Aside from our own Thanksgiving holiday to an unnamed island in the Mediterranean that hosts supervillains, it’s been relatively boring as of late. Sure, there’ve been problems to deal with. Big influx of refugees from Central America. I think I unnerved the nearby Directors when I found out about it. They didn’t find it as funny as I did, probably because they were Honduran instead of Peruvian.
I happened to have a lot of spare food laying around from my attempt to get people to stop their Christmas obsession by threatening to take away Thanksgiving, so it worked out. Turkeys for tots. I was going to reinstate the old self-proclaimed Immigration Director, but he’s dead. Funny story, this blacksmith was moving his anvil up to the second story of his building for some reason. The Director visiting a nephew at the nephew’s two-story blacksmith supply emporium on delivery day, when they were lifting anvils up to the second floor storage. Heck of a place for a collision with a drunk segway motorist. Ran right over his head. Not really a way to save someone at that point.
So I decided to chuck it in the fuck it bucket and came up with a new idea. I just let them in. They had to register real quick, with a subtle body and DNA scan. My guys used the data to create a profile for them on the island’s AR overlay. Think of it as a digital ghost the exact size and shape of a person that is laid on top of them everywhere they go with data embedded that keeps track of money and welfare. Even if they don’t get the equipment to interact with it, it’s compatible with the banks and most vendors on Ricca. A person with the overlay can walk right up to a register, get scanned, and the computers do the rest. If they have phones or glasses that interact with it, they can transfer it person to person.
The system appears to be secure so far, using my modified operating system that branched off from the dimension I came from. Nice and easy, with an option to operate off the grid with money.
So I’m working on that sort of thing, hunting bugs and building up the registration team. I already found some new workers for the nuclear power plant, and some nurses. If the nurses can’t hack it here, we have a training program in Belgium to help their hospital workers integrate nanite healing into their practices.
There’s really no crisis for what feels like the first time in five years or so. I’m not even all that worried about holiday problems this year. I think I’ve done about all I can for Christmas, and I simply don’t know enough about Hanukkah to help out. Also, Ricca doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I heard Master Academy had something hectic going on in their neck of the woods, but it doesn’t appear to involve either myself or any anthropomorphic personifications of seasonal feelings so I’m sitting that out.
Yep, when I laid my head down to finally sleep, my brain swimming in medication Mix N’Max claims is keeping me level, I had nothing to do but hold my hot wife and sleep. I was awakened by the sound of metal chains making a racket. I reached over and grabbed for a weapon from the nightstand.
The Good Doctor, appearing see through, stepped through the wall. To begin with, he was clearly still dead. Once again, it’s kinda tough to bring someone back from how I killed him, and he didn’t look any more alive now that he was translucent. A spike had been driven into his heart that held the thick metal chain that wrapped around his body to him. He was clearly dead as a door nail, not that I know what’s so dead about door nails in particular. But it was Good Doctor. The same face and costume, with the addition of a thick chain with embedded designs of scalpels, bonesaws, and human organs.
I nodded to him, “Sup?”
“A lot. Er, is this a bad time?”
“I was trying to sleep,” I answered.
“That, and you, and her,” he said, sweeping his hand across the large dildo I held in my hand, my nude appearance, and my naked wife who had inexplicably remained sleeping. Probably because she snores like a bear.
I pulled on a teddy to cover up. “Fine, fine. I’m surprised you’re so prudish. Aren’t you British?”
“Actually, I’m dead,” he said. “However, I have important news for you that is best delivered if you aren’t otherwise distracted.”
I stood up and slid on some panties, then ran over and tried hugging him. My arms went right through him. “Aww,” I said.
He responded with a pained smile. “Being dead has tempered the hate I had for you in life, as a partner in your misdeeds. It is… nice you still see me as a friend.”
“Of course I do! One of the few I had for a long time. A little thing like fighting to the death isn’t going to change that,” I said. “Sorry about killing you by the way. Really the only thing to be done.”
He nodded. “Yes, it was you or me. Mind, I’d have preferred it being me.”
I shrugged. “I mean, obviously I feel the same way. Hard to fault you. So how you been?”
“I’ve been dead,” he said.
“Cool, I guess. So, you’re like a ghost now? The guys at the cemetery didn’t mention that.”
He shook his head. “This is not an ongoing thing. I was brought back and compelled to impart on you a message.”
“Wow… dick move. Someone brought you back from the dead because they couldn’t bother writing an email or texting?” I asked.
“I know, right?” Doc agreed.
I leaned in to stage whisper conspiratorially. “If you know the guy’s name, I wouldn’t mind doing you a little favor. Ya know, sending him a message involving being dead the old fashioned way. Or her, I should say. I still forget that stuff, despite, ya know…” I pointed at my awesome boobage.
“Yes, well, I don’t know what force has put me back on Earth or forced me to weigh me down with the chains of my sins while alive. This doesn’t make any sense, does it?” he asked, pointing to the chains.
I reached for one and passed right through. “Yeah, gravity isn’t ordinarily something I associate with ghosts, but there are loads of unanswered questions there regarding centrifugal force and gravity that magic has to answer for.”
“Right. Including the fact I’m back and not even allowed to enjoy a nice cup of tea. Look at me, I appear to have gotten into the weeds on this. I should continue on, then we can hang out. Where was I…” He cocked his head to think. When he spoke again, it was with a cadence of recitation instead of the normal way in which he conversed. “Oh yes. I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, meter by meter. I girded it of my own free will… bugger that, you know I was forced into this… and of my own free will I wear it, which is a load of bollocks as well. Would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“The ending was a little weak,” I judged. “But if someone’s going to stick a chain on me after death in proportion to the evil they think I’ve done, chances are good it’d be a lot worse than yours. Now to figure out who this necromancer is and do them in first…” I set up a database search for people in the superhuman community that practice magic. The Faustus/Hephaestus organization is top of the list and probably have a more complete listing than I do. I imagine plenty of people using magic just want to go about their everyday lives instead of throwing on capes and fighting people in tights.
“I don’t know about the chain. It is just the message I was given to convey. Now I’m worried what will happen if you die and someone raises you from the dead as some sort of ghostly reaper,” Good Doctor said. He sighed and looked around. Spotting a chair next to a small desk, he sat down in it.
I pointed at the chair. “Exactly what I mean about magic having a lot to answer for. Can you believe that shit?”
“Relax, I’m tired for some reason,” he looked down at where he seemed to be sweating. “I seem to have sprung a leak.”
I waved it off. “Probably just ectoplasm. Don’t worry, the folks who clean in here are used to strange fluids in strange places. So was that it? That all you needed to say?”
“I feel as though my time is nearly gone,” he said, taking up the same cadence as when he was reciting his message, “But I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Psychopomp.”
“You’re a good guy, dude,” I told him.
“You will be haunted by three spirits,” he said.
I pointed the dildo at him. “Dammit, Doc, I will fuck a ghost up. Don’t you play with me. I’ll bust the shit out of you.”
He held his hands up. “This is the message again! There will be three more ghosts. They shall come at midnight on different days.”
I thought about it a minute. “Ghost of a friend I used to partner with… visited by three ghosts… are any of them related to Christmas in the past, present, or future?”
He shrugged. “I think so? I don’t have a lot of information about my current condition and what is compelling me to do and say these things.”
I brought the hand with the dildo up to rub my forehead, the veiny purple toy wobbling as I did so. “Just when I thought I was safe from Christmas, someone’s gone and pulled A Christmas Carol on me.”
“You think it was a person?” Doc asked. “If there is someone behind this, I haven’t met them or spoken with them.”
“Makes more sense to me than the universe suddenly changing how it works out of nowhere to spit out a bunch of ghosts related to a man-made holiday in the hopes of reforming me when I’m not even at my worst,” I explained.
“I wish you luck,” Doctor said, standing up. “I must go, and I do not know if I shall ever see you again.” He adjusted the chain. “I will be glad to be rid of this.” He looked up at me. “Good luck staying out of this chain yourself. For what it’s worth, I hope you become a better person, but for your own sake. These violent delights have violent ends, you know.”
“We’ll see how it turns out.” I smiled at him as he began to fade away. “Rest in peace, Doc.”
When I was pretty sure he was gone, I sat back down on my bed to contemplate the necromancer and ghosts trying to mess with me. Then I laid back down and finally set the dildo I’d grabbed from the nightstand back where it had been, my fingers tracing the model name on the side that read, “Big Humbug”.
I didn’t just rush into the situation with Good Doctor blindly. That would just make it easy for him. No, I had to use that steaming pile of think gunk in my head here. The coordinates he gave me were for this artificial island made by the United States right after World War II and gradually abandoned as necessity allowed. Satellites confirmed he was there, along with a boat, and Citra. I even got to see when he burned the boat he arrived on. I could have rushed in there, but I took the time to pimp my own ride to the island. I don’t get many opportunities to have a custom-equipped speedboat. I expect it’ll come in handy. I’m not even supposed to leave the island.
Under Imperial decree, I confiscated a speedboat. I installed armor. I gave it a pair of small mines. I strapped machine guns to it, and a rocket launcher. Darn near blew myself up with that. This whole Doc thing had me on edge, even if he only took Citra. I didn’t want more of this shit, with friends turning on me and plans within plans. Who does, right?
But it’ll pass. One way or another. Doc will die, Citra might die, even I might die, but it will end one way or another. I won’t be so quick to say I just want it to end no matter what, because I’m still fond of living. Even if there aren’t any omnipotent gods out there, I’ve been the devil of a deal enough times to know to be careful what I ask for. That’s probably what got me listening to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” while I worked. Don’t let Ursula fool y’all. Her deal was particularly wicked.
But enough aquatic antics with mermaids. You can never get further than blowjob base with them, anyway.
Now, unlike my armor, I did add a self-destruct sequence to this one. It seemed handy if I needed to ram something and explode prematurely. I swear, baby, it never happens. Don’t worry, I have protection. It can’t explode until after the ejector seat has fired off well away. Ejector seats are fun, if you can get one. Mine comes with its own parachute, and the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. There’s also a bag that goes over the face in case of emergency, like if I bring a really ugly person with a nice body back to the boat.
The day seemed stormy, and not from the weather. Seemed like a lot of the Assembly people were stopping by. I had let some of them in on it, not yet having learned all the various councils and committees they were working on. It was more a matter of letting them know they might have to bail me out. I told them they might have to print up some new money, and if I was on it, give me a nice hat. I’m thinking a bowler.
One of them even wore a fancy sash across his chest when he stopped by. “My Emperor,” he said while bowing in the Japanese fashion.
I returned it. “Got this baby almost ready to go. No paint job, though. When I get back, I’ll have to see about it. I’m thinking flames and a dark knight riding a unicorn. What do you think?”
“I wanted to tell you that the entire Assembly supports you in the return of Lady Citra. The treaty has disseminated throughout the Assembly and we want you to know that we will not reveal your absence. If anyone claims to see you off the island, we will say otherwise.”
“Thanks. Nice to have a little support, even if I’m leaving y’all in a bind.” I held out a hand. He took it, and bowed his head against it. I grabbed his hair and gave him a handshake on the head. “Close enough.”
Qiang ran over before I cast off, drawing my egress out even further. “Hey there, kiddo,” I said, wondering where Silver Shark was. The cyborg woman was supposed to be watching her and keeping her well away from here. Yeah, she’s alive, and almost good as new. Still a bit tender herself, but between Ricca’s nanotech medical care and all the modifications made, she pulled through. Guess it was too much to hope she could wrangle a kid, though. “What are you doing away from Silver Shark?”
“I snuck away!” she said, hopping up into the boat. “I swapped shirts with another girl when she wasn’t looking and ran away.”
Aww. She’s learning. And taking her clothes off in public. I’d be so proud of her if I didn’t want her far away from this boat so she didn’t smuggle herself onboard. “Smart, though you won’t always be able to do that. Listen, daddy needs you to stay here and try to be a good girl, ok?”
“Don’t go, daddy!” she pouted up at me. No enemy on Earth could attack me like the face of my daughter.
I hugged her, feeling her slowly connect to my armor as well to keep her from doing anything to it. She didn’t seem to understand it enough to power me down or accidentally screw up the strength multipliers on the exoskeleton. “I have to. He won’t stop, and he’ll hurt Citra and more. And if I don’t show up there, he’ll come back and try a different way I won’t see coming.”
“Can’t I go with you?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. I brought you with me before because I didn’t know where he was and I wanted you close in case I had to protect you. I know where he is now, and that you’ll be safe here. I can stop him from reaching you.”
“What if he hurts you?” she asked.
“If he does, he might leave you alone. Don’t worry. I’m coming back.”
She didn’t believe me. Just hugged onto me, crying, yelling “Don’t go!” It’s a good thing I have experience being heartless. I picked her up, gently tied her up to a pole on the pier, and shoved off. I did see Silver Shark running up after her as I left, so I waved at her before cranking the Geckoboat up and speeding off into the horizon.
I don’t know if the island had a name other than whatever secret base name the military gave it. Talk about people not afraid of sunk cost. I can respect that.
I called the satellites back up as I approached. It didn’t look like he’d put any defenses in place. He just left Citra sitting outside on the ground about a hundred yards from a shed. She did some wiggling that convinced me she was still alive. Hear that, ladies? Taking the hint yet? Show some damn effort in bed!
No mines, no guard sharks, no trained seals, not even a belligerent mutated sea bass. It was almost insultingly easy. I swooped around and came up alongside the island and dropped anchor on the concrete. If it happened to slide off, I figured I’d hear the plop in the water. I climbed aboard and kept my eyes open for any sneakiness. Nothing. Aside from Citra, there were waves in the water and the bobbing of the boat. That’s it. I focused on the sheds and other abandoned building entrances, but it turned out to be unnecessary. I approached the tied-up girl completely unmolested, which isn’t a word normally used in situations involving bound and gagged females.
I pulled the gag out first, and quickly. Gagged people always have something important to tell you, like “Look out! They’re right behind you!”
“Look out!” she yelled, voice cracking and croaking. Fucking called it, right? “He’s taking the boat!”
I spun around. Good Doctor, his outfit wet and glistening from the sea, finished slicing through the anchor line and waved us goodbye before hitting the accelerator.
“That bastard,” I said.
“He’s stranded us. He’s going back to the island,” Citra said.
I turned to look at her and finish tearing off the ropes that bound her. “Conserve your water.” In my head, I connected to my poor, new boat and activated the ejector seat. Good Doctor shot into the air, clinging to the seat as the parachute deployed. So much for hoping he’d have been left in it so I could just hit the self-destruct. I helped Citra stand up and regain her feet all while watching Doc figure out how to direct the chute and seat back to land. “You’ll want to hide now. I’m going to have to murder a friend.”
