Half Empty Bowl, Half Full: Part Two
by David J. LoTempio
Read Part One
Dedicated to David R. Black
What has gone before - Werner Vertigo, aka the super-criminal Count Vertigo, has discovered an international plot somehow involving his nigh-destroyed homeland of Vlatava. The lead agent of these forces is a man known only as the Magistrate who wants Werner to sign away the Vlatavan natural resources, including the water rights to Lake Sofia, the country's largest fresh water lake. Barney Bonner, brother of Werner's girlfriend and writer of the successful Chicken Soup for the Supervillain Soul, Blythe Bonner, also approached Werner for permission to develop a business around Lake Sofia. Vertigo denied permission and set into a motion a sibling battle. In their previous vocation as digital thieves, Blythe had emotionally abused her brother and these unresolved issues exploded. Blythe decided to abandon Werner and attempt to retrieve her brother from his life of crime. Her destination was Vlatava. Meanwhile, the Magistrate and his spies set plans into motion that spell death for Vlatava.
What has gone before -
Werner Vertigo, aka the super-criminal Count Vertigo, has discovered an international plot somehow involving his nigh-destroyed homeland of Vlatava. The lead agent of these forces is a man known only as the Magistrate who wants Werner to sign away the Vlatavan natural resources, including the water rights to Lake Sofia, the country's largest fresh water lake. Barney Bonner, brother of Werner's girlfriend and writer of the successful Chicken Soup for the Supervillain Soul, Blythe Bonner, also approached Werner for permission to develop a business around Lake Sofia. Vertigo denied permission and set into a motion a sibling battle. In their previous vocation as digital thieves, Blythe had emotionally abused her brother and these unresolved issues exploded. Blythe decided to abandon Werner and attempt to retrieve her brother from his life of crime. Her destination was Vlatava.
Meanwhile, the Magistrate and his spies set plans into motion that spell death for Vlatava.
Chapter 4: Sorry, Sis, but I Stole Your Mind
Blythe Bonner looked awful and felt ten ways worse. She'd hiked six relentless hours through the haunted wilderness of East Europe, desperately hoping to find her estranged brother Barney. She had made good time after stealing the Trabi from a group of pornographers, but the back roads and woodland trails were as crooked as a witch's nose. She drove the car into burned-out cellar in the early evening darkness, which left her to walk the remaining 10 to 15 miles to her destination. At least I've worked off that Frappachino, she thought.
Blisters grew fat on her feet from the ill-fitting boots. Vlatava was so different from her urban world. Manhattan and Metropolis never shut off their lights and dusk was just an accessory to fashion. Metropolis was halter-top evenings with faux leather pants. Now she wore knock-off Calvin Klein underwear and men's boots in a size 7.
She bled from lacerations and contusions as she stumbled over bricks and stones for a whole mile. These fertile plains had once been the heartland of Vlatava until the country burned to the ground. A moon had risen, casting a half-light across the wild rows of wheat. Young brambles and trees stood no more than four or five feet high, making the woodlands look gibbous. She sat down on a broken wall, its surface radiating cold through her sweat-damp clothes, and cried. Her fingers quickly darkened with mascara. Maybe if she weren't cold she could dispel these feelings, she thought. She slowed her breathing and moved her mind behind herself, probing for her powers. Blythe Bonner could channel electricity or infest computers, but now she was a long way from the blood of civilization. Only the barest trickle of energy lurked within her. She could light a bulb, a cheap trick at best
She wanted Werner. Not because she needed a man; she was too strong for that foolish notion, but because he made her feel cocky and independent. He approved of the new Blythe Bonner and charged her as much as electricity did. She knew that he didn't consider himself a leader, but wasn't a leader supposed to be invisible? He inspired actions and believed in Blythe's dream of a better life. Why hadn't her brother Barney bought the dream? As the gravity of loneliness poisoned her, she thought back to the start of her journey to wrestle some logic from it.
She had anxiously left Metropolis to try and find her brother. While Blythe had abandoned crime in favor of a writing career, Barney was still courting illicit dangers. He had gone to his sister, looking for support, but she saw him less as a peer and more as a child. He ran away after she patronizingly offered to hire him as an assistant. Barney and Blythe shared similar electrical abilities - they briefly had a career as the digital delinquents Byte and Bug - and she suspected that he would use them to travel across the Internet. She'd caught a trace of his trail, an errant cookie or a piece of data, and followed it to an ISP in Yugoslavia. The trail was a day old. She knew he hadn't traveled to there from Metropolis but he had been there recently. She found the ISP source and exited.
She was greeted by the overpowering smell of sandalwood and cheap hashish. Four men were casually laughing at her, as if her appearance was a good joke, unexpected but a matter-of-fact. They examined her with familiarity. One unfortunate consequence of this travel was that normal clothes could not accompany her. She lay naked atop another man slightly groaning from Blythe's forceful arrival that had knocked him onto the floor. She jumped up and backed away from the men with faces without love.
One of them, a thirty-year old with a massive stomach, stepped forward to examine the computer from which Blythe had arrived. Polymer moans slipped from the computer as its casing rapidly cooled from Blythe's arrival.
The room was shabby and brimming with bric-a-brac like a rodent's den. Several heavy gauge electrical cords curiously snaked through the room powering a number of appliances: an industrial DVD burner, four computer stations, large screen television, digital cameras, and an entertainment center. Polystyrene-wrapped DVD players blocked one wall from top to bottom. Peppered throughout the room were disparate selections of clothing, mostly men's, inelegantly sprinkled with stains.
The double blow of civil unrest and former Soviet mismanagement had devastated the economy of the Balkan states. Through the 90s, Yugoslavians had desperately searched for viable livelihoods - legal or otherwise. The men lived and worked in this armpit, only leaving to steal equipment and ship goods, usually accomplished at the same stop. She removed a sheet to cover herself and found a block of packaged DVDs: their covers lurid with filthy promises. "Well," Blythe thought, "Reminds me of Barney's room so I can't be far off."
Another of the voyeurs stared at her beneath his long, bushy brow that formed a peak between his eyes. They danced like furry legs, aroused into a tango by Blythe's lovely form. An urge to apply manual electrolysis swelled in Blythe. These lechers reminded her of irritating high school boys so painfully obvious in their desires. "Why not fry 'em all," she thought. "Just like back in high school. Sizzle them until they're bald.
But wouldn't that action be a return to her old persona Byte, the so-called angry electric girl? Her determination to help Barney might evaporate in her renewed rage if she reached out and shaved them with her electrical touch. Blythe wanted to be better than that. She transferred those emotions into her mental Trash file and deleted them.
