Issue #4: "Zaire. There is no other country on the continent that more typifies the deep, festering core of darkest Africa."

Chapter 5, Part 2.

written by Jess Nevins.

Rated R for disturbing and adult subject matter and language

March, Year Five

What Has Come Before: A new group of terrorists has appeared and begun striking at the governments of certain countries. Calling themselves the “Liberators” after the legendary group of World War Two superhumans, the terrorists have assassinated and overthrown the governments of China, Serbia, and Rwanda, and issued threats that more governments will fall. The international police force SHIELD has been ordered (by its alarmed Board of Directors) to stop the Liberators by any means possible. The Liberators are currently striking at Zaire, aka the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dum-Dum Dugan continued his briefing.

“Once we had Evers, we began narrowing the search to his immediate geographical and associative areas. There were too many ways that the other members of his group could be linked to him, and it was possible that there was no association between him and the others, but we had to work on the assumption that they knew each other or were linked in some way. Assuming that there was no association between Evers and the other ‘Liberators’ would hugely delay us. So we started with the most obvious linkage--college--and we got lucky. Eleven other USC students disappeared within days of graduating, at roughly the same time as Evers, and their parents all filed missing persons reports. We’ve got teams dispatched to their families for questioning, but we’ll need follow-up mental probes.”

Niles Nordstrom nodded.

“Our second hit was Antoinette ‘Toni’ Davis. Originally from Roxbury, Mass., she made it to U.S.C. on an athletic scholarship for track, but once at USC she took advantage of her surroundings. She averaged 3.8 on a 4.0 system and got a dual degree in Criminal Justice and International Relations. She was nationally ranked as a 100-yard sprinter and was co-chair of the African-American Student Union. All this after coming from Roxbury High, in one of the worst and poorest towns in Massachusetts, from a single parent family of eight. A very determined and self-possessed young lady, with a lot of maturity and drive.

“We’ve got a bit more on her personality than with Evers or the others; she wrote for the African-American student paper and gave a number of speeches. She’s no loud-mouthed college ideologue, though; she’s a leftist and passionate, yes, but not stupid about it. She showed a common sense approach to things; she might criticize capitalism and the--and I’m quoting--’racist admission policies’ of USC, but she would also offer workable solutions. When the African-American Student Union began selling copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, she called an immediate meeting and demanded that they stop. When they wouldn’t, she quit and wrote some fierce letters to the student papers about it, despite being called an ‘Uncle Tom’ and ‘Aunt Jemima’ by the more extreme members of the African-American Student Union.

“We’re not sure how she ended up a member of the Liberators, but we have one description from a survivor of the Shenyang camp of a Liberator that matches Davis. Or at least partially matches; we’re going to go on the assumption that it is her. You can sort of see the attraction of this group to her; changing the world, making a difference--that sort of thing. She never showed any inclination towards violence, though; she never preached it at USC and always preferred to work within the system, so why she’d join a group of terrorists is something of a mystery....”

Ever since she was a little girl Toni Davis had had one goal in life: to change the way things were. That was what she was always told was the reason for the many kinds of misery she saw. When her father had left her mother, and six-year-old Toni had asked her mom why the father she adored had gone without saying goodbye, her mother told her that that’s what men did, they left, they were all dogs, and couldn’t be trusted. It was just the way they were.

When nine-year-old Toni had run home in tears and through heartbroken sobs asked her mother why the white boys at school had called her a ‘nigger,’ her mother told her that a lot of white people were like that. A lot of them had always been racists and a lot of them always would be. It was just the way things were.

When eleven-year-old Toni asked her teacher why the black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X and Jomo Kenyatta were killed, her (white) teacher told her that violence would be used to kill political leaders that scared people. Especially black leaders that scared white people. That, sad as it was, was just the way the world worked.

Whenthirteen-year-old Toni, fresh from writing a civics paper, asked her mother and her (white, female) civics teacher why it was that women made only $0.78 cents for every dollar that men made doing the same jobs, both told her that it was because American society was sexist. It had always been that way, and even in American in 1990 sexism was still a big problem, and it probably always would be. It was just the way things were.

When fifteen-year-old Toni, writing a history paper on slavery, asked the adults she knew why so many groups of immigrants had succeeded in America but the blacks were still stuck in ghettos, they told her a lot of things, about middle- and upper-class blacks and “endemic cyclical poverty” and “welfare dependencies” and “structural racism,” but what Toni took away from their responses was that a lot of blacks would always be poor. It was just Amerikkka. It was just the way things were.

