Force Unfollow Them All and Let the Algorithm Sort Them Out

Hey, gang! For some reason I got a huge rash of bot followers yesterday. I force-unfollowed the lot of them out of generalized cyber-paranoia. If you happened to subscribe yesterday and coincidentally have an outlook e-mail address that looks like a string of random characters, please accept my sincere apologies and feel free to try again after the bot-wave has passed.

(7.2) Faye West and Mina Negotiate With Terrorists

Jereme stepped gingerly around the fallen man-bees. Some of them had died in the frenzy that Brundelzebuub unleashed, others were merely comatose. Mina and I monitored the surveillance hologram in the command room while our uninvited guest winced at the sight of a burst and oozing thorax. “Think he’ll come quietly?” I asked.

 

“He’s never quiet,” Mina sighed. “We can’t leave him in there unattended.”

 

If only I had my wand. With it, restraining Jereme safely would be a peace of cake. But now it was locked away where Commander Woodward could keep an eye on it. That left one other option.

 

I took a deep breath.  “Erica?” The Singularium manifested an additional hologram, this one representing the part of its intelligence we could talk to most easily.  “That doohickey we replicated from the dead kid’s head-

 

“The pheremonic radio jammer-”

 

“Sure. Can that be used to turn the man-bees… back on?”

 

There was a moment of silence. “Returning the creatures to baseline does not seem to be within our current abilities. However, the device itself is still operational.”

 

“Can you use it to make them follow my verbal commands?”

 

“Affirmative.”

 

“Make it happen,” I said, a bit sickly. I looked around at the man-bees lying in the hallway and cleared my throat. “Get up guys.” They snapped to attention, then immediately froze in place. Each man-bee in earshot stared dead ahead, waiting for direction. Gone was the aimless wandering from before. In its place was perfect obedience. “Follow me.”

 

At least thirty man-bees surrounded us as we approached t the room where Jereme was kept. We unsealed the door to find him pulling data from the singularium and transferring it onto the hard drives. His body-builder physique was gone and back was his shimmering plasma screen skin. Streams of data trickled across his arms and shoulders, soaking into the disc in his opposite hand.

 

The comatose man-bees in the room snapped to attention as soon as they smelled their brothers’ pheromones. Jereme’s eyes grew wet and large. He stared at me. “I understand that it might seem a bad time for reasonable explanations,” he began.

 

“Seize him,” I muttered.

 

Before the next sentence was even out of his mouth the man-bees had him. “Whoa!” he yelped. They grabbed him by his arms and legs. “I had a ‘but’ coming!” he wheezed. One man-bee, utterly expressionless, pinned him to the wall by his diaphragm.

 

“You got a storm coming if your explanation ain’t fucking stellar, asshole.” Mina waved her gun at the scene around us. A few man-bees still lay dead on the floor. “Because I don’t see a good excuse for all this.”

 

“This obviously wasn’t anyone’s plan.” Jereme’s tone was slow and careful, even as he struggled for air. Dead-eyed man-bees stared at his every move. “Brundelzebuub proved to be faster than we realized. Things backfired.”

 

“Things backfired? You broke in!”

 

“In fairness, we had a deal which you guys never made good on.” I opened my mouth to reply but Mina put a hand on my shoulder. Jereme continued. “The Posse has no idea what happened here, guys. Schilling’s in a whole snit. You gotta remember, the most important part of a superpowered political revolution is clear communication and mutual-”

 

Then, grenades.

 

We learned they were grenades later of course. At the time we just knew that something was pounding against the hull of the singularium with a sickening rock and a terrible kaboom. We ran back to the command center, Jereme flanked by man-bees.

 

When we arrived we pulled up a hologram of the outside. There was a young woman decked out in biker leathers perched on a nearby cliff. She had a rifle slung over her shoulder and what appeared to be a sack full of grenades in the other.

 

“One of yours?” Mina asked.

 

“Kori. Or Deathoscope if you’re into that. Girl’s certainly got… gumption,” Jereme offered.

 

“No way that girl comes knocking on our door without a plan,” Mina whispered to me.

 

I rolled my eyes. “Erica, get me on whatever kind of PA system you guys have got.” Another grenade rocked the hull. “You!” I cried. “Stop… that.”

 

The girl, Kori, paused, finger hooked inside the pin. “Says who?” she called after a moment.

 

“Stand down, dude!” Jereme called. “We’re having a parley.” Another pause. Then, “dammit! This is serious!” as a grenade rocked the hull again.

 

“Itchy finger,” she said. “Let me in.”

 

After a few minutes we met on the deck. It occurred to me, and thankfully hadn’t occurred yet to Jereme, that the only control we had over the singularium came from being human. As far as we knew the IntElect would do anything it thought would make a human being like it. Which meant we had to keep Jereme and his friend as far from the deck as possible.

 

“Man-bees,” I bellowed “seize-”

 

Kori reached into her bag of grenades. “Uh-nuh-no. No. Bad witch.”

 

“-stand down,” I finished.

 

She pulled her hand out of the grenade bag. “So. I see you’ve got Jereme contained. Where’s the cute one?” Her eyes scanned the horizon above my shoulder. I hated when people did that.

 

“Eh, about that.” Jereme slouched visibly in the man-bees’ grip. “Squirt got taken down by Brundelzebuub. That’s why his radio stopped.”

 

She rattled her bag, grenades clinking inside. Were they just loose in there? This nutcase was going to blow us up by mistake. “Well then where is that bug-eyed piece of demon garbage and how do I teabag his stupid corpse?”

 

“He’s already dead,” I told her. “The man-bees didn’t leave much behind.”

 

“Fuck. Right.” She slammed the bag of grenades against her leg. I winced. “So what’s the deal here, then? Feels like I should be, you know, hurting some of you guys.”

 

“Nobody needs to hurt anybody,” Jereme insisted, “because I think I can explain where we are coming from and that Ms. West and Ms. Flores are two reasonable folks who will listen to, uh, reason.”

 

“Does ‘listening to reason’ mean letting Schilling turn the singularium and the man-bees into her personal army?” I asked.

 

“How about you listen to it first and see?” he pleaded.

 

Mina and I shared a sidelong glance. Part of her wanted to hear him out. After taking a second to scream internally I took a long breath out through my nostrils and said, “we’re happy to listen if your friend puts down her grenades.”

 

Her eyes scanned the sky again. “How about I keep my grenades but I take a seat in this corner so we can all enjoy a bit of storytime with Jereme?”

 

Mina nodded just barely. “Could I maybe have my hands free first?” Jereme asked.

 

Another sidelong glance with Mina. “Nope.”

 

“Definitely not.”

