Monday, April 13, 2015

1/16/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 5.5

The New Men - Son and Father
(New) New Man {aka Violet Demon}, (Old) New Man
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

Five miles off the coast of Choshi, in Japan, there's an undersea hangar no one's been in for at least a decade. 

It's a sizable affair, though most of it is now flooded. In fact the only areas that have not fallen to the relentless pressure of the ocean floor -- and the occasional seaquake -- are the ones that were hurriedly encased in thick, radiation-blocking concrete, just before it was abandoned.

The areas that housed a certain, amazing spacecraft that had fallen to Earth, back in the late 60's. Laboratories that played host to the brilliant exo-cyberneticist who'd discovered how to make it work in the first place. Apartments that housed the brave young men and women who made it fly and fight, all confined to the base for what they believed to be reasons of absolute security. Machines that kept it all together, somehow, there on the bottom of the bay.

Those people are all gone, now -- this cold, damp hangar their secret tomb

The problem -- as a stack of Organization 9's ultra-redacted reports would later indicate -- was the ship, itself. More accurately, it was the strange, interdimensional power that animated it, and allowed it to transmute into pure energy, for a time. The energy gave off a particular etheric vibration that eventually drove its pilots mad.

Each team of Flying Young Science Commandos could withstand perhaps seven months of near-constant flight and battle before starting to go insane. This is why they were proactively euthanized in their sleep after six. They would then be replaced by a fresh, new team that had no idea of the fate awaiting them, half a year from then.

Dr. Toriyumi Ryu believed that not being in the ship would save him, but he had no idea how long and deep the vibrations could travel. Over the years, his mind was slowly warped by the energies of his great creation, but its effects were carelessly written off as the stress of isolation or overwork. The fact that he'd been quite eccentric before being sequestered didn't help matters much.

So it wasn't until he had to be shot before he ordered an attack on Tokyo -- all over a small misunderstanding with the Prime Minister over funding and autonomy -- that his superiors realized the extent of the problem.

Worse still, without Dr. Toriyumi's unique understanding of the ship, no one else had a hope of fixing the problem. Knowing the precariousness of his position, he'd jealously hoarded all information to himself. Even the most technically-oriented members of any Commando team ultimately had to follow his radioed directions to fix the simplest of mechanisms.

So was Project Fire Flier halted and buried by direct order of the Prime Minister, himself. The workers suddenly removed the air from the Flying Young Science Commandos' quarters, suffocating them where they stood. They slathered concrete everywhere, and then left on subs that were remote-detonated to preserve the secrets of the base. 

Mister 9 is, himself, quite dead. The leadership of his organization died along with him. From its ashes rose a new Organization, Ju Kikan -- Organization 10 -- whose leader entered into a rather unusual agreement with SPYGOD and the former President of the United States of America, in order to oust the Imago from the world. 

That leader -- the appropriately-named Mister 10 -- is no longer the leader of his own group, thanks to the Terre Unifee. And even if he were still in charge, he is no longer in the mood to make agreements and arrangements on behalf of what's left of it.

Now he is in the mood for revenge -- swift, brutal, and total.

It was a simple thing to steal a salvage submersible from one of their old, secret lockups. It was even simpler to come out here, to this sealed underwater tomb, and open one of the hatches that his predecessor had installed "just in case." 

It was not so simple to come down into a cold, wet chamber, smelling of damp and rot, and trudge through the condensation and disgusting, dead bodies of disposable teen heroes. It was also not so simple to do so with only a flashlight to guide him, and so many strange and unnerving surprises, waiting down there.

But Mister 10 is not afraid. He is the one others are afraid of. He tells himself this, step after step, as he imagines the strange, interstellar radiation of the Fire Flier working its lethal changes upon his brain.

No matter. Once he gets to the ship -- still in perfect working order, in spite of what he told that one-eyed gaijin -- he needs only a few minutes to get it to recognize his commands. Then it's just a matter of getting its engines warmed up so he can lift off, which shouldn't take more than a day.

