Tag Archives: The Oligarch

Local Politics 16

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At last.

I finally talked Oligarch into the field. I suspect the Seals managed to wound him, or at least cause serious maintenance on at least one portion of his armor.

No more stalling. No more getting things into position. No more “let’s see what’s behind curtains one and two,” just curtains.

It all began with a curtain call that finally linked all of The Order up to one another. There, I explained just enough for them to be useful in wrecking me shit: the docks are overcrowded with hostile bee people led by a group of queens. Expect super strength, organic armor, and stinger swords. I ended the brief briefing with an appeal directly to Oligarch, “Your people need you.”

They didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting organized. While supervillains don’t make that good of an army when it comes to working together, it also means they don’t need a lot of time getting organized before a sortie. The two are kinda connected.

It also meant that we didn’t hit the docks as one body. It was more like waves. Roadkill skidded along in a steamroller as one of the first guys in, probably having one hell of a time. I didn’t pay attention to how far he went. I was curious what would happen when he hit the water, but I was too busy landing from on a crane and watching the attack go down.

Once again, my armor protected me physically and provided me with a convenient disguise. For some reason, I just don’t feel like settling for the marginal offensive and defensive capabilities of the Banshee costume. Besides, it helped me feel more like myself again.

So I looked down, laughing, as Buzzkills took to the sky in small clouds to pursue individual flyers. I had to catch my breath before I could call back to the bunker that it was go time. I’d also briefed the heroes on what was going on before I visited the villains. I’d admitted that I had some connection to The Order necessitated by being outed as a superhuman and as a need to maintain contact with the heroes themselves. I was surprised Wildflower didn’t vouch for me there, but she’d been distant lately. Enough of the heroes remembered my help releasing them that I made a good case without a character witness.

I gave them the same information about the Buzzkills. They are a menace, I tell ya! A horrible menace that threatens to destroy everything good in the world. But they were still my best bet against the swarm of bee people. Eh? I bet y’all see what I did there.

I revealed that I’d set up The Order to go after the Buzzkills. I’d had the plan in waiting ever since my people were the first to lock down the docks following the discovery of the insectoids. I know people say that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but sometimes lying about there being sugar in the spoon works just as well, because they swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

And I implored them, with every acting bone in my body, that though they may not all trust me, “Your people need you.”

So while I watched shit hit the fan at the docks, heroes departed from the base of Double Cross Tower and started hitching rides with each other to make it to the battle. This was their time for revenge. Being cooped up made them antsy and ready for a bit of action. I can’t even take credit for that level of enthusiasm. I’d gotten so paranoid about them all over the past couple days, I seriously almost pushed the button to fill the whole bunker with gas. Once, I stopped when I remembered I really shouldn’t do that. Another time, I didn’t go through with it because I couldn’t remember if I’d loaded Arsine, which is toxic, or Sexahol, which creates feelings of love, goodwill, and physical lust.

That one might be a missed opportunity there.

Knowing they were on the way and feeling about a half-ton lighter, I celebrated by jumping into the fray. I leaped off the crane and wrapped my legs around the torso of a Buzzkill humming by in hot pursuit of a man in a duster and bowler with a pair of bunny ears trailing back as he flew. He didn’t take kindly to my presence and attempted to throw me off by swinging around in a circle. I dug my fingers into his shoulderblades and clawed my way up to a standing position. With a back flip, I clubbed his head. This time, he calmed down a lot more when I held onto him with my legs. I liked his change in behavior so much, that I kept right at it. Hammerin’ away. I could barely pull myself away, it was so much fun.

Unfortunately, it also left me and the Buzzkill plummeting. I grabbed him by the shoulders long enough to get my feet on his chest, then pushed off into an incomplete back flip. It separated me from the Buzzkill, but didn’t really get me close enough to the crane or anything else.

And yet, I felt oddly at peace. No, seriously. It was being ok with falling that freaked me out. That got me flailing, which is probably why Forcelight chose that moment to grab my arm and save me from cracking open like a mussel dropped by a bird. The jolt felt like it pulled something out of the socket, though. Probably my arm. I couldn’t check until after she slowed down a little and dumped me on top of a rusty old warehouse roof. After rolling, I was able to take inventory of my physical state. Yep. It was the arm.

Forcelight’s presence created quite the buzz, and not just among the bees. Villains were all over the comms.

“Is that Forcelight?”

“What’s she doing here?”

“Alive? Not possible!”

And so they spoke, and so they spoke, those lords of Empyreal. But then heroes joined in the fray, with everyone clear they’re here.

No, I didn’t actually go with The Rains of Castamere as a way to announce their arrival. I didn’t think about that until later. What came to mind instead was a song from an album where a bunch of inmates break out and start killing their captors in order to obtain freedom.

That’s why some unspecified person, wink wink, played a short piece announcing, “Hell is empty… and all the devils are here!” Plus, I knew it’d piss a few of them off. I’m pretty sure Venus is some sort of Christian. And even if she isn’t, chances are good most of the other heroes are.

I guess it’s worth pointing out since it’s about time for the War on Christmas to start up again, but America is about 70% to 83% Christian depending on what poll you’re looking at. Then again, they screw up their definitions all the time. I saw one that asked people to identify themselves and discuss their beliefs, which is how they have a percent of atheists who believe in a god, a bunch of people who say they don’t believe in any gods but who aren’t atheists, and agnostics as separate group. It’s like saying that people with red hair are considered a separate skin color.

But that’s a tender subject that many people would prefer to treat gingerly.

Of course, these heroes were too busy fighting real enemies to worry about imagined ones. They swept up behind villain battle lines that were facing the wrong direction, and they were generally more inclined to teamwork than their enemies.

Of course, I say that like someone looking back on things. At the time, I just tried to get my arm back in and subtly apply my miracle-working super machines. That, and having fun. A line of about four Buzzkills came at me, bro. I ducked to the left and grabbed the shoulder of the one on that end. I whipped around and got that one in a facelock as I kicked off one of its buddies, then swung it down and planted its face into the roof. I immediately sat up and rammed my head into the belly of a Buzzkill that tried to impale my downed chest with a stinger sword. Another sword glanced off my back, showing that I wasn’t as unarmored as I appeared. The last one took a swipe at my throat from the side, though. Not cool.

I caught that one and twisted it, then used it to fend off another blow from the one behind me. I pulled her close and got her in a triangle choke. The parried Buzzkill took a step back and aimed its stinger sword at me, shooting out a flash of yellow energy that exploded against me and its comrade, scorcing some of the hologram system’s microcameras and creating a minor power surge. Needing a projectile of my own, I smashed my hand in the top of the captured Buzzkill’s exoskeleton and pulled out what could have been a brain, which I then tossed at its compadre. The Buzzkill knocked it aside, but took a moment to ponder in disgust what she just did.

The one I headbutted had recovered then, and I was tired of handling all of them on my back, so I jumped up and took a punch from it just so I could grab her arm. “Hey, doll. Ever been roofied?” Then I threw her off the roof.

When I turned, I saw the one standing up who I’d introduced to the roof. I also saw the one who shot me taking aim for a second shot. I walked forward and clapped the wobbly one on her shoulders. “Good to see you’re alive!” I told her, then ducked behind her for a moment. A good punch stumbled her back in the way of the shooter, but I didn’t stick around to see them get into a fight. Nor did I stick around to see the shooter discover the headless rubber chicken tied around the lower arm of the off-balance Buzzkill or the subsequent explosion as the chicken grenade went off.

It’s like Sweeney Todd’s joy over finding his old straight razors to be able to use those again.

I jumped from that roof to the next and then stopped a moment to survey the battlefield. It was beautiful. Lights of all different colors lit up the sky as supers fought with themselves and the bees. The bees themselves were dropping like flies, which made me wonder for a moment about how vague the line is on who supers do and don’t kill. At this point in the fight, everyone was so worried about life and limb that I don’t think it mattered. The royal Buzzkills could have easily counted as too “super” to kill, but I saw one of them kneeling beside another downed one, doing something. She shook, so maybe the trauma of our little fight had gotten to her.

Before I could see how that one went, an angry roar got my attention. As opposed to a sleepy roar or a casual bored roar, I suppose. Another of the royals threw a dumpster at Oligarch. A burst of his boot jets sent him to the side while micromunitions from his raised left arm caught the dumpster and knocked it to the side with a detonation. A pair of tubes then pushed out of the side of his gauntlet and spewed a cone of flame in her direction. Then she let out more of a crispy roar.

I let myself fade into invisibility so I could make a call. “Hello, this is Beetrice,” said a happy, buzzing voice on the other end.

“That’s what you went with?” I asked my pet royal Buzzkill. When she didn’t say anything for a second, I reminded her, “I can’t see you when you talk over the phone. Say yes or no.”

“Yes. Who is speaking?”

“It’s me. Gecko. The one who rescued you.”

“Oh! Hi boyfriend. How is your day going?”

“This is a bad time to do whatever it is you think you’re doing right now. You know how I told you you would soon take your place at the head of your people after their numbers had been whittled down and your evil sisters were defeated?”

“We talked about it before you left. Yes. Is it time?”

“That’s a big ten-four, sweet bee. Get that shiny hiney on down here and try to keep yourself and some Buzzkills alive. Come on, your people need you.”

Lot of damn people needing a lot of other people today.

While she was busy on her way, I let myself live in the moment. Nearby, I saw someone wearing a goat’s head as a mask sweep an FN MAG machinegun across the sky. I don’t even know what side they were on, but I knocked them the fuck out with a punch. Then I saw Roadkill climbing up a ladder out of the water. I grabbed the machinegun and slung it at him. He ducked behind the ladder, which blocked the gun, but the noise attracted Buzzkills. Then, some giant rolling ball sped in next to me and separated into panels that folded up into a much smaller ball held in the hand of one of the heroes. I think that asshole punched me back at the asylum, in fact. He stuck that ball to his belt, then pulled off a blue one and a yellow one. The blue one he threw at crowd of Buzzkills. It hit one, then bounced off another’s head, ricocheting around the group until they all fell to the ground. While that ball did its trick, this big baller dropped the yellow one and kicked it over to where a bloody-mawed wolfman fought with what looked like a prepubescent girl in a red cloak and hood. She contorted out of the way of a slash from the wolfman, who then seized up as electricity arced out of the ball and formed a sort of cage around him. I put the ball guy out of business by hitting him in his weak spot from behind. You know the one. His balls.

It saddened me that I couldn’t go completely wild there, but I had a job to do. I looked around, scanning for Oligarch. I found him overhead, pushing his suit to stay out of Forcelight’s grasp while they dodged around buildings and the crane. He used his munitions to try and divert the heroine into the crane as a means of weakening her. I needed a chance to get close and jumped onto the crane itself. That’s when he chose to dive down and lead her over the water.

She was in chase mode, following him out there, but staying a little higher. It didn’t help her much when Terrorjaw flew out of the waves and chomped on her. Oligarch changed course, heading back to shore while she fell below the waters with the sharkman.

It gave me an idea. I unsealed one gauntlet and began charging up the other. Oligarch soared closer, leaving a wake as he passed over the water. I jumped out, hoping he didn’t decide to juke to the side for some reason at the last minute. He would have seen a small glow in the air until the hologram changed from showing the environment around me to showing Forcelight.

