Thursday, October 24, 2013

12/26/12 - Randolph Scott - No Words But the Truth - pt. 1

Personal Notes of Randolph Scott -- Outlaw Journalist:

Woke up early, after that crazy !@#$ party SPYGOD threw by remote. I may have had too !@#$ much to drink, and may have said some things I really shouldn't have said. But I figured they needed saying, and I needed the drink, and if I really did get my !@#$ thrown out, like I think I did, then maybe I needed that too.

So of course, I wake up with a head full of broken pottery for brains. My kids were good enough to leave me some water, some painkiller, and a thing of yogurt by my bed. Thankfully I didn't need the bucket, but they thought to leave that, too.

I guess that's what happens when you grow up serving Supernazis. They expected you to expect !@#$ing everything. One wrong move and you lost parts. Too many wrong moves and they made you suffer before they killed you as an example to others.

So now they're free, and we're together, and sometimes when I go off the !@#$ rails they get this blank look in their eyes and go right into "take care of the crazy man who might kill us at any moment" mode. And I wonder if I've really taught them a !@#$ing thing.

I don't think I'll know I helped them until they leave me for good. And that's the sad truth.

Speaking of servants, it's Boxing Day, today. It's so named because, once upon a time, when the British had legions of servants in their large houses, they'd give them the day after Christmas off. The servants would thoughtfully leave their employers a boxed meal to enjoy while they went out, shopped and ate, danced, drank, and acted like normal people. And in return, their employers gave them a box of money and presents to take with them.

I've always wondered what it must have been like to only have that one day a year to go see your family and be yourself. To be trapped behind a black, Edwardian suit and social role until that one !@#$ day, right after the craziest day of the whole year.

Just 24 hours to let loose, go crazy, blow off steam. Cry and laugh with the people you grew up with.

How must it have felt at the end of that day, when you went back to the manor and realized that you had another 364 days of dawn-to-dusk servitude awaiting? How could that building have been anything but a black pit of despair and loathing?

I remember, when I was a kid, and the final hours of summer vacation were ticking down, knowing that I'd soon be walking into school, again. That horrible feeling of knowing that freedom was over.

Your life was over, it felt like sometimes.

Now they say there should be year-round schooling. They say it'll help get you ready for work, and life. I say kids should be able to go have fun for a few months. No one should be in any hurry to grow up.

Growing up !@#$ing sucks, sometimes.


Boxing Day's a holiday in just about every English speaking country. Except for America, of course. I guess we didn't have enough servants to consider giving them a day off. All equals and all that !@#$.

But then, some people are more equal than others. And that's also the American way.

Someone's got to do the jobs no one wants, and all you can say is that you hope they get paid well.

* * *

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

His name is Charlie Phelps. He's 24 years old. Seven months ago, he was a Marine, until the Imago came and told him he wasn't needed anymore.

And then, a week ago, he got to return the favor.

"It was crazy," he tells me, resting on the bulldozer he's been running for the past seven days: "When the fighting started, and we all got our minds back, I kept thinking maybe I ought to go back to the base, get back in uniform. Do something, you know? But then I remembered they dismantled the base and turned it into a recycling center, or something like that. So I just hunkered down in our house and told my kids to play zombie attack, so they'd hide under the bed and keep quiet.

"And then the fighting was over, and all these Imago were falling right out of the sky like dead birds by a power plant. We couldn't believe it. We all came out and watched them sit there, smashed out on the ground. They could look at us, and maybe they tried to talk, but that was all they could do."

No one's sure who had the idea to start pushing them into a pile for pickup. But when they needed to know who could drive a bulldozer, Charlie was happy to volunteer, seeing as how it was his Military Occupational Specialty in the Corps.

"I think that got more stares than the Imago on the ground. Whoever heard of a Marine construction expert? Well, that's me."

So Charlie spent the last seven days driving all over Baton Rouge in a truck that hadn't been converted yet, offloading his bulldozer, and picking up fallen Imago for the Strategic Talents to collect. It was challenging, considering he had to find gasoline anywhere he could to fuel both the truck and the bulldozer, but somehow he got by.

"By the end, we had a pile of those metal ------s reaching up ten feet tall, and fifty feet wide. All of them just staring at us like fish out of water. And everyone was coming by and throwing trash at them. I think some kid tagged a few, and some others were going to do the same. 

"But then the government showed up and took them away, and that was kind of the end of the party."

Charlie isn't sure what's next. The Imago put him to work doing community cleanup, and over time he came to like it. But he says that, should his country need him back in uniform, he's ready to serve.

"Over the last seven months, I've been living a lie," he says: "Now the truth's come back, again. And it's set me free."

* * *

Her name was Helen, and we met through the Free

She was crazy and impulsive, warm and passionate, daring and uncompromising. She'd been a hacker back in the time of the phone phreaks, and had kept up with the times. Most of her friends from back in the day were either dead, busted, or working for "the man," as she put it. She alone endured, maybe because she knew when the storm was coming.

So when the Imago had come, she'd gone underground before they could even catch her. She'd killed her internet before they could turn her into an idiot, and then set up shop down below Neo York City. Every so often she sent up a pulse of unfiltered news, going out over the television satellites whenever she could chance it.

We met, and it was like this weird void that I didn't know I had was filled. She finished my sentences, shared my thoughts, and made me feel like I was a part of something, and not just an outrider. 

She didn't care that I looked like I went ten rounds with a sewing machine. She loved the "menagerie" I had with me to pieces. She was willing to risk everything to help others, and me.

She lived for the truth, and said she'd die for the story, too. I just didn't realize how soon that would happen.

