“Why aren’t we going out, baba?” asked Qiang. She’s been curious about being shut in so much, and finding excuses to keep her away from TV.
“Daddy’s a little tired right now,” I said. “Hey, why not play that Korean MMO some more?”
“I don’t want to. I’m not going up anymore,” she said, looking all pouty.
I’m trying to keep her away from Christmas. And I’m in the United States. Good fucking luck. Maybe if this was the 1600s or whenever they banned Christmas here as too un-Christian, but religion doesn’t factor into it a whole lot nowadays. This is the United States in 2017. God has no place here.
Our friend Catallus, he has a place here. That old Roman asshole and his poems. Odi et amo. I found myself tempering feelings about my daughter, and that came to mind. I’ve found myself unusually attached to her. Just like Moai. And Carl. Mix N’Max and that fucker Good Doctor, too. Good Doctor didn’t exactly help my mood, though an idea briefly crossed my mind. Those bastards, the Companions of Kringle, are using her to get to me. They can’t have me on their own, but they can steal her away if she believes in Christmas. She’s five years old, with Christmas shit everywhere.
They put a big tree in the lobby, for instance. Lots of fake presents underneath it. Mistletoe and decorations all around. I burned the tree down. Burned down the presents, too. And the lobby staff. They wished me happy holidays. Unlike those snowflakes who get triggered when people say anything other than “Merry Christmas,” I don’t need people around who can lead my daughter into holiday temptation.
Fuck, I can’t even give her presents, can I?
Listen, I’ll take a job to hurt a hero. Write up the contract, stick a quill up my ass, and make a deal. Though I’d prefer to inhume the guy. He owes me that much after that whole business when I held gladiatorial games to decide if I’d have to give up my rule of the Earth to an alien conqueror. He fought against me in the hopes I’d lose and then he and other heroes could defeat the alien, Cercopagis Lysis, easily enough. They’d done so before with team-ups, and I’d gone and gathered so many of them for the fight.
So I have no reason to refuse anything hurting Eschaton. Not even his powerset so much. Sure, the guy’s powerful, but everyone’s touchable. That they can be touched is a lesson that should be drilled into people since childho- you know, that sentence didn’t turn out like I intended. Anyway, it was the way they gave me the job that makes me want to block these CoKs. Kidnapping me, possibly saving me from being nuked, then threatening my kid if I don’t help them. It also shows poor business management skill on their end. Too much stick, not enough carrot.
That’s what she said. And by she, I mean me.
Back there in the room, with Qiang wanting to go outside, I sighed. Some choices are the hardest to make, and way too many of those involve loved ones. Life or death is easy. If you die, that’s it. Nothing to worry about since you can’t worry anymore. If you live, at least you know you have some degree of justification for doing whatever thing you did. But a loved one is involved? Or someone you care about, I mean. Can’t expect someone like me to love anyone. Better to say “care” than love. So if that kind of person is threatened, you can be made to do even worse stuff since it’s someone else’s life on the line. How could you live with yourself, you monster? There’s also a chance you’ll lose them anyway if they ever learn what you did, but that’s not the issue so much, especially when the task itself is difficult.
That’s why it’s probably a good idea to kill anyone you might end up friends with. Yep, just long glances at Qiang as she played around with her knife, chopping up some of the plastic plants left around the suite. She looked up and smiled at me. “What?” she asked.
“Just thinking about stuff I need to do.”
“What kind of stuff?” she asked.
I slid down to the floor and scooted over to her so I could put my arm around her. “I do a lot of things that other people don’t like me to do, you know?”
She nodded and turned to hug me. “You’re my daddy and I love you and you love me just like you loved mommy.”
Ugh. She is NOT making this easy on me. I hugged her tight against me too. “I think I need to do something I really don’t want to do. Now, don’t worry. It’ll all be ok, I promise…”
An hour later, the door opened to Master Academy. I’d been waiting out there this time instead of barging in or sneaking in. Venus pulled the door out enough and stood there in the middle, looking at me in my armor and the girl in my arms. “Gecko, what’s going on?”
“Daddy needs your help!” Qiang shouted at her. I winced inside my armor at that one. Yep, definitely something I didn’t want to do. That’s why I let her say it.
“Really? My help?” Venus pondered that, then moved aside to let us enter if we so wished. I let Qiang down. She ran on inside.
“No need to say it again. Ever,” I said.
She laughed at that. “You’re serious?”
“Honeybun, why don’t you go on in there and do stuff until we need you,” I said to Qiang. She smiled and ran past Venus to disappear down a hallway. I’m 99% sure the crashing noise I heard soon after that wasn’t her.
“I’m ok!” she yelled from inside the building. Well, I’m 99% sure she’s fine.
I stepped close to Venus. “Please.”
I saw her frown through her mask. “Come in and tell me about it.”
“Wow, look at that tree!” exclaimed Qiang from deeper in the house.
“Noooo!” I yelled and ran after her. I slid on tile and crashed into a janitor picking up a broken vase, knocking him and the pieces back down. I picked myself up off him and ran, waving back to him briefly, “I’m ok!” I found Qiang in the dining hall, looking at a giant Christmas tree standing in the middle. A number of presents were already piled up underneath it.
I dive tackled the tree. Slowly, with a scraping noise from the anchor at the bottom, it toppled. It crashed to a halt before hitting the floor as it caught on the awning for the kitchen area. I slid around to the underside of it and fell off, then quickly dodged to the side. It didn’t fall down on top of me, but it wanted to. Oh yes, it wanted to.
“What the hell are you doing?!” said Venus, storming into the room.
I held my hands out. “It’s fine, nothing to see here. The pine of unusual size has been dealt with. The invasion of the cafeteria is solved. Qiang, how about you go somewhere less colorful and decorated to hang out?”
She had the tip of one shoe on the ground and rolled her leg back and forth. “I want to stay here.”
“I know you want to, but I’d really prefer it if you went elsewhere.”
“No! I want to stay here with the tree!” She set her foot down with a little stomp.
I looked at her, then to Venus and all the students who happened to be eating in there at the time. Then I grabbed Qiang and picked her up in my arms. “Sweetie… I think it’s time for a very important lesson.”
That’s how I ended up sitting in an office with Qiang’s arms and ankles cuffed together, a blindfold and earplugs keeping her from seeing or hearing anything. She wiggled back and forth in the corner of Victor Mender’s office. It had been awhile since I had an audience with the head of the Master Academy, a disabled man stuck in a wheelchair without the use of anything below his head. I had Venus and several of her closest and strongest friends surrounding me. “I swear, it’s important to keep her in the dark.”
“I think we need to know what is going on before we have to inform someone of how you’re raising your child,” Mender’s computer said.
“Ok, so this is going to sound a little bit strange,” I started.
“We maintain a high tolerance for the unusual,” Mender’s voicebox said again. Behind me, a minotaur snorted his agreement.
“Ok, so it all started when I woke up to a snowman’s head in my bed and a card. I didn’t read the card. So I went to go spy on people from inside a bush, as you do, and that’s when cards started popping out of me like I fucked a Hallmark. I opened one, then I started to run off to go kick in the EAGLE’s nest. Next thing I know, I’m in Narnia. Only, instead of a satyr waiting to fuck my wee kiddy brain out, I find a couple of old guys and a masochistic hobo. Oh, and satyr with a pair of chains, so it wasn’t entirely inaccurate. They are the other spirits of the season, the foils to Santa Claus. The bad guys of Christmas.”
“The Grinch?” suggested someone behind me with a snicker.
“Don’t be ridiculous, the Grinch is fictional. So anyway, Belsnickel, Krampus, and Knecht Ruprecht tell me they can’t punish me directly because of that time I saved Santa Claus.”
I heard a flat “What?” from behind me but chose to keep going.
“So instead, they’re going to take my daughter. They didn’t say when, but I’m pretty when it’ll happen anyway.”
“When?” someone asked.
“Pearl Harbor Day,” I said.
“Really?” The voice asked.
“No, dumbass, Christmas Eve.” I raised a thumb up pointing back behind my high-backed chair. “Someone’s a few eggs short of some nog.”
“Excuse me,” said Mender’s voice box again. “You saved Santa Claus and your daughter is going to be kidnapped by the Krampus on Christmas Eve.”
“Essentially,” I said. It has perhaps been suggested from time to time and by multiple people in multiple places that I may, or perhaps may not, have what could be said by some to be a problem of one sort or another with brevity.
“What can we do to help?” asked Venus.
I smiled beneath my helmet. “Well, I have a few ideas, including, of course, starting with making sure she doesn’t believe in Christmas as Plan A and ending with overwhelming firepower in Plan M. I might need you to call in a favor for me.”
“If you want a favor,” Mender piped up again. “you will give them in return.”
I leaned forward. “Now we’re talking. Who do you need wiped out? Eliminated, even? Murderated?”
And that’s how I ended up tied up and hefted by a pulley to carry the start back up to the top of the newly-righted tree. “Don’t y’all have people who can fly for this?”
Venus called up to me with no small amount of satisfaction, Qiang watching beside her. “Quiet! If you complain this much putting a star on the tree, imagine how much you’ll whine shoveling snow!”
And I thought this was going to be hard. No, I really thought it’d take more to get the military to back the fuck off. Thing was, it wasn’t the reporter showing that the soldiers were rescued and being taken care of, nor that innocent people were hurt or killed in the attack. It wasn’t the illegality of the soldiers being in the city in the first place. It wasn’t the lack of reinforcements. It wasn’t all sorts of things that were so easy to predict.
Nope, it was the incompetency of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s amazing. I’m not meaning to make all this political, but he’s the one inserting himself into everything and failing. Apparently the idiot went and watched the clip of the video in the middle of some hotel restaurant and it leaked out. I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they can’t even. They chose this over me. They fucking chose THIS over me.
Worse, it totally stopped me from being able to hold out. I just… seriously? I had it all planned out. I’d let things deteriorate, push to get my connectivity restored, and push for having my recovery improved with nanites. Maybe have something dramatic happen, wake up to an attack so I can singlehandedly save the day. It would have made a great music video.
Seriously, though, this just seems like stupid way for things that to end. I mean, the military’s still around. When the school’s scouts came back, they just burst into the cafeteria talking about how the military’s pulled back to Central Park. A cheer went up among everyone.
Well, almost everyone. I caught a distinct glare from Good Doctor, who sat beside Elita the Warrior Woman. She didn’t look too friendly either at that moment. I checked my food, a plate of some of the worst meat loaf I’ve ever stuffed into any hole on my body. It probably wasn’t poisoned, but just because neither Elita nor Good Doctor tend to use it.
Good Doctor’s power makes him deviously competent at finding weak points. Armor, both natural and artificial, as well as all the various weaknesses of a human body. Got an old knee injury that acts up? He’s your guy.
Elita’s the muscle. Big, strong, and with the ability to level a building if she’s mad. Unlike me, that’s without using explosives. There are ways to work around that, but it’d be a very bad thing to let her get her hands on you. There are multiple parts of her body she could use to snap me like a twig, some of them more fun than the rest. Then again, no body part’s that fun if it’s breaking you in half. I’ve never had my spine snapped in an amusing and entertaining way. That’ll have to go on the bucket list.
It’s entirely possible they’ve decided my usefulness is at an end. The same thought crossed my mind when I passed by Psychsaur walking with Victor Mender. Minotaur stepped behind them, holding a clipboard and chewing on the eraser of a pencil.
This was a bad time to have things so readily on my mind. I walked away briskly, wondering if it made any difference at this point. But am I just paranoid and schizophrenic, or did Psychsaur watch me leave?
Down in my little prison cell room, I started packing what I could carry. I slid into my armor and wished the place had a few more exits. They might kill me. It’s really the only option left. If they try and hold me, I’ll keep trying to escape. Things will get worse. That, or they’ll have to stick me in a situation that’ll cause a major deterioration of my mental state. And considering my brain at the moment, that also means they’ll never let me go. Or if they do, I’ll be some shambling old Alzheimer’s victim threatening people while pissing myself.
