Not everyone Arachne invited had arrived, but the major players were all in the oversized monitoring room getting acquainted. Many were rivals or simply rubbed each other the wrong way. One would think that so many super criminals and evil despots in one room would be a powder keg with lit sparklers, but their collective curiosity kept them in check. Very few had ever met Arachne, some had thought she was a myth up until they received their invitation.
She paced, her many hands clenching nervously. She had to project power; it wasn’t enough to get all of them on the same page with her scheme, they needed to see her as the leader and not try to usurp power; then it would not be her vision and she would not tolerate that. So she worked very hard to control her nerves and calm down. She straightened her black dress. It had been custom made for her elongated torso, with holes for each of her arms, and a hole in the front that showed the hourglass-shaped scar on her stomach. Vicissitude had crafted her vivisection scars to resemble the identifying mark of a widow spider.
The dress reached the floor, and was slit up the side to show off her muscular legs, and the plunging neckline ensured that several of the men would be distracted the entire time they were in her presence. She took a deep breath, and then approached her private entrance to the meeting room.
The chatting stopped and all eyes turned to her. A few people gaped, as was expected, but by and large, the group seemed to be possessed of quiet respect. Considering the resumes of the miscreants and villains that now filled her chamber, this surprised Arachne quite a bit. If they were already getting along this well, maybe organizing a full scale assault with them would prove to be easier than she thought.
She took a mental note of all in attendance. There were Plague and Pestilence, of course. Golem, Carrion and Ratpack were also expected. Vicissitude was nearby, waiting for his lady to speak first.
The rest of the crew was equally as eclectic. There was Psimon, and powerful telepath who could read and manipulate minds. Next to him was the notoriously jittery Norman Parker, known as Sponge to many because he could absorb the powers of anyone he touched. Glass was next, a woman who could become invisible at will and generate fields of force that could stop a train in its tracks.
Clustered in a corner were the terrorist group known as the Murder Zoo. There were nine members in all, with each one able to morph into an animal, or something in between a man and beast. She didn’t remember their individual names at the moment, but she remembered what animals they changed into; polar bear, wolf, shark, rhino, water buffalo, spider, scorpion, octopus and bat.
Off by himself, and apparently having helped himself to a bottle of three hundred dollar scotch, was a man everyone called Booster. What he lacked in offensive power himself, he made up for in having perhaps the most useful ability of any of the “supers” alive; he could, through direct physical contact, boost the powers of any other person. This could be a good thing or a bad thing for the people he worked with. he was well known for boosting the intellect of some people, or allowing a fire-conjuring political terrorist to summon a massive storm of flame. At the same time, when he was once hired by a psychopath that could shoot pure energy from his hands to enhance him for a robbery, he had also been hired by one of the man’s rivals to kill him. Booster overpowered him so that he was emitting so much energy that his body could not longer properly funnel it.
The man’s arms up to his mid-bicep had been incinerated, and the damage throughout the rest of his body killed him within minutes. Booster was a vital piece to the plan, but had to be handled carefully.
Standing not too far was Indigo Shift, a woman that could run at hypersonic speeds. She moved so fast that the world around her moved in slow motion when she was “amped” as she called it. She’d been using her power to steal from banks and security trucks for years, and had also sold her services as a messenger. Arachne had some very specific plans for her.
Finally her eyes settled on one of the most important pieces to her puzzle, a woman who went by the name Cyclone. She could control weather, summoning clouds out of clear skies and even tornadoes. She had made a healthy living holding entire countries hostage by causing drought and promising rain if they paid her, and even some targeted assassinations that looked like death by natural disaster. Perhaps Arachne’s most devastating plans were built around her. Making her the center of the coming storm seemed appropriate.
“Good evening, everyone. For those of you I’ve never met before, I am Arachne. In case you’d been skeptical, I am very real, and I have plans that could soon make us all very powerful.” Her words commanded everyone’s attention, her light South African accent lending an appropriately exotic edge to them.
“I will explain why you are here in a moment, but I would like to say that if anyone thinks that they cannot or are unwilling to work with the others in this room, I ask that you leave now. There will be no penalty or hard feelings if you choose to, but once I reveal my plan, you will be either bound to participate, or considered a potential risk and not allowed to leave.” Her piercing brown eyes promised she was not bluffing.
