Machinations - 4. Arc 1, Chapter 4
CW: Chapter 4, kidnapping, weaponized religion, religious persecution, homophobia
“So, you are awake.”
His bed was oddly upright. Nathan blinked. Why was it so dark? And why was he standing up? No, not standing. His feet weren’t touching the ground. He was hanging from his arms.
“So, you are awake.”
That voice was unfamiliar, so it probably wasn’t something with Eric that had gone weird. What happened? The last thing he remembered, he was fighting… Oh. He was in his suit. That would explain a lot, except why he was upright. And why he was sweating so much. The air wasn’t that warm.
“So, you are awake.”
Well, if he was in his suit, he probably needed to turn it on to see what was happening. He channeled power to the camera. In front of him stood a white man in a white robe, gold cross on the front. Of course, it was entirely possible that the person wasn’t a man, but people with giant gold crosses on them who kidnapped superheroes usually wouldn’t identify as trans even if they were. His upper face and hair were covered by a white mask with gold trim, but there were wrinkles around his mouth that suggested he was an older man. Possibly in his sixties to seventies. Then again, maybe he was a dedicated smoker.
Nathan channeled power to the radio, but he didn’t even get static. That was probably fried too.
“So, you are awake,” the man said again.
“Yeah, how’d you guess?” Nathan asked, adding power to the voice modulator.
“The Lord told me, as he has told me many things,” the man said.
Right. He’d just been repeating it until Nathan responded, but he’d wanted to see what the man would say about it. Nathan looked around. The area had brick walls, which were too common in the Cove to tell him where he was, and seemed to be lit by daylight from above. He glanced up. The roof was open to the sky and there was an old-fashioned fire escape above him. An alleyway, maybe? Last he remembered, he’d been flying above the city. He looked up at his arms. They were suspended from beneath and the ropes weren't in line with his arm gadgets. Nathan looked down at his feet. His boots were missing, and without them, he couldn’t fly. He was stuck.
“Now, it is time to show the world your fate,” the man said. He walked over to a camera, and a red light turned on. “Say hello to your audience.”
“What’s going on?” Nathan asked.
“I will cure you of your illness,” the man said. “I am the Convert. I have seen the light, and it is my duty to spread it among all who are sick and lost.”
Nathan raised his eyebrows. “You’re the guy who tortured a woman last night, aren’t you?” His heart was pounding. Way too much, actually. It felt like it was about to leap out of his chest.
“She was lost. I had to show her the way,” Convert said, voice strong, though he looked a bit nervous and glanced at the camera.
And then his heart skipped a beat. Convert had electricity powers, didn’t he? He’d zapped Nathan. That must have fried his pacemaker. Probably also fried everything else on him.
Nathan took a deep breath. So, his pacemaker was broken and nobody knew where he was. They would probably start along his last known flight path and fan out until they found him. All he had to do was hold out until then. Agreeing with Convert until he was rescued might be the best plan.
Except for the camera. He eyed it. “So, you’re recording… whatever this is?” he asked.
“Streaming it,” Convert said with the pride of someone who had conquered Everest. “This is all online right now.”
That was a problem. If there was a video of him actually listening to Convert, that would be taken out of context no matter what his excuse was. Then again, it might also work in his favor: if Convert hurt him on-camera, then Convert would lose sympathy. Given how nervous Convert had looked at the mention of Blythe Martins, Nathan would bet that Convert knew it, too. That gave him more leeway to argue with whatever Convert had to say. “Where are we?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about that,” Convert said. “I’ve planned for this. Nobody will bother us.”
That sounded like he’d taken Nathan far away. “Well, then. What do you have planned?”
“I will teach you what sins you have committed, and ensure you repent.”
Nathan tilted his head. “And what sins would those be? You tortured Blythe Martins because she had powers. I’m not confirmed to have any powers.” At least, not according to the wiki.
“Whether you have them or not, you conspire and consort with those who do. Is it not written in the Word?” Convert pulled out a bible. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Exodus 22:18.”
“Ah, yes,” Nathan said. The Mishpatim. “Except that’s Exodus 22:17, not 18. And you still don’t know whether I have any powers, so why are you bothering me?”
Convert gave him a deeply offended look. “You have failed the commandment and conspired with witches! And I know for a fact that you are also guilty of the Sin of Sodom.”
Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Lack of hospitality and extreme nationalism?”
“Right. So, jingoism.”
Convert’s mouth twisted. “No! It is unclean sexual acts!”
“Oh, like when you have sex outside the shower?”
“No! Sex between two men is sodomy!”
