Thursday, July 10, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 3

In the dream, she is dancing, but someone else is singing with her mouth.

She's not herself, anymore. Her movements are not her own. Her words are strange to her. Her thoughts, unfamiliar things inside her skull.

Her body, a shadow cast by light from an alien Sun.

The robed women chant and stomp their feet in the dust of the ziara, calling up the patros and inviting them in. Some ride while others call, and then they change places. In and out, out and in, all through the day and the night.

Not her, though. She is not being let go of. She is being held here, within the embrace of the dust cloud.

She is becoming. 

I am you and you are me, the red spirit tells her as they mesh: We are together, now and always. You were always meant to be here. You were always meant to be me. 

She cannot say otherwise. She cannot say anything. It's too much, this merging. She is the ant in the flood, the butterfly in the monsoon.

Ciel?

The monkey in the trap. 

Above her, the sky turns red. The women chant louder, knowing what this means. She tries to scream, but it does no good.

Ciel?

And before long, she's not wanting to scream, but to simply howl to the bloody clouds and announce her arrival.

And exactly what that means for the world...

"Ciel?" Thomas asks, seeming genuinely concerned: "Are you alright?"

"Oh, sorry," Ciel Rouge says: "I was... elsewhere, for a time."

"We need you here and now, young lady," the Minister of Justice all but shouts, padding his sweaty forehead with a monogrammed, silk handkerchief: "This is getting out of hand."

"You agreed to this," Thomas reminds him.

"We all did," the President says, nodding as he rests his head in his hands: "How many more pages of questions do we have?"

"I think we are half-done," Ciel Rouge says, looking at the pad: "Wait, perhaps a little under half done."

The groan that comes up is palpable, and Thomas just smiles.

So far, none of the questions they've asked him have been too tricky to deal with. There's been a lot of cross-referencing, as he suspected, but nothing he couldn't anticipate or handle. Mostly questions about why he made this or that decision, or why this or that thing wasn't confiscated, and then only specific instances, rather than a long-term pattern.

The questions he'd asked in return, on the other hand, had been quite revealing.

So far, he'd gotten the Minister of Justice to reveal that, yes, he hates SPYGOD. He'd gotten the President to do the same thing. He'd even gotten them both to reveal why, though that wasn't too hard to figure out.

But some of the follow-ups had been quite intense and nerve-wracking, and he was beginning to feel guilty for taking some degree of pleasure out of this.

(Was this cruelty, or justice? Did the two ever wear each others' faces? He'd have to think about that.)

"So," Thomas says, leaning back: "Next question?"

"Please tell us why you agreed to allow SPYGOD and his lover to attend their New Years Party, using your body."

"Ah," Thomas says: "Well, let me answer the second part, first. Using my body, they were still at their apartment, essentially wrapped in a virtual reality suit. In that way, they could not slip anything to anyone, nor receive anything, and any illegal or questionable behavior on their part would be instantly noticed. I told them, ahead of time, that if they misbehaved, the party was over. They agreed to it, it happened, and it went rather well."

"So you say," the Minister insists: "I would like to see the tapes of this party. I want to hear their conversations, in their entirety."

"You haven't watched them?" Thomas asks: "I sent them to your office the morning after. Did you not receive them?"

"I received no such thing-"

"Actually, Mssr, you did," Eclat admits: "When it arrived, I thought it might be a virus. I dealt with it as such. My apologies." 

The Minister coughs, looking rather uncomfortable as he avoids the President's glare.

"Well," Thomas says: "I guess that answers that question, then."

"You have yet to fully answer yours," Ciel Rouge gently insists, bringing the conversation back on track: "There is the matter of why you allowed this to take place."

"Well, that goes hand-in-hand with a question I was going to ask later," Thomas says, looking at the President and the Minister: "Should SPYGOD be found guilty of these crimes against humanity he's been accused of, what sentence will you be recommending?"

"For everything he has done?" the Minister thunders: "The dead in Palestine? The dead children in the White Boxes of the Imago? The thousands killed as collateral damage in his ill-advised campaigns against the Imago, prior to the Reclamation War, itself? I would say there can be only one sufficient penalty, Mssr. Samuels. And that would be death."

"The death penalty," Thomas says: "You would go that far?"

"How could we not, under such circumstances?" Henri, the President's secretary, interjects: "Did you not see the death toll, Mssr? Have you not heard the cries of parents for their children? Children that could have been saved, if only he'd been willing to do things differently?"

"I think we all know about that, Henri," the President says, his eyes just a little more red than they were a moment ago. He puts a gentle hand on the man's arm, and his secretary calms down, though not without wiping his eyes.

"So, let me put it to you this way," Thomas answers: "If this man is on trial for his life, and is to be put to death for the murder of millions should be be found guilty, is he not entitled to a last request, or perhaps two? Should he simply be taken from the courtroom to... well, however you're going to kill him?"

"We have considered the means," the Minister says: "I believe a trip to the Sun will take care of him, given his... condition."

"You mean his regeneration," Thomas says: "It might work. I'm not entirely certain how far he can go before he comes back. But imagine looking up at the sun, one day, and having it look back at you?"

The silence is profound, just then. The President coughs and shakes his head: "So you let him have that party as a humanitarian gesture?"

"I did, yes. Even the most dangerous and depraved criminals are allowed compassionate leave to visit family funerals. Even Hitler would have been given conjugal visits. Why not let the man have one, last party with his remaining friends and colleagues before he gets launched into the sun?"

"Because the man is a criminal!" the Minister thunders: "He deserves no special treatment! He should receive no privileges or perks! He should be locked in a cell, down below the Earth, and be forgotten about until the time comes for him to answer for his crimes!"

"It sounds like you've already found him guilty," Thomas says.

"My opinion is not legally binding," the Minister scowls: "He will receive a fair trial-"

"Followed by a fair hanging," Thomas chuckles, looking at Ciel Rouge: "I don't think you need your powers to see the truth in that?"

"No," she admits, looking back at Thomas: "Just as I don't need my powers to see that you believe him to be innocent."

"I believe he made mistakes," Thomas clarifies: "That much is clear. I believe that he did some foolish things, yes, especially when it comes to not having told the President what happened to his family during the war, and the ultimatum. That was incredibly stupid and short-sighted. He should answer for that."

"And he will," the President insists: "He will." 

