You could cut the tension as the invasion day approached, but most people were saving their knives for the invaders. We got most of the civilians rounded up. The old geothermal power plant had space, as did the tunnels for the underground high speed rail. Others took shelter in old black sites. Anyone who wished to leave the island was allowed. I’d have pushed for a general evacuation, but there’s really no telling where all will be hit. That’s the same reason I didn’t recall all my agents or my wife. Informing us of the invasion ahead of time may be of questionable strategy, but it created a lot of uncertainty and confusion that can work against us in the initial strike.
Those who wanted to fight were given the opportunity for that as well. The training kept my soldiers ready and helped them focus. We could always use the manpower. Beetrice didn’t stay, but at least we have VelocityRaptor back, mostly healed from that business in Africa. He failed to kill Velociraptor. We’ve also still got Silver Shark, who decided to take up position near the beach with the Deep One militia. Bronze Rhino, another Claw creation, was pulled out of his homestead in the wilderness and sobered up to help defend the city. We needed him to fight, and his alcohol for Molotovs.
So the clocks tick-tocked away, bringing us closer and closer to a clash. I finished doing what I could to my armor. Plenty of integrated nanite-holding quilt on the inner layer, spiked blades on knees and elbows, and as many chicken grenades and explosive throwing knives as I could pack.
Venus watched me as I worked in my study. “Are you ready?”
I laughed. “Is anybody truly ready?”
“Did you have one of Max’s brownies he’s passing around? You shouldn’t have dulled reactions right now,” she said.
I shook my head and turned to look at her, “I am fully in control of my own faculties. Razor sharp, you might say.”
“You look tense.” She walked over and ran her hands through my hair. “How do you feel?”
I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling. “A little tense and excited. You?”
“The same. The big fights don’t announce when they’re coming. I had the Academy send me my exoskeleton through Cape Diem. Don’t worry, I repainted it in my new colors.” She stopped running my head and I reached up to hold her hand.
We stayed like that for several seconds, then I smiled and made the situation worse with singing. “It’s an emergency, call the police, you left me and abandoned the lease.” The guitar, bass, and drums started up when I put on the actual song to cover up my disastrous singing voice.
Venus giggled, then started dancing when I stood up. I heard a squeal from the doorway to find Qiang dancing there to “Gave You Everything” by The Interrupters. I pulled Venus over so I could grab Qiang and lift her up. Further down the hall, Sam rocked out, then hopped on something and played an imaginary guitar.
It was just stupid fun to music. It was right. It was what we needed and it broke the tension. And it was just in time, because pretty much everything we were using to detect an incursion went off at once. I didn’t know whether to expect a portal or a craft of some sort. We got both, but the portals were temporary and the craft were floating and flying. The things in the sky had hull like ship with a narrow angle. Could have been some sort of floating battleship or destroyer for all I know ship designations. The ones in the water were wider and more round, like if someone made a circular aircraft carrier and loaded the deck with guns.
Some of those ended up cut into pieces when the barrier went up. Explosions rippled across it from where the flying ships had fired already. Some were inside the dome of the shield already when it went up.
I dropped everything and began to suit up, sending out an address while I did so. “People of Ricca, the invasion is incoming. Stay in the shelters unless they’re compromised. If possible, we will evacuate you to areas of the world not under attack. I will not leave you. I’ll keep fighting. You might doubt me as a benevolent leader. Honestly, I don’t think any good leader can be a good person. Ha! By that metric, I’d be an excellent leader. Don’t trust me because of morality. Trust me to be a monster unleashed on your enemies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set a new world record for most bowels perforated with a single fist.”
This is why people hire speechwriters. More competent speakers give these events a certain gravitas.
I flexed my armor and reached for my helmet. Qiang held it up for me, in a smaller, less spiky version of my armor. She didn’t have her helmet on either and smiled at me. Mindful of the spikes, I grabbed her for a hug. “I love you.”
“Love you too, mommy,” she said, setting it on my head. It sealed into place and she walked over to the desk where I’d left my helmet, grabbing her knife and helmet.
“I want you underground, staying safe,” I told her. “And keep your armor on.”
“Yes mama!” she yelled, running off with her helmet past Venus. The heroine rested against the doorway, a smile visible underneath the chrome visor obscuring most of her face.
“You ready?” she asked.
I nodded. “You?”
“Yeah. Time to fight the good fight,” she said, as if that line wasn’t designed to make my eyes roll.
Sam and Holly stayed behind, so it was just the three of us setting out from the palace: Max, Venus, and Gecko. Max twirled a syringe gun in one hand, a spray gun in the other, careful of the bandoleer full of smoke grenades. Venus scanned the area and pulled out a staff that extended. I called over a larger drone that attached underneath the armored battery pack on my back, adding a large pair of lasers designed for heavy use hanging off each side of me, and a stand on my shoulder on which a pair of my normal-sized drones settled with their smaller beam weapons.
Out in the waters, Silver Shark and the Deep One marines had capsized a trio of the invading ships, which shot a lot of empty buildings on the waterfront. Some of those inside tried to swim to shore despite segmented armor, but I had more Deep Ones than they had exceptional swimmers.
The seafaring ships outside the barrier had pressed against it. They were glowing some orange color and slowly easing through. I contacted my submarine, who assured me they had everything in hand. The message came through about the time I saw the explosions tear through the ships. My admiral figured that the natural compliment to a shield around the island is a minefield around the shield. There weren’t many living invaders left to argue the efficacy of that.
I was beginning to think I wouldn’t even get to use my armor when white portals began to swallow the battleship aircraft outside the shield. New white portals opened in the air over the water, spitting them back out. They began to adjust targets.
The Intercept team was on it with surface-to-air missiles and drones. The first shots of the battlecraft crashed into the Directory building and probably wrecked my favorite chair. They turned to adjust aim once the first of our missiles began to blow holes in them. My guys focused on three of these things equally for way too long before concentrating fire on the closest. Whatever kept the battlecraft afloat in the air didn’t compensate for the hits and it rocked back and forth until something gave out and it crashed into the water. The other two focused on the military base. Note to self: when rebuilding the military base, include its own shield. Same for the new Directory building and the Palace.
The next craft to go down was dissected in a fucking grid pattern by laser drones. It was beautiful. It swung and dipped, just barely missing the remaining battlecraft. Gotta give them points for trying. That craft ended up smacking into shallower water, part of the hull crumpling on the beach.
The invaders changed tactics. Four portals began to open up at ground level and stayed open for thirty seconds. “Anyone left at Intercept who sees where these things are coming in?” I asked over my command channel.
“Affirmative, Empress. Intercept Field Unit is deployed. We have eyes on rifts and are passing the locations on, triaging per your orders.”
All are equal under the Empress, but some places are more equal than others. The base’s capabilities are reduced, but we need the power plant and the shield. We need the people in the shelters if they threaten any of them.
After that, more opened. I wasn’t paying so much attention to those, because one of those first sets of portals opened right in front of my group. The ones most eager to die were a bunch of guys who must have interrupted their beard-growing contest to get killed being the most prominent group. There were a few others mixed in. It was a pretty diverse bunch.
I giggled and began to dance, pumping out the next song on my murder playlist, Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage. I spun and slid onto my knees, hands in the air, waving like I just didn’t care, while the heavy lasers and the laser drones I personally commanded went to town on them. The first wave just died. Whatever segmented armor they had wasn’t that good at handling light. Some of the ones to survive were grey guys in tights and vests. A small blossom of light appeared where they were hit. Max tossed one of his grenades and hid behind me. They didn’t come out the other side of the thick blue smoke that spread all over the edge of the courtyard. The stream of enemies came around the sides, but something did walk out of the smoke. I caught a glimpse in between mowing down their buddies.
There were three clunky robots. Heavy metal plating and bolts on the torso chest, head, arms, and legs. It had a thick support connecting the chest to the legs, but didn’t bother with all those delicious parts of living critters. These were some old school robots, staring out at us through slots in their heads that glowed with red lights. Venus stepped up in front of myself and Max. She held her staff in her right hand, angled to avoid the metal spike she extended from the gauntlet. Electricity arced from it, then up along the staff which she swept over the robots. Ball lighting flew forth, throwing off smaller tendrils on its way into the middle of the robots. The others who got too close didn’t take it any better than the miraculous metal men did.
We were barely done with that group when another portal opened behind us. The future corpses who ran out of that one included some in old wool outfits and flintlocks, of all things. I held out a hand and gestured for them to bring it. Venus grabbed my arm and tugged me to the side when one of them fired at me, with Max diving behind me. Behind me, a person-sized hole appeared in the wall around the courtyard.
