Tag Archives: Venus

Back To The Past 5

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“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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Frozen Over 6

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Qiang is bonding so well with all these folks. They don’t seem to hate her at all for her connection to me. I’ve seen people’s reactions to being told she’s mine, and their biggest problem with her parentage is believing she’s mine. But they like her. No one’s trying to kidnap her or anything, not even the ones I figured were assholes.

I was walking along to find Qiang so we could head out to do some sledding, ya see. Figured we might go sledding. I know I have a way to convince people I’m telling the truth about Ruprecht, Krampus, and the rest, but this is about timing and precision. I really only need to convince one person, after all, and I’d rather do so close to Christmas Eve so he doesn’t have time to come up with reasonable explanations or strong drugs.

I made my way down the hall, sneaking almost. I came to a room with Venus and Psychsaur, for instance. Peeked in and found them standing there, holding each other under the mistletoe. It was nothing X-rated, or even me-13. Just girlfriends holding each other and whispering. Now, I suppose it would have been crude to eavesdrop in the hopes of overhearing anything juicy or even, ahem, wet.

“Everything looks beautiful. You should be proud. It’s like a movie around here,” Psychsaur said. Meanwhile, I was wondering if this was about to turn into the Jurassic Park porn parody. Just as a general rule, there’s ALWAYS a porn parody. Hell, there’s even a porn parody of this blog. I keep it locked up in another file. Venus would murder me if she saw it, for real.

Venus blushed. “Christmas has always been so special. It’s the time of year when I most feel I’ve made a family.”

Psychsaur nuzzled her girlfriend’s cheek with her own scaled one. “It feels like everything’s going to be alright.”

Venus smiled at that and hummed a sort of “uh huh” before she kissed Psychsaur. I noticed Psychsaur give a little wave of her hand on my side, like she was waving something along. I quietly slipped further along the hallway before I disrupted their Hallmark moment.

Another room I passed had that minotaur guy and Ball Boy in it, among others. This group had some of the same teens who gathered around to try and fool me out of information on my past that time. They thought they were so clever, too, getting me hurt from a burning building and then giving me drugs. As Mix N’Max once found out, it takes more than a little bit of drugs to get me to talk. It takes a lot of drugs. A shitload. Tony Montana snorting mountains of cocaine.

I’m kidding. It just takes ones with slightly different pathways. They don’t work quite the same way with my brain chemistry. It’s not a sociopath thing so much as a homo machina thing.

A bunch of them were all sitting around watching that one screaming kid convince some burglars to leave him alone by putting on a gangster movie and setting off firecrackers in a pan. Good movie. The kid rigs up his lair with a tarantula and a flamethrower, and hurls paint cans at people’s heads. He’s a regular budding supervillain, just without the minions. Minotaur looked up and saw me there, then snorted and raised his glass. It was either barf or eggnog, but I’m being redundant.

I narrowed my eyes, knowing he knew full well who I was and had some negative experiences with me in the past. I’m not cool with these folks. They act almost like I am, but I know it. They’re just waiting for a reason. I glared at him, pointed at my eyes with two fingers, then pointed to him with them. I got my eyes on him and the rest of his ilk. They wanna trick me, that’s what it is.

I recognized Qiang’s laughter coming from the cafeteria. There, I found Triclops and some others overseeing the efforts of some of the smaller kids to make their own cookies. They’d laid tarp down on the floor, which meant they had a pretty good idea what would happen. It was a bit of a mess, and I found Qiang chewing on hers before it even got cooked. When another kid tagged her arm, she set her cookie down and chased after him.

Look at her. Her first holiday season with me and she’s already chasing human guys in retaliation for daring to touch her. Of course, she didn’t do it because she’s a superior being to the low down humans she congregates with. I leaned against the doorway there, briefly wondering if I even could instill that in her. Her mother was human, after all, and she’ll assume I loved her. More than that, she’ll know she’s half human and that this might make her a disappointment in my eyes.

And I suppose humans may not be entirely inferior. Well, not bad at least. Ya know, when they’re not predisposed to oppress someone just for being a sub species. They’re still ugly, though, except for my daughter. They’re just a lot better here and now than where I come from. Yeah, I’ll definitely teach her she’s superior to those bastards. Screw them.

“I haven’t seen you around before,” said a male voice from behind me. I turned to see Eschaton there. He smiled and held out a hand. “I’m Michael.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Tia,” I held out my hand and shook. “Tia Mot.” If he found the name strange, he didn’t let on. It was almost disappointing, considering the play on words I came up with there.

“If you don’t mind me asking, is there something wrong?” he asked.

“What? Why?”

“You’re tense for someone watching the children. I don’t mean to pry.” He held up his hands. “I only mean to help, if it’s something I can help with. Wow, those eyes…” He leaned in to peer at them. I blinked and reopened them with the camouflage on so they appeared to be hazel human eyes.

“Yeah, my eyes.” I said, not so happy he leaned in close to me. He’s not bad looking, but I aim to fuck him over, not fuck him. “I was just thinking about where I came from and how different things are from here. My daughter is going to have a remarkably better upbringing than I did.”

He looked past me into the room. “That’s great. I know it must be weird. My dad wanted a better life for me too, but he sometimes seemed like he didn’t think I was as good as him because I didn’t grow up facing the same prejudice he did. He had to take those hard times he lived through and turn them into a kind of strength. I think there are many types of strength. If she’s going here, she’ll be just fine. They take people of different strengths and make them strong together.”

I turned back to the room. Something about that just bothered me. Teammates can die. I know, I’ve killed them. They can be subverted or given to doubts. I’ve done so. Hell, I’d cause a rift between this guy and the Master Academy capes just telling him my name. While this place seems good for Qiang, I just don’t know if I can have her grow up thinking she can rely on these other people. Even if the humans here are good for humans, a true credit to their species, they’re still people. They’re still inherently weak. They will disappoint her. They will make her hurt.

Qiang spotted me while chewing on her cookie, which hadn’t yet been baked. She waved and I caught myself smiling in spite of my mood. Why not just let her have cookie time?

I turned to step away from the door. “That was yours, huh?” asked Eschaton. He turned to follow me. “She was cute. Hey, if you think it’ll cheer you up, they’re watching movies down the hall.”

I shook my head. “Sorry there, Michael. Christmas just isn’t my time of year.”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” he said, following me on my way back to the library.

“Ugh, the songs are one thing I don’t like. I didn’t grow up with all this, so I don’t exactly get in the Christmas spirit,” I said I turned to look at him as I walked backward.

He shrugged. “Fair enough. I haven’t been into Christmas for some time. I didn’t even think they’d invite me here this year.”

“They don’t like you?” I asked.

He scratched at the back of his head through his long, dark hair. “We had differences of opinion this year. It means a lot to me that they looked past it.” He looked back as someone called his superhero name. He turned to me and grinned. “Sorry, I need to see to that. Hey, I’ll see you around?”

I shrugged now. “Maybe if you’re around the library.”

Oh, have I mentioned I’ve taken up wearing needless glasses? Between that, the knee-length skirt, and the button-down blouse, I’m getting to live that sexy librarian fantasy of mine. Ya know, just like anyone else would.

It was in that capacity that I learned of another complication. There I was, rearranging books. “Hmm. This should be under ‘H’ for toy…” Then door opened, as if the place was just available to everyone.

The Yellow Dimension Ranger walked in. Uniform and everything. I immediately took a stance, book in hand.

“Stop,” he said in accented English that would sound like some sort of Southern accent to anyone else. Lots of planets have a south though, and the South has lots of accents. His was the same sort of accent as mine. “You are the librarian here?”

I nodded and looked around for any more of the Rangers.

Yellow pushed buttons on something on his wrist and the costume disappeared in a flash of light. He stood there in a different sort of uniform that spoke to a more militant style of Ranger. Some of them are like that. One year they’re civilians, kids even. The next, they’re a private organization of adventurers or archaeologists or mercenaries. Then they’re a government-sponsored defense force. There’s not a lot of consistency in who ends up with those abilities.

Yellow held up his hands, more like someone under arrest. “I want to find books on the history.”

I set him up with that, then rushed off to go find Venus. Couldn’t find her in the TV room, the den, the living room, the sitting room, nor the foyer. She wasn’t in the cafeteria, or the vending machine room, or the bathrooms. I looked behind doors. I checked under tables. Finally, I pulled open the window to Venus’s room. Given it was a couple stories up, she should have thought harder before she and Psychsaur threw those pillows.

“Get out of here Gecko!” She yelled and came storming over, barely covering herself with the sheet.

“Wait!” I put my wrist out where the window couldn’t shut. I pulled it out, thinking it might be fractured. I put my other one in there instead. A slam of the window later and that one was definitely fractured. I flailed both my arms backward, but didn’t fall off the back of the building.

Venus stuck her head out and looked down at me. “How are you doing that?”

I tried to shoot her finger guns despite the pain. “Baby, you’d be amazed what some of my parts can do.”

She looked at me like she wanted to go ahead and push me off. “Speak. Now.”

“The Dimension Rangers are here!” I shouted.

She smiled. “They are? I didn’t think they’d come.”

