Posted 02 March 2012 - 09:56 PM
A Rebirth in Brass and Coal
1898, Serbia, Belgrade,
Shouts echo through the palace walls. Men with guns are searching the rooms. Inside a large closet within the Queen’s bedroom, King Alexander Obrenovic and his wife wait silently. The shouts grew louder. A man in military uniform enters the bedroom, his pistol drawn. He says things in Serbian, awful, horrible things. He throws the bed sheets to the floor and points the pistol at anything hiding beneath. The bed is empty, but a few drunken potshots tear their way through the mattress.
The King sees the soldier turn back through the vents on the cupboard door. He sees the man turn towards the closet. The soldier walks forward, pointing the gun barrel towards the door. He grabs the handle. The King grabs his wife’s hand as she buries her head in his shoulder. Then the roof collapses.
“шта” sputters the soldier; bricks and stone crash down. A large chunk collides with his head and bruises, but does not hit with enough force to do true harm. But the giant iron foot does.
As the Brass Man jumps down from the hole he lands on top of the soldier, smashing the man to the floor where his jaw collides with the stone tiling, leaving him motionless. The pistol drops from his hands.
King Alexander stares at the metallic humanoid creature that now stands in front of the door. It’s body ticks and clinks, and steam hisses in its joints. It’s head ratchets towards the closet.
“You may want to get out of there and start running, things being as they are, I highly doubt it will be in your best interest to remain here your highness.”
The Brass Man walks out of the bedroom towards the main hall. Behind him the sound of a closet door opening is followed by frantic footsteps racing down stairs. However the sound of such frantic footsteps gave way to even more footsteps coming from the other direction. A troop of revolutionary soldiers turned the corner. They were armed with military grade repeating rifles, most likely supplied by the very man they attempted to assassinate.
Their leader screamed something towards the Brass Man. The others shook their rifles in his direction, no one man willing to yet fire. The leader shouted to his men, who raised their guns, yet Axel would not move. It was at this moment, that with all those guns pointed at him, that he realized that he probably should have activated the magnets by now. Oh well.
The soldiers let loose a volley, the rounds ping and bounce of the iron armor, sparks fly; Axel remains unconcerned. Six guns, six rounds each, and thirty six shots later, the men stare at the mechanized being in front of them. The Brass Man cocks its head to the side.
“Are you quite done? Really, well then, excellent.”
The Brass Man’s arm rises towards the singular leader of the group, a whistling pitch escaping the pipes on its back. Within a blink the soldiers all recognize that this noise is not going to be good for them. The machinery clicks.
Steam roars from the Brass Man’s open palm, engulfing the men in a burning cloud of white. They scream as it scalds flesh. While the common soldiers quite certainly feel the pain, it is their sergeant who is the main target. They rush backwards, fleeing. The machinery clicks again; the steam dissipates as soon as it came. The hallway is almost empty save Axel, the revolutionary leader, and six dropped rifles.
Axel steps towards the burned husk of a man leaning against a far wall. His feet shake the floor with each step.
“So sorry about that chap, but you are an assassin after all. And not even a true revolutionary, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. An agent of darkness within a world of men, a…eh.. aaaaah.”
The Brass Man stumbles forward, and falls to a single knee. Deep heaving breaths echo out from the mouthpiece, strained by the narrow slot intended to allow in air. The soldier watches as the automaton feebly gropes against the wall, unable to stand. It’s hand twitches, then lifts towards the side of its head. Its metallic thumb presses a hinge upon the side of its helmet. The machinery clinks, the golden faceguard falling to the floor to reveal the fleshy human face beneath. More rapid gasps come forth, sounding far more pained, and punctuated by the occasional reverberating hack.
The soldier picks up a fallen rifle. While burned and blue across his hands, he manages to load a single round. He lurches forward, stalking upon the fallen metal man and clutching at the rifle. He slowly presses the edge of the barrel towards the creation, pushing it towards the obscured human face revealed behind the helmet. His fingers tighten around the trigger.
