Saturday, January 04, 2014

How The Radwanska (Almost) Stole the World: Chapter 2 - A Rude Welcome at the End of the Earth

The Radwanska's long-feared Plan has been enacted, and it's proven to be brilliantly effective. The Cause has been destroyed, and those of who remain behind are all doomed to a painful end. But one single-minded hope stubbornly remains.

Can Citizen Anna, repositioned in space and time, still turn back the entity and reverse the world's fortunes?

With Cause headquarters falling to Minion forces, ending humanity's last gasp of hope in the present, Anna's eleventh hour trip into the past along with trusted sidekick Vika (and a sprawling-into-the-light QC), now represents the only possible remaining attempt for the forces of good to overcome the malevolent evil of The Rad.

Arriving at their snowy, decades-ago destination, the two... err, three... heroines stand on the taut tightrope strung tightly between success and failure, with only one palatable option before them.

Anna takes a confident step forward down the edge of the bank of newly-fallen snow. After briefly contemplating the... workshop? -- no, it can't be, she tells herself -- Vika follows in line behind her. After a few moments, and three... no, make that four... light-headed twirls on her tippy-toes atop the fluffy white stuff, QC straggles along quite a few sword blade lengths behind them.

Prepared for the seen, as well as unforeseen, Anna pulls the edge of her long black coat to the side, revealing the carved bone handle of the katana sword hanging on her hip. She runs the tips of her fingers along the worn, white leather wrap, up to the pearl pommel on its end. The movement calms her, and helps her to think as she surveys the scene, looking for a sign of anything out of the ordinary that might hint that their arrival was expected.

So far, there is none.

The surface of the snow is pristine. Untouched. Aside from the lights of the small, merry-looking complex below them over the far hill, Anna sees no flashes of color on the landscape, nor any suspicious movement for as far as her eye can see. Still, she approaches with caution.

"So, what are we here to do," Vika chuckles, "save Christmas?"

"No, that's over. It's January."

Vika lets out a sign of relief. QC sees the visible puff of air that comes out of her mouth. "Brrrrrr," she says to no one in particular, then hugs herself with both arms against the cold.

"Well, at least we won't have to put on elf suits and slink around the workshop."

"Don't be so sure of that," Anna responds, not bothering to look back at her as she keeps her unwavering eyes on everything in front of her.

"Wha-? Why?" Vika shrugs. "Oh, well. I'll make it work... I look good in anything."

"Don't be so sure of that, either."

"No, no, no, no, no, no good...," QC can be heard spouting in the background. She grabs a handful of snow and takes a bit of it on her tongue. Cold!!!

The trio trudges onward, approaching the largest building in the area from the backside, out of sight of the village's lamp-lined main street. The windows glow from inside, but no noise can be heard from the other side of the thick walls.

"Shhhhh," Anna says to her companions as she approaches a large window facing out toward the snowy landscape. She gently lifts her sword from its scabbard, holding it just below the glass as she slowly peeks around the corner. When she sees what's behind the glass, Anna's eyes dart around the room, taking everything in. Her expression only ever-so-slightly changes. But it does change... in a sense, it hardens as her resolve intensifies still more.

Vika watches her from a few feet behind, then moves forward as Anna motions to join her. Stepping up to the window, she looks inside. Almost immediately, she feels her insides tighten and her stomach reflexively attempt to heave out what is inside.

On the other side of the window, blinking holiday lights are hung along the wall and around a large Christmas tree positioned in the corner of the room. But beyond that, nothing bares any resemblance to any festive mood that may have been recently experienced there. Blood is smeared across the floor, and the cushioned pieces of furniture are soaked sticky red. Tiny pieces of tiny elves -- some parts recognizable, some hardly so -- are strewn close by. Worse yet, what appears to be strings of intestines are strung around the tree like tinsel, with ears, noses, fingers and toes serving as the stand-ins for ornaments that fill in the remaining spaces. Atop the healthy pine is not a star, but an elf head -- long cap still on its noggin -- at the end of a wooden pike used to help the tree remain upright. Rather than opened presents on the floor, there are rotting, gutted elf corpses. Some have all four limbs, some have only two. One has but a single left arm. Some bodies are positioned where they fell, while others are arranged just so.

