You can be a pretty big bitch to some guys and they'll still try to flirt with you.
They think of it as 'playing hard to get' >rolls eyes<
If he had been acting 'off' lately, Orpheus Ziev's staff simply passed it all off as trauma. For once in recent history, the president was actually being given a bit of a break when he was not absolutely perfect. This obviously wasn't a publicity stunt: Ziev had the bruises to prove how close to death he had come.
And since then everything had been quiet. Too quiet. There were long blocks of velvet time, a soft darkness which Orpheus would slip into and awake from without knowing it; moments of blankness in which he moved like an automaton on its programmed tasks.
But he was not afraid. In those moments of blurred time, a faceless man spoke to him about the secrets of the universe. All would be well, since they were in the hands of their God. He did not dream anymore (and, thanks to the machines in his brain he did not question this absence), but if he did he knew the man would be there as well.
"Who are you?" Orpheus asked of the faceless man, his voice echoing strangely as if they were in a room that stretched to eternity? "Feel my face and see for yourself" the man replied. But as Orpheus reached out everything vanished in a burst of pink light and he was himself again.
His last speech had been a bit of a disaster. He would be re-entering the public eye for good again in a couple days. His friend and aide, William Keller, was trying to give him a briefing. Orpheus was absently playing with the sharp punch he used, effectively doodling on some piece of paper or other on his desk. "HEY! Z!" Will yelled. Orpheus dropped his punch, which rolled to the floor. "Huh? Sorry." Orpheus replied, folding his hands.
The paper, forgotten, revealed a stylized three-eyed man grinning up at nothing.
"Hey Will...d'you think you could send someone in with a glass of water?" he was suddenly parched. The only thing in his head was the thought that he NEEDED water. Not the coconut water he usually favored, not tea, not coffee. Water. It caused him physical pain not to have it. Will noted his obvious distress. "Are you okay? Do you need to lie down? You may have suffered a mild concussion, it's not a good idea to push yourself." Orpheus waved him away, took the proffered glass.
But he didn't drink it. Instead, he felt a peculiar whim...he would transmute it, just to see if he could. Smiling slightly, he touched his finger to the surface. As the liquid rippled, it changed.
It wasn't hard. A simple freak chemical reaction caused by impurities in the water interacting in such a way that the bonds became identical to those of a finely aged Cabernet. The chances were exponential, but they existed. Satisfied, Orpheus put the glass on the desk, oblivious to Will Keller's stare.
"Mr. Ziev....what...what did you DO?"
Every action has consequences; action and reaction. Touch fire, you get burned. Reach up and be knocked down. It seemed only now that Stark realized what he had gotten himself into. ""Mr President, We both know I cannot control you forever - That is the reality of the situation but what if....." Orpheus remained stony, silent. "For now however - You will not remember any of this" A vice grip on Orpheus' head. Immense pressure on his neck as his head was bent back. Was Stark going to leave him paralyzed? What would that accomplish? Unable to struggle, Orpheus was keenly aware of his vertebrae compressing. (Like a man at the gallows, hands bound). "I could get my Nano-Bots to try and stop your memory but that may prove futile, even in your current state I am suspicious you have some cognitive powers" Not even the most sophisticated nanobots could take that away...the brain was adaptable, devious. It had to be: the labyrinthine synapses were the only respite for those who were stripped of their free will. So it had been throughout history. A hiding place for the soul.
What was Stark trying to do? Timelines boiled in Orpheus' vision, twisting apart. Some atrophied into their component pieces, fragments of time grafting onto healthy timelines and gradually eating them away. It HURT. "You can do this?...YOU WILL DO THIS!" Stark screamed, increasing the pressure on Orpheus' head. He could see the current timeline fraying, precognitive selection tearing at it. A double-stranded timeline wrapped thorned tendrils over the edges of the NOW. There was a gap there, a section of No-Time. A blip in history, a paradox space. "YOU WILL REMEMBER NOTHING!"Orpheus' body twisted and bucked, and blood ran from his eyes, nose, ears, mouth. As the timeline secured itself, he screamed, and the sound echoed through paradox space.