“You invited them?!” I glared at her. Hell, pretty sure Psychsaur could see my point on that one. “They hate me. They want to kill me.”

“It’s Christmas. I’ll make sure they give you a chance here if you give them a chance,” she said. She actually reached out and caressed my face. “Here, get in and stay the hell out of my room.” She helped me in, which was nice given my poor wrists. She guided me over to the door. “Just relax and make up a name or something. Keep your head down. Don’t cause trouble. Get those arms looked at, while you’re at it.”

She actually seemed rushed to get me out of the room for some reason. Don’t know why. Maybe it had to do with overhearing her say, “At least we know he can’t do anything about what he saw in here until he heals,” as she closed the door.

Well, I’m glad they’re getting fucked. With the Dimensional Justice Rangers invited, that makes three of us.

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Frozen Over 5

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Eschaton arrived today. In all the internal injuries, I hadn’t noticed. That, and checking on the news from Ricca. The Directory’s gone and divided up into two main groups, and I had to keep up with all the political news. Political parties like that tend to be fairly different, and only a fool would stick their head in the sand and decide they’re the exact same. After all, if they were, you’d think they’d just make themselves one big group instead of dividing up like that.

Regardless, I’m keeping an eye on it. Wouldn’t want these humans wrecking things for everyone. If it goes too far, I may look all the better to everyone else for stepping in to save them from the evils of democracy. And there are evils there. For all the crappiness of World War I, it was mostly a morally-neutral affair. Then the people swept the Russian Czar out of power, Germany went democratic, and the Italians decided to elect a guy running on traditional Roman values. The democratic United States decided that was a fine time to start instituting restrictions on Jewish immigration from Europe as well.

Government by the people assumes an awful lot about the competency of the people. The same people, it should be noted, who made that annoying Youtube idiot a star. I’m not even saying who, because anybody reading has someone in mind for that label.

That’s why the people need more than just whatever the majority of them decides is a government. If they want to be safe and have their rights protected, they need something higher. Something like institutions or ideals, so that when the people are collectively tricked or extorted into sinking into their own worst selves, it stands there to protect them from themselves. And if there’s anyone better suited to kill people because they’re too stupid to do what’s best for themselves, it’s me.

So, back to the in-person side of things, I was helping hang up decorations around the school when outside the school there arose such a clatter. I stepped down from this box of wholesale soap I’d been using as a small ladder and went to go see what was the matter.

New arrivals! Some showed up with vehicles and luggage, but others just flew on in. Eschaton was one of the latter. For the talk of people not inviting him, I expected some outrage. Nope. People generally acted ok around him, so maybe it was more like that uncle you invite over who tells jokes about how fun it’d be to own a black person. I thought I’d have to smooth it all over and make a case. It’s just nice when things go right for once. Problem is, that probably means it went wrong.

So they let Eschaton in and gave him quarters like any of these other visiting heroes. They didn’t bother with masks most of the time, either. Then again, Master Academy’s been lax about that around me. Idiots, all of them. They shouldn’t trust me, even with that self-imposed notion that I owe them.

It bothered me even more than the notion that Psychsaur’s psychic bond with me caused me to take some habits from her. I get the sense in my head that they’re falling for me pretending to be turning over a new leaf. Really falling for it. It ticks me off a bit they’d think I could turn so easily, but I can’t correct them. I have to play this game. And part of playing this game is playing fewer games. I sighed looking down and went to go find Venus.

I passed a classroom along the way where some of the supers were entertaining the kids. There weren’t as many roaming around during the holidays, not that this is any kind of formal school system. Master Academy’s doors were open for all its students during the holiday if they had no place to go. I expect it has to do with how many heroes used to be orphans themselves, or come from bad homes. Better check in on the orphans back home, by the way.

I’d say Venus was expecting me, but I think she pretty much always expects me. The really weird part is I knocked on the door of her room to draw her out. When she opened it, she looked around and then right up where I was hanging onto the wall above the door. She sighed. “Hello Gecko.”

I dropped down next to her and started slipping off the climbing claws from my hands. “Heya Venus.”

“We put a lot of work into this place. Try not to destroy it,” she said.

“Properly done, an act of destruction can be just as beautiful as a creation,” I said. “By the way, y’all should have spent more on wood. That stuff’s a little cheaper than I expected from the fancy hero school so nice it has a school on both ends of a country.”

She crossed her arms over in front of her chest, “What do you want?”

“Just to confirm what you’ll soon suspect when you hear he’s here: I invited Eschaton.” I put on a big grin. Nothing disarms people like the baring of teeth. Ok, scratch that. I tried to play it up as awkward.

For her part, Venus gritted her teeth and bluntly asked, “Why?”

I held up my hands. “It’s kinda stupid, but these things after me are seasonal. They aren’t camping out with Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. It’s all cold and winter and snow, because that’s part of what created them. I figured it might help to have a really hot guy around.”

She raised her eyebrow. “You’ve really embraced your feminine side.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fire powers, and he’s got more fire than any of the rest. I’m kinda grasping at straws here, Venus. It isn’t usually a problem when I don’t know what to do.”

“Just be good for goodness sake,” she said. From her smile, I think she suspected I didn’t care for Christmas music that much. It’d probably be just fine if people didn’t play the same repetitive songs for two months straight on the radio and in public places. We get it, you like your bells and your dingaling!

I winced a little. Now it was my turn to glare at Venus. “Last time I did that, you gave up on me for stealing from a church. You have a head injury lately? You’re forgetting recent stuff.”

Her grin grew wider. “If you really wanted to help, you could join us tonight for carols and other songs in the cafeteria.”

I shook my head. “Sorry, but my singing abilities are as legendary as my knife skills, and for the same reason. It’s like my mouth is the Ark of the Covenant, only the Nazis throw me out of the bar before I melt everyone’s faces off. So that’s settled and I’ll not be attending. Buh bye now.” I turned to walk away, but she put her hand on my shoulder.

“That’s fine,” she assured me. “You can listen along. It’ll be great. I’d really love to have your support there. We’re piping it into the PA system so everyone on campus can hear.”

And that’s how I ended up taking Qiang with me to go skating that night. That’s also why we were in position when a group of Reds showed up with a flamethrower. “This is not the time for frozen water!” declared man in a shiny foil suit with a red hammers and sickles painted over it. “This is time for scorched earth!”

He was flanked by a couple of compatriots who pulled out AK knockoffs. “We don’t care about the ice. We’re actually here for your jewelry, cash, credit cards, telephones, and any other valuables. Share the wealth, comra-ack!”

Ice skates are one of the few circumstances where I am liberal with the jump kicks. Something like that is usually a pretty stupid move, unless you’re wearing sharpened metal on your feet. They’re gonna need a lot of zambonis for what I left on that ice that night. The crowd still applauded me as a hero, even if some of them lost their dinners on the ice as well.

Just great, even when I kill people, civilians think I’m one of the good guys. Eh, considering how I often try to justify my actions, it’s just a bit of the holiday blues. It was easy to put out of mind once I took Qiang by a donut shop to make up for her ice skating being cut almost as short as the guy with the flamethrower ended up. They’re gonna have to fuse his shinbones up there above his knees the way I left him. On the plus side, walking around with my very own flamethrower meant the donut people gave me a hefty discount. On top of that, it was steaming hot.

We stopped when I saw a man in an anachronistic outfit. Old fashioned, with poofy things all over. Like if Prince came back to life, I suppose, but with black grease all over his face and crazily curled hair. He smiled at me from across the street, which is when I noticed the bright red lipstick.

I moved Qiang behind me. “Pete,” I said. “I expected I’d run into you at some point.”

“Call me Black Pete,” he said in a Dutch accent.

“I haven’t heard people like you before,” Qiang said in her formal learned English. “Where are you from?”

“The Nether Regions,” I answered her.

“The Nether Lands,” Pete corrected me.

I looked subtly around and saw we’d stopped next to a fruit vendor who was in the middle of packing up. I kept my eyes on Pete, though, while readying to reach out and grab the first fruit I could get my hands on. I swear, I could hear that Western harmonica thing, “Waaa, waaa, waaa.” The wind picked up briefly and a frozen piece of newspaper coated with snow rolled past. If only it’d been high noon. As soon as the wind stopped, I grabbed the fruit and raised it to throw. I didn’t realize until I’d released how heavy it was. I’d thrown a watermelon.

“Who sells watermelon in December?” I wondered to myself. I reached out the other direction, looking for anything loose to send at Pete, who dodged the fruit and raised a painted eyebrow.

“Here, toss this,” said a voice from behind me. I gripped something, like a bucket. This time, I checked to see what it was first and found myself holding a bucket of fried chicken. I turned to give some side eye to my anonymous helper and found Pete standing there with a trollish smile on his face. I turned back to look across the street and that Pete was gone.

“You don’t have to be mean, baby,” said Pete. “I’m just here to check on you. We’re getting impatient and now you have your man here. Oh, and you still have your lovely daughter, of course.” He smiled bright white teeth at Qiang and leaned down to offer her a lollipop he pulled out of thin air. “Sweets for the sweet?”

Qiang took it from him. I took it from her and tossed it behind my back. “I’ll get you all the sweets you might need, hon. Just don’t accept anything from this guy.”

