I’ve got three alien entities all gunning for me, all going to get here at different times. Godhunter, Godkiller, and Godeater. They’ve supposedly got experience killing things like what I am now, and specifically have ways to deal with Omega powers. Those being the powers I got by absorbing some pieces of a godlike being, that strikes me as bad.
But if there’s one lesson to take away from my back and forth with the twice-deceased superhuman named Parietal, it’s that I still have human ingenuity and my more mundane skills to fall back on. Also, I have Santa Claus.
I brought Qiang and Sam with me to Santa’s workshop, in the middle of a fluffy white wonderland of soft snow and cold that never quite seemed to penetrate enough to be harmful. The sign read North Pole but we seemed to be in something of a pocket dimension, just off to the side of Earth and connected to it. A copy of me was hanging out with them, tossing around snowballs and building snowpeople while the real me inspected the workshop.
“What do you want, young person?” Santa asked me.
I raised an eyebrow, then pointed with the unicorn horn on my forehead toward the factory assembly line putting together nutcracker soldiers. “An army capable of distracting these things hunting me. Figured you knew that.”
Santa, the personification of winter that seemed to reflect humanity’s reality and aspirations of the season in the form of a popular character, thumbed his nose with one coal-black glove. “I was addressing the other one.”
My eyes stopped glowing. My short hair maintained its two-tone color, blonde and red this time, but I left Morgan, the young non-binary hero known as Axinomancer, in charge. “Oh my god, it’s Santa!” They hugged the jolly old elf.
“Yes, it is. It’s nice to meet you, Morgan, but may we speak privately?”
“Fine,” I agreed real quick using Morgan’s mouth. I focused my attention elsewhere, like the satellite defense network. I didn’t forget all that recent satellite shenanigans. At first, I had the idea to arm them to try and catch the godmurderers on the way in, but then I figured it’d be better to turn the weapons inward. They were coming along just fine, a ring of death rays pointed at Earth. That can’t go wrong.
And then it was outside to dive under the snow. I left a trail Bugs Bunny-style, snaking through the snow toward my squealing daughter. I felt a couple snowballs land near me, then she turned and ran. My daughter screamed from all the fun as I caught up to her and pulled her into a shallow tunnel of the snow. When we next surfaced, I was jumping like an orca with my kid riding on my back. We landed with me swimming through the snow, but Qiang fell fof when raising her hands to avoid a loose snowball Sam threatened her with.
I then rose up through the snow, forming a unicorn of snow that I jumped out of. Which is right about when I heard Santa calling from Morgan’s body. I put most of my attention back over there, Morgan’s eyes glowing again as I took control. “You done with your private chat?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Being there in more than one perspective, it affected me. Through one set of eyes, I was watching Santa’s workshop gearing up for war. Through another, I watched my daughter and girlfriend both enjoying the idyllic winter fun outside. And something clicked. My omniscience isn’t complete or anything. It seems to be limited by distance, to an extent. But just to be clear, omniscience is about knowledge. This was about wisdom, which doesn’t seem to be an inherent Omega power.
“This is wrong,” I commented where Santa could hear.
Jolly ol’ Saint Nick turned his head to peer at me over his tiny spectacles. “What makes you say that?”
“Togetherness and joy and a light in the darkness, all that shit that at least a bunch of people associate with this season. But you’re here making soldiers for me, working on ways to fight a war alongside me. This is wrong.”
“It is survival,” he responded. “What would you do?”
“It depends. If I want to survive, I do one thing. If I want to do what’s right, I do something else. I really want to be selfish. I’m so good at it.” I gestured to the body I possessed. When he opened his mouth again, I raised a hand. “I’m not seeking your counsel. Your problem goes away if I do the selfless thing.”
I saw pity in Santa’s eyes.
“I swear, sometimes I think you know all of this is coming ahead of time. Like you knew I was letting all of this go to my head and needed something to bring me out of it.”
“The future is easier to see if you aren’t its maker,” Santa said. “Perhaps that’s why your knowledge is spotty about things to come.”
I sighed. “No, it’s kind of too clear right now.” I couldn’t see into the future. And maybe if I had more power I could. Every Omega Pearl for a couple solar systems was already inside me, but I knew a whole pocket dimension teeming with more. Problem is, that kind of power is supposed to be something these guys can already handle.
A hard winter’s wind kicked up a light pelting of snow onto us outside. Santa jerked around. “It’s here.”
I reached out for any disturbances. Something had just appeared in the solar system, out near the asteroid belt. It accelerated instantly into a beam of light. We didn’t have long. “Stand down, Santa. I think I should handle this on my own.”
I jumped out of Morgan and into my double. Sam looked at my face and her expression changed. “It’s time for us to fight?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No. It’s time for me to fight.”
I removed myself, and a lot of other things, appearing in the midst of the asteroid belt, staring at the beam of light and emitting a great red light. That was a bit tough, as my own wanted to come out as a mixture of violet and orange. I wore my armor, reinforced with some shit mortals can’t forge, a shimmery cape reaching out along the ground of the asteroid behind me. One difference was my unicorn horn poking out of the head of the armor, though it was sealed close enough to be safe if I somehow had to worry about pressure or oxygen.
The beam of light seemed to stop. I blinked to the side, avoiding the crashing mass that threw up chunks of iron, nickel, and stone.
He was a biggun. Nine feet tall, pale grey-skinned, with a mantle of black fur around his collar. It matched this loincloth he wore, so either it really needed some intimate shaving, or it was part of his clothing. On its feet were a trio of long claws that bent down underneath the feet itself, almost like natural running blades. Its two hands were three-clawed as well, but they were equadistant apart and looked more or less like a normal finger, just long and with pointed nails on the end. One of those hands held a staff with horns and antlers attached to it; they didn’t dangle like trophies but instead were embedded in it such that it they made the staff more of a weapon. Even fangs and jawbones were embedded in it, forming sawed portions in part.
The grey body in front of me lacked a tail, but had antlers of a sort. Rather than sticking up, they bent down and wrapped around the side and lower portion of the face, the pointed ends looking like a set of bony fangs protecting the mouth and jaw of the creature. Its nose was pointed and stuck out past the antlers, and above those were four eyes. Each was a different color, and looked all the more alien by having pupils like if a cat had another catseye intersecting it perpendicular to its own, like an X.
I reached out to find a way to communicate and found a long-dead language of a similar people driven to sapient sacrifice and ultimately a bloody breakdown and death as a few elites fought for power. This was the last one. “Which one are you?” I asked in that tongue.
“I am the strong who consumes the weak. I feast on deities and heroes,” it declared. Yeah, that’d be Godeater.
“We don’t have to do this,” I told him.
“I know,” he said, then puffed up. Well, maybe that’s a light-hearted way to put it, but he gained another couple of feet of height, body bulging with muscle. His antlers dug into his growing jaw, splashing some blood out onto the asteroid. More blood began to leak down his staff from the hand clutching onto it where a jawbone and teeth were joined to it. Mine would look positively puny in comparison to some of the pieces on that.
It’s a good thing I’m not a hero.
Godeater roared. I used my powers to teleport a puppy into his heart. Instead, his blood glowed and the cute lil Corgi pup appeared in space an inch away. “Aww,” I said, sending the puppy back to Earth.
Godeater sounded like he was laughing. I snapped my fingers and began to move at superspeed. When I returned to normal speed, He stopped laughing and bent over, reaching for that loincloth that was now poking up quite a bit. The roar he let loose was a mixture of pleasure and frustration as wet spot spurted onto the inside of his loincloth.
“It was me, Barry!” I said. I didn’t want to go into further details because he knew what I did in hand to handjob combat and wouldn’t get the reference anyway. With a swipe of my hand, I dropped another asteroid on him, the two hunks of interstellar rock and metal crashing together with a deafening sound and a shockwave that I resisted easily. Nothing like jerking off an alien and smashing him in the asteroid to make me glad I was wearing protection over most of my body.
