First there is nothing in SPYGOD's world but pain -- intense and searing, like the noonday sun in the desert.
It is his beginning and his end. So all-encompassing that he has forgotten how he came to this pain, or what has caused it. So amazingly complete that he wonders if he has finally died and gone to the Hell he's sent so many others to, over the years.
(Is that hell, he wonders: punishment without explanation? Pain without prologue?)
But, gradually, pieces of that blazing pain break down and away, so that other things can appear.
There is sound as hundreds of invisible others cough uncontrollably -- unable to scream as their bodies betray them. There is an intense, red smell as they void blood and filth from their ripped, billowing mouths. There is the sticky feel of that blood, carried on the breeze, and the horrid taste of what's coming from his own lips.
And then there is sight, as a mysterious, shimmering figure -- upside down, along with the rest of the world -- strides around the bodies of the stricken, walking towards him as though they weren't even there.
It's time, (REDACTED), the presence says to SPYGOD as an entire nation dies around them, felled by a deadly virus.
"Like !@#$ it is," he says between ragged, red coughs as he hangs upside-down from an olive tree -- his lungs turning to mush in his chest almost faster than he can heal them.
Being upside-down the only thing saving his life.
No, it is, the presence gently insists, carefully walking up to him so as to avoid the stream of chunky, bright blood that's flowing from SPYGOD's nose and mouth like water from a weak firehose: This conversation's been scheduled since the day you put that eye in your head. You were always going to be here. I was always going to join you.
And we were always going to have this talk.
"I got... !@#$ing nothing to say,"
Wouldn't that be a first? Well, maybe when I say "talk" I really mean "I talk, and you listen." And for once that's just about all you can do.
"!@#$ you," SPYGOD hacks, wondering if he's just hallucinating this. Is the virus melting his brain along with his lungs?
(What all does this !@#$ do?)
No. No hallucinations, the presence says, kneeling down so as to have his cloudy and indistinct head next to SPYGOD's: I promise you, (REDACTED), this is as real as it gets. I am here. You are here.
And they are dying around you because you couldn't think of any other way to stop her.
And SPYGOD looks around them -- seeing men, women, and children writhe on the ground, bleeding out through their mouths -- and finally allows himself to admit the depth of his mistake.
And that, if he dies here and now, it would be highly justified.
* * *
Of course, it wasn't exactly her standing on the beach at Ashdod. It was some large woman, dressed in a skintight, white jumpsuit padded with sophisticated electronic gear. But she spoke in her voice, and her mannerisms were exactly the same.
She was a meat-puppet, just like everyone else within the borders of what had once been Israel and Palestine.
"Not much of a !@#$ing welcome wagon," SPYGOD snorted, lighting up a cigarette and looking around: "Did I actually slip under your !@#$ radar, for once?"
"No," the woman answered, taking a step closer to him: "We saw you coming well before you got to the Terre Unifee's blockade. We just chose to allow you to land. You're really not as threatening as you seem to think you are."
"That remains to be seen," he said, scowling at her: "This person. What's her name?"
"I'm Tish Allon," the woman replied in her own voice, her own mannerisms coming through as well: "I'm a first level computer engineer, assigned to improving our data infrastructure."
"Well, ain't that just !@#$ing spiffy," SPYGOD spat, walking past her and looking around, observing all the new, high-tech construction: "'Assigned.' Like you had any choice about !@#$ing anything, after she turned you into an extension of herself."
"I'm alive," Tish said, walking up to him as he strides away from the beach, and towards the road beyond: "Isn't that enough?"
"Not in my book, it isn't."
"Easy for you to say, mister. You weren't here, that day. You didn't see what happened to us. To me..."
She fell silent, then, looking askance.
"What happened to you, Tish?" SPYGOD asks, turning back to look at her as he taps some ashes out.
"The Imago... they cornered my family in a cafe, that day," Tish said, her eyes becoming red and wet as she did: "At first, I thought they just wanted to talk to us. But then I heard the screams from outside, and saw what was happening. And..."
"Go on," SPYGOD said, tossing his smoke away: "Please."
She looked away, but then shook her head and went on with her story: "They ripped my husband's head from his shoulders, like he was a doll. They used their eyebeams on my children, leaving me holding piles of dust. And then they decided to kick me through the glass window, just to conserve power.
"I died screaming and in pain, bleeding on the streets while they floated above them, turning people to ashes. I think one of them might have stepped on my head, at the end. Or maybe I'm just imagining it."
SPYGOD nodded, and stepped forward to hug her. She tentatively allowed the embrace, and soon began weeping onto his shoulder. He stood there for quite some time -- his arms around her, his hand on the back of her head.
"I am sorry," he said after a time.
"For what?" she asked.
"That this happened to you," he said, slowly disengaging from the hug: "That you were !@#$ing victimized by those metal-plated !@#$s. That you got victimized again-"
"How can this be victimization?" Tish asked, shaking head head: "I'm alive, !@#$ it! I think, I feel, I-"
There was flurry of movement, and then a loud BANG, and then Tish Allon was lying on the ground -- her forehead a wet, red ruin from where the bullet had entered.
