Friday, August 22, 2014

1/7/13 - (Faraj) My Kingdom - pt. 1

The Alpha Base Seven Memorial is quiet and still, but then, so is everything else up here on the Moon.

It's a simple thing, really -- even rows of smooth, black, coffin-like blocks, raised up three inches from the lunar surface. Each one bears the name of one of those lost in the silent but deadly conflagration that took place on 3/15, which wiped out the entire base in one go. Over 300 souls lost in the blink of an eye, the victim of an alien invasion they could never have seen coming.

It's a great and noble memorial. Somber and eternal. A solemn reminder of the sacrifice the Space Service calls upon its members to be ready to make at any moment.

But to Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir, the new leader of the Space Service, it reminds him of something else -- the mutable nature of the truth, and how it can and must be shaped for a greater purpose.

The world will never know what really happened here, that day. It will never know that some survived the initial onslaught, and tried to live under the nose of Deep-Ten. It will never know that the weapons platform's stricken commander, former Director Straffer, sought sanctuary here, after his lengthy fall through the vacuum, and engaged in a plan to knock those big guns out of commission.

And it will never know that, thanks to the cowardice and fear of some of its senior staff, that plan was ruined -- bringing death not only to the base, itself, but to billions of people on the Earth when Deep-Ten trained its massive weapons upon them.

Faraj does not like that this must be done. When he spoke with Straffer about what he'd seen at Alpha Base Seven -- how they'd dragged themselves up from  near-death, and actually stood a chance of surviving -- he was filled with admiration and pride. Was it right to bury the truth of their brave accomplishments, just to help their new narrative?

No, it was not. But at a time like this, when all hands were needed on deck, and all minds needed focusing in one direction, it was not the time to add complexities and complications.

So it was decided that the human failings of the dead would not be allowed to ruin the outlook of the living. The world didn't need to second-guess the motives and nobility of its saviors. The world needed heroes, now -- heroes and martyrs.

And if its betrayal at the hands of its so-called protectors had to be swept under a hefty rug of lunar dust, then so be it.

Faraj adjusts his stance, ever so slightly, looking over the horizon at the Earth as it rises into the light. A glittering jewel, blue and green and ever so beautiful. He'd only ever seen the slightest bit of that beauty on his first trip into space, so now, whenever possible, he sees as much of it as he can.

Rank does, after all, have many privileges.

He comes here, to this sad place, to think. He does this at least once a week if he can, and more if he can spare the time. Here, surrounded by black cairns raised to the dead, he can get out from under the avalanche he's been tasked with skiing just ahead of.

And there's a lot of things rolling downhill, right about now...

A beeping brings him back, and he scowls a little, turning his communicator back on: "This is urgent, of course?" he asks as imperiously as possible.

"You asked to be immediately informed when the latest autopsies were performed, sir," his newest communications officer stammers: "They're done."

"I see, thank you," he says, turning his communicator back off, again. He knew this moment would come, this day, but he was hoping for a few more minutes of contemplation, and planning.

No matter. The answers are not to be found here, but back where he came from.

"Brightstarsurfergirl," he says, knowing she can hear him, even through the vacuum outside of his suit: "I'm ready for pickup, please."

"I know," he hears her reply. It's not coming over his suit's communicator.

And she was probably already on her way. 

He barely sees the red and silver streak coming before it gains fullness and form, resolving itself into a girl with silver skin and flaming red hair, riding the cosmic waves astride a red, ruby board. She expertly pilots it right before him, coming just a nose-hair's distance away from the black stone that Faraj was regarding.

"Hop on, Spaceman," she giggles into the void, as if they were sharing some kind of joke.

"I think I'll step, thank you," he replies, doing just that: "A hop might send me a little too far."

"I'd pick you up."

"I know," he says, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding on tight: "Take me to the Egress, please."

And she does, chuckling all the way, as, even after all this time, that joke's never gotten old.

* * *

The ship floats in geostationary orbit over Pontianak, Indonesia -- just outside the atmosphere, not far from where the Imago's Space Elevator once stood.

What does it look like? Faraj has asked every single person who's approached it for their own take on it, and received many conflicting answers. A skyscraper that collapsed mid-construction is popular, as is that one optical illusion where three pipes become four. Other answers are more personal, and less coherent.

Clearly, it was going to be multi-dimensional. In its early stages, it looked something like a sled, but as the Imago built it up -- and out -- it became seemingly less functional, and more baroque. It grew spines and quills, gained curls and spirals, and developed a massive, violent shudder of a mouth in the front -- strange energies crackling between its hungry, steel teeth.

This is what they fly into, careful to avoid the deadly, streaming trails of plasma that slowly move from edge to edge like some lackadaisical gate. The theory is that the field should be covering the entire opening, but, given the state of repairs they found it in, after the Reclamation War, it wasn't completed, yet.

Going through this area always makes Faraj's hair stand on end, and yet makes him feel alive, which is why he insists everyone do the same. He needs to be certain they all understand the stakes, here.

He wants them to all feel the same sense of urgency.

Past the crackling field lies a great, open space, its surface dotted with structures as odd and overly-ornate as those outside. Between those strange, beetling and cuboid areas lie great, cylindrical conglomerations of clear plastic and steel girders, looking a lot like an overly-sophisticated maze for pet hamsters. These are the tunnels, workstations, and living areas made by the humans who've come here, so they can work on this alien ship in some semblance of comfort and safety -- however deceptive.

Behind it all, floating in the rear center of the ship, lies the great, ever-shifting conglomeration of wheels and spheres they've come to call the Zero Room. The very heart of the ship, so far as they can tell -- energy source and engine, all in one.

And the thing that's killed more men under his command than he's comfortable with.

Brightstarsurfergirl aims her board over to a simple, flat docking platform in the forward center of the open space, where a number of shuttecraft sit, awaiting their call to be refueled and sent home. At the far end of that platform is the sizable main airlock, where all traffic into and out of the innards of this alien ship must go.

As soon as the two of them are down, the ruby board vanishes, becoming nothing more than a wave of glowing particles. They slip and slide around the silver woman's body as if they were a swarm of bees,  eventually depositing themselves back into her hair, and hanging there like crystal jewelry.

"I never get tired of seeing that," Faraj says, winking, as they approach the airlock.

"That's why I never stop doing that," she replies, giggling a little.

* * *
Once inside the airlock, the avalanche resumes.

He's barely inside the clanging, close-quartered lockers before any number of people need him to sign something, look at something else, or listen to a report. The fact that he's getting out of his space suit does not deter them in this, but no sooner do they surround him than he gives them one !@#$ of an evil look. And they all quickly scatter, knowing this is not the time.

"I really need to get a Second," he reminds himself, aloud.

"You don't," Brightstarsurfergirl playfully chides him: "You need to be in the front. You said so yourself."

"I did, yes," he admits, easing out of the layer of thermal longjohns and reaching into his locker for his proper uniform: "But I'd forgotten what a mess command can be at times."

"Did you not command where you were?"

"Oh yes," he says, smiling as he gets into his tight-fitting, off-white station uniform: "But it was war, pure and simple. We planned, we fought, we recovered, we celebrated. Day after day, year after year.

"And never once did anyone have me fill out a report."

"I'm sure you would have killed them with your pen."

He smiles at that, and winks, finishing up securing his grip-shoes: "It's just possible."

She giggles at that: "How many ways can you kill a person with a pen?"

"Right tool for the job, my dear," he says, reaching into the locker to get his sword.

* * *

The pair of them head from the lockers -- him walking slow and sure on the grab-pads, her sauntering along as though she were back on Earth -- and go through what used to be the central command area. It was everything to everyone when they first arrived here, but is now more of a storage area and repair bay. And, once through that, they enter a long, reinforced tunnel that leads to the rest of the complex. 

The place is a hum and hive of activity. New white-suited workers are arriving every day, it seems, all ready and willing to throw themselves into this project. And no one is leaving until the job is done. 

As Faraj's main job is to make certain the job is done -- preferably well ahead of schedule -- he considers this good. But he also realizes that too many people is sometimes much worse than not having nearly enough. 

Although, given how things are going in the Zero Room, having too many people may not be enough.

A pair of guards are tethered outside the medical wing. They nod as he approaches -- saluting might send them spinning, here -- and one of them makes ready to let him in. 

"I want you to go to the flight deck and check in with Doctor Heila," he tells Brightstarsurfergirl: "See if he's gotten anywhere on the problem I set him upon."

"He hasn't," she says.

"Oh," he says, scowling: "You're there, now, too, then?"

"I am," she giggles: "Should I hit him or kiss him?"

"I'm sure you can find some way to impress the seriousness of the situation upon our good xenotechnician that doesn't involve sex or pain," he replies, not happy to hear this: "But if you'll concentrate there, I need to be completely here."

