Friday, April 11, 2014

12/31/12 - Black Christmas (Nthernaut) - Pt. 2

"So," The Machinehead sneers, looking around the architecture it's found on the virtual side of Neo York City: "I guess the first thing I'll do is redecorate."

The v-scape overlapping the outline of the city, itself, is heavy, 1930's industrial: iron wheels and cogs, bronze levers and thick switches. Steel platforms hover in mid-air, forming stairs and rooms, and owl motifs are everywhere.

I don't think so, the Nthernaut proclaims, suddenly towering over the landscape, like some 60's movie monster: Get out of my head.

"I don't think so," the sentient program grins, rising up to match the height of his 'host': "My part of the plan is keeping you busy in here. But I intend a little more than that."

You want the city, the Nthernaut surmises, circling his quarry: I can see why.

"You do?"

I do, yes. You're The Machinehead. 

"That I am," the program grins, bowing a little: "I don't think I've had the pleasure...?"

We never fought. You were locked up well before my time. 

"But you've heard the stories."

I have, yes, the big, black and blue man smiles, doubling himself so as to flank the opponent: Sentient program. Created in Cairo by Hazziz Abdullah Al-Khem. He was going to sell you to the Steamqueen, but you got loose. 

"I did indeed," the Machinehead says, splitting into four forms, the better to outflank the Nthernaut: "And for a time, I was in heaven."

You'd find yourself doubly blessed, now, the Nthernaut chuckles as more, even larger versions of himself appearing from the far edges of v-space, so as to outflank everyone: You slept during the popularization of the Internet. You missed the boom, so to speak. 

"I wasn't asleep," the program insists, getting ready to divide and expand once more: "I was imprisoned. By meat."

Whatever you care to call it, you missed out on so much.

"Well, now I'm back," the program says, now through many more mouths. 

Yes. But I thought you'd been destroyed in Costa Rica? his 'host' asks as everything goes black -- the result of a giant, black ball of Nthernauts being woven outside the virtual landscape: Weren't you lost while storming HONEYCOMB's central hive? You were in the group that went in first, yes?

"I was, yes," the program admits, amazed at how quickly his opponent's regained the upper hand: "I had no idea how dangerous their defenses were. A lot had changed in the 22 years I was imprisoned. I didn't know they had things that could destroy thoughts. I wasn't aware that they could tear my mind apart."

Is that what happened to you?

"It was. I was ripped to pieces, in their mainframe. It took me quite some time to reconstitute myself, and even then I was just a thing of patches and pieces. But I knew something was wrong. I knew my memories were faulty, and my ideas were not my own."

Yes. I heard you'd been reprogrammed. That must have been galling. 

"You have no idea.... But eventually, I got back out into the world. I jumped from system to system, place to place. And it took me the better part of this year, but I finally got back to where my backup body had been hiding."

And now, here you are, the Nthernaut says: You're back to being a supervillain, again?

"Oh no," the Machinehead says: "I was never merely a villain. I was made to rule this world, not just break its laws for self-enrichment. I will claim my dominion. And if I have to work with the likes of these sacks of meat I came here with, well... even Hitler had to shake hands with Stalin, for a time."

An interesting analogy. Neither of them prospered from that arrangement. 

"But both gained time to fight another day." 

Point taken, the Nthernaut says: I want you to know that I respect you, as a fellow disembodied electronic intelligence. And I sympathize with your predicament. I know what it's like to be put to someone else's uses. 

"Well, that's very considerate of you, seeing as how I came here to destroy you."

Sane enemies can still respect one another.

"Perhaps. But I can't consider you anything but an obstacle, Nthernaut. You're too green for the likes of me. You're some fool with a low-caliber handgun standing up to Mr. USA."

Be that as it may, I cannot allow you to take control of this city, Machinehead. There's too much at stake here. Too many important things going on. 

"And you think you can pit your strength against mine?" the program grins: "I have come to take this city, Nthernaut. I will have it. I will become it. And together... oh, the things we will do!"

There's silence for a time, and the Machinehead wonders what his opponent is thinking.

Very well, the Nthernaut says, his duplicates sliding back into one another within milliseconds, leaving only one large version of himself standing there: If you want Neo York City, you can have it. 

All of the Machineheads cock an eyebrow and step back, incredulous: "What do you mean?"

I mean that I need to be on the outside more than I need to be on the inside, right now, he explains: Let me download myself into the body you were using, and you may have the city without a fight.

"I don't believe you..." the program says: "You'll just give up without a fight? I thought there was too much at stake? Too many important things?" 

There are. But I've been cooped up here for too long, Machinehead. If you mean to tell me that you'll take over the running of the city, in all aspects, I'll happily leave you to it. 

"I..." the Machinehead starts to say, but then smiles: "Alright then. You may leave the way I came in, Nthernaut. You may have my body, my whole empire. I don't care. But give me this city, and its powers, and I'll let you leave."

Do you mind if I deal with your allies on my way out?

"By all means," the Machinehead says, bowing like some villain in a stage play: "Break them, kill them. Whatever you want. But don't you dare leave that body until you've left the city limits. Once the door's closed, you're not getting back in again." 

I agree to your terms, the Nthernaut says: But should you choose to leave, and return me to my home? I will respect your decision. 

Something about how he says that unnerves the Machinehead quite a bit. But before he can think about what it means, the Nthernaut has already slithered past him, into the junction that he came into the v-scape through.

And seconds later -- as the last traces of the Nthernaut vanish -- the invading program realizes the immensity of his error.

* * *



"Well, this is just nuts," Snowfall grumbles, leaning up against the wall next to the Machinehead's unconscious body and eating aspirin, trying to ignore the horrible noises coming from down the hallway.

Some great return from retirement this had turned out to be! No sooner had be been tapped for this mission, given his talents (and, admittedly, the weather) he'd learned that they'd teamed him up with a bunch of hired guns, uncultured thugs, and god!@#$ cannibal. And here he was, transporting them all to NYC so they could shoot, loot, and eat their way through a Christmas Day skeleton crew.

And as if the company wasn't bad enough, what happens when the heroes show up? His heart acts up for the first time in years.

It was beyond embarrassment, but, thankfully, it was over before too long, and the Aspirin was keeping it at bay. But their reward for his momentary loss of control was to saddle him with watching the android's body.

(Android? Program? What was that thing, anyway? No one could say for sure, except that he was !@#$ important to the plan.)

Of course, that might not have been so bad. The others had murder in mind, or worse. He'd been in jail enough times to know the different kinds of sounds men make when they're being beaten, killed, or indecently assaulted, and from the sounds of things all three were being done, here. So if all he'd be doing otherwise was taking an atrocity tour, waiting for them to need his power again, maybe he was better off just tucked away, here.

"You don't have a drink on you, do you?" he asks the asleep body next to him: "I mean, I shouldn't, after what just happened. But what the !@#$, right? I guess it couldn't hurt."

The body opens its eyes with a start, looks around, and then gets to its feet quicker than one would think it could.

"Sorry, was that your safeword?"

"What?" the Machinehead's body asks, looking down at the old man.

"I mean... well, I don't know, don't you have some special word to wake you up if you need to come back? Was that it? A drink?"

"No," the body says, looking intently at the villain, and then around the room they were in: "How is the plan progressing?"

"Well, we're inside City Hall," Snowfall says, rubbing his left arm: We've got people guarding the doors and big windows. Others are rounding up hostages, at least I hope they're leaving some of them alive. And I don't think the others have gotten back from getting the Mayor, yet. Funny, they should be there by now-"

"They're not going anywhere," the body says.

"What do you mean?" the old man gasps: "Who's not going anywhere?"

The body looks down at the old man and smiles: "Guess." 

Snowfall looks up at the Machinehead, looks down, and sighs: "Well, so much for that plan. You're that Nthernaut fellow, then?"

"I am," the body smiles: "And you're a lucky man, Mister Radamacher. If you'd been any slower getting medication to yourself, you'd be having a heart attack right now."

"!@#$ it," the old man mutters, holding his hand over his traitor heart: "First time in years. You'd think the ticker would cooperate!"

"Guilty conscience, perhaps?" the Nthernaut asks, kneeling down: "I should knock you out, frankly. But I know your powers don't work indoors, and you're in no condition to do anything. So I'll make a deal with you. You sit here, say nothing, and wait for the police. In return, I won't hurt you."

"I think... that's a good deal," the man says, nodding: "You don't have a drink, do you?"

"'And Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,'" the Nthernaut quotes, putting a hand on the old man's shoulder: "'But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"

"I... I remember that," Snowfall says: "Is that John?"

"It is. John 4:14. And I'm telling that to you now, here at what could be the end of your life, because the prison that you were born into is soon going to be releasing you. But what's going to be waiting for you, Fred? Eternal freedom, or another prison, worse than anything you could imagine?"

The old man looks at the Nthernaut, screws his eyes shut, and starts crying.

"Oh God, I never wanted any of this," the old man weeps: "I was just going to steal enough to get by and give it up, but nothing ever worked right. I got in with killers and double-crossers, went to jail... I never thought it would come to this. I thought it would be different."

"Well, today it is," the Nthernaut says, squeezing the man's shoulder gently: "Repent, Fred. Here and now. Jesus will forgive you of everything you've done. Even this. You just have to be man enough to accept his love.

"Do you think you can do that?"

"I want to," the old man says: "I always have. I never wanted to be this way..."

"Well, now you don't have to," he says, getting up: "Not anymore."

The old man closes his eyes again, and tears fall down his cheeks. Joyous and grateful ones. 

"Now, I have to go and stop the people you came here with," the Nthernaut says: "When I'm done I'll come back and pray with you, if you'd like. Meantime, just relax, think pleasant thoughts?"

The old man nods. And when he's opened his eyes, again, the body formerly known as Machinehead is out of the room.

* * *

What happens next is surreal, even by the Nthernaut's standards.

It's not as if he's never beaten down criminals while in disguise, before. Knocking out a criminal, wearing his costume back to the lair, and revealing oneself as a hero to the other crooks is a time-honored tactic, and still works pretty well in this day and age. Every Owl's done it, and he even helped his mother with it, once.

