Not that you're bad company or anything, son. But this has been one long !@#$ night, talking about this !@#$. Lots of !@#$ I really didn't want to !@#$ing think about or bring up, again. Lots of unfinished business, nasty !@#$ing connections, unfortunate god!@#$ revelations, and really !@#$-ugly truths.
And, always, it all comes right !@#$ing back to me, now doesn't it? Same as it ever was.
Heh. "My God, what have I done...?"
You gonna drink that, son? No? Okay, lemme take it for the common good, here...
Ah, down the !@#$ing hatch.
* * *
So, Thanksgiving happens. I pull my gun out and shoot something that should not be so full of magic !@#$ing bullets that it's a wonder I don't have to go back in time and snag one of the ones they tried to use on President Kennedy, that one afternoon in Texas. It's all over the !@#$ world by the next day, and I'm having to explain my !@#$ to the President of the United States of America, who, as you might understand is not !@#$ing happy with me.
A day after that, while I'm at home in the B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G., essentially laying low by Presidential order until he figures out what the !@#$ to do or say, or do with me, the Fourth Estate finally tracks down Mister Chaos at the Ashram he's been !@#$ing hiding out at since the Reclamation War ended, and asks him for his version of things that day. And he makes it clear that, yes, he broke orders, and a team member died, and so on.
But yes, Wolf, he was able to bring those children back to life.
And yes, Anderson, it's possible he could have done the same !@#$ thing for all of them, if he'd been given the time and the right circumstances to twist around.
And, yes, Sean, he didn't have the time because it was not given unto him. Because I ordered those White Boxes be destroyed once the initial plan didn't !@#$ing work.
A day after that, it's official. I am now the mother!@#$ing face that's been applied to the absent gravesites of a billion dead children. My face goes up on signs and banners and websites all over the world, and they all want my !@#$ing fine gay !@#$ on a silver plate for having made that decision.
And just like that, I'm public enemy number one, all over again.
Now, you know me, son. My first instinct when someone throws a punch is to shoot them in the !@#$ing guts. And here's all these fists coming at me, from all !@#$ directions, and you know I have enough !@#$ing guns to shoot their owners all down like ducks at the !@#$ state fair, right?
Fortunately, my boyfriend smacks some sense into me... well, !@#$s some sense into me is the better term, not that you really needed to know that, but okay. And a few hours later, after I've nutted over half the !@#$ bed, knocked back a drink or two, and kicked the !@#$ cat out of the room about five !@#$ times because it keeps stealing my !@#$ing vodka, I'm back in some semblance of control, again.
And that's !@#$ good, because the day after that is the day we've all been !@#$ing waiting for. The day that the trial of the Imago officially ends, and the verdict is read.
Now, you I know you haven't been !@#$ing living under a rock, son. You know how it all went down. And you know that this was all as certain as sunrise.
But it's all the little details that matter, because you know one of the go-to questions of the next 100 years is !@#$ing going to be "Where were you when the Imago were found guilty?"
And I will never !@#$ing forget.
* * *
Silence so absolute you could cut it with a butter knife -- that's what greets SPYGOD the moment he shows up at the courtroom, heads down the row, ready to take his seat with the other Prosecution witnesses.
Everyone is here, today. All the Strategic Talents who fought in the Reclamation War, from all the nations that had them to spare, most of whom pretend they don't see him. All the heads of the Weird Armies that attacked and defended, some of whom SPYGOD dealt with, and some of whom have since been replaced due to madness or death. All of the Spymasters and Talent Handlers, most of whom either give SPYGOD a cold glare or just nod, and do nothing more.
Heads of state and their endless assistants and bodyguards. Ordinary people who have been brought to watch and bear witness. The press, the writers, the media personalities.
And none of them want to shake hands with the pariah. (Not here and now, anyway.)
SPYGOD moves quickly down the aisle, glad that, here at least, no one's going to shove a !@#$ing camera in his face. Director Straffer walks beside him, casting a withering glare on anyone who looks like they might be the one to start booing. And somewhere between the occasion and the look from his eyes, no one dares.
The three chief Defendants are here, under lock and key, and guarded so completely it's a wonder anyone can see them at all. Every so often they can hear Dark Star cackle about something, or hear The Sight gibber something nonsensical, or ask what time it is. One time he declares "time has come today!" and, thankfully, a ripple of laughter makes its way through the court.
SPYGOD looks around and smiles, hoping to see one directed back at him, but his gaze all but withers the human moment on the vine.
"Tough crowd," he whispers to Mr. USA, who's sitting beside him.
"Very," the man says, and, not caring that Straffer has his arm around him, puts his elbow up on the man's shoulder, in a wordless sign of solidarity and support.
"Thank you," Straffer whispers just loud enough for the other Talents there to hear.
"Anytime," the old hero says, looking at both of them, his eyes just a little wet from the emotion.
And then the Judge ruins it by entering.
* * *
One loooooooooong !@#$ing speech later...
* * *
"... so, as best as it is given unto this court to judge you for your actions, and as best as we are able to hold you accountable for the crimes that you committed against this planet, this court, as agreed upon by all parties, finds the entirety of the race of the Imago guilty on all counts."
There is a roar, then, of uncertain provenance. Is it happiness at the right thing having been done, or relief that it's finally come around? Is it anger at the defendants, now finally being uttered now that they have been found guilty, or sadness at how many deaths it took to get to this day?
No one knows, but, like some kind of virus, the roar spreads from person to person. It engulfs. It immolates. All within the courtroom pick it up and carry it for as long as they can, as loudly as they must.
