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6. Centauri Island: "Dead Live; Living Die"
It was Christmas Day 1955. The place was Damnation Island, in the Aleutians. There Saul Ryne, the Magnificent Psycho, using his superior mental abilities, attempted to brain-boggle the ten surviving members of the King's Own Crimefighters, the last active supranormals, other than Kid Ringo and himself, on what he then believed was the Whole Earth. He wanted to make them his puppets, bring them to the Soviet Supracity still under construction in the Ukraine, and use them as sexual seeds for the eventual fruition of the Supra Race; the inevitable, to him, next phase in the evolution of Humankind.
It was a double double-cross on Psycho's part. His father, the great man himself, thought Saul was going to kill them, not coerce them into going over to the Soviets like his late cousin, Jesus Mandam, the Conquering Christ, supposedly had years earlier.
The King Crimefighters had not survived so long by being easy targets though. Neither were they about to become Soviet pawns. No, they had their own ideas, -- at least Wilderwitch, Old Man Power, and Cerebrus David Ryne, Saul's twin brother, did. They realized their time had come, and gone; that their usefulness was ended; that Loxus Abraham Ryne and the Alliance of Man, the Xuthrodites and even the witch's own Superior Sisterhood, that of Flowery Anthea, would never rest until they were dead and buried deeper than the dinosaurs they had effectively, and so comparatively quickly, become. So they determined to make it seem like they had died.
John Sundown could blast the Island with his Solar Spear; the witch could provide the illusions necessary to fool the spy planes and even the Soviet Submarine lurking offshore; and OMP, well, OMP was going to take them elsewhere. To his homeworld, Shelter, Big Shelter, which was also where the witch was from.
Nothing quite worked out the way anyone planned though. Psycho's mind reached critical mass just as OMP crashed his miraculous sceptre down on the ground in order to transport them through the Cathonic Dome. The end result? Twenty-five years in Limbo for all eleven of them.
Thanks to Demon Land the day before, November 30, 1980, the Crimefighters had escaped Limbo, body, soul, and mind. Escaped unaged as well. Saul had not been so fortunate. Oh, he had escaped all right, soul and mind anyhow. Unaged too. But only part of his body got out, -- his brain!
Though Psycho's mental might had increased fantastically in Limbo, he was perplexed by all that had gone on. Especially why he had not emerged altogether himself. Knew he needed help. Also knew where to go for it, -- it would just take time to get her up here. Until she arrived, he needed protection from the elements as well as any curious seals or birds. Knew where to get that too. Make that two: John Sundown and Raven's Head. Before they could arrive, something else did, the amphibious transport plane from Centauri Island.
Relatively speaking, those were his glory days; these days he was little more than a hired gun. Why had Centauri sent him up here? Couldn't the bloodthirsty madmen the fatman sent with him, rough-mannered and crude-tongued that they were, locate the missing Cosmicar and haul it out of the sea? Maybe, but he wasn't a hired gun so much as a hired eye-stave. His was, in fact, the oldest eye-stave in existence. And what did eye-staves do? A lot of things actually; supranormal things for the most part. He was there primarily because the egg-shaped eyeorb he placed atop it was a prison pod. In it he could capture devils!
Psycho had never been altogether sane; when you're kidnapped at the age of ten and forced to spend the next six years as a boy-toy for a succession of ruthless Nazi megalomaniacs that was perhaps understandable. However, as a discorporated brain, he was even less stable. He was also not entirely powerless. Mind-control can be absolutely devastating, -- especially when dealing with a bunch of already semi-crazed mercenaries like Panting Panther Jones and the rest of those with Sarpedon, whom he recalled from olden, pre-Limbo, days.
Mass murder's in the air; then so are Blind Sundown and Raven's Head, great killers the both of them. One thing leads to another; one Island, Damnation, back to another, Centauri's. Rather, not far off its shore on WORLD's converted fish packer. There, two others have been discussing their options. These two are not exactly supranormal either. Nor are they particularly human any more.
