Several large, floor-to-ceiling LED monitors flickered with images from hidden cameras located all over the world. Scenes of violence and struggle, chaos and human misery. With a swipe of one delicate hand through the air, the images on all five monitors changed to new locations, calmer places where misery was measured in poor drive-through service and spilled lattes.
A lone figure sat on a technological throne in the middle of the room, her hands resting on her lap, the arms of the chair, and with steepled fingers in front of her face. Her blood boiled at the sight of such complacency and comfort. The woman known as Arachne had never truly been able to enjoy the simple life the Western world afforded most of it’s citizens, and she hated them for it.
Born to poverty in a South African slum, she had only known life in an alleyway, then eventually a laboratory as a child. Apartheid was in it’s waning years, but the hate and cruelty it fostered was intensified for the light skinned daughter of a Zulu who had been born with extra limbs. Her people regarded her with fear, and once the white ruling government had discovered her, Arachne had been subjected to experiments and controlled vivisection; cut open and studied but not allowed to die.
To those men, she was an amazing curiosity, a freak to be analyzed, not a person. Lurking inside that little girl was a brilliant intellect and a strong will to live. Except for her lengthened torso and six arms, no one would now recognize her as the little Zulu girl from Cape Town. Now nearly seven feet tall, she had been sculpted by her only trusted companion, Vicissitude, into an image of surreal beauty. Her vivisection scars had been molded and reshaped into an hourglass on her stomach. She wore suggestive clothing, revealing too much in some places with the purpose of off-putting people she met on the rare occasions she agreed to speak to others.
Vicissitude’s work had made her into something even less “normal” than would be expected, enhancing her feminine features to exaggerated proportions and suppressing many of her more African features to resemble an almost comic-book standard of the Western ideal of beauty. The crowning feature was a pair of elongated fangs, making her appear as if she was part spider and part human.
However, her most powerful asset was her mind. While separating herself from a world she had learned not to trust, Arachne had developed connections in the underworld and spent her life learning. The result was a woman armed to the sharpened teeth with technological genius and a Machiavellian talent for manipulation.
Her lair was a marvel of emerging technologies. Hidden away in the vast Colorado Rockies, it was coated in layers of metamaterials, rendering it invisible to the naked eye, infrared and even radar. The same materials funneled the light into advanced solar collectors, allowing Arachne to operate completely off the grid. Everything about the installation was designed by the South African spider woman, by disparate groups of contractors, who were then either paid off or silenced permanently.
For years she had quietly observed the world, and using her connections in the criminal underground, had changed the courses of nations, starting wars, setting up drug lords, sowing chaos where she could. Recently, however, her ambitions had changed. With her years of controlling and directing others behind her, Arachne had grown tired of simply manipulating from the shadows. She wanted to rule. She wanted to punish the world that refused to accept her and tortured her for simple curiosity.
Her web was spreading. There were others out in the world like her; freaks with no moral compass and the powers to wreak havoc, spread fear and chaos. The ability to end the world. A plan was germinating in her mind, and she had made the necessary contacts to coordinate and put her plan into action. The infamous Golem, an Eastern European monster of a man with a genius rivalling her own had accepted her invitation to her home, and was presently speeding across the globe in a stealth ship to meet her and the others.
An evil smile cracked her too-perfect red lips, causing a single fang to slip over it. She wanted the world to burn, and to spit-roast the human race over it.
In the next room over from Arachne was her advisor, friend and sculptor, a monster of a human who called himself Vicissitude. Early in life he’d discovered the ability to mold flesh and bone as easily as clay, both his own and other’s. He created bizarre works of “art” growing up, modifying small animals into new forms, occasionally grafting them together into hybrids.
He was a gifted traditional artist, a modern day Michelangelo who could paint, sculpt and carve all with equal aptitude and detail. In his early twenties, he had managed to carve out a niche as a plastic surgeon of sorts for the porn industry, creating “natural” enhancements for actors and actresses for substantial profits. It was through these connections that he’d met Arachne, and he was immediately captivated by her mind and appearance.