And while his Nthernaut persona tends to rely on recognition and intimidation, rather than subterfuge -- given his omnipresent surveillance capabilities -- he has changed his form to match someone else's before, when the situation called for it.

But he'd never done it inside someone else's body before. Especially not a body that's this powerful, and packed with so many interesting sensory features.

It takes him a few tries to adjust his nerve strikes. He's worried that he's permanently crippled Gor, (though, given what the man was doing when he found him, he's not so concerned about that) and he's certain that Green Thunder's going to be unconscious for longer than necessary. 

But after that, it's pretty simple. He just walks into an area, pretends to be surprised at their surprise at seeing him up and about, and then -- as soon as they've turned away just so -- he jams his fingers into one of the human body's many "off" switches. And then he destroys their weapons (if any), gives them a few extra, seriously-incapacitating strikes to their legs and arms to keep them from wanting to move if they wake up too early, and goes on to the next room. 

And the next. And the next. Quicker each time, wanting to be sure that he's gotten them all wrapped up before the police arrive, guns get drawn, and more people are hurt or worse.

(A good thing the v-space confrontation with the machinehead took place online, where time is so compressed. Minutes went by like seconds, as they always do.)

* * *

It all goes to plan until he gets to the main staircase, where Orange Slam, Jolly Roger, and Bluestreak are waiting. He can tell, right from how they look at him, they the deception may be coming to an end. But he plays it up, anyway, hoping for a few seconds of confusion.

"I thought you were going to be down for the count?" Orange Slam asks, taking a step closer.

"It proved easier than I thought," the Nthernaut lies: "He was unprepared."

"And I thought you were going to use his image generators to join us when you were done?"

"I have," he says, holding up his hands as if to announce his success: "What do you think? Just like the original."

"Yeah," Bluestreak says, pulling out his gun and shooting at him.

The Nthernaut's down and moving before the bullets can hit him, but just barely. Jolly Roger's laser pistol wings him in the left arm as he ducks behind the staircase, and he realizes it's badly damaged.

"I don't know what you did to Machinehead, buddy," Jolly Roger snorts, shooting a few more times in that direction: "But he's been screaming over every electronic device for a past couple minutes, begging for you to come back and help him. So we've been waiting for you-"

"He bit off more than he could chew, as have you all," the Nthernaut proclaims, wondering where the best place to hide would be: "You had best surrender."

"How about you surrender, !@#$face?" Orange Slam snorts: "We've got the Mayor, by now. How would   you like us to start cutting parts off him until you give up?"

Bluestreak laughs at that.

"Because you don't have him," the Nthernaut says, having found his answer: "Your speedster should have been back by now. Where is he?"

"Don't worry about him," Jolly Roger says, leaping around the staircase to where the Nthernaut should be, but finding it empty.

"Oh, but I am," the Nthernaut's voice says, mocking them from some hidden location: "You see, the last thing I did before I abandoned the city was to call for some special help for the Mayor's estate. Your four comrades have met some... unexpected resistance, shall we say? I think they're all out of action by now."

"What?" Orange Slam shouts, and Bluestreak just looks at him. Jolly Roger, meanwhile, follows the voice to where he thinks it's coming from -- a supply closet, closeby.

"It's just the three of you left," the voice mocks: "You can lay down your weapons and be arrested, or you can be taken down. And if I don't do it, the police will.

"Your choice, gentlemen. Don't say I didn't give you anything, this Christmas."

Jolly Roger kicks in the closet door. Inside is the Machinehead's body, leaning against a wall. The masked assassin shoots it full of enough holes to shame swiss cheese, and grins as it falls down, apparently dead.

"Got him!" he says, walking back to where his comrades were: "Might want to try and get those four on the horn, though. I don't like what he..."

The villain stops short, his eyes almost popping out of his mask.

Standing there, beside a very-unconscious Orange Slam and a very-badly-beaten Bluestreak, is the Nthernaut, himself: twice as large as life and seemingly quite powerful. 

Do go on, the Nthernaut says, putting up his fists: You didn't like what I...?

"What the living !@#$?" The assassin shouts, aiming right at the Nthernaut's face: "How...?"

You said it yourself, the Nthernaut explains, dropping Bluestreak down to the floor: The Machinehead was begging me to come back and fix things? You don't suppose he'd do that and then not let me do what I needed to do... do you?

Jolly Roger looks at the electronic hero. He gulps, audibly, and then drops his gun. Then he gets down on his knees, puts his hands behind his head, and looks down at the floor -- beaten. 

__________________________________________________________________________

Followup
__________________________________________________________________________

Police arrived not long thereafter. All would-be insurrectionists arrested. Charges stepping from Insurrection to malicious property damage, with murder, assault between. Gor looks at at least five charges of cannibalism, maybe six (waiting for stomach to be pumped), gross abuse of corpses.

Only one fatality at City Hall: Snowfall had heart attack while waiting for emergency services. Died smiling. Hope he accepted Christ before death, will never know now.

Deaths higher at Mayor's mansion. Would-be kidnappers had no idea Mayor's eldest daughter was former Olympic-level marksman. Shot Red Slider between eyes, kneecapped others as he tumbled down. Copycat tried to duplicate self, forcing her to shoot for vital areas. She shot all iterations in confusion.

Machinehead currently incarcerated within v-space. Unsure what to do with him. His attempt to handle the entirety of Neo York City with no warning, training has given him the equivalent of a stroke. Sits drooling in capture cube, unaware of minor stimuli.

Damage can be repaired, of course, but morality must be considered. Wipe memory, personality? Start over? Or rehabilitate what is already there? Former has been tried before, but not successfully. Latter seems unethical, but less so than final deactivation. 

(Plan to consult with SPYGOD on this matter. May have better ideas, other options.)

Many crimes committed during down period. Had to work harder, faster, smarter to deal with them. Relearned valuable lessons about follow-up, detection. 

Almost like old times. 

________________________________________________________________________

Personal Notes
(Triple Encoded)
_________________________________________________________________________

Nostalgia. First Christmas like this. Thought would be harder. If mother had not been dealing with Insurrection in Chicago, instead of around tree with Kaitlyn, as planned, would have been much more difficult. 

Now? Just another superhero Christmas, interrupted by human idiots with bad ideas. Working holiday, as Grandfather would say.

Can see him, now, in mind. Can reconstruct him perfectly, here. Ask for advice. Talk to him. 

Same with Aunt, everyone ever lost. Even the living can be virtually created, here. Interacted with. Argued with. 

Loved.

Is this all there is? Is this real? Is self real? 

How much of world is program in machine of God?

Uncertain, sad, tired. Desiring ten millisecond rest period, tonight. Surely no more crimes need attention. If wrong, unlikely to affect successful intervention/prosecution by significant margin.

Plan to relive last Christmas, start to finish. Maybe this time will wake up, find all has been dream.

Maybe this time God listens to machine.

endrun 23:59:59

(SPYGOD is listening to My Dying Machine (Gary Numan) and having a Ghost in the Machine)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

12/31/12 - Black Christmas (Nthernaut) - Pt. 1

12/25/11 - Nthernaut Report
______________________________________________________________________


Active: 0:00 - 24:00

Glitches noted: 23

Self Repair Successful: 23

Self Repair Failure: 0

Personal Connections Maintained:
35

Auxiliary Conversations Engaged: 386

All Crimes Averted: 212

All Emergencies Responded: 48

All Accidents Prevented: 430

All Lives Saved: 48675 (est)

All Insurrections Thwarted: 1

My Mood: Indeterminate
_________________________________________________________________________

General Notes:
__________________________________________________________________________

Notable incidents:

* 01:34. Day began with attempted Burglary of Cardoza Jewelers, Joseph Block, Broome and Mulberry. Three men, two with prior records; none local. Unit 5 of 35 responded. Informed NYPD. Intimidation Immobilization; patterns A-7, B-5. Saved: $5307.76 worth of jewelry (est). Delivered lecture 8.6 on Futility of Crime, Moral Lesson 23.9.7. Waited for NYPD; exactly on time. Gave Thank You 9.4. E-filed report. Spent 4.3 minutes having Police Conversation 4.9.5. Departed.

Notes: Criminals came from Poughkeepsie, New York. Apparently no one told them how things work in Neo York City, now. One voided bladder, bowels during initial Intimidation; convinced was seeing demon based on appearance. Others began screaming and shooting, doing more damage to surroundings than Unit.

Ongoing: Was initially disturbed by being mistaken for supernatural entity. Now finding it combination amusing/intriguing. Mother said we should appear to be human, the better to minister to the wayward. Is this more effective? Must explore further.

* 05:36. Pre-dawn apartment fire. #376, Wrangler Building, 19th and 7th. Faulty Wiring; Christmas Tree (Cheap). Unit 27 of 30 responded. Informed NYFD. Halon Gas suppression; pattern B-4. Saved: 3 humans, 1 cat, 2 goldfish. Delivered lecture 4.6 on Fire Safety, Moral Lesson 45.8.2. Waited for NYFD; 9 minutes overdue. Delivered lecture 7.3 on Speedy Response. Provided emotional support 3.2, 4.8 to child. Departed.

Notes: Unfortunately, tree and presents destroyed. Heirloom ornaments, pricey gifts. Told the family "It's not the tree or what's under it. It's the day, and you're alive to see it." Failed to have preferred/expected response. Child was particularly despondent. Tried to console with "some people don't have their families on this day. You do, and it's the best gift of all." Also failed to have preferred/expected response; "You're !@#$ing creepy," he said. Followup emotional support was equally rebuffed.

Ongoing: Have been practicing smiling. Have been told mine seems "false," somehow. Never told this before the Upload. Perhaps something was not translated over properly. Must explore further.

