Back to the Series & Stories Page · Back to the Omega Home Page
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs Ere Babylon was dust, Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and Do not go gently into that good night,
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest
I too awaited the expected guest.
The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
Met his own image walking in the garden...
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Ere Babylon was dust,
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and
Do not go gently into that good night,
AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT
by Marc Singer
Body and Soul part 3
"Tiresias and Antigone send their regards," said Anne Benson, as she telekinetically crushed the life out of Hannibal, the long-lived storyteller who had befriended her. "They wanted me to tell you that even an immortal can die."
Hannibal's body could cope with the oxygen deprivation from Anne's strangulation, but the actual, physical damage was being done far faster than he could heal it. If Anne increased this pressure much more, his head might well pop right off his body, and he'd be hard pressed to heal that. Hannibal tried to cast one of the many spells he'd picked up over the years, but he knew precious few that didn't rely on some kind of verbal incantation. Still, casting a weak spell was infinitely preferable to dying after all these years. His hands began tracing the old patterns...
And then they froze in midair, held by telekinesis. "Tiresias and Antigone also warned me about what you can do," Anne said, with a vicious grin. "And you aren't going to get any chances to do it. Try something new instead: asphyxiation." Anne started to increase the force.
Jack Russell, Hannibal's friend and initiate into the ways of the immortal, hurtled into Anne from across the room. His clothes were shredded and bloody, but his back was already healed from the injuries Anne had dealt him when she'd flung him into a glass-filled cabinet. Jack knocked Anne off her feet, breaking her concentration and freeing Hannibal. Then he delivered two expert blows to the head, showing he hadn't forgotten any of his police training.
The blows just glanced off Anne, who laughed and sent him flying up to the ceiling with one backhanded blow. She rolled out of the way as he fell back to the floor, then slammed down on his back with her fists, driving him through the floor and down to the lower level of the brownstone. "Nice try, Russell," she leered, "but your penny-ante regeneration is no match for my strength and invulnerability."
"But it isn't really your strength and invulnerability," Hannibal said, weaving his hands through the air. "You are an impostor, and I bind you as such. Fakoli koroma !cha Annebenson." This time 'Anne' was the one to be immobilized, as Hannibal's spell held her fast. "Now, who are you?" Hannibal shouted, angrier than he had been in more than a century.
"Wouldn't you like to know," the assassin said with Anne's lips. "But without my true name, those parlor tricks of yours are nothing." The killer lashed out telepathically, a crude assault that didn't use the power to its fullest but did project a searing pain into Hannibal's mind. At the same time, she flexed and broke free of Hannibal's binding, then strolled over to the ancient African and grabbed him by his neck. She didn't know Hannibal, or even know why she'd been hired to kill him. All she knew was that she was ending many centuries of existence, and she considered that an honor.
Apparently, somebody else didn't feel the same way. The killer heard loud footsteps on the stairs, charging up them so quickly that she barely had time to react. "You back for more pain, Russell?" she said through Anne's mouth, turning to punish the ex-cop once again.
The door exploded inward in a shower of wood splinters. Harvey Hauptmann was standing behind it, mad as hell and ready for trouble. "Let Hannibal go, Morgan," he said. "You're not killing anybody else today."
Thomas Morgan's body was sitting in a McDonald's in Detroit. And Anne Benson's mind was sitting in Thomas Morgan's body. That led Anne to believe that Morgan, the same entity who had lured Anne's spirit into astral space and ambushed her there, had now placed his mind in her body, and was using it to commit all manner of evil acts. Which meant Anne had to somehow get from Detroit back to Washington, D.C as soon as possible.
It was a good theory, except another presence had just shown up in this body, claiming to be Thomas Morgan.
You're who? Anne asked with her weakened telepathy, the only one of her Omega powers she retained in this unfamiliar body.
I already said, was the new presence's response. I'm Thomas Morgan, and you're in my body. Just turn inwards with your mind, and you should be able to see me... my astral form is much clearer...
I've had quite enough of being jumped in astral space, Anne responded. Morgan was also apparently one of SIRECOM's elite Seekers, another good reason not to trust him. She stood up to leave the fast-food restaurant, just in case his friends were coming for her.
Then Morgan's legs gave out under her, and she fell to the floor. An arm shot out, not at Anne's behest, and started dragging her back to the table. You see, Ms. Benson? I'm starting to get control of my body back, and that can't bode well for you. Now, can we talk about our predicament, or will we waste precious time fighting over my body while it writhes on the floor?
Anne surrendered and climbed back into the booth. Take the body, she thought, I couldn't get used to having one of those things swinging around between my legs, anyway.
Gee, Ms. Benson, you're a lot less charming in person.
Get me out of here and I'll be a lot more inclined to charm.
Fair enough, Morgan answered. Now, you need to get back to Washington, right? Well, Ms. Benson, the body we're in just happens to have access to the quickest way to cross the country and find the person who hijacked our bodies.
Morgan's body groaned and dropped its face in its hands as Anne finished the thought. The astral plane.
