Hello one, hello all!
Wow this story has grown over the years. I thank you all for your support.
One or two caveats I need to check up on –
I hope you don't mind the first segment of this chapter, this was kind of meant to go into the last one but I could not really figure it out until recently. I still think it fits.
I am taking a few additional liberties with the Warhammer 40K law.
I realise there are still some tensions (political or otherwise) in the USA. This chapter does contain some content on that, but to be fair I was writing this chapter before all that happened. It's not meant to offend and so on and so forth.
That being said, this chapter will be a little dark. Ye be warned.
Now a shout out to a reader only identified as 'Guest' who posed an idea on 12 August 2017. My only reply is '…how did you know?'
Separately, I have received questions from (more than) a few people asking something along the lines of 'how in the hell did the Tech-Priest manage to ramshackle every single Tom, Dick and Harry into a servitor or Skitarii without anyone noticing?' Well you are about to find out in 3…2…1….
"YOU ASSHOLE!" The Flash moved with his trademark speed and decked Bruce Wayne right in the face. The billionaire crumbled to his knees, a large purple mark was beginning to develop and swell.
"BARRY! STOP!" Superman rushed forward to block the second punch. "What is wrong with you?!"
"What is wrong with me?" Flash vibrated his way out of Superman's trademark grip. "What is wrong with you?! This man betrayed us!"
"Barry please, you are exaggerating." Wonder Woman tried to ease tensions.
"Diana, that fanatic knows my name! My wife's name! Because of him!" Flash pointed at the man who was busy rubbing his jaw. "He knows where she lives! Where she works! He even knows her social security number! He knows about all my friends!"
"And mine too, Flash." Superman countered.
"Which makes you defending him all the more unbelievable!" Flash groaned. "You of all people took great pains to carve out a little life for yourself. Thanks to him," Flash shot a glare, "that life is now in jeopardy. Imagine it, every nut-job; from Shultz to Luthor having your address and a 'How to' guide to killing you."
"You saw a copy of the plans, they were to disable! Not kill." Superman pleaded. "Barry, please. He's one of us."
"He is an asshole who put everything at risk." Flash spat.
"Hey!" Superman stepped forward. "There is no need to use that kind of language here."
"I should go." Bruce Wayne slowly got to his feet and slowly began to shamble back to the zeta tubes.
"Oh please Dark Knight you're here now, might as well let Aquaman in on this." Flash half-turned to catch the young initiate, who looked a little confused and more than a little nervous. "Hey Kaldur, how long have you been in the 'hero' business, around two years?"
"A-about that." The new Aquaman felt very nervous being watched by so many well-respected and powerful individuals.
"Well I got bad news for you." Flash continued. "All your details; your past, your name, your address, your abilities, your loved ones, your weaknesses…all of them have been meticulously catalogued along with detailed plans on how to bring you down. All of this is thanks to this self-righteous jackass." Flash emphasised the curse by pointing at the suited Wayne.
"I did what I had to!" The Wayne spun around. "You are a walking arsenal capable of taking down nations. There needed to be a fall-back plan in the event one or all of you went rogue."
"And congratulations on that! Well done!" The Flash clapped sarcastically. "And what about the Garrick's? How do they fit into this? Tell us oh mighty Batman; how does an old man and woman warrant such a detailed and planned dossier on how to be brought down? Or Kid Flash? He's just a kid."
"A kid who can travel from one side of the country to the other in about four hours." Bruce quipped.
"What about the others?" Flash asked, his voice as sharp as a razor. "We know you have a file on Zatanna, and pretty much every single hero we have ever considered and more. But who else? With your compulsion, I bet you even have a file on Robin."
Bruce Wayne could barely make eye contact…and that communicated everything they needed to know.
"Oh God…" Flash realised. "You do, don't you? You had a file on how to bring down your own student! You little snake!"
"You have a file on Robin?" Green Arrow's mouth was agape. "Oh sweet Jesus…I've been looking after him for months now…and you pull this. What am I going to tell him?"
"Look," Superman stepped between them, "I know things are a little heated but-"
"You don't get to quit you sonofabitch!" Flash glared at the human behind the bat. "You are going to FIX this mess! You are going to fix it, and after that you can go fu-!"
"Enough." Doctor Fate's voice boomed, rendering any argument silent. The sorcerer glowed like the sun, if only to make a point. The creature forged of magic approached Bruce Wayne, floating on the air like a balloon. Although, Bruce could see the impassive indifference within the green eyes that belonged to Giovanni Zatara, he could sense he was being scanned, dissected and checked with a kind of thoroughness that only the world's greatest detective could admire.
Fate's light shined on the billionaire and it felt….comforting. For the briefest moment all the shadows, the faces of those he failed, his deepest fear that he was going to go to Hell…all that went away.
But it was only temporary, Fate's light dimmed and Bruce Wayne was brought back to reality.
Come play with us in hell Bruce, we're all waiting for you.
Bruce began to ask his question; the real reason he wanted to join the party. "Am I…?"
