"The Object," Khalil says to the late night visitor to his apartment: "You would ask me about that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," the mysterious man says from where he sits, in the shadows. A very nasty looking gun rests on his thigh -- glinting menacingly in the half dark.
"Why do you want to know about it?"
"Because it's in play," the other man says: "And I have a really uncomfortable idea who's got it, and why."
"I thought you would have known all about it?"
"Pretend I don't," he says, tapping his hands on the gun: "Indulge me."
Khalil sighs and sits down on his bed, across from the man, and lets his suit jacket slump from his shoulder. He'd just come home from another grueling, late-night meeting with what little was left of NGUVU's leadership, post-3/15, and found that he wasn't alone in his apartment.
And while the identity of his houseguest was not entirely a surprise, the fact that he'd ask about that was something of a shock.
"Alright, then," Khalil says: "I'll indulge you. And I should remind you that if you're deciding to finish what you started, back in January, that you'll be dealing with far more than an angry, pan-African intelligence group-"
"Threats are meaningless, now," the man says: "There is no cavalry to save you. There is no hope that you can persuade me to do anything other than what I came here to do. The best you can do is cooperate and tell me the truth, and maybe I'll just leave when we're done."
"And if not?"
"Then I'll just finish the job, won't I?"
Khalil sighs, and stands up: "I'm getting myself a drink."
"I found the gun you keep over there, already."
"I knew you would. I just really need a drink. Can I offer you one?"
"No thank you," the man says: "But make yourself a double and have some for me, okay?"
"Very generous of you."
* * *
"So, The Object," Khalil says, after having both drinks at the urging of his 'guest': "It's always been something of a matter of pride that we managed to keep it secret and safe, here, far from you Europeans."
"You mean us White folk."
"Well, safe from outsiders, then," Khalil says: "Even in olden times, before we had our continent carved up into geographically convenient divisions, and there were only empires won through blood and struggle, and areas no one wanted, its secret was kept."
"It fell from the sky, didn't it?" the visitor asks: "It came from the stars."
"That is how the story goes. It fell to the Earth, deep within the heart of the continent. It struck the Earth hard enough for the sound to be heard for hundreds of miles, and yet when the locals came looking, there was no massive crater, or area of destruction. It was just sitting there, in the center of what had once been a jungle, like it had been there all along."
"So maybe it didn't actually fall," the other man says: "That could have been the sound of one reality giving way to another. Like what happens when lightning strikes, and the air is displaced. Pressure differentials."
"Well, perhaps," Khalil says, shrugging: "I was not there, as you might understand. This was thousands of years ago, and while what they saw and what they found was written down, that language has not been spoken or written since the time of Christ. Perhaps we have made mistakes in translation."
"But the gist of what it says is that the wise men who found it recognized it for the dangerous thing it was?"
"What would be correct," Khalil says: "The jungle that had once been alive and lush was twisted and gnarled, and the beasts that lived there were dead or dying, with all the life gone from them. As they approached it, their minds were filled with terrible visions of a great kingdom, built on butchery, and filled with shining demons that smiled like panthers sighting prey. It was not a good thing to behold, and they sought to stop others from falling victim to it."
"So their solution was to take it and bury it as deep as they could," the visitor says: "And it worked, mostly. But the visions leaked, didn't they?"
"Oh, they did," Khalil says: "But in a strange way. If you do not look at it, the visions do not enter into your waking mind, but slip into your sleeping brain. And they go far afield to do this. It's as though it knew that no one around here would be tempted by its power, so it went to other lands, to tempt other peoples."
"And so Europeans looked to the Dark Continent, and searched for massive, rich empires."
"Yes. The legend of Prester John, the idea that Great Zimbabwe was some relic of a white man's kingdom, ideas of our great hordes of gold and jewels... all implanted by that !@#$ object."
"Well, I guess if they didn't get those dreams, there would have been another excuse," the visitor says, tapping his fingers on the grip of the gun, again: "I seem to remember the Muslims swept into Northern Africa to make an empire. Did they have the same dreams, or different ones?"
"I do not know. Maybe you should ask them."