Alongside her, he was free to experiment and create to the extent of his imagination. With her, his cruelty flourished; Vicissitude became the go-to punishment for turncoats and opponents of the eight-limbed woman. Rather than simply killing the opposition, they would deform them, turn them into crippled mutations of people and left to suffer.
Arachne knew she had his ultimate, undying loyalty. He had become obsessed with her, making her the perfect woman and the perfect monster in his eyes. She was his center of beauty; all other things were ugly, so he put them in their place by making them uglier, even himself. If the necessity arose, he would mold himself back to his own face and body, but most often, his current form was that which reflected his soul; a twisted, grotesque monster. His hair was sparse, ribs showed through taught skin on his torso. One eye was larger, and his mouth sagged as if it had been stretched down and it couldn’t snap back into shape.
He was now busy designing an army of horror that they would unleash on the world when the time came. With clay and with computers and paper, he painstakingly designed creatures that would spread horror and pestilence. When the time came, he would mold them by hand, each one a tribute of pain and terror to the woman who had become his muse.
Unknowingly, he smiled in tandem with his love. Things would soon become much more fun.
Detective Gwendoline Gutierrez pulled into the parking garage of her apartment building, and settled for the first spot she could find. She impatiently clicked the remote on her keychain to lock her car as she raced to the door for the stairwell; the elevator was too slow for her liking, and she needed to get back out as soon as possible.
She took the steps three at a time as she raced up to the thirtieth floor of the massive glass and steel structure, reaching her floor in no time, with barely a drop of sweat to show for her effort. She calmly opened the door to the hallway and strolled to her apartment without any indication she was in a hurry; self control was Detective Gutierrez’s greatest talent. She waved hello to Mrs Reinhold as the elderly woman walked Muffin, her beagle down the hall to the elevator for her nightly walk.
Mrs Reinhold wasn’t afraid to go out at night, because there was a protector in the city; little did she realize it was the tall woman who knelt down and said “Hello puppy…” to muffin as she walked by. She only knew Gwendoline as the nice police woman who lived down the hall and loved dogs.
Once inside her apartment, the detective closed the door and locked it, then began stripping down to her underwear. She tossed her clothes into a the laundry basket then ran into her walk-in closet. In the back was a large steel locker with a cypher lock. She punched in the code and the heavy metal door swung open, revealing a suit of black armor.
She donned a mesh under-suit that regulated her body temperature and absorbed the impact of anything from bullets to bats by becoming rigid and redirecting the force around her, while remaining supple otherwise. Over this, she wore a chest plate of ballistic armor, as well a sections that protected her arms and legs, and finally a helmet. The armor was light but strong carbon; flat black and strong enough to turn away a point-blank shotgun blast. The face of the helmet was charcoal gray, and shaped like a skull, designed to strike fear in her opponents. The overall outline of the suit was clearly feminine, shaped to fit her comfortably with the minimum of padding to get in her way, but was otherwise non-descript, not designed to enhance her in anyway. Quite the contrary, it allowed her to keep a low profile, even in close quarters combat.
The finishing touch was a long-bladed sword that she wore on a scabbard around her waist. It, too was made of flat-black carbon, and was sharp as chipped obsidian and unbreakable as diamond. The design was that of a Japanese katana, only the blade was longer, roughly four feet in length. She had acquired the name Carbon by criminals and the media, and she embraced it gladly.
She considered herself less a vigilante and more a corrector of legal errors. She worked as a homicide detective as her “day job”, and at night, she tracked down the vilest of criminals and gave them an option, turn yourself in and confess your crimes; let the justice system do its job, or face her. The smart ones were safely rotting in prison; the others were safely rotting in the ground. After a few quick stretches she walked quietly over to the apartment balcony and stepped out.
