Tag Archives: Venus

War On Uranus 1

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Believe it or not, it takes more to end war with an expansionist foreign power than showing up with a single confiscated vessel full of people with no clue how to run it. We didn’t intend to bring it here, but we were immediately put at the mercy of the Consuls Exalted, as they called themselves. With Venus holding my hand, I made it to the command pedestal and slipped my hands free of their gloves to try and gain control over the system. If I hadn’t had all that time to practice with this army’s network defenses, I might have been kept out.

When I cracked that bad boy wide open, sections of the floor rose up to form stations and round seats in front of them. It was a circle, except for four gaps. The consoles unlocked for them as well. Quietly, not transmitting to the Consuls, I informed Venus, “I’m doing a diagnostic to figure out what this puppy can do.”

“Who put you in charge?” asked Warman. Eschaton stepped up next to him.

Venus had my back. “If you know anyone else who can fly this thing and learn what it does, be my guest.”

“What is your offer for clemency?” asked one of the Consuls.

“Y’all wanna talk?” I asked.

“Put us through,” Warman said.

“Putting you though,” I echoed, so he wouldn’t immediately start talking about having a wedgie or insulting me.

“Consuls, I’m Warman, the Man of War, and this is Eschaton. Earth’s mightiest heroes are on your doorstep. We hope you make the best choice for yourselves and your people.”

“What do you have to offer us?” asked one of the Consuls. I mentally designated him Lefty, because his image appeared on the Left on the dome around us.The one on the Right looked bored.

Eschaton spoke up. “He just told you, we have Earth’s mightiest heroes, here to stop you if you don’t.”

Righty asked, “How many armies?”

“Excuse me?” asked Eschaton, bristling.

Lefty leaned forward to his camera. “What my colleague means is what are you going to use to beat us? You come to our home, you demand things of us, and you didn’t even offer us anything to trade. If you don’t want to do this the civilized way, we wonder what you hope to accomplish against our armies.”

I got an idea what the sensors were and how they worked, and I set about figuring out what was up outside. I expected another Earth, probably another advanced one. Instead, I found myself poking around Uranus. We were on a whole different planet in the solar system, hanging over the world’s largest urban center. Environmental sensors on the vessel noted the hole and advised a quarantine, despite the presence of breathable atmosphere and decent temperature over the place.

I looked into the domeship to figure out what was up with it and all the way more urgent alerts. There was minor damage and break-ins all over, which made sense. I went ahead and unlocked everything except for an area noted to be the brig. Whatever else, I don’t think any of our people ended up there already. There was still some fighting going on at this one bay. Containers hadn’t been launched or something. I figured that meant things holding infantry, their vehicles, or the tanks. I locked that area back down and sealed it. No air in or out oughta fix things, along with dropping the temperature in that part of the ship. The problem should sort itself out in payroll.

With me in control of the intercom and these guiding lights, I could even better direct people around to any areas of other resistance. Just because almost all the soldiers were gone didn’t mean it was a simple thing to capture. This ship was big enough to house an entire army and support staff. We still had most of the support staff up here, and not nearly enough heroes or Buzzkills. We’d need to arrange a headcount to see who we have and what they can do if anything worse happens. I don’t trust these Consuls.

Some would say that they don’t trust people further than they can throw them, which always seemed like an odd saying to me. In my line of work, human pest control, I tended not to trust most people unless I could get my hands on them. I didn’t usually need to throw them to gain their compliance after that point. It’s not really a part of my fighting style. I suppose a more reasonable saying for me is that “I don’t trust them further than I can kill them.” On my new home, that’s pretty much the entire Earth. Here, it’s less than a room in distance.

I noticed a number of smaller aircraft gathering outside, not staying particularly far away. None tried to land on us, but I didn’t like the cut of their jibs.That’s when I discovered the Domeship had no weapons systems of its own. I checked over anything we could use and found that the same system that hopped dimensions could also move something within the same dimension, via wormhole. That’s interesting. With all those things gathering there, I might need something like that.

An angry statement from Righty the Consul got my attention. “Your destruction of an entire province is an affront to our republic. Your presence here signifies your need for our civilization.”

Warman folded his arms. “You attacked us out of nowhere. You don’t get to complain about your casualties.”

Venus spoke up to ask, “Why did you invade?”

“Chief Executor Paldrin saw an opportunity to add another province to our control. We would bring our civilizing presence and superb leadership to your world.”

“I’ve heard this before. Your idea of civilization means taking our resources and trying to reeducate awy our culture,” Eschaton said. He would know, given his Native American heritage.

“Our administration of the province would cost us. We only ask you pay your fair share of the expenses. It is better to surrender before the cost to you becomes too burdensome,” Lefty said.

I think pretty much all of us were ready to tell them where they could stick their civilization, though the fact that they were on Uranus killed the impact of the phrase.

On the intercom, I reached out. “If any of those Justice Rangers are onboard, we could use some city-wide offense here.”

I muted the Consuls. “We’ve got a bunch of aircraft outside and no weapons on this thing for some bizarre reason.”

“How much is a bunch?” Warman asked.

The ship was pretty good about sorting that out for me. “I’ve got 74 target locks on us currently. Don’t know how many friends you brought with you, but I don’t know what they’re packing.”

He went over to check a console. “Can you fly us over a city?”

“We are over one. Biggest one on the planet.”

“They wouldn’t,” Eschaton said.

I rolled my eyes. “I would.”

“We can take them,” Warman said, looking to Eschaton.

“I’d feel better if I knew what we had on our side,” I said. “There’s a saying I keep in mind, a joke I heard once. ‘I didn’t know how many of them it would take to whoop my ass, but I knew how many they were gonna use. That’s a handy piece of knowledge to have right there.’”

“Evasive maneuvers?” Warman asked.

“Dude, it’s basically a floating city. I think I can make it go faster than it traveled between. D.C. And E.C., but I couldn’t dodge whale dick in this thing.” I got an alert, but not much of one. The ship shook as explosions tore into it.

“What’s going on?” asked Venus.

Eschaton flamed on, but I called out, “Stop! I’ll get us out of here.”

“You said you couldn’t move that fast,” Warman growled, hefting his three-barreled cannon.

I spoke to them and over intercom at once, “Hold onto something, people. Prepare for starburst!”

A white aura surrounded the ship. It didn’t seem to last as long this time, and we didn’t catch a view o the universe divide. When it settled, we were no longer under attack, though the Consuls were still on our dome.

“Where are we?” Warman asked, stepping up close to me.

“The other side of the planet,” I told him. “It can do shorter jumps. I believe we should reopen talks with the Consuls.”

“Do it,” Eschaton said with a hard voice. Parts of him still burned.

I reopened the line and Venus is the one who stepped up. “You just opened fire on us while we parleyed.”

“There is nothing to parley,” Lefty said.

“Then we shall have to get medieval on Uranus,” I said.

“Is that supposed to be a threat? What’s that mean?” asked Righty.

“Oh, not much. Illuminated manuscript, the spread of crenallations, beating up Popes. Maybe grabbing a heavy chunk of metal and bashing in the heads of the half of your people who don’t die from plague.”

“How dare you?” asked Righty with righteous indignation.

“How dare you?!” countered Venus.

Warman came up next to me. “Cut these sister-kissing sons of bitches off, will you?”

I nodded and ended transmission. I also double-checked the network defenses of the ship and added some of my own improvements. “Done.”

“What do we do now?” Eschaton asked.

“We need to know who we have and what they can do,” Warman said. “We should get rid of their crew.”

“If I may,” a voice said from behind us. We all turned and saw a man in white coveralls who now had the stinger swords of my Buzzkill guards at his throat. “I am one of the officers. The Consuls really tried to kill us?”

“Looks like it,” Venus said.

“That is a violation of my rights as a member of a patrician family,” he said.

“What are you gonna do about it?” Eschaton said, approaching.

The man backed away from the heat coming off the hero. “My name is Sollis Raan, and I want to help you. I think many in my crew would, now.”

“You think?” Eschaton asked.

“Our leaders tried to kill all of us, from the highest patrician to the lowest plebian,” Sollis said. “I think I’m the highest-ranked officer aboard now.”

“I want a full census of your people,” Warman said. He lowered his cannon, but in a way that made it clear he’d have no issue raising it up again. Moot point, I think. If the man tried anything, I saw where at least three different stinges would be stabbed through him before Warman could twitch his trigger finger. “Eschaton here will go with you, make sure you’re an honest man. We already plan to deal with a couple of dishonest ones, so we don’t need any more.”

Sollis nodded. I nodded to the Buzzkills, who lowered their stinger swords. Eschaton damped down his flames a bit as he walked Sollis out to go see to their part.

I looked around to Venus and Warman. “I have good news and bad news.” I didn’t wait for the inevitable decision about which is first. “Good news, we are on the same planet as the Consuls. That was the capital we were just over. We can get there anytime we want, I think.”

“The bad news?” Venus asked.

“We are on Uranus. I’m going to make a lot of bad jokes.”

Warman grunted. “Keep your trap shut. This isn’t cops and robbers. This is war.”

I nodded. “You got it. I’m sure you’ll find there’s no one better suited to going to war on Uranus.”

And so began our efforts to tear Uranus a new one.

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Things Fall Apart 4

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If all this sounds like things have been a bit separated so far, good. The heroes still don’t like me or trust me. A lot of the villains don’t like or trust me either. Part of that’s because we’re generally less likely to play nice with others. Plenty of them are suspicious at how often I end up helping save the Earth and my close relationship with some of the heroes. Instead of trusting me to corrupt Venus, they worry she’s trying to redeem me. Laughable, right? She is trying, but the idea of her succeeding? Ha!

The division between hero and villain hasn’t just been because of personal feelings. I don’t know who thought it up, but Venus passed on to me an idea to make it look like the heroes and villains weren’t united. She explained it to me thusly, in a private meeting we had one night in a parking garage: “The villains need to look like they only care about themselves. The heroes will be front and center fighting. When the ship gets here, we’re certain they will send down more people and try to take us out. Don’t leave us hanging.”

That was when I got here, after I kinda wrecked Master Academy’s trap.

All this separation is good for me though. The infosphere, datanet, whatever you call the collective digital world surrounding the Earth, it’s loud as fuck right now. I have people spread out all over the world and it’s overwhelming me. If I don’t concentrate so much on what’s in front of me, I begin to lose track of myself. It’s easy to jump into a helicopter that needs support in Ghana or screw with a camera system in Belarus. Checking the road ahead of refugees in Costa Rica and redirecting a GPS. Setting off car alarms in Cairo to ruin an enemy ambush.

For a long time, one of the things that worried me about my archnemesis was her ability to get me to focus on her. To concentrate to deal with her, even if it was just screwing with her. Now, it helps to keep me back in myself. I suppose the fact that she was holding me in her arms as we laid on the roof, staring up at a sky covered by the 8-pointed body of the domeship above us. “I’m not good at romance, but it would have been good to see stars, right?”

We’d met halfway between Rothstein’s, where I’d taken rooms for my guys and myself, and whatever hospital she’d been helping at. The heroes have a makeshift command center, but they don’t rest that well. Sometimes, a villain with a handy skillset slips through. Harder to tell who it is in plainclothes unless they have four arms like I do. A lot of the people who risked staying were also willing to risk nanites.

“There’s too much light pollution anyway,” she said, stroking my hair. “It’s the thought that counts.”

“I think I’ll kill them all,” I said,yawning.

She shifted to look down at me. “There’s no reason for that.”

“I hate them. That’s a good enough reason,” I told her.

She took one of my hands. “I don’t hate them and I don’t think you should either. They’re soldiers, or they’re clones who believe they only have value as weapons. We want the boss sitting in his high chair who thinks it’s their business shooting at our homes.”

It was good to have her there and to be able to focus. What came next required a lot of focus.

They attacked just before first light.

I awoke to rumbling, alone on the rooftop. Even my internal HUD clock read “You fuckin’ serious?” I looked around and saw giant rectangular containers slowing down on jets before crushing buildings and cars. One landed nearby and opened up to reveal a trio of tanks. Jump infantry landed nearby. I rushed to get my armor back on and shot Venus and her friends a message. I don’t know if they noticed me before I got my invisibility going. Satellite coverage went wonky, but they weren’t headed back toward Rothstein’s like I was. I hopped up a skyscraper and saw them converging on the square the heroes were using.

It’s a new square. So much rebuilding around here, I didn’t even bother learning this one’s name. I don’t know if they gave it some legacy name, or went for something new. Based on the number of armored vehicles heading that direction, I knew it soon wouldn’t matter if I learned its name.

They were a silent bunch, aside from the grumbling engines and the marching boots. They didn’t really try to destroy everything in their path. If it was quicker to take the road, they took it. If it was easier to smash through a wall or a building, they did that. The enemy forces were moving in a circle, but half stopped short, where they would have cover. The rest kept going until they were in rage of the trailers and tents the heros were using. They opened fire, as if the heroes were another military force.

I understand the need for a nice, orderly bunch like superheroes to have themselves a centralized location to do all their heroing from. It’s a pretty good way to handle things before the digital age. You just gotta wonder at the invaders expecting nighttime vigilantes to have slept in such a place. I watched through traffic lights and other cameras as one group realized something was up.

The bunch that backed off prematurely did so to avoid getting hit by their compatriots’ fire. They were at least out of firing range and behind buildings. I assume they weren’t ready when the heroes’ illusionist made his move. Eschaton melted tanks. Honky Tonk Hero based one to bits with his enchanted guitar. Warman tried tearing off cannons to use for himself. The Justice Rangers kicked and flipped their way through grey-skinned infantry.

The rest of the enemy army advanced on them, and they weren’t alone. The ship disgorged more infantry. Many of them hung in the air and fired down on the heroes. It seemed like overkill. I was once again reminded of the phrase I stole from a comedian. I don’t know how many of them it was gonna take to kick the heroes’ asses, but I knew how many they were gonna use. The heroes couldn’t even finish off the separated division before the rest of the army met up with them. It would look to anyone else like a slaughter in progress. I could listen in by now. I cracked the code to their communications frequencies. The invaders had a plan where they could even warp in the remnants of the first wave.

I landed in the square at that army’s back, uncloaked, a pair of Roman candles in my hands that I set off. Every comms line the invaders used screeched loud enough to make a deaf man grit his teeth. I dumped the candles away. “I believe this is when the cavalry’s supposed to arrive?” A holographic bugle appeared in my hands. I pretended to play a charge as six grey men floated closer. One of them looked a bit different because of some burns on the side of its face.

“You are but one. You cannot save your friends,” said the one in charge. “Turn off this music and surrender.”