Nathan bit back a laugh. “But what can two men do that a man and a woman can’t? I mean, women also have mouths and butts.”
“And they will burn in Hell for it!” Convert snapped.
“Women will burn in hell for having butts?”
Convert spluttered. “You,” he snarled, “need to close your mouth and open your ears and mind. Understood?”
Nathan said nothing.
“Well?” Convert demanded. “Do you understand?”
“I’m sorry,” Nathan said. “You said to close my mouth. But while I’m at it, I have a question.”
Convert glared. “What?”
“So you said that using superpowers is witchcraft. Correct?”
“But you have the power to zap people and are using it.”
“My power was given to me by The Lord, not foul demons.”
“Okay,” Nathan said. “But you’re using it to harm people. Which is the Devil’s work.” Was he saying that right? He really didn’t get Christian ideas sometimes.
“I am not harming people. I am guiding them to the light.”
Nathan raised both eyebrows this time. “So then how do you know that other people with powers weren’t granted the power by a divine source rather than an infernal one?”
“Because they are using them for ungodly purposes.”
“Like kidnapping, assault, battery, and torture?”
Convert huffed. “Nothing done in the name of The Lord is infernal!”
Nathan took a deep breath. “Funny. I thought there was a commandment, like the third, about not taking His name in vain. Not just about swearing, you know. His names are sacred. Doing a bad deed in His name is to take his name in vain, to make it an empty promise of righteousness. And it’s said that the devil can quote scripture.”
Convert opened his mouth to respond, but he shut it when a cat’s meow echoed around the alleyway. He looked around in confusion. Nathan did as well. There wasn’t a cat there – in fact, there was nothing except for him and Convert. A few moments later, the meow was followed by a dog’s bark, and then the alley fell silent.
“Well,” Convert said, turning back around, “I suppose we should begin.” He snapped the bible open. “Leviticus 18:22…” he announced with precise syllables.
Vayikra, also known as Torat Kohanim, the Law of Priests. Even the English name reflected that. “You mean the book that tells Levite priests how to achieve purity for rituals and has no bearing on anyone else’s conduct?” Sure, not all of it was specifically directed at the priests, but that would lead to an argument and that would be a delay.
Convert lowered his bible and once more tried to speak, but instead a woman’s voice spoke. “Why?” it asked, broken and raspy.
This time, Convert jumped. “Show yourself!” he demanded. There was no one there.
“Why did you do this?” the woman asked.
Convert whipped around. “Are you hearing this?”
“Hearing what?” Nathan asked. Sure, Convert could be referring to the voice, but then he could also be talking about something else. Even if what he was talking about seemed very obvious. Nathan didn’t know everything and should take the position that he could be wrong.
“The woman from last night!” Convert said. Blythe Martins?
“They are coming,” Blythe said.
A deeper voice, precise in its pronunciation, spoke up. “You’ve been quite naughty, haven’t you? Hurting the innocent in your own self-righteousness.”
Convert looked around, truly terrified. Honestly, Nathan was right there with him.
“We are coming,” a multitude of voices whispered.
“Hating others because you hate yourself. Quite pathetic, really,” the deeper voice continued.
“We are coming,” the multitude said, louder this time.
“I think you truly belong with us,” the deeper voice continued. “Prepare yourself.”
“We are coming.” Now it wasn’t so much a whisper as a spoken chorus, rising in volume. “We are coming. We are coming. WE ARE COMING.”
After the final repetition, a scream that made his armor rattle, the alley fell silent. Nathan gasped for breath, the sound ridiculously loud to his ears. What was going on?
Fire erupted from the ground, forming into a hand that groped along the pavement. Another sprung up, and another, blindly searching. Convert backed away until he hit a wall, mouth open and shaking his head.
“We are here,” the multitude whispered.
A hand of fire came out of the wall beside Convert’s head and he scrambled back with a shriek. He made a run for the alley’s entrance, but a wall of fire sprung up, cutting off his escape. Convert fell to his knees, praying fervently.
Whatever was going on, Nathan wanted no part of it. He struggled against the ropes, and did they feel a little looser than before? He glanced up. Fire was eating through the rope holding his left arm in place. It was doing the same on the other side. Further up, he saw two silhouettes standing at the top of the building. As he watched, they dropped down.
One was blue. The other was on fire.
Nathan felt his whole body sag with relief. That was a little strange, considering he was now faced with two more supervillains, but he’d take whatever backup he could get. At least they’d never tied him up before.
The ropes holding him snapped free and Nathan swapped his pulse gun out for his taser. He pointed it at the back of Convert’s neck. “You’re under arrest,” he said. “You can come with me or you can go with them.”
