If all this sounds like things have been a bit separated so far, good. The heroes still don’t like me or trust me. A lot of the villains don’t like or trust me either. Part of that’s because we’re generally less likely to play nice with others. Plenty of them are suspicious at how often I end up helping save the Earth and my close relationship with some of the heroes. Instead of trusting me to corrupt Venus, they worry she’s trying to redeem me. Laughable, right? She is trying, but the idea of her succeeding? Ha!
The division between hero and villain hasn’t just been because of personal feelings. I don’t know who thought it up, but Venus passed on to me an idea to make it look like the heroes and villains weren’t united. She explained it to me thusly, in a private meeting we had one night in a parking garage: “The villains need to look like they only care about themselves. The heroes will be front and center fighting. When the ship gets here, we’re certain they will send down more people and try to take us out. Don’t leave us hanging.”
That was when I got here, after I kinda wrecked Master Academy’s trap.
All this separation is good for me though. The infosphere, datanet, whatever you call the collective digital world surrounding the Earth, it’s loud as fuck right now. I have people spread out all over the world and it’s overwhelming me. If I don’t concentrate so much on what’s in front of me, I begin to lose track of myself. It’s easy to jump into a helicopter that needs support in Ghana or screw with a camera system in Belarus. Checking the road ahead of refugees in Costa Rica and redirecting a GPS. Setting off car alarms in Cairo to ruin an enemy ambush.
For a long time, one of the things that worried me about my archnemesis was her ability to get me to focus on her. To concentrate to deal with her, even if it was just screwing with her. Now, it helps to keep me back in myself. I suppose the fact that she was holding me in her arms as we laid on the roof, staring up at a sky covered by the 8-pointed body of the domeship above us. “I’m not good at romance, but it would have been good to see stars, right?”
We’d met halfway between Rothstein’s, where I’d taken rooms for my guys and myself, and whatever hospital she’d been helping at. The heroes have a makeshift command center, but they don’t rest that well. Sometimes, a villain with a handy skillset slips through. Harder to tell who it is in plainclothes unless they have four arms like I do. A lot of the people who risked staying were also willing to risk nanites.
“There’s too much light pollution anyway,” she said, stroking my hair. “It’s the thought that counts.”
“I think I’ll kill them all,” I said,yawning.
She shifted to look down at me. “There’s no reason for that.”
“I hate them. That’s a good enough reason,” I told her.
She took one of my hands. “I don’t hate them and I don’t think you should either. They’re soldiers, or they’re clones who believe they only have value as weapons. We want the boss sitting in his high chair who thinks it’s their business shooting at our homes.”
It was good to have her there and to be able to focus. What came next required a lot of focus.
They attacked just before first light.
I awoke to rumbling, alone on the rooftop. Even my internal HUD clock read “You fuckin’ serious?” I looked around and saw giant rectangular containers slowing down on jets before crushing buildings and cars. One landed nearby and opened up to reveal a trio of tanks. Jump infantry landed nearby. I rushed to get my armor back on and shot Venus and her friends a message. I don’t know if they noticed me before I got my invisibility going. Satellite coverage went wonky, but they weren’t headed back toward Rothstein’s like I was. I hopped up a skyscraper and saw them converging on the square the heroes were using.
It’s a new square. So much rebuilding around here, I didn’t even bother learning this one’s name. I don’t know if they gave it some legacy name, or went for something new. Based on the number of armored vehicles heading that direction, I knew it soon wouldn’t matter if I learned its name.
They were a silent bunch, aside from the grumbling engines and the marching boots. They didn’t really try to destroy everything in their path. If it was quicker to take the road, they took it. If it was easier to smash through a wall or a building, they did that. The enemy forces were moving in a circle, but half stopped short, where they would have cover. The rest kept going until they were in rage of the trailers and tents the heros were using. They opened fire, as if the heroes were another military force.
