Zazz keeps messing with me. That zoot-suited demon-guy was always leaving notes or letters for me, but no longer appeared around my family. He really wants to pay me back. With the added Omega energy in me and a moment to focus on him, I could break through his barrier and figure out his deal.
Zazz had been a powerful demon from the hell dimensions who had an ambitious plan to subtly undermine the world using the Cold War. Captain Lightning uncovered it, but wasn’t able to kill Zazz. Instead, he figured out a way to imprison the demon, but it was tied to his life. He’s definitely not looking to help me undo the death of Captain Lightning. He wanted to find a way to get rid of me using the confusion of time travel. It’s a solid plan.
I justified my killing for a long time as even being a bit merciful compared to other things you could do to a person, like ruin, humiliate, depower or imprison someone. Dame proved me right on that, I think. Sometimes death is a mercy. And when I think of all the dictators and opportunistic bloodsuckers I killed off when I got these god-like powers, it’s a mercy for everyone else. So long as death exists, tyranny is not eternal. Pain is not eternal. Even the wealthy and powerful can only put it off for so long, but accidents and drug overdoses happen anyway.
Still leaves me conflicted about Clara, aka Pestilentia. Aside from trapping me a couple of times and trying to kill some people under my protection, there’s not a lot of continuing threat from her. Damn Reindeer and that conscience. I want to be a good person. Captain Lightning wasn’t right to do what he did, and maybe I could have taken another way to stop him. Maybe I should have. I guess that’s my moral problem to wrestle with.
Pestilentia had taken over a small hotel in the Green Zone of Empyreal City. The Reds, a Marxist-Leninist street gang with access to old Soviet arms, were taking advantage of the Greens’ distraction to make a push with radthrowers and old Comrade exoskeletons. Think boxy metal robots with claws like some kid’s toy, make them 15 feet tall, and stick a person inside without an air conditioner. The radthrowers were a lot like flamethrowers, but throwing out radiation. That radiation included heat, but without the flames. Militaries can’t legally use the things, but they’ve found new life as surplus in the hands of criminals and terrorists.
A group of them had marched into what I thought of as a Brown Zone, mostly from the rotting plants and compost and such. The giant mushrooms were of varying colors, including some large ones with red and white-spotted caps. The reaction was a little different there. Some of the mushrooms grew larger. Others released spores that the radthrowers quickly targeted. It might have been because they were already feeling the effects of Pestilentia’s guard microbes. She had bacteria all up inside them. The first few falling over or kneeling didn’t get most of the group’s attention. Everyone thought they were the only ones feeling ill. Excuses running through their heads ranged from bad burritos to STDs to chronic health problems. They figured out this was a group problem around the time one of the exoskeletons clanged off the side of a car and went still against the pavement.
Pestilentia liked taking to the skies. She jumped over them all, unleashing a rain of arrows. With her enhanced strength, many of them penetrated the Reds anti-knife vests worn in case of claw or antler attack. One of the exoskeletons tried to tackler her, but she manipulated her ribbons like limbs. They wrapped around its legs and dragged them out from under the Red, making him do a split. The guy inside whose legs were down into those legs also did a split, but was not in any way prepared for it. Then the bacteria that infiltrated him exploded his eyes. He died shortly thereafter of a brain aneurysm.
Pestilentia disappeared from that dimension. Instead, she appeared in the Omega pocket dimension, inside a forcefield bubble floating between the hands of a giant me. The Unicorn Goddess herself.
“Hello, Clara,” I said. “What am I going to do with you?”
Pestilentia tried an arrow that dissolved at the bubble. She lowered the bow then. “Let me go and we call a truce?”
Well, she reminded me a bit of myself there.
“I don’t know whether it’s more merciful to kill you, or to let you live,” I told her. “Do you want to live?”
“Yes!” She declared. “Let me live! I’ll leave you alone, I swear!”
“Even if it means sealing you in the Madstone?” I asked.
That took her several seconds of deciding before she balled up her fists. “Never put me in the Madstone again.”
Good answer. I liked it.
I reached into her and made a few changes. Think of it like a curse or a geas. “You will never harm myself or any of my loved ones. Emotional harm from dating or breaking up with Max doesn’t count, obviously, nor does any S and M stuff you two get up to. He doesn’t mind a little bit of teeth with his blowjobs, so you know.”
I could have done more. Could have even stripped her of her powers. I could feel the symbiotic fungus inside her. But I didn’t. I showed mercy, and then I cast her out to the real world. Maybe that was the wrong choice, too, but it was the one I made. Because the Reindeer part of me, that goody-goody heroine, knew it would be wrong to stuff her into the Madstone in my place.