"No. It is not what you think." Whatever Fate was wary of, he did not find it. The sorcerer's posture loosened just a little bit; a sign that he was relaxed…or at the very least, not as guarded. "Your mind condemns you. I told you Batman, the consequences of not moving past what you did on Roanoke. Now look at what is happening; infighting amongst steadfast friends, instability on a national and international scale, interplanetary tensions…and I sense something….worse."
Several of the heroes' ears perked up. "Worse?" Diana asked. "What do you mean worse?"
"Guys." Captain Marvel interrupted, he could not help but look at a nearby screen. "You need to listen to this…" The young hero pushed a series of buttons and the audio resounded through the speakers.
"Michelle Carniel of WXYZ 7 Action News with a major news story. After months of speculation behind these walls at the old Ford River Rouge Plant, it appears that the rumours of a new hero in the heart of Detroit have been confirmed…."
It was mid-June and summer was hitting Detroit hard. But that was the least of Detroit's troubles. Its solvency was up for review and everyone was relatively certain its rating was going to be downgraded…again. Many locals reflected the coveted 'AAA' rating that it enjoyed at its peak as a bygone memory. With the downgrade, the sharks will move in for the kill.
The city appeared to be on the verge of freefall.
And once Detroit falls, it will take the rest of Michigan with it. With falling revenue due to people exiting the State en masse.
But despite its tribulations, new life breathed into the concrete jungle.
The local and state government were having trouble honouring their obligations to their employees, including the police. But despite the obvious drop in community protection and a recent string of criminal escapees, crime (impossible as it might be) seemed to be going down.
The revelation of the Tech-Priest and his Manufactorum Filus Detroitus sent shockwaves throughout the city, the state and the nation. Even other countries were paying attention. Thousands flocked to Detroit to get a glimpse of the Tech-Priest and his mechanised army.
Thousands of ideological youths, thousands of parents…the city began to steamroll into a tourist destination.
And as ironic as that might seem that meant opportunity; food, services, accommodation, jobs, investors. It meant a future.
Michigan's Menials took to this uptake with relish. They offered up their services, learning the basic skills the Tech-Priest passed onto them to help constructing a hotel just north of Dearborn. Thanks to some special education the Tech-Priest passed onto them, some of the Menials learned how to become mechanics, computer technicians, smelters and much more (or as the Tech-Priest called them; 'community enginseers'). After all, a lot of people drove to Detroit, some of them naturally need to get their vehicles looked at.
But with every silver lining, there is a cloud. Thousands of people flocked to Detroit, but that also meant thousands of cameras. It also meant news vans and worse still news choppers.
The Tech-Priest could not allow the secrets of the Adeptus Mechanicus to be subverted by journalists; the Omnissiah would never forgive him.
But as the city began to change, so too did the Manufactorum. For one thing the walls got higher…much higher. At over 20 meters in height, the walls towered over the surrounding buildings, with reinforced steel and barbed wire at the top.
This of course did nothing for the news helicopters or drones that hovered above. But it was the strangest thing…although it could not be understood, in the heart of the Manufactorum a large obelisk was built. It looked cobbled together from metal gears and wiring. Dozens of strange eyes were latched onto the construct growling larger and taller until it double the height of the surrounding walls.
Many news reporters looked on, guessing what it could be. No one from the Manufactorum would comment what precisely it was or its purpose. Some said it was a missiles, others a very powerful communications array.
But one bright sunny day, the machine flickered to life with dozens of red lights rotating and shifting like a large puzzle…and every camera in a 200 block radius, no matter how rudimentary or complex, from spy equipment, to news cameras, to the modern smartphones, to the rudimentary (and obsolete) Kodiak…stopped working. Frequent jams, incredibly fuzzy pictures, dead signals; truly it was one of the most unusual anomalies ever encountered. No one could figure out how it happened, nor could they figure out why all other electronics like pacemakers or the phones themselves seemed okay.
Some of the press lodged a protest arguing it was a violation of the First Amendment.
The Tech-Priest never even bothered to respond. For he was far too busy…tending to his newfound flock.
Cardsharp always expected, nay hoped for, willing acolytes of the one truth faith. He just never expected there to be so many, so quickly. But as it was written in Aphorisms 12.3 – 'Flesh may be weak and metal may rust, but eternal souls are forever the jurisdiction of the Omnissiah.'
Unfortunately what little free time the Tech-Priest completely disintegrated like dust on the wind. Now the cyborgs time was split not only between building, teaching, law enforcement, sheparding, but possibly the most sacred duty of all…
Sergeant Fawks and Sergeant Wilfred were not partners very long, but it seemed to be a perfect match. Wilfred liked to drive everywhere and Fawks liked to be driven everywhere. Fawks was the jaded cop who had walked the beat too long, and Wilfred was the even more jaded cop who walked the beat even longer.
They were not best friends, nor were they worst enemies. They were work colleagues, but they intrinsically trusted each other more so than anyone else in their respective lives. They worked in law enforcement long enough to skip the games and the camaraderie stuff that the rookies and Hollywood films played up. It was intrinsically simple; you watch my back, I watch yours, we go home to our respective families together.
