Sunday, March 8, 2015

1/14/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 3.0

"Si Enim Vera Ruat Caelum"
Karl, Jana, Helmut, Helga, Gunther
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

Why do you want to sit alone
In gothic gloom
Surrounded by the ghosts of love
that haunt your room?

* * *
In a darkened room, far beneath the skin of a naive world, six assassins gather to make their plans.

It's been less than a day since they were removed from the prison they'd expected to grow old and die within, and given both a purpose and a promise. Since then they've been given a shower they could enjoy without fear of being stabbed, raped, or worse, and allowed to sleep in a proper, made bed for the first time in years. They've been feted and fed, groomed and geared.

And given back the things that made them who and what they once were.

They stand in the dark, now, gathered around a lit dais that provides all the information they could possibly need. They have their targets -- one for each of them -- and everything they need to know about them. 

All they have to do now is bring them down, one by one, and in return they'll be allowed to replace them.

It's an old game, by now, but there Terre Unifee is well-versed at this by now. Supervillains go into prison for a time, and then -- once they truly see the folly of not cooperating with the authorities, or at least understand its truly ugly consequences -- they are brought back out again. Their names are changed, their costumes altered, and sometimes their powers are transformed ever so slightly, just to make them seem to be anything but what they once were. 

And then voila,  Le Compagnie has a new hero. 

But this time, the game will have a small wrinkle. These six assassins -- jokingly codenamed Team Omega -- will be hunting their quarry as they once were, rather than newly-minted heroes.

The reason is simple: no one must know that brave Team Alpha has betrayed the TU, as that would be bad for public morale. Instead, it will look as though a conglomeration of old archenemies had teamed up to take them out and down. And that will give their hastily-organized replacements all the impetus to band together and deal with them, once and for all.

That they'll be dealing with themselves will be only a minor detail, thanks to some video trickery. But then, any of Team Omega who fail in their duty will be dealt with for real, and by the "heroes" they would have joined if only they'd been more competent, quick, or simply lucky. 

In the darkness the six confer and make their plans, and already their dynamics are beginning to congeal. They know who amongst them is the leader, the hotshot, and the fool. They know who wants the throne, and who prefers to counsel from behind it. 

And they know who will be the first amongst them to be offered up to their new masters, should a sacrifice be necessary...

Six faces, there in the darkness. All of them smiling. 

None of them kindly. 

* * *

"So what do you want to call this?" Yanabah asks, getting up off the bed and walking towards the bathroom, throwing her long, black hair over her shoulders as she does. Her silver jewelry sparkles against her bare, golden skin, glowing ever so slightly as the morning sun strikes it between the slats in the shuttered window.

"Do we have to call it anything?" Myron replies, still lying on the bed, unsure of whether to get up or not, but certain that he likes watching her walk away from him while naked.

"Jesus, make a girl feel good," she says -- not without a small smile -- as she cleans herself up.

They hadn't intended to do this, really. They had intended to go to ground, after Gosheven's warning. And they did mean to do it here, in this safehouse they'd established, well before the plan came fully together. 

But the sex? Well, that had just happened, really.

They'd been talking business, and then commiserating, and then really opening up. And then, all of a sudden, they'd just gone right at each other like teenagers -- hungry for what the other had, and uncaring of consequences, or what their future selves might make of this moment.

It was rough and tumble, bruising and swift. They all but ripped each others' civilian clothes off, uncaring of consequence. They rolled on the floor for what seemed hours, oblivious to the cold beneath their bodies.

And in the end, they collapsed into bed only as an afterthought. 

Myron aches all over. He has scratches up and down his back, thighs, and !@#$. And he feels so good he doesn't give a single flying !@#$.

How long had it been? It seemed an age since Winifred and he had found each other, back in September. Since they'd reached out and touched one another, their mutual sense of loss somehow completing the other.

Since she decided she no longer needed him, after she finally realized the true shape of that loss.

He loves her. He knows this. He still loves her, despite it all. He just doesn't know what to say, or if he has the right to say anything after everything that's happened. If he has the right to go to her and speak of what he feels, and how much he hopes she still feels it, too.

