Saturday, May 11, 2013

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

The Aztec ghosts rouse themselves first, perhaps because they have the least to lose.

One moment the giant, white cube to the West of Mexico City is sitting in the sun, unmolested and surreal. The next it is surrounded by legions of resplendently-feathered warriors -- wispy, transparent, and ready for battle.

And very, very angry.

What happens next is best likened to what happens when an animal has the misfortune of falling sick on the plains of Africa, right in front of a column of driver ants -- only sped up by a factor of a thousand. First there is a cube, then there is a cube covered by hordes of obsidian-blade wielding Aztec ghosts, and then there is nothing but a smoking, broken heap of otherworldly, white plastic.

To the crystal eyes of Deep Ten -- not really attuned to ectoplasmic threats -- it seems as though the cube has fallen apart on its own accord. And by the time it fires at what's left of it, hoping to annihilate its unseen attackers, the ghosts have moved on to their next target.

And then, shortly thereafter, the next after that.

Bolstered by their success, the other assembled, weird armies of the world surge into overdue action. Squads of planes that look more like Mayan temples than aircraft hurl themselves at the Imago's installations, dodging particle beams and orbital heavy lasers with uncanny ease as they destroy target after target. Squads of Specials in Eastern Europe are suddenly overrun by black-clad dhampir commandos and aging men and women trained to seek and kill renegade strategic talents, giving the rusty, Soviet cyborgs they brought along the time needed to aim their decrepit, heavy weapons at their true targets.

Men become tigers and attack squads of Specials. Mountain warriors no one's seen since the Hong Kong handover come from nowhere and slaughter their enemies with long knives that shouldn't be able to cut through their armor, yet somehow do. Elephants modified for war stomp down the walls to the white tent cities of the plains and take the battle to the nearby cubes, howling and whooping as their ancestor spirits infest their weapons, making them more than a match for metal and plastic. 

In the mountains of Afghanistan, the plains of Mongolia, the Jungles of Vietnam. In the suburbs of Paris, the north of London, the outskirts of Madrid. In the savannas of Tanzania, the sprawls of Kenya, the slums of South Africa.

The world is fighting back, now -- coming to the aid of those few, brave shadow people who have fought and died on their behalf. There is no longer an option to do otherwise.

And as the weapons platform above their heads sends beam after beam down to punish their arrogance -- the simple, base arrogance that men should be free to conduct their own affairs -- even more strange armies follow in their wake.

The tide has turned. The war has gone weird.

And what it will leave in its wake is anyone's guess.

* * *

Alpha Base Seven is a tomb -- cold, silent, and potentially eternal.

The particle cannons made short work of what little remained. Nothing that the survivors of 3/15 had rebuilt and adapted is still intact. Nowhere remained intact.

No one survived.

On his way to find what he's looking for, Director Straffer encounters numerous corpses, floating weightless in the smoldering, shattered chambers and tunnels. Their bodies ruptured by exposure to the void -- mouths filled with bloody froth, eyes started from their sockets -- they trail red droplets behind them as they tumble slowly through their high-tech mausoleum.

He passes them, trying to avoid touching them, or even looking at them. He does not want to see their faces. He knows that if he sees someone he actually liked -- and there were a few -- he might waste precious seconds regarding their fate, and apologizing for having failed them.

And right now, in this moment, he does not have the luxury of sadness or apology.

He stumbles through the wreckage, climbing over and under the piles of rock, plastic, and steel. He pushes aside what he can, and scrambles over what he cannot. He forces open massive, stuck doors, and rifles for keys through the pockets of the dead.

And then, at long last, he gets to where he needs to be.

In a makeshift hangar, not far from what was the secondary control center, sits the base's last intact lifeboat. And, by some miracle, it was not even scratched by the attack.

The lifeboats were small and pathetic things, meant only to be used if all other means of evacuation failed. They could carry three people into near-lunar orbit, the better to be picked up by a rescue ship and ferried back to Earth. And they could keep those three people alive for about a week as they waited for deliverance from whatever fate had befallen their base.

After 3/15, there was just one lifeboat available. Some of the survivors said they should board it and try to contact Earth, in the hopes of getting the others rescued. Most of them realized that no rescue could come from that direction, and that if they launched it, their attackers would know they were still alive, and set about finishing the job.

And that's why Straffer isn't planning on launching it. He just needs a few of the things it has on board. If they work the way he hopes they will, he might just be able to put things right, again. He might actually be able to fix the mess today's treachery has created.

And if he's really lucky, he might just be able to survive that fixing.

* * *

"... have to remember that, when they injected us at Camp Rogers, no one had any idea what was going to happen," Mr. USA says to Mark as they rest up against a wall, on the way to the blasted, wrecked infirmary: "As it was, we were lucky more than half of us didn't die."

"I heard about it," Mark says, standing ready to catch the old man if he falls: "The original Owl came in afterwards to train you guys. He saw some of the results..."

