Thursday, June 26, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 1

Little girls shouldn't float in the air.

That's the first thing the President thinks, watching what's become of his daughter. They shouldn't float in the air like balloons made of flesh.

The air shouldn't be boiling around her, like she was on fire. There shouldn't be black, crackling things slowly orbiting about her head. She shouldn't be tearing open, here and there, to let out black, writhing tendrils that feel the air like a snake's tongue.

Her face shouldn't be stretched out like that. She shouldn't look like something between a prehistoric tiger's skull and a mosquito. There shouldn't be gouts of slime falling from her mouth and neck as she laughs.

And nothing on this world should ever laugh like that.

But those are still his daughter's eyes. The eyes he's seen laughing and crying and bored and ecstatic for all these years. The ones that droop a little when she says she loves him.

Those are still her eyes, yes. But they shouldn't look at him that way.   

Like a triumphant predator about to play with the small creature it's just caught...   

"Honey?" he whispers, feeling a very cold fist squeezing his heart

Hello, daddy. The thing his daughter's become says. It's somewhere between crushed glass and a slither.

"I..." he says, and that's all he can manage. The words turn to dry dust in his mouth. He can't bring himself to say her name.

That's not her, anymore. Maybe it hasn't been for a long time, now. 

Daddy, it slither-crushes again, just a little longer this time. 

Mssr. President.
Mssr President?
"Mssr. President?" his secretary says, just a little more forcibly.
"Yes?" the President says, starting out of his seat as the horrible memory leaves him.
(Though not the cold fist around his heart)
"You wanted to be told when we were about to land?"
"Yes," he says, trying to look more in control than he feels: "Are they waiting for us?"
"Ciel Rouge and the American President? Yes."
"Good," he says, looking out the window as Neo York City's Central Building comes into view: "Let's get this done, then."
 * * *
"Mr. President," a rather flustered Mark Clutch says, walking up to the small group of people as they come out of the TU supersonic transport: "I'm sorry I didn't get a better reception arranged for you, sir. This is a bit of a surprise."
"I apologize about that," he says: "It couldn't be helped, though."
"Well, I'm sorry, we're a bit of a mess, right now-"
"That's alright, it's not an inspection or anything," he says, shaking the man's hand and gesturing to the others with him as his honor guard fans out, guns at the ready: "You know my Secretary, Henri. This is the Minister of Justice, Jean-Jacques Excephir Geraud..."
"From the trial, yes," Mark says, shaking the large, waddling man's hand: "Congratulations on your promotion, sir."
"It was only logical," the fellow chuckles, shaking with both hands: "But thank you, mssr. It is a great honor and privilege to meet a member of the esteemed Owl family. I have a great deal of respect for your lineage."
"Well, I kind of married in," Mark begins to explain, really not wanting to talk about that, right now. Thankfully, they're all interrupted by the sound of the world falling apart, just six feet behind Mark.
Standing between him and the doors to the central building are two people he's still not used to seeing together. One is the newly-appointed President of the United States, otherwise known as Mr. USA, who does not look at all happy to be here. The other is a woman in a crimson cloak, who seems very pleased to have just dropped off the second most powerful person in the world before the first.
"Ciel Rouge," the President says, waving: "(REDACTED) Thank you for joining us."
"I'd just like to say, this is really ill-considered," Mr. USA says, walking away from his ride: "If we have to do this-"
"We are not talking about this now," the President insists, an uncomfortable edge in his eyes and voice: "Not here."
"It's fine, Mssr. President," another person from the plane says -- a long haired fellow in a shiny, grey suit: "He cannot hear anything we say. I have seen to that."

"Thank you," the President says, looking from him to Mark: "Mark, I apologize for this, but-"

"Wait, what's going on here?" Mark asks, looking from him to the strange fellow: "Who are you?"

"Eclat," the man declares, simply, not offering a hand to shake.

"He's here to make certain your nephew does not do anything stupid," Ciel Rouge says, simply, as she comes up behind Mark: "And I am here to keep him honest."

Mark scowls a little, looking from face to face: "What exactly is this about?"

"It's about a lot of things," the President says: "Basically, we need to know if we can trust Thomas to look after SPYGOD."

"You can," Mark insists, really not liking where this is going: "I know he's been through a lot of changes, lately. But that's still Thomas in there. He's still a Talon, still a crimefighter. You can count on that at least."

"I am no longer so certain," the Minister of Justice insists: "After that sorry spectacle he made of himself on New Years? And what dear Ciel found in what was supposed to be a cell?"

"Hey, if people weren't completely careful about watching what they carried over from the !@#$ B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G. when they hustled him out of there-" Mark starts to say, but then there's a red hand on his shoulder, and he's not so inclined to argue, anymore. 

"You are afraid of him," Ciel says, almost whispering in his ear: "Your Nephew is not what he once was. You know this, and it bothers you to hear him say the things he does. It bothers you to know that he is watching everything. And you are afraid he may abuse his powers-"

"Get out of my mind..." Mark hisses, trying to break free but failing.

"That's enough," Mr. USA says, stepping between the two of them and breaking her connection: "This man's a hero, !@#$ it. He deserves respect."

"We deserve the truth, Mssr President!" Minister Geraud intones, raising a fat finger as he makes his point: "And we will not have that truth by relying upon old friendships, or what we think we know. We must know for certain if this... Nthernaut can be trusted, either with SPYGOD or an entire city."

"So consider this a fact finding mission," the President says, putting a hand on Mr. USA's shoulders while looking at Mark, who's still getting back up: "And we'll tell you what we've decided, once we're out again."

"You can't just go in there like that..." Mark mumbles, allowing Mr. USA to prop him up: "Not like that. He won't like it..."

"Well, a hero should know his superiors, shouldn't he?" the Minister of Justice says as he waddles towards the entrance. 

"And besides, I thought we could trust him?" Henri asks, winking as his boss nods, gestures to Mr. USA to look after Mark, and heads into the building, too. 

"This is... crazy," Mark gasps, letting Mr USA bundle him over to a waiting bench: "What's going on...?"

"I don't know," Mr. USA admits, feeling !@#$ed helpless right now -- especially when he realizes who the man in the silvery suit actually is: "But he better be careful, Mark. They're not messing around."

"Does his mother know they're here?" Mark gasps, suddenly realizing what might be happening.  

And Mr. USA can only remain silent.

* * *

It's happening.
Yes, the Nthernaut says to his mysterious guest as he watches the president's procession on a long range, external camera.

(The ones on the platform -- all sensors, actually -- shorted out not long after the transport landed.)
You don't sound surprised.

Not really. I predicted there was an 84.4% chance of the visit occurring today.
And you know what to do. A statement, not a question.
I do, yes, the Nthernaut replies, concentrating for a second as he puts the needed internal appearances into place: This is actually rather fun.
Deceiving the President of the world? the presence asks, not without some humor.
Not that, exactly, the Nthernaut replies, using his internal long-range cameras to look at the man in question. How increasingly agitated he's becoming as they stomp down the seemingly-endless, high-tech hallways. How sad and angry his eyes are. 
How much he's aged in just two months.

What is it, then?
The conspiracy, he replies, smiling a little: Being able to lie, cheat, and sneak around for all the right reasons. It's liberating. I can see why you like it... why you liked it.

Well, don't get too used to it, the presence says: Once this is over, you're going to need to be on the straight and narrow, again. You think you can do that, Thomas?
Yes, the Nthernaut says, after a second's pause. He's just realized who else is with them.
Oh dear, he says, finally understanding why his internal cameras seem to be going on the fritz, just as the procession passes by them: I didn't expect him to show up.
I did, the presence says.
What? Then why didn't you tell me?
So you'd remember what it feels like to be cheated, before you fall too much in love with it.
Thomas scowls, somewhat shamed: That was mean. Mean and dangerous.
Potentially. But I think you'll be fine. You've faced worse than this. You will face even worse in the future.