SPYGOD is no different. Indeed, he's the one who actually stands. And, even though he is now, in many eyes there, as bad as they are, the others in the court follow his lead.
As one human being, the many people in the court stand and roar, carrying out their own pronouncement upon the Imago. A message both personal and impersonal, unique and not. A condemnation from all lips.
A message, unmistakable and sere, that they picked on the wrong !@#$ planet.
The Judge, wisely, lets this go on for as long as it needs to. He does not so much as reach for his gavel to quiet it. He sits there, staring at the Imago -- defendants no longer, but properly named the guilty -- and lets the people of the court say the things that he cannot give utterance to at this time.
Duty has stilled his voice, but the people of the world have let it be heard.
How long this "human scream" (as the press and historians later call it) goes on for is a mystery to all who are involved within it. But, by degrees, it dies, moment by moment, and voice by voice.
And then there is the silence of the court, broken only by the mocking, but subdued laugh of Dark Star, herself.
"We shall meet here again in three days' time for sentencing," the Judge announces, putting the rest of his speech aside: "The guilty will be escorted from here to their holding cells to await their fate."
The gavel speaks. All rise. All eyes turn to the trio as they are slowly and solemnly marched from the room.
And then it's just the room, and SPYGOD. Thankfully, no one within it's in a mood to take their frustrations out on him.
Not that he sticks around long enough to give anyone the chance.
* * *
A lot can !@#$ing happen in three days, and believe me son, it did.
I had to do something I really did not want to do, but had to. And then I had to do something that I'd been !@#$ing waiting for a chance to do since !@#$ing forever, but couldn't have come at a worse time, or in a worse way.
Then I had to !@#$ing duck the blowback from both those things, which didn't !@#$ing help things at all. And then I had another talk with the President, who was even less amused with me than before, if that was !@#$ing possible.
And then, on the third day, under threat to not do anything else to !@#$ things up on pain of the mother of all Executive sanctions, Straffer and I headed off to Paris to watch another piece of !@#$ing history happen.
And this time, we had special company waiting for us, there.
* * *
"... and so, it comes to us to find an appropriate punishment for you," the Judge says, his hands steepled in front of his face: "And this is where things become very difficult."
"I have a few suggestions, if you are short of ideas," The Sight giggles, much to the consternation of Dark Star and Green and Yellow. Someone shouts obscenities from the back row, and the Judge holds up his hand, rather than banging on his gavel.
"I share your anger, here and in this moment," he says, perhaps breaking decorum a bit: "But please, let us reflect upon this solemn moment. It is a rare thing for a race to hold another to account for its crimes. Rarer still for such a race to place a consequence upon it."
He steeples his hands before his face, once more, and then puts both hands down on the desk in front of him.
"There is a school of thought that you should be executed, somehow. We have the means to configure energy from one kind to another. We should, therefore, be able to channel your energy in such a way that you lose all sense of identity during the transfer.
"A cruel thing, perhaps, to be condemned to an endless, living death. But given the cruelty you showed us, it would be justice of a sort. Indeed, unlike us, at least you would know it's coming."
There is some measure of assent throughout the court on that.
"But, there is another school of thought that says that we, perhaps, have no right to execute you. Earlier in this trial, you spoke of wasps and spiders. Was the wasp guilty of immobilizing the spider and laying its eggs within it, or does guilt not apply in what is an instinctual response? An evolution-tested act of survival?
"This time, the spider has merely turned the tables upon the wasp. But does that spider have the right to destroy all such wasps, everywhere? Do we?
"I must say no," he says, holding up his hand against the roar that would otherwise erupt in his court: "I cannot condemn you all to death. If we would kill you for, as you rightly point out, obeying your species-based drive to survive, then we would become no better than you. And that is not a line I am willing to cross."
There is silence, then. And he looks at the defendants, all of whom mock him with their eyes (save for Green and Yellow, of course).
"Imprisonment, then, seems our best option. It punishes you for your crimes against us. It takes you from the board. It relegates you to somewhere where you can be no harm to us.
"And, as this imprisonment must be eternal, it ensures that you will never be a harm to anyone or anything, ever again."
This makes the court happy. The Judge allows them their susurrus of agreement, and then continues speaking.
"But we must learn from those who imprisoned you, before. They sent you to another dimension, our dimension in fact, and here to spend your days far from them, but also not be within their control. We must never lose control of you, but yet we cannot have control over you, for fear of someone or something acting to free you."
The Judge nods to the older man who has come with SPYGOD and Straffer. He stands, his dark uniform something of a rarity in a room filled with so many bright costumes and shiny fatigues. His white, long hair is braided and looped all the way past his waist.
"This is Mister Freedom. For many years, the American government has relied upon him to create escape-proof prisons for their criminals. Unto his care we relegate the lot of you to the darkness, for an eternity. May you find kindness there, within it. We have none to give you here."
A gavel ends the session. The guilty are taken away, down a different hall, and the older man goes to follow them.
"We still need to settle up after Cuba," SPYGOD says, nodding goodbye to him.
"No need," the old man says, putting a hand on his shoulder and winking: "It's good to know I can still be foiled from time to time. I'm just glad it was a friend."
And the word 'friend' makes SPYGOD's heart smile for the first time in days.
* * *
The next time I saw them, the imprisonment was happening...
Oh, what? Yeah, just need to take a slash, son. Be right back. Have another drink.
Just got to deal with one more thing before we get to the end of this !@#$ story.