“That’s what the people of Earth like to call ‘Beat Your Dick December’,” I said.
I barely got the words out before the asteroid was thrown off. Te bloody beast was still alive, and even more coated in his own bodily fluids. Some of that was still blood. A thin strand of it reached up to stab into the asteroid and blow it apart. Many of them hit me and bounced off, but more of those blood strands were coming for me.
I sped up again. So did Godeater, tearing a chunk of my midsection armor out with a free claw and spinning around to meet me as I tried to get behind him. He hit hard throwing a punch that would have just straight-up splattered the brains of anyone else on Earth. My head actually came off for a second and he swing his staff at my body.
I ducked under a swing from that staff and skidded, aiming for below his legs and hoping not to get dripped on. I popped the Nasty Surprise out from the right forearm of my armor, the miniature chainsaw blade catching on his grown and stopping my movement as it ground into the meat. I pushed myself out from under Godeater as he fell, holding his own badly-wounded parts, bleeding all over my cape. My body then grabbed my head and I willed it to reattach.
“You…dare…!” It declared.
“Fortune favors the daring,” I muttered to myself as my nanite cape rose up and formed a multitude of nanoblades that absolutely dissected Godeater. The process was pretty gruesome, throwing a hunk of antler toward me.
After the stopped, hairlike nanite protrusions reached into his body and pulled it apart, sending bloody chunks every which way. Except the blood reached for the blood, and drew all of it back together.
Well, shit. Tough fuck.
Godeater turned to me with wild eyes. “Blood pulls to blood!”
Huh. Having failed to go medieval on his ass, I decided it was time to go ancient Hellenistic on his ass.
I began to fly upwards, teleporting myself close to the sun. He appeared in front of me, bringing hunks of asteroid with him. He reached for me. I blinked past him and kept going, reaching out and causing a solar flare that I grabbed the end of and waved so that the solar flare was trying to fry through his leg. He kept coming, catching me in the chest with that staff. Alien horns buckled my armor plates. I headbutted the beast, but that didn’t get me the separation I sought. Instead, he came back with one that broke my horn off, and then another that smashed my helmet open. Another broke my nose, which I didn’t think was possible anymore.
Godeater got real close to my face and growled, “Fresh meat.” His fangy mouth tore off a hunk of my cheek. A plume of his blood stabbed me in the gut, tearing a hole in my armor and flesh, his blood pouring into my body to eat at my innards.
Ok, ancient Hellenistic ideas about hydras didn’t work either. If I was relying solely on my powers, that would have been the end of me. Guess it was time to pull some wacky sci fi shit that Zeus never would have thought of.
Carnivorous alien blood wasn’t the only thing flowing through my veins at that moment. Regenerative nanomachines swarmed the foreign body, small enough they’ve taken my own blood cells apart and repaired them. They didn’t bother repairing these, dismantling the eaters into base components that didn’t pull together. “Nanomachines, son! Your blood can’t do jack!”
Godeater grunted in surprise and frustration, swinging his staff for me again. I opened a portal, the staff flying through to hit himself in the back and drawing yet more blood. It’s a wonder he had any left at that point, but regeneration has been known to cover that possibility. Still, it stumbled him. He reached for my throat with his other hand and a new portal opened so that he grabbed his own throat and squeezed.
“Aperture Science. We do what we must because we can,” I taunted, but while I taunted, I created more portals. I couldn’t create them in his body or already around his body, but I could make them and move them into position for his flailings to catch them. Blood may pull together, but would it pull together when bits and pieces of him were being separated and sent into black holes, gravity wells, suns, and entirely other dimensions?
I slipped behind him and grabbed his own staff, creating a portal for his head that sent it to the Omega pocket dimension. One crack with the staff separated his noggin and threw it through that portal for them to have their fun. The body spasmed as much as it could as I tore it apart atom by atom and sent each one to an entirely other place. When I was done, there wasn’t any blood left to call to other blood.
I reappeared back in the North Pole, a bloody mess and with a ten foot staff of alien fang and horn in hand. Santa, Axinomancer, Qiang, and Sam all rushed over. “Well, that’s one.”
Where do we stand today? Well, over the past couple of months, I worked with a sometime-ally, sometime-enemy to gather shards of a past godlike being that had been left behind after he had been kicked out of the multiverse. Rather unintentionally, I absorbed a bunch of them and ended up a godlike being myself. Most people didn’t know that the new multi-colored Unicorn Goddess was me, except for Parietal, the self-proclaimed “World’s Fastest Thinker”. I killed him, but at some point he copied his mind into a computer that is focused on killing or depowering me. That computer traded with an alien race of machines for the technology to contact and warn these powerful killers and hunters who specialized in killing things like me.
So that’s what I’ve got to look forward to: a visit from Godeater, Godhunter, and Godkiller. Different languages, different titles, but all pretty close when translated into English.
As for Parietal, he’s got a hidden satellite network doing his bidding that exposed my identity to the world, making it seem like he’d ease up if I didn’t reverse what he did. Instead, he called those three guys to kill me. I was willing to let it ride with the exposed identity thing, maybe see if people calmed down after the initial shock. Plus, those satellites are made of a material I can’t detect and can start broadcasting as soon as I undo everything.
Unfortunately, the initial loss of shit was followed by more people losing their shit. The world knows me as an infamous murderer and terrorist. Now, to many, it means something that I basically solved pollution, disease, and several assholes in power. They aren’t sure about that last one. Still, murder is a hard thing for lots of folks to overlook. I wasn’t worried. I could still undo it.
I’ve been aided lately by a team of young heroes mentored by Troubleshooter, a hero I clashed with in the past. “We’re getting old. Not you, now, but we mere mortals,” she told me as we sat around. I was drinking one of every type of alcoholic beverage on Earth, and she was joining in. “Aren’t you a little young to be drinking, Gecko?”
I was about to play puzzled, but I had enough omniscience as part of my powers to realize she was referencing the body I wore. Axinomancer was one of her young heroes, a mage channeling their power through a staff. And one of those people who liked worshiping me. I possessed them to meet with Troubleshooter the other day and never got around to fully leaving. Axinomancer doesn’t mind in the least, though there’s a clash between my sense of self and theirs. They’re non-binary, I’m a woman. There’s a lot I’m willing to do to manipulate people’s minds, but not theirs.
“I’m not getting drunk,” I pointed out. I could. It was within my power to create a drink so powerful even I would get intoxicated.
“And them?” Troubleshooter raised an eyebrow.
“They’re happy.” I left it there. They are, that’s no issue. It’s just when you’re possessing someone who is not only aware of it but wouldn’t mind a permanent arrangement, that’s not always something to bring up. Especially with Bridget moving out to see the world and Holly deciding she wants to follow after her boss, and my friend, Mix N’Max. Not that I’m trying to build a harem, but Sam and I have worked out that we’re doing something all open and polyamorous. I’m just not sure I want to bring some 19 year old into that as anything but short-term.
But enough soap opera.
Troubleshooter set down one of the glasses, a cup of the same sake drunk by Oda Nobunaga from the night he died, brought through time to my dimension-straddling base. “I hope you’ll sober me up when we’re done. Diode’s getting everything into position, but I want to doublecheck everything before we do this. Nothing ever goes that smoothly when supervillains are involved.”
She’s got a point. That’s coming directly from someone who tried and failed to take me down. “Troubleshooter! Morgan!” Diode called out from the main room.
“That’s us,” I said. Morgan is Axinomancer.
Being a cheeky little ass, she bumped me and muttered, “Morgan.” Then giggled.
“Careful, or I’ll jump into you.” I told her.
“Mmm, maybe I’m curious,” Troubleshooter said. Oh, right, the alcohol. I snapped my fingers and cleared Troubleshooter of all the intoxication as we got up. She shook her head. “Thanks. Can we just forget that? And have you checked to make sure you’re not doing some subconscious thing to make people like you?”