Call them inhuman monsters and they wouldn't quibble. Facts are facts and another fact was their approaching-homicidal dislike for Daemonicus and Faceless Strife, the Worldwide Order's top dogs. But, what can you do against demon-devas, -- even out here, beyond Cathonia?
Then, literally out of the blue, drops the solution to their problems, -- the Wild Card they need to get rid of the deceitful, ever-ambitious Masters of WORLD. Only this wild card's a regular ace!
7. Centauri Island: "Loxus Abraham Ryne"
'Centauri Island' has always been wired in parallel with 'War of the Apocalyptics' but this is the first chapter that it's been so strongly linked to what's going on in 'The Trigregos Gambit' and 'Helios on the Moon'. This shouldn't be surprising, -- events detailed in all four books of 'The Launching of the Cosmic Express' are happening simultaneously after all. But it can be downright disheartening. Especially if you're already having trouble keeping up with who's who in PHANTACEA on the Web.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Virginia, a Ginny, -- the same, albeit much, much younger Ginny who's been getting royally screwed around in 'The Moloch Manoeuvres' lately. There is also a Ringleader, though one not to be confused with Father Angelo, who's an occasional character in 'Manoeuvres'. This particular Ringleader is a featured character in both 'Gambit' and 'Moon'. There is also a Helios on the Moon, who comes into his own you-know-where but is also the titular character of 'Heliodyssey', even though he never appears in it. (Figure that one out. Actually, don't bother. I'm still working on it.)
As readers may have guessed, I've lots of short (make that shorter) stories that predate any of the lengthier ones currently being serialized out here in Cyberia. A number were written between 1991 & 1993 and some of these come into play this chapter, particularly in regard to El Draco and his Trigon Spartae. Not to worry though, they'll all get their time under, in, over, or as the Sun in due (dual?) course.
For now, be warned, 'Island' is about to fragment. Kinesis/Defiance and Max/NoName will soon be departing these pages for even sunnier climes while Dolph Dulles, Loxus Abraham Ryne, and the fairy trickster will be taking over their roles as pivotal protagonists. As for the primary antagonist(s), well, most of the mandatory foreshadowing business regarding them was set up last installment.
This time around, we bounce between the UNES Liberty, as it sits in orbit around the Moon, and Centauri Island. 80-year old Loxus Ryne has finally arrived on the latter while, in the former, we predominantly have James Aremar and Sean Smythe aka Doubleman. Oddly enough, it's Smythe to whom readers should pay particular attention. Psychic Siblings, Septupleman, Johann Schmidt, Dolph Dulles' mother, hints as to who his father really is (not was), more of the Family D'Angelo beyond January 1938, -- sounds intriguing, right? And, yeah, like everything else in PHANTACEA, they're all interconnected.
There's talk of Strife too, -- which might interest those of you following 'Manoeuvres' as she made her first appearance, chronologically-speaking, in last month's bonus story. By the way, don't put too much stock in the endgames ascribed to Memory of the Angels, Pluman, Slipper, or Europa Heliopolis. Aremar may not know what he's talking about.
So what does happen in this month's installment of Island? Not a great deal, truth told. Lots of shaking the bottle but there's nary an opener in sight. Can't have a fight every chapter. Forces are gathering though and there's even more on the way. Stay tuned, -- Doc Defiance, Gypsium Master of Motion that he is, and the Indescribable Mr. No Name, whatever he/it is, haven't gone to the Moon yet. Who knows? They may never get there.
Not if they stop in Houston first and visit Max's ex, Aranyani Nightingale, Psycho's sister. While she may be a life-loving witch, the many men in her life are anything but ...!
8. Centauri Island: "The Strife Sorority"
As mentioned last time, 'Centauri Island' is in the process of fragmenting. If Rom Kinesis and O.J. Maxwell are about to take their leave as the central protagonists, it's appropriate that a few others will shortly be departing these pages as well, -- a few of these others being the principal antagonists thus far.
