Tag Archives: Skul

A Christmas Carnage 5

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Everyone thinks about the benefits of being a world leader, but not so much the downsides. Yes, I can park anywhere I want, especially when people see the missiles and canons on the side of the Flyer. But I’m constantly interrupted by people wanting my attention, even when I’m heading off somewhere to deck someone’s halls and sleigh some people.

This comes up because, right when I’m waiting to hear back from my team and Baron Samedi, Intelligence Chief Pagan called me up with an update about the Paris Situation. It didn’t help he was confusing me with his facts and nuance. “What do you mean they aren’t entirely right- or left-wing? That’s the damn country that invented those terms!”

“Mommy, there’s a tree in the living room!” Qiang said from the doorway. Young Qiang this time. Not the future version that I saw reach down a man’s throat to pull his heart out. That’d be ridiculous. Her hands are too small. She’d have to use both, and a little kid can’t fit both arms down a human throat. Not sure how common of knowledge that is for you, dear reader, but it’s true. Personal experience.

“That’s for sticking shiny things on and hiding presents underneath it!” I told her.

“I know it’s a Christmas tree,” she said. “The movies are all over the TV!” She smiled at me. D’aww, she’s going to be a real heartbreaker some day. When her hands are big enough.

“You can go decorate it and stuff if you like. I’ve just got a call right now,” I told her.

She clapped her hands. “Ok!”

Back with the phone call, Pagan had invited someone from the France Office of the European Section on to give me a better idea what was going on. “Yeah, ok, so a mix, possibly hijacked, with some astroturfing and all. More importantly, did we get what we were looking for?”

“We retrieved the painting the Deep Ones told us about, and the casket from beneath the cathedral. We successfully masked the thefts. Proceeds from the artwork and gold we obtained are expected to more than pay for the operation. We can escalate the riots at your discretion, ma’am.”

“Nah, no need to toss weapons into the mix. And, hey, if this treasure hunt you’re on doesn’t work out, at least it hasn’t cost us anything,” I told him.

“In my eyes, the existence of the map confirms the Squamous Reaver’s existence. I will claim its power for Ricca.”

Either the guy’s developed a treasonous streak, or he’s just really into hunting this thing down. Some people get like that, you know? I think it’s a very old instinct, evolutionarily speaking, to fixate on a hunt. But I’m fairly good-natured as murderous dictators go, so I told him, “If you need a help, for any reason, feel free to let me know.”

After that, it was a nice night of tree decorating up, cookie eating, and movie watching. As it happened, it was nearly one in the morning when I heard from Baron Samedi. Well, first I heard from Skul. With that bunch of magic users, he was the only one who thought to take a cell phone with him.

“We’re getting’ real close, Psycho,” he said.

“Hand me the damn phone or I’ll shove it up your ass!” said Samedi in the background.

“I discovered, with no help from Baron Samedi, that there is a ritual going on. That was me. If he had wanted to dispute that, he should have brought his own phone and maybe shouldn’t insult my phone case’s bedazzling.”

“I am a god!” Samedi said.

“And I’m an atheist. I don’t believe you’ll do anything about it,” Skul said to the Baron. The next part seemed to be directed at me. “We’re attempting to disrupt whatever’s going on. You have a secret admirer.”

“Are there nudes?” I asked.

“There’s hair,” he answered.

Ew. Not liking the thought of how some hostile person got that stuff. “What do you mean about whatever’s going on?”

He responded more quietly. “We’re almost in. We’re bypassing wards to shield the building and alert those inside to our presence. It’s an old asylum. Does that mean anything to you?”

“Not really. I’ve messed with one or two before, but it wasn’t all that significant. I mean, I DID meet a girlfriend in one.”

“You dated crazy?” he asked.

“Worse, I dated a hero,” I told him.

“I have a bet with someone. Was it Venus?” he asked.

“Nope,” I told him. “What’s this ritual thing look like?” I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, wondering how I’d look with something more in the purple shade for lipstick.

