Sunday, January 27, 2013

9/24/12 - Shapeless in the Dark Again - Pt. 2

Unseen and unheard, the mysterious pair move across the world. They watch, they listen, and they consider, and then they either act or do not.

And with that decision, they are gone, and on to their next stop.

* * *

In Neo York City, right around 2:30 in the afternoon, they observe several different groups of people, almost at once.

They begin by looking in on a large band of those undocumented souls who make the technotropolis, itself, their home. These "Free," who live off the city's offered nourishment, and nestle in its warm and quiet corners, have weathered the last six months with hardly any interference from the Imago. It would seem that, as they have turned their back on the general program of the world, those who currently oversee that world have next to no use for them, and therefore no concern.

Clearly, that was a mistake on their part, for the Free's seeming disinterest is merely a front. They actually do care about the world they appear to have turned their back on, and they have proven this by willingly taking refugees into their care for the time being.

Small people with big problems, mostly: those who asked too many questions, or heard the wrong answers, or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there are also those who did and said things considered antithetical to the new regime. The free thinkers and loud talkers, internet outlaws and rogue pamphleteers, graffiti provocateurs and park proclaimers -- all marked for a visit from the Imago, and all mysteriously vanished just before they could get there.

It's almost as if they knew the metal men were coming.

As they watch the motley, raggedy band, moving deep into the catacombs and forgotten sub-basements of the old city -- the parts not gifted with mind and movement by the Compuconqueror -- the group stops at a large junction of strangely dry tunnels, and one of them consults her old, silver pocketwatch.

"Any minute now," the older woman says, taking a careful step back, as though she could feel something coming. A second  later, the place she was standing comes alive with electrical fire and strange crackling, and their hair stands right up on end as a massive hole opens up in the invisible fabric of the world.

Their air goes wooshing into the hole, which looks to be someplace sunny and warm. Figures walk through from the other end: men and women and children, all wide-eyed and nervous, and some of them quite scared for their lives.

At the front of the band is a youngish, stern-looking figure, dressed in black leather armor and sporting a rakish eyepatch. The back of his shaved head is a ruin of scars, wires, and ridged tubes, and he's carrying a gun that looks way too large for him to handle.

The woman with the watch sees him approach, and then walks up to kiss him -- hard and with what appears to be relief.

"How goes the front lines, embedded ?" she asks him, a breathless few seconds later.

"Not good," Randolph sighs, looking around: "This is all we could salvage from Van Nuys. Everyone else who survived was picked up for questioning."

She looks at him, taking his dark meaning, and nods, looping a hand around his waist as she turns to the crowd: "Folks? Don't worry. You're safe, now. These people with me will help you. Go with them, please."

They look to her, then to the smiling people who have come to greet them. Finally, one of their number extends a hand in trust, and the others follow suit.

"I have to get back," Randolph says, looking at the hole: "Things are about to go down. We heard from You Know Who, finally."

"Orders, huh?" she chuckles, kissing him again: "I always loved a man in uniform."

"I always !@#$ing hated taking orders."

"You give them very well."

"Yeah..." he sighs, looking at the gun: "Funny old !@#$ world, huh?"

"Do you think there will be more after this?"

"Wayfinder can't see that far in advance. But I figure there's going to be a lot of evacuations before this is all over. Especially to here."

"We'll be waiting," she says, giving him a last kiss goodbye: "Tell Jess I said hi, and tell the kids I'm making them the best hummus ever when this is over."

"I will," he says, and then, with one last squeeze, he walks away and back into the hole. He turns around to look at her just before it closes, and then, with the whooshing of air, she's all alone.

"You're watching," she says to the chamber: "Aren't you?"

"Yes," the older-sounding member of the pair says, choosing to make himself visible as well.

"I don't know whether to thank you or punch you," she says, not turning to look at him: "This has been heaven. But now..."

"You knew what was coming," the one with the echoey voice says, not choosing to make himself visible: "We gave you a choice. You chose this."

"Don't I know it," she says, not wanting them to see her cry: "But was this really my choice? Or was this something else?"

