Chapter 31: Everything Is Lies, Part Eight
A simple fact: one of the things most villains fail to realize about Spider-Man is that hes got some kind of half-assed psychic power. I wouldnt call it a sixth sense; hell, to even say its a preternatural telepathic ability is stretching it. Its more of a reflex thing; like he can react to things before they happen, like he can tell when hes in danger.
A less simple fact: the few villains who have come to recognize the webschmucks little Spider-Sense often take for granted that they can no longer attempt surprise attacks; that the only way to confront a foe who can sense danger is head-on, because otherwise hed take actions to circumvent you.
I am not one of these villains. Because the next little piece of trivia Im going to give you is a tasty one indeed: the asshole cant differentiate.
Its that simple, and that complex, all at once.
Lets say you have a device that tells you when something near you is going to explode, and it tells you this by making a loud beeping noise. Thats a pretty handy device, right?
Wrong. Because it doesnt tell you what is going to explode.
Remember what I said about it being a reflexive thing, and not a psychic thing?
See where Im going with this?
Its my little secret weapon; the reason I, a relatively out-of-shape schlub with no powers, no magic, no mutations, am one of the few choice bastards who can land a solid punch on Spider-Man.
Here. Come into my office.
Its all about sleight of hand; distraction, pulling your punches. If you cock back for a punch like an idiot, hell go to dodge it, because hey, youre an idiot, right? Youve never seen Spider-Man on the news, and hey hey hey again, this is your night! Youre Fangbreed/The Raven/whatever retarded fuckhead name youve come up with, and youre not going to let Spider-Man stop you from taking that money/killing that guy/doing whatever retarded fuckhead thing youre trying to do.
So you go to punch him, he glides past your fist like youre moving in slow motion, something red flashes up to your face and you see stars. Two hours later the police are picking little bits of web off your costume, giggling while they read your Miranda rights.
Now watch how the Shocker rolls.
Cock back like an idiot, because even though Ive done this to him a dozen times, he still thinks Im that stupid.
And then I stomp on his foot.
I wear heavy-soled vibro-insulated work boots.
He wears what are essentially reinforced socks.
Spider-Man yelps, and now Ive got him pinned down, if only for a second, vibrate my right hand on a level four, POW, uppercut, and I get the hell out of there; Ive never been one to stay and fight when I dont absolutely have to.
See what I did? His danger sense is wigglin, but his EYES tell him about the punch.
Naughty, naughty eyes, Spider-Man. Look what happened.
I remember, back in the day, there was a lot of talk about Spider-Man being an alien, or a government agent, or a super-spy. Its moments like the one I mentioned above when I know for certain that thats all a load of crap.
Spider-Man is just a guy in spandex with some nifty little powers.
A smart guy, but still just another super.
And a supreme, supreme asshole of one at that.
Peter Parker cocks his head at me, unfolding his umbrella as it starts to rain.
I dont see why youd want to go back down there, Herman, he says, tossing me an umbrella he brought along. Its all just wreckage. Anything you mightve had down there crushed like my dreams on Prom Night.
Wasnt Mary Jane Watson your date on Prom Night? I say, taking the first step into the enormous crater in the street that used to be my home.
Well yeah, Peter says, hesitantly following me down.
Well, then, how about you shut the fuck up?
Theres a moment of awkward silence, and then I smile at him, and he smiles back, laughing a little.
You really need to learn to monitor your tone, Herman. I thought you were going to go all super-villain on me.
You know something?
I really like this guy.
Peter starts down after me, holding his umbrella out over his shoulder in an unusually dainty fashion that makes him look like a Southern belle.
Add another point to the Peter Parker: Homosexual? column.
The Tube isnt the Tube anymore.
Instead, its a kind of massive, rubble-strewn hole on Doughty Street; its so wide that its swallowed almost an entire block, and some of the buildings on either side have tipped in. Luckily, the main lobby and shopping area of the Tube was centered under a parking lot, so, aside from the crazy bastards down in the lobby, there were no casualties from the massive vibrational shock.