It happened during the battle for Neo York City. She stepped between me and an Imago that I didn't even see. It was almost as if she'd know it was going to shoot me, just at that second, and had been waiting for it to happen so she could stop it from killing me.

It just killed her, instead. 

That was over two months ago, now. I'm still !@#$ed up, disbelieving. I still think all of this is a !@#$ing dream, somehow, and keep hoping I'll wake up and find her sitting there, at a computer, finding common ground between underground stories and making them jibe with one another, somehow.

But I wake up and there's no one there. Just my heart, beating a lonely tattoo in the dawn's early light.

Just me, alone again.

 * * *

Arlington National Cemetery

All the way at the East end of the Cemetery Grounds, in the center of the McPherson Drive Teardrop, there's a statue that's visited almost as much as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.

It's called the Torchbearer, as most schoolchildren could tell you. They could also tell you that it's meant to serve as a memorial to every Strategic Talent who's fallen in the service of America -- either during wartime, or as part of the COMPANY.

And they could also tell you that each of those heroes is afforded a spot, there in that teardrop, if they so desire it.

Major Force is buried there, along with Captain Liberty, Lt. Lightning, Captain Chaos, and numerous others who fell during the war they helped win, and the subsequent conflict that they prolonged to grotesque lengths. 

Stone after stone, row after row, all within the sight of the eternal flame of liberty that they died defending.

It always seems like there's been a funeral party here, once or twice a month. An old hero dies from advanced age, a young hero is taken too soon. Sometimes their colleagues make jokes about how long it'll take before they come back, and sometimes they know there's no return from this one.

And today, on an incongruously bright and sunny day, just about every member of the Freedom Force has been laid to rest in this place.

The Red Alchemist. The Visionary. Freedom Belle. American Shield. Mrs. Liberty. All gone, now, lost in the fighting against the Imago, along with so many others. The new heroes who came out of nowhere, as well as the older ones who were hiding in the wings, and the heroes from all over the world who stood side by side that day.

One planet, united, that would not be defeated.

The President speaks first, commending them for their service and their sacrifice. Then up steps the Vice President -- Mr. USA -- who fought alongside them for so long, speaks to their families and friends, as one who loved them, too. Then there's Doctor Power, who barely gets through his speech without breaking up and crying.

And finally, the last speaker strides up to the podium, clearly drunk but not willing to let his state of mind get the better of him. The man who ordered them into battle, this time. The one who told them to stand and fight, and ultimately die.

SPYGOD himself, the architect of the world's freedom, having to commemorate the men and women he told to give their all that humanity might yet survive. 

He looks up at the sky, and then down at the ground. His one eye lands on Mrs Liberty's grave, and he clearly starts to cry, but then he gets hold of himself, takes a deep breath. 

"If I hear one more long-winded pile of !@#$, I'm going to be !@#$ing sick," he says. There's some chuckling, a few gasps. But they should have known, and, knowing that they should have known this, he gathers his strength.

"Mrs. Liberty, she kicked my !@#$ all the time," he says: "She wasn't the only woman who came out of Camp Rogers, but she was the only one who could take me on. She knew right where to punch, you see. It's a skill a lot of people don't get. They get the power and just think it's enough, but they don't put it together.

"She had it down from day one, though. No messing with that !@#$ broad. I saw her take Nazis on and go toe-to-toe with them all the way across France and Germany. No stopping her. No surrender. No retreat.

"But what I'm going to remember the most about her? She knew me. I mean she knew me. When most of you thought I killed the President, and she got sent after me, she was at least willing to give me a chance. She was willing to listen

"And when I let her know I wasn't coming quietly, which was as much of my plan as I wanted to tell her, she trusted me enough to let me knock her out cold. And she covered for me the rest of the time, in spite of it all.

"You can't buy loyalty like that. You can't command it, either. It has to be forged, in here," he says, thumping his chest: "It has to be hammered out, day after day. Tempered with understanding. Watered with will. And then shined up with the conviction that you can trust these people you've stood side-by-side with to do the right thing, even if it appears otherwise."

He stops, then looks like he's going to say something else. Then he shakes his head, smiles a little, and pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket.

"We had a bet running," he says, holding it aloft: "If I died first, she had to read a poem for me. And if she died first, well, I read hers. I guess I won the bet, so... here we go. 

"Bit long, but that's Tennyson for you:

 There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

With that, he looks around the crowd. He nods. And then he walks away. 

No "God Bless America." No "Amen." Just the weight of that poem, still reverberating. The 21 gun salute seems perfunctory after that. The missing man formation overhead a distraction. 

The words have been given, to burn in the mind forever. If only our heroes could last as long.

If only our saviors were not so disposable.

* * *

"Fly and be free," I imagine her saying to me as I cradled her body: "Be happy for this."

I heard her say it. I know I did. I !@#$ing know.

But when  I dropped the camera to run to her, one of my kids picked it up and caught the whole thing on tape. Me holding her, her dying, me screaming.

At no point does she say anything. How could she draw breath to speak with her chest in pieces? How could she make words in a mouth full of blood?

I heard it in my mind. I felt it in my heart. But reality says otherwise, and aren't I supposed to be going with facts?

Isn't that what a !@#$ing journalist does?

I don't know, anymore. I sit here and watch the snow fall and wonder if I should take the aspirin and water or just get drunk again.

I'll decide soon, I think. But for now I want to watch the snow, like a kid home from school.

Just that, for a while.

(SPYGOD is listening to Woman on a Train (The FIXX) and having a Gales Prize Old Ale

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