Sunday, February 1, 2015

1/12/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 1.0

Team Alpha: Blastman, Yanabah, Underman, Gosheven,
Shining Guardsman, Red Wrecker, Night Phantom
(Art by Dean Stahl)

 * * * 

The first thing they do, upon waking, is to put on bathrobes, make some coffee, go to the floor-to-ceiling window in the living room of their high-rise apartment-cum-prison cell, and look down at the group of protesters. 

They're still there, and that's no surprise. There are always anywhere from twenty to a hundred or more of them. All with their signs and slogans: "Murderer of children!" "House the Homeless, Not Super-Assassins!" "War Criminal!" "Bastard!"

(Their personal favorite is "BBQ the SPY-HOG!" -- being hoisted by a fellow who looks like he's been to a more than a few such culinary events.)

Night and day. Day and Night. Good weather or bad. Fair news or foul. They are always there: faces from all over Neo York City, and some from well outside. All races, genders, and nationalities, all makes and models, all walks of life.

All united in their utter and total hate of them.

"A good day for it," Straffer says, sipping at his coffee. 

"You got that right," SPYGOD says, draping an arm around his lover: "Supposed to be !@#$ nice, today."

"Pity we can't go out and join them."

"Yeah. Maybe help some of them with their !@#$ing spelling."

"You think we'll see the "Honk If You Hate Beer Tax" guy back?"

"What, that !@#$hole?" SPYGOD laughs: "After the beating that !@#$ Thai lady gave him? I think he's in the !@#$ing hospital."

"He seemed to walk out okay."

"That was !@#$ing adrenalin, hon. I bet he collapsed all over himself after a block or two."

They laugh at that, and then sigh in unison. SPYGOD pulls him a little closer, wondering if they should make out and give them a show, today, or just let them stew in the hate they already brought. 

"Soon," SPYGOD promises, winking. 

"Yes," Straffer says, grinning and making the make out decision for both of them: "Soon."

Bee-Bee rolls over on a nearby couch, stretches, yawns, and farts. Someone throws a rotten tomato at the couple as they kiss before their jeer-leaders. The chorus of insults and chants begins anew, and if SPYGOD cocks his ears just so he can hear the rude comments of the people watching them on their apartment's supposedly-hidden spy cameras. 

Let the day begin. 

* * *

"Alright, then," Lt. Giscard Vipond says as he observes the heroes on Team Alpha, all settled into the hover-transport as they take off for the morning's job -- bang on at 8 in the !@#$ AM: "Are we all sitting comfortably?"

The transport picks that moment to roll heavily to the left, making the uniformed -- and over-decorated -- shrew of a man have to make a mad dash for the nearest support pole, much to the amusement of his charges. Once they stop laughing he gives them a stern stare, takes out his clipboard, and begins to look down the lists.

"Where is Brainman?" he asks, looking over the small, costumed group.

"Oh, he's not here," Gosheven says, his body adjusting to the weird, whipping motions the transport is making.

"And why not?"

"Because Rakim's never here," Yanabah snorts, really unimpressed by their new, Terre Unifee overseer: "He's our support person."

"I see," Vipond sneers: "And where would he be, then?"

"Back at home, support us," Shining Guardsman offers, glad he can't see him rolling his eyes behind his helmet's visor: "Jack!@#$."

"Well, if he is not going on the missions, he will not be paid for them!" the Lt. announces, making a rather large and florid slash through his name on the roster.

"Wait, we get paid for this !@#$?" Blastman asks, which prompts another round of laughs. 

"You think I'm here for my health?" Myron -- now properly arrayed as Underman -- sighs. Red Wrecker playfully thumps him in the upper arm and grins, and there's more laughter. 

"In all seriousness, what are we doing?" Night Phantom asks, raising his hand as he floats in the back: "All they said was it was an armed robbery. Maybe some Secessionist leftovers?"

"One moment," Vipond says, raising an over-officious finger: "Where is The Owl?"

"Oh, she took some personal time," Gosheven says, grinning wider than his face should allow.

"Personal time?" the man spits out: "Whatever for?"

"Well, not that it's any of your business, honey, but... girl got herself some."

"You're !@#$ing kidding me," Blastman coughs out, just before a chorus of hoots and hollers issues forth, along with the occasional "yay" and "good for her."

"Well, we will just have to find a way to dock her pay if she did not fill out the appropriate forms."

"God forbid a hero take a day off," Shining Guardsman mutters. 

"And where is Gold Standard?" the Lt. continues: "We could use some of her skills this day."

"On sick leave," Gosheven says: "Meningitis. You want to see her medical chart?"

"In time, yes. What of New Man?"

"He's in France, you dumb !@#$," Yanabah snorts, wondering if she could just say the gun she's cleaning went off in her hand: "Hanging with Le Compagnie, remember?"

