"Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid" by NobodyAtAll

Hey, it’s Cal. Only been an hour, so not much news this time.

It’s about noon in the city, we’ve still got a long day ahead of us.

Sometimes it gets hard for us ChaotiX to keep track of the time with all of the teleporting and blipping and portalling we do, but fortunately, there’s an app to help with that on our COMPs.

The Trinity of Terra knows how it be.

Me and Marley are back on Earth, back in the city we call home and love so much, in a place we spend a lot of time in.

You guessed it, Valerie’s lab.

MIKA’s shifted to battle suit mode. The fun up in orbit is over, it’s time to get back to work.

We’ve already taken a look at Argyrum, who is almost fully regenerated.

How do we know that thing isn’t playing a long con, and isn’t still secretly loyal to Hans?

Well, here’s one reason: Hans betrayed them just like he betrayed everyone else he ever worked with, except Bad Chris and James, and only because they betrayed him first.

All that talk of being friends with Argyrum was a load of bullshit.

And the second reason is that Argyrum starts spelling swear words whenever someone mentions Hans around them.

I don’t know where they learned all of those swear words.

They’ve been giving us their side of the whole thing with the MetalliX. With Prometheus serving as a translator, because Argyrum only has so much mass to form into letters.

They doesn’t set your sussy baka sense off either, do they?

No, but when a HUMAN is being a sussy baka, or when a humanOID is, there’s all kinds of subtle tells that the conscious mind might miss. Their voice might go slightly higher when they’re being dishonest, or their left eyebrow might twitch when they’re hiding a secret. But Argyrum is a silver blob that doesn’t have a voice. They can reshape their body at will. How the fuck am I supposed to know what a Hig’s tells are?

And this also applies to fluffies, even though they’re not exactly humanoids. Most fluffies aren’t very good liars.

Fluffies have FACES, Fi. That’s usually enough to work with.

Look, I already incinerated Argyrum twice. If they act up, I can do it again.

I’ll take another look at how they’re doing on the way out, but for now, we’ve got another project to look at.

Let’s do it to it.

Can’t believe you actually said that…

Valerie leads us to a room on the same floor as the portal room.

Actually, just across the hallway from the big green portal, made with reverse engineered Sanchez portal tech.

Val’s been making some upgrades to those portal guns, you can actually see the destination now.

We have not told Rick about this yet.

We don’t know how he’ll react.

In this room, we find Mervin Geralds, wizard, standing next to a big machine, wearing his unusual black and white robe as always.

There’s two big pods, connected by thick black cables to a third pod in the middle. Each one is large enough for a grown man to stand in, with a Stahlglas door showing the interior of each pod, with shiny chrome walls. And in front of the one in the middle, there’s a podium with a control panel.

But the pods’ exterior appears to be made of gold, or at least plated with it, and they all have familiar runes around the base.

There are similar runes on a certain piece of jewelry that Merv makes.

And each pod has a large gemstone above the door. A ruby on the left one, a sapphire on the right one. The third one has both, looking a bit like a red and blue Yin-Yang symbol.

Have you guessed what the machine does yet, dear readers? I think it’s been alluded to a few times.

If you HAVEN’T guessed, you must not be very familiar with Merv.

Or the wonderous Bands he invented.

Yeah, those things have saved our asses a bunch of times.

And yet, I still haven’t had a turn using them.

We aren’t even sure that you can use them, Niv. You know what happens to you and Memories when I use them.

And have you figured out that that’s not actually gold yet, dear readers?

Mervin gestures at the machine, a look of hesitant anticipation on his bearded face.

“In theory, it works. It’s designed to operate on similar principles to my Bands. And Valerie says that this machine is able to do things that my Bands can’t do.”

Valerie nods.

“Like merging inanimate objects. I tested it out. I put two plastic cubes through it, one black, one white, and I wound up with a grey plastic cube, which was denser and slightly more durable than its component cubes. But I haven’t tested the Merge-O-Matic on anything alive yet.”

I crack a grin.

“Just bring Jack in, Val. He’ll rewind time if it Cronenbergs the test subjects.”

“If we don’t have any other options, we’ll have to do that. Once we’re sure that it won’t… Cronenberg living subjects, the Merge-O-Matic will be ready to use on–”

“Wait, back up. Merge-O-Matic?

