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Driving a pickup truck on the surface of the moon is a bit of a challenge. Trucks don't have a lot of traction on moon dust, but at the same time, the low gravity makes it harder to brake -- or, actually, to stay on the ground. I manage it, of course, because I'm the Greatest Driver on Earth. Even when I'm not on the Earth.
How did I end up here? Well, I entered a tournament of demigods -- one I've already washed out of, mainly because my powers revolve around driving, and the jerks running the tourney wouldn't provide me a car. All along, they'd led us to believe we were in an underground facility, but we -- that's me and my entourage, Squid Kid, Miss Mega, Gamma Girl, Hybrid, and Piledriver -- just found out the whole competition is actually taking place in a secret base on the moon.
"What the hell?" says Hybrid as the truck bounces along over the moon rocks. "Why are we on the moon? Why are we on the goddamn moon?!"
"Did you know we were here?" asks Miss Mega. "How long have you known we were on the moon?"
Gamma Girl doesn't say anything. She's busy taking pictures with her phone.
"Actually, I already knew about it," says Piledriver.
"Are you kidding me?" I ask. "That was my big reveal! How did you ever find out?"
"I've been trying to work my way past the signal jammers keeping us from using our cell phones," she says. "Finally realized I could just piggyback on their own communication systems. You'll be glad to hear I've already got a message sent to the Chrome Cobra. Haven't heard back from her yet, but I assume that's because she figures the rest of the facility would get the message, too. When did you figure it out, Wheelman?"
"I haven't known for long," I say. "Pyroclasm was trying to pull up some lava and couldn't do it. He'd never have that kind of difficulty on Earth. But the moon doesn't have a very active geothermal profile, so that seemed like a safe guess."
"Since when did you know anything about geothermal activity?" asks Hybrid.
"Beats me," I shrug. "When things get stressful, my lizardbrain takes over, so I get ruder and cruder, and also I start thinking harder to make sure I'm gonna survive whatever's stressing me out. Sometimes I pull something out of my brain that I never knew I had any knowledge of."
Gamma Girl is looking behind us. "Did your lizardbrain know anything about that?" she asks.
I turn the car around, and we all take a good look at the door we just drove out of. Over the top of the doorway, carved into the rock, is a gigantic letter "T" set against the coat of arms of the nation of Morokiva.
"Okay, I had no freakin' clue about that," I say.
"Yeah, I kinda knew about Baron Tyrannus, too," says Piledriver. "Everyone's email here has a tyrannus.mi domain. Also, for the record, Cindy Tyrienne's real last name is Tyrannus -- I think she's his daughter, though I guess she could be a gender-switched clone or something like that. Gotta admit, I'm not really a big fan of having to fight a mega-villain like Tyrannus. Any chance you could just drive this jalopy back to Earth before he notices us?"
"Laura, you still got stuff to learn about being a superhero," says Squiddie. "Namely, we do not run away, even if we have to fight Baron Tyrannus."
"You mean especially if we have to fight Baron Tyrannus," says Hybrid.
"Especially when we know there are innocent people, superpowered and otherwise, trapped inside his secret lunar base," I say. "Everyone buckle up -- his soldiers will probably start shooting at us as soon as we're back inside."
I floor it. They try to close the door into the base, but again, I've got a divine garage door opener that can override any commands they've got. We drive back into the corridors inside -- and it turns out I'm wrong. They don't shoot at us at all.
"You think they don't even realize we were outside?" asks Gamma Girl.
"Not a chance," says Miss Mega. "Something else is going on. Where's our next stop, Greg?"
I take a quick look at the GPS. "Back to the coliseum," I say. "Looks like everyone's in there -- including Tyrannus."
"Oh, great," groans Piledriver. "I don't guess I can hope that the rest of the demigods have already kicked his ass already?"
Oh, we're never that lucky.
I drive the truck into the coliseum, and all the entourages and civilians are lined up against one wall while the facility's armed goons point rifles at them. All the demigods are strapped into a massive apparatus sparking with neon electricity that dominates the floor of the arena. And standing in front of that, wearing his metal armor, facemask, and purple tunic, staring at us coolly as we skid to a stop, is Baron Rex Tyrannus himself.
"Okay, everyone stay in the car," I say. "I'm gonna just run him over."
"Not the most heroic thing I've ever heard," says Gamma Girl.
"It's Baron Tyrannus," says Squid Kid. "We don't really have time to worry about being properly heroic right now."
"Exactly," says Miss Mega. "Floor it, Greg."
And then the tires fall off, the engine explodes under the hood, and the steering wheel comes off in my hands.
"Hey, Greg!" says Lenore. "Your car just fell apart!"
"How the hell did that happen?!" yells Hybrid. "How the hell did one of your cars break? I've never seen that in my life? How did that even happen?!"
"Did you suppose," asks Tyrannus, "that I would allow an automotive demigod into my secret lunar base without first making certain that he would not be able to turn any of my own vehicles against me?"
"You really ought to tell people when you hide bombs in cars, man," I say. "Seems like it'd be the sporting thing to do."
"I care not for sport," says Tyrannus. "I care for conquest. And at last, ultimate conquest is finally within my grasp!"
"Alright, hang on a minute," says Miss Mega as we all get out of the remains of the truck. "I'm gonna peel this nutcase out of his armor so we can all go home."
Then Tyrannus raises one hand toward us, and wham, we're all face down on the arena floor. Feels like an elephant's sitting on my back.
