I was in the middle of a very important hair braiding experiment with Qiang when the alarm went off. The system set up by the Claw, the prior ruler, had the city broken up into different sections with an alarm going off in the center of the section to narrow down important areas of conflict. The alarm would lead responders to where a disaster or crisis occurred, while also letting civilians know to steer clear. It wasn’t as convenient for myself, but I got ears. Lots of things I can listen through have ears. I lost a little time protecting the tangled hair, knotted hair from Qiang’s braiding, but it turned out I knew where I was going. So I grabbed Mix N’Max up from where he played some VR game and dragged him with me.
There’s a good reason Claw had the Institute of Science set as the center of its own alarm section and the host of one of the alarms. I wasn’t the first there by any means. Drones had beaten me there and fired the occasional laser beam when something took a potshot at them with either gunfire or blue bolts of energy. Dr. Creeper was outside as well, huddled behind a car and occasionally firing at the entrance of the Institute with a Luger that shot lightning bolts. Next to him was one of the missing mercenaries I’d sent in there to clean up the place, having lost a significant amount of gear and wearing some sort of breathing apparatus. He held a ridiculously over-sized rifle that he used to loose a violet spread of glowing darts back into the entrance of the Institute. The Baroness was present as well, standing on the side of the building as easily as if it was the ground, plunging a knife into an arm that reached out of a hole in the wall to hold her ankle.
The Institute of Science was built to keep a lot of hidden knowledge secret. To that end, it had been built with limited entrances, including a lack of windows someone might use to spy on anything. That made the front entrance one hell of a choke point. I just needed to see what we were choking.
I landed from a low-angle jump, skidding around and lowering myself to one knee as I came to rest against the same car as Dr. Creeper and the merc, setting Max down as well. I asked them, “Sounds like the neighborhood watch has spotted some damn busybodies. What’s going on?”
Max pulled off some gloves he’d been wearing for his VR thing and reached for his syringe gun. “I second that question.”
“I was running tests on the glowing thing!” Creeper said.
Before I could deploy a Told Ya So, the merc spoke up, “Damn glad you did, gramps. I’d be back on that alien world if you hadn’t opened the gateway again. Specialist St. George, reporting for duty!” He stopped yapping and stood up to loose a burst of darts. I noticed several lights on the side of his gigantic gun that shifted from the same color of violet to white after the shot. He knelt back down, keeping an eye on it.
“Just what in there is so eager to get out, Specialist St. George?” I asked.
“The rest of my squad, sir,” he answered, giving the entrance the finger. “The things on the other side of that portal captured us and started messing with us. Experimenting, one man at a time. The last of us managed to make a break for it, made it back to the portal. It looked like we were making our last stand until it opened again.”
“And whatever’s come through can probably hold it open from our side. I’m the only one of us with a shot at sneaking past these guys. I’ll check on the Baroness, make sure she’s good to go, and pop in from where she’s at. The rest of you, keep them pinned down here. Georgie Porgie, anything special I need to know about these guys? They got a prehensile knife-dick now or anything?”
He shook his head. “Not that I saw. Most of them look barely human now, and they don’t go down easy. It’s like they have chain mail for skin and it’s harder to get through to their brains.”
“Thick-headed and slow to fellate I can deal with,” I said. “I’ve let Drone Division know to back you up in keeping them pinned down.” I also advised the Directory to stay well away from the palace grounds underground train entrance and sent orders for Security and soldiers to head there. The loyal Riccan speedster, VelocityRaptor, was already on seen keeping an eye on it and itchin’ to see some LARP-looking motherfuckers poke their heads up from underground. Max had already warned Sam and Holly what was going on before I could get word to Citra or Silver Shark, so they were all hightailing it too.
“I don’t think they’ll push anyway,” St. George said. “They’ll want to bring in as much firepower as they can before break out.”
“Then I better break-in and break ’em before they break out,” I said.
Max put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you good to go?”
“Why wouldn’t Gecko be ready to fight?” asked Creeper. “Did something happen? Is he wounded?”
I shook my head. “Nope, it’s just a holiday for me today. It’s supposed to be a wonderful day in the neighborhood. Looks like it’s time to go introduce myself to some new neighbors.”
I jumped for the side of the building where Baroness had made it too. She had gone higher, avoiding any more handsy soldiers from inside. Where she just stood on the wall in defiance of gravity, I had to at least pay the law of physics some mind by smashing a fist into the wall and grabbing hold to keep myself up. “Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,” I sang, “He’s broken every human law; he breaks the law of gravity.”
“Do you always audition for American Idol in the middle of a fight?” she asked.
“A life and death situation is no time to stop taking things lightly,” I told her. “You ok? They didn’t get you or anything?”
She shook her head and showed off her knife, slick with dark blue blood. “They tried. Careful if you go in expecting veal. These things are cooked well done and tough.”
I nodded. “I’ll make sure to tenderize any of them I need to kill. First, I need to bust on in up here so I can get in and stop them from bringing in all their friends. You got plenty of room for keep-away if they come through the other way, right?”
She let out a laugh and swept her arm over the side of the building.