"But all these other things?" Thomas admits, gesturing to the pages the red-cloaked woman is holding: "Murders of people who were already dead, and being animated by an escaped super villain as hostages? Murders of children who were, so far as we can tell, also already dead, having been used by the Imago to power their empire? Murders of people who were slaughtered by the Imago for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while he was working to free our world from them?

"You'll excuse me, but one thing we learn, going into this lifestyle, is that sometimes you have to make sacrifices. You have to stop the primary threat at all costs, especially if it's a world-ending thing. If the city's in danger, you can't worry about the lives of a few people. If the world's in danger, you can't worry about the lives of a few cities. You try to minimize the loss of life as best you can, but if you have to choose between one and a hundred, or a hundred and a million, or millions and seven billion...?"

"You pick the greater number, every time,"  Ciel Rouge finishes for him, nodding as she does.

"Unacceptable!" the Minister says, looking at both of them: "Completely wrong! Human life is precious. All human life! If you save millions, and yet allow one to die, that death is on your hands! You cannot excuse it or explain it away! There is blood on your hands, and you must answer for it!"

"I agree," Thomas says: "And that goes into my next question, Minister. What was Eclat's name before he came to work for you?"

"I beg your pardon?" the Minister coughs, dabbing at his forehead with his sodden handkerchief.

"Eclat. Superheros don't grow on trees, especially in France. I'd never heard of him before the Terre Unifee pretty much materialized from nowhere after the Reclamation War. But here's this full-formed hero who can turn even the most shielded and protected of computer systems on and off like flicking a light.

"Where has he been this whole time? What's he been doing? What's his origin story?"

Thomas looks at the Minister, who coughs and looks in Eclat's direction: "I think that's one question too many."

"What name did he previously use, then?" Thomas pushes: "I'll ask the others one at a time. We have plenty of questions left, after all."

"That's..." the Minister stammers, looking at Henri, who looks between him and the President. 

"I think we're done, here," the President announces, getting up from his chair.

"Mssr. President, please," Henri says: "There's still a full half of the questions to go through!"

"I think I've heard what I needed to, and then some," the President says, walking over to Thomas and reaching out a hand to shake: "Thomas, I am very sorry we had to do this. But I want us to go forward as allies from here on out. I trust you to do the right thing, here."

"Thank you, Mr. President," Thomas says, getting to his feet and taking the man's hand in both of his own: "That means a lot to me. I won't let you down."

"Be sure you do not," the Minister commands, turning away and leaving the room as quick as his legs will take him.

"Shall I show you all out?" Thomas asks, creating another double for that very purpose: It would be my pleasure to show you the quick way to the landing pad. 

"I would like that, yes," the President says, gesturing for him to take the lead.

"I could teleport us all out, Mssr. President," Ciel Rouge offers.

"True, but I think it would be good for Mark and (REDACTED) to see us all leave together," the President insists, smiling a little as he gets behind Thomas' simulacrum. And as he does, the others fall into line right behind him, and head for the doors.

Eclat is, oddly enough, the last to leave. As he goes he shoots one of the Nthernauts a knowing look -- as if to say he knows what Thomas knows, but won't say as much.

Be seeing you, one of the images says, making the vitarka mudra by its eye as it does. And that unnerves Eclat just enough to make him stop looking and speed up, almost slamming into one of the doors as it swings towards him.

Butthole, Thomas mutters, already knowing the answer to the question he asked, and not liking it at all.

* * *

"So, what just happened, here?" Mark asks, later, once he's been allowed back into his own building, and had a chance to calm down and get himself some coffee.

It was a test, of sorts, Thomas answers from the central screen in the control room, as he's folded himself back into the mind of the city: The Minister wanted to know if the disruptor his people had made would work against me, before they arm every guard in Neo York City with one, and if the machine they had to take over the city's basic functions would work if they had to keep me out for a while. They also wanted to see if Eclat's power could work against me.

"And could it?" 

If I let him surprise me, yes, Thomas admits, smiling a little: He should have overwhelmed me when he had the chance, though. Next time I'll see him coming.

"Isn't that being a little overconfident?" Mark asks, sipping his coffee: "That guy's got some serious powers."

He does, yes. But he also has a serious weakness. And now that I know what that is, I'll be ready.

"How do you know what it is?"

Because I know who he is, now.

"Who is he?" 

A supercriminal, Thomas says, scowling quite deeply: He's not the only one, either. I think at least half of Le Compagnie is made up of former prisoners from one super-slam or another. Probably Interpol's lock-up down in the Ivory Coast.

"That's insane," Mark says, shaking his head: "I mean... if that's true? What can we do about it?"

Right now? Nothing. I'm going to have to be very careful about things from here on out. They're going to be watching everything I do, and keeping closer tabs on SPYGOD as well. That's going to affect the timetable, I think.

"So there is a timetable," Mark says, nodding

Are you surprised?

"No. I didn't think he'd sit still for this... this !@#$. I'm surprised he hasn't busted out already." 

I'm not. This sort of thing takes time to plan, and more time to execute properly. And with what's at stake, we can't rush things. That would bring the whole thing down like a house of cards.

"How can I help?" Mark asks, after a few minutes.

Are you sure you want to? Thomas asks: Up until this point, you could have stayed out of it and claimed ignorance. If things go wrong, you'll be looking at criminal charges.

"If things go wrong, we're looking at the end of all life on Earth, as I understand it," Mark says, standing up: "I think I can risk a jail term for that."

And you're doing this for the right reasons? Thomas pushes: Because it's right and the right thing to do? Not because you want to impress my mother?

"!@#$, you're direct these days." 

I don't have time to be anything else, Thomas insists: And neither do you. And, frankly? Your not being direct has caused too many problems, lately. 

"So what do you think I should do?" Mark asks: "Not that it's any of your business or anything..."

Well, it is none of my business. But one thing my mother always told me was to be honest and direct with people, even if you were afraid they weren't going to like what you had to say. Maybe they wouldn't, and you'd lose a friend. But maybe they would, and you'd gain everything. 

"Yeah, well..."  Mark sighs, sitting back down: "This thing... it's hard to say. It's pretty messed up, to be honest."

It is, yes. It flies in the face of a lot of social niceties. There will be questions about impropriety and whether it's proper or not. Some might even say you're being seriously creepy, talking to her about that just after getting dumped by Farashuu-

"Wow, don't spare me or anything."