She didn’t argue with me. She stumbled away, trying to find somewhere to hide. I approached the edge of the island where the seat looked to come a little bit short. Indeed, Doc jumped out of it and landed on the edge as the seat itself plopped into the water.
“Clever,” I said to him. “Lure me here, head back, and finish what you couldn’t before.”
He stood up. I couldn’t see his eyes through the visor on his black leather helmet, but I could feel his hatred. “You did not react the way I anticipated to protecting that girl. Rumors say you have a daughter.”
“Jealous?” I asked. He took up a scalpel in his right hand and a punch knife in his left.
“Saddened. I take no joy in what I must do to you,” he said, his voice warping slightly to the tone I often heard when he slipped into his murderous state of mind.
“I’ve seen you take plenty of joy in it. Didn’t think you were the type to go after a man’s daughter. Have you truly become no better than I?” I stepped forward, hands open and palms to him, leaning forward just slightly over my front foot.
“We are, both of us, monsters, but I did what I did to provide a life for my daughter. She was the one thing that justified my actions. The one thing I could live with myself for. Now she is ashes, and I will see anything you care about rendered as such.”
“This really the hill you wanna die on, Doc?” I asked, noting the tension in his body. I knew what his answer would be, but I also knew it didn’t matter. He was never leaving this island alive.
He threw his scalpel at me. I deflected easily, then saw as the hand he pulled back from the throw tossed pellets at the ground between us. Black smoke blossomed forth. I paced a little back and forth, trying to see around it, even calling upon the satellite view. He was inside the cloud. I rushed in and whirled around, my cape helping blow it away. I pulled it close as an emergency warning appeared on my HUD. One of my batteries had been stabbed.
I pulled my cape in close, but not before the other battery reported physical damage. “You lost your glowing heart. You can only last so long.” he called in that smooth British voice of his. I did have power in the capacitors, but he was right. Once that’s loose, this armor of mine becomes much less useful. Then it’s just a matter of pulling my helmet off.
I growled as I jumped high into the air, then grinned as I looked down at the smoke cloud below me. I grabbed my cape as I dropped like a stone. When I crashed back into the cement, the air cushion under my cape blew the smoke out from around me, revealing Doc and kinda breaking something in one of my knees. I grabbed him by his leg and pulled him down to the ground under me, where all it took was one super strong punch to cave in his face. I put a hole through where his heart should be for good measure there. Watching, panting through the pain, I saw his body in its death throes.
“Dammit, you fucking fuckhead!” I called, pounding at the remains of his chest with the bottoms of my fists one last time, trying to avoid getting raindrops in my mouth. Small weather front in my helmet is all. I sat back then under the bright, sunny sky. “Other people thought you could live with yourself just fine,” I said to no one. I thought back, trying to see if anything could have stopped all this. It all comes down to Forcelight and her death. Just a casualty in the crossfire, though one who I was glad to see go because of her power. It was a hard train of thought to follow when something in my knee was screaming for attention as well.
That was the state Citra found me in, putting a hand on my shoulder and shaking me. “Get up. You’re alive, right?”
I brushed her off and turned to look at her. She backed away, paling. With a swallow, she asked, “How do we get off the island?”
Oh, right. That. Heh. Cunning asshole did a good job on this trap. In addition to leaving me here so he could go back and do what he would on Ricca, I was now out where anyone could get me. I wonder if he knew that I was only allowed to run free if I stuck to the island. A bit too late to ask him now.
I laughed at that one. Even if I wanted to risk jumping to my boat, which I didn’t bother exploding, my knee has decided it is now jelly. The kind of jelly with fruit in it, except the fruit are bone shards and strips of torn ligament.
A shadow crossed in front of the sun and brought a flapping sound. I looked up to see the Titan descending on wings further across than he was tall. “You shouldn’t be here, giant blue dude.”
He settled on the ground more gently than I did, that’s for sure. “My people saw the message carved on your friend. I still owed you a debt.”
“Well, aren’t you just a beautiful deus ex machina,” I said.
“I think it would be a stantibus celsior ex machina, but I never learned Latin,” he said. He picked me up easily and carried me under one arm. Citra didn’t object to getting out of there. “Click your heels together and say ‘there’s no place like home.’”
Ah, it was a nice, easy-going day. The security team didn’t run across any weird subterranean mole monsters in the geothermal plant. All clear, meaning they could go on the streets and keep an eye out for anything too disruptive. Meanwhile, I tossed some engineers and geologists down there to see if we’re going to have a problem with that big hole through the undersea mountain base of the island. I know, you hear words like “engineer” and “undersea mountain base,” and you expect them to be more exciting. That’s why I’m thinking of having the palace rebuilt to resemble a giant skull.
That ought to be easier now. Peace is almost declared. Only almost.
I don’t know how Beetrice did it. I’ve hardly spent any time around her to see any growth in diplomatic ability or anything like that. I hope she didn’t fuck them into submission. I know I used that to solve a human resources issue, but it doesn’t make for good foreign policy. If you do that, having an attractive leader is just inviting lots of wars. They hate you because you’re beautiful. More like they want to be fucked into submission by you.
Ok, so let me get in to what’s going on. A small swarm of Buzzkills arrived on the island bearing a case for my eyes only. They didn’t know what the hell was going on with all these people setting up a tent city legislature on my lawn. I was out there watching the days session in my robe, having just awoken at the crack of noon. I’d spent another late night out enforcing my word as law. Last night, bird was the word.
We had an attempted break-in at one of the markets. Even though everything was pretty much under government control, there were a few certain supermarkets that received all the food. People might sell their own homemade produce or what-have-you, but food from the Agriculture Mall was distributed at these certain hubs. There’d been an Institute of Science idea passed around about lacing the food with Unity to ensure compliance. I didn’t see anything following up on it. It goes the other way, though. They’d also considered using the markets to distribute an edible vaccine. State control is a bit like fire or death rays; it can be used for good or evil.
It had been a small gang led by someone in a bird costume. Really long beak, cape of feathers, a general green and black color scheme going on. Not a terrible costume, but he’s going to look stupid if he can’t fly. Unless he’s supposed to be The Amazing Ostrich-man or Emu-tilator.
“Go. Take what you can and spread the petrol all over,” he commanded. Then he jumped as some of it splashed against his boot, then onto his calves. “What are you doing?” He whirled around to face the person who dared to splash gasoline on him.
He found me, standing on the dead body of one of the guys he brought with him, holding a gas can in one hand and a flare in the other. These things are really coming in handy for me. I need another flame-spouting saxophone. To our bird man, though, I said, “Me? Nothing. Just thought I’d stop by for a midnight snack. I’m feeling like chicken tonight.” Then I tossed the flare.
That story ran a bit longer than I intended. But I digest. I mean digress. Yes, digress. I actually don’t digest because he really could fly.
So yeah, I’d missed some sleep the night before, as someone will do in that situation. I wake up, check on the lawn, grab a newspaper, wave at the people bicycling by, then have some bee people land with a chest in front of me. Some days, it occurs to me that my life is a little weird.
I sipped a cup of something I’d been assured was tea, looked at the chest, then up at the Buzzkills. “You really shouldn’t litter. If those guys decide to make it illegal, I might have to kill y’all.”
“Forgive us, Emperor Gecko,” said one, bowing deeply. “We bring an urgent message from Queen Beetrice on the negotiations in North Korea. She has been trying to reach you by phone, but the number you gave her is not working.”
I told her not to call me, that I’d call her. When she insisted on having some way to contact me, I gave her a number for this church in the United States run by a former porn star.
“Oooh, yeah, shame about that. So, you’re delivering something to me?” I asked
The Buzzkill who took the lead nodded. “Yes. We would have warned you if the number was correct. As a matter of fact, my Queen wishes me to ask you for a cor-”
“So!” I clapped my hands together. “Let’s see what’s in the box, shall we? It must be important.”
“Queen Beetrice would be more than happy to explain everything you need to know if only you gave her a call,” the Buzzkill persisted.
I bent down over the chest and started opening it up. “No, that’s fine. I’m sure it’ll all be self-evident.”
“It’s locked,” said one of the other Buzzkills a second before I popped it open. They’d really make great faceless minions, if someone didn’t care.
And, really, I do care. I care a lot. I’m a caring individual. Life is a precious thing, as relatively sparse as it is in the universe. The existence of a multiverse somewhat undermines that, but I think my reasoning is still justified. But gems and priceless paintings are also precious things, and that makes them ripe for stealing or destroying. I mean, look at me. I hate people, but I still consider them special enough that I don’t go around killing all of them, barring a couple of times I got a bit agitated.
That level of self-control is why I didn’t feed anyone the peace treaty. That, and Buzzkills mouths are… interesting. Not interesting in a bad way, but not human.
So I’m somehow not being arrested or sent back to my home Earth. I mean, I was going to try and make that happen on my own, treaty or not. On the one hand, I should give her credit for making sure that happened. On what I wish was someone’s severed other hand, the condition for this is that I never leave the island of Ricca, where I will be officially recognized as Emperor so long as I hold that title. Oh, and all the countries involved in this treaty agree not to try and knock me off the throne.
I stay, I’m fine. I take one foot off the island, like to steal a nuclear power plant, and it’s open season on me until I hit Riccan shores again. It was a smart move by them. I gotta recognize that. That’s like studying Hitler and not acknowledging the Night of the Long Knives. You can hate someone and still see when they pulled off a piece of brilliance. They have every reason to believe I’ll be deposed and killed or exiled. I have a bad track record for ruling.
North Korea is to remain separate and under Queen Beetrice’s rule, who declares fealty to the Emperor of Ricca. While the rest of this is typed up, there’s a line here written in pink pen that adds, “as his future wife, to be married no later than one year from this date.” I guess Beetrice didn’t convince them to include everything she wanted. People keep wondering why I’m not looking for relationships all the time, but do y’all see the kind of shit that goes down when I stick my dick somewhere?
There are also restrictions on building up military, allowing in people to make sure the government isn’t doing any human testing, developing or building weapons of mass destruction, and returning the rest of the captured territories to whoever ruled them before the Claw made his big move. There’s a legal term for that. In the States, it’s called “We totally didn’t lose the War of 1812.”
I think Beetrice ceded a bunch of rights to offshore oil, fishing, and other useful territories. I pretty much have no sovereign water now. So yeah, that’ll make the populace happy when they decide to rewrite whatever toilet paper bill of rights their representatives come up with.
Oh, and then there’s the trade restrictions. Boring. Yawn. They don’t want us having plutonium, uranium, or excessive amounts of orange juice. Either they want to spread Scurvy or they’ve heard about my skill with explosives. I’m just saying, the world’s lucky Isaac Newton got popped on the head with an apple. If it had been an orange, shit might have gotten real. George Washington cappin’ Redcoats with an Uzi. Man, I wonder what the time-traveling Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla are up to?
So it looks like everything’s done and wrapped up, right? Peace in our time. Happy, happy, joy, joy. Hell, I didn’t even have to sign the thing. I apparently signed my name in bright pink pen, and with different handwriting, then wrote “Call me.”
I didn’t call her, despite the Buzzkills annoying me about it. They were so rude, I didn’t even invite them in for vodka and scones with myself and Qiang. Gotta work on alcohol tolerance while they’re young. Instead, I told them to find some other housing for a stay while they recovered from the trip. They just flew in and I’m sure their arms were tired.
It was in a drunken slumber that the goodish news got a lot less good. I had cut off Qiang after awhile, but I kept on going until I passed out. That isn’t too bad on its own. I just don’t tend to do it. It messes with waking up from the dreams. That night, I dreamed of the Good Doctor walking with slow, deliberate purpose into Qiang’s room, where she slept like a mess on her bed. He wore his costume of black leather and a mask that could have been inspired by surgery garb if it didn’t have a visor. The tools of his grisly trade glistened around his waist in the poor video quality of the dream.
The Good Doctor turned and looked right at the camera, then walked over to Qiang’s bed. I wanted to wake the hell up when I saw him pull out a scalpel. Luckily for everyone and the world that he instead carved a message into the wall. “Any time I want.”
I woke up to Qiang’s screams in the morning. It wasn’t a dream. The Good Doctor is here for me or for Qiang. Would he kill her? Had I not killed his own daughter, I’d say no. But now he wants me to know he’s here and he just might do it.
Clearly, my dear old friend is in a lot of pain. He wants to die. As his bestest best buddy in the whole wide world, I should support his decision.
I didn’t agree to the deal with The Claw’s people right away. They offered to turn me back, protection, money, power, women, men, children, and all that. I didn’t even ask for the sex slaves, but there’s something of a market glut after the siezure of Bangkok. The only way I considered taking them up on that offer was to then fake killing them and let them escape, but where to? It’s not like the United States is taking refugees, especially not non-Christians. It’s the best deal, mainly because of turning me back. I don’t trust them, but it’s exactly what I want. In fact, it being exactly what I want is an even better reason not to trust them.
So now I have this child slave just sitting around my apartment, taking up space. They gave it to me as a gesture of good faith. I think it’s a girl, but it’s all malnourished and dirty and the name is ambiguous to me. When it came to giving it somewhere to sleep and something to eat, I called on the Italian and Swedish ambassadors. I let the kid pig out on authentic Italian cuisine while the Swede hurried through assembling an Ikea bed for the kid. The Chinese threw in some simple pants and shirts and offered to take the kid off my hands if I didn’t want it, so they at least get me a little bit.
In all seriousness, I’m not looking to use children as sex slaves, or dump it off as a regular slave. Slavery kinda sucks as an economic model. The workers aren’t motivated, and you have to keep slaves uneducated to help keep them under your thumb, which greatly limits the kind of work they can perform. As someone who was more-or-less one myself, I would point out it breeds a tiny bit of resentment. Wage slavery works much better.
I have noted all the various offers, but I found myself much more enthralled by the activities of my shadow from the other universe. The distance between us hasn’t been so much a comfort as I expected. S/he’s gone off the grid in Vancouver and has been spotted in the Rockies of Montana, rescuing a group of young men and women who were being hunted by a group of cannibals.
I thought s/he’d move quicker, but perhaps I’d forgotten about the culture shock. Just having a translator and learning the language wasn’t enough to help me get by. I knew the language, but who to see about a change of clothes? Or a place to wash myself off? Or food? I didn’t know about what kinds of jobs would get me by or charities. Without a safety net or sufficient knowledge about the culture I’d thrown myself into, I didn’t have much choice but to turn to my impressive skills in the murder and mayhem department.
Hence the Great Food Truck Robbery.
