Sunday, September 8, 2013

12/22/12 - The Owl - The More I See the More I Fall - pt. 1


"Wow," Talon says, looking around the massive room, packed wall-to-wall with people in costumes, uniforms, and outlandish get-ups. She has never seen so many Supers in her life, all milling about and talking.

(And she notes, sadly, that most of the familiar faces are not here, today.)

"I know," her aunt says, putting a hand on her shoulder: "I think most of them are the new ones, sweetie. I don't even know any of them."

"Well, now you know me," an earnest-looking young man in a green and white uniform says, extending a hand: "Green Fury, ma'am. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Big fan."

"Good to meet you," she says, taking it: "And this is Talon."

"Good to meet you, too," he says, not seeming to take it personally when she doesn't offer her hand in turn: "I'm here with the Los Angeles crew... sort of."

"Sort of?"

"Eh, we're not exactly on speaking terms right now," he sighs, waving his hands: "Drama."

"Yeah, you'll get that," she sighs: "Best thing to do is concentrate on the work and try to keep the personal stuff on the back burner."

"Can't agree more," he smiles, and she notices the small, gold cross around his neck, just under his uniform's neckline. She considers whether to advise him about jewelry on the job (never a good idea) but then SPYGOD's up at the podium, and everyone falls silent without him having to say a word.

"First of all, excellent !@#$ing work," he says, hands behind his back and looking everyone in the eye, in turn: "All of you, whether you've been with me since the days of the Liberty Patrol, or just signed on for this fight, you need to know that I am !@#$ proud of all of you.

"It was a hard road out of !@#$, and we walked it, together. That makes us brothers and sisters. That makes us family. And in the days to come, I want you to remember that this was our first real family outing... for some of us, anyway."

A few people get the joke and chuckle.

"However, we won the !@#$ war, and now we have to win the !@#$ peace. Some of you remember what it was like in Europe and Japan, back in the 40's. Well, we've got something like that now, only it's !@#$ing worldwide.

"The !@#$ing Imago did a real number on us, ladies and gentlemen. They got us dependent on them for !@#$ing everything. Transportation of food and supplies, basic survival needs, gas and electricity... you name it, they controlled it. That control is now gone, and as soon as everyone wakes up from the hangover they had after the party, they're going to miss it something fierce. 

"And we all know what that means. Crimes of fear and opportunity. The strong taking from the weak. People trying to carve out territories and declare themselves kings of the new frontier.

"And, of course, all the !@#$ing scumbags in bad costumes you've been fighting all along are going to want to pop up and cause !@#$, because that's what they do.

"Now, other countries are in the same boat as we are, if not worse, but charity begins at home. They have their supers and support mechanisms, they can fix their own !@#$. We are, of course, on call if they need us, but I think we deserve to look inward for a change, don't you?"

There is a great deal of support for this notion.

"So I'm going to have most of you working here in the states. I will have some of the heavy hitters with me, on standby, to deal with anything big that comes up. But the rest of you I will have assigned to cities and areas, there to help with emergencies, supplies, and civil order until we can get local and state authorities back up and running again.

"So, here are your assignments. Please raise your hand when called and come together with your group, so everyone can meet you. And, afterwards, there's ten !@#$ tons of my homemade chicken cacciatore in the next room, so feel free to have some grub while you're getting to know one another. In fact, I !@#$ing insist."

That also gets some cheers, which makes the man chuckle quite a bit. 

"Top of the list: Owl? Talon?"

The Owl smiles and they raise their hands: "Right here, Sir!"

"Have you been back to chi-town since the attack?"

"No we have not," she says, smiling a little.

"Well, you are now the emergency marshal of Chicago, and will be leading a team of people I'm about to call. So you all have some proper deep dish pie for me, alright?"

There's some laughter at that, and The Owl tries not to cry when she thinks of how good it will be to finally get home.

And how good it would be if Thomas was joining them. 


"... hardest part was just getting basic services up and running again," The Owl says, striding through the high-tech halls of the Central Building with Mark Clutch and Talon, who's walking hand-in-hand with her father: "All those things you take for granted. Water, electricity, gas, garbage even. Thankfully, one of my team's a speeder, so we made some quick headway into the trash situation before things got really smelly."

"Yeah, we've been dealing with that, here, too," Mark says, looking more at-ease than maybe he should, under the circumstances: "Do you have any idea how bad Manhattan alone is, when the trash doesn't get picked up for a couple weeks? The rats were the size of dogs."

"Ewwww..." Talon shakes her head, much to the amusement of her father and aunt.

