[AC] Anthology 2: Lonely Stranger: V & VI (Mature)

Artifice Comics artificecomics at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Jan 11 05:39:07 PST 2004

>>From Artifice Comics:


Anthology Two Presents
Lonely Stranger:
"V & VI"
By Aaron Baugh


The blue light surrounded me again, and I stepped through the portal.

Gabriel was there to greet me, and I was thoroughly confused when he
handed me my jacket. "You lost this a while back," he said, and I
nodded thanks and put it on. Gabriel turned and we walked deeper

Purgatory. Limbo. Nothing. The Void. In-Between.

This is all those things, and none of them. Deep, isn't it?

"Nothing going on in the great universe?" I asked after a time. 

"Always things happening, my friend. Always." Gabriel was tall, just a
hair taller than me, his skin tanned, eyes blue, hair black. And he
was slim. Pretty normal looking, really, until you caught him just
right out of the corner of your eye and saw the luminescent outline of
eight pairs of wings sprouting from his back. Oh, you could put your
hand right there and feel nothing, look at him for days without
blinking and never see them, but out of the corner of your eye, when
things were juuuust right, you caught 'em, bam, there and gone, blink
of an eye.

I saw them once, but I can't be certain. How else would I know to tell
you about them?

But instead of looking for his wings, I paid attention to his words.
"I can't imagine how lonely you must be, my friend. Having no sense of
self, no memory."

I nodded. "If I could remember to feel lonely, Gabriel, I would. But
you've explained this to me before. I don't know how many times or
where, but I know you have."

"I've decided to let you have some of that back." 

I stopped walking, and he turned to face me. 

"What does that mean?"

"I told you once that there were thirteen people that we've been able
to find across the strings of the universes to carry out your duties.
I want to introduce you to one of them."

A portal opened before us and she stepped out. 

Before I continue, I should mention that in this place, the
omniscience sense goes bye-bye. Nothing to know, really. I mean, we
weren't actually walking on anything. It was like being in a room
painted all the same color that rotated without you noticing. What's
the difference between the floor, walls, ceiling? And there wasn't
anyone here that stayed here. Purgatory, after all, was the inner
space between the upper and lower decks of creation, if you'll follow
my thinking.

So, the point is, I didn't know she was going to show up, and I didn't
know who she was when she arrived, but I knew that she was beautiful,
and that we had a lot in common. How many times do two of God's agents
run into one another with an infinite number of dimensions to police?

But memory bloomed in my mind. 

My name.


And when I looked at this woman with the short, red hair and dark
eyes, I saw that for the first time she knew her own name, too.

It was Dana.

I know because we started talking, and it was plain that neither of us
knew quite what to say.

"We can't really talk about work, can we?" she said. "I know what you
do, you know what I do."

"And we can't remember what we did, so definitely not a subject
option," I agreed.

We were silent for a bit, sitting there in the middle of nothing. 

"I wish we could go somewhere," she said after a time.

"Really? Where would you go?"

"Home. To see my parents, whoever they are."

"Me too."

I looked at her, cleared my throat. It was a silly, nervous sound.

"Why do you think Gabriel gave us this?"

She shrugged. "A reward for a good job? Though I'm not sure I like

"Am I that bad?"

"Oh no!" she said quickly, "far from it, but I think it's cruel that
I'm in the middle of nowhere with one of the only people who could
possibly understand my situation..."

"...and you're bored out of your mind."

She laughed. "Something like that. I want to remember my name, Ben. I
want to remember yours, too. We might end up working together

I shook my head. "You know the rules. I don't think we'll hold on to
this after we step out again. We only have now."

Dana paused, then stared into my eyes, wet her bottom lip. "Only now?"

"Yes," I replied, catching her drift immediately. "No consequences at


I nodded, then took off my jacket. We shared a look, and we were both
smiling as we kissed, softly, then with more ardor.

A time later, we lay wonderfully sated on a makeshift cushion of our
own clothes.

"It's coming back to me," we both said at the same time, then laughed.

"You first," I prompted. 

"I'm almost thirty, if I'd stayed where I was born. My dad was a
musician, a writer, mainly. Mom did most of the working, running a
photography studio out of the house. I hated it that I could never go
in those rooms, since they were for business only. Funny that memory
should come out."


"Two, brothers. Both younger than me."

I shifted on our cushion, and she rearranged herself to put her head
on my chest. "How can we be so unique and not have our siblings be the
same? Wouldn't it be a family trait?"

