Thursday, May 16, 2013

10/15/12 - The Reclamation War - Pt. 11

... Dr. Yesterday, broadcasting on all the channels I know we used to use. Hopefully it will get to its intended recipients in time to avoid disaster, or at least a tragedy. Maybe both. 

So, hello there, Mister President. Are you having a nice war?

I guess that's a stupid question. I'd be having a nice war, if I was you. Hidden in your secret location, somewhere, surrounded by strong walls and all the people who told you this was actually a good idea.

I guess they told you this would be a cake walk, Mister President? Just get on television and tell the world the liberation is here, just sit tight and keep your heads down and you'll all be free by morning.

So how's that working out for you, Mister President? Really?

Because the last I checked, you're not doing too well. Those satellites you tried to launch are dust in the upper atmosphere. We outnumber you on the ground by a factor of 100, maybe even 1000. Every time you take out one of our cubes we answer with fire from the sky. 

And you won't be taking those cannons out of the equation, Mister President. Not with what you have. 

So what do you hope to accomplish, here? Sooner or later you're going to run out of proxy armies to throw at us. Sooner or later you're going to have no strategic talents left to follow you. And even if you do, sooner or later they're all going to tell you to take your rebellion and stuff it.

And if you don't, well... I guess I shouldn't tell you this, but there's a movement afoot on our side of things to just say !@#$ it and kill you all. We don't really need you alive, at this point. We'd rather not get that messy, to be honest, because it makes more sense, and costs less effort, to leave you all alive.

But if this keeps up, and you cost us too much? We might just decide you're not worth it, after all. 

Now, I'm sure the people who talked you into this fiasco are listening to this, and saying "oh, don't listen to him, Mister President. Just give us another hour or two. We'll have this war won by then, we hope. And if not then, then not long thereafter. Trust us. We know what we're doing."

Heck, SPYGOD probably threatened to castrate you with his teeth if you don't keep up your end of the bargain. Am I right?

Well, I could wait for you to see sense and understand that you're backing the wrong horse, here. But, having dealt with you in the past, I don't have faith that you'll actually grow a backbone in time. 

So I'm going to make a more personal appeal to you, Mister President. And hopefully this cuts right to the chase.

Can you see the screen behind me, Mister President? I sure hope so, because I have someone here that you haven't seen in a while. 

Now, I'm sure I don't have to introduce you to your wife. And I know you know your two little girls. No introduction needed there, either.

But let me introduce you to this, here. This, Mister President, is a hammer.

And I am going to give you half an hour. And then, every five minutes after that, I'm going to introduce it to one of them, one swing at a time. 

I think I might beat one of your children to death, in front of your wife. Or maybe I'll be nice and hit her, first. I might do fingers and toes before I do skulls. Or maybe I'll just aim for a temple and !@#$ them in the !@#$ with a chisel while they're still twitching and !@#$ing themselves...

You see, you have me at something of a loss, Mister President. I'm not the monster, here. I was a research scientist who got caught up in the mess when Superheroes went to war and became Strategic Talents. Being brutal and bloody isn't really my thing. That's more SPYGOD's bag, and he's welcome to it.

But we are staring down a bad situation. I am working hard to keep my colleagues from deciding you're better off as dust under our feet. And I figure, I really can and should rise to the occasion, here. 

And I also figure that, in 30 minutes, I can think up some really clever and nasty ways to hurt the ones you love.

So that's where we are, right now. You have the war in your hands, and I have your wife and children. If you surrender, and all major hostilities end within the time I'm giving you, you can have them back. We will not punish them. We may punish you, depending on how we feel, but you have my word that they will live, and freely. 

You also have my word that, if you ignore this, they will die. They will die slowly, and painfully. And they will know, with each swing of this hammer, that they're dying because you wouldn't save them. 

They will know that they are dying because you thought this world, and this war, was more important than them.

Of course, there's the chance that you won't get this in time, or at all. And if that's true, then they'll die for nothing. But that's a risk I'm willing to take to help you see that this is a mistake. 

That's all I have to say, Mister President. The hammer is waiting, and so am I. All you have to do is tell them to stop attacking our cubes and Specials, and I'll tell you where to surrender. Your wife and children will be waiting. 

You have thirty minutes from... now.

* * *

SPYGOD grimaces as Dr. Yesterday finishes, and turns the screen off. 