So I put on my armor. I strapped my chickens onto my belt. I packed my half-rebuilt laser potato peeler, its single blade with a gap in the middle still not sharpened enough to my liking. I wrecked my armor-printing machine. I loaded up spare materials and tools in a handy little bag and opened the door.
“Going somewhere?” asked Good Doctor from behind Elita the Warrior Woman, who did a great job of blocking off the hall.
“Ah, my old buddy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: should I kill Gecko? I can point you to a website with several answers to that question that may surprise you.”
“Why do you persist, even now, in claiming I am your friend?” He shook his head, glaring at me from under slicked-back hair. He liked to do that before “operating,” if he had a choice. In one hand, he held one of his scalpels. In the other, his mask, a sort of leather helmet that encompassed a visor area and a lower face covering.
I sighed. “It’s how I’ve thought of you. A wayward friend. You were ashamed of what you were, but you were still a friend.”
“You know why I did it. She meant the world to me. Then you…” He looked down, then lifted his mask over his face.
I nodded. “Yeah, I did. Maybe someone else would have eventually. You knew what she was. There are many risks, and you used to be one of them. I did what I chose to do, but so did she. She could have walked away at any point.”
“Could you?” he asked, his voice somewhat muffled now.
I pondered the question for a moment. “Huh. Point to you then. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise how it all ended. I hate that I did that to you, but I have to think about my life. I don’t have the luxury of imagining that my death serves some greater purpose to the world than long-overdue justice.”
“That works for me,” Elita finally spoke up. “You did so much to the world, I don’t know why the Academy left you alive.”
I shrugged. “I owe them a debt for saving me, I guess. A debt they intend to call in. But yeah, bad things goes down when I start believing in higher causes. That’s part of why I miss just going around doing my own random shit.”
She clenched a very painful-looking fist. “Got any fancy websites for me before I pound you?”
Under my helmet, my eyebrow rose. So many things I could do with that one. I just had to settle with. “Yeah. Www.gofuckyourself.com.” I opened my mouth and let loose a piercing banshee scream in a tony designed to paralyze the human body upon being heard. A gift from my time in the Cube. They used it to keep inmates under control when being handled or moved. I replicated it.
Both former villains went down, allowing my to hop over them and head up into the school itself.
There, I actually found another group headed by my way. Minotaur, Mender, Venus, and Psychsaur. Venus was even in her power armor, all shiny with its heavy plates. I didn’t know how many of them it would take to whoop my ass, but I knew how many they were gonna use.
“Please,” I thought. I turned to head down the opposite direction of the hallway but felt my body lock up
“Sorry,” I felt in my mind. “Why?”
“I must be made whole,” I thought back. I tried speaking and told the approaching heroes. “I’ll go. I’ll leave.”
“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” said Mender’s computerized voice. “You brought an attack down on my children. You have been a menace to us despite our leniency. Remove your armor now. It is not as though you can leave.”
Someone must not have found out Psychsaur cozied up to me.
I screamed again. Psychsaur tried to cut me off, and it stopped me for a moment, but that was a moment when her own body became like jelly. It actually worked. I could move again, while Minotaur and Psychsaur crumbled. That just left Venus and Mender. Easy.
A pair of cannons rose from the back of Mender’s wheelchair even as Venus stepped forward. “You can’t win.”
“Ya know, I didn’t even want to fight right now. Can’t you just let me go? Are your morals that set in stone?” I asked.
“Some things can’t be compromised,” she responded. She jumped forward, over the downed bodies of her colleagues. She punched with enough force to break bones. I caught it easily. The left hand came forward in another punch, and I caught it as well. A metal spike shot forward but didn’t penetrate my gauntlet. My HUD reported a power surge. My gauntlets fed incoming excess energy to my suit’s batteries. “Lets get you out of that armor and back in your cell.”
“Oh, look, that ECM trick.” I jumped up kicked her in the chest, letting go of her fists to send her stumbling back to fall over her stirring friends. I turned and ran, dodging a lightning bolt and catching another with my gauntlet.
This time, there was no telekinetic force catching me, and the rest of the students didn’t get involved as I fled the school and into the city. I found a building that’s unoccupied above the first floor due to damage. Hell, I escaped at all! I guess I should have realized it when Psychsaur had to lock me down on her own. Or maybe I should have realized sooner that I even could make myself escape. It’s confusing. What did I know and when did I know it? It must have been when she gave me the ability to cuss and hurt people again.
That’s it, Psychsaur doesn’t die even if she was the one behind Mecha Gecko!
So now I rebuild. Get myself a proper lab going again, build up my own supply of nanites. Maybe take over the city. The Ukrainians had to run and hide, so that probably put a damper on their big money-makers. The military’s going to be on its way out. The Master Academy is a bit defensive, and I already know these newbie heroes couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.
And I do have an agenda. I was serious about owing the Master Academy a debt. Despite my actions, I still hold to that. So first, I make Empyreal City great again. That includes making it a bit safer for them. And I kinda like this place. I think I’ll keep it around, and that means finding a way to encourage people to not completely abandon this city, blown up and disaster-prone as it is. I mean, it’s really been hammered a lot lately.
I’m not quite sure how to do that as a villain. I’m sure as shit not doing it as a hero. But I have a feeling I’m going to have one hell of a fun time figuring it out. I mean, that’s just a given when one of your first decisions is whether or not to assassinate multiple world leaders. I guess it depends on how big a bounty they’ll put on my head when I expose myself to the world.
Now, do I shave the pubes completely, or maybe leave it in some sort of heart shape?
Believe it or not, I did think this through. I feel the need to clarify that, considering the school is now under a siege. This current President doesn’t understand subtlety. At this point, I suspect he doesn’t know the meaning of most words in the dictionary. There’s a rumor going around that he can’t actually read, which is at least somewhat consistent with reports that he often just ignores the speeches written out for him.
It didn’t start as a siege so much, actually. The early morning following Valentine’s Day, alarms started going off all over the place, even as I was taking a post-intimacy walk. The Walk of Shame, some call it. I don’t know why they call it that, anyway. I just got laid. Should be the Walk of Standing Ovations. The Academy Award for Best Supporting Fucker for his work in the documentary “Against The Wall: A Deeper Exploration of Her Pink Floyd.”
Or, if the audience isn’t so lucky, the walk of pelting people with rocks. Some people really don’t like to be reminded that other people have someone else.
Nevertheless, I was on the stairwell down when the alarms started going off. I rushed down to find a window and check out what was happening when I heard the discharge of firearms. They tend to have a fiery discharge and leave someone with a sharp burning sensation, quite unlike myself. That doesn’t mean someone outside wasn’t getting fucked, and I was trying to make sense of who it was.
Some of our refugees were trading shots with a group of soldiers. Not a full-on war front, but a group like you’d send in to assassinate someone. Which was stupid. A compound this large, you don’t just send in one team. At the very least, you’d have multiple helicopters to provide support.
That’s when the choppers flew up. I didn’t get a good look in the darkness, but they thumped closer and provided cover fire that sounded like it killed a lot of unarmed civilians. They weren’t all armed, but some naturally felt the need to go around with weapons in case they needed to murder each other. In this case, it worked out a bit and gave us an early warning sign.
So much of an early warning sign, in fact, that somebody activated the school’s defenses. I noticed something rise out of the top of a stone pillar off in the darkness. There were several in the wall around the school. It must have been a rocket launcher of some sort based on the rocket it launched that shot into one of the choppers. It actually took a couple of hits before it crashed, landing on campus. The other one tried to pull out, and then crashed outside school grounds after taking multiple shots from multiple pillars.
Supers were rushing all over the place, and not necessarily in the best state of dress, either. But they were up and running. And I had an idea. I grabbed a couple of them who I didn’t recognize. “Come here, we need medics and doctors and shit.”
“But we aren’t-!” They didn’t answer so much as I pulled them out and we headed out through a door into the back. We ran toward the downed chopper.
“I’m not killing any soldiers!” shouted one of the ones following me.
“That’s the point!” I said. Yes, we were running to help them. We made it to the wreckage. It’s dangerous to just pull stuff off people or pull them out of vehicles in that kind of situation unless you’re a trained emergency responder. On the plus side, I’ve been the cause of so many similar injuries and crashes that I have a pretty good knowledge of what to watch for. And, it turns out, these guys have some basic training for handling all that.
Between the three of us, we managed to pull a few soldiers free and alive. Others had been thrown clear and were knocked out or otherwise so easily injured to be subdued without much problem. In the end, we had a half dozen of them in various stages of distress laid out nearby. I was watching over them as well while the others rushed in to get more manpower to see to the wounded. There was a lot of need for it, though by the time I had a moment to rest on it, I no longer heard gunshots. That could mean something bad, but what I knew of the school’s size and the student body’s capabilities suggested otherwise.
They all just groaned as I searched them over for any information, weapons, or hidden equipment. That included headsets with camera linkups. A quick glance in one showed they had drones and satellite views of the school. The night was alight with chatter, too. They were in retreat, wondering if reinforcements were coming in from the city so they could get their lost guys. Navy guys, from the jargon they used. Not all branches of the military call the same things the same things. Some people get to the choppa; others get to the helo.
When the guys showed up with some stretchers and a few of the more battle-ready supers, I held out one of the headsets for them. “Here ya go. Let’s just get these guys inside to a nice, warm, difficult to penetrate infirmary where they can heal up for awhile.” I looked down to the soldiers, though they might not have liked being called such. Again, more military terminology stuff. “Now remember, you’re patients, not prisoners. Because we’re not at war with you or anybody. So even though you attacked us for some reason, we’ll patch you up to the best of our ability.”
Yeah, that’s the plan. Officially, we didn’t take anyone prisoner. We’re not hostile, here. Some guy just ordered a death squad in to kill certain people, apparently without adequate intelligence, and now they’re convalescing as patients. It’s simple, really. Just a failed death squad with me watching them sleep at all hours. With my knowledge of all kinds of ways to kill people, not that they know about that. They don’t know who I am. All they know is they were sent in to secure the school, somehow.
Mender had a pretty good idea what happened, though. “They were after me,” he said to the assembled heroes and myself. “If I were eliminated, this school would fall into disarray,” his digitally-crafted voice spoke. “You would have surrendered with a gun to my head.”
I opened my mouth but about three different people elbowed me in the stomach at the same time. I don’t see what the big deal is. I was just going to say, “Speak for yourselves.” Weird thing is, Venus wasn’t anywhere near me. She was standing off by Psychsaur, holding hands. Psychsaur shot me a look. Was that sheepish, I wondered? I mean, the scales and all made it harder to tell. With the reptile features coming into play, she’s got inhuman lips and a face that extends out a bit.
My line of thought was interrupted by a burst of thoughts into my head, most of which amounted to “Sorry,” in various ways that all talked over each other. I caught a wave of embarrassment from her, which oddly caused my own face to flush.
On the plus side, I totally got a sneak peek at some memories that flashed through her head. So that was fun. Irrelevant to the conversation at hand, but fun.
“Do we know why they attacked now as opposed to any other time?” I asked, leaning over the back of a chair in front of me.
“We have ways of determining that,” Mender said. “You are not included in that for a reason.”
I looked around for Good Doctor, but didn’t see him there.
Mender continued on, “I see no reason why you are included in this meeting at all.”
