Tag Archives: Wildflower

AvPG: FUBAR FTW 5

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“I wouldn’t get too close. He’s a little…” Max warned someone off approaching me. He didn’t mean to offend me, I’m sure, especially because he was down in the bunker and I hunkered down in the top floor of my building. It didn’t used to be the top floor until the aliens carved it up. And with power back on in the city, I could listen in down in the bunker from up there. Good thing I was up there. Max was right.

It started with a few bad dreams. In this one, I had an eye looking right at me from the middle of a massive nest of tentacles and mouths that stretched for miles in all directions, more of which I saw as my viewpoint zoomed out. The ground around it swarmed with millions of things moving around, roaring, swinging claws around. I pulled out far enough to see larger tentacles waving out into space, a star in the background. Instead of a moon, a bloody skeleton in the fetal position orbited. Before I went any further, it reached out to grab me.

I awoke lunging and swinging my fist, knocking a gun out of Lone Gunman’s grasp. It took way more people to pull me off him than should have been trying, and apparently I’m the bad guy for pulling out the shiv and holding someone hostage until they turned over Lone Gunman to me. Then the electricity-powered supers interrupted the whole shebang and I didn’t even get to kill anyone.

I’d have done so anyway, but Beetrice got all independent being on her own with her own friends and acquaintances. But no, apparently I’m the one being unreasonable for wanting to execute all of them. When someone walked by, when someone said hello, when someone looked at me too long. They’re all really lucky I wasn’t having flashbacks, though.

Just when I thought it was safe to sleep outside my armor. Took a bit of Febreze, but I pulled it on again and went up high to evaluate the situation. The aliens have suffered defeat after defeat in the field. They lost their barrier, their ability to easily brainwash us, and any semblance of being peaceful. In the meantime, they’ve started open warfare across the face of the planet, with other cities now being cut off by alien ships. Yep, it looks like they have little reason to come back to Empyreal City. So far, so good. I might actually survive this.

No way. No how. It’s not going to be that easy. There’s always someone, somewhere, who is trying to murder me, and these guys are fated to do so. It’s all just a ruse, it has to be. They decided to lose here to lull me into a false sense of security, then started fighting other countries. So while they tried to live and let die, I tried to think up ways to get the D-Bomb to their fleet.

Just like with taking out the satellites, it’s important to understand the distances involved. Space is big. Like really, really big. I’d say you could take my word on there being large distances involved, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that it’s fucking big. My dick, my ego, your momma; all pale in comparison to the size of outer space.

No matter my thoughts, I had plenty of time to think them. Whatever happened to Lone Gunman, he didn’t try again that day. Probably went out to whet his murderous appetite with more of the alien hunting squads. There were still stragglers and raiders, but the number of armed ETs in the streets had diminished rapidly. The game of cat and mouse had reversed itself. The aliens had the technological advantage, but they had wanted Earth’s numbers for a reason.

I didn’t join them, though, because something about the entire situation still wasn’t right. I couldn’t figure it out, but I did know that the answer to all of it was the bomb I’d been putting together, calibrating, maintaining, but which I hadn’t armed or even made capable of remote arming. I mean, having a bomb ready that some tech-savvy enemy could turn on right beside me? Yeah, sure, right after I shove a pistol into the waistband of my sweatpants with the safety off and try to scratch my balls with a hatchet.

There was no getting around it. I needed an alien ship. A shuttle would probably do, as long as the Fluidics didn’t bother to question what one lone ship of theirs was doing flying back to the main fleet. And I really didn’t want to be the lone idiot on that shuttle trying to do that one. Uh uh.

I looked up at the ship over Empyreal City, pondering this problem, when I sensed something amiss. Like millions of lives crying out in terror and suddenly ending. I reached out with my personal wifi to figure out what happened and realized I couldn’t see or hear or feel anything. Everything had gone dead. Thirty seconds later, it all came on again, but everything I touched with my mind felt painful. Like my brain scraped against rough wood. It reminded me of that time I tried the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, but with less lemon and gold.

I recognized massive viral infection when I saw it. I’ve caused enough of it before, that’s for sure. You sweet talk a computer or two, just trying to find out which superhero has a thing for mouth-fucking fresh carp, and you sell that information off to a rival hero or villain to throw them off their game. Bada bing, bada boom, carpe diem. Perhaps that’s a poor choice of words.

At least I was fine. Whatever they had going on, my anti-virus systems had already adapted and kicked out any attempts. I could still communicate with Earth’s cute little proto-Skynet, but not as well as before, so I took the express elevator down to find chaos breaking out in the bunker.

“Dammit, what did you heroes do now?” I asked, stepping out of the elevator to find people crowded around televisions, radios, and my giant screen.

“Breaking News!” the monitor promised, except that the head of the anchor immediately went all fuzzy and snowy. Words appeared over anything on screen, a sentence at a time in multiple languages.

“We wanted a peaceful transition. You have made this impossible. We will rule you. You have twenty-four hours to formalize your submission. Until then, lights out.”

Then everything that received a signal or that connected to something with a signal shut down. TV, radio, the internet, computers, printers, fax machines, phones, cars with GPS. Anything that could have been infected by this virus just stopped, the power included.

“Again?! Can’t a guy enjoy a cold one in peace?” I asked, throwing my hands up.

Wildflower turned to look at me from next to the computer. “Gecko? Are you ok?”

I nodded. “Yeah, Apparently I’ve dealt with this before, though I don’t know…” I trailed off, thinking back. Way back. I thought back so far, I thought back to the future. In Transylvania, when I first stumbled into the future because a man’s attempt to freeze the world in time created localized spacetime ripples into the past and future, I had been severely debilitated by a virus I contracted in the same ripple set during this invasion.

Huh. Well, that makes a hell of a lot more sense than if I was doing ok and realized it was because I later on I time traveled to the past to give myself the cure I’d received from my time traveling self at this point. Suck it, Bill and Ted.

I shook my head. “Ok, so I’m fine. For me, software anti-virus is a little bit like the immune system at times.”

“Great! All we need to do is let the government dissect Gecko’s brain and we’ll be home free!” yelled Lone Gunman from behind me. I instinctively created a hologram of myself, turned my real body invisible, and stepped to the side.

Venus whirled from the monitor, gritting her teeth and pulling off the last bits of her power armor. Underneath that, she wore a minimalist version of her normal white, gold, and pink costume. “Nobody’s dissecting his brain, but perhaps he can hook into everything and undo this? Master Academy has a hacker who can help fight this virus, but there’s a chance others can get into your head while this is happening.”

My hologram shook its head.

“I know it’s a lot to ask for, but without computers, it’s only a matter of time before Earth surrenders…”

I let her keep talking while I snuck through the crowd until my armor could no longer maintain the projection. That riled people up. Ha! Another crowd of people angry at me. It gets old. No, they made it clear enough by now that I wasn’t their friend or even ally. Just another tool to get the job done even when they preferred in-fighting. Just another machine. A weapon.

What doesn’t get old? Strapping a mostly-built weapon of mass destruction to my back and sneaking out back to find the shot up old piece of junk shuttle that we’d stolen, then used to infiltrate the alien ship, then got shot up even more on its way back.

Because I knew what I needed to do, and it didn’t involve letting people into my brain either way. That would only fight a symptom, and I’m done trusting anyone to handle that. Everyone decided they didn’t want my help, need my help, or didn’t need to give me help, and everyone from Good Doctor to Lone Gunman is aiming for my death in a time when there are clearly bigger fish to fry.

It wasn’t that hard to fly the shuttle up, and docking was as easy as the big ship taking control of the shuttle’s systems to guide it into a docking bay full of enough stuff to kick my ass. Clearly, they’d learned a thing or two about boarding parties, and made sure to stand clear when they forced open the door, then went in with a hell of a lot of force. They had clearly learned a lesson some stormtroopers could have used in Star Wars.

Too bad I clinged to the top of the shuttle for the last part of the journey. Even with the extra weight of the Dimension Bomb on my back, it was child’s play to slide down to the floor and make my way past unobserved and through a door. Oh yeah, they’d learned from Star Wars. Unfortunately for them, they hadn’t paid as much attention to movies like Alien, Predator, or even Alien Versus Predator.

Because when it comes to Psycho Gecko, karma’s not just a bitch. It’s also one ugly motherfucker.

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AvPG: FUBAR FTW 3

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And so Psycho Gecko is almost like a hero to many people. Hurrah. Not all of them, though. Some folks evaded the cloud, or had their own protections in place. Technolutionary still hasn’t turned up, except in the memories of a lot of folks. First there was Psycho Gecko, then Priscilla Powers, and now at least two hundred other folks from Empyreal City are like me, including Venus. I am no longer a species by myself here, and that’s odd in its own way, too.

A lot of folks were real apologetic about their treatment of me, their lack of trust in me. Good Doctor seems like he could be one of them, though maybe we’ll call it even given what I did to Forcelight. Still, he and I are at least tolerating each others’ presences, but it gives me hope in a sort of way. The ability to hold onto that grudge despite all the good I did…it’s comforting to see Doc hasn’t lost that part of his own humanity.

Hasn’t stopped some of the philosophical questions popping up now with some of these other survivors. “What does it mean to be human?” and all that mess. The same kind of stuff people should have realized to ask when the aliens, robots, superhumans, and two World Wars showed up, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, “human” is a species, not some mystical quality that makes one thing better than another.

It’s that focus I could begin to understand, like when Venus kept touching a cellphone to see what would happen while everyone else enjoyed a celebratory party. It wasn’t the only one. With the food situation being what it is in Empyreal City, there’d been a major effort to get relief supplies to the city. Not everyone cared for FEMA’s MREs, but a hell of a lot of other folks ordered or donated food and beer. Especially where my group is concerned. Though I know it’s premature, I let them all enjoy it anyway. Even Girl Robot and Wildflower, since I was ignoring them for the time being.

Instead, Venus. I walked over as she swapped the phone from one hand to another. “Congratulations. You went from an unpowered member of one species to an unpowered member of another species. I think by now it’s a bit redundant for the villain to tell the hero that we’re so much alike, eh?”

Venus looked at me, then closed her eyes and held the phone up. She flipped it front ways and back, taking advantage of the cameras on both sides. “This is so weird. I’m never going to get used to this.”

“You’ll get used to it. Or you’ll go crazy, but that sounds like a bit of a stretch, right?” I smiled. “By the way, you’ll want to-”

She opened bulging eyes as she glanced down. I noticed her eyes flick from side to side, up and down, like looking at something only she could see.

“Yep, there it is. Welcome to the world wide web, Venus. Try not to think of porn.” I chuckled, knowing exactly what happens when you tell someone not to think about something. The look on her face really sold it. I reached over and pressed my hand to the phone. The intrusion of my thoughts on hers interrupted her, as did me switching off the phone’s data feature.

“How do handle all of that at once?” she asked.

I held up a hand, “Just so we’re clear, that’s what she said, eh?”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Constant internet access straight to your head. Anyone would be eccentric with that.” She flashed me a smile that soon disappeared when our wires got crossed on the phone. It made her jump just a little. “Whoa, that’s weird. That must be what happens when two people like us touch something that way?”

I nodded and flashed a smiley face on the screen facing her. She glanced at it, then back up at me. “Hey, no hard feelings about me trying to kill you, right?”

I waved it off. “Normally, it wouldn’t much matter and I’d want to kill you anyway, but I like you, for an enemy. A nemesis, if you will. We’re not so different, you and I. Wait, I just brought that up. Anyway, it’s the aliens who were pushing the buttons, right?”

She nodded. “I have vague memories sometimes. I see our confrontation like it was a dream. I wasn’t there in the fight.” She sighed.

“Could have fooled me. Finally, we go at it to the death and you’re the one who penetrates my body. But if you weren’t there, where were you? You said it was like a dream, so were you sleeping?” I had wondered about this. There had been a certain amount of trauma and drama caused by people after they’d awoken from their controlled state, but no one I’d run across seemed particularly mindfucked from the experience itself. It’s not like they’d perceived themselves to be trapped forever in a lake of fire, the heat so hot it cracked the bones beneath their rapidly numbing and peeling skin. Some people look at that description and go “Jesus H. Christ!” And that’s about accurate.

Venus flinched. “Paradise.”

“Do I need to check your neck now? I thought we got that all cleared up.” I used the phone’s camera to capture a picture of her expression.

She pulled her hand back away from it. “It was paradise, like they said. My body did whatever it did without me noticing, but my mind was locked in some fantasy world where everything was right. I look back on it and think ‘How did I believe this was real?’ but it was controlling my perceptions. It kept me from noticing, and I keep wondering what my body did with them in control.”

“If it’s any consolation, Venus, while I didn’t like how our fight went, at least the pre-battle screw was very satisfactory.” She punched me in the head. Lightly in the head. “They must have read up on some nice positions.” That got me another punch. I continued anyway, “I think that last one was called ‘One Man Bucket,’ but that’s just the short name. The longer name is-” She gave me another punch that was interrupted by someone calling out.

“Hey, boss, why you let her hit you like that?” I turned to find Carl approaching, chewing on an ice cream cone that he must have been working on for a bit. A former thug for hire that I kept after he amused me on a bank job, Carl had served me well, if a bit redundantly. I’m not good with teams, or with close leadership positions, and I also figured he deserved to stay out of harm’s way. As a result, I set him up with a cushy job here in Empyreal City as my puppet Vice President of my fake front company while I traveled the world. It sorta defeated the purpose when I came back and actually built the damn thing up to help fight against some alien invasion I’d heard would happen.

Considering all the things I’d tried to put into place that turned against me, perhaps I should be grateful that I hadn’t yet had to use all of them. Like my new rocket sax, or all the other rockets I’d prepared. Or the Dimension Bomb I’d been working on. Though I will definitely have to use that one. These alien bastards aren’t done yet.

“Gotta let her get some good licks in,” I said, dodging another teasing punch to the head from Venus at the innuendo. “How are you doing? Recovering well enough? Hugged a TV recently?”

He cocked his head, puzzled. “I’m alright. Haven’t hugged no TV yet. Is that a new joke that’s been going around? I heard someone calling someone else ‘dank’ recently, and I think it was a good thing.”

I reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Word, dawg. I was just checking, trying to keep it fo rizzle up in the hizzy. I didn’t know if you’d been upgraded to be like me. You aren’t noticing anything weird when you try phones, are you?”

He stared at me for a silent couple of seconds, then answered, “No.”

It’s been hard to keep up with people like him. Everything is a mess, the way it often is after big crises like this. A worse problem is that this one isn’t over, something others seem to keep forgetting. I doubt the government really believes it’s over, but it’s also the victory they needed for the President to make a big speech. Kinda like how the Battle of Antietam was a turning point that allowed Lincoln to make the Emancipation Proclamation. In that case, both sides had pretty much fought to a stalemate, but the South retreated, so it was seen as a Northern victory. In this case, we liberated millions of people and gave other folks the idea to start dumping Long Life regenerative nanites all over people, even though the alien fleet’s still around and a ship is still parked right over Empyreal City.

But before that speech, I had a very special thing to do for myself. It involved my armor pod I left behind, which I had repairing and restoring my armor. Knocking a few dents back out of it. Restoring all the microcameras and projectors, the nanite quilt layer, all of that. And while it was busy with that, I dipped my hand into a spare vat of nanites and gave them some special orders.

I still have curves, and a pretty face, because why not check a few more marks on some arbitrary Mary Sue box while I work my ass off to kill the unkillable? But I did drop the boobs after all. Alas, it won’t be the same trying to use knockers to knock someone’s block off, but oh well. And I brought back Richard, “Tricky Dick” Penis as well. Before anyone asks, that’s just a joke. I didn’t actually name it that. Some people may give them names, stuff like Genghis Long, Atilla the Hunk, or John Hungcock, but not me.