Convert looked up, desperation on every line of his face… and then he looked over at Echo and Couronne and the spell was broken. “YOU!” he roared, pointing a finger at Echo. Lightning flashed between the two. Echo, seemingly unaffected, gave an exaggerated shrug.
“I think that’s enough,” Nathan said, and hit Convert with the taser. It sparked, but nothing happened. Great: someone with immunity to electricity. He should have foreseen that, given that Convert was on the other end of his zaps.
Convert turned to point at Nathan. Before he could do anything, though, Convert’s sleeve caught fire. He yelped and tried to smother it against his robes. By the time he managed it, Echo was behind him, their arms around his neck. Convert struggled for a few moments, but then went limp. Echo guided him to the ground, pulling a syringe out of their armor. They quickly pulled out two vials, extracting liquid with a practiced hand, and jabbed it into Convert’s neck just as he began to wake up.
“You know that’s illegal, right?” Nathan asked. “And also extremely dangerous?”
Echo shrugged, holding Convert down as he struggled. They turned to Couronne, and gestured toward the camera. Right, that was still running. Convert was babbling about the End Days and exactly how tortured all of them would be by his all-loving deity, but Nathan tuned him out. His heart was still pounding, and his clothes were damp and sticking to him. The suit was so hot and his knees felt weak. Only the suit was keeping him upright. He really needed to get to a doctor as soon as he could. Angelica was going to make him stay in the hospital for a month, he just knew it.
As soon as Couronne managed to turn off the camera, or at least turn off the red light, Nathan’s knees buckled. He held out his hand until he felt the wall, and slowly eased himself to the ground.
Convert finally passed out, or at least he stopped talking. Nathan was guessing the former, since he suspected only unconsciousness could make Convert shut up. Echo felt for a pulse and must have been satisfied, because they stood up and looked hard at Nathan. They pointed at him and then crossed their fingers in a t shape. Nathan frowned. Were they trying to ask if he was Christian? After a moment, they drew the infinity symbol in the air. Scope’s emblem. Oh, that first one was meant to be the first aid symbol. “I’m fine,” he said. He could hear the exhaustion even through the voice modulator. “Get him dealt with first,” Nathan said. “If he gets loose, he’ll hurt more people. Take him to the dropoff point. You know where it is.” They did know, right? He couldn’t think very well. Yeah, they’d brought in villains before, and it hadn’t changed.
Echo shrugged and picked up Convert, throwing him over their shoulders. Nathan wondered how long whatever they injected would last. Half an hour, maybe? At least they were invulnerable to electric shocks. Still, inhibitor cuffs existed. Why didn’t he put his cuff on Convert? Oh, right, he’d put his on the girl with rampaging dysphoria. Why didn’t he have two cuffs?
Couronne silently wandered over. “Hey,” Nathan said. “Thanks for coming.” Couronne said nothing. “You two were actually pretty scary. Glad you never tried that with me.”
Thanks, Couronne wrote in the air. We practiced.
“Not sure I want to know why, but I appreciate it.” Nathan coughed. Were his air systems working? He pulled up the systems information. It said they were working perfectly, but he was too hot. He needed fresh air. Except there was a supervillain standing right there, so he couldn’t take off his helmet. Maybe that was another reason he was too hot. He might be able to get some fresh air if he cracked his faceplate open. Nathan reached up and tugged at it, but it wasn’t coming off. He pulled harder. It was breaking, but he wasn’t getting any air. He pulled harder.
The faceplate came free and skidded across the alley. His face was now completely exposed to the air. Nathan took a deep breath, closing his eyes to focus on it. Then he opened them again.
Couronne was staring at him. At his exposed face. Oh, right. There were reasons for not taking off his mask in front of a supervillain. Like exposing loved ones to danger.
“I, uh, don’t suppose you can forget about this?” Nathan asked. His heart pounded.
Couronne was still and silent. Then they shrugged. Hard to forget someone that handsome.
“I’m in a relationship,” Nathan said.
Couronne tilted their head, and then picked up the faceplate and handed it back to Nathan. Don’t worry, they wrote. You’re our best nemesis. I won’t go after you. Who knows who we’d have to deal with next?
“Great. Thanks.” Nathan closed his eyes and took another deep breath. He was just too hot and dizzy to care about anything. After a moment, he felt heat on the side of his face. External heat, like from a fire. He peeked one eye open. Couronne was kneeling in front of him, examining his armor. Nathan glanced down, too. It was his pacemaker tag, etched into his armor above his heart. “Oh. Yeah. I have a pacemaker. Convert broke it. That’s why I’m like this.”
