Apocalypso: Part 3


by Sami Merchi



*** TODAY ***

July 3rd. 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.

"Soon?" Moses Magnum asked.

"Soon", Calypso replied, with a small smile, as she kept on drumming. "After the sun has set, the N'garai will venture out again,
and bring us the last of the blood-sacrifices we need to gain you
ultimate power, my love."

"What do I need to do?"

"When I have completed the blood ritual and harnessed the lifeforces of our sacrifices", Calypso explained, "then you are to direct your awesome Magnum Power to the nexus. Your power will serve as the key to unlock the portal, while the lifeforces will serve as fuel for us to sustain the aperture from this world to the other, allowing a true *army* of N'garai to walk through and serve us..."

"And you're sure you can control them?"

"Have I not controlled the N'garai we already brought over, my love? Do they not obey my every command? Do you doubt my abilities?" "No... No, of course not, Calypso."

"Good. Tonight, once we have our army, we will begin a march from here to Mexico City, and destroy everything in our path. By the time we reach the capital, the inhabitants will have learned of how irresistible a force the N'garai are, and they will surrender themselves under your power... And then, we will turn our eyes to America..."

"Yes! Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Heroes For Hire will all pay for my previous defeats at their hands! Once I rule America, I will declare all superhumans who do not submit to me, outlaws..."

"You will be more powerful than you have ever imagined, my love..."

I'm gonna slip back to my HEROES FOR HIRE narrative mode, because I just can't listen to this posturing anymore. Sheesh! Super-villains. Won't they ever learn that they'll lose every time? But X-Force'd better get their butts over here and fast, so they can save the world in the nick of time...where the heck are they anyway? What's the hold-up, Samy?? Get them over here, or we're all doomed!

"Ah, keep your pants on. I'm just about to cut over to them."


Ah! There they are! Thanks

. "Anytime. Now get back to work. The show must go on."

Gotcha. Now, okay, we've got one X-Force jet flying over the Yucatan jungles. A pretty cool-looking one, too. Black. Black? BLACK? Don't you have ANY imagination?? You had to mimic the Blackbird??

"Shut up."

Yeah, but...

"Shut up. I didn't mimic the Blackbird. It's called the Nightwing. After Dick Grayson, get it?"

Wow, that's real creative.

"Shut up."

How fast does it go?

"Mach 5 or so."

And the Blackbird?

"Mach 4.2. Why?"

Typical man.


Nevermind. Okay, so we've got this cool black jet called the Nightwing flying over the Yucatan jungles at Mach 5. That makes this about ten minutes after they picked up Dani and Roberto from Miami. Wow, that's pretty damn fast. And there are these mountains two, three hundred miles down south and southwest. That's where they're headed, right?

"Right. To the southwest. Guatemala's to the south."

Do you have an atlas there with you? I could use one, too...


I'll take that as a no. Hmp. Well, I didn't want one anyway. Is it cool with you if we go check inside the Nightwing and see what X-Force is doing?

"As long as you do *something*! The readers are gonna kill us for dragging this gag on this long. Get in there!"

Okay. Zooming in. ZZZZZZZZOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM! Wow, I can see Dani thru a window. She's a major babe! No wonder 'Berto's got the hots for her!

"*sigh* Stop playing around with the telephoto lens and get in there yourself."

Okay. I'm next to the plane right now.


Umm... How do I get in?

"You're the narrator. You can do anything. Just *GET IN*!"

Hey, cool. Can I phase, like that Shadowcat chick?

"Yes, yes! Get in!"

But won't I short circuit the plane's computers or something if I just phase in thru the wall?

"The insides of the Nightwing are mostly silent. Roberto and Dani are avoiding looking at each other, staying on opposite sides of the passenger compartment. Neither of them comes over to Sam to help him go thru the data Bridge sent, because they know, if one of them went over to play leader, the other one would too. And then they'd have to talk to each other."


... How do you know that? I don't see you anywhere in here. Are you inside, too?

"Amateur. ... No, *you* are, now."

I am?

