"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither."-
Pokey Minch had never been religious.
Never had he assumed that there was a higher being that all life answered to. Never had he prayed. Never had he considered that there was anything beyond the mortal years one had on earth, and consequently, he never wished for heaven or feared hell.
In retrospect, he thought now, he should have guessed something was at work when that damn bitch fell to her metallic shell's knees in what was the unmistakable posture for pleading to higher entities, and Giygas began to lose his might. He had reasoned, after a hasty escape, that the girl…
He could not recall her name, it had been too long- the eons had sundered his memories apart and they had been hastily pieced together, edges missing, details marred. But he had dismissed that girl's 'prayers' as mere triggers to unleash a united psychic assault pooled from the four's mental reserves. There was no God. Therefore there was no Devil, no hell for him to fear.
He now was trapped in an impenetrable metal prison of his own desire, immortal. He felt parching thirst but did not wither. He felt consuming hunger but did not fall apart. He would not- could not- die.
There was the stench to be considered as well. The "Absolutely Safe Machine" was not equipped with a lavatory.
Undying, unfed, unwatered, living in his own filth… Pokey was sure now that there was indeed a hell, and it was of his own making.
There would be no infinite oceans of liquid fire for him- far too merciful, that would allow movement in torment, some change. There would be a confined, claustrophobia inducing space meant for one, with only his own voice to keep him company- the capsule was soundproof, to guard against sonic-based attack.
Did the dragon destroy the world- or revert it? Were his most recent foes dead- or rebuilding?
He did not know.
All he knew was that, in this time-ravaged form, with the absolutely safe machine's invincible hull, with no tools, no PSI powers that could ever be developed to break free… he was trapped.
No one would hear his story about how it was HE who had tricked Giygas, through his own personal brand of mind controlling PSI, into working for him, not the other way around. No one would ever hear his majestic song of triumph again. No one would ever tremble in fear of his many mechanical creations and chimeras.
Once more, in vain effort, he gathered what little psychic energy he gained from… 'rest', if you could call the brief moments he fell unconscious before hunger and thirst awoke him that, and pried beyond the capsule with all his mental might a single, humble message, plea and command as one.
I am ready to die. Come kill me.
There would be nothing. But the trying was change-
"That won't work."
Had his many experiments not rendered him immortal, the sudden psychic reply would have dropped him dead out of sheer shock. The familiarity of the voice, the confidence…
He spoke in his mind, his throat too withered to speak.
"Ness…? Is that you?"
In his mind's eye- his mortal eyes were too withered to discern shapes any more- He saw the form of Ness as he remembered him- striped shirt, black, messy hair, red baseball cap, jean shorts- materialize in what appeared to be a black void.
He was smiling. A cold, mirthless, angry smile.
"With anyone else… anyone else… child molester, rapist, mass murderer… I would have felt pity, let them have a moment to repent, then I'd tell their brain to tell their organs to stop working, put them out of this misery." Ness spoke, anger and hurt in his words. "Anyone… except you."
The smile faded.
"You don't understand, Ness-"
"You're right, Pokey," The name was uttered as viciously as one would expect a curse. "I don't understand what drove you to try and destroy the world. And guess what?" He feigned looking around conspiratorially, before leaning in and whispering. "I don't care. None of us do."
Pokey felt himself shudder at the heartlessness of Ness' words.
"You ruined lives. Corrupted people for your own nihilistic goals. You corrupted innocent after innocent after innocent, twisted their minds into attacking their own flesh and blood, Pokey!" his voice rose in fury.
"The blood they spilled isn't on their hands, Pokey. It's all on yours. All the lives your slaves ruined fall on your ever so hollow head."
Pokey scrambled mentally for a reply to this accusation, and, finding none, pleaded to his former neighbor- "You can't leave me like this!"
Ness laughed, and it crashed around in Pokey's head painfully, like someone had climbed into his skull and began swinging a spiked mace around.