“Mawwey can gess hu came up wif dat namesie…”

Valerie blushes and nods in shame.

“Yes, that was Uncle Victor’s doing again, I’m afraid. He called it that while he was here to have his Clawntlets repaired, the name caught on with the rest of the Nerd Squad, and then it stuck. You know he’s done that before.”

“I do know, so I banned him from naming squads. Changing the subject: Merv, how’s Shaun doing?”

Mervin uses a cloth to polish one of the pods.

“He’s doing… as well as he can be doing, considering that he still owes his soul to the Devourer. Any progress towards a solution there, Cal?”

“Not yet, but there hasn’t been any bad news since Tenneb vanished. It’s the calm before the storm, Merv. If the Devourer and the Light of Peace break into our reality at the same time… it’ll be all-out war. Light versus darkness… and mortalkind caught in the middle.”

“We am aww fukked if dat happun.”

“Which is why we’re also meeting with the IntergalactiX later, Mar. We need to see if there’s any progress with the hunt for the Stones of Octavo.”

“Sumtimes it scawe Mawwey dat fwee of doze fings popt up owtta nu-whewe su kwik-wee.”

“It scares me too, buddy.”

We’ve got those three Stones securely contained, courtesy of the Intergalactic Patrol.

Obviously, not being kept together.

But five Stones of Octavo still remain unaccounted for. And they could be anywhere in the universe.

We can rule out Zurae, Arkay, and… probably whatever planet Vulcanus originally came from, I’m still wondering about that.

And we can probably assume that there weren’t any more Stones brought to Earth, because that would be too lucky.

Maybe if we knew what colors the other five are, that might give us a clue.

If there’s a PURPLE one, it’s probably on Dunna, and if it’s hidden inside some kind of ancient artifact, I GUARANTEE that it’s a Dildo of Destiny. Or an Onahole of Octavo. I dunno, SOMETHING lewd like that.

Dunnans are obsessed with sex, is what I’m saying.

Yes, Niv, we’re all aware of that.

The ChaotiX hasn’t recruited any Dunnans yet, have we?

Nope. What are they gonna do when we’re busting abusers? Flirt at them? Fuck them into submission?

We’re not trying to reward abusers for what they do.

But who says we have to recruit a Dunnan WOMAN? Most abusers are men, and we’ve seen a lot of them who were also SHAMELESS homophobes. They wouldn’t enjoy it if we locked them in a room with some Dunnan men.

Look, Dunnans don’t rape people.

The Dunnan language doesn’t even have a word for rape. Their closest equivalent roughly translates to “sex you didn’t expect”, according to Victor.

The idea of having sex with someone without their consent is alien to Dunnans, because Dunnans always consent.

If you say “Not tonight, I have a headache,” they’ll just get you some aspirin and a glass of water, which is thoughtful, but…

Yeah, there were a lot of faux pas when Dunna first entered the intergalactic community, and began interacting with people who don’t have sex at the drop of a hat.

Let’s just say that certain common ways to greet someone on Dunna would get you arrested for sexual harassment here on Earth.

And if you try one of those greetings on Silics, you’ll wind up with a busted hand, and the Silicoid whose big rocky ass you just slapped won’t even have to do anything.

These days, though, consent is part of the school curriculum on Dunna, because they really want to make sure that they don’t make that mistake again.

They mean no harm.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Take the rampant libidos out of the equation, and the Dunnans are actually a very pleasant race to interact with. They’re a very peaceful race, too. They took the “make love, not war” mantra and ran with it.

It’s like a planet of Tommies and Marias.

And I’m still not sure that Victor’s parents weren’t a Saingan and a Dunnan.

Nah, he’s not orange or purple enough. I’m pretty sure he’s white under all of those scars. Like… 99.99% sure…

How can you be so sure of that, Niv?

Well, my FIRST clue was that, as foul-mouthed as he is, he refuses to say the word ni–

Niv! We’ve been over this!

I’m a less restrained you, Cal!

That’s not an excuse!

You’re lucky I don’t tell Roland on you, Niv. You know how Rocky feels about the N-word.

Or do you want him to bury you alive again?

