Chapter 25: Everything Is Lies, Part Two
On the way through the lobby of Stark Towers, I stop at the front desk and borrow a paper and a pen. I scribble down the chemical formula for solid-state Scilonium, the stuff the suits made out of; its pretty basic, and I dont include the fact that you can only dye it yellow and brown, and Im careful to stick to my first version, minus the improvements Ive made since that night in my cell when I jotted it down on a napkin.
Twenty minutes later, on the subway home, I get a call from Stark. Hes practically doing backflips; I can hear that, even over the phone.
You did this in prison? In fucking prison? he shouts. This could take phase-ten blasts from the Iron Man suit, easy; if any of my enemies got a hold on this, Id be in an ocean of shit, you know that, dont you?
Dont worry, I say. I havent exactly shopped it around. The formula is mine, and only mine; course, thats the most basic version
Basic? He practically shrieks the word. There are Wait, Reed said youd made improvements, but Jesus! He shrieks this last word so loud the other people in the subway car glance over at me. Theres a pause, and I hear him muttering to himself, and then he speaks up again. Has Reed seen this?
Its the voice of a child, nervous that a respected (but greedy) playmate has been playing with his new toy.
Not in so many words, no, I say, preoccupied by the looks people are giving Marty; traveling with a mutant is harder than traveling with a costume-freak like Rhino. People dont just stare; they whisper. They dont just glance; they glare.
There was a lot of good will towards mutants in the days after the destruction of Genosha a little while back; I guess it showed the more, shit, I dont know, delicate side of the mutant problem. That being: even though theyre not a single race, when you start targeting them, its still genocide.
It brought home the fact that the mutations that started in the Fifties and havent stopped since arent just another minority that can be shopped aside in the Gallup polls. Theyre universal; more so than race or religion. Mutant is a truly new category, and when the world at large saw a million of them incinerated by the Super Sentinels on the evening news
Lets just say it brought that message home.
But these days, the honeymoon is over. Magneto came back for the millionth time, mutant crime rates bounced back up, Charles Xavier and his X-Men were rocked by scandal and dozens of seemingly random regime changes, and people remembered that no matter whether or not you can relate to him as a person, a dude who can fly and shoot fireballs out of his eyes is still pretty fucking scary to have sitting next to you on the bus.
Marty, for his part, must be used to it; he doesnt even seem to notice the young Asian couple nervously eyeing him from across the subway car, or the old white guy with a catch-as-catch-can scar across his cheek looking like he might just try to jump him.
Well, goddamn, Herman, how am I suppose to pay you for this? Stark says, his voice booming in my ear.
For what? I say, snapping out of a haze.
Scilonium. Or even better, how about we call it Schultzonium? Once the patents come in, I mean.
Is he fucking kidding? That sounds like a blood disease.
Uh, I think Ill stay with Scilonium. I named it for my sister.
Theres a silence.
Ooooooookay. Your element, your name. But I want Stark Industries to have that patent. And I want you on the goddamn payroll.
I dont know, Herman, being you. Youre already my most valuable new asset; Jesus, can you imagine bullet-proof vests being made out of this stuff? The SHIELD casualty rates would drop below zero. I mean
NO, I say, booming the word out, godly over my own creations. I dont want any of my stuff mass produced, understand? None of it.
Well, Christ, howre we supposed to make money off this?
I dont want to make money off it, I say. I didnt think thats what this was about.
Jesus, Im some kind of fucking idealist now? Whered this come from?
With Reed its never about money, Herman. I was just hoping you were a little less na´ve; I mean, hell, you did spend your entire life as a career criminal, yes?
Okay, hes got me there.
Well, yeah, but that was just a job. These these are my babies, Stark. You have to understand that if Im going to give you any more. You can build it into the Iron Man suit, you can replicate it to your hearts content, but I dont want some pissant prick in Compton ripping off a police car and earning himself an authentic Shocker vest, you got me?
Theres a silence.
Marty mouths the word contract, and I nod.
I want it in writing, Stark. I want it looked over by Reeds lawyers. The good ones.
Youll have it. Id like to meet with you in person sometime later this week; is that doable?
Sure, I say, then give a poignant pause and add: If Im still alive.
