Monday, August 3, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 4: 1992

"What They Say's Gonna Happen / Gonna Happen at Last"

(Back) The Negotiator, former President Ronald Wilson Reagan, SPYGOD
(Front) Senchro, Satanoth, Noyx, Soubre, Restriit
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *

We were meant to be masters of destiny, not victims of fate

Ronald Reagan - 1992 Republic National Convention

June 10th, 1992
"Are you ready for this?" John asks in his own, warbling way.

"As ready as I'm !@#$ing going to be," SPYGOD says, looking at the waterfall-like explosion of cables and tubes he's sitting in the center of, here in what's left of the abandoned Command Room, down below the White House. 

"It's... not too late to reconsider," Ben Franklin says, looking up from checking the equipment they've spent the past few days cobbling together: "We could always find someone else."

"Sure, and what the !@#$ are we going to tell them?" SPYGOD asks: "'Hey, how do you !@#$ing feel about scrambling your !@#$ brains inside your noggin to save a bunch of has-been Supergods from the mother of all raw deals? Oh, by the way, it'll probably !@#$ing kill you, if it doesn't do something even !@#$ing worse.'

"'And if you succeed? You ain't going to !@#$ing remember a god!@#$ thing.'"

"That's one !@#$ way to put it," John says, pulling a flask of something nasty out of his film-grey coat, taking a good snort, and offering it to SPYGOD: "I think I'd rather be in that !@#$ beehive, again."

"You and me both," SPYGOD sighs, trying to drain the flask but finding, to his surprise, it has no bottom, and just gets nastier the more you pull: "At least then we had a !@#$ing chance."

"We also had Doctor Power, that day," John says: "You could get him on this. Wouldn't hurt to have another person helping out."

"I think we both know why that's a !@#$ bad idea, John," SPYGOD scowls, handing the flask back: "Now let's get this !@#$ on the road before I really lose my !@#$ing nerve."

Ben Franklin has no idea what they're talking about. He realizes he doesn't want to know, either. So he just goes back to checking the last of the connections -- making sure there's an unbroken line of power going from SPYGOD's eye, to the controls, and then all the way up the hallway, around several bends, and onto a makeshift control box in front of a certain wall.

A wall before a room that technically doesn't exist, anymore, and the amazing thing it contains...

* * *

... how hard can this be just think think !@#$ it see the world as it is see the pieces of the world that need to change look at the fifteen of them down in their cells below us mindless and sleeping change their stories change their histories how hard can it be just do it wait oh my !@#$ing god how many variables are there what the !@#$ come on simplify it can't be any worse than shooting a !@#$ing angel in the god!@#$ed noggin...

* * *

"... you will all die, screaming, and in pain," Ariel promises as his body warps and twists, ichor spewing from the massive holes in his upper chest, and holy light shining from his eyes.

"Oh, just go to Heck, or wherever," the newly-elected President says, standing right in front of the door to the room they were going to open, once more: "And tell your people that we answer to the taxpayers, and not you."

 "You will beg the Kingdom to hear your pleas, and be denied!" he goes on: "You will be sent straight to the Pit, all of you. All of you!" 

"Ah, shut the !@#$ up," SPYGOD snorts, re-aiming the gun he got from an old, absent ally at the angel he just shot full of unholy bullets: "You're beaten, Ariel. Your hold on Reagan is gone, America's under new management, and we're not eating what you're !@#$ing cooking. Time to go."

"Ronald," the broken being pleads, looking to the now-former President -- now seeming so weak and empty without the yoke of Heaven upon him -- "It is not too late to take back this gift. Give me your hand. Save your people!"

"I... I don't..." the man says, clearly confused and having to lean on Aaron for support: "I can't... what...? Where are we?"

"That'd be a big, fat 'no,' !@#$head," SPYGOD says, shooting the Backer in the face for good measure.

Ariel tries not to scream as the back of his head all but explodes, and a hole in spacetime begins to suck him in, and down. But as he looks around the hallway before the hidden room, and at all the men who've assembled there to tell him "no," and sees one who should be with him, but is not. 
Aaron, gently holding up the former President, and looking back at him with very guilty eyes.

