Sunday, March 29, 2015

1/15/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 4.5

Les Trois Grandes
Foudre Blanc, Tempete Bleu, Ciel Rouge
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *

Far off the beaten path, in the mountains of India, there's a particular peak that does not appear on any map. 

It's a terrifying thing -- tall and scraggly, utterly bereft of plant life. The animals all give it a wide berth, and people who look at it don't care to stare for too terribly long.

It's just not a healthy thing to consider, for some odd reason -- especially not on a night like this.

Before that unholy mountain is a windswept plain. In that plain, well within the mountain's moon-shadow, is a cairn of black and tan rocks. It's maybe two feet tall and four feet wide, and with no writing to explain why it's there. 

Suddenly, there's a wavering motion in the air, and someone appears directly in front of it.

It's a man, dressed in what might be some kind of sterile suit. It's got a clear facemask and an oxygen tank. It's also got blood spattered all over it. 

The man reaches down into a pouch, on the suit's belt, and pulls up a small, plastic communicator. He says something into it, and then tosses it off into the dirt, where it sparks, smokes and warps itself into uselessness within seconds.

By the time it's broken itself down into nothing but unhappy molecules, the man has vanished again. This time it's by an entirely different mechanism, and for a much different purpose. But the disappearance is so seamless and smooth that, if anyone had been out here to watch, they might think they just saw a magic trick. 

And they might just have applauded, in spite of themselves. 

* * *

“Quite the speech, my friend,” Foudre Blanc says to a well-dressed man, shaking his hand as he does: “Very convincing.”

“Thank you,” the fellow says, clasping the hero’s hand with both of his own and smiling: “I certainly hope so. They say you can lead a horse to water…”

“But you can’t get him into the boat?”

“Exactly!” the man laughs, his voice echoing across the large, tightly-packed hall he was just addressing.

The room is filled to bursting, tonight. Hundreds of Front Nationale representatives are there, along with delegates of other likeminded groups from throughout Europe. They all press flesh and chortle, so high on the fumes of what they just heard that their normal antipathy for one another is mostly absent.

“So, do we have a timetable?” the white-clad hero asks, wondering how long it’ll be before the Lega Nord people start a fight with the Golden Dawn, just because.

“Soon,” the man says, nodding at that mousy woman from the Danish People's Party as she touches his sleeve and thanks him.

"Just soon?" Foudre Blanc replies, a little dumbfounded: "My understanding is that that... thing is getting even closer. Surely we have to be ready to move soon?"

"And we will," the man assures him, patting him on the back: "It's just a delicate thing, you understand. All these people, all these technical setbacks. And then the matter of getting us up and away in the first place..."

He pauses for a moment to nod at that weird-haired fellow from Party for Freedom, who's entertaining a gaggle of starstruck NF people with his own tales of making things difficult for Negros.

"If there are still difficulties, you can count on my help," Foudre Blanc says: "My company has gladly given time, money, and resources towards this goal. And will gladly continue to do so."

"And it's greatly appreciated, Bruno," the man says, nodding to others still as they pass (Jobbik, Finns, those ones from Spain who change their name every other year): "Indeed, if it hadn't been for Industries Roquer, I doubt we'd have gotten this far this fast."

"Even with the backing of the Terre Unifee?" the white-clad hero chuckles.

"Well, it's one thing to have the reins, and another to be able to gallop the horse out of the stable at any time," the man winks: "I'm sure you understand, having your own group of secrets to tend to."

"I do indeed," Foudre Blanc says, quietly wincing as Julien starts heading their way, the better to schmooze on the man of the hour, too.

"Have no fear, my friend," he says, smiling at the hero: "We will take to the skies, as I have promised. We will leave this sorry mess of a world behind. And we will set up a new, more pure one elsewhere."

"A noble goal," the hero says, taking a step back as the Old Man's number one comes up to fawn.

The after-speech festivities go on for some time. And with each passing moment, Foudre Blanc becomes more uncertain of things. More ambivalent.

It's not that he's against the plan -- indeed, he's one of the principal bankrollers. But rather that, when he started his campaign, he imagined that he would be cleaning up Paris of the human filth that had infested it, so that future generations could once again live in a clean and beautiful city. 

But this way? They'll be leaving it in the dust to be destroyed whenever that massive space disaster gets here. One of the greatest cities in the history of the world, rendered unto dust by some horrible thing beyond human imagining. 

Does that mean his mission is a failure, then? Or is he simply trading what would otherwise be a lifetime of work for a sharp and final lateral move? 

He's not sure. He resigned himself to a lifetime's crusade, back when he began it. Indeed, he knew he might die with that mission unfulfilled.

But now -- as he stands on the brink of seeing it done by default -- all he knows is that he will be disappointed that the final piece of negro filth that dies in his city will not perish by his hand, but instead by some abomination that he'd never dare to look upon, himself.

Disappointed, and more than a little cheated to see his promise to Sabine fulfilled by default. 

Eventually, the evening comes to a close. People leave in small knots and whorls, and then in one final trickling. On the steps, at the end, Julien shakes the man's hand, and then walks away quickly before Foudre Blanc comes up to pay his own respects. And then he's gone too -- zapped off into the electrical wires -- leaving only the man of the hour, who must now catch a cab, as though he were simply another businessman out at night. 

Unbeknownst to him, as he hails a taxi, he is being watched.

One of his spies is a woman wrapped in a red shroud, who lurks in the shadows of a nearby building and glares at him. If looks could kill, he would have died a thousand deaths by now. Indeed, it’s rather difficult for her to avoid going over there, right now, and giving the dead their due.

Especially after everything she just heard inside that hall…

But Ciel Rouge is not stupid. She knows she cannot touch him, here and now. Not with the power he holds. Not by herself.

No. She must wait for the right moment to expose him, and his followers. She must gather more facts and gain more allies. She must be ready to bring the house down in such a way that it wouldn’t collapse on her, instead.

And she thinks she knows just what to say, when she finally gets the chance. 

She vanishes, leaving him no wiser. And as he finally gets a cab to stop and pick him up, he's observed by yet another person -- a black-clad, young blonde woman who kneels on a rooftop, miles away. 

If anyone came onto that rooftop, just then, they might think she’s making ready to take his head off with the rifle she’s wrapped around. But the rifle has a long-range microphone where the barrel should be, and a large telescope attached to what should be a sight. 

Helga smirks, watching as Guillaume Brilliand, Director of the Space Service, gets off the street at last. 

I've got him, she tells the others. 

And suddenly, something becomes very clear to them all.

* * *

“So, you want to tell me what’s really going on, here?” Mark Clutch asks SPYGOD, walking into the otherwise-deserted room the man is sitting in. It might have been a library, once, except that all the shelves are empty, save for dust and cobwebs.

“Well, I’m having a !@#$ing drink,” SPYGOD says, raising a glass from the side of his ratty chair: “Straffer’s taking a !@#$ shower. Martha’s making sure the car’s good to go-“

“And you’re going to answer some !@#$ questions for a change,” Mark insists, leaning over him.

“You sure you want to take that tone with me, son?”

“!@#$ straight I am,” Mark says, too angry to be properly scared.

“Okay…” SPYGOD says, having a sizable gulp of his drink: “Let’s have it.”

“What are we doing?”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“I did, Mark. That’s just kind of !@#$ing broad.”

“What are we doing here?”

“Well, that’s kind of !@#$ing existential-“

“Shut up!” Mark shouts, knocking SPYGOD’s drink out of his hand and putting his fist in the man’s face: “I swear to God if you get smart one more time I’ll-“

He doesn’t even see SPYGOD move. One moment he’s standing in front of a sitting man. The next he’s sitting in the chair, and SPYGOD’s standing over him.

“What?” he says, his brain still reeling from the sudden movement.

“Now it’s my turn,” SPYGOD says, pointing to the glass where it lies on the ground, empty: “And before I !@#$ing say anything, you better understand something son. I love Martha with all my !@#$ heart, but you ever knock anything out of my !@#$ing hand again, you’re going to be making yourself a new one with your other one broken and shoved right up your !@#$. You !@#$ing got that, son?”

“Well, at least now we’re being honest,” Mark snorts.

“What the !@#$ do you mean?”

“I mean you’re finally showing us how it is.”

“You mean you didn’t !@#$ing know, already?” SPYGOD asks, raising an eyebrow: “I shoot people for less backtalk, Mark. You know that.”

“Yeah, and that’s one of the few things I do know.”

“Look, son, I !@#$ing told you,” SPYGOD sighs, putting his hands to the sky in exasperation: “I’m not telling you a !@#$ thing more than you need to know because it’s not !@#$ing safe. Not for the plan, not for me, not for you.”