Then it was back to the real world for the next confrontation. I was at this old bookstore. “Charlie’s Books,” read the sign out front. I stepped through the door.
“We’re closed!” a teenage voice called out. I waited there for that young man to see me. Captain Lightning II, untransformed, stopped in his tracks as he saw me. He transformed in a hurry, flying right at me to punch me in the face. I let him. It didn’t hurt me. It couldn’t at that point, especially with the Madstone just now draining strength from me.
I could have explained and justified myself, but he wasn’t in the mood for it. Instead, I brushed him aside. I caught him in a jagged crystalline half-orb before he could slam into a bookshelf, closed it, and then froze him in there. “Where, oh where, had my Madstone gone?”
I smelled brimstone and hellfire and spotted a wide-brimmed hat walking along behind one of the book-shelves. Zazz stepped out from behind the bookshelves, bouncing a snowglobe in his hand. A stand of like zinc, aluminum, and copper and a glass globe with an etched stone inside. The Madstone. “Hey there, girly. You shouldn’t have gone looking into my past like that. I just wanted to help ease your mind. Where’s the trust?”
I pulled the snowglobe out of his hands. He put up a fight telekinetically, but it was clear he was weaker. Instead, he shattered the globe and pushed the stone toward me. I stopped it again and brought it close.
“Well, I guess you got it. Good luck undoing it,” Zazz said. “Are you going to at least let me kill the boy?” He gestured with his chin toward the captured Captain Lightning.
“No one has to die today,” I said.
Zazz rolled his eyes. “I’ve been where you are. He won’t stop. It does not matter that he can’t beat you, he will find a way. Eventually, he’ll even succeed. You say you’re a god. It’s time to stop pretending human morality has any place with you. It’s gotten you stuck with that thing stuck to you, leeching your power away.” He emphasized that by pointing at the Madstone. “You can be nice or you can live with that draining you, a god forever tied down to that thing. The mighty Unicorn can be yours if you find the rock she’s stuck in.”
He was baiting my arrogance. Zazz was telling me what part of me wanted to hear. I’d had these thoughts already. The whole thing could be solved and the status quo more or less returned to if only I shoved Pestilentia back into the Madstone. Or put someone else in there, like one of the Lesser Omegas or Zazz. That was a Plan B for the one I drained of power. Solve my problem by inflicting it on someone else. Fair’s fair, right?
“It’s such a little thing. The maker didn’t even make the stone stronger,” I raised the Madstone up.
“You want to break that thing with you bound to it?” Zazz asked.
I raised an eyebrow. “Do you know what would happen if I did?” I asked. “I’ve been so worried this whole time that it would kill me or take my powers. And isn’t that funny. Nothing an immortal fears more than dying. We have abilities that let us see more than regular people, but we lose our shit the moment knowledge doesn’t want to serve itself to our brains on a silver platter. And the idea of losing our powers is so bad, we’ll risk being sealed in Madstones and pocket dimensions or inside old men who should have retired years ago but kept flying out helping people.”
“What are you babbling about?” he asked.
I raised the orb-encased Madstone and let him see the effects of the pressure I put on it, warping it with gravity fluctuations and telekinesis and selective bursts of heat. It cracked and then shattered in a burst of luminescence.
The orb around Captain Lightning II disappeared. The Madstone fell to the ground, broken and powerless pieces of rock. I stumbled, feeling gravity on me and feeling sick to my stomach for the first time in I don’t know how long. I ended up on my knees, horn scraping against the floor of the bookstore. I puked up on the floor while Captain Lighting approached from behind. Zazz came forward from the front.
“Is she powerless?” Captain Lightning asked.
“It appears so,” Zazz said. “Are you going to kill her?”
“Are you?” the hero asked.
“It’s tempting. The threat from her is gone. I don’t need to kill her, but I don’t need her alive either…”
“She deserves it, but she’s powerless.”
“What kind of dumb bitch gives up the powers of a god rather than just trap someone else in there?” Zazz asked.
Oh look, a question that made them both pause for a moment.
“That doesn’t matter,” Captain Lightning said. “First, I’m handing her to the police for the murder of a great man, then I’m doing something about you.”
“Hmm,” Zazz said.
With a snap of Zazz’s fingers, flames engulfed me. I was back on my lawn, still on my knees. I eased back onto my haunches to look around and saw Zazz standing by the mailbox, where most of my house’s automatic defenses wouldn’t bother with him. He waved at me. “Let’s call it even for your aid freeing me, I guess. I got to stick it to the successor of the man who locked me up for decades. But don’t you come around me being trouble, you hear?”
