Gods don’t care for the trash (dark, superhero)
The line between good and evil is a thin one. Probably the same width as that philosophic needle's end where the hypothetical bunch of angels should sit, waiting to be calculated by an egg-headed intellectual.
Well, angels don't care for us. No need to count them. After Syria, after Korea, after Turkey, I stopped looking for the line when the number of inked-in toll marks on my forearm crossed the number 34. The answer was right before me.
Evil and good depends on the outcome, not on the intent. On how one treats the lives of those he might end. There's a reason why we think of injuns as noble and spiritual savages, and not primitive brutes – when they killed an animal for food or hide, they thanked it and prayed for it, honoring its sacrifice. How many of us does that to a hamburger or rib-eye steak?
Mad Phillipe dies when a shockwave from Gravitron flings him on a rebar sticking from the broken wall, blood rupturing out of the wound in a wild arc. Gravitron pays no heed.
Behind him, other shapes move in, and for the first time in my life, the rifle in my hand trembles.
Angels don't care for us, but the gods are angry.
It's possible to do the right thing with your hands bloodied, I think, as long as you pay for it in the end, acknowledging how you got there.
Terrorghast was waiting for me behind the prison gates, deathly pale under that ugly tourist panama, his Hawaiian t-shirt damp with sweat. I didn't know what to think back then, but he drove a sick Lambo, and I mistook him for a rich kid turned amateur drug lord… besides, I didn't want to spend the rest of my days in some shack on the Mexican border, drugged and hopeless, re-living the height of my fall in a junkie's stupor.
Hours later, we were sitting in a fancy seaside bistro, and while I chewed on the straw of my ice-cold Coke, Terroghast laid it onto me hard. The way he handled the menu, fidgeted on his seat and tried to disassemble the straw coasters reminded me of a very animate mantis. I decided he was firmly on crack.
"I need a security guard".
"M'hm. I can see that. Cartels are crazy as fuck these days, yep. Cutting heads, slitting throats, etcetera. Hostility, man, everywhere".
A snicker, chiding for childishness. Terrorghast took his aviators off, eyeing me with all the entomological enthusiasm of a die-hard fan of bug fights.
"I'm not a drug dealer, Guerre".
Behind him, the sun blazed hot on the street, smelting reality into a thick hazy fuzz, and I felt sticky, dirty even, with the reality of my unwanted freedom clinging to the skin.
"Right. And I'm not a war criminal".
"I'm well aware who you are, Guerre, and I'm awed. Usually people deep in your kind of shit kick up a whole media storm, call their army contacts, advocate groups, petition the White House – but you let the dogs tear into you like a side of beef".
"Astounding knowledge", the Coke tasted heavenly, after all that powder-orange juice we got. "And brilliant analysis".
Terrorghast looked to the side, grinning lightly. Not perturbed by the situation at all.
"What I'm saying, is that it takes a strong and moral man to admit his wrongs, that's all. Someone with integrity. That's rare, and that's what I'm looking for in men tasked with my safety".
"Many would argue the "morality" part, don't ya think?".
"You did what you have to do, Guerre. I understand that, really. People died, but for many, Alania became a safer place. People will forget about the mass-graves once their new schools and hospitals are built upon them".
I rocked the ice cubes in the glass, brought it up to look at the recruiter through that opaque film – nothing, but faint shapes. Easy for him to speak of it. But, yet… his awkward attempt at fraternizing with me, showing that he understood where I came from when I allowed the state to crucify me for the appeasement of foreign governments, it was nice. No matter that he didn't, couldn't understand what transpired in Turkey, the hell that I've willingly descended into and where I became what I had become.
"There are hundreds of private sector mercs from Australia and NZ running around, looking for a security gig. Why would an evidently wealthy man like you – even though you sound like your momma dropped you on the head – need to spoil his reputation with the likes of me? Sorry, but I don't get it".
"Oh, believe me, I spent my time with the folks you talk about. Impressive beards, Oakley glasses, tactical gloves and earpieces. But", Terrorghast took his panama off to bare a bald, shiny skull with no sign of previous vegetation, and fanned himself, smiling in relief. Was he sick? Chemo? "That's what we call "security theatre". I need a real deal. A real killer, not some tattooed Aussie or Boer with a fancy accent and a backlog of scaring South-African chicks to death. My reputation… it can handle a lot".
