Sunday, September 28, 2014

1/9/13 - Repas Rouge (Les Trois Grands)

In the heart of Paris, a massive ziggurat of glass and steel squats over the landscape -- shining in the noonday sun like a drawn sword held on high.

It's called the Palace, and it is the headquarters of the Terre Unifee -- the world's new government. It is also the home of Le Compagnie, the first truly international team of superheroes, all doing the bidding of the TU around the globe and beyond, and keeping it together in this time of turmoil and chaos.

They say one could not exist without the other. Perhaps they do not know how true that is.

The ziggurat is as tall, wide, and incredibly imposing as the government that it houses. A flagpole for every nation in the world is perched on the thick, silver balustrades that ring its many, lushly-gardened terraces. Every day the flags are moved up a space, so that each one has its day in the sun.

And as of today, with the long-awaited joining of Australia and New Zealand -- among the last of the major holdouts -- those poles are just about full.

Up at the very top tier of the ziggurat, there's a ceremony going on to commemorate that joining. The President of the TU, himself, is there, along with his Cabinet, any number of journalists and dignitaries, and two of the three most powerful beings Le Compagnie has to call upon.

Ciel Rouge stands to one side of the ceremonial platform, smiling as sharp as steel as the President speaks of unity, equality, and brotherhood. Tempete Bleu floats just behind it, his arms crossed in what might be satisfaction, or command. Theoretically, Foudre Blanc would be glowering on the other side of the platform, but he doesn't do days -- and is rather busy -- so they've gotten Australia's own Brave Dreaming to stand there, instead.

(He doesn't look happy to be there, but then Aborigines are hard to read, sometimes.)

 "... and, with that, I am incredibly pleased and honored to welcome our new friends to our new world," the President says, smiling as he gestures to the Prime Ministers on the platform with him. Each one, in turn, stands up, and holds out a large, folded flag of their nation.

On cue, Tempete Bleu smiles, floats down to take the flag from each man, and then flies off to find two empty holes in the arrays of flagpoles. Australia's currently on the bottom, between Ashmore Island and Austria, and New Zealand's around the top, between New Caledonia and Nicaragua. Within seconds, both flags are fluttering in the winds along with their peers, and a great cheer goes up to perfectly blue sky.

After that, there's applause, photographs, and mingling. The President clearly has a million things to go and do, and it shows, but he takes the time to spend a few moments with the men he's just symbolically emasculated on live television.

"I'm glad to have you with us, finally, Fred," he says to the President of Australia -- a large-faced, sweaty man with glasses too small for his face -- as he shakes his hand.

"I'm glad to be here, sir," the man replies, maybe a little too quickly: "Anything we can do, you know you can call upon us."

"The same goes for us, sir," his New Zealand counterpart offers, all but stuffing his own hands into their handshake: "We're at your disposal. Anytime."

"Of course," the President says, more than a little disturbed at how overly-fawning both men are being. But he doesn't show it until he's at least four steps away, and no longer in the view of any cameras.

Which is when he lets his face bear the weight it's recently earned, and, after being all but surrounded by his overly-armed executive security guards, leaves the tier to attend to the many duties that await him.

Ciel Rouge watches him leave, feeling genuinely sorry for the man. But before she can think too heavily about his personal tragedies, she realizes that her blue counterpart has sneaked up behind her.

"Tonight, then?" Tempete Bleu whispers in her ear, smiling.

"Yes," she says, smiling up at him: "I thought perhaps nine, to make things easier for our white friend. That's not too late for you, is it?"

"Why would it be?"

"Your nutritional requirements still puzzle me," she replies, her smile suddenly having a little more bite to it.

"I think I can wait a few hours for a good meal with my friends," he responds, his smile suddenly absent from his face: "The usual dining room, then?"

"Don't be late," she teases, but he's already floated away -- off to talk to the Prime Ministers, now that the cameras are being ushered off the tier.

Over in the corner, Brave Dreaming stands, looking up and tangling a finger through his wispy, black beard. At first, she thinks he's being stand-offish, but as she walks over she realizes he's looking for something, up there.

"A good day for your people, then?" she asks, coming perhaps a little closer to him than she should.

"Hmm," he grunts, still looking up and not at her.

"I mean to say that, under the Constitution of the Terre Unifee, your people's rights are finally guaranteed by law," she explains: "And I'm sure we'll be able to arrange for reparations and positive action for the many outrages you've suffered, especially towards your women, just as we've done for indigenous peoples all over the world."

He turns to her, then, and just smiles: "You think that matters, red lady?"

"Well, I'd think so-"

"The dead are gone, red lady," he says: "Children are gone to town. Oilfields and black roads come in exchange. Air is bad, sea is filthy, everywhere trash and spoiled."

"We can help with that."

"Maybe you come around when the whitefellas come to our land, back in the day? Maybe then you help. Now, all you can offer is money. Money don't buy our lives back."

"No, but it does make things better, now," she says, crossing her arms and trying to smile: "And isn't that what you'd want for your people?"

"I'd settle for breathing, maybe soon," the man says, gesturing up at the sky: "Bad dreaming is coming, red lady. Maybe you throw money at it, make it better?"

With that, he sidesteps her, and walks away, slow and sure. As he approaches the men he came with, she notices that Tempete Bleu notices him coming closer, and abruptly breaks off the conversation he'd been having with them.

A conversation those two Prime Ministers did not appear to be enjoying...

* * *

"C’est des conneries," the older, heavily-armed guard says to the younger one, looking down the long, dark hall that has all the cells.

"What's conneries?" the younger asks, thinking he knows where this is going.

"All these people we're guarding. All these terrorists. Not a single one guilty."

"How do you know, Emile? They sound guilty to me."

"Not when they first come in, they're not," the older one snorts, wishing they could smoke down here: "They're all soft boys and girls, moaning through broken teeth and wanting a doctor. Not a bad bone in their bodies, just shock and hurt, maybe some anger, too, depending."

"No one's good after he deals with them."

"Yes, exactly. But once she's spoken to them? They turn right around. Suddenly they're snarling monsters, ready to blow themselves up for their God."

"You're insane."

"I am not. I know you don't care, Isaac. I know that to you this is just a paycheck. But I tell you, something is going on, here. And that red putain is to blame."

The younger guard shrugs, not really caring about the fates of a bunch of Beurs. Especially just before their lunch hour.

