I was fleeing in sheer terror. Retreat is rare for me, for I am The Fez, terror of the West, fist of Allah and the poor and downtrodden's greatest champion against Imperialism. I am the one who sank the American carrier Nimitz
. I am the one who stole Big Ben, and kidnapped an American President. I fear very little, for my power is great and intellect matchless. Nevetheless on that night I fled for my life. My flying carpet glided smoothly across the Chicago
sky, yet I urged it to move faster, my eyes scanning behind me. I rarely travel by carpet in America, though it is my favored method at home where the people may see The Fez and take heart from My presence. But my carpets are relatively slow and easily intercepted. Flying might draw the attention of the American military, which would cause problems. Worse, one of their superheroes might spot me. My previous stay in prison
came that way, after a humiliating defeat at the hands of Traumagirl.
But on that night I dared not care. I spared no scorn for the Americans' honking cars, bright lights and the harlots they have made of their women. I dared not waste a single bomb. My lamp puffed red smoke, warned me I had pursuers. I looked back and saw nothing, the emptiness chilling my bones. He was out there, tiny pieces of abomination out to absorb Me and make Me part of him.
A chittering noise turned my blood cold. Parts of him reached out, tiny mechanisms, clawed and dark, flashing with light. My carpet crackled and shorted out, becoming merely cloth again. I barely managed to grab my bag before I fell, and drew forth a purple cloud to soften my landing. I hit hard but bounced to my feet upon the cobblestone yard of a long-shuttered factory.. My cloud saved me, but the impact wrenched my shoulder and I dropped my lamp. The chittering mechanical insects took positions around me. Still, The Fez rarely runs out of tricks. I still had a few pebbles in my bag, so I stoned them. My pebbles flew precisely as always, spreading out to impact each piece of him with a brilliant flash and blast. For all the good it did. The percussion waves hammered against me, making me dizzier. My ears were ringing. My pebbles shattered a few mechs into component bits. But they did not destroy enough, for my Enemy adapts quickly. In moments he reconfigured his digits with new shields to counter my pebbles. My bag was all but empty as he scampered forward. I felt astonished that anyone could defeat me, and horror that I would soon be absorbed into such an Abomination.
Allah smiles upon those who fear him. Help came in an unexpected form. A man wearing a tuxedo and bowler leaped down from the sky. His strong arm wrapped around me then he leaped. In a blink we rose upward, higher then the buildings. All around us the lights whirled and spun, stars and streetlights exchanged position as we whirl as unknown my benefactor's jump reached its apex, and then my stomach wrenched as we fell downward again to land on the other side. And I experienced for the first time the wonder of such marvelous physical prowess, and felt a pang of envy. My benefactor landed like a cat, but mercifully let me fall after absorbing most of the impact. I am thankful, for despite all my skills and blessings The Fez remains a man, and my ribs ached from where he did grab me. Then I saw him for the first time in the golden lamplight, slim, wearing a formal tuxedo with a bowler, mustache and a pince-nez on his nose.
"The Toff," I said.
He nodded back at me, and slighty doffed his hat. "At your service, Fez. Traumagirl has been inquiring about you. She'll be glad to know I've found you."
"I am not the one you need to concern yourself tonight, Englishman. A perversion threatens to devour us all."
"Really." The air shimmered and an umbrella appeared in the Toff's right hand, and I noticed a targetting matrix appear in the lenses of his pince-nez. He raised the umbrella and I heard a slight sizzle. Red flashes illumated the night. A tiny piece of our Enemy disappeared in a puff of red light. Still the Toff kept his umbrella at the ready. Twice more he shot. Two more tiny mechs vaporized.
"Beware Toff. This enemy learns and adapts in real time." The Westerner nodded. I took a moment to wonder for a moment how he summons his umbrellas. Remote teleportation? He would be much weaker if I could deny him his umbrellas, or limit him to just one. Could his strength and agility also come from technology? I considered the hero as the Toff fired twice more. Still, I needed to warn him about the greater foe. "Your leaps and lasers will not avail you against our Enemy Toff. He is infinite and growing."
"Do tell," said the Toff with a slight smile. Then night became day as the darkness was obliterated in a brilliant, pale blue light. I turned to look backward. The blue light shined upward, illuminating the sky, almost too bright to see even though the source was hidden behind the factory walls. I heard a piezoelectric shrieking before the light reached its crescendo and then faded. Only one hero produces a signature like that.