Miss Mega stands right back up. "You're gonna have to boost the gravity a hell of a lot more than that to keep me down," she says.
"I'm fully capable of doing that," Tyrannus says. "But in the process, I'm afraid your fellow heroes will all die. May I suggest you lie down, even if only to protect them?"
Well, she doesn't like it, but she gets right back on the floor with the rest of us. If it was just me here, I'd tell her to go kick his ass and not worry about me -- but that ain't Mega's thing. She thinks she has to protect everyone, so she's nearly always too cautious with everyone else's lives.
"This can't be gravity distortion," says Piledriver. "I'd be able to sense the machinery you'd need to turn this arena into a gravity alteration chamber. And your Superpedia entry doesn't say anything about you hiding miniaturized gravitational doohickeys in your gauntlets. What the hell is this?"
"Perhaps you noticed my recently perfected Mysticism Battery," Tyrannus says, indicating the machine behind him with one hand. "Draining the strength of a dozen demigods provides me with unexpected abilities. Wouldn't you agree?"
"For a mad genius, your math sucks," my big mouth says before I can stop it. "You just drained 11 demigods, not 12. You missed me with whatever your dumb machine over there does."
"You've hardly been missed at all," he sneers. "My new Divinity Channeling Armor utilizes technology only Tyrannus could devise to hijack the pure transcendent power investing the cells of the so-called demigods confined within the Detention Matrix. Their power appended to my own is enough to make me unconquerable. Adding a lowly stunt driver like you would likely make me weaker. I will content myself with my conquest of Earth and allow you and your entourage to bask in my glory."
"Yeah, I'll bask your glory, jackass," says Squid Kid. Not her best zinger ever, but it's not easy to come up with good wisecracks when you're sitting under a magnified gravity field.
"This doesn't even make sense," says Hybrid. "Why demigods? Why drag them out to the moon for a fake tournament? If you wanted to drain their powers, why not stick to only the most powerful, instead of a few Alpha Class metas and a few Beta Class and lower? I don't understand how this scheme of yours was supposed to work."
Nice. Do you see what she did there? A guy like Tyrannus absolutely loves to monologue. And Hybrid just gave him enough questions to keep him rattling his jaw for, if we're lucky, at least 5-10 minutes.
"Fools!" he thunders, predictably, like a clock. "You are blind to my genius! Deluded dolts, you will never grasp the towering intellect of Tyrannus! While I had already conquered all aspects of science, the power of magic had eluded me -- but now, I have tamed it with technology of my own creation! Why demigods? Is there a more direct connection between the earthly realm and the supernatural sphere? To gain control of one is to vanquish the other!"
Yeah, keep talking, jackass. As long as he keeps going, I'm working on thinking my way around the definition of "automobile" to include a demolished car without wheels or an engine. It's hard work, but it's all about maximizing your mental flexibility and trying to match it up with your actual superhuman powers.
"There was no need to bring in demigods with powers relating to speed, wisdom, or deceitfulness," he continues. "The speedsters are too unpredictable, and the ones with mental or trickery powers would be too likely to discover my plans early. But this collection of god-powered nitwits needed little persuasion to distract themselves with battle and competition, leaving me free to pursue my stratagems undetected!"
I'm not the only person making plans, either. Miss Mega and Piledriver are both wound up, ready to launch themselves at Tyrannus if given half a chance, and I hear Gamma Girl whispering, "Sparky, go see if there are any weaknesses in his armor or the big machine he's got all those people strapped into."
"I don't even need the most powerful demigods," Tyrannus continues. "Divine power of any kind empowers my armor! The healer, the rain-bringer, and the wind-controller provide just as much energy as Hercules, the warmonger, or the volcano! And with the strength of these half-gods flowing in my veins, Tyrannus is the equivalent of a full pantheon!"
Meanwhile, Hybrid is completely monstered-out, ready for any opportunity to jump on him and start slicing. And if you watch the ground around Squiddie, you can see the sand squirming with hidden tendrils -- she's buried her tentacles and is slowly snaking her way closer and closer to him.
"And I can assure you all that godhood expands the senses in greater ways than even I ever imagined," he shouts. "I am fully aware of your feeble attack plans, and you will have no opportunity to halt my goals, even if you possessed the skill or power to do so!"
He lifts off, hovering in the air just above the platform, and as he does, the gravity becomes just a bit less crushing. Mega and Piledriver both surge to their feet, but bounce off an invisible forcefield when they leap at him. Gamma Girl fires off a radiation blast, but it's harmlessly deflected, too.
"I bid you farewell, heroes," Tyrannus says, hovering higher as the ceiling telescopes open. "When next you see me, it will be as the new conqueror of Earth, destroyer of the old civilization, slayer of those who would defend the corrupt, non-Tyrannus tyranny!"
And he blasts off like a rocket, shooting through the airlock in the ceiling, and disappearing from sight.
The ceiling irises closed again, and the gravity returns to normal. We all jump to our feet, and Squiddie's tentacles slither out of the ground. "Dammit!" she yells. "I almost had him!"
"Forrrget him!" Hybrid snarls. "Dissharm his shholdiers before they shhtart shooting the hosshtages!"
That's at least something we can handle easily. While most of Tyrannus's soldiers concentrate their fire on Miss Mega, Hybrid jumps on a bunch of them, Piledriver knocks around a few more, Squid Kid disarms even more, thanks to her already hyper-extended tentacles, and Gamma Girl melts as many of their rifles as she can. Even I get to beat a few up -- I may not have a car right now, but I've got a demigod's strength, and spending enough time as a superhero will give you enough fighting skills to take out just about any conventional military personnel.