I cranked up “Free Your Hate” too loud for me to hear anything else they said even if they shouted and ran for them. I tripped though, when the ground rumbled even more. In front of me, a line of giant drills pierced the street. The group floating in front of me turned to look at the signature Drill tanks of the Drillers opened wide. Fire, ice, and sonic weaponry covering them, a menagerie of menaces were loosed onto the streets of Empyreal City, right against the backside of the invading army. Unicorn fired a spiral beam from his horn through a line of infantry. A squad of Drillers hopped on top of a tank and started cracking it open like a safe. Crankshaft rolled up into a ball of metal and flesh that Gearshift kicked toward a soldier who reloaded his grenade launcher. She waved her hand and Gearshift kept rolling and even accelerated, bowling over the soldier and smashing into the side of another skirted light turreted support vehicle.

The jump infantry took to the air to join the supporting fire from above. They wouldn’t find the air any more welcoming. Spring is the time for bees, and Buzzkills filled the air by the hundreds. Led by Queen Beetrice, the bee people fired spines and pierced armor with stinger swords. The sky was ours.

The six in front of me turned back to face me. “We will kill you,” said the lead one.

I let a hologram walk forward while I turned invisible. “You know how ‘try’ is a synonym for annoy? You may try.”

The lead one clapped his hands together. Where the hologram stood just exploded spontaneously.

The six turned back to the battle. The lead, with the spontaneous explosion powers, gurgled in surprise when the Nasty Surprise shot through his throat. Same for the one next to him. I jumped onto the next one and crushed his skull between two other hands. Blood fountained everywhere and negated the ability of my cameras to work or my projectors to project. I grabbed onto the next closest one, who instinctively flew upward. His eyes started glowing as he glared at me. I shoved thumbs into them, cackling and yelling, “Thou wouldst stare at me, mortal?”

It’s not so funny in writing, but I guess you had to be there, covered in blood, squishing a guy’s eyeballs. He didn’t find it funny. He screamed. Screaming has to be a product of being social animals. I can’t imagine a loan predator, surrounded by enemies and prey, screaming when it’s hurt. No, it’s a social thing, letting others in your pack, herd, or gang know you need help. Benevolent person that I am, I decided I would help end this Praetor’s misery. No problem whatsoever. It was a snap!

That left me a good distance up with some rockets to ease me back down. I reached up and found myself caught my a pair of Buzzkills. The remaining two must have figured it out. The one with the burn started off, but eased back and let his comrade come first. That one spouted metal spikes. He stayed back. The spikes shot off him. I wasn’t so much worried about myself as I was my two helpers. Unfortunately, there was only so much I could do. I raised arms and legs to try and block, but the Buzzkills still went slack and began to drop. I could even still survive the fall, as long as the spikes sticking through my armor and squishy bits didn’t kill me.

I fell toward the waiting arms of the spiky son of a pin cushion, trying to think how problems like this are usually solved. The idea of solving a puzzle box briefly came to mind. Ridiculous. Laser flashed out, and I fell through the two halves of the spiky son of a bitch and right to the burned man. He spread his arms and a green wall appeared in front of him and forged a wedge that flew at me. It smashed into me and plates melted off. I had nothing left but the armored undersuit I stole off a future version of my nemesis before I killed her. Even the spikes that somehow penetrated were gone.

I couldn’t see shit through my melting helmet, but I felt when he caught my throat and began to squeeze. “The others did not realize your power is not in your body. Your spine and heart will soon join it.”

The remains of my helmet fell away, showing that I at least still had both cybernetic eyes working. “Do I know you?” I gasped out.

“It is too late to surrender and see yourself spared. You will die when those my master answered to take your planet,” Praetor M said before punching his hand into my belly. You know how you get hit sometimes and it knocks the air out of your lungs? That, plus I think one of my kidneys exploded. It was like he tried to put his arm through me. I swear, my back fucking popped.

“Look in my eye while you kill me? Face me!” I pleaded. Praetor M obliged. It made it easier when my eye warmed up and another laser shot out, lobotomizing him. I grabbed his hand and pried it off my throat while he thrashed around. Then I reached into the hole, setting my thumb on the bridge of his nose, and pulling. One, two, and then I tore the front of his face off, trying to laugh at the pain and around the lack of air. “Face me!”

I fell, but someone caught me. I was kinda having trouble there, keeping conscious. I think it was the lack of air. I looked up at a Buzzkill, who jabbed me with a syringe of what I soon realized were regenerative nanomachines. I gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled. Mandibles make it hard to tell, but I have experience because of Beetrice. When I’d gotten a bit less aerated, I looked around because I swore we were going up, not down. I looked over and saw the Domeship next to us. We rose and she set me down on the deck. All around, I saw more joining us, flying under their own powers or being set down by more Buzzkills.

I didn’t have the full electronic suite of my armor anymore, but I still had the electronics in my body. I reached out to hear Warman giving orders. “-board, board! I’m tired of being on the defense. This time, we’re invading. We’ll take this ship and we’ll take it to their world.”

Aww. I missed most of the ground battle. Though, when I looked around, I noticed something. Aside from myself and the Buzzkills, all I saw were heroes up here. Next to me, a gorilla wearing a jetpack grunted as he landed.

I waved to him. “Gorilla Awesome? They really brought everyone along, didn’t they?”

A huge explosion below drew our attention. Awesome, the Buzzkill, and I both looked down at the flames. I hissed in pain from tenderness when I bent over and straightened up. “There goes the neighborhood.”

We swarmed the ship, though the “we” seemed to be pretty much only heroes and whatever Buzzkills decided to attach follow along with me. I don’t know if that’s because of any particular orders to that effect. We didn’t see much resistance. Someone jumped out with a pistol and got a stinger in his neck, one through the cheek, and another through the temple. A woman in unusual clothing stood next to him, screaming. Gorilla Awesome jumped ahead of us and picked her up. He shushed her, then politely asked, “I am truly sorry. Where is the command center of the ship, that we might minimize loss of life?”

She kept screaming, so he set her down. The Buzzkills raised their sting swords, but I held up my hands. “Leave her in peace. We’ll find someone else.”

Gorilla Awesome held out his arm as someone tried to scuttle past. He grabbed the fleeing man and pulled him in close. “You there. Where do the people in charge work?”

“Please don’t kill me,” he said.

“Deal,” Gorilla Awesome said, grabbing the man’s hand and shaking it.

The bridge, I suppose it could be called. Sounds of fighting were ever just out of reach as we approached. It was in the large dome, inside an inner dome at the center of that one. Because so many people can’t resist putting the spot all the important people hang out in somewhere central or where they can see things, without regard to how much of a target that makes them. The outer dome had a park paved in metal mosaic tiles and walls made up of warped pentagonal shapes. As we rushed along, the outer dome began to glow red hot in one spot. It melted open and Eschaton followed, heading toward the inner dome. Warman jumped through the opening, firing cannon that spat green fire from one of three rotating barrels. The green fireballs burst through the inner dome, and Eschaton flew through. Warman landed, then followed Eschaton in a single bound.

By the time we got in there, a man in pearl white armor with a trio of horns arching up. He wielded a three-pronged spear that he used to hold back the stream of blue flame pouring from Eschaton’s hands. Warman strode up next to Eschaton and raised his tri-cannon. Gorilla Awesome raised a meaty arm, a grappling hook shooting out to wrap around the spear.

The armored man muttered something and let the spear go as Gorilla Awesome yanked it away. He slapped something on a pedestal the moment before his face disintegrated and he fell, blackened skull cracking into pieces.

The ship shook, and through the holes I saw a blinding light. I felt more than saw the next part, where an infinite blackness stretched out containing expanding droplets full of lights. We passed through something red that felt like it scraped my nerves as we passed through. The light fell away, and my head was assaulted by new information. Data, in languages I don’t know. I managed some of the encryption, but others were merely familiar. The communications came through from all around, maybe through the dome itself, and through me.

“Grand Executor, why have you returned?” they asked. I saw a pair of faces. I saw signals flying all around us.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. It moved up along the back of my neck and over my hair. I raised my head, focusing again. I looked up to Venus in her black power armor. She looked down to me. “Put me through to them.”

I nodded and concentrated. “You’re on.”

She spoke, and I sent her words out. “Leaders of this invading world. I am Medusa, a hero of my world. We have defeated your army, taken your ship, and defeated your Grand Executor. I must stress that we want peace. Chief Executor Paldrin did not give us peace. The Grand Executor did not give us peace. We are here on your world and I ask you, will we have peace?”

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Things Fall Apart 2

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The domeship is still, STILL, taking its sweet time. They’re just inconveniencing us at this point, I swear. But as I flew into Empyreal City with my personal bodyguards, my Buzzkills hot on our trail, I found the city wasn’t prepared. Instead, it had tri-cannon tanks rolling down the bigger roads while other vehicles tried to shoot down anybody flying through the air. I first became acquainted with that when the Psycho Flyer went into evasive maneuvers to dodge explosions and shrapnel as we headed to the Master Academy.

I just stood up to get a drink from the refrigerator. I landed on the ceiling in a way that made me exceedingly happy to no longer have balls. I pulled a Jean-Claude Van Damme up there. In power armor. Then we did a loop de loop, with me smacking against the rear loading door. A sudden reversal, the kind of maneuver few aircraft can pull off, sent me shooting forward toward the seats again with a “Wheee!” One of my guards grabbed me and helped me strap back in before another barrel roll.

“This is your pilot speaking,” said the intercom. “Folks, we’re just facing some mild turbulence caused by AA guns. We’re going to try and push through it, and have you landing in no time.” I felt the Flyer release missiles to answer the incoming AA fire. “If you look out your windows you’d see nothing, but I can see- Empress’s tits!” The Flyer pulled a downward U-turn that involved all of us being upside down for several seconds. More missiles departed, then he came back on the intercom. “Empress and gentlemen, thanks to ingenuity and a well-placed building, we are temporarily out of danger. We should be at our destination shortly.”

I pinged the cockpit. “One second here… did you just use my boobs as a swear?”

“Sorry,” he said, then made a noise with his mouth to sound like interference. “Cutti-… out… inter… damaged… on’t… kill me.”

After that, the intercoms no longer functioned. I looked to the other soldiers around, who were anywhere but at me. “What’s this about people using my tits as a swear?”

It’s amazing how little time it takes to fly anywhere once someone’s aware you know they use one of your body parts in a swear. If I picked up on the context and mumbles of my retinue, it’s actually swearing by my boobage. Like “Empress’s tits, that fish was three feet long!” or “Empress’s tits, that was a close one!”

I still don’t know why they focused on the boobs, though. I put way more work into my ass. I can snap a person’s neck in the right shorts.

We did not land safely at Master Academy. Master Academy wasn’t a safe place to land. Even with the Domeship in Jersey, they had folks besieging the Academy. The Academy had the windows all barred and much better perimeter defenses than I remembered. Their energy shield still worked, though it seemed to come and go from what I saw. A quartet of tanks sat outside the place, with motorized artillery parked further back, and smaller troop carriers between those points. With that kind of setup, I was more confused how the invaders hadn’t broken through already. The motorized artillery just sat there, though. I wanted a closer look at their missile racks, but all I got were the tanks raising the two outside barrels of their triad of cannons to fire at us. They weren’t as good at hitting us as the formal AA, but they were still worth dodging.

The pilot took the Flyer in close to the tops of buildings, hugging them, trying to keep from putting the target out there to get shot to pieces while we figured out what to do. And I began to regret Ricca’s reliance on superhumans and power armor infantry over a more traditional armor unit. But I had something for that anyway. One of the guys dropped off a scout drone. I expanded my consciousness, no LSD necessary, and hopped into it, moving it in to keep a cautious eye on the situation at Master Academy. It grated on me to do so. Feels like I spend so little time in my own body. I half worry I’m going to forget how to get back to it. But I have to keep at it. My ability to crack the enemy’s systems is going to be incredibly important. Because those nice, shiny tanks have all sorts of things on them to keep drivers and gunners from fucking up, and communications is paramount in an urban environment.

More tanks rolled up and began to encircle the place. It was an awful lot of firepower. I didn’t think they had the shields for this. In this wonderful, fast-paced world, it can often take too long to get a response when you really need help. That’s why I, Empress Psycho Gecko, and everyone at the wonderful world of Ricca, specialize in delivering dynamic, some might even say volatile, solutions to a number of problems in mere minutes. In this case that, meant intercontinental missiles carrying beefy anti-tank missiles directed to a number of on-site targets by me. The part where I played air guitar while blasting “Raining Blood” was just icing on the cake.

I think we did a pretty good job minimizing collateral damage to the people I cared about. That one street with all the launchers was fucked. The flanks of the Academy weren’t much better.

The call from Venus came immediately. “That was you, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Ma puce, of course it was. I decided to rename that street ‘The Road To Hell’. Oughta keep them off your asses for awhile.”

“We wanted as many of them on our asses as possible before we turned the area into a killzone,” she said. “You should have called me when you got in town.”

“Well excuse me, princess. We were just getting in town when we came under fire, then we tried to hook up with y’all and found the whole place was a bit explodey. How the hell did y’all have a shield that could do that, anyway?”

“It’s not a shield, it’s an illusion. The Academy’s been trashed for days. At first, they maintained the illusion to distract from the evacuation. Then Mender had an idea.”

“Darn ideas. More trouble than they’re worth, I tell ya.” I set the drone to return and came back to myself. Looking down, I could see a couple of tanks stop and begin the delicate process of a three-point turn to avoid going near the Academy. For those who don’t know, a three-point turn is when a tank forward and to the side over someone’s car and a small tree, backs up over a bench, then pulls out over an abandoned bike so that they’re going the opposite direction as when they started. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, which is probably why the rear-mostof the tanks went into hover mode instead and just rotated its base. I marked that one on my HUD as the first to go if I engaged this pair.

“If you have any, now’s the time to share. Where are you?” she asked.

“Not too far. We’re parked on a building near the Academy. Looks like there’s a little pizza place across the street. The name’s ‘Pizza The Action’ and it has a superhero on it whose powers include her midriff and the tops of her boobs being bulletproof.”

She groaned. “The one with the hooker heels?”

“I wouldn’t call them hooker boots,” I said.

“They’re bright red and have straps going up to the knee. There’s no way a real hero could run in those things.”

“Sounds like you don’t chase many hookers,” I said. “And I know they look bad, but they’re surprisingly comfy, as far as heels go.”

“No,” she said, her exasperation becoming a bit happier.

“Oh yeah,” I told her. “Maybe I’ll show you, once this is all done.”

“Easy, girl. You want to show me something, show me how we get the supervillains to help fight. We know they’re here because we sometimes see them robbing places. It’s not a big deal, but sometimes they fuck up the electricity and water, or they steal food.”