I targeted the flintlock shooters first after that. Max ducked beneath my legs to fire into the crowd with his gun and called out, “Thanks Venus!”
“Yeah, thanks,” I said, a bit grumbly. Ugh, my nemesis I’m in love with saved my life. Time to go write in my diary about how unfair my life is and how I’m so embarrassed I’m just gonna DIE. Wait, is this not the teen drama portion of the narrative? Oh, right, I was murdering folks.
Intercept contacted me for an update after we’d finished with that bunch. “Empress, we have reports of dinosaurs loose in the city. The food growers are under siege and summoned a giant demon plant for assistance. Additionally, VelocityRaptor has responded. The Institute is under attack as well. Dr. Creeper, Bronze Rhino, and Arachnoid are defending. All fronts are holding. The sea battle is over. Silver Shark is bringing the Deep Ones ashore to flank the enemy.”
“Anywhere look like it could stand some reinforcement?” I asked.
“The skeleton crew at the water treatment plant reported an attack. We have dispatched a Flyer and squad to take it back, but we are low on available manpower.”
“I thought we told them to evacuate with the rest…” I looked to Venus and Max. “We’re heading to the water treatment plant to expel some waste. Don’t let them touch the water there if you want to keep them down for good.”
Venus nodded, but I caught something moving toward us out of the corner of my eye. By the time I turned to look, one of those grey fucks was right up in my face, pushing me. The wall we passed through stunned me a bit. You know, like they do. Wrecked my big drone, I think. The grey speedster let me go and I crashed through another wall, and another, and into a small refrigerator in someone’s kitchen. The family left a pot on the stove and rice in a bag nearby. And a superspeedster coming through a hole to stop right in front of me and punch the crap out of my armor. He grabbed my throat. I tried to put a spike through his eye, but he dodged it. I sent a straight at his gut, but he was elsewhere the moment it would have hit. I brought my arm down on his elbow and instead he was choking me with his other hand.
I looked him in his blank eyes and raised my arms. “Really dude?” I asked, despite the tightening grip that threatened to shut off my air supply. But you know what’s faster than super speed most of the time? Light. Guess who has a laser built into her helmet? This bitch. I fired the trio of lasers in my helmet into his eyes and face, for just a moment. The speedy fucker clutched his head.
I laughed my ass off and grabbed him. I pulled open the refrigerator door and pulled him in, smashing the door against his head. He stumbled back away, pushing at me. I caught a beer before it fell out and smashed it over his cranium. I put my heel into his crotch, grabbed him, and threw him against the stovetop. I didn’t need to be a speedster to stick the pot on his head and hit the lasers again. I fried his noggin in the pot. I’d have done it slow, but he was fast. Now he’s a past tense person.
I stepped out, checking on the situation. Venus and Max were on their way to the water treatment plant. I figured I could rendezvous with them, or I could turn right and see why it was suddenly a shady day. I looked, and there stood a sixteen foot tall bird staring down at me with hungry eyes. It opened its beak and roared, showing off a mouth full of rows of sharp teeth.
Command channel time. “I might kill this one, but if we happen to have a spare giant dino bird after this is all over with, I would be happy to have a new pet.” Its beaky maw snatched me up. “This one wants to play already!” It tried to chew me. I put my hands up and stopped it, then stood up on its tongue. I cut the comms channel and addressed the bird directly. “You need to remain calm and stop trying to eat me, or this relationship is never going to work. And it can work! Just look at how things turned out with Venus! All I had to do was change my life, kill fewer people, medicate, have a kid, take responsibility for a bunch of people I don’t know, set up rules for supervillains, and save the world like a dozen times.”
More crap for the diary, in between talking about who I have a crush on and what I want my prom dress to look like, like ohmigosh.
I punched the top of the birdasaur’s mouth. It opened wider and tried again. This time, it caught an elbow blade. It roared and shook its head. I fell out. I hopped up on the birdasaur’s beak and stared it in the eye. “Hey there, critter. I’m your new best friend. I’m gonna hug you and clean up after you and ride you to slaughter my enemies.”
The bird shook its head, then smashed me into the side of the building. I pulled myself up and flipped around to sit on its neck. It hopped and flapped its tiny arms, trying to get rid of me. It rolled over in the street. I don’t crush so easy. I stayed on and gave a “Yippee-ki-yay!” when we came up.
On the street below us, scaly emu things ran along, hissing and growling. I pointed down at them. “Chow down!”
The birdasaur tried to shake me off, but it knew a meal when it saw it. It snatched one up for a meal. At the end of the street, a group of the bearded soldiers and grey men stepped out. They swiped at the emus to chase them off. A soldier raised his sword to point at me. One of the grey men stepped up and raised his hands. A purple ray shot from his hands and singed the feathers on my mount.
I laughed. “Kill, my pretty! Slaughter every last one of them and feast on their bones!” It didn’t seem to need much encouragement after those pitiful attempts to shoot me. It ran into them and started biting. I even hopped down to go after that one grey guy. “That all you got? I killed a guy with super speed earlier. I’ve seen some of your buddies fly and take missiles. ‘Sup?”
He tried shooting me and all the blast did was leave a dark mark on my armor. He tried again and still did nothing. A raider sung at me from the side. I caught the blade and pulled it free from his hands, flipped it around to take the grip, and shoved it through his mouth. I grabbed the blade again and pulled it free, then kicked the body up into the air where my new pet chomped on it. When I turned back to the grey guy who shot at me, he was running. I jumped over him to land in his way. He skidded short and raised his hands in front of his face. “Please-!”
I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over. “I like it when they beg. You want me to like you? Beg more. Tell me things.” I laughed and grabbed him. “Why are you so weak when some of you things are so strong?”
“We are clones,” it told me. It shook as the birdasaur roared.
I slapped its face. “Don’t pay attention to that thing, pay attention to me. You’re clones, right?”
“We are made. Some of us have strong powers. If we are loyal and strong, we are promoted to serve the masters. If not, we serve with the vassals from the provinces.”
I brushed off his tights. “There you go. Good guy, telling me things.” I punched him and knocked him out. I saw a car nearby and carried him over. He fit pretty well into the trunk. My new pet roared at me, read for another go, but then squad of robotmen rounded the corner. I yelled back, “Tag, you’re it!” and ran for them. They raised their arms and shot bolts of molten metal at me. I could feel that, whatever it was. I could also turn invisible, and did so. Shooting like that didn’t make the birdasaur happy, and it couldn’t even eat these ones.
I watched it have fun with them from a rooftop nearby. I glanced up to look around, seeing Psycho Flyers all about. Some of them fired down on hotspots, like one over by the water treatment plant. “This is the Empress. Status update?”
“The portals have stopped, your eminence. The enemy is divided, but most large groups are breaking off to concentrate on the shield building.”
“Reinforce the building as best you can to make sure it doesn’t fall. Let them gather,” I said. I hate that kind of wait. The Institute, farm, and water treatment detachments never made it to the rally point because they got fed pavement with some serious velocity with the help of my guys. The Deep Ones and soldiers used the big gathering to start clearing sections of the city. The weird dino-bird things were the main trouble there. It’s like someone opened up portals to an alternate dinosaur era and let the wildlife run through.
And then, with more than a thousand people banging away at the power plant’s gates, water rose from manholes and drains outside of it. The army might have taken it for a minor inconvenience until the itching started. Being taken apart piece by piece will do that to you. Some tried even harder to break in, but the Psycho Flyers massed to drop my people in there and to concentrate firepower on that front. The ones who tried to run found out hard that is when your feet are falling apart. Whoops, then they fell into the water.
I guided my new feathered friend as best as I could to watch, making sure the nanites knew not to eat this one. Sure, it still tried to fight me and throw me into things, but I think we were getting used to one another. It was a good enough place to watch as the invaders found out that I am quite literally the master of this island.
When the screaming was over, I called up Max. “I got a big boy for you to tranquilize. Or girl. I don’t know how to sex a bird.”
“Come now,” Max said with a chuckle in his voice.
“I was drunk that time,” I reminded him.
“Hey, butting in here, what’s going on?” asked Venus. “Did we win?”
I added Command to the line. “Well, did we win?”
The voice on the other line gave a rundown. “The enemy is no longer a coherent force at anything but the squad level. The city has been 24% cleared. The portals are stopped, the craft are in retreat. The Battle of Ricca appears to be over.”
I clapped my hands. “Very good. I’m guessing, not everyone was as lucky?”