When seventeen-year-old Toni, sitting with her friends on Nantasket Beach in Hull on the night before graduation, asked why Lashawn had died at 13 from a police beating and why Tawanda, the brightest of any of them, had dropped out at 14 to have her kid and was now fat and pregnant--again--and why Toni’s brother Roderick had died at 15 of a crack overdose and her sister at 16 from a drive-by and why half her friends had nothing to look forward to but jobs in fast food restaurants or welfare, Toni’s friends, those not already drunk or off making love to their boyfriends in the darkness on the beach, told her it was because black folks in the ghetto weren’t supposed to do better, that nobody escaped from Roxbury, that what she saw on tv was just make-believe--that life was harsh, cold, and brutal, and that was the way life was and there was no way around it.

When nineteen-year-old Toni, lying next to her Modern African History Professor, asked him why so many of the African countries were stuck in an endless loop of poverty, warfare, and Big Man despotism, he smiled lazily and told her that he had other things in mind at the moment. When she persisted, he gave a short speech (which sounded suspiciously rehearsed, as if he’d thought and said the words a thousand times before and no longer gave much thought to them) about the “legacies of colonialism” and the “negative effects of international monetary lending policies” and “lack of industrialism and resources conversion,” but what Toni heard was that Africa had always been desperate, violent and sad (at least, always since slavery had begun affecting it) and would always be that way. It was just the way things were. And even when he stopped and began using his lips and tongue on her, and she gasped with pleasure, she was still thinking about her professor’s attitude towards Africa.

When twenty-one-year-old Toni, standing on the sidelines of the frenzied pre-graduation bacchanal that USC called “Midnight Madness,” thought about why so many of her friends were taking jobs with investment firms or were going straight into grad school or law school or were taking a year off, she wondered why none of them were going to go to work to help people and to make things better, she corrected herself with the bitter thought that this was just the way people were. And when she was approached by a white surfer boy she’d seen around campus who introduced himself as “Jim Evers” and made a proposal to her, she became increasingly excited, as he talked and detailed the proposal.

And now Toni thinks, “This is the way things should be.”

She’s hopping from place to place, across the length of Zaire, her atoms spread across hundreds of miles, courtesy of the Liberators’ computer. The Professor designed it and built it specifically for use at superspeed, its holographic innards capable of speeds no human could achieve, and Jim, after receiving his powers, threw himself into programming and using it. Too much so, Toni thinks. There’ve been many times, over the past several months, when she’s wanted to use the computer, but Jim was always there, even at three in the morning, his fingers an invisible hum as they moved over the computer’s keyboard. But sacrifices have to be made for revolutions, Toni knows, and her personal interests have to take a back seat to the groups’.

The computer is programmed to set Toni down at various points in Zaire, each location one where a specific individual is. Each man or woman, and in a shockingly high number of cases teenagers and even children, was responsible over the past two years and the past thirty-four years, for some moment of evil. The sad truth is that the killings and rapes and tortures were so widespread, and so many eager hands took part in it, that punishing every individual responsible would leave a death toll in the tens or hundreds of thousands, and neither Toni nor any of the other Liberators have the moral stomach for that sort of harvesting. (The Challenger took her aside one day, early on, and told her that he’d noticed that she was somewhat reluctant to kill. He said–this was back when he was still given to small talk–that she should think of it as ‘harvesting’, weeding the human race so stronger, better people can grow. She tries to think like that. Sometimes she even succeeds.

So Toni is riding the transspace beam across Zaire, spending three seconds in each location before being yanked away. She’s been doing this for a couple of hours now, and she’s got a couple of hours more to go.

Her list of targets is in the thousands, and ordinarily she wouldn’t be able to remember every one of them, but when she chose Breeze Barton’s icon she gained a body’s full of techno-organic implants, and so the faces of her targets were downloaded into her wetware cache. The Liberators’ computer has been tracking the targets since Jim isolated them, and now the computer is sending her to each of them, one by one.

The first twenty or thirty times she teleported and killed the targets, she was jittery and nervous, and the objective three seconds she spent in each place became a subjective thirty seconds. But she’s done this over two thousand times now, and it’s become routine. The computer always puts her either directly in front or directly behind the target. All she has to do is point and shoot.. Her gun is loaded with microscopic spent-uranium flechettes, so she has, effectively, unlimited ammunition, and so she never has to worry about reloading–an important consideration on a tightly scheduled mission like this one. Three seconds in each location is long enough to kill her targets, but not long enough for her targets’ friends and bodyguards to grab their weapons, aim, and shoot. Some of them have come close, though. Several of her targets’ bodyguards have reacted with frightening speed, and Toni thinks that Africa’s got a lot more paranormals than anyone thought.

So, for Toni, this mission has passed from exciting, nervous-making, and dangerous into routine and even boring. She’d even worry about getting some sort of repetitive motion injury, from all her pointing and shooting, but of course her body, now far more than mere flesh and blood, is beyond that sort of thing. So she’s spent her time thinking, barely noticing the constant shift in environments, perspectives, and targets.

