Sunday, January 25, 2015

5/5/61 - The Things We've Done Together While Our Hearts Were Young - Pt. 4

Main Photo: Chicago -1928
Jester of Justice, The Owl, The Wraith, Sky Commander, Mister Future
(Art by Dean Stahl)
 * * *

"Okay, so let me get this straight," Liberty Belle says, shaking her head: "They did get their orders from SQUASH?"

"That's what the multiple lady is saying, yes," Mrs. Liberty says, watching as the two surviving super-commies get packed into a COMPANY helicopter, awaiting a one-way trip up to The Flier, directly overhead.

(Krasnoye Koltso died as soon as Dr. Chaos went back to "normal," which was probably the best thing.)

"What else is she saying?" the small woman asks, patting one of the pouches of her utility belt. Shivering a little.

"The Crimson Assassin showed up at their headquarters in the middle of the night with orders, which he said came straight from SQUASH. They were told to drop everything, pack up, and get onto a submarine. Then, halfway through the journey, they each unsealed their actual mission briefs. And that was that they were to come here and create a believable diversion, but not actually attack the rocket, itself."

"Why the !@#$ not?" Liberty Belle asks, quickly growing impatient. Needy.

(Desperately hoping her old friend doesn't notice.)

"She doesn't know," Mrs. Liberty answers, doing her best to pretend she isn't noticing: "But the two-man rocket teams were a distraction for them to sneak onto the base, and then they were a distraction for Crimson Assassin. We were meant to think the danger was over, so we could go along with the launch as scheduled."

"And then he'd blow up the rocket from God knows where," the short heroine sighs: "So where the !@#$ is he?"

"They don't know, hon. He left hours before they did, and they weren't supposed to ask what he was doing. But he took the weapon he always uses for long-distance kills."

"The perfect thing to kill a rocket with," Liberty Belle muses, looking at the bag holding what's left of the ring-slinger -- now being carried towards another waiting helicopter, along with the sorry remains of Sovetsky Skorost: "And we have no idea where he is, do we?"

"No. Dr. Yesterday says SPYGOD does, though. He drove off in his car to go find him."

"So if we find SPYGOD, we find him. Great. Where's Mr. USA?"

"Finding SPYGOD," Mrs. Liberty says, smiling a little: "I figured we were good, here."

"I sure hope so," Liberty Belle sighs: "Alright then. Tell Corporal Flag to get his !@#$ over here. I want to know more about this mysterious janitor who saved his !@#$."

"You got it, hon," Mrs. Liberty says, hoping what her friend is using chills her out before he gets there.

"And find that useless speeder, will you?" the short heroine shouts after her: "I haven't seen him since I saved him from that red soviet streak of !@#$. He probably got himself stuck in a hole, somewhere."

Mrs. Liberty nods and keeps going. As she does, the helicopter carrying the dead Soviet supers takes off, and Liberty Belle watches it go, remembering the medical helicopters from Korea -- ever-ferrying the dead and the dying away from the killing fields.

She also remembers the time she met Krasnoye Koltso in battle, somewhere in Naktong. Only then he was six foot something, and built like a brick !@#$house -- not the scrawny, little guy she'd just seen zipped into a bag.

Maybe his weapon was too hungry for him to handle...?

"Masks," Liberty Belle sighs, taking a quick bump of a red and moving powder from the box at her belt: "They'll !@#$ing get you killed..."

* * *

"I just don't know why she has to be so darn mean about it," Swiftfoot says, putting his pants back on: "I mean, we're both getting something out of this arrangement."

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, looking at his watch and wondering how much time they actually have, now: "She's covering for you being !@#$ing queer. And you're !@#$ing covering for her being found out to be a big !@#$ ballbuster. I don't think that's a fair trade, Steven."

"So, should I tell her it's over?"

"Under no !@#$ing circumstances," SPYGOD says, giving the speeder that look: "As long as she's got a perceived hold over you, you've got a !@#$ing hold over her, too. Someday we might need it. Especially if she keeps using that Martian cocaine. That !@#$ will mess her up."

"She needs it for her throat-"

"Bull!@#$. She's hooked. And the only thing more dangerous that a junkie with powers is a junkie who happens to be a !@#$ing national symbol."

"You don't trust her?" Swiftfoot asks, putting his helmet back on.

"I !@#$ing trust no one," SPYGOD grumbles, getting up to get dressed: "Not her, not you. Not even my own !@#$ self, sometimes."

"Sounds pretty lonely," Swiftfoot says, now completely clothed and kitted out.

"It !@#$ing works for me," SPYGOD says, considering what to do now.

The Crimson Assassin is lying facedown in the grass, not ten feet from where SPYGOD and Swiftfoot had been coupling. They hadn't actually planned to have sex after this, but something about the moment had been too much for either them to resist. So they'd let that moment take control of them, and just hoped no one called or came flying by in the meantime.

(One good thing about sex with a speedster -- it's as fast as it is furious.)

As for what they had planned -- well, that had gone off pretty !@#$ well.

Swiftfoot was alone and at loose ends, back at the Cape. He was, therefore able to zip over to SPYGOD's location when he called, and then hide nearby. He watched SPYGOD approach the island and land. He also watched him be shot at, threatened, and then challenged by the Crimson Assassin.

And then, when the Soviet's count had reached zero, he ran across the water, zipped up onto the island, snatched the would-be rocket-killer's bullet from the air, and then took the wondergun from his hands. That left SPYGOD clear to dive to the ground, get his guns back, and put a bullet from each into the Crimson Assassin's brains -- dead-bang right through those sunglasses.

Again -- luck. Bright blue, obscene luck, still shining on mother's little (REDACTED). 

"So," SPYGOD says, putting his shirt and jacket back on: "Anything else to report?"

"Well, New Man's still chasing young girls, but then so's Dr. Chaos," Swiftfoot says, clearly not liking to dish the dirt on his own people: "No one underage, thankfully. But still-"

"One bareback rendezvous and we got !@#$ing superbabies, bad headlines, and a big !@#$ paternity lawsuit," SPYGOD sighs, picking the boxed-in-ball that Hǫfuð's turned into from where his speedy lover dropped it: "Whine about it to Belle. See if she'll get them to stop. Anything else?"

"Yeah, about Dr. Chaos... he's getting really darn weird, lately."

"What the !@#$ do you mean?"

"I mean he's spacing out more often. Says things all mixed up even when he's not using his powers. Stays under longer."

"Not good," SPYGOD muses, finally just shoving the box that was a wonderweapon into one of his jacket's deeper pockets, right along with the highly-peculiar bullet that Swiftfoot snatched from the air: "Mention something to Mr. USA. If the blue-haired !@#$er goes over the edge, he's the best to deal with it."


"And... has he said anything about me lately?"


"You know who," SPYGOD says, scowling a little.

"Um, no," Swiftfoot lies: "Not really. No."

"Alright, then," SPYGOD says, knowing he's being lied to but, also knowing why, deciding to let it go.

Instead, he moves over to the Crimson Assasin, and regards his cooling corpse. He thinks of how good it would have been to have actually beaten the !@#$ out of his man in something approaching a fair fight. How satisfying it would have been to have had a real duel with him -- maybe a harried, twilight chase over the rooftops of Berlin, each one just a careless mistake from taking a bullet to the back of the head.

Something like this almost seems like an insult to a worthy opponent -- one who'd been at least willing to give him a slim chance...

That reminds him. He kneels down, gently turning the fallen Soviet's head to the side so he can get a better look at his ruined face.

"Well I'll be !@#$ed,"
he says, suddenly realizing something very important...

"What?" Swiftfoot asks, clearly impatient to be going.

"Nothing," SPYGOD lies, turning the head back, and knowing what he has to do, now.

"So, what's the story, then?" the speedster asks: "Was I even here?"

"No, but you are now," SPYGOD says, going to his car and reaching somewhere under the dashboard: "I called you to come get me back to the Cape, since my car's !@#$ed. You got here to find me smoking a !@#$ cigarette over a dead !@#$ commie. Problem solved, day saved, and if you think I'm going to !@#$ing tell them any more than that..."

"... they're !@#$ing !@#$ out of luck," Swiftfoot finishes, shaking his head: "You're a tough nut to crack, (REDACTED)."

"You didn't do so bad, just now," SPYGOD chuckles, grabbing a few things out of the glove compartment and the back seat, and tossing them into a handsome, leather carrying bag he had under the passenger seat.

"Don't remind me. I'm still in pain after what that other guy did-"

SPYGOD interrupts him by taking him roughly by the collar and giving him one !@#$ of a kiss: "I'll kiss it and make it !@#$ing better, next time. Now how about you !@#$ing get me to the Cape before that stuck-up flying !@#$ comes by and catches us at it?"

"IThinkICanDoThaT," the speeder says, picking him up and carrying him away.

Ten seconds later the Aston Martin Spider goes BANG with the power of a half a ton of TNT -- all but vaporizing the surface of Bird Island, and incinerating the body of the Crimson Assassin right along with it.

* * *

After that, it's all just pieces to pick up, remix, and reassemble as though nothing had ever happened.

SPYGOD gets back to Cape Canaveral in plenty of time to catch the launch. He makes arrangements with the Flier to have the living Soviet heroes taken to the Heptagon for interrogation and confinement. He makes similar arrangements for the dead ones, though they'll be going somewhere entirely different.

(He also puts out an APB on Black Shadow, if only because he isn't assured that New Man really "dealt with him" this time.)

Mrs. Liberty and Mr USA take the opportunity to pose for publicity photographs with the others, which SPYGOD takes a perverse pleasure in not being in. He also finds amusement in how everyone's faces fall after the shots are done, and they have to face one another again, though that's a sadder, more awkward kind of humor.

