Sunday, August 10, 2014

Missing Time: 11/28/12 - This Is What You Are - Pt. 3

Yekaterinburg, Russia

"You do not understand our story, O SPYGOD," Orange and Gold says, ever-smiling: "You know only the edges of it. You know nothing of who we were, or how we came to be here, or why. You see our actions as evil, perhaps monstrous, but you of all people should know that a people will do anything to survive."

"And you should !@#$ing understand that we might have helped you, if you'd just !@#$ing asked," SPYGOD says: "All you ever had to !@#$ing do was ask for help."

"That is not in our nature, O SPYGOD."

"Well, neither is rolling over and dying, O !@#$face. We will also do anything to survive. And if there's one thing I can do, it's do anything." 

"You can, indeed. We have clearly underestimated you, O SPYGOD. It will not happen again."

SPYGOD smiles as the Specials re-aim their guns right at him.

"Just so you know," SPYGOD says, looking right at the Imago: "Everything that !@#$ing happens from here on out? That's on you. All of you."

"It is indeed," the Imago says, and gives the order to fire.

The Specials make ready to pull their triggers. Their gauss rifles -- capable of killing even SPYGOD -- hum and hiss.

SPYGOD outstretches his arms, as if he is ready to embrace death at last.

And then, just before the super-swift, heated projectiles can turn him into a hot, gay BBQ, he does something no one's seen him do since just after the War -- he pulls a shining, silvery sword out of nowhere, and puts it down between himself and his foes.

Except that it's not much of a sword, anymore; It's big and bulky, oblong and misshapen. It almost looks like it's developed cancer from disuse, or something. 

As SPYGOD positions it, and quickly ducks down behind it, he forces the sword to expand even more. It becomes an aegis of sorts, creating a barrier between himself and his enemies. 

And as soon as it's as wide as he thinks he can make it, he holds still and prays that this will still work.

That the shooting doesn't happen right away he puts down to their surprise. That it doesn't happen a second or two after they should have stopped being surprised is, itself, quite surprising. But then the seconds roll by, one into another, and SPYGOD realizes that they should have tried to kill him by now.

So he very carefully looks up, creating a small hole in the shield so he can see what's going on.

What he sees is the last thing he saw before he pulled the sword out and ducked down. The Imago, floating. The Specials, aiming. The guns, ready to fire. 

"Well that's !@#$ weird," he says, still not daring to move.

Yes, it is, a voice answers him. He quickly spins to see who it is, and is mystified by what he sees there.

"Who the !@#$ are you?" he asks, searching for an appropriate gun to aim  at the wavering, indistinct figure.

A friend, the presence says, walking past SPYGOD and his sword-turned-shield, and heading for the Specials and their Imago master: I know that sort of answer doesn't make you happy, but a longer explanation would be... well, longer. And you don't have a lot of time. 

"I seem to have a !@#$ing lot of it, all of a sudden," SPYGOD says, watching as the Presence quickly (but carefully) repositions each and every Special so that their guns are pointed at one another: "Are you... I mean, you look kind of !@#$ing familiar, but-"

Here's the deal, (REDACTED), the presence says, surprising SPYGOD by using his real name: As soon as they realize that these people haven't caught you, they're going to use Deep-Ten to wipe out this entire area, just to get to you.

"Unacceptable," SPYGOD growls, still thinking of that train full of doomed people: "We have to stop it-"

We can't. The best we can do is give you time to get out of here.

"What, you mean you can !@#$ing stop time, but you can't !@#$ing do anything to save these people?" SPYGOD shouts, aiming his gun at the figure as he makes the sword-shield go away: "That's bull!@#$, pal. If you can stop time like this, there's got to be something we can do-"

There is, the presence says, sliding over to where SPYGOD stands -- faster than he can see, much less hope to pull the trigger: you can shut up, trust me, and go for a ride. 

And then they're somewhere else entirely. But as soon as SPYGOD realizes that someplace is most likely in Japan -- in an abandoned building, far from prying electronic eyes -- the presence has all but vanished.

"Well, !@#$," SPYGOD says, putting away the gun and looking out the window. He's just in time to hear the Earth's atmosphere part as a pulse cannon touches down, over in Russia.

"!@#$," he mutters, not at all happy at how this rather !@#$ty day has gone.

* * *

Which is how you got to Japan without anyone knowing you were there, the Presence says, patting SPYGOD on the cheek as more of his lungs goosh out of his upside-down mouth: But you had it right. You had seen me before. Sort of.

SPYGOD coughs some more, glaring up at the mysterious figure -- a being not even the Chandra Eye can clearly make out.

That's right. I was at Bastogne, too. I didn't appear until you walked away to try and relieve yourself. And by the time you found out the hallway went on forever, and decided to just use the wall, it was all over

But you did catch sight of me, didn't you? Maybe just a little while you shook the last few drips away. Just enough that, when I helped you, last month, you weren't completely surprised to see me.

