Chapter 23: Prelude To: Everything Is Lies
Thats my dad, I say, the words coming out in a soundless mumble.
I thought you said your dad disappeared? Aleksei says, and I shush him. On the psychic recording, the young mans voice speaks up again.
So whatre you saying we should do? We cant kill him, not directly, and Arcade is botching the hell out of this; his Nine-Twenty-Ones are dying left and right, and the Ditko-42s are going to start to take notice.
God, my fathers voice says tiredly. I wish we could just put a bullet in his head. Make things so much simpler.
Gee, thanks, Dad, I murmur. Inside me, something shakes.
Ill say again, its undoable. I mean, as soon as we kill him, Parker will start looking for answers; he doesnt like it when people go missing. And once hes involved, hell drag in every Ten-Twenty-One out there.
What the fuck? I say aloud, but Aleksei, embittered, puts a finger to his lips and exaggeratedly goes SHHHH!
Peter Parker. What the fuck. Peter Parker. What the fuck.
I say we kick it up a notch if Sytsevich cant take him out. I say we bring in contractors; have Arcade contact someone in the mob, get some meta-hitmen swarming him.
Thus entered Hammerhead.
The young man pipes up.
Ill get right on it. But once the Shocker is dead, someone might trace it back to Arcade, and
Dad laughs, really laughs, and if there was any doubt in my mind that it was him, its gone. Its Dads deep, friendly laugh, unmistakable even through the static of the neuron-record.
Please, Hughes, be serious. Once weve violated Sytsevich like this, if Herman aint already dead, hes going to be on a goddamn mission; the mercenaries are only going to slow him down. If they kill him, more power to them, but Ill put ten-to-fifty odds against it. You should contact Control and give them an update; with him rooting around down there in the sewers right on top of the Flim-Flam, its only a matter of time before he finds it and figures out what it is. And then the shit will really hit the fan. I suggest we
The recording abruptly cuts out with a burst of static that startles both me and Aleksei, and both of us jump a little, Aleksei managing to take out a lamp. It shatters on his armored elbow as though it was made of dust, and Aleksei looks at it for a moment, and then shrugs. Miss Peelo falls back into her cushioned chair, exhausted, the pink-gramophone dissipating into nothing.
Parker dragging in the Ten-Twenty-Ones.
The Flim-Flam in the sewers.
And then there was that word: Control.
He said it the way religious Christians say God.
What does any of that mean?
Hey, Herman. I know part of that, Aleksei says, trying to distract me as he sweeps the remains of the lamp under the couch while Miss Peelo recovers. I think Im a a Nine-Twenty-One.
What does that mean? I say to him, only to get another one of those big dumb shrugs.
I dunno. But when I heard it, I just knew: Hey, nine-twenty-one. Thats what I am. Like a type of car or something; some people are nine-twenty-ones. Some people are ten-twenty ones. Like, uh, Luke Cage. I think hes a ten-twenty-one; or maybe, wait, no, hes a ten-twenty.
Luke Cage? I say, baffled, and then I realize that its happening again: Im hearing something terribly important, its sitting right in front of me, but its starting to unfold so quickly Im getting left behind. Aleksei, how did you know that?
He shrugs again.
I dunno, he says, and smiles his big dumb disarming Aleksei smile. I think its like theres a safe in my head, and its opening up.
Well said, Aleksei, Miss Peelo says, smiling weakly. Now, gentlemen, Im afraid Im going to have to ask you to leave. That took a lot out of me.
As were leaving, I ask her how much she wants, and she just laughs; this light, tinkling grandmotherly laugh that Ive never heard out of her before.
Be serious, Herman. You and darling Aleksei have got my mind percolating for the first time in twenty years. She smiles her fat, goblin smile. Theres no charge.
On the way back to the tube, I buy Aleksei a jumbo lollipop and get to mentally vibrating.
Who are these people? Why would they give Aleksei the Rhino armor? Control must be some kind of super-high-level government organization to monitor super-people, but then why would they finance FPS?
Why would they hire Arcade, of all people? Why use Johnny Ohnn; surely they have some kind mind control better than opening a portal directly into someones head, and somehow inputting a complete control over them?
