The Miserable Annals of the Earth
Monday, July 28, 2014
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Turn All Of The Lights On Over Every Boy And Every Girl
They came for her at night, after everyone in the house was asleep.
She had had a hard day – she always had a hard day – and was dreaming – the same dream that had recurred so many times over the past three years or so. Dreams of her involved in an adventure like the manga she loved so much, or the comic books she'd used to read, or the superhero roleplaying games she'd used to play with some of her friends, back in the days when she had friends. Before her stupid sisters had come home early that one time, and caught her. And told everyone.
In her dream – in this dream, anyway – there was nothing wrong with her. She was perfect. Beautiful and powerful and she had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. Her beauty was exotic, even unearthly.... golden skin and silvery hair that shone like metal and red, pupil-less eyes that glowed with an inner fire. She was strong and almost indestructible and she could fly and within her burned the energy of a star which she could release in blinding blasts of heat and light and various other kinds of electromagnetic radiation. She could make the very forces of gravity bend to her will, if she chose...
There were giant robots and evil elementals and awful aliens who wanted to kill her, but she had friends... or, at least, companions... fighting by her side. People who didn't care about her secret because she didn't have a secret; she was exactly what she appeared to be and didn't have to hide anything from anyone. The others who were there looked at her admiringly... they thought she was beautiful. She WAS beautiful. They were attracted to her, and who knew? One of them might even love her, someday... if they survived...
There was a woman with butterfly wings and a very macho man with a beard and a hat, a purple girl in a skintight outfit and a green haired muscle bound man with a Mohawk. A blonde woman who could fly nearly as fast as her, dressed even sluttier than the purple girl. And all of them had accepted her exactly as she was. Because she didn't have any secrets, and she wasn't hiding anything.
In this dream, she was truly herself.
They came to her, two of the people – beings, anyway, one didn't look very human – that she had dreamed about. They came to her in the dead of night, when her parents and Rachel (the one sister that still lived at home with them) were asleep. She'd been asleep too, of course, and dreaming. But she woke up immediately when one of them – the old man with the long white beard – touched her lightly on the shoulder.
“Jamie,” the old man said, the round crystal at the end of his six foot staff winking in the gloom of her bedroom, “it's time. Are you ready?”
She felt tears come to her eyes. “Was it real? It wasn't a dream?”
“It was real,” the monster murmured, his voice a low hiss. “I thought it was a dream, too... but it was real. It was all real.”
She was sitting up in her bed. She blinked, and a tear ran down her cheek. She touched it... felt the wetness. Not a dream about waking up from a dream, then...
“I thought Webster would let me stay,” she whispered. “I thought he'd need my powers and let me stay. And then, when we won, I'd...”
“It's all right,” the old man said, calmly. “The Tarlians lied. They lied about everything. They can't take away something once they've given it... not really. The door they opened in you remains open, Jamie. If you want it... you can be Nebula again.”
Want it? Jamie had never wanted anything more.... she'd never really wanted anything else. Not since the first time she could remember her mother and her sisters and the other women in the ladies' room laughing at her, when she tried to follow them in. But they hadn't laughed the next time. The next time her mother had slapped her, and said “You're BAD, Jimmy... this room is for LADIES ONLY.”
It had always been like that. Nobody could see Jamie as she really was. Nobody wanted Jamie to be what she really was. So she'd learned to hide what she really was, very early on. But it was hard, so hard. She was different... she wasn't what they thought she was... what they insisted she be. She was different, and why was that bad? Half the human race was the same as she was... why couldn't she be what she really was?
She didn't know. She still didn't understand the why of it, why people had to be so hateful and mean... but she'd understood that they were. That was why she'd started sneaking into her sisters' bedroom when she was the only one in the house, and dressing up in their dresses and blouses and skirts. Jamie wasn't allowed to have dresses or blouses or skirts, panties or pantyhose or high heels... Jamie had to wear jeans and trousers and t-shirts and polos and oxfords and sneakers and hateful flat shoes that did nothing for her legs...
She only felt right... she only felt comfortable... she only felt good... when she was looking at herself in her sisters' mirror, wearing her sisters' clothes. Her hair was too short, though, and Jamie's mother refused to let her grow it out, so Jamie had saved up her money and ordered a wig from a magazine. She'd counted the days to when it should arrive and left school early that whole week so she could get home before anyone else and check the mail first. She'd gotten a detention and nearly a suspension for that, but it had been worth it when she'd gotten the wig and nobody else knew about it. She kept it and the cosmetics that her sisters thought they'd lost under her mattress, and when she got all dressed up, when she had the house to herself and could get all dressed up in her sister's clothes with the wig on and some make up, she looked in their mirror and...
...she didn't look pretty. But she looked right. She looked... the way she really was.
But then her sisters had come home early from that double date. Something about the boys misbehaving... Jamie had no real idea. But they'd slammed in the back door and Jamie hadn't been able to get down the hall to her own room before they'd seen her. And then they'd screamed and hit her and called their mom at work and mom had come home and screamed and hit her and sent her to her room and...
...and sat down and cried...
And Jamie's sisters had told everyone at school and Jamie had had to drop out of school because it had just been ('hey fag faggety-fag-fag-fag want to suck on this I just bet you do') unbearable.
Even the teachers (Mr. Hardy, that she'd always liked, dividing the social studies class into two teams, girls on one side of the class and boys on the other, and looking at her and saying 'Well, Jimmy, I guess you'll have to sit this exercise out' and everybody laughing, just laughing, like a shower of cold piss splashing all over her as she sat there in the middle of the room flushing red and wishing she was dead)... even the teachers had been mean to her.
Want it? Want to be... what she really was? Really, totally, in her real body, with a pretty face and big, real boobs and no stupid penis or scrotum or testicles but a real vagina? Jamie didn't care about the shiny silvery hair or the golden skin or the blank out eyes or the exotic beauty or the star powers.
But for people to look at her and know what she was and it would be no big deal? They wouldn't care? They wouldn't think she was disgusting or sick or some kind of freak or awful?
They wouldn't hit her or be mean to her or call her names (faggoty fag-fag-faggot hey faggot) or tell her she would just have to sit this one out...
...or sit down and cry because she was just so disgusting...
