Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Age of Imago - May - Pt. 2

Saying the trials were Orwellian was putting it mildly. 

The proceedings took place at the Terrace Theater in the Kennedy Center, after "a few modifications." The Imago tore the roof off, and turned the walls transparent, so that everyone there could get a good, contemplative look at the city whose leaders had nearly doomed the world. And a special spectator box was built for the President, right above  the entrances, so that all witnesses and victims would be able to look up at him on their way out for the day. 

Looks that made the President feel about as noble as a virus.

There were no lawyers, no prosecution, and no media figures allowed in. There were only the legions of witnesses and victims, who sat in the theater, day after day, even if they wouldn't be participating that particular session. 

That and the Imago, maybe dozens of them, all floating above the proceedings in the space where the roof would have been. They flew down only to bring in the accused, or take them out again, and spoke only to gently prod on the witnesses. But there was no question that they were the ones in charge. 

They seemed eerie and surreal up there in the sky, the President had thought. Like divine messengers, they watched and smiled, and moved only to bring remove the last case, or bring in the next one. They didn't so much as eddy in the strongest of winds, and when it rained they bent the water above their heads.

Floating batteries of cameras and microphones hovered in the air, catching pieces of the trial and editing them into one massive mosaic for the people of the world to experience. They got to see the supposed victims tell of their suffering (mostly from the orbital beam weapons) as well as the near-endless parade of witnesses who, clearly having been "coached," themselves, offered massive amounts of condemnation for the accused.

And what witnesses they had! Former Congressional staffers. White House interns and Secret Service Agents. CIA assets, NSA cryptographers, FBI stooges, and Strategic Talents by the busload. They even brought in foreign spies doing life sentences to say how they'd been acting on the orders of the accused, and then thrown into jail as a reward. 

(Very few COMPANY Agents, though, and almost always ones who'd been brought in after SPYGOD shot the previous President. Whatever the President thought about that one-eyed monster, he had to give him credit -- he knew how to command loyalty, even in extremis.)

It was they who controlled this trial, at least on the surface. Gently prompted by the Imago, they told their stories -- speaking of their suffering or complicity, sometimes both -- and said what they knew, or produced evidence to back  up their words and scars. After that, the Accused were allowed to rebut or confirm, and then it was on to the next witness. 

And the next. And the next.

All the trials ended with guilty verdicts, of course, but no Imago judge declared it. In a showing of what was either brilliant strategy or a callback to the Soviet show trials of old, the accused were forced to listen and explain or deny -- hour after hour, sometimes day after day -- until they finally broke down and declared that, yes, they were guilty. Guilty of all charges, guilty of things they hadn't even charged them with, and guilty of things that even the Imago hadn't known had happened.

Guilty, period.

But there clearly could have been no other result but guilty in this courtroom. Not only did the accused know that they were condemned, but they were coached through each and every nuance of their condemnation. They had been told when to deny and when to admit, when to be stoic and when to cry. 

At times it looked like they might be losing control of themselves, and getting ready to bolt or try to strange someone on the witness stand. But even these seeming departures from decorum were also highly-choreographed, like dance numbers, or professional wrestling. 

They even had special lights installed on the stand to inform the Accused when to look at the cameras, and when not to. 

In that sense, the trials were almost more Kafkaesque than Orwellian: at least in Orwell's black, anti-fascist fables the accused were so mindsmashed by the end of their ordeal that they were not only happy to be executed, but even willing to confess to a capital crime they didn't do without any prompting whatsoever, just so they could die for the state. 

But this? This was the cream of America's political order being walked through a meatgrinder's worth of proof of their complicity in a crime that didn't even exist -- except on paper -- just to save the lives of their own families. By agreeing to go through with this travesty of justice, the accused proved, over and over, that they were not the soulless, amoral monsters that the Imago had made them out to be.

And now they were going to die for the crime of loving others more than themselves. 

Irony and dark absurdity notwithstanding, the Accused quickly became the Condemned, day after day. And with each new condemnation, the trials would come to an end, and the Imago would swoop down soundlessly to take those men and women away to a special place, there to await the first light of the next day.

