Chapter 37: The End
The taxi smells like red curry, spices and coconut milk.
I suppose its a little ridiculous, taking a Yellow Cab to the most important confrontation of my life. Aleksei is in the sewers, Felicias taking the subway, Adrian is flying, and Marty sits next to me, fidgeting under a spot-hologram of a little Japanese guy. The Punisher said hed be there, and thats good enough for me. Miss Peelo is taking her own car, a little VW Beetle, and Max is shit, I dont know, traveling through electrical currents.
The Chrysler Building stands huge on the horizon of a city gone mad. I keep hearing police sirens, seeing the red and blue flashing of patrol cars and the green and purple strobe of metahuman control units.
Good. This is going better than I couldve hoped.
Then again, my capacity for hope is pretty easy to surpass these days, so I dont know if that says too much.
Im in full costume, mask down; if someone shoots a damn rocket through the window, Im covered. Martys all Crimson Dynamod up under his hologram. He spent all night having Max supercharge him; Marty said the suit was maxed out, and then laughed. So Marty. The cab sagged under the suits weight when he got in, but the cabbie didnt seem to notice. Hes near to hysterical as it stands, anyway.
Whole damn town has gone bonkers! Super-villains are showing up all over the place and just, just standing there, tops of buildings, on the sidewalk, in their full costumes and everything, just standing there. Whaddya make of that?
I shift under my hologram of a petite Japanese woman, and speak into my vocoder.
I dont know. Is very strange.
Theyre all going crazy due to that Shocker fellah, I bet. Him taking on the Avengers damn near started a riot in the underworld, s what I heard.
Schultz eh, he not so great. I hear he masturbate to pictures of a horse.
Thanks, Marty. The cabbie is silent, taking a moment to murmur something about crazy fucking tourists.
Marty turns, his little Japanese face grinning at me. I punch him and in the shoulder, he punches me back, and we go back and forth like that for a second before cracking up. Its high-pitched, nervous laughter.
I dont wanna die, dude, Marty says, rather plainly.
Well I search my brain for words, but find none, realizing there is only one proper response. You picked the wrong social circle, Mr. Blank.
We both laugh, as we drive past Antonio, Carolyn Trainer and Pete standing out on the sidewalk, back-to-back-to-back, in full costume, fully armed, just standing there, staring straight ahead. The area around them has been heavily barricaded by police, SWAT teams, even a few low-level metas are there just kind of hanging out. The expression on the face of authority is universal: open, helpless bafflement.
Were only two blocks away.
This first part of the plan is simple; Im not smart enough to think of anything too complex. I had Miss Peelo put up switch-blocks in everyones brain last night, with their consent, of course. This means they can switch on and off their emotions; even a hothead like Flint is going to be able to stand there, doing nothing, staring straight ahead for hours on end.
Which is good, because thats all Im asking them to do. This complete disruption of New York is based around a kind of benign terrorism, a staring contest with the concept of order. Simply by standing there in the open, a triumvirate of super-villains can bring nearly five square blocks to a hushed, tense silence. Get enough of these trinities set up all over the boroughs, and things slow down and finally grind to a halt.
And the best part is, the reaction will only escalate. The longer Otto and Frank and the rest JUST STAND THERE, the bigger the authorities will think the blow-off will be.
They just said on the radio that the Avengers have split up and deployed to different sites all over the city. Some of the most powerful, hot-headed superheroes on Earth, all just waiting for the villains to make their first move, that ejaculatory climax of violence and bloodshed. The blow-off.
But thats the best part. There is no blow-off, at least, not out here on the street. The blow-off is waiting on the highest levels of the Chrysler Building. The blow-off will decide more than any stupid street skirmish ever could.
And there it is
Seeing it takes my breath away, if only because I know what, or rather, who, is inside it.
The Chrysler Building was a staple of my childhood; I always imagined turning it into a rocket ship, and somewhere out there are a hundred crayon drawings with HERMAN SCHULTZ, AGE 4 written on them, where this dream comes to fruition.
It makes sense hed choose the second-biggest building in the city; my father never liked the spotlight of being number one. Im amazed I hadnt guessed it was him earlier, but I guess the mind is slow to make such esoteric connections. Still, standing in the background, playing with people like toys in a sandbox, manipulating the world to suit his view of the way things should be
I should have known. I really should have.
Its a clear, blue morning, and the Chrysler stands out like a sore thumb. The cab turns onto Lexington Avenue, and the cabbie pulls us over. I see Miss Peelos VW Bus park on the sidewalk further down the road, and she bustles out, pulling a bullet-proof vest down over her flower-pattern blouse. A few people glance at her, but most everyone is heading down the block to see whats going on with the super-villains.