A man with a burly mustache grabbed a DVD case and brought it to her. He emitted guttural noises of pleasure as he pointed to the cover. The package was insipidly titled, in English, BYTE ME! - So buxom, blithe and debonair! The printing was terrible but effective in a primitive way. It promised the squalid tale of a 21st century girl and her digital desires. She handed it back to the moustache, who was bemused. "I'm sure this gift is meant well," she said, "but I'm not the type of girl who gets into this."
The mustache walked over to a lazy chair, grabbed a remote, and turned on the big screen television and its DVD player. He installed the DVD and opened to a scene with a woman wearing a skintight blue costume. She was attached to a computer inside a seedy urban loft. A buff man covered in clingy plastic entered the room. The woman turned her face to the screen and Blythe gasped.
It was she. The woman on the screen was Blythe!
The dialogue roared from the speakers.
Excuse me, Ma'am, but can I use your computer a moment.
You can use anything you want. My, that's an interesting file format. What's it called?"
*.dck. It's a pretty big file so I zipped it.
Well, do you mind if I unzip it.
Okay! Can I install it?
Ugh. I don't know if it will fit. I think we need a third-party application.
Another woman walked into the scene. Strangely, she was identical to the first. It was a double of Blythe wearing a green costume. She spoke.
"I'm not compatible with his software - different OS. But I'll get along well with her. Let me just turn on my hard drive. You take port 1 and I'll take port 2.
The virtual movie disgusted her as few things had. She had committed robbery, spying, theft, personal injury, wanton destruction of public property, and even attempted matricide, but had never plied her flesh. Yet there she was - twice over - getting biblical. In her youth, she had felt such anger at her parents that she was eager to do anything to demean them, but she had equated the intimacy of sex with weakness. The Bonners were a classic example of the contemporary Fast Food family, with each familial member being a discrete, disposable component that could be consumed on the go. Only the most tenuous packaging and labels linked them: career-driven mother, emotionally impotent father, introverted brother, and angry-grrl sister. Sex with anyone, of any type, merely enforced the objectification she felt from her parents. And so this movie struck her to her core.
There had been one malevolent time, though, when someone had pirated her personal thoughts, rewritten them like open source code. The incident had been brief but had left a numbness that trailed behind her like a long red scar. She and Barney had run into a criminal who used the name Prometheus, the titan who stole knowledge from the gods. The original had been a benefactor to humanity, but this one was a villain in the truest sense of the word. Blythe had thought herself untouchable when she was electric, but Prometheus revealed her vulnerability with disarming ease. He fractured her mind by inserting the thoughts of William S. Burroughs, the Marquis de Sade, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and Supervert - names that were synonymous with licentious decadence. During that time, she engaged in self-abuse and shameless depravity as easily as one would sneeze. She could accept those actions now because clearly they were committed by an imperfect copy of Blythe Bonner, someone who didn't exist now nor ever should. But Prometheus, that arrogant sociopath, who had taken no small delight in Blythe's shame, still made her feel tiny and weak. It was possible that he was responsible for this movie. She shivered at the thought.
Of course, it was improbable that Prometheus was involved. He had left before fully enjoying his work. Someone else was responsible. Maybe someone had made a recording of her electric mind when she received treatments at S.T.A.R. Labs? That was possible. The recording could have been stolen and was now being used to create these travesties. Perhaps Barney came here to stop these men? Blythe liked the sound of that explanation, but she didn't really believe it. For in fact, Barney was the one person who had opportunity and possible inclination to steal Blythe's then-perverted mind. Was he really working with these men to make erotic movies out of her mind?
The room had become noticeably hot. One of the men whipped his face with his shirt. He chuckled nervously and looked to his friends, who were becoming worried about the heat. It wouldn't take much for the building to catch fire. Sexy static on the television teased the audience with strange gyrations until the color was twisted into humid shades of pink and yellow. The plastic casing began to bend. The television's lid groaned and fell inward. Sparks shot out. The screen reached a climax of white light and exploded. Blythe turned to the voyeurs with sparks jumping from her skin. "I'm pretty hot right now. Which one of you Ouzo- swilling, Eurotrash perverts wants to join that television?"
They were out the door just in time to avoid the bolt of electricity. Alone, she searched the residence. A side room contained wall-to-wall boxes filled with underwear bearing fake labels, like Calvin Klein and Jordache. She had seen vendors throughout Europe selling such wares. The underwear wasn't much but it was clean and so Blythe ripped open a pack of gray briefs and Henley shirts. Continuing her search, she found a cachet of men's leather work boots and shod a pair in the closest size to her feet. She was beginning to feel more confident.
She reached out with her power and located a map of Yugoslavia on the Internet. She was located in a village just east of Zajecar and the border of Vlatava was a stone's throw. The Balkan Mountains beckoned to her outside the windows. Fortunately, Vlatava was a small country and Lake Sofia was no more than 20 to 25 miles away over the mountains and past fertile plains. She skipped down the stairs in her excitement. An old Trabi was parked on the cobbled streets. Blythe checked the door. It was unlocked. Her powers easily jumpstarted the car.
The car door made a dull thud when she slammed it shut. She opened it again and swung the door several times. It was too light. She knocked on it. She couldn't be sure, but the entire exterior seemed to be made out of painted board. She chuckled and drove off into the sleepy evening.
It did not take her long to climb the Balkans. Her path zigzagged up beneath pine trees. The stone road was very steep and dangerously slippery in the spring when its ruts swelled with the thaw. As she neared the border, she shifted to a series of unnamed back roads, trusting her intuition and occasional glimpses of GPS signals. Stations of the cross were set up along the way. At the peak, there was a small chapel with one side blackened and blistered from the heat when Vlatava burned; the border was no more than a few feet away. Leaning on the baroque stone balustrade of the narrow balcony circling the chapel, Blythe looked down into the Vlatava plain below. The view was tremendous, in spite of the gathering dusk. If not for the autumn haze, she could have seen clear across Vlatava, where its borders were gently cooled by the Danube. The beauty of the ancient, fairytale woods surrounded her with the fading scent of summer flowers. Out here, dusk was a mystery, a special gift, between the sun and forest.
She could follow the tail of the Balkan Mountains as their thighs spread into Bulgaria. The edges of paved roads that once ferried the dead and living haunted the Vlatavan countryside. Stunted, young poplars followed their edges. Even the mighty flames of God had left remnants of the heavy concrete lanes. By virtue of its width and length, Blythe surmised the skeletal road to be the main highway running between Zajecar and Vlatavograd. The jeep made uncomfortable but good time over the overgrown roads. "I'm going to make it," Blythe exclaimed. "No problems."