"You see, Pokey, that's the irony here- remember, I spoke of what I would have done. I literally can't save you, even if there was any desire to. Don't you remember? How you travelled far, far into the future?" Ness paused to let the implication set in.
Pokey blinked. "…You're dead?"
Ness nodded. "For many, many, many years now, Pokey. I died loved by friends, and I've waited just long enough… to speak to you one last time before my spirit departs for…"
It was at this point Ness noticed just how deeply Pokey was concentrating now, to hear proof of an afterlife.
"Oh, but who am I kidding? You never cared about any of that stuff." Ness said dismissively.
A slap in the face- the damned fool knew Pokey wanted to have some indication of what lay beyond the veil, and knew just how much it hurt to be denied the knowledge.
"After all, you said it yourself- 'there's no heaven or hell, so why not do what comes naturally?'"
Pokey now lost his temper, long buried arrogance boring to the surface. "You rotten little twofaced sonofabitch. You stayed behind just to screw with my head, didn't you?!"
Ness smiled again, and Pokey felt something in him grow cold with terror as his grin revealed unnaturally white teeth- it struck him then that Ness was manipulating what he saw.
"I'm not the only person who stuck around to give you my worst wishes, Pokey."
Here Ness turned to the black void behind him. "Poo! Jeff! Sexy Psychic!"
The monk-boy and nerdish Jeff, in their old garb, appeared next to Ness. A frying pan flew out of nowhere, decapitating Ness, his head falling to his knees.
A feminine voice emerged from all around them. "I thought we agreed we wouldn't use that name in public, honey." And Paula materialized next to Ness, whose severed head smiled upside-down at the newest arrival.
As if this were the most meager of inconveniences, Ness's headless body bent down, searched momentarily for his head, and, with a distinctive 'pop', reattached it to his body as if it were never removed.
"It's better than what that one Starman called you. The great Clairvoyant Cu-"
Paula- Yes, that was her name!- brandished the frying pan menacingly, an innocent smile on her face. She too was as Pokey remembered. "…and do you remember what happened to him?"
Jeff held his head in thought. "Theoretically, machines shouldn't be able to scream in pain- or feel it."
Poo nodded. "Perhaps, but maybe nerves, spine, feelings, a heart… perhaps they're not necessary to feel pain. I recommend we ask the one person here who lacks all the above."
In unnerving unison, the four heroes turned their grinning heads to face Pokey.
Pokey felt fear, all consuming, all controlling... then he laughed.
"You can't hurt me!" He mentally chortled. "Kill me, fine! I'm ALREADY begging for death! Torture me? Hah! That's change! I welcome it! You four are POWERLESS against me!"
Jeff shrugged. "Oh, we're not here to torture you, Pokey. We're here merely to inform you of what we've obtained that you will never have."
Pokey turned his attention to the bespectacled boy, curiosity piqued. "That being?..."
"Redemption." Jeff spoke.
"Peace." Poo continued. "Hope beyond the grave."
Paula and Ness embraced. "Not dying a virgin."
Poo rolled his eyes. "I thought we agreed we wouldn't do that one."
But the point was lancing to the bone, Pokey realized. He would never have love. Not now, in this ragged, broken, soiled form, trapped in a mechanical coffin. He would never have another chance to atone for what he did.
"What I do not understand," Poo said, his eyes cutting into Pokey, "is how you could witness something you didn't think was real- Prayer- defeating your unwilling servant, flee through time travel- time travel, for the love of everything!- and not once, not once consider that you've made a mistake, and that you should use your time hopping abilities to, well…"
Ness brutally smashed himself over the head with his trademark bat; gore spraying as he lifted the bat to reveal the concave wound it made. "Beat some sense into your former self." His bloodstained smile struck further terror into Pokey.