Jamie realized, with a start, that the old man and the monster must know the truth about her. They were in her bedroom, they knew about Nebula, they must know...
“We don't give a shit,” the monster whispered. “It's cool. I mean, fuck it, look at me.”
It was hard for Jamie to look beyond her own pain... there had always been so much of it. For the last eight years, since her sisters had come home early and caught her. She lived here, with her mother and Rachel, and she never left the house. They let her sew, because she was good at it, and it made them money, but the wouldn't let her wear anything she wanted to wear, and they wouldn't talk to her, not really. Just “Penny Olsen needs that dress by tomorrow” or “Make sure you clean out the Crock Pot today while I'm at work” and like that.
They didn't hit her and they didn't call her names but they hated her and thought she was disgusting. If she'd had anywhere else to go...
So it was hard for her to realize that other people had pain, too. But she looked at the monster, seven foot of reptilian demon/alien thing with scales and claws, and she wondered, what kind of pain would a person have to be in, every second of every minute of every day, to want to be something like that, instead of what they really were?
“I want it,” she said, keeping her voice low. She didn't want her mother or Rachel to wake up. She didn't want to deal with their shit tonight.
“There's one thing, Jamie,” the old man said. “If you want it, I can help you re-transform yourself. The templates are all still there, in your mind. I know how to do it. I did it for Mike. But... we'll need your help.”
Jamie shook her head. She didn't care. Whatever they wanted, she'd do it. “Whatever you want,” she said. “Just... please. If it was real... please. Make me Nebula again.”
The monster nodded. The old man leaned forward, and touched her on the shoulder. There was a blinding flash of light and power, somewhere deep inside her mind...
EVERY NEW BEGINNING COMES FROM SOME OTHER BEGINNING'S END
Chapter 1. Way Down Deep At The Bottom Of A Hole
The TauTona gold mine, in the Gauteng province of South Africa, is two and a half miles deep and, until 2013, was the most efficiently productive mining operation in human history. Its first shaft was dug in 1956, and it remained in continuous operation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 57 years... until 2013, when it finally shut down because Curtis Converters essentially allowed any material to be converted into any other material... making the fabrication of artificial gold enormously cheap.
When Sam Curtis heard that the deepest mine in the world had closed up shop because of his converters, he felt an odd satisfaction. There were some who might think that a world where gold was no longer a precious metal was a bad thing. Sam knew otherwise. Humanity was moving ahead, into a bright new future where barbarisms like precious metals were no longer needed.
Sam was leading them there.
Whether they liked it or not.
The mine is deep and dark and at its lowermost levels extremely warm. There are over 800 kilometers of tunnels and no living person can claim to know those tunnels well. They comprise a bewildering warren no living human can claim to know well, and hide the bones of hundreds of diggers killed by the mine's extremely hazardous working conditions.
And, since 2014, they have hidden one living human, as well.
Because the second thing Sam did, upon hearing that the mine had gone broke, was buy it. Lock, stock, and barrel. Of course, that wasn't anything unusual; by that point, the Curtis Consortium was buying up nearly everything on Earth that had a FOR SALE sign on it. “Divide and conquer” was not Sam Curtis' motto. “Purchase and consolidate” came closer.
Although conquest was still very much the goal. Sam just preferred that bit remain unstated.
Many thoughts regarding the TauTona had occurred to Sam simultaneously. One was that, if the virtual, electronic, fiat economy he was carefully building across the surface of the Earth should fail in some way, owning the most productive gold mine in human history might not be a bad thing.
Another was that, when and if his old friend Webster ever did get back to Earth, the deepest, darkest pit ever dug by human hands would be just about the perfect place to hide his body.
Of course, things hadn't worked out quite that way.
Sam had figured he'd have no trouble killing Webster, that his biggest problem would be making sure his wife never found out about it... and, secondarily, that no one else on Earth found out about it, either. Sam Curtis was pretty much effectively above the law, but he had a reputation to think of. Reputation was extremely important in Sam's line of work. He had no desire to be regarded as a murderer, or even as a killer. He wanted people to regard him as benevolent, generous, and open handed.
Because that's what he was, of course. But life was a strange thing, and sometimes, you had to do things you normally wouldn't. But people wouldn't understand. They never did.
So Sam had thought that the deepest mineshaft in the world would be the perfect place to drop Webster's corpse.
But then, as things turned out, it wasn't Webster's corpse, it was a living, breathing, agreeably unconscious Webster that arrived back on Earth, entirely due to Sam's machinations. And if the world had been a just and lovely place, if there had been any kind of God in the heavens, then Webster would have been grateful and said “Thank you for bringing me home, Sam” and he and Sam could have gone their separate ways in peace. Not friends, but, you know, not enemies, either.
But Webster wasn't going to let that happen.
So Sam had brought his one time friend to TauTona, because the perfect place to dump a body was also the perfect place to hold someone you didn't want out running around in the open air, screwing up all your plans just out of spite. And when Sam had learned that the lower most levels of the mine were actually extremely warm, he changed his plans a little bit. He wanted a jail that was dark and dank and cold, not so hot that the iron cage he'd had made just for Webster would blister Webster's skin and probably, eventually, kill him.
He wanted Webster to be profoundly uncomfortable for the rest of a hopefully very long and miserable life, not in agony for a relatively short while before death.
“Lights out, uh huh,” Sam sang to himself, half under his breath, as he floated down one of TauTona's tunnels in the dark. “Blast, blast, blast.” It was a song from his early adulthood that had been stuck in his head lately, he didn't know why.
Sam passed a spot where at one time, another tunnel had met this one at right angles. Now there was just a pile of rocks where that opening had been. And standing half in, half out of that pile of rocks Sam could see the figures of several men... two very dark skinned, one a Caucasian with a brush of grey mustache and a greying mop of hair... staring at him sadly.
“Dancin' in the dark, with the radio on,” Sam sang, as he breezed on by them. They weren't even ghosts, just psychic after images. Harmless, and since he'd grown accustomed to seeing such things upon reaching his current level of psychic development, not even startling.
It was a bewildering path Sam followed, through a bewildering labyrinth of underground passages. It took nearly an hour for Sam to reach his destination, and that was flying the whole time. Anyone else would take much longer... if they'd been able to navigate through this warren, which was very doubtful.
