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!
She took the piece of molded black plastic warily, and examined it like he might have just given her something poisonous. "So, I tell you I'm screwed, and you run in, claws bared, and kick the ass of everything that moves?"
He shrugged. "Basically."
Srina glanced at the ear piece, the money, him, and then back again, thinking it over. Quite obviously it was insane, and since it was planned on the fly, there was humungous room for error, but Srina didn't use her power of invisibility ( to both the eye and to machines ) in a safe job. She was a thief, and judging from all the expensive stuff all over the place, a very good one. She lived dangerously, which was what he liked about her; she was a woman after his own heart. That, and she really liked to fuck, him especially. Finally, she looked up at him, and said, "Sounds like a plan." She closed the knapsack, and said, "Wanna beer?"
"Then go ahead and get one. Oh, get me one too, huh?" She replied, putting the bag on the floor and dropping the communicator inside.
He sighed, but got up and got the cans of Guinness from the fridge. It was always interesting how the thing you most liked about a person could also be the most annoying. He tossed her a can, which she caught easily, and she said, "So we should head off about what, five?"
"Is Shepherd's Bush far from here?"
"Okay, sounds good," he agreed, sitting back down on the loveseat and cracking open the can. He took a good, long swallow - god, he loved British beer - and settled back into the settee, allowing himself to relax for a moment. At least he felt comfortable around Srina, but he was starting to pick up a pattern - he felt more comfortable around women than men, for whatever that was worth. And he didn't know why, since he'd been attacked by women as well as men - no gender barrier in wanting a piece of him. He didn't really think it was some latent brand of sexism either; it was just, in his limited experience, women were generally more accepting of him, more willing to give him a break. They did not generally feel it was their macho duty to challenge the freak to an ass whooping contest. "So how you been, Spud?"
"Good. No problems with the arse faces. I guess I was never on their radar for long."
"Guess not. Good for you."
They both had a swallow of their beers, and then she said, "I guess we have a couple hours to kill, huh?"
His watch wasn't set to British time, but it was a curious thing - sometimes he would swear he could feel time; with no other sensory cues, he could guess the exact time, night or day, and be eerily on target. He didn't know what that meant, and honestly he didn't want to know. "Yeah."
She shot him a sidelong glance, her purple eyes bright with mischief, and gave him a seductive smile. "How about a quickie?"
He raised an eyebrow at her and grinned. See, that was one of the fun things about her. "Just a quickie? We have some time."
She put her can of beer on the coffee table, and slid down to him, swinging her body over his as soon as she could. She straddled his lap, her knees digging into his hips, and slid her cold hands down inside the collar of his shirt, threatening to tear it. He wouldn't put it past her - she could get pretty rowdy. Not Helga rowdy, but pretty close; it was another one of her attractive qualities. Srina brought her face close to his, and gave him that devilishly playful grin that he knew promised a very fun night ahead.
She didn't kiss him, but brushed her nose against his, bringing her lips close to his but not committing just yet. She liked to tease; she liked to play the game. That was fine with him; there was something immensely satisfying in engaging in a flirtation that would actually lead to something. "Maybe a couple of quickies," she said, gently catching his upper lip between her teeth before letting it go.
"A couple? I ain't Superman, darlin'."
"You're close enough," she said, finally kissing him.
Oh yeah, thinking of Spud and her profession was the brightest idea he'd ever had.
Srina grabbed his arm and shared her power with him, at least until they reached a part of the front garden where he could skulk around unseen, and she went on alone. The communicator earpiece in his ear itched like hell, but he didn't dare rip it out and stomp it to pieces, because it was possible Srina might need help. So he lived with it, hidden within the rose garden, as motionless as a piece of statuary, trying not to sneeze.
Bolton's house was about as large as Xavier's, although with more Gothic touches befitting a demon: shuttered windows, thick columns on the porch that served nothing but decorative touches, stone gargoyles crouching on the corner of every eave( he hoped these ones didn't spring to life like the ones back at the crypt ), and the roof itself was dramatically peaked, like a church. He supposed he was going for imposing, trying to intimidate through architecture, but having to stick to a general Human standard of design had robbed him of its power. Sometimes it was a real bitch trying to assimilate into a culture that wasn't really yours. He knew that from personal experience.