Vika cannot prevent herself from sliding down to her knees, then hunching over and vomiting onto the no-longer-pure snow beneath the window sill. Anna doesn't say a word. She simply waits until the noise stops. Part of her wishes that she could have same reaction, but she knows that she most decidedly cannot. Behind them, QC looks on, confused. Anna holds her sword up in the air, creating an imagined dividing wall in the air between QC and the window. She understands it to mean that she should not cross.

Finally, Vika rises to her feet, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. She's embarrassed, but even more appalled and angry.

"How... why?"

"It's The Rad. It doesn't need a reason."

With her eyes still watery, but determined to act as if she doesn't even notice it, Vika forces herself to take in the scene. All of it. She sighs. "We're too late."

"No. We're not."

"How can you know that? Are we both looking at the same thing?"

"This is where and when my contact said to be."

"Are you sure your contact wasn't trying to send you directly into a trap?"

"That'd make no sense. There was no reason for deception."

"Well... I'll just say what we're both thinking, even if you won't admit it: never trust a Minion. They'll always scurry toward the light just like the cockroaches they are. Right now, we're pretty much standing in a pitch black cave."

"Have a little faith."

"Good luck with that. You've been locked up. You haven't seen the things I've seen. Hell, you haven't even seen the things that QC has seen, but you're still trying to shield her. In a way, she's got a better grasp onfreality than you do. Yeah, I just said it. Maybe if you hadn't been off on your 'secret mission' none of this would have happened. Maybe everyone wouldn't be gone."

Anna is obviously angry, and a bit hurt. She remains stone-faced.

"They're not dead yet. We're in the past, remember? We can still change everything. The Radwanska is still going to die here." She turns toward Vika, staring at her with unwavering eyes. "Do you think I haven't questioned this entire thing? With every story I heard, do you think I didn't want to be there to help? But that's just what It wanted me to do... to come riding to the rescue. But if I'd done that, I honestly don't think we'd be here right now. I'm thinking that The Rad has chosen this time to strike specifically because it's AFTER Christmas. Everyone's guard will be down. I think we were sent here because The Rad, too, won't be expecting us here. At least not now. It knows I'm looking for It, but not that I knew where and when to look. It thinks It has already won. It's guard will be down, too. We might only have one shot to get it right, but we've got one. That's all we're going to need. And I said 'we,' not I. I can't do this alone. So pull yourself together. Before we leave here, you're going to need to have all your senses, and blaming me and thinking we have no hope is just what The Rad wants."

Vika says nothing.

"So... are you ready to go forward?" Chagrined, Vika shakes her head. A far-more-free-minded QC does, too, even if no one notices. "Good. Let's go." Anna stops, then gestures toward her mouth. "You have a little goop."


Vika wipes a bit of remaining vomit off her chin, then follows Anna as she searches for a way inside. As QC travels along the side of the building behind them, she covers her eyes with her hand as she passes the window.

Two windows down, Anna finds an open -- but elf-sized -- passageway. It's door is ajar. All three make their way inside the complex. It seems almost cavernous, with high ceilings. And dead silence. With light steps, they move through the ground floor of the complex, with Anna leading the way. She finds the bloody room with the Christmas tree. There's no movement, so no further inspection is necessary. Vika only looks at the scene out of the sides of her eyes. QC remains in the background, walking along in the shadows, out of sight. She seems to be doing this on purpose... or maybe she's just being QC.

From the far side of the room, just around a hallway, Anna and Vika's movement is secretly watched by someone...or something.

Vika peers around a corner and sees a long, door-lined corridor that leads to a single door at the far end. It is noticeably chained shut, but light can be seen escaping from underneath it. As Anna and Vika inch along, the feint sounds of metal clanging against metal, as well as muted screams coming from far below the complex's ground level, can be heard. Suddenly, one of the side doors flies open and a small individual charges out into the corridor. It heads directly for the nearest moving thing in sight -- Vika -- and attacks.

