Sunday, June 8, 2014

1/5/13 - METALMAID: Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt - pt 1

In the north of Kansas -- nearly bisecting the state, and almost close enough to blow a kiss at the border of Nebraska -- there's a small town called Lebanon.

It's not much to look at, really. Less than 250 people, living in a small grid formed by six main streets and surrounded by farmers' fields. No heavy industry, no major chains.

Not even a !@#$ McDonalds.

Its one real claim to fame is that it's the closest actual habitation to what has been declared the geographic center of the contiguous United States of America. (As opposed to the one that includes Alaska and Hawaii, down in South Dakota). It's even got a plaque to prove it.

Every so often some weirdo romantic on a far-fling road trip will come by to see it. They'll stop for a time and take pictures, and maybe get a coke from someplace in town on the way back. But more often than not, they just drive on by.

After all, Lebanon, Kansas may be the literal heart of America, but if you can't gas up or get a !@#$ Big Mac there, then who wants to know?

Which made it doubly weird when, right about 6 AM this morning, the entire town was taken over by supercriminals.

It was quick, almost surgical. One moment everyone was going about their Saturday mornings -- chores for some, television for others, sleeping in for the lucky few -- and then every single man, woman, and child fell down writhing in intense, skin-crawling pain.

The kind of agony that keeps you nailed to the floor, and won't let you so much as cry out or call for help.

Most of its victims blacked out immediately -- unconsciousness their only salvation. But some stayed strong and tried to stay awake, for all the good it did them. And, in return for their pains, they got to watch as a weird procession began to arrive in the center of town

The sort of parade no one ever wants to see, all of them heading for the Methodist Church.

There were strange rides with stranger riders. Darkly-themed vehicles disgorged men and women in costumes that matched the motif of their cars and vans, while others pulled up in curiously nondescript things that may have been stolen a state or two ago. A hideous man with a face like a tarantula stood athwart a giant spider, while another fellow garbed in a clown's motley was carried upon a palanquin, itself borne by a legion of wind-up, lifesize toy soldiers.

They made sure to park quite some distance from one another, and to enter the church at different times.

There were those that flew in, held aloft on billowing wings or jet packs, or maybe just their own, innate powers. Black, iron angels and fliers with their capes. Some who appeared from nowhere, and some who might have walked or shambled from halfway across the country.

There was even a one who made herself whole and entire from one of the locals' cars -- the beat-up, white Ford turning into a reasonable (if overly large) facsimile of a human woman.

Anyone with a sense of history would have recognized some of those individuals, either in old newspapers or recent television reports. At the very least, their sinister costumes and nonconformist get-ups should have told those hardy souls that these were people up to no good.

But, by that point, most of the stricken had collapsed into blissful unconsciousness. So they didn't have a hope in hell of hearing what took place there, or seeing what came after. And maybe, when all was said and done, that was definitely for the best.

For when supervillains gather to parley, the best course of action is to be still and silent, like a stone. 

* * *

In the main part of the church stands a wide selection of the mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

They're a singular lot, this congregation. Some of them wear old costumes, some new. Some look like they just escaped from prison, or got out of a hospital (medical or mental, maybe both). Others seem to be wearing plainclothes, though not without some kind of small sign that they aren't quite normal.

(And some are just incapable of wearing anything at all.)

Faced with such a collection of the off-kilter, the natural instinct is to buddy up. Some of them seek out old friends or colleagues, or at least people that seem less strange or dangerous, or maybe of a similar kind of danger. Some remain apart and aloof, perhaps wondering if there's some catch, here.

And for all they know, they may be right.

After a time, a larger, unintended reunion of sorts takes place within the meeting. It starts with two thunders recognizing each other out of uniform (Red and Green respectively), and then hugging and laughing, perhaps a little tenderly, given their recent injuries. After that, more of the turned heroes begin to come forward, figuring out who they must all be, either in plainclothes or their new disguises. The knot of traitors and oathbreakers begins to take over the floor from the honest thieves, murderers, and would-be world rulers.

And that's when the humor in the room turns a little sharp.

Territory is staked out and held as factions start to form. The line for punch and cookies gets outright dangerous. Someone vanishes on the way to the ladies', with a list of suspects too long to be practical.

And people really begin to wonder what the !@#$ they're all doing there, today.

Sure, they got invitations. Sure, they know this is supposed to be an important meeting of people in their unique lines of work. Sure, they got busted out of jail, or woken up from comas, or whatever, by the overly-talkative guy in the shimmering costume.

(Is he really called The Sound? What kind of a !@#$ dumb name is that? And who is he, anyway?)

But past that, they have no idea. This could be a sales pitch or a setup -- a massive opportunity or an equally-massive trap. Risk or reward, life or death.

Or maybe both at once.

So they talk to friends, colleagues, and allies old and new, warily eying one another while waiting for the heavy, green curtain on the other end of the main room to part, and this story to truly unfold.

Hopefully it will be worth whatever complications ensue if an answer isn't quickly provided.

