|The New Rulers of The World|
The Angle, Emperor of Pain, Chassis
The Pusher (with METALMAID), Lord of Spiders, The Sound
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *
It's Only the Wind
They Say it's Getting Worse
The Trouble That it Brings
Haunts Us Like A Curse
* * *
It's 7:26 in the AM, and the Sun's rays strike a monster, floating.
Tempete Bleu is hovering outside a certain window in a certain high apartment building, over in Neo York City. It's the one that was, up until a few days ago, surrounded by angry protestors and the news media -- all hoping to get a piece, however remotely, of its infamous occupants.
At least until the occupants pulled off an audacious -- if short-lived -- escape.
Now the angry demonstrators are all gone. In their place are legions of Terre Unifee guards, police vans, and the occasional tank armed with subsonic crowd suppressors. They stand toe to toe on the remnants of furious signs, written in dozens of languages, and sneer at the passions they read there.
Up above them all, their greatest hero stands on the air, itself, looking into the newly-replaced, much stronger window that houses their charge: SPYGOD, himself, fresh from recapture, interrogation, and the mother of all punitive beatings.
He's sitting on a couch in the front room, dressed in only a light, white coverall with prisoners markings and a half-mask to cover up his eye. He's right across from a bulky, white-armored Russian hero -- Bely Rytsar -- who's leaning against the wall, languidly watching him for any sign he might try to leave, again.
He's not, though.
He's sitting there with his arms wrapped around his chest, still sore and bruised. He's got his headphones on, and is listening to the same song, over and over agan.
And he's trying not to cry, but is clearly just one little push away from failing miserably.
Tempete grins to see him so broken, so low. And the thought that, when the time comes for him to be executed for his many crimes, he will be the one to fling him into the Sun?
Oh, that just makes him smile all the more.
It's decided, then. First he goes along with this farce of a trial, then the punishment. And when his man-turned-god -- who doesn't even know who Tempete Bleu really is -- is a cloud of gay cinders in orbit around their star?
Then he will crack the world, burn the sky, and turn the rain to blood and !@#$.
Just another day or so, and he ends everything, well ahead of whatever superfluous doom is on its way.
He can wait.
* * *
"I will begin this by saying that I am not a patient man," the grey-haired Mexican fellow -- dressed in the flowing, long red robes of a Catholic cardinal -- says, as he lays out strange, sinister-looking things on the tray between Mark Clutch and Martha Samuels.
"I know," Martha says, looking at El Inquisidor Escarlata as best as she can through the bonds of her chair: "My father worked with you, once. He said you were insane. No better than the criminals you fought."
"Well, there we have a disagreement," the man says, turning to regard the naked woman, strapped down so tight it's a torture unto itself: "One of many, if we're being totally honest.
"And we will, I can assure you," he added, his smile a thin, cold thing.
This was the dreaded Truth Room, far down below the Heptagon, inside its super-slam. Down here, captured costumed villains, super soviets, heroes gone bad, and other undesirables were thrown into escape-proof cells for what might be months, years, or a lifetime.
And if they were let out at all, it was only to come here for questioning.
Martha had heard a number of horror stories about this room, over the years. All the heroes did. Some of them were just rumors, spread by SPYGOD and his AGENTS to spook strategic talents into behaving themselves. And it didn't hurt that, every so often, some idiot in a cape would switch sides, get caught, and prove those rumors true.
But this black, brick cylinder? Its walls spattered with old, dried blood and what might have been human !@#$? Hung with the sorts of things Martha had only seen in one of those awful gory movies a long-gone boyfriend had insisted on watching with her?
This was real, and worse than she ever could have imagined.
"Your friend," the scarlet-robed man says, indicating a similarly-undressed, equally-bound Mark: "He has never heard of me? Yes or no."
"I don't know," Martha says, and instantly regrets it. She barely sees the man move before he's picked up something from the tray between their chairs -- like something from a Cronenberg movie -- and jabs it into the spot where Mark's left pectoral muscle meets his arm.
The resulting scream is loud and bright, and makes her ears rattle along with his teeth.