Well, that's the point, Mark. Life's too short for people like you to be hung up on things like that. If you think you love my mother, then go tell her. And tell her Now. Don't wait for the right time or the next time, because it might not come. 

Just tell her, and pray it's what she's been wanting to hear, all along. 

Mark looks at him, and then at the coffee. Then he downs the whole cup, puts it down on a table, and gets to his feet.

"I'd appreciate some privacy when I call," he asks: "If you don't mind."

I'll do my best not to hear a word, Thomas says, smiling. 

And, with that, Mark leaves the room. That may be a hopeful smile on his face. It may be a nervous one. Thomas isn't 100% certain which. 

You did well, someone says to him as soon as Mark's well out of earshot.

Did I? I thought I overplayed my hand a little. 

It's enough for them to know you suspect a few things. 

And you don't think I gave away too much?

I think you reminded them of something important, Thomas. I also think that, in the end, the seeds you've planted are going to make for one heck of a tree.

But when does it crash down?

Soon, the voice says, taking Thomas' hand: And when it does, you'll be ready for it. I promise.  

I hope so, Thomas says: I feel so limited, having to wait. Having to move one step at a time. It's like I'm walking through a story where I know the ending, but that I have to follow to its conclusion instead of just jumping to the end.

It's called life, the voice says: And this is your chance to remember what it feels like. Hold onto it forever, and never forget. 

And they smile, then, brothers in a secret greater than them both

* * *

"I really do not want to talk about this, Jean-Jacques," the President says, pouring himself a rather tall glass of something too strong for his nervous stomach. The transport picks that moment to turn, and it's to his credit he doesn't spill it all over himself, but only just.

"Mssr. President, I swear to you, this is not a complete loss," the man says, doing his best to shoo the man's secretary out of the transport's office: "We have learned much, today. There are things we can do, now, should we need to. We know how to improve upon what we have-"

"We tipped our !@#$ hand is what we did!" the President shouts, which makes his secretary decide to skedaddle: "He knows we were preparing to take him out! He can beef up his defenses if he needs to!"

"We still have Eclat-"

"Provided he hasn't figured out where you found him," the President sighs, taking a good measure of his drink.

"Didn't your SPYGOD use criminals for the defense of your country?"

"Yes, but-"

"No buts, Mssr. President!" the Minister insists, holding up a lecturing finger: "If it is good for America, it is good for France. And what is good for France is now good for the world. That is our position, and now it must be yours as well."

"That's not my concern," the President clarifies, sticking a very long, unhappy finger back in his Minister of Justice's face: "If he knows who he is, he can find out his weaknesses. If he can find out his weaknesses, we don't have the upper hand. And if he decides to take SPYGOD's side after all..."

"He isn't planning," Ciel Rouge says, walking through the door (and practically through the President's secretary): "He's doing."

"What?" the Minister gasps.

"The entire time, from start to finish, he was lying to us," the red-cloaked woman says: "There's something going on here, Mssr. President. I am not certain exactly what, but I can tell he's up to something."

"And why didn't you say something?" the President asks, looking very tired.

"I was going to expose him at the end, Mssr. But we ended too soon."

"Then we must take him offline!" the Minister shouts: "If we turn the plane around-"

"He'll drop us out of the sky before we reach the Central Building," the President says, pouring himself some more: "We're done for the day, Jean-Jacques. We had a chance and we blew it. And we didn't have a real backup plan, either."

"Then what shall we do?" Ciel Rouge asks, walking up to the man: "This cannot be allowed to continue."

"We'll do what SPYGOD taught me to do, but could never do himself," the President says, looking up at her and the Minister as he drinks more of what he's poured: "We'll take the time to get ready and be ready. We'll have a plan that's all or nothing, with lots of smaller plans in case that doesn't work. We'll gamble it all on taking him out before he can do any more damage.

"And then we'll put SPYGOD on trial that very afternoon, before he has time to realize that his best friend's been put down like a virus."

With that the President hurls his mostly-empty glass at the window over the bar, shattering them both like a bad dream.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (the Cure, Razormaid mix) and having a lot of Bastille Whiskey)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 2

It's New Years' Day, and Skyspear's leaving. 

Thomas knows he shouldn't be watching this happen, but it's hard not to. He's plugged into every piece of this building, after all. Every camera, every screen, every inch of it is him, in a sense.

And even if he wasn't watching, he really couldn't help but hear as Skyspear tells Mark exactly what she's thinking, right now. 

She's got a lot to say, but Thomas isn't really listening to the words. He' doesn't need to. He can break their breakup down into simple images -- like word balloons in a comic strip. 

Hers, accusations and declarations. She was broken and not knowing what she wanted. He was knowing he wanted someone else and settling for her. And if he'd been half a man he'd have let her go before now.

His, denials and half-truths. He was broken, too, and thought she'd completed him. She wasn't complaining, before, and they'd had a good thing going. And if she'd been unhappy she should have said so before now.

The arguments are circular. They go around and around like gears in a machine. And, given his new state of being, he knows that machines will keep operating until something breaks, or someone turns them off.

He wishes he could take credit for this one's finally going offline, but he knows that's not his doing. It happened at the party, when Myron told Skyspear what had been done to them, down in the Ice Palace. When he'd told her that she'd lost something important to her, in that awful deal they'd made to bring the President's daughter back to life. 

Something only she could know about, as it was unique to her, but something that she could get back once she faced her loss, and moved forward.

What had she lost, then? Her sense of self, obviously. The spark of defiance and individuality that had let a village girl become a hero, instead of hiding her gifts and living quietly. The understanding that she would do what she wanted, so long as it was within the realm of what was good and just. 

The belief that her life was her own, and not shackled to another, unless she truly and fully chose to make that person a part of her life. 

But she had not done that, here. Suddenly bereft of her guiding principles, she had reached out in desperation. He had done the same, also out of desperation, though from a different cause. In desperation they'd found each other, in desperation they'd lived and loved.

And now, the truth was clear, and she was angry. Angry at him for having been so weak to have taken her to his bed because he could not be with another. Angry at him for taking advantage of her plight, as he must have realized, as some point, that the woman he met in the treehouse was not the woman he'd shacked up with.

And anger at herself, for not having realized this before now, and having to be told about it by someone else, at a !@#$ New Years Party.

And then to have him come back home, all upset that the person he was really in love with, all long -- the person she now realized he saw when he'd been making love to her -- might actually be falling for someone else?

Mssr. Samuels?

