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To the Victor…
Chapter 19: Aftermath
by Tog
(Part 2 of 2)


Back in the base, HAAL had returned with Beau.

“Okay, we’re here, now tell me what the hell is going on!  Is Angela okay?”

Epim approached him from the side and spoke in her most soothing tone.  “Just a moment longer, we can’t talk here.  HAAL, thank you for your assistance.  One more thing.  Can you go peek in on Danforth?  Make sure she’s not after him?”

The little robot returned to his duties as Epim led Beau to one of the interrogation rooms.

“Why are you taking me in here?” he asked.

“Because it will be easier to talk without interruption.”

She pulled out a chair for him and they both sat down.

“Tell me what happened at the building.”

Beau, sighed.  “Okay.  We were at the memorial.  Angela was outside with the dogs.  We heard the attack start and she came running in.  There was an announcement that all they wanted was her, and that whoever it was was prepared to blow up the building to get her.

“We confirmed that there was a gas leak and tried to get out the back.  There were two more big bots out there.  She told me to get the people out through the side doors while she kept the bots busy in the street.  It wasn’t a good plan, but it was about all we could do.

“She took off to meet them, and we went out the back.  I used a fire hose to try and keep the big ones at bay, and it sort of worked.  Once everyone was on the way to the Atlas gate, I took off.  She had given me the dogs, but I passed them on to another hero that was there.  I didn’t want them around if I wasn’t able to make a difference with the hose.

“We all got to the gate okay, but a few people had slipped or tripped.  One hit his head pretty hard.  It was the guy that had the dogs.  He may have got tangled up in the leashes.  He fell and hit his head on the curb and the dogs bolted to Angela.  She was looking bad, but I knew that it was more important to her that I get everyone to Atlas, so I went.  As soon as we got to the hospital, I tried to get in touch.  What happened?  Why won’t you tell me what happened to her?”

“We don’t know.  What we can put together is that the dogs rushed in to help her, Lista had escaped and arrived about then as well.”

“Lista escaped?  Is she okay?”

“She’s fine.  Somehow, in the midst of the fight, all three dogs were killed with a rifle.”

“What?  NO!”  Beau had leapt to his feet.

“Sadly, yes.  As you can imagine, Angela took it very hard.  She barely acknowledged Lista’s return, then took off to Atlas.  We think she may be after you.”

“What do you mean by ‘after’?”

“The guard sent to kill Lista said that you were in on the plot to grab Angela.  Angela may see it that way as well.  She’s really been on edge lately, and the death of her dogs may have pushed her over it.  She may blame you for their deaths.  It was your job to keep them safe.”

“That’s why I put them in the group headed to the gate.”

“I understand that.  I don’t think you were involved at all.  But Angela might.  It would be best if you stayed here for now.  If she were to come after you while you were at home, you wouldn’t even be able to scream.”

Beau collapsed back into his chair and stared at Epim.  She could see his eyelids starting to quiver.  “I’ll let you be alone for a bit.  If you need anything, ask Athena.”

She hadn’t made it to the door when she heard him start sobbing.

~~~~~

After nearly an hour of waiting, there was no sign of Mourning at the courthouse.  The Judge gave no indication that he’d been contacted in any way.  The whole thing seemed like a bust.

“Okay.  Ent and Kym.  I’d like you to search the rooftops in Boomtown.  The ledges on the walls too.  I know she goes there sometimes but I don’t know exactly where.  Same rules.  No contact.  If possible, don’t even let her see you.”

The pair leapt into the sky and all was quiet for nearly another hour.

Ent’s voice sounded even more unnatural over the small radio, but she had news.

“Found her.  Top of building.  Back corner.  Near wall.”

“On my way.  Nice going Ent.  Keep an eye on her, but don’t get too close.  Kym, come back to the courthouse and keep an eye on the two that are keeping an eye on the Judge.  I’m sending Sliss home when you get here.”

The big man pushed off of the ground and climbed to a couple hundred feet before his speed was stopped by gravity.  The boots had taken some getting used to, but they were able to propel him great heights and allowed him to cover a lot of ground quickly.  In just about a minute he was on the war wall beside Ent, and they were watching Mourning.

“She’s just sitting there?”

“Has moved, but not much.”

“Okay, be ready, I’m going in.”

Tog made one last jump and landed on the far side of the building from Angela.  She didn’t look up.

“Hi, Tog.  May as well have Ent come on down too.  No sense in havin’ her hang out like that.”

“You okay, hon?”

“No.  Not by a long shot.  It’s out of my system though.  I’m not on a rampage anymore.”

Her voice was distant and held no emotion.  It was like she was blandly reading from a script to which she could not relate.

Doug’s voice was calm.  He was speaking softly and with the same tenderness he recalled from when his mother would tuck him in.

“Well that’s good.  You want to talk about things?”

“With Epim, yes.  Was Lista really there?”

“Yes.  She escaped and came there to save you.  I’m not clear on the details.”

“Was she really naked?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.  I guess that makes sense then.  I was thinkin’ I imagined it.”

She turned to face him, tears streaming down her face.  He walked over to her and held out a hand.

“So this is your spot huh?”

“Yeah.  Since I could first get in here.  You have one?”

“Yup.  I’ll take you there someday.  If you like.”

“Yeah.  But not today.”

“Yeah.  Not today.  Let’s go home.”

