Wednesday, March 20, 2013

10/11/12 - Iron Demons, Metal Angels - pt 2

There are a little over a million and a half people living on Sardinia, and 6000 of them make the small island of San Pietro their home. 

They've fared fairly well, in this "Age of Imago." Their economy stabilized not long after 3/15, and even improved, somewhat. No one made any strange or unreasonable demands of them. They've kept their children by their sides, did not have a large white box installed by their main city, and the only times the Imago have showed up is to bring good news.

By and large, things are great.

Of course, there's still issues: the fishing's been a little weird, and the internet seems slower than it should be, at times. There's also the strangeness involved in visiting North Africa, and how, as soon as they remember the strangeness, they immediately do their best to think about something else.

(And then there's that disturbing old man in the high castle, up on the northwest promontory. But the less said about that strange and cruel fellow the better. They say he's a super-criminal, after all, and who wants to get mixed up with that?)

But those things are small issues; tiny fish in the big sea of life. The people of San Pietro work hard, and live well, and no one has any real problems to speak of.

Even today, with Rome set ablaze, and the skies of the world burning and bleeding, no one's seen any sign of the supposedly-worldwide fighting anywhere near the island. Perhaps they're just not important enough to bother with? And if so, why worry? Things should straighten themselves out well before they reach their shores.

They always do.

And that's why it's something of a shock when the sky becomes rather bright, all of a sudden.

The people's first thought is that a terribly powerful explosive has gone off, somewhere. The masses come out to see, shielding their eyes as best they can and wondering what's going on. But as soon as they realize that the brightness is directly overhead, it's too late to do anything about it.

The blast lasts for ten, long seconds. It goes from the north end of the island to the south. When it's over, there's nothing left of San Pietro but a smoking and molten hole in the sea bed, spawning a wave that swamps the shores of nearby Sardinian seaports.

Fortunately, most of the citizens of those towns and cities are indoors at the time: bolted down in their cellars and ground floors, hoping that the horrible, screaming, metal storms that are destroying the major cities of Europe do not come their way, too.

And so San Pietro dies unseen and alone -- a minor casualty of a larger war. Even now, newly-dead, they might not make the connection between the castle of the creepy old man and their sad fate. It's people never saw it coming, and had no idea that they would have been a target.

They never even had time to cry for help.

* * *

"Alright then," SPYGOD says, knocking back the sake that his dangerous host was kind enough to provide his guests: "You've heard my plan. You've heard what I need. I am here to ask what you can give me to help with this plan."

Mister 10 puffs on his cigarette, exhales towards the ceiling, and speaks. His assistant, Hanami, translates a few seconds later: "What sort of help?"

"To be !@#$ing honest? I'll take anything you can give me, as long as it's !@#$ big, !@#$ powerful, and likely to win the battle in the first few !@#$ing seconds."

The man looks at SPYGOD for a few seconds, and then laughs. It is not a kind-sounding thing.

"Is something wrong?" the President asks, before SPYGOD can remind him that he shouldn't be talking.

The man speaks, and Hanami translates: "Do you think this is a pink box? Do you think you can just borrow the things I safeguard as though they were there for your pleasure? We look after these things because they are dangerous, and must be studied and watched. We do not loan them out to failed warriors who need to win wars."

"Look, Mister 10, I mean no disrespect-" SPYGOD starts to say, but goes silent as a finger is put onto his lips.

"If you wished to show me respect, you would speak my language, and call me by my rightful name," Mister 10 says: "I did not mind giving you some aid, before. I do not mind giving you some aid, now, or in the future. But you may not ask this of me. And you know why-"

"How would you like total military autonomy in return?" the President asks.

SPYGOD looks at the President: "Shut your !@#$ mouth-"

"Please, continue," Mister 10 says, squeezing SPYGOD's lips together with his forefinger and thumb.

"When we are back on our feet, as a nation, and a world," the President says, sitting up straight and looking the man in the eyes: "I can pledge to you that America will no longer insist that Japan cannot have a fully-functioning, standing military. We will agree to a scheduled, gradual withdrawal of our forces, so as to allow you to build up your forces to full strength. And when you are, we will leave and not return, unless you ask for our aid. No more military bases, no more fleet movements. You will be free to pursue your defense as you see fit."

"The refusal to put forward an offense-capable military is enshrined in our Constitution, Mr. President. It has been a part of our national culture since the Occupation. Between our Self-Defense Force and the things my group looks after, we have beaten back everything that has ever threatened Japan. Why do you think we would even want this?"

"Because I think being invaded by the Imago is going to rankle your nation quite severely, when all is said and done," the President explains, wondering how long he can talk before SPYGOD punches him in the face: "I think you are a proud people, and for good reason. And once certain facts are brought to light, after we've liberated the Earth, I think your people will be ready to talk about having a real military, once again."

Mister 10 considers that for a moment, and then continues: "I thought you had to put such things before your Congress, Mr. President?"