They work for the Police Nationale, the two of them. Their job is to guard the Islamic terrorists that their more-mobile brethren bring in for questioning on a near-daily basis. Mostly it's easy work, given that so many of them are in such bad shape when they arrive, thanks to the work of Foudre Blanc and those like him.

But every so often it gets a little interesting -- especially where their chief interrogator's concerned...

There's a loud clip-clop of nice shoes, suddenly coming down the hallway. The two men stand at attention, looking as ready for action as they can.

Coming towards them is an imposing, matronly figure, dressed in a white uniform, with her voluminous hair up in an old style. She's accompanied by a meat-faced man in armor that outranks the two of them.

"Bonjour, Mssrs," the nurse says to the two of them: "I understand we had three new arrivals, last night?"

"We did, yes, Nurse Corisande," the younger guard says: "I'm not certain when they came in. The previous shift wasn't too specific."

"And they have not seen anyone before now?"

"I am not certain-"

"Be certain, you little Merde!" the Capitane shouts at him: "Search what little memory you have!"

"No one has seen them yet, no," the older man says: "I remember this, now."

"And I'm sure you'd say anything to save your little friend," the man says, glowering at him.

"He's telling the truth, Maximillien," the nurse says, patting the larger man on the shoulder: "So how about I go make sure the three of them are alright, and you can have a quiet word with these two?"

The large man smiles and begins to smack his well-padded fist into his palm, and she clip-clops down the hall to the latest acquisitions, smiling as she goes.

It is not a kind smile at all. It's wide and thin-lipped, going all the way back to her ears. And as she comes closer to the three cells in question her eyes go from being a muted brown to a red-lined, bilious green.

With snakelike slits for pupils.

Nurse Marie Corisande (AKA Mary Changer, once known in England as Madame Slithertongue) looks into the nearest cell. On the bunk there's a sorry wreck of a man, lying in his own waste and blood. His right arm is badly broken, his left hand is crushed, and his face is a mass of red bruises -- eyes are so badly swollen shut it's a wonder he knows she's there.

"Help me, please," Samir says: "I just got caught up in all this-"

"You will stop thinking about your injuries," she hisses softly, the tongue of a snake licking out between her thin lips: "You will feel no pain from them. They will not exist to you. You will sit there and be quiet and obedient, and you will do what you are told. And you will feel the guilt of everything they have accused you of being and doing."

"Oui, Madame," Samir says, all hesitation and pain gone from his voice as he obeys her commands.

She goes on to the next cell, where Zaid lies on his bunk -- still insensate from the brutal beating he took. This one she silently wills to stay asleep, and his body obeys.

She'll work on his guilt later, when he's awake.

After that there's just Abdullah, who's just now barely awake. She's about to ascertain how badly off he is, when she hears that meat-faced Capitaine clomping down the hall towards her.

"Those two are idiots," he says, shaking his head as he approaches: "I'm in the middle of dressing them down for their incompetence, and the new guy decides he's going to try and slide his nose up my con by telling me of his partner's suspicions!"

"What might they be?" the nurse asks without turning around -- changing her face back to human and wondering if she'll have to kill this one, too.

"That our wonderful Ciel Rouge, who interrogates all these negros after you make sure they're up to it, is somehow forcing them to admit to things they did not, in fact, do," he says, laughing at the absurdity of it all: "Can you believe such a tale? As if that delightful woman had a mean bone in her body!"

"What a silly thing to think," Nurse Corisande says, laughing: "Well, perhaps you should reassign them to something less likely to require them to keep time?"

"I think I will," he says, roughly smacking her on the bottom as he goes past: "Let's discuss that tonight, shall we?"

"I'll need to be here for their examination before their interrogation, though?"

"Not tonight, my lovely," the Capitaine grins, snaking an arm around her neck: "It turns out the lovely Ciel Rouge has requested the night off. Business with Les Trois Grands, I am told. So we don't have to deal with these stupid beurs until tomorrow, do we?"

"No, we don't," she says, looking up at him and smiling: "So we will go back to your place and decide how we're going to kill those two guards."

"Yes," he says, smiling. And, with that, the two of them go back up the hallway, leaving Abdullah -- who was only faking being wholly asleep, as opposed to merely fading in and out from the pain -- to wonder what in the name of Allah he just heard.

It all sounded like hissing to him...

* * *

"So," Foudre Blanc asks, pushing the half-eaten plate if excellent food away from him: "You said we had business to discuss. Something we three must see to?"

"I was wondering about that, yes," Tempete Bleu remarks, pouring himself some more wine, and then offering some to Ciel Rouge, who politely declines.

"Not too much to start talking about it during dinner, I see."

"Meals are for good things, my friend," the blue-clad hero says with a smile as he puts the wine goblet to his lips: "Business is best discussed over dessert."

"Not for me," the man scowls behind his false face, hating the way he has to fake eating with these people.

The dining room is the one they usually employ for such meetings. It's small and cozy, decorated as though someone time-lifted it from the palace at Versailles during its hey-day. And, as it's tended by small, golden cherubs that have the memories of mayflies, they can say anything they want and not have to worry about the help overhearing. 

Which, given the things that bring the three of them together, is a chief concern.

"Well, you're right to be anxious," Ciel Rouge replies, putting her hands together: "We have a severe problem in America."

"SPYGOD?" Tempete Bleu sniffs, having some more wine: "He is a neutered dog in a sad little house."

"But the dog has dangerous friends," she replies: "And I believe... I know, that one of the more powerful of them is going to try and help him escape."

"The computer program that runs Neo York City," Foudre Blanc says, tapping the table by his plate: "The Nthernaut."

"You told him?" Tempete Bleu asks, not happy at this.

"I surmised as much," the white knight smiles: "If you'd pay attention to these things, so would you."

"I am not certain what he's planning, but it's deeply-laid and well-considered," she says, holding up a hand before the other two can fall to arguing, again: "It's also almost certainly in motion at this moment."

"So we turn him off?" the blue-clad hero shrugs: "How difficult is that? We have many who can do this. Eclat-"

"He knows to expect him, now. And I'm not confident our systems can take over the city once he's gone."

"Is that a concern?" Foudre Blanc asks.

"What, the entire city of Neo York grinding to a halt?" Ciel Rouge asks: "No lights, no water, no emergency services? Millions of people, cut off from help?"