"Gammagirl," I whispered. And she appeared as if called, walking between the molecules of the brick walls, utterly shameless and female, her light almost too bright to bear yet I could not look away, for the Mistress of Energy seemed naked as whore and wrenchingly beautiful. I have seen few women so exposed besides my wives, and her presence aroused me and made me feel shame at my weakness.
The Toff simply smiles. "Hello, Love. Look who I found here?"
I turn away, averting my eyes from her shining brilliance. "The Fez. Did one of your playmates turn against you? No honor among thieves and murderers."
That angers me. "The Fez is no thief!"
"You stole the Merton Corp battle suit.'
"Weapons to be used against Islam? Of course I stole them! I fight for my people! But The Fez is no common thief. And our enemy is too much even for you Gammagirl."
"Our Enemy? Why should I be concerned about any enemy of yours?
"Because you just killed a part of Nano, foolish woman. He is aware of you now."
The Toff laughed. "I've fought and beaten Nano before. He uses bigger robots, and remote controlled weapons. You really don't expect us to believe Nano sent those machines."
My anger boiled for a second before I calmed myself, as Allah would wish. They had not seen what I had seen. And have I not jumped quickly to conclusions in my past? "You do not yet understand. Nano is not as he was. Does the term technological singularity mean anything to you?"
"Of course it does." Gammagirl said to me. "The term was coined by the science fiction writer Vernor Vinge. It describes a technological advance which leads to an explosion of other changes."
"Nano has become such a singularity. Once he was a man, who used implanted nanites to control his battle suit and an array of robots. I expected to meet a man when he asked to come meet me in his lair up in the mountains. There I beheld him as he now is. He manifested a body for me, a body made wholly of circuits and gears, every cell a nanite. He is no longer even partly human. He has transformed into a pure machine. He has become an abomination."
"So Nano has powered up? That would not be the first time a villain has made such a leap. We'll call in the whole League. Traumagirl. The Dragster, General Halftrack, Battleaxe and Butch to go get him. "
"There is no time. At this moment, we three alone stand between the world and abomination. I told you he manifested a body for my benefit. It was all for show. You killed no mechs, but pieces of him. And he is growing, consuming all about him, making his surroundings like himself. He did not call me there to engage in one of his schemes. He called me so he could consume me and add my skills to his. I was lucky to escape! He ate three of my d'jinn as if they were so many dates."
The Toff shivered for but a second. "I've fought your d'jinn before, right after Big Ben. They're plenty tough."
They were beginning to understand. "Know this: Nano is growing, absorbing the world around him like a black hole sucks in light. Every moment he grows larger, more powerful. He has made himself into an abomination before God, and if left unchecked will pervert the entire world as he has himself. And now he knows you both are here and with me."
"Where is he?
"About 200 kilomoters to the west of here, in Iowa of all places, just west of a town they call Goose Lake. He has taken over a farm there as his lair. Only it is no longer either farm or lair. It is he."
Gammagirl inclined her head to the Toff in a way I interpreted as an inquiry. His pince-nez shimmered and I realized he was accessing some hidden data source. My respect for him grew, for his technology in some ways exceeded my own. "Gammagirl, he's right. Satellite images shows an area off county three as completely black, not even a hint of light. I'm getting local radio traffic. A deputy sent to investigate has not reported in. They're having a bit of a row deciding what to do next."
"I'm picking it up too. There's some chatter coming up on military channels. It seems our terrorist here is telling the truth. The question, is why? "
"Terrorist? Whose lands has our soldiers trodden upon? And where have yours not made war?"
"And who started lighting off bombs targeting civliians?"
"The Fez has never attacked civilians. And your nations need no terrorists, for you simply drop your bombs off airplanes or flying robots."
We glared at each other angry at what has been, then relaxed as our thoughts returned to what might be. It may be that such confrontations are inevitable when titans meet, but the exchange once again reminded me that no one is Evil in their own eyes. And perhaps my involuntary companions were coming to the same conclusions, for their tense body posture relaxed and Gammagirl's glow faded slightly. Which is a good thing, for I would not have liked to fight either of them with my bag full, a brace of d'jinn and a good plan, much less exhausted with an empty bag. "Heroes, I remind you that the problem at hand is the Perversion we once called Nano, and that we have very little time before he expands so large as to pass beyond hope of stopping. Now we must travel first to my lair to replenish my bag."
