Chapter 30: Everything Is Lies, Part Seven
Two hundred and forty-eight men are laying siege to the Tube.
But thats about four hundred feet above what concerns us currently.
What concerns us currently is the battle going on four hundred feet above the tube, where a man in bulky red armor is frantically trying to shake a well, I was about to say monkey off his back, but thats ridiculous. Hes trying to get one of my most valued associates to let go of his head. There. Thats the way I wanted it to come out.
See, Martys strategy was simple; grab onto the Crimson Dynamos head, interlace his fingers over the facemask of the armor to form a furry blindfold, and then Not let go. No matter what.
That was the extent of his plan.
Theres something very beautiful about that, because, in and of itself, it shows the sort of intense, mind-bending bravery that guys like me arent capable of. See, in this plan, theres no out for Marty. The moment he and the Dynamo blasted up out of the sewers, his plan had succeeded. No further effort required.
So once he was racing around the New York skyline, forming a new plan had become his prerogative.
And what a plan it was.
See, the Dynamo suit cant generate electricity, it just manipulates it. Anyone whos watched From Colonel Russia To Omega Red: the History of the Soviet Super-Soldier Program on the History Channel would know this.
Lucky for Marty, he and I watched that together.
So Martys strategy was this: he hooked his opposable monkey-toes in behind the Crimson Dynamos rocket boots, sticking them between the joints, forcing the Dynamo to fly straight up, up above the buildings, up where theres absolutely no electricity to for it to play around with. Then he pulls out his toes.
The Dynamo, whos been trying to level out this whole time, is thrown off balance, and they go plummeting back down towards the streets. Marty monkeys around so that hes face to face with the Dynamo, who, like the amateur he obviously was, tries to punch him off.
And ends up punching himself straight in the face, knocking his dumb ass out.
Goddamn wannabe super-criminals; they make the rest of us look like idiots.
As if men in yellow-and-brown suits with names like Doctor Octopus and Mole-Man needed help.
Marty says they slid across the roofs of three buildings before they hit a penthouse and the rocket boots shut off. Getting the armor off him was easy; the suit has a disengage just inside the faceplate that clicks the whole thing off. Its an auto-fit natural response system, so once Marty programmed in his height and his weight, the thing wrapped around him like a shiny red prophylactic.
From there it was just a case of Follow the Crashing Hot Air Balloon.
The Punisher thumps his fist on the table and lets out another one of those harsh, barking laughs, slapping Marty very hard on the back; Marty gags on his beer a little, but then smiles.
It was pretty incredible, wasnt it? Marty says, grinning like an well, an ape. Felicia nudges me under the table and I nod.
Unarmed, unarmored, and he still takes down Crimson Dynamo, I say, raising my Heineken. To Martin Blank, may the wonders never cease. Everybody clinks their glasses; the Punisher isnt drinking, but he flicks our cups anyway.
Ever since Marty showed up on the roof and the siege officially ended, the Punisher has been a transformed man. Hes not well, its
Its hard to explain.
Remember the Punisher/Computer analogy? Well, down there in the sewers, the Punisher was in full operating mode, blowing people away left and right. Now, its like hes, I dont know, on Screen Saver. Hes not smiling; I dont even know if the Punisher can smile. But hes not frowning anymore either; he looks sort of merrily apathetic, if thats possible.
Whats clear, and its the only thing Ive ever been able to read on this guys face, is that we impressed the living hell out of him. I think he expected to die tonight due to our incompetence; instead, not only did he live, but I actually saved his ass. I dont know if he appreciates it, or is grateful, but there is one thing for certain: He noticed.
The night is cold, the bar is warm and Felicia smells like vanilla and cinnamon. I should know; shes sitting practically on top of me, her right thigh sprawled over my lap under the table, an arm around my shoulders, smiling widely, talking animatedly to everyone like the chatty theater girl in high school.
Come to think of it, she probably was the chatty theater girl in high school.