I understand the need for a nice, orderly bunch like superheroes to have themselves a centralized location to do all their heroing from. It’s a pretty good way to handle things before the digital age. You just gotta wonder at the invaders expecting nighttime vigilantes to have slept in such a place. I watched through traffic lights and other cameras as one group realized something was up.
The bunch that backed off prematurely did so to avoid getting hit by their compatriots’ fire. They were at least out of firing range and behind buildings. I assume they weren’t ready when the heroes’ illusionist made his move. Eschaton melted tanks. Honky Tonk Hero based one to bits with his enchanted guitar. Warman tried tearing off cannons to use for himself. The Justice Rangers kicked and flipped their way through grey-skinned infantry.
The rest of the enemy army advanced on them, and they weren’t alone. The ship disgorged more infantry. Many of them hung in the air and fired down on the heroes. It seemed like overkill. I was once again reminded of the phrase I stole from a comedian. I don’t know how many of them it was gonna take to kick the heroes’ asses, but I knew how many they were gonna use. The heroes couldn’t even finish off the separated division before the rest of the army met up with them. It would look to anyone else like a slaughter in progress. I could listen in by now. I cracked the code to their communications frequencies. The invaders had a plan where they could even warp in the remnants of the first wave.
I landed in the square at that army’s back, uncloaked, a pair of Roman candles in my hands that I set off. Every comms line the invaders used screeched loud enough to make a deaf man grit his teeth. I dumped the candles away. “I believe this is when the cavalry’s supposed to arrive?” A holographic bugle appeared in my hands. I pretended to play a charge as six grey men floated closer. One of them looked a bit different because of some burns on the side of its face.
“You are but one. You cannot save your friends,” said the one in charge. “Turn off this music and surrender.”
I cranked up “Free Your Hate” too loud for me to hear anything else they said even if they shouted and ran for them. I tripped though, when the ground rumbled even more. In front of me, a line of giant drills pierced the street. The group floating in front of me turned to look at the signature Drill tanks of the Drillers opened wide. Fire, ice, and sonic weaponry covering them, a menagerie of menaces were loosed onto the streets of Empyreal City, right against the backside of the invading army. Unicorn fired a spiral beam from his horn through a line of infantry. A squad of Drillers hopped on top of a tank and started cracking it open like a safe. Crankshaft rolled up into a ball of metal and flesh that Gearshift kicked toward a soldier who reloaded his grenade launcher. She waved her hand and Gearshift kept rolling and even accelerated, bowling over the soldier and smashing into the side of another skirted light turreted support vehicle.
The jump infantry took to the air to join the supporting fire from above. They wouldn’t find the air any more welcoming. Spring is the time for bees, and Buzzkills filled the air by the hundreds. Led by Queen Beetrice, the bee people fired spines and pierced armor with stinger swords. The sky was ours.
The six in front of me turned back to face me. “We will kill you,” said the lead one.
I let a hologram walk forward while I turned invisible. “You know how ‘try’ is a synonym for annoy? You may try.”
The lead one clapped his hands together. Where the hologram stood just exploded spontaneously.
The six turned back to the battle. The lead, with the spontaneous explosion powers, gurgled in surprise when the Nasty Surprise shot through his throat. Same for the one next to him. I jumped onto the next one and crushed his skull between two other hands. Blood fountained everywhere and negated the ability of my cameras to work or my projectors to project. I grabbed onto the next closest one, who instinctively flew upward. His eyes started glowing as he glared at me. I shoved thumbs into them, cackling and yelling, “Thou wouldst stare at me, mortal?”
It’s not so funny in writing, but I guess you had to be there, covered in blood, squishing a guy’s eyeballs. He didn’t find it funny. He screamed. Screaming has to be a product of being social animals. I can’t imagine a loan predator, surrounded by enemies and prey, screaming when it’s hurt. No, it’s a social thing, letting others in your pack, herd, or gang know you need help. Benevolent person that I am, I decided I would help end this Praetor’s misery. No problem whatsoever. It was a snap!
