"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," the black-masked man says, stepping into the center of the room: "I hope I am interrupting?"
"I think this was a private meeting?" the Pusher says, hoping to keep his client -- shaking with almost-literal red-hot rage -- from doing the obvious thing.
"I'm sure it was, Pusher. But, as I think you all know, the Brotherhood of the Righteous can go where it likes, and do what it needs to?"
"The who?" Red Thunder asks, cocking an eyebrow, along with most of the turned, new heroes.
"Ah, you youngsters," the Angle says, and there's a lot of mocking laughter at that. It seems the black-masked man is joining them in it, but when he holds up his hand they all fall silent.
"Yes, it does seem as though there's a bit of a lack of knowledge, here," the interloper continues: "But that can be corrected, perhaps when we're done here."
"You are done, here," METALMAID hisses, one of her laser cannons sliding out of her arm and firing at him.
The beam slices through the air and strikes him, dead-center, but nothing happens. The beam is diffused across his chest.
"Would you care to try again?" he asks: "I think my shields are worthy of your worst, such as they are..."
"Sound?" she yells, but he's nowhere to be seen. People laugh.
"Emperor of Pain?" she shrieks: "Turn this man's guts to jelly!"
"Scarlet, I can't," the old man sighs: "I'm already locked into the town-"
"And even if he did let go, and could single me out, regaining control over the town might be more than he could handle, at his age," the black-masked man says, waving his hands dismissively: "I don't think you're all in the mood to deal with over two hundred angry townspeople, this morning, are you?"
"I think we could," Green Thunder snorts: "I also think you're interrupting the lady. I'll admit she comes across as something of !@#$, but, after all that, I think some of us wanted to hear what she had to say."
"Well... Green Thunder, is it?" the man says, walking up to him and patting him on the shoulder: "I think you want to hear what I have to say, first, before you sign on with a failure. And I think you'll want to know more about how and why she failed before you follow her intowhat's going to be, at best, a fool's errand. At worst, it might be your end.
"And I think the older guard here who know who and what I am would agree with me on that point."
Green Thunder's about to say something, but then sees that the people here he doesn't know are nodding, and then shuts his mouth.
"Alright then," the man says, walking away and pointing at METALMAID: "If we're done trying to use weapons that won't work, let's introduce you. The real you. Scarlet Factotum, isn't it? Head of Scarletworks?"
"Yes," she says through gritted teeth, knowing where this is going.
"Last seen working alongside the late Doctor Kyklops, when he tried to take over the world from the Imago, correct?"
"Now, maybe you'd care to tell us how well that worked?" the black-masked man asks, most likely grinning like the Devil behind his mask.
"Not very well," she admits: "But I would remind you that I was, at best, his weapons supplier. The tactical decisions were his-"
"You were a great deal more than that, I think," the fellow says, holding up his hand and pointing at the hologram of the Terre Unifee's headquarters, in Paris. There's a bright light, a loud SQUARRRK, and then the image has changed.
And it's the image of a couple months ago, as METALMAID berates the good Doctor into pushing forward his plans for world conquest, during one of their more degrading bouts of sex.
"I'm telling you, now," she said, then, doing something that should be anatomically impossible to him: "You follow my plans, you will win! We have the tools, we have the soldiers! We have everything! We just need you to be a man and say yes!"
"Yes!" the man shrieks in pain, pleasure, and sheer abandon: "Yes, a million times yes! Just please do not stop..."
There's some laughter, then, from the audience she's assembled -- laughter both mocking and cruel. A few gasps and some coughing.
"That dirty old buzzard," the Lord of Spiders laughs.
"Hey," the man dressed like a buzzard, back by the punchbowl, protests, however quietly.
"We'd had the Doctor's castle in Sardinia bugged for ages," the black-masked man says, letting the tape run on silent, now: "It was part of our old insurance plan, which he purchased back in the early 70's. He probably forgot all about it. And I'm sure that he also forgot that, upon the death of the policy holder, all footage becomes part of the Brotherhood's historical archive."
"It was a business transaction," METALMAID insists: "How was I supposed to maintain my standard of living if he wouldn't keep buying things from me? I have my overhead to consider-"
"You need to be quiet, now," the man says, holding up a hand: "And the rest of you need to listen, very carefully, to what I am about to say.
"Those of you who know of who we are, and what we can do? You know that whatever you might owe this failed world-conqueror for getting you out of your current circumstances is paltry peanuts compared to what you still owe us. And those of you who don't know us, yet? You just consider why these people who've been at it longer than you have are being quiet and listening-"
"Probably because you've got the goods on them, too," Green Thunder snorts: "You going to show off their sex tapes if they speak up, bagface?"
If it was possible for the room to get any quieter, it would have.
The man in the black mask looks at Green Thunder, and just nods. A second later the hero-turned-villain grimaces, and reaches his hands up to his head.
And then he falls down to his knees, his nose leaking necrotic sludge onto his chin and chest. He gets time to gasp out "help," and then he's on the floor, dead, his blackened brains leaking from his ears, nose, and mouth.
Red Thunder shrieks and steps back, and a number of the other, turned heroes gasp and join her. Someone throws up. The Black Rider just laughs.
"As you can see, I don't have to resort to simple blackmail," the black-masked man says, waving a hand at his deeds: "We can kill you, anywhere and anytime. It just takes a touch, that's all. And if you anger us, or we feel you've become a risk? Your brains will rot in your skull and tumble out, useless and unreadable."
