Sunday, March 17, 2013

10/11/12 - Iron Demons, Metal Angels - pt 1

South Sumatera, perhaps 150 miles Southast of Pontianak. The sun comes up on a smoky and shimmering landscape of shattered glass and burning trees.

The remnants of the Space Elevator cover a wide, westward swath from ground zero. Its gargantuan base is still on fire. Every so often, it sends up a curling tendril of what little remains of itself, trying to commit to self-repair. Those delicate fronds of matter quickly blacken and burn, but there will be many more where they came from.

The glass is actually transparent metal. It twitches in the morning sun, thinking it should be larger, more complete. But like someone caught in a bad dream they can't escape, it can only lie there, waiting for the signal to awaken.

It may be waiting a long time.

The battleground is eerily absent of corpses. The victors have recovered their dead, and harvested all but the most badly-damaged of their foes for study or cannibalization. Only trace elements remain: here a gaudy green metal hand, there a sheared-off slice of gold shoulder or azure leg.

No flags have been raised, here, and no garrisons left. This was not a battle to take ground, but to deny the enemy its clearest signs of superiority and dominion.

And if the terrorist attack of last September showed that the Imago could be hurt, then today's battle shows they can be beaten -- and badly.

But for how long?

* * *

"So what should we expect from this meeting?" the President whispers to SPYGOD as they walk into the Heaven House Tokyo, following the young lady who greeted him at the ferry the other day.
"Let's just say you should leave the talking to me," SPYGOD whispers back, adjusting his hologlasses and hoping the disguise holds. 

"Because that worked so well the other day," the President sighs, reflexively adjusting his own. He doesn't like the fact that his hologlasses can see through the disguises generated by others. It means anyone else that's wearing a pair now knows a dead President is walking though Tokyo. 

(Not that there were a lot of people out on the streets. The city was uncharacteristically deserted, today. People were staying indoors out of fear of what was happening around the world.)

"Hey now, you don't know those !@#$ing people," SPYGOD says, raising a ringer as they enter a dark, long foyer just large enough for them to walk through side by side: "If we didn't do good cop, bad cop, nothing would have !@#$ing gotten done."

"Did anything get done? As far as I could tell we got a non-committal commitment to have them get in touch with what's left of their governments, and then you made them all !@#$ in their pants by telling them about the FDOS."

"But we got them !@#$ing scared," SPYGOD says as they come to an inner door, guarded by two large, burly men in white suits, also wearing hologlasses: "And with them? That's all they need to get their !@#$es in motion."

The young lady shows one of the men something from her purse. He looks at it, looks at her two companions, and grunt-nods. He pulls out a phone and calls someone, and then, nodding at whatever he hears, puts the phone away and opens up the doors. Behind it is a blindingly-bright room, through which only the subtlest shapes can be discerned.

"Shi Heya," he announces. 

"Room four," Hanami translates, indicating that they should follow her into the light beyond the darkness.

* * *
All around the world, white hot battles are being fought for its future -- skies burning as angry, grey iron demons rage tooth and claw against brilliant metal angels.

London and Seattle lose their tallest buildings as combatants whirl and twirl around themselves like warring flocks of birds. Moscow and Sao Paolo lose entire neighborhoods as the war in heaven touches the ground. New Delhi catches fire as smoldering pieces of the wounded fall to the ground, stately Rome has already been abandoned and left to blaze.

And Paris watches in horror as the Eiffel Tower falls down -- shattered like a child's toy by the ferocity of what's happening around it.

Both sides would seem to be evenly matched: the Slaughterbots' lasers and railguns merely bounce off the Imago's shields, and the Imago's death-stare is good only against those with eyes, and a brain. As such, hand-to-hand combat is the only recourse, and all parties are strong and savage fighters in that regard.

But the Slaughterbots were ready for this battle, having trained and prepared for this war for some time. The Imago apparently had no idea it was coming -- no conception that anyone might dare to challenge them in these numbers, and with this ferocity. And while they can teleport away from a losing battle, their foes seem able to track their movements through space, and reposition their forces accordingly.
So are their losses staggering. And everywhere, in the cities and fields, as the broken pieces of the Imago fall to the ground, they are quickly snatched up to build yet more Slaughterbots for the fight.

The afterlife may have a revolving door, in this war, but so far it only seems to be working for one side.

* * *

Heaven is a large, white room with bright lights, crystal fixtures, and shiny metal furnishings. A central bar serves only clear or white drinks, all poured from silver bottles with no markings. Loud, clanging techno beats echo around its walls, but there's no room to dance.

Everyone in the bar, itself, is wearing the brightest white they can, complemented by brightly-polished silver and clear glass. Most of them also wear white masks: skull masks, blank masks, dominoes, and the like. Those who are not are wearing hologlasses, and those all appear to be employees.

No one notices SPYGOD and the President coming in. They are all watching video screens, listening to the sober delivery of a topless, female newscaster as she talks of horrible fighting in China, Korea, and Taiwan. As the due follow their guide, the screens go over to an amateur's footage of what looks like a block of flaming, metal birds tearing itself to pieces over what is clearly Hong Kong. 