It doesn’t even DO anything to me. I can travel through darkness, and it’s kinda dark underground.

It’s more about making a point.

Remember what Rocky said, Niv. If he catches you saying that word again, he’s burying you on a beach next time.

Noooooooooo! I’ll get sand in my EVERYTHING! Okay, I won’t say it anymore!

Finally, a way to reign Niv in when he’s being… too Niv.

Cal, may I suggest imagining a beach in here?

I’ve been to lots of beaches, I think that can be arranged.

For now, though, let’s focus on the matter at hand.

I want to take a closer look at this machine.

As I get up close to it, I turn to Valerie.

“It’s not turned on right now, is it Val?”

She shakes her head.

“Of course not, Cal. Incidentally, the Merge-O-Matic is powered by one of our new octavium FauCores. Something like this requires a significant amount of juice. And it also requires a lengthy cooldown period between each use.”

“Good, 'cause I wanna see something and I don’t wanna turn into a Brundlefly.”

“Oh, I already took that into account, and implemented preventative measures. I’ve seen The Fly too, Cal. Both versions, and I’ve read the book they’re based on. You should know how my father feels about falling into the clichés of Hollywood science.

Fucking Valerie. But for real, good job. I mean, this machine is designed for merging things together, but I don’t want any accidents to happen. I have no idea what Jude would say if I came home as a Brundlefly.”

Marley giggles at me.

“Tek-nik-wee, daddeh, yu wud be a Kaw-keeyah-fwy. Yu wast namesie nu am Bwun-duw.”

I grumble, not entirely sincerely, as I open the door of the center pod.

“Ya little smartass…”

“Oh, am Mawwey bein tuu smawt fow daddeh? Mawwey am sowwy, wet Mawwey fiks dat. Huggies an sketties an wub! Huww dee duww! Dewp! Am dat bettah?”

I can’t help but laugh.

“Okay, you’ve made your point. I love you just the way you are, Mar.”

“Mawwey wub daddeh tuu, but Mawwey jus wan say wun fing: dat Da Fwy moo-vee am weawwy fukked up.”

“That’s David Cronenberg for you. The original version isn’t that… graphic. Right, Val?”

“Indeed, Cal.”

I step inside the pod, looking around.

“Okay, the people I’m thinking of putting through this thing are both a bit taller than me. They’re the exact same height, actually. This should be big enough for both of them.”

Marley rolls his eyes.

“Hu oh hu cud daddeh be tawk-in abowt? Oh, Mawwey cud neba sowve dis miss-tew-wee, Mawwey am jus a poow dummeh fwuffy, huu huu huu…”

As he starts fake-crying over his pretend-stupidity in an overly dramatic manner, I give him a weary look.

“Mar, buddy, it was funny at first, but now you’re overdoing it.”

He quickly knocks it off.

“Mawwey am sowwy, daddeh. But wut Mawwey wuz twy-in tu say am, we aww knu hu daddeh am gunna put fwu dis fing. Wai am yu duin dancies awound it?”

I step out of the pod, before some kind of freak accident can happen.

Yeah, I know what Val said, but I’ve seen too many movies and read too many comic books to not be paranoid about that.

I’m lucky that’s not how I got my powers.

All those Spider-Man movies make that spider bite look really painful.

“Because I’m not sure if a certain someone has the means to spy on me or not, and if they’re watching me right now, I’d rather not let them know who we’re putting in this thing. It might give them a reason to make a move.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, dear readers…

It’s Scott and the Dark Demon-- snrk– we’re planning to put through this thing, and it’s Dehak who might be spying on me.

I think Dehak stole some of my hairs after he knocked me out during Operation Rising Sun. When I woke up, I had the sneaking suspicion that he messed with my 'do while I was unconscious.

I didn’t address it at the time because there were more pressing concerns, like Dehak’s foot pressing down on my chest.

But it’s always been like a sixth sense for me. My dislike for people messing with my hair is that strong. It’s one of my buttons.

Oh yeah. One time when they were kids, the guys were having a sleepover at Dave’s house, Cal fell asleep first, like a BITCH, and Dave shaved a chunk of Cal’s hair off.