Could be. Like my feelings of attraction or desire to be liked or seen as hot are influencing everyone around me.
In the other room, Diode and Grimalkin took center stage. More of the crew, most of whom I haven’t interacted with so closely, were steering clear and leaving the chemical engineering and astrophysics to these two heroes. Troubleshooter and I took a few minutes to check it over. I noticed her disapproval at some of the workmanship of some of these satellite-killer robots Diode had built. “A problem?”
“No, it’ll do. Just personal taste, I guess.” She didn’t approve of the exposed hoses, but chances were astronomical that it would matter. For good measure, I added a little extra strength to those materials. Astronomical chances have a tendency to occur near me, for good or bad. Plus, it’s space. We’re sending these things into “astronomical.”
Grimalkin’s contribution was a delivery system for the reducing agent and superheated acid. The plan was for me to protect the mundane satellites in forcefields that protect them from the chemicals and block them off from Parietal’s broadcasting. We’re not going to leave it to chance; Grimalkin’s going to dose Earth’s orbit and expose any of those satellites Diode hasn’t already mapped out. Diode’s little satellite-killers are going be in place, protected against the chemical attack. They’ll take down Parietal’s satellites that they know about and converge on any we don’t know about.
Simple. I wonder how it’ll all go wrong? After all, I asked Troubleshooter why I couldn’t just do a good godly chemical attack on everything at once, and she warned that Parietal might have some way of detecting my powers’ usage. But mainly, she wants to give these young’uns the experience.
The first stage of the attack was opening a bunch of portals for Grimalkin to pump everything out of. First, the reducing agent to de-passivate the chromium in Parietal’s protective alloy. Some acids help Chromium form a barrier that protects it from corrosion by other materials, including other acids. That’s called “passivating” it. This stuff fucks up that barrier. The next stuff he sprayed through all of Earth orbit was one of those nice little chemicals, which also eats away at regular satellites. That’s why I stepped in to protect the rest. The whole thing was less dangerous than what I had planned.
I had planned an actual Kessler situation, causing enough destruction that shards of satellites would spread out and damage other ones, knocking loose more debris that would strike even more. It would effectively deny space to humanity for a generation, but would almost certainly have wiped out Parietal’s toys. The team took the nicer way out.
“There’s some activity,” Troubleshooter noticed on the monitors.
Diode walked over and typed away, neckbolts flashing with a little electricity as he deployed the satellite-killers everywhere they already figured stuff out. “We found a way to track some of these signals. So far there’s nothing new in the sky. There’s about to be even less.”
“No,” I reached out, using these powers to watch everything on my own power. These satellites were exposed, and Diode seemed to have found all but one. The last was a large platform, maneuvering under its own power, shedding the alloy plating that protected it from us.
I teleported out into space. The view was distracting. Dear reader, have you ever seen the Earth from space? Even just through the feed of some space station? It’s mesmerizing. Axinomancer… Morgan didn’t want to look away either. I did, and looked to the capsule floating through space. I reached out with my mind to connect to the computer system inside. “What are you?”
“You found me,” the voice was as devoid of emotion as the writing in Empyreal City.
I doubted it, but then Parietal’s mind pushed at mind. It had been formatted to fit onto hard drives, and was using this connection with me to download and overwrite mine. “Naughty, naughty,” I chided. He even tried to download into Morgan here. Nope. We’re not taking roommates.
Nothing fancy. I blocked him off easily. I’ve fought with my mind before, and I was stronger. I ripped out a chunk of knowledge. This was him, as near as Parietal seemed to know. He could’ve created a copy and then deleted the knowledge, but that’s what I needed, along with confirmation that he did indeed contact the God Murderer Three. I needed a quick name to use for them. I cut him off and disconnected from him, then melted this thing down into scrap that I hurled off toward the moon.
“That’s Parietal down, as far as anyone knows,” I said as I appeared back next to Troubleshooter.
“What was that?” She and Diode both asked.
“A secret server Parietal was operating off of. His brain, basically. And like the brain, helpless without a body. Thank you, everyone. I know you haven’t had much reason to trust me, let alone help me deal with a threat specifically targeting me once you found out who I was. Going forward, I’m sure things will be better.”
Like how Parietal’s broadcast was wiped from the face of the Earth and all history, even the signals that escaped into space, the final frontier. And from the minds of everyone.
Fuck accountability. Fuck Parietal’s extortion, which was really a call for my death. Fuck them knowing who I am. I saw confusion flicker across some of the faces around me as the knowledge fell out of mind for them as well.
“Thank you for your help, everyone. Though there is another threat to me now, you have no obligations toward me.” I turned and hugged Troubleshooter. I let her keep the knowledge. I let all my followers keep it.
This world and its people are mine. Mine to safeguard. Mine to guide.
Though I had a little visitor who disagreed when I returned home to a dark house. Sam and Qiang were just asleep, so they weren’t kidnapped due to some contingency or anything. Instead, I found a white-haired man in a fuzzy red coat sat upon my couch.
“Greetings, Santa. Thought I wouldn’t hear from you this year. In fact… yes, you knew this would happen to me when you negotiated my help in return for not calling on me this year.”
The spirit of winter personified in the form of a jolly old fat man puffed at his pipe a couple of times, then set it aside. “I came because I’m worried. You have attracted trouble to Earth little girl.”
“I’m a little more than a little girl, now aren’t I?” Granted, I looked like a nineteen year old with short, two-tone hair and a horn growing out of my head, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
“Now, I’m sorry. Most everyone is young to me,” Santa said. “The fight you’re bringing to Earth is a threat to all of us. It would be difficult to describe how I know, but these beings summoned to Earth don’t care about balance or the people who need us. We fear when they are done with you, they will come for us. Therefore, on behalf of the beings who represent the seasons of Earth, I offer our aid.”
Fuck Merry Kill 6
Of all things, it was the conversation with my daughter that did more to mess with my head last time than any Miser villain on a hidden island off New Hampshire. Makes me wonder if I’m doing all this for any real reason, or if I’m coming up with an excuse to go on wacky adventures this time of year. Like, what is the big deal if Miser does some bullshit? He’s probably just that old guy secretly alive and hooked up to a computer somewhere, trying to be an evil old asshole while shoved into a hyperbaric tube or something. A wildfire? Put it out and be done. Stealing vaccine? They’ll get more, but I could have solved this whole pandemic if I had forced some nanotech on people. I guess the soup was a dick move, but it got fixed. There are other people who can fix things.
I guess that’s why I decided to handle the Miser thing without a lot of fuss. No sleigh, no Qiang, no gimmicks. No answering when the half-brother I recently found out I had keeps calling because he hears this is a big holiday and family time and he wants to find out what Christmas is. No real risk to my own body. Just a rocket to blow open the roof of that island, which caused enough damage to the outside of the metal disguised as rocks that water began leaking in a little, every wave adding more water to the cascade.
I landed on the edge of it long enough for the nanomachines to reform from wings with jet turbines to a multitude of spindly limbs, once again sending Davilo to voicemail. Cameras took in the environment and projectors imposed that image on my armor and on the extra limbs. They reached out and dug into the metal, helping me half-climb, half-controlled fall into the darkness below. 50 ft. down, the secret base expanded out into a cavernous room, and the fall was less controlled. Had less distance to cover, though.
It was one giant room I landed in. On one side of me were various lit tubes of goo, some with bodies in them. Elsewhere was an assembly line. In another section looked to be a giant monitor and computer system. There were two things near where I was landing. The first was a massive statue or monument that was three rectangular pillars that twisted and began to intertwine like a triple helix. And right near where I landed stood the Cold Miser on guard with his cold gun, water all over the place. I’d have given away my location with a huge splash, but I landed with eight smaller ones and Cold Miser didn’t pick them out among the water streaming down. I made sure my extra legs landed me behind him, then they stabbed backward through his body and spread him apart. He landed in quivering chunks while the nanotech addition to my armor grabbed his cold gun and reformed around it. More lovely technology to study and steal.