And then getting up to the Sled and back, which shouldn't be a few hours, provided they do what he demands...

But if they refuse, and he cannot have Hanami? Then he has no desire to come back.

If he cannot win her back? He will gladly turn the Fire Flier into its namesake, and plunge it right into the Sled. 

If he cannot have her? Then he will die with her, and the Earth can watch him burn.

One last passage, one last body, and he stands before the ship. The spacecraft lights up at his approach, sensing the presence of a warm body after so long in the cold and the dark.

Mister 10 takes it as a sign, and gives a rare, begrudging smile.

* * *

The old man looks down at the city fifty stories below his feet, feeling the thrill of the hunt for the first time in years.

The TU transport vibrates as it hovers, which is throwing off his aim a little. He likes to tell himself that's why he keeps missing as he tries to kill his quarry. It's not true, but it's not like he has to believe in his own lies.

Lies are for other people, after all. He can handle the truth.

In fact, he demands it. 

He is Underman -- the original Underman, at that. The one who built the Tunnelator. The one who developed the vibration guns, drill bullets, rock melters, and numerous other devices and gadgets that made his criminal career.

And what a career he had! He stole and pillaged both above and below the Earth's crust. He struck terror into the hearts of law abiding citizens and police officers. He went further and deeper than any Lithonaut before him, mapping out wide swaths of the amazing world beneath our feet.

He came, he saw, he took -- discovered, learned, and stole.

And when he no longer felt the thrill of theft or discovery, and his joints began to ache too much to keep repairing that ancient, well-worked machine of his, he did the same, smart thing so many other aging supervillains did. He auctioned his franchise off by way of the Legion, and then retired to a tropical paradise, down in South America. There, in a small house between the jungle and the city, he would spend his sunset years happily spending what he'd earned, dreaming of his glory days, and maybe someday put it all down in print. 

That was the plan, anyway.

But then the fat piece of !@#$ who'd outbid the others had gotten himself captured by the COMPANY. And, rather than tell them to get stuffed, he'd utterly capitulated to their demands. He'd gone straight, as they said, which was bad enough.

Except that part of his "rehabilitation" was telling them where his aging predecessor had retired to.

Which was why one fine morning in September, two years ago, some ridiculous-looking man in a costume led a group of much less-camp soldiers into his mountaintop hideaway, and arrested him while he was having his morning shower.

That was bad enough. Worse still was that, as he'd refused to have his mind wiped, it wasn't too hard for the COMPANY to get all the information it needed from him. Thankfully, he'd given all his files and information over to the traitor, so they didn't have to use the N-machine.

That didn't stop them from giving him quite a workover, though. And when they were done with him, they sent him off to the Ivory Coast, there to be stuck in a super-slam.

That was two years ago, and he still lives with the reality of every terrible thing about that place. The lack of privacy and freedom. The removal of humanity and dignity. Being forced to live with some of the worst examples of humanity, and be guarded by even worse examples.

That and waking up every day knowing he'd been sold out. Betrayed by the overly-eager kid whose eyes had been so alive with wonder that the aging villain had actually told the auctioneer to all but give it to him, just because he thought he'd be good for it. The fat-faced piece of !@#$ who had sworn -- sworn -- that he would keep what he knew a secret.

Lies are for other people, but no one lied to Underman. Ever. 

Which is why he's slowly floating through the city, now -- carefully watching its streets through the scope on his gun.

The laughing madman -- Friendly Fire -- is acting to flush the pretender out. He's working to get him to step out of the maze of alleys and abandoned buildings and actually show up in the main streets.

Once he does, Underman will use the vibro-cannon on him.

From this distance, it'll take a while to reach critical mass. He'll have time to realize what he's in for as his entire body shakes, and the veins and arteries begin to burst under his skin, inside his lungs, and in his eyes.