Couronne looked up and then backed away.
“Not contagious,” Nathan said. “I have a slow heart rate. Pacemaker speeds it up. I guess all the adrenaline earlier kept it going at the right speed ‘til I was safe.”
For a given definition of safe, Couronne said, dry as a stack of tinder. Then they rushed forward, flames flaring.
Nathan yelped and tried to scramble back, but he was against a wall. Couronne stopped well before reaching him, the fire around them going back to normal. “What was that?!” he said. Wait, hadn’t he just said that adrenaline was helping? “Oh. Please don’t do that. I know I said it was helping earlier, but… please. No. My heart can’t take it.”
Couronne nodded and backed off. They walked to the middle of the alley and stretched their arm up. A pillar of fire appeared, reaching for the sky. Should make it easier for them to find us, they wrote.
Nathan nodded and rested his head against the wall. From above, Nathan heard a very angry and very familiar voice. “I am trying to find my missing boyfriend! I need you to let me go!” Nathan quickly put his faceplate back on as Echo landed, Scope over their shoulders. They gently set Scope down on the ground. “Thank you, you…” Echo pointed at Nathan. “Oh. I take back everything.” He flipped on his radio. “Found Enmachina. He looks in bad shape, so I’m checking him out.”
“Hey,” Nathan said as Scope knelt over him. “Got zapped.” He glanced over Scope’s shoulder, but both villains were gone, so he took his faceplate back off. “Convert zapped me. My suit wasn’t affected, but anything on my body’s dead. And he stole my boots!”
“Yeah, he left them where you landed. We got them back,” Scope said, running a hand along Nathan’s face. He felt his heart rate speed up to where it was supposed to be. Or, rather, it stopped pounding so hard. “Doesn’t look like there’s been any immediate damage, but I still want you in the hospital immediately.”
“You’re not my doctor,” Nathan grumbled.
Scope laughed. “She’s going to say the same thing.” He leaned in and gave Nathan a brief kiss before he turned on his radio. “Angelica, his pacemaker got fried, but the rest of him looks okay. I’m going to need an ambulance at my location.” He listened for a moment, and then nodded. “They’re on their way here. Shouldn’t be too long.”
“Great,” Nathan said. “So what happened? Is he locked up?”
Scope nodded. “Cuffed and locked up now. Still hasn’t woken up, but when whatever they gave him wears off, he should be fine.” Scope frowned. “Not really sure how they did that.”
“Echo did some sort of chokehold and then injected him with something.”
“Yeah, I got that. We’re running blood tests to see what it was. But drugging people is pretty precise. Too much and they overdose, too little and they don’t get knocked out. Even with medical training, I still couldn’t accurately get them out unless I had access to up to date medical records.” Scope shook his head. “How long did it take him to pass out?”
“Few minutes at most.”
“Hmm. And you said a chokehold?”
“Yeah. Went down in less than a minute.”
“Background in martial arts and medicine?” Scope mused. “How did they find the time?”
“Guess it narrows down who it could be, then,” Nathan said.
“I’ll have to ask around, see if anyone I know has a black belt.” Scope pressed his hand harder against Nathan’s cheek. “Why’s your faceplate off?”
“Um. I accidentally pulled it off. Too hot.”
“Was it in front of--?” He was cut off by an ambulance siren. “There we go.” He pulled his hand away, leaving cool air against Nathan’s cheek.
Scope helped him stand up since Nathan was pressing his faceplate on and couldn’t see anything. Once he was lying down on the gurney and he heard the doors close, he lifted it again. Angelica was staring down at him.
“Really?” Nathan said. “I’m dying and you want to debrief me?”
“Well, if you die, when else can I do it?” Angelica asked.
Nathan sighed, removed a glove so he could hold Scope’s hand, and set about reporting as best he could.
Nathan lay awake in his hospital bed later that evening, Raph asleep in a guest cot and holding his hand. Now that he was on medicine, he was thinking clearly. Why had he been perfectly fine with letting a supervillain see his real face? And he’d admitted to having a pacemaker, too. At the time, he’d felt perfectly safe. Now he just felt furious at himself.
But then, the two of them were really good at respecting the rules. Not attacking a super’s family was one of them. And he hadn’t really done anything to them – they tended to treat their clashes with him as games, and he’d never truly defeated them anyway. Why go after him?
Besides, it was really unlikely that Couronne was anyone he knew. There were millions of people in this city alone. Why would any random supervillain know who he was?
Couronne flew off home. As soon as he was inside and completely alone, he shut down his flames and turned himself visible.
“Well, crap,” Eric said.
Thank you for reading!
Thank you for reading!
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