Sunday, December 15, 2013

12/27/12 - Straffer - One Look Up I Can See Down - pt. 4.2

There's a prison, outside of Marrakesh, where anyone can go in but hardly anyone comes back out again.

It used to be a Berber fortification, once upon a time. People spent a lot of time trying to break into it, with no success. But centuries later, it's become a jail, and now people are unable to break out of it -- an irony that's not lost on anyone incarcerated there.

It has an official name, as one expects from such a thing. It also has a number of other names in several languages, which is also to be expected in a country with so many. But the one name that tends to stand out is La Fosse de L'enfer.

The Pit of Hell.

So when Director Straffer comes to visit, he makes sure to have his transport bring them back to Earth right in the front courtyard -- right between the massive, closed gates and the entrance to the administration. This is partially because he doesn't care to be held up at the gate by surly prison guards, and partially because he just loves the idea of having his own personal teleporter for the day.

If his ride realizes this, he makes no sign of it. He's content to stand and impassively light a terrible-smelling cigarette as the stunned, well-armed interior guards stumble all over one another to threaten and harangue the man he's been assigned to, this day. But he can't help but smile a little as that man calmly stares down the sweaty, angry guards and -- ever so slowly -- pulls out the letter of introduction that the newly-installed Minister of Justice just wrote for him.

After that, everything changes, and they're allowed inside after all. 

* * *

There's a man in a bar in Tokyo who shouldn't be there, but is. 

The beefy, short-haired fellow's clearly not dressed for the establishment. He has a Hawaiian print shirt on, rather than the "casual" everyone's supposed to be affecting, here. He's also wearing heavy sunglasses, and has been nursing the same large drink all night, rather than obeying the two-drink minimum.

He doesn't look like he gives a !@#$, though. And none of the severs, bouncers, or patrons seen inclined to give him any. They're just letting him sit at the bar -- with plenty of space -- and drink in silence.

They even turned the music down just a little, just for him, just because he winced a little when some jarring "chill out" number came on.

And maybe that's because he's missing some finger joints. And maybe it's because there's something about him that says he could either buy or kill everyone there a dozen times over.

And maybe it's because they know who he really is.

So when Straffer walks over to him, and sits down right next to him without so much as a "Konichiwa", everyone nearby freezes in horrendous fear, thinking there's about to be some blood on the floor. And maybe there would have been, too, if the large man had been able to speak first.

But he doesn't get that chance. Before he can even open his mouth, the well-dressed interloper has pushed a photograph in his direction. It's of a smiling, young woman, dressed in a well-pressed business suit.

"I can get her back to you, Mister Ten," Straffer says (in Japanese, of course): "She may not be the same as she was, after what happened. But I can bring her around, in time."

"And what do you want, Spaceman?" Ju San, head of the Organization, asks, looking at this impudent gaijin over his shades.

"The world needs you back in the game," Straffer answers, returning his stare: "No more sitting at the bar drinking your day away. No more twenty hooker anime rampages in Shinjuku. You get back on your horse and you ride it, because you know what's coming, and we're going to need everything on the table, again."

"Talk to the government. I have no say in these things-"

"I did. They wasted my time trying to make deals. I don't have time for deals, Mister Ten. I need action. And I know for a fact you can provide it."

The man sighs and looks away. He says nothing for quite some time. 

And then, at last, he nods: "You'll want The Dignitary," he assumes.

"To start with? Yes," Straffer says. 

And then, in a flurry of photographs, he confidently proceeds to tell the most powerful man in Japan what else the world requires of him, for the future.

* * *

There's a wait in a stuffy room full of photographs and maps. The chairs are uncomfortable and the windows are small. The ceiling is high and dusty, and the sad, creaky fan is too slow to move the air. 

Eventually a small boy brings in tea from a cart out in the hall. It's strong and grainy, and desperate for sugar. Straffer takes it with two lumps, and Disparaître with only one. More cigarettes and silence, as per the Frenchman's desires. 

Eventually, a sweaty, fat man in a uniform a size too small appears, mopping his forehead as he enters the room. He apologizes in broken English, and -- delighted to find that his guest speaks French -- launches into a lengthy discussion about the subject of their visit. Nothing he has to say is anything new to Straffer, but he nods along politely and pretends to be interested and uninformed. 

Eventually, they get to the important part: why they're actually here.

"Do you mean to say that you are taking him out of here?" the Prison Director asks, clearly shocked by this. 

"We are, yes," Straffer says, accepting the young boy's offer of more tea: "The Terre Unifee has need of him. I'm sure you understand."

"But you do understand the reasons he was put here?"

"We do, yes," Straffer smiles, sipping at his tea ever-so-politely: "There were some concerns about his demeanor?"

"The man was a !@#$ing lunatic," the Director stammers: "And a fruit! The things he said... the things he claimed. It was just as well they put him in here. They'd have ripped him apart on the streets of Marrakesh if we hadn't arrested him."

"That was thirty years ago," Straffer reminds him: "Times have changed."

The Director sighs and leans back in his chair: "What does the TU want with this man?"

"That's kind of a need-to-know matter, Msr. Director. I'm sorry I can't be more specific than that."

"I need more than that."

"You have a letter from the Minister of Justice. Isn't that enough?"

"Pfah! Minister of Justice? I could tell you things about that man and how he came to power..."

"I'm sure you could," Straffer says, leaning forward a little: "In the interests of transparency, I should tell you that he told us quite a few things about how and why you were installed here, in this prison. They made for an interesting discussion."

The Director blinks. Then he goes blank-faced, and then finally smiles, somewhat weakly.

"Very well," the man says: "But I should warn you, this man is a danger to society. The things he claims he saw and the ideas he has... they could be very disruptive. I think we're better off with him locked up so he can't pervert anyone with his insane talk."

