Thursday, June 26, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 1

Little girls shouldn't float in the air.

That's the first thing the President thinks, watching what's become of his daughter. They shouldn't float in the air like balloons made of flesh.

The air shouldn't be boiling around her, like she was on fire. There shouldn't be black, crackling things slowly orbiting about her head. She shouldn't be tearing open, here and there, to let out black, writhing tendrils that feel the air like a snake's tongue.

Her face shouldn't be stretched out like that. She shouldn't look like something between a prehistoric tiger's skull and a mosquito. There shouldn't be gouts of slime falling from her mouth and neck as she laughs.

And nothing on this world should ever laugh like that.

But those are still his daughter's eyes. The eyes he's seen laughing and crying and bored and ecstatic for all these years. The ones that droop a little when she says she loves him.

Those are still her eyes, yes. But they shouldn't look at him that way.   

Like a triumphant predator about to play with the small creature it's just caught...   

"Honey?" he whispers, feeling a very cold fist squeezing his heart

Hello, daddy. The thing his daughter's become says. It's somewhere between crushed glass and a slither.

"I..." he says, and that's all he can manage. The words turn to dry dust in his mouth. He can't bring himself to say her name.

That's not her, anymore. Maybe it hasn't been for a long time, now. 

Daddy, it slither-crushes again, just a little longer this time. 

Mssr. President.
Mssr President?
"Mssr. President?" his secretary says, just a little more forcibly.
"Yes?" the President says, starting out of his seat as the horrible memory leaves him.
(Though not the cold fist around his heart)
"You wanted to be told when we were about to land?"
"Yes," he says, trying to look more in control than he feels: "Are they waiting for us?"
"Ciel Rouge and the American President? Yes."
"Good," he says, looking out the window as Neo York City's Central Building comes into view: "Let's get this done, then."
 * * *
"Mr. President," a rather flustered Mark Clutch says, walking up to the small group of people as they come out of the TU supersonic transport: "I'm sorry I didn't get a better reception arranged for you, sir. This is a bit of a surprise."
"I apologize about that," he says: "It couldn't be helped, though."
"Well, I'm sorry, we're a bit of a mess, right now-"
"That's alright, it's not an inspection or anything," he says, shaking the man's hand and gesturing to the others with him as his honor guard fans out, guns at the ready: "You know my Secretary, Henri. This is the Minister of Justice, Jean-Jacques Excephir Geraud..."
"From the trial, yes," Mark says, shaking the large, waddling man's hand: "Congratulations on your promotion, sir."
"It was only logical," the fellow chuckles, shaking with both hands: "But thank you, mssr. It is a great honor and privilege to meet a member of the esteemed Owl family. I have a great deal of respect for your lineage."
"Well, I kind of married in," Mark begins to explain, really not wanting to talk about that, right now. Thankfully, they're all interrupted by the sound of the world falling apart, just six feet behind Mark.
Standing between him and the doors to the central building are two people he's still not used to seeing together. One is the newly-appointed President of the United States, otherwise known as Mr. USA, who does not look at all happy to be here. The other is a woman in a crimson cloak, who seems very pleased to have just dropped off the second most powerful person in the world before the first.
"Ciel Rouge," the President says, waving: "(REDACTED) Thank you for joining us."
"I'd just like to say, this is really ill-considered," Mr. USA says, walking away from his ride: "If we have to do this-"
"We are not talking about this now," the President insists, an uncomfortable edge in his eyes and voice: "Not here."
"It's fine, Mssr. President," another person from the plane says -- a long haired fellow in a shiny, grey suit: "He cannot hear anything we say. I have seen to that."

"Thank you," the President says, looking from him to Mark: "Mark, I apologize for this, but-"

"Wait, what's going on here?" Mark asks, looking from him to the strange fellow: "Who are you?"

"Eclat," the man declares, simply, not offering a hand to shake.

"He's here to make certain your nephew does not do anything stupid," Ciel Rouge says, simply, as she comes up behind Mark: "And I am here to keep him honest."

Mark scowls a little, looking from face to face: "What exactly is this about?"

"It's about a lot of things," the President says: "Basically, we need to know if we can trust Thomas to look after SPYGOD."

"You can," Mark insists, really not liking where this is going: "I know he's been through a lot of changes, lately. But that's still Thomas in there. He's still a Talon, still a crimefighter. You can count on that at least."

"I am no longer so certain," the Minister of Justice insists: "After that sorry spectacle he made of himself on New Years? And what dear Ciel found in what was supposed to be a cell?"

"Hey, if people weren't completely careful about watching what they carried over from the !@#$ B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G. when they hustled him out of there-" Mark starts to say, but then there's a red hand on his shoulder, and he's not so inclined to argue, anymore. 

"You are afraid of him," Ciel says, almost whispering in his ear: "Your Nephew is not what he once was. You know this, and it bothers you to hear him say the things he does. It bothers you to know that he is watching everything. And you are afraid he may abuse his powers-"

"Get out of my mind..." Mark hisses, trying to break free but failing.

"That's enough," Mr. USA says, stepping between the two of them and breaking her connection: "This man's a hero, !@#$ it. He deserves respect."

