I don’t even need to sleep. It’s a little annoying. As busy as I am, I do enjoy resting. You’d never know it to read all of this dren, but I do like a good sleep or cuddle or even some sex. It’s just that sex isn’t the most important thing in life. Not when you’ve recently gained minor reality-warping powers by absorbing fragments of a dead extradimensional conqueror.
Attacks are ramping up, too. People are posting stuff online. At least with the Facebook posts, they mostly just blow themselves up somehow. It’s gotten so bad, that hearings are scheduled sometime next year to speak to a representative from Facebook, if they decide to send one, to discuss the problem of people posting instructions on how to blow stuff up on there. At least VillaiNet has better threads that actually work.
The heroes aren’t blameless, either. Some of them are using the same stuff, even if the collateral damage isn’t so bad. They might be some of the ones blowing themselves up. Some people have this idea that if you give everyone the ability to destroy a building as easily as a sneeze, the world would be better off and force people to cooperate. These people know nothing. Every day, people do stuff because they’re angry, sad, depressed, frustrated, or out of conspiratorial beliefs. And the people crying about how folks need to act rationally turn right around and act the same way, especially if the “rational” and unemotional decision is one that harms them. So what I’m saying here, I guess, is it’s kind of a bad idea to give everyone such power. Maybe that’s how other civilizations can manage to live outside their own initial solar systems: having some sort of responsible way to handle advanced powers and technology.
All I know is, you give enough people the kind of power I was wielding, you’d have plenty of people doing worse than I ever did. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s sobering to realize I’m still more responsible than way too many people out there. Fuck, I was even left in charge of a kid.
So it’s getting worse. Technolutionary’s just decided to leave confronting the people with that stuff to me. He’s going after ones that seem to have been left alone. His device tracking the things worked, but it took a lot of processing power to load everything at first. So he runs out, grabs one up that landed in the beach or a mountain somewhere, and brings it back. At base, he’s found a way to use one as an energy weapon and has built a detachable, expendable pod onto the Skylab. There, he’s decided to try various alloys for anything that offers resistance to their powers. He’s even gotten some thunderbolt iron to give that a go.
I would be more worried about him having his own Omega pearls off in that lab, except I can track them now. I did make an alteration to my multidimensional base. Sam helped me out and moved all of the pearls I had stored in various obscure spots and reprogrammed the algorithm in those accessways to store them all in dimensions Technolutionary doesn’t have access to. Preferably, no one has access to these. I prefer dumping these in Earths devoid of sapient life. Quite a few of those wiped themselves out with nuclear weapons, or were killed off by plagues.
Part of me wonders what I could do with so many planets with no one else to claim them. The rest of me is busy with stuff like bodyslamming a humanoid walker powered by a heart of Omega energy. The guy behind this one was smart, but he was also destroying half the bank stopping a bank robbery. The robbers were huddled up behind a counter… no, nevermind, they were dead. The guy in the big robot didn’t realize it yet. He kept firing his minigun. Guy must have been using up more money than the corpses on the floor possibly could have stolen. They all looked like regular guys in sky masks and all, no costumes.
I swooped in over the police barricades and through the ruined doors that the walker stomped through. The walker got enough of a heads-up on my approach to activate a scarlet forcefield, clear with veins of energy crossing over the surface. I brought myself to a stop against it, drawing the energy out. The walker turned and opened fire on me, nevermind I had the street and people behind me. I blocked it all with my body and wings while funneling the Omega energy into me. That’s really all these “pearls” are: his energy, crystallized and contained. It wouldn’t hurt to draw it into myself. I once handled way more, and it’s not like it gives me a huge boost. It’s a pretty convenient way to handle this. Even the crystal shell, also from Mr. Omega, was drawn up into the flow of it and pulled into me.
The walker came to rest, powered down. The minigun couldn’t fire anymore without a power source. And I felt a rush. Not as overpowering as back in the Blasted Place, but I can’t lie that it felt good.
“Hope you bothered to install a failsafe for a power outage,” I told the walker’s pilot. “Or a way to breathe. You gave the guys robbing the place a few extra vent holes, too. I wouldn’t expect a lot of sympathy from the dead. Or the people you just shot at.” I nodded back to the street with my head.
I left him there, flying out and disappearing into the glare of the sun. Didn’t need to go deposit another pearl, so instead I went back to looking all civilian-y and picked up Qiang from school. Despite her being pretty damn smart of a kid, she’s running into some trouble. Smart as she is, she’s been neglecting her education. It’s been a few weeks since she turned in any assignments in one of the classes. She’s bored, sounds like. Would rather do interesting stuff. So I picked her up for a chat. Carried her around on my shoulders while we looked into some of the storefronts. The bakery here makes some damn good donuts.
“Ok, kiddo. I know it’s boring and you can just pick it up quick, but you won’t always be able to. You gotta have a foundation, like with martial arts. Gotta punch before you can spin kick.”
“But I don’t wanna! I want to play games or hang out with Dee and Cam. You didn’t have to do homework.”
“Yeah, I never did homework. That means there’s a lot of stuff I had to work even harder at as an adult. You get all this, you’ll grow up to be even smarter than me,” I told her. “And if you don’t go ahead and get all the homework for Social Studies done by Friday, I won’t let you see your friends or have internet access anymore. And you know I can cut you off. Maybe if you were smarter than me I couldn’t…”
She didn’t like it.
Medusa spoke up, having approached while we were examining giant cookies in the window. “If you don’t make good grades, you can’t be an Exemplar like me.”
I turned around and saw Medusa… and Venus. Same person, but Venus was pulled from another, now-alternate timeline a few years earlier. They were there in civilian clothing, but Medusa wore a black leather jacket and shades, while Venus had a long wool coat on.
“She has a kid,” Venus noted, probably to avoid asking a silly and suggestive question like “How?” Instead, she took a sip of some sort of cold coffee drink.
Qiang was a little bit confused, but I pointed to Medusa. “That’s the one we know. The other’s a copy from the past, before she ever met you.”
Qiang held out her hand toward Venus. “Hi, I’m Qiang. You look just like other momma.”
Venus held a hand over her mouth and nose, her cheeks bulging for a moment before she turned away. Medusa patted her on the back and gave me a silent laugh. I received a text from her. “Now I no y u tzed me so much.”
Points for hands-free communication, but that grammar…
Qiang was smiling, too. If she didn’t do that on purpose, she’s probably going to from now on. She looked at Medusa conspiratorially when the woman lowered down to talk to her. “I got bored in school, too, but now I know all sorts of stuff that helps me save the world. You want to help me someday?” She made a fist. Qiang made one right back. “Alright! Then try more in school, even if it makes you want to sleep.”
“I think I need to use the restroom. Do they have one in there?” Venus asked.
“Of course,” Medusa said. She looked to Qiang. “Why don’t you go in and pick out a treat, just one. If that’s ok with your mom?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
Qiang and Venus both went in, leaving Medusa and I outside.
“So, what were you wanting to talk about?” I inquired.
“What’s this with you and Technolutionary?”
I have her the quick run down. I could tell she wasn’t happy to know I’m supercharged again. Last time I had anything close to this level of power, I let it go to my head and killed a bunch of her friends.
“I’m going to work on a contingency,” She told me.
I nodded. “I know. Not just for him, right?”
“Sorry,” she said with a sad little smile.
I nodded. “No, don’t be. It’s smart.”
“We’ve been trying to track some of the seeds. That’s what we call them. You don’t trust us to hold them?”
I shrugged. “It’s a little late to let you have all of them now, but some of these people I’m stopping are heroes. Some of them, you never even would have seen coming. Too late now anyway.”
Medusa sighed. “No, yeah, I know. You don’t run to me over everything. Just prove me right about you. Please.”
And I totally intend to, as soon as I figure out where all of the pearls went. They all disappeared when my mind, and choice parts of my body, were occupied in bed with my girlfriend. You suck on a great pair of tits and suddenly a bunch of super-powerful artifacts go missing all at once.
Everything was mostly hunky-dory after all that. Where I’d been zipped off to was the House of Shadows and Spires, to my lab. There, my body was dunked in a tank of nanomachines to heal while my armor was standing in the foyer, looking around at all the sawdust on the floor and the way parts of the wall had been taped together.
“You’ll be back to normal in no time,” Dr. Ohms said, rubbing his hand along a portion of the wood floor patched up with wood that didn’t match the rest of it.
Alexander and Qiang finished nailing up a painting at the top of the stairs when Qiang turned and noticed the new suit of armor in the foyer. “Mom’s here!”
I waved and spoke through the armor. “Torian just dumped my body in the nanites. I’ll be fine.” Still, we all hugged as I kept explaining. “Remove the poison, fix the effects, patch the hole from the spear; I’ll be fine.”
“Doesn’t make us worry any less, mom,” Qiang said.
“Yeah, that was a trip,” Alexander said. “You ever seen someone stand back up like that? You were like one of those old slasher movie killers.”
“How long have you been waiting?” I asked.
“Eleven, no, twelve hours,” Qiang answered. “We were pretty exhausted when we got back, so we slept awhile and now we’re picking the house back up. It won’t be as capable at time travel, but we’ll make it work.”
I nodded. “What were y’all thinking of doing now this whole mess is over with?”
Alexander let me go. “We might go back home, eventually, but we thought we’d help out here. Torian’s out there again, and the timelines are in trouble.”
I sighed from thinking about what the fuck was even up with time that would require people traveling around to fix divergent timelines from spewing out more divergences. Figured I’d just go with it. If that’s what my kids want to do, let ’em do it.
“Well, I guess don’t be strangers? But I hope you don’t need my help too much. Find a happy medium, I guess. But I’m going home. Right back to where y’all left me, if you please.”
Alexander smiled. “We’ll visit when we can. Right now, it looks like we need to clean up something from the time crash that caused superpowers in the dinotaceous period.”
“Triassic,” Qiang corrected.
“That’s what I said,” Alexander teased her with a grin. To me, he added, “Intelligent dinosaurs with superpowers. Could be a problem. We need to do something to separate the timeline before it’s permanent. But first, let’s get you healed up and home.”
It took a lot of protein and healing to get my body back in shape. The poison did some nasty shit to the proteins in my body, melted a lot of stuff. Some bits, I decided not to bother with the meat and just go for metal. On the surface, I looked like a curly, chubby woman. I was back on my feet just time for one final meal with the kids before they dropped me off as the first stop. I gave a Qiang and Alexander one last hug and bid the rest of the group a fond farewell. “Feel free to use the lab and the machines. Might come in handy,” I told them.
Dr. Ohms flexed his healed arm and said, “Real handy.”
To Mobian Jr., I added, “Keep an eye out. Your dad’ll be back at some point, I’m sure. And if not, I’ve been known to help him out on occasion, things need to get messy. There’s a reason he hated me, though.”
And then it was time to step out the front door of the House of Shadows and Spires. It was a bright and shiny day in early June, according to my HUD clock. I noticed as I headed down the porch stairs that they looked a bit decrepit. Looking back from the lawn, the whole house looked like a haunted house now. Or more like a fixer-upper. And I noticed the letter that drifted out of the closed door addressed to me. It was from Qiang. It had some parting info for me
Checking back, it was the day after I’d left. Along with the brief note in that envelope, things felt weird.
I don’t know how long I was gone, but it felt like awhile. Qiang, the younger version, was home. I walked in just in time to startle her and make her cut off a chunk of hair. She was happy to see me, of course, but way less happy then I was because it had been less time for her. I’ve heard that given as the real reason people try not to go back to exactly the time they left. Maybe it is, but it’s also a bit cruel and unnecessary. Every day I was gone was a day my kid might think I’d been poisoned and stabbed through the torso with a giant robot’s spear.
It took a little bit before I got some urgent alerts over VillaiNet. Something about weird freaky temporal readings, and swearing they lost time. No one could agree on how much time was lost, though. And then my time was interrupted by Medusa calling me up. “Hey, Gecko, I’m not accusing you of anything, but I heard there was an incident at your place. Did you do anything big in the past day or so?”
