Apocalypso: Part 2

by Sami Merchi





July 2nd. It's summer on the northern hemisphere. One of the hottest summers of the century. (No, not Rachel.) In New York, New York, the Big Apple, the air warmed by the burning asphalt wavers and creates little mirages as people try to flee the sweltering heat into what little shadow they can find, and even there, they can't stop sweating. In Los Angeles, California, the City of Angels, masses and masses of shoes get ruined when their rubber soles melt on the sidewalk when people stand in the same place on the sun-heated asphalt. In Phoenix, Arizona the water reserves are so low that the city rations the water supplies, only letting houses have water on certain days. In Mexico City, hundreds of people die of sunstrokes and dehydration daily.

In Southeastern Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, high in the mountains where a jungle so thick few others on this planet can rival it, a low, endless, rhythmical sound defies the merciless wrath of the sun, going on and on and on and on, never seeming to tire or to hold pause, even under the hottest midday burning sun.


In the jungle, no one can hear you drum.

Or so you think.

"The time, it approaches", came a female voice.

"You're sure this will work?" answered a male voice.

"I am certain. Don't worry, my love. Before the sun sets tomorrow, the portal will be fully open, and an unspeakable chaos will be unleashed onto this world -- a world which will be destroyed unless it acknowledges us as its ultimate masters."

"Good... Good..." the man answered, and looked at the black, Caribbean woman clad in ancient charms and clothing of the Maya culture, as she kept incessantly, rhythmically, drumming her hands on the yoruba spirit drums. "You've proven a good ally. I'm looking forward to ruling the world with you...CALYPSO."

Calypso looked up with a smirk, but never once let her rhythm stray, as she looked up into the eyes of her lover, a black man with short curly hair and a moustache, and clad in a white bodysuit. "I'll be happy to provide you exactly what you want, my love...MOSES MAGNUM."

Uh-oh. Sounds ominous. And I sound like the narrator for HEROES FOR HIRE. We'd better jump to another location and see what the heroes are about to do about this world-threatening menace...


"Hrmp. Okay, I'll go get 'em", Tabitha said with a pouting expression, and left the room, going out to the balcony of the tower. With a snap of her fingers, a beach-ball sized glowing orb appeared beside her, and then, with a motion of her hand, streaked skywards, exploding above the buildings in a firestorm of sound and light. "YO, GUYS!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "BRIDGE IS ON THE PHONE AND WANTS TO TALK TO US! GET YOUR BUTTS OVER HERE, PRONTO!"


"I hate this, Neal."

"I know, Manoli. You've been telling me that every ten minutes for the past few days", Neal Conan replied to Manoli Wetherell, as he kept driving the TV van thru the streets of Villahermosa in Southeastern Mexico. "But whining isn't going to get us out of here. Let's just get done with this job, and go home..."

"I don't *do* documentaries on the cultural decay of some Indians. I was at the Gulf. I was in Genosha. I was in Yugoslavia. I can't take this. This is too quiet. This is too peaceful. I hate this."

"They're not Indians, they're Native Americans. Besides, there's been some big scuffles up in the Chiapas region about indigenous rights. If you're lucky, you'll find some fighting." He smiled slightly. "You always do, you know. No matter where we go."

"Yeah, right. Remember Dallas, with the X-Men? Now *that* was something. Here? What are we going to find? Two Indians beating on a third? I swear, I'm going to be laughed right out of the next war correspondant get-together..."

"Yeah well, I don't mind so much not having to be afraid of whether I'll ever get to use the whole round trip plane ticket..."

"You're a coward, Neal. No guts, no glory."

"And you've got a death wish, Manoli."


"Okay, Bridge, we're here", Sam said, standing before the viewscreen. "What's the problem?"

"Yeah, and make it snappy, jefe -- I've got a killer paella on the stove", Rictor commented, leaning backwards against the wall, his ankles crossed, his hands in the pockets of his jeans as he waited.

POP! Tabitha's bubble gum balloon exploded, and she gathered the mess back into her mouth, starting to chew on it again as she listened to the Cranberries on her Discman. "I think that might be a worse disaster waiting to happen than what Bridge's going to tell us..."

