Chapter 29: Everything Is Lies, Part 6: the Siege 2

I tear down the address for Arcade we got off Hammerhead and shove it in my suit’s belt; I’ve got three little slots for just such an occasion.





The pressure on the door is building.

The insanity outside is intensifying; even through the soundproofed walls I can hear them hooting and hollering. Felicia runs back out into the lobby, holding my security remote, a bulky thing covered in switches, knobs and buttons. She’s slipped on her bullet-proof vest over her usual outfit, not that it’s going to do much good, but I suppose it’s for more for psychological safety than anything else.

“There are at least two hundred of them out there, Herman; your thermal scan was screaming off the dial; it registered one-ninety-three, but from the camera’s I’m sure there’s more, I’m sure of it, Herman —”

I grab her by the shoulder with one hand, and put the other one up under her face, cradling her jaw.

“Felicia. We’re going to be fine.” There’s a pause, and then I add: “I just lied. I’m sorry. I have no idea if we’re going to be fine or not. In fact we’re probably going to die. Horribly.”

She cocks her head and smiles at me oddly.

“You’re so … Not him.”

“What?” I say. “Not who?”

“Who do you think, dummy? Spider-Man.”

And for some reason, that makes me feel real, real good.


And there that feeling goes, right out the window.

“Okay, kids,” I say, turning back to the vault door, my remote raised. “Time to shake things up.”

I flip a switch. There’s a moment of silence, and then a faint hissing sound.

“What is that?” Felicia says, looking around.

“Tear gas. I’m flooding the whole sewer system out there. And now …” I press a button, and there’s the distant sound of air blowing through a vent. “Viaquin 3. An airborne laxative.”

“Laxative?” Felicia says, wrinkling her brow.

“Laxative,” I affirm. “These are all meant to be traps, to slow people down; they were never meant to be used offensively like this.”

“But, Herman … Laxatives?” Felicia giggles nervously. I nod to her, and grab her by the wrist, marching her back towards the security room.

“Fuck, yes, laxatives; if they want their seven hundred million, they’ll have to work for every single fucking dime. And if they do it with debilitating stomach cramps and chunky liquid shit running down their legs, well, I don’t know about you but that puts a smile on my face ten miles wide.”

“You have a point.” Felicia laughs, and slides her wrist out of my grip, replacing it with her hand.

Again, through the panic, the little boy inside me is smiling.


Some crazy motherfucker is still beating on the door. Time to kick out the big guns. I flip two switches, and press a blue button. There’s a ZNNN sound, and Felicia takes notice.

“What now?”

“Three automated Gatling guns out there in the hallways. It must be a fucking slaughterhouse out there.”

“Herman …” she starts, maybe to protest. She must suddenly remember about the fourteen million her head is worth, because she goes silent. We turn into the Tube’s cafeteria, and are faced with my mammoth monitor set-up; fifteen screens, each one displaying a different video feed from inside and outside the Tube.

I knew what I would see, but it still hits me hard.

The Gatling guns have run out of ammo, and they’re spinning on empty; the flowing sewage is red with blood, a swampy sea of bodies and body parts. The bullets were high-caliber enough that they actually split a lot of the unarmored folks in half; those that weren’t actually blown apart were riddled with bullets, and lie either dead or dying in the muck or on the ground.

I guess the stuff that would catch most people’s attention are the selection of eight or ten guys who were smart enough to wear bullet-proofed armor but too dumb to have any kind of air-filters installed. They’re frantically tearing at their armor, something of them just spasmodically twitching and clawing at their bodies, as the laxative and tear gas takes effect.

The guns worked a hell of a lot better than I’d expected; the new thermal scans show less than sixty people moving around out there; from what I can see, most of them are either metas or tech-users.


I check the door cams; I’ve been both eagerly awaiting and dreading this moment.

“Reggie?” I say aloud, and Felicia almost immediately answers;

“Reggie fucking Shappe.”

Reginald Shappe. The Speedfreek.

Armed with a chromed-out suit of armor with rockets on the boots, a long, thin adamantium blade on each arm, and a dangerous addiction to the drug called “Snap,” Reggie was never a guy to be taken lightly. He thought of himself as a world-class assassin, and was hesitant to hear otherwise; this was particularly comical, considering every dime Reggie got went to buying more drugs.