"I'll do that," she nods, and fades away into nothingness -- doubtlessly going to join herself on the flight deck, though whether it's all the same person, or ripples on the pond of spacetime, is something Faraj realizes he'll never know. 

* * *

The medical bay is large, with strap-beds up against the walls and large amounts of equipment. One poor fellow's being treated for what looks like a compound fracture, and the nurses are having a lot of fun getting him to sit still and stop groaning. One sideways look from Faraj is all he needs, and he straightens right up.

"He's in there, sir," one of the nurses says, pointing to the suite they've started using for autopsies. Faraj nods and walks over that way, taking care to open the door as slowly as possible.

Behind that door, Doctor Fuller is floating over the two tables his subjects lay on. The middle-aged, whip-skinny fellow doesn't even look in his direction before speaking, his voice a Scots brogue so slick and thick it's a wonder he can be understood: "About !@#$in' time you got here."

"I was held up."

"You were !@#$in' paying your bloody respects is what you were doing," he says, looking down at the two men's heads.

"You have a problem with that?" Faraj asks, stepping off the grab-pads and floating up beside him.

"Only when it gets in the way of my !@#$in' timetable."

"I thought you liked that?"

"Whatever," the man says, rolling his eyes: "I got the results in. All the bloodwork, makeup, DNA scans... all that !@#$. And what that tells us is bugger all."

"Exactly the same as the others?" Faraj asks, looking at the terrible expression on the faces of the two corpses -- their eyes white and starting, their mouths open in a silent scream.

"Exactly," Fuller says, reaching down and slowly pivoting himself around, so as to be looking directly down at their skulls: "And this time I managed to take special !@#$in' care while removing the skulls for inter-cranial !@#$in' examination, so I didn't !@#$in' lose half the !@#$ brain like those first few times."

"What did you find?" Faraj asks, pivoting himself likewise, so as to get the same look.

"!@#$est thing," he says, reaching down with both hands and gently removing the skull top from one of them, revealing what looks like a blob of swirling red and coral matter: "You see that, there? That stuff that should be !@#$in' solid?"

"I didn't think brains were solid?"

"Well gold star for you, sunshine. They aren't. But this !@#$ here is a liquid. Totally watery."

"And that's unusual to say the least."

"!@#$ straight it is," Fuller says, closing the skull back up: "If we weren't in zero G it'd be sloppin' all over the !@#$in' table. And I did a check on it. Know what I found?"

"Not what you were expecting, I take it," Faraj smiles.

"The DNA? Completely !@#$in' inert. Not a single !@#$ chromosome anywhere to be found in that mess."

"That is unusual," Faraj agrees, looking closer at the horrified expression on the nearest man's face: "So whatever happened to them in the Zero Room, and no one's still sure what happened at all-"

"Because it happens so quick no one sees a !@#$in' thing, and then they're just screaming and floating away."

"Right. And all the portable surveilance cameras go blank just around them, as if they were giving off a great deal of electromagnetic interference."

"Which would not do this to a person, by the !@#$in' way," Fuller insists: "Bake your !@#$ brains? Maybe. Liquify them into !@#$in' soup and nuke your DNA from !@#$in' orbit? No."

"So whatever happens, it does... this," Faraj says: "And it only ever happens in the Zero Room, while we're testing what's in there. And never the same time, or the same way, or the same position."

"Something in that room's !@#$in' killing people, Faraj," the doctor says, leaning forward: "As your ship's doctor? I'm telling you to stop !@#$in' around with it."

"And I'm telling you that if we want to get this ship out of orbit, and off to fight the thing that's coming, we have to get it working," Faraj sighs.

"Then at least do it by !@#$in' remote or something!" Fuller shouts: "Get everyone out and turn it the !@#$ on then! Watch it on the !@#$in' cameras, have a !@#$ robot do it. !@#$, get that silver tart to do it. I bet she'll be fine-"

"We can't do that,' Faraj says, holding up a hand and looking the man in the eyes: "We cannot send signals into the Zero Room. We cannot run things by remote. They have to be done manualy, in real time. And for that, we need people."

"So not her, eh?"

"I'm hesitant to send her in there," he admits: "If something goes wrong with her, who knows what might happen?"

"Yeah, as opposed to these other poor !@#$ers, here," Fuller sighs, realizing he's not winning this one.

"I share your concern," Faraj says, floating close and putting his hands on the man's shoulders: "If there were any other way I could do this, I would. But we are so close to realizing how to work this machine, and so desperate to get it working. And running out of time."

"I know," Fuller says: "But as your ship's doctor? I have to say this is a mistake."

"I agree," Faraj sighs, turning to go: "But we must continue."

"Aye, we must," Fuller mocks him, however gently: "You'll be wanting them send into space, then?"

"Yes, please," Faraj says: "Clean them up and we'll convene a funeral at 1200 hours, tomorrow-"

"Have to make it the day after," Fuller sighs: "I checked. The ejector's on the !@#$in' blink."

"Really?" Faraj asks, smiling a little: "I'll have to talk to maintenance about that, then."

"Aye, you might," the doctor says, also smiling a little: "You busy, later?"

"I probably will be, yes," Faraj sighs, knowing what the man wants -- and what he wants too, !@#$ it -- "But I'll let you know if anything comes up?"

"Aye, do that, then," Fuller says, letting the pun slide without comment: "Oh, one other thing? You might want to keep an eye peeled. It seems we've got ghosts."

"Ghosts?' Faraj asks, turning around before he gets to the door.

"Got about a dozen reports in, last few days. People are saying they're seeing people one minute, and then they aren't !@#$in' there. Just vanishing, they are."

"What sort of people?"

"Can't get a good look at them, apparently," the doctor admits: "There and gone. Though I got one person what's sworn they !@#$in' said something."

"What?" Faraj asks, intrigued.

"'Intercourse,' if you can !@#$in' believe that," Fuller chuckles.

"Well, at least they've got healthy libidos for being dead," Faraj smiles, wondering what this means but hiding his concern: "I'll keep my eyes open."

And with that he's out and gone, thinking he knows what's going on, here.

And not liking it a single bit.

 (SPYGOD is listening to "My Kingdom" (Future Sound of London) and having an Orion Zero Life)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Missing Time: 11/28/12 - This Is What You Are - Pt. 3

10/04/12
Yekaterinburg, Russia
 

"You do not understand our story, O SPYGOD," Orange and Gold says, ever-smiling: "You know only the edges of it. You know nothing of who we were, or how we came to be here, or why. You see our actions as evil, perhaps monstrous, but you of all people should know that a people will do anything to survive."

"And you should !@#$ing understand that we might have helped you, if you'd just !@#$ing asked," SPYGOD says: "All you ever had to !@#$ing do was ask for help."

"That is not in our nature, O SPYGOD."

"Well, neither is rolling over and dying, O !@#$face. We will also do anything to survive. And if there's one thing I can do, it's do anything." 

"You can, indeed. We have clearly underestimated you, O SPYGOD. It will not happen again."

SPYGOD smiles as the Specials re-aim their guns right at him.

"Just so you know," SPYGOD says, looking right at the Imago: "Everything that !@#$ing happens from here on out? That's on you. All of you."

"It is indeed," the Imago says, and gives the order to fire.

The Specials make ready to pull their triggers. Their gauss rifles -- capable of killing even SPYGOD -- hum and hiss.

SPYGOD outstretches his arms, as if he is ready to embrace death at last.

And then, just before the super-swift, heated projectiles can turn him into a hot, gay BBQ, he does something no one's seen him do since just after the War -- he pulls a shining, silvery sword out of nowhere, and puts it down between himself and his foes.

Except that it's not much of a sword, anymore; It's big and bulky, oblong and misshapen. It almost looks like it's developed cancer from disuse, or something. 

As SPYGOD positions it, and quickly ducks down behind it, he forces the sword to expand even more. It becomes an aegis of sorts, creating a barrier between himself and his enemies. 

And as soon as it's as wide as he thinks he can make it, he holds still and prays that this will still work.

That the shooting doesn't happen right away he puts down to their surprise. That it doesn't happen a second or two after they should have stopped being surprised is, itself, quite surprising. But then the seconds roll by, one into another, and SPYGOD realizes that they should have tried to kill him by now.

So he very carefully looks up, creating a small hole in the shield so he can see what's going on.

What he sees is the last thing he saw before he pulled the sword out and ducked down. The Imago, floating. The Specials, aiming. The guns, ready to fire. 

"Well that's !@#$ weird," he says, still not daring to move.

Yes, it is, a voice answers him. He quickly spins to see who it is, and is mystified by what he sees there.

"Who the !@#$ are you?" he asks, searching for an appropriate gun to aim  at the wavering, indistinct figure.

A friend, the presence says, walking past SPYGOD and his sword-turned-shield, and heading for the Specials and their Imago master: I know that sort of answer doesn't make you happy, but a longer explanation would be... well, longer. And you don't have a lot of time. 