"That is the first and last time I will hear that phrase here, today," El Inquisidor Escarlata says, holding the instrument there just long enough to let the scream die down, and then removing it just as quickly: "If you say it again, I will do permanent damage to him. If he says it, I will do permanent damage to you. This is understood?"
"Yes," Martha says, clearly afraid to ask him the obvious question.
"Yes," Mark whispers.
"The truth, then," the man smiles, wiping the instrument with a sterile pad and putting it back down: "Mine is a useful ability. I can tell, without fail, whether someone is lying to me or not. I can tell a brazen lie from a small one. I can even discern if someone is holding something back, or knows, on a subconscious level, that there's more to be told.
"Sadly, I cannot tell what that truth actually is. So I must resort to other means to get it out of them. Once upon a time, I merely scared criminals. By the time I'd met your father, I was beating it out of them. Since then, I have... refined my methods."
"And now you torture people for Le Compagnie," Martha says: "You must be proud of yourself-"
"Martha," Mark cautions: "I don't think we want to !@#$ this guy off."
"A very astute observation," the man says, picking up what might be a very good attempt to blend H. R. Giger with Freddy Krueger from his tray of toys, and then slipping it onto his left hand: "I can see why you two are in love. You are in love with each other, yes?"
"Yes," Martha says.
"... yes," Mark says, with just a little trepidation.
"Oh, there's no need to be ashamed or afraid, young man," the Inquisidor says, flexing the biomechanoid blades he's affixed to his fingers: "We know of your feelings for one another. That is why I am here. It is hoped I can extract the truth from you without having to rely on more crude and final methods. Perhaps when this is over, and your co-conspirator is tried, convicted, and sentenced, you can be publicly rehabilitated. You can be put to work, once more, for the good of society?"
"I won't serve them," Martha says: "I'll answer your questions if I can-"
"You will answer them even if you cannot," the man corrects her, putting a blade under her nose, and then right up into her nostril: "You see, when dealing with a man like SPYGOD, we can only assume he had plans within plans, and schemes within schemes. We can only assume there was much going on that he did not tell you, but that you might have seen pieces of. So I am here to help you piece those things together, so that we may learn all we can."
"And you know we know something even if we don't realize it," Mark realizes: "So you can torture us to death if we can't remember his secret code words. Is that what you're saying?"
"Exactly," the man says, gently flicking the knife, which takes out the side of Martha's nostril. She screams in pain, and then tries to get hold of her emotions, but fails when Mark starts screaming on her behalf.
"You bastard!" he shouts, especially when he uses a spray can of stinging and painful disinfectant upon the wound, followed by some weird spray that causes it to cauterize, but not really heal.
"I have been called worse," the man says, only now wiping the blood from the blade: "But know this, Mark Clutch. I give you my word I will not torture you to death, provided you cooperate. I have not been allowed the luxury of that, here.
"Now, that's not to say you, or her, will ever be desirable again," he continues: "You may have to hide your faces behind masks for more than crimefighting. You may need prosthetics, or transplants. In time they may even allow you to have some plastic surgery, just to be seen in public.
"But you will always bear some evidence of this time we've spent together," the man says, smiling coldly once more: "A small little gift, from me to you."
"Know this," Martha says, her face streaked with blood and nasty, brown flakes of coagulant: "You can torture us, you can kill us. But you can't take Heaven from us. You do understand that, right?"
"Oh, I do," El Inquisidor Escarlata says, moving over to where Mark sits, and considering where to cut first: "But Heaven's gates are a long way from here, and we have only begun our journey."
And - with that gruesome decision made -- the interrogation truly begins.
* * *
"C'est bien, c'est bien," Henri says into his communicator as he saunters out of the transport, heading across the Heptagon's landing platform along with a few other folks who made the trans-Atlantic trip with him: "Appelez-moi quand ils apprennet quelque chose? Bien. Bien. A bientot."
"Well hello," Josie says, standing at the edge of the platform, and smiling to see Henri. In response he smiles back and walks over just a little faster.
"Hello, my dear," he says when he gets there, going to kiss her on both cheeks. To his surprise she wraps her meaty arms around him, snuggles him close, and picks him a full foot off the ground, much to the amusement of those nearby.