He’s always been known for crazy shit; for instance, his method of attack on my vault door is pure kamikaze genius. He’s zooming all the way up the sewer tube, and then rocketing back down it at full speed (around two hundred and eighty miles an hour), and rocket-dropkicking the thing right at the left corner; his rockets are sputtering and fucked up from the impacts, but it’s looking like they’re going to hold out longer than my door. Drugs will give you that retarded kind of ingenuity.

Snap is a nasty one, too; it’s a pheromone excreted off a mutant of the same name, who the Kingpin caught a couple of years ago, shot in the head and put into a milking tank. The tank keeps him in a kind of permanent coma, while tubes milk him for the pheromone, like some kind of grotesque human puppet —

Grotesque … human … puppet … mutant … machine … milk … tank … coma … Darkforce materia, the secret ingredient … super-soldier serum … the eel … spider-man … white rabbit … my father … FPS … Rhino … the Spot … gamma bomb … gamma bomb … gamma Darkforce FPS paranoia conspiracy avatars devolution …

Oh, God.







“Felicia,” I squeak. “I just … I just figured out a whole bunch of shit at once.”

“Herman, Reggie’s gonna —”

“I know what the machine in the White Rabbit’s house was. I know how they use Jonny Ohnn. I even know why they kept the gamma bomb secret, I know now —”

Felicia starts talking, presumably to try to refocus me, but then she stops for a moment, and for the hundredth time that night, I’m reminded why I missed her so damn much.

She’s pondering whether or not she should just let me keep talking; she wants to know the answers just as much as I do.


It jars her out of her reverie, mainly because this time we can actually hear the vault door shift on its hinges a little.

I set off the bouncing betties.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “bouncing betties” are devices invented for the limited trench warfare that took place during World War II. A particularly nasty breed of land mine, betties are buried about two feet under the world, and when pressure sets them off, they spring-jump four feet vertical and set off a shrapnel charge.

Yeah. Evil shit.

I have them set up in the walls of my front tunnel; as soon as I flip the switch, there are a bunch of twanging sounds, and then all of my cameras goes to static.

“What happened?” Felicia asks quietly.

“The shrapnel from the mines must’ve hit the cameras —”

“Mines?” Felicia whispers. “You set off mines in the tunnel? Herman, how’re we going to get out of here?”

“I’m working on it,” I grunt, and run out the door, back down the hall.


Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

Punisher’s waiting for me out in the lobby; he’s done a combat stitch on his throat that looks like kids could hang a swingset off of. He’s got an M16 in one hand and a pistol in the other; God only knows where he got the assault rifle, I didn’t see it with him when we came in.

“Schultz,” he says, and nods towards the door; the thing has shifted in its frame.

Stupid, stupid, stupid of me; what good is a super-strong door without an equally strong frame?

Amateur mistake. I’m so fucking useless sometimes.

“You got more of your traps in here?” Punisher says, his eyes searching the enormous room.

“Only one. There’s a vibration unit set up under the floor in here that’ll shake this whole place into rubble.”



The enormous door hits the marble so hard it cracks in all directions, and smoke floods into the room; the tunnel beyond the door is completely fogged out. I hope the fucking laxatives have dissipated.

Something stirs.

Punisher winks at me.

I think I just peed a little.

“HERMAN! WHAT A PLEASURE TO SEE YOU AGAIN!” Reginald screams in his cracking junkie-voice as he flies in, roller-blading on his rocket skates. He smacks Punisher out of the way, uninterested in him, and soars at me. I try to raise the gauntlets but he rocket-kicks me in the jaw; the impact is dissipated, but the momentum knocks me onto my back.

All of this happens in under a second. The word “Speed” is in his name for a reason.

“So, Herman,” he says, a smile in his voice. “Can I borrow your cabasa for a minute?” He swings one of his arm-spike blades at me, and just before it hits me, I notice something odd about it; it’s serrated.

Well, that’s new.



The blade of the arm-spike bites into the flesh of my shoulder; if I’d been an inch to the right it would’ve taken off my head.

“Fuck,” I say helpfully, and hit him with a level three; it barely knocks him back.

