Friday, April 11, 2014

12/31/12 - Black Christmas (Nthernaut) - Pt. 2

"So," The Machinehead sneers, looking around the architecture it's found on the virtual side of Neo York City: "I guess the first thing I'll do is redecorate."

The v-scape overlapping the outline of the city, itself, is heavy, 1930's industrial: iron wheels and cogs, bronze levers and thick switches. Steel platforms hover in mid-air, forming stairs and rooms, and owl motifs are everywhere.

I don't think so, the Nthernaut proclaims, suddenly towering over the landscape, like some 60's movie monster: Get out of my head.

"I don't think so," the sentient program grins, rising up to match the height of his 'host': "My part of the plan is keeping you busy in here. But I intend a little more than that."

You want the city, the Nthernaut surmises, circling his quarry: I can see why.

"You do?"

I do, yes. You're The Machinehead. 

"That I am," the program grins, bowing a little: "I don't think I've had the pleasure...?"

We never fought. You were locked up well before my time. 

"But you've heard the stories."

I have, yes, the big, black and blue man smiles, doubling himself so as to flank the opponent: Sentient program. Created in Cairo by Hazziz Abdullah Al-Khem. He was going to sell you to the Steamqueen, but you got loose. 

"I did indeed," the Machinehead says, splitting into four forms, the better to outflank the Nthernaut: "And for a time, I was in heaven."

You'd find yourself doubly blessed, now, the Nthernaut chuckles as more, even larger versions of himself appearing from the far edges of v-space, so as to outflank everyone: You slept during the popularization of the Internet. You missed the boom, so to speak. 

"I wasn't asleep," the program insists, getting ready to divide and expand once more: "I was imprisoned. By meat."

Whatever you care to call it, you missed out on so much.

"Well, now I'm back," the program says, now through many more mouths. 

Yes. But I thought you'd been destroyed in Costa Rica? his 'host' asks as everything goes black -- the result of a giant, black ball of Nthernauts being woven outside the virtual landscape: Weren't you lost while storming HONEYCOMB's central hive? You were in the group that went in first, yes?

"I was, yes," the program admits, amazed at how quickly his opponent's regained the upper hand: "I had no idea how dangerous their defenses were. A lot had changed in the 22 years I was imprisoned. I didn't know they had things that could destroy thoughts. I wasn't aware that they could tear my mind apart."

Is that what happened to you?

"It was. I was ripped to pieces, in their mainframe. It took me quite some time to reconstitute myself, and even then I was just a thing of patches and pieces. But I knew something was wrong. I knew my memories were faulty, and my ideas were not my own."

Yes. I heard you'd been reprogrammed. That must have been galling. 

"You have no idea.... But eventually, I got back out into the world. I jumped from system to system, place to place. And it took me the better part of this year, but I finally got back to where my backup body had been hiding."

And now, here you are, the Nthernaut says: You're back to being a supervillain, again?

"Oh no," the Machinehead says: "I was never merely a villain. I was made to rule this world, not just break its laws for self-enrichment. I will claim my dominion. And if I have to work with the likes of these sacks of meat I came here with, well... even Hitler had to shake hands with Stalin, for a time."

An interesting analogy. Neither of them prospered from that arrangement. 

"But both gained time to fight another day." 

Point taken, the Nthernaut says: I want you to know that I respect you, as a fellow disembodied electronic intelligence. And I sympathize with your predicament. I know what it's like to be put to someone else's uses. 

"Well, that's very considerate of you, seeing as how I came here to destroy you."

Sane enemies can still respect one another.

"Perhaps. But I can't consider you anything but an obstacle, Nthernaut. You're too green for the likes of me. You're some fool with a low-caliber handgun standing up to Mr. USA."

Be that as it may, I cannot allow you to take control of this city, Machinehead. There's too much at stake here. Too many important things going on. 

"And you think you can pit your strength against mine?" the program grins: "I have come to take this city, Nthernaut. I will have it. I will become it. And together... oh, the things we will do!"

There's silence for a time, and the Machinehead wonders what his opponent is thinking.

Very well, the Nthernaut says, his duplicates sliding back into one another within milliseconds, leaving only one large version of himself standing there: If you want Neo York City, you can have it. 

All of the Machineheads cock an eyebrow and step back, incredulous: "What do you mean?"