"I'm so glad you're here," she whispers into his ear, smiling: "Please tell me this isn't just about what's going on down in the sub-basement?"
"Only in part," he gasps, indicating that maybe she should put him down -- which she does, ever so carefully: "The President has sent me over here to discuss a number of things. Most of which we should probably do in private."
"Agreed," she says, and gestures to her exclusive elevator, nearby. When they approach he feels a weird sensation -- like being tickled by the wind right down to his DNA -- and then the door slides open, somewhat begrudgingly.
"So, the trial?" she says as soon as the doors are closed, turning to look down at the little man: "We need more information?"
"We need everything," he says, his eyes gleaming a little: "Anything we can find out from his lover. Anything we can find out from the Team Alpha members we've actually captured, rather than merely killed. Anything from his old associates, some of which are still in hiding, I'm led to believe?"
"'We want... information,'" she quotes, matching the gleam in his eye, and then being a little disappointed when he doesn't get it: "You never watched The Prisoner?"
"Should I have?" he asks, a little confused: "Was it one of those Showtime things?"
"Oh no," she says, hitting the button to go down: "It was a British show from the 60's."
"That's probably why I never watched it," he shakes his head: "I cannot stand the rosbifs or their television shows. I'm hoping we can find an excuse to burn their BBC to the ground, one of these days."
"Well, this was ITC, so hopefully you'll spare it," she grins, delighting that he doesn't know the difference: "Anyway, there's this spy, and he quits his job. His superiors aren't happy with his decision, and think he might have sold out to someone else. So they kidnap him, take him to some weird place called The Village that he can't escape from, and tell him he's now Number 6. Everyone's got a number there, and someone named Number 2 is running the show. Every episode there's a new Number 2 trying to get him to say why he quit, which he won't do, and every episode he refuses."
"I don't like him already," Henri grouses: "What sort of a person won't answer a straight question from their superiors?"
"And shouldn't it be Number One instead of Number Two?" the man goes on as the elevator stops: "Who is Number One?"
"'That would be telling,'" she quotes again as they step into her office: "Anyway, the point isn't the story. It's the point of the story. It was about maintaining human dignity, freedom, and individuality in a world where nothing was what it seemed, anyone could be plotting against you, and the real enemy was often hiding in plain sight."
"It sounds juvenile," he sniffs, going over to her desk and putting his briefcase down upon it.
"Well, I fall asleep watching it," she says, smiling at him: "So I suspect you'll see at least a few episodes while you're here."
He smiles a little at that, thinking of some of the interesting things he brought along with him.
This was, indeed, going to be a lot of fun.
* * *
"So, what do we do with our world first?" the Pusher asks his fellow conspirators, who are sitting at a table across the room the map of the planet they just stole from the Terre Unifee.
"We could totally !@#$ing disrupt the food distribution in Asia," The Angle chuckles, extending his arm through a geometric jump to literally point at the map from across the room: "I figure some starving faces on the nightly news'll bring it home. Who doesn't love a humanitarian crisis?"
"I wouldn't care about them," the Emperor of Pain sighs, trying to enjoy the coffee that Chassis "liberated" from the local Big Belly, just this morning: "The Third World is always starving to death. They'll find some has-been rock stars and throw a benefit concert if the disruption goes on too long."
"Your cynicism is amusing," the Pusher says, having another sip of his special tea, and then putting the mug down on his new trophy -- the dreaming head of METALMAID, perched on top of a car battery.
"Which means you disapprove," the old man replies, furrowing his brow over his domino mask.
"No, it means it's amusing. But do you have something other than it to offer?"
"I'd say a breakdown in medical supplies to Europe. When their children can't get their insulin and their parents can't have their heart medication, you'll get their attention."
"I say scare them," the Lord of Spiders says: "A military accident. All those transports going overhead, carrying munitions to who knows where? Drop them from the sky over someplace small but photogenic."
"Where would you pick?" the Angle asks, very interested in this.
"Barcelona," the tarantula-faced man says, pounding his fist on the table: "It's pretty and inconsequential."