And then there was that dream, the Presence goes on, getting a little more comfortable, beside SPYGOD's head: Except... wait, that hasn't happened yet. But it will. And soon.

A quizzical look, even through extreme pain.

Sorry, (REDACTED). When it comes to time, I'm on the outside looking in, most of the time. You might see our meetings as a linear progression, since that's how you experience time, but it's more than likely that my schedule for meeting you is well out of synch with yours. 

I go where I'm needed, when I need to be there, and the rest of the time I'm just looking down, or inside, or beyond. 

Yes, I know it sounds confusing, the Presence sighs, still reading puzzlement on SPYGOD's pained face: But believe it or not we have had this conversation, before. Several of them. In fact, while I haven't had them yet, you have had them with me, in my future. Which is your past.

SPYGOD's eye goes wide at that.

Took you long enough, the Presence says, dropping the blurring field. His face is a fantastic silver mask, and his high-tech costume is also silver -- shimmering and glittering and gleaming in the sun.

It's Shift.

"You..." SPYGOD coughs, trying to reach out a hand.

"Yes," Shift says, reaching out to take it: "It is me, my friend. It has been me, all along. And even when it hasn't been, it has."

SPYGOD tries to say he doesn't understand, but fails to overcome the stream of goo rushing from his chest to his mouth.

"I know," he says: "You saw me die, then. You see me live, now. I sounded different, then. I am different, now. Two limited lifetimes, one immortal life. Such is the nature of godhood, when all is said and done."

"Don't... you aren't..."

"I am," Shift says, tapping his chest: "All we ever were was an idea made flesh. And you of all people should know that ideas are very hard to kill or destroy, even if Heaven decides otherwise. If all else fails, we just find a new body to exist within.

"And thanks to you, I have done just that."

SPYGOD coughs some more, twitching.

"Yes, I know. You have more questions. And I promised you secrets. But first, let us look at yours."

With that, Shift gets up, and spreads his hands wide across the scene. As he does, it's filled with tiny, shimmering windows in space and time: pockets of places and scenes from long ago, or not too long ago.

And in those small replayings of times past, SPYGOD sees himself -- however inverted.

He sees his earliest days as a hero, fighting supernazis on the road to Berlin. He sees himself sneaking around behind the Iron Curtain, after the War. He sees himself in Korea, Vietnam, South and Central America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia.

He sees himself with the Liberty League, the Freedom Force, and the COMPANY. He sees himself with heroes and villains, spies and freedom fighters, destabilizers and nation builders. With President after President, and politicians and appointees galore.

He sees himself running the COMPANY. He sees himself fleeing from it. He sees himself trying to recreate it, however restrained by this new, post-Imago world order.

He sees himself sober and drunk, happy and sad, angry and angrier. He sees himself !@#$ing, !@#$ing, and !@#$ing.

And all the while, as he watches, he sees himself in charge. He sees himself making decisions, for good or ill. He sees himself giving commands, either knowing their consequences or no longer caring. He sees himself doing what needs to be done, however flawed his understanding of what led to these events, or how they might play out.

He sees a man he was, there. He hardly recognizes him, now.

"And that is the problem, isn't it," Shift asks, waving at one example in particular: "Look at yourself, here, (REDACTED). All that hard work you had to do to get the underground armies of the world on your side for that last battle against the Imago. All those deals, all those promises, all those bargains and tricks and called-in favors...

"Oh, look," he says, pointing to one particularly hair-raising negotiation: "You do make a very convincing Chinese prostitute. If I didn't know you as well as I did, even I might have been fooled."

SPYGOD tries to say something but the words get caught on something. It might actually be his diaphragm, oozing into what's left of his throat.

"Yes, I know," Shift goes on: "You really put yourself on the line for that one, and Gods only know how you are ever going to pay that back, much less live it down.

"But that is the point. You didn't even stop to think about any of that, did you? You just looked through your little black book, kicked down doors, and got what you wanted."

"Had to..." SPYGOD croaks, wondering how much more lung he can lose at this point: "No one else..."

"Exactly!" Shift all but shouts, pointing back at him: "That is exactly it, my friend. No one else can do these things. No one else is you. This is your calling. This is who you are.

"This is what you are," Shift continues, stepping in closer and continuing on: "You are the one who makes it happen, (REDACTED). You make the hard choices, the impossible decisions. You throw your life on the line because no one else will do it.

"And that's why all... this," he says, gesturing to the dead and dying around them: "Is so massively disappointing. Because you could have done much better, my friend. So much better than this."

SPYGOD grits his teeth: "So could... you-"

"Could I? Is this my thing to do? I patrol time and space, friend. I deal with things even you can't see, and problems even you can't imagine.