A voice out of nowhere spoke up. “Who are you? I expected a visit from Jolly Saint Nick.”
“No saints here,” I said, looking around and checking my 360 display. “And not that jolly right now.”
“I can feel it,” the voice said again. A bit of movement near the monument drew my attention. I didn’t see anything until the voice started again and I noticed a faint glow work its way up the lines of the monument. “Your misery and self-loathing. You are a fine entree.”
“Really gross, Westmoreland. That’s who you are, right? They shoved your wrinkly old ass in a tube somewhere with nutrient goo?” I asked, checking the monument for more to it.
Where the glow was light before, they lit up noticeably when the voice laughed. The lights of the monument concentrated near the base, then drifted upward to the tips high above. I checked the bodies in the grow tubes, too. I figured the guy would want to keep me talking while he spawned a small clown army to throw against me in a last-ditch attempt to take me out or fend me off while he escapes.
“You have no conception of what I am now. How little you matter to me. I have escaped the reach of death.”
I decided to test something. I wrapped a nanite tendril around all three and let them eat through the material. I’d say an eight on the Mohs scale, maybe. Not concrete, but not the toughest thing for those little machines to tear apart bit by bit and send toppling to the cavern floor. When the voice next spoke, the lights only went so far as the stumps. “That was immature and pointless. I have built dozens of these avatars. So long as they exist, so long misery persists in the world, I will never die. Never!”
I tried drilling down. “I am surprised you’re not spawning your clones,” I commented.
“They are no match for you, but no concern. You can’t kill me. You can only momentarily annoy me, Santa pretender. Yes, you have the same taste, masking it with anger now instead of false happiness.”
There was nothing below, no wires or other connections. I already knew there were no wireless connections down here. Either the old man was somehow inhabiting a bunch of pillars too small for anyone to exist inside in one piece, or he figured out a way to trick me on this one. “You know, this is a neat trick. Mind if I ask more about it?”
I took the risk of decloaking, exposing myself in case an attempt on me led to Westmoreland. Nothing really was activating. I pulled out some explosive charges I brought to bring the house down. I packed a bit too much for the size of the cavern.
And Westmoreland was good enough to indulge me. “You’ve guessed my identity. I was born Geoffrey Westmoreland. I lost my family young and promised myself I would fight death at every turn. It would take me kicking and screaming. I would find a way to live forever. I failed so many times: cryogenics, hyperbarics, zombification, reanimation, and cloning. Nothing worked to my satisfaction until I discovered an text, written in the 70s by a mad programmer and architect. He theorized ways to attune to human emotion with structures and materials and harness the energies, ways to separate the mind from its requisite structure in the brain. What he began, I perfected. I discovered that the strongest of the emotions was that of misery. And misery, in 2020, is available in abundance. I transferred my consciousness earlier this year. My death was declared, but my undying life began. You weakened me, but even you can’t kill me.”
“Question,” I said, finishing setting the last charge. To y’all, it’s just one paragraph. To me, it was a whole speech. He even piped in music. Eleanor Rigby, I believe. “You said zombification AND reanimation. Can you clarify the distinction?”
“Astute. Zombification leaves the body dead, but mobile. Unfortunately, maintaining the same mobility level requires special preparation for the body and regular maintenance. Reanimation is restoring the body to actual life, but the procedure often goes wrong. Getting the proportion of the reagent wrong causes insanity or even bodily mutation. It was too risky.”
“And then with cloning, you have the telomere issue.” Telomeres are these parts of chromosomes that shorten a little each time they replicate, eventually leading to most of the effects of aging in humans. It leads to premature aging in clones, but not in the way where you pump out a full-grown clone in minutes. That sort of rapid-aging is the other big issue with practical cloning. Most people don’t want to wait 15 or 16 years for their clone army to develop.
“Exactly! Yes, you get it. The market on most of these methods fell out when that insipid Psycho Gecko brought his nanomachines. Now, everyone wants to use them as a panacea instead of focusing on the possibilities of the flesh. But I have surpassed flesh, and now-”
I jumped into the air, forming wings to lift myself far enough up to reach the tunnel out. I got out of there, well away from his voice, and detonated the charges. Behind me, I saw a plume of flame shoot up from the hole my missile had created earlier. Then the island fully collapsed in on itself and the sea began to fill in Miser’s secret lair.
Maybe he was bluffing about not being stopped that way. Maybe he wasn’t. I guess I can’t know that at the moment. Maybe this is some sort of metaphor for the never-ending struggle I create by refusing to confront my problems and seeking out violent distractions.
At least, that kind of thinking was heavy in my mind when Qiang and I skipped the theatrics that night. I laid my head down to sleep, then was immediately annoyed by lights coming on. I opened my eyes to find myself laying on a small, comfortable bed in a resort area. I saw some of those Luau-style tiki masks, but then I saw that was a person with streaked, brown skin wearing a mask. My view of him and my explanation of what was going on happened when Santa Claus laid down on another table on that side, clad only in a towel.
“You’ve been through the wringer. Still feel like taking my place?” Santa asked.
I started to get up, but slender hands pushed me back down. And I realized I was also only wearing a towel. I looked back behind me and saw blue-skinned alien woman with black hair. Like the tiki guy, she was getting the oil ready. I shrugged and stayed laying down, then addressed Santa. “It wasn’t about taking your place. It was about… I don’t know… the holidays mean so much to me. Even though I only really know that one made up by Coca-Cola. I hear there’s a pretty nifty Universalist variation on it that seems to have its heart in the right place.”
I thought he had an extreme reaction, but Santa was groaning from the beginnings of a massage. I did the same when the woman behind me dug her hands into my back and went to town on my muscles. We laid like that, groans of pleasure interspersed with the noise of a babbling brook playing too clearly to be real.
After a few minutes of this, Santa spoke again. “Where’s Dropo with my drink? I swear, he’s the laziest man on Mars.”
“Is there like a password to get in here, or some kind of teleporter?” I asked.
Santa ignored the question. “You learned a little something about yourself, didn’t you?”
“Maybe,” I said, thinking of my own feelings and problems hidden by throwing myself into a situation that I always claim to hate. And making a weird connection in my mind to this other being who fed off sadness and depression to become something more than human.
“I know how I came across earlier, but I’d like to show my thanks for maintaining my position for me. I want to offer you a chance to stay with me.”
“Uh, what?” I asked. I mean, maybe if he meant underneath this hotty alien with the body, but living in a frozen wasteland with no one but an old couple and a bunch of pent-up reindeer for company doesn’t exactly appeal to me. Ew, I wonder if he means to use my wereform as a breeder.
“You’ve seen many others who reside in Winter. They live forever. I offer you freedom from mundane problems, and an opportunity to live forever. I could use another companion who shows your level of devotion. You wouldn’t have to put up with annoying faily.” I’m reminded of how sinister Santa can be. It’s like he read my mind and was trying to make a point. An emotional vampire, taking advantage of others’ emotions to live forever.
“You’re getting’ creepy, oldtimer. Damn, where is that asshole with the drinks, I could use one now, with you laying on all the implied lessons. No distracting myself from my problems, no running away from them, that sort of thing?” I waited for his answer, reveling in the fingers working their way into my shoulders.
His laugh was full of mirth. “You got it. Do you know why you don’t like heroes?”
“They’re humorless assholes who are often as bad as anyone they fight but have better PR because they serve the same system that murders Black people with impunity,” I answered.
“Yes… in the old stories, many heroes have flaws. Guan Yu his temper, Achilles his pride, Beowulf his desire to be a hero and have sex with a gold-clad Angelina Jolie.”
“That bad CGI movie hardly counts as an old story, but I don’t think wanting to fuck Angelina Jolie counts as a flaw.”
“It does if you say it near Mrs. Claus. These stories were often a way to teach lessons to people, and one lesson was that heroes can be great men and women and still have flaws that will destroy them. A person should not be one of those heroes. They should be better. They should even be forgiven for those they failed to save.”