“Maybe because I took charge and got the prisoners… I mean, patients… out of their wreck and arranged for them to be brought in here. Not the first-”
I didn’t think I could be thrown out a door that fast without taking the door with it. It was all a blur. I don’t know if it was telekinesis, super speed, force fields, super strength, or some combination of it all. It’s impressive, actually. No matter how strong an individual villain, there’s something a little awesome about being so thoroughly smacked around by a combination of strong superpowers. Then you snap to attention in a prison cell with a lot of unexplained bruises in unusual places. Tonsils, for instance. We’ve all been there, whether it’s supervillainy or a trip to Mexico on a drunken bender.
So I didn’t get to find out more about these methods, but they probably involve the psychics of the group. And while they dealt with the soldiers and other wounded from the attack, the bunch in Central Park sent a detachment to guard the main entrance of the school. Considering the size of the school, it would have taken probably the entire bunch to encircle the campus, and they weren’t going to advance with the force they sent. Too few men for the job.
Curious about that, I checked the internet for various things. Reporters, news, all that. The legal problems associated with the initial deployment has held up reinforcements, especially now that this President is having some legal problems. And some scandals related to him and officials in his administration having unusually close ties to Russia. The whole thing’s a mess: Ukrainians mobsters, Russians, the President of the United States, domestic militia superheroes, and the Claw. The fuck is going on here?
To answer that question, I decided to kidnap someone who might have the answer. I knew her as Tricia Tijuana, my ex-fake-wife. She once helped me out of prison on behalf of a guy I know in the media who may or may not still like me. He was under alien control when he turned on me. The kidnapping went easy, too. Just a matter of rolling over in the morning and asking her, “Hey, you want a Pulitzer?” She was freaked out, naturally. She didn’t know who I was, but that’s not the first time I’ve put a bag over a woman’s head in bed. Like most kidnapping victims, she warmed up to me once I dragged her back to my place of residence and explained why she should want to be there. Don’t try it at home. I had lots of hurt teenagers there, too. Made it a lot easier.
So now the news gets a nice view of wounded soldiers being tended to by the dutiful nurses, right alongside the wounded refugees and heroic teenagers who were so brutally attacked by members of the military just like the ones now parked outside a school, threatening displaced refugees from the recent bombings.
It’s made such a wonderful narrative, and all the better when soldiers began to die in small groups in their movements around the city. On patrol, while responding to criminal activity, even when just hanging out trying to get lunch at Hibachi Yum Yum.
I had to avoid fancy knifework at that last one. The place is barely staying open as-is; it doesn’t need criminal suspicions on top of it.
This city has gone to hell in a handbasket. And don’t just take that from me! It’s all over the news.
I found out after tinkering with my gauntlets some more. It was partially about upgrading the energy sheathes and partially about making sure they were clean after where I stuck one. The day seemed unusually quiet around the library. Even that couple who uses the study room weren’t showing up, which was really rude of them. What if I’d been hosting a webcam show, only for my main attractions to no-show?
When I headed out to the refectory to grab something to eat, I came across the first real confirmation of something unusual: a bigass cake. For those picture a cake in the shape of a butt, sorry to disappoint. Though it’d be awesome if one of those had a stripper pop out of it, right between the cheeks. A black stripper.
That probably comes across as racist, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than finding a pale green stripper.
I didn’t know what the celebration was about, but that’s no excuse for skipping over cake. I even ignored an alert from my phone about the motion sensors. There hadn’t been any significant movement from visitors other than check-ups, so I felt confident in ignoring it for the time being. I ended up getting three pieces. Fighting uses a lot of energy, so I was going to get two anyway, but then I just felt like getting an extra one for another person. It wasn’t consideration or anything. I just knew I’d need another for another person. I kept it to the side until Psychsaur walked in and sat down next to me, taking her piece without a word.
I looked over at her and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and took the extra fork I’d brought over and ate. I squinted and looked back at the cake and the line for it. She pulled out her phone and looked up a video, then handed it over.
The video was of a local news broadcast announcing a complete lack of major or super crimes the night before. Muggings, attempted murders, and so on, but nothing big was pulled off. I mean, attempted murder sounds bad, but they were stopped before it became a completed murder. Nobody robbed a bank or stole a shipment of computers or anything like that. Crime in Empyreal City had dropped to a record low as part of a trend since the chaos immediately after I was supposedly killed. Empyreal City always had its heroes. In addition to them, the city now had Master Academy, reformed villains, and even these newbies. The poor criminals just couldn’t keep up for very long, even with me adding in a little bit of hijinx.
Darn thing must have been on auto-play, though. It loaded up another video right after that of the new President threatening to send the military into Empyreal City if it doesn’t clean up all the carnage. Turns out that one was from after the announcement about low crime, too.
“I doubt he’s heard of Posse Comitatus,” Psychsaur said, reading my mind. Not practically reading my mind, just literally reading my mind. It was a bit weird with how easily we seemed to be thinking each other’s thoughts, especially because I couldn’t really feel her in my head anymore. And yeah, we both thought it was odd, though apparently she suspected it might happen. She’d been trying to avoid me because of it, but slipped in out of habit sometimes when she was close enough. She wasn’t used to having such a long range, either, but she could keep up with me much further than anyone else.
I didn’t put a sympathetic arm around her, but it’s the thought that counts. It did weird me out having some sort of weird two-way telepathic communication where we simply thought each other’s thoughts. I’d prefer hearing voices in my head. That one made her laugh, though she quickly stifled it. I’d noticed we were drawing looks, and the thought went through her mind as well.
It wasn’t just those kinds of thoughts passing between us. I realized that soon after when I looked through and found myself feeling like I could really go for some Chinese. Or maybe he was Japanese. Regardless, he was a bit more on the buff and overly-muscled side for my normal preferences. I shot Psychsaur a look, but she was staring at the ass of this girl in tight leggings. We agreed the trade went both ways there.
So it was a teensy bit weird, and oddly calming, to sit beside her. Just enjoying a snack and another person’s presence, and not in a romantic way. She was perfectly attractive, but I didn’t feel any urge whatsoever to do to her what I’d dreamed about a few times, even if it would have been a perfect time to bender her over a table and be all like “Oh yeah, baby, I’m about to disappoint you so HARD!”
Then Venus stormed in, an irate expression upon her brown face. Psychsaur, being such a perv, really liked what she looked like angry.
“Have you seen the news?” My nemesis asked in a huff.
I cocked my head. “I thought it was news you liked. Crime down, heroes helping build schools and so on… that kind of crap.”
She held up her phone, where a news show on the most-watched news network in America was saying, “Unlike the biased mainstream media, we’re showing you the facts, and the facts are that monkeys have been causing chaos and panic in Empyreal City.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Geez, they’re not even hiding the racism anymore, are they?”
Cut to a picture of a baboon on a motorcycle with a pirate hat on, then another few pictures of a baboon fighting someone’s excuse for a superhero. They even repurposed the photos I’d staged to make the heroes look bad, only now they claimed the newbies were putting down a riot. Any idiot with a working memory would know it’s a lie… which meant this channel’s viewers were buying this hook, line, and sinker.
I looked between Venus and the screen, then settled on Venus. “I mean, I think it’s awesome that Animal Planet revamped Law and Order. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Because,” she said loudly, then noticed plenty of people paying attention to the argument. She lowered her voice and leaned forward over the table. I maintained eye contact. Psychsaur looked down her shirt. “You know what, just keep on listening.”
“That is why the new President of the United States has declared in a press release today that, in addition to his inauguration clearly being the largest in U.S. History, he will send in the Feds if anything else happens in Empyreal City. This is a direct quote from him, he said, ‘Does the President care about Americans? Of course I do. I love Americans, especially Real Americans. Nobody loves Real America more than I do, but we cannot allow all these explosions and gang violence to continue in Empyreal City. If they don’t fix the carnage in their city, I will send in the Feds. It will be the biggest and quickest cleanup of crime in an American city in history. Nobody cleans up crime like I do. Nobody.’”
I rolled my eyes. “Put that away, Venus, you’re killing people’s appetites. Psychsaur over here keeps imagining having to call him the Commander in-” I held up a finger and took a moment to gag before continuing. “Not going to finish that sentence. Besides, I don’t know what anyone’s talking about with gang violence and explosions. I’m one person, and I’ve kept a firm hand on all my cocks. They don’t just explode all over everything, willy-nilly.”
A fireball erupted out of the corner of my eyes, off into the city, followed quickly by a half dozen more and a lot of rumbling. I also noticed a beeping from my phone, but that wasn’t so important at the moment. I held up my hands, “It wasn’t me this time.”
Venus grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and started leading me to Mender. Psychsaur started to follow, then stopped and turned toward the students. “Everyone, stay calm and eat your cake. We’re going to assess and handle the situation.”
I couldn’t keep up with her so well once Venus and I got out of range, but I knew Psychsaur’s mind was racing. She didn’t seem that worried though, so we had that in common.
Venus and I didn’t have to go far to find Mender. We spotted him roll down from the next floor up, drift around that little middle landing of the stairs, then roll down the next flight. He looked like his wheels were being pulled against the floor, his descent was so controlled.
“Sir,” said Venus.
“What she said,” I said.
“What is going on?” he asked.
“Explosions in the city,” I answered. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess car bombs, but a lot of them. It’s gotta be something big that they managed to get into place. Or something really, really big in the sewers. I know a few recipes, but I was saving them for my guest lecture in Chemistry.”
A voice spoke up from Mender’s computer. Psychsaur’s voice. “He’s remarkably calm, but he didn’t have anything to do with it. He’s got a lot of explosives experience, though.”
“Psycho Puss, stay on campus. Venus, with me,” Mender said. Venus nodded and away they went, leaving me to fend for myself in a harsh new world of exploding buildings.
“Anybody else feel like s’mores?” I asked no one in particular as I wandered off back to the library. I actually had a few students cowering in there with me, including Quincy, the skinny guy with the glasses and glass powers, and Chloe, the girl with pigtails, thick glasses and hair powers. The couple from the study room were out, hopefully after the guy had the decency to ask her, “Did the Earth move for you too?” after the explosions.
“Are you going to do anything?” asked Quincy while I walked over to turn on a giant TV I’d put in.
“I was going to put on Labyrinth, maybe, but if you’re going to whine about it…” I’m not a hero, and a bunch of people hurt in explosions doesn’t faze me. I’ve caused a lot of them myself. And while I could probably be a lot of use helping rescue people from the rubble, I just didn’t care that much. I slipped on my armor just in case. I felt itchy, and not in an addict’s way. More like a good time to be cautious.
I did put on the news for the students while slipping on my suit. The youngsters were old enough to be kept abreast of it. I thought it was on mute at first, but the people trying to talk were stunned into silence as they showed helicopter footage of several damaged buildings, with heroes from all over the city now rushing out to help. I even picked out Master Academy capes already out there, scrambling over the blast sites, including a familiar hospital. I whipped out my phone. One alert when the bombs went off, which makes sense. Both movement and that the bug was shutting down. Fifteen minutes prior, an alert came in of several individuals moving in and out of the mauled speedster’s room.
Huh. They’d tried to evacuate. I briefly wondered if they managed to get him out, or if he had something to do with this. One explosion could be some delusional asshole’s plan, like McVeigh in Oklahoma City. More than one stinks of a plot, and the smelliest of plots are the product of supervillains. That, or just a whole bunch more extremist Christian fundamentalists, like the militia guys.
The TV cut in on my investigation with an urgent message, though. “Alert! Breaking news. Preempting an announcement of a state of emergency, the President has ordered the United States Army deployed to Empyreal City.”
“Well, that’s a fucking beautiful sight,” I said. “Better buckle up, little people. We’re in for a bumpy ride. Something tells me things are about to get messy.”
Ukrainians, militia, new heroes, and a president who talks about sending in the military if any more explosions happen before any explosions happen. This is turning into a really-fucked up Twelve Days of Chinese New Year. No wonder it’s the year of the flaming cock now.