"Central, this is car 13. We have Thomas Orsell in custody and heading back to the station." Fawks sounded weary and flustered as he radioed his status. "We are currently travelling southbound on Van Dyke Avenue in Sterling Heights."
"Roger that." Dispatch replied.
"And one more thing Central, would you be able to check in on Buffton and Symonds?" Fawks asked. "We heard they were taking them to Henry Ford Hospital, but we did not hear anything further."
"Will do car 13." Dispatch reported. "I'll check on it now."
"Thanks, Central." Fawks leant back in his seat allowing the engine of the police car to soothe his muscles. "This is turning into one hell of a night."
"Tell me about it. Another night in paradise." Wilfred shifted gears as they travelled down the station.
"Hey man," the handcuff man behind them shifted uncomfortably, "these cuffs are too tight!"
"I'm not in the mood for your bullshit, Thomas." Fawks chuffed. "Suck it up."
"Seriously man, they hurt!" the man called Thomas struggled. "This is a violation of my rights."
"And I am absolutely broken up over your rights." Wilfred rolled his eyes. "You have the right to remain silent Thomas, I strongly suggest you use it."
"They hurt man!" Thomas banged the backseat cage with his feet.
Wilfred ignored the man's pleadings. "You got a problem; file a complaint."
"I will man!" Thomas fumed. "I'll sue your asses."
"We show up to a run-of-the-mill domestic violence case and you pull a gun on us." Fawks grit his teeth. "You shot two cops Thomas, you are lucky that you are still breathing. Why the hell do you have a gun anyway?"
"Got to protect myself, man." Thomas kept struggling.
"From who, your girlfriend?" Fawks mused. "Is a girl that is easily half your bodyweight that much of a threat?"
Thomas glared. "From those gangs in Rochester and from crooked ass cops like you!"
"What are you saying? That we somehow magically planted a gun in your hand so you could shoot at us?" Fawks groaned. "God, criminals get dumber with each passing year."
"Look the day we beat our girlfriend with such reckless abandon that the police get called, you can judge us all you want." Wilfred released a cheeky smile. "Or was it your boyfriend in this case?"
"You know, I could have sworn it was his boyfriend." Fawks got in on the joke. "What's a matter Thomas, did you get tired of being on the bottom?"
"Fuck you, pigs!" Thomas' face turned beetroot red. "I ain't done nothing wrong."
"Oh yeah, with your rap sheet, I bet you're momma's favourite." Wilfred mused.
Fawks laughed. "Oh the boys in Western Wayne are gonna love you Thomas." Suddenly, the radio burst alive with static. "Car 13, come back."
"Car 13, here." Fawks returned back to his professional tone.
"Hey guys, you asked me to check in on Buffton and Symonds."
"Lay it on us." Fawks braced himself.
"Symonds is going to be fine." Dispatch relayed. "His shoulder is busted but the bullet was nowhere near any arteries or organs. Doctors said he will end up with an unpleasant scar, nothing more."
"Heh, knowing Symonds, he'll definitely play it up to the ladies." Wilfred chuckled.
"Hey man, chicks dig scars." Fawks smiled. "What about Buffton, how's that smartass doing?"
"I'm sorry but…" Dispatch softened her tone and both veterans felt their blood run cold; that was not a good sign. "Buffton…he didn't make it. Medics declared him DOA."
The sound of struggling in the back was all that disrupted the uncomfortable silence.
"Thanks, Central." Fawks body felt nearly 20 kilograms heavier. "I appreciate you telling us."
"I'm sorry it was not better news, Car 13." Dispatch restored to using her 'business tone'. "You will need to be debriefed when you return to base."
"We understand Central." Fawks nodded putting the radio away.
"Sonofabitch." Wilfred muttered. "Didn't he have a family?"
"Yeah, wife and two boys." Fawks looked in the rear-view mirror. "Congrats, Thomas; you're a cop-killer."
"Screw you cops!" Thomas struggled. "That's what you get when you mess with me!"
"Thomas, you are without a friend in the world right now." Wilfred seethed. "If you know what is good for you, you will be very quiet."
"I didn't do anything wrong!" Thomas preached. "You know what this is, another text book example of police brutality."
"Bullshit, we got witnesses." Fawks scoffed.
"That bitch would not dare turn against me. She knows without me she would just be one more loser junkie on the street." Thomas puffed out his chest. "I read the papers man-"
"Really?" Wilfred smirked. "I'm surprised you can read."
"Fuck you." Thomas glared. "I read the papers man, cops are not the flavour of the town right now. I even heard that some of the dumbest criminals in town escaped your custody. HA! You know I got more than a fair chance at getting off! Did you even bother knocking when you arrived at my place?"
"A woman screaming bloody murder constitutes probable cause." Wilfred did not take his eyes off the road, but his partner noticed that his knuckles were turning bone white.
"And you and I both know that she will never testify to that." Thomas concluded.