After that, the majority of the Freedom Force gets onto the weird vehicle that Swiftfoot powers with his own motion, and zooms back to the Heptagon. Gold Standard shakes SPYGOD's hand, they settle on the when for their bet, and he flies back to Atlanta. 

Then Mr USA flies after him, doing his best to avoid looking in SPYGOD's direction. As such, he probably doesn't see SPYGOD flip him the bird. Or maybe he does.

Once they're all gone, he meets Agent Jerome "Jolly" Jones, and realizes he likes the bespectacled little nerd on first sight. He's competent and obedient, but not afraid to talk straight or insist on certain standards of behavior from his superiors -- which he does after the third time SPYGOD tries to get him to share a victory beer.

They shake hands and part well, though, and as he watches him leave SPYGOD decides he's found the one man he can trust to be his second in command.

(He doesn't even bother calling that brown-nosing twerp who's got the post now. Let Fredericks sweat a bit -- see what he does, who he calls.)

Then the Flier's gone, leaving behind a new car for him. It's just like the last one, only the new license is BTFU02, and the instruction manual indicates there's even more weapons under the hood than the last one. Excellent. 

They also left him a box of cigars in case he felt like sharing, which he most certainly does not.

* * *

Twenty minutes until the launch, SPYGOD parks his new car into what passes as the officer's lot. In the process, he angles it across two spaces so as to be at just the right position to catch the best view in the house. Some Captain walking by gives him a dirty look, but as soon as he realizes who it is, he hustles away without saying another word.

Five minutes later, an old, tall, black janitor walks on up to the car, and nods. SPYGOD nods back, and offers the man a beer, but his visitor politely declines.

"I heard you saved Corporal Flag's !@#$ today," SPYGOD says: "Thanks for that."

"He's a young fool," the old man says, his voice a lot more firm than his body would suggest: "He thinks with his fears, not his mind. He sees power as a thing to be had, not earned."

"Yeah, well, he's still learning," SPYGOD admits.

"He will fail to be anything more than he is unless someone teaches him better." 

"You volunteering, then?"

The old man considers it, then nods: "My classroom. My rules. No mercy."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, old man," SPYGOD says: "Anything else I should know?"

"The crazy one is going to be a problem," the old man says: "Sooner or later he's going to go so far out that he won't come back. Death comes closer every day."

"Anything we can do?"

"Kill him now."

SPYGOD sighs, looking at his beer: "That's what I !@#$ing love about you, Wraith. You know how to just come straight to the !@#$ point."

"You don't hire me for my looks," the old man says, smiling: "Have my student ready for me in a month. Don't expect to see him for a while."

"Okay," SPYGOD says: "Thanks again."

"Be seeing you," the Wraith says, making a curious 'ok' sign by his right eye with his right hand, and then walking away. He takes three steps and then disappears into thin air, as always. 

"'Be seeing you,'" SPYGOD muses, really liking it.

* * *

9:34 in the AM finds him watching Mercury-Redstone 3 carry Alan Shepard up, up, and away into space and history. He salutes the rocket with an open beer, which he leans back in the drivers' seat and sips at, pleased as !@#$ that, for once, being in the right place at the right time doesn't involve shooting or being shot at.

The car phone rings, just as the rocket arcs out of sight. He shrugs, belches, and picks it up: "Hello?"

"I take it you got my message," a voice he's only heard a few times before breathes into the other end.

"I did, yes," SPYGOD says, putting the beer down and looking this way and that, wondering if he's in someone's crosshairs right now.

"You are most welcome, my sweet enemy," the Dragon says: "I knew you would know what to do with it."

"I sure !@#$ing did," SPYGOD grumbles: "So what's the big !@#$ idea? I didn't think ratting the Ruskies out was your style."

"Who says that I did?"

SPYGOD blinks, thinking: "Wait, was Nikki telling the !@#$ truth? Was all this out of his !@#$ing control?"

"Clearly," the Dragon says, and not without some humor.

"So what was the big !@#$ plan, here? Did you have one of your !@#$ people pretend to be SQUASH, get them all on a sub, and then send them over here to provoke a !@#$ing war?"

"That would be foolish. Why would I then tell you how to find the killer?"

"I have no !@#$ing idea," SPYGOD sighs: "I gave up trying to !@#$ing figure you out years ago."

"That is disappointing to hear. I would think our relationship should be a wonderful puzzle for you to keep solving, every day we are at each other's throats."

"Yeah," SPYGOD replies, wondering what that throat might taste like. His lips. His chest.

His !@#$...

He shakes that strangely-delicious thought out of his head, just as the Dragon starts speaking again: "To that end? Let me make a suggestion. It was not the Kremlin, the KGB, or SQUASH. And it was not me or mine. But that leaves many other players on the field, some of which even you know nothing about."

"Yeah, that'll be the !@#$ing day."

"Everything is changing, my sweet enemy," the Dragon breathes: "The borders are moving. Allegiances shift in their wake. And not everyone is who or what they seem."

"What is this? Zen koan-a-go-go?"

"It is the model of the world to come. Be aware. Trust no one. And be careful where you step."

"Yeah, well... be seeing you," SPYGOD says, slamming the phone down: "Mother!@#$er."

He drinks another beer, grousing all the while. He thinks about what this all means, and decides he doesn't !@#$ing like it. Not one !@#$ bit.

So he decides to drive back up to DC. Tonight. And he's not going to bother saying goodbye, either.

"Running Scared" by Roy Orbison comes on the radio just as he leaves the base. Of course it would.

* * *

The Heptagon, Washington DC

"So that was Operation Mercury Maybird Boom?" Henri asks, almost incredulous as he scrolls down the report on his office computer in the Palace, in Paris. 

"That it was," Josie replies over the super-secure video-link line they're communicating over, in the strangely-stark Director's office in the Heptagon, in DC: "Our former Director had a really darn interesting way of putting things, if you ask me."

"I have to agree with you," the President's personal secretary says, turning down the American music he's been listening to (Steely Dan: Glamour Profession): "These Triple-Black cases you have been kind enough to help me with are just insane. Operation Easter Pizza? Operation !@#$ Your Mother? Merde!"

Josie laughs, running a hand through her short, spiky pink hair: "Yeah, they're a real hoot, some of them."

"And some of these Projects... Battle Apple? What's that-"

"Hey now," she gently chides, winking: "That's still need to know, Henri."

"Oh, alright. But tell me, what happened next? Operation Mercury Maybird Boom has not been given any addendum to indicate it was solved?"

"No, it wasn't," she says, looking at her copy: "They never found out what happened, there. Could have been an attempt to get rid of some of the People's Protectors that were too close to SQUASH, but that seems like such a dumb way to go about it. Why not just disappear them like they did to the others?"

"Did they ever get hold of Black Shadow? Maybe he could have provided some answers."

"We did, yes. And after we caught him we had him penned up with the other two survivors of that raid until Glastnost. But we never learned anything more from any of them."

"Why did you not hook them up to this... this N-Machine I see referenced?"

"Well, we considered it, but we decided they really didn't know anything we didn't already know. So we kept them around as bargaining chips for an eventual prisoner exchange. It just never came around."

"And when Glastnost came, still nothing?"

"No. All the SQUASH files they got around then were no help, either."

Henri sighs and shakes his head: "Well, I remember the Chinese and the Soviets were not friends by that point? Perhaps this was something Beijing did?"

"The Dragon said otherwise, but he could have been half-lying, again."

"Half lying?"

"Yeah, he always did that kind of nonsense. One truth for one lie. Quid Pro Bull!@#$"

Henri laughs again: "This is insane! C’est des conneries!"

"Well, that's the spy business. And you're just looking for more rope to hang SPYGOD with. You want some really crazy stuff, you should look a couple years later, after 1965. That's when things got really weird."

"Yes, I was looking at that. I suppose that is why a lot of the personal problems the Freedom Force was having were put on hold for a time?"

"Got it in one, Henri. Got it in one."

"So many loose ends, though," he continues, flipping through the links: "I see they never found the Crimson Assassin's weapon, which astounds me."

"Yep. We think it blew up along with him when he triggered his suicide charge. A lot of those super-soviets were wired to pop."

"I'm also curious about this Wraith person that Dr Chaos talked about while he was under...?"

"Mostly irrelevant," Josie shrugs: "You might want to check out what happened to Dr. Chaos, though. SPYGOD bears some real responsibility for that."

"Oh... I see what you mean," Henri says, his jaw dropping: "You know, we should talk to his son. Mr. Chaos? He is off at some Buddhist shrine, somewhere, is he not?"

"Yes he is. And I can get you in there, if you need to."

"Oh, you have been such a massive help!" he says, overjoyed: "You know, when I was told to work with you on this, I thought you were going to be stalling me. After all, he was your Director."

"Well, you have to know, Henri. I was the third banana, looking to never be anything more than third banana. Then the first and second banana got disgraced and killed, in that same order. And I'm a girl who knows which way the wind is blowing, you know?"

"I take your meaning," he says, grinning.

"So now, I'm in the Director's chair, in the Director's office. And I'd like to stay here a while, you know?"

"Oh, I agree. I really like people who are politically expedient!"

"Well, good," she says, leaning in a little: "Now, if you'll excuse me? I have to go get expedient with a few people down in the motor pool who keep forgetting to oil my car."

"Oh, haha!" he laughs, smiling at her: "Until tomorrow, then?"

"Until tomorrow," she says, turning the secure channel off.

The moment the screen goes black, her face falls: "What a little merde-weasel."

"Not much longer now, Josie," a familiar voice whispers in her ear: "You ready to do your bit?"

"Oh, am I ever," she says, getting up from her desk, straightening her padded, black uniform, and then, ever so carefully, reaching under the desk to press a black button that's hidden on one side of it.

The moment she does, a portion of her office wall creaks open. She walks over to it and opens it up the rest of the way, and then carefully closes it behind her.