Five seconds later, I woke up with my hand wrapped around Dave’s throat, shouting “GET YOUR FILTHY MITTS OFF THE 'DO, DAVE!!!”

I didn’t talk to him for a month after that, and it became the year I really got into hats.

Getting back on topic, Deston says that there’s no telling what vile magic Dehak could weave with a bit of my body. That kind of thing is old magic, we’re talking dawn of time stuff.

Dehak might be able to use it to scry on me. He’s got dark powers he obtained from the Devourer too, and I don’t think we’ve seen the limit of those.

As for Scott and his terribly-named evil half, well…

They started as one being. So this wouldn’t be a conventional merger.

It’s not really two beings becoming one. It’s putting two halves of one being back together.

So we’re not sure what will happen, especially because the Dark Demon has had an independent existence for so long.

Unlike us. WE were only forcibly separated for like, one night. And now we can separate on command.

Yeah, but it’s different principles. The first time, the Omega Siphon did it. And remember, my powers became Vincal, so you couldn’t use all of my Omega powers, only your own darkness powers.

Yeah, I didn’t enjoy it. I think my entire body was comprised of pure dark energy or some shit. It sure didn’t FEEL like I had a flesh and blood body.

And now, we split using a variant of Gemini’s power, so when we do so, you have a flesh and blood body, and my Omega powers too.

We still have to choose between splitting our power or doubling our stamina drain, but hey, we don’t have to share one wheel anymore.

But then there’s Scott, who is dead and a nephilim, and the Demon, who is alive, and no longer a literal demon, but still has memories of the torture he endured to become a demon. And being purged of his demonic essence by the Lamp of Desire doesn’t seem to have undone the damage it did to his mind, which was already damaged when he arrived in Hell.

What happens when the Demon returns from whence he came at this point?

If Scott was still alive, it would be a lot simpler.

If he hadn’t sacrificed himself in the first place, his soul wouldn’t have been split like this.

But YOU would be dead, and then Vulcanus would have killed EVERYONE, so Scott would have died no matter what.

Semantics, Niv.

And that’s a purely hypothetical scenario, anyway.

If this works, Scott may have to give his nephilim powers up. The living can’t hold on to angelic power for very long.

Assuming that the result is a living Scott, and not a dead nephilim Deedee.

Deedee wouldn’t be able to hold on to it either, Niv. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t tolerate evildoers trying to wield angelic power.

Hold on. You just gave me an idea.

“Val, Merv, tell me something. Is there a way to… pick and choose which traits from the components are dominant in the host?”

Marley looks up at me, obviously feeling equally confused and curious. I can sense emotions, remember, and I can turn it off when I don’t need it.

“Wut du daddeh meen?”

I kneel down and stroke him, trying to explain it.

“What I mean is… uh… well, say that Val put you and me through this machine, Mar. What I want to know is, is it possible to pick and choose which parts of us the result gets? Or would it just turn us into Calley?”

“Wike… wike Mawwey head… awn daddeh bodee?”

Valerie chuckles.

“Replace an arm with a fluffy leg too, and you’ve got a fluffy version of the 1958 The Fly.”

I shrug.

“You get the point, right Mar? If this is possible, then we could make sure that putting you-know-who and you-know-who-else in this thing gets us the result we want.

Then I stand up straight again, looking at Valerie and Mervin.

“So can it be done? Also, I can’t believe I’m only asking this now, but is there a way to reverse the merger?”

Valerie smiles smugly at me.

“Of course there’s a reverse function, Cal. Do you really think that I wouldn’t put that in this thing? As for your first question, I don’t know yet. I’d have to run some tests.”

Mervin pensively strokes his beard.

“Knowing who you plan to use this machine on, Cal, I think you might be worrying about nothing. My Bands are designed to prioritise the best traits of the users, while retaining all of both users’ memories, and this machine is designed to do the same. To bring out the traits that will complement and enhance each other. And the stronger the bond between the two users, the stronger the merger. Naturally, they work at their fullest potential when used by good people who genuinely care about each other.”

“Unwike dat Bwack Band dat Shawn made.”

“Well, yes. It’s not made of chivalrium, I didn’t have any at the time. I’m truly sorry for what Shaun did to you, Marley. Trying to steal your power like that was horrible, and I’m not going to indulge my curiosity by asking you for a first-hand account.”