The old man nods and smiles: "I remember. I was a cocky little son of a gun, flush with new powers and wondering why they didn't just let us loose on Hitler right then and there. He kicked my butt to the ground the first time I went toe-to-toe with him. Didn't even break a sweat."

Mark laughs, and then thinks better of it:"Sorry, that was rude of me."

"Don't be. I deserved it. And I knew it. After that, I smartened up... mostly."

"I guess we all need to learn a thing or two the hard way," Mark says, knowing just how true that was.

"We sure do. But he was a real gentleman, Mark. Someone to look up to and be proud to know."

"I consider you the same, sir," Mark says: "I wish there was something I could do, here."

"Don't worry," Mr. USA says, leaning forward and cracking his arms and hips, grimacing as he does: "I'm getting it back, I think. Maybe another few hours and I'll be back up to speed."

"So you were saying about the treatment?" Mark says, hands still ready to catch him if he falters, again, but slowly realizing he IS actually regaining his balance: "Your aging?"

"Well, there was some thought it might retard the aging process, and they were right. But it was like the powers. It all depended on the individual. Some of us stopped aging altogether, up to a point, and some of us just slowed."

"And you?"

"Near as we could tell, I didn't age at all for a few years, and then after the war I started going reverse exponential."

"Oh?" Mark says, smiling as the old man's gait becomes more even as they go.

"Yes. As near as they could tell, I aged one only year for every four for about 16 years, there. And then one for every three for the next nine, and every other year for the next two. After that, I starting aging normally, again, but unevenly. I didn't get wrinkly or feeble, or anything like that. I just had to start using hair dye to avoid looking older."

"Well, like I said, the last time I saw you...?"

"I was about 87 and looked on the kinder side of 65."

"And now?"

Mr. USA sighs, straightening up a bit more: "Well, Mark, I think I see why ladies don't want you to ask their age, after a certain point. But how about we say I'm 154-"

"Jesus!" Mark gasps.

"And let's pretend I'm only in my 130's, somewhere," the old man winks at him: "In truth, I think I hit terminal velocity thirty years ago. I don't seem to be getting any more decrepit. It just takes me a little longer to bounce back whenever I go all out, is all."

"Why?" Mark says: "What happened? How is this possible?"

"It's a long story," Mr. USA sighs, putting a hand on his shoulder: "Let's just say that, after the War, I did something really dumb. And I didn't realize just how dumb it was until last February, or so. And I told myself, then, if there was any way to make up for it, I'd do it."

"And did you?"

"Oh yes," the man says, his gait returning to normal: "And I had to do it the hard way..."

* * *

What is happening? the leader asks, sensing that something is wrong.

"I'm not certain," The Fist says, looking at his screens and wondering why things haven't changed. He has fired at Tokyo three times, and at the giant, striding robot twice, and yet the massive city is still standing, and the robot is still walking.

Where is the Android? The Dragon asks: Is she protecting the city, or the white robot?

"Let me check..." he says, adjusting his viewscreen a few levels, so that he can find the flying girl. And, as soon as he does, he gasps, unable to believe what he's seeing.

Well? The Motion asks: What's going on, Fist? My eyes have all burned out from watching the particle beams.

The Fist just stares, uncomprehending. The android girl is floating in the air, between the colossus and the city it is walking away from, her arms raised in either direction. Her skin is glowing a strange color, and the air around the Dignitary and the city is flecked with motes of light the same color.

"Um..." he says, shaking his head: "This is incredible. The little !@#$ is shielding both the robot and the city, somehow."

How can that be possible? the leader hisses: Can she be that powerful?

Yes, she can, The Dragon says: Perhaps you never saw her in action. The Organization did a superb job of hiding her exact capabilities-

How long can she keep this up? the leader asks.

"I don't know," the Fist says: "I could fire every cannon I have at her, but then I'd have to ease up on the forces attacking us. And that might be fatal at this juncture-"

I don't have time for this !@#$, The Motion says: How about we let the big dogs loose?

If you mean we send our freed brothers and sisters into battle, I say that would be a foolhardy idea, the Dragon counsels: It might tip our hand too soon-

A few squads, aimed at that !@#$ robot, just to add their firepower to the mix and drain her shields, the Motion offers: I can do it before I head out. Just give me the word.

The word is given, the leader commands: Fist, continue to strike at the city and the robot. Motion, beam them in just outside the cannon's strike zone. Dragon, begin to formulate a firing strategy in case that robot does succeed in coming this way. 

We must win this day, my loves. And to win we must be ready for every eventuality. 

Of course, they all obey. And this is because of both the wisdom of her words, and the hint of menace they can detect, there. It speaks volumes that she is no longer so concerned about The Sight, and what has happened to him. They know that, even if they should win this day, there is a good chance she may just leave him screaming in his own prison -- a sad casualty of war.

None of them want to wind up like him. 

And as they adjust their plans, the android they are so concerned with grits her metal teeth, unwilling to budge. She knows that she cannot keep this massive expenditure of energy up for much longer, and can only hope that her allies find a way to end the deadly threat from above, and soon.