The two sergeants glanced at each other; they were not lawyers but they have been in law enforcement long enough to know which way the wind blows. Thomas was a low-life scumbag with a rap sheet a mile long. But if he just tightened certain aspects of his story and got a lawyer with the skill to spin it; he could walk. Worse still, if Thomas started playing the old 'oh woah was me, I'm just a poor boy from a poor family, nobody loves me' schtick, he could actually try and bring a successful suit…And the police pension is on dubious ground as it is….especially with recent cuts…
"You know what? Fuck this." Fawks reached for the radio.
"What are you doing?" Wilfred raised a brow.
"Shh." Fawks waved his partner's concerns away. "Central this is car 13, please come back. Urgent."
"Car 13, this is Central." Dispatch responded. "Go ahead."
Fawks increased his voice to make it sound like he was in a panic. "Central you are not going to believe this shit, but we just lost our suspect."
Wilfred briefly took his eyes off the road, staring at his partner in shock. Even Thomas stopped struggling to listen in. Dispatch paused for a good ten seconds before responding her tone was cautious; aware that everything they were saying was being recorded. "Please come back car 13. I did not hear that."
"You heard me, we lost Thomas Orsell!" Fawks glanced at the confused suspect in the back seat. "Yeah, that little bastard somehow loosened himself out of his cuffs and then bashed the window open."
"What do you mean?" Thomas tried to laugh it off as a joke. "I'm right here handcuffed in your car."
"What was that, Car 13?" Dispatch prodded.
"Oh nothing Central." Fawks shot a glare at the anxious man in the backseat. "Just some hot air."
"Car 13," the person on the other end of line seemed to get the point, "this is very serious. I would strongly suggest you look carefully and think this through. Are you sure he is not there?"
"Oh," Fawks looked directly into Thomas' eyes, "I'm dead sure, Central."
"I see…" Dispatch sighed in defeat. "I'll put out an APB on Thomas Orsell."
"You do that Central." Fawks smirked. "I'll notify our friends."
"Roger that, Car 13." Dispatch sounded a little upset. "Central out."
"Alright Wilf." Fawks turned to his partner. "Take us to the rendezvous point."
"Quote me the Cult Mechanicus Trinity." Tech-Priest ordered as he reviewed the undercarriage of an old Ford Falcon.
"Umm…." John muttered. "Okay I know this one."
"Take your time, acolyte." Tech-Priest continued his work with his audio-receptors directed towards the young Irons.
"Ummm…okay….The first is umm the Machine God-"
"Also known as?" The Tech-Priest tested.
"The Deus Mechanicus." John puffed out his chest.
Cardsharp supressed a smirk. "True, but for the purposes of this exercise; incorrect."
"Ummm….come on…think…."The younger Irons rocked back forth, shifting his weigh from the balls of his feet to his heels. "I got it! The Core Data. The Pure Knowledge!"
"Bravo." Cardsharp gave a small nod, though John barely noticed. "Continue."
John took the compliment with a big smile and renewed confidence. "The…uh…the Machine God is the 'imminent, omniscient and omnipotent deity that governs all machinery and knowledge in the universe'."
Cardsharp grabbed a spanner with a spare mechadendrite. "A direct quote; excellent. And it is important to worship because…?"
"Because," John briefly mumbled something, recalling some words from his readings, "knowledge is the manifestation of divinity, and anything embodying or containing knowledge is holy because of it."
Cardsharp continued to work on the carbonator. "Good, continue."
"The second component is the Omnissiah; also known as the Avatar or the Perfect Balance and the originator of all human technological and scientific knowledge that we have accumulated so far."
"And why would the Machine God require a physical envoy?" The Tech-Priest held an Aquila rosary which emitted incense over the engine of the Falcon. "Why not just appear to us?"
John furrowed his brow. "Because humanity itself cannot understand the Machine God's full majesty, we are not ready to comprehend so we were delivered the Omnissiah to guide us."
"The textbook response." Cardsharp confirmed. "But if the Omnissiah is what we are, then the Machine God represents…what?"
"But…" John blinked, "that's not in the readings you gave me."
"I know." Cardsharp did a half-turn, a red optic mechadendrite slithered from underneath his robe to glance at the young boy. "Quoting readings is no small feat, but do you understand it? That is the real question."
John tilted his head quizzically. "So what is the answer?"
"You tell me, acolyte." Cardsharp sighed, realising he'll have to replace all the internal wiring for the headlights. "This is your test, not mine."
"Right, sorry." The Irons blushed.
"So, I ask again," Cardsharp withdrew his spare optic, "if the Omnissiah is what we are, then the Machine God represents…what?"
John went silent, yet Cardsharp could hear nervous pacing and quiet mumbling. The Tech-Priest did not want to interrupt the newest follower of the Cult Mechanicus, so he quietly tinkered with the abandoned vehicle. I know you are in here blessed Machine Spirit, Cardsharp prayed, do not be afraid, for your servant is here to help.
It was 7 minutes and 46 seconds before the young acolyte finally responded. "What we strive to become."
Cardsharp nodded in agreement. "Hence?"
"The…" John sounded uncertain, "…Quest of Knowledge?"
The Tech-Priest realised it may sound like teasing, but continued to prod. "Is that a question or your answer?"