I’d timed it right. My glowing fit hit him in the back, the charged energy driving him into the ground. He bounced, even. Yeah, a bad part of having armor that’s so small and fits so tight against the body is it may not leave a lot of room for padding. That’s an issue miniaturization just can’t fix. I rolled and skidded as I came to a stop, throwing up a few sparks that I hoped no one noticed.

My facade as Forcelight continued as I stepped up to him and reached down to grab hold of the stunned villain’s neck with my bare hand.

One of the reasons the neck is so vulnerable is that it’s the only way things get between the head and the rest of the body. Brain signals, food, air, alcohol; you gotta go through the neck. It’s a literal chokepoint. Me, I implanted the equivalent of bodily wifi at the base of my head that lets me bypass that weakness in case my neck is broken or even severed. Oligarch didn’t have that on his side.

I had to work quickly as I felt my system merge with the cables and wiring in Oligarch’s armor’s neck. Armor stability could have been better. Running a bit low on ammo. That’s a problem with kinetic and missile weapons. A few heat vents were cracked, though. I could work with that. I ordered more to shut down. He had a self-destruct in the suit, too. Probably remotely activated, I would hope. A way to keep people from jacking his stuff like they did with mine. I stole the frequency, then backed off when I saw him making more purposeful movements.

I became invisible again and slipped on my glove just before water exploded out of the ocean nearby and Forcelight shot into the air with Terrorjaw riding her back. You don’t see that everyday.

She spun around, and I saw Terrorjaw fall off, then go flying as she kicked him out to see. Off in the distance, I think I saw him skip a few times. Well, he’s England’s problem now.
Back on land, Oligarch wrestled with his suit. Over the villainside comms, I heard him call out for anyone with ice powers. “My suit has a malfunction. The heat is building up. This is critical. Anyone?” He pulled his helmet off, looking like a sweaty old man with a bad case of helmet hair. He took a deep breath, then Venus swung down and clobbered him in the face so hard, I swear I heard a bong sound from her armored fist.

Isn’t that some shit? Forcelight had been on his case, then I put in the real work of beating him down, but Venus shows up at the last second to get all the credit?

I let her bask in the glory while I jumped for it. That’s about the time I noticed that the living Buzzkills had already made a run for it. Nothing left but the bodies. I saw some of them bees fleeing into the city from the vantage point I took further away from Oligarch. I didn’t know how big of a self-destruct Oligarch put in his armor, but I hoped it was smaller than city-wide.

Oh well, not worth asking him at this point.

“Look out, he’s going critical!” I yelled into everyone’s comms, then counted to three and sent the signal. The explosion disappointed. I expected a nice fireball, maybe some rocking. You know, maybe bend the crane a bit. I saw fire leap into the sky and heard people scream, but a closer inspection showed very few people actually hurt. The main one I focused on after confirming Oligarch was nothing but a crispy critter was Venus. She laid off to the side, clutching her arm and smoking a little.

Well, if she didn’t know smoking was bad for her health before, she probably learned her lesson getting blown up like that. A part of me felt bad, seeing her like that. I wanted to go down there, walk over to her, hold her in my hands…and squeeze her throat until she crapped her tights.

Sadly, this was not a day for star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet. You know, a couple that winds up killing each other.

I had a window there, where everyone had stopped and wasn’t entirely sure what to do. To the villains, I said, “Retreat. We’ll have a meeting about this later. The Order is not done, but I think it’s clear we don’t own the city anymore.”

To the heroes, I said, “Let them go. We don’t need any more fighting than is necessary. We’ve won.”

Then I called up Harlon, my guy in the news. He’s an executive who climbed to that position in part because I killed the right people and feed him the occasional red hot story. He wasn’t in Empyreal City, but he was very happy he could have his people report that a fight left the Oligarch dead and the city no longer under villain control.

And, finally, I called up Beetrice the Queen Bee and told her she did good getting her hive out. That, and “You better not watch Deep Space 9 without me!”

I’m not too keen on knocking her up with a colony full of my illegitimate insectoid monstrosi-babies, but a job this well done makes me feel like regrowing my balls for a celebratory nut scratch.

I settled for a victorious glare on top of Double Cross HQ while bells rang happily through the streets.

You see, I learned something from all this. Having any one ego in charge can work for certain group, like Double Cross. The company wouldn’t exist without me. It is a manifestation of my will, acting in my name to accomplish my goals. They are my drones, my workers. But they have to work toward a goal. Without one, they turn out about as cooperative and focused as the Buzzkills. And even if I wanted a group of equals based on cooperation, someone’s going to wind up the figurehead in charge, like Oligarch and The Order. And getting that many powerful individuals together and trying to force my goals on them would probably turn out just as bad for him as it would for me. And I don’t need a gang of enemies. I have enough of that as is. You need some sort of crisis or change in the paradigm to control them. The most basic way is a threat.

Yeah, I learned something. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power, power corrupts; study hard and be evil.”

And since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving for those in the U.S., let me add a cheerful: “Party on, dudes!”

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Local Politics 14

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On the off chance that I get offed, I have chanced to hide a statement in my computers roughly outlining what I know and what my plan is. It’s not much of a plan. Should be fairly clear by now that I’m not the planning type.

I’ve just gotten really paranoid with all these heroes around, but the natives are restless. The native heroes, I mean. When the other natives are restless, that’s when you see skeletons scalping people. It doesn’t happen often.

They’re all the problem, but Venus and Forcelight are the shiftiest. They obviously don’t trust me, despite my help. See, this is why it’s so hard out there for a pimp. I wonder if one of them knows. But if they know, you’d think Venus would have gotten frustrated to the point of letting me know she knows. I’m exceedingly frustrating. Perhaps I need to let her know that I know. Or, better yet, hint to her that I know that she knows, so that if she doesn’t know, she won’t know.

I don’t know, but see what I mean about Venus making me think all weird and sane?

Ok, ok, OK!

I don’t like her collaborating with Forcelight especially, with them knowing each other so well. But I can’t send them out. None of them. They have to stay in one place because I need to arrange things right.

I know, I could just have them all drop in on another meeting of The Order. We’re setting up shop at City Hall now. The Mayor’s former staff left it to us once Oligarch strode in with Man-Opener at his back. Unfortunately, they practiced a policy of scorched earth and took the coffeemaker with them, so we’re out of that at the meetings. It’s not a problem for me, since I really don’t care that much for coffee. But it’s the little things. You know, stuff that makes the people you’re hanging out with decide not to kill you in a pinch.

That’s important. I wouldn’t be surprised if manners improved some when you know knew that anyone around you could kill you at any time. You know, up until all the killing started. I imagine that part would be quite rude. A lot of amateurs don’t know the polite ways to kill someone. There’s even a specific way to tie a napkin at the dinner table so other victims will know you’re coming back. If you just leave it draped over the corpse’s face, the others will think you’re finished.

It’s called Deadiquette, people, and it’s becoming a lost art.

Anyway, I can’t just have the heroes attack any such meeting and round everyone up. That doesn’t work. It goes against the first point on my plan:

First, maximize the number of potential defenders against the alien attack. This doesn’t mean creating lots of conflict. Conflict doesn’t necessarily create more supers.

I’m trying to do that. I just have to come up with how. I need to keep the group in Empyreal City. I need villains. Hell, I need civilians with machineguns built into their prosthetic arms. And I need heroes. I can’t let them die off or run away, either. It’s not easy to need people, folks. I learned long ago that other people will either let you down or just make shit worse.

The thing is, I can hide. If Oligarch is around, he doesn’t strike me as the type to hide. He’s egotistical, and all about these grand plots to take over something. The sort of guy who could never spend a day just planning to make a really good sandwich instead. Busybodies like that can’t ever leave well enough alone.

Hmm, so I need to eliminate Oligarch…small hiccup, though. What are the odds the heroes would actually take him out? I mean, they didn’t even kill me. They thought about it, sure, but they decided against it. And I can’t do it as Banshee. That’s supposed to be the line that gets drawn. The other villains would give me up to the heroes, or at least refuse to help me out when the heroes come knockin’. I can’t even have people find him murdered with no witnesses around. Why? Because whenever I am forced to inevitably “come out” as Psycho Gecko, I’m going to get unsolved murders pinned on me left and right. Who knows, they might even write a book blaming me for JFK.

And they probably won’t give me any royalties either. I’m still a little nettled at O.J. Simpson for that little “If PG Did It” book he came out with. Not super nettled, but nettled.

Since I can’t make it look like an “accident,” I’ll just have to make it look like an accident. Whenever I arrange this big battle of epic proportions, I’m going to need Oligarch to accidentally die.

I knew ahead of time I didn’t want that to happen at the big dinner we had. It was some fancy Italian place, which was really going above and beyond for the crowd they catered to. Especially Powder, who had survived getting knocked around by The Saurus. Saurus is fine, by the way. Like the other heroes, he doesn’t like laying low and letting villains walk around doing whatever they want.

I think the worst we did at the restaurant was under-tip the waitstaff. Like I said, horribly rude individuals abound. Worse, because so many of them wore costumes, they didn’t have any wallets with them to pickpocket. Most costumes don’t even have room for a wallet, but most people who wear them would never think of putting that kind of personal information within easy reach of an enemy. Which is a shame, because nothing rubs it in quite like the villain beating a hero, then using the goody-goody’s card to pay for a victory meal.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Oligarch went on at the meal. “Congratulations are owed to each and every one of you. We have taken an amazing first step in building a truly better world.”

A better world? Sounds like someone’s buying their own propaganda. He’s unstable and delusional. Tsk, tsk. It’d be a favor, really. Gotta put folks like that down before they wind up hurting themselves and everyone around them.

“I have opened negotiations with organized crime and the unaffiliated criminals of our city to join our Order, as lesser partners, of course.” He smiled. The poor, hallucinating freak. It’d be so easy to put him out of his clear misery. I mean, just look at how pained he looked eating that penne? He’s clearly drunk on pasta and power. All it’d take is one or two good stabs to the throat with the fork I had in my hand.

But no. Too difficult to pass off as an accident. No one at the table, save for Powder getting her little fix, would likely believe I just happened to trip and fall twelve feet to jam my eating utensil into Oligarch’s jugular.

Besides, I’m having the alfredo tonight, and I hate mixing red and white sauces like that.

In a more subdued, conversationalist tone, Oligarch said to me, “By the way, your idea to fix cannon emplacements around the city is great. Please do so at your earliest convenience.”

I nodded. I already had a couple more in place, hidden. Military surplus, which is how I got them so quick. I still have to rig them so they’ll work remotely under my control or as automated systems. That means autoloaders. Most buildings are not made with that in mind.

See, that’s part of the second part of my plan: infrastructure. I don’t know why aliens would pick this planet to invade, or why they’d pick this country to invade, or why they’d pick this city. In fact, technically speaking, I don’t know for sure that they do. But I’m figuring they probably do for some reason. Urban environments are not an ideal battlefield for most confrontations. They can be made even less fun if a city has defensive weapon emplacements, hidden bunkers, underground tunnels, and the occasional explosive device.