"That answers that question," the blue hero snorts: "If you asked me, I'd say let the Americans drown for an hour or two-"

"We're not asking you," the white knight interrupts, tapping the table some more: "And I think we can do it."

"Do what?"

"Take over the city from it," he explains: "The device you used, I presume it wasn't strong enough to handle the entire thing?"

"No," Ciel says, glad she's got him on her side in this: "It held it for a time, but not as well as it should. And the transition period between having him in charge and moving our own people in to take over, especially if they're going to have to come in after we shut him off... I shudder to think what will happen to those people."

"Then we build a better one," Foudre Blanc says: "Have the blueprints for the previous attempt sent to me, along with all the data they gathered. I will have a better one made within a week."

"Rather assured of that, are we?" Tempete Bleu says: "Do you have a magician in your employ?"

"Several," the white knight smiles, winking at Ciel Rouge. And he notices, with some satisfaction, that when she smiles their dining companion's face falls by an equal and opposite amount.

* * *

"You know, I could get used to this," Maximillien says as he licks human blood from the floor of his large apartment's kitchen -- naked except for a ridiculous pair of pink panties a size too small for him.

"You'll get used to anything I want, dear," Madame Slithertongue sneers, sliding past him as she turns to regard the body of the younger guard from this morning. He's laid out on a very large block of wood, naked except for his uniform cap, and ready for the chop. She's also naked except for a rubber apron, specially made for this kind of work.

And she's quite ready to do the chopping. 

The older guard is already long dead and in pieces -- limbs and ribs stacked over the sink to drain before being placed into the refrigerator, offal cooling in a bucket to be made into sausage. She's not crazy about keeping her meat cold, but given how rarely she can arrange a real, proper meal, it's a small price to pay.

It used to be she'd have just ingested these people whole, digested them over the course of a few days, and been fine for a month or so. Sadly, her new work schedule doesn't permit that sort of thing, so she has to make do with smaller, more frequent meals.

Thankfully, the TU is full of disposable idiots, and the people who broke her out of prison to work for them apparently aren't too concerned to see them quit in the middle of their shifts. They also aren't too curious about what happens to them after that, it would seem.

And so long as she has the latest Capitaine of the cells on her side, there's no reason for them to suspect anything's awry -- especially now that he's developed a taste for this sort of meal.

"So where's our third?" her slave asks between long licks of the old guard's blood: "That tasty little trollop we passed on the way?"

"I told her to take a shower first," she sighs: "I don't feel like eating whatever she had inside of her, too."

"Right," the man said, going back to licking like a dog. She sighed again, wondering why she acceded to this gros con's more lecherous requests. But then, long-term slaves obeyed better if she gave them a little something to keep them occupied while she was running them around, as opposed to the ones she dealt with for but a short time. 

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Feminine, from the sounds of things. 

"Go wrap up and get your putain," she commanded, not bothering to force him. It's not like she really needed to.

And when he was done with her, he probably wouldn't need to be forced to help her dispose of the tart, either...

* * *

"So, what do you think of the President's plan?" Ciel Rouge asked Foudre Blanc as they strolled around a private terrace, just off from the private dining room.

"To put the man on trial seconds after he neutralizes the Nthernaut?" the white knight repeats: "I like it. It makes sense. My only worry is..."


"That he might have anticipated that as well," he replies, looking out at the city beyond the balustrade and wishing he was in it, now, putting a boot to its backside.

"You think he suspects?"

"I think he could not have gotten to where he's been without having several plans, and being aware that his enemies have them as well."

"The President said as much."

"So are we the plan, or just one of them?" Foudre Blanc asks, smiling a little under his helmet.

"I'm not certain, yet," she says, leaning against a pillar and looking at him.

Tempete Bleu was gone. He'd left some time after dinner, once they'd discussed what they needed to talk about. Something about things he had to do, places to go, somewhere far and away.

So it was just the two of them, which was how she liked it.

"Once he's gone, there will be an immense vacuum," Foudre Blanc says, leaning on the railing and wishing she wouldn't look at him like that: "Every plot and plan he had in place will come crashing down around him. There will be chaos and disaster, and many people will find themselves working at cross purposes all over the world. It may be decades before it all gets straightened out."

"So you don't think we should be too hasty to try him?"

"Oh no," he says: "You know I want to see justice done, and so do you. But we need to be ready for the consequences."

"I think we are."

"Is the President?" he asks, rather pointedly, as he no more trusts the negro to do the right thing any further than he could throw him without his armor.

"He and SPYGOD share a strange bond," she says, crossing her arms: "It's a very curious thing. They hate each other, and yet have a level of respect. They've been through so much together, over the years. So much tragedy and danger, and all those times that SPYGOD saved him from a fate worse than death..."

"And yet, here he is, wanting him thrown into the Sun."

"Yes," Ciel Rouge says: "Losing a daughter will do that."

"He's lost more than that, hasn't he?"

She sighs, remembering the last time she went to the Executive Mansion on business. The coldness in the air. The way his wife left the room when he walked into it, without even saying a word.

The way his surviving daughter cried in her room, alone and afraid...

"He has, yes," she admits: "Something I trust we can keep between ourselves and not share with our friend?"

"I thought you hated lies?"

"I do, but I hate what he might do with the truth even more."

"You don't trust him."

"I don't like what I see when I look in his eyes."

"Then why don't you ask him to tell you the truth?" Foudre Blanc asks, taking a few steps closer to her: "About himself? His origins?"

"He's not ready to talk about that, I don't think," she says, putting a hand on the man's shoulder: "Not like we've talked, you and I. About your life, and how you want to make the world a better place. A safer place, where justice and equality are a way of life, and crime and violence a sick aberration."

He smiles at her, still amazed the salope can't read him -- swallowing all his lies as easily as a drink...

"Mon Dieu," he quietly begs as he crawls on his hands and knees, trying to get away from the burning wreckage of his car.

But he's moving, at least. That's a good thing. His parents always taught him that if he could move, he could do anything.

And maybe he can still save his fiancee, Sabine...

"We'll get there, one day," he says, putting his hand on her shoulder as he regurgitates the merde she loves to hear: "You, me, and him. The finest in the world, in a world as fine as we can make it."

She smiles, then -- that little smile that means she'd like to kiss him, but knows she cannot.