There were no guards visible at the front, or patrolling the grounds, but why would there be? That would be terribly suspicious unless it was a government installation or a military base, but Logan could feel the eyes of cameras, hear their faint hums, and knew there were probably demonic eyes on the case as well. So he remained motionless behind a thick cluster of American Beauties, kneeling rather than crouching on the dewy ground because it was slightly more comfortable in the long term. That was the thing - he knew he could be kind of impatient, but when it mattered, when he wanted to be, he could wait for hours; never moving, hardly blinking, breathing slow, like he was in a meditative trance. He sometimes wondered if he was, if maybe Jean could slap some electrodes on him and they could see if he really was entering some semi-autonomic alpha wave state, but to be honest, he didn't want the others to know. He didn't know why exactly, it was just ... he didn't know. It seemed revealing in a way he couldn't explain, not even to himself.
Even in this unique state of watchful tranquility, he was aware of the passage of time, of the dawn causing the sky to slowly cycle through varying shades of blue, with a washed out fringe of pink and orange creeping in at the edges. A clear day, but even he could smell the pending rain on the wind, clouds not yet formed or not close enough to see just yet, and feel the ozone charge of a storm about to be born. It was getting too light, the Ressiks would be here soon, and while he knew he could take care of them with no problem, he was concerned about Srina. Even if she was cloaked, could they smell her in her "Nightshade" form, like he could?
He heard soft footsteps heading towards him, smelled someone familiar, and then heard, whispered low in his earpiece, "What a freak show in there. But I got it. Now let's get the fuck out of here."
Logan was instantly relieved, but didn't move until Srina put a hand on his arm. Now he could see her, but her eyes were all black, meaning she had simply phased him into her power, and he was now invisible too. "Thinking about renegotiating your fee?" He asked, seeing the sour look on her face.
"I'm thinkin' about it, but let's get the hell out of here first."
He couldn't argue with that.
When Bob zapped him back to L.A., time was reversed once more - it was very late at night there, and he could feel his internal body clock reeling at the sudden change, but like nearly everything with him, he adapted quickly; he barely noticed the lag.
But things had really changed here.
Bob met him to take the stone from him, shirtless but now "wearing"
body paint on most of his chest and his upper arms. It was bright paint -
bloody red and Belial blood blue, daffodil yellow and ghostly white and tar
"Had to mystic up to do this whole ritual," Bob explained, taking the stone.
"Do I have to?" He asked. He really didn't want to get painted up - he felt weird enough as it was.
"Nah, don't worry. I just need to put my mark on ya." He drew his thumb across the blue mark on his forehead, and then, before Logan could properly dodge out of the way ( he really thought he was kidding ), Bob smeared his thumb in a parallel line under his right eye.
It was just like the time Bob shared his telepathy with him - it was like a lightning bolt of pure blue energy exploded inside his mind, and he cursed and lurched back, grabbing his head. It took a moment for the shock to stop reverberating through his neurons and his eyes to focus again, but once his senses came back to him, he realized it was Bob's blood - he could smell it. But, oddly, it was tingling under the thin skin of his eye, like it was a drug or a small electrical charge, something soaking through his flesh. "You could have warned me," he snapped, looking up at him. He wanted to wipe it off, but he had the idea he should - and possibly couldn't.
"There's really no bracing for that kind of power transfer," he admitted, with a sympathetic grimace.
"You could have at least pretended," he groused. "Woulda been polite." Unlike the last time, when Bob "hid" the energy in his mind, Logan was very much aware of it now - maybe because he's had it before, or because Bob let him. Either way, it was like a swirling mass of energy barely confined by his skull, and for a moment he would have sworn he could see wisps of electric blue at the edge of his vision, pulsing in a shape reminiscent of capillaries, infusing itself into his veins. Any remaining weariness from time lag and sex with Srina disappeared instantly; he felt charged and powerful.
"Sorry, mate. Think you're ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
Bob nodded, and turned to lead him into a room he didn't even knew existed in the Way Station, but that was not the most startling thing. It was the paint on Bob's back that made him pause - he had a set of wings painted on his back; bright Belial blue with black, extending from his shoulder blades and tapering down to the small of his back. Logan thought something about a guy with wings sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn't as strong as the feeling that wings looked very much at home on Bob; he may have had a set at one time, if only to play with someone's head.