"My answer." John reaffirmed.
The Tech-Priest replaced one of the spark plugs. "Good. Continue."
"The third one is…" the acolyte bit his lip "…the Motive Force, which is also known as the Source or the Impulse, which gives life and motion its continued existence. It is the central drive which causes humanity to move forward, to innovate or discover."
"Ah-ah." Cardsharp wagged a mechanical digit. "You are missing one."
John recited last night's readings. "…to move forward, to innovate….to discover or re-discover."
"Bravo, acolyte." Cardsharp turned to see his student absolutely glowing in pride. "Well done. I see you have taken to scripture well."
"I've always enjoyed reading. I always found school to be a little boring." John gestured to the books on a nearby workbench. "I was actually hoping I could borrow Levistians and the Codex Fulminatus."
"Bold choices." Tech-Priest removed a spare mechadendrite from his shoulder. "But those are a bit too advanced at your level with a lot of required reading and an intrinisic knowledge of Lingua Technis. Read the Macharian Commentaries first, they build upon the Aphorisms."
"When will I be able to speak it?" John pouted. "Lingua Technis, I mean."
"When your surgery has healed, we can take that step." Tech-Priest smirked. ++ Besides, if you have been reading the Aphorisms commentary, you should have some idea of what I am saying. ++
The younger Irons blinked, then blinked again. Cardsharp did not have to use the various spectrums to see at his command to see the metaphorical cogs turn in his apprentice's mind. Is this how Master Kyriz felt?
"…been…reading?" John struggled, doing the rough translations in his head.
"Close. Very close." Cardsharp nodded. "But not yet. You are doing very well acolyte. You'll get there." John did not seem to take the compliment, he seemed embarrassed and perhaps slightly put off. Hmm, the Tech-Priest thought, what to say?
"Tell me acolyte," Cardsharp returned to survey the Ford Falcon, "how long have you been studying?"
"You mean, altogether?" John mumbled. "A month, I guess?"
"It has been approximately 32 days, 7 hours, 12 minutes and 38 seconds, since you became my acolyte." Cardsharp confirmed. "I have been trained in the ways of the Cult Mechanicus since the moment I was born, accumulating to 16 years' worth of knowledge. I can assure you with the Machine God as my witness that you are doing tremendously well. You are doing better than I did."
"Really?" John looked hopeful.
"Really." Cardsharp affirmed. While true, Cardsharp thought it appropriate to leave out that his studies had to be performed outside of work hours which were 16 hour shifts in the Mondus Gamma Forge Temple (something which had done since age 5). It was something that his acolyte did not need to know. He was too inexperienced, too timid, and too naive to be burdened with such knowledge. But it was up to Cardsharp to ensure Irons was ready some day; the Omnissiah demanded it.
"Sorry Master." John smiled weakly. "I guess I am just impatient."
Master… It was still a surreal word to use. Cardsharp was at least 20 years too young to be a master. Yet here he was. Imparting what little knowledge he possessed and training he knew to a new generation. Mentoring…teaching, one of the most important core tenets of the Cult Mechanicus. If only Master Kyriz could see me now.
"You need not apologise acolyte." Cardsharp smiled, a real human smile. "You crave knowledge. That is good. But you should be aware of Aphorisms 897."
John's eyes wandered as he searched for that meaning. "Patience is an ally for those who travel on the Quest of Knowledge." Tech-Priest remained silent and imposing. John squirmed under the cyborg's mechanical optics. "Not correct?"
"You tell me, acolyte." The Tech-Priest hinted. John Henry Irons dwelled on it further and smacked his head. "Patience and determination are allies to those who travel on the Quest of Knowledge."
"Bravo." Tech-Priest smiled. But the moment was short-lived when the heard a call over the Admech frequencies. ++ Excuse me, sir? ++
++What is it, 92? ++
++Sir, we have someone on the outside who is requesting and audience.++
"Hold on for a second, acolyte." Tech-Priest paused. ++I do not have time to speak to every single person who knocks on the doors of the Manufactorum. Send this person on their way. ++
++ Normally I would sir, but he seems very insistent. He says that he has a problem only you can solve.++Cardsharp emitted a groan, but it sounded more like a turbine winding down. Omnissiah, must I do everything around here? Still… this could be a lesson.
++I'll be right there.++ The Tech-Priest straightened turning to face "Did you get that acolyte?"
"Not all of it…" John mumbled, "…something about…audience?"
"Close, keep working on it." The red-robed adept gestured the young Irons to follow. "Come with me, we have a guest."
"O…O-Okay guys." Thomas got real nervous when they started passing the Central Business District and started moving into Delary, one of the many suburbs that were abandoned during the GFC. "Okay guys, you've had your fun." He might as well have been invisible and mute, because no one made any indication he was heard.
"Where is it?" Wilfred asked. "I can't make heads or tails of this place."
"It's the old church at the corner of Cottrell and Eerie Street." Fawks pointed. "There! You see it? The one with the big red door?" Wilfred pulled over the police vehicle just out front of an old elongated building forged from red brick. On the other side of the road was an empty plot.
