Chapter 32: Everything Is Lies, Finale

“I don’t get it,” Marty says, squatting down alongside the Flim-Flam, running his hand alongside its translucent surface. “This thing definitely isn’t man-made, but it’s been down here untouched for at least fifteen years. That’s before the Kree, the Skrull, the Shi’Ar, any of those motherfuckers.”

“Marty,” I say, swatting his hand. “Don’t touch it. The last thing we need is some kind of alien mega-bomb going off because Curious George didn’t read the Do Not Disturb sign.”

So there we are; Martin Blank, sitting by the device. Felicia Hardy, going from computer panel to computer panel in the room, grunting with frustration each time before moving on. Herman Schultz, helpfully standing still, being snippy and staring dumbfoundedly at everything, and Aleksei Sytsevich, who’s helping me out in the “staring dumbfoundedly at everything” department.

“Why do you automatically assume it’s a bomb?” Felicia says. “It doesn’t look like a bomb.”

“Felicia, what, pray tell, does an alien bomb look like?” I say, snippy again. Something about this room is really getting to me; nothing physical, nothing metaphysical, I guess you would just call it … Oh, God, I can’t believe I’m going to say this:

This place has a bad vibe. Something seriously uncool went down here; it’s not unlike the feeling I had walking into the crater in Alamogordo, or entering the White Rabbit’s ballroom. There’s this unbelievably sinister aura hanging over everything like a layer of dust.

The Flim-Flam, strangely enough, is the least ominous thing in here. It’s maybe ten feet tall, cylindrical, and nearly featureless. Its most distinguishing trait is that it’s made entirely out of some kind of translucent, green-tinted metal, cold to the touch, through which onlookers can view its inner workings. Those being what looks like a massive, three-dimensional cobweb on which hundreds of cubes, squares and pyramids are caught.

It’s flat on the top, but a single, thin wire extends up about three feet. At the end of it is what appears to be the head of a spoon. About three feet up the side is a single, small slot, maybe four inches wide.

Felicia frowns at me, annoyed, from her vantage point up on a catwalk lined with computers that look about a hundred years old.

“I’m just saying that not everything has to be out to kill you, Herman. I doubt this thing is a bomb; I mean, if the CSA —”

“Or whoever,” I chime in. She rolls her eyes.

“Or whoever had some kind of secret super-bomb, don’t you think it would be protected just a liiiiittle better than this?” I stay quiet; she’s got a point. “No,” she continues. “This thing is a … a device of some kind, a device with one specific application. They left it behind because it had outlived its usefulness; that’s my theory.”

“And, what, they just assumed nobody would be smart enough to figure it out?” Marty says, kicking on the jets of his boots to fly up alongside her.

“Marty, look at us; we’re the ones who finally found the goddamn thing and the best we’ve done so far is to have you sniff it and surmise that we have no idea where to start. I think Marty is right,” she says, looking down at it, leaning on the rail in that pin-up pose which seems to come so naturally to her. “This thing is alien tech. But look at this …” she says, and tosses something down to me, nearly smashing me in the head, so I flinch wildly and only barely manage to catch it. “Smooth,” she purrs, and goes back to the computers.

Marty swoops down next to me, looking over my shoulder.

It’s a clipboard, clipped to which is a detailed blueprint of the Flim-Flam, which apparently was once called the “MOEBIUS EMITTER.” It’s a pretty standard layout, every thing is in plain drafting language. I’d even go so far as to call it primitive; 1980s stuff, maybe even Seventies.

Wait a minute. Wait a fucking minute. I recognize the labels on this schematic. I’ve seen it before; sure, they’re all out of order and it’s a whole new physical design, but the parts, the basic components are the same. I’ve definitely seen it.

The problem begins to vibrate in my head, rattling my brain around and seeing what drops out.

Not in any super-villain’s lair, not in any top-secret government lab, not with Phineas … No. Mr. Frederickson’s electronics class. Ninth grade.

Vibrate. Click.

“It’s a speaker,” I say, quietly, taking another glance at the green monolith in front of me.

“What? What’s a speaker?” Marty says, snatching the plans away from me. “I don’t see a speaker.”

“No,” I say, and lean my face up against the translucent metal, looking in at the electrical cobwebs. “The Flim-Flam. The Flim-Flam is a huge, alien megaphone.”