Once we have Tyrannus's goons under wraps, Miss Mega turns her attention to the giant contraption holding all the demigods prisoner.
"Hang on," she says. "I'm gonna bust this thing up."
"Wait," I say. I've got warning bells ringing in my head, and I don't know why. "Don't touch it."
"Come on," she says. "We destroy this thing, Tyrannus loses his powers, we wrap this whole thing up."
"If it was that easy, he would've hidden it," I say. "Or he would've beaten us down so we couldn't break it. Leave it alone."
"Do you think it's gonna blow up if we tamper with it?" asks Gamma Girl. "Last thing we need is a bomb exploding while we're stranded on the moon."
"Or the machine might be necessary to both extract the demigods' powers and return them, too," I say. "So it's better to keep the device safe."
"You being the smart guy is weird, Greg," says Lenore. "You think Hypothermia and Iota are back home swilling Courvoisier and chasing floozies?"
"No one says 'floozies' anymore, Squiddie," I reply. "Gotta get your nose out of those old books sometime."
"We can't just wait around here," says Miss Mega. "Tyrannus is heading for Earth right now. We have to try to stop him."
"Believe it or not, that's gonna be my department," I say. "No way they built this base and moved all these people up here with only a teleporter. They had rocketships, and I'm gonna go find one."
"A spaceship isn't a car, Wheelman," says Hybrid.
"If it's something like a space shuttle, it'll have tires, an engine, and a steering wheel," I say. "And that means I can take it after him."
"Okay, let's saddle up," says Piledriver.
"No can do, ladies," I say. "I gotta do this solo."
"Don't try to be some macho dick," says Miss Mega. "This isn't the time or place for that crap."
"Listen, how much good are any of you going to be on a spaceship?" I say. "You can't beat up Tyrannus from inside a rocket. You can't shoot radiation blasts at him or hit him with tentacles or anything. None of you can operate in a vacuum. I can fly the rocket, and I can shoot any of its weapons. You guys would be passengers, and if he manages to blow a hole in the ship, I'd rather not have passengers aboard."
"Are we just supposed to stay back here and ooh and ahh at your manly heroics?" asks Hybrid. "I don't like having to stay here and be useless."
"You guys need to stay here and guard the hostages and that machine," I say. "You think those are the only soldiers Tyrannus has? The place is crawling with his minions."
"I'm really not in favor of this plan," says Miss Mega.
"Okay, enough arguing," says Lenore. "Greg, go take care of it. We've got no other plans, so it's all on you. Don't be a douchebag. Don't screw this up. Don't get killed. Seriously, man, don't get killed."
"Can you even find the spaceships?" Piledriver asks. "We didn't pass any space shuttles on our way in."
"I'm gonna try giving myself a car radar sense," I say. "Then I'll just home in on the biggest signal."
"You're gonna what?" asks Hybrid. "That doesn't make sense, does it?"
"It doesn't make sense," says Squiddie. "I'm gonna assume he can do it anyway. Renee, make sure he gets there safely, then head back here."
"I'm on it," says Gamma Girl. She flies up to me, scoops me up, and hovers above the arena floor. "Which way do we go, Wheelman?"
"Take that corridor on the right," I say. "I think that's where we need to go."
So we take off flying, and I keep my fingers crossed that the car radar sense wasn't complete bullshit on my part.
"I really hope you can fly any spaceships we find," says Gamma Girl. "There's no guarantee they'll even have controls like a car."
"Seems like a pretty safe bet," I say. "Gotta make it easy for Tyrannus's soldiers to use, and cars are pretty common transportation everywhere. I'll grant you -- flying cars are a lot less common, but it's not like I don't occasionally drive cars off the tops of skyscrapers."
"Lenore was right," she says. "It's really weird to have you acting like you're a smart guy. You should stop hiding that side of you."
Yeah, that's a great sentiment, but I'm not even sure where this semi-smart stuff is coming from. I can't pretend it's my lizardbrain trying to make sure it survives. This has been going on for too long, and it's really starting to freak me out a little bit.
Anyway, it's not long before we hit a large hangar full of a dozen shuttle-like spaceships. Score one for me and my new car radar sense!
Unfortunately, a bunch of guards start shooting at us. Wouldn't be any problem for GG to dodge all those shots if she weren't lugging me around, so she drops me off by the largest shuttle and lets them waste their ammo trying to shoot through her radiation shields.
While everyone's distracted by the glowing blue radioactive babe grabbing all the attention, I take advantage of the chaos and confusion to get into the big shuttle. You'd think it'd be tougher for me to get into a spaceship -- but that's just the way things are with me and vehicles. Doors that should be locked just happen to be unlocked. Engines that should require extensive start-up procedures just happen to rev up when you turn the key in the ignition.
Does a space shuttle have a steering wheel, gas pedal, brake, clutch, air conditioner, and a dancing hula girl on the dashboard? It does when I'm in the driver's seat.
So I hit the garage door opener, gun the engine, punch the gas, and launch myself out into space, leaving Tyrannus's minions scrambling for cover and shooting laser pistols after me.
Is it really that simple to steal a supervillain's spaceship? No, baby, it's that simple for me to steal a supervillain's spaceship.