Got to have some villains so, this time up, the focus is on one of PHANTACEA's baddest of the bad, namely the Strife Virus. And virus she is too, -- after a fashion. Consider this chapter a her-story lesson more so than a history lesson. It's right up there with earlier material in the be-warned department though.
Especially if you're following 'The Moloch Manoeuvres', you might even consider skipping it altogether. Then again, for those who like to know endings as much or more so than beginnings and the annoying middle bits, it could be just your cup of venom. That said, if you're following 'The War of the Apocalyptics', you owe it to yourself to check out the partial her-story of Corona Power and the Crimson Corona contained in this chapter.
Though the focus is on Strife, she only turns up at the beginning. It's just her latest incarnation however and two of her former ones are featured more prominently later on, -- specifically Ramona nee Avar(?) Ryne and Crystal St. Synne who, not surprisingly, turn out to be half-sisters. Seems that twisted old satyr, Sedon (Satan) St Synne, has been liberally spreading his seed around damn near all century. And, sick prick that he's almost always been, who's he to deny his procreative beneficence to his own children?
The upshoot of this chapter?
Now Ramona, Steltsar, Milo Mind, Crystal, Hadrian's son, and Demios Sarpedon, the husband of Strife's former enemy, Morgianna, were on WORLD's packer.
Not to mention Strife herself and, of course, Daemonicus!
9. Centauri Island: "The Houston Academy of Man"
We pretty much take our leave of Doc Defiance and the Indescribable Mr. No Name this time around. In fact this chapter begins with events taking place where they're heading: namely, the UNES Liberty, up there orbitting the Moon.
What happens to Mik Starrus in particular, his wife, Nidaba, and their fellow Cosmicompanions, the likes of the Mazdas and Sasarians, in general -- events witnessed by Sean Smythe and James Aremar from the relative safety of the Liberty -- will reverberate throughout 'Helios on the Moon', the concluding volume in 'The Launching of the Cosmic Express' Tetralogy.
Be months, likely more than a year, before we even get to start that particular story sequence out here on the Worldwide Web though. So why not sit back and check out our heroes farewell performance, -- at least on the Whole Earth!
Using his formidable 'voice', Loxus Ryne has convinced O.J. Maxwell and Romaine Kinesis to take their show on the road, -- to Cape Canaveral and thence upstairs, on the never-to-be-revealed maiden flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia no less. Out there, a LAC Craft is scheduled to rendezvous with it before transporting the two of them the rest of the way to the Liberty in Moonorbit. Max isn't altogether ready to just go gallavanting off quite yet though. He's an ex-wife to see, maybe to kill, in Houston Texas first. Got some equally pressing mysteries to solve there as well.
Seems his ex, Aranyani Nightingale, who is also Ryne's eldest daughter, has hooked up with Moses Callion the Third and together they're in the process of manufacturing a whole new batch of Callion Clones; clones, as he now knows, the first batch of which some forty-plus years ago resulted in him!
Lots of meat here; grist for the mill, as it were. Aranyani's got a featured roll to play in Centauri, at least for the next couple of chapters. Moe Three has his moment in the sun -- actually under the moon -- coming up shortly too. But Moon isn't the only aspect of Launch we overlap with this chapter.
From 'War of the Apocalyptics' is coming .... No, his second coming has been thoroughly presaged already. But isn't it about time we got more on Signal System? Precisely! And what better Signaller to introduce this time around than Shelter, the most venomous King Snake of all those who wear System's Silver?
And this is a good guy? No wonder PHANTACEA's rightly described 'anheroic fantasy'!
10. Centauri Island: "Daemonicus Demystified"
Last time up we took our leave of some pretty top drawer good guys, even if I do say so myself. This time we take our leave of some boring bastard bad guys. Especially considering who we're dealing with in 'Apocalyptics' and 'Moloch', when it comes right down to it Salvatore Dis L'Orca and WORLD just weren't up to snuff. Bad guys not only snuff, they should take creative pleasure in it. Dull as dishwater Dis L'Orca and his store-bought coffeecake confederates in the Worldwide Order were just businessmen; hardly worth a hoot on the hiss-meter.