She shook her head, and I felt her hair against my skin. "No, not
really. My mom was young when she had me, still in high school. The
other two came at a more reasonable age, post-marriage. What about

"I was late. Mom was in her thirties, an odd thing at that time. There
were worries I'd be harmed in some way, turn out disabled or something
like that."

"Did you have brothers and sisters?"

"Umm hmm. Three sisters, all older. I was like the oldest, and we were
most like Dad. The others took after Mom, especially after they became
mothers." My heart slowed, painfully, thinking about them, about Dad's
laugh and his big stupid belly and Mom's gentleness, her willingness
to listen and her fallacy in thinking that she couldn't understand
some of the ways of the world.

Dana must have sensed something, because she lifted her head and
kissed my chin softly. "This was nice," she began, and I knew that the
magic pullstring attached to her soul was pulling her towards the next
gate, the next job, the next duty. She was warm against me, and I
didn't want her to go.

She sat up and started to re-dress, and I came up on my elbows,
suppressing (unsuccessfully) a chuckle.

"What?" she inquired.

"Just thinking. We could both be the 'one' that is used to keep morale
high for the other twelve. There may be eleven other women, and I'm
the prize stud."

Her wonderfully dark eyes narrowed. "And I would be, what? A strumpet?

I leaned in and kissed her softly, reversing the course of her
progress in getting dressed. "You'd be wonderful, whatever you called

She pushed me away, gently, and her hand rubbed my jaw, short whiskers
rasping. "I have to go."

And she stood up, finished dressing, and she walked a few short steps
before a blue flare signified her gating out to her next mission. Her
next job.

I was tying my left boot when Gabriel approached. "It's almost time
again, my friend."

I nodded, not bothering to look up. "Right."

"You're upset?"

"Damn right I am," I said, standing and shrugging on my jacket,
tugging the collar out from under my neck.

"Better to have loved and lost," began Gabriel, "than to never have

"HORSESHIT!" I yelled, interrupting him. "Whoever said that was
a...fuck!" I was pissed. I didn't know why, but there it was, red-hot
anger all out and ugly.

The archangel stepped beside me, laid a cool hand on my shoulder. "I
thought this would be good. I'd give you a chance to have some memory
back, have a moment of pleasure with another who deserves it as much
as you."

"So this was liberty? Leave, if you will? Or is it the treat you give
a dog after it rolls over for you? Positive reinforcement? The shit of
it, Gabriel, is that I don't know how many times this has happened.
How many times Dana's had a rendezvous with an angel or an agent, or
how many other agents I've had the pleasure of fucking. I don't know
any of it, and since I can't know for certain, it pisses me off.
That's the way it is."

Gabriel nodded, so damned calm and smug and calm and patient and calm
and understanding. Bastard.

"Ben," he began, "this is the first time you've met her, and the first
time you've been with her. She has never met another agent, never been
with an agent before today. And I can tell you another thing, too."

I stepped away, unwilling to listen. Already I could feel the pull,
feel the urge to travel again.

"Listen," he continued. Despite myself, I stopped, resisted the urge.
"Listen to me," he repeated. "She remembers everything that happened
today, a perfect, crystal image. Or, as perfect as human memory can

Turning, I looked at him. "And me?" 

"You have the choice. She made it as she left, an unsaid desire that,
nonetheless, was granted."

"By you?"

Gabriel shook his head, then pointed up, silently. "He is the font of
your powers, the overall guiding force that governs Creation. He can
do what he pleases, within reason, of course, and He is the one who
grants boons in exchange for immense sacrifice. But he will not give
you a gift you do not want." Gabriel lowered his hand, stepped closer.
"What is your choice?"

I stared at Gabriel for long moments, thinking as I tried to see his

After fifteen seconds, I turned and entered the portal.

As for me, I'll be on my way.

But I remembered.

* * *


The blue light surrounded me again, and I stepped through the

Into nothing.

I can't really describe the feeling of stepping into weightless
near-vacuum. Breathing, that thing that we all seem to take for
granted, is impossible, and I'll admit to panic when I tried it and
got a lungful of nothing.

Lucky for me, I have excellent insurance that comes with the job.

So I was there, in geosynchronous orbit with a large continent on the
planet beneath me, pondering. Being away from the very stuff of this
particular dimension, I hadn't gotten my flash of insight as to what I
had to do here. While I was considering exactly where to make
planetfall, the powers that be in this corner of the universe made the
decision for me.