"I find that an unlikely eventuality, Meltdown", Shatterstar replied in a serious tone, his arms crossed over his chest as he stood behind Sam in as rigid a posture as ever, watching the viewscreen.

"She was *joking*, Shatty", Douglock commented, and looked over towards Sam, with a faint smile. "You know, it *shows* that Cable trained that guy."

"Erroneous statement", Warlock interjected. "Phrasing of SelfSoulFriendCypherDoug implies all of SelFriendShatterStar's training done by FormerSelfMentorCableSir. Bulk of SelFriendShatterStar's training has been received in future timeline of dimension designate: Mojoworld, ruled by SelFoeMojoTheFifth."

"*If* you're all done with your Abbott & Costello routine", Bridge said gruffly on the viewscreen, "I've got a big problem. So you might want to shut up, sit down, and listen, because all of Earth is under a threat of being destroyed."

"Again? But that trick NEVER works!" Tabitha commented with dry amusement.

Bridge peered at Tabitha for a while, before looking back to Sam. "Where's Dani?"

"She's down in Miami with Bobby", Sam replied. "Why? What's this all about, Bridge?"

"I'm transferring some files to you right now", Bridge said. "In short, SHIELD intelligence has detected activity in Southeastern Mexico, in the ancient Mayan city of Palenque."

"Mexico?" Rictor asked, lifting an eyebrow, his expression suddenly a whole lot more curious, his hands coming out of his pockets. "I've heard of Palenque. In the state of Chiapas. Hasn't there been some trouble there with the Mayas' rights to the land?"

"Yes", Bridge replied. "That's not our worry right now, though."

"Moses Magnum and Calypso?" Douglock asked, his left hand interfacing with the computer equipment of the room, as he read thru the files Bridge was in the process of transferring, and displayed on another viewscreen visuals of the two villains. "Aren't those some third-rate supervillains? What makes them such a big problem?"

"Have you ever heard of the N'garai?" Bridge asked then.

Sam's eyes narrowed instantly. "Ah've heard of them. They're supposed to be dead now, though. When Ah was with the X-Men, we fought a buncha critters callin' themselves the Ru'tai. Supposed ta be from the same dimension, and overthrew the N'garai and killed 'em."

"That's right", Bridge nodded to Sam. "The Maya at Palenque had a cult that worshipped the N'garai. One of the N'garai cairns that can be found all over the world -- one of which is at the Xavier Institute -- happened to be in Palenque. Centuries ago, the Maya worshipped the cairn with blood sacrifices -- or so my experts tell me."

"Okay, so this is a neat history lesson and all", Tabitha commented, "but what's any of this got to do with our monthly episode of Earth Is In Peril?"

Bridge glanced at Tabitha, and continued. "Right now, we've got reason to suspect that someone has activated the N'garai cairn in Palenque, and is using it to bring the N'garai to Earth."

"Hang on", Sam said. "Pilgrimm told me an' the X-Men that the N'garai were destroyed."

"Does this look very dead?" Bridge asked, and sent in a video feed, bringing a picture onto the viewscreen of a jungle setting, and five men, heavily armed and armored, trekking thru the growth in darkness, underneath moonlight.

Suddenly, there was chaos, dark forms flickering everywhere, too fast to get a good look at them, and horrible screams began, mixed with inhuman squeals, and gunfire began illuminating the view with bursts of light. The picture suddenly froze as Bridge pushed a freeze-frame button, just when a flash of a gun illuminated the face of one of the dark forms.

"That's a N'garai, not a Ru'tai", Bridge said grimly.

"Ah guess you're right", Sam nodded. "Don't look any like the Ru'tai Ah ran inta." He paused for a moment. "How do you know so much 'bout these critters, Bridge?"

"We're SHIELD", Bridge simply replied. "We know *everything*." He continued after a moment. "I lost six of my best men on that mission. The retrieval team went in after them two days ago. Not a single trace of their bodies could be found. All they found was the camera that this tape is from, part of my squad's equipment, and the signs of a fight. Aside from that, the N'garai pretty much disappeared back into the jungle, looks like with the bodies of my men."

"Okay", Rictor said. "Looks like a mix of Alien and Predator. But why call us? Why not call Dr Strange, or Blade the Vampire Hunter, or something? What've we got to do with some magical Maya boogie-men?"