So what's the point, then?

Well, let's just say you'll find this... educational.

Were you going to stay and observe?
I don't think so. It might be a bit temporally awkward if I do.
Very well.
Hey, the presence says: Chin up, kid. We're rooting for you. You'll do fine.
And then the presence is gone, and there's only the Nthernaut, alone in the electronic mind of Neo York City.
But not for long.

* * *
"Here we are, I think," Henri sighs as they approach an imposing pair of swinging, black doors at the end of a hallway.
"Perhaps we should have had that man guide us here," Geraud snorts, clearly tired from so much exertion: "I am certain we retraced our steps at least once."
"Three times," Eclat says, smiling subtly.
"It would have been nice to tell us," the President snaps.
"Sorry. I was maintaining my concentration," the fellow says, tapping his brow: "Not so necessary, now. I think he's fighting me less."
"Is that good or bad?" the President asks, pausing before the doors.
"I won't know for certain until I can speak with him," Ciel Rouge says, stepping forward to go into the room beyond: "Allow me?"
He does, and they all follow her into the room beyond -- dark walls lit by floor-to-ceiling screens, all flickering green and scrolling with data streams. There are no chairs or desks, here. Just an impression in the floor where the central dais lies at rest.
It does not rise as they approach.
"Thomas?" the President says, looking around: "I'm sorry to not have informed you we were coming, but-"
That would have altered the point of the exercise, he responds, his voice coming from several different directions at once: I understand.
"You do?"
Yes. I know why you're here and what we need to talk about. I would be very happy to do so. I think it would be a good thing to get these questions answered, so we can continue working together in harmony and trust.

"That's good," Ciel says, her voice as sweet as honey: "Could you come here and see us, please? We'd like to talk to you in person."
I'd like that, too. Unfortunately, one of you is wearing some kind of signal scrambler. It's making it difficult for me to materialize in there. Could you please dial it back a bit?
The President looks to Eclat, who nods, and closes his eyes. As he does, the room becomes brighter, and the dais rises from the floor.
As it reaches its maximum height, the Nthernaut appears, standing before it, his back to them all.
"Very well," he says, turning around and smiling: "How can I help you today, Mr. President?"

Which is when Geraud points something at him and presses a button, and Thomas falls down, screaming in shock and pain. 

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (The Cure, everything mix) and having a Smells Like a Safety Meeting IPA)

Friday, June 20, 2014

1/5/13 - METALMAID: Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt - pt 4

   ... some brown-haired guy that looks about as remarkable as a mud puddle.

"Et, voila!" The Violet Demon announces, waving a hand at the man as though he'd pulled a rabbit out of a hat: "Ladies and gentlemen, meet Francois Dinoart."

"Who?" METALMAID demands, glaring down at their captive. 

"Who?" most of the supervillains echo, as they've never see the man in their life.

"Wait a !@#$ing minute," The Angle says, taking a step forward and looking at the man: "Danny...?"

Francois sighs, and begins to roll something around in his mouth. But before he can the Violet Demon waves a purple, glowing hand on the left side of his head, and the man falls down unconscious, once more.

"Sorry about that," the masked villain says, looking up at METALMAID as he kneels down and puts his fingers into the man's mouth: "I figured he'd have a poison tooth to chew, I just wasn't sure when he'd do it."

"And how did you know that?" the Lord of Spiders asks.

"Direction Noir always sent their agents provocateur out with a failsafe, just in case they got made and couldn't get away," he explains, pulling out the still-intact poison tooth: "Not as good as two to the eyes, but not everyone has an N-Machine."

"What the !@#$ is Direction Noir?" the Angle asks, shaking his head: "I know this guy as Danny French. He was one of the Secessionist leaders at the Montana compound."

"Yes," the Violet Demon says, coming up and holding the tooth aloft for inspection: "And before that he was Freddie D. Arthur, supposedly-American staff at the French embassy in Washington D.C., but really in charge of keeping a number of our spy organizations under surveillance. Especially the CIA, which had a number of people in bed with the American Secessionist movement, and was very interested in strategic talents, seeing as how they couldn't stand the guy that ran the COMPANY..."

He looks around the room at all the blank stares, sighs, and -- after tossing the tooth into the punchbowl -- waves his hands and smiles: "Maybe I should start from the beginning?"

"It would probably be a !@#$ good idea," Chassis says.

"I think I'm going to need some aspirin," Red Thunder sighs, looking down at what's left of Green Thunder.

"Just hurry it up, will you?" the Emperor of Pain sighs: "I can't hold this for too much longer."

"Okay, then," the Violet Demon says, vaulting up to the stage, nodding to The Pusher, and turning around to address the crowd: "Those of you who don't know me? I'm the Violet Demon. The Scarlet Factotum can vouch for me, and I can certainly vouch for her-"

"How might that be?" the Lord of Spiders asks, putting a heavy foot down on their unconscious captive's head so he can't escape.

"Well, we almost worked together, once, and stayed in contact thereafter. We would have worked together more, but, well, you know how the song goes. 'We all have to duck / when the !@#$ hits the fan.'"

There's a couple laughs, there -- especially from the turned heroes -- and he smiles behind his mask.

"Glad you thought that was funny. What comes next is definitely not. And before I get started, can we just agree not to kill the messenger?"

"Anyone who touches you will answer to me," METALMAID announces, walking up to the stage and standing next to him. And there's something about the look that he gives her when she says that which makes her heart do more strange things, inside her.

"Well, okay then," he continues: "Long story short? You've all been played, and badly. You were all set up to fail by the Terre Unifee. They've been the hand behind the wheel on a lot of things that have happened, lately. The idea to get the Secessionists together with the former members of the Legion? Making inroads with you new folks? Getting everyone to strike on Christmas?

"Well, that was all them."

Booing, now. But METALMAID growls, and it stops very quickly.

"I'd really like an explanation on that," Husqvarna says, pointing a chainsaw at the stage: "What exactly was going on?"

"Well, I can give chapter and verse, but it'd take longer than we've got," the Violet Demon says, gesturing to the very-beleaguered Emperor of Pain, grimacing behind them on the stage: "The simple explanation goes like this:

"To start with, there was the CIA. Like I was saying earlier, there were a number of connections between them, the Legion, and the Secessionist Movement. It was all one big conspiracy of convenience, with each of them playing off the other to get what they wanted, and then being able to toss the trail down the trash."

"That's got to be bull!@#$," one of the new heroes snorts.

"No, it's not," Nefartiti offers "When I got into this !@#$ing gig? King Totenkhamen told me all about the history of the Legion. There was a !@#$ing lot of CIA involvement in there, especially during World War II. And they just kind of made it a thing, after that."

"King Totenkhamen?" The Sound asks as softly as he can.

"Don't ask," The Pusher replies, shaking his head: "It's a branding thing." 

"So, anyway," the Violet Demon continues: "The Legion went down, as most of you know. And then the CIA went down, after the Imago took over. I'm sure you watched the trials on TV?"

"Kill your TV, man," Groovy Nightmare giggles from the back of the room.

"Can't disagree with that! But even with the Legion and the CIA gone, you still had the Secessionist movement, only now it could do whatever it wanted and not have to answer to its handlers in the Company.

"But did you ever wonder why they seemed to be all wait and no action, right up until Christmas? Did you wonder how the main compound just folded like a house of cards when Le Compagnie showed up? Did you marvel at how efficiently most of your now-jailed colleagues were rounded up afterwards?"

There's some assent, and a few verbal question marks. On the other hand, Black Rider seems to be nodding so enthusiastically it's a wonder his head doesn't pop off.

"Well the Terre Unifee knew that they'd have to take the United States of America in to get the rest of the world to fall in line. The best way to do that was to show the American people just how weak and vulnerable they were on their own. And, as you all know by now, things were pretty sketchy out there, after the Reclamation War."