I looked at my little group, who certainly hadn’t steeled themselves. “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t the first time something this bad has happened. Have you even seen last year? You got through that. I know that it just adds up and up. You feel like you’ve reached your limit as bad shit piles on you, and every little cut the world makes against you feels like you can’t take another. But you got through every cut before. You survived that same crap a thousand times. Don’t let just one be the end of you. Especially not when you’re all tougher than this.”
They hesitated. No breaking out into applause. Oh well. So I went on, “Now go get more students. I’ve been told to stay here, but there’s reason it just has to be us. We’re going to need food, water, blankets, tents, and all that. Get those gates open. A lot of people just lost their homes.”
Chloe asked, “What if the people who did all that,” here she motioned in the direction of the city, “get in here and do it too?”
“Then the baddest man on Earth will fuck them up,” I said. “It’s not courage if you only got it when times are good. Besides, there’s no damn excuse for a bunch of so-called heroes to turn away the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. Now, what the hell movies are popular with little kids who need their minds taken off giant explosions?”
“That chase got out of hand,” said Mender. “Do you know how many cars you wrecked?”
I shrugged. “If a person doesn’t understand to get out of the way of a rampaging semi truck being chased by a horde of cops, there’s only so much I can do. I can’t pull them into the cab to give them remedial lessons on basic cognition.”
“You damaged a cop car,” he fired back.
“It was that, or throw a wounded superhero down onto the highway as it sped by. I chose the option less likely to kill him.” I folded my arms in front of my chest and nodded.
“At least you weren’t stealing anything valuable.” Oh yeah, hadn’t told him about that. He probably doesn’t need to know about all that anyway. Can’t see how that knowledge helps matters.
“I disabled one of the guys giving your people trouble in a most excellent way, dude. I even got most of his leg piece for analysis.” I held up the bloody appendage. “Don’t worry. I swept it for bugs. Only oddities I found were a couple of tabs from canned drinks.”
“Can you tell me anything about it yet?” Mender asked. An arm popped forward from his headrest and held a monocle out in front of his eye as he pivoted to take in the cybernetic limb.
“It’s mad science,” I said. “Physics bowing to the whims of brains thinking thoughts far in advance of what you know of as science.”
“Ahem,” he said, his monocle shaking itself.
“Ok, so maybe not you specifically, but a general ‘you’ for humans,” I told him.
“You too, human,” he reminded me. I shuddered.
“Anyway, this thing wasn’t properly installed, so it was going to screw up anyway. Ideally, something like this should be attached to better bones. Like take out the old ones and put in something new that can handle the stress. Might have even ripped out more easily because of that. I bet his feet were killing him, but I didn’t get a good look at him or his footwear.” It looked like a big cuff that attached to the calf, with a series of pistons on the back end. The one in the middle glowed bright yellow, as if it was clear. They appeared to be able to bend to accommodate different strides, which is one of those areas that wouldn’t make a lot of sense given its industrial metal aesthetic.
“That yellow bit, I think, is either the power supply or it leads directly to it. I’m being cautious getting to it, since sometimes those things blow up. Ya know, either on purpose as an anti-tampering mechanism, or accidentally because someone didn’t pay enough attention to the dangers of glowy thingies. And the first rule of Glowy Thingies 101 is that you never underestimate the explositivity of a glowy thingie that might be a power source. Naturally, the place I was trained made sure that anyone who survived the course paid very clear attention to that part. The ones who did, passed. The one who didn’t, passed overhead in a ventilation duct. Pink mist is a pain to deodorize.
“Are there any calling cards or logos?” Mender asked. It was as good a question as any.
I shook my head. “Haven’t spotted anything yet. Always a chance. You know how villains are, after all. Running around, so proud and egotistical. They keep wanting to put their name or symbol all over the place to make up for their lack of accomplishments.” I paused for a moment. “Not all of them can be as great as me, after all.”
“Proceed with your examination with all necessary precautions. I will not hesitate to have you brought back to life just so I can kill you if you harm any students with your experiments,” the monocle flipped up and withdraw into its little arm, which pulled back into his headrest.
“Yes, yes, you’ll hang me upside down, cut out my liver, and give it back to me as a suppository. All the usual threats. Nothing I haven’t heard countless times before. One guy used to tell me that he was going to crawl into the bathroom and slit my throat, then use my throat hole if I took too long. Ah, those careless days of youth. Anyway, off to go play with the nuclear-powered machine we hardly understand.”
I did take it back to tinker with it in the library for a bit. It went together so well, and showed definite signs of being personally machined. That didn’t really surprise me. If someone could put together a hundred of these and outfit the wearers properly, they’d have a hell of an army on their hands.
I’ve stated before just how overpowered I think superspeed is, but this machine makes it somewhat weaker. Sure, it gives anyone superspeed regardless of powers, but that means regular folks whose bodies can’t handle it so well also get those powers. And there’s so many things a speedster needs to survive. I’m surprised the guy could even see; maybe I should have pulled out one of his eyes to be sure. Without more extensive modifications, the guy I beat up would always have a speed limit. Just catching up to me might have pushed him past it a little, and not in a good way. People do not get stronger immediately after tearing their body up.
It was all mechanical. Nothing digital for me to try and manipulate. If I had a proper room, I might have risked cracking it open. Without something that could handle an explosive, I reached the extent of my exploration before it got to that point. It’s a shame, too. It’s always fun to learn about new ways of powering fancy gizmos, and I wouldn’t mind a bit of superspeed added to my arsenal.
Caught a bit of lunch with Leah, who has taken to visiting me there in the library. Times like this, I wonder if she still has that stupid crush. Still nice to see her, and it might just be that she sees me as a friend due to my influence on her life. No need for me to imagine more there, especially in my present situation. Maybe I should get better about names. A times I’m tempted to think of the hilarity that would ensue if half the student body was grinding up against me. After all, the others from that little group I was in with the vampires upstate stop by sometimes. Cam and pigtail girl, and that other guy with the glass powers. I should get better about their names, but they’re probably just hoping to absorb some residual awesome just being near me.
While taking a break to examine possible adjustments to my gauntlets, I received an alert from a bug I left in Number Three’s hospital room. It wasn’t that hard to find a guy checked into a hospital for those kinds of injuries in that incident. I’d initially searched because I figured they didn’t have their own services. Then, bam, found him checked in to Crater Probably. That’s short for Crater Probably Memorial Hospital, which was dedicated in 1979 in honor of Judge Joseph Crater.
I’d stopped by to plant a bug at his room and install a backdoor into the computer network so I could keep track of his medical records. If I want, his life is one moved decimal point away from ending.
The bug that went off indicated people had entered the room, and they weren’t at the normal nurse intervals. I took the bug off standby so it would start transmitting video and audio. I got faces, sure, but what made me hurry off was the fellow who stopped by with lots of metal blades sticking out of a backpack. He pulled it off while in the room, adjusting a pair of metal wings. Sadly, the definition on my bug was too low to get a great look at them, but I’d taken a good picture of them at that convention a short while back.
I didn’t bring any of my young visitors along for my next magic trick: making a jackass superhero disappear!
I made it to Crater Probably Memorial in pretty good time, likely because I could leap tall buildings in a single bound. If cars could just drive through buildings, they’d make good time, too. I thought I could catch him leaving, but he didn’t exit at ground level like his friends. I looked up then, toward the roof, then began to climb with careful jumps up the side. I found him there, having changed into a costume with a flag on his chest that left off most stars from its flag. On his back were unfolded a pair of metal wings, more like solid pieces of metal with thin slats at the edges. Not really birdlike. That lump in the middle turned out to be a pair of small jet engines attached to a central block.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” he asked, turning my way. He shoved a flight helmet onto his head quickly, as if remembering he was supposed to have a secret identity, in theory. I punched something in on my belt, the hologram projectors showing me as a baboon.
“I’m your worst nightmare: what your momma dreams of fucking at night.” I laughed and turned to run and jump off the edge. My legs powered me across the street to the side of another building, where I hit the side and pushed off. I bounded my way down the street as he took off, engines screaming in the air.
His flight gave him a clear mobility advantage, and oh, look at that, he’d brought a gun into a hospital. He pulled out a submachine gun I didn’t bother zooming in to identify, and opened fire on the street. Another fan of automatic fire in a crowded place. That, more than my appearance, sent people fleeing in all directions. I didn’t see his comrades anywhere. They got out of there surprisingly fast.
On the one hand, I couldn’t kill two birds with my stones. On the other, I needed to work on keeping this guy low enough for even one good punch.
Not that he was trying to avoid that. He swooped down to shoot at me, then pulled up when I didn’t really react to gunfire. I ran forward and grabbed his leg before he could. He didn’t lift me up at first, but the engines whined and he started to gain some ground. I smiled under my helmet as I got an idea. In my head, I started to play “The Cyborg Fights,” and reached down with my other hand to crank up the leg power. Then I maneuvered myself right underneath him and aimed him up. He started to gain speed with my weight, but I yanked his leg around and let go.
He shot upward before he spun around head over heels. It threw him off from being straight up, but I could adjust my aim. He was too focused on getting straightened out in the middle of all his spinning, not really gaining any ground in any direction because of it.
I knelt and jumped, my legs propelling me upward at furious speed toward the spinning man. I think he saw me just before I reached him, looking with fear down between his open legs.
My punch connected, and not with mere skin and muscle. Ok, with mere skin and muscle, but the skin and muscle of the human anus. My fist passed through as if it wasn’t even there, tearing and stretching effortlessly. And while I could feel shit around my hand, that was nothing compared to how shitty my opponent felt. His screams were like a fire alarm through my helmet. For a moment, I forgot the jet engines were trying to compensate, because I couldn’t hear them. Just the scream of a man with a damaged ass because the kind of lube he needed could more accurately be called “elbow grease” at this point. I uncurled a single finger of my fist, the middle one, to let him know what I thought of him.
I reached up with my other hand and smashed one of the engines. We both fell. I handled it better than him, but he did survive. He’ll be in the hospital along with his friend for awhile. Might never walk again, and not due to spine damage. But he’ll live. After a bit of straining to pull my hand out, I rolled over the shocked and helpless hero to take a closer look at those wings. They’d been fixed to him too, bolted onto his back in multiple places. Lucky for him, they tore off more easily where the supports met the main contraption. I tore it free and left with my little souvenir.
Mender called me into his office to give me a little talk while I soaked my glove in a variety of cleaning agents. “You nearly killed him,” his digitized voice said critically.
I shook my head. “No, no, there’s no need to exaggerate. I didn’t near kill ’em, I just rectum.”
“I can’t say I like the civilians being involved in this way, but nobody died. I also disagree with your petty theft. It was a surprise that you chose to make this about public relations instead of violence. You did well.”
Did my ears deceive me, or was that actual praise from Victor Mender, the head of a school of superheroes who captured me to do his dirty work? I checked the playback, then stood up and walked over to him. “Victor, if you can hear me and your wheelchair gained self-awareness, blink three times quickly. I just want to know while I make a deal with Skynet to share the world. Skynet, I want Eastern Europe for all the porno babes.”
A cannon rose out of the back of Mender’s chair, highlighted against the window of his office. The bright daylight filtering in framed the weapon, which appeared to be the one he’s shot lightning at me from in the past. I backed out of his face and circled the desk to take my seat again. After a couple of seconds, the gun withdrew back into the chair. “Do you have any other operations in mind?”
I nodded, pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of this encounter, despite the setback. I’d expected him to go full-on Chief on me, yelling about me being some cowboy cop and yada yada. Maybe he’s trying to arrange for a hefty older black man to fill in for him later. “I have some ideas. Once again, try not to kill anyone. I was originally thinking of petty crimes that y’all don’t respond to, but that may not get any response and end up messy. Besides, believe it or not, I’m not big on petty crime all the time. Poor people just don’t have as much expensive stuff. You can make more robbing a diamond store than you’d ever make robbing Seven-Elevens or burglarizing regular folks’ houses. Same reason why it’s more profitable to assassinate rich people than poor people.”