Why make it a business? Why bring in the rich and powerful, and where does that money go? Surely these people have money behind them Why would they need pay-offs from goons to mind-control villains?
And why wont they just have a sniper gun me down from the roof of a building while Im walking down the street? Parker would drag in all the Ten-Twenty-Ones, what the hell does that mean?
My father, my insane, evil father, where does he fit in? Whos the twentysomething kid he was talking to, Hughes? What about Generals Ross and Slinkard? That torture device made in Alamogordo; what the fuck does it do? And who does it do it to? Ohnn? The people controlling the FPSd villains? No, no, no
Where does The Trust fit into this? Why would they pay to free that psychotic fuck the Punisher from prison? Does Control control the Trust, or is it the other way around? Why hasnt Reed Richards discovered all this, I mean, shit, I have and Im THE FUCKING SHOCKER! I dont even have powers, I just
My mental rant stops dead, remembering something my father said on the recording.
Something to the tune of hes not going to off himself like Beck, or retire, like Brown.
Quentin Beck. Mysterio.
Hobie Brown. The Prowler.
Neither of them had any metahuman powers; they were just humans with gadgets playing dress-up, like me.
Quentin Beck was a hot-shot special effects man with a talent for using technology to make people whole-heartedly believe that whatever he wanted them to believe was totally and absolutely the only thing to believe.
See Green Planet, Red Sky. That alien thing is uncanny.
But Quentin tired of Hollywood, and moved on to bigger, more nefarious things. He got in contact with Phineas, and, after upgrading his arsenal of special-effects tricks, put a fishbowl on his head and went after Spider-Man.
No alternative motives here. No interest in money, power, none of that.
Hey, you know what would be a good idea? If I put a purple cape on and just slipped into this green jumpsuit and went and tried to fight a super-strong, super-fast guy who can climb walls, dodge bullets, shoot adhesive webbing out of his wrists and detect danger a good fifteen minutes before anyones even thought about harming him. Dangerous, you say? Foolish? Hah! He cant harm me; you see, Ive put this fishbowl over my head, and
Remember how I said sometimes asking why is more trouble than its worth?
And there you have Mysterio.
Well, the first Mysterio, anyway.
Hobie Brown was just another bright-eyed kid with very little dough but a lot of ambition when he (very accidentally) created The Prowler.
Hobie was a window washer on high rises, and also a bit of an amateur inventor. To make his job easier, he created three deceptively simple-looking devices:
Hydraulic steel claws for climbing concrete, plastic or wooden surfaces.
Hydraulic clawed boots for much the same.
Wrist and ankle bracelets to quick-deploy cleaning fluid.
But, after being fired from his job, Hobie found a new use for his toys. Those claws could tear flesh. Those boots could send him leaping over twenty feet. Those bracelets could quick-deploy a hell of a lot more than cleaning fluid.
I met Hobie just before his first (and only) outing as a super-villain; he was buying potent sleeping gas pellets off the black market.
Hobie wasnt a bad guy, really; just kind of disenfranchised with the world around him. He didnt fit in from the start; us super-criminals are mostly angry white boys with an ax to grind, and a tendency to become verbose and theatrical whilst maiming anyone in our way. Hobies quiet, black face and ferocious adherence to a policy of minimal violence set him on the outs from the get-go.
One encounter with Spider-Man later, and Hobies criminal career ended. He still threw on the suit occasionally, joining up with a group of good guys (creeps if you ask me) called The Outlaws.
These days Hobie is fully retired, living happily with his wife, subsisting on the money he makes from the revenue on his patents.
Work in any high-rise these days, and youll most likely eventually see a minimum-wage guy wearing toned-down versions of the Prowlers gear, wiping birdshit off a sparkling glass window.
A lot of less-psychotic super-villains, myself included (usually), feel like Hobie is living the dream. Of course, Hobie got lucky; he quit before he got himself in too deep. Me trying to take out a patent on the gauntlets or the suit would be ridiculous, especially with (get this) seventeen outstanding warrants on my head.
Im just lucky Richards and Stark didnt ask about that, because thats a seriously uncomfortable conversation that I dont know if Im ready to have.