Perhaps forty-five minutes later, after the sun had set past the horizon, Blythe ran the Trabi into the cellar. Its shell had snapped and splintered. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be made of a cardboard substance, but that hardly mattered now. She would have to walk the rest of the way. Six hours later, she sat upon the cold stone wall fighting memory and despair.
A plume of fire erupted from the forest floor, cutting the night sky and her thoughts. It struck something in midair and Blythe could vaguely make out the effort of rotors fighting for air. A black helicopter spun wildly, twisting on its fiery side. She ran into the brambles, heedless of the pain. The helicopter dove headfirst into the ground about 5 miles away. The hedges ended at a stream fed by the hills she had crossed. Freed from the trees, she broke into an athletic run, popping her blisters and exposing the raw flesh beneath. She didn't care. The freedom and rush of heat in her muscles thrilled her.
A cold, ghostly mist flitted between the bushes. Its feet dappled down into the creek, lapping around Blythe's boots. Her goose bumps rose. Cautiously, she stepped over the slope and into the brush. Limbent fingers dissolved on her skin and teased her deeper into the young woods. This forest once held the legends of Vlatava, a world replete with imps and witches baking changelings in black iron pots. She never gave much power to such stories, as a city girl she was more worried about music or bandwidth limitations, but a supernatural fear rose in her spine in response to the evening's atmosphere. A voice called to that fear - a human voice.
Sixty feet in, she found a wall of ice bleeding mist into the low woods. Its crystal surface caught slivers of flames on the horizon. As she neared it, the voice became lower but clearer. The wall snaked away from the flames and Blythe followed it until she found the voice's origin. A masked man clad in black was half encased in the wall. He lifted his one free arm to Blythe, to tease her closer.
"Oh God," were the best words of comfort that Blythe could muster. "It just looks like you're stuck. Put your arm around my back and I'll pull while you push."
She locked her arms around his chest and braced her boot against the wall. The frigidness was pleasantly cooling on her worn feet even through the thick plastic soles. As she pushed, the man's groaning rose. Blythe almost stopped but then she felt him give. She gingerly propped both feet against the wall and sprung off of it. The man's upper torso snapped clean from his frozen waist, showering Blythe in a cascade of red frozen crystals. She scrambled away, the bushes thankfully brushing her clean, and backed into a low, crumbling wall. The man's spirit congealed into a cloud of steam rising hesitantly from his bleeding abdomen. The column gently rose into the air, unsure whether to sever its link, until a wave of frost marched across the brush. It poured over the branches, freezing leaves in place. The steam snapped into a fine dust and fell back onto the body.
Blythe felt her gooseflesh rise as the temperature dropped like Lucifer. A shaft of ice rose from the wall and atop it crouched a witch, her smile sharper than the moon. Blythe's resources were too low to attempt a charge of electricity. Deep, concealing bushes were a mere 30 feet away. Blythe spun and ran towards them in a single, thoughtless motion. She could feel her muscle heat fighting against the icy drag in the atmosphere.
Another masked individual stood up from the bushes she was aiming towards. An automatic rifle was brandished and Blythe threw her body to the side just as it blistered the air with fire. Behind her, the bullets perforated the wall of ice. The bushes added a dozen more cuts but she kept running, heedless of the pain. She ran for several minutes, coming to the shabby remnants of a home, behind which she hid. The direction to Lake Sofia was lost in the tumble. Blythe could still muster energy to check her internal GPS and discovered that she was perhaps an hour away from her destination. But she now realized how limited her chances were of finding her brother. It would take another two or three hours to walk around the lake in the darkness, searching for signs of him. Gunmen and witches roamed the primitive woods hunting her. She was living the Hollywood blockbuster version of the Story of Little Red Riding Hood. To her regret, it was sans CGI technology and stunt double.
An orchestra of bullets and cries played around her, punctuated by occasional spurts of fire. Small animals darted out of the woods as they also tried to escape the escalating chaos. They looked like tiny goblins with claws that scratched out horrible, calcified laughter. She rushed out and almost ran into a pair of deer bolting out from another crumbling home. Their antlers nearly gored her. They turned and followed a pebbled path that turned in the direction of Lake Sofia. She ran after them.
The chaos of fire and guns was replaced by silence and the glare of the moon. Blythe could not keep up with the deer and she soon lost her ersatz friends. She was happy to be moving closer to her goal. She'd be happier if she had remembered to urinate. The pebble trail ended at an intersection, where weeds choked the crumbling street. The moonlight shone brightly on Blythe's urbane skin, now glistening with sweat. She stepped back behind a poor young tree. This seemed as good as place as any to relieve her growing burden. It was much better than Barney's bunker in Saskatoon with the bad plumbing. Blythe eventually had to buy her own bucket because the stench in the bathroom had evolved the abilities to breathe and reproduce.
Swiftly, she dropped her shorts and relaxed her bladder. Euphoria replaced stress, combining with the heat of her run to charm Blythe with a feeling of wellness. Things were starting to get better. She was able to finish and secure her shorts moments before explosions rocked the brush.
Metallic slivers cut through the air. Flames outlined the world, revealing a number of masked men all converging on a creature plodding through the bushes and trees. Hands grabbed at her until she was lifted and carried past a series of broken homes, their pell-mell walls offering small protection from the subsequent gunfire. Her bearer dropped her behind a building and bound her hands with plastic handcuffs.
"Sorry, Ms. Byte," the masked man said in broken English. "I am big fan of yours."
"Georgi is correct," said another man who dislodged himself from the gun battle. "We all love the digital demimonde. You draw lucky straw, Georgi. You get to exit this firefight and take the virtual vixen to see her brother. Off you go."
Georgi tossed Blythe across his shoulders and broke into a strong run despite her extra weight. Fire suppurated from the forest's cover, spilling orange and yellow heat across the wind. Napalm fairies spun on the tips of brambles. Blithe caught a glimpse of two men in the strange light. They unloaded their weapons into the forest. She made out the costume of one. It was Deadshot, who had the reputation as the worlds' deadliest marksman. She'd briefly met him, years earlier. He'd exuded a creepy stoicism.
Flames licked at the fatigues of the other man. He didn't seem to notice. Instead he concentrated upon dispensing calculated rounds of death upon the masked army moving through the woods. His bald plate shone like a polished skull. Blythe had a fleeting thought about the profound beauty in violence. It was burned away by the cold, mechanical combustion of war. This man was an engine of death, satisfied in the surety of his kills, and he stood in the middle of twin forces testing each other with bullets and fire. She knew that this was the Magistrate, and that he had come for Barney.
Blythe let herself go limp. She was grateful for the escape.