That left me a good distance up with some rockets to ease me back down. I reached up and found myself caught my a pair of Buzzkills. The remaining two must have figured it out. The one with the burn started off, but eased back and let his comrade come first. That one spouted metal spikes. He stayed back. The spikes shot off him. I wasn’t so much worried about myself as I was my two helpers. Unfortunately, there was only so much I could do. I raised arms and legs to try and block, but the Buzzkills still went slack and began to drop. I could even still survive the fall, as long as the spikes sticking through my armor and squishy bits didn’t kill me.
I fell toward the waiting arms of the spiky son of a pin cushion, trying to think how problems like this are usually solved. The idea of solving a puzzle box briefly came to mind. Ridiculous. Laser flashed out, and I fell through the two halves of the spiky son of a bitch and right to the burned man. He spread his arms and a green wall appeared in front of him and forged a wedge that flew at me. It smashed into me and plates melted off. I had nothing left but the armored undersuit I stole off a future version of my nemesis before I killed her. Even the spikes that somehow penetrated were gone.
I couldn’t see shit through my melting helmet, but I felt when he caught my throat and began to squeeze. “The others did not realize your power is not in your body. Your spine and heart will soon join it.”
The remains of my helmet fell away, showing that I at least still had both cybernetic eyes working. “Do I know you?” I gasped out.
“It is too late to surrender and see yourself spared. You will die when those my master answered to take your planet,” Praetor M said before punching his hand into my belly. You know how you get hit sometimes and it knocks the air out of your lungs? That, plus I think one of my kidneys exploded. It was like he tried to put his arm through me. I swear, my back fucking popped.
“Look in my eye while you kill me? Face me!” I pleaded. Praetor M obliged. It made it easier when my eye warmed up and another laser shot out, lobotomizing him. I grabbed his hand and pried it off my throat while he thrashed around. Then I reached into the hole, setting my thumb on the bridge of his nose, and pulling. One, two, and then I tore the front of his face off, trying to laugh at the pain and around the lack of air. “Face me!”
I fell, but someone caught me. I was kinda having trouble there, keeping conscious. I think it was the lack of air. I looked up at a Buzzkill, who jabbed me with a syringe of what I soon realized were regenerative nanomachines. I gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled. Mandibles make it hard to tell, but I have experience because of Beetrice. When I’d gotten a bit less aerated, I looked around because I swore we were going up, not down. I looked over and saw the Domeship next to us. We rose and she set me down on the deck. All around, I saw more joining us, flying under their own powers or being set down by more Buzzkills.
I didn’t have the full electronic suite of my armor anymore, but I still had the electronics in my body. I reached out to hear Warman giving orders. “-board, board! I’m tired of being on the defense. This time, we’re invading. We’ll take this ship and we’ll take it to their world.”
Aww. I missed most of the ground battle. Though, when I looked around, I noticed something. Aside from myself and the Buzzkills, all I saw were heroes up here. Next to me, a gorilla wearing a jetpack grunted as he landed.
I waved to him. “Gorilla Awesome? They really brought everyone along, didn’t they?”
A huge explosion below drew our attention. Awesome, the Buzzkill, and I both looked down at the flames. I hissed in pain from tenderness when I bent over and straightened up. “There goes the neighborhood.”
We swarmed the ship, though the “we” seemed to be pretty much only heroes and whatever Buzzkills decided to attach follow along with me. I don’t know if that’s because of any particular orders to that effect. We didn’t see much resistance. Someone jumped out with a pistol and got a stinger in his neck, one through the cheek, and another through the temple. A woman in unusual clothing stood next to him, screaming. Gorilla Awesome jumped ahead of us and picked her up. He shushed her, then politely asked, “I am truly sorry. Where is the command center of the ship, that we might minimize loss of life?”
She kept screaming, so he set her down. The Buzzkills raised their sting swords, but I held up my hands. “Leave her in peace. We’ll find someone else.”
Gorilla Awesome held out his arm as someone tried to scuttle past. He grabbed the fleeing man and pulled him in close. “You there. Where do the people in charge work?”
“Please don’t kill me,” he said.
