ANGELS AND INSECTS
E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the------------------------------------------------
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob is *my* character - keep your hands off!
That was actually a good question. He had to think about it a moment. “Mutants, I think. So far, anyways.”
“Any in particular?”
“Do you remember the guy we encountered up in Montana, the one who shot concussive blasts from his hands?”
Marc paused, and when Logan opened his eyes and raised his head, he saw him grimacing at an invisible point somewhere near the flat screen television. “Yeah, I remember him, but I can’t say I ever got a good look at him.”
“Doesn’t matter. He and a friend were the ones trying to rob that armored truck today.”
Marcus looked at him, eyebrows raised high over his goggles. “No shit. Ain’t that a coinky-dink?”
“That’s just what I was thinking … except it was actually 'coincidence' I was thinking, not that.”
“I suppose it’s silly to ask if you caught him.”
“So … you want me to look up this ass clown?”
Logan tried hard not to snicker, but it was difficult. “Ass clown?”
“You saying he ain’t an ass clown?”
He coughed, and tried again. “I’ve never heard it used in a sentence before.”
“What about butt pirate?”
Logan chuckle and shook his head. “You know how immature this is, right?”
“Yeah. What’s your point?”
Honestly, he didn’t know anymore. He was suddenly wondering if the difference between an ass clown and a butt pirate was the addition of a red foam rubber nose, or the subtraction of an eye patch, and he couldn’t help but laugh. Five minutes around Marc, and he was already deranged. Pretty good record, actually.
Marc got up and started off towards his bedroom, probably to grab his laptop. "We owe Blaster for Montana anyway, don't we?"
"Yeah, I guess. Although Bob did make him shoot himself in the face."
He chuckled, the sound following him into the bedroom. "Good ol' Bob. It's nice to know there's at least one god with a sense of humor."
"If only he'd holster it from time to time."
Marcus came back to the living room, padding lightly on bare feet, the laptop bag slung over his shoulder. "He is Australian, ya know. Well, kinda."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"From my experience, Aussies ain't big believers in moderation. They do something, they do it up big. Kind of like Americans, but with a tad less militancy."
Logan considered that as Marc sat down and took out the slim computer, taking it out and booting it up. "You're a man of the world, Marc."
"Don't I know it."
For some reason, that reminded him of his chat with Bob back at the mansion. "Hey, you know all those Organization records you've seen?"
He glanced at him curiously. "Yeah?"
"Have you ever run across the code names Impulse, Ballistic, or Dreamer?"
He frowned in concentration, staring off into space for a moment. "Ballistic sounds kinda familiar," he admitted. "Impulse rings a bell. A big 'no' on Dreamer, though."
Logan nodded, accepting that. If Marc didn't know, he didn't know who else would. Except ... no, he couldn't do that. He didn't even know where to begin.
"Why? Did you remember something?"
"No. Cressida mentioned them, said we were all Alpha mutants, and I'm just trying to piece together the group in my head."
Marc smiled brilliantly. "So you really are an Alpha male, huh?"
Logan gave him an evil look, not ready to admit that was - vaguely - kind of funny. "Didn't need anyone to tell me that, did I?"
He chuckled again, and turned his attention back to the laptop. Marc had apparently made and kept all his accumulated data on the Organization, in a file he had named "System Restore". That made Logan sit forward curiously, setting the beer can aside. "Isn't that a real folder?"
"Yeah, but if anyone searches the
hard drive, they ain't gonna look in a systems file - they'll be looking
"What's in there?" Logan knew Marc well enough to know that that couldn't be what it was advertised.
He grinned, flashing him his perfect white teeth. "A real nasty virus. Open that file and the hard drive goes bye-bye."
"You've booby-trapped your own computer?"
"You can never be too careful."
True enough. "If you'd join the X-Men, I'd never leave."
That made him snicker. "They can't afford me." Marcus started going through what must have been an index of his own devising, searching his own personal database for references to Ballistic, Impulse, and Dreamer. After a minute or so, the hits looked disappointing. "One a piece?" Logan said, wishing he was surprised.
Marc just shrugged his massive shoulders. "Somethin's better than nothin', man." He found the files he was looking for, and Logan watched the columns of data appear on screen. They looked like scanned documents, but not whole ones - fragments of documents, or ones where so much had been blacked out, it was laughable.
But Marc wasn't looking at the slightly corrupted data; he was reading his own notations about the files. "Found these last year at Villa Nuevo," he reported.