"I mean his son!" Vipond shouts: "And you had best watch your language-"

"He's been off the !@#$ team for a while, now," Blastman says: "Might want to make a note of that in your records, Giscard."

"Well, I shall," Vipond scowls and makes another, overly-florid note on his checklist.

Shining Guardsman ahems: "Anyway, if we're done with roll call, we have a question on the floor."

"What question?"

"Who are we fighting?" Night Phantom says, his hand still raised like a patient first grader trying to go to the bathroom.

"Oh, some small outfit of crazy people," Vipond shrugs, looking at his mission briefing: "It would appear that... oh, that can't be right."

"What?" Red Wrecker asks.

"Jeux Sans Frontiers?" the Frenchman sniffs: "Is that what they've called themselves?"

Gosheven raises an eyebrow and looks over at Myron, who nods and explains: "We've heard of them. Super pranksters? A tendency to use their powers to disrupt normal life?"

"Really bad costumes?" Shining Guardsman chuckles.

"Well, they're in Lansing, Michigan, and are apparently set on turning the Capitol building into a gladiatorial ring," Vipond notes: "Apparently the Governor's been beaten into a coma by the Secretary of State, and the Mayor is about to challenge her."

"I'd pay to see that," Blastman says: "I grew up in Jackson, and I can't stand any of those bastards."

Lt. Vipond scowls at that, turns his back, and heads to the front to take his seat. As he leaves Gosheven looks at each other hero in the transport, just to be sure they know what's going on. 

And they clearly do. 

* * *

"I really don't give a good god!@#$, Lt." Josie says, looking at the screen with his scowling face for just a second before going back to the three other screens she's focused on: "You got Team Alpha. You got your orders. Get them on the ground, step back, and let them do what they do."

"But this is most irregular," he protests: "All these absences! I should have known about them-"

"Well, now you do," she says, smiling and waving her hand around her office, as though the answer was written on its walls: "New New Man is off the team due to prior commitments, Gold Standard's in the hospital with a serious disease, Owl put in for some much-needed downtime, and..."

She stops for a moment, realizing she's just heard something. Something very important.  

"And what of this Brainman?" Vipond asks, not noticing her distraction: "How can he be paid for his work if he is not here?"

"He does offsite coordination and logistical support, Lt." she continues: "And he's entitled to full pay and benefits for them. He can't handle a fight and doesn't care to hurt anyone."

"Well, I cannot say-"

"I say that's normal. Perfectly normal. And I also think you should be coordinating with him, right now, rather than wasting my time with these chicken!@#$ complaints."

"I must protest!"

"Heptagon out," Josie says, turning his screen off. Then she activates a program on another screen -- one that makes it seem as though she's there, giving orders, when in fact she won't be for some time. 

After that, she presses the button under the Director's desk, makes the door to the forgotten hallway slide open, and walks all the way down its cobwebbed length to answer the black telephone

"What do you have for me?" she asks, knowing it can be only one person.

"We have our target," the person on the other end says: "Shot is acquired. Exit is prepped. Do we go?"

"The word is given," Josie says: "Game on."

And then she hangs up the phone, leaves the hallway, and gets ready to sound as surprised as anyone when the news comes in.

* * *

It's two in the afternoon in Monte Carlo, and Eclat has decided to get the party started early.

He's dressed to the nines, already, and walking through the wide, open spaces of Monte Carlo Bay -- his favorite hotel, here. It's just modern enough to not be too stuffy, and yet stuffy enough to not be too cheap. The perfect place to come back to after an evening of fun.

Especially if his fun runs a little strange, as it often does.

Somewhere in the voluminous contract the TU made him sign, after they sprung him from that horrible superslam in Korhogo, was the rest and relaxation clause. Just before any major operation, he's duly entitled to three days of expense-account, no-strings fun anywhere he would like to go. And to a young street rat from Paris -- who grew up dreaming of the Riviera and the wondrous goings-on there -- well, who could blame him for wanting to jump in?

True, the casinos aren't happy to see him. He's been politely requested to not gamble on anything involving so much as a diode, given his tendencies. But he can still try his hand at cards, and there's nothing as incredibly sexy to unattached ladies as the man who knows when to hold, when to fold, and when to walk away -- preferably before one has to run.

(That was a song, wasn't it? Sometimes he isn't sure.)

Speaking of ladies, his eyes catch sight of some particular beauties out by the pool, walking along the iron fence that overlooks the sea. So he follows their near-naked curves, not caring to mask his stare, and decides that maybe he should romance first, and gamble second. 

Or maybe a meal? Who can say? That's one of the wonderful things about this place -- so many options. So much freedom. 