And he feels sick to his stomach and wants to scream and yell and punch her in the face and kick her in the knees and break bones and burst organs and snap her spine and crash her forehead into her brain and fling her broken body off the parapet and be done with it...

But he just smiles back, as though he wanted the same thing that she did.

* * *

After Foudre Blanc leaves, and it's just her on that parapet, she has a strange compulsion. 

She teleports down to the cells below the Police Nationale, where the most recent prisoners are waiting for her to interrogate them. She'd have taken care of them tonight, except for the dinner and strategy session. 

The guards are where they should be, and appropriately startled when she appears beyond them. They weren't counting on her being here this late, but thankfully they weren't up to anything untoward, unlike that one time she came down here to find someone's bachelor party going on, complete with hookers, booze, and an adult film being played on someone's phone. 

She finds the three new ones easily enough. There's Samir, sitting straight up and staring at the wall as though he doesn't care, his anger at having been caught plain upon his features. There's Zaid, who clearly needs some medical attention, what with a homemade toilet wrapped around his head, and is lucky to be dreaming of anything at all.

And then there's Abdullah, who's in and out of consciousness.

Something is strange, here. She doesn't feel the sort of things she normally feels from these kinds of prisoners about him. She feels fear from him, and not the sort that comes from getting caught with stacks of terrorist literature and all the things you need to make a bomb...

She scowls, wondering what's going on here. But if she woke him up now, he'd still need to see a doctor, and that would just get in the way of things.

No. She'll let him get a night's sleep. And then, tomorrow, once the doctor's had a look at him, she'll discover why this terrorist has the dreams of an innocent man.

(SPYGOD is listening to Back to Cruelty (Marquis de Sade) and having a Grimbergen Rouge)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

1/8/13 - Nuit Blanche (Les Trois Grands)

It's approaching dusk in Clichy-Sous-Bois, and Abdullah Ismail is sitting on a bench by himself -- warming his hands with his breath, watching people go back and forth and wondering when his cousin is going to show up.

It's going to be a cold night, tonight, and the roads are still covered in snow. The rest of Paris has been dutifully plowed, either by super-swift men and women with shovels or more traditional means, but no one's bothered here. You'd think the police that patrol this area in droves would insist upon driving on well-cleaned streets, but apparently the Terre Unifee doesn't care if its guards are inconvenienced along with the people they're guarding.

People like Abdullah, his cousin, and every other Beur in this Commune.

A car drives by, slowly, and for a moment Abdullah wonders if it's an undercover patrol. But no, it's just Samir -- here at last.

"Merde!" the skinny rail of a man swears as he gets out of the car, which he doesn't bother to lock: "These streets! When are they going to plow?"

"Here? Never," Abdullah says, giving the man a familial hug and a kiss on either cheek: "They won't even send an engine for a fire..."

"Unless they know we didn't set it," Samir finishes the joke, which really isn't one: "Come on, let's get off the streets."

"We've got to walk a ways," Abdullah replies, gesturing down the street.

"What?" his cousin whines: "In this weather?"

"Couldn't be sure you weren't followed."

"So they can't follow us now?"

Abdullah sighs, wondering again why he brought his cousin into the deal, and gently half-shoves him down the street, towards the crime that awaits them.

* * *

Elsewhere, in a much nicer area of town, there's a large, black desk in a massive, darkened room -- overlooking the lit-up spectacle that is Paris at night.

The room is what one might call well-appointed, if one wanted to be modest. There's richly-filled bookshelves along all walls but one, and long, luxurious couches in its center. Lovely, Grecian busts sit under glass on plinths, here and there, and the tables between the couches are chased with gold and onyx.

At the far end of the room , just before the wide, tall window, is that desk. Stark and smooth -- with all functionality either hidden from view, or placed on the side where its owner is sitting -- it's clearly been designed to make the person on the other end feel small and inconsequential.

Which is just how its owner wants his people to feel. 

He's impeccably dressed, this watcher in the darkness. A white, silk shirt that breathes so well he hardly knows he has it on, black leather shoes handmade to his specifications, and a green, silk tie that costs almost as much as a truly splendid night on the town.

He's also imposing in his own right -- tall, lean, and well-muscled. His expertly-coiffed hair is full and dark. His eyes are a shade of blue so light it almost looks like ice. And they look at the world designer glasses made to show them off as much as possible. 

And that would be because, from those eyes down, his face is a mass of horrible scars and burns -- transforming his once-handsome visage into something akin to an abstract painting. His nose is a hollow ruin, his ears are gone, and his lips are pulled back from his teeth, fixing his mouth in a gruesome, skeletal rictus.

He could be the saddest man in the world, and yet still look like he's laughing at it.

He sits in the quiet and watches the city -- his city, he would say -- as it comes alive in the night. From up here, in his company's tower, he can hear the cars and the noise, the sirens and the cries. He can imagine the source of each noise, and often does.

He never imagines them to be anything good.

He sips a drink from a crystal tumbler, careful to not dribble it onto his shirt and tie. It's not alcohol, though he always tells others that it is. It's actually a very sophisticated energy drink, made from ingredients so high-tech and secret that he'd have to have his research heads shot if they divulged its secrets.

He doesn't drink, anymore. He doesn't like how it makes him feel. How it makes him remember...

... the car burning behind him, though he can't feel the heat. The city burning around him, though he can't hear it scream. 

He crawls on his hands and knees, no longer able to feel the pain that wrapped him up when his world exploded into fire.

And with each inch -- each thick, dragging, painless inch -- he comes closer and closer to the woman lying in the street...

...Msr. Roquer?" a voice interrupts.

"Oui, Matilde?" he replies, not turning to regard his intercom.

"Your chef has just informed me that he's on his way up in your private elevator, so I'm leaving for the night."

"Merci, Matilde," he says, allowing the hollow ghost of a smile to drift over his ruined features: "Drive safe, and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Merci, Msr. Roquer," she says: "Might I ask what's on the menu, tonight?"

"Something Middle Eastern, I think," he says, no longer smiling.

* * *

"Well, are you sure you weren't followed?" Samir asks as the two of them head up the stinking, scorched concrete stairs to their friends' sorry apartment.

"I'm positive," Abdullah says, really not liking the insinuation.

"It's just that there's cops everywhere, these days. All those super-police-"

"I know, Samir."

"And some of them can read minds!" Samir says as they leave the stairwell for the equally-stinking and scorched landing: "Can you believe it?"