I paused here to keep myself from running off on a tangent. “I intend to put myself in a criminal situation that will draw one of those heroes best suited to respond, and find a way to subtly track him and his compatriots.”
“Do I want to know?” Mender’s computer asked.
I shrugged. “I dunno. You’re surprisingly chill about what I’ve done so far for a hero.”
“I am not a hero,” he responded. “When I took over the Master Academy, I became responsible for the education and lives of my students. They are my highest priority, even when this conflicts with my teachings. I will dirty my hands so they can be heroes.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Huh. You know you can’t protect them forever. That’s what you’re training some of them for.”
“Yes, but I can protect them while they are my students.”
Well that’s quite an interesting understanding of the situation to find myself in. “I know the feeling. The world does need its bad guys. Without bad guys, who else is going to kill all the bad guys?” I smiled. “Anyway, I’m going to draw out the one in the number three jumpsuit and super speed. It’ll be a bumpy ride.”
“As you will,” Mender responded. “I have to check on a camping trip some of my students made. Our new President shut down the Department of the Interior’s social networking because the park service tweeted a photo showing actual inauguration attendance. Someone needs to keep them informed in case of wildfire, tornado, oncoming thunderstorms, bears, big cats, or rampaging supervillains.”
My little plan started with something relatively innocuous in Empyreal City: riding down the street on a motorbike with a giant harpoon in hand with a little pirate hat on top of my helmet. Oh, and I looked like a baboon while riding the bike.
I drove along, checking semi trailers in front of me. A bit of archived information I had from my time as Supreme Most Benevolent Leader of Earth included the names of a few shipping companies that move stuff off the books for intelligence agencies and the military. Non-official cover stuff. I mean, they could just move it normally, but then it’d be on the books and official forms and all that. You know, stuff anyone could find out after one night of rifling through someone’s embassy office.
So to keep all that quiet, certain agencies invent companies that people can be hired by or that can move nice stuff around. I’m not even entirely sure what they had in this truck, but it was going to be a hell of a lot of fun finding out. Hence my baboon harpoon. For reasons of interdimensional national security, and because it’d be too much of a hassle if Optimal Outer Control goes to prison, I won’t say the name of the company shipping stuff for the government. They’d probably toss him in Supermax to rot in isolation, and then who would share the good word of Gecko with your world?
It was easier to track them than it was a superhero. I mean, come on, CB radios. So I found one in Empyreal City. Didn’t know where it was going. Didn’t care. Just wanted it stolen.
In my helmet, I put “I’m Gonna Be A Monkey,” by Ren & Stimpy. “Ok, Stimpy, it’s time for your evolving lessons!” “Oh, rapture!” I drove onto the median so I could pull up to the driver’s side and stood up. The driver noticed something wrong with that whole picture and started fumbling for something. A radio, a gun, something. I jumped, leaving my motorcycle to head off on its own and crash into a hot dog cart on the opposite side of the road. It exploded with a fireball, likely due to the pressure-activated explosive I attached to the front of it for dramatic purposes.
As for me, I had jumped onto the side of the truck and used my power armor’s enhanced strength to drive the pointy end of the harpoon into the window. Basic life tip: stick someone else with the pointy end. Works with swords, bayonets, spears, polearms, pens, and genitals. I drove the harpoon into the window. The enlarged tip opened up a larger hole, which I felt needed additional filling to my satisfaction. I reached for my belt and pulled off a can of beer, shaking it up. One arm around the harpoon, I opened it and held the top of it to the hole, spewing foam all onto the driver and causing the truck to swerve.
I dropped the can and focused on holding on with one hand. With the other, I cranked up the power. I raised my gauntlet as it began to glow as power transferred to an energy projection around what appeared to the entire world to be a monkey paw. The driver’s swerving seemed to become intentional, as if trying to knock me off. I heard crashes, too, but focused instead on the truck. The driver was trying to yell into a phone or radio of some sort. When I gauged enough energy had accumulated in the energy sheath, I punched the window. The energy amplified the kinetic force I imparted on it, allowing me to burst through and probably make physicists cry in the process.
I fell inward through the broken glass, along with my harpoon. “Crazy pirate monkey! I swear! No, I’m not drinking!” I helpfully ended his phone call.
He stared at me for a moment, then tried to pull a gun. Really not the best time for it. I backed out of the window, tossing him out onto the hood of a car we passed going the opposite direction before climbing in myself and buckling up. Safety first.
Besides, he probably lived.
Despite the skepticism of whoever the driver had called, it was no secret by now that something had gone down. Sure, I got the truck under control, but the flashing red and blue lights behind me indicated some general concern by local peace officers. Let them keep the peace all to themselves; I’d rather have some chaos.
Using the driver’s own GPS system, I figured out I was near the interstate. Good. Heedless of pursuing cops, I raced around an easy corner and headed onto the I-87. My pursuers used their car’s bullhorns to say something, probably some boring stuff about pulling over, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I honked at all the people going so slow. When that didn’t help, I just drive through them. Amazing how much more quickly people get out of the way when someone’s about to hit them. I’m sure that’s a valuable life lesson that can easily be used in some sort of heartwarming moral. At least it could, if some bright red compact car didn’t ignore me. The driver got to live life in the fast lane before it swerved to the side and went flying over the guard rail.
I kept speeding up, and so did the heat. They multiplied, too. Soon, it seemed like I was surrounded by cars. Someone tried opening fire from the passenger side, but I swerved over and they backed off. Someone else pulled up next to the driver’s side window. He had a gun in hand, but didn’t shoot because of a double take over the baboon hologram I still had on. Before he could, I reached down to my utility belt for a very special item. He got a faceful of sticky brown gunk for his trouble. Relax, it was just delicious chocolate pudding.
Then I caught site of narrow cloud trail in the rearview mirror. “We’ve already had our pudding, but it’s time to eat my meat.” The door was yanked off by our friend in the jumpsuit, his legs pounding the street like a blur. He raised a handgun big enough to break someone’s wrist if fired.The shot left a ringing in my helmet and cracked the glass of the windshield, but didn’t make a hole.
I swung the harpoon I had brought with me, knocking the gun loose and hooking him on one of the pointy barbs. Yeah, I’d say I made a hole. The blood made a good case for that. He kept running all the while, trying to keep up lest he lose a hand. He finally jumped onto the cab instead and focused on trying to pull his hand loose. I pushed the harpoon and let him fall back, but caught him by one mechanically enhanced calf.
“Nice worksmanship. I’ll have to examine this in more detail. Tell me, is this just something you wear, or actual cybernetic prosthetic?” I asked him.
“Get your hands off me you damn, dirty ape!”
“I are baboon! That’s a monkey, you damn, dirty ape!” I yelled back. I still gave him what he wanted with a tearing sound. Turned out it was cybernetic. Then I tossed him onto the hood of a pursuing car.
He probably survived.
The cops lost me pretty quickly after I abandoned the truck, and I don’t think they were trying too hard to catch up once they saw what I did to a superhero. One down, and some nifty new tech to study.
More heroes have been appearing. Yippy. The market is saturated. Master Academy, amnestied heroes, and now these newbies. Not all new ones seem to be these guys I’m looking into, which makes it tougher to separate them all. Plus, several of the former villains who continued on as heroes have issues with property damage. My point is that it’s not quite so clear cut who is who, but chances are good that the former villains aren’t working with them. Unless they cloned Hitler again, maybe.
I’m also making guesses based on the kinds of powers. Somebody flying around as a skeleton that wields a scythe made of fire is unlikely to be one of them. Someone with mechanical piston knuckles and a cybernetic spine that releases a blinding flash is more likely to be their type. I’m finding out more and more, and not just as I expand my own little private pieces of surveillance. I used to be able to listen into anything by forcing myself into pre-existing systems from afar. Now, I have to go in manually, being a backdoor man and otherwise doing dirty deeds dirt cheap.
I got a bit of an edge on that since the heroes still can’t completely compartmentalize things from me. School’s back, and that apparently means younger supers who intend to be older supers are going on journeyman patrols. I assume that they don’t make future cake decorators go out and fight people. Anyway, I hear things from teenagers. And possibly because I slipped a bug onto someone. But in this case, eavesdropping.
A couple of students were talking. “These unfair douches show up and start blasting the place. One guy had this helmet that shot lasers out of the eyes. Another one had an arm that was a flamethrower.”
“You mean he shot fire out of his hand?” asked the other.
“No. Bro’s arm is like a gun that shoots balls of fire.”
Hmm. I swung over between those stacks. “Now, when you say fire-”
“Ah!” They yelled in unison.
I held a finger up to my lips. “Shh. This is a library. Now, as I was asking, was the fire chemical in nature, like napalm? Or perhaps plasma? Or what?”
“What’s plasma look like?” Asked one of the many interchangeable body shields I freely invite into my current lair. Like, average build, dirty blond or light brown hair. Penis.
I shrugged. “It’s not exactly the same color as normal flame. They can be a variety of colors due to energy states and ions. Also, some plasma weapons go off prematurely as they get really excited.”
“They looked like fire,” said the one I didn’t answer. Dreadlocks. Hispanic. Also penis-equipped.
I nodded. “Good. So the first guy’s helmet, was that all mechanical and/or high tech? Or just a helmet for protection, like for biking or motorcycling or reclaiming the holy land from the Muslims?”
“It looked like something a scientist made. Sci fi, with glowy bits up here,” he answered, pointing to the sides of his head.
“Hmm. Thanks. Compiling information. Don’t mind me. Just go about your business.” I slowly swung back around the corner. “Don’t mind me at all. Talk all you like.”
“Hey,” called the dirty blond. “Which supervillain were you, anyway?”
“No supervillains here. Nope. I’m just a simple librarian.” I grabbed my helmet off a table as I pulled myself by and carried it over to the mannequin with the rest of my armor. I reached under a nearby table to press a sequence to disable the booby traps around the armor. Anyone expecting a single button will not be happy.
I heard loud muttering from behind me as they walked out. “Whatever. I bet he’s a bad guy who doesn’t want to be a good guy, but he won’t be able to stop himself and he’s going to help out the heroes. Because he cares for us deep down and has a core of humanity that can’t help but empathize with people. He’ll discover how good it feels and decide he wants to be a hero, probably falling in love with one of our heroines or maybe a really nice and shy civilian woman who makes him want to be a better person.”
“Twenty bucks says you’re wrong,” said the other.
Thanks for believing in me, random person whose name I don’t know. I’m gonna get you that twenty dollars, little buddy. You can count on me. Whoever you are.
I did consider intervening, or going out to shadow a patrol to help out in one of these conflicts. It’d certainly be fun to tear one of the new guys apart. On the other hand, that’d also solidify the relationship of this mysterious killer in the power armor. They could make a good case for me being part of the Academy. There is another concern as well.
It can be iffy determining when someone’s a superhero. Someone like Captain Lightning, flying around and throwing lightning bolts, can’t be easily mistaken for a regular human. But what about someone with a gun? What’s the difference between someone with a fifty caliber anti-material rifle and someone with a less-powerful helmet that shoots lasers? What’s the difference between a really good martial artist in a costume and one who merely trains suburban kids for money? It’s really iffy, to be academic about it.
Now, armed militia guys? Probably not that big a deal that a supervillain killed them. That kind of thing happens. Just like a regular criminal can die if they attempt to engage a superhero in combat, though the heroes generally try to prevent that. But we go back to the thing I’m really good at: killing superheroes. More than that, it’s the thing very few villains would ever do. It changes things. Ups the stakes. There’s probably a certain idea of supers treating each other better, too. A mild bit of prejudice. Still, a villain who runs around killing superheroes, even these new ones with their agenda, is going to stand out and gain infamy. Or he’d be suspected of being one of the already-infamous ones.