"Well, well, well," said the killer with Anne Benson's body. "Looks like Hauptmann wants to play, too. I'm sorely tempted, but business before pleasure." Her fists squeezed even tighter around Hannibal's neck.
"I said let go of him, damn you!" Harvey charged into the room, pulled his right arm back and formed a fist... and froze.
"Can't do it, can you?" said the killer, her taunts underscored by Hannibal's weak choking noises. Harvey was frozen in mid-punch, not by telekinesis or magic or any other power, but by his own hesitance. That was his granddaughter's angelic face leering at him. But it was Hannibal's face under hers, turning gray... Harvey registered all of it with dispassionate interest, as if he were recording a scientific experiment and not a brutal murder.
"Can't harm your precious granddaughter," the killer mocked. "But I can harm you. Isn't that just delicious?"
The killer's irony was met with a solid punch to the face. It knocked her across the room, clear through a Louis XIV grandfather clock. Hannibal, freed from her grip, collapsed to the floor and gasped for breath.
Harvey sped over to his granddaughter's body, and pinned it before it could get up. "I'll do whatever it takes to stop you, you bastard. You killed Anne, didn't you?"
The killer laughed, and drove up at Harvey with a telekinetic blow. Harvey's own invulnerability let him resist it, though. "This might actually be a challenge," said the killer, thoughtfully. Her next telekinetic punch was matched with a kick to the gut, but Harvey still wouldn't flinch. Anne began flailing at super-speed, delivering dozens of blows each second, but Harvey wouldn't let go of her.
"Harvey," Hannibal gasped, "what is the killer's true name?"
"Morgan. Thomas Morgan. Why?"
Hannibal's only answer was to trace a chain through the air with his hands, as he chanted "Fakoli koroma, Fakoli sosso, Mandingo sussuru Fakoli, !cha Thomasmorgan." Anne's body stopped attacking; Harvey eased back and relaxed his aching body. "Now," said Hannibal, "take her to my study and we'll try something more permanent, perhaps an exorcism."
"Sorry," said the killer, "but you've already had two chances, and in this ball game that's all you need to strike out." Hannibal and Harvey both screamed under the onslaught of the psychic assault, as the killer kicked upwards and hurled Harvey across the room. "If it's a name you're looking for," she said, advancing on Hannibal, "just call me your death."
First they checked into a YMCA, so Morgan's body could collapse on a cot and not be in danger of being moved. The walk to the Y was clumsy, as Anne and Morgan had to coordinate their efforts to move the body, and pedestrians looked at the body as if he were an early drunk. Once they hit the cot, Morgan's voice taught Anne how to use the Omega power natural to this body, the ability to access astral space.
Astrally, the Y was quite depressing, filled with many battered and weakened spirits. It mattered little though, because they left the Y immediately, walking through its walls and into Detroit, to find a connection that would take them back to D.C. Besides, Anne was giving all of her attention to Morgan anyway.
His spirit was a little more handsome than his body. Morgan wasn't a bad-looking man, not at all, but astral spirits tended not to have things like wrinkles or acne or the thousand other little imperfections that people notice without knowing they notice them. Morgan's spirit also looked exactly like the spirit who ambushed Anne, right down to the pulp detective's trenchcoat and fedora in which he chose to cloak his spirit. "Hey, I'm a big mystery afficionado," Morgan explained. "Would you have preferred this?" His clothing switched to a garish spandex costume with the word AVATAR written across the torso.
"I just wonder why my attacker chose to mimic your appearance so closely," Anne said. Anne tried not to think that he could still be her attacker
"I'm not," Morgan answered, "and not-thinking about it just makes you think about it more. To answer your first question, I think it's because for a while this woman was using my body as her host, the way she's doing with you now. And in my experience, the body and spirit never quite get separated, no matter what the philosophers say. She probably kept my interest in detective flicks."
"So there's still a little of me in my body?"
"No, more like a little of your mind in her mind, especially when she first inhabited your body. She probably acted out your desires and such, wore down your inhibitions... and meanwhile, you're not looking too good." Indeed, Anne's astral form, which was partly joined to Morgan's like a glowing siamese twin, was slowly fading. "I'm afraid we both tried to claim this body once she left it, and the more control I gain of it, the bigger trouble that puts you in. Unlike Astral or I, your spirit can't survive without a body for long"
"What did you say?" barked Anne.
"The woman who's behind all this. Astral of Dynamax's Havoc Squad. Or should I say the late Astral?"
Of her ten fingers, Anne Benson's left little finger was one of the least used. It was approximately two inches long and did not even weigh one pound. It could lift a twenty-pound weight with no assistance from the rest of the hand, and with little to no effort. It could withstand a gunshot, it could punch through steel, it was presently travelling at seventy miles per hour and accelerating, and it was aimed directly at Hannibal's eye and the brain behind it.
Harvey saw this from across the room, and dashed to intercept it. Hannibal was trying to dodge, but he might as well have been standing still to the other two people in the room. Anne's body rocketed towards him, while Harvey scrambled over broken furniture and leapt over the hole in the floor to get there in time. But Anne's body was younger and stronger, and she had a head startHannibal was practically dead.