"So... what should we expect?" The Owl asks as they come closer to the doors at the end of the hall.

"Well, when he was... absorbed by the building, we thought he was dead," Mark says: "His body was gone, and we had no idea what was actually happening. Most of the things in here are so far above us that we might as well be cavemen trying to figure out a DVR."

"And Dr. Yesterday was the only one who really had a clue."

"Well, his wife, anyway. And I guess that's a messed-up situation...?"

"Yeah," The Owl says, shaking her head: "Was anyone who they were actually supposed to be?"

"We are," the Talon offers, smiling and squeezing her dad's hand a little harder, and taking her aunt's: "We're family."

"And thank God for that," The Owl says: "So what has this been like for him?"

"An uphill climb," Mark says: "At first, all he could do was scream. He said it was too much, over and over again. He wouldn't listen to us at all. I figure the stress of being uploaded was too much for a human mind to take."

"I'm not surprised," she says, shaking her head: "I just wish I could have been here to help."

"You wouldn't have been any help, hon," he says: "None of us were. All we could do was try and talk him through it. Everything that's happened in there was because of him."

"He's strong," Talon says: "He just had to make himself do it."

"He sure did, hon," Mark says, squeezing her hand: "And yesterday, he finally asked after you. And that's how I knew it was time to bring you here." 

Up ahead of them is a large pair of black, swinging doors. On the other side, there's a large, circular room, filled wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with screens. The screens are all glowing light green, and provide the only illumination.

"Let me see..." Mark says, letting go of his daughter's hand and walking to the center of the room. A small dais slides up from the floor, its controls unfolding and lighting up as he approaches: "Thomas? Are you out there, son?"

I am, the young man says, his voice strange and modulated, flat and unemotional: Hold on, I'm just looking into something.

"Well, I've got your mom and your cousin here."

I know, the voice says: Give me a moment, please.

The Owl takes off her mask, so he can see her face: "Son...?"

Hello mother, she hears him say: Give me a moment, please. I'm not wearing anything. Let me put something on.

"Oh," she says, trying not to cry: "Well, I don't think that's... I mean, I am your mother."

Yes, you are, he says.

"He sounds funny," Talon says, taking her mask off as well.

"It's the speakers, sweetie," Mark says, putting a hand on her shoulder: "He's in the building's computer. He's going to have to speak through it."

"That's not what I mean," she mumbles, but no one hears her because that's when he appears.

At first, they think there's a spot on one of the screens. Then the spot gets larger, and becomes the form of a young man, striding towards them. It's Thomas, and he's dressed like the Talon, and as he comes closer he fills up an entire screen, and then two screens, and then his face fills up an entire side of the room.

Hello, mother, he says, his face strangely beatific: I am wearing something now.

"Are you..." she asks, stepping forward to the dais: "How do you feel?"

I feel complete, he says, smiling ever so slightly.

"That's good!" she says, holding the edges of the dais for support: "So you're... more yourself, then?"

You misunderstand my meaning, mother, the boy says, the smile dropping, somewhat: My completeness has nothing to do with my continued survival and recovery. It has to do with my consciousness being freed from that weak shell it had been in for my entire life.

"Thomas...?" The Owl asks: "What do you mean?"

I mean that I had no idea how limited I was, before. How small.

"What do you mean, son?" Mark asks, a little alarmed.

Do you remember when I would forget things? How I had to struggle to remember? How I had to study and learn, over and over again, before I could remember. How I had to practice?

"Well, yes," his mother says: "That's not unusual. We all forget-"

I don't, he says: I can now remember everything in my life with complete clarity. I remember every moment of everything. Every day I lived. Every book I ever read. Every dream I ever had. Everything I thought and felt and said and did. I remember it all, perfectly.

"Everything?" Mark asks, more than a little taken aback.

Everything, mother. I remember my earliest moments, when I was a baby in your womb. I remember the moment I became self-aware, inside you. I remember being born and looking into your face.

"Oh my God," Martha says, crying openly: "Oh my God. Thomas, that was... that was the best moment of my life. Looking at you for the first time. I felt like God had blessed me, then and there, to give me such a beautiful little person."

I hated you, Thomas says, his voice as unemotional as it's been all along, the look on his face unchanged: I had been warm and happy and content, in there. And then you squeezed me out into a world that was cold and unfamiliar. They sliced into the cord that tied us together, and tossed the piece of you that kept me alive into the trash.

And then they put me into your arms, and all I wanted to do was scream and crawl back into that warm, loving darkness.

Martha shudders, taking a step back: "Thomas... I... I didn't know."