“Phineas has been working overtime since you went hero, Herman,” Reggie says, kicking me like a soccer-ball into the ticketing booths. “I went and got myself a few …” He hovers down close to me as I try to stand, and talks through his smiling, rotten junkie teeth. “Upgrades.”

“Up yours,” Felicia says coolly as the tip of her whip loops around Reggie’s ankle.

“Hey, what’s —?” is all he has time to say before Felicia yanks his left leg out from under him; the rockets suddenly pull in two different directions; Reggie tries to regain balance, but only makes it worse, and then goes smashing, full speed, into a newsstand which folds around him and then collapses inward.

Felicia flicks the whip above her head, and there’s a loud CRACK sound, which coincides almost exactly with the entrance of an enormous black man who appears to be wearing nothing more than a loincloth and the fur of an albino gorilla. He’s at least nine feet tall, nearly as tall as Aleksei, and almost as broad.

Punisher opens fire with his M16, blowing holes in the man’s arms, chest and face.

It doesn’t seem to bother him much.

Others are pouring in, too, now; the Locust, his green armor easily setting him apart, buzzes in and flies up the concreted-in sky-light, and Razor-Fist, an Asian Kung-Fu assassin with blades where he should have hands, just cut one of the few remaining “normal” hit-men in half to get past him.

Punisher’s just unloading on all of them, not caring that it doesn’t seem to be doing all that much actual harm, and when the big black guy goes to punch him, I worry for a moment, before Punisher dodges the punch, and then uses the big guy’s weight against him to flip him flat on his back, and, in the same motion, shove a grenade into the black guy’s mouth and take off sprinting towards me.

“You got a fall-back point?” Punisher shouts over the wet explosion behind him.

“A what?” Punisher reaches me and grabs me by the shoulders, ignoring the fact that one of them is already wounded, and screams directly into my face as a laser of some kind cuts a jagged stripe in the floor behind him.


“Oh, oh yeah!” I say, and point upstairs. “The tracks are —”

The Locust fires his disintegrator ray, and the wall next to us explodes outward, knocking both of us down. Punisher grabs me by the wrist and pulls me towards the stairs while simultaneously shooting several of the closer goons in the head.

“On your feet, Schultz!” he shouts, and I listen, hurling myself up the first few stairs on all fours. I hear the disintegrator ray charging again, roll over and hit the Locust with a level 4, knocking him out of the air.

“Herman!” Felicia shouts as she runs past me, tossing me my discarded security remote. “Let’s get the hell out of here!”

The lobby of the Tube. So beautiful and serene, so …

So much my home.

There’s the roar of a motorcycle’s engine, and Gunmetal Gray, back on his Harley, comes sailing through the destroyed vault door and through the lobby.

I thought he was dead, I thought —

Oh, right, duh, healing factor.

“Goodbye,” I say solemnly to the Tube, and press the tiny Skull-And-Crossbones button on the remote.

Nothing happens, and Gunmetal Gray’s Harley comes hauling ass up the stairs at me.

I turn, scrambling frantically on the red carpet, pulling myself onto the second-story landing, and then everything jumps a foot to the left and explodes.

Level 6.

Trying to describe it in words is almost impossible; it’s like the vast marble flooring jumps apart, like every single molecule spins off in a different direction. The stairs beneath Gunmental Gray’s motorcycle break apart like glass, his body flipping up onto the landing like a rag-doll, tackling my ass down into the felt carpeting.

Behind us the vibration shockwave passes up through the air, and the walls start to come apart as the wave moves over them. I see the ancient light fixtures, the beautiful wood sculpting on the walls, the ticketing booths, the shops all burst apart like burnt paper, coming apart into little more than flakes and dust. The ten or fifteen human mercenaries still in the running are carried up with the rippling wave, some all the way thirty feet straight up into the glass skylight, which blows inward, the millions of tiny particles of glass spraying through the hit-men, reducing them to red mist and shattered bones.

“Holy shit!” I try to say, but the world is vibrating so hard no sound comes out.

The roof caves in, car-sized chunks of broken concrete falling down into the destroyed lobby and crushing people left and right; it’s no longer recognizable as the Tube, just a massive disaster area, coming apart like it’s being bombed. The rest of the roof comes down, and the whole place implodes, the subsequent shockwave throwing myself and Gunmetal Gray deeper into the hallway.