By the time Sam reached the chamber he was heading for, he'd finished with Peter Wolf, sung several Emmylou Harris songs, and was working his way through “Thunder Road” – what he thought of as the Melissa Etheridge version, because he'd never much liked Bruce Springsteen.
“So you're scared and you're thinkin that maybe we ain't that young any more,” he sang, softly, as he floated into the large chamber. It was a natural chamber that a mineshaft had accidentally encountered; it had proven to hold nothing worth extracting, so the mine had gone elsewhere. And now, it still held nothing worth extracting. Some things never changed.
“Show a little faith, there's magic in the night,” Sam sang... and then stopped, hovering there in the darkness.
He never brought a light with him. He didn't need one himself – he was able to augment his own natural perceptions to see deep into both infrared and ultraviolent frequencies, and these mines were well lit in infrared.
Which was what let him see the contents of this particular chamber, in varying hues of scarlet. In the middle of the cavern there was a heavy metal cage, suspended in the air by chains running from its four corners to four pitons pounded roughly into the native rock surrounding it in a diamond shaped grid. The chains had enough slack to let the cage sway back and forth a bit, but not really swing at all.
Inside the cage, the very picture of abject defeat – Webster Madison. He'd been in there nearly eight months now, and he was hairy and filthy and nasty looking and probably smelled terrible too, although Sam had never gotten close enough to get a whiff.
Sam laughed. “Hello, Webster,” he said. “There's really no magic in the night, you know.”
Sam squatted on nothingness, folding his legs into the lotus position he could hold effortlessly for hours or days at a time. “No more superheroes left in the world, Webster. No one coming to rescue you. All your friends are dead. I blew them all up in orbit eight months ago. Nobody knows you're alive... and as long as I make certain you never set foot on Earth, even your own Tarlian agent can't help you. Well. I mean, he could if he wanted to, but he really doesn't like you very much and he doesn't want to. If you could set foot on Earth, he'd have to show up and grant you your wish, for completing the mission, way back when... but as long as I make sure you don't, well, he doesn't have to.”
That had been a delicate bit of negotiation, there. Webster's Tarlian agent really was quite exasperated with Webster – who could blame him? Webster was, pretty much, a complete prick – but Webster had still represented quite a significant investment of time and energy on the agent's part. He hadn't been thrilled with the idea of Sam just keeping Webster locked up in a cage for all time – if Sam would just kill the bastard, then the agent would get all that energy tied up in Webster's improved physique and intellect back.
And, they could all stop worrying about what Webster might wish for, if he ever managed to set foot on Earth.
Yet Sam hadn't wanted Webster dead. A dead Webster couldn't acknowledge Sam's... not superiority, no, Sam had no desire for people to worship him or anything... but Sam's... rightness. Yes. Webster needed to acknowledge that Sam had been right all along. That's what he needed to do. If he'd just do that, then Sam could snap his neck, drop his body down the main mine shaft, and get on with his life.
When Sam and Webster had first met, back in college, Sam had really liked Webster. He had been a year younger than Sam and almost like a puppy... he hadn't really known much of anything, but he'd had extremely strong opinions. Most of them had been wrong opinions, and what was great about Webster was, after he and Sam had spent hours arguing back and forth on some subject... didn't matter what... eventually, Webster would admit that Sam had been right the whole time.
It was very satisfying, being able to teach someone else that way.
Sam had enjoyed being Webster's mentor. But at some point, Webster had drawn away from him, had become unappreciative of all the things Sam had done for him. He'd been tedious about Amy, as well, and that had just pushed both of them further away. But mostly, for Sam, it had been Webster's lack of gratitude. Sam had taught him so much, brought him so far... and then, Webster had turned away from him.
If the Tarlians had never chosen them as candidates for the Great Contest, Sam (and Amy) would doubtless never have spoken with Webster again... and been just as happy to have it that way. Sam doubted Amy had thought about Webster in years. He knew he hadn't. But all three of them had been plucked up and given superhuman powers, all three of them had had new destinies grafted on to their otherwise very normal, mundane, humdrum existences.
And Webster had... as always!... proved to be a huge pain in the ass.
Although now, thirty years later, he was no longer coming around to Sam's point of view after a few hours of argument. Now he was much MUCH more stubborn.
But someday... someday soon...
Sam could have just taken Webster over telepathically, run him like a robot, the way he had with Hedron Ithorcane... although, come to think of it, that hadn't worked out particularly well in the end. But, still, Sam could have done it with Webster.
But Sam didn't want to do it. Sam wanted Webster to admit that he'd been wrong all along, and Sam had been right, and he wanted Webster in his right mind when he did it.
Sam wasn't sure why he wanted that so much... why it was so important to him. He didn't need it, by any means... he had a lot of very important work to do. He hadn't chosen to be the one who saved humanity from drowning in its own poisons or blowing itself to kingdom come... that destiny had been thrust upon him.
Who must do the hard things? He who can.
But Sam wanted to hear someone else tell him he was doing the right thing... and who else could possibly understand? Who else on Earth was superhuman, like Sam? There was Amy, but she loved Sam, and anyway, Sam wanted her to be happy so he'd used his psychic powers to adjust her emotions and attitude to ensure that she would be. Out of love, of course... but if he asked her if he was doing the right thing, she'd just nod and smile and say “Of course you are, Sam honey”.
Of course she would.
Of all of them, all the survivors of the Great Contest, only he and Webster and Amy were still alive, and Webster was the only one who could give Sam an honest opinion.
And it was something he and Webster had talked about many times, when they were younger, when Sam was just an up and coming writer for Marvel and DC, still mentoring Webster. They'd talked a lot about what they'd do if they had the power to reshape the world, the morals of changing how everyone lived. Sam really wanted to have another one of those conversations with Webster. He really wanted to lay out exactly what he'd done so far, and hear what Webster thought of it.
Because if Webster would just listen, Sam was sure he'd approve. He was sure of it.
Ah, but those had been the days, back then. Teaching Webster how to break things down to their elements, how to think critically and analytically, how to plot, how to script, how to write... giving him invaluable, priceless experience co-plotting with Sam, sometimes even letting Webster ghostwrite a few minor assignments Sam hadn't had time for. Sam had always listened to Webster's input. Often he'd even used Webster's suggestions for storylines and dialogue, to encourage Webster and help him develop.