"I seem to have a !@#$ing lot of it, all of a sudden," SPYGOD says, watching as the Presence quickly (but carefully) repositions each and every Special so that their guns are pointed at one another: "Are you... I mean, you look kind of !@#$ing familiar, but-"

Here's the deal, (REDACTED), the presence says, surprising SPYGOD by using his real name: As soon as they realize that these people haven't caught you, they're going to use Deep-Ten to wipe out this entire area, just to get to you.

"Unacceptable," SPYGOD growls, still thinking of that train full of doomed people: "We have to stop it-"

We can't. The best we can do is give you time to get out of here.

"What, you mean you can !@#$ing stop time, but you can't !@#$ing do anything to save these people?" SPYGOD shouts, aiming his gun at the figure as he makes the sword-shield go away: "That's bull!@#$, pal. If you can stop time like this, there's got to be something we can do-"

There is, the presence says, sliding over to where SPYGOD stands -- faster than he can see, much less hope to pull the trigger: you can shut up, trust me, and go for a ride. 

And then they're somewhere else entirely. But as soon as SPYGOD realizes that someplace is most likely in Japan -- in an abandoned building, far from prying electronic eyes -- the presence has all but vanished.

"Well, !@#$," SPYGOD says, putting away the gun and looking out the window. He's just in time to hear the Earth's atmosphere part as a pulse cannon touches down, over in Russia.

"!@#$," he mutters, not at all happy at how this rather !@#$ty day has gone.

* * *

Which is how you got to Japan without anyone knowing you were there, the Presence says, patting SPYGOD on the cheek as more of his lungs goosh out of his upside-down mouth: But you had it right. You had seen me before. Sort of.

SPYGOD coughs some more, glaring up at the mysterious figure -- a being not even the Chandra Eye can clearly make out.

That's right. I was at Bastogne, too. I didn't appear until you walked away to try and relieve yourself. And by the time you found out the hallway went on forever, and decided to just use the wall, it was all over

But you did catch sight of me, didn't you? Maybe just a little while you shook the last few drips away. Just enough that, when I helped you, last month, you weren't completely surprised to see me.

And then there was that dream, the Presence goes on, getting a little more comfortable, beside SPYGOD's head: Except... wait, that hasn't happened yet. But it will. And soon.

A quizzical look, even through extreme pain.

Sorry, (REDACTED). When it comes to time, I'm on the outside looking in, most of the time. You might see our meetings as a linear progression, since that's how you experience time, but it's more than likely that my schedule for meeting you is well out of synch with yours. 

I go where I'm needed, when I need to be there, and the rest of the time I'm just looking down, or inside, or beyond. 

Yes, I know it sounds confusing, the Presence sighs, still reading puzzlement on SPYGOD's pained face: But believe it or not we have had this conversation, before. Several of them. In fact, while I haven't had them yet, you have had them with me, in my future. Which is your past.

SPYGOD's eye goes wide at that.

Took you long enough, the Presence says, dropping the blurring field. His face is a fantastic silver mask, and his high-tech costume is also silver -- shimmering and glittering and gleaming in the sun.

It's Shift.

"You..." SPYGOD coughs, trying to reach out a hand.

"Yes," Shift says, reaching out to take it: "It is me, my friend. It has been me, all along. And even when it hasn't been, it has."

SPYGOD tries to say he doesn't understand, but fails to overcome the stream of goo rushing from his chest to his mouth.

"I know," he says: "You saw me die, then. You see me live, now. I sounded different, then. I am different, now. Two limited lifetimes, one immortal life. Such is the nature of godhood, when all is said and done."

"Don't... you aren't..."

"I am," Shift says, tapping his chest: "All we ever were was an idea made flesh. And you of all people should know that ideas are very hard to kill or destroy, even if Heaven decides otherwise. If all else fails, we just find a new body to exist within.

"And thanks to you, I have done just that."

SPYGOD coughs some more, twitching.

"Yes, I know. You have more questions. And I promised you secrets. But first, let us look at yours."

With that, Shift gets up, and spreads his hands wide across the scene. As he does, it's filled with tiny, shimmering windows in space and time: pockets of places and scenes from long ago, or not too long ago.

And in those small replayings of times past, SPYGOD sees himself -- however inverted.

He sees his earliest days as a hero, fighting supernazis on the road to Berlin. He sees himself sneaking around behind the Iron Curtain, after the War. He sees himself in Korea, Vietnam, South and Central America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia.

He sees himself with the Liberty League, the Freedom Force, and the COMPANY. He sees himself with heroes and villains, spies and freedom fighters, destabilizers and nation builders. With President after President, and politicians and appointees galore.

He sees himself running the COMPANY. He sees himself fleeing from it. He sees himself trying to recreate it, however restrained by this new, post-Imago world order.

He sees himself sober and drunk, happy and sad, angry and angrier. He sees himself !@#$ing, !@#$ing, and !@#$ing.

And all the while, as he watches, he sees himself in charge. He sees himself making decisions, for good or ill. He sees himself giving commands, either knowing their consequences or no longer caring. He sees himself doing what needs to be done, however flawed his understanding of what led to these events, or how they might play out.

He sees a man he was, there. He hardly recognizes him, now.

"And that is the problem, isn't it," Shift asks, waving at one example in particular: "Look at yourself, here, (REDACTED). All that hard work you had to do to get the underground armies of the world on your side for that last battle against the Imago. All those deals, all those promises, all those bargains and tricks and called-in favors...

"Oh, look," he says, pointing to one particularly hair-raising negotiation: "You do make a very convincing Chinese prostitute. If I didn't know you as well as I did, even I might have been fooled."

SPYGOD tries to say something but the words get caught on something. It might actually be his diaphragm, oozing into what's left of his throat.

"Yes, I know," Shift goes on: "You really put yourself on the line for that one, and Gods only know how you are ever going to pay that back, much less live it down.

"But that is the point. You didn't even stop to think about any of that, did you? You just looked through your little black book, kicked down doors, and got what you wanted."

"Had to..." SPYGOD croaks, wondering how much more lung he can lose at this point: "No one else..."

"Exactly!" Shift all but shouts, pointing back at him: "That is exactly it, my friend. No one else can do these things. No one else is you. This is your calling. This is who you are.

"This is what you are," Shift continues, stepping in closer and continuing on: "You are the one who makes it happen, (REDACTED). You make the hard choices, the impossible decisions. You throw your life on the line because no one else will do it.

"And that's why all... this," he says, gesturing to the dead and dying around them: "Is so massively disappointing. Because you could have done much better, my friend. So much better than this."

SPYGOD grits his teeth: "So could... you-"

"Could I? Is this my thing to do? I patrol time and space, friend. I deal with things even you can't see, and problems even you can't imagine.

"In fact, as we are speaking, I am several different places at once. A clutch of chronovores are sliding into New Zealand. A time paradox is threatening at the South Pole. Certain safeguards and stopgaps I had put in place, in ages past, need to be checked up on and reinforced this very second, this very day. Locks must be checked, barriers strengthened, the fabric of reality shored up...

"That is my calling, my friend. And while I am happy to help you with yours, when I need to, the rest of the time... well, I'm really busy.  And besides, how would you have taken if if I had just appeared, while you were putting this plan together, and told you it wouldn't work?"

Not very well, SPYGOD has to admit. But then...

"Yes, here I am, berating you on your bad plan, after all. But let us consider this an intervention-"

"Liked you better... when you didn't... !@#$ing... talk..."

"I know. And I am sorry. But this time, it is necessary. And not just because of the dead, here, but because of what it signifies for times to come.

"You've done this before, you know," Shift says, gesturing to the remade nation he's just assassinated: "Gone it alone. Been so angry at your circumstances and orders and leaders that you've ignored all the friends and allies you have, and all the resources at your beck and call, and just strapped on all the guns you can fit onto your jumpsuit, and whatever else you can fit into your sword..."

He looks back at SPYGOD, smiling: "And that, by the way, was a stroke of genius. All those times you amazed people by putting things out of nowhere? They were just all hidden in your sword, all along. That was good thinking on your part, (REDACTED)."

"Thanks..." SPYGOD coughs: "Thought so... myself... !@#$..."

"Of course, it did lead to you having to rely on guns, but maybe that's not such a bad thing, given your profession."

"Can't stab someone from... half a mile away..."

"This is true," Shift continues, stepping through a small portal between two images and reappearing beside SPYGOD's tree: "That is not one of your skills. Not yet, anyway."

"What...?"

"Ah, I forget myself," Shift chuckles: "But then, so have you, (REDACTED). Consider what you have to play with. Consider who you can call for aid. You have geniuses and madmen. You have heroes and villains. You have a demon and an angel, for God's sake.