The Toff chuckled and nodded at Gammagirl. "Should have figured he'd have a hideout around here."
"I have many redoubts, Toff. And an empty bag. We will need one special item I keep there if we are to defeat Nano."
"Are you referring to the neutron bomb you stole from the Lawrence Livermore?" said Gammagirl.
"I am. I believe the EMP it produces may be able to fry Nano, and disrupt his internal control."
"It's a nuclear weapon!" objected the Toff. "Even a low-yield weapon disrupts everything."
Gammagirl agreed. "You can't just nuke Iowa just because you face a tough foe."
"Normally, I would agree. In fact, I stole it to keep Multi-Martyr from getting it first. You know what he would have done with it."
At my mention of the Multi-Martyr both Gammagirl and the Toff stopped complaining for they knew I spoke truly. The Toff had even killed that madman once for all the good it had done! The Multi-Martyr had already committed forty suicide bombings, including the destruction of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. They exchanged a nod before Gammagirl told me, "Take us to your lair Fez and fill your bag. I have signalled the League. They are coming, but they will take time." And I led them there, to a tiny hole rented below a convenience store. There I took two doors, three d'jinn, a fresh bag of pebbles and a few other critical items. Including the bomb.
Naturally Gammagirl objected. "Do you really mean to take that thing Fez?"
"We may not be able to stop him without it."
"Am I not Mistress of Radiation? I can generate an EMP pulse."
The Toff shook his head. "Not to put a crimp in your idea, but that pulse might neutralize my bowler and specs. I'd hate to go into battle half-dressed."
I smiled broadly, and reached for my bag. "I can carry you in my bag, like one of my d'jinn. No time will pass for you, and I can retrieve you ready for action in a single moment. That might even surprise our foe, who would more likely expect a d'jinn."
"And if you do not reach for me?"
"Then I will be dead."
Gammagirl smiled. The Toff nodded. "It's a fair plan. Might as well risk it. And I'd love to see his face when I pop out!" I opened my bag and counseled him to enter it with his arm extended, ready for grasping. The Toff doffed his cap for us, then jumped in in one smooth motion. And during a brief moment when her back was turned I slipped in the bomb as well. Finally I unrolled a carpet, climbed upon it, and led Gammagirl west toward the Abomination.
At first all seemed normal. Lights and farms, cars, flashing lights and sirens as if nothing was going on, though I could see a a growing police presence and cars gathering outside local National Guard armory. The American nation was beginning to react to the threat in its midst, though once again too little and too late. What little hope I held came from Gammagirl, and her ability to disrupt with EMP. If she could do this in enough strength, she might inhibit Nano's ability to control his own digits, thus giving the Toff and I the opening we needed. No matter what the heroes wanted, I prepared to use my bomb once inside Nano. I also prepared my escape. I had brought along one special Door, one leading East to Arabia, where my power is great and friends many. I could set off the bomb and duck through my Door just before the explosion if needed.
The world changed as we closed upon Nano. Streetlights lay dark, homes fell silent, automobiles immobilized. No cricket chirped or cat screched Further on, the ground turned black, but flat and shiny and I begin to notice small dots of light moving across the land. New shapes came clear silhouetted in the moonlight or framed in soft blue lights. The trees sparkled and branches twisted to face us as we passed. A cow's head and neck jutted from the ground swaying, its mouth open as if trapped in the middle a final, agonizing moo.
"Nano has recognized us," said Gammagirl. "The trees serve as radar antennae, and beams sweep across us constantly in many different bands. As we pass I feel more and more data being exchanged between Nano's various components. Energy levels are rising and he is morphing something to the north. I'm not sure what it is, but I bet we will not enjoy it. I could let my burst go now."
"Not yet. Even as a mechanism Nano will want to gloat, if for no other reason than to distract us while moves against us."
"Timing is everything, eh Fez? I like your suggestion."
And so we flew forward slowly, eyes constantly scanning the horizon. Trees twisted as we passed, weathervanes pointed directly at us. Windmills spun to face us as the surface flickered like fireflies all around us. And finally we got the the farm where I had seen Nano, his lair hidden beneath the barn, whose wooden planks had all been replaced with circuitry. The smell of straw had been replaced with ozone.