Drama! Action! Intrigue! The Shocker has it all.
A thought strikes me.
Hey, Stark, you think you can do me a favor?
Sixty-five seconds later, Ive got a private jet chartered for Albuquerque, New Mexico, departing from Kennedy at seven forty-five tomorrow morning. I better get my ass in high gear.
On my way out of the subway train, the sliding door nearly takes me out; my pirate-patched left eye doesnt see the door closing, and it bops me in the ribs, nearly knocking me off my one good leg.
If Aleksei was here, hed say O jeez, Hoiman, are you okay?
But he isnt here.
Marty gets a pretty good laugh out of all this, and, after a moment of swearing and glaring at the door, I do, too.
As we enter the Tube, Marty has the standard reaction; shock, followed by silent awe.
Jesus, Herman, he says, limping further into the room. Youve got an authentic super-villain pad going on here.
Super Hero Headquarters, I correct him.
Home base? he says.
Base of operations, I add.
Big-ass abandoned subway station, he concludes.
I point him to a room on the second floor.
Thatd be you, I say, smiling as his brown eyes go wide.
What, theres a bedroom up there?
There are overnight rooms all over this goddamn place. Im in 405. Youre gonna be in 203; its what I call the Library. The walls are all bookcases, and theyre all filled up with stuff published in the Twenties and Thirties; if I remember correctly, youre a reader.
Yeah, man, hell yeah. Marty looks like hes in heaven. Man, how the hell did you find this place?
I remember Tombstones concrete fists slamming down onto me, and shiver convulsively.
Luck, I guess.
No, man, Marty says, heading up towards his room. Not luck. Fate.
I barely sleep at all that night; Im too busy rigging up the security systems, setting everything up just right; if Im leaving for more than twenty hours, I want this place fucking air-tight.
The security systems on the Tube have always been the best on any of my hide-outs, primarily thanks to contributions and purchases from other meta-criminals; heres the short list:
Automated Gatling guns with facial recognition technology.
Fire-Bats, little hovering droids that deploy in less than three seconds and chase you around with a flamethrower. One of these went after Aleksei the first time he came in here; him screaming, it chasing, him smashing into things in raw terror from an item roughly the size of a golf ball; its the stuff dreams are made of.
Thermal, key-code, and laser-light grid-based systems.
An automated wall fixture which can deploy a single thirty-five foot tentacle, ending in a jagged spike. Anyone who sets off the DNA detectors in the door gets a most unpleasant surprise.
A solid Iridium vault-sized door, nine inches thick. He generously donated it after I broke him out of Gransworth Home for the Criminally Insane; during that escapade, I saw it take a direct hit from a tank; the result was a minor dent.
Stolen from the (old) Avengers
A pressure-based toxic-gas system, modified by myself to deploy in this order:
Cervia (the knockout gas given to me by Kingpin)
And thats not to mention the mines, Bouncing Betties, laser trip-lines, fifteen different alarm systems, an electroshock unit I built into the entire lobby, and (my personal favorite) what I call a Level 6 vibration unit built up on the ceiling of the main concourse; Ive never turned it on, but when I do, shit is gonna get messed up.
I get to bed at around midnight, and dream of Felicia.
Let me say this now: I am not a telepath, or a precog, or a psychic of any kind. But what I dream seems so damn profound, so goddamned obviously important, its worth mentioning. I guess everyone has that single shining moment that theyre granted insight into the inner fabric of the world, beyond time, beyond petty physical things.
I guess tonight is my night.
I dream of her walking in a desert, searching for something. Shes crying and bloody; her costume is torn and one of her breasts is hanging out in the least erotic way possible. She looks more confused than sad, but also scared, like if she doesnt find what shes looking for, shes in serious trouble.
Finally she comes to this enormous device, made of flesh and bone. It convulses and expands, like a rib cage, and all of a sudden bursts into a blinding flash of emerald green light. And then, the strangest thing starts to happen:
It starts shitting heroes.
They go flying out of it, left and right, flying like shrapnel. Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Ghost Rider, Sleepwalker, and dozens, maybe hundreds more, flying off in all directions.