I chuckled. “Using me for my connections, I see.”

“I didn’t know you had hooker heels or I would have asked for you to bring those, too,” she answered, which got a laugh out of me. “I hope you know I wanted you with me regardless. You’re the baddest bitch I know who still understands what happens if the planet blows up under you.”

“I’ll see if I can round up any more bad bitches and get a bitchfest going.” I knew right where to start with. I ordered the pilot to follow the bouncing ball: a digital trail toward Rothstein’s Sports Grill. And to turn on the adaptive camo of the Psycho Flyer this time. It either worked, or anybody with guns decided not to bother with us. It gave me long enough to pull up VillainNet.

I hadn’t bothered before because I figured most of them would have the sense to look around and go, “Ya know, these people trying to kill all of us may not take too kindly to our continued existence.” There’s an important lesson there: don’t underestimate the stupidity of people. No matter how low you think human intelligence can go, folks can always dig deeper.

VillainNet was abuzz with people passing info. A lot had left already, along with a lot of people. Others were settling scores and grabbing everything not nailed down. I intended to crash Rothstein’s and make it clear, there and on VillainNet, that some asskicking was in order. I found Rothstein’s protected by a glowing blue cube, prompting me to ask in an chatroom, “WTF is up with the infinity stone around Rothstein’s? Hulk better not be getting smashed in there.”

“screw u, weere hiding” was the reply from Badguy6969. There’s always someone like that, and his profile showed that it was someone named Crankshaft, a chop-shop mechanic turned into metal.

“If you think hiding’s gonna help, you really are a crank. Let them get tanks set up and they’ll turn this place into a speedbump.”

The replies were an avalanche of folks asking “why?” in various ways, with various cusswords attached. None of them involved my tits. One common variation is why they should fight for a horrible government that wants to lock everyone up or worse. I’m paraphrasing and condensing there. And did they have a point? Sure. Except that government already surrendered and was dissolved. Probably in an acid bath, here’s hoping.

I concentrated and dove into VillainNet, overriding it and sending out a video of my helmet as I spoke. And I sent it out everywhere. I didn’t want any of these fuckers pretending they hadn’t seen it. “When the bodies are bulldozed into a trench and covered over, do you think anyone’s going to care which one sat it out? If you want to get out here and fight me because you took their deal and are willing to side with the people who would kill me, fine. I can live with that. But don’t sit in there and whine about how you don’t care if we all end up in the burn pile just because you don’t like this government or that government and both sides are all the same.”

“I’m not asking you to fight for a so-called democracy where the party in power admits allowing people to vote undermines them. I want you to fight for you and those you love. If you want a better tomorrow, then first make sure there is a tomorrow. Stop waiting on a hero to show up and make it all better for you. If you don’t care enough about your beliefs to fight for your life and a better future, who will? I should be obvious, there are already plenty of people ready to take both away from you. So even if you don’t like who you’re fighting alongside, get out there. Save the world today. Build the world you want to live in the day after that.”

A pair of tanks rolled up near Rothstein’s and turned their cannons toward it. Oh well, not like anyone wanted to hear my grandstand anyway. “Anyway, the psychopathic, serial killing mass-murderer has to go do more to save your sorry asses than y’all will.”

I charged up my gauntlets, opened the trapdoor, and jumped down. The rockets on my elbows flared to life. I fucking piledrove that tank. Tore a hole right through it to the sewers below. The second tank reversed course with its ability to hover and began to get out of there. I came bursting out of the sewers through a hole now in front of it with one of the city sewers’ many giant alligators in hand, and tossed it at the tank. It fired and destroyed the gator in a spray of pink goo that covered me as I approached low and jumped on top of the tank’s turret.

“That’s not an explosion,” I said in a horrible excuse for an Australian accent. I pulled out a machete with a built-in grenade. The lasers on my helmet flashed out as they cut open the hatch on top of the turret. A grey man raised a pistol at me, but I cut his hand off, then stabbed the machete down his throat and kicked his body back into the tank. I hopped off and, realizing the video was still going, turned to walk away from the tank. A plume of smoke and someone’s loose arm erupted from the opening as the machete detonated. “That’s an explosion.”

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Things Fall Apart 1

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Myself and my personal squad of troopers deployed to Empyreal City. Unfortunately, the rest couldn’t come. When I ordered people shifted over to help defend Empyreal City, what’s left of my military command gave me the bad news. “We can’t. We increased the number of Flyers, but constant deployments eroded maintenance standards and problems piled up, and most of our pilots are either on dangerous amounts of narcotics to remain awake, or suffering sleep deprivation.”

Both the machines and the people were falling apart without rest. “For future reference, factor in the need for rest and maintenance of both when interpreting my orders unless I say otherwise,” I ordered. “Allow them rest and refit. I need a military capable of fighting, not just dying. We’ll leave the dying to the other side.”

It hampered my efforts, but I have Buzzkills on the way to make up the difference. They have to cross the Pacific on ships, but they’ll be there.

It’s a good thing the domeship they have takes forever to move, but not so good for everyone along the way. With the modern proliferation of cameras, there are plenty of ways to keep track of the domeship, but also plenty of people being killed as spies for doing so. More of their jet infantry have been going back and forth, but the bottom eight-pointed star has opened up in places. A bunch of vehicles dropped out, usually some variation on being triangular. They fell, but slowed as they approached the surface and came to hover just over the ground. Air-cushion vehicles, or hovercraft. But then wheels and treads unfolded from the bottom and they got to fighting the military. As usual, the best course of action was to ignore the assholes in Washington and fight the enemy. It’s not the first time the enemies foreign and domestic have included members of their own government.

A pair of large armored vehicles with a trio of cannons turned toward the source of the video and fired. The video went dead, probably like the person taking it.

My bunch made it to the American West Coast just as one of the engines failed, which was doable, but the pilot recommended we land and fix it. Good pilot. The second engine went on our way down, and he managed to turn it from a crash to a landing. Really good pilot. We ended up just outside some little town with a sign that, frankly, insulted the crap out of me. Murder capital of the world?

Everyone knows the murder capital of the world is a circle of land surrounding me equal to the length of my largest limb. Which, admittedly, is a bit smaller now that I got rid of the dong. They’ve had this sign up here for what looks like years without it applying, the liars.

A sheriff in an old beater pulled up and got out. Nervous fellow, looking at a serial killing, mass murderer supervillain in power armor and eight bodyguards with more firepower than his entire county. Instead of raising his gun like far too many people have done toward me, he asked, “Are you with those alien sumbitches trying to take over?”

I shrugged. “No. We’re here to kill ’em.”

While I found it unusual he didn’t try to attack me despite having no chance, I put it off on him being smarter than the average person I seem to run into. I was forced to reevaluate him when he ran around and hugged me, crying. And sniffling. “Ew… human, you’re leaking on my armor. Get away.”

The two closest of my guys grabbed him and pulled him off me. One put his microgun to the man’s head, but I held up a hand. “No, don’t kill him.”

“Why not?” asked one of them.

“I don’t know,” I admitted.

The pilot ran up, wiping his hands on a rag. “Hold up. We need parts. Plane parts, car parts, anything like that?”

It took a few seconds for him to end his crying and get enough mucus off his face to answer. “Bob’s garage has a lot of car parts. Does those little quadcopter drones for the kids, too. It’s right next to the hardware store. But we’re in a pickle. The hardware store’s got a whole nest of giant spiders from the aliens. You’re a godsend if you can get rid of ’em.”

“A lot of people would say I’m closer to the other guy there,” I told him. I turned to the pilot. “Can we fix this without solving every sidequest along the way?”

He looked back at the Flyer, then to me. “I can rig something to get us there, but it could fall apart at any moment. I may not be able to rig something next time.”

I turned to the sheriff. “It’s your lucky day. We’re gonna have us an arachno-whack.”

The town was a bit bigger than I expected for a place bragging about how many people there are dead. They even had an old rollercoaster and Ferris wheel on a wharf. Bob’s garage turned out to be Bob’s Garage, next to Bob’s Hardware, Bob’s Bait & Tackle, and Bob’s Mani/Pedi. Bob gets around.

Bob’s Hardware was covered in spider webs, some of which caught birds with noticeable claws and scaly tails. I think this little war’s going to fuck over Earth’s ecology for a long time to come. “Alright, boys. Time to shop and pop.”

Cue the clash, and The Clash singing “I Fought The Law” in my armor. I jumped through the clouded window and found out it was clear glass with a giant spider web on the other side strong enough to catch me momentarily. I tore it down as I came down and stood up looking like a mummy. A spider the size of a bulldog hopped on my back and tried to bite down on my skull from behind. I reached around for something to hit it with and found a mallet. A couple hits later, I realized it was one of those stupid rubber mallets. Takes forever to kill something with those things.

A second one of the eight-legged freaks came at me from the ground. Instead of being covered in fuzz like a tarantula, it was a black, thin-looking thing with yellow markings on it. It bit down on one foot, so I hopped and stomped it under the other.

I kept banging away at the spider on my head, which finally knocked it off, then tossed the mallet at it. That broke one of its legs. I looked over and found a bin with all these long nails in it. I grabbed two fistfuls and punched them into the spider’s head before it could get away. Picking it up, I remarked. “I have such sights to show you,” before punting it outside where a woman with a voice like my pilot screamed.

I’m not normally a gun person, but I did arm myself with a nailgun. The next spider that lunged for me got nailed right in the eye. I held it against the wall and kept nailing the creepy crawler until it stopped moving. When I stepped back, I noticed I’d stuck it just underneath a “No Trespassing” sign. I like it better my way.

I was tackled by another spider, a bigger one. It knocked me into an aisle that had been full of preserves, jellies, and marinades up until my entry into it. Lots of broken glass after myself and the horse-sized arthropod made our way into it. This one bit down on my armor, but couldn’t get in. I managed to kick it a few times and knock it off, then stood up and looked around. The next time it came at me, I grabbed it and shifted its weight into the shelf. It fell and we crashed into an aisle full of paint and paint products. I grabbed some wooden stirrers and jabbed them into four of the thing’s eyes. It backed off, giving me a moment to look around and come up with a can of primer. I swung it in front of me, smacking the arachnid in the head with it as I sang, “Spider can, spider can, does whatever a spider, oh, hey man.”

We had gotten to the end of the aisle and one of my bodyguards unleashed a torrent of copper-jacketed lead. The spider flinched away and tried to jump up to the ceiling, but I grabbed its legs and pulled it down into the line of fire. I had nothing to worry about with my armor, but what ol’ Shelob made up for in ugliness, it lacked in bulletproofing. Still, to conserve ammo, I pulled the thing’s face apart in half before the soldier could blow his entire wadcutter.

We didn’t run into any bother big ones after that, and it was fairly easy to finish off the rest of the place so our pilot could check off his shopping list. He needed the car parts more than the hardware store, but it was something of a package deal. I had time to hit up the nail place and find some nail polish while he pimped our ride.

Once we were done and back in the air, I called up Venus to let her know we’d be over there shortly.

“Wonderful! We could use your help. The villains don’t want to coordinate with us and you’re something of a leader to them.”

“Wow, that’s shitty,” I said.

She laughed over the line. “You’re getting better at it.”

“What am I doing over here anyway, Venus? I have Dudebots I can use. As important as Empyreal City is, it’s just the one city. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, ya know.”

Her voice took on a less-than-amused tone. “If I believed that, I’d have let them kill you to make the world a better place. I look back sometimes and I think that would have been a mistake. I am not a hero to only the many and screw the few. I want to be a hero who can help everyone. I will not abandon them. I will not write them off. I will fight like hell for everyone because they deserve it.”

“And bringing me along on the suicide mission, eh?” I asked, chuckling.

“It gets all the Justice Rangers in the fight. More importantly, I know by now you have a plan. Kill another few million people,” she said, clearly underestimating me. “You and I both don’t trust Mr. Omega and his plan. But my friends have a plan. We’re taking that ship to show we can, and then we’re going back to the other world. We’re going to find a way, diplomatically or otherwise, to stop this. We’ll make the case directly to their people if we have to. Your friends will probably make a good case for peace in their own way. I choose to believe we can bring an end to this without superweapons and strange rites, but first we need to win. For that, I want Earth’s most homicidal defender by my side.”

Awww… “Venus, I can’t wait to hug you sometime in the murder capital of the world.”

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Manifest Screw Destiny 8

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I didn’t hijack Dame’s body for too long. A day, maybe. Made sure she got to safety, let her sleep, and pulled out. I find the idea of stealing her body appealing in a certain way, but March 20th was coming up. It goes against the spirit of Mr. Roger’s Day to hold onto it. Kinda ties my hands mopping up the interdimensional infestation, but one way people give a thing meaning is by purposefully fettering themselves for it. I typically refrain from acts of evil on the day.

I needed some recovery time. I’d spent a bit more time away from my body than intended while fighting in ‘Nam. The extra time as Dame didn’t do me any favors. First thing’s first: I had an IV to pull out of my arm, an adult diaper to dispose of, and some food to chow down on. Then I could worry about being a neighbor.

There’s more than enough managing a country to keep me busy, including opening our hospitals to the wounded and rushing medical nanites to people unfit to move. Cape Diem’s camp is running over with displaced people being helped by the international aid supers. Even if I can kill people all day, the world needed a moment to stop and catch its breath. Too bad it was only a moment.

The invaders said “fuck it” to anything they didn’t have a firm handle on. It was purely defensive, no matter how close they were to taking it. It saved Spain’s ass, but Portugal’s under occupation for a little while. Good thing, too. That Basque area between France and the Iberian peninsula can be vicious. It’s not just Portugal getting fucked over by occupation. When you figure up the amount of armored raiders, thunder riflemen, robotmen, and Praetors they sunk into this place, they’ve picked up relatively little territory. The fauna they unleashed aren’t actually capable of holding territory for them. There are poachers and hunters all over the world living out fantasies.

That hasn’t helped areas in rebellion. Ukraine, for instance. It sided with the occupiers to take back occupied areas from the Russians. Russians are fighting Russians. Americans are fighting Americans. The Irish… actually, they’re cool. Some crappy English people decided to throw their lot in with the invaders, lost, and tried to take over Ireland. I think they accidentally declared war on Scotland while they were at it. Some got really drunk and invaded Wales instead, which drove popular Welsh support against joining in on the invaders’ side. Don’t even get me started on Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. I’d have to learn a lot of history before I could even scratch the surface on that nuanced situation.