Chapter 5: "I Am A Curious Traitor"
The night sky over Yugoslavia was a sea of moonlight, accented by a few spare ghostly clouds crawling eastward into the world's darkness. The drone of the props cut through the firmament. Its black aluminum shell still reflected the last remaining light from civilization. The stout wilderness of Vlatava hung below them, like the maw of a great subterranean beast. Riina, staring out of the plane's windows, was having a difficult time reconciling this reality with her own image of Vlatava. She had spent most of her life in the city or university. Now, her Vlatava was replaced by an expanse carpeted by nature's unruly pleasure.
Behind her sat Count Werner Vertigo and Lyuben, whose thinning brow barely peeped above his immense padded jacket. Lyuben's vodka flask appeared at regularly prescribed intervals. The trio had hired a supersonic flight from Blackhawk, the mercenary fliers, shortly after Blythe Bonner disappeared from the streets of Metropolis. Werner was convinced that she and her brother were going to Vlatava. Worse, he suspected a vast plot involving the World Bank, clandestine American forces and a mysterious agent known only as the Magistrate. Vlatava was threatened from within and without and, despite Lyuben's counsel, Werner took them around the world back to their homeland.
"What are you reading," Werner asked Lyuben. The cover of the book was obscured by shadow and he could barely make out a cheery American smile on the cover. Lyuben slightly tilted the book and revealed a man with an impossibly broad smile and arms snaking around the cover.
"Stretching the Truth: Memoirs of an Elongated Man as told to M. Hutchinson," Lyuben said. "I do so love true crime books. This Ralph Dibny fellow was a former member of the Justice League but was also an independent detective for many years before and after. Do you know him?"
"No," Werner replied. "I dislike men who can stretch. They are uncomfortable."
Lyuben squirmed in his seat. "Speaking of uncomfortable, I better use the facilities before you freeze the lid when you let in the night air." He dropped his book in his seat. A slight bump caused Lyuben to lose his balance and he stumbled into Werner. He quickly apologized and left for the bathroom. Inside, he dropped Werner's entire medicine bottle, supplements to his gene therapy regime, into the toilet and flushed. Lyuben's pick pocket skills still served him well.
A light flashed next to the C-130's Inter-comm. Werner answered the pilot's summons.
"Better strap your people in, Count," the pilot cautioned. "We're coming in low to avoid surveillance and the drafts from the Balkans may cause some dangerous jostling."
"Your caution is appreciated but unnecessary. I will disembark from here. Once I'm away, you can take Lyuben and Riina back to Paris, and then ensure that they transfer to the Blackhawk SST back to Metropolis."
"Whatever you want, Count. Your credit card bill is going to pay for my son's first year of college. Would you like to make another satellite phone call? My son could use money for some books."
"No. Once was enough. Please don't mention it to my colleagues. They may take a dim view to my expenses."
"No problem. Y'know, I completely forgot that you flew. Too bad you couldn't fly here on your own."
"Yes, many people do forget that I fly. I just hope those individuals pay more attention to the planes they're flying than to trivia."
"Right. Well, you be careful with the air currents around the mountain."
Werner hung the phone up and went to the jump door. Riina handed him a belt that contained a phone, a gun, and a good knife. Werner removed the gun and ammo and returned them to Riina before buckling the belt.
"Riina," Werner said as he secured his suit, "I think it best if you and Lyuben return to Metropolis. We need to continue our other initiatives."
"Don't be absurd. That's another eight-hour plane ride. Lyuben and I are much better off staying in Europe in case you need support. We should contact the United Nation forces in Croatia."
"I don't need help. I'll take greater comfort in knowing you're safe."
"Of course, both you and Lyuben are important advisors. You're both far better equipped to lead Vlatava than me. If our enemies hope to derail our sovereignty, then they could ask for no better target than the three of us together."
Riina looked anxious and shivered. "Yes," she said plainly. "Yes, of course you're right. I guess I was thinking of something else."
"You were concerned about our success - sign of a good leader."
Lyuben came back from the lavatory. He gave a disapproving glance at Werner. "I think this journey is a frivolous display of chivalry. Sacrificing Vlatavan independence for a woman is steeped in the tawdriest American Soap Opera."
"Vlatava has ever pursued different ways, Lyuben. You know that better then either of us. I suspect we will sacrifice more if we ignore recent events. I feel the hungry eye upon us."
"This is why we need allies," Lyuben said, smiling with his stained teeth to emphasize the point. "People with a common perspective. I humbly remind both of you of the rather generous overture from Pokolistan. It is a powerful country with a good Slavic history..."
Riina huffed. "Yes, if you call conquest, ethnic repression, and a militant tyranny components of a 'Good Slavic Tradition.' I hardly think the Czech Republic welcomed Pokolistan's annexation of their provinces. You could cook a meal off of the avarice glowering from behind their General's mask."
"Well, at least he's honest about it." Lyuben pleaded his case like a father teaching children. "You can deal with a man like that when you know what he wants. How do you think I survived the Soviet Regime? Morals and ethics are just fashionable dressings for desires. Trust me, I happen to be a good dresser."
"Perhaps you fondly recall Soviet oppression, Lyuben, but I do not," Werner countered. He searched his pockets for something. "Has anyone seen my medication?"
"They have a standing army with superhuman support units. It would take us decades to build that infrastructure. They can protect our borders from infiltrators and all they ask for in return is diplomatic acknowledgement, support in the United Nations, and profitable - I emphasize profitable - trade agreements for grain, uranium, and bauxite. This is a win-win scenario!" Lyuben forcefully threw his head back and took a deep swig from his flask.
"Lyuben, you should drink water more often," Riina consoled.
"Vodka is water to the Slav!"
Werner took the flask from Lyuben and took a sip himself. He handed it back to Lyuben. "I finished it. Now go sit down and refill it. You'll need it after I open these doors to the cold air."
Disappointed, Lyuben walked back to his seat. Riian watched him walk away but then felt gloved fingers turn her face. Werner looked into her eyes that blinked like the pages of a book. The story therein was not hers though. It was Werner's tale, a reflection of murder, madness, and malice. He remembered the Notebooks of Liane de Pougy that contained her quaintly lurid Parisian adventures. On her death bed, she had said - "Father, except for murder and robbery, I've done everything." She had hardly reached the depths that Werner had sunk.
He read Riina's eyes further and saw his youthful rebellion against his parents and the Soviets. There were so many terrible sins he had committed against himself. His Catholicism hung in his soul like a frayed rope, its length perilously dangling above the darkness of suicide. He had shaved those threads with his own teeth.
There was too much to read in those eyes, and, if this had been a different time, or if Werner had a different soul, he would gladly have spent his years as Riina's bookworm. But his biography contained at least one great lie that encompassed Vlatava, Riina and Blythe. If spoken, would even the will of God hold back the wrath of Vlatava's dead? Even so, the spite from Riina and Blythe would be sharp enough to cut his rope and condemn him to a fate for which he was not ready, although deserving.