"Yes. You're inside the plane now. Can you please continue doing your job, or do I have to email John and ask if he can let me borrow his HEROES FOR HIRE narrator?"

Bah. That guy's a loser. He panicked in #13.

"You're going to be dead in this chapter, if you don't continue narrating right now."

... Okay. So, Sam's at the computer... Douglock and Shatterstar are in the cockpit, piloting the Batwing --

"-- NIGHTwing."

-- Nightwing. That's what I just said. Dani's sitting at a window seat. ... Y'know, she's pretty flat. And Tabs isn't any bubble bod either. Ever thought about using Amara or Illyana more, for some *real* T&A? Mamma mia, but they've got some kachongas mas grandes!

"I am not answering you."

Send 'em to Rio, and have 'em wear *really* small bikinis. Or write an X-rated story. A three-way orgy with Roberto, Illyana and Amara. Illyana would look really sinful in some black lace... You know you want to. You *do* realize one of them is Roman, for practical purposes, and the Romans were *very*...'loose'. One of them is half *demon*, for pete's sakes! And the remaining one did half of Asgard's female population while he was there.




You have no sense of humor. Or sex drive. Eunuch.



"Was that supposed to be an insult?"


"Well, you blew it. I'm *trying* to be professional here, and you're messing things up!"

I'm just adding a little humor to this story. Lighten up.

"There's such a thing as too much. This gag got old about 3K ago."

Did not.

"Did too."

Did not.

"Did too."

Did *not*.


OW! I'm *suing*!

"You continue the story *right now*, or I'll use you to narrate a MUTANT X story."

Mutant X? You mean Proteus?

"No, the new Mackie book that's replacing X-FACTOR."

ACK! Okay, okay! Cool it with the threats, I'm working already! Tabitha's playing around with her Tamagotchi, while Rictor sidles up to Dani while she's vulnerable, and starts putting some moves on her.

"Grrrr! The bastard! I'll kill him! No, worse! I'll send him to the MUTANT X universe!"

Shut up, I'm working. So, anyway, Ric sidles up to Dani while she's looking out the window at the jungles below. "Beautiful country", he tells her. "Even though there's probably dozens of criminal deals being made in the shadow of those vines right now."

"Mm?" Dani murmured, looking up at Rictor, as if awakening from a dream, realizing he had said something, but wasn't quite sure as to what he actually had *said*.

"You looked like you were a million miles away", Rictor told Dani, with a slightly concerned look on his face, before he motioned to the seat beside hers. "Mind if I sit with you?"

Dani shook her head quietly, and looked back out the window again. She didn't seem to be initiating conversation anytime soon.

"I've been down there", Rictor said, glancing towards the window as well.

"You have?" Dani asked, her head turning towards her teammate. "The Yucatan?"

"Mmhm", Rictor nodded. "Been all over most of Central America", he explained. "My...my father, he was a gunrunner... Just like my whole family. He dragged me along sometimes on his trips -- Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize... Just to show me what the business was like... I learned to shoot before I learned to read, y'know?"

"I'm sorry", Dani said softly, suddenly feeling like her own worries weren't that big. She, at least, had had a normal childhood -- until her mutant powers surfaced. She had had over 15 years of a normal life...well, as normal as the Cheyenne could have, these days.

"Nah, don't worry about it", Rictor smiled. "I've gotten over it. 'sides, it's helped me a lot. Knowing how to use a Uzi is how I got me, Rusty, Skids and Tab out of Hodge's lab when he had us captured..."

"The way *I* remember it", Tabitha interjected, from the other side of the passenger compartment, "X-Factor shut the power down in the complex and the energy manacle thingees just went off. So, sure, you took down the guard and got his Uzi, but what'd it help you? When you shot at the Right soldier, you just distracted Bobby and Hank so they were taken down..."

"Bah", Rictor said, glancing towards Tabitha. "I did more than any of *you*."

"Yeah, more for the *Right*", Tabitha answered with a smirk.


Dani smiled slightly, the bickering helping her forget her own worries. "Well, now I at least know how you knew the right amount of TNT for me to conjure up when we blew up that giant squid that attacked X-Factor's Ship..."

