Tag Archives: Venus

Kill Da Wabbit 1

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Despite numerous objections from Dame, I took a little bit of time to prepare. I had my reasons though. It wasn’t about annoying Dame. Well, it wasn’t ONLY about annoying Dame. There were a few factors, but what I decided was most important this time was fun. Sometimes, in this wild and hate-filled world of ours, you just wanna have fun. I am the right gender for it momentarily. Or sex. I think I kinda screw the words up a bit when I’m probably mentally a man who was physically male and made myself phenotypically female.

I’m proud of the fact that there are no words to describe me sometimes. In fact, some of my favorite times are when the best people can attempt are screams.

So when I was finally ready, I called up Dame. I know she has some sort of permanent residence around the city, but nobody ever wants to give an evil mastermind their home address. The spycams gave me a heads-up as she tried to fly through the floor of my room. For those who don’t remember, she possesses a gadget that allows her to become incorporeal with certain strange interactions with electricity. And with me, considering my abilities.

She flew through the floor and settled onto her feet in the outer suite. I burst through the door in full regalia, “Nice to see you!”

“I’d say the same, but I hate you. What the fuck is this?” Dame asked, pointing to my costume.

I twirled the spear in my arms and slammed the butt into the floor. “Fucking awesome, that’s what the fuck.”

“Are you sure this is the time to play games?” she asked.

“Lady, these events represent a paradigm shift that may very well change everything we know about our ways of life. For the entirety of the rest of human existence, it’s likely powers can be shut down. Anyone who can slip a collar on a super can stop them. We might as well have as much fun as we can while we still can. People have expectations of me. Glorious expectations. It’s sometimes nice to live up to them.”

“Should I ask where you got that thing?” she asked.

I shrugged my head to the side. “They have some sort of vegan thing going on here. It’s like some sort of symbol of these guys who eat beef.”

The old cathedral was still in service, a few hundred years not being particularly old in Europe. It had just let out its service when the strains of music began playing all over the city around it. High above the rising music, a figure stood in a black cloak and hat, face covered by a pale, grinning mask.

I kicked him off for blocking my view and took his place. The light glinted off the scales of my armor, the dome of my horned helmet, and even the pointy cones on my boobs. My robotic horse stepped up behind me, nuzzling my shoulder. “That’s right, Bot Stallion.”

“Are you done posing yet?” asked Dame from behind us.

The horse let out a whinny at my command. “Bot Stallion says hello,” I called back to her. Then I swung onto its back and raised my spear. “Havoc!” I let loose the drones of war, which rose and followed as I rode the horse off the side of the building. The Ride of the Valkyries roared out, heralding my arrival.

Bot Stallion shot our grapple lines that hauled us back against the side of the building. It cantered down the side of the building and jumped off before we smashed into pavement. Someone’s car broke its fall while keeping us moving forward, this time at the doors of the cathedral. The rockets on the horse kicked in then and hurtled me even faster toward the main part of the building.

I’m sure it had a formal name, probably ending in -tory or -cristy or something. I know what to call the door at least, which soon began a career in teaching reptiles martial arts after I broke through it on my robot rocket horse.

A priest stood there with hands raised. “What in God’s name is going on here?”

“I am Psycho Gecko. Gods have no place here,” I told him. The drones formed a circle around me and began flying after each other, lasers aimed downward and cutting deeper with each pass.

“What do you want from us?” the priest asked, clasping his hands.

I raised my spear and looked to the roof, catching a glimpse of the Three Hares symbol in a place of prominence where worshipers could easily see it. Then I threw the spear in between laser beams to impale the priest. “Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da-!”

The floor dropping out from under me cut me off as the drones finished with this layer. That put me in the basement, with Dame floating around. Her skintight black suit was a tough darker than the shadows, but it was the glittery, crystalline mask and bracelet that really stood out. “Nice to see you finally,” she told me.

I got down off the horse as the drones joined us. “I’d say the same, but I hate you.”

She pointed up. “Was that really necessary?”

“Yes,” I told her. “But I’d rather not talk about it here. If you’re so confident in your quiet shortcuts, my dear, feel free to get us an invitation.”

She nodded and pressed something on her bracelet. She turned translucent and dove into the floor of the basement. She surfaced again, muttering to herself, then went swimming through the floor, looking for something. For my part, I started checking all the candelabras and torch holders attached to the walls, the older the better. “You wanna give up yet? I got plenty of laser. Not like the world’s running out of light yet.”

“Shut up,” she said from out of the floor.

“Actually read an interesting line in a book. Not a bad book, just not entirely profound. But they had this phrase I thought was pretty good.”

“I think I got it,” she said. She disappeared down below. Soon, I heard a click. I looked around to where an old candelabra bent into a wall. A five foot section of the wall around it popped back as well. I poked my head in and found myself looking at a winding staircase. It was at that point I began to regret already using the Phantom of the Opera theme song in my adventures. But it saved Dame from the ill-effects of my singing, so there’s that. Instead, I hummed the Tales From the Crypt theme. A line of laser drones followed faithfully while Bot Stallion took up guard mode in case the heavy construction blocked my ability to reach out to it.

“You’re not even trying to be quiet, are you?” asked Dame at the base of the stairs.

“That implies I’m avoiding a fight. Instead, this might just be an empty air raid shelter,” I looked around, finding this corridor to be fairly narrow. “Though…”

“An air raid shelter with that staircase?” she asked after checking up where I’d come. “And this sort of entrance.”

“Why can’t you suggest there are people here to kill more often?” I smiled at her and winked before skipping through the corridor.

Poor Dame floated through walls to catch up, “That’s not what I said.”

“It isn’t?” I aske,d playing at a frown. “Strange. That’s what I heard. Perhaps you have a speaking problem.”

She glared at me. “I’m not arguing with you. It only encourages you.”

I skipped along until we rounded a corner and I found myself looking at a larger gathering room. There were cheap plastic tables all about, like it was used for a large meeting or conference. Two things really stood out above all that. First was the door on the opposite side of the room, like someone stuck a regular house door on the dark stone of a cathedral. The second was a man reading a magazine who tossed it aside when he saw us and scrambled to his feet.

“Who are you?” He asked, holding out a cupped hand. I felt pain ripple through my belly and up my chest. It was like pressure, and something squeezing me all over. I felt like wheezing. Then it reached my head and I felt nauseous. I threw up, then collapsed back against the wall.

Dame bent down by me, then looked back up at the man. By this time, he’d pulled out a composite bow and plucked it, firing a bolt of light at Dame. She whirled rapidly into the wall that the lightbolt tore a chunk out of.

The bowman turned back to the room. “Time’s up! Go, go, go!” Then he looked at me, eyes lighting up. He stepped closer. “Who are you and your friend?” He looked me over.

When I caught him staring at the cones over my boobs, I asked, “You like my knockers?” The right boob popped open and a boxing glove popped out, smacking him in the face. I lifted myself so that when the left one fired off, it caught him in the balls. He bent over in front of me, giving me enough opportunity to say, “My eyes are up here.”

He stood back up, teeth clenched in anger. I pointed behind him, where the drones had gotten into formation, flying around in another circle, this time with lasers aimed at him. I’ll give him credit, the man took more photonic bukkake to the chest than most could, but he cut and ran. Or disappeared into a flash of light. I was hoping for sliced and diced super salsa, but I’ll take light-based teleporting.

When he seemed busy not being present, I went ahead and reached under my scale mail skirt for a regen nanite fix. Whatever this fucker did to me, I had them log it for later inspection. That was the position I found myself in when I saw a group of kids come running out of a side hall. Like eight of them. Five teens, a young boy still in single digits, and a pair who looked like they were twelve. They saw me, eyes wide, and all except one of the older boys ran for the door. He looked to me and raised his hands as if to do something too.

The drones took aim at him and his friends. “Stand down,” I said. The dizziness was still there, but I had enough strength to drag myself to my feet with the help of a wall. “Whoever you little shits are, you’re coming with me.”

“Or what?” asked the teen.

Dame poked her head out of the wall next to him, “Yeah, or what?”

The boy fell over one of the plastic tables. He got his feet under him and ran after the others, who were doing something to the door. They hauled it open, revealing a sunny area with tree branches swaying in a breeze.

I smiled and began to walk toward them. “Come here, kiddies. Come to Gecko!” I stumbled against a table though, so it was time to inject myself with more nanites. “Run and I’ll shoot you full of photons.”

“No,” Dame said, floating out in front of the drones. She punched a couple of them, disrupting the electronics and shutting them off. The others she stood in front of. “Not children.”

I was interrupted by hacking up blood from my internal injuries, so I didn’t press the point. Not too much. Not with how I was able to bounce a signal through the portal. Sure, GPS showed me in London and Istanbul at once. But it was specifically a location not on Dame’s list. It must have been nobody’s business but the Turks’.

The door didn’t stay open long. They rushed through with whatever they had on them, at which point I could roll onto the table. “Whew. That hurt. Go double check if you can about where that door leads. Or gimme a minute and I’ll do it.”

“I’ll do it,” she said. When she opened the thing, it was just stone wall. “It’s a portal.”

“They must be doing neat things with stolen Cape Diem technology,” I said. “And nasty things with whatever they put in me. Come on, let’s get out of here and leave cleanup to the cleaners.”

On our way out, I passed a team of Deep One Riccan soldiers on their way in to tag and bag everything. I needed the drones to help move myself out, but I recovered before Bot Stallion got us back to my hotel.

“Now can we finally talk about what that was about?” asked Dame, slipping off her bejeweled mask and tossing it to the side as I began to lose the valkyrie getup.

“Hunting. I don’t know who these guys are, which is just amazing. I can’t find anything in all my numerous stolen top secret files about these Three Hares, so they have done a phenomenal job staying under the radar. But they’ll know we know where they are based on these raids.” I sent text massages to Titan and Venus then, informing them that the Three Hares site was indeed connected. They had Dame’s list, too. “Or that I know, since I’ll be the one hitting up everything. And if they start to panic and move things around, we’ll know thanks to some friends.”

“Stop beating around the bush,” she said.

“But that’s what I’m doing. Beating around the bush and seeing what flies off. Seeing where it flies to. If they stay still, we might miss them.”

She crossed her arms. “Are you feeling alright?”

I shrugged and read the diagnosis from my nanites. “Surprisingly lucid considering I just fought off brain cancer. And lung cancer. Liver and prostate too. That guy gave me tumors. Literal fucking cancer. I’ll have to thank the bastard who did that to me with a bit of chemo therapy just for him next time I see him.”

“Next time?” Dame asked.

“This isn’t over yet. I’m still hunting wabbits.”

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Down With A Sickness 6

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Yeah, this compartmentalization thing is done. As of now, Master Academy, Cape Diem, and Ricca are sharing resources. Maybe there are more moles. Me, I’m a risktaker like that. But I don’t think we have too many risks left to worry about. That long list of cities infected with this disease, those were some of the most populous cities on Earth. And my city, but I think they targeted us special. That’s why we were first. Don’t I just feel special?

We had a lot of things to do, including a bit of brainstorming while we dealt with the collar situation. We’d brought back Psychsaur and Max. It was a big happy reunion, except we had to figure out what happened.

Max and Psychsaur were both taken unaware, the collars slipped around their necks. And then they just couldn’t do what they do. Funhouse carried them through the portals. Titan sent a team to India to see about this other portal, by the way. Master Academy’s people have formally arrested the teen who worked with Funhouse too, figuring out what he knows and how much he had to do with it. He was the next logical choice. Besides, they’re heroes. They won’t be too rough on the boy.

Funhouse had transportation and fuel waiting. He didn’t have to stop until he got to that base. Venus went over some of the files taken from the base, but no other doomsday plans came to mind, so I sent it over to Dr. Creeper to have the Institute check it out.

It wasn’t much of a debriefing. I think Max got a longer one from Holly and Sam. But it led into a couple more things that needed doing. Now that we’d confirmed the power loss was linked to the collars, we needed to experiment with them. That’s why we gathered in the Institute of Science’s medical wing. We’d be able to scan the brain and the whole rest of a person’s anatomy under the influence of the collar, figure out what was going on.

Because here’s the thing… there isn’t supposed to be a way to do this. People have figured out workaround to counteract individual powers, if possible. They work too differently. That’s why they have to do stuff like locking me in prisons with nothing I can join with and no way my brain can get a signal out. Like the fucking Cube. I don’t know what they had to do to lock Spinetingler in there, but I know what it took to break the place and set him free. Now imagine if someone gifted like he is could be stopped by a simple, stupid collar.

There was a guy once with some ideas on this whole thing. A mad scientist teen once had ideas about a previously-unknown force that manifests itself by providing superpowers to people in various circumstances. He actually sent in papers to some scientific journals focusing on superhumanity, even theorizing about devices that could transfer these powers. Nobody knows what happened to him. If anyone’s got a device like that, they haven’t used it where anyone’s been able to find out.

