Sunday, October 12, 2014

1/10/13 - Peur Bleue (Les Trois Grands) - pt 2

"So have you found out any more about your other two?" the old man quickly asks, as he's getting rather tired by the conversation: "The red woman and the blue man?"

Foudre Blanc sighs, as he'd been dreading this question: "I know that the armor still keeps that salope from reading me as she does others. She let something slip about dancing her way to a solution, last night at dinner, when we discussed this problem, but I don't think that's significant."

"Don't be too certain," the old man says: "We know she's from Mayotte. All that negro influence? Perhaps it's where she gets her powers from. This could be useful."


"And the blue man?"

"Still nothing," he admits: "But I'm succeeding in getting her to wonder as well. And if anyone will figure out what it's all about, she will."

"And when she does, she'll go straight to you," the old man smiles: "You see? I told you it was a good thing to make her think she can love you. You can toss all the francs in the world in front of some putain, and she'll follow you as far as the money goes. But you get a woman to think she loves you? You can get her to follow you anywhere."

"I know," Foudre Blanc replies, more than a little unnerved by the old man's smile "You were right. Thank you for that."

"Thank you, Bruno," he says, sipping some more wine: "And please tell Julien I need my feet warmed when you leave, will you?"

"Are they numb?" the hero says, starting to get to his feet (as he's taken the old man's hint).

"No, just cold," the old man sighs: "I suppose it's a good thing I can still feel them, yes?"

"Of course. I just don't like to think of you being uncomfortable."

"Bah," the old man says, laughing a little: "That's all old age is, my son. One new infirmity after another. You get used to some, you never get over others. And one day the final infirmity will come for you, and that will be all."

"I suppose," Foudre Blanc says, gesturing towards his suit: "It's just that... well, they gave me this. They should have given you something, too."

"What, should I be out on the rooftops, keeping the beurs in line?' he laughs: "No. My body was not strong enough for that sort of thing. It's enough that they can keep me alive, in spite of what's happened. And while I would have liked to have finished my days in power, well, sometimes you do not get to get what you want.

"Still, I regret nothing," he says, gesturing around the room with his wine glass: "Things happen as they have, and perhaps for a reason. If I could only be the one to pave the way, then all this? All this will not have been for nothing."

"You are right," the hero says: "Good day to you, Jean-Marie."

"Good day to you, my son," the old man says, respectfully looking him in the face as he heads from his bedside, across the room, and towards the door. With each step, the frail old man seems to get smaller and smaller, until he seems hundreds of miles away.

And as Foudre Blanc gently and quietly closes the door, the old man seems further away still. 

* * *

Tempete Bleu looks down over the center of Rome as he hangs in space above it, thinking of ants and shoes.

When he was a small child, living in Saint Paul Trois Chateaux, one of his favorite things to do was to run through the fields and imagine how many bugs he was smashing with each step. In fact, he looked forward to a new year at school with a joy usually reserved for birthdays, as it would mean he'd get a new pair of shoes to use in his eternal war with such pests. 

How many afternoons had he spent crushing insects in that fashion? How many boiling anthills had he stomped flat, again and again? How many stick insects and praying mantises had he left broken and twitching? How many delicate spiders had he brought down within their bejeweled webs?

But then, that was before things changed for him. Now, if he ran through the same fields, he'd leave mighty, foot-shaped divots behind him as he went. He'd leave burning bushes and cracks in the mantle.

He'd break the Earth apart, just for the sake of a dead, chitinous thing that he could simply swat flat with a wave of his hand.

No. He had to be careful, now -- more cautious. He couldn't allow his enthusiasm to run away with him, as though he were a child of eight, once more. Things broke too easily, now.

And if he broke them at the wrong times, too many questions were asked...


Again. He hears it again. That same sound he'd heard down below, when he'd dealt with those stupid meatbags, earlier in the day, before going off to deal with some more pressing issues. And he'd done them all rather quickly, just so he could fly back here and check into what he'd heard.

That extraordinary, yet familiar sound...

"I can hear you down there," he says, narrowing his eyes to bet a better look at its source: "Where are you?"

As if to answer, the same noise is made again. This time it's louder and longer -- easier to track. And that allows him to realize that it's coming from some church, on the north side of the Piazza del Popolo.

There's something inside of it, waiting for him -- someone, possibly. A person he hasn't spoken to nor seen in years.

Tempete Bleu smiles, and then flies down to meet his mentor.

* * *

Ciel Rouge spends the rest of the morning staying just a few steps behind Capitane Maximillien DuNord, who spends that time alternating between the records room and new prisoner intake. The latter is where he should be for most of the time, of course, but whereas the rest of the time should be spent checking up on hallway patrols, incident reports, and things of that nature, he's in that room, instead.

And, from the sounds of things, up to his elbows in the sort of protected files that can only be accessed from there.

She isn't able to see exactly what he's doing in there, of course. If she ported in and out he'd know she was onto his being up to something suspicious. And, given that he actually lied to her, that morning -- and she is certain of that, now -- she's not sure she'd get an honest answer, even if she caught him in the middle of something.

Better to wait, then, she figures. She'll keep an eye on him, see what he's up to, and when he has his rendezvous with the nurse...

Come to think of it, she hasn't seen her all day, either. She would have thought she'd have come across her at some point, surely.

She ports herself a little further away from the records room, to a position where she can still keep an eye on the door, and calls into the records office.

"Pierre?" she asks: "This is Ciel Rouge. I have a question about our nurse."

"Oh, Marie Corisande?" the affable fellow on the other end asks: "What did you need to know?"

"I hear she came in rather early, today?"

"She did indeed. Something about being thorough, she said."

"Well, that's good. I needed to speak with her about something. Do you know when she'll be in her office?"

"Oh! Well, she has gone home early, today."

"She has?" Ciel Rouge says: "I thought the Capitaine was going to arrange a meeting for us this afternoon?"

"Oh, well he's gone home as well," Pierre says: "I think they might have tied one on together, last night, and both been the worse for it this morning?"

The man laughs, but Ciel Rouge doesn't find that even the least bit funny -- especially when, just a few seconds later, the man who isn't there comes out of the records office, adjusts his uniform, and walks down another hallway.

"So he isn't here?"

"No, Madame. He is not."

"And he didn't just use his passkey at the records room?"

"No, Madame. How could he?"

"Could you double-check that, please?" she asks, smiling: "I know those records are available to you, even if they're not supposed to be...?"

There's a moment of silence, and then some stammering, and then Pierre gets back to her: "No, Madame. There's no record of it at all."

"Thank you," she says, a little shaken as she hangs up. She can't tell if he was lying to her, either, or simply misinformed.

Some powerful dancing is going on, here, woman, her Other says: Only a strong foot could stand against our ways. 

"Someone like us?" she asks: "Is that even possible?" 

Got to dance longer before we find out, is the only reply that presence can give. And she gets the sense it's more than a little uneasy, too.

"We keep following him, then," she says, porting along to keep him in sight. 

* * *

"So how is the old man, today?" Julien asks as Foudre Blanc comes down the stairs, into the main room where all of the nondescript man's allies and underlings are busy -- making phonecalls, printing pamphlets, and cutting deals with the sort of people one might think a superhero should be arresting, and not observing from across the room.

"Mssr. LePen's spirits are high, but his feet are cold, Julien," the hero says, wondering where he's seen some of those people before, in or out of costume: "You'll deal with that?"

"I will have it dealt with, yes," he gestures to a rather pretty young woman, who's dressed as a stripper's conception of a nurse. As she ascends the stairs, they can both see she's forgotten her underwear under her skimpy, white and blue striped skirt.

"So was it really his feet that were cold, I wonder?" Julien chuckles, watching her walk up until she's past the bend at the end.

"I'll be sending over some plans for the Maker, later today," the hero says, finding this conversation as distasteful as he finds the man he's having it with: "It's to be given his full attention."

