Sunday, August 14, 2011

8/14/11 - The Sadness of Shift

People always ask me if there was really a Murphy behind Murphy's Law. There was. He worked for the early, acknowledged space program (as opposed to the several secret ones we had before the 50's) and he was the guy who got the privilege of remarking, after the third or fourth test rocket blew up on the pad, that "if there is a way to !@#$ this up, he will."

He being the anonymous, long-forgotten guy responsible for not !@#$ up the rockets but !@#$ them up anyway, of course. The program eventually got un!@#$, the rockets flew, the saying got sanitized, reworded, and passed around.

And now we only know of Murphy because of it.

You might be wondering if there's a reason I'm bringing this up now, as I'm standing outside what's left of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, here on scenic Roanoke Island, N.C., lighting up something large and noxious and wondering why life !@#$ on me, sometimes?

Well, son, that's because it never fails. I spend a few days sneaking up on one of the big threats (that would be HONEYCOMB, more on them another day) and when I'm trying to relax I get a priority call from the Heptagon. And when your country calls, there's no use complaining about the amount of time you spent procuring safe and non-exploding ladyboys, good thai food, and enough cold Singha to drown a trained elephant, now is it?

No it is not, son. Especially when they show you some of the footage that made them send you the call, and you just about prolapse everything in your alien love god penis out onto the nearest wall.

(METALMAID was not happy about that mess, let me tell you.)

What you do is get on the horn with the E-squad, sober the !@#$ up, get dressed, tell the night's entertainment to keep himself occupied, start working on a new drunk, mainline some tjbang sticks, instruct METALMAID to play nice with the katooey you left behind, put your guns on, and jump off the balcony into the Flier to go see what the !@#$ is up.

And if it really is what you think it is. 

On the way i get a briefing, and it is as !@#$ spooky as I imagined. Apparently, as soon as it got to be twilight on the island, the caretakers started reporting weird flashes of light coming from the reconstructed fort. Strobing and crackling, it was, with thunder booms and after-images.

They thought it might have been heading from the fort to the shoreside theater where they put on that play about the lost colony, but the rangers all !@#$ themselves and ran at about that time. And that's because they thought they heard voices along with the lights.

Screaming voices. Lots of them.

So why do they call in The COMPANY? Because we have the E-Squad. No other intelligence outfit has a mobile strike team that is trained to deal with ectoplasmic or etheric threats.

You got a ghost in your attic? Don't go up there, and call an exorcist. You got ten ghosts, and they're coming downstairs? Get out of the house and call someone from the trenchcoat brigade. You got some big !@#$ spook thing going on downtown and it's throwing cars around like they were made of cardboard, or sucking the life out of yuppies? Call the Heptagon, and they'll call us.

Except that I wasn't 100% sure this was just another big spook. I had the idea that this was larger scale than that. Possibly even godlike.

Now, admittedly, I've had just about !@#$ enough of gods, what with those !@#$ Etruscans showing up and trying to turn the world back two thousand years the other week. But I didn't think it was one of them, and I didn't think it was one of the other ones we do deal with, out in the world.

And as soon as we jumped down to the island, set up the track traps, and started rolling forward to where the noise and light show was coming from, I knew who this was.

We've talked before about how we had gods on our side, back in the late 60's and the 70's, when things were more cosmic than they are now. It's how we have Deep Ten, and maybe a few other things besides that I haven't been at liberty to talk about before, and might never be at all. And I've told you, or at least hinted, at the fact that Rappin Ronnie and his backers kind of hustled them off the page as soon as he came to power, back in 1980.

Well, he didn't get all of them. And tonight I saw the proof.

They called him Shift. That's it. No super, no genders, no colors or letters or anything like that. Just Shift, and that's all you needed to know.

What did he do? He shifted, son. He was here and then he was there. He was there and then he was here five minutes ago, like he'd always been. He was in several different places at once. He was in several different times at once.

You didn't know you needed him until he showed up, and then it was all over and he was just standing there, silently, maybe smiling under that all-over, silver bodysuit he wore.

Then he was gone without ever making a noise.

I think I liked him the best out of that whole lot. Not that the other guys were bad, but Shift was the only one who never tried to out-monologue you while you were fighting the bad guys. One of them once told me the reason he was so quiet was because he had to concentrate in order to be all those places at once, and maybe they were right.

But somehow I don't think they knew, either. Especially after tonight.

What happened tonight? A god came and went. That's all I can really say.

(publicly, at least)

The screaming wasn't his. It was the voices of a whole bunch of people, all displaced in time as a magnificently !@#$ scary timewar was fought all around them. Men with muskets and women with children sprawling all over, unsure of their surroundings as the world went mad, and two luminous beings traded punches back and forth, each blow shattering the skin of time just a little bit.

I looked into that time and saw things. Things I knew and things I didn't know, yet. Only small glimpses, but still...