Well, let's just say it made certain things a lot easier to say, now that the moment's here and it's time to say them. That they're hurtful goes without saying. That they're strewn with obscenities he can't quite make out is understandable.

But what's worse is that they're all true, and he knows it. 

Mssr. Samuels?

Thomas doesn't have to hear those words, though. He knows what's happening. He's known it was going to happen for some time. 

And he knows what's going to happen, next...

"Mssr. Samuels?" the waddling Frenchman says, all but leaning over the Nthernaut's body, holding that zap-box like a gun. 

He can barely see Jean-Jacques Excephir Geraud, just now. All his sensors are scrambled, and all his internal cameras are down. But, from the looks on the faces of those who came with him, he's sure that the confusion he feels inside is being mirrored all around the room, and the Central Building. 

Possibly even Neo York City, itself, though he's amazed there aren't more emergency calls...

"That hurt," Thomas says, slowly getting to his feet, and doing his best to control his temper. 

"It was supposed to," Eclat says, smiling just a little. He's the only person here who seems pleased at the way the screens are flickering, and the sound of alarms.

"Well, mission accomplished," he says, raising his hands. For a moment, the President of the Terre Unifee looks concerned he's going to retaliate -- so much so that his personal guard puts themselves between him and the Nthernaut. But then they realize he's generating floating, neon-blue interfaces to deal with the damage that just occurred.

I would appreciate an explanation, the Nthernaut says, a copy of himself stepping out of the form they just zapped: That was rude. 

"Now see here," the Minister of Justice begins to say, but the President raises a hand to shush him.

"I'm sorry we had to do that, Thomas," he says: "I wasn't totally in favor of it, to be honest. But it was suggested that, if you really weren't someone we could trust anymore, your first act once you came out of it would be to attack us."

I see, the Nthernaut says, nodding, and looking between the Minister and the President: That was an incredibly foolish risk to take with the President's life, Minister.  You know what I'm capable of. If I had been of a mind to harm you, after that-

"I would have whisked him away before you could," Ciel Rouge says, teleporting from one side of the room to the other, just to demonstrate 

"And, to be frank, you would not have had the chance," Eclat announces, raising a hand. As he does, the copy of himself that was working on repairing the city's electronic infrastructure wavers and vanishes -- its neon-blue panels and screens clattering into sparks as it goes.

Thomas grits his teeth a little, feeling the disruption as one might feel an insect bite, and then looks the long-haired fellow in the eyes: So you're not merely wearing a signal scrambler. You are a signal scrambler. 

"Eclat," the man introduces himself with a smug nod: "I am certain you have heard of me."

I have, yes. 

"And you know what I can do, should I need to."

And can you take over for me, too? Thomas asks, raising his hands and flooding the room with blue screens, each showing a different angle of Neo York City: I don't just control Neo York City, ladies and gentlemen, I am Neo York City. I am its power, water, and waste management. I am its traffic lights, toll bridges, and defense grid. The subways run through my veins, the cars over my skin, and I bring its planes in to land every ten seconds on the dot-

"That will not deter us," the Minister of Justice announces: "We have brought something along to take your place, should it be necessary to deactivate you." 

That I find hard to believe. 

"Oh, believe it, young man," the Minister insists: "We would not be so foolish as to threaten an entire city if we did not have a way to handle it. While you were unconscious, it turned on, and maintained systems for a full minute."

Not very well, the Nthernaut insists: The emergency services are lagging by ten seconds, and-

"It can carry on your autonomic functions, they say," Ciel Rouge says, stepping forward: "The finer points may be lost, but that would only mean that the city could no longer look after itself. It would only mean that it would have to function like any other city in the world, with decisions made by ordinary men and women in uniform."

Thomas opens his mouth to say something, but realizes he can't quite argue that point -- at least, not without making a few revelations he doesn't care to announce at this time.   


"We just want the truth, here," the President says, gesturing to Ciel Rouge: "That's why we've come here, today, Thomas. If necessary, we can make you tell us the truth. And if you won't help us-"

"And if we do not like the truth," the Minister of Justice adds, raising his box.

Then you have the means to deal with me, if needed, the Nthernaut finishes his threat: Very well. Now we all know where we stand.

"We have an extensive list of questions," the President's secretary says, pulling a thick pad of paper out of his leather notebook, and handing them over to Ciel Rouge: "She will ask them, and you will answer them, directly and completely. If you lie, we'll get the truth."

"Why would I lie?" Thomas says, dialing back the voice he tends to use in these situations. With a wave of his hand he's produced two chairs, and gestures to Ciel that she may sit in one of them as he sits down in the other. 

"That is what we have come to find out," the red-cloaked woman says, sitting down and facing him: "I hope we have made a fool's journey, Thomas. I truly do."

"One condition," Thomas says, leaning forward: "If I am going to be completely honest? So will you."

"I beg your pardon-" the Minister snorts, but the President holds up a hand to shush him, yet again.

"What do you mean, Thomas?" he asks.

"I mean that you've come here to put me on trial, essentially. And from what I'm getting, if you find me guilty, you're going to let Eclat turn me off like a broken television. And yet I have had no time to prepare, and I have no legal counsel, and no impartial judge."

"Given the circumstances of the situation, I am certain you can understand why this was a surprise visit," Henri insists.

"And I can, yes. I've already said as much, and I meant it. But if we're going to continue, I need to have the understanding that if I'm going to be asked questions, I get to ask them in return. And I'm not the only one who can tell if someone's lying."

"I don't think-" the President starts to say, but then the room loses all power, just for a second.

Case in point, Thomas says: When I did that, everyone's heart rate went up, but especially yours and your Minister's, Mr. President. For a moment, you were afraid I was going to call your bluff, and leave the city in the dark. 

And should I have done that, you're not really sure that whatever you brought with you is going to be enough to actually run Neo York City for more than a full minute... are you?

The President raises an eyebrow, and then slowly turns to look at the Minister, who coughs a few times into his hand. 

"Very well," the President says: "You may ask us what you need to, Thomas. But-"

"And when you answer my questions, she's going to be looking as well," Thomas insists, pointing to Ciel Rouge: "She can tell if I'm lying? She can also tell if you're lying. I don't think you want us both on your case about fibbing, now do you?"

"Quid pro quo?" Eclat snorts, but soon gets the idea he's the only one who finds this funny.

"No, I guess we don't," the President says, looking to everyone there.