I barely let him finish that bit before snapping. “You got a point here?”
“I’m sorry for upsetting you. I didn’t mean it. I was leading in to the idea of removing your were. I can remove that problem for you. It’s really the least I could do,” he offered.
And I nearly fell for it. This guy literally was just talking about not taking an easy way out of dealing with my problems, then offers an easy way out of a problem of mine. Or maybe not a problem. Just… something I have to deal with. A part of me, apparently. “No.”
He didn’t audibly laugh this time, but I saw him smile, so I followed it up with. “If she’s up for it, I might take a happy ending from this masseuse.”
“Just so you know, she’s actually a parasitic intelligent worm that infests and controls the bodies of non-sapient bipeds on her home planet.”
I looked up for confirmation and the mouth of my masseuse had split open to reveal the thin and segmented form of a creature that looked like a small snake with a head made up of wriggling tentacles. “No,” I said. “Wait, do you do butt stuff? No, nevermind, no. That’s too much of a stretch for me.”
I turned stared down through the hole in the table. A tiny voice close to my ear said, “That is the appeal of butt stuff, no?”
“Keep it classy until midnight,” Santa said. “Then, we do shots of Irish whisky, American whiskey, and Canadian rye whiskey.”
Well, no butt stuff happened. I didn’t become another member of Santa’s menagerie and end up some trapped, immortal thing. Neither did I let him enslave some part of myself I’m admittedly at a loss to deal with. Passed two tests there, I suppose. Can’t help but wonder how much of this whole thing was a test. Got a fruity drink served in a cup made out of the shell of an alien insectoid and a massage that was very nearly sex on its own. Woke up sore the next morning, on account of how rough the massage got, and remembered I’d made it to Christmas.
And my brother and his girlfriend, my former ward Leah, had arrived at some point and were sleeping on the couch. Santa was serious about not running.
Davilo and Leah looked up at me with a smile, even as they and Qiang watched unusual news reports about a conventional-looking Santa flying around in the Impala I’d been using as a sleigh.
Crap. Santa jacked my ride.
Fuck Merry Kill 1
It’s the most freezingest time of the year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. And yet, it’s technically not even winter yet. As readers would be aware of by now, I have a long history of mystical winter holiday shenanigans. It goes back to the first time I saved Christmas. Since then, I seem to have been marked by winter and the Spirit of the Season, who often appears in the guise of Santa. So I tend to worry about getting dragged into stuff. I’m glad things haven’t rolled around to Kwanzaa or Hannukah yet. Maybe Santa’s got some supervillains on speed dial who can deal with that. Just hope he doesn’t send Black Pete to help anyone out for Kwanzaa.
So while there’s no guarantee that kind of thing will happen, there’s still the possibility. There’s always someone wanting to fuck the holidays up. Like last year, when some heroes thought they’d turn people into animal-human hybrids and then start transforming infrastructure into plants. I didn’t even realize I had a role in it until near the end, and I was one of the people who kept a were-animal side afterward.
That, more than anything, is why I didn’t want to keep Davilo and Leah around. My brother and my ex-ward honored my wishes and didn’t visit until after the full moon. So. Yeah. I have a sibling now. He’s got some thinking to do about me still, but he seems to accept that I am who I am and things he knew about Psycho Gecko need some readjusting. But winter’s a time for one year to end and a new one to begin. I’m increasingly moving toward letting some parts of the past fade away to help create a better future.
That’s sort of my thing, and winter’s thing. Death to clear a path for new growth, as opposed to mindless destruction for the sake of sterility. Thinking about all this, I realized… no wonder the heroic weredeer is such a dork. My half-brother, too. And, I have to admit, me.
That might explain why I was actually in a mood for lots of Christmas decorating this year. Created a snowman with a fanged mouth and clawed arms. A light-up reindeer with a rocket launcher mounted on its back. And the Christmas lights! I saw some of the neighbors giving the roof looks, puzzling out what I could mean by “Stay away, Santa,” but they don’t have my history with the Spirit of the Season.
I thought things were going just fine with that, until one day I came home to see some visitors waiting outside my house. I looked between the chunky old woman and the lanky, pale man in old Victorian clothes, and crossed my arms. “Well, at least I didn’t come home to find y’all sitting on my couch.”
I recognized the man as Spider, a magical villain who once tried to capture and usurp Santa. He’d ended up caught instead. I didn’t recognize the woman. She clapped her hands together. “Oh, you must be the Psychopomp. My husband has told me so much about you.”
I call bullshit, but she seemed nice. And warm. I expected her to have cookies.
“Oh dear, where are my manners?” she reached into a bag on her side and pulled out a tin covered in Christmas designs. “I have some fudge for you.”
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” I said, pretending to be all nice and civil. I began to approach, checking on the security systems in the snowman and reindeer decorations. That missile launcher is loaded and ready. Don’t worry, it doesn’t come with any sort of external trigger. The only child I trust with a missile launcher is mine, and that’s because I still instruct her in the proper usage of explosives.
“You have worked with my husband, Sinterklaus. I’m the Missus,” she answered. “You’ve met Spider before.”
“Yes, him I’ve dealt with…” I looked them over, then took the tin. “Well, Mrs. Claus, won’t you come in?”
“I would love to,” she said. I let the pair into the house where they could enjoy the decorating there as well, including a tree topped with Jack Skellington. What followed were pleasantries, a round of sweet tea, an offer of cookies, and finally a point. It took forever, seems like, but some beings are powerful enough that they’re worth showing some old-fashioned respect toward. Takes a bit more to kill Santa Claus than power armor and nanomachines.
“We need your help. We wouldn’t ask you for anything menial, but, you see, it’s the Martians,” Mrs. Claus said. “They’re holding Sinterklaus captive.”
I rubbed my temples. “I have questions.”
“I’ve got answers,” Mrs. Claus responded.
“First up… Martians,” I said. I didn’t phrase it as a question, but she understood nevertheless.
“They’re more like vacationers. Alien mythological figures exist as well, and some of them vacation on Mars when they aren’t needed.”
“Santa is held hostage, somehow, on Mars, which is the timeshare of alien Santas and Thanksgiving turkeys and gods?” I asked, rubbing my forehead. “I’m… a bit… ok, first off, nobody’s noticed a bunch of alien gods hanging out on Mars?”
Spider took this one, holding up his hands. “There exist multiple pocket dimensions, like the Hells and the realms that have been mistaken for afterlives. It’s like how there’s a North Pole in the mythological sense, and a literal North Pole that’s cold and boring. This isn’t the literal Mars. It’s a plane of metaphorical Mars, overlaid on top of the mundane Mars.”
That actually made more sense to me. I tried not to think too hard about some of the other implications behind mythological beings given my history with the Three Hares conspiracy. For all I know, there’s a Venus up there, a Venus in the Three Hares, and a heroine formerly known as Venus who I dated. Klingons have it right; gods are more trouble than they’re worth. “Ok, good, I got that point. How do I get there, how do I sneak past things with 50 eyes that can see into other dimensions and, most importantly… are we talking hot Martian babes with different skin colors?”
“Oh my, we can help you get there,” Mrs. Claus said. “Mars should be close enough to the mortal plane that your powers function there. As for Martian women, hoo. They are delectable.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Wow, guess Mr. Claus isn’t the only one who likes munching on some cookies. Ok, so I’m going to assume reinforcements aren’t a thing. How do we escape?”
Mrs. Claus reached into her bag again and withdrew a snowglobe with a model of my house inside. “This will return you, but only once. All you have to do is break the glass.”
“Ok, ok… let me have one cool suiting-up montage, then we’re good,” I said.
Mrs. Claus held up a hand. “Not in that false body. You have to use your real one.”
“Why? That’s the whole reason I create these proxies!” I whined.
“It’s a magic thing,” Spider said.
“Well tell magic to keep up with technology,” I told him.