It’s got my people changing shipments in transit sometimes. I’ve had reports forwarded to me where one of our agents in Slovakia bounced hither and thither between five different buyers before finding one we want to help. Gotta make sure we’re selling ammo and bombs to the right people. That stuff can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Divided as we are, we came out of it pretty well. So while other people finished up fighting and killing, I did what I could for the folks in my courtyard. Qiang opened up the courtyard around the Directory tent and the Imperial residence for refugees brought in by Cape Diem. I made sure to get some nanites for them. Then, I and others brought in some movie projectors and soccer balls for entertainment. Some fireworks, too. They had food, water, and shelter, but the things that help people stay alive don’t mean much if the person doesn’t feel alive.

The first indication I had that they might not stay that way was when I felt a new Dudebot. To be a pedant, I felt a Dudebot appear again. It was over Vietnam, in a gunship that fell rapidly. Its descent slowed just before it hit the ground, and that might be why the Dudebot remained active. When I slipped back into it, I found it holding a panicked young man wearing green coveralls. He struggled to escape, saying he didn’t know anything about a bridge.

Now, this presented me with something of a puzzle. It had been days since I set off that modified D-Bomb. This guy was answering questions like they’d just been asked, and the Dudebot’s clock was wrong when it reappeared. Time had stopped on the other end of that portal.

I wanted the gunship, but even crashed it was too big. I had nothing that could move that thing that would be able to get it back to me. The Dudebot wasn’t destroyed in the crash, but its legs were severely damaged where it couldn’t walk. I dispatched a team to retrieve it and the prisoner it held onto with all of its hands. Military engineers were sent on another team to examine the wreckage for any useful salvage. Lastly, a combined Intel and Institute team were sent to retrieve as much data as possible. The weapon was incredible and the ship’s flight was unrelated to conventional flight principles. It reminded me of the lost spherical drone from my home dimension in that regard. I never managed to figure out how it floated before I lost it.

We’re still going over the information they brought back. The team got me my prisoner and Dudebot and did what they could, but they still ended up having to fry a few things and get out of there before the Vietnamese could turn this into an international incident. That’d be an unpleasant turn of events after the recent conflict.

The Dudebot went in for repairs; the prisoner was lead to his luxurious new hotel in one of the old blacksites. His accommodations include a toilet hole and a slightly worn part of the floor where someone slept for years. I made it clear I wanted him interrogated, not tortured. Interrogation is for getting information; torture is for getting your jollies. I saw a grown man get a car battery clamped to his nipples and the only information learned was that the guy had a freaky looking erection. He died happy, though. Darn Hungarian mafia didn’t understand the all the necessary conversions between their measurements and American car batteries. I find the American ones fit better up the anus, but there’s likely some bias in that survey; I wasn’t the one biting my lip and taking it all in.

I had other things to do than see to every prisoner. I still ruled, and occasionally helped cook some rice for the courtyard refugees. When the actions are simple and similar enough, I can control a few Dudebots at once, and I did a great job at it until the Intel folks had something for me. They sent over the video where our captive had been most helpful in saying things.

“I am Paldrin the Younger,” he said. “Son of the Chief Executor, assigned aboard the striker ‘Deserion’. My father will pay for my safe return.”

The interrogator’s notes stated the prisoner was more than happy to give us a radio channel and code to transmit for negotiations. Useful info, but not all that strategic. I mean, when would we even have to worry about portals to another dimension again? As far as I know, I wrecked that world. In all honesty, there wasn’t likely anything to learn from him. That’s why I concurred with the Interrogator rejecting Paldrin the Younger’s request for a villa, a sumptuous meal, and lots of wine.

So when the portals opened up over the United States, I dropped my spatulas, turned off a quartet of grills, and started bouncing some signals around. When a giant flying eight-pointed star-shaped landmass the size of the District of Columbia with a floating dome on top appears after I thought I solved the entire problem. It rained men, and not in the fun way with glistening abs and thighs, but with grey skin or armor plates.

The code I sent off via the communications satellites got me a response shortly after they occupied a capital city that’s spent a few years getting plowed by everyone from its own rulers, foreign rulers, its citizens, and yours truly. While I’m glad I helped sluttify Columbia up a bit, a gangbang with thousands of soldiers isn’t what gets me wet at this moment.

I stood in front of a giant monitor in the latest iteration of my throne room. Behind me, a green screen showed me to be in another location so as to make my location difficult for them to trace by visual cues. That’s why I addressed them from the bridge of the Death Star when an image appeared of a stern-looking man in a green and yellow uniform with a design around the shoulders that vaguely resembled segmented armor strips. “I am the Grand Executor, Julius Enoch. Who has possession of the surviving Paldrin for negotiation?”

“I am the Empress Psychopomp Gecko. I captured Paldrin the Younger, son of the man who declared war on my world.”

“Protocol is the family negotiates for the hostage’s release. That is not, it seems, possible. What price do you seek for his return?” the Grand Executor asked.

“Oh, I figured I’d start small… the removal of all of your invasion forces and never coming back.”

He laughed just the once, like a bark. “You people don’t murder a provincial Chief Executor and destroy his province world, and face no consequence for it. Ask for something to ease your subservience to our Imperator. Nothing you can offer will stop us.”

I folded my arms behind my back. “You do not know the power of the dark side of my forces. One world has fallen to ours already. Keep up your fight and your Imperator’s is next.”

The Grand Executor cut the transmission. Good. He didn’t have to see me frantically double-checking the status of the island’s shields and sending off orders for our fabricators to cook up as many freaky-style D-Bombs as possible. I want a lot, because the United States announced its official surrender a short while after Congress and the President were seized. The image broadcast around the world shows the Pentagon cracked open like an egg.

After that, the big, floating, star-pointed dome-thing started floating north. The swarm that departed like a flood returned, their armor propelling them into the air. I don’t think the guy in charge of this bunch knows I’m the one who offed his predecessor if he’s taking the scenic route to get here.

I went ahead and called up the adult members of the family, who were somewhat scattered around helping with the war effort. Including Venus. Sam, Max’s more punk-looking aide, took one look and asked, “You didn’t build a superlaser capable of obliterating a planet, did you?”

“No,” I said. Behind me on the green screen, the Death Star zapped Alderaan into space dust. “If I did, our next problem would be so much easier.”

“Who did you kill now?” Venus asked. “Dame has been blowing up my inbox.”

I waved a hand. “The exact numbers are a bit hazy to me for good reason, but it seems I took out the guy invading us. Unfortunately, killing him seems to have drawn interest from his superiors, who just gave the U.S. Legislative and Executive branches atomic wedgies until they surrendered. Now, I think they’re headed toward either Empyreal City or Canada. And I have had a profoundly stupid idea.”

Venus groaned. “You have a plan, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “Not really. Anything I got right now’s a bit cliché, and that’s now how I like to think. We need this whole war over. We need these others eliminated as a threat. We’re probably gonna need a couple of my bombs.”

“There has to be a better way than killing billions,” Venus insisted.

“There is,” said a voice out of nowhere. On my side, the image snowed partially over, the snow resolving itself into a hairless, unremarkable face.

“Who are you?” I asked “I’m getting a lot of freaky extradimensional visitors today.”

“I am Mr. Omega, leader of the Dusk Club. We are a group of occult enthusiasts, witches, enchanters, and other mages dedicated to research into the world of magic and safeguarding the planet against mystical threats.” The snow face’s voice reverberated like it didn’t work right coming through the screen’s speakers.

I snorted. “Never heard of you, and I’ve had to kill plenty of occult threats by now.”

Mr. Omega’s face fell. “We have few members now. The Club’s existence hasn’t been continuous. The war has reawakened our need to fight and the world’s need for us. I come before you now because I know a way to lock the invaders’ world away. It won’t be easy, but the alternative is far worse for all of us.”

I shrugged. “Eh, if it’ll save my home, I’ll tug whatever Harry Houdini you like playing with out of your hat for you. What do you need to defend the world?”

“Time,” Omega said. “I need the ship held still.”

Venus tried to say something, but the interference that created the snowy face of Mr. Omega distorted and muted her. So I asked, “Just holding it still? For how long?”

“It will take forty hours,” he answered. “Forty rites, one every hour, on the target relatively immobile. It is a large thing to banish. The rites will remove them and will provide a catalyst to lock away their world.”

In my mind’s eye, I eyed the projections NATO had where the floating city headed toward Empyreal City. “Good news, everyone who can still hear me. Looks like we’ve got to hold a line in EC.”

Mr. Omega smiled. “I love frightful last stands. They’re my favorite part of the movie.” He disappeared.

The whole family spoke up, but Max spoke up loudest, “You don’t trust this mysterious face, do you?”

I shook my head. “It sounds like a trap. I think we better discuss alternative plans in person. Maybe evacuate Ricca, draw them in, put up the shield and…”

Venus smiled. “Meet me in Empyreal City and help defend it.”

“Uhhhhhh, why?” I asked.

“Because I want you to fight beside me against them,” she said.

I ignored the status alert that popped up on my HUD warning me of an abnormal heartbeat. “I might be very busy coming up with more plans…”

“You can do that at the same time. It would mean a lot ot me if you were there, and you’d like to see what new tech they have.”

I sighed. “You’re gonna be the death of me, woman.”

She’s right in line behind the Grand Executor, Mr. Omega, and almost everyone else on this Earth and a few other Earths. This is spiraling out of control, no matter how many people I kill.

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Manifest Screw Destiny 5

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Sometimes, I spend too much time in front of a mirror. It’s not vanity, not exactly. I used to really avoid it. I used to avoid the mirror for a long time. I wasn’t happy with what I saw there unless I wore my armor. Sometimes, people need masks to be who they really are, and sometimes people need them to keep from seeing what they are without one. I used to see someone I wanted to kill, interspersed with who I could be. A flicker of imagining what a bit of makeup would do, or thinking of what a lack of hair in the right place would do. Or worse changes. Ideas that burrowed into me because of a teacher once, and again thanks to Venus’s tenacity.

This time, I was waiting while she ran and got my medicine. Maybe being off kilter like I am helps deal with some pretty fucked-up situations. I’ve tended to think of it as an advantage, but the danger sense kicked in at Qiang’s birthday party. I was trying an appetizer and everything just became more focused and… there. It’s like when the bullets start flying but you know where everything is, but I only felt like someone was after me. Qiang came running up to me and lunged to meet her, but I was able to recognize her enough to turn it into a hug. She loved the clowns I got. Good girl. This world discriminates against clowns too much as-is.

And they’re sexy as hell.

But at that moment, I was looking around, tense. “I want to learn to juggle and do balloon animals like he did!” she insisted. I patted Qiang on the back and kissed her head. Venus came up and patted her as well.

“That sounds great! I’m sure your mom will teach you all she knows, but I need to speak to her, alright?”

Qiang wiggled free of my hug and jumped up and down, clapping. Then she saw one of her school friends and ran off to that part of the palace courtyard to go play or something. I dunno, we had bouncy things all around.

Venus held her hands up, looking at me. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

I checked around. “I just need my medicine.” I said, looking around. “It’s like they want to kill me, but no one is.” I laughed and added, “At the moment.”

Venus put her arm around me and guided me to a bathroom, then went to go get my meds from Max. And just me, looking in the mirror at a pretty face with runny eyeshadow, wondering if that’s even me. If this is just me playing pretend. If I’m too fucked up to know what I am. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m just a warped, sick man who hates the sight of himself.

I smashed the mirror. It didn’t even have the decency to cut my skin. Be a hero? No, never. I’ve made sure of that. I shouldn’t be saving the world. It’d be so much better if I molded it. Wash clean the corruption and all the people who aren’t the madmen. Because a madman’s a loner. If it’s a group of them, a government of them, then they aren’t madmen. Mass delusions are perfectly acceptable. I could use all this chaos to my advantage. Let this invader wreck the powers that be for me, so I can swoop in and set a new order.

Nice sentiment. It disappeared when the door swung open and my nemesis stood there. The woman I thought would kill me. My perfect hero, who let me down again and again. The grin fell off my face. When did it get there?

I hugged onto her. She hugged me back. She stroked my hair. “You’re ok. You’re safe. I will not hurt you.”

Even though I’ve lost a damn limb to this woman before, I believed her. She held up a glass of water and a couple of caplets. “I’m not sure I want to take them now,” I said. “I can do so much. They’re so corrupt out there and I can fix it. You can too. You were going to save political prisoners. You have to hate what they did to your country.”

She nodded. “I do. I didn’t want to defend that anymore. I want to make the world a better place.” She looked me deep in my eyes. She set the water and caplets down on the counter by the sink, then grabbed a towel to dab at my eyes. I let her clean me up. “Your head is not in a good place to do that right.”

“No, it’s cool. There are so many possibilities I hadn’t thought about. I could fake evidence of traitors. Let them bomb the biggest threats to the stone age. All it takes to improve the world is to remove the bad ones from it.”

She shook her head. “You would leave the good ones to die. You’d kill them too, to get the bad ones. Look at you. Look what can happen to good people having a bad life.” She picked up my pills again and held them up for me. “This is what you asked me to get you. You know you need them.”

I closed my eyes and sighed, then held open my mouth for them. It’s a good thing Max’s stuff kicks in really quick. That left me in considerably better mental state to give my daughter more presents, like a beautiful Damascus steel shortsword. I went with more of a straight, thin jian design. It works better with what I’ve taught her, though I plan on having her tutored by people a lot better than me. She needs to know more than 1,001 ways to aim for the crotch. Way 322: turn your back to the enemy and stab between your legs so as to miss your own junk.

I was going to give her a large birdasaur, but it died.

The party was a welcome distraction. It helped ease tensions on the island, which was especially good for the refugees. A lot of free nations are taking in people. As much effort as boats are for people, Riccan waters are known to be safe. Deep Ones make awesome marines.

I have no problem giving them bread and circuses. Keep them fed, and keep reminding them their life hasn’t become fight, flight, or freeze.

Even the villains are feeling it. Ouroboros has the drinks and shows flowing at his casino in for the villains who are having difficulties with everything. It’s something of a safe zone. He’s announced on VillainNet that he’s using the weather control devices around the city defensively. He’s not that theatrical of a guy, but you’d never know that from the video of him holding a fucking hammer while it zaps the bastard child of a triceratops and a hedgehog. If it were me, I’d add a fake beard.

The day after Qiang’s birthday party, Ouroboros dropped me a message about needing some help. Someone showed up at the casino, a villain from Tallahassee named Carnivore. “Tallahassee is occupied. They have separated out everyone with powers. They’re being held separately and experimented on.” He attached an aerial image of the place, a hospital, with scribbled annotations. Guards here, a fence around the whole thing. Carnivore’s typed-out notes said they were being drugged. His heroic rival, a man named Snakecharmer, resisted whatever they gave him enough to grab Carnivore and try to escape.