~~~~~

Epim appeared in Lista’s doorway and quietly checked to see if she was sleeping.

“You’re not that quiet.  What’s the news?”

“They found her and she’s on the way back.  Everything’s gonna be okay with her, in time.  I’d like to talk about you for a while.”

“Really?  Oh.  I get it.  No I’m good.”

“Lis’, you went through a lot.  You can’t keep it all bottled up inside.”

“I didn’t.  I let it out on Loop.  Nearly all of it.  It felt damn good too.  Look.  I’ve got to wait for my body to heal.  I get that.  It sucks, but I get it.  My head’s okay though.  Seriously.”

“You sound like textbook denial.”

“Well yeah.  I’m denying anything is messed up with me.  It just happens to be true in this case.  Look. I can’t explain it.  They had me in this chair, right?  I was trussed up to where I couldn’t move a bit.  They had electricity and stuff all over me.  They had this shotgun-like thing that would hit me in the stomach and back with what I’m guessing were little cloth balls dipped in rubbing alcohol.  They’d hit hard enough to break the skin, then the alcohol would squish into the wound.  The thing is, the whole time I was in that thing, I never once lost hope.  I never felt like it was the end.

“It wasn’t until they took me out of it that I started to really feel bad.  And it wasn’t even the being alone that bothered me all that much.  It was the realization that being alone bothered me that really bothered me.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I thought I was pretty normal.  Well, once we take out the ice bolts and fire and flying and stuff.  Do you know I don’t feel pain?  I didn’t ‘til I was in that chair.  I don’t feel pleasure either.”

“You mean you tune it out?”

“No.  I mean I feel the intensity of a sensation, but it’s not good or bad.  It’s not pain or pleasure.  There’s no hot or cold the way I think you know them.  If there is something that’s really cold, I can tell it’s cold, but I could hold onto it for days.  If it’s so cold that it’s dangerous, I will feel that as a sensation that is too intense to keep touching.  It’s the same thing with pain.  It might be possible that a sensation is so intense I can’t stand it, but given the intensity of some of the pleasure inducing things I’ve tried, that chair could be good to keep around on a slow weekend.

“As long as they were working me over, I still had human contact.  When they tossed me in the cell, that contact was gone.  It was dark, and pretty quiet most of the time.  Basically, a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts.  It turns out that my thoughts and I really don’t get along all that well.  By the end of the second week, I realized that the lack of contact, even if that contact was torture, was worse than anything they did to me in the chair.  After two months, I didn’t care if they killed me or not.  I’d have welcomed it.”

“Lis’…”

“I’m serious!  If they told me they were just going to flood that room I was in, I wouldn’t have even tried to stop them.  I have to be around people.  When it hit me that I would rather be dead than alone, I realized just how pathetic I must be.  I started to wonder if I make a fool out of myself to strangers just to get that attention.  Maybe that’s why I sleep with so many people.  A night alone would be too much to bear.”

“Lis’!  Stop.  Just for a second.  You may be onto something there.  I’ll be happy to work through it with you, but right now, there is some stuff I need to tell you.  About you.”

