Monday, March 3, 2014

12/31/12 - Black Christmas (Green Fury)

Los Angeles, California
5:47 AM

It's a quiet, Christmas morning in Bellflower, out in the areas where there's nothing but block after block of apartments. The Sun hasn't poked over the mountains, yet. Joggers are just stirring for their morning run, the only vehicles on the road are those with extremely early commutes on jobs don't get today off.

And three people in fairly ratty plainclothes are standing in front of a drab, two-story apartment building, getting themselves ready to kill a superhero.

"We sure about this?" Duane Redman (aka Blue Diamond) asks, looking around a little nervously: "I mean, can we actually do this?"

"We talked about this, man," Charly Mendez (aka Red Thunder) says, poking him in the shoulder: "This is what it's all about, right here."

"But, if you want to walk away?" Xadrian Kowalski (aka Purple Fist) adds, looking down at him: "You could still go."

"I could?"

"Sure thing, brah. I mean, it's a free country. That's what this is about, right?"

"Well, yeah," Duane says, still nervous: "But-"

"And after today? No one's going to be around to care about everything we've been doing for the movement. They'll either be in jail or dead, right?"

"Yeah, that's what I mean-"

"Except that we'll have to tell them that, when the moment of truth came, you ran," Xadrian interrupts, putting a very large hand on Duane's shoulder: "And while I'm sure Charly and I can take care of this little faggot, ourselves? Well... that might not look so good, going forward."

"Oh," Duane says, wishing he'd taken the time to !@#$ before this.

"Yeah," Charly says, poking Duane in the ribs: "You talked the talk, bro. Time to walk it."

"Or start running," Xadrian says, squeezing the kid's shoulder just a little too tightly: "Because we will let them know what you didn't do, brah."

"Okay, man," the hero says, feeling a lot less heroic today.

* * *

The sad thing was, it didn't have to be this way.

When the Reclamation War was over, and the Imago defeated, America had a choice. It could have gone back to the same, broken system it had before, or it could have gone a different direction. A direction in which the Federal Government was a small thing, and where the states had the real power. A direction where taxes weren't onerous, success wasn't punished, and meddling in others' affairs wasn't some kind of perverse virtue.

A direction where America was strong and brave -- just like the Founding Fathers had intended. 

They could have gone that direction, especially now that -- thanks to the massive influx of costumed heroes that people like SPYGOD had been hiding for years -- the country no longer needed a massively-expensive military to safeguard its borders and interests. Why build tanks when you had men and women who could smash cities? Why create fleets of aircraft when you had flies to patrol the skies?

All you needed was a sensible body to keep them under control, and surely the states could figure that out?

But no. No sooner were the metal-plated aliens defeated than the President of the United States came back from the dead, speaking of one nation, one people, and one government all over again. He spoke of putting the whole sobbing, expensive mess back together, warts and all. He promised Federal aid, Federal oversight, and Federal meddling out the wazoo.

He promised a return to the old ways, and didn't want to hear about anything else.

Unfortunately for him, the Imago had done at least one thing right in their time as global overlords -- they left the independent types alone. All the neo-Confederates, off-the-grid folks, extreme survivalists, secessionists, and refusers had their persmission to take off for the wilderness and build their own, better societies. So long as they left their guns and didn't leech off the electricity, the Imago were happy to see them go.

And in those wildernesses, by themselves, they built their own heavens on Earth, free from Federal tyranny. 

So when the President -- who was never their favorite person, anyway, having usurped the Oval Office -- returned from the grave, bringing a return to status quo as some kind of weird gift from above, it wasn't just a case of being denied a long-seated desire for independence.  They'd already had their taste of true, total freedom. They'd supped long and deep of it.

Too long and deep to meekly hand it back over, now that the things that had let them be were defeated.

Fortunately, they weren't the only ones unhappy at this turn of events. It turned out they had allies they never even knew of: rabidly-angry patriots, no longer willing to trust a broken government to save them from threats from above, and former super villains from the Legion, eager to remain free and wild in this new, post-invasion world.