* 22:28. Attempted murder of injured insurrectionist, Mt. Sinai, Gustav L Levy Pl. 23 Civilians, four with prior records (minor). Units 2, 5, 8 of 40 responded. Informed NYPD. Intimidation Disperse; pattern D-8. Saved: life of prisoner, police guard, 2 EMTs. Delivered lectures 3.9.2 on Vigilantism, 4.7.2 on Justice, Moral Lesson 14.3.9. Waited for NYPD; one hour late. Suspended planned lectures on Speedy Response, Police Decorum due to overall situation. Spent 2.75 minutes having Police Conversation 4.9.2. Departed.

Notes: Ambulance carrying severely injured prisoner (Grey Phantom) was involved in accident a block from emergency room entrance, EMTs made decision to wheel prisoner rest of the way, past long line of civilians waiting for emergency services. Once they saw he was handcuffed and under police guard they complained he was getting faster service than they were. Police Officer chose to use profanity instead of compassion, with predictable results. Was able to disperse, defuse angry crowd with no fighting, but was accused of being in league with Insurrectionists. Told them to watch the news if they doubted intentions.

Ongoing: Have never been accused of being on side of criminals before. Mother said it would happen, when protecting their lives from vigilante justice. Always imagined it would be painful, but now that is has happened, only disappointment registered. Is this to be expected? Must explore further.

____________________________________________________________________________

Special Notes
____________________________________________________________________________

The Insurrection:

First became aware of problem not long after Nthernaut persona debuted. Three of five heroes assigned to Neo York City observed in clandestine meetings with persons holding prior records, outstanding warrants.

Discovered two heroes were meeting with distinct groups. One (Blue Charge) was mob connections, drugs, numbers, racketeering, suspected murder. Two (Green Thunder, Orange Slam) were secessionist connections, hate crimes, weapons trafficking, suspected murder. (see Surveillance Log: Special: 38466-IAK)

Decided to investigate, inform so as to not incite panic, cause suspects to flee without finding more of their plans. Informed SPYGOD of findings, given close working rapport, mutual understanding.

SPYGOD chose to deal with the hero working for the mob, personally, as example to others (See Blue Charge, Deceased 11/9/11). However, agreed on 30 days surveillance of two heroes allied with secessionists, followed by evaluation.

(Suspect he wanted to see extent of surveillance capabilities. Did not disappoint.)

Following secessionists meeting with Green Thunder, Orange Slam led to wide network of secessionist sympathizers. Police, emergency service, government personnel involved. Some had opinions galvanized after Moltz Lake Massacre (10/30/11), others felt that way all along. Followed these new people, the ones they led to, the ones those led to, etc. until entire web was exposed.

Following end of 30 days, presented all findings to SPYGOD. Primary points:

* Presence of large secessionist presence within United States of America.
* Their goal, disable remaining Federal authority in anticipation of foreign takeover, remake country.
* 55.74387% of New Heroes on the side of secessionists.
* 163 former Legion members involved. 
* Existence of stronghold in Montana, filling with sympathizers, families, guns.
* Planning a day of total action soon, exact date to be determined.

Ironically, meeting with SPYGOD took place on December 10th, three days after American Government ceded to Terre Unifee. This action, on December 7th (See Pearl Harbor Attack) could only be seen as justification for secessionist beliefs. Believed it would only act to push forward timetable for day of total action.

SPYGOD was impressed by extent of information. Was ordered to continue surveillance as far as possible. Encouraged to intensify intrusions, develop ability to see without being seen. Given access to entire country's electrical, surveillance grid. Given permission to access military satellites, surveillance platforms. 

Queried as to ethics, legality. SPYGOD said "if your neighbor's house was on fire, and he was inside asleep, would you break down the door to save him, or let him burn because he didn't answer the doorbell?" Could not counter argument. 

Was also ordered to implement Project Battle Apple. Replicant 1.0 came online December 10th with full wetware package running. Sent to work amongst Strategic Talents, accepted as planned. Initial skepticism monitored, countered with increased hypnotic suggestion.

December 13th SPYGOD placed under house arrest. No one came to countermand orders, stop crimefighting activities. Took that as sign to continue all plans. Decided to intensify intrusion to maximum factor.

Soon learned the secessionists planned massive attack on December 25th, for symbolic, tactical value.  Decided to keep information compartmentalized. Replicant's programming adjusted to reflect this.

(Admit to giving hints to Mother while using new holographic capabilities. Strain may have caused weakness? Must explore further.)

December 24th, Replicant utilized to prepare to contact, mobilize troops, law enforcement, emergency services. Entire plan ready to go, needing only initial incident.

December 25th, initial incident registered Washington DC, 0800 EST. Plan operational at that time. Synchronization variance .765, tolerable.

Had Neo York City strategic talents moved to Richmond, Virginia, given importance of that city, personal capabilities. Allowed carnage to go for 14.5 minutes, better to implement Intimidation Immobilization pattern Z-5.

Battle successful, but not without complications, incidents. 

Time Log follows: 

* * *

New York's city hall isn't quite deserted, this cold, wet, and snowy Christmas day. City Police and TU guards stand on patrol, making sure no one takes advantage of the day or the weather to do something contrary to the public good, or at least civic order.

Of course, since it's Christmas, everyone's trying to keep it friendly. There's coffee and donuts, and some measure of cheer. Some of the TU guards are getting into the spirit, in spite of the fact that their white and red suits weren't made with this kind of weather in mind.

Others? Not so much -- like the one who's being playfully harangued by a slightly paunchy, dark-skinned fellow. 

"So, let me get this straight," that policeman says between donut bites: "We're not going to have to learn French, are we?"

"No, of course not," the man sighs, clearly embarrassed by the question: "Why would you even think that?"

"Well, it's just that we got taken over, right?"

"You invited us in. That is hardly a takeover."

"Well, that's not what Michael Savage is saying."

The guard snorts: "Ask him where he was when the Imago actually did take you over. Perhaps ask yourselves."

"Now, that's not fair," the policeman says, raising his finger to make a point: "I mean, you guys got taken over by the Nazis in World War II, right? Didn't you have to do what they told you if you wanted to live?"

The man glowers at that: "This is hardly the same as that."

"Well-"

"And I am not interested in this discussion," he says, holding up a hand: "If you cannot be civil at least be silent."

"Well, you're going to be having it a lot," the policeman promises, turning up his collar at the cold: "Might want to practice with someone who likes you."

The guard can't think of anything to say to that, so he just sighs, wishes for the thousandth time that they'd gotten better, thicker uniforms for this kind of weather, and checks the time.

It's the last thing he ever does.

As for his friendly policeman, the man has the sense to duck the moment he sees the ice-blue blasts coming at him. That's all that saves him from the same fate as the Frenchman -- frozen from the waist-up, only to stand there stupidly for a second until his knees buckle and he falls down, smashing to jagged flinders on the concrete.

The policeman soon sees he's the only one who's survived the blasts. He also sees they came from an immense, white cloud that's just appeared in the street. He thought it was just a gust of snow, but now he can see it's much more than that.

"This is Unit 34 at City Hall," he says, trying to do the right thing in what may be his last moments: "We're under attack. Six, maybe eight... make that twelve. Twelve assailants. Supervillains, I think. One's got freeze rays-"

"Oui," Jacques Gel says, aiming his freeze pistol at the man as he strides from the cloud. The policeman tries to get off a shot, but two bursts turns the poor man into a pale, white sculpture.

The cloud expels ten more people on top of the twelve that had already made it out. Some are known supervillains -- mostly old, some truly elderly -- some are the new "heroes," and others are new faces who wear their intentions on their dour, unfriendly costumes. 

"Nice aim, Snowball," the "hero" known as Green Thunder says, looking back at the cloud -- now condensing into the shape of a wiry, white-haired man wrapped in a billowing, frosty cloak.

"Snowfall," the villain contradicts him: "And I'm glad you like it. That's as much as I can do for now."

"I calculate it's all we will need," a rather plastic-looking fellow in a nice, grey suit says, apparently not feeling the chill. 

"!@#$ straight," Orange Slam says to him, looking around: "Okay, you all got your orders. We're here to take City Hall and hold it. Red Slider, you take Copycat, Grey Phantom, and Fiststrike over to Gracie Mansion, grab the Mayor and his family, bring 'em back. Green, you, Bluestreak, Gor, and Cold Warning, get inside this !@#$er and clear it out. All floors, top to bottom, no witnesses.

"Please tell him not to linger over the dead?" Bluestreak asks, pointing at Gor, who's very clearly pleased to be on 'no witnesses' detail.

"I'll eat them where you can't see," the short, hairy fellow dressed in spikes and leather made from human skin snorts: "That better?"

"It's not the eating that's the problem-"

"Knock it off," Orange sighs: "Gor? !@#$ 'em after we're done. I'm sure they'll keep."

"Spoilsport," the barbarian mutters, glaring daggers at Bluestreak, who pretends not to notice, or be afraid.

"Rest of you?" Orange continues: "Wait for them to declare the Hall all clear, and then grab a window or a door and get comfy. As soon as the cops get here, it's gonna be !@#$ing World War III."

"What about the !@#$ing computer Batman kid?" one of the newer ones asks, his face hidden by a sinister skull mask.

"We got him covered, Jolly Roger, " Orange Slam says, winking at the plastic fellow: "Ain't that right?"

"Indubitably," the plastic fellow says, turning his head just so: "In fact, here he comes now."

The atmosphere changes as the air goes electric. Everyone's hair stands up on end. And then the group of villains is surrounded by a circle of exactly 22 Nthernauts.

They look like Thomas, but not quite: each one is taller, darker, and more imposing. Their uniform is flashing red and blue in almost hypnotic potentials.

And their eyes are terrible things -- black, cold, and soulless.

You will cease your illegal activity now, they state as one from two-score and change mouths, their every word blaring over every speaker in the vicinity: You are under arrest. Put your weapons down, kneel on the ground, place your hands behind your head. You will not be harmed if you cooperate.

"Somehow, I don't think so," Orange Slam says, flipping the nearest one both birds: "Revolution is here, Compu!@#$er. Get with it or get out of the way-"

His flippancy gets him a sock in the jaw from an arm that extends out twice as far as it should be able to. It knocks him back ten feet, right into Gor, who stumbles but does not fall. Everyone else puts up their weapons and hands, and Snowfall gasps and falls down, clutching his chest.