Once that new day came, as the new trial convened, they'd fly the previous day's Condemned around the world, to Borneo, where the elevator awaited. 

And from there, the one-way trip up.

* * *


Dear Winifred:

Again, I must apologize for the length of time it took me to reply. It was not confusion over codes, this time, but rather trying to stay "clean" after nearly being caught while trying to answer our mutual questions. And while I did not find out exactly what is going on, I do believe that we can be assured that the answer is not something we are going to relish uncovering.

I took your meaning and looked at the buses that the others were taken on. Where did they go? Finding out their destinations proved difficult, as they didn't mark any down for that day. They did not even write them down, only to cross them off later. They simply had a day off the books.

Except that they left one thing: their mileage. By checking the mileage logs from various locations, which required me calling in quite a few favors with my fellows, I was able to infer where they may have journeyed. And that would be right up to Northern Ohio, not far from Cedar Point.

(Which, I may add, if you have never gone to it, do not bother. It is a truly terrible "amusement" park, unless you happen to like roller coasters. As I do not, it is a wasted excursion, hardly worth the migraine that a long car journey can cause.)

I tracked the buses to the promontory just north of Sandusky Bay, which is in many ways our lakebound gateway to Canada. Did they offload them there, and take them to the Great White North? Or did they take them someplace closer? That was the question I wished to know the answer to.

I will refrain from telling the whole, sordid tale of how I faked a serious illness to avoid school, engineered a crises to ensure my parents were distracted, and then hitched a ride North with older alumni of the High School Chess Club under the guise of photographing their doubtless victory over Sandusky's sorry and meager team. Suffice it to say that, ten mere days ago, I had, by simple inquiry and ratiocination, determined that the children were taken to Lakeside, at the very tip of the promontory, and then ferried over to Kelley's Island, which lies perhaps three miles North of that tiny little burg. 

What could be going on up there? I was determined to find out, but I soon discovered that all ferry service has been suspended, and all natives of that place have been relocated. I tried to interview a few of them, who now reside in Lakeside, but they proved rather reticent to my queries. Eventually, in the common vernacular, one of them squealed on me, and before I knew it the local constabulary was taking me for a ride.

I suppose it could have gone badly, had not my older friends told the police that it was all just some prank. They did insist on calling my parents, however, but luckily for me I'd had the foresight to give one their phone number as that of one of my older allies. She, back at the hotel, proceeded to artfully tongue-lash me for the better part of five minutes, inducing me to cry in public and fear for the structural integrity of my hindquarters. And after that bravura performance, the police decided to let me go with my friends, who, not surprisingly, confined me to their rather horrible Sandusky hotel room for the rest of the tourney.

That was embarrassing, and risky, but at least now I know where the trail ends. The question as to what's going on there remains a mystery, however. I hope to soon find a way to return, and unravel this. 

Other than that, I have little to report that differs from yours. As to your query, I find myself ecumenical, but tending towards the more self-aware side of their fandom. I hope one day to see the great crossover between Deadpool and Ambush Bug! But, in spite of the many letters I have written to both companies, this seems an unlikely scenario.

More so now than ever, I fear.

Your servant and ally,


ps: My turn now, my friend. Dr. Who, new or old? This is also of maximum importance.

* * *
Eventually, all the other Accused persons had been tried, condemned by their own hand, and whisked away for their final journey. And that left only the President, himself.

On that day, he'd slowly walked from his special box, past all the witnesses and victims and took his place on the stand. He'd paused halfway there, perhaps to falter or perhaps to truly realize the enormity of his errors, but kept dry eyes until they started asking questions.

After that, it was really over. Clearly, anyone could tell that the President was guilty, and knew he was guilty, and knew that the whole world knew it. But decorum had to be followed, and maybe he was hoping for some kind of reprieve, or silver lining. Some kind of mercy he did not deserve.

It did not come, and after three days and nights of near-endless testimony -- also taking into account what the previously Condemned had said -- he was finally allowed to break down, sob for a full minute, and admit his guilt to the world. 

