Friday, April 12, 2013

10/15/12 - The Reclamation War - Pt. 2

When the Lion was a young man, living in Algiers, he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up -- a superhero.

His personal hero was a cunning and seemingly-unstoppable man from Tunisia: a man who had fought against fascists in World War II using only his cunning and reputation. A covert operative who struck from the shadows, leaving broken and groaning men in his wake, and then vanished before anyone could ever see him -- leaving only a claw-mark on the door or window he'd come in as testament to his having been and gone. 

They called him El-Asid -- the Lion. It was not a name he chose for himself; the enemy gave it to him. But when the war was over, and their evil defeated, he eventually adopted it with pride as he rededicated himself to fighting corruption and injustice in his own country. And then, with others like him, he did the same for the whole of North Africa.

For several years, it was said that God, himself, was on the side of The Lion. The criminals whispered that any cruel or evil deed done in the sight of God would be met and punished by that man. And those criminals were often condemned by their own words, as such base and superstitious men often are.

But the Lion was just a man, like any other. When he fell -- after fighting a being that claimed to be a god, himself -- there was no getting back up again. He died a hero, and was buried and mourned by his peers, his government, and those he had protected over the years.

And one could only hope that God had taken him into Paradise early, for he had surely deserved such a reward.

Seeing the pictures of his dead hero turned that young man's life around. He trained himself secretly, he amassed techniques and talents, and then, when the time was right, he stepped forward to claim the mantle that his hero had lost in death.

At first, others scoffed at this youthful upstart -- who was he to claim this man's good name? The ones he wanted as peers and allies shunned him, and told him to begone. But over time his dedication and zeal shone though, and even the old allies of the dead hero were willing to admit that the young man who'd taken his name had proven worthy of it. Indeed, in recent years he had transformed into a leader of other heroes, and -- thanks God -- had seemingly been worthy of such a position. 

Was he worthy now, then?

Now that he had been all but lured into a trap that even a fledgling hero should have been smart enough to avoid? Now that he was trapped within the body of a brass monster as it raged through a fantastic treehouse? Now that his body burned like a candle to provide the beast with the hellfire it launched at others?

Now that he suffered the same fate as his daughter had, all those months ago?

(A death he'd foolishly blamed on a friend and ally, rather than the beast that had done it.)

The Lion is not certain of this, any more than he is certain of anything. The fire rages about him -- rages from him -- but yet does not kill. But the pain it causes takes him in and out of consciousness, and in those moments of blackness he imagines himself standing before both his hero and God, and trying to explain exactly how he came to this horrible moment.

He can only hope they will be merciful, as he sees his friends and allies fall before the fists and fire that he is helping this infernal beast provide. Because he knows that he is the one who is directly responsible for bringing the monster here, amongst them. He is the one who vouched for the hero, based only on his seeming zeal and piety, and his ability to destroy the Imago with ease.

He is the one who looked into the metal man's eyes and thought he saw a reflection of his younger self, and decided to give him the chance that he, himself, had not been readily given at the start of his own career.

God have mercy upon him, it is almost as though this creature knew of the old scars in his heart and took advantage of them. And, given what a terrible foe he has proven himself, he would not be at all surprised if that was the truth.

If it is, then the Lion may have doomed their entire plan to take back the world from the Imago.

And if that's true, then when things finally go entirely black -- and his candle mercifully burns itself out -- he will indeed have much explaining to do.

Someone he called a friend screams as the fire takes him whole. The noise follows him down into blackness, and he prays that he will die, here and now, rather than contribute to the deaths of any more people.

He prays through the noise, and into the dark, that he can at least die like a hero. 

* * *

The alarm clocks on Alpha Base Seven are all the same: small, atonal things that start off softly, and then get even more atonal as they continue, but don't get any louder.

It's all based on some old, long-disproved idea that the strangeness of the noise they make will wake you up better than their increasing volume. But even though the theory's been shot down with holes large enough to hide Tranquility Base, itself, in, no one's gotten around to getting better alarm clocks for the crew.

There's always some boilerplate excuse about weight restrictions and priorities, which make sense. But then those excuses are salted with word of taxpayer grumblings, and lovingly glazed with the suggestion that the intrepid crew -- often marooned for years at a time -- have to do more with the less that they have, unless they want to risk losing even more.

And since 3/15, and the punishment they took from the Imago, they've had to do everything with hardly anything at all.

Prentice has been sitting at the edge of his Commander's bed for the last fifteen minutes. He's been awake for the last hour. The alarm has been going off for just under a minute, now, and he knows that he should really get up, turn it off, and let her sleep though his dressing and leaving.

He really should just pass out of her secret life as quickly as he's slipped into it.

He doesn't look at her, sleeping. He doesn't want to. That would ruin it. He only wants to remember the look on her face when she stood before him, naked and ready. He only wants to remember the sounds she made when he first slipped into her.

