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Aberrant RPG - War Journal: The Bellybutton of the Beast

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Author's Notes:

This one is done, baby!

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

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The Bellybutton of the Beast

By Shane Mulligan

Flare Opzine cover story

May 2047

It occurs to me, as I make my way up from the supersonic bustle of SeaTac into the quiet splendor of the northern Cascades, my rented sedan clicking from navpoint to navpoint on the winding tree-lined road, where this sense of déjà vu is coming from. I'm not a journalist on his way to a career-highlight interview – I'm Jonathan Harker, riding a rattling coach through the Carpathians, heading into the lion's den.

Ah, I see you're not getting the reference – Harker was the naïve English lawyer sent to Transylvania to negotiate some prime real estate for a rather exotic client, Count Dracula. If you remember Rakshasa's terrifying sexy Count from her horror vid cycle back in the Teens, or better still one of the late great Counts of the 20th (Lugosi, Lee, Langella or Oldman) you might have an inkling of the kinds of notions floating through my head as I prepared for my meeting with Chimera, the hyper-charismatic leader of the Green Machine.

But how could I refuse such a plum assignment? No nova has offered to do an interview in, what, fifteen years? But Chimera is nothing if not media-savvy; thirty years ago, she would've been touring college campuses and speaking to standing room only crowds. As it is, chips of her speeches get passed from hand to hand in classrooms across the US, and color slicks of her in everything from skimpy thongs to full battle dress plaster more than a few dorm rooms and lockers. 'Green Gear' T-shirts, caps and buttons with either her image or the familiar "Snake Eyes" logo are confiscated in high schools every day.

And it's not just testosterone-crazed boys, either – Chimera's message of dissatisfaction is universal, at least if your under twenty-five. Frustrated, misunderstood kids look up to her not just for her sleek seductive looks, but also for her words and attitude, and young girls are just as welcome to come out west and play soldier.

So what sort of woman inspires such devotion among her followers? And would she think I was cute? I'm about to find out.

Two skinny kids who can't be any older than eighteen meet me at the gate of her secluded Stevens Pass compound. Runaways? Kidnappees? They're all decked out in Green Gear, assault rifles clutched tightly to their narrow chests. One pimple-faced freedom fighter squints at my press credentials, then grunts to someone in the gatehouse, and I'm in. This was once a ski area, and the barbwire fencing clashes with the faux-alpine lodge and cabins, but that's not nearly as jarring a sight as the large revival-style tent erected at the foot of the slope.

After a particularly thorough frisking (ooh, those hot little teenaged hands!), I'm led to the big cheese herself – her office in the lodge is tastefully decorated and disappointingly free of Nazi flags, torture devices or babies' heads in jars. There's an Ansel Adams print on the one wall not crowded with books or topographical maps, and it occurs to me I once had the same print up in my first apartment. I'm thinking of using this amusing little coincidence to get things started, when I get sight of the nova herself, and all thoughts of witty repartee are quickly dashed to pieces.

Barefoot and dressed in baggy camo pants and an Infinity Tour baby tee that must have been through the wash a thousand times, she works behind a small wooden desk, those famous reptilian eyes scanning an old-fashioned flat screen monitor, which reminds me that despite all appearances she's probably old enough to be my grandmother. The light glints off the smooth skin of her bare head, a look that has been imitated by many of her fans and followers, though in her case her hairlessness is the result of her continuing quantum-fueled evolution. The overall effect is both casual and calculated – how can you be afraid of someone wearing an Alejandra T-shirt that's older than you are?

At the sound of my approach, she looks up, and the full weight of her smile hits me square in the gut like a bag of sand. I'm in serious trouble here - the concept of 'journalistic impartiality' has just flown out the window. She shakes my hand warmly, and her skin is like fine sandpaper, millions of tiny scales gently rasping my palm in an oddly pleasant manner. She notes my reaction with a slightly embarrassed smile.

"I know, the human loofah; I'm a whiz at refinishing tables, too."

I ask about her eyebrows – does she draw them on with makeup?

"Actually, no – my scales are chromomorphic, so I just do 'em that way. I find that people tend to be unnerved when I look like this-"

And suddenly her eyebrows are gone, along with what I took to be eyelashes and dark lipstick – the resulting blank is indeed somewhat disturbing, and I'm reminded of Chimera's background in acting. This is a woman who's very concerned about how she's perceived.

"As a shapeshifter, I can pretty much do whatever I want appearance-wise, but I've gotten kinda lazy in my old age."