“This is advanced stuff. They took a long time doing it. I see a ghost with sunglasses from my position. Blood. There’s a clock and blood, too. Wait, something’s… Baron Samed-”

Everything changed. The decorations, the tree, my daughter asleep in my lap… it all disappeared. “Skul, what the fuck?”

The response from the call wasn’t encouraging. “If you would like to make a call, please hang up and dial again.”

It didn’t look like anyone had lived in this place for awhile. I got a rush of weird notices from incoming data that confused me, too. Conflicts in scrapers. No access to the Institute of Science. Weird notices about the Empyreal City Nightmare Zone. Stories of the Fluidics in their remaining safe zones fleeing Mot and civil war. Eschaton the superhero burned down Moscow in the name of Ricca. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

There were three things I wanted immediately: my daughter, my armor, and a clue. My first guess was some sort of Ghost of Alternate History, but one didn’t appear. I checked outside the door and found a hallway. Someone didn’t get rid of the rest of the palace in this continuity. There was a servant out watering a plant in the hallway. She looked up when she saw me. “May I help you, madam?”

“You can see me?” I asked.

“Yes, madam. Should I not be able to?”

“I don’t know. It’s still 2018, right?”

She smiled. “Yes, madam.”

“Do you know who I am?” I asked.

“No, madam.”

“Does the name Psycho Gecko ring a bell?” I asked.

She began to back away. “It does not. Perhaps I should fetch someone for you.” She set her water jug down and turned.

I put my hand over her mouth before she could call out. “Tis the season for me to give you a choice. You can either go sit in that residence for awhile and pretend you got knocked out for awhile, or you can call out.”

She made a sound, so I slammed her head into the wall, knocking her out. It only occurred to me after my percussive anesthesia that she might be trying to signal agreement with shutting up voluntarily. I left her safely locked in the residence while I made my way out of the palace.

The secret is to just be cool, dudes. Walk like you belong there. Seeing as it’s my damn country, I know I do. But whatever this is, they don’t realize that and I don’t have my power armor. Or nanites. The lack of my nanomachines is troubling in particular. Even if they for sure didn’t have my face on file after walking across the courtyard, there aren’t many people strutting their stuff with four arms.

Everything felt different in the city. It had that tension I hadn’t noticed until it was gone. The one where regular people know they can’t be too much themselves in public. I didn’t see any Deep Ones at all until I came across one with a cart strapped to him. He was bent over while the owner of the cart lashed him with a short whip.

The Deep One stood suddenly and grabbed the man’s arm. With a pop, he tore the arm out of its socket. The Deep One began tugging at his restraints amid spewing blood and screams. It was locked on, and he was trying to tear off the thick lock with his claws.

“Hold still,” I said, jogging over. My laser eye lit up and cut a line down the harness next to the lock. A couple seconds of effort later and he had the collar off.

“Thanks,” he said before booking it down a side street. I went the opposite direction, and didn’t trail blood after me. I had to find myself a liquor store, so I headed for the traditionally poor section of town. World leader 101: keeping people drunk is an easy way to control them. They can’t even organize like that because if you get enough drunk people in one place, they turn their anger on each other.

I slowed down and caught my breath before heading into one such store. “You have a marker?” I asked of the teller.

The pudgy, balding man with the goatee looked around and reached for something. Before handing it over, he stopped. “What’s this for?”

“Calling a ride,” I said.

He squinted curiously, so I nodded toward the palace and reached for the marker. “I’m on assignment.”

He went to hand it to me. I grabbed his wrist and pulled him into a headbutt, then grabbed his had and slammed it down on the counter again and again. I finished him off with a beer bottle to the back of the head. But I didn’t kill him. No, I just covered him in high-proof liquor and used that marker to draw out a figure of a man in a top hat on a wall away from the counter. “Ok, calling Baron Kriminel. You out there, Baron? I hope you’re not too picky about going through Papa Legba, but I know you do this stuff in Memphis. I got wine, rum, a whole damn liquor store for you.”

When that got no answer, it was time to resort to the bigger offering. I sighed and turned to shoot a puddle of moonshine pooling under the counter. The moonshine lit up with blue flame that climbed the counter and caught the cashier on fire. As expected, that woke him up, and led to screaming and flailing.

