It's not the first time this has happened. It's been three times, now, and each time he's told himself that it was a mistake, and they shouldn't have done this, and what was he thinking.
But then, once the day's done, and their work's completed, they're back here. They always say they're just going to watch some BSG and have some popcorn, but they don't even get through one fraking episode before they're tearing out of their clothes and tumbling into bed.
He shouldn't be doing this, something in his mind tells him. He's more than twice her age. She's a !@#$ing teenager, for Christ's sake.
(And, yes, in her home state of Kentucky, she's legal at 16, but still...)
So he looks at the ceiling, maybe searching for the hand of a God he doesn't believe in, anymore, and tries to feel terrible for this. But try as he might, when he looks back down at her -- cuddled up against his side and snoring gently -- he can't feel that he's done anything wrong at all.
Does that make him a pervert, then? Some kind of pedophile? Is he going to the special hell for this?
He doesn't know. All he knows is that he really likes her, and she's special, and she's crazy in the sack (the best !@#$ of his life, to be honest) and while he knows that this probably won't last, it's good for now.
That and, for all he knows, the world might !@#$ing cave in on them, tomorrow, and who would be left to judge them for this?
"Send me a sign?" he whispers at the ceiling, wondering if the man with the long beard and stern countenance will be kind enough to send a clear, easy-to-understand memo as to whether he should keep letting this brilliant kid with great taste in TV shows -- and an awful secret she doesn't want to confide, yet -- ride him like a pony, late at night.
And something tells him that God isn't going to be that nice about complying.
* * *
The President sits at a desk in the apartment he's currently inhabiting, and cries quietly, watching his wife and children at their new home.
The surveillance pad was supposed to make him feel better about things, and what he's had to do, recently. He knows that's how SPYGOD meant it, and he's grateful for the gesture. Really, truly grateful.
But as he watches his wife walk through the home she's been forced to live in, by the Imago, he can see that look in her eye: the one he's been dreading seeing. It's a certain, sagging tiredness that betrays how broken she is, inside -- both by his apparent assassination, all those months ago, and the fact that she's being kept on a leash by the things that now rule the world.
The children are sad, too, but they're clearly moving past it a lot faster than she is. They've just lost their father, and aren't really old enough to understand what's just happened to their world.
Her? She's lost her lover. Her partner. Her best friend in the whole wide world. The father of her children, and the man she was going to spend her future with.
All gone with two shots of an impossible gun.
He wants to go to her, right !@#$ing now. He wants to fly there, to the armed camp for high-level prisoners they've turned Washington D.C. into, and get them all out of there. He wants to swoop in with guns he now knows exactly how to use, blast his way in there, and blow them all back out again.
He wants his wife back at his side, in his arms, in his bed. He wants his children to look him in the face and call him "daddy" again.
He wants his !@#$ing life back.
But he can't have it. Not yet. Not now.
And he knows he has to wait, and he knows why it's the right thing. But !@#$ if it doesn't hurt worse than crawling naked over broken glass.
And he knows he has to wait, and he knows why it's the right thing. But !@#$ if it doesn't hurt worse than crawling naked over broken glass.
He should really just stop looking at this. He should turn it off. Better yet, he should throw it across the room and step on it a few times, just to be sure.
But he keeps watching and crying. He can't not. And !@#$ him for that.
And !@#$ SPYGOD for his kindness.
* * *
METALMAID lies on the bed, staring up at his bedroom's massive, painted ceiling to avoid looking at him, and deciding what to say next. She decides the best thing to do is to be as dishonest as possible, given that she still needs this old, rich pervert for her plans.
"I am confused," she stammers, wondering how many times he needed to have himself painted on his !@#$ing ceiling: "I have never felt this way before, and I am unsure of what it means. Could it be that I am falling in love?"
"Oh, it's just possible," the old fellow says, farting as he goes over to a nearby, gold table and pours himself a drink from a crystal decanter: "I am told I have that effect on women."
"Well, they told you correctly," she says, rolling over and crossing her legs as seductively as she can, focusing on how nice it will be to feed him his own intestines while he's still alive enough to chew and swallow.