He sipped his glass of wine, then looked around at all of us. “It will not be this easy every time, but days like today give me confidence in our ability to make this world into the utopia it deserves.” See, crazy talk. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either.

“What are you on?” some guy called out in a general way, avoiding identification.

Oligarch smiled. “I think we are headed for utopia if we can make it happen. We have the tools, tools like advanced robotics, miniaturization, nanomachinery, and chemistry that goes beyond what mortal man is capable of. The pieces are there, but mankind is too enamored of the concept of independence. For the good of everyone, we must break their laws and drag them to utopia. They require a strong hand.”

This guy’s almost as bad as I am at monologuing. “If they’re so damn dumb they can’t fix their problems themselves, then why do they even deserve a paradise?” I asked.

“We give them paradise because we are their betters. Being better means granting mercy.”

Can’t say I’m big on mercy, and I doubt he would be too if he was at someone else’s mercy. Mercy is fine for the powerful, but not so much when you’ve been the bottom of the totem pole. And it’s more than humans show. Like with my nanites. Someone got a hold of them and figured out how to make more that’ll work for anybody. It’s a revolutionary invention that would drastically cut down on worldwide mortality. What do they do? They’re jumping through hoops so they can make people buy it instead. Explain how doling it out in proportion to money is merciful to a mother and father watching their son go blind from Robles disease, when it could have been given to them instead?

If you’re looking for some grand philosophical statement about how much better I am, that’s not what I’m saying here. I’m just explaining why I hate these people and want them to die.

And I need them to have any hope of surviving. Even Terrorjaw over there, whose maw smells like a skunk getting pegged by a string of garlic.

That brings us to the third part of my simple plan: cooperation. I need to get heroes working together and villains working together. Even heroes and villains working together. Under rule of law, criminals can still flourish. Under rule of Oligarch, he’s notably discriminatory against the whitey tighties of truth and justice.

So Oligarch has to go, but The Order has to stay.

“Oligarch, I have another idea in mind you might like. My company’s had something of an infestation at the docks. Giant bugs. I think it’s about time I was also seen with The Order, and we can clean out some pests. How about a show of power that lets the little people see how merciful we can be?”

Oligarch held his glass out in my direction. “Wonderful idea, my idea. You are a fine example of the cream rising to the top.”

Nope. That was just me resisting the urge to spit alfredo sauce back up in his direction.

I’ll tell y’all one thing. This invasion better be worth it, with ships and lots of enemies and huge explosions. If this turns out to be a bunch of alien bishounen pop stars trying to sleep with easy earth women, I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

Hopefully that’ll be the only sorely I’ll be, too, seeing as I’m now an easy earth woman.

You hear me, horny aliens? This taco cart is closed!

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Local Politics 12

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On this episode of “World Domination in Retrospect,” I’m going to discuss important tips for pest control. Now, if you’re not careful with extra candy, it’s possible you could end up with a T-rex infestation. It’s horrible. You go to open the closet one day and there, scampering away, is a T-rex escaping through a T-rex hole.

Not everyone can identify a T-rex hole by sight, but I have a handy tip that can help even the amateurs figure out if the whole they’re dealing with could be a pest problem. First, take a look at the hole. Is it large? Does it appear to have been made by a dinosaur? Is it between your mother’s legs? If you answered yes to two of those questions, you’re probably looking at a T-rex hole. If you answered all three in the affirmative, your mother might be getting some Jurassic penis.

Now, if you find you have a T-rex infestation, the first thing you’re going to want to do is lay down some bait. Cows, pigs, and your mother in a nightie are all viable options for tempting the creature out into the open. Just make sure it can distinguish your mother from the cows and pigs.

For example, The Order used pigs for bait. Oligarch mapped out a rough area where The Saurus often patrolled, made all the more predictable by The Saurus’s size, and then led an attack on a police precinct. Once again, I served as an observer, except to keep other precincts from interfering. Word got out from assault, but any attempts to mobilize reinforcements failed when radio, phones, and even emails all stopped working for Empyreal City. Kind of a scorched earth way of cutting communications, but I didn’t have the time or give-a-damn to pinpoint each and every cop’s work and business phone.

A calm voice told callers “In the face of almost certain death, smooth jazz will be deployed in 3…2…1…” and then they got an earful of Judas Priest singing “Breaking The Law”. Why be honest about the smooth jazz? Plus, it was decent accompaniment as I watched Powder take a shotgun to the chest as if the cops were shooting spitballs at her. She took the hit, grabbed the gun away, and dug her fingernails into the skin around his mouth. He shook, then collapsed in the throes of overdose.

The other villains made quite the mess out of the cops there, though a Pinkerton detective managed to give them a bit of a scare. He had a bigger sidearm than anyone else, and it packed enough of a wallop to shoot Powder through a wall. Didn’t kill her, but it took the head off Patches when she ran to assist Powder. One moment, the scarecrow woman knelt down, face obscured by burlap sack and sewed-on button eyes.The next, that burlap sack is fluttering in the wind beside a gooey, blood-soaked hole in the wall. Which sounds like an intriguing beverage, now that I think about it.

Patches shouldn’t have bothered anyway, but she really liked sewing stuff. Problem is, this time she reaped what she had sewn.

Powder propped herself up and fixed her shoulder back into its socket, her flesh already closing up. Meanwhile, the Pinkerton ran out of there with all the motivation of a man whose life depends on it. To his credit, he managed to gather a couple other survivors in one of the back rooms and the three of them all made it out. While it wouldn’t have done them any good to die in some futile last stand, it would have entertained me. If only Oligarch gave him a shot, right? Nah, Oligarch floated in the front parking lot near Man-Opener and Terrorjaw.

I’m not amused that the two are seen as reliable heavy hitters nowadays thanks to helping to beat me up that time. I’ll do something about that.

Once the coast was clear and prisoners were rounded up, the three higher-ups took up positions in the area. Man-Opener laid in wait on the top floor of a parking garage. Terrorjaw concealed himself in a fountain out in front of the station. I didn’t see what Oligarch hid behind, but I have to assume he found some way to keep from being spotted.

See, this is one of those notorious gray areas. If I’d given up the safehouse The Saurus stayed at, I could have saved a lot more lives. I’d be a regular philanthropist, relatively speaking. See, The Saurus isn’t like most superheroes, who can just take off the mask and blend into a crowd. Mostly because he’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s such a distinctive feature that he pretty much has no secret identity. He could, but that’d probably involve standing around in a museum all day, trying not to chow down on vandals from the Institute for Creation Research.

The attack brought The Saurus running. More than that, it brought Saurus Jr., too. That smaller T-rex should have been doing my bidding, not running around at the side of the hero his genes came from. The traffic cameras showed Saurus nipping at Junior along the way, trying to get him to back off. That’s a fairly normal response to kids, actually. Annoying little brats. The Saurus tried to slow down and check the situation out tactically, or at least as tactically as possible for him. His young clone ran on regardless, perhaps thinking the whole outing was a race.

Say what you will about villains: we get the best lines, we’re allowed to wear horns and spikes on our outfits, and some of us look awesome in bikinis. However, we are not the most disciplined sort. I speak, of course, about villains beside myself. Of course. First to strike was Roadkill. He sped in behind the wheel of a semi doing 240 in a thirty-five. Junior overshot the crossroad he was stationed beside, but Roadkill managed to turn the truck and smack it into Junior’s rear. It smacked the young dino forward, then caught it on its grill and smashed into the front of a donut shop. And out the back. And through the back of the building behind that.

It was a little harder to make Oligarch out as he chastised the rogue villain, probably through clenched teeth. “Roadkill, I didn’t give the order to attack. That was not our target.”

Roadkill crawled his way out of the architectural and automobile damage to shrug. His earpiece survived, too. “Get me something else good to drive. I can go all day.”

He can. Roadkill is one of those few gifted with superspeed. Unlike the more conventional definition, though, his speed only activates when he’s on some sort of vehicle, in conjunction with it. He can see just fine and breathe just fine, all while trying to break the speed of sound with a golf cart. Well, he probably can’t go that fast, but who knows if he’s tried that in a car designed for speed? Personally, I’d like to see what he could do on a horse. I asked him about that once, and he actually revealed to me that what happens is, “Fuck off, bitch.”

Unfortunately, he also appears to be effectively immune to any crashes he’s involved in, and there have been numerous to test that. Roadkill likes to use cars as battering rams. And, as his maneuvering against Junior shows, it’d be a mistake to assume turns are his weakness. That’s another one of those speedster powers that he’s lucked into.

“Mini Cooper over here. No keys,” someone chimed in.

“Don’t need ’em,” Roadkill said, “Just tell me where ‘here’ is, dipshit.”

Speed was of the essence. Thanks to Roadkill’s premature acceleration, The Saurus knew this was a trap. With Junior now stuck firmly inside it, though, he knew he had to charge in anyway. He roared, and I swear I could see windows vibrate from an aerial view. “Correction: tell me where it is and keep that emu off me.”

I couldn’t tell from the angles if Saurus saw Roadkill, but he stomped right for the endpoint of the crash.

“I’ve got him!” Powder said, running out into the street with speed borne from superior strength and stamina rather than superspeed. The Saurus waited until they’d closed the distance between each other to skid on his foot claws and turn to the side. With one swipe of his tail, he knocked Powder for a home run.

Roadkill stopped to stare at that when he got out to the main street. “Anybody else want a go?” he asked. For a second, nobody answered. Then, everyone heard a clang, a whine of servos, and a whumping sound like helicoptor rotors starting up. Man-Opener’s gleaming white armor had dropped down onto its chicken walker legs behind The Saurus. His walker stood half the height of The Saurus, so the long arms on the side of the wide, headless body could easily reach the T-rex’s neck with its rotating axe-like blades.

Accompanying him, a pair of miniature helicopters descended. They opened up with their tiny guns and rockets, doing practically nothing to the tyrant lizard king. The Saurus took a moment to throw his dictionary at one of them, missing. Then he continued after the last known location of Junior, crunching a Mini Cooper on the street in the process.

“Roadkill, are you still there, or are you, ya know, Roadkill?” I asked.

He hurried out from behind a mailbox he’d hidden behind. “Momma said there’d be days like this.”

“Your mother said this kind of stuff would happen to you?” I asked.

“Momma did a lot of drugs,” he answered back.

The Saurus didn’t actually do much to confront any of them, even Roadkill. Instead, he smashed his head into the building to find Junior. Once he found the clone, he pulled him free. Then he worried about the approaching villains. Roadkill cranked up a mail truck. Man-Opener stomped forward, blades womping. Terrorjaw circled the fountain, then jumped out. Oligarch hovered on jets of flame under his feet and at the rear of his hips.

“Remember, guys, get him over to the area we set up in the street,” I reminded them. We dug, cut, and blasted away a portion under the street and in the sewers big enough to hold The Saurus. Get him over it, blow it, let him fall into our little canyon, then cover it over enough that he can’t get out. Then it’s just a matter of food and waste management. Or so we were told. If Oligarch’s going to blow the roof off the asylum, then I bet he never intended to merely capture The Saurus.