So what's it like to drive a spaceship? Well, it's way faster than anything even I'm used to driving. The ability to travel in three dimensions even without driving up a building is deeply, wonderfully exciting. It's also way, way more powerful than I was expecting. Really, having that much power under my control is pretty intoxicating. I kinda wanna open up the throttle and see just what I can make this little baby do.
Maybe later. Baron Tyrannus has already gotten a hell of a head start on me, and I've got to try to make up for lost time. No time to hotdog it when you've got to save the world, right?
And as it turns out, luck is on my side. Tyrannus hasn't even gotten that far out of lunar orbit yet. Knowing him, he took some extra time to monologue to himself. "The fools will never stop Tyrannus now! Tyrannus is now the supreme power in the galaxy! Behold my mighty hand!" and all that ridiculous garbage. Megalomaniacs are such jackasses. And trust me, I know all about jackassery.
And for a guy with godlike perceptions, he doesn't even seem to see me until I'm right on top of him. I don't quite manage to run him over -- not really sure how I'd manage that in outer space anyway -- but I do throw a very nice scare into him.
"Witless minion!" his voice screams at me from the shuttle's radio. (Does a supervillain's space shuttle have a radio? Or is it a subspace communicator? All I know is he's yelling at me from the talky box.) "Did I not command that all were to remain at the base? Baron Tyrannus needs no aid from feeble henchmen!"
"Could a witless minion handle your fancy space shuttle so perfectly?" I ask him. I bring the ship back around, turning it on a dime -- if I was doing this on asphalt, I'd leave black skid marks all over the highway. With no gravity and no road, it's gotta look even more impressive. I've seen how a space shuttle moves, and it doesn't normally do a lot of maneuvering.
"Wheelman!" he bellows, and a very happy corner of my soul exults that a major world-conquering supervillain just shouted my super-name like I was his foremost archenemy.
"That's my name, don't wear it out!" I yell back at him, punching the accelerator and pushing the shuttle to ramming speed. He dodges me easily -- I guess his jet-propelled armor is pretty fast, too -- but it helps that he probably saw me coming this time.
He shoots one of his gauntlet blasters at me while I'm swinging the shuttle back around -- he hits me dead-on, too. Oh, I'm not that impressed. I didn't even try to dodge. And do you know how big this thing is? He'd have to be a terrible shot to miss this.
It doesn't do him a bit of good. You know how all my cars are bulletproof? All my space shuttles are bulletproof, too. They're even Tyrannus-gauntlet-proof.
I fly at him again. This time, he gets right in my way, lands on the nosecone, and starts trying to punch his way through the shuttle's windshield.
"You dare attack me?!" he bellows. "In my moment of triumph?! You trifle with no mere man! You interfere with the stratagems of a god!"
Okay, I've got a bulletproof windshield, too. But I gotta admit I'm not too keen on allowing someone with as much stolen power as Tyrannus even a little chance to break through this window. I don't think he could do it, but I don't like the idea of being proved wrong.
So I trigger the windshield wipers -- of course my vehicle has a windshield wiper! -- and clean him right off the ship and back into open space.
He doesn't like that a bit, and he opens up with another bunch of gauntlet blasts, none of which even scratch the surface of the shuttle. I swing the whole ship around as fast as I can and manage to clip him with one of the wings. Doesn't really hurt him -- he flips around a few times, but his jet-boots get him re-oriented at me again.
Are we stalemated here? I'm not sure either one of us can hurt the other. Not that, again, I want to find out if I'm wrong about that.
See, the irony is that almost as soon as I think of that, he goes and proves me wrong.
"Fool!" he shouts. "Did you not imagine that I, Earth's greatest genius, would not foresee the potential need to keep all my vehicles out of the hands of my enemies? Not just my automobiles?"
He jabs a finger at a panel in one of his gauntlets, and there's a colossal explosion as both wings of the shuttle are blasted apart. The ship is rocked hard enough to knock me out of my seat completely.
I can feel the shuttle rattling and groaning from all the stresses and traumas of the explosion. The entire thing could fly apart at any moment.
"Once again you heroes learn the eternal truth, you laughable fool," Tyrannus shouts. "No one can match the genius of Baron von Tyrannus, conqueror of the world!"
"Whatever, jackass!" I yell as I struggle back into the pilot's seat. "You haven't conquered a damn thing yet!"
"But I will conquer the world!" he says. "It is now inevitable! It is particularly inevitable when my sole opposition is a dim-witted fool in a spaceship that cannot fly. I'm not sure how you manage to think your way out of your garage, and I certainly doubt you'll be able to think your way out of one of my crippled shuttlecraft."
"There's more to life than being a super-genius," I say, wincing inwardly at how corny I sound.
"And yet the super-genius will rule the world, and the moron will die forgotten in a collapsing ship in the vacuum of space."
This guy is just actively trying to piss me off at this point.
"You complete dick," I say. "I may not be a genius, but you're damn closer to being a moron than I am. You think this is gonna collapse on me? You catch me twice with your exploding vehicles -- fine, but right now, I know every bomb and device you have on this ship, and none of them work anymore. This shuttle is bulletproof and vacuum-proof, and you can eat it up, you tin-plated twit."
"How dare you!" he bellows. "Do not presume --"
"Shut up!" I yell right back at him. "I've never done any study on astrophysics or astrogation or astro-anything, but even I know you don't need wings on a spacecraft to let it propel itself or steer! It's done with mini-rockets, precisely fired to push you the direction you want to go! But I'm not even sure I'd need mini-rockets right now. 'Cause here I am in a space shuttle that's got the same general shape as a sandal. And you know what my dad thinks goes great with sandals?"