Understandably, no one was willing to step up and have their powers taken away.

“I just got them back,” Max said. He yawned. “My powers are conditional compared to others here.” The doctors and scientists of the medical wing, including Dr. Smith, gathered around to watch us figure it out.

“I’m too large,” Titan said. He had a point. The collars we took off our friends were sized more for standard human necks. There’s variation, and then there’s trying to fit it around a log.

Venus pointed to herself, then to me. “Our powers are biology.”

“There are other supers, though,” Psychsaur pleaded. She looked to the doctors. Several nodded.

I raised all four of my hands. “I think we want to hide some of this from the general public. I can find someone else, and it’ll take a little bit more time, but we can do it. But how about I go ahead and put one on with you? You won’t be alone, ok?” I held my hand out for her. She took it. With one hand, I handed her a collar. With a third and fourth, I slipped the other around my own neck and forced it closed.

Everything went dark. I couldn’t see, I could barely hear anything, and my connection to the internet, networks, everything. I felt back for something to lean on. My chest ached. And my lower arms didn’t respond. Or feel.

“What’s wrong?” asked Venus. Someone grabbed onto me and held on.

“I can’t see, I can’t feel stuff. My lower arms aren’t working. For fuck’s fucking sake, I’m the guinea pig.”

Hands grabbed me and led me along to a table. There were plenty of excited mutterings I couldn’t hear entirely well, but I could still call out. “While I’m under, I need y’all to confirm the outbreak. Find out how far it’s spread.”

There’s a reason “battery” refers to both relentless testing and a crime where someone attacks you. Except the latter doesn’t necessarily involve so many needles being stuck into a person’s body. Making it worse, MRIs were explicitly off the table so long as I’m the person on the table. Though I guess the collar was always going to stop that one. Too much metal in my body. And lucky me, all those parts were no longer working so well, which is especially troublesome for a guy like myself with so many organs replaced. Or, in some cases, moved. I remember gasping awake, able to see and hear and circulate blood.

I was laying on a table, surrounded by doctors. “How do you feel, Empress?” asked one.

“It was like I was walking down a corridor to a bright light. And there was a light pole, and a faun named Mr. Tumnus, and a White Witch who had this androgynous look going on, but it kinda worked for her. She had this big rivalry with a lion going on, but that ended in a hurry once I taught her people about explosives and gunpowder. Are the tests done?”

“We managed a third of what we hoped to do before you began to code,” answered the doctor who had spoken.

“Wonderful,” I said, resting my head back to look straight up. “Well, I guess you better get it on me again. I can take it. Just do be careful not to keep it on too long.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Venus. I turned to see her wave at me with a collar. She slipped it around her own neck and locked it into place.

“I said I got it,” I told her.

She smiled a small, toothless smile. “Yeah, but now we know it works on whatever we are, I can do it without. It won’t kill me.”

I glared at her a bit, seeing as she’d was once again doing something to help me, possibly even save my life if someone screws up. But while something about her recognizing my vulnerability and helping me irked me, arguing the matter ran up against a principle I value far more. That is, saving my own ass. She was right. It’d work on her too. It’d even give more of a range of data if they repeated those tests that they’d done on me. And she didn’t have her heart in the wrong place or lose access to memories and cognitive thought processes when powerless. I took a deep breath and shrugged. “If you’re really so eager to be powerless around me, who am I to say you aren’t?”

She rolled her eyes, then walked over. I pushed myself up partially, but she leaned down as if to speak. Then she looked to the doctors. I did as well. They quickly scattered, finding better was to spend their time. Reading charts, polishing beakers, checking equipment. One fellow put on a stethoscope he used to check his own heartbeat. Then we looked at each other again and she told me, “Thank you.”

I cringed back a little. “Why?”

“For what you did for Psychsaur. For what you would have done if I didn’t speak up just now.”

I rolled my eyes. “Doing what someone has to shouldn’t be that big a deal to celebrate,” I muttered.

She grinned this time as she stepped back. I squinted at her. “What now?”

“This is something you have to do?”

I sighed and rolled out of bed. “’Someone has too, but if it’s you, then I’m getting out of here before people get any more wrong ideas.” I turned to one of the doctors and patted him on the shoulder. Pointing back at Venus, who laid down on a separate table, I said to him, “Make sure she gets a big needle, ok?”

I stuck around to see what was going on with the collar. I figured the rest of the team would call if they needed my help, but I stuck around to see what the hell happened to me under the collar. The nanites and other equipment gave us an interesting view of the brain’s reaction to the collar. It must have sent some sort of signal, or perhaps it was a reaction to the metal. One minute, her body attempted to physically meld to technology. With the collar on, the bacteria reacted in certain portions of the brain and cut off signals moving to and from that portion. Instead of acting to stop her body’s reaction at the point where it was acting, it was able to stop it at the brain.

The bacteria worked with the collars to stop people being able to do anything outside conventional human power. No homo machina powers. No extra arms, or telekinesis, or mad scientist brain… whatever. We need a greater range of test subjects to be sure, and preferably not homo machina, but this doesn’t look good.

That wasn’t the only stop on the road to fucked-up ville. After Venus’s tests, we went to find Dr. Smith, Titan, Psychsaur, and Max in the lobby command center. They had a full-on globe going on, with a shitload of red dots all over. “I was under the impression my proprietary nanites weren’t widely respected these days. It appears I’ve made too many assumptions.”

Titan spoke up, “That is the official story, but there are a number of reproductions of varying qualities. Some just reprogrammed your existing nanites to function differently. You don’t want to get a bad batch by some basement programmer who forgot to check the code.”

“Plus, a lot of people just still use your stuff,” Psychsaur said. “Look at Russia.”

“FIFA,” Titan said. “Everyone’s cheating.”

Max just slurped on a sports drink and poured in an energy drink.

“It has to be incomplete though,” I said. “But this is a lot, all over the world.”

“Everyone with nanites in them tests positive for the disease, everywhere,” Dr. Smith said.

“More bad news,” I said, waving my wrist toward the hologram projector. The globe moved to the side and images of mine and Venus’s brains came up, showing the bacteria’s suppression. “We figured out what the disease does. It makes the collars work. Someone figured out how to shut off our powers, and they spread half the method to the entire world before we figured out what was happening.”

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Down With A Sickness 5

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The trail had fits of stopping and starting, but never for long. Never long enough for the guy who took Psychsaur and Max to sleep. They’d zipped over to India from the portal, but didn’t stop there. They managed to get from there into Pakistan in amazingly little time. When I showed it to Titan, shortly after he and Venus joined me on Ricca, he informed me Cape Diem didn’t have a base there. “They stole our portals. Maybe they built something to hack into our network. Either way, this is unacceptable.”

We’d set up at the residence. It wasn’t considered neutral ground the same way the Cape Diem compound was, but it was a hell of a lot more private and better protected, even with that new hole in the wall of the living room. Everything had mostly turned out ok from that event. Our assailant, the blonde multiplier, hadn’t gone after Qiang at all, and neither did she charge him with a knife or anything. I think I’m raising a girl smarter than I am, but it doesn’t make anyone feel any better about a home being partially blown up.

It was easier for us to coordinate and control information Each of our organizations’ are looking into the attack in their own way, chasing leads, studying bodies and wreckage. Well, the bodies are on my end. It’s a bit inefficient, but cross-organizational cooperation’s going to have to wait.

“They didn’t take anyone for you?” I asked Titan for confirmation.

He shook his head. “No. He killed someone. Hurt others.”

“He took knowledge from you, but he took our friends,” I said.

“Not exactly,” Venus said. “You said Max made a cure?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but there’s just not enough, and it can’t be replicated.”

Venus paced around the office, looking at the monitors of our setup. “Psychsaur found him. Her powers let her do that. He avoided her until he was ready to do this.”

I looked between them. “I thought Psychsaur was supposed to cover Cape Diem first?”

Titan nodded to Venus, “She convinced me otherwise. It’s a good thing, too.”

“How’s that?” Venus asked.

Titan scratched his chin. “If she was at Cape Diem when this happened, the mole at Master Academy wouldn’t have been exposed.”

“Do we know who he is?” I asked. “Because on my end, he was just Funhouse the Clown, aka Ricardo Milhouse.”

Venus said, “He told us he found out his little brother had superpowers and was fighting crime at night. He was concerned and wanted him trained. He told us his name was Rick Houser. He brought a kid in. God, we had to lock up a teen to find out how deep he’s into this.”

“Richard Milford Holmes,” said Titan, tapping away at the computer and bringing up some of the Cape Diem files. “Twenty-eight. No powers, but a lot of enthusiasm to join us. He’s shown an eagerness to do the shit work even when offered duties more in line with what we expect. A lot of people join up to do something grand to help the world. It’s a good attitude, there’s a lot of more ugly work to it than people want. Except him. He was staying under the radar the entire time. Ten months.” He glared down at the table. Venus patted his arm.

“He hasn’t stopped at all until now,” I pointed out, bringing up the map where they’d finally been stopped. “So maybe he’s where he needs to go, or it’s a trap. A trap would be a bad idea for them.”

“Unless they take our powers with that collar,” Titan reminded us.

That was when Venus walked over to stand beside me. “What powers? This is all training and equipment.”

Venus and I had to take a moment to suit up, each of us in bulky armor. Hers was her current generation of power armor with the face taken up mostly by a golden chrome visor. Mine was based on the suit I’d stolen from her future version, but with additional armor plating and strength-enhancing pseudomuscles added to resemble my heavy armor. I was just as agile as ever, in armor far more durable. After all, nobody said the added armor plates couldn’t be the same material as the less-bulky version.

Titan remained his giant blue and orange self, with a pair of wings sticking out the back of his Cape Diem uniform.

On our way out, I gave Qiang a hug, smiled at Silver Shark checking on a burn along her arm, and politely squeezed by Sam and Holly trying to bar our way. “’Scuse me, gotta go save Mix N’Max, just the three of us, no additional help involved.” I picked up Sam with both sets of arms and set her to the side. I turned to find Holly taking her place, so I skipped around her.

“We’re coming!” Sam called after me as I pushed through the doors. Titan and Venus followed, with Max’s assistants coming after.

“You two aren’t villains,” I called back as we walked to a Psycho Flyer parked in front of the palace.

“You don’t know what he means to us!” called Holly.

“Do you trust them?” Titan asked me.

“They’re loyal to Max above all else. They’d never see him harmed or kidnapped in any way,” I answered. “But I doubt they have anything to bring to the table on this other than potential hostages if things go wrong.” I stopped to look at the assistants. “Leave this to us.”

“We are not useless,” Sam said. She pulled out a glass bottle with a simple oval label and “The Cure” written in Max’s handwriting. “Take us or we destroy it.”

I looked up the ramp of the flyer where Titan and Venus had stopped. They looked to me, eyebrows raised. Well, I assume Venus’s were raised under the helmet. I pointed to Sam and Holly. “Nothing about them threatening the cure?”

“It’s your aircraft,” Titan pointed out.

“I’m not saving your asses if you get in trouble,” I said, turning and walking up the ramp. I heard them clatter along after me.

They probably would have regretted it if they knew the flight was so long. I had the flyer loaded up for it, though. Toilets, toiletries, an in-flight meal, and a selection of movies to watch.

“Air Force One, Airplane!, Sully… what are you trying to tell us here, Gecko?” asked Holly as she stepped up into the cockpit.

I created a pair of holographic sunglasses in my lower right arm. “I think my meaning should be quite…” I lifted the hologram into place where my eyes would be through my helmet. “…plane to see.”

“Oh god, I’m going to be sick,” Holly called out from the back of the flyer.

“It wasn’t that bad!” I called back.

Sam winced and looked back. “I better get to her. Flying can be iffy for her.”

I shrugged as she left. “It was y ‘all’s decision to come.”

When we got to where we were going, the nanites indicated that Max and Psychsaur were still there. And where we were going turned out to be a small, decrepit Buddhist temple on top of a hill. I invited Venus and Titan into the cockpit to look down on it. “That’s a pretty cunning way to hide a lair,” I told them. “Anyone who breaks in looks like their sacrilegious. On the plus side, we have plenty of room if there are any religious artifacts left. Gold, sufficiently old stonework, even bones will do.”

“We’re here for your friends, not bones,” rumbled Titan. “I guess you better get in there since you’re the quietest somehow.”

“Okily dokily.” I stood up from the controls and the flyer dropped for like half a second. In the back, Holly vomited. I hope paper bags were involved.

“You fucking psycho!”

“Asshole!”

“Prick!”

“BLUURRRGH!”

The reactions I get. I held up my hands. “It’s fine. I got it remotely anyway. Just decided that if y’all are going to ask the guy flying the thing to get off it, shit might happen.”

“You could land,” Venus growled.

“I’d rather not risk being stranded in Pakistan. Nobody should.”