“The center cannot hold. Things fall apart. We shall improvise, Banshee.” Oligarch raised both arms. Panels opened along the bottoms and tops of the forearms, the shoulders, the thighs, and his calves. On his back, a circular panel pushed itself open. A seemingly endless number of bullet-sized micromissiles fired, trailing lines of smoke that weaved a tapestry in their targeting patterns. They closed in on The Saurus, who tossed Junior a neighborhood away for safety before they tore up the ground under his feet. He fell from lack of proper footing, at which point the micromissiles tore into the supports of the already-weakened buildings surrounding him. It was nowhere near as clean, painless, or deep a burial.

“I am afraid this one must die with our original plan for containment scattered to the winds,” Oligarch said.

I talked to him while shooting emails over to R&D. “Belay that. I’ve got room in a lab. It’ll mean public association, but I think we’re close enough to our goals that we don’t need to worry about that, eh?”

“Are you sure?” Oligarch asked.

I tried to sound as enthusiastic as Technolutionary. “Think of the research! With the right equipment, I could make an entire clone army of these guys to do our bidding…”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Cloning isn’t really that useful yet, especially accounting for aging.

Roadkill whooped at that, and even Terrorjaw got a chuckle out of the idea. “That sounds awesome!” Powder yelled into the comms.

“Powder, you’re alive?” I asked.

“I landed in a pond in Central Park with a bunch of bodies and a truck, if you can believe it.”

“I suppose I can. So, Ollie, what do you say to some dinosaur ranching?”

The trailer hauling the captured dino to one of my lab compounds made quite a scene. I answered Venus’s call before it finished the first ring.

“You traitorous bastard! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you!”

“I made a deal. He wanted one with me because SOMEHOW word got out that I was Banshee. Gee, I wonder if anyone had been spreading that rumor. So I finally agreed to save The Saurus for quote-unquote ‘research purposes’. You should be glad I did. Now, for once, can I get a little trust and respect from one of the alleged ‘good guys’ around here?”

“Are you going to release him to me, at least?” Venus asked, voice chilly.

I narrowed one eye incredulously. “You have a way to get him back to you safe house unnoticed, and the medical equipment to bring him back to 100%? He’s in bad shape right now.”

“I have regenerative nanites from Forcelight’s company. They’re a miracle in a bottle.”

“A miracle for humans. Do they work on dinosaurs?”

She paused for a long time after that, then answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t tried them on Kid Saurus here yet.”

“He’s with you?”

“Yeah, we got to him before any villains could. He’s shaken up and hurt, but I don’t think there’s any permanent damage.”

Damn. Son of a bitch tried to fellate a 200+ MPH semi and the worse they can say is “shaken up.”

“I know that we have doctors and veterinarians. We can do more for The Saurus than you can. You can let the little guy know that. But I have some bad news about Oligarch. He’s close to his endgame, and he’s not going to stop until you’re out of the picture. I have reason to believe he wants you dead. Good news is, I have a way to pull the rug out from under him.”

“How?” she asked, voice losing its angrier edge, but sounding a note of impatience.

“Well,” I told her, “first thing’s first: you’re going to have to die.”

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Local Politics 11

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When your superhero nemesis thinks you’re a businesswoman and minor villain of the opposite sex than she knows you to be, and then claims to need your help, you might expect she’d be Johnny on the Spot. Apparently, that’s how things work in your world. In this one, Venus took her sweet time getting around to me. Then again, that probably means my disguise is holding. She tends to give me top priority in our normal encounters, so it’s actually a good thing for her to ignore my womanly charms. My bosomy manners. My hiptastic entreaties, some might say.

I may not be IN lesbians with her, but I wouldn’t mind being lesbians with her. Wink, wink, nudge, nude, say no more, say no more. Actually, not sure there’s much else to say there unless I turn this into an erotic story. Then again, maybe it’d get me more of an audience.

So there I was, bosoms heaving, hair wild and untamed. I glanced at Venus from behind my apron, holding a full bottle of oil in one hand. “How do you like your…eggs?” I asked her.

She squinted. “I’m not hungry. Why did you ask me that way? Nevermind. I’m not staying for breakfast. I wanted to speak with you about what I mentioned the other night. Do you remember?”

I nodded and went back to fixing myself breakfast. A nice, balanced meal of eggs, grits, and country fried steak. My appetite’s been winding down a little bit without quite so much action going on, but I still like to pack it on. I burn a few more calories than most humans due to the cyborg parts, and it’s nice to build up a reserve anyway for the inevitable nanite regeneration. You wanna keep that mass, you better build up an ass.

“First, let me apologize for the delay. The Oligarch has a large group of villains at his beck and call, capturing my colleagues. They haven’t gotten me, not yet. So there’s a crime wave I have to handle without much help. Someone murdered a circus last night. We found six corpses this morning.” She hook her head as if to banish the thought.

I hoped she didn’t notice my snort. Six. They must not have looked in the clown car. I wanted to see how many clowns would fit.

Hey, I said I didn’t have as much action going on. Besides, they barely put up a fight. Ya know, if you call the snake lady trying to bite you a fight. Or something other than “kinda hot.” Too bad the dissection revealed her to be fake. Wish I could have seen the look on the face of whatever cop tried to use the restroom there at the crime scene. Once he looked up, I’m sure he didn’t have any trouble peeing, except stopping.

But enough reminiscing about fond times. “Sounds terrible,” I told Venus, checking on my gravy.

Venus paused a bit and I wondered if it was something I’d said. Then again, I hadn’t said anything that bad. After another couple seconds, I prompted her with, “You were saying you needed my help?”

“I should apologize for that. I shouldn’t frame it like I did. Oligarch, he threw me for a loop. Let’s drop the coercion. This isn’t about what I think I have on you. This is me sincerely asking for help from someone I hope and pray is unaffiliated. Plus turn around and look at me.”

I rolled my eyes, stopped stirring the gravy, and turned the heat down on it. When I did look, I found Venus down on her knees. Hey, maybe it’s not too late to turn this into an x-rated serial after all!

She actually got down and begged me. I mean, she didn’t know she was begging who she thought she was begging, but she was begging me. I took a picture and saved it. That one’s going on a Christmas card. Or into Photoshop.

“Please,” she said. “I’ll need help to stop whatever he’s doing.”

Huh. So it turns out I’m the undoing of The Order after all. Ok, yeah, I agreed. I think I have a weakness for Venus on her knees. Funny, I don’t usually give in when men or women are on their knees asking for stuff. Mercy. A little more time. A chance to make it right. Maybe Venus is just a special case like that. Or maybe it’s because I envisioned killing her and Oligarch off in one fell swoop.

I guess I’d somehow slipped into one of my little “Kill Venus” phases. I never can tell, day to day, what I feel about her. I’ve built her up in my mind, and a part of me knows that. She’s a hero; she’s my hero. But my hero can’t save me. Hell, now that I think about it, I know for a fact my hero fails to save me. Well, maybe the future invasion will go just fine with one fewer hero. Then again, that might also be why she doesn’t save me.

That’s it, I decided I’d go over to Fortune Cookie’s in person to ask her about that one. But first, I had to continue my mummer’s farce.

I turned back to my food, flipping eggs and breaded cube steak over. “Ok, ok…get up. You’re giving me too many ideas. First, no costuming. No being a hero.”

“But-!”

“But I might have safe houses, and few business ventures that could be useful for rearming. Maybe a communication network, unless Oligarch has randomly decided to intercept Double Cross emails.” I smiled to myself. I actually did have people at work building a bunker underneath Double Cross Headquarters, as well as a couple other sites. I’d say that you never know when you’re going to need a bunker that can withstand an alien invasion, but I actually do know. “You’re asking me to risk my life and livelihood. I have a lot of people to think of here. You go out and fight, you risk your life. If I go out and fight, I risk the life of every Double Cross employee, including their families.”

I glanced back at Venus, who now stood, arms crossed. She nodded. “That’s fair. I respect your dedication to your people’s safety. That’s not something I normally have to take into account with allies.”

I shrugged. “The mask isn’t my identity like it is with y’all. I wore it to get what I wanted.” I stopped, catching my tone. For a moment, I realized I sounded a bit like my usual self when talking to her. Not the voice, of course, but a certain condescension. I tried to cover it up. “That’s…sorry, I think I let these cook a little long..” I busied myself with the food some more. “I’ll talk to my assistant and arrange for what we talked about. Care for breakfast?”

I heard the terrace door open. “No thanks. I had a biscuit on the way here. There’s lots to be done.”

With her on her way gone, I couldn’t help but sing softly to myself, “You’re a tough little tadpole to love. Naughty lilies and lures; oh I was knocked to the floor. Never tasted as sweet a poison as you have. You’re an urge that can never be cured. You’re a bad little love and I’m yours. So trust me, trust me, darling dear. I’m so sincere; there’s no need to tear. Trust me, trust me, honeydew. Just like I trust you.”

I hummed the same tune when I attended the latest meeting of The Order. We’d graduated from a rundown community center to a hotel conference room. Lucky us! They even provided coffee for our band of nocturnal costumed criminals.

As for me, I scored major points with a few boxes of donuts. Well, except with a couple of villains. A tall, thin woman without a mask, in a barely-there tube top and short shorts said she couldn’t have any because of her diabetes. The razor blades dangling from earrings helped me identify her as Powder. Well, at least she’s not paranoid about “toxins” or “chemicals” being her food. I liked this little vein tattoo she had on the bend of her elbow.

The other guy, Roadkill, had plenty of tattoos of his own. I could only make out the ends of his sleeves under his jacket and the tattoos that climbed his neck. I pictured him as the sort to have them all over his head, too, but that was covered up by a metal mask that didn’t leave a clue about if he even had hair. He was a little husky, though, and his objection wasn’t diabetes so much as dieting. Good for him. Not easy to handle all that temptation in this day and age.

I distributed all but one box, which I kept to myself. Oh, come on, like that’s anywhere near the most evil thing I or anyone in the group had done.

Now, since I don’t like listening to Oligarch, I’ll skip past the boring stuff and just say that he wants to go public soon. According to him, Captain Lightning hasn’t been checking in as much lately. He’s had stuff to juggle in Syria. Oligarch wants The Saurus next, which is difficult because of how big the T-rex is. After that, he insisted Venus needs to go and we’ll be all set. The broad strokes are ready.

Two major heroes left to beat and imprison, and he wants to make a big announcement and declare the city his. I’m sorry, declare the city ours. I’m sure that little bit was just a Freudian slip.

Yeah, like I said, I had a whole lot of good reasons to barge in on Fortune Cookie, who had a nice little apartment above some New Age crystal shop. Fitting, I suppose. I knocked on the door for a solid twenty seconds with no answer. Maybe she wanted her privacy. Too bad for her, I climbed up the fire escape and crashed in through the kitchen window. She moved her bowl and kept on munching on cereal as I stood on the table and shouted. “Ta daaaaa!”

Fortune put down her spoon long enough to give me a polite golf clap. “Very good, Gecko.”

“Were you watching? Not easy to go through a window without getting hurt.”

“Very nice flip, Gecko.”