He'll know who's killing him  -- and why -- before his bones shatter and organs burst, and his mind runs out of his mouth.

All he has to do is aim straight. All he has to do is nail him with the wide beam that doesn't quite reach down from this height.

All he has to do is rely on a crazy !@#$hole who hunts by echo-location, courtesy of his insane, endless laughter.

But sooner or later, he will have his revenge. Myron Volaar will show himself. The fake "Underman" will die.

Sooner or later, his pain will be redressed, and his betrayal avenged.

And that's the truth.

* * *

"Mssr. President, I must admit to some confusion..." Jean-Jacques says, hoping the man can hear him over the sounds coming from that ridiculous rifle the man's shooting at his own office walls.

"What do you mean?" the President asks, putting his spent gun down and sitting down in his chair, waiting for his gaggle of interns to put up fresh new targets.

"Why are we putting SPYGOD back into the very cell that he escaped from?" the fat man asks, trying to mask his frustration with apprehension: "We know full well, thanks to your inside person, that he was involved in a plot. Several, in fact!"

"We do, yes," the President answers, pulling a large flask from one of his desk drawers and unscrewing the cap.

"And if he was involved in those plots, he must have many more conspirators than we know of," the Minister says, gesturing to the screen halfway down the room that's tallying which members of Team Alpha have been captured or killed: "With all respect, I fear that having him back there, in plain sight, may act to rally them."

"Well, if you had to guess?" the President asks, offering the man a drink, which he refuses.

"Are you waiting for more information from the Owl and her lover?"

"No," the President says, having a long and fragrant pull from the flask: "We've got enough info as it is. Just the original charges alone are enough to pin him to the wall for an eternity, provided you've got your ducks in a row."

"Um, yes," the man says, a little miffed that the President would doubt his efficacy: "All your ducks are, as they say, in a row."

"Then we're good."

"I do not understand, Mssr. President."

The President snorts, and, taking another pull from the flask, raises a finger: "Let me explain something to you, Jean-Jacques.... you know that SPYGOD trained me for spy work for a time, right?"

"I think so..." the fat man says, knowing full well what happened in Mongolia, last September.

"One of the things he told me was to learn to think like the enemy. And one thing I know about SPYGOD is that, no matter how well you have him backed up to a wall, outgunned, outmaneuvered, whatever? He always has an exit strategy. !@#$, he always has fifty of the !@#$ things. He's got so many plans it's a wonder they aren't all stepping on each others feet like kids at a school dance."

"He does show remarkable foresight," the Minister admits: "So, you are worried that some of them may go off? If so, should we not place him someplace more secure?"

"Oh no," the President says: "He probably already figured on that. He's most likely got the exit strategies for the ten most likely lock-ups. So putting him back where he escaped from puts him at a disadvantage."

"Except that he may have had other things hidden there-"

"He did. But we know what they are, thanks to Straffer. And we took most of them away, and left a few behind, slightly altered. If he tries to use them he'll be in for an unpleasant surprise."

"Can we trust his lover?"

"Oh, I think we can," the President smiles: "I turned him good."

"You did it?" the Minister asks -- that is a surprise.

"I did," the man says, selecting a new rifle to fire, and then hefting it: "I got in touch with him not long after that farce with the Nthernaut, the other week. I made him a promise and a guarantee, just like SPYGOD taught me. The promise was that, if he cooperated, I'd put him in charge of the Space Service again, which was more than enough to get him back on our side."

"And the guarantee? I presume that was a threat?"

"Oh yes," the President says, his eyes like cold stone: "We can take him apart a lot easier than we put him back together. And when we're done, and he's just a brain in a tank? We can leave him in a dark room, somewhere, pumped full of those drugs we use to keep disembodied brains alive.

"The kind that cause the sort of nightmares where you don't know if you're alive and in pain, or dead and in Hell. And thanks to being unable to form long-term memories without sensory input? Well, every second it's a new bit of confusion and terror. A horrible sort of thing to do to a man, wouldn't you agree?"