What she’s thought most about is her targets, and the ultimate sad irony that she, a child of Africa and America, is spending her day killing people with black skin. Like most of the African-Americans her age that she knows, she’d long thought about returning to Africa, the Motherland, to see where her ancestors had come from. Her great-grandmother had been a slave in Alabama, Toni’s grandmother growing up hearing stories of the slave years. Toni’s mother and father had suffered through the Jim Crow years and the decades afterwards in Boston, which during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was as racist and hate-filled a place as there was in the U.S., with the exception of the Deep South and Indiana. She’d grown up in Roxbury in the 1980s, when Boston had begun to mature but race hate, bigotry and prejudice were still common. And every member of her family, from her great-grandmother on down, had wanted to return to the Motherland, to see the Pyramids and walk the paths of the jungle, to see the stone walls of Great Zimbabwe and the ruins of Benin and Songhay–to be reconnected with that part of her past, her heritage, which had been denied to her by the slavers’ whips and the gold of the English trader who had brought her great-several-times-grandfather to America. (And, she was forced to remind herself, the gold-lust of the Mende trader who sold her great-several-times-grandfather to the English) Toni had wanted to feel connected, a part of something, at ease, not like she was wearing poorly-fitting clothes and shoes all the time, the way she always felt in White America and among white Americans. Going back to Africa, she’d long thought, would be like returning home.

And now she was in Africa, and she was killing Africans. She knew that it was for the cause. She knew that her targets had committed atrocities and deserved to die. She knew that evil knows no skin color and that her first victims had been Chinese and her last would be white, and the Africans she was killing now were just like them. She knew that the Congo would be a better place in the long run for her efforts. She knew that the Bahutu and the Watutsi would eventually draw the right lessons from the harvest, as would many other murderous groups around the world. She knew that genocide could not go unpunished, not without making a mockery of the Liberators’ ideals.

And yet the last thing many Bahutu and Watutsi saw was a handsome black American woman pointing a strange gun at them, tears streaming down her face.

“The next member of the Liberators...well, he’s the only one we haven’t been able to locate.”

Bridge gave Dum-Dum a curious look. Dugan shrugged and said, “Sorry, G.W. We’ve got a sub-routine working just on this guy, but so far, nothing.”

Bridge nodded. “Let me know when you do find him. I want to know everything about all of them, Dum-Dum.”

Dugan nodded an affirmation and continued. “From what the witnesses have told us and what they’ve seen, he’s wearing a full-body costume and full-face mask, and he never takes off either of them, so we’ve got very little to go on. He never speaks, and his movements witness said he moved like ‘stop-action photography’, so we can’t even assume he’s human. But based on his powers and costume, we think he’s imitating the Blue Blaze....”

When the twelve people who eventually became the Liberators first met, the thirteenth, the man who eventually became the Blue Blaze, was a stranger to them. He’d introduced himself to them as “John,” but wouldn’t give a last name or talk about his past. Jim, who had been the one to gather the Liberators together, later told the group that it had been the Professor who had found “John,” and that the Professor had insisted that “John” be a part of the group. Jim said that he had the feeling that the Professor knew more about “John” than he was saying, but that for whatever reason he was keeping that information a secret. The other eleven Liberators agreed that “John” looked vaguely familiar but that they couldn’t place him.

They said these things in front of the Blue Blaze, unconcerned with his reaction to their words. After “John” selected the Blaze’s icon he became like the Blaze in almost every way. That was how it had worked with the other Liberators, of course. By choosing the icon of the original Liberator they took on the powers, talents, abilities and to a limited degree personality traits of the original. So when Jim chose the Hurricane’s icon he gained the Hurricane’s speed, and when Toni chose Breeze Barton’s icon she gained the other-worldly cybernetic implants of the original Breeze Barton. That was what the Professor had warned them to expect, and which they’d all agreed to. None of the Liberators had experienced significant negative reactions to the change. Even Toni, the most physically changed of the Liberators, felt that she’d been improved. (She could no longer bear children, but in her heart of hearts she knew she’d never live long enough for that to be an issue)

But when “John” selected the Blaze’s icon–and he’d shown no hesitation in doing so–more than just his body had changed. He’d acted like he knew what he was doing, and the Professor had assured them that “John” had been aware of what would happen to him. The Liberators had only been partially reassured by that, but “John” had volunteered.

After “John” had become the Blue Blaze his personality had...disappeared, for lack of a better word. He’d been taciturn to begin with, but after the change he’d never spoken. Not once. Alvin and Xiao and José had spent some time talking about what might have happened, and although they agreed that once “John”’s personality had just gone away, they couldn’t figure out the mechanics of what had taken place, or how to reverse it, or even if they should. In the end they decided to leave him be. If he’d known what would happen to him, then they should respect that decision. And besides, they needed the power of the Blue Blaze, and if they tried to change him they might lose that.