“Maybe I should decide that?”

“Because I am sick and tired of not knowing anything,” the man says: “I am sick and tired of being led around by the nose from place to place. I am sick and tired of following mysterious leaders who don’t tell me who they are and ask me to put my !@#$ life on the line, and then-“

“You realize you just !@#$ing described being someone’s sidekick to a t, right?”

Mark blinks a few times, and then, sighing, just looks down at his hands: “It’s just… I love Martha, (REDACTED). I’d follow her around the world. I’d trust her with my life. And the reason for that is that she does not play this secret agent man game with me.”

“It’s not a !@#$ game, son.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Pretend I !@#$ing don’t. Explain it to me, Mark. Small words, long sentences.”

“Alright then,” Mark says, looking him in the eye: “I spent a long time hiding in a treehouse on another planet, following the orders of a guy in a mask who claimed to be working for you, but really wasn’t. And then almost dying because one of the people we thought you vouched for turned out to be… what the !@#$ WAS that thing?”

Moloch?” SPYGOD says, shrugging: “Damn if I know. Dangerous, that was for !@#$ sure.”

“Yeah. And come to find out it’s Mr. USA-“

“That was not Mr. USA.”

“No, I mean the leader of the resistance, who was Mr. USA, who’d been living a parallel life to the Mr. USA we all knew, and acting in secret all this time, and not stopping !@#$ from happening, and-“

“Stop it,” SPYGOD  commands, waving a hand in front of the man’s face, as if to wake him up: “We just got over this !@#$. Let’s not !@#$ing start it again, okay?”

“Well, that’s just it. Maybe I’m not over it. Maybe I still have a problem being led a mysterious leader who not only doesn’t want to tell me what’s going on, but just admitted even he doesn’t know what’s going on. Maybe I’m sick and tired of being in the dark.”

There’s silence for a time, then. Mark sits there, unsure if he’s going to get smacked, shot, or yelled at some more. But whatever anger he felt when he strode in here seems to have dissipated, somehow.

Better out than in, maybe.

“Look,” SPYGOD sighs, trying to be a little more gentle: “Do you know what a !@#$ N-Machine is, Mark?”

“I think they might have told me, once or twice.”

“Then imagine this, son. Imagine you !@#$ing know something, and you know you !@#$ing know something. Okay?”

“That’d be a first.”

“Now, imagine you get !@#$ing captured by someone who wants to know that something. And imagine they have people who are !@#$ing good, I mean really !@#$ing good, at figuring out that you know something they !@#$ing want to know. And imagine they’re in a !@#$ing hurry and don’t care to try to talk or torture it out of you. Especially if they’re !@#$ing smart enough to know that torture doesn’t !@#$ing work?”

“Then they’d use the machine on me,” Mark says, sighing.

“Exactly, son. They’d use the !@#$ machine on you. They’d drain your whole !@#$ing life out of your !@#$ eyes, just to find out that something. They’d inflict that horrible agony on your !@#$, just to know what you know. And then you’d be !@#$ing dead, and we’d be down a !@#$ good person at a time when we can’t afford to !@#$ing lose anyone.

“And Martha would be !@#$ing heartbroken,” SPYGOD continues, leaning in a little more: “She lost her whole !@#$ family that night. You and her son are all she’s got left, and he’s kind of !@#$ing stuck in the Big Apple. And she loves you back.

“So don’t !@#$ing ruin it,” he finishes, tapping a finger on the man’s forehead with each word.

Mark just nods, looking down and feeling really !@#$ stupid.

“Alright,” SPYGOD says, standing fully up and getting ready to go: “I’m glad we had this talk, Mark. I feel we really had a productive !@#$ing discussion, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Mark says, weakly.

“And just for future reference?” the man says, pointing to the glass on the floor: “That whiskey was !@#$ing older than both of us put together. If you can’t respect me, at least respect my hooch.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Mark sighs, but the man’s already gone.

* * * 

"Tasukete..." the guard on the floor keeps repeating, weakly holding his guts in as his life trickles between his fingers. 

His words might have some weight with his killer, except that the man's not paying any attention to him. Indeed, he's not paying attention to anything in the room. Not the other Space Service guards, here in the room, who had the courtesy to die quickly, or at least more quietly. Not the alarms that are ringing helplessly, as there's no one else alive in this part of the Rebun Island facility to come answer them. 

And not the guards in the rest of the facility, as they have their own problems, now...

The beefy, Japanese man in a floral shirt sits in a chair at the central terminal in the room, which is filled with other, smaller terminals. Under normal circumstances, it would be filled with communications personnel, all eager to talk with the various missions going on right now. 

But they're not here, right now. They're all on the other side of things, fighting for their lives against some horrible monster that, up until now, they thought was a story for children, or at least people who refused to grow up. 

And as they aren't able to stop the man, he's used his recently-reinstated access codes to link up with the Sled, and look at their executive security logs. 

What he's watching is making him cry.

It's hard to be certain what's going on, in the knot of bodies that's floating in zero-G. There's men and women in there, all sliding over and around one another. People are !@#$ing and being !@#$ed, in various ways and combinations. Lots of moaning and groaning, cries and laughter. 

And in the center of that flesh frenzy is an adorable, young woman who seems lost in wonder, and yet all too eager to take part in it. 

"Hanami..." Ju-San -- aka Mister 10 -- says between sobs, pressing his hand to the screen and closing his eyes as she finally decides where to start. 

And when he opens her eyes -- just as she really starts to enjoy herself -- he sees the face of Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir above her, doing things to her that he so desperately wanted to be doing himself. 

He knows, in that moment, that everything he had feared has come true. Everything that outlaw reporter intimated to him was correct. 

He's lost her. They've taken her away from him. 

And the only way to get her back is to go up there and take her back.

"(I will kill you,)" he promises the spaceman, his sadness being replaced by a white-hot anger he can barely control: "(I will kill you with my own hands, you !@#$ing outsider worm!)"

And then he's gone to make good on that threat, leaving only the dead and the dying he used to command in his wake. 

* * *

 "So..." The Scarlet Factotum says, retracting all of her blades and guns back into herself, and holding up the Pusher's severed head for inspection: "Does anyone else have any {quote}complaints{endquote} about how I run things?"

No one does. Her personal army of supervillains and technicians all hold up their hands, doing their best to distance themselves from the steaming human meat on the ground. 

"Good," the freakishly-ugly robo-woman in the extremely revealing -- and now incredibly-torn -- red dress says, tossing the head onto a nearby table: "Because if there's one thing I cannot !@#$ing stand, it's disloyalty. Especially now that we've actually gotten to our goal!"

She waves her bloody hands at the board, where, just sixty seconds ago, they got the last piece of their plan into place. They now have either replaced or recruited all the human machinery that the Terre Unifee uses to run the world. All the super-powers they've put to civilian and military use are either under the thumb of their organization, or have been cunningly swapped out with one of their own number.

The world is hers now, all she has to do is give the order.

The world is hers now, all she has to do is give the order.

The world is hers now, all she has to do is give the order-

"Is that actually going to hold her?" The Emperor of Pain asks, looking at their now-deposed leader as she lies in a heap on the floor. 

"I think so," the Pusher says, adjusting his million-dollar tie and looking at the specialist he hired for the job: "How long can we have her like that?"

"Indefinitely," the grey-suited woman with television static for eyes says, handing over the remote box: "As long as her CPU is active, she'll loop that over and over again and have no idea anything's wrong."

"Well done," he says, nodding to her: "The money's in your account. Are you sure you won't join us?"

"I prefer being independent," she says, winking a flickering eye: "But remember me, when you come into your new kingdom."

"I will," he says, shaking her hand before she turns to go. 

"We're just letting her go?" Lord of Spiders asks once she's out of earshot.

"No one messes with Joy, or they answer to me," the Pusher insists, looking down at his twitching, former client: "We are clear on that?"

"Yes," the Emperor of Pain says, nodding a little too quickly for his own liking.

"If you really want to kill someone for real, go find that Violet Demon guy and air him out," the Pusher says: "He's a little too queer for her.  If he comes back and finds her gone, well, we might have a real problem on our hands."

"I'll do that," the Lord of Spiders says, as he never really liked the kid, anyway. 

"Chassis?" the Pusher says, gesturing at the woman made from a white car: "Take her down to the shop. Take her CPU out, hook it up to a battery, and bring it back to me. We're keeping her as a souvenir."

"I hear you," she says, grousing: "And then what?"

"And then..." the man says, sitting down in his now-deposed leader's big chair, looking at the big board: "We let the world know we're actually in charge."

* * *

To her credit, Martha feels it first. 