And, with the last shred of higher power left within him, Ariel points a damning finger at his ally -- the only one who could have helped these mortals to do this -- and lays upon him one final, all-consuming curse...

* * *
... Kanaan I see you Kanaan I name you I see you I name you I lift you up and place you alongside other heroes like Doctor Power no wait !@#$ he's worthless !@#$ big !@#$ treasonous awful never no wait what am I doing not Soviet no she can't be Soviet mole oh my God no please don't put her in Soviet mole operating in the CIA for years please just let me get this right please no likes handicrafts a lot oh my God !@#$ no what have I done...

* * *

"... good Man Jesus, it's going to kill him," John says, looking right through the mess of sparks and moving spacetime that's surrounded their ally since they threw on the power. 

"We don't have a choice, sir!" Ben Franklin shouts over the whining noise: "We knew the risks going into this endeavor! If we don't follow through..."

John looks at the portly fellow. His gaze seems capable of destroying steel, and betrays exactly how much he really knows about what's been going on here. 

All of it. 

"I'm going to Operate," the man says, finding a spot on the floor and sitting down on it: "I'll do what I can do help him from out here."

"Is that wise?" Franklin asks: "If we interfere-"

"I think the !@#$ word is 'help,' you sad sack of !@#$," the Grey Man says, not bothering to look in his direction: "And just in case you've gotten any other good ideas? I'm of the Grey, and to harm one of us is to involve all of us.

"And not even you can think your !@#$ way out of that."

With that, he closes his eyes, and extends his hands into the warping air around him.

And, as a suddenly-truly-afraid Ben Franklin watches, the Grey Man begins to Operate on the area outside the distortion...

* * *

... Noyx black Noyx night and the Moon shining night black down black white but black leather daddy no wait he's not black leather daddy in the Castro no he's a hero a hero he's one of us protector of the community okay fine that'll do for now go back later try not to !@#$ oh no !@#$ing everyone he saves wait no come back to it Aegio blessed Aegio fecund and large and beautiful mother yes she is mother Earth that's it that's it...

* * *

"I mean, come on, man," SPYGOD says, gesturing to the everyday world around them, baking in the noonday, DC sun, and praying (well, not really, under the circumstances) that he's finally getting through: "Can you really !@#$ing see this as ruins? Do you understand what a nuclear strike will do to this place? To these people? This world?"

Aaron looks around, behind his sunglasses, taking in the whole the National Mall. SPYGOD imagines those powerful, all-seeing eyes focusing on each and every person. Each blade of grass and wildflower. Each and every motion, smell, and sound...

"It is beautiful," Aaron says: "Everyone the Creator has made is good, in some way. All the people have the ability to attain Paradise. Good lies within each, or at least within their grasp."

"Yeah," SPYGOD says: "And !@#$, don't think about them. Think about the animals. The flowers, the trees. All these beautiful things that are going to die because... what? Your boss wants the End to come sooner rather than later?"

"I have my duty," the Backer says, but it's weaker than he sounded. 

"Don't you ever !@#$ing question it?" SPYGOD pushes: "I mean, come on, man. I read the Old Testament, but you !@#$ing lived it. He's been wrong, before. He's been flat-out mistaken, disappointed by the outcomes. !@#$, why do you think Jesus showed up in the first place?"

"I could tell you, but you would go insane," the perfect man says, sighing. 

"I'll take that risk," SPYGOD says, leaning in: "If you really want to talk about it...?"

"That's the problem," Aaron replies, looking down at his hands, and then up as people pass by: "I know so much, (REDACTED). So many amazing and terrible things. And I cannot speak a word of them to anyone, other than those who already know. 

"And all they can say is that there is a plan, and I must hew to it as the tool obeys the craftsman. To do otherwise is to be of no use. And there is only one fate for a broken tool..."

He looks down at the ground, just then. One suspects he's looking much further down than his shoes.