As Ive mentioned before, the whole exo-structure of the tube was covered in almost sixty feet of concrete; this is no longer true. The cement was from the Forties, so when the Level Six hit it, it just kind of, well, exploded. Everything in a three-block radius is covered in thin white powder.
When I blow something up, I blow it up real good.
The whole area is blocked off with yellow caution tape and police cruisers. There isnt much activity; a couple of blue-suits hanging out on the hoods of their cars, eating donuts and holding back the crowds.
And hoo-boy, are there crowds.
See, me not paying attention to the news is coming around to bite me in the ass. Seems Ive picked up a bit of a cult following ever since Robertsons article in the Bugle. Mostly sad sacks, the same type of people who became fascinated with Moon Knight when he first showed up.
You know: nerdy types, living alone. The girls have lots of cats and stories about their imaginary love affairs with Johnny Storm, the guys have lots of posters of girls and a fast internet connection.
But there sure are a lot of them. I suppose thats what caught me off guard.
Ever since someone in the Bar With No Name uptown leaked that I was responsible for the chaos by the Brooklyn Bridge, the crowd by the wreckage of the Tube has been growing. Theyve got signs that say THE SHOCKER WILL NOT DIE and SCHULTZ IS GOD. Theyve got yellow and brown quilt-pattern T-shirts. Theyve got Shocker plush dolls.
Theyve got the ability to make me feel super-humanly uncomfortable.
Marty and Aleksei, however, are loving every second of it; Marty is doing little fly-bys over the crowd in the Crimson Dynamo armor, and Aleksei is just standing there grinning and letting everyone hug him. Felicia is down ahead of us, expertly picking her way through the disaster area. She insisted on putting on a repair worker disguise before we came out, maybe to avoid attention, but of course, with Felicia, any kind of disguise is just a waste of time. Shes disguised as a librarian? Worlds Hottest Librarian. Shes disguised as a plumber? Worlds Hottest Plumber. Its all pretty circular when it comes to her.
So youre probably wondering, how was sex with Felicia?
What happened in the shower, on the bathroom floor, on the carpet and in the bed is between me, Felicia and God. And possibly Tony Stark; it wouldnt be a terribly big surprise to me if he or one of his guys was watching in.
Then again, I sort of like that. Is that sick? Its just that when Felicia drops me like a hot potato for someone more interesting once all this conspiracy stuff blows over, its nice to know that theres someone out there who knows that I did, in fact, have incredible sex with the most beautiful woman in New York, and possibly the world.
Yeah. Maybe that is a little sick.
But I could care less.
Reed Richards gave me his little intelligence test-deal this morning, and I have to say, it wasnt nearly as bad as I imagined. He put this big, silly helmet deal on my head, and then gave me the six standard five-hundred-question multiple-choice tests they give to SHIELD Agents: Mathematics, Engineering, English, Logic, Physics.
Then things got a little strange. He started giving me these random spoken questions about theoretical physics, quantum physics, string theory, all sorts of random shit like that, and the whole time hes grinning at me like a madman; Im not sure if he was aware of it, but he was stretching his lips, jaw and teeth wider and wider, so his face had devolved into this terrifying insane clown configuration. I was a little bit weirded out, but I kept my cool.
Then came a series of reading comprehension tests, a few basic doctors-office reflex tests, and finally a simple and strange question.
Do you consider yourself smarter than the people around you?
Theres a silence.
Not smarter, exactly I start, but then falter. Not smarter. Just different.
Different? Reed says, leaning his chin on his palm. How so?
Well yes, then. Yes. Im smarter.
Reed nods, and then sends me upstairs for breakfast with Felicia and Aleksei.
Im just saying, Herman, you cant be down on yourself forever. Felicia picks one of the blue berries up off her waffle and pops it into her mouth. I mean, once they show that youre super-smart on that test you took, its going to be kind of hard for you to do your Aw, Im just a stupid thug routine.