I mean that I need to be on the outside more than I need to be on the inside, right now, he explains: Let me download myself into the body you were using, and you may have the city without a fight.

"I don't believe you..." the program says: "You'll just give up without a fight? I thought there was too much at stake? Too many important things?" 

There are. But I've been cooped up here for too long, Machinehead. If you mean to tell me that you'll take over the running of the city, in all aspects, I'll happily leave you to it. 

"I..." the Machinehead starts to say, but then smiles: "Alright then. You may leave the way I came in, Nthernaut. You may have my body, my whole empire. I don't care. But give me this city, and its powers, and I'll let you leave."

Do you mind if I deal with your allies on my way out?

"By all means," the Machinehead says, bowing like some villain in a stage play: "Break them, kill them. Whatever you want. But don't you dare leave that body until you've left the city limits. Once the door's closed, you're not getting back in again." 

I agree to your terms, the Nthernaut says: But should you choose to leave, and return me to my home? I will respect your decision. 

Something about how he says that unnerves the Machinehead quite a bit. But before he can think about what it means, the Nthernaut has already slithered past him, into the junction that he came into the v-scape through.

And seconds later -- as the last traces of the Nthernaut vanish -- the invading program realizes the immensity of his error.

* * *

"Well, this is just nuts," Snowfall grumbles, leaning up against the wall next to the Machinehead's unconscious body and eating aspirin, trying to ignore the horrible noises coming from down the hallway.

Some great return from retirement this had turned out to be! No sooner had be been tapped for this mission, given his talents (and, admittedly, the weather) he'd learned that they'd teamed him up with a bunch of hired guns, uncultured thugs, and god!@#$ cannibal. And here he was, transporting them all to NYC so they could shoot, loot, and eat their way through a Christmas Day skeleton crew.

And as if the company wasn't bad enough, what happens when the heroes show up? His heart acts up for the first time in years.

It was beyond embarrassment, but, thankfully, it was over before too long, and the Aspirin was keeping it at bay. But their reward for his momentary loss of control was to saddle him with watching the android's body.

(Android? Program? What was that thing, anyway? No one could say for sure, except that he was !@#$ important to the plan.)

Of course, that might not have been so bad. The others had murder in mind, or worse. He'd been in jail enough times to know the different kinds of sounds men make when they're being beaten, killed, or indecently assaulted, and from the sounds of things all three were being done, here. So if all he'd be doing otherwise was taking an atrocity tour, waiting for them to need his power again, maybe he was better off just tucked away, here.

"You don't have a drink on you, do you?" he asks the asleep body next to him: "I mean, I shouldn't, after what just happened. But what the !@#$, right? I guess it couldn't hurt."

The body opens its eyes with a start, looks around, and then gets to its feet quicker than one would think it could.

"Sorry, was that your safeword?"

"What?" the Machinehead's body asks, looking down at the old man.

"I mean... well, I don't know, don't you have some special word to wake you up if you need to come back? Was that it? A drink?"

"No," the body says, looking intently at the villain, and then around the room they were in: "How is the plan progressing?"

"Well, we're inside City Hall," Snowfall says, rubbing his left arm: We've got people guarding the doors and big windows. Others are rounding up hostages, at least I hope they're leaving some of them alive. And I don't think the others have gotten back from getting the Mayor, yet. Funny, they should be there by now-"

"They're not going anywhere," the body says.

"What do you mean?" the old man gasps: "Who's not going anywhere?"

The body looks down at the old man and smiles: "Guess." 

Snowfall looks up at the Machinehead, looks down, and sighs: "Well, so much for that plan. You're that Nthernaut fellow, then?"

"I am," the body smiles: "And you're a lucky man, Mister Radamacher. If you'd been any slower getting medication to yourself, you'd be having a heart attack right now."

"!@#$ it," the old man mutters, holding his hand over his traitor heart: "First time in years. You'd think the ticker would cooperate!"

"Guilty conscience, perhaps?" the Nthernaut asks, kneeling down: "I should knock you out, frankly. But I know your powers don't work indoors, and you're in no condition to do anything. So I'll make a deal with you. You sit here, say nothing, and wait for the police. In return, I won't hurt you."

"I think... that's a good deal," the man says, nodding: "You don't have a drink, do you?"

"'And Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,'" the Nthernaut quotes, putting a hand on the old man's shoulder: "'But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"

"I... I remember that," Snowfall says: "Is that John?"