“He dragged me through half the hospital until I could move on my own. At the last gate, he drew off the guards so I could get away and tell everyone. Said I was in no shape to fight. He took a sword to the back so I could get away. Why would he do that?”

A lot harder for a hero to run away and get help. Who would he get? Ouroboros arranges for the guy to get medical treatment and as many joints as he wants to clear his head, but he can’t go see to anyone.

This looks like a job for Psychopomp Gecko. I suppose it’s a decent enough reason to waive my “no breaking you out” rule.

Security matched what Carnivore had to say. The remote-controlled cameras of the closest Dudebot around took it all from behind a projection of the environment around it. A fence around the place, with eight-person patrols marching along it. Raiders, the guys with a facial hair fetish and pale, segmented armor, handled the perimeter. A foursome of robotmen stood in the parking lot relatively near the entrance of the hospital. There were more over by the parking garage that I could see. I headed off after one of the patrols in that direction.

I stalked up behind the rear two, wishing I could move faster. The heavier armor isn’t optimal for moving as stealthily. I tapped the one on the right on his right shoulder. When he turned to look, I punched through the left one’s throat. When the other turned toward me, I put my fist through his mouth.

The rest of the unit turned around at the sound of dropping bodies. They drew their swords all together. I grabbed the heads of the ones who had just been in front before that turn and smashed them together hard enough to send bits flying. The remaining four turned to that, which is when I grabbed the arms of the ones in back and pulled their swords into the backs of their friends. I took the wounded mens’ swords then, one in each hand, and lopped off their heads. The ones behind them pulled their swords out and might have raised a cry of alarm if I hadn’t tipped over the headless guys so that the blood sprayed into their faces.

I impaled one of them on a sword. Right up through the taint. I picked up the other and beat him down onto his friend until the impaled one’s back was bent back at a broken angle and left my unwilling weapon impaled on the same sword still embedded in his friend. Then came the boring work of carrying them all off to dump behind some bushes before the next patrol arrived.

I did a pretty good job thinning things out before I headed inside, looking for the fifth floor. It was quiet. Not too quiet. The fluorescents and air vents made plenty on their own without people there to hide it with coughing and talking. I didn’t see anyone though. I wouldn’t until I made it to floor five, when I heard the sound of loud pumping. The door to the pump noise was left open, so I let myself in.

It had been several rooms until someone knocked the walls down. Now, it held tum a bunch of people in tubes, clear tubes with people squeezed in with pale green fluid. Some wore regular, everyday clothes while others had costumes on . I’d say it was two dozen, easy, and probably way more than should have been in a place like Tallahassee.

Standing in front of them was a man in a white suit. Next to him and slightly behind, a woman in a black lab coat scribbled notes as the man dictated. I got closer, enough to hear him finish, “You got that last part, Cupernia? The measurements are precise. If you have a question, ask now.”

“Are they did?” I asked, a hologram of myself appearing behind them. The man turned and reached into the white jacket he wore over a sky blue turtleneck and pulled out a ray gun with a bulging body and a thin barrel with a large fin on the end as a sight. He fired it through the hologram. I grabbed the gun away from him with one hand and lifted him aloft with the other. “More importantly, why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here?”

“C- Cupernia,” he said.

The woman next to me flexed and grew larger, punching me through a wall. Considering how far she had to hit me to make that happen, that was a hell of a punch. Good thing the Dudebot can’t feel it. When I recovered, I looked at the man in my hands. He went through a wall without armor. He was missing the top half of his head.

Cupernia came walking in, a bulging muscle woman. She glared at her dead boss, then picked up a piece of the wall I’d gone through. She raised it over head. I launched the Dudebot toward her and rolled beneath her legs a she slammed the wall down on the floor. I turned and raised the ray gun I’d taken, squeezing the trigger. The bent device sparked once, that’s it. Cupernia smirked, then fell when the floor opened up from her careful attempt to smoosh me.

I tossed aside the dead body and the broken ray gun to see what other weapons I could harness when the big bad assistant came back for me. Oh look, a room full of supers. I began to smash open tubes. “Bring out your dead! Up and at’em, Atom Ant!”

They were lethargic, slow to stand up. I didn’t know how long I had until Cupernia got back up there. I had to think of something. Luckily I had plenty of sleeves to pull tricks out of. When Cupernia peeked in the room, she saw me standing in the middle of a good dozen supers all standing and eyeing her. I held out my hand and gave her the “bring it” gesture. “Still want to stay and play?”

She ducked out of the door. I heard a crash that sounded like an external wall. I had to let the holograms that hid the recovering, blinking supers who couldn’t stand on their own yet. That changed by the time the robotmen stomped their way out of the elevator and were promptly sprayed with lava from a vengeful captive villain.

Snakecharmer wasn’t with them, though. Carnivore seemed to figure that out fairly soon after we all arrived at Ouroboros’s casino. The others, heroes included, had a pint in celebration. Carnivore had one in mourning for the hero that saved his life.

Ugh, terrible. See how horrible war is? Heroes saving villains, villains saving heroes. It’s like cats and dogs living together. It’s just not right.

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Manifest Screw Destiny 4

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With the destruction of the Directory building, it’s a good thing we still had the tent originally used instead. Just had to bulldoze some rubble out of the way, haul in the half-melted remains of my throne, and we were good to go. We packed this one with communications equipment and monitors, to keep anyone in there informed of the situation. There weren’t so many of us sticking around to watch events at the moment. The Rangers had insisted they help guard Ricca, a message they communicated through Venus. I think she realized the volatility of the situation, so she stayed with me.

I wanted to go help out, but my underlings made the case that I shouldn’t go out and risk my life. Me, going out and risking my life for others? Preposterous. People would get a warped impression of me if that happened. Arachnoid, Shark, Rhino, and Raptor accompanied my forces over to the Korean peninsula to aid Beetrice and her Buzzkills. A lot of the intricacies of strategy and tactics were out of my hands. I have military officers for that sort of thing. That’s why I had the freedom to slaughter at my own discretion. The people trained to direct people did so, and I killed folks. They’re handling the situation in Korea better than I can.

That doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. I stayed active instead. Intel was working over our prisoners, except the big birdasaur. That thing had a negative reaction to Max’s anesthesia. Something about the size of the heart. It ended up comatose and brain dead. “Would you like me to put it down for you?” he asked me as he showed me the cage we had it secured in.

“No, no… I can do that myself,” I told him. I stepped up to the cage. “You’re an ugly son of a bitch and you smell like rotting fish carcasses. We’re an island. We have a fishing industry here, and you still stink. Do you just roll around in the things? Do you fuck fish? Is it their sexy gaping mouths and glassy eyes that does it for you? You a fish-fucking egg-sucking dinosaur?”

Max put his hands around my shoulder. “That’s enough. I’ll put it out of its misery.”

“Put it out of my misery. Its face is killin’ me, Max.” He nodded along as he guided me away. The next time I saw him, at the command tent, he had a fancy feathered coat with him like he’d raided Elton John’s closet.

Note to self: see about selling Elton John a dinobird feather coat if he survives the invasion.

“How’s the war?” Max asked.

I shrugged. “Too much border to try and secure, especially with how useless border protection is. They can come in by air or sea that easily. Instead, Beetrice’s forces are divided up in either a defensive group to handle incursions from the north, and an offensive group coordinating with the South Koreans to push the invaders toward the DMZ.” I pointed to a map which showed most of the two countries in green. Red marked enemy concentrations. As they’d gotten closer to the DMZ, the two main concentrations in either Korea began to pull toward the western shore.

The Missile Command folks were on the edge of their seat. It was a three-way joint taskforce ready to deploy nuclear assets right down the damn barrel of gunships if any more showed up. Ricca wasn’t the only place where the invaders had decided to be sore losers. With a little bit more time for us to see what was happening, the invaders were withdrawing from most countries they couldn’t achieve a quick victory. They teleported in, caused chaos for a bit with some quick destruction, and were either defeated or left to consolidate with victorious groups or aiding the fighting in countries they found it more important to fight for. Withdrawal tended to be accompanied by the arrival of a gunship to blast concentrated defenders or important cities before disappearing.

In the case of Iran, it turned out the exterior was pretty well capable of standing up to a nuclear attack, but one shot right up the pipe did the trick. I didn’t think they had the ability to make that work, but I suspect they’ve got their own homo machina by now. The High Technolutionary, who I worked with to figure out how to transform folks into the same offshoot of humanity I belong to, is still out there somewhere.

The Koreans let the invaders withdraw, easing up. Most of them took to the water instead of the air. A pair of gunships came this time, facing each other but adjusting their aim to fire past the other. They were making the shot more difficult on us, especially because most tend to go off upon close enough proximity. This kind of shot is way more exact for a missile to make. For all their furious activity leading up to it, Missile Command was incredibly calm in making quick calculations and calling out orders. I suppose most of the work had already been done by then. In the end, North Korea launched a nuclear missile into South Korea, and South Korea into North Korea, destroying the gunships.

As soon as it was done, Missile Command broke out the beer and the cheery girl group pop music. My military are suckers for some bunch called Mamamoo. Let them have their fun. They’ll be helping deal with the liberation of our Belgian allies soon enough.

I called up Beetrice first. “Congratulations on victory, honeybee.”

She laughed. “We owe a lot to the South Koreans. I think this war might secure further reconciliation. It will be a difficult process because we are loyal to you, Empress.”

“Something to figure out through the rebuilding process. What’s the damage? We got plenty of nanites, and Cape Diem might be able to spare some people. With the bulk of the fighting over, we can get more medical personnel in. We’re mostly stabilized on our end.” I sat forward in my deformed throne.

“Pyongyang has two of those flying machines downed in it. They destroyed every hospital they came across. The agricultural expansion was going so well, but the fields are trashed. Anything you can give us would be appreciated, but I will make any aid you give us available to the South Koreans,” she told me.

“Deal,” I told her. I suppose I should be more conniving of an evil ruler, but I hardly think this is a situation for settling petty grudges that aren’t mine.

Emphasis on “that aren’t mine.” For a lot of leaders at this point, there’s not a lot they can do as individuals to contribute to the war effort. Most of it boils down to making sure the people fighting can do what they need to, or keeping morale up. Most leaders aren’t one of the world’s best assassins. A lot of these breakaway factions some of the other countries have are likely to crumble with a sudden loss of leadership. We send in an swarm of Buzzkills or a Psycho Flyer, it could look like the government’s beholden to me. Sometimes knives are superior to guns.

Thing is, the Rangers want to stay on my ass. Sure, they break off in one or twos to go assist other countries, but there’s always some of them here. I don’t think Pink’s ever left. I had a pretty good idea how to get around that problem when I left the command center to have lunch with Venus and Qiang. Just the three of us, sitting around, eating food, my daughter and I getting into a chopstick fight. “Obi-Wan lied. I am your father.”

“Nooooo!” she yelled, letting herself flop to her back on the carpet. She laid there like that, not moving.

I poked her belly with a chopstick. “Well, she’s dead. Guess I get all her stuff now.”

“Nuh uh!” she sat up and tried to fake a glare.

“Are you finished eating?” Venus asked. When Qiang nodded, my nemesis added, “Isn’t it time to get back to school then?”

“Mooooom…” she begged, looking at Venus. Venus giggled and ruffled her hair. Qiang turned to me then, “Do I have to?”

“School’s important, dearheart. Lots of fun things to learn. There’s a story behind everything.” I helped her straighten her hair out, then ruffled it for her again. She did a better glare this time.

“Fine!” she huffed and put her helmet back on. The ability to leap small buildings in a single bound and run faster than normal help with a lunchtime commute.

When she was gone, I scooted over to sit beside Venus and sat my bowl down. “She’s adorable,” Venus said. “You should tell her I’m not Citra. We have to be honest that I’m not her mother.”

“Citra isn’t either. Wouldn’t be surprised if Qiang knows. Mmm, but I need a nap.” I laid my head in her lap and looked up into her face. Her not objecting is still wild.

“I have places I need to go too.” She didn’t push me away though. “Promise me we’ll talk about it later.”

“Sure thing,” I said. I wonder if I should use her pet name. I learned it way back from her interactions with her boyfriend at the time, The Human Sloth. I’ve killed him twice, which is one reason I don’t think she’s over her hatred of me. And I really ought to check on Psychsaur. The scaly psychic heroine and I made a real connection when she was playing around in my head for awhile there, then she started dating Venus. Now Venus is over here, trying to be a conscience I can snuggle with.

Over in Georgia, a Riccan agent delivered a weapons shipment to Tbilisi. The President of Georgia, unperturbed by the devastation in the country, got into an armored SUV with his personal security detail. The SUV stalled, and shut off. Cursing, the driver popped the hood and got out to check on it. A drone flew into his open door. Someone in the rear popped a door open and threw the President out just before the drone detonated. The one at the hood was knocked off his feet and slow to stand back up. The President tried to crawl and call for help.

My Dudebot appeared in front of him, holding the severed arm of an invader robotman. “Who are you?” the man asked.

“I’m an awesomesauce enema. This is gonna get messy.”

I punched the arm through the President’s spine and neck. A couple of bullets ricocheted off my robot double’s armor from the surviving bodyguard. I jumped over the President’s corpse and shoved the robot arm through the man’s chest. The Dudebot’s invisibility measures activated again, letting it blend in and leaving the appearance that a man who intended to side with the invaders had instead been murdered by them. I’m sympathetic with their desire for revenge, but I’m pretty sure they could just help themselves to Russian-occupied lands at the moment without turning on everyone else.

Over in Georgia, meanwhile, a bunch of separatists with Punisher patches on their department-store camo jackets met with a Riccan agent who assured them this shipment of weapons could keep the tax man from ever treading on them again. The agent had backed a truck with a large crate in it right up to the gate of their compound. They raised their ARs and fired into the air, whooping. One of them with an exceptionally big cross around his neck even added a, “God bless you, son.”

The agent unscrewed the crate and pulled the lid off, then dove behind the truck off the bed of the truck to hide away from them. The Dudebot inside jumped out, taking the head off the one with the cross with its Nasty Surprise minisaw. I jumped and spinkicked the head into the face of one of his buddies, who dropped his gun. I grabbed one out of the hands of a nearby man, spun it upside down, and ran it through is stomach. “Time for a shishkebob!” I lifted him up and pointed him toward one of his palls who was shooting at me, jabbing it through him next. “And a shiskeRandy.” And on through another one. “ShishkeDaryl.”