"Well, that's the thing about plans," SPYGOD says, thinking of the ones he's already written out for this perfect man: "They have a way of going right down the !@#$ing toilet, if you know how and when to pull the chain."

Aaron looks at him with something approaching hope. SPYGOD tries not to smile too widely. It all depends on this delicate and dangerous moment, right here and now. 

This moment when he turns a Angel...

* * *

... fiery avenger Nemesis great Nemesis never really liked me much avenging angel Nemesis going to kick !@#$ and take names revenge for the oppressed woman angel avenger revenger Nemesis oppressed woman no wait wait we are not doing this she is not oppressed but she yes she comes from oppression a bunch of oppressed women she is their champion she is amazing she is a wonder she will come and rescue those in need of saving like Wonder Woman just like oh !@#$ no she's looking at me she's pointing her finger oh !@#$ I'm toast now...

* * *

"Alright then," soon-to-be President George H. W. Bush says, looking at everyone in the back of the black, COMPANY limo: "We all know what we've got to do, and how to do it. So now we've just got to make sure we keep to the plan between now and then."

"I suggest we stay out of the White House as much as possible, " James Baker says: "That's where they tend to be, most of the time."

"And we should probably think about this as little as possible," Dan Quayle adds, looking around: "And I know how hard that is, but still..."

"I suggest drinking a lot, gentlemen," Bush says: "Read heavy books. Anything to keep your minds !@#$ing occupied."

"!@#$ a lot, too, if you can," SPYGOD says. Baker chuckles a little, but he's the only one. 

"Oh, do you have to curse all the darn time?" George reprimands him.

"Sorry, sir," SPYGOD chuckles: "Force of habit."

"Well, habits were made to be broken," the man grouses, and then notices the car's slowing down: "What the heck?"

"Oh, there's one other thing," SPYGOD says, putting a hand on the door nearest him as they roll to a complete stop: "In addition to not thinking about what's coming up, there's the matter of them being able to just make you do whatever the !@... I mean, whatever the heck they want you to. Deus vult and all that."

"You mean, we might all say no, and they'll just make us do it, anyway?" Quayle asks, a little frightened at the prospect.

"Well, yes," SPYGOD admits: "But that's why I've got a friend coming here, tonight."

He opens the door and a small Asian man enters. He nods respectfully to each man as the door is closed behind him, and pulls out a very large briefcase, which he carefully places on an empty seat nearest him.

"Omizake-San is the best tattoo artist I know," SPYGOD explains: "He's well-known for superdetailed work. The New York Yakuza used to have him do their irezumi before he cooperated with the FBI on a sting. Now he just works for a select clientele who need some really intricate !@... stuff done."

And then he explains why the man is here, and what's in the briefcase...

* * *

... Seranu a man of influence somewhere mighty and resourceful he rules the world from behind the scenes a man of influence wise and intelligent and unseen he is the hand that makes it happen the invisible hand that works in secret he helps those who cannot help themselves fine that works leave it be going on to Hoosk from whom all things spring getting the hang of it he makes things makes all sorts of things everyone needs a maker he invents things the maker thank the maker C3P0 hated that mincing robot fairy robot cherubs oh for !@#$'s sake fine he makes things and he likes flying robot cherubs could be worse going on oh put him wherever what France oh !@#$...

* * *

"Explain yourself," Ariel demands of the newly-elected President and his entourage as they stand before the hidden door to the sword chamber: "Explain... this."

"I don't have to do a goshdarn thing," George H. W. Bush snorts, rather impetuously, as he rolls his sleeve down to cover up the tattoo that protects him from Heaven: "But here's the fine print, sir. We are not signing on for another eight years of this nonsense. We are done with you."

The Backer gasps, floored by their sheer arrogance: "How can you... how dare you?"

"We dare," James Baker says, stepping up beside the man he's stood beside for so many years.

"We do, yes," Dan Quayle insists as he flanks his new boss, his extreme nervousness making him seem unintelligent, as it always does. 

"And I live to serve the President of the United States of America," SPYGOD announces, stepping between the Angel and the man he wanted as his thrall: "So... it's !@#$ing official. Take a hike."