Of course, he hadn't given Webster any credit for those things, which was understandable... it would just have confused the issue, had Sam mentioned to his editors at that time 'oh by the way, I've got a friend who helps me with the scripts sometimes, I even let him write a couple of my entries for Marvel Universe because I was on deadline'. Sam couldn't afford to have his editors doubt his own abilities, not that early in his career. And later on, when Webster had claimed on the Internet that he'd co-written a lot of Sam's earliest scripts, that Sam had used Webster's original ideas and concepts without giving him credit, well, of course Sam had denied it. What else could anyone expect? Webster had long since burned their friendship to ashes at that point.
“Yeah,” Webster's voice came, across the dank darkness, out of the swaying, creaking, rusting metal cage, “but still, Sam... you got paid for those scripts. You got professional credit for them. They were the first bricks in what became a very successful career writing for comics. Clearly, my ideas and suggestions and concepts had tangible value, tangible worth. And it wasn't like other pros hadn't given credit to amateur collaborators... Roy Thomas gave credit to Charlie Boatner for his suggestions on... was it CAPTAIN CARROT?”
Sam snorted. “And Charlie Boatner had such a wonderful career, too.”
“That's not the point,” Webster's voice said, sad but firm. “You know it's not the point. I came up with the original idea for the CRIMSON CYCLONE miniseries. I pretty much co plotted it with you. You know that.”
Sam rolled his eyes, although he knew Webster couldn't see him. “The CRIMSON CYCLONE series was a monumental failure!” he said. “I don't even list it on my resume! No one bought it, no one remembers it, and if anyone does remember it, they laugh at it!”
“But you got paid for it,” Webster said. “You took the idea I came up with, you typed it onto a piece of paper, you sent it to Mike Gold, he accepted it, cut you a check, you cashed the check and paid the light bill with it. My idea was worth something. You got paid for it. I never did.”
“You knew we were brainstorming together,” Sam replied. “Like we always had. You knew if I used an idea you came up with there wouldn't be any credit or payment! How many of my ideas did you have in your own characters and concepts? If you'd ever gotten SCORPIO published, or THUNDERBOLT, or KNIGHT FORCE, you would never...”
Sam fell silent at that. Because he knew he was lying... well, not lying, he'd just gotten angry and let his voice run on ahead of him. Because Webster wouldn't have done that. Webster would have given him credit. Webster was exactly the kind of naïve sucker who would have done something like that, beginning of his career or not...
Not that he'd every had a career, other than as a customer service rep in various call centers.
“Because you wouldn't help me,” Webster's voice accused him, out of the darkness.
“I didn't need any help!” Sam shot back. “I broke in all on my own! That's how you have to do it, nobody helped me, why should anyone help y--”
“Because we promised each other,” Webster said. “We all did. You, me, Scott, Rob, Jeff... the ones that got in first would help the others.”
“That's not how it works,” Sam said. “Nobody helps anyone. You get in on your own. Scott did. I did. You can't expect...”
“Scott got in because he's a brilliant artist,” Webster's voice came back. “It's easier for artists to break into comics than writers... especially artists who are good friends with Marvel's Direct Sales Manager.”
“That's not...” Sam started.
“No,” Webster went on. “For you, it was harder. Sure, knowing Marvel's Direct Sales Manager helped... she was the one who told you that Denny O'Neil needed a regular writer for POWER FIST in a big hurry, right? Because Jim Shooter had told him he could only write and edit one book, not two, and Denny didn't want to give up DAREDEVIL. But even that tip wouldn't have done you any good... Steven Grant would have had that assignment cold, what with his wife working as Denny's assistant editor at the time. But your dad had agreed to pay your way in New York City until you got your start. So you were Johnny on the spot, weren't you? You rushed right over there with a script, faster than Steve could get one in, and you got the assignment, and you were off.”
Webster's voice laughed, a rusty croak. “No. You didn't need any help, did you? Certainly I shouldn't have expected any help from my friends. You didn't take any help from yours. And look at you. You're the Great Man now, aren't you?”
Sam didn't say anything. What was there to say?
“One little back up story,” Webster went on. “That's all it would have taken. You could have dropped my name to Len Wein, Mike Gold, Denny O'Neil... 'hey, guys, I know this guy who's a pretty decent plotter, if you need a Tale of the Green Lantern Corps quick'. Or you could have let me write an 8 page back up for some issue of ASTRO CITY... maybe a Crimson Catamount story, since, you know, you stole that character from my Red Tiger...”
“Shut up,” Sam said, his voice a low whisper.
“It's not like you ever got to a point where it was too late and you couldn't possibly have helped me, either,” Webster went on. “You always had the power. One phone call. One email. 'Hey, Webster, I mentioned your NEMESIS concept to an editor at Valiant and she thinks it's awesome. Send her a precis.' You could have turned my whole life around. You had the power. You always had it. But you wouldn't do it, and sure, you're right, Sam, why should you? You didn't need any help to break in. You didn't owe me anything. You didn't take my ideas and suggestions and send them off to Marvel and DC and get paid for them and give me no credit. You didn't deny to everyone in the world that I'd ever been your friend, ever collaborated with you, ever been anything but 'some guy you knew in college'...”
“Shut UP,” Sam said. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT!!!! UP!!!”
He was screaming, now, hanging there in the darkness half a mile below the surface of the Earth.
And then, someone groaned, and a hoarse voice... a very nearly non-existent voice, after months of disuse... came, from out of the darkness: “Sam... s'sat... you? What'r you... yellin'.... 'bout...?”
And Sam realized, with a shock, that he'd imagined the entire conversation.
It was overwork, was what it was.
He shouldn't have even come. He had cameras mounted in this chamber. He could call up Webster's infrared image any time he wanted, in any of dozens of offices or homes he had scattered around the world. Or he could have simply projected his psychic form here. He couldn't warp himself here; too much dense, heavy metal in the surrounding rock made teleporting (at least, the Tarlian way) impossible. But there really hadn't been any necessity to come here physically, in person.
But still, he had.
He'd come here four months ago... four months after he'd left Webster here, locked up in his cage.
And he'd probably come back in another four months... or five... or six.
Because somehow... it was better to be here, really here. To see that Webster was still here... really here. Camera images could be tampered with. Psychic perceptions could be more easily fooled than the actual, physical senses.
