Thursday, July 10, 2014

1/6/13 - Troubled In Their Dreams Again - pt 3

In the dream, she is dancing, but someone else is singing with her mouth.

She's not herself, anymore. Her movements are not her own. Her words are strange to her. Her thoughts, unfamiliar things inside her skull.

Her body, a shadow cast by light from an alien Sun.

The robed women chant and stomp their feet in the dust of the ziara, calling up the patros and inviting them in. Some ride while others call, and then they change places. In and out, out and in, all through the day and the night.

Not her, though. She is not being let go of. She is being held here, within the embrace of the dust cloud.

She is becoming. 

I am you and you are me, the red spirit tells her as they mesh: We are together, now and always. You were always meant to be here. You were always meant to be me. 

She cannot say otherwise. She cannot say anything. It's too much, this merging. She is the ant in the flood, the butterfly in the monsoon.


The monkey in the trap. 

Above her, the sky turns red. The women chant louder, knowing what this means. She tries to scream, but it does no good.


And before long, she's not wanting to scream, but to simply howl to the bloody clouds and announce her arrival.

And exactly what that means for the world...

"Ciel?" Thomas asks, seeming genuinely concerned: "Are you alright?"

"Oh, sorry," Ciel Rouge says: "I was... elsewhere, for a time."

"We need you here and now, young lady," the Minister of Justice all but shouts, padding his sweaty forehead with a monogrammed, silk handkerchief: "This is getting out of hand."

"You agreed to this," Thomas reminds him.

"We all did," the President says, nodding as he rests his head in his hands: "How many more pages of questions do we have?"

"I think we are half-done," Ciel Rouge says, looking at the pad: "Wait, perhaps a little under half done."

The groan that comes up is palpable, and Thomas just smiles.

So far, none of the questions they've asked him have been too tricky to deal with. There's been a lot of cross-referencing, as he suspected, but nothing he couldn't anticipate or handle. Mostly questions about why he made this or that decision, or why this or that thing wasn't confiscated, and then only specific instances, rather than a long-term pattern.

The questions he'd asked in return, on the other hand, had been quite revealing.

So far, he'd gotten the Minister of Justice to reveal that, yes, he hates SPYGOD. He'd gotten the President to do the same thing. He'd even gotten them both to reveal why, though that wasn't too hard to figure out.

But some of the follow-ups had been quite intense and nerve-wracking, and he was beginning to feel guilty for taking some degree of pleasure out of this.

(Was this cruelty, or justice? Did the two ever wear each others' faces? He'd have to think about that.)

"So," Thomas says, leaning back: "Next question?"

"Please tell us why you agreed to allow SPYGOD and his lover to attend their New Years Party, using your body."

"Ah," Thomas says: "Well, let me answer the second part, first. Using my body, they were still at their apartment, essentially wrapped in a virtual reality suit. In that way, they could not slip anything to anyone, nor receive anything, and any illegal or questionable behavior on their part would be instantly noticed. I told them, ahead of time, that if they misbehaved, the party was over. They agreed to it, it happened, and it went rather well."

"So you say," the Minister insists: "I would like to see the tapes of this party. I want to hear their conversations, in their entirety."

"You haven't watched them?" Thomas asks: "I sent them to your office the morning after. Did you not receive them?"

"I received no such thing-"

"Actually, Mssr, you did," Eclat admits: "When it arrived, I thought it might be a virus. I dealt with it as such. My apologies." 

The Minister coughs, looking rather uncomfortable as he avoids the President's glare.

"Well," Thomas says: "I guess that answers that question, then."

"You have yet to fully answer yours," Ciel Rouge gently insists, bringing the conversation back on track: "There is the matter of why you allowed this to take place."

"Well, that goes hand-in-hand with a question I was going to ask later," Thomas says, looking at the President and the Minister: "Should SPYGOD be found guilty of these crimes against humanity he's been accused of, what sentence will you be recommending?"

"For everything he has done?" the Minister thunders: "The dead in Palestine? The dead children in the White Boxes of the Imago? The thousands killed as collateral damage in his ill-advised campaigns against the Imago, prior to the Reclamation War, itself? I would say there can be only one sufficient penalty, Mssr. Samuels. And that would be death."

