Monday, December 14, 2015

TechnOlympos: 12/07/15 - 12/13/15

"We don't belong to ourselves / They've been planning their attack"
Helvete, with friends

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *
Monday, 12/07/2009

"So, my friend," Wilhelm Burgdorf says, all but sweeping into Wilhelm Kietel's impressive but darkened, book-lined study, not far from the Ice Palace's dining hall -- his many blonde clone-slaves following him like a barely-dressed human carpet: "You said you had something to show me?"

"I do, yes," the distinguished-looking older fellow says, getting out of his chair and handing his glass of brandy to one of his own servants, who's been standing by the chair for just that reason: "I have finally made some headway into my project."

"Which one?" the fat-faced man says, grinning at his own wit: "You have so many going on."

"The most important one, of course," Kietel says, tapping his mustache, as if to get the liquor off its edges.

"Don't tell me you finally made progress on the matter of harnessing the power of the gods?"

"As a matter of fact, by dear Wilhelm, I have," he says, smiling as he gestures to the door: "Please accompany me to my laboratory? I think you will be quite surprised."

"Well, I must confess I am already surprised," Burgdorf says as they head down the hallway -- their many respective slaves following: "I never thought that particular line of inquiry would bear fruit. After all, the fool only found Das Supergotten and brought them to Earth. He had no say in their creation or disposition."

"True," the proud fellow says, leading them towards the locked door to his sanctum, and pressing his hand against a pad on the door to get it to open: "But I learned that there was a connection between them nonetheless."


"Yes," Keitel says, smiling as the door slides open to reveal his laboratory -- steel walls and tables piled high with 1940's-style electrical and chemical apparatus, backed up with more modern equipment: "I thought it strange that Herr Williams suffered a stroke around the time that the Olympians vanished from the world for good. So I checked the dates, and learned that he collapsed on the same day they disappeared."

"How strange," Burgdorf says, pausing to grope one of his fresher clones, relishing in how the girl winces -- she's not quite broken in yet: "Is this the connection of which you speak?"

"Indeed. And when I reviewed his mind's contents, I learned something quite interesting."

He walks his colleague over to a more modern computing system, slaved to a reader of the sort of magnetic tapes an N-machine would use, as well as television he picked up the last time he was in Argentina. He presses a few buttons, and then they all see the world through the eyes of the late Wendell Williams.

"Here he is, reading his paper," Keitel says, pointing to the fuzzy image on the screen: "He has some coffee. The flashes you see are his stray thoughts. Imagining what he's reading, thinking of things unrelated to his current place. Errant daydreams. Thoughts of a woman he knew a long time ago."

"Quite a mess," Burgdorf says, squinting his eyes: "I see why it takes so long to decode these recordings."

"Yes. So much for the triumph of Soviet science."

"Still, this is quite the achievement," his colleague says, smacking the girl almost-absentmindedly. To her credit she does not cry out, but simply stands there and takes it.

"Yes... and here it is," Keitel says, pointing once more as the screen suddenly goes insane with image distortion. There's a screaming in the audio, and the pictures seem to be warped, somehow.

And then it's over, and the image changes as the man drops his paper, gasps, and falls out of his chair. He tries to move his left arm but can't. He can't talk, either -- all he can do is scream.

"An interesting perspective on a stroke," Burgdorf says, chuckling. Thick, dark smoke comes from his mouth as he does.

"Yes, my friend. But did you see that distortion? Let me review it for you, only at a much slower rate of speed..."

He rewinds the tape, and then plays it forward very, very slowly. As soon as the distortion hits, Burgdorf can see that it's not just the horrible consequences of a brain being damaged by blood, but a mass of nested images - one atop the other, like playing cards being splattered all over a table. 
Each image is that of a god, screaming as he or she changes from who and what they are into something else.

"What is this?" Burgdorf says, stepping forward: "What has happened?"

"It is hard to say without more information. But you know how our dear Magda is, shall we say, attuned to certain sorts of disturbances in time and space?"

"No, but given what she did to become what she is, now, I do not find that altogether surprising."

"Well, I checked with her," Keitel says, turning around and smiling: "On that very same day, at that exact time, she felt a strange sensation. She likened it to someone redecorating the world in secret, but in such a way that no one noticed there had been a change. Except, of course, for those who were in tune with it."

"So these Olympians were... redecorated?"

"Yes. And he was somehow linked to them enough to know. Only instead of being redecorated along with them, his mind was attacked. I suspect he could not handle the strain of what happened."

"Fascinating," Burgdorf says, scratching his chin: "This opens up a few intriguing possibilities, my friend. When the others hear-"

"No," Keitel says, raising a hand: "I think we should proceed with caution, my friend. If this means what I think it means, then we are closer than ever to obtaining the power we sought all those years ago. The ultimate power.

"And if the others thought they could have that power, and not desire to share it..."

He doesn't need to finish the thought; They both remember how so many of their fellow Ubermenchen wound up, after the war -- killed by their fellows in strange and terrible power struggles until an uneasy detente was at least reached under the ice and snow of Antarctica. 

"Very well," Burgdorf says, shaking the man's hand: "You can rely on my discretion. I shall say nothing."

"And our aides?"

Burgdorf looks around the room, and sighs: "Well, perhaps the older ones are beaten down enough, but the younger ones..."

"A good thing I'm not so full after dinner, then?" Keitel says, raising a hand. Suddenly, all his own slaves drop to their knees, unable to disobey his mental powers. 