That was the capstone of the pyramid, then and there. Only then did the Imago deign to come down  to their level, and speak to the world of justice, and reconciliation, and the great days to come. They told the assembled witnesses and victims that their contributions  had been invaluable, and that they had provided a shining example of justice and decorum. And then they bade them to go forward with their lives, knowing that they had done this great thing, and would soon do many more.

Truly, in this place, they had soared.

The President sat there and listened, as he'd been instructed to do. He looked down at his shoes and said nothing. He wanted so badly to leap to his feet with a mighty "!@#$ you!" and denounce this travesty for the sick and macabre joke that it was, and tell the whole world that they'd been conquered by the same monsters they'd been fighting for nearly half a century.

Were they blind? Could they not see what was so obvious?

Were they enslaved? Did they need rescuing from choreographed trials of their own?

Were there any heroes left out there? Where were the Strategic Talents who hadn't witnessed against him? Where was the Liberty Patrol? The Super Soldiers? 

Where the !@#$ was SPYGOD, for that matter? 

He wanted to say all these things, and more, but kept his tongue quiet. And then the witnesses and victims were gone from the room, and the cameras turned off, and it was just him and the Imago. 

"It is accomplished," one of them said to him: "You have done very well. Thank you for helping us soar."

They smiled at him, and maybe expected him to say something like "thank you for helping me sleep." But he didn't give them the !@#$ing satisfaction. He just sat there, collapsed around himself, until they gently lifted him from the stand and flew him to the place where he'd be spending his last night on Earth.

And then...

* * *
"... after that, well, the rest is history," the man-squirrel says, standing up from the desk in the President's well-appointed cell and putting his folders away: "Do you have any more questions?"

"No," the President says, leaning back in his chair and looking at the six pack of beer the man's brought him: "But just so we're clear. I've done everything you asked of me, and tomorrow I'll do what we agreed on, here and now. And in return-"

"In return, we keep our promise to you," the skeedy fellow replies: "You've done better than we would have thought possible, sir, and we are very grateful. You don't have a thing to worry about."

"Well, okay then," the President replies, reaching to take a beer bottle: "I guess we are really done, then."

"Well, is there anything I could get you?" he asks, holding back on putting his things together and leaving for just a second: "Some more food, perhaps? Some company? It's your night, Mr. President. It's your room. You can make whatever you'd like of it."

The President sighs and twists the cap off: "What I would really like is... well, something you're not going to !@#$ing give me."

The man smiles and shrugs: "That's probably true, sir. But I have to say, this has been an honor. I want to thank you for helping me soar."

"Well, thank you for helping me sleep," the President says, saluting the man with his bottle: "I'll see you on the flipside."

The squirrel smiles, turns, and leaves. The door opens as he approaches, revealing an entire phalanx of Imago, guarding the other side -- all staring and smiling at the President. And then it shuts, leaving the President to his thoughts, and the beer.

He makes it through the first one without crying. The second one isn't so lucky. And by the time he hits the third and fourth, he's bawling like a kid with a skinned knee. 

He doesn't even bother to touch the other two, after that. He succeeds in turning out the lights only by throwing his desk lamp off onto the ground, and tries to cry himself to sleep, wondering if he can just make himself die. 

At first, he thinks he's succeeded, but them he realizes that the weird noises in his room aren't his imagination, but are actually being heard. Sliding noises, followed by electrical discharges and what can only be heavy footsteps.

"Mr. President?" a disembodied voice asks: "Can you hear me?"

"I can... I think..." the President says, still feeling the alcohol and trying to sit up in the chair: "Who's there?"

"Randolph Scott, sir," the voice announces: "Don't worry, they can't hear us. As far as they know, you're still sleeping it off."


"It'd take too long to explain. And I'm a little antsy about having that many Imago less than 20 feet from me, so-"

"Randolph Scott... you're that reporter? The one who hung around SPYGOD?"

"That would be me, sir."

"You here to !@#$ing shoot me, too?"