"The death penalty," Thomas says: "You would go that far?"

"How could we not, under such circumstances?" Henri, the President's secretary, interjects: "Did you not see the death toll, Mssr? Have you not heard the cries of parents for their children? Children that could have been saved, if only he'd been willing to do things differently?"

"I think we all know about that, Henri," the President says, his eyes just a little more red than they were a moment ago. He puts a gentle hand on the man's arm, and his secretary calms down, though not without wiping his eyes.

"So, let me put it to you this way," Thomas answers: "If this man is on trial for his life, and is to be put to death for the murder of millions should be be found guilty, is he not entitled to a last request, or perhaps two? Should he simply be taken from the courtroom to... well, however you're going to kill him?"

"We have considered the means," the Minister says: "I believe a trip to the Sun will take care of him, given his... condition."

"You mean his regeneration," Thomas says: "It might work. I'm not entirely certain how far he can go before he comes back. But imagine looking up at the sun, one day, and having it look back at you?"

The silence is profound, just then. The President coughs and shakes his head: "So you let him have that party as a humanitarian gesture?"

"I did, yes. Even the most dangerous and depraved criminals are allowed compassionate leave to visit family funerals. Even Hitler would have been given conjugal visits. Why not let the man have one, last party with his remaining friends and colleagues before he gets launched into the sun?"

"Because the man is a criminal!" the Minister thunders: "He deserves no special treatment! He should receive no privileges or perks! He should be locked in a cell, down below the Earth, and be forgotten about until the time comes for him to answer for his crimes!"

"It sounds like you've already found him guilty," Thomas says.

"My opinion is not legally binding," the Minister scowls: "He will receive a fair trial-"

"Followed by a fair hanging," Thomas chuckles, looking at Ciel Rouge: "I don't think you need your powers to see the truth in that?"

"No," she admits, looking back at Thomas: "Just as I don't need my powers to see that you believe him to be innocent."

"I believe he made mistakes," Thomas clarifies: "That much is clear. I believe that he did some foolish things, yes, especially when it comes to not having told the President what happened to his family during the war, and the ultimatum. That was incredibly stupid and short-sighted. He should answer for that."

"And he will," the President insists: "He will." 

"But all these other things?" Thomas admits, gesturing to the pages the red-cloaked woman is holding: "Murders of people who were already dead, and being animated by an escaped super villain as hostages? Murders of children who were, so far as we can tell, also already dead, having been used by the Imago to power their empire? Murders of people who were slaughtered by the Imago for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while he was working to free our world from them?

"You'll excuse me, but one thing we learn, going into this lifestyle, is that sometimes you have to make sacrifices. You have to stop the primary threat at all costs, especially if it's a world-ending thing. If the city's in danger, you can't worry about the lives of a few people. If the world's in danger, you can't worry about the lives of a few cities. You try to minimize the loss of life as best you can, but if you have to choose between one and a hundred, or a hundred and a million, or millions and seven billion...?"

"You pick the greater number, every time,"  Ciel Rouge finishes for him, nodding as she does.

"Unacceptable!" the Minister says, looking at both of them: "Completely wrong! Human life is precious. All human life! If you save millions, and yet allow one to die, that death is on your hands! You cannot excuse it or explain it away! There is blood on your hands, and you must answer for it!"

"I agree," Thomas says: "And that goes into my next question, Minister. What was Eclat's name before he came to work for you?"

"I beg your pardon?" the Minister coughs, dabbing at his forehead with his sodden handkerchief.

"Eclat. Superheros don't grow on trees, especially in France. I'd never heard of him before the Terre Unifee pretty much materialized from nowhere after the Reclamation War. But here's this full-formed hero who can turn even the most shielded and protected of computer systems on and off like flicking a light.

"Where has he been this whole time? What's he been doing? What's his origin story?"

Thomas looks at the Minister, who coughs and looks in Eclat's direction: "I think that's one question too many."

"What name did he previously use, then?" Thomas pushes: "I'll ask the others one at a time. We have plenty of questions left, after all."

"That's..." the Minister stammers, looking at Henri, who looks between him and the President. 

"I think we're done, here," the President announces, getting up from his chair.

"Mssr. President, please," Henri says: "There's still a full half of the questions to go through!"

