Sunday, September 21, 2014

1/8/13 - Nuit Blanche (Les Trois Grands)

It's approaching dusk in Clichy-Sous-Bois, and Abdullah Ismail is sitting on a bench by himself -- warming his hands with his breath, watching people go back and forth and wondering when his cousin is going to show up.

It's going to be a cold night, tonight, and the roads are still covered in snow. The rest of Paris has been dutifully plowed, either by super-swift men and women with shovels or more traditional means, but no one's bothered here. You'd think the police that patrol this area in droves would insist upon driving on well-cleaned streets, but apparently the Terre Unifee doesn't care if its guards are inconvenienced along with the people they're guarding.

People like Abdullah, his cousin, and every other Beur in this Commune.

A car drives by, slowly, and for a moment Abdullah wonders if it's an undercover patrol. But no, it's just Samir -- here at last.

"Merde!" the skinny rail of a man swears as he gets out of the car, which he doesn't bother to lock: "These streets! When are they going to plow?"

"Here? Never," Abdullah says, giving the man a familial hug and a kiss on either cheek: "They won't even send an engine for a fire..."

"Unless they know we didn't set it," Samir finishes the joke, which really isn't one: "Come on, let's get off the streets."

"We've got to walk a ways," Abdullah replies, gesturing down the street.

"What?" his cousin whines: "In this weather?"

"Couldn't be sure you weren't followed."

"So they can't follow us now?"

Abdullah sighs, wondering again why he brought his cousin into the deal, and gently half-shoves him down the street, towards the crime that awaits them.

* * *

Elsewhere, in a much nicer area of town, there's a large, black desk in a massive, darkened room -- overlooking the lit-up spectacle that is Paris at night.

The room is what one might call well-appointed, if one wanted to be modest. There's richly-filled bookshelves along all walls but one, and long, luxurious couches in its center. Lovely, Grecian busts sit under glass on plinths, here and there, and the tables between the couches are chased with gold and onyx.

At the far end of the room , just before the wide, tall window, is that desk. Stark and smooth -- with all functionality either hidden from view, or placed on the side where its owner is sitting -- it's clearly been designed to make the person on the other end feel small and inconsequential.

Which is just how its owner wants his people to feel. 

He's impeccably dressed, this watcher in the darkness. A white, silk shirt that breathes so well he hardly knows he has it on, black leather shoes handmade to his specifications, and a green, silk tie that costs almost as much as a truly splendid night on the town.

He's also imposing in his own right -- tall, lean, and well-muscled. His expertly-coiffed hair is full and dark. His eyes are a shade of blue so light it almost looks like ice. And they look at the world designer glasses made to show them off as much as possible. 

And that would be because, from those eyes down, his face is a mass of horrible scars and burns -- transforming his once-handsome visage into something akin to an abstract painting. His nose is a hollow ruin, his ears are gone, and his lips are pulled back from his teeth, fixing his mouth in a gruesome, skeletal rictus.

He could be the saddest man in the world, and yet still look like he's laughing at it.

He sits in the quiet and watches the city -- his city, he would say -- as it comes alive in the night. From up here, in his company's tower, he can hear the cars and the noise, the sirens and the cries. He can imagine the source of each noise, and often does.

He never imagines them to be anything good.

He sips a drink from a crystal tumbler, careful to not dribble it onto his shirt and tie. It's not alcohol, though he always tells others that it is. It's actually a very sophisticated energy drink, made from ingredients so high-tech and secret that he'd have to have his research heads shot if they divulged its secrets.

He doesn't drink, anymore. He doesn't like how it makes him feel. How it makes him remember...

... the car burning behind him, though he can't feel the heat. The city burning around him, though he can't hear it scream. 

He crawls on his hands and knees, no longer able to feel the pain that wrapped him up when his world exploded into fire.

And with each inch -- each thick, dragging, painless inch -- he comes closer and closer to the woman lying in the street...

...Msr. Roquer?" a voice interrupts.

"Oui, Matilde?" he replies, not turning to regard his intercom.

"Your chef has just informed me that he's on his way up in your private elevator, so I'm leaving for the night."

"Merci, Matilde," he says, allowing the hollow ghost of a smile to drift over his ruined features: "Drive safe, and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Merci, Msr. Roquer," she says: "Might I ask what's on the menu, tonight?"