* * *

"Is that arachnid-faced !@#$ here, yet?" the old man wrapped in a voluminous, blood-red robe asks, his features a warped, glowing knot behind a simple, black domino mask.

"Yes, he is," a blonde man in a sharp, black suit and muted, green tie says, looking out at the 'congregation' through a hole in the heavy curtain separating the stage from the main area of worship.

"God, I hate that !@#$er," the old man sighs: "The last time the Lord of Spiders and I were in the same room, all hell broke loose."

"I've heard," the man in the suit says, adjusting his tie: "There's always some old fogey at Outland who wants to tell the story when they do an unofficial, group history panel."

"I bet they never tell you who threw the first punch, though?'

"No, they don't," the man says, smiling: "And I'd prefer it if you didn't tell me."

"Really?" the old man asks, looking a little confused.

"The legends are always better than the truth," he explains: "That's what I tell my clients, anyway. But that's... well, neither here nor there."

"Go on, please."

"Well, let's put it this way," the Pusher says, turning to look at the old man as he strains to keep everyone in town who isn't with them out of the picture: "Say you want to go into our line of work? Chances are good you're some boring person with dreams too big for your abilities.

"Now, people like you, Lord of Spiders, some of the other folks here? They have powers, or maybe they found a way to create them with gadgets and things they stole from high tech labs. But most people who think this is the way they want to go, career-wise? They don't have those things, or access to them.

"Back in the day, they'd have gone into being henchmen. I'm sure you remember the type? They always did what you told them, but you had the idea they'd steal your tricks if you have them half the chance?"

"I do indeed," the old man says: "Had to put a number of them under, in fact."

"Exactly. But this is a whole new era. It's all about independent operators, now. No huge armies of goons dressed alike. Just one person with his or her own thing, maybe a sidekick or an apprentice, or even a partner. But other than that, well... good luck getting into that gig."

"So there's people like you to sell them their powers," the old man says.

"Exactly," the Pusher says, raising a finger: "And when I do, I tell them to never say they bought it from me. Never admit they had to fork over a few hundred grand to get where they were. Always tell people the greatest story they could ever think of. Heck, for a few extra benjamins, I'll even help them write it.

"And that's because the legend is always better than the truth. Truth is inconvenient and messy. Sometimes just plain boring.

"And if you wanted boring, you'd still be working at the big box grocery store, wishing you could fly into the bank branch you walk by every day and take it for all it's got."

The old man laughs, and then cuts his mirth short so as to avoid losing his concentration: "You're a card, Pusher. I like you."

"Thank you, sir," the Pusher says, genuinely honored to get something approaching a complement out of the Emperor of Pain, himself.

A man in a weird, shimmering costume walks through the curtain as though it isn't there, and coughs into his fist: "Hey, is she ready to go, yet? The natives are getting kind of !@#$ing restless."

"She's still making herself presentable," the Pusher says: "But if you want to interrupt her, well..."

"Eh, I don't think so," The Sound says, holding up his hands: "Just saying. We got some really !@#$ volatile folks out there. That idiot super-racist with the squeaky voice is getting on everyone's nerves, and the !@#$hole with chainsaws for hands is just looking for an excuse-"

"And so am I," the woman in question says, stomping out from where she's been hiding, her glare harsh enough to silence a hurricane.

She's freakishly ugly, this woman, and wearing a gauzy, practically see-through crimson dress that would look a lot better on an insane, drug-addled transvestite hooker, or a pop starlet. A lop-sided, white plastic crown of a hat is perched above her strange, black hairdo, and her feet are practically strangled in weird, spangly high-heels that make her even taller than she is.

And on her chest, the mark of the Scarlet Factotum

"How much longer can you hold this town?" METALMAID asks The Emperor of Pain without looking at him.

"As long as you need, my dear," the old man says.

"But in terms of practicality, we probably have an hour before someone drives by and wonders what's going on," the Pusher adds.

"And maybe fifteen minutes before there's blood on the floor,"  The Sound says.

"Well, let's not leave them waiting for another," the Slaughterbot says, looking at herself in a handheld mirror one last time: "Are we all clear on what we're doing?"

"Hey, trust us, Scarlet," the Pusher says, smiling and adjusting his tie, yet again: "We got this tied up with a bow."

"I don't like trusting you human germs," she admits, putting her mirror away without looking at the man: "But... I will admit, you have come through quite a bit. All of you."

"Then let's do this before I lose control of my !@#$ bowels," the Emperor of Pain grumbles: "I never remember not to do this on full colon...."

"Alright then," she says: "Sound? Get our {quote}guest{endquote}-"

"Scarlet?" the Pusher gently interrupts: "Ix-nay on the quotes, remember? It throws people off."

"Right," she sighs: "Sound? Get our guest ready. And we'll... get this show on the road. Right?"

"Right," the Sound says, disappearing through the back wall as the Pusher gets ready to throw open the curtain.

And then there's just the audience beyond, all hushed into silence by the sight of their hostess.

She looks at them, smiles as the Pusher has taught her, and begins to speak

(METALMAID is listening to Das Model (Kraftwerk) and having some punch and pie)

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