The Excelsior Mk II anti-satellite interceptor missile was carried on
the space warfare platforms fielded by the One Earth government,
ostensibly to eradicate that horizon as a place for terrorists to put
weapons of mass destruction.

It also made a handy first defense against extra-terrestrial threats
to the planet.

Looking back, I figure that little nine pound warhead hit me at
something like forty thousand miles an hour, rendering the use of an
explosive warhead redundant. But they had one.

Micro-nukes were all the rage, with little EMP shockwaves and nearly
no radiation that hung around for more than a few hours. Don't ask me
how they did it, the physics are mind-boggling. But one of those
little fuckers blew me the hell out of orbit and sent me plunging
through the atmosphere and, as chance would have it, in the
continental shallows off the supercontinent of North Pangea.

I don't think it needs to be said that I put a rather large hole in
the sea floor, destroying a nice tourist spot by creating a series of
moderate tsunamis that reached at least twenty miles inland. That, and
I had all my clothes burn off.

That sucks.

I'm not certain how long I laid at the bottom of my own trench, don't
know how long it was before a One Earth government recovery team found
me and took me ashore.

What I do know is that they restrained me and put me in a day-glo
yellow suit that I imagined was given to prisoners shortly before they
were executed. Too bad they couldn't kill me.

Consciousness returned when they were trying the gas, and I'd had
enough time for the omniscience to kick in, so I knew where they'd put
the bent and broken needles, where the people who'd tried to cut me
had failed, and I was amused enough to wake up laughing.

I wouldn't have, had I knew what was going to happen just then.

Doors opened, and a smug-looking guy walked in, looking very much the
part of a government superhero.

That's what he was, naturally, and it was then that I realized who
this guy was.


The indestructible, omniscient protector of the world, the man who'd
eradicated hunger and war, who was the unstoppable force behind the
immovable object that was the One Earth government. He was God on
earth, and horribly, I realized that he'd killed an angel to do it

He was one of the thirteen, and he knew exactly who I was.

"Got a name?" he asked, dark hair pomaded into place. 

I nodded, thoughtful of what was exactly happening here. "How'd you do
it?" I heard myself ask.

"What, resist the urges?" 

I nodded, and he continued. "They pass, just like hunger. Oh, it was
hard for the first decade or so, but by then I was so busy that I
really didn't notice. Putting out the brushfire wars in Zululand,
getting the world to play nice with each other, eradicating those who
thought One Earth wasn't a good idea, and oh, don't get me started on
what I did to eliminate rap music."

I smiled despite the situation and turned the steel shackles to dust
around my ankles, waist, and wrists. "I'd like to hear all about it,"
I said.

Omnius stood, and the power and magnetism he radiated could be nearly
felt by the slight pressure on everything around him.

"Won't happen."

I smiled. "Should we take this somewhere else? This looks like a nice
little place, lots of innocents around."

"Why? His voice in your head tells you that you have to kill me, then
scour all life from this planet and the moon, right?"

He was.

"So why shouldn't we just start it now and get it over with?"

I raised my hands. "No reason, really, but I don't feel the tug right
now, and yellow isn't my best color. I was actually hoping to get some
decent clothes and maybe a beer before we go mano-a-mano and I grind
your face into a smooth stone."

Omnius smiled. "Sense getting fuzzy on you?"

"A bit." And he was right. I couldn't see past the next few hours,
thought disappeared into a curtain of mist, like driving on a foggy
highway. "I kind of like it."

"Me too," he admitted. "Never losing sometimes has a way of letting
you forget what the thrill of competition is like."


"What?" he said, confused. 

"My name's Ben. You got one other than Omnius?"

He shook his head. "It never came back, any of it."

"A shame," I said, and meant it. "You got out before they introduced a
new line of perks."


"Some. But it's enough for me." 

Omnius nodded and we walked out of the facility, stopping at a mall on
the way to a corner bar that he assured me, sold killer cheeseburgers
and chili-cheese fries.


A half-full pitcher of dark beer sat on the scarred oak table, the
ninth in a series. My third cheeseburger sat unfinished, as Omnius was
wrapping up the story of how he had, essentially, walked away from God
and decided that he was quitting as an agent. I'd already told him
about myself, what little had been exposed to me, and he poured the
last dregs from the pitcher and we clinked glasses and downed the

When we stood, our eyes were sad, and we shook hands. 

"Damn shame it has to be this way, Ben."

"It is. Why did you do it?"

