Schatten stares blankly at Calba.
“Who are you? What happened to Korkea and the orange moron with the widow’s peak?”
“Widow’s peak? Look who’s talking. Calvin and Konba are right here, Schatten. We’ve merged together to take you down.”
“Miscegenation, that’s what this is. You think tainting yourself will make you stronger?”
“Haven’t you ever heard that alloys are stronger? Haven’t you ever seen that mutts are healthier than purebreeds? That whole fixation with purity does more harm than good in the long run. You ever heard of Charles II of Spain? Look him up. That’s what your obsession with purity gets you.”
Calba clenches his fists.
“Can you do this, with all your so-called purity?”
The Nazi Omega’s jaw drops.
“What is this?”
And the half-human, half-Saingan gestalt entity chuckles.
“Last time we used this, we didn’t really have a name for it. But because it’s the combined power of an Omega Class and a Super Saingan…”
Calba folds his arms.
“How about we just call it Omega Saingan?”
And then, his arms still folded, he rushes Schatten, barraging him with a flurry of kicks.
“I’M NOT EVEN GONNA NEED MY HANDS FOR THIS!!!”
Meanwhile, Judy, Miles, and Marley land on a cliff overlooking the titanic silo.
The place is surrounded by robotic guards now. More Schlechtniks, and Bauherren.
“Dey weawwy nu wan aneewun guin in dewe.”
“Whatever’s in that silo must be important, even if it’s not a you-know-what.”
“Typical Nazis. They had something with that kind of power and used it to power one piddly facility. And Ivo evidently still doesn’t know what it really is, or he’d have already won.”
“He’s probably gonna find out what it is sooner or later, Miles.”
“Su we nee tu git it. But how am we gunna git in dewe, mummah?”
“Well, the bastard who attacked Cal doesn’t seem to be here, so we can probably just fight our way inside–”
“If that thing’s not here, where is it?”
Calba keeps kicking Schatten, who is not enjoying this one bit.
“JUST LOOK AT MY SPEED!!!”
With a needlessly showy spinning kick, the gestalt entity sends the Nazi Omega crashing into a flagpole.
The pole collapses at Calba’s feet.
“Really, Ivo? Slapping your face on everything?”
Schatten gets back up, burning red and black again.
He swings at Calba, who swings at the same time.
Their fists collide, creating a massive shockwave.
Then Calba is attacked from behind.
A grey blur delivers blows faster than Calba can follow.
As the gestalt entity tries to defend himself, Schatten charges an energy spear, grinning insanely.
Schatten throws the spear at Calba, screaming like a wild animal.
But Calba teleports away.
“Oh, of course he’d run away. Can’t even die with honor.”
The mysterious assailant, the robot that looks like Calvin with one glowing red eye, turns to Schatten. Like Hans said, it was designed for speed and precision, being skinnier than Calvin or either of its predecessors.
“He can’t outrun me.”
It’s gone in a flash.
Dew the goblin flies over the streets, standing on a flying contraption of his own design that looks a bit bat-shaped, and wearing a satchel filled with his pumpkin-shaped bombs.
He sees Reilly and Mayday, their waldo harnesses still stabbing robots, but heavily outnumbered, and Dew dives towards them, pulling a bomb out of his satchel.
“YOU TWO!!! MOVE!!!”
Reilly and Mayday web-swing away, and Dew throws the bomb at the robots.
Reilly and Mayday cling to a wall, grinning at Dew.
“Thanks for the save.”
“Dat wuz a cwose wun.”
“We team mates. Is just what team mates do.”
Valerie climbs up the wall on four of Alfred’s tendrils, Xavier and Susan flying up in their new nano armors.
Both in black, with “HIS” and “HERS” on the chest plate. Like their old armors.
“We’re still not making any real progress, people. If we could just get into that silo, see what’s in there…”
Xavier turns to Valerie.
“What about Phantasm? He’s intangible, those robots can’t hurt him. Not even that Nazi schmuck Schatten can hurt a ghost.”
“We should have sent Phantasm in immediately. Does anyone know where he is?”
Phantasm, possessing a large robot mosquito, flies through the streets, skewering Bauherren.
Unfortunately, Slayer flies towards Phantasm, doing his thing to the spectral fluffy’s host.
“ENF! ENF! ENF!”
Phantasm pops out of the robot mosquito, glaring at Slayer.
“Wotch da fwend-wee fiyah! Fan-tas-um wuz yoo-sin dat wun, Swayew!”
“ENF! ENF! ENF! Whuups. ENF! ENF! ENF! Sowwy, Fan-tas-um. ENF! ENF! ENF!”
Phantasm takes over a Bauherr instead, his voice going from ethereal to electronic.
“It am awwite–”
A sticky bomb latches onto Phantasm’s back, and he sighs.