And there did not appear to be a soul for miles.
"Where are they?" Wilfred whispered.
"Turn off the engine, but leave the high beams on." Fawks instructed. A few seconds after Wilfred complied the red door of the church opened. A man-sized object stepped out of the shadows, it was draped in a red hood with matching long flowing robe that reached all the way its shins; with a large '10' draped at the bottom right corner. A large unpleasant looking weapon that can only be described as a futuristic looking musket slung over its shoulder. Its face was nothing more than a solid metal plate with two viewports that glowed a deep blue.
"Skitarii…" Thomas gasped. He heard the stories, everyone heard the stories.
"Well hello, officers. How are we on this lovely night?" Its voice was heavily synthesized and distorted, to the point where Thomas could not even tell if it was male or female, or even if it was human.
"Not too great, 10." Fawks played the role. "Unfortunately we have a criminal on the loose."
"Do we?" The Skitarii leant on Fawk's window. "Well that is quite unfortunate."
"Yeah, and he is a real piece of work." The officer handed over some files in his possession. "Thomas Orsell, 30 years old. He's not gang affiliated but he has got one hell of a rap sheet."
"So I can see. Drug-dealing, lots of stolen cars..." The red-robed man looked through the paperwork. "Forgive me officer, but we Skitarii are quite busy. Is this Thomas Orsell really worth our time?"
"He's also a cop-killer." Wilfred interrupted.
The Skitarii froze mid-flip through the paperwork in its metal hands. "Is he now?"
"He killed a man tonight." Fawks clarified. "Shot one of ours when we caught him beating his girl."
"Well…that certainly changes things." The blue orbs that this Skitarii had for eyes slowly turned to look into the back seat; directly at Thomas.
And it all started to make sense. Thomas always wondered how many criminals managed to escape police custody; he knew some of them and they were far too stupid and too slow to make a run for it, much less successfully get away.
But it started to dawn on Thomas Orsell; they did not escape police custody.
They were turned over.
To the Skitarii.
To the Red Angel of Saint Anne.
To the Tech-Priest.
"Oh shit." Thomas appropriately vacated his bowls in its entirety.
Fawks ignored his terrified passenger. "Did you need anything else from us?"
"Oh do not worry Sergeant Fawks. Once we catch this Thomas Orsell we'll be sure to turn him over to you." The Skitarii known only as '10' took a moment, and burst out into a steam of distortion and binary
A second just as imposing red-robed 'man' emerged from the shadows, similar to the Skitarii called 10 in every way, except it had the number 47 on its robe. 47 reached for the rear car side door. With a click the door opened and a metal hand stretched out to grab Thomas by the shoulder.
"No! NO! GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!" Thomas struggled with all his might to shift out of the metal grasp. He started squirming and shifting his weight to the other side of the backseat and even managed to kick the Skitarii a couple of times in the face fracturing one the blue camera like eyes. "I didn't mean in man! I DIDN'T MEAN TO KILL HIM! I'LL CONFESS TO ANYTHING!" Thomas pleaded, the Skitarii 47 clamped down on both his legs effectively immobilising him. "I WON'T CAUSE ANY PROBLEMS! PLEASE DON'T LET THEM TAKE ME!"
"Oh crap, I forgot to mention," Fawks slapped his forehead, "when he escaped he kicked out the window before he jumped."
"Sounds like quite a wild man." Skitarii 10 commented. "We will have to keep an eye out for him." The Skitarii with the number 47 took a brief moment to punch through the rear passenger car window, matching the sergeant's explanation. The sound of shattered glass littering the street below.
"SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!" Thomas screamed. "SOMEBOD-" Skitarii 47 delivered a KO blow directly into Thomas Orsell's skull knocking him out cold.
"Well thank you for notifying us of this very disturbed criminal." Skitarii 10 patted the roof of the car. "I assure you, the Adeptus Mechanicus will look into this matter very closely."
Both Skitarii dragged the unconscious Thomas Orsell into the church and closed the door behind them, and silence returned to Delray, Detroit. "I don't know about you, but I am starved." Fawks heaved a huge sigh. "Want to get something to eat?"
"Sure." Wilfred stifled a yawn. "What are you thinking? Family Treats on Spingwells?"
"You know me too well." Fawks chuckled. "Hit it."
"Is it true?" Robin pleaded.
Bruce Wayne sat in the (aptly) nick-named 'Bat-chair', ignoring the sting of Flash's punch. Truthfully, he probably would have preferred a beatdown from the entire Justice League every day for a year rather than have the conversation which was about to happen. "I take it Green Arrow told you?" Bruce mused.
"Don't play around with me Bruce!" Dick Grayson grabbed the chair and spun it around so he could look his legal guardian straight in the eye. Boy Wonder looked terrible, and slightly exhausted. It told a story of someone who ran as fast as he could to get here. "You owe me this! After months of sitting on your ass in this basement! Ignoring me! Brooding and sulking! You owe ME! Now is it true?!"
Can you just let it go?!
"Is what true- that I am done with Batman? Or that I had a file on you?" Bruce's eyes hardened. "Because the answer is 'yes' to both."