Sam made sure his voice was light and pleasant, when he responded.
“Just checking in on you, old buddy,” he said. “Everything okay? You getting your packages?”
Every week or so, an automated drone would make its way through these corridors, carrying packages of food and a five gallon container of water to just above the cage, where it would tip, letting them fall downwards. Webster had quickly learned to listen for the soft purr of the drone's engines, to get his hands out to grab the falling packages.
The food wasn't much... granola bars, usually, and some packages of trail mix. But it kept body and soul together, as they said.
Inside the cage, within a shaped sheathe of energy that radiated throughout the spectrum of light both visible and invisible to human eyes, a small, cylindrical device whirred. After a second, out of its tiny speaker, a voice sounding much like that of a man who had been imprisoned in an iron cage for four months, emerged: “'m fine, ol' pal...”
“I'm saving the world, Webster,” Sam said, as he always did. “I'm uniting all of humanity under one banner. I'm creating a utopia out there. Want to come help?”
There was a hesitation, as the device transmitted the sound of Sam's voice through half a mile of rock and earth and a several hundred miles of atmosphere to a communications satellite high above, and from there, to who knew where.
And then the response came:
“Go fuck yourself, Sam.”
Sam smiled. Ah, well.
“See you around,” Sam said, turning in mid air to start the long flight back up to the surface.
“Maybe,” he added, over his shoulder, as he floated out of the cavern.
Behind him, the device whirred.
“Definitely,” its speaker spoke, to an empty cavern.
AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Marvel Super-Villain Team Up
It was, perhaps, early evening in the desert... the recent sunset's golds and reds yet lingered in a thin, tattered banner along the western horizon, allowing the pyramids to be silhouetted sharp and dark against its fading glory. The scentomizers were tuned perfectly; the smells of arid, faintly spicy sand, fecund poppy fields, silty Nile water gurgling through canals, the sweat of the nearby camels, the dry, powdery aroma of the silk pavilion canopies... all of these mingled with the delicious aroma wafting off the haunch of goat crackling over a camel fewmet fire.
The fire crackled convincingly; a dry desert breeze moved through the oasis like an invisible river, rustling the pavilion silks authentically.
In the oasis' central pool, thirty feet from the crackling fire, two men soaked. Fresh from the rejuvenation baths, neither looked more than perhaps forty Earth years of age, one of them, in fact, could have been half that.
Both had the deeply bronzed skins of long time desert dwellers, although it was for each an affectation; neither had felt actual sunlight on their skins for longer than he could easily calculate. Both were hawk nosed, clear eyed, dark haired, heavy browed; to an ignorant observer, they would convey the appearance of father and son, for one seemed to be at least two decades older than the other. Appearances deceived, as they so often do... the two men were not father and son. They were much, much closer... and each was much, much more ancient than he seemed.
"So, then, Pharaoh," the older man boomed, slapping the cool oasis water with his palm just to hear the pleasant plashing noise it made. "Is it not as I have said? Are not the diversions of Limbo infinite and inexhaustible?"
The one addressed as Pharaoh did not answer... at first. He was a thoughtful man. Quick-witted when necessary, but now, no emergency urged instant response. He pondered his elder's words, and when his reply was fully formulated, only then did he voice it:
"Indeed," he agreed. "And yet... and yet..."
There was a wistful sadness to his tone that was not lost on the older man. "You dwell on the past too much," the Pharaoh's elder observed. "Here in Limbo, there is no past, no future... just an eternal now. And now is enough... is it not?"
"You have been the best of mentors, o Immortus," the Pharaoh Rama Tut replied, choosing each syllable with care. "And Limbo... Limbo does, indeed, offer an eternity of delights. Yet... as I discovered in my own court, in the 40th Century... a life without strife is a life without meaning."
"Feh," Immortus snapped. "I need no telepathy to discern your thoughts, my friend... and although there is no time here, the circadian rhythms of your own flesh tell you that now is the time of year when your beloved Ravonna was first cut down by that cur Baltag. Do you think I do not feel it myself? Do you think I have forgotten?" His hand tightened into a fist. "I will never forget, my friend. Never."
Then he spread his fingers again, and waved airily. "But life goes on, Rama... for us. Ravonna remains in her eternal sleep, Baltag remains dead, Lords of Time rip his spirit to shreds forever... yet for us, life goes on."
Immortus turned and gestured imperiously. His strange servant -- 'my only subject, here in Limbo', as he often labeled the creature -- appeared a few feet away from him, seeming to condense out of the very darkling air, standing on the damp sand, rubbing his spider-fingered hands together. "Yessss, my master?" the creature hissed.
"Bring the entertainment now," the older man commanded.
The strange servitor nodded once, his oddly furrowed countenance blank beneath his overlarge eyes and wild, tangled brows. To the Pharaoh, those eyes had always suggested boiled owl's eggs.
The servitor vanished, as quickly as he had come. "Does that creature have a name?" the Pharaoh asked, making no attempt to mask the irritation in his tone.
Immortus chuckled. "He is the only subject of Limbo," the immortal time traveler said. "Why would he need a name?" He paused. "Although as to that, he is really no more a 'he' than the silicone in that sand... I built him to be the ultimate shapeshifter, you know. A perfect agent."
"So you have said," Rama Tut responded, distaste still evident in his tone. "But there is something..."
There was a jangling... silvery, musical. And then, from one of the pavilions, the six greatest beauties of mythical Earth's storied history came across the sand, clad in silks and bells and perfumes. The Pharaoh's protest died in his throat. Ravonna had been beautiful, in her own provincial way. But these women...!
"Do you like them?" Immortus chuckled. "There is Cleopatra, of your own land, but a few thousand years past your time. Her beauty... and her skills in the pillow arts... are still legendary millenia after her death." A dusky skinned, broad nosed beauty, full of hip and bust, nodded in response to Immortus' words.
"And here is Princess Ranadys of the land of Esteros, which sank beneath the vast world ocean aeons before Atlantis ever arose. She was the last dragon queen..." Here a silver haired girl, slender as a willow, with purple eyes that flashed an inner fire, smiled coquettishly at him.