"I would, yes," the Minister of Justice says, thinking of how many people he has in cerebral detention: "But what of SPYGOD's connection with the Nthernaut? Surely this must be a concern?"

"Ah!" the President smiles: "You've hit the nail on the head, Jean-Jacques. That's his ace in the hole. He's imprisoned in a city run by one of the most powerful allies. And you can bet his escape plan is going to use that."

"So we should move him-"

"No," the President sighs, shaking his head and turning the gun over and over in his hands: "You're missing the point, Jean-Jacques."

"Then perhaps the President can remind me of what it is?"

"Gladly," the President says, shooting a round into the floor between the fat man's feet, which does wonders to sharpen his concentration: "Remember how this man thinks. He's so paranoid that he thinks everything is out to get him, anything can go wrong, and everyone could either screw up or betray him.

"So he makes as many plans as he can to deal with every eventuality. Plans that even Straffer didn't know about. And to make those plans he needs as much information as he can get his hands on, and as many people to help him as he can command or force to do so.

"Now, does that make sense?"

"Yes... yes. It makes total sense," the man stammers, hoping he doesn't get shot at again. 

"Knowing that, we have to assume he knows we're making something to deal with the Nthernaut."

"But how? Even that eye can only see so much-"

"Same way he knows everything, Jean-Jacques. If he didn't have someone look into what we were doing, and find out our plans, he'd probably have used that box we confiscated and come spy on us himself..."

The Minister's face goes stark white at that. Clearly he hadn't considered SPYGOD and Straffer ghostwalking all the way to Paris.

"This also means we have to assume that he knows we have to wait until it's done to use it, and that the Maker will not be rushed.  Now, what does that suggest to you?"

Jean-Jacques opens his mouth like a fish, and then closes it. He has to shrug, and feel stupid under the President's withering glare.

"It means, Minister, that your prize criminal is going to try and escape from his cell just before that device becomes available. And that's because he always waits until the last minute to pull off a plan like this. Always. It's how he says '!@#$ you' to his enemies. And because he can't !@#$ing help it."

"But that is also when he at his most vulnerable..." the Minister says, finally getting it.

"Yes," the President says with a smile: "So we pull the rug out from under him, just then, and catch him with all his pants down. And then you'll have your trial, and we'll have the city under control, and everything will be right in the world again."

"Agreed," the fat man says: "But, what of his remaining allies? Could they not try and affect some plan of their own?"

"They're being mopped up as we speak," the President says, getting another text to indicate a success by Team Omega: "And as for others, I sent Henri over to talk to Josie. She's in charge of the COMPANY now, knows where the bodies are buried, has no love for SPYGOD at all, and wants to stay at her job.

"So if there's any chance we've overlooked something? I think they'll find it," the man says, indicating that someone should change a face on the board from AT LARGE to DEAD. 

"It's all about filling in the blanks, Jean-Jacques," the President says, grinning a little wider than his Minister of Justice is used to seeing.

* * *

"What does 'vanished' mean?" a certain, shadowy person is asking over the phone.

"I mean they're not here, sir," an invisible man wearing a no-suit explains, looking around the vast, underground cavern that used to hold the Toon Nation.

"How 'not' is 'not here'?"

"Sir, there are no people here, Toons or otherwise. There is no equipment or vehicles. There are no papers or supplies. If it wasn't bolted down to the walls, it's gone."

The shadowed man sighs and shakes his head: "Unacceptable. Getting tired of people just vanishing."

"Can we get something from IMINT, sir? Something must have seen something."

"Can't depend on satellites for anything, Agent. Believe me."

"Yes, sir," the agent says, knowing full well that the man does know all about that.

"No, this is a good, old-fashioned gumshoe problem. Look around. Talk to people. A whole colony of cartoons come to life doesn't just disappear without some trace."

