Thursday, January 24, 2013

9/24/12 - Shapeless in the Dark Again - pt. 1

It's the dreams that get to him, these days. They always do.

In his dreams, Wen Boxiong is back on 3/15, and the Imago have just upended the would-be upheaval of the Chinese government. The pro-democracy forces have been quite literally broken, their battered and bloody pieces strewn over the floor like a scene from a particularly filthy slaughterhouse. He can hear screams echoing throughout the building as the revolution's remnants are seen to, and the sounds and the smells are so vivid and nauseating that even when he closes his eyes he can still see what's causing them.

There is no escape from this one terrible moment he is trapped within.

If this was merely a memory, the Imago would be hailed as liberators, and then tell their General Secretary (the one who's dead, now) to stand by for an important announcement. And Wen Boxiong would remain kneeling, praying that no one noticed that he had soiled himself while begging for his life. He'd remain there well past the announcement, miming shock, until he could excuse himself to a nearby toilet to be sick in, and then, weeping, clean himself up.

If this was merely a memory and not a nightmare, that is what would happen. That is what happened, all those months ago. And everything that's happened since then is further testament to either the power of cowardice, or the fact that something out there is looking out for him -- near-worthless coward that he is.

But in his nightmares, the Imago do not stand there like serene, metal statues, perversely beaming with endless smiles and kindly looks after having torn men apart like paper dolls. Instead they all turn towards him as he kneels, festering in his own filth, and point their bloody fingers at him.

"Traitor," one of them says.

"Collaborator," says another.

"Saboteur," confirms yet another.

They repeat their accusations, stepping just a little closer with each new round. He whimpers and protests his innocence, begging for his life to them just as he did to the now-dead revolutionaries. He falls to the ground and abases himself, losing control over his bowels yet one more time as they finally reach him.

And then they all raise up their fists like hammers, and bring them down on his head.

That's usually when he wakes up, eyes wide open and heart racing. Sometimes he dreams they're halfway through pulping him, first. Sometimes they're more creative than that.

He used to always scream when the dreams reached that point, and wake up to the sound of his own voice in his ears. These days he just sits up with a start, gasping and thankful that it was just another dream. His head is still intact. His pants are not full of !@#$.

And no one -- not even the American President  in exile -- knows all his dirty secrets.

But as he slowly takes control of his breathing, once again, and debates whether to try and go back to bed, pour himself a drink, or try and do both, he remains unaware that a pair of figures are watching him from the shadows. They remain both still and mute, watching and listening as he makes up his mind, and as he goes to turn on the light one of them nods.

The lamp goes on, but they're gone just before its light can reach them. 

* * *

It's 10:30 at night, and the biggest, best hospital in Addis Ababa has been closed to visitors for quite some time. Nurses perform their rounds, doctors check up on their patients, and surgeons go from case to case, looking forward to the chance to do what this time of the day normally demands.

Somewhere in all that motion, an unseen crime takes place. A strange noise is heard by no one, and then there are two people in a private room, meant for only one occupant.

He's young and good looking, the man lying in the hospital bed. He's also in a vegetative state, blank eyes staring at the ceiling. The only sounds in the room are his gentle, shallow breathing and the endless beep beep beep of his heart monitor.

It's a good set-up, this room, and the least that NGUVU could do for one of its stricken agents. But there's very little hope of this man ever getting any better. Some strange kind of sudden brain damage, his doctors figure -- nothing they've seen before, and nothing they'd wish on someone.

The two figures regard the young man as he stares at the ceiling. There's spy cameras all over the room, but they don't seem too concerned, any more than they're worried about the two fellows who are lounging outside in the hallway, their guns just a quick gesture away.

"It's time," one of them says, his voice old and scratchy, but quite forceful.

"So it is," the other replies, his voice strange and echoing, as though it were coming from a long ways down a tunnel.

The other waves his silvery hand, and something strange happens to the man in the bed. He blinks his eyes, screws them shut, and shakes his head, as if he were coming out of a bad dream.

"You're not dreaming," the one with the old voice tells the man, who starts at the sound, but is unable to raise himself from bed.

"Where... who..." Khalil asks, his voice weak and raspy: "Why can't I see?"

"Your sight will return in a few days. You've suffered brain damage."

"I... brain damage?"

"Yes. That thing your attacker used scrambles your brains into paste. If you hadn't put up your shield, it would have killed you outright. As it is, you were pretty much gone from the neck up for the last nine days, but darn lucky to be alive."

"I see..." the man says, trying to put his hands to his face but failing.

"Don't push it, young man. It's going to take a while to get back to normal."

"Who are you?" Khalil asks: "I remember... I was..."

"You were visited," the old-sounding man says: "And you might think you know who it was, but you don't. Not really, anyway."

"I do not understand."

"It is well that you do not," the one with the echoing voice chimes in: "But when your friends find you, tomorrow, you must not tell them who did this to you. It is not yet time for them to learn the true face of the one who attacked you."

"No," Khalil insists: "We promised... no more... no more secrets."

"Did you, now?" the old-sounding one says: "Well, we can't have that, can we?"

The other visitor waves a silver hand, again, and the expression on Khalil's face changes. He blinks his useless eyes and tries to get up.

"Do you remember who attacked you, son?" the older-sounding man asks.

"No..." Khalil says: "I thought I did, but... no, it's gone. I do not know who... who are you?"

But the two mysterious figures are gone, leaving Khalil to yell at an otherwise-empty room until the NGUVU agents out in the hallway come in to see what the matter is.

* * *

Human time is a hard thing to reckon at the black, crushing bottom of the Atlantic, where the Kingdom rises above the Wet Below. The Sun's rays do not shine down there, after all, and any landmade contrivances for keeping track of its passing tend to be flattened into hard, little balls of matter before they get even halfway down to its spiky, rock towers and glittering walls.