Vika is unable to react quickly enough to get out of the way. She can only protect herself against the physical nature of the charging attack. Driven back into the wall, she and her attacker bounce off it and slide down the darkness of the corridor. She manages to fight it off, escaping down the passageway and into the light of the adjoining room. Again, she's unprepared when the individual -- a small, elf-sized man dressed in the appropriate, though bloody and tattered, attire -- pushes her backward and into the far wall. Anna, having chased them down the corridor, arrives on the scene to find the elf crouched over Vika, a deadly, sharpened cobbling tool pressed against her neck. Anna levels her sword in the direction of the elf.

"Who are you! No one leaves here! No one leaves!," he shouts. The pointed end of his weapon slightly pierces Vika's skin. A drop of blood rolls down her neck.

"You! Put the weapon down!," Anna shouts, threatening him with the sword.

"What are you waiting for? Kill him!," Vika shouts, trying to turn her neck away from the edge. Anna ignores her plea.

"Put the weapon down," she says, slower and softer. The elf turns his face toward her, and his eyes dart around the room. "We're friends... my name is Anna. This is my friend, Vika. You don't want to hurt her. She's your friend, too." Her voice is soothing, and it seems to be helping.

As he stares into Anna's face, the elf's breathing begins to slow. He turns toward Vika, then back to Anna. "Vika is my friend," he utters under his breath. He lowers his weapon. "Anna is my friend." He moves and lets Vika up off the floor. She quickly backs away, but isn't exactly pleased with Anna's reaction.

"Thanks a lot!," Vika says angrily, wiping the wound on her neck. "He could have killed me!"

Anna doesn't look at Vika, but sternly addresses her. "Be quiet." She keeps the sword trained toward the elf, then reaches out her hand. "Hand me your weapon," she says softly.

"Hand me your weapon," he repeats, almost trance-like. Then he does. Anna grabs it and stuffs it into her coat pocket, then squats down in front of the elf and looks directly into his face at eye level. "What happened here?"

The elf swallows hard, then looks inside his memory. He shakes at what he sees.

"The darkness... it was everywhere. It was like the snow was black."

"When was this?"

"After Christmas. Saint Nick delivered his last load of presents. Everyone was ready for our celebration. We heard the sleigh return. But when the door opened, it wasn't him." He swallows hard. A bead of sweat crawls down the side of his face. "It was this..." He shivers. "Thing." His voice quickens. "We barely had time to think. It was there, and then It was everywhere. I ran. I hid." He curls up against the wall, as Vika steps out of the way. "But I heard it all. Then... it was silent. Too silent. When I came out, they were gone. Not all of them. What they all were was gone, though."

He stops talking, and simply nervously rocks back and forth in place, trying to forget what he has just remembered.

Vika walks up to Anna. "It always freaks me out when you do that. You could have told me you were going to do it."

"I'd think you'd expect it from me by now."

"Well, I haven't seen you in a while."

It catches Anna off guard. "True. I guess I didn't think about that. Sorry... for saving your life?"

Vika rolls her eyes, then looks back at the now-pathetic creature before them who, just one minute earlier, had seemed a manic beast with her own life perched at the end of a sharp point at the end of his hands. "It's only been a week?," she wonders. "He looks like he's been here for years."

"Maybe he has. Who knows how many times The Rad has come back here to feast, and fuel. It explains why things turned as drastically as they did. It found the perfect time and place, and It's made a 'home' here, I guess."

"Wonderful," Vika icily replies. "What do we do now?"

Anna looks at the elf, then around the room. "Hey, where's Q-"

Suddenly, a explosive crack is heard from the other side of the room. It startles Anna and Vika, who see the elf's body hunch over, a fatal blast from a powerful weapon clearly visible on his face... or, where his face used to be. From a distance,, they both hear the sound of booted footsteps on the wood floor. Anna raises her weapon as a lone individual emerges from the shadows. Walking into view, both she and Vika see her face and react at the same time.

"Sloane?," they ask in unison. Then they see her raise a large blaster weapon in their direction.

"Heh," she chuckles. "Sort of... just probably not the one you want to see right about now."