Aleksei, for his part, hasnt spoken much; hes wrapped in terrycloth towels we bought at a department store five minutes before closing. We bought them in uniform. It was kind of like a joke:
The Shocker, the Black Cat and the Crimson Dynamo walk into a Home & Garden Aisle.
Even though Alekseis Rhino skin might feel like concrete, its actually pretty absorbent. By the time he managed to pull himself out of the East River, he was soaked to the bone. Now he just sits there, making a scowly, sour face and sort of half-glaring at Felicia.
Remember the first time your best friend had a girlfriend in kindergarten? Remember how much you hated that bitch?
Right now were in a Bar With No Name just east of Coney Island; the place cleared the hell out as soon as we came in, H-List villains scattering like bugs from under an over-turned rock; the bartender, Sam Griggs, is an old pal of mine from my Kingpin days, and hes had the news footage of the left-over chaos from the siege on the Tube playing on every TV in the place.
Miss Peelo arrives, flanked by one of Tony Starks massive red-and-yellow security droids, and hugs me so tight one of my healing ribs cries out in protest. After a little bit of small talk about property damage and Miss Peelo and Felicia going back and forth about how beautiful Starks ass is, Felicia puts her mug down on the table, quiet hard.
Ahem. Everybody who was talking falls silent and looks to her. Back in the Tube, just before things went crazy, Herman said he figured something out.
About the conspiracy? Marty says, setting down his mug. I nod, and Aleksei leans forward, speaking loudly.
GOOD, BECAUSE WE SHOULD KNOW THINGS ABOUT THE CONSPIRACY AND THE CSA AND FPS AND WHATNOT, I KNOW THESE THINGS. Any other person itd be obnoxious, but on Aleksei, its just endearing; hes trying to remind us all that hes still here, and yes, hes been paying attention.
Thats great, Aleksei, Miss Peelo says, and pats him on his enormous right shoulder. He looks to me and I shoot him a serious smile, and he leans back contentedly; hes said his piece.
I lay it out flat for everybody, in very abridged format; everything thats happened since the day I stepped out of my Nissan (which was destroyed seconds later), and faced down with the mind-controlled monster called Ravage on Dufresne Boulevard. After Im done, I sort of wait for it to settle in, and then start up anew.
Im going to set this out on the table from the beginning: at least ten percent of well-known metahumans, including the Hulk, were intentionally created through the machinations of my father and the organization called Control, which, though it isnt now, once functioned as an arm of the U.S. government.
Theres a silence. Martys eyes are very big, and Felicias frozen in place, Miss Peelo is quietly looking down, Aleksei looks deep in thought and the Punisher hes back in computer mode.
Youre serious? the Punisher says, very quiet. Dangerous quiet. Youve run this all through that mega-computer of a brain of yours?
I am, and I have.
Felicia shakes her head, and then speaks, equally quiet as the Punisher, but anger has been replaced with a kind of restrained shock. Why would the U.S. government Why would they create the Hulk? That thing has killed thousands of people, and its not like theyve been using it as a weapon; half of the people it kills are always soldiers trying to stop it!
Im coming to that, Felicia, I say, and for once my words come out as warm and inviting as I mean them to. Any other questions?
Marty raises his hand.
What about mutants? Did they make mutants, too? The question is totally sincere, and I answer it seriously.
Maybe some of them. Im not sure yet; the mutant phenomenon has been around since at least Biblical times, so theres no way it goes back that far. But post-1939? Maybe. I wouldnt put it past them to have had some kind of hand in the mutant baby-boom twenty-five years ago; that was really when they started kicking into gear in the first place.
This gets another stone-cold silence.
Were all the villains FPS tampered with created by Control? Miss Peelo asks, and I nod. Oh, dear. Oh, dearie me, she adds, pressing a finger to her pursed lips.
Aleksei speaks up.
So then its totally for sure that I he starts, and I cut him off.
Yes. You were, Aleksei, and thats okay. It doesnt make you any less of a person, any more than being in a car accident would make you less of a person. Its just an outside event that changed the course of your life. All in all, youve enjoyed being the Rhino, right?