It was the last part that had carried the argument. The Liberators were capable and had some power, but the Blaze was easily the most powerful of them all, and they needed him. In addition to his strength and invulnerability, he had some kind of supernatural sense for evil, and more than once they’d relied on that sense to help them find and punish the bad guys. Oh, the Professor insisted that it wasn’t supernatural–he didn’t care for talk of magic and the occult, believing that everything could be reduced to understandable natural laws and mechanics–but the Liberators knew differently. The Professor could talk about the Blaze’s “accessing the cumulative psychic archive of humanity” and “subconsciously scanning the fifth dimension until he locates his target,” but the Liberators all knew that the Blaze was supernatural. He didn’t speak, didn’t eat, and didn’t breath, so far as anyone could tell. He never moved unless it was on a mission, and sometimes Jim and J.J. used him as a clothes rack. He didn’t react to words or telepathy or any sort of external stimuli whatsoever. All he did was punish evil.

So right now, while the Blue Blaze moves across and under Zaire, he is not preoccupied with thoughts and emotions. If he can be said to be thinking at all, it is only about where his next target is. In truth, he is not completely without thought. It’s just that his consciousness is focused completely in the now, and uncomplicated with an ego or superego. The Blaze is all id, all emotion and no logic. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing. He just follows the impulses that guide him. He doesn’t think about where the impulses are coming from, or worry about being controlled. He no longer has the intellect for worries or introspection. He only has emotions and primitive impulses.

At the moment the Blue Blaze is moving through the African earth. He’s moving at 500 mph, being pushed (or pulled, it’s not exactly clear which or by whom) towards Moanda. He’s just spent an hour in Kinshasa, destroying the sources of evil and murder. He’ll do more of that when he reaches Moanda. It’s all he does. If what Rex Lane wrote is true, he’s a spirit of vengeance, or perhaps a Spirit of Vengeance, the supernatural embodiment of humanity’s desire to punish those who would make the Earth a land of tears. Of course, if what Alvin Maker, Dynaman, believes is true, the Blue Blaze is just a psychotically-obsessed superpowered idiot savant whose compulsion is, thankfully, socially beneficial. Either way, the results are the same: the death of the centers of crime and the causes of evil.

In Zaire, there are many such. Left alone, the Blue Blaze would eventually destroy them all. That would take months and leave the country a wilderness of jungles and bare places full of the ruins of human habitation and the corpses of the Zaireans. But the Blaze isn’t alone on this mission, and the task is not his responsibility alone. This relieves him of the greater part of his task, actually; he’d ordinarily have started with killing all the men and women who had done evil, and that would have consumed months of his time. Now he can be choosy, although it’s never been clear whether the Blaze chooses his actions or whether something else was controlling him, working through him.

The Blaze isn’t just killing people. That’s not even his primary goal today, although he’s doing more than enough of that. No, what the Blaze is doing is interpreting his mission in the most literal and at the same time most metaphorical way possible. The Blaze’s brief is to find and destroy the centers and causes of evil, and he’s doing just that.

In the case of Zaire, that means not just killing the evil and weak men and women who did so much wickedness to their countrymen. It also means destroying the tanks and artillery and airplanes and land mines and machine guns and rifles and handguns. The Blue Blaze cannot be everywhere at once, and despite his speed cleansing the cities of Zaire of weapons takes time. By the end of the day there will remain may villages where guerrillas and soldiers and criminals still have the guns they use to kill innocents and each other.

But that’s okay. The Blaze doesn’t need to sleep or return to the Liberators’ home to rest and eat and recover his energy. He’ll just keep doing what he’s doing, until all the weapons of death are gone. When the other Liberators told him to stop the cause of evil in Zaire, they had no idea he’d interpret their command in this way. When they find out what he’s been doing, they’ll be not a little bit surprised, but on reflection they’ll approve of it.

The Blaze isn’t just destroying weapons and killing people, either. He’s going after the other cause of evil in Zaire. True evil comes from men’s hearts, and killing that is beyond even the Blaze’s power. But one of the things that enflames the most evil in men is greed, and Zaire has only a few things to make men lust for Mammon. Those things–gold and copper, mostly–are to be found in the mines of Zaire. So the Blaze is going to each mine and destroying it, making sure that the workers get out before he renders the mine forever unusable. This will take away much of Zaire’s money-earning potential, but what will replace it, thanks to the efforts of the Blaze’s teammates, will be much better.

Next Issue: Chapter Five, Part Three: Dynaman and Hercules

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