She's out working on the car in her civies, just to make sure it's going to be in good working order. And somewhere between checking the oil and putting the cap back on she suddenly gets the feeling that something is wrong. 

She can't say what it is for certain. Maybe a change in the breeze, or a sudden stillness. Maybe the loss of certain sounds, rather than the introduction of new ones.

But after having her own home invaded, last year, she's rather sensitive to that awful feeling that someone is looking at her with ill intent.

When she was young, and being the Talon to her father's Owl, he always told her to value her instincts. He said that perception and a clear head was one thing, but that one always had to be ready to go beyond them, and just trust that the sudden need to duck and back away, or stand up and rush in, were being guided by something. 

(They'd say God, of course. Others would say luck. Still others would say "synchronicity," but she always !@#$ing hated that word.)

So when she turns right around, swinging a crescent wrench in a long arc at what seems empty air, and connects -- hard -- with what was probably someone's jaw, judging by the crunch, she's not at all surprised. 

"We've got company!" she shrieks, bobbing and weaving her way back to the mansion as fast as she can from however many invisible people are right on her tail.

There's firing, right behind her. She can hear the distinctive sounds of darts as they thud into the dirt and trees around her. Martha's scared as !@#$ and all-too-aware that she could be hit at any moment, but right now she's too focused on getting into the house to worry about that.

It's simple math in her mind, really: house, suit, retribution. She might not even need the suit, given how badly these idiots are aiming. Just her fists, maybe-

Something hits her, right in the temple. A fist, not a dart. Excellent follow-through. Hurts like !@#$.

She crumples and goes down, but does her best to leap back up again. They call it Kip-Up. Her dad trained her for hours to get her to do it. And she trained Kaitlyn just as hard.

(My God. If they know she's here, they'll be after her next. And John.)

She leaps up and kicks blindly, somehow knowing where her opponent will be. Something cracks under her foot. A scream, then flailing strikes she can easily block in spite of their transparency. 

Martha ducks down once more, managing to narrowly miss being hit by another wave of darts. They slam into the back door of the mansion, less than six feet away, now. 

(People inside the room. Looks like fighting. Maybe Straffer, maybe Mark.)

She sweeps with her leg and takes her invisible enemy's out. There's a surprised cry and then a massive THUD in the dirt that brings up a comical cloud of dust. 

She leaps back up to continue running. "Company!" she shouts again, ducking and weaving as she runs for the door. 

The darts keep missing. Are they really that bad?

"My god," she says, getting into the kitchen and slamming the door behind her, eyes adjusting to the figures in the dark. Straffer by the door, Mark up against the wall. 

"Are you okay?" Straffer asks.

"Yeah, but they're in no-suits," she breathes: "And they've got tranq darts. Tell me we've got glasses or something."

"We do, yes," Straffer says, turning around suddenly. He's wearing a pair of black wraparounds. And he's got two things in his hands. 

One of them shoots a dart right into Martha's neck before she can even say anything. 

"What...?" she asks, feeling the drugs course through her body. She starts to fall before she can say anything more, suddenly realizing that Mark isn't just up against the wall. He's slumped there -- full of darts and barely conscious. 

"What the !@#$?" SPYGOD shouts, running into the room. He's got just a second to take it all in, and then, just before he can say or do anything, Straffer uses the thing he's got in his other hand.

Whatever it is, it makes SPYGOD jerk and dance like a puppet whose controller has just had a seizure. 

He drools and flails, unable to control himself. He falls to the floor herking and jerking. And when he tries to talk it sounds like a sped-up record.

"Don't bother, hon," Straffer says, standing close to him: "It's someplace you're not going to be able to get to, anytime soon. I slipped it in this morning while you were... compromised."

SPYGOD is trying to talk. It's not coming out well. It's shouts and tears and a question. Why?

"I'm sorry," his lover says, taking off the glasses as the door opens, and the invisible agents begin to come into the room: "I really am. I do love you, (REDACTED). I always will."

Again the question, sped up and nearly incoherent: "Thenwhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy y y y y"

"They promised me I could be in charge of the Space Service again," Straffer explains, having to raise his voice to be heard over the decloaking TU transports, outside: "All I had to do was turn you in and I'd be reinstated immediately. I'm sure they'll want to debrief me first, of course. That's how it works. But soon, I'll be back up where I belong."

More stammering. More crying. 

"Sorry, hon. I told you I valued my career. You'd have done the same."

Martha tries to fight the drugs, almost getting up to get forward and rip Straffer's smug, lying face off. Except that, before she can raise her arm off the floor, something steps down on it. A white boot, connected to a blue leg. 

A blue leg with a white lightning bolt arcing up it, towards a mocking, almost sinister face.

"Bonjour, Mdme Samuels," Tempete Bleu says, as his transparent men become translucent, and then fully visible. 

And just as she loses consciousness, she thinks she can see another face behind his own.

It makes her scream to look at it. 

* * *

 It's all about wonder
The power to be
Like thunder expressing
Electricity
* * *
(SPYGOD is listening to Axis (Pet Shop Boys) and having a WBC PsycHOPath)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

1/15/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 4.0

"Dancing in formation with a couple of boys..."

 Mark Clutch, Director Straffer, SPYGOD, The Owl
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *

I'm an artist honey
you'll see me sometimes
making crazy pictures
out of music and rhymes

* * *
The sun came up some time ago, and is all but staring them in the face, but they don't care, anymore.

Straffer and SPYGOD are wrapped around one another in the remnants of the bed they broke, late last night. The sheet they're tied up in is in flinders, and soaked with sweat and other, less-seemly substances. They're wet and mussed up and gooey and maybe a little too warm. 

And they don't give a good god!@#$.

A shame about the bed, though -- they don't make 'em like that, anymore. It was one of those old, well-used showpieces made with sturdy, all-American craftsmanship, and out of good, solid wood. It had lasted a hundred years or so, and probably would have lasted for another hundred, too, if it hadn't been for that fourth bout of escape sex they had last night.

And once it collapsed right under them, they paused only long enough to laugh, and then go for bouts five and six. 

The room is the upstairs master bedroom of a small, old mansion, well into upstate New York. It was purchased ages ago as part of one thing or another, and then passed around various intelligence agencies as a safehouse, before it was creatively shuffled into nonexistence more than a few years back. Now the only people who know about it are spies who once stayed there, and most of them are in no shape to volunteer its whereabouts to anyone. 

Mark Clutch and Martha Samuels are downstairs. SPYGOD can hear them tip-toeing about, down there, amusingly-embarrassed at their host's sexual exuberance. Maybe that's something of a counterpoint to their own embarrassment, as they had a perfect opportunity to sleep in the same room, last night, but chose to remain in separate beds, yet again. 

"I give it a week," SPYGOD muses, chuckling.

"What?" Straffer asks. 

"Mark and Martha."

"Oh," his lover says, kissing him: "You know, they can take as much time as they want to. Or need to. They've been through some rough stuff, together."

"Yeah, but isn't that the !@#$ing best cure for it?"

"What, sex?"

"Well, that and a !@#$ton of alcohol. And some good Italian."

"I think I had some !@#$ good Italian last night."

"And this morning. Don't !@#$ing forget that."

"As if I could," Staffer smiles, leaning in a little closer and stealing a quick, probing kiss: "But maybe they're just going to be friends?"

"Naah," SPYGOD says, kissing him back: "She wants him. He wants her. And they !@#$ing know this. They're just !@#$ing dancing around the god!@#$ fire instead of jumping the !@#$ on in because..."

"Because of all the ghosts," Straffer says: "All the survivors guilt."

"Really? I thought it was because they're too !@#$ churched."

"Well, that too," his lover chuckles, kissing him back: "But you know what? I think they can worry about their own problems. I'm more worried about ours." 

"Do we have a problem?"

"Well, let's see," Straffer says: "We're both wanted criminals, having just broken out of that house arrest we've been languishing in for far too long. And considering our high profile, and how publicly we escaped, there's no way they can cover it up. Which means that, as we're lying here, every single intelligence agency, armed force, and strategic talent we don't have on our friends list is going to be hunting for us."

"And we've got a !@#$ plan."

"True, but it's a risky one. And there's a chance it might all come to nothing. One wrong move-"

"Even if it all falls apart, as long as I have you, I have everything I !@#$ing need," SPYGOD says: "I don't care about the world when I'm with you. I don't care about the games I play or the plots I make or bust. The whole !@#$ing thing can burn and go to !@#$ for all I care."

"You mean that, don't you?" Straffer says, truly amazed.