The armor and sword had been a gift from one of the few people who knew of her double life; a wealthy philanthropist who had lost his children to drugs, and a technological genius. Carbon had previously been fighting in ballistic body armor with a replica sword, her natural abilities making her more than a match for the armed gang members and drug dealers she had been taking on. When news broke about the presence of a “masked hero” taking on the city’s most violent unpunished criminals, he spared no expense trying to track her down.
Among her many abilities, Gwendoline had a limited ability to see into the future; this clairvoyance lead her to the man who was tracking her. They struck an agreement; she would keep up her work, and he would provide her with the tools she needed to do it. That was five years prior, and since then the Carbon had become one of the city’s most feared denizens among the criminal underworld.
She was a remarkable human, born with exceptional agility and strength, and the ability to suffer what would be fatal wounds to any other person and heal from them in minutes. Like many “heroes” and “villains” that had emerged in the past several decades, she was simply born with these abilities. With the armor and sword, her opponents never stood a chance.
Tonight she was after a man named Mark Tucker. Mark was an arms dealer with a history of violence towards women. He’d recently avoided prosecution when one of his victims died in a “car accident” and the other two suddenly became too afraid to testify. Gwendoline knew where he would be that night, and was determined to ensure that tonight was his last night as a free man. She closed her eyes and concentrated on where he might be; after a moment, she had the impression of a meth lab. She could just barely tell his basic direction and had the impression that he was selling small arms to the men running the lab. She crawled over the rail of the building and started quickly crawling down to the street level into the alley behind the building. The gloves and boots of her suit clung to the walls using the same principle as gecko feet, called Van der Waals forces. She stuck to the walls as easily in rain as on a dry night.
After a short stroll to a back entrance to the subway system, Carbon was on her way toward the meth lab, located in the city’s rundown projects. She quickly, carefully crawled along the grimy tunnel walls, and when an opportune moment presented itself, she flung herself onto a passing subway train and let it carry her to within blocks of her destination. She inched backward until she was dangling from the back of the train, then released her grip, dropping into a graceful roll. She redirected her momentum and was up and running toward the nearest concealed exit.
Within minutes she was topside, and quicker still on the rooftop of an old abandoned building, scouting the quickest route to Tucker’s location. She made a running leap from the rooftop she was on to the next one down, effortlessly clearing the sixty feet between them and rolling through the momentum of the thirty foot drop without any signs of effort. She cleared the four other buildings on the way in a similar fashion, then quietly descended to the back door of the lab.
It was an old, abandoned building that was likely once a strip mall. the glass front had been boarded up long ago, and its remote location in the dying neighborhood made it hard to detect from the outside. No doubt the people running it knew that if it blew up, the authorities would be slower to respond to the armpit of the city than if it were located in a residential area. The back door was guarded by a lone man with a poorly concealed shotgun in his coat. Still clinging to the wall, Carbon positioned herself, the dropped her legs around his neck. With a quick, forceful squeeze, she knocked him out cold, then using her grip on the wall as a fulcrum, flexed her torso and lifted him, still dangling by her legs, onto the roof.
He would be the lucky one if things got ugly.
She dropped to the ground and quietly walked to the side of the building. She had sensed that Tucker would be alone in a side room counting his money; her vision had not failed her. Peering in through the broken panes of dirty glass, she saw the man flipping through stacks of bills. He was a late middle aged man, balding, wearing a cheap but important-looking suit. In the split second it took for him to look down and grab another stack, Carbon had unlatched the window through the broken pane, slid it open and slipped inside.
Mark Tucker inhaled sharply at the noise and was dumbstruck by what stood in front of him. Five foot nine, covered in black plates, with piercing bright blue eyes drilling into him from behind a deep grey skull. A quiet, woman’s voice spoke. “Mark Tucker, you will turn yourself in to the ninth precinct now, and confess to gun smuggling, physical and sexual assault, and obstruction of justice now, or you will never leave this city block alive.”