He's the only one who received that message -- of that he's !@#$ sure. All the communications channels that the Freedom Force used to use are being run through Lady Gilda, right now. Everyone else is only using their own channels, and getting information from his when he sends a signal.

The President is not going to know of this message unless he sends it on to him. And if he does, what will happen?

He'd like to think the President will do the right thing. He'd hope that the President would not give in to what could only be described as a desperate ploy by an amoral enemy terrified of losing.

He'd hope he'd trust in SPYGOD to assemble a fast and timely response, and get it moving in time to save his wife and daughters.

SPYGOD would hope so, but he isn't sure. He thinks of how the President has hesitated, before. How he's second-guessed the mission because his heart told him something different from his head. How he held off on shooting the Chinese Premier because of his doubts, and how that almost ruined the entire plan.

And that was just some !@#$ idiot they had on a list marked USE ME BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE DOES. How the !@#$ is he going to react to his own wife and children?

How would anyone?

SPYGOD takes a deep breath, and realizes that he can't trust the man to do the right thing. And, once he's made that realization, the rest comes easily.

He puts in a call to Fred, hoping that the Toon's got his !@#$ back together after their colony was vaporized from orbit. Sure enough, he does.

"SPYGOD, what's up?" the Toon asks, looking quite worse for wear: "We're still picking ourselves up, here-"

"Fred, this is !@#$ing urgent," SPYGOD says: "Total priority, black one. Do you !@#$ing understand?"

"I do," Fred says, straightening up just a little: "What do you need?"

"I need you to get in touch with Wayfinder, right !@#$ing now," he says: "Tell him to locate the First Lady. When he does that, tell Doctor Power to !@#$ing contact Wayfinder for directions, and then assemble anyone they can !@#$ing spare to form a strike team to get her. I don't care if it's drunk sidekicks and animal !@#$ing companions. Anyone they can spare. Is that understood?"

"Yes," Fred says, nodding: "I'll get hold of him right now. Can I ask-"

"No," SPYGOD says: "This is something you're !@#$ing better off not knowing !@#$ about, Fred. Just do what I need and get back to your !@#$. Okay?"

"Alright, will do," Fred says, and switches off.

"Did I just do a bad thing, Bee-Bee?" SPYGOD asks his cat. The beast shrugs and mutters something in Russian, reaching for another swig from its bottle of vodka.

And he figures that's the only answer he deserves, right now. 

* * *
"Are you there, God? It's me, Timothy..."

Director Straffer pauses in his work, closing his eyes and centering himself -- ignoring the pain and strange sensations that come from this kind of undertaking and trying to take hold of the situation.

"It's been a while since we talked, I know," he continues, shifting on the seat of the lunar escape lifeboat to get a better hold on something from the the exposed innards of the control console, and the mysterious, wire-garden workings underneath it: "Hope you don't mind."

With a firm, steady pull, a knot of fine, green wiring is loosened and pulled out as far as it will go. He regards it, and then, gritting his teeth, reaches into his open chest cavity -- a disgusting mash of synthetic and organic parts, strewn with old, outdated circuitry and mechanical parts -- and pulls out a cluster of circuit boards.

"In fact, I think the last time we talked was when I had this done. You remember that, right? I was just some eager kid, really. They told me I'd earned the right to watch the candy store. All I had to do was submit to the kind of surgery that would be needed..."

He bites his lip to avoid screaming as he loosens some of the parts, and then, as quick as he can, he shoves the green wires into an open port on the boards. He shudders for a second, and leans back on the seat, his eyes screwed shut.

"We're going to make you a part of this, they said," he breathes, feeling the pain subside and be replaced by something else: "Can't command it, otherwise. Not really. Too large... too complex. The things they made up there. The things they left behind..."

The lights in his insides start to glow in time with the lights from the lifeboat's console. He opens his eyes, and pulls a few more things out of his chest, including a very ominous-looking, red switch.

"Had to all come down to one man, didn't it? And I didn't know if I was that man. Not really. So I prayed to you, God. I said 'I know you, and you know me. And I know you might not approve of everything I do or think, because I'm small and flawed. But this is important, and I think I can do it. I want to do it.'"

He reaches out to take something from the emergency kit, under the seat. It's a heavy-duty flashlight with an old-style battery. He smashes the flashlight between his hands to get at the battery, creating a violent, floating cloud of plastic shards as he does.