There's nodding on that. No one there didn't feel the pinch in some way, shape, or form.

"But they also needed to find a way to get the serious troublemakers and loudmouths out of the way. That would be the Secessionists, who were all butt-hurt now that the Imago were gone, and they had to be part of America again. I'm sure you talked with enough of them to know how angry they were at the thought of taking orders from France, of all places?"

More nodding and mumbles of agreement.

"So they decided to get rid of a few birds with the same stone. So they got the Secessionists to work with you lot to build their compound, up in Montana. And they got them to work with you new folks so they could run guns, money, and supplies back and forth. And then they planned for there to be one big attack, during which all the necks would be stuck out and ready for the axe.

"And, well, the axe was swung," he shrugs, holding his hands out: "And you all, here? You're most of what's left of that. They built you up just so they could knock you down, as proof to America's people that they're weak and in need of foreign assistance to maintain their security. And as America goes, so goes the world."

"Diabolical," the Lord of Spiders says: "I must remember to congratulate the head of the TU on such a masterstroke, just before I bite him."

There's laughter at that, and the Violet Demon grins behind his mask.

"Well, why not make that happen?" he asks, looking around: "Before we were so rudely interrupted by the Terre Unifee, masquerading as the Brotherhood of the Righteous, you heard the plan to deal with the TU-"

"We heard a part of a plan," the Black Rider squeaks: "I still don't like the idea that we don't know the whole thing going in-"

"If we did, and they captured your racist !@#$, you'd spoil it all for the rest of us," Husqvarna snorts: "I'm okay with limited intel. It's how things work in the real world."

"And I think we're all aware that, if we don't like the plan, it's sixty-to-five right now," Chassis points out, glaring at the five people on the stage.

"And come on, folks," the Violet Demon sighs theatrically: "Is there anyone here who doesn't want some !@#$ing payback on the TU at this point?"

There is no one, judging from the cheers.

"Then I think my work is done, here," he says, walking off the stage and heading back into the audience: "And I think the lady has the floor, again."

METALMAID tries not to smile too widely at that, and, within a short time, has them eating out of her hand.

* * *

"I think that went rather well," the Lord of Spiders says, later, as he and the Emperor of Pain stand outside the church doors, shaking red bits and pieces of the late Francois Dinoart off of their boots.

"I can't disagree," the old man says, lighting up a cigarette and offering one to his tarantula-faced colleague, who politely refuses.

"It's a good thing that young fellow interceded, though."

"What, this !@#$hole?" the Emperor asks, pointing to a rather large, red piece that's stuck under his heel.

"No, the young man in the purple mask."

"Yeah.. what's his name..."

"The Violet Demon."

"Yeah. Violet Demon," he says, taking a long drag: "Right."

"My goodness, man. You are rather out of it."

"Ah, you know how it is. A herd of elephants could have thundered through that church and I might not have remembered. I'd have come out of it and wondered who made the holes and left the pats."


"Yeah. Doing my thing for that long takes a lot out of me."

"It didn't used to."

"No, it always has," the Emperor admits: "I used to just be better at hiding it."


"Yeah. I mean, making everyone double over in pain? That's no problem. It's making it so that everyone who was with me wasn't in pain that's the hard part. And normally it's just me and a few folks, and not half a !@#$ basketball team."

"All these years and I never knew," the Lord chuckles: "But it does explain some things."

"Yeah, well," the old man shrugs: "I guess we all got our crosses to bear."

The Lord of Spiders nods, and finally accepts the offer of a cigarette: "I hate spiders."


"I hate spiders," the man admits, lighting up and taking care not to singe the tiny hairs on his face and hands: "I always have."

"You gotta be joking."

"I am not. There was an accident with one of my devices, early on. It transformed me into what I most feared. And while I have learned to use it to my advantage, and make myself the stronger for it, I still cannot look in a mirror. I can barely stand to look at myself."

"And you with eight eyes and all," the Emperor says, nodding.

"Quite the irony, yes?" the spider-faced man sighs.

"Well, hey, it could be worse."

"Really?" the Lord says, his voice re-acquiring its earlier edge, his eyes sliding to the Emperor in a not-so-friendly way.

"Yeah, I mean, at least a lot of people are scared of spiders. Imagine if you'd been terrified of something else?"

"Such as?" the man asks, turning to stare down the Emperor.

But then the doors open, and the Buzzard walks out, looking at the sheet of paper the Pusher gave him. The two men turn to look at him as he wanders away, as if in a daze, trying to pronounce his new, French name.

And as soon as he's in his buzzardmobile, they both break out laughing almost hard enough to burst, and keep laughing until he's well down the road.

"Your point... is taken," the Lord of Spiders finally gasps, clapping the Emperor on the shoulder.

"So, we're okay?" the Emperor asks after a time.

"I think so," the spider-faced man says, nodding: "On one condition."

"What's that."

"We remain firm in our oath to never say what happened that day at Doctor Morbo's Castle."

"Oh, don't worry about that," the Emperor of Pain says, remembering his conversation from earlier: "I think we're better off letting the legend speak for itself."
"Agreed," the Lord of Spiders says. And that's all that really needs saying on that point.
* * *
One by one, the rest of the people leave. They get into their cars and strange vehicles, their palanquins and giant monsters. They fly away on wings borrowed or created, or flit away as though they were no longer there.

And then do so knowing that something amazing has happened today, and they have been a part of it.

The rift between the old hands of the Legion and the new, turned heroes seems to be on the way to closing, now. People shake hands and laugh, no longer staring daggers at one another, much less contemplating their demise. There's a sense of cooperation and togetherness, replacing the mistrust and distaste from before.

(Someone even sort-of admits where a few of the missing people were disappeared to, on their way out.)

Was it the plan, itself, that turned their hearts around, and gave them hope? Was it the Violet Demon's explanations of how they'd all been played for suckers by their would-be rulers, and how this was the perfect chance to get back at them?

Or was it the final act, when METALMAID allowed all her people to take their rage out on their unfortunate captive, now lying in several small pieces on the floor?

Whether it was her ideas, his truth, or the bloody baptism that followed, none can say. All that is certain is that, at least for now, METALMAID has her army. Whether she can hold it or not is another matter, entirely, but that will be for the future to tell.

The Lord of Spiders and the Emperor of Pain shake hands for the first time in decades, and then the tarantula-faced man gets on top of the giant spider he hates, and causes it to lumber him out of town, to his waiting aircraft. After that, the Pusher and the Sound come to collect the Emperor, so as to drop him off at his new lair, and repay him for his excellent service, this day.
Finally, there's the belle of the ball, METALMAID. She leaves along with the Violet Demon, and is not at all shy about holding his hand as they walk away from the church, their feet still bloody from their object lesson.

Just before they get into their separate vehicles, he runs over to the church sign, and, using a few pulses of energy, burns the IST out of METHODIST. He seems to think it's hilarious, but she doesn't quite get it.

But never mind. He'll explain it later, along with a lot of other things. Bits and pieces of a life that she's only seen parts of, so far, but now wants more of. Tales of the road and the toil. The excitement and horror of being on the run for his life.

The joy of coming here, and being able to help in the way that he did. And the relief and the eternal happiness that she responded as she did.

They get into separate cars, yes, but they travel in the same direction. One gets the idea, watching them, that they'll be parking in the same place, tonight, too. These things have their own patterns and rhythms, after all.

The same story, told over and over again -- no matter how strange the actors or their circumstances. 

* * *

Not long after the two of them left, the Emperor of Pain finally relented, and the cloud of his namesake left Lebanon, Kansas along with them. 

Hardy hands were up first, tending to their own needs, and the needs of those they could see. After that, it was a matter of calling what passed for a local police force, and having them call the nearest emergency services to deal with the ones who couldn't rise just yet, or never would again. 