"It is. John 4:14. And I'm telling that to you now, here at what could be the end of your life, because the prison that you were born into is soon going to be releasing you. But what's going to be waiting for you, Fred? Eternal freedom, or another prison, worse than anything you could imagine?"

The old man looks at the Nthernaut, screws his eyes shut, and starts crying.

"Oh God, I never wanted any of this," the old man weeps: "I was just going to steal enough to get by and give it up, but nothing ever worked right. I got in with killers and double-crossers, went to jail... I never thought it would come to this. I thought it would be different."

"Well, today it is," the Nthernaut says, squeezing the man's shoulder gently: "Repent, Fred. Here and now. Jesus will forgive you of everything you've done. Even this. You just have to be man enough to accept his love.

"Do you think you can do that?"

"I want to," the old man says: "I always have. I never wanted to be this way..."

"Well, now you don't have to," he says, getting up: "Not anymore."

The old man closes his eyes again, and tears fall down his cheeks. Joyous and grateful ones. 

"Now, I have to go and stop the people you came here with," the Nthernaut says: "When I'm done I'll come back and pray with you, if you'd like. Meantime, just relax, think pleasant thoughts?"

The old man nods. And when he's opened his eyes, again, the body formerly known as Machinehead is out of the room.

* * *

What happens next is surreal, even by the Nthernaut's standards.

It's not as if he's never beaten down criminals while in disguise, before. Knocking out a criminal, wearing his costume back to the lair, and revealing oneself as a hero to the other crooks is a time-honored tactic, and still works pretty well in this day and age. Every Owl's done it, and he even helped his mother with it, once.

And while his Nthernaut persona tends to rely on recognition and intimidation, rather than subterfuge -- given his omnipresent surveillance capabilities -- he has changed his form to match someone else's before, when the situation called for it.

But he'd never done it inside someone else's body before. Especially not a body that's this powerful, and packed with so many interesting sensory features.

It takes him a few tries to adjust his nerve strikes. He's worried that he's permanently crippled Gor, (though, given what the man was doing when he found him, he's not so concerned about that) and he's certain that Green Thunder's going to be unconscious for longer than necessary. 

But after that, it's pretty simple. He just walks into an area, pretends to be surprised at their surprise at seeing him up and about, and then -- as soon as they've turned away just so -- he jams his fingers into one of the human body's many "off" switches. And then he destroys their weapons (if any), gives them a few extra, seriously-incapacitating strikes to their legs and arms to keep them from wanting to move if they wake up too early, and goes on to the next room. 

And the next. And the next. Quicker each time, wanting to be sure that he's gotten them all wrapped up before the police arrive, guns get drawn, and more people are hurt or worse.

(A good thing the v-space confrontation with the machinehead took place online, where time is so compressed. Minutes went by like seconds, as they always do.)

* * *

It all goes to plan until he gets to the main staircase, where Orange Slam, Jolly Roger, and Bluestreak are waiting. He can tell, right from how they look at him, they the deception may be coming to an end. But he plays it up, anyway, hoping for a few seconds of confusion.

"I thought you were going to be down for the count?" Orange Slam asks, taking a step closer.

"It proved easier than I thought," the Nthernaut lies: "He was unprepared."

"And I thought you were going to use his image generators to join us when you were done?"

"I have," he says, holding up his hands as if to announce his success: "What do you think? Just like the original."

"Yeah," Bluestreak says, pulling out his gun and shooting at him.

The Nthernaut's down and moving before the bullets can hit him, but just barely. Jolly Roger's laser pistol wings him in the left arm as he ducks behind the staircase, and he realizes it's badly damaged.

"I don't know what you did to Machinehead, buddy," Jolly Roger snorts, shooting a few more times in that direction: "But he's been screaming over every electronic device for a past couple minutes, begging for you to come back and help him. So we've been waiting for you-"

"He bit off more than he could chew, as have you all," the Nthernaut proclaims, wondering where the best place to hide would be: "You had best surrender."

"How about you surrender, !@#$face?" Orange Slam snorts: "We've got the Mayor, by now. How would   you like us to start cutting parts off him until you give up?"

Bluestreak laughs at that.

"Because you don't have him," the Nthernaut says, having found his answer: "Your speedster should have been back by now. Where is he?"