"Something Middle Eastern, I think," he says, no longer smiling.

* * *

"Well, are you sure you weren't followed?" Samir asks as the two of them head up the stinking, scorched concrete stairs to their friends' sorry apartment.

"I'm positive," Abdullah says, really not liking the insinuation.

"It's just that there's cops everywhere, these days. All those super-police-"

"I know, Samir."

"And some of them can read minds!" Samir says as they leave the stairwell for the equally-stinking and scorched landing: "Can you believe it?"

"Some of them can probably hear you complain halfway across town, too, you fool," Abdullah hisses: "Ta gueule! It's not like we're breaking the law."

"Well, we are..."

Abdullah sighs, wishing to God that his cousin would learn to be brave, or that he might be blessed with the power to let him go back in time and stop himself from recruiting him for the group.

Still, he was right -- they were breaking the law. This apartment building, which had burned back in 2005, was listed as "condemned." It should have been knocked down a long time ago, but, as it was in the Beur part of Paris, where the riots had started from, the authorities were in no hurry to deal with it. They hadn't even shut off the electricity, though the water had been turned off long ago.

Plus, it meant less housing in "Muslim" areas, forcing the people who lived there to go out into the city and "integrate," even if it meant trying to fit in where they clearly were not wanted. 

But even in such conditions, no one wanted to live in a place like this. And that made it perfect for their purposes.

Which involved even more law-breaking, at least in the eyes of some. 

* * *

The private elevator takes its time getting up to this room, which gives him more than enough time to finish his drink. Once that's done, he rises from the chair, and quickly strips his clothing off, putting it all into the excellent, one-of-a-kind leather satchel he brings to work. 

Then he saunters, nude, over to the left side of the room, across from the door that leads in. By that wall is a particular plinth, with a small, recessed area just under the lip of the glass dome. He reaches under it and finds a subtle button, which he presses -- causing a length of bookshelf to slide up into the ceiling, revealing a hidden elevator door.

A few moments later, the nearly-silent elevator arrives. The door opens without a chime, and with barely a sound, revealing what's really in there. 

It's not a chef -- that's just a story he cooked up, so to speak. Each night, after a certain time, a randomized countdown begins, at the end of which his "chef" calls up to his secretary to announce he's on his way. And once she's on her way down, the elevator rises up, bringing Bruno M. Roquer -- scion of the wealthy Roquer dynasty, and owner and operator of Industries Roquer -- the tools he needs to spend his evening.

The lights come on in the elevator, revealing a skintight, white body sleeve that covers everything, including his head and face. He slides it on, making certain it's as snug as possible, and then gets inside the elevator -- pressing a big, green button as he does. Then he carefully places his feet in their designated spots, and holds his arms out from his body just so.

The moment the doors close, the air begins to crackle with energy. Strange, electromagnetic forces swirl around him, and a legion of tiny, white pieces of armor fly from hidden recesses in the elevator's walls, attaching themselves to specific points on the body sleeve. 

Within seconds, Bruno is covered in a sliding network of armor plate -- one that moves as freely as the body sleeve, itself, but can absorb blows from lead pipes, deflect knives and bullets, and even provide some protection against concussive blasts. 

More layers of armor slide onto that network, adding more protection to vital areas and making the suit look even more imposing. A belt ringed with strange, sophisticated circuitry loops around his waist, causing the larger plates of armor to light up, ever so slightly.

At last, there's just the head to deal with. A highly-detailed mask of a man's face -- complete with false eyes -- attaches itself to the sleeve, giving him a normal appearance, once again. And then another group of armor plates slides over that, creating a sallet-style helmet that leaves only the eyes visible.  

A helmet with an encircled lightning bolt on its forehead. 

He grips his hands into fists, and unclenches them. Sparks crackle between his fingers. He looks around the elevator, and then reaches out to touch one of the exposed electrical outlets.

There's a crackle of lightning, and then a roll of thunder, and Foudre Blanc -- member of Les Trois Grands -- is gone.

Out on the hunt. 