Inside the wall is a dimly-lit, long-unused passageway, filled with old photographs and pieces of times gone by. Redacted team pictures, strange trophies under glass, missing bits of history -- all the secret things no one knows about, thrown up on walls that doesn't exist.

"Hmmm," she says, patting a photo of a group of heroes as she passes -- one from Chicago, 1928: "We were just talking about you, Mr. Lambordeaux."

"Be !@#$ing careful," one of the voices counsel: "The Wraith might !@#$ing hear you."

"Really?" Josie asks, hurrying a little bit faster now. All she gets in return is laughter, though, so she's not sure if her ghosts are teasing her or not.

She passes the boxes of lost weapons, the racks of missing plans. She wonders what all might be in that steel case, humming at the bottom of a pile of things.

(She wonders who Eisenengel was, and why the pathetic, withered skeleton in a small, glass box is wearing a NASA lab coat.)

At the very end of the hallway is a phone. It's an old, rotary-style thing -- black and full of cobwebs. She picks it up, taking care to wipe away the webs before she puts it up to her face, and dials a number she's been waiting to use for a while.

"Hello," she says to the person who picks up on the other end of the Black Telephone: "It's time. Are you ready?"

"I am," the person on the other end says, her voice sounding just a little too eager.

"Alright then. I'm going to give you a location, a number, and a combination. You will memorize them. Rendezvous with your transport chief, go there, look for it, and get into it. You'll know why I've sent you for it when you see it."

"And what then?" she asks.

"Then," Josie says, smiling just a little: "You're going to take that thing and kill a few superheroes, just for me."

The ghosts behind her chuckle a little at that.

It has begun. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Devil or Angel (Bobby Vee) and having irony beer, since they don't make real Blatz anymore)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

5/5/61 - The Things We've Done Together While Our Hearts Were Young - Pt. 3

The only three extant photographs of Hǫfuð - COMPANY Archives
Top Left: Photo from Ahnenerbe-backed archaeological dig in Bolivia, 1939
Middle: Thor, Heinrich Himmler, and Heimdall, 1942
Right: Possible photo of the Crimson Assassin at work 1958)
(Art by Dean Stahl)

"Mister President, I can assure you that this not our doing," the translator says over the phone: "Our Premier sends his complete denial of having had anything to do with this-"

"Now come on, sir," the President says, doing his best to remain composed as a group of four-star Generals hover around his desk: "I have reports that your people have clearly been identified at the Cape."

"We are not accepting that they are ours, Mr. President-"

"And a Russian submarine was just forced to the surface off the coast by one of our strategic talents. I could go on, but I shouldn't have to."

There's a moment of silence, and then cross talk. As they're talking, one of the Generals leans in and starts talking about getting birds in the air. The President waves him off, angrily, hoping no one on the other end heard that.

And then someone rather angry takes hold of the phone.

"Mr. President?" Nikita Khrushchev says, his accent thick and uncertain: "I swear you, not President to Premier, but man to man. We are not doing this. We have no knowing who doing this."

"Are you certain?" the President asks, somehow believing this.

"Is not being SQUASH. They are not knowing. Is not being KGB. They are not knowing. Is our people? Yes. Is my orders? No!"

"So what are you saying, Mr. Premier? Your people have gone rogue?"

"We are not knowing. Please to be leaving them alive so we can learn."

"Well, no promises," the President says, watching on the television as Mr. USA continues to fly around the rocket. So far as the world knows, he's just showing off. But should the people inside the control building be unable to hold off the combatants they've engaged, and he has to swoop down to attack a super-commie on national television...

He hears the Premier talk of forgiveness, and avoiding a war, and he hopes he can agree with that in good conscience, and not go back on it.

* * *

"LookLet'sTalkAboutThis," Swiftfoot says to the red-suited speeder who's running the perimeter of Cape Canaveral with him.

"IAmNotThinkingSo," Sovetsky Skorost replies, trying to place his feet right up against his rival's: "ThereIsBeingNothingToTalkAbout."

"ButWeWereAlliesOnce!@#$It!" he says, doing his best to avoid being tripped, as well as keep him from arcing inside the Cape, and heading for the rocket: "WeShookHandsInBerlin! Don'tYouRemember?"

"IShookHandsWithTheFistOfTheFatherlandInBerlinYearsBefore," the Soviet hero sneers: "FriendIsBecomingEnemy. EnemyIsBecomingFriend. OnlyCauseIsStayingTheSame."

With that, he catches Swiftfoot with a one-two-three punch to the face, knocking him for a loop.

Swiftfoot slips, trips, and tumbles for a hundred feet. He tries to get back up from off his !@#$ but fails. And as he gets to his knees he feels a foot in his kidneys, another in his solar plexus, and then yet another in an even more sensitive area.

He screams and falls back down, clutching at his parts. As he does he sees the red-suited speeder hovering nearby.

"YouAreBeingWeakAndSoft," the man says, pulling out a pair of long, curved knives and whipping them around so quickly they appear to be a steel blur: "IWillBeCuttingItOutOfYouNow. ThenIWillBeKnockingDownYourYankeeRocket."

"That'll be the day," someone says from nearby.

The Speeder turns, but just a second too late to realize how much trouble he's in. And then a wall of sound strikes him square in the chest, knocking him right into the dirt.

Liberty Belle strides towards the fallen Soviet hero, her mouth a wide and distended thing. Before he can get back up she's screaming again, only this time it's even louder, somehow -- and aimed right at his chest.

Swiftfoot closes his eyes, not wanting to see what happens next. The sounds are bad enough. The caught scream that goes nowhere. The cracking of bone and collapsing of soft tissues.

The nasty, wet noise a human ribcage makes as it collapses under the sonic equivalent of being run over by a tank...

And then it's over, and the woman he's supposed to be dating is standing over a twitching pair of legs that's poking out of a man-shaped hole in the dirt.

"Are you alright?" she asks, not bothering to turn around.

"Yes," he says, trying not to show her how much pain he's actually in. He feels like the guy popped one of his testicles.

"Then get up and get back to work," she commands, turning and striding past him, clearly disgusted: "And for God's sake, act like a man."

To his credit, Swiftfoot doesn't start really whimpering until she's well out of earshot. 

* * *

As far as areas to shoot down a rocket being launched from Cape Canaveral go, you couldn't have found a better place than Bird Island, over in Lake Kissimmee.

The well-forested island is mostly deserted, especially on a day like today. It's got lots of places to hide, so that a careful person could do almost anything there and never be detected. And, perhaps most importantly, it's not easily reached unless you have a boat, or a helicopter.

Or, in SPYGOD's case, a flying car.

SPYGOD drives his noisy, relatively slow-moving Aston Martin Spider over the water, heading for the area where Wayfinder told him to find the Crimson Assassin, right on one of the lower points of the center of the island. Every foot of the way, he expects a deadly, car-destroying bullet to come racing out of a tree, a bush, or even the air itself.

But for some reason, Malinovyy Ubiysta lets him land. He even lets him get out of the car -- guns drawn, ready for a fight.

"I know you're !@#$ing here, Gregor," SPYGOD says, looking around: "I also know what you're here to do. And I can tell you right now, it's not going to !@#$ing work. Why don't you give yourself up? We can talk-"

As if to answer him, a loud report comes from somewhere, and the ground between SPYGOD's feet explodes as a massive bullet destroys it. It also deflates one of the car's tires.

"Well, that's just !@#$ rude," SPYGOD says, tossing his guns at the ground and raising his hands up.

"The time for talking is past, American," a voice comes from a copse of trees, deep and growling: "I have my mission. You will not stop it."

"Well, that's just it, pal," SPYGOD says, balling his empty hands into fists: "I !@#$ing will."

* * *

"...somewhat anticlimactic, really," Gold Standard is saying to Mrs. Liberty as they stand out in front of the control center, watching their fellows drag a single captive out onto the front steps: "Two depth charges and their submarine popped out of the water like the cork from a bottle of Bollinger. Pity about the crew, though..."

"Maybe you should have boarded her first," Mrs. Liberty offers, looking up as Mr. USA zooms overhead, winking at the two of them as he completes another circuit.

"Well, maybe," the gold-suited man says, shrugging: "This suit isn't so good under the seas, though. And if I'd forced my way in, well, I think I would have just made things worse."

"Poisoned, you said?"

"One and all," he confirms, shaking his head sadly: "Cyanide molars, if I had to guess. Those sailors weren't going to be talking to us."

"I'm surprised there's any super soviets left to do the same," Mrs. Liberty sighs, looking at the state of the eight-eyed woman that American Lightning is hauling out by the legs. She reminds her of a cartoon she watched, once, where a cat stuck his tongue in a light socket. 

"Well done, by the way," New Man is saying, patting Lightning on the back as they go: "We didn't even have to shout 'high' and 'low' this time!"

"We didn't, did we?" Lightning chuckles, all the frustration of their earlier talk seemingly gone: "Too bad yours got away."

"Yeah, well, I think I blasted him into whatever black hole he lives in when he isn't threatening decent American taxpayers," New Man winks, which leads to another round of chuckling -- at least until Mrs. Liberty walks over and glowers at them.

"Is there any reason you're dragging her along like a caveman?" she chides them, shaking her head.

"Sorry, (REDACTED)," Lightning says, a little sheepishly: "It's just that if she comes around, and gets her hair or her fangs into us, well..."

"And we ran off without proper restraints," New Man says, coughing a little: "Which was my fault. Entirely."

"I see," Mrs. Liberty says, pulling out a pair of very strong wrist cuffs from her utility belt and handing them over the Lightning: "Well, let's get this done properly, gentlemen. I don't think we want to have our picture taken like this, do we?"

"No," New Man admits as Lightning does as he's told, somewhat shame-facedly: "Anyone heard from Dr. Chaos and the new kid?" 