Ha! I say, setting down my orange juice. Felicia, there are two of the smartest men in the world in this building. I tick them off on my fingers. Reed Richards. Tony Stark. You know who they are? Richards is the millionaire inventor of all kinds of whacky world saving shit, and lives happily with his wife and two kids at the top of a fucking PALACE dedicated to his family and his best friend. Tony Stark is the billionaire inventor of even more whacky world saving shit, CEO of Stark Industries AND Stark Enterprises, has built several multinational corporations from the ground up, AND is an internationally revered playboy who does what he wants when he wants.
Im getting really worked up now. Other people in the restaurant are looking at us.
I, me, Herman Schultz, am a technically homeless ex-con with a super-suit. I am unmarried, pushing forty, I have no college degrees of any kind, shit, I dont even have a high school diploma. My father is trying to kill me, and Im at the center of a vast universe-spanning shitstorm which will eventually undoubtedly kill me, you, Aleksei, and who knows who else by the time the dust settles. Now, may I ask you, does that person I just described sound like one of the smartest fucking people in the world? I really shout the last part, and bang my fist on the table, making Aleksei flinch. Felicia looks at me evenly.
Herman, do you even listen to yourself? she says, and theres a pause.
I I start, but she just keeps staring at me with those green eyes, and I stand up.
I have to go to the bathroom, I say, and practically run all the way there.
In the bathroom I start sobbing, and I dont know why, so I slap myself repeatedly until I stop. I stand there at the sink; the stalls are empty. The white tile is immaculate. The bathroom is silent. I stare at my face in the mirror; scars and haggard, tired eyes. My hair has grown in a little since Felicia shaved my head, but purple bruises are still visible under the thin field of brown stubs.
Stupid stupid stupid I murmur under my breath, and splash some water on my face.
It freezes in mid-air.
I stare at the floating water for a second, and then spin, whipping out my switchblade; this must be a mutant, or a meta, how they got in the Stark building I dont know, but
Where did the bathroom go?
Im floating in space. Like actual outer-space; I see moons and stars and planets floating around. I scream.
I can still feel the tile under my boots, so I take a few tentative steps forward, and bump into what must be a bathroom stall door. Which means, thank Christ, Im still actually in the bathroom in the Café Laerjú on the forty-seventh floor of the Stark Building; Im just seeing this around me, like a hologram. The time-stop, however, is still unexplained.
Silence. Space. Even the sink has disappeared now.
Theres a sound behind me, and I twirl on my heels, raising my knife.
Is this the one? the thing in front of me says.
Its a man, or at least, man-shaped; its a uniform color of gold, not actual golden metal, but like a soft putty, formed into a simile of a human form, awkward and headless.
Well, not exactly headless.
A head, or at least, a head object, floats above its shoulders, disembodied. There is a face in the front, undistinguished, nearly featureless, and then two more on the sides. A purple hat thing is draped over the top and back of the head thing, but other than that, the thing in front of me is completely nude.
Bright, white light shines out of its three sets of eyes.
And I know immediately that what Im dealing with isnt from Earth. Maybe not even our universe. Maybe not even our reality.
So, now that Im sure Im dealing with some sort of otherworldly god-creature, I do what anyone in my position would do.
I shove the tip of my knife right up against the center faces left nostril.
You stay the fuck away from me, crazy head! I scream.
See, now that right there is a pretty decent argument against Herman Schultz: Super-Genius, right?
The thing doesnt move, but its eyes shift to look over to my left, where stands the silliest-looking thing Ive ever seen in my life. And this is coming from a guy whos seen the Rhino super-glue his face to his hand.
I guess you could say its basically just a pretty big dude with a really, really big head, but that just doesnt do it justice. His head isnt just really big. Its like really, really big. I dont know, Im not a writer, so Im not the best with words, but his head is its momentous. Its titanic. Its gargantuan. Here, let me give you an image: Without the head, hed be around eight feet tall. With it, hes nearly fifteen.
Thats seven feet of head.
And heres the part thats the most jarring; he only has like three feet of face. And no hair. So its like this giant, pendulous globe hanging there on top of his slender body, held up by an impossibly thin neck.
And hes wearing a fucking toga.