“Why? Is he bad?” she asked.

“Your momma here does not like black people,” he said.

“I like black people just fine. Hell, some of my favorite victims were black!” I noticed some people looking out of windows at us disapprovingly. I calmed and quieted my tone before addressing Pete again. “Ok, so you’ve made your reminder quite clear. It’s halfway through the month and now he’s in town. I’ll deal with this my way, you got it? It’s tough, though. There’s a high possibility of failure, and I doubt you want all these heroes knowing about y’all. It’d be better if I had a way to just call y’all in so he’d see for himself.”

Pete shook his head. “No go, Gecko. This is your project and your responsibility. We want nothing to do with anything else until it’s time for someone to be delivered to us. We trust you. No, to be precise, we trust you know what will happen should you fail. Now, I must go. My yearly duties are nearly begun.”

He bent down and picked up a large basket that I hadn’t noticed was there. It may not have been. The thing looked big enough to hold a small person or a child in it, and it was his, so this was for show. He picked it up and put his arm through a strap on it so he could easily carry it on his shoulder. Then he gave Qiang a wink and said, “See you around, darling. Merry Christmas.”

He disappeared then in snowflakes that dispersed on a wind that whipped up on us suddenly.

On the plus side, I’m glad he didn’t have any suggestion. One occurred to me that I should have thought of earlier, and I’m well on my way to it. I do, indeed, need to be bad hero. The heroes only trust me so far, too. So I need to look desperate. I need them to take the threat seriously. Then, I’ll show them absolute proof of their existence, proof I had the entire time.

After all, I thought while looking Qiang over. She was a left confused by the entire exchange, seeing is believing. No, scratch that. Seeing is the end of belief and the beginning of knowledge. And the Companions of Kringle themselves admitted that knowledge is stronger than belief any day.

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Frozen Over 4

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“Before we go in there, I got somethin’ to say,” I said to a group of nearby Master Academy trainees and heros. Many heads turned toward me, though a few gazes remained transfixed on the building ablaze before us. Venus preemptively facepalmed. “It’s better to burn out, then fade away!” Most of the rest followed Venus’s lead.

“What do we call her?” asked one of the others. Ball Boy, it looked like. Back in action and black in eye.

“You don’t,” said Venus.

At the same time, I answered, “Whirligig.”

“Alright. No one goes it alone. We get everyone out. We got lucky we were all out.” Seriously. As part of my “heroic internship” they made me do some of the heavy lifting while shopping for decorations and party essentials as a sort of in-costume public appearance to make people feel safe. They even stuck me in a re-colored version of the Master Academy outfit modified for what I had been going for in my latest disguise. They gave it a cheap “circuit board” coloring in spots; otherwise it was grey. We happened to be passing by an apartment on our way back when someone ran out smelling of smoke and asked for help with a fire.

“Let’s get in there and be heroes,” Venus said. I cringed. Strange thing was, the others were generally a little slower getting into the burning building. You’d think they’d never gone into one before. I, on the other hand, have spent so much time in fires that I might as well carry marshmallows with me everywhere I go.

I didn’t know who they assigned to be my teammate, but they maybe should have known to climb. I turned my run into a handstand that allowed my hoverboard drones to catch up and slide into place on my feet. They flew me upside down to the top of the building. I don’t normally work to get keep people from being set on fire, so it was a little bit of a new situation. On the other hand, my extensive experience saving my own ass came in handy. It was just a matter of throwing a person over my shoulder and then saving my own ass.

The difficulty came when I got out one last time and had to catch a girl who tried to run in. “Easy there. Hold on. Take this one.” I tossed the person I was carrying, a rather rotund man in boxers, on top of the kid.

That stopped the pre-teen from heading in any further, for a moment. The guy was conscious, after all. He stood up, apologizing to her. I had to grab her to keep her from running in. “You’re not supposed to go in there right now.”

“My grandpa and grandma are in there still!” she shouted at me. She pointed up, around the 13th floor. Or maybe it was the 14th. They can go to the moon, but they’re still afraid of magical numbers. As if simply not calling it the 13th floor will stop whatever evil spirits magically attach to it. Booga booga booga booga!

I had missed the floor, and it looked like most of the Academy supers were busy. I jumped up, the mechanical extra arms gripping the wall and propelling me up. They reached into the window ahead of me, knocking out any remaining glass in the frame before I slid through. I was in a kitchen. I pulled in the drones behind me and let them split apart to search. This apartment didn’t have anything. I made my way down the hallway like that, splitting up into three groups, all the while trying to keep myself low. Without my armor’s seals, I was as vulnerable to asphyxiation as anyone else.

On the other hand, it was getting pretty damn hot in there. Shoving myself in a metal can wasn’t the best way to deal with that. It looked like I may not get to gramps and gam-gam before the smoke killed them. I’m a hell of a lot healthier than any old coot and his old cootchie, and I was starting to have trouble.

Per-fucking-usual for my luck, I found them on the rear of the building, where the building had some tiny shared backyard with a building behind it. The old man held his wife closed with clenching, wrinkled hands. The woman held her hands clasped in prayer. I could tell her husband was mouthing something about love and her that sounded less like a prayer and more like a goodbye.

“Up and at’em, molden oldies. A little less conversation, a little more action.” I brought in the drones and raised the mechanical arms. They all fired lasers that cut a big hole in the wall of the apartment so I could get clear access to the fire escape. Someone hadn’t kept things up to code, though. The weight of that wall and brick caused it to fall down. I thought it was only going to fall that one floor, but, nope, they all went down. “That’s inconvenient,” I said as I looked down at it.

The building shifted a bit. Something weakened from the rising heat and a support fell, taking one of my drones with it. “Real damn inconvenient,” I added. That one wasn’t responding. I wrapped the mechanical arms around the two now-standing old people and called out the drone I did have. It couldn’t hold all that weight on its own, but it could at least slow the fall. Probably would have worked until a window blew out two floors down and threw us across the yard. There was much screaming and gnashing of teeth from the old folks. It only lasted until their teeth plummeted, but they weren’t still in the mouths of their owners.

I caught myself, but it was an awkward affair. I had to jam my arm in between a pair of the vertical struts of the other building’s escape’s rail. It broke my arm and left me hanging there. The man slipped from my arm and I had to catch him on my foot. It was not a fun situation.

I reluctantly turned on my comms in time to hear someone ask after me. “Any word from Whirligig yet?”

“No. Keep your eye out. That should be all of them,” answered Venus.

“We got a girl here talking about her grandparents,” another voice piped in.

“Shit, what floor are they on?” the first voice asked.

That was as good a cue as any. “Whirligig here. I got ’em. I must regretfully ask for a tiny bit of assistance here.”

The heroes were nice enough not to laugh at the sight of me hanging by a broken arm jammed in a railing with a pair of geriatrics weighing me down. They had flyers take the old people, and a last one brought up a first aid kid. “Let’s see to that arm.”

I held up a hand and reached to my belt, pulling out a syringe. A broken syringe. “Well, fuck.”

“Let’s see to that,” said the medic.

I waved him off. “I don’t need you sitting around here laughing. Just go and deal with the old folks or something. They were coughing real bad when I got to them.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

I shooed him away. “Go. Off with you.” I gave him the stink eye until he left. He’s lucky I didn’t use a laser eye instead. So while he went off, I was stuck pulling myself free with the help of my mechanical arms. I finally got up and over the railing so I could try and set the arm.

In my ear, I heard, “Good job. That’s everyone.” But, upon looking up, that turned out to not quite be accurate. I saw rodents staring back at me through the window. Hamsters, I think. Or gerbils.

“This day,” I muttered to myself. I brought up the drone as a stepping stone and jumped across and through the window, pulling my good arm up to without thinking. That was bad, because that’s the arm that caught the remnants of the window glass and got cut up pretty good. But, hey, at least I had my mechanical arms. Grab each of the furry little assholes in one, ride the drone down. Easy. I called the drone over, which worked pretty good until falling bricks knocked it down.

But at least I had the pockets on this uniform. Of course, that’s when the ceiling collapsed on me.

When the found me crawling out of there, I was wearing tatters, barely enough to cover all my pink bits and keep this operation Safe For Work with all the kids around. I focused on something past the heroes to keep from looking any of them in the eye. I didn’t hear too much of what they said. Something about getting me into the ambulance.

Then I heard the crying. “What about Butterscotch and Werewolf?” asked child’s voice.

“I’m sorry, honey,” said a consoling mother.

“Don’t lay me on my back,” I told the heroes. “Lay me on my front. Trust me. And close these damn doors.”

“What are you talking about? You need to lay where you can get air,” said Venus. When did she get over here?

I coughed a bit. “Trust me, I want to be on my belly for this next part. I think I saved Butterscotch and Werewolf. Damn well better be them. They’re nibbling on my colon.” There was some hacking. Ah yes, the famous black loogie. Haven’t seen one of those in awhile.

At least they were understanding about keeping the door closed so I didn’t have to see the reactions of everyone to the reappearance of the two gerbils.

Good news, they sprung for some nanites to help me recover more quickly from all the internal organ problems. It was a weight off my mind to know the kidney failure was going to be fixed, what with the giant splinter through it. Just wish they would have left me alone in my recovery.