Rictor smirked triumphantly at Tabitha. "See? I'm the Man."

Tabitha shrugged with a grin, before asking, "Hey Ric? What do you know about this place we're going to?"

"Not a whole lot", Rictor answered. "Palenque's high in the mountains, from what I know. A Mayan city. In the state of Chiapas. That's about all I know about it."

"Are there like, people there? Bathrooms? Electricity? McBurgers?" Tabitha asked.

"Umm... The first three, probably -- the last one, I'd guess no. But I don't think we're going there to sample the local foods, Tab, so you've got nothing to worry about. You aren't going to be forcefed any ant paste or anything", Rictor grinned.

"Oh shut up, I was just curious", Tabitha smiled.

"Ants don't taste much like anything", Dani commented, though absently. She was zoning, looking out the window again.

Tabitha blinked, turning her attention to Dani. "You've eaten *ants*???" she asked with a look on her face that was simultaneously both incredulous and disgusted.

"Sure", Dani answered, looking over to Tabitha. "And snakes", she grinned widely. "Gross, huh?"

"EEEWWW!" Tabitha winced, sticking her tongue out. "And you've *kissed* 'Berto with that mouth???"

"Heh", Rictor chuckled. "I've eaten snakes too. Been a long time, though... Back when I was a kid. I think it was down in the Yucatan, when mi padre dragged me along for a 'business deal'. It went bad, and we were stranded in the middle of the jungle. Took us almost a week to reach civilization... Had to eat all kinds of things on the way."

"Next time you try to kiss me, remind me to just hurl all over you", Tabitha said, wrinkling her nose.

"You know, Ric -- we need to show her one of these days what snakes taste like..." Dani smirked.

"Kinda like chicken", Ric smiled. "Maybe we'll substitute snake for chicken in her chicken salad..."

"Don't you *dare*, Richter!" Tabitha growled.

Dani and Rictor thereby commenced laughing, as Tabitha just glared at them icily.


"Adjusting heading to 216", Shatterstar announced in a level voice. "Reducing thrust to 75%" His left hand remained at the controls, his right hand moving over to the throttle, and pulled it down slightly, the four topmost lit LEDs going off one by one as he first reduced thrust under 95%, then under 90%, then under 85%, then under 80%."

"Confirmed. Airspeed down to Mach 3.5. Radio bands check clear so far", Doug said, with a concentrated expression on his half of Douglock's face as his ears listened to the radio communication in the air. "No unusual activity. I'll check thru my entire frequency spectrum another time just to be sure."

Warlock, meanwhile, was taking up half of Douglock's body. A straight line divided their symbiote form, from the top of their head down to the crotch, splitting them up into two. The right half was Doug's, and was in the default Douglock form, cream-colored techno-organics, the face like Doug's own, only consisting of circuitry. The transition to the left half was abrupt, as the coloration changed from the serene cream color, into a dark black, glowing with golden lifeglow, the face Warlock's face.

"SelFriendNightWing systems on-line, full operational status", the Technarch reported. "Destination designate: Palenque within distance estimate of 200 miles. Optimal resolution desired, obtainable. Charts co-referential: Palenque, Chiapas State, Southeast Mexico; comparing and collating. ... Completed. SelFriendShatterStar, Self suggests heading 206 for optimal results, decrease of thrust to 35%."

"Acknowledged", Shatterstar reported, his right hand steadily pulling down the throttle, LEDs going off at the same pace, until it was only a third of the way up anymore. "Thrust adjustment complete. Adjusting heading." His left hand gradually guided the controls towards the left for a brief moment, before allowing them to level off again. "Heading 206 set. Transferring heading controls over to you, Warlock. Checking cloaking systems -- functioning. Preparing VTOL systems for hovering mode", he went on as his right hand first pushed a few buttons to deactivate the controls on his side, and activate Warlock's, after which his left hand got off the controls, and started flipping switches.

"I'm gonna check thru Bridge's data", Doug commented. "Let me know if you need me." Then, Douglock's right eye went metaphorically blank, looking into the distance, as Doug zoned, concentrating on going thru the information he had downloaded.