Then Harvey saw the end of the carpet the killer was running on; he grabbed it, and yanked as hard as he could. The sudden pull knocked the killer off-balance, and sent her tumbling past Hannibal, her finger harmlessly poking several neat round holes in the floor. Unfortunately, the killer was able to lash out with a wild kick, hitting Hannibal in the knee with a loud cracking sound. "You okay?" Harvey asked, grabbing the immortal to keep him from falling.
The lower leg was sticking out at an unnatural angle. "Nothing I can't heal given time," Hannibal said, knowing that time was scarce. He couldn't even walk out on that leg. Harvey picked up Hannibal and prepared to run. Cowardice was clearly the better part of valor here.
Just then Jack Russell stormed into the room, holding a gun and carrying a strange medley of ancient weapons. Noticing Harvey, Jack said, "Get him out of here, I'll hold her off!" Harvey didn't think much of Jack's chances, but he was grateful for the diversion and he left.
Outside the brownstone, Harvey put the immortal in his own car, which he'd frenziedly driven there only a few minutes earlier. "You get away from here," Harvey instructed, "while I go help Jack."
Jack's beyond help, the killer said, using Anne's telepathy to project an unfamiliar woman's voice. Why don't you see for yourself? Jack's body crashed through a second-story window, arced and twisted in midair, and landed on the hood of Harvey's car. It was pierced with the collection of knives and spears that Jack had been wielding only seconds ago.
"Floor it, floor it!" Harvey screamed, sweeping Jack's body off the hood. Hannibal hit the gas pedal with his good leg and drove the car down the street, but some invisible force stopped it before it had gone half a block. Its tires still squealing and straining to push forward, the car was held in placeand then it started compressing together from each end. Hannibal dove out before the whole thing was compressed into a small rectangular wreck.
Harvey stared at the crushed car in horror. Anne could do that with telekinesis alone?
I'm a lot tougher than your granddaughter ever was, old man. The killer leapt out the shattered window, landing next to Hannibal. She pointed at him with a dramatic flair, and Hannibal's other leg broke.
Instantly, Harvey was between the killer and her prey. "Back off, lady. You know I'm not afraid to hurt you."
The killer laughed. "You're not able to hurt me." To demonstrate, she began pummeling Harvey, hitting him with arms and legs, telepathic pain and telekinetic fists, stronger, faster, harder than he could match. She was even more powerful than she had been upstairs, and Harvey was soon driven to the ground. It was perhaps the worst beating he'd received in his life, and he was getting it from his own kin.
The killer ceased the torrent of attacks, letting Harvey try to climb to his knees on legs that no longer wanted to support him. Harvey brought a hand to his face to stop the flow of blood from his nose. He wanted to stand and block her, but he couldn't.
"You know something, Hauptmann?" said the killer. "I like you. You're tough, and you aren't as dumb as you look. And since you weren't at the Dynamax raid, I'll give you one last chance." She waved down the street. "Get the hell out of here. Hannibal's the only one I want. So go home, and maybe I'll let you live a while."
"Go" Harvey spat blood. "Go... to hell."
The killer seemed genuinely offended to hear her generous offer refused. "Go home, Hauptmann! It's a lost cause here! Agony couldn't stop me, Russell couldn't, Hannibal couldn'twhy should you be able to? Why should you die for some old bastard who never did anything for you besides tell you a story?"
He looked up at her, and he slowly, shakily, rose to his feet. He was still dripping blood and covered in bruises, and his shirt had ripped open to reveal the white hair and the hard layers of muscle underneath.
"Because," he said, "I'm Harvey Hauptmann. And I'm one of the good guys, dammit."
His punch knocked her clear down the street.
On the surface, they all look the same. They are the men and women in the gray flannel suits, the white-collar worker ants who pour in and out and through the city every day. It would be wrong to call them faceless, for they all have a facethe same one. It is repeated in endless permutations on any city street.
But in astral space, the flow of workers takes on a different appearance entirely. The sidewalks play host to lightshows, the worker ants metamorphose and emerge from their cocoons as brilliant moths and glowing fireflies. And like the patterns on a monarch butterfly's wing, no two people are alike. Joy, sorrow, fear, rage, triumph, madness, and more all pulse on the streets, making each person's spirit its own distinctive rainbow, even if they all share bodies locked into the same power-suit prisons. And if more than one commuter's spirit seems tinted with a quiet despair, then perhaps it is because none of them can see into astral space, and see just how beautiful and diverse they and their fellow humans really are.
Anne Benson and Thomas Morgan can see all of this now, as they walk through downtown Detroit in immaterial astral form only, flitting against the 5:00 rush of workers as easily as salmon swim upstream. They could see how wonderful each passerby is, but they don't, because they're too busy worrying about the psychotic assassin who has cheated death by stealing their bodies. Life is funny like that sometimes.
"You mean the person who attacked me was Astral, just using your astral form?" Anne said. It all made a sick amount of sense nowthe person who approached her and Harvey hadn't been lying. She had indeed been killed, and she wanted to strike back at her killers before she died. She just considered Anne one of her killers. Anne didn't feel too comfortable thinking about this while she and a Seeker were cohabiting in the same body, but she had little choice. "She didn't die with the rest of Havoc when Tazakles blew up the Dynamax compound, did she?"