I throw a few hundreds at the cabbie, who looks back at both of us, baffled.
Lets get this over with, I say, and flip off my hologram. The cabbie gasps. Marty flips off his, and kicks off the door of the cab, stepping out into the street. I get out after him, and we start calmly walking down Lexington, cool as Johnny Cash.
BOOM! Aleksei crashes up through the pavement behind us, crawls out and swiftly falls into line behind Marty and me. People are running and screaming now; they know that somethings up. High above us, Adrian starts tossing down smoke bombs; hundreds of them, the size of marbles, each of them spraying choke-free fog over hundred-foot radiuses for the next five hours. They rain down, bouncing like rubber balls.
One of them lands in Felicias cleavage as she drops down next to me, and she flicks it out. People are really getting crazy, shrieking and taking cover. Wont be long until New Yorks heroes stop buying the distraction and take action; they wont dare leave the villains just standing there, but they cant miss the big shindig going down at the Chrysler Building.
The Shocker suit feels like its glowing in the daylight.
Max is waiting for us out front, plain clothes, and we all just sort of stand there staring at each other as the smoke starts to build around us. Soon it will block out the sun between the buildings, and Lexington Street and the entirety of the Chrysler Building will be enshrouded in thick, smoky darkness.
Miss Peelo bustles up, and there, thats everyone.
Silent nods all around.
Okay. Marty, signal two.
Marty mumbles something into the speaker in his helmet, and, less than a second later, we can hear rumbling booms from all over the city. Harmless sight-and-sound concussive bursts, attached to every nearly every intersection. Cars swerve and crash, people duck and cover, and the streets are instantly and entirely clogged.
Add to this that the trifectas of super-villains that had been loitering around have now all mysteriously lain down on the ground in unison, and youve got a pretty mind-boggling situation on your hands.
And its about to get so much better.
Max, signal three.
Max appears to glow for a moment, and then drops down through the pavement, having converted to pure energy.
Theres a pause, and then all the electrical power in Manhattan, even battery-operated stuff like iPods, laptops and vibrators, dies. We hear all the elevators in all the buildings around us crank to a stop.
Max said hed never tried absorbing this much before. Lets hope hes all right.
Cross your fingers.
We roll through the doors like the motherfucking Wild Bunch. People are running left and right, freaking out; we nearly get lost in the shuffle until someone screams, Its the Shocker!
Ill never get over how good that feels.
People part for us like the Red Sea, scattering in all directions; were like celebrities on the red carpet, except minus bodyguards, and plus an enormous man dressed as a rhinoceros.
Theres no security. Thats odd, but not shocking. Security draws attention. Attention is exactly what these people are trying to avoid. Theyre working on minimal cash, even less courage. These are the same guys who hide behind multiple fronts, who creep around behind the faces of the lowest rent super-villain jerk-offs they could find.
My friends were a fucking joke to them; a write-off. I still cant get over that.
Ill just stay down here, if you dont mind Miss Peelo says, plopping down in a plush chair. The lobby is huge, and rapidly emptying.
Are you sure youll be okay? Felicia says it before I can.
Ill be fine. She takes out a worn copy of Vanity Fair, and smiles. See? I brought a book.
Haha! Aleksei beams. Thats funny, because were in such a dangerous situation it is funny that shed be reading a book! Haha!
We all stare at him for a moment.
No thoughts get out. None. I want this place locked airtight.
She smiles, and winks at me with that third eye. Shes got it.
Marty touches the button, and the elevators electrical systems spring to life, feeding off the juice from the Crimson Dynamo suit.
We get in the elevator; its a big, thirty-people-style outfit built for hauling tourists and white-collar wastes. This means its got enough pull to bring up Aleksei, which he doesnt seem terribly happy about.
I just dont like elevators, Herman. They make me nauseous.
I jus dont like elvators, Hoiman. They make me nashus.
Aleksei complaining about the elevator strikes me kinda of funny, considering were most probably all going to die once we get up there.
The elevator starts to rise. Everyones silent. Tempted By the Fruit of Another plays softly.
Its kind of hard to keep that lets go kick some ass vibe in a elevator, I say, and Punisher laughs. No one else does. We pass the fiftieth floor, and I feel Felicias hand slip into mine, and squeeze.
For the first time, I see myself from third person. I feel that tight, choked sensation, the world around us being so small. Its funny, of course, because the idea of the world choking in on a single person is so ridiculous, so impossible. The world is so wide, and a person is so thin. Just a pile of chemicals, really.