Especially not around Richards; I get giddy as a little girl around that motherfucker.
It radiates off him, like its infectious.
So, whatve we got: Weve got the Shocker, Mysterio and the Prowler all lumped in together.
None of them have powers.
All of them were (or, in my case, are) considered direct threats to FPS, but Beck and Brown no longer.
Wait, why not Hobie? Hes alive, isnt he? Not chasing FPS around New York like I am, but alive, so what What is it that makes him a non-threat? Just because he doesnt put the costume on, or
Or is it that he doesnt interact with metas anymore?
Yeah, wait, theres something to that.
The number of metas I interact with, when put alongside any average Joe, is simply fucking staggering.
I know that Control/FPS/The CSA caused Aleksei Sytsevich to become the Rhino.
How many metas have they
I mean, surely they cant have tabs on every single meta, so how do they know everyones secret identity? I mean, shit, some of the accidents/incidents/experiments that gave these guys powers messed them up so badly even they dont know who they are anymore How could the CSA possibly
This is giving me a headache. I turn to Aleksei.
Aleksei, do you think
Theres a blue burst of light, and then an explosion goes off so loud and so hard that the subway car were in is thrown off the tracks, and goes smashing up against the left side of the tunnel.
Aleksei shrieks, grabbing hold of a sturdying bar and effectively ripping it apart; he rocks at the center of the car, trying frantically to balance himself, like a dog trying to stand up in the back of a car.
The subway train continues its mad slide, and one of the impacts must cut some kind of electronics cable, because the all the lights on the train shut off, throwing us into a shaking, humid, pitch-black hell.
The friction is too much for the sheet metal of the subway train to stand, and it peels away in a shower of sparks on my left, one of which lands in my eye. I yelp in pain, but manage to hold it together well enough so that when a forty-something woman in an orange sweater is thrown towards the tear in the side of the car by a particularly vicious bump, I reach out and hook an arm around her waist, throwing her out of out of harms way.
Who the fuck am I kidding, were on a crashing subway train, there is no out of harms way.
The train comes to a turn and begins to full-on crash into the embankment. Alekseis giant body loses its balance, and he stumbles forward, his left arm going between the train and the wall, passing us at sixty miles an hour. It yanks him forward, up to his shoulder, and I realize Im screaming.
Herman! Help me! Aleksei shrieks, and then hes dragged out of the car. I watch the metal siding of the car bend inwards as his massive body is rolled along the outside of the car, crushed against the wall of the subway tube.
I jump into the air, still screaming, and fire a level five straight backwards; were only two cars from the back, so the car blows apart and Im pitched out onto the tracks, along with three or four other people. One of them hits the third rail, and lights up like a Christmas tree before his skin turns black and he stops moving.
I roll once over the rails, bounce against the wall, and then press myself as hard as I can, gripping an older man against me as the two remaining cars go crashing by, mushing a black woman who only has time to sit up and scream.
Im bleeding from two dozen places; jumping out of a subway car going sixty-five is never a good idea. The older man is in shock; either that or hes having some kind of attack, shit, I dont care.
I get to my feet, and do this stumbling crazy-legged towards Alekseis crumpled body, curled into a gray fetal ball.
Arhekslo! I screech; thats what Aleksei sounds like after youve fallen out of a train; I trip a little; theres something wrong with my right leg, maybe my hip. It aches all the way from my knee to my waist, shooting little jets of pain any time I put pressure on it.
I fall a little, and then a little more as the entire subway tunnel shakes with an enormous series of crunches and bangs; its the subway train we were on going full-throttle smashing into 5th Street station, probably crashing right up onto the platform.
When I manage to get to my feet again, Aleksei is stirring.
Alehei! I shout, coming closer this time, but still not quite getting it. My head mustve bounced off the steel during my bail-out, and Im just not feeling it yet; these kind of verbal disruptions are characteristic of a concussion.
And Ill never speak properly again. Doomed to a life of Arhekslo and Alehei.
