The giantess is less than a block away, but you wouldn't know it's a block anymore for all the devastation she's been wreaking. There are merely heaps of rubble, some still smoking. In the middle of the field she stands, hugging a building and moaning so deep and loud that it gives me a headache.
We duck into what's left of an alley before she sees us. I trip over something and drop the impossible weapon -- breaking it into three pieces -- and while I'm on my knees trying to put it back together I see that the something I tripped over was actually someone.
What's left of him, anyway.
I pick that moment to be horribly, violently sick. I do not want to be here, right now. I want to be somewhere else. Anywhere. I'd rather be covering partisan skirmishes in Tora Bora, right now. Or a toddler beauty contest. Anything else, anywhere in the world.
Anything to be away from this horrible place and these horrible things.
"Yeah, that's it. Get it all out." SPYGOD says, holding out a lit cigarette. I take it. I don't even !@#$ smoke and I take it and inhale, feeling something not unlike burning leaves going down my raw throat. Coughing just makes me vomit again. I start crying, too -- crying and cursing and shouting at him like a two year old.
It's not my finest moment.
"You done being a !@#$ crybaby, son?" he asks, kneeling down in what's left of some victim, right next to me: "You wanted to know the truth? You wanted to see it?
"Well this is it. This is how it really works, son. This is what happens when the ordinary and the insane meet up at a bar and grab each others' !@#$ under the table.
"People die. Places get wrecked. Countries crumble. And then there's nothing left for the survivors and their kids but sad memories and broken promises.
"All we can do now is stop the damage from getting any worse. All I can do now is be the hand that fires the gun that stops it.
"You want to be mad, you get mad at the !@#$ who caused all this. I just clean it up. That's all."
As if to underscore what he's saying, the other Supers we came with go rushing past, meeting the giantess in battle. It isn't long before several others come in, and I hear a wave of battle noises and verbal abuse. More shooting and screaming.
I don't dare look. I close my eyes and think of home. Think of anything else, anywhere else.
* * *
By the time I get out of wherever I went, the noise isn't as bad, anymore. It's probably because even more people are dead. Maybe some of our people, hopefully more of theirs. No way to tell from here.
And then there's SPYGOD, putting the finishing touches on a weapon that looks like a gunsmith got horrible lit up on some strange, designer drug and just threw parts on top of each other like a small child with Duplo bricks.
"It's okay, kid," he says, holding up a long, thin, glass bullet full of what looks like orange juice: "One hit from this baby and I'll have killed her before she was ever born."
"What does that mean?" I ask.
"It means I have the cure for the Black Pill," he explains by way of not explaining, and lights up another one of those atrocious cigarettes: "Unfortunately, it's as terminal as being hit in the !@#$ by a runaway locomotive."
"And that's it? That's all we can do for her?"
"Don't give me that !@#$ liberal touchy-feely bull!@#$," he spits: "She knew what she was doing when she took the !@#$ black pill, son. She knew the risks."
"What if she didn't?" I ask: "I mean, what if she didn't have a choice? What if the Colonel told her to do it and she didn't even know?"
He looks at me with his one, glass eye. I don't know whether it's sadness or pity I see there, and if so for whom.
"Then we're back to mad dogs, again, son," he says as gently as he can: "And please don't get me restarted on that one. I'm going to have enough grief from The Hammer when this is all over."
Then we're really back to where we came in. He's up, walking, and humming. It might be Gunning for the Buddha. It might be something else, but the moment he fires the gun and the woman screams, it's all I can do not to fall to the ground holding what's left of my eardrums in my hands.
He doesn't blink at the result, but for a moment I think he might actually be somewhat embarrassed by the result. Was it not what he was expecting? Did he really think she'd die quickly and soundlessly, like a mad dog put to sleep?
And what does he say to me, just then, before we bug out of the alley and see who's alive and who's not? I may never know.
* * *
SPYGOD says "epilogues are for !@#$holes," but this story has several.