Freedom he could only dream of in that prison, down in the Ivory Coast...

As he leaves the hotel, getting his strut on, he smiles. Three days down here, enjoying the surf and sun, as well as more than a little sin. Then he goes back up to Paris and gets ready for the score that will make his career. He will help the TU bring down the Nthernaut, and then help oversee Neo York City for the duration of SPYGOD's rather speedy trial. 

And then, who knows? He sees himself as the king of Neo York City after that. Undisputed lord of its electronic secrets. Who knows what all he will learn, there? And who knows where that might take him. 

"Know when to hold 'em," he mumbles, thinking maybe that was a song, after all, as he makes eye contact with one of the women he's been following: "Know when to fold em... know when to walk away... know when to-"

Then there's a crack, and a sploosh, and the woman screams as everything north of Eclat's nose disappears into a red, gooey splatter that defies gravity, and then gives in. A rain of electropathic brains falls onto the ground around him, and he falls to his knees, and then onto what's left of his face. 

(A stream of !@#$ flies from his pants, too, adding yet more insult to one !@#$ of an injury.)

And then it's all over but the screaming, which goes on and on for quite some time...

* * *

After the energetic sex they engaged in, Straffer and SPYGOD showered, took in more coffee, and had something approaching a healthy breakfast. Then they dressed, puttered around, went to the bathroom, and sat down on the couch for another day of watching television. 

SPYGOD sits on one side. Straffer on the other. They look at each other and smile, and then playfully argue over what to kill their brain cells with on a Tuesday morning. So many channels, so few intelligent choices, and so much ridiculous garbage...

While they pretend to argue, Straffer surreptitiously pulls a box from the coffee table over to the couch, and gently places it between them. It's a small, subtly ornate affair: deep blue and heavy, with gold hieroglyphics running along its side in intricate bands. 

At a certain point, the decision is made. They kiss and make up, and, as they do, they both put their hands on the box. And then they lean back to watch the tube in blissful silence, at least as far as their hidden onlookers are concerned. 

Shows. Commercials. Newsbreaks. Public service announcements. They sit and stare, as if enraptured, but that's only because they aren't really watching. In truth, they're not really there,anymore.

Though where they might actually be is anyone's guess. 

* * *

"... our Agents are completely baffled, Mssr. President," the waddling, mustachioed tumor of a man says, looking through the notes on his pad as he stands in his superior's well-appointed and airy office: "The shot clearly came from the Mediterranean, but there were no boats or aircraft within a reasonable distance for the angle that it traveled."

"What do you mean by reasonable distance?" the President asks, only sort-of looking away from the screen in the middle of his long, wooden desk -- the one with SPYGOD and Straffer on it. 

"Well, he was clearly killed with a high power rifle. So, just under 1100 meters?"

"Just over two-thirds of a mile," his bespectacled secretary, Henri, adds, smiling as he tries to be helpful. 

"Did they find the bullet?"

"No, not yet," Jean-Jacques Excephir Geraud admits: "So perhaps our estimate is not correct. But we have a trace going on all registered aircraft and watercraft within a five mile radius, so it will only be a matter of time-"

"So long as it was registered," the President sighs, resting his head in his hands: "And I'm sure you'll tell me about what the satellites saw, except we both know they aren't worth a !@#$ for something like this."

"So, where does this leave us?" Henri asks: "With Eclat gone, are we still in good shape for our plan?"

"I should hope so," the fat man says: "We only ever needed him to supervise, or so I have been told. That is provided the device our friends in Les Trois Grands are bringing us will do what they've promised..."

The two men go around and around at that, and the President tunes them out. They are not important, right now. Most of the time they really aren't.

So he thinks about what is important. His wife, sitting at home and crying, and having nothing to do with him when he returns. His daughter playing in silence, jumping at every small sound, and being terrified to sleep, when darkness comes. 

The sad and sorry absence he has instead of a family.

All of this could have been avoided -- all of this. He could have a wife who still loves and respects him. He could have two daughters, whole and happy. He could still feel good about himself. 

And there's only one reason why he doesn't have that anymore -- SPYGOD, with with all his !@#$ plans and hubris. 

Which is why it's going to be so ironic that he'll be the one to nail him to the wall, given that training him to think, act, and plan just like him was one of his goals all along...

At some point the President realizes his secretary is actually arguing with his Minister of Justice over whether to move now or later. So he bangs his hand down on the deck, attracting their attention with all the subtlety of a gunshot. 

"Gentlemen, please," he says, reaching for the long, slim decanter of whiskey he's been refilling a lot more these days: "I know this seems like a setback, and it is. But don't forget that he was probably killed by SPYGOD's people for exactly that reason, just to keep the Nthernaut safe. And he probably did it to see if he could make us panic and act faster, which we are not going to do."