Aleksei! I force it out, just to prove to myself that I havent been knocked retarded. Its at this point I realize that Im still not seeing fully out of my left eye, where the spark hit me. Its starting to itch terribly, and I realize with a little twinge that the spark probably wasnt a spark at all, but rather a small piece of metal or plastic that tore free of the side of the subway and is now embedded in my cornea.
Great, thats, thats fucking beautiful.
I stagger further towards Aleksei, whos starting to stand up.
ooo, Aleksei says, rolling over, clutching his ribs.
I notice, without a bit of irony or humor, that the shard of toilet seat has been torn free of Alekseis butt, and now rests a couple of dozen feet up the track.
I kneel down alongside him, and my right leg screams in protest, dropping me backwards onto my butt; theres also something terribly wrong with my already hurt left arm. It doesnt seem to be responding to my commands any more, instead having decided to take a vacation to Dangling Limply World.
What hurts, Aleksei?
ooo, Aleksei says, and his big eyes pop open, wild and scared.
Aleksei, just be cool, and
Aleksei grabs me by the (unhurt) leg and flings me aside, throwing himself to his feet, swinging all his enormous weight into a haymaker punch straight to the jaw of someone behind me.
I roll, moaning in agony, and watch as Aleksei is hit by a flurry of punches from none other than Calvin Zabo.
Youd know him as Mister Hyde.
Well, not the Mr. Hyde; not the one from Stevensons story.
Calvin Zabo was once a plain old dork scientist, like so many of these creeps are, but he had this brilliant experiment, something went wrong, blah blah blah. It all melds together after a while, doesnt it?
Everyone devolves into avatars, general ideas of what a villain should be.
Bottom line: Hes now six hundred pounds and nine feet tall, with a face like roadkill and a body that looks like it was carved from pink silly-putty meant to look like the Hulk.
Hes usually got on this ridiculous green over-coat deal, but apparently he left it at home, or FPS didnt feel it was appropriate. Because, as it stands, Mister Hyde is buck naked.
Except for the helmet.
Hes got on some kind of weird-ass bondage helmet, very literally bolted onto his head.
It takes me a second to figure out why, but then it hits me: this is their very practically minded way of preventing me from reaching into the spot. They just whipped out a heavy-duty nail-gun and pow, easy as pie.
The sick motherfuckers.
I stand up and raise my gauntlet; or rather, I try to raise my gauntlet. The one sleeve of the Shocker suit Im wearing is on my defunct left arm, and all trying to move it does is trigger a sunburst of pain throughout my body that drops me onto my knees, my teeth biting into my tongue, blood rapidly filling my mouth.
Hyde just keeps hitting Aleksei, no form or style, just wailing on him like a little kid having a tantrum. Normally Id think Aleksei could handle these hits no problem, but in the condition hes in, hes fading fast, and after that first punch its just been a beat-down.
Hyde grabs Aleksei by the horn and uses it like a handle, drag-slamming his head against the subway wall, one, two, three times, and then Aleksei elbows him right in the sternum and then the nose, knocking him back.
I realize, with a blurry pride, that I was the one who taught Aleksei that move.
Aleksei gets to his feet as Mr. Hyde charges at him again, and manages to dodge a left punch that then shatters a crater in the concrete wall of the subway tunnel. He comes back with a sort of crazed jumping uppercut; his giant gray fist catches Hyde where his jaw meets his neck, and drives him upward; Aleksei threw so much of his body into the jump that the punch carries Hyde up to the low ceiling of the tunnel, his head being abruptly smashed between Alekseis bull-dozer knuckles and prefabricated concrete laid over fifty years ago.
Hydes head rattles so hard hes actually thrown out of the crushing, momentary vise, landing on his chest on the tracks a few feet away. Aleksei lands, but then stumbles; hes hurt, something inside him is broken, probably more than one something.
Hyde springs up, his jaw completely shattered, hanging at a bizarre right angle. He grabs Aleksei by the neck and smashes him to the ground, Aleksei rolls them so hes on top, but Hyde doesnt let go; applying even more pressure to Alekseis throat with those thick, subhuman fingers.
Alekseis eyes have gone watery, and I realize that Mister Hyde is, in effect, crushing his brain.
I try frantically to think of a way to help him as Hyde rolls Aleksei onto his back, and straddles him, still choking him but now also occasionally smashing his head against the tracks for good measure.