"I always wanted to go there, someday," The Sound says, somewhat wistfully: "Ring myself in the Sagrada Familia."
"Do you have another suggestion?" the Pusher asks, sighing.
"Well, let me think-"
"That's the problem!" Emperor of Pain shouts, almost spilling his coffee "We've been at this for two !@#$ days and we haven't come up with a good idea we can all agree on, and it's because we're thinking."
"So we just do something, and !@#$ the consequences?" the Emperor of Spiders asks: "Well, that sure sounds familiar-"
"Quiet, both of you," the Pusher says, putting his tea down on their former leader's head: "We just got rid of one shrill !@#$. Let's not replicate her by accident."
There's some giggling there, but not from the two elder villains in question.
"I think the Emperor's right," the man goes on, adjusting his million dollar, green tie: "We control every superhuman mechanism the TU has. We have a world of choices at our fingertips. It's more power than we've every had, any of us. And I'm sure we all know how power can be paralyzing. We chase a dream our whole lives, and then when we get it..."
"We're just a dog chasing a car, in other words?" the Angle asks.
"Man, I loved that movie," the Sound offers.
"What movie?" the Lord of Spiders asks, and the others just sigh.
"So, we need a snap decision," the Pusher says, leaning over the table and looking each person in the eyes in turn: "We need one thing, right now, that will get their attention and show them how little control they have. How much we have. What we can do if they don't play ball. It has to be big, it has to be crushing. But it can't be so bad that we can't trump it with anything even worse."
"Then I say... Barcelona," the Emperor of Pain says, putting his hand out.
"Barcelona," the Lord of Spiders says, putting his hand over his friendly rival's.
"Barcelona," the Angle repeats, doing the same.
"... Barcelona," the Sound says, seeming a little sad.
The Pusher smiles, and puts his hand over theirs: "So be it. Barcelona Delenda Est."
And if either of the younger villains at the table don't understand the reference, they wisely keep it to themselves.
* * *
"Of course, sir, please," the tall, balding Secret Service Agent says to the hovering, blue-clad hero, waving the way down the hall: "The White House is your house, sir. The National Facilitator isn't here, right now, but-"
"I'm not here to see him," Tempete Bleu says, smiling at the thought of shoving his !@#$ into a ragged crack in this man's gleaming pate, either before or after killing him: "I'm just visiting."
"Should he be informed of your being here, sir?"
"No," the hero says, patting the man on the head -- a promise for later, perhaps: "I will find my way and show myself out. Thank you, Jerome."
And then he leaves, letting the fellow wonder how he knew his first name.
He knows them all now. Their names, their parents, their parents' parents. Their virtues few, their vices many. Their hopes and dreams and secret lusts, and how to turn them all against them.
But there's still a few things he doesn't know -- most notably, what's calling to him from the White House basement.
The last time he was here, he felt something. He just wasn't sure what. It's part of why he asked Mr. USA that stupid question, though not all -- even Antichrists need to vaguebook from time to time, apparently.
So, since he was in this benighted, backwards, and all-too-undeservedly-powerful country to check up on SPYGOD, he figured he might go solve this mystery. As his new mentors were teaching him, there were no such things as coincidence. There was only prophecy unfolding, or destiny being decided anew.
It's a short float to the basement. Then a small jaunt down one hall, then another. And then he's standing in front of a wall that shouldn't be there, and knowing full well there's something behind it.
Something very important, and powerful.
Once, he would have torn down the wall. Now he simply tells it to ignore him, and it does. The metal made from alien ores does not deter him in his progress.
What does is the blinding light on the other side: a bright, puissant flare that echoes the primal burst that created the universe, untold aeons ago, when his ultimate foe spoke those four hated words. The day when the barrier between light and dark was finally made, and those lovely, scrabbling things that lived within the latter were forced down and away.
"Let there be light," he muses, his eyes adjusting to the sword stuck in the floor.
He shouldn't be here, right now. He knows enough to know this. That light should have burned him up, heatlessly, giving him the shortest tenure of any Antichrist.
And yet, apart from a sunburn he'll have to suffer through for a few hours, he's just fine.