In the end, I went from bitch to bishonen. I still greatly resembled my Norma Mortenson identity, enough to be recognized. This only added to the surprise that ran through the room when I stopped by Master Academy East to watch the big speech that’d been announced for that day. First, people who hadn’t been around before probably wondered why I’d hang out there for this. My legal status had been considered somewhat hazy since the nanite rain, with some particularly wrong folks thinking I’ll get a pardon, but I’m still legally arrestable. Another bit of confusion came about because I’d changed sexes again. Even more confusion hit some of the guys because of how pretty I looked.

I sat down on the couch next to Wildflower. The person I sat on wisely decided to squeeze out from under me and let me keep the seat. “You’re early.” She said, crossing her arms.

I glanced down at her claws as they tapped along her arm. “Maybe I wanted to have a talk with an angry superheroine? Also, where did everyone go all of a sudden?” The room had emptied all at once without me noticing. Odd.

“Because we’re having some couple talk and nobody wants to be around that.” She sighed. “I wanted to be with you because you’re strong and you would protect me. You left me behind.”

“To be fair, that’s a pretty messed-up reason to want to date a messed-up person.” I added, not helping my case.

“I know you’re dangerous, but what attracted me to you is the way you could be dangerous to anyone but me.”

“That’s the only reason you liked me?”

“That and the way you looked after me in the asylum.” She’s referencing, of course, the time I beat her up and imprisoned her in an abandoned insane asylum. It made more sense in context.

“As soon as I got back and saw you were still seemingly yourself, I came and got you.”

“You left me in the first place. I’ve talked to your friends and you had Moai with you. You took him, and probably other things, then you deliberately wasted time coming back. I didn’t mean much to you.”

“And I was the big monster you hid behind so no one could ever hurt you, and all it cost was some sex. And a bit of my money, come to think of it.” I smiled. “Though I don’t care about the money that much.”

“I don’t know about us getting back together,” she said.

I nodded. “Yeah. I guess when it comes down to it, this wasn’t a very healthy relationship. I’ll give you awhile before I tie you up and toss you back into my bed again, how about that?”

She snorted. “You better become top monster again, ‘dear,’ or I might have to hitch my wagon to the aliens.”

“This isn’t a good time to joke about that. Also, shh,” said someone nearby. Looking up, I found the room populated once more. Uncanny. This time, they had popcorn. It helped transition Wildflower and I from the awkward possibly-broken up stage to just sitting there watching as the President of the United States appeared behind his podium.

“My fellow Americans, I have come to you today with an momentous announcement. Our planet, the home of humanity, has played host to alien lifeforms in the past. Now, we find ourselves preyed upon by a new set. Yes, there have been attempts by the aliens to negotiate with us, but they have not bargained in good faith. The rumors that the aliens are taking over people are true. They seek the end to human free will. They underestimated human ingenuity, however. The superheroine known as Forcelight answered the call and took charge. Thanks to this young hero, the alien satellite that allows them free rain to warp our minds has been destroyed. Her creations, the Long Life regenerative nanotechnology, are being deployed worldwide to combat the threat. You have seen their effectiveness in liberating Empyreal City. We owe a debt of gratitude to Forcelight and all the heroes who answered the call. Even those who have otherwise shown themselves to be enemies to our way of life, such as The Claw, have stepped up to help us fight. We are grateful for their efforts, but I assure you, they are not the only ones helping us in this fight for our very existence…”

Yada, yada, yada. Some big, long-winded speech making it clear that the aliens are the enemies, the good guys will do something about it, and the person who saved the day totally wasn’t that supervillain guy who has been putting all the work in. They gave The Claw recognition over me! Then again, he has biological weapons and nuclear missiles. I bet if I had nuclear missiles, I’d get more respect. No, wait, that’s the same line of thinking that keeps making North Korea look so stupid. Either way, I did notice a few glances toward me while the speech went on. A couple people noticed the lack of acknowledgement. Politics. Petty politics.

Well, at least until one of the secret service agents pulled his firearm and shot the President. I thought the feed just immediately cut away, until I noticed how weird the lighting got again. Looking back out the window, I saw we had the barrier back.

Oh joy. It occurs to me now that is another way to divide enemy forces in order to conquer them.

I stood up in my seat and shook my fist upward in the general direction of the alien ship. “Of course you realize dis means war.”

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AvPG: FUBAR FTW 1

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I made my move into the city on Wednesday, and in considerably less dramatic a fashion as anyone expected, but then I want the anticipation to build up. I want people antsy to see me there. An enemy that doesn’t see you coming may be vulnerable, but so is one that knows you’re out there with no way of knowing when and where you’ll appear. Guards can only remain tense and on guard for so long before it gets to them. It isn’t merely psychological, something that can be overridden by having an alien controlling a person by joystick. It’s physiological.

The human body is capable of amazing things even without superpowers, but it does so with the aid of drugs like adrenaline and dopamine while tearing the body apart. Doesn’t sound much better than a druggy killing himself for a fix, right? A very accurate analogy in a way. That same fix that lets a mom lift a car off her child or slow time for a soldier to react can eat away at a person, tearing them apart. In the former case, quite quickly; the latter takes a toll over time, though.

And if anyone thinks I’ll have any sympathy for them, I’ll point out now that I went and waded through the sewers. Yeah, the city has quite a few of them, and anyone in disbelief that they’d allow a person in power armor to maneuver around freely should remember that they maintain routes for maintenance workers. It’s more than enough for one person to go alone, with or without a sword given to them by an old man.

I’d have brought more, but it occurred to me after a moments’ thought that alien mind control would probably make such workers more dutiful and watchful. So I just kinda snuck through all invisible, like Shinobi la Pew. When I reached the end, I took out a stick of deodorant and ran it along the undersides of my armor before pushing open a manhole and making for the rear elevator on the rear of Double Cross Tower. It had always been a good way for me to sneak up to the penthouse or to the hidden bunker I had put together under the place. This time, I went down.

The elevator got a very negative reaction. As soon as the door opened, giant stingers shot through the air and stuck into the metal rear of the elevator. I thought they’d stop at an even dozen, but they went with seventeen of the things before stopping. Then someone tossed in a single brown loafer as an afterthought. After a tense moment, I heard someone say, “Sorry, it’s all I had.”

I, on the other hand, lowered myself down through the top access hatch of the elevator so that anyone down there could recognize my upside-down head. “Hiya, folks! Miss me?” I made a show of turning to look over my shoulder where some of the stingers still quivered from being shot. “I guess so.”

“Is that Psycho Gecko, the notorious supervillain?” asked Festus, standing with one shoe in the middle of a horde of Buzzkills. The Buzzkills were bee people. They looked humanoid, but had black and yellow exoskeletons with fuzz sticking out in tufts and in place of human hair. They tended to keep their wings folded up on their backs unless needed, and looked out at the world with bulbous, segmented eyes. They also liked to use swords made out of giant stingers, much like the ones they carried then.

“Hi Festus,” I said to my former head of Human Resources. It kinda surprised me to see the young, shaky college grad still around. “Any of the other department heads make it?”

“Um…actually, good question. I don’t know.” He hunched up and gave a cautious shrug. In the distance, it sounded like someone had finished boiling up some tea. The sound gradually came to my attention, but now I couldn’t keep from hearing it.

“That’s ok. More surprised you did, though it’s a pleasant surprise in general to see the Buzzkills here. You guys ok?”

They stood down and waved at me, giving mumbling answers that showed they didn’t think I really cared, except for one overly enthusiastic one that jumped up and down. “I’m great! It’s wonderful to see you again. Just wait until we tell the queen!”

I motioned with my hand in a downward-shooing motion. “Maybe get her some downers first before you do that. Sleeping pills, heroin, something to level her out a bit. She’s always been a bit excitable.”

Before the overly-cheerful Buzzkill could answer, a larger Buzzkill flung her aside. The giant one ran over and wrapped her arms around me, lifting me in a great bearhug and shaking me about so much that I almost got whiplash from the experience. After about five seconds of this, I realized that the sound I’d mistaken for a tea kettle was the elongated squee of the Buzzkill queen who held me captive in her embrace. Beetrice was large and in charge of the Buzzkills, but she also had a very odd mind about me. Almost childlike, one might say, except for the bit about wanting my sperm so she could use it to create a huge army of Buzzkills.

Thing is, I’m not really ready for kids. It’d be nothing but running around, crapping on things, flinging food all over people, stomping around after not getting something, breaking toys, followed by staying up late, sneaking out, drinking, and trying to get laid. And I can’t have kids interrupting that schedule of mine.

As quickly as Beetrice had swept me up into a massive hug, she set me back down quickly enough that I stumbled back and lost my balance. “You stink, Male Drone Gecko!” the queen declared.

I held out my arms imploringly. “It’s not what it smells like, honey bee. I was just delivering that package to Mrs. Creature From The Black Lagoon and she invited me in for some hot coffee. That’s all, I swear.”

Beetrice cocked her head to the side, trying to figure the statement out, rubbing her mandibles together. She’s got kind of a weird mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I’d try it before I knocked it. I mean, couldn’t be any weirder than kissing a mouth, once you think about it. Readers, just take a look in a mirror someday, really take a look, and think about what a strange animal you are physically.

While I might consider kissing a bee woman, I wasn’t doing it at the time. Instead, I stood up. “I had to come through the sewers to get here without risking being spotted.”

“Why didn’t you come through the hive?” asked Beetrice.

“I…didn’t know there was a hive that I could come through?” I answered, indeed framing it like a question.

Beetrice responded by grabbing me and carrying me under her arm over to a side wall well away from the elevator. There, they’d opened several large holes into what was supposed to have been layers of concrete and lead. I shook my head. “After I went through all the trouble of putting this together, you go and mess up the wall. I thought y’all are bees, anyway? You get a bit antsy waiting for my return?”

Beetrice’s reflexes were too slow to catch the pun as it went over her head. “We needed a way out nobody would watch, so I pulled up the pornography you left on the ginormous screen television and got to work! There are holes that lead out all over the city, but mostly to parks. Some go to the edge of the barrier, even.”

“Hmm…I might be able to use those to get my people back in. But you say you learned all this from porn? I didn’t think such an education in drilling would prove so useful…”

“Let me show you!” Beetrice exclaimed, trying her best to snap my head as she turned and bounded for the giant computer setup I left down there. When she got close, she yelled at it, “Computer, play file Beetrice Favorite Number Six.”

Did I leave that thing with a voice command system? I couldn’t remember, especially as little as I ever used voice commands. Horrible idea for power armor, I know that. One stumble and you go form launching a rocket to lunching a cock, if the computer can even understand what’s being said.

But enough about cocks. I had porn to watch. Which, incidentally, opened with “Flight of the Bumblebees,” before showing a title card that introduced it as a nature documentary about insects of North America. If I had to guess, Beetrice liked the discussion of bee mating. I didn’t get to watch that far along because, barely two minutes after she decided we would watch it, some sort of alert came up in one corner of the screen.

“Just ignore that, it happens sometimes,” Beetrice told me, segmented eyes locked on the screen. I squirmed out of her grip, landing on my belly and face, then picked myself up to punch a button on the keyboard. Instantly, the screen split in half between the documentary and a scene elsewhere in the city. There, caught on traffic camera, a cat woman fought off a crowd of civilians who crowded around her like a zombie movie.

Wildflower. I kinda left her here. I don’t know exactly who she is, but neither is she. She was a victim of this one laboratory I bought up after a city takeover by a horror villain ruined their experiments. Somehow, she lost her memory and gained powers that involve being a weird hybrid of various animals and plants. The tail looked like something that’d be perched above any feline’s behind, except for the thorns that grew out of it. Being a hero, I first knew her to be a nuisance. Then, in the process of imprisoning her and manipulating her psychologically, we developed some feelings toward each other. It’d make a good romance novel someday. And since she and I were both physical females at the time, they could even call it “Fifty Shades of Gay”.

She didn’t look so good. She fought like a crazy person, an unusual description for her. Claws rent faces and superhuman strength sent bodies flying. In the end, she fled, looking incredibly tattered and torn. It surprised me that she’d made it this far. If she really had. “Has that been happening often?” I asked Beetrice, pointing to those events.

“Hm? Oh, yeah!” The thought of Wildflower getting mauled either excited her, or Beetrice really needed those sleeping pills. “Every now and then, when nothing good is on, it shows her fighting people. She just keeps fighting and fighting them, ever since the day you told us to hide.”

The view where Wildflower fought before disappeared. “Because I set up a recognition program to spy on certain people. I don’t see Venus, though…” Indeed, nothing popped up for a few seconds until another camera alerted me to Wildflower stopping and resting in a neglected patch of green on a street corner. Bushes and trees had been left wild, perhaps less important to the running of the city than the sewers were to the new alien overlords in town.

“You never went and brought her?” I asked Beetrice.

She just shrugged.

A part of me felt mad. Huh. I turned and looked as Wildflower held her arms close to her body. I knew she couldn’t be that cold, given her increased body temperature. It’s why she wears skimpy outfits. She was hurt in many ways.

And, most importantly, I knew she was mine. I’m not sure if I knew that before I left the city, because I’d forgotten it in the meantime. Caught up in my sha-, er, my personal contemplations when I left, and then the rush of an ingeniously insane plan soon afterward. Absence made the heart forgetful. But I wanted her back.

“Beetrice, I need you to send out some very fast scouts to meet up with a crowd of supers and other riffraff. I’ll let them know you’re coming. I want you to prepare an isolated hive hole to collapse. Preferably one you don’t use much that’s on the far side of the city from this.” I followed the order up by bringing up a map of the city that showed a ping centered around the location of the camera currently showing my Wildflower.

Beetrice stepped close to the screen, rubbing at her chin, then pointed to the north. I shook my head when she turned to say something. “Sorry,” I stopped her query before it began, “I need it somewhere to the south. That’s where they’ll be. They need to draw enough attention getting to the hole that fewer people will be around her. And then we collapse the hole so they can’t follow. They won’t be able to figure out where it goes, right?”

Beetrice nodded. “Oh yes, we filled in holes before. Lots of times. They don’t like us.”

I reached up to pat her on the head, until the distance necessitated jumping to do so. “There, there. I like you, and this is important to me, ok?”

She nearly gave herself whiplash nodding this time. “Can I ask why?”

I brought up the camera footage of Wildflower huddled in a small pseudo-park. “Because I need to get her back.”

Sunset threatened the city with darkness by the time I set out into it again. The Buzzkills and Mix N’Max were both ready to play their roles, linking up and distracting the city. I wanted to bring them all in quietly, up until I saw Wildflower.

I put her out of my head so easily while away from this place, it surprised me to realize I still felt she was important. I knew it was contradictory and stupid and no way to plan a personal vendetta against a race of alien goo monsters, but I also knew that I wanted her back and I wanted to make them suffer for what they did to my Wildflower.

I wanted to snap the necks of so many of these meat puppets as I passed invisible among them from the location of the nearest hive hole to a good jumping-off point, but restrained myself in case a sudden death alerted their controllers to a disturbance in an unusual place. Instead, I lept into the air and bounded along rooftops until I found the small area of green. It was really more like a pizza slice of green where two streets met and formed a V shape.The overgrown bushes and trio of small trees formed a decent barrier unless anyone decided they needed to look there, something which most passerby no longer had the initiative for.

I waited until all had passed the area by. Wildflower’s face peeked out, checking to see if the coast was clear. I reappeared right in front of her, making her jump back for a moment, then pounce on me. Unlike any number of animals she got that instinct from, she didn’t try to shred me with tooth and claw. Not immediately, at least. She kept the claws ready, though, sizing me up even while her legs wrapped around my waist to hold her against me.

I reached up, released the seals on my helmet, and pulled it off. “Hey there, Tigerlily.” I figured my face and use of my pet name for her would disarm the situation.