Lista quietly listened as Epim explained the issues with her DNA, and the unusual traits it possessed.  Lista took it all in, staring at the ceiling the whole time.

“So I’m some sort of lizard, like Sliss?”

“No.  From Zach’s tests, everything about you is part of your species.  The flying, the ice, the fire, all of it.  That’s who you really are.  This human form that we all see is not really you, but a you that you want us to see.”

“Why?”

“No clue.  You might be trying to fit in and observe.  You might be a scout from a new set of aliens bent on wiping out mankind.  You might be some lost dimensional traveler.  There are a lot of possibilities.  And based on what you told me a bit ago, I may have an idea.

“You fear being alone.  Maybe that’s part of what you really are.  Maybe you are the last of your kind.  As some sort of coping mechanism, your body changed to fit in with a new species, then your mind just deleted the parts that would let you remember.  That’s an angle I’d like to visit with you in the future.

“For right now though, I need to get ready for Angela.  I’m sure she’ll want to see you.  In the mean time, I’ll see if I can get a volunteer or two to come down and sit with you until you’re well enough to move around.”

“Hey, Doc.  Thanks.  Not just for this, but for everything.”

“Don’t mention it.  I’ll be back to see you soon.”

~~~~~

Days bled into weeks, and weeks to months.  By Christmas, things had returned to a balance of sorts.

Mourning was becoming more proficient with her new imps.  She never was really happy.  Then again, she never really had been.  Those who knew her well never mentioned the dogs.  She was still reluctant to talk about them.

Beau was still coming around, but not as often, and the two were never alone together.

Lista had spent much of her recovery talking with Kym.  They were getting along quite well, much to the dismay of most of the rest of the base. And Kym and Twitch had come to terms with their vastly different outlooks on life.

After the attack in Steel Canyon, the mysterious group behind it all seemed to have faded from sight.  Danforth had vanished from the public eye.  Distortion King, Payback 101, and Mr. Hastings were all but non-existent.  It was if the entire group had just vanished overnight.

~~~~~

Reginald Danforth slid up to the large desk.  On the other side was the man behind it all.  His boss.

“I trust you’ve fully recovered from your little face to face with the Angel?”

“Yes.  Not one of my better moments, but I’m past it now.”

“Good.  I thought I’d fill you in on the upcoming stages.  If you’re up for it, that is.”

“Certainly.  I’m more committed to this cause now than ever before.  The world needs to see that the heroes are not the answer to their problems.  The heroes need to see that the world can get along without them.  I’m all for anything that can make that happen.”

“Excellent.  Things went better than I expected at the memorial rally.  This meeting is to bring you up to speed on what you need to know, and what to expect.  I trust your trip went well?”

“Well enough.  But that can wait.  You say things went better than you expected?  I thought we didn’t meet any of the goals.”

“I’ve found that people tend to desire to please me out of fear or respect.  If they think they know what I want, they try very hard to do it.  This often leads them to take foolish risks or perform certain tasks in an excessive way.  For that reason, I never tell any one what my true goal might be.  Instead I give them a false goal set up in such a way that if it succeeds, it advances the cause.  If it fails, it still advances the cause, though in a different way  Only complete inaction would ever prove to be a hindrance.

“Mourning was a powerful member of her team.  They knew what she could do, and respected her for it.  The whole point of the kidnap attempt was to show her that despite her best efforts, the innocent can still be harmed.  If we had taken her alive, it would have been a nice touch.  Not as a prisoner, but as a psychological victory.  She’d have never made it back to the interrogation center.  We would have allowed her to be rescued before then.  The failure to make a difference is what we wanted to achieve.  We wanted her to snap.”

“Why?  Why not just take her out?”

“To eliminate her would make her a martyr.  She would be a rally-cry for the rest of them.  To get her, the most level headed and rational among them from what we can see, to snap and go on a rampage will do far more damage to them then her death could have.

“They won’t fully trust her anymore.  They will be more protective of her, to be sure she’s not overwhelmed by anything.  She will be offended by this smothering and that will drive a wedge into them.

“Her acting out against you of all people, in a way that involved a dozen witnesses, can’t be swept away.  Those seconds your life was subject to her whim did more to advance our goals than all of the news reports we’ve been feeding the wires these last two years.