“I got involved in the middle of a temporal war between a genocidal AI that wanted to destroy all superpowers and remake the world in what he thought was perfection based on its own flawed programming, ultimately ending shortly after the computer tried to smash all of time together to make a sort of Big Bang event happen for the multiverse,” I explained.
“Right, so time is fucked up. That could explain it. I’ve gotten weird reports of some sort of intense disturbance in South Dakota, with reports from local Johnny Laws that a team of superheroes suddenly appeared, including me.”
Oh. You know, there’s some things I didn’t quite explain as far as this invitation I made. I explained Jaguar Slayer’s recruiting efforts to try and kill me and how I managed to remind them all to be heroes again. It must have been a lot to process. I thought she hung up on me because of how silent everything was. After a full minute of no talking, I hung up, then had to answer a callback from her. “Oh my god, I’m so proud of you!”
“This is why I don’t tell you stuff,” I said.
“And also why did you invite a past version of me here?!” That’s a reasonable freakout. Like I said, didn’t entirely think it all out. I was pretty close to death at the time.
“Um, just think of her like a little sister? A little sister who might be dating your formerly dead boyfriend I killed that time.”
She took awhile to think, then reminded me, “Don’t hang up yet. I’m just… pondering.”
“Trying to figure out how to explain to people you’re very close to, including a version of you from before you rescued me, that we used to play with each other’s fun stuff?” I asked.
She laughed. Such an annoying laugh. I miss it. I almost said a thing. Almost said it twice, unsure of myself because relationships and emotions are tough. Instead, I settled on, “Are they still there? I’d like to go meet them, maybe bring something for Forcelight. Or Darklight. I actually really prefer the name Darklight, it was so much better.”
“So much better,” Medusa agreed. “You’re the closest asset the Exemplars have to what’s going on, if you want to head over there. The Superhuman Resources people are going to be scrambling, but they don’t have people out in flyover country yet. They can lay low in Radium until we get their lives figured out.”
Yay, a trip in my personal Flyer. Perfect for considering that I’m canonically supposed to have a kid soon and what that knowledge means for me going forward and figuring out relationships. You know, whether things are just because of how I feel, or because I feel obligated to Alexander. It was on my mind because Future Qiang’s little note was to warn me I’m supposed to get pregnant. Because this one, I’m the birth mother too. Not lying, adopting, and messing around with their DNA like with Qiang. Yeah, there’s a nice revelation to have. Yep, Psychopomp Gecko’s gonna lay an egg.
I tried to play a game instead, but my copy of Legend of Mana suddenly stopped working since I’d returned to a time before the remaster was released. Damn time travel!
I tried to look all official when I landed, which meant I used a set of my Lady Guardian armor. That way, when I landed in front of the police station where the Homicide Squad was hanging out. Medusa had forwarded over some transcripts. Darklight and the others weren’t under arrest. Venus being with them convinced the officers not to do that. After all, she was a hero.
Cops and capes alike perked up when I landed in the parking lot and stepped through the door. “Lady Guardian on behalf of the Exemplars,” I announced myself. To the heroes sitting around the lobby area specifically, I added, “The Exemplars are a group that formed in the time you’ve all been… inactive. We have a place a couple of hours from here. We’ll put you up until you get on your feet, help you get adjusted, and can help you obtain travel accommodations out if you’d prefer to hit the ground running.”
“About time,” Lone Gunman said, crumpling an empty bag of chips and tossing them expertly into a trash can on the opposite side of the room. “Can we stop for dinner on the way?”
“My Flyer has a selection of food,” I told him. Including some of those marshmallows with the cookies and cream center. Those are going to blow their fucking minds.
“I think we’re all pretty eager to go,” Venus said.
Darklight had her black costume on, but nodded. I ushered them all out, but stopped her. “I was told to give this to you. To help make amends.” I handed her a small tube of nanomachines designed to restore her to her unburnt appearance.
“Are these from Psycho Gecko?” she asked.
“You’ve all been gone for so long, you wouldn’t know. Psycho Gecko is dead. It happened some time ago,” I told them.
Venus smirked. Darklight looked to her, then took the tube with her. “Let’s go.” On the way to the Flyer, she began to talk to any of them who were listening. It didn’t escape my notice that the Human Sloth in his cybernetic body was bringing up the rear. “It’s not an illusion, everyone.”
“It looks familiar,” Miss Tycism said.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” I said, smiling underneath the armor.
“Still not an illusion,” Darklight said.
“I am Lady Guardian,” I announced. “I will be your pilot today. Please board. I advise you sit down and strap up for takeoff, and I’ll let you know when it’s safe to stand up.”
“This is the kind of fucking around Gecko would do,” Venus said.
“We can take her,” said Human Sloth, who is pretty much the last person who should be making that statement.
I waited until they were all inside to start laughing. “Well, couldn’t exactly let news of my living get out. But I am working with Medusa,” I told them all. I pointed to Venus. “You’d know her better as who Venus is now after she set out on her own from the Master Academy. Come on, let’s get y’all to Radium. And while we’re on the way, anyone got any dietary requests for a cookout? Might as well have y’all over to the place. I’ll call up Marianne and Adrian, see if they want to help welcome y’all.”
“This future is fucked,” Lone Gunman said.
Miss Tycism had gotten to the marshmallows and was sitting down, chewing on one with wide yes. “Oh. My. God. These are blowing my fucking mind right now.”
I’ve watched Darklight kill me a few times now. Times when I had my attention diverted, or was asleep, or even just when I was in a spot that didn’t have my armor. The walls turned into a cinematic experience with surround sound and optional 3D glasses when she left for her hunting expeditions. It was, I admit, boring. She’s hurting people; there was often some collateral damage to another timeline. She didn’t care. It was easy not to care, knowing it was “just” a copy. In my more cynical youth, this would have just reinforced my dislike of superheroes who claim the moral high ground but sacrifice whoever they want. Now, it disappointed me that I really am a better person.
Still, she hasn’t gone after my family. Walked in this last time with the head of an alternate of mine, showing it off as a proud trophy. “Looks pretty stupid, doesn’t it?”
I shrugged. “It’s not me. That’s a version who never hurt you. You’re a very petty and small-minded person, aren’t you?”
“You just want to fuck with me,” she responded, tossing the head aside. It trailed blood behind it on the floor, little splatters getting on the container I was trapped in.
I waved dismissively. “You’re not even murdering kids yet. What, you don’t want to go kill my daughter?”
She stared at me for awhile.
“Anyway, back to my petty point. Time is at your fingertips and anything you do, you will never face the consequences.And you’re obsessed with me. Artificial Intelligence wants to rule Earth and all of time, murdering uncountable innocents, and wipe out everyone with superpowers. You want to go back in time and humiliate me. What will it take to get you to help save all of time?”
Darklight crossed her arms over her chest. The black costume that covered up her burns had some dried stains on it, mostly red. I’m glad there was a couple barriers keeping me from smelling her. She didn’t say anything though.
“You’re not hurting me the way you want, and I bet you’re realizing it’s not as fun as you expected. You want to go back and live your life? Do it. You can get healed easily.”
“You know what? Kill yourself,” she said.
I held out a hand like we were going to shake. “Deal.”
“What?” she asked, sounding surprised to me.
“If it’ll get you and the rest of your friends to help save everything, I’ll do it. Time, place, method, what have you.”
The time ended up being… IDK, ten minutes later? I don’t know how you measure “time” in a place that’s supposed to be “outside time”. Everything about time travel falls apart the moment I try to make sense of it, but the idea that time doesn’t exist in a place just doesn’t fit otherwise nothing there would advance from one event to another. I’d be seeing past and future versions of me in this cell, filling it up like a cage full of bunnies on Viagra.
That was how long it took before Darklight, Human Sloth, Miss Tycism, Venus, Captain Lighting II, and Lone Gunman all stood there. A cup of something that smoked floated in front of Miss Tycism. “This is the deadliest poison known to human alchemy,” she explained. “They call it Absolute End.”
“Take off your helmet and drink it all,” Captain Lightning II ordered.
I unsealed my helmet and popped it off, shaking out my hair. I dropped my helmet on the floor and held out my hand. One quick teleport later and the cup was in my hand.
“She won’t do it. She’s chickensh-” Lone Gunman started to say. He stopped because I’d brought the cup up and was downing the gag-inducing stuff within. Pretty sure I tasted some mercury and cinnabar, but it was so bad that the taste alone nearly toppled me. My throat and mouth began to warm up and ache. Anything touching anything else felt like sandpaper scraping that skin. I coughed and held up a finger, then lowered it once I had control.
“Ok, now will you please do your jobs as fucking heroes and save everyone.”
The bunch seemed stunned, except for Lone Gunman. He turned to Captain Lightning. “That was a trick somehow.”
Lightning shook his head. “There was no trick or illusion. All nanomachines are suppressed. I can see moving through her tissues already.”
I held my hands up in a faux-modest Venus de Milo pose. “Paint how you see me,” I said, then coughed some more.
The walls turned deep red. One wall crashed inward under the hull of a pointed metal hull. The bunch of Slayer-recruited heroes were pulled away from the breach, along with me.
We ended up in a larger area, another huge white room. Jaguar Slayer really likes the emphasis on overwhelming purity and cleanliness. Not a good sign in my opinion, but I was a walking deadwoman anyway. Jaguar Slayer felt so safe around me, even the container walls were gone. So was my helmet, though.
I really fucking hated that I’d done that for a bunch of assholes who didn’t deserve my help, but what I really did it for were the assholes who do, like my family. They can find a close enough me and manage Alexander. I was nothing in all this but some weird pawn with a tracking device somehow hidden on me. I didn’t want to die, though. Really did not want to die.
Others were waiting there. Another Iron Maiden armor, along with that blind guy in the robe, along with one or two I didn’t recognize. Instead of that one hairy clawed guy, they had some dude who looked part cat and a young teenager with spines sticking out of her body. The area behind them looked a lot like a smaller, enclosed version of the part I saw. No grass, no sky, and this one central building that reached up to the ceiling had a red dot that set its gaze upon us. In front of that was a statue of an loincloth-clad warrior with a spear. A voice boomed out of the red dot. “Ready yourselves. Gecko’s companions have walked into the seat of my power and my trap.”
The group looked at me. I looked at them. My eye twinged a bit, and Human Sloth winced away from it, so I must have been looking about as shitty as I was feeling.
Darklight shook her head. “No. I got what I wanted.”
The statue was fast as hell. It was a robot that raised its arm and threw the spear right at Darklight. That spear wasn’t for decoration and I very nearly didn’t get my body in front of it when Jaguar Slayer tried to hit Darklight. It speared my armor and right on through, but it slowed enough that it didn’t go into her. Or maybe it never would have gone into her and I’m a fucking genius at murdering myself. No, wait, she caught the spear. Dropped it, too.
“Ow,” I said.
She knelt beside me. Venus rushed over, too. “Can you stand?”
I shook my head, which hurt the back of my neck. “No, but I was barely able to do that before the spear.” I raised a hand toward Darklight. “With great power, comes…”
“Jesus, you don’t take anything seriously,” Darklight said. Fine, I won’t finish, but I was going to tell her it comes with mad ass.
Venus looked around, then back at me, then to Darklight. “What are we doing? What have we done for revenge?”
“I don’t know,” Darklight said, “But we don’t have to do it anymore.”
“Three votes,” Human Sloth added from where he stood nearby.
“Yeah,” Captain Lightning II jumped in.
Lone Gunman didn’t say anything, but Miss Tycism looked between the group and Jaguar Slayer’s bunch.
Interrupting all of this is when a modern metal frigate came riding up along the floor, honking its horn. It flew a flag that depicted a skeleton holding another skeleton at gunpoint with an AK-47 and stealing Blackbeard’s famous pirate flag. A crew of dark-skinned pirates stood, some cheering, others aiming at various people around.