The Bauherr is blown to bits, the avenging spirit fluffy ejected from it.
“ENF! ENF! ENF! DADDEH! GU DEAW WIF DAT ASSHOWE! ENF! ENF! ENF!”
Dave flies at Bombe Mann, evading the sticky bombs it fires at him.
“GODDAMN, HOW MANY OF THOSE BOMBS DOES THAT ASSHOLE HAVE?!?”
One of the bombs latches onto Scarface.
As Dave engages Bombe Mann, Scarface runs away, trying to shake the bomb off his fluff.
But he’s blown to pieces.
Scarface’s head bounces off a streetlight, slowly rolling to a stop with an annoyed expression.
“…Widdwe hewp hewe?”
Bolt runs off to look for Wally.
Meanwhile, in an alleyway, Wally, Pierre and Deston have just finished getting Victor back together.
Victor was in street clothes at the time his body was exploded, so they’ve been destroyed.
Fortunately, he has spares in his bag, but he’s switched to his black battle suit.
Unfortunately, he’s also down his photonic blade.
“Thanks, boys. When I catch up to that bomb-slinging metal asshole, I swear to fucking God–”
“Wawee! Scawface gut bwown up tuu!”
“Where is he, Bolt?”
“Aww oba da pwace! Fowwoh Bowt!”
Bolt leads Wally out of the alleyway, to Scarface, at supersonic speed.
And Victor scowls.
“That’s it. Nobody fucks with Scarface and gets away with it.”
He pulls a belt of grenades out of his bag, putting it on.
“That mohawked motherfucker isn’t the only one who can throw explosives around.”
Pierre warily eyes the grenades.
“Be careful with those, old friend. We don’t want any friendly fire.”
“Relax, Pierre. What are you two gonna do?”
Deston starts preparing to cast a spell.
“I’m going to have to leave the Prime Material Plane for a bit. To make sure that Vanessa is actually dead. Cal said he saw her die, but so did Judy, and she would have seen our thin friend collect Vanessa. Pierre, you feel it too, don’t you?”
The elder Faucheuse brother nods.
“There’s something going on here that we don’t know about. One crucial piece of the puzzle that would answer most, if not all of our questions. And if I had to guess where that piece is, it’s on that island.”
“But you’re not gonna have an easy time by yourself, Pierre.”
Pierre chuckles, pulling his photonic scythe out of his pocket.
“Well, I recently installed a new upgrade that should make it easier.”
A silver mass of nanomachines seeps out of Pierre’s pores, covering him head to toe in a set of silver and glowing cyan nano armor.
“What do you two think? It’s not too gaudy, is it?”
“Nah, Pierre. Looks good.”
“You cut an imposing figure in that armor, Brother. Shynt!”
“Scarface will be alright, Victor.”
“I know, but he’s gonna be fuming.”
Calba, having turned invisible, casually strolls through the streets of Devil Island, the Bauherren building more Schlechtniks, erecting more buildings, and decorating the place with the emblem of Ivo’s face.
He ducks into an alleyway, softly murmuring to himself.
“Why is he putting his face everywhere? We already know he’s in charge here! It’s like he really doesn’t want us to forget that.”
Calba stops walking, glancing at the Sword of Kings on his back.
“…Yeah, it does seem like he’s compensating for something. There has to be a reason behind his choice of decor.”
A few seconds of silence pass.
“I think you’re right. We do need Niv for this.”
Calba turns visible, reverts to base form, and demerges.
Okay, I’m back.
I turn to Konba.
“Keep that Band on and stay close to me. We’ll probably need to merge again soon.”
“As long as we don’t have to keep hiding. I hate hiding. A lot of my kind does.”
“Preaching to the choir, Kon.”
Okay, Niv. Think you can help us figure this out quickly?
You can figure things out before I can, after all.
Why is Ivo slapping his face all over this island?
The obvious answer is that he’s an egomaniac. But that might be TOO obvious.
What do you mean, Niv?
Well, maybe he WANTS us to look at those emblems and think that he’s just got a huge ego, and then not give it any further thought.
That makes sense. Vic always says that a good lie is a lie that puts the target’s mind at ease, and doesn’t invite further questions.
As opposed to the kind of lie that leads to more lies, snowballs out of control, and probably requires some kind of elaborate ruse to maintain.
Like pretending to be rich to impress a woman, and having to break into some actually rich person’s house when she asks to see your mansion.
Of course, that ruse inevitably and spectacularly falls apart at exactly the wrong time, exposing all the lies.
Narrative causality is a bitch.
So it’s better to just keep your lies simple, Vic says. Give the person you’re lying to an answer that satisfies them, and doesn’t get them pulling threads.