"We have not, no," Gold Standard says, looking on the side of the building where they'd gone to: "I wonder what's going on in there?"

"I'm sure we'll find out soon enough," Mrs. Liberty says, looking off at the rocket as it waits for 'better weather,' and wondering if they've put out all the fires or not. 

* * *
After a full minute of silence, and not being shot, SPYGOD decides to push his luck.

He slowly puts his hands down, pulls out a cigarette, and lights it up, taking a long drag. Then he holds out the pack, offering: "Smoke while we're waiting?"

Nothing happens.

He shrugs, puts it away, and resumes talking: "So while I'm here, about to !@#$ing stop you, maybe you could clear something up for me?"

No answer. Is that him aiming the gun at him from that copse of trees, then?

"See, here's the thing," SPYGOD says: "I just got off the !@#$ phone with the President, before I came over here to your little island. He just !@#$ing talked with your President, over in !@#$ing commieland. And it turns out that your President has no !@#$ idea what the !@#$ you all are doing here, cause he sure as !@#$ didn't order you here."

Silence, still.

"And neither did SQUASH, apparently. I know sometimes you supercommies all go off the !@#$ing reservation, but not this time."

(Was that a shifting of feet? A gun being raised?)

"And, well, seeing as how you red !@#$s can't even wipe your !@#$ !@#$holes without clear permission, I can't see you just deciding to do this on your own, either."

(Yes. A gun. he can hear a finger on a trigger. Or maybe that's just the car engine cooling. !@#$ it. So hard to tell...)

"So you want to tell me what the !@#$ is going on here? " SPYGOD says, finishing his smoke and tossing it towards the copse of trees he heard the voice coming from, before: "Because I figured out what you're !@#$ing doing, but I really can't figure out why you're !@#$ing doing it. This doesn't make much !@#$ sense..."

That does it. There's a rustling in the grass, nearby, and what SPYGOD thought was a small little patch of brush reveals itself to be the Crimson Assassin: seven feet of muscle, big hair, and righteous Soviet anger wrapped in red and black, wearing big, silver sunglasses.

And carrying a very long, fantastic-looking gun that seems to be breathing...

"Well, that's a blast from the !@#$ing past," SPYGOD says, looking at the weapon: "The last time I saw that !@#$ thing it was being handled by some supernazi with eyes the size of dinner plates. How the !@#$ did you get a hold of it?"

As if to answer, the man twists the weapon just so, turning it from a super-long sniper rifle into a much smaller, short-range handgun. Then he aims it at the hood of SPYGOD's car, and shoots it three times, right through the engine block.

"Okay..." SPYGOD mutters, seeing the oil and gas leak onto the ground and wondering how long it's going to take to fix that: "I'll take that as not !@#$ing wanting to say-"

"I do not know what our Premier has told your President, American, and I do not care," the Crimson Assassin insists, pointing the gun back at his interrogator: "I am on a legitimate mission for the Soviet people. The Premier has ordered us here, though SQUASH. There is no uncertainty or doubt in my actions."

"And with your death, there will be nothing to stop this mission."

"Well, !@#$," SPYGOD sighs, figuring it was too much to hope the Premier wasn't !@#$ing lying, after all: "I guess there's nothing else to !@#$ing say, then."

"No," the Soviet hero says, aiming the gun at SPYGOD's head: "There is not."

* * *

"Well, here come the others," Gold Standard says, seeing Dr. Chaos and Corporal Flag walking out and down, one captive apiece. 

Flag's gently escorting a trussed-up, ugly woman who looks like she's gone a few rounds with Cassius Clay -- as does Flag, himself, frankly. Meanwhile, Chaos is carrying a red-suited man in his arms, his head covered by a plastic mop bucket. 

"I hate to ask...?" American Lightning says, watching as the two heroes maneuver their defeated opponents close to where a vaguely-conscious Zhenshchina Pauk sits. As soon as she sees the man with the bucket on his head, she begins to come out of it, clearly concerned for his welfare. 

He does not say anything at all. 

"Well," Corporal Flag sighs, looking at Dr. Chaos, whose hair is still glowing blue, and whose eyes are staring in a thousand impossible directions at once: "We encountered the enemy, and... things got messy."

"How messy?" Mrs. Liberty asks, looking at the man with the bucket on his head, and noticing the glowing, red ring on his finger: "Is that Krasnoye Koltso?"

"Was it..." Dr. Chaos proudly proclaims, taking the plastic bucket off, which prompts a number of sickened reactions -- and a genuine scream of horror from the restrained woman-spider.

"Oh my god," New Man says, putting his hand up before his eyes: "How can he even be alive like that?"

"Yevgeny!" Zhenshchina Pauk wails: "Yevgeny!"

"Was that his name?" Mrs. Liberty asks gently, indicating that Dr. Chaos should really put the bucket back over the sputtering, anti-dimensional ruin he's made of the man's head and neck. 

"Yevgeny..." the spider-woman weeps.

"Mulchat, durak," Matryoshka spits out through a busted mouth: "Nashi vragi nam."

"What's she saying?" American Lightning asks.

"She told her to be quiet, rather rudely I might add," Gold Standard says, leaning over the multiple woman: "And then reminded her they were captives, which is quite true. I'd watch them carefully. They might also have poisoned molars."

"mouth I think If Wraith The her did beat she them of out..." Dr. Chaos intones, chuckling evilly at the thought.

"What are you saying?" Mrs. Liberty asks, looking at the blue-haired man: "Jonathan? I know you're in there. You come out of that state right now and tell us what happened."

"There's nothing to tell," Corporal Flag insists: "We got clobbered for a bit, but Dr. Chaos did... that, and when this lady saw it happen I took advantage and-"

"That is not being what happened, lying pig," Matryoshka snorts: "I would have killed this fool, but for black man with mop. He was truly superior foe, worthy of respect. This one... feh."

She spits a mouthful of blood and broken teeth at Corporal Flag, who grits his own teeth and shakes his head: "Lying commie. I beat you fair and square!"

"Yeah, sure, kid," New Man says, patting him on the shoulder: "Let's you and me take a walk. I'm thinking Liberty Belle might need some help."

"So you do speak English," Mrs. Liberty says, staring down at the beaten woman: "That's good. How about we talk, woman to woman, about what it is you were doing here."

"I am saying nothing," Matryoshka sneers: "Think what you want."

"Well, that's just it, sister," Mrs. Liberty says, getting right into her face: "I can think of a lot of things. And the first thing I'm thinking is that, given the sorry state of your friend under the bucket, here, there's no reason for us to turn this into a photo-op. And given that you happened to interrupt something so vitally important to our country, today, I'm also thinking that we really wouldn't want to have word get out about this at all."

"We are being ready to die."

"I'm sure you are," Gold Standard jumps in, relishing the chance to play worse hero to Mrs. Liberty's bad: "But, as our friend with the blue hair has aptly demonstrated, death isn't the only thing we can do..."

He points to the bucket. Dr. Chaos laughs backwards. It makes the hair stand up on the back of Mrs. Liberty's neck.

The defiance on Matryoshka's face begins to wilt.

* * *

The wind picks up, blowing through the island's trees. The two men face each other, and a crucial second ticks by too long.

The Crimson Assassin narrows his eyes behind his glasses: "A shame this must happen so fast."

"I agree," SPYGOD says.

"They say that you are... how do they say it, the 'American me?' Is that correct?"

"No," SPYGOD grouses: "I don't !@#$ing think so."

"Well, English is a difficult language. I mean to say that we are alike, you and I. Not the same, but similar?"

"Maybe we are," SPYGOD admits: "It changes nothing, Gregor."

"No, (REDACTED)," the tall soviet operative says, grinning: "It does not. But I have been looking forward to this for some time. Often I have dreamed of the day I might have a reason to kill you."

"You know, that's !@#$ing funny," SPYGOD says: "I can honestly say the exact same !@#$ thing. Who'd have thought?"

"But I will not kill you like this, though," the tall man says: "I do not mind destroying lesser men from afar, or even up close. But to kill someone like you like this? Trapped and helpless? There would be no sport in it."

"Oh?" SPYGOD says, looking down at the guns he threw to the ground: "You want to have a duel, Gregor? My .45s, your supernazi gun?"

"It is called Hǫfuð," the Crimson Assassin gently corrects him: "We took it from the hands of the fascist you knew as Heimdall. I have had the privilege of using this on the behalf of the Motherland many times. Today, you will have the privilege of dying by it."

"So I pick mine up, we face off...?"

"No," the man says, smiling: "I count to three. Then you try to get your weapon off the ground and shoot me before I shoot you."

"That's... not very !@#$ing fair."

"No," the Crimson Assassin says, grinning: "But it is a better chance than nothing at all. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you were killed with this superior weapon, wielded by a truly superior foe, than whatever sorry fate would otherwise await someone of your profession."

"Well then," SPYGOD says, smiling just a little: "I guess I'll consider this !@#$ for the honor it is."

"May we begin, (REDACTED)?"

"Please !@#$ing do, Gregor." 

The wind blows across Bird Island, again, bringing with it the crisp, earthy smells of a Florida afternoon. Trees sway and creak, wild grass ebbs and flattens, marking its course.

And, at its center, SPYGOD and the Crimson Assassin face one another from twenty feet away -- each ready to kill the other.

The tall Russian adjusts his grip on his wondrous weapon, making certain his foe's eyes are square in his crosshairs. SPYGOD looks at the guns he'd dropped by his feet, wondering if he can get to them in time.

The wind blows once more, and the Russian starts to count, ever so slowly.