And there were far too many of those, this time. 

The authorities the survivors summoned would find clues, left behind. The defaced sign on the church, which no one understood. The bloody mess on the floor that used to be a French secret agent. Punch and pie they got from a Behemart in Phillipsburg, now poisoned with a fake tooth at the bottom. 

(A dead man dressed as a woman, stuffed into a trashcan by the restrooms)

Other than that, the room was frighteningly clean. No fingerprints or trace elements. No identifying markers of any kind. No videotape caught the revelers, no satellite tracked their paths in or out. 

It was as though they were evil ghosts, come to mock laws both moral and physical, and then go back the way they'd came. 

The local authorities didn't have the case for too long before the TU showed up, of course. A flying squad of people in bright uniforms appeared, not long after the church had been combed by the Sheriff and her officers. And as soon as they appeared, the information flow became one-way, and all cooperation ended. 

They were assured that justice would be done, of course, but that's what they always say. They got the idea that other, less kind things were said as well, but no one in town had much cause to speak French. 

So all they could do was care for the wounded, count the dead, and pick up the pieces as best they could. Life would go on, here in the center of America.  They would not let this beat them down or knock them out.

They were survivors, here in Lebanon. And now they had another, stranger tale to tell.

(METALMAID is listening to Das Model (Rammstein) and having... well, you can guess)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

1/5/13 - METALMAID: Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt - pt 3

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," the black-masked man says, stepping into the center of the room: "I hope I am interrupting?"

"I think this was a private meeting?" the Pusher says, hoping to keep his client -- shaking with almost-literal red-hot rage -- from doing the obvious thing.

"I'm sure it was, Pusher. But, as I think you all know, the Brotherhood of the Righteous can go where it likes, and do what it needs to?"

"The who?" Red Thunder asks, cocking an eyebrow, along with most of the turned, new heroes.

"Ah, you youngsters," the Angle says, and there's a lot of mocking laughter at that. It seems the black-masked man is joining them in it, but when he holds up his hand they all fall silent.

"Yes, it does seem as though there's a bit of a lack of knowledge, here," the interloper continues: "But that can be corrected, perhaps when we're done here."

"You are done, here," METALMAID hisses, one of her laser cannons sliding out of her arm and firing at him.

The beam slices through the air and strikes him, dead-center, but nothing happens. The beam is diffused across his chest.

"Would you care to try again?" he asks: "I think my shields are worthy of your worst, such as they are..."

"Sound?" she yells, but he's nowhere to be seen. People laugh. 

"Emperor of Pain?" she shrieks: "Turn this man's guts to jelly!"

"Scarlet, I can't," the old man sighs: "I'm already locked into the town-"

"And even if he did let go, and could single me out, regaining control over the town might be more than he could handle, at his age," the black-masked man says, waving his hands dismissively: "I don't think you're all in the mood to deal with over two hundred angry townspeople, this morning, are you?"

"I think we could," Green Thunder snorts: "I also think you're interrupting the lady. I'll admit she comes across as something of !@#$, but, after all that, I think some of us wanted to hear what she had to say."

"Well... Green Thunder, is it?" the man says, walking up to him and patting him on the shoulder: "I think you want to hear what I have to say, first, before you sign on with a failure. And I think you'll want to know more about how and why she failed before you follow her intowhat's going to be, at best, a fool's errand. At worst, it might be your end.

"And I think the older guard here who know who and what I am would agree with me on that point."

Green Thunder's about to say something, but then sees that the people here he doesn't know are nodding, and then shuts his mouth.

"Alright then," the man says, walking away and pointing at METALMAID: "If we're done trying to use weapons that won't work, let's introduce you. The real you. Scarlet Factotum, isn't it? Head of Scarletworks?"

"Yes," she says through gritted teeth, knowing where this is going.

"Last seen working alongside the late Doctor Kyklops, when he tried to take over the world from the Imago, correct?"


"Now, maybe you'd care to tell us how well that worked?" the black-masked man asks, most likely grinning like the Devil behind his mask.

"Not very well," she admits: "But I would remind you that I was, at best, his weapons supplier. The tactical decisions were his-"

"You were a great deal more than that, I think," the fellow says, holding up his hand and pointing at the hologram of the Terre Unifee's headquarters, in Paris. There's a bright light, a loud SQUARRRK, and then the image has changed.

And it's the image of a couple months ago, as METALMAID berates the good Doctor into pushing forward his plans for world conquest, during one of their more degrading bouts of sex.

"I'm telling you, now," she said, then, doing something that should be anatomically impossible to him: "You follow my plans, you will win! We have the tools, we have the soldiers! We have everything! We just need you to be a man and say yes!"

"Yes!" the man shrieks in pain, pleasure, and sheer abandon: "Yes, a million times yes! Just please do not stop..."

There's some laughter, then, from the audience she's assembled -- laughter both mocking and cruel. A few gasps and some coughing.

"That dirty old buzzard," the Lord of Spiders laughs.

"Hey," the man dressed like a buzzard, back by the punchbowl, protests, however quietly.

"We'd had the Doctor's castle in Sardinia bugged for ages," the black-masked man says, letting the tape run on silent, now: "It was part of our old insurance plan, which he purchased back in the early 70's. He probably forgot all about it. And I'm sure that he also forgot that, upon the death of the policy holder, all footage becomes part of the Brotherhood's historical archive."

"It was a business transaction," METALMAID insists: "How was I supposed to maintain my standard of living if he wouldn't keep buying things from me? I have my overhead to consider-"

"You need to be quiet, now," the man says, holding up a hand: "And the rest of you need to listen, very carefully, to what I am about to say.

"Those of you who know of who we are, and what we can do? You know that whatever you might owe this failed world-conqueror for getting you out of your current circumstances is paltry peanuts compared to what you still owe us. And those of you who don't know us, yet? You just consider why these people who've been at it longer than you have are being quiet and listening-"

"Probably because you've got the goods on them, too," Green Thunder snorts: "You going to show off their sex tapes if they speak up, bagface?"

If it was possible for the room to get any quieter, it would have.

The man in the black mask looks at Green Thunder, and just nods. A second later the hero-turned-villain grimaces, and reaches his hands up to his head.

And then he falls down to his knees, his nose leaking necrotic sludge onto his chin and chest. He gets time to gasp out "help," and then he's on the floor, dead, his blackened brains leaking from his ears, nose, and mouth. 

Red Thunder shrieks and steps back, and a number of the other, turned heroes gasp and join her. Someone throws up. The Black Rider just laughs.

"As you can see, I don't have to resort to simple blackmail," the black-masked man says, waving a hand at his deeds: "We can kill you, anywhere and anytime. It just takes a touch, that's all. And if you anger us, or we feel you've become a risk? Your brains will rot in your skull and tumble out, useless and unreadable."

"That's one !@#$ of a sales pitch," one of the other new villains says: "I think we're listening."

"Good," the black-masked man says: "Now, here' the situation as we see it. Some time ago, it looked as though business as usual was over. The massive game of superspies and supervillains that had held sway was being eliminated. The opening salvo was the Outland of 2012, when SPYGOD blew the place up, killing a lot of good bad people, and putting us on notice that business as usual was over.

"Now, by the time the next Outland was scheduled, the world was in different hands. And I'm sure some of you remember that we tried to have another one? But the Imago had different ideas, as some of you also know.

"However, now things have changed again. Now the Terre Unifee is in charge of things. Now we have an organization that, frankly, has none of the drive or smarts of the previous attempts at global law enforcement or peacekeeping. For all their power and reach, they're unfocused. Too dependent on their super powers. Too uncertain of what's actually happening in their client states.

"And that means that, as of now, the situation we had before all this mess started? It's about to come around again."

There's some nods at that, some realization. A couple coughs of disbelief, however quiet.

