Sunday, April 26, 2015

1/17/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 6.5

"Lo! Death Has Reared Himself a Throne."
Tempete Bleu (Aka Armilus)
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

We should not be here, now, woman, the Other tells Ciel Rouge as she flits her way across Washington DC, never staying in one spot for longer than a few minutes. 

"I know," she says, looking up at the skies for any sign of the person she's come here to find: "This is ill-considered, dangerous, and not a good idea."

But you're going to do it anyway.

"Yes," the red-shrouded woman insists, teleporting not far from the Jefferson Memorial -- strangely deserted on this afternoon: "This conspiracy must be exposed, and now! This obscenity... the innocents imprisoned, the plan they have!"

A plan you could stop all by yourself, now that you know what you do.

"Yes. I've gotten all the information I needed. That part was easy. But now I need to go public with it, and now. And to do that I'll need more than simply my word."

You'll need the help of that lightning-throwing fellow who, up until a week or so ago, you didn't trust either. 

"I know," she sighs, looking up and around for any sign of him: "The truth makes for strange bedfellows." 

It also makes for uncomfortable revelations. 

"What do you mean?" 

I mean that, if you meet him? I cannot help you. 

Ciel Rouge blinks, and then shakes her head: "Why?" 

I cannot tell you. All I can say is that, if you choose to confide in him, instead of simply going it alone, you must walk alone for a time. 

"Of all the sullen, stupid, spiteful things..." the red woman mutters.

This is not about spite, woman. This is about your soul. This is about the mission you were placed on. 

"What do you think I'm doing?"

Hiding behind a man, apparently. 

"I need his help. Surely you can see that?"

Then you don't need ours.

"Wait," she says, but it's too late. Her Other has left her.

"Well fine," she declares: "If you want to pull this merde on me again, so be it. I am tired of your ridiculous attempts to teach me something without explanation. You just walk away! See if I need you."

It's a childish tirade, she knows. She feels incredibly stupid and small for having said it. But given how fickle her Other can be -- how smug and yet childish -- she doesn't feel the least bit sorry. It'll come back to her at some point, either when it thinks it's made its point, or else when it gets lonely again. 

Until then, she'll just have to handle this on her own. 

Ah, there. She sees Tempete Bleu, up ahead. He's floating over the White House for some reason. And the look on his face...

For a moment, she thinks maybe she shouldn't do this after all. Whenever she looks at him, there's always been that weird, visceral reaction in her gut -- the one that makes her wonder who's side he's really on.

But no. She'll need help in this. She'll need the word of France's greatest hero if she's to take on the knight of Paris, to say nothing of an entire agency of the Terre Unifee, and who knows how many National Facilitators.

He sees her. She knows this, as she can feel the uneasy reaction to his gaze. She can also tell that he's smiling, though she's not sure why. 

And as she teleports over to meet him, hopefully halfway, she can only hope it's as a friend, rather than anything else. 

* * *

"So what do I say?" New Man muses as he walks through the wintery streets of Old Deerfield, looking for an impossible building: "Just passing through? Mind if I come in? !@#$, anyone home?"

He has no idea. All he knows for sure is that he has a job to do -- one he's not sure he can do, now or ever.

But one he has to try, if only to save his son.

This sleepy, Massachusetts town is a living museum: an 18th century community, lovingly restored, and presented as a page out of the past. It's prosaic and calming, especially now that it's ankle-deep in fresh snow. And as he walks, he can almost imagine the years flipping back upon themselves, leaving him blissfully alone in another place, another time.

No wonder Doctor Power liked it so much -- he always seemed a man out of his era.

A long time ago, when he first appeared on the scene, the Doctor claimed he'd found a doorway to nowhere, here in this town. He'd gone in and done battle with the terrible things he'd found there, and then used his will to carve a sanctum out of the resulting void. And there, in the strange intersection of realms and forces, he'd used the occult secrets he'd learned at the feet of the Great Masters to perform wonders and miracles -- using his sorcery for the cause of right and justice.

Sadly, most of that had turned out to be bull!@#$.

As they learned later, Doctor Power had made deals with a number of devils and demons to get his powers. He'd been reckless and feckless, and left the bodies and friends and allies strewn behind him as he'd danced forward, ever-seeking a new patron who'd erase the sorcerous debts he owed so many others.