“Avast Antivirus!” called one pirate, what appeared to be a fish’s head poking out of a shirt. The arms were covered with sleeves and gloves, and I couldn’t see what the foot situation was there. “Where’s that big-headed computer cunt anyway?”
Mobian Jr., whose jolly roger shirt even looked too straight and clean, poked his head up. “And Psycho Gecko.”
“Arr!” the fish cried out. “Hand over the lizard maiden and no one gets hurt.”
I’d have laughed if I wasn’t busy shitting my pants. Darklight grabbed me and pulled the spear out, flying me over to the ship. The rest of the bunch came running up. “Here she is. Any room for more aboard?”
“And split the booty even more?!” the fish gasped in astonishment. Or maybe for breath.
“Nobody’s splitting my booty unless I say so,” I said. I raised a finger to object, but then the nail fell off and the finger was bruising. “Also, I could use a doctor. Or something.”
“Get her to the brig’s status cells,” ordered Wattson, rushing over to reach for me. The robot was gentle with me. Still ended up jostling me some, but I decided to close my eyes because of how much the light hurt.
“You said something about a trap?” I heard the blindfolded man ask.
“There is a problem. My innumerable armies of the damned and demented don’t seem to be responding,” Jaguar Slayer said.
Qiang laughed. I’d recognize that laughter. “I’m real glad you kept the timeline where I failed to destroy that essential data, Slayer. We couldn’t have done it if you’d purged it.”
“Inconceivable,” Slayer announced.
“Conceivable!” My not-yet-conceived son Alexander countered. “You can’t bring in reinforcements unless we allow it. You can’t escape unless we let you. You’re through. We made you build the flaw into yourself and waited until you invited us in, thinking you were the one doing the trapping.”
“This ends now, Jaguar Slayer. And thanks to Gecko, you can’t erase anything leading up to it,” Mobian Jr. announced. Hey, it was nice to get the recognition. An antidote would be better. Then, more softly, “You’re welcome to sit this one out.”
“No,” Darklight said.
“Yeah,” Venus added, “We’ve got some penance to do. This ends now.”
I cleared my throat. Not to make a point, there was just a lot of blood in there. I had to spit some up. “Might I suggest we have that enthusiasm about this poison I drank?”
“Why would you do that?!” Alexander asked. His voice came closer.
I shrugged. “Seemed like the thing to do. Was hanging out with Socrates and Rasputin when that old philosopher asked us if we wanted to do some shots. Peer pressure’s a bitch.”
My victory was short-lived, or so it felt. It’s kind of hard to understand time in this context. Things feel shorter and longer, and my HUD clock reads “Fuck it, IDK”. I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight. It wasn’t a creature or an experiment I made, though I wanted to. Alexander claims he doesn’t need any subdermal protective mesh or musculo-skeletal material enhancement.
Nor was it the result of this interesting fungal bread the whole bunch seems to like. Apparently you’re not supposed to eat as much as I did this once.
No, this was my basement window warping and growing. I figured this was the house’s doing, so while it drew my attention and concern, I settled for throwing on my fully-repaired armor and calling out to those above, “Hey! We have a situation down here!” I didn’t hear a response, but I set up this nifty new weapon I’d built with some of the concepts and technology laying around here.
The window grew wider and stretched down to the floor. Then it shattered and through it jumped that oversized suit of power armor that looked like an iron maiden with arms and legs made of girders. I was actually standing with my back to the window when that happened, but I’d set up the big void gun. I didn’t have a good name yet, since this bunch already took “void cannon” for the smaller version. Void Launcher, maybe.
I thought I’d already killed this Iron Maiden thing before now, but no big deal. I smacked the Void Launcher’s firing button and dropped down under the barrel. It gathered energy and spewed a mobile extradimensional wormhole encased in a forcefield that shattered upon impact with the Iron Maiden. The wormhole was small and localized, in the sense that it tossed everything within a nine-foot sphere to the void between universes.
I have no idea how accurate the jargon and nomenclature is on the sciency-sounding shit I’m saying, but I know it fired a contained ball of “hole in universe”. That wasn’t enough to get rid of all of Iron Maiden, but the body that I get its name from is gone, leaving parts of the arms and legs behind.
I was ducking around it to try a second shot but something struck it right down the barrel, and then electricity jumped off it to shock me.
From behind the meat shield that had been the Iron Maiden came a veritable “Who’s Who?” of people I’ve pissed off before. Leading the charge was Lone Gunman, who was dead in my timeline. I had attempted to kill him several times when he was the sidekick of another super, Six Shooter. He then turned murderous vigilante when I succeeded in killing Shooter. That lasted until I killed him.
Next was a woman in flowing purple robes. The HUD had to recognize her: Miss Tycism, a magical heroine I offed years ago. Next was a woman in a shiny suit of pink and gold armor that looked a lot like an advanced version of Medusa’s suit when she was Venus. She was standing next to a hulking man with an artificial body that was as smooth in form and movement as if it was organic. His head was furry and resembled a sloth. That’d be Human Sloth, Venus’s super boyfriend I killed.
“Ok, I think we need to have a talk-” I started, but that’s when the lightning impaled me from through that portal. The last one to float on in was Captain Lightning, the magical superhero. Unlike the others, I never killed this one. The costume was the same as I was used to, but he was darker skinned; probably the apprentice and successor that Captain Lightning took on. Some future version pissed off at me about something I have yet to do, unlike all the dead people. Yes, even Venus. I killed a future version of her once.
What’s sad is that these are just some of vengeful dead they could have brought back from recent history to kick my ass.
I was weak after the lightning, so I activated a drone to the side, meant to attach to my power armor and supplement its strengths with a rotating sawblade and flamethrower. I flew it at the bunch instead. Neo Human Sloth grabbed it in his claws and tore it apart.
“Hold on, guys, don’t tell me you’re working for the guy who wants to wipe out most of existence and all superheroes too,” I said, hands up. With a moment to breath, I left an illusion in my place and crawled to the side. I came up to the side of Captain Lightning, trying to keep my suit where it could maintain the lie.
“We’re here to stop the person who beat and kidnapped Forcelight, and killed most of us,” Venus said.
All of you, dear, except Captain Lightning II. He’s the one who whirled around to face me and went to punch me. I raised my hands, activating the systems I’d replaced my energy sheaths with. After that failure with Darklight, I decided implement more of that Void Cannon technology. From my forearms down became engulfed in the pure lack of existence. And then the gauntlets crapped out and left me without all-powerful invincibility. Every version of Captain Lightning punches hard. And then mystical rings of runes wrapped around my arms and pulled them around my body. I let loose a paralyzing banshee’s shriek but more runes surrounded my face. Nobody fell, but Miss Tycism did a bunch of hand gestures that were probably responsible.
Venus raised an arm and used a flamethrower of her own, torching my nanomachines. Human Sloth grabbed me and lifted me up. And our buddy Lone Gunman stepped up to point a gun at my head from pretty close by.
“So… this it?” I asked the bunch.
Miss Tycism raised a hand, her voice echoing, “Sleep.”
I woke up in a clear cube in a room of white walls, floor, and ceiling. Just pure white. It was painful, and might have been where the glow of light came from. Venus stood on the other side of the clear enclosure. “Well, if this is meant to be an afterlife, I’d like to speak to a manager,” I said, standing up and looking around. My armor, which I’d been left in, was getting nothing from this whole room except acknowledgment that Venus was there. “So, when are you from? The big fight between me and the copy of my mind y’all downloaded?”
She nodded. “That’s the one. Forcelight came to me before I could dig you up. Offered to show me how much worse the world would be because of you.”
“You should really have a chat with the version of you from when I left,” I said.
Venus shook her head. “You’re here because most of us wanted to take you alive. It was important to Forcelight.”
“Yeah, she’s getting paid to help destroy the universe with the opportunity to kill me. You’re not in with a good bunch. But you and the others being tempted is my fault, too. What about my friends?”
She shrugged. “Lightning, Forcelight, and the others wrecked the place, but time pirates stopped by to loot the fight. Maybe they survived.” A column of light appeared around her. “Looks like I’m off. I hear Jaguar Slayer’s got a better world in mind for me and my friends.”
Venus disappeared and was replaced by Darklight. Formerly Forcelight, until she got burned in my murder of her. Jaguar Slayer nabbed her just before her death. “Ah, here to kill me!” I greeted the person I’d so recently beaten and captured.
“Here to gloat,” She pulled her mask off so I could see her laughing at me.
“So, how is this going to happen?” I asked.
“I’m going to drag it out and let you see as your whole life is destroyed. You’re at my mercy now, and that prison there is completely immune to anything you are capable of, and several things you aren’t,” she says. “You exist at my leisure here. I want to see you crying and begging.”
She paused as if to let me respond. “What about my life? Going to wipe out more of me?”
“You’ve got a kid, loved ones, friends. Even a reputation. I can take it all out. I’ll turn your family against you. You want to see your friends broken and betrayed. Or your reputation. Time travel to every moment that fueled your reputation and undercutting it. You’re going to be a joke. Psycho Gecko is going to be the joke it always should have been.”
“All of that to have me cry and beg?” I asked. “I can give you tears without you hurting other people and going down that path. If it’ll make you feel better and save others, yes, I’ll cry.”
My captor shook her head. “No. You don’t get to pretend to take the high ground after everything you did to me. You get to sit there and watch. Hunger and thirst won’t touch you. You won’t age. You won’t get sick. You’ll be there, my captive.”
I walked up to the wall of the cube and gave it a few hits while Darklight talked, finishing up with the whole of my strength. The Nasty Surprise did nothing. Same for the whip. Nothing I had on me did a thing to the walls, and I tried everything. Except the nanites. Those were no longer answering. Nothing was. I didn’t have a connection to anything else.
“You don’t have to be the villain,” I said.
“I’m the victim!” she yelled, stepping close to the wall between us.
“Yes, you are. It’s my fault. If I could go back and not do it, I would. But as far as you and I are concerned, this is what happened. All you can do is make it go differently for someone else before the person you’re helping wipes them all out anyway.”
Darklight and raised a hand and the middle finger on it before she was columned on out of there. Leaving me, now her prisoner, now beaten by my past victims, now to have my life unraveled.
I got a call. Unknown number. What the hell, even a robocall couldn’t make that day worse. I picked up and heard, “Hey Gecko!”
“Who’s this?” I asked.
“It’s Wattson, dear. Everyone, she’s alive!”
I heard cheering in the background. “Only because the person I thought I beat wants to burn my life to a ruin and hurt everyone positive in it.” I said. “How’d they get in the House anyway?”
“They had smuggled a device onboard that allowed them to find us even when not in a firm time,” Wattson explained.
“Shit, this was because I captured her.” There we go, the universe penalizing me for not murdering someone again.
“Er, no. According to Captain Codburn, the signal was present before that. It started when we brought you onboard.”
Oh. There we go, the universe penalizing me for not murdering someone again. “Shit.”
“It’s not entirely bad. We can find you and the base of their operations outside of time. You’ll be avenged upon them soon enough.”
“Good, I don’t like being the damsel in distress. But try not to kill any of these types if possible. I mean, protect yourselves, of course, but…”
“I understand, this is some deeply philosophical lesson you’ve learned while confronting the demons of your past. It happens a lot to time travelers,” Wattson answered.
“Thank you for understanding,” I told him.
“Hang tight. Wattson out!”
Finally, the day we were to head back. I woke up, noticed I had an extra pair of arms in bed, and smiled at the thought of the body pressing against me from behind. I turned and pushed Venus’s brown hair out of the way before kissing her. She eventually woke up, returning my affection until she opened her eyes. She started and sat up onto her knees before smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, forgot who you were for a moment.”
I tugged the covers up over my chest. “Mmm, was a little longer than a moment.”