"Well, we have that freak of nature doing a few other things-"

"Cancel them," Foudre Blanc insists -- so loudly that all other conversations in the room stop: "This is of primary importance."

"Well, I'll be sure to do that, then," the man sighs.

"Good," the hero says: "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have better people to consort with."

"You know, you could be a little more grateful to us," the man says, trying to regain some of his dignity before the people he's supposed to be in charge of: "The Front Nationale has done you quite the service."

"You have, yes," Foudre Blanc says: "And, in return, I'm trying to do you a service by keeping you on task, and seeing to your success. All I ask from you is that you do what you're told when I'm here. The rest of the time you can pretend you're in charge of this... mess."

Julien opens his mouth to say something, but before he can the hero's turned himself into a pillar of lightning, shot himself into a specially-modified electrical outlet, and then gone back into the city's web of current.

"Merde," he mutters, adjusting his tie and looking back at the room, at which point everyone who'd been looking at him goes back to doing whatever they'd been doing before he can shout at them. 

* * *

"What do you mean he's being followed?" a young, black-haired woman in a tyvek suit shouts into a cell phone, resisting the urge to look out the kitchen window.

"Just that," the man on the other end says: "He's had a tail since he left the place."

"Who is it?" she asks, stepping over the visqueen on the floor -- and the severed limbs it holds -- to get to the bubbling, red and green mess in the kitchen sink.

"It's one of the heavy hitters. The red !@#$. Red Sky."

"Oh !@#$," she says, feeling her stomach flip in her gut as she dumps some more smoking, white powder into the froth that used to be Madame Slithertongue: "That means she's on to us."

"Or on to him, at any rate," he says: "He's just striding home like he's trying to get his !@#$ sucked for lunch. And she's teleporting after him like she's got all the time in the world."

"Did he upload the records we needed?"

"Let me check..."

"Come on, Husqvarna," she mutters, wondering how fast she can turn the human remains she'd found (and made, admittedly) into slop down the sink.

"Yes, we got it," he says, a massive amount of relief in his voice: "It's all here."

"Did he trash the node he worked from?"

"I don't know that. He's the only one who does."

"And he's leading her here," Nefartiti sighs: "I can't sanitize the place that soon. That snake-faced !@#$ I impersonated is taking too long to go down the pipes-"

"I can take him out right now," the super villain interrupts: "I can put one in his !@#$ left temple and turn everything over the nose to sausage. Give me the word..."

"And tell them we don't know if he got out clean?" she shouts: "You realize we'll be shot, too?"

"Maybe, maybe not, hon. But you want to !@#$ing go a round with Ciel Rouge, instead, be my guest."

Nefartiti sighs, realizing this is going to be a mess, no matter what.

"Do I do it?" the assassin asks: "Last chance."

"No," she says, looking over at a small black box on the table -- one with a button, a small key, and a blinking red light: "Call me when he gets half a mile away. I'll do it."

* * *

"Everyone, please, we must go," the silly little man in the black priest's robes says to the tourists who'd been in the Basilica, just a minute before. They're not happy, clearly, but the look of sheer horror on the Priest's face after talking with Tempete Bleu leaves little doubt in their mind that something serious is afoot.

Something about how he's floating above the ground, in the center of the church, makes it seem as though the world's about to end.

As soon as the last person is gone from the place, the blue-clad hero waves a hand, and a mighty wind rushes towards the huge and heavy front doors of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo -- making them slam shut. The sound ripples across the high ceiling and echoes from the side chambers, and the tombs within them.

And now he is alone, but yet not.

"I wondered how long it would take you to get here," a portentous voice says, coming from a particularly creepy tomb, between a half-column and a wooden booth.

"I heard you, earlier," Tempete Bleu says, looking at the unassuming, effeminate figure, lounging by the wooden booth. A pale-skinned, dark-haired man with poisonously-green eyes, dressed in a form-fitting black suit.

And not wearing any shoes.

"You were meant to," the man says, smiling: "And I knew you'd remember, in time."

"Those protestors?" the hero asks, floating down to put his own, clad feet on the floor: "The fools with the guns I had to deal with. They were yours?"

"It was the only way I could be here," the man says, raising his palms up in a mock apology: "You know the rules. 'Blood for blood, flesh for flesh.'"

"Do I?" he asks, not certain.

"How much do you remember?" the man says, beckoning Tempete Bleu closer: "The time before Le Trois Grands. Before Direction Noir?"

"I remember... power," the hero says, looking at the man's face as he approaches the tomb he stands beside: "I remember meeting you. I remember you talking me through it, but..."

"Is that all?" the man asks, seemingly disappointed: "Do you remember what really happened to you as a child?. What we spoke of? What you did?"

The hero shakes his head, as if trying to shake out the memories from his brain. So many conflicting things. So many parallel stories and incompatible lies.

So many lives, lived side by side as if they all happened at once...

"You don't remember, then," the man says, putting a hand on the hero's chest, just over his heart. He sighs, as if reading something there with his fingers.

"Is that a bad thing?"

"For now? No," the man replies: "But soon, Armilus. Soon, you will remember everything. I've been sent to help with that." 

"Can't you just tell me?" Tempete Bleu rasps, almost begging.

"It's too soon," the man says: "But still..."

He points to the tomb, itself. There, a lifelike sculpture of a white-robed skeleton peeks from behind an iron grille, body hand crossed over its chest. 

"The tomb of Giovanni Battista Gisleni," the man explains, gesturing to the macabre memento mori: "A rather interesting piece of tombcraft. One of my favorites. I especially like the motto, here: Neque hic vivus, Neque illic mortuus."

"'Neither living here, nor dead there,'" Tempete Bleu translates: "An interesting conceit."

"Yes, well, he should have added 'flagrat in infernum,'" the man chuckles, stroking his eerily-hairless chin: "Those architects were always a rotten lot. Pocket blasphemies hidden in secret rooms and chambers. All those sexual puns and peccadilloes, preserved forever in marble and wood..."

"And is he?"


"Burning in Hell?"

"Ah, well," the man says, looking at the hero: "That's a tale for another time. The important thing is that, while I can't tell you everything, I have come to tell you something."

"What's that?" Tempete Bleu asks, his eyes full of a strange kind of hope.

The man gestures for the hero to lean in close, and then, taking his head in his hands, gives him a savagely passionate kiss.

And then, as quickly as he's done that, grabs him by the roots of his red and white hair, and -- holding his head so he can't get away -- whispers something into his ear.

Something that makes France's mightiest hero scream...

(SPYGOD is listening to The Only Way Out is Through (Nine Inch Nails) and having a Chimay Blue Cap)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

1/10/13 - Peur Bleue (Les Trois Grands) - pt 1

It's morning in France, but, as usual, Tempete Bleu is not there to see it.

He's up above it, instead -- high in the airless void, just a little past where all the old communications satellites used to hang. Now there is nothing but a ring of debris, left over from two tragic conflicts.

And he's sitting in a chair he's made from some of the larger, less uncomfortable bits.

When people ask him about this morning ritual of his, he says he comes here to watch the sun rise over the Earth. He says he wants to watch that light glide over Asia, and then Europe, and slowly paint France with the light of dawn. He says that it's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, and that he never wants to miss such a sight, if he can help it.

That's not true, though -- not a single word of it. He sees nothing because his eyes are closed as tight as he can make them.

And his smile as wide as a little boy's on Christmas day.

* * *

"So," the balding, old man says, looking over his large, black glasses as he sips at the wine he isn't supposed to be drinking in his condition: "You were going to tell me what you have discovered."

Foudre Blanc nods, looking around the stately bedroom as he does. The morning Sun's rays are slowly transforming it into a cave of wonders, filled with pictures, objects, and mementos gathered over a long and rich life.

And crowded with gleaming and hissing medical machines, recently added to prolong it even more.

"The President is afraid of SPYGOD, Mssr, " the white knight replies, regarding the bedridden, seemingly-frail old man with the utmost respect as he does: "He knows the man is up to something. What, he cannot yet say. But he knows that the longer he has to himself, in that place, the more likely he is to either escape or turn the tables."