Kriminel didn’t show. Fuck. There goes getting out of this with magic.

I headed out the doorway…

…and found myself in New York state, standing outside an old, abandoned home for the criminally insane.

Standing before me was a crying young man, not even to his mid-twenties, with long hair and a beard that existed more for lack of shaving than actual effort. Purple light from his fingertips joined into an orb at his palm. “Come all the way through,” he said.

I looked at the doorway I was in. The other side showed the liquor store that was catching fire as the cashier ran around trying to put himself out.

“Maybe I don’t wanna,” I said.

“It’s the only way we can get back,” he said through tears and strain of effort.

“Back where? Who are you? Where are we?” I asked.

“I’m Douglas Blackstone. I’m the person who has been tormenting you so I could obtain the reagents I needed to get here. A world where you never existed.”

I was on him in a flash, throwing him to the ground. “You got rid of my daughter!”

He pushed a hand to my chest and said a word that threw me into the air. Purple tendrils appeared from thin air and wrapped around my arms and legs, holding me captive. Blackstone stood up, coughing and wiping himself. “You killed my family. If you care about your daughter, think about what you’d do to the man responsible. How you’d spend years preparing for revenge. The things you would give up. I’ve spent six years of my life on this… and I get here and they’re still dead. And things seem worse. What kind of fucking joke is this?” He ran his fingers through his hair to get a handle on himself.

I just raised an eyebrow. “The Aristocrats.”

In a moment of dark empathy, we both started laughing. After he calmed, he looked up at me. “As much as I would love to kill you or leave you behind in this world, I need you for the ritual. If that failure of yours is normal for you, you can’t manage magic of this magnitude on your own.”

“So… you tried to get me to die while you worked on your magic plan to somehow shift everything to a timeline where I don’t exist, and upon getting what you wished for it turns out not to be worth it. Yeah, sounds like a Christmas miracle.” I tried to spit on him.

Blackstone sidestepped it. He shook his head and glanced at a phone laying in the snow nearby. “I never thought you… listen, do you want to get back or not? I vow to work with you and not see you come to harm until we are back in our timeline, and may this vow be binding upon the spirits and the universe. Agreed?”

He made a gesture and interlocking symbols appeared in the air between us.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I already preferred a world where I existed, thank you very much.” The symbols shifted, then shot into a line between myself and Blackstone. I immediately felt the tendrils loosen and gently lower me to the ground. I walked over and tried to punch him, but my hand stopped of its own accord inches from his face. “You agreed to it, too,” he said by way of explanation.

Instead, I grunted my frustration and began to rub my arms, having not been dressed for snowy New York. “Ok then. What do we need to get back to a wonderful life?”

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A Christmas Carnage 3

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“Do you want them taken alive?” asked one of the magical bounty hunters assembled before me. I didn’t like the guy based on his armor being styled after a Crusader’s armor. He wore mail under the crusader flag tunic, and covered his face in a barbute-style medieval helm with such a small T-shaped slit that it was hard to make out very much of his features. It not only clashed from a historical perspective, but I don’t usually work with militant theocrats.

I shrugged. “There will be a substantial reward for whoever finds the person doing this. You are free to use any methods necessary, and I don’t care if they’re alive. Disintegrations are ok, as long as you bring back proof.”

Crusader Rex, as he styles himself, nodded and hefted his blocky rifle. The bunch saw themselves out. The others, including a mummy, a couple of mystics in official Faustus/Hephaestus business robes, a British guy with a 5 o’clock shadow in a trenchcoat, and a woman in way too skimpy of an outfit. I’ve seen lingerie that covers more. Magic is pretty much the only way that could stay on. The last of the bunch was a guy I recognized named Skul. Bald guy, in faded pants and jacket, with a mask fashioned from the front of a human skull. I remember when he used to mug people on street corners with a cheap pistol.

Well, if he manages it, he manages it. Some mages might be so prepared for weird occult attacks that they don’t expect a Saturday Night Special. If the guy prefers to dress like he’s about to hit a liquor store in the process, that’s his business.