Not a person made a move to leave. Everyone in the room was transfixed, hanging on her every word, wondering what would come next from the unusual woman. Arachne’s confidence grew. her reputation and appearance apparently were plenty to convince this group that the trip to her installation was worth the time and they would hear her out.
“Throughout history, people like us have tried to dominate the world, or bring about its end as they knew it.” Images of the Holocaust, Pol Pot’s mountains of victims, bulldozers shoving bodies into mass graves showed on the giant monitors. “They have all failed. The Council of Six succeeded in raising Hitler to power and convinced the Japanese to invade China. They failed to follow through and the world was empowered by the victories. The powerful mutant Firebrand caused Krakatoa to explode, but failed to create the apocalypse he dreamed of.”
“My friends, my colleagues, we will not fail.”
She let the words hang for a moment, allowing her implication to take hold. There were confused looks from some of the dimmer bulbs in the room, but surprised gasps and approving nods from the rest. “I have a plan, my friends. It requires your cooperation, and your total commitment. But the rewards are unimaginable. We, all of us, will cripple this world and rise up to subjugate it. We will divide the spoils among ourselves and crush any who object.”
To emphasize the point, her three right hands balled up into raised fists in unison. “I have a plan in mind, and I would ask Golem to help draft up the final version. It utilizes our individual strengths, and working in tandem with others, we can be more devastating that the sum of our parts. My vision would require more work from some of you than others. Vicissitude, Carrion, Plague and Pestilence, you will be a team. I will supply you with details once we have worked them out.”
Golem’s oversized metal head nodded. That was all she needed; Golem was in, and with his help, her designs could not fail. Emboldened by the acquiescence of her chief architect, she continued. “Ratpack and Indigo, you will be a team. Murder Zoo will actually work independently as infiltrators, as will Glass. Mr Parker and Psimon, I have wonderful plans for you.”
Finally she turned to look at Cyclone fully. “You are the hub of this entire plot. With your help and help from Golem, we will create such devastation that the Christian Bible does not contain passages that match the level of destruction you will unleash.” A wide smile cracked Cyclone’s face. “Beautiful.” She purred.
Arachne smiled, her elongated teeth showing starkly against her red lips. “Good. Golem and I will convene immediately.” She nodded to him and Vicissitude guided him toward her private chambers. “The rest of you, please make yourselves at home. My servants will guide you to your rooms. This facility has everything from a gymnasium to laboratories. When our plan is finalized, we will meet again. Please enjoy my hospitality and eat and drink all you want.”
She looked over the group one last time. “Get used to this lifestyle, soon it will be all you know.” With that, she spun on her heel and walked after Golem.
Arachne practically strutted after Vicissitude and Golem’s lumbering metal form. She’d expected a certain amount of dissention, but the entire group appeared to be on board. She estimated that between her and Golem, they could have a solid plan in place in less than a week. She planned on sending out some of the more volatile members to begin creating strife so that the team didn’t consume itself with boredom. Plus, random chaos only worked to their advantage. She would send them to places not associated with their eventual targets to keep attention off them until it was too late.
She smiled widely, her confidence solid.
Vicissitude relayed orders, suggestions really, to Indigo Shift, Glass and the Murder Zoo. They were given areas to avoid; potential targets for the upcoming apocalypse like Washington DC, Peking and Jerusalem. The instructions were simple; spread fear. Make it seem like the world was turning against the human race.
She’d barely finished receiving her full briefing before Indigo was speeding toward the south west. She’d been specifically instructed not to reign in her compulsions; don’t get caught, don’t be seen, but spread terror and confusion. Her smile was wide and genuine as she shot past trees and over hills at several times the speed of sound. She didn’t tire when she ran, it was like she channeled some unknown reservoir of energy.
She was pretty by any standard, although she kept everything about her appearance plain. Her suit was form fitting and smooth black and blue, not that she had much of a form. Indigo was built for speed, with long legs and a small profile. Her shoulder-length hair was worn pulled back into a tight pony tail, with any hair that didn’t fit slicked back. Her skin was olive complected, and she had piercing green eyes that took in every detail as the world slowed around her.
She could move at speeds that defied logic for anything short of a rocket. Despite running at several times the speed of sound, she could react as if time slowed down around her. She also seemed to be immune to friction in a bubble of space around her. Anything outside that bubble, however, was not so lucky. Outside of it, anything she held was subjected to the friction and pressures of hypersonic travel; even most metals shattered.