I landed harder than is preferred for stealth, but at least I was invisible. When I got to the door to the place, I found was in better shape than its appearance would lead people to believe. A quick scan through multiple spectrums didn’t reveal anything. No lasers, no wires, any of that.

I called down a quartet of drones from the trapdoor of the Psycho Flyer. They assembled on their way down, forming a platform big and strong enough to hold me in the heavier armor. I hopped on top as it passed through the doorway. I wasn’t going to get caught by pressure plates this time.

I had a line open to the Flyer cockpit, Venus, and Titan, so it wasn’t long before I heard Venus ask, “Found anything yet?”

“Lots of wood and tiles. Not even any valuables. Not one piece of art, either, except this little thing.” I spotted this decoration built into the base of the altar. Three rabbits, two running one way in a circle, the third another. But that was because the third one was broken, flipped around. There weren’t even any other doors anywhere. No way down to a hidden basement. So I flipped the third rabbit around and clicked it into place.

Behind me, tiles slid out of place along the floor, revealing a circular stairwell down that had to be hell to get hostages down. It also had no room for flying. “I got a way down. Go ahead and get down here. I don’t see anything up top. Y’all should be able to hop or fly to the stairs.”

I headed down and found my way through a rusty metal door, and from there to a circular room with a floor made up of rounded stones. There, I saw a quartet of dead Funhouse. No sign of Max or Psychsaur. But there were two other corridors from there. It was easier to figure out where to go when I heard retching. It’s been a vomit kind of day. “Funhouse was dead when I got here. I think I hear someone. Going to see if I find our peeps.”

I snuck my way on down the corridor when I heard Titan and Venus behind me, coughing. “What’s that smell?” Titan asked.

“They’re discolored,” Venus said from back there, too.

I found Max and Psychsaur locked in a pair of old time cells. Stone walls, a barred door, and a whole lot of hacking going on. I dropped the hologram. “Hey guys. Here I come to save the day.”

“Gas,” Max hacked up. “They killed him.”

Psychsaur added, “It got here.”

I pulled out a couple of syringes. “Venus, got a couple patients here. Some sort of poisoning. If y’all are still alive, I’m guessing it’s dispersed and stuff.” Metal bars and all, it wasn’t even a matter of hacking. I tore the lock off Max’s cell. The alarm started up then.

“I got activity down this corridor!” Titan called out. Then, the world blew the fuck up. But we didn’t go with it. There was a booming roar that tried to kill my eardrums. It got hot as fuck. Wasn’t as bright as I expected. After everything settled to mere shaking, I popped open Psychsaur’s cell, too, and grabbed them up. It’s a lot easier carrying people with extra arms.

I found Venus in the middle chamber, where a pedestal now stood in the center. Titan barred access to the other corridor almost completely. He stepped away slowly, grimacing “Any bomb you can walk away from is a good bomb.”

“You good?” I asked.

He nodded. “I’ve taken bigger.”

I nodded toward Venus. “That’s what she said.”

“She is busy downloading files off this computer while it self-deletes,” Venus said, a USB from her suit plugged into something on the pedestal.

All in all, a successful rescue. We got our friends. We got the collars off without damaging them overly much. And we got some files to sift through about what we’re dealing with, starting with the final message left in the system from a voice that sounded like dozens overlaid on one another.

“We had greater plans for you. You were to observe and report only. You are one piece of a vast apparatus. Our plan could never be stopped by one man with a cure. Ricca was the first, followed by Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Osaka, Empyreal City. All within the first week. Thank you for listening obediently while the gas circulates. Your obedience is no longer required. You are no longer a piece in our apparatus.”

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Down With A Sickness 4

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Leave it to Max to figure things out. His methods aren’t exactly science, though he argues otherwise. That’s why he’s not my preferred way of curing this thing. My guys can mass produce a cure, probably. Anything he comes up with, he’s the only one who can make more, through whatever processes he uses.

Still, his lab was safely tucked away in one of the many rooms in the palace residence while I tossed fake stuff in spare building we had over near the graveyard. That has an added bonus of being more convincing if the person we’re after is someone familiar with the island, plus the growers who operate out of the tombs will be more than happy to sell all kinds of stuff to relax people if they come looking. I made sure to pick a building at least far enough away that explosives wouldn’t screw with their operation. Probably. I also warned them that they probably want to cook any meth in the daytime until this gets cleared up.

I know, breaking in at night. How cliché, but most people don’t live where they work. Yet. Now if I’m done turning into a socialist dictator, I had a mouse to catch in my trap. And I like traps. There’s something about letting someone walk into their own doom that appeals to me, much like the concept of a deal with the devil. It’s like when the drunk old man warns the counselors not to go up to Camp Crystal Lake. Or when the drunk old man warns the tourist to get out of Innsmouth. Or when the drunk old man warns you that the woman on the sidewalk gives people an itch. I think what I’m saying here is that if I’m going full-on cliché, I need a drunk old man.

It was too late, though. I’d been camping out in the place and didn’t have time to shop for an old drunk when the motion detectors went off. It was a simple but ingenious system. The walls were rigged to detect vibrations, but the actual motion detectors were at all the doors. I watched as someone tripped them, moving swiftly but quietly through the small former store. He came to the room underneath me, one of the ones done up to look like it was in business for Mix N’Max. The figure bent down to examine the obvious bear trap on the floor, then jumped over it. The motion detector, set on the wall at stomach height, detected him and activated the second bear trap. The one on the ceiling. It clamped down with a satisfying and juicy squish.

He cried out, because this wasn’t an instant kill or anything. Just a large, jagged, metal trap that tried to get its jaws to meet just under the guy’s rib cage. I’m not saying he couldn’t die as a result of this. I’m just saying it’d take awhile.

A second guy dove between his friend’s dangling legs and over the first bear trap, which was less expected. But that’s why we have backups, like solid steel doors to slide into place, locking everyone inside whatever rooms they were in. There were other sensors going off, too, which spoke to a much larger infiltration than I’d expected. I stepped out of the corner from where I waited, staying invisible because I don’t resort to dramatics all the time. The lights rose, revealing identical men in front of me. Not just the same clothes and my usual “all humans look alike” view, but the exact same faces. I just figured it was identical twins until the cameras in the other rooms with motion showed the exact same thing. Identical septuplets spies? Talk about 007.

The guy looked familiar, too. Big forehead. The hair’s an obvious blonde dye job. Ah, and my ID program got a hit. Last time I saw this guy, he was dancing in the dunking booth while wearing clown makeup. “Seven of you clowns?” I asked.

The one who was free looked around the room and let loose a chuckle before blurring and splitting into two, then four, then eight. “As many as I need to deal with a problem.”

“I don’t know how many copies you can make,” I said as I dropped the invisibility. His clones? Extras? Whatever they were, they were crowding in enough that they’d have found me anyway. “but I know you don’t have enough to stop me whoopin’ your ass. This is my house.”

They surrounded me, and all spoke at once. “Right now, it’s looking like more of a funhouse. Let’s have some fun.”

Silly rabbit. He thought this was going to be some sort of fair fight, when it’s really a rigged carnival game. His powers must have extended to mere copies, because they went down like regular humans. I charged one of them and punched through him, and the one behind him, and into a third one. I smashed them against the wall, grabbed an organ out of the last guy in that bunch, and pulled out to burst it over the head of another one coming at me from behind. He stumbled back, but another came for me. I grabbed his shoulders with three arms and his chin with the fourth. He screamed as his skull came up, at least until he gave a pop and part of the spine came loose too. By then, the guy who got beamed by a kidney cleared his eyes enough for me to beat him to death with his own skull.

One moment, just realized I needed to put that accomplishment on a list somewhere. Beat a man to death with his own skull. Question is, do I count the consistency with physics as a plus or a minus?

Considering I have four thumbs and don’t give a fuck, a lot of dead bodies started piling up. He probably thought he could just concentrate one or two of them on reinforcements until I grabbed a pair and started swinging them, knocking the remainder on their asses. And one onto the floor-based bear trap, which clamped down on him.

“Looking pretty fun for me right now,” I said.

One of them grinned at me. “A shame we couldn’t play longer,” he said. He pulled his shirt up and tugged out a detonator. I quickly cranked the power of my leg armor’s pseudomuscles up and jumped through the roof, catching a nice big fireball up the ass because I didn’t bother to angle anything. The whole damn building blew up, and not even because of my stuff. I mean, yeah, I prepped explosives. I wasn’t going to use them with me inside the place.

I’m not entirely sure if my legs broke from the jump, from the landing, or from both. I just knew they broke sometime in all this. It took me a minute after landing to stand up and start pulling hot debris away to see if any had happened to be taken alive. As could be expected, I got a call in short order, from Silver Shark. “Gecko!”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Big-ass explosion, though.”

“Us too, fuckface! The Aryan brotherhood just broke in here. One of them grabbed Max and hightailed it. The others are fighting and blowing up.”

“Grabbed Max? These guys are pushovers.” Despite that, this was no time to argue. If he’d grabbed Max somehow, then he was moving him. I jumped to the top of a nearby building, heading for the docks while I pulled open the satellite view and focused it in on the area surrounding the palace and Directory building. “I’ll get him,” I said before dropping the call. I adjusted course for the Cape Diem compound and tried calling up Cape Diem.

I had a direct line to Titan, at least. It’d have to do. I’d rather have the number of the guy working the portals. He could still get an order through to trap the military truck with the canvas-covered back. “Titan, Gecko. Our mole’s trying to pull someone into his hill through your portal.”

I heard growling. “I’m elsewhere, but my people are on it. I just found out a mole on our end is barricaded in the central portal hub with the controls and passcodes. Hold on.”

There was a beep, then I heard Venus’s voice come through. “Titan, this is Venus. I found the mole. He’s running for the Cape Diem portal and he’s kidnapped Psychsaur. She couldn’t use her powers. He had some collar on her. He might have more for you.”

“That must be how he could get the upper hand on Max,” I said. I reached out, trying to access the nanites. He had to have been exposed to the water supply at some point during his time here, right? Fuck, somehow this guy didn’t bother washing his hands the entire goddamn time.

“Gecko?” Venus asked.

“Hold on, I got a kidnapping to stop on this end, too.” I’d hopped from rooftop to rooftop paused to pull out a drone from behind my back and throw it. I reoriented it and flew it ahead of me, trying to catch a truck that must have had its pedal welded to the medal. And me with throwing explosives. The drone flew after it. I jumped along. And it was a disorienting experience. Hard to aim, but I did. I raked the rear of the truck, lower down, with machine gun fire. The rear left tire popped and went flat. The truck wobbled. It hid some sort of debris and began to turn onto its side.

The canvas rear burst open and a motorcycle flew out, carrying one of those blonde fuckers and Max on the back, something around his neck. He had to have been tied there or something. The cycle burst through the gate into the Cape Diem compound and headed right for the tent surrounding the portal. I chased after, unable to shoot becaue of my friend.

People scattered out of the way, some in regular clothes, some in the soft white and blue of Cape Diem personnel. The motorcycle disappeared into the tent, and I landed outside it a second later, popping something. I limped in after them and saw the portal flash and close, leaving me alone with a team of confused Cape Diem portal technicians.

“Gecko, you copy?” Titan asked. “You were breathing hard and growling, then you got all quiet.”

“They got away,” I said, realizing I still needed to breathe.

“Damn! Same here,” Venus said.

“My people just retook the portal room. It’s empty. Something’s in the system. I have techs on it. Good people. One of them’s like Gecko. We’ll find out where they went.”

I stood there, flexing my fingers, pulling up as much of a view of the world as mankind’s satellite network could give me. Not like I’d get lucky and somehow run across the exact tiny spot where he was and be able to recognize him and whatever other copies of his were working. “Unfortunately, he somehow managed to avoid getting any nanites in his system while he was here. Or he found a way to clear them out. Otherwise, I’d… Oh, right.”

“What?” asked Venus.

“Nanites in the drinking water. I put them there to keep everyone healthy, which is how I knew something was up when someone got sick and stayed sick. This guy didn’t have any in him, which is why I couldn’t stop him earlier. But Psychsaur and Max both have them in their system. I can track them.”

Venus spoke up. “This is going to sound bad, but we should wait until they stop running.”

“Find them in their lair,” Titan said.

“Yeah, and then clean them out, hopefully before they can do whatever they need to do to flush them out. I’ll and order them into the hard to reach places.”

“I recommend we keep this under our hats,” Titan said. “I want to make sure this is the last mole in my organization.”

“Agreed,” Venus said.

I cracked my neck and turned with a flourish of my cape, ignoring Cape Diem people running around, trying to calm everything down. “Eh, I’d say I doubt there are any more, but this isn’t looking like a good day for me. Looks like it’s just the three of us, then.” Despite all that, I did trust Dr. Creeper to not be a mole. I had him send a team to the ambush building to see if they could scrounge up anything like what the clown had on Max and Psychsaur.