"Enough," the plastic-faced fellow says, waving a hand.

And then, as soon as they arrived, the Nthernauts are gone.

"What?" Bluestreak asks, looking around: "How...?"

"I told you," Orange Slam says, getting back to his feet and rubbing his sore jaw: "We had it covered. Didn't we, Machinehead?"

"Oh yes," the android says, grinning as his program invades the Neo York City's massive mainframe: "And if you'll all excuse me? I'm going to make certain he stays covered."

His body falls down. Someone has the good sense to pick it up and bring it off the street.

And the slaughter of City Hall begins in earnest.

(SPYGOD is listening to My Dying Machine (Gary Numan) and having a Low Life

Friday, March 28, 2014

12/31/12 - All the Faces That I Make and All the Shapes That I Throw - pt 4

10:20 PM

"... and that's about when it all went wrong," Myron is saying, holding Yanabah's water bottle as Randolph stands nearby, rather fascinated by how this conversation has gone.

Not that it's much of a conversation; so much of it has been Myron talking while Yanabah just sits there, mumbling as she comes out of a bad drunk. But he gets the sense she's been listening, through the fug, and comprehending on some level.

"So, near as I can tell, that thing took my creativity," Myron continues, wishing he had a big !@#$ drink to go with this story: "Every time I've been screwed up, or screwed over? I've always thrown myself into some project or another. It's how I process it, or at least how I put it into the back burner until I can process it."

"That would make sense," Randolph interjects: "As long as I've known you, you've been tinkering with one thing or another. I guess you sitting all alone and doing nothing should have been a warning sign."

"Yeah, well, don't feel bad for not coming to help out," Myron says: "And I mean that, Randolph. The COMPANY sent some shrink and the only reason I let him in was because he threatened to have me !@$ing kicked out of my own apartment."

"Not like anyone'd let you into theirs..." Yanabah mumbles, looking up and over.

"It lives!" Randolph says in mock shock.

"Call the media," Myron chuckles.

"Too late," Yanabah sighs, pointing at Randolph.

"I'm off the clock, tonight," the reporter says, smiling weakly: "But I would like to hear more of this story?"

"Yeah, well, what's there to tell?" Myron sighs, handing Yanabah another small glass of water: "As soon as I realized what was wrong... well, as soon as someone made me realize what was wrong, I got up off my !@#$ and did something about it."

"That was the day before Christmas?" Randolph asks.

"It sure was. And I know you were busy."

Randolph coughs: "Yeah, you could say that."

"Weren't the only one," Yanabah says, casting a withering glare at Josie, who's been lurking just inside earshot this entire time.

"So I got back to work, catching up on my pile of projects. And, between that and some better social choices, and a lot of alcohol, I feel a !@#$ of a lot better."

"We got cursed, you dumb !@#$," Yanabah snorts, sipping at the water: "Can't drink your !@#$ way out of that."

"Well, here's the thing," Myron says, leaning in: "The deal was that we lost something precious, right? And that's what was animating that... thing in the White House. Right?"

"Right," Randolph says, nodding as he gets how this works.

"So the moment that thing wasn't in the White House, anymore? The moment SPYGOD did what he did? Where did those somethings go?"

Yanabah blinks -- once, and then twice.

"Then why the !@#$ haven't I felt better?" she asks.

"Same reason I didn't. I'd fallen so !@#$ far down without it that I didn't notice it was back."

 "You know, that makes a lot of sense," Randolph says, nodding: "Kind of like when you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly heat it up?"

The two of them look at him, and he coughs: "Not that I ever did that, but..."

"I think he's got it," Myron says, grinning: "So, all you have to do is figure out what it took, and then go looking for it. It's there, you just have to make it your own, again, somehow."

"You make it sound so !@#$ing easy," Yanabah sighs, spitting some of the water up.

"Well, it isn't. But it sure beats spending the party having to be forced sober."

"Or insulting people you don't know," Randolph adds.

"I know you," Yanabah says, giving him a very cold eye: "My Great-Grandfather told me about you."

"What did he say?"

She just smiles, taking the water out of Myron's hands and leaning back in her chair, perhaps a smidgen less drunk that she was: "Go and ask him."

Josie laughs at that. It's not a good-sounding thing.

"Well, on that note?" Myron says, getting to his feet: "I need to go find Skyspear and tell her what I learned. I'm sure she's stuck in some rut, too."

"Yeah,  well, I think that might be ending," Randolph says, pointing over to some of the other couches, where Mark and Skyspear are clearly not sitting together, anymore. Skyspear's got a hen party going on, and Mark's sitting all by himself, clearly dejected and looking around as if waiting for someone to come in.

"Duty calls," Myron says, looking down at Yanabah: "But you know, I never got a chance to tell you thanks for the Ice Palace. I wasn't in a good place, then, before or after we did that thing. But you came through on so many levels it's not even funny."

"Really?" she asks, just sort of looking up at him.

"Totally. I ever have to gamble the fate of the world on a suicide run into an ex-Supernazi base that's been taken over by aliens? I want you there backing me up."

"Because you secretly like me?"

"No, you're a nasty !@#$," he says, leaning in: "But you're our nasty !@#$. And I'm glad to have you on my side."

"!@#$ you, paleface," she snorts, flipping him the bird. But there's no edge to it, and he smiles, bows theatrically, and walks away.

"Nice guy," Josie says, coming closer: "You could do worse."

"Not my type," Yanabah sighs: "All yours."

"Not mine, either," Josie chuckles, looking at Randolph.

"No comment," he says, putting up his hands and departing the conversation.

"So, we cool?" Josie asks, making sure no one's listening.

"I think so," Yanabah says, not looking up at her: "But just for the record? Next time you !@#$ing toss me into the grinder without telling me what's up first? I will kick your sorry, pink !@#$ into the sky. And then I'll shoot whatever the birds don't eat."

"It's the nature of the grinder, Flower," Josie says, grinning and walking away: "Ought to be used to that by now?"

"!@#$ you," she mutters, glad the water's no longer fighting to come up when she sips it.

She looks around her, then, at the party she's been a stumbling wreck for most of. All the people talking, drinking, dancing, laughing. All the things starting, continuing, and ending.

The whole human drama, unfolding in miniature right in front of her, and she's been too !@#$ed up to handle it.

She remembers when she knew her grandfather / great grandfather / father was dead -- how she just knew he was in pain, then dying, then dead. She remember how all the pieces of her soul handled it, and somehow channeled their rage / grief / acceptance into one direction, and kept going. How she persevered, knowing she'd have time to mourn later, but needed to complete the mission now, or else his death would have been for nothing.

But she also remembers what a waste his funeral was, for her. How she couldn't handle being a part of it. How she stood on the outside of the circle while the rest of his family chanted and prayed.

How she couldn't even set foot in his house, or look at his grave from a distance.

His family -- her family -- had opened up to her. Anything she needed? Done. Anything she wanted? Brought. The People knew how to handle death, tragedy, and grief. They'd been dealing with it in overtime, ever since their lands got overrun, all those years ago.

How had she repaid them? Scorn, fury, and threats. And they got the message !@#$ quick, backed off, and left her alone.

Until she was ready for their help.

"Pride," she says to herself, looking at the water, remembering what Wayfinder told her that one time, after she'd killed and eaten those SQUASH idiots that'd tried to abduct him.

And, remembering that, she resolves to try and find it again, once her head no longer feels like something took a massive !@#$ in it. 

10:48 PM

"Yeah, well, that's how that goes," SPYGOD says, his features distorted slightly over the Nthernaut's projection: "He should have known better than to get involved with one of his own operatives."

"A sensible precaution," Faraj says, his hands behind his back as they converse: "But you must know that, in matters of the heart, not everyone has your... restraint."

"Are you saying I don't feel for my people?"

"Oh no, friend. I know you love them all. But there are many different kinds of love, and sometimes they wear each others' faces. Sometimes we don't know which is which until it's too late."

"Well, that's probably true," SPYGOD says, casting a glance at Straffer as he talks to folks he hasn't seen in far too long: "All the same, as long as I've known Ju-San, he's been mooning over that !@#$ alien robot. And the more he wanted her, the sloppier he got."

"And that's never happened to anyone else, ever," Faraj observes: "Not at all."

SPYGOD looks at him, knowing exactly what he means: "You !@#$ing suck, Faraj."

"I do indeed," the man smiles: "And receive few complaints."

"Question is, what the !@#$ are you going to do about Ju-San?" SPYGOD asks, taking advantage of the Nthernaut's optics to see where the man in question is, all the way across the floor (still dead to the world): "Man's got his !@#$ hands on all the big !@#$ things you're going to need when the !@#$ hits the fan."

"Not anymore," Faraj says, leaning in closer: "I've already made arrangements, in anticipation of this. The Organization is now under the control of the Space Service. Call it our Japanese Branch, if you'd like to. All their weapons and wonders are under our control."

"And Ju-San?"

"Also under our control," Faraj winks: "I think losing his woman and his job will force him into being useful, once more."

"You might want to be really !@#$ing  careful," SPYGOD says, looking back at Faraj: "He might not look it, but that man's !@#$ing dangerous. And that's saying something, coming from me."

"It usually is, but that has also been calculated," Faraj sniffs: "If he goes to his contacts, they will be neutralized. If he tries to take things back, he will be neutralized. And if the Organization doesn't like it, well, they're used to a total turnover every time their leader is dead or deposed. So this will just be business as usual, only instead of the head of the Japanese government deciding on their replacements, it will be me."

"And the President of the Terre Unifee."

"Provided I ask him in time."

SPYGOD just stares at him for a moment, and then smiles: "Man, you are one !@#$ ruthless son of a !@#$, Faraj."

"Would you trust the defense the Earth to anyone else?" Faraj asks, holding out his hand, quite pointedly, for a shake: "I'm not here to make friends and play games, (REDACTED). I'm here to make certain the human race lives to see this time, next year, at least. Any other consideration is secondary."