"I do," SPYGOD says, holding his lover as close as he can while still looking him in the face: "You're the sun in my morning and the moon in my evening. You're my guiding !@#$ing star, day or night, and all the !@#$ points on my compass. I begin and end with you. If I had everything, it would mean nothing without you. If I had nothing, it would mean nothing as long as you were there, with me, in that nothing. 

"And that's because you are my everything."

Straffer looks at him, trying not to cry. 

"Will you marry me?" SPYGOD asks: "When this !@#$ is over. Well, it's never over..."

"!@#$ yes," Straffer says, kissing him before he can say anything else.

And for a time there's some blissful silence, upstairs, so Mark and Martha can go about making breakfast without wondering if the ceiling's going to break, too.

But as they make bacon, eggs, and coffee -- and try to avoid talking about what they almost did last night -- they realize this is not the calm before the storm. This is the eye of the hurricane, deceptively serene and never wide enough.

And the terrible wall of wind is getting closer by the second...

* * *

"Aw, !@#$," an intern curses as he inadvertently tips over a tottering pile of maps, sitting alongside a number of other stacks on the center table of the Oval Office.

His clumsiness is rewarded with someone chewing him out, the bites as much French as they are English. The President has no idea who the shouter is, any more than he can really remember the name of the shame-faced intern, now banished to go be "useless elsewhere."

But he's beginning to feel as though he could join that now-retreating kid, for all the good he's doing here, this morning.

The office -- normally an oasis of calm within the building -- has been transformed into ground zero of the effort to find the fugitives, as well as punish every strategic talent that may have thrown in with him. Their photos have been thrown up onto three-dimensional projections along the walls, along with any information about their whereabouts, past associates, and recent dealings. Technicians with special gloves twiddle their facts and fallacies this way and that, throwing scraps of data to one another like softballs.

And in the center, where Mr. USA sits -- surrounded by the heads of Agencies he didn't even know existed -- the map of the United States of America is being carved up section by section, with the most likely whereabouts of each person on their list being indicated by some complicated method involving different colors of push-pins.

The gang's all there, if you know how to look. Myron and Yanabah, on the run together. Blastman dead and Night Phantom in the wind. Shining Guardsman in one of several locations, Red Wrecker seen in Dallas, Gosheven under lock and key under the Heptagon.

And, most heartbreaking of all, The Owl -- identified only by the kind of cloak that flying car was packing -- now a fugitive right along with them. 

"Groupe B-3 a Brainman en vue," one of them is saying, tapping one of the Blue pins in New Jersey, around Trenton: "Observons-nous ou d'attaque?"

"Est-ce qu'il parle a quelqu'un?" another answers, calling up Brainman's information on his pad. 

"Non. Non, il est l'emballage."

"What's he packing?" Mr. USA asks, knowing at least that much French.

"They say... clothes," the man says, raising an eyebrow: "Possibly getting out of town, as you say?"

"Dites-leur de ne pas attaquer, encore," Ben Franklin -- the only person in the room that the President knows, right now, other than Jess Friend -- suggests, taking a sip of his rather large cup of coffee: "Quelqu'un peut communiquer avec lui. Attendez jusqu'a ce qu'il soit l'emballage, puis attaque terminee."

"Oui," the other man agrees, and gives the order.

"What was all that?" Mr. USA asks, sighing.

"Oh, well it seems to me that if we have him under surveillance, and he's not engaged in anything time-sensitive, we can at least observe his communications. Someone may try to contact him. If so, we may learn more. And if not, well, we can capture him when he tries to leave, and that will be that."

With that, the Founding Father smiles, and adds a splash more cognac to his already-aromatic coffee, and has yet another sip.

"I'm glad someone here knows what's going on," Jess says, leaning over the couch and looking with some dismay over the reports coming in from the now-surrounded Sonoma County Ashram: "All I can see is a big !@#$ mess."

"Oh, it's always messy, my young friend," Franklin muses: "You should have seen what happened behind the scenes when Napoleon left Elba. Now there was a mess-"

"Which side were you on?" Mr. USA asks, more than a little curious.

"Why, the same side I am now, my good sir," the Founding Father says, smiling: "In a time like this, law and order must be upheld. The citizens must see that their government is doing everything needed and necessary to bring these men back to justice. Likewise, they must also never see the extent to which their government has failed them by allowing such a brazen plot to come together right under their noses."

"Hence this Team Omega bull!@#$," Jess sighs, really wanting to be as drunk as his boss is, right now, but afraid of what he might say if he were.

"So, law and order from a hero of the Revolutionary War," Mr. USA says, chuckling in spite of the dire circumstances: "Isn't that a little out of character for you?"

"Well, Mr. President-"

"Facilitateur national," one of the people there corrects him: "Le President est in Paris."

"So true, do forgive me," Franklin says, waving an unsteady hand: "It's the drink, you see. I do forget myself, even if I am, indeed, unforgettable-"

"You were about to say that being such a character, nothing is truly out of character for you," Jess interrupts, not entirely unpointedly.

"Yes," Franklin says, suddenly not so jolly: "And indeed, given time I can justify almost anything, save my own demise."

"Well, that's one way to look at it," Mr. USA says, wondering if he could borrow some of the man's cognac at this point.

"Ou est Gold Standard?" One of the others asks, not seeing her on the table.

"Oh, she's on a separate mission," the President-cum-National Facilitator says, shaking his head: "It's good. She's trustworthy."

"Not anymore, I fear," Franklin sighs: "I am very much afraid that if we have no eyes upon her, she is as suspect as anyone."

"Well, I don't know where she is at this point," the older hero sighs: "She's on a mission of the highest priority, and she's operating under radio silence. As soon as she checks in-"

"Nous ne avons pas le temps pour ces conneries," one of the others waves him off, rudely: "Apportez dans le Coreen. Le Chasseur."

"Who's that?" Mr. USA asks.

"Better you not know, sir," one of the other agents says, winking.

"It's too bad that both Wayfinder and Disparaitre are dead," Mr. USA sighs, looking at Jess: "We could clear all this up with just a few jumps."

"Yes it is," Jess says, nodding and looking at the file they're throwing up for Gold Standard. Her name, her life, her likes and dislikes, and all the other things no one should ever have known about them, save by those most trusted and intimate.

And wondering if anyone's going to be left off such a file when this is all said and done.

* * *

"It's not that we don't trust you, Mssr," Le Femme Electrique says, smiling through blue lips, crackling with sparks: "But, if I am being perfectly honest?"

"You don't trust me," New Man sighs, looking at the fancy letter she's just handed him in his room.
There's a few other member of Le Compagnie there, with her, for this unpleasantness. None of them are people he particularly likes, especially that white-skinned Helvete freak. All of them are smiling at his departure. 

"Not at all," she says, trying to appear as kind as possible, which just makes this worse: "It is simply that, until we can be sure that we trust you, we cannot have you on the team."

"Is there something I can say?" he asks, getting to his feet as proudly as possible: "Can I state my case to the others?"

"We voted, my friend," El Khadir says, crossing his burly arms: "You lost."

"You put me on trial without having me there, in other words."

"Such things are possible, through our charter," La Femme says, smiling: "If you'd read it...?"

New Man looks over at the thick document in question, over on his table. It's the size of the Sears-Roebuck catalogs he used to hand his family around Christmastime. And the print is twice as small as what he remembers it being...

"Yeah," he says, knowing there was no other way this was going to go down.

"You have a half an hour to gather your things and leave," the electric lady says, turning to go: "Helvete has been kind enough to offer to help you pack. I'm sure you two have a lot to talk about-"

The purple glow that flares up just then is bright enough to shame the Sun. The lady only has enough time to turn around before the wave of energy overwhelms her and throws her up against the wall. The half-dozen stooges she brought with her fall over like tenpins, and the moment one of them tries to get up -- and it would be Helvete -- New Man uses his last reserves of strength to bring both his hands down on his pale, smoking, psychotic head, laughing all the while...

"Did you not hear her?" Helvete asks, bringing New Man out of his angry fantasy: "You get your skit out of here or I will burn it. And then I will burn you."

"You know what?" New Man says, looking around the otherwise-empty room: "Why don't you just do that, son? It's not like I brought my good clothes to this !@#$hole."

Then he walks past and away the man, all but daring him to try and start something. For once, the freak doesn't, which means he was told to be very careful about this.

And New Man knows by who, and why.

"!@#$ all of you," he mutters as he leaves the Palace, wondering how long it'll take him to get home to America if he pretends to be a normal person and takes a plane.

And wondering if SPYGOD will finally come to him if he does.

* * *
"Oh thank God you two are finally here," the guard says, his face a mess of scratches and small bandages.

Both of the strangely-handsome animal control officers seem to bristle a little at that, though the guy behind the desk does not care. He all but jumps out of his seat to get out from behind his desk, and leads them back into the warrens of the detention center as fast as he can.

