Dedicated to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Miracleman: wherever you may be
The last thing Miracleman hears before the darkness takes him is a word he believed he’d never hear again. It is one simple word. One word.
Then a long forgotten blackness comes and removes him from this world. In his place is another man. Michael Moran finds himself naked, and shaking in a grey metal room. He remembers the feeling of the cold wind from the Himalayas as though he climbed it yesterday: which–for all intents and purposes–he did.
Only he knows –- as the perfect clarity of Miracleman’s thoughts become muddled by his opaquely grey mortal perception of things — that it has been much longer.
It has been a long time since Liz left him, since his own daughter Winter’s departure, since that climb, and the word “Kimota” that screamed out of his aching lungs as he effectively killed the mediocre, overweight, balding, wrinkled, scarred, unemployed freelancer journalist Mike Moran to become the gaudily costumed, powerful, noble and inhuman Miracleman forever. The despair still tastes metallic and fresh on his lips from that day over a decade ago.
A slit of white light appears in the shadows directly in front of him as a figure walks into the room.
When he sees him, Mike Moran feels a sickening jolt inside him as though the mere presence of this … man was strong enough to punch him in the stomach. He also knows that if the man — if one could even venture to call him a man anymore — had really wanted to punch him in the gut, he would already be dead.
Light finally chases away the rest of the shadows from the tall black-garbed man. His hair is a shiny black smoothed away from a chiseled brow and sharply angled dark eyebrows. He would have once been considered a handsome man — and he had once been a handsome man — if it wasn’t for the twisted mass of bone and scar tissue that rules over the left side of his face with its dark and empty eye-socket. It gapes at the mortal man in front of him like the ancient Greeks described Charybdis, or a recently unearthed tomb. But mostly, Mike Moran looks at the man’s uniform and the baleful yellow “M” and “K” meshed together on its chest.
“K” for killing. And “M” for murder. For monster.
“I know somewhere in that lump of useless human flesh that you’re still here. Still aware. Still listening.” The dead monster looks down at the dead man and smirks. “I just know how frustrating that must be.”
“Bates.” Mike whispers, wishing that this wasn’t real even though on one level he had seen this coming.
Even though his scarred chest clenches with old and familiar cowardice, Mike takes his chance.
“Abraxas!” He rasps.
Bates’ facial expression doesn’t change. In fact, nothing about him changes at all. Suddenly, a gloved hand grabs Mike’s face. Its iron fingers seem to entrench themselves relentlessly into his chin and cheekbones. Black spots begin to dance in front of his eyes as Bates’ palm pushes against his mouth.
A dark eye and empty socket meets Mike Moran’s terrified gaze while, very dimly, he senses his feet slowly rising off the floor.
“You’ll find,” Bates tells the suffocating man, “that my followers — my followers — made a few improvements on me since they brought me back. Your overseers taught them well in my absence … Miracleman.”
Mike Moran’s eyes widen in horror as nothing happens to the monster in front of him. Bates, formerly Kid Miracleman, remains looking exactly the same as he did before. Bates’ smirk broadens into wide, distorted smile as he lets the implications of this set in.
Just as Mike thinks this is the last thing he will ever see, Bates lets go of him: letting him drop back onto the floor.
Mike falls onto his hands and knees: gasping and coughing hard. His face aches.
“You’ll take after your old hole in the ground and be silent now.” The monster says, standing above him with his hands on his hips. “I want you to listen to me closely, old man. Very closely.”
Bates stands over Mike Moran until the other’s faded blue eyes look up at him. Bates nods slightly, “Good. Now you get it. You can teach an old dog new tricks after all, though I imagine this is an old trick for you by now, Moran. Being helpless, I mean.”
Bates sinks down and rests his hands on his knees. As his gaze meets Mike’s eyes, his grin becomes a small, falsely sympathetic smile. “I know what that’s like too. I know what it’s like to be regulated to being an annoying thought-form in a stupid pre-pubescent’s nightmares. I know what it was like, everyday, to look out of a scared little boy’s eyes–afraid of the world and myself–instead of making the world fear me.”
Bates still smiles at Mike. Then he slowly gets back up to his feet, “I also know what it’s like to die, Miracleman.” He spits the name out both dismissively and with evident relish, like a burden or challenge he has now mastered. “I died twice. Once, when I accidentally spoke your pathetic name, and twice when you snapped a half-naked little boy’s neck with your own two hands.”
Mike’s face crumples. Even Miracleman felt the pain of that moment and without his immortal insight, without his clear emotional filters of right and wrong, the memory of that act batters Mike Moran’s muddled, small, human sense of conscience.
“The way I see it,” Bates continues as he dusts off his knees, “you were the one who killed me both those times. In fact, when it comes down to it, my life and death has always been dependent on you.” Bates’ left hand clenches into a fist. “But now, that’s all changed Mikey-boy.”
Mike bows his head and where the word “Kimota” should have been, another word flows out of his mouth. “How?”
Bates smirks from one corner of his mouth. “Sunburst.”