"And I said 'send me a sign, Lord. If I'm not the right man for this job, tell me before I let them do this to me.' And you never said anything either way, but I woke up the next day thinking that I'd done this before, every step of the way. And I figured that was the best sign I was going to get."

He looks at the switch, and then, setting the battery aside, gets more wiring from under the console, and plugs it into the switch. And then he pulls apart some things he doesn't need -- redundant systems, spare parts, old junk -- to get wiring and connectors. He uses these to bind up certain things inside himself, and create a lead to the switch from the battery.

"And look at me, God, All these years in charge of that platform. All the work I've done. All the times I've used it to save this planet you blessed us with. All the things I've seen... and then it all comes apart because I broke my own rules to help someone I was falling in love with.

"And now, I'm going to break the really big rule. And I need to know, Lord. Is this okay? Do I have the right to survive in spite of what I'm about to do, now?

"Could you please just tell me? I mean, just send me a sign, or even talk to me? Please?"

He looks up at the ceiling, perhaps reflexively. But he hears nothing. Sees nothing. No burning bush, no writing on the wall. No voice from up above, echoing, booming.

But he does feel like he's done this before, somehow. And maybe that's the best sign he's going to get.

"Alright, then, God," he says, turning on the lifeboat's main propulsion systems and getting ready to launch it: "I'm taking that as a yes, and thank you. Now, if you could just see to it that they don't see me until I want them to, that would be just !@#$ amazing."

The lifeboat shudders and moves forward, out the broken doors that Straffer forced open, earlier, and up and away from the shattered remnants of Alpha Base Seven.

He gives the base a final salute as it sinks away into his rear view, and turns off all propulsion and extraneous systems -- including life support -- allowing his lonely, small ship to glide into the orbit he needs it to.

"And now," he says, staring off into the distance at the blinking, black hub of cannons that surrounds the Earth: "I break my toys and go home."

* * *

"Really?" Winifred asks Myron, who's finally sitting down on the job, wiping the flopsweat from his forehead.

"You got it," he says, clearly mentally exhausted: "I just have to enter the coordinates and throw the switch. The machine'll still need a little while to warm up, but we can go back whenever, now."

"Oh, thanks God," Skyspear says, stretching her legs before helping the Scouts get the gear and move it over to the platform.

"How's Thomas doing?" Myron whispers to her as she comes over.

"Not well, I fear," she says, looking at the blanket-wrapped stump that used to be a superhero: "His breathing is becoming slower and harder. He will need help, and soon."

"I think we'd better take him to Neo York City," Myron says, reaching for a water bottle: "We'll get him to a decent hospital, there. Plus, I think they were going to be running operations out of there. We might be able to get useful, again."

"I think you have been very useful, here," she says, squeezing his shoulder and smiling. He looks after her as she walks away, and then at Winifred, who's just staring at him.

"What?" he asks.

"I saw that," she says, smiling a little: "I think Mark's got his eye on her, though."

"I don't think the one he wants is here," Myron says, sighing: "Anyway, why do you care?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean... us," he says, wishing he hadn't said anything: "We were a thing, and now we're not. Does it matter what I do?"

"I guess not," she says, looking away. He's about to say something else to her, just then, but Mark and Mr. USA come back into the room, and everyone looks in their direction.

"Did you find anyone?" Skyspear asks, heading over to Mark.

"We didn't, no," Mark says, shaking his head. The look in his eyes is blank and tired, and Mr. USA seems rather grim.

"I think Green Man may well have died, back there," he says softly, looking over at Thomas as the SPYGOD SCOUTS carefully move him onto the teleport platform: "We couldn't find a body, but maybe he was caught up in what happened to The Fist and The Wall."

"Well, you know what they say about bodies," Myron says, trying to smile: "He might surprise us...?"

"That would be nice, actually," Mark says, moving to make himself useful: "I wanted to punch him silly, half the time, but I guess he did the right thing in the end."

"I knew he would," Mr. USA says, nodding: "And he'd have just dodged you, Mark. He could dance between raindrops, remember?"

There's some laughter over that, and then a flurry of activity. Everyone gets excited at the notion of going home, again. Getting away from this treehouse that's suddenly no fun to live and work in, any longer. Getting out from under all the death and fire that's happened here, today.

Getting back where they came from.

And so no one sees how the Great Machine they've been working on is different, somehow. They don't hear anything as the device reforms itself into a killing machine, ready to snap up and around at them. They don't see that it's forming massive arms, tipped with sharp fingers, in the back. They don't see the large, brute mouths as they slither out and over each other.