It wasn’t so bad having Qiang snuggled up to me in the TV room, which is as far as I got after escaping the infirmary. But then that one super who played medic stopped by to check on me. Another one brought me a plate of food. “That was kickass,” that guy said. Teenager, had some muscles on him.

I noticed some other hanger-ons, too. A fat guy sitting in a corner, pretending to focus on a tablet instead of on me. “Fuck off,” I said, then laid my head down.

I woke up an hour later, according to my eye clock. Qiang was passed out beside me.

“Ugh, she was the worst,” said this one tiny guy with way too feathery hair. “She had this big mole thing.”

“What’s all this then?” I asked.

“Hey sleepyhead,” said a guy with three eyes on his head. “These jokers were talking about teachers they remember most. Sorry if we woke you. Nice hair, by the way.”

That got a snicker. Yeah, my hair would be a mess. I pulled my eye out real quick to make sure nobody had drawn on my face while I slept. Still clean. Popped it right back in and heard some “Ew”s from the crowd. I ignored them and checked to see how I was doing. Still soreness and internal bruising. They were rationining the nanites, stingy a-holes. I figured I should be able to get around on my own again, but I thought I might add something to the conversation. “The teacher I remember most was… actually, she wasn’t one of the ones from the program.”

Everyone shut up hearing me contribute. I noticed Psychsaur passing by and stop at the doorway. I tried to ignore her. “Eleseta,” I said, though it was with the Old Country’s accent. More like Old World at this point. It came out sounding more like “Elizabeth,” kinda. “If I had to make it sound like English, I guess Elisabeth. It all started when I was loaned out by the General to help this guy… something like a Senator. Not exactly. He was a big deal in the Pure Human Party, but he used members of this gang to help his goals. They were the Metalheads. They stayed so high all the time, they would replace body parts with crude cybernetics until they had almost nothing left. The worst ones couldn’t even feed themselves.”

“This is a weird teacher story,” said Triclops.

I held up a hand. “I’m getting there. I was sent in to find out why some of the Metalheads were cleaning up graffiti and helping people all of a sudden. They would beat up other gangs to return stolen goods. I found out there was an underground school going on. This was a bad part of the city and these guys were killers, so you don’t expect to find out some unarmed, unpowered woman with ovaries of steel is teaching them math or ethics. She was getting them real jobs, even. Imagine some big guy who looks like the front half of a car on metal legs serving you at a fast food place. The Senator wanted her caught, not killed. He was very specific on that. He wanted her broken as an example. Not killed. Alive, but…” I couldn’t really articulate it. “I caught her, no problem. She just wouldn’t stop talking.”

I stared off into space, remembering. She wasn’t mean, either. She was disappointed. She offered to help me. She saw, or thought she saw, someone in need of the same kind of help as those idiots with blenders for hands. “She insisted it was never too late. Irritated the hell out of me. Before the Senator’s people could do anything, Metalheads broker her out with the help of this other group. Not exactly mercenaries, but not a police force. They were an international agency to solve threats from extraordinary individuals. They got her out, but I was close after them. They were bringing in a stealth VTOL, but it was minutes away and they were just a small branch. The Peacekeepers and the Metalheads stood between me and her.”

Actually, I found her first. I could walk right past all of them without anyone finding me. I was more mission-oriented in those days. I was more precise. I could still remember the way she looked. Her beautiful defiance. That was the first time I ever thought of a human as beautiful. “She wouldn’t back down.” She kept saying that phrase over and over again. It rang in my ears like I was Grendel, seemed like. “Not even after what I did to everyone else in the building.”

I killed them all. I’d been more precise up to that point, but I had to show her. “She was wrong. There’s always someone like me.” Someone who will prove her wrong by murdering her students and allies around her. It’s not like I dragged them all over to her, but she heard plenty.

“So I had her there, cornered on the rooftop. No escape. And, that’s that.”

“Did you kill her?” asked Triclops.

I shook my head. “That wasn’t my mission. I shouldn’t have told this story. Not a good one.”

I got up, picking up Qiang. She hugged onto me as I started to walk away. Triclops called after me, “What happened?”

I stopped long enough to give an epilogue. I spoke proudly, “After that mission, I got a lot less precise. Unnecessary casualties. Enemies and allies both had a tendency to suffer collateral damage. That was the spark of my own fire, waiting to be stoked.” I walked out and kept my eyes straight, away from Psychsaur. I don’t know how much she could tell about me at that moment, but I didn’t want any of them to risk figuring it out for sure. Let them think I killed her if that makes them feel better.

I didn’t think I could go back there so easily when I started that story. When the VTOL plane landed on the rooftop, I just stood there. The pilot must have freaked when they lowered the ramp and Peacemakers trained their useless weapons on me. Elizabeth just stared into my eyes like my visor was clear. She turned and walked up the ramp. Just before it closed on me, she turned back. It looked like pity again, or maybe a deep sadness over everyone who died to get her away. Chances are I’m imagining things and romanticizing the past. But I made out the same sentence she’d told me when I first caught her, and then when I confronted her again. It had been at the bottom of every syllabus she’d passed around. Chances are it was on the new ones she had printed in the next city she showed up in, well away from the Senator and no longer disrupting his plans.

“It’s never too late.”

I need to kill someone.

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Frozen Over 3

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I need a Christmas Miracle. Something that can make someone’s heart grow three sizes in a day. In ages past, when people weren’t yet jaded by CGI and fancy printed words, it was easy to pull off something special at Christmas. Take Ebenezer Scrooge, for example. Rich asshole gets fooled by four ghosts, none of them violent. I was with these people when they fought ghosts and vampires once. They’ve seen time travelers and speedsters, so they’re not that impressed at the notion of Santa’s trick with all the houses.

I had a couple of ideas, though. One is to try and make it seem that those same sorts of beings, the Companions of Kringle, are really showing up. Problem is, Eschaton isn’t here yet to be convinced. So, with a gag, I decided on Plan B.

I’ve been pretty good at having these other identities work for me in the past. I hope to revive Missile Patriot someday, and it was fun being the Hussar. The wings were nice. This time, I went with a pair of mechanical arms on an exoskeleton frame. It was a barebones frame, meant to basically provide a stable platform where the arms wouldn’t break off. I also fixed up some drones to work as support and transportation. I had plenty left over. The school had decided to clamp down on drone usage after what happened to Ball Boy. They couldn’t prove it was me, but I think even the heroes have to admit that it was entirely likely for someone to get injured in that scenario. And at least my heart seemed to be in the right place, or that’s the vibe I got from eavesdropping on people who thought they were alone in their rooms.

I stole the cutest shoes from that closet, too. Too bad it’s cold enough to freeze balls or I’d wear them. On the plus side, hey, no balls to freeze.

For the record, my heart isn’t in the right place. I felt I should clarify that, because I thought it’d be handy to move the thing and lessen the risk of being stabbed or shot in it. It’s also not in the right place metaphorically. Yes, I gave myself a drone flying skateboard and extendable mechanical arms underneath my real ones. I may have even appropriated a Master Academy trainee outfit and managed to put it on while swallowing vomit. But, when I went on patrol, it was with only the most nefarious of intentions in mind.

Turns out the winter versions of these things are really well-insulated. The material fit close, but it looked pretty good on me. Just trying to tell myself my comfort in the uniform was purely due to excellent tailoring and not to anything Psychsaur left behind in my brain. To have my brain corrupted like that, where someone else’s thoughts merged with and even replaced some of mine, altering me? I didn’t hold it in the second go ’round. First action out on hero patrol: puked on some woman’s wig.

“My hair!” she shouted from a short but growing distance behind me.

“It looks more real this way!” I called back. Fried pork loin, by the way. Don’t try to picture it.

I decided to head to a mall for maximum exposure, or as much maximum exposure as I cold get away with as a hero.

I landed in front of a mall entrance right next to a Salvation Army volunteer swinging their annoying bell and telling everyone “Merry Christmas” for donations. I set about trying to think of what a hero would do. So I grabbed the donation pot, hopped back on the hoverboard, and started flying away.

This was not taken to be very heroic when I got back and Venus met me at the door. She did not look happy at all. “Come,” she said. I decided to ignore the obvious joke. Plus, if I always make the obvious joke, it means I’m predictable.

She led me to an empty classroom. “Sit down,” she ordered, pointing to a desk. I went to comply, but she stopped me halfway down. “No, stand.” When I did, she just started pacing for a few minutes, chewing on her bottom lip and occasionally looking up at me. I remembered I was in their uniform, which just made me feel worse.

“First, put that damn thing down,” she said, pointing to the donation kettle I still held. I dropped it, causing a loud thud and a crack on the floor. She set her jaw at that. “We’ve done so much for you. We’ve taken care of you medically. We’ve given you a place to live at times. We hid you when the world wanted you dead. We’re willing to let your daughter go here. We’ve bent over backward for you and risked our lives and our reputation to do it. You’re here again asking for our help to protect someone you say you love, but you stole a uniform and commit crimes to make us look bad. I’ve held out hope for you, but I have to finally admit you may be helpless. I thought ‘You’ve been hurt and don’t want to trust again’. Now I think there has to be something so fundamentally broken in you that you can’t comprehend the danger you pose to society and your own daughter!”