"Goodbye, Riina," he said, "don't let Lyuben talk you into anything. You carry Vlatava for all of us." He attached Riina to a safety guard and opened the exterior door. The plane filled with a ferocious wind that sucked Werner out. He was quickly lost in the black cradle over Vlatava.
Riina wondered, and not for the first time, how damaged goods like Blythe Bonner could command the attention of the noble Werner. She was an exceptional director but she had too easily leashed her passions to him, seeing much good when there was really so much evil. She had thought Vlatava's reconstruction was building new scaffolding around them both. Yet, there seemed to be such a distance.
"The man is clearly unbalanced," Lyuben said from across the room. "The stress is wearing on his already fragile mind; you saw how he forgot his medication. I doubt he'll be able to make rational decisions very long under these conditions."
She took one more look before closing the door. Cloud banks were low and evil. Vlatava looked foreign to her. She imagined a better Vlatava of rustic huts and terraced gardens. Farmers darting between fields of wheat. "Perhaps you're right," she said.
"Of course, I'm right. I speak from experience. Clandestine work requires stable reasoning. Between the two of us, the enemy won't know what to do." He offered Riina a draught of liquor. She took it. He leaned in conspiratorially and said, "I happen to know where we can find 20 men with guns and mortars. We could be at the edge of Lake Sofia within an hour."
Wasn't this what a leader was supposed to do: take charge? "Okay," she said. "Let's go."
Werner flew low into the land of his birth. The air was thick with the young forest's humidity, smelling much sweeter than the musk of money. He made a wish to the moon that this newborn state would be free.
He understood why Blythe was fixated on her brother; she was trying to find her light reflected in his eyes. His reasons for rebuilding Vlatava weren't dissimilar. But the fulcrum of his actions was a crippled anvil rotted by depression, and Blythe's shone with the vigor of newly minted steel. Werner had spent his miscreant youth in Eton, doing his best to sully his family's good name, or so most people assumed. The important circles did not regard the royal family Vertigo well anyway; the family's private approval of Adolf Hitler had been the final straw among the European blue bloods. Werner wanted the world to know, though, and so he had embarked upon the most petty and immoral crimes. It had exhausted his family's fortune to keep the incidents out of the popular press. Yes, it was true that Werner loved Vlatava, but he loved and remembered it like the tormented needs the tormentor. One could not exist without the other. One pain defined the other. The brighter Vlatava could shine then the better his definition. And he needed Blythe's help to make Vlatava bright again.
Didn't her name mean "cheerful," after all?
His ears caught something. A rhythmic hush ventilated across the low trees. He searched the sky for a glimpse of movement. A black helicopter flew about ?? meters away. It pulsed and flowed with menace. Werner slid below its shadow. There were no markings on it but its shape and sound were reminiscent of the Sheba class - a stealth assault copter once used by the American and Israeli forces in the late 80s and early 90s. He was familiar with it and the presence of the copter added to his suspicions.
A missile shot up from the trees and into the helicopter's arm. Flames licked the black ceramic side and bounced off the craft. Werner slowed down and watched its frantic struggle to stay aloft. The pilot was very good and stabilized the craft's flight. The side door opened. Several individuals jumped out. They fell 20 feet until they were met by a pillar of ice that formed into a slalom, which ferried them to the floor. The craft swung wildly. It dived into the brush and exploded.
A barrage of bullets and tracers tangled the air, making it difficult for Werner to proceed. The darkness and his small form afforded him a measure of protection but the plains were rife with armed men who were assuredly scanning the skies. He chanced a quick glance towards the ice bridge. The bullets and phosphorous were making short work of the structure's integrity. Its trail wound down into the stunted forest. Small outbreaks of gunfire reflected off its length. Despite this obstacle, the group was headed in the general direction of Lake Sofia.
"Good," Vertigo thought, "let these armed men slow them down. It will make things easier for me. First, I should ascertain who these bandits are."
Vertigo dived down to the ground, skimming across the tops of wild hay. Once, these fields would have been ready for harvesting. The farmers would be preparing for the fall festivals, but that was many years ago, deep into Werner's boyhood. Now these fields contained the familiar echo of combat and Werner yielded from them memories of ambushes and military actions. Not two miles up, there used to be a tree line that walked along a short ridge separating the farming plots. Werner had utilized it to trap and kill many Muslims during the Vlatavan Civil War. It was likely to be used as such again.
Beneath him, Werner could see beds and trails cut into the field by coyotes. He entered into them and proceeded carefully on foot through the tall stalks. Its circuitous path stopped at one edge of the ridge. Laying half out of the trail was a dead coyote with a belly swelled by stillborn pups and a head reduced to a mess. It looked recently killed but it was hard to tell in the darkness. Werner knew he would be shot outright if he bothered to check the coyote's condition. Still, he had abilities that the poor creature lacked.
Werner stepped confidently out onto the ridge with one hand nobly held aloft. The armed men beneath him were surprised but drew their weapons upon him with practiced skill. They were defeated before they knew it. Their focus was lost as the world liquefied. Trees detached from their roots and danced. Bile leapt into their throats. Their weapons clattered to the ground, followed by their owners, who began to retch. Werner honed his powers upon one of the men, killing him. He kicked the other several times and tied his hands with a rifle strap. He lifted the man's mask from the crown, away from the bitter smelling front, and wiped the filth from his face.
Werner saw a wire-guided missile launcher, a few surface-to-air missiles, and a communications pack. The equipment was well-made and of recent vintage. Their rifles were the MP7 manufactured by Heckler & Koch. It had only recently been released, in 2001, and then only to specialty customers like the United States Marines and British MI6. Reputedly, its bullets could cut through titanium steel. These men were professionally armed. Werner would have assumed they were American military if he didn't suspect that the people in the helicopter, shot down by these men, weren't American forces themselves. "A mystery that I do not have the time to play with," Werner thought.
Werner stuffed the bile-soaked mask into the man's mouth and then stabbed his thigh with a knife. Once the muffled cries died, Werner stabbed him again. Satisfied, he removed the mask. "That was just to demonstrate that I don't care about you or your life," Werner said in Romanian. "Answers my questions quickly and to my satisfaction and I'll leave you alive. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," the man responded in Pokolistan-tinged Cyrillic.
Werner was pleased that he had so closely guessed the man's nationality. He corrected himself and spoke in perfect Pokolistanian. "You are outfitted well, so I know you work for powerful men. Who are you with? What are you doing in Vlatava?"