"In fact, as we are speaking, I am several different places at once. A clutch of chronovores are sliding into New Zealand. A time paradox is threatening at the South Pole. Certain safeguards and stopgaps I had put in place, in ages past, need to be checked up on and reinforced this very second, this very day. Locks must be checked, barriers strengthened, the fabric of reality shored up...

"That is my calling, my friend. And while I am happy to help you with yours, when I need to, the rest of the time... well, I'm really busy.  And besides, how would you have taken if if I had just appeared, while you were putting this plan together, and told you it wouldn't work?"

Not very well, SPYGOD has to admit. But then...

"Yes, here I am, berating you on your bad plan, after all. But let us consider this an intervention-"

"Liked you better... when you didn't... !@#$ing... talk..."

"I know. And I am sorry. But this time, it is necessary. And not just because of the dead, here, but because of what it signifies for times to come.

"You've done this before, you know," Shift says, gesturing to the remade nation he's just assassinated: "Gone it alone. Been so angry at your circumstances and orders and leaders that you've ignored all the friends and allies you have, and all the resources at your beck and call, and just strapped on all the guns you can fit onto your jumpsuit, and whatever else you can fit into your sword..."

He looks back at SPYGOD, smiling: "And that, by the way, was a stroke of genius. All those times you amazed people by putting things out of nowhere? They were just all hidden in your sword, all along. That was good thinking on your part, (REDACTED)."

"Thanks..." SPYGOD coughs: "Thought so... myself... !@#$..."

"Of course, it did lead to you having to rely on guns, but maybe that's not such a bad thing, given your profession."

"Can't stab someone from... half a mile away..."

"This is true," Shift continues, stepping through a small portal between two images and reappearing beside SPYGOD's tree: "That is not one of your skills. Not yet, anyway."


"Ah, I forget myself," Shift chuckles: "But then, so have you, (REDACTED). Consider what you have to play with. Consider who you can call for aid. You have geniuses and madmen. You have heroes and villains. You have a demon and an angel, for God's sake.

"Do you not think of of them could have found a way to save these people, somehow?"

No. He doesn't. He grits his teeth and closes his eyes.

"But yet, you went it alone. You told no one, except for your lover. You commandeered the people you needed to destroy that woman's extra bodies. You took the dangerous things out of storage.

"And then you came here, and killed millions of people, just because you did not want to get anyone else involved in your mistake."

"My mistake..." SPYGOD says: "I let her out... she got free..."

"Yes, but it was not completely your fault she did so. She had help, voluntary and otherwise. And just as you did not need to shoulder the entire blame and responsibility,  yourself, neither did you need to solve the problem all by yourself. Plans work better when you get other people involved. You should know that by now."

"Not always..."

"Well, how about this, then?" Shift says, gesturing to himself: "This is the result of one of your better plans, SPYGOD. This is what happens when you really think about what to do, and how to do it, and who to use to get what you need done.

"I am here, today, because of you."

And before SPYGOD can cough up anything else, the Super-God does something that, in all the years they've known one another, he has never seen this man do.

He takes off the mask.

Beneath the gleaming, smiling silver is the face of a youngish man -- and a familiar one at that. It takes SPYGOD a moment to realize who it is, as the last time he saw him he was much younger, and was most certainly not smiling.

"Questions, yes," Simon Pure says, his face flickering: "But I have talked enough for one day. It is enough for you to know that, when the time is right, you and Mr. USA really do need to have a talk about what happened to him, and to me."

With that he gestures, and the many pockets of times gone past disappear. And he kneels down and holds SPYGOD's head up, looking into his eyes.

"Let this be a sacrifice, (REDACTED)" Shift pleads with him: "Let this be the end of your old mistakes. Let what comes from this be the penance you pay for them. Let what springs forth from this be the start of something entirely new and different.

"Learn from this, SPYGOD," Shift whispers, putting his mask back on: "Heal and learn."

And he's gone, and there's nothing but the tree, the dead, and SPYGOD -- somewhere between all of them.

* * *

He hangs on the tree for nine hours, not sure if he's going to live or die -- not even certain that the conversation he just had was real or imagined.

By the end of that time -- reasonably certain that he's no longer in danger of choking on his own fluid -- he carefully pulls himself up, and stands on his own two feet again. 

Walking to the shore is painful, both physically and otherwise. With each step he sees the dead, arrayed around him. He can hear no heartbeats, here. No one has survived this holocaust but himself.

At the shore, he sees one last echo of Zalea, lying face-down on the beach. A massive bloom of brownish-red sand lies beneath her head -- a tombstone of sorts, and an accusation.

For a moment he almost kneels down to pull her head from her shoulders, just so he can have the head of another enemy on his wall. But he realizes that would be a bad idea. For all he knows, she might be able to resurrect herself from even that.

So he leaves her be -- taking only a second to flip her the bird -- and then wanders into the surf, wondering if anything can make him clean, today. 

Anything at all. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Pure (Gary Numan, demo version) and having a lot of shame)

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