She smiled that lovely smile before she leaned in close. “No, I knew what I was doing then.” She kissed me once on the forehead.
I winked at her. “I’d say you did.”
She blushed, then bit her lip. She hugged a pillow to herself and looked over to where Dame had been propped up on a chair, still not waking. An earbud-like device rested on Dame’s thigh. “Trying that was wrong, though.”
I’d given her the gizmo for her as a surprise. It let her inhabit Dame the same way I could, but Venus wasn’t having anything in that situation. She got back out of Dame and we got into an argument. There was some light pushing, and I fell on the bed while dragging Venus with me. Before we knew it, the argument was over.
I rolled my eyes, then walked my fingers up Venus’s thigh. “If it’s so wrong, go grab some handcuffs and lock me up.” I started to kiss her knee, but she popped me with the pillow.
“I’m serious. What you’ve done to her is beyond the pale. And trying to get me in her?” She shook her head.
I pushed the pillow away and reached up to run my fingers through her hair. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” I smiled at her, hoping temptation would override her morals again.
She got up and walked over to the other utilitarian chair by Dame, gathering her clothes up along the way and began pulling them on I slipped into Dame and sat on Venus’s lap. She held me for a moment but pushed me away when I moved in for the kiss. “No. And I don’t care what your nanites said about the damage. Fix her. Bring her back. Give her her brain back where neither of us can take it over again.”
It was more of a sad rebuke than angry. She followed it up by getting dressed and heading out to check on our departure details.
When the Buzzkills used some of our limited nanite supplies healing my stab wound up, I held onto a little bit. I reprogrammed them for diagnostic purposes, to tell me more about what was going on with Dame. They found damage throughout her lovely cybernetic brain. If anything, it’s a surprise it didn’t affect me more. Or maybe it did, like when I forgot who I was. After that, they focused on healing her injuries from the underground fight. You’d be surprised what organs can bruise, dear reader.
Either way, I figured I’d keep her fed and watered, make sure she goes to the bathroom in the right spot. I’ll get her fixed when we get back home. Probably. I’m tempted not to. It’s the kind of perverse transhumanist mayhem I so selfishly love. Maybe I’ll get lucky and she won’t be there when it’s fixed. Brain injuries are interesting like that, but doubt it’s the kind of thing that could kill her while leaving her intact enough for me to take over.
Speaking of taking her over, I can freely move back and forth again. Near as I can tell, something in my transceivers just… gave out. A power surge from the Domeship shouldn’t have affected me, so maybe it was residual damage left over from the mag-lev rails. I’d been dancing with those trains an awful lot. Fuckin’ magnets, how did they mess up my brain?
It took me longer to get ready for the day than usual, due to having to shower and dress two bodies. Maybe Venus wants to walk around smelling like stank, but I have some class. Travel looked to be more difficult, and I thought of grabbing some duct tape and doing a conjoined twin scenario. I remembered there was already someone who tried to kill me on the ship and figured that would probably add a few more enemies I didn’t need yet. Never know when you’re going to catch something bigger than a scalpel to the heart. I opted to tie her to my back, like a pack. I don’t actually want her hurt while she’s a backup body for me.
I still attracted dirty looks with Dame tied to my back by a bedsheet rope. Good thing I didn’t need to ask for directions. I got enough glares and “Fuck You”s from heroes I only cheerfully waved at.
We all met in the dome. We stood there among defectors and rebel crew to watch as the Senate renamed itself the Forum and appointed a three-person ruling Council to run things via the dome functioning like a giant round TV screen. Some of the rebels near me, who weren’t so much rebels anymore, muttered about how they thought the whole body should have been gotten away with and replaced by regular people.
I’m not sure what that said about the chances of this government standing up, but I felt a lot better when Warman met with the joint session of the Forum and Council to be presented with an armistice. I rolled my eyes at that one. We fought for peace and got a break. Now, we get to leave the peace treaty in the hands of some of the people who tried to sell us out and join the invaders. I sighed and texted Venus. “This is why I should have assassinated the Consuls. They’d be much more inclined to go ahead and accept a peace treaty if they knew how grave the situation was.”
“Bad gecko. Bhave.”
“We have to talk about your shortening problem.”
“L8r. Turning ship over 2 nu capn.”
“I may have to break up with you over the text speak.”
She didn’t reply for several minutes, either processing it or too busy with ceremony. After nearly ten minutes, I received he reply. “U! Break up w/ME after last nite?!!!”
What’s the point of all the shortcuts if you’re going to add so many extra exclamation points. Some believe more than three such pieces of punctuation are the sign of a diseased mine, and I can’t help but suspect it’s true after seeing it in action. “It is painful to read.”
“U tricked me n2 Dame.”
“She’ll never even know unless you tell her once she’s back to normal.”
“I no. That’s y its feels so bad.”
I frowned as I looked over the words in my HUD. I’m going to go ahead and take her at her word this really did make her feel bad once she stopped thinking with her vulva. I thought of all the confusing feelings and the way she used those. Her replacing her doppelganger and tricking me. Freeloading and getting close to my daughter. She tricked me into dates and cuddles and snuggles. Just talking and watching TV together. Dates. Her smile.
And even though she seems to have meshed well with her old friends, I still caught the clear disapproval about her being with me. I have no clue why she’s with me. And I realized that really mattered to me. Because if I knew why she stooped to slumming with me, it would give me an idea what I could do to keep her. It was truly an insidious plot.
“I don’t know what you see in me, Boopsie, but I wish I could live up to it enough to keep you around. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that to you,” I sent to her. Not exactly reminding her it takes two to make the beast with a billion backs, but she knows that part already. I’m giving her an out. A way to shift blame onto the villain.
They announced that the ship would be transitioning back to our world within one hour, pending the return of our delegation from the surface and the arrival of diplomats from the new government. I set my system to hold all incoming texts and calls for awhile. It seemed safer to stay out of the way. Instead, I stopped by the infirmary. They had taken good care of me, feeding me nutrients through IV. It could have been much worse. I chould have had to eat their shitty food.
The understaffed bunch who had been manning it were taking a well-deserved break. I stared at the bed where my body had lain. I’d already checked around it for anything to tell me what was going on, but they’d cleaned up already. It was a hygiene concern when you’re supposed to heal the sick and dying. The heroes signed off on it, said they checked the area over thoroughly.
There was no video surveillance of this hall of rest beds. It wasn’t expected to be a private area at all; it held seven beds. The report I cajoled out of Eschaton said they had hardly anyone else in the room with me. Of the two, one was zonked out on a sedative at the time and the other was in the bathroom. My paranoia wanted to tell me this was by design. My pragmatism said anyone waiting to kill me would have found that to be the perfect moment to go for it.
Still, I had to check.
The hero who’d gone to the bathroom had been identified in the quick report I’d been given. Almost two pages long, it didn’t have a lot of details, but it emphasized that Electrikitty had been cleared and had nothing to do with the attempt on my life. It took most of the hour to find out where she called her litter box. She didn’t have as good of quarters as Venus, which led me to briefly wonder why Venus got special treatment. Leftover goodwill, or a protective measure for being close to me? Probably just my paranoia acting up again. Either way, I walked into one of the eateries and sat down across from a superhero wearing an electric blue cat ear headband, and a white costume with blue electricity patterns over the chest, arms, and legs.
“Oh my god, is that a dead body?” she asked, looking at Dame on my back.
I glanced back, then shook my head. “She’s only sleeping. Say ‘hi’ Dame.” I inhabited Dame briefly to raise her head up. “Hi, Dame!” I jumped back into my body to look into the gawking, open-mouthed expression of Electrikitty. “Listen, do me a favor. I’m looking into that incident in the infirmary, the stabbing?”
“I already talked to the other heroes,” she said, squinting at me. “Have we met?”
She looked pretty convincing, not knowing who I am. I smiled at her, “Maybe in another nine lives.” I watched as she rolled her eyes at the comment, then I continued, “I was just wondering if there was anything you saw at all. Maybe something you remembered. Anyone you noticed between your bed and the restroom.”
She shook her head. “No. The only thing I can think of is to ask those guys in the colorful suits and the helmets. One of them had a crush on her or something. He was always watching.”
“But not that day?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Maybe?” Truly, Electrikitty was a font of knowledge. She legitimately seemed not to remember me the whole time. I dunno, maybe she was just that messed up at the time. Even her tipoff about the Justice Rangers was just pointing toward a direction I was already headed. I didn’t just suspect them of having something to do with it, but I did remember how often they liked to hover over me and watch me. They either almost certainly knew what happened, either by participation or observation.
I found them hanging out back under the dome itself. They mostly stuck together in a group and were all in costume. Justice Rangers inevitably stand out. They even usually wear their colors when out of costume.
I walked right up to the group, who were conversing with a group of Uranals in fancy dress and a few heroes, including Pinion and Warman. The group quieted as I approached, as if it’s unusual to see a four armed woman with a seemingly-lifeless woman tied to her back.
“Can I help you?” someone asked.
“Ricca Island Police. I need to ask someone a few questions about a murder,” I said. I dont know if my Security forces, the primary peacekeepers of the island, go by that, but it made for a good acronym: RIP. And I am in the chain of command, so it’s not really a lie. I’m at the top of the chain.
“Gecko,” Warman said, “May I have a word with you in private?” Warman’s shrewd party politicking caught me off-guard. I hadn’t taken him for the diplomatic type.
“No can do, Wardude. I need to have a chat with these guys, gals, and non-binary pals to see who tried to kill me.”
Warman pushed past the group, none of whom were smiling now. Or so I assume. You can’t really see into those Justice Ranger helmets. He caught me away from the group and put an arm on my shoulder. “This is the diplomatic entourage. We do not need any wild accusations flying now.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t have this peace if not for me and you know it. They’d have shattered Uranus. The food riots, the food relief, the Buzzkills coming to your aid during the protests; all me, baby. Hell, the Buzzkills would have been keeping a better eye on me, but I had them helping y’all out.” I poked him in the chest with one finger, staring him down.
“If you want to talk about all this after we get back to Earth and the diplomats are out of sight, have at it. Accuse whoever you want. Hell, accuse Elvis,” he gestured over in the direction of Honky Tonk Hero, who was having a picnic with Pinion. “But I’ll tell you now, you won’t find nothing. Nobody saw anything and nobody wanted to see anything because you’re a vile son of a bitch who half the people on this boat want to see knifed. To be quite honest, no hero here is going to throw their buddies under the bus over you.” He poked back, between the boobs.
He withdrew his hands as things got quiet. I was looking into his eyes, but thinking through the best ways to hurt him. He nodded behind me. “You want to give them a reason to put you down? Nobody here gives a damn about you but your bugs.”
Oh look. I just found out I CAN get even angrier. “You don’t call them that,” I told him.
“Hey Warman,” said a voice from the side. He turned to look and caught a fist to his jaw. It stumbled him, owing to the element of surprise and the enhanced strength of the woman behind the fist.
Venus stepped between us, rubbing the knuckles on her right hand. “Murder isn’t ok just because the victim is an asshole, asshole.”
Warman spat off to the side. “Look who’s talking. You seem pretty tolerant of murderers nowadays, Venus.” He projected his voice, making sure he was heard by those around us who were clearly following the action. I glanced around and saw many of my Buzzkills assembling in squads in case it came to it.
“My name’s Medusa,” she responded. “I for the people, not the law. There’s no one so wretched they don’t deserve to be saved.”
Whew. Terrible day for rain. Had to hold back and make sure none got on my face.
There was a bright flash, then a voice over the ship’s intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Earth, home universe.” I could even feel the familiar internet sync up with my brain, managing to spoil the entirety of the current season of Game of Thrones before I ever had a chance to watch it.
That got a cheer from the part of the crowd that wasn’t caught up in our drama, as well as the Justice Rangers and the Uranals.
Warman turned. “I have to go see to a lasting peace to a war that threatened billions. You go kiss that bitch who murdered your boyfriend,” he said by way of parting shot. He headed back over to the diplomatic entourage, who seemed to quickly forget the scuffle.