And -- most tantalizing of all -- young heroes within the new influx who were, for one reason or another, all too willing to sign up with the secessionists, and fight from within to bring down the resurgent American government.

So ideas were exchanged, hands were shook, and deals were struck. Guns and explosives were secretly shipped up to the areas where the survivalists and secessionists held sway, and when the independents sent their people down and over to get more, they did so with strategic talents riding along. And with each passing day, the ranks of the secessionists became larger, more powerful, and better-armed than what Washington had to offer.

But that wasn't enough. It never is. 

You can have all the smart and sane preparations for a noble war that you want, but you need to have some kind of just cause for it, or else you wind up looking like belligerents when they write the history books. Imagine the Revolutionary War without the Boston Massacre, or World War II without Pearl Harbor.

After the "Moltz Lake Massacre," the anti-Federal movement had its just cause. Pictures of Captain Eben Harris went up everywhere. The story of how his compound -- containing entire families -- was destroyed by the Vice President, himself was circulated everywhere. Terrible photos were spread hand  to hand, and broadsheets and underground newspapers circulated in every city and town in America, and as the Feds went crazy trying to tamp down on the "truth," they went and did the worst thing possible.

They played right into the Secessionists' hands by joining with the Terre Unifee -- on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, of all days!

Following that announcement, it was only a matter of time.  Plans were brought forward. Reserves were activated. All the pieces and people were moved around the board, and made ready for go as soon as possible, while the anger and fury was still a white-hot, palpable thing. All they had to do was agree on the best, soonest day to do it.

And, as fate would have it, the next best day was Christmas, when everyone would be occupied with celebration, family, and mourning.

So the jobs were handed out. Some had to attack, some had to defend. Possible allies were listed, and people made ready to approach them just before the real fighting started. Definite enemies were also listed, and others prepared to detain or dispatch them before they could cause problems. 

Amongst the chief preemptive targets were those new Heroes who would not side with the new order, to be dealt with by their own teammates.

And that, in a nutshell, is why three young men and women were getting ready to kill the person they'd been fighting alongside for about a month and a half. Not because they all hated him, though some did. Not because he was evil, though some considered him to be.

But because, for whatever reason, John Paulsen (aka Green Fury) was not at all sympathetic to the secessionist cause, did whatever he could to uphold Federal law, and had warned his team before that, the next time he had reason to suspect them of improper dealings, he was going straight to the top with proof.

For those offenses against the revolution, Green Fury was to die, here and now, before the conflagration he would have tried to stop could get off the floor. 

* * *

They've practiced for this, the three of them. They've taken notes on his strengths and weaknesses, what he can and can't do, where he will and won't be looking. They've prepared themselves to do this, time and again. All they have to do is work as a team and it'll all come together. 

That's the plan, anyway. 

Charly's the teleporter. She'll flit into his apartment, faster than thought, and find out if he's in his bed or not. He's not a quick riser, as they know, so he'll most likely be there, still smacking the snooze button on his alarm. 

Once she knows where he is, she'll teleport back down here, and get Duane (who can't be hurt by most things) and Xadrian (who can hurt almost everything). Then she'll flit them all up to his bedroom and take him by surprise.

With any luck, Xadrian will be able to smash the little !@#$er's head flat before he can realize what's happening. If he does, then Duane will just have to do his thing, putting himself between John and the others while Xadrian works to get in that one, lucky shot that will take his head off his neck.

Again, that's the plan. There's a few things that could go wrong, and maybe they would have been better off just planting a !@#$ bomb under his pillow, like their contact in the Revolution had suggested. But they were concerned about the other people living there, collateral damage, and the like. 

They're supposed to be heroes, for God's sake. 

* * *

"Yeah, they're here," John says into the small communicator, looking down at the street as his three "friends" make ready to come and kill him.

"No, I think I can handle it," he says, trying not to freak out: "I know this is bad, but I know how they think and how they fight. I think I'm good.