And then-

(SPYGOD is listening to Running Scared (Roy Orbison) and having yet even more !@#$ Blatz)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

5/5/61 - The Things We've Done Together While Our Hearts Were Young - pt. 2

The People's Protectors, circa 1958 - the caption translates to "We Fight for The Motherland!"
Krasnaya Zvezha (Red Star), Matryoshka, Zhenshchina Pauk (Spider Woman),
Chernaya Ten (Black Shadow), Krasnoye Koltso (Red Ring: foreground), Sovetskiy Skorost (Soviet Speed)
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *

"Of course, Mr. President," Dr. Yesterday says, wondering if he should be standing at attention while he's on the phone or not: "We've got everyone down there, now, but no one's radioed in to say they've found out exactly what's going on."

"Well, that's just a crazy thing," the President says, his accent reminiscent of northeast clambakes and summer regattas: "I'm seeing Mr. USA flying around the rocket, now. I think he's looking for sabotage, but can't find any."

"What's the news saying?"

"Not a thing, Doctor. We had an agreement that we wouldn't broadcast anything unless it was a threat to life and limb. Martians could land and try to steal it and we'd just say we had to scrub the launch due to a malfunctioning computer. You know how that goes."

"And this launch has been scrubbed enough already, sir."

"Well, yes. Yes it has. But under the circumstances?"

"Well, then, sir, can I make a suggestion?"

"Of course, Doctor. You have my complete attention."

"Delay it for an hour or so, and just blame it on the weather," Dr. Yesterday says: "We used to do the same thing all the time during the War, when we were being harried by saboteurs and super-Nazis. You don't lose face, which is their consolation prize if they fail. And you get the time to find out what's really going on."

"That's an excellent suggestion, Dr. Yesterday. I'll call the Space Center up now and have that relayed."

"Sir, do you mind if I ask? Did you call the Premier yet?"

"The Soviet Embassy's assured me that Khrushchev will call me as soon as he can. They also denied everything, but I'd expect no less."

"Of course, sir," the man says: "By the way, you might also want to tell the authorities along the eastern seaboard to stay quiet if they see Foxtrot Actual in flight. We wouldn't want to overshadow the launch or fail to surprise someone."

"I see," the President nods, wondering what the man's talking about: "I'll let the Defense boys know about it. Talk to you later, Doc."

With that the President hangs up, looks at the image on the television screen -- America's greatest hero, looping around a rocket and looking for danger -- sighs, and then places a call to Goddard, not too far away.

"Martians," he muses as he waits to get through: "That would actually be a !@#$ improvement."

* * *

"The countdown's been halted?" Mrs. Liberty asks Mr. USA as he comes in for a landing, not far from the rocket.

"It has," he says: "Just got word from the President, himself. We've got an hour."

"That's good news," she says: "Anything else?"

"Swiftfoot's out watching the perimeter. You think I should have him come in? It might make things easier."

"Would he know what to look for?

"Oh, good point," he sighs, feeling a little out of his depth, here: "Of course, they'll be sending some technicians right over to make sure everything's in order, which will make our job a little easier."

"Provided the technicians aren't in on it, too," she says, watching as a bunch of them pour out of nearby pillboxes, tool kits in hand: "How do you recommend proceeding on that?"

"Well, we'll just have to rely on intuition, I figure."

Mrs. Liberty's about to say something to that when they're approached by those technicians. One of them is an older, well-dressed gentleman carrying a checklist instead of a toolkit.

"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. USA," he says, his accent rather thick: "I hear I am to discuss the layout with you, so that we may find these possible works of sabotage sooner, rather than later. There is a great deal of ground to cover, so the sooner we look this over-"

"Just a second," Mrs. Liberty says, squinting her eyes at the man: "Don't I know you?"

"Well, madame," he begins to say, but then closes his mouth, gasps, and drops the checklist he'd brought.

"Aha!" the woman says, running forward to take hold of the fellow before he can run away: "I've got our saboteur!"

"What?" Mr. USA asks, but he's too late to stop her from hauling the older man up by his lapels, tossing him into the sky, and then grabbing his legs to throw him back down into the ground with a sickening crunch. 

"Mein Gott!" the old man howls: "My legs!"

"You just button it up, you Nazi weasel!" Mrs. Liberty threatens him, shaking a fist into his face: "Is this an ABWEHR operation, then? Are you trying to pin the blame on the Soviets? What the !@#$ is going on here, pal?"

"Please, help me," the old man blubbers: "You are mistaken-"

"Oh no, I'm not," she shouts: "You're a !@#$ing Nazi!"

"My name is Doctor Joseph Smelt! I am born in Cleveland, Ohio-"

"No! You're Johan F. Krupt, otherwise known as Eisenengel! That's what they called you at Peenemunde, anyway. You were the one getting those Valkyries up in the air, you little !@#$-"

"(REDACTED), calm down," Mr. USA says, taking her hand in his before she can use it: "This man isn't the enemy. Not anymore."

"What?" Mrs. Liberty shouts: "I got the reports on this scumbag, (REDACTED). So did you. You know what he did, what they did."

"Yes, but that was then, dear," he explains, trying to get her away: "He's on our side, now."

"What?" she says, disbelieving.

"Look, it's a long story," Mr. USA sighs, watching as the technicians all run to care for their friend and mentor as he gets the woman who maimed him clear of the scene: "But I can tell you with all honesty that, whatever this man did back during the war, he's made up for it now. Him and von Braun and all the others. They're the reason we even have a space program, now."

"What are you talking about...?" she starts to say, but then remembers that thing about the paperclip...

"I think we'd better get back to looking for the Russian saboteur, hon," he says, trying to put even more distance between them all: "And next time, ask questions first and hit later, okay? I think we just lost our checklist privileges for the day."

"So much for intuition," she mutters as he flies off. She risks one last look back, and sees that the old man she once could have put a bullet into, just over fifteen years ago, is now being carried off the field like a wounded star player.

She thinks of the Valkyrie raids on London. She thinks of the child she saw in the street, sobbing for her mother, buried under the ruins of their house. She thinks of the smoke and the fire and the deaths, and how the Iron Angels laughed as they dropped bombs on civilians -- their dark chortling roiling above the smoke clouds as they turned to head home after a raid.

And she decides that some things are just too black and horrible to forgive -- ever.  

* * *

"I just don't know why he's always riding me," New Man grumbles as he and American Lightning high-tail it down yet another corridor, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

(The loudspeakers are announcing the launch has been delayed, but nothing about the costumed heroes charging through the building.)

"Maybe it's because you're getting more women than he is," the man says, really not wanting to get into the real reasons right now.

"Oh, but is the women, right?" the other guy sighs: "Always about the women."

"Well, yes..." Lightning admits, realizing he walked them right into that one: "Look, man, there's been some talk."

"Is it my fault I look younger than I am?"

"No, but you don't have to encourage the jailbait, either."

"Like anyone else doesn't-"

"I don't, Charles," Lightning says, taking a firm, flat step in New Man's direction, so as to put them face to face: "So don't make that argument with me."

"Look, I'm just sick and tired of being held up to a higher standard," New Man says: "I mean, !@#$, you volunteered for this, Rob. I just got hit with something. It was an accident. Next thing I know, I'm like this."

"So?" Lightning asks, turning away to get back up to speed, and nodding to an older, black janitor as they pass him on the way: "We came from Camp Rogers. You came from Okinawa. That doesn't mean you get to blow off your responsibilities."

"I didn't ask for this. One minute I'm shooting Japs on the beach, the next I'm getting hit with some purple ray, and... well..."

"Is that what happened?" Robert asks, genuinely interested now: "You never told me that before."

"I don't like to talk about it," New Man grumbles as they hold up to look around a corner: "It's humiliating."

"Well, okay. That's your choice, Charles. But you wouldn't be the first hero to just get powers out of nowhere."

"No, but it doesn't mean I have to be Captain America, either, does it? Can't I just fight bad guys and then go home and be myself?"

"Of course," Lightning says, now certain they can move on down the deserted hallway: "There are lots of folks who do that. There's folks who did that before the war, during it, and even now.

"But they're not part of the Freedom Force, Charles. We're not just any group of heroes. We're the group. I thought you'd have understood that by now."

"I can't be Superman."

"Then don't," Lightning says, turning around and tapping New Man on the chest: "Be a man, Charles. Stand up for something bigger than what you want or need. Do the right thing. Otherwise, what's the point?"

"An excellent question," someone announces, stepping from the shadows down the hallway. He wears a black, form-fitting suit that ripples as he walks, his smile is winsome and toothy, and his accent is pure Moscow -- deep and musical. 

"Black Shadow," New Man says as they walk out, ready to fight: "I've read about him. Don't let him touch you. He'll send you someplace really unpleasant."

"Good thing we don't have to touch him, then?" Lightning asks, his fists crackling with his namesake as New Man begins to glow purple: "Watch the birdie, Commie."

"Watch behind you, American," someone else says, just above them -- the one place neither of them thought to look.

And then they have exactly a second before eight-eyed Zhenshchina Pauk falls off the ceiling to attack them -- her long, prehensile hair full of energy-draining webs, her mouth filled with thin, poisoned fangs... 

* * *

At about fifteen past 7 SPYGOD's car phone starts ringing. By this time he's drained his flask, and is about to toddle off to the nearest gas station to fill it back up again, so he considers this to be excellent timing.

"This better be some !@#$ good intel, !@#$face," he shouts down the phone.

"Sir?" someone else's voice squeaks out the other end.

"Sir what? Who the !@#$ is this?"

"Is this Director SPYGOD?"

"Yes it is," SPYGOD says, still chaffing at the use of the d-word: "Why aren't you using my god!@#$ secret codename over a secured !@#$ing channel?"

"I... um, I didn't know we had to, sir. I thought it was secured."

"Well, that would make !@#$ing sense, now wouldn't it?" SPYGOD asks, sort of amused.

"I guess so, sir-"

"No, really, who the !@#$ is this?"