He doesn't even see the blow coming. One moment, Ariel's hand is at his side. The next it's on the other side of his body, and SPYGOD's been flung down the hallway, landing with a solid, crackling THUMP up against a wall.

(But better him than the man he was standing before, which is what he thought was going to happen.)

"George, I don't understand," Reagan says, holding onto Aaron for support: "Why wouldn't you want this? Don't you know what's coming?"

"I sure as heck do," the new President says: "But you know what, Ron? I think we work for the people of a great county. And I think we are the leaders of a world that, while it's sure got its problems, can rally together and do some great things when it needs to. Ask Hitler if you don't believe me. Ask anyone."

"You have no concept of the scope of what approaches, mortal," Ariel sneers, looking down his sunglasses at the man who dares deny Heaven's will: "It will boil the brains in your skull before it even reaches this world. It will destroy you all before you have a chance to repent. You will die-"

"Which is exactly what happens if the Soviets launch their birds," Bush insists: "Or we launch ours. Or someone else beats us to it, like China, or Israel. Or if Iran gets the bomb and decides to beat Israel to the punch. Which is kind of what you were having us engineer, just to get Armageddon off to a nice start, wasn't it?"

"It would be kinder," the Backer insists.

"Aw, !@#$ you," SPYGOD mutters from all the way down the hall, and, at long last, pulls out the gun he's been itching to use all this time...

* * *

... time gun time ending time Senchro is time is the moments counting town is time past future present is gun is time the end handled a gun did so very well was soldier no wait that sounds too weird or ordinary was special forces in Vietnam no wait not now a homeless vet living on the streets no wait he can't be \ LET IT GO (REDACTED) \ who the !@#$  \ IT'S ME JOHN I'M IN HERE WITH YOU NOW \ okay why this is killing me \ IT'LL KILL THE WORLD IF WE DON'T GET IT RIGHT \ well that makes !@#$ing sense \ AND IF IT DOESN'T I THINK THAT FAT FUGITIVE FROM THE 18TH CENTURY WILL \ um what...?

* * *

And then it's the moment Ben Franklin's been both dreading and welcoming since he started this whole project in the first place. 

The moment that he flicks a hidden switch, sends the machine into reverse, and casts the Olympians into some strange limbo -- there to never return. 

He's thought long and hard about this. He has

He understands that, without these Supergods, the world will be a poorer and sadder place, missing a lot of its drive and personality. 

But he also understands that, the moment they get back to full strength, again -- and that day will come, some time from now -- they're going to find him, and return him to his own time. 

And he understands exactly what that will mean, and what will be waiting for him there. 

So no. That will not be happening. He will not be going back to death, and what horrible fate lies after. 

He will stay here, in this strange future -- immortal and amazing, unto the end of time -- and never be told otherwise. 

He regrets much. He regrets that he couldn't have gotten the Chandra Eye away from SPYGOD, even for a day. He regrets he couldn't get Dr. Yesterday to go in on this with him, so he could blame the failure on him. 

And he regrets that, since SPYGOD is wired up to the machinery he's about to sabotage, there's more than one god that will be going away, this day. 

But he can't stop this, now that it's begun. He can't explain his way out of this one, should he delay too long. 

And he can't deny himself the right to his own existence. Not now, not ever.

John is linked and Operating. It'll probably drag him down, too. If it doesn't, well, there's a gun hidden nearby that will take care of him, too, if Ben's done his sums right. 

And he always does, doesn't he?

The switch beckons his fingers. He reaches out to take it. 

And then, ever so slowly -- and with many, many regrets -- he flicks it...