If there is, after all, a universal creator of all things what the fuck is he smoking?
Yes, Tribunal, Big-Head says in a soft, lilting voice, nodding his ridiculous noggin gently. This is him. Herman David Schultz of Earth-616.
Im not liking this one bit.
I shove my hand into my left pocket and yank it out in one smooth motion, a Quick-Draw mini-gauntlet now wrapped over the knuckles. I point it at Big-Head, keeping the knife pointed at Three-Face.
Ill fucking waste both of you! I shout, fully realizing that neither creature is paying me any attention. I will! Dont test me!
Feisty one, isnt he, a third voice says, and I twist around, firing the gauntlet without hesitation. The little Quick-Draw can only fire up to level two, but I dont think it would have mattered anyway; this new entrant swats way the blast like a pesky fly, and the ripple of air disappears into the darkness of space.
The new guy at least looks vaguely human, if still very strange; hes a bald dude, maybe six-foot-three, with an absurd divided-down-the-middle black and white color scheme going on with both his skin and this sort of weird tunic thing hes wearing.
I hurl the knife at him, an over-the-shoulder stinger-style throw, really a beauty, but the black and white guy raises a hand; the blade goes straight through, and Black-and-White reacts with surprise, rather than pain or shock.
Oh, my. Powerful energies attached to this knife; destined for bigger things. He yanks it out of his palm, folds it closed and tosses it back to me. His hand does not bleed.
Again, as Ive said before, up until recently he was not an integral part of the timeline, Big-Head says plaintively, almost by way of an apology to Three-Face and Black-and-White. A petty criminal, who
SILENCE, Three-Face booms in a voice so big it nearly knocks me down; it sounds like a low-flying plane. Black-and-White and Big-Head both stagger a little, too; this dude is even bigger than them, and theyre pretty big, so
Is that what this is?
Am I looking into the face of God?
No, Three-Face says. We are the Living Tribunal.
Great. He reads minds. I slowly put my knife back into my pocket; Ive gotten over the initial fight-or-flight response, and now Im just trying to get my shit together.
Herman Schultz. Your recent actions have led your reality to the brink of a very treacherous chasm, the Living Tribunal booms at me.
Yeah, thats great. Who the fuck are you again?
We are the Living Tribunal. We
And how about dickhead and Clownus Maximus over there?
They are Uatu the Watcher and the In-Betweener.
Theres a pause, and then I blurt out: Jesus, does everyone at every level of this fucking universe choose their names in kindergarten?
Theyre all silent for a moment, maybe in shock, maybe in pity or disgust or whatever, and then the Living Tribunal speaks once more.
Uatu is a member of a race of beings who live outside of true time and space, whose sole purpose is to watch and record the events of reality. The In-Betweener is the messenger of magical cosmic beings far beyond your comprehension, avatars of Order and Chaos. Both are sworn against direct interference in your reality. As am I.
Great, I whisper. Fanfuckingtastic. I sigh more heavily than I ever have, and look from Uatu the Watcher to the In-Betweener to the Living Tribunal. So what is this? Is this is this a hit?
Theres a silence. Too long, if you ask me. Maybe a full minute.
Is that what you guys are doing? Youre here to kill me, erase me from reality or whatever, to prevent me from figuring out the end-point of whatever my father has set up?
Cause if thats what youre doing, get it over with.
Another silence. Uatu looks to the Living Tribunal, and then to the In-Betweener, and seems about to speak, but I cut him off.
Erase me! I shout. Get it over with, you fucking pansies! They dont do anything, and Im really manic now. Do it now, because if you wait any longer Im going to start thinking of ways to hurt you!
This time, the silence is shocked, and I have to say I like it better than the sort of indifferent contemplation that came before. The Living Tribunal speaks.
We are not going to deter you in any way, Herman Schultz. It had been discussed at great length, but Uatu maintains that you will make the right decision, and I have great faith in his judgment. We merely wish for you to understand that your choices in the coming days can disastrously affect the outcome of your world, indeed, of all worlds.
A pause, and then I whimper out All worlds?