He was, in the words of one of those many broken friends, a gambling addict using the world as collateral while playing dice with the Gods. 

In the end, Doctor Power's bill finally caught up with him in a big way, and cost a truly innocent life. SPYGOD had taken matters into his own hands, and the magician never been seen since. Some say the devils had come to collect on their marker, others claimed he'd hidden himself away so deep even they couldn't find them.

And then there were those who insisted -- in spite of all sense -- that he was just biding his time before coming back, smug as always and better than ever.

New Man didn't know what to think. He'd known the man since the Liberty Patrol, and while he wasn't always the nicest guy, or the easiest to understand, he'd always seemed to be decent, under it all. The sort of person you could trust your life to with no compunctions or regrets.

Or maybe that was just his being naive. Maybe he'd been fooled like the others. Maybe even worse than the others.

Maybe he'd just narrowly missed being one of those many victims, left behind in the man's mad dash for occult power.

But no matter how Doctor Power had come across it, the door to nowhere was real. So was the sanctum behind it. And, if what Mr. USA had told him was correct, that was also the location of the COMPANY's secret Third Base.

It made perfect sense in a way. SPYGOD made his home in a decommissioned supervillain weapon, and floated above the clouds in a mobile base of operations with enough firepower to crack open the Earth. He'd had a seven-sided stronghold built in DC just to thumb his nose at the Pentagon, and took his Scouts vacationing in a pocket universe, alternate Earth full of dinosaurs.

So if he was going to have a secret, third base for the COMPANY, why wouldn't he have it be through a mystic portal?

And that's what New Man was here to find, apparently. According to Mr. USA, there was untold amounts of aid and information, waiting right within it. AGENTS no one else knew about, hiding in there, doing who knows what. Tools and toys and weapons galore, all ready to be used to break SPYGOD out of jail -- for good, this time -- end this French farce, and make all concerns about his son's safety something of a moot point.

All he had to do was figure out how to get in.

A tall order, perhaps, but something Mr. USA thought he might have a special angle on. Given that his powers seemed to come from tapping into something, rather than being an accident of biology, or converting one kind of energy into another, it was just conceivable he might be able to transmute himself through the barrier, there. And if he could do that, well, maybe he could be the one to get in and out, and bring whatever was waiting in there back out into the world again.

As he strides towards his destination, New Man considers -- for something like the three-hundredth time -- that this could all be a trap. Maybe Mr. USA wasn't on the side of the angels after all. Maybe the TU is watching him, even now. Maybe that electric !@#$ from Le Compagnie is lurking nearby, just about to give the signal and have him turned into lunch meat.


He sighs, shrugs, and keeps walking. Even if this was a trap, it was far too late to turn back, now. He had to go forward and just hope he could do what he was supposed to do.

He had done a lot of good in his life. He'd also done some bad, here and there. And one of the worst things he'd ever done was to turn his back on his son when he was growing up, and not be there for him. His child had grown up bitter and broken without him, and while part of that was because of the poison his mother had dripped into his ears, a large measure of it had to lay at his feet for having not been there to show him any different.

Maybe this couldn't erase all that neglect, or fix how cluelessly he was doing this "dad's back in your life" thing, now, it could go some distance to make up for it.


That thought makes him smile, just a little. It's enough that he barely notices how everything goes too silent, just before a far-off crack splits the air.

And then there's a bullet inside his chest, right through his heart.

He gasps and tips forward, but before he can cry out he feels a weird sensation -- like he was being shut down from the inside out by something intent on chaining him with his own energy.

"Oh !@#$, not again," he mutters, and then flickers like a broken television, just before being sucked right into the bullet that felled him. Only, unlike the last time someone disrupted his energies so grossly, he's able to see what's going on around him -- albeit from the warped cylinder of the projectile.

A large figure appears in his field of vision. Then it becomes two people, both of whom he thinks he knows.

A hand reaches down to pick him up, and he realizes he does know this person, but something has changed.

He also knows that weapon slung over her shoulder, from his brief time as Director of the COMPANY.

But he doesn't even have time to say its name -- much less hers -- before the two figures become one, again, and he's somewhere else entirely.

* * *

Fangataufa, Gunther has finally realized, is a really !@#$ty place to get killed.

It's just a picturesque atoll, on the southernmost part of so-called French Polynesia. A vaguely squarish, broken, and thin line of sand some nine and a half kilometers to a side. About 45 square kilometers of water on the inside, deep and blue due to a crater in its center.