He led him into the room that may have been a janitor's closet, except Logan paused with one foot over the threshold, grabbing on to the door jamb to keep upright as he realized,"What the fuck happened to the floor?"
Where there should have been a floor was a a big mass of swirling pink and ocher clouds, like the depiction of an acid trip in a bad '60's psychedelic movie. He considered for a moment it was glass, with this stuff swirling underneath like a big room sized lava lamp, except as Bob stepped on the surface that wasn't exactly there, a tress of pink smoke wafted up and seemed to curl around his ankle like a cat wanting attention. If there was glass there, how could it do that? But Bob couldn't walk on air ... could he?
Oh fucking Christ. How far over his head was he here?
"Don't worry, it's perfectly safe, it's just a place between dimensional planes." Bob assured him, turning around with his hands out, as if to prove it was safe. Where the hell had the heart of Agrona gone? He must have zapped it somewhere when he wasn't looking.
"Which means what?"
"It's in a transitional state between realities."
Oh yeah, that was clear. He glanced down to see if he could spot anything beneath or beyond the smoke - like,say, ground ( it didn't smell like smoke-it smelled more like clouds) - but the smoke/clouds were all occluding, blocking out anything that might have been below it as it swirled in what may have been winds he couldn't feel, or simple Brownian motion - he really couldn't say.
"I know,it's freaky, but once you're with Bob long enough, nothing's
all that freaky anymore," Helga said, and he looked up, startled, as her
voice was in the room. She was there, standing a couple of feet behind him
and to the left, cleaned up, her outfit changed to one of snug but comfortably
worn jeans and a purple t-shirt that clashed somewhat with her skin, and
a red mark circling her eye and pulling back to the side, disappearing beneath
her short green hair - it almost looked like the way ancient Egyptian women
were often depicted wearing eye make up.
She grimaced in embarrassment. "Yeah, mark of Moros. I'm working under his aegis."
"Moros? As in the word morose?"
Bob chuckled. "You and your languages, mate. Once upon a time you must have been a linguist or a translator or something. Yes, exactly like morose - Moros was known to the Greeks as the god of doom."
"Doom?" He didn't realize that had its own god. Well, at least he knew which one liked him so much. Logan looked warily down at the so called floor, and wondered if he should try it.
"I know, brother of death, not a cheerful bloke. He has the power to wipe out any god he chooses, though-mega uber powerful."
"So why doesn't he?"
"Because he's too depressed to get out of bed."
Logan stared at him, but Bob held his empty hands up in a warding off gesture. It was only then that Logan saw Bob had an eye painted in the center of his left palm. "Seriously - I'm not shitting you. He lives in a realm all his own, and it's like the smelly bachelor pad of the most depressive person you'd ever meet. He's so depressed he has almost no hygiene at all, never cleans up after himself, but rarely has reason to do so since he sleeps for years at a time. He's like a writer or something."
"But he has all that power?"
"Oh yeah. He just has no desire to use it. A neat little failsafe, actually. I mean, he's never going to get drunk on his own sense of power, is he?"
He had a point there. "But you know him?"
"Oh yeah. And he owes me one, 'cause I cheered him up once."
"Really? How'd you manage that?"
"Laughing gas." Logan just continued to stare at him. This was all one big joke, wasn't it? "Seriously, good old nitrous oxide. Had to amp it up a bit for god physiology, but it worked. Brought in a pizza and a copy of the movie Airplane!, and he had a good night. Possibly the only one he ever had."
Logan sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I'm not sure I ever wanted to know all of this."
"Well, who does? Now, you comin' in? Don't got all reality, mate."
Still rubbing his eyes - so they were closed - he took a tentative step forward, ready to fall and braced for impact. But it was like stepping on wet foam - slightly squishy, but it held up just fine. He then looked down, and wasn't surprised to see a bit of fog caress his right calf. It felt like being brushed with a damp feather. "What is this stuff exactly?"
"You know how people talk about the ether? And I don't mean the old fashioned knock out gas."
"Well, this is it. Say hi to it, it gets lonely."