She grabbed my cheeks hard enough to cut lines into the skin and looked me in the eyes. “They taunted me about you. They said you left me to die.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “I’ve done alright without you.”

Here, I had two options. Option A, I lie to her, claim the aliens are lying bastards, and shove my tongue down her throat. Option B, I tell her the truth, get calling a lying bastard, and she tries to shove her foot up my ass.

“They would say something like all that,” I answered. “I got back as soon as I could get here again. And maybe you don’t need my rescuing, but nobody hurts my Wildflower.” Commence the tongue shoving!

I mean, come on, folks, every good relationship is built on some tiny white lies, whether it’s a person claiming they’re looking for stability without drama, or wanting a little more excitement in their life, not wanting kids, or having abandoned the other person to save their own life from an alien invasion. That’s just how relationships work, and anyone unprepared to deal with that is really too naive for one.

Reunited, I cloaked her in a hologram disguise as best I could for us to make our way back to the safety of the bunker.

We made it as far as the nearest hotel’s uppermost rooms, where we broke in quietly…then broke in loudly.

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Aliens Eunt Domus 7

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Now, as I’m so famous for the good of everyone, there’s a limit how much I could do in a non-combat capacity. Especially as far as controlling the media. The internet seemed a good proposition, but one problem with the internet is the widespread use of misinformation. One accurate voice can easily be lost among the multitudes.

It’s just the way the world works. People want to hear what they want to hear. It’d be hard to lie to people if they didn’t. Some people see hope as the last good thing in Pandora’s Box, but did they ever stop to think about why anyone would lock it up with the rest of them? Because the best evils are things you like. Lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, pride, envy, sloth, hope. All that crap. And some of them intersect. Like lust, greed, envy, gluttony, and hope. And all of them are pretty good for conning people, except maybe gluttony. Not that many cons involve intense desire for food, except for the old classic, the Chinese buffet that also serves pizza, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets.

I don’t think the aliens are quite in on the usefulness of hope, though. There are armed rioters surrounding the Master Academy’s earthen wall. Just all over, with no chance of escape. I got a good enough look at it when I slipped out. Officially, they asked me to find Master Academy students who had been stranded outside and get them back. Out of the goodness of my heart, that sort of thing. That’s what they think. Now, I have some gadgets, parts, pieces, and tools in my little prefab that I dragged onto campus, so I put together something in a hurry. But a good something. A capable something.

A signal interceptor. It’s been awhile since I used this, but I’m desperate. My signal interceptor is a device that, when installed in a broadcast center, allows me to take over TV broadcasts over a wide area. Like all of Memphis. On top of that, it can have some destructive side effects on actual TV sets, overheating certain elements until they die.

Not the worst thing to have when you’ve got more truth than the internet will let you spew. Sure, give homeopaths more respectability than me. They’re the ones arguing that lead poisoning should be treated with more lead, and fixing bullet wounds with another shot. At least back during American Civil War times, they made it a shot of whiskey. That actually worked as a painkiller.

I mentally nicknamed this “mission” Operation Flaming Star as I hopped on top of the earthen wall and then over the crowd of people around the place. It didn’t occur to me until I got past them that the only ones shouting and throwing things were the ones right in front. The others past that made a few motions and occasionally added a bit of chorus to the shouts, but were otherwise faces in the crowd.

Well, they didn’t have any sort of super secret psychic sense to see me. My armor hid me easily and allowed me to slip the picket line to head south into the city. Once there, I had a few options. There were a couple of locations where friendly heroes and villains had holed up, though I suspected they were just as likely to be double agents at this point. The other option, fuck off and leave, would have been nice…but somehow I doubt the aliens want to play ball and just let me go. I mean, they want the entire world. This one city, the most populous city in the most powerful single nation on Earth, is just one piece. Not the most important one. Just the one they had to do something about because we spoke up, or so I’m thinking. Lastly, we could go for broke and make damn sure the people here know what’s going on.

I think I’ll go with that one. With that many people believing in all this and running, along with eyewitness testimony, it’ll be damn near impossible for all this to stay under wraps. So maybe we got a shot.

Life seemed surprisingly unchanged through much of the city. Not everyone ran to get medical care. Ironically, their stock of potential victims in their “clinics” had already been depleted by Technolutionary.

Crap!

I called him up. No answer. I reached out to the general number for Sigma Labs. Nothing else. A check with my head of the science division showed she didn’t have a clue about his whereabouts, whatever her name was. I suppose I should try to remember more underlings’ names, or at least assign them numbers. But I can’t really blame her for not knowing what went on at Sigma. It just means Technolutionary and I were much better at keeping secrets. So that was another thing to take care of in this excursion.

I tackled my problem head-on by waltzing into ABC’s local flagship station. One of the good thing about Empyreal City is its importance in the media, or so says the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I mean, it’s not like breaking into a prison, Congress, or the United Nations. We’re talking the bare minimum of security. I probably could have done it visible.

I don’t think many of them were controlled, or they were better at passing if they were. Which also provides more evidence for few of them being controlled, come to think of it. If they were in the majority, they wouldn’t bother pretending.

Yep, just walked in, dropped my invisibility, snapped the producer’s neck, and began to attach the signal interceptor while everyone was busy screaming and running for their lives. I suppose it could have done things nonlethally, but…why? I mean, especially with the one that stopped just outside the production booth’s door to keep an eye on me. Didn’t even reach for his phone. That’s why I stood up and closed the door. Then punched my hand through the door and into his gut. Twenty feet later, I finished pulling out the spy’s small intestine and tried to squeeze his head through the door as well.

Then it was back to the interceptor, knowing I was on borrowed time, so I helped myself to their handy studio, which had also swiftly been evacuated. Except, once again, for an enslaved human. “Hey, glad to see you’re here, why don’t you come over here…”

He tried to run, but I grabbed him by the leg and the rest followed. Good rule of thumb to remember when leading people around. “Ok there, folks. I have something to say here. This should be going out to a hell of a lot of televisions right now. Nice to see y’all out there in TV Land. Some of you may know me as Psycho Gecko, notorious serial killer, mass murderer, and chocolate bunny aficionado. And you’ve also heard that I’m behind the resistance to these oh-so-benevolent aliens. You know, the aliens who want to put stuff in your heads that makes you walk around talking about how great they are and how they can build a utopia on Earth. Every last one of them. Including folks like Senator Powers.”

I used my armor to project that same damn language from him, as well as my memory of him on TV pushing for superheroes to be registered, his rampage with that FBI empowering tech, and Captain Lightning delivering his communicator organ. This would be an excellent spot for a clip show if this was a TV show.

“And when I toss out evidence, Youtube cockblocks me. So now I have that in common with Channel Awesome and Team Four Star. Oh, and people go around saying I’m provoking heroes. Yeah, sure, heroes are just jumping to do what I say.“

Cue the clip of a very surprised Venus holding my severed arm while I tried to clap.

I shrugged, smearing my captured slave’s panicky face against my armor.

“But let’s not just take it for granted, folks.” I ruffled the hair of the guy I held onto. “After all, this individual here was nice enough to stick around, trying to spy on me here in this studio. Let’s see what he has to say.”

He sputtered, “I, I, I, don’t know, please let me go. I have family! A kid, my girlfriend’s, but I had parents, too.”

I slammed his face onto the desk and held it down there while slipping off a glove. My exposed blackened zirconium nails gleamed in the studio lights. “Now, when vigorously asking people things, you never start with the head. The victim gets all fuzzy. He can’t feel the next…” I dug in with my fingernails, ignoring the screams and jerky flailing of the victim under me. One quick second later and I was hauling out another communicator organ, one I seriously needed a better name for by now. Then I pulled him up so he could address the camera. “See?”

I slipped my glove back on and sealed it as he kept babbling. “Ah! Oh god, it hurts. Fuck! He’s right! He’s right! They made me stay. At first, it was just talking-”

The building shook and the power flickered.

“What’s going on?” my new sidekick asked.

I looked around. “Well, we’re probably not on the air anymore, for starters. One moment…no, we’re done here. You’ll want to run now.”

A deep rumbling made that suggestion sound just dandy to me as well. Nice guy that I am, I even let my bleeding surgery patient run out ahead of me. When nothing grabbed or zapped or disemboweled him, I figured it was safe to run. I hit the invisibility, though, just in case the would-be conquistadors were simply more discriminate about killing than I am.

Crazy guy ran for the stairs. Me, I took the window. My flying leap carried myself and some glass well away from the building in a moment full of action, drama, and a little bit of romance when I landed on a flagpole sticking out from a building across the street. In a major letdown for special effects artists everywhere, no giant beam of light burst forth from the heavens. The outside windows gleamed for a moment, like something flashed by. Then the whole thing blew apart.

Just, apart. Like everything was sliced down to a fine thin shard and it all started flying away from where it had been in every direction. Including the people, unless they had a lot of red and white shit I didn’t see while passing through.

So at first, I figured it was a successful mission, until the sky went dark out of nowhere. No precipitation in the cards today, but it became a dark and stormy day, with rain pouring out of nowhere.

Sure, fine, let the aliens rain on my parade. But the damage was already done, I figured. They realized it pretty quickly if the length of the rainfall was any indication. It stopped after a few minutes and then everything got all foggy and misty. Eh, so what? I stopped by some old Jewish deli to pick up some of the stragglers I’d been sent out for.

I texted Venus to let them know I was close. She started to say the usual shit. Ya know: “Oh my god, what did you do, you doomed us all, you madman? Have my baby!”

In retrospect, maybe she had a point. See, as I approached the deli, I was stopped in my tracks. And not by some fine Jamaican booty, either. Nope, it was by hands made of asphalt which grabbed onto my legs, knees, thighs, and even ass. Held me tight. I amped up the muscle enhancers in my suit to break free. Didn’t budge, so I set it to the level where it starts breaking bones. Good news is, broke my bones, so the pseudomuscles worked correctly. Bad news, another giant hand reached up to hold me still when I started to budge the others.

A wall blew out on the diner, showing a super kneeling there with his hands on the ground. Looked a lot like the one back at Master Academy who built the wall, so maybe an older brother. Well, I’ll have to head back and let him know he’ll be an only child from now on. It’s not all bad. Now his parents can afford to give him twice the presents at Christmas. He just better hope they better not give him that crappy light brown costume they gave his older brother.

The hand guy wasn’t alone, though. The blowing out was done by another one who who had mechanical flamethrowers for hands. He had a flame-pattern red unitard on, because fire supers don’t have a lot of creativity. The flaming wall was scattered further by another teen in an outflit that used Persian blue, Caroline blue, and Prussian blue in repeating columns to create a costume amazingly blue in appearance. I mean, what else do you call that kind of costume?

Facing off against Earth, Wind, and Fire like this, I seriously wanted to smack a bitch. The feeling was mutual. Little boy blue held his hands in front of his torso, where a bunch of winds blew and swirled, carrying little bits of debris with them. The fabulous flamer grinned and spurted a few flames in the air before a constant stream of fire formed into a pair of hands that wiggled their fingers in anticipation of grabbing me.

Trapped as I was, with a couple chicken grenades on me, I knew this was going to be bad. Dammit… a trapped villain being threatened by color-coded heroes with elemental powersets. Death by Saturday Morning Cartoon.

Aha! Saturday morning cartoons! I just needed the power of cheesiness on my side to prevail. And I knew just the way.

While the Battlin’ Blower busied himself with sucking, I reached over and unsealed my gloves. “Hey there, boys. I know y’all are lookin’ for a nice foursome here, and I appreciate the thought, but it’s a bad time of month for me. So how about a handjob instead?”

I fired the rockets on my gloves that I’d added to give them extra oomph in punching. They flew out, empty but still heavy and rocket-powered, to follow in their master’s wish to smack bitches. The first caught the firey one in the cheek just as he lowered his arms and tried to blast me. In a move that showed my amazing long-term thinking instead of luck, flames reached out to lick the one gathering all that air, who instinctively reacted by trying to push the flames away. He let all of his gathered winds loose at once threw off the glove I’d aimed for the crap-colored-costumed one with his hands in the dirty and his dirt hands on my ass. In the plus column, the winds blasted a bunch of grit into his face and pushed him back, causing him to try and shield his face.

I felt the hands’ grip soften on me at once and jumped again, aiming for a building away.

The trio didn’t try to pursue, which worked out great for me. Probably had something to do with still being invisible. The earth guy must have felt my footsteps and got me that way. Well, I wasn’t stepping too easily aside from that, but I did need to stop and give myself a hot nanite injection to get back up to snuff. I don’t kid about my own suit breaking my bones. That’s why I didn’t use these pseudomuscles as much for awhile there.

A weird buzzing on my way back to the Master Academy alerted me to a slight problem, though. The nanites found something extremely unusual since the last time I’d used them, which I swear was pretty damn recently. Y’all know how I live; I always have to worry about hurting myself. So it was kinda odd that they detected some weird new organ trying to grow and displace a device I had in my neck. My gadget is what allows me to control my limbs if my spine is broken. Theirs was an alien plot to take over my brain. I ordered its breakdown. Then I had to order it again as I skipped over a bunch of people to land on the campus wall and one of them informed me that it had tried to regrow itself. I decided to keep myself swimming in nanites for the near future. First a virus, now weird growths.

Walking in the door of my prefab unit, I dropped my invisibility and grabbed another couple of gloves to replace my lost ones. But, hey, the rocket punch was awesome. Just need to cut my hands off next time to make it more awesome. While contemplating ways to work that into my conversation on why I wasn’t going to escort more stupid heroes, I realized the campus looked a bit more…I don’t know…damaged than when I left. Burn marks, craters, fissures in the dirt.

Oh, and there was the tackling when I walked in the door, too. Venus, in full power armor, held my face to the ground. “Hey, you can’t just throw me on the ground of nowhere! Do I look black to you?”

“Are you one of them?” She asked through a filtered voice. Her full power armor was a lot bulkier than mine, but she’d sealed it up tight too.

I decided to stop struggling. I know what to do when Venus jumps on me in a school while wearing power armor people. I’ve had this wet dream before! “Nope. You mean one of the alien puppets, right? They tried a couple times and…hey, this time it’s not trying to grow back.”

Venus didn’t let me up immediately. “Do you want peace on earth and goodwill toward man?”

I shook my head. “Wouldn’t mind a chocolate shake right now, but if you insist on holding this position any longer, I’m gonna have to ask for some body oil and handcuffs, too.”

“We need to test you, asshole.” She hauled me to my feet.

I almost kicked her and ran out of spite and general disagreeability, but…shit, I did still need her help. I didn’t want it, and didn’t want to need it, but I did need it. She carried me down into the basement, down past my special room, to an area that looked rough and carved out of rock. They must have thrown it together. Heavy door, though. Like mine, but one that didn’t pretend to be normal. She cranked something on it where a lock would be and tugged hard. Air blew past us before she hauled me into a sparse room furnished with only a few surgical instruments and one of those rolling beds like they pack in ambulances.

She threw me on there and swung the door closed behind her. “Strip,” she ordered. I thought this was going somewhere fun, and felt like playing along, so I apologized for my lack of tassels and started showing off as best as I could in a pole-less room. She tolerated it long enough for me to free my head from my helmet, then slapped my face into the bedding and held me there.

When she finished, and confirmed there was no evil alien influence on my biology, I jammed another syringe of nanites into my cheek to take care of the bleeding. I swear, no common courtesy from some people. “Satisfied?”

The way she punched me and knocked those teeth loose, I don’t think she was.

“Get suited back up. We’ve got some rooms sealed, but the whole building isn’t protected yet. Don’t ask about the rest of the campus.”

Up in the common room, we entered through another pressurized door. Venus moved to stand watch through the windows. And this couldn’t be all of the heroes. Wildflower jumped into my arms, though, so they didn’t all share that look like I just set their grannies on fire and used the ashes as a litter box.