A crater formed by the atoll's one real claim to fame -- having been the site of over 200 nuclear weapons tests by France.

Browbeaten by world opinion, the French stopped their testing in the 90's. However, the damage was already done: the area's ecosystem had been wrecked by radiation and nuclear waste, and fallout had caused birth defects on numerous other islands throughout the archipelago. This made what would otherwise be a beautiful and secluded area a massive no-go zone, even for the most foolhardly of visitors and tour companies.

It also made it the best place to hide something.

Finding that something had been Gunther's part of the mission. He'd looked into Champlain Entreprises, following its many trails of cash and materiel -- a significant amount of which ended in French Polynesia. After that, it was a simple thing to follow supplies to a seemingly-abandoned nuclear testing post on nearby Tureia, and then observe what went on at night, when a fleet of submersibles left the post, heading due south.

And, after that, a simpler -- but ultimately foolhardy -- thing to smuggle himself onto one of those submersibles, and then infiltrate the base they'd built within that crater.

And then see what secret that crater contained...

Gunther had to give them credit. In spite of all they'd found, and what they realized might be going on -- based on who was at the center of it -- the moment of realization was rather overwhelming. He found himself regretting that his otherwise-impeccable piece of reportage had been marred by his saying "Scheiße" on camera as he panned over the length of what he'd seen.

He also regretted saying that for the simple fact that it had completely blown his cover, leading to a number of well-armed and very unamused guards firing at him.

He'd given as good as he'd gotten, of course. He'd even taken a few of them out as he'd run back the way he'd come, narrating his findings all the way. Sadly, he'd zigged when he should have zagged going down one of the long, steel cylinders leading from the central pen, and took some bullets for his pains.

As Gunther crawls backwards towards a corner wall, using one hand to cradle his guts and his other to drag himself on -- and somehow hold his almost-empty rifle -- he knows this is probably it. The bullets they hit him with are the special, frangible kind that shatter against hard surfaces, making them ideal for pressurized environments. They also tend to shatter inside the human body, creating all kinds of trauma as they go.

And as he struggles towards the corner, the splinters grind against each other deep within his guts, making each inch he makes a special kind of agony.

He can feel his brothers and sisters calling out to him, knowing that something is wrong, but he's doing his best to block them. He doesn't want them to feel this pain, for fear of tripping them up. He doesn't want them to suffer the same kind of trauma they experienced just over two years ago, when Geri and Johan died.

He doesn't want their last memories of him to be how badly he's !@#$ed up, in search of the story.

"I love you all," he says, hoping they can somehow feel him without hearing, and then presses upload, sending all the information he's gotten straight on to them.

A hail of gunfire reaches him seconds later. The bullets turn him into ragged, bloody meat. 

But they can never stop the truth.

* * *

His name was Orange Streak. He was a space hero. And now he is dead.

He floats about 100 miles up, his body a mess of burned flesh inside what's left of his spacesuit. Perfect, flash-frozen spheres of his blood float around him, glittering like rubies in the sunlight. His last enigmatic gesture -- an outstretched arm, as if to stop his killer -- makes a heroic pose against the black.

He is dead, now. He is far from the only one.

Hundreds of miles beyond that floats another hero. His name was Krasnoye Koltso, named for the mysterious red ring he wore. An artifact of deranged Soviet science, it allowed him to create anything he could imagine, and survive in almost any environment, provided he fed it with his own body.

Like the brave cosmonauts before him who'd wielded the ring, he'd started out a large, tall man, and slowly shrunk down as the ring took more out of him that heavy eating and ridiculous weight training could replace. A small, spinning top of a corpse, he tumbles end over end, falling away from the ship-shaped star that killed him.

He'll reach the Earth, eventually, there to burn on the way down to the ground. They may find the ring, to give it to yet another idealistic young man.

On the other hand, they may not.

Past that, the line of dead heroes continues. The enigmatic Ether Phantom floats far beyond, invisible even in death. Stellar Sandy's amazing space horse lies broken and still, having long since bucked its rider towards the Lagrange Point she used to patrol. Some distance beyond that, a dysfunctional family of cyborgs crackles and twitches in their death throes, knowing too well that there will be no last minute rescue.

No one will be coming to save them from their bravado, this time.