"I do, yes. But I also think that, once certain other facts are brought to light, the Congress will be very happy to approve of my plan," the President says: "And if not, I'll write as many !@#$ executive orders as I have to."

The man looks at the President, and then at SPYGOD. Then he smiles, takes his hand away from SPYGOD's face, and leans back in his chair.

"Very well," he says: "On behalf of what it left of the Japanese government, I accept your gracious offer. And I will be happy to provide the temporary use of one of our more powerful properties. However, you must name the one you want, as I am not going to provide you with a shopping list.

"And I should warn you that our collection is not what it was..."

"What do you mean-" the President asks, but he's quickly silenced by Mister 10 shouting for more sake, and maybe some snacks.

He looks at SPYGOD. SPYGOD does not look at him. He gets the idea they may have just been conned.

And he sighs, realizing that maybe he really should have just kept his big mouth shut.

* * *

In Doctor Kyklops' large and impressive sea saucer, the mood has gone from elation to grim reality.

The holographic battle globe in the main chamber says it all: maniple after maniple of Slaughterbots are being targeted from on high, and utterly destroyed. The Imago are luring them into firing position, and then teleporting away a half-second before the particle beams come down.

From her vantage point, surrounded by smaller holographic screens, METALMAID seethes and fumes. It was all going so well! How could she have miscalculated this badly?

(Meanwhile, the destruction of his seaside castle has turned her "client" into a sad wreck, sitting in a chair far from the globe. But he wasn't offering anything in the way of a sensible battle plan, anyway, so that's of no concern to her.)

"Do not bunch up," METALMAID is ordering the groups of Slaughterbots: "If you are too close together, they will fire upon you. Reduce ranks to ten and scatter!"

"This Unit must point out that if they do not attack in a large group, they will lose their tactical advantage," V-16 wisely counsels.

"I know that!" METALMAID shouts: "But it's all we can do. We have no way of knocking out Deep Ten. The !@#$ tin machines are untouchable."

"Then this Unit suggests that we have only one recourse left," V-16 says: "The final move."

"They are still too strong, and we are losing."

"They will not fire their cannon at their own city," V-16 says, putting a hand on her shoulder: "They can risk the boxes. They cannot risk that."

"So if they scatter, and regroup there..." METALMAID says, nodding.

"This Unit still believes victory is possible, if they pursue that strategy."

"Alright," METALMAID addresses her troops: "New plan. All mobile units, all recycle units, find the nearest major body of water and dive into it. Maintain unit strength of no more than ten, and distance yourself at least ten miles from each other. Converge on the city, stay mobile, and wait for my signal.

"All Box units, stay at your tasks. Those things must be destroyed at all costs."

The many maniples register their acknowledgement, and comply. She watches as more beams come down from the heavens and destroy fleeing groups, doing the arithmetic in her head.

This was never a certain thing to begin with, but now it's going to be really !@#$ing close.

* * *

"You have to be !@#$ing kidding me," SPYGOD says: "Your top exo-cyberneticist died of cancer?"

"It was very sudden," Mister 10 says, though Hanami: "One day he was fine, the next he was not himself, and then he was mistaking fermented soybean paste for his hat. A week later, he was dead."

"That's !@#$ convenient-"

"Not for us," the man interrupts: "And you, of everyone, should know the hazards of working with exotic materials. We lost dozens of men merely exploring the ship, before he came to the project. The fact that he was able to make the Fire Flier work was nothing short of a miracle, and the fact that he did not die sooner from some strange thing no one can predict was only luck. And luck eventually runs out.

"And no one else knows how the Fire Flier works?" SPYGOD sighs, his hopes getting shorter along with his list.

"Unfortunately, no. He was a very secretive individual. He was all too aware that, the more people knew, the less necessary he was."

"So I bet you're going to tell me he never !@#$ing trained those Flying Young Science Commandos how to fix the !@#$ thing, either?"

"That is correct," Mister 10 knocks back some sake.

"What shape is it in?" the President asks: "We have some people who could possibly figure it out-"

"Even if we would trust you to look it over, and we do not," Mister 10 interrupts: "It is in several pieces, at this moment. The last time we faced attack from Hell Island, the team took it into battle. It did not fare well."

SPYGOD sighs, and crosses yet another entry off his list. There aren't many entries left.

"The Giant Archer?"

"Intact, but indisposed," the man says, smiling slightly.

"What the !@#$ does that mean?"

"Something has to guard the entrance to Hell Island, now."

Another line is crossed off: "The Lizard King?"

"We do not control him. He comes and goes as he will, sometimes as a friend, and sometimes not."

"When's the last time you saw him?"

"Before 3/15. But sometimes he vanishes for years. I think we could grow old and die in captivity waiting for him to return."

"And we don't even have that long," the President says, shaking his head: "Too bad. We could have used him."

Another line is marked off: "The Revolutionary Men?"