I had to delegate. After all, my house, with my kid in it, had just been attacked. Just another thing to save up for when I get my hands on someone.

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Party On 6

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Woot! What comes before Part B? Part A!

The whole damn island’s having itself a good time to celebrate the birthday of my little baby girl, complete with an impromptu parade from the palace to the Cape Diem compound. When the first fireworks went off, Max took cover and I grabbed the nearest object, a painting off the wall, and prepared to beat wholesale ass with it.

“Watch it, Cinderella,” said Sam said from over by the living room windows. “It’s just fireworks.”

Citra moved up to take my arm and squeeze my hand in both of hers. “Yeah, it better be,” I said, before tossing the painting to the side and checking to make sure I hadn’t ruined anything on the new dress. Qiang said princess party and the tailor did his best to accommodate her wishes for a special dress to wear. It was a Western dress, very much in keeping with the Disney movies that I’ve been known to throw at her, but not any specific one. I told the tailor to make her Moana, Mulan, any of them she asked for. Disney’s not as anal about what constitutes a princess as I am, but my daughter can damn well dress as whoever she pleases.

Instead, she went with a darker pink with lots of frills up and down the front, and her own tiara. With my approval, the tailor went easy on the tiara. Most people don’t realize it, but wearing a lump of gold and gemstones on your head is hard work. Royals build up to that over like weeks or days leading up to official events. So Qiang’s tiara is better than a flimsy gold tiara. It’s durable, light, and gilded.

My own number resembled hers, except I went with a vibrant green that probably looks more at home in Rio during Carnivale, and had a little more space to hide my second pair of arms. If it hadn’t been for all these outsiders, I’d let them out. But I always gotta keep something in reserve when my nemesis is around.

While I was picking at it and making sure Qiang had hers all together, Citra took one look out the window and suggested, “Why do we not make a small parade?” I really should look into what the transit system’s like on this island. Damn delegation. Regardless, I know plenty of things fall off the back of a container ship around here, so I called up my guys in our local police force. They helped a car dealer clear a little space for more merchandise. It’s good for ’em, helps them rotate the inventory.

So my family had a parade of sorts. Nothing all that special to it, only Max was throwing treats at the crowd, and I didn’t really feel the need for security. Anybody who fucked up my dress was going to get a high heel up the urethra. And if they messed something up for Qiant? Oh, even a cyanide pill wouldn’t save them. I’d bring them back to life, and then I’d really fuck ’em up.

While I was keeping an eye out, Citra actually hopped out of our slow procession and carried Qiang down with her. I hopped out after them as they greeted some of the visitors. “What are you doing?” I asked her.

“A princess should meet her subjects, and I think it is good for us,” she said.

I narrowed my eyes at her briefly before stopping myself. We were approaching another group who were getting all respectful and bowing. I stepped back and watched as Citra asked after them, how they were doing, other such platitudes. Empty stuff. Might as well ask how the weather is for all we can do about it. But they liked it. And not just them.

“You want to walk some, Qiang?” I asked the birthday girl.

“Yeah, Baba. I can ride in the car again when I’m tired. I get to be a princess!” She was hopping up and down and running along, eager to follow Citra’s example. As for me, I suppose I can’t fault her for having a will of her own. She is still another separate person, if one thrust into position and events far beyond what her life intended. Chaos can certainly be a ladder, or a pit. So while they were all smiles and spreading good Imperial cheer among my people, I kept a close eye out in case someone decided they wanted to hurt the Empress Regnant on our way to the Cape Diem compound.

Now, even though I was fully prepared to let visitors to my world come in peace, even provide an escort to me, the leader, it turns out the Master Academy people worked something out with Cape Diem. I didn’t see anything change hands, but Cape Diem’s whole portal deal with the UN isn’t something they’d risk losing. I wonder what the cost is for using the world’s only portal network to bring a bunch of kids to a birthday party on an island run by a supervillain. I suppose there are benefits for neutrality. But it’s neutrality that goes both ways.

My minions helped prepare everything, payment being they get to enjoy the party too. As my prior discussion of the cake ratio shows, I put a lot of thought into bribing people with food, fun, and bouncy houses. That even includes the guard detail who escorted the various princesses from the pink castle they temporarily called home. All of them formed a receiving line for my daughter on her way to the cake.

The cake itself loomed over the party like a small castle all its own. It was too big for the compound itself. It’s bad hat to kick your guests out of their own home by bringing in such a giant cake. People mostly contained themselves until we got there, at which point Qiang lost her shit with high-pitched squeals of delight and ran off into a throng of her friends who were being held back by their chaperones from Master Academy. We managed to separate them and, before everything devolved into the inevitable entropic pack of playing people, I let Qiang see all the various princesses. She was excited to meet them, and luckily they’d all calmed down a great deal. Something about being in public, with superheroes around, knowing they were going to be set free, and that this was all about my daughter’s birthday party.

Finally, barely able to contain her excitement and glee, it was time for my daughter to stand in front of her cake. And like all great cakes, it required men with flamethrowers hanging from flyers in order to light the candles. Ok, so required isn’t so accurate a term for lighting five candles. Let me think… fun? Awesome? Nevertheless, she stood there in front of a lower part ready to be cut and served to people. Then I unleashed the real humiliation. “Ok, time to sing Happy Birthday!”

Once I’d finished completely embarrassing her with the help of her friends and a huge crowd of strangers, she finally got a piece of cake, and then servants made sure everyone got cake who wanted it, including themselves. And from there, people mingled, people ate, people played games. I even caught this minotaur-looking super from Master Academy snorting in frustration as he kept missing at the clown dunk. The clown itself had a white face, a big forehead, and red hair. He’d also do this little dance in between throws, glaring right at the minotaur.

And it seemed to go ok. It was more like a big fair for a pretty good amount of time. Heroes and villains and me and my family all mingling. It was almost normal. It felt weird, like I should pick a fight just to have something to do. Fucking ball just wouldn’t hit the target and dunk the clown. I swear, that big-shoed bastard did something to the balls. While missing yet again, and ducking a cream pie thrown in retaliation, I noticed Venus.

It struck me as odd that we’d avoided each other so far. Unless she was avoiding me, which is a crazy thing to think. No, unless she was PLOTTING against me. That’s a sane thing to think. So I went over to where she was looking after some of the kids. “So, what horrifying thing are you going to do now in the name of being a good person?” I asked.

“Watching kids play on a happy day. How are you planning to be an asshole and justify it because other people in the world do bad things?” she asked right back, giving me a forced, closed smile.

“I dunno, figured I’d send missionaries to teach starving kids in Africa the joys of cannibalism.” My smile was more genuine, as was my amusement.

Venus wasn’t so amused. Doesn’t mean she was offended, she just didn’t like me. She turned her head suddenly, checking on a kid that had fallen. One of the Master Academy kids she brought all the way here to my daughter’s party even though she hates me. I looked at her and held a hand out. “I should be a better host. Thanks for bringing everyone. This means a lot to her.”

She shook my hand, and this time the little smile tugging at her lips also tightened up her eyes. “You’re welcome. She’s a wonderful girl. She’s worked magic on you.” After letting go of my hand, she turned to keep an eye on everything, smiling at everyone just walking around, having fun and playing games.

I shrugged. “She’s not so different from me. Orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, and trained to be more object than person. But she’s mine.” I saw a Buzzkill giving piggyback rides to refugee children. “That’s a screwed-up life she doesn’t deserve. No one does. It corrupts you, makes you want to cling to it. Makes you af- it feels more secure that way. Because once you know that’s your life, there isn’t anything that can scare you. I can do that for her, and I can destroy anyone who would hurt her.”

I turned to look at her then. Nothing like a good threat to round it out. Instead, she smiled at me. “That’s very heroic of you.”

I flinched. Couldn’t help it. “And here I thought we were playing nice.”

“You’ve become a better person,” she said. “You jumped in front of that rocket. See, I think staying with us helped you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh yeah, y’all putting in a telepathic block to stop me from swearing or killing, that’s what I really needed in my life. Y’all didn’t help that much. Well, aside from saving my life. And… ya know, it’s been awhile since I got the shakes from not killin’ someone.” I looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

She held up her hands. “We thought it would help your recovery. We weren’t going to leave you in the middle of psychological withdrawals while we kept you from murdering anyone.”

I held up a finger in front of her face. “There anything else y’all did to my brain I don’t know about? Any more secret brainwashing to make be ‘better’?”

“No, I swear.” She’d tensed up, her eyes darting past me. Well, if we were drawing attention from her friends, they’d just get to violate Cape Diem’s neutrality and the sovereignty of my nation first.

I folded my arms in front of me.”I get so many mixed messages from you, Boopsie.” Then I just left her there. I wanted to hurt her or at least yell at her. But, and this is an important thing to remember in this instance, this was about my daughter. Besides, an Empress doesn’t get mad. She gets cake. I just have to hope any feelings for her weren’t somehow the result of telepathic manipulation.

And speaking of good feelings, there were Rhonda and Leland, the parents of my daughter’s best friend from Master Academy, just waiting for me to come say hello again and remind them about that threesome they had with a murderous serial killer and Empress.

Qiang could barely able to stay awake long enough to see guests departing by the end of the party. We didn’t have too many who weren’t already here decide to stay the night. Kayla and her parents for sure, but it’s not like all those kidnapped princesses, including all the Marias and Maries from Belgium, wanted to stick around. Even Venus had decided she’d head back instead of take me up on my offer to stay and ease her tired muscles with a refreshing dip in my jacuzzi.

Once almost everyone had departed, though, I heard a shout. I looked to Citra, carrying my exhausted five year old in her arms. Seeing them clearly both ok, I shot the similarly-burdened parents of her best friend a wink and headed off in the direction of whatever commotion we had going on. I found a pair of Security officers holding up one of their own between them. “Something up, guys?” I asked.

The one on the man’s left shook his head. “Apologies for not bowing, Empress.”

I waved off his concerns, “Bow later, talk now.”

“Very well. He got disoriented and collapsed.” I looked him over. Sweaty, even in the lighter gear he had on, but he had a half-full canteen bottle on his belt.

“Get him to our medical tent outside the fence and tell them to contact Dr. Creeper,” I said quietly. Louder, to a nearby family carrying a kid with a balloon tied around his wrist, I said, “Just a bit of dehydration. Make sure to keep drinking water, folks.”

It was when Creeper got there, along with some of the more medically-minded staff of the Institute, that I briefed him with a simple. “We have a problem.”

The man was still disoriented, still out of it. Babbling and feverish. I continued explaining in case nobody got it, “This isn’t heat stroke. We don’t know what it is. Worse, whatever’s going on isn’t being stopped by the nanites in the water or in the dermal patches they’ve applied. We need to find out what this is.”

“We need a quarantine, especially on outsiders,” Creeper said.

Fuck. “That’s not doable. Most of the ones who were here aren’t anymore.” And the ones who are here, like a little superpowered girl and her parents, won’t look so good. “Well, let’s get to it. The sooner we figure out what’s going on, the sooner we fix it.”

I knew arriving back at the palace that this whole situation would take tact. And probably sex. Just make it seem like Rhonda and Leland are having a nice vacation here while their daughter plays with mine. That’s what I was ready for when I opened the door to the palace residence and entered, only to have to hold back a lot of cuss words.

Psychsaur, scaled and feathered psychic hero of Master Academy (and Venus’s girlfriend), was seated at the bar in the kitchen, swaying, talking with Sam and Holly. She smiled a loose, too-friendly smile and her wave to me almost dropped her from the stool. Plus, I could smell the alcohol from where I stood when she opened her mouth to say “Hey Gecko! I’m not driving home tonight, so can I sleep here?”

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Party On 4

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The big day draws near. Now that I have fewer people to kidnap, I’ve had time to deal with catering, including getting a big-ass cake done. The design almost gave me diabetes just looking at it, but it had to be huge. We’ve got a lot of guests, and I’ve done some rough calculations on the additional cake necessary to offset the hard feelings from the kidnapping.

It’s one of those areas of science from my more advanced home dimension. Whereas the power armor and nanotech are the results of the hard sciences, my world also advanced in the social sciences and humanities. For instance, we discovered that there is a ratio of discomfort to cake that allows someone to completely offset all dislike from a situation with application of the proper amount of cake. I had to leave out various factors, though. Dairy tolerance, differences between frostings, the ice cream and milk modifiers.

But enough about confectioneries. I also handled the balloons and the shopping. Well, I’m not sure shopping is an accurate name with all that theft. But I didn’t want to just get Qiang the normal toys. She’ll have pretty much one of everything anybody else could possibly have. Then I realized she needed one of things people couldn’t have.

I didn’t need a toy store, or a toy factory. I’ve wrecked China enough for all that. I need… The Toybox.

“The Toybox is a legend,” said Max.