They were proud, these guardians of Earth's upper atmosphere and near-orbit. With the demise of Deep-Ten, they were our first and last line of defense against cosmic menace, space-based malfeasance, or asteroids that came too close for safety. And when they got word that something hostile was headed for the Sled, it went without saying they raced into action, confident they could overcome it.

Confidence that was sadly misplaced.

They were young, most of them, and had no idea what they were up against. And even those who'd seen the Fire Flier in action might not have known just how dangerous an adversary it was. They may not have even seen all its weapons systems in action -- products of the best technology a paranoid, high-tech nation could produce, or else steal from the strange things that tried to attack it.

They never even had a chance, and the line of the dead pays bitter testament to this fact.

The procession of floating corpses goes on and on, slowly becoming more sparse the further it gets from Earth. And as the ship approaches its destination,  Mister 10 laughs and cries in equal measure, screaming bright blue abuse at the man who's taken everything from him.

He's given up on demands, though. He realized, somewhere between liftoff and the first kill, that there will be no going back from this. He will not be given Hanami at the end of this trail of death. He will only get death, itself.

But he will take Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir with him, and that will be enough.

(He wonders, is this what insanity feels like? He considers whether the machine has begun to warp his mind, just as it warped Dr. Toriyumi, and all those young fools he got to fly her. Or maybe he's always been this crazy, and it's just now coming into focus, at the end of his life.)

The Sled is close, now. He can almost make out fine details. If he's going to turn this ship into fire, and plunge on in to his death, now is the time.

He's a simple gesture away from turning on the transmutation matrix when he looks ahead, and sees that she's standing there, in space.

Hanami. His Hanami. His beautiful little girl, floating in the vacuum in her schoolgirl outfit, serene and smiling.

For a moment he thinks he might actually be able to win this. Maybe she's come for him. Maybe he's going to fly on over to meet him, and come inside his ship.

Maybe, now that she's seen how far he's willing to go for his love for her, she will love him at last...?

He smiles, hopeful. She smiles as well. But it isn't until she raises a languid hand and cocks her head just so that he realizes she's not here to join him.

She's here to end him.

He screams. It's a pitiful, sad sort of thing -- hardly worthy of him, or the image he tried to project all those years. The deadly, dangerous man no one dared cross. The scourge of Prime Ministers, the man who held the keys to all the hazardous things that fell from the sky or rose from the waves.

Mister Ten, the taciturn keeper of sea monsters, space machines, and miracles -- undone by one of his own possessions, but yet something he could never truly possess.


There's a bright flash of light, followed by an even brighter one. A second star flares in the sky, not far from the ship being crafted in orbit.

And then there's just darkness, once again.

Darkness, and the dead.

* * *

A long time ago, when he was a young boy, Tempete Bleu dreamed of bug zappers.

His father had one. It was large and black and hung from a high branch in their backyard -- just high enough for the kids to not be able to reach it, but not so tall that an adult couldn't reach up, unscrew its base, and shake the dead insects out. They would eat a late dinner on the patio, in spring and summer, and the sound of the occasional insect going zapppp never failed to raise a chuckle.

He would sometimes stare at it, as he sat on that porch -- hearing its low hum, watching it waver in the heat. Sometimes he thought it was talking to him, and maybe it was. And at night, he would dream he was a human bug zapper, and that he could reach out and shock people with a touch of his fingers: bullies at school, the teachers who annoyed him, his parents who punished him.

Zap zap zap. 

As he got older, and his needs changed, he would dream of a different kind of zapping. He would slip himself into the women he wanted, and the noises they made as he did were a source of much satisfaction. The moaning in pleasure. The screams of pain.

The burning.

Zap zap zap.

Was that his power trying to express itself at an early age? He wondered, sometimes. He wondered a lot of things, now that he knew even more about himself than he'd ever dreamed, or dared.

And now that he knows exactly who he is, and his part in things, he's amazed he didn't think of daring to do that particular thing before now.

Ciel Rouge was the ideal candidate for it, really. Any ordinary woman would have died too soon, but something about how she was put together made her last a lot longer. And the fact that her mind was mostly gone even before he started kept her from going into shock.

(Showing her the truth about himself was too much for even her to bear, oddly enough.)

In truth, he'd been planning to do this to her for some time. Something about how she clearly revolted him caused him no end of excitement. He hated her for hating him, and yet wanted her because of that hate.