He nodded. "The destroyed base. Somebody'd burnt that place to cinders. They shoulda combed the ashes, though - as you can see, I recovered something."
"Not anything useful."
"True. But did you see this?" Marc pointed to a small bit of print near the bottom, and magnified it, although really there was no need; Logan had keen eyesight, after all.
There was Ballistic's name, followed by a blacked out series of words, leading to a couple of words that had been almost blacked out, but not enough to make them illegible - Weapon X.
Logan felt his heart skip a beat, and taste something sour in the back of his throat. "Ballistic's connected to me?"
"I can't really say. As you can see, this document got the royal Nixon screw job. Or maybe I should call it Halliburton now, huh? Anyways, if I can be allowed to guess, the general tone of the document - again, from what I can discern from the use of several "ands", "tos", "the", and three "buts" - is something that failed."
"Like Weapon X failed?"
"You didn't fail, man - you failed to operate to specs. And good for you, those motherfucking bastards. No, my guess here is that Ballistic was like Shrike: considered a good candidate for the living weapon makeover, but a failure in the trial runs."
Logan shrank back into the couch, grabbing his beer can like a lifeline. He felt sick and angry, and wondered if the mention of "Weapon X" would ever make him feel any differently. Probably not in this lifetime. "Lucky me - I'm the only one who made it work."
Marc's fingers flew over the keyboard, and the documents disappeared, back into the phony systems restore folder. "Surviving is not exactly "making it work", bud. And besides, it was a good thing you did."
"'Cause you lived to throw it back in their face. Shrike was a punk-ass bitch, an insane motherfucker who'd have relished being their lapdog, and I got no faith in some piece of shit named Ballistic. Ignore that spy movie shit - people are easy to break. Everyone can be broken, and without much effort, either. That ain’t the thing. The thing - and rare it is - is the ability to come back from it. People who do often come back weak, frail, gun shy. Not you. You come back hard, man.”
He glared at him, feeling inexplicably enraged. “I am gun shy. I can’t even fucking sleep at night.”
“I’m not talking about that, although I’m shit sorry about that, man. I’m talkin’ about gettin’ your mind back - you coulda - and probably shoulda - been nuts forever. You shoulda remained their trained little monkey even when you got better; after all, how many times did they have telepaths jump in your head and make you over? But it never stuck, and don’t give me that “healing factor” shit - it was part of it, but not all of it. You were the engine behind it; something in you hid in the back and refused to stay gone, and beat it back. You are the most perversely stubborn person I’ve ever met, and that stuff doesn’t happen on its own. You learned to be that way; probably the hard way. That’s why I want you on my side - no fuckin’ way do I ever want you comin’ after me.”
Something burned in Logan’s stomach, but he didn’t know if it was embarrassment, rage, a combination of both, or maybe his hunger was finally catching up with him. He should have had that sandwich. “So you acknowledge I’d beat your ass?” He teased, smiling.
Marc scowled darkly at him. “Only ‘cause my venom would only work on you once. And would ripping your heart out kill you?”
He shrugged. “It might. For awhile.”
“See? You’re like an honorary demon or something. No offense.”
“None taken. I think.”
“I’m not sayin’ I’m glad it happened to you, just that … you’re not the type that ever goes quietly, that’s all. They shoulda known you’d come back to spit in all their faces - the very qualities they coveted in you would be the same ones that could destroy them. But they played the odds, the arrogant cocksuckers.”
“They’re not all gone yet.”
“No, but they will be. Give us time.”
It was then the oddest thought struck him. He studied Marcus curiously, the blue glow of the computer screen making his goggles mirrors of light, and suddenly he wondered … did he have … feelings for him?
No - what the hell was he thinking? Just because he batted for both teams - so to speak - didn’t mean he loved him or something. It was actually a pretty arrogant thought. Marcus was just a friend, and friendship without a price was always something he couldn’t reconcile. “So I assume Japan was good for you,” Marc said, continuing to search his files - for what, Logan had no idea. “You don’t look like a refugee from a David Cronenberg film anymore.”
“Hey! I was never that bad.”
He scoffed. “Oh yeah?”
Logan decided to ignore that. “It was good. I … I was hopin’ to use the sword for myself, you know.”
Marcus looked at him curiously. “How?”
Under scrutiny, he felt ashamed and stupid. He fidgeted uncomfortably, then admitted, “To try and bring back Mariko, and Jean.”