“Deal,” Gorilla Awesome said, grabbing the man’s hand and shaking it.
The bridge, I suppose it could be called. Sounds of fighting were ever just out of reach as we approached. It was in the large dome, inside an inner dome at the center of that one. Because so many people can’t resist putting the spot all the important people hang out in somewhere central or where they can see things, without regard to how much of a target that makes them. The outer dome had a park paved in metal mosaic tiles and walls made up of warped pentagonal shapes. As we rushed along, the outer dome began to glow red hot in one spot. It melted open and Eschaton followed, heading toward the inner dome. Warman jumped through the opening, firing cannon that spat green fire from one of three rotating barrels. The green fireballs burst through the inner dome, and Eschaton flew through. Warman landed, then followed Eschaton in a single bound.
By the time we got in there, a man in pearl white armor with a trio of horns arching up. He wielded a three-pronged spear that he used to hold back the stream of blue flame pouring from Eschaton’s hands. Warman strode up next to Eschaton and raised his tri-cannon. Gorilla Awesome raised a meaty arm, a grappling hook shooting out to wrap around the spear.
The armored man muttered something and let the spear go as Gorilla Awesome yanked it away. He slapped something on a pedestal the moment before his face disintegrated and he fell, blackened skull cracking into pieces.
The ship shook, and through the holes I saw a blinding light. I felt more than saw the next part, where an infinite blackness stretched out containing expanding droplets full of lights. We passed through something red that felt like it scraped my nerves as we passed through. The light fell away, and my head was assaulted by new information. Data, in languages I don’t know. I managed some of the encryption, but others were merely familiar. The communications came through from all around, maybe through the dome itself, and through me.
“Grand Executor, why have you returned?” they asked. I saw a pair of faces. I saw signals flying all around us.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It moved up along the back of my neck and over my hair. I raised my head, focusing again. I looked up to Venus in her black power armor. She looked down to me. “Put me through to them.”
I nodded and concentrated. “You’re on.”
She spoke, and I sent her words out. “Leaders of this invading world. I am Medusa, a hero of my world. We have defeated your army, taken your ship, and defeated your Grand Executor. I must stress that we want peace. Chief Executor Paldrin did not give us peace. The Grand Executor did not give us peace. We are here on your world and I ask you, will we have peace?”
Ah, war. A time of bloodshed and thundering guns. I’ve participated in a few before. Sometimes as an assassin working for a side; other times as an enthusiastic fan. When you don’t have connections to the world, it’s easy to be a fan of a war. Just invoke a plague on both their houses, crack open a beer, and watch a fireworks show.
But this is the Earth where I keep my family. As much as I’d prefer to be there with them, giving my daughter lessons in urban warfare, I’ll have to settle for making sure she’s safe to come back home to. That’s why I instead gave the invaders a lesson in urban warfare. Nothing quite like shoving some knowledge inside a pliable head. Strong enough power armor, any head’s pliable.
These were a different sort. Whatever raiders, robotmen, and thunder riflers had been pushed to the side. In the case of the otherworldly animals, this bunch were just as willing to kill them off if they got in the way. Instead of the raiders’ segmented armor or the riflers’ wool uniform, they had something I recognized as light ballistics vests. In testing, I found the less bulky plates the tankers wore were just as capable of absorbing lead as the stuff the national guardsmen are using. The new infantry have stuff that’s a little bulkier, even the grey ones.
I got a good look at them. I’d killed enough of them, after all. A few wore jetpacks with short wings sticking out from either side. Those tended to have a reflective visor built into their helmets. The others just get regular ol’ helmets.
The fighting has been intense. My squad have been keeping ourselves scarce, working with fellow villains. We decided not to present a unified front, not exactly. It might have gone better if my speech hadn’t been released to the wider public. But there was still room for villains to, say, ambush a light motorized infantry unit with flamethrowers trying to burn through Green territory. The eco-friendly gang of hippies had one of the most drastic effects on Empyreal City. With all the rebuilding the city does almost constantly, they stand out for spreading all sorts of plants across their territory. They went from smelly and mostly harmless potheads to having horned heads and smelling of musk thanks to whatever they’d started smoking.