"Acknowledged, SelfSoulFriendCypherDoug", Warlock reported. "Transfer of controls confirmed, SelFriendShatterStar. Query: status of VTOL capability. Self suggests airspeed reduction under speed of sound to avoid aspect of Doppler effect, colloquial nomenclature: sonic boom."

"You know", Doug interjected, un-blanking for a moment, "I wonder if you two are even *capable* of discussing movies or music or girls or anything -- well, *TV*, I know Warlock can do, but sheesh. Lighten up, guys!" He grinned, and then blanked again, returning to the files.

Shatterstar glanced at Doug for a moment, raising an eyebrow silently, and then looked to Warlock's side of the face. "VTOL systems will be on-line in approximately twenty seconds", his toneless voice answered the question. "Complying with the suggestion -- reducing thrust to 15%."

"Acknowledged", Warlock replied. "Airspeed reducing. Estimated Time of Arrival at destination: 3 minutes." The Nightwing started shaking slightly, to which he continued, "Alarm: SelFriendNightWing encountering wind turbulence! Solution: activating Shaw Industries enhanced vibranium wing-couplings to counter. Completed." Almost immediately, the shaking reduced to next to nothing.

"Shaw Industries?" Shatterstar asked, quirking an eyebrow as he looked at Warlock a bit suspiciously.

"Affirmative, SelFriendShatterStar", Warlock replied.

"SelFriendNightWing's creators, contextual reference: manufacturers, designated as Shaw Industries, geographical subdivision: Sao Paulo, Brazil."

Shatterstar's eyes narrowed slightly, but he said nothing.


"You OK, buddy?"

"Hm?" Roberto awakened from his own thoughts, having been zoning much as Dani was earlier, and looked towards Sam with a nod. "Yes, I am quite all right, thank you, my friend."

"You don't look too all right, if'n you don't mind mah sayin' that, Bobby", Sam shook his head. "You an' Dani haven't said one word t' each other all trip. An' Ah noticed she had been cryin' when she answered my call. What's going on, Bobby?"

"It...it is not your concern, Sam", Roberto said, and turned to look out a window, as the mountains started rising out of the jungle underneath. The Nightwing started shaking slightly, and he lifted an eyebrow slightly, glancing towards the cockpit with no slight amount of curiosity, but then, after a few moments, the shaking reduced to next to nothing, and he turned his attention back to looking out the window.

"Y'all are mah friends, Bobby", Sam said, a bit sharply. "That *makes* it mah concern." Then, the edge disappeared, his voice going a bit softer, concerned. "Is there anything Ah can do ta help?"

Roberto remained silent for several long moments, watching the occasional cloud drift by below, before he was forced to answer his best friend with a single word. "No."

Sam frowned for a moment, watching Roberto, before tapping a key on the computer he was working on, turning it off for the moment, and stood up, walking over to stand by the seat Roberto was sitting in. "You sure y' can hack this mission, Bobby? Maybe you oughta stay back from this one?"

Roberto's eyes narrowed, as he turned to look up at Sam a bit angrily. He was here to protect Dani, and that's what he would do. "I am a Da Costa. I do not allow personal problems to impede my work performance. Aside from you, I am the most experienced person here. I am also the most powerful person present. You need me."

"Bobby --" Sam started, sighing a bit. "We can take care of ourselves. Y' really don't have to come down with us if you don't feel like it. Ah know what it's like to be out on a mission and not bein' able ta concentrate. Most of Inferno was like that for me, when Ah thought Lila was dead..."

"Let me assure you, Sam", Roberto said in a half-harsh, half-determined voice, "I have absolutely no problems ignoring my personal troubles to concentrate on work one hundred percent." There was a very slight bitterness lacing those words, far too slight for Sam to notice. After all, wasn't it because of his 'work' that he couldn't confide completely in Dani?

"If you're sure --" Sam said hesitantly.

"I'm sure", Roberto almost snapped, his nerves standing on edge, then shook his head, sighing, and stood up. "We're slowing down", he said. "I'll go talk to Douglock and see what our ETA is."