The Commander, more accurately, the dastardly version of her known as "Current Sloane," the Minion revealed to have secretly replaced the heroic "Future Sloane" during Operation Blueprint, and then worked from an unearned position of power to help bring down The Cause from within, stands before them. She has a shiny, victorious grin on her face.

Current Sloane gestures toward the sword in Anna's hand, training her own weapon directly at her. "I'll take that." Anna, having only recently been reunited with her long-time weapon of choice, grudgingly hands it over. "And that, too," CS adds, nodding toward the cobbling tool/weapon in her pocket. Anna bites down on the inside of her cheek, realizing she's been watching them, then follows the order.

"Ah, The Rad will be pleased. It thought that The Minions had gotten you for sure. I wasn't so confident I mean, when we sifted through what was left of Cause HQ, we found all sorts of bodies... but not yours. I said, 'Just wait, she's so stuck on herself, I bet she thinks she still has a chance.'" She smiles at Anna. "I guess I was right... well, about the stuck-on-yourself part, but not the you-still-have-a-chance part."

"It's not over. You have no idea."

"Ha! Why did I know you'd say that? Ohhhhh, I SOOOOOOOO want to kill you right now. I can actually TASTE it. It's really weird. Does that ever happen to you? Maybe it's just me." She makes a note to check out Anna's footwear. "Nice boots."

Anna stares back at her. "If you want, I could kick them up your-"

"You knoooow, I could just do away with one of you, and say it was an accident." She points the blaster at Vika's head. "I could say you did something stupid... like tried to disarm me." She fiddles with the trigger, until she sees that Vika is unsure what she's going to do. Only then does she point it back in Anna's direction. "Nah. The Rad always knows when anyone is lying."

"Not everyone," Anna chimes in.

"Oh, you'd like to think that. Wouldn't you, Citizen?" CS puts a particularly antagonistic spin on the final word. "You HAD to come up with that yourself, am I right?"

Anna says nothing.

"That's okay. We'll have time to chat later. After The Rad has some alone time with you. It'll be all jazzed up later tonight, too... trust me. It always is on De-Gifting Night. It's such a wonderful holiday. As you can see, we've even taken to decorating the tree."

"Yes, I saw... festive."

"Isn't it?" CS is positively delighted. Maybe I'll get to put the star on the top of the tree tonight." She reaches out and touches Anna's head, keeping the blaster pointed in the direction of both of them, as she yanks a little on her long blonde hair. Anna's fedora falls onto the floor. "I think I know just which head to use. It'll be the brightest star in the night sky. Ooh, I can't wait!"

Current Sloane looks over at Vika, then directs her toward the body of the elf. "I was wondering where he'd gotten to. Grab him... I want all this to be a surprise for The Rad. Although, I don't how I'll ever top THIS De-Gifting present. Topping myself is going to be dif-fi-cult." Vika reaches down and picks up the now-faceless elf in her arms. She joins Anna at the business end of CS's weapon as they walk toward the corridor leading to the chained door. Current sniffs the air. "Oh, he already smells." She sniffs again. "Oh, my bad... he might have smelled like that even when he had a face."

As they go down the passageway, Anna notices something on the floor. She quickly feels for something in her pocket, but finds it empty. The group passes by the object -- it's the time travel device, just outside the corridor. It's too late for Anna to do anything to grab it. As Current Sloane pushes her forward with the barrel end of the weapon, the opportunity is gone. Before she enters the dark hallway, Anna looks back at the room behind them. She tries to catch a glimpse into the shadows of the room. She quickly searches, but CS pushes her down the corridor before she can confirm what she'd hoped.

"This must be getting to be old hat -- no pun intended -- for you, Anna. You must love getting locked up, girl. I feel for you. I really do." She laughs. "Yeah, not really."

At the chained door, CS pulls out a key and opens the lock. She swings the door wide, then pushes Anna and Vika inside.

"You won't be locked up for long this time, though. I promise. See ya soon." She slams the door behind them, then reattaches the chain. Delighted with herself, Current Sloane nearly skips along down the dark corridor into the brightness of the outer room. She doesn't notice the time travel device, but she does make a beeline for Anna's black fedora. She picks it up and slips it on.