 

“Of course not. Silly me. Silly billy Jereme.” He cleared his throat. “Here’s the deal, kids. War is coming. America’s got a humanitarian crisis on every side but Canada’s and nobody knows where they went. Bigley’s a tornado of bad impulses and no amount of ‘executive insulation’ can manage that forever. At some point the Mad King’s word will break through and that word will be ‘war.’”

 

“Do you rehearse this nonsense?” Kori asked.

 

“I just have a very active internal monologue.” Jereme’s plasma screen skin flushed turquoise.

 

“Bigley’s gonna have a much easier time getting a war if people see an army of man-bees and a goddamn robot mothership floating in Schilling’s back yard,” Mina protested. “A singularium like this is so powerful, we’re only safe if we give it to someone who doesn’t want it.”

 

“Well friends,” Jereme said, in a tone no friend of mine would ever use with me, “you seem to have gone through a lot of trouble getting this thing you don’t want. And the Posse would really love to take it off your hands.”

 

I shook my head. “You guys would get us all killed if we gave you this thing, assuming Bazooka Joe over here doesn’t accidentally blow us up first.”

 

Deathoscope smiled. “‘Bazooka Joe,’ huh? Thanks, sister. Maybe now people will stop making fun of my real name.” She slung the bag over her shoulder. Another series of clinks. “You’re both right. War’s gonna happen. And it’ll happen sooner if Schilling gets everything she wants. The question is, do you want to meet the tiger charging or falling?”

 

“We are not going to help start a war,” I hissed.

 

She shrugged. “See where that gets ya, then.” And then her face was twisted, screaming. Her arms were a flurry and the bag of grenades was hurtling through the air.

 

Time slowed down. Kori scrambled. Jereme assumed the fetal position like a crab claw snapping. Mina threw her body full-force, coming between me from the blast. The man-bees stood perfectly still.

 

Crashing. Kori, across the room, rifle rattling in her still-resolving grip. Mina, into my solar plexus, stout frame shielding most of my organs against the wall. The sack full of grenades, too fast to stop, metal banging against metal.

 

Every muscle tensed. Time to be blown apart. Mina’s tears streamed into my shirt. The silence was terrible, then beautiful. We weren’t dead. I opened my eyes. Kori leaned forward, grinning wicked as she pressed the rifle’s barrel into my forehead.

 

“Just casings,” she said. A tremendous pressure. Blue-black fire ate the world and for a moment there was nothing.

(7.1) Roxanne vs. Teen Drinking

When our astral bodies returned from Mountie Hell our regular bodies woke back up. Jake was seated next to the room’s central pillar, gently tickling the chin of a cat muzzle that protruded from its bottom segment. For once he wasn’t wearing his sunglasses but instead a yellow silk eyepatch with our logo emblazoned on it. A thick black cord ran from the eyepatch, across his ear and into his coat-pocket.

 

He stuffed the patch into his pocket as we came to our senses. “Very nice work, team!” He pointed at Gail and Truman. “You two, loved the Rabbit of Seville routine, very unexpected. Not exactly the most efficient choice but in this career, style sells.”

 

“Sells? We’re public servants.”

 

“That’s right Torchbearer,” he punched me on the arm as he said it. Just before the sunglasses went back on I noticed deep bags and pale green eyes. “And your public can be very picky. Can’t ride a tiger without catnip. Speaking of! I have treats.” He waved his hands and then began to jog backwards towards the kitchen, polished black shoes clicking the polished white tile.

 

When he stopped he ran his fingers along a steel panel in the kitchen until he found a thin groove along its side. With a fierce tug he pulled the panel off, revealing a six by three foot refrigerator hidden in the ceiling. Inside was an array of beers, wines and liquors along with a freezer full of ice.

 

“Ugh, finally!” Timmy shouted. He grabbed a bottle of Everclear from the freezer, then stalked over to one of the main fridges for a 2-liter of orange cream soda. He popped the lids off of both bottles and tossed them in the trash before retreating to his room.

 

“That should be illegal,” Truman muttered.

 

“This totally is,” Jake said. “But you guys did good. It’s gonna be tough work doing everything we ask, I get that. So I, personally, want to reward you guys for your good behavior. It’ll be our little secret.”

 

Hans grabbed a six-pack of brown bottles for himself. “Breaking the rules is the best part. Other than the hops, of course.” He opened a perspiring brown bottle. As he drank you could see him suddenly become aware of two things. First, that everyone was looking at him. Second, that he didn’t like beer nearly as much as he expected to. He spat discreetly into his sleeve. Not discreetly enough.

 

Jake took Hans to fetch some napkins while the rest of us recovered from our laughter. Eventually Gail yawned and said, “I think I could use a snifter of brandy after a long day.” She filled her glass with ice before grabbing a big brown bottle. “Care to join?”

 

Truth be told, I still wasn’t in much of a mood to hang out with Gail yet. I was partially still irritated from our last conversation, partially exhausted with her relentless schtickiness. Was she going strawman or was she just kind of full of herself? So far I’d seen her attempt one honest conversation and she stuck her foot in her mouth right away. Maybe acting like a cartoon was her best bet.

 

Still, the bottle of brandy dangled in the air. Was I really about to be that girl? Surely I had to cut loose and have fun eventually, right? If only I could cut loose somewhere else.

 

Truman spoke up before I had to. “This is nice Jake but it’s kinda… redundant, to be honest. I don’t drink. Even if I did, with my power I could just make myself drunk, you know?”

 

Gail took a long look at the super-suit draped across Aaron’s arm. “…Have I ever told you that you’re my favorite?”

 

He blushed. “Sh-shit, Dad. I didn’t… Wait! No! Goddamn it, Gail.”

 

“Come on!” she whined. “You could just make your brandy non-alcoholic, then Jesus wouldn’t care!”

 

I slipped out of the kitchen while they continued to argue. There was no way I was getting drunk with any of these people tonight. Drinking alone didn’t sound too hot either. Timmy was hidden away somewhere handling a near-century of stress the 1940s way. That may have been well and good for him- the kid was immortal anyway. His liver was made of dreams, jingoism and shame. Mine was fragile. Flesh.

 

Jake managed to intercept me as I walked back to my room. His jacket was gone, his shirt sleeves rolled up and his glasses misty with club soda. “Leaving the party so soon? We just got the ale out of Kaplan’s jumpsuit.” He grinned. “The trenchcoat, sadly, couldn’t be saved.”

 

“A tragedy.” I smiled. ”But it’s been a long day. I’m more of a sleeper than a partier.”

 

He nodded curtly. “Suit yourself, I suppose. Just remember, you want to know your partners inside and out. We expect great things from you. And I mean you, Torchbearer.”