 * * *

... LOOK AT THIS !@#$ MESS YOU MADE \ sorry I'm trying the best I can \ YOU CALL THIS THE BEST YOU GOT RESTRIIT AND SATANOTH CONFUSED TO THE POINT THAT SATANOTH'S IN PRISON NOW \ sorry it was the king of the dead and the kingdom of the dead that !@#$ing screwed me up \ NOT TO MENTION YOU MADE RESTRIIT A FAILED HERO AT THAT \ well sorry I said I'm sorry \ NEVER MIND THAT NOW LET'S MAKE HIM A KIRBY CHARACTER AND CALL IT GOOD \ oh no you don't mess with the king \ MISTER FREEDOM LETS CALL HIM \ oh that's actually kind of good \ AND AS FOR SATANOTH WELL HE'LL KEEP PRISON MIGHT ACTUALLY IMPROVE HIS PERSONALITY...

* * *

"... so, !@#$ing explain this again, please," SPYGOD says, looking at the weird, almost surgical-looking ray gun the Flier's Chief Medical Officer has just handed him: "Maybe using smaller !@#$ words this time?"

"Officially, it's a Neuro-Electrical Retardant, but we call it the Dummy Gun," the grumpy older man says, putting a fresh lollipop into his mouth as he puts his feet up on his cluttered desk: "We only use it when we need to reroute neural pathways in a god!@#$ hurry for bad head trauma cases. And even then it doesn't really do what we need it to do half the time, hence its name."

"So it scrambles your !@#$ brain, essentially?"

"Well, if you're !@#$ careful, know what you're !@#$ing doing, and have the time to prepare for a proper operation, you've got a fifty-fifty chance of successfully using it as designed."

"But since you don't tend to get those kind of !@#$ing luxuries with bad head trauma cases...?"

"It's best left in the bottom of the toolbag," the older man insists, clicking the lollipop from one side of his mouth to the other: "But, if you want to borrow it for some reason...?"

"I do," SPYGOD says: "And I need you to do me a massive !@#$ing favor, while you're at it."

"Oh? Not a command?"

"Not as such. I need a brain scan from Bethesda. A really important brain scan-"

He blinks as the old man reaches under a pile of clutter, pulls out a manila envelope, and hands it over to him. Then he blinks a few more times when he reads what it is. 

"I know a guy who owes me, big," the officer says: "Now, so do you. So you got three rules, SPYGOD."

"Name them."

"One, don't ever ask me how I knew. Two, I'm not !@#$ing retiring at the mandated age, and you do know why, so don't make me. And three..."

"I'm listening."

"You don't do it here," the man says, pointing a finger: "In fact, you never do any wetwork in my sick bay. I got an oath, and it's to a !@#$ing real god, and not some !@#$ queer from New York City who thinks he can do anything he wants because he !@#$ing killed Hitler."

SPYGOD blinks a few times, then nods: "You done?"

"I don't know. Do we have an understanding?"

"We do."

"Then yes, we're done," the man says, looking at the door: "And bring it back, clean, okay? Those !@#$ things cost half a mil, and it's harder to get components for them than it is for a !@#$ing Delorean..."

* * *


* * *

"... you are so beautiful, honey," the large woman is saying to Governor Reagan, who's shirtless and adorned with kisses and lipstick.

"And so are you," he says, suddenly not caring that he's happily married, or that he really doesn't like this woman all that much. Ever since she took his hand and led him to this perfumed alcove made of hung carpets and throw pillows, far from the rest of the party, he's been astoundingly uncaring about a great many things.

"And your future, oh... it's so delicious," she whispers into his ear as she runs her hands up and down both his chest and his back: "So many things come from you. So many people. So many ideas."

"They say I've got a future," he says, grinning: "All those movies. Maybe the White House, someday."

"Oh, more than that..." she breathes, licking the side of his neck: "So much more. You could be a symbol, honey. A leader that endures. A great beacon showing the way to the city on the hill."

"I'd like that, yes," he says, imagining what that great city must look like.

"Let me help you," she says, looking into his eyes: "Please."

"How do I do that?"

"Love me, here and now," she says, lifting her dress up over her head. She's naked underneath. He hoped she would be.

"Just that?" he asks.

"Just that," she says, punctuating each sentence with a kiss: "Let me have your seed, and your soul. Let me take it within me and send your children into the world. There are so many out there who want children. So many barren wombs to quicken. And your power will echo throughout them all, transforming the generation to come into your generation. Your ideas. Your beliefs. Your will."