"After all, the man who started the pendulum swinging the other way? SPYGOD? He's in jail, right now. He's shortly to be on trial for crimes against humanity. He saves this world, and they're going to put him to death for getting his hands dirty doing it? There's your law and order for you..."

More snorts and some black laughter. He's clearly got the floor, now.

"Now, here's what I am proposing," the man says, pointing at METALMAID: "Her route? Well, even if she does get this plan of hers off the ground, which I doubt, given her track record? It means that that you'll be parts of the machine that runs the world.

"And right now? That world is a mess.

"You've seen it, you know it. The media won't tell you the whole truth about the problems they're having making sure everyone's got food, shelter, and essential services. And they sure don't want to talk about a much larger problem that's on its way, here. But the bottom line is that, if we break it, we're going to buy it.

"Quite literally, in fact."

"Such is a danger of any conquest," the Lord of Spiders interjects: "If you would be king, you must tend your kingdom."

"True, but let's talk sense," the black-masked man says: "Why rule when you can subvert? Why press the coins when you can just steal them? Why control it all when you can control your own little corner?

"I mean, do any of you really want to take over the world?" he asks, gesturing around to one and all assembled there: "Really? To never know sleep, or rest, or security? To never be able to just close your eyes and say 'good night'? To always be worried that some new crisis will test you? That some new disaster will befall you?

"That some other new blood, with a fire for conquest in his heart, won't try to take it over, or take you out?"

He lets his words die down, then, looking around from face to face: "Heavy is the head that wears the crown, my friends. Why seek to take it, when you can just have the benefits that come from having a foolish and malleable king on the throne? And believe you me, the Terre Unifee is extremely foolish and very malleable, right now."

"And you should know, all things considered," the Violet Demon says, putting his hands on the back of the man's suit jacket.

"Excuse me," the fellow says, but before he can do anything his entire person is suffused with a muted, purple glow. Sparks and smoke shoot out of his pockets and buttons, and the embarrassing tape loop of METALMAID getting it on with her late "employer" gives way to the view of Paris, once more.

"Sorry," the Violet Demon says, kicking the man in the crotch from behind for good measure: "That was getting !@#$ing depressing."

"You idiot!' Chassis shouts as the man goes to his knees, howling: "You've doomed us all! That's the-"

"Brotherhood of the Righteous?" the Violet Demon says, stepping forward and grabbing the masked man's head in his hands: "Well, I'm sure that's what they'd like you to think. But they're gone and done with, folks. Finished."

"What do you mean?" the Pusher asks, clearly uncertain what's going on, here.

"After the last Outland? The Imago didn't just bust down the party. They hunted them down and destroyed almost all of them. That's why us older villains haven't been getting our newsletters, lately."

"You gotta be !@#$ing kidding me," Nefartiti says: "The Brotherhood's gone? How could they just be gone?"

"Those aliens could be !@#$ thorough when they wanted to," the Angle admits.

"Very thorough," the Violet Demon says: "And you can thank your lucky stars that one of their people was good enough to dispose of most of their files before they followed them up the pipe, or a lot of you would have been gone, right along with them. I just barely survived an assassination attempt, myself, right before the Reclamation War. It's only now that I've been able to show my handsome face again... such as it is."

He smiles behind his mask and tips a wink to METALMAID, who feels her metal heart do something strange, yet not unwelcome.

"But, then, who is this?" the Lord of Spiders asks, gesturing to the man on the floor: "How did he know to come here? How did he do these things that only a member of the Brotherhood could do?"

"Well, that's a long story," the Violet Demon says: "And I don't want to take too much time away from our gracious hostess, especially since I crashed the party, too, once I learned this jerk was going to be making an appearance."

"And just how did you know that?" the Black Riders squeaks.

"That's part of the long story. But, with our host's permission? I think once I pull this mask off, a lot of things are going to make a lot of sense. What's more, they're going to light a big fire under your !@#$es to want some payback against the TU."

"By all means," METALMAID says, stepping down from the stage and striding up to where the man kneels: "Let's see this flesh germ's face, Violet Demon. And as for your story, you can take as much time as you'd like."

"Good to hear," he says, and pulls the mask right off to reveal...

(METALMAID is listening to The Model (Kraftwerk, 2010 remix) and having yet more punch and pie)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

1/5/13 - METALMAID: Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt - pt 2

"Good morning," METALMAID says, doing her best to smile, and not laugh at the wide variety of human germs on display in front of her: "I'd thank you for coming here, today. But the truth is that you should all be thanking me."

There's a moment of silence, and then some coughing and harrumphing, along with a "what the !@#$?" or two.

"I mean, look at the lot of you," she says, striding a step or two forward: "Half of you were in jail when I found you, and had you broken out. The other half were scattered and hiding, lurking in secret lairs it only took me a few tries to find. Masquerading as mental patients. Genuinely homeless, some of you."

"Is this the motivational part of the speech?" someone asks from the back, to a little laughter, here and there.

"You!" METALMAID shouts, pointing a finger at the mouthy !@#$: "The Angle, isn't it? I found you in a Superslam, awaiting trial for your part in that debacle in Montana, didn't I? How was that working out for you?"

No answer to that, so she smiles -- leers, really -- and goes on: "Green Thunder? Were you liking the hospitality of the New York Department of Corrections? Were the rest of your friends that were arrested, on Christmas?"

"The ones that aren't here," he says, pointedly.

"Exactly," she says, waving a hand over the crowd: "If you're here, it's because you've got something more going for you that simple villainy, world-conquering tendencies, or principled opposition to the current regime. You're here because I have need of your skills, your talents. You're here because you !@#$ing owe me for getting you out of whatever !@#$holes I rescued you from.

"You're here because we have, at last, a real shot at taking the world."

A few cough. A few chuckle. But most remain silent, some even nodding.

"It's as simple as this," she says, a hologram of the globe appearing on the stage, its focus zeroing in on Paris: "The Terre Unifee is, at this moment in time, the de facto rulers of the world. They have made the many countries of the globe an offer they quite literally cannot refuse. They either join, and gain the benefits of a unified global economy, or they are treated as rogue states, and blockaded until their leaders either change their mind, or are toppled."

"I think I saw that on the news," Doctor Playgood snorts, playing with one of his massive toy soldiers: "Boooooring."

"I'm sure you did," METALMAID says, trying to ignore the insult: "But while this structure has a lot going for it, it remains a case study of overconfidence and overextending-"

"I wouldn't call them overconfident," the Lord of Spiders interjects, his face a roiling mass of hairy spiders' legs: "They quite handily stamped on that sorry attempt at secession-"

"We were undercut, mister!" a squeaky-voiced man in black, motorcycle leathers argues: "We would have risen above if we hadn't been betrayed-"

"You're more correct than you know, Black Rider," METALMAID informs the impertinent fellow: "But we'll get to that later. Lord of Spiders, given your unique history, I'm sure you know better than anyone that a battle is not a war. They succeeded in one battle. The campaign goes on."

The spider-faced would-be world-conqueror nods and, with a respectful nod (and a wave of a hand with too many digits) allows her to continue.

"The TU has made a central mistake, and that is, ironically, also what makes them strong. They've come to rely on the supers they stockpiled and hid during the Imago Invasion for everything. They've got one man to teleport food from Europe to Africa. They've got one woman to watch the skies over South America."

"And they've got an army of those !@#$ers to stomp on anyone who gets out of hand," the woman made of a white car sighs.

"Agreed, Chassis. But we'll get to them in time," METALMAID continues: "Now, should something go wrong with that man, or that woman, or anyone else in their infrastructure, they do have back-ups and emergency plans. No one ever accused them of being stupid."

Some laughter, there. Most of it good. Some not.

"But the quick subtraction of one or more of those plans, via the assassination or suborning of one of the people who provide the power for those plans? That would completely destroy their efficacy. And should more than one of their supply trains go down at once, well, I'm sure you can see the possibilities."