Medusa wrapped her arms around me. “Don’t worry. I got you.”
The absurdity of it got a laugh from me. I hugged her back, kissed the top of her head. After a couple of minutes, she looked up. “You want to round anybody up?”
I looked over her head at the Justice Rangers. The pink one stared at me. I raised one of Dame’s hands to give her the finger, then answered Medusa. “I want to go home to my family and hug my daughter.”
There I was, a woman on a mission, deep in Uranus. It got a bit hairy, I’ll admit. Even a bit nutty at times, some might say.
The heroes wanted to wait, but the revolution wouldn’t listen to them. It had too much momentum. The heroes talked to whoever was supposedly leading this thing, only to find out they were trying to write up declarations and constitutions. They didn’t even realize the mob they supposedly led started a riot in front of the Chair and the Tower.
“At least we know where this weapon or bomb is,” Gorilla Awesome told me. He loaded a hefty backpack onto me. They’d stuck at least one of pretty much any tool not nailed down in this thing, and a couple that had been torn off of where they’d been fixed. Unless something goes really wrong, I don’t know what I’d need a vice for. I have too many already. The oxygen tank was probably a good idea, though.
I don’t know how Dame had this thing upgraded, but I was glad she figured out a way to remain in contact with people while still going intangible. When I first encountered her, the intangibility had an issue with electricity. My internal power source had a heck of an effect on it once. Nothing like that to worry about in Dame’s body, just a computer brain. That’s what prompted me to improve it. Er, her.
Still a bit of a mixup from time to time, what with me sharing her brain at the moment. You can’t really make this work without some feedback from the other direction.
I could have dropped from the Domeship and gone intangible for quicker results, but I thought it’d suck to overshoot and keep going. From what the brain trust of heroes told me, it’d be a really bad idea to go too deep into Uranus. Something about portions of the mantle consisting of liquid diamond. I really want to see that kind of shit, but without being subject to the kinds of pressures that would liquefy diamond.
They flew me down while some of the heroes deployed to try to slow down the rioting. I hopped off, went intangible, and did my best to swim down through everything. Someone, keeping track of everything, noted, “Dame is loose. Alpha, Beta, Gamma team are deploying.”
It didn’t take too long to sweep through sewers and foundations. I was blind below that. “Further down,” Gorilla Awesome urged in my ear. “Left. No, the direction to the left of how you just moved.”
I had to stop and think that one through, then shifted. “Ok, I’ve turned so that’s my left now. Let’s get going.”
“I hope the light works,” he said.
It took a good hour of “swimming” through a bunch of minerals and ice I couldn’t see in the first place. I felt uneven, jagged things passing through me painlessly. The texture changed when I reached the end of that half hour. Solid and dense, then a layer of solid and slightly porous. I followed that down to a floor of dense metal. Past that was air. I tried to trace it out and found enough room to at least turn solid. I’d been so long without real mass and wasn’t used to the weight of the backpack I’d been loaded down with, so I fell as soon as I turned solid, cussing.
Gorilla Awesome was alarmed. “Dame, are you hurt?”
“Just wasn’t used to so much sass in my mass after all that.” I breathed in through the oxygen mask and turned on my headlamp. It’d be a big room for a house, like a living room, but square, with these columns built into the wall. In the middle was a big, black egg on a stand. “Congratulations… their secret weapon was a dragon’s egg.”
“Really?” Awesome asked.
I rolled my eyes, “Probably not, but it looks like an egg.” I started to approach, but I felt a stabbing pain in my chest. I looked down. Nope, hadn’t been stabbed. I didn’t smell anything if there was something in the air. “Ugh, that’s not good.”
“What?” Awesome asked.
“I hope there wasn’t some kind of poison or viral agent down here… feels like I just got knifed in the chest.” I felt something warm spray all over me. “It’s for real like someone really, 100% stabbed me.” I fell to my knees, trying to take a breath even though I was fine on my end.
“Dame, what’s wrong?”
“Check on Gecko!” I coughed up. I took a minute or two to gather myself. I felt cold in spite of being deep underground. I crawled over to the stand and reached up to adjust the device attached to my ear, setting it to Venus’s frequency. “Boopsie, talk to me. Something’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I think it might be my body, up there in the infirmary.”
“What? Gecko?” she asked. “Dame warmed me you could take over her. How long have you been in there?”
“The night I went into a coma. I don’t know how that happened. I just woke up in Dame when she had that head injury with you.” I took a second to remember her body didn’t have trouble keeping air in her lungs. “I don’t know why. I tried going back.”
“I’m on the ground. I can’t-, I’m nowhere near the infirmary. They’re checking on you. They’ll save you, alright. Stay with me.”
“Keep talking, Boopsie.” I focused on the sound of her voice as I forced my way to the stand and dropped the backpack. I fumbled around in there and pulled out a small blowtorch and a box of matches. When I looked up, I noticed a thin, vertical line of light cast on the stand that certainly didn’t match my head lamp. I turned to look and saw a column cracked open. Out stepped a nude, grey-skinned man. The column insides looked like a padded pod with some computers, wires, and tubes hanging up.
The clone looked at me. “You are here to activate the device?”
I nodded. “Yep. That’s completely why I’m here. I’ll handle the bomb. You go back to sleep and I’ll handle it from here.”
His eyes glowed red. Oh, well, if it’s a fight, that I might be able to handle. I whimpered as I stood up. Venus’s voice came through loud and clear in my ear, “You can’t fight. That’s Dame’s body. You’re already dying, please don’t take her with you. We’ll figure something out.”
With friends like this, it’s a wonder I’m even trying to stop this planet being blown up. I mean, I technically get everything I’d want anyway if I just kinda “Oops” the doomsday device into activation. I might have to sacrifice Dame’s body to do so, though, which would look like a lot better option if mine wasn’t dying. But then, if my body dies, my mind’s going with it anyway.
I started shaking my head from side to side, concentrating on a beat. “I got this feeling on a Summer day when you were gone. I crashed my car into the bridge. I watched, I let it burn. I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs. I crashed my car into the bridge.”
The grey man shifted so my back wasn’t to the egg, then flew at me. “I don’t care!” I yelled at him and activated Dame’s intangibility bracer. He flew through me and smacked into the hard metal walls. “I love it.”
Now, I managed to at least sway in time to the music. It helped me concentrate. I went solid and grabbed the goody bag they’d packed me. I tossed it into his arms and rushed him. He caught the bag and then had to put up with his attacker leaning on him. I pulled out a pair of pliers and squeezed his nose with them. “This’ll help with the smell. It can’t be pleasant this far down Uranus.”
He half groaned, half growled and grabbed my hand in an iron grip. Yep, definitely superpowers. He pulled my hand away and the pliers dropped. “You will diEEE!” he screamed and hopped up and down, dropping the bag. It hit my other hand that had caught the dropped pliers and knocked them loose, causing me the pliers’ hold on his exposed nut sack. He threw me at the opposite wall, hard. I phased through it.
He stepped away from the wall, looking around, then walked toward the doomsday device. My voice reverberated out from around him as I maneuvered through the solid exterior. “You’re on a different road, I’m in the Milky Way. You want me down on Earth, but I am up in space.” I poked my head out from above him. He looked up and zapped the ceiling with red lightning. I dropped down, only turning solid once I smacked into the floor, and scrabbled to grab the egg thing. Then the bracer went on again and I fell through the floor with it.
The next time I sang, it was from a corner. “You’re so damn hard to please, we gotta kill this switch. You’re from the 70s, but I’m a 90s bitch.” He turned and tried to zap me again. He hit the egg, blowing a piece of it off and exposing circuitry.
He ran and slid on his knees to cup the egg against him, checking it over. I came out of the floor behind him and grabbed for that blow torch, then the matches. The flicking of matches got his attention and he turned in time to see fire. Glorious fire! He got an eye full, and practically screamed with joy at the sight. Or maybe that was pain. As happy as I was to hurt him, I still felt like someone was turning me into a sub sandwich, so the feelings were a bit confused in me as well. But I held him there, grabbing the back of his head to force his face against the torch. The first punch to Dame’s chest made my back pop. The second made something inside break. He didn’t finish the third, because by that point I’d burnt a hole through half his head. I was almost burning my hand, but I waited until his body stopped wiggling. I let drop to the side and I shut the torch off, falling to my knees.
I didn’t even have the decency to wheeze for as bad as I felt. I fell forward, over his feet and against the shell of the egg-shaped device. It sparked a bit, but zapped me. So, it still had power. I would have to handle this with delicacy. “Venus, I’m feeling kinda fucked. But not in the good way. I’m feeling like I got mounted by a horse and nobody bought me dinner first.” I began tugging stuff out, breaking shit. Truth be told, doomsday devices usually pretty sensitive. It began to whine at one point and I noticed vibrations, but then I got the blowtorch reignited. I held it up to the exposed portion and began to burn my way through it. It snapped, crackled, popped, and stopped vibrating.
I celebrated by tossing the torch aside and laying down for a nap.
When I awoke, it was to Venus’s voice in my ear. “Gecko? Are you still there?”
I groaned, putting a hand to my chest, by which I meant Dame’s chest. “Still here.” At this point, I couldn’t tell which body the pain was coming from, I just knew I was tired of it. “Tell the Buzzkills… have a syringe ready for me.”
I had been worried I was going to die there, next to some egg that someone buried in Uranus. It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but neither was the thought of those dickweeds in the Justice Ranger outfits getting the last laugh, or being abandoned by heroes who loathed my presence, or the thought of what would happen to my daughter without me there. So I decided I wasn’t sleeping anymore until I clawed my way out of Uranus and into the light again. I vowed to rise again. Plus, coming back from the dead always gives a person serious cred for building their own cult.
Finding the way out was easy enough. I went up. It was all the time spent injured, even if it was made easier by phasing through crap. When I reached the surface, I left the radio sending an SOS and just laid there, trying not to breathe too hard.
I woke up this time and held myself with four arms in my own body, glad to be back. Fuck that whole “toppling the government” celebration the heroes were having with the resident Ewoks of the Butt Planet. I couldn’t get a good read on what exactly happened. There was talk of tarring and feathering, but also drawing and quartering.
Still no sign of Dame waking up on her own, though.
I don’t know why I felt like checking in on Psycho Gecko. They have us on a rotation system where we spend a few hours on duty, then come back to help. They have even less time out than when they go out on patrol. It used to be, they’d go out, hang out on rooftops, and eventually find something to stop. We’re all being zipped to and fro to hot spots where the work or fighting is almost constant. I’m mostly used for search and rescue, and scouting.
I was scared at first; I’m sure as shit not a fighter. I haven’t been scared since the head injury. More… sad, I guess? And angry. God, so angry. I didn’t think I hated them so much. If it was just the soldiers who shoot at us, that would be understandable. But I pulled a mother and her child from wreckage and wanted to slap the hell out of that crying baby. I wanted to yell at the woman and tell her this was all her fault, too. I didn’t want to be there, risking my life for people who let all this happen when I could be home.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of home so much. Home’s a penthouse paid for with stolen money because I didn’t want to live off money from those hermits with the god complex. But that wasn’t the only weirdness to happen to me. I had an incident while scouting.
They needed me to see how the soldiers were arrayed near this Perilous Tower place and the Consul’s Chair. They named their palace after a seat. I bet it’s because it had a humble name a long time ago. The oldtimers who say they’re gods talk about that stuff. “I remember when Stonehenge was nothing but a bunch of druids sitting around on rocks doing rituals.”
I got a good look, but I was sneaking around the streets circling the Chair when a group of armored soldiers with jetpacks landed around me. I normally play this safe. I could activate my bracer and go underground without issue. I turned it on and threw a punch at the nearest of the five soldiers around me. I had a thought that I didn’t know how many it would take to kick my ass, but I knew they didn’t bring enough.