"That's one !@#$ of a sales pitch," one of the other new villains says: "I think we're listening."
"Good," the black-masked man says: "Now, here' the situation as we see it. Some time ago, it looked as though business as usual was over. The massive game of superspies and supervillains that had held sway was being eliminated. The opening salvo was the Outland of 2012, when SPYGOD blew the place up, killing a lot of good bad people, and putting us on notice that business as usual was over.
"Now, by the time the next Outland was scheduled, the world was in different hands. And I'm sure some of you remember that we tried to have another one? But the Imago had different ideas, as some of you also know.
"However, now things have changed again. Now the Terre Unifee is in charge of things. Now we have an organization that, frankly, has none of the drive or smarts of the previous attempts at global law enforcement or peacekeeping. For all their power and reach, they're unfocused. Too dependent on their super powers. Too uncertain of what's actually happening in their client states.
"And that means that, as of now, the situation we had before all this mess started? It's about to come around again."
There's some nods at that, some realization. A couple coughs of disbelief, however quiet.
"After all, the man who started the pendulum swinging the other way? SPYGOD? He's in jail, right now. He's shortly to be on trial for crimes against humanity. He saves this world, and they're going to put him to death for getting his hands dirty doing it? There's your law and order for you..."
More snorts and some black laughter. He's clearly got the floor, now.
"Now, here's what I am proposing," the man says, pointing at METALMAID: "Her route? Well, even if she does get this plan of hers off the ground, which I doubt, given her track record? It means that that you'll be parts of the machine that runs the world.
"And right now? That world is a mess.
"You've seen it, you know it. The media won't tell you the whole truth about the problems they're having making sure everyone's got food, shelter, and essential services. And they sure don't want to talk about a much larger problem that's on its way, here. But the bottom line is that, if we break it, we're going to buy it.
"Quite literally, in fact."
"Such is a danger of any conquest," the Lord of Spiders interjects: "If you would be king, you must tend your kingdom."
"True, but let's talk sense," the black-masked man says: "Why rule when you can subvert? Why press the coins when you can just steal them? Why control it all when you can control your own little corner?
"I mean, do any of you really want to take over the world?" he asks, gesturing around to one and all assembled there: "Really? To never know sleep, or rest, or security? To never be able to just close your eyes and say 'good night'? To always be worried that some new crisis will test you? That some new disaster will befall you?
"That some other new blood, with a fire for conquest in his heart, won't try to take it over, or take you out?"
He lets his words die down, then, looking around from face to face: "Heavy is the head that wears the crown, my friends. Why seek to take it, when you can just have the benefits that come from having a foolish and malleable king on the throne? And believe you me, the Terre Unifee is extremely foolish and very malleable, right now."
"And you should know, all things considered," the Violet Demon says, putting his hands on the back of the man's suit jacket.
"Excuse me," the fellow says, but before he can do anything his entire person is suffused with a muted, purple glow. Sparks and smoke shoot out of his pockets and buttons, and the embarrassing tape loop of METALMAID getting it on with her late "employer" gives way to the view of Paris, once more.
"Sorry," the Violet Demon says, kicking the man in the crotch from behind for good measure: "That was getting !@#$ing depressing."
"You idiot!' Chassis shouts as the man goes to his knees, howling: "You've doomed us all! That's the-"
"Brotherhood of the Righteous?" the Violet Demon says, stepping forward and grabbing the masked man's head in his hands: "Well, I'm sure that's what they'd like you to think. But they're gone and done with, folks. Finished."
"What do you mean?" the Pusher asks, clearly uncertain what's going on, here.
"After the last Outland? The Imago didn't just bust down the party. They hunted them down and destroyed almost all of them. That's why us older villains haven't been getting our newsletters, lately."
"You gotta be !@#$ing kidding me," Nefartiti says: "The Brotherhood's gone? How could they just be gone?"
"Those aliens could be !@#$ thorough when they wanted to," the Angle admits.
"Very thorough," the Violet Demon says: "And you can thank your lucky stars that one of their people was good enough to dispose of most of their files before they followed them up the pipe, or a lot of you would have been gone, right along with them. I just barely survived an assassination attempt, myself, right before the Reclamation War. It's only now that I've been able to show my handsome face again... such as it is."
He smiles behind his mask and tips a wink to METALMAID, who feels her metal heart do something strange, yet not unwelcome.
"But, then, who is this?" the Lord of Spiders asks, gesturing to the man on the floor: "How did he know to come here? How did he do these things that only a member of the Brotherhood could do?"
"Well, that's a long story," the Violet Demon says: "And I don't want to take too much time away from our gracious hostess, especially since I crashed the party, too, once I learned this jerk was going to be making an appearance."
"And just how did you know that?" the Black Riders squeaks.
"That's part of the long story. But, with our host's permission? I think once I pull this mask off, a lot of things are going to make a lot of sense. What's more, they're going to light a big fire under your !@#$es to want some payback against the TU."
"By all means," METALMAID says, stepping down from the stage and striding up to where the man kneels: "Let's see this flesh germ's face, Violet Demon. And as for your story, you can take as much time as you'd like."
"Good to hear," he says, and pulls the mask right off to reveal...
(METALMAID is listening to The Model (Kraftwerk, 2010 remix) and having yet more punch and pie)