"I am foot soldier in the great marching forces of Pokolistan," the man said. "Our General is calling all Slavic brothers to join forces against the capitalistic forces. The Americans have come to take this country and its resources, but the General, in his wisdom, has dispatched us to defend the vacant home of the Vlatavans. We are a peace-keeping force."
"Forgive me if I don't laugh at your insipid propaganda," Werner replied. "One helicopter is hardly an invasion. An unpleasant incursion, I'll grant you, but hardly a well-armed military beachhead. How strange that my description more accurately describes you. I know all about your General's expansion policies. I saw him carve pieces of the Czech Republic for his steak dinner. You can tell him that Count Werner Vertigo, rightful ruler of Vlatava, respectfully and unequivocally declines his self-serving offer of alliance."
Werner stood and kicked the man into unconsciousness. "That is, you can tell him if you ever wake up."
Pokolistan, American covert forces, the World Bank, and Barney Bonner. How did these elements mix together, Werner wondered. They all wanted Vlatava and its resources. None could have it.
The Blackhawk Plane airdropped them at the southern foothills of Vlatava, where the Stara Planina rose to form a natural border with Bulgaria. In the old days, this area was a popular vacation spot. Families would come from across Vlatava by rail to enjoy the scenic splendor or sip on pear brandy while dining on potato dumplings. Riina enjoyed the memories. She was surprised to see torches lining a terrace that ran up the crest before them. A few bonfires were set at strategic landings, allowing Riina to make out several caves carved into the rock. She had never heard of such features in this area before.
A group of ten bearded men walked out of the caves. They carried rifles, axes and hammers. Riina was unsure what to do since the men didn't expect visitors and she had no idea how to deal with these vagrants. Lyuben stepped up and called to them "Assalaam Alaikum."
The men responded, "Wa `alaikum Assalaam."
Lyuben grabbed the leader's hand and shook it warmly. "You look trim, Ali. Your sabbatical has served you well."
"My sabbatical is to serve Allah, Lyuben," Ali said. "And you look much the same. You are lucky I recognized the Blackhawk markings or we might have shot you down. What brings you here?"
"My associate, Ambassador Riina Trelinka and I are here on official Vlatavan business and could use your help. We believe that foreign forces have infiltrated our borders and are attempting to steal our resources. Possibly take over the country. Count Vertigo is already investigating the situation but we fear that the outside forces are too strong. Can you help?"
Ali considered Lyuben for a moment and then turned to Riina. He walked over, using his hammer as a makeshift cane. "I know you," he said to Riina. "You went to the University. You remember the fire?"
The University had been the eye of the ethnic storm in Vlatava, but that did not mean it had been immune from disaster. The few Muslim students allowed on campus were pariahs, even though they were exempt from the withering prejudice rampant outside the grounds. Some students, like Riina, had tried to bridge that gap and work with the Muslims undergrads to create an example of harmony. Their work had progressed in fits but some of the students had begun to forge strong bonds. Some experimented with love. An inter-faith couple had been kissing in an alley leading from the campus and into Vlatavograd's busy streets, when a drunken crew of soldiers had found them. The boy had been crippled and the Muslim girl beaten nearly into a coma by the time a group of Muslim students had happened across the scene. A fight had broken out, eventually causing the destruction of a half a city block.
"I remember," she replied. "You were the one in the photos. The one who smashed the soldier's face with a flaming bottle of Vodka. When he caught fire, you kept feeding the flames. You've changed."
He pointed his hammer at her. "And you. I carry a hammer and carve temples for Allah. You carry a gun and talk of more fighting. This is sacred land now. Purged by God's own wrath. Who are these invaders that sully it?"
"We're not sure exactly," she said. She turned and pointed north. "Surely you could see the flames and fire from your caves. Whoever is behind this invasion is well armed. If they've come to take our country then I doubt they'll take kindly to your presence in the mountains. Lyuben told me that you have munitions. Perhaps we can drive them out by working together."
The men broke into conversation. The group was largely made up of young men in their twenties with a few older men perhaps in their fifties. The Vlatavan Civil War had chewed up all the men in between. Nikolay Vasilev, the great Vlatavan satirist, had dubbed Vlatava the "Meat Grinder of Europe" in his book The Butcher's Sleep because it had succeeded in churning out the greatest pile of "war sausage," flavored by Muslims and Catholics, of all the European states in the 20th century. Being on the losing end of two World Wars and living through a Soviet-regime had that affect. Riina had the faintest feeling that her hand was on the grinder's crank.
The men reached a brief agreement and sent a runner into the caves. He returned accompanied by another man covered in dirt-blackened clothes. His back was hunched. His arms rippled from long hours with pike and hammer. Riina surmised that he hadn't washed in days. When he approached the men, they broke into heated discussion again with the man in the center. Fed by the words, he slowly straightened until he stood a good foot above the others. The torchlight played upon his face and Riina could see his identity. The man was Aleksander Hafza, former General of Vlatava and leader of the Muslim Separatists. He was responsible for the deaths of 30,000 Catholic men, women and children during the Civil War, including Riina's brother who was executed personally by Aleksander. He was also the only other survivor and witness to Vlatava's destruction. Riina made the sign of the cross.
Aleksander walked towards them followed by Ali. "Go away, Lyuben," he said. "I tell you and these blessed of Allah that those flames are nothing compared to the righteous wrath of our Lord. One is a cleansing fire. War is over."
"I agree entirely Aleksander," Lyuben replied. He dropped to one knee and made a benediction. A rosary had appeared in his hands from somewhere. "I share your convictions and work only for peace now, alongside Riina here and Count Vertigo. Vlatava has been returned to a state of grace, but these invaders obviously wish to bespoil it. I believe we have a duty to our Lord to defend the land from heathens. I can see that some of your men agree with me."
Aleksander chuckled. "You are like the serpent in the tree - you know exactly what to say. Where is Werner? Why hasn't he come to see me?"
"He's out there already," Riina said. "He's fighting them."
Aleksander's head tilted. His eyes focused on the night sky where flames twinkled near the horizon like imperfect constellations. Riina, Lyuben and Ali studied him. His awareness seemed to be miles away, possibly mesmerized by a memory of another fire. His hands rose in supplication. A low muttering rose from the men in response. And then Aleksander's head dipped below sight and he wiped something from his face. Riina thought it was a tear, but couldn't be sure.
He turned and addressed the men. "I am merely a man and have no hold on you. Those of you who wish to leave can go. But some of you know that the blessed lord has taught me to read flames. These fires inscribe only avarice. I stay to carve a better message."
He approached Riina. "When you see Werner. You tell him that I forgive him."
"Well," she stammered, "I'm sure that he forgives you too."
