Tuesday, December 18, 2012

9/20/12 - (The Owl) Bigger Than God - pt.2

"Switch," Martha says to Kaitlyn, who has about a half-second to duck down as best she can before her Aunt pivots on one foot, and cracks the hippie lady right in the nose with the other.

The lady screams and lets go of Kaitlyn, who rolls forward and flings the something she was preparing at the Imago. It looks like a golf ball, only full of black holes rather than divots.

And the second it strikes Orange and Grey in the face, it screams loud enough to shatter every window in the place.

The angry McMob of customers falls to the ground, holding their bleeding eardrums and wincing as their teeth rattle in their skulls. The Imago holds his ears and closes his eyes, taking a step back, but not getting out of the doorway.

And when Martha jumps up, and delivers an absolutely perfect kick to his head -- one that should, by all rights, break his face and send him flying back onto his metal-plated behind -- all she does is howl as her foot bends the wrong way, and she flops down to the ground in front of him.

"Aunt Martha!" Kaitlyn screams, running to her side and helping her up: "We have to leave! Now!"

The kid's right, and she knows it. She limps as best as she can, turning right around and high-tailing it for the area behind the counter, where writhing McDonalds employees are trying to hold their eardrums together. If her and Kaitlyn can lose themselves in the maze of ovens, heaters, and brick walls, hopefully they can forestall the Imago from being able to shoot them.

But halfway through the kitchen the Screechball cuts out, and they both know that's not good.

"How many more do we have?" Martha asks, trying to ignore the fact that her maimed foot is one bad footfall from becoming useless.

"That was it," Kaitlyn shouts, running ahead of her stricken Aunt: "Minimal armaments, remember?"

"Darn it," Martha sighs: "Okay. Car. Now."

They see the back door in front of them. They run faster to get to it, but suddenly Kaitlyn hears the strange, whiteboard noise again. She holds out her hands to balance her skiddering halt, and reverses course as quickly as she can, hoping Martha follows her lead.

They're both turned around by the time the Imago appears at the back door, and running back the way they came the second it walks after them -- too quickly for someone wearing that much armor.

"Hey, you can't be back here-" the McManager says, trying to get in their way. Kaitlyn ducks between his legs, slides for two feet, and leaps back up into a sprint. Martha punches him in the nose to try and get him down and out of the way.

"Stay down!" she yells: "This thing will kill you! Stay down!"

"What you talking about, crazy !@#$-" the manager says, getting up and looking at the Imago, who's walking straight towards him. Before he can get out of Orange and Grey's way, the thing has languidly waved his hand into -- and through -- his head, leaving a splattered, red ruin up against the white, sparkling clean tile wall. 

"Monster!" Martha howls, and grabs a basket full of cooking fries to hurl at the Imago. She doesn't slow down to watch it clatter against his chest, and isn't therefore instantly disappointed when it doesn't seem to bother him.

"You cannot escape me," the metal-plated juggernaut states, calmly and clearly, as it stomps after them: "You cannot outrun my eyes."

A familiar sound is heard -- like electrical swords clashing together -- and Martha understands exactly what that means.

"Darkness!" Martha shouts, but Kaitlyn's already figured that out. She closes her eyes as tightly as she can, and relies on her memory -- and echo-pings from her special earpieces -- to guide her through the jungle of angry customers and cheerful tables that awaits beyond the frontline.

The horrible sound comes again and again. Each time it does, Kaitlyn and Martha hear someone scream in agony, and then fall down.

"Why are you doing this?" someone shouts: "We're trying to help you!"

"We love you!" someone else cries: "Don't hurt us!"

"Punish me if you must," someone else says: "I know you know better than I do-"

And then there's the sound of electricity, followed by the feel of something uncomfortably warm shooting past Martha's cheek, and the sound of a body falling.

And the acrid smell of human meat cooking from the inside out.

"Run, you poop-headed idiots!" Kaitlyn shouts, hoping she can avoid opening her eyes until they're outside: "Run!"

But they don't. They cry and scream and beg, and simply do not understand why the beings that saved them from themselves are turning on them, here and now.

And when the eyebeams find them, they die.

Kaitlyn's through the door before she can really think about what's just happened. Martha's not that far behind her. Once outside, they open their eyes, hoping that the thing's being inside the building will stop its beams from finding their brains.

The girl looks back for just a second, just to see where the Imago is in relation to them. When she does she sees the broken-nosed hippie lady trying to talk to the thing -- maybe hoping that the sight of her jealousy-inducing Green and Yellow shirt will cause him to spare her life.

Orange and Grey picks her up by the neck and shoots his eyebeams directly into her skull. Her brains blow out the back of her head in a smoldering, ashen heap.

Kaitlyn turns her head away.

(Pillar of salt, she reminds herself: Pillar of salt.)

"Harcourt!" Martha shouts into her phone: "Motor on! Begin traffic override! Ready electronic camouflage!"

"Done, Martha," the AI responds. Across the parking lot their green SUV vrooms into life, its lights come on, and its doors automatically open. As they jump into it, they can hear honking and screeching as traffic lights that were green a moment ago suddenly go yellow and then red, allowing them to drive back the way they came without interruption.