I had ended up leaning on the desk, partially sitting on it. I couldn’t stay focused on her. Sure, she drew my attention with the way she was verbally tearing into me, but I kept checking out the rest of the room. Windows that could maybe be a good escape. I could probably reach the door before her.

“Look at me,” Venus said. I did, noticing all the hair out of place, the little bit of glitter in some of her eye makeup, even a hint of perfume. I think I interrupted a nice night for her. “What the fuck is wrong with you, you selfish son of a bitch?”

I folded my hands in my lap and raised my chin. “I was trying to do something nice and help out. I just… screwed up.”

“Yeah, you stole from a charity.”

“Not a charity, a church. A church with a bunch of really big, really expensive buildings, full of people who give themselves fake military ranks, and who abused a bunch of kids at one point in time. They used to refer people like you to conversion therapy clinics for what you and Psychsaur get up to, and keep lobbying to be allowed to discriminate. So that’s what happened when I tried to be good, for once, for the holidays. Maybe I don’t understand it and I shouldn’t have bothered with all this in the first place.” I hammed up the poutiness there at the end as I realized I could try to play this off. “I told you I wasn’t cut out for this hero shit.”

And then we tell my cyborg eyes to eject the saline solution. You never know when you’re going to need eyes that can squirt stuff at people. Instead of saline, it could be hot sauce or pepper spray. Power ranges from a gentle stream to a blast that can shoot a few feet away. I just had to turn on the waterworks a little bit.

I started pulling off the uniform. “I don’t deserve to wear this,” I said. I pulled the top part down.

“You didn’t wear a bra,” Venus said. She didn’t look away, though.

“Internal supports,” I said. “And enhanced spine. Good materials in there. Want to feel?” I jiggled them for her.

“No!” she said, quickly.

I slumped. “See, I’m not even good at looking pretty.” I lunged forward and hugged onto her, nestling my head between her own pair. “I’m just a big goof. I’m sorry I’m no good. I just want to make someone proud of me for once in my life!”

She pushed and pushed, but she couldn’t get either set of my arms loose. “Get off me, Gecko. Please. Just let go. I won’t hurt you, just let go.”

I didn’t, not yet. “She doesn’t deserve to be hurt for me. No one does. That’s why I end up pushing those I care for away. Once I actually like them, they’re targets and people can use them against me. Nobody should be martyred for me, but especially not her. So I thought, maybe I could improve a little bit.” I sniffled and pulled away, wiping at the tears.

Meanwhile, over on the island of Mu, I oversaw my drones piloted by my people spraying a chemical over a rural estate before one last one dropped a bomb that detonated all the fluid where it landed. The whole place was ablaze, almost certainly with people inside.

“Just be honest with us, Gecko,” she said. “And please don’t pretend you’re one of us. Master Academy. Maybe there’s a way for you to help where you don’t accidentally rob a charity.”

I snorted. “Good luck with that. Just let it drop, Venus. Maybe we can just find some way for Santa to end whatever protection I have. Let them take me in her stead.”

“I’m probably going to regret this, but let me help,” she said. “We can’t have you in that uniform, though.”

I dropped the bottoms. She held up her hands then. “Whoa! You can change wherever you’re staying. Just zip everything up before you leave the room.”

She waited, either to make sure I did or to take in the sight. Probably the former, given her strange lack of attraction to me, the most amazing person she’s ever met. I am like a god among men, mostly because a lot of people’s gods were total dicks.

As I stepped out the door, though, Venus happened to ask, “Where are you staying, anyway? Nobody actually invited you to live on campus…”

Yep, I get to pretend to be reforming. Then some people are going to be like “I don’t believe it. I know you’re really reforming. That’s how things make sense, and you’re too nice!” Meanwhile, the people helping to pacify Mu for my ambassador just burned down another house. So fair warning, let’s not read too much into this angle I’m playing. I get to reform as a Christmas miracle, and that’s only because one of the other Companion-type things I could go around impersonating is a Dutchman in black face. Next thing you know, I’m trying to give kids fried chicken for Christmas and the ghost of Martin King Luther, Jr. rises from the grave to deliver unto me a the Bitchslap of Ages, sending me back in time to the Middle Ages or something.

I wish I could say that was just a joke, but it’s a crazy world, and I’m the only sane person in it.

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Frozen Over 1

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“Why aren’t we going out, baba?” asked Qiang. She’s been curious about being shut in so much, and finding excuses to keep her away from TV.

“Daddy’s a little tired right now,” I said. “Hey, why not play that Korean MMO some more?”

“I don’t want to. I’m not going up anymore,” she said, looking all pouty.

I’m trying to keep her away from Christmas. And I’m in the United States. Good fucking luck. Maybe if this was the 1600s or whenever they banned Christmas here as too un-Christian, but religion doesn’t factor into it a whole lot nowadays. This is the United States in 2017. God has no place here.

Our friend Catallus, he has a place here. That old Roman asshole and his poems. Odi et amo. I found myself tempering feelings about my daughter, and that came to mind. I’ve found myself unusually attached to her. Just like Moai. And Carl. Mix N’Max and that fucker Good Doctor, too. Good Doctor didn’t exactly help my mood, though an idea briefly crossed my mind. Those bastards, the Companions of Kringle, are using her to get to me. They can’t have me on their own, but they can steal her away if she believes in Christmas. She’s five years old, with Christmas shit everywhere.

They put a big tree in the lobby, for instance. Lots of fake presents underneath it. Mistletoe and decorations all around. I burned the tree down. Burned down the presents, too. And the lobby staff. They wished me happy holidays. Unlike those snowflakes who get triggered when people say anything other than “Merry Christmas,” I don’t need people around who can lead my daughter into holiday temptation.

Fuck, I can’t even give her presents, can I?

Listen, I’ll take a job to hurt a hero. Write up the contract, stick a quill up my ass, and make a deal. Though I’d prefer to inhume the guy. He owes me that much after that whole business when I held gladiatorial games to decide if I’d have to give up my rule of the Earth to an alien conqueror. He fought against me in the hopes I’d lose and then he and other heroes could defeat the alien, Cercopagis Lysis, easily enough. They’d done so before with team-ups, and I’d gone and gathered so many of them for the fight.

So I have no reason to refuse anything hurting Eschaton. Not even his powerset so much. Sure, the guy’s powerful, but everyone’s touchable. That they can be touched is a lesson that should be drilled into people since childho- you know, that sentence didn’t turn out like I intended. Anyway, it was the way they gave me the job that makes me want to block these CoKs. Kidnapping me, possibly saving me from being nuked, then threatening my kid if I don’t help them. It also shows poor business management skill on their end. Too much stick, not enough carrot.

That’s what she said. And by she, I mean me.

Back there in the room, with Qiang wanting to go outside, I sighed. Some choices are the hardest to make, and way too many of those involve loved ones. Life or death is easy. If you die, that’s it. Nothing to worry about since you can’t worry anymore. If you live, at least you know you have some degree of justification for doing whatever thing you did. But a loved one is involved? Or someone you care about, I mean. Can’t expect someone like me to love anyone. Better to say “care” than love. So if that kind of person is threatened, you can be made to do even worse stuff since it’s someone else’s life on the line. How could you live with yourself, you monster? There’s also a chance you’ll lose them anyway if they ever learn what you did, but that’s not the issue so much, especially when the task itself is difficult.

That’s why it’s probably a good idea to kill anyone you might end up friends with. Yep, just long glances at Qiang as she played around with her knife, chopping up some of the plastic plants left around the suite. She looked up and smiled at me. “What?” she asked.

“Just thinking about stuff I need to do.”

“What kind of stuff?” she asked.

I slid down to the floor and scooted over to her so I could put my arm around her. “I do a lot of things that other people don’t like me to do, you know?”

She nodded and turned to hug me. “You’re my daddy and I love you and you love me just like you loved mommy.”

Ugh. She is NOT making this easy on me. I hugged her tight against me too. “I think I need to do something I really don’t want to do. Now, don’t worry. It’ll all be ok, I promise…”

An hour later, the door opened to Master Academy. I’d been waiting out there this time instead of barging in or sneaking in. Venus pulled the door out enough and stood there in the middle, looking at me in my armor and the girl in my arms. “Gecko, what’s going on?”

“Daddy needs your help!” Qiang shouted at her. I winced inside my armor at that one. Yep, definitely something I didn’t want to do. That’s why I let her say it.

“Really? My help?” Venus pondered that, then moved aside to let us enter if we so wished. I let Qiang down. She ran on inside.

“No need to say it again. Ever,” I said.

She laughed at that. “You’re serious?”

“Honeybun, why don’t you go on in there and do stuff until we need you,” I said to Qiang. She smiled and ran past Venus to disappear down a hallway. I’m 99% sure the crashing noise I heard soon after that wasn’t her.

“I’m ok!” she yelled from inside the building. Well, I’m 99% sure she’s fine.

I stepped close to Venus. “Please.”

I saw her frown through her mask. “Come in and tell me about it.”