“You got all that from the clipboard?” Felicia calls down to me.

“Yeah. Plus I took ninth grade electronics.” Felicia smiles. “Felicia, if there’s anything up there that looks like an information unit, bring it down. Aleksei —”

“WHAT?” Aleksei squeals, and then takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Herman; I was daydreaming about nachos.”

“Well that’s —”

“Terrifying nachos,” Aleksei adds, wide-eyed.

I wait a moment, seeing if he has anything else to say, and then continue. “Aleksei, remember when the Kingpin used to let you play Oregon Trail on his receptionist’s computer?”

Aleksei’s whole face lights up. “Oh, yes, yes!” he says, then he furrows his brow. “Why are you asking me this?”

“Remember that big disk you had to put in?”

“Sure.” He nods.

“Do me a favor and search around here for one of those, will you?”

“You got it,” he says, and ambles over to a row of computer panels.

“What about me?” Marty says, and I nod.

“Go gather up as much of a charge as you can, and once you’re filled to capacity, head back here; don’t short out anybody’s systems, just leech a little off everything, power lines, car batteries, cell phones, whatever. Anyone notices, you claim it’s an international emergency and you’re, shit, I don’t know, Iron Man Red or something.”

Marty laughs and drops the visor down on his suit. “Oh, my,” he says in that bizarre, mechanical voice. “The Avengers would not approve.”

“The Avengers can choke on cat shit,” I say curtly. “Guys, I’m going up to the surface. I need to make a call.”

Peter follows me up from the wreckage, chattering the whole way.

“Just let me down there for one second, Herman, one second! At least let me see what all the fuss is about!”

“Peter, back off,” I grumble. “What’s down there is of no concern to you.”

“Oooh,” Peter says, nodding knowingly. “So you managed to recover your porn collection?”

“Cute,” I growl at him. I like Peter better when he’s being dorkily helpful and optimistic; this weird, smarmy, “funny” side of him doesn’t appeal to me much. He reminds me of the bullies that I dealt with in high school. And someone else. Someone much closer.

That little piece in the back of my mind that’s been bothering me since I met Peter vibrates just a little bit harder. I’m close. I’m very close.

There’s a big cheer from the crowd when I get topside; there are less folks out there than when we first got here a few hours back, but it’s still more than would show up for an Iron Fist autograph signing, and still just enough to make me self-conscious and fidgety.

“Fuck off, all of you!” I shout at the crowd. This gets a huge cheer. I groan and take out my cell-phone.

“I love you, Herman!” screeches a surprisingly thin and attractive girl out front in a “SCHULTZ FOR PRESIDENT” T-shirt.

“You!” I point at her. “You specifically! You fuck off!”

“OH MY GOD!” she shrieks, and nearly collapses onto a nearby policeman. I hear her squeal to one of her friends: “Oh, my God, Thomas, he pointed right at me!”

Great. I’m a rock-star.

It’s strange, standing out here in public with the suit on like nothing’s wrong, in front of the police, in front of the world, just dialing up Reed Richards on the old cell phone.

“Bugs?” Reed says; apparently that’s hello. “Oh, I’m sorry, Herman, I was just talking about bugs, and then you called, and, heh, I lost the word ‘hello’ for a moment.”

So this is what people call “eccentric.”

“Reed, I need you down here.”

“At the Tunnel?”

“The Tube.”

“Yes, yes, the Tube. What’s up?”

“I found something I think you might like to see.”

I leave it at that, hanging up as soon as I finish the sentence. That should stir him up a little, get his juices flowing. Stretching. Whatever.

Back down with the Flim-Flam, Aleksei’s found something. It looks for all the world like one of those old hard disks they use to have back when personal computers were first becoming popular: a big, thin square with a film-lined hole in the middle. It’s one of what turns out to be a set of three. They all have labels; the first one reads “QUIKSILVER,” the second reads “MAKOKAM” and the third reads “FFIC – Final For Broadcast.”

“Well, I’m going to say straight up that I don’t think this one has anything to do with the Quicksilver,” Felicia says, tossing it to me. “Just a hunch. What’s ‘Makokam’ mean?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Sounds Japanese,” I toss out, hoping that helps. “It’s a palindrome, if that means anything.”