"Or!" Jeff piped up, as he took out his Gaia Beam pistol. "Realize that no matter what spectacular visions your former self would see, that you would still be dead-set on your road to destruction, and, to save yourself from the stain of your atrocities, kill your young self in one, simple, painless strike-"
He leveled the gun at Paula's head, who simple smiled pleasantly at Pokey and waved farewell-
Pokey screamed, raspy lungs barely making a sound as he futilely tried to will his mental eyes shut against the horror of Paula's head… bursting. His body, wracked with revulsion at the sight, tried to vomit, and failed- there was simply not enough liquid or material in his stomach to perform such a function.
Paula's head, now… scattered, for lack of a better term, suddenly reversed its explosion, reforming into the pristine beauty it was, undamaged, as did Ness' head.
"So… that's it? You wait for who knows how long just to tell me how bad I messed up and to subject me to psychological torture?" he asked, exasperated and horrified.
Ness sighed. "Vile and unredeemable as we see you- as everyone who knows you sees you- we can't… move on without giving you the one thing that could save you before we leave."
Pokey nearly shouted for joy at this. "You ARE going to release me!"
Paula shook her head. "No. You will pay for what you've done, Pokey. It's your choice if what you have in there is the only price you pay."
Pokey barely managed to conjure words for his horror. "You can't tell me it could get worse…"
Paula shrugged. "No, I can't. Because Pokey Minch doesn't believe in superstitions like, oh, Achee-Ee-double hockey sticks…"
"Karma…" Poo continued
"Or…" came a horrifying, gut wrenching voice from the black void. "Or my personal favorite- poetic justice."
Pokey shuddered, his withered mouth unable to physically say the words of horror. "…no…!"
"Oh, yesssssss." Came the voice, horrifyingly familiar, drenched with vindicated malice. "After all we've been through together, surely you knew I'd come back to express my… opinions of your treatment of me and how you represent your species."
There was no mistaking it. That which he had once bent to his will, once made his thrall, his own personal Armageddon agent, had returned to see him in his darkest hour. Giygas had come to gloat.
In desperation, Pokey painfully pooled all his mental forces into one last massive assault on Giygas' mind, gritting rotted teeth against the agony…
"Oh, no, my dear boy- that won't work now. Death has immunized me to your domination PSI."
He could not see Giygas' form, he did not want to… but he knew, like he knew the sky was blue and the sun hot… that the alien was smiling.
Ness grinned. "It wouldn't be a proper send off if we didn't bring the one you screwed over most of all, now would it?"
Pokey's panicked; weary mind slowly grasped the idea that his tormentors were, in fact deceased. A downside in that he couldn't attempt to dominate them into freeing him- although
their original minds were warded, somehow, against his original attempts to control them, but a plus in that none of them- Giygas included- could harm him.
"Yes, yes, let's all have our good belly laugh at the villain who we think got what was coming to him. Fine, you've had your fun- now go to… wherever you washed up heroes and slaves go!"
Ness rolled his eyes. "We told you, we can't leave until-"
"You tell me how to save myself, I KNOW! Now, are you going to keep this up all eternity or what?!"
Poo shrugged. "We could sit here and discuss each and every way your plan was doomed to bring about your own painful fate… Jeff made a list of the errors- I think he reached…" He turned to the inventor. "How far did you get before you quit?"
Jeff shrugged. "I lost count after two hundred thousand or so."
Poo nodded in a 'well there you go' way. "…but we're on a schedule- the beyond waits for so very few, I'm afraid. So, without further adieu, the answer is… envelope, please?"
A white gloved hand emerged from the darkness, pinching an envelope that it handed to Poo. Pokey knew beyond all shadow of doubt that hand belonged to the very alien he had enslaved. Poo unceremoniously ripped it open and read the paper within…
"Remorse, and repentance."
Paula sighed. "Well, so much for that."
Pokey was flabbergasted. "That's… it?"
Paula turned to him, irritation evident. "Yes, that is 'it'. But for someone like you, who believes they didn't do anything morally wrong…"
"I didn't!" Pokey raged.
"…it is next to impossible. Donkeys in eyes of needles, and rich men and all that stuff you don't believe in."