Holding my purring pretty pussycat, I nodded to Moai, then asked. “So, what’s up with the campus?”

“We were just watching TV,” said one of that weird little trio of identical siblings of different sexes.

The androgynous one of the three picked up the thought and ran with it. “You came on, then when the guy started screaming, you turned off.”

“It started raining, then everyone started fighting,” added the little boy of the triad.

I facepalmed. Wildflower helped me by adding her palm to the blow. “Biological weapon. Screw it, why go after people little by little when no one wants to volunteer?”

“It’s ok,” Wildflower wrapped her tail around my waist. “Some of us weren’t infected and managed to help the others. The Long Life nanites helped long enough to seal up some of the buildings, but we’re trapped in different areas until the effect stops completely or we find a way to prevent the growth in the first place.”

“Oh, sure, yeah, fine and dandy,” I said, shaking my head. I had some bad ideas about what that rain from earlier meant for the rest of the city.

One of the teens, this goth boy, tossed his two cents in, “Someone had to go and decide to play hero. God, we should have sent you to jail. You don’t do anything good. You can’t.”

I turned and pointed at him, “Hey there little hero-wannabe, not all of us can defeat armies with an intensive letter-writing campaign to their daddies. But I’m sure if we all join forces and learn an important lesson about tolerance and teamwork, these vile aliens will be defeated in no time, just like in the movies,” I suggested.

All the external light went dark, then turned blue. My three-sixty display showed the earth’s sky replaced with some neon techno version like I just got sucked into Tron. It looked like a cage went up around the campus. Nah, scratch that. As I approached the window, I could distant skyscrapers backlit by it. This thing had surrounded the city.

I didn’t get a good look before Venus socked me one in the jaw and laid me out. “Happy now?” she asked.

Oh, yeah, like I wanted the aliens to do this. I’m just the one who actually cares about cutting their balls off. “Yeah, I’m pretty happy right now. Real content. Wish you could join me.”

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Aliens Eunt Domus 6

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In which the intrepid heroes march on the United Nations. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was meant to be a peaceful protest. Well, the optimistic version of the plan called for peaceful protest. Plan B, far more realistic as it was, involved hostility. I can’t recall if we went through the entire alphabet, but there were a few of them in which I A-Plus died, and even one where I got a cool scar on my face.

But let’s back that thang up a bit, like fine Jamaican booty. The heroes opted to handle this situation like heroes who believed, and someone actually said this, that daylight was the best disinfectant. Which is why people just hold scalpels under sunlight to sterilize them, I’m sure.

Now, they weren’t all idiots. Victor Mender’s one of their better minds, since he proposed that a bunch of villains be ready as backup in case things turned hostile. Yeah, right. “in case”. Still, I have to commend both the craftiness and audacity of him choosing to recruit the Order villains by having me advertise an epic party at the Master Academy East Campus address. They showed up for a rave, and instead got a half-built school full of heroes. I wish I could have seen their faces, but the Master Academics figured I’d be more likely to ruin the meeting.

That’s right, the horde of heroes thought I would spook the villains too much. What’s worse, I agreed and let them shut Moai and I up in my room with my armor. If I’d known they were going to do that, I’d have held off on the prefab base. The Buzzkills locked it down and stayed inside while everything happened.

There must have been so many blowjobs to make that teamup happen. So damn many. I imagine they just had one unfortunate school scapegoat. The class loser, without the power or prestige to get out of it. “Shut up, Francis! Now get down on your knees for the bad guys.” Whatever they resorted to, I sat it out with Moai and Wildflower. Found her sitting on my bed with a copy of Frankenstein. I snuggled up to her. She let me.

“Hmm.” I hmmed.

“Hmm?” she hmmed questioningly.

I set my head on her shoulder, the top of my head rubbing against the side of her neck. “Some parallels occur to me.”

“Are you going to hold what I did against me as long as the creature does?”

“Give me a reason not to.”

“You couldn’t protect me like that, and I helped you.”

“I suppose it evens out. I broke your neck and cut you open. You chloroformed me and threw me to the superpowered wolves. Aren’t we a pair?” I let the question linger in the air.

She turned and kissed the top of my head. “A pair of animals.”

But enough of that personal drama. That’s been boring me, too. This whole thing is about aliens, after all. But speaking of good segways…

“I hope they make everything Captain Lightning and I found sound good. Would hate to screw the whole thing up with presentation.” I twirled a finger through her tail, careful of the thorns.

“Mhm. That’s why Venus pulled some strings and got Man-Opener out.”

Yep. A big part of keeping me under wraps was the release of Man-Opener to talk to the other villains. It was an act of goodwill, and he went on a rampage declaring aliens were coming. It kicks two nuts with one shoe.

After a time, Wildflower set her book aside to go check on the outside world. The first time, she shook her head when she came back. “They’re still here.” The second time she poked her head in the door, she told me, “News from the outside, stranger. They’re gone. You want to watch the fireworks on TV?”

So we found ourselves in the common room. There were a couple of other adults there, teens, kids, somebody in a full-body cast. “I see we aren’t the only ones missing the party.”

“Alas not all of us are combat-ready,” said the digitized voice of Victor Mender, who rolled in to change the channel to the news.

“Aren’t you a bad guy?” asked a trio of toddlers who all looked, sounded, and dressed the exact same, except that one was a boy, one was a girl, and I couldn’t tell what the third one was. Hairless.

I shook my head. “Nuh uh. I’m a girl.”

The TV interrupted us. “Breaking news: we go live to alien free clinic where it has currently set up in the Lower East Side. A group of heroes have marched on the clinic in protest, claiming to have evidence that they are performing medical procedures that mind control the patients. These are wild accusations; I’d like to see proof of this before people risk an international incident. Strike that, an interplanetary incident.”

They didn’t even cover the accusations themselves, I noticed. They just showed a few scenes, repeating, with random yelling and noise that I’m fairly certain didn’t come from the Masters. It didn’t matter what proof they presented there, the only quotes being shown were accusations. Ignoring their remotes, I flipped through the news channels, watching it all being handled similarly.

Then they had more breaking news: a second front at the Harlem free clinic, right near the Long Life one that had been healing people with nanites. The aliens were getting a lot more visitors than that company. Human technologies are suspect like that, especially to the crowd that thinks organic is a sign of quality while still flushing their crap down indoor plumbing. The aliens, though, that was a novelty. An event. You had to be there, and they were. So were some more of the Masters. And suddenly, the news wasn’t reporting on protests. They were claiming riots.

It was hard to tell what was going on for sure. There were gunshots, smoke, and someone throwing up a forcefield. “The heroes have turned violent. For anyone watching, please get the children out of the room. This is disturbing imagery they shouldn’t have to see. And now reports are coming in that a mass of villains have taken advantage of the protests to attack the First Nation’s Bank.” This newscaster held his hand up to his ear. “And they are fighting with each other in the streets. It is a melee among villains, heroes, and law enforcement. Ladies and gentlemen of Empyreal City, please stay indoors.”

“Well, this went wonderfully,” I commented. “Maybe we should blow something up to make the whole thing look even better.” I looked for Victor, but a squeal of tires marked his chair speeding out of there. A couple of the other chaperones ran after him. “Great. Let me see if I can call someone who can put a better spin on this.”

I sat down on the couch all meditation-style and pointed at my forehead. “Don’t bother me. This is the international sign for using mental problems.”

While kids start crying and rioting around me, I muted my ears and gave Harlon a call. Harlon is this news executive I met when I killed some friends of his. He helps me out sometimes, and once in a blue moon I return the favor. I think he just likes having a friend.

“Psycho Gecko, as I live and breath. God, how long has it been, buddy?”

“Too long, Harlon. How you doin’? Things still working out for you, or do you need a business rival moved out of your way? You know you always do right by me.” I may not always be charming, but at least I can turn it on for short periods of time.

“Oh, I’m fine. Just fine. I don’t need any help. The aliens are a goldmine.”

“Yeah, they are, aren’t they? Hey, I noticed that nobody’s actually putting out what the protesters were saying. How about you get some of that out there.”

“You know something I don’t?”

“I have it on very good authority that they’re right.”

“Do they have real evidence?”

I scoffed to myself in the real world. “Trust me, they have evidence. I’ve been the one putting most of it together. Hell, I have a recording of their ambassador killing the Secretary General.”

“Send it to me and I’ll see what I can do.”

“You’ll make a fortune, too. Another exclusive. Oh, and you’ll be helping to save the earth from invasion of the organ transplanters.”

I woke up and unmuted my ears to the sound of giggling and the smell of marker. A lot of the younger students were looking at me, with that one triad particularly close. I grabbed one of my eyes and pulled it out to see if they’d done something. Yep, they drew on my face. I was now a pretty kittycat.

“Gross,” said this one teen.

I shrugged. “You’ve never heard of keeping an eye out?” I popped it back in, then turned to find Wildflower, who was just coming back into the room with a bunch of sodas. “You’re just in time. I’m gonna murder some children.”

“No you’re not.” She set them down on a little table in the middle of the room, then swatted me gently on the shoulder. Just before she sat down, I noticed her shaking a little.

“Nervous? Hey, I just put in a call to someone who should be able to turn this around for us. I have a media conspiracy of my own, too.”

Harlon was prompt, that’s for sure. Fifteen minutes after I sent the video footage, the network he worked for had another piece of breaking news. “Related to the bizarre actions of the Master Academy and Empyreal City’s own superheroes, we have more breaking news. This just in: we have received an exclusive report from a trusted source that notorious killer supervillain Psycho Gecko is somehow involved with the rioting in Empyreal City, as some sort of ringleader or perhaps the fabricator of this ‘evidence’ that the heroes claim to have.”

I sat there in silence, then burned through the TV with my laser eye. “That’s it, I’ll settle this the old-fashioned way.”

“What are you doing? Don’t do anything you’ll regret,” Wildflower said, jumping up to stand next to me.

I brushed her bangs out of her face. “Honey, please. When have I ever regretted killing anybody?”

She put her hands on my shoulders. “I thought you were going to work on that. If you go out there and kill someone, it will make everything worse. People will see.”

“That’s why I’m going to kill them.”

“Who?”

“People. ALL the people.”

“You have done quite enough Psycho Gecko,” said a computerized voice as Mender rolled back in. “For everyone’s sake you will stay on the campus.”

I shot him a look. It almost included the laser. Almost. “Like it’ll hurt anything at this point? We need something a little tougher than stupid protests. Nobody cares about protests! They’re useless even when nobody’s taken over the news. I just need to take over some airways myself and I’ll expose it all. You tried, but your stooges aren’t getting the evidence out. At least this way if we’re exposing ourselves, we’re exposing all of ourselves.” I noticed a pair of guys in the room nodding along as they looked at me. “Hell, let me spread the word online. I got video and everything I-”

I blinked, having lost my train of thought because I was suddenly back in my room. My HUD clock blinked 12:00 annoyingly until it resynced and showed that I’d lost an hour. The same room with thick enough walls to keep me from accessing anything outside it. And a big heavy door meant to be locked if someone lost control of their powers. And an angry pair of heroines, who grabbed me and pulled me out.

“Ok, ok, who’s ready for the waterboarding?!”

“Shut up, Gecko,” Venus said, then shook her head. “I’m sorry, it’s a habit, and sorry they put you in there. Victor was under pressure to manage that crisis and you make us nervous.”

“Well, I’ve lost time and woken up in the wrong place before.” Turning to Wildflower, I asked, “Remember the chloroform?”

“Sorry, but I agree in principle. You know what’s at stake.” She booped me on the nose.

Oh right. The dying. But this new insistence on keeping me safe? It’s kinda creepy.

Venus stepped in front of me and stopped. “Listen, this is a confusing time. Superheroes haven’t operated at a tactical level like this since World War II, and neither have villains. You were right about staying quiet. We were infiltrated, too. We took a lot of hits, but you are still welcome among us.” She looked me in the eyes as she said it. Holy crap, she was sincere!

“The enemy’s winning, but you’re still thinking of helping me?” She left me stupefied by that stupidity.

“Yeah. Come on. Tonight they’ve got tacos.” She turned and jogged off.

Wildflower put her arm around me as we followed. “I know. She believes in what she preaches. It’s a good community, and they’re protective of their own. Right now, that includes you.”

Which explains the twelve year old boy we saw in the courtyard who raised his hands and and brought forth a huge rock wall around the perimeter of the school grounds to block the view of, oh, only a few hundred angry anti-super protesters. And the full-body shiver at the unwelcome concept of me being a part of their community now.

One thing’s clear. I can’t let this turn into some blue-ball Cold War. Open violence is the solution. Unfortunately, Youtube keeps taking down my videos and accounts under near-instantaneous copyright notices. Geez, I guess people can just file a copyright claim and get anything taken down. Without Youtube, I might as well be selling fuzzy Bigfoot photos to the National Enquirer.

The truth is out there. On Vimeo. Where nobody’s fucking looking.

Whether my hosts like it or not, I gotta get out there in the game. Their incompetence is going to get me killed sooner than me trying to hug the entire enemy fleet to death.

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Aliens Eunt Domus 5

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The rest of the world held its collective breath. The alien delegation to the United Nations had been attacked by Psycho Gecko, who murdered the Secretary General, one of the aliens, and a lot of security personnel before disappearing. In the aftermath, the planet Earth scrambled to salvage the situation in the hopes of averting a diplomatic disaster. Luckily, it seemed the extraterrestrials were grudgingly willing to negotiate.

Considering how little of the first part of that was true, the last part might have just been a comforting lie. From what I remember, the xenomorphs liked the idea of war. Regardless, they hadn’t actually engaged in it openly. Remarkable, that.

I didn’t have too much time to worry about that at first. I had to reach deep inside myself, find the tainted portions of my psyche, and exorcise my demons. My virtual demons, in the tainted parts of my cybernetic brain implants, that is. They’ve been dropping subtle hints here at Master Academy about seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist, but no one’s forced me. Hints decorating my room with a red couch, or dropping off some books to read that included Freud and Jung, or an anonymous gift of an inkblot poster to decorate the wall.

Not a bad room, for being buried in the basement, behind thick concrete and lead. Something about rooms for students with unstable powers. They didn’t have many of them ready, since they were rushing. Accelerating, I think, because of the recent otherworldly shenanigans. That explains the presence of a window in my room, unless they figured I liked to watch worms.

They’re just scared of me. I’m the one they’re sticking in a lead coffin surrounded by a few dozen people enemies, but they’re scared of me. At least they let me eat in the cafeteria. One of the alumni is a decent cook and has some of the students helping out fixing meals for their fellows. Odd thing to teach for a school churning out heroes, but not everyone wants to live on restaurant food.

It was kinda fun to sit there alone at a table and watch students actively ignoring me. Turning their faces away, glancing and then quickly looking away. The ones closest kept their voices low and finished lunch in a hurry. If I sat in the middle of the room, it probably would have been one of the most orderly meal services in the world.

That all ended when a loud batch of voices burst in, which wasn’t unusual itself. It’s a school, with young adults, teens, and children. The worrisome part came when an oddly familiar voice asked, “So he’s in here now?”

Where had I heard that voice before? And more importantly, was my inability to perfectly remember the answer a symptom of alien brainwashing? The answer to them, I recognized perfectly. “He is no longer the correct pronoun, and she’s over there.”

I looked over to find Venus pointing me out to one of the older teens. She looked tan, with hair all the colors of the rainbow. The full set: Roy G. Biv. It took seeing her eyes to recognize her. “Leah?” Her body looked different, more grownup, but that was the runaway I’d once mentored back when I owned a nightclub. She was dumped on me because she had nowhere else to go and nobody else wanted to deal with her. I taught her important lessons that all young ladies need to know, from powdering noses to breaking noses. Actually, I focused on the breaking noses part. Pretty much entirely the breaking noses part. But as the saying goes, “Powder a man’s nose, and you make him look funny for a day. Break a man’s nose, and you make him look funny for a lifetime, or until the next time you break it.” Venus eventually sunk her claws into the girl and sent her over to the Master Academy main campus in California, where she was probably their best student in ass-kicking class.