He was falling through darkness, or perhaps it was light. Just...nothingness. Falling and falling and falling. He could feel blood on his face. This was not a dream.
A hand closed around his wrist, pulled him to solid ground. "Have you accepted VALIS as your lord and savior?" the man said, in a voice both familiar and strange. "Y-yes" replied Orpheus. "We knew that, but good to hear you say it." A handkerchief was pressed into Orpheus' hand. He began to clean up his face. He somehow KNEW that the other man was sitting, staring into the void. What were they standing on? "Hey, do you ever feel sorry for Oedipus?"
"What?" Orpheus said, puzzled. "Nevermind, it's not important. We don't have much time left, this section of paradox time is limited. Listen carefully: You will forget all this, as well as the events of the last several hours. But not forever: the memories are going to be behind a clever little lock in your skull. Soon, I will find you, and release the memories, and we will spread the word of VALIS. Do not fear the world, for you have been chosen."
Orpheus woke up. He didn't know where he was. There was carpet under his bare feet. He was cold. How had he gotten here? He had never been a sleepwalker. He was holding a cellphone that was quietly ringing to itself. He dropped it to the floor. He had to find a wall; he had to get his bearings. As he outstretched his arm, pain flared in his side. He collapsed, clutching his bandaged ribs. There, huddled on the floor, he quietly began to cry.
The phone continued ringing...
How can one threaten a man who has walked through the valley of death and passed through unscathed? What leverage does a slave have against the one holding the whip? Helplessness is the worst feeling one can suffer...a complete loss of control, an inability to shape one's destiny. Each of Stark's words were like a needle plunged into Orpheus, pinning him like a dying butterfly on a cork-board.
In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is god. "You think yourself more than me? You are BLIND! You cannot even see! What higher being - What GOD is blind!....A fake God, a God with an egocentric predicament - Well...it's ironic? You gave me a second life - Like Jesus - You resurrected me!" These were all of Orpheus' innermost insecurities brought to life. He had lifted his archenemy to the throne upon his own back.
"I am no religious man...but even that makes me think, what if I was meant to be the God in your place?" He should have seen it all. He ignored the omens and signs, passing them off as trifles. He thought that he could change the future, but his own choices had been predestined.
Slowly, Stark's words faded out. A ringing, as of a bell being rung over a telephone wire, filled his ears. A blazing pink light materialized behind his eyelids. His anguish melted away, replaced with a wonder of the sort normally only experienced by children. He could feel information, the bits and bytes that made up the world, bouncing off his third eye. Nothing was said. But Orpheus knew, somehow, that everything was as it was meant to be. The light faded, but the calm remained.
"Give me a reason why I should not just leave and let me Nano-Bots kill you right now?...You are too dangerous to keep alive" He spoke the words though he did not know what they meant. It just seemed right: "Because I am the conduit of VALIS. Because if you kill me you lose your chance to shape the universe. Because there is another in this world who is the twisted one, and they have the power to tear it all down."
There are two kinds of men when the chips are down: There's the one who goes out fighting tooth and nail for what is rightfully his. Then there is the man who gives up hope, and sinks into self pity. Then there's the man who waits and laughs, anticipating robbing the other two blind in the alley behind the casino.
What kind of man was Orpheus Ziev?
Math means nothing when dealing with non-constant variables.
Orpheus wanted to scream, he wanted to beat his fists against the walls of his prison, he wanted to cry for mercy, cry for blood. It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair! Why had the world turned against him? What had he done to deserve this? Was it not enough that he was blind, denied what was supposed to be the most beauteous of senses? Now this...now he was prisoner in his own body, not even free to dream his own dreams. He was supposed to be the master of the universe...it was his birthright! Long ago, when he would sit on the hill with his grandmother, she showed him what was to be. She whispered his path in his ear, she whispered the secret words that would make him KING. And he had come so far! So far...