How could you have known? You didn't ask me, and I couldn't say. All I could do was scream and cry, so I did. And you just held me like I was the cutest thing. 

Your beautiful little gift from God.

Martha closes her mouth, shocked. Mark thinks to reproach the young man but realizes he has nothing he can say.

And Kaitlyn starts crying, quietly, doing her best not to let her father or her aunt in on what she's just realized.

I am alive, mother, Thomas says: I am more alive and complete now than I have ever been, and soon I will be something more.

"What do you mean?" Mark asks: "We want to help you, Thomas. We want to try and get you out of there, if we can-"

No, Thomas says, his face warping into a giant, abominable scowl: You can not interfere with this. You will not. I am becoming something more than I was, and you can not stop it.

"Now see here, young man," Mark says, stepping forward: "You will not speak to your mother that way. She loves you. We all love you. We want what's best for you, and-"

"Thomas, we understand," Martha says, stepping to Mark's side and putting up a hand: "It's just... hard to hear this from you."

I knew it would be, the boy says, stepping back from the screens, and revealing that he no longer has the Talon costume on. Instead, there's nothing but skin, swirling and eddying in the electronic breeze like a raggedy sail in the wind: I am sorry to have to tell you these things in this manner. But I will soon be transforming, and I thought it was best that you knew.

"So... you don't want us to get you out of there?" Mark asks, stepping forward: "You don't want to be... alive?"

I am alive, Uncle Mark, Thomas says: And I will be getting out of here, soon. In fact, I'll be everywhere, soon.

"I don't understand," Martha says.

You will, Thomas says, and when he does they can tell it's being said over the speakers throughout the entire building.

And then, in a rush of pixels and polygons, he floats back the way he came, leaving only empty green screens in the room.

It's a long walk out of the building without saying anything. Longer still to get into the Owl Car to head for Chicago. But Martha doesn't start crying for her dead son until she's well outside of Neo York City.

And Kaitlyn -- who figured it out well before the adults did -- knows there's nothing she can say to help.


"Look, it's really simple," The Owl says, holding into the Owl Line that's got the two burly, well-armed men trussed up to the pipes on the basement's ceiling: "I appreciate wanting to do your own thing and chart your own course. But this country needs to come back together again, if we're going to survive.

"And I am not going to let this city be turned into a one-stop shop for every survivalist nutcase who wants a rocket launcher."

"Yeah, you just keep talking, you dyke !@#$," the larger of the two says, still trying to reach for his holstered pistol: "We were warning you smart, city-slicker types all along. You all went with those Imago !@#$ers and their one-world government, and look what happened. And now the French want to tell us what to do? !@#$ that!"

"First of all, we did not go with those Imago,"  the Owl says, trying to control her temper: "We were fighting them from the start. And second of all, I don't think we're going to be joining that government anytime soon, so spare me the paranoid justification for your personal arsenal."

"And thirdly, you know, I'm only eight years old," Talon says, reaching up and quickly confiscating the man's gun: "Maybe you should watch your language."

"Recruiting child soldiers?" the other one says: "I thought it was only !@#$s in Africa and camel !@#$ers in the Middle East what did that. How deep in their pockets are you?"

The Owl sighs, looks to Talon, and then twangs the Owl Line. The acoustics it creates makes the two men howl and retch.

"'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,'" The Owl quotes, putting small copies of the Bible in their empty holsters: "'That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"

"You dare quote that book to me?" the other one says: "I'm a Christian man, lady!"

"Yeah, I can tell from what you say about black people and Arabs," the Owl snorts, turning to leave: "Repent, sir. And don't let me catch you buying weapons in this town again."

"Oh, and by the way, mister?" the Talon says on her way out: "Jesus was an Arab, technically. Might want to think about that."

The men's response turns the air blue, and chases them up the stairs and into the cold, Chicago night. 

"He was a Jew, honey," the Owl says, once they're out of earshot and heading for the Owl Car.

"You know, I don't think there's much of a difference," the girl says.

"Well, there is to them."

"True. Kind of academic, now."

The Owl sighs and nods, thinking of what they watched on television, last night. The massive piles of human ash in Jerusalem, sitting under the sun and turning into rotten sludge.

"This is Owl 1," Martha says as they get into the car and take off: "Reporting 839 on the corner of Valley Drive and South Roberts, over in Palos Hills. Building 13. Got two men in a basement full of heavy ordinance. Site is secure, will be sending backup to keep an eye on it until police arrive. Over."

"10-4, Owl 1," the car's speakers reply: "Sending specialist unit, now. Two men, you said?"

"Two men. Left their wallets by their weapons. Look like out of state boys."