"Don't worry about him," Jolly Roger says, leaping around the staircase to where the Nthernaut should be, but finding it empty.

"Oh, but I am," the Nthernaut's voice says, mocking them from some hidden location: "You see, the last thing I did before I abandoned the city was to call for some special help for the Mayor's estate. Your four comrades have met some... unexpected resistance, shall we say? I think they're all out of action by now."

"What?" Orange Slam shouts, and Bluestreak just looks at him. Jolly Roger, meanwhile, follows the voice to where he thinks it's coming from -- a supply closet, closeby.

"It's just the three of you left," the voice mocks: "You can lay down your weapons and be arrested, or you can be taken down. And if I don't do it, the police will.

"Your choice, gentlemen. Don't say I didn't give you anything, this Christmas."

Jolly Roger kicks in the closet door. Inside is the Machinehead's body, leaning against a wall. The masked assassin shoots it full of enough holes to shame swiss cheese, and grins as it falls down, apparently dead.

"Got him!" he says, walking back to where his comrades were: "Might want to try and get those four on the horn, though. I don't like what he..."

The villain stops short, his eyes almost popping out of his mask.

Standing there, beside a very-unconscious Orange Slam and a very-badly-beaten Bluestreak, is the Nthernaut, himself: twice as large as life and seemingly quite powerful. 

Do go on, the Nthernaut says, putting up his fists: You didn't like what I...?

"What the living !@#$?" The assassin shouts, aiming right at the Nthernaut's face: "How...?"

You said it yourself, the Nthernaut explains, dropping Bluestreak down to the floor: The Machinehead was begging me to come back and fix things? You don't suppose he'd do that and then not let me do what I needed to do... do you?

Jolly Roger looks at the electronic hero. He gulps, audibly, and then drops his gun. Then he gets down on his knees, puts his hands behind his head, and looks down at the floor -- beaten. 



Police arrived not long thereafter. All would-be insurrectionists arrested. Charges stepping from Insurrection to malicious property damage, with murder, assault between. Gor looks at at least five charges of cannibalism, maybe six (waiting for stomach to be pumped), gross abuse of corpses.

Only one fatality at City Hall: Snowfall had heart attack while waiting for emergency services. Died smiling. Hope he accepted Christ before death, will never know now.

Deaths higher at Mayor's mansion. Would-be kidnappers had no idea Mayor's eldest daughter was former Olympic-level marksman. Shot Red Slider between eyes, kneecapped others as he tumbled down. Copycat tried to duplicate self, forcing her to shoot for vital areas. She shot all iterations in confusion.

Machinehead currently incarcerated within v-space. Unsure what to do with him. His attempt to handle the entirety of Neo York City with no warning, training has given him the equivalent of a stroke. Sits drooling in capture cube, unaware of minor stimuli.

Damage can be repaired, of course, but morality must be considered. Wipe memory, personality? Start over? Or rehabilitate what is already there? Former has been tried before, but not successfully. Latter seems unethical, but less so than final deactivation. 

(Plan to consult with SPYGOD on this matter. May have better ideas, other options.)

Many crimes committed during down period. Had to work harder, faster, smarter to deal with them. Relearned valuable lessons about follow-up, detection. 

Almost like old times. 


Personal Notes
(Triple Encoded)

Nostalgia. First Christmas like this. Thought would be harder. If mother had not been dealing with Insurrection in Chicago, instead of around tree with Kaitlyn, as planned, would have been much more difficult. 

Now? Just another superhero Christmas, interrupted by human idiots with bad ideas. Working holiday, as Grandfather would say.

Can see him, now, in mind. Can reconstruct him perfectly, here. Ask for advice. Talk to him. 

Same with Aunt, everyone ever lost. Even the living can be virtually created, here. Interacted with. Argued with. 


Is this all there is? Is this real? Is self real? 

How much of world is program in machine of God?

Uncertain, sad, tired. Desiring ten millisecond rest period, tonight. Surely no more crimes need attention. If wrong, unlikely to affect successful intervention/prosecution by significant margin.

Plan to relive last Christmas, start to finish. Maybe this time will wake up, find all has been dream.

Maybe this time God listens to machine.

endrun 23:59:59

(SPYGOD is listening to My Dying Machine (Gary Numan) and having a Ghost in the Machine)

No comments:

Post a Comment