"Do you not think of of them could have found a way to save these people, somehow?"

No. He doesn't. He grits his teeth and closes his eyes.

"But yet, you went it alone. You told no one, except for your lover. You commandeered the people you needed to destroy that woman's extra bodies. You took the dangerous things out of storage.

"And then you came here, and killed millions of people, just because you did not want to get anyone else involved in your mistake."

"My mistake..." SPYGOD says: "I let her out... she got free..."

"Yes, but it was not completely your fault she did so. She had help, voluntary and otherwise. And just as you did not need to shoulder the entire blame and responsibility,  yourself, neither did you need to solve the problem all by yourself. Plans work better when you get other people involved. You should know that by now."

"Not always..."

"Well, how about this, then?" Shift says, gesturing to himself: "This is the result of one of your better plans, SPYGOD. This is what happens when you really think about what to do, and how to do it, and who to use to get what you need done.

"I am here, today, because of you."

And before SPYGOD can cough up anything else, the Super-God does something that, in all the years they've known one another, he has never seen this man do.

He takes off the mask.

Beneath the gleaming, smiling silver is the face of a youngish man -- and a familiar one at that. It takes SPYGOD a moment to realize who it is, as the last time he saw him he was much younger, and was most certainly not smiling.

"Questions, yes," Simon Pure says, his face flickering: "But I have talked enough for one day. It is enough for you to know that, when the time is right, you and Mr. USA really do need to have a talk about what happened to him, and to me."

With that he gestures, and the many pockets of times gone past disappear. And he kneels down and holds SPYGOD's head up, looking into his eyes.

"Let this be a sacrifice, (REDACTED)" Shift pleads with him: "Let this be the end of your old mistakes. Let what comes from this be the penance you pay for them. Let what springs forth from this be the start of something entirely new and different.

"Learn from this, SPYGOD," Shift whispers, putting his mask back on: "Heal and learn."

And he's gone, and there's nothing but the tree, the dead, and SPYGOD -- somewhere between all of them.

* * *

He hangs on the tree for nine hours, not sure if he's going to live or die -- not even certain that the conversation he just had was real or imagined.

By the end of that time -- reasonably certain that he's no longer in danger of choking on his own fluid -- he carefully pulls himself up, and stands on his own two feet again. 

Walking to the shore is painful, both physically and otherwise. With each step he sees the dead, arrayed around him. He can hear no heartbeats, here. No one has survived this holocaust but himself.

At the shore, he sees one last echo of Zalea, lying face-down on the beach. A massive bloom of brownish-red sand lies beneath her head -- a tombstone of sorts, and an accusation.

For a moment he almost kneels down to pull her head from her shoulders, just so he can have the head of another enemy on his wall. But he realizes that would be a bad idea. For all he knows, she might be able to resurrect herself from even that.

So he leaves her be -- taking only a second to flip her the bird -- and then wanders into the surf, wondering if anything can make him clean, today. 

Anything at all. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Pure (Gary Numan, demo version) and having a lot of shame)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Missing Time: 11/28/12 - This Is What You Are - Pt. 2

"So that's the Nation of Atlas, huh?" SPYGOD said some time later, as the car came to a stop in a lot in the center of Jerusalem, overlooking the remade nation he'd just invaded: "Guys doing all the brute work, girls doing the smart stuff, and no kids?"

"Oh, most of the children are in school, right now," the frontseat Zalea Zathros explained, allowing her backseat self to continue making out with Tish: "But we've gotten a few of them up here, just so this can be seen by a suitable representation of the populace."

"You want to go for an all-in-the-family vibe when you try and kill me," SPYGOD snorted, lighting up another cigarette and looking out the window at all the people that had assembled there, in the lot. The eager look on their faces was !@#$ed unnerving.

"That's a rather crude way to put it, but, yes," frontseat Zalea admitted, opening the gull-wing doors on both sides: "If you'd be good enough to exit the vehicle?"

SPYGOD did, making sure to get a good look around as he did. It was a circular lot, fenced in, with some lethargic olive trees along the periphery. From here you could get a good view of things, and that was probably why she'd chosen this.

That and the center spot was probably in the path of several of her heat beams.

He'd figured that was going to be the end of the guided tour she'd been good enough to give him. All the way from Ashdod, she'd been going on and on about all the great things they'd accomplished since she'd revived the nation. All their societal and technological advances, all their plans for the future. All that stock-standard, gloating supervillain bull!@#$.

He hadn't been listening, though. He'd been looking out the world at the transformed cities, and remembering things that had happened there, both to and around him.

They'd passed a cafe where he'd once told Golda Meir's personal secretary to suck the !@#$ from his !@#$hole, over something that was still !@#$ing classified, all these years later. They'd gone by the building that now stood in the spot where Molchanie once ran their strategic talents program, before one of their own people had rendered it uninhabitable by normal humans. The bar where he'd toasted certain HAGANAH agents for catching up to a rather hideous Nazi war criminal in 1969.

(The sad street in Tel Aviv where BUSH had killed Geri and Johan -- the loss still heartbreaking, even after all this time.)

All those times, all that history -- all of it was gone, now, except as minor pieces in the minds of the frankensteined people that now labored to rework and perfect this transformed nation.

And with each mile -- as one Zalea had essentially kissed a mirror right next to him, while another kept talking and talking -- his stomach had become exponentially sour, and he found himself wishing he'd just done what he'd wanted to do, the moment he'd watched Zalea's televised announcement about what she'd done here.

Nuke the whole !@#$ thing from orbit, just to be !@#$ing sure.

* * *

Yes, and that would have helped... how, exactly? the Presence asks him, taking him through the day's events one step at a time: Just scattered their ashes and atoms, again? Sent waves of radiation down onto the neighbors? Made the world just that much more damaged, especially after what the Imago did to it?

SPYGOD tried to talk, but couldn't. It was all he could do to keep breathing, what with his lungs dissolving almost as fast as they could heal. 

You see, that's always been your problem, the Presence continued: They say that when all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, all you tend to have in your toolbox is weapons. Even that sword you don't use, much, anymore? Imagine all the things you could do with that, if you'd just expand your mind a little.

A sour look from SPYGOD.

Oh, I know. Believe me, I know all the work you've put into the spy game, (REDACTED).  All those plots and plans. All those schemes and conspiracies. It's just delicious how much time and trouble you put into making that huge web of cause and effect, and all the little things that happened when one strand or another got pulled on.

But in the end, there's only one thing that can happen with you. One final solution... if you'll excuse the phrase, especially in these circumstances. And that's that, sooner or later, when everything else fails, there's just you, and a gun.
And some poor fellow who walks right into two bullets, right to the eyes.

The presence tapped his obscured peepers for extra effect.

Case in point, what's happened here today, it said, gesturing to the dead and dying: All these poor people. They had no idea what happened to them when they died, and had no way to avoid coming back. And then you come here, today, and all you can bring them is death. 

More angry looks, coupled with a few weak coughs as the bloody stream of lung-mush gets even worse.

Well, perhaps, and perhaps not. But you know what they say about shooting guns, (REDACTED). You fire off one just big enough, and it goes around the world and comes right back to hit you.

With that, the presence made a gun of its fingers and thumb: "Bang, you're dead," I think you said?

And what could he possibly say to that?

* * *

"So, how do you plan to keep the rest of the world out?" SPYGOD asked, looking off into the distance, towards Egypt -- seeing the far-off TU troops massed there, waiting.

"The same way we'll be dealing with you," some of the people closer to him replied, holding up their hands. As they did, a heat beam arced from a tall building, striking the ground right in front of one of the TU's hovertanks.

"Well, that's pretty effective," he admits, watching the TU's line move back, quick as it can: "But aren't you worried they'll ask for their people back?"

"What people?" other people asked, holding up compact video cameras -- all trained on him.

"Well, it wasn't just Israelis and Palestinians who were killed here, that day," SPYGOD said, looking around: "Lots of tourists, even then. I'm sure their countries would like their ashes back... however animated they might be-"

"We didn't return them to life," backseat Zalea admits: "Just so we could avoid that little problem, in fact."

"Well, that was !@#$ing smart," SPYGOD admitted, winking at the nearest camera.

"So what did you think of our new society?" the many people there asked as one: "Is it not glorious? Is it not everything we've promised?"

"It's contradictory bull!@#$," SPYGOD pronounced, playing to the cameras: "You claim you're following in Ayn Rand footsteps? That's bull!@#$. As much as I hated that !@#$, I have to give her credit for upholding the individual over the state. But here? There's no individuals. Just one person."

He points to the backseat Zalea as she exits the vehicle after Tish.

"Oh, that's not really fair," she said, coming closer to him and indicating that he should stand in the center of the lot: "We've achieved something unique, here. We've created a true over-mind. Many minds, all operating together, sharing ideas and memories, innovations and inventions..."