He looked up startled, only to find Bob giving him that Cheshire Cat grin again. Logan frowned, and snapped, "Just stop that, all right? This is creepy enough as it is."
"But I gotta have a hobby," Bob mock protested, as Helga shook her head.
Bob was the god of loonies, wasn't he? Crazy people needed a god too, right?
Oh shit - maybe that's why he was his avatar. It made a certain kind of sense.
Bob motioned him over to the right with the slightest wave of his painted hand, and he took up his position, only now aware that the door had not just shut itself, but melted into the wall - it wasn't there anymore. Had it ever been there? The thing - it must have been the "finder"- then appeared in the center of the room, right at Bob's feet: it looked like...what the hell did it look like? A jewel encrusted piece of slagged metal, not quite as big as his head but almost, and as he watched, it rose into the air in front of Bob, spinning around briefly before exploding soundlessly, becoming a hair fine spread of glittering particles suspended before him like a living net. Then it seemed to solidify into a map, an almost 3-D representation of something that could have been a digestive system put back together by a nearsighted and sadistic pre-med student, or an overhead shot of the entire Los Angeles freeway system - trails resolved into lines of bruise violet, hallways that twisted in on themselves like pretzels or something in an M.C. Escher painting; a nightmare of winding roads that led absolutely nowhere. A mostly translucent hologram of a Gordian knot made of headless serpents.
Slowly tiny pinpricks of golden light began to fade in, first appearing inside one channel, then another, and then there were dozens of them; a rash of them, reproducing all the time. Bob snorted derisively and shook his head. Did his hair look more golden than usual? "Tricky little bint. Kumiho must have known I'd try something like this."
"You can't find them?" All this trouble for absolutely nothing? Why did that figure?
"No, but it doesn't matter; I know where to start looking for them."
"Oh yeah? How?"
"There was only one thing that coulda told them you were my avatar, mate-an Old One." Bob waved his hand through the air, and the map disappeared.
"The giant squid things? Didn't you send them to Hell?" Logan asked.
"I did, but Ares and Kumi are certainly strong enough to pop in and leave."
"And scare the shit out of an Oldie?" Helga said. She sounded slightly dubious.
Bob nodded enthusiastically. "You've never seen Ares have a snit. And he's always threatening people with that bloody sword of his."
"He carries a sword?" Logan was really sorry he never was one for paying attention to myths. Was Ares depicted as carrying a sword?
"Yeah, but mostly for show. He's a god with a small power complex, and he tries to make up for it by beating his chest and wavin' his big old sword around."
"Very phallic," Helga noted.
"Yeah. For beings with great distaste for physicality, some of them really do act like they're obsessed with the size of their theoretical willies."
Logan grimaced, trying not to laugh. Did that mean Ares didn't have a dick? Oh man, what a downer for him-no wonder he was a testy son of a bitch. "But you don't think it's a problem?"
"Oh no. He's a coward at heart. Most bullies are."
He couldn't argue with that. "What was that thing we were looking at anyways?"
"Oh, a dimensional map."
Logan tried to imagine how that could be, but couldn't. "It was a bunch of stuff tangled together."
"Yes. Well, dimensions aren't quite as separate as you think. You know what the "butterfly effect" is?"
"Of course - a small change in a closed system can lead to unpredictable results; a blip on the quantum level can cause disruptions on the physical level. Or something like that."
"Right. And the dimensions are so close to one another the same thing can happen between them, but on a much larger scale."
"They look like intestines?"
"No, but that's the best way to depict them. This is all theoretical, you know - there's no way to view all dimensions at once, not even as a cross section. So it does the best it can, giving us a representation our minds can handle." He glanced around, as if this topic was through, and said, "You guys ready?"
"Ready for what?" Helga asked first.
"To go to hell."
"We're not there already?" Logan shot back.
"Ha ha, funny man," Bob replied, and made a casual flourish with his hands.
And that's when the bottom fell out of the world.
Still, Logan wasn't half as prepared for impact as he thought he would be.