She smiled and ran over, whereupon I slipped away from her hug, grabbed her arm, and slammed her face down onto the table next to my food. I was still eating, dammit. She took the hit, but grabbed my right arm by the one that held her right, and twisted around to try and put me in a hammerlock, which goes around the back of a person. “Stop! It’s not hammerlock time!” I jumped up on the table, did a backflip, hooked her under the arm, and used the momentum as I dropped to my back to drag her over me and drop her on top of the next table over. I kipped up after that, then looked around. “Get me a knife. We have to check her for infiltration.” I glanced around. Plastic, plastic, plastic. Plastic knives are very much not ideal for surgery on a hostile wriggling person.

“She’s safe, Gecko. We already checked her!” Venus called out.

About that time, Leah sat up and tried to clock me with a plate full of mashed potatoes and gravy. I ducked under it and caught her in a hug as the brown and white goop plopped onto my table. “Ah, c’mere you!”

“Next time ask if I’ve been checked before fighting me!” she yelled, but then hugged back.

“Not my fault you forgot how to fight since joining these people.” I looked over at the various staring students. “Yeah, I said it. I’m ethicist. Stupid good people, coming to my side of the country to take away hard-working villains’ jobs. There oughta be a wall.”

“Relax, you.” Leah said, slipping out of the hug this time. “I came here with the shipment of the MasterFrame and our super cracker, A-Plus.”

I shook my head. “Leah, what have I told you about racial insults. If you’re going to use them, make them mean something. Nobody in the world is bothered by being called a ‘Cracker’. Hell, there’s a white rapper out there who called himself Uncle Kracker. First time I heard of him, I thought it was a joke.”

She pushed me away. “Um, let me down. I’d stay and chat, but I have to change my clothes now, Gex.” I gave her some space so she could leave and attend to her precious fashion sense. Then again, I also know the difficulty of walking around in public with a mess of delicious chocolate pudding on the back of my ass.

She and the rest of Master Academy were apparently as good as their word. From what they explained to me, the MasterFrame was a project created by IT and other early brilliant supers around Silicon Valley, and upgraded over the years by similarly great computer minds. They think it’s one of the most powerful computers in the world. The one they brought is the smallest one they have.

Their cracker also looked tiny. For those who are curious why a side item for soups came with a computer mainframe, “cracker” is the proper term for a White Hat hacker. A “good guy” hacker. Most people just know the other term due to the actions of Black Hats. Personally, I think 1950s representations of fictional cowboys’ clothing doesn’t make a very good classification system for computer users, but that’s why I’m the strange one here.

We all went over to the administration building, which hadn’t yet been finished, and they installed the three of us in what they hoped to be the server room. First they got the MasterFrame into place, then A-Plus and his computer station, then a comfy chair for me, then my ass in the comfy chair. Then A-Plus awkwardly held a Thunderbolt 3 cable and looked me over. I raised an eyebrow. “Where do you think you’re plugging that in at, Weird Al?”

He blushed so much, I thought he’d shoot blood out of his nose like an anime protagonist around women. “Better get ready, because my head is no place for the meek.” I snatched the cable away from him and stuck it in my ear. “Shake my hand. Come on, boys, won’t you shake a poor sinner’s hand? Are ya ready? Are ya ready? Transformation central, reformation central, transmogrification central! Can ya feel it?”

“Worst. Disney. Princess. Ever.” A-Plus mentioned as he settled in on his screen.

I’d like to say that the resulting battle in cyberspace involved people in skintight suits with glowing neon lines and chakrams that doubled as driver’s licenses. Or maybe something where A-Plus tried to look cool in a black coat and shades while hiding a small armory in guns on his body. However, cyberspace just isn’t quite that cool, even with someone else joining in. It’s all code. Even the sexy bits. Especially the sexy bits.

We had to go deep. Real deep. The Master Boot Record. Most cyber infections are eliminated by reformatting, and I assumed I got it because there were no more symptoms of infection, but it looks like that rascally piece of malware just hid deeper. Fucking Master Booter. Instead of acting overtly malicious, it provided access for commands from afar.

Heh. Wow. I’d been worried about people running around with those communication organs growing inside them, but it turns out the real traitor was in me the entire time. That’s entirely the wrong sort of Aesop to take from all this, though I’d say it fits my life story perfectly.

It was dirty, boring work to deal with the partition, partially because that part of my brain doesn’t run on anything like a normal operating system. He had to leave me alone a few times, too, but I had too much data to sift through to call him out on it.

I know, anticlimactic. There should have been something epic, like throwing a frisbee at a giant face in a tube, or fighting a personification of a virus with a personification of me. The best I could do was imagine I was stomping around a battlefield in huge power armor, burning through malicious code while shouting, “Die, xeno scum! You will be purged in the name of the Gex-Emperor of Mankind!”

It felt very liberating to give myself one last reboot, blink my eyes, and remember I had a physical body. I sat up suddenly, quoting the first thing to come to mind, “’He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.’ Huh. Wonder where I heard that. Johnson?” I cocked my head, checking my memory and spotting some things I didn’t quite remember, then looked to where A-Plus sat at his computer, a couple days’ stubble on his face and a nearly-spent two liter of orange soda at his side. “You didn’t download some new stuff into me, did you? That sounded like something you goody-goodies would want me to have read.”

A-Plus held his hands up. “Uh uh. I didn’t have any time between helping you and building the backup.”

I blinked, then jumped up. I yanked the cable out of my ear with a grimace, then stepped over to his computer. “Destroy it. Delete it. Kill it now, and then probably burn wherever it’s saved. And the MasterFrame, too. Get rid of it.”

He jumped in his seat and leaned away from me. “Alright! Jesus! I’ll get rid of it!”

I bent down and looked him in the eyes. Didn’t say a thing. Just growled. Then I stood up and started stretching. “Why’d you ditch me in there, anyway? You left a few times.”

“Um, to eat and sleep? I haven’t done much else these days.”

I ordered up the date on my HUD-based clock. I’d spent almost two days in the chair. Well that took longer than I thought. On the plus side, that should have given Crash enough time to make the arrangements I asked of her.

Stumbling upstairs and feeling rather unclean, I pushed open the door to the outside and immediately regretted it. Gah, the sunlight! It burned! Not literally, but it burned like a giant light in the sky that I hadn’t seen for two days. Perhaps that simile can express why I hated the sight of it so much, though the mobile, prefabricated building with the bee people guarding the front was much better to look at. About time the Buzzkills got out and about. I’d almost felt like I was letting down my anthropomorphic bee minions by using them for so little.

Moai slammed the door open, giving Leah a piggyback ride that ended with the both of them rushing over to me. Moai stopped short and leaned over, throwing Leah off onto me. She knocked me to the ground. “You’re back! Did it work?”

I nodded. “That’s right. I’m officially free of viruses.”

A pair of pretty bare feet with pointed toenails stepped up on either side of my head. “I could have told you that,” spoke the owner of those body parts. I looked up to see Wildflower there, hands on her hips. She didn’t look happy, but then I hadn’t been talking to her since she dragged me here.

“Have you two met?” I asked, pointing between my probable ex and the teen I mentored who had at one point apparently had a crush on me.

“We’ve met,” they said at once, with differing tones. Wildflower gave Leah a hand up, but slapped mine away when I tried to get some help.

Before I could come up with a witty remark, Victor Mender’s computer-generated voice called out, “You should not be laying around at a time like this young man. Events are unfolding beyond our ability to control. We need your expertise.”

“Oh? You need me for something? I feel like we’re missing someone in whose face I should rub this. Awkward sentence, that. Possible cybernetic brain damage?

Brain damaged or not, I still felt smarter than the people that Mender showed me saved on his DVR. They reopened negotiations. Not only reopened, but this time they expected the Earth delegation to undergo a process that would grow them a translator. The first one to get the procedure done himself smiled and pointed out that it was a painless procedure that left him feeling great. “I hear that the process enables me to use some of our new friends’ amazing technologies. Don’t be afraid of this step for peace. They are our friends, and they have much to share with us. This is the dawning of a new golden age for Earth. A utopia, in our lifetimes.”

As a show of goodwill, the aliens were even landed a medic team of those suited, flowing guys who toured a hospital and started treating patients from the Emergency Room.

I have a pretty good idea what these “translators” are that they’re getting stuck in them, and what some of this medical stuff is. It makes sense, too. The guy at the UN mentioned war, but it’s a different sort of war. A war that saves the maximum number of usable bodies for their interstellar feud.

“Their idea of war is a lot more subtle than I figured, but effective enough for what they seem to need,” I mused. “Unless this is the other side that won out. The ones who don’t want war.”

“You may enjoy our protection and sanctuary young man. I ask you to let us speak with The Order of Villains to add allies. The battle for humanity requires Yin and Yang. Do I have your aid?”

“Oh yeah, I can put you in touch with them. Huge group of Yangs, but they won’t deal with me very well. So if you got the balls, I can get my hands on some Yangs.”

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Aliens Eunt Domus 4

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In contrast to my confident kicking of several asses in my escape from the United Nations, I’m driving people nuts at Double Cross Towers. It’s the paranoia. Someone will just be walking along, trying to deliver papers before heading to lunch break, maybe wondering when they put a new trashcan in the hallway. Bam! Out jumps some crazy lady with a rag that smells like sleepytime. And I don’t mean the tea.

Then they wake up with stitches on the back of their neck, confused. If I really wanted to freak someone out, I’d stick them in a bathtub full of ice and stitch up their side like I stole a kidney or something.

That would have been a lot more fun than rocking back and forth on the couch with two screens pulled up in front of me so I could fast forward through everything I’ve done since that day I fought off the alien virus in Romania while checking through every single bit of code in my cybernetics. Because that’s most of what I did after the personnel checks, even ignoring all the alien-related news. Blahdy blah, something about people on both sides desperate to come to an understanding after the confusing and murderous events that took place at the United Nations.

I didn’t have time to worry about that. I had to get my brain back. This was no time to lose my mind, after all. It was taking awhile to check, complicated by the fact that I couldn’t trust my own eyes. Or brain.

I wasn’t about to trust Technolutionary, either. He already got to do things with my DNA. I don’t want him literally picking my brain. Wildflower doesn’t know enough about all this, either. Neither would Venus, or Carl, or Crash, or Beetrice, or Captain Lightning. There’s nobody but me, and I can’t trust myself. Because I realized that I’ve made a lot of mistakes lately. It seems like it’s been more than usual. Things I’ve forgotten or obvious ways of doing things that just didn’t occur to me. The thing where I got spotted bugging the alien shuttle, for instance. Or whatever other missteps I’ve made. Maybe. I don’t know, and that’s the problem.

My dedication to couchsurfing my own brain has worried…everyone. Crash still brings by reports, then takes them away and tries to manage them with the department heads and Carl. Moai occasionally nudges me aside to watch stupid TV shows. No matter where I sit, he always goes out of his way to push me around a little. Wildflower got worried after the first night, until I explained the problem with the alien virus making me some sort of hidden agent.

Hell, forget about just my mistakes. I didn’t kill all the villains, but now I know why Oligarch and I weren’t entirely at cross purposes. I mean, if I want to mistrust my own judgment, I’ll do it because I’m crazy, not because someone’s making me do stuff without me knowing it.

So she left. I was a bit numb to it, but it seemed reasonable. Was more surprisingly when she came back. When she got back, she revealed she’d gone shopping. Then she tried to do a striptease for me. When I didn’t look up, she checked my pulse, then ran off.

Not surprisingly, she managed to get Carl’s attention and convince him to follow her, since she hadn’t bothered to put on any better clothes than the stripper clothes she’d bought to impress me. I could understand it, both that she’d forget she was dressed like that given her usual costume, and that Carl would gladly follow her to a place with a bed upon seeing her.

I just had other, more important things to do. When Carl saw me and heard from Wildflower, with Moai nodding along, he took a deep breath. Then he walked up and knocked over the screens I’d been staring at for two days straight. I jumped up, grabbed him by his collar and waistband, and threw him over the couch. Then I sat back down on the couch and went back to binge-watching myself. In the back of my mind, I head Wildflower padding up quietly. Probably thought she was being quiet.

In my weak and sleep-deprived state, it wasn’t difficult for her to knock me out with the chloroform. See what I mean about making mistakes lately?

I was sorta surprised not to find myself locked up somewhere when I awoke. The Great and Devious Psycho Gecko brought down by a heroic girlfriend. I guess whenever Wildflower and I get tired of each other, I can tease Venus by telling her she has a better chance of catching me with some vigorous humping.

So where was I? Good question. It looked like a doctor’s office. Not a hospital, an office. You know, with the solid, oddly-padded bed and its uncomfortable tilt, along with a small medicine cabinet, sink, rolling stool, and that sort of stuff. I tossed off the blanket covering me to find myself in one of those gowns, but with workout shorts and a tank top underneath. So somebody undressed and redressed me while I was out, but at least they weren’t letting every passerby sneak a peek.

Still didn’t tell me where I am, though the GPS took care of that. I was north of Empyreal City a bit. I’d actually been here before, turns out. According to the playback from that day, I’d been here the day Wildflower showed me around her dorm.

That damn fucking hero…I…couldn’t think up enough special cuss words. Something about giraffes and deepthroating…gah! I knew there was no time for cussing. I had to get the hell out of there, if it wasn’t too late already. No one with half a brain would leave me unguarded, even unconscious. And considering some of my dreams, especially unconscious. Like that time where I was a vampire fighting ghosts who summoned the Ghostbusters to fight me, but I managed to kill one with a magic ritual knife and chased after the others while singing the song “Hellfire” from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.

A weapon would be a good idea. I grabbed a couple of those wooden sticks. The ones from lollipops that doctors like to test gag reflexes with. Too bad they didn’t have an old Female Hysteria remedy, or I could have really unloaded on someone. Believe it or not, those are also good for testing gag reflexes.

I tore off the gown, then grinned to myself and hid it under the blanket on the bed. They can look for a woman in a gown all they want while I jogged my way right out the door. Or I could have, but no sports bra. Ah, hell, it just means most students of this Master Academy East Branch wouldn’t be able to identify my face in a lineup.

No one guarded the door. The hallway looked empty. Good, maybe they’re still low on students. I slipped the mouth sticks into the back of my shorts for safekeeping until I needed to use them for a lethal tonsil examination. Since I only had two directions to pick from, it was pretty easy to figure on heading left. One corner later and I came to a door, which I pressed my ear to. Couldn’t hear anything through it, so I figured that was a good sign. I figured I’d go ahead and poke my head in.

Speaking of those bad decisions I’ve been making lately, that was one of them. Not the worst decision. Not even as bad as if I just barged on through the doors. But, yeah, it gets to be pretty bad when you stick your head through a door at a superhero academy only to find yourself at a gymnasium with a couple of bleachers worth of students sitting around. And costumed heroes standing in front of the bleachers. And the doctor who presumably new me looking up from where she tended to a downed person in the middle of the room. Why was that person knocked down? Oh, it probably had something to do with Venus standing there, maskless, resting her head on a Bo staff.

Sometimes, the hand life deals you is a Royal Fuck. It’s like a Full House…of pain.

As if taunting me, huge windows let in plenty of sunlight. That’s like, I don’t know, someone on death row finding out they won the lottery just before being marched to the needle room. Or discovering that a woman you met online is incredibly sexy, but is only interested in seeing you get reamed by her ex-Marine husband nicknamed “The Hammer.” And the fists aren’t the Hammer. The Hammer is his penis.

And while we’re at it, plenty of aliens around wanting to conquer the Earth.

See, it’s shit like this that drove me insane in the first place.