If he has the right to talk of love after so much time and distance, and so many missed connections.

Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn't. But this night, and its lovely but hollow exertions, reminds him of the importance of making that effort.

"Thank you," he says, partly to Yanabah and party to the world. If she hears him she makes no sign, but somehow he thinks she heard it. 

And somehow he thinks it matters, after all.

 * * *

"So, 'Egrets,'" Karl muses, lying down in the back of the car he and his clone-sister, Jana, have rented in Canberra: "Is it significant, or not?"

"Ardea Alba Modesta," Jana says, looking down at her pad and turning around in the front passenger seat: "Eastern Great Egret. Spread all over Oceania, and tends to flock to the Top End."

"The northern territory?" 

"Exactly," she says, putting the pad down and smiling: "So, was the late President of this Great Southern Land planning on going up there on holiday, perhaps to watch some birds...?"

"...or was he doing something else up there?" Karl finishes the sentence, closing his eyes.

They've been parked by the side of the highway for some time, now. They find it's the best way to think of things, oddly enough. Something about the steady rhythm of cars and trucks going by allows them to think clearly.

And a few other things, besides...

"He looked like he was going to have some things shipped..." Jana begins

"... at least according to his records," Karl adds.

"But nothing up that way."

"It didn't say where it was going. Just that it was going."

"That's not at all suspicious..."

"... is it?," Karl says, opening his eyes up enough to wink at her, right at the same second she winks back: "Especially when the things he was having moved were all old things. Family heirlooms. Old books and treasures. All very precious and padded."

"As if he was moving."

"Yes, but with no destination. And no insurance, either."

"Very strange," Jana says, picking up her pad and considering: "And I see here he wasn't really putting any money around for the move."

"Something I missed," Karl admits: "So he's packing up old things, but not every thing. He's got them going somewhere but no mention of where. And he hasn't made financial planning, either, or made any attempt to protect his investments from damage."

"That sounds like... someone trying to save the family china while fleeing the house." Jana asks.

"Yes, I think that works," Karl says, opening his eyes.

"I've been learning new idioms."

"I see," he says, leaning up: "But I think in this case it's someone trying to sneak the family china out before burning the house down."

"I agree," she says, looking askance as a car passes them by: "The question is why."

"And where was he going to go?" Karl asks, tapping his chin: "It's not like he could just vanish."

"Depends on where he was vanishing to," Jana says, looking over his financial statements: "And maybe he had money hidden somewhere?"

"Maybe he did," Karl nods, looking out of the window: "Helmut, you should look into that. See if you can dig up some secret transactions or accounts."

Yes, I should, their absent brother replies after a second or two: That's provided there's a trail at all.

"Oh, there will be," Karl replies, smiling just a little: "This man doesn't strike me as a careful person. He was sloppy. He'll have made mistakes. The fact that he tipped his hand to his wife proves that."

"So Egrets is significant?" Jana teases.

"It is," he says: "And when we find out how, we'll be a step closer to figuring out what's going on here."

Several steps closer, brother, Helga chimes in from where she is: Just wait until you see what I've found...

* * *

"Well, you don't see something like that every day," the hero known as Orange Streak sighs, hoping he doesn't sick up in his brand new space suit.

"Come again, Orange Streak?" Mission Control asks, their voice crackling: "What are you seeing?"

"A big !@#$ mess, sir," the hero replies, hoping none of the black drops of what was a vacuum-sealed man's blood gets onto him.

He'd come up here -- approximately a hundred miles above Nebraska -- to check on the status of one of Le Compagnie's long-range spotters. Karman hadn't been heard from in four hours, which was all but unheard of for him. Once he'd missed his third message, they'd sent another flier up to look.

And he'd found... this.

Karman was one of those oddities no one liked to talk about: a human specifically bred for life in space, with all the gruesome and unfortunate additions and subtractions that such an existence would entail. He'd spent most of his career in the Air Force doing orbital missions that no one cared to publicize or acknowledge -- mostly repairing and rescuing military satellites, or sabotaging those of rival nations.