Stupid brain with all its thinking. Times like this are when I miss fighting killer chickens. So it’s a bad thing for me to show up and wreck some faces whenever Master Academy patrols are hassled by these new guys. That doesn’t mean I can’t look into them more.
So we’ve figured out where any extra super weapons have likely gone. They used them to make their own supers. Why? Based on their rhetoric, they aren’t big fans of current supers, but the main area of super protest around here is Master Academy. There could be a few different reasons for that. Replacement? Making them look like they’re the ones out of control somehow? Eh, I’d say I favor the replacement theory out of that. I can’t help but think we’re in a war over morale and PR.
…This is stupid. Fighting morons on behalf of children. I don’t want to play this game, on the defensive. That’s the superhero way. Villains have to be proactive. There’s no crime until we make it happen. I undid myself from my library harness and dropped down onto the floor. No fancy landing, just on the upper portion of my back. Didn’t put me in a chair, otherwise I’d have never caught up to Victor Mender, the disabled leader of the Master Academy.
“Yo, Vicky baby, do I have a proposal for you?” I asked him, showing him my best and currently only smile. I haven’t had time to assemble any new ones out of knocked out teeth.
He stopped his wheelchair and shot me what I assume to be a look. To the student next to him, he said, “Go on to class. We will continue this meeting another time.” She hurried off with her backpack to whatever kids these days do in school. Read, maybe? Why, back in my day, we did school entirely differently. We had to walk through three feet of snow and strangle a hooker. Up hill, both ways.
“Okily dokily, I have an idea to use my unique set of skills to go all Liam Neeson on these guys who’ve been dogging your students on patrol,” I said.
“How did you find out about that?” he asked. Hey, I think he upgraded his voice module on the computer. I actually heard question inflection. Or perhaps there’s a virus and he’s got a question inflection infection.
“You guys are bad at keeping secrets,” I said. Some little kid stuck his tongue out as he walked by us. “Bed wetter!” I called out to him. His eyes widened and he ran off. “So I was thinking, instead of sitting around here doing things the hero way, where nothing gets done, I could do a little something to help us all out.”
“Will you kill anyone?” he asked.
I played up a wince. “That’s a rather results-based question. I was thinking more intention-based. I don’t intend to kill anyone. Just do something that’s a bit of that voodoo that I do, in the hopes of drawing out some of those you-know-who’s, take a little pressure off you, and let your people return the things of value. I’ll lay off the ultraviolence, keep it down to maybe extreme violence, mild violence, or even guacamole violence.”
“Guacamole?” he asked.
“I hit people with avocados. It gets messy. I’ve gotten complaints for People For The Ethical Treatment of Plants. They’re opposed to violence against plants just because the little buggers can do advanced math and communicate by sound.” I understand feeling sympathy for life forms that aren’t me, but I’m against the idea of advancing their interests in place of my own. Doubly so for members of my species. Aw, crap, I’m human. “Anyway, you know it’s problematic for me to attack people who aren’t a threat to me. Doubly-so after Pyschsaur’s little visit. This is part of why you bothered to keep me around after everything you did personally to kill me.”
In the end, I think it was the part where I pretended to still be under Psychsaur’s mental compulsion that did it. I got the go-ahead to start engaging in crimes that might possibly draw these new heroes to me, which were to be ignored by the Master Academy heroes and anyone they let in on it. I really don’t intend to use it to do just anything I want, however. I have a few ideas on targets, too.
Number one on the list is this event that I hit upon while searching for gun-related events in the area. Madison Square Garden, in the midst of its renovations, is hosting a big Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Victory of Freedom Rally,” that, according to the flyers and poorly-made web page, is all about showing Empyreal City how to learn to love God and their country again. For some reason, I’m reminded of the year 1939. Anyway, something tells me that interrupting that will draw the speedster with the Nascar jumpsuit out again. And when he shows, his face is going to know what a race car feels like after I wreck it.
After all, the human body is amazingly resilient. You can do all sorts of things to a person without killing them.
I do so hate these heroes and their drama. I’m back in my cell again, for now. They brought in one of the other meddlesome mindflayers to play with me. It’s all rough, not quite as lubricated as when Psychsaur would slip into my head. The one who looked into me while I worked on my armor machine and designs for a cape did not have it easy just because it was his first time there. That’s how I wound up back in the cell.
Venus is arguing to Mender that helping out and loosening my restrictions is screwing up any chance of rehabilitating me or otherwise containing the danger I represent. Before they tossed me back down here, I let Mender know what I found out. That’ll help. I’m like his own personal CIA, but without the better dental plan than the FBI. Eh, it has given me time to heal up somewhat. They don’t want me touching nanites.
Besides, they need me. Making myself indispensable, or the lesser of two evils, has always been a good way to avoid getting dispensed with for good. I expected to hear something about all that when the door opened and Mender rolled in. I glimpsed Minotaur and Triclops outside at the door.
Heh. It just then struck me. Minotaur, Triclops, and Venus. Plus, a scaly reptilian woman who can paralyze people with a look, though it’s telepathic or telekinetic instead.
“Hey there, Vicky. Who puts you in those suits, by the way? Is there a student who you have bathe and dress you or-” I didn’t get a chance to finish. A barrel on a swivel mount arose as I mentioned a student and then it felt like getting hit by lightning. Not many people can personally vouch for that, but I’m one of them. I sat there, having inexplicably landed in some sort of puddle, head bobbing a bit even after my sight returned to me.
Mender’s digitized voice maintained its usual calm monotone despite what he said next. “You do not talk about my students like that. Do not suggest anything. They are the only reason you don’t sit in this tiny room with a thousand pounds of weights strapped to you while you eat and excrete through a tube. I would make a deal with the devil to protect them. I have captured one in you.” He paused, the lack of inflection not making it clear at first that he’d finished.
I raised a finger. “So… just to clarify… the same tube, or-”
And again with the electricity! By the time I got my senses again, he’d left. They didn’t put me in those weights. That was a good sign.
Some hours later, another visitor showed up. I don’t know if it was the middle of the night or not, but Psychsaur looked like she had just woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Her feathers were ruffled and messed up. And she appeared to be alone.
I raised an eyebrow but stayed seated against the wall. I felt her in my head again, so much better of a fit than the others at the academy. It didn’t even itch anymore. “Please don’t say anything,” she said. Tough request. I instantly felt the urge to go ahead and make a stupid comment. Which would be predictable, and I’ve also been getting hit a lot lately. I was in my little isolated cell in part because I’d been making no concessions to basic niceties. And I’d gone out of my way to murder a gangster’s wife. I think it sent a good message, but apparently I’m the bad guy. Then again, I am the bad guy.
I nodded and leaned my head back against the wall. She closed the door and sat down against the wall next to it, across from me. We sat like that for a couple minutes. I was curious, but just waited. She finally obliged. “It’s not easy touching your mind. I mean, it’s easy now. It gets easier and easier. I started feeling your thoughts without really trying that much.”
I considered that for a moment and concentrated on myself for a moment. The one I’d been forced to tap into all too often over the past couple of years as I moved from entropy to order. The me underneath. Don’t act surprised. That time with the truth serum forced that bit of me into the light without my say-so, but it was there. I looked her in the eye. “I’m sorry. Nobody should have to put up with this but me.”
“No one should at all,” she said.
“Aww, how sweet of you. Do they teach a course on those platitudes here?” I asked, legitimately. All of me wondered that one. “I only ask because I know what I’ve been like and I know how much you have to hate me. There’s no need to pretend you don’t for my sake.”
“I do, but I understand you too. You dream about it,” she said. She shifted a bit.
I winced. “You shouldn’t be here. They should give you a break from me. But I suppose that’s on me, too. I haven’t played very nicely. Thing is, I can’t even remember those dreams. Most people don’t remember most dreams. I even had a dream about… well, you don’t need that image in your head. It was definitely something you wouldn’t like.” I imagined Scooby Doo and Shaggy instead of giving her the heads-up on that one.
She was quiet again for a moment. I put a hand to my head as I spoke, “You shouldn’t have had me inflicted on you. Another poor corrupted soul, to verge into religious language. I push and I keep at it relentlessly. That’s the key. It’s so hard for people to resist forever. There’s always some give. It’s even a philosophical concept, that it’s better to bend than to break. I bend. I bent. Or did I break? Can you be both broken and bent at the same time? No, I think I bent. Regardless, there are some things worth breaking for instead. I am not one of them. Do not break for me. And pardon all the overly loquacious vocabulary. Deep down, I’m a bit of a wordy douche.”
It’s like there’s two of me. The “public” me with all the chaos, rebelliousness, and juvenile jokes, and the inner me that calculates and thinks and actually has a concept of shame. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. God and Dog, for fans of Fallout. “I couldn’t handle what was going on around me. I did something to make it work instead.” I smiled at her. “I don’t recommend it.”
“This is a better you. You’re the version that didn’t like finding out you weren’t really a good guy,” she said. What can I say? She knows me. “Can’t you stay like this?” Or maybe not.
I shook my head. “It takes a lot of effort to keep myself this way.”
“How can I avoid that?”
“I dunno. I’m not exactly the expert. Just the victim. If I knew how to avoid being a victim, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Then she said a curious thing. “I can fix you.”
I winced. “Oooh, that’s almost certainly not going to end well. I suppose I don’t have a well-thought-out reason why, given the conventional solution being mind-altering drugs or therapy that involves zapping my grey matter. I guess probably the most pragmatic reason is that you’d be touching more of what I am than ever before. You don’t want that, and I just don’t think it can be done.”
“You don’t want to believe you can change like this,” she observed, sounding way too much like Venus.
“Why exactly did you come down here?” Subject change powers, activate! Form of an elephant in the room! “You’re here and it’s not just oyo wax poetic. You wanted to let me know what I’m doing to you. I’m sorry about that.”
“I wanted to know for sure that you knew who and what you were. I thought I’d give you a chance. I know you better than anyone else now. Tonight, I’m going to take the first step in giving you a chance to be a better person.”
“You’re going to do something stupid,” I said. I felt her get a grip on something in my brain. “Don’t fix me. It’ll end badly, and that’s from both sides of me. You won’t like me when I’m of one mind about something. The Fluidics certainly didn’t. Real fucking bad idea…” My eyes widened and I smiled. I jumped up. “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits!”
Except I got a thought. I turned to Psychsaur. “Fuck, you’re locking me in this room again, aren’t you?”
She stood up and brushed her head feathers. Her smile was much sharper, but surprisingly warm. “I’m not. Come on, there’s still food up in the refectory. Just be careful eating. You wouldn’t want to hurt someone accidentally.” She opened up the door.
Hearing that I even could accidentally hurt these people made me so happy, I thought about that dream I had of Psychsaur. She closed her eyes and raised her hands to massage her temples. “Please, no. No, no, no.”
“Can’t blame a guy for being happy.”
And happy I was. Because there’s my own personal stupidity. When limits were imposed on me from without, I took every opportunity to fight, no matter how big or how small. Sure, now I can slaughter everyone around, but it’s my choice not to. That means so much.
After a refreshing dinner, I gathered up my armor and disabled the machine I used to help build it. I had everything I needed to run off, right with the heroes gathered in the common room to figure out patrols and so on.
Yep, just leave them all to their own inevitable fate, with this whole back-and-forth with militias and protestors and so on. And I was of two minds again. The “fun” part of me figured it would sure be a shame to leave without confirming for sure who it was who put me into this situation in the first place, by using a copy of my mind in a giant robot to nearly kill me. The other part of me remembered that some of these students and heroes had sheltered me. They may have done it for the wrong reasons, but they did it all the same. It would be a shame if I didn’t at least do a little bit for them.
So instead of jumping out of the grounds, I turned around and walked back in. I headed toward the common room in my armor and tried to make my voice sound as nonthreatening as possible.
