From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Stronger Than Death
Hunt me down, seek me out, bring your best
That's how I want it to be
Full of doubt, full of fear, all's unclear
It's over cuz now I can see
Like a tank, seething strength, crushing all
Pulling you under my treads
Lost some years, lost some days, that's O.K.
I piss on what's in my way
Your two-faced abusin'
I feel I'm breathing my first breath
You'll never rest
You can't kill what's stronger than death
Looked inside, found myself, it was me
Waitin' there at the well
If you're green, you ain't seen, life's a game
Sometimes it's just hard to tell
Gouging eyes, breakin' bones, eatin' flesh
Puts a smile on my face
Crawlin' through glass, eatin' nails, losin' blood
It's all part of findin' your place
Your two-faced abusin'
I feel I'm breathing my first breath
You'll never rest
You can't kill what's stronger than death
- Black Label Society, “Stronger Than Death”
August, 2007. Paragon City.
The Rikti invasion had ceased, it seemed, the deafening noise of air raid sirens and bombs detonating, the screams of the dying, were stilled. Smoke rose from the ruins of the bombed out buildings where the Rikti had performed their bombing runs.
The city was swarming with emergency workers, construction, demolition, and rescue workers. Not even the destruction wrought by Rakescar back in March compared to the brutal devastation caused by the invasion.
Something else was happening too… Fear.
Post-traumatic stress disorders. Shell shock. People groping around on the internet to find a name, put a label on what they thought they felt, because names have power. Put a name on it, and somehow, it’s more acceptable than not having any kind of handle on what you were feeling.
Maybe the super heroes didn’t have that problem, but the rest of the city, and the country were feeling it - a feeling of helplessness, impotence, hopelessness. Willing to throw their votes at anyone promising safety, even though they know that safety is an illusion, a subjective experience, so open to interpretation. Willing to sacrifice others and their own liberties to stop feeling so afraid. Politicians, the gun lobby, the military, the police, so many had made a career off of preying on people’s insecurities and fears.
Ironic, then, that the most warlike nation on the planet, with the most powerful military, the most guns per capita of any other country, a nation possessing the firepower to blow up the planet several times over… should have citizens that were so utterly and completely frightened…
In Steel Canyon, the scared little mice have come out to play.
Her heels clicked on the sidewalk - the city was quiet down here in the Copper District. No cars or buses to roar by. Not many folks still in the city, but some were coming back to let their mouths gape at the Dresden-esque scene of destruction and carnage. Since the Shield of Paragon had taken down two dropships in Galaxy City and King’s Row, and severely damaged several more in Talos Island, people were getting a bit more bold.
She looked young, a mane of dark red hair flowing behind her, a black leather corset and miniskirt contrasting with her pale flesh, with green eyes that were large and gleamed brightly, catching whatever light they could, greedy green pools that drew the stare of anyone who walked by. She wore a knowing smile, looking at the groups of people coming out into the night, the sheep bravely skittering away from their shepards.
So many, she thought, bemused. Jesus was right. The meek had inherited the earth.
Daniel Rathborn, age 27, white, college educated, white collar sort. He has eight locks on his door, a security system, a gun he’s fired once at a shooting range. His condo has a doorman. He voted GOP in ‘04, and ever since September 11th, 2001, he’s been diagnosed (by himself and a few bored psychiatrists) for a plethora of nervous disorders. Getting him out here tonight was no small feat, months of talking to him via email and phone conversations.
She imagined his mother wanted a girl.
He timidly walked out from the doorway of the condo, eyes flitting up and down her body. She smiled, gloss on her lips shining.
“Hello, Daniel…” she purred, extending her hand, which he tentatively took with his moist, nervous own. “Are you ready for the meeting?”
“Yeah… um… Yes. I am.” he said, focused on the ground.
Oh my, she thought, he’s even more of a lost little lamb than I had imagined. She thought of him crying underneath his bed as the bombs fell.