We settle in and I switch on my recorder. The first part of the interview is playful, as we both try and feel each other out; she asks about my early days working for Duke Rollo (she was a big fan, which is apparently why she requested me), and I pump her for stories from her T2M days. It's a toss-up as to who gets more dirt on whom. Chimera gleefully confirms nearly every rumor I've ever heard about Caestus Pax, including the fact that they dated briefly.

"For like a minute – it was more of a prestige thing, really." She laughs ruefully. "We're both too egotistical to have long-term relationships with anyone but ourselves."

Gradually the questions get more serious; I ask her about her army of millions, many of who are clearly high school age and probably runaways. Do they take just anyone in?

"We do get a lot of runaways – I interview each one personally, check out their story. If they're legit – y'know, abuse, drugs, whatever – they're welcome to stay. But if their parents are just a little strict, or it was just a regular fight, we call their folks and send 'em home."

And what if their parents or police come to call? She flashes that amazing smile and cocks a chromomorphic eyebrow.

"Let 'em – actually I love it when parents show up. It gives me a chance to get a read on them and verify the kid's story. Again, if they're not radiating waves of evil, sure, they can take Junior home – I'll even invite 'em in for drinks or barbecue. But if they're as bad as I've been told-" (And here her face darkens to a seething crimson) "They're gonna have to come through me. And the cops can't touch us – we're better armed, better organized, and I myself can be extremely persuasive."

Does she have any sort of specific platform? The speeches I've heard seemed impassioned, but fairly low on content. She grimaces a bit, and her face goes a little gray.

"Y'know, this was never something that I planned – the Green Machine was a fighting unit where novas and baselines could fight side by side, which we did all over Africa. We made good money, and behaved ourselves. A few years ago we decided to shift focus and relocate to the States – Africa was getting very, very nasty, we'd lost a lot of friends and comrades, and all of a sudden corporate security was looking very appealing. So we bought this place-" She gestures around the room. "-And settled in."

And then things started to get weird.

"We're up in the Cascades, which is still a hotbed for eco-terrorists even after all the work that Utopia did up here. These people are flaky but essentially harmless, and we decided to be neighborly – invite 'em over for some tofu burgers and homemade beer, let our healers fix any twisted ankles… So these guys camp out and we party; a good time is had by all."

Sounds innocent enough.

"It was, at first. But once we got to talking, all my old lefty instincts start rising back up – remember, I was hardcore T2M back in the day, and just because ol' PU turned out to be full of shit doesn't mean my values have changed. So we have a lot of common ground, and we both love to blow things up – marriages have begun with a lot less."

But what about the speeches? The pin-up shots and the T-shirts? For the first time in living memory, I see a nova blush, which in Chimera's case washes over her whole body.

"That's totally my fault. I-"

She leans forward and hits me with those amazing freaky eyes.

"Look, my intentions going into this business were never pure – sure, I wanted to help people, but I wanted to be rich and famous while doing it. And after everything that's gone on in my life and the world…"

She flashes me a little secret smile.

"I guess I missed that. A lot."

So, marry a good old-fashioned radical left-wing message with an adoration-starved nova and what do you get? A weird cross between a revolutionary army, a cult and a fan club, a lot of teenage sound and fury, signifying…something?

"I hope so – this role model business is intense. These kids would die for me, but what are we so mad about? I'm not even sure anymore."

Her frown is as exquisite as her smile, but it hits you in the heart, not the stomach. Heavy is the head that wears the crown of misdirected teenage passion. We sit together in silence for a few moments before she shakes the mood off and dazzles me once again with those pearly whites.

"Sorry to bring you down like that – we'll get our act together soon enough, and I'll fax you a copy of our manifesto before the ink is even dry."

Her archaic language once again reminds me of who Chimera is: a 20th Century gal rushing to an unknown future, a zit-faced army waiting to fulfill her every wish once she knows what she actually wants. She stretches as she stands, and her baby T lifts up to give me a quick glance at her navel – it's a cute little innie, pert yet commanding, and suddenly I'm struck by a thought. What could Hitler or Stalin have done with such a navel? Would they have featured it in speeches or propaganda posters?

"Ask not what the navel can do for you, but what you can do for the navel."

Chimera isn't the only nova with an army of drooling zombies at her beck and call, but she's definitely the hottest, which makes her very dangerous. In the wrong hands, teenage hormones are far more deadly that plutonium or the black plague, and she may well have the highest concentration in the world tucked away in her mountainside compound. She's a sweet lady, but I don't want to be there when she makes up her mind and the dam breaks, washing us all away.

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