"I agree," the old man says, swirling the wine as he does: "I always considered him to be a formidable man, worthy of our respect. If I'd been able to get into power, I was going to have a few things to suggest, one one-eyed man to another..."

The old man stops speaking for a moment, and then looks at the hissing tanks of oxygen by his bedside, and the container in which he'll store his glass eye when his visitor leaves. He sighs, shakes his head.

"Confounded France," he growls: "One day they'll know, eh? One day, when the Beurs are making laws for the French Race? Marrying their daughters, and making ugly children the color of merde? When our churches are knocked down so they can have a mosque every half a kilometer?"

"You tried to tell them, Mssr," Foudre Blanc says, taking his free hand in his, as if to kiss it: "But it is a hard thing to see the truth. I did not see it myself, not until..."

"Until your eyes were opened through pain," the man says, squeezing his hero's hand as strongly as he can: "It is nothing to be ashamed of, Bruno. What matters is that, when you saw the truth, you acted upon it. You came to us, seeking not our help, but to help.

"And in return, we have made you our champion. Our White Knight, here to shine the light of truth upon the darkness that has infested France. And while this Terre Unifee might have the right attitude, in some ways, it does not go far enough, nor fast enough."

"It will, once I've shown them the truth, Mssr," the hero swears: "You know that. And you know that, once I am in a position to do more, I will. I swear it."

"I know, my son," the old man says, squeezing the hand once more and then withdrawing it.

"I feel so ashamed at being able to only give information."

"Ah, but you have gotten our people into the Police Nationale," the man says, indicating that the hero should pour him so more wine, which he does: "You have laid the groundwork for our slow infiltration of the Palace. You have done so much, Bruno."

"But too slowly. I want you to be there to see it."

The old man smiles: "If I am not here to see it, I will be content to know that you will, Bruno. I know you will carry out my wishes, and bring France safety though this black nightmare into the bright future it deserves. Yes?"

"Yes," Foudre Blanc says: "I will."

* * *

Ciel Rouge leaves the Police Nationale interrogation room rather slowly, her movements uncertain. Behind the door, the man she had been questioning shouts noisy Jihadi slogans in heavily accented, North-African French, but she can barely hear them for the noise in her own mind.

"Is something wrong, Madame?" the guard asks. He's a new, fresh-faced one she hasn't met before.

"Perhaps," she says, looking back at Abdullah Ismail as he glares at her, screaming horrible, hateful things.

"He's a noisy one, eh?" the guard asks: "Yeah, he gave the Nurse all kinds of problems this morning during his examination. A real piece of work if you ask me."

"Did you see it?" she asks.

"No, it was before my shift," he says: "I came in this morning at eight."

"The nurse examined him before eight?" Ciel Rouge asks, sort of surprised: "That's strange."

"Well, I don't know. I was just transferred over. Apparently two guards quit, late last night."

"Really?" she asks, smiling a little: "Welcome to the main detention block, at any rate. I hope the others are treating you well?"

"Well, yes! A lot of my friends are already here. There's been some turnover, lately."

"There has?"

"Yes, I guess things just aren't too nice down here?" he chuckles, pointing to Abdullah Ismail as he leers and screams like a man possessed.

"Did the two who quit feel that way?"

"Well, I didn't know them, madame. The others said one of them had been unhappy and grumbling a lot, but I don't know any more than that-"

He stops talking just as the prisoner gets even louder -- demanding a lawyer, a Koran, and proper medical care. 

"Thank you," she says to the guard, leaving him to deal with the man in the cell.

Saying she's confused would be putting it mildly. Last night, when she looked in on this man, she didn't believe he was sleeping the sleep of the guilty. In fact, he seemed more worried about his friends than himself, which was highly unusual. 

She'd already had words with Omar and Zaid, who were brought in at the same time, and they'd been pretty much what she'd expected. Death to France, death to the Terre Unifee, the blood of the martyrs will fill the rivers and lakes until Islam is supreme, and so on...

But this one? His mind had felt gentle to her. Kind, even. He'd been hardened somewhat by the unkindness of others, but there was compassion and concern in there. 

And now? There was nothing but a freakish echo of that man she'd watched sleep. A mean-faced, screaming cartoon was sitting in there, instead.

It would make some things a lot easier, she supposed. But something still seemed more than a little off.

Patience, woman, her Other tells her: Let the ceremony play out. There's a lot to be learned, here.

And, as the voice in her head's never led her astray before, she decides to do as it counsels.

For a while, anyway.

* * *

"We're... we're very grateful for your... your assistance, sir," the blood-spattered, Italian policeman is stammering, but Tempete Bleu doesn't seem to be listening.

He's looking off into space, some distance away, as though the most important thing in the world was hiding in that direction. 

They're in Rome, on a normally-busy street not far from the Colosseum. There was going to be a protest march, here, today -- something about the TU and its policies, done by university-age malcontents who were convinced that Italy's new government was up to no good.  

There was going to be a protest march. It's been cancelled, now -- and rather harshly at that. 

But they only had themselves to blame. 

They didn't want to get a permit to march. That was upsetting, but no big deal. It would just mean more arrests, and steeper fines for those arrested. 

And they didn't want to cooperate with the municipal authorities on a few other matters, large and small. That was also upsetting, but, again, no big deal. More fines, more arrests. 

But then someone in their number decided it would be a good idea to come armed. 

Who got the guns? No one knew. Where did they get them from? No idea on that, either. What were they going to do with them? Uncertain -- maybe fire them off, maybe fire them at people. Who can say?

But by the time the police realized that the protesters were carrying signs and guns, it was too late to call for armed reinforcements. Should the protest suddenly become a shoot-out, the police would have been badly outnumbered, and outgunned.

Thankfully, Tempete Bleu was in the area. 

He glided down to earth, right in front of them. He smiled at them, and held out his hands. The police weren't quite sure if he asked them to put their guns down, or told them to kneel down, but as soon as it became clear they weren't doing either, he moved into the crowd and...

And then Tempete Bleu dealt with them. That was what the officer was going to put in his report, anyway. It was the only way to explain why there was a giant, red ball of what used to be 50 or so university-age protestors, sitting on a usually-busy street -- leaking blood and sloppier things onto it, and attracting flies. 

(A lot of flies, come to think of it)

"I think they were being mind-controlled," Tempete Bleu finally says to the policeman, still not looking at him: "That's what it looked like, anyway. A regrettable loss of life, but I'm sure the civilian death toll would have been in the triple digits if you'd just tried to talk them down."

"Of course, sir," the policeman says, watching as he walks away.

"Tell your Commissioner we'll be in touch," the hero says, taking two quick steps and then flying away. 

And as the policeman goes to do just that, he finally realizes what's been so terrifying about all this. It wasn't how he tore those kids to pieces with his bare hands in such a swift and methodical manner. It wasn't that he mashed them together into a ball. It wasn't that he spent all that time looking away from his handiwork, either.

It was that, from the moment he strode into the group, he didn't stop smiling the whole time.

* * *

"So stop telling me what you can't do, and tell me about what you have done," the old man continues, sipping his fresh glass of wine: "What will our negro President do about this enemy he has locked up?"

"The plan is to neutralize the computer program that runs Neo York City," Foudre Blanc confides, leaning in closer as if to whisper, though that's hardly needed here: "Once that's done, they will swoop into his apartment and take him to a Court Martial."

"And convict him the moment he enters the room?"

"Well, he will have a defender, who'll have had time to consider the case. But given the charges he faces, and the facts in the case, well... it will be a foregone conclusion. If he's smart, he'll plead guilty. If not, well, it'll just take longer."

"But the issue is the neutralization of this... Nthernaut, is it?"

"Yes," Foudre Blanc says: "They tried to make a device to take over running the city, but it was not up to the task. They will need something better. And I have promised them this."