* * *

Abdullah Mohammed Ismail was a founding member of Le Front de L'Espoir, an organization standing up for French citizens of North African descent, commonly known as Beurs. Ever since the riots of 2005, the media, politicians, legal system, and -- worst of all -- the media of France had decided that French Muslims were an enemy within. And they'd all gone out of their way to compete for the title of top scapegoater.

When the Imago showed up, last year, Abdullah had finally thought things had turned around for the better. But that was wishful thinking, as everything the aliens had told them had been lies piled upon lies. At least they hadn't suffered the same fate as impoverished Muslims in other countries -- children enslaved by death machines, adults put to work on their spaceship -- but in the end it was clear they were no more protected than anyone else.

Worse still, when the smoke had cleared, and the Terre Unifee stood in charge of France, and then the whole world? The same hatred and prejudice came back to haunt the Beurs. It was just more obvious, now, given the rhetorical proclivities of the people who made up the TU.

And this time, the bigots in power had superheroes on their side. 

So The Hope Front had gotten back together, and begun recruiting for what looked like a long campaign of passive resistance, marching, and speaking out against injustices. And while it was good to have people like Samir along for the ride, his insistence that they might get jumped by the police at any time was becoming really !@#$ing annoying.

Even if he was right to be worried.

Abdullah stands in front of Zaid's door and knocks. Today's code is "All You Need is Love," so he raps Duh Duh-Duh Duh Duh, and waits for Zaid to reply with Duh Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh.

And waits.

And waits.

At some point, Samir looks at Abdullah with that look. The one that says this is not good. Abdullah can't disagree, but holds up a finger. One more minute.

(Maybe Zaid's using that ridiculous but functional water-free commode he'd invented.)

That minute comes and goes. Samir taps his watch and looks like he needs to use the commode. Abdullah nods, but then, just as he's about to lead them out of there, thinks he hears something inside.

Something that sounds like someone moving slowly, as if in pain.

So he puts his hand on the doorknob, and then turns it. It's open.


"C’est des conneries!" Samir whispers, gesturing to the way they'd come: "Let's get out of here!"

"Not until I'm sure he's okay!" Abdullah whispers back: "You go if you want to. Come back when your testicules come back to you!"

And then Abdullah's inside the door, and all Samir can do is shake, look back and forth, and -- after hissing "Putain!" -- follow him inside. 

* * *

The darkened apartment's a mess, but then it always is. 

Zaid bragged that he decorated for ten, and, given how many barely-functional pieces of furniture he'd dragged in here from less-destroyed apartments, he wasn't joking. The place is a maze of mismatched couches, chairs, tables, and other such things. Front literature is stacked on every table, along with the things they needed to do their marches: bullhorns, banners, flashlights, disposable cameras... the usual.

"Something smells funny," Samir notes, putting his well-honed nose to work: "Like... metal? Oil?"

"Can't smell a thing," Abdullah sighs, cursing the cold he'd been developing: "Zaid? You here?"

No response. Abdullah points to the kitchen, and, after taking a deep breath, goes further back into the hallway, where Zaid tends to sleep.

"No, really," Samir says, back from the kitchen: "It's like an electrical fire or something..."

Abdullah isn't listening though, as he's found Zaid. He's in the bedroom, which is lit only by lights from the mostly-drawn windows outside. And he's lying in a mile of debris.

Not moving.

He kneels down to check, and is relieved that his friend is still breathing. He's just unconscious, and has clearly been beaten into that state. It looks like that homemade commode of his was smashed over his head. 

"Merde," Abdullah sighs, wondering who could have done this. 

And then he turns around, and sees what's on the bed. 

Weapons. Lots of them. Assault rifles, from the looks of things. Ammunition. 

And beside them, a stack of literature, written in Arabic. Abdullah sees the name at the top, and then gasps, realizing something has gone terribly wrong, here.

"Oh Allah, no," he prays, trying to rouse Zaid from his state: "Get up, man. We have to go. We have to go-"

But there's a loud BOOM of Thunder from up the hall, just then. He hears Samir scream over that noise, somehow, and then start making other, more painful noises.

Abdullah decides to leave Zaid. He can't help Samir, either. All he can do is get out of this place, get to the others, and tell them what's happened, here. Warn them of what's coming. 

But no sooner does he rise up to smash his way out of the window -- hoping to God the fire escape can still support his weight -- than someone's right beside him.

Someone who moves as quick as lightning from the sky.