It’s simple. I got hungry and I killed the driver and operator of a food truck. I then proceeded to serve him as a special of the day. At the end of the day, I took the truck and crashed it into a fancy restaurant. I’d learned from TV at that point that I wasn’t welcome into such a place with my shabby clothes, but I still crashed it. Literally; I used the truck. Then I stole credit cards and helped myself to the numbers, all while wearing the face of the truck’s former owner as a mask. It was fun strangling one of the waiters by his bow tie. You don’t get the same grip as with a normal tie, nor does it hang so well, but you can get some awesome leverage if it’s a good quality tie.
That’s certainly one way to break into the supervillain scene.
That gave me enough money to see to myself for the short term, until I could design a virus that locked people’s internet browsers until they paid me. Here’s a hint: the FBI doesn’t make people pay them using prepaid cards in order to get your browser unlocked. If they find out you have naughty pictures worth prosecuting, they’ll just handle things the old fashioned way.
I’m not the only one to pull such a scheme, and the latest one is actually the result of a bunch of people leaking CIA hacking methods to the wider internet in the name of accountability and transparency. My decision to not share bombmaking methods just keeps sounding better and better.
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Yooooo Cobra!
But enough reminiscing about the past. Part of the reason I stalled the negotiations, aside from soaking up the limelight and forced adoration of various people, was to increase tensions. I told Ricca that the Americans made a pretty compelling offer. I told the Americans the Russians were offering me a lot of nice things, including all the info they stole from the Americans. Finally, the Russians tripped over themselves to make up for their first envoy taking advantage of me while I was drunk. I assured them that they were doing a great job of that… though Ricca’s offer was looking pretty darn good.
This led the unofficial allies to all issue statements condemning each other. That doesn’t sound like much, but it involved a flurry of activity behind the scenes. Some of those border incidents in China “accidentally” spilled over.
That’s the trouble with artillery, you know? Not always the most exact method of blowing people up. There’s wind, elevation, and arcs involved. All those maths where kids think “When am I going to use this in the real world?” The answer is: to blow shit up with a cannon. Electronic tools can only do so much to help out with wild shit-blowing, and some of them are susceptible to manipulation. For example, say some handsome rogue who is trying to worsen relations between two groups who are fighting against a third group were to slightly adjust some of the targeting data. Why, who knows what might get hit?
It’s not like it was easy, but much of the world is extremely lax about protecting the digital battleground. It doesn’t hurt at all that this even includes Russia itself, which seemed to take the brunt of this latest big malware attack.
Still, I tired of taking such a passive role. I’d put a lot of work into the bomb and my studies to get this far. It seemed anticlimactic to wait around and follow my initial plan of letting them start wars with each other. So I figured I’d go steal the statue of Lincoln from the Lincoln Memorial. I made sure to leave the kid a bowl of kibble and water before I left. Got the chainsaws and everything to do it, when the hot ginger agent watching over me slowly approached. “Um, sir. There’s no need. I just heard from the President that he’ll give you the monument if you want.”
“He’ll just give it to me?” I asked to clarify. I’d taken off the casing of the chainsaw to adjust it and increase the power. When I was through with it, I could use it as a dildo to fuck a diamond. Unfortunately, I wasn’t through in time, and having my own monument given to me turned out to be much less interesting than stealing it.
Unfortunately, that would not be the end of being careful what I wish for.
I returned to the Watergate metaphorically empty-handed, in part because there’s very little of Abe that I really could have brought with me. In a more literal sense, I’d brought the kid some candy. I hear they like that. But since I wanted to make it very clear where the bounds of our relationship were, I made sure to get at least one big custom lollipop that said, “I’m just not that into you.”
Excuse me for not being able to find a single gift card, in Washington D.C. Of all places, that doesn’t tell someone they’d just like to be friends. The home away from home of possibly the most adulterous population in the United States doesn’t have that card, really? There is a market for that kind of stuff. Better yet, make it a singing nude telegram for maximum impact.
The agents tried to get my attention as I approached the Watergate. I’d stopped to look at the sullen Potomac and Teddy Roosevelt’s island, accessibly by Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. He created it when someone accused his dick of not being that big. Teddy, never one to back down from a challenge, said he’d build a bridge as long as his dick. And that’s how Theodore Roosevelt Bridge was created. Some parts of that story may have been embellished.
Anyway, I ignored the agents and hopped up onto the Watergate to find a commotion going on. A bunch of protesters had broken through and were in a brawl with security personnel from various countries. Not all the security were bothering with it, though. Brazil’s people were doing shots in the parking lot. I gotta be honest, I was really tempted by their offer to build me a giant statue in Rio. Plus, I’m really into women wearing nothing but feathers. I love the chicks.
I didn’t even have to bother with the crowds to get to my room. A guy like me can just smash his hand into the outside of the hotel and crawl down to his window, which is what I did. It’s the newest-looking piece of glass on the place. They’ve been offering me a suite, but it hasn’t been a big deal to me. The room I have is pretty nice. Soft carpeting, soft pillows, good lighting, and probably the fewest dried bodily fluids of any hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.
I slid my window open and hopped in, landing right next to my bed, where the child of unknown sex and Asian ancestry slept cuddled against the pillows I’d slept on. I stepped around the bed quietly so as not to wake it and carried the candy to the kitchen area before popping my helmet up and rooting around in the refrigerator for something to drink. I found myself a nice plastic bottle and took a sip, standing up. It as then, quick as lightning, an arm whipped out from behind me and dragged a gleaming metal blade across my throat. Red splashed the refrigerator in front of me.
I turned, knocking my helmet down over my head, and held the disemboweled container of ketchup in front of the Good Doctor. I waved it in my reformed old friend and former teammate’s face. “Why did you waste it? It was the fancy ketchup!”
The black leather-clad blur with the glowing visor struck quickly with his scalpel, attempting to undo the latches and seals that fell into place when I’d dropped my helmet back down, but a good gut punch knocked the wind out of him and sent him sprawling against the countertop. “You always focused too much on the shock and initial strike,” I said.
He had to take a moment before he could speak but always kept his scalpel ready to strike. “And you were always a smug arsemonger when you thought you were in control of the situation.” Ah, the lovely British accent. The only sexier accent is one from Australia.
“Sometimes I get the feeling you’ve become more like me since you started to go legit. You know some of those innocent folks downstairs will end up arrested or worse because of you, right?”
His voice seemingly morphed into a rougher version, a sign I remembered from the older days when he embraced his murderous persona more. “It would still save more lives if I kill you.”
“’If’ is an important word here. You won’t. We’ve done this dance before. You try to kill me, I point out how heroes don’t do that, I let you go. Only this time, I’ll also point out I that killing me means the whole planet dies.” I crossed my arms and checked my helmet’s display for other attempted assassins hiding elsewhere.
He wagged the scalpel at me with his right hand. His left went to hitch up his belt. “I don’t think you would so something so drastic as a measure to prevent your demise. Venus has hinted as much.” He cocked his head to the side. “If only she didn’t loathe your guts, you two might have made a good couple. She hates thinking of you. The best way to put her in a bad mood is to mention your name. Does she know you’re so smitten with her? I bet she’ll gag if I tell her.”
I flexed my fingers, my gaze boring in on him. Good Doctor stepped up his game. His X-ray vision is normally proficient at finding weaknesses in armor, but now he’s using headology on me. I gave my head a smack to knock my thoughts loose, then laughed. “You know, funny thing here, I’ve saved the world more times than she has, more times than you. And now I’ll save it again, no matter the cost, because I fucking like this planet. This is my home. Either show some sense or get out of my way.” I said the last part through clenched teeth, I’ll admit.
“You will not kill me. I will walk right out the door and try again another time. I will find you at your darkest hour, when none of these puppets are around who may rescue you,” Doc pointed behind me, to the door, then began walking. As he passed, I reached up and put a hand on his shoulder. He stopped.
“I’m getting tired of these weaknesses,” I said. “But you were still my friend. So this is the last mercy you get. Go back and tell the Academy I’m saving the damn world, and tell them to stay out of my way. As a friend… don’t make me kill you.”
He turned to me and lunged, bringing up his scalpel. I figured it was probably a bluff. I figured that after I grabbed his arm, broke his metacarpals, then his radius and humerus. Then I dislocated his shoulder. Holding onto his arm, I bent down and flipped him over onto the floor while grabbing the scalpel. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and twisted to see the kid was up and watching us. I turned and jabbed the blade through the thick leather protecting Doc’s leg.
It was the kid that saved him. Otherwise, my first choice was the stomach and dragging it up his torso. I dumped him outside my door with his own blade stuck in him and told the panting Secret Service agents who ran up, “You guys suck at your jobs. Now get him out of here and don’t press charges. He knows what’ll happen if he tries again.”
My kid stepped out from behind me and kicked Doc in the head. I reached down and took its hand. “Now nobody bother Qiang and I for awhile. I have to teach… it… a bit more about human anatomy.” I led it back into the room. “Good kick, but I bet your foot hurts, right? Let’s learn all about the best places to kick a person, ok?”
I did take the hotel up on their offer to upgrade to a suite after all. That’ll make it a tiny bit harder for Doc to try again. It’s going to suck when he does, but I warned him. I don’t give everyone that courtesy and it’s time to stop playing around with him. It’ll break my heart to rip out his.
Ok, so let’s recap where we stand here. Because the present is the product of a chain of causality, and that shit gets confusing.
After taking over the world, and being declared Supreme Leader of North Korea, I had the support of a few people, major supervillain The Claw included. Didn’t really talk much to the guy, but he knows a thing or two about administration, since he runs his own country over in the Pacific. After punching myself so hard I exploded, The Master Academy teamed up with The Technolutionary, a former stalker of mine with an affinity for technology and biology who likes spreading part of my genes around to other people. They turned me into human, even as a giant half-bee henchwoman of mine turned out to be pregnant. The Claw propped up my insect baby momma in North Korea to serve as an ally.
And he needs those allies, because he’s going around taking over less prominent countries in Asia. Now, as near as I can tell, he’s also got something going with Russia, and that let him extort help from the Ukrainian mafiya, and somehow he has pull with the new President of the United States. And they all helped bomb an American city while attempting to force superheroes to register and take a loyalty oath with the American government.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know what endgame the guy’s going for unless it’s the stock “world domination,” but he must have laid a hell of a lot of groundwork. I’m serious about that. I had the world held hostage with nanomachines that would turn everyone’s loved ones into goo if people rebelled against me, and I still got beat. This guy decided afterward to go ahead and be like, “Yeah, I can top that.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s a dick-measuring thing. Or he’s just offended that I managed to take over the world for awhile. Like the same indignation I had over this new POTUS who somehow managed to get the United States without putting in any of the work. Regardless, it puts me in a position of trying to figure out if I really care enough to head over there and get involved. I don’t think there’s much more I can do here other than assassinate the President. Which, at this point, would probably be a mercy. Turns out he was the weak link. Not the mafiya, not the Russians, not the militia, but the President of the United States.
So I could have done that. But first, I got a call from Dr. Creeper on my super secret hotline: free for the first five minutes, $9.99 a minute after that. “Hello Mr. Psycho Gecko. How are you?”
“Eh, mas o menos, Doc. Got what I was looking for in the end, just pondering where to go from now. On the one hand, I could assassinate a world leader. On the other hand, I could start a ground war in Asia. It’s a little up in the air at the moment. How about you?” Now, in most places I would have gotten a few looks. When you’re at a table in a nice restaurant that thinks they specialize in authentic fried chicken, it clears out a lot of space around you. If they knew what real fried chicken tasted like, they’d have run much faster. Empyreal City is good for many things. That isn’t one of them. They call that breading? Grind up some Saltines, bitches! If you’re going to be both a fancy restaurant and one known for fried chicken, you gotta bring your A-game.
“I am doing well. My daughter told me she made a nemesis. I told her it’s only a matter of time until she hears the pitter-patter of child sidekick feet running around her lair.”
“Cool. I hope it works out with her and her nemesis. It’s hard to keep a nemesis these days. There’s just so many people who want to explore their options. I mean, I have a nemesis, but she’s been too busy for me lately ever since I got hurt. I think she’s fighting other villains.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps you should monologue to her more? Communication is important.”
“It’s tough. She’s always hanging around with her teammates, and they hate me. Except for one or two who I think tried to fight me behind her back. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one putting any work into the relationship.”
“I don’t want to insert myself somewhere inappropriate, but…” he started.
I tossed my plate of half-eaten chicken at the wall to indicate I was done in a safe and friendly manner. “No, no, go on. I’m open to advice.”
“What you do to get her attention, is it all about you, or is it about her?”
Huh. Good question.
He went on. “Maybe if you do something that is truly about her, it will help remind her why she has devoted herself to stopping you. If you are the focus, anyone could fight you. She doesn’t need to be there.”
The waiter that passed by plastered on a smile that I made real as I dropped a $100 tip onto the table. It’s not like the waiter cooked it. She was just passing by, though, and didn’t stop to clear anything away on either the table or the floor. “It’s possible I’ve gotten a bit too caught up in my own thing lately. I have been mopey, and this other thing I’ve been pursuing has been keeping me from something I really wanted to do to her ever since she had me fixed up.”
I’m referring, of course, to my intention to nail down for sure who kept the copy of me around in the Master Academy’s supercomputer and then decided to help it build a giant robot to go out and kill me. I’m pretty sure it’s Venus, but her boss keeps covering for her. Once I know for sure, then it’s time to kill her. And I mean it this time. I know, it’s been something I’ve been wanting to get back to for years now. I get distracted and just don’t find the time. But the Creeper’s right, and I need to finally do it.
“I hope I have not overstepped my bounds. I merely called about that favor you said you owed me.”
Fine, I’ll do it later.
“Yeah? Got something in mind? What are we after? Diamonds? Bonds? Bodysnatching a dead saint, maybe?”
“Good lord, none of those. I will keep the saint proposal in mind. I was going to travel to Vancouver and try something there. This city is too militarized. I think Canada is a good place to make a mark.”
I mean, that depended. I probably have more run-ins with Canadian special forces than most villains do with my homicidal tendencies. It might work out pretty well for him. “Well, if you finished your robot, I imagine you’ll make quite a few. So what’s my end of this?”
“I hoped you might help protect me as the muscle for my scheme. I am not a young man. I can’t fight or run and I am a newcomer to this life. It doesn’t exceed the, uh, amount of the favor, does it?”
“You caught me at a time when I was figuring out what to do and why to do it… so this is a pretty nice distraction. Sure, I’ll help out. You just better not mind if I take on a disguise or two in all this. My reputation could bring down a lot more heat than you’re ready for.” I heard a bit of a ruckus near the door and looked up to see an old friend in a black leather costume standing there, the visor all lit up. “Hey, listen, I’m going to have to call you back. We can settle more of the specifics in a little bit. I look forward to road-trippin’ with you.”