“What’s the Toybox?” asked Sam, his assistant with the more goth or perhaps punk look. There’s a certain point where I can’t tell them apart. But I suppose she’s grown some. She shaved her hair down except for a green poof at the front, so she’s got that going for her. She sat with us at the bar for our mid-afternoon drink. There’s breakfast, like screwdrivers, followed by mimosas or champagne at lunch, something with a bit more zip at eleven or so, then lunch, then the mid-afternoon drink around 3 o’clock, with more drinks at dinner and later at supper. Of course, we don’t always make all the appointments, so there’s the option to put them all together throughout the night.

“Ooh, I know!” That was Holly, the cheerier and generally preppier of the two. She’d been to Sea-Offee. A Riccan entrepreneur partnered up with Deep One suppliers who had cultivated some beans that sunk in airtight storage before the beans themselves went extinct. There’s also a gimmick about iceberg iced coffees, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a common lie.

Holly set her coffees down before answering, “So like so many supervillains went around stealing prototype toys and special toys for gimmicks and stuff or to sell to people. The toy companies got together and used their money to build a secret vault where they can lock them up safely. So the legend goes.”

“But why?” asked Sam. “Why not destroy them or sell them themselves? They aren’t useful anymore, are they?”

Max and I looked at each other before focusing on her.

“You never know when you’ll need a prototype. You can make an inferior version to sell to everyone else,” he said.

“They often have features later editions don’t and provide a practical model for implementing them,” I added. “Those can come in handy later on.”

“It can be even more valuable if the product’s good,” Max said.

I nodded my head toward him, “The artistic value, too.”

“Yeah, they make good trophies,” Max said.

“Some of them are toys they never put into production,” I came back with.

“It all sounds like stupid bullshit to me. I bet they wanted to make a vault to feel special,” Sam said.

Max and I both nodded. “That’s also likely, yeah,” I told her. It really is. Makes me wish I had a giant vault full of traps and valuables just thinking about it.

“You’re going to break into a vault that may not exist to steal toys that don’t work right when you already have everything you already need.” Sam was trying to be the voice of reason, which made it easy to ignore her.

I turned to Max, but he cocked his head to the size and said, “She has a point.”

“It’s a natural way to get Venus’s attention so I can get her here,” I argued.

“I don’t want to tell you your business,” he started, “But I will anyway. Does she bring little kids along when she goes to fight you?”

I shook my head.

“Don’t you want Qiang’s friends to come here?” he asked.

I raised a hand parallel to the floor and shook it back and forth a bit. “For her, sure.”

He adjusted on his stool and was about to talk, but Holly spoke up, “You didn’t go around kidnapping a bunch of princesses for their company, did you?”

“There was one who was actually real pleasant to talk to, but that was mostly about Qiang’s birthday.”

It was Sam’s turn now. “Hey man, if you do stupid shit, you might ruin her birthday. I remember one of my birthday parties, my mom and pop got into an argument over the cake. They both bought me one just like I wanted, but they each got mad at the other for trying to show the other person up by going behind the other’s back. Mom threw his in the trash, he threw hers out the window. I didn’t get any cake.”

I shook my head. “Destruction of cake. Those monsters. Somebody get me the Directors, we need a new law.” I started to stand up and see to that when Sam reached out and put a hand on my lower right forearm. I looked down at it then at her with a raised eyebrow.

“This is her day. Don’t fuck it up for her,” she told me.

Max clapped a hand on my shoulder, subtly moving sliding Sam’s limb away from me. “Think about it this way: now you know what to steal for her next year.”

I pondered it for a moment before heading off into an office area where I’d hung the communication screen. This is one of the newer models using Riccan paperthin display tech, so it just looked like a painting and wasn’t too out of place with other pieces of art around here. I don’t know who hung this one painting in here, but it was nothing like the rest of their aesthetic. Some old-timey looking thing with a woman playing the piano, a guy with his back to the viewer strumming a guitar, and another woman just standing there, all on a black and white floor that looks sorta like a chessboard.

Boring.

When I was nice and ready, I put out a call and, after a second, Venus’s helmeted face looked down at me. “Who is this?”

I sat there in my pretty red and gold dress, face powdered and made up, my hair running through another golden headdress. I only raised my top pair of arms as the lower pair were hidden inside the dress. “It’s your absolute favorite supervillain in the whole wide world. Did I catch you at a bad time, Boopsie?”

She stared. “Gecko?”

“Empress Gecko,” I answered. “Well, Emperor’s fine, but they insist on calling me Empress right now. I swear, you tuck your nuts between your legs then shove them up inside a pussy and everyone loses their fucking minds.”

“You sound like Gecko. Pretty hologram. What do you want?”

“Hologram? Hey, can’t a guy just put on a dress, do up his hair, grow boobs, and wear makeup and a vagina just because he feels like it? You’re getting awfully judgmental for a Catholic bisexual, you know.”

She reached up, fingers hitting the visor over where it covered her nose before she lowered that hand out of view. “What do you want?”

I straightened myself up. “I’m throwing Qiang a birthday party and she has requested her friends attend. That includes you for some reason, but also that girl she used to hang out with over there, and the others from that school.” I took a moment to consult my memory. “Kayla, that was the name of her friend. She can even bring her parents, if she’d like.”

She looked down at me, thinking. “Is this a plot?”

I gently shook my head, not wanting to fuck up my bitchin’ hairdo. “There are plots involved in it, but this is not a plot. This is my daughter’s birthday and she wants her friends there. Unfortunately, that means… you.” I rolled my eyes. “Good news is, I can provide lots of cover for you-”

“We’ll come.”

“-excuse me?” I asked. I didn’t expect her to just agree to come here like that without some sort of incentive. Over to the side, Citra stood with a photo of one of Belgium Marias with today’s newspaper. She looked at me curiously and started toward the screen’s view, but I raised a hand to wave her off surreptitiously.

“Qiang is a good girl and we enjoyed having her. I think we can make arrangements with Cape Diem to come to the party. When is it?”

“Wow, ok, this actually moves up the timeline a bit. I was planning to rob a place or threaten to in order to get your attention. Dammit, you’ve foiled me again,” I said that last sentence playfully. “A week oughta do it. Should be enough time to wrap up any sudden problems that’ll show up. And if anyone gives you any trouble over coming to see me, you can always give them some spin about it being a rescue operation to get back all those kidnapped princesses.”

“You have them, don’t you?” she asked.

I waved it off, trying to say, “No, no, of course not…”

But that’s when Citra stepped into view, smiling wide while holding a picture of a pissed-off Belgian woman with a newspaper in one hand and giving the V-sign with the other. “Hello,” Citra said, way more happily than I expected. She waved at Venus.

Venus gave her a small wave. “Hi. Who are you?”

“I am Citra, Empress Gecko’s wife.” She linked her arm with mine.

“That is so sweet. Smile, I’m taking a screenshot,” Venus said.

Gonna kill her. Gonna kill her so hard. Gonna kill her and paradox the shit out of Future Venus because she won’t live long enough for me to kill her in the future when she time travels to the past. I swear, she’s trying to bait me just as I’ve often tried to bait her.

I put a hand over Citra’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. She intertwined her fingers with mine and leaned against me. I took a breath and carried on. “Anyway, now that the pussy’s out of the sack, you can bring the whole school over, no shenanigans, and you get to walk away with the princesses that we officially do not have here. And, more importantly, I will have less time to draw out party preparations and decide to rob places for more and more extravagant gifts. We’ll have entertainment, too. There’ll be music and games. Clowns and a dunking booth, even.”

Venus grimaced. “Some people don’t like clowns.”

I waved that off with my free hand. “The clowns will be in the dunking booth. It’ll probably be therapeutic. And don’t worry about the clowns either. They’ll float. They all float.”

That got a shiver from Venus at least. “Let’s work it out with Cape Diem and I’ll see you next week, alright?”

“Fine by me, Venus. Oh, and just so you know, the theme is Princesses. Do dress accordingly,” I said, feeling my grin take on predatory menace. I’ll get a picture of her dressed ridiculously even if I have to roofie her and take all her clothes off myself! And I guess I can put more clothes on her at some point, too.

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Party On 3

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Before I went too much further, I had to deal with an issue at home. Because, fuck me, some people have some misconceptions about me. I was informed one of the Directors had a special gift for me he wanted to discuss with me over the phone because he was seeing to the offloading at the docks.

“1,500 kids? Where the fuck do you get 1,500- oh I’m sorry, interrupt your damn Empress while you’re at it, 1,475 kids? I don’t give a shit about the price. I understand what the phrase ‘fall off the back of a truck’ means, but most people don’t consider children the sort of thing that falls off the backs of trucks. I don’t care what that video shows, I caught her before she hit the ground, and this isn’t about her. This is about 1,500 kids that you decided to buy… why? What do I need kids for?! Anything worth doing is worth training an adult to do. What I want you to do is turn the boat around and send them back. It’s the United fucking States, it’s not that hard to sneak in. I know a bar in Mexico, place called the Titty Twister, caters to truck drivers. Pay a few of them enough, they’ll get them in. Worse comes to worse, you take them in through Canada instead.”

I put on my helmet so I could slam my head against the desk in my office for the appropriate slamming sound. That’s one of the problems with integrating cell phone technology into your brain; it’s so hard to manage a satisfying hangup. I’ve got a pretty liberal immigration policy for Ricca, but people begin to wonder what the fuck’s going on once you’ve smuggled in 1,500 kids. And do you know how hard it is to find a buyer for children in bulk?

I mean, sure, there’s China and its sweatshops. The Vatican and its child molestation. South Korea and its professional gaming slaves. And whatever it is Russia does with kids. Probably science experiments, if they even can pull that off now. The place got royally fucked. No, czarally fucked. For some reason, investing almost all legal power into a mortal man instead of some sort of system of government turned out badly for them when he died, especially with various crimelords free of control and eager to prevent any future president from being able to control them.

The Claw, being long-lived and difficult to kill, managed it for a long time. I just found it easier to shove some of the responsibilities on other people by making them draw up a constitution. That allows this Directory bunch to run the country while I sit around remotely controlling a robotic doppelganger in Belgium. I’ve had a small castle made for them all to be kept in at the military base, with plenty of room for all the other princesses I have villains and mercenaries kidnapping for me. They’ve had time to make their own deliveries. The princesses haven’t tried anything stupid, like escaping. The Deep One guards are fairly intimidating to regular humans, but we also keep drones around. And we’re on an island.

It’s gotten out that someone is kidnapping them.

I naturally got a call about it from an interested source. As in, Venus, the nemesis who has overstayed her welcome in my life. I was on my throne, laying around while my Dudebot scouted the Royal Castle over in Belgium. One of the Directory aides ran up with a phone for me. “The Director of Foreign Affairs sent this,” he said.

I took handset off the phone and held it up to my helmet. “It is I, the great and devious Psychopomp Gecko, master of death, destroyer of worlds, eater of souls. May I ask who’s calling?”

“Gecko, it’s me.” said a familiar voice.

I hung up. Six and a half minutes later, the phone rang. I answered it, fairly certain it was the same caller as before.

“Sup, Venus?”

“You have no idea how big a hassle it is to call you. I have to call my friend in an embassy who calls someone he knows in another country’s embassy who directs it to that country’s Riccan embassy who sends the call all the way to his boss in your government.”

“Wow, that sounds just-” I hung up again. When she called back, I decided to reveal, “Ya know, I made sure lots of people know that if you’re reaching out to me, to go ahead and get the call to me. It’s complicated this way, but you won’t give me your number.”

“You keep hacking my phone anyway.”

I nodded. “Oh, that’s right, I refuse to give you my number. Anyway, I’m a very busy world leader here. Can’t spent all day playing phone tag with you. What do you want?”

“Are you kidnapping nobles?”

“Nah,” I answered.

“You’re lying.”

“If you’re just going to say that about any answer I give, why bother asking? Venus, y’all worked out some sort of crazy reverse diplomatic immunity for me. It’s open season me if I leave, so clearly I don’t just run off from the island.”

“You were just over here during the holidays,” she reminded me.

“Yes, and maybe someone needs to give you and your friends a stern talk about aiding and abetting international fugitives from justice, but it won’t be me because I’m adhering to the terms of my agreement.” Either I’ve gotten really good at envisioning Venus’s reactions to my antics, or she grinds her teeth loudly. “I have not left this island and I am not kidnapping royals. If I had some sort of plan for that, why would I wait until after that big wedding in the UK?”

“I don’t know what you’re doing, but we know you’re having royal women kidnapped for whatever reason. I shouldn’t have to remind you that being a leader means worrying about war instead of jail.”

I laughed at that one. “Right, like anyone would invade a country that actually has weapons of mass destruction. Only an imbecile or a madman actually declares war on someone like that, what with millions of lives all snuffing out in the first few minutes of any such war. Plus, ya know, I can teleport my bombs anywhere in the world. No, I’m perfectly safe here. But if you’re looking for kidnapped royals, then I have to say thanks for thinking of me, but your princess is in another castle. Oh, but while I have you, I was hoping to invite you to a party-”

She hung up on me that time.