"All under your control," he insisted: "That's not in keeping with the idea of the individual being free from force."

"I think you're failing to see the possibilities."

"And I think I've listened to enough of my boyfriend's early Rush LPs to know you're full of !@#$, Zalea," SPYGOD insisted: "But then, most so-called Objectivists are, anyway. I don't know why you'd be any !@#$ing different."

"Well, I guess we can't expect intelligence from someone who gets his information from concept albums."

He just smiled at that, and then looked at Tish: "Well, let's see what I can find out from real !@#$ing life, shall we?"

"How do you propose to do that?" Zalea asked.

"Tish?" SPYGOD asked, turning to look at the reanimated woman.

"Yes?" the woman answered, stepping forward.

"Zalea says you're an individual, and you can think for yourself. Is that right?"

"Yes-"

"Then what's your husband's name?" SPYGOD demanded, stepping towards her and staring her in the eyes.

There was a moment of confusion, and then she answered: "Amir-"

"How old are your children?"

"Seven and... and..."

"What are their names?" he asked, watching her grow even more confused: "What's their blood type? What cartoons do they like? When's the last time you were !@#$ing proud of them?"

The woman stammered and looked around, uncertain -- knowing that the memories should be there, but just weren't.

"An individual, huh?" SPYGOD snorted, turning to look at the backseat Zalea: "She can't even !@#$ing remember the name of the man she's had two !@#$ kids with, lady. God only knows what else you lost along the way."

The crowd murmured for a moment, and then all smiled and golf-clapped.

"You keep bringing that point up, SPYGOD," they said in unison: "I fail to see why."

"Because she's not alive," SPYGOD insisted, looking around at the cameras: "You're all dead, all of you. This !@#$ took your DNA and brought you back, and she can !@#$ing slip into you like a hand into a !@#$ glove. But you died that day. Your soul's gone on to someplace else.

"And some !@#$ing !@#$ with a god!@#$ god complex is walking you around so she can have her big !@#$ utopia at last!"

"I think that's enough of that, then," backseat Zalea said, stepping forward: "We've been polite, even to the likes of you, but this is where the hospitality ends."

"I thought I still had three days before I stank like fish?"

"Oh no," Zalea said, putting an arm around Tish and kissing her ear: "All those years in that awful hole, never expecting to leave it? I swore vengeance against you, SPYGOD. And now I'm going to get it, and you're going to take it."

"Really?" he said, smiling: "You don't think I'd come here without a backup plan, do you?"

"What could you possibly do?" She asked, smiling just as wide: "How can you fight a foe made of people? Will you kill all these people, here and now, on camera?"

"Eventually," SPYGOD said, a glowing sword appearing in his right hand: "But first? I'm going to kill you."

"Oh, look," the crowd laughed, pointing in unison to his weapon: "The mighty man, hiding behind his penis extension. Do you think you can chop your way through all of us with that-"

Suddenly, they all stopped talking. Then they all cocked their head to the side, looking askance as they did so.

And then they all looked hurt and helpless, as if something precious had been taken from them by a thief too large to stop, too fast to chase.

"That'll be my TU strike team in Barcelona," SPYGOD announced, holding up the sword: "Next up is Minsk. Then Rio."

"No," they all gasped, and then twitched twice as each pronouncement came true.

"See, I know how this !@#$ing game is played, Zalea," SPYGOD said, his sword suddenly changing its shape -- becoming thicker and shorter: "You'd never have your remote bodies anywhere near something like this, just in case someone called your !@#$ bluff and decided to nuke your nasty !@#$ from orbit. So you'd scatter them far and wide, like always, and normally we'd never be able to find them all without a lot of !@#$ time and work, since the signals are so !@#$ faint.

"But that's when you're running maybe 50 bodies? Not a couple million. You need a lot of signal to make that happen. And while it's still too !@#$ing faint for most things to detect, well..."

He tapped his eye, under his eyepatch: "Let's just say I !@#$ing did."

The crowd got very angry, then -- infuriated tenfold with each new twinge as another hidden body died. Then they twitched one more time, and screamed in utter despair.

"That'd be St. Louis, right near the Arch," SPYGOD surmised, doing something with his shrinking sword: "The last body. You're on your own, here, Zalea. Just you and your meat puppets. All you little !@#$ing Frankensteins."

"We'll tear you apart, you pousti," they all shouted, taking a step forward -- hands raised to do the deed: "And then we'll kill a tenth of us, just to show the world their error."

"I think we can !@#$ing do better than that, Zalea," SPYGOD said, holding up a pair of small, metal canisters -- each no longer than a pop can -- and popping the top on each can.

"What is that?" the clones asked as they stopped, and took half a step back.

"That, Zalea, is what we !@#$ing call 'blowback,'" he replied, scowling: "Remember back in the day, when you needed !@#$ing money for your early operations, after we froze your !@#$ accounts? Remember those weird German !@#$s you met with, and the bio-weapons tech you gave them? The viruses that homed in on specific genetic markers?"

There's a gasp, and then they all held their hands up to their mouths: "You didn't."

"That's just it, Zalea. I didn't. You did. You gave ABWEHR the means to drop viruses on Israel that would kill anyone with any !@#$ing Jewish blood in them. Even the slightest little drop. And you even threw in the !@#$ Arabs, just in case they wanted to scorch the !@#$ing Earth and salt it when they were done.

"Well, maybe you forgot about it, mostly because even those Nazi !@#$s were smart enough to hold off on using them as a final straw. But they !@#$ing kept them, Zalea, just in case. And when we stormed the Ice Palace, last year? I !@#$ing found them. And I took them somewhere safe and hid them, planning to !@#$ing destroy them.

"But, you know, with everything that's !@#$ing happened? I just never got the chance."

"And here they are," he said, holding the opened canisters out, revealing that each one bears German writing, and a bio-hazard symbol interspersed with a swastika: "You've been breathing them in for about a minute, now. They should start working in another minute."

"What?" the crowd said, some of them looking very ill.

"Short version?" SPYGOD said, making guns with his index fingers as he continued to hold onto his deadly cargo: "Bang. You're dead."

And then he laughed -- long and black. 

The crowd was no longer leering, nor threatening. All the faces that were of one, menacing expression just a second ago -- as they surrounded SPYGOD where he stood -- now shared one of fear. All those hijacked bodies took a step back, and then another, holding their hands up to their faces.

All of those voices screamed "no" -- many mouths, one mind.

One soul that realized it was about to meet its maker.

SPYGOD dropped the small, metal canisters to the ground. As they pinged and bounced on the concrete, he wondered: how much blood has been spilled over its ownership?

None more than today, he realized, watching as his enemy started to die

He wanted to stop looking as the men, women, and children of an entire nation fell down dying around him, but he could not. He wanted to stop hearing their wet and ragged screams, but his ears betrayed him.

He had to see and hear this because there was no way to tune out or block it. Her could not, and dared not. It was his penance -- his karmic payment having to do such a horrible thing.

For a moment, he thought he was crying. But then he coughed once, then again.

Then he looked at his hand and realized there was blood, there.

"What the !@#$ing !@#$?" tried to say, but it all came out bloody and ragged, pieces of his lungs flying up into his mouth...

* * *

Did you even know your Great-Grandmother was Jewish? the Presence asked, looking at him as the stream of blood gets even worse, somehow: Or was that just not discussed around the table in your Catholic living room?

More coughing, more blood. Now maybe some tears to go with it.

Ah, I see. Your grandmother never talked about her. And, given how she was, you never asked her. That makes perfect sense, now, (REDACTED). Just another mystery in a family full of them.

Only now, that mystery is going to kill you, it says, looking away: And just how ironic is that?

It pats SPYGOD on the side of the head, and then leans in to whisper -- But before you die? We have Some secrets of our own, you and I. Big secrets. The kind that change destinies and shake the world.

And I'm going to make sure you live long enough to tell me yours before I show you mine.

(SPYGOD is listening to Pure (Gary Numan) and having... lung junk. Lots and lots of it.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Missing Time: 11/28/12 - This Is What You Are - Pt. 1


11/28/12
Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine
14:48

First there is nothing in SPYGOD's world but pain -- intense and searing, like the noonday sun in the desert.

It is his beginning and his end. So all-encompassing that he has forgotten how he came to this pain, or what has caused it. So amazingly complete that he wonders if he has finally died and gone to the Hell he's sent so many others to, over the years.

(Is that hell, he wonders: punishment without explanation? Pain without prologue?)

But, gradually, pieces of that blazing pain break down and away, so that other things can appear.

There is sound as hundreds of invisible others cough uncontrollably -- unable to scream as their bodies betray them. There is an intense, red smell as they void blood and filth from their ripped, billowing mouths. There is the sticky feel of that blood, carried on the breeze, and the horrid taste of what's coming from his own lips.