I ended the call pretty quickly because the Good Doctor was headed my way with his little black leather mask/hat thing and a good grip on his scalpel. I believe I had him perturbed. “You didn’t slip a tracker into my food, did you?”
He threw a scalpel at my chest. I ducked to the side as it thunked into the back of the chair. I reached a hand up to grab something to use as a weapon and briefly considered hiding under the table and tablecloth. The thought only lasted a moment before I rejected it because of Doc’s power to see through most things of relatively thin thickness. I crawled to the other side of the chair before standing and raising the first thing to come to my hand.
He’d seen me coming and almost rewarded me with a scalpel in my throat. I instinctively raised my own weapon to intercept. My fork caught the blade in its tines and deflected the deadly blade to the side. He punched me in the gut and reached down to slide another scalpel out of his belt. I grabbed his wrist, twisted, and yanked. That scalpel went flying into a nearby wall over my plate of chicken.
I backhanded Doc across the face, then grabbed his helmet and twisted it so he couldn’t see. Which actually didn’t do anything because that’s his power. I spun around, twisting free of his other scalpel to snatch up a left-hand weapon off the table. I came up with a spoon.
Doc stood off from me a few feet and fixed his helmet, then pulled out a fan-shaped bonesaw for his offhand. It looked a lot better in a fight than my spoon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s handy for cutting a person’s heart out because it hurts more than a knife. But it really distracted me from the conflict. I mean, this place served fried chicken. Why the fuck is there a spoon in this restaurant?!
“Is this because I didn’t oblige you by getting captured by the other heroes during our handling of Aurum? Because the heroes’ tendency toward betrayal is starting to get a wee bit predictable.” I twirled the fork and spoon around in my hands. There isn’t even soup on the menu. Nobody does fried chicken au jus. Why is it here? Why does a fried chicken spoon exist?
He swiped at me with his scalpel a few times, then tried a diagonal downward slice with he bonesaw. I avoided it, then kicked at his arm on the downward arc in the hopes of throwing him off his balance. I got a scalpel to my calf instead, so I got that going for me. I jammed my inexplicable spoon through his visor and into what seemed to be some flesh with some give. He yelled and backed off to grab at his helmet and the spoon.
He sure did struggle with it a bit. I mean, you have to sort out order there, because you can jam things into really bad places and make the damage worse if you pull off the helmet. But that’s also the first instinct.
I got cyborg eyes. Been there, done that.
“Listen, buddy, don’t forget to put pressure on the wound,” I told him, a little less-than-helpfully. I may not want to kill my old friend, but I still enjoy laughing at the expense of someone who tried to kill me.
With Doc incapacitated and myself not quite ready to create my own personal version of Old Yeller, I saw to my leg. A strip off the tablecloth made an ok tourniquet for the short term. Had to glue and stitch myself shut while Funsize yelled that I should warn her next time I’m on my period.
But it’s all cool, because I’m heading to a place where there’s plenty of healthcare to go around. A place where the beer is stronger, so the women are prettier. Land of golden opportunity, until you get so old they send you off an ice flow.
I got back up with Dr. Creeper and we made arrangements to head to a magical frozen ice kingdom with a partially-disassembled giant Nazi robot in tow. And I love that sentence. Psycho Gecko and Dr. Creeper are going to Canada!
And I thought this was going to be hard. No, I really thought it’d take more to get the military to back the fuck off. Thing was, it wasn’t the reporter showing that the soldiers were rescued and being taken care of, nor that innocent people were hurt or killed in the attack. It wasn’t the illegality of the soldiers being in the city in the first place. It wasn’t the lack of reinforcements. It wasn’t all sorts of things that were so easy to predict.
Nope, it was the incompetency of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s amazing. I’m not meaning to make all this political, but he’s the one inserting himself into everything and failing. Apparently the idiot went and watched the clip of the video in the middle of some hotel restaurant and it leaked out. I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they can’t even. They chose this over me. They fucking chose THIS over me.
Worse, it totally stopped me from being able to hold out. I just… seriously? I had it all planned out. I’d let things deteriorate, push to get my connectivity restored, and push for having my recovery improved with nanites. Maybe have something dramatic happen, wake up to an attack so I can singlehandedly save the day. It would have made a great music video.
Seriously, though, this just seems like stupid way for things that to end. I mean, the military’s still around. When the school’s scouts came back, they just burst into the cafeteria talking about how the military’s pulled back to Central Park. A cheer went up among everyone.
Well, almost everyone. I caught a distinct glare from Good Doctor, who sat beside Elita the Warrior Woman. She didn’t look too friendly either at that moment. I checked my food, a plate of some of the worst meat loaf I’ve ever stuffed into any hole on my body. It probably wasn’t poisoned, but just because neither Elita nor Good Doctor tend to use it.
Good Doctor’s power makes him deviously competent at finding weak points. Armor, both natural and artificial, as well as all the various weaknesses of a human body. Got an old knee injury that acts up? He’s your guy.
Elita’s the muscle. Big, strong, and with the ability to level a building if she’s mad. Unlike me, that’s without using explosives. There are ways to work around that, but it’d be a very bad thing to let her get her hands on you. There are multiple parts of her body she could use to snap me like a twig, some of them more fun than the rest. Then again, no body part’s that fun if it’s breaking you in half. I’ve never had my spine snapped in an amusing and entertaining way. That’ll have to go on the bucket list.
It’s entirely possible they’ve decided my usefulness is at an end. The same thought crossed my mind when I passed by Psychsaur walking with Victor Mender. Minotaur stepped behind them, holding a clipboard and chewing on the eraser of a pencil.
This was a bad time to have things so readily on my mind. I walked away briskly, wondering if it made any difference at this point. But am I just paranoid and schizophrenic, or did Psychsaur watch me leave?
Down in my little prison cell room, I started packing what I could carry. I slid into my armor and wished the place had a few more exits. They might kill me. It’s really the only option left. If they try and hold me, I’ll keep trying to escape. Things will get worse. That, or they’ll have to stick me in a situation that’ll cause a major deterioration of my mental state. And considering my brain at the moment, that also means they’ll never let me go. Or if they do, I’ll be some shambling old Alzheimer’s victim threatening people while pissing myself.
So I put on my armor. I strapped my chickens onto my belt. I packed my half-rebuilt laser potato peeler, its single blade with a gap in the middle still not sharpened enough to my liking. I wrecked my armor-printing machine. I loaded up spare materials and tools in a handy little bag and opened the door.
“Going somewhere?” asked Good Doctor from behind Elita the Warrior Woman, who did a great job of blocking off the hall.
“Ah, my old buddy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: should I kill Gecko? I can point you to a website with several answers to that question that may surprise you.”
“Why do you persist, even now, in claiming I am your friend?” He shook his head, glaring at me from under slicked-back hair. He liked to do that before “operating,” if he had a choice. In one hand, he held one of his scalpels. In the other, his mask, a sort of leather helmet that encompassed a visor area and a lower face covering.
I sighed. “It’s how I’ve thought of you. A wayward friend. You were ashamed of what you were, but you were still a friend.”
“You know why I did it. She meant the world to me. Then you…” He looked down, then lifted his mask over his face.
I nodded. “Yeah, I did. Maybe someone else would have eventually. You knew what she was. There are many risks, and you used to be one of them. I did what I chose to do, but so did she. She could have walked away at any point.”
“Could you?” he asked, his voice somewhat muffled now.
I pondered the question for a moment. “Huh. Point to you then. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise how it all ended. I hate that I did that to you, but I have to think about my life. I don’t have the luxury of imagining that my death serves some greater purpose to the world than long-overdue justice.”
“That works for me,” Elita finally spoke up. “You did so much to the world, I don’t know why the Academy left you alive.”
I shrugged. “I owe them a debt for saving me, I guess. A debt they intend to call in. But yeah, bad things goes down when I start believing in higher causes. That’s part of why I miss just going around doing my own random shit.”
She clenched a very painful-looking fist. “Got any fancy websites for me before I pound you?”
Under my helmet, my eyebrow rose. So many things I could do with that one. I just had to settle with. “Yeah. Www.gofuckyourself.com.” I opened my mouth and let loose a piercing banshee scream in a tony designed to paralyze the human body upon being heard. A gift from my time in the Cube. They used it to keep inmates under control when being handled or moved. I replicated it.
Both former villains went down, allowing my to hop over them and head up into the school itself.
There, I actually found another group headed by my way. Minotaur, Mender, Venus, and Psychsaur. Venus was even in her power armor, all shiny with its heavy plates. I didn’t know how many of them it would take to whoop my ass, but I knew how many they were gonna use.
“Please,” I thought. I turned to head down the opposite direction of the hallway but felt my body lock up
“Sorry,” I felt in my mind. “Why?”
“I must be made whole,” I thought back. I tried speaking and told the approaching heroes. “I’ll go. I’ll leave.”
“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” said Mender’s computerized voice. “You brought an attack down on my children. You have been a menace to us despite our leniency. Remove your armor now. It is not as though you can leave.”
Someone must not have found out Psychsaur cozied up to me.
I screamed again. Psychsaur tried to cut me off, and it stopped me for a moment, but that was a moment when her own body became like jelly. It actually worked. I could move again, while Minotaur and Psychsaur crumbled. That just left Venus and Mender. Easy.
A pair of cannons rose from the back of Mender’s wheelchair even as Venus stepped forward. “You can’t win.”
“Ya know, I didn’t even want to fight right now. Can’t you just let me go? Are your morals that set in stone?” I asked.
“Some things can’t be compromised,” she responded. She jumped forward, over the downed bodies of her colleagues. She punched with enough force to break bones. I caught it easily. The left hand came forward in another punch, and I caught it as well. A metal spike shot forward but didn’t penetrate my gauntlet. My HUD reported a power surge. My gauntlets fed incoming excess energy to my suit’s batteries. “Lets get you out of that armor and back in your cell.”
“Oh, look, that ECM trick.” I jumped up kicked her in the chest, letting go of her fists to send her stumbling back to fall over her stirring friends. I turned and ran, dodging a lightning bolt and catching another with my gauntlet.
This time, there was no telekinetic force catching me, and the rest of the students didn’t get involved as I fled the school and into the city. I found a building that’s unoccupied above the first floor due to damage. Hell, I escaped at all! I guess I should have realized it when Psychsaur had to lock me down on her own. Or maybe I should have realized sooner that I even could make myself escape. It’s confusing. What did I know and when did I know it? It must have been when she gave me the ability to cuss and hurt people again.
That’s it, Psychsaur doesn’t die even if she was the one behind Mecha Gecko!
So now I rebuild. Get myself a proper lab going again, build up my own supply of nanites. Maybe take over the city. The Ukrainians had to run and hide, so that probably put a damper on their big money-makers. The military’s going to be on its way out. The Master Academy is a bit defensive, and I already know these newbie heroes couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.
And I do have an agenda. I was serious about owing the Master Academy a debt. Despite my actions, I still hold to that. So first, I make Empyreal City great again. That includes making it a bit safer for them. And I kinda like this place. I think I’ll keep it around, and that means finding a way to encourage people to not completely abandon this city, blown up and disaster-prone as it is. I mean, it’s really been hammered a lot lately.
I’m not quite sure how to do that as a villain. I’m sure as shit not doing it as a hero. But I have a feeling I’m going to have one hell of a fun time figuring it out. I mean, that’s just a given when one of your first decisions is whether or not to assassinate multiple world leaders. I guess it depends on how big a bounty they’ll put on my head when I expose myself to the world.
Now, do I shave the pubes completely, or maybe leave it in some sort of heart shape?
A little sleep goes a long way, as does good nutrition. Good nutrition injected straight into my veins, just like the Psychopomp Project used to make. Well, it tried it for a bit. Back in the early days of it, before the guys running it really went off their rockers, they tried weaning us off food for a bit in the hopes it would make us more efficient. There were some failures, which then led to teaching us the basics of cooking, including which recipes made the best use of people. Just in case. As long as you have a corpse, you have food. Hell, as long as you don’t mind losing a limb or two, you still have food in desperate situations.
I may have deleted some of those recipes from my memory.
After a little rest and a long shower, it was time to get to work setting upon my enemies and scouring them from the face of the Earth. Which, admittedly, involves getting a video from my brain. Hitting my head against a desk in the library, sadly, didn’t help ideas for that come any quicker. I stopped when I realized I had enough other people around willing to slam my head into things that I didn’t need to resort to it myself lest they get in on the act. And that reminded me of the person who most liked bashing my head against things. Or at least the most prominent person to get away with it: Venus.
And she gave me ideas. Many fun ideas.
Problem was, where to find her? I looked all over that school. I failed to find her, but Good Doctor found me while I was checking the gym. He had normal clothes on, presumably happy to be out of his gear, but I noticed a belt of scalpels around his waist as he stepped in there and walked quite purposefully toward me.
“Hello there, fellow escapee,” I said, smiling. He popped me in the throat with his fist. I held a hand up toward him and put the other one to my throat. I bent over, not wanting to fight him. Just because he didn’t think he was a friend didn’t mean he stopped being one. He took advantage of the position with a kidney punch. Fucker would know how to hit there. And he kept hitting there, which hurt a hell of a lot. I let myself drop, hoping he’d just start kicking instead, at least until he kicked me there a few times.
He left me laying there, and probably with plenty more bruises ready to join the leftovers from my beating. I rolled over. “Gonna be pissing blood for a month now. You happy?”
He was on top of me in a flash, holding a scalpel to my throat. “You took away the only happy thing in my life, you bastard!” He raised the scalpel.
“Stand down!” yelled Venus. I recognized the voice.
Good Doctor heard it too and looked up, then back down to me. I could see the struggle written on his face. “Why?” he growled. “What excuse is there this time? What lies has he told to make you believe his continued existence is necessary?!”
I almost said something, but it occurred to me that pretty much anything I said might force his hand. Plus, I wasn’t sure if Venus had an answer for that. I was curious.
She might have been, too. I looked up and she paused briefly before continuing to walk. “You’re not the courts. You don’t have the right.”
“The right?” His eyes widened in disbelief. “I don’t have the right? He killed my daughter. I have every right. He doesn’t get to hide behind rights and courts after all he’s done.”
“That’s what he says to justify why he kills. I know it’s hard to hear, but you’re a smart man. He killed your daughter and you are compromised by emotion. ” She stood over me. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up between her legs while she’s worn jeans before.