"Ah, so you will need the Maker," the old man says, nodding: "He's well-rested, these days. I think I'll have no problems convincing him of this."

"Excellent, thank you, Mssr," the hero says, smiling behind his false face: "Should I tell them a few days?"

"Make it a week," he says, having another sip of wine: "He's well-rested, but still an old man. And we old men do need our naps."

* * *

"Capitaine?" Ciel Rouge says, coming up to the meat-faced man in charge of the dungeons: "I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"

Maximillien turns to look at her, and as soon as he does she's unnerved by how widely he's smiling.

"Well hello, Madame," he grins, reaching down to kiss her hand: "And what can I do for you, today?"

"Well, I just finished interrogating your latest inmates," she says, handing him the files: "I found them to be rather forthcoming."

"Well, you do have a gift for that?" he smiles, taking a quick look at what she's written.

"I do, yes," she smiles back: "But, well... this was a little strange."

"Indeed?" he asks, putting his hands behind his back, as though addressing a superior officer: "How so?"

"Normally, I ask questions, and they can't help but answer me truly," she explains: "But today, it was like they wanted to confess everything right from the start. I didn't even have to ask any questions. They just told me everything."

"How strange," Maximillien echoes back to her, shrugging: "Well, perhaps your powers have improved?"

"I don't think so," she says, wondering why he's behaving so strangely: "Is the nurse still here, by the way?"

"Oh, Marie Corisande?" he says, smiling just a little: "Yes, I think so. She's attending to some other prisoners, somewhere else. Should I get her for you?"

"I do have some questions for her, yes," she says: "Perhaps I could meet her in her office, later? I have some things I have to do in the Palace, today."

"I will tell her to meet you," he says, leaning down to kiss her hand once more: "See you then?"

"Yes," she says: "And, Capitaine Maximillian? I hope you don't mind my saying so, but is it really ethical for you to be seeing someone under your command?"

"Oh, Marie?" he asks, smiling before he turns away: "It's not like that at all, madame. We just enjoy dinner together, now and then."

And as soon as he's away, she realizes she's having a hard time realizing if he's actually just told her the truth or not.

Alright, woman. This is disturbing, her Other states, uniquivocally.

"About time you agreed with me on that," she whispers back: "What do we do?"

We follow him.

"Agreed," she says. And then, with the swiftness of one who can be in two places at once, she does exactly that.  

(SPYGOD is listening to Supernature (Cerrone) and having a Kronenbourg 1664 Premier Cru)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

1/9/13 - Repas Rouge (Les Trois Grands)

In the heart of Paris, a massive ziggurat of glass and steel squats over the landscape -- shining in the noonday sun like a drawn sword held on high.

It's called the Palace, and it is the headquarters of the Terre Unifee -- the world's new government. It is also the home of Le Compagnie, the first truly international team of superheroes, all doing the bidding of the TU around the globe and beyond, and keeping it together in this time of turmoil and chaos.

They say one could not exist without the other. Perhaps they do not know how true that is.

The ziggurat is as tall, wide, and incredibly imposing as the government that it houses. A flagpole for every nation in the world is perched on the thick, silver balustrades that ring its many, lushly-gardened terraces. Every day the flags are moved up a space, so that each one has its day in the sun.

And as of today, with the long-awaited joining of Australia and New Zealand -- among the last of the major holdouts -- those poles are just about full.

Up at the very top tier of the ziggurat, there's a ceremony going on to commemorate that joining. The President of the TU, himself, is there, along with his Cabinet, any number of journalists and dignitaries, and two of the three most powerful beings Le Compagnie has to call upon.

Ciel Rouge stands to one side of the ceremonial platform, smiling as sharp as steel as the President speaks of unity, equality, and brotherhood. Tempete Bleu floats just behind it, his arms crossed in what might be satisfaction, or command. Theoretically, Foudre Blanc would be glowering on the other side of the platform, but he doesn't do days -- and is rather busy -- so they've gotten Australia's own Brave Dreaming to stand there, instead.

(He doesn't look happy to be there, but then Aborigines are hard to read, sometimes.)

 "... and, with that, I am incredibly pleased and honored to welcome our new friends to our new world," the President says, smiling as he gestures to the Prime Ministers on the platform with him. Each one, in turn, stands up, and holds out a large, folded flag of their nation.

On cue, Tempete Bleu smiles, floats down to take the flag from each man, and then flies off to find two empty holes in the arrays of flagpoles. Australia's currently on the bottom, between Ashmore Island and Austria, and New Zealand's around the top, between New Caledonia and Nicaragua. Within seconds, both flags are fluttering in the winds along with their peers, and a great cheer goes up to perfectly blue sky.

After that, there's applause, photographs, and mingling. The President clearly has a million things to go and do, and it shows, but he takes the time to spend a few moments with the men he's just symbolically emasculated on live television.

"I'm glad to have you with us, finally, Fred," he says to the President of Australia -- a large-faced, sweaty man with glasses too small for his face -- as he shakes his hand.

"I'm glad to be here, sir," the man replies, maybe a little too quickly: "Anything we can do, you know you can call upon us."

"The same goes for us, sir," his New Zealand counterpart offers, all but stuffing his own hands into their handshake: "We're at your disposal. Anytime."

"Of course," the President says, more than a little disturbed at how overly-fawning both men are being. But he doesn't show it until he's at least four steps away, and no longer in the view of any cameras.

Which is when he lets his face bear the weight it's recently earned, and, after being all but surrounded by his overly-armed executive security guards, leaves the tier to attend to the many duties that await him.

Ciel Rouge watches him leave, feeling genuinely sorry for the man. But before she can think too heavily about his personal tragedies, she realizes that her blue counterpart has sneaked up behind her.

"Tonight, then?" Tempete Bleu whispers in her ear, smiling.

"Yes," she says, smiling up at him: "I thought perhaps nine, to make things easier for our white friend. That's not too late for you, is it?"

"Why would it be?"

"Your nutritional requirements still puzzle me," she replies, her smile suddenly having a little more bite to it.

"I think I can wait a few hours for a good meal with my friends," he responds, his smile suddenly absent from his face: "The usual dining room, then?"

"Don't be late," she teases, but he's already floated away -- off to talk to the Prime Ministers, now that the cameras are being ushered off the tier.

Over in the corner, Brave Dreaming stands, looking up and tangling a finger through his wispy, black beard. At first, she thinks he's being stand-offish, but as she walks over she realizes he's looking for something, up there.

"A good day for your people, then?" she asks, coming perhaps a little closer to him than she should.

"Hmm," he grunts, still looking up and not at her.

"I mean to say that, under the Constitution of the Terre Unifee, your people's rights are finally guaranteed by law," she explains: "And I'm sure we'll be able to arrange for reparations and positive action for the many outrages you've suffered, especially towards your women, just as we've done for indigenous peoples all over the world."

He turns to her, then, and just smiles: "You think that matters, red lady?"

"Well, I'd think so-"

"The dead are gone, red lady," he says: "Children are gone to town. Oilfields and black roads come in exchange. Air is bad, sea is filthy, everywhere trash and spoiled."

"We can help with that."

"Maybe you come around when the whitefellas come to our land, back in the day? Maybe then you help. Now, all you can offer is money. Money don't buy our lives back."

"No, but it does make things better, now," she says, crossing her arms and trying to smile: "And isn't that what you'd want for your people?"

"I'd settle for breathing, maybe soon," the man says, gesturing up at the sky: "Bad dreaming is coming, red lady. Maybe you throw money at it, make it better?"

With that, he sidesteps her, and walks away, slow and sure. As he approaches the men he came with, she notices that Tempete Bleu notices him coming closer, and abruptly breaks off the conversation he'd been having with them.

A conversation those two Prime Ministers did not appear to be enjoying...

* * *

"C’est des conneries," the older, heavily-armed guard says to the younger one, looking down the long, dark hall that has all the cells.

"What's conneries?" the younger asks, thinking he knows where this is going.