"Her body did," said Morgan, "not her spirit. She must have projected it out in time to avoid the blast. Then she survived for more than a month by draining some hapless sleepers of their own essence, to sustain her fading spirit."
"I saw the focus for that drain," Anne said, "some Dynamax worker. He looked pretty bad."
"A lot of people were looking pretty bad, so the Seekers sent me to investigate. I traced the drain back to Astral's lair in the wreckage of Dynamax, and then she jumped me." Morgan lowered his eyes. "Kicked my ass, too, and booted me right out of my own body. Then Astral inhabited it, using it as a 'base' for her little schemes, I guess. She would've killed my spirit, too, except I played possum and hid myself. Unfortunately, I'm not as good at working without a body as she is, so I stayed dormant until I felt my body moving around once again. Then I went back to it, only to find that you were already there."
"I got there the same way you left it," Anne said, "hiding. Astral was willing to kill all Detroit to nail me, and I couldn't beat her, so I had to let her think I was dead. I cut off the telepathic connection that linked me to her, and to my body back home, then I looked around for someplace else to take shelter. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that herer, your body was the only open one around. But it took me a couple of hours to get control of it and break out of the hospital."
"I was in a hospital? Was that woman bleeding me dry?" Morgan stopped and thought about his own words. "Yeah, I guess she was. Well, I'm the least of our concerns now. We have to get you home before my spirit takes full residence in my body again, and you're left without a host."
"And before Astral does whatever she wants to do with my body. Morgan, do you know who put Astral up to this?"
He took a drag from a healthy, inoffensive, illusory astral cigarette. "I don't think anybody needed to coerce Astral into getting a body. Especially a body like yours, from what I've seen."
"I wish I could say I was as impressed with your body, Morgan." Anne smiled in spite of herself. "No, what I mean is, Astral said somebody told her she could keep my body, but in return she has to kill some people for them." Anne felt a little guilty herself, as if her body was a willing accomplice.
Morgan just smacked his head and cursed. "Assassins! Shit!"
"What, what is it?"
"Assassins. That means there's a certain way to follow her through astral space." He took a sharp turn, leading Anne down a different path through Detroit. Morgan seemed to be scrutinizing each soul or structure they passed. Finally finding a suitable person, he stopped and seemed to reach inside them. The person continued walking down the street, his soul bobbing along with those of his fellow ghostly commuters. But Morgan had drawn a small white box from the man, shaped like a little temple. "Did you go through the Lincoln Icon last time, Anne?" Morgan asked.
She nodded. Although for her, it was less an icon of the Lincoln Memorial, and more like the Chapel Perilous.
Harvey's initial punch took the killer by surprise, and he pressed the advantage as best he could. Charging down the street, Harvey tackled her before she could get to her feet or erect a telekinetic defense. Harvey drove his fists into her time and time again, trying to forget that he was punching his own granddaughter's face.
Which she constantly reminded him, anyway. "Do you always beat your granddaughter like this, Hauptmann?" she asked as he rained blows on her. "Do you treat your whole family like this?"
Don't let her rattle you, he thought. Sure, you were always a stern dad, but you never hit your kids... you knew what that would do to their little bodies... sure, you unconsciously bred your own daughter to make a better Omega, but you'd never hurt your family... never...
"Am I getting to you, Hauptmann?" the killer taunted. "C'mon, you have to admit it's a little weird the way you ran around with Benson... and she dropped her boyfriend right around the same time... what was happening with you and little Annie?"
Harvey's next punch was so furious, he nearly slipped up and gave her a chance to counter-attack. Don't get rattled, Harvey, she's using Anne's telepathy to say those things... things you already fear people are saying... what if they have a point? No, dammit, don't think that way... how could this lunatic understand the love between a man and his granddaughter, anyway? Lives are depending on you, Harvey....
Harvey managed to keep up the attack, but not because he was willing to hurt Anne's body to save lives. It was probably because this fiend had killed his real granddaughteror, he feared as his fists careened harmlessly off her invulnerable body, because he knew his most powerful blows couldn't really hurt her anyway.
A lucky punch somehow cut her lip, and she looked at the blood on Harvey's fingers with dismay. "Okay gramps, this has gone on long enough," she said with extra spite. She redoubled her attack, using the extra burst of power and ferocity she had exhibited a few minutes earlier. Once again, Harvey was no match for the younger, stronger woman, and she forced him back up the street, soundly thrashing him the whole way. Her psychic attacks were particularly damaging, as Harvey had no way of countering them. A final kick sent him sprawling on the ground, and the killer returned her attentions to Hannibal, who was trying to crawl away.
She lifted Hannibal by the back of his neck, while Harvey rolled on the ground and Jack tried to pull a spear out of his gut so he could heal the wound. "You want to beg for mercy, Hannibal?" she asked.
"I have been many things over the millenia," Hannibal answered, holding his head high, "but never a beggar. Do what you will, for my soul may yet prove as immortal as my body."