But fine, I did my montage with my own body and marched into the living room all armored up, loaded down with rubber chicken grenades and some of my decoration grenades. “Ok, I’m ready.”
Mrs. Claus set aside some knitting she was doing and stood up. I took the snowglobe and stuffed it in a pack. She reached up and touched me on the shoulder and-
You ever been picked up by a giant who shook you all over the place until you’ve dried off? It felt a bit like that, but space travel. And then I splashed down in a pool. I quickly hopped out of the water onto a red sandbar and cloaked. I checked for threats and found… a pretty mellow place. Some multi-colored people seemed to have noticed me, but most of them were laying around enjoying themselves. Like that fat guy with the big white beard who drank out of the shell of some alien creature.
“Santa?” I asked. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me through his sunglasses. I snuck over close, whispering. “Santa, if you’re in trouble, blink twice.”
He waved me off. “Not right now, Gecko. It’s Umbrella Drink time.” The hollowed-out shell of an alien insectoid did have a little pink umbrella sticking out of the liquid swirling around its interior. “After that, I have a massage scheduled. Do you know how long it’s taken me to get an appointment with Tara Thoris-Carter?”
“I’m here to rescue you from the duplicitous Martians.”
“Who said that?” asked a really thin woman with red skin and a pair of antenna sticking out of her forehead wearing a pair of leaves for a bikini. “Your maternal progenitor is duplicitous!”
Santa shook his head. “Now you’ve done it. Cathol Doubletree is insufferable with enough drink and agitation.”
“Santa, the Missus sent me to rescue you,” I whispered. Some rather large and muscular guys were headed this way. One held a tray of drinks, but the others could have been security.
“The Missus? What did she tell you?” he asked, setting down his drink and picking up a paperback novel called “The King in Yellow”. He held a finger at his dog ear, looking right at me despite my invisibility.
“She told me about how you’d been kidnapped by vacationing folkloric figures on a metaphorical plane on Mars,” I said. “I can get us back.”
Santa sighed, fingering the bent page of his novel, then set it aside. “Sweet girl, you’ve been lied to by my well-meaning wife, playing on your expectations of service toward me. I’m here by choice, for vacation.”
I dropped my cloak. Nearby, Cathol Doubletree scoffed since I’d messed with her light. “Vacation?”
Santa snapped his fingers and accepted a fresh drink from one of the poolboys. “Winter is the season of death for renewal, when the great apes of Earth come together for warmth and succor as death surrounds them. But now, you’ve all chosen disease, separation, and destruction. Your iresponsibility hasn’t doomed you, but the snows will be cold this year and the fire will barely alight to maintain warmth.”
“Well… shit,” I said. I mean, if even the personification of cheery warmth and holiday togetherness is giving up on 2020… fuck.
Santa snapped his fingers again and accepted another drink he offered to me. “Here, stay a spell. Even death deserves a break. And don’t worry. Humans will still give presents and pretenders will smile at the malls, spreading disease to crowds of happy children who trust in the grown-ups to know what’s safe for them. Physical diseases, but others as well. A disease where so many live in a dangerous world of fantasy beset by Satanic Jewish lizard aliens who kidnap and sell their children, justifying the spontaneous murder of good people. Even you cannot cull this belief from mankind.”
I pulled off my helmet long enough to enjoy my drink. The alien Cathol pushed past me at one point, muttering the word “Rude,” but I just took a moment to think. Santa’s depressed, because people are assholes. “But what if you stop doing your job?”
“Oh, I’ll be back next year, if you’ve not killed yourselves off. I don’t think Mrs. Claus will survive the harsh winter. Or the elves. Mmm, but I will. A lone king of the holiday season. Cold and judgmental. You lived that life perfectly well, didn’t you?” Santa smiled at me.
I threw back the drink, tossed the cup away, and shattered the snowglobe. Snow whirled around me, blinding my vision, then fell away to leave me in my own living room again. My empty living room, with no sign of Spider or Mrs. Claus, just melting snow.
I nodded and repurposed my autofactories. Time for a hard work and building montage.
Qiang took notice, especially since I was assembling everything in the front yard. When she got back from school, my daughter asked, “Mama, whatcha doin’?”
“Building a sleigh that can fly all over the world,” I answered.
“Why?” she asked, then immediately started jumping up and down. “Can I come, please?”
I looked at her, then nodded. “You know what? Sure. I could use an elf helping me out. My little snugglelumpkins, this year, we’re going to save Christmas the old fashioned way.” I turned to her as my armor created a projection of a red suit with white fur lining it and a fluffy beard hanging from my helmet. “Ho! Ho! Motherfuckin’ ho!”
Rein Of The Supermen 6
It was night in the city of Detroit, and I stalked it. Clippity-cloppity. Perhaps it’s not the quietest stalking, but there’s not a lot of grass here unless you know a guy with a dimebag.
So I stalked, and ordered my daughter dinner using a food delivery app. Taking care of her is important to me. She requires a very special diet now that she’s been turned into a chinchilla-child. Plus, she’s admitted to me she stopped bathing. She says she feels like rolling around in dust instead. I grounded her at first, which is about useless to do while I’m out of town hunting down a killer. It was Medusa that talked me into letting her off the hook. I texted her about it and she sent me an article about chinchillas. She also included an article about reindeer and how the females grow antlers.
I can’t wait until we’re both back to normal. She’s going to be the stinky kid if she keeps not bathing, but chinchillas don’t bathe and have some problems sweating. If something goes wrong and she’s stuck as a chinchilla when summer rolls around, I’ll have to homeschool her again.
“Dont worry, :),” Medusa texted me.
“You ok?” I sent back to her.
“They blew up power plant,” she said. A clip came talking about how a coal-burning plant was partially transformed into a plant, causing a chain reaction that blew the whole place up. The place looked like Silent Hill with all the smoke and ash in the air. Then a text from Medusa came back informing me that, “lootenant who sees the pollution is talking. Almst got em.”
I hope so, for the sake of her text message spelling.
But back to my stalking. Clippity-cloppity. I had to track down Conrad Thorne. I’ve had issues holding onto the scent outside. I never really noticed just how stinky everything here is. Probably the most common scent is death. I’ve long been able to recognize that, but my enhanced reindeer senses allow me to smell death all over the place. Don’t mistake this for some sort of metaphorical or mystical thing. Even before they do a lot of rotting, which adds its own smell to the mix, dead things tend to have a certain hint of blood to them. It’s probably just a bunch of rats living among humanity, living and dying in the walls and under the floorboards.
So that’s been a challenge, one I had to fix by closing my eyes and focusing on sniffing. It was almost meditative. I focused on my breathing, but especially on the smells as they entered my nose. I found what I was looking for. Ever since then, there have been times I’ve lost him, but I was eventually able to pick him back up. Part of the problem early on was having so much to work with once I knew what to smell for. I’d follow his scent to a convenience store, or to a bus station. The bus station ended up leading me to where he worked, though. No one really batted an eye to see a red-coated reindeer walk into an insurance agency, especially since I was greeted by an assistant who was a bat man.
“Please tell me you can do a good impression,” I told him.
He squeaked out a laugh and shook his head. “No. I’m thinking of looking up if anyone got turned into a robin so we can meet up and do photos for a gag.”
“I hope you lucked into being a fruit bat,” I mentioned.
He sighed. “I’m so glad I’m not a vampire bat. People mistake me for one all the time. It’s hard enough switching to an all fruit diet. What about you? Don’t deer eat grass?”
“Some. Leaves, too,” I told him. “I’ve been able to make it work eating a lot of salad and otherwise going vegan with an emphasis on leafy greens. I can’t wait to get back to normal, though.”
“I hear you. Anyway, you said you were here about Conrad?” he asked, getting down to business at last.
“He’s done some pretty bad stuff, as you might have heard. And now he’s missing.” In the middle of my running around sniffing, I’ve been keeping an eye on his apartment. So have the cops. He still hasn’t come back to it.