Herman, Felicia says, and then everything goes suddenly black, and I hear dozens of whispering, insane voices, screeching horrible things, begging for death, begging for murder and violence.
I wake up the next morning to loud rap blasting through the entire Tube.
What the fuck? I say quietly, then go to the door of my room. WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCKKKKK?
Hey, be easy man, Marty shouts up to me from the ground floor, where hes clearly just showered; his fur hangs down like a wet dog.
I take a second to get myself a little more aware and try to remember more of my dream, but my thoughts are interrupted by the line Ima creep on up behind ya, tell ya that its time ta, let a player like me get in that vagina.
You actually like this crap? I shout down to him, wiping some sleep boogers out of my eyes.
Hey, yeah, Im black, its my peoples
Theres a pause. Marty stares at me.
Well, yeah. We look at each other quietly. You didnt know that?
Marty youre a gibbon.
Theres a pause, and then Marty nods.
I pack a full Shocker suit, along with V4 gauntlets; cant be too careful, might as well bust out the good china, as my father would say.
We head out at 6:03 AM, but before we can even catch a taxi, were intercepted by Miss Peelo.
She bustles up to us, and I do mean bustles, just as were climbing out of my most frequently used manhole.
Oh, Herman, good, Im glad I caught you, she says as though she just bumped into me at a PTA meeting.
The hell are you doing here, Peelo? This is Wildboys territory; youve practically got a target on your face, with that third eye.
What about him? she says, nodding to Marty. Hes a mutant, too.
Hes with me, I say, realizing how stupid this sounds.
Well, now Im with you, too. Soon as I heard you were headed for New Mexico, I
How the hell did you hear tha She shushes me and taps me on the forehead.
In here. I set up a standing, exclusive up-link to your consciousness once I heard that people were after you; this way, Im the only one who can poke around in your head.
Im not sure Im comfortable with
Hey, who would you rather have poking around in there, me or your father? With my direct hook-up, its a single line; no one else can enter without me knowing, and unless theyve got some serious psychic muscle, I can probably shove them out.
She gives me a second to think all this over, and then adds:
Dont worry, dearie. I promise not to dig too deep. She adjusts the traveling duffel hanging over her shoulder and smiles, flagging down a cab. Now hurry up boys, or well be late for that beautiful jet Mr. Stark booked for us.
Marty shoots me this wonderful Who the hell is this crazy goblin woman? look that makes me laugh out loud.
I sleep most of the flight; Marty listens to headphones and reads Al Frankens new book, The Truth, and Miss Peelo knits. You might laugh if I told you this was only my fourth time on an airplane, and, if you did, Id tell you to go fuck yourself. The sad lack of travel in my life was never my intention; Id always get out of prison and get caught up in something new, some new idiot scheme to put me right back in prison again (after a properly savage beating from Spider-Man, of course).
When I was little, I always used to pretend that the reason my dad was well the way he was, was only because he intended one day to suddenly, shit, I dont know, turn good. Take me all over the world on this whirlwind tour, maybe even take me into space, and that all of the hell before had just been training like he always said it was.
That somewhere inside him, he was just this wonderful person waiting to come out.
That dream is dead now, of course, long dead and buried and getting deeper.
My other airplane trips were pretty routine; my first was when I was nineteen, being transferred from Bare Hill lock-up in upstate New York down to Great Meadows Maximum Security prison down to the south. It was one of those bizarre, mostly hollowed-out prison planes; this was before meta-crime became common, so I remember really well the way they marched Ulysses Klaw, better known now as just Klaw, up to the front of the plane.
He was all piss and vinegar, howling out, Richards, damn you, Richards! in that thick Norwegian accent of his, his right stump-arm (devoid of its sonic blaster cannon) waving wildly at the guards trying to restrain him.
And I remember thinking: That aint never gonna be me.
Well, the next time I rode on a plane, it was me.
Damn you Spider-Man! I remember hearing the words coming out of my mouth, helpless to stop them as I struggled with some poor, underpaid prison guards; again I was being transferred, this time from a newly set-up SHIELD metahuman lockdown in New York to Sing Sing prison.
