So how !@#$ed is !@#$ed?
Well, I'll admit it's seemed like
forever since we were outside, but I really do not remember there being a
big, tall, stark white marble wall wrapped around the !@#$ing place. I mean, I think we would have noticed on the way in.
And if I had noticed that, going in, I'm pretty !@#$ sure I would
have noticed a giant face carved into the wall, looking down at
us like it just scraped us off its giant, white shoe.
wondering what this might mean when I take a good look at that scowling
face, and see that it's female. And then I realize who it is, and I just
"Holy !@#$," I say: "That's Zalea Zathros."
"It isn't..." Mr. USA says.
"It is. Trust me."
"Are you sure?" the President asks.
"Well, I've shot at her enough times. !@#$, I have shot her enough times. That's her."
"No way," Mr. USA says.
"Yes," the giant face says in a loud, deep voice, the stone moving like flesh: "I am."
"Oh, that's not good," the President says.
"That's..." I start to say it's impossible, but I really should
!@#$ing know better: "Let me guess. The Compuconqueror came here, too?"
"He did, yes," the stone head says: "And we welcomed him with open arms for the kind gift he brought us from the future."
"Is that what he told you it was?" I ask: "Wait til he comes back, honey."
"Oh, that is no longer a concern," she says, smirking, and I know exactly what she means by that. Kindness is weakness, here on Alter-Earth.
"So the whole city's alive, and they gave it to you to play with. Great."
"Play?" she smirks: "No. Shepherd. Protect. Occasionally discipline. But I reserve my play for... other things."
She gives me that nasty smirk, again, and suddenly my head's being used as a TV Set. I see the face of a young man in extreme distress, and from the way he's babbling and moaning, I know it's my "friend" Juan, the Alternaut who's been over here since HONEYCOMB ported him through the dimensional barrier.
The view pulls back, and now I can see his head and shoulders. Further back, and I can see that all he has is head and shoulders. That and a bunch of tubes and pipes leading from it to his organs, which are secured and floating under the surface in a large tank of what I hope is nutrients.
Further back still and I see the nutrient bath is a weird shade of yellowy brown, and there are things floating in it. Brown things.
And then, once we're pulled back far enough that now that I can see the whole tank, I see that people are hanging their bare !@#$es over the side of the tank and !@#$ing into it.
A turd drops onto his head, and he tries to scream through de-diaphragmed lungs that just barely keep him oxygenated. The TV show picks that moment to go off, and I feel very, very sad that I couldn't have kept my promise to myself to just !@#$ing shoot him.
"You look a little pale, (REDACTED)" Mr. USA observes.
"Yeah, let's not !@#$ing get into that, right now," I say, looking up at the white face: "You feeling !@#$ing proud of yourself, you nasty !@#$?"
"Traitors and spies deserve no less," she answers: "You should approve. I am certain you have done worse things to the ones you catch?"
"Not like that I don't. Is that what he does, then?"
"You mean your reflection, here?" she says: "I could spend all day telling you the things that he does, but I think this has gone on long enough. You have intruded within my city. Within me. You have harmed its people and broken its laws. These transgressions will be severely punished."
At that moment, the wall shudders, and a number of nude, white marble
statues of Zalea Zathros walk right out of it as though stepping out of
water. They step forward and stop in eerie unison, staring at us with
that haughty smirk of hers.
Mr. USA just smiles: "It's been a while since I got to let loose on walking statues, lady. I'm not impressed."
As if to answer him, the statues open, just slightly, revealing that they're not hollow, inside. Each one contains a nude, teenage girl, wide-eyed and in pain.
Zalea closes the statues back up again before they have time to scream, and suddenly Mr. USA isn't smiling, anymore.
"Can you shoot your way through an entire city?" the face and the statues all ask, as one: "Can you smash through innocents? There are many, many more where these ones came from. You will have to kill them all to get through me."
"That won't stop me, lady," he says, putting up his fists: "You all made a bad mistake, taking our President. Where I come from, that's an act of war. And if we're at war, then I'll kill every teenager on your planet to win."
The President's jaw just drops to hear him say that. I maintain a poker face, knowing it's bull!@#$, and hoping that's just him stalling her in the hopes that I've got something up my sleeve.
And yes, son, I do. We just have to give it time, apparently.
"You know, I like to say that I know everything," I say, holding up my gun in what could be misconstrued as a peaceful gesture: "But I have to say, I'm a little confused about something."
"Given your mental state, that is not surprising," Zalea says through her legion of press-ganged girls: "I'm detecting at least twenty chemical substances in your bloodstream."