“Wow, look at that tree!” exclaimed Qiang from deeper in the house.

“Noooo!” I yelled and ran after her. I slid on tile and crashed into a janitor picking up a broken vase, knocking him and the pieces back down. I picked myself up off him and ran, waving back to him briefly, “I’m ok!” I found Qiang in the dining hall, looking at a giant Christmas tree standing in the middle. A number of presents were already piled up underneath it.

I dive tackled the tree. Slowly, with a scraping noise from the anchor at the bottom, it toppled. It crashed to a halt before hitting the floor as it caught on the awning for the kitchen area. I slid around to the underside of it and fell off, then quickly dodged to the side. It didn’t fall down on top of me, but it wanted to. Oh yes, it wanted to.

“What the hell are you doing?!” said Venus, storming into the room.

I held my hands out. “It’s fine, nothing to see here. The pine of unusual size has been dealt with. The invasion of the cafeteria is solved. Qiang, how about you go somewhere less colorful and decorated to hang out?”

She had the tip of one shoe on the ground and rolled her leg back and forth. “I want to stay here.”

“I know you want to, but I’d really prefer it if you went elsewhere.”

“No! I want to stay here with the tree!” She set her foot down with a little stomp.

I looked at her, then to Venus and all the students who happened to be eating in there at the time. Then I grabbed Qiang and picked her up in my arms. “Sweetie… I think it’s time for a very important lesson.”

That’s how I ended up sitting in an office with Qiang’s arms and ankles cuffed together, a blindfold and earplugs keeping her from seeing or hearing anything. She wiggled back and forth in the corner of Victor Mender’s office. It had been awhile since I had an audience with the head of the Master Academy, a disabled man stuck in a wheelchair without the use of anything below his head. I had Venus and several of her closest and strongest friends surrounding me. “I swear, it’s important to keep her in the dark.”

“I think we need to know what is going on before we have to inform someone of how you’re raising your child,” Mender’s computer said.

“Ok, so this is going to sound a little bit strange,” I started.

Venus ahemed.

“We maintain a high tolerance for the unusual,” Mender’s voicebox said again. Behind me, a minotaur snorted his agreement.

“Ok, so it all started when I woke up to a snowman’s head in my bed and a card. I didn’t read the card. So I went to go spy on people from inside a bush, as you do, and that’s when cards started popping out of me like I fucked a Hallmark. I opened one, then I started to run off to go kick in the EAGLE’s nest. Next thing I know, I’m in Narnia. Only, instead of a satyr waiting to fuck my wee kiddy brain out, I find a couple of old guys and a masochistic hobo. Oh, and satyr with a pair of chains, so it wasn’t entirely inaccurate. They are the other spirits of the season, the foils to Santa Claus. The bad guys of Christmas.”

“The Grinch?” suggested someone behind me with a snicker.

“Don’t be ridiculous, the Grinch is fictional. So anyway, Belsnickel, Krampus, and Knecht Ruprecht tell me they can’t punish me directly because of that time I saved Santa Claus.”

I heard a flat “What?” from behind me but chose to keep going.

“So instead, they’re going to take my daughter. They didn’t say when, but I’m pretty when it’ll happen anyway.”

“When?” someone asked.

“Pearl Harbor Day,” I said.

“Really?” The voice asked.

“No, dumbass, Christmas Eve.” I raised a thumb up pointing back behind my high-backed chair. “Someone’s a few eggs short of some nog.”

“Excuse me,” said Mender’s voice box again. “You saved Santa Claus and your daughter is going to be kidnapped by the Krampus on Christmas Eve.”

“Essentially,” I said. It has perhaps been suggested from time to time and by multiple people in multiple places that I may, or perhaps may not, have what could be said by some to be a problem of one sort or another with brevity.

“What can we do to help?” asked Venus.

I smiled beneath my helmet. “Well, I have a few ideas, including, of course, starting with making sure she doesn’t believe in Christmas as Plan A and ending with overwhelming firepower in Plan M. I might need you to call in a favor for me.”

“If you want a favor,” Mender piped up again. “you will give them in return.”

I leaned forward. “Now we’re talking. Who do you need wiped out? Eliminated, even? Murderated?”

And that’s how I ended up tied up and hefted by a pulley to carry the start back up to the top of the newly-righted tree. “Don’t y’all have people who can fly for this?”

Venus called up to me with no small amount of satisfaction, Qiang watching beside her. “Quiet! If you complain this much putting a star on the tree, imagine how much you’ll whine shoveling snow!”

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A Feast of Fools 6

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Our story so far: Psycho Gecko, our protagonist, visited Empyreal City to make peace with the villainous Spinetingler, who stubbornly refused to die no matter how many times Gecko ended up having to kill him. While successful, the newly-minted peace was rocked by a car bomb seemingly meant for Gecko, or at least one aimed right at the hotel where he and his daughter were staying. A bit pissed and protective, Gecko set out to find the perpetrator of this deed and bring them to injustice. Unfortunately, the heroes got there first and have temporarily foiled his quest for truth, injustice, and the American Way by locking the bomber up in a private, hidden prison without judicial proceedings. Now, Gecko seeks to infiltrate the lair of these heroes, find the bomber, and do things so unspeakable, he’d have to slip into third person to describe them. And it’s all thanks to his clever plan of… being invited.

Ok, so the last part kinda makes it seem a little less skillful on my part. And it bugs me, which might be part of the point. Because I know they have this bomber, Sam Bass, hidden under their base. And they have to know I know. And I know they know I know. Once again, I must perform a delicate balancing act by walking the line between the known and the known known. More accurately, I gotta throw myself into a potentially dangerous situation and make it work out. Not ideal. The best fight is one you’ve won before it ever started.

I didn’t like mixing work with family in this case, but I brought Qiang along. It was Thanksgiving dinner. Well, more like Thanksgiving cafeteria, if I remember the year before. The food hall had plenty of people chowing down on fried turkey the prior year. When I showed up this time, the place swarmed with considerably less activity. In the intervening year between my captivity and now, most of the anti-cape protesters gave up and went home. Qiang and I passed by some of them. They had chairs, tents, and portable heaters. Some of the kids from inside were bringing them food. Just little kids who happen to have powers for one reason or another.

People get born into some shit like that. Good to show the other side who it is they hate and think is such a danger. Their answer, or at least the one I overheard way back in the Psychopomp program, is that a mere child with that kind of power is even more reason to keep them locked up or neutralized. Of course, the guy who said that seemed to smile every time he riflebutted one of us in the back of the head. Anyone paying attention to me when I wax philosophical knows a person can say whatever they want to justify whatever horrible things they’re about to do. Also makes for a handy piece of bullshit to try and tempt someone to doing what you want.

“Do I have to wear my armor?” Qiang asked. She popped her helmet off as we walked through the gates.

I looked her over, wearing mine as well. I had to pad it a bit more to work with this body shape. Plenty of room in the crotch, but it’s tight in the chest, with problems in the arms and legs. I pulled my helmet off as well and shook out my hair. The bells on each of the three tails jingled as we approached. I smiled. I’d been here as a prisoner. A prisoner when I should have been a corpse, a well-kept prisoner, but a prisoner. I returned an emperor. Well, empress.

I figured we drew stares walking across the campus to the main building. I saw them firsthand as we entered. They weren’t as crowded with students as when I’d stayed there, but they had a fair number. And, unless I was mistaken, they had parents. Family members. As soon as I spotted some of those, I activated the hologram projectors on mine and Qiang’s armor. Tucked under her arm, her helmet became a purse while her armor appeared to be a pretty little dress. I pulled the same trick with my helmet. Nifty disguise, actually. Explains why I’d keep it with me all the time.

Qiang waved to a girl who caught her eye. She ran off toward her friend and the friend’s family, who I approached more leisurely. Had to fight a smile that decided to show up on my face for no reason, too.

“Who is your friend?” asked who I thought were the parents of the girl. A little older, but the woman had the same curly hair as the daughter, whose face sorta resembled the man’s.

“My name is Qiang!” she said in her formal English. Heavy accent, I should clarify.

The excitable girl in front of her turned to the man and woman there with her body, but kept facing Qiang. “These are my parents. Mom, Dad, this is Qiang. Qiang, this is my mom and dad.”

“And I’m Qiang’s parent,” I told them, stepping up behind them. “You may call me Gecko.”

They plastered some smiles on their faces like they’d just been told it was time to gang rape a cow and happiness was mandatory. The woman spoke up first. “You and your daughter have very different accents.”

I shrugged. “I do a lot of traveling.”

“Rhonda,” said the woman.

She gestured to her husband who said, “Leland. Your daughter seems to know our Kayla, doesn’t she? Are they classmates?”

I shook my head. “No, but they might be.”

Leland smiled and looked around. “I was skeptical, too. It’s hard to leave Kayla in the care of people you don’t know who walk around fighting supervillains, but they’ve taken excellent care of her and she knows so much more control than she used to have. Don’t worry about the price, either.” This prompted a minor facepalm from his wife. Leland didn’t notice and just continued, “They’re understanding.” Then he noticed Rhonda. “What?”

“Gecko, you don’t need to hear all that,” she said, eyeing me up and down. At first I thought I had some swingers here looking for a third wheel. Then I realized it was the quality of the dress and purse I appeared to have.