Over in Belgium, I used the Dudebot and satellites to recon the Royal Castle. It’s a misnomer, though. It’s a palace, but not really a castle. The difference isn’t just pedantic. A castle is an actual fortress, designed to withstand knights and catapults. Palaces are designed to protect nobility from living in a mere mansion like one of those dirty plebians who worked for their money. Or worse, who don’t even have money. With today’s military technology, the difference can be negligible.

They have the Royal Castle locked down tight with guards and dogs, and guards as ugly as dogs. I mean, they’re trying. It’s the thought that counts, right? Plenty of people would be deterred by those shitty defenses. Lots of folks wouldn’t go after the last four princesses in Belgium. There are actually five Belgian princesses left, but one of them lives over in the U.S. Or something. Princess Marie-Christine Daphne Astrid Elisabeth not only continues the trend of having either Marie or Maria in her name, but appears to be something of a black sheep. She lives abroad and estranged, already spent all her money, and talks about how maybe Belgium would be better off without royalty. Given some people I’ve seen elected to power, I’m not sure she has room to shit talk the monarchy.

Regardless, Marie-Christine wasn’t gathered up by the royal family and shipped to the Royal Castle for safekeeping during this kidnapping spree. The other four were inside this sad little piece of architecture they thought they could defend with probably more armed guards than their normal standing army.

It really wasn’t that hard to just sneak in. Jump some fences, sneak in behind a patrolling guard, invisible as a fart in the wind, but twice as deadly. It took me awhile to find where they were actually being held. I had to go through a lot of bedrooms, and even when I was sure I found the actual room, it turned out to be sadly empty. On the plus side, I know one of the remaining princesses wasn’t wearing panties. I hope it’s not the 55 year old.

All the bedrooms… empty. Which wouldn’t be entirely suspicious, but even the ones that looked like room for the guards didn’t have anyone in them. And it occurred to me there should have been more staff in general. I expanded my search and was a little less gentle, like someone finding out his girlfriend has problems cumming from just penetration. As this tends to do, this did eventually lead me to a room full of women. Also, a gaggle of guys with guns aimed right at a door that opened all by itself. Had to be like twenty of them packed in there along with the four nobles I was after. They stood on a platform of a sort, with a slope reaching out several feet in all directions and bolted to the floor.

“Test it,” said one of the security detail. A man stepped forward and fired a shotgun, peppering my armor with buckshot because that’s the kind of gun that’s awesome for shooting into a doorway. Natural chokepoint, after all. And with only one way in or out, a shotgun would normally shred someone to pieces there. It just ticked me off a bit and prompted the one giving orders to turn and signal something to a woman sitting at a computer near the princesses. The computer person made twenty-one, a fun number for every occasion. “Activate it! Open fire, protect the princesses!”

The guards opened up on me all at once. Just a good, long, loud few seconds of automatic fire. Right as it petered off, one guy thunked a grenade at the doorway that began to spew smoke. As a whole, the group turned to stare at one mustachioed guard in goggles, the nearest asking “Really, Dietrich?”

I stepped the Dudebot out of the cloud, the smoke marking it for everyone to see and preventing the cameras and projectors from working properly to conceal it. Or the panties stretched over the helmet.

“Are those my knickers?” asked the skinny blonde 29 year old of the bunch, Maria Laura Zita Beatriz Gerhard.

“Score,” I said, pumping the Dudebot’s fist. Then my helmet started blasting “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”.

I jumped and put my hand through the nearest guard’s skull. His body fell back down and I grabbed the legs, yanking him into the air to smack another into a very heavy classical marble statue that fell over on top of that one. Another flew into a vase that looked pretty old. I tossed the body at his head, snapping it back.

The next one in front of me got a punch through his gut, leaving a hole that let me see yet another one behind him who was trying to get me with a shotgun he managed to reload. I reached through the hole and grabbed the guy’s crotch. He screamed as I pulled it back, the gun firing off to the side. I think it got another of his team. I turned to someone flanking me and whipped the torn-off dick at his face, causing him to be momentarily blinded. I grabbed his gun out of his hand and slammed the barrel into the top of his skull. Then I bent him over and emptied fifteen shots through his asshole into another pair of guards.

A shot to the back of the Dudebot reminded me they were trying to get around behind me. I turned and brought the ripped dick straight down. The guard, a woman with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, opened her mouth in shock and, amazingly, took the entire thing down her throat. “Holy crap, that’s just great,” I told her. She flailed her free hand and reached for the bloody cock. “You doing anything later?” I asked.

She shot the Dudebot in its crotch. I kicked her onto her back. “Rotting, eh? Sounds fun. I’ll leave you to it.” I stomped her groin. She sat straight up, at which point I kicked her head off with the other leg.

“Got it!” shouted the woman at the computer, hitting a button. The four princesses, all huddled together, were cut off from everything else by a shimmering barrier. “Now you can’t get them!” she said, turning to give me a triumphant and teasing grin.

I plowed through everyone else, pushing them aside, to grab the woman and lift her up. Then I turned to look the princesses themselves and cocked my head toward the dead bodies and regrouping guards. “So, you wanna come with me, or do you want all of them to die in fun and inventive ways while you stand by and watch. Then I find my way to y’all anyway.”

“You’ll never get them!” said the struggling woman in my grip, her legs kicking at my armor with futility.

Princess Astrid Josephine-Charlotte Fabrizia Elsabieth Paola Marie, a name that makes me want a deep breath just thinking about it, spoke for them. “It is our duty to stay strong for our people. To be their spirit and will. Though their bodies fail, that indomitable spirit remains.”

I shrugged and slammed the woman on the ground, leaving her splayed out on the ground while the Dudebot stepped as close to this shield and the device emitting it as possible. Then I activated the Dimension Bomb hidden on it.

When the bunch reappeared and the Dudebot returned to my control, I saw that about half the technician who activated the shield came with it. The entire device didn’t come with me either, which is why the shield didn’t last so long. I smirked to myself as the Deep Ones rushed up to take the princesses into custody and lead them into the castle, but I threw back a parting insult to the various Marias and Maries. “Outside of ghosts, you won’t find too many dead men who give a crap about spirit. Real easy to sacrifice other people for your own life, isn’t it? Enjoy your stay, ladies.”

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Back To The Past 5

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Archive Decompiling…

Section 6 Complete

Archive Begin Transmission

“Tell me, creature, what are you and why do you interfere with the glory of France?” asked a rather pudgy fellow who spoke French with a bit of a different accent than most of his buddies. He sat facing me in a fine wooden chair he imported.

I rolled my eyes under my armor. Our audience was not quite private, but at the same time, the General had been informed of the efficacy of his weapons on me. He kept a pair of guards in there in case he needed to sacrifice their lives for his. I suspect those two young men hadn’t been told how useless their muskets were against me. I wasn’t about to take my armor off and give them a chance, especially as it would immediately destroy my credibility. Women’s chief role in warfare at this time involved sex, either as a camp follower or a victim. “Monsieur Bonaparte, I know your ambitions reach further than mere glory for France. A man such as you could rise to emperor, if you weren’t loyal to the Revolution, that is.”

That was about as close as I’d hint at it here. It may be going too far to outright say around guards that he plans to take over. That would technically be the sort of thing he could be guillotined for, though they were done with most of that by this point. Napoleon’s a man seeking only to elevate himself. That’s why, in the main timeline, he tucks tail and runs back to France when things get bad. With his fleet already sunk, that means leaving almost every other man of the expedition behind. Those who don’t die of the plague. In this siege camp at Acre, I am literally surrounded by dead men, and in an audience with one of the few men who matters.

“My loyalty remains with France. Long live the Revolution!” Napoleon said. A servant brought us a glass of wine each. I couldn’t tell if it was a good year, but I knew it was an old vintage. Couldn’t have been any more recent than 1799. Just a bit of time travel humor. Not many get it. You had to be there.

“Long live the Revolution,” I said, not downing the drink myself. Once again, the helmet was an important part of my cover. I watched as he partook, and continued on once his thirst had been sated. “And sure the best way to aid the Revolution, your men, and the glory of their general, would be to wrap up this siege as quickly as possible. Congratulations on defeating that relief force, but it still leaves you without the cannon you need to break the backs of the defenders.”

“Yes. The British confound us and the walls are strong enough that even the inferior peoples of this land may hold out against the superior cause and army,” Napoleon said, at least as much for the benefit of his soldiers.

I nodded along and projected a hologram of Acre’s defenses as the ship’s scans had presented it to me, focusing on blind spots and proposed timelines for penetration at the French army’s current strength. I could be more exact if I had the relevant info memorized, but I didn’t anticipate it being so important to my schemes before going off to fight a god of death. “Acre can and will hold out for long enough unless you accept my help.”

“You believe you can defeat walls that hold back France’s greatest army?” he asked.

I nodded. “I am more than capable of breaking through, but I believe my enemies, who originate where I come from, have a trap waiting for me. If I enter alone, I may be captured or killed, and your army never takes Acre. They won’t do anything with you and your men there with me. You get Acre. I get the renegades I’m looking for.”

“These are incredible tales you ask me to believe,” Napoleon said, leaning toward me.

I stood. “The difference between a psychopomp and a god is that belief is not necessary for men to die. Let’s go see shall we?”

I led Napoleon along as I trudged closer to the range of the enemy’s guns. He stayed back, of course, and called over a servant with his horse, a brown Arabian. “You’d look better on white,” I yelled back at him, remembering a painting not yet painted.

I started charging my gauntlets, then took off running across the battlefield toward Acre. Cannons boomed and balls bounced off the sand around me. For morale’s sake, I waited until one of them was coming right at me and gave it hell with four fists, which is normally something I reserve for an orgy. One-armed, that likely would have left me three-armed. With all four, I shattered the cannonball. A cheer went up from the French line behind me. I bowed toward Acre and turned with a sweep of my cape, walking back toward the French lines. The Ottoman forces inside kept firing, and actually got a lot closer, but I sidestepped the only one that would have gotten me. Then I jumped, showing off that my mobility was far beyond that of a normal human’s. I landed right in front of the future Emperor. “So, when’s the soonest you can attack?”

The attack commenced a couple hours later, after having given everyone time to get together. I led the charge. The Ottomans had upped their game. A shot almost hit me right near the beginning of my charge. It went right through and I disappeared, only for a half dozen more of me to appear. Grapeshot peppered some of the other mes around. Ah, holograms. The Ottomans could spend all day shooting at them instead of French soldiers. Some of the officers on the walls began to realize that as well, but by then I’d gotten rather close to the part of the wall the French had weakened the most.

On top of that, the defenders of Acre got to deal with an attack from the air, something none of them were used to. Drones hovered above them, picking out targets for potshots. People without an understanding of radiation or the speed of light got skewered by lasers. Bombs destroyed artillery emplacements that might have hit me. And I set to work on the wall, invisible to everyone. The French began to move forward while I put together a lovely bouquet of beautiful bombs to blow the wall. They could have charged up behind me, but I warned them they didn’t want to be too close when things went off. That’s why, once I was done, I jumped onto the wall and got hoppin’ to avoid being there when my work went kablooey.

It was more of a “Wawoom!” sound, truth be told. Rock rained down, the wall split open. Bodies fell and men screamed in pain while soldiers charged and cannons thundered.

“Now this is an occasion that requires some music,” I said to myself. The men around me, Ottomans with a few limey supporters, looked shocked as I became visible again. “Music, random,” I said as men pulled pistols and swords.

“Now Playing: Wow Wow,” my HUD read as I grabbed the arm of a British officer trying to tug his sword loose. Someone fired impotently at my back. I tugged on the officer’s arm, pulling his sword loose and into the belly of the man behind me. I broke it and tossed the sword’s wielder off outside the city.

A musket ball bounced off my helmet from the side. I grabbed the rifle from the man, broke it over my knee, and stabbed the jagged part of the front half through the unlucky shooter’s throat. One fellow who was just tugging a pistol free of his belt, got the stock of it in his nuts. He dropped the pistol and screamed. I shoved the stock into his mouth. “Bite down,” I said, then did a split and punched him in the nuts so hard he fell backwards from the fortifications into the city.

I was whirling, nut-crushing death incarnate, but that wasn’t my only goal here. After clearing myself some breathing space, I turned to look over the city and an entire secondary wall built further in. The French couldn’t take the city so long as it still stood. More important to that was a scene atop that wall. I saw Mobian’s timeship perched there, with Mobian and Future Venus standing there. Venus looked ready to beat some ass, but she wasn’t looking at me or the horde of rampaging Frenchmen. She was looking at man in a turban with much of his body covered, save for a hand gripping-

I jumped, having put too much power into the jump because I’d operated on instinct. I landed hard further down the wall past the man who held my daughter. She turned and yelled, “Baba!” as she stabbed at the man, but he didn’t seem to react. Problem was, it’s hard to stand on broken legs. I knelt there and tugged out a couple syringes of nanites. Then it was time to crawl.