Kaitlyn thinks to look back at the restaurant lobby, thinking that maybe some of the people in there would have gotten out. This time she resists.

(Pillar of salt)

* * *

"Do we have anything on board that can stop an Imago, Harcourt?" Martha asks, gunning the motor and flooring them out of the parking lot, barely missing a sportscar turning in for a burger.

"Oh dear, what have you gotten yourself into?" Harcourt asks. Additional panels drop down from the tops of the dashboard, one of which has two pairs of Owl Goggles. They quickly put them on and adjust them so that everything they see is filtered through cameras, hopefully blocking the eyebeams.

Not a moment too soon, either. As they get out into traffic, they can see Orange and Grey coming towards them from the parking lot, shooting eyebeam after eyebeam. The paired lines of deadly, orange light seek them, but do not find, and instead strike pedestrians and other motorists, killing them instantly.

"Is the electronic camouflage ready?" Martha shouts.

"It is, ma'am," Harcourt announces: "We don't know if it'll work on them, or not-"

"Turn it on. We're going to find out now."

"If I do, the goggles will be useless. And if the camouflage doesn't work..."

Martha thinks for a second, looking back at the metal-plated monster in her rear view mirror, shooting out beams of death with every step.

"Time it for the next shot, Harcourt," she says, taking Kaitlyn's hand and looking at her: "And then do it."

Kaitlyn nods, pulls the goggles off with her free hand, and closes her eyes, praying. Martha does the same, hoping no one gets in their way right now.

The SUV hums and slows down as its battery is almost overloaded with the strain of running the extra system. The computerized ads and street lights all flicker and go out, and the rain of deadly eyebeams stop coming.

Kaitlyn looks back at her rear view mirror. Orange and Grey is looking around, visibly confused. She allows herself a smile, and maybe half of a laugh, but then she sees him look up and speak.

And she thinks she knows what he just said.

"We have to get out of here," Kaitlyn says.

"I'm doing that, honey," Martha scolds her, banking hard to the right to avoid crashing into a compact that just lost its driver, but not its momentum.

"I mean the city, Aunt Martha," she says: "I think he just said 'prepare extreme measures.' That doesn't sound good. They'll probably bring everything they have to get us."

Martha turns pale, knowing full well what that might mean.

"Harcourt..." she starts to say, looking up at the sky: "I need you to... oh, !@#$. Please God, no..."

"Martha?" Kaitlyn asks.

Martha looks at her, deliberating what to say, and do. She looks at her still-fragile eyes, looking at her for guidance. And-

"I hope so," SPYGOD says, tapping her on the forehead: "But just remember. If you ever run out of tricks and toys, and the world's leaning on you? You have to go with the needs of the many over the few, or the one."

"Needs of the many," Martha says, looking back at the road. Tears are swelling up behind her eyes as she looks around, seeing the screaming, angry faces that she cannot save.

"Aunt Martha, what are you going to do?" Kaitlyn asks.

"Harcourt... put everything you have on getting us out of Los Angeles. Get the forward shields up. And make sure you're hardened against an EMP."

Harcourt doesn't say anything for a moment: "Ma'am, I'm afraid I'm not shielded for that. Luckily, there's a backup copy that is. You'll have to manually install it, though."

"Understood," she says.

"Aunt Martha...?"

"We have to leave, honey," she says: "It's the mission. We have to live for the mission."


"These people are dead, honey," Martha explains, letting the tears come: "We cannot save them. There is nothing we can do. We have to get out of here but we can't save them and there's nothing we can do. Do you understand?"

"Sodom..." kaitlyn stammers: "Just like Sodom and Gomorrah..."

"Yes, dear. And we're Lot. And we have to get out of here because we have to live. Okay?"


"Okay? I need you to understand me, here, Talon."

"Yes, Owl," Kaitlyn snaps to attention in her seat: "I understand."

"Good. That's good. So... just hold on, and let me drive. And pray for these people, and for us."

And then she floors it again.

* * *

Martha's driving is merciless. She plows into anything and everyone that gets in her way. She tries to avoid hitting pedestrians, but by the time she's almost on the freeway, again, she just gives up, truly realizing the horrible truth.

They really are already dead. All of them.

"Martha!" Kaitlyn shrieks, horrified as an old lady gets clipped and goes flying back onto the pavement.

"Already dead," her Aunt says, more to herself than to Kaitlyn.

"Martha, I'm detecting a massive electronic pulse," Harcourt interrupts: "It's well past Lunar orbit, but aimed right at where we were about ten seconds ago."

"Keep the electronic camouflage up at all costs!" Martha shouts, forcing a slow-moving car off the on ramp and barreling past it, realizing that she's probably just killed everyone in the vehicle. Or spared them what's coming.

The SUV leaps onto the San Diego highway, heading North at over 120 MPH, alternating between the fast lane and the breakdown lane, and muscling past every car that doesn't get out of their way. Some have to be smashed off the road, causing accident after accident as they race away.

