There’s something very odd being treated like some sort of broken, delicate thing. Moreso when the ones doing the treating are people I’ve spent years fighting, sometimes killing. In a timeline where I’d never come to this world, the hero population hadn’t been properly culled. Kids ran and flew around outside, holding a snowball fight. I watched as a couple boys tossed snowballs at a girl, chasing her into an igloo. The igloo’s entrance closed. A block opened to reveal a barrel. Tank treads popped out of the sides of the igloo and it began to roll. With a fwoom, it fired a snowball that knocked one of the boys on his ass.
“Awful lot of snow for Cali,” I said to Forcelight. She pointed to a pole that poked out of the ground and reached up over all the buildings. A large disk on top generated snow. “Weather control seems like it’d be useful for more than just playing around at school.”
“I asked them about that. My friend, Venus, told me it only makes snow. Nowhere else wants it other than Hollywood. Everyone thinks snow is too much trouble.”
It was a festive place. Lights adorned the outside of the buildings. Even the statue of Oscar Romero in the courtyard had a red and white hat on it. We moved past a foyer and front hall with rugs and its own smaller Christmas trees decorated about, and to the noisy part of the main buildings. Formerly dead and hostile faces welcomed me when Forcelight ushered me through the door of the Master Academy’s California campus cafeteria, where children, teens, and a lot of adults milled about around a two-story Christmas tree.
Venus came bounding up, out of costume, to hug Forcelight. “You made it! Everything wrapped up in Washington?”
Forcelight nodded. “Yeah. Once the big domino was destroyed, the others fell like a house of cards. Checkmate.” Venus smiled at the joke and turned to me. Forcelight turned to introduce me. “This is Gecko. She was a huge help. She’s some sort of technopath, so she turned the big one off. Gecko, this is Venus.”
“That’s amazing. Nice to meet you,” my nemesis said as she shook my hand. I wonder if I could hit that in this continuity… I mean, is still cheating if it’s in a different timeline? The only example I can think of involved another universe, and I still don’t think I’m in one. I’m in the same one that’s been altered significantly.
“Charmed, dear Venus,” I said. “It’s quite the place you have here. The food smells delicious. I can’t wait to have something other than highway snacks and hospital food.”
“She was injured while saving Washington,” Forcelight volunteered. “She had someone who helped her with that. He fought alongside us. Put a pin it that for later. For now, go eat Gecko. Go on!”
Thus commenced an evening of feasting with my foes. I ate too much, I was flirted with, and I even got asked to dance by Sixgun. I killed him, too. Not tonight. I’m talking about in the old continuity. Tonight, he just tried to get in my new dress. There was no killing to worry about… until it got later.
My history with Christmas being what it is, I kept my guard up even as others drank and cavorted. That’s why I was paying attention when wine in a glass started rippling. Someone else, a man with pointy ears, looked up. “Something’s coming,” he said in a soft voice
He ran to go warn someone. I ran out to the yard to see what was the matter. It had become deserted as the night went on and the children were forced into beds to have nightmares about sugarplum fairies.
A giant robot with pincers for hands came to a halt outside. We’re talking a good thirty, maybe thirty-five feet tall. Very similar old-style Nazi design aesthetic, but with a visor for a windshield on the head and a pair of gun barrels poking out from underneath it like a nose. It didn’t come alone. I spotted others near its feet.
On the one hand, the upcoming fight would be none of my business and nothing’s going to be permanent over here once I give it a good editing. On the other, I wanted to punch something.
“Master Academy, come out and face your doom at the hands of Dr. Creeper and his Ho-Ho-Horrors!”
Huh. So that’s what he got up to over here. I zoomed in for a closer look at the Ho-Ho-Horrors themselves. The one that stood out the most was the gargantuan of a man covered in scars and medical staples. He had a pair of metal bolts from each neck, shot fire from a flamethrower with 8 openings. Another looked like a regular guy until he concentrated and grew into a white-furred ape-thing. Next to him stood a man in a pilgrim outfit with a face covered in a black mask with white eye holes. On the opposite side of the flamethrower-wielding Frankenstein’s monster rolled up a cylindrical robot with a facsimile for a metal head planted on top of the cylinder, which held several arms. One of the arms lit up with an electrical arc between two ends of it, while the others were an assortment of claws, drills, and at least one plunger.