And again, the hollow plane with no windows, the smell of sweat and fear and urine
Next time was a little nicer; economy class to Puerto Rico for the big AIM weapons auction; I flew down with Otto and Adrian. Were lucky as hell Otto got us out before Captain America and USAgent busted up the party.
The last time I was on a plane was visiting my little big sister in Jersey; I drove back after, due to severe inebriation.
Seeing my sister always gets me a little down.
Two hours into the flight I get the following text message on my cell:
HERMAN I AM HERE IN THE HOSPITUL THEY SAY THEY CANT CUT THROUGH MY SHELL SO THEY USING A SIGHKICK NAMED LIZA TO GO INSIDE ME AND FIX MY BONES AND ORGUNS BUT ID LIKE TO GO INSIDE HER. THAT IS A SEX JOKE I KNOW SOMETIMES YOU DONT GET JOKES TOO GOOD BUT ID WANT TO BE INSIDE HER LIKE HAVING SEX WITH HER AND THATS WHY ITS FUNNY. OKAY NURSE JANE SAYS I HAVE TO GO OFF THE SELLULORE FONE I MISS YOU
That I MISS YOU at the end really gets me, you know?
Poor sweet big guy.
Im not going to bother you getting into all the details of landing, renting a car and getting our shit together. Ill just start you off from our entrance to the long deserted town of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Did everyone just leave? Marty whispers, his face pressed against the window.
Its almost like the 1800s; everything is wood, no plaster, no metal I can see. Just a main street, an empty main-street sitting out in the middle of the desert. And it is, very much so, in the middle of the desert. Its my first time in the desert, and Ive got to say, its as miserable as everyone says. Arid, empty heat in all directions, and no rolling sand dunes like in the movies, just flat, cracked earth, like yellowed chapped lips, spreading in all directions.
Driving here was crazy; as we left the city, it was like watching all the color drain out of the world, which only got worse and worse as we neared Alamogordo.
The location of the town is weird, too; its like they purposely set it as out of the way as possible. On the way here, there were like a hundred signs directing you back to the main roads, meaning that unless you were specifically looking for Alamogordo, there would be no real way to get lost and end up there.
Its on all the maps, though; its even mentioned in Miss Peelos enormous SCENIC NEW MEXICO: The Land Of Enchantment guide book, which she reads from out loud occasionally.
The least suspicious and the most suspicious thing Ive ever seen.
Totally innocent, completely sinister.
It says here, Miss Peelo reads, that Alamogordo was a military town; there was a base twenty-five miles outside of town, and all the officers families lived here; its even built on government land.
Jeez, Marty says, wiping his nose. What happened?
They bulldozed the base after an accident created The Armageddon Man. It says the whole area is irradiated.
Weird. I didnt see any signs.
And no ones tried to stop us, I add. Its weird; Im looking in the windows of the shops, but I dont see furniture, I dont see light fixtures, I dont even see wallpaper. Its like a movie set; like they only
Herman, look out! Miss Peelo screeches into my ear, and I just barely manage to swerve the rental car around an enormous lizard crossing the desert road.
Holy crap, woman, I say quietly, and glare at Miss Peelo, but then take another look at the lizard the rear view mirror as it runs back out into the desert.
What is that?
A gila monster?
Shit, no, its way too big; it looks like a fucking Komodo dragon.
Marty chuckles, looking out the window as we drive away from the lizard, and points out the other strange thing about our narrowly-avoided-roadkill-victim.
That is the greenest freaking lizard Ive ever seen. I didnt know they came in neon.
Green. Hm. Why is that sticking with me so hard?
We stop once weve driven past the main street, and I scan the desert with my eyes; the valley that Eddie Lavelli told me about isnt hard to pick out; maybe four miles outside of town, there appears to be some kind of enormous rock-wall formation. It doesnt take a genius to tell you the land must dimple in on the other side of that, meaning its some sort of big crater.
We drive out to it, and park right against the edge of the hill of boulders and cracked dirt and sand. As we get out of the car, Miss Peelo speaks up.
What? Marty and I say in unison.
Its dead air; no one has been here in a long time, except of course your friend Eddie. Im not detecting any thought residue since She focuses. Nineteen thirty-nine.
Yeah, Marty says, sniffing the air. On top of that, this place smells off. Like like a cemetery.