(She also debates whether to keep this exquisitely gaudy, Sardinian castle of his for her own purposes, or tear it apart, brick by brick, and fling it down into the Mediterranean Sea as a final revenge on this well-moneyed fool.)
"So, your company was most kind to send you along to, as they say, 'seal the deal,'" he says, turning to regard her as he brings over his drink (and not, she notes, offering her one): "Did they think I would pay faster?"
"They think you are a good customer in the making, and are exciting to be working with you on this venture."
"Ah, that is good to know," Kyklops lounges on the other side of the bed, regarding her: "I think I will be putting my plan into motion, soon. The recent events in Indonesia have revealed our conquerors to have feet of clay, and I do not wish for them to recover and rebuild."
"A wise maneuver."
"Of course it is, my dear," he winks: "I am an old hand at this game you know. Yes, I think I shall strike while they are still repairing their space elevator. And then..."
"And then," he knocks back his drink, tosses the doubtlessly-priceless crystal glass to shatter on the floor, and crawls back onto her, reinvigorated in all senses of the word: "The world shall be mine, your company shall have the privilege of arming its master.
"And you, my dear, shall be fortunate enough to serve my other, more baser needs..."
And as he sticks himself into her, yet again -- pulling her hair and grabbing her breasts so hard it's a wonder they don't snap off -- she closes her eyes and thinks of the money, and her own plan.
And she wonders where the Violet Demon is, and what he's doing tonight.
* * *
Meanwhile, back at the lair she doesn't really have control over, anymore, Zalea Zathros is !@#$ing herself.
More correctly, five of her are !@#$ing each other. Another five are working on making more Slaughterbots for METALMAID. And the remaining five are watching television, eating junk food, and having a nap.
Such is the connection between the fifteen of them that they're all more or less aware of what's going on with one another at any given moment. The ones working smile as they receive pleasure, and occasionally chuckle or gasp along with the insipid Greek soap opera that's playing upstairs, on the landing. Those loving themselves gently discuss plot points and design details as they nibble and lick one another into a frenzy. And those before the television languidly close their eyes every so often, and shudder with shared orgasms, or make a mental list of things they'll have to do when it's their turn at the lathe and soldering iron.
This is Zalea Zathros' signature achievement: a fully functioning hivemind, spread across a potentially infinite number of clones. A clone might die or be injured, but the overmind continues to function without cease. And should all but one be destroyed, that one would assume all knowledge and experience, and then be able to generate more clones from itself.
It is her dream made flesh, this life without limits. She would have made a gift of this blessed state of being to the entire world, if she'd only been allowed. But those with limited views and phobias of true scientific achievement were always out to stop her, for whatever reason.
And SPYGOD? That !@#$er locked one of her up, and then hunted down and exterminated every other clone she had remaining. He even found and burned her original body -- withered and sere, by that point, but still gloriously full of her meticulously altered DNA -- and informed her of this by dumping its ashes into her cell in the Heptagon basement.
Revenge, then, was her key goal once she escaped from his clutches. But that goal has been put aside by her former houseguest, now jailor and slavemaster. And try as she might, there's nothing she can do to get out of her bondage.
She keeps thinking there's something she could to do stop this. There's something she's doing, or not doing, that's keeping her like this. She has no idea what it could be, though, and so far every attempt she's made to narrow it down's been sidetracked, somehow.
(It's like something's aware of her investigations and is carefully moving the results of her quiet, slow experiments, so as to stop her from reaching definite conclusions.)
So she !@#$s herself. She works as ordered. She laughs and cries at the television and eats snack cakes and gets fatter than she'd like.
And as she comes and welds and passes the remote, she's all too aware that she's !@#$ed herself in more ways than one.
* * *
It's late at night in New Delhi. Dosha Josh is sleeping in the room of the safehouse he's "appropriated." Anil is standing nearby, watching him sleep.
He watches his chest rise and fall, ever so slowly, grateful for each new breath. He studies his face as he reacts to dreams, and as he lies peaceably, with no expression whatsoever.
When he's asleep he's the most beautiful man, this Dosha Josh. His scars are merely character. His eyes are kind and understanding. His lips full and luscious.