"Which is to say, not at all." The killer winked, and one of Hannibal's arms broke. "Take it from someone who's been there, Hank, everybody's soul dies just as surely as their body does. There's no afterlife, and there sure ain't no coming back." She smiled with Anne Benson's perfect teeth. "Myself excepted. When this body dies, I'll just pick a better one. And a better one, and a better one...." She broke one of Hannibal's fingers for each body she listed. "You're on the way out, Hank. If you want to see the next breed of immortals, the people who are going to rule this planet," she said through bloody lips pressed close to his face, "just look at me."
She held out her free hand. The spear in Jack's gut quivered and pulled out of him, lancing through the air to land in the killer's hand. "Time for you to meet your ancestors," she said.
The Lincoln Icon was as dark as before, and as many souls were wailing inside it. Anne was prepared for the ordeal this time, but she and her guide were both much weaker, and she didn't know if she could make it. As Anne was pulled into the monument's iconic gravity, she felt herself rip free from Morgan and his body, and she was flung into the sightless void.
Anne heard the gunshots and the screams again, and this time Anne realized that the Icon was a vast, inverted scapegoat: his wounds are the wounds of the community, but rather than purging the wounds, the scapegoat's bloody body produces them. They are shot and we are shot, they die and we all die. And they don't have to be a damned presidentthe preacher, the singer, the protester, the kids mowed down because they were too close to a drive-bywe are all assassinated.
And the great marble face appeared before Anne again, and it asked her for the question.
Anne could hear Morgan's voice from a great, great distance, but she knew that this was the only way she could ever leave the Chapel. The lance was in her hands now, all she had to do was pierce the land and refertilize the barren earth. All she had to do was ask the question. All she had to do was know the right question to ask.
The cold, marble face was waiting for her. All around, the cold, hungry void pulled at her.
Who kills them? she thought. But we already know, even if we tell ourselves we don't. Why kill them? Maybe there is no why. Maybe it's all senseless. Maybe this void is the best, most honest representation of America, gunshots echoing in the darkness that could claim you at any minute. Who? Why? Who cares?
I care... whoever I am. And as I look at the marble face, old black-and-white-TV words echo in my head. And I ask, what can I do about it?
The face smiles, and disappears, and behind it I can see white columns and the light of the Mall behind them...
...and Morgan is there waiting for Anne. "Are you okay?" he asked her as she staggered out of the giant astral image of the Lincoln Memorial.
"The connection," Anne said, grabbing him for support, "I can feel the connection. She's draining people for energy again, and it leads right here in D.C. I know where she is."
Morgan helped Anne down the massive steps, as steep as those of a Mayan temple. Once she showed him where to look for the subtle patterns in astral space, like the tracks left by subatomic particles going through a cloud chamber, Morgan could see Astral's connection as well.
"We have to shut down that power source," Anne said, "or she'll just trash us all over again. But if this is Astral, and she's still blaming me and Harvey for the Dynamax explosion, I think I know how we can do it. The only problem is, you'll have to go back to Detroit." Morgan protested loudly against leaving her to fight Astral alone, but once Anne explained her idea to him, he abandoned his chivalry and agreed it was a necessary move.
"I still want to know how you picked up on her drain in the first place" he asked. Pointing to the huge Lincoln Icon, he added, "And what happened to you in there?"
Anne smiled weakly and said, "'Ask not what your country can do for you...'"
The spear hovered above Hannibal's exposed heart. "Amazing, isn't it?" the killer said. "All those centuries about to end."
"Then end them!" Hannibal barked. "You've done nothing but torture and talk! Why can't you just do your job and kill me!"
She stepped back from Hannibal's ferocity, but regained her composure, and said, "You asked for it." She lifted the spear...
...and held it in mid-air.
Hannibal laughed, the mad laugh of a man with little left to lose. "I thought so," he said, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is unable."
The assassin trembled with rage, snapping the spear in half. "Why can't I KILL YOU?" she screamed.
"Because Anne's parents and I brought her up right," Harvey said, crawling over to the other two. "Something I wish somebody had done with you. My granddaughter doesn't kill."
"She killed ME!," the killer screamed. "And I'm going to kill all of you bastards! First the contract job, and then you Hauptmann... and then I'll go to the Colony, and smile at them like they're old friends, and when those punks aren't looking I will snap their fucking necks!"
"The Colony...?" Harvey's eyes widened, and he tried to climb to his feet. "You're from Dynamax! You"
"Shut up, gramps." She kicked Harvey away. "If this body won't cooperate, I can always go astral and kill you from there."
That would be a bad idea, said a new but very familiar voice, in the minds of all those present. The killer looked around with disbelief when she heard it; Harvey nearly cheered. You're no longer the only astral bully around here. A new figure appeared in the middle of the street, manifesting herself visibly from the astral plane.
"You're Astral of the Havoc Squad," said the shining spirit of Anne Benson. "And you're under citizen's arrest."
The fight instantly shifted to astral space. Anne's body collapsed to the ground, while Astral's spirita woman in a Havoc Squad costume so black that it seemed to absorb light and astral energyattacked Anne's. Anne could feel her body mere feet away, crying for its rightful host, and Anne wanted to return to it, but this threat had to be ended first. There wouldn't be any assassinations today.