Im about to try to say something clever to bring them both down a peg, but then the wind howls, and theres this eerie sound, like screaming. It makes me convulsively shiver in the desert heat.
Probably for the best; Im no good at being clever anyway.
So what do we do? Marty says. Both he and Miss Peelo look to me; its weird, being the leader of anyone other than a thousand-pound man in a rhinoceros suit. Its so weird, in fact, that I dont even try to answer; I just start climbing the wall of the crater.
I want to see what Eddie saw.
Herman, Im telling you, this place smells wrong, Marty mumbles to me. We pull further ahead, making good progress up the slanted rock-face, Miss Peelo gingerly picking her way along a little way behind us.
Smells wrong? I say. Since when are you a bloodhound, Kong of the Wild?
Hey, man, give me some credit, Marty says, monkey-climbing his way up the boulders ahead of me. I took one of those Xavier tests back when he was giving them out in the Eighties. My base senses are level nine on the mutant anomalous register, the MAR. Thats higher than Sabretooth, Wild-child even Wolverine.
Youve got a better sense of smell than Wolverine? I say; this feels like bullshit, but Martys not the type to lie.
No, not better, really, he says, monkey-flinging himself up onto the edge of the crater. I can just interpret the information better than He takes a long look into the crater, and I pull myself up alongside him.
Herman he says slowly. What the fuck are we looking at here?
I start to speak, but then stop myself and take another, harder look. From ground level, this looked to be some kind of raised valley-wall around an enormous crater, like that of a meteor impact. But from up here at the edge, its a very different picture.
Its in, I say; alone, that statement is incoherent, but put into context, I feel its very insightful.
All in, Marty agrees.
The wind howls again, and again I hear those distant, muted screams.
The crater isnt a crater. Its got a crater around it, sure, but where the huge indent should be, theres instead a massive, inverted whirlpool of land, a raised upside-down funnel, maybe eight miles in diameter, eleven in circumference. The upward grade of the land is so subtle that most people wouldnt notice it, but when youre already looking for something to be strange, it sticks out like a severed head in a bowl of strawberries.
Come on, bobo, I say, starting to walk uphill towards the center of the crater.
They didnt explode something here Marty says, loping along on all fours alongside me. They imploded something. Everything got He makes a whoosh sound with his mouth. Sucked up.
What the fuck did we have that could do that in 1939? I say, and for a moment I hope that Marty will have an answer. Marty shrugs (somethings wrong bring the atom rotator down by five degrees)
Maybe this is the result of time travel? Heroes are always bouncing all over time and space, he says (jones stop the test before we), running out ahead of me a little. Maybe someone went back and
(oh my god my eyes it sucked my eyes out)
Do you hear that, Herman? Marty says, his eyes narrowed to slits. Thats black noise.
(michael shut it down shut it down before it)
(jesus the field is widening its over two miles now)
Black noise. Sounds below the range of human hearing; not above it, like dog whistles or hypersonics. So low, so vague that even I cant usually pick them up.
We need to shut it down before it sucks the whole town in, I say aloud. Wait, what?
Both Marty and I stop dead.
(hold onto something its out of control)
Marty somethings wrong here, I say, rubbing the side of my head.
(no no I dont want to die no)
Yeah, no shit, Marty says. I cant stop thinking about something sucking my organs out.
Its the Black Noise, Miss Peelo says, finally catching up, her teal parasol shaking in the desert winds, pulling her skirt up to her nobbly knees so as not to dirty it any more than its already been soiled. Like subliminal messages; nasty ones, at that. Here she says, putting a finger to her forehead. Give me a moment and Ill block them out for us
(no help no help I cant hold on my bones are coming through my skin)
A delicate purple tendril extends from the inner corner of her left eye, and then whips out and stabs into my forehead, then Martys, then sucks back into Miss Peelos little goblin face. My head feels tingly for a moment, and then theres what feels like a cold breeze in my ear canals, and the whispering, angry voices go silent.
There, she says. That should last us until we leave here, I hope.
What the hell were those? Marty says, scratching behind his ear with his left foot.