Mike’s forehead furrows at the word.
“I’m not surprised you don’t remember. You had other things on your mind at the time.” Bates taps a gloved index finger against his temple. “But maybe you might remember another group with the name. Try … Sunburst Cybernetics.”
Mike’s eyes widen. Bates laughs. “It’s so funny. You were so busy trying not to think the first time I died that you completely forgot about my company. You know: the one I spent years building while you were in Slumberland. That company.
“I was on the cutting edge of technological and communications innovation. That was when I put certain contingencies into place.”
“But that … doesn’t matter anymore.” Mike coughs. “That was decades ago. We’ve all come so far since. Your company wouldn’t have resources anymore. I abolished money.” Mike glares up at the other man. “It doesn’t matter!”
“I always wondered whose idea it was to abolish world capitalism: yours or your keeper Miraclewoman. It must have been hers. You were always much too slow.” Bates points at Mike’s head. “Still, it is something you would do. You must have thought you were pretty clever stealing my original idea, old man.”
“Your …” Mike blinks, “Your idea? You were going to use your company to take over and subjugate all the people you believe are lesser than you. My allies and I … we improved the world. We were the ones that cleaned up the mess you left behind!”
“So you do have backbone, Moran, and what a self-righteous backbone it is.” Bates snaps his fingers together with a jarring crack, causing Mike to flinch at the sound. “And just look at how grateful they all are to you, those miserable little insects you call human beings. They’re so grateful that they’ve made cults dedicated to my name: cults that you’ve even allowed to exist. The ‘Bates Cults.’” The monster grins with evident pride. “Even after all I did to them and after knowing what I am.
“You see, that’s the difference between you and I, old man. I’ve always known that human beings are lemmings. Just give them something to believe in, something wonderful, something miraculous and they will follow you very willingly to the slaughterhouse you’ll make from their lives. They worship the universal death wish. They worship me. Just like the Cult of the Sunburst.”
Bates’ laughter is brittle and terrible. “When you went away with your darling ex-wife, with the naïve sentiment that justice would sort my company while I was trapped in that child’s body, well, it actually did go away.
“Its assets were split apart, paperwork was shredded, files deleted and technology confiscated and personnel either sent to prison or recruited into other companies. But while you were just rediscovering your powers, I gained greater control of mine … and showed them to a few select people. While all non-essential personnel were fired or imprisoned, my own Black Sheep–my Cult of the Sunburst–went into hiding with all my more important assets.
“They went into other companies, other organizations, and other venues. Even some of those in the prisons established necessary contacts in the event that they would be freed which — thanks to you and your general amnesty — they were. And they all coordinated, and waited.
“Even when I obliterated London, even when you ‘destroyed capitalism,’ they still waited. For me. Do you want to know why?” Bates puts one hand on Mike’s head. “Because, like I said, I gave them something miraculous to believe in: something far less crude and materialistic than money.” Bates’ body seems to shimmer with a barely restrained aura of energy. “I offered them power. Yes, I played the divinity card long before you or your friends ever thought of it.”
Bates pats Mike on the head before suddenly walking past him. “It was so much a contingency plan that I even forgot it. I became careless, I admit. There is only so much posing and living among those contemptible animals before you just want to rip their limbs off. But the plans adapted in my absence. And then I did.”
The monster stares at the blank grey wall at the back of Mike’s prison, standing beside his bowed naked prisoner as though he has forgotten that he’s even there. Sweat beads on Mike’s upper back and forehead. “People have forgotten me. Certainly, you forgot me old chum. You remember me as a mindless destroyer from those days, when you should have really remembered that I was an innovator and a businessman first.” He turns around to look at Mike’s face and points at his own temple again. “Businessmen understand human nature: that drive to greed, power and that all-encompassing death wish. The need to be a consumer. To consume. To … be consumed. It’s all the difference between how I could do this on my own and how you needed aliens to do it for you.
“But you never understood sentient life, Miracleman. You never understood Dicky and I, or your wives, or even your own children and definitely not the aliens you call allies.”
Mike resists the urge to glance up at his tormentor’s insinuations and continues to grit his teeth and look down at the floor. Bates continues to talk. “It was easy for my Cult to flourish in your Golden Age. They’re not the largest of the Bates Cults.” The monster smiles another death’s head’s grin. “But certainly one of the most effective: so much so this is probably the first time you’ve heard of it now.
“The other Cults sprouted up on their own really, from what I understand. I just seem to be that kind of god. Granted, most of them are just some misguided idiots or rebellious children, or anarchists. They’re little different from the Christian-Islamic frontier cults on the Earth now. But my real followers have infiltrated all of these of course, fomenting unease with your little hypocrisies and spreading the word of my return … just as I have infiltrated your own infrastructure.
“Yes, because of your very trusting nature many of my people are Volunteers: specifically scientists and technicians. You were absolutely right about the resources of my company. However, did you ever wonder just what kind of human scientists could adapt alien technology to our standards: to ease our society’s transition into this lovely little socialist paradise you have going here? That’s right: they were my scientists.