“The United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia, and China were all invaded by significantly larger forces of differing effectiveness. In addition, the United States and Russia are fighting traitors. There are other nations fighting, including North Korea. Some have surrendered. We are assembling a list of others who repelled their invasions.”
“There’s your answer then, Venus,” I told her. “Today, Ricca. Tomorrow… the world!”
My ambition blinded me. It lit up the sky, though Intercept broke in with and explained things differently. “Large rift opening outside the dome.”
The image I saw was basically a giant gun with engines on it to keep it afloat. And maybe something loose in the water way behind it, but the big weapon might just do it for me here. The huge barrel pointed at us glowed, then shot what looked like a miniature sun at our shield.
“Brace your sphincters, everyone,” I told announced.
The energy blast blinded us as it approached, even though the tinting functionality on my helmet’s display. It struck the shield and lashed out like it was releasing solar flares. The shield went red in a ripple that rolled out from that point, audibly crackling loud enough to drown out even the communication device sealed to my head. The shield and the sun both disappeared at once.
“Casualties at the power plant!” I heard someone call out. “Evacuate and triage!”
I didn’t tell them not to bother. I patted the birdasaur and pulled at its neck feathers until its head turned in the right direction and it began to run for the gun. “Status on our D-bomb stockpile?”
Creeper answered, “It appears an infiltrator reached Bomb Storage with an incendiary device. We have no functional D-Bombs.”
“I’m moving to intercept,” I announced.
“That’s crazy,” Venus said.
“Looks like I’m perfect for it,” I told her. I saw the gun’s barrel glowing again. I knew perfectly well I’d never make it, and never be able to do anything to it. But when there’s nothing left but death, might as well let it know you’re not afraid of it.
I had regrets, though. Plenty, including for my daughter.
A beam from high in the sky struck the rear of the gun, pushing the barrel upward. The enormous energy blast it fired went well overhead, but close enough we felt the heat. I couldn’t tell if it was going to angle back to Earth and make someone’s day infinitely more shitty, but it missed us. The gunship began to slowly turn to face whatever hit it.
A blue satellite with a barrel of its own in between a trio of large solar panel arms lowered from the sky. Below it, a yellow aircraft carrier carried a humongous green tank. A pink submarine broke the surface with a jump, and a red fighter jet soared overheard.
“Oh no,” I said.
The aircraft carrier rose up like it was flipping forward. The tank backed up it while its deck split apart. The tank reached the end and fitting onto it. A fore section of the carrier bent at a 90 degree angle as it finished becoming a pair of legs attached to a green tank torso. The sub leaped into the air again, splitting apart. One half attached to the upper left of the tank. The other caught on the upper right and swiveled around. The jet flew up and curved back down, aimed at the rear of the tank. It somehow slowed, the fighter shifting to reveal a metal face as it slid into the rear of the tank, slotted in. Finally, the satellite. The giant robot reached for the tank’s cannon. The cannon split off easily, as did the barrel of the satellite as it came down. The satellite attached to the back of the robot, two of its panels forming wings that hung down behind it. The other panel arm broke off and attached to the barrel that had come undone from the satellite, then that section fitted into the end of the tank’s cannon to form a sort of sword.
“Venus, what did you do?” I asked.
“I asked them for help, like you said,” she informed me, a hunt of smugness in her voice.
The gunship fired again, this time trying to destroy the Justice Rangers. The robot batted it away with its sword, then raised it high. The sword glowed as bright as the sun. The robot went into a stance like it was taking a step to sprint toward it. The robot flew along the surface of the water, kicking up a spray of water to either side as it closed on the gunship, then past it. The sword stopped and the robot straightened up, standing in the shallow water by the beach. Behind it, the gunship fell apart into halves that exploded.
I was saved by the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers.
Things have changed since my men arrived. The Hares were spread out in smaller search parties that seemed like a good idea when they thought they could overpower me. When my guys arrived, they caught several search parties by surprise. Not all made it back, but not enough are in a state to provide usable intel. My guys get first priority treatment with the nanites.
And after days living off whatever I could find in the wilderness, I got first priority on the rations. My weird correspondence with that projection mostly abated, though he showed himself a couple of times. I was halfway through an MRE of rice and pork when he appeared. “I don’t believe I have ever, and I mean ever, seen someone so happy to eat food meant to survive a bomb.”
“All the howling from the wolf and those sniffers drove away whatever game is normally here,” I mentioned around a mouthful of rice. “I have had to eat things you wouldn’t believe.”
“You have a lot of nerve complaining about nuts and berries,” he said, shking his head.
I shrugged. “Not a fan of the berries, but the nuts came in their own gravy. And people prefer the term ‘Rocky Mountain Long Oysters,’ thank you very much.”
“I dearly hate interrupting a meal, but I believe some of the people inside are trying to get away and another team are moving to reinforce the lodge,” he pointed in two different directions.
I called up the commander of the expeditionary force, because we needed a regular military command in addition to my own whims. As a dictator, I may be in ultimate command, but it’s best not to leave every piece of military strategy to a gal who just spent her morning teabagging a corpse with another body’s torn-off teabags. “I have a tip about some runners. Same rules of engagement as the rest of this. Dead bodies are no big deal.”
I set off in the direction my projected adviser said the reinforcements were coming from. He informed me that, “These are good Samaritans. It seems real reinforcements are unaccounted for. Neither group is prepared for the heat you bring.”
I didn’t realize I’d found them until I was hauled off the ground by man resembling a tree trunk with twisted root legs and branches for arms. He held me up in the air and stretched his trunk above the tree line. “Is this the lady causing all this fuss?”
“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” called a man below me. A… rather hunky guy. I’m not usually into that sort of thing on a guy. A long beard, dark as ripe forest soil. A chest bare except for a thick carpet of hair. Stag horns on his head and a fuzzy little tail sticking out above the loincloth that covered up all his naughty bits. The dirty feet weren’t my thing. Most of him wasn’t my thing. But at the time, I could see myself being his thing. “I am a lord of forests. I offer freedom for freedom. You for the prisoners in the chateau.”
“Mmm, how about some petite death in exchange for not giving you some big death?” I asked. “I’ll break your dick off so I don’t break his stick off.” I nodded toward the tree man.
The tree guy spoke up with his creaky, amused voice, though he addressed the horny guy below me. “This may be the rare time your power over women should be tamped down.”
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “Someone’s getting’ awful assume-y about my gender just because I like having boobs and pretty dresses. Bend over and I’ll show you how hard a dicking I can give you without a dick.”
He shook me around a bit. “Hush.”
I reached down, grabbed the first finger wrapping around my torso, and snapped it to the side. “This wittle pitty went to market…”
He threw me at the ground, where I bounced off and coughed up something liquid in my helmet. Aside from that and the overwhelming pain in my chest, I was probably fine. Couldn’t have broken more than three ribs, the pussy. When I stood, I found the lord of the forest standing in front of me and he didn’t look quite so friendly anymore. I suddenly noticed those hands and feet tapered off into claws. I pointed off to the side, “Holy fuck, it’s Johnny Cash!”
He turned to look. I shoved my boot into his groin. And then I flew back from the force of the kick, my knee feeling like it was going to take a vacation. Or at least a break for awhile. I projected invisibility, but was thrown into the air before I could do much of anything. A friggin’ tree grew up under me and tossed me up to about face height on the tree guy, who swiped and caught me in a mass of branches and leaves where his hands had been before. As they caught onto me, vines grew and pulled my arms and legs apart. I had a little freedom for twisting and pulling, but the forest lord guy put his hand on the leg of the tree guy and I was suddenly pulled taut.
“Hope your men will be more agreeable than you are, Empress,” said the lord as they started making their way through the forest.
I had my personal drones, but I figured I’d wait. Just a bit. While I was at it, I called up my commander. “I’m gonna need our specials for a little job.”
“Yes, Empress. They are not being utilized at this moment.”
“Good, I’ll see to them personally.”
I noticed that whatever strength increase the tree guy got, it faded fairly soon. But I didn’t break way then until the three markers on my HUD got close enough. Then, I brought my drones up. Their lasers carved through the vines holding me and allowed me to tear my legs free. From there, I jumped onto the shoulder of the big tree man.
Down below, the forest lord turned to look up at us. Then a bronze-armored man on all fours plowed into him with a shiny titanium horn at forty miles an hour. Most people would have been killed instantly. The forest lord fell was knocked down. Bronze Rhino had to shake the impact off, too. He’d been one of the rescues form China who used to serve The Claw. I didn’t get his whole story, but he decided to wear the armor again because he had nowhere else to go.