And then there is sight, as a mysterious, shimmering figure -- upside down, along with the rest of the world -- strides around the bodies of the stricken, walking towards him as though they weren't even there.

It's time, (REDACTED), the presence says to SPYGOD as an entire nation dies around them, felled by a deadly virus.

"Like !@#$ it is," he says between ragged, red coughs as he hangs upside-down from an olive tree -- his lungs turning to mush in his chest almost faster than he can heal them.

Being upside-down the only thing saving his life. 

No, it is, the presence gently insists, carefully walking up to him so as to avoid the stream of chunky, bright blood that's flowing from SPYGOD's nose and mouth like water from a weak firehose: This conversation's been scheduled since the day you put that eye in your head. You were always going to be here. I was always going to join you.

And we were always going to have this talk.

"I got... !@#$ing nothing to say,"

Wouldn't that be a first?  Well, maybe when I say "talk" I really mean "I talk, and you listen." And for once that's just about all you can do.

"!@#$ you," SPYGOD hacks, wondering if he's just hallucinating this. Is the virus melting his brain along with his lungs?

(What all does this !@#$ do?)

No. No hallucinations, the presence says, kneeling down so as to have his cloudy and indistinct head next to SPYGOD's: I promise you, (REDACTED), this is as real as it gets. I am here. You are here.

And they are dying around you because you couldn't think of any other way to stop her. 

And SPYGOD looks around them -- seeing men, women, and children writhe on the ground, bleeding out through their mouths -- and finally allows himself to admit the depth of his mistake.

And that, if he dies here and now, it would be highly justified.

* * *

"Welcome to the Nation of Atlas, SPYGOD," Zalea Zathros said as he stepped out of his personal torpedo, shaking the wet from his black leather jumpsuit as he did.

Of course, it wasn't exactly her standing on the beach at Ashdod. It was some large woman, dressed in a skintight, white jumpsuit padded with sophisticated electronic gear. But she spoke in her voice, and her mannerisms were exactly the same.

She was a meat-puppet, just like everyone else within the borders of what had once been Israel and Palestine.

"Not much of a !@#$ing welcome wagon," SPYGOD snorted, lighting up a cigarette and looking around: "Did I actually slip under your !@#$ radar, for once?"

"No," the woman answered, taking a step closer to him: "We saw you coming well before you got to the Terre Unifee's blockade. We just chose to allow you to land. You're really not as threatening as you seem to think you are."

"That remains to be seen," he said, scowling at her: "This person. What's her name?"

"I'm Tish Allon," the woman replied in her own voice, her own mannerisms coming through as well: "I'm a first level computer engineer, assigned to improving our data infrastructure."

"Well, ain't that just !@#$ing spiffy," SPYGOD spat, walking past her and looking around, observing all the new, high-tech construction: "'Assigned.' Like you had any choice about !@#$ing anything, after she turned you into an extension of herself."

"I'm alive," Tish said, walking up to him as he strides away from the beach, and towards the road beyond: "Isn't that enough?"

"Not in my book, it isn't."

"Easy for you to say, mister. You weren't here, that day. You didn't see what happened to us. To me..."

She fell silent, then, looking askance. 

"What happened to you, Tish?" SPYGOD asks, turning back to look at her as he taps some ashes out.

"The Imago... they cornered my family in a cafe, that day," Tish said, her eyes becoming red and wet as she did: "At first, I thought they just wanted to talk to us. But then I heard the screams from outside, and saw what was happening. And..."

"Go on," SPYGOD said, tossing his smoke away: "Please." 

She looked away, but then shook her head and went on with her story: "They ripped my husband's head from his shoulders, like he was a doll. They used their eyebeams on my children, leaving me holding piles of dust. And then they decided to kick me through the glass window, just to conserve power.

"I died screaming and in pain, bleeding on the streets while they floated above them, turning people to ashes. I think one of them might have stepped on my head, at the end. Or maybe I'm just imagining it."

SPYGOD nodded, and stepped forward to hug her. She tentatively allowed the embrace, and soon began weeping onto his shoulder. He stood there for quite some time -- his arms around her, his hand on the back of her head.

"I am sorry," he said after a time.

"For what?" she asked.

"That this happened to you," he said, slowly disengaging from the hug: "That you were !@#$ing victimized by those metal-plated !@#$s. That you got victimized again-"

"How can this be victimization?" Tish asked, shaking head head: "I'm alive, !@#$ it! I think, I feel, I-"

There was flurry of movement, and then a loud BANG, and then Tish Allon was lying on the ground -- her forehead a wet, red ruin from where the bullet had entered.

SPYGOD put the gun away, and then checked his watch. One second, two, five, ten. By the time it got to 15, the red mess he'd made of Tish's forehead was mostly healed, and her eyes were focusing on him. After a full minute she was wiping the muck from her totally-healed skull, and slowly getting up, as if she'd just fallen asleep. 

"And what did you think that would prove?" SPYGOD heard Zalea ask through Tish, as well as all the mouths of all the people nearby, over the bluff before the road.

"You're so !@#$ing smart, you figure it out," SPYGOD said, extending a hand to the woman he just shot, so as to help her up the rest of the way. She thanked him by slapping him full across the face. 

"You're pathetic," she said in her own voice: "I feel sorry for you."

"I am sorry for you," he said, tapping her forehead: "How can this be life, Tish? I just shot you dead. You just came back. That's not !@#$ing life, hon. And I oughta !@#$ing know."

 "Did you come all this way to kill one woman?" the voices demanded.

"No," SPYGOD said, lighting up another smoke and turning around in a circle to face his many accusers: "I came all this way to kill you, you nasty !@#$ing !@#$. If I have to return all these poor !@#$s you brought back to life while I'm doing it, I'm more than prepared."

Then he turned back around, and continued on towards the road, Tish not far behind him As he crested the hill of the beach, he looked around at the newly-reborn city, and watched as every person that could see him suddenly turned in unison to regard him.

"This is not life, you stupid !@#$holes!" he shouted to the men and women on the street, all wearing white jumpsuits padded with electronic gear: "This is slavery! This is living death! You've all been !@#$ing Frankensteined!"

"And we're so happy to be that way," every single person announced, all in her voice.

A high tech, luxury car pulled up before he could say anything else. Inside of it were two Zaleas -- one driving and another sitting in the back.

"Get in, (REDACTED)," the one in the back gently commanded as the door gull-winged open: "And lose your weapons, please."

"Or what?" he asked, flicking his cigarette at her face.

A beam of light arced from one of the buildings, just then -- incinerating the cigarette less than a foot from his fingertips. Then another beam came, going over his head and towards the beach.

He heard something explode, back there, and knew it was his personal torpedo.

"A heat beam, capable of destroying you," the Zalea behind the wheel explained, smiling: "You're currently surrounded by twenty of them, and they're everywhere, here. I could kill you at any time."

"So cooperate, please," the Zalea in the back added, somewhat languidly: "I have a lot I'd like to show you before this comes to its logical conclusion." 

"Well, okay then," SPYGOD chuckled, beginning the process of stripping off his many weapons. His pistol, his other pistol, his other other pistol. Micro-grenades, macro-grenades, stun-grenades. Tasers, masers. Laser pistol. Knife after knife after knife. The sword no one knew he carried. 

Even the !@#$ build-a-gun -- dropped down to the sand at his feet.

"That good enough, or you want to go up my !@#$ with a camera?" he asked, holding his hands up.

"I think you'd like that too much," the Zalea in the back replied, gesturing to the seat: "Tish, you first. Sit next to me."

Tish seemed really happy to accommodate that directive, for reasons SPYGOD didn't need to wonder about for long. The moment he got in, behind her, the backseat Zalea began to kiss her passionately, as though she was a long-lost lover, seen for the first time in years.

And then they were all in the car and driving off into the Nation of Atlas, its many perfections on display.

* * *

Are you back with us, (REDACTED)? the presence asks, running its hand before SPYGOD's blood-soaked face: For a moment there I thought you were out of it, again.

"Still here..." SPYGOD gurgles: "Wish you weren't."

Well, we can't always get what we want. If we could, you'd have been smarter, today.

"!@#$ you."

I'd ask if that was the best you could do, but given all this... well...

"And you could have done better?" SPYGOD tries to say, angry at how squished and helpless it sounds -- like a whimper.

Given time? Yes. But I have a unique perspective on this. For me, it's already happened. For you, it's just now taking place.

In retrospect, I can see a dozen ways to have avoided this sorry mess, and what's going to come after. But I have a different set of tools in my box than you do.

SPYGOD tries to tell him what to do with his !@#$ing box, and where to cram it. What comes out is a pathetic mewl mixed with bloody vomit.

I'm sure you'd like me to! the presence responds, smiling a little: And maybe, if you weren't dying by your own hand, you'd even try to shove it on up there. Gods know, I've had worse offers.