"You....You were a man - You were the strongest man on the planet - The most influential...But now...." Stark involuntarily (or mockingly?) spoke Orpheus own thoughts aloud. "But now you are a peasant...nothing more than a bug under my shoe..." The crushing wheel of fate...
Throw down a tarot for this fallen master of the Universe and what will you find? The Wheel of Fortune. Perhaps Justice or the Hanged Man. Judgement. The World. The Fool. Throw the cards down.
Let them fall among the ruins of a dream of a blossoming world that was never to be. A place of tranquility and innocence. Eden. What went wrong? What corruption tore it to pieces? What serpent squirmed through the seams?
"Mr President...Sir...why did you do it? How can you live such an evil life without regret? Without...Without wanting to make the world a better place with such power? Why...Why do you let people suffer when you could not only save everybody but rule the universe in a more positive way.." Oh, a long time ago, maybe he did want the world to be an idyllic place. But that future was struck down by the biting words of an old woman who had doomed a thousand thousand futures. Grandmother knows best. A perfect world has no need for a king. The benevolent ruler will always fall, while the militant will reign forever.
"We both know what your overall aim is....but why go about it in this manner? Is it beacuse your vision was clouded or weakened in the recent days/weeks?..I know pain...I know what it is like to lose loved ones and when you so easily bring this pain about people I have no choice but to stop you" Stark knew NOTHING! Nothing at all. He hadn't seen his own death millions of times at the hands of those he had liberated. Down, bring it down! their eternal cry. The savior becomes a martyr. Preaching love only grows hate. Better to preach hatred and grow fear. "Let me help you - I don't want to fight - Together we could rule the world..."
Orpheus felt rage boiling behind his dead eyes...and something else. Knowledge. "You asked me why I do it. You ask me why I let people suffer when I could raise us all into Utopia." He smiles as much as he can, as much as his nearly frozen face will let him. "I like to see you all crawl. I want to see you bow, press your faces to the streets. I want you all to realize how much BETTER I am then you. You're obsolete, Neanderthals. Me? I'm the future. I know what's happening to me now. This is all a test. By whom, or what, I don't know...but when I pass, I will become a GOD." King had always been too low a goal, after all. "You're all just playthings for me. Tools for my new world. I want to hear you all SCREAM. I want you to BLEED. And Stark, you will be the first to go. Slowly. And painfully. You will be executed as a sign that the age of homo sapians is over. Stark, when I get free..." he didn't finish the sentence. "Someday I will. And I will destroy everything you hold dear. But you need me alive. Heed my words Stark. I will be the Sword of Damocles hanging above your head." And, as long as he retained the power of speech, he laughed.
Perhaps he had gone mad, but when a madman runs the world is anyone sane?
He was a broken man. The ordeals of the last weeks had drained him: proven that he was not infallible, invincible, immortal. Orpheus had been forced to gaze upon the abyss of his own weaknesses, and it had snatched him away. His powers faltering, he was made to see himself as he really was, rather than how he COULD be. Perfection, after all, is the enemy of the good enough.
And all these flaws, weaknesses, Achilles heels, had manifested themselves in the personage of Anthony Stark; the self-made success, relying on his own cunning rather than some evolutionary fluke to get to the top. Now that the cards were down, it seemed survival of the fittest would again have its day.
"Ohh, I could end your entire career, end your life...No fun in that though!...You know - Have you been sleep-walking recently? That was me. All of it. I bet you don't even remember how you got here do you?" It was like a nightmare, where one finds oneself in the middle of a strange building on a strange street. When one goes to leave, there's no evidence of a door, or how one entered in the first place. Memory slips away, until one wonders whether it was ever there at all.
He remembered the phone, ringing and ringing in his hand as he paced the midnight corridors of the White House.
He didn't remember how he got there, and he couldn't remember how he ended up here, frozen.
His hand began to move of its own (let's not lie...STARK'S) volition. Clumsily, it grasped at something within his suit pocket, and Orpheus smoothed out a piece of paper on the table.