The kisses are intoxicating. Each time she does it he feels like he's on fire. And then, as she kisses him lower still, he's about to say yes.

Of course, that's when someone ruins it all...

* * *

...oh christ I remember now \ WELL YOU SHOULD YOU BROUGHT HIM THERE \ but I didn't know that was going to happen \ NO ONE EVER DOES \ fine what about Sphyne \ I JUST HANDLED HIM WHILE YOU WERE REMEMBERING \ oh okay well what about \ I JUST HANDLED THEM ALL \ oh then what are we doing now \ WAITING FOR MY MAN \ what the !@#$ are you talking about...

* * *

"I know you," the man in the silver suit says to Ben Franklin: "Why do I know you?"

"Shift," the Founding Father stammers, holding up his hands as the sabotage device he just triggered goes off: "Please spare me. You know why I've done this. I won't go back to where you've brought me from! I can't!"

"You... are Benjamin Franklin," the man says, stepping fully out of the shimmering crack in existence he just stepped through: "The first American, some say. Inventor, philosopher, social architect."

"Stay back!" Franklin begs, reaching for the gun under the table: "I'll use this if I have to..."

"No, you won't," Shift says: "We don't finish this conversation that way."

"!@#$ you, sir!" the old man screams, struggling to be heard over the grinding noise as the warping in spacetime becomes even more prominent, and John's face becomes a rictus of concentration and pain from where he sits, near SPYGOD: "!@#$ you and your prophecy! I was happy before you pulled me from where I was and brought me into this benighted time!"

"Why would I have done that?"

Franklin blinks a few times, still aiming the gun, but no longer as certain: "You mean... you have yet to do this?"

"Yes. I have only just arrived here, in this time."

"Then... why are you here?"

"I have been working in reverse order, based on the level of threats to my brothers and sisters," the silver-suited man explains: "This was the most dangerous thing, here. A threat to all my family, using reality itself as a weapon. And yet I am not amongst them?"

"You died years ago," Franklin explains: "Some fight with a time-traveler over the Roanoke colony. I am not certain of the details."

"Then I am not here, now, to be affected by this," Shift surmises, looking at SPYGOD as he silently screams in agony: "But this is not the threat, here. This is something being done to end the threat, already long since passed."

"Yes," Franklin says: "What happened to you all, it happened some years ago. The people who run this country now... oh, such dullwits and laggards! They feared you, and what you stood for. So they used a power beyond reckoning to put you all under their control."

"Yes, I can see that, now," Shift says, looking further down the timestream to verify what the man is saying: "And this man, here? He's using the alien device within his head to try and replant my brothers and sisters throughout reality, risking his life to do so. And this man, here? He also risks his life to save him."

"Yes, he is," the portly man says, knowing he's clearly beaten.

"And they sought to undo the damage," the Supergod continues, putting a hand inside the distortion: "Why would they do that?"

"Because... he was your friend," Franklin says: "He loved you all. He thought highly of all of you, even the ones who were not so likeable or trustworthy. He knew you were simply here to help, with no serious ulterior motives."

"And yet you would stop him to save yourself?"

"Yes," Franklin admits, putting the gun down in shame.

"Why would you do such a thing? I sense goodness within you. Kindness. Decency-"

"Because you brought me here to do this, sir!" Franklin shouts: "You dragged me from my own time to here so that I would aid in your punishment! And when you're done with me, well, back I go, to mine."

"All of what you say is true..." Shift muses, running his hands in the spaces between what the machine is creating and what John is altering: "But none of this has happened yet...."

"But it must still happen. Don't you see? You have created a fixed event in time, sir. You cannot go back upon it. To do so would be to create a paradox!"

"Oh, Ben," Shift chuckles, sadly: "You have made a machine to rewrite reality. What is one changing of the timestream, compared to all of that?"

"But, even if you could do such a thing-"

"I can," Shift interrupts as he begins to fade, and develop afterimages.

"I will," one of them says, going into the past.

