Wednesday, November 7, 2012

9/10/12 (ARACHNIDS) Listen to the Silence - pt 4

When Khalil was a young boy, growing up in the mega-slums of Addis Ababa, his mother would keep her children in their beds with terrible stories of the monsters that lurked in the night.

She knew them all, that woman: the millions of horrifying creatures that Allah had created for reasons of his own; the scrabbling, ravenous things that lurked just outside of His purview; the beasts of a hundred different lands and religions, all eager to clamber into a young child's bed at night and slurp up their sweetmeats -- or worse.

Khalil loved a good scare, of course -- all children do, in their own way. But one of the stories really bothered him.

It was the legend of the most gruesome of the many, terrifying hungry ghosts of Malaysia. A terrifying being that had a different name in every country, but was essentially the same. A disgusting she-vampire that detached her head at night and flew, pulling her guts behind her as she went, and lapped the blood of pregnant women and young children who didn't mind their parents.

And while it had many names in many lands, the one that always stuck with him was Penanggalan.

Such was the fearful power of this thing that it not only made him nervous to go out at night, but also had him jumpy during the day. It even made him wet his pants at loud, sudden noises in the dark, and continued to disturb him all the way into manhood. In fact, every time he met a new young woman who seemed just a little "off" he would keep tabs on her, just to make sure her nighttime activities were legitimate, and that her head was always on her neck at the right angle from day to day.

One could say that this heightened sense of awareness served him well when he went into the NGUVU. And one could only imagine his reaction when he learned from its strategic talents handlers that the !@#$ things were actually real.

And one can only imagine his reaction, now, as one of those creatures is less than five feet away from him, floating in the air and drinking the life from his MI-6 contact.

It's nothing like what he imagined, though. He'd imagined something like what he'd seen in the movies or supernatural television shows, but this is much more terrifying. And as Mikhail bellows and throws his bottle of vodka at her, and Dosha pulls out a gun that he's not supposed to have in this bar,  Khalil leaps back to ready some kind of defense and get a better look.

The woman's head is at least three times the size of a normal head, all puffed up like an obscene basketball. Her black and red eyes seem about to burst from her blood-filled sockets, and her mouth is a roiling playground of teeth the size and random shapes of jagged, broken dinner plates. A long, red, and barbed tongue anchors her to Sir George, who's about as pale as a sheet after just five seconds of being drained.

As for the train of guts, the legends do not do this creature justice. They're not being pulled behind her like the manacles on a stately English ghost, but are actually part of her overall motion. The lungs have dissipated into millions of fibers and webs, forming sinister, batlike wings that keep her aloft. Her distended stomach and liver seem able to reach out and clutch objects, perhaps the better to perch with.

And her long, looped intestines purl and curl behind her as she goes, coiling and roiling like the tail of some magnificently long dragon. As Mikhail's vodka bottle arcs towards her, a quick, meaty flick of that tail sends it bouncing away -- off to land on the deaf waiter, who tried his best to run past the evil and down the stairs along with the rest of the guests.

(Crash goes the bottle. Thump goes the waiter. Stomp stomp go the frightened patrons' feet on the waiter.)

Khalil's mind reels with possibilities, and fear. He tries to remember what his mother told him to do if he saw one, and what defenses NGUVU's supernatural handlers advised him to take, but nothing that either of these wise fonts of information ever gave him is making itself evident, today.

"!@#$ me," Dosha spits, finally just shooting at the thing. Of course, the bullets just go through the ghostly head; it seems that she can hurt them, but they cannot hurt her -- not without magic, which he doesn't have on him, right now.

But then, there is something else...

"I can protect us, I think," Khalil offers, and crosses his arms just before his chest, willing there to be something between the monster and the rest of them. The effort makes his nose bleed, and his eyes turn red with burst vessels, but in seconds there is a strange opacity in the air between the creature -- and its victim -- and the other three.

But how long it can last is unknown.

"I am thinking strategic withdrawal, my comrades!" Mikhail says: "The window! Quickly!"

"It's no good!" Dosha shouts: "Internal Security's got snipers outside, by now."

"Who?" Mikhail shouts.

"Internal Security! ISOC! They know we're here!"

"How in the !@#$ are they !@#$ing knowing this? And how in the !@#$ are you knowing this?"

"I just do! And I know the only reason they haven't shot in is-"

A window blows out. The floor rips up and splinters. The sharp, echoing crack of a rifle comes a split second later. 

"You were saying?" Mikhail says, trying to find someplace that isn't accessible by a window.

"!@#$!" Dosha spits, looking at his watch scowling: "They should have been here by now..."

"Who should have?" Khalil asks, but then another bullet takes out another window, and he's showered with flying glass. A cut springs up on his cheek and he loses concentration, and the sudden, angry migraine that comes with using his new power smacks his brains into the back of his skull.

He winces and falls down, holding his head. St. George falls through the now-absent shield and hits the floor, pale and whispering. The Penanggalan laughs, twirls in the air, and lashes out with her tongue, ready to take on the next victim...