Everything else since then was a blur of various expectations met, exceeded, or dashed, but he wouldn't have it any other way. Everything went the way he'd more or less imagined it would.

Everything happened the way it was supposed to.

"Today, then," he says, getting up to dress. And by the time Barbara Martin finally does realize her alarm's going off, and it's time to get up, he's long gone. She never sees him alive again.

And all the questions she might have asked him are left unanswered, which -- in his estimation, at least - is also how things were supposed to go. 

* * *

"We are ready, then?" Ben Franklin asks the West Coast, where a number of people whose existence he can't quite understand are putting the last touches on a plan that's been months in the making.

"We are, yes," the masked and cowled man he's been taking most of his orders from replies: "If the President's ready?"

"I am ready," the President says, taking one last look at his notes before tossing them away, and no longer caring if his !@#$ tie is on straight or not. 

"Then I guess there's just one thing to do," Ben says, gesturing to the big red button on his control bank, right in front of all the screens he's got running: "This is the Rubicon, Mr. President. We press this, and the counter-signal is given. And sixty seconds after that, the FDOS is activated, and we go forward. No time for second thoughts."

"'We hang together, or they'll hang us all separately?'" the President quotes.

"Well, that wasn't exactly what I said, and I don't know if it's entirely applicable in this case. But, yes, I'll take that as a final word."

"Actually, I think my final words are..." the President muses, and then says something absolutely, mind-blowingly brilliant. The sort of motto that belongs on statues and memorials.

But no one's writes it down, because Ben Franklin isn't paying attention, anymore. He's just pressed the big red button, and started the revolution. 

For one full minute, anyone who is currently looking at a computer, monitor, or screen that's hooked directly into the internet has their brains soaked with a signal -- that that acts to directly counter the Imago's perniciously passive brainwashing. 

In that time, they find themselves realizing that things have been weird for the last seven months. They wonder why they've been so acquiescent about things. They wonder why they've been annoyed, rather than furious. Why they've been content to grumble instead of taking up arms and running into the streets -- deathrays be !@#$ed. 

And they question -- for the first time in more than half a year, they truly question what's been going on, and why.

And, after that sixty seconds of long-denied mental freedom has elapsed, the world comes slamming to a halt as the entire internet goes black, rolls over, and dies.

* * *

First there is a smart-phone. Then there is no smart-phone. Then there is.

An older, balding man in ornate, red robes looks at the black screen that was downtown Neo York City, just a few seconds ago, and gets up from the yoga pose he's been engaged in for the last hour.

"Did they do it?" he asks Sambulat as they sit just outside a large clearing North of Manila, in the Philippines. Beyond the brush lies a massive, white cube -- gleaming in the morning sun, and seemingly-unguarded.

"I've got nothing on my pad," the scruffily-dressed, young Filipino man says, tossing his now-seemingly-useless tablet aside: "Check your phone?"

"I've got a better idea," the woman in thick, glittering armor behind them says, looking off to the side and then back at them: "Yep, I'd say they did it. My anti-viral guards just shut down my access ahead of an attack wave. And they only do that if it's something they don't think they can handle."

"And if Gold Standard can't handle a computer virus, it's a !@#$ bad one," the bald man says, throwing his cowl over his head and getting ready for battle: "Nice to have you along, by the way."

"I owe it to all of you, Red Alchemist," she replies: "It's what I think my father would have wanted, anyway, if he'd been himself at the end, there."

"You Americans and your dynasties," Sambulat says, popping open a can of Royal Tru-Orange and guzzling it down: "What is it with tradition? I thought the whole point was to tell your parents to step off."

"Yes, but you eventually become your parents, son," Red Alchemist says with a smile: "And I guess that's why I never had any kids."

"Any regrets?" Gold Standard asks, looking at the giant, white cube they're about to attack.

"Not a one. You?"

"I'm regretting signing up with you old fogies," the young man says, winking as he tosses the empty can aside, belches, and walks out of the brush and towards the cube: "Remember to give me a wide berth. When I go boom, I go boom."

The two Freedom Force members -- one old, one new -- look at each other, smile, and kneel down, waiting for the Filipino hero they've teamed up with to live up to his name.

And when he does, maybe ten seconds later, they, like every other such group of strategic talents around the world, press the attack on the Imago's power supply, hoping to leave them both blind and crippled before delivering the final death-blow.

* * *

Moloch strides through the warping, wooden hallways of the prehistoric treehouse, smiling at the devastation and fear it's causing.

It's waited so long for this. So !@#$ long. Days upon days of smiling at faces he would rather burn off. Weeks of enduring social niceties and pretending to care. Months of biding his time and wondering when this plan would finally pay off.

And the praying! Oh, the praying. Kneeling to a false God five times a day. "God be praised this" and "thanks God" that. Inshallah, Inshallah, Inshallah...

No more of that. No more disguises. No more cocoons. No more of the wolf hiding his fur, fangs, and claws while amongst the sheep.