But it is enough to know that it is the later part of what they would think of as a day. And that is quite significant, tonight, as the activity within that city is much, much greater than it would normally be for this point in time.

The citadel has come alive, tonight. Swarms of living lights encircle its tall, craggy spires and shed light on its dark hollows. Near-mindless, globular things are goaded into floating about the city in an endless parade of alien pomp and circumstance. Its denizens' finest jewelry crawls about their carapaces, and all eyes are bright and filled with wonder.

For today is the day that the Emperor dies, and yet lives.

Today, Emperor Thurl, who has ruled the Kingdom for untold ages, will sink so that his spawn may rise.

At this very moment, in the room of the seven jaws, dignitaries and emissaries from every corner of the Dark are watching as Thurl is being consumed by his strongest, toughest spawn. The Emperor has been prepared with the utmost skill by the royal food preparers, so that he is most edible and delicious, yet still alive and conscious.

It is a complex and meaty ritual, this deathlifedreamsleep. His spawn and he must remain in conversation as long as possible as the former devours the brains of the latter. They must share their souls, their hopes, and their dreams as they become one in the flesh. Only then can the royal jewels truly accept their new Emperor, and only after that happens will the Kingdom truly kneel before him.

This ritual has happened many times, but this is truly a special occasion. It is not only the first new deathlifedreamsleep since the ending of the Overobligation, but also the first to be witnessed by an overlander. Yellow and Blue, Imago adviser to the Kingdom, floats above the sacred feast and watches, apparently quite fascinated by its savage intimacy.

(Or maybe she's smiling for a different reason?)

Outside the palace, at the outskirts of the city, the other Imago -- Orange and Green -- walks amongst the people, as has become his habit. He has found that watching a condemned and mewling leader spend his last days in power is not to his liking. And, as his companion seems better suited to make certain the Emperor does not renege on their agreement.

Of course, that's academic, now. The Emperor is soon to be dead, replaced by his child. That child will be advised by Blue and Yellow, and thereby kept from discovering the shocking truth that his father had uncovered, about the their City. And so will the mighty Kingdom be kept blind and docile to their plans, and what will come on The Day.

And after that, well...

He smiles a little at that thought, wondering if the soon-to-be-late Emperor's boasts of being able to survive another "overapocalypse" will amount to anything, this time.

As Orange and Green wanders, observing, he is in turn observed. Up above his head, hiding in the wandering shadows between schools of lightfish, two figures float. The one with the older voice is nestled inside the silvery body of the other, as though they were Russian dolls of a sort, and in this fashion they are both protected from the harsh environment, here.

The Imago comes to the very edge of the city, now, and turns to look around, taking in the few stragglers to the party, or those few who are choosing to leave it. As he does, he listens to a family as they devour their dinner in a cramped hole that may be their home, a restaurant, or just some corner they've ducked into.

It's two adults and a child, possibly no larger or older than the one who's about to be the new Emperor. He's not sure if what they're eating could be something that has a name, or is just food -- even after a few months he's not sure how they differentiate between the two.

"If the Emperor is dying, why are we happy?" the child asks.

"Because the Emperor never truly dies, my freshshell," one of the parents explains: "He dies in the mouth of the spawn but he lives in the heart of the spawn. This is how we continue, here in the Dark."

"But I thought when we died we went into Mother Dark?"

"Only if we choose to," the other parent said, letting her mate eat in peace: "Those like us have no power and no station, and must obey our masters, but ours is the right of joyrest. And those who have power are both master and slave to their station, and they must suffer the deathlifedreamsleep for all our sakes."

"Deathlifedreamsleep..." the child says, letting the word roll out of its mouth.

And Orange and Green hears this word, and remembers something that Thurl spoke of, the first time they met. He remembers something about "formlife," and how the Emperor had taken three forms since the Overobligation.

He had thought that Thurl had been referring to some kind of molting process, or some strange metamorphosis, unique to their species. But remembering the strange words he heard the massing guests and dignitaries whisper amongst themselves when he deigned to visit the citadel -- reverent mentions of sacred cycles, the gifting, and the oldnew --  he begins to understand that he has misunderstood.

He realizes he has made a mistake, and that they have been fooled.

Oh, there will be punishment for this deceit! This Kingdom is now forfeit. The Imago will rain down fire from Deep Ten to purge it from the seabed. They will send down reinforcements to rend and tear to pieces what manages to live through that. And they will ensure that this "oldnew" Thurl lives long enough to see the full consequences of his sorry, sad attempt to trick them...

But that is the last thought that Orange and Green has, at least along those lines.

The next thought he has is why everything around him is shimmering, and then blazing hot.

And then he never thinks anything, ever again.

The two figures in one watch as the small piece of Earth from a few billion years ago -- molten and hungry -- consumes everything and everyone that stood atop it. Those few beings closest to the Imago are instantly slurped down and immolated, and while Orange and Green's armor can withstand the stress for a time, its fleshy bits are less protected.

Its work done, the superhot maw begins to cool off. Those nearby either scuttle away from the intense heat, or kneel and pray towards it, hoping to supplicate its hunger with their love. The family in the cuttlehole leave their meal to observe, praying as they go.

For they believe it to be the Red, come to take its due for this day. Such incursions are not unknown, even right here within the Kingdom. And while some may say that such a thing, in such a place, at such a time, augurs ill for the start of Emperor Thurl's new formlife, some will say that this is as it should be.

And with the disappearance of the two figures in one -- sad, but satisfied that what has needed to happen, here, has been done -- no one will be any the wiser.

Especially not Blue and Yellow.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Hanging Garden (the Cure) and drinking something under heavy pressure)

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