The general cleared his throat. "Ladies, gentlemen, I am here to describe an existential threat. Not to the United States, but to mankind. It's the possibility our analysts consider the most dangerous: the scenario we have code-named 'omega'. Our best guess is that Scylla and Charybdis and associates of theirs are, as we feared, the ones responsible for recent events. Furthermore, they seem now to be in control of the governments of two sovereign states, Argentina and Lithuania, although we can't prove it. We don't know how many other states are compromised.
"The most troubling finding, though, is that it may be -- and we are still not certain of this -- that sites that we believed belonged to the pair are launching attacks on each other. The optimistic view is that somehow, possibly, one of their underlings has managed to seize some degree of control over their operations. The realistic view, however, is that what has happened is what every analysis has shown to be the most dangerous likely outcome.
"We believe that Scylla and Charybdis are no longer allies. They are now at war."
"Excuse me, how could that possibly be a bad thing?" asked the Secretary of Agriculture. "From where I'm sitting, I'm glad they're not teamed up anymore. It seems to have ended their scheme to darken the sun, whatever the hell they were trying to accomplish with that. Hell, they may kill each other off. Even one of them dead would make me sleep better."
"Sure, for as long as they decide they want us alive, Mr. Secretary," said the General. "But we have very little idea what they are like on their own. I'm sure everyone here remembers the arguments over whether they were one person or a group. While we have developed a profile of how they act together, we have no idea how they will act individually."
The president spoke up. "They presented themselves as a married couple. Does this mean they're now . . . divorced?"
"Yes sir. We are all going to find out what it looks like when a divorce is hashed out with nuclear weapons."
Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. Some have greatness thrust upon them. And some are like president Alan Stevens, who, after having been given every opportunity for greatness, still managed to elude it. He might have been a passable president in better times. But when he was elected in 1984, it was not due to his abilities. It was because no one else was willing to step up and occupy the office.
President Stevens' half-hearted campaign was matched in its lack of enthusiasm only by that of his opponent, the leader of the other party, who not only didn't bother to travel and actually campaign, but seemed to emit a stream of gaffes that guaranteed his loss. "Perhaps one day our children will stop screaming" was not an effective slogan.
Stevens had never been a part of President Ross's inner circle when he was vice president. He never particularly evinced any awareness that there was an inner circle that was excluding him. He remained the affable former governor of California who had been picked to balance the ticket and attract moderates and liberals. No one had ever really expected him to occupy the Oval Office but now he was the Jason attempting to guide the United States between Scylla and Charybdis.
Things seemed easier for awhile. The von Wickeds were silent at first, taking the same stance they had taken during the latter couple years of Ross's term. Don't bother us, we won't bother you. The nation almost seemed to emit a collective sigh of relief. Mysterious explosions in space and in isolated parts of Nepal or uninhabited islands in Melanesia were fine as long as no one was dying.
But no one rested easy either. The government was out of ideas to deal with them. Stevens was (barely) smart enough to know a futile effort when he saw it, and if Jones and Nakata had failed, everyone knew sending any more teams of Metas was a longshot. Military and police forces were already over their heads just trying to deal with everyday problems after the catastrophic loss of every fully trained member of the BMA along with their most promising cadets.
It wasn't until the new volcano had become the tallest mountain on earth that the island that had once been Maine was evacuated entirely. The series of earthquakes that had moved most of the state five miles out to sea had left it in ruins, the ash and brimstone spewed by the mountain at the center of the island had rendered much of it uninhabitable. But some of the residents hunkered down, fearful to move openly, until the continual eruptions that shook the island finally convinced everyone that staying put was more dangerous than moving.
And they were right to run.
The Contessa was making excellent progress. And yet she had been in a state of annoyance for weeks. Bad enough that she suddenly found herself, at this age, on her own and with no support. Bad enough that in her flight she had been forced to make the strategic decision to leave her son behind and hadn't yet managed to retrieve him. Bad enough having to go obtain a home on such limited notice.
The hotel with its irritatingly incompetent and flimsy staff was not what made her angriest. Nor even (although this was a very sore point indeed) no longer being able to rest her eyes on the Elgin marbles while making plans. No. The Contessa still reserved all of her fury for the museum. And her husband, or ex-husband, now.
What any decent man would have seen as a simple request to discuss the terms of their marriage, Robert had responded to with force. Julia had done nothing more than destroy a dozen or so robots with a carefully-targeted laser beam. She had politely avoided killing any of his henchmen; she hadn't even vaguely endangered his life. But Robert had flown off the handle and suddenly islands were being melted and the monster had bombed the Louvre.
