Chapter 30: Everything Is Lies, Part Seven

Two hundred and forty-eight men are laying siege to the Tube.

But that’s 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 that’s ridiculous. He’s trying to get one of my most valued associates to let go of his head. There. That’s the way I wanted it to come out.

See, Marty’s strategy was simple; grab onto the Crimson Dynamo’s 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.

There’s something very beautiful about that, because, in and of itself, it shows the sort of intense, mind-bending bravery that guys like me aren’t capable of. See, in this plan, there’s 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 can’t generate electricity, it just manipulates it. Anyone who’s 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 Marty’s strategy was this: he hooked his opposable monkey-toes in behind the Crimson Dynamo’s rocket boots, sticking them between the joints, forcing the Dynamo to fly straight up, up above the buildings, up where there’s absolutely no electricity to for it to play around with. Then he pulls out his toes.

The Dynamo, who’s 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 he’s 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. It’s 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, wasn’t 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 isn’t 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. He’s not … well, it’s …

It’s 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, it’s like he’s, I don’t know, on Screen Saver. He’s not smiling; I don’t even know if the Punisher can smile. But he’s not frowning anymore either; he looks sort of merrily apathetic, if that’s possible.

What’s clear, and it’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to read on this guy’s 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 don’t 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; she’s 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, hasn’t spoken much; he’s 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 Aleksei’s Rhino skin might feel like concrete, it’s 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 we’re 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 he’s 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 Stark’s 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 Stark’s 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 it’d be obnoxious, but on Aleksei, it’s just endearing; he’s trying to remind us all that he’s still here, and yes, he’s been paying attention.

“That’s 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; he’s said his piece.

I lay it out flat for everybody, in very abridged format; everything that’s 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 I’m done, I sort of wait for it to settle in, and then start up anew.

“I’m 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 isn’t now, once functioned as an arm of the U.S. government.”

There’s a silence. Marty’s eyes are very big, and Felicia’s frozen in place, Miss Peelo is quietly looking down, Aleksei looks deep in thought and the Punisher … he’s back in computer mode.

“You’re serious?” the Punisher says, very quiet. Dangerous quiet. “You’ve 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 it’s not like they’ve been using it as a weapon; half of the people it kills are always soldiers trying to stop it!”

“I’m 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. I’m not sure yet; the mutant phenomenon has been around since at least Biblical times, so there’s no way it goes back that far. But post-1939? Maybe. I wouldn’t 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 it’s totally for sure that I —” he starts, and I cut him off.

“Yes. You were, Aleksei, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make you any less of a person, any more than being in a car accident would make you less of a person. It’s just an outside event that changed the course of your life. All in all, you’ve enjoyed being the Rhino, right?”

There’s a pause, and then Aleksei nods.

“Right. And that’s good; you haven’t caused too much damage, killed anyone, or even really hurt anybody. But that’s what had struck me so odd before, it was the variety of metas they’d created. I mean, it was everything from the Absorbing Man to the Grizzly; it didn’t feel like there was any kind of specific qualifiers. But now that I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that there couldn’t be any specific qualifiers, it had to be as random and bizarre as it was.”

“Why?” Felicia says almost before I’ve completed my sentence.

“Because,” I say quietly, “when you’re building the most powerful army the universe has ever known in total secrecy, you can’t have guys like Reed Richards catching on. It throws a serious fucking wrench in the gears, which look to have been falling apart already. We’re dealing with some seriously smart dudes, here, seriously smart and seriously ruthless. I’m 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.”

There’s 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.”

“You’re … you’re kidding,” Felicia says.

“No. No I’m not. And I’m using the term ‘super-soldier’ very literally here, kiddies; I’m going to state for the record that, if we test them for it with some kind of specialized scanner, every one of Control’s … experiments will test positive for having some of Erskine’s original Super-Soldier serum in their blood. Not nearly as much as Captain America, maybe only an infinitesimal trace of it, but I’ll stake my name that it’ll be there, plain as day.”

“No no no, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

No no no, that dudn’t make any sense adoll.