"Some of them can probably hear you complain halfway across town, too, you fool," Abdullah hisses: "Ta gueule! It's not like we're breaking the law."

"Well, we are..."

Abdullah sighs, wishing to God that his cousin would learn to be brave, or that he might be blessed with the power to let him go back in time and stop himself from recruiting him for the group.

Still, he was right -- they were breaking the law. This apartment building, which had burned back in 2005, was listed as "condemned." It should have been knocked down a long time ago, but, as it was in the Beur part of Paris, where the riots had started from, the authorities were in no hurry to deal with it. They hadn't even shut off the electricity, though the water had been turned off long ago.

Plus, it meant less housing in "Muslim" areas, forcing the people who lived there to go out into the city and "integrate," even if it meant trying to fit in where they clearly were not wanted. 

But even in such conditions, no one wanted to live in a place like this. And that made it perfect for their purposes.

Which involved even more law-breaking, at least in the eyes of some. 

* * *

The private elevator takes its time getting up to this room, which gives him more than enough time to finish his drink. Once that's done, he rises from the chair, and quickly strips his clothing off, putting it all into the excellent, one-of-a-kind leather satchel he brings to work. 

Then he saunters, nude, over to the left side of the room, across from the door that leads in. By that wall is a particular plinth, with a small, recessed area just under the lip of the glass dome. He reaches under it and finds a subtle button, which he presses -- causing a length of bookshelf to slide up into the ceiling, revealing a hidden elevator door.

A few moments later, the nearly-silent elevator arrives. The door opens without a chime, and with barely a sound, revealing what's really in there. 

It's not a chef -- that's just a story he cooked up, so to speak. Each night, after a certain time, a randomized countdown begins, at the end of which his "chef" calls up to his secretary to announce he's on his way. And once she's on her way down, the elevator rises up, bringing Bruno M. Roquer -- scion of the wealthy Roquer dynasty, and owner and operator of Industries Roquer -- the tools he needs to spend his evening.

The lights come on in the elevator, revealing a skintight, white body sleeve that covers everything, including his head and face. He slides it on, making certain it's as snug as possible, and then gets inside the elevator -- pressing a big, green button as he does. Then he carefully places his feet in their designated spots, and holds his arms out from his body just so.

The moment the doors close, the air begins to crackle with energy. Strange, electromagnetic forces swirl around him, and a legion of tiny, white pieces of armor fly from hidden recesses in the elevator's walls, attaching themselves to specific points on the body sleeve. 

Within seconds, Bruno is covered in a sliding network of armor plate -- one that moves as freely as the body sleeve, itself, but can absorb blows from lead pipes, deflect knives and bullets, and even provide some protection against concussive blasts. 

More layers of armor slide onto that network, adding more protection to vital areas and making the suit look even more imposing. A belt ringed with strange, sophisticated circuitry loops around his waist, causing the larger plates of armor to light up, ever so slightly.

At last, there's just the head to deal with. A highly-detailed mask of a man's face -- complete with false eyes -- attaches itself to the sleeve, giving him a normal appearance, once again. And then another group of armor plates slides over that, creating a sallet-style helmet that leaves only the eyes visible.  

A helmet with an encircled lightning bolt on its forehead. 

He grips his hands into fists, and unclenches them. Sparks crackle between his fingers. He looks around the elevator, and then reaches out to touch one of the exposed electrical outlets.

There's a crackle of lightning, and then a roll of thunder, and Foudre Blanc -- member of Les Trois Grands -- is gone.

Out on the hunt. 

* * *

Abdullah Mohammed Ismail was a founding member of Le Front de L'Espoir, an organization standing up for French citizens of North African descent, commonly known as Beurs. Ever since the riots of 2005, the media, politicians, legal system, and -- worst of all -- the media of France had decided that French Muslims were an enemy within. And they'd all gone out of their way to compete for the title of top scapegoater.

When the Imago showed up, last year, Abdullah had finally thought things had turned around for the better. But that was wishful thinking, as everything the aliens had told them had been lies piled upon lies. At least they hadn't suffered the same fate as impoverished Muslims in other countries -- children enslaved by death machines, adults put to work on their spaceship -- but in the end it was clear they were no more protected than anyone else.

Worse still, when the smoke had cleared, and the Terre Unifee stood in charge of France, and then the whole world? The same hatred and prejudice came back to haunt the Beurs. It was just more obvious, now, given the rhetorical proclivities of the people who made up the TU.

And this time, the bigots in power had superheroes on their side. 

So The Hope Front had gotten back together, and begun recruiting for what looked like a long campaign of passive resistance, marching, and speaking out against injustices. And while it was good to have people like Samir along for the ride, his insistence that they might get jumped by the police at any time was becoming really !@#$ing annoying.

Even if he was right to be worried.

Abdullah stands in front of Zaid's door and knocks. Today's code is "All You Need is Love," so he raps Duh Duh-Duh Duh Duh, and waits for Zaid to reply with Duh Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh.

And waits.

And waits.

At some point, Samir looks at Abdullah with that look. The one that says this is not good. Abdullah can't disagree, but holds up a finger. One more minute.

(Maybe Zaid's using that ridiculous but functional water-free commode he'd invented.)

That minute comes and goes. Samir taps his watch and looks like he needs to use the commode. Abdullah nods, but then, just as he's about to lead them out of there, thinks he hears something inside.

Something that sounds like someone moving slowly, as if in pain.

So he puts his hand on the doorknob, and then turns it. It's open.


"C’est des conneries!" Samir whispers, gesturing to the way they'd come: "Let's get out of here!"

"Not until I'm sure he's okay!" Abdullah whispers back: "You go if you want to. Come back when your testicules come back to you!"

And then Abdullah's inside the door, and all Samir can do is shake, look back and forth, and -- after hissing "Putain!" -- follow him inside. 

* * *

The darkened apartment's a mess, but then it always is. 

Zaid bragged that he decorated for ten, and, given how many barely-functional pieces of furniture he'd dragged in here from less-destroyed apartments, he wasn't joking. The place is a maze of mismatched couches, chairs, tables, and other such things. Front literature is stacked on every table, along with the things they needed to do their marches: bullhorns, banners, flashlights, disposable cameras... the usual.

"Something smells funny," Samir notes, putting his well-honed nose to work: "Like... metal? Oil?"