"Six of one, half a dozen of the other," the older one sighs: "I wish I could tell you more, but..."

"But there are no words for this sort of thing," she sighs: "Yeah, you told me that, too."

"Is there anything... I know, that's not much, but-"

"You tell him I loved him, when this is done," she insists, turning around to look the man in the face: "You tell him to never forget that I loved him. And you do every !@#$ing thing you can to make sure he's happy, after this."

"I will," the one with the echoey voice says: "You may rely on that."

"Thank you," she says, closing her eyes. By the time she's opened them, they're both gone.

And the woman walks away, wishing only that the last time she and Randolph were together could have lasted forever. 

 * * *

That done, the pair check in on two more people, neither of whom are all that easy to find.

* * *

The first one is hidden in a secret compartment within the B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G., hiding out from the Imago and False Faces that are stationed there, trying to make sense of its many strange and dangerous secrets. Unfortunately for them, he's been watching them almost non-stop since they entered, and takes a great deal of pride in letting them get only so far, and then yanking the prize right out of their hands. 

Hunched over a hastily-built conglomeration of viewscreens and consoles, down in a small vault that doesn't show up anywhere in the schematics, Benjamin Franklin -- Founding Father, inventor, genius, politician, diplomat, spymaster, and apparently-immortal sex god -- chuckles and eats popcorn by the handful. 

He's currently watching a gaggle of False Faces try and disconnect a rather strange-looking weapon from one of the downstairs armories. He's already planned a few nasty consequences for them when they do get it out, but he's not so concerned about that, right now. 

What he's really interested in is the code he's been working on, in the last few days, after he got word that SPYGOD had gotten back in contact, and that things were soon to be on the move. When that movement happens, his part of the plan will involve a larger, longer, and much stronger version of the virus he unleashed on the American people last June.

It wasn't perfect, and didn't achieve all that he'd hoped, but a lot of people did a number of interesting things in that precious twenty seconds of free thought he'd given them. Who knows what they might do with a whole !@#$ hour?

Of course, the humorless metal bastards adapted and overcame his attempts at patriotic sabotage, so he's not completely sure his hack will go as well as he hopes. But if the plan's what he thinks it is, it's more than likely they'll have many other problems on their mind when he flips the switch. 

And after that, their problems will really begin.

There's a shudder and a thump that's felt all over The B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G, and the screen in the armory he was watching goes blank. Ben laughs through a mouthful of popcorn, wishing he had someone cute and well-proportioned to share this moment of triumph with, and then gets back to work on the code.

Partway through a troubling line, the silver-handed member of the pair waves in Mr. Franklin's direction, and suddenly he realizes that he's been coming at the problem from the wrong way around. Cursing his own stupidity, he immediately starts making feverish changes to the code, seeing that he could do so much more than he'd hoped...

* * *

The second person isn't easy to find either, but only because the older man and his young apprentice/rival/lover are hiding in plain sight, today. 

They're in Queens, again, parked on a dingy, wreck-choked back alley, just a little down the way from a small, Korean restaurant that's been out of business for a few months, now. No one's paying much attention to their van, as it's just another junky-looking vehicle, and for all they know he bought her for an hour and this is where he'd like to get his !@#$ sucked.

"So after we do these !@#$ers, who's next?" Whisper asks, checking her gun just one more time: "The Russians? The Chinese?"

"I was thinking of looking back at the Mafia," The Black Card says, his voice as rough as flint as he checks his watch: "They're probably organized, again."

"After what we !@#$ing did to them?"

"Especially after," he says, looking at her with a little smile: "This is what they do. You cut them to bits, you walk away, and then the bits reform again. It's one big, bloody cycle."

"Like starfish, huh?"


"Starfish. You chop them up and toss 'em in a bag, and everyone's pieces will go right on each other."

"Really?" he just looks at her, like she said hat the rain was actually a host of angels taking a !@#$ shower.

"Yeah, really. You mean you lived right by the side of the Ocean for all these years and you've never known that?"