"That's the third time tonight. Must be something in the water."

"Well, drink carefully, dispatch. Owl 1 out," and then she uses her own communicator: "I need some assistance, Team Chicago. Got a pair of arms dealers in Building 13 of Valley Drive, in the basement. Anyone who could wait there for the cops?"

"I've got it," their speedster replies: "I'm on the other side of town though. Might be a few minutes."

"Well, soon as you can, Yellow Streak," The Owl smiles: "Thanks. Over and out."

Talon smiles and looks out the window, down at the city.

"I feel like we're making a difference," she says, leaning back in her seat: "I really do."

"Well, so do I," the Owl says, cruising along above the buildings and wondering how her son is doing.

* * *

Meanwhile, below, Yellow Streak runs into the basement, and finds the two men trussed up and grumbling.

"Well, it !@#$ing took you long enough," the larger man says: "You going to !@#$ing cut us down before the cops come here, or what?"

"I can't," she says, shaking her head and looking around, judging how best to make this look like what she needs it to look like: "The Owl called it in. The cops are on their way. If I cut you loose, they'll ask questions."

"Then what the !@#$ are you going to do?"

The superhero smiles, and pulls out a knife, quickly figuring out how fast she'll have to run to avoid getting their blood on her uniform, and how fast she'll have to to move to make the place look like their allies got their stuff before she arrived. 

A difficult decision for most, but this isn't her first rodeo -- not by a long shot. In fact, she's figured out what to do before the two idiots can even start screaming. 

And so she does.


"Thomas?" Mark asks, getting up in the middle of the night. He'd been having a strange dream with the boy in it, and then it abruptly stopped, just as he thought he heard footsteps in the room.

He looks over at the woman in bed with him. Skyspear is dead asleep, curled over onto her pillow. He runs a hand along her lovely, brown shoulders, but she's so out of it she doesn't even respond.

He's about to put it down to nerves or stress when he hears it again: the distinct sound of footsteps, echoing around the hallway outside his room.

He gets out of bed, puts on a robe, and leaves his room, looking both ways. He can't see anything, but he can hear the footsteps, down the way.

He quickly and quietly follows them, and soon realizes he's heading down to the large, multi-screened chamber that he normally talks to Thomas in. He soon regrets not having gotten a weapon, or waking Skyspear, but figures he's got the element of surprise on his side.

Around the corner, down the hall, he keeps one turn behind whoever's walking in his home. And then he's turning the corner to the chamber, and seeing that the double doors are swinging shut.

"Well, !@#$," he mutters, and heads that way. The good news is that whoever's there is trapped. The bad news is that Thomas' main interface is in there, and who knows what kind of damage his intruder could do.

Mark sneaks up to the door, and gently pushes it open, just a bit. Just enough to look around the room and see that there's someone at the dais, working on something.

Someone more than a little familiar, though he hasn't seen him upright and whole since March.

"Thomas...?" he says, stepping into the room, and looking at his nephew. The boy looks just like he did, and is wearing a weird, dark uniform that seems to have no depth, and casts no shadows.

Hello, Uncle, the boy says, not turning around: I see you got my message.

"In my dream?" Mark asks, still stunned: "That was you?"

It was. I was able to slip into your electrical field and broadcast to you. I wasn't sure how it would be interpreted, but I think the main part was achieved.

"What did you say?"

I said I am transformed, the boy says, turning around and smiling: I have figured out how to make the city's maker arrays create a form for me. 


Oh uncle, you should have guessed this was coming, Thomas says, looking at him the way a teacher looks at a student who just isn't getting it: The city makes food and water for its citizens. Replication has been hiding in plain sight all along. But I needed to determine how to make it create a living body for me to interact with the world, and now I have.

"So... you're out of the computer now?" he asks, walking forward: "You're alive?"

I have been alive all along, Thomas says, not pleased at the insinuation: I was merely confined to the memory of this city. Now I have physical form, too. 

As if to prove his point, his face appears in the green screens behind him, and speaks in time with what he says next.

The age of the new man is here, Uncle, Thomas says, holding out his arms as another copy of his body appears, and then another, and then another: This city will soon need its heroes. I intend to be those heroes. Today and tomorrow, now and forever, here there and everywhere.

Call me the Nthernaut, Thomas proclaims through a dozen mouths: For I truly am one in a million. 

And Mark can only drop to his knees, scared out of his wits for the first time since they got back to Earth.

(SPYGOD is listening to Deeper and Deeper (The Fixx) and having a Night Owl Pumpkin Ale)

No comments:

Post a Comment