But here you are, dying on a tree. Your last moments in this world spent as upside-down as you've lived your life since you put that eye in your head. Since you decided to be a God, rather than a man.

More gurgling, and more blood.

Yes, I can see that's worked out for you. Pretty well, all in all. You've saved the world dozens of times. Saved your country millions of times. All the things they say about you, they're true. Especially the good things.

But what about you, (REDACTED)? What about your soul? What about your future? What are you going to do when you can't just tell people you killed Hitler, so their argument is invalid? What are you going to do when you can't bully a President around, or work behind his back? When there is no COMPANY, when there are no allies, no victims, no patsies?

What are you going to do when even your immortality fails you? the presence asks, pointing to the stream of bloody mush that's rushing from SPYGOD's face like a weak firehose: What's your plan for that?

And SPYGOD screams in pain and rage, if only to prove his plan is to live. 

Even if he doesn't think he deserves to, anymore. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Hybrid (Gary Numan) and drinking his own lung junk)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 3

In the dream, she is dancing, but someone else is singing with her mouth.

She's not herself, anymore. Her movements are not her own. Her words are strange to her. Her thoughts, unfamiliar things inside her skull.

Her body, a shadow cast by light from an alien Sun.

The robed women chant and stomp their feet in the dust of the ziara, calling up the patros and inviting them in. Some ride while others call, and then they change places. In and out, out and in, all through the day and the night.

Not her, though. She is not being let go of. She is being held here, within the embrace of the dust cloud.

She is becoming. 

I am you and you are me, the red spirit tells her as they mesh: We are together, now and always. You were always meant to be here. You were always meant to be me. 

She cannot say otherwise. She cannot say anything. It's too much, this merging. She is the ant in the flood, the butterfly in the monsoon.

Ciel?

The monkey in the trap. 

Above her, the sky turns red. The women chant louder, knowing what this means. She tries to scream, but it does no good.

Ciel?

And before long, she's not wanting to scream, but to simply howl to the bloody clouds and announce her arrival.

And exactly what that means for the world...

"Ciel?" Thomas asks, seeming genuinely concerned: "Are you alright?"

"Oh, sorry," Ciel Rouge says: "I was... elsewhere, for a time."

"We need you here and now, young lady," the Minister of Justice all but shouts, padding his sweaty forehead with a monogrammed, silk handkerchief: "This is getting out of hand."

"You agreed to this," Thomas reminds him.

"We all did," the President says, nodding as he rests his head in his hands: "How many more pages of questions do we have?"

"I think we are half-done," Ciel Rouge says, looking at the pad: "Wait, perhaps a little under half done."

The groan that comes up is palpable, and Thomas just smiles.

So far, none of the questions they've asked him have been too tricky to deal with. There's been a lot of cross-referencing, as he suspected, but nothing he couldn't anticipate or handle. Mostly questions about why he made this or that decision, or why this or that thing wasn't confiscated, and then only specific instances, rather than a long-term pattern.

The questions he'd asked in return, on the other hand, had been quite revealing.

So far, he'd gotten the Minister of Justice to reveal that, yes, he hates SPYGOD. He'd gotten the President to do the same thing. He'd even gotten them both to reveal why, though that wasn't too hard to figure out.

But some of the follow-ups had been quite intense and nerve-wracking, and he was beginning to feel guilty for taking some degree of pleasure out of this.

(Was this cruelty, or justice? Did the two ever wear each others' faces? He'd have to think about that.)

"So," Thomas says, leaning back: "Next question?"

"Please tell us why you agreed to allow SPYGOD and his lover to attend their New Years Party, using your body."

"Ah," Thomas says: "Well, let me answer the second part, first. Using my body, they were still at their apartment, essentially wrapped in a virtual reality suit. In that way, they could not slip anything to anyone, nor receive anything, and any illegal or questionable behavior on their part would be instantly noticed. I told them, ahead of time, that if they misbehaved, the party was over. They agreed to it, it happened, and it went rather well."

"So you say," the Minister insists: "I would like to see the tapes of this party. I want to hear their conversations, in their entirety."

"You haven't watched them?" Thomas asks: "I sent them to your office the morning after. Did you not receive them?"

"I received no such thing-"

"Actually, Mssr, you did," Eclat admits: "When it arrived, I thought it might be a virus. I dealt with it as such. My apologies." 

The Minister coughs, looking rather uncomfortable as he avoids the President's glare.

"Well," Thomas says: "I guess that answers that question, then."

"You have yet to fully answer yours," Ciel Rouge gently insists, bringing the conversation back on track: "There is the matter of why you allowed this to take place."

"Well, that goes hand-in-hand with a question I was going to ask later," Thomas says, looking at the President and the Minister: "Should SPYGOD be found guilty of these crimes against humanity he's been accused of, what sentence will you be recommending?"

"For everything he has done?" the Minister thunders: "The dead in Palestine? The dead children in the White Boxes of the Imago? The thousands killed as collateral damage in his ill-advised campaigns against the Imago, prior to the Reclamation War, itself? I would say there can be only one sufficient penalty, Mssr. Samuels. And that would be death."

"The death penalty," Thomas says: "You would go that far?"

"How could we not, under such circumstances?" Henri, the President's secretary, interjects: "Did you not see the death toll, Mssr? Have you not heard the cries of parents for their children? Children that could have been saved, if only he'd been willing to do things differently?"

"I think we all know about that, Henri," the President says, his eyes just a little more red than they were a moment ago. He puts a gentle hand on the man's arm, and his secretary calms down, though not without wiping his eyes.

"So, let me put it to you this way," Thomas answers: "If this man is on trial for his life, and is to be put to death for the murder of millions should be be found guilty, is he not entitled to a last request, or perhaps two? Should he simply be taken from the courtroom to... well, however you're going to kill him?"

"We have considered the means," the Minister says: "I believe a trip to the Sun will take care of him, given his... condition."

"You mean his regeneration," Thomas says: "It might work. I'm not entirely certain how far he can go before he comes back. But imagine looking up at the sun, one day, and having it look back at you?"

The silence is profound, just then. The President coughs and shakes his head: "So you let him have that party as a humanitarian gesture?"

"I did, yes. Even the most dangerous and depraved criminals are allowed compassionate leave to visit family funerals. Even Hitler would have been given conjugal visits. Why not let the man have one, last party with his remaining friends and colleagues before he gets launched into the sun?"

"Because the man is a criminal!" the Minister thunders: "He deserves no special treatment! He should receive no privileges or perks! He should be locked in a cell, down below the Earth, and be forgotten about until the time comes for him to answer for his crimes!"

"It sounds like you've already found him guilty," Thomas says.

"My opinion is not legally binding," the Minister scowls: "He will receive a fair trial-"

"Followed by a fair hanging," Thomas chuckles, looking at Ciel Rouge: "I don't think you need your powers to see the truth in that?"

"No," she admits, looking back at Thomas: "Just as I don't need my powers to see that you believe him to be innocent."

"I believe he made mistakes," Thomas clarifies: "That much is clear. I believe that he did some foolish things, yes, especially when it comes to not having told the President what happened to his family during the war, and the ultimatum. That was incredibly stupid and short-sighted. He should answer for that."

"And he will," the President insists: "He will." 

"But all these other things?" Thomas admits, gesturing to the pages the red-cloaked woman is holding: "Murders of people who were already dead, and being animated by an escaped super villain as hostages? Murders of children who were, so far as we can tell, also already dead, having been used by the Imago to power their empire? Murders of people who were slaughtered by the Imago for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while he was working to free our world from them?

"You'll excuse me, but one thing we learn, going into this lifestyle, is that sometimes you have to make sacrifices. You have to stop the primary threat at all costs, especially if it's a world-ending thing. If the city's in danger, you can't worry about the lives of a few people. If the world's in danger, you can't worry about the lives of a few cities. You try to minimize the loss of life as best you can, but if you have to choose between one and a hundred, or a hundred and a million, or millions and seven billion...?"

"You pick the greater number, every time,"  Ciel Rouge finishes for him, nodding as she does.

"Unacceptable!" the Minister says, looking at both of them: "Completely wrong! Human life is precious. All human life! If you save millions, and yet allow one to die, that death is on your hands! You cannot excuse it or explain it away! There is blood on your hands, and you must answer for it!"

"I agree," Thomas says: "And that goes into my next question, Minister. What was Eclat's name before he came to work for you?"

"I beg your pardon?" the Minister coughs, dabbing at his forehead with his sodden handkerchief.

"Eclat. Superheros don't grow on trees, especially in France. I'd never heard of him before the Terre Unifee pretty much materialized from nowhere after the Reclamation War. But here's this full-formed hero who can turn even the most shielded and protected of computer systems on and off like flicking a light.

"Where has he been this whole time? What's he been doing? What's his origin story?"