"All these people we're guarding. All these terrorists. Not a single one guilty."

"How do you know, Emile? They sound guilty to me."

"Not when they first come in, they're not," the older one snorts, wishing they could smoke down here: "They're all soft boys and girls, moaning through broken teeth and wanting a doctor. Not a bad bone in their bodies, just shock and hurt, maybe some anger, too, depending."

"No one's good after he deals with them."

"Yes, exactly. But once she's spoken to them? They turn right around. Suddenly they're snarling monsters, ready to blow themselves up for their God."

"You're insane."

"I am not. I know you don't care, Isaac. I know that to you this is just a paycheck. But I tell you, something is going on, here. And that red putain is to blame."

The younger guard shrugs, not really caring about the fates of a bunch of Beurs. Especially just before their lunch hour.

They work for the Police Nationale, the two of them. Their job is to guard the Islamic terrorists that their more-mobile brethren bring in for questioning on a near-daily basis. Mostly it's easy work, given that so many of them are in such bad shape when they arrive, thanks to the work of Foudre Blanc and those like him.

But every so often it gets a little interesting -- especially where their chief interrogator's concerned...

There's a loud clip-clop of nice shoes, suddenly coming down the hallway. The two men stand at attention, looking as ready for action as they can.

Coming towards them is an imposing, matronly figure, dressed in a white uniform, with her voluminous hair up in an old style. She's accompanied by a meat-faced man in armor that outranks the two of them.

"Bonjour, Mssrs," the nurse says to the two of them: "I understand we had three new arrivals, last night?"

"We did, yes, Nurse Corisande," the younger guard says: "I'm not certain when they came in. The previous shift wasn't too specific."

"And they have not seen anyone before now?"

"I am not certain-"

"Be certain, you little Merde!" the Capitane shouts at him: "Search what little memory you have!"

"No one has seen them yet, no," the older man says: "I remember this, now."

"And I'm sure you'd say anything to save your little friend," the man says, glowering at him.

"He's telling the truth, Maximillien," the nurse says, patting the larger man on the shoulder: "So how about I go make sure the three of them are alright, and you can have a quiet word with these two?"

The large man smiles and begins to smack his well-padded fist into his palm, and she clip-clops down the hall to the latest acquisitions, smiling as she goes.

It is not a kind smile at all. It's wide and thin-lipped, going all the way back to her ears. And as she comes closer to the three cells in question her eyes go from being a muted brown to a red-lined, bilious green.

With snakelike slits for pupils.

Nurse Marie Corisande (AKA Mary Changer, once known in England as Madame Slithertongue) looks into the nearest cell. On the bunk there's a sorry wreck of a man, lying in his own waste and blood. His right arm is badly broken, his left hand is crushed, and his face is a mass of red bruises -- eyes are so badly swollen shut it's a wonder he knows she's there.

"Help me, please," Samir says: "I just got caught up in all this-"

"You will stop thinking about your injuries," she hisses softly, the tongue of a snake licking out between her thin lips: "You will feel no pain from them. They will not exist to you. You will sit there and be quiet and obedient, and you will do what you are told. And you will feel the guilt of everything they have accused you of being and doing."

"Oui, Madame," Samir says, all hesitation and pain gone from his voice as he obeys her commands.

She goes on to the next cell, where Zaid lies on his bunk -- still insensate from the brutal beating he took. This one she silently wills to stay asleep, and his body obeys.

She'll work on his guilt later, when he's awake.

After that there's just Abdullah, who's just now barely awake. She's about to ascertain how badly off he is, when she hears that meat-faced Capitaine clomping down the hall towards her.

"Those two are idiots," he says, shaking his head as he approaches: "I'm in the middle of dressing them down for their incompetence, and the new guy decides he's going to try and slide his nose up my con by telling me of his partner's suspicions!"

"What might they be?" the nurse asks without turning around -- changing her face back to human and wondering if she'll have to kill this one, too.

"That our wonderful Ciel Rouge, who interrogates all these negros after you make sure they're up to it, is somehow forcing them to admit to things they did not, in fact, do," he says, laughing at the absurdity of it all: "Can you believe such a tale? As if that delightful woman had a mean bone in her body!"

"What a silly thing to think," Nurse Corisande says, laughing: "Well, perhaps you should reassign them to something less likely to require them to keep time?"

"I think I will," he says, roughly smacking her on the bottom as he goes past: "Let's discuss that tonight, shall we?"

"I'll need to be here for their examination before their interrogation, though?"

"Not tonight, my lovely," the Capitaine grins, snaking an arm around her neck: "It turns out the lovely Ciel Rouge has requested the night off. Business with Les Trois Grands, I am told. So we don't have to deal with these stupid beurs until tomorrow, do we?"

"No, we don't," she says, looking up at him and smiling: "So we will go back to your place and decide how we're going to kill those two guards."

"Yes," he says, smiling. And, with that, the two of them go back up the hallway, leaving Abdullah -- who was only faking being wholly asleep, as opposed to merely fading in and out from the pain -- to wonder what in the name of Allah he just heard.

It all sounded like hissing to him...

* * *

"So," Foudre Blanc asks, pushing the half-eaten plate if excellent food away from him: "You said we had business to discuss. Something we three must see to?"

"I was wondering about that, yes," Tempete Bleu remarks, pouring himself some more wine, and then offering some to Ciel Rouge, who politely declines.

"Not too much to start talking about it during dinner, I see."

"Meals are for good things, my friend," the blue-clad hero says with a smile as he puts the wine goblet to his lips: "Business is best discussed over dessert."

"Not for me," the man scowls behind his false face, hating the way he has to fake eating with these people.

The dining room is the one they usually employ for such meetings. It's small and cozy, decorated as though someone time-lifted it from the palace at Versailles during its hey-day. And, as it's tended by small, golden cherubs that have the memories of mayflies, they can say anything they want and not have to worry about the help overhearing. 

Which, given the things that bring the three of them together, is a chief concern.

"Well, you're right to be anxious," Ciel Rouge replies, putting her hands together: "We have a severe problem in America."

"SPYGOD?" Tempete Bleu sniffs, having some more wine: "He is a neutered dog in a sad little house."

"But the dog has dangerous friends," she replies: "And I believe... I know, that one of the more powerful of them is going to try and help him escape."

"The computer program that runs Neo York City," Foudre Blanc says, tapping the table by his plate: "The Nthernaut."

"You told him?" Tempete Bleu asks, not happy at this.

"I surmised as much," the white knight smiles: "If you'd pay attention to these things, so would you."

"I am not certain what he's planning, but it's deeply-laid and well-considered," she says, holding up a hand before the other two can fall to arguing, again: "It's also almost certainly in motion at this moment."

"So we turn him off?" the blue-clad hero shrugs: "How difficult is that? We have many who can do this. Eclat-"

"He knows to expect him, now. And I'm not confident our systems can take over the city once he's gone."

"Is that a concern?" Foudre Blanc asks.

"What, the entire city of Neo York grinding to a halt?" Ciel Rouge asks: "No lights, no water, no emergency services? Millions of people, cut off from help?"

"That answers that question," the blue hero snorts: "If you asked me, I'd say let the Americans drown for an hour or two-"

"We're not asking you," the white knight interrupts, tapping the table some more: "And I think we can do it."

"Do what?"

"Take over the city from it," he explains: "The device you used, I presume it wasn't strong enough to handle the entire thing?"

"No," Ciel says, glad she's got him on her side in this: "It held it for a time, but not as well as it should. And the transition period between having him in charge and moving our own people in to take over, especially if they're going to have to come in after we shut him off... I shudder to think what will happen to those people."

"Then we build a better one," Foudre Blanc says: "Have the blueprints for the previous attempt sent to me, along with all the data they gathered. I will have a better one made within a week."

"Rather assured of that, are we?" Tempete Bleu says: "Do you have a magician in your employ?"