"You're not Muslim?"
"Not anymore," Khalil admits, swirling his drink: "My mother raised me in the faith, but they won't let you into NGUVU if your faith is stronger than your conviction to their mission. But I was dead to it by the time I went to college, anyway. I really never could believe... and why am I telling you this?"
"I just have that kind of face," the visitor says, smiling there in the dark: "So, they buried it. The White Men came and looked for it. And they never found it?"
"No," Khalil says: "It was too well-hidden. But then came the War, and your Hitler decided that all the great, powerful objects of the world had to be his. So he sent some of his men down here to look for the fabled city, and the great object of power that sat at its center. His people might have been able to find it, given time, so..."
"So it was moved," the visitor says.
"No. Not just yet. It was guarded, and those who guarded it would be the ones who became BUSH, back in the 1960's. But over time, BUSH became something of a sad joke, as I'm sure you well know. And the NGUVU was made to replace it, after a fashion."
"In 2002," the visitor says: "And that's when it was moved."
"Yes. To a more secure location. And the memories of those who knew where it was were locked away using a very specific medical procedure-"
"The Seyoum Treatment. Deep hypnosis used in tandem with certain neural chemicals to lock down information. Great for storing secrets, not so great for getting them back when you need them. What's the casualty rate up to, now?"
"We've gotten survival up to 75 percent," Khalil sighs, not really wanting a lecture on safety from this man: "And the whole idea was to give them information that would only be needed if the stakes were high enough to justify that risk."
"Like needing access to the one thing the Object could really lead you to," the visitor says: "The great city with its shining demons with terrible smiles. Hidden away, somewhere."
"And Allah only knows why GORGON wanted it."
"Oh, I think that, if you think about it, you might come to realize what they've used it for," the visitor says, getting to his feet and taking his gun in hand: "And that makes that foolish little game you tried to play on the former head of BUSH all the more sad. If you'd been smart and killed him, rather than letting his contact walk into your prison and take him out of it, just to see where they went, this could have all been avoided."
"I guess so," Khalil says, looking at his drink: "So what are you going to do with this information, then? Are you going to go after them? Will you bring the Object back to us?"
"No, I don't think so," the man says, walking over to where Khalil sits, and raising the gun: "I think I'm to have a good think to myself about what I can do with this information, and then I'll see if I can turn it around to my benefit. Same as always."
"I thought better of you," Khalil replies after a moment, crossing his hands over his chest and holding onto his shoulders, as if cold: "I guess you fooled us all."
"I wish I could take my time with this, with you," the man says: "It's been a while since I've had the time to really let loose, and here you are, all helpless."
"What?" Khalil asks, his eyes getting wide: "What are you !@#$ing saying, man?"
"I'm saying that this gun's a weak weapon. It's made to kill you without even leaving a visible wound. One shot to your head and your brain's turned to jelly in your skull, but that's just too easy. Especially when I could have you all night long, any way I want, and then just leave you to bleed out on what's left of your bed."
"Oh, don't be coy. You do strategic talents for NGUVU, right? So you've seen what happens when ordinary people get worked over by people who can throw cars and topple mountains, right? People with their guts half in, half out of their backsides, their jaws broken in three or more places by the stress and strain of having a steel hammer going in and out of their mouth, women bleeding out through what's left of their cunts..."
The man shudders, changing the angle of his aim: "I so love that word, don't you? It just sounds different, here. More direct, somehow."
"I have no idea what-" Khalil starts to say, but then the gun goes off with a sound like bees humming at a hive, and he's flopped backwards over the bed, shivering and shaking, his eyes starting from their sockets.
"And you never will, will you?" the man says, putting his gun away and leaving the way he came in. He walks down the hallway, gets into the elevator, and heads for the ground floor, confident that no one will see him leave, either.
When he gets to the ground floor he looks up at Khalil's still-lit window and smiles, wishing he'd had more time, but knowing that he can have all the atrocity he can handle once he's at least a few miles away from this building, and safe.
"Cunts," the SPYGOD from another, darker Earth mutters under his breath, savoring the taste of it.