"Yeah," he says: "You're right. But if anything happens...?

"Okay, you got it," he finishes: "God bless you. Good luck to you, too."

And then he closes the communicator, puts it away, and checks his supplies one last time. He says a small prayer, hoping God will hear him, today.

"Man," he says, looking at the cross he's got around his neck: "Of all the days, why did it have to be your birthday?"

And then quickly leaves his bedroom for the living room, tossing something behind him as he closes the door and jams a damp towel in the crack with his foot.

* * *

Charly flits in, the air rippling around her, giving the reason for her name. The moment she appears at the foot of his bed, she sees a long, lanky form under a blanket, and smiles, assuming it's him under there.

She doesn't know it's just a body pillow and a bunch of wadded clothes under a sheet. She's not going to know, either. 

She takes a deep breath, getting ready to teleport. But the moment she starts to exhale, she starts gasping and choking, as if she swallowed something too big to handle. 

Knockout gas is normally rated 1 through 10. A 5 will knock out most normal adult humans. 8 is about as high as a normal adult human can handle without suffering extreme systems shock. 10 is what they use for rampaging zoo animals, inhuman monsters, and space aliens on a tear.

Charly just took a 12.

By the time she hits the floor, she's so deep in a coma that she'll need a team of doctors working on her skinny !@#$ for at least a month to bring her around. If she's lucky.

* * *

Xadrian and Duane stand ready for their teammate to return. But as the seconds pass by, they get increasingly nervous. 

Finally, Duane looks at his watch, scowls, and spits: "Something must have gone wrong."

"You think?" Xadrian says, shaking his head.

"How did something go wrong?"

"No idea," the big guy says, pointing to the other window of John's apartment: "Guess we're doing it the hard way, then."

"Oh no."

"Oh yeah," Xadrian grins, grabbing his teammate by the belt and the back of his shirt and looking him in the eyes: "You know you want to do this."

"Not like this-"

"Too late, brah!" Xadrian shouts, spinning around and around faster than anyone has any business going, and then -- at just the right moment -- launching Duane right at the window in a demented version of a Fastball Special.

* * *

Duane goes right through the glass like a wrecking ball, just barely landing on his feet. 

He takes stock of the situation really quickly. The bedroom door is shut, and the bathroom door is open. The room seems empty, except for furniture and books. 

And a weird looking white rod, just sitting there on the table.

Give Duane this, at least -- he's not stupid. He does not walk closer to it. He knows what it is, and why it looks like an owl.

And he knows exactly what it means, too. 

"Oh man," he says, about to shout to Xadrian for help, because if she's here then they are so !@#$ing !@#$ed right now-

But he doesn't so much as get out another word before the voice-activated sonic grenade goes off. And while his skin may be impervious to bullets, blades, blasts, and blunt trauma, his eardrums are not made of similarly stern stuff. 

Every piece of glass in the apartment shatters. Duane screams as he holds his hands to the sides of his head, not liking how they've become bloody fountains under his palms. As he kneels down, a steady stream of vomit gushing from his mouth, the last thing he sees before he goes unconscious is John -- wearing a gas mask/earpiece combination of some owlish make -- walking from the bathroom to the bedroom door, opening it up, and then walking over to what's left of the apartment windows.

And if he'd been awake, he'd have seen John wave to Xadrian, and hold up a two fingers in a "peace" salute. Or maybe he's just saying "two," as in "two down."

There's a funny kind of irony, there, but whatever the sonic grenade hasn't shut down, the somewhat-dissipated knockout gas finishes off, and within seconds he's gone, daddy, gone. 

* * *

"Son of a !@#$," Xadrian grunts, shaking his head as his teammate flashes him a faggy peace sign and walks back into the loud darkness.

He knows he should just run. He's got other things to do. They can write this off and just go ahead, really. What could he do to stop them, really?

But Xadrian does not run. People run from him, not the other way around. And he'll be !@#$ed if, after all this is over, they make jokes about how he backed down from a fight with this limp-wristed traitor.

