The man blinks his eyes, and tries to move. He's an old, Chinese man, skinny as !@#$. He has wispy, white hair that goes down past his navel, and an unkempt mustache that comes down to his nipples. His eyes are bright green, his chest is covered in swirling, colorful tattoos.
And his fingers are gnarled stumps -- seemingly chewed off at the knuckles.
His head pounds, and he remembers that he was working on something important. Then someone struck him on the back of the head, and everything went red and then black.
And then he realizes that the reason he can't move is because he's been tied to a chair.
The bound man groans and twists against the miles of duct tape that have bound him to his chair, here in the middle of a darkened room filled with glorious, sparkling, high-tech treasures. He cries out but his voice is muffled by a heavy duct tape gag.
"Calling for those soldiers?" the voice asks: "Don't !@#$ing bother. I dealt with them first. And I'm sure you got something here that'll bring 'em back to life, but you ain't getting to it."
The man howls and hurls abuse, along with a few questions as to his captor's identity. There's a light shining down on his chair, making it very hard to see anything beyond it but the faintest suggestion of shapes.
"So let me guess, you got !@#$ing sloppy over time, huh?" the voice goes on, the shape it belongs to moving around the edge of vision: "Those guards out there, keeping your old !@#$ safe? Security is an illusion, old man. I think you told a friend of mine that, once, before you did something really !@#$ rude with his girlfriend and a ball of fire..."
The old man's eyes go wide at that. He knows what this is.
"So, anyway," his captor goes on, walking around him in a circle, just outside the light: "Here we are. I'm supposed to be handing you the other half of the money I owe you for that excellent !@#$ing work you did on those bombs. And then we can not shake hands, because we know how well that works...."
(More mumbling and and cursing under duct tape, especially when his captor goes over to a certain pair of golden, ornate gauntlets and looks at them, in the process of grabbing a pack of the man's special, black heroin cigarettes.)
"... and then we could go our separate ways. And maybe I could give you more !@#$ing money for another job in the future? That's the plan, right?"
"Well, !@#$ you and your assumptions," he says, lighting one of the cigarettes up: "I worked through a third party, just so you wouldn't !@#$ing sniff me out with one of your wickity-muckity alien hoodoo things, here. But that was me doing the buying and selling, in reality.
"And the using, too. And your work's as good as always, I gotta say."
Yet more mumbling, rather accusing this time.
"Oh come off it, Long Baoshan," the man who's tied him up says, taking much too long to smoke one of his "host's" special cigarettes: "You used to work for the Chinese government, back in the day, before and after your little transformational incident. You know how this game's played. You know how it goes when someone tells you one !@#$ing thing, but they really mean another. Right?"
"Well, I'm sure you do. !@#$, some people like to say you guys actually invented that !@#$, but I think we both know that's just racist !@#$. Yellow peril and all that. You shifty little yellow bastards, you."
The man tries to say something else, but he can't bring himself to. He knows that this is it, now. He's dead, and there's nothing he can do about it.
He looks around his workshop, stocked from floor to ceiling with pulsing, alien equipment, strange weapons, and things that no one but he -- except maybe that Dr. Yesterday guielo -- would ever be able to identify in ten lifetimes. It's everything he would need to free himself, turn the tables, and turn this person from a threat to a smoking pile of cinders. But it won't do him any good, right now.
No good at all.
"Yeah, what you'd give for a soldering iron in your hands, huh? Or maybe one of those !@#$ing disintegration bombs you used? You always were way ahead of your time, Long... however much you had to cheat to get there."
Louder mumbling. Arguing, even.
"Oh, come off it, you bad-bearded !@#$. You stole this !@#$. You had custody of the People's Republic of China's Extra-Terrestrial Technology lockup, and you got ideas. Next thing they know, you're gone, and so's half their !@#$ stash.
"And then, next thing we know, you're dressing up like a dragon Emperor and threatening cities for ransom."
No mumbling now. Instead he narrows his green eyes to slits and gives his captor an angry stare.
"Of course, it's the 60's. Things are just starting to get really weird, so you just fit right in, don't you? All your crazy-!@#$ alien tech that you claimed was magic, and all your escape hatches and duck blinds to hide behind. That whole thing with the Triads, your own !@#$ army. Man, you were one busy little supervillain.
"But then you had to go and do it, didn't you? You had to go and decide you were gonna pick a !@#$ fight with an American superhero, and make him your big rival.
"You had to go be someone's arch-enemy...."
His captor drags long and deep off the cigarette, taking it almost all the way down to the tip. When he exhales, it's a series of concentric rings, which he blows into the light.
"You see, maybe you don't remember, anymore, but before then, we really didn't have them. In fact, I think one of the Legion's rules was that you couldn't concentrate on just one strategic talent, for fear of them finally getting sick of your !@#$, and going after you with all guns blazing.