It's taken Anil some time to muster up the courage to stand there and watch, rather than to sit in the other room and keep an ear open for the two of them, like he's supposed to. Dosha only meant it jokingly, but he didn't know -- and still does not know -- that Anil does not need to sleep.
(Some strange trick of biology? No other teleporter Anil's ever met or heard of has such an issue. And while he's happy to not be enslaved to the cycle of wakefulness, he wonders what it must be like to truly lose himself to dreams, for a time. Perhaps only death will teach him this.)
But he daydreams. He fantasizes. He imagines.
And as he stands there, looking at Dosha's body under the thin sheet, imagining its hard surfaces and warm hollows, he dreams of a day when he might crawl into that bed and lay with him.
This is another thing that Dosha does not know about Anil, and probably never will. Anil has known what he was since he was old enough to know how men and women fit together, in the larger scheme of things. And while Dosha has never had time for love, sex, or any other "grotesque entanglements," as he puts it, he's quite clear about the fact that, if he ever desired to be so entangled, he'd look no further than some lovely, young Indian woman -- a vision of brown curves and fragrant hollows, with eyes that sparkle and hair that never ends.
(And a body that falls to ruin either right after the first baby, or sometime in one's 40's, Anil can't help but notice...)
Anil is none of those things, and would not care to be. He is a man, and he loves as a man does: a careful balance between firm directness and gentle suggestion. To make either to Dosha would be fatal to their working relationship, and shatter any hopes of a friendship beyond that.
So he watches Dosha sleep. He listens to him breathe. He promises to all Gods he knows that he will protect this man from all things, in all ways, and in this way show him his love.
It's not enough -- it could never be anywhere near enough -- but given that fate has decided to play this hand for them, in this lifetime, Anil will take the cards and hold them with silent gratitude.
* * *
Elsewhere in B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P. 4, Mark Clutch sits at the console, counting the seconds until Martha comes on to talk to him. Her and Kaitlyn have been up to a lot -- most of it quiet errands for their mysterious backer -- and there's a lot to talk about. Plans, errands, concerns, things like that.
Tonight could be the night he lets it slip that he's been thinking about her a lot.
It could actually happen, tonight. It's been a good day, and nothing feels like there's a disaster looming. He could just slip it into the conversation, as they get ready to sign off, and see what she says.
He could. Really.
But how does he say a thing like that? Really?
And how is she supposed to take it? Really?
Because he knows how this sounds: pathetic and base. It sounds like he's lonely, and missing his wife, and horny, and looking for a new mother for Kaitlyn, and a million other things that just scream "woah, back up, buddy."
And it's true, that sometimes when Martha laughs or cries -- or kicks people's !@#$ -- she reminds him of her so much. So !@#$ much...
But there's other things, besides. The way she talks, the way she thinks, the way she trusts to God always, and in all ways. The way she looks after his daughter, and will not give up on her son.
The way she's become the head of the family, now, and has learned to trust her own judgment and see what the Lord provides.
He has fallen in love, again. He has seen things in her he never saw before, and probably just as well given that he was married to her cousin. But fate has cleared the way between them, and, with the world hanging in the balance, can they not try to be happy as they save it?
But how can he say those things? How can he think those things? Rachel hasn't even been dead a year, and he's already trying to see her cousin. Surely there's something about that in the Bible. Somewhere.
(Though, the more he thinks about it, the more he thinks there's something about someone in the family having to marry the in-law who's lost her husband? Does that count for him? Does that even count at all?)
But all the reason and morality and propriety in the world can't cast aside his feelings. It's more than just loneliness, or wanting to make love to a smart, capable, and very lovely woman. It's a small spark that was lit when they met, all those years ago, and has blossomed into a full and beautiful flame now that the fire of his lost wife has dwindled away.
And if he doesn't do something about this blaze, it will burn him down.
Maybe tonight will be the night he says something they'll both regret hearing. Maybe tonight he'll just leave it lay for a better time.
* * *
In a shadowed apartment in Washington DC, a Beautiful Stranger frantically surfs the internet, looking for signs of a disaster.
He knows the net's been censored, courtesy of the new masters of this planet, but he figures that news of earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes are probably let straight through. And after what he and Aaron did in the bedroom, earlier tonight, surely there has to be some sign of displeasure from on High, or Below. Some sort of cosmic comeuppance must have been levied against this trembling, moral world.