She gave him a soft, reassuring smile. “Well, let’s not keep them waiting…”
His eyes followed down from her big, liquid orbs of jade, down to those wet crimson lips, the pale white milk of her skin, over her throat and down to the barely restrained orbs of her breasts, the black leather shine of the corset, down further to the miniskirt, so fetchingly, distractingly shorts… the long creamy legs.
She smiled again at the slow, blatant pan of his frightened rabbit eyes. “Shall we?”
He nodded, afraid to speak, his tongue thick in his mouth, the sight of her like Novocain. Her slender fingers intertwined with his, and she led him into the gloom of the shattered city night.
Maggie smirked at Jack. “Check this out.”
Jack Wolfe, a mountain of muscle that may or may not have been shoved in a blender with a California surf bum, raised an eyebrow quizzically. “What?”
Maggie, a.k.a. Warp Factor, looked out over the vast gulf of darkness blanketing Peregrine Island. Across the black, she could see Miguel, a.k.a. Deathspider, clinging to the glass and steel skin of the high rise apartment building where their target resided.
They were scouting out a bona fide Hero of the City.
Before the invasion, some rumors about some working girls disappearing, usually after meeting a Cape for a client, had started going around. The Angels did a little asking around, and a list of names had come up. Six on the list died in the Invasion, and peeking around their homes, Maggie and company had found some interesting things.
One of the six had a sound proofed room with chains and manacles fixed to the wall. Another had three call girls, half dead from starvation, their ‘Master’ not home for a week. More still…
… Well, the details only got seedier.
But curiously, the PCPD wasn’t saying anything. After all, this was a very well known super team. The thought that one of the premier super teams in the city having dead, sexually assaulted, and severely traumatized hookers locked in little torture rooms, that left the chief of police in a very unenviable position.
But that’s okay.
The Awesome Awestriker currently had three ‘submissives’, a.k.a. sonically controlled girls in his high rise apartment. Jack’s amplified hearing could pick up everything, deepening his scowl. Awestriker was a Psionicist, and since the big guns of the team were gone, well, now it seemed that he was picking up their slack in the ‘Nasty Habits’ department.
But that’s okay.
Maggie would make sure Awestriker was taught a lesson.
But for right now…
She grinned. “Okay, so, right, Miguel and Belle were helping out in the Crash Site, right? Exotica was with them…”
“The villainess? She’s got a nice butt. She like millionaires?” Jack nodded absently.
Maggie rolled her eyes, laughing. “Wouldn’t know. But anyway, right, she told me that she heard, on several occasions, Miguel humming some Madonna songs under his breath.”
“Madonna? I like her early stuff.”
“Well, apparently, so does Spider-boy over there. Thing is, he got really defensive when they called him on it.”
Jack grinned. “Okay, where is this going?”
Maggie cackled a bit. “Okay, check this out.” She keyed her communicator. “Maggie to Miguel…”
A pause. “Miguel here. What’s up?”
Maggie waited a beat, trying to contain herself.
In a high, lilting voice, she sang “Holiday…”
Almost immediately, the comm crackled, and in a tinny, toneless voice…
Then a pause.
The communicator crackled again. “You know what? Fuck you guys.”
Maggie threw her head back, laughing, almost breathless. Jack doubled over laughing. In the area, Shadowstormm and Nariko poked their heads up.
“What the hell was that?” the young woman asked. “Did Cartman start singing on our channel or something?”
This made Jack fall to his knees, laughing. “Oh… whoa, man, that’s EXACTLY what he sounded like!”
“BWAH HAH HAH!” Maggie laughed, plopping on her butt, tears rolling down her face. “I told you! I told you!”
“Hahahah!” Jack shook his head, wiping his eyes.
Nariko padded over. “Who was that on the comm?”
The comm, almost on cue. “I hate you guys.”
Nariko snorted, laughing. “What the hell were you guys saying to him?”