 

He kept calling me that. Insisting on it. I cleared my throat. “That’s good to know, sir.”

 

“Please, call me Jake.” With that he was back down the hallway. A trail of club soda footprints followed him.

 

* * * * * * *

 

The next few days were spent in rest and basic training. Jake, Dr. Misenhelter and Major Sedgwick had outlined some exercises that we could run through based on the research they had done on our powers. They promised they had some more exciting exercises mapped out for our future but in the near term we needed to go over the basics.

 

For me this meant memorizing what levels of force I’d need for certain tasks as well as what levels of force to avoid. Even then, it was more art than science. They’d quietly shelved the problem of getting useful information out of the Torch just yet. I tried not to feel like the failure was all mine.

 

Truman, meanwhile, was busy studying pharmaceutical textbooks and dosing labrats. While he’d already mastered a few simple drugs like caffeine, alcohol and so forth he hadn’t focused much on the medical side of his power. While an on-demand pharmacy was a far cry from a proper medic it was a hell of a lot better than nothing.

 

The others barely showed up in the training rooms at all. Hans continued to tinker with his machines and continued to farm ghosts, of course, but he’d also spend long hours completely unsupervised. Gail and Timmy, meanwhile, sounded like they were receiving something more like therapy than proper training.

 

It made sense. Timmy had nearly a century of practice using his powers and a century of trauma to go with it. Meanwhile, Gail’s powers were too abstract to properly measure or quantify. Maybe they worked best if she spent some time every week unpacking her own issues with her folks. Maybe the therapists were just making sure she didn’t go insane.

 

For that matter, I probably could have used a little therapy myself. I’d been used to being the loner for a while. Ever since joining the Academy I’d adapted to living without my folks, living on the outskirts of the crowd. Now, though, I was supposed to be an adult. We all were. So why weren’t things any different?

 

Before long I started to have stress dreams. They always took place in this cold maze with wet chains in the corners. A deep sound like a giant stomach growling came from deep within. I knew I needed to find my way to safety but it was too dark to see my way, and the Torch just wouldn’t light.

 

One night, my dream was broken by an alarm. Had we been trained to know an alarm? Maybe a fire. I rolled out of bed. Jake’s voice cut into the alarm over the intercom. “YOUTHFRONT! We have an emergency. Suit up and gather at the hangar.”

 

That sounded real. Half awake, I pulled on my jumpsuit and helmet. The sound of a growling stomach still lingered in my ears.

 

“We’ve got a surprise situation,” Jake announced once we were all assembled. “You’re needed at Proteus Bay.”

 

“At this hour?” Dad asked incredulously. “I’ll be up all night worried sick about myself.”

 

Aaron groaned. I couldn’t blame him. Jake ignored the commentary. “We’ve got four terrorists coming in from New Pandemonium and we don’t know what they’re up to. Nobody can make it faster than you and border patrol can’t handle four supers.”

 

“How do we know they’re terrorists if we don’t know what they’re up to?” I asked as Hans typed into the keypad on the garage. The door slid open, revealing what looked like three giant robot birds with skulls for faces. Each was in a flying formation, massive engines hanging beneath outstretched wings.

 

“Is that a serious question?” Jake snapped. “They’re making illegal passage from a quarantine zone into one of the most populated cities on earth.” He pointed at the robots as he climbed into a command station on the right side of the room. “Grab a valkyrie and go. Save your questions for the air.”

 

My cheeks burned as we approached the valkyries. Everyone knew the quarantine was bullshit, I wanted to say. They basically admitted as much when it was announced. But we were in a hurry and Jake had more intel than we did. This was the time to be a soldier, right? Not some know-it-all girl with too many questions.

 

“Dang, Hans, did you program these?” Aaron asked as he climbed on.

 

“Oh please. The software doesn’t need to be any more complex than an old Nintendo,” he scoffed. “It’s the robotics you should be impressed by. And the fucking magic, of course.” He pat one of them on its massive wing. “These Vikings died centuries before the Other-Force arrived. Their geists are echoes of echoes hiding in echoes. It would have been easier to bind trilobyte souls from a tank of gas.” He paused. “Hey, somebody write that down. I should try that.”

 

“No time,” Jake insisted. “Quit the necrobabble and tell them how to ride.”

 

Hans sighed. “Just hop on and stay in contact.” In his hands he held a helmet built from some large animal’s skull. It had headphones on the sides and over the eye sockets rested a pair of those old phones that looked like little TVs. Red and green cables ran along a spine that arched from the helmet’s rear before disappearing into the back of a black leather E-Z Boy. “I’ll handle the rest from here.”

 

Once he was seated he activated the Valkyries. Their bodies had a smooth chrome polish and secure black seats behind the neck. Leather straps buckled us in at the waist and shoulders. Twin machine guns were mounted right at our feet. Their engines roared to life beneath us, absolutely massive compared to the tiny rockets of Timmy’s jetpack. We were off, Gail and Aaron on either side of me while Timmy flew ahead on his rocket boots.

 

“Alright kids, here’s what you need to know.” Jake was back to his usual practiced chipperness. I felt bad for not trusting him, for making him angry. He… wasn’t our friend exactly but he tried to do his job right. Besides, Hans gave him enough grief as it was. Did I really want to be like him? “Our bogeymen passed through the Quarantine Grid about five minutes ago. I’ve got some idea where they’ll be but you’ll have to look sharp in case they’ve adjusted their speed. We want as many of them taken in alive as possible.”

 

That last line was supposed to be reassuring but it knotted my guts right up. This was for real. This was a battle. I’d assumed there’d be more warning than this but what more could I have really expected? Pick up a weapon, join an army. Join an army, join a war. I put myself here. Now I had to make the best of it.


As many as possible.

 

I expected riding the valkyries to be a bit like flying a car but they didn’t move the way cars did. It was more like riding an enormous bat that was almost well-trained. Hans could direct their flight reasonably well from the control room but the viking ghosts inside bucked and meandered as they followed his instructions.

 

Despite that, we were on the scene in minutes. I’d have given anything for a longer flight, more time to weigh the job ahead. But there was no excuse for stalling when our nation’s safety cwas on the line. What was the value of keeping my hands clean if they let danger slip through? It was my duty to protect normal people living normal lives. The folks on the boat knew what they were getting into. They put themselves here.

 

That said… where was the boat? Our valkyries adjusted their jets to hover in mid-air as Hans and Jake scanned the perimeter. Timmy pointed ahead with one hand and began to draw his laser cannon. “It should be right-”

 

A sudden fall. A horrible sound. My helmet muffled most outside noise and I could still feel the scream rippling through my guts. The others were even less lucky. Dad and Truman both collapsed on their valkyries while some terrible force tried to drag Timmy into the water.