"Starving sambos in Africa," Black Rider says: "Big deal."

"Watch it, you racist !@#$er," the man with chainsaws for hands snarls: "My girlfriends are black-"

"Race traitor!" the man spits, only to grin as the chainsaws roar into action and the man starts to run towards him.

"Husqvarna!" The Sound shouts from the stage: "We talked about this! No killing the super-racists!"

There's some laughter at that, and the aggrieved super villain sighs, nods, and turns his hands off, giving the Black Rider the stinkeye as he does.

"As I was saying," METALMAID says, tamping down the urge to kill them both -- to kill everyone here, plan or not: "They are overconfident in their abilities to do what they have said they will do. But they are also overextended. Should one thing too many go wrong, they will have to scramble to fix the problem. And that's where their other massive problem comes in-"

"They're all French," a familiar voice comes from the back of the room -- one that makes her heart catch, for just a second.

The Violet Demon stands there -- both uninvited and unexpected -- and she thinks he's smiling behind his mask.

"Yes," she says, catching herself before she falls out of her prepared sales pitch, not sure what do to, or how to take this, after everything that's happened: "Exactly."

"What the !@#$ does that have to do with anything?" Red Thunder asks, still hanging on Green Thunder.

"It means that they don't trust anyone else to run the world for them," the Violet Demon says, taking a step forward: "All their local bosses? French. All their regional administrators? French. All their talent handlers? French. Most of their talents? French."

"And most of them are all in France," METALMAID says, deciding she's glad he's here: "Which means their commands are all running through one central mainframe."

"And, more importantly," the Violent Demon says, raising a finger: "They have no idea what's going on in the areas they're running. They're relying on remote operators and reports, but we all know that's not the whole truth, don't we?"

"So, where does this all come together?" Doctor Playgood asks, adjusting his tin soldier a bit more: "I'm seeing parts but no instructions?"

"It comes together like this," METALMAID announces: "Every single one of you, here, has a talent that, applied in a certain way, can mimic or replace one of the talents that they have come to rely upon. So all we have to do is get you into their talent pool, remove the current workers, and then, once enough of you are in place, we can spring our trap."

She smiles. Some smile with her. A few don't.

"What's the trap?" Chassis asks.

"That... must wait for later," METALMAID says: "In time, it will become known. But right now it's enough to know that, in a few short months, we could blackmail the entire world, right out from under the Terre Unifee's noses. And they will be in no position to stop us."

"Is that the trap?" Green Thunder asks.

"I said we could, not that we would," METALMAID sighs.

"You did also say 'they will be in no position to stop us.'" The Lord of Spiders admits.

"Would be," METALMAID says, wondering if they could do without a few people: "I meant would be."

"Jesus, do we need any !@#$ing grammar nazis?" a man dressed like a buzzard asks, pouring himself another thing of punch. 

"I think it's a magnificent idea," the Violet Demon says, taking another step forward: "But I'm curious how it would be accomplished. Most of the people here have records as long as their arms... no offense, Husqvarna."

"None taken," he says, to some laughter.

"How can you fix it so they can get into the talent pool with the TU?" the Violet Demon asks, almost as if on cue.

"I'm glad you asked that," The Pusher says, taking a step around the globe: "Now, some of you may know me. Some of you are clients of mine. I won't say who's who, of course, but I'm sure you can all agree, I know my business, I come across with the goods, and I'm good with my word?"

There's some nodding at that, quickly stopped for obvious reasons.

"Well, here's the plan," he says: "I am willing to give each and every one of you a new identity, complete with falsified DNA tags, fingerprints, and retinal patterns, where applicable. Some of you will be getting new powers to augment what you already have. Some of you will be coached on how to alter or convert your power sets to match what we need, and disguise what you already have."

"You have to be !@#$ing !@#$ing me," a woman dressed like an Egyptian Pharaoh snorts: "This ain't !@#$ing Star Trek, pal."

"Shut the !@#$ up, Nefartiti" an iron angel snarls, thwacking her behind the ear so hard the lady's eyes almost pop out of her skull: "This guy's legit."

"And what's the fine print?" Doctor Playgood asks, looking up from his almost-fixed tin man: "There's always fine print. Batteries not included. Some assembly required."

"The fine print is that, when the full part of the plan happens, you follow my orders explicitly and exactly," METALMAID says: "No questions, no debate. We act as one, move as one, and win as one."

"And if we decide we don't want to?" the Black Rider snorts.

"Then you die," METALMAID says: "There's no backing out at that point."

"Can we leave now?" the Angle asks.

"Yes," METALMAID says, smiling and gesturing to the door: "Any of you can go. Just remember that, as I said earlier? You owe me. And if you won't pay me back today, by being part of this plan? I'll collect later. And you may not like it."

There's some silence, then, along with a couple nods of assent and a few harrumphs. There's also some muttering that she realizes she'll have to deal with, sooner rather than later.

And then, just as she's about to speak, another uninvited guest appears. He's a tall fellow, wearing a neat, pressed suit in muted colors, and a black, featureless mask.

And as soon as he opens his mouth, she realizes he's here to ruin everything. 

(METALMAID is listening to The Model (Kraftwerk) and having more punch and pie)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

1/5/13 - METALMAID: Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt - pt 1

In the north of Kansas -- nearly bisecting the state, and almost close enough to blow a kiss at the border of Nebraska -- there's a small town called Lebanon.

It's not much to look at, really. Less than 250 people, living in a small grid formed by six main streets and surrounded by farmers' fields. No heavy industry, no major chains.

Not even a !@#$ McDonalds.

Its one real claim to fame is that it's the closest actual habitation to what has been declared the geographic center of the contiguous United States of America. (As opposed to the one that includes Alaska and Hawaii, down in South Dakota). It's even got a plaque to prove it.

Every so often some weirdo romantic on a far-fling road trip will come by to see it. They'll stop for a time and take pictures, and maybe get a coke from someplace in town on the way back. But more often than not, they just drive on by.

After all, Lebanon, Kansas may be the literal heart of America, but if you can't gas up or get a !@#$ Big Mac there, then who wants to know?

Which made it doubly weird when, right about 6 AM this morning, the entire town was taken over by supercriminals.

It was quick, almost surgical. One moment everyone was going about their Saturday mornings -- chores for some, television for others, sleeping in for the lucky few -- and then every single man, woman, and child fell down writhing in intense, skin-crawling pain.

The kind of agony that keeps you nailed to the floor, and won't let you so much as cry out or call for help.

Most of its victims blacked out immediately -- unconsciousness their only salvation. But some stayed strong and tried to stay awake, for all the good it did them. And, in return for their pains, they got to watch as a weird procession began to arrive in the center of town

The sort of parade no one ever wants to see, all of them heading for the Methodist Church.

There were strange rides with stranger riders. Darkly-themed vehicles disgorged men and women in costumes that matched the motif of their cars and vans, while others pulled up in curiously nondescript things that may have been stolen a state or two ago. A hideous man with a face like a tarantula stood athwart a giant spider, while another fellow garbed in a clown's motley was carried upon a palanquin, itself borne by a legion of wind-up, lifesize toy soldiers.

They made sure to park quite some distance from one another, and to enter the church at different times.

There were those that flew in, held aloft on billowing wings or jet packs, or maybe just their own, innate powers. Black, iron angels and fliers with their capes. Some who appeared from nowhere, and some who might have walked or shambled from halfway across the country.

There was even a one who made herself whole and entire from one of the locals' cars -- the beat-up, white Ford turning into a reasonable (if overly large) facsimile of a human woman.

Anyone with a sense of history would have recognized some of those individuals, either in old newspapers or recent television reports. At the very least, their sinister costumes and nonconformist get-ups should have told those hardy souls that these were people up to no good.