There's a sound of bells and harp music that shouldn't be audible in the airlessness of space but is anyway. And giant glowing silver eagle wings grow out of the tail section of the shuttle.
It makes no sense at all for me to be able to do something like this, but what the hell. I've already expanded my personal definition of automobiles to include space shuttles. And I've already changed my classification of highways to include the spaceways. So why the heck not turn a space shuttle into a giant winged sandal, as long as I'm doing all kinds of crazy impossible stuff?
"What the fuck," says Baron Tyrannus, and who can blame him?
After that, I shoot him with lasers 'til he quits moving, then drag him back to the moon in a tractor beam. Those aren't because of any supernatural powers on my part -- Tyrannus is a world-conquering supervillain, so I guess he puts crazy sci-fi gear into all his spaceships.
Sorry, babe, maybe a little anti-climactic, right?
Anyway, I drag him back to the lunar base, and by then, Piledriver has hacked the controls on the power-draining machine that Tyrannus had strapped all the other demigods into. We drain his stolen powers away and recharge the demigods -- yeah, even the supervillains. Otherwise, we would've let Tyrannus keep the excess power, and that just seemed wrong. But we extract a serious promise from everyone that they'll behave 'til we can get everyone back to Earth. Not even maniacs like Pyroclasm want to die on the moon, right?
I guess that's a little anti-climactic, too, isn't it? Listen, we had a trip to the moon, I nearly got killed by a demigod of war, I flew a space shuttle, I had an outer space punch-up with a major supervillain. If that's not enough excitement for you, I really don't know what is.
After that, it's all down to the wrap-up. None of us trust Tyrannus's minions with the teleporter, and not enough of us can pilot the shuttles to get everyone back to Earth that way. The supervillains don't like it, but we go ahead and radio for help from the Liberty League and the Unearthlies. They've both got multiple ships they can use to ferry us back home -- and that means the bad guys are all going to get arrested. Again, most of them figure it's better to go to jail than to spend the rest of your life in space, but I'm pretty sure two or three of them will end up starting a fight.
But it's still going to be a while before the Liberty League or the Unearthlies get here, so while everyone else stays in the arena to make sure the bad guys don't get rowdy, I take off to find any of Tyrannus's stragglers so they don't get left behind.
I shoo a bunch of the facility's chefs toward the arena, along with a few mechanics hiding out in the motor pool. The guards' barracks are already empty, and there's no one in what looks like the staff lounge. After that, I check the grand hall, where we had our formal reception last night, and I find Cindy Tyrienne waiting there for me.
"Alright, sister, let's go," I say. "We already got your dad under wraps back at the arena. We're all heading back there so we can get you back to Earth. Then I guess we'll decide if you're going to jail or not."
She doesn't seem upset to see me at all. "Trust me, Greg," she laughs. "I'm almost certainly not going to jail. And you definitely haven't caught my father yet."
"Don't try to bullshit us," I say. "We know your father is Baron Tyrannus. Piledriver hacked all of your email accounts."
She just laughs harder. "Oh my god, Greg, this is going to be so wonderful!"
"Okay, I know megalomaniac laughter when I hear it, so whatever you're planning, you'd better cool it right now. You're stuck on the moon, the place is crawling with superheroes, and there are even more of them on the way. If your dad couldn't do anything to us, you've got absolutely no chance."
"No, no, wait," Cindy says. "Seriously, you'll love this. Have you been wondering why you always seem to think faster whenever the pressure is really high? Want to see something really cool?"
And she changes. Shimmers like a ripple in water, and she's not Cindy Tyrannus anymore. She's my mother, Minnie Brachemann.
I don't even say anything. I'm that shocked.
"Greg, hon, I haven't seen that expression since you found my marijuana stash when you were 15."
"Mom," I say as evenly as I can. "What are you doing on the moon? And why did you look like a supervillain's daughter five seconds ago?"
"Well, let's just say I have a secret identity," she says.
"Oh god, Mom. You're about to completely break my brain, aren't you?"
"I hope not completely, hon," she says.
She shimmers again. She grows an extra two feet taller, and her graying blonde hair turns short and dark brown. She's wearing red and gold Roman robes and armor. And there's an owl perched on her shoulder.
Yeah, she just completely broke my brain.
"You're Minerva?!" I yell. "You're Minerva?!"
"Got it in one," she says. "You're my little genius, hon!"
"That's not even possible," I say. "I know how godhood works -- gods are intangible spirits! They can't act on the world except through worshipers or people who agree to let them possess them! They're not incarnate physical beings, Mom!"
"You've met Janus face to face," she says. "Tiamat tries to flood the world every decade or so. Coyote plays both sides of the law in the Southwest. Thoth, Hecate, Nanshe, Baron Samedi. Not all of us give a damn about the rules the rest of them choose to live by."
"No, no, no," I say. "I've met plenty of demigods. You can smell divinity on 'em. Minnie Brachemann has never had any hint of divinity or godhood about her."
"I'm a goddess of wisdom, Greg," she says. "I've learned a few tricks in my time. With the right physical vessel, all hint of divinity can be hidden from even godly senses. It's how I enticed Hermes in the first place -- when you know all a god's secrets, it's easy to convince him you'd make the perfect mortal receptacle for his seed."