"Then let's start this," Thomas says, gesturing and causing more chairs to appear: "I have a city to run, and I'm sure you have a world to look after. The sooner we put this sorry and embarrassing thing behind us, the better."

"Very well," Ciel Rouge says, looking at the paper: "The first one seems fairly straightforward. Do you truly feel you can be trusted to watch over SPYGOD, given your family's close association with him, throughout the years?"

And Thomas smiles and answers, knowing that this is going to be the toughest battle he's ever fought in his life.

Especially since this is one he can't escape from, if needed.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (The Cure) and having a Ciel Rouge a Nuit)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 1


Little girls shouldn't float in the air.

That's the first thing the President thinks, watching what's become of his daughter. They shouldn't float in the air like balloons made of flesh.

The air shouldn't be boiling around her, like she was on fire. There shouldn't be black, crackling things slowly orbiting about her head. She shouldn't be tearing open, here and there, to let out black, writhing tendrils that feel the air like a snake's tongue.

Her face shouldn't be stretched out like that. She shouldn't look like something between a prehistoric tiger's skull and a mosquito. There shouldn't be gouts of slime falling from her mouth and neck as she laughs.

And nothing on this world should ever laugh like that.

But those are still his daughter's eyes. The eyes he's seen laughing and crying and bored and ecstatic for all these years. The ones that droop a little when she says she loves him.

Those are still her eyes, yes. But they shouldn't look at him that way.   

Like a triumphant predator about to play with the small creature it's just caught...   

"Honey?" he whispers, feeling a very cold fist squeezing his heart

Hello, daddy. The thing his daughter's become says. It's somewhere between crushed glass and a slither.

"I..." he says, and that's all he can manage. The words turn to dry dust in his mouth. He can't bring himself to say her name.

That's not her, anymore. Maybe it hasn't been for a long time, now. 

Daddy, it slither-crushes again, just a little longer this time. 

Mssr. President.
Daddy.
Mssr President?
Daddy.
"Mssr. President?" his secretary says, just a little more forcibly.
"Yes?" the President says, starting out of his seat as the horrible memory leaves him.
(Though not the cold fist around his heart)
"You wanted to be told when we were about to land?"
"Yes," he says, trying to look more in control than he feels: "Are they waiting for us?"
"Ciel Rouge and the American President? Yes."
"Good," he says, looking out the window as Neo York City's Central Building comes into view: "Let's get this done, then."
 * * *
"Mr. President," a rather flustered Mark Clutch says, walking up to the small group of people as they come out of the TU supersonic transport: "I'm sorry I didn't get a better reception arranged for you, sir. This is a bit of a surprise."
"I apologize about that," he says: "It couldn't be helped, though."
"Well, I'm sorry, we're a bit of a mess, right now-"
"That's alright, it's not an inspection or anything," he says, shaking the man's hand and gesturing to the others with him as his honor guard fans out, guns at the ready: "You know my Secretary, Henri. This is the Minister of Justice, Jean-Jacques Excephir Geraud..."
"From the trial, yes," Mark says, shaking the large, waddling man's hand: "Congratulations on your promotion, sir."
"It was only logical," the fellow chuckles, shaking with both hands: "But thank you, mssr. It is a great honor and privilege to meet a member of the esteemed Owl family. I have a great deal of respect for your lineage."
"Well, I kind of married in," Mark begins to explain, really not wanting to talk about that, right now. Thankfully, they're all interrupted by the sound of the world falling apart, just six feet behind Mark.
Standing between him and the doors to the central building are two people he's still not used to seeing together. One is the newly-appointed President of the United States, otherwise known as Mr. USA, who does not look at all happy to be here. The other is a woman in a crimson cloak, who seems very pleased to have just dropped off the second most powerful person in the world before the first.
"Ciel Rouge," the President says, waving: "(REDACTED) Thank you for joining us."
"I'd just like to say, this is really ill-considered," Mr. USA says, walking away from his ride: "If we have to do this-"
"We are not talking about this now," the President insists, an uncomfortable edge in his eyes and voice: "Not here."
"It's fine, Mssr. President," another person from the plane says -- a long haired fellow in a shiny, grey suit: "He cannot hear anything we say. I have seen to that."

"Thank you," the President says, looking from him to Mark: "Mark, I apologize for this, but-"

"Wait, what's going on here?" Mark asks, looking from him to the strange fellow: "Who are you?"

"Eclat," the man declares, simply, not offering a hand to shake.

"He's here to make certain your nephew does not do anything stupid," Ciel Rouge says, simply, as she comes up behind Mark: "And I am here to keep him honest."

Mark scowls a little, looking from face to face: "What exactly is this about?"

"It's about a lot of things," the President says: "Basically, we need to know if we can trust Thomas to look after SPYGOD."

"You can," Mark insists, really not liking where this is going: "I know he's been through a lot of changes, lately. But that's still Thomas in there. He's still a Talon, still a crimefighter. You can count on that at least."

"I am no longer so certain," the Minister of Justice insists: "After that sorry spectacle he made of himself on New Years? And what dear Ciel found in what was supposed to be a cell?"

"Hey, if people weren't completely careful about watching what they carried over from the !@#$ B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G. when they hustled him out of there-" Mark starts to say, but then there's a red hand on his shoulder, and he's not so inclined to argue, anymore. 

"You are afraid of him," Ciel says, almost whispering in his ear: "Your Nephew is not what he once was. You know this, and it bothers you to hear him say the things he does. It bothers you to know that he is watching everything. And you are afraid he may abuse his powers-"

"Get out of my mind..." Mark hisses, trying to break free but failing.

"That's enough," Mr. USA says, stepping between the two of them and breaking her connection: "This man's a hero, !@#$ it. He deserves respect."

"We deserve the truth, Mssr President!" Minister Geraud intones, raising a fat finger as he makes his point: "And we will not have that truth by relying upon old friendships, or what we think we know. We must know for certain if this... Nthernaut can be trusted, either with SPYGOD or an entire city."

"So consider this a fact finding mission," the President says, putting a hand on Mr. USA's shoulders while looking at Mark, who's still getting back up: "And we'll tell you what we've decided, once we're out again."

"You can't just go in there like that..." Mark mumbles, allowing Mr. USA to prop him up: "Not like that. He won't like it..."

"Well, a hero should know his superiors, shouldn't he?" the Minister of Justice says as he waddles towards the entrance. 