But Anne was still an astral novice, and was even weaker than last time from all her ordeals. Astral, on the other hand, was still drawing on reserves of power from drained sleepers. Anne could only stall the raging spirit, although she did notice that Harvey and Jack had grabbed Hannibal and pulled him back inside his house.
Astral used her drained power to outmaneuver and overwhelm Anne, wounding her viciously and with glee. "I should have made sure I killed you last time," Astral said as she pulled at Anne's neck. "Your own body doesn't want you back! You're so damned uptight, your body was glad to have me in it, letting it get its way for once. Your boyfriend was, too!" Astral laughed.
Infuriated, Anne swung at Astral and missed. Astral took the opening and struck at her. "You know," she continued, "you're so damn uptight, your body wouldn't even kill a man. But once I kill your spirit, then the body should be mine. And you, babe, are going to become the greatest fucking murderess this planet has ever seen." She drove a karate chop into Anne's side, slicing right through the ever- deteriorating astral body. "What do you think of that?"
Anne thought Morgan had better act fast, or they were all done for.
At that moment, Thomas Morgan was rather busy trying to withstand the explosion of Dynamax Detroit. Not the actual explosion, which had happened more than a month earlier, but the eternal replay that was happening in the mind of former Dynamax worker Peter Valdikoff. Valdikoff was the first person to be afflicted with the 'sleeping sickness' that was Astral's energy drain, and he served as the focus for that drain. Although he usually only had this dream four or five times a night, Valdikoff's explosions were now coming every couple of minutes.
Morgan covered his head as the rubble flew backwards and reformed into Dynamax Detroit, which immediately began sounding alarms and evacuating people. A station wagon careened past him, and Morgan knew that the next explosion would be coming soon. He had to find Valdikoff's spirit, and fast. In real life, Valdikoff had fled the compound minutes before its destruction, but in his mind, who knew where he'd be?
Fortunately, Morgan had studied the man's dossier, and knew where he worked. Morgan sped through the halls, dodging a running battle between the Havoc Squad and several Omega terrorists, one of whom looked more than a little like Anne. In Valdikoff's mind, the Omegas were evil aggressors and Havoc the noble defenders; but while Morgan didn't think much of the Colony, he knew from the "Rig Veda" report that they were decent kids, while this "Eye of Justice" fellow, and Astral's own behavior, had exposed Dynamax's evils to the world. Maybe that was Valdikoff's problem.
Morgan found the door to Custodial Services, passed through it, and found himself in a hospital room. A woman and three children were gathered around the bed, while a doctor droned on about Valdikoff's "mysterious relapse." The only person who noticed Morgan was Valdikoff, pale and emaciated, whose transparent sat up from the bed while his body remained motionless.
Morgan tried to say, "I'm here to help you," but the whole room was obliterated in another explosion.
Outside, the street was uncomfortably quiet; the real battle was noisy indeed, just out of all earshot from this plane. The street was damaged by craters and blood splatters and a smashed car, but that was nothing compared to the destruction in astral space. There, every house seemed laid to waste, and columns of flame shot ten stories high. Astral was bringing in a tremendous amount of energy to finish her contract, and it was starting to spill out and reshape the environment to fit her own sick, twisted mind.
Anne was ready for Astral's tricks of turning invisible or growing larger, and she drew on her telepathy, which was getting stronger now that she was so close to her body, to hold off the assassin. But for every miniscule increase in Anne's power, Astral simply pulled more energy from her 'herd' back in Detroit. She caught Anne by surprise by splitting off four smaller selves, and all five attacked the exhausted Anne, trying to strangle her.
"Your fucking explosion didn't even kill me," they all said at once, "just pinned me under some rubble. The fire didn't get me either. It was the goddamn smoke inhalation. I could feel my body suffocating, every minute of it, no matter how far away I sent my spirit. And now you bastards will all feel it, too."
Anne, choking in the grip of two Astrals, wondered what was taking Morgan so long. It would be a shame to waste such a good plan. Or her life, for that matter.
"Speaking of Dynamax," Anne gasped, desperately trying anything to stay alive, "I have some news you might be interested in..."
After the latest explosion settled down, Morgan picked himself up off the floor and approached Valdikoff again. The astral surge had given him a tremendous headache, symbolized here by a "wound" from some "debris." Morgan had to end this fast.
"Mister Valdikoff," he said, flashing an astral image of his badge, "you need to let me help you get out of this place."
"The Omegas," mumbled the ailing man, "the Omegas destroyed it all."
"You mean the Dynamax explosion?" Morgan had a terrible bedside mannerit came from watching too many detective picturesand he went straight for the truth. "Mister Valdikoff, it was Tazakles who destroyed the compound. It was a suicide, and he wanted to take everybody else down with him."
Peter Valdikoff began thrashing in his bedhe must have been doing it in the real world, too, for the family and doctor became very concerned. Morgan modified his astral form so it included a picture of a fragment of the demolitions console, found by SIRECOM investigators. He couldn't remove the picture from his hand, but Valdikoff didn't need to know that. "Do you see this, Mister Valdikoff? That was found in Tazakles's office. He used it to blow up the whole compound."