“A what?” Aleksei asks, staring down at the “FFIC” disk, tiny in his giant hand.

“A word spelled the same way forward as it is backwards,” I say, and press the edge of the “QUIKSILVER” disk up against the slot in the Flim-Flam. “Which one do we put in first?”

“Put in first?” Felicia says, raising her eyebrows. “Herman, we can’t even turn it on.”

“That’s gonna change,” I say, and, as though on cue, Marty floats down behind me.

We mainline the electricity straight into the Flim-Flam — I figure if it’s going to work, it’s going to work; why fuck around with power cords and batteries. It takes us nearly thirty minutes to figure out which end of the damn thing to plug the Crimson Dynamo’s power conduit into, but once we get the juice flowing, it’s easy enough. Apparently Marty managed to black out a whole city block before the suit’s power stores filled up; the Russians built this thing to last.

Every computer in the room chirps and lights up, plain black screens with bright white font, classic early-computer-age style. The Flim-Flam lights up bright green, and for a moment, just a moment, my old “IT’S A BOMB!” theory pops back up in the back of my mind. Marty laughs.

“I can’t believe that worked!” he says, and slaps Aleksei on the back as a jet of sparks rockets out of a computer upstairs; one by one the computer screens blip off, some of them even cracking or melting apart, but the Flim-Flam keeps glowing, silent, ominous. The fluorescent lights up top turn off, and the room is left in the eerie green glow. Felicia looks to me.

“Herman?” she whispers.

“It’s all good. Unless it explodes and incinerates us. That … That would be bad.”

“I —” Marty starts in a high-pitched shriek, and, before he can finish, I jam the “QUIKSILVER” disk into the slot. It seems like nothing happens, but Marty goes silent in a wholly strange way; he cocks his head, looking around.

“What’s up, Marty?” Felicia says, touching his shoulder.

“You guys … you guys don’t hear that?” he says, looking from Aleksei to Felicia to me. “The music; you guys can’t hear it?”

“Black noise,” I say, and Marty nods, his eyes wide.

“Oh, gosh …” Aleksei says, staring at the Flim-Flam. “Wouldya look at that.”

The things that looked like cobwebs inside of the Flim-Flam have turned an impossibly glowing black, flowing like liquid from pyramid to cube to sphere.

“Darkforce materia,” I whisper. “This thing runs on …”

Vibrate. Click.

“Marty,” I practically shout, poking the “eject” button next to the slot on the Flim-Flam. “When I put in that disk, you heard music, right?”

“Right …” Marty says slowly.

I shove in the “MAKOKAM” disk, and we all look at Marty.

“What do you hear now?” I say, my whole body shaking in anticipation.

“I hear a man’s voice,” he says, and then stays quiet for a moment, before continuing: “He says: ‘This is a test of the Project Hungry Man technology codenamed Flim-Flam.’ Then there’s a pause, and he says it again. It’s on a loop.”

“Project Hungry Man?” Aleksei says. “We ain’t never heard of Project Hungry Man … Have we?”

“A test record,” I hoot; my eyes are wild under the mask as I pop out the disk and snatch the “FFIC” disk out of Aleksei’s hand, sliding it into the slot.

Stop giggling. This part is important.

“What do you hear?” Felicia says, looking anxiously to me.

“It’s not …” Marty says, squinting his eyes. “It’s not English. It’s a human voice saying it, but I don’t even think it’s a human language.”

“Tell us anyway,” I say, and Marty nods, starting slowly.

“It says something like ‘Om birnit eilo burno norrin vico om birnit wekwam hurbo.’ And then it loops, and starts again.”

“This is it,” I say. “This is the one, this means something.” I repeat the words out loud, and Reed fucking Richards steps up beside me, pale.

“I’m …” he whispers. How he snuck in here like that I’ll never know, but that’s not my concern; my main boggle is that Reed looks fucking traumatized. “You were right, Mr. Blank; it isn’t an Earth dialect.” He takes a deep, gulping breath. “It’s alien, an ancient language from a planet called ‘Zenn-La.’ A planet I have more than a passing familiarity with.”

“Why’s that?” Felicia says, beating me to the punch.

“Because it’s the homeworld of the Silver Surfer, Norrin Radd, the former herald of Galactus. Herman —” He turns to me, his eyes wide as silver dollars. “What is this? Where did this come from?”