“I don’t normally say this, but I’m just going to assume that’s an affirmative. Now watch your legs, I’m going in,” I charged up a fist. Energy gathered in a field around the armored gauntlet. I punched the side of the building. The gathered energy converted into kinetic form to bolster the force generated by a reinforced exoskeleton and enhancing pseudomuscles. The wall cracked easily and I forced my way through the weakened outer shell of the structure.
I ended up in one of the upper floor offices and activated the hologram system. Though not as evenly distributed, the system on this armor was still capable of hiding me from the vast majority of prying eyes. No telling if the modified mercenaries I’d be facing still had eyes I could fool. So, as would be prudent, I decided to experiment.
A room over I found the hole and transfigured merc who threatened the Baroness. He was busy repairing the arm that had been sliced nearly through, holding some sort of device over it. He looked thicker alright. He was down to underlayers on whatever uniform he’d been in. Fingers ended in claws. His bald head had little nubs along it. And his arm slowly oozed dark blue blood instead of the normal red. It was through the cut skin that I saw armor below the skin. Little overlapping armor plates caused the nubs. They were hidden as flesh and muscle rapidly grew and knitted together under the device. That seemed handy.
I decided to get a closer look, so I grabbed his head and twisted it around. Its eyes were covered in mirrored lenses and the mouth could no longer close properly. Some metal thing had been installed with a tube that twisted back around to connect to something on the front of his chest. He growled me, though, it seems the neck was of higher quality than most humans’.
I stepped back as he brought his arms around to reach straight back for whatever had given him a new view on life. I moved to the side to see if he’d follow. Nope. So it looks like I was invisible to these guys. I put my arm into its chest and pulled out one of its hearts. Then the other. Yeah, a little tougher.
While I learned a lot from pulling out that guy’s hearts, like most good science, I had to move on. I had a lot more of these mercs to sneak past as they shambled around the Institute of Science. I didn’t think I’d sent in this many, which was another thing to make note of, but none of the things I encountered as I moved down through the facility appeared to be anything other than human in origin. I stepped over a couple of their dead bodies as well and even took a gun from one’s cold, dead hands. Sturdy, heavy stuff, designed to help resist recoil from ammo that didn’t look like brass, steel, copper, or lead. I set it down just before rounding a corner, right in time to trip up another of the transmogrified mercs as they rounded it.
By the time I’d gotten to the weird, glowy crystal room, I’d stopped getting passed by so many of the mercs. Inside the room, I found the central podium lit up. Instead of a crystal or a container, I saw a green sky and dark pyramidal shapes further away that could have been buildings. It was all wavy, though. A flesh-colored shape approached, but the portal got all wavy and I couldn’t see too well.
On this side, though, one of the former mercs stood at a console, a cable running from it to the base of the podium. I walked over and knelt down. Something rumbled as I got closer to the portal. A tentacle shot out at me from the portal, more literally once I pulled the cable apart and the portal disappeared, leaving behind the glowing crystal floating in its place. And the tentacle. The severed appendage slapped into me and knocked me on my ass. Meanwhile, the merc furiously punched buttons on the console before picking up his rifle and firing at me. I still had a tentacle draped all over me, after all.
The impacts rang my bell, but I found they weren’t all being deflected. I grabbed the tentacle and got to my feet, swinging it like a whip to knock the gun away from the inhuman soldier of fortune. I also tried reaching outside the Institute to let everyone know they could move in, but the place was still built in such a way as to keep people from transmitting data out.
I set that problem aside for later and jumped over, my knee smacking hard into the merc’s throat and sending him toppling with me on top. I reached down and grabbed his leg, bending it over him so I could hit in him the face with his own boot. “Why you kickin’ yourself? Why you kickin’ yourself?” I asked. He punched at the invisible fellow on top of him that he still couldn’t see. I’ve taken harder hits off bongs.
It seemed as good a time as any to see about an autopsy. Sure, he wasn’t dead yet, but that was a minor detail easily rectified by me pulling his organs out one by one until he expired. Then I had to race for the surface. The mercs had barricaded the entrance to keep any potential counter offensive’s at bay. Unfortunately at them, I’m a master at being offensive, and the threatening phone call was coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!
They hardly noticed the trio of headless rubber chickens that marched along, trying to find a road to cross. They exploded before making it to the other side, destroying the barricades and killing more than a few of the assembled post-humans. I stepped among them, stomping on heads and kicking balls until I got close enough to send out a call they also didn’t hear. “Portal’s closed. Let’s move in and secure the Institute. Soldiers of Ricca, we’re operating under Gecko’s X-Com Protocol: try to take one or two alive if convenient and safe, but don’t worry if you have to kill each and every one of them.”
Then, while drones, supers, soldiers, and peace officers flooded in, I put out another call. “Ouroboros, I think I found ourselves a group bonding activity,” I bent down to pull one of those healing gadgets from the hands of a wounded merc. I dropped down, smacking the crotch of my armor against its face until it went still from the malicious teabagging. Or whatever it’s called when you don’t have teabags at the moment. “And I think it’ll make people some serious money.”