"I know," Aleksander replied. "He told me many months ago. I wasn't ready." He reached to Riina's waist and pulled out her gun.
"I carried a weapon like this too. It was the last thing your brother saw. Think about that when you use it next." With that he left.
Lyuben organized the ten men who decided to accompany them. They took all the rifles and ammo, but Aleksander kept some of the mortar shells. Their explosives were useful for his work. There were even three jeeps that had been hidden on the Bulgarian side of the mountains when Vlatava burned. They were allowed the use of two and so, crowding into them, the group was off to meet their fates at Lake Sofia.
Part 6 - I Wanted Emotional Commitment, Not A Jail Cell.
Blythe Bonner wrapped herself in an itchy wool blanket that kept the chill at bay. She had been taken directly from the front lines of combat and to a small, camouflaged encampment. The canvas tent breathed with each shift in the wind that carried the cool slip of moisture. She had lost her bearings in the darkness but she had a good guess that she had reached her destination - Lake Sofia, largest fresh water lake in Vlatava.
They had kept her in the tent for perhaps a half hour. Her feet throbbed from numerous blisters. The waiting had drained all warmth from her. Her electrical energies were gone. Without a recharge, Blythe was cut off from the electric world and was defenseless. Strangely, she could sense something beyond her mental reach. It was a steady current of lightning hidden just outside of her command. She couldn't tell where it was coming from but an electrical ghost existed in this place where none should belong.
What could Barney be doing here, she thought. Why would he even get involved someplace where he couldn't defend himself? Barney was not a rugged outdoorsman by any stretch of the imagination, preferring to spend his time playing Playstation or stealing electronic secrets. He had bought a skateboard once and tried to hang with the skate punks. He had lasted exactly three hours, 24 minutes and 11 seconds, which was when he had received a medium concussion and a broken collarbone from a failed slide down a 15 feet long staircase. Blythe had taken special care of her brother while he recovered. She had also taken the time to administer second-degree electrical burns to the skate punks. That was probably the closest she ever came to being her image of a sister.
Voices outside the tent became more pronounced. Footsteps treaded across the damp grass and came to the tent's entrance. The flap opened and black, inky figures entered. She heard the sound of gas leaking. A match was lit and the room glowed by the light of a powerful lantern. There were three men in the room. Two were masked paramilitary men. The other was her brother, Barney. He didn't seem too happy to see her.
"Hi sis, what happened to the DKNY and sling backs?" Barney asked. "I'm not good enough for the royal treatment? You could at least have worn something other than underwear. I talk about you all the time to the guys and I'm worried that they'll start to think I was lying about how goodie you are." Barney relished his sister's abject loss. She looked like she'd been through hell. Now, maybe she had begun to understand how he felt all of the time.
Blythe stood and crossed the tent. Her feet sank into cold, muddy earth but the sensation comforted her feet. "I've come half way around the world to save you, Barney," she said. "And I think it's safe to say that after the bullets and blisters, I'm honestly only here to set things right. I can't take back even half the dumb things I've done in my life, Barney, but we're too young to add to that list."
"I'm just getting started."
"Well, I wish I could approve of your high-tech criminal look, Barney."
"You're one to talk, sis," Barney replied. "You look like a trampled flag on a city street."
"I wish you could see yourself from the outside. I wish you didn't treat life like a game with cheat codes and file formats. All that time we spent living in computers and the Internet wasn't good for us. It was too small a place. We don't have to be small anymore."
"You think there's some kind of digital divide between us? It'll take a lot more than a T1 line before I download your nagging." He put a finger to his forehead and discharged an electrical shock. "Pardon me, I just installed some Anti-Sibling Sobbing software."
"I hope you grow up, Barney, because when you do you'll realize how disgusting your enjoyment of this degradation is. This is like incest!"
"What are you worried about?" Barney said. "You're not my sister anymore. You're just a slow emotion replay of somebody I used to know."
Blythe barred her teeth. "Oh please," she hissed. "Am I supposed to enjoy you using me as a virtual porn star? Like, am I supposed to suck it up and take it! Yeah, I treated you bad, Barney. I'm not hiding it or denying it. You want me to say I'm sorry then 'I'm sorry.' But I can offer a life a lot better than spying or playing naked Tomb Raider."
"You don't know me anymore," Barney yelled as he threw Blythe into the canvas side. Water had risen, making the grass slippery. She fell into a muddy pool. "You think I'm just angry. That I can just calm down and be like you? This isn't anger. This is everything!"
He held out his glove hand and started counting his fingers - "Hate, Greed, Injustice, Independence, and Courage. Oh yeah, courage to step outside of family loyalty, and all of its bruises and scars. This IS Barney Bonner. I don't want to be anyone else. I don't want to be your idea of a nice guy. I'm enjoying myself."
A cold, blue ripple circulated through Blythe as her brother's truth traveled through her and into the soaked ground. It occurred to her that she was part of a massive circuit, but one that transferred emotions and not electricity. These words were forging a new link that unleashed an ugly surge that had been building behind Barney and Blythe since they were children. Blythe had made her own means of adapting to the world's current but Barney hadn't and now she began to grasp his true inability to synch with her. Her words could not change him. It would take something far more powerful to make them flow properly again.
She stood again, forcing Barney to take a step back. "How can you enjoy this?" she asked.
"It's called Schadenfreude, sis, and you were an excellent teacher. Which reminds me, I can give you one more surprise. Let me contact my partner." Barney's mind reached out to invisible radio radiation with practiced ease. Blythe could faintly feel the signal but couldn't listen in without a recharge of her powers.
"It's Barney," he said to a voice on the other line. "Yeah, I'm almost done with my little heart-to-heart. I'd like to bring Blythe down to meet you. Figured you wouldn't like the idea but with all of the shielding down there I doubt she'll interfere. Plus, what can she possibly do to the operation with you around?"
There was a brief exchange from the other line and then Barney was finished. He was smirking. "C'mon sis. Let me show you my new office." He barked orders to the men in Pokolistanian. Blythe was surprised that he had bothered to learn a different language. One of the men left and the other took Blythe by the arm. They exited the tent.
The moon had moved past its midpoint and was beginning its long fall over Western Europe and into the Atlantic. The pale light rippled off of the many streams and pools spread across the lakeside. They walked towards Lake Sofia. Blythe couldn't be sure but it seemed as if the banks had risen slightly. The ground was softer; each step was accompanied by a squish. They crossed a short field and came to the foundations of a building. Its stone walls were caked with black soot from the destruction of Vlatava. They entered the roofless cellar, which extended far deeper than Blythe expected. A false stone door was moved aside to reveal a lighted passageway that ran further beneath the surface. Perhaps, it was long enough to enter the Lake.