But, by that point, most of the stricken had collapsed into blissful unconsciousness. So they didn't have a hope in hell of hearing what took place there, or seeing what came after. And maybe, when all was said and done, that was definitely for the best.

For when supervillains gather to parley, the best course of action is to be still and silent, like a stone. 

* * *

In the main part of the church stands a wide selection of the mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

They're a singular lot, this congregation. Some of them wear old costumes, some new. Some look like they just escaped from prison, or got out of a hospital (medical or mental, maybe both). Others seem to be wearing plainclothes, though not without some kind of small sign that they aren't quite normal.

(And some are just incapable of wearing anything at all.)

Faced with such a collection of the off-kilter, the natural instinct is to buddy up. Some of them seek out old friends or colleagues, or at least people that seem less strange or dangerous, or maybe of a similar kind of danger. Some remain apart and aloof, perhaps wondering if there's some catch, here.

And for all they know, they may be right.

After a time, a larger, unintended reunion of sorts takes place within the meeting. It starts with two thunders recognizing each other out of uniform (Red and Green respectively), and then hugging and laughing, perhaps a little tenderly, given their recent injuries. After that, more of the turned heroes begin to come forward, figuring out who they must all be, either in plainclothes or their new disguises. The knot of traitors and oathbreakers begins to take over the floor from the honest thieves, murderers, and would-be world rulers.

And that's when the humor in the room turns a little sharp.

Territory is staked out and held as factions start to form. The line for punch and cookies gets outright dangerous. Someone vanishes on the way to the ladies', with a list of suspects too long to be practical.

And people really begin to wonder what the !@#$ they're all doing there, today.

Sure, they got invitations. Sure, they know this is supposed to be an important meeting of people in their unique lines of work. Sure, they got busted out of jail, or woken up from comas, or whatever, by the overly-talkative guy in the shimmering costume.

(Is he really called The Sound? What kind of a !@#$ dumb name is that? And who is he, anyway?)

But past that, they have no idea. This could be a sales pitch or a setup -- a massive opportunity or an equally-massive trap. Risk or reward, life or death.

Or maybe both at once.

So they talk to friends, colleagues, and allies old and new, warily eying one another while waiting for the heavy, green curtain on the other end of the main room to part, and this story to truly unfold.

Hopefully it will be worth whatever complications ensue if an answer isn't quickly provided.

* * *

"Is that arachnid-faced !@#$ here, yet?" the old man wrapped in a voluminous, blood-red robe asks, his features a warped, glowing knot behind a simple, black domino mask.

"Yes, he is," a blonde man in a sharp, black suit and muted, green tie says, looking out at the 'congregation' through a hole in the heavy curtain separating the stage from the main area of worship.

"God, I hate that !@#$er," the old man sighs: "The last time the Lord of Spiders and I were in the same room, all hell broke loose."

"I've heard," the man in the suit says, adjusting his tie: "There's always some old fogey at Outland who wants to tell the story when they do an unofficial, group history panel."

"I bet they never tell you who threw the first punch, though?'

"No, they don't," the man says, smiling: "And I'd prefer it if you didn't tell me."

"Really?" the old man asks, looking a little confused.

"The legends are always better than the truth," he explains: "That's what I tell my clients, anyway. But that's... well, neither here nor there."

"Go on, please."

"Well, let's put it this way," the Pusher says, turning to look at the old man as he strains to keep everyone in town who isn't with them out of the picture: "Say you want to go into our line of work? Chances are good you're some boring person with dreams too big for your abilities.

"Now, people like you, Lord of Spiders, some of the other folks here? They have powers, or maybe they found a way to create them with gadgets and things they stole from high tech labs. But most people who think this is the way they want to go, career-wise? They don't have those things, or access to them.

"Back in the day, they'd have gone into being henchmen. I'm sure you remember the type? They always did what you told them, but you had the idea they'd steal your tricks if you have them half the chance?"

"I do indeed," the old man says: "Had to put a number of them under, in fact."

"Exactly. But this is a whole new era. It's all about independent operators, now. No huge armies of goons dressed alike. Just one person with his or her own thing, maybe a sidekick or an apprentice, or even a partner. But other than that, well... good luck getting into that gig."

"So there's people like you to sell them their powers," the old man says.

"Exactly," the Pusher says, raising a finger: "And when I do, I tell them to never say they bought it from me. Never admit they had to fork over a few hundred grand to get where they were. Always tell people the greatest story they could ever think of. Heck, for a few extra benjamins, I'll even help them write it.

"And that's because the legend is always better than the truth. Truth is inconvenient and messy. Sometimes just plain boring.

"And if you wanted boring, you'd still be working at the big box grocery store, wishing you could fly into the bank branch you walk by every day and take it for all it's got."

The old man laughs, and then cuts his mirth short so as to avoid losing his concentration: "You're a card, Pusher. I like you."

"Thank you, sir," the Pusher says, genuinely honored to get something approaching a complement out of the Emperor of Pain, himself.

A man in a weird, shimmering costume walks through the curtain as though it isn't there, and coughs into his fist: "Hey, is she ready to go, yet? The natives are getting kind of !@#$ing restless."

"She's still making herself presentable," the Pusher says: "But if you want to interrupt her, well..."

"Eh, I don't think so," The Sound says, holding up his hands: "Just saying. We got some really !@#$ volatile folks out there. That idiot super-racist with the squeaky voice is getting on everyone's nerves, and the !@#$hole with chainsaws for hands is just looking for an excuse-"

"And so am I," the woman in question says, stomping out from where she's been hiding, her glare harsh enough to silence a hurricane.

She's freakishly ugly, this woman, and wearing a gauzy, practically see-through crimson dress that would look a lot better on an insane, drug-addled transvestite hooker, or a pop starlet. A lop-sided, white plastic crown of a hat is perched above her strange, black hairdo, and her feet are practically strangled in weird, spangly high-heels that make her even taller than she is.

And on her chest, the mark of the Scarlet Factotum

"How much longer can you hold this town?" METALMAID asks The Emperor of Pain without looking at him.

"As long as you need, my dear," the old man says.

"But in terms of practicality, we probably have an hour before someone drives by and wonders what's going on," the Pusher adds.

"And maybe fifteen minutes before there's blood on the floor,"  The Sound says.

"Well, let's not leave them waiting for another," the Slaughterbot says, looking at herself in a handheld mirror one last time: "Are we all clear on what we're doing?"

"Hey, trust us, Scarlet," the Pusher says, smiling and adjusting his tie, yet again: "We got this tied up with a bow."

"I don't like trusting you human germs," she admits, putting her mirror away without looking at the man: "But... I will admit, you have come through quite a bit. All of you."

"Then let's do this before I lose control of my !@#$ bowels," the Emperor of Pain grumbles: "I never remember not to do this on full colon...."

"Alright then," she says: "Sound? Get our {quote}guest{endquote}-"

"Scarlet?" the Pusher gently interrupts: "Ix-nay on the quotes, remember? It throws people off."

"Right," she sighs: "Sound? Get our guest ready. And we'll... get this show on the road. Right?"

"Right," the Sound says, disappearing through the back wall as the Pusher gets ready to throw open the curtain.

And then there's just the audience beyond, all hushed into silence by the sight of their hostess.

She looks at them, smiles as the Pusher has taught her, and begins to speak

(METALMAID is listening to Das Model (Kraftwerk) and having some punch and pie)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

1/4/13 - Lone Rangers and Strangers - Pt 3

Alright, son, hand me back the !@#$ pipe. Any more shisha and your lungs are going to !@#$ing explode.

Best way to finish a meal, really. Sit out under the !@#$ stars, pass the water pipe back and forth, talk and argue and laugh until it's time to go to !@#$ing bed. Or stay up until dawn, and the first call to prayer.

Of course, we can't go outside, and you know why. Best we can do is sit here, by the !@#$ window, and try and see the stars past all those !@#$ers down there burning me in !@#$ing effigy. But still, we got the night, and the pipe, and enough !@#$ing beer to see those sorry !@#$ers off, down there.