"So here's the deal..." the guy says, looking at the small, steel cage the long-haired officer is carrying: "Are you sure that'll work on this... thing?"

"Quite sure," the man says, his voice a delicious thing to hear: "It's just the thing for the job, as they say."

"Alright then," the guard says, walking them down the concrete stairs to the supermax cells: "This thing is not of this !@#$ing Earth, okay? It's an actual Demon from Hell, if you can believe that !@#$."

"We can," they both say at once, which is quite unnerving.

"Well, okay then. But it's mean on top of it. And it grew to the size of a bear, and fired a !@#$ machine gun at them. Took a hundred men a whole !@#$ hour to bring him down."

"We hear someone got him drunk," the other one says, his voice a kind joy in the mind.

"Well, yeah," the guard admits: "That too."

They walk to the end of the hall where the large cells are, and then the guard looks at the monitor for the cell. A large black cat sits in the corner, surrounded by empty bottles of high-test, Russian vodka, and soaked in its own !@#$.

"Behemot," the one with the long hair and the delicious voice says.

"Is that it's name?" the guard asks.

"Yes," the other one says, putting a hand on the man's shoulder: "You can trust us. Go back to your desk. We will deal with this."

"Um... okay," the man says, smiling, all of a sudden not caring about the proper paperwork.

(Or why the concrete walls in this place are suddenly cracking, just as the paint is starting to flake and fall from the ceiling.)

As soon as the suddenly-rubbery guard walks up the steps, one of the animal control people looks to the other, and nods. The other opens the cage, and then his partner waves a hand before the electronic locks, making them tumble open and away.

The smell that comes from the cell is so offensive that it could almost kill a human being. If the sweet-voiced one notices, he makes no sign, and comes over to Bee-Bee with something approaching reverence, or maybe pity.

"Oh, how you have fallen, my sweet," the Beautiful Stranger coos, gently picking the drunken, insensate demon-cat up from its foulness, and putting it inside the carrying case. 

"We should leave," Aaron says from the door, looking at the cracks underfoot: "We've been here too long as it is."

"What's one more useless institution gone to ruin in our wake, lover?" the demon says, languidly closing up the container and sauntering out of the cell: "So many more will burn before we are done."

"I'd prefer to avoid unnecessary deaths," the turned Angel scolds him: "This place is melting around us. I don't want it crashing down on a bunch of rent-a-cops."

"Well, it would teach them to find better professions in their next life," the Beautiful Stranger chuckles, but complies with his lover's concerns. As such they all but sprint up the stairs, and navigate the maze of desks and corridors that lead outside with a speed that almost reveals their true nature. 

And then, before anyone notices, they're not there, anymore.

It's a whole hour before the guard who led them down realizes that they never came back to his desk to fill out the transfer paperwork. He's cursing himself for being so stupid, but when he looks down at the papers he sees they actually are done, and signed. 

He blinks a few times, puts it down to the weird morning he's been having -- was he actually feeling gay for that one dude? -- and decides he should lay off the heavy breakfast burritos in the morning from here on out.

He's just not half the man he used to be, apparently.

* * *
"Look, please, I am an old man," Rakim -- sometimes known as Brainman -- says, holding up his hands as the TU guards surround him in his office, the lights on the ends of their rifles all but blinding him: "I swear I will not hurt you. Please just listen to me."

The noise that responds is barely human. It is a chorus of the worst sort of things a man could ever hear -- a dissonance of curses and commands, issued from a dozen different mouths, all jumbled up between "get down" and "!@#$ you."

"Please, I will not harm you," Rakim says, getting down on his knees as carefully as he can: "I have sworn an oath of nonviolence. If you are here to arrest me you must know that. I have sworn before God that I will not take a life, even in self-defense-"

"Shut the !@#$ up!" one of the ones in front says, bringing the butt of his rifle down on the old man's head. He doesn't even put up his hands to ward off the blow.

"Please," the man says as he lies there in a heap, counting the teeth that have broken out of his mouth: "Let me speak to you... please..."

"You!" a familiar, imperious voice commands as its owner stomps into the circle of bright lights. Its Lt. Giscard Vipond, of all people, and he looks very annoyed to be here, right now.

"Giscard, please-"

"Rakim, for your own good you must cooperate," the slight man commands, pointing a finger: "Myron? Yanabah? Night Phantom? Do you know where they are?"

"I don't know..." the old man breathes, holding up a hand: "I don't know where any of us are... I swear."

"You swear," the guy who used his rifle butt on the old man sneers: "Sure. I believe you, you !@#$ing sand!@#$."

"You be silent," Vipond says: "I will not have such words said in my presence. They demean the very work that we do."

"I..." Rakim says, reaching towards the man who just spoke: "I forgive you-"

No one's sure who fires the first shot, but it's hardly the last person to do so. Within seconds the old man's body is full of holes, and Vipond is screaming to stop, stop, please !@#$ing stop.

"You imbeciles!" he shouts, waving his hands around: "Why did you shoot him?"

"Well, sorry," one of the others who fired says: "I thought he was going for a gun with his other hand."

"Um, yeah," the one Rakim was forgiving says: "So did I, man. Totally."

"Mon Dieu,"  Vipond says, kneeling down just outside the widening pool of blood as Rakin twitches and tries to breathe: "He's still alive. Someone get medical help. We may be able to save him."

"But-"

"Do it!" the Lieutenant shouts, realizing his career is about to bleed out right along with this man if he dies.

"Giscard," the dying man says, tapping him on the leg: "Is that... you..?"

"I am here, Rakim," the slight man says, bending over to hear his weak voice: "Please, tell me. What do you know?"

"I know... nothing..."

"Come now, sir. Do not die with a lie on your lips. Tell me what you know..."

But by the time someone can come back from the transport with a badly-managed medical kit, Brainman is dead. Vipond gets to his feet slowly, a stunned look upon his face.

"What did he say, sir?" one of the guards asks: "Did he know anything?"

"He said... 'game over.'"

"Probably some stupid Muslim bull!@#$" someone snorts: "Assa-lamma rama ding dong."

"Actually, I think it may mean there's a bomb, here," Vipond says, which silences the laughter the last comment made.

He's lying, of course. But the idiots he was forced to accompany here aren't so smart as to realize it, and immediately !@#$ themselves running out of the building before it can explode. 

"God be with you," Vipond says to the man he was going to divest of his pay for not being in a firefight. He's too sad and ashamed to say anything else.

* * *
"Well," SPYGOD sighs, reaching onto the kitchen table and turning over the piece of paper that says BRAINMAN.

"Well, what?" Mark asks, uncertain.

"Well, he's out of this," Straffer translates as he gets up to get some more coffee, as well as turn off the device they just got this news over.

"Which is doubly !@#$ing sad, because he wasn't really in it," SPYGOD says, looking at the remaining names they've got on the table, gleaming in the noonday sun.

"What do you mean?" Mark asks.

"I was leaving him out. He had beliefs. I respected them."

"It's a sad thing," Martha says, nodding: "I was glad to see him turn his life around."

"Some turn," Mark snorts: "One day you'd have shot him for being a criminal. Then he gets shot for being a hero."

"Mark," Martha sighs, putting her hand on his: "Not helping, hon."

Her touch makes him calm down, if only a little. 

"This is war, Mark," SPYGOD says, tapping his fingers on the table and taking a pull from the whiskey bottle he's currently working on: "We knew that, getting into this !@#$. Or at least we !@#$ing should have."

"No one's ready to see their friends die, (REDACTED)," Martha says, looking up at him: "And we've had a lot of that in our family, already."

"I know, Martha," SPYGOD says, casting an eye at Mark: "Believe me. And I !@#$ing appreciate your being willing to stick your !@#$ necks out for me. Especially after everything else."

"Yeah," Mark says, sitting down and feeling stupid. Straffer hands him a fresh mug of joe and sits down, looking at the map of names.

There's silence for a time, punctuated by sips of coffee. SPYGOD kills the bottle, and then reaches over to take another. 

"So where do we stand from here?" Straffer asks, looking who's left: "We've still got some surprises."

"We do, yes," SPYGOD says, taking another slug from his new bottle and then grinning: "Quite a few. Big !@#$ surprises."

"Like what?" Mark asks.

"Well, if I !@#$ing told you, it wouldn't be a big !@#$ surprise, now would it?"

Mark's about to say something to that, but Straffer holds up a hand: "Here's the real surprise. We're going back to Neo York City. And soon."

"Didn't you just escape from there?" Martha asks, uncertain.