VelocityRaptor skidded to a stop. The chrome cyborg opened the jaws of the raptor head on his his armor and unleashed a gout of flame upon the downed hunk, who went up like a leaf and screamed like a Wilhelm.
“No!” called tree guy. He raised a foot to stomp, but got my cutting into the side of his head with a Nasty Surprise on one arm.
“Hey big guy, got wood?” I asked.
He began to fall. I looked down and saw a buff woman with cybernetic parts resembling a shark pushing on the tree man’s foot, pushing him over. Rawr. Now Silver Shark’s my kind of woman. The kind with more machine parts than organic ones, who barely even looks like a woman through all the muscles. It works for me, may not for you, dear reader. Find someone your body parts want you to be with, either brain or below, and do what comes unnatural and depraved.
Giving Tree here was as susceptible to fire as his friend. With that lordly fellow busy becoming dust in the wind, we chased after a crawling tree to hack and burn away at him. In short, we tore him a new ash hole. And I began to wonder if I needed a flamethrower drone. The real problem’s the fuel, ya see…
That distraction forced my forces a little thin, but the chateau people never got away. We settled in for another night behind barricades made of downed trees that blocked the view of my people from the folks in the hunting lodge. Everything quieted down at night ever since the howling trackers attempted a midnight sortie our first night here. The men built campfires behind the barricades, but the would-be commandos found nobody around them. When they rushed in, they were the only dark shapes moving around bright fires against a background of wood barricades. The fire lit them up, and then so did the guards on duty. Shame, though. It would have been a good strategy if my commander hadn’t proven himself to be a cunning chap. A way to try and wear us down in the dark.
I was happy to teach the commandos some comman-don’ts.
I settled in at dusk, healing those ribs and checking on the embassy attaches in Paris who had the unenviable job of finding and babysitting Qiang when my quick trip here turned into a longer affair. Then my spirit animal showed himself again and I realized I hadn’t seen the denim jacket dude since he sent me after the giant woody and his horny friend. “Good going earlier. Now, I don’t suppose you would want to see the secret entrance to the chateau’s basement, would you not?”
“Would I?” I asked, not entirely sure how the double negatives worked out there. I got it figured out after a little counting. “I might.”
Even as the sun fell, the trip around the entire area didn’t leave me exposed. We had drones and Flyers set up to monitor the perimeter. One of the squaddies or privates or whatever we call them even figured out they could detach breaching cameras to provide a better view. We had the better view and superior communications. Better weapons, tougher armor, and nobody around to stop us. Technically, NATO was supposed to be meeting about us, but the current American President threw a temper tantrum. So it’s pretty much open season in Europe nowadays. I get the feeling a lot more countries are going to start developing their militaries accordingly. But for now, that means I control this part of France.
Even, it seems, a weathered wooden door hidden behind a bush against a hill. “That’s the escape tunnel, eh?” I said. I looked it over. The door had vines crawling on it. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been pulled loose. The dirt around the bush didn’t appear trod upon. A few people might have gotten out if they were careful, but they hadn’t pulled off a bigger escape.
“You should go in,” the denim-clad projection suggested. “Have some fun with them. They won’t even know you’re there.”
I thought about it. And I thought about my aching ribs. And how I didn’t know what this guy was playing at, other than that he was one of the Hares who found some benefit in me killing some of them. Though, if anyone asks, nobody I killed was superhuman. I mean, not like there are any bodies left of the reinforcements from earlier, right?
So I turned and began to walk back to camp. “One moment, let me just get a little something handy…”
The projection grinned as I went back and grabbed a crate out of one of the Psycho Flyers. He wasn’t quite so happy to see me pull out a directional mine and rig it so that anyone trying to get out that door would learn a valuable lesson about being flammable next to explosives. “I could do that, or I could use this thing to track if they’re trying to escape.”
“That’s a mine,” he pointed out.
I nodded, “Yep. It’ll tell me exactly when someone came this way and got blown up.
He disappeared, leaving me to read a story to my daughter over the phone and contemplate just what the Hares, all of the Hares, were up to. It hasn’t escaped my attention that this guy might be sending me off into fights meant to get me caught or killed, that wascally wabbit.
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 at 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 hadn’t thought 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.”
I insisted I didn’t want a big ceremony. I was still insisting it as they uncovered a gilded statue of me. I still insisted, but, ya know, gilded statue. Quietly, I insisted. But still I insisted. Gold’s a bit tacky in those amounts… in the powerful curves of my armor… bringing to life the fierce expression on my helmet. Sometimes, you don’t realize how pretty something is until you see a giant version made of valuable metal.
The gilty party in question was a statue of my armor, since that’s how I appear to most people. I’m usually seen out and about in my armor, though the Directors insisted I make an exception. The people here are so confident in their newly-gained self rule that they completely blew off any ideas I had of making this a smaller affair. “It’s not every day that the Emperor marries,” said one guy with a really tall top hat. “You’ll look amazing in your regalia.” He smartly turned, clicking his heels together, and walked off.
“Regalia?” I asked, thinking to pictures of kings in pantaloons and heavy spotted coats, heavy crowns on their heads and holding orbs. “It better not be something where I end up holding some balls!” I hear they’re heavy, just like those big crowns, and I’m already picking up one ball and chain.
Ugh. I’m relying heavily on cliche here, but I have to watch how much things go that way. Cliche is predictable. Predictability is an easy way to die. So it was that I watched my back thoroughly when I stood at the altar in fancy robes, a sash forming an X across my chest. It was part of the tradition on Ricca.
I don’t know if they cared about Western wedding traditions, but I hit up the town for a night of strippers and blow anyway. I was awoken the next morning by the owner of the petting zoo, who found me in a cage with a pair of dead hookers and a pregnant goat. “It’s not what it looks like!” I said to the man, who stared at me like someone whose world had come crashing down. I tried to explain and pointed to the hookers, “They were already dead when I found them last night!” The goat licked my face then, so I pushed its head away and pointed to its very heavy belly, “And, uh, I’m pretty sure this thing was already knocked up.”
Somewhere there’s a pissed-off CIA section chief berating his spies, saying, “Do you know who this guy is? We need more than zombie prostitutes and interspecies erotica to hold over his head! That’s every goddamn Wednesday for him!”
At least the goat had been shaved lately. Elda’s people were a little behind the time in grooming standards for women.
As far as guests went, I invited all the people I was told were important. More than that, I had other guests I expected. A squad of Deep One militia had spotted a trireme while on patrol. They offered to go and blow it up with more mines, but I declined. I wouldn’t mind them rigging something to blow up the ship once the survivors of that little voyage set sail again, but the Deep Ones haven’t shown me they can be trusted to follow those kinds of orders yet.
They normally prefer weddings in real buildings, but they had to balance the importance of the occasion with the lack of a real palace. The Directors were more than happy to let us borrow their marquee. Fun fact: a really big tent is called a marquee.
Elda stood there with a white dress on, Chinese style with a high collar, a flower laurel in her hair. She’d actually bathed and allowed herself to be made up, and it improved on her looks.
They’d attempted to keep her as close to Riccan traditions as possible, but she’d resisted and clearly won the right to carry a knife with her. She’d made her point to the Directors about needing to sacrifice to her gods during the ceremony. And something about the two of us bathing each other. They worked in some of her traditions, and arranged for animal sacrifice beforehand. It gave the chefs time to sneak the corpse of the lamb to the kitchen. I checked the knife for blood regardless.
To get us to standing in front of the altar, I had to skip a LOT of drudgery. And, like everyone in the middle of getting married, I knew y’all were eager to skip to all the action. I most certainly was.
So I stood there, at the altar, looking uncomfortable, with some strange woman I don’t know holding my hands and looking into my eyes, joining her life to mine, or whatever things people associate with weddings. If I had to put a name to the feelings running through me at the moment, I would have said paranoia, frustration, and a desire to kill someone. But those are the standard ones I have all the time. Confusion added to it as I tried to consider the whole marriage thing and what the fuck it’s even for. I’m going to go with property rights as my final answer on that one.
Case in point, someone tried to give me an axe. Instead of being laid out on one of the tables full of gifts, it came in the hand of a sweaty muscled guy crashing through the top of the tent. It would have made quite the surprise if he wasn’t screaming. I instinctively pulled Elda close, but people probably mistook that for trying to shield her rather than myself. Vercingetorix turned the blade away from hitting her, which meant it missed me by happy coincidence. Perhaps as a consequence of him and his gang coming in from above, the tent started to collapse inward.