Pokey's anger reached new levels. "This… is… BULLSHIT! Why should I repent, or be sorry? I was just doing what I had to do to get ahead in the world!"
Pokey felt Giygas' wrathful, unsympathetic, invisible gaze fall on him, scorching him like lightless rays from a dark sun. "…and your getting ahead involved destroying the entire world?"
Pokey sneered. "In order to win, someone else has to lose! It's a simple fact of life and death!" he protested.
Ness rolled his eyes. "We're wasting our time here. We'll see you… there, Giygas?"
"Indeed. Do give Buzz Buzz my deepest apologies for my actions under…" again Pokey felt the angry gaze. "…infestation."
"Will do." Ness said, turning back to Pokey. "It hasn't been nice knowing you."
"We wish you the very worst!" Paula added sweetly.
"Happy trails in your own tailor-made hell, fatass!" Jeff laughed, giving Pokey the one-finger salute.
Poo smiled serenely. "We'll be sure to tell your friends we saw you… Oh, wait, that's right…" Poo's smirk turned the slightest shade malevolent.
"You don't have any friends… do you, Pig-butt?"
And in a blink, the four were gone. It was now the former master and his ex-slave.
"So that's it, then… I repent, and then what?"
He could not see Giygas, but again, he could sense his shrug of apathy. "Then this is as bad as it gets."
There was a brief moment of silence. "No, wait… I'll make you a deal. You see, those four? They can't do anything beyond the grave. I, however, can- my spirit is raw psionic power. With mere thought, I could kill you, restore you to youth… I could even send you back before you made your terrible mistakes, knowing full well the consequences."
"…all I ask in return… is that you apologize. That you admit you were completely, utterly, irrevocably in the wrong in your campaign. Do that, and I shall, with the powers bestowed in me by forces of good beyond your imagination, give you another chance to live a happy existence."
Pokey forced his feeble body to hoist itself up, his withered throat and lips and vocal cords to form his words of defiance. "I… did… nothing… wrong."
He could distinctly feel the friction generated by whatever gesture Giygas' species had for the human eye roll. "Even when confronted with a chance to hit the great reset button, you won't say two words- I'm sorry- to save your life and soul?!"
"I was making a better life for myself! I was looking out for number one! There's no reason to feel guilt-"
Then he stopped, and laughed, his feeble body rattling with the hoarse chuckles.
"That's what you five are, isn't it? Just the small part of my human mind I could never get to shut up. You're nothing more than hallucinations, aren't you? My mind is finally dying! I WILL be free!" he howled, insanity creeping into his voice. "Everything I did, in the end, won't affect me when I'm dead. In the end, the only thing that matters isn't any petty altruism or moral, it's me! I'm the only thing that matters!"
Raw, unchecked anger blasted through his capsule without rending metal, scorching his very persona. "YOU INSIGNIFICANT MINDED, SELF-ABSORBED, UNWORTHY OF THE VERY OXYGEN YOU STEAL BASTARD! All the deaths…"
And Giygas painfully ripped open Pokey's psyche and made him see EVERY death he'd caused-
"All the pain…"
And Pokey convulsed in pure, undiluted agony as he felt every wound, however small or great his schemes…
"All the sorrow…"
Nothing. The torture- as quickly as it came- blissfully ended.
Pokey now howled as best he could with unchecked unholy joy. "YOU'RE IMPOTENT, GIYGAS! YOU CAN TORTURE ME WITH PAIN, YOU CAN MAKE ME WATCH ALL THE DEATHs LIKE SOME SORT OF GOTHIC SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON, BUT YOU CAN'T MAKE ME SORRY!"
He took great pride in sensing Giygas' horror as his presence retreated from his psyche, the sheer revulsion he felt.
After a silence that seemed like eternity, Giygas spoke, his voice tainted with unbelief.