A silvery flash cuts through the rifle. It falls in twain. The soldier barely sees the movement before it takes him out. A rushing wind heaves him backwards against the wall. He then tumbles to the ground, finally unconscious.
Axel’s coughs begin to subside. Behind him stands a young woman in a kimono, unseen till this point. Her hair is a sort of silvery black, her skin bearing the fair complexion of an Englishwoman. Or perhaps an Anglo-Japanese woman. But no matter. She knelt beside Axel who still lay collapsed on the floor, hacking.
“Mr. Talbot, are you alright?”
“Yes, Yes…I’m fine, merely a case of the unexpected and dully inane interrupting the far more interesting, but far less dangerous act of,”
He couldn’t finish the word without letting off another hacking cough. The woman could see the entire suit shake with his wracking movements.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t push yourself, you’re I could have handled this on my own. Take it easy.”
“Easy,” said the man, “ha!”
He stood from the ground. The open portal of the missing faceplate showed a glimmer of the man beneath the mask. Strands of white hair popped out from the edges of the helmet. His skin was tight like leather and twice as dry. There were wrinkles forming crows feet around his eyes, even the missing one.
“I will take it easy when there is time. I will take it easy when the world is not on the brink of war due the Kaiser’s secret death machines. I will take it easy when the bastard Hellsing and his Voodoo Queen Laveau return to their graves. I will take it easy when I can guarantee the ideals of Infinium are not corrupted for one man’s plan of world domination by mechanized undead…by the by did I ever tell you that story young Haveford?”
She nods and sighs,
“About a dozen times sir. Perhaps we should get moving.”
Axel grips the metal face that he had been left on the floor. He lifts and places the faceguard back into position. His voice returns to its deep twangy ring without any more coughs.
“My point being, is this; Axel Talbot is a man. The Brass Man is a machine. I can take it easy when I’m dead, and machines never die.”
Mrs. Minerva Maroon, nee “Butterfield”, strokes the shining steel dog beside her. Though not made of flesh, Crixus had aged with the rest of them. His body had lost its golden pallor, and his joints squeaked as he padded from place to place. The beast was still not to be underestimated, but he was aging just the same, just as they all were.
Minerva sits calmly upright in her chair, prim and proper as ever, but her figure was less of the prudish young lady, and more of the wizened matron. She was the second most senior active member of Infinium now, and was finally meeting with her only elder after years of missed communication.
She examines the dim room, and found it mostly to her liking. She had personally supervised the building of Sanctum ten years ago. To look at it now she found herself mostly content, with the exception of the choice of wallpaper colors, an issue on which she was outvoted by the man sitting in front of her.
“Its been too long Axel,” She says, “I was beginning to think you would never come back to Sanctum and would simply keep on floating from one edge of the globe to the other.”
Axel sat in the other chair, smoking a pipe, and dressed to the nines. His long silvery hair was tied back neatly, and even his eyepatch seemed to have been chosen for its fashionable appearance. He brings a match to the end of the pipe and tuts.
“Yes, well, rest can occasionally do the body well, though I find action can often do it much better.”
Minerva smiles. She continues to stroke her mechanized companion laying on the floor next to her. Crixus lets out a deep ruff of appreciation.
“Akiho told me about Serbia, and the planned coup. It was lucky you two got there when you did. Europe is on the brink of war, and one tiny event could send the empires into chaos. Do you think it was his doing?”
“Yes,” Axel replies, “as this is exactly what he wants; a world at war. I suppose that is why I hate him so much. There’s no understanding that kind of evil, no detecting it, no predicting its moves. Out of all of them, everyone we’ve faced, Morgan, Black, and Caracaros, there was some goal, some ultimate end of power and domination. I didn’t like it, but I understood it. Even Tesla, though shrouded in madness his may have been, had a motive… But this man, he does it for the sake of doing it. He does it because,” Axel puffs out smoke, “ he doe sit because he likes hurting people.”