Then the ninjas dropped down between us the Ho-Ho-Horrors and the school. They had the cloth head coverings like you’d expect, but with goggles and metal lower face guards. The rest of their costume was less “black pajamas” as the stereotype goes and more like winter camo with body armor and sheaths for swords and other weapons. “Also, I’ve hired the services of the Ronin-Go. They aren’t my usual minions, but these are the only ones I could find willing to work Christmas Eve.”
Yet another reason why most people don’t bother attacking on Christmas Eve: better shit to do than get into a fight with supervillains. Like getting into a fight with family.
By now, I wasn’t the only one looking at the group. I rushed to the front hall and grabbed some ornaments off the trees. Most of them were those stupid plastic non-breakable ones, but a few were the classic glass. I broke several of those up and laid them out on the floor, then waited by the welcome rug.
The door burst in and ninjas came through it, yelling and waving swords. I waited until I got a good sized group and pulled the rug out from under them. A half dozen of them found their legs no longer underneath them and a short drop to a granite floor welcoming instead. I tossed the rug back over them before they could get up and ran over the top of them to the next wave. A good four of them tried to swing at me at once from the same direction and ended up getting in each other’s way. “Should have come at me one at a time,” I said with a laugh and grabbed away their swords in each hand.
They looked to me, then two bent and fired grappling lines on either side, forming a little corridor of rope at about knee level. One of the others jumped over me, knocking down one of his lumpy friends under the rug, and whipped out a pair of sai. The other who hand’t so far done anything squeezed his hands. Long metal claws popped out of winter digital-camo colored gauntlets. “Hi-ya!” the ones on either side of me yelled. Because when you hire ninjas, you want the classic ninja experience.
“Hiya,” I said, then hocked a loogie onto the clawed-ones visor. I turned around to the one behind me. I planted all four swords I held in the floor rug, and in someone I was standing on, and used them to lever myself into a flip over that one. He turned quickly and barely managed to catch two of the blades with his sais. I grinned and winked at him as the other two swords cut his pants so they fell down his legs. “Ever been circumcised before?”
The ninjas on either side of this little rope corridor they hoped to restrict my movements with came at me but soon found themselves crunching over broken orbs and stars and such. The one in front of me turned to run and tripped through a combination of his pants being around his ankles and the fact that we were still on top of a welcome mat covering six of his now-irritated and potentially wounded friends. The one I’d spat in the face of flipped over him and landed on the pommel of one sword I held up when I figured out where he was coming down at. He fell to the floor moaning and cradling a nut that’d need to be popped out later.
A shot caught me in the chest and knocked me back until I fell off the rug. There in the doorway was the smoking old-time flintlock. And behind it stood the guy in the pilgrim costume and mask.
I coughed and felt for my wound. My hand came back bloody and holding a round metal ball that had flattened where it ran into the bulletproof subdermis of my body. Still hurt like I’d been hung by my figgin. Before I could stand, one of the ropes was cut by Sixgun and his Bowie knife. He twirled it into a sheath and looked to me. “You alright, ma’am?”
I coughed and nodded. He nodded back, then turned and squared up with the Pilgrim, throwing his coat back. “Howdy Pilgrim. That’s no way to treat a lady. Mayhap you have a shot with me instead?” The Pilgrim tossed aside his spent pistol and shifted another couple around to the front of his belt.
One of the ninjas that had hurt his feet on broken decorations fell over on one of the little Christmas trees out there, knocking off a big red bow that rolled lazily between the two gunfighters. After a moment, the Pilgrim drew. Sixgun was faster. He shot the pistol out of the Pilgrim’s hand, then popped him in the shoulder, spinning him around into the cold, dark night.
By now, fighting had erupted all over. Once I managed to get to my fight, I spotted the Were-Yeti tangling with a huge, half-man, half-sloth that I knew as the Human Sloth from my own experience. Forcelight, meanwhile, had destroyed the flamethrower of the Frankenstein and was trying to put him down before he could overpower her. I spotted cylindrical robot with the treads circle around behind her.
I jumped it and stuck my fingers to its head. “What are you doing?” it asked. “I am Qwanzaar! Release me at once. No, do not stick that in there. That is not where fingers goOO!” It voiced surprise as my nervous system joined with its computerized brain and stopped it.
“Okily Qwanzaar, you’re mine now,” I said. I looked up at the giant robot, which traded blows with a woman in a pink and black costume with butterfly wings on it. It managed to catch the Pink Pixie by a wing and tore it off, sending the heroine spinning. And I couldn’t do anything about it from the ground. Dr. Creeper’s robots were based on old analog Nazi designs meant to be worked with levers and buttons and no computer elements at all. Nothing about this big one suggested he’d upgraded that part of it.