"And besides, I thought we could trust him?" Henri asks, winking as his boss nods, gestures to Mr. USA to look after Mark, and heads into the building, too. 

"This is... crazy," Mark gasps, letting Mr USA bundle him over to a waiting bench: "What's going on...?"

"I don't know," Mr. USA admits, feeling !@#$ed helpless right now -- especially when he realizes who the man in the silvery suit actually is: "But he better be careful, Mark. They're not messing around."

"Does his mother know they're here?" Mark gasps, suddenly realizing what might be happening.  

And Mr. USA can only remain silent.

* * *



It's happening.
Yes, the Nthernaut says to his mysterious guest as he watches the president's procession on a long range, external camera.

(The ones on the platform -- all sensors, actually -- shorted out not long after the transport landed.)
You don't sound surprised.

Not really. I predicted there was an 84.4% chance of the visit occurring today.
And you know what to do. A statement, not a question.
I do, yes, the Nthernaut replies, concentrating for a second as he puts the needed internal appearances into place: This is actually rather fun.
Deceiving the President of the world? the presence asks, not without some humor.
Not that, exactly, the Nthernaut replies, using his internal long-range cameras to look at the man in question. How increasingly agitated he's becoming as they stomp down the seemingly-endless, high-tech hallways. How sad and angry his eyes are. 
How much he's aged in just two months.

What is it, then?
The conspiracy, he replies, smiling a little: Being able to lie, cheat, and sneak around for all the right reasons. It's liberating. I can see why you like it... why you liked it.

Well, don't get too used to it, the presence says: Once this is over, you're going to need to be on the straight and narrow, again. You think you can do that, Thomas?
Yes, the Nthernaut says, after a second's pause. He's just realized who else is with them.
Oh dear, he says, finally understanding why his internal cameras seem to be going on the fritz, just as the procession passes by them: I didn't expect him to show up.
I did, the presence says.
What? Then why didn't you tell me?
So you'd remember what it feels like to be cheated, before you fall too much in love with it.
Thomas scowls, somewhat shamed: That was mean. Mean and dangerous.
Potentially. But I think you'll be fine. You've faced worse than this. You will face even worse in the future.

So what's the point, then?

Well, let's just say you'll find this... educational.


Were you going to stay and observe?
I don't think so. It might be a bit temporally awkward if I do.
Very well.
Hey, the presence says: Chin up, kid. We're rooting for you. You'll do fine.
And then the presence is gone, and there's only the Nthernaut, alone in the electronic mind of Neo York City.
But not for long.

* * *
 
"Here we are, I think," Henri sighs as they approach an imposing pair of swinging, black doors at the end of a hallway.
"Perhaps we should have had that man guide us here," Geraud snorts, clearly tired from so much exertion: "I am certain we retraced our steps at least once."
"Three times," Eclat says, smiling subtly.
"It would have been nice to tell us," the President snaps.
"Sorry. I was maintaining my concentration," the fellow says, tapping his brow: "Not so necessary, now. I think he's fighting me less."
"Is that good or bad?" the President asks, pausing before the doors.
"I won't know for certain until I can speak with him," Ciel Rouge says, stepping forward to go into the room beyond: "Allow me?"
He does, and they all follow her into the room beyond -- dark walls lit by floor-to-ceiling screens, all flickering green and scrolling with data streams. There are no chairs or desks, here. Just an impression in the floor where the central dais lies at rest.
It does not rise as they approach.
"Thomas?" the President says, looking around: "I'm sorry to not have informed you we were coming, but-"
That would have altered the point of the exercise, he responds, his voice coming from several different directions at once: I understand.
"You do?"
Yes. I know why you're here and what we need to talk about. I would be very happy to do so. I think it would be a good thing to get these questions answered, so we can continue working together in harmony and trust.

"That's good," Ciel says, her voice as sweet as honey: "Could you come here and see us, please? We'd like to talk to you in person."
I'd like that, too. Unfortunately, one of you is wearing some kind of signal scrambler. It's making it difficult for me to materialize in there. Could you please dial it back a bit?
The President looks to Eclat, who nods, and closes his eyes. As he does, the room becomes brighter, and the dais rises from the floor.
As it reaches its maximum height, the Nthernaut appears, standing before it, his back to them all.
"Very well," he says, turning around and smiling: "How can I help you today, Mr. President?"

Which is when Geraud points something at him and presses a button, and Thomas falls down, screaming in shock and pain. 

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (The Cure, everything mix) and having a Smells Like a Safety Meeting IPA)

Friday, June 20, 2014

1/5/13 - METALMAID: Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt - pt 4

   ... some brown-haired guy that looks about as remarkable as a mud puddle.

"Et, voila!" The Violet Demon announces, waving a hand at the man as though he'd pulled a rabbit out of a hat: "Ladies and gentlemen, meet Francois Dinoart."

"Who?" METALMAID demands, glaring down at their captive. 

"Who?" most of the supervillains echo, as they've never see the man in their life.

"Wait a !@#$ing minute," The Angle says, taking a step forward and looking at the man: "Danny...?"

Francois sighs, and begins to roll something around in his mouth. But before he can the Violet Demon waves a purple, glowing hand on the left side of his head, and the man falls down unconscious, once more.

"Sorry about that," the masked villain says, looking up at METALMAID as he kneels down and puts his fingers into the man's mouth: "I figured he'd have a poison tooth to chew, I just wasn't sure when he'd do it."

"And how did you know that?" the Lord of Spiders asks.

"Direction Noir always sent their agents provocateur out with a failsafe, just in case they got made and couldn't get away," he explains, pulling out the still-intact poison tooth: "Not as good as two to the eyes, but not everyone has an N-Machine."

"What the !@#$ is Direction Noir?" the Angle asks, shaking his head: "I know this guy as Danny French. He was one of the Secessionist leaders at the Montana compound."

"Yes," the Violet Demon says, coming up and holding the tooth aloft for inspection: "And before that he was Freddie D. Arthur, supposedly-American staff at the French embassy in Washington D.C., but really in charge of keeping a number of our spy organizations under surveillance. Especially the CIA, which had a number of people in bed with the American Secessionist movement, and was very interested in strategic talents, seeing as how they couldn't stand the guy that ran the COMPANY..."

He looks around the room at all the blank stares, sighs, and -- after tossing the tooth into the punchbowl -- waves his hands and smiles: "Maybe I should start from the beginning?"

