Sunday, September 15, 2013

12/22/12 - The Owl - The More I See the More I Fall - pt. 3


"So what do we do, then?" The Owl asks, looking around an overly-opulent conference hall full of American Supers.

The resulting silence is deafening, and disheartening -- especially since they just spent the last couple hours complaining about how things seemed to be happening too quickly, and outside of their control. The Imago being tried, sentenced, and punished. The massive geo-political shakeups that have just occurred. The hideous slaughter that just happened in Israel.

And what just happened to Doctor Power.

And while they could have claimed to have some hand in those things, given that the person who ordered them all here -- SPYGOD -- was somewhat directly involved with them, he was now nowhere to be seen.

(Though, given everything that's happened over the last few days, that might not be so strange after all.)

"Well," the new New Man coughs, raising a hand and addressing the group: "If you don't mind one of the new guys saying something...?"

"I don't mind at all," Gold Standard says, shrugging her shoulders: "I think we're all pretty much new, here."

"Some of us, anyway," an old man with a long beard says: "Some of us are old as dirt."

"Speak for yourself, Brainman," the old New Man says, winking.

"Please, just call me Rakim..."

"Well, you know we've got some new folks, here,," Blastman adds, looking around the room: "But I see that we don't have any of the really new folks. I'm not the only one who noticed that, right?"

He isn't. For some reason, the new wave of American heroes -- the ones who escaped the chemicals in the water, and lived quiet lives under COMPANY scrutiny -- are not here, today, in this quaint St. Louis hotel. The meeting is only what's left of the old hands, their namesakes and descendants, and the occasional reformed villain.

"You know, I think you're right," the old New Man says, leaning back in his chair: "Son, I think you have the floor."

"Well, let's put it on the table, here," the man says, adjusting his sunglasses: "The Owl's got the right verb going. We need to do something. And I'd say that something is form a new group."

"What sort of group are you talking about?" the Shining Guardsman asks: "You mean like the Freedom Force?"

"Not like the Freedom Force, please," Yanabah snorts, crossing her well-muscled arms: "All I ever heard from great-grandfather was how much they argued whether they should do things or not."

"Well, after Korea, you can understand our reluctance," the old New Man says.

"After Korea, you got neutered," Gosheven chuckles, turning his hand into a pair of scissors and making 'snip-snip' motions.

"Now that's not fair," old New Man says, but, having been in Gosheven's head for so long, after the war, he realizes it for the joke it is and leaves it be. 

"Well, it's a whole new ballgame, isn't it?" the new New Man says, gesturing to The Owl: "We were actually making some headway talking with other Supers from other countries at The Z, when the Imago were being dealt with. And one of the things that's changed is the relationship between supers and their government. No one wants to go back to being told what to do by their elected officials, anymore. They want more autonomy, and less of a feeling of being a weapon, or a puppet on a string."

"Which is probably why SPYGOD had us meet here," The Owl adds, looking around: "I bet he's hoping we make something independent and keep it American."

"I bet you're right," Rakim says: "In fact, that's part of why I'm here."

"Other than being invited?" Gold Standard asks, still not quite willing to trust a former supervillain.

"Well, I could have opted out, same as everyone else. But I had the brain computer look at some long-range prognostications, based on current trends. And I think one thing that's pretty clear is that we're going to need some kind of large, national group of supers."

"Why not just go international from here on out?" Blastman asks.

"Well, we may need one of those, too. But if the largest, most powerful group winds up being international, then it's going to fall under the wing of the Terre Unifee. And that's going to mean that any countries that don't join it are going to have their heroes denied membership, or else be used as salespersons to persuade their governments to join up."

"Plus they could always be a little slow responding to emergencies of non-members," Yanabah points out: "Just to be !@#$ers."

There's a little chuckling at her frank assessment.

"America has now joined the TU," Rakim goes on, pulling out a printed report: "Which means that their supergroup is going to include American supers. And since the biggest profile super is going to be really busy for the next four years or so, they're going to pick someone in this room."

"And who knows who that will be," Gold Standard says.

"New Man, actually," the new New Man says, pointing to his father.

The old man blinks: "What do you mean, son?"

"I came to same conclusion," Rakim says, gesturing to the page: "You're a known quantity. You're a former member of both the Liberty Patrol and the Freedom Force, and you were in charge of the COMPANY for a while there."

"Oh please, let's not bring that up," he says, shaking his head: "Worst couple months of my life."

"You're also not too hyperpatriotic or flamboyant," his son continues: "You're well-meaning, humble, and dependable. You won't try to be in charge of the show, you won't undermine or undercut anyone, and you won't go shoving your smart American ways all over the agenda."

"In short, you're perfect for the job," Rakim finishes, folding up the paper and putting it away.

"I don't know whether to be insulted or complemented."

"I'd be pretty darn proud to be in a group like that," Blastman says, straightening his pointy helmet: "You don't want it, I got dibs."

There's some laughter, there, and then The Owl brings it back to earth: "So, excluding the old New Man, and boy do we need to get this name thing straight-"

"Still working on a new one," the new New Man says, smiling: "Your son totally took one I was working on."