"Bonjour, négro," the man in white, glowing armor hisses, just as he begins to rain punches and kicks down on a man who, up until just now, took pride in being a theoretical pacifist...

* * *

It's an hour later, and it seems every police car in Clichy-sous-Bois is outside the condemned apartment building, along with a few armored vehicles from the Police Nationale, here to deal with the discovery of a genuine Islamic terrorist cell. 

"So the Hope Front was really a front for Al-Qaeda, all along?" Detective Inspector Fermier rasps, watching all this from just inside the cordon: "I must say I'm surprised."

"Why is that?" Foudre Blanc asks, his arms crossed over his chest as the last of the three terrorists is dragged out -- still unconscious from the beating he took.

"I thought better of them," the jowly man replies, adjusting his hat: "I thought them more sensible than to be involved in this sort of merde."

"You can never tell, Detective Inspector," the hero replies: "The roots of evil are black and deep, twisting into every area of society. Perhaps they started out with noble motives, but were turned bad over time. But sooner or later one's sins will be found out."

"I thought you would say something like that," Fermier shrugs.

"Any reason why?"

"That's what you always say when something like this happens," the man replies, putting a cigarette into his mouth and preparing to light it: "We find guns, literature, maybe materials for a bomb and instructions on how to make it. And there you are, saying things about evil roots and discovered sins."

"Whatever do you mean by that?"

"I mean that it's becoming a habit."

"You would know about habits," Foudre Blanc replies, tapping the end of the cigarette with a crackling finger so that it lights up: "Some of them can kill you."

"Whatever do you mean by that?" the Detective Inspector asks. 

"I just mean that there are eyes everywhere, watching," the hero says, leaning just a little closer: "And some sins may be found and dealt with before others, especially if they're more pressing..."

Fermier can't say anything to that, so he simply shrugs and inhales from his cigarette: "Well, I'm sure the Nationale boys will get an answer from them. They usually do."

"I'm certain they will," Foudre Blanc replies, looking askance: "Pardon me, Detective Inspector, I have a call I need to take in private."

With that, he becomes a pillar of lightning, traveling up to the nearest outlet -- a city light, which explodes as he passes through it. 

"Casse-toi," Fermier mutters, wondering how many more times he'll have to helplessly preside over the detention of innocent men.

* * *

Some distance away, Foudre Blanc comes out of a socket on a rooftop filled with telecom equipment, and then takes the call. 

"Bonjour,  Ciel Rouge," he says, looking at the hologram that's forming between his hands: a severe but beautiful woman in a red shroud, looking at him with a widest of smiles.

"I'm not disturbing you, am you?" she asks, her politeness as cloying as honey.

"Just doing the good work. You?"

"I am, yes," she says: "I'm on my way back to Paris now, in fact. There's something we three must discuss."

"Oh?" he asks, wondering what the stupid salope has found out, now: "Well, I'm at your disposal, as always. Just give me time to prepare."

"I will," she says, winking: "Dinner at the Palace, then? We three? Perhaps tomorrow night?"

"I look forward to it," he lies, taking a slight bow: "Now, I must beg your pardon, but the night is calling out for justice."

"I'm sure it is," she beams: "Give it a kick or two for me, will you?"

"I will," he says, and then terminates the call, muttering some very rude things under his breath as he places another.

"Oh," the nondescript man on the other end says: "What do you want?"

"Tell the old man we may have a problem," Foudre Blanc says.

"Something you can't handle?"

"Something that could be bad, depending on what it is."

"You mean you don't know?" the man scoffs: "I thought the night had eyes everywhere?"

"In your case, it does," the hero hisses: "And unless you want some interesting pictures to hit the internet in five seconds, I suggest you shut your mouth and do as I've said!"

"Alright," he says: "I'll tell Jean-Marie you need a meeting."

"Good," Foudre Blanc says, turning the call off. 

He looks to the bright lights of Paris, then, awash in their beauty. He can't help but remember another night, and other lights -- ones not nearly as beautiful.

"I'll keep my promise, Sabine," he says, wondering if she can hear him, somehow: "I'll make them pay. I'll make them all pay."

And then he's gone, off to hold up his end of the bargain. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Les Tzars (Indochine) and having a 1664 Blanc)

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