"And thank !@#$ for that," SPYGOD says, shaking it: "You do what you gotta do, man. I'll back your play."

"Good to know," Faraj says, and then -- sensing that he's hogged enough of the man's valuable face-time --  heads off to go talk to Straffer, who's in-between admirers.

"I hope I am not intruding?" someone asks SPYGOD, and he turns to regard the man: old, tall, and flinty, with a full, silver beard and thinning hair, dressed in a suit sharp enough to cut through steel. Black leather gloves. A wooden cane.

German accent. 

"Do I know you?' SPYGOD asks, a little uncertain.

"Aha! SPYGOD does not know all?" the man chuckles: "We have talked many times over the years, you and I. We just never met face to face, nor did I ever allow you to see mine."

"Jaeger?" SPYGOD says, almost disbelieving: "I thought you'd..."

"Oh, I did," the man says: "Officially. So far as my Government knew, I went down on the first day of the Invasion. The Imago's proxies blew up the building my organization was housed in when they took the Bundesrat."

"I wonder how they !@#$ing knew that?"

"They knew far too much, my friend. That much is clear. And I think this was a lesson I needed to learn. Even after all these years, some things are just never going to be as much of a secret as I'd like them to be."

"So why are you here, then?' SPYGOD asks: "Are you out of the game?"

"Oh no. I think it's time I played a new one," the old man smiles, extending a hand, somewhat carefully: "But before I did, I wanted to meet you face to face, this once."

"Why?" SPYGOD asks, extending a hand to shake the old man's.

"Because, the last time we did this, it was as enemies," he says, shaking it firmly, his eyes closed: "And now I hope we can be friends."

SPYGOD blinks. Twice. Then he gasps and almost takes a step back.

"You...?" he says: "Then... that wasn't...? We weren't?"

"I am still not certain about a great many things," the old man says, holding onto SPYGOD's hand: "Did we dream of that dinner? I never had a chance to ask my colleagues. We separated, not long thereafter."

"And we !@#$ing lost the Major the next day," SPYGOD admits: "And I never really asked my other friend..."

"But if you and I both remember it, then perhaps it was true."

"Perhaps," SPYGOD says, taking a step forward and putting a hand on the man's shoulder: "My god!@#$ contact in Die unsichtbare Direktion. All this !@#$ing time, and I never knew."
"You know you never did tell me what was so funny about our name," the old man says, winking.

"Eh, I don't think it !@#$ing translates well. But this is... wow. Jaeger. Wow."

For a moment they're both at a loss for words. Who hugs whom, first? Who can say, but before long they're embracing and laughing, like long lost friends. 

And maybe they are.

11:04 PM

"No, really, I can eat this," Rakim (sometimes known as Brainman) says, munching on the cheeseball from the somewhat perfunctory table of food, his long beard going up and down as he chews.

"But it's got bacon on it?" Shining Guardsman asks, looking quite out of place in his uniform and helping himself to some pizza slices.

"No, they're Bac-Os," the man explains, pointing them out: "I'd recognize that weird, cornflake-like texture anywhere, brother."

"So?" 

"So, they're not only vegetarian, they're also vegan," Rakim explains: "There's no bacon in them at all. Not even in the flavoring. They're Halal, Kosher, you name it."

"That's crazy," Shining Guardsman says, shaking his head: "Learn something new every day."

"Well, you can't say this party hasn't been educational," Blastman says, walking up and drilling Rakim with a stare.

"Cheeseball?" the man asks, gesturing to the badly-mangled snack food as the Guardsman decides to take his pizza and flee.

"Yes, you are," the hero says, scowling as he walks away.

"Hmmm," Rakim says, and has some more, wondering how long he'll need to ignore this stupid !@#$ before his former arch-enemy realizes what Rakim figured out a long time ago.

(A long time, he figures -- Blastman was never too bright)

"Anything good over here?" someone asks him. He turns to look at a lovely young lady, dressed in a red and white dress uniform.
"Oh, we've got everything," he says, gesturing to the table: "I was just explaining the virtues of this lovely cheese and bac-o ball, here, but I think the audience was more interested in the pizza they brought in."

"Oh, Sal's?" she asks, digging in to get a piece: "They went all out, didn't they?"

"I guess they did."

"Did you try some?" she asks between munches.

"Oh, I can't," he says: "It's got pepperoni."

"Oh, vegetarian?"

"Muslim," he says, smiling.

"Oh, okay," she says, nodding: "Well, you don't mind if I chow down, do you?"

"Of course not," he says: "It'd be a sad and lonely world if I couldn't eat with people who don't share my dietary restrictions."

"Oh, thank God," she says: "I've got some friends who get all up in my face about it."

"Now why would they do that?"

"Oh, I guess I'm hurting their feelings," she shrugs: "People are weird, sometimes."

"Very. I'm Rakim."

"Florence," she says, shaking his hand: "Red Wrecker when I'm on duty."

"Well, I used to be Brainman, but I'm trying to get away from that."

"Oh, you were..." she stops for a moment, and then nods: "You used to be a villain, once?"

"A long time ago, yes. It seems like a long time ago."

"So what changed?" she asks, getting another piece of pizza: "I mean, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Well, believe it or not, it was my hips," he says, smiling weakly: "I know for most people it's prison or a near death experience, but for me it was having my pelvis decide that my criminal lifestyle wasn't worth supporting, anymore."

"Really?" she asks, grabbing a chair and sitting down, and indicating that maybe he should do the same.

"Oh, it's okay. I like standing up, actually. I spent a lot of time sitting around. Still too much time, really."

"So, your hips?"

"Oh yes. They were painful. It hurt to sleep, it hurt to sit, to stand, to walk. It was pain all the time, everywhere. And the worst thing was that all the people who were supposedly my allies? The Legion? They just told me to deal with it myself."

"Didn't you have money?"

"Oh, if only! All my money went into my inventions, my dear. I was what you'd call a gadgeteer. All gizmos and cheap tricks. I had the Brain Computer to help me plan crimes, and all these tools to do them, but all the money went into making bigger and better tools, and fixing the computer every time it broke. Which was often."

"So no money."

"No. No money," he sighs, getting another cheese cracker: "And when I finally did have enough, it was all I had. And there I was, in the worst hospital in the city, dealing with the worst doctors and the worst recovery time. And that meant waiting around for them to be ready for you. Waiting to be healed up. Waiting for therapy. Waiting forever.

"And having all that time to sit around? To realize that all the bad choices you made brought you to a small, concrete room with bad curtains, and a succession of roommates you don't like who just wants to talk about all the petty things he's going to do when he gets back out? That's a punishment in and of itself. Worse than prison, really."

"So I realized, after they finally let me out, that this was one of those moments that I had to learn something from. And I did, I think. I decided to better myself, somehow, and for me that meant Embracing Islam."

"And then everything got better?" she asks, winking.

"No. I was still poor and living out of my secret lair with all my broken toys, but at least I had spiritual peace again," he says, smiling: "And then Mr. USA had to come bang on my door and get me back in the game, however reluctantly."

"And now you're a hero?"

"Well, I'm trying," he says, noticing that Blastman is still glaring at them from across the party: "I guess I'm as much of a hero as others are going to let me be."

She nods: "I think I'll let you be a hero," she says, somewhat sagely.

"Really?"

"Totally. A lot of the people I came up with, in this hero program? They went over to the other side on Christmas. Now I'm running with people I don't even know, half the time. No one's sure of anything, anymore."

"Well, neither am I," he admits.

"No, but at least you'll admit it," she says: "And that's a !@#$ of a lot better than some of these jerks in here."

"If I still drank, I'd drink to that," he says, grinning.

"Well, they won't let me drink, yet," she sighs: "But when I do? I'll have one for you."

And they shake on that -- fast friends in the making.

(Much to the chagrin of one onlooker, at least)


(SPYGOD is listening to Coming Up (The Cure) and having an Arrogant Bastard)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

12/31/12 - Black Christmas (Yanabah) - pt 2

By all accounts, whatever its past -- or maybe because of it -- Richmond, Virginia is a beautiful city.

Though the city may have been all but leveled during the Civil War, it's come back up from the rubble and ashes to become a near-perfect mixture of old and new. Picturesque, historic buildings share the same space as more recent constructions, without either seeming out of place. It's calm and peaceful, efficient and clean, and tranquil to the point where even the most cynical of visitors -- if they listen to the true stirrings of their heart -- would perhaps think of moving there, someday.

It's everything you could want in a State Capitol, and that's what makes this day especially sad.

By the time the Neo York City crew gets to their landing zone, just outside what's left of the State Capitol Building, itself, the immediate area has already been wrecked beyond recognition. The buildings are on fire, the streets are shattered, and heavy objects are flying through the air like rocks thrown by small boys. The calm has been broken by the sounds of sirens, shooting, and screaming.

Lots and lots of screaming.

The secessionists have taken the Captiol area, using the muscle of the turned Strategic Talents and leftover Legion Supervillains to hold and enforce their position. The Governor has been abducted from his mansion, along with his family, and is being held at the nearby Museum of the Confederacy. All available emergency services are too busy fighting fires and dealing with the wounded to mount a real rescue, to say nothing of rolling the armed belligerents back.

And -- just to make things worse -- a large number of the police have joined with the attackers, sensing that a chance to grab hold of their long-denied neo-confederate destiny has come 'round at last.

As for those in costume? They preen and pose, strutting upon the smoldering mountains of rubble like cockerels in near-human shape, and cheering like beasts baying over a kill. The ones long-known to be villains have merely revealed themselves for what they've always been, however hidden or dormant those personae were. And the so-called heroes have shucked their assigned uniforms and codenames for things more befitting their new, chosen identities.

Meanwhile the true heroes of the day -- the ones that held true to their oaths and their station -- lie dead or broken around them, lashed to signs and bolted to walls as warnings to some, and examples to all.

The appearance of much-needed, strategic intervention does not signal the end to the conflict, but merely a different stage within it. Speedsters whirl around the slow-moving, only to be outflanked by other, quick-moving types, and lured into near-endless races of doom. Powerhouses trade blows and fling weighty objects at one another, hoping to wear their defenses down. Those that can fly turn the sky into a protracted dogfight, those with strange offensive powers draw at fifty or more paces, and those with more interesting abilities find their foils and test them.