"Oh, perfect fit! I knew it."

She makes her way toward the door, then suddenly freezes in her tracks. She looks over into a dark corner of the room, as if she thinks she heard something there.

"Hello? Is someone there?" When she gets no response, she raises her blaster and fires a few indiscriminate shots into the dark. Nothing happens. "Stupid Citizen Anna... making me jumpy." She sighs. "Well, off to the sleigh." She opens the front door and takes a hard right. Before the door closes behind her, CS can be heard whistling a few bars of "Jingle Bells," then singing out loud a somewhat alternative lyric -- at least in her mind -- with festive anticipation.

"...a slaying song tonight, oh..."

Finally, she's gone and the room is totally silent once again. Then, movement. From the shadows.

It's QC, not a scratch on her. Taking small, silent steps, she walks toward the long corridor, directly to the time travel device. She picks it up, then smiles.

"The end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end."

She looks at it closely. The room reflects images onto the device's shiny casing.

"Hello, little me."

She slips the device safely into her pocket... then realizes she's come upon another perfect moment to twirl. So she does.

Over and over again.

All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

On the men side. Federer fired 20 aces but needing 3 sets to win.....strange.

Sat Jan 04, 03:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger 224jax said...

Why do the tennis commentators call an ace hit by Serena a "free point"? She has to work for an ace. I think a real "free point" is a double fault gift from her opponent.

Sat Jan 04, 12:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

Much better AO outfit for vika

As for the brisbane final, as expected.

Sat Jan 04, 09:13:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

224jax -
Yeah, I agree... but since Serena makes it seems to easy when she hits aces I guess the points just seem more "free." ;)

Serena's aces need to be given a whole different name, maybe.

As long as she keeps the shoes, I'm on board! :D

(The black hoody is perfect, too.) ;)

Sat Jan 04, 11:32:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Wow. I don't like the outfit or the shoes (they were blinding me). Better than that horrid jockey shorts waistline, though. But what is it with Nike and Vika? Why can't they do better?

Present Sloane needs help :)

Sun Jan 05, 12:23:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I look at it this way: anything she wears that is loud enough to distract at least a few people from talking about how loud she might be in other areas is a good thing. ;)

But, true, anything is better than the Open outfit... even if it's something that we end up seeing other players wear, too.

(Oh, to beg for the shorts.) ;)

Sun Jan 05, 12:46:00 AM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

Haha Todd, that's funny. Yea anything to distract but actually I just think vika is prone to negative comments as she is such an abnormal type of champion. I don't mind, usually the worse it gets the better she plays. :o

Diane, I thought Serena's dress is even more blinding under the sun. And I think Maria's biker shorts suit vika better.

Oh well, after USO my expectation is lower than ground zero. I personally don't like pink, but I do like the very loud shocking pink shoes she wore during brisbane. Like her.

Sun Jan 05, 03:48:00 AM EST  
Blogger Hoergren said...

Hi. Anybody who can tell my why this is allowed: Goerges ret. from her qualifying final after 23 and now she's a lucky loser - how come this is allowed - me puzzled? And Todd - revise everything you've said about Halep she had a reallly serious MELTDOWN losing 16 46 (behind 15) to Madison Keys and she had an ordinary gameplay. Well well 2014 starts with surprises - you can't predict anything ;) That's fun!

Sun Jan 05, 04:26:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, not a good start for Halep. But it was her first match of the season. Keys lost in the 1st Round in Week 1, too.

Also, Halep choken away matches at the U.S., Tokyo and Beijing, and looked rather shaky doing so... then collected herself and won the Kremlin Cup and TOC. So, I'll give her a moment. ;)

Sun Jan 05, 11:24:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Yeah Jo, Serena's dress was a bit blinding, but there was something about Vika's shoes being so random! They didn't go with her outfit, imo, so I got distracted by them. I agree that the biker shorts look would be good for Vika. Glad to see 'Pova do something a bit different, though.

Sun Jan 05, 07:25:00 PM EST  

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