"Freedom? You come here with this rabble, Edwin, talking to me of freedom?" He spun away from the desk, cloak trailing. "What more would you ask? Freedom, ha...freedom. The freedom of a man to jam his dick into a luricone genicant shaped like a nine-year-old, written to act and talk and screw like a nine-year-old--God has given you that freedom. And still you are not satisfied. Still you demand new freedoms--freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from war. Is there any stopping you?
"I have given you, given the people of this world, more freedom still. The freedom of a Jew to put a diabetic Mestiza behind bulletproof glass so she can issue thirty-four percent loans to illiterate niggers buying their first soarboards. The freedom to sell sycharine refreshments at a hundred and seventy percent markup. The freedom to restructure the safety codes to force Calizona to provide twenty-six-hour automated security around my warehouses instead of the irradiated children’s wards of my competitor’s hospitals. Those freedoms, God Himself could not give you; those freedoms are my gift, and mine alone. They're out there right now, this very moment, available for you to enjoy. Available for everyone. Everyone, damn you, damn your rhetoric, for everyone! God Himself could not even have imagined the freedoms I've sprinkled so generously on you people.
"And still you spurn me! You call me the enemy of freedom, as though I’m somehow oppressing you, jailing you, locking you up and forcing you to spend your every waking minute thinking about the blessings I’ve given you people, the blessings to be yourselves, the blessings to choose, the blessings to be free, truly free, in a way you never were, never could be, before I arrived!
"You, you and that half-sentient mob of charlatans out there, do you think this is the first time I’ve seen your like? The first time I've been called an 'enemy'? Oh, no, Edwin; oh no. This is no surprise, this loss of yours. It's simply an experiment. Do you think I minded my looks? My face? The wattle on my neck; the swinging scrotal protrusion of wrinkled moles and dangling hairs that proved so useful to your propagandists before Advent Four?" With a vicious laugh, he swept his steely fist toward the chilled coffin in one corner of the office. "It's still there, you know. I might adopt it again. I might design one even worse. I might instill you, all of you, into models just like it, and have my thinkers remove your sense of aesthetics. I could leave you here believing it was the height of beauty.
"But no, no," he continued, pacing to the window. "I'm forgetting my duty. My duty to you people. To make you appreciate freedom." A tsking noise stole around the edge of his helmet. "You’re simply too underdeveloped to appreciate freedom. Like a babe returning to the cradle, after I've tried to introduce you to a new shoppe. Afraid to crawl out and explore the world beyond, learning about balance, shapes, and colors; learning to fuck nine-year-old genicants and issue thirty-four percent loans, and doing—doing, well, whatever you think is freedom; whatever would make you people happy. You could even do that, whatever it is--whatever aggressively fantastic future you people think you would do, if you somehow stole away all the freedoms that I've granted you in so short a time!"
Edwin strained against the bonds on the chair. Teeth gritted, he promised, "Your kind can't even imagine the things that'd make me happy."
The man from the ninth tower roared with laughter. "That so?" Though he had no mustaches, his metal hand made small gestures near the front of his mask, as though he were twirling just such a keratinous decoration. "Is...that...so?" Bowing at the waist, he wept for a lengthy second. He swept straight again in a whirl of cloak, his mask's lines shifted to contempt. "Ha! Your dreams; how bright grows their willful idealism! Like a moth stripped by the flames, how I wither, how I recoil! Your icon has shattered my mind, your sacred waters have burned my flesh, oh, oh, whatever will I do, confronted by the undimmed goodness of the valiant hero!" Finishing in a spit, he drove his gauntlet onto Edwin's thigh. Wet bone crunched, unseen, beneath denim rags and furnace-burnt flesh.
"How stoically you die..." The man from the ninth tower paced to the window. "Your rabble--what remains of it--is dispersing. Mostly bonded in airships, but I do believe a few of them may litter the steps for a number of days, yet. My granddaughter among them. Yes, there she is now--oh wait, that's only her head."
"Bastar--aaahh!" Biting away the pain from having tried to move his smashed leg, Edwin collapsed over his lap as far as the bonds would permit. May. Oh, May...I told you not to come. Breath left him slowly, words failing also, as in the slow death of crucifiction.
The man from the ninth tower glanced over his shoulder. "Did you think the horror of it all would deter me? The truth behind your resolve; your undaunted you-ness; something of the sort? Did you think that would shatter me, would crush my image?"
Edwin could barely shake his head. Pain threatened to render him unconscious. May had come; ignoring everyone, she'd come anyway, and the bastards had somehow been waiting. It had been a slim hope, but even that was now gone. And May! At least she hadn't been captured. At least it was over for her; she wouldn't have to see the fallout of their loss. Oh God...if they were ready here, then they'll have been ready in Belfast, too.
"I’ve seen the things you do," dismissed the man. "The things a thousand, a million-million-million civilizations have done. I've seen what you call freedom." Tracing the armored glass, he looked above the reddened skies. "I've seen men like you often enough that it becomes boring. I've seen you conquer stars, galaxies, disease, want, and build opal palaces of beauty from one end of the stars to the other. Every man a sculptor, every breath an art...and it all ends in the realization that there was no freedom. There was no endgame, no true goal, oh no--there was nothing but the pursuit. The chase, but never the kill. The means, but never the end. It all..." Throwing aside his mask, he faced the red sky and sobbed into his metal palm, fingertips scoring bloody lines across his jaw and high forehead. "I tried to give you something greater than your quest for nothing. You poor, doomed fools. I tried to give you a wheel that would spin for all time. I tried to make you so free that the word itself lost its meaning, freeing you from freedom itself. I laid a boulder at the bottom of a hill that stretched into forever, and if you had only kept pushing long enough, you would have discovered that the boulder had been, all along, pulling you up the hill."
A chime sounded from the door behind the chair, and both men turned to