Within minutes she was out of the mountains and running down a highway in Arizona. As she passed the vehicles on the road, which barely seemed to move in her perspective, an idea struck her. She paused to pick up a piece of rebar by the side of the road, then ran off to find some thicker traffic. Soon she found what she was looking for; a commuter bus in swiftly moving, mildly congested highway traffic.
To her, she was leisurely stepping through a slowly rolling parking lot. She approached the side of the bus, then threw the rebar at its front tires. Powered by her momentum, the yard-long piece of metal plowed through both wheels, shredding rubber, rending the axle, and sending the bus wildly out of control. It smacked into a tractor trailer, which jackknifed. Within seconds, close to a hundred vehicles crashed into one another.
Indigo Shift stood off to the side, smiling happily at the carnage as it unfolded. the damage was catastrophic. Many died in the initial crash while many more died more slowly from internal injuries. The smell of gas filled her nose, and she was struck by still more inspiration. She skipped from car to car until she found a lighter. She gathered up some wood, doused it in the fuel from a leaking gas tank, and lit the torch.
In seconds, the pile of twisted metal that covered a mile or more of highway was a raging inferno. Indigo ran off, laughing. The first blow had already landed, and the plans weren’t even finalized yet. She decided in that moment that Arachne was an amazing woman who deserved her undying loyalty.
Glass did not have Indigo’s gift of celerity and therefore had to travel by more traditional means to sow fear, but she was no less creative in doing so. She started small; a force field here and there to cause small mishaps. One on a sidewalk causing a man to trip and fall with his hands full of hot coffee, another in the street to cause a truck to lurch violently as if it had struck an enormous pothole. She even settled for such petty pranks as stealing a man’s credit card as he tried to pay for some items to tying shoelaces together on an escalator.
When she bored of pranking, her tastes became more sinister. She created a bubble of force in front of the front landing gear of a passenger airliner as it sped down the runway to take off. The metal buckled instantly, sending the flight plunging off the end of the runway, the extreme change in inertia throwing the plane onto its side and then splitting it in half. On her way out of Colorado, she hitched a ride on a train. No one noticed her at the station, she made a point of dressing casually, and she was a very unremarkable looking woman; the kind that could disappear into a crowd even without her amazing ability to become invisible.
She climbed into the engineer’s cockpit and waited for them to begin accelerating. Once it was well on its way to gaining speed, she attacked the engineer, slamming his head into the dashboard several times until he stopped moving, then made sure the braking mechanism was broken, and the accelerator stayed engaged. She then surrounded herself with a force field and leapt out of the train. Within minutes it was speeding dangerously, and shortly thereafter hit a sharp curve near a cliff. The carnage was comparable to that created by Indigo Shift earlier that day in Arizona.
The many members of Murder Zoo quietly diffused around the world. Within days, brutal animal attacks around the world suddenly rose. In Hawaii where member Derek Large had gone, shark attacks suddenly spiked from an average of 3 per year to over a dozen in under a week. Beaches closed across the state and the number of sharks slaughtered wholesale went unchecked as people reacted in abject fear.
Susan Donnelly flew to Australia. Within days, several swimmers were found dead of drowning on beaches with large suction marks on their skin. Although it looked like they had been attacked by a giant octopus, the real alarm was that they were clearly killed for no real purpose. It appeared as if Australia had been beset by the cephalopod version of Africa’s Gustav.
Curiously, in the midwest where Conner Dunston and Michelle Ferdinand had travelled, people on farms were found mysteriously gored in methods consistent with both rhinoceros and cape buffalo attacks. Across Europe, where Maggie Telsun, Geoff Schwartzwald, and Bruno Gosling had travelled, strange deaths were reported. Some were speared, poisoned and torn to pieces, apparently by someone using the jaws of life. Others were exsanguinated and missing most of their organs in a manner consistent with the feeding techniques of a spider. Lastly, there were those that appeared to have been flown to a great height and then simply dropped to their death.
In Canada, where Keith and Kevin Hunter had gone, unexplained bear and wolf attacks had become so common, people in more remote areas feared leaving their front door; some of the attacks had happened inside moving vehicles.
True to Arachne’s vision, an expanding bubble of fear was already beginning to grip the planet.