Thomas looks at the Minister, who coughs and looks in Eclat's direction: "I think that's one question too many."

"What name did he previously use, then?" Thomas pushes: "I'll ask the others one at a time. We have plenty of questions left, after all."

"That's..." the Minister stammers, looking at Henri, who looks between him and the President. 

"I think we're done, here," the President announces, getting up from his chair.

"Mssr. President, please," Henri says: "There's still a full half of the questions to go through!"

"I think I've heard what I needed to, and then some," the President says, walking over to Thomas and reaching out a hand to shake: "Thomas, I am very sorry we had to do this. But I want us to go forward as allies from here on out. I trust you to do the right thing, here."

"Thank you, Mr. President," Thomas says, getting to his feet and taking the man's hand in both of his own: "That means a lot to me. I won't let you down."

"Be sure you do not," the Minister commands, turning away and leaving the room as quick as his legs will take him.

"Shall I show you all out?" Thomas asks, creating another double for that very purpose: It would be my pleasure to show you the quick way to the landing pad. 

"I would like that, yes," the President says, gesturing for him to take the lead.

"I could teleport us all out, Mssr. President," Ciel Rouge offers.

"True, but I think it would be good for Mark and (REDACTED) to see us all leave together," the President insists, smiling a little as he gets behind Thomas' simulacrum. And as he does, the others fall into line right behind him, and head for the doors.

Eclat is, oddly enough, the last to leave. As he goes he shoots one of the Nthernauts a knowing look -- as if to say he knows what Thomas knows, but won't say as much.

Be seeing you, one of the images says, making the vitarka mudra by its eye as it does. And that unnerves Eclat just enough to make him stop looking and speed up, almost slamming into one of the doors as it swings towards him.

Butthole, Thomas mutters, already knowing the answer to the question he asked, and not liking it at all.

* * *

"So, what just happened, here?" Mark asks, later, once he's been allowed back into his own building, and had a chance to calm down and get himself some coffee.

It was a test, of sorts, Thomas answers from the central screen in the control room, as he's folded himself back into the mind of the city: The Minister wanted to know if the disruptor his people had made would work against me, before they arm every guard in Neo York City with one, and if the machine they had to take over the city's basic functions would work if they had to keep me out for a while. They also wanted to see if Eclat's power could work against me.

"And could it?" 

If I let him surprise me, yes, Thomas admits, smiling a little: He should have overwhelmed me when he had the chance, though. Next time I'll see him coming.

"Isn't that being a little overconfident?" Mark asks, sipping his coffee: "That guy's got some serious powers."

He does, yes. But he also has a serious weakness. And now that I know what that is, I'll be ready.

"How do you know what it is?"

Because I know who he is, now.

"Who is he?" 

A supercriminal, Thomas says, scowling quite deeply: He's not the only one, either. I think at least half of Le Compagnie is made up of former prisoners from one super-slam or another. Probably Interpol's lock-up down in the Ivory Coast.

"That's insane," Mark says, shaking his head: "I mean... if that's true? What can we do about it?"

Right now? Nothing. I'm going to have to be very careful about things from here on out. They're going to be watching everything I do, and keeping closer tabs on SPYGOD as well. That's going to affect the timetable, I think.

"So there is a timetable," Mark says, nodding

Are you surprised?

"No. I didn't think he'd sit still for this... this !@#$. I'm surprised he hasn't busted out already." 

I'm not. This sort of thing takes time to plan, and more time to execute properly. And with what's at stake, we can't rush things. That would bring the whole thing down like a house of cards.

"How can I help?" Mark asks, after a few minutes.

Are you sure you want to? Thomas asks: Up until this point, you could have stayed out of it and claimed ignorance. If things go wrong, you'll be looking at criminal charges.

"If things go wrong, we're looking at the end of all life on Earth, as I understand it," Mark says, standing up: "I think I can risk a jail term for that."

And you're doing this for the right reasons? Thomas pushes: Because it's right and the right thing to do? Not because you want to impress my mother?

"!@#$, you're direct these days." 

I don't have time to be anything else, Thomas insists: And neither do you. And, frankly? Your not being direct has caused too many problems, lately. 

"So what do you think I should do?" Mark asks: "Not that it's any of your business or anything..."

Well, it is none of my business. But one thing my mother always told me was to be honest and direct with people, even if you were afraid they weren't going to like what you had to say. Maybe they wouldn't, and you'd lose a friend. But maybe they would, and you'd gain everything. 

"Yeah, well..."  Mark sighs, sitting back down: "This thing... it's hard to say. It's pretty messed up, to be honest."

It is, yes. It flies in the face of a lot of social niceties. There will be questions about impropriety and whether it's proper or not. Some might even say you're being seriously creepy, talking to her about that just after getting dumped by Farashuu-

"Wow, don't spare me or anything."

Well, that's the point, Mark. Life's too short for people like you to be hung up on things like that. If you think you love my mother, then go tell her. And tell her Now. Don't wait for the right time or the next time, because it might not come. 

Just tell her, and pray it's what she's been wanting to hear, all along. 

Mark looks at him, and then at the coffee. Then he downs the whole cup, puts it down on a table, and gets to his feet.

"I'd appreciate some privacy when I call," he asks: "If you don't mind."

I'll do my best not to hear a word, Thomas says, smiling. 

And, with that, Mark leaves the room. That may be a hopeful smile on his face. It may be a nervous one. Thomas isn't 100% certain which. 

You did well, someone says to him as soon as Mark's well out of earshot.

Did I? I thought I overplayed my hand a little. 

It's enough for them to know you suspect a few things. 

And you don't think I gave away too much?

I think you reminded them of something important, Thomas. I also think that, in the end, the seeds you've planted are going to make for one heck of a tree.

But when does it crash down?

Soon, the voice says, taking Thomas' hand: And when it does, you'll be ready for it. I promise.  

I hope so, Thomas says: I feel so limited, having to wait. Having to move one step at a time. It's like I'm walking through a story where I know the ending, but that I have to follow to its conclusion instead of just jumping to the end.

It's called life, the voice says: And this is your chance to remember what it feels like. Hold onto it forever, and never forget. 

And they smile, then, brothers in a secret greater than them both

* * *

"I really do not want to talk about this, Jean-Jacques," the President says, pouring himself a rather tall glass of something too strong for his nervous stomach. The transport picks that moment to turn, and it's to his credit he doesn't spill it all over himself, but only just.

"Mssr. President, I swear to you, this is not a complete loss," the man says, doing his best to shoo the man's secretary out of the transport's office: "We have learned much, today. There are things we can do, now, should we need to. We know how to improve upon what we have-"

"We tipped our !@#$ hand is what we did!" the President shouts, which makes his secretary decide to skedaddle: "He knows we were preparing to take him out! He can beef up his defenses if he needs to!"

"We still have Eclat-"

"Provided he hasn't figured out where you found him," the President sighs, taking a good measure of his drink.

"Didn't your SPYGOD use criminals for the defense of your country?"

"Yes, but-"

"No buts, Mssr. President!" the Minister insists, holding up a lecturing finger: "If it is good for America, it is good for France. And what is good for France is now good for the world. That is our position, and now it must be yours as well."

"That's not my concern," the President clarifies, sticking a very long, unhappy finger back in his Minister of Justice's face: "If he knows who he is, he can find out his weaknesses. If he can find out his weaknesses, we don't have the upper hand. And if he decides to take SPYGOD's side after all..."

"He isn't planning," Ciel Rouge says, walking through the door (and practically through the President's secretary): "He's doing."

"What?" the Minister gasps.

"The entire time, from start to finish, he was lying to us," the red-cloaked woman says: "There's something going on here, Mssr. President. I am not certain exactly what, but I can tell he's up to something."

"And why didn't you say something?" the President asks, looking very tired.

"I was going to expose him at the end, Mssr. But we ended too soon."

"Then we must take him offline!" the Minister shouts: "If we turn the plane around-"

"He'll drop us out of the sky before we reach the Central Building," the President says, pouring himself some more: "We're done for the day, Jean-Jacques. We had a chance and we blew it. And we didn't have a real backup plan, either."

"Then what shall we do?" Ciel Rouge asks, walking up to the man: "This cannot be allowed to continue."

"We'll do what SPYGOD taught me to do, but could never do himself," the President says, looking up at her and the Minister as he drinks more of what he's poured: "We'll take the time to get ready and be ready. We'll have a plan that's all or nothing, with lots of smaller plans in case that doesn't work. We'll gamble it all on taking him out before he can do any more damage.

"And then we'll put SPYGOD on trial that very afternoon, before he has time to realize that his best friend's been put down like a virus."

With that the President hurls his mostly-empty glass at the window over the bar, shattering them both like a bad dream.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (the Cure, Razormaid mix) and having a lot of Bastille Whiskey)