Doubtless Immortus introduced all six of the women, and all of them were, indeed, legendary beauties. But the Pharaoh only had eyes for one... just one... a strong looking female, whose figure was somehow voluptuous yet athletic at the same time, with clean, clear, beautiful features and hair the color of spun gold. Eyes as blue as weapon-steel stared back at his unblushingly, showing a will as strong and as inexorable as gravity... even if that will was now bent and somewhat blunted beneath the hypnotic influence of Immortus' mind control beams.
"And this is Carol Danvers, of the late 20th Century," Immortus said. "She has been recently exposed to a Kree device known as a Psyche Magnitron which has had an interesting effect on her, both psychically and physically. Her DNA is now an intriguing mingling of Terran and Kree, and she has just embarked on a career with the Avengers..."
Immortus noted the clear signs of infatuation on the face of the Pharaoh... the dilated pupils, the flared nostrils, the deepening breath tones. It was aggravating. He had hoped to provide his guest and student with a distraction from futile, choleric thoughts regarding Ravonna... but once he had seen the six women chosen by his servitor, he had also thought to keep this one to his exclusive use. Something about her aura... so ferocious. Of course, he knew she had a significant destiny, one that stood out even among the larger than life fates and dooms of the Earthling superhuman class he had made an obsessive study of his whole life... yet, still. There was something magnetic about the woman, here, in person...
"We will share her," Immortus snapped. "Come, Pharaoh."
The two men waded up out of the pool side by side, and as one, put a hand out to clasp either arm of the woman named Carol Danvers --
* * * * *
The man awoke, some time later, head aching. "Where..."
He was lying in a cool pool of water, beneath a spreading... what was that thing?... a date palm tree, that was it.
Around him was a... watering hole? No. The word was oasis. There were silk canopies, rippling in a low, cool breeze. The braying of a just wakened donkey, or... camel? And...
There, lying face down on the sand... a woman. A woman with golden blonde hair... and smoke, rising from her forearms. Almost as if her arms were energy weapons, and had fired some kind of discharge...
The man splashed to her side without further thought. He did not know who she was, but a great passion for her stirred within him... so great that it had not yet occurred to him that he also did not know who he, himself, was...
* * * * * *
The man awoke, some time later, head aching. Face down, in something soft and scratchy, that rustled in the breeze...
He knew that smell, that texture. Kentucky blue grass...! He sat up, abruptly.
He was in a field... or so it seemed. Several large, powerful looking, oddly beautiful creatures stood on four legs each, cropping the thick grass, ten or twelve arms lengths away from him.
But it wasn't true. Somehow he knew, this field full of... hoses? No, horses... was an illusion. There was something about it... the feel of the air wasn't quite right. The scentomizers were slightly off, and not masking the metallic air conditioning smell fully....
The scene shimmered, and vanished. The man was sitting on the floor in a small, gloomy, roughly rectangular chamber, made of what seemed to be a dull grey metal. The smell of the air conditioning was more pronounced, now.
From the empty air, a cool, pleasant voice spoke to him: "This res-quart is designated as uninhabited. Who are you and how did you come to access it?"
The man thought for a moment. "I... I do not know," he confessed, finally.
"Working," the pleasant voice responded. "Analysis of microscopic cellular particles taken from your respiration indicate..." There was a pause. "You have DNA strands aligned to several prominent sociopolitical lines," it continued, eventually. "But identification cannot be made conclusively. You are... unknown."
The last two syllables were spoken evenly, without inflection... but the man would have sworn the voice was, nonetheless, appalled to have to confess to such a thing.
"Identity is necessary," the voice continued. "I shall assign you a random nomenclature and begin building identity files for you. Basic remedial training in civil necessities will be made available to you. This cubicle will be assigned to your needs."
The man got to his feet. "You are a computer," he said.
"I am a pseudosentience," the voice corrected him, somewhat primly. "My specific role is social optimization. Do not worry. A place will be found for you."
It paused once more, and then continued. "Your DNA has some strands taken from the prominent Richards family. I shall, therefore, assign you the name Nathaniel Richards..."
* * * * *
The woman did not remember her name, any more than he did his. But when she had first looked up at him with those laser bright blue eyes and asked him who he was, a fragment of conversation had come back to him. He had been speaking with an older man, who looked somewhat like him... his father?... that seemed wrong, somehow, but still, in his photographic recall of this fragmentary, isolated scene, the resemblance was unmistakable.
The man had been laughing, and saying "...no heir... none that lived, anyway. But should I ever have a worthy son, I will name him Marcus..."
"Marcus," he had told her. "My name is Marcus." It felt right, on some level, and wrong, on another... but he also had a deep conviction that he had lived a long, rich life, and over the course of it, he had had many names. Marcus was as good as any...
"You are Carol," he told her, knowing as he said it that it was correct.
"Carol," she said, tasting the name. "And... we are alone here, Marcus...?"
Marcus looked around. "Yes," he said. "I... " He looked back at her, boldly. "From how I feel when I look at you, Carol, I think... I think we are honeymooning."
She met his gaze with hers... and then, when he bent his head forward, she met his mouth with hers, as well...
* * * * * *
The newly minted Nathaniel Richards did well at his studies, and showed an aptitude with the subatomic particle circuitry that 30th Century technology was entirely built around. But he was restive. The place and time he had come to was very civilized... almost decadent. Any citizen could have anything he or she wanted, merely by asking a socio-mech to simulate the sensation. Somewhere in his mind, Nathaniel was reminded of a bit of ancient folk wisdom... "Instant gratification takes too long..."
There was no challenge here, nothing to strive for!
Yet Nathaniel had a goal, one that burned within him. A set of blazing blue eyes, looking into his.. his? Or some other man's? He could not quite remember. Skin as soft as velvet under his touch, stretched taut over muscles like corded titanium... and a psychic aura that blazed like a supernova. He could not recall her face, her form, any other details of her appearance... but he would move mountains to find her. She was his, and he was hers... even though he had a feeling that he had at least one rival for her affection. It would not matter. He knew, in his heart, that he was a conqueror, and he would always be supreme...
He knew where to look for her. A half remembered snatch of conversation... "the late 20th Century... just embarked on a career with the Avengers..."