Warp held her midsection, cackling madly. “Madonna songs!”
Nariko grinned. “He likes Madonna songs? I never pegged him as gay…”
Jack chuckled, shaking his head. “Pegged. Hah!”
This sent Warp into another gale of laughter.
Shadowstormm, somewhat irritably, activated his communicator.
“Maggie… I have the shot…”
Maggie wiped her eyes, still giggling. “Aw god, that’s so gay. Alright. Yeah…” She cleared her throat. “Take the shot. Let’s give our boy a spanking.”
The big .50 caliber sniper rifle spoke, the heavy round blasting through the air, shattering the reinforced glass window, and onward into the room, hissing through the air between betwixt two supplicant women and the ‘Hero’. It ripped through flesh, too fast for the four people in the room to register, until one of the girls held a dismembered hunk of flesh, a gory prize in her hand.
The screaming started.
On cue, still grumbling, Deathspider leapt into the window, a nightmarish, eight limbed vision of Hell, eyes glowing bright, a mouth full of dripping fangs.
“He’sss down…” he hissed.
Sure enough, the hero Awestriker was leaning against the wall, naked, gasping, and clutching at the crimson hole where his manhood once was. His face was pale, his hands drenched in blood. “OH GOD! OH MY FUCKING GOD!” Hysteria was setting in.
The girls shrieked in abject terror, and the Hero stumbled for the nightstand. The Spider moved in a dark blur, the scythed spider legs plunging down into Awestriker’s target, destroying the nightstand.
“Not sssso fasssst…”
Behind him, Jack Wolfe, Warp Factor, Nariko, and Shadowstromm teleported in. The women were scrambling away from Awestriker and the Guardian Angels, and away from the bloody lump of flesh Awestriker was previously so keen on the girls touching.
Jack flipped the bed out of his way, treading over stacks of colorfully designed DVD boxes, crushing them under his feet. Nariko went to the women, binding them with zip strips, thin plastic cuffs.
Maggie floated over the Awestriker, smiling grimly at the ‘Hero’ and his abbreviated, bloody groin. “Well, I think it’s safe to say you didn’t expect that to happen, huh?”
The Hero was screaming, attempting to stop the bleeding. “OH GOD! OH MY FUCKING GOD! WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?”
Maggie continued, calmly. “We investigated some of your teammates, Awe… Found some interesting things at their home and at your pretty little orbiting space stations… Nice place. Cozy, if you like being held captive and all… The police, they don’t want to touch it, what with the heroic sacrifices the Golden Guard made in the invasion…”
She traced a finger along the dresser, keeping her voice low and steady. “Hard to try a push an investigation on such nice and heroic folks such as yourself, even though, what, three of your guys died when a Rikti bomb blew up the warehouse where… what.. Nariko, what sort of stuff did we find there?”
Nariko roughly cinched a zip strip on the last girl’s wrists. “Snuff film in the camera.”
“Snuff film…” Warp clucked her tongue. “Very heroic, indeed…”
Awestriker fell onto his side, curled into a ball. “Oh God, please! I NEED A DOCTOR! PLEASE!”
Warp chuckled lightly. “So we looked into you guys, found out you’ve been psychically brainwashing and torturing a bunch of working girls. What, fighting crime got real stressful?”
Behind Warp, one of the women cried out. Her face was a mask of blood, chunks of what was once Awestriker’s genitals stuck to her face. “PLEASE! HELP OUR MASTER!”
Warp made a face. “You need therapy.”
She turned back to Awestriker. “And you… Well, we’re going to give you what you’ve needed all along. Jack?”
The towering, bearded man looked down at Awestriker, who didn’t seem too awe inspiring anymore, hate brimming in his eyes. “Yeah?”
“Give him what he needs.”
Jack grunted. “My pleasure.” He stepped in front of Awestriker, and then the real screaming started.