I winced at the "killer", but curiosity got the better of me. What kind of man would want my services straight outta the orange jumpsuit, at the expense of something like Blackstone Jager or Waterforge?
"What do you even do, man?"
The man slipped his panama and shades back on, tone mockingly modest.
"Cutting edge tech. Military applications".
"Every kid with a 3D printer nowadays does that".
"But I'm not a kid. I'm a genius – and geniuses don't live long, you know".
"Terrorghast! Come out, you cowardly piece of shit!" Veritas' loud voice booms through the complex, and the second Vano, my tactical aide, peers over the table, a shuriken slams right into his face, gouging an eye out. From my vantage point on the second floor, I see him crumble behind his cover, still and disfigured. Zangetsu, the cyber-ninja assassin… must be him, as deadly and accurate as the media described him to be.
Lance Trenton started calling himself Terrorghast about 8 months after I became his security guard. By that time I was well aware of his, as I called them, "peculiarities".
One thing, Trenton – Terrorghast – was indeed a genius. He was a natural, god-blessed programmer, but not some sort of hacker or data scientist. Terrorghast coded AI like no other.
I'm no expert, but the reason he was considered as dangerous as he was, had been because he came up with a whole new principle of creating AI, paving the way for much more complex and deadly war machines than every before. Drones, remote-controlled mini-tanks, self-propelling turrets, you name it. DARPA looked like stone-age Neanderthals cobbling turds and sticks together when compared to his capability.
And the other thing – he could actually possess his creations. I don't know how, but Trenton could take virtually any machine with his mind, move and inhabit it mentally, making it do his bidding. Over great distance, as well – I think the farthest his reach worked, was almost two miles. I still, to this day, don't understand how it was possible, since machines don't even have consciousness, especially not simple ones, like cars or fridges, but – he could do it. To devastating, impossible ends.
When we met, Lance already owned a big juicy startup of his own in the software industry, offices in Pablo Alto and Singapore, and no shortage of funds. His company's stock traded worldwide – and, as always, that's never enough to make a man of such scale content. Trenton wanted real involvement and control. Not just selling code in the open and drones under the rug.
Lance and politics didn't mix, but Terrorghast and politics were a match made in wretched heaven. The way gunpowder and fire mixes together to a disastrous result. Lance was a toothless liberal Silicon Valley darling with chemo treatment and a sob story of "overcoming" and "struggle. Terrorghast was an unflinching conservative with his sights set on globalism and crooked politicians.
When you can mind-control lethal warmachines of your own making, guess what you would do?
Well, the media called it "terrorism".
Trenton called it "necessary civil action".
And the superheroes… the superheroes called it "evil".
I'm switching the channels in my radio, but meet only static. Silence of solitude, and a sign of devastating failure. Everyone is dead. Burke lies, torn into two pieces by Veritas' sonic blades. Frank Weller is a scorch mark on the lab's floor as Sunflame burned him into ash. Ezra "Rook" Kaine had his neck snapped by Libertyman himself. Taran, Frigga, our explosives spec Goran Volnich, Beckett, One-Eye, Stillson, Janek, the comms guerilla Terry Pierce. A team of high-end professionals, assembled and glued together by the commitment to Terrorghast's goals, his vision. People that held Terrorghast's ground against CIA, Mossad, MI-5 and others, for years.
Now – ripped, smashed, frozen and shattered, reduced to bloody jelly and hacked apart like target practice cutouts. Brad Kopineck lies near me, his eyes glassed over, hand still reaching for his gun. Thinking that "he had a family" is hypocritical of me, but I really knew his family, had lunch with them just a month ago… And I knew that the survivors of my own atrocities were no different in this impotent, immobilizing rage that I now feel.
It does nothing to help, I have to admit.
I'm the only one left, and the height of my achievements is landing two solid hits on Nucleus Boy, only for the blue-skinned freak to heal them in an instant. We barely halted their advance, two dozen people against six superpowered beings, and Terrorghast's safe-room is just beneath us.
I drop the rifle – it's no use, not against the gods. I think that I'm ready for this as my fingers hook into the loops the grenade pins on my chest. Terrorghast's impenetrable bunker was one of the contingency plans in case the government finally let it's metahuman bloodhounds off the leash, but as all plans, it had a human factor flaw in it – I closed it, therefore I knew how to get in. Time to correct the flaw. I don't – and won't – regret this.