Theres a pause, and then Aleksei nods.
Right. And thats good; you havent caused too much damage, killed anyone, or even really hurt anybody. But thats what had struck me so odd before, it was the variety of metas theyd created. I mean, it was everything from the Absorbing Man to the Grizzly; it didnt feel like there was any kind of specific qualifiers. But now that Ive thought about it, Ive realized that there couldnt be any specific qualifiers, it had to be as random and bizarre as it was.
Why? Felicia says almost before Ive completed my sentence.
Because, I say quietly, when youre building the most powerful army the universe has ever known in total secrecy, you cant have guys like Reed Richards catching on. It throws a serious fucking wrench in the gears, which look to have been falling apart already. Were dealing with some seriously smart dudes, here, seriously smart and seriously ruthless. Im talking best of the best of the best of the best, the sort of military minds that are only in the military because it would be too dangerous letting them out on the street. People like my father.
Theres another pause.
Army? Marty says quietly. An army of what? Freaks?
No, I say, gulping down the last of my beer. An army of Grade-A All-American Super-Soldiers.
Youre youre kidding, Felicia says.
No. No Im not. And Im using the term super-soldier very literally here, kiddies; Im going to state for the record that, if we test them for it with some kind of specialized scanner, every one of Controls experiments will test positive for having some of Erskines original Super-Soldier serum in their blood. Not nearly as much as Captain America, maybe only an infinitesimal trace of it, but Ill stake my name that itll be there, plain as day.
No no no, that doesnt make any sense at all.
No no no, that dudnt make any sense adoll.
Why not? I say, already knowing the answer. Its weird suddenly realizing you can plot out an entire discussion; theres no way in hell Im as smart as Richards and Stark seem to think I am, but maybe maybe I am a little above average. But its probably just that Ive been planning this conversation since Marty took off the Crimson Dynamo helmet on the roof of the Met-Life building.
Because Aleksei starts slowly. Because a bunch of stuff. Like, see, the Super-Soldier serum they gave Captain America makes him super-strong, super-fast, makes him all real flexible and well-coordinananated If Im one of these, these Control experiments, how come Im not like that? And what about, like, the government? Hasnt SHIELD been trying to remake the Super-Soldier serum for the last fifty years, isnt that what the Weapons program was all about?
You raise some very good questions, Aleksei, I say, and Aleksei smiles so wide it looks like it hurts his face. And Im happy to say, I have answers.
Everyone leans towards me at once, like a cartoon; even the Punisher looks interested.
The first thing you should know about the Super-Soldier serum is that its a mutagen. Administered by itself to a subject whose DNA wont reject the serum, it will quadruple your strength, speed, stamina, physical endurance, your reflexes and all five senses. One in five hundred people will react positively to the serum. The other four hundred and ninety-nine will die horribly; Im not making this shit up, remember, this is stated fact.
We trust you, Herman, Felicia says, putting a hand over mine. Go on.
So thats your basic serums effects, occurring within twenty-four hours on an unstressed subject undergoing minimal physical activity. But we come back to the law of secrecy through eccentricity; two hundred super-folks with identical abilities show up in the space of a year, people will ask questions. So Control tampered, and fished around, experimenting with introducing X factors into the Super-Soldier equation, injecting people in secret and then throwing them into bizarre situations.
They put an experimental Soviet armor on you, and they get the Rhino. They expose Banner to severe gamma radiation, and they get the Hulk; shit, they already had the gamma bomb, that whole program was just one long set-up to get Bruce Banner out on that test site. They knock Morrie Bench into the ocean with the Zeta-Ray generator, and splish-splash, theyve got Hydro-Man. Using energy from the Darkforce dimension, they can open the human genome up to all kinds of impossible sequencing, maybe even stuff that defies the physical laws of our reality. Felicia, whats Spider-Mans origin?
Felicia pauses for a moment, wondering whether or not to tell us, then sighs.
He was bitten by a radioactive spider.
There you go! I say, clapping my hands. Whatre the fucking odds of that happening, Felicia? Do many people you know get bitten by radioactive spiders?