"Yes, but it's crucial to the !@#$ plan," SPYGOD says, grinning even wider: "We're going to do what we !@#$ing did during the Reclamation War, all over again, hon. We're going to turn the entire city into a big !@#$ no-go area for the TU. They're all getting !@#$ing turned out by your son."

"What?" she says, suddenly incredulous: "You mean all this time I was hiding from him...?"

"He was in on the gag?" Straffer finishes for her, smiling: "Absolutely."

"He has been from day !@#$ing one," SPYGOD confirms: "And I think they know that, too. That's why they did that whole stupid !@#$ thing with that electropath they busted out of jail, the other week. They're getting ready to shut him the !@#$ down."

"Or try, anyway," Straffer chuckles: "Good luck with that."

"I don't appreciate your being so cavalier with my son's life," Martha glowers: "Either of you."

"Oh, it's not being cavalier, Martha," Straffer says, holding up a hand: "Far from it."

"Your son is a !@#$ing power to be reckoned with, hon," SPYGOD agrees: "I'm not even sure he knows how !@#$ powerful he is. Or could be."

"That doesn't make me feel much better, somehow," Martha says: "Why didn't we know about this?' Why didn't I know?"

"Compartmentalization," SPYGOD answers, having another slug: "I don't !@#$ing know who's with who or where, right now. And neither should you. If no one knows the whole !@#$ plan, no one can spell it out if they get !@#$ing taken down."

"Except you," Mark notes.

"Even me," SPYGOD corrects him, pounding the bottle down on the table so fast and hard it's a wonder it doesn't break: "Right now? I got no !@#$ing idea what all's going on, out there. I got plans inside of plans, outside of plans, around other plans... !@#$ me, I got plans going on that I didn't even !@#$ing sign off on, and just made their own @#$ selves up out of good luck and better coincidences."

"Then how do you know they're there?" Martha asks, somewhat archily.

"Because SPYGOD. Knows. All." SPYGOD announces, tapping the patch over the Chandra Eye: "I know things even I don't !@#$ing know, sometimes. And these plans I don't !@#$ing know about is one of them."

"So, you don't know who's out running with who, even though you could, because of security concerns," Mark says: "But you do know that things you don't know, even though you shouldn't, because... magic eyeball."

"Pretty !@#$ing much, yeah," SPYGOD says, nodding

"That's... !@#$ing crazy," Mark says, reaching for the bottle and taking a slug, himself: "And you sound !@#$ing crazy saying that."

"This is all perfectly normal," Straffer says, winking and having some more coffee: "You think that's bad, you should see him write a shopping list."

Martha giggles, in spite of herself. Straffer chuckles. SPYGOD grins.

And Mark sighs, and has another hit -- just before SPYGOD jerks the bottle back, gives him a look, and finishes it off in one decided gulp.

Which is about all that needs saying.

* * *

Sanyangkkun isn't one for superlatives. He calls them as he sees them, which is part of his charm. Provided you could call being a drunken sociopath with poor personal hygiene and a taste for stalking -- with one very useful power -- to be "charming."

For the longest time, he's been something of an also-ran, in spite that one very useful power: the ability to track anyone around the world, given enough of their scent. And the fact that they let him toy with his quarry for a time was considered an acceptable tradeoff for his talents, as long as he understood they were to be brought in alive.

Sadly, the time needed to find the quarry has always been a factor, which made it more likely that others would get the job. That dour Frenchman who could find anyone, anywhere, and didn't like to take undue advantage of it for some weird reason, was an ongoing thorn in his side. And there were others...

But just his luck, the Frenchman was dead.

Apparently, there'd been some strange goings-on, up on the Sled that the Space Service had been putting back together. The way they say it, Disparaitre had seen something he shouldn't have, up there, over a week ago. And while they weren't sure what it was he saw, whatever it was made him shriek and scream, and then teleport himself right into the Sun.

So much for that teleporter. And so much for the competition. 

So now, whenever they need someone tracked, they just have to call a certain, poorly-kept Soju house in downtown Chong-Ju, and get hold of Sanyangkkun. By the time he gets up to Seoul, they'll have a scent package waiting for him, along with the person's last known whereabouts. 

And once he's flown there, and has a good sniff around, the quarry is as good as caught -- though how long it could take would depend on a lot of things. Weather, rain, competing scents... things like that. 

Still, he's a professional. He accepts his job and devotes himself to it. He hunts alone so he doesn't get distracted. He doesn't get drunk while he's working, or play around on the clock, except once he's got the prey in hand.

And he never overstates or understates times or conditions, because that truly smacks of impropriety. 
So the fact that -- while looking for this Antonia Crisp person, AKA the new Gold Standard -- he's had cause to say something truly profane and outlandish is cause for concern.

So is the fact that, just a mile out from his quarry, deep in the deserts of Nevada, he's seeing what he's seeing -- the sort of thing that makes sane, well-adjusted people stop, drop, and stare for hours.

He, not being sane or well adjusted, would say more, of course. Maybe even radio it in once he could wrap his mind around it. That's what he does, after all.

And he would, except that, seconds after he says those unusually profane things, something small and very swift-moving neatly uncouples the top of his head from its bottom, leaving messy red parts of what used to be a very talented brain all over the state line. 

One of the people responsible for that rather gruesome death then searches the body for any tracking devices. Upon finding his phone, the assassin decides to talk a long but necessary walk to the nearest roadstop, back they way the victim had come. There, a car with its window left foolishly open is quickly located, and the phone is tossed on in.

Only then does that killer allow for the luxury of taking a much faster journey on to the next destination, not bothering to watch the strange sight that stopped Sanyangkkun in his tracks before a bullet stopped him altogether. 

That sight rumbles past on US-95, and with no undue speed. Before long it's gone from view, and as luck would have it, the car carrying the Korean tracker's phone goes in the opposite direction.

It's days later before its found. By then, it doesn't matter, anyway.

(SPYGOD is listening to Pet Shop Boys (Electricity) and having a Without You I'm Nothing, courtesy of Evil Twin brewing)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

1/14/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 3.5

"Come outside and feel the morning sun..."
The Owl, Bee-Bee
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * * 

"Please, I am appealing to your humanity," the short-haired, white-robed woman says, sandals flopping on the dirt as she hurries after the Terre Unifee guards that have just stomped through the red, mostly-ornamental front gate of the Sonoma County Ashram.

"You have, yes," their leader says, indicating with a bored wave that the twenty highly-armored, heavily-armed men and women should continue forward, down towards the cliff overlooking the ocean -- high-tech stun-guns drawn and ready for use.

"This man is not a criminal. He is a spiritual pilgrim. He is a broken soul in need of healing-"

"He's also wanted for questioning," the man sighs, wondering if he can just taze the salope and be done with it: "If he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear-"

"Please," she says, getting right in front of him, hoping that the others who live here will join her in this: "This man came to us in a very bad state."

"Hopefully he will not leave in a worse one. Now if you please." 

"What's going on, sister?" one of the others says, getting up from his afternoon tasks, a group of white-robed men and women following him right in front of the guards.

"They're here for him."

They all blanch at that, and the man holds up his hands: "Please, sir. let me appeal to your better judgment. If you know who he is, and what he can do-"

"We do, sir," the leader states, striding right over to the man and staring him right in the eyes: "That is why we have brought so many weapons. And if you do not get out of my way and let me do my job, we will use them on you, first."

He swallows, hard, and gets out of his way. As the leader smiles and stomps away, heading for the garden where -- according to near-constant satellite surveillance -- their target has been meditating since Midnight last night, the other pilgrims all drop their tasks and run for the entrance.

The man the guards are after is sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed in the small, well-maintained garden, watching with his mind as the water meets the land and retreats from it, over and over again. He's wearing a white robe like the others, here, and has shaved his head down so close that it's almost impossible to tell that his hair is blue.

If Mister Chaos is aware of the twenty-odd guards stomping towards him, he makes no sign of it. He sits and breathes in and out, trying to maintain some kind of rhythm with the crash of the surf. Letting its power wash through him, the better to scour everything away...

"Mssr!" the leader says, once his guards have surrounded him in a half-circle, guns ready to deploy: "Your attention please."

"Do you mind?" the man says in a gentle voice, not turning around: "I'm trying to meditate."

"We have some questions for you, Mssr. Chaos."

"That's funny, so do I," Mister Chaos sighs, opening his eyes a little: "I came here to get the answers."

"So have we," the leader says, taking a few steps forward, and indicating that his subordinates should lower their weapons just a bit: "Your former teammates have turned traitor, Mssr. Chaos. They have decided to conspire against the Terre Unifee to free SPYGOD from his incarceration. We have reason to believe that you may know something of this, and even if you do not, you may have some information that will help us to find them."