For his part, Burgdorf changes into a roiling, black cloud with the face of an angry man -- slithering tentacles reaching out to take hold of the less-apathetic servant clones he brought here with them.

And as colleagues -- and co-conspirators -- they seal their deal with blood and bone. 

Tuesday, 12/08/2015

"So," Straffer says, walking into his lover's hospital room, brandishing a fresh bouquet of flowers to freshen up the otherwise-stale air: "The nurse tells me you tried to bribe her to bring you some proper food."

"Damn straight," SPYGOD says, sitting at a day desk some distance from his bed, over by the window: "This place might be hot !@#$ with the surgical crowd but they can't make a decent meatball sandwich to save anyone's  life."

He's dressed in a gown, and not caring who sees the fact that he didn't exactly tie it up in the back. He's also not wearing the dark glasses someone thoughtfully brought him, and his pale and sightless eyes are quite disturbing.

"What have you been up to, other than that?" Straffer asks, loosening the white tie of his Space Service uniform and putting the flowers down by the others, over across from the bed.

"Well, they brought me some of these !@#$ing books," the superspy says, tapping his finger on a book in braille: "Some jackass !@#$ came in and wanted to talk about rehabilitation and options. I told her to cram it up her !@#$."

"That's not very nice."

"Well, I'm not very nice," SPYGOD snorts: "Maybe you've noticed that, seeing as how we're supposed to be !@#$ing engaged and stuff?"

"Oh, believe me, I have," Straffer chuckles: "I've seen you unplugged, hon. When it was me in here, after I got back from space... well, the staff here were convinced you were going to shoot them as soon as look at them half the time."

"Only half?"

"The other half you were too busy telling me you loved me," he says, walking a little closer: "Holding what was left of me and promising you'd stand by me no matter what."

"And did I?" SPYGOD asks, seeming perplexed.

"Yes," Strafer smiles: "You did. All the way, every step of it. You were my protector and my advocate, my partner in crime-"

"Oh, stop it," SPYGOD sighs, shaking his head: "Please, just... just stop."

"Alright, what the hell is wrong this time?" Straffer asks, doing his best to not lose his temper like he did last week: "Are you uncomfortable with the fact that I'm your lover? That we're out? That we're going to be married? What?"

"You really want to know?"

"Damn straight I do!" Straffer shouts, slamming his hand down on the table with the flowers. It cracks and breaks under the weight of it, sending vases of half-dead roses and irises every which way.

"You tell me that it's 2105," SPYGOD says, trying to keep an even temper, himself: "You tell me that it's an age of !@#$ing miracles. You're a goddamn cyborg, more metal than meat-"

"Plastic, ceramic composite, and a whole lot of cloned human tissue, but yes."

"Whatever. There's guys out there !@#$ing flying, throwing goddamn lightning. There's AI running cities and the Toons are !@#$ing interbreeding with normal folks. Mr. USA was President, and got over !@#$ing cancer, and god knows what else.

"And those Supergods that you all say I was !@#$ing friends with before they all vanished, and now they're back?" SPYGOD goes on, throwing his hands up: "They got their own damn city, down south of the !@#$ing border. People lined up for days to try and get in, get healed, live in the sight of the goddamn gods!

"And we killed that god-space-monster-!@#$ing thing, too-"

"The Decreator," Straffer says: "I know. I was there. I held your arm so you'd aim straight when you took the eye out of your head."

"You see?" SPYGOD says, gesturing with one hand while putting his head into the other: "That's the other !@#$ing problem. You keep telling me all this !@#$ we did, together. I can't remember any of it. Not a goddamn thing!

"And it makes me so damn mad because I don't know if it's true, or if you're running a !@#$ing game on me. It's like textbook cult brainwashing, or what they do in some of the crazier SQUASH prisons."

"I can see that," Straffer says, taking a careful step forward: "And I can't blame you for being suspicious. If I was in your shoes, I'd be the same way. Maybe even moreso."

"But.."  SPYGOD says, raising an eyebrow: "I hear one coming."

"But... I wish you'd search your feelings," Straffer says, coming as close as he dares: "I wish you'd trust that voice in your head that tells you there's a reason you haven't just leaped out of your damn chair and choked the living !@#$ out of me. That you haven't tried to escape, yet, or make contact with anyone you think would come and get you from here.

"I wish you'd really allow yourself to believe this is true, and it is happening. And that I do love you, and want to help."

"See, you just hit the !@#$ing nail on the goddamn head," SPYGOD says, pointing an ugly finger at the man claiming to be his fiancee: "Let's say you're right about that little !@#$ing voice in my head, and you're not just implanting !@#$ing suggestions. Let's say I'm supposed to trust my damn feelings.

"Well, how the !@#$ can I believe that when you keep telling me that, in spite of this being a world of super!@#$ and !@#$ing miracles, that you can't !@#$ing do anything about my !@#$ing eyes?!"

Straffer closes his own eyes, and sighs, putting his hands to his head: "Oh, damn it. Not this again."

"Yes. This. Again." SPYGOD says, punctuating each word with a jab of his finger: "All I get from you is excuses and reasons that you can't do the impossible? I used to do the imposible six times before !@#$ing breakfast. You give me a load of horse!@#$ about rules and regulations? I was the rules and the regulations!

"I broke every law, every rule, every guideline to make !@#$ happen and save this world, day after day after !@#$ing day!" he goes on, almost rising from his chair: "And you tell me it can't return the goddamn favor? You tell me there's not enough miracles in this world to give me one more? You tell me I have to accept... this?"