The Institute having secured several clocks, we had figured out that the visits keep occurring at one AM. My alarm went off five minutes ’till, with both the witch and one of the Faustus people having asked to be nearby. The witch had to be close. With an outfit that amounted to little more than a strapless bikini covering a squat, chubby body with small breasts. Actually, pulling back the footage, I’m not sure my feelings for her were entirely my own, because she had this wonky thing with one eye and a chin with its own ass crack.

Having remained loyal to a woman who preferred me when I had dick for days, I woke up to my alarm clock and waited, armor ready to smack the straight out of the second Spirit. Everyone knows that’s the Ghost of Christmas Present, who doesn’t even bring a present. With a name like that, it should be mandatory. I waited for the Present to arrive. And how did I not see that mole?

And waited.

It was very nearly 1:01 when I jumped up. “Anyone spotted anything weird yet?” I asked over the radio. Silence answered me.

“Not yet, Empress,” said Dr. Silence. “We thought we had a power surge, but it only lasted a moment. Have you checked with your mystics?”

I didn’t get an answer from them, so I cloaked and headed out the door. Maybe the ghost went after them first.

I stopped down the hall at the door to their room. Oh, look, a checkpoint that negates my stealth in my own facility. I knelt down beside the door and popped it open. When the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man didn’t charge out for a couple seconds, I poked a hand around and let the cameras tell the tale.

What had once been a white lab room was now a warm, inviting study with wood floor and walls covered in bookshelves except for the fireplace. A crackling fire backlit a large man in a green robe laying on a couch where the back didn’t run the length of the whole thing. Along the floor was a small feast of ham, turkey, stuffing, roast beef, buttery bread, deviled eggs, and angel food cake among other selections. The man was as big as a pro wrestler, and not fond of covering his hairy chest. He raised a torch in one hand. “Is that you, Psychopomp? Do come.”

I began to charge three of my arms and grabbed a rubber chicken off my belt. I squeezed the head off it and tossed it into the fire, past the guy. He glanced at it, but seemed unconcerned. I came charging in as flames exploded out of the fireplace toward the unconcerned ghost, intending by the energy sheaths on my gauntlet to disperse the undead being that sought me out.

The ghost disappeared before I hit it, which left me hurtling into the fire. I came out on the other side, landing in a city’s roundabout. Around me ran crowds of people with faces covered, carrying their own makeshift torches. One of them was driving a bulldozer along, pushing cars out of the way and tearing down street lamps. The city’s lights were being replaced by torches carried by protesters.

Nearby, I saw the ghost again. He would find some isolated masked person and shake his torch over them. Instead of ash or sparks, water rained down. I watched one man put down a pipe he carried, pull off his mask, and walk away from it all. “It’s a shame to quarrel at Christmas time,” he said.

“This is Paris,” I said, standing up. I found my arms no longer glowing, the energy somehow having bled off. And though I could stand on the streets, my arms went right through the people living up to Paris’s longstanding tradition of revolting.

“Yes, and look at such ungrateful people who would fight instead of enjoying their food and their loved ones,” he said.

“Dude, they’re poor people who are getting screwed out of food for themselves and their loved ones,” I pointed out. “You would deprive them of their means of seeking justice and making their voices heard just because you don’t like fighting around the holidays?”

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” responded the spirit,”who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness, who are as strange to myself and all my kith and kin, as if they were inhuman. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

I pointed to the torch. “You’re the one influencing them to stop. You’d rather have peace than justice, and instead of telling the guys screwing people over, you want to tell the victims to shut up and be quiet.”

“And you influence them to fight.” The ghost waved his torch over to where an injured man was being helped away from the fighting. His fellows set him down while another moved in and began performing some basic field medicine, trying to set his leg and wrap the bloody wound on it with medicated gauze laced with medical nanites. “Training, equipment. You have a hand in this conflict.”

“I offer knowledge and aid. They sought it out of their own free will and apply it the way they wanted to. You want to control their minds and force peace on them at the cost of their wants and needs. I offer enlightenment and empowerment so the powerful alone don’t control the course of the world.”