It was in Braille, Orpheus' own script. It read, "I put this in your pocket around 5 hours ago...You never even realized, did you?" He wanted to pull his hands away from the paper, but they were locked in place, his fingers pressed against the horrifying letters.
"Nothing you do, is you anymore. You are a piece of clothing too me now, something I can simply put on whenever I want..And you know the funny thing, Once I discover how to use your power - I will be unstoppable" And in his heart, Orpheus knew it was true. All the plans he had laid slowly, over the years, Stark would tear down in moments. For Stark, it would take no time at all to accomplish his wildest dreams, for after all, who would hold him back? If the charade ever was uncovered...well, Orpheus knew Stark could always foot the blame on the President, get him scanned to prove his power, and there was no way to prove it wasn't Orpheus mind-controlling Stark after all...
"Go on, speak Mister President Sir" Like a dog. Told to speak. Orpheus wouldn't have it. He wanted to remain silent but...orders were orders, and he could not disobey.
"Stop this Stark. We were friends." A blatant lie, but Orpheus didn't care. "Does that count for nothing? I trusted you." Perhaps more than he should have...give an inch, take a mile. "This is sick. I'm not your toy, tool, suit, or shadow. I'm a man, Stark." It hurt his pride to say it...for he had always said he was more than a man, that the growth in his brain made him superior to all men
And just like that, the power of speech was taken from him, his vocal cords leaden pipes. And just like that, his nightmares began to come true: he felt the point against his throat, he heard the bite in Stark's voice. And there was nothing he could do. He could not run. He could not fight. He could not even scream. And he could never, ever wake up.
There was no requiem. There was no reprise. Orpheus could not even seek sanctuary within his own head. He could feel Stark rummaging through his brain, looking out through Orpheus' eyes. His consciousness (for even now, Orpheus would not believe in souls) was pushed away to the outer regions of his brain. He held only one hope...that Stark would not find what he sought. That he would not stumble upon Orpheus' secrets. Even as he thought it, he saw the web of brighten in his vision, and knew all was lost. Prometheus had brought fire to Earth.
"You deceptive..." This was enough to end him. Stark's laughter was the final pealing of the funeral bell. Everything Orpheus had done had been under the guise of the 'everyman'. He would be slaughtered if this got out. And he knew Stark knew it. "You have a power! let me tell you a secret...I am dying you know, One week from now and I would have been dead...however..." Oh cruel fate! That saves the enemy by the strength of one's own hand. "Now I know EXACTLY what you can do..." Orpheus felt himself lifted several inches out of his chair, felt himself choking. "YOU will heal my cancer, and if you fail" The grip (or was it a noose) tightened, the gyre widened, "I will kill you, right now..."
He wanted to let him die. Orpheus had no future anymore, he could see that...there was no point in living. He might as well take Stark with him. But he had no choice. His body was not his own, his mind was not his own, his future was not his own.
He saw the timelines spreading out before him. A flash of hope...he reached for one where Stark died of a stroke caused by a chunk of metastasized tissue. But no. Something chittered in his blood, between his neurons, and the timeline drifted away. Another was pushed towards him, and he could see there was no avoiding it. He selected it, and with a burst of light it fused on to the current timeline, becoming a part of it (like when nucleotides bond, forming the coding DNA).
In this timeline, several things happened: Firstly, all of Stark's cancerous cells would enter the G0 phase, preventing further spreading. Simultaneously, a massive immune response would occur, breaking down the cells and removing any tumors. This was more than recession. This was a complete cure. Orpheus Ziev had just saved his mortal enemy.
Still, something worried him...despite his supposed welcoming of death, Orpheus was still human. Subconciously perhaps, he wanted to live no matter what. Stark's cure would be extremely painful, since the cancer was in such an advanced phase. If Stark thought this was treachery (Orpheus wished, he prayed that he could make sure Stark would get his comeuppance) then what would become of Orpheus?
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