They refused to heed the call until their territory was safe. I told them I’d guarantee it. Then here comes the invaders with flamethrowers and grenade launchers trying to make me a liar. Well, if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a productive member of society. I’ve been a liar for a long time. I even lied that the invaders made me a liar. But I only lie when it’s absolutely necessary. Actually, that was also a lie. I do it for all sorts of reasons.
When I showed up with a squad of my guys and a few villains who felt like being useful, the burn squad was hard at work demolishing the entire neighborhood. We’d headed there in the back of Crankshaft’s pickup truck and stopped just around the corner. Not my call, but Crankshaft didn’t want to risk his wheels. The outside of a corner store we passed looked like its walls were made of thick vines, which is why I didn’t take the burn squad’s actions as overkill.
One of my soldiers approached, curious, and reached out for the wall. A thinner vine whipped out at him. A red-clad woman with a small mallet, Red Plague, reached for his shoulder, but he jumped back before she could pull him back.
Crankshaft’s partner, who wore a yellow jumpsuit with two checker-patterned stripes, and a mask that resembles flames, laughed. “Maybe we oughta let ’em burn it.”
Red Plague rolled her eyes. “We don’t need more dead and homeless, Gearshift.”
“We’re gonna have plenty enough, commie,” Crankshaft said.
“How are we doing this?” I asked, glancing around the corner at a quartet of skirted vehicles with turret-mounted flamethrowers. I saw fifteen… no, sixteen soldiers. Some also had little guns with prominent canisters that added to the firestorm. I saw a man with a twisted tangle of horns and tusks try to rush them, then erupted in a blaze courtesy of a grenade from one of the soldiers.
Red Plague looked up at the vines. “Get me to an overwatch position and I’ll make them sick. I’ll do what I can around all this heat.”
I glanced up as a grey man zoomed in like a bird or a plane. He had a bigass sword in one hand. Couldn’t see what was in the other. I smiled under my helmet. “Look at that, it’s my reason for living… killing. I can head in, disable one or two of the vehicles, then I think the big guy will be on me. Probably better if I hold im off. Crankshaft, you got a way to survive getting shot?”
He cracked his stained knuckles and grinned. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and bands of metal popped out of his skin in pieces. “I’m tougher’n I look.”
“I’ll get him and these others there lickity split,” Gearshift said. She looked at my Riccans, who nodded. Crankshaft moved over to grab Gearshift’s arm, trying to lock eyes with one of the soldiers. He tugged Gearshift away from them, muttering something.
I shook my head. “They have guns. Those work from a distance. A couple of you, stick with Red Plague. Wait for her to do her thing. Once cars go boom, that’s the cue for the rest of you to open fire. Crankshaft, use the confusion to get into them and knock out any remaining vehicles before they light us all up.”
Crankshaft stuck his fist out. Gearshift put hers on top. The two looked to the rest of us. Red Plague snorted and put hers in, followed by me and my soldiers. “Kickass on three. One, two, three, kickass!” said Crankshaft. Lucky the soldiers we were here to kill were far enough away not to hear us.
The squad leader of my bodyguards picked a couple of guys who boosted Red Plague up to the rooftop and jumped up after. They stayed low and began to pick their way over to a better position. Minicameras took in my environment, processed it, and projectors created the impression that people from any angle were seeing what was on the other side of me. Thus invisible, I jogged along as quietly as necessary.
A couple of soldiers took up the rear, but the whole group were great at keeping an eye on each other. I decided not to risk taking them out. The vehicles were more important in my eyes. I might even take them all out. “Plague, you in position?”
“I have a good spot. My phage friends are going to be hitting them any second now, then give it a minute for them to feel the full effects.”
“Heartburn? Excessive flatulence? Herpes?” I tried to clarify.
“Vomiting, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes. If I had more time and it wasn’t so hot, I could make them laugh until they shit themselves.”