"Sir, there's still a lot of things about that day that I don't understand, but I do know that SPYGOD didn't shoot the President," Randolph says.

"Well, you could have !@#$ing fooled me-"

"It wasn't the President, sir," Randolph interrupts: "I've got tons of evidence to prove it. I've also got evidence that SPYGOD was nowhere near the White House the day it happened. We were set up, and badly."

The President looks at the space where the voice is coming from, and shakes his head: "You gotta be !@#$ing kidding me."

"I'm not, sir. And while I can't answer as to why SPYGOD didn't come forward and tell us what the !@#$ was going on, I'd like to believe that he was trying to prove his innocence by rescuing the President, himself."

"But you're not sure."

"No..." Randolph admits: "I just have a feeling. Hopefully I'll have the facts that back it up, someday."

"So you're leading with your conclusion. Is that good journalism?"

"Well, maybe yes, maybe !@#$ing not. It's like I've told other people, this may be the greatest story ever, but I have no !@#$ing idea where it's going to lead. I'm just letting it write itself, at this point."

"So do I get to help?" the President asks.

"Yes, sir. If you'll come with me, I can have us someplace safe in minutes."

"No," the President sighs: "I can't leave, son. I don't dare. If I do, they'll kill my kids, my grandkids... !@#$, any family the other folks they put on trial have left. If I'm not in that elevator, tomorrow, they all die too. It's what they paid me for my cooperation."

"Sir, with respect, this is GORGON we're talking about, here. I don't think they'll keep their word."

"Maybe not, but... I have to try."

There's silence, and then the chair that the skeedy squirrel was sitting in pulls itself out, and something sits down in it.

"Jess, make sure the door's secured," the voice says, and there's a flickering and hissing. A balding, young man with an eyepatch, wearing a kind of no-suit the President's never seen before, appears in the chair, and pulls out a small tape recorder and a notepad.

"So what's this, my last interview?" the President asks, leaning forward: "Here and now?"

"Yes, sir," Randolph says: "If you'll allow me the honor? I would be happy to take down anything you'd like to say, and hold it safe until this is all over, and your family can be safe from any reprisal."

The President looks at him, and then shakes his head: "No."


"No," the man says, and, smiling, offers Randolph one of the last two beers, and takes the top off the other: "We do this like a proper !@#$ing interview, Mr. Scott. You aren't here to suck me off or do a soft piece. You interview me like this was my last !@#$ing night on Earth and you want me to tell you the god!@#$ truth. I won't do it any other way."

"I wouldn't want it any other way," Randolph says, taking the beer and opening it up: "Here's to famous last words."

"I got some already picked out."

"Do tell?"

"... you'll see," the President says with a wink, having a sip of the beer: "Let's !@#$ing do this."

The recorder gets turned on. Randolph leans forward and asks his first question, and it's a !@#$ing doozy.

And the President, raising an eyebrow, answers for the ages.

* * *

At long last, the elevator begins to slow down. 

From here, the President can see the orbital platform that the Imago have been building. It stretches out quite some distance: a massive, sled-like contraption that Earth's new, self-appointed guardians say will protect the world when the as-yet unnamed threat comes near.

Every day, the elevator takes dozens of trips up and down, bringing equipment and raw material to the platform. But, as the President can see, the platform itself is quite some distance away from the doors of the elevator, itself.

He can see the Imago, floating around the platform like candy-colored, metal angels. He can see some of them flying in his direction. And he knows that they are not here to spirit him away to the sled thing, or save him from the absolute cold and near-vacuum that awaits him outside the cylinder.

They are here to make sure he goes through with his part of the bargain, by giving him enough time to say what he's agreed before opening the doors.

He could do anything, now and they could not stop him. He could flip them the !@#$ing bird. He could hit the button and leap out into the cold yelling obscenities. He could tell the world the ugly truth about everything that's happened. 

He could even do what another former President did at the end of his ride: treat it as the chance to go skydiving at a height that he never could, before, and leap towards the Earth yelling "Geronimo!" 