"I think I've heard what I needed to, and then some," the President says, walking over to Thomas and reaching out a hand to shake: "Thomas, I am very sorry we had to do this. But I want us to go forward as allies from here on out. I trust you to do the right thing, here."

"Thank you, Mr. President," Thomas says, getting to his feet and taking the man's hand in both of his own: "That means a lot to me. I won't let you down."

"Be sure you do not," the Minister commands, turning away and leaving the room as quick as his legs will take him.

"Shall I show you all out?" Thomas asks, creating another double for that very purpose: It would be my pleasure to show you the quick way to the landing pad. 

"I would like that, yes," the President says, gesturing for him to take the lead.

"I could teleport us all out, Mssr. President," Ciel Rouge offers.

"True, but I think it would be good for Mark and (REDACTED) to see us all leave together," the President insists, smiling a little as he gets behind Thomas' simulacrum. And as he does, the others fall into line right behind him, and head for the doors.

Eclat is, oddly enough, the last to leave. As he goes he shoots one of the Nthernauts a knowing look -- as if to say he knows what Thomas knows, but won't say as much.

Be seeing you, one of the images says, making the vitarka mudra by its eye as it does. And that unnerves Eclat just enough to make him stop looking and speed up, almost slamming into one of the doors as it swings towards him.

Butthole, Thomas mutters, already knowing the answer to the question he asked, and not liking it at all.

* * *

"So, what just happened, here?" Mark asks, later, once he's been allowed back into his own building, and had a chance to calm down and get himself some coffee.

It was a test, of sorts, Thomas answers from the central screen in the control room, as he's folded himself back into the mind of the city: The Minister wanted to know if the disruptor his people had made would work against me, before they arm every guard in Neo York City with one, and if the machine they had to take over the city's basic functions would work if they had to keep me out for a while. They also wanted to see if Eclat's power could work against me.

"And could it?" 

If I let him surprise me, yes, Thomas admits, smiling a little: He should have overwhelmed me when he had the chance, though. Next time I'll see him coming.

"Isn't that being a little overconfident?" Mark asks, sipping his coffee: "That guy's got some serious powers."

He does, yes. But he also has a serious weakness. And now that I know what that is, I'll be ready.

"How do you know what it is?"

Because I know who he is, now.

"Who is he?" 

A supercriminal, Thomas says, scowling quite deeply: He's not the only one, either. I think at least half of Le Compagnie is made up of former prisoners from one super-slam or another. Probably Interpol's lock-up down in the Ivory Coast.

"That's insane," Mark says, shaking his head: "I mean... if that's true? What can we do about it?"

Right now? Nothing. I'm going to have to be very careful about things from here on out. They're going to be watching everything I do, and keeping closer tabs on SPYGOD as well. That's going to affect the timetable, I think.

"So there is a timetable," Mark says, nodding

Are you surprised?

"No. I didn't think he'd sit still for this... this !@#$. I'm surprised he hasn't busted out already." 

I'm not. This sort of thing takes time to plan, and more time to execute properly. And with what's at stake, we can't rush things. That would bring the whole thing down like a house of cards.

"How can I help?" Mark asks, after a few minutes.

Are you sure you want to? Thomas asks: Up until this point, you could have stayed out of it and claimed ignorance. If things go wrong, you'll be looking at criminal charges.

"If things go wrong, we're looking at the end of all life on Earth, as I understand it," Mark says, standing up: "I think I can risk a jail term for that."

And you're doing this for the right reasons? Thomas pushes: Because it's right and the right thing to do? Not because you want to impress my mother?

"!@#$, you're direct these days." 

I don't have time to be anything else, Thomas insists: And neither do you. And, frankly? Your not being direct has caused too many problems, lately. 

"So what do you think I should do?" Mark asks: "Not that it's any of your business or anything..."

Well, it is none of my business. But one thing my mother always told me was to be honest and direct with people, even if you were afraid they weren't going to like what you had to say. Maybe they wouldn't, and you'd lose a friend. But maybe they would, and you'd gain everything. 

"Yeah, well..."  Mark sighs, sitting back down: "This thing... it's hard to say. It's pretty messed up, to be honest."