1: While we were !@#$ around with the Colonel's Supers, the Agents were minimizing damage as much as possible. They herded civilians out of the battle zones, got folks to safety, and saved lives. One of them even found the hidden Super who was keeping the civilians from doing the obvious thing and, in sharp contradiction to the rules, did an obvious thing of her own.
When we get back to the troop carrier a lot of the Agents are clearly shaken by what they've seen and had to do. Not all of them returned, either, which makes the almost-mandatory post-op party as bittersweet as it is surreal.
SPYGOD insists these wakes are good for morale. I can't help but wonder whose.
2: The Hammer died. There's no way to sugarcoat it. He was struck by another speedster during the last battle, around the giantess, and not quite torn in two.
The Fist took it very badly. After she dealt with the speedster she wept and wailed over his corpse in the middle of the battle, forsaking all other concerns in her grief. Did she love him, then? No one will tell me. I think this is both sad and embarrassing for them.
After the battle, the Lion spent a whole hour making sure they found every piece of The Hammer so they could give him a proper burial, back home. All the while he shot nasty looks at SPYGOD, and SPYGOD, for his part, did not look at him even once, nor speak to him.
Needless to say, the Supers did not stick around for the wake. The Wall was at least polite enough to bid him goodbye, but the parting was nowhere as friendly as the greeting.
This may be the last time they work together, ever. I think SPYGOD was genuinely saddened by that, but he was back at the party drinking like nothing had happened less than five minutes later.
3: Colonel Khaddafy died not long after the battle of Sirte. I'm sure you've all read the accounts: how he was confused and dazed when they got him, seemingly abandoned by most of his famous female bodyguards and asking "what has happened?" or some such. How he holed up in a drainage pipe, fearful for his life.
There was, of course, no mention of the Supers. No mention of the devastation in town, or why the populace seemed even more bloodthirsty than you might expect. No mention of anything like that. Just another dead dictator, and another supposed victory for NATO, or the President, or whomever wanted to dogpile on and take a piece of the credit.
There was confusion as to who shot him, and how, and when. There was even some speculation that he was not dead, but was just in hiding while another lookalike took one of the team.
Me, I had no doubts. I got a call from SPYGOD telling me to get my !@#$ out of bed and look at the internet. That's how I knew it was real.
"Someday you can say you were there before there was there," he told me: "You can't say I don't take you anywhere interesting."
"I wish you'd left me at home, this time."
"What, and miss out on all that fun?"
"I can't !@#$ sleep at night," I told him: "I keep hearing that woman scream when you shot her. I keep thinking about the look in her eyes."
"What about it?"
"She was scared," I said: "Scared as !@#$. Confused. I think she was hugging that building because she used to live there, and didn't realize why she couldn't get in there, anymore."
"And you shot her. You made a joke and you shot her."
There was silence on the other end. I braced for another speech about realpolitik in the age of Strategic Talents and the Black Pill and keeping the world safe, laced with more profanity than you'd find at a sailors' convention.
Instead I get the unthinkable.
"Write a good story," he says: "Tell the whole truth, even if I look like a !@#$. Get it out of your system. You've earned the right."
Then he hangs up, leaving me to watch as the internet goes through the five stages of denial. I find some old Genesis CDs, put tea on, and get to work before he changes his mind.
4: Halfway through writing the story I realize I can't hear that poor woman screaming, anymore. I remember remembering it, but it's fuzzy around the edges, like a dream I had and didn't write down in time. And I can feel it slipping away all the more, becoming even more questionable as I try to find the right words to describe it.
This is the essence of journalistic paradox: I'll never forget what I saw, but I'll never remember it the same way now that it's out of my head and onto paper. The act of writing it down makes it less true to me, as it makes it more true for others.
5: Halfway through that process I realize what he actually said to me, while I was deaf. It makes me incredibly happy and terribly sad at the same time, so I decide that it will remain between the two of us.
This is also what a man does, it seems -- cover for a friend.
-- Randolph Scott, for Alternet.
-- Randolph Scott, for Alternet.
(Randolph Scott is listening to Man on the Corner (Genesis) and having that tea at last)