Surely the Earth must have moved.
As he searches, terrified of what he may have done, Aaron lies back in the bed they just broke, remembering the moments leading to here, at this moment. The lead-up to them was slow, sweet, and exquisitely tortured -- often a two steps forward, one step back sort of affair.
And, now that that's done, everything from here is likely to be fast, sour, and harsh.
He does not cry. He does not smile. What's happened has happened, as he knew it would the moment he looked at that entity.
And as for what happens now? Well, he'll probably find that out tomorrow, or maybe the day after.
People think he knows everything that's going to happen, but that's not true. He only ever gets small glimpses of most of what's coming down the pipe -- small flares sent up from the font of Creation which are gone before they're really understood. It's only the big things that light up his mind, and make him ever so aware that everything he's doing has been planned since his creation, countless aeons ago.
This? Well, it was nice while it lasted, and might last longer than tonight. But in the grand scheme of things, it's was just a !@#$.
(A very nice !@#$, though -- one billions of years in the making.)
The stranger's weeping at the keyboard. Something about Vanuatu, or the coast of Japan. Aaron smiles and wills himself back to the closest he can approach sleep, knowing he'll just have to deal with it tomorrow. Maybe with more of the same.
* * *
In a small, Bridgetown shack, on the Southwest corner of Barbados, a cat is snoozing, curled up around a bottle of vodka and an AK-47. Three very tired hookers are conked out in a pile around him. Every so often he wakes up, halfway, mutters something in Russian, and then goes back to sleep, knowing that tomorrow he's going to be really !@#$ing busy.
He'd better get his relaxation when and where he can.
* * *
In a safehouse in the Bronx, two war vets alternate between !@#$ing and fighting. He's old, with the scars to prove it, and wearing nothing but a black mask with an ace of spades on it. She's young, but has almost as many scars as he does, and is wearing a blindfold, just to make this interesting. They'll do this until they're too weak to do anything but sleep, and maybe in the morning they'll do some business, but for now it's been too long since they've thrown down.
And they both need this -- badly.
* * *
And in China, not too far from where the President is crying, and the man he got the information from is sleeping, SPYGOD sleeps with his guns crossed over his chest, clearing his mind and making himself ready for what he's going to do, tomorrow. But every so often, he can't help but remember the Dragon, and relive that lovely bit of ghost sex they had, there in that fire, as the barriers between worlds and futures was shattering around them.
He tries not to cry for that lost moment, wanting to have a blank mind for the job. He tries to resist the sickness of regret, which can both paralyze and kill an Agent -- even someone like him.
But here -- in this place and time -- he can't help but let the sorrow wash over him, so he gives in, and loses himself in that rush of dark emotions. He puts his guns down, grabs his mutated, lovecraftian !@#$ and masturbates weakly, trying to let the wave of light and airy endorphins this brings counteract the sour mash of loss and horror.
In his mind, one man becomes many men. The Dragon of then becomes The Dragon of now becomes Director Straffer becomes a mindless, soft parade of Thai ladyboys, MI-6 agents, and fighting men from every war he's ever been in One set of buttocks melds into another, all !@#$s become one !@#$, all torsos and shoulders and hips and calves and necks and jawlines and lips and eyes are pieced together from the honeyed trap of his memory, becoming a frankensteinian patchwork doll, there for him to !@#$ from all angles, in all ways, in all times.
One man in one moment, shining and resplendent, taking him in his arms and calling him home.
He's come three times before he knows it -- sperm bullets shattering portions of the drywall and ceiling. The resulting rush of bliss washes over him, knocking the sorrow out of his skull, at least for now. And then he lies back, watching with some fascination as his twisted manhood slithers and slurps itself back into his pants.
"I love you," he says to the piece of the Dragon left behind in his mind's eye, just before it becomes Straffer and then vanishes with the wink of a winsome katooey's eye: "I loved you all."
And then he gently takes his guns up, crosses them over his chest, and goes about clearing his mind for his mission -- the only real and true love he has left, now.
And the only one that can really love him back forever.
(SPYGOD is listening to Pornography (The Cure) and having something you never want to taste)