It was more like it hit him rather than he hit it - it seemed to come out of nowhere and smack him full on across the length of his entire body, reverberating through his metal skeleton like a cannon shot. When he could move and think, he realized the smell of this place was unbearable - blood and decay and shit and death and pain and fear unlike any other; it seemed to shoot straight up into his sinus cavities like needles, and he winced, eyes watering from the pain. His stomach seemed to lurch, and he wondered if he was finally going to find out if he could vomit or not.
Logan shoved himself up, sitting back on his haunches, and only then did he realize where he was - the place of his nightmares. The cold laboratory of metal walls and dangling cables like eviscerated guts obscuring his view of the ceiling, shadows clinging to the wall like spilled ink, the dim lights frigid white and ichor green, highlighting sharp blades and machinery that rose from panels and looked like nothing so much as chains, shackles, and ... needles. Needles as big as his forearm, and as he glanced around, he saw he was surrounded by men in those white HazMat suits, all bearing needles half the size of his arm, and then he heard the high pitched electric whine of a bone saw, and his blood turned to ice. No - no, this was not happening again; they were not taking him without a fight. He'd shove those needles through the back of the skulls, and see how they liked being cut with a fucking saw -
- except he couldn't move. He seemed stuck to the metal floor as if frozen there, and the more he tried to do something, the more paralyzed he became. He was starting to mentally panic, adrenaline dumping into his system as they closed the circle on him, the man with the electric saw the nearest, and Logan felt bile rising in his throat from fear alone, tasted metal in his mouth. This was not happening again, this was not happening -
The men stopped, and Logan heard an incongruous noise - singing. Someone singing. "Raise your cup and let's propose a toast, to the thing that hurts you most." Suddenly hands slapped onto the shoulders of the men standing right in front of him, and they were shoved aside like curtains as a painted man walked past them.
Bob. Yes, okay, now he was starting to remember ...
"I guess I'm not surprised at your choice of hells," Bob said, offering him a hand up. Logan found he could move again, and he took his proffered hand, although he felt monumentally silly now - what had he been afraid of? "I'm just sorry it happened in real life."
As soon as he was on his feet, Logan could see all the men were gone, and he felt better, although confused. "Choice of hells? What does that mean?"
"It means that while there are some hell dimensions controlled by tyrants who shape the reality - such as Arakis's realm - most hell is what you make it. It's in here." He tapped a finger against his temple. "Hell is all in the mind."
"And you couldn't have warned us?"
"No. Thinking about protecting yourself against it makes it worse. There is no way to protect yourself against your own mind. In fact, it's like tensing up before a crash - it hurts you more than you'd ever realize. There can be no worse hell than one a person inadvertently devises for themselves."
Logan was willing to believe that-in fact,it made a lot of sense. "But you're immune?"
"Oh, heavens no - no pun intended. In fact, why don't I pull you into my hell? That way we're all on the same page." Before he could respond, the dark lab melted away, and he found himself in -
- a waiting room?
It was a common construct of blinding white walls and flat beige carpet, with hard plastic chairs in various unattractive shades of off chart pastels ( was there ever a pastel orange? ) lined up against either side wall, and a low coffee table between them, full of very old magazines splayed out across its top like a spread out hand of cards. But something caught his eye, and Logan looked down to see that the magazines were not only old ( one had a Model T on its cover ), but supremely bizarre - Curling Times, anyone? Nuts 'n' Bolts; Coffee Can Collector; Zits! ( had to be a teen magazine ); Yodeler's Monthly; The Bowler's Almanac; Pope Life; Cock Ring Weekly; The Tom Cruise Dictionary; It Yurts! Annual; The Joy of Mime; Dryer Lint Hobbyist. Logan found himself looking them over with rapt fascination-he couldn't believe he now knew what the magazines in hell's waiting room were like.
"Being a party to Bob's psyche is always bizarre," Helga said. She was sitting in a blue plastic chair, flipping through a magazine with the fascinating yet horrifying title of Dildo Fancy. She tossed it back on the table, and it landed on top of a Which Geoduck? magazine. He almost wanted to look at it, but he had a feeling he'd be deeply sorry if he did. She stood up and stretched, her tail straightening and reaching for the ceiling as well, and then said, "Can we get this over with now?"
"Certainly honey," Bob agreed, with a sort of false docility.