Instead, I looked to its knees, then at a cluster of downed ninjas. It was easy to appropriate their grappling hooks and ropes, then hop back on top of Qwanzaar. Firing and latching on with a grappling hook didn’t take a lot of work either.
No, by far the worst part was waiting for Qwanzaar to slowly circle through the snow for longer than it would have taken to watch the entire opening of Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth scenes. Pink Pixie, then Forcelight, managed to keep the big guy distracted long enough, especially once they saw what I was doing. Creeper didn’t noticed I’d tied up his robot’s knees until he went to step back and it caught. “What is this?!” his voice boomed from the speaker just before the robot began to fall.
The robot knocked off the disk that made the snow as it fell onto it, then the chest began to poke upward where the pole underneath had stabbed into it and the fall damaged the chest plate from the inside. A piece of metal fell off the top of the robot’s head and a rotor popped out. The head pulled off and began to fly away.
Instead of going after it, Pink Pixie, Forcelight, and the other heroes worked on rounding up the remaining Ho-Ho-Horrors and Ronin-Go. They might have thought they had longer, but the escape pod head’s sides opened up to reveal wings and jet engines. The rotors fell off as it shot away with a sonic boom.
All in all, not a bad party.
Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hannukah, Io Saturnalia, and an early Joyous Kwanzaa, dear readers. Remember, so long as you’re still alive, doesn’t matter if they trap you in another world, you’ve still got a chance.
Staying in Graceland was not a good idea. I’m not talking strategically. It was bad enough once again bringing up Elvis while I was in Memphis. I’m personally beginning to hate the name. I’m a hair away from going Biblical and murdering everybody named Elvis in Egypt. Go ahead, call me on it. It doesn’t sound like much of a threat now, but just wait until you get a phone call from poor Elvis Bin Zayd begging you because he’s got a wife and kids. “Please,” he’ll beg you through tears, “Kill my parents instead. They’re the ones who named me!” Then you’re going to be in the middle of an ethical dilemma. Do you kill this man’s parents who named, or do you let me kill him for being named Elvis?
Aha! It was a trick question. His parents were the ones to name him Elvis, thus they are clearly the ideal candidates to be painfully eradicated.
Let me tell you, I’ve stayed in some skeezy, scuzzbucket places. War zones. Dumpsters. New Jersey. I’ve sat on a lot of crappers. Toilets, to use another term. The porcelain god. The one true throne. The thinker’s pedestal. The stinker’s pedestal. The facilities. The john. New Jersey. In none of those places, and in none of those bathrooms, did I have to put up with some wide-eyed tourists taking my picture as I used the toilet. The toilet. The one the King died on. I tell you, finding out those perverts were watching me put me off the pills I was trying to shovel into my mouth.
They’re not mine, by the way. I found them up there in his bedroom. Along with a few dirty magazines. By the way, about those magazines? I enjoy a nice foot as much as the next guy, but I was about ready to tell any woman in an open-toed shoe to cover herself like a decent person.
So, let’s see…what did I do next? Oh yeah, I took the tourist guy, squeezed his head into a peanut butter jar, bonked him with a couple of hard old bread loves, smooshed a banana on his head, and held his head in the fryer like that. Apparently fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches were good enough for his idol but he wants no part of them. I then dragged him outside to either eject him from my property or let him choose where he would be buried. I always get those two mixed up.
That was when I saw the motherfucking tank in the street. It wasn’t aiming at me, but the floating Elvis impersonator clearly was. Honky Tonk Hero dropped down low and flew right at me, his gleaming guitar outstretched before him. I made a run for it. I leapfrogged the family graves and he followed. I made good on one of my threats and gave the signal via my ocular implants. The bombs weren’t particularly big as far as explosive devices go, but they were channeled downward and into the last resting places of the Presley family.
I know you’re all worried and gasping and going “Oh the humanity!” but I’m perfectly fine. The majority of the blast was directed into the graves and the earth, but it threw up a layer of dirt and other particulates that may have once been part bone. That layer was what caught Honky Tonk Hero. He started to cough, and choke, and give a giant “No” like some punk ass Dark Lord of the Sith. I used his distraction to run to the racquetball building and start gathering up weapons.
A painful howl of rage from a good distance outside prompted me to stick my head back out the door and see where my enemy was at. Honky Tonk was kneeling over the destroyed gravesite in anguish. I yelled, “Elvis has left the building!” Didn’t cause him to fly after me. Instead, he slumped, then seemed to notice something and start digging into the dirt.