And then it was all over. The guy who wasn't the Shift dropped to his knees, his techno-muckety-muck timesuit breaking and smoking. It flaked away like brass dandruff in a windstorm and his hair grew long and white as his face wrinkled and shriveled.

"I didn't want this to happen," he croaked out. Famous last words if you ask me. The skin turned to cracked leather on a skull, the skull turned to powder over a neck, and the suit fell down with a rush of dust and a pathetic noise, like someone breathing their last.

I told the E-Squad to drop their guns and help the people out of there. There was no threat. There never had been. This was just the final moment of a battle that had been happening for a few centuries, crackling and booming all around us with no one knowing what was going on, up until now.

But over at last.

The idiot in the timesuit was the King of Time. He was a supervillain from the postwar boom, more infamous than famous due to the fact that his tech was as wonky as !@#$. He'd show up, fight someone, get beaten, vanish, and repeat the process every couple of years. No one knew where he'd come from or where he was going, only that he stole components he needed for his machines, and probably just wanted to be a criminal because it paid better than a research scientist.

What happened to him? One day in 1968 he sent a message, claiming that he'd gone back to the Roanoke colony, before it vanished. And he was going to disappear the lot of them in the timestream if he didn't get ten million smackers dropped off in Central Park in ten minutes. Cue evil scientist laughter here.

Why he bothered was a big question, as they'd already been missing for centuries. What harm could it have dove? But you don't tend to ask those kinds of questions when there's an emergency in motion and action at hand.

However, by the time we assembled and had a plan to deal with his !@#$, we got the message that the situation had been dealt with. Time had been restored to normal. And no one ever saw the King of Time after that, or really asked what had happened to him.

Now we know. Shift must have gone back and confronted him, and then spent virtual centuries locked in battle with him. To the people who were brought along, only seconds had elapsed, but that time energy was being deflected from them and used to overload the buffers that kept the King of Time from aging backwards or forwards while traveling in time.

Without them, he was dead on arrival, which was no great loss.

So I looked at the dustpile that was a missing supervillain. And I looked at the hero I'd known back in the day, but hadn't seen in decades. And I was about to say something !@#$ funny, or maybe offer him a beer.

But he held up a hand, cocked his head, and actually !@#$ said something. 

He said "I'm sorry, (NAME REDACTED). The times to come are going to be terrible. I cannot say what you will face, for no man must know his fate, lest he go mad. But I will tell you this, my friend, because it is important that you know these things. You will win through at the end, though all hands be against you. But to win all is to lose all, and you have more to lose than you could ever know."

"What happens?" I asked.

"I cannot say, and you know why that is."

"Why does it happen?" I asked.

"I cannot say, but when it happens you will know the answer."

"Well what the !@#$ is the use of telling me anything at all, then?" I asked. "Can you at least !@#$ give me a hint?"

And then, God help me, he told me.

With that deed done, he nodded, turned, and walked into another one of those timebolts. Then he was gone, doubtlessly off to whatever place Rappin Ronnie sent the others, back in the day.

That was a few hours ago. I've been standing here ever since, chain smoking and drinking and ignoring the E-Squad when they come by and ask me stupid questions whose answers are way above my !@#$ pay grade. Like "What do we do with these people?" and "Where did he go?"

Or, my personal favorite, "What just happened?"

I'll tell you what happened, son. One of the finest people we ever had looking out for us just saved a bunch of people from god knows what, and then broke a long-standing code of silence so he could help me save the world from something even worse.

I just realized why the Shift never spoke. It wasn't because he was maintaining concentration. It was because he was in the unique and unenviable position of knowing everyone's fates. He could look at people and see them born, see them live, see them die, and know everything that would happen inbetween.

And he couldn't tell anyone anything, even to warn a friend, because if he did that it would ruin their lives.

He wasn't smiling behind that mask. He was sad. Terribly, horribly sad.

And tonight, with just three words, he's shared that infinite sadness with me.

"Beware the gorgon," he said.

And that's good !@#$% advice, son. Because if there's any way to !@#$ things up, they will make it happen. We've seen that, and they've gone out of their way to let us know that.

But now I'm in a bind. Do I go to town on GORGON, knowing what I know, inviting worse trouble than before? Do I ignore them completely, or leave them for last, hoping they'll become complacent again? Or do I do what I was going to do, anyway, and go after HONEYCOMB next while sifting through options on the others?

This is the sadness, now. I will never be able to look at my actions from here on out and know that I'm making the right choices. I now know too much.

So this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to finish this noxious cigar that costs too !@#$ much money, thankfully none of it mine. I am going to leave the repatriation of the British Subjects of Roanoke Colony to the local authorities, with the express understanding that if they !@#$ with them I'm going to come back and return the favor. And I will go back to Neo York City, see if the entertainment's still awake, and get double my money's worth for the rest of tonight and into the dawn.

If I'm !@#$ed, I might as well be !@#$ed for what I'd do, anyway. And that sounds a lot like me, right now.

(SPYGOD is listening to Time Shift (2Drops) and having a Bad Penny)

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