And as the colorful and the costumed rage on earth and in heaven, the real work gets left to those whose skills lie within darker avenues.

Call them the shooters, if you must: you wouldn't be the only ones. They're the Strategic Talents whose powers and abilities lie not within altered DNA or grossly enhanced bodies, but in their aptitude for ranged combat -- the magic that happens in the space between their eye and index finger. On a normal day, in any other fight, they'd be using their signature weapons to bring down their overpowered foes, knowing full well that they could take what damage they could do -- or maybe not, as the case may be.

But here, today, they are under orders to stun, only, if only because the eyes of the new world are watching.

And so, while the proud and the powerful clash loud enough to shame thunder, the sneaky and underhanded quietly  unleash their F-guns on the enemy combatants. The chittering, swirling rays of orange and purple that overwhelm the senses of anyone caught by them, and bring them down in seconds. Lines of traitorous police officers fall collapse where they stand, still trying to use their now-useless authority. Waves of hidden survivalists and secessionists are likewise brought down to the earth, as even their well-padded boltholes and improvised cover will not protect them from this.

And as they fall down, they are quickly disarmed, disrobed, and left tied up for eventual collection.

That accounts for most of the shooters, but in any battle there are always exceptions. One of those exceptions is stalking through the burning buildings and shattered ruins, carrying two large guns filled with ammunition meant to be used on the new breed of superhuman. Her orders are a simple-sounding task -- one she is uniquely suited to handle, given both her skills and temperament.

Find the new supers and kill them, no matter what.

Yanabah's been on the ground for exactly ten minutes. In that time she's shot no less than three of these turncoat newbies. Each time, she's carefully aimed for the eyes, making sure to put a spent uranium bullet through each pupil, the better to blow their brains out the back of their heads.

Because, while supers may be dense of skin or fleet of foot, eyeballs are hard to armor or protect, and brains are as fragile as a first kiss.

She's been careful, of course. She hasn't engaged anyone who's currently tussling with another Super, just to make sure they don't get any more blood on their uniform. And she hasn't shot anyone in such a way as to get the slaughter on camera. She finds a worthy target, slinks into position, takes careful aim, fires twice -- once from each gun -- and then slides away before anyone realizes where the shots came from.

Three volleys, three corpses, zero sightings -- so far, perfection, and she should be proud.

But as she creeps along, watching her fourth victim as she pummels one of her colleagues down, and preparing to line up that perfect, paired shot that will end her, she can't help but wonder why she isn't feeling more -- or even anything at all. Her heart isn't racing, she's breathing normally, and every time she pulls the triggers (and watches the front of their face blossom violently) she doesn't experience any of the emotions that she should. There's no joy, no pity, no hate, no revulsion.

It's as if she's moving through a scripted introduction for a videogame she's played a million times, and knows too well to be excited, anymore.

Something is missing. Something is wrong. Yanabah knows this, assuredly, but she can't figure out what's happened. And as she ends the life of her fourth victim -- blowing her up and back the second she stands up from her now-unconscious victim -- it's all she can do to go find victim number five, and hope that the answer presents itself in due course.

That's what her father/grandfather/great-grandfather would have told her, she's sure.

If only he was here to say it. 

* * *

"You know, you might want to put that gun somewhere else," Wayfinder says, looking the strange-looking Russian fellow in the eyes.

"No, my friend," the SQUASH operative says, re-adjusting his grip on the very large, Soviet-made pistol -- its barrel just out of the hero's reach, but aimed right at his forehead -- "I am thinking I will keep it on you for as long as we are talking, here. I think it will persuade you we are being serious, and should it not, perhaps I will aim it at your daughter."

Yanabah growls. It's not a pleasant sound, and the two large men standing on either side of her raise their guns reflexively, wondering where that came from.

It's the mid-eighties, and they're in a !@#$ty, chain hotel in southern Iowa, of all places. The COMPANY had them flown in to help with a rather curious missing-persons case -- one that resolved itself a little too neatly for anyone's liking. And, after it was done, the group paid them for their time, and then put them up here for the night so Wayfinder could get some rest.

Only there were three Russians waiting for them when they checked in.

One of them seems to be able to phase through objects, if their rather disorientating rush through the wall is any indication. He's the one doing most of the talking. The other two seem to be standard heavies, complete with staid, Soviet stares and handguns large enough to kill an elephant at 50 paces, and a lack of conversational skills.

But one of them brought a big, heavy briefcase. And Wayfinder knows enough to know what that means. So he knows he has to play for time, at least for now.

Yanabah stands there, dressed in the same kind of work shirt and jeans that he does. Only now she wears the silver and turquoise jewelry, all around her neck. It's both therapy and restraint, at this point.

(But they don't need to know that, do they?)

"So, this case we were working," Wayfinder asks: "That was your doing?"

"Of course," the man says, grinning to reveal a mouth full of bad, brown teeth: "We needed to get you out of hiding, and so we have. How convenient that you must always rest after such an exertion! So we brought you here, where there is only one hotel, and laid in wait."

"I'll tell them to be more careful, next time," the man says, rolling his eyes.

"Except that there will not be a next time, not for your COMPANY, anyway," the Operative announces: "We have a waiting transport. You will come with us, and get on board. You will travel with us back to our space, and we will use your unique skills to our purposes."

"Like !@#$," Yanabah spits: "I don't think you could afford him."

"You see?" the Russian says: "This country is all about money. There is no vision, here, my friend. You seem to be a man who understands about vision?"

"I also understand about freedom of choice," Wayfinder says, leaning up against the dresser. The Russian clears his throat and re-aims the gun.

"It's okay," Wayfinder says: "Just resting. I'm not really able to do more than stand here and talk, if you're scared."

"You will come with us," the man says, apparently not very afraid: "This is a surety. If not for your own sake, then for hers."

The two heavies pick that moment to raise their guns and aim them at her heard. Yanabah growls again, but has made no move to take her jewelry off. Maybe she's thinking they can get out of this without her having to kill them.

Wayfinder realizes there probably isn't, though, and -- cursing himself for doing so -- begins to bring the conversation down a darker, more doomed path.

"And if I say no?" he asks, standing straight up.

"Then we kill her," the man says: "Slowly, in front of you. We have privacy and time. You will watch the whole thing."

"She knew the risks when she signed up," Wayfinder says: "And I won't betray my people for anyone."

(He sees the look on her face. She's aware of what's going on. She's pleading with him not to do this -- not to make her go backwards, to what she was -- but he's steadfast in this.)

"Well, we have also brought the Machine," the Russian says, cocking his head towards the briefcase: "It will be crude, and painful, but we will ensure that we will have a map of your mind, and how it works. Not as good as the real thing, perhaps, but enough to replicate it surgically."

Yanabah growls again -- deeper and lower. The Russian's starting to wonder what's going on here.

"And I suppose you'll make her watch?" Wayfinder asks.

"Oh yes," he says, no longer as sure of himself: "If you wish to go that route, I am certain we can let her hear you scream."

That's done it, then. There's a clinking, almost wet sound as the jewelry falls from her neck and hits the floor. And then there's that howl that has no business coming from a human mouth...

Wayfinder's outside of the hotel room before the screaming starts. He hears a gunshot, maybe two, but then nothing but wet noises. Rending and ripping, tearing and chewing.

The howl that makes his blood run cold.

"Yeah, it's Wayfinder," he says into his communicator, which -- if he'd been thinking -- he would have found a way to tap the moment he realized they'd been ambushed: "We need help. We got held up in our room by three Ruskies. SQUASH Agents, they said. Yanabah's dealing with them right now, but...

"Yes, Yanabah," he repeats as something heavy gets slammed into the wall, just before a new wave of screaming erupts: "Maybe give us a couple hours before we go in, but you better get people here now. I think there may be more of them, nearby. They spoke of a waiting transport. Maybe check the nearby airfield, any airstrips within a ten mile radius..."

The screaming gets too loud to talk, then, so he turns it off and goes back to watching the door.

They had the curtains closed. They're being soaked with blood spatters. He can almost imagine the scene inside the room, right now: pieces of Soviet agents flying all over the room, the wet squelching noises.

The feeding.

"Creator, forgive me," he prays, knowing that this might just take her therapy all the way back to square one, but not knowing how else he could have ended that. Sometimes you just have to use what's there, and make amends later.

That and hope the cure wasn't worse than the disease.

* * *

Not far from the State Capitol, there's some buildings that haven't been set afire, yet.

Some of them are the Museum of the Confederacy, where the Governor's being held, and a firebreak has been established to ensure his safety (until it doesn't matter, anymore). And others are just outside the conflagration, at least for now. No flaming cars, wayward bolts of lightning, or gouts of fire have been lobbed their way, just yet, and any eyebeams have been focused on targets closer to the actual fighting.

So when trio of (mostly) bruised and battered secessionist supers use it to try and escape, they're reasonably sure they're safe in one of those alleys, for now.

"Man, that sucked," a tall, well-muscled woman in a red and white suit says as they walk along: "I can't believe we actually thought we could win."

"Shut it, Red," a long-haired man in black, riding leathers -- covered in Confederate patches -- and a pitch-black, handlebar mustache commands: "You knew there was a risk, here. This is just a battle, not a war."

"They say we're losing," a skinny, blonde man in purple and white says: "I hear the West Coast already went down in flames-"

"Just a temporary setback. You watch. I bet they're pulling the reserves out, now."

"And we're bravely sneaking away to meet them?" the woman says, turning to smirk: "Face it, bro. We got hosed."

The man in black takes a swipe at her, but she parries the blow with something approaching a languid gesture and leaves him to nurse what may be a broken wrist.

"Truth hurts, Confederateer?" the kid in purple and white asks.

"I told you, it's the Black Rider!" the man insists, stopping to stick his finger in the kid's face: "And the South is going to rise again!"

"Yay, racism," the kid sigh.