Today, as these so-called heroes prepare to fight their war against the metal creatures who've usurped their control of the Earth -- when they simply cannot afford for anything to go wrong -- Moloch strikes.

And SPYGOD will doubtlessly, finally come to accept his punishment at the hands of the one, true God.

The initial plan had made perfect sense: to mangle a saying from Moloch's meat childhood, if SPYGOD would not come to Moloch, then Moloch would come to SPYGOD. So Moloch had perfected a final form of itself, and hidden it inside a metal shell that, while not having the perfect conductivity of brass, would still suit his needs.

So did the Man of Steel came into the Gulf States -- a local hero, born from the Emirate of Fujairah, and as kind and pious and righteous a soul from such humble beginnings could be. This metal man fought meat crime and righted meat wrongs, and did so with such zeal and efficiency that it could not escape the notice of other heroes within that region.

And so, when 3/15 happened, and the Man of Steel's uncanny powers over metal proved a valuable defense against the Imago, the other heroes rushed to bring the young, fresh-faced talent into their fold. Moloch hoped that, within time, they would be brought together to form an ultimate plan, and that SPYGOD -- who had been missing in action since he killed the American meat President, a month before -- would come from hiding, and try to rehabilitate himself by taking back the world.

At that moment, Moloch would strike.

SPYGOD remained absent, however -- there was only the strange, masked leader of the revolution, and his weird comrade. But when that duo began recruiting for their revolution, and came upon the few remaining heroes of North Africa and the Middle East, the Man of Steel was all too happy to join them.

So Moloch had waited, biding time. Moloch waited while SPYGOD returned, but was ever elsewhere. Moloch waited while the plan was built and parts assembled. Moloch waited while tactics were plotted and ideas raised, and either mooted or adopted.

A week ago, Moloch snapped and acted out -- a poor decision, but not a fatal one. It gave the Man of Steel a social excuse to be seen less and less, so that Moloch could prepare more and more.

And now, here at the edge of the cliff all the world was about to leap over, Moloch could rise up from the depths and strike with full force.

The treehouse has things that SPYGOD wants -- those six satellites, ready to be shot into space -- but SPYGOD could always send people though to collect them from Moloch. Sooner or later, after enough heroes lay dying at Moloch's feet, SPYGOD might eventually deign to come through on his own. But that would take time and could backfire, or be worked around, and then Moloch would be back where he started -- waiting again, interminably.

So Moloch will take advantage of SPYGOD's one, great weakness -- a weakness Moloch had used against him before.

In the infirmary, propped up in a plastic tent, is a maimed young boy. He is the Talon, son of the Owl, and nearly destroyed when the Imago attacked their rich, American mansion ahead of 3/15. He was brought here to heal, in the belief that this was the safest place for him, though to hear the doctor tell it the only thing keeping the child alive is either God, or that no one's told him it's okay to die.

(And Moloch certainly has not authorized such a kindness.)

So will Moloch use this boy to lure SPYGOD here. Moloch will take the child into the main room, where things are brought to and from the real world. Moloch will call out to SPYGOD to face him, once and for all, or the Talon will be rent asunder. And should SPYGOD send others to fight for him, the satellites will be destroyed.

Moloch does not care if the satellites survive or not. Moloch does not care if the Imago have the Earth or not. Let them have the meat, or kill them, or whatever they plan.

Moloch is eternal. Moloch will gladly rule a black and broken planet. So long as there is metal, there is life, and Moloch will be God over that cracked and desolute landscape of rock, waste, and gleaming brass.

Moloch is. 

The infirmary poses no barrier to Moloch. The doctor tries to defend his patient, but soon blazes like one of the fireworks the Indian meat is always launching from Satwa, back in Dubai, when the police aren't looking. And now there is just the room, and the boy in the plastic tent.


Oh. Yes, he would be here, wouldn't he? The pale, sallow-faced fellow with green eyes who was brought here against his will. The father of the stricken boy.

The Green Man.

"Do you mind?" the fellow says, looking at Moloch through his long, black, and greasy hair: "We're trying to read the Bible, today."

"Get out of way of Moloch, meat," the brass monster hisses, the victim trapped inside his ribcage stirring to life as another gout of fire is readied: "You cannot stand against God."

"You're here for him, aren't you?" the Green Man says, pulling a number of sharp, metal objects out from behind his back, and getting ready to use them: "Might not want to use the flames. There's oxygen in use, here. SPYGOD won't come to fight over a corpse."

"You...?" Moloch asks, uncertain how this meat-thing could know.

"I've known what you were since you lost your temper, your Mohammedan buffoon," Green Man spits: "I was just waiting to see what you'd do. And now I know. And now I stop you."

"You cannot win," Moloch says, his arms coming apart, readying to rip the man apart.

"I cannot miss," Green Man says, smiling and making ready to fight. To save the son he didn't know he had.

To die.

(SPYGOD is listening to Stripped (Depeche Mode) and drinking a Devils Head Red)

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