A bell rang and the school’s intercom crackled to life. “Dinner is now ready to be served, if all our guests would join us in the dining hall.” With a bit of polite murmuring, we all obliged.

“Daddy, can Kayla and I sit together?” Qiang asked, turning to me when we got near the dining hall door.

I smiled at her. “I don’t see why not.”

It was just as we entered the now-decorated dining hall that Kayla’s father asked me, “Ge-cko. Is that Thai?”

Truth is, it would have been perfect to sneak out when everyone was going in. With Venus not having picked me out and everyone’s attention on the crowd, it would have been easy. It also wouldn’t have gotten me food. A girl’s got needs, after all.

Unfortunately, Venus found me in the middle of eating. “There you are,” she said, as if surprised to find me mingling with those hairy lower life forms called homo sapiens. She set a hand on my shoulder, confirming that I wasn’t a hologram but that my dress was. “I wanted to tell you something in private, if I could.”

We stepped over to a corner to get as much privacy as we could in the place. “Feeding the poor now? I knew you heroes were nothing but pink Commie bastards,” I said with a grin.

Venus brushed it off. “I’m glad I found you before you went looking for the bomber.”

I feigned shock. “Whaaat? Can’t I just come and enjoy a nice dinner like every other mass murderer? But, since you brought him up, I would like to have a little chat with that guy. Got any ball gags around here? Maybe I should ask Psychsaur instead.”

Oh, a little blush. “You aren’t-” A vibration through the floor. “You felt that?”

I nodded. “I don’t suppose you left anything in there with the bomber, did you?”

She shook her head. “I heard our suspect may have a contingency to get out. There was talk of mercenaries.”

“Bad time to have guests over, looks like,” I said. I looked over and noticed a plate full of cranberry sauce jiggling

Now it was her time to grin. “We’re not that easy to attack here.” A glow lit up the windows, presumably a force field of some sort.

“Folks, we ask you to please be calm,” said Psychsaur. The lizardlike humanoid had feathers in place of hair and could do shit with her mind. Telekinesis and telepathy. This announcement was made with a microphone instead of all that. “Master Academy is reinforced and happy to give you a demonstration of how safe your children are with us here.”

Several of the adults and teens got up, leaving families behind. One of them even made a show of pulling open his long sleeve shirt.

“You’re welcome to play if you don’t hurt anyone too seriously,” Venus said with a wink. Maybe I’m onto something now that I have womanly charms. I mean boobs.

Before she walked out of earshot, I heard someone call out something about “Drillers”.

I’d heard of those guys. They’re kind of a gang, kind of a group of thugs for hire. They’re good with drills, able to bust through a lot of safes. A high-pitched sound brought me out of my thoughts for a moment, accompanied by a sizzling sound from the force field outside the dining hall. Oh yeah, they do sonic weapons, too. Real handy if they’re fighting people in their getaway tunnels. That’s part of why they don’t operate in big cities so much: they like to drill up from underground to get at their targets. They’re good at getting into secure places that way, but cities screw with that.

Venus trusted me enough to leave me there with children and families, but that also left things wide open for me to pay the special superhuman cells a visit. I walked on over to where I sat with Qiang to grab my purse.

The corner where I’d been talking with Venus exploded in dirt and other debris as a conical drill bit the size of a riding mower burst through the floor. A man in brown leather sat in a chair that swiveled to keep him parallel with the ground. He pulled his goggles off and blinked his eyes just before a half dozen of his closest friends jumped out of the hole.

I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, which turned out to be a platter of cranberry sauce. I threw it, Captain America style, and bonked one of them in the head. The others all raised their sonic rifles. “Get down on the floor and stop fighting, or we’ll open fire on the civilians!”

“Dad!” called Qiang. She tossed me my purse, and I noticed her slipping her own on over her head, the hologram falling away to reveal her armor and helmet.

“Put the purse down!” said one of the Drillers as he stepped close.

“Whosever holds this purse,” I started, “if they be worthy, shall wield the power of Thor…. Thor ballth.” I swung the helmet underhand into his balls, then up and onto my own head. I let the projection fall away and reveal my armor.

The Drillers didn’t know what to make of all this until I grabbed a turkey leg off someone’s plate and jumped forward, bashing one of the mercenaries into the wall. It broke over the next one’s head, who fell like a sack of potatoes. The next closest had time to pull a handheld drill with a conical bit like the one that brought him there. I looked around for a suitable weapon of my own now that I didn’t have a leg to fight on. I settled for a dish of dressing.

I charged him. He charged me, yelling. Drill met dressing, and plowed on into it, throwing dressing into the both our faces. Except I had a helmet. I pulled out, spun to the side, and wanged him in the head with the casserole dish the dressing had been stuffed into.

I turned to deal with the other two who had gone out, but I saw them being dealt with. One little girl had one of the guys by the ear. A boy about to enter puberty grabbed onto another and the guy instantly fell asleep, the kid leaving behind a round mark where he’d touched him.

That just left the one riding the big drill. He took one look at the situation and told a walkie talkie, “Plan B failed. Plan C.” With a whir, the drill bit began glowing red and drilled downward, curving sharply away after it got down enough feet.

I let him go. My part in all this was done, except for seeing to the same guy I assumed they were after. I headed out the doors, finding most of the party happening elsewhere. They could change locks, but hallways, so I found my way to the access for the underground section I’d been kept in. I was right at the door when I felt explosions. When I got in, I found a trio of openings along the floor of the hallway, Drillers spilling out. I felt more tremors, but nothing else opened up near me.

If I had to guess, they figured out the underground stuff had to be where Bass was being kept. It would have been too reinforced to go in stealthy, so then they opted to draw people out and have him turned over as part of a hostage situation. Plan C must mean blowing open holes and just looking all over for him.

I was a deadly, beautiful blur of braining and brawling as I beat the bastards up, down, left, and below. I even picked one up and squeezed him until he squeaked like a toy rubber duck. It was more a matter of getting through the numbers, even as the lights cut off and the fire sprinklers in the hallway started spraying us all down. The dark didn’t seem to bother them either so long as they had their goggles on. It was the dying that offended their sensibilities. Or, as I found out when I started opening doors, it was because they’d also been burning through walls in the side rooms.

I don’t know who else they had in there, I just know I didn’t find anybody. No one. Zip. Zilcho. I actually had one of them in a head lock as I opened the last door in the hallway. Finding nothing, I shoved his head into the doorway and slammed the door on it until things cracked.

I was walking back to the stairs when the lights came back on and a group of heroes, Venus in the lead, came into view on the stairs. “What happened?” asked Venus.

“They got him, I think At least, every damn room down here’s empty and got a hole in it.”

“Jesus, someone’s paying a lot of money,” she said.

“Oh, they’ll pay something,” I said. “Get me some of the Drillers.”

Venus held up her hand. “No.”

The other two heroes with her, the same femullet and guy from the other day, flinched back.

“’No’ is an unacceptable answer,” I said. “How about you rethink it before this night gets even worse.”

She raised her chin up. “It has nothing to do with you.”

“My blown-up boxers say otherwise.”

“Psychsaur pulled it all out of his mind last night. We know who he works for and why he did what he did. Some Middle Eastern delegation was staying there. He didn’t know you were there. He just didn’t care about collateral damage, like your boxers. This whole thing is paranoia, revenge, and stupid bad luck. It’s just what happens when one guy decides a group has to die and doesn’t care who gets in his way. It sounds familiar to me.” She raised an eyebrow.

I cocked my head to the side. “Give me a name for the organization, then. Something to keep an eye out for in case they get in my way again. Then we can go back upstairs and eat some pie. You like pie, right Boopsie?”

She rolled her eyes at the innuendo. “EAGLE. All capital letters, but it’s not an abbreviation for anything. They’re one of the groups we have now in the not-so-United States. They’re almost impossible to find.”

I waved toward the holes in the floor. “We got tunnels, don’t we?”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “We have people working on that. They loop around and dead end. By the time we reach the real exit, they’ll be long gone. Meanwhile, we have people to take care of, prisoners to secure, and a lot of people who need reassurance and a meal.” She unfolded her arms and held out a hand for me. “Come on. Let’s take care of you, too.”

“I don’t want to end it here,” I told her. “It can’t. This is stupid.”

“If you have someone you love to care for, it has to end here for now,” she told me.

Most of my part in taking care of the place was helping them with their food problems and thinking of a way to hunt down this EAGLE. Well, part of me thought of that. Another part thought that if this is just that dumb luck, she’s not entirely wrong about dropping it. A third was still pretty sure Rhonda and Leland were sizing me up, but they probably had a clue who I was by now. It didn’t stop them from sitting near me or letting our daughters chat away.

I didn’t sleep easy that night. Not over fear or regret. Some of it was residual anger. Some of it was being the middle spoon. Some of it was the cold. I woke up to find the covers stolen and Leland a bit cold natured, but that’s not what pulled me out of sleep. It’d be the alert from a little bit of malware I spread all over that damn school. Which reminds me, better make sure Kayla’s parents didn’t give me any meatspace malware.