"Agent Jerome Jones, sir. I'm in charge of Eastern Operations."

"Oh, the Chop Suey desk. Yeah," SPYGOD chuckles: "Well, that explains how you're out of the !@#$ loop about how we're running things, now. How's !@#$ing LA?"

"I'm not there, sir. I caught the red-eye and I'm at the port, now."

"Oh? Why the !@#$ did you fly all the way out here?"

"Because I got something for you, sir, and I think it's really important-"

"Wait," SPYGOD says, remembering: "I know you. Don't they call you Jolly?"

"Yes, sir. I can't imagine why. I'm told I kill all the parties."

"Oh, right," SPYGOD chuckles, remembering why the fellow kills them: "Well, maybe you can bring mine back to life, Agent Jolly. I !@#$ing need some info, here, and Fredericks isn't busting his !@#$ to bring it to me. Please tell me you have it."

"I just might, sir. But bear with me. This is a long and weird story."

"I can use weird, Jolly. Long I ain't got !@#$ing time for. Spill it quick."

"Quick. Okay. Less than two days ago, one of our Harolds in Hong Kong retrieved a letter from a Central Investigation Department dead-drop. They weren't sure what to make of it because it was addressed to someone called Ju Shen, which doesn't make any sense, except that it's a really bad way to translate 'Spy God.'"

"Who's it from?" SPYGOD asks.

"That's the other thing, sir. The sender was just named Long."

SPYGOD's heart skips a beat, and he exhales very slowly: "The Dragon."

"Exactly, sir. I know you two have a history. It's something of a legend out here-"

"So what happened?"

"Well, our Harold realized it was probably something really important, given how weirdly obvious it was. Kind of like they wanted someone to take it from their office and hand it off to us? So I had him get it into my hands, which took a day. When I opened it this morning, I found out that it just has a name."

"Which is?"

"Gregor Pavelvich Minkovski. Now, that's not someone my desk deals with. But I ran it by the Borscht Desk, and they told me he's one of SQUASH's goons. Malinovyy Ubiysta? I think I'm pronouncing that right..."

"The Crimson Assassin," SPYGOD says, not without some reverence: "Yeah, I know him. Creepy !@#$er. They say Bulgakov uses him to !@#$ing do away with Supreme Soviet types who get overheard backtalking SQUASH off the floor. Not a nice guy by any means."

"The Russian you, they say, sir."

"Well, they can kiss my !@#$ing !@#$, Jolly. I'm the only god!@#$ me around these parts. You !@#$ing got that?"

"Um, yes sir."

"Besides, they say he can blow your !@#$ brains out from up to fifty miles away. And while I've done a lot of crazy !@#$ stuff over the years..."

SPYGOD blinks a few times, and then looks north, towards the Cape.

"Sir?" Jolly asks.

"Yeah, I think I just realized something really !@#$ing important, Jolly," SPYGOD says: "The bad news is that we've got an even bigger !@#$ing problem. The good news is we also have a !@#$ing solution. But I need you to do something for me."

"What's that, sir?"

"I need you to spell that name for me. Exactly how it is in the !@#$ letter. Okay?"

"Yes sir."

"Okay, hang on," he says, getting out his Freedom Force communicator: "Hey, Doc? You there?"

"Yes I am, SPYGOD. What's the situation down there?"

"I need you to get Wayfinder on the horn. Now."

"Um. I'll call his place. He's on retreat-"

"Tell him this is !@#$ important. Wait, !@#$ that. Tell him I'm saying it's !@#$ important. That'll get him to the !@#$ phone. Okay?"

"Okay," Dr. Yesterday says, and then puts SPYGOD on hold to do as he's told.

"Still there, Jolly?" SPYGOD asks.

"Yes sir. What are we doing?"

"Talking to a man who can !@#$ing find anyone, anywhere, as long as he's got their correct name," SPYGOD answers: "You're giving it to me, I'm giving it to him, and then I'm going to !@#$ing find this Crimson Assassin and shoot him with his own !@#$ gun. That sound like a plan to you?"

"Well, yes. It does, sir. Yes."

"And when Foxtrot Actual actually !@#$ing gets down here? I'm buying you a big !@#$ing beer, Jolly. You may have just saved the day."

"I don't drink, sir."

"Well, I'm !@#$ing buying you something-"

"Sir, if you want to get me something, please stop using profanity with me. I find it immoral and unnerving."

SPYGOD coughs, and then cracks a smile: "You've got yourself a goshdarn deal, Jolly. Now, the flipping name, if you please?"

Jolly sighs at that, and SPYGOD decides he's going to make it his mission to get this man drunk, laid, and cursing like a sailor before he's finished with him.  

* * *

"You commies just have no shame!" Corporal Flag cries out as he smacks down yet another Matryoshka, only to watch in horror as a slighty-smaller version of the short, squat, and powerful Russian woman appears next to her, ready to pick up fighting where the last one left off.

"Less talking, more punching, kid," Dr. Chaos says, using some strange, faster-than-the-eye-can-see martial art to knock aside every red, glowing weapon that Krasnoye Koltso can fling at him. It might be a low-level manifestation of his powers, given that his blue hair is glowing under his tophat right now, or it might be some weird Karate thing. Who can say?

They'd been doing fine, at least up until now -- going this way and that throughout the control center, encountering nothing but technicians, workers, and the occasional elderly, Negro janitor. And then they turned a corner on the far edge of the building, and found themselves hemmed in by a small army of short, well-built, and ugly women on one side, and a bristling wall of floating, red hand weapons on the other.

(With a very short Russian man hiding behind them, cackling at what he was about to unleash.)

To their credit, in spite of the clear animosity between the two men, they'd immediately sprung into action -- each one knowing which commie combatant to square up against, given each others' powers, and their enemies' abilities. But this was taking longer than it should, and they had yet to radio back in in to the others...

Then it happens, just as Corporal Flag was afraid it would.

One of the red weapons -- a hammer, of all things -- strikes Dr. Chaos right in the face. There's a sickening crack as something breaks, a moment of calm before the storm. And then, just as the blue-haired hero's tophat falls to the floor, he starts laughing.

It's not a good laugh.

"over commie Playtime is," Dr. Chaos says, his hair standing up on end as the world crackles and wavers around his hands: "control up red see you Let's !@#$ if  it's ring can that your when shoved..."

"Chaos!" Flag shouts as the man with the glowing, red ring finds himself kissing the floor so hard it cracks under his outline: "Control yourself, man! If you lose it here we're all dead!"

"Just you, American pig!" one of the Matryoshka clones announces as she punches Flag square in the face -- dislodging at least one tooth and bloodying his nose for good measure.

At which point, Flag joins Chaos in the small, picturesque town of Losing It, Florida.

"My... mother... told... me... not... to... hit... ladies," Flag says, punctuating each knock-out punch with a word, only to find another, unscathed target a second later: "But... you're... no... lady!"

"And you are being no man!" ten clones shout in unison, all bringing their fists down on Corporal Flag's head before he can put up a good defense.

A second later he realizes she was just toying with him.

A second after that he's falling to the ground, and being kicked by at least fifteen women. Maybe twenty.

As he closes his eyes he sees the building starting to collapse from all sides at the other end of the hallway as Dr. Chaos does something obscene to a ring-slinging super commie. Or maybe it's all distortions and he's just imagining things -- the human body wasn't meant to look like that, surely?

Much like he's clearly imagining that elderly Negro janitor they must have passed a half dozen times leaping from the doorway -- wielding his mop like a quarterstaff -- and saving his !@#$ from Matryoshka....

* * *

They called her the Grey Ghost, once, and she was beloved.

The Enterprise was a Yorktown class aircraft carrier: over 800 feet long and just over 110 wide. Home to over 2000 men, who worked, fought, and bled to keep her upright and shipshape.

She'd seen action throughout the Pacific, back in the war. Midway, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, Leyte Gulf. After the war she brought soldiers home from Europe, and was honored by the British Admiralty on one of her last cruises -- the only American ship to have that honor.

And then, after the war -- creaking and outmoded -- the Enterprise was docked, decommissioned, and eventually made ready to be scrapped.

They called her all kinds of names, before and after the War. The Big E. The Lucky E. The Galloping Ghost. But somehow the Grey Ghost resonated the most -- especially with those pilots who'd see her rising out of the fog as they made their way back to her deck to land.

Now, after having been quietly bought from the scrapyard, prior to her scheduled breakdown, and moved to a secluded "proving yard" the Navy uses to build, test, and launch its more secret ships -- not far from Herrington on the Bay -- the Enterprise is going to have an entirely new name.

The Flier.

There's a groan as the completely-refurbished ship leaves its berth, making its way into the deeper areas. Its once-tall command tower has been sliced away, leaving only a few smaller work areas on either side of the flight deck. A forward command has taken its place, just under that deck, with glassed-in areas looking down at the water instead of up at the skies. Amazing, modern weapons line the sides, their barrels turning this way and that as they prepare for the shakedown cruise.

As the ship gets into deeper waters, large areas on the sides of the flight deck slide over and out. Massive helicopter blades -- each one almost as long as the ship, itself -- rise up and telescope out from the center. The stern of the ship pops open to let a solid steel tail with an equally-mighty rotor come out to join them.

And then, with a sound like a million helicopters starting in unison, the ship's blades twirl and whirl in perfect synchronization -- creating enough lift to somehow raise this wet, steel leviathan from the oceans it was made to patrol, and into the air it used to fear.

Only now, it can master it, too. 

A hundred feet, it effortlessly rises. Two hundred. Three. Five. Seven. A thousand, and holding strong.

The Flier is airborne, rising higher and higher, and turning south to make the Cape.

* * *

"Alright, then, thanks," SPYGOD says, getting ready to get off the phone with Wayfinder: "You are the best, my friend. Never let anyone tell you otherwise."