After that the Contessa saw the need to respond with real force, and what had begun as a minor tiff soon escalated into a full-on quarrel. And so she built a new home for herself. But -- and that man would suffer for subjecting her to this! She would appoint her scientists to figuring out ways to extend human life so she could make him suffer longer! -- until construction was vastly further along, she still had to live in this hotel in Rhode Island. She told herself that she would only become sharper due to the privations she was experiencing. Yes, the caviar was of indifferent quality. No, the menu didn't even have fois gras. Yes, the fiends who ran the place had the temerity to use recorded music in the elevators! These would be the experiences that drove her to defeat Robert once and for all.
Scheme sigma-1 had failed completely. Before it began, even, although the Doctor hadn't really thought it would be enough to destroy her. In truth he had had a hard time imagining even a neutron bomb contained enough destructive power to hurt that blasted woman.
Sigma-2 had been more creative. But he hadn't been able to identify even a trace of the venomous abominations he had set on her tail. He hadn't even been positive where to send them. It seemed impossible that she wouldn't be in France. Every time they argued he had found her somewhere in Provence. She always said the climate and the population agreed with her. But it seemed none of his abominations had survived, whereas she and Mitterrand clearly had.
No matter. Both Mitterand and his wife would pay for their sins against Robert. But she had somehow, seemingly without even entering the Fortress, turned sigma-3 into a bright green fireball that couldn't be extinguished. It was, for the time being, sealed off from the rest of the compound so that everyone else would still have oxygen.
The last choice was sigma-4. Sigma-4 was a bad idea from the start. He cursed himself afterwards. Of course it couldn't work. But it had seemed plausible at the time. When he donned the suit and fought against Julia. Before their fight destroyed his mech and then damaged his own body.
The Contessa's squadron leaders breathed a sigh of relief when Mt. Brimstone was finished. That at least would help calm her some. Her continued success at foiling his plots on her life was more than matched by her anger at seeing hers foiled. She cursed every instance when she had spotted a flaw in the defenses of the Fortress of Doom and actually told him about it rather than keeping it in reserve for her own use. If only there were even one ventilation duct big enough to crawl through and infiltrate! And now she was in such a snarling rage that her closest subordinates wondered if she was going to stick to their contracts. These contracts, which Forbes Magazine had called the best in the industry, spelled out a binding promise not to spontaneously kill employees who brought her bad news.
"There's something going on out there, sir. Something on the island." It seemed too frightening to mention aloud what the island used to be.
"Well, what is it, Keith?" the President asked.
The Secretary of Defense threw up his hands. "We have no idea. All we know is that people in New Hampshire and what's left of New Brunswick have been seeing mysterious flashes for days. We don't know what they are. Every satellite that flies over just disappears and we don't know why. And new launches keep failing.
"We directed the Air Force to get aerial photos and apparently there was open insubordination. The pilots refuse to go anywhere near the place."
"Then put them in jail until you find pilots who will!"
"Mr. President, they've got a lawyer who's making a case that the order was unlawful. The risk was so high, and the chance of success so low, that they had legitimate grounds to refuse. Our lawyers seem to think the pilots will win, and to be honest, I'm not sure they shouldn't."
"So what do we do?"
"Well, sir, I've called up every family member and friend I have in New England and suggested it would be a good idea to move away. You might consider doing the same thing."
The Doctor heard the Contessa's unnaturally amplified voice ring out as she leapt across the river of lava that flowed from the south side of the mountain.
"How far can you jump, Robert? Can you catch me?" She picked up his helicopter and aimed it at him.
He knew he couldn't. His mech seemed positively inferior to hers. Curse plan sigma-4! He waited for her to throw it, planning to dodge the thing. That damnable woman's mech was better than his; how had she done that? The Doctor was used to at least being able to count on technological superiority in his dealings with his wife. Whom had she hired to do her engineering? He made a mental note that whoever they were, they'd eventually be offered a choice to come work at the Fortress of Doom. A very stark choice.
She launched her makeshift missile and Robert was glad that at least his machine could duck. He raised ten-foot-long mechanical arms to destroy it. But no, curses, curses! She hadn't aimed at him. She had calculated better than he and knew to aim the thing not at him but an outcropping of rock just above him. Now his disintegrator ray wasn't aimed at it and the shrapnel fell on him, knocking him off balance just long enough for that loathsome woman to leap onto the outcropping and then hop forward to land her mech on his. He was crushed to the ground, barely able to fill his lungs, let alone start a diagnostic on his own crippled mech. Fortunately she had obviously miscalculated somehow and it appeared her mech was no longer functional after the impact. But it appeared that neither was his: his power crystal had been shattered, and there was something in his left eye that made it so he couldn't even open it all the way. He radioed his backup. "Abort! Abort! Recover me and we'll reconvene at headquarters."
The eyepatch may have looked rakish but Robert had enjoyed his binocular vision and the wound was a reminder of the foolishness that had led him to launch scheme sigma-4. Obviously it had been a bad idea; how could he have ever won a physical fight against Julia? While sitting within sight of her new lair, no less. It was only his desperation that had led him to make such a foolish decision.