"Oh no, I do not want to hear this from you. I will not listen to stories about mom hookups."
"Hush, I'm done already," she says. "But this is why you're not a full god -- muffling divine power within a mortal shell basically lowers its potency. So instead of a regular god-on-god coupling, what we got was essentially a god-on-demigod pairing, which is much less spectacular."
"Dammit, you said you were done talking about that!" God, this is just mortifying.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm done for real this time."
"So what does that make me?" I ask. "I don't know what you get when you cross a god with a demigod."
"You get you," she says. "Better than a demigod, but not quite a god. A demigod of travel and a demi-demigod of wisdom. The wisdom bits just don't seem to surface as often."
"Why go to all the trouble?" I ask. "I mean, the whole thing is just so convoluted. Why go to the trouble of creating a mortal secret identity, building up a life for yourself -- I've seen your old yearbooks, Mom, and met your coworkers and friends -- I don't believe you just invented all that stuff. And then you go and entice another god who doesn't know you've disguised yourself, just to make a weird crossbreed god? What was the point of all that? Was I nothing but an experiment to you?"
"Wow," she says. "Okay, first, I think you're way past the age where you should be complaining to me about bringing you into this world, and especially about bringing you into this world and giving you divine powers. Second, I did it because I'm a goddess of wisdom, and yes, sometimes I just have to experiment to see what's possible. And third, I did it because I'd made demigods the traditional way, and I wanted to see what it was like from the mortal side of the equation. Turned out pretty good, I think, and I'm damn glad I did it, and I think I'd like my son to please tell his mother he's sorry for implying she doesn't love him."
"I don't think I implied anything --"
"Oh, right, you didn't imply anything at all. You came right out and said I thought of you as nothing but an experiment. Not cool, Gregory, and I swear, you apologize right now, or you can forget about birthday dinner next week."
"Mom, I'm sorry -- seriously, I am! I'm just still a little blown away by revelations like this. You can understand that, can't you? One minute, your mom's just like everyone else on the planet, the next she's a secret goddess of wisdom hanging out in a supervillain's hideout on the moon. How the hell did you end up here anyway? How long have you been disguised as Tyrannus's daughter?"
"Only a couple weeks," she says. "Tyrannus thinks he's got a thoroughly unstoppable intellect, but every wisdom and trickster god on the planet had his scheme figured out over a month ago. He's lucky the tricksters didn't go after him, but then there'd be a decent chance we'd have no moon at all at this point. But I asked to take care of him myself, and no one objected. I persuaded Cindy Tyrannus that she deserved a month's vacation in Bogota, then signed myself up to help Dear Old Dad with his big demigod experiment."
"And then we took care of it," I say. "Hope we didn't steal your thunder."
"Greg, dear, you were my plan all along," she says. "Tyrannus had already decided he didn't want any wisdom demigods in his base to wreck his scheme, and since I already knew you had at least a little wisdom in your genes, I figured I should invite you to play. You figured everything out beautifully, just like I knew you would!"
"I hardly figured everything out beautifully," I say. "It was a really close thing. I could've died in space."
"Oh, I knew you'd be fine, hon. You've got my brains and your dad's travel talents going for you." She gives me the mom-grin I've known all my life.
"Alright, this is all great -- and still really, really unexpected," I say. "But how do we get you back to Earth? Are you going to just walk out there and say, 'Hey, I'm the goddess Minerva, and I was just hanging out on the moon, so can I get a lift home?' That's gonna be weird."
"Now, dear, it wouldn't do for young Ms. Tyrannus to escape apprehension," she says, suddenly shapeshifting back into Cindy's form. "I'd suggest you take me into custody as soon as possible."
"Okay, I'm not going to put my mom in jail," I say. "Especially when you didn't actually do anything wrong."
"No one gets to hold a goddess without her permission," she says. "Let them shackle me, put me in a paddy wagon, lock me in a cell. At some point, they'll look the other way, and I'll be gone. Well, what would they expect? Baron Tyrannus's daughter is likely a mad genius herself -- of course she'd be able to escape. While they're trying to track her down, I'll be safe at home, wondering why my son doesn't call me as often as he should."
"I'll probably be bringing over Chinese tomorrow night," I say. "We have a lot to talk about."
So I march my mom, in disguise as a supervillain's daughter, back into the coliseum, just in time for the Liberty League to show up, slap handcuffs on her, and put her into their spaceship. She winks at me when no one's looking, and I know she'll escape from them pretty easily -- but I still kinda feel like a douchebag for doing it.
And then, to add insult to injury, once we get "Cindy Tyrannus" loaded into the Liberty League's ship, they tell us they're full up already, so they have to leave us on the moon for a while. Fine, the League and the Unearthlies both had a full team complement, plus eleven demigods, 55 members of their entourages, and almost 150 of Tyrannus's minions, but couldn't they have stuck us in a closet somewhere?
So the six of us are just hanging around in the coliseum bored out of our skulls. There's nothing to do. We've got no cell service. The place is basically powered down -- we have lights and heat and water and air and pretty basic electricity, but we can't access the base's library to watch movies, and there's nothing but lunch meat and sliced bread in the kitchen.
"I feel like a complete loser for complaining about anything while I'm sitting here on the freakin' moon," says Piledriver. "But this place is really just too dull for words."
"We could play some games, maybe," says Gamma Girl.