Maybe that’s what Ivo is doing. Making this island look so obviously like Ivo is calling the shots that we just accept it at face value…
And don’t consider the possibility that it’s not Ivo calling the shots.
But it can’t be Vanessa calling the shots, because Ivo, or whoever he really is betrayed her.
So does that mean Argyrum is really in charge?
That’s unlikely, but maybe that’s what Argyrum WANTS us to think.
Or maybe it’s a multiple level façade, and Ivo really is in charge.
Or maybe we are simply overthinking this, and there is no façade.
But that might be part of the façade too!
Doc wouldn’t waste time on a façade with so many layers. There’s just too many moving parts.
He’s said that the more layers a façade has, the more likely it is that the person behind it is a…
There’s only one person I know who would be enough of a hack for something like this.
And like that, the puzzle pieces click together.
But it raises more questions than it answers.
“Oh my fucking God, how did we not see it?”
Oh, right. Konba couldn’t hear us.
“I know who’s behind all of this, Kon. I know who Ivo really is.”
“Really? Then why have you been staring at the wall for ten minutes? Oh wait, you were talking to those voices in your head, weren’t you? I’m not used to that.”
“Yup, I was doing that.”
“I didn’t know swords could talk. But us Saingans aren’t really a weapons kind of people, we prefer fists. So for all I know, there’s talking weapons all over the place.”
“It’s a magical sword, and the spirit inside it is the one talking. So what were you doing?”
“Keeping an eye on you, in case we were attacked while you were zoned out.”
“Don’t worry about it. So who is Ivo really? I remember him from that space station. Wasn’t he actually just that Hans guy possessing him? Is Hans doing that again?”
“You’re closer to the truth than you realize. What I don’t know is, how did he evade era–”
Then more puzzle pieces click together.
“That wasn’t a fucking basketball! Konba, we’ve gotta move, we’ve gotta tell the-- DODGE!!!”
We do so just in time, flying up into the air as a red and black energy spear whizzes through the alleyway.
Schatten flies up from one side of the alleyway.
“Not merged anymore, Korkea? Did you realize that it won’t make a difference?”
“Joke’s on y–”
A grey blur slams into Konba, launching him and the possibility of merging again away.
“Oh, great. You brought a fr–”
Then the blur pummels me before I can react.
“OH, LET ME GUESS!!! THIS ONE’S CALLED PROJEKT CALDROID 3.0!!!”
Schatten laughs, the grey blur spinning around us, a streak of glowing red in the grey.
“Why would Dr. Eierkopf use that name? That was Dr. Stahlberg’s thing. Allow me to introduce my friend. This…”
The grey blur comes to a stop next to Schatten, giving me my first good look at it.
It looks like a Caldroid. It’s between Alpha’s silver and Omega’s dark grey. But it’s skinner than me or either of them. Sleeker, too. And it has one red glowing eye.
“…is Metal Calvin.”
“There’s so much steam and steel behind you. You won’t slow it down at all.”
I glare at both of them.
“Now I know my theory is true. Because that’s what Hans was going to call Alpha! Admit it!”
I point as dramatically as I can at them.
“It’s Hans running the show here, isn’t it?”
They both laugh.
“How utterly absurd, Herr Korkea. Dr. Hans Stahlberg is extremely dead. You should know that, you killed him.”
“Not hard enough, obviously. He had another backup. One not connected to the Stahlnet, I reckon!”
Schatten laughs again, folding his arms.
“Do you have any proof of these outrageous accusations?”
“None whatsoever. But I don’t need to prove it. I just need to dismantle the scheme. And that starts with dismantling you two assholes!”
“Oh? And who are you going to beg for help now?”
Take the wheel.
I do so, Cal’s nano suit shifting to my battle suit, and Schatten is surprised by the sudden change in appearance.
“Ha! Look at that, we almost match! Except I don’t have hot sauce on my head. FYI, after I kill you, I’m taking that armor. I called dibs.”
“Was ist das? What have you done to yourself now, Herr Korkea?”
That metal bastard ISN’T surprised, but maybe that’s just because it isn’t PROGRAMMED to feel surprised.
“Cal’s on sabbatical, honey! Now you’re up against NIVLAC!!!”
I manifest eight black tendrils, smirking audaciously.
“And it ain’t gonna be pretty.”
In the room full of screens, Hans, Vanessa and Argyrum keep their eyes on Metal Calvin’s screen, Metal Calvin and Schatten now dodging the black tendrils.
“Well, well, well. Looks like Korkea finally saw through our ruse. Took him long enough. But he can’t prove it.”
Vanessa is still trying not to pay any attention to any fluffies on the screens.
“That’s not going to stop him from hunting you down, Hans. He won’t rest until you’re erased.”