I turned to get Elda and I out, but a clang and a pain in my side preceded me getting lifted and thrown. When I landed, I have to say I was impressed. Standing up amidst falling fabric cutting off the view, I let the illusion of the ridiculous wedding costume disappear, revealing my armor. My unpenetrated armor, though it still hurt a little to get hit like that. That left Elda with Vercingetorix. She pulled her knife and took a slice at him.
Elda was dedicated to being an independent warrior princess. Too bad she sucks at fighting. Vercingetorix dodged her easily. He grabbed her hand and spun her around so that he was holding her cross her throat with just one hand. “You must come with me away from this place!”
“With you, the man who murdered my father?!” She kicked him in the balls before stomping down on his foot. He didn’t let her go, but then she bit down on his forearm and didn’t let up even after the blood spurted. Hey, I taught her that. Had to put a few guys on medical leave before she got it right.
The tent finished collapsing on us all and I had to tear my way through it. I saw a pair of lumps where Elda and Vercingetorix had been fighting and, past them, several members of the wedding party finding their way free. I wondered if people were going to find those complementary knives under all their chairs. Elda cut her way out. Vercingetorix behind her grabbed at the fabric, and I saw opportunity.
I ran forward as if to help Elda, and wrap her in my arms. My momentum, sadly, carried us a bit too close to the lump that was Vercingetorix. She tried to get out of my grip. “What- ah!” The tent tore, and skin with it. Elda’s legs collapsed under her but I still held her up as Vercingetorix stepped out for all to see.
“I can still save her!” I yelled, picking up Elda and starting to carry her away to the residence.
Vercingetorix seemed shocked for a moment, then perhaps more so at the arrival of a half dozen tank drones, twenty deep ones, a helicopter, and a cohort of pissed-off wedding guests with knives. It didn’t help when Silver Shark threw a bear at him and VelocityRaptor chucked another pair of accomplices at him. Almost as an afterthought, the wedding cake rolled over from the side and a bikini-clad soldier burst from the top with a battle cry, a pair of SMGs in his hands. Things went silent for a moment. It was a cry by the Bronze Man sailor that finally shook the barbarian into taking his friends and fleeing.
I was supposed to be looking after my bride, who I’d carried over the threshhold and then dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes so I could watch. Intentional or not, the bear absorbed a lot of bullets and lasers before skidding to a dead halt. There was a bald woman with a snake wrapped around her neck. Her head popped like a melon. That left Vercingetorix and a younger guy whose clumsiness helped him dodge eveything my people sent at him. They were exposed, though, and it would be just a matter of seconds.
Until the old man in faded gray robes stepped out one of the depressions leading to the old palace basements and threw a bottle behind the barbarian and his remaining sidekick. It created this glowing blue wall that stopped everything. The pair of would-be heroes ran to meet him, but the old man collapsed on his way.
“Come on, people, go around the wall. Around, over, underneath, it’s just a piece of wall there!” I said to myself cut into the comms frequencies to yell at them. “Get around the wall and finish them off!”
‘I don’t know, sir, it looks like it’s starting to give under the assault!” said the voice of someone who wanted to be executed for incompetence.
“Go around the wall. Come on, there’s a fucking helicopter here, raise up a little higher!” I yelled. Behind me, Citra approached. She looked down on Elda, pity marking her borrowed features. They were no longer Venus’s features. Instead, she had the same strawberry blonde and tanned skin as Elda. I’d had the nanites give Citra better teeth and an unbroken nose, though.
“Can’t you spare her?” asked Citra, kneeling beside the would-be bride.
“If you’re already trying to change me, then you’re in for a rude awakening. More so than the other night,” I turned to her, trying to track the flight of the barbarian from orbit.
The helicopter was pursuing the sidekick and Vercingetorix, who had left the old guy behind. Vercingetorix threw his axe and suddenly the chopper veered off, the pilot reporting an axe lodged in the window and an urgent need for new pants.
“I agreed to that hole before,” Citra said, returning me to the conversation of rude awakenings. “I do not think I can change you, but I ask you, please. I have given up my identity for you. I give myself to you completely. As a wedding gift this once, I ask you show mercy to the one whose place I’ve taken.” She stepped up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She nuzzled her cheek against my cape.
Eh, it won’t kill me be nice this once for someone else’s sake. I stepped out of her embrace and turned to go fetch the general medicalnanites for Elda, who had passed out from blood loss. The organs where that axe hit weren’t looking pretty either, but she was still, faintly, alive. I kept a large stock of the weaker Riccan variant around just in case I had such wounds. Then I carried her to Citra’s room, which she’d no longer be needing, where Citra had bathed in nanites to change her features. They would see to keeping her alive and keeping her incapacitated for long enough.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the damaged chopper had tried to land back at the miliary base, below which Qiang played safe in a bunker. The daredevil pilot figured a little axe throwing wouldn’t put him off his game. Throwing a pine air freshener around his neck to distract from the smell the last pilot left, he hopped in and gunned it for the barbarian’s ship.
They had reached it and were getting it ready for their escape as best as they could with only the two people. Of course the chopper could reach them and blow them out of the water. At least until the pilot’s targetting equipment scrambled. “Fire on that ship and there won’t be enough robots in the world that could put you back together,” said a voice over the radio.
I switched over to Intercept’s frequency. “Emperor, can you hear us yet? Please answer! The Ranger ship is at the edge of international waters.”
“Yes, with guns trained on what’s left of your palace, Gecko. Call off your pursuit.”
“You know you’re fucking with some treaties now. This is no business of yours.”
“We have broad authority over extradimensional threats, including those associated with the land that reappeared so close to your island. We also have a cannon we can fire first and apologize for using after you’re destroyed. Be glad we’re giving you a choice at all.”
I’ll have Vercingetorix yet, and those tights-wearing sons of bitches. In the meantime, I have to go make an appearance with a perfectly-fine Elda and finish my wedding, then send a delegation with the Bronze City sailor to inform them all of their new king and queen. Get them ready for our visit to the island. That part of the plan has worked just fine.
Now to secure the Tree of Wonders before it is used against me.
Dear readers, you’ll be happy to know that VelocityRaptor did in fact result from an attempt to copy Veloci-Raptor. I talked to him about it when I visited him in the hospital, recovering from his wounds. They’d had to proceed a little more slowly with his recovery because of the cybernetics and exoskeleton. I brought him dinner one night while checking on him and asked after it. “Veloci-Raptor attacked a heroin ring my brother was caught up in. Vien told me he tried to escape when a feathered blur in a cape threw him into a wall. The police got him. Three days later, hours after I visited and promised him I would do everything I could to get him free, the underboss had him killed because he might have talked.”
A nurse stopped by to check on Raptor at this point, as they’d detected a change in the villain’s heartrate. Raptor clenched his jaw and put up with the brief check before continuing, though the nurse hurried out as fast as he could to escape the two angry, armored cyborgs. “Vien never would have done that. He would have been loyal, but they were not loyal to him. I knew where he went, so I snuck in and stole. Soon, I had enough for the first surgery, and I took more from them. I heard about The Claw’s people and met with them. They were intrigued by my story and decided to upgrade me. As a show of loyalty, I helped them take over the heroin ring, and killed the underboss who had Vien murdered. I knew when I started on this path that would not, could not be enough to avenge Vien. Veloci-Raptor will remember my brother if I have to carve his name into its scales until there is no unmarked inch of space left on its hide.”
I nodded. “Sounds like you’ve got a powerful flame burning in you. It would be a shame for it to be extinguished before it could consume Veloci-Raptor.” I don’t have anything against that particular hero, though it’s fun to note how much differently the situation would have been handled by a villain. If I went in, I’d have tried to kill people, not wound and capture. No need to get the cops involved. If Raptor’s brother had survived, he clearly wouldn’t have been at risk of testifying against the underboss, so he wouldn’t have been murdered.
After that little black heart to black heart, I went to check on our prisoner. The strawberry blond damsel we’d brought back had been put into decent enough health by the nanites, which at least confirmed she was human. Confirmation of her species was not shared by the guards, the highest ranking of which stepped over to respectfully warn me she’s a spitter. I patted him on the shoulder and assured him I’d faced spitters, swallowers, and all sorts.
When I stepped up to the cell, I saw her looking like a tired, cornered, angry mess in the corner. She spat at me. The spittle hit the fangy grin of my helmet’s front mask. I calmly wiped it away with one gaunlet. “You know what this means now?” I asked in the language she appeared to speak. We’d recovered the data, as well as most of the bodies, from the camp after I sent a second flight over. Some had been pecked at, and others had been dragged off, but nothing over there bothered with the strange plastic and metal.