"Don't really have time for strolling the boardwalk," he says, looking at his watch again.

"No, I guess not," she says, reaching over and taking his hand in hers. He sighs, and lets her do it.

"I love you," he says, for the first time that they've known each other.

"I love you too," she lies, not knowing if he knows what this is really all about or not.

But then the explosion happens, and the restaurant's front and sides are all over the road. And then she's out of the van, guns ready to execute anyone who runs out the back. And then he's right beside her, wearing his black, Ace of Spades mask and grinning like a hungry tiger. 

The pair of observers watch from up high as the two of them gun down a number of panicked, badly-burned Korean mobsters that come running out the back. Somewhere in there, they see to it that the old man doesn't have the time to even suspect that the woman who's sharing his crusade, his trust, and his bed could have yet another ulterior motive. 

And then they're off, again, leaving the two killers to do what they do best. 

* * *

They also drop down to Washington DC, to look in on two other people who have no real business being in the same bed, much less the same space.

Indeed, their close (some would say "intimate") proximity to one another is causing severe problems in the local area. The spiritual distortions they give off have caused their apartment building to start crumbling apart like an early snowman caught in the rain. Its exterior walls are rotting from the inside, its hallways are so damp they're turning to paste, and its wiring going malevolently bad. 

Only some dark miracle is keeping it from collapsing around itself, and maybe that's being done for those few mortals who yet remain. Most of the other tenants moved out shortly after the couple moved in, all fleeing some unseen dread. And those who have stayed are slowly going insane, beset by disturbingly beautiful visions of a glorious world beyond this, or else catching truly horrible glimpses of the damnation that's awaiting them.

Sometimes both kinds at once.

Six months ago, these two beings entered into a bargain. They did so at the prompting of SPYGOD, himself, who said that they might need to change the rules of a certain long game, if they were to head off a massive problem down the road. His proposal was long on orders and short on explanations, but, after their mutual dealings with the man, they were both willing to extend a little trust.

So a deed was done, and a change made, however subtly. Now they are simply waiting for the expected change to come, and with it the moment they've been waiting for. And it would seem that neither of them handles waiting too well.

Aarondiel pretends to sleep in their bed, wrapped around a pillow, presenting himself to the open door. He knows that his roommate will eventually come in, away from his self-imposed punishment, and want to do something to take him mind off of how badly they've !@#$ed things up. And then, after doing the deed, he'll feel terrible again, and want to leave the room and take his mind off what they've done.

The cycle has been well-established by now. Neither of them expects anything else to happen, here. And it will be like this until their plan comes to fruition, and they can finally leave this sour-smelling room. 

The one with the old voice wishes there was something he could say. He wants so much to be able to tell one or both of them what they should do, now. He wishes he could be a comfort, now that they need it most, and give them a warning well ahead of the looming danger they face.

He wishes he could do these things, but he knows he cannot. And with that sadness, he and his companion leave.

* * *

They make several more stops, after that -- of them fairly brief.

Most of them are young men and women who have but one thing in common, and that is that they had cause to be visited by SPYGOD in the past, and were sent in new life directions as a result of it. Some of them are good, and some are not so good, but all of the ones the pair look in on have been keeping to their part of the bargain.

So far as their family, friends, and neighbors know, none of them is extraordinary in any way, shape, or form. And if even their closest companions have no idea of the miracles stewing beneath their ordinary facades, then the Imago have even less of an idea. 

Which is exactly what concerns the pair as they take each person into account, and wave a hand to ensure they stay quiet, hidden, and alive -- at least for now.

They also visit the members of the Freedom Force, who are all wondering what to make of SPYGOD's last, quite perfunctory communication. Some think they know what he means, and some are as baffled as ever, but they are all ready to move when he gives the word.

And ready to die, if the cause be right and just.

They take the time to visit a young man with big ideas, great techniques, and a terrible secret. They watch him send secret messages back and forth with a mentally unbalanced robot who's locked herself into a very bad position for a truly horrible reason.