“Why not?” I say, already knowing the answer. It’s weird suddenly realizing you can plot out an entire discussion; there’s no way in hell I’m as smart as Richards and Stark seem to think I am, but maybe … maybe I am a little above average. But it’s probably just that I’ve 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 I’m one of these, these Control experiments, how come I’m not like that? And what about, like, the government? Hasn’t SHIELD been trying to remake the Super-Soldier serum for the last fifty years, isn’t 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 I’m 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 it’s a mutagen. Administered by itself to a subject whose DNA won’t 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; I’m not making this shit up, remember, this is stated fact.”

“We trust you, Herman,” Felicia says, putting a hand over mine. “Go on.”

“So that’s your basic serum’s 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, they’ve 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, what’s Spider-Man’s 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. “What’re the fucking odds of that happening, Felicia? Do many people you know get bitten by radioactive spiders?”

There’s a silence.

“Radioactive motherfucking spiders? It’s fucking ridiculous!” I throw my hands up. “It’s absurd! You’d 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.”

Everyone’s quiet, mulling this over.

“Jesus,” Marty whispers. “So Spider-Man is a —”

“Hey,” I say, raising a hand. “I’m not giving guarantees, here, I’m just saying.”

Felicia nods, but that example hit home.

“To answer your second question, Aleksei,” I start, but Aleksei stops me.

“I don’t 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 don’t 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 that’s 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 I’m concerned, this is all theoretical,” Marty says, frowning at the table.

“No,” I say, hard, final. “No, it isn’t. 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 Rabbit’s 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, here’s the conjecture.

“I think the reason they had it set up in that room in the White Rabbit’s house was because it was a … recording studio.”

Another one of those silences, but this one is confused, instead of shocked.

“I think whatever they’re using to control the FPS’ed villains is auditory, not a real form of mind control. I think that’s why you’ve been having so much trouble figuring out how the mind control works; because it isn’t. It’s some kind sound, or tone they play. That’s why they chose the White Rabbit’s 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, that’s probably where they got the idea.”

I wait for almost a full minute, and then realize what’s happening.

“Uh … I’m done,” I say quietly. Everyone exhales, and the Punisher stands up.

“Can’t. Sorry.”

“Can’t? Can’t what?” I almost shout at him.

“I can’t go into this any further. It’s passed the point that it involves me, the purpose I fulfill isn’t present any more. This isn’t 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 they’re participants. You find someone for me to shoot, you get them in a room, and hell, I’m all for it. But as it stands, you’re going to be swiping at shadows. I have targets to take out who’ve been put on hold during the time I’ve 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.”

There’s 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, we’re 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 “I’M THE NEW MOTHERFUCKING CRIMSON DYNAMO!” at anyone who will listen.

I’ve 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, that’s all I’ve got to my name.

Thinking back on it, wandering drunk through New York with hundreds of millions of dollars on all our heads probably wasn’t the best idea. But, again, now that I think about it, the night turned out pretty goddamn good.

“I’m the guest of Tony Clark! Stark!” I shout at the guy behind the main check-in desk. “I wanna have a hotel room! I’m the fucking Shclocker! Did you hear I beat up Bullseye? It’s true. It’s true, isn’t it, Felicia?”

Felicia, who’s hugging my arm like a banister, leans over the desk

“Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s 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.

It’s four fifty-five AM, and Tony doesn’t 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. “I’m 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 … I’M 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 I’m writing, and there’s 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 she’s naked before I even have my pants off. The problem being, she’s asleep before I’ve 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.

I’m 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. I’ve 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 wasn’t 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. You’re forward, Herman, but I can’t say I expected any less.”

She stands there naked, being unbelievably gorgeous, and I’m just totally unsure what to do.

“I want to touch you,” I say, realizing how insanely creepy that sounds a millisecond after it’s 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.

I’m 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 we’re kissing how did that happen?

No, sorry, that’s all you get. My life may be rated a hard R, but it’s 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. It’ll have to wait for later.

God, I hope these walls are soundproofed.

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