It seemed absurd to Blythe that the day's calamities had their impetus in this foreign body of water. They say all life comes from water, and, if that is true, than all of life's turmoil must mirror the frothing surface of the oceans. Only by venturing beneath these depths could she hope to fathom a course, her personal return to the Island of Her. Unfortunately, Blythe disliked swimming. Water molecules easily exchanged electrical charges and Blythe had no small concern that her ions would dissipate if she ever were forced to change into her electrical form while in water. Here below the liters of emotional trauma, she feared her soul would disappear as well.
Along the length of the passageway were located several purring, gasoline-powered generators. Each had a thick, well-insulated cord run from it and over the side of the landing into a larger chamber below. Blythe could see light rise from through metal gratings that formed a sturdy staircase, which marched down three flights. Barney and the guard escorted her down into the room.
She could feel power running among all the machines and she craved a charge. They were powering an extensive collection of computers and digital storage devices that formed a series of artificial walls and corridors. Two computer workstations sat to the left while a large screen and workstation dominated the northern most wall. Someone was sitting before it.
Under normal conditions, Blythe would have been able to easily rejuvenate her powers this close to machines, but Tempest shielding and Faraday Cages protected them from radiation leakage. This level of protection was typically reserved for top-secret installations. She and Barney had encountered it several times in their illegal travels. Once, Blythe had to spend a week trapped within an FBI computer because of a Faraday Cage's metallic mesh.
"I know you've come a long way, Blythe," Barney said, "and you've got a lot of questions. I can't answer them all right now. There is one question I think you really want answered - how much do I really hate you? How much bad road really exists between us? Here, meet my partner."
Blythe's heart dropped, as the partner turned and smiled at her beneath his leather and metal mask. She could never forget that smug, self-satisfied smile that made you feel like an insect. His every gesture was a swagger. He was the specter that plagued her dreams, and with that understanding she had finally reached the true depths of her brother's depravity. This was the one crime she could never forgive - working with the man who had raped her. "Jesus, Barney," she wept. She felt negated. Neutered by his presence
"Hello, Blythe," Prometheus said. "Come to learn some tricks from the master?"
"Oh Barney," she gasped between her sobs, "how could you work with him? You know what he did to me!"
"I think that was the point," Prometheus replied. "To be fair, I approached your brother, and not the other way around. Y'know, he has an unbelievable gift with electronic theft. Such a deft hand. I mean, put this guy in charge of Microsoft development and not only would you have a crash-less product but possibly the slickest invasion of privacy software ever. Just brilliant."
Barney leaned confidently against a console. He tilted his head to the side in a boastfulness that enjoyed Blythe's emotional trauma. "Yeah, just let me at it. I'd put the 'vice' in customer service."
Prometheus tapped Barney on the elbow. He gestured to an ergonomic chair tricked out with firewire ports and cables. "The troops are having a hard time with the Suicide Squad. We don't have much time and we need you to complete the final acquisition. Why don't you download your butt and I'll keep your sister occupied?"
Barney ordered the guard to help him connect the firewire connections into his electric suit. While both he and Blythe could remotely control computers, Barney needed to physically connect with digital systems to maximize the full extant of his powers. They grew exponentially in proportion to the system to which he was linked. In a few moments, he was plugged and ported with the massive computer system within the sub-cellar.
"Your brother just wanted respect for his talent," Prometheus said. He handed Blythe a tissue, which she took and wiped her tears. "I knew he was a computer geek, but I never realized how dysfunctional he actually was until I apologized for hitting him. I thought watching my parents die was bad, but enduring 18 odd years of emotional and physical abuse from your family must have been awful. Was it too much to give him a hug? That's all I did."
"Why don't you stick your nightstick up your butt, Prometheus? Don't try to lecture me about my family. You're just using Barney for your own ends. I'm well practiced in selfish attitudes and emotional cauterization, and you've got it written all over your face. Well, what I can see of your face."
"I don't deny my crimes and I don't fee bad about them either. I've also never run around the world trying to fix them, which, I must admit is impressive." Blythe's courage affected Prometheus more than he would admit, though. He had been disgusted with her Pollyanna attitude when they first met. And her book...so plebian! Yet a year's seasoning had brought out new, bolder tastes in her. He was beginning to consider her in new ways. He checked Barney's progress. The digital spy had already culled 20 gigabytes of files.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll give you a chance to go after your brother."
"I think you're still denying how bad of a sister you really were. I think Barney will eat you alive given half a chance. How about I tap you into his bandwidth and we find out."
"I'd need my powers for that. Why would you risk me attacking you?"
"I think we both remember how that turned out," he smirked. "Unless you'd like a repeat dose of perversity."
"Okay," she said, "I'll play."
Prometheus ordered the guard to plug a Firewire cable into Barney's seat. But the guard could not distinguish the proper port among the forest of wires. Prometheus yelled directions in Pokolistanian until the guard located it.
A slim silver cord ran across the room and to Prometheus' hand. It reminded Blythe of stories that she had read as a teenager. People who claimed to have out of body experiences said that their souls were tethered to their bodies by a hoary thread. It was made of the purest spirit, hammered and spun by a lifetime. If the cord were cut, then the soul was lost. She hesitated to take it.
"Don't worry," he said, "I always spring for high speed internet connections."
A familiar surge of energy entered her as she gripped the cord. A phantom world of info-radiation came into focus as her powers returned. Prometheus switched channels on his console and Blythe was gone. He walked over to her vacant clothes and folded them neatly.
"That was foolhardy," the guard said, with little regard for his own life. Prometheus was not a man to question. He could kill this dumb grunt in 10 different ways without even resorting to his arsenal of chemicals and explosives. His metal nightstick alone contained a number of deadly settings and a swift, athletic swing would clear the room. Instead, he popped the guard once in the chest, knocking him back a few feet.
"If you had half a brain you'd already know that the game was set and match," he said as he advanced upon the guard. He pushed him once more with the warm end of his stick. "I had you plug her into a line that's connected with the Lake. She's tickling catfish whiskers and cooking crayfish. Goodbye blithe spirit. Goodbye
He chuckled. "I'm not a sport. I don't give anyone a chance unless it works in my favor. Guess what, you just fell out of mine. Say your prayers, chump."
To be concluded in Part 3 - featuring the Suicide Squad.
is an aspiring writer with a wife, child and dog. He is a closet libertine and thinks he can sing like Marvin Gaye...on his good days. Wishes he could write like Nelson Algren. He is also a contributor to our first comic book, "Fanzing Presents: Job Wanted", which can be purchased at Too Many Longboxes.com!
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This piece is © 2002 by David J. LoTempio
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