Well, the sight of all those heroes gave me a headache from instantly-supplied data from the ID program, so I cut that off. And while I’d been feeling the insistent fullness of my bladder since waking up, it wasn’t until then that it got really obnoxious. “Woops, this isn’t the bathroom,” I said with a fake laugh before pulling my head back and running back around the corner. I thought I heard someone calling for me to wait, but why would that ever be a good idea?

I heard the door slam open behind me as I passed by the doctor’s office. “Don’t come near me,” I hollered back, “or I’ll pee on you!” Wouldn’t you know it? They didn’t listen. I got to the other side of the hall, which would have given me another pair of directions to run, but for the heroes who appeared. A young man in a bright yellow outfit with black and white racing checkmarks up and down the side skidded to a halt, having left behind a man of shadows and some sort of toilet paper dude. Guy looked like a mummy, but with just the wraps.

Between Ricky Bobby, Noob Saibot, and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I didn’t like my chances. Nor did it look too good when Venus, Wildflower, and a man with a bunch of snakes coming out of various parts of his chest blocked the rear area. Time seemed to slow as I faced folks on both side of me. Which, by the way, did not help my bladder situation.

“Et tu, Tigerlily?” I asked Wildflower, hoping to at least make her feel bad for all this. Might as well get some words in before the sticks and stones land on me.

“You need help,” she said, gritting her teeth.

I rolled my eyes. Bad time to take the off people, but what did it matter if I saw them coming to kick my ass anyway? Then a thought occurred to me and forced me to shake my head. “You’ve been listening too much to Venus, huh? That’s how it happens. Always thinking you can make a relationship work if only you can change someone. Funny thing is, at least the aliens sort of got me figured out. I’m merely a weapon; a loaded gun. Just another machine. I thought you knew it, too.”

Venus put a hand on Wildflower’s shoulder. “You’re just a victim. You told me about it. Something bad happened to you, just like it happened to a lot of people. Except you didn’t get over it. It’s your excuse to do whatever you like, because people made you this way. They made you, so you do what you do to them.”

I pointed at her. “I’m a bit more than a victim by now. I’m the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko!”

Infuriatingly enough, Venus kept her voice calm and level. “You don’t even have a name. Whatever anyone did to you in the past, however much you hate it, it still controls your life. You are doing the same with the future. They’re going to kill you, so the only thing you want to do is kill them first.” I wish she’d at least raised her voice. And make less sense. The connections she was making didn’t sit well with me. But I never told Venus the aliens were going to have killed me.

I swept my gaze from Venus to Wildflower. “Well? You got anything to say? Certainly not helping my trust issues here, ya know.”

“I didn’t want to stand by and let you create a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Wildflower said, refusing to meet my eyes.

“See? It’s the honest ones you can’t trust. They always do the stupid and irrational thing. Like saving my life by getting my beat up and locked up. Well, gentlemen? Who wants to be the first to beat the pinata, eh? Just no punching below the belt. Your hand might get stuck.”

A monotone, computerized voice spoke up. “One of my dearest pupils believes that you need a hero you can trust in your life.” The crowd on Venus and Wildflower’s end made way, reluctantly, for a badly crippled man in a motorized chair, who apparently used a hand and his eyes to control both the chair and his ability to talk. I think I’d seen something about this guy before. Victor Mender, aka IT. Researcher who built an armored suit with lasers and rocket launchers for extreme mining jobs, until someone tried to steal it and make a weapon out of it. I know, make a weapon out of the laser-armed power armor? Who would have thought? Dangerous business, mining. Had several designs stolen by Oligarch back before anyone knew what Ollie was really like. Retired after the battle for Master Academy left him crippled. Really surprised they haven’t given this guy a batch of their knockoff regenerative nanites.

“I see everyone’s been making ample use of the designs stolen from me,” I muttered. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to hear his voice raise unless someone turned up his volume knob. Got several angry murmurs from the crowd, though.

“Relax friends. It is his response to being frightened. If we attack he has no choice but to fight back. We are only talking so he must think.”

He might have been correct on that, though I could have made a big deal out of the incorrect pronouns. I know some people don’t like what they see as extreme sensitivity and PC culture of people who don’t like being called the wrong pronoun. But most of the anti-PC types I’ve seen are exactly the sort of guys to get offended if you start calling them “ma’am,” and “girl”. Hilarity ensues.

“Between getting a beatdown from my biggest fanclub here, then getting tossed in a jail cell to await impending execution by alien invaders who killed me once in a future that hasn’t happened yet…yeah, I may be showing a bit more caution lately.”

“You do not need to be the enemy. You are free to go anytime you want to leave. You may use the bathroom before you go.” He smiled at that one. “However if you stay we have a gifted young metahuman who can help cleanse your virus.”

“Not doing much to hide the offer of a brainwashing.” I snorted, checking behind me to see if anyone had gotten bored and left a hole. The speed freak was tapping away on a phone like crazy, but kept looking up periodically.

“I have been convinced to offer you sanctuary. We hope to make you safe.”

The meanings of those sentences didn’t go over my head. My reflexes were too fast. I caught them.

Really put me in a bad spot there. If I took their offer, I get locked up. Yeah, sanctuary. Right. If I didn’t, I’d just get locked up when they found an excuse to not let me go. Sun Tzu 101 there. Give a cornered enemy an escape route; otherwise, they’ll fight like their life depends on it. If they did let me go, I’d walk around as a potential Trojan Horse for the aliens.

I reached back with both hands to the small of my back and grabbed the popsicle sticks, one in each hand. I brought them around, ready, in both hands. Some of the heroes around Mender stepped up just in case, so obviously my reputation with improvised weaponry preceded me.

I closed my eyes, breathing, trying not to think. Thinking would cloud my judgment, by bringing to mind the fact that I’d rather be surrounded by an army of superhumans than an army of non-super criminals. Or by wondering if some of what Venus and Wildflower said might possibly have a hint of truth to it, maybe. But I also thought of my first instinct: don’t trust them. Don’t trust ’em, don’t like ’em, just try to survive the fight with ’em. Except that could be another version of “Serve, obey, pave the way.” It was my first instinct…but I could no longer trust my instincts. Or my mind.

With a sneer that was just as much about grinding my teeth in frustration, I held out my arms and dropped the sticks.

“Ok,” I told them through gritted teeth. “I don’t trust y’all, but I don’t have a choice. Let’s purge some malware up in this bitch.” Fucking hell, I wish I had my armor at that time. I felt so damn naked in front of all of them. Psycho Gecko, needing help. Psycho Gecko, surrendering. Psycho Gecko, some beaten thing. I tilted my head downward, maybe intentionally getting some hair in front of my face, wondering when the attack would come.

It came in the form of a pouncing animal-plant-woman hybrid who purred way more than she should have as she wrapped me in a hug right there for everyone to see. Hurt and embarrassed, I interrupted her little cuddle puddle purr session by telling her, “You don’t have to pretend anymore. Protect you, my ass. Congratulations on fooling me. You’re an excellent spy.”

She pulled away from the hug, suddenly losing much of her enthusiasm and smile.

“Come on, let’s show our new guest to some quarters. We should have one to spare after all the work the tanks have been doing since they got here.” Venus said, seemingly breaking up the entire meeting there.

There’s been a certain order of priority seen in many of the greats. Tony Montana once said that you get the money, then the power, then the woman. Vegeta, the Prince of all three and a half Saiyans, believed in immortality first, then the bitches. First I conquer my brain, then the aliens, and then maybe I’ll worry about getting laid again.

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Aliens Eunt Domus 1

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Gotta build. Gotta build. Such invasion. Much build. Wow.

After a few days working with barely any sleep, I realized I couldn’t remember the date or what I’d put together so far. I tried to check over what I’d assembled, but I couldn’t go through that before my brain got kinda numb. And since I need brain for smart making, I threw myself into bed. Pretty easy to tell I’ve been out of it when I didn’t realize there was another person in there. Wildflower ran her nails over my back and kissed the back of my head, but otherwise didn’t try to disturb me. See? That’s how you know you have a relationship based on being a strong alpha male protector. It’d be enough to make me scratch my balls, if I still had them.

I actually muttered something about that while I was fading. “Mfup wimmy.”

She patted me on the head and left, not even answering my real question, “Why the fuck are you with me?”

Ah well. She’s got amnesia. How would she be able to remember what a good girlfriend is like? Besides, she gets to spend time in a penthouse with someone who throws money around like it didn’t make her dinner well enough, who will murder anyone who wrongs you. I suppose there are advantages to this scenario. But I only thought about those after a good rest and the shoving of much food into my meal hole. Just a tip, dear readers, never confuse your meal hole with any of your other holes. While the meal hole does have some uses that cross over with other bodily holes, this is not to be relied on. Misuse of the meal hole can lead to symptoms such as: dry mouth, oral herpes, drool-covered telephones, and a tendency to talk a lot of shit. For further hole-related knowledge, refer to the classic 1950s educational film “Your Body Holes And You”.

After that, I began to feel a bit more, well, fuck it; can’t say “sane.”

So, let’s recap: while causing mischief around the world, a clairvoyant named Fortune Cookie recruited me to help her on a mission to save the world from being frozen in time, which caused various temporal distortions the closer someone got to the area it was all mean to happen in. In one of these distortions, I saw the earth was dealing with an alien invasion and that I was reported to have been killed in it. So after saving the world, I determined I needed to prepare for the alien invasion to protect my ass. I tried to steal the world’s biggest telescope, but failed and blew it up. I did steal the building capable of freezing time, but failed to get it fixed and then was nearly blown up. I worked as part of a team of villains, but blew up the leader and used it to create a villain social network to, theoretically, help organize and fight off an invasion. I also prevented the blowing up of the heroes, too. I created a company, but that has yet to explode. Fingers crossed, there’s still time!

All that was so last year, though. This year, I attack Washington D.C., impersonated a sitting U.S. Senator, impersonated the President of the United States, broke someone out of prison, defaced various monuments, partially blew up a submarine, blackmailed some Congressmen, bribed some bureaucrats, kidnapped someone, performed illegal human experiments, and burned down a house. This last month’s been mostly a blur, but I may be an accessory to tampering with evidence, and a bit of light treason. Not a very productive time for me.

And I did it all to prepare for the shit storm that now hangs over the earth. Well, hangs would be a strong word. More like chilling. They’re chilling near earth. I can still see the image in my head, clear as day, thanks to my brain’s wifi connection. Not that clear, actually. They’re using something to disrupt any clear views of their flotilla. Or maybe it’s a fleet. To me, a flotilla indicates a lot of floating things. Either way, the exact numbers and conditions are unknown. Could be a bunch of miniature Death Stars, could be space winnebagos. They stopped near the moon, though.

Everyone’s supposed to avoid spying on them until the diplomats have their say. After previous First Contacts led to all sorts of shenanigans, including a Star Trek movie, it was decided that alien diplomats should probably head to the United Nations first. From what I gather, they didn’t bother trying to inform the small ship that detached from the fleet until it spent a day in near Earth orbit. Probably infighting. They’re all nice and polite about that sort of thing in public. Deliberations on how to proceed, they call it. In reality, it’s the American President saying “Fuck you, the UN is in our territory, so get them down here!” But with more tact. That’s one of the great thing about having to speak through interpreters: you can cuss up a storm and let the translators work it out. So, in the end, broadcast a bunch of radio messages up at the ship telling them where to land in various languages, only stopping once the ship began to descend. Good thing. They might have to resort to the universal languages of math and interpretive dance.

That’s one way to force First Contact. Annoy the aliens until they show up and have to speak to you. Oh my science. That explains so much about the existence of reality TV.

The news has been obsessed. It’s not every day that Earth deals with aliens. It’s like a royal wedding or something, though I’m sure the other aliens around are busy snorting derisively at the newbies getting all the attention. But I don’t think many of those types brought a fleet with them, especially not one that looks like a blurry photo of Bigfoot. Completely fictional, by the way. I felt I needed to point that out.

If anything, the caution exhibited by the aliens led to some in the news deride Man-Opener for his alarmism. Even if he knew they were really there, they reasoned, he clearly used it for an excuse to do whatever he wanted. Plenty of others did the same thing. Some people quit their jobs to party. Others fled to survivalist communes. There’s even a few preachers advising their followers to give up their worldly possessions in anticipation of the coming Rapture. Then again, they say that about any major event. That’s what happens when you decide everything is a prophetic sign the same way other people decide any toy is a sex toy.

I tried to watch the ship’s first descent on the news, along with everybody else, but the distortion effect held and kept me from making out any hard edges. It was about the size of a doubledecker bus, I could tell that much. I couldn’t give an estimate on the speed, but it sounded pretty loud. That, or the boom operators got right up its ass. Like that was going to happen. They practically locked down all traffic in the city to keep absolutely everyone away from the United Nations.

I should have been there. If I had been, maybe I could have gotten a good look at what was going on.

While I thought this, Wildflower pounced on the bed next to me. I caught it out of the corner of my eye, so I didn’t really startle at the surprise. I just blinked and shut off the feed in my head. She grinned as she watched me turn to look at her. “You’re weird like that.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Nothing surprises you. It’s like you have eyes in the back of your head.”

I shrugged. “That’s not too fair to say. People catch me with my pants down all the time, sometimes metaphorically.”

She laughed at that, showing a lot of teeth before bringing her hand up in front of her mouth to hide her unusual teeth.

“Don’t you ever spend any time at that school you’re supposed to be going to?” I asked. Then I started checking for any urgent notices. “Don’t tell me they decided to relocate to my building. I wouldn’t put it past someone to try…” Nope, nothing there. Lots of people asking for time off work all of a sudden, though our looting and theft revenues are spiking like vampire dick at a blood bank. It got so bad, my car had to activate its antitheft measures. The bad thing about those things is the cleanup. Most car washes are ill-equipped to remove all the blood and viscera from the deepest nooks and crannies. You know how annoying it is to turn on the windshield wipers and spot a tooth still lodged in them months after you last ran someone down? Ugh.

Back with Wildflower, she shook her head. “Venus had to go back to meet with the main Academy. We’ve been wondering if they’ll send more alumni here now that this is all going on. Hey, want to watch it with me?”

I jumped up. “To the viewing machine!”

Wildflower grabbed the remote off the nightstand and pushed it, causing a TV to lower from the ceiling on a mechanical arm that angled it down at us. It didn’t matter what channel we went to. Most found some excuse or another to cut into their regularly-scheduled programming to show this little happening. We were on ESPN, for some reason, and this bar down at the bottom read, “Alien Arrival: Have The Harlem Globetrotters Come Home?”

We got out first glimpse of the diplomat. He stepped out wearing a robe that hung loosely around him. It appeared to be a he, anyway, because it appeared to be human teenager. He was pale, with a slightly sheen to his skin, like he’d been coated with something mostly transparent. His severely short hair was so blond that his eyebrows looked funny above his bright blue eyes. Somehow, they had a human, or something that looked very close to a human. Perhaps it was the best surgery possible to transform one of their own into a humanoid on the fly. The better to address us.

A pair of bodyguards moved out behind this kid they picked to represent them. They weren’t in robes, but in suits that would be skintight on most people. They were a little taller and thinner than the average person, though. While I first assumed they were robots, there was something about the way they moved. It’s like they were full of fluid that made their movements flow. It’s hard to describe, but clearly unnatural. It’s like the leg became less full in order to lift up, then grew slightly bulkier on its way down. Maybe I read too much into it. Maybe I need to perform a little alien autopsy.

Blondie looked out over the crowd and, as if it was an afterthought, smiled a wide, toothy grin. Like he just remembered he needed to smile and put it on all at once, instead of going into it gradually. After that, someone stepped up to lead him and his guards into the United Nations itself.

“Gecko, have you ever read about Oedipus?” Wildflower asked me as we watched. ESPN’s headline bar changed to “Aliens: Do They Ball?”