He arched a single eyebrow, clearly thinking “Moron” if not saying it. “And what happened?”
“Tagawa turned out to be right - it was all rumor. The sword was powerless.”
“You didn’t find that out the hard way, did you?”
He wondered what he meant by that, then decided not to ask. “No. Once I recovered it, it was obvious.”
“So you gave it back to him, got your money, and everyone is happy? Except for the dead.”
“Yeah … except Jean isn’t dead. She was transformed by Camaxtli, but Bob told me that later on.”
“Ah, of course. Things like that happen.” He flashed him a cheesy grin.
“Nobody likes a smartass, Marc.”
“Takes one to know one,” he replied, twisting his face into a goofy grimace. He then smirked and looked back at the screen. “Sometimes the world is so fucked I don’t even try and understand it. I just roll with the tide and hope I don’t drown.”
Logan nodded, seeing the wisdom in that. “By the way, can you search your files for a project called Eidolon?”
“Sure.” Marc went right back to work, and seemed happy to have a purpose beyond digging up something on Ballistic.
He didn’t know why, but he had a sudden, urgent need to spill his guts. Maybe it was having a good beer for a change. “I think … I think I’ve come to terms with Riko being gone. I mean, I know she’s been dead for longer than I can remember, but … she was so real, ya know? In the few memories I have of her, it was like she was right there. I could smell her, I could hear her voice, I knew how soft her hair felt -- ” This was getting embarrassing, so he looked away, studying Marc’s baker’s rack - used as a bookcase - on the far side of the room, right next to the bedroom entrance. There were lots of science fiction books, some magazines, some computer manuals, and … were those comics? Yes, comics. Why not? There was also one of those tiki island heads, with a fake plastic lei around it, and a cigarette butt wedged in its gaping mouth. “She was real to me, ya know? And she … she loved me, I know she did, I could feel it, and … I let her down. She died, and it’s my fault. I failed her, I couldn’t protect her, and - ”
(I can taste her blood in my mouth, he thought, but those words he could never force himself to spit out - nor would he to anyone, not even Marc.)
“ - I still can’t believe someone like her could love someone like me. It ain’t ever happenin’ again, I know that, and … like I said, maybe it would’ve been better if I’d never known, so I wouldn’t know what I was missing.” He sighed, and felt like an idiot. “I think the tear gas is finally getting to me.”
This whole time, Marc had been clicking away on his keyboard, and the sound had been strangely reassuring. But now he stopped, and after a moment, he said, “Why do you buy that Org shit? That you're some kinda animal or monster or somethin’? They’d love you to buy that so they could control you more, make you believe you deserve the crap they throw your way, but it’s bullshit. You’re a man, a Human being, always have been and always will be, don’t ever let anyone tell you different. And I don’t claim to know what happened, but I can’t believe you let her down. She got killed? What the fuck happened to you? Did you ever think about that? I know you, Logan, and I’d bet all the money in that bag that they went through you to get to her, and by the time you scraped yourself off the floor, it was all over. ‘Cept for them. Uh, do you know who killed her?”
“I think so.”
“Did you kill them?”
He rubbed his eyes, and helped
himself to a hearty swig of beer before answering the question. He
actually thought Marc might have had a point - what did happen to him to
let them get to Mariko? - but
“Good,” he replied, going back to his keyboard. And Logan knew, from the set of his shoulders, that that was that.
If Marc was a woman, he’d marry him. Seriously. He cooked too, and that was always a plus.
“I’ve got bupkis on anything named Eidolon,” Marc finally told him. “Now I feel like I lost my manhood.”
“Have you looked under the couch?” Logan suggested, then sighed in disappointment. “Thanks anyway. Bob’s looking into it - maybe he can dig up something.”
“Well, if anyone can, it’s him.” Still, Marc scratched his head, and went back to typing. “Maybe there’s a fragment of it in here somewhere - it’s a real obscure word.” There was a pause before he asked, “So coming to terms with her death and kicking some demon ass got you through your depression?”
He almost hated to disappoint him. “Mostly. I also tried to, uh, kill myself.”
That made Marc pause and sit up straight, glancing at him long enough to telegraph a hard glare. “Again? How the fuck do you think you’ll able to kill yourself anyhow? Did you go swimming in the hard water of a nuclear reactor? Step in front of an ICBM? Wear Air Jordans and a pointed white hood in Compton?”