The whole compound scrambled to investigate what was going on while my agent drove off. All I had to do was keep the Dudebot hidden with the help of its active camo and wait until I found the self-styles commander of the bunch, who went from hiding in the rear to marching in front when he realized all the fighting had stopped. The bunch not being particularly careful with their arm, all I had to do was slip the safety off one guy’s rifle, point it squarely at the commander, and squeeze the trigger. The shot the soldier, too. They almost found out I was there from all the bullets flying, but I got out of the way and let the paranoia take over. When I left, the survivors were all pointing firearms at one another.

I awoke in Venus’s arms. I once heard a man say that a power nap is when you sleep on someone who is weaker than you. I prefer to think it’s what happens when I kill a bunch of people while catching some Zs. There’s a war on. I’m just being efficient.

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Manifest Screw Destiny 3

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You could cut the tension as the invasion day approached, but most people were saving their knives for the invaders. We got most of the civilians rounded up. The old geothermal power plant had space, as did the tunnels for the underground high speed rail. Others took shelter in old black sites. Anyone who wished to leave the island was allowed. I’d have pushed for a general evacuation, but there’s really no telling where all will be hit. That’s the same reason I didn’t recall all my agents or my wife. Informing us of the invasion ahead of time may be of questionable strategy, but it created a lot of uncertainty and confusion that can work against us in the initial strike.

Those who wanted to fight were given the opportunity for that as well. The training kept my soldiers ready and helped them focus. We could always use the manpower. Beetrice didn’t stay, but at least we have VelocityRaptor back, mostly healed from that business in Africa. He failed to kill Velociraptor. We’ve also still got Silver Shark, who decided to take up position near the beach with the Deep One militia. Bronze Rhino, another Claw creation, was pulled out of his homestead in the wilderness and sobered up to help defend the city. We needed him to fight, and his alcohol for Molotovs.

So the clocks tick-tocked away, bringing us closer and closer to a clash. I finished doing what I could to my armor. Plenty of integrated nanite-holding quilt on the inner layer, spiked blades on knees and elbows, and as many chicken grenades and explosive throwing knives as I could pack.

Venus watched me as I worked in my study. “Are you ready?”

I laughed. “Is anybody truly ready?”

“Did you have one of Max’s brownies he’s passing around? You shouldn’t have dulled reactions right now,” she said.

I shook my head and turned to look at her, “I am fully in control of my own faculties. Razor sharp, you might say.”

“You look tense.” She walked over and ran her hands through my hair. “How do you feel?”

I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling. “A little tense and excited. You?”

“The same. The big fights don’t announce when they’re coming. I had the Academy send me my exoskeleton through Cape Diem. Don’t worry, I repainted it in my new colors.” She stopped running my head and I reached up to hold her hand.

We stayed like that for several seconds, then I smiled and made the situation worse with singing. “It’s an emergency, call the police, you left me and abandoned the lease.” The guitar, bass, and drums started up when I put on the actual song to cover up my disastrous singing voice.

Venus giggled, then started dancing when I stood up. I heard a squeal from the doorway to find Qiang dancing there to “Gave You Everything” by The Interrupters. I pulled Venus over so I could grab Qiang and lift her up. Further down the hall, Sam rocked out, then hopped on something and played an imaginary guitar.

It was just stupid fun to music. It was right. It was what we needed and it broke the tension. And it was just in time, because pretty much everything we were using to detect an incursion went off at once. I didn’t know whether to expect a portal or a craft of some sort. We got both, but the portals were temporary and the craft were floating and flying. The things in the sky had hull like ship with a narrow angle. Could have been some sort of floating battleship or destroyer for all I know ship designations. The ones in the water were wider and more round, like if someone made a circular aircraft carrier and loaded the deck with guns.

Some of those ended up cut into pieces when the barrier went up. Explosions rippled across it from where the flying ships had fired already. Some were inside the dome of the shield already when it went up.

I dropped everything and began to suit up, sending out an address while I did so. “People of Ricca, the invasion is incoming. Stay in the shelters unless they’re compromised. If possible, we will evacuate you to areas of the world not under attack. I will not leave you. I’ll keep fighting. You might doubt me as a benevolent leader. Honestly, I don’t think any good leader can be a good person. Ha! By that metric, I’d be an excellent leader. Don’t trust me because of morality. Trust me to be a monster unleashed on your enemies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set a new world record for most bowels perforated with a single fist.”

This is why people hire speechwriters. More competent speakers give these events a certain gravitas.

I flexed my armor and reached for my helmet. Qiang held it up for me, in a smaller, less spiky version of my armor. She didn’t have her helmet on either and smiled at me. Mindful of the spikes, I grabbed her for a hug. “I love you.”

“Love you too, mommy,” she said, setting it on my head. It sealed into place and she walked over to the desk where I’d left my helmet, grabbing her knife and helmet.

“I want you underground, staying safe,” I told her. “And keep your armor on.”

“Yes mama!” she yelled, running off with her helmet past Venus. The heroine rested against the doorway, a smile visible underneath the chrome visor obscuring most of her face.

“You ready?” she asked.

I nodded. “You?”

“Yeah. Time to fight the good fight,” she said, as if that line wasn’t designed to make my eyes roll.

Sam and Holly stayed behind, so it was just the three of us setting out from the palace: Max, Venus, and Gecko. Max twirled a syringe gun in one hand, a spray gun in the other, careful of the bandoleer full of smoke grenades. Venus scanned the area and pulled out a staff that extended. I called over a larger drone that attached underneath the armored battery pack on my back, adding a large pair of lasers designed for heavy use hanging off each side of me, and a stand on my shoulder on which a pair of my normal-sized drones settled with their smaller beam weapons.

Out in the waters, Silver Shark and the Deep One marines had capsized a trio of the invading ships, which shot a lot of empty buildings on the waterfront. Some of those inside tried to swim to shore despite segmented armor, but I had more Deep Ones than they had exceptional swimmers.

The seafaring ships outside the barrier had pressed against it. They were glowing some orange color and slowly easing through. I contacted my submarine, who assured me they had everything in hand. The message came through about the time I saw the explosions tear through the ships. My admiral figured that the natural compliment to a shield around the island is a minefield around the shield. There weren’t many living invaders left to argue the efficacy of that.

I was beginning to think I wouldn’t even get to use my armor when white portals began to swallow the battleship aircraft outside the shield. New white portals opened in the air over the water, spitting them back out. They began to adjust targets.

The Intercept team was on it with surface-to-air missiles and drones. The first shots of the battlecraft crashed into the Directory building and probably wrecked my favorite chair. They turned to adjust aim once the first of our missiles began to blow holes in them. My guys focused on three of these things equally for way too long before concentrating fire on the closest. Whatever kept the battlecraft afloat in the air didn’t compensate for the hits and it rocked back and forth until something gave out and it crashed into the water. The other two focused on the military base. Note to self: when rebuilding the military base, include its own shield. Same for the new Directory building and the Palace.

The next craft to go down was dissected in a fucking grid pattern by laser drones. It was beautiful. It swung and dipped, just barely missing the remaining battlecraft. Gotta give them points for trying. That craft ended up smacking into shallower water, part of the hull crumpling on the beach.

The invaders changed tactics. Four portals began to open up at ground level and stayed open for thirty seconds. “Anyone left at Intercept who sees where these things are coming in?” I asked over my command channel.

“Affirmative, Empress. Intercept Field Unit is deployed. We have eyes on rifts and are passing the locations on, triaging per your orders.”

All are equal under the Empress, but some places are more equal than others. The base’s capabilities are reduced, but we need the power plant and the shield. We need the people in the shelters if they threaten any of them.

After that, more opened. I wasn’t paying so much attention to those, because one of those first sets of portals opened right in front of my group. The ones most eager to die were a bunch of guys who must have interrupted their beard-growing contest to get killed being the most prominent group. There were a few others mixed in. It was a pretty diverse bunch.

I giggled and began to dance, pumping out the next song on my murder playlist, Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage. I spun and slid onto my knees, hands in the air, waving like I just didn’t care, while the heavy lasers and the laser drones I personally commanded went to town on them. The first wave just died. Whatever segmented armor they had wasn’t that good at handling light. Some of the ones to survive were grey guys in tights and vests. A small blossom of light appeared where they were hit. Max tossed one of his grenades and hid behind me. They didn’t come out the other side of the thick blue smoke that spread all over the edge of the courtyard. The stream of enemies came around the sides, but something did walk out of the smoke. I caught a glimpse in between mowing down their buddies.

There were three clunky robots. Heavy metal plating and bolts on the torso chest, head, arms, and legs. It had a thick support connecting the chest to the legs, but didn’t bother with all those delicious parts of living critters. These were some old school robots, staring out at us through slots in their heads that glowed with red lights. Venus stepped up in front of myself and Max. She held her staff in her right hand, angled to avoid the metal spike she extended from the gauntlet. Electricity arced from it, then up along the staff which she swept over the robots. Ball lighting flew forth, throwing off smaller tendrils on its way into the middle of the robots. The others who got too close didn’t take it any better than the miraculous metal men did.

We were barely done with that group when another portal opened behind us. The future corpses who ran out of that one included some in old wool outfits and flintlocks, of all things. I held out a hand and gestured for them to bring it. Venus grabbed my arm and tugged me to the side when one of them fired at me, with Max diving behind me. Behind me, a person-sized hole appeared in the wall around the courtyard.

I targeted the flintlock shooters first after that. Max ducked beneath my legs to fire into the crowd with his gun and called out, “Thanks Venus!”

“Yeah, thanks,” I said, a bit grumbly. Ugh, my nemesis I’m in love with saved my life. Time to go write in my diary about how unfair my life is and how I’m so embarrassed I’m just gonna DIE. Wait, is this not the teen drama portion of the narrative? Oh, right, I was murdering folks.

Intercept contacted me for an update after we’d finished with that bunch. “Empress, we have reports of dinosaurs loose in the city. The food growers are under siege and summoned a giant demon plant for assistance. Additionally, VelocityRaptor has responded. The Institute is under attack as well. Dr. Creeper, Bronze Rhino, and Arachnoid are defending. All fronts are holding. The sea battle is over. Silver Shark is bringing the Deep Ones ashore to flank the enemy.”

“Anywhere look like it could stand some reinforcement?” I asked.

“The skeleton crew at the water treatment plant reported an attack. We have dispatched a Flyer and squad to take it back, but we are low on available manpower.”

“I thought we told them to evacuate with the rest…” I looked to Venus and Max. “We’re heading to the water treatment plant to expel some waste. Don’t let them touch the water there if you want to keep them down for good.”

Venus nodded, but I caught something moving toward us out of the corner of my eye. By the time I turned to look, one of those grey fucks was right up in my face, pushing me. The wall we passed through stunned me a bit. You know, like they do. Wrecked my big drone, I think. The grey speedster let me go and I crashed through another wall, and another, and into a small refrigerator in someone’s kitchen. The family left a pot on the stove and rice in a bag nearby. And a superspeedster coming through a hole to stop right in front of me and punch the crap out of my armor. He grabbed my throat. I tried to put a spike through his eye, but he dodged it. I sent a straight at his gut, but he was elsewhere the moment it would have hit. I brought my arm down on his elbow and instead he was choking me with his other hand.

I looked him in his blank eyes and raised my arms. “Really dude?” I asked, despite the tightening grip that threatened to shut off my air supply. But you know what’s faster than super speed most of the time? Light. Guess who has a laser built into her helmet? This bitch. I fired the trio of lasers in my helmet into his eyes and face, for just a moment. The speedy fucker clutched his head.

I laughed my ass off and grabbed him. I pulled open the refrigerator door and pulled him in, smashing the door against his head. He stumbled back away, pushing at me. I caught a beer before it fell out and smashed it over his cranium. I put my heel into his crotch, grabbed him, and threw him against the stovetop. I didn’t need to be a speedster to stick the pot on his head and hit the lasers again. I fried his noggin in the pot. I’d have done it slow, but he was fast. Now he’s a past tense person.

I stepped out, checking on the situation. Venus and Max were on their way to the water treatment plant. I figured I could rendezvous with them, or I could turn right and see why it was suddenly a shady day. I looked, and there stood a sixteen foot tall bird staring down at me with hungry eyes. It opened its beak and roared, showing off a mouth full of rows of sharp teeth.

Command channel time. “I might kill this one, but if we happen to have a spare giant dino bird after this is all over with, I would be happy to have a new pet.” Its beaky maw snatched me up. “This one wants to play already!” It tried to chew me. I put my hands up and stopped it, then stood up on its tongue. I cut the comms channel and addressed the bird directly. “You need to remain calm and stop trying to eat me, or this relationship is never going to work. And it can work! Just look at how things turned out with Venus! All I had to do was change my life, kill fewer people, medicate, have a kid, take responsibility for a bunch of people I don’t know, set up rules for supervillains, and save the world like a dozen times.”

More crap for the diary, in between talking about who I have a crush on and what I want my prom dress to look like, like ohmigosh.

I punched the top of the birdasaur’s mouth. It opened wider and tried again. This time, it caught an elbow blade. It roared and shook its head. I fell out. I hopped up on the birdasaur’s beak and stared it in the eye. “Hey there, critter. I’m your new best friend. I’m gonna hug you and clean up after you and ride you to slaughter my enemies.”

The bird shook its head, then smashed me into the side of the building. I pulled myself up and flipped around to sit on its neck. It hopped and flapped its tiny arms, trying to get rid of me. It rolled over in the street. I don’t crush so easy. I stayed on and gave a “Yippee-ki-yay!” when we came up.

On the street below us, scaly emu things ran along, hissing and growling. I pointed down at them. “Chow down!”

The birdasaur tried to shake me off, but it knew a meal when it saw it. It snatched one up for a meal. At the end of the street, a group of the bearded soldiers and grey men stepped out. They swiped at the emus to chase them off. A soldier raised his sword to point at me. One of the grey men stepped up and raised his hands. A purple ray shot from his hands and singed the feathers on my mount.

I laughed. “Kill, my pretty! Slaughter every last one of them and feast on their bones!” It didn’t seem to need much encouragement after those pitiful attempts to shoot me. It ran into them and started biting. I even hopped down to go after that one grey guy. “That all you got? I killed a guy with super speed earlier. I’ve seen some of your buddies fly and take missiles. ‘Sup?”

He tried shooting me and all the blast did was leave a dark mark on my armor. He tried again and still did nothing. A raider sung at me from the side. I caught the blade and pulled it free from his hands, flipped it around to take the grip, and shoved it through his mouth. I grabbed the blade again and pulled it free, then kicked the body up into the air where my new pet chomped on it. When I turned back to the grey guy who shot at me, he was running. I jumped over him to land in his way. He skidded short and raised his hands in front of his face. “Please-!”

I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over. “I like it when they beg. You want me to like you? Beg more. Tell me things.” I laughed and grabbed him. “Why are you so weak when some of you things are so strong?”

