Shivers regained consciousness to find a dark skinned stranger
standing over him with a needle and thread in hand. The stranger was big, easily 6’4” and covered in working muscle, but his hands deftly stitched up the hole that the knife had left in his shoulder. He was leaning back in a La-Z-Boy and as he slowly regained his senses he could feel over a dozen people moving around in the house around him. It was a house, fully furnished, and he wasn’t even tied down sitting right in the middle of the living room.
About five feet away on a sofa was Jacobs eating a bowl of cereal and watching a muted television. He had lost the hooded jacket and was just wearing an olive sleeveless shirt. Up and down Jacob’s arms, ending at the elbows though, he could see his tattoos. They were all just words, quotes and phrases, that’s all Jacobs ever got, but Shivers knew that by now he had to have hundreds of them. He spotted the faded remains of one of the oldest ones, he knew it was easily one of the man’s first, it was the Latin phrase Bona Fiscalia that in English translated to public property.
“He’s awake.” The stranger said with a thick English accent as he hooked the needle through Shivers flesh again and pulled the bloody string through.
Jacobs wiped a hand across his mouth as he put his nearly empty bowl on a coffee table in front of him and leaned over to look at how the stitching was coming along. “You’re gonna have a scar brother, I’m sorry about that.”
Shivers tried to speak but nothing much came out but a cough and rattle. “Don’t try to talk.” Jacobs spoke up as he stood. “We had to drug you in the car and you’re throats going to be sore.” He looked behind him to the dark haired man who had driven him earlier. “Luke
, grab him a bottle of water please.”
As Jacobs leaned over him Shivers was briefly distracted by a Kurt Vonnegut quote that ran below and between Jacobs collarbones like the top of a shirt made just of the words beneath it. The quote read “You are who you pretend to be.” it was from Mother Night, the story of a man being held for trial for the crimes he committed while he was a journalist in Germany during WWII writing propaganda for the Nazi’s. The man was secretly a spy for the Allies, and was passing coded messages during broadcasts, but after the war he was listed amongst the worst of the war criminals to escape justice. He hid in New York for awhile until he was found again. He was riddled with constant guilt for his crimes, the propaganda he created for the Nazi cause brought justification to the insanity that filled the country during the war. You are who you pretend to be.
As Luke brought him a bottle of water, Jacobs broke the seal and placed the open bottle in Shivers right hand, he was surprised to find that he wasn’t tied down at all. Shivers took a sip, his hand was shaking but more from the fact that he hadn’t had a fix since the day before than anything else. There was a dull pain in his left shoulder as the stranger continued to stitch but it didn’t hurt enough to complain about.
He ignored the man and looked up at Jacobs and croaked out, “What are you doing Jacobs?”
He took another sip of the water as Jacobs straightened back up and ran a hand through his close cut hair. “I’m changing the world.”
It was 10:00 am in Chinatown and Susan was in the full Dovetail uniform. She had flown in low on her Sky-Bike making sure that she was seen and that every corner on the West End knew she was there. Her war with the 99 Dragons guaranteed that she was anathema in this part of town. She was sure that the Dragons were already grabbing their guns and loading up to take a shot at her.
After she made a few laps around the area she parked the Sky-Bike on the roof of a small pawn shop deep in the heart of the Chinatown and repelled down the store front to land in front of the middle aged thug hired to guard the door. He wasn’t startled, hell he had seen her park and she wasn’t trying to make a presence unknown, he looked behind him through the glass into the shop and the man behind the counter shook his head as he sucked down a few strands of Kimchi.
Before the guard could shake his own head at Susan she punched him square in the throat. One his hands came up to grab at his throat as he choked out a cough at the cheap shot and threw his own panicked punch that Susan quickly stepped around putting herself on his right side where she kicked out at the side of his knee. He would’ve screamed from the broken knee cap as he hit the ground if his throat would’ve allowed it.
She left him gurgling on the ground as she stepped over him and through the door. The security door past that one buzzed allowing her entry. The man behind the counter, still eating his Kimchi, was the only one present.
“Shit girl. You didn’t have to cripple him.” Won Bin
said in some kind of greeting as Susan approached the counter.
“You didn’t have to force the issue.”