Alekseis eyes go wider. Christ, the motherfucker is going to squash his brain up out of his mouth.
I grab my left wrist with my right hand, yank it up, aiming it like a gun, and use my right hand to squeeze the pressure trigger in the palm of my left hand.
It happens in three stages:
First, I feel all the fingers on my unprotected right hand break, bending and cracking at a variety of unnatural angles.
Second, my left arm convulsively jerks back due to the vibration, and causes my body to bang against the wall of the subway tunnel in a way that hurts so bad I actually pass out for a couple of seconds.
And third, though I only see it through a painful red-haze, a level five blast hits Mister Hyde straight in the face.
He flips like a football punted for the field goal, flying an easy forty feet down the subway tunnel, one of his eyeballs, his tongue, his remaining teeth and a good portion of his skin abruptly abandoning ship with a with a single loud VRMRMRMRGRGLE.
He lands and skids on his back, but whoevers controlling him forces him to his feet yet again.
Im screaming. Im screaming so loud and so hard it hurts my throat. Im not even saying words as he lumbers towards us, and suddenly Aleksei is on his feet. He lets out this long, guttural growl, and falls into a three-point stance.
Oh, God, its been so long since Ive seen him do this.
Even through the pain, I force out a little chuckle; of all the amazing shit my big friend can do, this is by far the most heart-stoppingly incredible. This is a power.
Someone at FPS headquarters must tell the person controlling Mr. Hyde whats about to happen, because he suddenly turns and starts running up the tunnel, away from Aleksei and me.
Yeah. Right. Thats gonna help you a whole hell of a lot, pal. You keep going with that.
Aleksei lets out that trademark nutjob yell, and launches.
Watching nearly a ton of giant gray man accelerate to seventy miles an hour in the space of thirty feet is nothing short of heart-stopping. This is his trademark, and with good reason.
This is the Rhinos Charge.
He hits Mister Hyde horn-first, something Ive never actually seen him do before; usually he catches them on his right shoulder, a sort of insane foot-ball tackle. He must realize how dire the situation is, because I cant imagine him doing it otherwise.
I feel the ground beneath me shake with the impact as the horn blows straight through Mister Hydes chest, practically cracking him in half, and then the two of them go careening into an engineers service stairwell, the concrete and metal bursting apart like an ice-sculpture hit with a sledge-hammer.
Theres a thunderous BOOM as they hit the wall behind the wreckage of the stairwell, and little pieces of dirt and dust fall down from all over the ceiling of the tunnel.
I lie there in silence, and wait.
Fifteen minutes later, the pain is so bad Ive pissed my pants, vomited and am now on my sixth fit of tears, but still no Aleksei.
If only fucking Felicia was here.
I I think maybe I love her.
But thats probably just my cock talking.
Talking over the pain. Talking under the pain.
Jesus, Aleksei, please be all right.
And then, footsteps.
Im having some trouble turning my head, so Im relieved when whoever it is squats down in front of me.
The relief switches abruptly to terror as I realize who it is.
Herman, Eddie Lavelli says. Hes wearing the Eel suit, but his mask is off, held limply in one hand. Hes pale, and his eyes are sunken, red-rimmed and framed by dark blue bags. Hes sweating badly, greasy, slimy sweat. The kind that only someone either very high or very afraid drips with.
I try to talk, and find I cant. I hurt too much.
I figured it out, Herman, he says, his voice high and strange, like a person just coming out of a horrible car accident. I didnt mean to; Im not smart, not like you. I didnt mean to, but once you overhear enough, its pretty easy to put together. And you wouldve figured it out, too, and you would have ruined everything. I I know now, Herman. I know why I have to die, and why you have to die. You dont You cant understand Herman Everything is lies. Everything is lies.
Hes completely fucking lost it, that much is clear.
Eddie I force out. The hell are you talking about?
He raises a fist so that it hangs just in front of my face.
Everything is lies, he says again, faintly, like someone in a trance.
Hes going to blast my head off.
Dont lose your shit. Dont lose your shit.
Im losing my shit.
And then all I see is bright blue light.
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