Ahead I spotted a single outhouse, the door to Nano's underground body. The crescent moon was backlit with pale white light that flared to brilliant as we approached. The door swung open, and the light flared to red. And then it shut again and I could see a smile formed near the doorknob, appearing like the smile of a certain cat from Cheshire. "So you brought a companion this time Fez. And what a companion! I could feel her power from fifty miles away. Wise of you not to try and be too sneaky."
His mouth moved as he talked, and electric sparks followed it, though it was pale red behind. Mechanoid chickens, and mice with glowing eyes chittered around us, and in the distance a crow hummed with electronic power. We could see them chittering around us. "See how I have grown Fez? See my power. I grant you Gammagirl is a surprising and wise choice of allies. But not enough. For I am no longer Nano. I have passed beyond. Now you shall call me The Singularity! For soon we shall all be one. I wonder how you will taste. We wonder how you will taste."
"We taste of bitter fruit," she said, her voice barely audible. Something told me to close my eyes and I am thankful I did for brilliant blue flash penetrated through my eyelids. I could hear sizzling and the sound of arcing, and when I opened my eyes again the land was dark except for the stars above. Gammagirl's glow seemed to have faded for a moment, and she arched over in the sky. I reached into my bag and removed my first d'jinn.
"Open sesame" I said and the mechanoid's red eyes came on and it flew ahead of me, lightning shooting from its extensions, blasting into the base of the perverted outhouse that led to Nano's core. My next reach withdrew the Toff, who hopped onto the ground, materialized another umbella and followed my d'jinn down into the blackened, metallic earth. Gammagirl followed on foot as I slipped the carpet back into my bag, and removed an RPG. I know such a weapon seems prosaic, but there are times when nothing expresses your thoughts more profoundly than an antitank rocket.
Brillant red flashes from the Toff's umbrella mixed with the electric bolts from my d'jinn. Gammagirl's flash had done its work, the parts of Nano before us lay silent and reeked of scorched carbon. Deeper we ran down the tunnel and she ran, forsaking flight to help her power regenerate as we ran more deeply into our foe. The Toff's laser slashed through a center lock and my d'jinn peeled back a thick steel door as we pressed deeper, hoping to find something like a central core. I doubted one existed, for I knew Nano had long expressed interest in multiprocessing, and he had long ago learned the advantages of diversions. No doubt he would employ all these as The Singularity. Still, it was a rational hope, physics itself said some bits of him must be more important than others.
As we ran Gammagirl began to regain her glow. The Toff and my d'jinn were making good progress, wrecking as they went. My hopes grew when Gammagirl began to shine brightly. But a nagging voice inside told me this was too easy, that while her blast had hurt him, Nano was merely biding his time, holding back.
Soon my fears proved true. A giant smile formed in the blackness ahead of us, and chittering mechs flew out in a wave. I fired my RPG, obliterating the smile in a deafening blast whose pressure wave knocked me from my feet. My d'jinn went into defense mode, it's electro blasts obliterating oncoming mechs, and the Toff did well when the Singularity played his trump.
A giant section of wall came to life, and like a giant set of jaws snapped closed around Gammagirl. Circuits and gears spread across her blue body. I saw her blue light shine for a moment then fall dark, extinguished as the giant mech withdrew into Him. Another smile appeared and then another until bright smiles surrounded us. A giant rod shot out of the darnkess, impaling my d'jinn. The Toff barely evaded another and his umbrella fired off shattering the net Nano had intended to catch him. The way snapped shut behind us.
"Looks like we may need that bomb of yours after all. I'll try and buy you the time you need." I nodded and drew forth my last two d'jinn, ordering them to establish a perimeter. Their bolts shot out, extinguishing the tiny pursuing mechs.
The Singularity laughed at our struggles. "Fight on Fez and Toff! Struggle like the hopeless creatures of bone and meat you are! Your toys will not avail you for I have taken your measure. The time has come for you to die!" And from the wall he extruded a great gatling gun, and it began to spit leaden death without regard to the damage the missing shells did to Himself.
I drew forth my first Door and positioned myself behind it, d'jinn at my flank. His cannon shells passed through my Door and into the desert beyond. The Toff leaped and spun wildly in a brave attempt to draw more of Nano's fire upon himself. And I reached into the bag for the bomb. My fingers flew across it, typing in the codes to overcome its permissive action link. I set it to explode in thirty seconds just as the Toff's umbrella fell silent. He landed behind my door.