SPYGOD put the gun away, and then checked his watch. One second, two, five, ten. By the time it got to 15, the red mess he'd made of Tish's forehead was mostly healed, and her eyes were focusing on him. After a full minute she was wiping the muck from her totally-healed skull, and slowly getting up, as if she'd just fallen asleep.
"And what did you think that would prove?" SPYGOD heard Zalea ask through Tish, as well as all the mouths of all the people nearby, over the bluff before the road.
"You're so !@#$ing smart, you figure it out," SPYGOD said, extending a hand to the woman he just shot, so as to help her up the rest of the way. She thanked him by slapping him full across the face.
"You're pathetic," she said in her own voice: "I feel sorry for you."
"I am sorry for you," he said, tapping her forehead: "How can this be life, Tish? I just shot you dead. You just came back. That's not !@#$ing life, hon. And I oughta !@#$ing know."
"Did you come all this way to kill one woman?" the voices demanded.
"No," SPYGOD said, lighting up another smoke and turning around in a circle to face his many accusers: "I came all this way to kill you, you nasty !@#$ing !@#$. If I have to return all these poor !@#$s you brought back to life while I'm doing it, I'm more than prepared."
Then he turned back around, and continued on towards the road, Tish not far behind him As he crested the hill of the beach, he looked around at the newly-reborn city, and watched as every person that could see him suddenly turned in unison to regard him.
"This is not life, you stupid !@#$holes!" he shouted to the men and women on the street, all wearing white jumpsuits padded with electronic gear: "This is slavery! This is living death! You've all been !@#$ing Frankensteined!"
"And we're so happy to be that way," every single person announced, all in her voice.
A high tech, luxury car pulled up before he could say anything else. Inside of it were two Zaleas -- one driving and another sitting in the back.
"Get in, (REDACTED)," the one in the back gently commanded as the door gull-winged open: "And lose your weapons, please."
"Or what?" he asked, flicking his cigarette at her face.
A beam of light arced from one of the buildings, just then -- incinerating the cigarette less than a foot from his fingertips. Then another beam came, going over his head and towards the beach.
He heard something explode, back there, and knew it was his personal torpedo.
"A heat beam, capable of destroying you," the Zalea behind the wheel explained, smiling: "You're currently surrounded by twenty of them, and they're everywhere, here. I could kill you at any time."
"So cooperate, please," the Zalea in the back added, somewhat languidly: "I have a lot I'd like to show you before this comes to its logical conclusion."
"Well, okay then," SPYGOD chuckled, beginning the process of stripping off his many weapons. His pistol, his other pistol, his other other pistol. Micro-grenades, macro-grenades, stun-grenades. Tasers, masers. Laser pistol. Knife after knife after knife. The sword no one knew he carried.
Even the !@#$ build-a-gun -- dropped down to the sand at his feet.
"That good enough, or you want to go up my !@#$ with a camera?" he asked, holding his hands up.
"I think you'd like that too much," the Zalea in the back replied, gesturing to the seat: "Tish, you first. Sit next to me."
Tish seemed really happy to accommodate that directive, for reasons SPYGOD didn't need to wonder about for long. The moment he got in, behind her, the backseat Zalea began to kiss her passionately, as though she was a long-lost lover, seen for the first time in years.
And then they were all in the car and driving off into the Nation of Atlas, its many perfections on display.
* * *
"Still here..." SPYGOD gurgles: "Wish you weren't."
Well, we can't always get what we want. If we could, you'd have been smarter, today.
I'd ask if that was the best you could do, but given all this... well...
"And you could have done better?" SPYGOD tries to say, angry at how squished and helpless it sounds -- like a whimper.
Given time? Yes. But I have a unique perspective on this. For me, it's already happened. For you, it's just now taking place.
In retrospect, I can see a dozen ways to have avoided this sorry mess, and what's going to come after. But I have a different set of tools in my box than you do.
SPYGOD tries to tell him what to do with his !@#$ing box, and where to cram it. What comes out is a pathetic mewl mixed with bloody vomit.
I'm sure you'd like me to! the presence responds, smiling a little: And maybe, if you weren't dying by your own hand, you'd even try to shove it on up there. Gods know, I've had worse offers.
But here you are, dying on a tree. Your last moments in this world spent as upside-down as you've lived your life since you put that eye in your head. Since you decided to be a God, rather than a man.
More gurgling, and more blood.
Yes, I can see that's worked out for you. Pretty well, all in all. You've saved the world dozens of times. Saved your country millions of times. All the things they say about you, they're true. Especially the good things.
But what about you, (REDACTED)? What about your soul? What about your future? What are you going to do when you can't just tell people you killed Hitler, so their argument is invalid? What are you going to do when you can't bully a President around, or work behind his back? When there is no COMPANY, when there are no allies, no victims, no patsies?
What are you going to do when even your immortality fails you? the presence asks, pointing to the stream of bloody mush that's rushing from SPYGOD's face like a weak firehose: What's your plan for that?
And SPYGOD screams in pain and rage, if only to prove his plan is to live.
Even if he doesn't think he deserves to, anymore.
(SPYGOD is listening to Hybrid (Gary Numan) and drinking his own lung junk)