"Can't smell a thing," Abdullah sighs, cursing the cold he'd been developing: "Zaid? You here?"

No response. Abdullah points to the kitchen, and, after taking a deep breath, goes further back into the hallway, where Zaid tends to sleep.

"No, really," Samir says, back from the kitchen: "It's like an electrical fire or something..."

Abdullah isn't listening though, as he's found Zaid. He's in the bedroom, which is lit only by lights from the mostly-drawn windows outside. And he's lying in a mile of debris.

Not moving.

He kneels down to check, and is relieved that his friend is still breathing. He's just unconscious, and has clearly been beaten into that state. It looks like that homemade commode of his was smashed over his head. 

"Merde," Abdullah sighs, wondering who could have done this. 

And then he turns around, and sees what's on the bed. 

Weapons. Lots of them. Assault rifles, from the looks of things. Ammunition. 

And beside them, a stack of literature, written in Arabic. Abdullah sees the name at the top, and then gasps, realizing something has gone terribly wrong, here.

"Oh Allah, no," he prays, trying to rouse Zaid from his state: "Get up, man. We have to go. We have to go-"

But there's a loud BOOM of Thunder from up the hall, just then. He hears Samir scream over that noise, somehow, and then start making other, more painful noises.

Abdullah decides to leave Zaid. He can't help Samir, either. All he can do is get out of this place, get to the others, and tell them what's happened, here. Warn them of what's coming. 

But no sooner does he rise up to smash his way out of the window -- hoping to God the fire escape can still support his weight -- than someone's right beside him.

Someone who moves as quick as lightning from the sky.

"Bonjour, négro," the man in white, glowing armor hisses, just as he begins to rain punches and kicks down on a man who, up until just now, took pride in being a theoretical pacifist...

* * *

It's an hour later, and it seems every police car in Clichy-sous-Bois is outside the condemned apartment building, along with a few armored vehicles from the Police Nationale, here to deal with the discovery of a genuine Islamic terrorist cell. 

"So the Hope Front was really a front for Al-Qaeda, all along?" Detective Inspector Fermier rasps, watching all this from just inside the cordon: "I must say I'm surprised."

"Why is that?" Foudre Blanc asks, his arms crossed over his chest as the last of the three terrorists is dragged out -- still unconscious from the beating he took.

"I thought better of them," the jowly man replies, adjusting his hat: "I thought them more sensible than to be involved in this sort of merde."

"You can never tell, Detective Inspector," the hero replies: "The roots of evil are black and deep, twisting into every area of society. Perhaps they started out with noble motives, but were turned bad over time. But sooner or later one's sins will be found out."

"I thought you would say something like that," Fermier shrugs.

"Any reason why?"

"That's what you always say when something like this happens," the man replies, putting a cigarette into his mouth and preparing to light it: "We find guns, literature, maybe materials for a bomb and instructions on how to make it. And there you are, saying things about evil roots and discovered sins."

"Whatever do you mean by that?"

"I mean that it's becoming a habit."

"You would know about habits," Foudre Blanc replies, tapping the end of the cigarette with a crackling finger so that it lights up: "Some of them can kill you."

"Whatever do you mean by that?" the Detective Inspector asks. 

"I just mean that there are eyes everywhere, watching," the hero says, leaning just a little closer: "And some sins may be found and dealt with before others, especially if they're more pressing..."

Fermier can't say anything to that, so he simply shrugs and inhales from his cigarette: "Well, I'm sure the Nationale boys will get an answer from them. They usually do."

"I'm certain they will," Foudre Blanc replies, looking askance: "Pardon me, Detective Inspector, I have a call I need to take in private."

With that, he becomes a pillar of lightning, traveling up to the nearest outlet -- a city light, which explodes as he passes through it. 

"Casse-toi," Fermier mutters, wondering how many more times he'll have to helplessly preside over the detention of innocent men.

* * *

Some distance away, Foudre Blanc comes out of a socket on a rooftop filled with telecom equipment, and then takes the call. 

"Bonjour,  Ciel Rouge," he says, looking at the hologram that's forming between his hands: a severe but beautiful woman in a red shroud, looking at him with a widest of smiles.

"I'm not disturbing you, am you?" she asks, her politeness as cloying as honey.

"Just doing the good work. You?"

"I am, yes," she says: "I'm on my way back to Paris now, in fact. There's something we three must discuss."

"Oh?" he asks, wondering what the stupid salope has found out, now: "Well, I'm at your disposal, as always. Just give me time to prepare."

"I will," she says, winking: "Dinner at the Palace, then? We three? Perhaps tomorrow night?"

"I look forward to it," he lies, taking a slight bow: "Now, I must beg your pardon, but the night is calling out for justice."

"I'm sure it is," she beams: "Give it a kick or two for me, will you?"

"I will," he says, and then terminates the call, muttering some very rude things under his breath as he places another.

"Oh," the nondescript man on the other end says: "What do you want?"

"Tell the old man we may have a problem," Foudre Blanc says.

"Something you can't handle?"

"Something that could be bad, depending on what it is."

"You mean you don't know?" the man scoffs: "I thought the night had eyes everywhere?"

"In your case, it does," the hero hisses: "And unless you want some interesting pictures to hit the internet in five seconds, I suggest you shut your mouth and do as I've said!"

"Alright," he says: "I'll tell Jean-Marie you need a meeting."

"Good," Foudre Blanc says, turning the call off. 

He looks to the bright lights of Paris, then, awash in their beauty. He can't help but remember another night, and other lights -- ones not nearly as beautiful.

"I'll keep my promise, Sabine," he says, wondering if she can hear him, somehow: "I'll make them pay. I'll make them all pay."

And then he's gone, off to hold up his end of the bargain. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Les Tzars (Indochine) and having a 1664 Blanc)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

1/7/13 - (Faraj) My Kingdom - pt. 4

Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir stands in front of the Zero Room's central engine, mostly-naked and totally-unafraid. 

The strange, globular array of dark grey metal is shuddering as it warms up. Warning sounds shriek out of the alarms, and every door leading here slides shut. Lights come on, screens tick away numbers, and the floor beneath his feet gets strangely cold. 

There's a hiss of sorts, and then things finally slide into motion. The main mass slowly changes from an irregular, almost-cancerous lump to a tall, shimmering pillar. Bulbs of silvery-blue matter churn into being, seemingly from mid-air, and start to slowly orbit that pillar -- motes of light either holding them in place, or else sending impulses back and forth. 