Alas, poor Honky Tonk’s sanity. I knew it well. He was a superhero who dressed as Elvis and flew around bashing people over the head with a guitar. Everyone had an idea about his sanity. Perhaps, like many people, he was right on the precipice due to his worship of a good singer. All he needed was a little push. He even began to laugh at the situation, which some people take as a sign of madness when I do it, but I like to think of it as good sportsmanship. After all, thanks to me, Elvis’s body was destroyed, but at least now all the conspiracy theorists get to run around saying that there is no body to prove he is dead.
Or so it seemed, until the Honky Tonk Hero pulled up a metallic case of smooth, flowing, otherworldly design. I couldn’t tell what it was made from at that distance, but it was shiny, big enough to hold a coffin, and intact.
Just my luck. Fucking alien Elvis fans. You know what? Egyptian Elvis is gonna get his head blown off now. Too many people have been surviving my fights lately. Now I even failed to destroy Elvis’s dead body? That’s the last straw!
Which will have to be put away right now, because I have a glorious plan to bring to fruition. “Yoohoo, oh Honky! I wonder if I can fit Elvis’s gold record up my ass!”
It takes a special man to come running when you say a thing like that. Honky Tonk Hero didn’t just run. He flew, careening through the doorway with an outstretched guitar so fast that I wouldn’t have known what hit me. However, I had pushed one of the display cases with some black and gold jumpsuit in it in the way. Honky Tonk put on the brakes too late as he crashed into it. He was all tangled in the jumpsuit as well. I dropped one of the silver records I was holding and grabbed hold of a sleeve so I could keep him within easy reach as I bashed him over the head with a gold record. I threw him into another case then and broke open the case to the silver record I set down. I jammed one of my spikey explosives, the one that looks like it has the three cans on it, and through the middle and flung it at him. I proceeded to haul ass out of there before it went off, shattering a hell of a lot of glass in the process. That much glass in just a racquetball court, you ask? Jumpsuits and records? They redid the racquetball court as his trophy room.
I heard a roar from the house. Whatever that was, it sounded like it had a lot of saliva and not enough stuff to spray it on. I ran for the house. Normally I wouldn’t, but my armor was in there. As I entered, I headed for the basement stares but found Moai in the Jungle room, which has kind of a jungle motif and shag carpet on the ceiling. You can take the hillbilly out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the hillbilly. Moai was going head to head, via headbutts, with a giant, hairy monster. It was tall enough to play in the NBA. Its thickness and musculature were hidden beneath a carpet of light brown and blonde fur, though its claws, eyes, and fanged mouth were easy enough to see. Rather than punch Moai, he grabbed at things nearby to hit my durable minion with. A chair cracked over Moai’s head, but the houseplant just thudded off and rolled over by me. I grabbed it and held it in front of me as I crossed in front of the doorway. I set it down near the top of the stairs and at the halfway point I just raised my legs up and jumped to the bottom. My armor was on the couch in the TV room. I’d modified two of the three old-fashioned things to switch between a view of cameras I’d mounted to keep me informed of when the cavalry arrived. I took a look as I pulled on my power armor.
National Guard helicopters and trucks relieved police and evacuating civilians. The Pompeii’s Revenge was downed on top of a building, a transport helicopter trapped in a burning net pulled close to the wreckage. The building next door was on fire from the Pompeii’s flaming sails. There was no sign of the Captain or his crew, but Gorilla Awesome was carrying people out of the upper floors to the street below. One of the bridges that crossed the Mississippi river that I could see was frozen over. Ice in the middle of summer. Forcelight crashed through walls that left between the supports that prevented travel along the length of the bridge. Meanwhile, Snowblower and Flamethrower were on the roof of the Peabody Hotel, enjoying a fine lunch made from the hotel’s ducks that march to the interior fountain in a ceremony every day. There was even a group of heroes I didn’t know at the time fighting some villains who looked familiar from the bar. I didn’t bring the magic villains in on this, but it figured they’d get caught up in all this too. And that big white and neon jet was floating over things again.
The cavalry had arrived, alright. Memphis heroes, Kingscrow heroes, heroes from out of town, the Tennessee National Guard. With my helmet latched and the breathing seals secured, I was ready to turn the tide. I sent out a signal to my little surprises hidden in the city’s sewers. Oh yes, the cavalry had arrived.