He slowly set the money down. “I have no intention of going to prison. But you can discuss that with my boys.” He said loudly. There was the sound of shuffling outside the door, which was then kicked in by a large man with an oversized pistol. Three in total rushed in, and she knew there were at least six more in the larger part of the building.
Carbon never flinched, didn’t even move. “Are these men willing to die for you?” She asked. makr had relaxed visibly when the large man had placed the barrel of the gun against the side of her head. Tucker chuckled. “No, but you’ll do.” He motioned to the man, whose finger closed on the trigger. Before the bullet had a chance to leave the barrel, Carbon’s head snapped back and her hands gripped the man’s arm. His shot was never even close, and he screamed as she twisted his arm into an awkward angle and slammed it with her elbow. His grip on the gun relaxed and she quickly swatted it away.
She grabbed his forehead and forced his head back, while her knee drove up into the back of his skull. She let him go, unconcerned if he was unconscious or dead from the blow. The other two men pointed their guns at her and fired. Carbon dropped low, both shots missing her entirely, and when she stood, the coal-black sword was in her hand.
As far as she was concerned, they had made their decision about living. She kicked the table, sending it up into Tucker’s lap and distracting the men in the room. She advanced and swept her blade down and then across. one of the men’s gun fell apart in what was left of his hand, and the other fell back, not realizing until he hit the ground and blood started rushing around his collar that his throat had been slashed open.
The other man was screaming and staring at his hand that was now missing three fingers and much of the palm. Tucker had pushed off the table and scrambled out of his chair, running into the lab-proper. Carbon stalked around the fallen table. Without even glancing, she whipped a quick slash across the neck of the man with the mangled hand, ending his suffering as his head fell to the floor beside his body. She picked up the case, kicked the money back into it and then slapped it shut.
She heaved it at the running gun dealer. It struck his back hard and sent him sprawling on the ground. The people working in the lab had no loyalty to the man, and ran as fast as they could out the exits. She paid them no heed, and bore down on her target. He was trying to get to his feet, his back spasming, several vertebrae likely cracked. He rolled over painfully when he heard the sound of her foot smashing a glass vial.
he drew a small caliber pistol from his belt and fired four shots at Carbon. Astonishingly, she maneuvered the large blade up, down then across, blocking three of the four rounds. The last one struck her in the seam between the chest plate and shoulder guard. She didn’t even flinch as the thin, flexible material underneath it absorbed the bulk of the impact. What little bruise she suffered would be fully healed in less than a minute.
Mark Tucker threw the gun down. “Okay! Okay, I’m sorry! I’ll turn myself in! I’ll do it! Full confession! Just please, don’t kill me!” He could make out her narrowed eyes through the formed eye sockets in her mask. He saw no mercy, only judgement. His only opportunity had been missed. her blade came up, and before he could finish the word “Please”, its perfect edge cut through his windpipe. She then drove the tip down through his thigh, severing his femoral artery.
While she typically killed quickly without malice, Carbon had seen enough of the aftermath of rapists to convince her they needed to suffer, at least for a while. Tucker gasped and writhed, the blood pouring out of his leg at frightening speed, his ruined throat preventing him from screaming or calling out for help. The Carbon kicked over barrels of chemicals, filling the room with noxious, flammable fumes. Tucker was doused with several gallons of ether as it flowed past him.
The black clad vigilante strolled casually out the back door and climbed to the roof as if it was an afterthought, briefcase full of money in her hand. She leaped from the roof with the still unconscious guard in hand. She took his lighter and lit a wad of paper, then tossed it into the house. A gagging scream, the last noise Mark Tucker managed to cry, struggled out over the rush of flames. Carbon tossed the shotgun into the burning building, then dropped the guard into a nearby dumpster.
She didn’t bother taking him to the police station; without due process, he would walk. She made her way back to her apartment to get some sleep before she had to get up and investigate the murder of Mark Tucker.