I looked back up to Doc’s face, and I could tell he was learning why I hated her so much. He wasn’t going to do it. I thought he’d slam the scalpel into the floor next to my face. Instead, he clenched his fist and lowered the scalpel to his belt where it slipped into place among a few of its brethren. Taking deep breaths, he stood up and backed away from me.
I just looked up to Venus, who held her hand out to help me up out of instinct, then pulled it back before the offer got all the way out there. I put my hands under my head. “Heya there, Venus. You know, you look good in casual clothes. Also, I need your help with something.”
“I don’t want to know, do I?” she asked, standing well away from my head.
Huh. She looked a lot better in jeans and a shirt than she did in skintight costumes. I could give or take the mask, but the body makes me want to go “Oh yeah, baby, I’m gonna disappoint you so hard.”
“Well, you would need to be closer than that,” I explained. “See, I have this video I took on my eye. Sadly, y’all disabled wifi and cellular connectivity, which means I can’t call it an eye-phone, nor can I upload it in any way myself. And since you teamed up with a supervillain to strip me of my powers, I can’t just connect to something else to get it out there. So I’m sitting on some really useful knowledge, some video that could really help the situation, with no way to get it out there. So I got to thinking maybe you would be able to connect to me and transfer some data.”
“This is some kind of trick,” Good Doctor said. Venus nodded her agreement with his assessment.
“Look,” I leaned up on my elbows. “I’m serious. I didn’t stay in there that long just to get my ass kicked. I don’t entirely know why I went in there, aside from a bad experience with a flashbang and a bunch of soldiers. But I have something useful. Something that could lead your pansy asses to a less violent means of victory. I got my ass kicked for this. An old woman with some serious balls got shot in the face for this, and not by me. Other supers died in that fucking explosion. Look past me and think of the sunk cost fallacy, people.”
They didn’t know what to say to that, possibly because I seemed to give a damn and possibly because my last sentence took the piss out of the whole rest of it. I rolled my eyes then and raised a scalpel I’d stolen off Doc’s belt to my temple. “Ok, so I’ll cut in there, find whatever hole or patch y’all left from when y’all went in the first time, and open the way.” I held a finger from that hand out to dig into my hair, looking for an irregular spot close to where I knew the brain-based hard drive to be. “Venus, you need to stick a finger in, but I’m probably not going to be able to guide you. Come to think of it, that’s a bit of a setback I haven’t thought about. Just look through this last week, particularly my time in captivity. Good stuff. You’ll love the part when I’m on the chair.”
I didn’t give her a chance to respond to all that before I dug the scalpel into my scalp in what I figured was the correct spot. I gritted my teeth. She rushed forward and grabbed my hand, yanking it away. I winced up at her. “Ow. Pull out, not to the side. That hurt.”
Laughter broke her shocked expression. I didn’t laugh with her, just pulled up a small flap of skin and hair. “If you’re doing acting like I’m Patton Oswalt or something, there’s the matter of the data I still need to get to so you can get to it.”
She didn’t let me take the scalpel to my own head again. “No. I don’t even know how to do that if you could get to it!”
I sighed and let her take the scalpel. “What the fuck have you been doing with those powers, huh?”
She stood up and held the scalpel out to Good Doctor who took it. Couldn’t make out much of his thoughts on the matter, but maybe he was glad at least one of his tools got a taste of my blood.
I stood up. “Dammit. The needle and thread’s going to itch like hell now, too.”
“Needle and thread?” asked Good Doctor.
Venus answered back. “He doesn’t get access to nanites, even though he’s just a human now.” I just shook my head, once again being reminded of my horrible and disfiguring medical condition: being human. I headed to the door, keeping a hand on my scalp. Wasting my damn time, that’s all that was.
“Doc, can you tell some moron not talk about me like I’m not even here? Nevermind, give me a few seconds.” I didn’t let the door hit me on my way out and walked to the infirmary for a little bit of self-stitching. They had a couple nurses there working on students, so I just handled myself. Though, I did expect more. They managed to bring in more specialized staff for myself, unless they also have healers. And in this case, it wouldn’t even matter.
Venus caught up after a couple minutes while I was putting my head back together. She stuck her head through the door. “Don’t close up just yet!.”
I sighed and shook the needle at her, the thread still running back to my scalp. “Why the fuck not?”
“What if we plug something in that you could download the information to it?”
“It’s not like I built in USB connections.”
“Well there has to be some way,” she said, exasperation filling her voice.
“Some way other than restoring just one capability to me. This city is dying while we sit around, you know.” I crossed my arms as I looked up at her.
She glared at me. “You don’t get to pull that. It was never that simple with you. Now I’m about to go and have a good time. If I hear you caused any trouble while I was gone, I’ll let the Good Doctor have his with with you and NOT how you want. I’ll tell him it would be more fun to leave you an armless and legless.”
“Geez, Boopsie, a little high strung?”
She messed with her dark hair with one hand. “I have a Valentine’s Date.”
I raised an eyebrow and let my eyes wander in the direction of the city.
She added, “In another state. If you mess up anything, you will be back in that cell. Maybe you’ll keep your legs.”
“T’would be but a flesh wound, m’lady. But fine. I’ll sit here. What am I going to do, email my brain to someone?” I waved her off. “Now go on with your life. Go ahead. I’m just the nemesis you don’t have anymore time for. Shoo, shoo.”
Well, Venus left to go get ready for her date. Which she went on. With Psychsaur. Bit of a surprise there. Psychsaur picked up my attractions, but I thought Venus was Catholic. They weren’t the only ones doing couple stuff, which just further rubbed in that I was likely to be left rubbing one out alone. I had options, but that wasn’t the main thing on my mind. No, before I grabbed a box of wine and a pair of hoses to drink it with, I had to build myself a small transdimensional receiver.
It’s one of those capable of picking up a signal I bounce out of another dimension. Venus gave me ideas, sure, but not just the ones Psychsaur got to share. Ideas like “how about I trick the heroes into fixing me a little?” And it didn’t quite work yet, but I think I know how to make it work. So I fixed a receiver and prepared a small section for broadcast into another dimension, at which time it will be bounced back to the receiver, ready to be attached to a secured and untraceable email pointing out that Master Academy is in possession of an extremely damaging video. Sure, the White House has filters and all sorts of ways to track people down, but I know full well just how secure they are and aren’t. It comes with being emperor and doing interesting things in the Lincoln bedroom with a pair of Korean twins and a Japanese schoolgirl. We got so wild, they could have renamed it the Kennedy bedroom or the Clinton office.
And then it was off to MY date. Because I can totally get one, and not just with hookers. I know it’s not polite to call them that, but the chances of them ending up dead with me are pretty high, and they’re hookers when they’re dead in the trunk of your car.
On that note, Happy Surviving Valentine’s Day.
You know what else I spy with my little eye? A boot. To be fair, the kick lost something since they sat me back in the chair. “Answer the question!” yelled one of the trio of soldiers in the room.
“Ok! I’ll tell you what you want to know!” I spat a glob of spit and blood onto the floor, then nodded toward the soldier to my right. “His mom was the better lay.” That earned me a punch along the jaw that felt like something popped over there. I think he felt it too. The human head is one tough bunch of bones.
That’s not a lot of comfort when his buddy got me in the gut with a punch from the left and the one in front kicked over the chair again, spilling me to the floor. With my hands tied like that, I couldn’t block myself. That makes a bit of a difference. After a couple of stomps, they righted myself and the chair. This time, I hocked a tooth chip loogie before laughing.
“Yeah, keep laughing. We’ll knock the rest of those teeth down your throat,” said one of them. It didn’t matter which.
“When you’re done with that, break out those sexy spiked heels you look so pretty in and walk on my chest a bit, will ya?” I threw my head back to laugh and caught a fist to my ear that caused me to stop and wince. Fucking ears, man. They just had to turn this torture session uncivilized, didn’t they?
They’ve dragged me in a couple of times, asking me who I am, where I come from, and what my powers are. The only answer I’ve given them so far is that I’m just a citizen who exercised my right to self defense. They didn’t believe me the first, second, nor apparently the third time. This time, instead of taking me back to my tiny cell in the reptile room, they dragged me to a larger holding pen. It had plenty of grass, rocks, and thin little trees that would make a very poor and very obvious ladder if someone attempted to use them to climb the steep sides of the enclosure. Not that any of the other people waiting around in there was aiming to do so given the lack of anything to down the trees with other than their own bodies.
“Shit, they got him good,” said a bearded fellow with tan skin who bent over a pile of branches, bark, leaves, and grass.
“You should see the other guy,” I said. I took a few steps, then flopped right on my face on the dirt.
I had an eye up where it could still look in that direction and saw the man pause and look at an old lady sitting nearby. Her wrinkled old face looked at me over the blanket she bundled up in before she said to the guy, “He’ll wait. I’m freezing.”
I gave them both a thumbs-up. “Don’t worry about me. I’m just gathering my strength. I’m secretly ready to pounce. Any minute now. Any minute.”
Bearded guy’s eyebrows raised and lowered real quick as the only commentary on that statement while he went ahead and started knocking some rocks together, trying to get sparks to catch. “What’s this place they dragged me to?” I asked.
“This is for the normals,” old lady answered. “They beat everyone to make sure we don’t have any powers. They expect someone would try to fight back or break out before now. I was a reporter when Jimmy Carter’s evil twin from another world showed up. Now, his men knew how to put a beating on. If any of my kids tried to beat someone up like this, I’d smack the taste out of their mouths.”
The fellow with the beard tried to one up her even as he worked. “It’s still not as bad as that time when the Chernobot attacked.” The sparks caught and he cupped his hand around the burning grass, feeding leaves to the flames in hopes the fire would grow big and strong.
“That nuclear-powered wimp? My cigarettes are more likely to give me cancer,” responded the old lady.
“What about the Rat Emperor?” a voice called from elsewhere. There were other people sitting a bit higher up, in groups.
“What about the Rat Emperor?” the old lady asked by way of answer.
“Psycho Gecko,” I suggested.
“He destroyed my apartment,” she said.
Meanwhile, our fire was starting to grow. The would-be Prometheus looked up and said, “My daughter’s school, too. He was an asshole drama queen. Good riddance.”
“Ooh,” I winced.
“There, there,” said the guy who just insulted me. “You’ll be back on your feet in no time. I’m afraid we don’t have any medical supplies, but you’re welcome to a room in our swanky hotel.”
I spent a couple days recovering, otherwise my escape would have been much quicker. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t walk, just that it was really painful. I wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. Just an enclosure with high, thick metal walls all around except for the observation window. I didn’t see anyone back there most of the time. They kept them out of sight.
The lack of food didn’t do much to help that, either. They gave us stuff from military Meals Ready to Eat, just not the heating pads. The entrees are really not fun cold, but our civilization has discovered fire. Just not sure whether we should work on the wheel, pottery, or writing next on the tech tree. It takes a lot of work to get railroads by a time period best known as the early Middle Ages.
Sorry, but I made use of some of my downloaded games while I was infirm. Probably sounded a bit weird to the other around, but a guy’s got to stay entertained. Plus, it helps me practice. There’s nothing quite like being told you’ve ended Russian civilization. Now, if only I can get a rabbit’s foot and ramp up wine production, I’ll be the undisputed agricultural ruler of Stardew Valley!
But y’all didn’t come here to read about me playing games and drinking the little bottles of Tabasco that come with the MREs. Or listen to podcasts, though I’ve found some delightful ones. No, you came here to read about my amazing exploits as a premiere kicker of fine keister.
I soon found myself a night owl again, seeing sights others miss during the day. One night, for instance, I needed a break from Hotline Miami because the game was designed to cause headaches if played too long and found myself coming back to the world looking in the direction of the old lady. She had huddled over the smoldering remnants of her fire, her back and blanket toward the entrance area and its obvious cameras and the big window. She had her hands cupped over the fire and a small floating fireball between them. The old broad has been holding out on them.
A few hours later at dawn, the feeding door opened and a half doze soldiers rushed in, keeping an eye on everybody awake. They spread out, the moonlight glinting off uniforms that seemed unusually shiny and lacking in armor. Heat and fire-resistant material, if I had to guess. A pair approached the old woman, who sat up suddenly.
“You have a choice,” one of the men said to her.
She shook her head slowly. “You’re sworn to uphold Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have as much choice as you do. Are you going to defend your people, or murder because someone told you to?”
I could see the man frown down at her. Then he raised his rifle and pointed it right in the old woman’s face. A part of me got some wood from it all. The next few moments, I figured, would be pivotal.
“We have our orders,” said the soldier. The shot echoed through the enclosure and woke a lot of people up. I heard a baby start crying. The soldier looked up at everyone, then lowered his gun to put another couple of shots into the old lady’s chest. The others kept up a defensive posture, ready to respond if anyone tried to react while the pair that had approached the woman dragged her body off toward the feeding enclosure. I just watched and let them go. It’s easy when you’re as coldblooded as myself, especially because they almost certainly had reinforcements nearby in case anyone reacted emotionally.
Most of the group seemed to be in the dumps about it. Nobody, not even the bearded guy who seemed to know her, moved to take their place by her fire. They huddled up and tried to get to sleep under their blankets and next to their fires and all that. Everything was peaceful for about an hour. Then I calmly stood up, did some light stretching to knock the kinks out, and yawned. I turned sideways so I could address the people higher up on the ridge, which I put at about two dozen, and keep the window in my line of sight. “Anyone want to get out of here?” I asked.
“What?” someone asked. I turned and shot a laser from my laser eye, carving a quick circle in the glass of the window. Hurt like hell, the heat starting to cook my eye socket, but that’s the price I pay.
I ran for the hole, giving a Tarzan yell. A pair of soldiers stepped up, aiming their guns. Even if I wasn’t hurtling toward them due to momentum, I wouldn’t have stopped. Instead, zigged to the side until only the one on the left could aim at me through the hole and popped him in the eyes with the laser. He dropped his gun and held his eyes. His friend moved to take his place and got a hole through his forehead instead. I jumped through the opening left, wondering if the folks behind me would follow.
I know, why didn’t I just let them in on the plan? Because there were cameras and ways for the soldiers inside to figure out when people were colluding. The old lady’s death showed that much.
Once I got through the gap, I found it was a curved corridor with some nice plaster walls. I didn’t notice so much last time, what with all the beatings. A pair of soldiers came up around the curve to my right. I swiped my hand, catching one’s eye. He screamed and went down, but his buddy had a good chance for a shot. Would have, anyway, if I didn’t drop down to the ground as fast as I could. I quickly popped my fangs down and forced the venom sacks to squeeze their contents into my mouth. I rolled over and spat a spurt of Tabasco sauce into the second soldier’s face. He screamed as well, leaving one eye between the both of them. I barely even felt it this time as my laser eye shot out and severed the trigger finger of the one still capable of seeing.