“In that case, he will never rest. No, wait, I tell a lie… he’ll be resting for eternity after we’re through with him.”
“True, true. So did you know that Korkea can do that?”
“I didn’t have a clue. But there’s no need to worry. Projekt T.M. is almost finished. As soon as it’s online, the battle is over. We’ll win.”
“Won’t we need to move the Power-Kristall again, though? That’s going to be tricky, considering that it’s keeping all of our other forces functional.”
Their eyes turn to the eight screens surrounding Metal Calvin’s.
Schnitt Mann has fled from Omega, who ripped its chainsaw arm off, and Schnitt Mann is having a new one built by several Bauherren.
Mumm Mann is pounding Xanitas and Trota to a pulp, but the MetalliX does not know about Xanitas’ “big green problem” yet.
Elektrisch Mann is attempting to electrocute Andre, who is just cackling at the electricity.
Bombe Mann is firing bombs everywhere as it runs away from Dave, but most of those bombs are latching onto the MetalliX’s forces.
Feuer Mann, having engaged Olaf, Zamorozit and Snowball, is being driven away by Artie, Splash, Glenn and Wallace.
Eis Mann is running away from Dwayne, Diablo, Dexter, and Cindy.
Zeit Mann is hunting for Jack again, a group of Schlechtniks following it. It was given orders to eliminate him.
And Öl Mann is attempting to cover ChaotiX members in oil so Feuer Mann can ignite them, but the mages on the battlefield are simply casting Thari to clean their allies off.
“Well, they’ll all be redundant once Projekt T.M. is online. But it’s good to have redundancies. Projekt T.M. has a built-in Stromnabe, so we’ll be able to get everyone up and about again soon enough.”
“We’ll have to move quickly, though. They’ll figure out something is up when all of our forces suddenly go offline.”
Hans glances at one screen, showing Judy, Marley and Miles looking for Calvin, from the point of view of a robot seagull.
“They may very well assume that those three stole the Power-Kristall. Worry not, I’ve planned for this. I’ve planned for everything.”
Vanessa turns to another screen, showing a robot chameleon’s point of view as it invisibly watches Annette, Floris and Herb walk past the tree it’s clinging to, in the one green part of the island.
“Have you planned for that? They’re probably looking for Dem.”
“They’ll be running into a nasty surprise. And I don’t think they know it.”
“Yes, it does suck to be them. Vanessa, you’re worrying too much. Every path leads to victory. By the time the ChaotiX knows what our true objective is, it will be too late.”
“Unless they get to Projekt T.M. before it’s online. And Hans, they’re trying.”
“And failing. We’ve got a lot of moves left to make. More than they think. More than they’ll ever know. We’ve still got that anti-magical robot. We can throw it at Korkea’s wife instead of that magical mutant. You don’t think we could get a pair of those bracelets, do you?”
“Who would you be planning to merge together, Hans? Us? What would you get if a man and a woman merged together?”
Argyrum tilts their head.
“No, not a baby. That’s not how humans reproduce, my dear. Not that either of us is human anymore…”
“I think the answer is a hermaphrodite. But no, I wasn’t thinking of merging us together. Projekt Schatten, definitely, but I don’t know who else.”
“Hmm, no. A Tuuni’s powers are potent, sure. In the right circumstances, they can approach an Omega Class’ level of power.”
“If it would be funny.”
“Ganz genau. But I fear that Projekt Schatten has no patience for physics-defying slapstick.”
“That’s rich of him, pretty much everything X-Positives do defies physics.”
“Yes, but the point is that a merger of Projekt Schatten and Pistol Pinto would not be able to use the latter’s powers to their fullest potential.”
“Could we not simply make another Omega Class? Isn’t that how you and Gerald created Schatten? By using the Power-Kristall to draw his innate potential out? I thought it was just a limitless battery or something.”
“Projekt Schatten was very unruly when he was first created. I still don’t know what triggered his change in personality, or if it can be replicated. I’d probably need to analyze the Power-Kristall in depth before I do anything like that. We barely tapped its secrets by the end of the war.”
“Just stick them in a cyrogenic tube. Seventy years in a freezer will take the fight out of anyone. But an F-word wouldn’t last seventy seconds. So I’d discourage using one of them as a guinea pig. They’d probably explode, and then we’d have a mess to clean up.”
“Most of them are far too frail to be of any use. Argyrum told me that the old Hans experimented with using F-words as living batteries.”
“Really? And how did that work out?”
“Not at all. Living organisms make for terrible batteries, Vanessa.”
Vanessa pauses for a moment.
“I know. Pierre absolutely detests those Matrix movies because of that. But… well, for some reason…”
She runs a hand through her synthetic hair, sleek black like her daughter’s.
“I feel like the Schlechtniks should have F-words inside them.”