“Is that why you hate him? Hmm, here I thought it was something personal after he burned down your house and took your eye.”
Axel laughs and clenches the pipe within his teeth.
“You mean the Manor? Well it was becoming rather tedious anyway, and in its end it allowed us to build Sanctum, thereby relegating the need I had for my old home entirely. As for the eye, I was lucky enough to be gifted with two, again showing that he was destroying something which I could easily find a replacement for.”
She kept staring at Axel.
“He’s also the only one you’ve never been able to stop.”
Axel placed the pipe back down and exhaled smoke onto the floor.
“I recall that I did stop him then, and I will stop him now.”
“But not until after he killed eight women, and even then he got away in the blaze.”
“Is there a point to this Minerva, or do you simply enjoy reminding me of things I cannot forget.”
She rises from her chair and lays a hand on his shoulder.
“Perhaps its time old friend, to let someone else go flying out into the night to catch him.”
Axel slowly breathes out more smoke. He places the pipe down.
“I will not quit. I will not let him win.”
“The better part of wisdom is humility,” She advises, “when I earlier said that Akiho told me about Serbia, I should have mentioned that she told me everything. She said you swore her to secrecy, but was afraid for your health.”
Axel brushes past her towards the fireplace.
“Hmmph. Too much of her father in her; always a Haveford I suppose.”
“but even if she hadn’t,” Butterfield interrupts, “I would have found a way around it. I have my ways.”
On the wall above the roaring fireplace sat a six-chambered revolver, kept clean from rust and age, a memorial to a lost friend. It was also a reminder of what happens when old soldiers are not yet ready to retire.
“Do you wish me to wither and die,” Axel asks, “while that man is still out there?”
“I wish you to do as we have done,” she says, “Saigo has found her replacement in Akiho, Issa has returned to his role as chieftain and left Infinium to his son, the Vimeses have had a litany of children, and even my youngest is beginning to show signs of psychic development. The others are mostly useless, but in a few years, Elizabeth Sarah Maroon may one day become a psychic just as famous as her mother. You aught to find your heir Axel, Infinium never stops, and it is your duty to ensure that.”
“I will ensure it, but my heir is not so reliable. He has… other motivations…”
A bookshelf on the wall swings open revealing itself to be a secret door. A young woman bolts in and turns towards the two.
“Elizabeth?” Minerva asks, “what’s wrong?”
“Mother, its Akiho. He has her.”
“What? Who has her?”
“I don’t know,” the young woman says, “we were searching for connections to the Sarajevo attack. We found someone who was linked to it all. But he was, too strong. He was inhuman. I tried to fight but I was left unconscious. When I woke up they were both gone and there was this letter.”
She tries handing the letter to her mother, but Axel snatches it away. He reads.
Why do you always have to ruin the party? I’m just trying to have my funny little games, that’s all. But I have to say, it is proper challenging with you all on my tail. Always makes it more interesting. The next job’s gonna be big, so you better be ready. No more small time for me, no more cutting up whores in the bathtub. Though I did enjoy that bit, and this little lady here looks damn pretty. You should see here fightin’ now. I think I’ll cut off her arms, make her a tad more compact and easy to move. I’ve got to go you see, lots of places to be, unless you stop me first Boss. I’ll be going to the Caribbean for a start. Or am I in Maine? Maybe both. You got a week to find out before I start ripping this little lady to shreds.
Signed From Hell
Axel and Minerva’s faces both grow dark.
“Well then,” she says, “I suppose there’s no stopping it now. You will finally get to fight him one last time.”
The USS Maine bobs in the choppy Havana harbor. A man in black sits at a chair on deck, laying cards into piles across a table. He pulls out his watch and looks at it in the dim glow of a hanging torchlight. It read 8:43. It was taking them far too long, what was the problem? He looks up from the cards towards the pile of carcasses behind the table.