And yet, here I am in this elevator. And the whole universe is wrapped around my throat.
The doors open on the seventieth floor, and we pile out. Its a maintenance floor: empty, skeletal. An enormous, barren space around an elevator shaft, with those bizarre arch windows just starting on the sides. We can hear the electrical hum of large machines above us. Over in the corner, theres an auxiliary lift; no walls, just an open platform.
We go to it in silence.
Its got a pretty simple crank operating system; two turns and were lifted up into the actual spire; the top six floors of the building. Its entirely hollowed out, with an enormous five-tiered scaffolding set-up that goes all the way to the ceiling. There are at least two hundred people in here; its ridiculous, after seeing the panic in the lobby, to enter this simple world of calm bureaucracy. Theyre walking around, working at computers, talking hurriedly to each other
And there, at a table less then thirty feet away, is my father.
He looks older, but not much. Its added this weird dignity to his features, a thickness of character, or And those green eyes, theyre paler now than before, but that just reveals more complex patterns, more intricacies. Same with the wrinkles in his face. He wears his Generals jacket over a loose fitting white T-Shirt, the centerpiece of which is a big yellow smiley-face.
He looks like Well, like what I wish I was. He looks like a hero.
At the table are eight or so other general types, Haywerth and Slinkard presumably among them. Thaddeus Ross, the only one I stood a chance of recognizing, is conspicuously absent. They all look nervous, listening to my father speak.
This is a distraction, cant you see that? It isnt a backfire from the programming, it isnt some random act of insanity, its Herman! Its Herman and his brain-dead wastoid friends trying to keep us off our toes, so so
He stands there staring at us. He looks a very even mix of amused and annoyed; neither were the reactions I wanted.
Herman. He doesnt actually say it, just mouths the word.
Punisher opens fire, and heads burst like balloons. He shoves past me, M-16 raised, gunning down the men at the table. Some of them stand, trying to raise guns, but within seconds their faces disappear into chunky red mist, blood splattering in every direction.
Looks like Punisher finally found the people he wanted to shoot.
My father, covered in the blood of his compatriots, rolls out of his chair and runs up the stairs into the scaffolding. Hes fast for a man his age, but hes not Spider-Man fast. Im on him by the time we reach the first level, covered in computers.
I grab his shoulder; he spins and I feel five thin strips tear up the center of my chest. Those fucking hooks! His hand passes over, and my mask is ripped in half up the side, blood beading out of thin slices in my face. He swipes one more time, going around me and across my back. The seals are broken, and I aint bullet-proof for shit, now.
He shoves me away, and runs across the level to the next set of stairs.
Why did I grab him? Why didnt I just catch him with a level three in the back, goddamn it, I was close enough. Was I just that desperate? Did I really just want to touch my father, see if he was real after all these years? That he wasnt just some kind of ghost fueled by my own twisted imagination
I take off running, following him up two more flights of stairs; guys are running past me, screaming, and I hear Punisher gunning them down as soon as they hit the ground floor. Marty zips past me, blasting a technician as he raises a pistol at me.
Herman, eyes up, youre not bullet-proof any mo
An enormous computer terminal goes crashing down onto him, sending Marty spinning erratically out the side windows, out over the Manhattan sky-line.
My father winks down at me from the level above, and then ducks back into the stairwell. Theres more gunfire from below, now; theyre organizing, and trying to strike back at the Punisher.
I burst out onto the sixth level, gauntlets raised. Its bigger than the others, and at the center
The device we saw earlier in White Rabbits house works just like we thought it would. Straight up his ass and into his spine, deep restraining bolts covered in electrical wiring implanted into his stark white flesh.
Its the most horrible thing Ive ever seen.
My father is talking frantically to some kid who cant be over twenty-five, whos hurriedly operating a machine that looks like a piano. My father pulls a weird visor over his head, and picks up some kind of weird video-game controller off the top of the piano.
I must be smart, because as my father jerks the joystick, I get it in time to duck.
Creels enormous wrecking ball swings just over my head, and I hear my father laugh hysterically.
Hes already had Creel absorb the steel of the platform; his skin reflects the fluorescents, and
Ooh, here comes that damn ball again.
I duck behind a back of computers, and it smashes through them like they were made of Styrofoam. Felicia throws out a grappling hook that plinks off the side of Creels head, and his attention turns to her.
Aleksei, who mustve climbed up the side of the scaffolding, smashes into Creel, sending him flipping out the side windows, out that nine-hundred-foot drop.