“I let a vampire bite me.” This almost felt more embarrassing than the whole Mariko admission.
Marc gave him a backhand slap across
the shoulder. “Ow,” he protested, although it didn’t really hurt
“No. She didn’t drain me dry, she just took a little.” Okay, a lot, but same damn difference in the end - he was still here, wasn’t he?
“She?” He turned back to the computer, but not before giving him a knowing smirk. “How pretty was she?”
He was going to protest, but why bother? “Gorgeous.”
“Ah. So why didn’t she finish her Logan shake? You come to your senses and make her go pop?”
“No. It’s a long story. But she’s really not a bad vampire.”
That made him pause, but only briefly. “What, like Angel?”
“No … not exactly. But sort of.”
He shook his head. “See what I mean? Fucked up world.” He sighed, and sagged back into the couch, folding his hands behind his head. “Well, no fragments of Eidolon either. This is massively fucked up.”
“Thanks for trying. Will you take the money now?”
“Gotta do better than that, sucker,” he replied, nudging him with his elbow. “You hafta let me know what Bob tells you about all this, okay?” He nodded in agreement. “So what about Jean?”
“What about her?”
“Getting her back from Camaxtli? Is that possible?”
Logan sighed, wishing he didn’t have to be the bearer of so much bad news. “If it is, Bob doesn’t know about it. He’s tryin’, I know he is, but I think he’s dancing around the main point.”
“He shares Jean’s body now, and he’s dangerous.”
“And a god.”
“A very powerful god, who thinks of people as insects.”
“Shit,” Marc said, in a long sighed. His arms fell loosely to his side, and he let the ghost of Prodigy fill the silence before he said, in a low, somber voice: “Does this mean you guys have to kill her?”
And there it was, the worst thought in the world, one he never wanted to contemplate. He wished somehow he could turn back time just so he never had to hear that question. It brought back all the hard feelings of losing Mariko, failing her, and then when he thought Jean had died … he didn’t want to think about this. He wanted to scour his mind and scrub it clean of all these thoughts, all these feelings, the things that made him feel sick and guaranteed he wouldn’t sleep at night.
(Where Jean might come back to him - or Camaxtli, wearing Jean’s body like a second skin … )
“I don’t know,” Logan finally admitted. He really didn’t know.
He never wanted to know.
“Dizzy and clearly unable to just let this go,” Bob sang, as he walked the upper corridor of his Sydney home. When he had the home built he'd had acoustics in mind, and he swore things sounded much better in here than in the Opera House. “I am surrendering to the gravity and the unknown. Catch me, heal me, lift me back up towards the sun - ”
He paused, a hand on the door. It looked like any other door in his house, pale ash and stained until its surface was as smooth as glass, but he could feel the minute vibrations through the wood, tremors like the air itself was suffering convulsions, and in a strange way, it was. It was hard to maintain a stable dimensional gateway, nonetheless one that had, as its physical anchor, a home. A plain, ordinary home, with the curious ability to exist simultaneously in several dimensions at once. Much like him, in fact.
Helga and Amaranth knew this door existed, but they had never seen it. He had never let them see it. What was behind this door could never be good for any being that couldn’t survive having its consciousness torn apart, chewed up, spit out, and then trampled by several dozen brontosaurus. He couldn’t remember the last time he went through this doorway; he didn’t even want it in his home.
But it was part of the deal. When he discovered what he was, how to rediscover some of his powers, they let it be known he would have to maintain some indirect connection with them, otherwise they’d just take it all away again - strip him of his memories and his power, throw him in another prison of flesh, let him live as a modern day Cassandra, screaming prophesies to those who would dismiss him harmlessly as nothing but a liar demon or a thief. Poor Cassandra - he felt so much empathy for her. He wondered if she had been one of them too.
He was so glad Helga was out shopping. He didn’t even want her within a mile of this place when he went through this door.
“ - help me survive the bottom,” he sang, then closed his eyes and let himself go.
The power was always like a river of light, pulsing in and through his body, barely contained by something as fragile as flesh and blood and bone. He let it come through his pores, slip between his molecules, sink through and consume his skin like fire. He had thrown open the barrier, and it was all coming through. Without all the protections he had given this hall - this home - his raw power exposure would have vaporized it, as well as the city of Sydney itself, and a good chunk of the harbor. There was a reason he didn’t transmogrify to his “natural” state on the physical plane.