"Will do, sir," the agent says, turning off his phone and heading out of the echoing chamber, knowing full well that he's probably pulled a losing assignment. The Toons picked a great place to hide out in: no one for miles around. If he finds anyone out here, they'll either be lonely weirdos or gun nuts, crazed from the heat. Maybe both.

He gets about three feet from the front entrance before a shadow hides the sun. He looks up and realizes what's casting that shadow has big ears, beady eyes, and very big teeth.

And can see him. 

"Good evening, good sir," the fuzzy, non-animated coyote -- standing up on his legs -- says with a strange, upper-crust accent: "Allow me to introduce myself..."

* * *

"So, why aren't you coming to me directly?" the scrambled voice on the other end of the old Freedom Force communicator asks. 

"Because I'd rather not get my name attached to this, if you don't mind," New Man sighs, hoping this Scranton flophouse he rented for the night isn't bugged, or worse: "And I think you know why."

"I do, yes," the voice says. There's a pause, and then: "What do you think I can do for you?"

"My son," the man says, putting his hand up to his eyes: "He's... he's mixed up in something big. Something that's gone out of control, I think. He tried to tell me as much as he could, before all this !@#$ started. And I had assurances he'd be okay, no matter what. But now..."

"Now, you know those assurances aren't worth a whole lot," the voice picks up from where he's left off.

"Yeah," the old man sighs: "Not a load of beans, near as I can see."

There's silence for a time, and New Man is afraid he's being blown off -- even after everything.

"Alright," the voice says: "I'll do what I can. And you know I'm good for it. But I'm going to need something in return."

"What's that?" 

"Call it a leap of faith," the person says: "Did SPYGOD ever tell you where the Third Base was?"

New Man's heart skips a beat at that: "What, the COMPANY's Third Base?"
"That would be it."

"I thought... it's just a joke, right? Something SPYGOD told people to get them looking in the wrong direction to find all his secret !@#$?"

"Well, it didn't hurt that they wasted all that time looking for it. But no, it's real. It's been hiding in plain sight all the time. And back when he and I weren't exactly friends? I found it."

"You're kidding."
"We don't have time for jokes. So here's the deal. I'm going to give you the coordinates. You go straight there and secure it. And in return, I'll make sure your son walks out of this. !@#$, I'll make sure he walks on water for the rest of his adult life if you pull this off."

"Is it that hard to get in?"

"Let's just say it's... unusual."

And when the National Facilitator of the United States gives him the address, New Man understands exactly what Mr. USA means by that word, and why this counts as a favor.

He also understands just how far he's willing to go to save his son. 
* * *

"Oh God, you idiot," the Violet Demon says, looking at what's left of Sir Smashalot -- a wet human outline thrown up against the whorehouse wall.

It hadn't been too bad, as far as assassination attempts go. Talk him into a well-deserved night out, now that they'd achieved their goal. Get him a few drinks. Convince him to splurge on one of those Croatian hookers for the two of them. 

And then try to kill him while he was good and distracted. 

It might have worked, too, except that the moron made too much noise putting his smash gloves on. They were weighty metal and plastic. They clinked, just so.

And the moment he heard that clinking, and looked around, he saw the villain aiming his high-tech hands at him, clearly intending to use them for their intended use. 

The reaction was automatic: he spun right off of the woman he was paying for, ducked by the bed, and aimed his own, innate power right at the man he'd been working with for the last few weeks before he could do the same. 

He hadn't intended to do that much damage. Maybe the fact that he'd been !@#$ing had messed with his metabolism. Maybe he'd panicked. 

But now his ally-turned-assassin was a smoking spraypainting of a man -- his gloves the only recognizable thing left.  

As he stands there, hearing the woman scream and cry for help, he realizes that this was doubly senseless. There was not only no reason for him to have actually killed Sir Smashalot, but there was no reason for the man to have tried to kill him. It just wasn't in his nature -- he wasn't that kind of supervillain. 