"The N'garai ain't magical, Ric", Sam said, looking over towards his teammate. "Just th' opposite, from what Ah know. When Ah ran inta the Ru'tai, the big deal with them was -- according ta the Pilgrimm guy, anyway -- that the Ru'tai use magic. The N'garai didn't. They're just a big pack o' mean."

"Guthrie is right", Bridge nodded. "The N'garai are to SHIELD nothing but a bunch of illegal aliens hellbent on conquering our world and destroying humanity."

"Okay", Doug nodded. "I can buy that. But why not the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Heroes For Hire? Why us?"

Bridge hesitated for a moment. "Someone was already sent in."

"Someone?" Shatterstar asked. "One man was sent against the N'garai? Za's vid, but he must be a mighty warrior indeed to have the foojkies to face these monsters alone!"

"O-kayyyy..." Doug said hesitantly, ignoring Shatterstar. "But you're calling us anyway, becauuusssse...?"

"The man that was sent in is called Nuke", Bridge replied. "An American super-soldier. He'll reach Palenque tonight. And if he gets to cut loose, anything in his path will get destroyed. Palenque is a big deal to archaeologists and historians. It's one of the largest remaining Maya cities."

"There's more, though, isn't there, Bridge?" Doug asked. "He's American, and if he destroys one of Mexico's most preeminent cultural treasures --?"

"Exactly. He will destroy any civilians caught in the line of fire, and will not pay any consideration to the cultural importance of Palenque -- if he gets to cut loose in there, it could mean a big international incident between Mexico and the USA."

"That would not be good", Rictor commented. "Who's the schmuck who sent this Nuke guy in?"

"That, Richter, is on a strictly need-to-know basis. And right now, you don't", Bridge replied.

"I love political intrigue", Tabitha smirked. "Do you know anyone named 'Deep Throat', Bridge?"

Ignoring Tabitha, as Bridge did, Sam bit his lower lip thoughtfully for a few moments, then nodded. "Okay", he then said. "So you can't *officially* do anything, because your superior's already handling this matter, right? Which is why you can't ask th' Avengers 'r the Heroes For Hire -- dealin' with them'd be official business. So you come to us instead."

"That's it, Guthrie", Bridge nodded. "If you won't get over there, and solve this mess before Nuke gets there, there's going to be hell to pay."

"Okay", Sam nodded, and remained silent for a while, then looked at Bridge again. "So you want us to get over there, find Moses Magnum and Calypso, make 'em stop bringin' N'garai over, hunt down what N'garai might be on Earth already, an' then tell this Nuke guy when he shows up, that the job's done already."

"Basically, yes", Bridge nodded.

"But what'll we do for an encore?" Tabitha grinned.

"How long do we have?" Doug asked.

"Nuke is due in Palenque around 2230 hours local time today", Bridge answered Doug.
"That doesn't give us much time", Rictor commented.

"More than sufficient time to accomplish our mission objectives", Shatterstar replied. "We know *who* our enemies are, and we know *where* they are. *Why* they are doing this will not ultimately
matter, and as for *how* they will be defeated -- we come in hard and
fast and leave a trail of destruction in our wake!" he claimed, his eyes flaring, narrowing determinedly.

"Uhm -- well, pretty much what he said", Sam nodded. "Except for the destruction part. We're goin' there so there won't be any need for this Nuke guy, not to do what we're hopin' to stop him from doing."

"Right", Doug nodded. "Those ancient ruins are important. We need to make sure we'll do whatever we can to be careful not to damage them." He glanced over his shoulder towards Tabitha and Rictor. "That means you two", he grinned, and then used his sound synthesizer to playback a Darth Vader sample. "No disintegrations."

"An' here Ah was thinkin' Star Wars jokes were Rachel an' Illyana's forte", Sam grinned, and then looked back to Bridge. "Okay. We'll be on our way. X-Force out." He pressed a key, and the viewscreen went black, after which he looked over to Doug. "That mean you two're comin' along for this mission, Doug, 'Lock?"

Doug nodded once. "Yeah", he said. "If you'll let us, anyway. Right, 'Lock?"