“We are clones,” it told me. It shook as the birdasaur roared.

I slapped its face. “Don’t pay attention to that thing, pay attention to me. You’re clones, right?”

“We are made. Some of us have strong powers. If we are loyal and strong, we are promoted to serve the masters. If not, we serve with the vassals from the provinces.”

I brushed off his tights. “There you go. Good guy, telling me things.” I punched him and knocked him out. I saw a car nearby and carried him over. He fit pretty well into the trunk. My new pet roared at me, read for another go, but then squad of robotmen rounded the corner. I yelled back, “Tag, you’re it!” and ran for them. They raised their arms and shot bolts of molten metal at me. I could feel that, whatever it was. I could also turn invisible, and did so. Shooting like that didn’t make the birdasaur happy, and it couldn’t even eat these ones.

I watched it have fun with them from a rooftop nearby. I glanced up to look around, seeing Psycho Flyers all about. Some of them fired down on hotspots, like one over by the water treatment plant. “This is the Empress. Status update?”

“The portals have stopped, your eminence. The enemy is divided, but most large groups are breaking off to concentrate on the shield building.”

“Reinforce the building as best you can to make sure it doesn’t fall. Let them gather,” I said. I hate that kind of wait. The Institute, farm, and water treatment detachments never made it to the rally point because they got fed pavement with some serious velocity with the help of my guys. The Deep Ones and soldiers used the big gathering to start clearing sections of the city. The weird dino-bird things were the main trouble there. It’s like someone opened up portals to an alternate dinosaur era and let the wildlife run through.

And then, with more than a thousand people banging away at the power plant’s gates, water rose from manholes and drains outside of it. The army might have taken it for a minor inconvenience until the itching started. Being taken apart piece by piece will do that to you. Some tried even harder to break in, but the Psycho Flyers massed to drop my people in there and to concentrate firepower on that front. The ones who tried to run found out hard that is when your feet are falling apart. Whoops, then they fell into the water.

I guided my new feathered friend as best as I could to watch, making sure the nanites knew not to eat this one. Sure, it still tried to fight me and throw me into things, but I think we were getting used to one another. It was a good enough place to watch as the invaders found out that I am quite literally the master of this island.

When the screaming was over, I called up Max. “I got a big boy for you to tranquilize. Or girl. I don’t know how to sex a bird.”

“Come now,” Max said with a chuckle in his voice.

“I was drunk that time,” I reminded him.

“Hey, butting in here, what’s going on?” asked Venus. “Did we win?”

I added Command to the line. “Well, did we win?”

The voice on the other line gave a rundown. “The enemy is no longer a coherent force at anything but the squad level. The city has been 24% cleared. The portals are stopped, the craft are in retreat. The Battle of Ricca appears to be over.”

I clapped my hands. “Very good. I’m guessing, not everyone was as lucky?”

“The United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia, and China were all invaded by significantly larger forces of differing effectiveness. In addition, the United States and Russia are fighting traitors. There are other nations fighting, including North Korea. Some have surrendered. We are assembling a list of others who repelled their invasions.”

“There’s your answer then, Venus,” I told her. “Today, Ricca. Tomorrow… the world!”

My ambition blinded me. It lit up the sky, though Intercept broke in with and explained things differently. “Large rift opening outside the dome.”

The image I saw was basically a giant gun with engines on it to keep it afloat. And maybe something loose in the water way behind it, but the big weapon might just do it for me here. The huge barrel pointed at us glowed, then shot what looked like a miniature sun at our shield.

“Brace your sphincters, everyone,” I told announced.

The energy blast blinded us as it approached, even though the tinting functionality on my helmet’s display. It struck the shield and lashed out like it was releasing solar flares. The shield went red in a ripple that rolled out from that point, audibly crackling loud enough to drown out even the communication device sealed to my head. The shield and the sun both disappeared at once.

“Casualties at the power plant!” I heard someone call out. “Evacuate and triage!”

I didn’t tell them not to bother. I patted the birdasaur and pulled at its neck feathers until its head turned in the right direction and it began to run for the gun. “Status on our D-bomb stockpile?”

Creeper answered, “It appears an infiltrator reached Bomb Storage with an incendiary device. We have no functional D-Bombs.”

“I’m moving to intercept,” I announced.

“That’s crazy,” Venus said.

“Looks like I’m perfect for it,” I told her. I saw the gun’s barrel glowing again. I knew perfectly well I’d never make it, and never be able to do anything to it. But when there’s nothing left but death, might as well let it know you’re not afraid of it.

I had regrets, though. Plenty, including for my daughter.

A beam from high in the sky struck the rear of the gun, pushing the barrel upward. The enormous energy blast it fired went well overhead, but close enough we felt the heat. I couldn’t tell if it was going to angle back to Earth and make someone’s day infinitely more shitty, but it missed us. The gunship began to slowly turn to face whatever hit it.

A blue satellite with a barrel of its own in between a trio of large solar panel arms lowered from the sky. Below it, a yellow aircraft carrier carried a humongous green tank. A pink submarine broke the surface with a jump, and a red fighter jet soared overheard.

“Oh no,” I said.

The aircraft carrier rose up like it was flipping forward. The tank backed up it while its deck split apart. The tank reached the end and fitting onto it. A fore section of the carrier bent at a 90 degree angle as it finished becoming a pair of legs attached to a green tank torso. The sub leaped into the air again, splitting apart. One half attached to the upper left of the tank. The other caught on the upper right and swiveled around. The jet flew up and curved back down, aimed at the rear of the tank. It somehow slowed, the fighter shifting to reveal a metal face as it slid into the rear of the tank, slotted in. Finally, the satellite. The giant robot reached for the tank’s cannon. The cannon split off easily, as did the barrel of the satellite as it came down. The satellite attached to the back of the robot, two of its panels forming wings that hung down behind it. The other panel arm broke off and attached to the barrel that had come undone from the satellite, then that section fitted into the end of the tank’s cannon to form a sort of sword.

“Venus, what did you do?” I asked.

“I asked them for help, like you said,” she informed me, a hunt of smugness in her voice.

The gunship fired again, this time trying to destroy the Justice Rangers. The robot batted it away with its sword, then raised it high. The sword glowed as bright as the sun. The robot went into a stance like it was taking a step to sprint toward it. The robot flew along the surface of the water, kicking up a spray of water to either side as it closed on the gunship, then past it. The sword stopped and the robot straightened up, standing in the shallow water by the beach. Behind it, the gunship fell apart into halves that exploded.

Rangers…

I was saved by the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers.

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Manifest Screw Destiny 2

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Praetor M didn’t come alone. I counted five like him. I don’t know if Praetor’s a title or part of a name. He and his buddies flew around the world, stopping off in every country and in places important to supers. Master Academy’s campuses got their own visit, as did Paradise City, Cape Diem’s headquarters, and so on. These people are amazingly well-informed for people who claim to be from another dimension. I hope they don’t read my blog.

VillainNet was abuzz. Some of the bars were being visited. Kingscrow’s Low Earthy Bar burned when someone tried to take one of them. Most didn’t fight, at least then. So while Venus called in to double check on the Master Academy and some of her friends, I called up Ouroboros, out of Paradise City.

“Empress Gecko, I’ve expected you to call,” he said. I paced in my personal office.

“Yeah, I imagine a lot of people are calling around now. Somebody’s flying around, telling the world it’s going to be invaded, and asking people to pick a side. Those low enough down with nothing to lose might just take that offer. We villains are known for our ambition occasionally overcoming our prudence. I guess because heroes don’t normally have much to do with ambition,” I said with a laugh. It had come to mind as a funny thought that could disarm him a bit.

He shared a chuckle with me. “Heroes, and others, could be so worried about protecting those they’re responsible for that they’d take that deal. Betraying the rest of the world for power and protection? Who does that sound like?”

“Crap, they probably have visited the government over there already, haven’t they?” I asked.

“There are rumblings from state governments that they don’t know what side they’ll be on when this starts. Everyone’s calling up armies and militias, but they’re not coordinating. They’re pointing guns at each other and asking ‘are we on the same side?’” He put a lot of emphasis on the last part, the question.

“It is the official policy of Ricca that the only person allowed to invade this dimension from another Earth is me. You side with them, maybe they’ll play fair with you. You better hope they can protect you from me, though. Well, not you. You’re too smart to fall for this divide and conquer cockwax. But people on the desperate side, people with grudges, they might be willing to catch bullets for some laughing interdimensional bunch.”

“What do you have planned?” he asked.

There was the rub, as Shakespeare would have put it. The phrase probably originated from him trying to discuss difficulties masturbating, the ol’ pervert. Pretty sure that’s how he came up with the ending to Romeo and Juliet, at least. “They’re watching us somehow. The places they’re going, they know a lot more than they should. Planning for an enemy that sees everything you do is tricky.”

I expect plenty of casualties, so the nanites are being cranked out as fast as we can get the materials. We’ve started taking payment in the metals we need. China, Russia, and the South American bloc give up some fairly common ores and get plasma and laser small arms in return. The power armor’s less popular. People are throwing together militias, and it’s more valuable to have a weak target with a gun to fire back, than someone who can take a couple shots but can’t do anything back.

“Do you have anything that can find out where they’re from?” Ouroboros asked.

“I’m afraid not. Maybe my old world would, but myself and that Earth aren’t on speaking terms,” I said.

“Have the heroes talk to them,” Ouroboros said. From elsewhere in the residence, I heard a familiar squee of happiness as Beetrice arrived. The Queen Bee of North Korea would love me to death if I still had a cock to let her try. Switching to the V-brand didn’t stop her from laying hundreds of eggs with stored sperm. Hundreds of humanoid bee people who serve her and me and I have no clue what to do about having that many kids. I try not to think about them. Or her. I… readers, do you think they all expect birthday presents?

“You better break out some of the toys in that vault of yours. I gotta go. Probably oughta be me who calls up Spinetingler,” I told him.

He laughed. After thirty seconds, I stopped waiting on him to get over it and hung up. I ran to the door and pushed a chair against it. Then I dragged a bust in front of it. It’s a unique one, the only stone depiction of Queen Victoria’s boobs I’ve ever heard of, but sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. I grabbed a nearby bookcase and started to pull it down, but I had to stop. Because how will my enemies learn to fear Psycho Gecko if even I’ve forgotten?

I pushed the bust aside, determined to give Beetrice, Citra, and Venus all a part of my mind, the unwell part. I tossed the bust and chair aside, then pulled the door open. Stepping out, I yelled, “Beetrice! Enough is eno-oof!” The giant bee woman hug-tackled me to the floor, then lifted me up like I was some snuggly kid. I get a size thing every once awhile, but I’m an Empress, dammit! Not a cuddle toy!

She hugged me tight. “Are those pigtails? So cute!”

“Put. Me. Down,” I ordered.

“Not until I get kisses!” she exclaimed, pressing her mandibled mouth close.

My follow-up to the order was quiet. “Now.” She stopped and looked at me, then set me down.

“Good. Glad you’re here. We need to coordinate a response. Follow me,” I headed down the hall for the main living area. Sam and Holly watched the news while Max sniffed a bottle and set it in a centrifuge. “Max, that better not be more of my medicine. This is no time for sanity.”

The edges of his smile retreated, but he saluted all the same.

“I’m so glad to-!” Beetrice started. My hand shot up to cover her lips.

“You can be glad to see me alive. Shit’s a little more important than you treating me like a cat. This disrespect ends here and now. I am not a toy. I’m not someone fun to prank. I am the Empress. Someone has threatened to invade. I need us to get everyone and everything,” I said.

“What’s everything?” she asked.

I smiled, glad she was focused on the important questions. “Any nuclear weapons, MOABs, artillery, experimental weapons, doomsday devices; anything North Korea’s been packing to cause the apocalypse, I need it as a resource.”

She pouted. The mandibles dip a certain way. She nodded. “Tell you what, give me a couple hours to get things rolling, we’ll spend time together. Just send the orders, let’s start prepping everything.”

“Want me to bring it here?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No, keep it spread out. Maybe I’m being completely foolish, but I’d rather not have everything on one little island that could be taken out.”

I had to rush around to meet that deadline. Dr. Creeper was so excited at getting permission to ready everything they could find left in the archives that it was hard to keep him on task. Securing The Gralz was making more adjustments on Arachnoid. I had my armor loaded up in a new maintenance pod to be upgraded, if I could find anything else to add to the thing. Plus, I had to schedule things for my daughter’s birthday party. It’s coming up. It’d be nice if I had everything wrapped up in time, but sometimes birthdays happen when people are trying to kill you.

In the middle of rushing around like this, I stopped to go out with Beetrice. She met me outside the residence and picked me up in her arms, cradling me against her gently for someone with her strength. It occurred to me I might be as strong now. I had the arms to match her. The giggle slipped out a little more easily than I’d have expected.

She rose into the air and took off with me over the city. “Where are we going?” I asked over the flowing of the air and the flutter of her wings.

I felt her mandibles trace over the skin on the back of my neck as she whispered, “Shush. Relax.” She shifted and “Take One Me” began to play from a speaker between our bodies. The Ninja Sex Party cover. I howled with laughter as she carried me over the dark waters of the Pacific.

It was nice. I don’t like her obsession with me in ways that suggests problems with intimacy and relationships with insects in human shape, but I can trust her. I relaxed in her arms and let her carry me, knowing I had nothing to fear from her and her gentle kisses on the back of my neck. When we were far enough out, we arced up into the air. There was a lovely moment where she turned me around and held me. Just held me. I was the on who kissed her.

Then the entire internet focused on one thing and brought me out of it. The Praetor and the others stopped. Safe in Beetrice’s arms, I tossed my consciousness elsewhere. Wasn’t hard to find satellites focused on them high in the atmosphere over either Istanbul or Constantinople.

The order went out. The missile was loaded, then fired. Contrary to popular media, those things fly pretty fast. One noticed it and flew to intercept before it could detonate over them. He rammed into it halfway down the fuselage, so I set it off early and released a giant puff of nanites into the air. The other four were nowhere near it, but the one who ruined my little plan got drenched.

It was less a kill, more an autopsy. Working little by little, the nanomachines transmitted back data about the material of the grey man’s uniform, tissues, and organs. Fast enough to stop a missile? Sure, whatever. Able to survive being taken apart, cell by cell? The answer was no. Just imagine all the fun answers my Institute or Mix N’Max will have to their biology.