He points to his pale, white eyes, which are brimming with tears that just barely refuse to fall.

"Well, no sir. No goddamn way. No !@#$ing goddamn way! I am not spending the last years of however long I have left not being able to see, or to fight, or to do anything but sit in a room and talk !@#$ about !@#$ I did before I lost my goddamn memory!

"I am beating this. I am getting better. I am walking out of his hospital like a man with his head held high, not some cripple with a stick and dark glasses.

"Do you understand that?" 

Straffer nods, and then remembers he has to verbalize: "I do, yes. I do."

"Now, you say you love me?" SPYGOD says: "You !@#$ing prove it, pal. You get out there and you rattle every last cage, every last corner and nook and hidey hole. And you find me a fix for this eye problem."

"Alright," Straffer says, trying not to cry.

"The memory I don't !@#$ing care about. I mean, I do. But if it's all in these damn audio logs somewhere I can find it when I need it. And I can always go make new ones, right? It's not like my brain's turned to goddamn sludge."

"No," Staffer says: "It hasn't."

"Good," SPYGOD sighs, shaking his head as he sits fully down at his day desk: "I was wondering."

There's silence, then -- the long, sharp and very, very uncomfortable quiet between two men trying not to let one another see them break down.

"I'll see you when I get something," Straffer says, turning to go: "I... I love you. Please know that. Please believe that."

SPYGOD doesn't say anything to that, preferring to sit in silence as the man claiming to be his lover leaves.

Straffer doesn't make it ten steps down the hallway before he all but collapses onto a wooden bench, weeping, knowing he might have just lost everything he ever truly cared about.

He'll get back up again, soon enough. He'll have his men in the Space Service root through all the literature, again. Ask all the experts once more. Look into bleeding-edge developments, weird science, alien technology -- anything and everything -- just one more time to see if they missed anything.

And beg Hoosk one more !@#$ing time to change his goddamn supergod mind and let them use that machine again, in spite of his prohibition.

He'll do all that, and more. He will. But right now he just wants to sit and cry, and he figures he's allowed.

He's earned that much, at least.

Wednesday: 12/09/2015

"You wanted me to wake you," the Chess Master says, patting Myron awake.

He comes to slowly, his eyes rather bleary. At some point he opens them fully, seeing the tiny, short-haired old woman as she leans over him, and then leans into him for a kiss.

"Morning," he says, returning it and running a hand along her nude backside: "I think?"

"It is," she chuckles: "5:30 AM, 36 seconds and counting."

"The clocks finally stopped, then?"

"Yes," she says, looking at the flashing digital readout in the room they've shacked up in for the last couple weeks: "Just as you thought."

"Well, !@#$," he says, leaning back into the bed: "Good thing you can tell the time, then."

"I always used to hate it," she admits, lying back down next to him: "Never being able to sleep in. Always knowing it was 7:45 in the morning, 8:39 at night, or whatever. Being in tune with all the times, everywhere."

"Was that your superpower, then?" he asks, genuinely interested.

"No," she says: "You know what my powers are, love. That's just a weird side effect of them. Much like teleporters not being able to sleep."

"Yeah," he smiles, trying to stay awake.

"Someday you'll have to tell me what your powers are," she teases him, running a finger from the nape of his neck to the spot just below his belly button.

"So far, I think it's keep winding up knee deep in !@#$, and then inventing things like crazy to get out of it," he sighs.

"Not a bad power, all said."

"Yeah, I was just kind of hoping for heat vision, you know?"

They both snort and chuckle at that, and then -- slowly -- disentangle themselves from the bed, and each other, to get dressed for the day.

* * *

At times, Myron wonders how this keeps happening to him. 

Why is he in charge of this damn mess, anyway? Who put him in the Green Dome's ball chair and made him the new Number Two? Why is the Village his responsibility, now? 

And then he remembers, clear as morning: it was him. 

Faced with a bad situation -- and learning he was back in B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P., again, and apparently stranded there, definitely counted -- he did what any sensible person with a better understanding of things than the others would do. He started giving the scared and fractious survivors some semblance of order by giving orders, and not taking any lip from cowards, idiots, or people who wanted to be in charge because they hated taking orders. 

He organized everyone he could spare into work parties and search sorties. The latter were to try and map out as much of the above-ground complex as they could. The latter were to find all useful items, and apportion or store them correctly.

And then there were those few, lucky people too valuable to spare -- the ones who knew how the one-way transporter from Earth worked. 

The good news was that they didn't have to worry about food or supplies running out, as constant shipments made their way to them from the world they left behind. They also didn't have to worry about Hook or Crook getting in, as they were physically prohibited from entering the Green Dome, as well as the strange, metal world beneath the Village that the dome perched atop of.

The bad news was that they had a lot more to worry about than the power couple, as Myron jokingly took to calling them. 

For one thing, Number Two was left a human wreck after the events. After days of hysterics, peppered with occasional bouts of cryptic lucidity, he finally collapsed into near-catatonia. This not only made getting any ideas as to how to deal with their problem quite the chore, but also complicated matters as far as their environment was concerned. 

Case in point: the transporter also had a communicator, which allowed them to send messages back and forth from Earth, in order to request personnel and special supplies. However, it was keyed to Number Two, and not in an ever-convenient handprint kind of way. The technicians have been trying to overcome it, but are worried that if they break it -- much less force it -- the transporter might stop working altogether.