"Sneer all you want, Purple Haze, but this is a White Man's nation! And the sooner you get with that-"

"Remind me again why we shacked up with losers?" the woman in red interrupts, amused to see the steam rising from their supervillain's head as he walks right through him.

"Orders, hon," the kid says: "And not the kind you can ignore-"

He'd have said more, but then twin bursts from a pair of well-used 50 calibers turn the woman's head into a wet mess, making further conversation irrelevant.

"What the !@#$?" the Black Rider says, ducking behind some trash cans and looking around the alley. The kid just stands there, staring at what's left of his fellow hero on the ground.

Another pair of shots ring out, and the wall behind the kid explodes out at eye-level. He just stands there, looking in the direction they came from, and smiles a little.

"You know, there's a reason they call me Purple Haze," he says, turning just slightly invisible: "That isn't going to work too well on me, whoever you are."

"Where are they coming from?" Black Rider asks: "Can you see?"

"If you shoot that !@#$er, I'll consider us even and let you live," the kid says, taking a half-step away from him.

There's laughter at that, somewhere up the alley. It's not very comforting.

"You little !@#$!" the villain says: "If you weren't untouchable, I'd-"

"Run," the owner of the laughter says: "Now."

He does just that, without saying another word. He gets about as far as the other end of the alley before a single shot gets him, right in the !@#$. To his credit he keeps running, but the howling and pain echo for quite some distance.

And then Yanabah comes out of her hiding place and walks up to the kid in purple and white.

"You're the one who was killing people like me, back there," he says, looking at her.

"I was, yes," she says, smiling, her guns still pointed at him.

"How many have you gotten?"

"With your friend, there? Twelve."

"And I'm going to be lucky thirteen?"

"Well, you're the last one," she says, lowering her guns just a little and cocking an eyebrow: "I guess I'm going to have to try something different with you, since you got phasing powers and all."

"You don't seem afraid of me," he says, dropping into a defensive stance: "Do you just not think I can hurt you? Is that it?"

"Passing through things isn't much of a power," she says, putting the guns away and pulling out a rather large knife.

"Oh, but I can do more than that," he says, grinning as he moves his hands past each other in successive, sliding motions: "Imagine someone reaching into your chest and squeezing your heart valves shut. Or maybe just punching into your brain after passing through your skull. I can do a lot of damage, lady. And all I have to do is touch you."

"Yeah, about that," she grins, putting the blade up: "You come and try, wasichu."

"Now that doesn't sound like a nice word."

"It's not," she says, and lunges forward.

The man just stands there, his arms outstretched, expecting her to pass through him. Imagine his surprise when the knife slams into his breastbone, breaks on through, and cleaves his heart.

He tries to speak, but coughs up blood. He falls to his knees, disbelieving. And the moment he does, she lets go of the blade, pulls out her guns -- faster than anyone should be able to -- and pulls both triggers.

Only one goes off. Shooting the racist idiot must have emptied the clip, clearly. And so the kid falls down with one ragged hole where his eye was, and yet most of his head intact.

"Oh, right," she says, looking for a fresh pair of clips as she realizes the blade's slipped position a little "Phasing powers. But I bet I can shoot all day, wasichu. I got nothing but time, now."

"Why...?" he whispers, his mouth full of equal parts blood and air.

"Orders," she says: "Not that I owe you an explanation, you little piece of !@#$."

"But we're... following..."

"What?" she asks, looking down at him: "What are you saying?"

"We're following orders... also..."

She scowls, leaning down just out of the range of his hands: "Whose orders, pal? The Legion? The Secessionists? They don't count, you little !@#$. You had your own orders, and they were given to you by the COMPANY."

"So were these..." he says, the life fading from his eyes: "SPYGOD... told us..."

"Told you what?" she demands: "What did SPYGOD tell you?"

"To help... revolution... said it would come, and we'd... need to help it... join with Legion... fight the power..."

"Bull!@#$," she stammers, watching him die: "That's bull!@#$! You're lying!"

"No..." he insists, almost choking on his own blood: "SPYGOD... ordered us to... defect..."

She looks at him as he says this. She remembers what Wayfinder told her about the last words of the dying, when lies have no profit, anymore.

She realizes that everything this man had said is true.

It doesn't stop her from blowing the top of his skull completely off the second he dies, but she's screaming when she does it.

(SPYGOD is listening to Cold Warning (Gary Numan) and having a Betrayal Imperial Red)

Monday, March 17, 2014

12/31/12 - Black Christmas (Yanabah) - pt 1

Richmond, Virginia
10:05 AM

"I !@#$ing hate flying," Yanabah groans, closing her eyes as her silver and turquoise jewelry shivers against her skin.  

The TU Aero-Transport pitches up sharply at take-off, and all the Strategic Talents in the back -- packed in like oysters along the sides -- lean into it. Some of the more powerful ones carry the less strong along with them, leading to some much-needed chuckles.

No one's really in the mood to laugh out loud, though.

By all rights, they should have been spending Christmas day with their friends and families, or at least on holiday patrol. Unfortunately, all !@#$ picked today to break loose. Well-armed secessionists are fighting in the streets, having taken opposing sides in the question on America's political destiny.

And, seeing as how there's a !@#$-ton of them trying to take over Richmond, Virginia, that's what they're heading off to deal with.

Not that they'd have much of a problem doing that. There's a fair number of heavy-hitters on this transport, from what Yanabah can tell, which should be enough to deal with any number of sorry, neo-confederate idiots with more bullets than IQ. They usually are.

But there's a massive problem; just like every other major flashpoint, today, those normal idiots are being backed up by supers -- both villains and heroes, from the looks of things. Which means that, in short order, everyone in the transport is going to have to put the hurt on someone they might have been fighting alongside, just a couple months ago.

And no one is looking forward to that.

The flight evens out really quickly, and there's a few more chuckles as people lean forward again. At some point, someone asks if they're getting peanuts on this flight, which gets another chuckle or two. But no one cares to make any more cracks when the huge, tattooed, and pink-haired woman they call Josie looks back, her eyes dead as petrified trees, and just smiles.

"So what's the deal with the gorilla girl?" Yanabah asks the person next to her -- some brown-haired gal wrapped up in red, padded leather, strapped with every kind of bullet and grenade known to man, and cradling a highly-modified sniper rifle like it was the most precious thing on the planet.

"That's Josie," the Red Queen answers, adjusting the weird bandana over the lower half of her face: "They say she used to be big in the COMPANY, before the whole Imago went down. I guess she was Second's Second or Third, or something like that."

"I never !@#$ing heard of her."

"Yeah, well, that's the funny thing. I never heard of her, either, but she knows me, alright. !@#$ing knew everything about me. Even says she met me, once or twice, when I was..."

"Yeah?" Yanabah asks: "Don't leave me hanging, girl."

"When I was someone else," she says: "And that's all I wanna !@#$ing say about that."

"Bad scene?"

"You could say that," the Red Queen says, shrugging. When she looks away it's clear she's said all she wants to say, and Yanabah decides to respect it.

You don't argue with someone with a bigger gun with you, as she was told so many times.

* * *

It's 1971, out in Taos, and Wayfinder's rubbing his forehead, wishing people didn't know who he was.
"Look, Charlie," he says, looking at his long-time friend, sitting in the mental hospital's waiting room with the most dejected look on his face as the screaming down the hallway gets even louder: "I appreciate that you think you can come to me with this-"
"You have the gift of Sight, Wayfinder," the man says, looking like he hasn't had a wink of sleep in ages: "You know things no one can know."
"I just know where people are, Charlie. And maybe where they'll be, if I'm lucky. That doesn't mean I can help with your daughter."
"But you would know if that's her, right?"
"Isn't it?" the older man asks, looking down the hall to a room, where a certain young lady is being tied down to a bed by some very unamused nurses. Her mother's there, too, trying to talk sense into her, but the girl just won't stop screaming and fighting them.
"Well, you tell me," the man says, getting to his feet: "Ever since she run away she's been like this. It's like something just got inside her. You'd know, wouldn't you?"
"Well, maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't," he admits, looking his friend in the eyes and putting a hand on his shoulder: "If you want, I'll try. I figure I couldn't be here to help you find her when she ran away, the least I can do is make sure that's her in there."
"What do you need me to do?" Charlie asks, watching as the man sits down in a chair and closes his eyes.
"Just make sure no one disturbs me," Wayfinder says, screwing his eyes as shut as he can: "I mean no one. Don't touch me, don't talk to me. Close the !@#$ door and don't let anyone in, if you can."
"You got it," Charlie says, gladly closing the door and standing up against it. But Wayfinder doesn't notice. He's already left his body and started down the hall, intent on his quarry.

In spirit, he moves quicker than he could run. He's in her room before he knows it, looking down at her. He sees the colored fire of the souls in the room, each one unique, changing hue and shape with their emotions (mostly sad or angry, now). 

And he sees her, and what he sees jerks him right back to his own body faster than he intended.

"What's wrong?" Charlie's asking him, shaking him where he lays, on the floor: "My god, man. You started talking and fell over. I didn't want to touch you, but..."
"I'm fine," Wayfinder lies, getting to his feet and looking down the hallway, where his spirit just was: "Charlie, where did you say you found her?"
"Out west, in the wastes," Charlie says: "We don't even know how she got there. It's twenty miles out of town, and-"
"I need to make a call," he says, wondering if he can get hold of Doctor Power at this time of night, and if the man'll even know what to do. 

"Wayfinder? What's wrong with my daughter?"

"Charlie," the man says, putting his hands on both his friend's shoulders: "Her soul... it's been splintered. I don't know how else to put it."
"What? What does that even mean?"
"It's like someone took a hatchet to a tree, cut it down the middle, and left the hatchet in it. There's three people in there, now. And one of them's really !@#$ angry."

"Oh my God," Charlie gasps, his face going as pale as a tourist: "What can we do?"

"I don't know," he admits, hearing a terrible crashing and breaking from down the hall as whatever that angry being is finally succeeds in getting out of its restraints: "But I'm going to try and talk to someone who does. Meantime, you go down there and help your wife."