The big gray guy turns to me and gives me a thumbs-up. Looking at him, smiling there, I know: If there was one person Id want by me for the end of the world, for all the shit I talk about him, it would be Aleksei.
And the wrecking ball whips up through the shattered windows, wraps around his throat and yanks him out.
My chest tightens so hard I feel like Im gonna implode.
Ale I start to scream, and then there are two gunshots, and Felicia crashes into my back, knocking us both over. I roll, and try to pick her up, but shes dead-weight. Even her Kevlar couldnt protect her from hollow-points. Her black costume bleeds out red.
My father stands there, holding his .45, smiling in an Aw shucks way.
Those shots were meant for me. Felicia saved my life.
Stupid stupid stupid This is all happening too fast.
The Punisher appears in the stairwell, and my father turns and shoots him in the neck. He goes up and over the railing, out of sight. My father then turns and shoots the twentysomething kid in the chest, before turning and shooting the machine connected to Johnny Ohnn.
It sparks, and smoke floods out.
I watch as it eats away at everything around it, expanding and expanding outward.
I grab up the kid; his badge reads Hughes. This is the same dumb fucking punk I heard in Alekseis memory.
Hes pale already from blood loss, coughing painfully. I slap the shit out of him.
How do I stop it? I scream in his face.
The Darkforce tear spreads out wider and wider, moving like dye in water, eating the level above us and casting us in darkness.
Now hes going to get away use the teleporter and Schultz shot me so I couldnt
What can stop it!? I shriek at him, but hes already dead.
I run to Johnny, pulling out the blue switchblade. I start hacking at the wires frantically; Im freeing Johnny, but its not doing anything to stop the Darkforce. After Ive severed a dozen wires, the thicker bolts and implants eject themselves; it must be some kind of fail-safe. I heave Johnny up and off the Anal-Spinal-Hell-Machine, the most stomach-churning thing Ive ever done, and then we both collapse onto the floor.
Marty flies up and lands next me; he pops open the faceplate of the suit.
Where is everyone!? he screams over an immense structural groan from above us; the Darkforce is eating through the walls and the support structure.
My father killed them. He killed everybody.
What!? Marty yowls, eyes wide.
You and me are the only ones left, Marty! Martys monkey face looks horrified. I think hes experiencing everything Im blocking out. I turn to Johnny Ohnn. Johnny, can you hear me? I scream in his face.
Yeah yeah hurts
I need to know how to stop it, Johnny!
Theres a rumble, an unbelievably loud ripping sound, and then the Chrysler Buildings spire, no longer connected to the building, drops off, falling past us outside the shattered windows, massive in the daylight.
Need a burst of energy Johnny moans.
What? Im still a little dazed from watching the two people closest to me die; sorry.
Its just going to keep expanding Itll absorb everything.
You said a burst of energy, what did you mean? What did you
The tear is already too big youd need massive a bomb you dont happen to have a nuke do you ?
My brain starts shaking.
I have a choice, here.
I have a choice.
I can go after my father, back down into the scaffolding, and teleport out after him. Theres nothing left for me here. Marty can fly out, and I can I can leave New York with this issue. The Avengers or the Fantastic Four or someone will sort this out. What do I owe these fuckers anyway? What do I owe anyone? What have they ever done to deserve my help but hurt me, and mock me, and treat me like garbage?
The Darkforce gushes out, umbrella-ing out over the sides of the building. Its going to pour down onto the street like a waterfall, eating everything.
This is what he is.
This is my father.
Marty, I say, dead calm, grabbing my friend by the shoulder. I know how we can fix this.
You have to die.
Marty stares at me, and I stare back, blank-faced. The plan only just now vibrated into place, and I still dont have any kind of emotional reaction to it.
Youve got four thousand megawatts in that suit, right? Martys eyes say yes. Thats twice as much as a goddamn nuclear power plant puts out, Marty. If you fly up into the rip, and you empty your batteries, theres a damn good chance itll close this thing!
But but, Herman, what if it doesnt? I mean, youre
If it doesnt it doesnt, goddamn it, but if we dont do anything, that leaves us with a massive dimension-ripping cloud of energy eating New York! Everyone we know, Marty! Everyone we know!
Silence. Marty stares at me.
Above us, the cloud is mushrooming outward, rushing down over the side of the building.
Who are we, Marty? I say, not really knowing why. Marty looks around, and smiles a strange, gentle smile.
Were heroes, Herman. He clicks down the faceplate of his armor, and says in that robotic voice: Shit, I didnt have any plans for this week anyway.