Another issue: the wide, deep complex of tunnels and sub-levels below the dome were unmapped and unknown -- except, in theory, to Number Two. The Chessmaster distinctly remembered that he alone had access to a databank where all information was kept, allowing him to utilize this knowledge when needed. But then, when he did, the rooms beneath the main level actually shuffled themselves around, so as to keep someone else from following in his footsteps. 

Which might not be so bad, except that the systems have gone haywire, thanks to Hook and Crook, who decided to find other ways to break down the doors. 

Something about their powers cause electronic systems to fail. If they touch often enough, the strange energies their bodies give off create something akin to a short-range EMP, shorting out whole areas and entire systems. Doing this makes them very weak, almost to the point of death, but as soon as they're feeling better they go right back to it.

So they dropped the electronic fences and deadly defenses that ringed the Village, allowing the prehistoric beasts that lurked outside them to enter the ground. Every so often, when something large and brutish comes through, they make them ram the doors, the walls -- anything they can to try and break it down. 

After that didn't work -- thank God for steel-reinforced concrete -- they began to short out systems within the Green Dome. So far, they'd only been able to affect nonessential things: lighting below a certain level, air conditioning in certain rooms, and so on. The clocks are the latest to suffer their impotent rage, and they won't be the last, surely. 

But all of this makes searching and mapping the complex much more difficult than it truly needs to be.

And then there's one more immediate problem: one of the early casualties of the duo's sabotage was the extensive network of cameras that were used to spy on the Villagers. As of now, those within the Green Dome can't see outside of it unless they try and sneak out of it -- something Hook and Crook are invariably able to sense coming, and deal with in their own, deadly fashion.

(There's also the matter of who Number One actually is, but Myron's not in any hurry to deal with that. He has an uncomfortable feeling about that, given how the last episode of The Prisoner went.)

Faced with these many issues, Myron soon turned to the one survivor who really knew something about what was going on -- the Chess Master. Over time, their working together led to something a little more physical, and they became lovers. 

Neither of them have any illusions about what this is, or why it's happening. But for now it's comforting, and that's something in short supply in the Green Dome. 

That and hope. 

* * *

The morning meetings take place in one of the many metal, sphere-like rooms on the main floor of the Dome. They used to hold them in Number Two's old office, but Myron really did not like sitting in that damned ball chair.

He felt like he was holding court.

"Okay, where are we on the mapping project?" Myron asks first, looking across the big, circular table at the men who've volunteered to do the most dangerous job they have. 

"We've got the first sublevel completely mapped out, at least for now," Number 294 says, tapping his paper notes: "We've done as you suggested and make notes of the rooms, rather than how to get to them."

"Good. And the second sublevel?"

"We're working on it," Number 74 says.

"Good," Myron says, looking at the notes and handing them over to the woman from the Improvement Committee, who volunteered to make some sort of map from what they've created: "When do you think you might get to the third level?"

"Well, that's being difficult as hell to even consider starting," 74 says, shaking his head: "For one thing, we can't even find the bloody stairs."

"Stairs?" Myron asks, looking at the Chess Master. 

"It's true," she says: "The elevator only ever went down to the second sublevel. All others were accessible only by some other means. Maybe stairs, maybe tubes. Maybe something stranger."

"Something to ask Number Two about?" the woman from the improvement committee asks, raising an eyebrow. 

"It's an idea," Myron says, looking across the table again: "Keep looking for the way down, gentlemen. It's essential we know what's down there."

The men all nod, somewhat resignedly. Myron then goes on to other business, but keeps an eye on the one who went on about the bloody stairs. He keeps looking askance for some reason, as though he were trying to hide something. 

He'll look into that at some point, he thinks. But then the lights in the room go out, and don't come back on, and he has to go into crisis mode all over again. And that makes all the difference in the world, as he will later admit in hindsight.

Which is always 20/20, and always too damn late.

Thursday: 12/10/2015

El Khadir grunts as he runs down the sidestreets of Lisbon at midnight, holding what's left of the right side of his chest together with his hands, and wondering how fast he'll heal up, this time.

Stupid, he thinks: this is a stupid way to die.

And the worst thing? He really should have seen it coming.

When he joined Le Compagnie, what now seems a lifetime ago, he knew that there was something rotten. He knew a lot of the European heroes -- clearly first among equals -- turned up their noses at him, as they did to a number of strategic talents who didn't have pale skin or lighter hair, or who prayed to gods other than their own. The Asians, the Africans, the Latinos.

And then there was El Khadir: born to the Sara in the southern half of the Republic of Chad. His skin was as black as the rich earth his father had worked with his hands and a hoe. He started life as a simple worshiper of the sun, but embraced Islam when he went north, finding something more satisfying in the world that religion offered.

And when they went to cut his face, as a child, to give him the distinctive markings of his people, he broke every blade they tried to use.

His strength was considerable, his resilience legendary. He could leap fifty feet into the air and bring his whole mass down onto a foot or an elbow, bringing down both man and machine in this fashion.

For a time he was content to be a soldier for the government, which needed all the strength it could muster against its many challenges. But soon he realized he needed to see more of the world, and was ecstatic to be chosen to represent his country in the Terre Unifee's premier superteam.

But no sooner did he set foot into the Palace -- becoming their only Black-skinned Muslim tribesman from Africa -- that he began to see something was seriously amiss.

In a small village, it's easy to know who likes you and who doesn't. People hide the truth to keep peace and save face, but it's all there if you know where to look. The way they look at you, or don't look at you. What is said and not said. The snubs, the omissions, the whispers.

And occasionally, if you're lucky enough to catch them unawares, a look of stark, unyielding hate or fear that tells you all you ever needed to know.