Bat man was nice enough to give me a tip. Conrad had an ex he used to invite along to some of the office events.
I found her, and the smell of Thorne was pretty strong, but he wasn’t there anymore. “He’s not here, Detective Deer,” said the ex, who was nursing a bruise on her wrist. That wasn’t from me this time. “If I knew where the crazy son of a bitch went, I’d tell you. Douchenozzle said he needed a place to stay for a couple of days. He didn’t tell me he was on the run after killing people. I hope you find him, because he’s planning worse. He had some big backpacks and was cleaning his rifle.”
“Did he give you any clues? Was he looking up anywhere on his phone or your phone or a computer?” I asked.
She shook her head now. “He didn’t have his phone with him, but I wouldn’t let him use mine. I’m sorry. He gave off weird vibes. If I’da known it would help you catch him, I would have.”
I nodded. “It’s fine. Geez, he really has a heck of a scent here.”
She waved her hand. “Yeah. He hadn’t had a good shower and shave in days.”
I thought back to when I arrived. His scent was strong in the area, but it didn’t seem to lead away. Before, I’d been able to follow some of his route onto a bus. “Has he acquired a car? Borrowed one, maybe?”
“I think he took an Uber,” she informed me. Damn. A taxi would have given me more to go on. Uber drivers are easier to bribe, but taxis keep better records.
I had a couple of ideas to go off of then. The first was to find good sites to shoot up in the area, which was like finding one particular needle in a haystack full of needles. That’s why I opted for the second: look for anywhere nearby the guy could lay low and use some facilities. Having so recently admonished my daughter for not cleaning herself up, the idea of him catching a shower was on my mind.
First, I used my phone to look up gyms. Then I looked up YMCAs. I hear it’s fun to stay at them, and when you’re short on dough, you can stay there. Get yourself clean, have a good meal, do whatever you feel. It was a little further away to a YMCA than to a gym, but there were fewer of them. I planned to check the gyms along the way to the nearest YMCA, then the nearest after that, then the nearest unchecked one after that.
But I also knew he was packing at least a rifle, and then at least two packs worth of equipment. I smelled a lot of things at the ex’s and not all of them were legal. I thought I caught a scent I’ve worked with before when making things go boom. I decided I needed a little bit more to take him on then my own fists, hooves, and horns. So I managed to grab an Uber, who unfortunately wasn’t the one to pickup Thorne, and directed him to a couple of stores while I kept a window open for a sniff.
No such luck on the random sniffing, but I managed to throw together a wreath and a large candy cane that would help. I didn’t have much time. A gal’s gotta work with what’s available, and that means holiday decorations from time to time. In the case of the earbuds, those were already capable of filtering out gunshots but allowing speech to get through. The trick there was fitting them onto my inhuman ears.
It was the second YMCA where I finally found him. When I arrived, there were people waving us down, trying to warn us away. I threw cash at my driver and hopped out, armed to the antlers. “Get away, some dude’s shooting animals!” One guy told me.
I snorted. “That’s why I’m here.” Then a shot took off part of my antler as I ducked behind the Uber driver’s SUV. The guy who warned me pointed up to the roof of the YMCA, then ran for it. I couldn’t blame him, though I was a little annoyed the Uber driver sped out of there with my cover. I ran for the building, jumping over a bleeding birdman and stopping to grab a groaning gator to drag to safety. He snapped at me, so I finished by tossing him up against the wall. I heard more gunshots even though he shouldn’t have been able to get an angle on me. And more screams. And even a bit of glass breaking. Considering the guy’s targets, it’s not even metaphorical to point out there are plenty more fish in the sea.
He expected trouble. I noticed the tripwire shortly after inching the door open, and before it had enough tension to go off. I pulled a wreath off from around my arm and slid an inner ring into place so the blades poked out past the faux-pine needles. I had to be careful to cut without opening the door too wide, which wasn’t easy using a wreath. But I ended up cutting the tripwire. Then I came diving and rolling out, coming to my hooves to find a tripod set up and Conrad Thorne holding tight to a gizmo that began to carry him up a zipline to a shot-open window of a taller building across the street. That spoke to either some more professional contacts, or the guy being inventive. It also made things rougher for me.
I threw the wreath like a discus. It missed. Merry fucking Christmas.
I knew I couldn’t run up the line. Imagine walking a tightrope when you’re not trained. And the tightrope’s going uphill. And you have to do it on your big toenails. Nope. I took a running leap. Wonder deer powers, activate! They got me a little higher before I grabbed onto the line, but not enough to prevent the massive suckage to come as I had to climb the line hand over hand. To my credit, I think I got halfway up before Thorne got across the street. After that, I got the added difficult of him doing something to the line. I was distressingly far from the window when it went slack. I whipped out the candy cane I’d brought along.
Boom! The electronic ear buds I’d gotten selectively canceled such a loud nearby boom as the gunpowder propelled a grappling hook out one end of the hollow candy cane and into the window. I ended up swinging down and crashed through a lower window on the building.
People inside had enough sense to realize something was going down and to try and get out of the way. Many rushed down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator to head up and reach them. As for me, I shoved a bunch of people out of the way and took the elevator when it arrived.
Five stories up, about where I figured the guy had landed, the door opened to an agitated Conrad Thorne aiming his gun into the elevator. I dropped and kicked back against the rear wall of the elevator, sliding toward his legs. He jumped to the side, but at least the shots he fired above me missed. He had the advantage of still standing while I had to get up, until I threw a pair of star ornaments and an orb.
They didn’t do anything to him when he shot and missed. They weren’t even sharpened. They were just there in case I needed to throw something as a distraction. And while he was distracted with them, I tossed a wooden chair at him and rolled to my hooves. I charged. He fired, then hit the magazine release and tried to pop a new one in. My antlers knocked his rifle aside. A punch to his gut sent him sprawling back on his backpack before he could whip out anything from that. He grabbed a knife out of his boot instead as he backed up toward a window.
“What’s the matter? The hunt not fun anymore? Personally, I always thought the idea of a sporting chance was nonsense until you gave the prey a weapon to fight back with,” I taunted as I stomped toward him, snorting.
“Fucking animal. I’m a man. The top of the food chain.” He gathered his feet up under him and lunged with the knife, getting to his feet but telegraphing what he was doing in the process. It didn’t stand a chance of hitting me. I grabbed a little table nearby in this office wonderland we were in and swung it at him. He backed up against the window. I threw the table at his chest. He ducked this time, but I was already running toward him and kicking.
The window shattered. Conrad fell back. And he gave me the finger through a ring attached to a pullstring on his backpack. A parachute. And my kick, and the skidding of my other hoof, brought me to the edge of the floor. But, dammit, I wasn’t letting him get away. I threw myself after him.
I’d barely left the safety of the building when time seemed to stand still. I thought it was just some weird mental thing, until I heard the jingling of bells and noticed the Spirit of the Season floating nearby in a sleigh. “Ho, ho, ho! How fairs the Psychopomp?” he asked.
“I’ve been better. This guy’s trying to get away,” I said.
“If only you could fly like the other reindeer,” the Spirit suggested. “I do not think you will survive this one.”
I looked to him and noticed the smile on his face. “What, another deal? More people to kill?”
He shook his head. “You would owe me in the future for flight today. It is nearly a gift, and it is your life.”
“Yeah, nearly a gift. But you don’t normally give gifts to naughty girls like me. Last time you and I made a deal, you changed me further. Nah, I’m fine. I can take this guy on my own.”
The Spirit’s smile changed then. Or, it’s more like it reached his eyes when it hadn’t before. “That was a smart decision to make so close to the solstice. The old powers are not playthings for mortals, and to treat them as such is to court disaster.” Well that was ominous. But then he let out a jovial laugh and said, “Happy holidays, Psychopomp.” Time started up again and gravity dragged me down past the floating man in the coat and sleigh.