"That's that, then," SPYGOD says, gesturing: "It's gonna get !@#$ing messy."

"How are they seeing any of this?" the President asks: "I'd have thought the Imago would be keeping this off the internet."

"They are, I bet. But that's not the internet."

"Oh?" the President asks as Hanami gets them to a door, over by the left wall. There are a number of doors, all with numbers. Between three and five is a door with no number. 

"Room four," their guide says, opening it up and gesturing that they should go inside: "Please be seated. I will get Ju San."

"Thanks, hon," SPYGOD says, poking his head in, and only then allowing the President to follow him on in to the small room. There's a round, white table, silvery metal chairs, and a light fixture, and that's it.

"So if that's not the internet-" the President starts to say, but SPYGOD holds up a finger, and quickly looks all around the room. Then he puts the black cube he used at the bar last night on the table, and turns it on. 

"Okay, really !@#$ing quick," SPYGOD says, watching the door: "This man we're about to meet is one of the most !@#$ing dangerous people you are ever going to work with in your life. If we thinks we're not on the level, we're !@#$ing dead."

"You're kidding me," the President says.

"No. I am not," SPYGOD replies, gesturing for him to sit down: "The Japanese government's had a !@#$ weird relationship with organized crime since the 80's, and the Organization is one of the fruits of that. The sort of things Mister 10 looks after is the sort of things that no government should really be allowed to have, so he keeps them safe."

"What sort of things?"

"The sorts of things that could have stood toe to !@#$ing toe with the sort of people it took the Backers and Rappin Ronnie to get rid of in America."

"And safe from what?"

"The Japanese government, primary. But also us."


"Yes, Mr. President. Us. We don't !@#$ing allow them to have a !@#$ing military worth a !@#$, so any crazy and powerful !@#$ they come up with's likely to fall into our hands. And given how we were playing with our toys, back in the 80's, that could have been !@#$ bad."

"And that's why they formed the Organization?"

"Yes. And this is one !@#$ing scary organization that has led to the creation of one !@#$ing scary man. Mister 10 has killed government officials with his bare !@#$ hands to keep their secrets. He's strangled diplomats and even shot a foreign dignitary or two.

"And forget about !@#$ing convincing him you're not out to steal his !@#$. Oh no. As far as he's !@#$ing concerned, he doesn't have the time to be sure or make sure before he acts.

"He is unreachable, untouchable, and only accountable to one person in this whole !@#$ world. And the Imago mashed his head into a !@#$ wall when he told them to go eat fish, a few months back."

"So what happens if we don't measure up?" the President asks.

"If we're lucky? Two to the head with a gun that shouldn't even exist in this timeline."

"And not?"

"He'll just !@#$ our brains through our eyesockets," SPYGOD says, sitting down: "And that, Mr. President, is why I'm doing the talking today."

"By all means..." the President says, sitting up and trying to not look scared out of his !@#$ mind. 

* * *

The battle continues on, but now the Slaughterbots are causing real damage. 

By the major cities of Europe and North America, there are large, white boxes -- each as large as a sports stadium. They are supposedly there to help regulate the flow of energy and supplies to the people of those regions, but an exact accounting of their purpose and functioning remains elusive. And anyone who gets too close is usually met by an Imago, who is happy to either gently turn the interloper away, or roughly remove him from the human race. 

The Slaughterbots, however, are not so easily moved.

It takes some doing, for the boxes are well-shielded, and quite impervious to the sort of firepower that even the heaviest of war robots might carry. But with long bursts of concentrated fire, followed up by caustic explosives and other, exotic weaponry, the walls eventually give way just wide enough to allow something small and explosive to be tossed in.

And those small explosives pack a very large blast, as several cities in Mexico, Canada, and Russia soon find out. 

The boxes are being taken down in a pattern: one after the other, city after city, all leading to the interior of their continents. The fighting in the skies subsides as the Imago rally around those boxes, ready to give their lives rather than allow them to be destroyed. 

But as they battle, they become aware that many of their new foes are wearing old friends: Slaughterbots created from the remnants of fallen Imago are taking the battle to them, and when they fall they are simply snatched up, taken behind the lines, and put back together again.

Box after box falls. City after city goes dark and silent. A wave of blackness threatens the Age of Imago. 

Something will have to be done. 

* * *

The door takes a long time to open up again. The President knows the man is out there, but he's stopped right at the door and hasn't come in yet. It's like he's waiting for something.

The President wants to stand up, somehow. He wants to go and open the door. But the second he so much as twitches, SPYGOD shoots him a look and points his finger at him, and then down.

He doesn't so much as twitch after that. And a full sixty seconds later, Mister 10 is in the room.

(The President swears he didn't even see the door open and shut.)

He's a big, beefy man with a short, salt-and-pepper haircut, and very heavy-lidded eyes. He wears an off-white shirt with a floral paisley pattern, white leather pants, and heavy boots. When he walks over to the table, he does it without directly looking at them, and when he puts his hands on the chair he intends to sit in, the President notices he's missing a few finger joints.