"Should we invite him, by the way?" Shining Guardsman asks, pointing a gilded finger at The Owl: "I don't know why he's not here, come to think of it-"

"He's busy," The Owl lies, too quickly for her own liking: "That and travel outside Neo York City's a little difficult at this time."

"Too bad," the gold-suited man says: "I kind of like the idea of having someone along for the ride who can be in a million places at once."

"Well, I can try, but I think I'm too fabulous to split up," Gosheven announces.

"No one asked you," Yanabah snorts.

"No one cares-"

"Children, please," the new New Man says, holding up a hand: "Play nice."

"How about this, then?" The Owl says, gesturing to Rakim: "If we go by what's being predicted by Rakim's machine, and believe me, that thing was frighteningly accurate back in the day-"

"Oh, I remember," Blastman says, giving the old villain a squirrely look.

"Then we do need an American group. And we should do our best to keep it as disconnected with the government as possible. Let the new kids have their orders and see how they handle themselves, and maybe, after time, they can be let in. But in the meantime, we handle the things they're not meant to be tackling."

"Like what?" the old New Man asks: "Getting involved internationally?"

"I mean like the people we used to fight, once," she says, standing up beside the man's son: "What happened in Palestine was a wake-up call for me. I've been so busy dealing with fire trucks and petty theft that I'd forgotten that there's reasons why we exist. Science terrorists, global conquerors, threats too big for an army to handle, even one that's supposedly that of a world government."

"And if we band together, as American heroes, we can do what needs doing independent of that world government," the new New Man continues, nodding at what she says: "Because you know they're going to try and stick their !@#$ fingers into our business at some point."

"What about the COMPANY?" Night Phantom asks: "It really sounds like we'd just be duplicating their effort."

"I don't see the COMPANY lasting for too much longer," Rakim says, sadly: "I don't think we need a brain computer to figure out why, either."

No one wants to comment on that. 

"It'd mean being outlaws, of a sort," Gold Standard says, looking around: "We'd go from being licensed heroes to being vigilantes, again. Some might even call us outlaws."

"Well, some of us started out that way," The Owl points out.

"And some of us used to be that way," Rakim says, nodding to Blastman.

"And some of us don't give a !@#$," Yanahbah says, leaning forward: "There's good and there's evil. If we sit down and do nothing in the face of evil, we become evil. And if doesn't matter why we do nothing, either. If it's fear or laziness or letting some French bureaucrat tell us what to do, it's all the same."

There's some silence, then, and nodding.

"Then we are a team," the young New Man says, taking The Owl's hand in his and extending a hand out to another hero, nearby: "Are you in?"

They all are.


"... I mean, it's unbelievable,"  Martha says over the phone, watching the television in her apartment as a number of internationally-renowned Supers -- including the old New Man -- are addressing the press, right outside the Parisian headquarters of the TU: "Brainman had it right. He even predicted the name-"

"Never mind that," Mark Clutch responds: "Check out what's going down on FOX, right now."

"Oh, you know I refuse to watch that network," The Owl sighs.

"Well, so do I, but Farashuu actually likes it. So we're watching it, and-"

"Is that Skyspear's real name?"

"Um, yes," Mark says, not knowing how much he should say about that: "But we're watching that, and... oh, just flip it over, Martha. Trust me."

"You know I do, Mark. But someone had better be slugging Sean Hannity right in the jaw, or I'm going to be a little upset-"

But she closes her mouth as soon as she sees what's happening.

The camera is outside of The B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G. in Neo York City, looking at the front steps. A massive group of overdressed TU soldiers are moving out of the front doors, their hands on their holsters.

And right behind them are SPYGOD -- who's holding Bee-Bee in his arms -- and Director Straffer, obviously being evicted from their home.

"Yes, this is it," the cameraman says over the loud jeering and boos coming from off-camera protesters: "This is history happening, folks. This man has lived like a king in this city for decades, and now, at last, he's being marched out of his throne room and being called to account."

"Oh my God," Martha says, sitting down: "They're doing it."

"Well, he got charged yesterday," Mark says: "You didn't think they'd leave him there, did you?"

"Well, maybe not," she says: "But wow, that takes some chutzpah. They're putting him out on the street at the same time they're announcing that they're making a new strategic talents organization..."

She thinks for a moment and clicks back to CNN, not exactly surprised at what she sees.

"In these times of trouble, Le Compagnie shall be there," the tall, imposing Frenchman with red and blonde hair says: "We shall salve the wounds and bind the breaks. We shall turn night into day and lost into found. Where there is strife, we shall bring peace, and where there is war or injustice, we shall be the ones to say 'no.'"

There's a great deal of cheering at that, and he smiles -- white and perfect as falling snow -- and raises his hands to them. 

"Men and women of the world, we are your saviors," he says: "Let us help you, and may we all help each other in the days to come."

More cheering, almost enough to make the world shake -- especially when the heroes all step up alongside the man and, in unison, bow or nod to the world.