“I’m going out of my frelling mind without being able to help,” I told the assembled masked faces, who all turned in my direction. Mender shifted his chair to look at Psychsaur in what I figured was supposed to be a glare. I wondered if he knew what she did to me. If any of them knew, actually. “Please,” I followed up with, “let me help. Some of it’s the mystery of the thing. I want to know what’s going on and how everything fits together. And part of it is that I owe a debt. Every little bit helps, so give me a shot again. Something big, something little. And trust me, even the smallest, most insignificant events can have a huge impact.”
So let’s clear out those objectives I had in there before about not cussing, poisoning, physical violence. Wipe them all away.
1. Finish my work and figure out how the fuck these Ukrainians are involved with the people targetting Master Academy, and maybe find out what happened to Michelangelo in the process.
2. Figure out who kept the copy of me around and sent them after me.
3. Get revenge.
Think of it as a good New Year’s Resolution. Cue the cheesy inspirational music!
The heroes are a bunch of Grinches. That’s the only excuse for the way they reacted when they found out about the stolen computer. Psychsaur passed by and stuck her brain where it didn’t belong. It feels dirty to say this, but I’m starting to get used to the feel of her reaching in there like that. Sadly, my tinfoil cap didn’t do a thing to keep her out. I’m at least willing to check out some of those crazy theories on avoiding mind control. Just don’t ask the scientologists for any help with that. They charge you thousands of dollars and all you get is inducted into a cult centered around alien ghost possession.
On the plus side, anyone who keeps on after finding out all that is almost guaranteed to be left alone by telepaths. Who would want to look into that mind?
Like I should talk, ha!
Shortly after Psychsaur read my mind and promptly ignored my mental image of better ways for her to spend her time than reading my mind, I got a small horde of heroes in the library, and they were curious. I’m curious too. What do you call a horde of heroes? Like, the actual collective noun? A herd of heroes? A cacophony of capes? A den of do-gooders? A pod of party-poopers?
So this veritable bellowing of heroes descended upon the library like bullfinches while I sat with a drink and read through the thing. Like bullfinches, they sounded loud and too annoying to pay attention to. Some yelled at me, some yelled at each other about preferring if Venus was here to handle me, and some shushed the others so no students would come running. Little did they know the only students they had to worry about coming were this couple in the study room. Bless ’em. They’re teenagers. This is the only time in their lives they’re legally allowed to screw underage partners. Who am I to deny them that opportunity when it doesn’t risk flying all over the books?
Finally, the flock of freakin’ felon fighters calmed down by the appearance of Victor Mender in his handy-dandy assisted living wheelchair thingy. That quieted them down as if he stormed in glaring, though he doesn’t really do much with his face these days. “Bring me up to speed,” his computer said. Psychsaur put a hand on his shoulder, the feather, scaled dino-girl’s eyes going glazed and distant for a moment. And I was back there all of a sudden. Relived the whole thing like a flashback. Neat. The blood, the gore, the disappointing lack of endorphins over the blood and gore, everything.
I blinked as everything came back into focus. According to my HUD clock, one second had passed. Psychsaur removed her hand from Mender’s shoulder and glared at me. Or I assume so. It’s safe to assume that’s the default facial expression from most people around here who know I’m me.
“Is this computer going to compromise my children?” asked Mender.
I shook my head. “I checked it over. No tracking devices. It isn’t connected to any networks of any sort, and I know some places to check. It just took me longer than usual to get in courtesy of your horrible human genetic experimentation, but that’s none of my business.” I helped myself to a sip of tea.
“Everyone except Psychsaur leave.” Mender’s commanded. The heroes listened to the digitized voice of their master, and I stood up to get while the getting was good until he added, “Not you. You do not operate without my approval.”
I raised an eyebrow and looked over to Psychsaur.
Mender spoke up again. “I will have her make it official if you push the issue.”
I do so hate giving them what they want without a fight, but I raised my hands. “Fine. Just thought I’d help. You know, handle some of that dirty work you guys don’t bother with. After all, they didn’t shoot any of you with the gun. They shot me. That kind of impudence deserves some revenge.”
“You are a prisoner. I have been lenient because I want something and because I can control you. Do not get on my bad side unless you enjoy that form of control,” he said. “If you had asked for my permission to hunt down the individuals responsible for harming the student you found, I may have given it freely.”
“Student?” I cocked my head to the side.
“From before the purge over nanites. I have extended invitations to those who would come back now that you are incapable of controlling them, but some have not accepted or responded. This boy was one such student. The evil that men do lives on and on.” After making his little point, Mender rolled on over to look at the screen of the computer. I pulled up a program that looked like it came from the Nineties. It was present on the computer and showed an inventory with coded references in place of the sources. If connected to the internet, it could be instructed to synchronize and update its information.
“This is shows me a little bit. A couple of sources handle heavier weapons and ammunition. Surplus military vehicles and equipment. Another seems to have your more specialized materials for building stuff. There’s a couple here that are chop shops for just regular stuff, and even some drug dealers in case that’s needed. I had an idea along those lines before, actually. I might make it happen now.”
“Psychsaur,” he said. I felt her probe my mind again.
“He’s telling the truth. He has a translator.” She walked over and leaned down over the table. “How do you know what the codes mean about the sources?”
I shrugged and opened another document, a simple note the owner of the computer made. “The greatest flaw of any computer system, of course.” I felt her in my head again, seeing my understanding of the note’s contents that laid out which code equaled what. I turned to Victor. “They will be scrambling to change as much of this as they care to. This is a big undertaking. People will be moving stuff all over the place. We must strike while the iron is hot, lest it be used to brand our asses.”
“He’s imagining a donkey,” Psychsaur mentioned offhandedly to explain the cuss word.
“I know you’re enjoying the mental donkey show, but let’s focus on the important stuff here. Like squeezing these guys until they decide it’s more profitable to give us the information we want. Honestly, if they hadn’t been so zealous to protect it in the first place, I’d have passed them right over and been able to do nothing but twiddle my thumbs. And if they’re just overreacting, then they’ll pay for their stupidity. That should be its own reward, truth be told. Also, they’re a criminal conspiracy, so technically this could be seen as a good deed.”
That’s how, less than two hours later, I crashed in the door of an apartment building riding the body of a whale of a guard who stood at the door. “Hi kids, do you like violence?!” I asked the lounging gangmembers.
They were fun, and good for letting me finally put some ideas into motion. I figured the drug dealers wouldn’t be high on the Ukrainians’ list of people to warn and evacuate, but what they lacked in importance, they made up for by giving me certain unique tools so I could deliver a chalice full of whoop-ass to everyone in attendance.
An hour after making short work of the least important part of the network, I paid that specialized materials warehouse a visit. They were in the middle of packing everything up, with armed guards and everything. Like almost all humans, however, they don’t usually look up as a first instinct. Jumping the fence into the compound wasn’t tough, and from there it was easy to make a vertical leap to grab the edge of the building and pull myself up. It’s probably safe to assume by now that I wore my armor.
I announced my presence on that cold December day by making the snowy day just a little whiter. I punched a hole in the roof and pulled it wide. I tossed out bags I’d taken off the dead dealers and hit a remote, causing them to burst with a minimum of explosive goodness to fill the air with falling white powder. Cocaine rained down. Tony Montana would have had a heart attack, and for so many different reasons. I’d have used pot smoke grenades, but they took too long to whip up. A little treat for another time.
I dropped down onto a shelf, sadly without a cool Batman glide. Think Batman at Ace Chemicals, except I dropped down into something that clearly wasn’t smoke to beat people up. And no cape, either. I’m considering a cape. I think it’d be cool, and it’s not as impractical as people make it seem. At least program one into the rear holodisc.
Also unlike Batman, I know how to have a good time. I put on a nice little song called “Why So Serious,” by Badministrator.
I dropped down and immediately gave someone a joyous Kwanzaa by gifting him with my boot to the back of his neck. Stuck the landing, too.
My laughter echoed through the air like falling yayo, accompanying the joyous sound of necks snapping, bones breaking, and gunfire hitting anything but my soft tissues. Music to my ears, and the reason why some of my soft tissues were temporarily hard tissues. But it just wasn’t the same. Normally, shoving my fists through a man’s belly and lower back until they meet makes me happy.
Any guards or workers who got in my way while I was in there, I took down. One of them dodged over fallen boxes while carrying a case of his own, only for me to slam him against the metal support at the end of the row and grind his face against it until his jaw popped off.
I heard some of the trucks rev up to get out of there with whatever they had. I noticed a contingent of bigger guys near the door, including one fellow with a gun I recognized as a M249 Para SAW. The SAW part stands for either Squad Automatic Weapon, or a literal saw depending on if you’re firing it full-auto at a tree or not. It wouldn’t do much to me, I thought. Then he fired a burst of fireballs from it in my general direction. I disappeared quickly enough, but not before tossing a knife in his direction.
As I believe I’ve stated before, I could be better with throwing weapons. My aim is not the best. My ability to utilize explosives is pretty good though. The grenade-knife exploded, taking the heavy gunner out before he could spit more hot fire than Dr. Dre on Speed.
By the time heroes showed up, tipped off by the destruction and a call from me to the Master Academy, I was gone with my own truck, a trail of bodies in my rear view mirrors. I got some good stuff, including several things on my wishlist, but I had more stops to make. I still had Christmas shopping to do. Just because I’m sticking it to these guys doesn’t mean I can’t get equipped.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s group of storage units full of future dead bodies and military-grade hardware that’s going to go in my library lair and maybe my armor. I’m thinking a nice mobile SAM will be a great Geckomobile against flying heroes. And, ya know what? I think I found a box of nanofiber that’d make a great cape.
Because it’s getting to be a new year. And I’m a new man in many respects. A new man who conveniently didn’t think about how much of this stuff I can put to use on myself when anyone thought to question my motives.
2016 had its highs and lows. Looking on how it ended, a lot of lows. The wrong people died. Someone other than myself is in control. I got turned human. Worst of all, too many people survived.
Time to go out there, nut up, and try to make 2017 a killer year, no matter how many people have to die to make it better.
Happy New Year.
“Ok, so when I’m done playing Santa, I pull a bomb out of the bag and yell, ‘Now let’s deal with that naughty list, shall we?’ and that’s when y’all pull out the guns and take down the guards,” I said to a group of shocked heroes.
I’d gotten somewhat bored with the meeting, where they put way too much emphasis on not being seen or hurting anyone at all. This bunch is completely risk averse and acts like having to put on a mask will make them all pariahs. And Venus has been gone from the meeting, so I can’t even tease her. Something about important hero business to deal with. This is important enough to stick me with, but somehow not important enough for her to call in all her various law enforcement friends. Which is odd, since they’d like to know about the nanites these goody-goodies are after, too.
And I don’t appreciate her not having time to threaten me or try and keep me in line. As if I’m less important just because I’m captured. Not like I need her to visit me all the time anyway. I’m just fine without her. I’m awesome. Just like I’ll be awesome when she’s dead and buried.
Anyway, these scrubs are under the impression my suggestions are completely ridiculous and will do nothing but get people caught, since the vault is the first thing to get locked down in any situation like that.
They didn’t take the first draft very well. They threw me out of the room. Eh, it gave me time to check on the armor. If they didn’t want me doing all that heisting business, I didn’t have to. They were the ones who decided they needed to liberate the nanites after all. If they’d just let me take them as payment, they’d at least have some by now.
As for the armor, it’s still going. The torso armor is almost finished. That’ll leave the legs for the machine, while I handle the other pieces I’ve been working on. The gloves and boots are done. I’ve been assembling an exoskeleton, testing some pieces of it, but the biggest challenge will be the helmet. Think a samurai, but jagged and straight, with a grinning fanged mouth. Ok, so very much like a samurai’s armor. They liked to add on stuff like fangs and mouths for intimidation value. Above that, the face is covered by metal, with a raised circle on it. On that circle, there are three formal “eyes” in an upside-down triangle shape. No armored jester hat this time. I’ve grown tired of bells lately.
