end.
I waved my hand. “Mute!” The tablet on his end obeyed and he shut up. “This is merely to let you know we have your daughter. Your lovely little daughter.” I knelt beside her and ran a few fingers over her cheek. She flinched away, then turned and tried to bite my fingers. I grabbed one of the offending incisors and yanked it out, causing her to sit back and yell in pain. I walked over to the tablet and held it up so everyone could get a good look at the tooth and its root. “See that? Not easy to get the whole thing out like that. Takes a bit of practice, though she has plenty if I needed more. Truth is, it’s not like it’s important to have her in one piece.” I tilted the tablet down so it focused on her missing lower legs, then tilted it back up to me.
“Asshole! Tore out my toof!” she yelled behind me.
“The tooth hurts!” I called back to her, then added, “You want the tooth? Well you can’t handle the tooth!” And I tossed the incisor away. Stepping over to the side, I retrieved a limb I’d put together just for her. A three-clawed lower leg. “But you might be able to handle this little baby. Don’t worry, daddy dearest, she’ll get top of the line prosthetics. Superhuman, even. I’ll even throw in a little bonus, give her some extra oomph so she’s guaranteed to be on your little list. Just to keep you honest, just to make sure that you’re not advocating anything you wouldn’t do to your own daughter. Supposing she survives, that’s when you’ll get her back.”
“From my heart and from my hand, why don’t people understand my intention? Heh. This message will self destruct in ten seconds.” I cut the feed, activating the five second self destruct on the tablet I sent them. Why not lie? Besides, whoever’s holding that thing probably won’t die. They might lose their hands, but they’ve got pretty good healthcare. Probably. Eh, not my concern.
“Go fuck yourself!” Priscilla spouted at me and Technolutionary.
“Temper!” Technolutionary told her.
I grabbed the chair I stuck her in and carried it over to the table Technolutionary prepared for the procedure. I lifted her up high, then slammed her down back-first, breaking the chair and stunning her momentarily. I strapped her down and pulled the pieces out of the way.
“Everything is in readiness, Gecko, we merely await your command.” Technolutionary said, pulling over a cart with his equipment on it. The main thing seemed to be a trio of intravenous bags. They didn’t look all that remarkable. No strange colors. No glowing.
“So you’re going the chemical route?” I asked.
He nodded. “Cybernetic integration is rough on human physiology. The immune system rejects the foreign bodies and attacks them. Rather than suppress the entire immune system, I have developed a virus that suppresses it only where the implants work. I believe I found a way to utilize the virus for converting all her cells with a slight gene modification.”
“You’re going to do something to my DNA?” Priscilla asked.
I reached over and patted her on the forehead. “We’re going to make you better. Better than this, better than human.”
She shook her head. “You don’t have to do this! We have money! We’ll give you whatever you want.”
I covered her mouth with my hand. “I want silence right now. And I want you to survive this. You’re not helping either right now, and I can assure you that your cries for help mean nothing to us. Now, would you care for a ball gag?” I held up one I planned to use for muffling her slightly. Eyes wide, she shook her head. “Your loss,” I said, tossing it away. Instead, she just whimpered as Technolutionary swabbed her arm and inserted an IV line.
I had Moai bring over a TV and hang it on the wall at her feet, while I brought her a pillow. I unsealed my helmet and pulled it off so I could look her in the eyes and tell her, “It’s ok. You’re scared, but we aren’t going to kill you. Hell, a change like this, you’d have to be crazy not to be scared…which may explain something about my species. Well, your species too before long. And we won’t let you down. We’re villains, remember? We know a few tricks for staying alive when everyone wants us dead. I’m Psycho Gecko, after all. If there’s anyone who could fight off Death, it might just be me.”
So began the transformation.