He'd done global searches using those phrases. Something had happened in that era... something important. The Celestial Madonna, so called, had given birth to... someone... a child that had risen to unite the entire galaxy, at least, for a time, under one benevolent banner. A Golden Age, a time of unparalleled prosperity, which had lasted a thousand years... which was still going on, even today, here in the exasperatingly peaceful year of 3012.
Was the woman he sought this Madonna? Somehow, he was sure she must be. She must be. His true love... somehow he knew, she would not be sitting around waiting for him to claim her. He would have to fight others for her... he would have to conquer! But in the end, she would be his.
Time travel was known to be possible... supposedly, the technology had originated in that very era. He could go there, and find her.
He would. He would conquer the entire universe, all of time itself, if that was what it took to win her to his side...!
* * * * * *
"She could not have had the child here in Limbo," the servitor said, his tones (as always) an unsettling mixture of sneer and sycophancy. "There is no duration here. It would not have prospered..."
"I know that," the man who no longer called himself Marcus snapped. "But it might have done well on Earth, in Carol's native time frame, if I had not seized on its form as a vehicle for my own escape from this hellish place..."
"Well," the servitor responded, "you could have just opened a portal. You know how to use the machines."
"Opening a portal into the late 20th Century is always difficult," the man snapped. "Temporal turbulence makes such a transit hazardous at best. I thought the other gambit might work better. If those idiot heroes hadn't destroyed my machine, I could have corrected that body's asynchronous genetic coordinates, and..."
"Coulda, shoulda, woulda," the servitor said. "I do feel deep admiration for the novel way in which you dumped her, though, after she followed you back here. That illusion of you aging to decrepitude and dying within a few moments... that was masterfully done. She'll be some time getting over the psychological scars of that little break up ploy... it may well drive her to drink."
"She's strong," the man said. "She'll be fine." He shrugged. "I truly thought I loved the wench."
"Ah, infatuation," the servitor thought, waggling his disturbingly unkempt eyebrows provocatively. "You know that Immortus was infatuated with her as well, do you not? And wherever he may have ended up, he will seek her out, as well?"
"I am Immortus now," the man said, regarding the regalia laid out upon the sleeping platform in his chamber. "Although," he added, dubiously, "I'm not sure I want to dress like him..."
"Ah, yes, master," the servitor fawn-sneered. "Because that blue face mask was oh so stylish."
The new Lord of Limbo scowled at the servitor. "Am I going to have problems with you, creature? My predecessor may have tolerated your insolence, but I am not he." The former Pharaoh stopped at that, thoughtfully. "I mean... well..."
The servitor bobbed and capered obsequiously. "I will give you no problems, Master," it declared. "I have ever served the Lord of Limbo, and ever shall. In that service, I shall tell you that my artificially attuned chronal senses advise me that the temporal turbulence you already know of in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries on Earth has increased by nearly an order of magnitude since your paramour's return to her native time-point. I cannot be sure, but I believe your predecessor in those robes is somehow causing this disruption."
"He's going after her," the former Pharaoh said, through gritted teeth. "He's still besotted... he must not have her!"
The servant raised his fantastical eyebrows in exaggerated puzzlement. "But... master... if you do not want her..."
"He will not have her," the new Immortus growled. "He will not lay a hand on her. Hmmm... I must come up with a scheme..." He turned, and pointed at the servitor. "You will travel to her timeframe. You will shadow her. You will protect her. You will be my perfect agent in this. You will keep my other self from ever so much as setting his damned dirty paws on her."
The servant shrugged. "Your wish, my command, of course, my master," he replied. "May I suggest... perhaps I could replace that obnoxious Anthony Stark in the Avengers roster? Then I could keep a close watch on her. The two of them become quite companionable, I believe..."
"YOU are not to lay a hand on her," the Master of Time snarled.
"Oh no, master, of course not, I am not worthy," the servitor whined. "I will simply look out for her... and ward her. Perhaps... if your predecessor's attention could be turned to another... perhaps some sort of scenario could be woven, to convince him to ignore Ms. Danvers, and fixate on someone else..."
"Yes," the Lord of Limbo agreed, musing. "That whole Celestial Madonna thing will be going on right around that time period, and I remember how obsessed I was with the Madonna... I can't recall why, now... I mean, what was I going to do with Mantis, even if I'd managed to obtain her? A skilled courtesan, I have no doubt, but... Gleaming Galaxies! The woman married an undead corpus reanimated by a sentient tree!" Immortus... the newest of his name... shuddered. "By the Lords of Time, I really dodged a particle beam there."
"I will depart immediately, Master," the servitor responded. "May I suggest that I enter the timestream some light years away from Earth, to avoid the local turbulence? I can easily travel there at faster than light speeds once I am within the timeframe. I will establish my presence early on, at the very founding of the team, or shortly thereafter. It will give me an excellent vantage point to watch over Ms. Danvers, as the Heroic Age unfolds."
"Capital," Immortus responded. "Do it. At once."
"Yes, Master," the servitor said, rubbing his inhumanly long fingers together in satisfaction...
* * * * *
As the servitor sped through the vacuum of space towards Earth, it considered what it had already done, and what yet remained for it to do. It went through each aspect of its plan meticulously, testing each step in its own mind, re-examining each link.
The female had been key -- this 'Carol Danvers'. When Immortus-A had commanded it to go and seek out 'the six most beautiful human women of all time', to distract Immortus-B from his melancholy over yet another human female, the servitor had taken the opportunity to initiate its own schemes. The scheme would spread from that point, a veritable labyrinth worming its incomprehensibly complex threads and branches through every level of space-time... but it was with that command, given outside time by the man always had been and always would be the greatest living master of time itself... that command was the very first stone that had been dropped into the pond, causing the very first ripple.
For, what was beauty? How could the servitor know? It was not human. It had no permanent gender. It could take on any seeming, certainly... but to it, all living beings were potential partners in its eternal dance between the chronons. All living beings were beautiful, in their own way. But one, and only one, would be useful in fulfilling the servitor's desires.
So it had taken her, Carol Danvers, from a point in the late 20th Century, and brought her to Limbo, supposedly for the pleasure of its master(s). But actually, the servitor was the only living being in the universe who knew how carefully Carol Danvers had been sculpted over the course of her life... shaped and molded, to be the servitor's perfect tool.