"And that is the leader of this new group, France's own national hero, Tempete Bleu, speaking," the announcer says: "And we've just received word that, almost coincidentally, SPYGOD has been forcibly removed from his home in Neo York City and is being transported to special holding facilities, there to await trial for his role in-"

The Owl turns the television off. The phone continues to talk. She loves Mark -- maybe more than he knows -- but right now she can't listen to him.

She can only think of what this means for their own group, now, and what it means for the man she's still upset with, but has never stopped respecting.

Or loving like a father, at times.

"Oh please, God," she prays, clasping her hands around the phone: "Please help me to do the right thing, here."


It's three days before Christmas, and Martha is only just now getting her tree up.

She kept putting it off, much to Kaitlyn's chagrin. One night she said she had no energy, and another she said she had no time. The truth was that she really wasn't in the mood, as she'd begun to feel the sadness of a nearly-empty house, bereft of her father, her cousin, their butler.

Her son. 

But then Kaitlyn left a copy of The House Without a Christmas Tree out, right on the coffee table, and Martha realized that her sadness was causing collateral damage. So she sucked it up, and one night they took off for themselves, and they went and bought a tree.

And now she's decorating it herself, looping newly-bought strands of garland over it, along with festive, red and green balls, small tin angels, and the like. She hadn't gotten an angel for the top because Kaitlyn had insisted on making one, herself, but then she didn't think she could have gotten a new one, anyway.

The Samuels family had always topped the tree one of her great-grandfather's angels, cast in brass and lovingly cared for. And it had been destroyed along with the mansion, that terrible night, all those months ago.

She's about to start tearing up at the thought, but she banishes the sadness and goes back to work. She doesn't want Kaitlyn to come home, a bright angel in her hands, only to find her aunt weeping at the base of the tree.

"It's a beautiful tree," a strange voice tells her -- warbling and uncertain.

She spins around 180 dgrees, arms up and ready to strike. And then she puts her hands down, agog at what she's seeing.

It's her son, Thomas, standing before her. Only it isn't exactly him: his form is hazy and indistinct -- more of a hologram than the full physical projections he's been creating for himself.

"How are you?" he asks, his expression somewhat quizzical.

"I'm fine," she says, trying to get her heart rate under control: "I'm sorry. You scared me. I didn't know you could... come here?"

"So for once, I finally snuck up on you," he says, smiling wider than he should be able to: "That means I win the bet."

"I guess it does..." she laughs, weakly: "But that's totally cheating."

"Maybe," he says, and eases himself down on the sofa: "I remember grandfather saying that the only difference between cheating and being sneaky is whether you're the good guy or the bad guy."

"Yeah, I think Grandpa said that, once," she agrees, carefully sitting down next to him.

"He did," Thomas says: "I was three and a half, roughly. I don't think you knew I was in the room. I was sneaking around."

"I may have known you were there," Martha laughs: "Mothers have eyes in the back of their head about that kind of thing."

Not anymore, he says. Something about how she says it frightens her, just a little.

"How are you here?" She asks, hoping to change the subject.

"I'm borrowing a trio of defense communication satellites," he explains: "They're new ones. If I was playing by its rules I'd be appearing behind enemy lines to tell you to surrender, and that we can get at you anywhere. As it is, I'm here telling my mother I love her, and merry Christmas."

"I love you too," she says, smiling: "And Merry Christmas to you, too. But you're a little early."

"Yes. On Christmas I expect to be very busy," he explains: "Things are coming to a head. I need to be ready for them.

"On Christmas? How do you know?"

How many of your heroes are working with the secessionists?

She blinks: "How... did SPYGOD tell you?"

I told SPYGOD, remember?

"Yes, you did. Were you listening in when I talked to him?"

I listen in to everything, Thomas says, his eyes growing wider and darker: I hear people when they talk. I hear them kissing, planning, !@#$ing.

"Thomas, please."

Mark is in love with you, Thomas says: He's sleeping with the African hero, Skyspear, but he loves you.

Martha gasps and sits up, trying to get off the couch without panicking: "Thomas, how dare you tell me this! This is..."

"It's all my business, now," he says, sadly: "Too much. Too many things. I see everything, now. More than I should. More than I need to. But yet I have to be the one to do it. Do you understand?"

She shakes her head: "Thomas, I don't understand. I love you, I want to help you, but I don't understand."

Understand this, Thomas says, and he crackles and vanishes, only to re-appear standing up, by the tree: The darkness is coming. All must stand together against it. But not all that stand together will be together. There will be confusion and chaos. Someone must stand above it to lead. 

"Are you talking about that thing that's coming for us?" she asks, standing up: "Are you?"

Someone must stand above it to lead, he repeats: Be ready. 

And then he's gone, leaving her with an empty apartment, a million questions, and the terrible fear that her son is not acting on his own accord.

A car drives by, playing Christmas music at full blast. She wipes away a tear, takes a deep breath, and starts working on the tree again.

For Kaitlyn. For Mark. For the woman he's sleeping with, but not in love with. For Thomas.

And for herself. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Deeper and Deeper (The FIXX) and having a White Christmas)

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