“Awww, you didn’t watch at all.” I hopped down and pulled out a chair, brushing off the glass. Sharp glass on a chair is a real pain in my ass. “Now, I haven’t been all up in your face this whole time. I know you don’t like me, what I do, how I do things, my body count, my company, and the people I’m working with. That’s obviously a bit of a barrier between us. But things are happening again. I need a bit of guidance, specifically about Venus. There are events happening, and I have to know the answer…does Venus die before the invasion? Or during it? Or, when I die, if I still die, is she alive?

Holy shit, now that I actually phrased it, I think I understand why Fortune Cookie’s clairvoyance powers are so complicated. Because, if I did things right, I no longer die. Or if I’m doing things right. And the answer to the question I’m asking Fortune depends entirely on the answer she gives.

Fortune put down her spoon and sighed. “There are so many reasons I can’t answer that.” She rubbed her forehead. “You are altering the future because you already know part of it. When everyone else acts, they act according to how they would have always acted. I can see them easily. Even you. Knowing the future upsets that. If I give you one answer, the future turns one way. If I give you another, it turns another. I can’t answer that question for you. I want to help you, but it’s hard to do that with you interfering.”

I picked up a piece of glass and tapped it around on the table. “Well that’s great. Everything I’m doing to keep that future from happening means I can’t keep tabs on it to find out how it’s going. I appreciate what you’ve tried to do, but is there actually anything else you can help me with?” After a second, I dropped the glass, trying to avoid any implied threats.

“Act like yourself, like you normally do. I will see clearly. But aside from that, there are still things I can tell you from time to time.” Fortune actually put her hand over mine.

“Broad strokes, then? Things I can know that won’t necessarily change?” I shook her hand off. “And you don’t have to worry about this false sympathy. What do you have for me?”

“I keep seeing an old insane asylum being blown up on Friday the 13th. Does this sound important?” She narrowed her eyes. Why do they call them almond eyes, anyway? It’s just nuts. Then again, terms like chocolate, mocha, coffee, and cocoa often get thrown around when describing non-Caucasians, so maybe it just goes back to the odd intersection of food and sex that some people have. Like sticking a cucumber inside an orifice somewhere. Yet another thing I don’t get about humans. I invented the dimensional bomb, but you sick sons of bitches invented analingus.

“When you say explode, do you mean a little bit, like survivable, or is this-?” I started, but she interrupted me.

“It’s big. Very big. Hard to survive.”

Great, so it looks like I have to save some damn heroes. Fortune Cookie is really right about me not acting like me. But it’d still help me to get those prisoners out of there. Speaking of analingus, what do you want to bet this asshole’s going to get a tongue-lashing?

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Local Politics 9

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Empyreal City is quickly becoming a darker place to live in. I see it now on the faces of people scurrying about their day both in the office and on the street. Fear. They’re on guard from whatever might happen next. I think they can sense the inclement weather on the way. My forecast calls for a shitstorm.

It’s not from the bombings. I’ve decided to take a break from those as we approach Halloween. I’d prefer people to be festive. I spend the rest of the year tricking; I have no problem letting people have a treat.

Double Cross has been having a real treat, as well. With heroes outmanned, regular criminals and villains alike are pulling in more and bigger takes than ever before. There’s always something, after all. Gold. Bearer bonds. Electronics. Even fashion. My personal favorite is the shipment for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. They had cutting edge body armor and weapons capable of taking on supers. Not a lot of them, of course, but still the kind of stuff the military or would deploy. They had a few pieces of loot with them, spoils recovered from lairs and villains. Don’t know what I’m going to put in this Ming vase. A peace lily, perhaps?

I can’t discuss rising profits for Double Cross without also giving credit to Financial. I got a call from this guy with a Russian name, claimed to be fairly high up in a brotherhood of some sort. That’s a way of implying he’s in the Russian Mafia. The Bratva. They’d probably be more subtle about it if they thought I had any idea what was going on. This fellow, a bookie out of Vegas, told me I should look into my Head of Finance. He’d been playing around with my money.

“Really? Why tell me all that?” I asked.

“Hey, you deserve to know when your employees risk your money betting on college sports.”

I snorted in laughter. “How much did he win off you?”

I got silence from the line.

“You wouldn’t be trying to get him fired if he lost to you, because then he couldn’t pay you. Don’t let the company’s name fool you. I stand behind him and the huge amount of money he made me. And that you now owe me, I’m guessing, or maybe that you’ve already paid me?”

“You will get your money,” he told me, bitterness in his voice.

Woohoo, more money. I put called up Finance and told them to throw themselves a party over the sports betting. “And make sure to get the little paper cone hats.”

Ah, cone hats. The cheapest way to give someone a hat. Decent way to blind someone, too.

It gave me an idea: party! With people so down in the dumps, why not have a big bash? No, seriously, why not? Sure, it’s short notice, but it turned out I have plenty of volunteers to handle security. The only other thing I needed to do was refreshments and entertainment. Easy peasy, what with the overall bad mood of the place. Open party at Double Cross! Drunk white women for everybody!

I did have some actual work to deal with before that. The situation down at the docks required more of my attention. I’d had my guys lock down the whole place. Yeah, that went over well. I had conspiracy theorists all over the place, too. Apparently, it was all part of the U.S. President’s attempt to take over the country by martial law, which was secretly orchestrated by Big Oil working together with Big Tobacco and the NRA at the behest of the Illuminati, which took its orders from the invisible reptilian aliens running Scientology, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and the Roman Catholic Church as part of a conservative plan to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship.

Or something like that. The particulars are different, but it’s always the same kind of stuff. I’m sure I could add JFK and the moon landing in there, too.

I had to do something about that, and fast. So I wasted a few days having consulting entomologists work up a reason they turned hostile. They answered that for me: the queen. The hive likely operated under the control of a queen that the others protect and take direction from. When I separated them from their old hive, they allowed a new queen to mature and take over. She must not have liked me.

They said my options were to get on her good side, take her place, or become male. Which might answer why they liked me in the first place. I was a male wearing an orange and dark grey exoskeleton. All I needed was wings. I already had the giant stinger, ladies. I mean, I don’t have it at the moment, but still…ladies.

Clearly, I needed to assert my dominance over the queen. Normally, that process involves latex and a whip. This time, it’ll require a more subtle hand. Less latex…more short yellow and black dress and a deely bobber headband.

Carl and Moai insisted on following me at least as far as the quarantine line. Crash didn’t insist on it, but I made her drive the rest of us, with Moai sitting in the trunk. Still, she seemed generally worried at the possible loss of her paycheck. I bet she hasn’t been able to spend much of it on anything other than cars.

The dark didn’t bother me, nor did the humming mass of hostile bee people hidden throughout the shadowy dockyard. One of them jumped out at me, stinger sword at the ready. I held out my hand in the Vulcan salute. “Greetings! I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”

The inhuman life form reacted with hostility, making me reconsider leaving behind Crash and her red blouse.

The Buzzkill thrust at me, aiming to impale me through the belly. Wearing flats this time, I dodged easily to the side and grabbed the arm at the elbow. “Now, now, this is a weapon, not a toy. If you’re not going to treat it with respect, I’ll just take it away from you.”

The Buzzkill smacked its bulgy forearm into my face, causing me to release the appendage. Then it slashed at my head. I ducked under and waited for it to try and regain control. While inertia left it vulnerable, I took hold of its arm and twisted it around by the forearm in a hammerlock. “You know, it just occurred to me that limb removal is much easier with a sharpened object, like a knife, or a shovel, or even bone. Hey, do y’all have bones?”

I twisted further, and further, and further. I stepped back, then drove my knee into the anthropomorphic insectoid’s upper arm as hard as I could.

Nothing seemed to break, but the blow caused the Buzzkill to escape.

I raised my fist again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear an answer. I said, ‘Hey, do y’all have bones?’” I pulled back as if to punch the Buzzkill in the face. When it brought it arms up to block, I insteaded ran to my left of it. Hooking its arm, I jumped and pulled myself across its shoulders so that I came down on its other side, grabbing its head in a facelock. My momentum carried me down to plant its face into the ground.

With it down, I held its non-blade arm up behind it. “Now, point me in the direction of your queen. Is she this way?” I pointed in one direction with the captured limb. The Buzzkill shook its head. “What about this way?” I pointed the opposite way. Again it shook its head. “Ok, what about THIS way?” I tugged its arm at an unnatural angle with the assistance of my foot, hearing a cracking sound. Beneath me, the Buzzkill raised its head like someone doing yoga and released a high pitch squealing buzz like someone doing radio. After what seemed like a literal minute, it collapsed back against the ground.

“I’m not hearing a yes or no,” I reminded it. It shook its head, so I let it go. I wouldn’t have trusted that information, but I figured I could always find another one to ask for directions.

Turns out, I couldn’t trust that Buzzkill. I could, however, trust the building overflowing with hive guarded by a pair of really big Buzzkills holding spears made from salvaged metal. Once I spotted that, I abandoned my direction of exploration and made what I can only describe as a beeline for it. Shivering, I stopped right in front of the guards and instructed them in my most commanding chattering. “Well? You gonna get that damn door for me or what?”

And now for a brief educational moment from Psycho Gecko. When in a place you’re not supposed to be, one of the things that helps is to act as if you belong there. Having proper or faked credentials helps, too, but you’d still look weird acting nervous. It’s just like how the best way to lie is to believe a lie. That, and clench your butt cheeks, but that’s mainly if you’re hooked up to a polygraph.

They walked me inside the warmer formal hive area and presented me at spearpoint to the Queen, whose throne looked more like a cup. She also looked bigger, in terms of height, width, and even a bit of girth. Also, she had extra arms and legs, at least compared to a human. She didn’t seem happy with me, but I had to figure that out based on subtle context clues. Like the way she pointed at the guards and they pointed their spears at me.

“Queeny!” I said with faux-happiness painted on my face. “So good to see you!”

With a voice that kinda grated on my head, “You smell like the one who brought us here but female. You are kin of the kidnapper, or a mate. Either way, the kidnapper is weak. He left us with no one to care for us. He ran when he saw we lacked blind obedience.”

She stopped talking as if waiting. Was there a question in there, or does she just really like giving exposition? I decided to speak up. “I am Psycho Gecko, the one who took you from Japan! But I am changed. I am now the queen of my own hive. I have been busy. Seriously, it’s hard running your own hive. You should try it sometime.”

Still just lookin’ at me, Queeny.

“Listen, I want you back. I liked working with y’all in Japan. What will it take to work out a deal?”

“No deal!” She says forcefully and stomps three of her legs.

I looked around, trying to see if they had a need for anything I could offer. My gaze settled on another, much smaller cup seat off to the side. “Aww, is that your heir in there?”

“You stay away!” She pointed at me.

The guards pointed their spears at me. The one to my right thrust, but I stepped back and pushed it upward into the throat of the other guard. That one dropped her spear for me to grab and poke out the first guard’s eye with it. Then I remembered bees had lots more eyes than humans and began poking it a lot more times in the head to be sure. With guns, Zombieland recommended a double tap. When it comes to stabbing weapons, I prefer to take my inspiration from Jack the Ripper. His victims sure as hell didn’t stand back up and make a full recovery, that’s for sure. I then spun to the side, took a stance, and hurled the spear at the Queen Buzzkill.