They sounded like voices. Like people whispering, I say, and turn to Miss Peelo. Localized to the inverted crater, too. Maybe a psychic trap?
No. Miss Peelo, of course. It was physical; auditory. If its a trap, then it would have to be some kind of recording, played twenty-four hours every day of the year. And if anyone was going to upkeep that, then they
I finish her thought.
Most certainly would have had the balls to come and stop us before we could ever trigger the trap.
I look over the empty anti-crater, and say something as it occurs to me:
This is a forgotten place. Were standing in one of the worlds loose ends.
We walk further in silence, passing a couple more of those insane giant green lizards, too preoccupied with chasing strangely large bugs to pay us much mind. Im not sure exactly what were looking for, but Ill know it when I see it.
Hey, whats that? Marty says, monkey-running over to something sticking up out of the sand; were almost at the center of the funnel, the epicenter of the explosion, and the ground is starting to be speckled with big rocks, chunks of unidentifiable crumpled metal and what looks like plain wooden planks, cracked apart by an unimaginable force.
Marty yanks the object up out of the sand, and shakes it off.
What is it? I shout to him, but hes still messing with it down by his chest.
Boo! Marty says, turning around suddenly, and actually pretty effectively scaring me; hes got something on his face, over his eyes; a second, less scared shitless look shows me that theyre bomb-goggles, the old type where each individual goggle looks like half a soup-can. Marty looks pretty goddamn cool in them, too; like a kind of Mad-Monkey-Scientist.
Whered you find those? I holler to him, trying to hide the fact that he just almost made me swallow my own tongue.
They were attached to this, Marty says, and holds up a human skull, cracked into three pieces.
My word, Miss Peelo says, going a little pale in the hot desert sun.
Marty keeps the goggles on, and we walk in further, finally reaching the highest point, where whatever happened happened.
And theres nothing. Just a dimpled plateau of land.
Or wait, is that
I jog over to the dead center of the anti-crater, and stare at what hangs in the air.
Oh, no way, Marty says, circling it, flipping open the lenses on his bomb goggles. Is that what I think it is?
To call it a spot would be wrong, but its certainly something of the same variety: a rip in reality hanging in the air, maybe two feet long and eight inches wide, so black that it seems to suck the light in all around it.
Oh, dear, Miss Peelo says, going right up to it and peering in. Oh, dearie me.
I instinctively pull her back, protective, and then something vibrates into place inside me.
I know what it is. I know what happened here. I
I get no further, because a shuriken throwing-star zips by my face and embeds itself into Miss Peelos cheek. She screams, clutching her face, and falls to her knees, all three of her eyes wide.
The assassin with the big fake tits, Dragonfly, the one who attacked me when I was with Peter, stands not twenty feet away from us, stumbling closer; somethings wrong with her. Shes staggering, her eyes squinted nearly shut and filled with tears, mumbling under her breath.
How the fuck didnt you smell her? I whisper to Marty; theres no way I can run all the way down to the car and get the Shocker suit, not with my bum leg.
I dont know; she must be wearing one of those psychic blockers the kingpin had a while back; I didnt hear her either. Shit man, what do we do?
The undying ones! They scream in my ears! Dragonfly wails and her voice trembles badly. Screaming! They are screaming!
So, this is what we wouldve looked like if we hadnt brought Miss Peelo along.
Maybe Marty was right. Maybe it is all about fate.
Dragonfly, calm down, I say in my best Its All Good voice. Youre sick. You need to
I need nothing from you! My skin! My flesh is being sucked from my bones! she screams, and I back away from her as slowly as I can.
Marty I say out the side of my mouth. Get Miss Peelo the hell out of here. Ill handle this.
Now, normally the sidekick is supposed to say, Herman, no! and valiantly join the fight. God, I guess Im still not an actual superhero, because Marty grabs the still whimpering Miss Peelo by the arm and starts dragging her down the anti-crater.
You must die, Herman Schultz, the Dragonfly says, stumbling towards me.
I draw out my fathers blue switchblade, and flick it open.
She pulls out her katana.
I feel a little stupid.
Out here in the hot desert sun, in the middle of nowhere, with my injuries and her psychosis, only one thing is for sure: this is going to be quick, brutal and bloody.
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