"Several," the white knight smiles, winking at Ciel Rouge. And he notices, with some satisfaction, that when she smiles their dining companion's face falls by an equal and opposite amount.

* * *

"You know, I could get used to this," Maximillien says as he licks human blood from the floor of his large apartment's kitchen -- naked except for a ridiculous pair of pink panties a size too small for him.

"You'll get used to anything I want, dear," Madame Slithertongue sneers, sliding past him as she turns to regard the body of the younger guard from this morning. He's laid out on a very large block of wood, naked except for his uniform cap, and ready for the chop. She's also naked except for a rubber apron, specially made for this kind of work.

And she's quite ready to do the chopping. 

The older guard is already long dead and in pieces -- limbs and ribs stacked over the sink to drain before being placed into the refrigerator, offal cooling in a bucket to be made into sausage. She's not crazy about keeping her meat cold, but given how rarely she can arrange a real, proper meal, it's a small price to pay.

It used to be she'd have just ingested these people whole, digested them over the course of a few days, and been fine for a month or so. Sadly, her new work schedule doesn't permit that sort of thing, so she has to make do with smaller, more frequent meals.

Thankfully, the TU is full of disposable idiots, and the people who broke her out of prison to work for them apparently aren't too concerned to see them quit in the middle of their shifts. They also aren't too curious about what happens to them after that, it would seem.

And so long as she has the latest Capitaine of the cells on her side, there's no reason for them to suspect anything's awry -- especially now that he's developed a taste for this sort of meal.

"So where's our third?" her slave asks between long licks of the old guard's blood: "That tasty little trollop we passed on the way?"

"I told her to take a shower first," she sighs: "I don't feel like eating whatever she had inside of her, too."

"Right," the man said, going back to licking like a dog. She sighed again, wondering why she acceded to this gros con's more lecherous requests. But then, long-term slaves obeyed better if she gave them a little something to keep them occupied while she was running them around, as opposed to the ones she dealt with for but a short time. 

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Feminine, from the sounds of things. 

"Go wrap up and get your putain," she commanded, not bothering to force him. It's not like she really needed to.

And when he was done with her, he probably wouldn't need to be forced to help her dispose of the tart, either...

* * *

"So, what do you think of the President's plan?" Ciel Rouge asked Foudre Blanc as they strolled around a private terrace, just off from the private dining room.

"To put the man on trial seconds after he neutralizes the Nthernaut?" the white knight repeats: "I like it. It makes sense. My only worry is..."


"That he might have anticipated that as well," he replies, looking out at the city beyond the balustrade and wishing he was in it, now, putting a boot to its backside.

"You think he suspects?"

"I think he could not have gotten to where he's been without having several plans, and being aware that his enemies have them as well."

"The President said as much."

"So are we the plan, or just one of them?" Foudre Blanc asks, smiling a little under his helmet.

"I'm not certain, yet," she says, leaning against a pillar and looking at him.

Tempete Bleu was gone. He'd left some time after dinner, once they'd discussed what they needed to talk about. Something about things he had to do, places to go, somewhere far and away.

So it was just the two of them, which was how she liked it.

"Once he's gone, there will be an immense vacuum," Foudre Blanc says, leaning on the railing and wishing she wouldn't look at him like that: "Every plot and plan he had in place will come crashing down around him. There will be chaos and disaster, and many people will find themselves working at cross purposes all over the world. It may be decades before it all gets straightened out."

"So you don't think we should be too hasty to try him?"

"Oh no," he says: "You know I want to see justice done, and so do you. But we need to be ready for the consequences."

"I think we are."

"Is the President?" he asks, rather pointedly, as he no more trusts the negro to do the right thing any further than he could throw him without his armor.

"He and SPYGOD share a strange bond," she says, crossing her arms: "It's a very curious thing. They hate each other, and yet have a level of respect. They've been through so much together, over the years. So much tragedy and danger, and all those times that SPYGOD saved him from a fate worse than death..."

"And yet, here he is, wanting him thrown into the Sun."

"Yes," Ciel Rouge says: "Losing a daughter will do that."

"He's lost more than that, hasn't he?"

She sighs, remembering the last time she went to the Executive Mansion on business. The coldness in the air. The way his wife left the room when he walked into it, without even saying a word.

The way his surviving daughter cried in her room, alone and afraid...

"He has, yes," she admits: "Something I trust we can keep between ourselves and not share with our friend?"

"I thought you hated lies?"

"I do, but I hate what he might do with the truth even more."

"You don't trust him."

"I don't like what I see when I look in his eyes."

"Then why don't you ask him to tell you the truth?" Foudre Blanc asks, taking a few steps closer to her: "About himself? His origins?"

"He's not ready to talk about that, I don't think," she says, putting a hand on the man's shoulder: "Not like we've talked, you and I. About your life, and how you want to make the world a better place. A safer place, where justice and equality are a way of life, and crime and violence a sick aberration."

He smiles at her, still amazed the salope can't read him -- swallowing all his lies as easily as a drink...

"Mon Dieu," he quietly begs as he crawls on his hands and knees, trying to get away from the burning wreckage of his car.

But he's moving, at least. That's a good thing. His parents always taught him that if he could move, he could do anything.

And maybe he can still save his fiancee, Sabine...

"We'll get there, one day," he says, putting his hand on her shoulder as he regurgitates the merde she loves to hear: "You, me, and him. The finest in the world, in a world as fine as we can make it."

She smiles, then -- that little smile that means she'd like to kiss him, but knows she cannot.

And he feels sick to his stomach and wants to scream and yell and punch her in the face and kick her in the knees and break bones and burst organs and snap her spine and crash her forehead into her brain and fling her broken body off the parapet and be done with it...

But he just smiles back, as though he wanted the same thing that she did.

* * *

After Foudre Blanc leaves, and it's just her on that parapet, she has a strange compulsion. 

She teleports down to the cells below the Police Nationale, where the most recent prisoners are waiting for her to interrogate them. She'd have taken care of them tonight, except for the dinner and strategy session. 

The guards are where they should be, and appropriately startled when she appears beyond them. They weren't counting on her being here this late, but thankfully they weren't up to anything untoward, unlike that one time she came down here to find someone's bachelor party going on, complete with hookers, booze, and an adult film being played on someone's phone. 

She finds the three new ones easily enough. There's Samir, sitting straight up and staring at the wall as though he doesn't care, his anger at having been caught plain upon his features. There's Zaid, who clearly needs some medical attention, what with a homemade toilet wrapped around his head, and is lucky to be dreaming of anything at all.

And then there's Abdullah, who's in and out of consciousness.

Something is strange, here. She doesn't feel the sort of things she normally feels from these kinds of prisoners about him. She feels fear from him, and not the sort that comes from getting caught with stacks of terrorist literature and all the things you need to make a bomb...

She scowls, wondering what's going on here. But if she woke him up now, he'd still need to see a doctor, and that would just get in the way of things.

No. She'll let him get a night's sleep. And then, tomorrow, once the doctor's had a look at him, she'll discover why this terrorist has the dreams of an innocent man.

(SPYGOD is listening to Back to Cruelty (Marquis de Sade) and having a Grimbergen Rouge)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

1/8/13 - Nuit Blanche (Les Trois Grands)

It's approaching dusk in Clichy-Sous-Bois, and Abdullah Ismail is sitting on a bench by himself -- warming his hands with his breath, watching people go back and forth and wondering when his cousin is going to show up.

It's going to be a cold night, tonight, and the roads are still covered in snow. The rest of Paris has been dutifully plowed, either by super-swift men and women with shovels or more traditional means, but no one's bothered here. You'd think the police that patrol this area in droves would insist upon driving on well-cleaned streets, but apparently the Terre Unifee doesn't care if its guards are inconvenienced along with the people they're guarding.

People like Abdullah, his cousin, and every other Beur in this Commune.

A car drives by, slowly, and for a moment Abdullah wonders if it's an undercover patrol. But no, it's just Samir -- here at last.