“Nu be sowwy, dat wuz Shawn fauwt.”

“He wouldn’t have been able to do it without me. I took him in, I taught him, and I made a lot of mistakes during his apprenticeship…”

I wave off Mervin’s concerns.

“Dude, people trying to steal your powers is just part of the package when you’re an Omega Class. We’ve got something they want, but it’s ours to give. I told Marley, it was gonna happen to him sooner or later.”

“An Mawwey knoo dat daddeh wud git Mawwey owtta dewe.”

“Wasn’t the first time one of my friends was trapped inside a magical monster, Merv. But you could have told us about Shaun sooner. You kicked him out like, a year or so after the Demonic Invasion. Before we found that cache of chivalrium in Australia, at any rate.”

The second cache we found in Tijuana is now in ChaotiX custody, so we’re good on the stuff for a while.

Oh chivalrium, the Hero of Metals, how I love you. Such a powerful magical metal, and if someone’s an evil dick, they can’t use it.

Rule of thumb: if they abuse fluffies, they can’t wield a chivalrium weapon.

Dave is thankful that he never came across any when he was still an asshole.

Do you think that Ugly Sweater Guy can wield one now?

I dunno. I don’t think he even knows about chivalrium.

If I ever get a chance to chat with him, I’ll ask him to touch an ingot, and see what happens.

Here’s hoping that it doesn’t burn him.

Yeah, that sweater looks a bit flammable.

It was lucky we found that second cache when we did, we didn’t have a lot left after this Merge-O-Matic was made.

And our attempts to solve the mysteries of chivalrium are still a work in progress.

“So, y’know, you had plenty of time to warn me and Mar that Shaun was coming for us.”

Mervin hangs his head in shame.

“I didn’t want to talk about what I had inadvertently set in motion. I did tell Des to alert the magical community about Shaun, but I never went into specifics about how his apprenticeship ended. I only said he had dabbled with powers too dangerous for mortal hands. That he wasn’t evil, just naive.

It sure took a long time for Shaun to travel from Merv’s tower to here.

Well, you heard Mervin. The magical community was keeping an eye out for him, he had to keep a low profile.

“And in my defence, Cal, I didn’t know that his goal was you. But in hindsight, I think I may have accidentally given him the idea. All I did was mention the possibility of Umbra using the Black Band on you, I didn’t realize…”

“You didn’t realize that it gave him a lightbulb moment. I get it, Merv. You meant well, you just didn’t have all of the facts. You handled it to the best of your abilities, including your ability to judge what was best. You’re not an accomplice.

That seems to put old Merv’s mind at ease.

“Thank you, Cal, for being so understanding.”

I move to pat him on the back.

“Dude, you’ve done so much good for us! If it wasn’t for your Bands of Merging, there’s so many battles we wouldn’t have won. That outweighs how you handled Shaun.”

“An Shawn nu am gunna du it again, wite?”

“Not as long as we keep that Band away from him, Mar.”

Obviously, it’s not being kept in Merv’s tower, since Shaun’s living there.

It’s being kept in the Sanctum’s vaults instead, remember?

Yeah, we’ve learned a thing or two about handling and storing dangerous artifacts of extreme power.

Lesson One…

Don’t touch one with your bare hands.

Unless you’re sure that it won’t vaporise you immediately.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, on a rooftop, Venom enjoys a lunch break, having scored some free chocolate donuts from the bakery under the roof.

A lot of businesses in San Francisco are happy to give the Lethal Protector of the city’s fluffy population a free meal. That their Lethal Protector is also a ChaotiX member now (well, two) just makes them happier to do it.

With the stack of donuts placed on a paper plate, which the bakery also gave Venom, the symbiotic duo enjoys a wonderful view to go with their lunch.

The Klyntar speaks up in Tom’s mind, in a conversational tone.

“You know who we haven’t spoken to in a while? Your old owner.”

Tom replies out loud, his voice distorted by the symbiotic suit covering his body.

“We went past hew wowk awn da way hewe. She haf bin stikkin tu da deaw.”

“She doesn’t fuck with us, WE don’t fuck with HER. But I brought her up because I’ve been wondering: does CARNAGE know about her?”