She stood up and moved so that she stood with her back to the center of the wall opposite of the cell’s entrance. I gestured to the guards to open the door. They looked at me like I was crazy. I imagine that look sounded somewhat different a minute later when they heard the spanking start. I mean, it was my armor. She wasn’t overpowering it. I grabbed her when she tried to kick me in the balls and bent her over my knee, then pulled down that leather skirt of hers and began popping her on the ass cheeks. “No spitting!” I stopped every few spanks to see if she’d learned her lesson. When she spit, she got hit.
Just perfectly innocent stuff. Nothing raunchy at all. The fact that I pulled her hair in a couple of times in the middle of it is incidental. After a few minutes, I stopped to check on her camel-like behavior. She was crying, but hung her head and didn’t spit. “Good. You are learning. For that, you get a treat.” I reached back into a pouch on the back of my belt and pulled out a cup of delicious chocolate pudding. It took her a moment to learn how to open it up, but then she started tongueing that cup hard.
I just sat there as she ate it, watching her. Now, of course, I’m not one to go around feeling attraction to humans. Disgusting species. Have you ever looked at one for long and realized how weird their noses are? I mean, there’s no visual difference between my own evolutionarily superior species and homo sapiens, but they sometimes hit the uncanny valley when I think about them. In spite of that, my armor just happened to rub me the right way so as to cause a minor blood pressue issue in the groin region.
“I am Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” I told her. Now, I thought I told her next that I would take all of Mu for myself and she should use her time wisely to make her peace with it. She cocked her head, confused by it. To me, this suggested a translation error. “Can you tell me the meaning of what I just said to you? I believe the translator failed.”
“All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.”
The additional data helped my personal translator program make up the difference. “Good. Yes, soon I shall take over your land.”
“Do you know who I am? My father would never allow you to take his kingdom!”
I shrugged. “I don’t care what he would allow, I just know what I’m going to go. Are you some sort of princess?”
“I am Elda, daughter of Garth, who is King of the Bronze City and the Bronze Men who are hundred deep and a hundred wide,” she boasted.
I poked at her mouth, but she moved away. “Your people haven’t invented braces, I see. It’s metal you attach to your teeth to force them into a straigher position. Also, a shame about your nose there.”
“I wear my scars proudly,” she said. “I will prove myself the equal of any man.”
“I mean, you didn’t. You got caught, then rescued by that big guy. Was he the man you’re promised to or something?”
“Vercingetorix is a barbarian from the Central Wastes. He is a warrior known far and wide throughout the land. That you do not know of him shows your stupidity and arrogance.” She almost spat the words at me, but left it at words.
At the risk of my penis becoming, perhaps, too erect, I really wanted to cut this meeting short and find the nearest of any of my suitors, or even Silver Shark again. That’s not a knock on her. She rejected me, and I can’t help but feel that the cheating had nothing to do with it, considering all the dicks I sucked in North Korea to get that country straightened out. Perhaps most people wouldn’t consider that to be “straightening” out a bunch of guys, but I stand by my actions.
“Were you expecting his help?” I asked, returning to the interrogation. In my head, I started thinking of stuff to de-mortify lil Gecko. Soccer. Seafood. Rainboots. Wait a second… well, ya learn something new about yourself everyday.
“He’s likely after a reward. My father will certainly have offered a bounty for my safe return before he marries me off to whichever merchant or foreign leader he needs the aid of.” Having grown somewhat comfortable with me around, she went to lay down on the cot fixed against the wall of her bunk. She quickly adjuster herself when her ass reminded her of the spanking.
I nodded. “I hear you. I prefer the idea of marrying for love, for some reason.” Now I cocked my head as an idea occurred to me. “Probably because I’m likely to let my spouse die or kill them myself unless I actually like them for some reason. But enough about me. Your life sounds fascinating. Tell me all about it.”
It might be surmised I was looking to get jiggy with her, which is certainly a biological response I had. After all, it pays to be a good listener around a potential partner, especially if you’re looking to get on their good side. Really, it always pays to be attentive to what people say for things to exploit or use against them, but that also means manipulating them with gifts or even showing you care by remembering basic information about their lives. Especially when that person ran away from home to try and be Xena: Warrior Princess.
She knows customs, legends, and myths. She also knows what this Bronze City and its Bronze Men look like. I’m getting a general hoplite vibe from her descriptions, so I’ll have to be careful not to attack with a million men in wicker-clad power armor. I sat and talked with her. Elda didn’t exactly swoon for me, but she seems to tolerate my presence. I responded by sending over some better pillows and blankets for her. A carrot, though I doubt she’ll let me do anything to her with my stick.
I returned to find Silver Shark pacing in front of the residence. She stomped up to me. “About time!”
I held up my hands, but otherwise headed for the door. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, just that reconaissance flights of Mu show armies gathering and navies being built, including in a big northern city that has a lot of metalworking. That hunky guy you pissed off has been spotted riding a big ass bear and gathering a team. And then there’s what Citra did.”
That caused me to stop. “What did Citra do?” I turned back to Silver Shark.
“What she thinks you wanted,” she said. Silver crossed her arms. “You better not hurt her.”
I facepalmed. “Hurting people is what I’m good at. Why does anyone expect any different? I mean, I hurt you by fucking a single pirate chick, even though I somehow didn’t hurt you when I sucked off half of Pyongyang’s military.”
“What?!” she said. Her mouth opened and closed, quite like a fish actually, before she processed it enough to go on. “You bastard!” She raised a claw, then stopped, then shook her head and walked off. “I need some time before I do something I’ll regret!”
Is it any wonder I decided to build an remote-control duplicate to take my place around hostiles? Especially with how good I am at making people hostile?
Inside, I found rose petals on the floor, with a note in beautiful calligraphy. “Beetrice is trying to win your heart by entertaining your daughter. Follow the roses.”
They led to my bedroom and what appeared to be Venus in those red and gold robes of Citra’s. She spoke in Citra’s voice, using the local language, as well. “Hello, my Emperor.” Well, you could say it wasn’t just the floor where something rose.
I can prepare for war against barbarians any day. Actually, Citra gave me an idea. Well, an idea beyond wheelbarrow position. Like, what if I take one of the robot drones they’re building and coat it with flesh and muscle so it resembles the barbarian, then send it to assassinate the leader of the resistance against me?
The only way this plan gets any better is if I could use time travel for it.
“What exactly am I looking at here, besides the obvious?” I asked. VelocityRaptor had streamed a video taken by his helmet camera of what he claimed to be a major discovery. It appeared to be a rocky valley with only a tree. The tree didn’t appear to be in too good of shape, either. Its roots looked like they were maybe arm thickness and spread out along the surface, curling around jagged corners of the rocks it sat on before disappearing down into cracks. It had a thick, pale brown trunk that shot off limbs all along starting a couple feet up and rising up to a mess of branches twenty feet up. No leaves anywhere on the thing or below it.
“As I said, this is a major discovery.” He’s good at repeating things, I’ll give him that. I suppose he should be, considering I’ve already encountered a heroic raptor with superspeed before. That one wore a cape and called itself Veloci-Raptor. I keep meaning to ask if this is just one of those convergent ideas, or if VelocityRaptor’s a villainous cyborg-robot knockoff, like Cyborg Superman, MechaGodzilla, or the bad Bill and Ted robots. The other one might have been more eloquent, though. This guy informed me, “This is the Tree of Wonders.”
“Wow,” I said, “I certainly wonder what’s so important about it.”
He turned his head, taking in the area surrounding the tree. It resembled a crater full of jagged rock. Periodic skeletons and mineral deposits littered the vista. “Once we analyzed the local language, we gained information from our captive. Villages we came across told us much the same. There is a legend about this tree. They say a spirit lives in it that can grant the desires of whoever controls it.”
He walked around the tree, looking at it from all sides. “It doesn’t look impressive to me.” He stepped closer to it. “Are there any tree spirits here?”
He didn’t get an answer, so I spoke up. A magical tree that somehow wasn’t guarded by the most powerful bunch of people in that land. “Fascinating, really. I guess we know where this thing is now. Maybe file that away for exploiting the locals, but let’s keep on the lookout for anything important. Any weird kingdoms of guys with crappy iron weapons, or wizards, or anything?”
“My apologies, my lord. Please give me another chance,” he stammered on.
I rolled my eyes to myself, which caused me to pay attention to my own surroundings again. I’d been building another deathbot in the residence. Something with treads that adjust to the terrain. I didn’t have anything set as far as weapons or a top yet, but I’d come up with something. The previous one had been more of an impulse thing. I bet I can make this one resistant to probing long enough for it to reach Master Academy. I might make more of the other ones, though. Sometimes you have enough enemies around that it doesn’t matter if you drop in a robot that tries to murder anyone.