"It would probably be a !@#$ good idea," Chassis says.

"I think I'm going to need some aspirin," Red Thunder sighs, looking down at what's left of Green Thunder.

"Just hurry it up, will you?" the Emperor of Pain sighs: "I can't hold this for too much longer."

"Okay, then," the Violet Demon says, vaulting up to the stage, nodding to The Pusher, and turning around to address the crowd: "Those of you who don't know me? I'm the Violet Demon. The Scarlet Factotum can vouch for me, and I can certainly vouch for her-"

"How might that be?" the Lord of Spiders asks, putting a heavy foot down on their unconscious captive's head so he can't escape.

"Well, we almost worked together, once, and stayed in contact thereafter. We would have worked together more, but, well, you know how the song goes. 'We all have to duck / when the !@#$ hits the fan.'"

There's a couple laughs, there -- especially from the turned heroes -- and he smiles behind his mask.

"Glad you thought that was funny. What comes next is definitely not. And before I get started, can we just agree not to kill the messenger?"

"Anyone who touches you will answer to me," METALMAID announces, walking up to the stage and standing next to him. And there's something about the look that he gives her when she says that which makes her heart do more strange things, inside her.

"Well, okay then," he continues: "Long story short? You've all been played, and badly. You were all set up to fail by the Terre Unifee. They've been the hand behind the wheel on a lot of things that have happened, lately. The idea to get the Secessionists together with the former members of the Legion? Making inroads with you new folks? Getting everyone to strike on Christmas?

"Well, that was all them."

Booing, now. But METALMAID growls, and it stops very quickly.

"I'd really like an explanation on that," Husqvarna says, pointing a chainsaw at the stage: "What exactly was going on?"

"Well, I can give chapter and verse, but it'd take longer than we've got," the Violet Demon says, gesturing to the very-beleaguered Emperor of Pain, grimacing behind them on the stage: "The simple explanation goes like this:

"To start with, there was the CIA. Like I was saying earlier, there were a number of connections between them, the Legion, and the Secessionist Movement. It was all one big conspiracy of convenience, with each of them playing off the other to get what they wanted, and then being able to toss the trail down the trash."

"That's got to be bull!@#$," one of the new heroes snorts.

"No, it's not," Nefartiti offers "When I got into this !@#$ing gig? King Totenkhamen told me all about the history of the Legion. There was a !@#$ing lot of CIA involvement in there, especially during World War II. And they just kind of made it a thing, after that."

"King Totenkhamen?" The Sound asks as softly as he can.

"Don't ask," The Pusher replies, shaking his head: "It's a branding thing." 

"So, anyway," the Violet Demon continues: "The Legion went down, as most of you know. And then the CIA went down, after the Imago took over. I'm sure you watched the trials on TV?"

"Kill your TV, man," Groovy Nightmare giggles from the back of the room.

"Can't disagree with that! But even with the Legion and the CIA gone, you still had the Secessionist movement, only now it could do whatever it wanted and not have to answer to its handlers in the Company.

"But did you ever wonder why they seemed to be all wait and no action, right up until Christmas? Did you wonder how the main compound just folded like a house of cards when Le Compagnie showed up? Did you marvel at how efficiently most of your now-jailed colleagues were rounded up afterwards?"

There's some assent, and a few verbal question marks. On the other hand, Black Rider seems to be nodding so enthusiastically it's a wonder his head doesn't pop off.

"Well the Terre Unifee knew that they'd have to take the United States of America in to get the rest of the world to fall in line. The best way to do that was to show the American people just how weak and vulnerable they were on their own. And, as you all know by now, things were pretty sketchy out there, after the Reclamation War."

There's nodding on that. No one there didn't feel the pinch in some way, shape, or form.

"But they also needed to find a way to get the serious troublemakers and loudmouths out of the way. That would be the Secessionists, who were all butt-hurt now that the Imago were gone, and they had to be part of America again. I'm sure you talked with enough of them to know how angry they were at the thought of taking orders from France, of all places?"

More nodding and mumbles of agreement.

"So they decided to get rid of a few birds with the same stone. So they got the Secessionists to work with you lot to build their compound, up in Montana. And they got them to work with you new folks so they could run guns, money, and supplies back and forth. And then they planned for there to be one big attack, during which all the necks would be stuck out and ready for the axe.

"And, well, the axe was swung," he shrugs, holding his hands out: "And you all, here? You're most of what's left of that. They built you up just so they could knock you down, as proof to America's people that they're weak and in need of foreign assistance to maintain their security. And as America goes, so goes the world."

"Diabolical," the Lord of Spiders says: "I must remember to congratulate the head of the TU on such a masterstroke, just before I bite him."

There's laughter at that, and the Violet Demon grins behind his mask.

"Well, why not make that happen?" he asks, looking around: "Before we were so rudely interrupted by the Terre Unifee, masquerading as the Brotherhood of the Righteous, you heard the plan to deal with the TU-"

"We heard a part of a plan," the Black Rider squeaks: "I still don't like the idea that we don't know the whole thing going in-"

"If we did, and they captured your racist !@#$, you'd spoil it all for the rest of us," Husqvarna snorts: "I'm okay with limited intel. It's how things work in the real world."

"And I think we're all aware that, if we don't like the plan, it's sixty-to-five right now," Chassis points out, glaring at the five people on the stage.

"And come on, folks," the Violet Demon sighs theatrically: "Is there anyone here who doesn't want some !@#$ing payback on the TU at this point?"

There is no one, judging from the cheers.

"Then I think my work is done, here," he says, walking off the stage and heading back into the audience: "And I think the lady has the floor, again."

METALMAID tries not to smile too widely at that, and, within a short time, has them eating out of her hand.

* * *

"I think that went rather well," the Lord of Spiders says, later, as he and the Emperor of Pain stand outside the church doors, shaking red bits and pieces of the late Francois Dinoart off of their boots.

"I can't disagree," the old man says, lighting up a cigarette and offering one to his tarantula-faced colleague, who politely refuses.

"It's a good thing that young fellow interceded, though."

"What, this !@#$hole?" the Emperor asks, pointing to a rather large, red piece that's stuck under his heel.

"No, the young man in the purple mask."

"Yeah.. what's his name..."

"The Violet Demon."

"Yeah. Violet Demon," he says, taking a long drag: "Right."

"My goodness, man. You are rather out of it."