 

The night air melted and a yacht floated before us. There were people on board and a monster in the air. A woman screamed on deck while the little man next to her held out his hands. His skin was shiny like a pearl and he wore a dapper black suit. His eyes glowed silver as he stared at Timmy.

 

Just as my valkyrie turned to face the screaming woman a pain exploded in my shoulder. The flying monster. There was a rifle in its hands and the barrel was smoking. Blood ran down my arm. It smeared against the valkyrie as I braced myself for death.

(7.0) Captain Aneurysm Welcomes You to Radio Stigmata

Happy fucking birthday, America! It’s the midnight hour which means it’s time for Radiooooooo Stigmata. From God’s mouth to my heart to your ears, this is the Captain and I am ready to Bone. Your. Mind.

 

It’s a goddamn circus out there, Blood Brothers. There’s an oval in the middle but this tent’s got three rings. Don’t get fooled by the purple clown with the silver hair. An idle ass is the devil’s puppet-hole, as the saying goes. The Captain knows.

 

Time was the Captain had the devil in there elbow deep. Long time Blood Brothers know. You newbies, you can read all about it in my memoir, Zounds!: From Blood Warrior to God Warrior, that’s Zounds!, from Doubting Thomas Press. It’s a gnarly tale of sin and sorrow, little Blood Brothers, but I hope you too can see the light.

 

So let’s talk about the devil. Ol’ Salt Peter, the Lord of the Flies. The Tiger Force at the Heart of All Things. The wicked black goat, and I don’t mean that scary chick outta New Bayonne. No, Blood Bros, I am talking about Satan himself.

 

Who is Satan? Where is Satan? Would we know him if we saw him? Seems we’ve got every other kinda monster, demon and ultra-villain. We’ve got two Draculas in the Error Zone, scorpion-men in New Pandemonium and folks sayin’ they’ve seen Baba Yaga in Harlem. What’s the score, Blood Fam? With all this smoke, where’s the lake of fire?

 

Breathe in that smoke, Blood Brothers. In the Bible our fall could take a day but words do funny things with time. I hear it in the heartbeats of snakes and playing children. It’s written in the juices on the butcher room floor. We haven’t seen the beginning of the end, Blood Brothers. We’ve barely seen the end of the beginning.

 

Now, back to Satan. Folks’ll tell you he’s not even in the Bible. Did you know that? You can crack that baby open and flip through it right now if you want but if your translation is even a little bit honest you won’t see anything like the devil you think you know. Weird, ain’t it?

 

But that’s the trick with the devil. He doesn’t like to show his face, he likes to show yours. I’d argue the devil shows up just about everywhere in the bible under all kinds of different names. He goes by the name Herod when ordering the death of John the Baptist. He goes by the name Longinus when spilling Christ’s blood. Way back when the Pharaoh felt his heart harden against the Jews, he went by the name Jehovah.

 

Why not? Why should our heart contain the devil and not God’s, if He’s perfect and we’re made in His image? Why is it more perfect to just opt out of depravity instead of overcoming it? What kind of sense would Jesus make without sins of His own to absolve?

 

Call me crazy, Blood Brothers. I know that’s why you tune in. Maybe I’m the devil’s puppet right now, and that was the black speech of the ultimate dragon darkening our radiowaves. You can never know. Don’t ever discount the possibility.

 

I promise y’all I’m headed somewhere with this but I see we’ve got some calls that made it through the line. Before I take my first caller I just wanna throw another kudos to my wonderful producer, Georgia. If it weren’t for Georgia here I’d still be shouting into a HAM radio on my garage. This woman is a saint!

 

Okay. Whoo. Okay, caller one is up. What’s your truth, Blood Brother? Oh, I’m sorry! Lady Blood Brother.

 

Nice to meet you, Carla. Carla I’d say you are absolutely right and if it weren’t so dangerous for me to go off of Power Suppression I’d be right on the front lines. Fact is we’ve got ourselves a completely illegitimate government. No constitution, corrupted elections, super-powered Nazis calling the shots. Now, I’m not saying folks who’re infected should use their powers to overthrow the State, but I do agree with Carla here that the folks in the Posse, the NPLO, even some of the Trumpets of Gabriel are fighting the good fight.

 

Next caller. Welcome to Radio Stigmata, what’s in your heart?

 

Nope. Cut this guy, Georgia. Captain Aneurysm does not support the sexual objectification of women and neither do true Blood Brothers. That brave young lady I mentioned earlier, some of you might know her as She-Goat the Black, she’s fought too hard for the likes of you to have her name in your mouth. Georgia, make sure we trace that guy’s number and send it to the Dox. I will not be party to sexual harassment.

 

Alright, while Georgia’s doing that I suppose I’ll get back to tonight’s topic. Satan. The puppet master of pain and peril. He is nowhere because he is everywhere but does that mean he can’t be found? Here’s where I see Satan today. Here’s why he’s on my brain.

 

The Supreme Service released its verdict today on the Jokenji brother case. For those of you not in the know, those are a couple of young kappas that swam out of New Pandemonium through the Quarantine Grid a few years back. They’ve been rotting in the Error Zone ever since they got scooped up.

 

I know what some of you are thinking: refugees get thrown into the Error Zone every day. They knew what the penalty was. Why should we feel bad? What’s so Satanic about that?

 

Well jackass, it ain’t always so simple. Turns out these kids tried to do it the right way. The older brother was running a rickshaw business out of New Pandemonium. He had to get the little one across the water to see this special doctor in Long Island. The little one had this chromosomal disorder, the kind of thing that could happen to any kid- human, kappa, sasquatch, whatever. Every penny out of that rickshaw went towards saving up for just one meeting and the fees it would take to buy their Special Visas.

 

No dice, though. Their Special Visas were denied. Feds worried the little one’s disorder could be an infection risk.

 

Didn’t make a lick of sense, of course. New Pandemonians are Other-natural but they’re also stable. They’re not infected the way a guy like me is. They were actually designed that way. Or evolved, if you insist. (Because we accept all kinds here on Radio Stigmata, so long as you love something.)

 

So the kid’s got no proven infection but the state insisted they couldn’t take the risk. His brother saved all those pennies for nothing. So they swam for it. Then they got rounded up like all the rest and thrown into the Error Zone by Bigley himself. Now the Supreme Service insists that’s where they’ll stay. “Rules are rules.”