Inside that shimmer, there is a growing light -- a strange, dappled light that comes from somewhere else, bringing vast energies along with it. That immense power is evident from where he stands, and every inch of his being is vibrating in sympathy with its puissance. 

He stares into that light, now, holding up his hands as he does. 

And he speaks a single word...

* * *

"Intercourse," Faraj says, looking dejectedly at the crushed, doll-like human matter that's floating in front of him.

"That's what they !@#$in' said to me, too," Dr. Fuller adds, scanning what's left of his autopsy patients and not liking what's on the screen: "I come back from a !@#$in' coffee break to catch up on my !@#$in' paperwork and they're floating out of the !@#$in' theater like they own the !@#$in' place."

"I'd have appreciated a call," Faraj chides, amazed at the work that Martian tissue-compression gun did to the corpses -- now little more than dolls.

"Well, I'd have !@#$in' made one if my night nurse hadn't had a !@#$in' seizure right the !@#$ in front of me, wouldn't I?" Fuller snorts, putting the scanner away: "First do no harm, what?"

"Agreed," Faraj says, looking over at Doctor Heila as he floats nearby, unconscious and under guard. A trickle of blood pools up from the back of his head where Specialist Charleston smacked him -- averting the madman's aim at the last second, so that his gun struck the two dead men, rather than Faraj.

"Not yet, no," Brightstarsurfergirl chuckles, somehow knowing her commander's thinking of finally spacing the short, Finnish supervillain. 

"Is that prophecy, or a suggestion?" he asks, slowly walking over to her.

"Yes," she giggles, tapping him on the nose, and he can only smile at that.

"Thank you, by the way," he says to Charleston, who's been hanging nearby with the guards, making sure Dr. Heila doesn't so much as curse: "I'm glad you disobeyed my orders."

"I still couldn't sleep, sir," the kid sheepishly grins: "I thought maybe I'd follow your advice about taking one last tour of the ship. I didn't expect to be involved in something like... well, this."

"Yeah, well, you're !@#$in' involved now, son," Dr. Fuller says, waving over to him and getting out a spare pair of sterile gloves: "Help me get these two back to the !@#$in' medical wing. I'll !@#$in' tire you out."

"Will you be seeing to Doctor Heila, then?" Faraj asks.

"!@#$ him," Fuller snorts: "!@#$in' toss his tiny !@#$ into the security wing, I say. I'll come by to !@#$in' check up on him once I've dealt with more important !@#$in' matters."

Faraj can't disagree with that, and indicates to the guards that they should do so. And, once the various groups of people are in motion, he looks to Brightstarsurfergirl: "You know what this means."

"Yes," she says: "She can be here in eight hours."

"I thought it only took her six?"

"It'll take another two to pick things up along the way," she replies, giving him that special grin. 

"Well, then let's recall Hanami," he smiles, glad to see they're thinking alike in this matter: "And tell her she'll need to retrieve some things for me."

* * *

He can see them coming towards him, now, down that channel of dappled light. 

They appear as insubstantial objects, made of energies he can't comprehend. They float end over end through the expanse, getting larger and more certain as they draw nearer. 

Strange things, these -- like the potatoes his mother served at their table for dinner, only made of light. They rise and fall as they travel, the space before them becoming fogged with luminous mist as they observe him. 

As they come, he can begin to make out words: "intercourse," "vetanda," "sub-dimensional," "adumbrate," "krasis," "hypo-real."

And, holding onto the object at his neck -- the only clothing he has on -- he begins to try and understand what they are saying to him. 

* * *

"So let me get this !@#$in' straight," Dr. Fuller says, having yet another hit of the suspicious, black-brown murk he refers to as 'coffee': "Those people that got !@#$in' killed in the Zero Room, they weren't !@#$in' killed?"

"No, they were," Faraj says, looking around the table at the crew he's assembled to talk about what happened last night: the Doctor, Walker In/With the Darkness, Brightstarsurfergirl, Hanami, and -- from his cell -- Doctor Heila: "I'm saying that whatever we're dealing with, here, is so powerful that trying to reach out and speak through us is... well, it's like an elephant trying to talk through the mouth of a monkey. The trunk does a lot of damage going in through the back."

Hanami and Brightstarsurfergirl both giggle at that image, Heila grouses, and the Martian is just confused.

"You see, as Dr. Heila discovered, yesterday, before he tried to kill his superior officer-"

"I've apologized three times already," the supervillain insists: "How many more times must I grovel before I can earn my freedom?"

"We're getting to that," Faraj says, holding up a hand: "So I feel that this force that has been trying to contact us, it's tried to speak though us, but the shock has killed the crew members it's attempted to do this with. And it's also tried to speak to us directly, but also failed because we can't really perceive them."

"The !@#$in' ghosts," Fuller surmises, nodding as he has another hit: "One word and a bad !@#$in' feeling."

"And since their language skills are limited, their word choice is questionable," Hanami adds: "They want to speak, but the word they choose, while acceptable, is usually used for another thing."

"'Intercourse,'" Heila snorts, nodding: "I made any number of colorful mistakes while learning English as well."

* * *
"Forgive us," the luminous being floating before Faraj says: "We did not understand the depth of our error until it was too late."

"Yet you have done it several times?" he asks, thankful that his neck-guard is making their different languages intelligible to one another.

"Many of us were sent, but the way from our space to yours is difficult, and stretched out in time. We did not realize what we were doing until we were here, and our perception of time is such that we could not alter our plans swiftly enough."

"But there's something else, isn't there?" Faraj demands of his guests: "Something that keeps you coming back here to talk to us, when we open the machine?"

"Yes," the being admits after a short time: "Your bodies. We find it of interest to be inside a form like yours. And I am sad to say that some of we emissaries have succumbed to the temptation, even after we knew it was harmful to you."

* * *

"So why did this zombie thing only happen last !@#$in' night?" Fuller asks: "Change of !@#$in' tactics?"

"I don't believe that it did only happen last night," Faraj says, nodding to Hanami: "That's why I had Hanami retrieve the bodies we've sent out into space, so far."

"What?" Fuller gasps.

"Normally, when you'd finish an autopsy, you'd put them in a container for burial," Faraj says: "And those would go down to the ejector, which is totally automated. So we'd have the funeral service and shoot them out into space, and no one would hear or know anything was wrong."