I chuckled and got into position behind the nearest of the wheeled, skirted, armored hybrid of a jeep and a humvee.
I grabbed for the thing’s skirt, which looked like metal. I dug my fingers in and tried to find something a bit more structural. I had to get under there pretty well until I found a piece solid enough I felt I could lift, all while the thing trundled along. Not everyone knows this, but the secret to lifting heavy objects is to sneak up behind them, lift with your back and power armor. My armor and my enhanced musculature strained. It’s been awhile since I lifted heavy crap.
The skirted thing bucked and jumped, then I lifted and swung, smacking it into another right beside it. I lost my grip, which killed any chance of me using it on the others, and then someone decided to light me up. Even with my armor’s climate control, I still felt the heat rise and my body rush to sweat. I instantly cranked the A/C up so the batteries on my back didn’t explode or anything like that, and tackled the offending soldier. He fell back and I grabbed his gun, shoved the barrel into his mouth, and pulled the trigger to unleash fire from the smoking, hissing barrel point blank into his skull.
Behind me, the metal and napalm sandwich I left behind skidded and rolled, flames wreathing the both of them. They didn’t explode, but both gunners were either cooked or tenderized. Nobody would be using either one of those.
I looked up and through myself to the side to keep from being cut in half like the man underneath me was. The grey man’s tree trunk-wide sword split my own victim and caught fire when the man’s gun exploded. He opened his other hand. A black orb floated out and pulled both of us toward it. There we were, both of our chests stuck to a black magnet. The lack of EM distortion showed it wasn’t magnetic at least, but that wasn’t so fun when I was now stuck within kissing distance of a man whose sword could pleasure a whale.
He raised his sword with no backswing. I popped my Nasty Surprise mini-chainsaws and met his blade to hold it back. My lower arms grabbed at the orb, pushing and beating at it. I switched off one of my Nasty Surprise arms and used the other two to help keep the sword at bay. He went to backswing, but had to cut it short when I grabbed his hand and tried to force it down onto my free chainsaw. He needed to get the sword between us to stop that. And while all that happened, I swiped up with the mini-chainsaw, carving into the orb. It sparked once, twice, three times a lady, and pushed us apart when it burst and fell dead to the ground.
“Let’s dance before I cut your legs off,” the grey man said, flipping the sword around easily.
I sent a silent order to my squad and started charging a gauntlet with energy. “I’ll warm up the big band for you,” I said just before a grenade went off between my opponent’s legs. He flew up, spinning, and every member of my bodyguard unit raised their microguns to have a turkey shoot. The flames surrounding us drowned out the glow surrounding my lower right fist as I force-fed energy into a field that would magnify the effects of my punch.
Despite all the bullets, no blood had been drawn off the guy. My uppercut to his gut changed that. My fist punched a hole in his belly under his ribs and my arm sank in. His neck bulged at the arm sliding up it and his head burst open to reveal my hand. My fingers formed a rudimentary mouth as I put on the world’s goriest ventriloquist act. “Wow, I picked a fight with the wrong woman.”
The sound of someone vomiting drew my attention. Standing next to a pair of downed invaders was Crankshaft, puking. I looked around and found Red Plague among all the downed and soldiers, my guards, and a couple of Greens who held a pistol to the head of one sobbing wounded invader. “Might need to ease off on the disease.”
She shook her head and grimaced looking at me. “That’s not me this time. It’s you.”
“It is you, Psycho Gecko.” I looked over to the Greens. A large man there, long white fur flowing out from his head and forearms, a single long horn glowing amidst the flames. “You’re serious about fighting for us, too.”
“Serious as a heart attack,” I said, tossing the dead clone super aside.
“Then so are the Greens,” Unicorn said.
Red Plague stepped up beside me, her neck stiff to keep from glancing down at the mutilated clone. “And so are the Reds.”
I checked the sky and the massive domeship partially blotting it out. “I’m glad we’re on the same page. Those taint jugglers up there think this is a war epic. Let’s write them a horror story, instead.”