“A little bit. Didn’t have an Oedipal Complex, I know that one.”

“Maybe what you saw could lead you to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re thinking of doing something. You do this thing with your eyes when you’re looking at things you want to fight. In the future you saw, do you know if you did something that caused them to kill you?”

“I don’t. But I seriously doubt they’re here for peaceful reasons. It’s always just a matter of time.”

I knew what she was worried about. But at the same time, I suspected that Technolutionary, Moai, and I could get in there, disable that trio, smuggle the Dimension Bomb aboard that craft, and blow the entire fleet out of the sky before anyone was the wiser.

I even had an idea on how to get in. I fired off an email to the secure address of El Presidente, the “democratically elected” leader of the Caribbean archipelago island nation of Isla Tropica. He’s not afraid to work with someone like myself, and the islands are a fun place to hang out. To him, the email read as coming from Axolotl Xolotl, which is what Spanish-speakers often call me. “Does your ambassador to the United Nations have any openings on his staff? I have a perfect candidate for any job. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more, say no more.”

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Enlightening Strikes 8

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As badly as things were left last time, I wondered if anything else would go wrong. It just doesn’t work out to tempt Murphy’s Law too much. While the suggestion that anything that can go wrong will go wrong being some sort of physical law suggests a certain order to the universe, don’t get me wrong. It’s all terribly disordered in a way only possible by sapient life, which is hilarious if you remember that sapience denotes the ability of an organism to use reason.

And yet, for all the chaos in any one part, it’s all part of a system that makes sense with the proper perspective. A perspective that can take into account the entirety of all human decisions made by prior decisions, genetics, environment, and neurophysiology vis a vis the effect of experiences and memories on the people in question. Naturally, all human decisions includes all of them ever, just like the environment includes everything from the tiniest shift in air pressure to the effects of stellar bodies on the planet. I mean other planets and stars, not the bodies you see online of Slavic porn models.

But once you get all that down, you’ve basically got omniscience covered. To get down to anything with any real randomness, you need to go subatomic. And I’m still suspicious of that. I’m also not omniscient. But I do know it’s hard for things to get really chaotic unless something physics-defying happens, like a crazy guy bursts into your universe from another dimension, and that only works if there are no physical laws that cross into other bubbles of the multiverse.

It’s a good argument for explaining to Wildflower why I hog the covers. That, and pointing out that her body stays warm enough without them, though she insists that isn’t the point. It is, unfortunately, poor comfort for the times when things go wrong.

It started well enough. Man-Opener had been informed of the alien infiltration threat, related to my knowledge of the future. Knowledge which, as he pointed out, could no longer be corroborated by a the clairvoyant Fortune Cookie after her untimely murder. Apparently I catch flak for not going to the funeral. Or even arranging for the funeral. Or paying for any of it. Others had politely attended, it seemed. But I’m getting all negative again.

We convinced Man-Opener with the communication pod from the late Senator Powers, especially after I dunked it in some coffee. Much cussing was had, but Man-Opener agreed to work on quietly spreading the word and back up my claim as a separate authority. It always helps, since I piss people off.

Now, surprisingly, that’s not what happened this time around. I awoke to a video chat alert on my laptop. Since I contact most people through my head computer, I wasn’t surprised to find Captain Lightning on the other end of the line. “Hey there, Thundar the Captarian. Another beautiful day in paradise? How’s Isla Tropica treating you?”

He ignored the questions. “How are you going to handle this?”

“Eh, just stay under the radar for a bit. We can bribe the right Feds to call things off. Maybe go blow up a North Korean missile silo and claim you stopped a plot to destroy America. People eat that shit up.”

“I mean what are you going to do about Man-Opener?” To the rear of his furious facade, I could spot a giant beach ball being tossed through the air. Wow, El Presidente must have set him up with one of the nicer new beachfront condos. That’d be near some good restaurants, possibly even one not run by the secret police.

I shrugged. “Venus brought him in. Beat his ass all over the east side. Shame I missed it. Didn’t I shoot you a text about this? He’s on our side.”

“Then why is the news out of Empyreal saying he’s talking to reporters about a secret alien invasion that’s taking over politicians’ bodies?”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that right after I murder him. Stay in touch, Lightning.” I shut down the laptop and threw off the covers. Standing up, I took the first step in rushing off to deal with Man-Opener blowing our cover. The first step, though, caught on something laying on the floor, which brought me down as well. Turns out Wildflower had decided to use the floor next to the new bed as a good spot to sun herself like a plant or reptile or something. It’s the animal hybridization. At least she doesn’t lay down on my computer keyboard, like a cat.

She didn’t even stir. Just laid there like a log. First time for everything, am I right, fellas? Still, the distraction did give me a moment to collect myself. Ya know, like figure out where I was rushing off to when I hadn’t even begun to look things up. With my own personal internet connection in mind, I sat down on Wildflower’s cushiony butt and pulled up whatever news I could get, including a special insider feed from the news company I have an in with. If I hadn’t been asleep during the first half of the day, I suppose I could have jumped out in front of the story. My contacts had sent me early copy, but early copy doesn’t matter if you’re unconscious.

Ignoring the way Wildflower’s thorny tail lazily wrapped around my arm, I took a look to see what Man-Opener was ruining this time…and soon found that he’d been blabbing his mouth to everyone. Henchmen and other villains were exactly who we wanted him to be careful around. Breaking into a TV station to make an announcement during the weather was overkill, just like what I’m going to do to him. Even worse, he namedropped Mary Malady, Senator Powers, and the Oligarch. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he didn’t mention that I killed Oligarch. Well, that part could have been a plus. I’m proud of it, but it would look bad to a lot of the other villains who were part of his Order.

Come to think of it, there did seem to be an unusual number of black helicopters in the skies of the city. Many were disguised as other choppers, like the sort that carry medical patients, news crews, weather men, and rich people. A black helicopter is a black helicopter, regardless of its actual color. After all, what good would they be for covert operations if people knew to keep watching the black ones?

The reason I didn’t go blabbing about aliens to everyone around is that we don’t know who to trust. Sure, it’s not like it’s hard to make a U.S. Senator your own personal bitch. It usually involves a bit of cash, but it’s still relatively easy. The problem is, the infiltration could go right up to the presidency. The President of the United States is no small enemy to have.

Oh, and no way would most people ever believe me, so that factored into my decision as well. It should have factored into Man-Opener’s thinking. Most regular people don’t want to believe someone like him, and they definitely aren’t ready to follow me. While we know Earth isn’t the sole home of intelligent life in the stellar neighborhood, I also know that I’m not the planet’s most trustworthy-seeming person.

But maybe I could use that? After all, wouldn’t it lend credence to Man-Opener if he were suddenly martyred by an assassin nobody likes or trusts? But where could I, an assassin nobody likes or trusts, possibly find an assassin nobody likes or trusts?

And since I’m coming out into the open again, maybe I can finally pick up my old car.

I headed out to find Man-Opener, whose little rampage cost me the element of surprise. The last news reports put him attacking the single most important political landmark of the entire nation. A place where the political future of America is decided. The spot where the true rulers of the country do business. Wall Street.

It was more a matter of marching through the streets and shouting his message while police tried to stop him. No protesting permit, holding up traffic, jaywalking, etc, etc. After they saw what he did to the first few, they didn’t care so much about the law. Not many people would when facing a walker like that. Ten feet tall, sleek, and white; it marched on humanoid legs and swung a pair of arms that would have dragged on the street if fully extended. There were no hands, only triads of axe heads that spun rapidly. Its rectangular torso was protected by armored plates in a V pattern, with some sort of black underlayer that seemed to coalesce against the man held partially inside the torso at its bottom-most. That was Man-Opener, with only his helmet and arms exposed outside of the armor.

As odd as it would be for a supervillain to march down the street, rampaging to raise awareness of an alien invasion, my arrival just made things stranger. I landed hard near the police cordon and stumbled a few steps until nanites could finish repairing some ligaments around my knee. I caught my balance on one of the cops and acted like I was patting him on the shoulder. “That’s enough, officer. I’ll take it from here.”

“The fuck?!” he jumped back upon seeing me.

“Here I come to save the day!” I shouted loud enough for Man-Opener to hear me.

Man-Opener didn’t bother to rotate his body. Instead, the arms rotated around toward me. His voice boomed from a speaker near the top of the walker’s headless body. “We have to expose the truth. That is how you beat a secret invasion. Face it head on, like a man.”

I reached up to adjust the rockets on the rear of my gauntlets. “Silence is golden, so let me come over there and gild your ass!” I jumped, flipped, and pushed off the top of a nearby cop car with a jump that carried me in an arc past Man-Opener. His arms rose to intercept me, but I passed between them. I landed in the street and skidded to a stop, using the last of my momentum to wrench a manhole out of the street. “Hey, watch this!” I shouted, then flipped it into the air. He did track it for just a moment, long enough for my suit to hide me in a hologram of the area around me. I tossed one of my rubber chickens at him Man-Opener, who swatted it to the side while chopping its head off. He then quickly intercepted the manhole cover, which I’d flung his way when it came back down.

My armor went from showing none of me to showing three. One stood in the street with arms crossed. Another grabbed a trash can from the curb, and yet another ran to the opposite side of the street where someone had abandoned a stroller. Unfortunately, it really was abandoned, which I knew since that me was the real one. But then, what is reality anyway, except for a tangible thing that exists whether you’re there to experience it or not? I grabbed it with my left and signaled my armor to concentrate power into a sheath of energy held just around my right fist.

Man-Opener stood still, paralyzed with indecision at the three of me. At least until the headless rubber chicken grenade got tired of trying to cross the road behind him and blew up. The road is such a cocktease like that, as any truck driver will gladly tell you.

The explosion stunned Man-Opener. What it lacked in damage, it made up for in opportunity, though. I rushed him while tossing the stroller ahead of me, regretting only that it did not have a baby in it during this encounter. Man-Opener either didn’t care or didn’t think, because he brought both arms down in time to shred the stroller. It gave me cover enough to run up and deck him in the snoz with enough force to make a brick wall ask for the lube.

What actually happened is that he brought one of his arms fully against his helmet to protect his body from debris, and my punch hit it instead. My fist warped and embedded in the metal as the energy sheath added to the force of the blow and did fun things to the metal. The blades, only a couple short feet away from me, sputtered to a stop. On that arm, at least. Man-Opener brought the other one down. I pulled as hard as I could to free my arm from the damaged limb, and I did throw myself back away from him, but I ended that fall with five fewer fingers.

“Fucking son of a pirate cunt with a chest full of picked dicks!” I screamed, obviously taking the situation well. I was losing a lot of blood, too. At least the little nanite quilt layer under my armor had been damaged enough to open some of the packets in the area. It works better with blunt trauma, but it’s still a way for me to mitigate significant non-thermal damage in the middle of a fight without taking a moment to inject myself properly. I realized as Man-Opener advanced that they’d be out of a job soon if I didn’t move my ass. And move it I did. I rolled back and ordered my armor to charge energy around my left arm.

“It looks like my arms beat yours so far, little Gecko. Will you regrow that like a tail? I’ve always wondered,” Man-Opener taunted me. The last laugh would soon be mine, however.

I bolted at him as if to do the exact same thing all over again. He held the useless arm in front of his body as a shield, no doubt ready to swipe off another arm or even a leg with the working one. Probably caught him off guard when I jumped onto his arm instead and used it as a platform to leap into the air. He swiped at nothing, then tried to get a better view at my ascent, an ascent I arrested with the rocket under my gauntlet. It flared to life and drove me down. This time when I connected, metal shredded like a Slayer song and his one good arm locked up at his side. The blades on the end began to stop and start jerkily. He brought up the first bad arm then to try and knock me off. This time, I remembered to use the same muscle enhancers that allow me to leap small buildings in a single bound and back flip off before he could hit me again. And this time, the rocket fired to bring my good fist crashing against his helmet. It didn’t break his head, just a bone or two in my hand. It also stumbled him as a result of the punch, forcing his walker to take a step back.

I backed up as well so I could fetch a syringe of nanites out of my belt. In spite of my success in battle, the dizziness caused by blood loss threatened to snatch defeat from the jaws of my victory. Also, I’m really fond of my right hand. My helmet showed me Man-Opener reaching for something on the side of his walker with his real arms, but I didn’t think anything of it until he shot something green at me that burned my armor and melted it partially to my body. The inside of my suit suddenly smelled like a steakhouse, or at least a barbecue shack. Holding up my left arm to protect me only succeeded disarming that one as well when the energy sheath wiring sparked. Had it been charged, the sheath could have potentially blocked the plasma being fired at me, or at least taken most of the oomph out of it.

He stopped after a moment. “I hope you can feel the burn, Gecko. You were looking jiggly around the hips the other day.”

I threw my arm and a half up and hollered to the sky. I’d quote me, but it’d be redundant at this point. Just imagine lots of As and lots of exclamation points. At least five of each ought to do it. Man-Opener was more than willing to advance on me as I inexplicably lost my footing in the middle of a nearby intersection. He stalked forward, turning down this new street…and then I stopped to look up at him. “The last burn I felt was a leftover from your mother’s cooter, jackass.”

It’s a shame his back was turned. He missed the epic moment when a sleek black 1951 Hudson Hornet crashed through a blockade of a pair of police sawhorses to ram into Man-Opener’s back. I happily jumped on top as it came right for me as well, up until I noticed how badly it hurt the black paint and orange trim of my remote-piloted car.

We wrestled on my car, and I managed to knock his plasma pistol away with my growing right arm. That was a point in my favor, but then he gained one of his own when he pinned me against the front of his armor with the arm that couldn’t spin its own blade anymore. He actually reached out to try and choke me with his regular arm, before the car suddenly stopped and threw us both into the first corner building it had sped across since Man-Opener got his hand on me. The car’s cameras showed us flying through the front door of Moe and Lester’s Meat Mart together.

Ah, the butcher’s shop! Such a fun place for conflict. Just imagine what the meat slicer could do to someone you don’t like if applied to all sorts of places on the body. The landing took a bit out of me and I had to brace myself against a stand of alligator jerky to stand up, but Man-Opener’s bulky machine took longer. That gave me time to see inventory my assets. The right arm was coming back, but still pretty weak. The left arm couldn’t use its energy sheath, but I think the rocket could still work. If not, I’d be out a left arm.

I ran over to a counter display we shattered in our dramatic entrance and grabbed a big, bloody steak. Like a thick ribeye, I think. I know human anatomy better than I do cows. Man-Opener stood up and started throwing displays out of the way, though his attempt to clear some room made me curious about just what pickled chicken feet tasted like. I turned, swung, and released the steak right at his helmet. It slapped there and clung, possibly disrupting his vision but maybe not. I haven’t yet determined what he can see in his armor. But I did rush in, tried the rocket, and smashed my fist into his steak-covered head hard enough to dislocate some of my fingers. The rocket sputtered and ejected though, a fuel leak having rendered it useless save for that blow.

No matter. I kept wailing on him. “And now you meat your match!” I dodged a blow from the arm without functional blades and grabbed a hanging line of sausages. When worse comes to worst, trust the wurst. I whipped them out and wrapped them around that arm. When he raised it up, I swung in and kicked him in the face. “I’m going to be frank with you here, you’re a bit of a wiener.”

He tried to maneuver me over to the other arm, still locked in one position, but still with some blades that stopped and started. I dropped, and noticed the steak flop to the ground as well. So I jumped close and started headbutting him. I rammed my helmet against his again and again and again until I was rewarded with a crack on its front. It cracked like a bloody egg and showed me an eye inside.

“That eye looks pretty bad. Let’s put something on it!” I grabbed the steak again and swung it at the hole. It smacked him, doing little actual damage but still getting wet meat juices right in his eye.