"What can I say? Live hard, ride long, leave a pickled corpse. But let's just clear the air, here?"
"That depends on what you wish to know."
"How about 'Why?'" I ask: "What's the endgame, here? The me from here goes over there, to us, hamstrings my friend, here, and pretends to kill our President? Then brings him back here, running the risk that I'll follow?"
"Those are statements posed as questions. What is your question?"
"Well, it's just that it seems a really complicated scheme just to mess with me. There's dozens of other ways he could have put me out of the way. Why this one?"
The mouth opens, and for a moment I'm about to get my answer, or maybe an insult or two. But then there's a flash of light, and Simon Pure is standing right next to me, his silver suit gleaming with eerie light reflected from another world.
"Thank !@#$ing God you came-" I start to say, but then he scowls and hits me, right in the kisser. As he does, my entire life sails in front of my eyes, and I find myself literally reliving every sad and disappointing moment, stacked atop one another like a poorly-curated exhibit in a museum of personal failure.
As the exhibition unfolds, and I see my many mistakes and shortcomings, I keep coming back to a sad, solemn day, close to the start of the 21st century, when Dr. Yesterday and I, along with a few other strategic talents, saw to the freezing of one Simon Pure. After the fifth time I see him going under, and us locking the cryo-coffin down, I realize what this means.
It means that, while we've been rescuing the President, the nice, happy, but still confused kid I unfroze from his life support has fully come to, and found some things out.
It also means that, rather than being philosophical about it, or understanding that we had no choice, other than killing him in his sleep, he's gotten angry at having lost ten years of his life.
And that means that one of the most powerful beings to ever walk the planet is up, awake, and one temper tantrum away from destroying not only me, the President, and my ally, but possibly the entire world, or more.
In some ways, I almost wish I don't wake up. But when I come to, as I know I eventually have to, the scene has shifted.
There is no longer a white wall. There is no longer a city around us. There is only bare earth, the President, Mr. USA, Simon, and a white, marble statue of Zalea Zathros who's screaming as she turns every which way but back to what she was.
"You wanted to live without limits?" Simon asks, watching as she splashes on the ground like water, and then rises up into a form that doesn't resemble anything so much as a gelatinous, deep sea creature. She continues to scream and shift, spiraling up, down, and out into a dozen other, less recognizable forms in the space of a few seconds.
All the while she's screaming and in agony. I almost feel sorry for her.
"What the !@#$ just happened?" I ask, getting to my feet. I can see the President is white-faced and terrified, and Mr. USA is... well, I think the last time I saw him like that was one of the concentration camps.
"He made the city vanish," the President says: "He waved his hand and it all went away, like... like the tide going out. They had enough to time to scream, but then..."
I look around, and realize he's not talking out of his !@#$. The landscape looks exactly like Neo York City would have looked if you just scooped up all the buildings, filled in the basements and underground structures, and left nothing but the ground. I can still see their version of New Jersey, across the way, so I guess his rage had limits.
This time, anyway.
"You are worthless," Simon hisses, letting her drop to the ground in a rough approximation of her own form. Then the marble goes away and there's just Zalea, there, naked and afraid. She !@#$es herself in pain and fear and goes fetal, her eyes bugged right out of her head, and Simon can't resist kicking her in the !@#$.
"I think that's enough, son," the President says: "We're safe, now."
"Safe," he repeats, mockingly: "You do not want to be talking to me about safe, right now."
"Ten years," he says, turning around so we can see the anger that's practically running from his eyes like tears: "Ten years. Three months. Ten days. Eleven hours."
"And you look magnificent," I say, smiling and hoping he just kills me quick. But better me than the President, and that's how this is going to end if it escalates.
"I don't know what you mean, son-" the President says, but falls quiet when Simon's suddenly up in his face.
"My name is Simon Pure, sir. I went to sleep in January of 2002. They told me they were going to help me, and I went to sleep believing them. Now I wake up and I find out I was in a metal coffin all those years, locked away like a criminal."
"Not a criminal," Mr. USA jumps in: "Simon, you have to believe me. We did it for your safety."
"I make cities disappear in my sleep. Tell me how my safety was at risk."
He's got nothing, and he knows it. So I say it: "Our safety, Simon. You're a good kid and you mean well, but you couldn't control your powers. We put you under in the hopes that one day we could find a way to make it happen. And, offhand, it looks like it's worked?"
"Yes, it does," he says, looking at his armor: "For now, anyway. This suit gives out in ten hours. That gives me enough time to find a replacement, or find someone who can fix it."