And when she came before him, trying to get him to be on her side against Foudre Blanc? Oh, that was just the most perfect excuse to make this happen.

So he let her speak to him, hidden around a corner of that monument-strewn town like a pair of spies conferring. He let her accusations wash over him, and pretended to be interested, and to care. He even looked a little sad when she shed a tear, clearly upset by the plan she'd uncovered, and the white knight of Paris' role in it all.

So when he put his hands on her shoulders, ever so gently, and looked into her eyes, she was unaware of what was happening until he opened his true eyes, and showed her Hell.

He expected more of a fight, truly. He thought that "Other" she spoke of might manifest itself, in that moment, and give him something resembling a real fight. But if it was there, it chose not to intervene, and she could only scream and flail as her mind shattered to pieces.

After that, he brought her up here, to his broken throne above the world. He tore her red shroud from her, and all other things besides. And then he took her in as slow and intimate a way as possible, in as many ways as he could conceive -- some of which should have been impossible, even for him, but were somehow accomplished.

And now that he is sated, draped nude across his throne, he ponders what to do with what's left of her.

He can sense her Other, lurking nearby. It might be trying to hide from him, but he's neither fooled nor threatened. It's clearly powerless without a living body to possess, and he's left very little of hers worth retaking.

All it can do is curse him, though it maintains a hard, stoic silence he can't quite decipher.

He can also hear his mentors speaking to him, from beyond. They ask if this was really a worthy act for one such as he, almost at the cusp of taking his power. Surely he could find more worthy targets, and more worthy ways to dispatch them...?

He pretends to not hear them. They have taught him all they can, and brought him this far. Now he must do what needs doing, and in his own way.

To that end he gets up, grabs her near-lifeless body, and -- with three quick spins -- hurls it straight towards the Sun, some distance away.

"A revoir," he salutes her, his mouth a crazy nest of fangs nestled within lips of barbed wire: "Salope."

And then she's gone from his sight, leaving him to consider his next move, now that Les Trois Grandes are down to only two. Is the end of this era an auspicious thing, or merely part and parcel of how this world ends?

He's not sure, yet. But by the time he figures out what to do next, and why, his broken victim has hurtled past the Moon, heading for a star.

And what may be a final change.

* * *

In the hidden room beneath the White House, where a holy sword once blazed, there is now nothing but the most ephemeral of glows.

A heap of corrupted slag bubbles and boils in the center of the darkened room -- its sorry state testament to the power of Hell's emissary. It does its best to reassemble itself, and stand tall once again, but each attempt only weakens it all the more. Before long, it's clear that it has no option but surrender.

And as it finally gives up, and the last, trembling vestige of Heaven's power and grace leaves it like a long-overdue death rattle, the room goes completely dark.

In that eerie silence that follows, there's a sound not unlike a long, well-forged chain falling from a mighty, invisible gate, and then the sound of that gate slowly opening.

The world shifts, just then.

And the moment it does, a strange, bone-white man with black skulls for eyes stands up from his throne, in his superslam cell in the Ivory Coast, and opens his mouth in a massive O. The ghosts that attend him howl and swirl in his wake, suddenly afraid for their unlives as a large measure of power flows from the world right into his body.

And he gasps, and shudders, and then stands perfectly still -- almost serene.

For the first time in ages, Prisoner 52 knows who he is.

More importantly, he knows what he is.

And he knows why he's been down here so long, unable to fully recollect his name.

"Satanoth," he says, walking out of his cell and out to the balcony before it, putting his hands on the railing and looking down at the sorry kingdom of living dead men he's ruled for so long.

"Satanoth" he repeats, both amused and angered by his predicament.

"Satanoth!" he screams, his hands bending the rails as his voice shatters the boundaries between the land of the living and the many realms of the dead, allowing a sudden, brutal traffic between them all.

And as bedlam rules, and he laughs to feel the power once again, his mind reaches out to those like him -- lost all those years ago -- to find his brothers and sisters in power.

All those sleeping Supergods, about to wake up and taste freedom.

And Gods only know what they'll do with it.

* * *

My Nerves Are All Jangled
But I'm Pulling Through
I Hope I Can Handle
What I Have To Do

* * * 

(SPYGOD is listening to Only The Wind (Pet Shop Boys, live) and having a Thanatos

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