American sailors had been heaped one upon the other until they were nothing more than a bleeding mutilated mass of indistinguishable body parts. Jack smiles. Then he hears the first signs of the arrival he was waiting for; he hears the distinctive humming whine of a gatling gun.
Bullets pelt down on him from the roof of the bridge, the infinite rain making porous holes through his torso, legs and arms. Jack smiles.
“This the best you got love?”
A glimmering knife levitates to his palm; he swings in an arch towards the shooter behind him, and a slicing gale cuts through the ship, ripping boards like paper. The shooter jumps from the roof of the ship just as the ghostly cut rends the bridge in two. Now, sticking out from the shadows her face is revealed. The young Mrs. Maroon looks towards him; without saying a word she seems to focus on him with utter hatred. Her eyes bulge and focus in on him. Nothing happens and Jack laughs. His body is steaming from the various holes she just shot through him. He taps his forehead twice.
“Now, now, love, no use trying to get yourself inside there. But later on if you like and behave yourself, I’ll properly rip my way inside of you. I think I’ll start with your intestines.”
His accent stretches out the ‘ines’. Maroon spits in his direction.
“You’re a disgusting rat.”
She lifts her right arm and with it a gleaming gatling gun glove. The glove initiates its high-pitched whine. She blinks. Bullets whiz through the air, cutting through where Jack once was.
He is upon her. The knife rips through the glove, shearing it in two. The high pitch whine stops dead.
“Come now love, thought you knew better than that. Bringing a gun to a knife fight.”
The knife flips in his palm. The roar of an engine nears. Jack’s turns his eyes upwards and a smile flashes past his face.
“Thought, you’d never come, Boss.”
He dodges backward just before the massive form smashes into the deck. The Brass man then rises and looks towards his old opponent. Jack lets out a cackle of pure joy.
“Axel, my mate, what’s with all this delay. You really want to keep me waiting like this? I was gonna have to entertain me self by cutting up all your fine lady friends.”
Axel ignores him and turns back to Maroon.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
She peels the broken Gatling glove from her hand. A long thin cut streaks up the top of her arm. Axel turns to Jack, returning his gaze through the grim mask. Jack doesn’t even wince.
“What’s this, the great and talkative fool is finally dumbstruck?” he asks, “What’s wrong Boss, are you having another attack of dementia, or have you finally realized just how terrified you aught to be.”
“No, merely thinking of a proposition Jacky. You came here to kill these men. but why? If you did you could start an international incident, yet that is most likely exactly what you want. Kill them and make it look like the Spanish did it. Clever plan, start a major war, lots of blood, guts, death, and I’ll your favorite past-times.”
“You know me so well Boss.”
“But then you wrote to me… which can only lead to two options, A. you subconsciously want to fail in which case I will be more than glad to kill you and assure such an ending, or B you called me here to kill me, and were using your hostage as a ruse.”
“Aye, mate, I think the latter was what I was going for.”
“I also know that you’re a lying son of a bitch who would never hold to his word.”
“Aye, that too.”
“So then Akiho is,”
“Was,” Jack says, “she ‘was’, Axel. She was a… squealer. It’s a shame you couldn’t see it now, since there isn’t much left. Some of my best work if I do say so. But I guess in the long shot, she was just another one. Just another one you couldn’t save.”
Axel’s engine roars. The suit shoots forward, ramming into Jack, and breaks through the floorboards to the levels below.
The engine room smells of coal. The crew were all dead but the fire still raged on in massive furnaces. The Brass Man was quickly thrown against one. Metal clatters on metal. He stumbled to his feet, then dodged as slicing gales ripped across his path. The phantom blades cut through furnaces and fire pits, issuing out hazy clouds of ash.