So as soon as El Khadir joined Le Compagnie, he could sense who wanted to be a friend and ally, and who simply tolerated his presence. And he had no trouble discerning who genuinely detested his being there because of who he was, and what he represented.

He should have known. He should have seen. He shouldn't have tried to cozy up to Le Femme Electrique and her band. He should have stayed with his fellow Africans and Muslims more -- especially when they began to abruptly quit, or vanish without a decent explanation.

And when the whole thing came crumbling down, and the hideous, true nature of the conspiracy within the TU came to light, he should have run back to Chad as quickly as he could have gone. Signed back up with the government and returned to protecting its borders. Anything.

But he stayed to help. That's what he told himself, anyway. The world was falling apart, and he felt the obligation to help put it back together, again.

It was the right thing to do -- the only thing to do.

And that's when they found him, and made him their man. Made a slave out of him. Used him as muscle, as a shield, as an unwitting executioner and source of unwholesome amusement.

And it's only now that they don't need him, anymore, that they've finally revealed what they wanted to do to him all along...

He grunts as the pain becomes almost too much to bear. He keeps running through the pain, knowing that the being that was sent to kill him can only be a few minutes behind him, and that to rest will be to die.

And he prays to Allah for strength and His mercy, for he has been so very, very foolish for far too long.

If he can just make it through the night, he has a chance. If he can just get out of this city without being seen, he can escape.

If he can just get in touch with the American he once helped humiliate -- New Man -- he can tell the world what has happened, here in Europe, since the fall of the Terre Unifee...


But it's a long time until morning, and these are many busy roads between him and the city's end. And his would-be assassin is doubtlessly gaining.

So El Khadir runs, and prays, and hopes he can yet redeem himself for his own naivety.

Friday: 12/11/2015

"Dear God," New Man says, rubbing the sand and blood from his eyes.

"I can assure you he has nothing to do with this, mes ami," Bouclier Blanc says, shaking what's left of the people they just attacked from his rather large namesake -- what little the damned thing doesn't drink down -- and walking back to a safer position.

They just cut into a ten vehicle supply run, going from one staging point to another. The insurgents -- IS, they think -- tried to disguise it as a convoy of refugees, complete with scared-looking men, women, and children.

New Man was supposed to be in charge of this, just as he'd been all along. He'd hesitated to commit, wanting more intel before opening fire on what might actually be a load of civilians. And even if IS was using the convoy to ferry things, he didn't want to hurt any hostages in the process.

He was supposed to be in charge of this. But in battle, control is largely an illusion.

Epee Rouge and Tonnerre Bleu had started their strafing run just before he'd had time to recall them. Before he could get clarification they'd already engaged -- hurling long, sharp projectiles and waves of sound at the cars and trucks.

And when he ordered them to disengage, they did the same thing they always did: feigned an inability to understand him over all the noise.

Not that it really mattered, much. No sooner did the two French heroes attack than every man, woman, and child in the convoy went from being frightened to being determined -- pulling out a small arsenal's worth of automatic weapons and firing at their harriers.

And, once it was clear New Man's concerns were as worthless as they were well-meaning, everyone else flew into action. Russian Steel and Bouclier Blanc ran at the shooters, unafraid of mere bullets. Chinmoku vanished and reappeared at crucial areas, striking and killing and vanishing again before anyone saw him. Yanabah picked off those those who attempted to flee.

And New Man, cursing every moment, strode into the thick of it -- hurling beams at the forward trucks as they tried to escape, and melting their engine blocks before they got too far.

It was all over in minutes. Everyone who's pointed a gun at them was dead, mostly in pieces. The convoy smoked and burned in the morning sun.

And New Man stood and watched them burn, not at all happy to see children lying dead in the sand.

Shining Guardsman wasn't here, anymore. He'd refused to fight any further, here, and been sent back stateside for disciplinary measures earlier this week. Whether it would be handled by the COMPANY or the Armed Forces really depended on what mood Josie was in that day, but New Man had put in as good of a word for the kid as he could, under the circumstances.

It's not like he didn't know how he felt.

After Paris, everything had changed. The mood had altered. The pendulum had swung.

After Paris, the Interim President had gotten neo-con religion, big time, with the full understanding that if we were to call this a War on Terror, then we needed to act like we actually were at war.

After Paris, the Freedom Force was split in two, with their more PR-friendly half staying behind in America to do rescue, crime fighting, and internal defense operations, and everyone else going to Syria to join a multinational group of strategic talents. Russia's Russian Steel and France's Les Trois Grandes and a bunch of others, most of whom weren't here today.

And now, here they were -- using extranormal talents against clearly normal insurgents, terrorists, and any idiot stupid enough to point a gun at them.

New Man had gotten his powers in World War II. He'd gone on to fight in Korea, in that long, 8-year mess the war had turned into. And he remembered what it was like when they weren't fighting other strategic talents, and it was just ordinary men with guns.

He remembered how they screamed when those guns didn't work. When they were thrown, burned, pummeled, or ripped to pieces for their pains.

When they tried to surrender to these gods in human form, but they couldn't allow themselves the burden of prisoners, and had to kill them where they stood -- begging for their lives...

He had no trouble remembering all that. He would never forget it.

And all of this is making it come back all over again, like an album of deeply embarrassing photos an insensitive parent keeps showing to would-be girlfriends, come over for dinner.

"God have mercy," he says, praying that this is all worth it, in the end.