"I try not to let people tell me anything," Wayfinder says: "Now, I'm going back to my retreat. And next time I see someone show up in my sacred space with a portable phone I'm going to tell him something he doesn't want to hear. Is that clear, (REDACTED)?"

"It is, yes," SPYGOD says, being as deferential as possible: "I'm sorry. It was an emergency-"

"If I say I'm on retreat, I am dealing with powers that make your rockets and Soviets look like children and toys. You won't know what an emergency is until one of them gets angry."

"You got it, Wayfinder. Never again."

"That's what you said the last time, (REDACTED)," the man on the other end says, hanging up.

"Well, that was frosty," Dr. Yesterday says: "Should I have them rendezvous with you at that location?"

"NO," SPYGOD insists, checking a map and realizing where he needs to go: "I do this alone. Keep everyone else focused on the Cape and the launch. Do not tell anyone where the !@#$ I went, or that I even talked to Wayfinder. Understood?"

"Um... alright-"

"Well, if it's the President? That's !@#$ing okay. Everyone else? Tell them to go !@#$ing fish. We clear?"


"Good. If you want to be useful, check in with your brothers and see how they're doing. Or check in with Mr. USA and see how he's doing. !@#$ it, check in with your wife and she what she's doing. Just don't call me until I !@#$ing call you, alright?"

He hangs up before the bewildered super scientist can ask him another question, guns the motor, and high-tails it due West -- heading for a place no one would think to watch on a day like this, which is exactly why he needs to go there.

And on the way he makes one more phone call, hoping his obscene luck can hold out just a little longer...

(SPYGOD is listening to Runaway (Del Shanon) and having even more Blatz)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

5/5/61 - The Things We've Done Together While Our Hearts Were Young - pt. 1

Freedom Force, May 5th, 1961
At Cape Canaveral for Alan Shepard's historic spaceflight

Back: Mrs. Liberty, Swiftfoot, Gold Standard, Dr. Chaos, Mr. USA
Front: Liberty Belle, Corporal Flag, American Lightning, New Man
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * * * * * * * * * 
"Remember, it's not enough to make history - 
you've got to arrange for someone to record it for you."

The Wind From Nowhere, J.G. Ballard (1961)
 * * * * * * * * * *

The wind blows across Bird Island, again, bringing with it the crisp, earthy smells of a Florida afternoon. It makes the trees sway and creak. Wild grass ebbs and flattens to mark its course. 

And, at its center, SPYGOD and the Crimson Assassin face one another from twenty feet away -- each ready to kill the other.

The tall Russian adjusts his grip on his wondrous weapon, making certain his foe's eyes are square in his crosshairs. SPYGOD looks at the guns he'd dropped by his feet, wondering if he can get to them in time.

The wind blows once more, and the Russian starts to count, ever so slowly.




And then-

* * *

"Oh, you have got to be !@#$ing kidding me," SPYGOD spits into his Freedom Force communicator as he gently disentangles his left foot from what's left of a man's backside.

Normally, he wouldn't be so gentle about it -- especially considering what this dark-red-wetsuited Russian Superspy had been saying, here in this gas station restroom, before he kicked the man's tailbone up into his sternum.

But the shoes are handmade Roger Viviers,!@#$ it, and he's not losing them to a Soviet !@#$hole if he can help it.  

"I wish I was, (REDACTED)," Dr. Yesterday sighs over the communicator: "We've got confirmed sightings up and down the coastline. SQUASH operatives are coming in from the shore, south of the Cape, and setting up weapons. And I'm sure you can guess what they're after."

"Half the !@#$ing free world knows by now," SPYGOD replies, pulling his foot free with one final, wet squick. The costumed fellow screams at the pain, but quickly shuts up once SPYGOD kicks him at the base of skull with his other foot -- propelling him right through the toilet stall wall, shattering him against the tile wall, and dropping him down into the commode.

"What was that screaming?" Dr. Yesterday asks.

"Had to flush the !@#$ toilet. Found a commie in the bowl."


"Oh, never !@#$ing mind," SPYGOD shouts, running out of the Union 76 station's men's room, grabbing the pocket scope he always keeps on his person, and looking up the Florida coastline, seeing exactly what his ally was telling him.

There's a high-tech, collapsible pontoon boat, just up at Satellite beach. It's just like the one he saw land here -- at Pelican Beach park -- as he was making his way north, this morning. And when he went to investigate, and realized that the two men who'd come ashore weren't here for a full tank, he'd decided to pull off within range of his pocket scope, and see what they were up to.

One hastily-assembled, super-sophisticated soviet missile launcher later -- aimed due north, no less -- he realized the time for watching was over. So he'd driven up, weapons blazing, and eliminated the threat. Then it was just down to trying to get answers out of the one guy who'd had the sense to run into the station's outside washroom to flee his fate.

One ultra-brutal !@#$-kicking -- along with a rather rough poison-tooth removal -- later, what SPYGOD had learned had made him rather upset, to put it mildly. Not only because of what he had learned, but also because of what this !@#$ simply did not know. 

And as any spy could tell you, that's what sinks the fleet.

"Did you call the !@#$ troops in, yet?" he shouts, putting his scope away and getting ready to act.

"Mr. USA and Mrs. Liberty were already at the Cape. Gold Standard's airborne from Atlanta. Swiftfoot's bringing the others from DC, but it'll take a while to get them assembled-"

"We don't !@#$ing have a while, Bob. We got commies trying to stop the launch. And if they're out here, attacking in the !@#$ing open...?"

"Then there's someone inside, doing the real work," Dr. Yesterday realizes.

"!@#$ right," SPYGOD says, heading for his car, which is parked right next to what's left of the other operative, and their weapon: "And we only got a half an hour to stop this !@#$."

"Oh dear."

"You got that right! Tell our people at the Cape to lock it the !@#$ down."

"Already on it, (REDACTED)."

"Get in touch with Patrick and get their defenses up-"

"Who's Patrick?"

"Patrick Air Force Base, you !@#$ing twit. It's on the !@#$ way, and they'll get to them before I do."


"And call the !@#$ President and tell him to call Nicki and tell that bald rat bastard !@#$ to call the whole !@#$ thing off if he knows what's !@#$ing good for him-"

"What am I, your secretary?" Dr. Yesterday sighs: "Don't you have someone at the Heptagon to make those calls?"

"Oh, I got that new guy they !@#$ing saddled me with, Fredericks or whatever. He's !@#$ing useless. You call the President."

"Well, okay-"

"And while you're at it? Tell your brothers to get it ready to go."

There's a moment of silence, then: "Are you sure? It hasn't been tested, yet. Anything could happen-"

"Yes. And it's called 'Freedom Force Fails in Flaming Fiasco,' right across the front page of the Daily Trumpet. Do you want to !@#$ing read that tomorrow while you're having your coffee, Bob?"

"No, (REDACTED), I don't."

"Then get Frank and Hector out to the port and tell them to fire it the !@#$ up," SPYGOD commands, taking care to step over the burned, still-crackling body of the other Soviet operative as he leaps into his shiny, matte black Aston Martin Spider: "I think it's time to show those Soviet clowns what American science can !@#$ing do."

He guns the motor, reverses over the lump of charcoal that used to be a man, flips the radio back on, and drives North for Cape Canaveral at top speed, ready to execute every last !@#$ing commie saboteur he sees along the way.

"Rawhide" by Link Wray plays on his radio. Afterburners kick his maximum speed from 90 to 150 MPH. His license plate reads BTFU01.

And it's 6:51 in the AM, just 29 minutes from launch...

* * *

SPYGOD really hadn't expected to have this kind of morning, but then he never does.

He'd been down in Key West, earlier that morning. That was after spending most of Thursday scouting launch locations for a special, one-man operation; the sort of thing he wasn't going to !@#$ing tell anyone else about, if he could at all help it. You don't just kill a foreign dictator for revenge and leave a paper trail, after all.

(Especially now they've got some brown-nosing schmuck watching over his every move, just to make sure he "sticks with the new program." !@#$ that.)

His cover consisted of making advanced arrangements for a certain double-agent, to make sure he'd have a smooth transition from the mainland to Havana after his upcoming "suicide." This involved getting a safe house updated and ready for Old Man (aka Ernest Hemingway), as well as preparing for his arrival. However, it also meant keeping an eye on the Cuban vampires, and making note of the nasty places they gathered when they came ashore to carouse, gambol, and drink yankee blood in the place they still refer to by its old, Spanish name: Cayo Hueso -- the Island of Bones. 

After a night of having to watch nightmarish things he'd just as soon light on fire, along with their subhuman, blood-addicted toadies, he was happy to move on to his own, personal errands the following day. After a few checks on locations he'd spied while traveling, he relaxed with drinks and some exquisite al fresco sex with a well-built Asian man-boy who waited tables at an oyster bar in Old Town. A few hours of that had left him spent and sober, yet unable to sleep, so he crept out of the fellow's house once he succumbed to slumber, climbed into his car, and drove back up the Overland, planning to make it up the coast in time to watch the launch.

He wasn't worried about the event, initially. Yes, the first American in space was going to be a big !@#$ deal. And, yes, it would be the sort of thing that might bring any number of jack!@#$es with a cause out to stop or sabotage it. But there were already going to be some members of the Freedom Force there, doing both PR and security, and if they couldn't handle it, well, he'd eat his hat.

(That and Mr. USA had made it clear he'd rather SPYGOD didn't cut in on his show, this time.)

But now he's !@#$ glad he didn't see if that round-bottomed peach of a man-boy wanted to go for another round, after all. He'd have felt really !@#$ stupid if he'd learned of a successful SQUASH operation while he was !@#$-deep in some oyster boy's !@#$hole. And he'd have felt even worse if it was against something this high profile.