"The Omegas'... fault..."
Morgan lost his patience; he could feel his connection to his body growing stronger by the second, and that meant Anne was growing dangerously weak. "Have you seen the videos of Fort Deliverance?" he said. "Have you seen what was going on there? Mister Valdikoff, I'm afraid Jarvin Tazakles wasn't a very nice man."
Valdikoff flailed around even more, and Morgan said, "Mister Valdikoff, it's your own anger, and a lot of other peoples', that's powering theailment that's draining you. I know you lost a lot in that explosion, but you'll have to let it go. Or at least put the blame where it belongs. You can't keep blaming the Omegas for everything."
Peter Valdikoff stopped squirming, and looked at Morgan with eyes that were finally, truly open.
"You're LYING!" the Astrals bellowed, hurtling Anne across the lawn and through the walls of Hannibal's housean attack far less devastating than it seemed, since all normal walls were insubstantial here. The Astrals charged through the wall after Anne, reintegrating into one lethal whole. "It was you Colony bastards who blew up Dynamax!"
"Where could we have gotten the explosives, then? How could we plant them so quickly?" Anne barely dodged past Astral's kick. "Tazakles was the only one who could have done it! He killed you, and you know it!"
Tired of all the delays, Astral stretched out one arm to several times its normal length, and pinned Anne fast. Forming her other arm into a long, curved blade, Astral said, "You're just trying to trick me! I know you bastards did it, and I have a hundred people who'll back me up. In fact, they'll help me kill you once and for all, bitch." Astral plunged the blade forward, stabbing it right into Anne's heart.
Except it shattered upon impact, without scratching Anne. Astral's other arm quickly, painfully snapped back to its normal proportions, and her entire spirit-self seemed to lose its luster. "My power," she cried, "where's my power?"
"Back to its rightful owners," said Anne. She was glowing more brightly now; she had just won a huge boost for her morale, and in the land of spirits, that translated to a very real advantage. "And by the way," Anne said as she formed a fist, "this is power..."
The blow knocked Astral halfway through the house. Anne stepped through the walls and saw the wounded, shrinking spirit lying on the floor, and she finished, "...bitch."
Anne proceeded to pummel Astral quite mercilessly. She wondered if she had the heart to drive her all the way to death. True, Astral's body had died a long time ago, and she'd do much worse to Anne and the rest if given the chance, but it still didn't seem right to just kill her. Then again, how could they ever jail her or bring her to trial?
Astral slipped away from Anne and ran through the house, mumbling, "Gotta kill Hannibal... 'f I kill Hannibal, they'll save me an' give me a body..."
Anne started to chase her, and could have quite easily overtaken her, but she heard Harvey thinking, No, Annie. Hannibal wants her loose now. You need to get back to your body, and fast. He was broadcasting the thoughts as loudly as any non-telepath could, and probably furrowing his brow if he thought that made his thoughts any louder. Anne, being in a heightened state of receptivity, picked them up quite easily.
But so did Astral. They both turned and ran back out of the house, onto the street, towards the unconscious body on the pavement. "I'm not gonna die again!" Astral wailed, and she ran with the speed of the truly desperate. Anne raced alongside her, pulling on every reserve of mental strength she had. She surged past the dying, weakening spirit and dove for her body, just as she heard Hannibal's voice completing some chant. Except for Astral's name, Anne couldn't quite make out any of the words, as if her brain didn't want her to hear them. The chant actually seemed to be deforming the astral space around them, pulling it into a cone, pulling Anne backwards....
Then Anne was in her body again, her own glorious, beaten body. It felt like putting on some very old, worn clothes after a long time of wearing some very uncomfortable ones, only a thousand times better.
A scream caught Anne's attention, and she sat up and opened her eyes. Astral was manifesting visibly, trying to escape the astral plane as she was pulled back into a long line that led back into the house. She reached her arms out to Anne, cursing her vehemently, and then she zipped back into the house like a rubber band that been pulled taut and suddenly released.
Anne would check on the others in a moment, and find out what her body had done in her absence. But for now she sat in the middle of the street and breathed air, beautiful Washington spring air, through her own lungs again. Along the sidewalks, the trees were starting to bud.
Antigone had grown steadily more outraged as the assassination became more and more bungled. After Astral was imprisoned, Antigone uttered an epithet not spoken in nearly three thousand years, and hurled a brazier into the scrying pool, breaking the spell and ruining the picture.
She then directed her ire at Tiresias, her longtimevery long timeconfidant and chief henchman. "I thought you said it would work," she spat. "That's some plan!" She snorted. "Some foresight!"
The blind man clutched the wrinkled, once-female breasts from which he drew his blood and his power. "But... all the auguries pointed to success, Anti. Even the simple facts said Astral should have killed them..."
"Well, you'd best improve your grasp of facts and auguries, or the next member of the Vitalongae I choose to remove may be you. And I shall be far more successful than that fool was." Antigone stormed out of the large pool room. "And you said I would never hear from Hannibal again"
The phone rang.