I had ideas about grabbing guns, choking people, snapping necks, but the soldiers around me opened fire through me. Didn’t do shit to me, but they got themselves good. Their armor stopped most of it. I went solid long enough to grab for one’s gun. His strap stopped me from pulling it free, so instead I smashed it into his throat and sent him splaying. Another raised his gun, sans strap. I twisted it free of his grip, phased, and held the gun out so the receiver poked through his head. When I went solid, the gun did too.
He landed next to one of the people who hadn’t tanked bullets as well as the others, leaving me two more to play with. Play? The fuck am I doing “playing” with soldiers? No respawn, no GG. Like, when one of them pulled a knife and tried to stab me in the pancreas. I grabbed it, twisted his wrist, stomped on his ankle, then drove it into his throat. The warm blood splattering me snapped me the rest of the way out of whatever was going on with me.
I went insubstantial and ran. I stopped after what felt like a mile. I don’t know. I work out, but I don’t marathon run and why the fuck am I talking about my workout routine? I fucking killed those guys. They had visors and armor and I couldn’t see their faces but they were probably human people. Even those grey fucks are human, maybe.
It took a minute before the trembling stopped. I wanted to say it was emotion, but I knew it was adrenaline. I’d be fine. I probably didn’t even kill that one with how weak I am now. That thought convinced me that, more than anything, I needed to get off the ground. Because I realized, holy shit, I was critiquing that shit mentally. I knew I could do better, but thought that was a pretty sweet ankle kick considering the boots they had on. And that’s why I took a deep breath and screamed for a moment. Then I called up the ship and told them to I was done and to get me the hell out of there.
When I got back onto the ship, I headed for the medical ward. I heard someone calling for me back in the docking bay, but I needed drugs and shrinks and some electroshock therapy. Lots of electroshock. Lots of drugs. I remember when they wanted to put me on some when I was a teenager. They thought I was too willful. The people at the program… my parents? What program? I was remembering two different sets of events. What. The. Fuck?
I headed for the beds. I needed to lay down, that’s all. I ran over to the bed next to Psycho Gecko and tried to collect myself. I laid back, tried to take my mind off this, whatever this was. I started wondering if I’d see those guys in my dreams, but knew I wouldn’t. A weird little phrase occurred to me. I don’t know if I’m a woman dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a woman. Don’t know where that came from. I know who I am. I…
A lot of shit hit me at once that made the whole “murderer” thing affect me even less than it already was. The me in the mirror didn’t match the me inside, again. This time, instead of being hairy and masculine, it’s because the me outside was Dame. I’ve spent a few days dreaming I was a butterfly. I’m a Gecko instead. I groaned, looking over at my body.
I sensed a presence and looked up near the doorway. It was one of the Justice Rangers, checking in on my body. He wasn’t paying me any mind. Kinda emblematic, I guess. My past is always there. I’m always tied to it. Venus thinks I could be better. Do I dare entertain the thought that she’s right? And what then? Give it an actual go? Abandon my daughter and my empire? Even abandon whatever this is with Venus? That’s the same thinking that drove me into my cowardice when I had a time machine. I didn’t make things better because I thought of what things were like now.
So leaving aside all that, I could just leave my body on life support. Let go of my past to try being a better person.
I know, I know, dear readers. It seems downright laughable for me to seriously consider. Of all people, I’m the one who pondered making a real and earnest change. Seeing what I could be if I let go and began again.
I sighed to myself, because it occurred to me that if any part of me really wants to be better, that means not hijacking some other person’s body and taking over her life permanently. I got up and pushed past the Ranger while telling him, “Stop staring, asshat.”
I found a seat in an area where people might not suddenly and catastrophically need beds, and tried slipping back into me. Nope. Well, shit. That couldn’t be good. I reached up and felt the stitches on my, or at least Dame’s, head. Maybe something got messed up in there, combined with falling asleep at the wrong time? Questions for later.
I went to go grab some food, giving my comatose body some side eye. I’m gonna be hungry as fuck when I wake up, but Dame needed to eat for now. It was there, while grabbing myself cloned, cooked meat patty and green beans so pale they were teal, that I saw Venus sitting and reading something on her phone.
“Surprised you get coverage here,” I said as I sat beside her at the table. Luckily, no matter the universe, humans sitting and eating leads to a limited number of options. It’s a lot easier to explain than all the English over here.
“Hey Dame,” she said, covering her mouth as she talked. She swallowed before shooting me a smile. “Heard you had some trouble.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like you wouldn’t believe. I actually need to tell you about something real quick.”
She looked to the doorway, where Gorilla Awesome bounded in. Gorillas running at you tend to draw attention. That goes double if they can talk and built their own jetpack. “I’ve found the reason they invaded! It’s that damn Gecko’s fault again, too.”
Venus sighed and looked down at her plate for a moment before collecting herself and asking Gorilla Awesome, “So Honky Tonk won that bet you two had?” Awesome snorted and pulled a seat away so he could join us on the other side of the table. Venus focused on him. “Did you run over here during my break just to remind me my girlfriend’s the devil?”
Aww… that’s the sweetest thing she’s ever said about me.
Gorilla Awesome shook his head. “Would that were the case. No. It was in the same series of messages that alerted us to a major problem. They were curious by the weapon used to attack Executor Paldrin’s province. They were relieved it wasn’t what they initially suspected it to be, but an attack that cuts them off from dimensional travel was still considered a grave danger to them. They are heavy importers of raw materials. They can’t survive otherwise. Most distressing for us, they suspected it was a mobile version of what they term the ‘Spite Solution’.”
“Let me guess, they kill everyone.” I volunteered. “You don’t call something a ‘Solution’ without a lot of people dying.”
Awesome nodded slightly. “Yes. There was an uprising on Earth. A political rival from a family with superpowers suddenly grew in strength and threatened to depose the Consuls. Because the rival, the Consuls, and most of the Senate were on Earth at the time, nobody ultimately knows if the Consuls used it to spite their enemy or if someone else used the opportunity. All these Consuls know is the Earth is a slowly-spreading lifeless asteroid field. Despite that, they have completed a similar device on Uranus.”
Venus jumped up. “Next time lead with the doomsday device they currently have!”
“Sorry!” Gorilla Awesome raised his damn, dirty paws. “But the good news is, we know where it is.”
“Where?” Venus asked, sitting back down.
“A mile beneath the Chair building. Completely surrounded by ammonia ice, blocks of methane, diamond cement, and metal plate so that no person could get in and out,” Awesome answered.
Venus looked to me. Gorilla Awesome did, too. After a moment, I figured it out, “Oh, right, if only we knew someone who could just phase down about a mile and do something to mess with it.”
Venus patted my arm. “Thank you for offering. You’re a dear.”
Thoughts of Dame and Venus were interrupted by a gorilla with a Ph.D. Telling me, “Don’t worry. We will talk you through the disarming process. This is an area where I would prefer having Psycho Gecko awake if at all possible, but it’s probably best we let sleeping bitches lie.”
Gee, thanks. Nice to know what people say when I’m not around. Little do they know the person they’re insulting is the one preparing to plunge into Uranus to save everyone.
I have to revise my opinion of these rebels. Or perhaps it’s the political rivals I shouldn’t have underestimated. They spread the word that the Consuls didn’t have that much force behind them. People demonstrated. It’s an odd verb to use, especially as protesters often have to hide their identities to avoid being attacked later by paramilitary forces. Nah, what they’re demonstrating is their displeasure. Light enough cars on fire, the people in charge start to realize they messed up.
They didn’t start with fire. First, there were shouts. When the cops started beating them, they brought out the sticks and bricks. Then the soldiers brought out guns, and the protesters went in with fire. Then the heroes arrived to save the day.
It was always something that annoyed me about them. Heroes save people, sure, but they’re mainly known for upholding the laws. Even if those laws are unjust. Refusing to take a lives, when it would be the best solution. I don’t have to think too hard to come up with a few people whose deaths would make the world better.
A better world… yeah, it sure did a lot of improving, didn’t it? Fuck, we went from being invaded by other planets to other dimensions. No use worrying about that distraction at the moment.
So the heroes arrived to save the day. They put themselves between civilians and soldiers, to save the citizens of an empire that tried to conquer them. They threw soldiers around, pulled guns away, whisked people from underneath danger’s blade. And they didn’t kill. I thought I changed them at one point.
So many had been brainwashed by the Claw. I couldn’t beat him, but I freed the heroes and villains under his control. They had the power to do what I couldn’t, but I figured they’d all get a thirst for blood in them. They’re saving their enemies. I saw it from the Domeship: a soldier tried to beat a protester with the butt of his rifle. A glowing acoustic guitar stopped it, and Honky Tonk Hero kabonged the soldier to the ground. He helped up the protester, guided them to safety, and stopped another one from smashing a downed soldier’s head in with a brick. It was like that all over the planet, including the capital.
And they were failing. I think they had just about everybody deployed. Heroes, most of their defectors. That was why I was there. They could either keep more folks around as bridge crew to make sure this thing stayed in the air, or I could take over. The only group they hadn’t used, per my orders, were the Buzzkills. The heroes were more than happy to put themselves in danger. They can’t make that decision for my gals.
I warped the ship over a city called Owa. An explosion blew apart something in the street. “Toasty!” I said to no one in particular. I called down to the team there. “Major Tom to Ground Control. Everything ok down there? It’s looking a bit hot on the streets.”
“This is Pinion.” Right, flying super. Purple and light blue costume with fabric wings. Likes to throw feather-shaped knives, but she’s a hero. “They broke out the mortars. We need help.”
Whoever had that smart idea wasn’t getting it out to their buddies, but that didn’t do much for Pinion and her team. I opened up communications. “This is Gecko. Pinion needs reinforcement. Is there anyone available? Also, beware of mortars.”
“Syncopate here. I think we have this. Give me-” He went staticy for a minute. Syncopate… the guy has these little dishes around his cuffs to help concentrate sonar powers. He sounded out of breath when he checked in a couple seconds later. “This clone unit is tying us down. I’m sorry. I think we need some help now.”
I looked over at the Buzzkills standing at attention, then looked back at the situation. I cut the transmission to the heroes and looked to the Buzzkills again. “This part of it isn’t our business, so I don’t expect y’all to follow orders without questions. This is voluntary.”
“Father Empress,” said one of the Buzzkills as she stepped forward. Quite an odd title there, made possible thanks to my gender situation. “We are not only drones. We have been watching the situation as well. What the heroes are doing helps all of us. I will assemble squads to deploy and help them, first in force at the most dire hot spots, then moving to the rest. We will make you proud.”
I turned to keep an eye on the Domeship’s view screen, even though I didn’t need to with my body directly connected to its central computer. “Thank you, daughter. Be safe. Let me know when you’re ready to warp to the next hot spot.”
She and the other guard bowed, and they left. I kept my mouth shut and digitally generated the transmission when I informed the heroes. “Buzzkills are preparing to deploy. Pinion, you’re up first. Then Syncopate. All teams, keep me abreast of any trouble that pops up. We’re working on the worst spots first, moving onto others.”
A text appeared in my HUD from Venus. “Nice to see ur joining fight.”
I rolled my eyes and texted back. “Aren’t you too busy punching to type?”
“How do u no I’m not braining it?” she asked.
“Because if you were using a connection to it instead, you wouldn’t be stuck in text-speak. Fight first. Flirt later.”
“Never stop u before.”
That gave me a brief smile before the Buzzkill runner came in. “They are away.”
“That was quick,” I said. The Buzzkill didn’t say anything. She was conspicuous in her lack of speech. “You were planning for this.”
“We want to make you proud and protect our hive. We run maneuvers, we train. We plan. We are ready to fight for what we care about, Father Empress,” she said.
Well, nice to see my half-bug bumble babies got brains. If I’m going to send them into a fight to help heroes save people who wanted me dead, at least one side in all this is doing some thinking. “Pinion, help is on the way.”