Which means the only reason this just happened is because someone higher up in their group has called for him to die. And that means that either the Scarlet Factotum finally figured out what he was up to, or else -- and far more likely -- the crazed, red robot was no longer in charge, and the new regime was not wanting her actual allies to complain about it. 

"The Pusher," he intuits, a whole lot of things suddenly making sense. 

He grabs his clothes, leaves a lot of money, and starts running. He doesn't know exactly where he's going, yet, but he knows where he can't go anymore. 

And that's as good a place to start. 

* * *

Myron sits down in a pool of his own blood at the front of a corner party store, not really sure how long he's got after what he's just done. 

It wasn't a bad plan, after all. He just had to make the laughing idiot think he was scared and helpless. Make him chase him everywhere he went, no matter what. 

Even if it meant going somewhere like this. 

Myron had no weapons. None of his gadgets. Nothing that could help him win a fight but his brains and what little he had to show for brawn. 

But if there was one thing he had -- something he's always had -- it's the ability to cobble !@#$ together on the fly. Take ten mismatched items, break them down, and make a radio out of it, or something. That kind of thing. 

So when he ducked in here, just ahead of Friendly Fire, he knew there was something here he could use to confuse a blind shootist who hunted through echolocation. If nothing else, a few ruptured canisters of helium might make his voice go so weird he'd have trouble shooting straight. 

But when he saw the noisemakers? Oh, that was the moment. That was it. 

That was when he realized he had a chance, after all. 

The crazy !@#$hole walked right into it. He ran in, laughing like a loon and grinning like a freak -- guns blazing. And then, just as he thought he had Myron dead to rights, his quarry let a whole pack of those blaring things go off. 

The effect was instantaneous. The idiot stopped laughing and started screaming. His over-sensitive eardrums burst like plums. He dropped his guns in pain and shock. 

And Myron, not wanting to lose a second, grabbed one of those guns and shot the blindfolded man in the head. Several times. 

It wasn't until he was sure the man was dead that he allowed himself to realize that, in the confusion, the man had shot him, too. Upper chest. A lung was ragged and painful, and didn't want to inflate all the way. He coughed blood and other, less happy things into his hand. 

So he sat down, feeling the pain come on. He couldn't quite feel his legs, anymore. It was just shock, and he knew that, just as he knew that if the !@#$-scared employees had stuck around to call 911, he'd probably live through this. 


He can hear the old man coming, now. A TU transport makes the whole block hummmmm under his !@#$. There's the twinned clopping of heavy boots on the ground outside. A swagger no amount of age could disguise. 

Even now, he could still beg for his life. He could crawl and say he was sorry. He was forced, he was threatened. His younger brother, his mother, his family. 

His own life, for that matter. 

He could, but it would be a lie -- well, most of it. In his heart he knew he was doing the right thing in the wrong way, even then. He'd known the story of his life was going to go a different direction the moment he bought that old machine and made it his own. 

He didn't know all the strange turns it was going to take, of course. He didn't know he'd take down a science terrorist organization, find and lose love, and then save the world almost all by himself. He didn't know he'd lose his soul and then find it again

And no idea he'd put on a costume and call himself a hero.

Something that, after being caught in a vibro-blast, it had taken a long day's run to finally shake out of his brain. 

The old man's here, now. He's yelling and shouting at him. Telling him how worthless he is. How low. A liar, a cheat. A fraud. A traitor.

Myron just closes his eyes and smiles, denying the old fart the honor of looking scared in his presence.

And then, just before the original Underman can lift his rifle, and vibrate his errant protege out of his own skin and bones, he flips the old man the bird and says just three words. 

"Game Over, mother!@#$er."

And then it is.

* * *

Up Against It
The Higher You Fly - The Further You Fall
Up Against It
Wondering Why - We Fought After All

* * *

(SPYGOD is listening to Up Against It (Pet Shop Boys, remix) and having a Labelle Game Over)

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