Saturday: 12/12/2105

"How you doing today, man?" Folder asks, poking his nose into the prayer room.

"I'm fine," Thomas says, turning and smiling at him. His eyes seem afire with all the candles around him, and all the paintings he's made on the walls shimmer and ripple in their flickering light.

"The others.. they wanted to know if you'd pray with us?" the kid asks, never daring to just act on his own behalf. He runs his hands through his short afro and scratches the back of his head, trying to smile but failing.

"I will, " Thomas promises, nodding: "Just give me a little time? I'm still trying to pull myself together after last night."

"Okay," Folder says, nodding, and then turning to leave.

"So," Thomas says, looking up at the crumbling ceiling of this room he's claimed for himself: "It's been a weird ride so far, Lord. Very strange. But I guess when you just spread your wings and run where you're told, well, you can't expect a smooth landing. Just a safe one, in your hands."

He smiles at that thought, and goes on: "I've got a flock, now. I've got people I've saved, people I've helped. I'm making a small community, here. The weak who need to find their strength. The broken who need to make themselves whole. The alone who need to know that you never really are.

"I've got this city terrified of me... well, parts of it are afraid. Others are hopeful. Wolves in sheep's clothing can no longer act with impunity.

"And the wolves who need no disguise, well, they're scared, and for good reason.

"But something is changing out there," Thomas goes on, reaching for the black makeup he's been using to cover his face, and slathering it onto his cheeks: "The wind's blowing a strange, new direction. The evil is more directed. More intense.

"I think I know what's going on here. The man who's running all this darkness is trying to fight our fire with his own. He's trying to quench the light of what we're doing with our evil opposite. Creating monsters to fight you.

"I won't let him win, with your grace and will," he goes on, putting the white paint to his lips and eyes: "I will stop his soldiers. I will stop his villains. And when the time is right, and there's no question about who he is, and what he has become, I will stop him. 

"Until then? Please grant me grace and strength. Grant me mercy and forgiveness. Never let me forget I am your instrument, acting in accordance with your wishes, and in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Never let me overstep my bounds or lose my way. Never let me be cruel or crippling, or to use these powers for selfish reasons.

"Let me be the hero this city needs. Let me be the hero you need me to be.

"Amen," he says, getting to his feet. As he does, all the pains and aches he felt waking up this morning -- souvenirs of a long night spent stopping those who did not wish to be stopped -- disappear, as if someone turned a switch in his mind. He feels as though he's slept an entire day, instead of just a few hours.

He feels ready to go back out and do it some more.

He shakes his hair about, making it look shaggy and alive. He checks the stitches on his clothes to make sure they're sturdy, and will hold. He slips into the long, black coat he acquired some time ago, and -- with one quick motion -- whips it about so fast all the candles go out.

The Raven stands there, in the dark, and then leaves it for the candlelit areas beyond -- there to hold a service for his flock before heading out into the city he's sworn to protect from evil.

It's a good life, he thinks, as they all gather to his side and kneel along with him. Perhaps too good.

And as he leads them in prayer, he wonders what other things this dark wind is bringing with it.

Sunday: 12/13/2015

The Candidate takes one last, long look in the mirror his closest aide is holding up for him.

He smiles, then frowns, then smiles again.

He brushes his large mane of blonde hair up and to the side, debating whether to wear his signature red ballcap or just let it all flow.

It takes him ten seconds, and then he decides since the event is indoors, he can shuck the ballcap.

It's just a stump speech. Tomorrow he's got the Westgate. The day after that, another debate.

Today? It's just a chance to talk to the faithful. To get their blood pumping. To give those who can't afford tickets for tomorrow a chance to see him up close and personal.

A gift to the little people who've carried him along this far, he thinks. And he does love his little people, even if he really doesn't care for them.

(Is that a contradiction? Probably. Does he care? No.)

He looks at the mirror once more, smiles and frowns. Checks his tie, checks his neck.

And then, with a deep breath, lets his security and aides escort him out of the room, down the short hallway, and out into the VFW's main hall.

The cheering is like a wave of air pressure. He smiles and raises his hands like he already won the election.

He basks in the moment...

* * *

... thinking he's finally gotten away from his pursuers. 

El Khadir kept running all throughout the night. He kept to the sidestreets and back alleys, plastered with those new Destino Espera signs. He hid and ducked and tried to lose himself in the dark corners, not stopping until the sun finally came up. 

And then, only long enough to sit down for a moment, and focus his will and strength on healing up the wound in his side. 

That took about an hour. By the time it was done he couldn't tell from the outside he'd even been shot. The pain was still there, but receding, thankfully. 

He whispers a prayer to Allah and gets to his feet, somewhat shaky. He looks down the way, at the docks on the harbor.

All he has to do is go there, sneak aboard a ship, and get away from this place. It doesn't matter where, or how. 

Once there, he can find a way to contact the American. He can hide until they come for him. 

He can be safe, there in the dark...

* * *

... of the second sublevel, now that all the bloody lights have gone on the bloody blink. 

"Candles," Number 74 snorts, shaking his head: "It's like bloody scouting, isn't it?"

"Keep it zipped," 294 says: "Complaining doesn't help. Just keep working. We'll be fixed soon enough."

"That's what they said about the air conditioning."

"Zip it," 294 says again, even less pleasantly than before, as he raises his candle and tries to figure out if they've been down this way yet.

"Who are you to tell me to be quiet?" 74 complains: "It's not like you're in charge. Let's not forget that I got to ask the questions-"

"Oh, I have not forgoten," the man says, stepping in the man's direction and scowling: "Not at all, 74. But you're not the boss of me, anymore. You're just another man with a number that doesn't mean a blessed thing, now. 