I ignore him.

“What does it say?” I practically scream at him.

“It says …” Reed says, and takes another one of those deep breaths. “It says, if Mr. Blank has accurately repeated it: ‘Norrin, bring him here. There is no life here.’ And it says this in the most commanding way possible.”

“What?” Felicia says, looking to me. “I don’t get it.”

My brain is exploding now, along with Reed’s; we’re staring at each other like two people who’ve just witnessed a horrific murder.

“Why?” Reed murmurs. “Why, Herman? What’ve you found here? My God …” Reed drops his head. “To doom a whole planet … Who would … why would they —”

Felicia stomps her foot.

“I know you guys are having fun doing the whole shocked super-geniuses bit over there, but can you fill it in for the rest of us?”

I take a deep breath. I get it now. I know why the cosmic beings bum-rushed me in the bathroom. I know why a guy as smart as Reed Richards had never figured out that he has Darkforce in his bloodstream.

Because he doesn’t.

I start talking.

“This device, when fully charged, sends out a Black-Noise broadcast, a post-hypnotic subconscious suggestion aimed specifically at one individual. I suppose they powered it on a nuclear generator or something, must’ve been big to blast this thing loud enough to hear it out in space.”

“Space?” Aleksei says, looking up. “Why would they want to play music in space?”

“They didn’t play the music, Aleksei. They played the message for the Silver Surfer.”

“But why would the CSA want to bring the Silver Surfer here?” Marty blurts. “That’s suicide!”

“It’s more than suicide,” Felicia says, her eyes blazing in the green light. “It’s murder. It’s a plot to murder every person on the planet.”

“Wrong,” I say. “I mean, that makes sense if you look at it in the context of the average joe on the street, but —”

“I beg to differ,” Reed says, stern. “There is no way they could’ve known that I would invent the Ultimate Nullifier to scare off Galactus, and without it, there was no technology on Earth that could’ve challenged him.”

“Wrong again,” I say, and Reed goes quiet. Everybody’s listening, staring at me, and for once, I roll with it. “Felicia’s right; this was a murder plot. But it wasn’t against anybody on Earth. It was a plot to kill Galactus.” Reed starts to talk but I just keep going and bulldoze right over him. “Reed, this may come as something of a shock, but the United States invented the Gamma Bomb in 1939, had perfected it by 1945, and started using a by-product of it to artificially create hundreds of superheroes and villains just over twenty years ago.”

There’s a loooong, silence. Reed nods. “That is … something of a shock … yes.”

“Don’t worry,” I say. “You’re not one of them. You are, in fact, besides me, the biggest pain in the ass to the conspiracy that there is; you’re the reason everything went wrong. You and your team, the space mission, the cosmic rays … That dealt them a wild card. I think, no, I’m pretty sure, their plan was to lure Galactus to Earth, weaken him with the heroes, and then hit him with a gamma bomb; that shit will kill anything, Galactus included, agreed?”

“Theoretically …” Reed starts, then rethinks. “Yes. If a real, functional gamma bomb were produced, the dimensional implosion would certainly be enough to destroy Galactus.”

“And then, these fuckers, these psychotic, murderous, fuckers,” I continue, tactful as ever. “They were going to loot his corpse, his ship, whatever he had. But then you, Reed, you, fucked everything up. You invent the Nullifier, avoid a direct confrontation, bing bang boom bye bye Galactus. This causes some kind of radical shift in the infrastructure of the CSA division called Control; it fractures and splits, some folks go off and form what will eventually be FPS, some of them set up the organization called the Trust; it’s a fucking train-wreck. That’s what happened; when the murder of Galactus failed, it broke the chokehold. Now they’re stuck operating out of condemned houses and feeding off the pathetic, low-level metas that they manage to snatch up in the night, torturing poor Johnny Ohnn to use his Darkforce gates, scrambling frantically to regain some semblance of control.”

“How can you … how can you know all this?” Reed says, looking at his hands.

“I’ve been at this shit for months, Richards,” I say, sounding quite suave indeed thank you very fucking much. “Didn’t you get the memo? Everything is lies.”

I turn to my band of merry men while Reed just stands there shell-shocked

“Suit up boys and girls. We’re taking down Arcade. FPS ends tonight.”

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