Theres a silence.
Radioactive motherfucking spiders? Its fucking ridiculous! I throw my hands up. Its absurd! Youd either get cancer or a seriously swollen hand, but to be jumping from roof to roof fighting crime three days later, I think most definitely fucking not.
Everyones quiet, mulling this over.
Jesus, Marty whispers. So Spider-Man is a
Hey, I say, raising a hand. Im not giving guarantees, here, Im just saying.
Felicia nods, but that example hit home.
To answer your second question, Aleksei, I start, but Aleksei stops me.
I dont remember what my second question was anymore, Herman, he whispers loudly.
Why the government would start the Weapons program and hunt for a super-soldier serum if they already had one.
Oh, Aleksei says, interlacing his fingers on the table thoughtfully. Yes.
Well, the answer there is a little more complicated. See, after they created all their metas Shit, maybe even before they started creating metas, something went wrong. I dont know if the government realized what they were planning, or maybe it got too expensive, but Control broke off from the government, became its own separate entity.
So thats what FPS was, Felicia says, putting her hands up to her forehead. Independent fund-raising.
Yeah, that and I go quiet. Everybody is staring at me, waiting. I just I want everyone to know that the next part is all theoretical.
As far as Im concerned, this is all theoretical, Marty says, frowning at the table.
No, I say, hard, final. No, it isnt. But this part is: I think FPS, along with being an easy way to get money, has a grander purpose, a scarier cause. They siphon Darkforce materia off Ohnn with that thing we found in White Rabbits house; I think they trigger something in his spine to force him to generate spots, and then they drain them, somehow, and they use that energy to connect to the tiny amounts of Darkforce in their metas blood. And then, once they open a portal Okay, heres the conjecture.
I think the reason they had it set up in that room in the White Rabbits house was because it was a recording studio.
Another one of those silences, but this one is confused, instead of shocked.
I think whatever theyre using to control the FPSed villains is auditory, not a real form of mind control. I think thats why youve been having so much trouble figuring out how the mind control works; because it isnt. Its some kind sound, or tone they play. Thats why they chose the White Rabbits ballroom; those walls are soundproofed. They had a gantry set up above the machine, they probably pumped the sonic stuff down through the Darkforce on a frequency below the capability of normal human hearing; Black Noise, like we heard back in the crater. Hell, thats probably where they got the idea.
I wait for almost a full minute, and then realize whats happening.
Uh Im done, I say quietly. Everyone exhales, and the Punisher stands up.
Cant? Cant what? I almost shout at him.
I cant go into this any further. Its passed the point that it involves me, the purpose I fulfill isnt present any more. This isnt crime; this is a global conspiracy involving hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals, and from the way you make it sound, only ten or twenty even know theyre participants. You find someone for me to shoot, you get them in a room, and hell, Im all for it. But as it stands, youre going to be swiping at shadows. I have targets to take out whove been put on hold during the time Ive spent on this; crime is slowly regaining its death-grip on this city. The streets are arteries, clogged with sin and depravity and perversion. I am a bypass. Without me, the city will die.
Theres a silence, and I realize, once and for all, that the man who calls himself the Punisher is truly, genuinely and rather frighteningly psychotic. He hands me a card, on which is a simple picture of the Punisher skull and a phone number.
If you need me, really need me, call that number.
We all sit in silence, and watch as he walks out of the bar.
Eight rounds of beer later, were in the lobby of the Stark Building, drunk off our asses. Even Miss Peelo is tipsy; she went a little heavy on the Mojitos, and one of her pink tendril things is waving around absently from her left eye. Aleksei looks sleepy, blinking his eyes like the lids weigh three tons each. Marty is running around on all fours, the Dynamo armor in a garbage bag slung over his shoulder, yelling IM THE NEW MOTHERFUCKING CRIMSON DYNAMO! at anyone who will listen.