(I might even piss out the !@#$ window and put their fires out, just for old times' sake)

I was Muslim, I could see myself doing this every !@#$ night, son. Minus the !@#$ beer and combat urination, maybe. But sleep? It's !@#$ing overrated. It's a minor death, giving up six to eight !@#$ing hours of every !@#$ day, just to keep your body running fit.

Which means you spend at least a third of your !@#$ing life useless, doing nothing but dreaming. And since we don't usually !@#$ing remember our dreams, well... I guess it's not very useful time, now is it?

So you can only imagine what poor Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir must have !@#$ing felt like, sitting in a !@#$ing jail cell for about 30 !@#$ing years. Just staring at the walls and imagining that !@#$ Unseen Emperor, coming closer to the Earth every !@#$ing time we passed by the spot he left the Earth from. Knowing that, each year, there was a big !@#$ chance the nightmare he tried to !@#$ing warn us about might come true.

And knowing that, by the time they came down there to !@#$ing get him out of that jail cell, it might already be too !@#$ing late.

Now, I have to admit it, they had a nice !@#$ setup at Le Fosse de L'enfer,. That jail cell was designed to keep just about anyone inside of it. The walls were made from the same reactive steel they use at places like The Z, down in Gitmo. They had power suppressors on the staff, all kinds of !@#$ing traps and tricks. Even a whole passageway based on Zeno's Paradox, just to make sure if there was a !@#$ing jailbreak, their convicts weren't going to get very !@#$ far.

(Same tech the COMPANY based our !@#$ Zeno Pistols on, in case you were !@#$ing wondering.)

But how did he get there in the first place? Well, there's more to this !@#$ing story, son. And now we really ought to !@#$ing get there.

Because I am on something of a time crunch, here.

So we'd established that Faraj is back, and, as you can !@#$ing imagine, Morocco's not !@#$ing happy to have this seemingly-insane, fairly-powerful person back and shrieking warning and come-ons to people in the !@#$ street. You could also imagine that el Wedjat and HAGANAH are !@#$ing embarrassed.

(Me? Im having a quiet laugh and wondering if this guy wants a !@#$ing drink, sometime.)

Meanwhile, the Space Service isn't !@#$ing happy, either, but for an entirely different reasons.

See, they've been collecting and analyzing some of the things that have been coming through that hole in space, and they can't !@#$ing figure them out. But they know enough to know that there's some serious !@#$ on the other side.

And if one naked guy in his 70's can make it down to Earth in a !@#$ing drop pod, well, what's to stop these virus soldiers from descending, infecting a whole !@#$ing city, and going out from there?

This spells "potential panic," son. And as my lovely boyfriend will tell you, there's nothing the Space Service hates more than a potential panic caused by extraterrestrials, dimension-hoppers, or weird !@#$ that slides into our reality, takes a dump on a bunch of !@#$ing cows, and then evaporates before anyone can take a !@#$ picture.

So the Space Service sends a delegation to ask Morocco to lock him the !@#$ up. Just bury his !@#$ before word gets out that we're facing a microscopic invasion from Edgar Rice Burroughs land.

And in return, they're prepared to let Morocco know who exactly ruined their space program.

Now, this is what we call a sucker's prize, son. Because once Morocco tosses this superman into Le Fosse de L'enfer, and the Space Service makes with the goods, Morocco's sitting on a piece of info that is simply not actionable. Because, with the current geopolitical situation, there is nothing that Morocco can !@#$ing do to Israel, either over or under the table.

Not a god!@#$ thing. At all.

Of course, HAGANAH isn't happy to be sold out like that. But there's nothing they can do because, hey, this is the Space Service we're talking about. And since they were already on HAGANAH's !@#$ list, with no repercussions, well...  I guess Israel's need for outer space protection's greater than not being !@#$ing named for what it did to a North African astronaut.

Now, you might realize I said HAGANAH. So far as Morocco knows, el Wedjat was not involved. This was deliberate. And that's because the Space Service realizes that it !@#$ing needs el Wedjat to undo whatever the !@#$ its sorcerer actually did when it got rid of Israel's problem for it.

Why? Well, son, the Space Service is !@#$ing amazing, they sure as !@#$ can't do anything when it comes to big !@#$ portals to Dimension WTF, other than plant a geostationary defense platform there, set to "fry the !@#$ out of anything that comes through," and refuel it every year when Earth makes another !@#$ flyby, now can it?

And yes, son, that's exactly what they did. And yes, son, it !@#$ing worked. But they were smart enough to realize that an automated gun buoy couldn't do !@#$ against a full-on invasion.

So the Space Service let el Wedjat off the !@#$ hook. And they let them know they let them off the !@#$ hook. And, in return, el Wedjat ginned up its sorcerer and told him to !@#$ing reverse engineer the spell, and close it with a counterspell when the hole in space came by, again.

(On an unfortunate note, the sorcerer blew up like a !@#$ing mosquito in a bug zapper when he did it. Magic sucks !@#$, son. Stick with guns and explosives if you !@#$ing know what's good for you.)

So yeah, that's that problem taken care of. The hole's closed, Morocco's been maneuvered into a checkmate with Israel by the Space Service, which is their way of saying "!@#$ you" to all involved, and the kinky weirdo is locked up to avoid a big !@#$ panic, not to mention the mother of all gang!@#$s.

All well and good, but then the decades roll on, as they tend to, and now we need that kinky weirdo, again.

See, in wake of the !@#$ Imago, we're !@#$ing powerless against the thing that's coming. Something the Imago were !@#$ing terrified of, too, come to think of it.

And it turns out that, at a time like this, the best person we have to deal with a big !@#$ space monster that can't be defended against by conventional means is the man we've had locked up in a prison in Morocco for about 30 !@#$ing years. He's the only one who can rally the whole !@#$ planet in time.

The man all these hands worked to throw in !@#$ing prison is now the exact same man we need in charge of bolstering the world's orbital defenses.

So the all-new, reformed Space Service has to swallow its pride, go to the Terre Unifee, and go to Le Fosse De L'enfer and get him the !@#$ out. And there's not a !@#$ thing Morocco can do about it, because they're tied up with the TU, just like everyone else. And there's not a !@#$ thing Israel can say about it, because they're gone, after what the Imago did to them.

But what about El Wedjat?

Well, now they owe me a big !@#$ favor, son. And that's because, now that the !@#$ing person who they tried to nuke while in orbit is in charge of the Space Service, and the TU is pulling their strings, the last thing they want in the world is for someone to !@#$ing lean into Faraj's ear, and tell him exactly who arranged for him to be blown into the Viridian Sea in the first place.

(Not that he doesn't already know that, son. But they don't know he knows. And that's how we're !@#$ing keeping it.)

So, in exchange for my silence, I got them to do me a solid, son. Just a little thing, of course. Not a lot to look at.

!@#$, you almost bumped into it, earlier tonight, and just thought it was... well, what it looks like.

But that little thing's already paid its weight in dividends, son. A plan is forming, and wheels are in motion, and I have the !@#$ing tools to make it happen.

And I owe it all to a bunch of now-deceased Super Nazi scientists, the Moroccan Air Force, and two Israeli superspy outfits that couldn't get along.

That's how the favor game works, son. Like I said, you need a !@#$ good memory and a notebook the size of !@#$ing Montana to keep track of who owes what to whom, and when, how, and why. But if you can stay on top of it, you'll rule the roost every !@#$ time.

That's right, son. You just remember that.

And you just remember, when I'm not locked up here anymore? You have Morocco to thank for that. I might even go there, just for old time's sake, and hoist a beer with Faraj.

More shisha? 

(SPYGOD is listening to Contact (Daft Punk, Aerodynamic remix) and having even more Flag Especiale)