"We deserve the truth, Mssr President!" Minister Geraud intones, raising a fat finger as he makes his point: "And we will not have that truth by relying upon old friendships, or what we think we know. We must know for certain if this... Nthernaut can be trusted, either with SPYGOD or an entire city."

"So consider this a fact finding mission," the President says, putting a hand on Mr. USA's shoulders while looking at Mark, who's still getting back up: "And we'll tell you what we've decided, once we're out again."

"You can't just go in there like that..." Mark mumbles, allowing Mr. USA to prop him up: "Not like that. He won't like it..."

"Well, a hero should know his superiors, shouldn't he?" the Minister of Justice says as he waddles towards the entrance. 

"And besides, I thought we could trust him?" Henri asks, winking as his boss nods, gestures to Mr. USA to look after Mark, and heads into the building, too. 

"This is... crazy," Mark gasps, letting Mr USA bundle him over to a waiting bench: "What's going on...?"

"I don't know," Mr. USA admits, feeling !@#$ed helpless right now -- especially when he realizes who the man in the silvery suit actually is: "But he better be careful, Mark. They're not messing around."

"Does his mother know they're here?" Mark gasps, suddenly realizing what might be happening.  

And Mr. USA can only remain silent.

* * *

It's happening.
Yes, the Nthernaut says to his mysterious guest as he watches the president's procession on a long range, external camera.

(The ones on the platform -- all sensors, actually -- shorted out not long after the transport landed.)
You don't sound surprised.

Not really. I predicted there was an 84.4% chance of the visit occurring today.
And you know what to do. A statement, not a question.
I do, yes, the Nthernaut replies, concentrating for a second as he puts the needed internal appearances into place: This is actually rather fun.
Deceiving the President of the world? the presence asks, not without some humor.
Not that, exactly, the Nthernaut replies, using his internal long-range cameras to look at the man in question. How increasingly agitated he's becoming as they stomp down the seemingly-endless, high-tech hallways. How sad and angry his eyes are. 
How much he's aged in just two months.

What is it, then?
The conspiracy, he replies, smiling a little: Being able to lie, cheat, and sneak around for all the right reasons. It's liberating. I can see why you like it... why you liked it.

Well, don't get too used to it, the presence says: Once this is over, you're going to need to be on the straight and narrow, again. You think you can do that, Thomas?
Yes, the Nthernaut says, after a second's pause. He's just realized who else is with them.
Oh dear, he says, finally understanding why his internal cameras seem to be going on the fritz, just as the procession passes by them: I didn't expect him to show up.
I did, the presence says.
What? Then why didn't you tell me?
So you'd remember what it feels like to be cheated, before you fall too much in love with it.
Thomas scowls, somewhat shamed: That was mean. Mean and dangerous.
Potentially. But I think you'll be fine. You've faced worse than this. You will face even worse in the future.

So what's the point, then?

Well, let's just say you'll find this... educational.

Were you going to stay and observe?
I don't think so. It might be a bit temporally awkward if I do.
Very well.
Hey, the presence says: Chin up, kid. We're rooting for you. You'll do fine.
And then the presence is gone, and there's only the Nthernaut, alone in the electronic mind of Neo York City.
But not for long.

* * *
"Here we are, I think," Henri sighs as they approach an imposing pair of swinging, black doors at the end of a hallway.
"Perhaps we should have had that man guide us here," Geraud snorts, clearly tired from so much exertion: "I am certain we retraced our steps at least once."
"Three times," Eclat says, smiling subtly.
"It would have been nice to tell us," the President snaps.
"Sorry. I was maintaining my concentration," the fellow says, tapping his brow: "Not so necessary, now. I think he's fighting me less."
"Is that good or bad?" the President asks, pausing before the doors.
"I won't know for certain until I can speak with him," Ciel Rouge says, stepping forward to go into the room beyond: "Allow me?"
He does, and they all follow her into the room beyond -- dark walls lit by floor-to-ceiling screens, all flickering green and scrolling with data streams. There are no chairs or desks, here. Just an impression in the floor where the central dais lies at rest.
It does not rise as they approach.
"Thomas?" the President says, looking around: "I'm sorry to not have informed you we were coming, but-"
That would have altered the point of the exercise, he responds, his voice coming from several different directions at once: I understand.
"You do?"
Yes. I know why you're here and what we need to talk about. I would be very happy to do so. I think it would be a good thing to get these questions answered, so we can continue working together in harmony and trust.

"That's good," Ciel says, her voice as sweet as honey: "Could you come here and see us, please? We'd like to talk to you in person."
I'd like that, too. Unfortunately, one of you is wearing some kind of signal scrambler. It's making it difficult for me to materialize in there. Could you please dial it back a bit?
The President looks to Eclat, who nods, and closes his eyes. As he does, the room becomes brighter, and the dais rises from the floor.
As it reaches its maximum height, the Nthernaut appears, standing before it, his back to them all.
"Very well," he says, turning around and smiling: "How can I help you today, Mr. President?"

Which is when Geraud points something at him and presses a button, and Thomas falls down, screaming in shock and pain. 

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (The Cure, everything mix) and having a Smells Like a Safety Meeting IPA)

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