"Cause if you took one down, then others would have to jump in and avenge the death. And then it'd be an all out war, all for the want of some pride and a hurt !@#$hole.
"But you? You just had to be !@#$ing different. You decided you were going to rain on someone's parade, just to be a little !@#$ and get some cred with people on our side of the !@#$ing Pacific.
"And for reasons that, I'm sorry to say, even I don't even know, you decided to pick on poor Gold Standard."
More glaring. Another puff. More circles, followed by a careful flick of a spent cigarette tip that bounces right off the old man's nose, making him mumble some more.
"I mean, why the !@#$? Why him? Did he do something to you, back in Korea? Were you in the Chinese Army, then? Was your first taste of yankee might and power given to you by some !@#$er in a gold suit of armor that talked like an Army recruiter?"
The eyes glare more, and the interrogator shrugs: "Well, okay. You don't want to say, that's fine. It's not like it really !@#$ing matters, anyway. It's ancient history, now.
"Except that you changed things, you old !@#$. You made it okay to hate on one person in particular, and go out of your !@#$ way to make their lives a living !@#$.
"And that's exactly what you did, wasn't it? You made a total hash of that poor guy's life. You stole his money, crashed his car, burned his house. You !@#$ing killed every woman he was ever involved with, saw off his parents, arranged for him to meet the child he didn't know he had and then !@#$ing tore his head off, right in front of him..."
The old man smiles behind the duct tape. His captor knows this because of the way his eyes glint in the half-light.
"Yeah, you just choke on it, you !@#$" his captor hisses at the man as his eyes shine with pride: "You !@#$ed up his life just because you thought it needed !@#$ing. So you could leave stupid analects all over the crime scenes, boasting about inferior men and superior men.
"Did that really make you feel like you were the superior man, Long? Really?
"Because let me tell you something, you wrinkled !@#$. All that Gold Standard ever wanted to do was serve his !@#$ing country. He thought if he used his skills to protect it, he'd be doing right by the place of his birth.
"He didn't want fame or fortune or anything else. He just wanted to be able to say, at the end of a long !@#$ing day, that he made the world just that much safer. That much more just, and sane.
"And for that, you thought he was inferior."
The old man stops smiling into his gag. His eyes are closed, but not from contemplation or guilt. He's just wondering when it's going to happen.
When he's going to die.
"So yeah. You ruined his life. You made it a thing for super villains to fixate their bull!@#$ on one person and make their lives miserable. I got a binder full of !@#$ing arch-criminals, now, and it's all your !@#$ fault.
"So you can imagine I was really !@#$ glad when the word came through that the Chinese had enough of your !@#$, and busted you down. I guess it was that one time when you almost blew up the whole !@#$ing planet, just to get one over on Gold Standard. I guess they didn't appreciate the fact that you forgot they happened to be on the !@#$ing planet at the time?
"Hence your fingers?"
A finger comes into the light, and points to the chewed up hands, which earns him a slivered, angry look.
"Dogs, right? They smeared them with duck sauce, put you in stocks, and let the dogs loose? That was what I saw on that film they sent me as a professional courtesy, right?"
Another, even more angry look is his only reply.
"Yeah, that's what I !@#$ing thought. Of course, you can still use your gauntlets, once you earned them back from your new paymasters. But they ripped out all the !@#$ing good stuff and gave them to other, more controllable agents and talents.
"All you can do with those things, now, is have !@#$ing hands. Clawed hands, maybe, but it's enough for you to do your !@#$ job, and make some scratch on the side. Just keep making weapons for the Commies up in Beijing, and everyone's !@#$ing happy.
"But I bet you miss being on the mainland, instead of being stuck on this !@#$hole little island. I bet you miss doing what you want instead of being a prisoner, and having soldiers check in on you every !@#$ing five minutes. I bet you miss being able to spend your money in big cities, like the !@#$ing playboy you used to be.
"And I bet you really miss being able to !@#$ing wipe your !@#$, you superior man, you."
More mumbling, angrier than ever. Of course, this just makes his captor more amused.
"So yeah, Gold Standard is dead," he goes on, lighting up another cigarette: "Radiation poisoning from his own armor. After all the horrible, !@#$ed-up things you did to try and ruin his life, you didn't get to be the one who did him in. He wound up killing himself.
"Accidentally, of course. That's what happens when you invent your own !@#$ power source and don't test it before you strap it on and go fight crime. Hazard of the profession.
"But you know what I think? I think that after you killed his son a little light went out of his eyes. That little, fragile piece of humanity that makes all the difference between caring whether you live and die, and not giving a !@#$? I think it broke, that day.
"And I never saw it get fixed.
"But then I'm sure you heard all about that. In fact, I saw your collection of newspaper clippings and internet printouts, back in the bathroom, right on top of the western girlie mags. All those stories about his retirement, and his medical condition, and how he spent his last few days on Earth...