She caught it and let out a furious smell to alert the rest of the hive. I grabbed the other spear out of the throat I stuck it in and ran at the Queen, leaping to impale her with it like Buffy with a wood strap-on and a vampire girlfriend.

The Queen caught me. Damn her extra arms! She pulled the spear out of my grasp and tossed it away, then held my arms close together. She brought me closer. Whatever she said, she said it while chittering and humming.

I didn’t have a lot of ways out, but I did have at least two. I twisted and smacked her in the head with my boobs and the metal weights hidden on my bust underneath my dress. Brass knuckles would have been noticed, but not brass nipples.

Still, it hurt the Queen at least as much as it hurt me, because her grip loosened. I pulled an arm loose and yanked the spear out of her other arms, then drove it into her head. I kept going until I had her pinned to the floor like a bug collector.

When the rest of the hive guards swarmed in, they found me sitting on the throne, rocking a royal grub in my arms and cooing. And holding a spearhead awfully close to the heir.

“Hi there, everyone! Guess what? The old queen had a bit of an accident, but luckily I’m here to take care of this queen grub. Don’t worry, as long as she’s with me, nothing bad will happen. Be an awful shame if y’all didn’t obey me and divided my attention. That’s how accidents happen…fires start…grubs get fed to giant birds. But y’all wouldn’t do that to me, would y’all?”

With my new bouncing baby grub ensuring the loyalty of the Buzzkills, the quarantine was lifted and everybody went about their normal, totally-not-covered up days. Nope, no bee people here. Bee people in a dockyard…ridiculous. Next, someone will tell me they saw bee people in the sewers or at an old, unused candy factory in the industrial sector.

Absurd, and I urge them to prove me wrong, no matter how great the risk to their own life!

Freaked the hell out of Crash when she saw it, too. If not for the fact that I needed the grub alive, I’d have tossed it to her while saying, “Here, look after this.”

That matter taken care of, I was ready to party come Halloween night. A good time was being had by all on the ground floor, with the lobby and plaza open for all who wanted to attend and enjoy the music, sweets, and booze. I’d have thrown a parade, but there’s only so much I can arrange last minute without threatening people’s lives.

Even Venus came. “Venus! You’re here. So good to see you out and about tonight and not thinking I’m some sort of suspicious criminal.” Perhaps I played up the innocence a bit much when I noticed her by the candy bar.

She brushed her hair out from in front of her mask and face, grabbing a caramel apple lollipop out of a bowl. “It’s Halloween. Everyone takes a break on Halloween. Besides, I may have bigger problems than a dirty businesswoman.”

“You do indeed,” said Oligarch as he slipped out from behind the chocolate fountain. In contrast to Venus, he wore a crisp, tailored business suit instead of a costume.

Venus narrowed her eyes and tensed. I’d swear she almost threw a punch then and there. Good for her. There’s so few guaranteed breaks from the fight, she managed to make sure there’d still be one. “I knew you weren’t dead.”

The Oligarch smirked, “So good to see the Master Academy taught you that much. It is not the same institution as in my day.”

Perhaps that was the wrong time for the DJ to start playing “Brand New Day” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

“Now, now. No fighting, whatever this is,” I chided, laughing in my head at that one.

“It’s just a friendly warning, Venus. You don’t want to stay in town, or what happened to Forcelight will happen to you.”

I unwrapped a Warhead and popped it into Oligarch’s mouth so this wouldn’t escalate and so he couldn’t reveal my part in things. “That’s enough out of you.” His eyes opened wide as the intensely sour sensation restrained him.

Then I grabbed Venus and swept her off to the dance floor to make a fool of myself. Ya know, no matter how much people say you’ll never amount to anything, you can always still make a fool of yourself on a dance floor.

Still, it took a few seconds to notice she was trying to talk to me. “What’d you say?” I asked over the sound of Neil Patrick Harris declaring his desire to kill Captain Hammer.

“I know you’re involved in all this, Ms. Mortenson. You’re going to help me find out what happened.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do.” She stepped closer, lowering her voice. “You owe me.”

I owe her? Well, I do…but I only said that as Gecko. “What do you mean?”

“I know you killed that mafioso. I bet you used the cannon. I have more on you, but they’re not as important to me.”

Whew. Still an interesting development, but whew.

Not that she stuck around to give me a Happy Halloween, if you know what I’m saying. Sadly, I think any chance of us having a relationship is more like the next holidays: The Day of the Dead.

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Local Politics 7

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I got to be mission control for a crime. Normally, I’m a hands-on kinda person, but watching and advising turned out to be fairly entertaining, too. Gave me an idea or two for the future, while we’re at it.

So the first part was fairly simple. When I’d talked to Professor Electro, we’d gone over that there were two main ways to start things. Either hit someplace smaller and leave enough of a mark that everyone knows he did it, or get it into position for the big score and perform a demonstration there. The problem is the lack of time. You start throwing lightning bolts around, you either wind up with significant police and hero attention or a bunch of worshipers. I suppose it depends on who you aim at and if anyone wants to base a system of governance on some guy on a mountain handing out lightning bolts.

We opted to try a demonstration first. Everything and everybody fit into a moving truck that stopped outside Global United Trust. The bank, with offices only in the United States, is particularly divisive after losing a lot of people money back during the financial crisis. Like the rest of the people, they got into the mortgage-backed security business.

Not sure if I’ve explained that before. This is going to be one of the more boring, educational sections for y’all, but parts of it are important for understanding the overall scheme.

Basically, big banks started making home loans so they could use the debt as an investment. According to Einstein, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Regular interest is pretty strong too. This doesn’t sound that bad so far, but where they really got greedy is when they realized they’d made about all the loans people could afford. So banks began to go after people with worse and worse finances by making the payments look small at first and by telling these people they could afford it. After all, they’re banks. Why would they ever want to lose money by loaning money to people they know can’t pay it back? Well, they did because the mortgage-backed securities were so juicy and could even be sold off to make immediate money.

This only lasted as long as people kept paying their mortgages. I said they made the payments look good at first, remember? Yeah, once a certain amount of time passed, those payments went up. Or giving a loan to people with no ability to pay it back led to the natural consequence of them failing to keep paying it. Either way, that amazing source of income suddenly got cut off. But don’t worry; the banks insured many of those investments.

Of course, as y’all may or may not realize, too many expensive claims coming in at once messes with an insurance company’s ability to actually pay out. Insurers don’t just keep premiums in bank accounts to earn interest for them. Well, some of it they do. They’re required by law to keep at least a certain minimum in there. The rest is invested to make more money. Anyway, the companies who insured these securities weren’t able to pay the claims and started going bankrupt, which suddenly meant that all these banks were going to lose their money after all. On top of that, there’s apparently this thing called a credit default swap where people essentially took out insurance on other people’s debts that would pay out if the other company defaulted, which made a killing for a lot of people, up until they realized that the people who owed them money didn’t have it to pay.

That really exacerbated things. Dear readers, y’all shouldn’t exacerbate so much. You could go blind.

That, FINALLY, is where Global United Trust came in. They made a lot of money in the short term, then lost a lot of money. Global United Trust being quite a bit smaller than some of these banks at the top, they could have lost a lot of people’s lunch money. You earn a fuckton of bad will by telling people “Sorry, you can’t have your money back because the bank needs it to pay off our own debts.”

That’s why runs are so dangerous, and I don’t just mean the sort caused by adding too much Rotel to your taco meat. Banks also only keep some of the money in people’s savings accounts. They reinvest too. That’s one of the ways they actually make money, doing things like investing in bonds, real estate, and mortgage debt.

All of that is why most of the money in the United States doesn’t exist in dollar form. Ones and zeroes, just like the financial stratification of the U.S. And, hey, I know I sound like the Red Menace here, but I wouldn’t have to steal from the megarich if they spread the wealth around a little more. If people could make good money from middle-class people with less risk, they would rob them instead. Simple as that.

That’s why we went after Global United Trust. Prof. Electro hopped out of the van, accompanied by a half dozen men and women wearing black coats, black gloves, black pants, and wearing black Lycra underneath all that to further protect their identities. According to Carl, minions hate being identified working with specific villains. It gets them punched on more often by heroes, or charged as accomplices to actions that would be crimes even during wartime.

Before anyone could get a good look at everyone, the Professor and his crew headed down an alley next to the bank and popped open an exterior door to the security room. I’d sent out some interns to find the blueprints for the bank. Don’t say Chat Des Combes didn’t get me to listen to at least some advice before the French catburgler in the skintight suit turned on me back in Europe.

I’m already changing everything about how I operate, so I might as well take in the occasional piece of good advice. Keep the good, ignore the bad; “but test/examine everything. Hold fast/on to what is good,” as the Christian holy book says in stark contrast to the bumper sticker that reads “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Once in the security room, the security guard cashed in his life insurance policy and the team plugged a USB drive into the security computer that gave me control over it for my viewing pleasure. They then spread out, some through the connecting hall and some through windows that gave office workers a scenic view of graffitied alley walls. Coming up behind everyone, they forced tellers down at electro-gun point.

Professor Electro’s own creations, the electro-guns are designed to shoot electricity at people in defiance of conventional physics. Tasers have to use those little line things to convince electricity to go through another person before it heads to the ground. Lightning is a notorious hippie like that, always trying to hug the Earth. And no, he wouldn’t tell me how he does it.

The civilians went down also, except for some old guy who pulled his concealed handgun and then dropped it once his heart attack started. Professor Electro, resplendent in his lab goggles, breast plate, and lab gloves, marched the bank manager out in full view. Two of the minions went to work packing up the teller cash while the other four ran out and unpacked the Lightning Rod. I used the capital letters because Electro named it that. It isn’t actually a rod. It looks more like a box with four swirly antennas on the sides and a pump going through the middle.

The minions had to get it out because it needed a straight shot to the sky with its antennae. I told the Professor I could get a chop shop to add a sun roof to the truck if he gave me enough time, but he wanted to hurry on this one.

“Everyone, please file outside into the street!” Prof. Electro announced, waving his electro-pistol around the room.

This is where he and I had a bigger difference of opinion. I’d suggested he just bring out the manager, or even leave them all in there. The Prof. Insisted that we minimize casualties. This from the guy who wanted to threaten the entire city with the machine! When he told me that, I wished I had a metal glove or something to hit him upside the head with. Even though I shut him up in the office by pointing out that he should be willing to carry through with whatever he’s threatening, he called an audible in the field and led them all out. I even heard him mutter over comms, “We could have taken the one in the office if not for that psycho henchwoman.”

Louder, addressing the crowd, he said, “Behold! I will now demonstrate the power of my Lightning Rod!” With that, he ordered the henchmen away, revealing his Rod to the assembled hostages to great gasping. He set to work, adjusting the knobs and levers. The tips of the swirly antennas glowed, then released beams of pale blue light into the air. Almost immediately, lightning crackled across the clear sky and a bolt struck the bank, trashing the electronics.

Professor Electro and his somewhat-stunned gang cleared out of there before anyone knew it caught fire because the police were on their way at that point. Even without alarms, plenty of people had cell phones outside to catch the attack and report it, with videos making it to Youtube before Prof. Electro even escaped.