... and then recoils violently from something that's just entered the room, and hisses like a snake run over by a wagon wheel.

That something is an eight-sided medallion, made from strange, dark metal, and embossed with gold writing that looks like ancient Thai script.

It's being held up at eye-level by an old man, clearly not dressed for this climate. He wears a thick, heavy coat, a dignified European hat, and old-style "horse blinder" sunglasses. He also carries a silver-chased cane that seems heavier than it should be.

And on his tanned face is a commanding scowl -- the sort of look that says "you came here to die."

The black-clad, young Indian man who brought Dosha here, earlier, stands beside him, holding onto his shoulder. He steps back and takes a few deep breaths, and then assumes a place by Dosha, who's covering the old man with his gun.

"What took you so long, old man?" Dosha asks.

"I took a wrong turn in Turkey," the younger Indian says: "He squirms too much-"

"Be quiet, both of you," the old man commands, his voice thick and Polish: "And you, creature. These men are under my protection. You will leave, now. And consider yourself lucky I didn't have time to find your body."

"You will not leave here alive," she hisses, flapping away and becoming insubstantial: "The streets are lined with my people. You will be killed."

"Oh, do be quiet, you stupid !@#$," Sir George mutters from the floor: "At least let me die with an absence of bad dialogue. I'm owed that much, surely..."

"Away with you!" the old man shouts, and the metal suddenly seems more there, somehow. More solid. More real.

The Penanggalan shrieks and ripples, as though they were seeing her on the surface of a pond that's just had stones thrown into it. She turns even more ghostly, and within seconds she's vanished.

"Well, that was being anticlimactic, yes?" Mikhail asks from his spot between windows.

"We need to leave," Dosha says, extending a hand to the Russian: "Now."

And by the time the ISOC kill team runs up Poke's staircase to finish the job their pet vampire obviously bungled, they have.

* * *

"So, please to be explaining all this, again?" Mikhail asks, having another bottle of Dosha's emergency vodka as the old man tends to Sir George's wounds, over on the ratty couch. Every so often the fellow looks up and scowls, but he hasn't ventured a prognosis, yet. 

"We were bait, were we not?" Khalil asks from where he sits, up against the wall, holding a cold glass of water up to his left temple and checking to see if his nose really has stopped bleeding.

"Yes," Dosha admits, standing close to where Anil sits -- tired and dejected: "We were."

The apartment's small, with just a few pieces of furniture and minimal supplies. It used to belong to the Central Intelligence Agency, but the DIA took it over a few years back, when Thailand's most recent junta shifted numerous intelligence "understandings" around the board. So far as the DIA knows, it's been abandoned and decommissioned, but ISOC would probably think it to be the first place a former Indian Intelligence agency would go, which means it'll be the last place they search.

(A trick Dosha's used before, with some success.)

"A risky game, Dosha," Khalil accuses.

"Not really, no," Dosha explains: "We needed to know if we could trust what's left of Thailand's intelligence, right now, given their access to certain unique assets. We made an overture, and in reply they decided to turn on us, no doubt to curry favor with the Imago. I suppose they like having the illusion that they're still in charge of something."

"What about your sister, Anil?" Khalil asks, looking at the young man, who's still out of breath.

"I don't know," he says: "They say they have her, and they'd hand her over when this was all done, and you were all dead. But I think..."

He doesn't say it. He wipes away a tear, instead, and ventures nothing more. Dosha puts a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, but the young man brushes it away.

That's the last thing he needs right now.

"So you see why I couldn't tip you all off," Dosha says, trying to recover.

"No, comrade, I am not seeing that," Mikhail says: "Do you think they had me under surveillance? You could have told us we were walking into trap."

"That would have been nice to know, yes," Khalil says.

"I don't even know how they found Anil's sister," Dosha protests: "For all I know they have us all under some kind of observation. The best I could do was bring in Dr. Krwi to deal with their Penanggalan, and even that required me to be a lot more subtle than usual-"

"Krasue," the old man corrects him, standing up from his patient: "That was unmistakably a Krasue. The Penanggalan lives further south, and rarely ventures this far up the Malay Peninsula. It is an issue of territory and feeding styles, but nothing to be so concerned about... unless you wish to banish or kill them."

"Or be bitten by one," Sir George says, opening his eyes as much as he can: "How bad is it?"

"I can do nothing more," Krwi says, sadly: "I advise you to pray. It is all that is left."

"Well, then that's that," the Englishman says.

"George, I'm so sorry-" Dosha tries to apologize, but the dying man holds up a hand.

"Someone get me a brandy. If I'm going to die, I will have a brandy."

"I don't think we have any, here?" Dosha says, looking at his liquor cabinet. 

"There is being liquor store outside, and down the stairs," Mikhail says: "I will go and get you best brandy yankee dollar can buy-"

"You're not to leave this apartment until we're clear to teleport out," Dosha insists: "We've lost too much to risk more over a !@#$ing glass of alcohol-"

He doesn't see the Russian's fist flying for his face until it's knocked him across the room. Then Anil's up and at Mikhail's throat with a knife faster than the burly man can react, but there's a sword at his own before he can drive the blade home.