"Is that all?" the hero says, wishing so dearly he could just sit here and ignore them.

"You will cooperate, yes?"

"It depends," the blue-haired man says: "Did you bring guns to my Ashram?"

"We have, yes."

"Did you threaten my friends?" he asks, feeling the anger coming back to him, like the scent of the water.

"We told them to get out of our way. They seemed very concerned about your welfare."

"We do that, here," Mister Chaos says, sounding indignant as he turns around, ever so slightly: "We're like family."

"Well, you will be happy to know they shielded you as best they could," the leader chuckles: "Now, I am certain we can all be reasonable about this?"

"You come to my retreat, threaten my friends, and assume I'm committing treason," the hero says, getting up ever so slowly and turning to face his accuser: "I think we left reasonable a couple miles back, pal."

"Do not be foolish," the head of the guards says, taking a step back as his soldiers heft their weapons up and lock them into firing position. 

"I could say the same to you," Mister Chaos says: "Leave here, now. Do not come back here. If you want to talk to me, I'll talk, but we'll do it somewhere else."

"You are in no position to be giving us orders, mssr-"

"I am in the perfect position, sir. The morally correct one. Surely you can see that these people are here to receive help and peace? Your presence here is jeopardizing that."

"I could say the same to you," the man sneers: "You are the human weapon, are you not? One song and you turn the world upside down and inside out."

"Is that what you think?" the hero says, smiling just a little: "Is that what they told you?" 

"Well, yes-"

"You see, that's all wrong," the man says, smiling: "I don't need that song to use my powers. I use it to act as a lifeline, so I can find my way back to reality when it's done. Otherwise I might just change the whole world without even thinking about it."

Then he smiles and holds up his hands, revealing he does not have the tapeplayer on him...

A few seconds later, the other pilgrims are both startled and amused to see the guards go running right out the front of the Ashram, and into their troop carrier. Once the carrier is well back down the road, and they carefully return to the garden, they see that their blue-haired brother is back meditating, as if nothing had ever happened. 

And in a few hours, as he loses himself yet again, he begins to wonder if anything actually did. 

* * * 

"Well?" Straffer asks, looking over at the bathroom door as SPYGOD walks out of it, somewhat nonplussed.

"No, not yet," SPYGOD says, groaning and holding his stomach.

"Watched pot?"

"You could !@#$ing say that again."

"I think I did," Straffer chuckles, clicking through channels on the television: "I told you more fiber was a good thing."

"Yeah," he says, patting his stomach and stomping over to the fridge for another beer, or three.

As he does, he looks over at the main window. The usual protesters are down there, but he's not looking at them. He's looking at the boxes that are still stacked by them, awaiting unpacking.

He's also looking at the boxes he's taken from there and put over by the front door over the last few days, trying to figure out where to put what. 

He's also looking at his cat, over on the couch, lazily farting away the afternoon. 

And he's looking at his watch, wondering if they've got the timing right, after all.

He grabs a beer and pounds it down, tossing the can at the recycling bag. That it ricochets off three things before going in flawlessly isn't surprising, anymore. It's just a thing, and he's had a lot of time to get it right.

But in his mind he's already counting down. The last few trips to the john. The last few boxes moved around. The last few cans in the bag. The last meal, the last television, the last !@#$ on the table, or under it.

The last moments spent here, rather than somewhere else.

Something is winding down, so something else can start into motion. And he just can't wait.

Soon, he tells himself, grabbing another beer and going to sit with his lover in front of the idiot box before feigning intestinal distress yet again: Very !@#$ing soon. 

But how soon it will be is all going to depend on someone else.


* * *

'You called, Mssr. President?" Henri asks, coming into the President's office with all the care he can muster.

"Yes, I did," the President says, putting a now-depleted rifle down on his desk -- right next to a number other, fully-loaded ones -- and indicating that the gaggle of male secretaries nearby should run down to the other end of the room to replace the shot-up paper targets of SPYGOD with fresh, new ones from the very large stack in a chair. 

They all have ear-protecting headphones on, and for good reason. The wall across from the desk has been thoroughly shot to !@#$, back, and there again. The wood and plaster that hid the super-steel underneath is almost entirely gone, revealing only the metal beneath. 

And there's hundreds of flattened rounds down there, lying in random piles and pools on the floor. 

"I want you to be ready to go to America," the President tells him as he hefts up another gun and cocks it, making the secretaries work just that more quickly and efficiently. 

"Um... of course, sir," Henri says, taking a respectful step back: "May I ask why?"

"You may," the President says, not smiling: "I've got a feeling I'm going to need someone there to oversee operations, soon."

"I see. What sort of operations?"

"That would be telling," the President replies, chuckling over something: "But I think you can figure it out, given everything?"

"Oh, yes," Henri says, looking at the targets: "Are we adjusting our timetable after all?"

"You get along well with Josie, right?"

"Yes!" he says, brightening up quite a bit at the mention of her name: "Very well, in fact. Just the other day-"

"That's good, because you're going to be working closely with her from here on out," the President interrupts, assuming the proper firing stance and getting ready: "I've already approved your travel orders. You and her need to link up ASAP and talk cooperative measures."

"When, sir?"

"Soon," the President replies, smiling: "Don't worry about the timing. Just be ready to drop it all and go there when I tell you. You can do that, can't you?"

"I can, sir," Henri says, already looking forward to the side benefits of working closely with Josie.

"Good," his leader says, sighting down the line: "You might want to put on some ear protectors and watch this, Henri. It might be instructive."

"What is it?" he asks, getting a pair from one of the secretaries, now that they've all gathered around the back of the desk with him.

He doesn't hear the full explanation through the muffs. Something about a high-tech firm in Austria, a ridiculous rate of RPM, and certain, hard-to-get exotic materials that go into each and every bullet.

All he knows is that, when the gun speaks, he can't help but listen. And then he's amazed to see that the previously-smooth wall -- made to withstand a nuclear blast -- is ever so slightly pocked and pitted by what it's fired.

And then he's imagining what it'll feel like to fire such a thing, should the need arise.

"Magnifique," he whispers, enraptured by the thrill of it all.

* * *

"Well, this is exciting," Gunther says, scrolling through the late President of New Zealand's notes as he sits at the man's desk, naked as the day he tumbled out of the clone tank.

The two secretaries he seduced to get here -- a man and a woman -- are still going at it in the other room. The noise they're making is providing the perfect cover for his espionage, though at this point he's sure he could get away with just about anything and they wouldn't object. 

(He is that good, by all accounts.)

What's exciting, Gunther? Karl asks: I'm just seeing a long list of things done that day. 

What about the proof that Champain Enterprises was a shell corporation? Jana asks: You said you were getting somewhere with that. 

"Forget that, sister. I think I've found two things that are more interesting."

Do tell, Helga snorts.

"Well, for one thing, it turns out that the old fellow had just gotten through writing his notes for the day before he decided to kill himself, if you can believe that."

So he'd be an unusually-orderly suicide, Karl chuckles: Point taken. Go on.

"For another, it looks like the last person he talked to was Guillaume Brilland." 

The Director of the Space Service, Helmut adds: Now why does that sound importantly familiar?

"I don't know, but I know one of you knows. That name stuck out for me-" 

It's me, Helga says, no longer sounding sarcastic: I noticed that some of the other people I've been looking into have spoken with him recently as well. The Prime Minister of Canada, the President of Portugal, the Finance Minister of Uganda..."

And they're all sending things off and sending money to Champlain Enterprises, Karl intuits: So what's their angle with the Space Service?

Does Uganda want a spaceport? Helmut chuckles. 

Do you suppose they're all trying to go somewhere? Jana asks.

And with that they all instinctively look up at the sky, wondering...

* * * 

"Where the !@#$ have you been?" Blastman asks, sitting by the window of their bolthole and hoisting another can from the remnants of the six pack he got this morning. He looks utterly diminished in a flannel shirt and blue jeans, but he's trying to blend in.

"Had an errand to run," Night Phantom -- who's still in costume -- answers as he crosses the dusty, sparsely-decorated room, pulling a new six pack from the paper bag he's brought. 

"Don't tell me you actually went into a store..."

"Well, I couldn't just steal, could I?"

Blastman sighs: "Where did you go this time?"

"Berlin," the floating cloud of a man answers, tapping the Kaufland logo on the paper bag: "I hope you realize Bud Light is a pricey import over there."

"Well, that's the last of the beer money, then," the hero sighs, looking back out the window: "Unless you want to actually act like a !@#$ fugitive or something."

"Well, we don't have to-"

"We do," Blastman insists, popping the tab on the beer he's got in hand. 