The next day, Prof. Electro stood atop 30 Park Place, a skyscraper still under construction. A shame we couldn’t use one of the better looking buildings instead of one of these newer monstrosities. I actually like the arches and points of the ones from the early 1900s as compared to the giant glass sticks everyone wants to put into the sky nowadays. It also didn’t help that some of those older ones house financial services. Prof. Electro and I considered some of those, but he accepted my reminder to back up his threats if necessary. And he definitely didn’t want to be on one of those buildings when struck.

So he sat on the roof of 30 Park Place, not passing Go, not collecting $200, and addressed a Giant Screen that featured icons of a dozen major banks and insurers who had interests in the residential and commercial buildings of New York. “Ladies, gentlemen, parasites… what I did to Global United Trust was only the tip of the iceberg. Pay the amount I forwarded to each of you to the accounts I forwarded to you within the hour, or the entirety of the iceberg will fall upon you like the Titanic…which really sunk by aliens, but nevermind that now. You can lose millions each….or this wonderful skyline becomes target practice and you lose everything, just like what the aliens did to the Titanic.”

I wasn’t sure about letting them know they weren’t the only ones in that boat, but the Professor claimed it would set them at ease to know that they weren’t the only ones in that situation. They got to keep it within the family, with an understanding that they could help each other get out of it.

I invited some others to watch the view from the cameras, satellites, and Giant Screen. Moai pulled up a recliner just in time for Crash to settle into it when Carl walked into the art gallery. “Hey boss, I got the cooler!”

“Good, hand me soda.” I held up my arm, hand in position to hold a bottle. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed me a bottle. “Hail Hydrate, boss.”

“Hail Hydrate?” Crash asked.

“Hail Hydrate.” I told her.

She held up her hand. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed her a drink. “Hail Hydrate.”

We didn’t have much of a view for awhile as the clock ticked down. Prof. Electro got his ass out of there. Then, at about the thirty minute mark, Forcelight flew into view. She glowed white, which matched her long hair and blank eyes. She’d altered her costume, though. She wore clingy black and grey with gold trim.

It figured. As the owner of a medical company with a lot of hospitals and research facilities, she and her board probably had connections with one of these captains of finance. The project that gave Forcelight her ability to fly and manipulate light as if it were solid put a hit in the coffers of Long Life, her company. The resulting loss of money forming a superhero team called Shieldwall actually convinced the Long Life Board of Directors to remove much of the financial decision-making power from her.

They needed the money, in other words, and she could get back in her own people’s good graces by helping out. She wasn’t quite who I expected to fly in and try to save the day. I’d hoped for another sighting of my dear Venus. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

“There’s no one here. Just the screen,” she spoke to a device on her wrist.

I held up my phone and spoke, my voice coming out of the screen. “That’s right. Professor Electro can fire his device from anywhere in the city. Much of this was a deception, I’m afraid. But you don’t shouldn’t worry about that. You have bigger problems.”

She blasted the screen to pieces, then looked around, noticing the situation she’d fallen into when she wasn’t looking. The Oligarch, Terrorjaw, Man-Opener, Giuseppe’s Toy Soldiers, and numerous other villains flew into view from lower floors of the building. Herne the Hunter rode his motorcycle up the side of the building and landed it on the roof, aiming his spear right at Forcelight, his ghost hounds appearing at his heels.

You could almost hear the ding as the lightbulb went off in her head. Maybe that was the ka-ching as the various accounts on my side computer monitor began to fill up with the requested amounts. Or, more likely, it was the microwave announcing that our popcorn was finished right at the best part.

Still, a shame we didn’t fire off that Lightning Rod again, but at least my little Psycho Sanitarium got itself a new tenant.

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Local Politics 4

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Ah, finally. A couple weeks into this endeavor and I was graced with an audience. The Oligarch got around to visiting with me. He pretty much decided he’s the leader of this “Order” group, which is to be expected. He is the arrogant son of a bitch who called us all together and decided we could take over a city. And then, the world! Of course, it’s all doomed to failure.

I got an email from him. “Are your affairs in order?” is all it said, though the sender said “O”.

Looking at it, I figured it was either Oligarch attempting to get a hold of me, or someone threatening me. Turns out it was just an invitation from Oligarch to another meeting, this time to be held in slightly less swanky conditions. A shame, really. The fancy room at Rothstein’s was much better than I thought it’d be last time.

This time, we all met in some old community center in one of the bad neighborhoods. Naturally, it meant we dressed down for the occasion, but I still kept a mask on me for when I walked through a foyer with coloring best described as various shades of depressing yellow and brown. I didn’t think “kill me now” was a color, or at least I figured it was a sort of pink.

I found a circle of chairs, some of them occupied. I didn’t show up last this time.Oligarch reserved that honor for himself, barging in and tapping his cane on the floor. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to see all of you again!”

“A step down from Rothstein’s,” mentioned Man-Opener through the vocalizer on his helmet. Excellent point.

“Last time, I spoke on where we can be. After that, we broke for mutual cooperation but little direction of how to achieve that goal. Our meeting place today reflects where we are now, a word choice including both our group and the world itself. Look-”

I interrupted here. “Last time I checked, the world had donuts. Danishes maybe.”

“Look around.” Oligarch started up again.

One of the others, a man in a rainbow costume, spoke up, “What about coffee? Even AA has coffee, and they’re required to give their lives to God.”

Terrorjaw chuckled. “Oligarch, I mean this in a good way, but you’re not my higher power.”

Oligarch slammed the bottom of his cane against the floor and raised his voice. “Look around! This is a humble state, but this is where we are now. If you don’t like it, work!” he slammed the cane again for emphasis on the final word.

“On what project?” asked Giuseppe.

Oligarch smiled warmly. “I think you are all going to enjoy this idea. We begin by driving out the heroes.” He tossed a stack of files onto the floor in the middle of us all. “The Saurus. Captain Lightning. The Lone Gunman. Forcelight. Vixen. I have other names in there. If we topple this ‘tower of justice’ from the top down, the bottom floors will pull themselves out.” He gave the base of the pile a poke with his cane. “You get the point.”

I raised a hand. “I’m trying to keep myself from being publicly known as a villain, something that’s become somewhat difficult with Venus and Wildflower linking my identities. I can help a lot, though. We have lab space for rent, a moving service, chop shop, transport resale, and temporary hiding places in our various Double Cross businesses.”

Oligarch nodded before dismissing my concerns. “You bring a lot to our organization. I have others more qualified for beating our fellow superhumans in a fight. Barring a change of mind from the current Rubik, you can assist us by working on containment of superpowered threats. A prison or laboratory would work best for holding the heroes we defeat. Perhaps Giuseppe can assist you?”

Giuseppe nodded, but then another of the villains I’d yet to look up announced his urge to speak with a knock on the side of his metal chair. If I remembered correctly from introductions, he was Herne the Hunter. He wore the same mask as last time, a luchador-style that exposed his mouth, chin, nose, and eyes. He wore an antlers design on the forehead as his symbol, apparently. He pointed to me. “I c’n whip up some traps ye’ll find useful.”

I shrugged, then nodded. “If you have anything particularly useful against Wildflower, that might help. Kind of a human-plant-catgirl hybrid. I think she’s reporting to Venus on me. It’s real annoying having her around company headquarters. Last I heard, Security’s started using burning pitch.”

A little bit of an exaggeration. Pitch would do terrible things to the windows, sidewalk, and passerby. Instead, they’ve taken to using large barrels of boiling water to dislodge Wildflower when they catch her hanging around. It doesn’t work as well when she’s at the very top, for obvious reasons. Worse, she’s delaying installation of more defenses for the building. The cannon was just the tip of the iceberg. I have rockets and a surface-to-air missile emplacement sitting in storage until we put them in. If a more permanent solution isn’t found soon, I’ll just have to authorize my guys to start launching cattle at her. It’ll be messy, but it’s a lot more effective than hurling insults.

So that’s how the meeting went. Oligarch’s keeping the long game under wraps, but a conspiracy to expel or capture heroes from the city is a fairly solid start. He’s right in that once you get rid of the big threats, the smaller ones won’t be able to pick up the slack. Sun Tzu would be shitting bricks over it, though. The old Chinese fellow was a firm believer in winning the fight first, then starting it.

As far as the company goes, things are starting to get on track. Our more basic prosthetics are blowing people away. The big bucks, though, will be in celebrities. Once a famous enough person loses a limb and their career, we’ll be there to offer a premium prosthetic with full range of motion for extremely high cost.

Also of note is that the food and coffee division of the company will be releasing a new candy bar for public consumption. The Asylum Bar. I was quite firm on the name of our little wrapped-up stick of peanut brittle, but Marketing is still debating on a slogan. Most of the team is pushing for “When life gets stressful, seek Asylum Bar.” Of all the other suggestions in the pipeline, nobody but me wants to go with “Asylum Bar: it’s packed full of nuts.”

Finally, there’s the issue of Technolutionary. I try to keep tabs on the guy since I don’t like him. It’s gotten harder because he’s holed himself up in a sub-basement to Sigma Labs that does’t even show up on the blueprints. Despite the successful recovery of most of his research, he no longer has the files needed to continue on the T-rex cloning project. Looks like we’ll just have to kidnap the fresh new dinosaur back sometime in the middle of all this “taking over the world” business.

Technolutionary also apologized for all the heat Wildflower’s invasion caused, but he’s going to turn the corner on human-computer bonding any day now. Yeah, right. In my experience, most people say “any day now” when they aren’t even sure what year something will get done. I finally gave this guy what he’d been masturbating to, a sample of my DNA, and he still resorts to scooping the brains out of homeless people and putting in slave computer units.

He has fewer of those, too, and mainly serving as lab assistants since he doesn’t trust anybody else to work with him.

I suppose he has a point when it comes to Wonder, our resident R&D drug guru who tells me that Stang’s been selling a lot of Boneless ever since a series of odd accidents caused most of his business to do their titty oggling elsewhere. It’s one of the drugs Giuseppe had, and I think it’s pretty funny what people will come up with. Boneless is, to put it mildly, a muscle relaxer. Except it doesn’t just relax muscles. It relaxes muscles, tendons, and even the bones themselves. There’s some rumor floating around that somebody did so much of it his bones completely disappeared.

Regardless of that exaggeration, it does relax people more than any other drug out there, and the bones are affected. Whatever the drug is made of renders bone soft and malleable to relax the fuck out of people. I’m not likely to try it until they figure out how to pack a Chinese masseuse into a pill so she pops out and steps on your back wherever you are.

Wonder suggested we get some ourselves and put it in the herbal tea, then charge double per cup. I like his thinking. That’s one use for Boneless that wouldn’t extend to masseuse-in-a-pill. I know from personal experience how hard it is to hide a pair of women in a bunch of tea after this one infuriating incident involving Wheel of Fortune.

Becoming a non-action villain sure has been boring, though. Sure, you’ll get tired at a desk, but it’s not the same thing as being out in the field, knocking heads. Seriously, if you coop me up, I start to go a bit crazy. And I needed to go find a place qualified to hold violent people.

Naturally, I shopped for an asylum. If only they still had one of those classy old places where people abused the patients. They’d be very well equipped for dealing with supers. I wonder what Venus looks like strapped to rusty bed springs?