All worlds, the Living Tribunal says, and vanishes into nothing.
For some reason, this really strikes a chord with me. Because when something that looks like that tells you that you might accidentally destroy all reality, you dont just laugh it off. You take it with a grain of salt, because this could still be some mutant telepath playing games with me, but you do not laugh it off.
I look to Uatu McBighead, who apparently has my back.
What decision? How do I make the right decision?
You will know when the time comes, Uatu says, and wisps into nothing. Now its just me and the In-Betweener, floating in the Invisible Space Bathroom. The In-Betweener puts a friendly hand on my shoulder.
When looking for something very well hidden, its often easier to find it by looking for what isnt there, as opposed to contemplating what is. He winks, and then disappears.
For some reason, my brain goes to the Tube.
I get it.
The fucking septic tank! I say aloud, and the bathroom rapidly reappears around me.
Ten minutes later Im beating on the door of Martys room while Felicia and Aleksei wait for me in the lobby. The door opens, and I almost choke on my own laughter. Marty has clearly just finished drying himself off, and Im guessing he used a big hairdryer or something, because now hes all poofy. Hes wearing a blue flannel and black khakis, but his head is just this huge poof of fur sitting on his shoulders; his eyes look like theyre staring out of miniature furry caves.
Whats funny? he says, his teeth locked together.
Youre youre a Pomeranian, I say, wiping a tear from the corner of my eye.
There were little conditioners in the shower! It said soft, lustrous hair, and I start laughing. Hey, man, fuck you! he barks, and starts to close the door. I shove my foot in and manage to stop laughing.
Marty, I need you downstairs.
My tone stifles his indignation.
Remember that thing the Flim-Flam?
He nods his poofy head. Yeah, the one that the guys in Alekseis memory said was down by the Tube?
Right. I think I know where it is.
His eyes widen. No shit?
He scratches his poof. Shit, Herman, this feels Big. I nod. Why is that?
I dont know yet. Meet me in the lobby in ten minutes, armor on. Got it? Marty nods his poof again.
I bump into Peter on the elevator; I strongly doubt that was a coincidence.
Back in the crater, Felicia disappears down into the wreckage leading to the stations platform.
I dont get it, Peter says for what seems like the thousandth time. What are we looking for?
The Tube doesnt have a septic tank, I say, dropping down five feet onto what used to be the marble floor of the lobby.
So? Peter says, jumping down behind me. The pipes probably led out to the sewers
Nope. They just went down, underneath the actual structure.
To where? I grunt.
I dont know.
You dont know? Peter laughs. Youre telling me you had running water down here and you didnt even know where it came from?
Shit, Peter, I say, turning down a wrecked corridor towards the caved-in track-station. You dont know what its like to be a super-villain. When you find a place like this, sure, you question it a little, but mostly youre just fucking grateful. You dont look a gift horse in the mouth, you know?
If you say so, Peter says, stumbling over some rubble. Where do we think the pipes lead?
Behind the concrete on the subway platform.
Behind the what on the where?
I take a long look at Peter; he has no idea what hes getting himself into. Everyone out there in the real world think that FPS was just some small-time criminal business that I shut down. Nobody but nobody but nobody knows about the greater conspiracy, outside of my inner circle.
Pete, maybe you should hang back; the structures pretty brittle up here after the explosions, and I dont want you to get caught up in a collapse, plus
Felicia appears at the end of the hallway.
Herman! she shouts. You should see this!
I pat Parker on the shoulder, and he nods hesitantly and goes back out into the lobby. Its probably for the best, regardless of secrecy issues; he and Felicia act all weird around each other, and its the kind of weird that, after becoming sexually involved with Felicia, Im not all that comfortable with. Theyre snippy, half friendly and fifteen percent flirty and thirty-five percent harsh.
Like I said: Weird.
I walk down to the end of the hallway, where Felicia stands, looking over at the area where the concreted-shut subway tunnels used to be.
Theyre gone now; theyve been replaced by a thirty-foot drop into a massive underground chamber.
And, sitting in the center of that chamber, is what must be the Flim-Flam.
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