 

What kind of rules are those, Blood Brothers? We’ve got rules in this country that bend whenever the rulers need to break the ruled. No rule puts somebody in the Error Zone. The Error Zone would have swallowed half the planet if a rule could put someone there.

 

Think about it. Little Boy killed thousands of people and poisoned a nation. He’s not in the Error Zone. P!ss Frog and Deluge have taken Americans’ lives and freedom without trial. They’re not in the Error Zone. Bigley smashed his own education secretary into neutronium paste on live TV. He’s not in the Error Zone.

 

So here’s the way I see it, Blood Brothers. Hell is real. We’ve found it, we’ve named it, and one of the first things we figured out how to do was throw people in there. Right now, you and me, we haven’t done a single thing about that. As long as that’s the case, as long as a single lost soul is left behind in that vortex of unmaking, you, me, and God Almighty Himself are all the fucking devil.
I’m gonna plug in a few hours of Blue Oyster Cult and let y’all chew on that for the rest of the evening. Try’n think about what I said without prejudice and maybe find someone you love that you can help with something. And if you haven’t got any ideas, you can always help out the Captain by picking up another copy of Zounds!: From Blood Warrior to God Warrior, from Doubting Thomas Press.

Chapter 6.3 is Up!

Very sorry for the delay, folks. Christmas was this week and my editing schedule was duly suppressed by what I believe to be a conspiracy of department store Santas.

They got theirs.

Anywho, please check out the newest installment in agent Litework’s storyline. It’s got crow demons, bad trips and everything else you’ll need to shake off that holiday cheer and sink back into your midwinter gloom.

Happy Holidays!

(6.3) Litework in the Depths of Skull Island

Curt lay sweating on the bed in the hotel room. He was busy digesting an info-popper, a data file transformed into a foul-tasting jalapeno popper by the spirit of a government database. Sweat mingled with the moondust on his still-crescent face, trickling white onto the sheets. At least we’d give the maids something to talk about.

 

I looked at the other goodies I’d scored from the egregore. Two more poppers and a pastry, all imbued with the egregore’s data. I decided to save the pastry for Yaritza what with her birthday coming up, which left a pair of greasy poppers for Malcolm and myself.

 

‘Mind-leavings,’ the egregore Radhub had called them. That smelled about right. I positioned myself somewhere comfortable and followed Curt’s lead, pinching my nose before sending the popper down the hatch.

 

What a revolting texture. The breading held together in my fingers but dissolved into something like rancid tres leches in my mouth. The jalapeno itself was rubberier than a bicycle tire, stretching between my teeth more than it shredded. Uneven globs of cheese sloshed through the grease and fibrous tissue.

 

I choked it down and inhaled sharply. Big mistake. The rush of air across my tongue awakened my tastebuds with a sour-savory wave. Everything was bile. Reality melted away.

 

For a moment, terror. I was floating through the mishmash. Was my mind digesting itself? Shattered glass and globs of dairy sloshed with me through the liminal max of a hallucination asserting itself. I braced myself for concrete.

 

No impact. My vision solidified. I was floating through a stone-hewn castle. Stale gorditas and moist chains drifted below. As I turned my gaze my memory swelled with data encoded by the info-popper. This was a vision of Skull Island, I realized. I was inside Sleaze Gammon’s Florida home.

 

The air stank. There was something more, too. A hum? No, moaning, lots of moaning, coming from the ground. I fixed my gaze on the thin gray chains that ran along the floor. The chains wriggled as my vision focused. Weeping eyes and parched mouths crystallized from the fuzz.

 

So, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded, in fact. There were no chains on the ground at all, not metal ones at least. It was some trick of the light, some illusion of scale, possibly a form of data compression for the egregore. The ‘chains’ below were people, boneless and grey, knotted in loops and straining against each other.

 

And then I looked just a moment too long. The moaning clarified just as my vision had and I heard instead names, pleas and accusations. “I can’t help!” one boneless man screamed. His boneless arm wrapped around the throat of his neighbor. He was strangling her. The more he stretched and screamed, the wider her eyes bulged. “I can’t help, I can’t help, I can’t-”

 

Something rattled. My limbs. All of my limbs, not phantoms at all but floating zombies, putrid arms and legs tangled in the human chains, George Romero drowned in Lilliputians. I tried to fly one arm closer to me. It pulled the chains taut, made a deep leathery twang, but stopped, trapped, in the air.

 

Bullshit, I wanted to scream. This isn’t inside the data, this is inside me. But my esophagus still ached from the popper’s spiced grease and the walls themselves were laughing.

 

“I can’t help, I can’t help, I can’t help, I can’t-”

 

Even with my limbs entangled I could still move around. It was a bit like shifting my weight and a bit like teleporting in that way dreams let you teleport, not so much moving in space as willing different space to happen around you. It took much of my willpower. My brain was all clenched up. The barely-audible parts of me were overwhelmed by the egregore’s data.

 

“I can’t help, I can’t help, I can’t help, I can’t-”

 

One of my phantom arms was just close enough to the tiny screaming man whose voice I couldn’t tune out. My limbs were sickening to slip on in this state, phantom underskin all slimy and rotted. But I needed peace. I took the tiny man’s head between two fingers. “I can’t help, I can’t help.” I gave it a little pop.

 

His muscles went slack. His neighbor began to breathe. I pressed on.

 

Gammon’s castle wound on. This dream-space mapped his physical, real-life home but it connected to his other properties and assets. One room opened up into a massive press office, the BiteBack News banner hanging on the opposite side, the daisy-chain of tiny people wrapping around the arms and necks of the reporters inside. Other rooms contained what looked like secret prisons, sex dungeons, human slaughterhouses and cramped meth labs. Each contained some simulacrum of Gammon’s original body, neck wrapped in human chains and eye sockets weeping ground beef.

 

After what felt like hours of wandering, the halls of the castle opened up onto a granite beach under a angry sky. Gammon-muck washed against the shore, his face bobbing in the shape of every wave. Muck beat ceaselessly against the rocks until the collecting residue sloughed off, splashing back into the froth that bore it. As the sloughed muck fell it solidified into more of the boneless Lilliputians who were soon tangled with the rest in the chain.

 

A ring of nuclear smokestacks loomed over the the ocean of Gammon, just above the horizon line. His juices washed against their walls, foam and fingers of gunk clinging at the sides and rims. Above that rotated a massive island city. Skulls, black roses and balls of pink fire rained down into the smokestacks from the city’s hanging sewers. New Pandemonium, I realized. I’d recognize the sky-line anywhere. The real New Pandemonium floated just off the coast of New York City and its streets teemed with monsters. The Regime cited New Pandemonium whenever it needed some boogeyman to justify its latest crack-down or cover up its own deeds. I may have even blamed a few of my own operations on New Pandemonian terrorists, back in my time.