Sam nodded once. "Ah'll come along", he said, and headed towards the cockpit with Roberto.






The road was *not* smooth. The NPR-TV broadcast van bumped up and bumped down, rocking on the uneven road as it kicked up a dust cloud while climbing ever higher on the mountain road. The headlights cut thru the rapidly descending darkness, as shadows grew longer. It would be fully dark before Neal Conan and Manoli Wetherell reached Palenque.

"Why did the chicken cross the road, Manoli?"

"I give up, Neal. Why?"

"No, I meant it", Neal said, and frowned slightly, as he looked towards the curb of the road on the right, and the small, dry bushes that the headlights sweeped thru as he drove up the road. His foot eased a bit on the pedal, the van slowing down slightly. "Never seen a chicken move that fast... I could almost swear it looked spooked."

"Birds don't look spooked, Neal. They're *animals*. Animals don't get spooked. Only humans get spooked", Manoli answered, as the redhead lit a cigarette and peered ahead thru the windshield. "You think we're still far from Palenque? I know how you suck at driving in the dark. We're going to find ourselves in Guatemala soon..."

"I checked the map", Neal replied. "There aren't any intersections I can go wrong at. Aren't you ever going to stop reminding me of Zagreb? Or poisoning me with second-hand smoke?" he smiled. "Besides, whose driving was it that got us stuck on that beach in Gotham?"

"But both of them are so fun to do", Manoli grinned, happily ignoring the last question as she opened the window on her side, and blew a cloud of smoke out. "Besides, in our line of work, second-hand smoke's the *last* thing that'll end up killing you..."

The van suddenly revved down, as Neal's eyes fixed onto something up the road, and widened, his concentration completely fading from driving the car, his foot rising from the pedal. "What in the name of God is that...?" he asked, his jaw dropping as he gaped at the dark form on the road before the van.

There was a monstrous, inhuman squeal, before the almost ten-foot high dark figure standing on the road before the van, swung its long hand back, and then slashed forwards with it.

"GET DOWN, NEAL!!" Manoli shouted, and tackled the driver, pulling him down.


Glass rained down on the two reporters, even as the car was stopped dead in its tracks. It hadn't been going very fast, and was even thrown backwards a bit when the dark figure slashed its clawed hand thru the windshield, and teetered a moment on its left wheels.




The van crashed onto its left side, raising a cloud of dust making sight even harder than it already was in the dark. Manoli fell on top of Neal, the wind knocked out of both of them. A triumphant squeal raced thru the air, and Manoli felt the adrenaline pump into her veins, as her hand instinctively went to the holster on her right hip. Manoli coughed at the dust, desperately trying to draw air into her lungs, as her right hand pulled the gun from its holster.

SQUEEEALLLLL!! The inhuman, alien visage suddenly appeared thru the dust in front of the broken windshield.

SQUEEEALLLLL!! It opened its mouth wide, the huge, sharp teeth dripping with drool, its eyes locked with Manoli for the briefest of moments.

"You want something to eat!?" she then yelled, and thrust her hand into the wide-open mouth. "HERE!!"





Manoli's eyes were narrowed, her teeth gritted, cold sweat breaking on her forehead as she repeatedly pulled the trigger of her gun, and watched the back of the N'garai's head explode in a gooey, chitinous, dark mess.


Dani looked up as Sam and Roberto headed towards the cockpit, and were met at the doorway by Shatterstar, who was just about to step out. She stood up, and glanced to Rictor and Tabitha. "I'll be right back", she said, and headed towards the two other leaders. She never got there.


A huge explosion rattled the Nightwing, and the next moment, the world went topsy-turvy, as the plane tilted sideways what felt like a full 90 degrees, and she fell across the passenger compartment, smashing down onto the port -- left for you landlubbers -- wall of the Nightwing, on top of Tabitha and Rictor. Shatterstar clutched to the doorway, while Roberto instinctively activated his flight abilities, but was banged across the head by a medikit flying off the shelf. Sam was too cautious to use his blast field, and instead grabbed the back of one of the seats on the starboard side, and hung onto it.