That gave me enough time to stand up and slash their throats with my blackened zirconium fingernails, shooting blood into the air.
I heard gasps behind me and turned to see a crowd of the normals standing there, looking at bodies. “Grab a gun if you want to fight,” I said, panting. With a moment to think on it, I felt pretty damn tired. It was the laser. Imagine a sugar crash without the rush. But I didn’t have to do it alone. Some of the normals did step through and grabbed up guns from the soldiers. That’s when I noticed the bullet holes in the glass. “Hand me one, too,” I said.
I only needed it so far as the next enclosure up. The section the others had come from turned out to be another enclosure. Through the glass, I could see a pretty big group of folks, a burnt line in middle of an enclosure that had lots of dead, brown grass along the bottom, still wet from morning dew. On each side of the line stood men and women, a dozen in total. I guess they didn’t want to put too many superpowers together in one spot. Except, it occurred to me, they’d use tougher glass for that. It meant my eye wasn’t likely to do a lot to it.
Though, and this is when I felt kinda stupid, they still had a door that was pretty easy to open from this end. I threw it open and waved out at them. “Hey!”
I ducked as a fireball flew in and splashed against the wall behind me. I jumped out, showing my non-military clothing. “Hey!” I yelled indignantly this time. “Cut that shit out! We’re escaping, after all.”
The line, it turned out, curved over so that it divided up the ground leading to this door as well. On the left side, the supers started to approach. It was the ones on the right side, including one with fire, who were more cautious. “And who are you anyway?” Then he stopped and got a good look at me covered in blood and with weird stains on my face from the Tabasco.
When we opened the door to the next interior section, we found a squad of soldiers for about a second before fire and energy blasts flew. The soldiers quickly decided to regroup elsewhere. While they were at it, I spread out, opening doors and cages. People from a number of different legal situations took one look at the conditions they’d been thrown into, then at the escape attempt, and decided that the saying about the enemy of my enemy sounded pretty damn good. Good Doctor was in one of the low-power enclosures with another eleven folks. “You, with me. We need to find a weaker wall out of here. I have an idea where to look too.”
He looked around at the growing chaos, the sounds of screaming in the air, and nodded. “We’re going to need someone with some punch,” he said in his lovely British accent.
“Anything you can see that’d show us where they’re hiding folks like that?” I asked.
He scanned the area, utilizing his power of what’s commonly called x-ray vision, though that’s an inaccurate description. There appears to be no radiation involved, and it has different parameters than x-rays. “There,” he pointed into the interior of our little curving circle. “Lead blocks and rooms. Lead is often used to contain our stronger fellows.”
I nodded and headed for one of the intersecting corridors. We were finding little resistance, various superhumans spreading throughout the facility. They pushed back the military, which did not want to face them in this initial attack, and helped release their own kind while Good Doctor, the normals, a few other supers, and I all headed inward to find the rooms for the stronger sorts. The ones who could jump free, or fly, or punch their way out. So many handy release buttons on the outside of these rooms, many of which appeared to be custom-built.
One room had Elita the Warrior Woman chained to the floor, which was all one piece with the rest of the room. Lead, too, from the sound of it. I just smiled my fanged smile and hit a little button on the outer wall. The chains snapped open. I had to stand back as she punched through the door. “Hey there, darlin’,” I said. “Some of us can’t fly. Mind opening a door?”
A roar and explosion from what I figured was the front of the facility caused her to sneer.
“I think we should go sooner rather than later. I fear they have some means to contain a full-scale outbreak that will be going into effect soon,” said Good Doctor. “Let’s go back to the area you found myself in. The walls there should present no challenge to Elita here.” He nodded deferentially to Elita. She snorted and cracked her knuckles, but followed along as we all headed right back.
I know, boring trip, except for the rumbling all over the place. Some of those really powerful ones we’d let loose might have come along peacefully, or maybe they’d been contained by special means, but now they were free and angry. It felt like a low-grade earthquake, at least until the sound of extremely rapid-fire gunfire started up. Miniguns. And explosions punctuated everything. Whatever the hell was going on, I was missing it, and I didn’t need to see it yet. I was in no shape to. I just had to hope the adrenaline would keep me upright long enough.
Elita smashed right through the window back to Good Doctor’s holding area and took a running start across a rocky area with a small stream running through it. A series of punches bent a section of the metal exterior wall down and provided us a ramp to freedom, and just in time. I heard helicopters take to the air behind us. They seemed focus on that area, so our exodus, and those of others jumping and flying to freedom, went unmolested. Indeed, the zoo turned out to be at the edge of the military’s staging area, without even a Concertainer wall to hold us in.
I stopped as we got out and looked around. To no one in particular, I said, “Ah, smell that?”
“The smell of freedom?” asked the bearded man, carrying a discarded rifle with him.
I shrugged. “No, I mean I think I crapped myself. No time to stop now though.”
A burst of speed brought forth from our freedom, the freed prisoners got the hell out of Central Park. I barely stepped off the grass when an explosion behind me leveled the Central Park zoo.
Soon, having stolen a car, I made my grand entrance into Master Academy with a crash at the gate. Apparently they’re keeping it firmly closed, even when Psycho Gecko, the Good Doctor, and Elita the Warrior Woman are all carpooling.
I woke up in my cell underneath the school, hooked up to an IV drip. I’m already working on editing everything I saw to the best possible light. The beatings. The heroes chained up. The old lady and her defiance before taking a shot to the head like masochist bukkake.
I spy with my little eye, a turning point. In this conflict.
Another exciting day in the city. At first, the aliens made some big announcement about surrendering all the superhumans to them for processing, then they started sweeping through neighborhood after neighborhood. It went well for them, briefly. What they lack in raw numbers, they make up for with mechanization, what appear to be drones, and some squads of Technolutionary’s robozombies. Upgraded ones.
Where before Technolutionary fitted human bodies with cybernetic enhancements and shoved a computer into the brain to control them, the process looks much more refined. It undoubtedly has to do with better integration of the biological and artificial components. He’s giving my species’ abilities to his robozombies now, and they’ve become a sturdier and more graceful as a result. I got a good look at them, too, thanks to hopping onto a patrol of them and tearing off an arm.
Like I said, it worked the for the aliens until we started putting up organized resistance. Or as organized as any resistance becomes when I’m part of it. Wanting to keep hurting the fuckers, I headed out on my own after some squads of the robozombies seen terrorizing the eastern side of the city.
The first sign they had that things weren’t going as planned was when one of their transports blew up in midair. The things still have something to throw off sensors and any eyeballing of their exact features from afar, but the good thing about cannons is that sight is a perfectly viable option. And I do have cannons. The confrontation with Venus was just over before I ever needed to use any of them, but I didn’t just build some of those things on buildings around the city for no reason. Case in point, one transport went down before it could land and offload anybody or pick anyone back up. Shortly thereafter, I landed and on the bunch sent to investigate it and took them apart to examine their quality.
Ah, Technolutionary used to think I was so great, a true evolutionary leap forward for mankind. Now he’s making people like me just to use them as mindless foot soldiers. Good response times, though. Less than five minutes after I tore them to pieces, I looked up to find three more shuttles coming in. I pointed my fingers at them like guns and gave a little “Pew pew!” One took a hit and slammed into a building. A second tried to dodge before I caught it from another direction with another cannon. The third tried to stomp on me like an Italian plumber who hates mushrooms.
It missed, thanks to my cunning strategy of getting the hell out of the way, but then it just sat there. I expected doors to slide open, shots fired, all that. It took a couple seconds, but when they did finally open, it was at the hands of a pair of wounded robozombies surrounded by dead ones.
“This is why they invented seatbelts, ya know,” I told them. Before they could raise their gun arms, two shots rang out and did some decidedly permanent damage to their computers.
I turned to focus on where the shots came from and saw Lone Gunman on the side of a building. He hung there from a hook embedded in the side and aimed a gun at me. He stopped and gave a little salute, allowing me to see a huge revolver with extended barrel and a stock. “Just a weapons test, for now.” Then he rappelled down the side of the building and went his own way.
Wish I could have seen his face when a fiery stream lanced out of the ship overhead and burned through the top of Double Cross Tower, taking my favorite cannon along with it. Shit, and probably my penthouse, the bastards! And my closet, too. Damn. I got the dong back, but I really like some of those dresses on me.
But at least that was the only one of the cannons they disabled. They probably needed a couple shots to track them back. And it’d no doubt do a lot to convince people they need to sit down and be ruled if they could do that. Which made me realize that if they weren’t using whatever thing they did to turn buildings into tiny pieces like before I was on the run from them, then that meant they probably couldn’t do so here. That’s a handy bit of information to have.
Another thing that’s handy to have? One slightly used alien shuttlecraft. Needs a small patch where someone shot through its armor, and needs a few bodies cleaned out of it, but ultimately good to go. It’ll be no different than buying someone’s used car.
Of course, first I had to send someone to go fetch it. That’s what minions are for. In this case, a bunch of Buzzkills and Moonbats. The Moonbats like to help like that. Apparently, it’s really cathartic for them to actually shoot at some aliens, and I find their revenge fantasies about anal probing the aliens to be particularly interesting. Plus, it gave them something to do besides whine about the food situation.
Good thing for those MREs, I guess. I grabbed one left behind by a Moonie too disgusted with the food to take it with him or finish it before leaving. Ooh, Charms.
I also needed to be there at the bunker for a pow wow. With power being what it is and the possibility of attack, the bunker has become a prominent spot in resisting alien invasion. There wasn’t a lot of organization, but we had some folks who could get people to follow them by force of personality. Man-Opener, for instance.
“Though what Man-Opener lacks in an actual preassembled retinue to take with him, I feel he makes up for with being royally pissed off. So I think he needs to be part of the strikeforce.” I argued to a few folding tables worth of assembled supers.
“I second the motion!” Man-Opener said, raising one of his suit’s limbs.
“You don’t want him on the ground with you?” Venus asked, not quite so mindful of proper phrasing.
I shook my head. “They hate me enough that I need to stay, but I think it’d need to be more of a mixed effort on both fronts. Besides, you might need someone who can make a hard choice.” Like that time in Transylvania, for instance. A guy wanted to freeze the world in time because of the death of his son. The Mobian wanted to talk him down. Didn’t work. I killed him. Problem solved.
The plan is simple, though. Venus will take a force into the enemy ship, consisting of a few people of her choosing, but definitely Man-Opener and Lone Gunman. Instead of shooting blindly into the ship, hoping to hit something important, he could go in there content in the knowledge that he can shoot through their stuff anyway.
Meanwhile, I’d stay down and be a prominent target for the aliens, drawing forces down from the ship to make things easier for them. The shuttle could make a good way in. If it doesn’t work as well, there’s also the remaining cannons. I think I could open a hole. Especially now that I have a penis again. The assignment to help me out was completely voluntary, though. People still hate me. I should have Moai and Mix N’Max on my side, at least.
So when we were ready, I took a more prominent stand. Instead of hitting and running, I’d have to be there to take the heat. It’d be downright suicidal. Odd how few people tried to talk me out of this course of action.
We got our opportunity before too much longer. A sizable force, more than I could take on myself, were taking over a neighborhood. The strike team went up in the shuttle and joined the ones returning from offloading that bunch.
Down on the ground, I scouted out the victims. Where the road was bigger, an armored vehicle sat in the road, turned sideways. Another one blocked it off at the opposite end, where the street had narrowed. Scouting it out, I saw they had other resources patrolling alleys. Small, cube-shaped drones, or these machines with an upside-down pyramid base with a single wheel on the bottom and a single rotating limb. Significantly less elegant than their other designs. The aliens seemed to prefer round shapes. Even their armored vehicles.
Whatever the case, I needed to see how sturdy they were. So I dropped down on one of the cube drones from above, bringing my rocket sax down onto it. The instrument dented a little as the blow sent the hovering cube bouncing off the ground. When it came back up, I swiped it with one hand and sent it into the brick wall next to us. It bounced off that, rebounding into the air and spinning around to gain its bearings.
“Eat hot, sexy passion, alien scumdroid!” I yelled out, then brought the sax to my lips and pressed a key. A line of flame shot out, engulfing the alien artifice. I kept bringing the heat until it finally dropped, glowing red hot, sides starting to crack and warp.
One down, a small army to go. Man-made thunder erupted over the city, all aimed at the same point. A ragged hole opened up in the ship overhead, whether the strike team needed it or not. Thanks to them running silent, they couldn’t complain about it to me. The ship responded with that fiery beam of its own, cutting through another of the cannons just before the remaining ones began shelling it. It took hit after hit, and returned them until I could no longer feel any remaining cannons. But maybe it did something after all. At least it heavily smoked where the flaming lance had issued from.
I couldn’t spend all day contemplating that, though. One of the unicycle bots rolled around the corner and swiveled that single limb around. It was a bit far for the sax, so I slung that onto my back. I nodded toward the unidrone and started charging the energy sheath around my right hand while going for a rubber chicken on my belt with my left. “Sup?” I asked it. It shot first, trying to put a hole in my chest. I was a bit worried it might overpower the sheath, especially since it tracked me when I tried to dodge.
I dropped the chicken, stepped on its neck, and kicked the body closer to the unidrone. After it stopped skidding, it stood up and began walking in the direction of the nearest street, which was behind the drone. Why did the chicken try to cross the road? I don’t know, but the rubber chicken grenade didn’t make it that far before exploding and wrecking the robot.
When I stepped out of the alley, I swung another rubber chicken around by its neck gently enough to keep it from pulling off. I haven’t been a guy in awhile, so it’s important I be careful how hard I swing my cock around, after all.
“Do you ever wanna catch me? Right now I’m feeling ignored! So can you try a little harder? I’m really getting bored!” I called out. Rounded saucers swiveled towards me on black fluid-filled tentacles. The sideways hover armor rotated a trio of barrels in my direction. The whole group stopped and paid attention. That’s probably how the hover armor got taken by surprise. Rockets crashed into it, bullets bounced off it, and an energy beam sheared through the turret portion.
I jumped on top of it long enough to pantomime blowing the rest of them a kiss. “Come on, shoot faster, just a little bit of energy! I wanna try something fun right now, I guess some people call it anarchy!” I hopped off the back of the armor and waited for any takers.