"Ah, you know how it is. A herd of elephants could have thundered through that church and I might not have remembered. I'd have come out of it and wondered who made the holes and left the pats."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Doing my thing for that long takes a lot out of me."

"It didn't used to."

"No, it always has," the Emperor admits: "I used to just be better at hiding it."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I mean, making everyone double over in pain? That's no problem. It's making it so that everyone who was with me wasn't in pain that's the hard part. And normally it's just me and a few folks, and not half a !@#$ basketball team."

"All these years and I never knew," the Lord chuckles: "But it does explain some things."

"Yeah, well," the old man shrugs: "I guess we all got our crosses to bear."

The Lord of Spiders nods, and finally accepts the offer of a cigarette: "I hate spiders."

"What?"

"I hate spiders," the man admits, lighting up and taking care not to singe the tiny hairs on his face and hands: "I always have."

"You gotta be joking."

"I am not. There was an accident with one of my devices, early on. It transformed me into what I most feared. And while I have learned to use it to my advantage, and make myself the stronger for it, I still cannot look in a mirror. I can barely stand to look at myself."

"And you with eight eyes and all," the Emperor says, nodding.

"Quite the irony, yes?" the spider-faced man sighs.

"Well, hey, it could be worse."

"Really?" the Lord says, his voice re-acquiring its earlier edge, his eyes sliding to the Emperor in a not-so-friendly way.

"Yeah, I mean, at least a lot of people are scared of spiders. Imagine if you'd been terrified of something else?"

"Such as?" the man asks, turning to stare down the Emperor.

But then the doors open, and the Buzzard walks out, looking at the sheet of paper the Pusher gave him. The two men turn to look at him as he wanders away, as if in a daze, trying to pronounce his new, French name.

And as soon as he's in his buzzardmobile, they both break out laughing almost hard enough to burst, and keep laughing until he's well down the road.

"Your point... is taken," the Lord of Spiders finally gasps, clapping the Emperor on the shoulder.

"So, we're okay?" the Emperor asks after a time.

"I think so," the spider-faced man says, nodding: "On one condition."

"What's that."

"We remain firm in our oath to never say what happened that day at Doctor Morbo's Castle."

"Oh, don't worry about that," the Emperor of Pain says, remembering his conversation from earlier: "I think we're better off letting the legend speak for itself."
"Agreed," the Lord of Spiders says. And that's all that really needs saying on that point.
* * *
One by one, the rest of the people leave. They get into their cars and strange vehicles, their palanquins and giant monsters. They fly away on wings borrowed or created, or flit away as though they were no longer there.

And then do so knowing that something amazing has happened today, and they have been a part of it.

The rift between the old hands of the Legion and the new, turned heroes seems to be on the way to closing, now. People shake hands and laugh, no longer staring daggers at one another, much less contemplating their demise. There's a sense of cooperation and togetherness, replacing the mistrust and distaste from before.

(Someone even sort-of admits where a few of the missing people were disappeared to, on their way out.)

Was it the plan, itself, that turned their hearts around, and gave them hope? Was it the Violet Demon's explanations of how they'd all been played for suckers by their would-be rulers, and how this was the perfect chance to get back at them?

Or was it the final act, when METALMAID allowed all her people to take their rage out on their unfortunate captive, now lying in several small pieces on the floor?

Whether it was her ideas, his truth, or the bloody baptism that followed, none can say. All that is certain is that, at least for now, METALMAID has her army. Whether she can hold it or not is another matter, entirely, but that will be for the future to tell.

The Lord of Spiders and the Emperor of Pain shake hands for the first time in decades, and then the tarantula-faced man gets on top of the giant spider he hates, and causes it to lumber him out of town, to his waiting aircraft. After that, the Pusher and the Sound come to collect the Emperor, so as to drop him off at his new lair, and repay him for his excellent service, this day.
Finally, there's the belle of the ball, METALMAID. She leaves along with the Violet Demon, and is not at all shy about holding his hand as they walk away from the church, their feet still bloody from their object lesson.

Just before they get into their separate vehicles, he runs over to the church sign, and, using a few pulses of energy, burns the IST out of METHODIST. He seems to think it's hilarious, but she doesn't quite get it.

But never mind. He'll explain it later, along with a lot of other things. Bits and pieces of a life that she's only seen parts of, so far, but now wants more of. Tales of the road and the toil. The excitement and horror of being on the run for his life.

The joy of coming here, and being able to help in the way that he did. And the relief and the eternal happiness that she responded as she did.

They get into separate cars, yes, but they travel in the same direction. One gets the idea, watching them, that they'll be parking in the same place, tonight, too. These things have their own patterns and rhythms, after all.

The same story, told over and over again -- no matter how strange the actors or their circumstances. 

* * *

Not long after the two of them left, the Emperor of Pain finally relented, and the cloud of his namesake left Lebanon, Kansas along with them. 

Hardy hands were up first, tending to their own needs, and the needs of those they could see. After that, it was a matter of calling what passed for a local police force, and having them call the nearest emergency services to deal with the ones who couldn't rise just yet, or never would again. 

And there were far too many of those, this time. 

The authorities the survivors summoned would find clues, left behind. The defaced sign on the church, which no one understood. The bloody mess on the floor that used to be a French secret agent. Punch and pie they got from a Behemart in Phillipsburg, now poisoned with a fake tooth at the bottom. 

(A dead man dressed as a woman, stuffed into a trashcan by the restrooms)

Other than that, the room was frighteningly clean. No fingerprints or trace elements. No identifying markers of any kind. No videotape caught the revelers, no satellite tracked their paths in or out. 

It was as though they were evil ghosts, come to mock laws both moral and physical, and then go back the way they'd came. 

The local authorities didn't have the case for too long before the TU showed up, of course. A flying squad of people in bright uniforms appeared, not long after the church had been combed by the Sheriff and her officers. And as soon as they appeared, the information flow became one-way, and all cooperation ended. 

They were assured that justice would be done, of course, but that's what they always say. They got the idea that other, less kind things were said as well, but no one in town had much cause to speak French. 

So all they could do was care for the wounded, count the dead, and pick up the pieces as best they could. Life would go on, here in the center of America.  They would not let this beat them down or knock them out.

They were survivors, here in Lebanon. And now they had another, stranger tale to tell.

(METALMAID is listening to Das Model (Rammstein) and having... well, you can guess)