"Alright, then," he says, taking a running leap and jumping up into the apartment, right through the same hole he sent Duane. 

The sonic grenade's down to a whimper, so he steps on it, smashing the table as he goes. But then the knockout gas makes itself known, and he has to run back to the window to get a gulp of fresh air before going back in to find his teammate. 

Of course, that's when he gets kicked in the !@#$ -- so hard he actually feels his tailbone crack. 

He turns around to see John standing there, hands up and ready to fight, wearing some goofy facemask that looks like it came from one of those stupid Anime things that Charly was always going on about. That's clearly the thing to aim for, then, but as soon as he reaches out to take it John's ducked and punched him in the ribs, the breadbasket, and then the jaw.

The jaw was one blow too many. The second John realizes how much that actually hurt, Xadrian grabs hold of his arm and flings him up against the wall. He soars and crashes through the cheap faux-wood, and slumps to the ground.

Right about then, Xadrian realizes something is seriously wrong. He looks down and sees that there's something poking out of his stomach. It looks like a metal throwing star, only somewhat owl-like in design.

"Son of a-" he says, and then the Owl Bomb explodes, knocking him off his feet, back through the window, and out into the street.

John gets up, ever so slowly. He's sure nothing is broken. He's bruised all to !@#$, though. And when he walks over to the window to look down and see what's become of Xadrian, he's limping just a little. 

Of course, that's when he realizes he's made a mistake. He doesn't see Xadrian's body lying in the street. Instead the man is hanging onto the ragged edge of the blasted hole by one hand, and is now swinging up with the other, reaching for the mask.

John leans back very quickly, snapping a kick to the face off. It crushes Xadrian's left cheekbone, but the large man's raging too much to let pain stop him. He's going to charge and smash forward until John's dead, and only then allow himself to collapse into the agony these injuries are causing him.

And that's when John realizes he's got to take it up a notch, after all.

* * *

"You see, John," Martha said, leaning over him for what seems the tenth time in five minutes: "The mistake you're making is that you're not surprising me."

"I'm not?" John sighed, trying to get up off the training mat. Martha smiled and offerd him a hand, but he'd learned what that led to, so he smiled and got himself up, which got a larger smile from his trainer.

"Nope," she said, putting her hands up into a defensive stance: "Every single thing you're doing? It's been done before. I've seen these kinds of moves a million times, so I  know how to block them all."

"So what's the solution?" he asked, wondering what he should do here.

"Show me something I haven't seen," she said.

"You said no powers."

"I did. This isn't about powers. This is about what happens when your powers can't get you out of it."

He sighed. Since they'd struck up a friendship -- and he'd confided in her about his suspicions about his teammates -- she'd insisted on teaching him a few things, just in case. He'd been glad of the offer, but so far all he was learning was how to eat mat.

"So, I should just... improvise?" he asked, trying to spring his steps a little.

"That's a start," she said.

"You look like a chicken, doing that," the Talon said, over by her perch, doing her homework.

"Well, maybe that's what this is," he said, sproinging up and down like something from a silly fighting game: "Spring Chicken Kung Fu."

Martha smiled, ducked down, and made to sweep his feet out from under him. He jumped the sweep and brought his elbows down towards her head, which she ducked expertly, but not without some surprise.

"See?" she said as he got up from tasting mat yet again: "That's what I'm talking about. A little quicker and you totally would have hit me."

"I think my chicken's cooked," he sighed.

"I think we're cooking," Martha grinned: "Now, how about you try to duck me?" 

And he did, however painfully. But day after day, he went down less and got up faster. Before long, he was able to surprise her once a day, rather than every so often. And then she showed him things that he didn't even know existed, in spite of the in-depth training he'd gotten in SPYGOD's hothouse program.

So much so that, by the time she considered him "halfway decent," he was having a hard time concealing his new tricks from his suspicious teammates, just because they were so efficient compared to what they'd been using. Sometimes, when they fought crooks and criminals, he felt like he was wading through oatmeal, and felt almost guilty about pummeling skels with clumsy techniques when he could just turn them off with a few nerve strikes.