Not all impulses are bad. Citra passed by and ran her hands through my hair. I caught her hand and pulled her onto my lap, where she cuddled up to me with a smile. “Just be cool, ok?” I requested. She took my hand, but didn’t try anything with me. I returned my attention to VelocityRaptor, who had continued an apology that must have been pre-written. “Are you still talking? I get it, you followed a lead you thought sounded good. A magical tree isn’t really that unusual of an idea nowadays. You didn’t even try and wish for ice cream yet.”
“Ice cream?” he asked.
“Try vanilla, chocolate, whatever you want. Ooh, chocolate ice cream with Nutter Butter pieces is a good one.” I got a confused look from Citra, who’s only hearing one side of all this.
VelocityRaptor’s head tilted to the side. “I would never question your wisdom-”
“Eh, feel free. I welcome feedback, so long as you’re not being a complete asshole. I’ll even tolerate light assholism, depending on the context. I know I’m unimpressed, so now you have an opportunity to show my first impression was wrong. Now stick your hand on that tree and ask for ice cream.”
“Yes, sir.” VelocityRaptor approached, having to pick his way over the roots. He placed a metal claw on the trunk of the tree. “I wish I had chocolate ice cream with pieces of Nutter Butter in it. Agh!” He whipped his head around to see roots grow up over his legs. He clawed at them and chomped up until he was covered in a thick brown substance. “It’s cold!” he yelled. At the same time, things shook on Ricca.
Citra looked around. “Earthquakes?” I squeezed her hand, but she still kept looking around.
“Eat your way free, Raptor!” I egged him on.
“I’m lactose intolerant!”
“We’ll talk about your anti-dairy bigotry another time. For now, get yourself out of there.”
I left him to that and tried calling on the rest of the guys to let them know what happened. I couldn’t raise anyone, so I borrowed a Chinese “television” satellite. The only TV channels that thing carries are whatever Beijing’s intelligence service want to look at. I went ahead and marked down the company that did it as possible non-official cover to be confirmed and sold off later, when the expedition isn’t at risk. The campsite showed the rest of the men sent over were busy getting their asses kicked a mile away from VelocityRaptor. Unfortunately, while China’s ok at forcing kids to dig out computer parts from scrap piles, they aren’t the country that actually makes all this equipment. The thing was limited in how far it could zoom in and identify the assailant.
It annoyed me to not be able to do anything to protect my people, but the Dimension Rangers ship-robot has been spotted approaching from the east, Americas. And, shit, just imagine what they could do with a tree that grants a wish but tries to kill people? They have a few different members to spare.
Finally, VelocityRaptor’s viewpoint cleared up as he pulled himself away from the reaching roots of the tree. They tried to pursue only so far before he shot a gout of flame from his helmet and convinced them to stay back. I spoke up as he took a moment to clear penetrating roots and wet ice cream off. “As tends to be the case, life has served up not just one, but a whole six-pack of douche brew. I need you to get to your camp. It’s under attack.”
“Yes, sir,” He said. He reached down to his waist and and flipped open a part of the exoskeleton. He punched a green button and doubled over with a pained groan. He stood up a couple seconds later, breathing normally, and raced off.
As for me, I sighed and helped Citra off my lap to go get my armor. It was a quicker way for me to travel to the Institute of Science and its Drone Warfare storage. Because I could have tried to put together robots out of prosthetics, but they weren’t ready in time. At least a few of these were good to go. I put out the call to that daredevil military pilot to delivery my menagerie of mechanical menaces.
Ooh, I like that name.
A bit of heavy lifting later and the cavalry was on the way. Tuning back in to VelocityRaptor, he arrived at the camp. The expedition set up in a relatively flat area with short grasses marred only by the occasional boulder. Another of those loincloth-clad barbarians who never heard of a shirt or tunic stood in the middle of a ring of my dead soldiers. He undid the restraints on a strawberry blond woman in leather. So that was the prisoner. Not bad looking, but modern orthodontics would do her good.
Our barbarian friend could use a barber. The male ponytail is so 1990s, and that double-headed battleaxe! Ugh, some people have no taste in weapons. Having done my duty as judge, it was time to be jury and executioner. “Hey, Raptor. I know you’re a little fucked up right now, and not in the fun way that involves a bong made out of a human spleen.” Best to lighten the news with spleen talk. It’s an inherently funny organ, much like the penis when exposed to Alaska or Deep One females.
Anyway, back to Raptor. “I have reinforcements on the way, so try to stay alive long enough to beat the crap out of these guys so bad, they’ll think it was their monthly dysentery session. We’re gonna run the Oregon Trail on them. You got it?”
He didn’t respond. I don’t think Raptor was entirely there anymore. He roared and pounced toward the barbarian. The axe to the face must have hurt, but whatever Raptor injected himself with must have been the good stuff.
He swung his tail around to and drew a line of blood from the barbarian who lodged his axe into a connection between two of the larger pieces of Raptor’s tail. Raptor tossed it off into the distance and managed to slice up the woman’s arm. The barbarian tackled him and threw him to the ground, but doubled over from a tail to the crotch. If the drill hadn’t been damaged from the axe, that could have ended it. He had to resort to lifting up the barbarian, who grabbed onto the appendage and tore it off. The large man hopped onto Raptor’s back and used the portion he tore off to choke Raptor.
Raptor reached up and dug for the barbarian with the suit’s claws. He pulled him over, dropping the man down in front of him. The barbarian gritted teeth so big I could tile a bathroom with them as he caught the blades on the side and pushed them back, overpowering the exoskeleton. “I am going to tear your head off and make you eat it!” They were stalemated until the prisoner ran up and swung the axe into Raptor’s side, knocking him over. The barbarian stood up grabbed it, then raised the weapon high.
Machinegun fire from the helicopter knocked the axe to the sideand ruined the potential strike. One of the drones, a torso on a quad copter, flew out the side door under my direction and fired a laser, trying to hit him. I ended up putting a hole through chest of the woman he’d come there to save instead. When it got too close, he hurled his axe at it. I maneuvered to evade it, but the thing somehow curved in midflight to hit the drone.
Then a tripodal sphere landed, followed by a miniature tank resembling a toy, a torso on four legs, and other prototypes. The barbarian decided it was time to leave while the robotic extensions of myself helped VelocityRaptor into the chopper that lowered itself. They grabbed the axe and the woman’s body while they were at it, too. I felt like pissing off this guy, and then it turned out she wasn’t quite dead yet. An emergency dose of regenerative nanomachines would keep her stabilized.
“I got ya, Raptor. And we’ll be back for the other guys, too.”
I liked the idea of hurting that guy, and not just out of sadism. See, the thought occurs to me that I might need that tree, and he likely knows where to find it. The Dimension Rangers are close, too. I need to evaluate the threat of this island and figure out if they’re going to rally some iron-age army against me, or use a stupid wishing tree to erase me from existence. At least now, the guy only knows about Raptor.
This has also thrown it in my face how much I need to expand my personal reach off the island, and I’m working on that. I’ve got a factory retooling itself to create drones and robots. I myself have taken custody of a large amount of nanites for a special project related to this. Bit by bit, they’re painstakingly assembling a replica of my armor, but with an android drone inside.
I know, it’s not everyday the supervillain dictator of his own country builds a mechanical duplicate of himself in his signature armor to send out after his enemies. Something like this needs a special name. It’s just hard to find something that conveys the correct sense of doom my enemies need to feel. So, instead, I settled on calling it a Dudebot. The name’s subject to change next time my sex does.
The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.
The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”
She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.
Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.
I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”
I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.
Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.
They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.
Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.
Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.
Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.
Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.
Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?
Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…
Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.
With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.
It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”
I shook my head. “This is a robot.”
“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.
I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”
“I don’t think I get it,” she said.
“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”
“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”
“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.
“Is she pretty?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”
We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.
So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”
“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”
“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”
“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”
“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”
I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”
“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”
“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”
“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.
They’re campaigning for the Empress-ship. I didn’t think the batch of people I ruled over even gave a damn about my love life, so long as I didn’t do something stupid like getting peed on on tape. Most of that involves lobbying Qiang, since I’ve been avoiding the palace residence. I’ve been able to call Qiang out to me for lessons or meals in spite of their attention. I just tell her it’s part of her sneaking training.