"Killing each other will not fix things," the old man says, adjusting his grip on his swordcane ever so slightly.

"You do not hit him, ever," Anil hisses.

"This man's stupid sister and idiot handler got good man killed!" Mikhail shouts at Krwi. 

"Neither will recriminations," Krwi insists, calm as winter snow: "Mistakes have been made. War is full of such things. Either we pull together and learn from them, or we lose."

"I am not going to war with a !@#$ing idiot who uses us like toys to save his boyfriend's family," the Russian spits, walking away from the knife: "Drop me where you like, but I am being done with this."

"Is that how we are to honor the dead?" Khalil asks, getting to his feet: "All those people in Israel and Palestine? Do they die for nothing, then?"

"Look at us, my friend," the Russian says: "We are nothing. Whole point of us was to get together and share information. To tell truth between lies and help each other.

"And now, what do we have, eh? Dosha uses us as bait for trap, and brings in outsider we know nothing of. Khalil, you do not tell us about your power. And God !@#$ only knows what Sir George is !@#$ing hiding-"

"That I know that Khalil wasn't... wasn't just hiding the fact that he's recently developed a strategic talent," the Englishman says, trying to avoid sounding as weak as he actually is: "In fact, I was going to bring that up before... we were so rudely interrupted."

"What do you mean?" Khalil sighs.

"The Object, Khalil. They should... know about the Object. They should know what a bad thing NGUVU did... handing it over to GORGON."

"We did not hand it over to them," Khalil protests: "If you think we would hand it over to anyone-"

"Then you don't know, do you?" the Englishman says: "Well, I guess that's that, then. I wasn't sure whether you were dangerous or clueless, Khalil. I suppose.... I suppose..."

"Oh, do be quiet, both of you," the old man sighs, putting his swordcane down, and reaching into his coat pocket to pull out a flask. He kneels down to the dying man and hands it to him. 

"Is this...?" Sir George asks, taking a good whiff of it.

"It is," Dr. Krwi says: "Honey vodka. It is the best thing in the world."

The Englishman smiles, takes a good swig, and hands over the flask: "Then I die content."

"Is there anything else we can do?" Dosha asks, finally getting up off the floor.

"Other than make sure my dead letter gets sent?" George asks: "Don't let my death be for nothing. I hated you all, each and every one of you. But we did good in our time. Do more good, gentlemen. Be better than this."

He takes a last breath, exhales, and is gone. 

Mikhail's face gets so red it's a wonder blood doesn't explode from his pores, and punches the nearest wall. His fist goes through the plaster right to the wood.

"NGUVU gave the Object to GORGON?" Dosha asks, looking at Khalil. 

"We didn't..." Khalil sighs, putting his head in his hands and wondering whether the others in the room are going to listen to what he has to say, or kill him.

"Will someone please tell me what this Object is?" Anil asks, finally putting his knife away, but still keeping himself between Dosha and the Russian. 

"This can wait for another time, surely," Dr. Krwi offers, having a slug of his own drink: "This room is burned. You must leave it. You must leave this country now and not look back.

"But as soon as we can reconvene, gentlemen, I think a number of things need to be said?"

Dosha nods, looking to Mikhail and then Khalil: "We'll leave here as soon as we can. Then-"

"I am being done with you," Mikhail says: "We have many supers left. I have rolodex full of names. I will !@#$ing go door-to-door if I have to."

"It would be quicker if I teleported you," Anil says, holding out a hand.

"I don't think-" Dosha starts to say, but one look from Anil shuts him up.

"I may not know everything there is to know about this world I've been brought into," the young man says: "And I may not have been 100% honest about certain things with you. But I do know that if we don't work together, we are !@#$ed. And we know who's going to be wearing the condom, don't we?" 

Dosha takes a moment, and then nods. Mikhail takes Anil's hand, and also nods. Khalil doesn't feel like moving, but nods as well.

"No more !@#$ing secrets, then?" Mikhail asks, looking around the room: "Not from each other?"

"No more secrets," Dosha says.

"No more secrets," Khalil adds. 

"No more secrets," Dr. Krwi says.

"And who are you being, anyway?" Mikhail asks.

"Doctor Krwi, of occupied Poland," the fellow says, passing around the Barenjager: "I kill vampires, primarily. But I also worked with the Polish resistance during the War, became far too familiar with Soviet Bloc intelligence after it, and have recently been moonlighting for several people. Most notably SPYGOD."

"I didn't think you wanted to be a party to that, old man?" Dosha asks: "I believe the phrase was 'one favor, since you know him, but that's it'?"

"Well, what can I say? I fear I may have gotten a reluctant taste for it, recently. And we are all that stands against whatever the Imago have planned."

"Oh, very well," Mikhail mutters, nearly downing the rest of the flask with one gulp: "But if any of you play me again, I will be !@#$ing you with my leg."

And on that -- and the need to toast their dead ally one more time before they all leave -- they can all agree.

(SPYGOD is listening to At Night (The Cure) and having a Barenjager)

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