The others arrived behind one spewing flames from his hands. It cleared away the nanobot cloud and took out some on his infected friend’s skin. The one with the fire powers focused the gouts on the infected grey man and held it there. I lost most of the nanites, but myself and everyone else spying got data on the heat tolerances of our enemies. When the flames stopped, the man floating there shivered and clutched at himself, skin and clothing completely burnt off. Another floated toward him, eyes glowing, then reversed course suddenly. I lost the remaining nanites when the herald incinerated his compatriot down to the skeleton. It plummeted to the Earth, now nobody’s business but the Turks’.

It was just one. But it was blood in the water. Instead of doubting and waiting on some enemy to bring the fight to them, the world’s powers launched. Missiles flew in waves. The grey men tried to scatter, with one heading into space and another diving to the ground. The other two died in fire.

On the other side of the world, Beetrice held me. The world was silent except for her wings. She asked, “What are you thinking about?”

I smiled. “I think I needed this. This has been such wonderful fun, and it’s just beginning.”

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Manifest Screw Destiny 1

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I feel like Venus might be a reality warper. Somehow, she slid into the whole group with ease. I know Qiang likes her. They have some good history together from Qiang’s time at Master Academy. I didn’t expect Max to be cool with her though. Even his assistants, Holly and Sam, are more accepting of her than they were of me for a long time. I pulled Max aside to talk about that, “You were a real asshole to them at first.”

“I don’t see how,” I said.

“You were an asshole to me too,” he said.

“You said that was cocaine, too,” I reminded Max.

He looked around, “That’s neither here nor there. Besides, the erection went away eventually.”

“After four months. You told me I had to bone guys,” I said. It wasn’t all bad. I still have some fond memories. Sometimes, it’s just so much easier with guys. You never have to wonder if they’re in the mood, for instance.

He shrugged. “I said it had something to do with being the same gender, and I’ve learned new things about you since then.” He motioned to my boobs and crotch.

I folded all four of my arms across my chest, unamused.

I remain unamused. And confused. Maybe it’s her plan. Maybe that’s just how messed up I am. At least, that was Sam’s take on it. I was asking her about her thoughts on Venus. “Why are you so interested in what we think of her?”

Next thing I knew, I was laying on the couch. “I suppose I’m seeking outside confirmation that she’s untrustowrthy and this whole situation is fucked up. Because even though I want her to like me, I recognize that people actually liking me, or even loving me, usually means they want something from me or are so messed-up that I don’t bother them.”

Sam nodded. “I can see why you’d believe that based on everyone I’ve ever seen in your life, and that includes your daughter. I’m wondering why you jumped on your own couch and started talking when I asked you a question?”

I wiggled into the cushions to get comfy. “I can’t really say what started it, I guess. The first real romantic relationship I ever had followed this pattern.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Sam asked. “I don’t care.”

“The fact that you don’t care is why you’re the perfect person to tell,” I informed her.

She facepalmed. “Fuck, that makes sense.”

“After everything I went through on my home Earth, the fights and my own government cutting ties with me, at some point I ended up involved in a revolutionary movement. The pay sucked, but I was doing it for the art. Killing someone with a pencil is easy; it takes an artist’s soul to murder someone with a crayon. Or it takes slamming an artist’s head into a crayon over and over again. It helps that I used the brick color.”

Sam cleared her throat, eager to be done. “Ok, fine,” I continued, “I got involved with a woman who was my number two. She had it all… boobs, ass, legs, a pretty mouth… in retrospect, I might have been a bit shallow. Smart, too. Looking back, it might even make more sense. I really didn’t think I was unclear on my goal to use the dimension bomb to pretty much end all life on Earth. You wouldn’t even need to take half the planet’s mass away. It’s really more a matter of location. She betrayed me right at the end of it all and stopped me.”

“It’s my expert opinion as someone who doesn’t care that one of the things Max and Qiang get from you is that they care about you and people who care about each other act certain ways. If they’re fucked up people, that means they need it even more. Speaking of which, Venus isn’t like that. You used to go on about her being your ideal hero, the one destined to kill you, and then she was too good a hero to do that. Take a hint. She likes you even though you’re only person weird enough to run the show on this island. Enjoy being with her while she still puts up with you.” Sam stood up and headed for the office door, unlocking it.

I raised a finger. “You seem to be under the impression we’re dating.”

She raised a middle finger before she left. “Yeah, figure that out, genius.”

I didn’t have time to, as Venus attached herself to me pretty quickly and asked, “What are we doing today?”

“Oh, just a demonstration of a science project. Anything new on the hero front?” I asked.

She cocked her head. “Yeah. Old friends told me about some political prisoners in Egypt.”

“Oh? Is Venus dipping her toe into villainy for realsies, not as undercover work?” I asked.

She laughed. “This is how I’m making this work for me. I have an opportunity to do some good I don’t normally get to do.” She kinda swung her shoulders forward and back, looking cute and excited. “Mind if I come with you? I need to grab something to eat, so I can split off from you when we get to where we’re going if you don’t want me there.”

I shrugged. “Sure, we can pick up something on the way. There are some good street food carts near the Institute if you don’t mind spicy food.”

“Any taquerias?” asked Venus.

I shook my head. “Not a lot of that here, but plenty of spicy food if you’re a fan.”

“Sure, let’s make it spicy,” she said, taking my hand as we started walking.

We went over the prison in question. She had access to the city’s augmented reality network, so we were able to go over a 3D blueprint of the prison she had. When she saw my surprise she’d somehow slotted into that so easily as well, she told me, “Citra set up clearance before she went back to college. My friends sent me the blueprints and Qiang showed me how you find programs to do this.” She spun the image around, then stopped it and pointed to a basement section under one corner of the rectangular complex. “They only hide it enough to satisfy the Americans.”

“The world is built on open secrets as much as real ones,” I observed. “Floor looks kinda thin there. Could blow the place open on that side and blast a way through, but that risks damage to the staircase. Carve your way through, I guess.”

“Any ideas that minimize danger to the inmates?” she asked, as if that was a ever my major concern.

I shook my head. “Not if you want a big opening. You want to protect anyone, you’re going to have to take your time. Or, and this can be somewhat riskier, you need to blast your way out, not in.”

By the time we got our food and were approaching the Institute, we’d laid out a plan to use her local contacts to smuggle her. They think she’s food, she pops out and starts handing out asses like she’s on the campaign trail for chief butthole surfer. Plastic explosives are cheap enough coming through here and we get stuff from all over.

At the Institute, Dr. Gralz was more than happy to show us the progress made on the Arachnoid exoskeleton. They had a full-sized model ready with a volunteer, a fellow of African descent in a wheelchair he pushed along using cybernetic arm prosthetics. “Empress Gecko, this is Cassius Isaac. Mr. Isaac will be piloting the armor for us. Mr. Isaac, this is her Imperial Majesty Psychopomp Gecko and her wife, the Empress-Consort.”

I shook hands with our Arachnoid user, faking a smile at Gralz’s introduction. “Someone certainly did a number on you.”

He smiled. “It’s an honor to meet you. I’m here because of these legs. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to have my spine healed and to extract revenge from the people responsible.”

“May I ask who that is?” Venus asked.

Cassius bobbed his chin up at her. “Routine traffic stop. They didn’t even charge the officer. Insurance company refused to pay. I thought I had a way out when your majesty,” he nodded to me, “took over, but my brother and my mother convinced my wife to keep me from the hospital when healthcare was free. I finally got the money to visit here.”

“You must feel it’s pretty extreme circumstances to put yourself at the mercy of Gecko,” Venus said. See, that’s what gives me trust issues. Statements like that.

“All due respect, ma’am, I faced possible execution every time I went to get groceries. This is my chance to be made whole, physically and spiritually. I’d risk death for that,” he said.

Dr. Gralz motioned us toward the elevator. “If you please, I have a demonstration room set up. We can talk further on the way.”

I lagged behind with Venus for a quiet conversation as we walked., “I didn’t tell people you were my wife.”

She gave me a knowing look with a little smile. “Lots of people think I am. I understand you had Citra look like me?”

“She did that on her own to appeal to me. She thought it would help us as a couple,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows, but instead of commenting on my marital issues, she said, “Irregardless, we talked about it. She’s fine letting me borrow her identity.”

“The question is more whether you can stomach agreeing to be known as my wife,” I told her, stopping so we wouldn’t walk right into the elevator where Gralz and Cassius Isaac waited for us.

She winked at me. “You forgot. I’m not locked this with you.” She brought her forehead to mine and spoke in a faux-gravely voice. “You’re locked in this with me.”

The Arachnoid exoskeleton was beautiful. Gralz showed it to us while lab techs prepped Cassius for it. It rested on gleaming limbs that looked more than capable of impaling a human body. The antigrav system had been integrated into the thorax, which made the bottom more vulnerable. “The arms are capable of reaching beneath it,” Gralz assured us.

“What other weapons we got here?” I asked.

“The rear contains a grappling hook and line. We built them with the possibility of being fired into people to pull them closer. We have a webbing spray system on the front. It fires a net of foam that hardens and constricts movement. The original design called for the spray system and a pair of modular mandibles that could serve as bladed weapons or be replaced with other mission-specific loadouts: machineguns, flamethrowers, rocket pods. However, the prototype was built when we were working on the integration of plasma-based weaponry. It will be more precise, but space and power requirements forced us to leave off mandibles and have the plasma cannon mounted above the net system.”

“You up for running this bad boy?” I asked Cassius.

He had a custom-built suit with armor on the back and a helmet. He had waved off the pulley system they had and used his arms to climb up the thing and set his legs into slots, then removed the prosthetic arms. Underneath were stumps that stopped a little past the elbows. He looked down at me. “Ma’am, my country trained me before it threw me away. In addition, I have passed multiple qualifications and other tests with the Arachnoid prototype exoskeleton and integrated weapons systems. I can say with 100% confidence I am the most-qualified person to pilot this armor.”

I nodded to him. “Have at it, then.”

He dropped down into the groove where his body was meant to lay, arms sliding into their slots. The armor on his back blended with the smooth edges of the exoskeleton. As it powered up, four pairs of lights on the top of his helmet began to glow, one pair at a time.

“We’re going to remove the lights,” said Gralz. “There’s no need for a visual indicator of the system’s activation to anyone who isn’t piloting it.”

Arachnoid rose on its hind legs in the small gymnasium-sized room we were in. Arachnoid pawed at the air with his front legs. The weapons were shown off first. The legs punched through a cinderblock wall to impale a mannequin on the other side. Another was dragged from fifty feet away while wearing a set of plate mail, the barb on the hook having penetrated the armor. When it got close, the cable detached and he fired another into the mannequin’s helmet, then detached it as well. A third mannequin was sprayed with net spray, the gunk net clinging to his front and legs before hardening. A fourth got picked up, sprayed with the net, then wrapped up entirely like spider with a fly. It was then set down in front of the third one and Arachnoid fired its plasma weapon. It left a flaming hole through the chests of the dummies.

Cassius put the armor through its paces, scrabbling around the floor. After a bit of experimenting, he even found a way to do it without gauging the floor. It got up to a pretty good speed, too. For as big as it was, it jumped hurdles with ease, and he pulled off a nifty move taking a corner using a grappling hook to maintain speed and swing around.

They didn’t have room for the climbing test itself, so he squeezed it out through the door, down the corridor. We ran after and watched as Arachnoid pried open the maintenance elevator and began climbing the shaft. I tapped Gralz on the shoulder, “Is that thing below or above us?”

“I made sure it would be held at the top floor,” he informed me as we approached the shaft. Looking up, we watched him climbing the shaft with ease. Then a grappling bolt shot down and stabbed into the floor by us. Arachnoid let go and started pulling himself down the line as if he had to climb it. “That is the antigravity on now.”

“Was it on for the climb?” Venus asked.

“No,” Gralz answered, pointing to gauges in the wall. “It can be much gentler with the antigravity on, but it has to be more careful in its movement. Imagine taking a step and not being able to put your foot back down.”

An alert interrupted me. Some sort of unidentified super that appeared in the skies above the island. “I need to go,” I told.

“What is it?” Venus asked.

“I have to go deal with something. My island, my responsibility.” I told her, walking over to Arachnoid’s cable. I called up to him. “I need a lift to the surface.”

“I’m coming with you,” Venus said.

“Well, I can’t stop you from following.” I grabbed hold of the cable and kicked the barb loose. I just sorta drifted up slowly for a moment. Looking up, I saw Arachnoid still getting its footing underneath it on the sides of the elevator. That left plenty of time for Venus to run up and wrap her arms around me, beaming at me even when Arachnoid pulled us up quickly. He pried open the ground floor’s elevator and swung us onto it.

He followed us outside.

There, a grey man in a simple white leotard floated above the city. “Intercept detected something screwy, then this guy came flying in. Hasn’t done anything so far.”

Way off in the sky, the grey guy surveyed the city, head shooting around in quick and jerky motions until he got to me. He turned his whole body in my direction and begin floating down. “Well, crap. There goes sneaking off and grabbing the armor.”

“Can’t you use nanomachines to form a personal armor around you?” Arachnoid asked.

I snorted. “That’s not armor, that’s just a bunch of tiny robots surrounding me, and it’s not like nanites magically form different computer systems or lasers when they fit together.”

By then the grey guy got close enough where I was pretty sure he’d hear us talking. I stepped forward. “Hail, visitor. As Empress of the great Empire of Ricca, I would like to extent my greetings and ask you what the fuck you’re doing here.”

He was an odd duck. His skin was grey, as I said, and he was hairless. Not one piece of fur on his noggin. His eyes seemed normal brown, though they stared through me like he wasn’t really using them. “I am designated Praetor M. I have been dispatched to inform you of the imminent invasion of your universe by my master, Chief Executor Paldrin.”

I waved him away dismissively. “I’m not home right now. Shoo. Tell him to come back another time.”

“You may surrender now and see yourself spared. You will be given position in the new order. Or you can die when my master lays waste to your planet,” Praetor M said, still not looking at me so much as through my head.

I laughed. “Like I haven’t heard that one before, pal. Nobody’s laying waste to this planet but me, you hear me?” I paused as Venus whispered something in my ear, then added, “And climate change. I mean to get around to that too, I’ve just been busy fighting for my life for six years on a near-constant basis.”

“Your answer is noted. Be warned, my fellow Praetors are extending this offer to those worthy. It is doubtful your defiance is as unyielding, their ambitions so checked. You have five days to prepare.” Without moving, a bubble appeared around him with little waves of blue moving over its surface. It expanded quickly, knocking Venus, Arachnoid, and myself back, and cracking the ground beneath the Praetor. He flew up quickly and turned at a sharp right angle to speed out of there faster than a locomotive.

Venus raised a fist at his fleeing form. “Yeah, we don’t negotiate with terrorists!”

I helped her up, but had to correct her. “What are you talking about? Of course we negotiate with terrorists: always money down, no financing.”

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