Ive got three Shocker-Suits, three sets of gauntlets, five shirts, three pairs of socks, four pairs of boxers and a toothbrush in a leatherbound suitcase held in my left hand. Until I can get to one of my dozens of stashes all over the city, thats all Ive got to my name.
Thinking back on it, wandering drunk through New York with hundreds of millions of dollars on all our heads probably wasnt the best idea. But, again, now that I think about it, the night turned out pretty goddamn good.
Im the guest of Tony Clark! Stark! I shout at the guy behind the main check-in desk. I wanna have a hotel room! Im the fucking Shclocker! Did you hear I beat up Bullseye? Its true. Its true, isnt it, Felicia?
Felicia, whos hugging my arm like a banister, leans over the desk
Oh, yeah, yeah, its true. He beat up Bullseye Ballseye Herman, how awesome would it be if his name was Balls-eyes? Or like, just BALLS?
That would be awesome! I shout. High five!
Felicia and I go to high-five each other, and I end up falling down, while Felicia falls against the desk, letting out a little chuckle of glee.
Its four fifty-five AM, and Tony doesnt look totally thrilled to see me.
Herman. What an interesting surprise. I heard about your little debacle by the Brooklyn Bridge, and
YOU HAVE SUCH A BEAUTIFUL MUSTACHE, TONY, I say, leaning very close to him. Aleksei totters, and then collapses onto a potted plant, crushing it completely.
Mr. Schultz Tony says quietly. Im going to have to ask you to leave, or
TONY, I say, grabbing him by the lapel, and pulling a sharpie-marker out of my pocket. TONY TONY TONY, YOU ARE A HANDSOME MAN. YOU REALLY ARE. AND WE NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP FOR THE NIGHT, JUST ONE NIGHT. HERE, WAIT, CAN I IM JUST GONNA SHOW YOU THIS, HERE I start scribbling equations on the sleeve of his pajama shirt. At first he jerks away, but then he sees what Im writing, and theres a pause.
So Tony says quietly. Do you want one room for all of you, or a room apiece?
Felicia hits the covers first, and shes naked before I even have my pants off. The problem being, shes asleep before Ive taken off my boxers. I tuck her in, and go and sit by the window, looking out at New York through an exhausted, drunken haze, in Heart-Pattern boxers and an Offspring T-shirt. The city really is a maze; one big labyrinth, but with a million different minotaurs, all of them growling my name.
Im out cold before I can even close my eyes.
I wake up at ten-ten, still in the chair, to the sound of the shower turning on. Ive got a splitting headache, but however bad my head might feel I know I smell much, much worse. I stand up and stagger over to the bathroom; the room is a standard hotel suite. The news wasnt kidding; the Stark building really does have everything.
I go into the bathroom, drop my shorts and shake out of the Offspring shirt, and get into the shower.
Felicia stares at me, and then sort of chuckles, her long white hair stringy and soggy in the water, hanging down like vines over and around her face.
Well. Youre forward, Herman, but I cant say I expected any less.
She stands there naked, being unbelievably gorgeous, and Im just totally unsure what to do.
I want to touch you, I say, realizing how insanely creepy that sounds a millisecond after its out of my mouth, but Felicia just smiles, taking a step closer; it was already crowded in the shower, so now her breasts are pressed up against me.
Im having a little trouble breathing, and she notices, and just smiles wider.
Then touch me, she says.
I bring my hand up to grope a breast like a twelve-year-old at a titty-bar, but then stop. The water on both of us is running in these hundreds of intricate patterns down our bodies, and it distracts me to the point that I instead touch her shoulder, just with my fingertips, tracing the water flows down her arm to her hand, from her hand across that washboard stomach of hers, down over her left hip and up the sides of her ribs and oh my God were kissing how did that happen?
No, sorry, thats all you get. My life may be rated a hard R, but its not X.
And what happened next was very, very X.
And right in the middle of it all, a whispered thought slips into my head.
What in the hell is a goddamn Flim-Flam?
Then Felicia pumps her hips, and the Flim-Flam disappears back into my subconscious. Itll have to wait for later.
God, I hope these walls are soundproofed.
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