But she will not bend or break. She will defend both the city and the robot that is walking away from it for as long as she can. Even if she must expend every last curl and trace of energy to do it, and burn out every last one of her circuits in the attempt, she will.

She was never promised an easy time of things, either in her time or this one. She was never told that she could expect simple choices or easy challenges. She was only ever given the opportunity to serve, and the rationale for doing so.

And if she must die in that service, then she is happy to oblige. Even now, weary and in great pain, she smiles brightly -- happier than she has been in years.

Could she be anything other, in this moment in time?

* * *

"I just don't like it," Myron says, getting ready to affix the small, glowing, brass cube to the great machine: "It really seems too easy."

"It is, yes," Winifred agrees, handing him a lead: "But do you have a better !@#$ing idea?"

"No," he admits, taking the lead and attaching it to one end of the cube: "I don't. And that bothers the !@#$ out of me."

"It hasn't been the best day for good ideas."

"No," he says, putting another lead on the cube, and making sure the switch attached to it is in the OFF position.

"Speaking of which, do you have an idea about what do to when we get back?"

He looks at her: "What do you mean?"

"I mean, with the satellites gone, the Imago and Specials are still fighting. And that means Deep Ten is still firing down at us. And that means fighting them is going to be really !@#$ difficult."

"Then I guess we'll have to come up with another plan," Myron says, checking the energy flow: "And hopefully it'll hold up better than this one did."

"I have every confidence in you," Skyspear says, looking a little more rested, now: "God willing, we will succeed."

"I sure hope so," Winifred says, looking over at Thomas, who's breathing is becoming shallower all the time: "I just keep thinking things are about to get really !@#$ ugly."

* * *

"Who are you?" the former First Lady of the United States of America asks, not liking the look of the man that's just teleported into her living room, where she's been hiding with the children since the rumbling and fighting started, and since they learned that her husband -- their father -- is still alive.

"Oh, you probably don't remember me, Ma'am," Doctor Yesterday says, taking off his hat while addressing her: "I usually stayed in the background and handled the big science while the guys in the flashy costumes did all the punching. But I used to be in the Freedom Force, once upon a time."

"Oh!" she says, getting up and extending a hand: "That's right... Bob, isn't it? And your wife was Geri-"

"I prefer Doctor, actually," he says, putting his hat back on his head before shaking her hand. And something about how he interrupts her, and how long he holds her hand in his, unnerves her just a little.

"Well, what can I do for you? I heard some of the heroes were out, fighting?"

"Yes! We are. And that's why I'm here. We need to collect you and take you somewhere safe."

She blinks: "Is anywhere safe, right now?"

"You'll see," he says, gesturing towards the two girls as they sit on the couch: "It's probably only a matter of time before the Imago show up, and then... well, let's not get into that. I can take you someplace safe to wait until this all blows over."

"Is daddy there?" the oldest girl asks.

"Yes he is, sweetie," Yesterday says, smiling at her: "You'll be safe as houses there, I guarantee it."

The First Lady smiles at him, but it's a hollow and guarded smile: "Did he say anything?"

"I'm sorry?"

"My husband," she continues: "Did he tell you to tell me anything?"

For a moment there's some confusion in his eyes, and then it's gone, and he tells her the sort of things any husband presumed to be dead might tell his wife when he's back to life, and fighting to regain their world. But in that moment of confusion, the First Lady stops listening, and starts thinking of a way to get her and the children away from this man, and out of this house.

"Well, how about we pack up, first?" she says, looking over at the girls: "Go get the small suitcases and pack up a few things, okay?"

She looks at them and half-smiles, and they smile and charge off, doubly excited. Not only do they get to see dad, again, but they also get to sleep over someplace! What fun!

As soon as they're out of earshot, she turns and looks at him: "Please don't hurt them," she asks: "Whatever you're going to do, take me. Leave them here."

"I don't think so," Doctor Yesterday says, his smile sharp and cruel: "We're going to need all three of you for what comes next."


"I'll make you a deal, though," he says, taking a step closer to her, and looking down at her: "If you say nothing, and cooperate, I won't make you pick which one dies here and now, in front of you."

She gasps and takes a step back: "Please..."

"We need three, but I can do without one," he says, stepping even closer, this time: "Maybe even two. Maybe if we tell him to surrender and stop after we kill those two little !@#$es, and it's just you, he'll be too shocked to think straight. You want to try it like that?"


"Then you keep your !@#$ mouth shut," Doctor Yesterday hisses, running a finger down the side of her face: "And tell them to dress appropriately. It's a little cold, where we're going."

"You're evil," she says, some measure of steel coming back into her eyes: "You will pay for what you've done."

"We are what we are," he says: "And if we were really evil, we wouldn't be trying to stop this from getting worse, now would we?"

Something about his smile makes her blood run about as cold as where he's intending to take her.

(SPYGOD is listening to New Life (Depeche Mode) and having a few bottles of Antarctic Nail Ale)

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