I gave him the finger and smiled. “If I’m capable of obtaining and giving up those powers, just what else am I capable of?”
I didn’t need omniscience to see that unnerved him. Zazz disappeared again. I took a moment to make sure no one was watching, then switched the omniscience back on. There we go, all better. Ever wonder if a god can make themselves completely powerless temporarily?
Sickeningly Sweet 5
I told my family. They deserved an explanation better than me ignoring it and keeping a doppelganger around to comfort them every time I popped out of the Madstone. And they knew something was up. Venus and Medusa both reacted pretty badly to the death of Captain Lightning, along with everyone else. However people felt about him alive, he’d been a superhuman institution. And the Unicorn Goddess had killed him.
So first, I pulled myself together enough to appear at home, then I summoned Medusa and Venus to me. Their surprise was quickly replaced with attempts to pummel me in anger and sadness. I was beyond their ability to help me, at least that early on in my escape. They knew it too, and it was Medusa who came to her senses first, grabbing Venus and asking, “Why?”
“Holly told you what’s going on,” I reminded them. I hadn’t left them completely in the dark. “I’ve been trying to get the stone into my possession and release myself. I asked Captain Lightning for help, but he refused because a fight between us would cause widespread damage and he didn’t want to encourage it by helping me. I almost had it, but he got there first and started adjusting the enchantment on the stone. He wanted to permanently seal me inside it. I guess I was no longer the lesser evil.”
They were still crying and processing it. Even with my powers slipping back into the Madstone, I could still have changed their minds and made them understand but I didn’t want that. I don’t want all my relationships to exist because I fucked with people’s heads and made them like me. I still had awhile. “I have at least an hour before I have to return to the Madstone and recover.”
“What?” Venus said.
I snapped my fingers and gave them, as well as my onlooking girlfriend Sam, my side of the experiences on the day I killed Captain Lightning. I won’t brainwash them, but it’s a lot easier to make someone see my point of view when I can literally give them all the knowledge of my point of view.
“I wanted to wait until you’d both attended his funeral. I’m sorry to… I don’t know. Ruining a lot of things, I guess.”
Sam came over and hugged me. Medusa hugged Venus. “Send us back where you got us. We’ll talk later. We need time.”
“I can pop out again in a couple days. I’m just… everything was going so well. Y’all were joking and planning a wedding. People weren’t dying in the streets with a goddess of disease running loose.”
Qiang had come out of her room to watch us. The course of these events had me worried, even saddened. It’s funny. Right back to killing superheroes and getting locked up, only this time it had a great deal more weight to it.
“I could bring him back… provided I get out of this thing. Kinda funny how that works,” the one thing keeping me from bringing him back. Perhaps I should have. It would have been more humane, maybe. Bring him back, wipe out everyone’s knowledge of how things went down, and just make him never think of doing the same thing again. Maybe the next time, after gathering my strength in the Madstone.
“You could go back in time, too,” Sam suggested.
“What are you suggesting?” Venus asked.
Medusa shook her head. “I don’t know if that’s right or wrong even.”
“Who’s to say?” another voice cut in.
We all looked over at someone standing over by Qiang, but who made a show of stepping away. He wore a big, flappy yellow zoot suit and a wide-brimmed hat tilted back to show off the horn nubs on his forehead. He was clearly a demon, judging from the red skin and the fire burning in his eyes. “Call me Zazz; rhymes with jazz.”
It wasn’t his real name. He raised a finger topped with a black, pointy fingernail. “Uh, uh. No looking up a person’s name. You’ll use up the goodwill I have toward you for pissing off so many of my fellow fiends.”
What’s even the point of omniscience anymore if every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a way to circumvent it?
“What do you want, Zazz?” I asked. Qiang quietly palmed a knife. Venus, Medusa, and Sam were also getting ready for a fight, with Sam inching toward a lamp.
“I want to thank you for what you’ve done to ruin the plans of some of my rival demons,” he said with a smile. A too-white smile.
I shook my head. “No thank you. Especially time travel.” I raised a hand to wave him off, letting the palm glow a little as a threat.
Zazz winked. “Think about it. I’ll be in touch.” He disappeared in poof of smoke that cleared away.
“Well, I don’t trust him,” I told the family. After a moment, I added, “ I know things are fucked up, so I’ll send people elsewhere or just leave if y’all don’t want to, but can I spend some time with y’all before I get tossed back into the Madstone?”