"-- AIGH!"

"--DER ATTA--"

"--ET TO --"

"-- UNGHHH!!"

The Nightwing rolled around like a crazed dolphin in water, and equipment flew around, battering the mutants inside the ship, even as their voices started rising towards a crescendo of chaos.

"OH MY GOD!" someone's voice cut thru the cacophony, even as a fire began at the back of the passenger compartment. "THE RIGHT WING'S MISSING!!"


"-- THE -- WHOULFF!"






"-- ROBERTO --!!!"

"-- YOU --!!"

"-- I DON'T --"

"-- SABOTA--"



Manoli tossed a few ammo belts over her shoulder after preparing the M-60 machine gun, and then glanced towards the van. "Is it intact?" she called to Neal, as her eyes scanned the darkness around the mountain road.

"Yeah", Neal replied as he stepped out thru the opened back doors of the broadcast van, and doublechecked the camera, before looking at Manoli. "You know, you look like Vasquez in 'Aliens' with that thing", he commented. "Except you're not Mexican."

"I know", Manoli replied, keeping her M-60 pointed towards the jungle on the left side of the road. "Why do you think I don't wear this thing to dinner parties? But it's more than handy when drooling ten-feet insect-men start getting in your face." She paused, and glanced towards Neal's hip, where Manoli's sidearm hung for the moment, holstered. "Don't shoot yourself in the foot", she smiled. "Being that's a Magnum .44, the most powerful handgun in the world, and is capable of blowing your foot *clean off*, you've got to ask yourself one question", she grinned. "'Where's the trigger?'"

Neal wrinkled his nose. "Very funny, Dirty Manol--"


Manoli and Neal's heads suddenly turned skyward as there was the screaming noise of tons of useless metal hurtling towards the ground from on high. All they saw was a darker form against a dark sky, eclipsing stars from sight as it soared down, like a fallen angel. Occasional eerie lights flashed along its form, flames licking at it and revealing its outlines before going out again, electricity sparking in bluish crackles, a reddish glow as the form-turned-meteor started heating up from air friction more than the heat shields could absorb.


A huge fireball lit up the sky for a brief moment, as the form exploded. Both Manoli and Neal's eyes widened, as they watched the fireball die down as quickly as it was born, and little trails of fiery debris fall towards the jungle like shooting stars, fading before reaching the ground.

"Holy good god", Manoli whispered to herself, and then glanced towards Neal with an expression of urgency. "Tell me we got that. Tell me we got that."

"We got it!" Neal answered, the camera on his shoulder still pointing skywards.

Manoli shook her head silently, then glanced towards the dead N'garai lying in front of the van, then glanced back towards the sky, then glanced to Neal. "I don't know *what* the *hell* is going on here, but we want it on tape, kemo sabe!"

"I have a feeling you're about to get us into another fine mess", Neal replied, as he looked all around, at the darkness surrounding them, the heckles on the back of his neck rising, as he felt like he was being watched.

"Yeah, but what a way to go, huh?" Manoli smiled, as she adjusted her glasses, and then looked up and down the road, and rubbed her chin a bit thoughtfully, before turning her eyes towards the jungle. "You realize that according to the map, the shortest way to the town is thru there?"

Neal's eyes widened as he looked towards Manoli. "Thru the *jungle*?? You have *got* to be kidding! What if there are *more* of those things in there??"

"Then we get a hell of a story, don't we?" Manoli smiled, as her eyes scanned the jungle silently, thoughtfully. "Aren't you the one always reminding me that 'we're reporters -- this is our job'?"

"Yup", Neal smiled, and walked over to the N'garai corpse, and started his camera rolling as he started inspecting the alien thru the lens curiously. "Just let me get some of this thing on tape, and we'll be on our way."

"Take your time", Manoli smirked. "I mean, it's not like it or we made enough sound to attract any others of its kind if there are any..." she said in the most innocent of tones.

"Then we get a hell of a story, don't we?" Neal grinned in return.

Part 4

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