He's sat in enough meetings with the FBI to know what that means -- Yakuza. 

The man notices the President noticing, and half-nods to him. Then he looks at SPYGOD, and half nods as well. Only then does he sit down, full and thunderous, and put his hands on the table.

When he sees the black box he snorts, and points at it. SPYGOD nods, turns it off, and puts it away.

The girl, Hanami, comes in and sits down next to him. She smiles and puts her hands down on the table, mirroring the man's stance.

"Ju San understands English, but does not care to speak it," she says: "He says that it is distasteful language, easily perverted by foreign words that have no business within it. As such, I will translate his half of the meeting for you. Speak as fast or as slow as you like."

"That's funny," SPYGOD says, leaning forward in his chair: "The sign on the door says 'Heaven House Tokyo,' in English. Is that for the visitors, then?"

When Ju San speaks it is soft-spoken but firm. A few seconds after he begins speaking, Hanami translates.

"Your impudence is noted, but you have a good point. I am not permitted to change the outside of the building. It has been like that since the time of the original Organization. To effect such a change now would be to alter the building, itself. And that would be a bad thing."

"How bad?"

"I do not think it would be a good thing for Tokyo to be blasted off the island," Ju San replies, though Hanami, and not without a smile: "Especially since we have spent so many years keeping it safe."

"You mean this building is one of the things you've been protecting?"

"It is. But you do not need to know what it is. Not if you wish to leave this room alive."

The President gulps. SPYGOD rolls his eyes. Ju San smiles.

"May I offer you a drink?" the man says, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out a pack of cigarettes: "I find negotiations of this sort go much better with alcohol. It takes a bit of the edge off the blade, so to speak."

"Sounds like a !@#$ fine idea to me," SPYGOD says, offering him a light: "I don't like signing any bargain clean and sober. Do you?"

"Not at all," Ju San replies, graciously accepting the flame: "If we can save this world, that is worthy of celebration. And not every celebration should wait until victory is achieved.

"After all," he continues, leaning back and exhaling smoke at the ceiling: "What happens if it never comes?"

* * *

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, above the risen city, the faces of the powers that run the Imago are in deep consultation with one another.    

What is happening in North America? the hidden leader demands, her voice hollow and wet: How can we have lost so many links in our power chain this quickly?

The deployment is clearly not working, leader: the former head of the CIA -- now The Sight -- says, chiming in from his cocoon of stolen brains and internet connections: We have clearly been outmaneuvered.

We have not been outmaneuvered! Doctor Yesterday -- now The Motion -- angrily responds from the Antarctic redoubt: We have merely been taken by surprise. And if you'd been doing your !@#$ job we wouldn't be having this problem, now!

Don't you dare put this on me-

Please be calm, my children, The leader says: Do not let the heat of the moment overwhelm your judgments. Remember that if they continue to attack us in this fashion, we will be crippled. Worse still, we will lose time in our effort to leave this planet. We need sound decisions, now. We can worry about what has gone wrong later.

The problem is that we do not know our enemy's plan, the writhing, cyclopean mass of neural circuitry that was once The Dragon says: We do not know this plan because we do not know the enemy. Once we know the enemy, we will know the plan.

Um, we know who the enemy is, Dragon, The ersatz Director Straffer -- now The Fist -- says as he gazes down from Deep Ten: It's that Dr. Kyklops fellow, remember? He took credit for the attack, yesterday.

And I know what robots those are, The Motion says: Those are Slaughterbots. I should know. I've repaired SPYGOD's pet enough times.   

I do not think you understand me, The Dragon says: I meant to say-

Don't you have a fortress to run? The Fist says: I say we don't worry about who or why until we've won. I can pick them off from here, if you'll let me. 

If you do that, then you'll be firing a lot of blasts down on the planet, the Sight says: And while we've been able to blame those on our enemies so far, sooner or later the people will start asking too many questions.

At least they'll be alive to ask the questions, the Fist replies: I'm seeing what those robots are doing to any humans they come across. This doesn't look good-

There is another question, here: The Dragon says, calm and serene:  I find it hard to believe that what happened in Neo York City yesterday has no connection to this. The city throws us out, just as a powerful enemy attacks? I would suspect the origin of our troubles lies within the city.

I say the origin of our troubles lies with Dr. Kyklops, the Motion says: Once we take him out, we've got half the battle won. 

And I am very ready to take him out, The Fist adds.

And I can use this as a means to redouble people's loyalties to us, and this increase production, The Motion says.

These are good things to hear, the leader says: Dragon, I understand your concerns. Please apply your brilliance to finding the true meaning behind this attack. 

I will, The Dragon replies, and falls silent.

The rest of you? The Leader continues: Prepare to counter-attack. This has gone on enough, and harmed our efforts enough. And remember that we do these things for love -- love for one another, our people, and our cause. 

Soon we shall be free. Never lose sight of this. 

And then there is silent assent, and the sound of the world remaking itself in their alien image.

(SPYGOD is listening to Commando (Front 242) and having a Mukune sake)

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