The ghost swept his arm across the darkened city, smoke rising in several places. “How many people are dead because of the knowledge you loose onto the world and then wash your hands of?”

I nodded toward the protesters. “My knowledge didn’t make their government tax the poor to bolster the rich. This fighting is out in the open and temporary, but there’s been more conflict, lasting longer, cold-blooded. This will kill, what, tens? Maybe hundreds in the end from fighting? How does it compare to lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heartbreak? This is a momentary terror, but you ignore the older and more vast one, inflicted day by day, year by year, decade by decade, unseen because of its pervasiveness.”

What is it about Paris that makes people, myself included, want to give speeches?

“I think you could use a little Christmas cheer, woman.” the ghost said sternly. “I know what will help!”

The wind picked up and embers from the torch flew out. They came right at me and obscured my vision just enough that I didn’t notice the change in venue until the wind calmed. We were in a trailer now. A woman stood in the kitchen area, boiling rice and heating up canned vegetable beef soup on the stovetop. We stood in the adjoining living room area, where a threadbare plastic tree stood next to a stained couch.

“Even in these dark circumstances, there is hope,” said the ghost. He pointed toward the tree, but then walked across to the kitchen and sprinkled his torch water, whatever that’s about, onto the food. “A little seasoning of my own to help.”

“Ew,” I said. “Try not to put too much of your own ‘special sauce’ into that woman’s cooking, ok?”

“My blessings are felt more by the poor. The smallest aid helps them more.” He looked past me, to the door. A moment later, someone knocked.

The woman in the kitchen turned to the window and glanced out. She sighed. “Go away!”

The door opened anyway and one of my agents came in. I remember him as the one I extracted from Abnormal, Alabama. A local business leader who ended up leaving his family, including a son who was a sidekick to a local team of teenaged superheroes. It seems his family have fallen on hard times. “I heard about the accident. I want to see him,” my agent told her.

“You ruined his life enough,” she said.

He looked around. “It didn’t have to be this way. You keep sending back the money I send.”

“I don’t want your money and neither does he,” she said.

He set his jaw. “Easy for you to say. You aren’t the one in a wheelchair peeing into a bag. There are so many ways I can get our son back.”

“You already lost him when you chose some crazy tyrant over him,” she responded. She cussed under her breath and spun around to turn the stove down and stir the soup.

My agent turned and headed down the hallway while she was distracted. She noticed and called out, “Hey! Don’t go back there!”

I followed the father to a back room where his son sat in a wheelchair. The father hugged him. “I’m here, Tim.”

“Some fluid of my own making would be better suited to helping this situation,” I told the ghost who had followed me back. “But I suppose that’s evil to you.”

“It was you who created this situation. The son and the mother would not take it,” he told me.

“Yeah, well sometimes people don’t know what’s good for them. Same as those folks wearing government suits in Paris. They got themselves into a mess and are refusing to help themselves out of it. These folks here don’t have to work for me or anything like that. Now, maybe the son doesn’t like it, but I imagine he preferred being able to feel his penis and not living in a roach castle like this.” I looked around.

“You drove him to this and pretend good people have a choice,” said the ghost. “Taking children from parents and training people to be insurgents and killers. This is who you are in the present.”

I turned around to punch him in the schnoz, but found my fist hitting the bare metal wall of the Institute of Science’s hallway. I was back. “Fucker,” I muttered. Apparently I can’t even be philanthropic because nobody wants to take money from me and people want to pretend it’s evil to do so. Nothing but telling me to change my ways in some vague way that doesn’t held and ignores a lot of nuance. I shook my head and looked around as scientists armed with plasma rifles and mages with glowing body parts stepped into the hallway.

“Stand down. Y’all missed it,” I said. I shook my head and set off to go for a walk. I went ahead and sent my Intel head, Pagan, an email to both confirm the presence of that one agent in Alabama again, and to authorize the insertion of funds and medical nanites for his use.

They might live to regret it, but at least they’ll live to regret it.

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