Marty rockets off, up, up, into the cloud. I watch him go. I drop to my knees next to Johnny; he smiles at me, and I smile back.
And then something genuinely unexpected happens.
It feels like I got punched in the back, POW, and then I feel the bullet come out the front of my chest, BLAM.
I try to stand up, but my legs give out for a second, and I tip forward.
I turn and see him, standing there, the .45 in his hand, less than three feet away.
He shot me in the back.
My own father shot me in the back.
I pull myself to my feet, drawing out the snub-nose from where it sits in my boot. He doesnt even flinch. We stand there, guns to each others faces, father and son.
Dad, I say, like a little fucking kid. Why?
Herman Im sorry. I never expected you turn to turn into something like He waves around the tip of the pistol at my shredded suit, the bleeding bullet hole in my chest. Something like this. I never wanted you to turn into such a disaster.
You did! I scream at him, a little kid again. Im crying, like an idiot, hot tears streaming down my face, the salt in them burning the open cuts on my face. I shake the snub-nose at him like a cave-man waving his club. You did you did you did! You trained me! You wanted me to become
I wanted you to become a super-villain, my father says, clicking back the hammer on his .45. Hes getting tired of the talk; part of me knows thats a bad thing, but its not screaming as loud as the part that just wants to know why. You were meant to be a low-profile metacriminal who I could fall back on if Control ever went belly-up, intestines-out. You were supposed to be my fucking safety net, and now look, look at what youve done!
My father actually takes the gun entirely off me, spinning in a circle in reference to the destroyed top levels of the Chrysler Building, the Darkforce energy rippling around and above us against the clear blue sky. Look at you! Look at yourself! he screams. Your pretty yellow costume all torn to shreds, your stupid little inventions lying around you broken like the childrens toys they are, your friends dead at your hands, the entire planet, once youve shown what you know, primed for a metahuman civil war that could very well spread off-world Youve destroyed the universe! Youve lit the goddamn fuse!
No! I shriek at him, thumbing back the hammer on the revolver. Thats not true!
Are you joking, Herman? Have you not been paying attention? Without Control, whos going to keep superheroes safe and sanitary for public consumption? Wholl be there to fund the clean-ups, hide away the corpses and tone down the body count? No one! Within months this planet will dissolve itself, metahumans will eat our world up like a flesh eating disease! Youve murdered us all, idiot!
Grandiose, sure. Melodramatic, certainly. But it strikes a chord in me, and for what seems like the thousandth time, I act without thinking.
I lurch forward, knocking his gun aside with my own, and tackle him out over the edge of the building, tumbling down into the Darkforce swirl.
And, very suddenly, were not on Earth anymore; were falling through a cold, infinite, horrifically empty darkness. Theres a shattering BANG, and I feel a bullet tear my skin as it scrapes along less than an inch to the left of my left eye.
My father didnt let go of the .45.
My blood sprays out into the nothing, but glows against the darkness; our whole bodies glow, the only source of light in a duodecillion miles.
Theres an impossibly bright flash, and suddenly the Darkforce recedes around us, revealing the world, the air, the city, the
We both hit the lowest outer tier of the spire. Three feet to the left and we wouldve gone the full nine hundred.
My left arm breaks violently, stopping my head from taking the brunt of the impact. I lift it up in front of my face, dazed; it bends at a sharp right angle a few inches after the elbow, flopping limply like a door on one hinge. My father slowly pulls himself up to his feet. Hes unharmed, and hes smiling a weird, muted smile.
He raises the gun at my head and then stops, staring at me. The smile slowly fades. Hes got ammo in there, hes just Hesitating.
And I realize, he cant do it. Not like this. Not face to face.
I swing up the gun and shoot him straight in the heart.
Herman he starts.
I cut him off with another shot, this one just under the left eye. His brains splatter out onto the ground behind him. He drops onto his knees, still staring at me.
Adrian Schultz, my father, drops forward onto his face, dead.
Theres a weird gargling noise when I breathe, and its getting harder and harder to take in new air. That shot in the back mustve hit a lung.
Thats okay, though.
I did it.
Its just like when I beat Spider-Man, but better. No guilt. No tension. No nothing. Just muted, inescapable calm.
Air is coming slower and slower now. The Darkforce ripple is shrinking, shrinking. The energy surge from Martys suit mustve worked. Good.
Martys gone, now.
Gone like Aleksei.
Gone like Felicia.
Its weird, how it fades around the edges of your vision. How darkness sort of encroaches, your eyes still open.
Were free now, all of us.
And I can finally
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