"Missing in action, sadly."

"How the !@#$ does an entire group of hundred foot tall metal men go missing in action?"

"Your government exiled them."

"We did what?" the President asks, but SPYGOD holds up a hand.

"You mean they were... like ours?"

"They were. And when your Government entered into that deal, in the 1980's, we lost them. In fact, that is part of the reason why the Organization exists in the first place, to make certain such things do not happen again."

A deep sigh, and yet another line is marked off: "The cute, can-do android from the future with a punch that could take out a battleship?"

"Also indisposed."

"You have to be !@#$ing kidding me."

"I assure you, we are not," Mister 10 replies. Hanami smiles, this time.

* * *

The plan is put into action. The Slaughterbots spread themselves out as much as they can, without losing unit cohesion, and dive into the nearest large body of water. This saves them, without a doubt.

However, those units that are engaged in sabotaging the large, white boxes are not as fortunate. Each one, in turn, is fired upon by the same particle beams that were surgically taking out their airborne comrades. Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa -- they are picked off, one by one.

And the white boxes are not so much as scorched by the beams that engulf them.

As the Slaughterbots lose their numbers and cohesion, their enemy redoubles. Phalanxes of Specials are teleported ahead of them, firing terrible and heavy weapons at them as they retreat.

The Imago also follow them under the waves, using surprise and increased numbers to rend them apart. The seas boil with hidden conflicts, and the oceans run black and red with oil and blood.

And from her headquarters, deep beneath the waves, METALMAID watches her forces' numbers dwindle dramatically, and begins to think of an exit strategy.

This war may be lost.

* * *

"Well rat!@#$," SPYGOD says, crumbling up his piece of paper: "Not a single giant !@#$ing robot, no !@#$ wondervehicles, no giant monsters on a leash. You probably don't even have that metal gimp on the superbike, anymore, do you?"

"He is available," Mister 10 says: "But, to be honest, I do not think he would fare so well against your chosen target."

"We may just come to that," SPYGOD sighs: "And you really aren't going to just !@#$ing offer me something you do have? Really?"

"We made an agreement, did we not?" Mister 10 says, banging his hands on the table and clearly becoming angry: "You knew the rules when we began. You also know what my organization does, and why-"

"And I know that if the Imago don't !@#$ing kill us, whatever's coming at us from outer !@#$ing space will-"

"Perhaps I should kill you and save them the bother-"

"This building," the President says: "We'll take it."

Mister 10 opens his mouth to say something, and then closes it. Hanami looks at him, and then the President. SPYGOD raises his eyebrows, and then leans back and smiles.

"You do not know what you are asking," Mister 10 finally says.

"It's powerful enough to destroy Tokyo if you mess with it," the President says: "So I suspect if you use it as intended, it must be exactly what we need."

Mister 10 looks at Hanami, and then back at the President. He nods, stands up, bows, and leaves the room.

"Did we..." the President asks, looking at Hanami and then SPYGOD: "I'm not sure what just happened, here?"

"We will be in touch, soon, regarding a way to contact us," the woman says, getting up and bowing respectfully: "You may stay in this room, or enjoy the bar, outside. But I should warn you that the people out there are dangerous criminals, and may recognize you."

With that, she's gone, leaving the President and SPYGOD to themselves.

"I think you just saved the !@#$ing planet, Mr. President," SPYGOD says, pouring the two of them some more of the fine sake their host left for them: "Care for a drink?"

"I think I'm going to need a whole !@#$ raft of them," the President says, gulping his down.

"I hear that," SPYGOD says, handing him the other cup and pulling right from the bottle.

"I wonder how the war's going?"

"If I've got my timing right?" SPYGOD looks at his watch: "Just about over, except for the screaming..."

* * *

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a strange and massive city, recently risen from the seabed. Its fabled contours -- reminiscent of every lost civilization of the Earth -- glows red in the evening Sun. Strange lights play inside its massive hollows and cyclopean doors, and weird, crackling balls of light float in and out of its many windows, as if watching for intrusions.

Above it all, hovering motionless, is a giant metal dragonfly. As night approaches, it glows a dull purple, beating in time with a hideous heartbeat. It seems to be breathing, this silver leviathan, but that may just be a trick of the light. 

At the horizon, there is a stirring beneath the waves -- swift and terrible, hungry for battle.

The last few maniples of the Slaughterbot army are converging on their target. They are fewer, now, but strong and certain. They know they can do this, if only because they have been ordered to.

But in that ordering comes certainty: they have a task to complete, and they must not stop until they have done so.

As one, they rise from the waves. As one, they fire their weapons at the city and the immense, steel insect that sits above it. As one, they scream their battlecry, falling forward into death and history. 

A blinding light, a raging fire, and then there is nothing but ashes and smoke.

(SPYGOD is listening to W.Y.H.I.W.Y.G. (Front 242) and having more of that fine Mukune Sake)

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