"You could have just taken him to Tangier," Disparaître intones, almost absent-mindedly: "There's hardly a straight man in town."

The Director almost has a heart attack. The tea boy tries not to giggle. Disparaître goes back to looking disinterested.

And Straffer sips his tea, trying not to smile now that he knows they've finally won through.  

* * *

"Have to be kidding me," the Major says, looking down at his desk.

"No, I'm not," Straffer says, putting both hands on that desk and trying to look his former superior officer -- and current Doctor, after a fashion -- in the eyes: "You know when I'm joking, Harvey. This is not my joking face."

"Isn't, is it?" the barrel-chested man says, sighing and looking up.

"Don't you want to know why?"

"Think I do," the man says, getting up and walking across his small office to get a bottle out of its hiding place: "Security."

"There is that. If something happened to me-"

"Nothing's going to happen to you," he says, getting two glasses out: "Body'll outlast your brain. Maybe already has."

"Okay then, but I'll still need a good Number One. And that's you."

"Not selling me on it," Harvey says, pouring them both a glass of the Scotch: "Gave it up. No more rush. Why would I go back?"

"Because you can't stand being in charge of it all," Straffer says, taking a glass and raising it up: "You wanted a challenge, so you jumped at everything they gave you. Eventually, they made you the one in charge of saying who got what, but you couldn't go out and do things yourself, anymore. It was too much of an unacceptable risk."

"Paid attention," the man says -- sitting down, lifting his own glass and following through on a drink: "So why-"

"Because this time, you're not going to be behind a !@#$ desk," Straffer says, wincing at the drink's bite and putting the glass down: "This time, you'll be in the field. You'll be my eyes and ears. My hand on the world. You will be the one jumping through the hoops, and doing everything possible to make sure my !@#$ stays in one piece."

"I won't be in charge of the whole thing ever again..." Harvey says, mulling that over.

"Exactly," Straffer says, tapping his empty glass: "I'm tired of being !@#$ed by people I can't trust, Harvey. I'm tired of having to watch my back and worry about rogue androids or people who are too good to be true. 

"I know you. I trust you. And you put me back together, for God's sake."

"Don't want you breaking, do I?" the man says, filling both their glasses: "Sir."

Straffer smiles and salutes with his glass. Harvey does the same.

The deal is done.

* * *

"Do you want me in there with you?" the Frenchman asks as they walk down yet another long, cramped hallway -- guards on either side.

"No, I think I'll be okay," Straffer says, adjusting his cufflinks: "This man's not nearly as dangerous as they make him out to be."

"That's not what I heard."

"Well, he is dangerous," Straffer clarifies as they turn the corner, only to find yet another long, cramped, stone hallway awaiting them: "The man's taken on entire armies. Destroyed whole armadas. Repelled invasions, for God's sake, and sometimes single-handedly."

Disparaître whistles, not sure he's hearing this right: "How can he do such things?"

"Well, sometimes he had an army on his side, which never hurts. And sometimes he made those armies himself, out of people who were fighting each other just days before. But sometimes he only needed a sword in one hand and a blaster in the other to do it. 

"And sometimes...?" Straffer says as they near the cell, which has two very nervous guards standing outside of it: "Sometimes all he needed was for his enemies to know he was there, and they'd turn around and run out of fear."

"And yet, here he is," Disparaître says, gesturing to the cell.

"That's right," Straffer nods: "Because there's one thing more terrible and powerful than alien invaders, evil emperors, and warring kingdoms from another galaxy."

"And what is that?"

"Your own government at home, convinced you're insane," the man says, winking. 

And then he's heading for the doors, which the guards throw open rather hurriedly, and shut twice as fast.

Inside the darkened cell is a cot and a toilet. There is no window, and no light.

All the walls are covered in massive murals, all drawn by scratching onto the rude stone. Friezes of armies and battles, entire kingdoms new and old, people and places and wonders beyond imagining. 

"Are you here to bring me a copy of the Noble Koran?" a man says, suddenly right behind Straffer. His voice is firm and supple, and he speaks Arabic with a cultured, shoreline accent. 

"No, I am not," Straffer says: "May I turn around?"

"Not just yet," the man says, putting a single finger on the back of his neck and holding him there: "If you're not here to make me recant my heresy, then why are you here?"

"I am here to inform you that you are a free man, again," Straffer replies: "But there are some conditions."

"I could snap your neck with this finger," the man hisses: "Do not speak to me of...."

And then he falls silent. The finger is joined by another, and then a hand.

"Not... you are not human?"

"Yes and no," Straffer answers: "I am a cyborg. And I've been one for a long time, now."

"I did not think there were any that were this... convincing."

"Not outside of the Space Service, no. But we've always been ahead of the curve. You know that."

"Dear God," the man says, quickly walking around and showing himself at last. He is tall and well-muscled, with long, silver hair down to his waist, and a well-trimmed beard and mustache. His eyes shine in the dark, and his body, though old, appears to have been worn down very little by the decades he's spent in this cell.

"Faraj," Straffer says: "I know you have suffered greatly. I know you have been treated unfairly. I wish there had been a way, before now, to get you out of here. But the world needs you."

"Is the Empire invading?" Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir says: "Has that dog of an Emperor finally deigned to come here?"

"No," Straffer says, gesturing to the cot, so that they both might sit: "Something a billion times worse, Faraj. Something that makes that Emperor look like a little boy throwing rocks at fish in a pond. We are looking at the end of all life on Earth, and only someone with your skills could save us."

And that's all he needs to say to go from annoyance to center of attention. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Sense the Adventure (The FIXX) and having a Special Flag)

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