As I pull the pins out, time slows down. The concrete pillar that I crouched behind turns to dust and I feel my muscles stretch and pull against their will – my body lifted and yanked in the air, arms spreading, pins flying away… and sticking into air, like flies in tar. There's no explosion, but instead, I flow prostate before the six superheroes. Time and matter itself crawls to a standstill.
Libertyman speaks first, his eyes sparkling brightly behind the vinyl mask. There's a glint of recognition as he glides over my uniform, over the patch with the solifugae on my shoulder.
"Camel Spider… Terrorghast's right arm, right?" He catches the pin, looks at it and smiles. "His "chief of security".
At his side, the shapely Veritas smirks crookedly.
"I wouldn't call this "secure"".
"I thought security guards could at least, you know, aim and shoot", Zangetsu, with his overcharged zymerian endoskeleton, dares to chuckle. Yeah, I'd like to look at you without that shell, you fucking mollusk.
"Oh, they can", Sunflame's voice comes out all scrambled, due to him roiling and fuming like a human-shaped blob of lava. "Just at innocent, unarmed people".
"And you, Camel Spider? What do you think? Will your boss come out for a chat now that it's all over?"
Gravitron moves his hands to the side, and I feel like my arms are being ripped out of their sockets. Grenades are still silent, the little shit Nucleus Boy probably stopped the chemical reaction. Sunflame is all jittery by his side, looking me up and down like a cook eager to prep an appetizing, deep-fried nugget.
"Maybe. When you done playing Charles Lynch with the world".
Libertyman turns his head to the other metahuman heroes.
"You heard that? Am I hearing things or we have a psychopathic murderer trying to lecture us on morals?", he snaps back to me. "That's a tad two-facey coming from you, Camel Spider. We're keeping "the world" safe from your evil. And Terrorghast's time – as did our patience – just ran out".
I wish I pulled the pins earlier, and snarl, the only thing they permit me.
"My apologies for the inconvenience, fucker".
The difference between good and evil, you ask? This thin line? Every soldier asks this question. I asked it myself, for years that I've spent behind the bars. What's the answer that will allow you to live on without pushing a gun in your mouth?
Memory is good, I realize. I remember the face of every person I've ever killed, on my own or under Terrorghast's command. How can I not, if they visit me every night? I pull the trigger or bark the order every time when we come face to face in my dreams, but I offer them the promise of my rememberance. I ask for forgiveness of those, that died away from my gaze, in explosions and drone strikes. I thank them for their death, for setting our plans in motion.
And evil? Evil, then, is treating life as disposable and meaningless trash.
I think of my team, scattered like scraps around the lab complex, little flecks of dead flesh and tissue, devoid of any value and meaning. With superheroes, it's… the easier it is to kill, the easier it gets to kill. They've been doing this for a long time now.
"We sense he's here. He'll have to answer for his crimes anyway, Camel Spider. We have authority to deal with this accordingly, so it's in your interest to fess up", the pressure on my joints and on my throat grows to show the gravity of the situation.
"That I doubt. I don't think you've every asked for authority over anything. You just took it".
Veritas laughs. Her laugh is giddy and infectious, jarring with the morbid reality that I'm stuck in. It bores and whirs into my brain, like a high-power industrial drill.
"Wow! The Camel Spider bites! The goon thinks it has a brain!" She wrinkles her nose in a girlish, cute grimace. "You know, it's funny that you think your little act of defiance for the sake of your master helps… Liberty, I got it. Terrorghast's underground, and I think I got a good understanding of how the hatch works. Thanks for being so honest, "security chief!"
In a second, it dawns on me. Of course. Veritas manipulates soundwaves to a telepathic end, so when I spoke and she laughed… Then, it's over. I never had a chance from the start. She winks at me, seeing the realization of her ruse on my face.
"You should understand, Camel Spider", Libertyman's warm baritone now comes from my side, as he moves onward, obviously losing interest. "When you devout your life to evil deeds, to bringing suffering towards your fellow man, when you destroy and slaughter, you always lose. Terrorghast will learn this, too".
I'm just a man, and the gods bore of toying with me. When Gravitron begins ripping the floor apart to get to the labs' lower level and Terrorghast's bunker, they let the cyber-ninja Zangetsu do the wetwork. Lower me to my knees, so that the blade strikes true and hard.