But he knows the consequences if he does this. Those consequences have lives, and names, and futures that now rely on this last act of contrition, as well as the good word of his executioners. 

(And, no, he doesn't trust it too far. But at least this way they will have a chance. And maybe they'll get to use it.)

So he stands there, his hands clasped behind him, and looks somewhat at the camera, but more towards the doors. And then he looks up at the ceiling of the elevator, as though he were about to address God.

"Well, here we are," he says: "I'm about to die, and I've been a fool. I've stood by and done nothing while evil men did evil things, and told the good men who tried to stop us to stand down and do nothing, themselves. I didn't realize the mistake I was making by staying blind, sitting on my hands. And now, from up here, I see exactly what I was playing with. 

"God, from up here, it looks so beautiful. I can't believe I would have ever done anything to harm it, or not see the whole thing as... well, a whole. You know? One big, blue ball. So fragile, so tiny out here in the dark and the cold.

"Please forgive me. Please forgive all of us. Please let humanity be safe, now, and let these Imago do what they have to do to make sure that it stays safe. 

"All my life I was on the wrong team. Please let them do right."

The words do not taste good on his lips. They stink of evil things, and the horrible people who do them. But if he can speak poison to save the lives of many others, then it's as worthy a last act as any.

The act of a leader, perhaps, but that's not his call to make. It's up to the history books, now, and they're going to be written by his executioners.

The Imago are at the outside of the elevator, smiling. They give him another moment, past that -- just enough to look down to the floor, and then at the doors, as they slowly open.

Their smiles don't waver so much as a millimeter as they kill him. 

The President walks forward as the air leaves the car, trying to retain some illusion that he's going along with this, instead of being pulled off his feet by the rushing of atmosphere, and flash-frozen by the incoming, terrible cold.

He should be frightened. He should be !@#$ing terrified. He is not. He will not give them that final satisfaction.

And as he falls towards the Earth - well past the Imago and their !@#$ cameras -- and feels the blood boiling in his body, and his lungs turning to useless mush in his chest, and his skin crackling in the cold, he lets out a very powerful, final scream.

It is, of course, "!@#$ you."

* * *

O peoples of the Earth, hear us.
We send this to all the people of the world,
in all ways you speak to each other,
so there will be no confusion, no misunderstanding.
No mistake.
O peoples of the Earth, the Imago bring you glad tidings,
For the time of trials is over, and the truth has at last been told.
Those who tried to conquer have been tried and confessed.
Ambition's debt has been repaid, and justice has been done.
At long last.
Now, free from the last shackles of the old world, Earth can soar.
Hand in hand with your leaders, we stand ready to bring you a new world.
A world free from want and terror, a world of wonders and joy.
A world that you will be proud to leave to your children.
A new world.

But first, there will be further hardship,
For the cosmic danger we spoke of draws closer still.
This horrible menace will soon will be upon your planet,
And stands ready to destroy all we would accomplish together.
Our new world.

To stand against this threat, we must stand together.
We must ask much of you, and you must trust in us.
We may ask you to do things that seem strange or harsh,
and perhaps, at times, they will be just that.
Please trust us.

For we want nothing more than to see the Earth prosper.
Too long have we been unable to help, and kept from your side.
Now we are here, and are overjoyed to serve once more,
and nothing will keep us from saving you.
Nay, nothing.
For, having gone through horror together, we are all as one, now.
Hand in hand we will soar towards lights you cannot yet see,
and will travel higher than you could ever dream of.
Humanity now stands ready to begin a great new journey.
  Let's go there.

So remember, in the days to come, ask not why, but how.
Think not of the hardship, but of the shining goal.
Give us your trust, as though you were a small child,
and we your parents, older and wiser than you can know.
We love you. 
Rejoice, O Peoples of Earth, for the future is bright indeed.
With our help, you need fear no evil or darkness.
The trials of the present will bring the joys of the future,
And all you truly need is love.
Let us soar.
(SPYGOD is listening to Break Me (Front 242) and having a Vortex IPA )

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