 

Lilliputians wound tighter against my ankles and wrists.

 

As New Pandemonium floated, its rotation gained speed. The faster it spun the harder it wobbled on its axis and soon a whirlwind formed around it. Strands and streams of grey-green Gammon-batter sluiced up into the city’s swirling sewers. The whole mess rolled in the sky with greater and greater fervor until it formed a manic ball of iron, concrete and slop.

 

The rolling city continued to accrete mass and soon I could see bricks of Gammon’s castle flying out to meet it. The daisy-chains of boneless Lilliputians rose into the air like a great billowing net of leather. I twisted my phantom-limbs wherever they were tangled and clung on for dear life as everything was sucked towards the center.

 

Soon the muck rose past the smokestacks as the whole ocean bulged to meet the spinning city. They shook and snarled and some kind of fire deep inside them shined bright through the brackish goo.

 

There was an eruption. A spike of lavender lightning punched up through the muck, burrowed deep into the core of the spinning city, and exploded.

 

Light and dark crackled in and out of each other in the sky. A feeling came like anti-weightlessness, like being pulled everywhere-but-here at once. Then splattering. That foul and foaming ocean blew towards smithereens. The air and muck were one.

 

An almost-luxurious hotel room. An aftertaste like death. My first conscious thought on coming back to reality was, “grab a fucking pencil.” A schematic unfolded in my brain, something I could never, would never, invent or comprehend. If I didn’t write it down I was sure to lose it. My phantom limbs rushed to rummage a pen and paper from the desk, floating past Curt as he scribbled in the corner.

 

Over the next few hours each of us managed to fill an entire notebook with information, gazing into our pages with time-warping focus. Writing was like scouring my nerves, purging them of the residue from my vision. Ink poured onto the page in a slurry of protocols, equations and indigestible sketches. Even once it was all out, my system completely hollow, the pages slick and discolored, I dry-heaved over the page, scratching an inkless spiral in the corner.

 

When I was finally able to breathe and take stock I flipped through what I’d written. They contained schematics to god knows what. Chemical equations I didn’t understand sat comfortably on the page next to the true names of demons with whom I was not on a true-name basis. No one page seemed to contain a complete picture of the device under design. Whatever it was, it was huge and its blueprints referred to virgins’ blood far too often for my liking.

 

Curt grimaced at the notebook in his hands. His skull had returned to its regular shape though his skin still had a rough and rocky texture. “I miss reading,” he said. “USB drives were a delight over these data-shaman headscrews.”

 

“Agreed. Thanks for taking one for the team, Cash. We can let Malcolm and Yaritza take theirs when we get back.” I wiped my mouth. There was nothing on it; in fact, I was completely parched. How long had we been out for? I waved my notebook weakly in the air. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. As bros, of course.”

 

“Of course.” We made the exchange. Cash was able to interpret some of the occult bits of my notes while I recognized some of the names from his. He appeared to have ‘downloaded’ Gammon’s rolodex of supers with full write-ups including their capabilities, means of contact and contingency procedures in case they betrayed him.

 

Two in particular stood out: Mister Siberia and Stalokovy, a pair of Russian super-mercs. A few others were suspected Gammon allies, namely P!ss Frog and Doc Zeno, along with an assortment of low-rent super criminals and infiltrators within the Posse Communitatus.

 

One last name stood out, someone I didn’t even know was still working, let alone infected. Guy by the name of Trenton Clearwater, one of the last big names to come from the crumbling FBI. I’d worked with a guy who’d worked with a guy who worked with him but generally the Supreme Service didn’t deal too much with traditional intelligence. You ask me, they seem kind of obsolete. Rumor was, Clearwater had been involved with sparking the Super Gang Wars in the mid-2000s. Some kind of rogue accelerationist operation that never got fully uncovered.

 

“The half of this I can read only makes sense if the half I can’t read is making impossible promises,” Cash said after a while. “Whatever this thing does, step two involves cramming as many Other-petals together as you can and stuffing them through a single material breach.”

 

“Okay, hotshot. Try it in English.”

 

“It’s basically trying to create a doorway to raw, unfiltered Other-Force. Like creating Space Brothers on demand.”

 

“Army of Gods. Very impossible. Got it.” I tapped the notebook he’d given me. “Did you get an eyeful of some of the leads you’ve got in here?”

 

“I recognized Underbelly Clementine, she’s been through New Bayonne a couple times. And you’d mentioned Zeno on the ride over here. What’s up?”

 

“Gammon’s got his goo in every pot, it seems. Two guys out of New Pandemonium, a handful of crooks, one member of the Posse, an old FBI renegade and two Russian supermercs.”

 

“Russia’s a long way to go from Skull Island,” Cash said. I flipped to a drawing he’d done of the mercs. On the right was Mister Siberia, two hundred eighty pounds of Slavic muscle with the head of a white tiger for a right hook. On the left was Stalokovy, a jagged silhouette made entirely of interlocking steel fishhooks. “Oh, well judging by the resemblance I have to assume they’re family.”

 

I shook my head with mock sadness. “Their poor mother.”

 

“You try to raise ‘em right these days.” We continued to go over the notes for a few hours before it became impossible to avoid bed. I wrapped the info-pastry and the remaining info-popper in a small piece of Tupperware before going to sleep. That night, I dreamt fitfully of human daisy-chains holding down Roselia.

 

* * * * * * *

 

I slipped out early the next morning, left Cash a note that I’d meet him in Cincinnati. It looked like this case was going to get wider before it finished, which meant I’d be stuck with Crowe for a while. There was business to resolve before he and I went a single step further.

 

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when I barged into Crowe’s office, not quite yet so high in the sky that the clouds overhead could obscure it. Crowe was in the middle of his yoga routine, saluting the sun with a cigarette dangling from his lips. “Sophie darling,” he puffed. “Care to stretch your legs with me?”

 

“I’m back. Let’s go. I don’t want her in hell a moment longer.”

 

He rolled his eyes and curled his spine. “Spare me your lake of fire stereotypes. Malphas isn’t some Wes Craven imp. She’s practically fine.” Then, “hey!” as phantom hands hoisted him by his armpits and ankles. His cigarette fell from his mouth. I caught it with another phantom hand and took a drag.

 

“I’m happy to get worse before this gets better,” I told him.

 

He rolled his head around on his neck once, twice, before cracking the knuckles in each hand. “Fine,” he said. “You’re no fun. Put me down and show me the sample.”