"Affirmative, SelfSoulFriendCypherDoug", Warlock reported, his head rising off Doug's left shoulder. "SelFriends have need of Self and SelfSoulFriendCypherDoug!" Suddenly a red cape sprouted off Douglock's shoulders, and aside from his heads, he turned into a replica of Superman. "SelFoes must go thru Self if they wish to harm innocent lifeforms!" he proclaimed, pointing a finger towards the ceiling.

"I will depart to prepare our jet", Shatterstar stated, and headed towards the exit, then paused for a moment, his nostrils flaring, and his eyes narrowing. "Prepare yourselves", he then commented. "I smell smoke. We may be under attack."

"OH S***!!!" Rictor cried out, and suddenly jumped to action. "MY PAELLA!" he shouted, as he dashed out of the room.

"I said it would be a bigger disaster", Tabitha smirked amusedly. Shatterstar shrugged once, and resumed on his way, leaving the room as well.

"Okay, Doug, Ah want you to go check out the Nightwing with Shatty", Sam said. "Ah want it ready ta fly in thirty. Take all the data Bridge sent with you, so we can study it during the trip. Tab -- go help Ric clean up fast, and tell him we're rolling in thirty. Ah'll see if Ah can reach Bobby an' Dani in Miami in the meanwhile."

"Gotcha, Fearless", Doug said, changing his form back to the regular Douglock form, walking over to the balcony, and engaging his boot-jets, soaring off to the sky and towards the direction of the hangars and the runway.

Tabitha walked off as well, but stopped at the doorway. Silently, she glanced over her shoulder, watching Sam tap a few keys and start estabilishing contact to the penthouse apartment of the Da Costa International building in Miami. She watched her ex-boyfriend silently a few moments. Her lips parted. Then, she just shook her head quietly, turned her head to face front again, and left.


"How can you do this to me, Paco??"

"I... I am *sorry*, Bonita... It...it was a mistake!"

Meet Paco Juarez, 15 years young. His parents moved to Palenque two years ago from Mexico City, to work in the tourism business. The Palenque National Park near the town was the site of the actual Mayan city from whence the present-day Palenque, several miles from the actual ruins, derived its name. Paco's parents decided to cash in on the tourism from abroad, and arrange guided tours to the Mayan city -- for a suitable amount of profit, of course. However, what they did not take into account was that their son, their only child, was in his teens -- the age when making friends was hardest. For almost two years, he had lived without any friends at all. Until Bonita Montoya had come to his life.

Meet Bonita Montoya, also 15 years young. Her roots are deep set in Palenque. She is a descendant of the Mayas who centuries ago lived in the Palenque area. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father has slaved 16-hour days as a car mechanic, sorely needed here in the outback where good roads were nothing but a dream. Unfortunately, Bonita's father was more than a little frustrated by his heavy workload, and she would have to take care of the house all by herself and be very very quiet while doing it lest she anger her father.

Paco had too much time on his hands. He didn't have any friends to spend his time with. Bonita had too little time in her hands. Taking care of the house was rough for a girl her age. So when Paco, after just shyly watching Bonita at school for over 1.5 years, finally had gathered up the courage to ask her out on a date, she had said no. But he had asked why, and she had told him she was too busy taking care of the house. So he had offered to help her in the chores. Together, they had balanced their time. Paco gave away part of his free time to help Bonita, so she could have more time to spend with him.

They fell in love very quickly. Paco's shy, timid conduct had been very appealing to Bonita who was very afraid of overbearing men, once she had gotten to know him. But then Paco had gotten drunk one night, when the other boys forced him to via peer pressure. And he had lost his virginity to someone who Bonita had thought to be her best friend, but who told Bonita all of this with a laugh. Which brings us here and now, near the ruins of the ancient Mayan city. At night.

"I *know* it was a mistake!", Bonita cried out, with tears in her eyes. "I would not be this upset if it had not been! Do you have any idea how it felt when Maria told me she had slept with my boyfriend?"

"I'm *sorry*, Bonita!" Paco said in anguish. "Tell me how I can make it all better --"

"You *can't*, Paco!"

The two teens suddenly paused, and looked towards the jungle nearby.

"Did you see something move in there, Paco?" Bonita asked with a quiver to her voice.