But, after the destruction of Wonderwall, and with the Space Service spending most of its time trying to fix the Sled, he was part of the TU's network of space defenses. For him, that meant he spent almost all his time up in the black, making sure nothing went from there down into the blue that didn't have proper clearance.

A lonely existence, to be sure, but he shouldered it like a pro. He had clearance to spend one day on and one day off, but he elected to stay up for weeks at a time, asking only that the same group of operators keep in touch with him, day after day -- one hourly message at a time, interrupted only by some kind of trouble.

So when he didn't respond to his hourly hail, they wondered if he was running silent. And when he didn't get back in time for his next one, they considered something might be seriously wrong. The third missed one had them scramble Orange Streak up, just in case.

And when the fourth came and went, with still no answer, the hero had rocketed up, well past the line the hero was named for, and went to his last known position to see what had happened.

That would be a murder at 100 miles up. 

A being bred for space, Karman had been sealed up from head to toe in a tough, hairless, and leathery sleeve of transparent flesh, and did not to breathe or eat. He gathered energy from direct sunlight, and excreted waste in the form of electromagnetic shielding. Those shields could provide him with flight capability, but also protect him from physical and energy damage.

So how it was that the man's head had been blown open like a cantaloupe -- anaerobic blood and brains floating around his body like a gruesome cloud of droplets -- was something that Orange Streak wasn't too sure of. Surely no ordinary projectile could have done such a thing with his fields up, as they almost always were.

And if it had been a projectile, where the !@#$ had it been fired from?

Orange Streak has no idea. All he knows for sure was that he's going to have to sit here, 100 miles up from Omaha, and wait for someone else to come by and take over for this poor sap who had, for the first time in his long and secret life, finally felt both useful and happy.

A horrible way to go, the hero supposes as he settles in for spotter relief duty. He can only hope an answer can be found -- preferably one that doesn't involve him being assassinated as well.

Hopefully he won't screw that up, at least. 

* * *

"Look, my American friend, it is a simple question-"

"And I'm telling you, I don't have an answer for you," the old New Man sighs, putting his head in his hands and wishing his accusers -- most of whom are his teammates in Le Compagnie -- would just take his word for it and let the matter rest.

"And why not?" La Femme Electrique says, leaning over the desk that their colleague is sitting at, in the far corner of their sumptuous facility at the Palace: "You are his father."

"Yes, I am. But I'm not his keeper."

"Look, try and understand our position," the harried security officer who's been leading this interrogation says, sitting down across from the older hero and doing his best to sound reasonable: "We have determined that his old teammates are traitors, engaged in a plot against the state. We're rounding them up as we speak. But he's been off the team for some time, yes? We simply need to know if he knows something."

"Something like why they've done this stupid thing," whip-thin and slippery Vaku says, semi-tactful as ever.

"Or if he's up to his arms in it," portly Stijena adds, not tactful at all.

"My son is not a traitor," New Man insists, looking up: "He has a prior commitment."

"A prior commitment to Team Alpha?" La Femme Electrique laughs: "Please, my friend. That is like having a prior commitment to Le Compagnie."

"That's like telling The Beatles you won't help with the reunion,"  Bely Rytsar rumbles from within his eponymous suit of armor, only to be disappointed when no one else cares about the allusion.

New Man sighs again -- deeper, this time -- and just looks at the security officer: "If I have to spell it out for you, you're going to feel really !@#$ stupid."

"Well, I fail to see-" he begins to object, but then New Man brings his fist down on the table. It glows purple as it falls, and shatters the thick, luxurious wood as though it were brittle ice.

"You all know me, or at least you should by now," the old hero says, getting up from his chair and looking at each of his teammates in turn: "I was with the Liberty Patrol in Korea. I was with Freedom Force after that. I was head of the COMPANY for a little while, there, too."

"This is known," La Femme Electrique says, crossing her arms: "Though, considering how your tenure in The COMPANY went, perhaps you should not admit to that too readily."

"Yeah, and what were you doing when the Imago were taking over the world, sparkles? Eating a baguette?"

"Excuse me, please," the security officer says, trying to interject before a fight starts: "Perhaps we should back up a step or two, here-"

"Perhaps we should remember, as I've been trying to point out, that I've been a Strategic Talent in the employ of the American Government, and now the world Government, for longer than you all have been alive, much less active," New Man says: "I know the drill. I know the lingo. And I know how things work.