“Thanks, Gecko,” she said. I put her gratitude aside. A bright white light saw us over to the next hotspot, Poarch.
“Syncopate, Gecko,” I announced. “Still alive?”
“Alive and rockin’,” he said.
I tried to remain all business during the flight of the bumblebees.
The main fighting ended quickly in most spots. Others raged on. The people, emboldened by their new protectors, refused to back down. They encircled government buildings and garrisons. I lost track of everywhere I shuttled people. It just kept going, with me as a glorified ferry. Get up, disconnect long enough to go to the bathroom, grab some nutrient-filled cloned food, and back to being the ship’s brain.
The hardest nut to punch was the capital. The seat of the Republic’s power also held its largest concentration of forces on the planet. The protests and riots that broke out there were nearly stomped out while the Buzzkills were busy with the heroes forcing other guard units to surrender and lay down arms. And then while the heroes tried to arrange for some sort of protective force to guard those other areas that wasn’t going to start a new massacre.
Meanwhile, I stood, sat, or even knelt in one place. It got so bad, I actually passed out. I didn’t realize it until I heard Venus calling out. I opened my eyes and realized I was laying down in a building. It was night, things were on fire, and a portion of the wall was gone. A hand gripped the floor. I checked and that was where Venus’s voice came from. She was holding on with one hand while holding onto a person with the other. She tried adjusting he grip, but the floor bent a bit more.
“Dame, get her,” she told me. Just great. I can’t get a break even when I pass out. At least I was off my ass, even if it wasn’t my ass I wore now. I didn’t even think about it, hitting the phase bracer and passing through the floor to land on the one below. I grabbed the guy Venus held and pulled him away from the edge and the damaged structure. Venus landed near us, and checked the guy’s head and neck. “I think he’ll be fine.”
She turned to me and I saw a wince underneath her visor. “That looks pretty nasty. You should get back to the doctors.” She reached out, a flashlight on her wrist snapping on. “Get that looked at.”
“Tis only a flesh wound,” I told her.
Gorilla Awesome’s voice broke through what had been a nice moment that had me wondering if I could steal a smooch. Dame told Venus about the whole brain puppet thing, I’m sure. Either way, the supersmart jetpack gorilla told us, “Something has happened on the ship. We need a skeleton grew again.”
“What’s up, Awesome?” asked Venus.
“I found Psycho Gecko unconscious at the controls. I expect it’s sleep deprivation. She won’t wake up no matter how hard or often I slap her. The Buzzkills are moving her to quarters, but I require aid to fly the ship.” Well that didn’t sound good.
“Jesus, is this the first anyone’s relieved her?” Venus asked. A burst of light outside showed darkened smudges all over her power armor. I checked my own self out and found Dame’s costume had a few tears as well. My feet ached, my head throbbed, and my muscles were all sore from days of physical activity with little rest. I was all jittery, too. That’d be the adrenaline. I leaned against what had been a table and breathed in and out, trying to control this body.
Gorilla Awesome sighed. “I am going to implement full rotation. It will allow us to shuttle the wounded more efficiently, and allow us to rest outside of a warzone.”
“Good idea. Let the bees know,” she looked to me. “You should go up, too.”
“I-” I started to refuse, but then my head pain roared forward like a bull and I focused on wincing and getting through the pain. Even if it’s me feeling it instead of Dame, I decided it was a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, the heroes and my Buzzkills had pretty much run themselves ragged like this. Warman stayed to fight, along with some of the supers who didn’t need to worry about that so much. And I passed out when being flown back up.
I dreamed I was back on the ground, scouting out the soldiers and finding people trapped in buildings to rescue. Ugh, and I still felt like crap when I woke up, but at least I woke. I was getting some of the blood out of my hair when I heard some of the doctors talking about the casualties. That crazy bitch Psycho Gecko didn’t even do any fighting and she ended up in a coma.
I looked at myself in a mirror for a moment while my body as a whole complained. For just a moment, I thought I didn’t look right, like I wasn’t looking back at my own face. I shook it off, and headed off to grab some chow before I went back down. Whoever said there’s no rest for the wicked didn’t count on the egotistical empress of assholes snoozing while Uranus is on fire.
The heroes had a job for me. Venus called me up in the middle of pulling a little prank. “Are you busy right now?” she asked.
“I could normally work through it, but I’m about to lose you in a minute. Electromagnetic interference. You’re not riding the rails on the surface, are you?” I grit my teeth a little as I delicately bent some wires toward each other with the aid of some insulated tongs.
“We’ve been analyzing the situation over here using their version of the internet, knowledge from the defectors, and information we’ve all learned in our activities.”
“Our activities? I’m the one who interrogated hostages. What did y’all do?” I’ve been out here stealing shit. I haven’t seen these heroes out and about, helping me blow shit up.
“After we fought off the planes, we have been helping out. We’re healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and helping protect people from gangsters called the Kah. We’re trying to utilize all our abilities, which brings me back to why I called. We have a few anthropologists and sociologists among the secret identities. They think-”
“Hold that thought in your pretty little head, dear,” I said. The wires touched and I fell back as my cyborg parts rebelled all at once. It took a few seconds to shake everything off and try to stand up, which got harder when some trains and individual cars started to land all around me on the cold Uranal dirt. Others smacked into the rails above me, but none overcame the magnets. It was only a brief power surge all along a kilometer of track, but it disrupted the flow of people and goods between places.
While I waited on everything to stop falling and to explode if it was going to, I called Venus back. “Ok, I’m back.”
“Do people need our help?”
“Probably. There’s probably injured,” I said. I paused as a man screamed on his way down from the tracks. He landed with a thud, then cried out again. “Yeah, definitely going to need some medical help for collateral damage.” A metal groan drowned out the man’s screams, followed by a falling train car plowing into the man. “You know, nevermind. I think the casualties took care of themselves.”
“I’m sending them anyway. Do you need a ride?” she asked.
I looked over where I left my tread cycle. I stole it off a Kah courier. “I’m good.” It disappeared under another train car. “You know what? A ride would be nice. I’m out here kinda far. Transmitting coordinates now.”
She briefed me as I waited underneath the rails in case any-friggin-thing else decided to fall off. Annoyed me, too. I liked that cycle. I want another one, with built in rocket launchers and machine guns. I’ll paint it red and call it “Minstrel II: Electric Boogaloo.”
The info I’d picked up was puzzling. I hadn’t pieced it all together yet, but a picture was starting to form of a severe labor shortage and a highly nationalistic culture where only a minority of people bought into the ideology.
Venus explained. “At some point, their capital was Earth. We don’t know what happened. The Republic’s line is that it was destroyed in some way. We don’t know what that means. Now, it lives on with a colony on Uranus that has to rely heavily on resources from provinces, which seem to be other conquered worlds. It has been a long time since they heard any news of new conquests, so they think the provinces are having trouble and that’s where they keep the majority of their military.”
I tried connecting a few dots myself. “So Paldrin was a provincial leader, maybe with a world or part of a world under his control. He went after us with his own forces that were more like the provincial garrisons or auxiliaries. Then I took him out and the main military invaded us. If you’re right about the military situation, I wonder why they threw good money after bad?”
“We wondered about that. How did you kill Paldrin?” Venus asked.
“It was a super weapon. Kinda meant to destroy everything within a certain radius, but untested. I didn’t know how much it would destroy. It was derived from D-bomb technology, but the Dudebot I sent it with didn’t get shot back to our dimension until a week later or so.”
She was quiet for awhile after hearing that, probably coming to terms with the idea that I might have killed a planet. It was self defense, but still. Whatever I am to her, I don’t expect her to take genocide well. Though I suppose I think genocide has more to do with specifically targeting a certain ethnic group to wipe them out, including using methods like sterilization. An entire planet is really too indiscriminate to be genocide.
Regardless of all that, when Venus next spoke to me, she cut to the chase. The heroes have gaps in their knowledge, and they want to figure some things out. They want me to infiltrate the primary military command center, the Tower Perilous, located in the capital city. It looked like a tall, vaguely phallic cement building inside a number of smaller stone buildings that radiated out in a sunburst. I took a good long look before I left the Domeship. Venus didn’t see me off or have anything to do with the briefing. They had Honky Tonk Hero handle that, though I noticed. Odd choice, and I suspect he lost a bet from how happy he seemed over it.
The whole thing would have been much easier with the aid of my power armor. Too bad that got dissolved away by the Praetor, eh? On top of that, they don’t seem to really bother with women in their military, and most folks don’t just have an extra pair of arms. But, fuck it, I didn’t want to stick around on the ship while everyone but my half-insect daughters gave me dirty looks. The desire to kill me was palpable, and yet they need me. It’s all feels familiar.
As if to emphasize that point, I spotted my old nemeses, the Justice Rangers. I nodded toward the red and green ones, “How ya doin’? Enjoying the ride?” As one, they gave me a salute that would be an insult in our dimension of origin. I gave them the ol’ Spaceballs salute right back.
Clone stuff. It’s all clone stuff around here, not nearly enough cybernetics. They put so much work into building things because of that. It also made it more difficult for me to throw some armor together. Luckily, I had an idea on that front. I made a people suit. Before people start getting upset, I cloned a suit of grey skin to hide myself inside and some padding to disguise my milkmakers. Grey people are allowed to have extra arms on this planet. Pour one out for Buffalo Bill; truly an inspiration.
Their security is shit on this planet. I rode the train like anybody else, got into the capital like it was no one’s business. There were some delays when the trains had to divert around messed-up rails and underneath bomb scanners, but it’s not like anybody wanted me back with the heroes quickly. From there, I had to navigate the landscape of glass and local concrete that was the big city. People looked, but not twice. As someone with grey skin and a leotard, I was someone they didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
The Tower Perilous was easy enough to find. That one had a security wall around it to keep people out, but any big wall like that has its weaknesses. Unless you have people watching it all over, it’s simple to hop the thing like I did. I checked some of the outer buildings on my way toward the jackpot in the middle. They looked like a combination of storage and trophy room. Golden statuettes full of precious gems looked a little fancy to be in a storage locker, but there they were, packed in with gold in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If every one of these buildings had that kind of stuff in it, they were fucking loaded.
Which, I realized with a smirk, is exactly the problem. You dump that much gold on the economy all at once and it becomes worthless.
They had soldiers in honor guard uniforms who nodded to me on my way through. I wouldn’t be surprised if their vents are big enough to walk through upright, these people. It was a bit tough navigating, but someone in a nice uniform smiled and approached. “May I help you?”
“Praetor M,” I introduced myself. “I have been sent to see to the Grand Executor’s files.”
His brow furrowed. “The new Grand Executor hasn’t been appointed yet.”
“The old Grand Executor. I must see to his files.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. I walked past him, toward the elevator. He followed along into there with me, not calling in security if that’s what he meant to do.
I looked to him. “We have discovered an existence of a technopath among the invaders. I need to harden the encryption on the Grand Executor’s system, whether there is a new one or not.” I held his gaze until the man punched a button on the elevator. At least this machine wasn’t too convenient for them to do away with.
The Grand Executor’s office was one nice piece of work. I think the guy had rugs on his rugs. All sorts gems, bottles of stuff, incense, bundles of scrolls, and odd little clockwork sculptures. This guy had weaponry bling all over the place, as well. A small, if ornamental, armory hung on one wall: rifles and handguns shared it with naginata, swords, and a large fang. This was not the office of a professional general, and his unfamiliarity with our world compared to Paldrin might mean I was barking up the wrong tree.
“Leave me in private,” I told the aide who showed me the way as I stepped around an ornate desk carved to resembled the base of a great redwood. The chair behnd it had the same touches, carved so that the legs looked like trunks and spread into roots at the bottom.
“Are you sure? What if the technopath attacks?” He asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Nothing you could do would stop them. Thank you for your help. I will handle it from here.”