"I'm not sur--" Paco started, before a huge, dark form sprang like lightning from the jungle. He never even had the chance to scream, as a monstrous sharp-clawed hand slashed across him, tearing him open from crotch to sternum.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" Bonita, however, had slightly over a second to scream, before the monster's strong tail wrapped around her throat, crushed it, and then with a flick of the tail, broke the already-dead girl's neck.

Mr and Mrs Juarez would be sorry they didn't pay more attention to their son while he still lived. Mr Montoya would be sorry he was so cruel to his only daughter. They wouldn't ever even find enough of their children to bury.


"-- YOU NEVER TELL ME ANYTHING!!" Dani yelled, and there was a CRASH! as a vase smashed into the wall several feet to Roberto's right obviously not having been aimed at him. Dani was a better marksman than that. Water splattered all over the place as the vase smashed into little pieces of porcelain, flowers fell wetly onto the floor beside Roberto. The conversation that had begun when Dani had asked Roberto how the meeting with Poison had went, was not going very well.

"I didn't think you'd care one way or the other", Roberto replied in a slightly snotty tone, his nose up in the air, not having flinched in the slightest from the thrown vase. "It doesn't affect you in any way."

"THAT DOESN'T MEAN I WOULDN'T WANT TO KNOW!" Dani screeched at the top of her lungs. "THAT WAS THE SAME EXCUSE YOU USED WITH THE FALLEN ANGELS! HOW DO YOU THINK I FELT?? I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THE LEADER OF X-FORCE, AND I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW MY *BOYFRIEND* HAD A TEAM OF HIS OWN!! DO YOU HAVE *ANY* IDEA HOW *STUPID* I FELT WHEN YOU AND THE ANGELS CAME TO RESCUE X-FORCE??" She sniffled slightly, and her shoulders slumped. "I told Amara how much I loved you, that we trust each other completely, that we have no secrets from each other -- then the next thing I know, she tells me she's been with your team for *months*! And I didn't even know you *had* a team! Do you have *any* idea how much I *hated* you at that moment, 'Berto??"

"If it hurt, I apologize", Roberto said in a level tone. "It was not my intention to hurt you. I merely did not see any reason to tell you."

"Yeah, right", Dani said, wiping her hand across her eyes. "You track down all our old teammates -- Shan, Amara, Illyana, Warlock -- you recruit them to your little team -- they were *MY* friends, too! You could have *told* me! Would it have been that much of an effort to tell me 'oh, by the way, Amara's hanging in New York with me these days, would you like to come see her or would you like me to tell her hi from you?', huh??"

"It did not occur to me", Roberto replied sharply, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I don't believe you, 'Berto", Dani replied with an icy, angry tone. "There's more to it than that. You didn't *want* to tell me. You wanted to keep it secret from me." She sniffled again, and sank to her knees, sobbing. "You don't trust me", she said, looking down at the floor for a long, silent moment.

"That's not --"

"Yes it is", Dani said, and her eyes rose to meet Roberto's. "You don't trust me." Her heart felt a little colder, as the realization crept to her. Colder -- but also stronger. It was easier to resist his arguments, when she realized that "You don't love me. Not anymore. I wonder if you ever did."

"That's *not* true!" Roberto snapped angrily, gritting his teeth, his hands clenching into fists. "I *do* love you! I'd do *anything* for you!!"

"Empty promises", Dani said quietly, as she rose back to her feet, looking at Roberto, with a slightly sad, but almost serene expression. "You excel at them, 'Berto. You're always saying how you won't let anything hurt me, or how you'd do anything for me -- but you don't mean them. If you really meant them, you'd trust me." She sighed a bit. "I think... I think we should stop seeing each other, 'Berto."

"NO!" Roberto growled, and instinctively turned into his jet-black solar form without even noticing it. "You're *not* walking out of my life! I won't let you!" he snarled, taking a step towards Dani almost threateningly.

"Or what?" Dani simply asked. "You'll kill me?"

"I... I..." Roberto bit his lip, and faded back to his normal chocolate-skinned form, looking away from Dani. "Please don't leave me, Dani?" he whispered. "I can't live without you. I love you... I... I... I *need* you..."