"I don't really want to run down the battery on my phone," says Miss Mega. "We might have enough power to charge them back up, but I'm a little paranoid about using too much power while we're stranded here."
"No, I meant word games," Gamma Girl says. "You know, like you'd play on long car trips when you're a kid? I can start us off -- the girls love this one. My father owns a grocery store, and he sells something that starts with R."
"No, I'm sorry, Renee, I am not playing this," says Squid Kid. "My dad used to torture me with games like this, and I've sworn never again."
"Besides, the last thing I want to do is play a game that'll make me think about food," says Hybrid. "It's gotta be time for dinner, and lunch meat sandwiches just aren't what I'm in the mood to eat."
"Beggars can't be choosers," says Miss Mega. "But it would be really nice to get a plate of barbecue spareribs. That was what they had on the menu for this evening, right?"
"Yeah, before we shut the whole party down," says Gamma Girl. "Not just spareribs -- it was going to be a big barbecue cookout. A brisket sandwich and a giant side of potato salad sounds divine."
"My girlfriend used to make Kansas City-style barbecue pork steaks that were like heaven on a plate," says Piledriver. "God, what I wouldn't give for some good barbecue pork."
"Sausage," says Squiddie. "God, I love sausage. I could eat sausage all day and all night."
Everyone gets very quiet for a moment before Piledriver elbows me. "I hope I'm not speaking out of turn here," she says. "But isn't that your cue to say something disgusting and sexist and maybe a little funnier than Megs will admit?"
"Hey!" says Miss Mega.
"No, she's right," says Hybrid. "I was about to say something awful, and if I'm beating you to the kielbasa jokes, you must be really off your game."
"Aw, come on," I say. "I got a lot of other stuff on my mind. You guys can't expect me to be entertaining all the time."
"Other things on your mind other than sex?" says Squid Kid. "I don't believe it. What could possibly be more interesting to you than making crude porny jokes?"
I almost tell 'em about my mom. But I know she wouldn't want me blabbing her secret identity to everyone, even fellow superheroes. And I get the impression that dropping a revelation like this would really freak everyone out pretty hard. So I don't tell 'em the truth.
"Hey, ladies, I've been beat up and humiliated way too much already on this trip," I say. "Last thing I need is to have Megs punch me through a few walls and then have to wait around for the Liberty League to come back and take me to a hospital."
"What makes you think you'd need a hospital?" says Miss Mega. "I'm a hell of a lot stronger than Khanda, you know." But she's grinning. Sometimes, I think she really does enjoy superhero banter.
"Speaking of the Liberty League, how long are we going to be stuck up here?" asks Squid Kid. "I hate to be all millennial and whine about my boredom, but I'm sooooo booooored."
"They've got some pretty fancy spaceships," says Hybrid. "I bet they could make it back to Earth in an hour, right?"
"They're fast, but they're not that fast," says Piledriver. "At maximum speed, they'll be back on Earth in about three hours. And then they'll have to drop all those people off, get the supervillains into a secure super-prison, refuel their ships, and probably get a little rest before they come back. We may not see 'em back here 'til tomorrow."
"Have you hacked into the Liberty League's spaceship?" asks Hybrid. "That may be the best thing ever."
"No, not so much hacking," Laura says. "Okay, a little hacking. But I also looked up the basic ship stats online."
"Don't tell me your brain is getting a wifi signal," I say. "My phone's pretty good, but it can't get anything. Probably because there aren't any cell towers on the moon."
"No, I had to piggyback on their long-range communicator," she says. "I looked up their ship stats -- the Unearthlies have a faster ship, by the way -- plus I dropped an email to the Cobra and to my uncle, letting them know we were stranded here for a while."
"By the way, I kinda hate to mention it," Piledriver continues. "But I guess you guys should know that the media is already reporting that the Liberty League caught Baron Tyrannus."
"Yeah, that's kinda expected," says Squiddie. "The Liberty League gets credit for all kinds of stuff they didn't actually do. All the big global-scale teams do."
"They're a good team," says Miss Mega. "The Blue Angel and Nanovox are genuinely some of the nicest people in the superhero biz. And I'm sure they'll try to correct the record before long. But yeah, the press always assumes the big dogs take down all the bad guys. Sucks to be us. Sucks to be Wheelman right now. Sorry, man."
"No worries," I say. "Tyrannus knows who kicked his ass. And it'll steam him even harder if I act like I don't care who gets the credit. So that's what I'm gonna do."
"Speaking of Tyrannus, what's going to happen to this base?" asks Gamma Girl. "I assume the Liberty League is going to dismantle it?"
"Maybe, but maybe not," says Hybrid. "If the Assembly of Order were still around, they could take this place to pieces in an afternoon. But the Liberty League isn't as large as the Assembly was. Maybe if they can get some other spaceworthy teams to help out, but otherwise, it'd take 'em at least a week or two. No one has that much time."
"So some other supervillain's going to take it over, right?" says Piledriver. "Or Tyrannus will take it back himself. Take the base, take his power-stealing machine, do the whole thing over again."
"Nah, Tyrannus never tries the same scheme twice," says Squiddie. "He's an egomaniac -- he thinks repeating one of his plans, no matter how successful, makes him look like less of a genius. But yeah, some other bad guy might try to take it over. Who wouldn't want a ready-made moonbase?"
"So just in case," says Miss Mega, "I'm going to give Tyrannus's big machine a nice big kick, and then everyone take a component that looks important -- dials, internal mechanisms, magic glowing jewels, whatever. We'll take 'em home and mash 'em up, so no one can get this thing working again. Sound good?"