I wanted to puzzle out what that had been, but I was too busy folding my arms and legs against my body to become as aerodynamic as possible. Thorn, on the other hand, was splayed out. The greater surface area gave me a chance to catch up to him. He threw his knife up at me, catching me in the shoulder briefly before wrenching away.
Thorne waited until I got closer before pulling the string and unfolding the chute. I was now underneath it at that range, but close enough that I could grab onto the straps of the thing and ram my antlers into his belly. I shook my head from side to side, goring him. Then I tore open the chute and clung to it for deer life as he dropped.
I managed a rough landing in a street some ways away from where Conrad Thorne made his final impression on the city, content to be a floating reindeer this time.
Rein Of The Supermen 3
As if being part deer wasn’t bad enough, I awoke to find myself nearly deafened, achy, sweaty, and with my ears feeling stuffed full of something that made me want to shove a spike into each one. I eventually stumbled my way to the doctor, realizing I had somehow become sick.
“Yep. Looks like a nasty ear infection and the flu,” the doc said after listening to my breathing and sticking a thing too deep into my inflamed ears. “I recommend getting vaccinated next time.”
“I normally have tiny robots to fight disease for me,” I said.
The doctor looked me over, then began to type away on his computer. “How long have you been using those as your immune system?”
“Give or take an entire life,” I said, breaking out into a sweat. It wasn’t nervousness. The office went from freezing cold to super hot in an instant. I’d say I’ve been brought down to mortality, but I’m an anthropomorphic deer on top of all this. Even as a human, the nanites would affect me enough to keep me healthy. Either my transformation has given me such a radically different body type that they aren’t adapting right, or it’s magical in nature. It grew eyes for me and did something to my implants that give me bluetooth connectivity, so I’m leaning toward magic. I hate magic. And it’d be just like fucking magic to turn me into a deer for December. Right here in a small town, snow all over the place, Christmas lights up and children playing. Merry fucking Christmas.
“I’m writing you prescriptions for antibiotics. I still haven’t finished that veterinary course since the last time you visited. Take these, and I want to see you in here in two days to see check your progress.” He glanced at me. “Get a lot of rest and drink a lot of fluids. No more heroics.”
I snorted. “Trust me, no heroics here. I’m surprised you give a damn about little ol’ me.”
“I help the poor and the needy. That’s you.”
Looking him in the eye, feeling absolutely miserable, I had to ask, “No one would ever know if you gave me something to kill me.”
He turned fully toward me. “I’ll make a note about depressive thoughts. I took an oath to do no harm to any of my patients, even you.”
I stumbled my way out of there and through this happy holiday scene of a town, burning and freezing alternately and at the same time. First I had to get the damn antibiotics, which required a stop in the small franchise pharmacy they had here. Waiting took forever. I can’t be too specific because I began to drift in and out of consciousness. And when I awoke, I couldn’t completely tell. I’d dreamed I’d kicked over a few chairs in the pharmacy’s waiting area. It was all fine when I woke up. I even went up and asked if everything was fine. The young woman behind the window gave me a funny look. “It’ll be fifteen to twenty minutes still.”
Annoyingly, the word “heroics” kept looping through my head during that whole wait until I got my medicine and stumbled out into the cold.
Even the walk felt like it took forever, but I eventually cleared my head of the “heroic” loop by laughing it off. Why I get upset at that shouldn’t matter. They can say it and they can be wrong on their little TV shows. No one will even have to know it was me.
I pushed my way into my house and tripped over something Qiang must have left out. Normally, I’d catch myself easily. Normally, I’m not a sick deer. So I fell.
“Tis the season for doing the right thing when no one knows,” I mumbled. Or I thought I mumbled it, until strong, mitten-clad hands helped me sit upright next to a raging fire that, somehow, didn’t cause me to break out into sweats. It felt just right. Refreshing.
I followed the mittens upward and saw a fat man standing there whose face I had never seen before, but who I recognized instantly. “You again?”
“Making my list and checking it twice,” said the Spirit of the Season.
“Is this your doing,” I said, gesturing toward myself.
He laughed. “No, no, no, but it why you are sympathetic enough for us to converse.”
“I don’t want to save Christmas again or be some big hero, stop it!” I said, throwing something of an undignified tantrum. I think I’m entitled this time. I’m one more wipe from being flushed down the universe’s toilet if I’m lucky. I was sick, tired, and had been craving nothing but veggies since I’d been turned into a reindeer.
“I never said you had to be a hero,” the jolly old elf told me. “Just between you and I, the gifts you give when no one knows say the most about you.”
I don’t like the guy, but I couldn’t resist telling him. At least I didn’t sit on his lap first. And afterward, he looked down at me, eyes glowing like the fire in the fireplace that I then remembered my house didn’t have. “I can help you.”
My laughter turned into a coughing fit. “You had something to do with this, didn’t you? You made me a reindeer.”
I felt a deep chill that ignored the fire and my fever. “I did not.” The large spirit in front of me had lost the humor in his demeanor. That coat wasn’t red, but the brown fur of a bear. And the curly whiskers of his beard weren’t backed by rosy cheeks at the moment. “This is not my doing. This is the season of death.”
After a moment, he changed, easing back toward the more friendly aspect I’d been used to. “That is why you huddle together and exchange gifts with family in the warmth. Someone is interfering and throwing the seasons out of balance.”
“Isn’t this all kinda biased in favor of certain hemispheres, though?” I asked.
“They targeted the portion of the world in winter, in my domain,” he answered, then patted me on the head, the gentle warmth of the fire returning. On top of that, I could smell cookies in the air. “It is my problem to solve, reindeer. You are sick and badly out of sorts. I would not force you to aid me.”
“Good,” I said. “I feel like shit.”
“But if you did…”
“Oh fuck, here it comes,” I said.
“You would be on the Nice list this year, and I could justify giving her that present,” he said.
“That’s kind of mean,” I said.
“It is optional, Psychopomp. No one will know if you refused or risked yourself but you.”
Well, that made it simpler. And when I woke up, I was even in my own real house, with the door closed. I didn’t feel any better, but that’s what downing antibiotics is for. And water. And shopping for extra, really illegal drugs online to try and speed this process. I’m not embarrassed about the horse tranquilizer. I’m, like, almost a horse or something. I zoned out on the computer anyway, so it’s probably just a formality at this point, but the pressure in my ears makes me want to be just about anything but awake.
Still, delivery isn’t instant. I have the fever to blame for not being able to tell if I was asleep or awake. It should have been easier to tell, if I wasn’t having some weird dream about needing to put together an ornament. A big orb. Painting it all up with festive designs.
I know that part wasn’t real because there were no weird art projects I could see around my room the next morning. I didn’t get out of my room much except to fix some veggies and noodles for Qiang before she squeaked off to school. Ugh, now I have to worry I’ll give her whatever this is, though the reality is that she probably gave it to me. So I basically fell to pieces, did some laundry, and sweated my way through more fever dreams.
Like pulling a sleigh a long distance. It’d suck as just a nightmare, because it’s the kind of mean-spirited and tedious nightmare that you’d inflict on someone as a punishment. Now imagine you take frequent breaks from it to roll around in a cold sweat, not sure where the dream ends and reality begins. I actually wondered if the sleigh had a mattress on it, or if I’d dragged the sleigh into bed with me.
After that, my ordeal became to climb a Christmas tree. An enormous one, going up and up. Lights near me began to spark. I heard a roar at one point and glanced down to see a large, black thing dragging chains behind it. I didn’t recognize the thing running around the base of the tree as Krampus until later.
The day after that, Qiang left a bowl of chicken noodle soup out for me. Aww… it was so cute. And she left it for me when she went off to school, so it was cold by the time I dragged myself out of bed like a warmed-up piece of crap. But it was so adorable, of course I gave it a try. Then I gagged, because it has chicken in it. Oh deer.
Then it was off to the doctor’s office to request he at least give me some psychedelics. Fuck, man, I’m orbiting Uranus here without ’em. I figure if I get even higher, things might wrap around.
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