Axel turns, but there is nothing but smoky clouds. A laugh issues from the cloud; then the smoke ripples. A blade pierces the Brass Man’s chest. Axel reaches to get it, but another hand zooms in from the black haze to grab his throat. Jack clenches the dagger and slices upwards. The Brass Man torso rips from navel to throat, exposing aged bare skin. Axel presses down upon his palm; a magnetic hum awakens from his arm.
The knife pulls in that direction, but Jack doesn’t let go. He laughs and wags a finger towards Axel.
He plunges the knife into Axel’s palm. The magnetic hum cuts out, the old man screams. Jack backhands him across the head and the massive automaton falls to the floor.
Jack hears the beginning of the disgustingly pathetic hack as his opponent wheezes and crawls along the floor.
“You know Axel, I didn’t want it to be like this. I wanted to rip you end from end in an epic conflict, maybe torture some of your colleagues, children, or pets in front of your eyes. But this, this isn’t fun Boss. You can’t even stand. In fact killing you know might be an act of mercy, so there’s one reason not to do it; but then again there are still a lot of other reasons to do it. I just wish you could go out with more of bang then a whimper.”
Axel’s primitive A.C. radio crackles to life on the side of his mask. Minerva calls out to him.
“Axel hold on. The rest of the team is on their way. Just hold on.”
“Oh you hear that Boss, your friends are on their way… Too bad they won’t get here in time. They never do. The lawmen always show up too late to do anything, and the poor victim still dies… Isn’t that right?”
Axel peels the faceplate off glares hate towards Jack. His hand then lowers to the damaged glowing orb in his chest while Jack speaks.
“Any last words of wisdom from the windbag? Perhaps some soliloquy I can scrawl above a ditch before I toss you in it.”
“Yeah. You get your wish Jack, We’ll both be going out with a bang” the old man hacks, “
Jack kneels down and taps the knife across his knee.
“Is that right; so what, you gonna kill me now Boss? Is that it? How you gonna do that? Really, do tell, I’m all ears.”
“I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to kill both of us.”
He turns the orb in the center of the suit all the way around in a full clockwise circle. The orb starts flashing a blinding white, and the suit begins to rattle and pipes break under pressure as the engine overheats. Jack’s wicked smile turns to a grimace. He looks around to find that he has been led into a small enclosed area filled with coal dust and diesel fuel, and that the man who led him there was in a super-powered walking engine that was about to self-destruct. Jack spits at the now smiling Axel.
“Oh f*ck you Boss.”
The U.S.S Maine exploded that night. Hundreds of seamen were lost, assumedly killed in the explosion and not before. The exact cause of the detonation was never known; unless you read a William Randolf Hearst paper, in which case you were informed that it was actually a Spanish bomb planted by a European imperial power that wished to destroy the sanctity of the United State of America. Hearst knew better, and it soon became obvious that Whitechapel Jack was not the true mastermind Infinium believed him to be, but merely one piece in a larger puzzle.
War broke out. The United States blamed the Spanish for the explosion of the Maine, despite urgent warnings from a select group of policy makers who were informed better. For their part, no one knew the presence of Infinium in Havana harbor. Two members had been lost already, and the organization was not ready to intercept the Americans entering Cuba and the Philippines. Things became more difficult after that.
The world lay on a gunpowder charge, and the flame of war were lingering near. Infinium strove to prepare itself as best it could. The last will and testament of one of its longest serving members aimed to do just that. The audio was grainy and the recording primitive, but his voice was recognizable as the man they had always known.
“The purpose of a will and testament is to give away what you have. I have nothing, so I don’t really quite understand what I’m doing here. I have no more money, no land, and if you’re hearing this it is likely I’ve lost my body as well. I am nothing, and yet I still am. Axel Talbot is but a man. The Brass Man is not a man at all. He is a machine, and machines cannot die. And the world still needs him to fulfill his design. The machine must go on, Infinium can never stop. And so, in conclusion, all I have to say to you all is… find my son.”