They don't see the echoes of Moloch as the beast reforms itself in the agglomeration of steel, silver, glass, and wire.

And brass.

* * *

 "... right through here, if you don't mind," Dr. Yesterday says, gently ushering the First Lady and her children into a large room, filled with lit-up computer consoles, broken furniture, and massive viewscreens -- some focusing on different areas of the Ice Palace in turn, and some trained on specific things.

"Where's daddy?" her oldest asks, shivering in the pink parka she brought from home.

"You said he was going to meet us?" the youngest asks, stepping closer to her sister.

"He will, honey," the First Lady says, smiling and pointing over to a far corner: "Why don't you go over there, for a bit? The Doctor and I have a few things we need to talk about."

Do the girls understand what the look on her face actually means? Maybe not, but at least they do what they're told. And right now, that's all she can ask of them.

That and stay alive.

"Good children," the ersatz Doctor says, watching them head for a far corner, and a table that's not as broken as the others: "You've trained them well."

"I like to think I've raised them," she says, looking at him: "And I am begging you, please. I am appealing to your humanity. Whatever happens here, just let them go."

"I can't do that-"

"Yes you can," she says, stepping closer: "You just need me. If he's going to do what you ask, it's going to be because of me. You don't need to threaten them, too."

"Really?" the man says, walking past her and over to one of the screens that's only showing one thing: "Because it's been my experience that men will let their wives die to save their children. They can always get another woman, after all. He may have already picked out your replacement-"

"You don't know him," she says, trying to keep her voice down: "He doesn't think like that."

"Well, I hope for your sake he can think rationally," he says, pressing a few buttons on one console, and then heading over to a large, rather ominous-looking bank of controls: "Otherwise, you're going to watch while I beat the younger one's hand to paste."

"Oh my god," she gasps, holding her hands to her face: "What kind of a man are you?"

"Man?" Doctor Yesterday says, turning around to regard her: "I'm not a man at all, Mrs. (REDACTED). I am Imago. I and my kind were imprisoned on your sorry little planet billions of years ago, and we're just now about to break out of prison."

She blinks: "But... I've met you before-"

"Don't be !@#$ stupid. You met the body I've copied. This isn't me, on the outside. I'm wearing his likeness, and have absorbed his memories and personality to help with the disguise. But inside...? Well, I think you'd find you have about as much in common with me as you have in common with a garden slug. And I know how you feel about them."

"Then what are you?" she says: "The Imago we see every day... the ones in the armor? Is that who you are?"

He smiles and turns, gesturing to one of the screens he was watching. On that screen are banks and banks of large, metal cylinders. Each one is marked with stylized, blocky, German eagle, and labeled ExoGebärmutter.

"All you have seen, so far, is what we wanted you to see,"  he elaborates, turning knobs and pressing buttons, and watching with satisfaction as the chambers hiss and clatter open: "Public relations, you could say. The stolen bodies of the braindead and retarded, hijacked by our superior will and girded in armor. The armor made to look like something you could accept, all topped with a kind and patient smile..."

The chambers pulse and glow red. Things begin to move inside them.

"Even what you are about to see is not our true form, but it is as close as we could come to it with what we had available. Our true bodies were abandoned countless millions of years before our imprisonment. But we have always had certain preferences of shape and size. Certain comfortable configurations."

He points to the screen as one of those things comes out of its chamber, and it's all she can do not to scream.

"'They were not altogether crows,'" he quotes: "'Nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall...'"

The First Lady turns to look at her children, and is horrified to see that they're standing right behind her, looking at the screen. Their eyes are so large as to fall out of their skulls, and they're ashen-faced and crying, truly and firmly afraid.

"I'm about to send them off into battle," he says, going back to the larger, more ominous bank of controls: "You can watch your husband's sorry efforts to take back the planet reach their logical conclusion, while we wait for him to make up his mind. It'll give us something to do... while we're waiting for the hammer to fall."

Her youngest starts to sob. She's not ashamed to want to join her, but does her best to stay strong in the face of this horror.

"So please, do appeal to my humanity, Mrs (REDACTED)," he says, bent over his work, the hammer in easy reach: "You'll just have to find it, first."

(SPYGOD is listening to Tora Tora Tora (Depeche Mode) and having a Blue Ice Beer)

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