Bruce expected the look of utter betrayal in his young student's eyes. He even expected slight hitch in his throat as he held back tears. What the billionaire did not expect was that he somehow felt lower than he already did.
"So this is how it ends; after all this time." Dick glared. "After all the crazy stunts you have pulled, you throw in the towel now?!"
"I gave everything for the mission because I believed in it." Bruce explained. "I…just don't believe in it anymore."
"But what about all of this. All your work! All our work!" Dick looked around the Batcave that was filled with various 'souvenirs' from the past, a giant penney, a robot dinosaur…all of it.
"Barely worth their weight in scrap." Bruce seemed non-plussed. "You are more than welcome to it."
"And what of me?" Dick glared. "What about my sacrifices?"
Bruce admittedly took a longer time for form a response to that, but what came out was just as cold and heartless. "They were appreciated, but ultimately…useless."
"I can't believe you!" Dick shoved the chair away. "After all this time, all this work and you say it was worth nothing! And worse, you had a file on me?! It seems Red Arrow was right. I was never your partner, just a sidekick. An expendable asset!"
"That's not true." Bruce tried to explain.
"Do you have a file on Alfred?" Dick asked, and for a brief moment Batman returned; that question was too well rehearsed and too well crafted. Bruce Wayne could not help but feel both impressed and backhanded. Great question Dick, Bruce thought, almost any answer incriminates me.
"No." Bruce responded truthfully.
"Of course not." Dick fumed. "Because he is the only one you have ever trusted. The only one you ever valued. I would say 'loved' but I doubt you love anything!"
"That is not true." Bruce retorted. "I keep those kinds of files for-"
"You know, if it was just a list of associates, a list of hangouts and places you could look if I disappeared, I could have understood that." Dick approached the nearby bench and strapped on his mask and helmet. "But my detailed weakness to silat? My broken clavicle from that time last year with Two-Face? My emotional crutches surrounding Halys' circus? You don't need to record that information unless you had plans to bring me down. I've worked with you for too long to know what you look for, and for what purpose."
Bruce Wayne remained silent. Whether Dick considered it an invitation or not, he continued regardless.
"I trusted you. I thought we were friends, family even." Dick's voice hardened. "But it was a lie. Just one more expendable soldier for the sake of your mission. I always thought…I always thought I wanted to be like you. To be you. But now, I thank God I am nothing like you."
And something within the billionaire convulsed. A flicker of something buried under years…no…decades of discipline. "You think this was easy for me?" Bruce leant forward. "You think it is easy to forsake everything for the mission! I had to give up the best years of my life for this! I would have given everything to have been some jock billionaire sitting in his manor and pissing away his family fortune. I would have given anything to be normal. But I needed to do this. Okay?! I needed the Batman! I needed the mission! I needed those files! I need he… I need…"
TELL HIM THE TRUTH, MISTER WAYNE! Tell him you haven't been the same since Roanoke! Tell him you are absolutely out of your mind, and it is only going to get worse! Tell him you need enough psychiatrists to make Freud blush! Tell him you need his help! FOR GOD'S SAKE, CAN YOU JUST LET IT GO!
"You need what Bruce?" Dick half turned, a half curious look in his obscured eyes. "What do you need?"
The cold discipline returned, and that desire, what could have been the road less travelled by, the one that could have made all the difference…was gone. "…Nothing." Bruce leant back in his chair. "You wouldn't understand."
Even with his eyes closed, he could hear Robin tightening his grip around a set of batarangs. It would have been preferable if he threw them, Bruce probably would have let them hit their mark. But the Grayson let go and ascended the stairs once more.
"Goodbye Alfred…" Dick acknowledged the butler as he left. As Dick exited the cave, Pennyworth gave one last look at Bruce before chasing after the boy. Bruce loved the old man, and he loved Bruce in turn. But that did not mean Alfred liked him at that moment. Pennyworth loved all those under his charge, like his own sons.
And right now Dick needed him, more than Bruce did.
And if Bruce ever bothered…if he ever had the courage to speak up, Alfred would have realised how wrong he was about that assumption.
For now Bruce Wayne sat in the Bat Cave.
In the dark.
Where it was.
Oh Mister Wayne, predictable as ever. Joker floated by the computer terminal. Only you would turn away a helping hand. You do realise that pride cometh before the fall? I know that better than any living soul in the universe.
"It's for his own good. I'll have to get Alfred out of here. If I am seeing you…then it's not safe to be around me anymore." Bruce returned to the Bat-Computer. "They wouldn't understand."
What? That you are coo-coo for cocopuffs? The Joker glanced at the exit to the batcave. You dress up as a flying rodent. They already know that. You should have listened to me, and asked them for help. If you just asked, they would have given it.
"If Fate cannot help me, then they can't either." Bruce dared not look at the clown that was juggling with grenades for fear of acknowledging it exists. "But meeting Fate confirmed that you are not a daemon."
Daemon?! Moi? Joker did his absolute best to look offended, but in the most dramatic and mocking way possible. Oh, Mister Wayne! You misjudge me so! I'm not a daemon. I could have told you that….In fact I did tell you that!