Everything from the words “Level 6” until this sentence here happens in under three seconds. That’s it. That’s how quick home dies.

The air is thick with dust and plaster, the hallway dark. I hear the structure creak on its foundations, and I stand up, slowly at first.

Gunmetal Gray is waiting for me, shotgun raised. There’s a silence, and I watch out of the corner of my eye as the Locust, Speedfreek and Razorfist pull themselves free of the wreckage.

“Gray …” I start, raising a pleading hand, wondering if I can manage to fire my gauntlet before he pulls the trigger. “It’s only seven hundred million dollars, right?”

“Right,” Gray says, and pulls the trigger. I have time for a single thought before the gun goes off.

That thought is: It’s just buckshot. I’ll be —

And then the buckshot hits the open wound on my shoulder, and I scream and stumble backwards, throwing up my left arm and hitting him with a level three that hurls him into the rubble, his ribs and left arm breaking, his muscles rupturing under his skin. I turn, stumble, and lean against the wall.

“Gah … fuuuuh-uhhck …” I turn around, and, it must be fucking fate saving my ass, because I have enough time to get my arms up before Razorfist manages to hit me in the shoulder with one of his hand-knives.

What kind of fucking idiot has his hands cut off and replaced with knives? What kind of backward-ass thinking is that?

His knives slide off my suit, harmless; apparently he didn’t get the same memo as Speedfreek. I grab one of the blades, vibe it on a level three and tear it out of his arm lengthwise, his bone, apparently welded to the steel, tears through his skin. For a moment it looks like he has three arms; one made only of bloody, slimy bone and a steel blade, one made of sagging, blood-covered flesh, one complete one.

He makes a little whisper of a scream and falls on back as Gunmetal starts to get up behind him, and I just take off running.

I’m halfway down to the tracks when the Locust smashes into me from behind, knocking me down a flight of stairs. He lost his disintegrator when the lobby … disintegrated, and now he’s gonna try to take me on mano a mano.

Stupid old coot.

I turn over and fling three level ones at him, blowing off those fucking hypersonic wings of his. He drops onto his chest, but gets up before I have a chance to press my advantage, lifts me up and smashes me into the banister, spraying a silky, sticky fluid all over me from some kind of goo-gun in his wrist, the same sort of shit Spider-Man uses, but white and thin.

As usual, I can vibe right out of it. I grab him by the neck and vibrate his head; his legs give out, and I drop him, following it up with a kick to the back of his noggin that knocks him into a push-up position.

“Damn you Schultz,” he murmurs as I’m getting ready to run away.

And, as always, like an idiot, I stop, and kneel down next to him.

August pulls off his helmet, revealing his insane lion’s-mane of white hair and his ridiculous little Rasputin beard. He’s bleeding heavily out of his nose, and his pupils are dilated to all hell; having your head vibed, even on a level two, is no laughing matter.

“Ah, Jesus, Hopper,” I practically whisper. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I need that money, Schultz,” he says as I help him up. “Please, please, I need that money, can’t you just … all I wanted to do is to be with the insects.”

“I know,” I say.

“And, you know, the world doesn’t understand people like you and I; remember back when we were in Wisconsin, that night, when you told me about the vibrations?”

I do. Considering how drunk I was, that’s kind of incredible.

“I remember.”

“I … my insects, I just needed more money to … to understand them, and —”

“Outta my way you old faggot, that money is MINE!”


August Hopper’s head splits in two, and I’m splattered by his brain, and then a rocket-boot hits me in the face, knocking me the rest of the way down the staircase leading to the subway tracks.

Reggie laughs and zooms down after me; I try to stand up too soon, and he slashes my right forearm deeply as I try to guard my neck. He knocks my hand away and grabs me by the throat, but then a black combat boot hits him in the side, knocking him off me.

“Hey —” Reggie starts to say, and then Felicia’s talon slashes him across his exposed face, and he ends his sentence, “Eyargh!”


Aleksei’s fist hits him like a freight train, driving him down with a sixty-mile-an-hour impact into the cheap concrete floor of the old subway platform. Felicia jumps and throws a perfectly executed low-dropkick, sliding him off the platform, down onto the tracks. Punisher shoves me aside, hops down onto the tracks, puts one hand on Reggie’s jaw and the other on his brow; one loud CRASCK later, Reginald Shappe is dead.