Life was looking better. Julia had seemed downright cheerful ever since Lakshmi had shown her the photo of Robert in his eyepatch. So cheerful she had spent the rest of the afternoon speculating to whoever came near about which of his body parts she ought to remove next.
The president seemed to be handling his term in office as well as could be hoped for up until the resignation of the Secretary of Defense. The Cabinet was meeting -- sometimes when he thought about it, it seemed odd to Stevens that he'd never chaired a meeting in the Cabinet Room. The last time he'd been in the West Wing was during the first year of Ross's term in office.
"Keith, what can you tell me about what's happening on the island? I understand there's clear evidence of shipments of large amounts of material, I don't understand why we can't tell what they're getting or what they're doing with it."
"I don't know, Mr. President!" said Keith Aldrich, leaping to his feet and flinging his hands into the air. The notes he'd been shuffling through all meeting went flying. "How can I tell you what I don't know? We can't figure out any way to monitor them. The only reason we know anything about what's going on anywhere else in the world is that they let us."
After Aldrich stomped out of the room, the president bent and picked up a few pages of his notes. Each page was identical. A sheet of paper with a single phrase printed at the center: "God help us."
"He's found a what? You're not even speaking sense."
"Ma'am, I'm not an analyst. They have reached a conclusion about his actions. I can't tell you why," said the young man, watching her hands carefully. Julia had been monitoring him; he had some real talent for combat, but he still needed a great deal of training. With some effort, he might be one of her best. In a few years.
"Yes, of course, but he's found a new wife?"
"That's all I know, ma'am. I don't know how they figured it out."
"No, no, I apologize, you can't tell me what you don't know. Thank you, Amir," said the Contessa, as she carefully relaxed each of her 639 muscles in order to avoid killing anyone accidentally. It was taking more effort than she had ever imagined herself capable of. But killing her own people would not help her with her true goal. Nothing could stand in the way. She was going to kill Robert von Wicked. She would kill his new wife, too, of course, but her efforts had to be focused on Robert. She would desecrate his corpse; she would ensure that not enough material would be left to clone him; she would raise their Julian properly, at swordpoint, and teach him to be everything his father wasn't. Robert von Wicked's death was no longer just a goal: it was inevitable.
She hadn't done anything for weeks. Robert was beginning to grow paranoid. He started to notice every minuscule twinge, every cough, every object that looked like it might be slightly out of place, every new face. Why the hell wasn't she trying to kill him? She couldn't have stopped. She would never stop. His fiancée complained about not having his full attention but if he could do nothing else, he had to at least keep her safe from Julia. No matter what, Julia couldn't be allowed to hurt her.
"My beloved, why must you work so much?" asked the Lady. She strode toward him, her red hair reflecting off of the obsidian walls. "Must I attempt to murder you as well in order to get a moment of your attention?"
"I'm sorry, my love," he told her, as he bent to kiss her. He hoped she didn't notice his eye running over the nearest display screen to check for any threats to the Fortress. It was getting to be unnerving. Julia's absence was as terrifying as her presence.
"Gentlemen, we have a mission to undertake," said Robert. He watched his soldiers before him. "You have faced many fighting forces. You are aware of the dangers that we face. But you have yet to fight against the Contessa. Don't be deceived by your encounters with national armies; when you face her forces, you will face something you have never seen before. I am fully confident in you. If I weren't, you wouldn't be here. I believe you are the equivalent of the Contessa's force. But you must be alert.
"You will, above all, remember this: this is a wedding. Many of the attendees are civilians. You will not harm any of them. You will protect them from harm at all cost. If you do otherwise, I will kill you myself. We will not let her turn us into villains."
She had won. As of course she had to. It was inevitable. Robert could never possibly stand against her.
And yet she had let him live. In the last moment, she had done it. She knew it, even as she did it. She knew she was throwing the grenade so that it would bounce away from him.
She tried to reconcile her weakness as a warning. As a strategic choice to ensure that the world's governments didn't have only her to focus their efforts on. But in the end, she had been too weak to kill him.
If she couldn't kill him, there was only one choice. They had to join forces again. They could only be husband and wife. Humanity required it, however they felt. Fate makes its own demands of the truly great.
The Von Wicked Chronicles
by Excalibre and Evil Catullus
I remember when it was me who made you want to take over the world and enslave humanity
Latex. High heels. Knives. (Excalibre's writeup)
It's not my fault that I'm so evil
I was a teenage Overlord
Lady Deathblast's Lover
This little light of mine
The Thanksgiving battle
My funny villaintine
Robots and comic books
This wicked life
The education of little overlords
All things truly wicked
Darkness lights its own way
How it all began
Sometimes I think you love that doomsday machine more than you love me.
They are mine. They are dead.
There is a crack in everything
Hell hath no fury like a villainess scorned