“You didn’t have to come to my shop in the middle of the day in full regalia and broadcast to the entire city that we’re having a conversation. An injured bodyguard proves that we’re not friends.” Even if they kind of were, Won Bin turned to the stove he had behind the counter and poured a second bowl of Kimchi before passing it across the counter to Susan. He then closed the blinds and gave her his full attention.
Won Bin wasn’t Chinese but a South Korean Ex-Intelligence Operative. He had gotten into trouble about five years earlier, stuck inside North Korea where he had planting military assets and sowing the seeds of rebellion in the North Korean people. Susan had led a unit into the communist dictatorship to rescue him. He now ran a pawn shop where he trafficked and traded more than old pocket watches and lightly used guitars.
“I’m pretty sure I know why you’re here.” He said as he stirred his remaining Kimchi around in the bowl and Susan took the first bite of hers. It was spicy and tasted just like it would if it had been made by Won Bins grandmother. “The attack this morning, that kind of thing doesn’t happen in the states.”
Susan started to sweat from the spices but she wasn’t about to ask for a drink a she matched the other mans posture over the counter. “Do you know anything about it?” It was an open ended question.
He nodded a little bit. “Fear-Gas isn’t easy to come by but you can still get it in small quantities. There’s a collectors market for it.”
Susan raised an eyebrow, allowing herself to settle into the casual atmosphere that the conversation was taking, as Won Bin continued. “Yeah there’s a huge market for any kind of masked hero or villain gear or paraphernalia. Hell I just sold a few of your Dove-Feathers for like fifteen dollars apiece.”
“What?” She asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, a girl dug them out of her boyfriend, he was a Dragon, and then she sold them to me for five dollars a pop and I turned around and sold them to a collector.” He nodded as he spoke. “Big market.”
“They would’ve needed a lot of it for the attack this morning.” She said, “I saw them use six grenades of it on video. They hit fourteen separate cars. If each of the attackers used three grenades apiece…” She let it fade out there so he could do the math himself.
“With a single sample of it a chemist could create more.” He shrugged as he lifted some cabbage from his bowl and let the sauce leak off. “They would have to use an overseas lab though. AEGIS is too on top of any labs that can do that stateside.” He slurped the remaining sauce off the cabbage before he pushed the leaves whole into his mouth.
Susan finished downing another bit before she replied. “You haven’t heard about any weird requests for villain gear have you? A buyer scooping up as much of it as they can?”
He shook his head. “There’s no way to tell. The market is flush with the stuff. You masks leave crap behind after every brawl. That Sea-King guy leaves those nets lying around by the dozens. Fancy arrows from the Bowman, Scraps of Daedalus’s armor, Dr. Simian’s hoverchairs, the old Powercorps armor, VIPER and SHADOW gear, even weapons that the Omega Drones used. The stuff’s not hard to find if you know where to look.” He stirred his Kimchi as he looked down into the liquid. “I’m surprised the stuff hasn’t been used like this before now.”
Susan was about to ask another question when they both heard the sound of squealing tires as several vehicles came to a stop outside the front of the pawn shop.
“That’s probably the Dragons. Wouldn’t life be easier if you didn’t make so many enemies Susan?” Won Bin said as he took another bite of his lunch.
She just shrugged and spotted a rifle with a grenade launcher attached beneath the barrel behind the counter. “Can I borrow that H&K?” She pointed at it and he nodded and passed it over to her.
“It’s loaded. You’ve got three frag grenades in it too.” He nodded in agreement as she gave him a strange look about have it loaded like that in the store. People began to shout in Cantonese outside. “You know you’re going to have to hi—“
Before he could even finish she slammed the butt of the rifle into the side of his face and he was falling to the ground. “It’s easier if you don’t see it coming.” She muttered as she checked the action on the rifle and started for the front door.
“For me everything changed in Chad.” Jacobs was sitting on the coffee table, having the cleared the room of everyone but Shivers and him, his hands were between his knees and he leaned forward. “This was about four years ago now. A group was using the political unrest and the raids the rebels were performing against the government to gain control of the countries natural resources. Susan and I were originally sent to Chad to work with Army Intelligence and stamp down on the rebels. Calm things down in the region.” A laugh escaped for a brief moment as he shook his head. “The exact opposite of what we usually did. We weren’t nation builders there towards the end if you know what I mean.”