"Thankless job, you know? There wasn't anything good about it. Here,
I've created something, created lasting good, and I know all of it."

"Good at the point of a sword?"

"Hell, you've probably destroyed a few worlds in the past."

"Maybe. But I wouldn't remember."

"I hope you remember what we're about to do today."

"If I survive."


"But I've never lost before, Omnius."

"Me neither, Ben. Looks like one of our records gets shot to hell

"Right." And I hit him. Hard. It was a sucker punch, I' ll admit, but
it had to start somehow, might as well be me.

When he got up, some six blocks down the way amongst the rubble of a
store, he was covered in a blue nimbus, matching my own white one in

Lord God, this was going to be tough.


My father used to never watch sports from the beginning, because he
thought it was boring. Instead, he'd flip around until he found a
close game with only a few minutes left. "Ben," he'd tell me, "no
reason to waste a whole damn day watching everything. It's only the
last few minutes that count, especially when it's a damn close

He would've been watching me now, that's for damn sure.

We'd been fighting for six days, ravaged the industrialized eastern
section of North Pangea, on our way to the floating city of Atlantis
5, which promptly sank after I punched a hole through its length while
traveling at about Mach 4.

The earthquake that destroyed the largest city in South Pangea was
caused when Omnius hit the ground after a masterful counter-attack by
yours truly. But the mile-wide pulse of energy that slammed me into a
nine-mile trench in the tallest mountain range on the planet was
masterful as well.

It was over that southern super-continent that the last confrontation
would occur. Omnius picked himself up out of a big-ass hole at about
the same time I got to my feet, and we both began pulling at the
fabric of the universe for our own cords of Power. I can only imagine
that an orbital observer would have seen two brilliant pinpoints of
light on the surface of Earth, one blue, one white, both rivaling the

By this time, over a third of the world's population was dead. Even if
we stopped right then, another twenty percent would have starved, or
been killed in riots as leaders emerged due to Omnius being otherwise

The world was starting to do a good job of killing itself, too.
Earthquakes jump-started volcanoes, continents began to shift
slightly, causing more quakes that spawned tidal waves and tsunamis
worse than any previously recorded. These natural disasters would take
care of the rest of the population, or rather, enough of them. But I
was still here, and provided I survived the rest of the battle, I'd
finish the job beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The two mini-suns began to travel towards each other, a human form at
the head of each comet-like projectile. Omnius had his energy ahead of
him, a massive blunt shield that would smite me like a bug on a

I was much the same, but a scant second before impact, when the world
shuddered and bucked beneath us and destruction spread in our wakes, I
changed the form of my God-fueled power, and turned that massive
shield edge-on, honed it like a knife, and that's how it was when we

God tore a continent in half.

The hypersonic shockwave reached around the world twice, accelerating
the loss of life and the damage done to all living creatures, to the
living earth. Millions ceased to exist as a super-compressed wall of
air boiled around the planet, so dense that it might as well have been
concrete traveling nine times the speed of sound.

The blood and bone and guts and assorted other biological parts of the
being formerly known as Omnius disintegrated as I flew through him.

So great was my velocity, so strong was the flow of Power, that I
finished everything in one blow.

Pulling back, I looped into the air, then crashed down through the
crust of the planet with little resistance, boiled rock as I did so,
until I reached the molten core of the world, it's rocky heart.

At that instant, I stopped and sent all that energy radiating out in a
massive corona that obliterated the Earth in the span of heartbeats.
The moon, that loyal little satellite, ceased to be.

The corona found the research station on Mars, found the two probes
orbiting Venus, and wiped out the first commercial space expedition
that was busy towing an asteroid into near-earth orbit for mining.

I even got Voyager I, that intrepid little thing spinning out of the
void and approaching another system.

I stopped it all, snuffed it all out.


Hanging in space is a liberating thing. Not being occupied with
anything in particular, I reflected on Omnius, how his will must have
been so strong to resist the pull of God on his soul, or inner self,
or whatever.

I'd been feeling that pull now for a few hours, and I found that I
couldn't resist it much longer than that, as it was growing more and
more insistent.

But I realized that one of the thirteen was gone. We were twelve.

You can't cry in space. 

I could see the portal open just a few yards away, but damn, I was
tired. I suppose that destroying planets does that to a guy.

Willing the portal to come to me didn't work. I was lazy, I'll admit,
but I was sore in places I didn't know I had, and traveling that short
distance was a little more work than I wanted to do right then.

But I did. 

As for me, I went on my way.

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