"Did you read them while you took a !@#$? Did you !@#$ing jerk off to them? Huh?"
His captor screams and hurls the cigarette in such a way that the business end smacks the man right between his eyebrows. The old man screams in shock and pain, terrified that he almost lost an eye.
There's footsteps from the edge of the circle of light, heading away -- maybe to the door. There's metal sounds.
"You really are a sorry !@#$ piece of work, Long Baoshan," the voice says, coming closer with a clunky, metal, slooshing object: "I'm glad we had this little conversation, though. I'm glad we could finally clear the air, after all these years. Just so you know that I could have come here, anytime, and !@#$ing killed you for all that !@#$ you pulled on a good man.
"But instead, I used you."
"Yes, that's right, Long. I used you like a two-dollar whore. All these years, I was one of your best !@#$ing customers. I had you build me things that I turned around and used on your !@#$ing friends. I had you examine technology and break it down for me, and then handed that over to other people to replicate and rejigger.
"I even defeated a doomsday device with your help, once. You had no idea the thing you were making was the thing we needed to break. So I just watched how you put it together, and then we !@#$ing took it apart the same way.
"And you never had any !@#$ing idea. That was the best part."
More angry mumbling.
"And you've been very !@#$ helpful since the Imago took over. And you're especially welcome for living this long, too. A couple years back I fixed it so that the part of the Chinese government that knew you were here lost all !@#$ing contact with the rest of the Chinese government. You've been a secret wrapped in a package stuffed in a big !@#$ black box for the last decade or so, Long.
"So when the invasion happened... no one knew to come looking for you. Neat trick, huh?"
No mumbling. Shock, even.
"And that's been a !@#$ good thing on my part, too, because without your genius, however stolen, I would never have been able to make the bombs that I used on that !@#$ing space elevator. Ordinary ordinance would have bounced the !@#$ off, and they'd just put it back together, anyway. You know how those !@#$ers are.
"But seeing as how you're one of the few experts on nanotech scramblers, well, good luck putting humpty dumpty's fat !@#$ back together again. Nice work, Long. A+
The man comes closer, bringing the slooshing something with him, almost up to the light.
"... since you are one of the few experts on nanotech scramblers, and you've done work for other people, it's only a matter of time before they actually do track you back here. And then we could all be in the !@#$. Especially if they find you and connect you to me. And double if they find all your cool !@#$ here, and put it to work.
He lifts up the metal object, and holds it into the light so the old man can see it.
It's a gas can -- clearly full.
The old man starts screaming through the gag
"Now, see, normally I'd shoot your !@#$ eyes out, and then burn your body," SPYGOD says, stepping forward into the light: "But this time, I think I'm going to do it in reverse. Just for laughs.
"That and I think Gold Standard might appreciate the proxy revenge."
The old man screams. Gas coats him from head to toe. Spygod lights up a cigarette, puffs it gently --savoring the fat taste, and the near-lethal tang of heroin.
When he taps it out, he does so in such a way that a trail of dying embers floats over onto the supervillain's body. There's a whoosh as it ignites, followed by the terrible noise as the duct tape catches fire and collapses, allowing what's left of the old man to truly scream.
And SPYGOD watches, smokes deadly cigarettes, and smiles.
* * *
A short, well-dressed Chinese man stands some distance away from the nondescript structure on the highest peak of Xiaosanmen island. He watches as the building burns, wondering if the man who went in there will come out before it completely collapses.
Eventually, he does. In fact, he seems to have timed it perfectly -- waiting until the very last second, almost, and then strutting through the front door just as the central support finally crumbles, sending up a wave of fire and sparks.
"Is that an end to it, then?" he asks SPYGOD, who's walking towards him with a large, black suitcase in one hand: "The August Verdant Imperator no longer takes breath?"
"That'd be !@#$ right, Lee," he says: "Long Baoshan is !@#$ing dead. Thanks for sticking around."
"So what next?' the man asks: "If you like, I can introduce you to many other experts in similar technologies. I even have a man in Lantau who can-"
He never finishes the sentence. SPYGOD shoots him twice -- once in each eye socket -- and blows his brains out the back of his skull.
"Next, we leave you for the !@#$ing buzzards to find," he says, kneeling down and taking his money out of the man's pockets: "And then, in your next life, you find a better !@#$ing profession than weapons trafficking."
That done, he stands up, and looks out at the sea surrounding the otherwise-deserted island. He sees that a certain space elevator is not yet put back into place, and smiles.
"Inferior men," he chuckles, wondering if he should keep these nasty, black cigarettes or throw them away.
And then, after he makes his decision, he's gone.
(SPYGOD is listening to Zenstation (Depeche Mode) and having a cigarette you really shouldn't think about smoking)