Frowning, he left me in private. I ran my hand over the screen of the flowing shell material that made up the exterior of the computer on the man’s desk. Its curves encompassed the monitor and keyboard. I checked around for the tower. A cable ran down from the shell into the floor itself. I pulled back the rug under the desk and found the tower was the floor, hidden behind a layer of glass. I checked to make sure nobody had slipped in while I was preoccupied, then I pulled up the sleeve along one of my lower arms and dug my fingers into the skin around the wrist. A trail of blood circled the wrist where my fingernails cut it. I pulled the skin off like a glove and slipped it into a pocket. I dialed back my eye laser to cut through just the floor, just enough to get my hand into the oversized circuit boards below.
It was actually an older version of the same sort of software on their tanks and the Domeship, so it took a moment to orient myself. And then, worlds opened up to me. I established a link with the Domeship.
“Gecko here. Analyze this,” I started uploading key parts of the data. They were right. We were fighting something of a vestigial empire. Its provinces were other versions of Earth, and almost all were in rebellion or close to it after to much of their military power had been drawn off. One was successful, having almost completely routed their local Executor and Governor after all contact with other worlds had been lost for a week. “Oh wow. Turns out I didn’t kill that planet,” I said, putting that up on the screen for the heroes to see.
I thought about it. I had access to emergency overrides for Dimensional Relay Towers they used in the provinces and on Uranus to travel to other dimensions. I grabbed as many files on how they worked and began deleting the copies they had.
I had something to say to the heroes though. “I could end this right here and now. They have a force here… token, really… but I could shut down their vehicles. I could stop the trains. Cut off the cloning labs. Or I could turn them on each other. Clone soldiers loyal to us. Ram the trains into each other. I could render them helpless on all their worlds, and here. I could use their own relays to tear them apart. They’d never threaten anyone again.”
“Please, Gecko,” Venus said on the Domeship. “Shut them down. I don’t want that much death on our conscience.”
“If all we do is turn stuff off, there’ll still be plenty of death when we bring the fight here. You’re trading their lives for our lives. Lots of heroes there who may not like you speaking for them on that.”
Warman joined in. “That’s our decision, you son of a bitch.”
“We became heroes to shield the innocent,” Eschaton said.
I got flooded by hundreds of agreements. It was an overwhelming cacophony, but in the middle of it I could focus on Venus and her discussion with someone. I don’t think they knew I could hear. “Do you trust him?”
“I want to trust her,” Venus emphasized that last word. “I think she’s more than what you want her to be.”
I sighed. “Fine, emergency shutdown initiated. They’re wide open for you. Have a happy revolution doing things the hard way.”
“It’s the way that lets them live and doesn’t give them cause for reve-” Warman was saying before I cut the audio feed.
If the heroes want to kill themselves, who am I to argue? I’m getting sick of Uranus anyway. Though it did make me smile to realize my nemesis isn’t quite sick of mine yet.
I don’t know much about the culture of this other dimension, or the history of their people. It IS another dimension, I’ve confirmed that much. This bunch we’re facing were a colony of Earth’s until something happened to Earth while one of the Consuls happened to be here for a visit. I picked that much up while skimming their version of the internet here. There’s suspicion that whatever happened to that Paldrin guy, and now our appearance, might be like that. Some of that involves a theory that we destroyed the Earth, but most people wonder if we’re being used to make someone inconvenient disappear. It’s a stretch.
That’s why, despite being snubbed by the heroes, I felt it was my duty to spy on their meetings with the local resistance. Seemed to be your standard bunch of bomb throwers. That’s not a statement against bomb throwers, but they’re always going to be a minority even among people opposed to whoever’s in power. I mean, if the people who want to use violence to overthrow a government are the numerical majority, then the situation’s usually either more openly violent or the opposition group is past tense.
I’ve thrown plenty of bombs before. The sheer magnitude of bomb is why I’m a pariah in my original universe.
After their little meeting of hearing all about how they will gather their allies and prepare to march on the capital, the heroes showed them out of the room politely and Gorilla Awesome pointed out:”That group is a cabal of extremists who would give up before they get within a hundred miles of the capital. We need mainstream support.” He turned to Raan, the defector, who was still in the room. “Has the government committed any atrocities we could exploit?”
Raan shrugged. “They’re wasting money and lives in multiple wars in other dimensions. Consul Gar Kiteer of the consuls used to frequent parties of a patrician found to be engaging in pedophile sex slavery, some of them at Consul Kiteer’s villas. Some of the victims came forward to attest Kiteer raped them at the parties, and are now in hiding after he said he would protect his followers if they made those accusations go away. Consul Ma’Du’He has persecuted the serfs, the women, and minority religious groups, putting many into camps meant to deport them to the provinces while tearing their children away from them and giving them to party supporters. Their political rivals in the Senate recently passed a non-bindng pledge to remain civil while opposing them.”
Gorilla Awesome sighed. “This is going to be difficult. We need to destabilize this world without causing reprisals or extensive loss of life.”
If that’s not the beginning of a “be careful what you wish for” story, I don’t know what is.
I stopped eavesdropping through Dame’s hijacked ears and sat up where I’d been slumped in an eating area. I had my armor again, but it’s a pain to clean at the moment, so I wore some of the coveralls like they have on the ship.
I looked around for someone native to this strange new world and found them. Crew discipline is shit now that they’ve defected to side that didn’t try to murder them last, so I found a guy out of uniform and in clothes. I don’t know if you’d call it a robe or a jacket; it could have been a greatcoat with a fuzzy collar and a loose layer of extra fabric around the hips that covered pockets. I just couldn’t tell if it was some sort of robe instead.
Regardless of what he’s wearing, I sauntered over and prepared to use my feminine wiles to charm the man out of information. I pushed his tray of food to the side and sat in its place, one leg on either side of his shoulders. “Hey, wanna talk to me?”
He blushed, looking me over, but especially between my legs. “Hey, “ I told him, leaning over and tipping his head up with my chin. “My boobs are up here.”
“I see that.. what’s going on? What is this?” He at least had enough sense after the blood rush to his crotch to know this wasn’t normal.
“I just need a little bit of information and I thought I’d use you to get it,” I said. I played with some hair on his head. “I just need to know where you Uranals grow food. When I look outside, I don’t see a lot of farmland.”
“Ma’am, we’re in the air.”
Huh. A bit too much of an erection-induced intelligence drain. I leaned back and folded both pairs of arms across my chest. “Well, I did figure you grow stuff on the ground, but where?”
Another guy approached and pulled me off the table and onto his lap. “I’ll tell you where the meat comes from if it’s a mouthful of protein you’re wanting.”
I smirked and shifted myself in his lap sharply. The man let out a high-pitched wail and fell back, trying to grab at his pained crotch. I got up and sat back on the table, leaving him to hold himself and feel sorry. “As I was saying, I want to know where food is produced on Uranus. I imagine it’s well-fertilized.”
“Uh… the plants are, I guess?” the first guy responded, not entirely comprehending. “There are farm settlements. Big domes the size of cities that grow plants. Uh, and there are only a few meat labs.”
“Meat labs, you say?”
He nodded. “Labs they grow meat in. Do you have meat where you come from? It’s really neat.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ok, I think I got enough info to try and pin this down on my own.”
I could have used more help, but I wasn’t sure if he’d actually know locations, and now I knew I was looking for something like a city. I found a few nearby, actually. The biggest near this city was the August Agriculture And Meat Lab.
It was far enough away, but services by rails, like any of them else. And, after keeping an eye on its deliveries, I found out it serviced a couple of cities in the vicinity. That’d be even better for my purposes.
Getting in took some patience. Once I had my eye on August, I could see they were linked into the high speed rail network. It criss-crosses the planet, moving rapidly. It mainly stops in the big cities or those areas like the lab that are centers of production. There are smaller stops along the way, but the trains just slow down while mechanical arms swap out containers or attach a new car to the train. The lab is always sending something off, so it’s always got some of its cars coming back. I just had to help myself to a bundle of heavy clothing and an abandoned jetpack. Next thing I know, I’m being shipped into the facility and sneaking my way past workers.
The meat labs looked like something out of hellraiser. On the outer edges of it, it almost looked like skinned skeletons without any organs, but the “bones” were some sort of fatty, stretchy substance, and it lacked things like skulls that people don’t eat. They twitched, which turned out to be from the frame it was in moving and stretching the meat. As I went further in, the meat thinned down. And here I was with nothing to blow it all up with. But I had a pretty good idea where to find some.
The fields were under a big dome that gave glowed red. Were I superman, I’d probably have felt a bit weak. The plants loved it. From a high view, I saw it all divided up into sections radiating out from the central lab hub. Potatoes, corn, various roots and shrubs and so on. And, right there near me, the supply shack. You wouldn’t believe the kind of stuff they put in fertilizers.
The dome got a big hole in it to let in the natural cold of Uranus. Cold, cold methane. Some sort of secondary shield came up to quarantine the area, until it failed for some mysterious reason that let a lot more in.That just ruined the veggies, but what about the meat? Well, I loaded up a train car with as much of my new special sauce as I could and shoved off, or whatever the engineer lingo is. I unfurled the sails, powered up the warp core, fired my thrusters, and the train left the station. Luckily, they built the things to be fairly user friendly. I got the hell out of there, waited until I got to a safe distance, then waited even further before blowing the secondary explosions.
I felt it. I think the people on the Domeship probably felt that one. It didn’t derail my train, but I was also disappointed it didn’t do more to the mag-lev line behind me. Because while centralizing a food supply is excellent as far as quality control, efficiency, and reducing pollution, it creates a heck of a chokepoint. Strike hard at just a few locations and it affects how much food a lot of different places get.
I road that train on and on, through a city without stopping, ignoring a lot of calls from Venus in the process. My goal was to get a bit closer to the capital, but then someone figured out it was me. I saw these things catch up to me in my loan car, like helicopters if they had a big disk instead of rotors and a cockpit like a jet. “Cease and desist at once!” called out a voice from within. I ignored it and kept going, but tried to keep an eye on methods of escape. If I had to escape, I’d be aiming for the ground. They’d shoot me out of the sky, and all these cyborg parts don’t mix well with hopping on mag-lev track.
Would they shoot? It’d still cause an explosion, but there’s a difference between an explosion way out between settlements and one inside a city. But there was still a lot of traffic around, zipping to and fro. The closest oncoming rails had a line of train cars oncoming. I tried to get an idea on timing and speed, overclocking part of my brain. And then, when the time was right, I fired off the jetpack.
The wind was killer, and the magnetic forces at play left me blinded and hurting in the cold. I was also really glad that however these packs worked, they didn’t ignite the methane around me. I bounced into the side of a train car, scrabbled, scraped my fingernails along it, and tried turning my body to keep up at least long enough to find the rear entrance. I flopped against a low rail, suddenly glad I no longer had nuts. Grabbing on (to the rail, not the area where I used to have nuts), I pulled myself over it and felt along. The door opened, letting me into a cabin where I could suddenly see again and fans vented methane out.
It was a cargo car. Consumer electronics, as far as I could tell. I gave us extra time to get away before I remote-detonated the car I’d just left, taking out a few lines of the track way behind us. I settled in behind some boxes and finally answered Venus.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
I smiled. “Agitating. Figured I’d make myself useful.”
“Are you ok?” she asked.
“Perfectly fine, though I advise giving extra time on any detonators in this atmosphere.”
“We saw news of explosions at a food lab. Did you get what you were after?” she asked.
“Yeah. If people aren’t agitated, they will be when there’s less food to go around. And they’re not going to be too fond of damage to the transportation network. But I got an idea for you. I need a smaller craft, something where I can hijack some train cars but not destroy everything. Remove their food, provide it to allies.”
She laughed at that one. “You’re gonna be so much trouble. I’ll see what we can do up here. Maybe we can play good cop to your bad cop, pretend we oppose what you’re doing.”
“Just don’t forget the handcuffs. And buckle up, sweetums. Shit’s about to go down on Uranus.”