You’d think a neighborhood with an abandoned, creepy old asylum would be a safe place for a woman to walk by herself nowadays, but then I was accosted by a mugger. A mugger! Me! He walked up and pulled a knife out like that’d do something. “Give me your purse.”

I giggled. “Is that all you got, that dinky little knife?”

“It’s a knife, bitch. I’ll cut you!” Combined with the hoodie and the loose jeans, I was reminded why cliches are sometimes created in the first place.

“With that? I can understand if someone’s got performance issues. Can’t quite bring a big weapon to the table. If that’s all you’ve got to work with, maybe you ought to get someone else and doubleteam me.”

The fellow cussed and grabbed for my purse. I kicked my heel right into his crotch. The mugger dropped to one knee, holding his wounded crotch. I grabbed the knife from his hand and walked around behind him. “Now then, let’s give the emergency room doctors a funny story.”

Ya know, it really sounds like it hurts to get a knife shoved up your ass.

It’s also rather odd that Venus didn’t show up. The one time I need a hero and one doesn’t show? She better not show up whining about me hurting someone. That was clearly a reasonable self-defense response.

Look at me. I’ve toppled supers with godlike powers, and I’m so starved for personal conflict I’m settling for muggers. I mean, it was hilarious, but still. That’s it. I’ve got to call up Herne and set up a hunt. I’m thinking big catgirl, preferably with plants.

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Local Politics 1

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“That’s why we need registration! These are dangerous people, dangerous beings. They aren’t human. Clearly they don’t hold themselves to human laws. The law I’m discussing isn’t meant for every ma and pa, their children, their neighbors. It won’t affect the rights of normal folks, but it will make your lives safer!”

I switched off the TV with a blink. The election cycle had fired back up the registration crowd. I’m actually considering supporting it, just to make things more difficult for the heroes. It’d help if I didn’t do that whole Banshee thing. Prior to that incident at the Mask & Garter, I’d have been a perfect spokeswoman for an innocent, hard-working business owner hassled by superhumans.

Now, I settled for wearing a fake sling and doing business out of my penthouse because I was supposed to be wounded as far as the general public knew. Secret identity problems, except it’s worse. Now my secret identity has a secret identity. All that’s left now is for me to secretly be Marilyn Monroe having found the fountain of youth and now a supervillain. Perhaps I’ll arrange for someone to discover that about me so my secret identity’s secret identity has a secret identity.

So I sat in my penthouse, avoiding the news because they can’t stop talking about the latest clown car of candidates. I had more important things to do. If I want to pick who is president, I’ll go make it happen. Kidnapping, mind control, evil clones, assassination. There’s a thousand different ways for supervillains to participate in politics. Still, the lack of good television had me irritable. I had hoped we’d be on to showing horror movies. It’s October now, after all.

One of the things I was working through was personally overseeing some major operations. We’ve burned through a shitload of money and taken a lot of losses lately. Luckily, we’re insured for meddling superheroes. Now Wildflower is actually wanted for breaking and entering, theft, assault, and maybe corporate espionage. I’m not sure if that one’s a legal matter, but I told them that all the same. Either way, I called the cops on the hero who broke into my hidden secret lab where Technolutionary was turning hobos into robots and growing a cloned T-rex. Then I filed an insurance claim and bribed the adjuster. That stolen lab equipment can get real expensive.

I did something similar with the telepath. There, public prejudice is on my side. People are uncomfortable with someone reading their thoughts. I don’t have to deal with that problem, I type as I share my inner thoughts with almost tens of people in another dimension. Also, the security guys are playing ball and claiming she forced them.

I stand by my poor, deluded guards and paid their bail. They’ll fit right in, working for Carl.

I showed mercy to the poor girl, too. The District Attorney’s going to try and get her treatment for her obvious mental issues. I spoke with him about it personally. It means a lot, you know, when the near-victim makes an effort to get their assailant some help. Good guy, that DA. I’ll have to make sure he gets reelected. I’m sure that’s nothing money can’t solve. It’s a shame Venus is probably going to be harder on the poor woman.

Hey, there’s an idea. I fired off an email to Marketing and Sales to have someone manufacture a link between Venus and the Super Registration crowd. Ain’t I a stinker?

I think I’ve mentioned I’m getting proposals from some villains? Not the marriage kind. Those go to the spam folder. These are people looking for investors. Some people just need a bit of funding to make their dreams into other people’s nightmares. Mad scientists, homegrown inventors, and thieves; all need just a little bit of help to get things started. It’s not just money. A centrifuge. Work space. A getaway van. I’m not funding that one. Anyone who can’t steal their own van for a plan to rob an armored car hasn’t earned a lot of confidence in their abilities. Even the ones I turned down, I still informed them they were welcome to make use of other services like the hideaways and secret medical care.

Hospitals ask questions if you get shot. Imagine how many more questions they ask if you come to them with one of The Saurus’s teeth sticking out of your leg. With my labs undergoing extensive renovation, it won’t be that unusual for my people to operate out of unusual facilities with strange equipment. It’s not perfect, and I really should acquire my own hospital, but it’s not a bad alternative to seeing someone whose license was removed. Or a vet. Then again, some superhuman physiologies have so many other species mixed in that a vet is entirely appropriate. Just look at Urban Croc, Terrorjaw, or Venus’s late boyfriend, the Human Sloth.

Add in the tendency for equipment mishaps and cybernetics, you might as well bring a car mechanic and a computer programmer into the hospital visit.

One curious little thing I received: an invitation. I was invited to bring along one armed guard to meet in Rothstein’s Executive Dining Room. Ah, Rothstein’s Executive Dining Room. The perfect place for a bunch of supervillains to meet in fancy dress without having to openly admit that they lack the influence or money to avoid fancy dining at other places.

I know I haven’t made this argument very well, but super crime doesn’t often pay that well. I don’t care about money, but I had to steal from pretty much every bank in this city to be able to burn through all the cash I’m spending now, and others usually have it worse. I already mentioned problems finding healthcare, and that also means that most villains pay a bit more. Factor in costumes, gadgets, special tools and equipment to build gadgets, materials, programmers, henchmen, lairs, and the possibility of losing all that with one badly-timed raid. It can be hard for even a frugal supervillain to hold onto money.

Won’t anyone think of the starving villains? For just eighty cents a day, you could provide clean water and good food to a grown man who wants to tear down civilization with his army of mutated flying scorpions.

Why do it if not for the money? Now that’s a good question.

I arrived at Rothstein’s in a limo with Carl at my side. I’m letting Crash stay innocent. Well, innocent of this supervillain stuff. Not saying anything about anything else she may or may not be innocent of. When it comes to criminal records, Double Cross is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Carl got out first, adjusting his suit before helping me out. The bouncer, a short but wide man with glowing purple skin, actually opened the door for me. While I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of Rothstein’s many times as Psycho Gecko, rarely have they been so welcome to me. Nobody even cussed at the sight of me. Wait, scratch that, I do remember somebody saying “Damn, would you look at the legs on her.”

I walked those fine legs of mine past the bar and normal dining area where some of the patrons enjoyed their sports shows. One floor up, I came to the Executive Dining Room and found a few other costumed or suited men and women milling around. Some were watching it, but none objected as I entered. Carl peeked his head in long enough to see nothing but a crowd of costumes and decided to wait outside.

The room was nice; lit by a chandelier with antique wallpaper. I know, you wouldn’t think wallpaper could be antique, but I actually recognized this one from the Louvre. The Grande Chasse, and one of less than ten remaining from the 1850s. Old wallpaper, old paneling, old wood flooring, and an old table in the middle of the room. I suspected the tablecloth probably wasn’t as old. I’m just guessing that part based on basic human nature. Specifically, human eating habits.

The inhabitants painted quite a contrast to the setting. I recognized Terrorjaw, the sharkman. He sat across from Man-Opener, who left his normal white and black walker at home on this trip. Surprisingly, he’d popped a section of his black faceless helmet off so he could eat. There were others, including a wild-haired, bespectacled old man in an ill-fitting suit. He sat at one end of the table. Didn’t recognize him. I just mentioned him because it worked well with pointing out the other end of the table: The Oligarch. That oldtimer’s hair wasn’t wild at all, and his suit looked custom. Nice vest, too. Diamond stud, ruby ring on platinum. Money, but not gaudy.

You’d never know it if you’d ever seen his armor. The guy favors purple and gold.

So let’s see who all I’ve accounted for…four, along with me. There were more, but I could spend up the entire interdimensional data ration describing costumes on people of little to no importance. So how about we move things along?

Oligarch stood up and raised his hand. “Wonderful to see you, Banshee. I apologize if we get right to our meal, but we are eager to start the meeting, though your presence truly blesses and enchants our gathering. Please, sit and enjoy the hospitality of Rothstein’s.”

Perhaps if I was George R.R. Martin or Brian Jacques, I’d waste a lot of time describing food in intimate, almost sensual detail. As the humble Psycho Gecko, I can merely say that it was pretty good. The rice was a little cold, and the gravy could have been thicker on the chicken. It’s just that some of us have better things to do than pad our autobiographies with all the meals we eye-fucked. That’s fucking with the eyes, not in the eyes.

Unfortunately, since no one talked about why we were all there until after dinner, it didn’t leave us with a lot to talk about during dinner, though Terrorjaw and Man-Opener looked chummy. They should be. The bastards were part of that team once to kill me. Didn’t I disembowel Terrorjaw? Ah hell, everyone kept coming back to life from that mess anyway. Why should it be a surprise he’s back now? Can’t ask them about it anyway. Damn secret identity problems.

“It’s a nice meal, and all,” I started once staff began clearing dishes. “I’m sure y’all understand that I’m a busy woman in my position, so please enlighten me and anyone else not in the know. Why are we here, Oligarch?”

He smiled the brightest smile I ever saw on a human being. Damn, he can afford lots of dental work. “I am here in order to prevent my old wayward friends at the Master Academy from extending their good works to the east coast. They believe I am dead.” Come to think of it, I’d heard that rumor too. See, this is why someone like me is so valuable. I’m really good at making sure people stay dead, Terrorjaw notwithstanding. “This city is different after Spinetingler’s visit. Much is up in the air in the largest city under the eagle’s wing. Conventional order is tenuous and the Master Academy moves in to take replace it. Captain Lightning patrols on occasion. Organized crime has become unorganized. Ironically, the anarchist Psycho Gecko is no longer present to frighten away those who would bring order when the city needs it most. Ladies and gentlemen, we can be that order. We can take this city, and hold the largest city population in the United States hostage against any attempts to oust us from power. You hear the politicians. They preach against us, afraid, uncertain. The human species is becoming obsolete. It’s time we hasten their end. My dear friends, let us join forces and we can rule this city. We can forge a new nation. We can forge a new…world.”

This has got to be the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard. Eh, I might as well see how this plays out. Who knows, maybe I can get a bronze statue in my likeness before we all inevitably turn on each other. It’s like this one cop explained when talking about this high speed chase he joined in: how often do you get to be part of a thirty-two-cop-car-pileup?

And that’s how Banshee became a member of The Order.

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