"You don't need anyone, 'Berto", Dani said quietly. "You're a Da Costa." She looked down, a lone tear slowly rolling down her cheek, before she looked back up again, towards Roberto's eyes which were turned away. Her hand came to his chin, and gently turned his face towards hers, made him look into her eyes. "Look into my eyes, 'Berto, and tell me you have no more secrets from me." The tear, having reached her chin, hung there silently.

Roberto looked into Dani's eyes for a long time, not making a sound. He watched her, seeing the pain deep within her, and seeing the hope that he would just let her go, let her go from this circle of pain that their relationship was. So he turned away, didn't say anything, turned his back to her. "You know where the door is", he said, his heart breaking inside him.

The tear silently fell from Dani's chin, struck the floor, and left a small wet smear, as she turned away as well, hugging herself as she felt her world crumble around her. Their backs facing each other, she just silently asked, "Why?"

Roberto didn't get a chance to answer, as suddenly his laptop started beeping, and he went over to it, and pressed a key, to receive the incoming transmission. "Sam?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. "What is it? I hope Douglock hasn't been causing any trouble?"

"No, nothing like that, buddy -- ummm...is Dani there?" Sam asked, a bit hesitantly. He was never quite sure whether he might have been...'interrupting'.

Roberto paused a moment, and then glanced towards Dani. "It's for you", he said, and moved away from the laptop.

Dani quickly wiped her eyes dry, leaving them a bit red, as she moved over to the laptop, and tried to sound cheerful. "Sam", she forced on a smile. "What's up?"

Sam wasn't stupid. He noticed the reddish eyes, and he had known Dani long enough to know when she was faking it. But he didn't say anything. It wasn't his business. Not now, anyway. Another time. Not when the world was at stake. "Um... Well, Bridge called, and we're going on a mission -- Ah was wondering if you'd want ta come along?"

Dani paused a moment, and then nodded silently. "Yeah -- I think I could use some action right now", she smiled slightly. "Pick me up at Da Costa International here in Miami? What's your ETA?"

"We'll be taking off in half an hour or so...half an hour, tops, from here to Miami -- 45 minutes to an hour", Sam replied.

"Gotcha", Dani said, a bit hurriedly. "I'll see you soon", she said, before pressing a button, and terminating the connection just as Sam was about to ask something else. Then, she just stood there for a few moments, staring at the blank screen, before saying, quietly, "Better get dressed for business."

Roberto watched Dani silently for several moments, before heading to a closet, taking out both of their costumes, and spreading his own out onto the bed, after handing Dani hers first.

They both got undressed, both of them comfortable with baring themselves to the other, like the intimate lovers they had been up until now. But though Roberto watched Dani's body with longing eyes, she gave no signals in return. She just got dressed, quickly, calmly, efficiently, professionally. There was nothing between them anymore. So she hoped.

Roberto hoped otherwise. But his wishes wouldn't help now. He got dressed as well, a bit slower as he wasn't able to quite shut out his emotions like Dani had, and couldn't stop his mind from cursing himself over and over again.

Both of them powered up, making sure their powers were in readiness. Dani's fists and eyes crackled with psionic energy, and she made a little motion with her hand, casting an illusion of the Viper across the room. Roberto turned towards it, and pointed his hand at it, a low-power solar bolt flying thru the illusion's torso and impacting onto the wall behind it, dissipating. Dani nodded, and let the illusion fade.

"Ready?" Dani asked in a neutral tone. She knew better than to tell Roberto not to come. As much as she wished otherwise, she did know deep in her heart -- he loved her. And he would come along, to protect her. But she didn't admit that. Not even to herself. It was all business now.

"Ready", Roberto replied, and projected a bolt of light onto a sensor in the room, and the skylight slowly whirred open, the glass sliding aside, and granting a comfortable exit for Roberto. He came over, and picked Dani up, into his arms, and soared up thru the now-open skylight, carrying his ex-lover and almost-fiancee.

Dani moved slightly in Roberto's arms, to move his left arm further from her buttocks, and towards under her knees. And she moved her right arm into contact with her right side, so Roberto's right hand would have to grab her right shoulder, instead of her right side where his fingers could brush against her breast. Then, after these minor adjustments, she relaxed in his arms, as they hovered above Da Costa International, waiting for the Nightwing to arrive. She was comfortable. She felt safe. And she didn't know it was because she knew he loved her.

Part 3

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