"Merde!" the skinny rail of a man swears as he gets out of the car, which he doesn't bother to lock: "These streets! When are they going to plow?"

"Here? Never," Abdullah says, giving the man a familial hug and a kiss on either cheek: "They won't even send an engine for a fire..."

"Unless they know we didn't set it," Samir finishes the joke, which really isn't one: "Come on, let's get off the streets."

"We've got to walk a ways," Abdullah replies, gesturing down the street.

"What?" his cousin whines: "In this weather?"

"Couldn't be sure you weren't followed."

"So they can't follow us now?"

Abdullah sighs, wondering again why he brought his cousin into the deal, and gently half-shoves him down the street, towards the crime that awaits them.

* * *

Elsewhere, in a much nicer area of town, there's a large, black desk in a massive, darkened room -- overlooking the lit-up spectacle that is Paris at night.

The room is what one might call well-appointed, if one wanted to be modest. There's richly-filled bookshelves along all walls but one, and long, luxurious couches in its center. Lovely, Grecian busts sit under glass on plinths, here and there, and the tables between the couches are chased with gold and onyx.

At the far end of the room , just before the wide, tall window, is that desk. Stark and smooth -- with all functionality either hidden from view, or placed on the side where its owner is sitting -- it's clearly been designed to make the person on the other end feel small and inconsequential.

Which is just how its owner wants his people to feel. 

He's impeccably dressed, this watcher in the darkness. A white, silk shirt that breathes so well he hardly knows he has it on, black leather shoes handmade to his specifications, and a green, silk tie that costs almost as much as a truly splendid night on the town.

He's also imposing in his own right -- tall, lean, and well-muscled. His expertly-coiffed hair is full and dark. His eyes are a shade of blue so light it almost looks like ice. And they look at the world designer glasses made to show them off as much as possible. 

And that would be because, from those eyes down, his face is a mass of horrible scars and burns -- transforming his once-handsome visage into something akin to an abstract painting. His nose is a hollow ruin, his ears are gone, and his lips are pulled back from his teeth, fixing his mouth in a gruesome, skeletal rictus.

He could be the saddest man in the world, and yet still look like he's laughing at it.

He sits in the quiet and watches the city -- his city, he would say -- as it comes alive in the night. From up here, in his company's tower, he can hear the cars and the noise, the sirens and the cries. He can imagine the source of each noise, and often does.

He never imagines them to be anything good.

He sips a drink from a crystal tumbler, careful to not dribble it onto his shirt and tie. It's not alcohol, though he always tells others that it is. It's actually a very sophisticated energy drink, made from ingredients so high-tech and secret that he'd have to have his research heads shot if they divulged its secrets.

He doesn't drink, anymore. He doesn't like how it makes him feel. How it makes him remember...

... the car burning behind him, though he can't feel the heat. The city burning around him, though he can't hear it scream. 

He crawls on his hands and knees, no longer able to feel the pain that wrapped him up when his world exploded into fire.

And with each inch -- each thick, dragging, painless inch -- he comes closer and closer to the woman lying in the street...

...Msr. Roquer?" a voice interrupts.

"Oui, Matilde?" he replies, not turning to regard his intercom.

"Your chef has just informed me that he's on his way up in your private elevator, so I'm leaving for the night."

"Merci, Matilde," he says, allowing the hollow ghost of a smile to drift over his ruined features: "Drive safe, and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Merci, Msr. Roquer," she says: "Might I ask what's on the menu, tonight?"

"Something Middle Eastern, I think," he says, no longer smiling.

* * *

"Well, are you sure you weren't followed?" Samir asks as the two of them head up the stinking, scorched concrete stairs to their friends' sorry apartment.

"I'm positive," Abdullah says, really not liking the insinuation.

"It's just that there's cops everywhere, these days. All those super-police-"

"I know, Samir."

"And some of them can read minds!" Samir says as they leave the stairwell for the equally-stinking and scorched landing: "Can you believe it?"

"Some of them can probably hear you complain halfway across town, too, you fool," Abdullah hisses: "Ta gueule! It's not like we're breaking the law."

"Well, we are..."

Abdullah sighs, wishing to God that his cousin would learn to be brave, or that he might be blessed with the power to let him go back in time and stop himself from recruiting him for the group.

Still, he was right -- they were breaking the law. This apartment building, which had burned back in 2005, was listed as "condemned." It should have been knocked down a long time ago, but, as it was in the Beur part of Paris, where the riots had started from, the authorities were in no hurry to deal with it. They hadn't even shut off the electricity, though the water had been turned off long ago.

Plus, it meant less housing in "Muslim" areas, forcing the people who lived there to go out into the city and "integrate," even if it meant trying to fit in where they clearly were not wanted. 

But even in such conditions, no one wanted to live in a place like this. And that made it perfect for their purposes.

Which involved even more law-breaking, at least in the eyes of some. 

* * *

The private elevator takes its time getting up to this room, which gives him more than enough time to finish his drink. Once that's done, he rises from the chair, and quickly strips his clothing off, putting it all into the excellent, one-of-a-kind leather satchel he brings to work. 

Then he saunters, nude, over to the left side of the room, across from the door that leads in. By that wall is a particular plinth, with a small, recessed area just under the lip of the glass dome. He reaches under it and finds a subtle button, which he presses -- causing a length of bookshelf to slide up into the ceiling, revealing a hidden elevator door.

A few moments later, the nearly-silent elevator arrives. The door opens without a chime, and with barely a sound, revealing what's really in there. 

It's not a chef -- that's just a story he cooked up, so to speak. Each night, after a certain time, a randomized countdown begins, at the end of which his "chef" calls up to his secretary to announce he's on his way. And once she's on her way down, the elevator rises up, bringing Bruno M. Roquer -- scion of the wealthy Roquer dynasty, and owner and operator of Industries Roquer -- the tools he needs to spend his evening.

The lights come on in the elevator, revealing a skintight, white body sleeve that covers everything, including his head and face. He slides it on, making certain it's as snug as possible, and then gets inside the elevator -- pressing a big, green button as he does. Then he carefully places his feet in their designated spots, and holds his arms out from his body just so.

The moment the doors close, the air begins to crackle with energy. Strange, electromagnetic forces swirl around him, and a legion of tiny, white pieces of armor fly from hidden recesses in the elevator's walls, attaching themselves to specific points on the body sleeve. 

Within seconds, Bruno is covered in a sliding network of armor plate -- one that moves as freely as the body sleeve, itself, but can absorb blows from lead pipes, deflect knives and bullets, and even provide some protection against concussive blasts. 

More layers of armor slide onto that network, adding more protection to vital areas and making the suit look even more imposing. A belt ringed with strange, sophisticated circuitry loops around his waist, causing the larger plates of armor to light up, ever so slightly.

At last, there's just the head to deal with. A highly-detailed mask of a man's face -- complete with false eyes -- attaches itself to the sleeve, giving him a normal appearance, once again. And then another group of armor plates slides over that, creating a sallet-style helmet that leaves only the eyes visible.  

A helmet with an encircled lightning bolt on its forehead. 

He grips his hands into fists, and unclenches them. Sparks crackle between his fingers. He looks around the elevator, and then reaches out to touch one of the exposed electrical outlets.

There's a crackle of lightning, and then a roll of thunder, and Foudre Blanc -- member of Les Trois Grands -- is gone.

Out on the hunt. 

* * *

Abdullah Mohammed Ismail was a founding member of Le Front de L'Espoir, an organization standing up for French citizens of North African descent, commonly known as Beurs. Ever since the riots of 2005, the media, politicians, legal system, and -- worst of all -- the media of France had decided that French Muslims were an enemy within. And they'd all gone out of their way to compete for the title of top scapegoater.

When the Imago showed up, last year, Abdullah had finally thought things had turned around for the better. But that was wishful thinking, as everything the aliens had told them had been lies piled upon lies. At least they hadn't suffered the same fate as impoverished Muslims in other countries -- children enslaved by death machines, adults put to work on their spaceship -- but in the end it was clear they were no more protected than anyone else.