 

I pulled the remaining info-popper and the notebooks from my satchel.  “No DNA sample, but a whole mess of leads. This thing’s bigger than you think.” Crowe continued to dangle in the air. He wasn’t touching the floor until the two of us had an agreement.

 

The red veins in his eye pulsed into view once, twice, three times as he glared at the popper. His face was perfectly still. “Well now,” he whispered, a note of crow’s caw creeping into his voice, “I seem to recall someone being very specific about the circumstances of that agreement we made. And yet, here I am, not a single strand of DNA richer. Strange.”

 

“I gave you way more than what you wanted,” I protested. “We’re blowing this thing wide open.”

 

“We’re not here to rack up more charges on Gammon.” Crowe was defiant, even as Hans and Franz tightened their grip. “We know he’s a crook. We just need proof. What good is finding out more crimes exist if we can’t pin ‘em to him?”

 

“Bull and shit.” I sprinkled some ashes from Crowe’s cigarette into his carpet. “You don’t even know how this works well enough to bluff me on this. We both know you want to make this as big as possible. You can’t resist seeing every monster but you dragged to the bottom of the muck.”

 

“Hmph. Nobody said your help wasn’t appreciated, but that wasn’t the deal.”

 

“Oh, our deal?” I grabbed his wrists with two arms each and began to twist. I didn’t want to break them just yet, but I made sure it hurt. “Okay, Crowe. What if we make a new deal?”

 

Red veins bulged on his neck and head. He chuckled. The room grew darker. “You know how easy it would be for me to bring him here, girl. To flood this room with bloody feathers.” The crow-caw sound in his voice had fallen several octaves. When he spoke, it was like iron sawing through meat. “To purge myself of the gorged flesh of the damned.” His wrists cracked in my phantom hands. “This is not your tact.”

 

Blood trickled from his tear ducts. Shadows of blackbirds cawed from the rafters. “Dammit, Crowe. Let her go.” I set him down. The room’s light returned and the sound of crows faded. Malcolm slumped into his chair and lay his swollen forearms on the table.

 

“I don’t see how I can until you’ve found the dirt I need on Gammon.”

 

Of course. That was his angle. “What, you think I’m going to move on from this just because my sister gets her soul back? I want to see Gammon taken down at least as much as you.”

 

“Doubtful. Still, maybe you’re right that we could negotiate a new contract.”

 

“You have something in mind.”

 

“I can go ahead and free your sister’s soul tonight,” he promised. “One midnight meeting with the bloody crow and your sister can pass on to her final reward, whatever that looks like. If the young lady likes drinking, I’ve got a contact in Pirate Heaven who can make sure she spends eternity sailing the diamond seas with a bunch of hunky sailors… But I need some insurance of your cooperation.”

 

“Well, surely my kindness and integrity should suffice.”

 

“Cute, but you can’t fuck a motherfucker.” He pulled a roll of vellum and a feather made of brass from his desk. He tapped the vellum six times and soon its surface flooded with the details of a mystic contract written in calligraphic Latin. “You’re on my retainer until Gammon is dead, imprisoned or permanently exiled to a suitable hell-petal. No other conditions, so long as you perform any of the outlined tasks upon request in the meantime. If the fella commits suicide seconds after the blood dries, you’re still free.”

 

I looked the contract over. Despite the archaic Latin and diabolical legalese it seemed reasonable. It said he could ask me to go anywhere, look up anything or take down anyone so long as it didn’t severely compromise my safety, my job or the success of the mission against Gammon. I could also refuse any direction that didn’t have some relevance to taking down Gammon’s conspiracy. It left Malcolm much more wiggle room than I was comfortable with… but in exchange Roselia would be freed from her contract with Malphas.

 

I pricked my finger with the feather’s tip, filling its reservoir with blood. I signed my birth name on the dotted line and afterwards Crowe signed his. The ‘C’ in his name brushed the loop of a lowercase ‘g’ in mine, forming a tangent of blood between their curves.

 

Malcolm sighed with satisfaction as the blood dried in the contract. He read my true name out loud to himself and laughed. “Of course. I didn’t think you looked like a ‘Sophie’ at all.”

(6.2) Faye West in: Attack of the Man-Bees!

With Brundelzebuub’s latest attack, everything was out of control. Mina’s friend Jereme was wearing the form of a bodybuilder, screaming at the sight before his eyes. The friend he’d boarded our singularium with lay dead at his feet, head burnt and crumpled between Brundelzebuub’s flaming mitts. All around them the singularium was buzzing with chaos as the man-bees short-circuited, losing themselves in a murder frenzy on everything nearby.

 

I reached for my sugar staff and cursed. The damn thing was locked up back at my apartment, too hot to handle right now thanks to that tracking device Commander Woodward latched onto it. The man… boy? With the crumpled head flickered on the viewfeed. He’d been controlling the bees somehow when Brundelzebuub killed him. That must have been why the man-bees were afrenzy now.

 

“Shit, Jereme!” Mina yelled. She barrelled towards the doorway. Two man-bees tore into each other, ripping off chunks of chitin plating with their mutant strength. For a second it seemed like Mina could make it past them, but just as she passed through the threshold their frenzy opened up to invite her in. Yellow-bristled hands yanked at her legs and shoulders. The sound of her machine pistol filled the room, all the sounds of a passing train compressed into a single second.

 

One man-bee lay wasted, burst pseudothorax seeping on the ground. Its remaining eye rolled to and fro as its hybrid nervous system struggled to finish processing its death. The way its body spasmed was entirely insectoid but its cries were… not.

 

Mina sobbed. The second man-bee tackled her to the ground as she tried to struggle past, soaking her clothes in his dead brother’s blood.

 

On the screen Jereme was scrambling up the machinery while man-bees and Brundelzebuub raged below. Gouts of flame shot from the demon fly-man’s hands as he struggled against the swarm. Daringly- or just stupidly- Jereme used the security of his newfound perch to pull a hard-drive from his pocket and drop his gloves to the floor. Soon, 1s and 0s were flowing across his skin, trickling out of the walls and into the hard-drive.

 

Everything was fucked. The man-bee straddling Mina was on her back, trying to twist both of her wrists together in its hands. The machine-pistol weighed on my sternum. Of course I wasn’t a killer. Of course there had to be a better way. Of course, if I’d only had more time…

 

It was happening. To this day I can feel all two seconds of it mapped on the skin of my hand. The abrupt bite of the pistol grip scraping my palm. Every time my finger flexes, whether it be to type out a memo or tickle a loved one, I feel the weight of the trigger against it. The wave of recoil running up my arm as bullets erupted from the barrel becomes an ingrained rhythm, a permanent counterpoint to my own pulse.