It wasn’t the meeting Daniel envisioned, she could see it in his eyes, but as she moved against him in the dance floor, his protests were much like his courage - feeble and weak. Not many had ever much of a chance when she was in her element, stripped away the pretense of coyness and propriety.
She wasn’t the only one.
Against the wall, two dark haired men were on either side of a book-ish young woman, their mouths on her neck, kissing and suckling, her small, dove-like hands fluttering to roost inside of their leather pants, the look on her face not unlike religious rapture.
A woman nearby in a short skirt on the dance floor, young, the skirt hiked up, pressing back against a man, her moans audible over the thumping techno. Or trance. She never really cared enough to know the difference.
“What… what is this place?” Daniel’s voice was hoarse, breathless - her breasts against him, and her hand exploring was definitely the cause.
“Oh, Daniel…” she breathed in his ear, her tone as honeyed as her lips.
“A place where we free people like you from fear, from the frailty of the human condition, Daniel…” her kisses moved down his neck.
He shuddered, panting.
“Your country is filled with so many people paralyzed, afraid to question the ‘truth’ they’re given by the plutocrats who run the world, too afraid to be… what kind of life is that, Daniel? To hide behind a locked door while your life passes you by? Daniel, I know the fear that rules your life. Terrorists, ailments that the internet and the drug company commercials tell you that you have, fear of letting go of your comfortable little den, your prison. That’s what you are, Daniel… a prisoner…”
I’m… I’m not…” he stammered, as warm, soft fingers grasped him.
“Yes, you are, Daniel…. But not after tonight. Not after I set you free… free from helplessness, free from victimization, free from the chaos of random fate…” She moaned, her breath hot on his ear, her touch beginning a rhythm to the inevitable. Her tongue traced along his ear. “Do you want to be set free, Daniel?”
“Oh God…” he gasped, closing his eyes, but the image of this crimson haired temptress with her hand in his pants, the woman between two ravenous men on the couch (who, in all fairness, seemed to be twice as dexterous as Keira here, twice as ambitious), the woman now fully bent at the hip on the dance floor - resistance, indeed, was futile. Or, even, possible.
“Do you want me to set you free?” that hot, moist breath on his ear promised lust and damnation, freedom from fear and consequence.
He did. He was a man, raised by a single mother, to fear everyone and everything. Weakness was excused, and later, exploited and formed the framework of a psychological cage. Therapists who preyed on weakness, prolonged it, made it acceptable, that there was nothing inherently wrong with being insignificant, that pills and ‘conditions’ were in fact normal, that humanity - for all it’s achievements, seems to accept mediocrity and that it was okay to embrace unreasoning fear, that it was okay to constantly be meek and afraid.
He thought of his grandfather in Vietnam, the man seemed to be made of stone, he wasn’t afraid! If he was still around, would he have been proud of what had become of his grandson? A mewling, nervous pussy?
He let out a shuddering gasp as she let him free on the dance floor. He had never had anyone do this to him before. Like a dog on a leash, a very sensitive leash, she slowly led him to the wall. Moaning as she held him firmly against the wall, he nodded, eyes closed.
He hoarsely whispered. “Yes… set me free…”
Her lips began exploring his neck, and her hand worked between them, destroying his ability to think beyond the moment, his will obliterated in her grasp.
His eyes flew open as white hot pain drove into his neck, a pained cry muted by the hypnotic thumping of the music, and Daniel Rathborn was set free.
Awestriker’s bloody, naked body slapped against the concrete like a side of beef.
“Unnnnnnnngh guuuuuuudddd….” he keened through a shattered and toothless jaw.
The sniper rifle had unmanned him with a precisely placed .50 caliber round, leaving a gory ruin where his manhood once was. Jack Wolfe had continued the assault. Most of Awestriker’s ribs were snapped, the jagged edges slicing internal organs. His left arm was dislocated, his wrists broken, fingers methodically snapped. Both his knees were broken, swollen up grotesquely. His face was pulped, unrecognizable.