A pair of them followed. One was in a big, black, humanoid suit with a device attached to its hand that emitted a barely-visible length of…something. The other was one of those saucers turned on its side with nine tentacles carrying it over. That one tried to jump on me immediately. I backflipped out of the way before it landed for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t feel like a hug. Second, I wanted to get out of the way of my car. Black Sunshine, my lovely, pimped-out car. It charged forward, firing rockets and a minigun like it had against the hover armor. What did the most damage was actually hitting the thing and smacking it into the disabled armor it had just passed over.
The humanoid raised that thing on its hand toward me. Instinctively, I threw myself to the side. A shimmery wave, like heat rising off the blacktop, flew from the alien suit to cut into the road. Suddenly, some little glass flask crashed against the armor it stood upon. It looked down at it, where a green gas cloud spread briefly, before lighting up and then collapsing in on itself, where it exploded. It gutted the Fluidic encounter suit and tore its legs open, spilling the alien’s liquid body out. The rounded crystal core that seemed to make up the alien’s brain rolled out onto the street. A motorcycle pulled up next to it, and Herne the Hunter’s spear impaled the thing. Mix N’ Max got off the back of the bike and patted Herne’s leather-clad shoulder. The helmeted and horned biker super nodded and drove off down an alley, barely escaping the swarm of cube drones that descended on the area to surround us. The buildings became host to more of the Fluidics, who took higher positions.
Max looked up at them as he stepped over to me, then pulled out another flask. This one looked like he bottled it in an airport smoker’s lounge. “Need some cover?” I nodded, then noticed a twitch of movement out the back of my view. The laser limb of one of the unicycles snapped back, a large scalpel embedded in the firing optics.
“Much as I hate to be here, gentlemen, I don’t want to leave early because we let you die. Not yet, anyway,” said The Good Doctor like a true gentleman, stepping out of another alley and kicking a carved-up cube drone with him. “Please, Max.”
Max nodded and unbottled the flask, instantly throwing us into the middle of a fog so dense, it has to figure out if it’s going to work at an AT&T store or just buy something from one and call in to complain about it later. With the sky covered in either alien starship or glowing blue forcefield, it gave the field a really cool rave vibe. We all walked a few feet back before taking a different angle, dividing up the area around us into three zones. Back to back, Doc raised a set of thick scalpels, Max pulled out his syringe gun, and I punched one of my palms.
“Come on if you think you’re hard enough!” I shouted into the fog. Then, to the others, I asked, “They aren’t going to be hard enough, right?”
“We brought help,” Max answered.
“Huh, maybe I should have been singing ‘Lean On Me’ instead.” A black tentacle swiped out of the fog. I caught it and activated the Nasty Surprise, the blade cutting into it and beginning to spew black fluid. I pulled at it and brought in another encounter suit that had the tentacle and three others coming out of its back. I jumped on its face and shoved my blade right where its mouth would be. Opening up its head, I crawled my way down inside and burst from its chest, core in hand.
Back to back, the reunited Dark Triad fought swarming, blinded aliens. Around us, the sounds of battled rose up, indicating others had joined the fight. We moved as we fought, keeping each other at our backs as the fighting moved us. An encounter suit, a cube, a unidrone, some weird saucer. We maintained this formation pretty well until one of the saucer mages appeared, with the its multitude of wire-thin tentacles drawing numerous runes into the air and hurling subzero cold and volcanic heat at us at once, carried by winds that pressed down. Doc grabbed Max and got him out of the way, but a force like a tornado overpowered the pseudomuscles in my armor’s legs. They broke as I attempted to stay on my feet. Ice covered my armor before hissing away thanks to heat that felt like my organs were frying. Then freezing. I didn’t know if the cracking was my armor or me.
Just before my helmet completely iced over and left me blinded, I saw Terrorjaw the shark man leap up and chomp through several of the tentacles with his toothy maw.
I kept trying to punch at my helmet to see if I could knock something loose. Aside from feeling the vibrations, it was hard to feel I’d even been hitting it. That really didn’t say anything good about how cold I was, and my nanites weren’t likely to help. Nanotechnology is infamously sensitive to temperature, especially temperatures that can harm the human body.
I tried the view from my car. Can’t remotely drive it without some way of seeing where I’m going after all. It showed a battlefield shifting as more and more on both sides joined in. I saw Girl Robot clawing at a cube, then getting caught by a garrote from e cube behind her. She opened her mouth and spewed some glowing breath attack that shot her back at the cube and smashing it against the building behind her before her tail angled up and speared through it.
I saw Leah there, too. The teen girl I had to take in after getting powers and running away has come far. Three unidrones aimed at her as she waved her hand. When they fired, nothing happened except the lenses of their lasers caught fire, followed by the entire laser array. Who said color changing isn’t handy?
I even saw this one guy I recognized from the insane asylum when we captured all the heroes. He had some goblin mask on and sliced through a normal-sized encounter suit that had a pair of those almost-invisible blades for hands. When it tried to retaliate, the goblin guy disappeared and reappeared behind it, finishing cutting it in half. Flying about rooftop level, Honky Tonk Hero smashed through a descending shuttle, magical guitar first. When a saucer tried to reach out for him, the saucer found its arms seared off courtesy Gorilla Awesome, the talking gorilla, who hovered nearby with his own jetpack. Nearby, I noticed Elita the Warrior Woman raise a damaged alien tank above her head and bring it down on her Amazonian knee, breaking it in half.
Ethan Basford even got in on things. He knelt there, holding open that metal chest he’d brought with him from Los Angeles, hand bleeding as he held it over the open coffin. From within flew a massive colony of bats that. Nice magic trick. An even better one came when they began to take human shape. Well, vampire shape from the way their eyes glowed and their fangs glistened, protected from the sun by Max’s chemical fog. I saw one of them in particular fly into a saucer and carve through it with claws.
Unable to do much myself, it made for a fun watch. Still wish I could have felt my balls. Oooh, they’re going to hurt so much when they thaw out, if they don’t break off first.
I backed my car up and brought it over so I could get a better view of myself and get a hand up. Maybe I could hit the flamethrower? No, that’s crazy talk. Wait, where’d my saxophone go?
I pulled it up beside myself and popped the door open enough to drag myself in across the front seats. It almost made me wish the car could transform into even bigger armor, but it wasn’t happening. I did have a very good A/C and heating system, though.
Blocking the way out, I saw another floating mass of armor and laser barrels coming my way. I may not know why the chicken crossed the road, but I know a thing or two about playing chicken. Let’s get squawking, bitch. I revved the engine and gunned it right for the alien armor, unleashing the miniguns, the rockets, even the flamethrower, energy beam, and a trebuchet out of the trunk. What? When I say I’m going medieval on someone’s ass, I mean it.
It shot back, turning my car into a convertible without an engine. On the plus side, the Fluidic armored vehicle’s front side dipped down and scraped against the road as at least that portion lost the ability to stay in the air. In the end, my half-melted, slowing car ramped up the damaged alien tank. I swear, I got like three feet of air that time. If the horn still worked, and if I’d hat it set to play Dixie, it could have been even better.
I landed past it, just in time for The Saurus, the intelligent T-Rex, to bob his head down and give the tank a chomping. His clone, looking like a younger version of himself, roared and helped himself to an encounter suit. I wondered, briefly, if the clone was now The Saurus Jr., Kid The Saurus, or maybe even Children’s The Saurus. Alas, they moved on before I could even ask, probably for the best. Like most of the combatants, they didn’t like me.
Laying there in my destroyed car, I popped my helmet as best as I could with my numb arms and find one of the nanite syringes I’d stashed in there. Ah, the sweet sting of health flowing through my veins. Or wherever I stabbed them in. Doesn’t much matter. At that point, I just needed to be able to feel my skin again.
When I finally felt less like a popsicle, I slid out of the wreck to put some more extraterrestrials on ice.
I found Max and Doc cornered a street over, backs to a station wagon while what looked like a roiling mass of cables tore through the air. Tentacles here, tentacles there, tentacles everywhere; what horrors hath Japanese porn wrought?! Well, if someone wanted to shove those tentacles in a box, I’d be happy to oblige. I jumped on top of the station wagon and tossed a four yard dumpster at the whizzing and whirling mass of barely-visible tentacles. The open end caught the center mass of the being and pinned it to the van.
“Hey guys!” I called out, leaping over to the other side, popping the head off a chicken grenade. “Listen, alien fellow, we’re going to go on a magical adventure. And here’s the magic candy, like I promised you at school.” I tossed the grenade in the window and got a step or two backs before it went off.
Easy as blowing up fish in a barrel.
“Did ya miss me, ya wankers?” I asked the rest of the Dark Triad as I rounded the van.
“You came through it alright?” asked Doc, perhaps hoping I wouldn’t have.
I shrugged. “Don’t sound too disappointed, Doc. Friends don’t hold those kinds of grudges.”
His hand tightened around his scalpel again. “When I became a monster, no company could abide me but the company of monsters.”
I held my hands up. “Hey, easy there. The past is set, and we can’t change who we are. You have to accept what you are or you’ll never be able to live with yourself. Now remember: I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me. That’s why I shouldn’t have even let it get to me that they pinned saving everyone on someone else. Too many people through my life have made it clear what I am. Change? Not while some asshole king’s hired a knight to come after me because I hoped for a princess. Metaphorically speaking, of course.”
Doc twirled the scalpel in his hands, looking at me. “It’ll never happen if you don’t even try.”
Inside my helmet, I rolled my eyes. “Bad guy ’til death, I guess. Which shouldn’t be long, since I’m fated to die in this damn invasion, and I came back and fought in it any-fucking-way!”
Suddenly, the sky lightened up. It lost its blue. “Get your suntan lotion ready, people. The barrier is down. Repeat, the barrier is down,” Venus said over the comms. Cue a LOT of cheering on the comms and in real life. It’d be a pants dampening sound if I was an alien right about then.
Doc stepped over and gave me a little punch to the chest, no blade included. “If the future can change, who says we can’t?” He turned back to the rest of the fight and began walking in there to help finish up.
“Ugh, you keep this up, I’m going to wish for someone to kill me,” I said as I joined him.
Max, done giving us our little conversation, joined in and put his hands around both our shoulders. “They’re certainly lining up. By the way, why don’t you ask Lone Gunman how much he enjoys my little fog?”
“Ha! See? I laugh at paltry change, whether it be this ridiculous ‘redemption’ nonsense, or an attempt to cease my biological functions. Now drink hearty, my fellows of the Dark Triad, and let loose the dongs of war!” I raised my hand, holographically making a hand and a half sword appear in my grip. When I brought it down, I charged, leading the other two villains back into the fray.
The invasion’s not over yet, so I don’t have my hopes up. But I think a lot of these Fluidics are going to pay for what they haven’t done yet.
This town really livened up. Empyreal City has seen its share of new arrivals since my group trickled in. Wildflower’s been somewhat resentful, since she’d been here fighting the good fight. A quick check ruled out the possibility of her being a double agent. She let me do it again, though she did ask me to refrain from snapping her neck this time around.
She gave Girl Robot some particularly hostile looks when the cyborg approached me and ran her hand over my shoulder. The whole jealousy thing would have been over in a hurry if I bothered to crack the armor. Sure, Wildflower and I got a nice shower in the hotel, but I had to spray down the interior to keep it tolerable. With the environmental seals, it’s not really a threat to my stealth, but it’s not very romantic either.
When Wildflower saw the way Girl Robot was touching on me, she asked, “Who’s that?”
Girl Robot narrowed her eyes and asked, “Who is that?”
“Wildflower, this is Girl Robot. She’s one of the Claw’s people. We met on the way up here, talked a bit about cybernetics.” Girl Robot looked at me, surprised by my answer. I then continued to her, “Girl Robot, this is Wildflower. She’s my girlfriend. Unfortunately, she was left behind. I’m glad to have her back, though.”
“You didn’t mention a girlfriend,” Girl Robot said before walking off quickly.
Wildflower looked at me. “Cybernetics?”
“I came back for you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah.” She walked off, too.
I’ll have to give that situation time to cool off, which may be difficult. There’s not a lot of room for it.
It was a spacious bunker, wide open, but it’d already been crammed full of Buzzkills before I brought in the Moonies, Satan’s Poolboys, the Claw’s people, the runaways, and so on. I’d gotten trickles, and little groups, but it sucked to not get more with me. I hoped for more. Like the Rejects, or more from the Master Academy. At the end of the day, people didn’t like me, didn’t trust me. Nope, so I get the dregs and crazies, maybe the odd villain who wanted to kick some ass. Well, and folks like the Claw’s group, who hoped to show up the United States government.
So it was very nice to hook up with the other group I had Forcelight call up. I expected them sooner. I thought we’d meet up outside Empyreal City. I didn’t panic when it didn’t happen. I figured that maybe I’d get someone there. Y’all know how the cavalry is. They show up at the last second to save the day. Might as well rely on them to do what they always do.
So with me getting villains and crazies, it didn’t entirely surprise me to have Beetrice report back on the approach of a group that included a man in a black leather costume and another who almost took a Buzzkill’s head off with a revolver before the man in black could stop the gunslinger.
I grabbed Moai, Max, and a semi-fresh fruit basket. Empyreal City doesn’t have a lot of space for agriculture, so the quality of fruit within it diminished rapidly when the aliens separated the entire place from the rest of the world. Still, everything in the basket remained technically edible, except for the grapes.
I heard footsteps approaching in the darkened hive tunnel and hefted the basket. A glow rounded a corner, which turned out to be Good Doctor’s helmet light. I held the basket out and said, “Heya Doc! Great to see you again!” just before his boot hit the room’s light. He twirled a scalpel in his fingers the way some men knuckle-shuffle a coin, then gripped it in his fist with the blade pointed to the side in time to punch me in the throat.
Bulletproof doesn’t mean padded, by the way. An area like the throat, you can’t exactly fit armor plating on it. And even though a nanomaterial capable of preventing penetration by ballistic projectiles will stop a fist, it doesn’t do jack frickin’ squat about how much kinetic energy transfers through. At least Doc didn’t try it with the blade of the scalpel. It might have hurt more, and his power is very good at finding weak spots to slip a knife.
He made sure I remembered that part while I tried to keep breathing with the help of my suit’s life support. He grabbed one of the jester horns molded onto my helmet and held it, then dragged the scalpel along my visor where I could clearly see it. He moved it down, under the lip of my helmet, making sure I knew that he knew how to unseal the thing and get at my vulnerable face.
Naturally, this didn’t diminish the tension in the room. Gunman had pulled a gun, and more powers lit up the tunnel behind him. The Buzzkills raised their stingers, someone broke a glass bottle, and Festus slipped his shoe off into his hands. Shit was about to go down, yo. I just leaned down, trying to recover through the coughing fit invoked by the blow to my throat.