Despite everything, we had a nice couple of hours together before they watched me pulled back into my prison. I rested up, little by little, because I needed all of my strength. It was time to stop fucking around and giving anyone any chances. I’ve been lazy. I’ve relied on senses that are nowhere near as powerful as I thought they were, and which are only getting weaker. And I subtly made everyone who knew forget about my spare bodies I could project my consciousness into.
So, emotions done. Riddles put off for now. Time for work, after a brief refractory period to regain my power. Once upon a time, I’d visited the pocket dimension created out of the remains of the entity Mr. Omega. I absorbed part of his essence to obtain my power, but other pieces of him gained various levels of existence in the dimension and went to war with each other. One that I spoke with explained it all to me in boring exposition before offering to escape with me by letting me absorb him and his power, in the hopes he would manipulate me from inside.
I’ve reached a part where that factors into a couple different plans I have. I appeared back in the Omega dimension.
I saw skies of red. Red roses, too. I saw them bloom for me and a herd of felines with antlers that looked up at me. Looked like miniscule shards of Omega’s core had joined with some felines. Barely any Omega energy there, really.
The place was a lot less warlike than I remember. I made damn sure to use my omniscience there and saw that the various Lesser Omegas that looked like copies of the original had settled into a stalemate. Some hibernated, others cultivated their lands and the life growing there, and the one I came to see had become an avid observer of the wildlife spawned by all those various shards joining with the discarded debris of the multiverse.
He appeared near me, a crimson man wearing a laurel of leaves and a toga. “Dammit,” I said, “Everyone’s gone hippie!”
He examined me for a minute, a minute of my power… not slipping away. I needed to test if this applied to other dimensions or just this little one my powers were associated with. It was refreshing to not be on a time limit. I just have to either drag my whole family away from their lives, or live apart from them here in a land full of nothing but the essence of a colossal cockthistle who I hate. The only way this could get worse was if it turned out Florida was immune to the Madstone’s pull.
“I once called you sister, but you’ve grown and changed,” the Lesser Omega said upon breaking the silence. “You are little like us.”
“Last time I was here, it was all war and gloom. Looks like the rest of you changed,” I said. It would almost be a shame to take his power for myself.
“This world has flourished into a peaceful world of burgeoning new life, unburdened by the grudges and conflicts of our past greater self. I have been watching to see how the world grows, what wonders arise,” he answered.
“So, remember that deal you once offered, giving up your power to me…?” I nudged him.
He tossed the toga and laurel aside. “I am ready when you are. This is the most boring place in the multiverse.”
“What’s this? Surrendering, are we?” asked someone else. It was another Omega clad in blackened armor with a green sheen on it. “If you wanted to die, you could have come to me.”
“Who’s this anal swizzle?” I asked the scholarly Omega.
“That is a more warlike aspect. He’s disappointed no one wants to fight anymore and tries to goad us,” that Omega answered.
“I’d like a fight, but you can let me kill you instead!” the armored Omega declared, materializing a spear in his hands.
“You know, it’s not the outside that matters so much as what’s inside,” I noted. With a flick of my hands, small dimensional portals separated his head from his body, then scattered pieces of his body to other dimensions. It left an irregular core there, what is known on my planet as an Omega Pearl. I approached it and laid my hands on it, absorbing his power into me.
The scholarly Omega backed away. “He’s gone.”
I nodded to him. “Yeah.”
That Omega shook his head. “No, he’s truly gone. Not even a personality inside you.”
I shrugged. I felt more powerful, but it was hard to tell if I was any douchier than before. I’m already pretty douchy.
“I am rethinking what we discussed before,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “You said this place was boring.”
“I imagine being dead is more boring,” he said.
“Good thinking. You should use that imagination thing more. This place could use some sprucing up.” I looked around. Most of the world was an unblemished wilderness, with the Omegas barely even creating shelter to live in. “Have you ever heard of Minecraft? Might give you some ideas.” I created a laptop with the game for him, letting him see it.
Mr. Omega had been banished back before people realized the Earth was round. These guys could use something telling them to build and develop.
The scholarly Omega leaned in and tried pressing buttons on the laptop. After a few tries, he figured a few things out and was playing around in it. After a minute, I realized he’d become less aware of my existence. I left a few more laptops for the rest, as well as a server for the bunch, all under a sign reading, “Get your creative juices flowing.”
Then it was back to the Madstone, now with twice the power at my disposal for when I hop out and murder my best friend’s girlfriend. I want to make sure that what comes next isn’t a fight, but a murder.