Punisher spits on him, and then looks up to me.

“What now?”

Without a word, I jog over to track three; excellent, right where I left it.

The thing in front of me looks rather like an enormous steel bucket, which is, in essence, all it is. A number of steel cables connect it to what looks like a massive tarp on the ceiling; to the unseasoned eye, I suppose this would look like some sort of renovation equipment; well, except for the Flying Broomstick, my jet-powered dildo, which sticks awkwardly up out of the side. I loaded it in here before we left for New Mexico; I had a sneaking suspicion it might come down to something like this.

I climb into the bucket, and, to my immense relief, find that Aleksei has already pulled the green lever and moved the whole mechanism onto the caution tape, placing it just under what looks just like any other piece of ceiling tile.


I slap a red button on the control console, and the roof slides aside, revealing a forty-foot tunnel up to the surface; the failing architecture of the Tube shifts again; it’s going to collapse completely any second now.

“Everybody in!” I shout, and my posse takes heed; I think I’m getting used to this.

“Herman, what is this thing?” Aleksei says, his voice small and scared. “Are you sure I fit?”

“You fit fine, Aleksei, this thing was built for you. Sit down, close your eyes and hold on.”

Aleksei sits down into a child’s protective-ball stance, his hands over his ears. I’m lucky he pressed the right lever, otherwise we would’ve had to wait seven minutes for the helium to get flowing. As it stands, we only have to wait thirty seconds, and that’s just enough time for me to make the correct adjustments for weight to the computer’s gyroscope. Felicia realizes what she’s standing in and lets out an excited, girlish laugh, covering her mouth.

“Herman, it’s brilliant!” she gasps, looking up at the huge tarp above us as servo motors rigged into the ceiling move it into position inside the tunnel.

Brilliant? No. Clever, maybe. Not brilliant. Just a new permutation of my cowardice.

“I don’t understand,” Punisher says. “Schultz, what are we standing in?”

“Don’t you see?” Felicia says, gesturing at the steel cables on all sides of us. There’s a gentle hum as a metallic rod with a single gas-feed tube extends up from the center of the room. I take off my left gauntlet, and set it down around the rod, plugging the gas-tube into a female-link up on the wrist of the gauntlet. “Herman’s gauntlets don’t actually shoot anything; they just throw vibrated air. So if he hooks it up to a helium feed …” Felicia makes a “figure it out” hand motion to the Punisher, who suddenly grips the side of the bucket very tightly.

“Everybody hold on tight,” I say as the ceiling leading to the hallway caves in. “This is going to be a little bumpy.”

I push the green lever all the way forward, and then squeeze the trigger on the gauntlet hooked up to the gas. We launch.

The dirt walls of the tunnel race by so fast that they’re just a black blur before we’re out in the night sky, swinging gently under the egg-shaped canopy of a huge hot-air balloon. Traffic down on the bridge doesn’t even react; if you live in New York, this sort of shit is kind of commonplace; two hundred feet, three hundred, we’re really gaining height quickly.

And then I see it; over next to Felicia’s arm; one of the weight cords is drawn taut. I lean over the side of the balloon to investigate, and something hits me in the face. I stumble backwards, and Felicia turns. A biker-gloved hand grabs her hair, and pulls her up and over the side.

“No!” I scream, and, without thinking, I almost jump after her. I stop myself at the last minute, and see her whip fly up and lock around one of the balloon’s support cords. I second look over the side of the balloon leaves me staring right down the barrel of Gunmetal Gray’s shotgun.


I stagger backwards, dazed; he’s replaced the buckshot with some kind of explosive round. It takes me a second, but I realize with more than a little bit of shock that part of my mask is blown off; must’ve been some kind of acid. I’m lucky that I still had my eye-patch on (bet you almost forgot about that, didn’t you?), or the shit would’ve gotten in my eye. As it stands, my face is sizzling in several different spots, but I’m mostly unharmed.

Gunmetal Gray has pulled his entire upper body up onto the bucket, now, and Punisher turns towards him, looking pissed, drawing a knife. Gray seems to register the Punisher for the first time, and blinks, reassessing the situation before dropping out of sight; without a second’s hesitation, the Punisher dives after him.