Tiresias trembled as Antigone stormed across the office, afraid he could foresee exactly who was calling and what Anti's reaction would be.
She picked up the receiver. "Called up to gloat?" she said.
"Why would I call you to gloat?" Hannibal asked. "I'm sure you didn't send an assassin after me, since we all know the Vitalongae are forbidden to kill each other."
"Directly," Antigone added, sullenly.
"Directly," Hannibal corrected himself. "Well, I'm sure it wasn't you anyway, since your plans are usually a little better than this. The killer possessing a friend's body was clever, but you sorely underestimated Anne and Harvey. They're mainly the reason I called. To inform you that they don't like you much now, and that I won't have to possess them in order to bring them crashing down on you. In fact, they might do it all by themselves, unless you wish to strike a deal...."
Antigone sighed. "Invoking your precious Fletcher clause?"
"Indeed I am. They and theirs are off limits to the Vitalongae. You can't attack them, and they can't attack you... directly. Do wave hello to Tiresias for me."
Hannibal could hear Antigone cursing as Jack hung up the phone for him. The call brought a slight smile to his face, although this had been one of the closest calls yet. With his good hand, Hannibal brought the bottle containing Astral up to his face. Underneath the painted sigils and the dark green glass, he could see a faint mist swirling around, a mist that might have resembled a tiny woman, trying to escape her prison and utterly failing.
"You'll never get out, you know," he told the little woman. "But look on the bright side: the bottle also keeps your spirit from decaying. I daresay you'll be in there a very long time." He reached under his desk and placed the bottle in a small safe. "It seems you're going to be an immortal, after all." He slammed the door shut.
Anne, Harvey, and Thomas Morgan met in a diner later that night, to discuss the wrap-up of the case. They only ordered food for two, since Morgan's body was still in a Seekers debriefing room. "Your plan was right on the money," Morgan told Anne, "and the drain has completely ended. All of Astral's victims are expected to recover within the week."
"Do you know what we're going to do about all the people who saw Annie and I fighting out in the street?" Harvey asked.
"Well, I'd love to pin the blame on Astral and tarnish the Havoc Squad's reputation," Anne said, "but even if anybody believed it, the news of an Omega ghost who can possess people might do more harm than good."
"SIRECOM can always say it was a shapeshifter posing as Anne, and that you two stopped her out of civic duty. The agency owes you that muchor at least I do. And of course, I'll keep quiet about your associations with the Colony and Astral's mystery target." Morgan sat up and cocked his head, listening to something nobody in the diner could hear. "Listen, I have to get back to my body. It was a pleasure working with you." He stared at Anne, and placed his phantasmal hand over hers. "Maybe we could team up again sometime."
"Yeah, next time a psycho vampiress is on the loose. And not a minute sooner. Goodbye, Morgan." Anne waved, and Morgan slowly disappeared.
"He took being shot down pretty well," Harvey said with a chuckle. Then he took his granddaughter's hand. "Annie, you have no idea how glad I am to see you okay. Or how glad I am that you weren't the one doing those crazy things."
"I wish I could be so glad," Anne replied. "I still feel partly responsible. It was my body that beat up Agony, and you guys. And poor Rich... what do I tell him?"
"That it was a woman in your body and not a man?" he offered, weakly.
"That's a tiny band-aid for a big wound." Anne sighed and stared deep into her cup of coffee. "I wish I could say we had wrapped up this case. I know I'll be dealing with it for a while." Anne looked at her grandfather. "I know I'm never leaving my body again. And maybe I should start loosening up a little, letting my baser side get its way every now and then. Maybe I should open myself up to people like Rich, so I won't be open to people like Astral."
"That's exactly what Astral said."
"I know. She had a knack for pulling exactly what you didn't want to hear right out of your head." Anne stirred her finger around in the coffee, grateful for the real sensation and the real warmth. "Whatever Hannibal's doing with that abusive bitch, I hope it hurts."
The bottle and safe were both magically sealed, and the insides were astrally barren. There was only blackness stretching to infinity, and one petty, enraged soul in the middle of it. Because there was no sense of scale, the blackness didn't seem to be far away; it seemed to be right up close to her, suffocating her, asphyxiating her, burying her alive.
Astral had spent much of her life, and the entire last month, in the bright landscapes of astral space. And now she was cut off from all of it. She had tasted of life again after a long period in the underworld, living in one of the most amazing bodies she had ever seen, and now she was cut off from all that as well. Astral was alone. Stuck with only herself, her black soul, for company. Forever.
Astral screamed. Nobody heard it.
Well, how's that for a twentieth issue celebration? Next issue I take a breather (four issues in four weeks can drain a guy) and Joltin' Jeff McCoskey fills in! He'll be penning a grateful Hannibal's tale of sports and super-powers; the Omega baseball season starts in Legacy #21...
Thomas "Avatar" Morgan created by Matt Rossi, appears courtesy of Matt Dempster. Astral, Antigone, and Tiresias created by and courtesy of Matt Rossi. Everything else created by, written by, and c. Marc Singer. A Legacy House production.
Back to the top