“So are you going to ask me those clichéd questions now? About what it is I want from you, or why you’re not dead yet? Or maybe you just want to state for the record that I won’t get away with this.”
Mike Moran says nothing but continues to stare at the floor. He counts the minutes. The dead man looks weak, and tired. And scared.
“Well, let me make this abundantly clear. My followers took your techniques and resurrected me. I’ve been alive much longer than you realized: setting up another divinity scene right from the ground up: before I tear it all down again. Here are the Prophecies of the Bates.” He raises his arms in the air and splays out his fingers before slowly lowering them back to his sides and looking at Mike Moran again. “First, I am going to keep you here in this room. I am going to make you watch what a real god can do.
“Then my followers will complete their sabotage and activate their hidden subroutines in all the technology you’ve so generously donated to the populace: causing a few ‘accidents’ along the way. Then, I am going to get the Cults you left alive to instigate a few protests and then a few more riots. Public opinion will turn against you more quickly than you realize.
“Very soon, most of your precious humans will turn against Olympus and your children. And your children will fight back. Your alien allies — who have so kindly provided me with the tools of your children — will assist them in eradicating the entire human race. And then, then I will come out with a glorious sunburst to eviscerate and destroy all my willing victims, aliens, children and all like the pack of cards they are. And unlike you, I will be honest about my rule: because I’m giving everyone what they really want. What they deserve.
“And all the while, you will sit here in your prison of weak human meat as I slowly take apart everything you have ever built. I will kill your friends, your children, Miraclewoman, Dicky Dauntless and then, finally, after showing you the great memorial graveyard I’ll make this world I will slowly and painfully end you. Forever.”
There is a long pause as the information seems to set in.
“They will stop you.” Mike intones and — just for a moment — his gaze is as piercing as that of his alter ego.
“You mean your allies? Or perhaps your consort?” A broad, vicious rictus splits Bates’ partially-mutilated face. “How do you think I gained my soul back? I never left, Mikey. I waited in the cold and dark until they brought me back. They used you. Just as you used my death to make yourself into Zeus, into God, into a dog they used you as their figurehead.
“The Qys and the Warpsmiths only want our world’s resources — your children — so they can learn to breed again or continue beyond their Cold War. To win a real war. The death of the humans will only make it easier for them: culling the chaff from the wheat. But, if it makes you feel any better, I do plan to kill them all before that happens. And as for Miraclewoman …” Bates shakes his head. “Just how did you think she got along so well with them? How did someone who supposedly hid most of her life in a human doctor’s body learn enough about them in such a short period of time: enough to get them to agree so quickly to help our world?
“Why didn’t she make herself ruler of Olympus instead of your sorry self? And why give you such bad advice about Dicky?” Bates’ one remaining eye glitters again even as his other empty eye socket remains as dark and empty as the void. “How do I even know about any of this?”
Bates sighs and kneels down on his haunches in front of Mike again: his own leering face inches away from Mike’s pallid one. “Do you remember who spoke the word Abraxas to you?”
Mike squints. He tries to remember the sound of the voice that spoke to him before the murky disorientation that is Mike Moran obscured the glorious multifaceted crystal that was Miracleman’s mind. It was a whisper: a whisper in the dark. But although he can’t recall whose voice it was, it remembers that it had a very feminine tone.
Only two women alive today would have had occasion to hear that word.
“I see that you’re beginning to understand now.” The mock-pity on Bates’ face somehow makes it uglier than it had been before. “Did you ever just wonder why Miraclewoman couldn’t beat me all those years ago: despite all her supposed years of experience on us? Did you ever consider that her back-story to you — this woman from nowhere — might have been a lie? Or perhaps you’ve pondered over just why the aliens didn’t spot me through their globe of the world when I was ravaging London, or why Aza Chorn’s mate wasn’t there with him in our last battle? Or maybe you’ve wondered why the Qys didn’t even help you in our little spat.
“Or perhaps I’m lying.” Bates gets to his feet and walks to the door. “Maybe your ex-wife Liz hates you and your mutant daughter so much she was willing to join the Cult of Bates: just to make you fallible again. Just to kill you.
“I’ll leave you to think about that for a while.” Bates begins to walk away. “Oh and don’t bother waiting for that hour to change back. This room has a special energy field modulation that is only adapted to my personal field. Even if you’ve used the time to grow half as powerful as I have over the years, it’s still not enough. It’s never enough.”
“Johnny.” Mike Moran reaches one hand out, the right one with its two fingers still missing. “There must be some part of you left in there. Somewhere. Please. You don’t have to do this.”
Bates keeps his back to Mike. “Johnny Bates never existed, old man. He, Dauntless, and you were just the fantasies of a perverted South American man. All our adventures were lies: you should know that better than anyone. We were never friends. In fact, the only thing I want from you now is to ultimately feed your genitals to Miracledog … for starters.”
The dead monster pauses for a few moments and then saunters back through the brief white slit in the dark wall, leaving the dead man huddled in the darkness.