And as Charlie runs down the hallway, and Wayfinder tries to make his long-neglected Freedom Force communicator actually work, he hears a howl that shouldn't come from a human's mouth. It makes every hair on his body stand on end, and makes his blood stop in his veins. 

Because he knows what that is. And he knows he can't stop it -- not by himself.
"Blessed Creator," he prays, finally getting the small thing in his hands to work: "Don't let me be too late."

* * *
The supers spend about ten more minutes of travel time in silence, and then their leader finally decides to get up out of her straps and come down to say what's what.

"Alright folks, here's the deal," Josie says, wrapped in padded, black leather and strapped for a fight: "I'm sure you all watched the news, before you left. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that we really stepped in it, this time. For some reason we don't know, a number of our newest and brightest decided to go rogue on us. And they're backing up a bunch of people who don't exactly have our national best interests at heart, right now. Secessionists, from the looks of it."

"Yeeee-haw," someone drawls, and there's a few laughs and snorts.

"I'm serious, people," Josie says, and somehow it's enough to quiet everyone back again: "This is not good. These are, or were, our own people. We haven't discounted mind control or mental parasites, especially since it looks like the remnants of the Legion's involved. But we can't talk them out of it, or down from it, so it looks like we're going to have to do it the hard way.

"And I know you all know what that means."

No one there doesn't. If it was possible for them to be even more silent, they would.

"Now, as you may have guessed, Neo York City is already back under control. The idiots thought they could take it, but they didn't count on the Nthernaut getting involved. That's why most of you City kids are with us, on this one."

Yanabah looks around at some of them. Red Wrecker she's met before. The others she's seen, here and there. None of them look all that pleased at what's going on.

(Probably all messed up because of what their friends and teammates went and did, and what's happened to them because of it.)

"But since Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy, I guess they want to try and take it over, so they've sent everyone they can spare to do that. It's one one big mess down there. I hear they talked half the police force into laying down their guns before they even fired off a shot, which may mean we've got a puppeteer, or maybe it means they all want jobs in their new America when the fighting's over.

"Either way? They aren't getting it. Because we're going to go in and stop them, stomp this in the bud, and get home in time for turkey dinner and presents. You got that?"

Everyone cheers. And for some reason, it doesn't sound forced. 

"So, rule number one," Josie continues: "No killing civilians if you can at all help it."

Yanabah coughs into her fist, maybe a little louder than she intends to.

"Is there a problem, back there?" Josie asks, looking in her direction.

"What if they're !@#$ing armed?" Yanabah asks: "I'm not !@#$ing bulletproof, here."

"All you shooters will be equipped with stun blasters," Josie says: "The rest of you? We don't need to see people coming apart on the nightly news, now do we? Control yourselves, people."

She addresses that to everyone. Something about how she says it seems to be aimed right at Yanabah, though.

"As for the Supers," she continues: "You put them down any way you can. Any way you have to."

There's some gasps over that, and some attempts to argue. She holds up a hand and glowers, and everyone shuts the !@#$ up.

"Look, people. You know how it is. I know they're our friends, or they were. But they signed up with the enemy. And even if they didn't? They're running around down there, tearing the town up and not caring about casualties. I have no idea what the civilian death toll is, right now, but it's not getting any higher on our watch.

"Gentle if you can, hard if you have to. But put. Them. Down."

She looks at Yanabah again, and this time she thinks she knows why.

Looks like she might not be getting stunners, today.

* * *

It's 1973, now, and the sun's coming up over the desert, making the cold go away. 

"Where are we going today, Great-Grandfather?" the little girl asks, poking her head out of the sleeping bag and looking at Wayfinder as he tends the fire, over by some boulders.

"Oh, so you're my great-granddaughter, today, are you?" he asks, smiling a little. He's making coffee in an old, Army percolator, and frying bacon in a pan that's seen better days. He's dressed down a bit, as the temperature's about to come up, but still wearing his usual checked shirt and jeans.

And silver and turquoise jewelry. Tons of it. 

"I'd like to be," she says, easing herself out of her sleeping bag and looking at the Sun.

"You shouldn't look right at it," the man says, carefully flipping over a piece of bacon: "It'll make you go blind."

"I don't need eyes to protect you, great-grandfather," she replies, giggling. Something about that makes him just a little afraid.

"I bet you don't. But I think the rest of you would like to see."

"I sure would," she replies. Her voice has become deeper, and her posture different. Lower to the ground, more feral.

"Ah, this must be my granddaughter," Wayfinder says, congratulating himself for figuring it out so quickly, this time. 

"You shouldn't let her be stupid," the girl snarls: "She thinks we just float in the air, here. Like a butterfly."

"Butterflys can sting," he says: "I think that's what they say, anyway."

"They say stupid !@#$," she replies, crawling out of the bag and looking around, her nostrils flaring: "I don't care what they think."

"Well, you should. They tend to outnumber us by about five billion."

"Not enough," she smiles. Her teeth are pointy, now.

"Is my daughter going to talk, today?" Wayfinder asks, putting some of the bacon onto a plate and putting it on the ground, as close to her as he can.

"I don't think so," his granddaughter says, crawling over to where he put the plate and all but shoving the food into her face: "She's busy."

"Doing what?" he asks, sitting down and getting himself some of the coffee.

"Stuff," she says, licking the now-empty plate: "She's never here. Always somewhere else."

"I'd sure like to know where she is," a voice says, and then Doctor Power's walking out from behind a nearby boulder, as tough he'd been there all along.  

What happens next is terrifying. The girl rises up and launches herself at him, almost too fast to see. But at the last moment she stops, snarls, and backs off, growling like a wolf.

"That's better," Doctor Power says, patting the silver jewelry he wears around his neck.

"Be polite, granddaughter," Wayfinder scolds her: "You know this man. He's a friend, not an enemy."

"You can't smell him like I do," she snarls: "He smells of the dark under the world. The First Sun is his friend."

"Maybe, but he's still your friend, and mine," he says: "Leave him be." 

"How's she doing?" the magician asks as she slinks away, as ordered.

"She's right here, wasichu," the feral girl snarls.

"She's fine," Wayfinder says, pulling another mug out for his visitor: "They all are. But I have to tell you, Eben, that was stupid. One of these days she's going to try for it."

"Well, I guess that's a while, yet," the magician says, sitting down and taking the coffee he's being offered: "Anyway, I wanted to know if you'd had much contact with your daughter?"

"Not much," the man says, having a sip and watching as his granddaughter watches them, occasionally turning into his great-granddaughter: "She pops in every so often, says something important, goes away."

"Have you ever tried to look for her?" Doctor Power asks: "Like you look for people?"

"You know, I haven't," he says, thinking: "I guess I thought I'd just see her in there, with the rest of them."

"Worth a try?"

"Might be," Wayfinder says: "But that would mean I'd have to leave her alone. I haven't done that since that one night..."

He shakes his head, remembering what was left of Charlie. And he'd only been gone a few minutes, at most...

"Well, I'm willing to contain her if you'd like to try," Doctor Power says: "I've handled more strenuous things, you know."

"I do, yeah," the man says, sipping his coffee, and watching the girl as she shifts from one persona to the next: "But she's not an experiment, Eben. She's my girl. Has been since her daddy died and her mother went mad. So if we do this, we do it careful, and you be totally honest about what you want, here."

The magician looks at his ally, wondering what that was about. But something in the old man's eyes tells him that it's best if he just shuts up and agrees. 

He never could fool Wayfinder the way he fools the others. 

"Agreed," Eben says, getting to his feet and taking a few more sips of coffee as the sun rises: "I'll come up with a gentle binding circle, and we'll figure out what we want to ask, and why."

"Sounds good," Wayfinder says, smiling at his girl as she smiles at him, her eyes not of this world.

* * *

And then they're over Richmond, and they can hear the sound of things going horribly wrong well before they land.

"Alright, remember your orders!" Josie says, handing large guns full of orange and green lights to people as they run off the front right gangplank (while those who can fly, hover, or zip along faster than cars head out the back): "No killing civies. Take down the supers any way you have to. Keep property damage to a minimum. And for God's sake, smile for the cameras!"

Yanabah is close to the front of the line, but Josie points her finger at her and gestures to the side. She obeys with some bemusement, watching as Red Queen gets her sniper rifle yanked from her grip, replaced with a very long model of the gun with weird lights.

"Long distance F-gun," she explains: "I know you like getting them from high up, hon."

"Thanks," Red Queen says: "Take good care of my baby. You break her, you're buying me ten more."

There's a rush of people, and then it's just Josie and Yanabah.

"So, is this where you tell me to stay here?" Yanabah asks: "Because you know me better than I know myself, and can't trust me in the field?"

"Oh, I know I can trust you," Josie says, reaching over to get something special -- some heavy case: "I can trust you to be one deadly lady with little or no restraint. And I can trust you to be sneaky and not be seen, too. And that's why I need you to do something special for me."

She hands out the case, and Yanabah opens it. Inside are two very large handguns. 50 calibers. The kind SPYGOD uses

"Holy !@#$," Yanabah says, picking them up, instantly in love with them. 

"That's one way to put it," Josie says: "But they come with a price tag, hon."

"Are these for supers?"

Josie nods: "The rounds are spent uranium. You're not going to find a lot of people on that field who'll handle them all too well. Especially if you go for eye shots."

She looks at Yanabah, who nods: "Any specific targets?"

"All the new kids," she says: "You find one, don't ask questions. Just retire them. Let the others handle the Legion. You handle ours."

"Because I'm an outsider?"

"Because you'll do it," Josie says: "And you don't care why."

Yanabah smiles: "It's like you really know me, after all."

"Not as well as I'd like," Josie says, hefting a very large gun, full of lights that shift between orange and purple: "For example, one thing I was never sure of. Were you Wayfinder's daughter or grand-daughter?"

Yanabah just smiles: "Why don't you !@#$ing ask him?"

And -- if only to avoid more questions -- leaps out into the drop zone, ready to kill some fresh-faced super-traitors.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Hunter (Gary Numan) and having an Albion Wendigo