"Right now, the only thing you've got going for you is your ability to do something of value. So far as I can see, all you can do is whine and complain. And that's not a valuable thing, here, my friend. Not at all."

He steps away, scowling: "Go down this way about a minute. Just see if you can see any tape on the walls a previous trip might have left. Then come back. I'll be here."

"Fine," 74 says, going on down: "But you better not be gone when I get back. I've had it with...

* * *

... Muslims and Martians, frankly," the Candidate says, scowling on cue: "I mean, I feel for some of them. The ones I can trust, anyway. 

"But how do we know who they are?" he asks, looking around the room: "How can we really tell? It's not like they've got a sign on their backs saying 'not a terrorist,' or 'not a bad guy,' or whatever Martians actually are."

The crowd laughs, and the look in their eyes is sickening. Blank and vacuous and mean. 

He smiles and goes on: "But that's the problem. We don't know anything about these people, really. 

"I mean, yeah, we fought a battle together. But that doesn't make us friends. 

"We fought Hitler with the Russians. We weren't friends with the Russians. After the war, they tried to take us over. Does that sound like a friend to you?"

"No!" everyone shouts. He nods and replies: "Not at all. Not at all. You'd be dopey to have a friend like that."


"And you'd be dopey to let people into our country unless you knew you could trust them, right?"


"But here we are, saying 'Sure, come on in! The water's fine! The people are great! Take our things, enjoy our freedoms.'


"And then here we are saying 'Well, how did that happen?' after San Bernandino. Just like the French are saying 'Well, how did that happen?" after Paris."


"America can be a great country. But you don't get to be a great country by being dopey. You get it by being smart. By knowing who your friends are. By knowing what to do and what not to do.

"And I know that one thing you don't do? You don't help people who aren't your friends. It comes back and bites you. 

"Every. Time." he says, pounding the podium with each word. 

The applause and cheers rattle the roof. If he didn't have them before, he's got them now. 

All he needs to do now...

* * *

... is fight his way through these sorry thugs who've appeared around him, here at the docks. 

Each one is bare-chested and muscular -- proudly showing off black, blocky tattoos that apparently announce their hateful leanings. El Khadir isn't sure what PNR stands for, but every one of them has those letters somewhere prominent on their person. 

He quickly figures them for idiots: street soldiers put into play by much better-dressed types. The sort of people he'd spent too much time defending, against his own best interests. 

The sort of people who will kill him if he doesn't deal with these idiots as quickly as possible...  

"Ola, escarumba," the largest one with the most tattoos says, swinging a long, metal chain in his gloved hands. 

"(Leave now)," he says in French, hoping some of them know more than Portuguese: "(I won't hurt you. Just say you didn't see me. They'll never know you lied.)"

"(We'd know, though,)" one of them replies at least somewhat politely, whipping out a very large, very sharp-looking knife as he does: "(That's embarrassing enough.)"

The others follow suit, almost in unison. The leader begins to whip the chain about further and faster. And El Khadir nods, deciding he doesn't need to be so merciful, now. 

He does, however, allow them the courtesy of getting in the first few attacks. 

He stands there as they swarm him with knives -- punching and slashing and gouging, however uselessly. The blades chip, bend, or snap off in their hands. 

And as the one who spoke French gasps, and tries to say something less polite, El Khadir smiles -- his teeth shockingly white -- and replies with his fists.

A language they do not need translated...

* * *

"Orbit," 74 reads the sign on the man-sized, transparent tube at the end of the hallway, wondering what it could mean.

The tube isn't new to him -- this hollow thing standing up against the wall, surrounded by the same kind of strange electronics boxes that other such things are ensconced within. He's come across it a couple times now, though he hasn't told anyone. 

(And how strange that no one else has seen it...)

Why hasn't be said anything? Is it that he wants to use this discovery to his advantage at some point, if his usefulness should start to come into serious question? Is it because he wants to find out more before announcing it?

Is it that he never saw it before the Village came crashing down around itself?

Or is it that it distinctly unnerves him..?

It seems to breathe, the tube. It seems to be making a noise he can just barely hear. 

It seems to be alive in some strange fashion...

Oh no, he scolds himself. He's being silly. It's just a machine of some kind. Or maybe someone's idea of a decoration. 

It shook itself loose the last time Number Two had the complex moved around. No one saw it before then. No one's seen it since. 

He's just being silly. And until he can overcome his fear of this thing, he'll never be able to use his discovery with the authority it deserves. 

So he steels his soul and steps a bit closer, putting his ear up to it. It's a tentative gesture at best. He really shouldn't be able to hear anything, right? He's being silly, right?

No. No he's not. 

It is breathing. He can hear it. 

What he doesn't hear is the door sliding open, just then -- allowing him to tumble right into the tube, a second before it slides shut, again. 

And then the floor's dropped out below him, and he's quickly falling down a tube like a bullet through a gun...

* * *

... which is what the champagne bottle always sounds like when the cork pops. 

"Knocked 'em dead," the Candidate says to himself, having a good, quality sip from the glass one of his aides has poured the wine into.

"Yes you did," his seniormost assistant says, pulling out a pad and scrolling through: "Social media's going crazy already. Your linkage of Martians with Muslims should be good for a few million eyeballs, especially when the comedians start making jokes."

"Let them laugh," the Candidate says: "It just means they can't say anything substantial."