“Aleksei,” I howl over the mounting winds. “Grab the whip!”

Aleksei grabs hold, and starts pulling Felicia up, but then a shotgun blast explodes through the floor and hits my guidance console.




The cradle pitches forward, spilling Aleksei out into the open air. I see his frightened, bloody face for a moment before he drops out of view, tumbling down four hundred feet into the East River.

“Aleksei,” I whisper, barely even a sound. And then I see the whip come untied, and catch it at the absolute last possible second. Felicia can’t weigh more than one-thirty, but trying to handle her swinging weight is too much, and, as the balloon pitches wildly again, taking us in between the walls of buildings over the streets, I’m pulled almost entirely overboard. I hook my leg over one of the suspension cords, and I’m hanging there, upside-down, watching Felicia swing beneath me, and far beneath her, the street.

“FELICIA!” I scream. This at this speed, this high up, everything is a scream, if only to counter-act the wind.




Sure, some people would say that love makes you do crazy things. But wouldn’t those crazy things involve PROTECTING one you love?

Not, say, dropping them out of a hot air balloon forty stories up.

Which is exactly what I do.

She falls, falls, falls away from me, becoming smaller and smaller in my vision until she’s just a speck, and then I see a thin suspension line fire out to hook onto one of the buildings. It figures; this chick was trained by Spider-Man. Who the fuck do I think I am to protect her?

The air balloon buckles to the left again, and I swing like a marionette. My knee injury screams at me, and I do an impromptu pull-up, tossing myself back into the bucket. Another shotgun blast comes through the side of the bucket, and I see Punisher and Gray beating the shit out of each other. I reach through and hook my arm around Gray’s neck, surprising him and allowing Punisher to knife him a dozen times in the ribs. Gray headbutts me in my exposed face, and then punches the Punisher in the face; he swings up the shotgun but the Punisher bats it away, and it blasts into the balloon canopy. The thing deflates in record speed, and all three of us go crashing into the roof of the Met-Life building.

The bucket rolls twice, and I’m thrown out. Gray stands up first, then Punisher, then me. Gray draws out two pistols, one on me and one on the Punisher, smiling.

“Well,” he says, cocking both guns. “Nice to know that’s finally over with.”

Punisher shoots a glance at me that says “This is a lame-ass way to die.”

I just nod.

“Nice to have met you, boys; you just made me a millionai–”

An arc of electricity flies in out of nowhere, picking up Gray and lifting him into the air. His skin glows red with energy as two more steady streams of electrical energy join the first, coming up from off the edge of the building. Gray twitches and jerks spasmodically, bright white spittle flying from his mouth, and then the electricity carries him back, over the edge.

The electricity dissipates, and Gray drops out of sight.

So he’s gone.

But now we have a new problem.

A bigger problem.

Punisher pats his arms and legs, searching for any weapon he can get his hands on.

He comes up dry.

The Crimson Dynamo floats into sight, electricity crackling above his head.

“Jesus …” I say. If I even start to raise my arm, he’ll fry me.

“This is … this fucking SUCKS!” I shout at the Dynamo, the red armor glimmering in the night. The electricity arcs out and crackles into shapes; letters. They read:


“What …” I whisper as the Dynamo floats down to the roof. Punisher gives me this wild-eyed look; I think he’s getting ready to try to tackle one of the most powerful suits of armor ever made.

“Kneeeeeeeel!” the Crimson Dynamo’s metallic voice roars. “Before the great and powerful Oz!”

Wait. I know that voice.

And suddenly I’m laughing.

Martin “The Gibbon” Blank slides the face plate of his helmet up, his fur matted down with sweat, but he’s all smiles. And then the Punisher’s laughing.

The Punisher, laughing.

A harsh barking sound that is most reminiscent of a car backfiring; it’s not a laugh that’s been used much, but this just makes Marty and me laugh harder.

All three of us chuckling like morons up onto the roof of the Met-Life building, while the wreckage of my hot-air balloon rolls back and forth in the wind.

Everything is lies, but that’s okay.

Because I’m alive, Marty’s alive, Felicia’s alive, Aleksei’s most likely alive, the Punisher is the Punisher, but, like it or not, I’m starting to figure things out.

Here. Let me explain.

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