I didn’t expect that hit to finish him off, but he slumped, then spun to drop to his back. The realization hit me that I was wrong about him being defeated right about the time the barely-functional blades of the locked arm swung up and started to chop a cut of meat off my thigh.

Ever been held in one spot while something like a giant chainsaw chews through your leg? Not fun. When it stopped for a moment, I threw myself to the side and felt something catch. Could have been bone, could have been tendon. Either way, I didn’t get away until the blades started up again and pulled me over him. Whatever it was that caught, it didn’t stay caught, and I landed on the opposite side of Man-Opener, gritting my teeth and sucking in breaths.

At least our car ride and the chopping had released more of the nanites hidden in the quilted layer. That’s about all I could say, because there weren’t a lot of other good things. I had to take a moment there, because that shit hurt like a night of tap water and ex-lax burritos delivered straight from Mexico.

“How do you like those cold cuts?” Man-Opener asked as he, too, took a minute to recover. Then we heard the approach of heavy footsteps. Looking up, I spotted Venus in full, gleaming armor. It was heavier than mine, and bulkier, but still armor instead of a walker. Just thick, with big boots, big legs, big fists, big everything. And a golden visor that covered her face. She came equipped with the whole shebang this time. “Man-Opener, Gecko what are you two doing here?”

I pointed over. “Nothing much. Just beating my meat. Care to watch?”

The speakers on her armor distorted her voice, but not enough to lose the contempt. “You have the right to remain silent, Gecko.”

“Nah, that implies I’m being arrested.”

“Take him in! I got him nice and wrapped up for you!” Man-Opener said.

Venus pointed an a finger at him. “You too, Man-Opener.”

“Come on!” we both yelled.

She shook her head. “You’ve both caused too many problems, too publicly. I can’t just ignore this, not when you two are ignoring everything to carry out some personal grudge. This will be sorted out and dealt with, don’t worry.”

I sat up, pretty pissed. This isn’t just some big formal alien invasion. Oh, hey, how ya doin’, mind if we invade? They were going to kill me. That makes this top priority! I just hadn’t told her that yet. “Don’t deny me this, Venus ex machina. I owe this asshole a death for what he’s doing. He’s only in this to make me look bad, but this is my life we’re talking abo-ack!” She shot me! In the back! It was with a metal stake, too, which pierced my armor and electrocuted me too much to think of any more jokes. That was probably the intention.

Man-Opener started the slow process of climbing his walker up, but Venus shot it, too. Its legs locked for a second, then continued. Meanwhile, I tried to reach around with numb, tense hands, but the straining muscles didn’t have the dexterity to pull that thing out of my back. So I tried to get my feet underneath me instead. It was hard going, and it felt like I was grinding my teeth down to the roots, but I finally stood up. Venus turned to see how I was doing after knocking MO back on his ass.

I didn’t say anything, but instead signaled my car. It roared as it backed up, angled itself, and then fired a harpoon from the hubcap. Even though it knocked the stake out on impact, it was too late to avoid the course I’d taken. I gave Venus the finger as my car accelerated and dragged me after it, leaving her to clean up Opener.

I had to roll to dodge another two while Venus busied herself with putting down Man-Opener. It wouldn’t take long, no doubt, so I ran for the open front and dived into the open door of my car.

…So that’s it. I headed back to my penthouse, full of anger, denied vengeance, and urine. And the trip to the bathroom only solved one of those. The other two I carried with me past Wild Flower, who watched me with the impotent empathy of someone who wants to comfort an angry murderer. The elevator dropped me down to the art gallery, past the few dumb little exhibits that made it look vaguely like its cover. I deposited my armor in its little repair silo for the automated systems to assess the damage and begin rebuilding based on the blueprints. I grabbed an extra syringe of nanites to get me back up to fighting fitness in case Venus chose to pursue her goody-goodiness further.

And then I walked over to a table holding a sheet and a number of bulky things that fit under a sheet. I pulled them off to reveal parts and pieces that, with a little bit of elbow grease, can fit together to form a rather unique sort of device. A device that ruptures the fabric of spacetime in a limited area, doing catastrophic damage. The first one I ever used was built to shunt half a planet into another dimension and utterly destroy any life on it in the process. That didn’t work out, though it turned out such a bomb could be contained and used to transport a whole organism into another dimension.

I was there working on the Dimension Bomb late into the night and early into the next morning, stopping for bathroom breaks and the sandwich Wildflower left for me by the door, when word spread around the world of a flotilla of unidentified objects in space approaching the Earth in a decelerating velocity.

Ready or not, here they come.

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Enlightening Strikes 7

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Manners are a tricky thing in formal events. I’ve been to a few of them, though I don’t always make it to the actual meal. Generally, it’s all about being extremely polite. Like, fixing a fake smile on your face while talking to people you hate, kind of polite. That’s part of how I get through it. The dancing is also strictly uniform, because wild moving is difficult in some of those suits. This also makes them easier targets. At the dinner table, there’s stuff about folding napkins and using the correct fork on the correct food, perhaps so that snooty people could show off all the forks they had compared to those forkless plebians. So using the wrong silverware, or not kissing the right hand, or impugning someone’s pedigree is all rude. It’s like telling someone to go fork themselves.

Back in the land of the forkless plebians, on the other hand, it’s generally considered rude to, I don’t know, drug everyone in the place. It all had to do with me stopping by Rothstein’s again with a pair of large fruit baskets. Since I had my armor on, they didn’t quite get the joke when I slid in the door and yelled, “Who wants to grab my melons?”

“You’ve got some balls coming back in here,” said the stick figure guy I bullied last time.

“And here they are!” I tossed him a thing of grapes. I don’t know what it’s called for real, but most people could guess what a thing of grapes means.

I set one of the baskets down and noticed the barkeep reaching for something under the bar. Figuring it to be the alarm button again, I walked over and tickled his cheek with a banana. “Hey there. Open wide, I have some yummy for your tummy. Just don’t choke on the seed.”

“Nobody touch the fruit!” yelled the bartender, mostly preaching to the choir. A few, unlikely to look a gift horse in the mouth, had helped themselves to my goodies. Good for them. I even noticed Elita the Warrior Woman there, enjoying my fuzzy peach, the juices dripping down her chin. At least they were enjoying themselves while they could, unlike Chicken Little the bartender.

“Nobody touch the fruit? Gettin’ a bit homophobic around here, isn’t it?” I pointed to a man dressed in bright purple and white. “You gonna take that?”

“Actually, I’m straight, and I hate faggots.”

I swiveled to point at the stick man. “You gonna take that?”

“Why would I be offended?” He cocked his head, puzzled.

I pointed at the purple guy with my left arm, which crossed over my right. “He hates bundles of sticks. Probably thinks they’re gay or something.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being gay,” Stick man responded.

“Oh yes there is!” yelled the purple guy. “It’s not natural!”

“So’s arsenic and cyanide. Why don’t you try those!” countered ol’ Sticky.

Behind me, the bartender pulled a large, sleek handgun of unusual make. He pushed a button on the side and sights flipped up in the shape of a crosshair. I held my hands up. “What? I’m not doing anything. I brought fruit, and then these two got into an argument over homosexuality. Throw them out. I’m just here to enjoy alcohol. And maybe music. Can you play Misty for me?”

“Play Misty?” The puzzled bartender squinted, aiming the gun at my head. I didn’t flinch from it, just double checking the seals of my suit. Right on time, a yellowish, oily mist seeped from the ventilation system. Droplets settled on skin and tights, or were inhaled. After all, who goes into a bar with environmentally sealed power armor on? Me, but not many others. That’s why I was in perfect shape to stop the bartender from pulling the fire alarm and setting off some sort of alert. Maybe they have sprinklers for that, but I wonder if they are serviced by the fire department? Is there a secret super villain fire service instead? Usually, we’re more likely to be firestarters than firefighters.

Note to self: look into making villainous firefighters. And not the type of firefighters who goa round tossing cats into trees, either. Lots of damage happens when someone is doing something illegal, like cooking drugs or dissecting classmates. Double Cross: where discreet meets dangerous.

“You played it for her and you can play it for me!” I told the bartender, who held the gun on me. He tried to hold that gun in one hand while slipping what looked like a biohazard hood over his face. Like that’d do him a lot of good. In the hustle to do that, his ability to multitask took a hit and he accidentally squeezed the trigger. I wasn’t worried, since I’d stepped to the side and he hadn’t done a good job following me, but he still got it close enough to ding off the side of my helmet and deflect off to the side, hitting someone else. They probably would have complained, but they were all too busy trying to get out the door.

Plus, I took the gun away from the bartender and pistol-whipped him with it just as soon as he got his hoodie on. I pressed the gun against my helmet in a mock salute. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” then stopped myself from bending the barrel. Might better look at the design and find out if it would penetrate my armor or not.

While I sat at the bar and made sure I wasn’t getting exposed to the chemical, the situation in the bar escalated. The bar’s patrons were attempting to make a break for it, but the door stubbornly refused to open because Moai stayed outside and probably pushed a dumpster against it. Amused, I watched their attempted escape and poured drinks against the front of my helmet. When the fleeing drinkers decided to put some power to it, I had to chuckle to myself. Someone tried to burst the door with a fireball, but hit a couple guys trying to push it open. One of them turned and stretched his arm back in a badly-aimed punch that hit someone who shot thorns all around himself. Panic, anger, bad decisions, and a helping of synthetic THC had an orgy in their brains and produced the sad, abandoned baby of a bar brawl.

I grabbed a last glass and the gun, then headed upstairs. The upstairs locks were probably pretty difficult for just anyone to lockpick, and the doors were thick, but I had the power. The power of Greyskull, or at least the power of my energy sheaths. I didn’t want to screw up my joints by trying to kick through that heavy son of a bitch. I haven’t replaced those with anything better so far. I’m still trying to design better skin, or maybe more efficient muscles. Maybe put lasers in my boobs. Suckle stimulated light, suckers!

Upstairs, I faced my worst enemy yet…disappointment!

Man-Opener did not, in fact, eat there that day. Well, poo. At least a snooty butler-looking guy attempted to take me out with some sort of fancy spinning hurricane kick. I broke my glass over his head, then countered his moves with my favorite martial arts style: Dildo Style. I shoved the pistol up wannabe-Alfred’s ass and held on, then picked him up by the back of his collar with the other hand. “Window, window, window, where’s a window?”

Huh, I guess I never noticed there weren’t windows around. It works as a privacy issue, I guess, but I wasn’t thinking about it too hard since I had to keep hold of a squealing, wiggling butler. “But butler, you’ve got a gun butt up your butt-ler!” His screams showed a clear lack of appreciation for both the wordplay and the buttplay. “Shut up! Where’s a window?”

“Bathroom!”

Wow, it’s amazing how enthusiastic people can be when you use their intestines as a holster. I carried him to the door. “You mind getting this for me?” He couldn’t yank that door open quickly enough. Inside, a bathroom attendant sat by the door and a basket of towels, wearing a gas mask.

I paused, staring at this guy. “Hi, how ya doing?”

He shrugged.

“You going to try and stop me?”

He held up a towel and mumbled something I couldn’t understand through the mask.

“No thanks. Now…window…ah, there.” It was high up on the other wall. I shifted the butler up. “Hey, stay steady. This isn’t easy, and I’m a bad enough shot as is.” The first shot popped the buttler’s skull cap, but missed the window. What I lacked in aim, I made up in ammunition and decreasing distance. The window didn’t shatter, but several holes weakened its integrity enough that tossing the butler’s body through it knocked open the window.

Disappointing, but at least it reasserted my dominance all over their faces, like a brisk teabagging.

Before going straight to the penthouse, I stopped off at the roof and worked on my guns a bit more. No, there’s still no gym up there; adding a guided missile emplacement in case I need it. I don’t have it disguised since the heroes most likely to spy on me are also the ones working with me, though I considered a giant foam gargoyle. It’s the foam part that takes away from the awesome factor of having a gargoyle. Seriously, that’s an architectural thing we need to do more of. We need a lot more menacing stone figures on our buildings.

Eventually, Wildflower found me up there. I spotted her coming around a corner from the roof access in the 360-display and let her pad closer. I’ve been keeping an ear out to better listen to her, and it was easy to see she was taking her time, so I called out to talk to her first. “Hey there, pretty petals. Have a nice patrol?”

She walked over, getting those pretty bare feet all dirty on the rooftop. I’m not necessarily watching foot crushing videos, but that doesn’t mean I like seeing dirty, nasty feet. That’s one of the areas Wildflower could improve. She knows what I think after a discussion we had while shoe shopping. That’s why she reached over and nudged the back of my helmet with the ball of her foot.

“I broke up a scheme by Wilderment to rob a bank. He hypnotized a bank manager into letting him and some minions in.” A quick online search pulled up info on Wilderment that I went ahead and saved into a short dossier. Willis DeMott, amateur stage hypnotist-turned professional criminal after his first professional show went poorly and the venue stiffed him. A good hypnotist, but even a good one can’t force everyone to listen or do things they never would do normally. Convincing someone to rob a bank is easy; persuading them to hand the money to someone else is quite a bit harder. Wilderment is always on the lookout for some magical or technological improvements, but has never quite gotten his hands on anything useful. Seen as having too little potential. On the plus side, he’s served as his own attorney six times and never been convicted. Credit where credit’s due.

I smiled to myself as I next spoke. “Sure, sure, save the greedy banks. Wonder how much money they stole while you were protecting them.”

Wildflower nudged my helmet some with her foot. “Uh huh.” Her tail gave this extra little swish to the side. “I wanted to see you.”

“Aww, that’s sweet.”

“No. I wanted to see you about something. They tried to arrest Captain Lightning.”Ah yes. They. While there isn’t yet an organization, private or public, with a name forming the acronym THEY, the name itself lends itself to easy contextual understanding.

“Aww, fuck me with a cotton candy candlestick.” I set down the tools and turned back to her. “Oh yeah? Oh ho! Oh no! This ale ain’t no cocktail, but life is candy, cherry brandy, ain’t that dandy, sweetie-pie?”

Wildflower jumped, landing expertly on my shoulders without trowing me too far off balance to the rear. She squatted like that, wrapping her arms around my head and nuzzling her cheek against my helmet. “That’s not how I thought you would react. The news said he is wanted for allegations of espionage after blowing a hole in the Pentagon earlier today.”

Venus walked around the corner, too, ruining my nice little moment with my Weird Science girlfriend. “He was asking questions about a medical examiner who worked with the FBI who disappeared. The Feds wanted to know about the alien organ. They said he stole it and tried to bring him in. He’s fled the country now. It would look bad to come running here. Oh, and he said to tell you ‘thanks’ for the coffee trick. It paid off.”

“Looking bad? Looking for me?” Another person joined us on that rooftop in a smooth, expressionless shiny white helmet. He wore a bright white skintight suit with black at the joints and the palms of his hands. “You need my help, don’t you?”

I stood up, Wildflower digging her claws in to hold on despite the shift. “Man-Opener. How’s the armor? Guess you found out it isn’t so easy fighting Venus, huh?” I’ve rarely seen him without his armor, but that suit of his provides easy access. Probably wouldn’t save him if I tossed him off the building. Disappointingly, Venus and Wildflower probably would.

“She’s got balls. More than you.” He crossed his arms. There’s only so much you can emote when you’re in a helmet.

“I got balls enough not to run arou-”

“No, stop it, this isn’t going to turn into an insult fight!” Venus held her hands out to cut off any conversation between myself and Man-Opener. “Gecko, I told Man-Opener what’s going on. He’s here to see the proof, then we can agree on something that helps all of us, correct?”

She looked between myself and the other villain. “Good. I think we can all agree there are worse people to work with to save the world. But first, you owe him proof that we have a problem.”

I sent out a message to my assistant asking her to bring a few things up to the penthouse, including some of the drugs to ease telepathic headache. “Sure thing. Time to show y’all the coffee trick.”

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