Venom’s long, slithery tongue snags one of the donuts, and after swallowing it in one bite, Tom answers.

“We neba TOWD Cawnage abowt owd mummah. How cud Cawnage knu?”

“Well, us Klyntar DO have genetic memory. That’s why we’re weak to fire and sonics. We all inherited the memory of the King in Black creating the FIRST of our kind, and we still remember the heat of the forge and the clanging of the hammer.”

“Da King in Bwack am wike da Kwin-taw gawd, wite?”

“Oh, sure, but I have no idea where he actually IS. Maybe he exists in some distant universe, and a memory leapt across universes from one Klyntar to another. That kind of thing has happened before, the Klyntar have a presence across the multiverse, we don’t ORIGINATE from this universe, Tom. I think it’s why so many of us are obsessed with Arachnoids. We’re trying to find a substitute for… I don’t know what. Or who. Never thought I’d run into Taarn again when we joined the ChaotiX, THAT was awkward…”

“Yu nu wud gu back tu Taawn if he WAN-ED yu back, wud yu?”

“If I had never met YOU? Maybe. I mean, we split up for a REASON. And I’m HAPPY, being bonded with you.”


Elsewhere in San Fran, in Michelle Howard’s office, Michelle sits behind her desk, staring at her phone on it.

“I’m doing the right thing here, aren’t I?”

She turns toward the window, the curtains still closed.

“I mean, it’s them or me. I’m doing this so I can sleep at night, without worrying about waking up to my old fluffy eating me legs first. Anything I’ve gotta do for that peace of mind is worth it, isn’t it?”

Then she glances at her phone.

“And that guy just wants peace for everyone. He sure does talk about peace a lot. Anyone who wants peace can’t be a bad guy, can they?”

What Michelle has forgotten, however, is that peace can be achieved in many ways.

And not all of them are good.

In the sewers, Carnage runs through the sewers alone.

His horrific herd has scattered, moving into position.

Way back when he was just Woody, a physically ordinary, yet mentally abnormal house fluffy, his owner tried to teach him about the city they lived in, and how to get around it.

Even though it’s been a long time since the incident at the daycare that prompted Woody’s old owner to abandon him in an alleyway, Woody never forgot what his owner taught him.

The knowledge came in handy when he was taken in by a street herd, and became the smarty after… vacating the position.

He tricked his predecessor into falling down an open manhole, after inviting him to walk and talk in private.

All he really had to do was say that it was a secret entrance to Skettieland.

At that time, the herd didn’t know how insane their new member was, and praised him for the knowledge he gained from his old life. He was something akin to a wise man for the herd, and for many ferals, having a name, especially a name given by a human, is something of a status symbol.

That changed after he took the throne.

Once he became the new smarty, he felt liberated, and his true nature quickly became apparent, the members of the herd dropping like flies at Woody’s whims.

When he wanted booboo-juice, he got booboo-juice.

And when Woody had exhausted the herd’s patience, they ousted him, beating him as savagely as feral fluffies can until he finally left.

Carnage is actually grateful for that, in the sick and twisted way that a school shooter is grateful for someone unwittingly drawing the security guards’ attention away from him. Woody’s wounds were still bleeding when he encountered Venom’s newborn spawn, and when the infant Klyntar instinctively attempted to bond with the first viable host it found, the Klyntar entering Woody’s bloodstream through the open wounds resulted in his unusual, powerful symbiosis.

And his knowledge of the city is certainly coming in handy now.

He doesn’t need his old herd anymore. His first act as Carnage was to exact vengeance upon them, so they’re long dead anyway.

And he has a new herd now. A herd of fluffies that will obey every order he gives them, without question.

A herd of fluffies that will spill blood in his name, at his command. Every fluffy he’s assimilated is another weapon in his arsenal.

A herd of fluffies that is, essentially, nothing more but an extension of him.

Carnage can see through the eyes and ears of his minions, and he can command them through the link they share via the red Klyntar.

Venom may be two minds sharing one body, but Carnage is, effectively, one mind with many bodies.

If he needs a few more bodies, any fluffy will do.

If he can trick or force them into eating part of his Klyntar, they’re his.

And if he can’t?

Well, they can still bleed.