"I can't summon another umbrella down in here and this one's played out. He's blocking me somehow." I nodded and reached into my bag, handing The Toff a grenade launcher. He doffed his bowler, took it and leaped. I heard an explosion and Nano's gun fell silent. Chittering insects flew forward. One after the other my d'jinn were overcome. Finally, even the Toff fell, trapped in an elctro-net even he could not dodge.
The Singularity laughed in Nano's voice. "And so it comes down to it Fez, now that I've absorbed your doxie. I've always admired your toys and bag. Soon all will be mine!"
"Not so monster! If I am to fall, you will as well." My door shimmered and fell. And so He beheld the Bomb with its timer fallen below ten.
"No!" screamed The Singularity and it reached for me. Chitinous mechs scurried forward and the walls extruded great limbs and extensions. I threw my pebbles to little effect, as the mechs wrapped around me and reached for the bomb.
It was at that moment that the white light of his smile turned pale blue. Somehow Gammagirl must have gotten into him, and used her power to cut the connections which linked The Singularity together. Blue light passed through his data and power busses, lighting every LED in pale blue. His mechs shivvered then fell silent. To my right I heard the Toff wriggling from the net. By the light of my cell phone I disarmed the Bomb.
The Toff pad me no heed. He tore through the mechs in the direction in which Gammagirl had disappeared, somehow able to see despite the pitch darkness, using everything at hand to shred the metal and carbonized walls containing her. And with his cry of sadness I realized he had found her. In a few moments he came back into the light, carrying her body.
Gammagirl's light had disappeared. He carried not a demi-Goddess but a woman, clad only in a pale blue leotard. her face soft and maternal, her skin pale and cold. "She's alive," he said, "but drained dry. I must get her to the Sun right now! The light may rejuvenate her."
I nodded and reached into my bag and withdrew my carpet. "Lay her upon this. I have one last door, the one I would have used to escape. It opens into Arabia, into the desert where the sun shines brightly." The Toff nodded and lay her gently upon my carpet as I opened my final Door. We could see the bright light shining through it as we passed her through into the light. As she passed through it snapped closed behind her.
"Thank you," he said, and offered me his hand. And I took it for the Toff had proven a stalwart companion and warrior. "You don't happen to have another of those doors do you?"
I laughed softly. "No, I have no more doors. Now we must await for the fate Allah has decreed for us."
"The League will come for us," he said. "I know them. They will come. And Gammagirl will come as well, when she can." And realized that he meant if she survived, for her energy had ebbed so low none knew if she might endure. Yet I knew the Toff believed in his words. We sat and talked about our families before falling asleep in hopes of preserving what little air remained inside our electro-mechanical tomb.
Thankfully, The Toff spoke truly. I came to staring into the deep blue eyes of Traumagirl, her smile wide and her left hand clenching my caftan just below my neck. "Hi there pumpkin. Long time no see." She lifted me and held my limp body at arm's length, her southern girl's accent softening the implied threat. "I've got my first aid kit in case you want to make trouble Fez. But I'd really rather not inflict any blunt force trauma on you."
Battleaxe stood at her side, Axe humming with energy and her eyes were white with power. Butch knelt nearby, caressing her energy gauntlets. "What did you do with Gammagirl, Fez? We know she came in her with you."
The Toff spoke up. "He saved her actually. Or I hope he did. She was utterly depleted. He used his last Door to send her through into the light when he could have used it to escape."
"Well bless his homocidal little heart," said Traumagirl, and she lowered me enough for me to see the giant 911 insginia upon her ample chest, for she was clad as a caped paramedic. "Could he have actually done something good for once."
I almost sputtered out a protest, but wisdom held my tongue and went quietly into captivity. The Toff spoke publicly on my behalf, drawing the ire of Fox News. They sent me to Fort Leavenworth where the Americans had built a special prison for people with talents like mine. There is where they keep the Multi-Martyr on an eternal suicide watch, as death is for him is simply a means of escape.
But I will not remain incarcerated for long, for I am not like the Multi-Martyr, a simpleton with an endless supply of lives. I am The Fez and no jail can long hold me. And my short stay here proved worth the sacrifice. Three days ago I beheld a brilliant blue light streaking across the sky. Upon my bed I materialized a note written in glowing blue ink. It said only, "Thank you." To Gammagirl I can only reply "You're welcome."
Written for The Great Gamma Ray Comic Book Script Quest.