"Very true," the weasel-like man says: "And wait until tomorrow. Your prepared remarks are going to just blow them all away."

"I'm sure they will," he says, having some more champagne: "Have the twitter people come up with some more zingers. Double down as soon as the first wave of outrage hits."

"Absolutely, sir," he says: "Anything else?"

"How about you all give me the room for a bit?" he asks, pulling a special phone from his pocket: "Need to talk to my friend."

"Of course, sir," the weasel says, snapping his fingers. The small army leaves very quickly, and then it's just him and his phone. 

Things are amazing on this end, he types in: The plan's going well. No problems. 

Good, comes the terse reply: You will continue to hold to it, then. All depends on your actions, my friend.

You can depend on me, the Candidate says: Any fresh instructions?

Not as yet, the reply comes...
* * *

"... now please excuse me, my friend," the white-skinned man says into his phone as he strides into the hold of the ship his PNR friends have secured for this night's work: "I have some work to do. Good luck with the speech, and the debate."

Helvete closes the phone and comes into the room, instantly gratified by the quick, smart salutes his Portuguese soldiers give him. Many of them are in terrible shape -- one of them has clearly suffered a compound fracture -- but the fire in their eyes is welcome and rewarding. 

"(Well done)," he says to them in German, not needing to speak any other language with them: "(He still lives, as per my orders?)"

"Sim," their leaders says, his chain wrapped around his chest like a bandoleer: "(He fought well, but the gas overtook him quickly.)"

"Gut," Helvete says, walking over to El Khadir, who's just now coming around, and realizing what's happened. 

"You..." he mumbles, his head a mess of fog and broken thoughts. 

"You really should have just stayed in Berlin," Helvete says, smiling through black lips as the heat within him turns the air into a rippling mirage: "I would have been quick and merciful. I had them make a bullet that could have pieced even your skull, my friend. You would have been dead before you knew it.

"Now? I regretfully must make an example of you, if only to these brave young men. They must know that Odal does not tolerate desertion or disobedience. 

"Especially not from lesser races."

"You will not win," El Khadir says, looking up at him: "You are evil, and you will fail."

"Evil?" Helvete chuckles: "My friend, you are mistaken. I am not evil. I am good, and I only do good things. Though to you it may seem evil, but perhaps that is only because you are so far below me that you cannot see clearly from where you are."

"You can kill me, but others will rise up against you. Allah will hold his hand against you, in the end, and the righteous will-" 

Helvete holds out his hand. There's a wave of warmth, and suddenly El Khadir's right hand catches fire. 

The man screams, still unable to move, other than to squirm and writhe. The skin bubbles and melts. The bones crack and powder. 

The thugs laugh and whoop, amazed at the sight of how Odal's leader destroys his enemies. 

"Any hand held against me will burn to ashes," Helvete says, watching as the man's stump sparks and crumbles -- the heat cooking its way into his body: "Any man, any army, any ideology. All will catch fire and burn at the feet of the truth. All will melt before the power of Odal!"

The thugs cheer at that. The darkness in their eyes is blank and complete. 

"(Oh lord,)" El Khadir mumbles, closing his eyes as the monster he served without choice raises his hands to deliver a more complete and all-consuming fire: "(Therefore forgive us our sins, and remit from us our evil deeds, and make us die the death of the righteous...)"

And then... 

* * *

A well-dressed assassin sits in the back of his private jet, reading the proofs on the international men's fashion magazine he runs when he's not killing people. 

As he notes an egregious typographical error -- and makes a mental note to fire that idiot editor when he gets back to Spain -- he looks at the clock, and sees it's just three more hours to Neo York City. 

He smiles at that thought, considering that this contract has hit three superlatives, already. Most prestigious target. Most mysterious employer. 

And -- if he's lucky -- most helpless victim. 

His name is Gunblade, and he's here to kill. 

* * *

An attractive, middle-aged blonde woman in prison clothes sits in her cell and writes, smiling as she considers that this will go front page on a magazine that, less than a year ago, excoriated her for telling the truth.

 They won't let her have access to a computer, and a pen could be used to hurt someone, so she has to write it out on paper with a soft, lead pencil. 

She doesn't mind, though. Before long she won't be here, anymore. She'll be out in public again -- no longer disgraced, but lionized. Listened to. 


She is the Old Man's daughter, and she is working for Odal's better world. 

* * * 

Everywhere, across the world, the sickness is spreading. The hate is multiplying. 

The fear is given form, and shaped by willing hands. 

Muslims are being attacked by vandals and mobs. Martian enclaves are being trashed or burned. 

The different is no longer welcome, here. 

The scum of western society is as now as one. Meth-dealing Nazis in fly-over country and well-appointed nationalists in Europe. Street punks with White Nationalist ink and unhappy veterans who think their Social Security is being given to refugees. 

The angry and the foolish. The mad and the nihilistic. The smart and the stupid. 

The violent, and those who just want to see violence done. 

All are marching to a new drum with an all-too-familiar sound. All are organized by an old idea with a shiny, new banner. 

Odal has come to the boil, and the world must soon steam and burn.

* * *

... and then 74's standing up in a metal cavern, somewhere. 

He looks around, his eyes adjusting to the light. He thinks he can see machinery, or maybe silos. 

He hears something behind him. Something breathing. 

Something burning. 

He turns and has just enough time to scream. 

And then there's nothing but the fire, and the ashes, to mark his ever having been there.

(SPYGOD is listening to Jungles (Stepdad) and having a Rye of the Tiger )

No comments:

Post a Comment