The man laughs so hard he almost vanishes, and then realizes the man was being serious. So he sighs and "sits" down, his cloudy tentacles spilling onto the floor, and hands over the new six.

"How long do we have to wait here?" he finally asks, wondering if there's anything good on the old, half-broken television before the cracked mirror, over on the dresser with no shelves.

"You know the score, man," his partner in crime says: "Brainman's got a plan. Until we know what it is, we just sit tight, and wait."

"I wish I got to wait with Red Wrecker," Night Phantom sighs. 

"So do I," Blastman chuckles: "Tough luck for both of us, I think she likes Myron better."

"What, that drip?"

"Hey now," the older hero says: "That drip almost single-handedly won the Reclamation War, down at the South Pole. And he's been through !@#$ you wouldn't believe."

"Try me."

"Well, for starters..." Blastman starts to say, but doesn't get the chance before the entire wall he's sitting next to explodes inward, and he's thrown clear across the room by the man who caused it. 

"Hi there, brother," something wrapped in big, black armor says, his voice deep enough to shake the world. He looks down at Blastman from a helmet that's shaped like a bullet, and there's a broken planet Earth splayed across his chest. 

"Joey...?" Blastman says, shaking the fuzz from his head as he looks up at his older, evil sibling.

"That's right," Cataclysmo says, clanking his armored fists together: "Thanks for visiting me in prison, you sniveling little !@#$. I really appreciated the flowers, too."

"You twisted son of a..." Blastman starts to say, but can't get the words out before the black, human bullet is back on him again. This time he takes them both through the wall, the bathroom, the hallway, and the apartment across from it. 

He didn't even have to plant his feet and start running - he just moved. 
"Well !@#$," Night Phantom says, dropping his six pack and looking for a convenient shadow so he can help his friend. But then there are no shadows at all, and there's only a glaring, bright light within the room.

A light that casts no shadow, and never ever warms. 

I S33 Y0U, the Glimmer announces, shining through the hole in the wall its teammate created and spinning itself into humanoid form: T1M3 T0 3ND. T1M3 T0 D13.

"Yeah," Night Phantom says, putting up as much darkness as he can in the face of a psychotic, thinking star: "How about 'no'?"

The being laughs and shines all the brighter. Everything in the room catches fire. Night Phantom screams as his being is eroded away by the thing he's facing, but he realizes he's got one chance. 

He stumbles over to the mirror, and then turns it back at his attacker. The light can't harm a being made of light, but the strange effects made by its reflection momentarily distract the Glimmer, just enough.

And, with that, the Night Phantom flies over to the massive hole Blastman and his wayward, psycho brother just created on their way to wherever the !@#$ they went, and zooms into the smallest space he can find, hoping he can find some darkness down there.

The second he does, he goes through it, blindly entering the nightzone and seeing all the shadows and darknesses around. It doesn't take long to figure out which of the humanoid shapes out in the street are his teammate and his familial rival, and he comes back out of the dark and into the day nearby. 

He's about to say something witty and engaging, but then he sees that Cataclysmo has just about finished reenacting the Ur-crime with his brother. Blastman's chest is a broken and battered ruin -- ribs poking though his shirt like accusatory fingers.

"You !@#$er!" Night Phantom screams, hurling a line of darkness at the hulking, black-armored giant. It knocks him back just a bit, but that's almost enough time to give his dying brother a little room to breathe. 

"Game over," Blastman says, somehow able to speak with a crushed chest: "Do it."

Night Phantom doesn't want to do this, but he knows he has to. He can see Cataclysmo rallying, and can feel the alien heat of Glimmer approaching. There is no time.

So he slips into the shadow of a large piece of rubble, left from where the two men crashed to the ground. Then he comes up under the shadow below Blastman, gently taking the man's head in his hands.

And then he slips back into the dark, just enough to take his ally's head into the concrete, and leave it there.

Blastman's body jerks and twists, stuck into the ground from the neck-up. Then it lies still. 

"What the !@#$?" Cataclysmo roars, successful in his goal yet cheated of his prize: "What the !@#$ing fuck!"

The Glimmer can add nothing, other than to watch his partner destroy the concrete in vain. That and silently wonder where its foe has disappeared to, and where they might find him, now that he's gone back into the dark.

It would seem that timing is everything.

* * *

"Well, about !@#$ time," SPYGOD says, turning on the bathroom light right at 7:54 in the PM and seeing that something very !@#$ important has finally arrived.

He kneels down and takes it from its case, still slightly cold from the transit. It only takes him only three seconds to extract it, assemble it, load it, and check it to make sure it should work.

"Honey, is Top Gear on tonight?" he asks as he strides through the apartment, heading for where Bee-Bee is snoozing on the couch.

"Why, yes it is," Straffer says, turning the television up as loud as it will go: "I think they're in Barcelona, this week."

"Barcelona," SPYGOD muses, handing what he's got off to the cat, who wakes up, coughs, takes it, and heads for the front door -- growing larger with each step: "The sea, the sand, the sun."

"The amazing food," Straffer replies, heading for the window and the boxes stacked next to it.

"Sagrada Familia," SPYGOD adds, the syllables rolling off his tongue.

"I didn't think you liked churches?"

"I don't. But... !@#$, I told you about the time I-"

Straffer breaks the story with a kiss. He also hands him a pair of very large earplugs.

"Those aren't going to do me any !@#$ing good, hon," SPYGOD sighs, handing them back: "I hear through my eye, remember?"

"Well, just in case," Straffer says, and, just before he stuffs a pair in his own years, adds: "I love you."

"I love you," SPYGOD replies, but it's falling on deaf ears, now.

There's a banging at the door, just then. Clearly the guards outside have been informed as to what SPYGOD carried out of the bathroom. But no one seemed to notice that they've been slowly piling heavy things up in front of it all afternoon, which is going to make their breaking it down just a little difficult. 

And the moment they do, they run right into their worst nightmare: a drunk demon cat the size of a Wookie with a fully-loaded AK47.

"Poshel na khuy i vashikh matery vy pridurki!" Bee-Bee screeches as he opens fire, carefully aiming at nothing above the knees, as ordered. 

The guards scream and fire back. The bullets bounce off the cat. He just laughs and fires more, no longer caring about orders now that the stupid suki have tried to kill him back. 

Seconds later, the alarm goes off. 

Seconds after that, SPYGOD and Straffer step to either side of the window, each cradling a certain box under their arm.

There's a weird whine, just then -- one that builds in pitch and intensity until the whole world seems to shake and scream. 

Without warning, the large window shatters, along with every piece of glassware in the apartment. Flinders of transparent stuff go everywhere. 

And the moment the whine begins to die down, something shifts in the air outside of what once was a window, and a flying Aston Martin Spyder is there, instead.

One with a somewhat-unrecognizable woman behind the wheel, a strange white button glimmering on her shirt. 

"Cut that a bit !@#$ing fine, didn't we?" SPYGOD teases as he leaps from the apartment into the back of the car, indicating his watch. Straffer jumps in beside him just as she flips him the bird -- though not without a smile -- and re-engages the cloak. 

The car vanishes a second later, much to the disappointment and anger of the protesters down below. They throw eggs and tomatoes where they think it might be, but only succeed in getting themselves spattered with rotten food.

And then they're gone, with only impotent alarms, screaming guards, and gunfire to mark their absence. 

* * *

It takes fifty TU personnel and another hour to take Bee-Bee down. In the end, someone just has the good sense to throw bottles of vodka into the apartment and pray he gives up the gun for the booze and drinks himself stupid, yet again. Thankfully, it works.

Sometimes life is kind, even to the undeserving.

* * *

"I don't understand where they could have gone," the TU official in charge of keeping an eye on the five ABWEHR kids is saying, running his hands over the files on his pad: "It's like they just disappeared-"

"They have, obviously," his contact sighs, not in the mood to deal with this: "Do you have any idea what they were looking into?"

"Something to do with the suicides of those two Prime Ministers, I think. Two of them were hassling the Australian's widow, and then there's this thing with the one in the New Zealander's office. I hear they're still cleaning up the stains on the carpet-"

"Get a kill team on it," the shadowed man snaps: "If you see them, shoot them. We can make up any story we need to. I don't care."

"Very well," the man says: "It will be done. And what of their mentor, Randolph Scott?"

"Oh, don't worry about him," the man says, watching the footage from The Tokyo Kill Club, just last night: "I've got something special planned just for him..."

The rest is darkness.

* * *

Somewhere there's a different door
To open wide
You've got to throw those skeletons out of your closet
and come outside...

 (SPYGOD is listening to Se a vida es (Pet Shop Boys, remix) and having a Champlain Orchards cider )