And with the last of his physicality gone, shed like old clothes, he merged through the closed door, and into a place he called The Well of Souls.
The name was a lie - it was no well, not as they were traditionally known, nor were there any souls about. As usual, nothing could be that simple. But it did make him feel like Alice jumping down the rabbit hole.
The sensation couldn’t be called falling, as gravity didn’t exist here; this was a pocket of the High Realms, the place that had kicked him out so long ago, the place that wanted nothing to do with him, and now acted as neglectful parole officers. They never checked in on him, they never tried to hold his powers in check (to his knowledge), but they wanted this tie to him, so here it was.
He had no eyes to see - technically - but he could still see, stretched out before him, his “idealization” of the Realm - in his conception, it was like a chunk of the Great Sandy desert, sand as red as blood, with great chunks of basalt and black rocks like the decayed teeth of a dead giant arrayed around the edges of the near horizon, a natural fence of great menace. He pretended to stand, pretended to feel the wind whipping around him, throwing sand against him at a force that could strip skin from the bone, and waited for them to come. The sky overhead had no sun but was bright anyways, a roiling blue like angry blood.
Although Bob liked to have a form, they loathed to stoop to such things. They felt it was beyond demeaning, like asking the chief financial officer of the company to put on the bunny suit before meeting with the stockholders, only a million times worse. He thought they were morons, who had no idea what they were missing. (And what was wrong with a bunny suit?)
He imagined himself up a pal - a little green gecko that crawled up and had a seat on his hand, and Bob imagined himself sitting down as well, letting the sand swirling around him pile up against him, make a chrysalis of hot earth. He looked down at the bright green gecko and its cute little feet (he loved their feet - a triumph of both form and function), and told it, “Ever wanna meet a god, mate? Well, yer gonna.”
But of course he didn’t actually speak; he had no verbal skills here, no voice box, and there was no true air to help carry the sounds. Technically he had no eyes and the gecko didn’t exist either; it was as unreal as his illusory arm. They existed but didn’t, in a realm that existed but didn’t. This was why no living being could venture in here and expect to ever come out again - not that the Powers would let them. Any lower being stepping in here would be killed, swiftly and - unbeknownst to them - mercifully. They would kill him if they took it upon themselves to kill their own kind.
*You* A disembodied “voice” said, the sound of wind and sand scraping against rock. *Imperfect one. Why do you disturb us?*
That’s what they called him -an impersonal “You” or the more personal “Imperfect one”. There were no names among what some of the Earthly realm knew as “The Powers That Be”, no modifiers of any sort: they were many, and yet thought and operated as a single entity. Perfection was order, and order was perfection - everyone sharing the same thoughts, goals, ideals, and perceptions were orderly, therefore perfect. Groupthink was heaven, at least to them; in Bob’s mind, it was hell. This was why he was - and would always be - the Imperfect one. He could not capitulate to the groupmind; he could not subjugate his will to the quest of the perfect order. That’s why he was given the “ghastly” punishment of being sentenced to dwell on the realm of grand chaos - the Earthly realm. Capturing him inside a Belial demon body was as close to a sense of irony as they ever came.
*And why do you insist on this setting?* Another voice “said”, although it sounded like the first one. But you could feel the difference in the questing mind, in the tone of the thought.
*This is a wasteland* Bob thought in return. *You dwell in a wasteland, you just don’t know it.*
There was a pause that was an equivalent of a sigh. *You try our patience, Imperfect one.*
He was speaking to one and all at once; a dichotomy as familiar as it was disturbing. *It’s why you exist, oh holy salt licks. I need information that only you can give me.*
*If we do not wish to give it, you will not have it.*
He expected that response. If they could admit to having shame, they would be in dire shame over the existence of him - he was living proof that they were not perfect, therefore they’d kill anything that knew he was a Power. God was acceptably vague; Power That Be was fatal. He let the gecko (that didn’t exist) crawl up his body, onto his face (which didn’t exist); the feeling of its feet on his skin (which both were non-existent) was pleasantly reassuring. *I need to know how to remove a god from an avatar, without hurting an avatar.*
There was a pause that could have stretched out for eternity. Bob imagined the wind howling, the sand forming dust devils that moved across the barren landscape like animals running for their lives, black stone crumbling like desiccated bone. He didn’t know if they weren’t going to tell him, or if it was simply a question with no known answer.