“And that brings me to your actions on that rooftop.  I’d like to know what you were thinking when you gave up the names you did.

“Well.  I wasn’t really thinking when she had me on the roof.  She told me that she knew I was involved, even if Flaherty named someone else.  That was when I told her that Martin Flaherty was my boss.  That he told her it was me to get them to back off of him.  She stopped to think about that for a second and I realized that if I could get her to kill him, it would eliminate him for us, and still work in our favor by having a person die at the hand of a hero, while in hero custody.

“When the others found me on the roof, I couldn’t send them anywhere they might be able to stop her, so I told them about Judge Evers.  That one I did think out.  I can just see his reaction when a group of heroes tells him his life is in danger because of some rogue hero out to get him.  The press alone would have been incredible.

“Yes.  Pity they didn’t go after the Judge.  Very bold on your part.  A bit reckless, but I think we could have made it work very well for us.”

“Is there any way to know just how much they really know?”

“Yes.  Lista was captured at the warehouse in Galaxy City.  That address could have only been discovered by the person that tapped your telephone as part of a trace.

“While we still do not know who actually tapped the phone, nor did we know who was ultimately behind it at the time.  It was irrelevant once we knew what they had heard.  We know that they heard the plans to use Mrs. Forsythe’s magazines, and Mr. Gauthier’s Hotel.  At that point, we included two more people and a fixed time in the hope that the person listening in would feel compelled to act.  He was, and he revealed himself to be Brian Dover.  The additional people we mentioned were chosen specifically to get an assassination team in place.  It’s almost a certainty that Mourning Angel has figured this out as well.”

“Doesn’t that put Mrs. Wilson in a position to pass on what she knows?”

“It does, but she is contained.  We’ve been watching her since the incident at the lake house.  Her position is too valuable to eliminate at this time.”

“So, why did we let Lista escape?”

“As a source of information, she was useless.  I knew that by the second day in the chair.  I decided to keep her alive, and continue the torture, because I wanted her to escape and pass along every moment of her time there to the rest of her group.  There is something very odd about her.  Something far from human.  We would have never broken her.  But to show her just how far we were willing to go will give us an edge.  By the time she relates her experiences with us, the majority of her group will be very reluctant to risk capture.  The length of time she was here will show them that we are quite desperate to learn what they know.  This will make us seem fearful and in over our heads.  That, in turn, could give them that little bit of overconfidence we need to slip past them with the next phase.”

 “I guess that brings me back to asking where we stand.  Are we on track?  Is there a chance they could stop us?”

“Yes.  We are very much on track.  In fact, despite a few of the setbacks of late, we’re still ahead of schedule.  As for them stopping us.  Yes.  It’s very possible.  But I planned for that.  The events that take place in the next three months will settle it.  In that time I’ll need you to lay some groundwork for a fallback point.”

“Certainly.  What do you need me to do?”

“We’re at a critical point right now.  There are a few television shows that I’d rather not see make it on the air the season before the elections come around.  I need for you to arrange to get more reality programming on the air.  Mindless stuff.  The last thing we need going into 2008 is people thinking for themselves.  I also need for you to get a few documentaries in the works.  I need a few that show exactly how involved the government is in all the shady dealings going on, and a few that debunk everything in the first.  Make both sides rabid, and make it clear that each side is absolutely correct.  Keep the kooks out of the way, and polarize the rest of the nation.  I don’t really care what they believe, but they need to accept it blindly.  Remember.  The goal here is to strike a blow against independent thought.  We need them receptive for next year.”

“Would you like me to keep pressure on the news agencies?”

“Absolutely.  It’s critical that they stick to the glossy overview.  We don’t want to give people any tools to help dig out the reason things are happening.  Pull all advertising for any station that does not fully comply.”

“And I can assume that whether I succeed or fail in this, it will work in our favor?”

“Naturally.  The destination is known.  The only thing left to chance is the path we take to arrive.  I’d like the road ahead to be straight and smooth, but if we must travel on back roads and goat paths, we shall still arrive.  Just as planned.

“Good enough.  So.  Any plans for the new year?”

“I’ll be attending a funeral in a few weeks.  If all goes well.”





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