I was stopped as I made my way upstairs by Moai crashing through a wall in the hall. “Come on, Moai, we’ve rocked this joint. Now it’s time to roll.” That was the moment when the big blonde monster thing stepped through the wall between myself and my way out and fallen minion. He caught me in his peripheral vision and turned to look.
“You,” he said, flinging spittle.
“Me,” I responded. Hell if I know what he wants.
“I’m going to put an end to this. I won’t let you be another risk to her life,” he said, closing his mouth finally as he took a step for me and grabbed me. I’ll give him credit for his speed. I need to go that way anyway, though. I wriggled free and grabbed onto his fur, quickly swinging under his armpit and wrapping my arms around his neck in a sleeper hold. His long, dark claws scraped at my gloves and forearms. He got a hold and tried to pull me overhead by one arm. I latched onto his other arm from behind with my legs and tried to pull back on both arms as I fought that furry and furious fellow. It didn’t work. He easily powered through and went to pull me around to his front. I latched on to his hips with my legs.
There I was, parallel to the ground, when I got an idea. I charged my gloves, causing him to let go with a yelp as I singed the fur of the claw grabbing my arm. Then I swung my body down between his legs as I struck at his shins and released the energy. He toppled forward and I came out of it behind him, scrambling out between his legs.
Moai was up and looking to me. “Find an exterior wall and make us a doorway,” I told him. He turned and crashed back the way he came. I followed. So too did that mongrel thing as he got up. Moai made it out via the next hole he made in a wall. I grabbed both sides as I picked my way over the wreckage and baseboard at the bottom of the hole, but was caught from behind in that creature’s meaty mitts. He had me by both biceps in an instant and turned me to face him.
“You’ll make an excellent gift for Boopsie,” he said. I didn’t have a lot of options, but the pet name for Venus reminded me that I did have armor with a handy older feature on board. I set a leg against the ground and activated the jumping muscle enhancers. When I pushed off, it was with enough strength to leap across a football field. I am fairly certain that when my knee connected with his balls, I hit him hard enough that he could taste his own ball sweat. He dropped me and flew back to the interior of the house. I next jumped out of the house as I hit the detonator, sending the entire mess up in a blast that hit me like a hammer and flung myself and Moai a good distance.
Laying there, I looked up at the smoldering ruins of the house Moai and I had just been thrown from and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.” I dropped my head back to the grass below. After Holdout, I’d like to look for a body, but there was some very chunky goo nearby that used to be a skull. I know it’s not salsa because I looked all over that kitchen and didn’t find it. Elvis may have stolen music from other races, but his food was all cracker.
I figured that was a good time to catch the breath that escaped me when the force of the explosion practiced some CPR. The chest armor had held enough, though. The sirens were approaching and there were guardsmen likely about to fall on my ass, but there’s nothing they can do now that will stick for very long and that was one hell of a tiring start to my day.
I got what I wanted, you know. They’ll think it’s just smoke, at first. Or maybe it’s so hot a day that they’re getting a bit of smog. Maybe even water that’s boiled off the roads if they aren’t sure when it rained last. All across the city, a rather innocuous fog is drifting out of the sewers thanks to my signal.
I get movement from what would be the top of my head if I were standing. White, gold, and pink tights. Venus had me. She had to know that, but she was hesitant. Unsure. Put that together with the rather personal way that behemoth talked and I think I know who was just so caring toward her over the telephone.
Moai rolled to a standing position as my fair Venus raised her hand to her mouth. I raised a hand and waved him off, “Not right now, Moai. She and I have one last fight, and it’s not going to be today. For now, we let our dear Boopsie-” and at that point a tormented growl issued from her. She had been crying. My systems are so out of whack after the explosion I couldn’t hear it and there’s not enough detail in the 360 cameras for the top of my head. I continued, “We let our dear Boopsie bury her dead and make her vows of vengeance. Also, it’s possible that I had an involuntary reflex and I’d like to go change my lower armor.”
Moai rolled closer and I closed my eyes as I winced and tried to sit up. I reached for Moai, got a hold of him, and pulled myself to my feet and my broken leg. I told you those jump muscle enhancers were changed out for a reason. As we limped off into the onset of fog, I checked back behind me. Venus wasn’t pressing the fight right now either. And it turned out I had landed on and crushed a jar of peanut butter, so there was less urgency about changing my armor.
And it’s less a mercy for Venus. The breathing seals all check out on my helmet, but something tells me she’s one of the heroes, villains, guardsmen, and regular civilians who won’t know what’s wrong until it’s too late. As a great man once said, “Have a little whiff of my posy.”