I’ve been busy aside from all that mess. Like handling this little diplomatic mess with the Faust/Hephaestus people. Alhazred admits he had been a Cthulhu cultist hoping to see his god, and that all three were hoping to explore the island for ruins and so forth. His associates, Pickman and Hero, hadn’t actually done anything wrong while they were here, and Alhazred did help me lure Cthulhu here. In the end, I decided they would be allowed to use the island for storage and trade. I didn’t give them everything they wanted. They aren’t going to use the place for testing or collaboration with our own science people, at least partially because the Institute of Science is still closed. They don’t know it’s closed, but it made a good stick to hit them with, same with rejecting the customer service call center.
As part of my mercy upon them, I even gave the three an aerial tour of the island. I even saw to their safety with who the Shouho claimed to be our very best remaining helicopter pilot. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them. There was some wariness from the passengers about that, so they made sure to stay restrained in their seats. I reassured them by ordering the doors be kept shut firm on their little ride, including one that separated the pilot from the passengers. That way, there’d be absolutely no chance of them falling out, or onto instruments, or the pilot trying to throw them out. I told them that myself. I promised them, completely out of thin air, that the pilot wouldn’t toss them out of the chopper. I then reiterated that there will be nothing to worry about.
As for the pilot, I told him to show me his best and most showy aerial maneuvers. Good thing the doors were shut for that barrel roll. As soon as they landed, I sent some of the soldiers over with the hoses to make sure the interior was hosed off of our little spew crew in there. They must have read my mind, because they didn’t bother letting out the Faust delegates before starting the hosing. When Pickman, Hero, and Alhazred slipped or fell out, they didn’t stop.
When I saw that, I leaned across to the the Shouho and mentioned, “Give them a little bit of a bonus for this.”
He held out a tablet for me. “Your Eminence, we have a member of the returned I wish to bring to your attention. He is enhanced.”
The returned appears to be their polite term for deserters who come back to Ricca’s service, in case I decide that someone who deserted can be punished but someone who left and returned won’t be. It’s mostly a stupid distinction, but when I once asked the Shouho about it, he started talking about how a military needs discipline and needs to know that desertion will be punished going forward. I picked up what he was putting down, or thought I did until the Issa politely informed me they left the whips and ballgags in their crates in a storage shed. Then I figured he didn’t want people deserting in the future.
This one was a man with extensive cybernetic augmentation, much like Silver Shark. His legs were gone below his thighs, replaced with knees that bent the other direction and feet ending in three-toed claws. He bent forward over the legs, his back weighted down by a gleaming chrome spine that connected his tail with an armored helmet that covered his head in the facade of a dinosaur with a mouth of fangs. The spine had a pair of short pipes around the lower part of it. He was a raptor, albeit a featherless one, with an armored chest and an exoskeleton running along his arms that ended in curved, sickle-like claws. He still had hands under them, and the raptor’s face with its sharp-toothed maw popped back to show it was a helmet. Underneath it, he maintained a neutral expression.
“Welcome back to the fold,” I said. Meanwhile, my eye HUD’s identification program made a match. “You’re the one they call VelocityRaptor, right?”
He nodded. Speaking in the Ricca pidgin, he noted, “That is the name the Americans gave me.”
Good restraint. The name doesn’t sound right in Riccan. “May I have a demonstration of your abilities?”
He nodded and the helmet lowered itself onto his face. The eyes of the raptor lit up red. He turned and those pipes shot flames a few inches into the air before he began running, gathering speed to run to the other end of the base and back fast enough to leave Olympic sprinters in his dust. While he was leaving, a pair of the lowest-ranked men ran up and began setting up dummies that looked like featureless humans.
He skidded to a halt and raised his tail. The end of it began spinning. Once the first of the soldiers had finished and gotten clear, the drilled into the chest of the dummy before swiping the head off. The other one had its chest torn open with his claws, leaking straw on legs that were ripped off one by one by Raptor’s. He ended by using the helmet’s jaws to crush the head and tear it off.
I gave him a polite golf clap. “I mean, they just got them put up and you already destroyed their work. That would seem rude to some people.” I got no response. “From here on out, you owe allegiance to me. You serve this Ricca going forward, and so your oath will be to this Ricca and you will serve out the term of your enlistment from now. Try not to take so long a vacation again.”
He bowed to me as best he could. “Thank you, Emperor. You are generous beyond all measure.”
I walked over and patted him on the back of the head. “No need for all that. Flatter me later, or whenever I feel like it. Right now, I just want to know if you’re ok with entering into new and unfamiliar situations, and maybe with getting nice and wet.”
He rose up to look at the grinning smile projected in front of my helmet where the mouth would be. “Sir?”
I had to throw together an expedition to Mu, and he was going to be part of it. After the first immigrant Deep Ones reached it and claimed a beachhead for the Riccan Empire, I decided to get some Manifest Destiny going. I’m also looking into importing lots of sand and building a bridge right at the surface to connect Ricca and Mu so that I can go there officially without the entire world throwing a tantrum and a nuke.
The peace treaty says I can’t leave the island of Ricca, which is a lot more restrained than if I never left the Empire of Ricca. But an entire new continent just appeared in the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just dismiss it if a land bridge suddenly appeared to make Ricca and Mu part of the same landmass.
Even thought I spent a lot of time throwing togethe a group to conquer a new world, that doesn’t mean I neglected Qiang. Like I said, I was still feeding her and teaching her stuff. Basic strength training that she thinks are handstands, or crab walking. Good ways to build her up without pushing her too far and damaging anything. There are also our “dance” lessons that incorporate moves for a bit of self defense. She thinks it’s all fun and games until someone comes at her and she gouges an eyeball out.
When she’s not eating or attending Psychopomp University, I give her lots of time to be lobbied by the prospective Empresses. I actually had to assert myself after they got carried away once. My daughter asked for some ice cream and ended up being given progressively larger portions. I’d given her a network communication device, encrypted to keep anyone but myself out. It also means restricts her from calling just anyone or going online, which is all the more important when that kind of thing’s built into a person’s head. We’re talking home-style encryption too, with a different programming language.
So she called the hotline right to my head because she felt bad and threw up. I kicked the door in and tossed everybody else out. The giant shark cyborg, the giant bee woman, AND the ambitious servant girl. I got on to Qiang, but it’s hard to hold her accountable for that. Instead, I considered giving the other three a chopper ride. Between the three of them, they’d wreck the thing.
Instead, I ended up being able to make an example when, in the middle of applying nanites to the sweet-sick girl, Intercept called me with a tip from Flamebeard’s ship. They’d been taking a look at Mu and noticed a ship. A long catamaran-style ship with sails at the front and a number of burly rowers. He’d gladly take it out for us for a good price.
I rejected the offer and had Intercept keep an eye on it to let me know when we had a landing. The pacing was horrible, though. Took them awhile to reach us on that boat, and it’s tough maintaining anger for a long time.
I stepped out on the beach to meet and greet them. They responded with arrows. I suppose if this was that Civilization game, I’d have been beaten easily by the dozen or so loin-cloth clad men who charged forward, sweaty muscles exposed as they wore hardly anything but a little bit of leather and fur. The raised sword and axe and a sort of wooden club with nubs placed around the end.
Behind me a ways stood Beetrice, Silver, and Citra, along with a crowd of Buzzkills, guards, and VelocityRaptor. The three women were obviously not prisoners or tied up in any way. Just guests with a large group of guards, legitimately so in the case of the Buzzkills, who watched me bitchslap the colons of a group of people. Sometimes, the colons were still internal. I suppose it worked out that they were hostile. A peaceful group of traders would have made a different sort of example.
They seemed to be led by a particularly large one, muscular, but not overly so. We’re not talking about bodybuilders with those showy, useless muscles. Big guys, round, with arms used to swinging weapons and backs capable of lifting women and gold from those they come across. He came at me with a sword that bent when it hit my forearm gauntlet. I stomped his foot as he tried to straighten it and kneed him in the balls. When he dropped the sword and attempted to grapple with me, I hit him with an open palm to the throat, then reached down to turn He-Man into She-Ra. He had a lovely singing voice as he fell to his knees.
“Finish him!” my armor announced. I grabbed a gonad in each hand from that sack I took off him, ripped them apart from each other, then smashed them into the sides of his head until the top burst and his brain spurted out.
I turned back to the crowd, where I saw a couple of the raiders had gotten past me and the guards had punched their tickets to eternity. “It seems our new neighbors have a bit more balls than brains.” Then I stepped closer and gestured with a single finger for the ladies to join me in a private huddle. “Someone who wants to be a mother to my child really ought to remember what being a parent means. And let’s also not think too much about hoping to bully me into a position while we’re at it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my daughter how to use her very own flamethrower.”
Kids love flamethrowers.