Shivers kept his mouth shut there was something wrong with the calm that Jacobs presented to him. It was artificial but in its own way it was real. It reminded him of Susan sometimes, when she didn’t think anyone was watching.
“Anyway, we moved into Chad and Susan started putting her feelers out. Created an information network and I started to create weapon stockpiles and safe houses it was pretty normal. It didn’t take us long to discover that there was a player outside of the Rebels and Government. Susan started to throw some wrenches in their works. Blew up a few of their trucks, sabotaged some mining equipment, and re-appropriated some of their funding.” He smiled and shook his head, “She was always really good at that shit. Making life difficult.”
He glanced down at the watch on his wrist and then changed the channel on the television to a news network. “We still have a few minutes.” He looked back to Shivers. “Anyway, she eventually forced a meeting with the head of this group. He was a Syrian tycoon who had been doing the same thing for years in dozens of African countries. We met him in Cape Town, just me and Susan, in this big fancy hotel. We were sitting on sofas facing one another, surrounded by his gun thugs. Susan was about as far away from him as I am from you right now.”
“She was looking him right in the eye. When he asked her who we were and what we wanted.” His smile was gone now and eyes were in a faraway place. “She said to him… She said… I am Hell on Earth and you have my full attention.”
Susan took aim and fired the first grenade as soon as she kicked open the door leading outside. The grenade bounced and rolled beneath a chrome covered import that a half dozen Dragons were hiding behind. They fired at her but she was already sprinting towards a side alley when the grenade exploded beneath the car.
The car was engulfed in flames and rose into the air a good five feet before it came crashing down again. The six Dragons were all on the ground the car had protected them from the worse of the blast but none of them would be walking for awhile. Susan skidded to a stop under cover as the other dozen Dragons repositioned to take aim at the front of the alley. She spotted the guard she had injured behind a dumpster, she wouldn’t say she was relieved at the sight of him but she wasn’t upset that he had managed to drag himself to cover.
She crouched at the mouth of the alley and fired a few shots at where a group of Dragons had found cover forcing their heads down before she fired the second grenade to land about ten yard behind them. As the group scrambled away from the grenade and to the other side of the cover she fired off her Grapnel and propelled herself to the roof of the pawn shop and her Sky-Bike. As she scuttled over the ledge concrete chipped around her as other Dragons fired and missed.
Susan popped up over the ledge and out of cover and fired the last grenade, this time sending it through the front windshield of a Dragon’s tricked out van. They scrambled away from the vehicle as it exploded giving her the chance to send the remains of the rifles clip into the engine block of the third vehicle.
After throwing a few smoke grenades into the street she cranked up the Sky-Bike and got her ass out of Chinatown before the cops showed up. As she exited the border of Chinatown and left the West End she was hit by some turbulence as an explosion of cold and white smoke erupted from five different buildings in the area.
“… I am Hell on Earth and you have my full attention.”
As Jacobs said it he removed his shirt and leaned back. Shivers saw on his chest, directly over his heart, the same words were tattooed. I am Hell on Earth.
“On that day I learned something that Susan always knew. She saw a problem and she solved it. She fixed it by saying what she means and meaning what she says. She looked that man in the eye and she told him the god’s honest truth and he knew it. There was no doubt in that room. Everyone knew it was true. He had her full attention.”
As he spoke the television network behind him switched over to a live feed and the watch on Jacob’s wrist beeped. The news camera was positioned inside a helicopter and pointed towards a few members of the Freedom League. Doctor Metropolis flew through the wall of an apartment building while, the wall just bent around him allowing him in, while Vega and the newest Star Knight waited on the outside when the helicopter began to shake and then you noticed the building was shaking.
It wasn’t quite an explosion but that was the only way to explain it as the base of the building started to be swallowed up by ice that quickly spread upwards. The air was so cold that you could see the frost in it. The pilot of the Helicopter panicked and banked away from the building but at the same time you could see Vega and Star Knight doing the same thing.
When everything settled the helicopter came back around and you could see the entire building swallowed up by ice. Dr. Metropolis was frozen there as well, stuck as he was trying to fly clear of the blast.
“I am Hell on Earth,” Jacobs said as both their eyes were glued to the television, “and the capes have my full attention.”