"You have no remorse, do you? No desire to undo the horrors you committed, even if it would save your body and soul in one stroke!" he spoke, anger and shock in his normally fearsome psychic voice. "…No… you're… not just unrepentant…"
Pokey smiled, lips painfully peeling away from teeth they'd adhered to. "Yes! I know EXACTLY how much pain I caused, how many insignificant lives were trashed, and it makes me HAPPY, you holier-than-thou has-been!"
It was then that Giygas revealed his form- or, at least, the form he wanted to reveal…
It was a monstrosity, a thing that should not be- a morass of whip stitched bodies and parts that made up an amorphous- wall was the only term- of flesh and tissues. And glaring from the wall were faces, eyes and scowls filled with spite and bitterness, their gaze lancing into Pokey's soul like some sort of hell-bred hornet.
Immediately Pokey knew that on this horrific memorial wall were the faces of every person whose death he was responsible for.
As one, the voices of the deceased spoke, the message cacophonic and pristine all at once.
"In a just world people like you would have their very soul- their essence destroyed from birth, Pokey. But the world, as people like you have proven time and time again, is not just."
And in the center of the wall, the faces parted to make way, as a large, vaguely humanoid face formed from the tissues and organs that composed the wall, molding into an eyeless human face that spoke in a child's voice.
Pokey knew that voice, that particular voice, very, very well.
It was his own as a child.
"Through your entire life, from birth to this very moment, you have thought about no one, and nothing, besides yourself. You are selfishness personified- it was never enough to have it all, everyone else had to lose everything- hopes, dreams, life- for your sadist hunger to be sated."
For once, Pokey found himself without retort as the face, in his childhood voice, spoke words of truth that he had no lie to deflect, no twisting to blunt the sharpness. Giygas had hit dead-center: Pokey had never been satisfied with gaining unless someone else's loss was directly tied to it.
"There is no punishment on earth or beyond that can satiate me…"
"Or us…" added the faces.
"But what you will suffer, for the rest of however long your perverting of your own body allows you to… survive, is exactly what you cared about. Yourself. No one shall seek you out, Pokey. You shall remain where you are, unknowing of where the brave souls that saved the world put your prison to rest. No one, living or dead, mortal or god, shall ever speak to you so long as you live. As the eons crawl by, you will likely begin to forget what you ever did to deserve this, only to be reminded with staggering clarity on the day your perverse mockery of the gift of life you call a body rebels against your serums and experiments, and crumbles."
Giygas hesitated, as if to say something more, then grinned in cold malice, and he, the faces, the wall of flesh- all disappeared as did the inky void beyond them, and Pokey was alone, again, in his capsule.
It was then that Pokey realized that, because all he cared about was himself, he would, for all eternity as he knew it, have himself, and only that.
He tried to scream and tried to pry frantically at the door, but his body could no longer move.
There is a place deep beneath Nowhere Island surrounded by rock made impenetrable by means not of this world, within being a capsule of staggering craftsmanship meant to repel all harm and attempt to enter- or exit.
Inside the mentioned capsule, if one somehow managed to pry open its invincible hull, one would find a withered husk, somehow kept alive by serums and experiments of genius caliber, wasted in a vain effort to shrug off human mortality indefinitely.
If said explorer then somehow could see into the drying sponge that passed for a mind, the electrical impulses that carried thought now pitifully weak yet torturously unending, and see into the husk's thoughts, they would hear only three words spoken in a mantra of unrepentant hatred- "I'm not sorry."
But no one ever came.
No one ever listened.
No one ever cared.
And so Pokey and his mantra were encased in their absolute prison for all mortal time.
Death is not pleasant. It separates loved ones and leaves confusion and sorrow in its wake, and for the living it poses the immortal question of 'where does one go' after death, and 'how does one get to a better place' if there is one.
Death is not pleasant- but one person can assure beyond all doubt it is far better than the alternative.
Unfortunately, he never got the chance to share such a simple enlightenment, and so what could have been his one positive gift to the world slowly withered with him.