 

Blood and meat splattered from the man-bee’s back. More yellow goo rained on Mina as her attacker bucked, tumbled, went slack.

 

She was crying. I was crying. We held each other in the doorway while the man-bees continued to frenzy outside. I pressed my ear as far into her chest as I could. Her heartbeat boomed and her massive hands wrapped my head, but nothing could drown out the sounds of murder.

 

“We have to keep going,” she whispered. It was unthinkable. I’d just finished making sure she was alive, and she couldn’t just wait here where it was safe. What was all that for? How could she take away even this moment of solace? But when I looked in her eyes there was someone I’d never seen before. The ease and gentleness I’d always taken for granted had been stuffed away. In its place, something grim. Something that wasn’t ready to stop.

 

Shaking, I pulled myself to my knees. My pistol had scattered to the floor. Mina slid it towards me with her foot. I began to shake my head but she grabbed my arm and pointed at it. Her face showed no anger. In fact, it showed nothing at all.

 

I picked it up. There was man-bee blood splattered all over it. Looking down, there was man-bee blood splattered all over my arms and legs and torso, probably all over my face as well. But there was no time to worry about that, because Mina had already ducked into the hallway and begun mowing down man-bees. I stood just inside, covering my ears and waiting for it to stop.

 

“Coast’s clear,” she declared after a moment. Her voice was empty. She might as well have said, “looks like rain” or “yeah, chicken’s fine.” She waited just long enough to be certain that I heard before moving on. I had to follow.

 

Before that day I’d only ever seen two dead bodies. First was mom, at her funeral. That was hard because I knew her, but at least her death had been peaceful. Then was Dr. Bugman, when Brundelzebuub blew his head off. That was less peaceful, but at the time I was too distracted by my own dread to really take it in.

 

Here in the temporary stillness of a corpse-filled hallway, there was no filter between the carnage and my brain.  It was like old war footage, bodies littering the ground, lifeless eyes staring from wherever they fell. I couldn’t make it. “There has to be a better way,” I protested.

 

Only now did Mina let frustration enter her voice. “Faye, there’s no time. He’s going to waste Jereme if we don’t move it.”

 

“The computers… Surely they can figure something out.”

 

“Maybe if we give them ten hours. Jereme doesn’t have that kind of time.” And with that she’d turned back around, gun at the ready. She didn’t look back.

 

Not for me. I bailed back into the control room. “Internal Surveillance, keep streams on Jereme, Mina and Brundelzebuub,” I ordered. “External, figure out how the fuck these people got in here.”

 

My heart rattled in my chest as the sub-singularia projected their video-streams. Jereme had given up on whatever he was trying to do with the hard-drive. He’d taken to kicking away at a pair of man-bees clambering about his perch. Mina drew near him, machine pistol close to her heart. Brundelzebuub had retreated to his throne-room, where he’d paused to feast on the burnt husk of a man-bee.

 

What the hell was I supposed to do with all of this? The most complicated things we’d been able to get the singularium to construct so far had been the LiteBoat, and that wasn’t exactly good for taking on an army of berzerk man-bees. Worse, the sound of Brundelzebuub’s chewing echoed throughout his throne room. He was disgusting. Brutal. The way he’d crushed that little guy’s head…

 

The little guy. He’d had some kind of doohickey plugged into his head, the one that Jereme tried to plug into the wall. I scanned the footage. Whatever it was, it still dangled from the singularium wall by its remaining cord although the end going to the little guy’s head had been incinerated by Brundelzebuub’s attack.

 

“Analysis, is there any way you can figure out what that thing does?”

 

“Scanning,” the computer replied. Mina mowed down another pack of man-bees in the video stream. Jereme jumped and shouted in response. They must have been close enough to hear each other but they appeared to be in separate rooms. “The device is a pheromonic radio jammer,” it concluded. “It uses radio signals to trigger pheromonal reactions.”

 

“Can you control it?” More man-bees went down in a hail of bullets. Brundelzebuub tossed a roasted man-bee leg to the ground and approached the throne room exit.

 

“Affirmative,” Analysis replied.

 

I took a deep breath. The man-bees hadn’t asked for any of this. But with Brundelzebuub on the prowl, Mina and Jereme were in danger. Surely their being human counted for something. Surely being human made what I was about to do okay. “Seal off the rooms containing me, Mina and Jereme. Then direct all man-bees to swarm Brundelzebuub.”

 

“Threat histories indicate Brundelzebuub is likely to eliminate many man-bees before dying. Continue?” Brundelzebuub was nearing the edge of his throne-room. Blades of fly and flame curled up from his shoulders.

 

“Continue,” I commanded. The door to the command room sealed shut next to me. Jereme and Mina’s heads whipped around as they, too, were sealed in. Other rooms and corridors slammed shut throughout the singularium as Analysis and Internal Surveillance attempted to better funnel the man-bees into the throne room. Soon they were swarming towards Brundelzebuub.

 

I could barely watch the man-bees move. They were mechanical, too-perfectly coordinated compared to the chaotic milling about they got up to most of the time. I hadn’t been sure at first whether or not they were people… but they sure as hell weren’t this.

 

In a matter of moments they’d swept the throne room, burying Brundelzebuub in an avalanche of bodies. An aura of flame blazed within the pile but the man-bees swarmed with such ferocity that even their burning skeletons proved impossible to get through, the weight of the ones at the edges pressing corpses and dismembered stingers into his body.

 

Flies swarmed out through the flames and swarmed to choke the marching man-bees but this only added more corpses to the stampede. Yellow blood steamed, then curdled as it rained on Brundelzebuub’s burning head, drenching him in a sizzling layer of golden blood pudding. He screamed, mouth and throat filling with burnt exoskeleton and bubbling ichor.

 

Before long all that remained was a smoldering corpse which the man-bees began to frolic in like the leavings of a demented pinata. “Stand down,” I commanded. “All man-bees stand down.” A shudder ran through the collective. In a wave of hibernation, the man-bees fell among their dead.

 

With the man-bees hibernating, I ordered the sub-singularium to open up the area where Mina was holed up. She wandered out into the hallways, gun drawn as she stepped over the dormant man-bees. I intercepted her. “Brundelzebuub is dead,” I said quietly. “I was able to get control over the man-bees. They killed him.”

 

“Jereme?” she asked.

 

I nodded my head. “He’s sealed in that room over there. There’s a few man-bees asleep with him, but he should be fine. The sub-singularia are trying to figure out how he and his friend got in here to begin with. We’ll have to talk to him to figure out why.”

 

“Hot damn,” Mina said quietly. “Sounds like we’ll have this situation under control before too long.”

 

“Yeah,” I replied. “But what the heck are we gonna do then?”