Venus moved like a flash, a large metal fist encasing her hand just before she punched the living daylights out of the guy who had my daughter. He went stumbling back, falling over Qiang, who was then picked up by a Venus ensconced in dirty, pockmarked power armor of her own. Qiang’s knife bounced off Venus’s throat armor and fell off the secondary wall. I didn’t have as good of a few after that because turban guy’s turban fell off as his head grew into a flesh-colored spike. In fact, his whole body grew until it broke free, looking like a fleshy starfish.

Mobian yelled something at Venus, who grabbed the starfish thing and tossed it at me just as I was standing up. I threw it off to the side, getting amazing distance on it with some sort of Frisbee effect. Unfortunately, I saw it gliding toward the breach where the French were fighting their way into the city. Even more unfortunate, when I turned my attention back to Mobian’s glowing orb ship, I saw the outline of a door had closed. The ship itself began to rise.

“No, you fucking don’t,” I said. I pulled the drones away from the main battle to fire on Mobian’s ship. A light shot out, like lightning, and I lost connection with the drones. They froze in midair, then crumbled away into red dust.

“Get back here and die like a man!” I yelled and launched myself into the air. I grabbed more syringes in midair, making sure to keep myself full of healing nanites. My legs snapped with every landing, even in the sand outside the city. I reached out and let myself be shrunk and pulled into my timeship after an agonizingly long time, though hopefully not too late. Mobian’s ship never moved from its perch over the city.

I found him hailing me again as I reached the command center. “Gecko, whatever our conflict, we mustn’t disturb history. I believe it will go more or less as planned now, but we cannot continue this fight here.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to. You didn’t have to take her!” I yelled at him.

“Give us back our daughter!” yelled Citra over my shoulder.

“I understand you are perturbed at the moment, but you have a nasty habit of, er, murdering people. I want this resolved with as little loss of life as possible.”

“Yeah,” said Arsehole from where she sat on a little stool in the corner. “I’d like very much not to die, if you please.”

“So just land and hand her over now. Or you could have just left her for me, dammit,” I said. “You keep jerking my chain and someone’s gonna die!”

Future Venus spoke up on the line, “We’re afraid you’re already about to kill someone.”

And that’s when I gave up my fucks. Just whoosh, there goes the last one. I had the timeship rise and had it move to intercept his.

“We’ll all die, you can’t-” Mobian started, then my ship detected his exit from this point in time. The ship, acting according to its orders, jumped as well. The ship shuddered, sensors suddenly showing us having collided with Mobian’s ship. The top point penetrated into the side of Mobian’s orb. We appeared in space, briefly, the ship’s unusual way of telling time informing me we were in 2016. The year of the alien invasion, where I defeated the ship with a Dimension Bomb.

“I didn’t expect him to follow so closely,” said Mobian.

“It’s fine. Let’s end this,” I heard Venus say.

Over that, I heard my daughter’s voice cry out. “Baba!”

All around us, a fleet of alien vessels. “Now!” said Mobian. He tried to time jump, but my ship went with it, either due to physical attachment or the last orders given to it. At the same time, I felt the familiar pull as the Dimension Bomb blew a hole in spacetime and everything in the radius of the detonation went through.

It got really confusing then, as even the view of floating above many spreading Earths changed, the planets pulling back into one another until there were fewer.

When we came out, my ship wasn’t handling the stress that well. It fell to the ground and thumped end over end. The interior was protected, amazingly, but it didn’t look good for the timeship. And Mobian’s was still there, in the air, the side closing in where it had been damaged.

In the midst of diagnosing the damage to the ship, I discovered we’d headed back in time another couple of decades. Despite that, the signals and development of Earth definitely didn’t match up with the Nineties. Or at least, as I soon realized, not that Nineties.

“That did not exactly go as planned. Is everyone alright down there?” asked Mobian. Sparks shot out of the console for some damn reason as he began speaking and his voice sounded further away than normal.

“Yeah,” I said, before looking around. Citra was on hands and knees, throwing up. Arsehole had bumped her head against the wall, but seemed fine otherwise.

“Good here for now,” Arsehole said.

Venus almost sounded said when she spoke. “Good. I think it’s time we finally settle up.”

Archive Transmission Fragment 6 Complete

Archive Decompiling Resumes… … … …

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Frozen Over 9

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“You made explosive devices and hid them on the Christmas tree!” Minotaur yelled.

I sat in the middle of Victor Mender’s office, and in the middle of a small inquest into what the fuck actually happened. Raising a finger to interject, I said, “I fail to see how y’all didn’t expect that from me.”

“There were children there. Children!” said Venus.

“They could only be armed biometrically,” I lied. No they fucking couldn’t. I didn’t even have to take my gloves off.

“I do not understand the nature of the device you say you used to destabilize the portal,” Victor Mender’s computer said for him.

I leaned forward, “Ok, so it shares some moving parts with the Dimension Bomb, but it’s more of an audio-vibratory-physio-molecular transport device. Basically, its primary purpose was to generally disrupt what you might call a wormhole or a portal. The source was magic, but I am familiar with the effects and have some knowledge on how to disrupt them.”

“What was your game?” asked Psychsaur. It was an astute question, coming from the only one of them to spend any time in my head, thinking my thoughts. “You always have some plan hidden behind everything.”

I held my hands out to my side like “What are you going to do?” I didn’t say that, however. Instead, I said, “I wanted to protect my daughter. What else could make me come here, ask y’all for help, prostate myself before you, and submit to patrolling as a hero?”

Minotaur came in again. “You crawled through a burning building to save a couple gerbils. I think you’d do whatever you needed to accomplish your goal.You don’t trust us so you probably didn’t tell us what you were doing.”

I leaned forward. “Look at it this way… I told y’all these things were real. They turned out to be real. I told y’all they wanted to take my daughter and I wanted to stop them. I fought them, my daughter is still here, and they are stopped. Nobody died. They didn’t snatch up anyone else. So even if I did have some other plan, it didn’t happen. I used up my explosives, and the little anti-portal device. I didn’t even get to fight Frostzilla because your stupid kids were running around without enough clothes on. They were having too much fun. How many more times are we going to go over this?”

“Why is this meeting kept from us?” asked a person with what could be mistaken for a Southern accent. I sat back in the chair and reached out with my mind to see what I had available to get me out of this situation. I’d come to this little inquest without armor on. So long as the Dimensional Rangers didn’t morph and the heroes didn’t join in, I could handle this.

“This is no concern of yours,” said Mender’s voice.

I heard the team shuffle in. Five rangers. There’s almost always a sixth, but I’d already killed that one. I saw the one with a red top step between myself and Victor Mender’s desk. He took a long look at me. “We find ourselves in odd circumstance. Your allies hide you well.”

“We are not her allies,” Venus said.

I nodded at that. “Merely enemies on good terms with one another.”

“Psycho Gecko is here under truce,” said Victor Mender.

The Red ranger looked to Mender. “You people must want to die. This man honors no truces and lives only for death and destruction.”

“Baba is in here?” asked Qiang from outside. The door creaked as she pushed her way in. I raised my hand to wave at her and she ran around to me for a hug. “Baba!”

“Hey there smooshylumpikins. I just had to answer a bunch of boring questions about all that stuff on Christmas Eve.”

“Who is this? Baba?” asked Red as he looked at Qiang.

She pressed closer to me to get away from him, her hand moving toward where she kept her knife on her. “Hello. My name is Qiang. This is my daddy.”

“Your daddy?” Red asked.

“Yep,” I said. “Bet you didn’t see that coming?”

“You’ve changed,” Red said.

“He has?” asked Venus.

Psychsaur interjected here. “Regardless, I believe we’re done with Gecko for now. She’s going to leave this room and we’re not going to fight about this, right?”

“You better hope not,” said Red. “Our people don’t want this relationship to sour, but hiding Psycho Gecko is a sure way to cause problems. We still want him.”

Venus crossed her arms. “We have our rules and we stick to them. Even Gecko doesn’t violate our truces.”

I nodded, and so did Qiang. “Ya know, I believe I was dismissed. Let me get right on that.” Red didn’t do anything, but neither he nor the rest of his color-coded costumed crimefighters tried to stop me.

Still, it was time to move on out. No interaction with those Rangers was going end well, and I had shit to do now that the Winter boogeymen had been put in their place. The break’s over, and I got a couple of important details to work out.

I ran into a problem. Qiang didn’t want to go. She hugged onto my leg and cried her little head off. “Daddy, I like it here!”

“I know you do, sweet, but we can’t stay. They don’t like me, and those people you saw in there will try to hurt me. I can’t stay here.”

Her crying didn’t stop, and reasoning with her just didn’t work. So I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder, and went about dividing up the things to take, things to leave, and things to burn in a fire to erase evidence. Excess panties went into the third pile. I’ve caught adolescent supers staring. On the plus side, interest in the library jumped way up. The way I’ve walked around here, lots of things jumped way up. I’m not a big believer in pants.

I stuffed Qiang into a suitcase with her head sticking out the top and slipped into my armor, getting ready to make a run for it.

Nobody made a big deal about the bonfire, surprisingly. A librarian burning a lot of stuff should be cause for concern, especially indoors. It’d have made a good Yule log if I ever cared to watch one of those.

I’d lost track of time, because Psychsaur interrupted me watching those beautiful flames. “You’re running again?”

I turned toward her swiftly, so as to make it look dramatic with my cape. “I ain’t looking to get deported back to that place and end up put on trial for war crimes. And y’all will. Cozying up to them like that. There’s always going to be friction between these two universes so long as I’m a refugee in one. It’s only a matter of time before I get handed over. And maybe y’all don’t shove me through a portal yourselves, but you stand by and let it happen.”

“What are you talking about, Baba?” asked Qiang.

I patted her on the head. “Sorry, just something about those people with the same uniform in different colors.” I stepped closer to Psychsaur.

“You don’t trust us,” she said.

I pointed a finger at her. “Stop that. That goes both ways. This isn’t trust. This is guilt. Fucking guilt. You talked a big game about trusting me so I’d trust y’all, but I needed you and the others. That’s why I came here: I needed you. Guess what, y’all didn’t help. I might as well have not been here. I had to trick y’all just to get some help, and I could have done that anywhere. Instead, I get people saying I need to reform. Go to jail or the loony bin. So this isn’t really about trust. This is about tolerating me until you can guilt me into going to jail without giving me any help I actually need.”

“We saved your life,” she started.

“THEY saved my life,” I pointed off into the air. “They being those idiots with all the jingle bells who came after Qiang. They saved my life without asking me first and decided I owed them a job. If I didn’t do it, they got Qiang.”

“You could have told-”

I put my hand over her mouth. “Master Academy saved my life without asking me first and decided I owed them a job dealing with The Claw. Now that’s done, but y’all think I should change the way y’all want. And I’m sure y’all will be more than happy to take in Qiang when I’m sent off to the funny farm where life is wonderful all the time.”

“You want Baba to go to prison?” asked Qiang, struggling to try and look at us. She squirmed until the suitcase fell over with her on her back. She hit her head a little, but didn’t cry. You know why? Because she’s a Gecko. And Geckos don’t cry over a little thing like traumatic brain injuries. Geckos don’t actually have a lot of defined things we do, since there’s only the two of us. But still, I respect her ability to get hurt without whining about it. Instead, she cried about all these people she thought were friends trying to put her female father in prison. And she’s got a very different idea of what prison is. She used to live under a dictatorship.

I unzipped the luggage to let little Qiang out. Meanwhile, Psychsaur tried to salvage things. “It’s not about prison. We just want him to go to a place full of people who will keep him away from people and give him drugs so he can get better.”

“My daddy’s already awesome!” she said. She picked up a book and threw it at Psychsaur. Now, I know what people are thinking: was the book ok? Good news, it was hardcover, so it didn’t take any damage. Bad news, it was young adult, so it didn’t hurt Psychsaur very much.

So I took my daughter and walked out to the front lawn. The Rangers all stood in front of the gate, unmorphed, as if challenging me to try and pass through. It was a dumb gesture. I could jump over, or go to the side.

They looked really stupid when a helicopter lowered down to the lawn for Qiang and I to get onboard.

“Where to, sir?” asked the pilot.

“We need to pick someone up while they’re in town. I’ve been meaning to stock up on scientists.”

After that, it’s time to finally use my position as emperor and supreme dictator of Ricca to make a change for the positive. Not everything the heroes said was nonsense, and seeing the Master Academy as this hub of heroes has given me an idea. I think it’s time the supervillains got organized.

But first, let’s go kidnap a geneticist!