It is, yes. It flies in the face of a lot of social niceties. There will be questions about impropriety and whether it's proper or not. Some might even say you're being seriously creepy, talking to her about that just after getting dumped by Farashuu-

"Wow, don't spare me or anything."

Well, that's the point, Mark. Life's too short for people like you to be hung up on things like that. If you think you love my mother, then go tell her. And tell her Now. Don't wait for the right time or the next time, because it might not come. 

Just tell her, and pray it's what she's been wanting to hear, all along. 

Mark looks at him, and then at the coffee. Then he downs the whole cup, puts it down on a table, and gets to his feet.

"I'd appreciate some privacy when I call," he asks: "If you don't mind."

I'll do my best not to hear a word, Thomas says, smiling. 

And, with that, Mark leaves the room. That may be a hopeful smile on his face. It may be a nervous one. Thomas isn't 100% certain which. 

You did well, someone says to him as soon as Mark's well out of earshot.

Did I? I thought I overplayed my hand a little. 

It's enough for them to know you suspect a few things. 

And you don't think I gave away too much?

I think you reminded them of something important, Thomas. I also think that, in the end, the seeds you've planted are going to make for one heck of a tree.

But when does it crash down?

Soon, the voice says, taking Thomas' hand: And when it does, you'll be ready for it. I promise.  

I hope so, Thomas says: I feel so limited, having to wait. Having to move one step at a time. It's like I'm walking through a story where I know the ending, but that I have to follow to its conclusion instead of just jumping to the end.

It's called life, the voice says: And this is your chance to remember what it feels like. Hold onto it forever, and never forget. 

And they smile, then, brothers in a secret greater than them both

* * *

"I really do not want to talk about this, Jean-Jacques," the President says, pouring himself a rather tall glass of something too strong for his nervous stomach. The transport picks that moment to turn, and it's to his credit he doesn't spill it all over himself, but only just.

"Mssr. President, I swear to you, this is not a complete loss," the man says, doing his best to shoo the man's secretary out of the transport's office: "We have learned much, today. There are things we can do, now, should we need to. We know how to improve upon what we have-"

"We tipped our !@#$ hand is what we did!" the President shouts, which makes his secretary decide to skedaddle: "He knows we were preparing to take him out! He can beef up his defenses if he needs to!"

"We still have Eclat-"

"Provided he hasn't figured out where you found him," the President sighs, taking a good measure of his drink.

"Didn't your SPYGOD use criminals for the defense of your country?"

"Yes, but-"

"No buts, Mssr. President!" the Minister insists, holding up a lecturing finger: "If it is good for America, it is good for France. And what is good for France is now good for the world. That is our position, and now it must be yours as well."

"That's not my concern," the President clarifies, sticking a very long, unhappy finger back in his Minister of Justice's face: "If he knows who he is, he can find out his weaknesses. If he can find out his weaknesses, we don't have the upper hand. And if he decides to take SPYGOD's side after all..."

"He isn't planning," Ciel Rouge says, walking through the door (and practically through the President's secretary): "He's doing."

"What?" the Minister gasps.

"The entire time, from start to finish, he was lying to us," the red-cloaked woman says: "There's something going on here, Mssr. President. I am not certain exactly what, but I can tell he's up to something."

"And why didn't you say something?" the President asks, looking very tired.

"I was going to expose him at the end, Mssr. But we ended too soon."

"Then we must take him offline!" the Minister shouts: "If we turn the plane around-"

"He'll drop us out of the sky before we reach the Central Building," the President says, pouring himself some more: "We're done for the day, Jean-Jacques. We had a chance and we blew it. And we didn't have a real backup plan, either."

"Then what shall we do?" Ciel Rouge asks, walking up to the man: "This cannot be allowed to continue."

"We'll do what SPYGOD taught me to do, but could never do himself," the President says, looking up at her and the Minister as he drinks more of what he's poured: "We'll take the time to get ready and be ready. We'll have a plan that's all or nothing, with lots of smaller plans in case that doesn't work. We'll gamble it all on taking him out before he can do any more damage.

"And then we'll put SPYGOD on trial that very afternoon, before he has time to realize that his best friend's been put down like a virus."

With that the President hurls his mostly-empty glass at the window over the bar, shattering them both like a bad dream.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Walk (the Cure, Razormaid mix) and having a lot of Bastille Whiskey)

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