Oh, they oversaw the destruction of the Cosmic Express with over sixty Cosmicompanions aboard it but it was just a job; done for money. Hell, as Dis L'Orca tells Daemonicus this chapter, none of them actually believe the Express has been destroyed. It's a valid observation. Why outfit WORLD's converted Japanese fishpacker, why bother with Kamikaze Kaligula, and what was the point of Milo's Mindtap if all the terrifying wraith wanted was to blow it apart?
Dis L'Orca or someone like Greygreave Translav, the self-proclaimed heir to the Czarist throne of All Russia, whom we briefly encounter this time, could have done it with a missile. Even cheaper, given that both Daemonicus and Strife could seemingly get about between-space at will, why didn't either of them simply teleport inside the Express and set a bomb?
No, Sal's just too sensible to be a great bad guy. But, who's to replace him? Will WORLD be in better, make that badder, hands with Lady Guillotine, the Countess Ramona Avar, and her refound paramour, Major Mind? True, revenge is on her mind and there are a lot of people on Centauri Island she wants dead, -- but to destroy the entire Island? Makes no sense. That's what Daemonicus wants however and he's just the folks all set up to do just that.
And, in Sharkczar, Hell's Horsemen, Crystallion, and whoever else is on the Phantom Freighter, we've some truly vicious, bloody-minded and highly creative killer-creations waiting in the wings. They may not get the chance to take centre stage though. As already noted, destroying the Island's not in the Order's best interests and, in Guillotine, it's about to acquire a very capable CEO.
Ramona and Milo, with some timely help from Demios Sarpedon -- remember him? -- mastermind a palace coup. Not only do they send Dis L'Orca packing, thanks to the Ace of Spades' eyeorbs they even take out Daemonicus and Strife. Much to the countess' surprise however they don't turn to be Wilderwitch and Jesus Mandam; they turn out to be her children by the King Conqueror, Solomon and Balkis, -- exactly who they said they were all along!
Ah, but wait! After sending them off ship with Simpering Sal, Ramona, Milo, and Demios have another thought. Can they take out Sharkczar and Crystallion as easily as they did the fearsome phantasm and the sentient infection that is/was Strife? Can they therefore get on with WORLD's initial plan, which was to take over Centauri Island, not destroy it, then set Guillotine up as the new head of New Century Enterprises after disposing of the fatman, Alpha Centauri, and the patriarch, Loxus Ryne, Avar's ex?
They certainly believe they've a decent shot at it, although all the Ace of Spades really wants is to get back to Centauri Island so he can dispose of the eyeorbs containing Strife and Daemonicus properly, -- as in permanently. So, does any of this make them not really bad guys but heroes of the anheroic variety? Not so fast. Aranyani Nightingale's back this chapter as well.
Good guy, make that gal, right? She's a pharmacological scientist, a mother (albeit not a very caring one, at least to their son, T.J., according to Big Max last time up and earlier on in 'Centauri'), a medical doctor, a healer, and an Althean witch. Well, maybe. It's who she's got with her that casts doubt on her status. Who is it?
None other than the one who caused Panting Panther and the rest of Sarpedon's men to top themselves on Damnation Island two days earlier. The one who seemingly snuffed a cab driver then apparently mind-controlled a couple of airplane pilots into nose-diving up in the Aleutians without either parachutes or aqualungs; the one who's been doing nasty things to, successively, John Sundown, Raven's Head, Wilderwitch, Cerebrus, and, maybe, both the Awesome Akbar and Radiant Rider over in Apocalyptics. In other words, the baddest of the bad-brain guys.
But is even the Magnificent Psycho bad enough for 'Centauri Island'?
As usual, you'll have to stay tuned for an answer to that!
Centauri Island Chapters 1-5
Centauri Island Chapters 11-13
Centauri Island Chapters 14-16
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