"So when you ask me where my son is, and I tell you I don't have an answer for you? It means that even if I knew, I couldn't. !@#$ing. Tell you." he says, jabbing a purple finger at each of his main interrogators in turn: "And that means you should not be asking me. You should be asking the President's security team.

"And if they can't tell you either, well... I don't know what to tell you," he says, shrugging: "But if I had an answer, I'm bound to not tell you. And if I don't, then I can't. So you are all wasting your time with me, aren't you?"

He looks each of them in the eyes in turn. After a moment, they nod, shrug, and leave, with the security officer being the second to last to go.

Then it's just him and La Femme Electrique, who just smiles, and then turns to go. And he thinks he knows what that smile means.

It means she's finally found the proof she needs to show that this old, upstart American -- their special envoy, so that all nation members have a place on the team -- has more loyalty to his country than to his team.

It also means that, the next time push comes to shove, she can force a vote to have him kicked off the team, most likely to be replaced with someone more tractable, or more "on message."

But it could mean something even worse than that. It could mean that she might know -- or at least suspect -- that he's not telling the complete truth. It could mean she believes he does know where his son is, and what he's been doing all this time.

And if she finds out that's actually the truth, both he and his son will be !@#$ed for certain -- and a whole lot more, besides.

He sighs once more, and looks at what's left of the desk he just turned to wood chips, wondering if his career is going to be resembling that before too long.

"Secrets and lies," he muses, not really sure where one ends and the other starts, but all too aware of the importance of keeping them as close to his chest as possible.

* * *

So we know more now than we did before, Karl states, looking at the psychic projections of his four brothers and sisters at the mental meeting.

We do, the other four say, in unison, all smiling the same smile as they float in the dream-architecture they've jointly created to facilitate such psionic conferences. 

When ABWEHR went about making clones, down in the Ice Palace, they bred a lot of things into -- and out of -- their perfect Aryan children. In went obedience and beauty, out went defects and rebellion. And while there were mistakes made, and gruesomely dealt with, most of the time the breeding ran true.

But over time, other factors crept in. Copies of copies, they began to slowly develop more and more defects, most of which were weeded out in the testing process. Bad attitudes and digestive problems were amongst the most notable, and often took out a handful of clones from each batch.

But every so often an entire group of them would be tainted with some unforeseen variance -- some derangement of body, mind, or soul that no amount of accelerated Nazi science could have predicted or prevented. 

In the case of the last batch of clones, all rescued by SPYGOD during OPERATION: NAZISMASH, just two years ago, it was a talent for psionics. A talent the five remaining children slowly began to realize they had after months of living with Randolph Scott, and being his team.

A talent they elected to not share with him, or even SPYGOD, as they decided the best way to emulate their savior was to adopt his own talent -- keeping secrets at all costs.

Someday they'll reveal their powers, they figure. Someday they'll shock the !@$ out of Randolph and everyone else they've worked with. They might even manage to surprise SPYGOD, himself, provided he doesn't already know. 

But for now, their powers are best kept to themselves -- especially as they're proving to be so very useful in things such as this.

We know that the Presidents and Prime Ministers of Portugal, Bolivia, and Canada are also planning to move things, but not listing a forward address, Helga's thoughtform says, smirking a little: And in some countries where the Presidents aren't in on it, their trusted political assistants and advisers are.

We also know that there is a trail of money, Helmut says, holding up an echo of his omnipresent laptop: Secret accounts, all going to something called Champlain Entreprises.

And we know they're a shell company for something else, a nude Gunther adds, mid-pelvic-thrust: I'm still working on that angle, here in New Zealand. I'm expecting something, soon, once I finish helping this secretary remember. 

You do that, Jana chuckles, seemingly not at all shocked to see her brother making love in the course of outlaw journalism: And when you have that, we'll have another piece or two.

Hopefully we'll all know what to do with it, they all say in unison.

Hopefully they will, at that. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Se Vide Es (Pet Shop Boys) and having an Avery 5 Monks)

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