His tormentors stepped out of the shadows at the base of his Peregrine Island high rise, surrounding him in the courtyard in front of the building.
The big man, Jack, he remembered that, with the huge ham-like fists, the one who brutally beat him, loomed over him.
“Sure beats the elevator, huh?” he rumbled.
“How’s it feel to have no control over the situation, Awe? How’s it feel to be utterly at someone else’s mercy?” the woman with the glowing eyes spoke. She stood by Jack, looking down on him contemptuously. “You and your buddies had no compunctions about enslaving a bunch of women. You were the one who was the best at it, weren’t you? Using your powers to make them your sextoys. What, fulfilling some juvenile fantasy?”
Awestriker, tears running down the swollen and bloody remains of his face, choked out a sob.
“You think you’re above it all, don’t you? You and your friends. You think that if you put on a costume and knock a meteor out of the sky, you get free reign to do whatever you want, a free pass, that nobody can touch you…”
She leaned over Awestriker.
“We can touch you.”
She spat on his face.
“And I think we’ve pretty conclusively proven that, haven’t we? You see… the police, the establishment, they’d never come after you, not now, not after the invasion. So people like you and your maladjusted little friends think you can do what you like, because nobody’s going to be able to do anything about it, will they?”
The air shifted. Maggie straightened and furrowed her brow. Shimmering green fields formed around her team. Jack looked behind her and grimaced. “Maggie…”
She turned, and hovering in the air were the Golden Guard, what was left of them. Carnivore X, with his long, curving claws. Gloomgale, dark wisps of shadowy tendrils swirling around her. The glowing fists of Blitzbeam.
And the tall, caped form of John Abrahms, the leader of the Golden Guard.
He looked at Warp Factor and her team, a sneer forming on his lips. “Heard you were looking for us.”
Gloomgale, the cloaked, lithe woman, looked over to the pulverized form of her teammate, and gasped. “Oh God, Dave!”
Abrahms growled. “What have you done to him?
Maggie smiled grimly as Deathspider, Nariko, and Jack readied themselves. “Hey John. Yeah, your team’s been naughty. In the interest of fairness, a mutual respect sort of thing, I’ll give you a chance to make things right. Whaddya say?”
Carnivore X chuckled. “Dumb slag doesn’t know who she’s dealing with!” Blitzbeam narrowed his eyes at Maggie and her team.
“John, say the word.”
Abrahms looked incredulously at Warp Factor. “Huh. All right… I’ll play along.”
Maggie smiled. “John, we know what you and your degenerate friends have been doing. We got pictures, video, everything to make sure you guys will be in the Zig for a long, long time. But we both know that nobody’s gonna push this. So, with that in mind, here’s two things I’m gonna ask of you. First thing is… I want you and your whole team to publicly confess to what you’ve done to these women, and turn yourselves in to Statesman on live, national television, plead guilty to kidnapping, rape, and a host of other criminal charges, and apologize of what you and your cronies have done. Will you do it?”
Abrahms grunted. “What’s the other thing?”
Maggie grinned. “Just answer a question. Your eyes… are they bulletproof?”
Abrahm’s face exploded in a shower of gore.
His team stood still, in shock, as their invulnerable leader shrieked in horror and agony, falling to the ground, his left eye destroyed, blood pouring down his face. “AAAAAAAGH! UNNNNNNGAAAAAH!”
Above them, crouched on a ledge, Shadowstormm ejected a spent casing.
“Well then. I guess I got the answers I wanted, John. Angels… I think John and the Golden Guard seem to want to scuffle.”
Jack cracked his knuckles, the sound not unlike gunshots.
Deathspider crouched low, his scythe-like spider legs sprouting from his back moving, poised to strike.
Nariko began to glow fiercely with chi energy.
Maggie cracked her neck and grinned.
“Fuck them up.”