"So there's a plan?" I say: "Great? Why don't we just go back to our world, and then-"
"But maybe you could tell me why you didn't use this before," he says, now up in my face: "This suit was in the museum basement since before I was born. You can't tell me it wasn't on the list of options."
"It was, yes," I admit, seeing no sense in lying to him: "But, like you said, it was a quick fix at best. A day, maybe. And it would have been cruel to give you your life back, only to have it be gone again in less than a day."
"So what were you going to do when the day was up, this time?" Simon presses me: "Put me back to sleep? Put me back in that coffin? Forget about me for another ten years?"
"I was going to move heaven and earth to get you the help you needed," I said: "I have connections I didn't have, back then. I have more options. One of them would work out."
"Hope's all we have, sometimes," the President says: "And-"
"Thank you, Mr. President, I have seen your !@#$ing campaign posters," Simon spits, not bothering to turn around and look at him: "And unless you want to change into something easier to step on, I'd suggest you shut the !@#$ up and let the adults talk for a change."
"Hey!" Mr. USA says, putting himself between Simon and the President: "You will not speak to this man in that fashion, young man. This is the President of the United States. You will show him the respect he is due."
"He's just a man," Simon says: "I am..."
"You are a citizen of the United States of America. You are a young man who is expected to behave in a responsible and respectful manner. And you will respect this man and what he stands for."
Simon turns to look at Mr. USA, who's putting as much steel in his eyes as he can. If I didn't know any better, I'd never know he was !@#$ing terrified, right now.
Not for his life, of course. For the President's. For the world's.
Simon just shakes his head, and then waves a hand. Mr. USA has enough time to try and say something, and then he's gone.
Vanished, like he was never there. Even his footsteps in the bare earth are missing.
The President gasps, and I step forward to protect him, gun raised. Of course, the gun vanishes, too, a second later. Then the rest of my guns as well.
"Appeal to my humanity," he mocks me: "Tell me I have an obligation. Tell me to be grateful."
"How about I beg?" I ask, putting my hands up.
"Don't debase yourself-"
"It's what you want, isn't it?" I ask, getting down on one knee: "You want me to humble myself? To say that I'm sorry for abandoning you? I will."
"Too little, too late."
"And I'll go a step further," I say, just as he's about to wave me out of existence, or worse: "I'll tell you the truth, Simon. You were right. We could have gotten that armor out of storage anytime. We could have woken you up and told you what was going on, and tried to fix things with you being awake.
"But we were scared, Simon. We were terrified. And you know why, right?"
He blinks, and takes a step back, putting his hand down.
"It was January, 2002," I tell him: "There was a fight in Steubenville, Illinois. We weren't there too long. You did the things you can do, and the Hyperboys were locked up in no time. I know you remember that."
"I remember," he admits, and knows what's coming next.
"And then someone in town said something rude to you," I remind him: "He laughed at you because you weren't wearing a costume. He asked if you were the mascot. And I know you laughed it off at the time, but you were hurt. I know you were hurt."
"I was," he says, tearing up a little.
"And that night, while you were asleep, Steubenville disappeared," I tell him, watching his face fall: "The whole !@#$ing town, gone. 5000 people, gone. And not only was it gone, but other than the people who'd been with us that day, no one remembered it had ever been there."
He sits down on his haunches, white-faced and crying.
"That was in your sleep. And I know you didn't mean to do it. You're a good kid, Simon. You mean well. But you did it in your sleep. Unconsciously. And we were scared. We were scared you'd do it again. Or worse."
"I didn't mean to..." he whimpers.
"I know," I say, putting a hand on his shoulder: "And I know you wouldn't mean to do anything else, either. But what if you got angry at someone, and made them vanish? What if you got angry at a country, or a planet? What if someone broke your heart, or was mean to you? Could you really be sure you wouldn't fall asleep and make them disappear, too?"
He shakes his head, but he knows I'm right.
"So we were scared, Simon. And every time we thought about getting you out of there, we had to ask if we were sure that, when we did, we could be sure that whatever we were going to do would work. And even Dr. Yesterday... okay, even his wife couldn't figure out a way to be sure."
"His wife," Simon says, his face suddenly going from sad to angry again: "You don't know, do you?"
He just smiles, and I don't like the look of the smile: "'SPYGOD knows all.'"
"Well, don't believe the hype," I try to joke: "But look, let's get back to our world. I'm going to try and get in touch with Shift, okay? If there's anyone who could help you-"
He backs up, shakes his head, and screams. I try to calm him down but he won't stop screaming.
The world goes white and black, and we-
(Sephiroth - The Clock of Distant Realms. Oblivion)