But deception was also a martial art -- and one that could pay off better than any combination of strikes and feints. 

* * *

Xadrian screams and leads with his left fist, hoping to take John by surprise.

John slips to the "wrong" side of the blow, seemingly exposing himself to more damage from the other fist, and jams his left thumb right into the spot between Xadrian's jaw and his neck -- right into the lumpy bits.

Xadrian's eyes go wide as dinner plates and he starts to stagger, bundling John with his right arm as he tries to take him down.

John goes limp and brings his right hand down onto his opponent's face, flattening his nose with his palm so hard that something breaks under it.

Xadrian reaches up with his hands and slams them onto either side of John's mask, splintering it and leaving a very nasty cut on one side of John's face.

John howls in pain and returns the favor, striking Xadrian in the temples once, twice, three times until the man's eyes start to bug out. 

Xadrian tries to get his hands around John's windpipe, but the pain from the jab in the neck finally catches up to him and he finds he can't breathe too well. He can't really focus with a smashed maxilla and a mouth full of blood, either. And as soon as he realizes he can't see too well, on top of everything else, panic sets in and he chokes, stumbles, and falls down onto his chest.

John, for his part, does a perfect Spring Chicken Kung Fu stationary jump over his lurching opponent, landing right in the man's back and hearing something crunch under the balls of his feet. A vertebrae or two from the sounds of things.

Xadrian coughs, tries to say something -- "faggot," probably -- and then goes under from the pain and shock. He's still alive, but he's not getting up anytime soon.

"Oh God," John says, realizing how badly cut his face up. That's going to need stitches, maybe staples. Still, he's in better shape than Xadrian, and Duane...

"Oh no," John says, heading over to Duane, who is quite dead and still, having choked on his own vomit. The look on his face is horrific, and it's all John can do to kneel, say a tearful prayer, and close the man's eyes.

He fumbles for the communicator as he goes into the bathroom, looking for where he keeps the first aid kit. 

"Yeah, it's me..." he says, weakly.

"How'd it go?" Martha asks, sounding genuinely concerned.

"Not good... I mean, I beat them. But..."

"Are you seriously hurt?"

"No," he lies, wincing at the bloody gash and wondering where the bottle of wound sealant is.

"Are they?"

"Duane... Duane's dead," he says, getting ready to flush the wound with antiseptic: "Xadrian is not getting up again. And I think Charly took the full dose of the knockout. She was breathing last I checked her, but..."

He grits his teeth as the antiseptic does its thing. He's aware that Martha's talking to him, but he can't quite make out the words, until she says "You did the right thing, John."

"Did I?" he asks, thinking of the look on Duane's face.

"You were under attack," she says to him, her voice as strong as steel: "You defended yourself. You did not seek this confrontation. They did. You did everything you could to protect yourself. And by protecting yourself you defended others, because if you're not there to defend them, who will?"

He nods, realizing it's the same mantra so many other heroes have told him.

"So, did you defend yourself?"

"I sure did," he says, drying the gash out and getting ready to spray it full of sealant: "But they might not see it that way."

"Well, the ones who survived can discuss that with the authorities," Martha says: "And I just heard that they're on the move in your area."

"Then I better get in costume, huh?" John says: "Are you moving, too?"

"Already did," she says: "Talon took care of our little problems for us. I'm moving on their customers as we speak. So you'll have to pardon me, but-"

"Martha?" John says: "Thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome," Martha says: "Next time you see me, we'll pray for them, together. But right now, you give them all the hell you've got to give. Got it?"

"I got it," he says: "Green Fury out."

And then he screams as the sealant turns his gash into fire.

* * *

Not five minutes later, Green Fury's out on the street in his uniform. The battle he fought in his own apartment for his own life is behind him, now. What's ahead of him is uncertain, but he knows he can face it for what it is.

And maybe he'll be able to surprise them, after all. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Climbatize (The Prodigy) and having a Furious

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