Call it paranoia, or just being a villain, but I made sure to connect to computers and phones to leave a little something behind to keep an eye out for clues. Just certain phrases, like “EAGLE” and “Sam Bass” and “where they went” and “tracking”. When heard, microphones would activate and send me a recording of the conversation, with different priority levels based on how many of the phrases were used together.

Like an exchange between Psychsaur and Venus about how they knew the extraction was coming and planted a tracking device on Sam Bass just in case he was rescued and taken to an EAGLE base.

Well looky there. Now I get a chance to hunt down EAGLE and fry it. Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

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A Feast Of Fools 5

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The vacation with my daughter continues. As far as her nightmares go, they’ve eased off. It’s all about distraction. I’m good at distraction. It was nice to relax, too. Kick up my feet. Enjoy some TV, let the food build up a layer of fat. It made it easier to get ahead of things over in Ricca, too. Stamp a few things, for instance. Got some Directory guys consolidating powers. Might see the beginnings of some power-hungry assholery. I could nip it in the bud, make myself a target for any future regime changes… or maybe I’ll let them direct that energy against each other. I can swoop in at the end, put a stop to anything too bad. I’ll look good, too. A real savior of the people.

Of course, all that cut in on running down leads on our cop friend. Sam Bass, like the fish. Any resemblance to people in other dimensions is purely coincidental. There’s information on him, but some things a guy has to do on his own. Or a girl, in this case. I kept the boobage. Thinking of changing the fingernails though. Blackened zirconium is nice, but it gives me a Goth look, so I painted them. After the first attempt at ladybug nails, I gave up and just went pink.

That’s where I was when I got a knock on the door. Qiang looked up from her show as I stood up to go check it. I found pair of people out there who definitely weren’t room service, unless Qiang ordered a pair of people in civilian clothes with tights hidden underneath. It’s the neckline that gave it away.

First instinct? They looked young. Master Academy. I turned, figuring I’d pretend we weren’t in long enough to gauge what they’re after. Instead, I found Venus sticking her leg in the open hotel window. She held a finger to her lips to quiet Qiang, but the cat was out of the bag. I ran over and pushed Venus back out of the window. She swung from a cable attached further up the all, maybe the roof. She just kinda swung like that.

“Well, well… isn’t this magical?” I asked, sounding unimpressed.

Venus gave me the finger and caught the window when she got close again. I grabbed her hands and let her go, but she caught hold of my wrist. She held onto me. We shared a frustrated pair of expressions. “You here to get on my case?”

“Yup,” she said.

“This going to be a fight?” I asked.

“Not unless you make it one. I’m here to talk.”

I looked her over. She came in costume, but not her power armor. “…Fine.” I pulled her in the window. “Better let your friends know they don’t need to blow up the door.”

And that led to Qiang hogging the couch while a trio of heroes tried to make themselves comfortable. “Anyone want anything to drink?” I called from the kitchen.

“Soda if you have it,” Venus said.

I tossed the last six pack of soft drinks out the window. “Just ran out, I’m afraid.” I walked back over and tossed the three of them some cheap beer. The teen boy looked particularly happy at that, but Venus shot him a look that said she wasn’t in the mood for zero tolerance. I smiled at that and picked up Qiang so I could sit in her spot with her in my lap. “So, how’s everyone doing?”

“Did you kill a guy?” blurted out the girl with them. She was trying to pull off the sexy female mullet look that used to be popular about a decade ago, where all the hair is swept straight back over the top of the head. I rolled my eyes, and I’m pretty sure Venus did, too.

I nodded. “More than one.”

“Recently?” asked the boy. He had a few too many bags under his eyes. Sneaking out, I reckon.

“Oh, one just in the past few days. It gets a bit messier if you go back a week. Come to think of it, if that tripod still had the camera on it, it would have been like a deadly colonoscopy. I gotta remember that for next time…” I laughed at the image.

“What’s a colscopeepee?” asked Qiang.

I ran my fingers through her hair. “It’s the world’s grossest first-person shooter, dear.”

“Should we be talking with her here?” asked the girl with the femullet.

“Now you ask,” I said. “This is Qiang, my daughter. She’s led a more adventurous and dangerous life than y’all did at this age.”

She waved at them all happy. “Everything’s so good now!”

“Is this safe? He’s got his kid here, and I’m worried, you know,” said the guy, looking at Venus.

“You’re not going to hurt my kids, are you Gecko?” asked Venus with a sly smile on her face.

I leaned forward and gently rested my chin on top of Qiang’s head. “Are they yours?”

“Is she?” She asked right back.

I broke the awkward silence that ensued. “It’s safe to say we all have loved ones. Master Academy has helped me out, so I won’t go after its people barring attacks made against myself, my people, or my loved ones. You only gotta worry about me going momma grizzly if y’all try something here. Speaking of which, why the visit in the first place? A friendly reminder that you’re not going to make me leave, but I really need to leave?”

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Venus said. “I’m working on a case but I’m given updates about everything we find out you do. It’s hard to justify leaving you alone when you’re murdering people.”

“I’m just trying to figure out who tried to kill me that day. I mean, the person who blew up the hotel, not the one who shot me with the rocket. That one’s no more of a threat.”

“That’s the case I’m working on. I’m trying to find the suspect behind the hotel, too. You’re distracting me and you’re stirring things up on the streets. I had an informant in the Wolfpack you put in the hospital with testicular torsion.”

I tried to look serious. “That sounds bad. Tell me, doctor, will he ever pee straight again?”

She gave me the ol’ death glare. It was slightly undermined by the teen boy holding in laughter. Venus turned and gave him the glare, causing him to put a lid on that reaction real quick. I chuckled at that and said, “Well, my way got me the ID of the guy who drove the bomb there.”

“Me too,” she said, shifting to cross her legs. “I didn’t kill anyone. It pays to play well with others.”

“Ugh, you didn’t even get to kill anyone?” Qiang squirmed around in my lap and eased out so she just had her head laying on my thigh. I looked down to her. “You ok, dearheart? Need anything?”

She giggled and rolled her head back and forth to indicate no.

“Can we talk without her here?” asked Venus.

“Fine fine…” I looked down at my kid. “Sweetie, I need you to go into the other room. Our guests are about to threaten me about something.”

“Ok!” she said, sliding down onto the floor before standing up and running off to her room.

“Don’t tell her that.” Venus said.

“Oh? Then what did you want to discuss?” I asked.

“I came here today to tell you to get out of town and leave this bombing alone or we will have to try and make you leave,” she said, trying to hold back a cringe on her face at the threat. “This isn’t about violence.”

“Of course not,” I said, smiling. I wanted to jump up and do a dance about telling her so. “After all, I didn’t take your subtle hint back at the infirmary, right? But more than that, what makes you think you can enforce this against me?”

The fellow piped in. “You have a kid right over there! Shouldn’t you be worried about fighting around her? She could get hurt.” Things got quiet again when he noticed me looking him over for easy access to arteries. “Venus, why is he looking at me like that?”

“You implied we might hurt his daughter. And I don’t know how much he takes offense to it, but he’s identifying as female right now,” she answered.

She was slowly leaning toward him when I turned and smiled at her. “I’d hate to think your school was teaching new heroes that sort of tactic. After all, threatening children,” I nodded toward the boy. “is the sort of thing I would do. Or our suspect in the bombing, since Qiang was staying with me as well. I’ll leave after he is dealt with.”

“I think we’re done here,” Venus said.

Her underlings were out the door first, but she hung back, closing it and turning to look at me. I’d been seeing them out, so I was right up close to her. “Hey, I just want to let you know, I really didn’t want this whole talk to go so badly. He was out of line, but he’s just a stupid kid.”

“Yeah, yeah… I’m trying to be forgiving of Master Academy and its people nowadays. Somewhat. You understand I have limits. She’s my daughter.”

“I completely understand,” she responded. “In fact, I had another reason for coming and it involves her. I don’t know what your plans are, but you really should bring her by for Thanksgiving dinner. I think it would be good. For both of you.”

I turned to look down at the hand she had been reaching out toward my arm. I looked back at her face, eyebrow raised. “I know you love, ahem, ‘Taco Tuesday,’ but I don’t have time to waste my time on your seduction games. Hands off the merchandise.”

She floundered for a moment, or at least her facial movements resembled a fish, before she said, “I’m going. Feel free to come by if you want to join us for Thanksgiving.”

As soon as they left, I headed back into my room to check on my armor while pulling up my information on Sam Bass. Satellite imagery, nearby cameras, anything that could give me a more current view. I had his last known apartment, one from before then, and his mother’s house. All three were swarming with cops and people in Master Academy field uniforms.

They actually had figured out who he was, looks like. It took some time to worm my way through police databases like a bunch of bad apples. None of them mentioned a suspect taken into custody. Bomb making materials, a few drugs, and Bass’s mother was caught with an unusual number of pain pills from various doctors. Granny’s an OG drug dealer. No, she might literally be one of the original gangsters, depending on age.

I think they took Bass for themselves for some reason. That means he’d be locked up in the special cells they build under their school.

Ya know, might do Qiang some good to have a Thanksgiving dinner with other powered children. And I need to figure out how much of this is a trap and how to stay out of it.

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