"Now, honey, this is really important," Martha says to Kaitlyn, who's almost on the verge of tears: "When I tell you to, I want you to put your owl goggles back on, and click down the shields."

"I thought they weren't working-"

"This is physical, not electronic. Bring down the shields, and when I tell you to, get down into the wheelwell and stay down. Do not look until I tell you to. Can you do that?"

Kaitlyn blinks, and looks out the window, and then up. The sky is getting a lot brighter, all of a sudden, and all the hair is starting to stand up on her head...

"Now!" Martha shouts, putting her own goggles on as Kaitlyn dons hers and dives in front of the seat: "Harcourt, drive! Fast as you can!"

"Will do, Ma'am..." the AI says, and takes the SUV up past 160. The engine howls and whines, clearly running low of precious fluids. There's a scary moment when Martha thinks one of the tires fell off, but that's just them hitting another car.

Kaitlyn is holding Martha's hand, and praying. Martha joins her, just as static electricity starts arcing around the inside of the car. Harcourt begins praying with them.

And then...

* * *

"It's our fault, really," their leader is saying to Martha, later, back at the command post's sickbay: "We didn't know that they'd implemented that law about ID for all transactions until we'd sent you out, into the field. And then we couldn't contact you."

Martha doesn't even nod. She lies there, on her hospital bed, the skin on her face and neck a red, sunburned mess -- except for around her eyes -- and tries not to think about what just happened. 

"Kaitlyn's alright, if you were wondering," the hooded, masked man says as he gets to his feet, grey robes swirling around him: "We're going to wheel her in here, as soon as we're sure. Good call, making her duck."

"Good kid," Martha says, her face hurting with the movement: "She's gonna be great, someday."

"She already is," the leader says, leaning in and taking her hand in his: "Just like her aunt."

"I don't feel great, right now," she says, looking up at him, wishing she could recognize his voice, somehow: "If we hadn't stopped.... if we'd just kept going..."

"Then they might have made someone else, some other time, when the mission was more urgent," he says: "You can't blame yourself for what the enemy does, Martha. All you can do is adapt, survive, and save as many of your own people as you can. That and thank God you lived to fight another day."

She closes her eyes and tries to smile at that. It doesn't work so well. 

She keeps thinking of what she saw when she got out of the SUV, after the blast had struck. 

She keeps thinking of how strange the air felt, and what it smelled like, and how electricity crackled between metal surfaces.

She thinks of the screams, and the moans, and the howling of the people who'd been blinded by the light, or burned beyond recognition by its heat.

She thinks of the elevated freeway she'd been speeding up, and how it ended less than twenty feet from the back of her vehicle -- burned to cinders by the same energy source that had turned a wide swath of northern Los Angeles into a deep, burned crater.

And she thinks of the sight that greets her, at the edge of that deep, smoldering crater -- a lone figure, some distance away, floating above the devastation, slowly rotating to better view it.

A lone figure wearing orange and grey metal armor, searching for any sign that his quarry had been destroyed by his "extreme measures."

"Pillar of salt," she told herself, then. And then she got Harcourt's backup out of the back, packed up their emergency kit, and got her and Kaitlyn as far North as they could before help arrived, praying every step of the way to not hear that terrible, crackling noise again.

"Who are you, really?" she asks the leader, trying to sit up a little.

"Really?" he asks, turning around: "You don't suppose I wear masks in front of unmasked heroes for no good reason, do you?"

"No. But I'm starting to wonder."


"Because you're being so calm about this," she says: "I'm putting up as brave a face as I can right now, but I'm broken. I can't even conceive of what just happened back there, and what I had to do to get out of it... those people..."

"And here I am, calm as rock before the storm," he says, walking back to her side and sitting down on the edge of the bed: "You're wondering how anyone could be so bloodless and beyond shock, or horror. You're not sure if you're dealing with a human being, right now."

"I wouldn't have put it like that," she tries to smile.

"I can't tell you who I am, yet," he says, leaning in to whisper: "But let me assure you. We have worked together before. When you last knew me, we were allies, and friends. We had our differences, but when the call was sounded, we would both answer the same call."

"And I have to trust that you're wearing that for a reason?"

"I am," he says, getting back up: "When I choose to tell the truth, you will be the first one who knows, even before SPYGOD."

"Why me?" she asks: "Why not him?"

"Well..." the leader says, and maybe he's chuckling under the hood and the mask: "Let's just say it's the only way that's going to work. Plus, you have to admit, it's kind of funny to be there on the one day that SPYGOD doesn't know everything. Hmm?"

She nods, tries to smile, and leans back. Someone wheels Kaitlyn in, and the little girl smiles and runs to her Aunt's side. They hug -- painfully -- and cry and laugh, relieved that this is all somehow over.

And in the midst of it, their leader slips out of the room, and goes somewhere private, where he can pray to God, curse the Angels, and weep as bitterly as he can with no one to hear him.

"This is bigger than you," he reminds himself, over and over: "Bigger than anyone. Bigger than history. Bigger than God."

And that does not help him in the slightest.

(SPYGOD is listening to Open Up (Leftfield, Zoo DJ remix) and finally getting that shake)

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