Worse still, when the smoke had cleared, and the Terre Unifee stood in charge of France, and then the whole world? The same hatred and prejudice came back to haunt the Beurs. It was just more obvious, now, given the rhetorical proclivities of the people who made up the TU.

And this time, the bigots in power had superheroes on their side. 

So The Hope Front had gotten back together, and begun recruiting for what looked like a long campaign of passive resistance, marching, and speaking out against injustices. And while it was good to have people like Samir along for the ride, his insistence that they might get jumped by the police at any time was becoming really !@#$ing annoying.

Even if he was right to be worried.

Abdullah stands in front of Zaid's door and knocks. Today's code is "All You Need is Love," so he raps Duh Duh-Duh Duh Duh, and waits for Zaid to reply with Duh Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh.

And waits.

And waits.

At some point, Samir looks at Abdullah with that look. The one that says this is not good. Abdullah can't disagree, but holds up a finger. One more minute.

(Maybe Zaid's using that ridiculous but functional water-free commode he'd invented.)

That minute comes and goes. Samir taps his watch and looks like he needs to use the commode. Abdullah nods, but then, just as he's about to lead them out of there, thinks he hears something inside.

Something that sounds like someone moving slowly, as if in pain.

So he puts his hand on the doorknob, and then turns it. It's open.


"C’est des conneries!" Samir whispers, gesturing to the way they'd come: "Let's get out of here!"

"Not until I'm sure he's okay!" Abdullah whispers back: "You go if you want to. Come back when your testicules come back to you!"

And then Abdullah's inside the door, and all Samir can do is shake, look back and forth, and -- after hissing "Putain!" -- follow him inside. 

* * *

The darkened apartment's a mess, but then it always is. 

Zaid bragged that he decorated for ten, and, given how many barely-functional pieces of furniture he'd dragged in here from less-destroyed apartments, he wasn't joking. The place is a maze of mismatched couches, chairs, tables, and other such things. Front literature is stacked on every table, along with the things they needed to do their marches: bullhorns, banners, flashlights, disposable cameras... the usual.

"Something smells funny," Samir notes, putting his well-honed nose to work: "Like... metal? Oil?"

"Can't smell a thing," Abdullah sighs, cursing the cold he'd been developing: "Zaid? You here?"

No response. Abdullah points to the kitchen, and, after taking a deep breath, goes further back into the hallway, where Zaid tends to sleep.

"No, really," Samir says, back from the kitchen: "It's like an electrical fire or something..."

Abdullah isn't listening though, as he's found Zaid. He's in the bedroom, which is lit only by lights from the mostly-drawn windows outside. And he's lying in a mile of debris.

Not moving.

He kneels down to check, and is relieved that his friend is still breathing. He's just unconscious, and has clearly been beaten into that state. It looks like that homemade commode of his was smashed over his head. 

"Merde," Abdullah sighs, wondering who could have done this. 

And then he turns around, and sees what's on the bed. 

Weapons. Lots of them. Assault rifles, from the looks of things. Ammunition. 

And beside them, a stack of literature, written in Arabic. Abdullah sees the name at the top, and then gasps, realizing something has gone terribly wrong, here.

"Oh Allah, no," he prays, trying to rouse Zaid from his state: "Get up, man. We have to go. We have to go-"

But there's a loud BOOM of Thunder from up the hall, just then. He hears Samir scream over that noise, somehow, and then start making other, more painful noises.

Abdullah decides to leave Zaid. He can't help Samir, either. All he can do is get out of this place, get to the others, and tell them what's happened, here. Warn them of what's coming. 

But no sooner does he rise up to smash his way out of the window -- hoping to God the fire escape can still support his weight -- than someone's right beside him.

Someone who moves as quick as lightning from the sky.

"Bonjour, négro," the man in white, glowing armor hisses, just as he begins to rain punches and kicks down on a man who, up until just now, took pride in being a theoretical pacifist...

* * *

It's an hour later, and it seems every police car in Clichy-sous-Bois is outside the condemned apartment building, along with a few armored vehicles from the Police Nationale, here to deal with the discovery of a genuine Islamic terrorist cell. 

"So the Hope Front was really a front for Al-Qaeda, all along?" Detective Inspector Fermier rasps, watching all this from just inside the cordon: "I must say I'm surprised."

"Why is that?" Foudre Blanc asks, his arms crossed over his chest as the last of the three terrorists is dragged out -- still unconscious from the beating he took.

"I thought better of them," the jowly man replies, adjusting his hat: "I thought them more sensible than to be involved in this sort of merde."

"You can never tell, Detective Inspector," the hero replies: "The roots of evil are black and deep, twisting into every area of society. Perhaps they started out with noble motives, but were turned bad over time. But sooner or later one's sins will be found out."

"I thought you would say something like that," Fermier shrugs.

"Any reason why?"

"That's what you always say when something like this happens," the man replies, putting a cigarette into his mouth and preparing to light it: "We find guns, literature, maybe materials for a bomb and instructions on how to make it. And there you are, saying things about evil roots and discovered sins."

"Whatever do you mean by that?"

"I mean that it's becoming a habit."

"You would know about habits," Foudre Blanc replies, tapping the end of the cigarette with a crackling finger so that it lights up: "Some of them can kill you."

"Whatever do you mean by that?" the Detective Inspector asks. 

"I just mean that there are eyes everywhere, watching," the hero says, leaning just a little closer: "And some sins may be found and dealt with before others, especially if they're more pressing..."

Fermier can't say anything to that, so he simply shrugs and inhales from his cigarette: "Well, I'm sure the Nationale boys will get an answer from them. They usually do."

"I'm certain they will," Foudre Blanc replies, looking askance: "Pardon me, Detective Inspector, I have a call I need to take in private."

With that, he becomes a pillar of lightning, traveling up to the nearest outlet -- a city light, which explodes as he passes through it. 

"Casse-toi," Fermier mutters, wondering how many more times he'll have to helplessly preside over the detention of innocent men.

* * *

Some distance away, Foudre Blanc comes out of a socket on a rooftop filled with telecom equipment, and then takes the call. 

"Bonjour,  Ciel Rouge," he says, looking at the hologram that's forming between his hands: a severe but beautiful woman in a red shroud, looking at him with a widest of smiles.

"I'm not disturbing you, am you?" she asks, her politeness as cloying as honey.

"Just doing the good work. You?"

"I am, yes," she says: "I'm on my way back to Paris now, in fact. There's something we three must discuss."

"Oh?" he asks, wondering what the stupid salope has found out, now: "Well, I'm at your disposal, as always. Just give me time to prepare."

"I will," she says, winking: "Dinner at the Palace, then? We three? Perhaps tomorrow night?"

"I look forward to it," he lies, taking a slight bow: "Now, I must beg your pardon, but the night is calling out for justice."

"I'm sure it is," she beams: "Give it a kick or two for me, will you?"

"I will," he says, and then terminates the call, muttering some very rude things under his breath as he places another.

"Oh," the nondescript man on the other end says: "What do you want?"

"Tell the old man we may have a problem," Foudre Blanc says.

"Something you can't handle?"

"Something that could be bad, depending on what it is."

"You mean you don't know?" the man scoffs: "I thought the night had eyes everywhere?"

"In your case, it does," the hero hisses: "And unless you want some interesting pictures to hit the internet in five seconds, I suggest you shut your mouth and do as I've said!"

"Alright," he says: "I'll tell Jean-Marie you need a meeting."

"Good," Foudre Blanc says, turning the call off. 

He looks to the bright lights of Paris, then, awash in their beauty. He can't help but remember another night, and other lights -- ones not nearly as beautiful.

"I'll keep my promise, Sabine," he says, wondering if she can hear him, somehow: "I'll make them pay. I'll make them all pay."

And then he's gone, off to hold up his end of the bargain. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Les Tzars (Indochine) and having a 1664 Blanc)