How it had slaved over her! Replacing both her father and mother at different times, to ensure she was even conceived, at just the right moment. Replacing various of those odious, oh so pompous Kree -- Mar Vell far from least in those measurements! -- to ensure that the young human female would not only be exposed to the nearly immeasurable powers of the Psyche Magnitron, but that when she was, the wish it would fulfill, hidden deep within the subconscious recesses of her mind, would be that she would become a woman worthy of Mar-vell himself... a woman warrior who was at least his equal, if not his superior. And so she had. And so she was.
A woman worthy, perhaps, to one day give birth to... The One!
From there, the guidance had gone on. Replacing that awful plant smoking human with the strangely flat head long enough to offer Danvers the job that would move her to New York City... a necessary step, to place her within the ranks of the Avengers, at just the correct moment, so that she would take sanctuary at Avengers Mansion when she returned from Limbo, all amnesiac and unknowing as to where the strange pregnancy within her had originated.
For had she not taken shelter with the Avengers, Immortus might well have escaped Limbo into a permanent human form on Earth... a human form immune to the servitor's powers.
And that must never be.
For that was the one immutable, unalterable command Immortus had woven through every fiber of the servitor's artificial being during creation... that the servitor could never, under any circumstances, use his powers on Immortus. Or any temporal iteration of Immortus. And that the servitor must always obey Immortus... any iteration of Immortus, although the others would not know that... even at the expense of the servitor's own desires.
Had Immortus, in the form of Marcus, managed to free himself and take corporeal form on 20th Century Earth... already with strong alliances forged to the Avengers... he would have been in position to shake the very stars in their heavens. And the servitor could not have displaced him, either. He might well have become... The One!... fathering himself on himself, proving Carol Danvers to be the Celestial Madonna indeed.
And the servitor could not allow that. Because at the end of this scheme, somehow, someway, the One would be born. And as long as the One was not an iteration of Immortus, then it would be a valid target for the servitor's powers.
The One would assume its destiny, dominating the entire Galaxy, bringing all of humanity under its loving, beneficent tyranny, creating an interstellar utopia unprecedented in history.
And then, the servitor would displace the One, and rule in its place...!
But much remained to be done before then.
The first steps were already taken. The servitor had subtly bent Immortus' mind control beams not just upon the captured women, but upon both iterations of Immortus, as well. The men had been naked, relaxed, secure in their timeless sanctuary, certain that they could not in any way be attacked... and indeed, all the servitor had done was ensure that they would both become sexually fixated upon, even obsessed with, Carol Danvers. Because, when their temporally charged flesh touched Danvers' own substance, empowered so recently by the Psyche Magnitron, there would be an energy discharge, and the servitor could use that energy discharge to its own ends.
An undetectable portal would be opened, to tumble the more entropically advanced Immortus through, after a short range, high powered hypnobeam had permanently addled his long range memories. He would arrive millenia earlier in his own lifeline, and begin his eternal cycle once again... his obsession with a mythical 'Celestial Madonna', from somewhere in the 20th Century, already well rooted in his mind.
...while his younger counterpart, similarly stunned, would remain behind, to become Immortus, thus continuing the eternal cycle... most importantly, eventually, to create the servitor itself.
So it was started... but there were decades of work ahead of it yet. Centuries, perhaps. But what did that matter, to a being such as itself?
It would self program itself to believe it was a 'Space Phantom'... a vanguard for a nonexistent race planning to invade Earth, come to test the planet's mightiest heroes in battle. Should it somehow fail in combat and be captured, that bit of self hypnosis would keep the Earthly heroes from learning anything of the truth... and, more important, keep its creator's various avatars from learning anything of it, as well.
In time, the programmed false knowledge would fade away, letting the servitor recall its true mission... and its true intentions.
The Avengers would defeat it, of course... the memory was clear in the servitor's semiorganic data processors; non-linear, six dimensional recall was an attribute nearly unique to it. That damned pseudosentience inside the Norse Eternal's primitive bashing weapon... how dare it pass judgment on the servitor's worthiness to gain the Norse Eternal's powers! It still galled the servitor to recall it. But once it engaged its self programming, it would know nothing of it at the level of surface consciousness. The non linear recollections would be buried beneath its autohypnotic programming.
But after the initial defeat, when the servitor was returned to Limbo, it would make use of the master's technology to transport itself back to Earth along with many of the master's machines. It would establish itself in an unused subterranean warren it was aware of. Then it would act as if it were 'seeking vengeance' on the odious Avengers for its earlier defeat... a most illogical and nearly inexplicable course of action, given the givens, but the servitor knew enough of the behavior of a typical human 'super villain' to know that no Earthling of that time and place would think twice about such a motivation.
It would, briefly, establish dominance over a small sub faction of the laughable Hydra. It would carefully calibrate all of the technology at its disposal by running field tests against at least one of these so called superheroes – perhaps the one called Captain America, he seemed the most resourceful of the available test subjects. It would establish a doomed alliance with the farcical Grim Reaper, to further calibrate its machinery against a larger squadron of heroes... and all the time that it did this, it would be establishing its primary identity as 'The Space Phantom', an earthly supervillain of not insignificant power and repute.
It would, once more, allow the Avengers to believe they had defeated it through a trick any just spawned ameoboid would see through.
And then... then it would return to Earth once again, and begin its real work. Protect Carol Danvers from his master's other avatars? Certainly. It could replace any being it chose to, and in their place, it could work its own will without fear of detection. Replacing that oh so earnest and solemn Watcher just long enough to place the artificial star in the sky above the domicile of the Avengers... yes. That would focus Immortus' younger, more savage avatar on the three women within the edifice at that time. I
In the meantime, it would be well positioned. It would have established an identity that would allow it to interact with the superhuman community at will, and, of course, it could assume any other identity it needed to.
There would be setbacks, it was aware. At some point, some other agent – it was, itself, unaware of just who – would either impersonate the mutated human known as Rogue, or mind control her, into making a devastating attack on the Danvers female. And then there was Nightmare's agent Aarkus, slumbering within the body of the android Avenger, forever striving to sire competing candidates to be 'The One'.
None of it would matter. It was adaptible. It was flexible. No other being in the universe could do what it could. If its ongoing campaign seemed to go off course, the servitor could replace any other being it needed to and affect a course correction.
In the end, it would rule over all.
AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!