There's a split second where the gravitational control is off me and I reach for my knife. It slides over the vibrosteel of Zangetsu's katana while I twist my body away from the sword's path, trying to divert it away…
Not because I think of my life as that important. But Trenton, I still have to make a-
The pain is sharp, and it doesn't go away, spilling thick red hotness onto my hands. It's nothing like a bullet wound, because it lasts and lasts, grows stronger as the steel pushes through my body, reaching an agonizing crescendo right before it all goes dark.
The first thing I saw when I woke up, was a badge. Gold on blue, coming into focus detail by detail. Sergeant Barry Cobb. A face above the badge, dark eyes, clean-shaven olive skin and a stern expression. Ah. Out of the fire, into the fireplace. The world collapsed to a pinhole, and I jerked away, mindlessly, uncaring for all the tubes sticking out of my body and the pain. Sobered only by the loud clank of a handcuff on the hospital bed's armrest.
"You've been run through with a sword, Mr. Guerre", the cop explained and frowned. "Or should I call you "Camel Spider"?"
I fell back into the pillow, watching a dark stain grow on the sheet that covered my torso. The second attempt at speech fared much better, even if my voice got hoarse and clogged from the anesthetic sleep, just a fraction above the volume of the cardio monitor beeps.
"Call me whatever you want".
The cop moved closer. Cautious like a mouse, hand never leaving the holster.
"We found you there, you know. Miracle you even survived, the wound was fatal – at least the doc says so… I've been guarding the op room for three hours."
It was meaningless. No. No, hope is for the weak. But. I needed to know.
Cobb hesitated, staring at the ICU's door, then back at me, as if unsure about telling a dangerous prisoner about his associates. Sighed, then inhaled, and spilled the beans.
"The Alliance didn't get him", he squinted. "He escaped, somehow. They're blaming you".
Not for the first time. Well, good news in addition to being alive. There was a window in the ICU, opening up into a patch of a park, and I fixed my attention to it, to the sun playing on the branches and the first little leaves. Terrorghast was free, and his biggest problem would be security… maybe he'll build a real robot army, like he wanted one time, to keep him safe. Men are just too flawed with imperfection – we tend to die easily.
"There was a bloodbath, the other unit says".
"When will you transfer me to Newgate?"
"After you heal up. Listen, the guys told me there were like – pieces of people. Really?"
People. Funny he called them that.
"Really. 15 of my men died."
"They also said that it seems Alliance attacked fi-… did they ask you to surrender?"
"No, I don't recall that happening".
Cobb mulled the information over and I laid there, looking at sparrows hop over the trees in a stupor bought by the mix of physical pain and mental relief. What little of it I permitted myself, for the time being, at least.
"Listen, I…", The cop and his badge came into view again. One moment, Cobb was standing right by the bed, a piece of metal glinting between his fingers, and then, some object was pushed right into my hand. Automatically, I grasped, turning it over, finding the contours of the item familiar. A police handcuff key. "It's for when you get better".
This couldn't be happening. Did Trenton bribe a cop? He was usually above such trivialities, and besides, Barry Cobb trembled like a chihuahua and looked like he was about to shit himself on spot.
"Do you know who I am?" I rasped through the phlegm. "What I've done?"
"Then explain?" I held the key up, desperately trying to stop it from shaking.
In a span of a few seconds, the cop managed to take his hat off, ruffle his hair, put the hat back on, then repeat the process, wipe his nose, cough, shift about like a kid on a school play recital, and then take the hat off again.
"I just thought – I'm a cop, and I'm trying to uphold law and order. And then you get the Alliance, and… don't get me wrong, what you and Terrorghast did, it's horrible, but at least the collateral – you know, in the force they make you think of the collateral, right?"
"Yep. Anyway. Justice should respect people. Even people like you and – Terrorghast, right? Court of law, trial, right? Justice that makes you vomit in a bucket, like Colin from the 14th…", the cop paused. "No, I don't want this justice. What's the point in police, in me, in judges, when you can just kill people with eye lasers and get away with it just cuz the victims were perps? That's like, anarchy. People aren't trash".
I looked at the key.
"People aren't trash", I whispered and then turned my head up at the cop. "Thank you".
I hope he knew, that when it will all be over, I'll return it. I did it before. The line separating good and evil had never been more defined.
Gods, men and everything in between.