"But last night I didn't have them in containers," Fuller admits, somewhat sheepishly: "I figured since the funeral wouldn't be for another day, it could wait."

"Somewhat inefficient," Hanami teases him, somewhat robotically.

"I don't like !@#$in' sending them down there until it's !@#$in' time, you wee tin !@#$," he snorts back: "Kind of cold and !@#$in' lonely down there, you know?"

"!@#$ you !@#$hole," Hanami replies, smiling, and then realizes it was the wrong thing to say.

"We're still working on social situations," Brightstarsurfergirl explains, patting Hanami on the shoulder: "Some things take longer to come back."

"No !@#$in' kidding," Fuller mutters. 

"So to be clear," Dr. Heila says, quite bored by the interpersonal matters: "The power I realized has been withheld, it's been withheld on the other side of the Zero Room's engine. And there are things coming along with that power, trying to speak to us every time we try and access that power?"

"That would seem to be the situation, yes," Faraj answers: "If we are correct."

"Perhaps they want to trade for it?" the short supervillain cackles: "If so, I am certain I could make a deal."

"That's part of what I'm counting on," Faraj replies, but the nature of his smile makes Dr. Heila wonder what he just got himself into.

* * *

"I understand," Faraj says: "And for our part, we are sorry that we have been disrupting your own universe. We inherited this machine from the beings who built this spacecraft. Its intricacies are beyond us. We did not know how it worked."

"We are not certain of how it works, either," the being states: "But we have often been victimized by things that reach into our reality to siphon power away. Once we would have destroyed you. Now, we merely seek to understand what we do not comprehend." 
"Then we are of one mind," Faraj says: "I would have sought to stop this thing from happening to my people, but I see now that we have each brought the mistake upon ourselves."
"Then, as we have both admitted that we misunderstood one another, and there is no animosity on either side, is there any further need to converse?" the being asks.

"Perhaps," Faraj says, holding up a hand: "I have a proposal for you. One that I think might benefit us both..."

* * *

"You're not !@#$in worried?" Dr. Fuller asks as he watches Faraj rummage through his things, clearly looking for something.

"No," Faraj says, finding it and smiling: "I'm not."

"Well, I am," the man says, floating a bit closer: "I think you're !@#$in' playing with !@#$ing fire, here, Faraj. I won't want you getting !@#$in' burned."

"I won't," he says, putting that something on: a tight, black choker he hasn't worn since before he was flung into jail, in Morocco. 

"But-" Fuller tries to say, but is silenced when Faraj spins around, takes his head in his hands, and kisses him -- full and hard, and for quite some time. 

"No worries," he says, finally breaking away from that kiss and looking the man in the eyes: "No regrets. No concerns. No fear."

"I can't help but have them," Fuller admits: "I'm trying to be !@#$in' professional here, but..."

"No fear," Faraj insists, as gently as he can: "We have a job to do, you and I. And when these things are done, I'm yours. But for right now, I have to go make what might be the most important diplomatic overture in Earth's history. 

"And I can't do it if you're hanging on my arm, worried that they might kill me."

Fuller sighs, nods and then -- before Faraj can say otherwise -- kisses him right back.

"I'm yours," the man says, when they break off: "I don't care who I have to share you with, either. But you !@#$in' come back to me, out of that !@#$in' room, or I swear I'm !@#$in' coming in there after you."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Faraj says, and then heads out of his cabin, not worried about whether the doctor follows or not. 

On the way to the Zero Room, he sees Brightstarsurfergirl floating beside the tunnel to it. No one else is in the area, as per his orders, so he doesn't feel the least bit self-conscious about taking her in his arms and kissing her, just as full and hard as he did the doctor in his cabin. 

"Any prophecies, now?" he asks, afterwards.

"You will succeed," she says, stroking his cheek: "But victory brings its own defeats."

"I know," he says, kissing her once more: "Bring them on."

And then he's in the tunnel, pulling his clothing off in expectation of what comes next.

* * *

There's a moment when Faraj thinks his proposal has been discarded. And who would blame these creatures for saying no? It is, after all, rather a lot to ask.

"Yes," the being says, finally: "We will agree."

"That's excellent," Faraj says: "I knew we could come to an understanding."

"But we will require some things of our own," the being says: "Certain assurances. Guarantees against further exploitation or perfidy."

"You'll have them," Faraj says, stepping forward and extending a hand to the being. 

When it touches him, it's like being on fire from the inside out. He is it, and it is he, over and over again. 

And ever so intimately, their pact is sealed with their joining. 

* * *

It's late at night, now, and Faraj stands before his cabin window, looking off at the Moon. From here, he can almost make out the Alpha Base Seven Memorial, even without a telescope. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking. 

Right now, he doesn't care. He's sure that's what that black dot is, and in his mind that makes it real. And that's all that matters, here and now.

Behind him are Doctor Fuller and Brightstarsurfergirl -- locked in a passionate, free-floating embrace. He wasn't sure that was going to go as well as it did, but he soon found they needed only a little coaxing to enjoy each other, with or without him. He'll go back to them, eventually, but he needed a break to think, and reflect. 

And he has many things to reflect upon, right now.

He thinks of the power the extradimensional beings have promised them, in exchange for access to this universe, and the strange sensations it provides. 

He thinks of his crew, having to adjust to serving alongside the occupied bodies of their friends and colleagues that Hanami brought back from space, now home to those beings from beyond.

He thinks of Dr. Heila no longer alone in his skull -- sharing a mind with the more loquacious of those entities, just so they can keep a channel of communication open at all times. 

He thinks of the expression on Director Brilliand's face when he told him the Zero Room was operational, but refused to tell him why or how -- all but daring him to come up here, himself.

He thinks of these things, and realizes that this is all just a part of a large and intricate plan -- one that was mapped out long before his birth, fated to feed into an even larger, much more intricate plan beyond that. 

And win or lose, live or die, he will play his part because that is what he is here to do. 

He will live through this. He will win the battle to come. And he will take what he learns here and go back to the Viridian Sea -- this time not as a wayward astronaut, but a conquering hero. 

He will have his kingdom, one way or the other, and !@#$ anyone who stands in his way.

 (SPYGOD is listening to My Kingdom pt 4 (Future Sound of London) and having a Dark Island)