They don't know whether to laugh or cry at what they see, there, but they're both content that what's happening is what needs to happen, now. With heavy hearts, they leave the two schemers to their plots and plans, and go on to something much nicer, and yet sadder than either of them could express.

* * *

Across a dimensional barrier, they walk, and end up in a strange, cyclopean treehouse, currently under attack by winged dinosaurs. In the confusion of sad battle -- for none of those poor creatures will live through this day -- they walk, observing numerous persons as they do.

They see two people who are not in love, but need each other so very brightly. His new-found strength keeps her from breaking, and her affections give him a purpose beyond riding the wave of all this slaughter, horror, and upheaval.

It will end, soon, this affair, but the pair of watchers need do nothing about that. One morning, soon, she will awaken to a memory that she has avoided facing, and realize there is nothing about it that can harm her now. When she tells the others, it will change everything, and the affair will come to its natural conclusion.

They also see a man in love who cannot express it. Perhaps it is best if he does not do so, at this time, but rather lets it burn his soul and inspire his actions. One of them almost makes that love vanish altogether, just in case it gets in the way of something else, but the other advises caution. Uncertain, they leave this chip to fall where it may. 

They see other heroes, here, brought from many lands and lives to work together on one great purpose. Some of them are doomed, some are not. Some of them will live with honor, some will die in fear.

The best of them is not easy to spot, given his predilection for remaining quiet and hidden. They would like to appear and tell him of what he must do, and how important it is that he do it. But he already knows, this Green Man, and maybe it's best to not spook him any more than he's already been.

(Conversely, the worst amongst the group is very easy to spot, given that one's condition. But as much as they'd like to stop that person, now, before the terrible thing that will happen her can even begin, they know that this, too, is part of the plan.)

They end their visit with a young and broken boy in a hospital bed, who's praying to God for his family -- especially the father he's just now regained. Every day in here is a struggle to stay alive, as terrible infections wrack his body, and push his already-ruined systems even closer to the point of collapse, and yet he still thinks only of others, and what his absence will mean to them.

On his shoulders, so much depend. The older man places his hand on the boy's brow and prays over him, unseen and unheard, as his companion takes a few extra precautions, here and there around the room.

That done, the older man dries his eyes, and they leave. And when the young boy awakens, he may yet remember that he was touched by angels.

Or not.

* * *

"Do you wish to see her, again?" the silvery one asks the older one as they make their very last stop, out in a desert. It's just before Noon, here, and the wind is picking up a little.

"No," the older man says, shaking his head and adjusting his robes and mask: "If I did, I don't think I'd do this."

"You wouldn't?"

"No. I'd... I'd find some excuse. I'd try to get more time, again. More than I've already taken. And..."

"You deserve it," the silvery one says, putting a hand on the old man's shoulder: "You deserve so much. There are no words for what you have done, and what you are about to do."

"There is," the old man says, smiling under his mask and putting a hand on the other one's shoulder: "'Repentance.'"

"I think I am the one with something to repent for," the silvery one says: "But maybe we both needed each other, my friend."

"Maybe we did."

"I love you, old man," the silver one says, embracing him: "Thank you for what you've done."

"Thank you," the older man says: "I love you, too. God bless you, boy. Be strong. And when the time comes... you give them !@#$ for me, you hear? And then you go and make this world amazing, again."

"I will," the other one says, stepping back and away, his form starting to dissipate: "I am already there, now. I am many places at once. And in them all, you are guiding me. Thank you."

And with that, he's gone.

The older man sighs, wipes his eyes one last time, and then adjusts his robes and mask. He stands there for a time, wondering if the other person is going to come back, again, maybe for one last hug, or one last strange message, or fantastic errand.

(Maybe to find a way to give him one more day with her. One more hour. Or even a minute, precious and quick...)

But no. There is nothing. That is over, now.

And this? This has truly just begun.

"Just after I left,"  the masked leader of the resistance says, checking his watch as he goes into the Toon city, and gets ready to make war.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Hanging Garden (The Cure, Demo Version) and having something reverent and wide.)

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