Like anyone's gonna try to keep Miss Mega from kicking a giant machine apart? It's fun to watch, and it lets her work off some steam, too. After that, we sort through the wreckage, Gamma Girl drains the radioactivity from a few glowing metals, and we all pick out an extra souvenir to take home. I grab an amulet I recognize as coming from one of Poseidon's temples on Olympus. Don't know how Tyrannus got it, but I can make sure it gets back where it belongs.
So we've all taken our pictures of Megs knocking a giant machine to pieces, and we've got our little extra souvenirs stored away in our suitcases (along with our fancy dress clothes from the reception and any other cool trinkets we could stuff away). And it's all taken about 30 minutes. And we can't just keep kicking things apart to stave off boredom, right? Eventually, we might break something important.
"Okay, listen, if we're going to be stuck here overnight -- that really, really sucks," says Miss Mega. "We should go raid the kitchen now. Maybe we should break into Tyrannus's quarters and see if we can figure out a way to turn the power on to the rest of the base. I would love to watch a couple movies to break the monotony."
"If we can power the base up, we could use the teleporters," says Gamma Girl.
"We have no idea how to run teleporters, Renee," says Miss Mega. "No telling where we'd end up."
"Well, you know, there are still plenty of space shuttles in the hangar," I say.
"We couldn't," says Miss Mega. "The Liberty League told us not to stray farther than the coliseum 'til they get back. They don't want us to get lost up here."
"Come on, Megs," I say. "You don't want to spend your whole life letting people like Captain Liberty order you around?"
"Yeah, no need to hang around here overnight waiting for the League or the Unearthlies to come fetch us," says Squiddie. "We could be home safe and sound in an hour or two."
"Right," says Piledriver. "Even better, we can arrive back in Metro City in style. We set one of those shuttles down at Metro City International, and we'll have the press buzzing for days!"
"We know Greg can fly the shuttles," says Gamma Girl. "And I've always wanted to ride in one of those things. Come on, anything's better than eating stale sandwiches and sleeping in this arena."
"Okay, fine," says Mega. "But this time, remember to deactivate any of Tyrannus's bombs before we start out, okay?"
"Awesome," says Hybrid. "Everyone get your luggage. I'm ready to get back home already."
We all grab our suitcases and start heading out for the hangar. Piledriver suggests stopping off to raid some of the other guest rooms for extra loot, and we have to remind her that, while we're taking home a bunch of Tyrannus's trinkets, stealing from anyone else is still a no-no for superheroes. Miss Mega leaves a note for the Liberty League that we decided to fly back home, and Hybrid leaves another one telling them to see about getting the fish in the aquariums in our rooms back down to Earth.
"Glad as I'll be to get back home to Dan and the girls," says Gamma Girl, "I think I'm really going to miss the food. For a supervillain, Baron Tyrannus employs top-notch caterers."
"Those dresses," says Hybrid. "Those dresses were so good. Whoever he employs for clothing design, he's not paying them enough. If we can find out who that is, we need to get the Liberty League or the Alpha Alliance or someone to smuggle them out of Morokiva so they can design dresses for us more often."
"I'm going to miss those hot tubs," says Miss Mega. "Do you know how long it's been since I was able to take a really nice bath? Normal bathtubs are too small -- I was able to get all the way into that hot tub, pour in the bubble bath, and just bliss out."
"Oh god," moans Laura. "I think I'm gonna have another system crash."
"Hey, just a minute," says Lenore. "Who actually won the big tournament? We missed the end of it. Or did they even hold the last matches at all?"
"I don't think they ever got to the point where they figured out who the champion was," says Hybrid. "Driving around on the moon didn't take us that long. I doubt they would've had time to get the last fights finished."
"Tyrannus needed to get all those demigods knocked out and strapped into that machine," says Gamma Girl. "No way he could've done much more than that by the time we got back."
"Sooooo you know what I'm thinking?" says Squiddie. "I think we should just declare Wheels the winner."
"I don't know, girl," says Piledriver. "It was a double elimination tournament, and he forfeited the second match."
"Yeah, but he was the only demigod who didn't get captured by Baron Tyrannus," says Gamma Girl.
"And he beat Tyrannus all by himself," says Miss Mega. "And that was after Tyrannus had absorbed all the other demigods' powers. I'm good with giving Greg the title."
"Well, if you say it, sweetcheeks, you know I'm on board," says Laura.
"Don't call me that again," says Miss Mega. "Like ever. For the rest of your life."
"Why haven't you already been yelling about this, Greg?" asks Squiddie. "Shouldn't you have been bragging about this to us the whole time? Shouldn't you have been rubbing the Liberty League's nose in this? You can't tell me the Wheelman has gone humble on us!"
"I just like to hear beautiful women singing my praises," I say, and they all groan, but they also all smile, so that's a solid win.
After that, we took off in one of the shuttles, I broke out the bubbly I'd stashed in my suitcase, and just to make sure everyone knew we were back in town, I didn't land at the Metro City airport. I landed on the Bradbury Freeway during rush hour. Made the national newscasts. Pissed off the Chrome Cobra. But beat that publicity, Liberty League!
So that's the end of my story, baby, about how I saved the whole world and proved I was the best demigod who ever lived. So what do you say -- your place or mine? Or do you just want to head out for a ride with the Greatest Driver in the World?
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