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Frozen Over 7

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With Christmas fast approaching, I dropped my bombshell on the heroes. I feel really stupid for even forgetting it. Maybe I’m catching the Mad Cow. Maybe I’m losing my edge. Maybe I need to replace my brain completely so that it’s all compact and electronic. Then, I can make it so my head splits open down the middle and can clamp down on the arms of anyone trying to punch me in the face. Regardless, I was stupidly distracted for one reason or another and I actually forgot I had video footage. When told to make someone believe in Christmas again, I didn’t think to immediately show him the video of a mythological Christmas creature saying that.

I could try and pretend it was nothing but a plan, like to add drama, but the best excuse I have is that the heroes likely wouldn’t believe it anyway. My memory’s been all over the place and so has my brain. I think it’s the company. They keep trying to fry my brain with Christmas songs and Nativity scenes.

Regardless, my excuse about trust appeared to be a good one when I walked in on the adult heroes sitting around and enjoying a movie. I had waited for Eschaton to get there because I could and I knew he’d do so. So I just walked in, ignoring John McClane crawling around an air vent, and grabbed the HDMI cable from the back of the DVD player. Regardless of the audience’s protests, I stepped to the side of the TV, faced them. “Ok, folks. It’s time I show y’all something.”

“This better not be porn,” said Triclops.

“Porn is an option?” Eschaton said.

Psychsaur gently thwacked him on the back of the head. “It’s not porn.”

“Correct. This is… ok, so time is getting short and it’s time to come clean. For those who don’t know… pretty much just Eschaton at this point… I’m Psycho Gecko. Yep, laying that on the table.”

Eschaton looked around at everyone else. “Is this a joke?”

Venus shook her head.

“Then why aren’t we beating him up? He’s a he, right?” Eschaton asked.

I shrugged. “Originally, but you never know when a pair of boobs will come in handy.”

“Gecko is behaving herself right now,” Psychsaur said. “She even goes out on patrol with us.”

“Can we not mention that part so loud?” I asked. “People will get ideas.”

“Doing what?!” Eschaton asked.

Triclops spoke up. “You should have seen her with that fire. Broke her arms rescuing people, then part of the building collapsed under her while she was rescuing hamsters.”

“That was crazy,” snorted Minotaur. “The good kind of crazy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it, roast Gecko for Christmas,” I said. “All this is… well, I’m sure Venus has told you it’s a ploy. A hard one to live with, y’all ruining my bad name like this. I’m not turning over a new leaf. This isn’t going to end with em donning the red undies to save people. I’m just worried because my daughter is threatened.”

“Gecko has a daughter?!” Eschaton asked.

“They’ll take her,” I said.

“Who will take her?” asked Eschaton, eliciting groans from everyone else.

“This story is nonsense,” said Triclops.

I jammed the cable into my ear. For added effect, I changed the setting on my eyes to show a “Please stand by” rainbow screen while I connected to the cable.

On playback, the footage was odd. Skipped around a bit, had errors in it that screwed with seeing anything. Everything that I perceived was there, don’t get me wrong. But I was missing time, and those errors added up. I had to fast forward through that stuff to get to the relevant bits. Let’s just say a few new problems came up with the audio talking about me getting Eschaton for them all, helped by my own narration of the tale.

Still, the first question after I’d out and out shown them all these beings was simple, “What was up with all that ‘magical anomaly’ stuff?” That one came from Ball Boy.

“Oh, that’s just part of my normal HUD here.” My eyes went back to normal and I showed them the normal view.

“Wait, you’re magical?” Triclops turned to Minotaur, then back to the TV screen. “I’m NOT? I thought I had magic in me somewhere!”

It was Eschaton who spotted the analysis software matching faces and body types to names. “You’ve been looking at everyone here and figured out our identities?”

“I’ve been messing with some of y’all for years, and I had access to every top secret file in the world for a little bit.” For good measure, I flashed the identity of D.B. Cooper for a second so they could see. “But at the same time, I haven’t acted on that stuff while I’ve been here, have I? And y’all saw why. Krampus, Ruprecht, those other assholes… Pete.”

“Who’s Pete?” Psychsaur just had to ask. I cued up distorted showing of my encounter with Pete the other night.

“When you start hiring actors in blackface, this has gone too far,” Venus said.

They booed me and threw popcorn. Minotaur got up to grab hold of me but I shook him off and tore the cable from my ear, pain be damned. I stormed out of there, but Psychsaur soon caught up to me as I headed down the hall.

“Hey! Wait, don’t do something stupid,” she called.

I turned on her. I would say I glared, but that implies anger. I wasn’t angry. “I already did something stupid. I came to y’all for help.”

“You always have an ulterior motive. We knew you weren’t serious about pretending to be a hero, but we didn’t throw you out. If you want to seek help, we’re happy to give it,” she said. “Sorry, that sounds cliché, but it’s not just a line. Whatever’s wrong with you, you don’t have to be alone. If you want help, it’s never too late.”

I turned on her and had her slammed against the wall in an instant. Little miss psychic couldn’t read that one happening in time. “I don’t need that kind of help. This isn’t some cry for attention about my mental or moral state. This is a real thing, with real beings, and my daughter really on the line.”

“I’m your friend. Get your hands off of me,” she said, looking me in the eyes. I think then she realized exactly how serious I was. Maybe she could sense how cold I’d gone inside. Not frozen blood or anything. Just cold. No anger or regret. “We’re here to help, but not if you’re just going to use us and not get help. If you do that, you’ll just end up alone or leave Qiang an orphan. You’re always going to need help and that’s why you let people like Moai and Carl close, then push them away to keep them safe because the way you live is too dangerous for love. It’s push them away or change. Now you have a kid.”

I let her go. It was that or kill her, and I just barely like her enough not to kil her. Heedless of a small crowd of concerned heroes looking at me from the TV room, I headed to the library and to get dressed.

Whirlygig, not Gecko. I went out on patrol. It took a lot to not slide into my armor instead of the costume. But it’s all part of the plan. I think we’re on Plan M at this point. There’s really a lot of improvisation in these, though. For example, there’s no way I could have planned around the Greens wrecking a bunch of fire hydrants in Empyreal City’s south side. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but the stuff they were on meant they could take a beating. Coincidentally, I wanted to give a beating.

They weren’t just flooding the streets. They roamed around, a lot of regular guys with a bit more hair than normal in lighter clothes than normal for this time of year. One skinny guy in dreadlocks ripped a hydrant right out of the ground with his bare hands.

They were led by a guy who didn’t get the memo about it being Casual Friday. He had grown, bulged even, but not in the conventional bodybuilder sense. He was barrelchested and -bellied with what looked like a pelt in that low light. All that was less noticeable than the humongous antlers on his head, wider than his shoulders and curved like a moose. “Look at the rack on that one,” I said to myself. Then I put on some music and sang along to the only lyrics in it, “Oh what fun it is to ride a pimped-out getaway!”

Antlers, dreadlocks, and another seven guys, all trying to spread water and then tossing stuff into it. I looked further down the street where they came from and saw plants growing already. As far back as I could see, there were vines and tall bushes.

I started off the fight landing on one guy who had been vaping, which is what made him such a priority target. He went down with my boots on his back, but groaned and started to stand up. I jumped up and backflipped, coming down again on it. Again, he started to stand, so I locked in a sleeper hold while he stood.

With a snort from the big guy, the closest three guys came over to put a stop to me. For an ordinary man, that’d be more than enough. If the boobs are any indication, I am no ordinary man.

Three opponents. Divide and conquer. I checked around for anything and found a turned-over plastic trash can. I set it upright and held onto it while I flipped over it toward the closest Green. Upon landing, I brought the can up and over, slamming it down onto that Green with his arms trapped at his side and a LOT of thin brown liquid flowing down around his body. I grabbed him and threw him at the next closest Green.

The last of the three was bald with a large flower tattooed on top of his head. I spun toward him and sent one of the recently-repaired mechanical arms whipping around to knock him in the face. I kept up the spin to give momentum to the other arm as it came around to catch the back of his calf and drop him to one knee. I followed through to turn around and backflipped, planting a boot on his head and sending him down to the sidewalk. He stayed down, so that was nice.

Behind me, the one in the trash can still rolled around, trying to wiggle his way out of the bottom. The friend who was supposed to be helping him instead came after me. A long-haired guy with half-moon shades, actually. He got in a punch as I tried to stand after my flippy kick, knocking a tooth loose. I spat it in his face along with some blood. He paused to wipe it away and gave me a moment to stand. “You want the tooth?” I asked. Then I dropped my fangs and pumped Sriracha from my venom sacks. “You can’t handle the tooth!” I spat a red mist of hot sauce into his eyes just when he thought it was safe to look around. He screamed and tried to wash his face out in the street.

The third one, meanwhile, was still wiggling. I flipped the can upright so he was balanced on his head and jammed it between a pair of cars that were perilously parallel parked.

The big guy must have paid attention, because I barely had a moment of rest before a redhead was on me. She clawed at my hair and even ripped a few purple stands out, then pushed me down and got on top. Her first punches weren’t that good, but she got better and I began to miss my helmet. Unfortunately for her, being on my back was a pretty good base to send the mechanical arms up under her armpits and fling her off me and into a nearby car whose alarm started to go off.

Again I got to my feet and again I had a superpowered gangbanger, this one in a hoodie, came at me swinging. I caught his arm between the mechanical ones and backed up, pulling him with me while he was off-balance. He caught his foot on the edge of the sidewalk and tipped forward onto his face, at which point I jammed my heel into the back of his kidney and bladder a half dozen times until he was too busy pissing blood to fight.

I barely dodged the broken hydrant Dreadlock threw at my head. He and the last remaining mook, a Green woman with a pair of dreamcatchers for earrings, had decided not to come at me one at a time.

I stepped behind a nearby SUV for cover and a little time to breathe, then dropped down to see how they were going to come at me. Dreadlock’s shoes and dreamcatcher’s sandals stepped up to the vehicle’s front. They pulled it out and away from me. I smiled to myself and ran around to the back. I popped the rear door and easily, then crawled it. I gathered as much speed as I could and brough the mech arms up as a shield and a ram. I smashed through the windshield and grabbed dreamcatcher by the head.

I swung around on her back for a moment, pulling us back from the SUV and dreadlocks. Setting myself back on my feet, I hauled her around to face me by her earring and used the mech arms to throw her into the air. I rolled back then and used all my arms to push off the ground with my boots in the air, catching the falling Green in the face. She rolled off to the side and didn’t move, but her chest kept moving.

Dreadlock almost put his boot in my face, though. Instead it just went through the street as I rolled. My body protested the constant moving that was my advantage over these guys like this and asked kindly if I had any more of that oxygen shit it loves.

I tried to hit this last one with my mech arms, but he caught them. It seemed like a good moment to bring in my hoverboard drones. They had separated and now flew past, shooting grappling hooks as they passed. The lines wrapped around Dreadlock’s legs. He had a moment to think about what was happening before he let go of me to try and grab onto anything to stop him from being hauled off. He almost got the car. The drones flew him up into the air a good bit, aimed, and then cut the line. He crashed down on the annoying car with the alarm going off, his impact abruptly silencing it.

That just left me with several aches, short on breath, and probably something broken, to face the big moose one on one. This would be something of a fair fight. I hate fair fights. They’re a desperation move, and I wasn’t desperate yet.

I called the drones over. They locked into hoverboard mode as they approached and I hopped on, speeding away. Maybe the big moose knuckle even though I was going for real. As soon as I got out of sight over the rooftops, I circled around to catch him from behind. The mech arms wrapped around his leg and I dragged him, racing down the street. I bounced him off the road and against cars parked along the side. I flew us higher and smacked him right into this giant boxing glove sign hanging over a gym. Then I flew us up a few more stories past that and let him go. I looped around so I was right in front of him at the apex and started wailing on him. I went for the gut to knock the air of out him, pummeling with fists mechanical and biological. He his swings were slow, and I could jump off my hoverboard and bring it right back under me whenever I needed to avoid them.

Together we descended, though I still had the ability to stop short before cratering the road like he did.

It was a testament to whatever the Greens were smoking that he’d live. I just had to hope he wouldn’t enjoy it that much with those sirens on the way. The cops were more than happy to bat cleanup at that point. I didn’t stay either. I had vented a lot of frustration, and realized I needed to see to a few other things before the adrenaline left me a quivering mass of person goo in the street.

At least I managed to get back to the school and drop off the presents I had under the tree before I passed out. Venus woke me up in the morning to make the walk of shame from the cafeteria to my quarters in the library. I refused to tell her what happened, but she said something about a report from her friends in the police about Whirlygig. I did my best to avoid her face, not wanting to see the expression there. Pride, I think.

Before she shut the door to the library behind me, she decided to tell me, “You better clean up all that nose blood, and Merry Christmas.”

I held it open long enough to stick my face back out and mutter a “Bah humbug,” before slamming it shut.

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