"Then what are you?" Bruce began typing away on his computer looking for anything that might explain his new condition.
Nothing so manifestly separate or metastasising. I am a memory. A dying memory from a dying universe. The Joker whizzed by on roller-skates, a truly unnatural and strange melancholy look across his face. A tired story that imprinted onto your crumbling psyche. Well…more like drawn to you; like a moth to the flame.
The Wayne turned to the floating clown, a shiver crawling up his spine. "Drawn to me?"
I tend to be drawn to broken, hopeless and damaged things. The Joker's face cracked like a plate. But I must admit, we are both in uncharted waters. Bruce Wayne blinked in confusion. Uncharted waters?
This is the first time I have imprinted onto a human. The Joker, or whatever the hell it was, clearly heard the billionaire's thoughts. I had no intention of coming here. And even if I did, I had no idea that I would even manifest so completely and separately. But considering what I manifested into…the Joker cackled gesturing to itself…oh the universe, multi or otherwise, is very ironic!
Ironic…. Bruce grew suspicious. "What are you really?"
I told you doofus! I'm a memory! I'm a memory that got caught in your noggin. The Joker mockingly tried to poke Bruce Wayne in the forehead. But the billionaire merely leant back in the chair putting him out of reach. "Then a memory of who or what?"
The Joker or whatever was wearing his face grinned, it was grin the clown prince of crime was feeling particularly sadistic. Oh, does it matter?
Bruce Wayne did not hesitate. "Yes."
The Joker grinned and span around the world.Well then call me the memory of Joseph Bruce Ismay!
"This is not funny." Bruce silently fumed. The Wayne shook his head, trying to dull the laughter echoing in his skull.
Oh but it is! I am the funniest thing in the universe.
"You mean pathetic." Bruce growled, he turned to the Bat Computer to avoid having to look at his former nemesis for over a decade. Only to see the Joker sprawled out over the terminal like a cat.
Oh, is there a difference? Seriously, if I could be based on anything it would be our Mister Ismay! The Titanic was sinking, everyone was turning to me to help them. They all knew there were not enough life rafts to go around. So what did I do? The Joker emitted a heaving sound that was a cross between a laugh and a sob, I told everyone to stay calm, while I secretly looked for an emergency exit. And I found one…in you. A dirty, snivelling coward that made a run for it and got away! While all those that turned to me for help, those that begged me to save them, got piledrived into oblivion! Now if that ain't comedy, I don't know what is!
Bruce paused. "How can I trust anything your saying?"
Of for f…the Joker sneered, losing all of his playful charm and snark. Don't you get it, you absolute moron! Fate already explained it to you! I am not some friggin daemon out to om-nom-nom your soul. Nor am I a ghost with an axe to grind! I am just a memory! A manifestation that has emerged because of your crumbling psyche. Bruce Wayne waited for the punchline. Surprisingly, what he got was a genuinely upset Joker.
Don't you understand what a memory is?! The Joker screeched. Nothing! I have no power! I am useless! I'm a COWARD! I was quite content to hide in the recesses of your subconscious, occasionally show up, crack a joke and leave! But now I am out; YOU are giving me this power! Because your mind is falling apart! Ever since Roanoke your little mind is regressing back into that diminutive little child they found in Crime Alley! You don't need magic, voodoo, hoodoo or any other kind of doodoo! The Joker took a moment to savour that one-liner. What you need is a shrink and a lot of them! Because you my friend, have got A LOT of screws loose, and that is coming from ME of all things!
Bruce took in the story and this 'Joker's' outrage, trying to process it, and then it finally clicked. "You're another refugee…from that universe."
Did you even listen to what I said?! Joker rolled his eyes in disbelief. You are sick, you need help!
"You jumped into this universe, during the second Warp Tear at Roanoke." Bruce reaffirmed. "You somehow latched onto me while I was fighting Selina."
Why do I do this? The Joker raised his hands in defeat. I might as well talk to the friggin bats.
Bruce stood out of his chair. "You are from that other universe; like Tech-Priest and Klarion."
Oh, don't compare me to the toaster-worshipping novice and that discount Changeling of Tzeentch. The Joker shooed the Wayne's suggestion away. You know that little bastard abandoned his post right? But then again, who am I to talk?
"THEN WHAT ARE YOU?!" Bruce shouted, his voice echoing amongst the walls of the cave.
Temper, temper Mister Wayne. The Joker wagged a finger. You are now yelling at your imaginary friend.
"No games!" Bruce's blood boiled. "Keep this up and I will cut my own throat right here in this damn cave. I don't care where I end up."
Fine, then. The Joker stood close enough that if it was breathing, Wayne would be able to feel it. If you must know, I'm the memory of something called Cegorach, Mister Wayne. The Joker grinned. And I think, regardless of what either of us want, we are going to be the best of friends.
To all the folks that wanted the Joker to return – Merry (belated) Christmas!
And a Happy New Year for the rest!
Well there we go folks. Hope you liked it.
We'll see how we go in 2021.
Review as always!