"Mssr. President, we have any number of contingencies," Henri says: "We also have... well, there are no others exactly like Eclat, but-"

"But we don't have the device we were promised, yet," the President says: "And I have my contingencies, too. Which is why I say we wait a week, as planned."

With that, the conversation is clearly over. The Minister waddles out, triumphant, leaving Henri to sulk a little and see if the President needs anything else.

"Soon, Henri," he promises, taking a thirsty gulp of what he's poured, and then getting another: "Just a week, and then he's ours." 

Henri goes off to his office to sulk, file paperwork, and listen to more Steely Dan. And the President pours himself another drink, leans back in his chair, and goes back to watching the object of his disaffection -- still apparently brainwashed by bad American TV.

"Soon, you !@#$er," he mutters, thinking of the hate in his wife's eyes: "Soon."

* * *

"See, it's really simple," one of the two supervillains -- both disguised as janitors -- tells the burly, uniformed man they've cornered, deep in the bowels of the Palace: "You'll be working for us now, Annihilator-"

"Jesus Christ, mate, don't say that name," L'homme Nucleaire hisses, looking this way and that, as if the shadows might hear them: "I've still got bloody warrants out for things they never got to try me on-"

"Well, that's your tough luck," the other says, grinning behind his purple, high-tech sunglasses: "I bet Belgium would really like to have you gift-wrapped on their front lawn, no matter what kind of deal you made with the TU."

"Look, please," the guy says: "I was stupid when I teenager, okay? London kid gets powers, gets greedy. End of story."

"You forgot the bodycount," Sir Smashalot says: "All those people dying of cancer..."

"Look, I didn't know I radiated, alright? I didn't mean to hurt anyone."

"I think he's trying to make us cry, man," Sir Smashalot winks at the Violet Demon: "What you got for that?"

"I got a better deal," the man says: "All they've offered you is a clean slate and a paycheck. We can do you better."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean we can make you !@#$ing rich," Sir Smashalot says, tapping the man's left epaulet: "We can also guarantee that when the !@#$ goes down, you'll be on top of the wave with the winning team."

"We can also fix that problem with your powers," Violet Demon explains: "You're still just eating Uranium to maintain levels, right?"

"Well, yeah," the man who was The Annihilator stammers, clearly thinking things over: "That's how it works."

"We can get you heavier !@#$ man," Smashalot says, and starts rattling off the exotic elements they could feed him, instead. 

As the sales pitch goes on, and the light comes on in their mark's eyes, Violet Demon -- aka the new New Man -- mentally moves this guy from "dispose of" to "sign on." The offer of more money was clearly tempting, but the fact that he's so haunted by the mistakes of his past, and so desperate for a new, stronger, and safer start, means that he'll take what they're offering. 

And this is good. He's quickly become tired of all this duplicity -- the bloody, nasty disposal of TU's essential supercreeps, just to replace them clever doppelgangers from their seemingly never-ending roster of loose ends and eager hands. 

He looks in the desperate eyes of the man they've just propositioned. He can see from their wetness that they've got him on board. He smiles -- mostly from relief -- and taps a message off to the Scarlet Factotum, back in the States. 

And he thinks soon, and prays it comes even sooner than that.    

* * *

"Well, how about that," the Scarlet Factotum -- aka METALMAID -- says as the Violet Demon's report comes in: "We've got The Annihilator {quote}on board{endquote}."

With that, she snaps her fingers, and one of her many underlings nods, and goes over to the big, digital board that covers most of the wall in this dank, stone room. There, the prison photo of the Annihilator -- up along with so many others -- gets moved from INTERVIEW to ON BOARD, as opposed to REPLACED.  

Up there, the future is taking shape. All the essential superhuman pieces the Terre Unifee uses to keep its massive, international machine going: the bulk teleporters and human transmitters; every last ultra-guardian and super-defender; all those food producers and infrastructure providers -- all will be replaced or suborned within days.

And once this is done, the world can be taken over as simply as moving a hand into a glove. 

She's laughing as she realizes they're well past the halfway mark, and moving exponentially faster. It's not a pleasant laugh to see or hear, as it often means she might go off the rails and eviscerate someone for not moving fast enough. 

But as she wonders whether she'll be kissing or killing, this instant, she fails to notice that some of her higher underlings are observing from nearby. There in those shadows, they realize what she's just figured out -- that after a certain point, fairly soon, the plan will run itself.

And once that threshold is reached, they won't need her, anymore. 

The Pusher nods to the Emperor of Pain: "Soon," he whispers, sealing the deal with a million dollar handshake. 

And just like that, it's game on.    

(SPYGOD is listening to Discoteca (Pet Shop Boys) and having a Black Tuesday)

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