And that was the old SPYGOD luck at play again -- the same obscene fortune that'd gotten him this far, and continued to surprise him. If he hadn't been alternating between speeding and slowing down? If that erratic trajectory hadn't brought him to this stretch of road, just now? If he hadn't noticed that pontoon?

(If he didn't already have a backup plan for something exactly like this in place...?)

No. No sense examining it. No sense second-guessing it. Clearly he was meant to be right here, right now, doing one of the things that only he can do.

If there's one consolation -- other than not having Jack get on his case about something -- it's that he was meant to be killing the idiots SQUASH had sent. So he takes extra care to annihilate every last one of the mother!@#$ers his car comes across as he races to the Cape, hoping every other order he'd put into play is also being followed.

Some days it's good to be a superspy. If his luck holds out, this will be yet another one of them.

And if not, then maybe today's when he learns that luck isn't everything...

* * *

"The Soviets?" Mr. USA sighs as he runs after Mrs. Liberty, heading for the control center's nearest exit: "Really?"

"That's what they're saying, (REDACTED)," she shouts back over the alarms, taking a little pride in running ahead of him, at least until he can take to the air: "Frogmen with rocket launchers, down the coast. SPYGOD's taking care of them, now, but he thinks that they're just distractions."

"He would," the hero grouses, knowing his old rival is probably right about this: "Same plan as always?"

"Same as always," she says as the door comes into sight: "You go high..."

"And you go low," he finishes, allowing himself the luxury of skipping just ahead of her, opening the door for the lady, and then whooshing up to the skies to see what the holy heck is going on, here.

As he scans the horizon, he can see a couple fires, further south from here. Narrowing his eyes, he quickly discerns the cause: a speeding, black sports car, firing incendiary rounds at every two-man squad of would-be saboteurs.

SPYGOD seems to be enjoying this, if the look on his face is any indication as he mows down yet another group of them. But he's not moving fast enough, and there's more up the way.

"Mr. USA, I presume?" he hears someone day, over his communicator. He smiles, knowing who it is.

"Gold Standard! I'm really glad to hear your voice."

"I'm about five miles out. Be there in ten seconds. What do you need me to do?"

"I've got the skies over here. You go south, and help SPYGOD knock out enemy emplacements along the coastal road. Look for pontoon boats. Two man squads-"

The whoosh of his gold-armored friend takes the voice away from him, just for a second. The man-machine flies by with all the power of a jet engine, giving him a thumbs-up as he does to indicate he understood. And then he dives down, preparing to attack from the north as SPYGOD sweeps up from the south. 

"All well and good," Mr. USA says, looking at the rocket as it stands by the construction gantry, waiting for the order to go: "But where's the real threat?"

"You see anything up there?" Mrs. Liberty asks, already standing by the rocket and looking around: "I've got bumpkiss down here."

"Not sure," he says, making a circle around the rocket and looking down, wondering what he's not seeing...

* * *

"Of course, Doctor Power would be away today, wouldn't he?" American Lightning says as the Swiftcar pulls up in front of the control area.

"Eben's got a life too, Robert," New Man says, jumping out of the open seat behind the conveyor belt Swiftfoot runs on to power the weird, smoking contraption (something like ten seats connected to a free-rolling, steerable track): "And other responsibilities."

"Like you'd know about responsibilities, Charles," Dr. Chaos snorts, brushing his blue hair out of his face and putting his tophat on: "Give it a rest-" 

"Codenames, folks," Corporal Flag chides his fellows: "We're on the job, now."

"Yes, we are," Freedom Belle says, taking charge before someone else can: "Swiftfoot, reconnoiter the area's edges. Look for anyone set up for mischief, and then get back here to me."

"YouGotItHon," Swiftfoot stammers, and then speeds off to do what his girlfriend has instructed. 

"The rest of you are going to pair up, go inside, and see if we can locate any saboteurs," the short, severe-looking woman says: "New Man, you're with Lightning. Corporal, you and Chaos go left. We'll go right."

"Why?" Corporal Flag asks, clearly not wanting to be in with the man dressed like a stage magician.

"Because it's your turn to make sure I don't atomize the structure while dealing with the bad guys," Chaos chuckles: "Jerry."

"Hey, now," the Corporal sighs, but quickly realizes he's a step behind the others, and not likely to catch up if he doesn't hustle.

The others don't like him much -- he knows this. Part of it's because, out of all the others, he's the only one that got to keep his wartime name as he actually was a Corporal; everyone else got the "Lieutenant," "Captain," and "Sergeant" taken away from them after Korea. And part of it was the fact that he came in during Korea, as a replacement for American Flag, who bought it during the push back from Pusan.

But the real reason is because, no matter how hard he tries, he just can't get a hang of how to take control of a mission. Everyone else seems to have it down pat, but whenever he opens his mouth to lead, everyone else just sort of brushes him off, leaving someone like Mr. USA, Mrs. Liberty, or Liberty Belle to step up and get things done.

(That and American Lightning, which is twice as galling. Who was that Negro to tell him anything?)

One of these days he'll get it right. He knows this. But until then, he's just going to have to eat !@#$ and wait for his chance. 

Maybe today it'll come at last. 

* * *

"Well, about !@#$ time," SPYGOD chuckles, watching as balls of fire explode up ahead of him, in the distance.

It's like a line of bombs hitting their targets, back in Europe. A golden streak flies just ahead of the blasts -- a huge, !@#$-eating grin shining behind its faceshield, its gilded hands giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up as it rockets towards his ally's car.

"Thanks for the assist, Ed," SPYGOD hails him over the communicator, just as he spins the car out to bring it to a halt in front of some bewildered beachcomber's summer house: "I think I !@#$ing got them all down here. Can you see any more?"

"Not now, but I'll go further down just to see if you missed any."

"Fair enough. And when you're done with that? Go right the !@#$ up and see if you can see anything past the coastal shelf"

"What should I be looking for?" the gold-suited inventor asks, just as he rushes over SPYGOD's position.

"Well, these !@#$holes didn't paddle all the way from !@#$ing Albania, did they? I bet there's a sub, parked just off the drop-off-"

"A bet, eh? Well, I'll wager dinner at Delmonicos that they just island-hopped up here from Cuba."

"Sure, but you're picking up the !@#$ drinks tab either way."

"You've got yourself a gentleman's agreement, good sir," Gold Standard chuckles, arcing up to see if he's won or lost this one: "Over and out."

"Too !@#$ing easy," SPYGOD says, leaping out of his car and looking back where he came from: "We saw them because we were !@#$ing meant to see them. And I bet they don't even !@#$ing care if we blow up their transport..."

He goes back into his car, reaching under the passengers' side of the dashboard to find the phone. A special, otherwise-hidden aerial goes up, and he places a call to the Heptagon.

"Home Seven here," his new subordinate says in his dreary, tired voice.

"This is Superguy One, calling in," SPYGOD says, using the ludicrous callsign the brown-nosing, DoD-appointee desk-monkey insisted he employ in the field: "I need some !@#$ing field advisement, and I don't have all god!@#$ day-"

"Sir! I've been trying to get hold of you since yesterday-"

"Never !@#$ing mind that, now, !@#$face."

"Sir, I don't think I got that last bit-"

"That's my new callsign for you. Like it?"

"Um, well-"

"Thought not. What's !@#$ing going on up there in Foggy Bottom? Did my messages get relayed?"

"Oh, you mean the ones you didn't trust me to relay for you, sir?" Fredericks says, not trying to disguise his bitterness: "Well, as far as I know, the answer is yes. The White House put me on hold forever, which means the President's making that call. And there's word of that ridiculous waste of taxpayers' dollars being put into a countdown at the port, so there's that-"

"And what do you have for me?" SPYGOD interrupts, watching as squad cars from Patrick AFB come zooming down the road at long last: "Did we receive any !@#$ing intel whatsoever that this was going to happen?"

"No sir, not an inkling-"

"I find that really !@#$ing hard to believe, !@#$face."

"Well, it happens to be true-"

"So what did you want to tell me?"


"You said you were trying to get hold of me all day yesterday. Why?"

"Well, it's nothing I feel secure talking on an open channel about, sir."

"Anything related to this?"

"No, sir."

"So, what, you just found it !@#$ing annoying that I went off the radar for a day?" SPYGOD seethes: "Are the people you're reporting to really that concerned about where I !@#$ing go and what I !@#$ing do that you'd rather play babysitter than keep an eye out for the sort of !@#$ you're supposed to be looking out for? Like, oh, I don't know, !@#$ like this?"

There's nothing but silence on the other line, and SPYGOD realizes what that means. 

"Then this is how it !@#$ing goes, !@#$face," SPYGOD seethes: "The next call I get on this phone had better be some really !@#$ed good intel on what's really !@#$ing going on, here. Because I refuse to believe that SQUASH would try and pull something this !@#$ing amateurish off. Bulgakov's too !@#$ smart for that. Agreed?"

"Well, yes-"

"So either this is all a big !@#$ distraction for the real operation, or something's seriously wrong in Moscow. Agreed?"

"Yes, sir," Fredericks says, knowing how this is going to go.

"So I want that intel, !@#$face. I want it yesterday afternoon. Or I want your !@#$ reassigned somewhere I can't !@#$ing find you. Got that?"

With that he hangs up, disgusted. Then he parks his !@#$ on the extremely-warm hood of his car, pulls out a long !@#$ cigarette, and has a significant drag off it as he watches a troop carrier pull up to deal with the mess he just made, a quarter of a mile back.

"What are you !@#$ing up to, you commie creep?" he asks his far-away, wheelchair-bound nemesis, wondering if this crazy caper really has his stamp on it.

It's just after 7, now. Only 19 minutes to go...

(SPYGOD is listening to My True Story (Jive Five) and having a !@#$ton of Blatz.)