When I quit coughing enough to speak, I asked, “What’s up, Doc?” After a beat, someone cracked up and a lot of that tension eased up. Gunman holstered his revolver and soon the only ones not relaxed were Doc and myself.
Doc just stared at me. “My daughter!”
“I want to kill him anyway, but this scumbag didn’t have anything to do with Forcelight,” Lone Gunman helpfully provided. “This isn’t the time for this.”
Good Doctor twitched his head to the side and almost turned to look at Gunman. He stopped himself, and returned his gaze fully to me. When he spoke this time, it was with a more wicked, deeper tone to his voice. “She told me what you did.”
When I didn’t say anything, Doc continued, “In a few minutes of freedom, when your thoughts no longer touched hers, she told me the truth. You put those things, those nanomachines, inside her. You trapped her in her own body. Moved her like a puppet. Made her do things, made her say things. Watched through her eyes. Felt with her hands. Lied with her mouth.”
Oh, really. Well, good thing he didn’t know everything I did with her hands.
Doc leaned down and spoke in something of a loud, harsh whisper that carried to those immediately surrounding us. “Do you deny this?”
So, it occured to me my old friend might have been a bit angry at me. It happens sometimes. Still, these setbacks in planning are the cracks through which inspiration shines. Which is probably a quote from somebody, hell if I know. I stood up, looked him right in the glowing visor of his mask, and said, “No. I did it. It was the only way to get even this many here.”
Doc’s hand jerked. It didn’t come all the way to me, but I saw it all the same. He had to restrain himself, and he must have known I saw.
“Surprised?” I went on. “You know me to be shameless, but also a coward. And yet, I’m the one who came to fight. I did that to your daughter, but the Fluidic aliens have done it to eight million other daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, yada yada, in this city alone. And in other cities around the country. Did you hear that the anti-ET rallies in Russia mysteriously dispersed all on their own? The Chinese publicly laud Beijing as a new model for efficiency, but they sent me a contract to fly over and consult with them. Everything your daughter experienced, every one of those people is going through. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the army to save them?” I held out my arms.
I then pointed to Wildflower, who had her claws ready in one hand and a grenade in the other as she contemplated the violence we were close to. “What about her friends?” I switched to Festus then, who stood frozen in mid-shoe replacement by my attention. “What about his family?”
I leaned in close to Doc. My whisper didn’t carry like his did. “You want to be a good man? Sometimes good people have to sacrifice. And sometimes, someone like me has to make people get up off their asses and go save the world.”
Hopefully not often. That’s all kind of wrong.
I noticed Doc’s hand squeeze on his scalpel at the word “sacrifice” and he didn’t let up until the end of my little statement. His gaze drifted down, then back up. “Speaking of sacrifice, Psycho Gecko, I’m curious how you escaped Empyreal City the first time around. You were here, weren’t you?”
I nodded, as did Beetrice and Festus.
“What did you sacrifice to get out?” Doc looked around. “What could you sacrifice? How did you get out on your own, and why did you leave everyone else behind, except your dutiful Moai. No offense meant, Moai.” Moai shrugged. “Or did you strike a deal? You were at their mercy, and it’s obvious you don’t like them. What did you give them?”
You know that feeling, where an entire room turns against you? Yeah, that happened. Like suddenly all the attention turns to you and you know it isn’t good. “That’s not what happened. Technolutionary tried to bargain. He has this weird fantasy about me and him. And I think the Fluidics still feared I had a trick up my sleeve. And I do. I have two of them.”
“Then they could have killed you, or capture you. Do to you what you did to my daughter, all for Technolutionary. They didn’t. They had millions of people. Ordinary people, but they didn’t have what you have here: resistance. Superhuman resistance.” Doc held out his hands.
“I thought of that, but I-” I was cut off.
“You led us into a trap!” Someone threw a tomato. I didn’t even know we had tomatoes. Why is there always someone with a tomato?
I raised my hands and the volume on my speakers. “I disarmed it! I can keep them from doing anything to you! Listen!”
Well, they didn’t listen. I had it all in hand. But, well, then came the tarring and feathering. Or the honeying and spray painting. Then they tossed me outside the bunker, right onto the street. And I had to let them, because their lives were still valuable. Standing up afterward, I shook my hand at the retreating crowd as they started to close up the hive trapdoor and shouted, “Yes, I brought you into a trap! I can deal with it! I’ll show you. I’ll show the entire world! You haven’t seen the last of Psycho Gecko!”
Which was true. One of the things caused by my public messages and the time it took to get here was a larger media presence from the outside, hopefully ones not taken over already. One such chopper even got good footage of me looking like the world’s worst dessert. I let it follow me, publicly broadcasting my whereabouts, as I made a few calls to get even more people in the air.
Of course, I couldn’t let myself be taken out publicly by whatever the aliens have done to take out entire buildings, so I had to stay mobile until I had too many things overhead. I had to improvise. I originally meant to goad them into a big battle, make sure they had to commit a large crowd, show that resistance was futile, all that mess. I wanted as many of them out and about as possible.
I didn’t get that. Instead, I jumped around and ran along the sides of buildings before jumping off again, making my way around the city. Because this isn’t just about whether I look right or wrong. It’s about if the extraterrestrials want to demonstrate the complete failure of resistance by simply wiping me off the map. I figured, hey, maybe getting some cover overhead would work. Like in Central Park. I’ve done so many things there before, too. Killed some campers, stole some penguins. It’s got range.
And I always wanted to stop by and see Thoth. He’s this performer and super, possibly magical. Has a thing about prayer and worship in these musical street performances. Always wanted to see him after he got laughed off some show full of people who dismissed him because he looked unusual and spoke a language he himself invented. But he wasn’t there.
It wasn’t a complete waste. All things considered, the Bethesda Terrace Arcade, where he used to perform, is pretty nice. The camera angles from the news folks allowed me to keep an eye on things, even as I paced around under this terrace. That’s how I saw when they arrived. Venus and several more of the tights brigade who I assumed were known as heroes. I didn’t recognize any particular villains, and I doubt Technolutionary would avoid me.
They brought enough to form a wide perimeter, something I saw well enough myself out in the fountain courtyard. And I heard when Venus descended the steps behind me in her power armor, a hum accompanying each step and sway. It looked less blocky than last time, but like fitted armor plates. Like you could remove one and put another molded piece in its spot. It bulked up around her lower legs and forearms. The legs were wider at the bottom, providing more stability. The forearms built into bigger fists with a surprise or two likely built in. Her helmet didn’t show anything, but I noticed the gold visor formed a rough heart shape.
It always comes back to Venus, doesn’t it?
“It’s time you did the right thing, Gecko,” said whoever controlled her.
I looked out at the fountain of the angel blessing the waters of Bethesda, trusting my heads-up display to keep her in sight. “Facing the music? Facing my fate? Let everyone throw me to the wolves because I’m a bad person. Ah, hell, I’m sure Venus would know I deserve it.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”
I shrugged. “Venus isn’t here. Just you. You’re a puppet, sent to kill me. Venus wouldn’t.”
“I’m not here to kill you, just to stop you. They want to make this place better. I know you hate humanity. We’re flawed. We’re so flawed. But they can change that. They can make us of one mind, wipe away all our petty bickering.”
I supposed so, but then, look what they’d use them for? I leaned against one of the pillars of the arcade while Venus approached. “Yeah, as mindless and uniform as a gun. You’ll just be a weapon, Venus. Nothing more. So are you? Especially now, knowing they can’t swoop in and convert me and all the rest?” I turned toward her and held my hands out, wrists turned upward. “It’d be easy. I’m Psychopomp Gecko. It tends to end in death when I’m around. Your masters will get what they want. You know nobody else will mind, since that’s why I’m here alone. Unless you are Venus.”
She screamed, which I could probably depict here as “Raaaagh!” or something like that, but it’d take away from the drama. Then again, so did this. Whoops. Either way, she screamed, then punched me. I flew back, my flight path altered with a bounce off the column nearby and landed on the edge of the fountain where I rolled into it.
I stood up, slowly. Not for drama’s sake. It really hurt. “Venus…you leave me so wet sometimes.” And disoriented. That armor got quite a bit stronger than I remember. I needed to fight this one as the physical inferior, looked like.
“If you want to do the right thing for once, close your eyes. I’ll make it quick,” Venus called out, walking into the courtyard.
“Quick? You want to make me dead, but I’m not going to just lie back and think of England.” I responded, then charged.
She broke out into a run as well. Just before we reached each other, two things happened. I dived into a roll so I could kick up. She jumped into the air, a metal spike punching out from her armor’s right gauntlet. In the resulting clash, she didn’t get any on me, but I didn’t get as much of a good kick under her ribs as I meant to. It stopped her, left her dazed, but it also left me on the ground.
By the time I stood up again, we were back on equal footing. Cue the simultaneous appearance of the health bars and appearance of dramatic music, ala Metal Gear Solid IV. I laughed as we squared off. “Memes, Snake! Doge and trollface! Plank me, baby, plank me hard.”
Venus threw her spiked right again, but dodged back, shifted my weight, and rolled to the side. The enhanced pseudomuscles of my armor lifted me into the air to land on short wall nearby.
“You got into a fight just to run again?” Venus asked. “You’re good at stalling, dodging around it all. Why don’t you ever fight? Stop boring people.”
Under my helmet, I grinned. “Well, no one had to die today, dear. But, if you insist…” I knew the Fluidics were playing me. I knew it meant I still had the upper hand. Including the ability to hide my hand perfectly. Sure, all the gunk on my armor disabled the systems that allowed me to project complete holograms or hide myself, but even a partial disappearance, such as my left arm and right leg, helped.
I jumped. She caught my waist, where my invisible leg used hers as a nice step for leverage while I rained fists down on her helmet. She tried to let go and drive that spike into my belly, but I grabbed her wrist with my left to keep it from digging in and gave her a hard haymaker that stumbled her and dropped me to the ground.
“Where the head goes, the body must follow,” I commented, then dropkicked her. It didn’t send her flying, but it knocked her on her ass, and I bounced back up a lot quicker than her. I knelt by her and went for her helmet, scrabbling for an opening or seal, punching it to try and loosen it.
Venus grabbed me by the neck and threw me over her. She maintained her grip as she rolled over to straddle my chest and keep me pinned. Her punch, spike and all, barely missed its mark. And by barely, I mean it put a gash in my cheek. It’s not because of anything fancy, like Venus pulling her punch. I had cocked my head to the side. A couple inches over, and that’s all she wrote.
Her next attempt would have been on the mark until I caught it in my hand, losing my left palm to divert it. My other hand gripped her throat. Having a good grip with both hands, I at least managed to get her off me. I swear, so hard to keep the ladies off me lately.
I charged up the energy sheath in my right fist, ignoring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or at least Venus’s headbutts and other punches. My fist drove her head back against the courtyard and cracked her helmet. “One to one,” I taunted, chuckling. Then she stuck my side with a spike. Not the one in my hand, either.
“Laugh too much and you’ll split your sides,” she replied.
“Nice one,” I told her, and dug my glove into the crack of her helmet. She loosened her other hand from my other hand even as I did so, sliding the metal spike between a pair of my ribs. This gave me the opportunity to bring my other hand to bear and finally pull it off, exposing Venus’s face, surprisingly bloody. Then I noticed the way the neck of her armor merged right into her skin. “You’ve been upgraded, haven’t you? You’re like me now?”
I couldn’t take advantage of the exposure because she drove the sides of those spikes against my armpits and threw me off. My newly-ventilated body didn’t feel like standing up as quick as I meant it to, and the addition of Venus’s boot on my chest didn’t help matters. “You’ve lost. You just don’t know it yet.” The thing controlling her made her smirk down at me.
“I got that helmet off, didn’t I?”
“Look around. Punch my face in and you still would’ve faced the others united in our cause.” She didn’t bother to look up. “Just look.”
I did. There weren’t just a few heroes there anymore. Heroes, villains, civilians. Obviously, the entire city couldn’t have been there with me, but a hell of a lot showed up just to really grind in the futility of what I did. I picked Carl out of the crowd, looking down at me. Leah, who I’d briefly mentored, also appeared there, ready to be thrown against me in a wave of human fodder. And above them, various flying supers, news helicopters, and small planes saw it all. Heh, chemtrails over Empyreal City. None of the aliens had stopped by, though, nor Technolutionary. Ah well.
And then the riot broke out. Buzzkills flitted in. Moai stormed through a crowd. I even saw Ethan Basford carried by a glowing red lattice of magical energy that flipped bodies away. One of the converted began to crackle with electricity stopped dead when a scalpel appeared in her throat. The Good Doctor pulled it out before she could fall and looked down on the fountain courtyard as the sky darkened. A haze in the air blocked direct sunlight.
The bater had become the bate. Which could have described my sex change too, but that ship already sailed awhile back and took my penis along with it.
“This is your plan?” Venus asked, “You still don’t have enough to win.”
I laughed, spitting up a bit of blood in the process. “Nah, can’t say it is. But funny thing is, soon you won’t have enough either.”
She cut off my laughter by stomping on my chest, then plunging her spike through my throat. Then a green, tailed, barely clothed mess of a woman landed on her and got tossed against the angel on top of Bethesda fountain. Venus glared down at me with contempt, but at least I knew it wasn’t all hers. “You finally die, and there’s no deus ex machina to save you. No nanites for me to heal you with.” She knelt on my body, giving me a feel for more of that lovely weight before withdrawing her right-hand spike with a “shunk!” sound and reached into my chest wound. I felt her fingers wiggle around in my lung and then tear something off.
Ow. Lungs. I need those. I’d have told her, but she was doing things with one of my lungs. I looked into her triumphant eyes and coughed. She joined in as a mist drifted down from the air. I managed to smile through the coughing and tried my best to breathe deep. Just a few calls is all it took. Just a few messages back and forth. Long Life Corporation’s nanite reserves. Cropdusters. A few calls I had to make because my plan to goad them into one big battle didn’t work out. It wouldn’t be as effective this way, but it’d still do most of the work for us. Now I’ll get to see just how much those Fluidic aliens will piss their pants at someone combining my nanites with their rain idea.
Venus tried to cover her mouth. “What’s going on? What did you do?”
The fights around us ended with almost everyone coughing, even the lightning lady with the scalpel hole in her throat. The converted certainly lost their urge to fight, that’s for sure. For Venus, whose helmet I only needed to remove, I decided to clear something up. “Tends to…end in…death,” I repeated. “Except today. Everybody lives…Venus. Just…this once…everybody lives!”
Still not a hero, by the way. And if y’all tell anyone I did something good, I swear I’ll cut ya.
And that’d be a shame, because we aren’t nearly finished yet.