With as much of the costume as there is now, I’ve relocated the reference section in front of it, and changed the sign up. Now, it announces to the world that it is an auto-castration machine that wakes up on touch.
These days, only the hardcore students dare enter, anyway. The system’s set up for self-checkout and students volunteer to put books back up, but word’s gotten around about the crazy librarian who charges the obstacle course like a drunk and strings up late returns by their intestines. The fear is nice. But it doesn’t sustain me.
Because, even as I assembled the optical display of my new helmet and built in non-digital controls to handle some of the functions I used to be able to pull off myself, I felt as though something was missing in my life. It flared up when I saw happy young couples walking around, wondering who stole their baby’s candy. I noticed it when I saw today’s youth running around, doing triple frontflips off walls and calling it parkour. It came to mind when I watched TV, where apparently the new President caused a stir by declaring “Hail HYDRA,” or something. With the wave of sentiment that caused people to protest and attack superheroes, I guess it just makes sense.
I hate people. That is one of the driving forces of my murderous impulses, along with just a general desire to kill stuff. I really hate people. Big people. Little people. People who are too dumb to know they’re dumb and people who are purposefully the worst. Bad people, of course, but also good people who let them do it and neutral people who think both sides are equal for some reason. I think the next time someone tells me that, I’ll dump gasoline on them and tell them that dying of old age and dying because I lit them on fire are both basically the same thing.
Not being able to do anything about that? It makes me angry with rage. And a little sick at times. Or it would have, I think, if I hadn’t been so busy. I’ve had shit to get done, no matter how sad the world gets without me being allowed to tear it apart. I am the dealer of death, the god-emperor of mankind, the harbinger of mankind’s well-deserved apocalypse… and they stuck a bell and cat ears on me to keep track of my comings and goings.
So, after a bit of work on the armor and another attempt at the obstacle course where I ALMOST got it while singing “Umbrella,” I headed back into the meeting, where the bunch were just getting done brewing a bunch of coffee. They looked pretty tired in there, with one costumed nobody sitting back in his chair asleep. Even brought my helmet with me and dropped it onto the table.
I sat down and took a look at what they came up with. Have someone pretend to be a janitor and loosen ventilation ducts. Someone else sneaks through the ducts and crawls down to the hallway in front of the vault. They somehow jam the vault door so it can’t swing closed. Meanwhile, janitor person lays down lots of thermite on the floor above the vault. Lots of thermite. This is covered up by the rest of the team caroling. When the floor is completely cut through into the vault, the problems with which I will have to ignore to discuss the errors in the rest of this strategy, then the person inside the vault can hook up cables that go up and out of the hole in the floor to where a helicopter or tank or something can haul it out.
“Not going to work for so many reasons,” I told them all as I looked over it. “Too many problems. You’re focusing on brute force and architecture too much.”
“What would you focus on? Santa threatening to blow people up?” asked the guy who had been sleeping.
“You got a little drool on your shirt,” I told him. He actually looked. I smiled when he realized he’d been had. “I think most people would focus on Santa threatening to blow a place up. The part with the guns was a bit far fetched, but I was trying to have some fun while you guys play Mission: Impossible and scribble about crashing an APC into the wall.” And so I began to explain the entirety of my plan.
“We’re doing the best we know how,” said one of them, a woman with a muscular physique and small boobs. “We’re normally not on the planning side of this.”
“You’re not on the planning side of anything most of the time,” I responded, then quickly tried to deflect this from becoming an insult-fest. “A good villain has to plan things out better. I can do it, but I have to work with y’all, and nobody expects heroes to have much to do with breaking into a bank to steal something.”
“What can we do about that?” asked a cornrowed young man with skin as black as something dark brown in color. Wood, maybe? Coffee? Certain types of chocolate? Why does skin color so often turn into a discussion of food? One of his mayo-skinned colleagues chimed in as well.
“We have to keep from using our powers a lot too. Villains don’t have to worry about that, because you don’t care so much if you’re caught,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Believe me, we care. We just don’t have to worry about publicity so much. But I think we can do something about it. I’ve had some time to think and get hit in the face by a metal piston. This may be a lingering head injury talking, but I think we can turn the weakness of this bunch into a strength. So here’s what we do…”
The next day, I filled in for Kris Kringle. It hadn’t been that hard. The heroes wanted to get all overly complicated and hack the bank’s security to figure out who they hired. I wanted to wait in the parking lot, where they tied up Santa, gagged him, and stuck him in the trunk of his car. I may have done a little dancing around in the parking lot as I adjusted the pillow under the coat of my costume. “Kidnap the Sandy Claws, lock him up real tight, throw away the key, and then turn off all the lights!”
“You don’t have to be so happy about this,” said one of my accomplices. I never bothered to learn his name. Let’s call him Thing 1.
“Listen, person I don’t care about, I’m the Santa now. Being jolly is part of the job. Now, don’t you have a bank to rob? Careful, I might have to put you on a list for that kind of behavior.”
He shook his head and adjusted his jumpsuit. I smiled to myself as I fixed my beard on nice and tight. I anticipated he’d run into a couple of hiccups with his addition to the plan. Mine originally only called for me to go in at this point. He felt they needed to have even more people in to really sell what I wanted to sell, so Thing 1 volunteered to dress up as a member of the cleaning staff. I just got to play Santa and take photos with little boys and girls.
“I wanna motorbike, and I want football pads, and I want a new NFL game, and I want…” the enthusiastic youngster in my lap was saying at the time.
I didn’t care for children, especially one wasting my time so much, but then I heard from the other guy. “So, it turns out the janitors come in after hours and don’t wear this kind of jumpsuit. We might have to abort.”
“Stop him!” someone yelled. I only heard it through the comms, so it was someone near the other guy. Not ten seconds later, a door to the rear of the bank flew open and out ran Thing 1, being chased by security.
I gave it another fifteen minutes, mainly because I figured the heroes had to be betting on me and I wanted to screw it up for at least one of them, before I grabbed the Santa sack I brought with me and pulled out a plastic ball pit ball with silly putty and wires stuck to it. That’s a tough fake bomb to make there. The silly putty was the tricky part. “Now let’s deal with that naughty list, shall we?”
Despite their misgivings from the plan, the heroes sure looked happy at how hurt I looked from a little security guard brutality. The one who smacked my nose with his baton went further than necessary, especially because my pretty face can’t heal as easily now. Security was all too eager to hand over the Mad Santa Bomber to this group of Master Academy heroes who had been out on patrol. I just laughed at them. “Look at this sorry bunch of spandex-wearing losers. Nothing says courage like bicycle shorts. By the way, miss, you need to tape those balls back down. They make an unseemly bulge.”
“Quiet, you!” said Thing 1, his face covered by a mask. I think he enjoyed punching me in the belly, even though it was not the kind of improvising I’d have preferred. I saw his eyes widen a little as the air whooshed out of me.
“You can take him now, unless there’s anything else you need,” said one of the Security guards holding me by a ziptied arm.
“Is there any chance we can get a copy of the camera footage?” asked one of the heroes.
“That’s not really necessary, is it? He pulled out the bomb, it’s a fake it turns out, and we stopped him. We’ll hand the footage over to the police if they ask for it.”
Thing 1 stepped forward. “Can we see the fake bomb at least?”
“Is something going on here?” A man in a suit asked as he stepped forward. “He’s caught, right? Take him and go.”
“Ha!” I said upon regaining the ability to speak. “You may have captured me, but my accomplice already did what he needed to the vault. Soon, Empyreal City will rue the day. You hear me? Get your ruing practice in early, because the day of ruining is nearly at hand!”
Cheesy? Yes. Something you’d expect from a dirty Santa standing by the freeway? Definitely. Probable cause for vigilantes to ask to examine the vault? Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!
After being escorted out by part of the group, Thing 1 and another hero went back inside to see to that vault thing. The security tapes indeed showed someone fleeing who, according to witnesses, tried to pass as a janitor. He didn’t seem to have gone anywhere near the vault, but from what I heard on the comms they just claimed we’d looped the cameras. Anybody in with any real background in that would know that one stunk from being full of BS.
Then out came the gizmos. In this case, they pretended a tracking device attuned to the signal from the nanites was being used to track down the location of explosives. It was found to be in a special container on its own pallet in the vault. The bank had agreed to store said container for a client. It shouldn’t have been anything harmful.
“Then why is it sloshing?” asked Thing 1 as he opened a cap on the top and gave the container a push. The bank manager went into full-on panic mode, talking about calling in bomb squads and all that. The heroes assured him they could handle this without drawing quite so much public attention. They’d just have to carry it out and take it elsewhere to determine what it was and try to determine what had happened. The bank manager quickly agreed.
And so Master Academy robbed a bank, all under the guise of protecting it. So easy, it should be against the law. Oh wait, it is.
“Well done,” said Mender as he watched one of his students slow down. The lawn behind the school building opened up and he hovered down with the container. I tried to step over and peer down after him, but I didn’t get a real good look before the lawn closed up again on the hideout underneath the school.
“Hurray. Now instead of calling the cops on a mob boss having stolen goods, you can call them here instead. That’ll surely help me escape scrutiny,” I mentioned.
“It’s not that simple,” said Psychsaur as she stepped out of the back door of the school as well. “We’re not supposed to have those either. No one is allowed to have nanites after what you pulled.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, trying to emphasize with my tone the stupidity of her statement. “That’s what I said. They’re illegal, you took them from someone who had them illegally, now you can do your turning them over thing and let them go to waste.”
“They will not be put to waste. There are still too many hurt in this world who need your tainted gift to survive,” said Victor Mender. “You have helped us to achieve a Christmas Miracle, Psycho Gecko. You should feel proud of yourself. I fear we will need this soon. Until we do, it is safe in our protection, where no one of ill-intention can get to it.”
Why not rub it in my face some more? “Eh, not the first time I’ve pulled off a Christmas Miracle. Or New Years. At least the Hanukkah Zombie didn’t show up to request my help. Mayhap I’m finally done being the plaything of the universe…”
I pondered that to the point of ignoring as everyone finished getting things loaded and headed back into the building. Everyone but Mender, that is, whose digitized voice said, “Cough cough.”
So much for not being a plaything. “You were saying?” I turned to him again.
“You have had to be dragged kicking and screaming along with our plans. I do not hope to reform you like Venus. I think you can be a valuable wetwork asset for the school beyond when I deploy you against The Claw. That is why I have a request for you. A test.”
I felt Psychsaur step up behind me and root around in my head. “Stop that,” I said back to her.
“I am adjusting your parole. My people have investigated the men who attacked my school recently. They failed, but I have learned they are planning to try again. They have money, they have weapons, and they have an unknown source of information. I want you to deny them these things.” It was tough reading anything into Mender’s stare considering how he always looks now. The guy can’t exactly emote a lot.
I reached up and scratched the back of my head. Psychsaur’s telepathic intrusion tickled back there. “That’s going to be tough, considering what she put in my head.”
“I took something out, too,” she said from behind me.
I glanced back, but then Mender spoke and really got my attention. “This next robbery would be dangerous. You have to be able to hurt people.” I looked at him for a moment, then turned and tried to punch Psychsaur. I stopped nowhere near her, prompting Mender to continue: “The right people. More to the point, the wrong people.”
I pouted and turned back to him. “Fine, but no hero costume. I’m still a villain.”
“Sure you are,” Psychsaur said, patting my head.
Funny person, that Psychsaur. That’s why I’ll kill her second.
“Ok,” I told Mender. “This time, in the spirit of the season… I will crush your enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women. It’s gonna be a red Christmas this year.”