Logan had to tear himself away from the magazines ( Kama Sutra For Puppets? ) to follow Bob and Helga, as they went through a neighboring door into what must have been the hospital ( ? ) proper. A nurse behind the front station started to yell at them - "Get back here now! You have not finished your paperwork!" - and Logan did a double take as he saw it was a young Louise Fletcher, in her starched Nurse Rached get up from the movie "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". He supposed, if hell did have a receptionist, that character was perfect for the job.
But since neither of them paid no attention to her, he didn't either, and soon he found they were in a maze of whiter than white corridors - and that's all it was. There were no doors - even the one they'd just come through had disappeared - and it was so perfectly white it was impossible to say where the walls met the floor and ceiling. It was just like being snowblind, and twice as disorienting. To make things worse, his sense of smell was going haywire; he was smelling incongruous things that he couldn't see anywhere - iron and bread; blood and lilacs; mud and salt; sweat and dry ice. What the fuck was going on?
And then he noticed the Muzak.
Playing so faintly it was barely audible, it took a moment for him to recognize the canned tune was a pan flute heavy version of "The Girl From Ipanema". It was just slightly less painful than the whine of a bone saw, but not by much. "Your hell has muzak?" Logan asked. Only by following the brightly painted Bob and the very green Helga was he able to keep his sense of equilibrium in this aggressively white void.
"Whose doesn't?" He replied, and Logan knew he had a good point. "Actually, I hope we can find an Oldie soon, as the next song up is "McArthur Park" on a Hammond organ."
"Ouch. That's just evil."
"Well, it's hell. What do you expect?"
"How are we going to find the Oldies?" Helga wondered. "There's no doors."
"I'll open one when I sense them. It's best things are all sealed up, trust me."
Logan then remembered a salient point that no one had mentioned. "Hey, aren't we gonna be going nuts once we get close to them?"
"Not so much. You're protected somewhat by me, and Hel's protected somewhat by Moros, but I wouldn't be surprised if you got a sense of them, and perhaps a headache. Just don't get too close."
They seemed to walk an endless time in the great white nothing, and he would swear they'd gone in circles ... or maybe doubled back ... he didn't know. He usually had an unerring sense of direction, but right now he wasn't sure what up and down were. And that muzak was insidiously corrupting-it smelled like wet dog and vanilla frosting, irritation and tar, and it was starting to give him a headache. Wait a minute - since when did he get headaches? "Bob, we're close," he said, rubbing his temple.
"Yeah, I'm starting to pick one up. Maybe you guys wanna start hangin' back."
"Do we have a choice?" Helga asked, sounding slightly pained herself.
"McArthur Park" on the Hammond organ did indeed start, and it was worse than he could have ever imagined: it was a cross between skating rink music and carnival calliope music, and it nearly stimulated a gag reflex. He and Helga slowed their pace and let Bob get ahead of them, and maybe it was something Bob did, but he could now see darker seams where the walls might have met the floor and ceiling. But the ache in his head deepened, and it felt like he had an angry wasp inside his skull, its angry buzzing resonating through his neurons and synapses, vibrating his eardrums. He was obscurely glad his senses were going haywire now - if he remembered correctly, the Old Ones didn't smell pleasant at all.
A door appeared in front of Bob at the end (?) of the hall, and it slid open before he could walk into it. Beyond it, Logan caught a glimpse of sky as red as embers, and felt waves of dry heat emanating from the doorway like an oven. There was something black too, and a smell of burning rubber, but Logan figured it was the Old One. As if to confirm that, there was a high pitched, almost ultrasonic squeal that cut through his brain like a dental drill.
"Oh, come on - you knew I'd be showing up," Bob replied, as if he had understood the damn thing.
The humming in his head increased, a teeth rattling white noise, and while he knew Bob was talking to it, he could no longer to tell what he was saying - the language sounded alien somehow. But then Helga, who was covering her ears, said something to him, and he couldn't understand her either. Language was being taken away from him; understanding, comprehension ... why couldn't he think? Why was it so hard to think?
But what was there to understand? The walls - the whiteness - started to melt away, and he saw everything around them, this entire universe as it spread out around them ... seas of boiling tar, deserts of endless light, lands of eternal snow ... there were no people here; no people, just things. There were demons and things he couldn't have named, things that may have once been gods, all languishing in private hells.