The answer seems to be in front of him. The sword has been poisoned, somehow. Tarnished on some metaphysical level. Made less.
"Well then," Tempete Bleu says, walking towards the strangely-impotent fire of his eternal adversary: "Here we both are, then. Are you going to strike me down for invading this shrine, marking your dominion? Or are you just going to wait for free will to defeat me, same as always?"
There is no answer. There never is, and never will be. His mentors have taught him that the Backers do not to answer with words, but action.
He unzips the front of his uniform. He pulls out his flaccid prick, and aims it at the sword. He grunts just a little, forcing a certain biological process into motion.
And then he splashes the sword with copious amounts of his urine, smiling as the holy metal shrieks and loses its light from the violation.
He laughs, then, watching the sword waver, sag, and begin to melt. It falls over to the floor, its glow wavering, then flickering, under the weight of his water.
"Consider this the gauntlet thrown down, you ancient salope," he shouts: "The war is coming!"
And as the light goes away, and the darkness overtakes the room, the true sight of France's greatest hero begins to take shape...
* * *
... from the darkness she fell into when that nasty-looking, clearly-insane woman in the miniskirt -- and nothing else -- hit her that one, last time.
Florence blinks, realizing she can't move or speak. For a scary moment she thinks she's been paralyzed, but within seconds she realizes she's just been immobilized by a series of high-tech, metal restraints. They're the kind that band around every joint in the body, one after the other, and then lock into each other to totally prevent movement. Metal Mummy, they call it.
She's been Metal Mummyed, and the men who are wheeling her away are TU guards.
!@#$. They got her. !@#$ it.
She should have known better than to get in a fight with that crazy !@#$. Not in public, anyway. There were too many distractions. Too many onlookers.
Too many innocent bystanders for that woman to grab hold of and hold hostage.
And that's exactly what happened. No sooner did Florence -- aka the Red Wrecker -- and Suzi Slam start brawling in downtown Neo York City than the fight got turned into an impossible choice between running away and watching the deformed cheerleader gone wrong stomp on people.
A choice she could not make.
So she stopped fighting and started begging. She told the woman -- clearly suffering from muscle dysmorphia and some crazy-bad steroid abuse -- she could do whatever she wanted, just put down the kid. Please just put down the kid, and they'd talk. !@#$, she'd give her a free punch, just put the kid down. Please. Please.
It took three seconds too long for Suzy to make up her mind. She thought maybe she was getting through to her, but in reality she'd been thinking of how to hurt her the worst.
She threw the kid at Florence is what she did. Threw him like a javelin, right at her chest. It was all she could do to jump and catch him, cradling his neck and head as best she could to keep him from getting his neck broken.
And as soon as she was sure he was as okay as he was going to be, and put him outside of the fight, Suzy was right next to her, swinging at her temple. That's when things decided to go black for quite a while, and as far as she could tell it wasn't quite done with that.
She closes her eyes, and suddenly she's in a transport, under armed guard.
She opens them again and they're wheeling her off it, across the landing pad at the Heptagon.
Another blink and she's in an elevator, going down. Yet another and she's being wheeled down a hallway, hearing screams she can't recognize and pleading from a voice she can.
And then she's in a room, being put into a cell that's been made to accommodate her special restraints. Suspended from its roof, wired in and tubed up, she can see she's not alone. Gosheven sleeps in a tank across the way. A man she's never seen before -- but somehow thinks she knows -- lies on a table, hooked up to all the life support in the world.
And Yanabah swings from a Metal Mummy in another cell -- drooling from the tranquilizers they've dosed her with.
"Don't worry," someone in a lab coat says, walking over to her with a large syringe in her hand: "We'll get to you, too, eventually. And when we do, I'm sure you'll be happy to talk."
She just stares at her, wishing she didn't have the gag in her mouth. If she didn't she'd very happy to tell her two very special words.
But maybe that's what she gets for making a bad decision.
Maybe that's how this is meant to go.
The screaming starts up again, from down the hall. And when the blackness comes to call, once again, she decides to not fight it.
Sometimes oblivion is the best option.