"I am," another announces, raising his arms so as to plunge them into the sphere surrounding SPYGOD.

"I have," one says, reappearing from the past.

"But the paradox! It would be of such power that... well, it staggers the mind how much destructive force would be unleashed!"

"Enough to power a miracle or two," the Supergod says, perhaps smiling under his silver mask as the changed past suddenly collides with the future, just as all three of him reach out for SPYGOD...

* * *

... GET READY THIS IS WHERE IT HAPPENS \ and what then \ THEN WE WAKE UP AND YOU CAN'T REMEMBER ANY OF THIS HAPPENING \ well that's what we thought \ I'LL REMEMBER OF COURSE BUT I WON'T TELL YOU \ well thanks I think \ TRUST ME YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW \ you know I think you're right especially considering how badly I !@#$ed up \ OH IT'S MORE THAN THAT...

* * *

"...not really sure..." Ronald Reagan says as SPYGOD helps him back upstairs, heading for the Oval Office: "What just happened? Where's Ariel?"

"He's... gone, sir," SPYGOD says, really not wanting to explain what he shot him with, anymore than he wants to talk about the other gun he's got on him.

(And glad as !@#$ he's not asking about poor Aaron, who the others are helping, right now...)

"Oh," Reagan says: "Well, I can't say I'm sorry to see him go."

"I know, sir."

"I thought he was... well, he was different, once. He seemed to know what I wanted, and what this country needed. I believed in him."

"Yes, sir," SPYGOD says, maneuvering the old man onto a couch in the office, and making sure he's comfortable, there: "I think we all did, up to a point."

"Not you, though," Reagan says, looking at SPYGOD: "You... I think you always knew something was wrong."

"I had my suspicions, sir," the man says.

"And I think you tried to tell me, once or twice."

"I did, yes," SPYGOD replies: "But after what they did to you, well... you couldn't hear me. No one could get through to you. It was over and done with, sir."

"So you all had to do this, instead," Reagan says, holding a hand up to his head: "I'm so sorry. Really, I am."

"It's alright, sir-"

"No it's not," the man insists, almost angrily: "I almost got us into World War III, (REDACTED). Several times. And I almost handed that slavery over to George, or that... that other fellow from... where's he from..."

SPYGOD just smiles and puts a hand on his former Commander in Chief's shoulder: "Sir, you are my ally, and you are my friend. I would go to bat for you a thousand times over. I know you've done the same for me. And I don't care if you !@#$ed up and made a bad deal. It's... well, it's over now. And you don't have to worry about that ever again."

"I sure hope not," the old man says, smiling. His eyes are wet with tears.

And SPYGOD gets the uncomfortable feeling that they're both lying.

This is not over. In some ways it's only just beginning...

* * *

... oh Jesus Christ \ SAW IT COMING HUH \ what he saw what he's seeing what is that what the !@#$ is that \ THAT'S WHAT THE ANGELS WERE TRYING TO SAVE THE PLANET FROM \ oh my God it can't be real \ IT IS IT'S THE DECREATOR AND THE !@#$ THING'S ON ITS WAY HERE NOW \ how long \ QUITE A FEW YEARS BUT I WON'T BE HERE TO SEE IT \ what do you mean \ I MEAN I'LL BE GONE BY THEN BUT NOT REALLY GONE \ what the !@#$ do you mean \ I MEAN WHAT I MEAN AND YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN \ that doesn't help \ NO IT DOESN'T BUT JUST REMEMBER WHEN THE !@#$ HITS THE FAN I'LL BE ALWAYS BE THERE EVEN IF I'M NOT \ what the !@#$ \ AND HERE WE GO...

* * *

When Ben Franklin comes to, he finds himself in the midst of what seems to have been a mighty conflagration. 

He's in a cavernous room. It takes him some time to realize it's the Command Room, under the White House -- some great and terrible place built for an unknown purpose, back in the day.

The smoking ruins of a large device sits nearby. It trails half-melted, smoldering lengths of cable and wire. Acrid smoke billows from the control panels, and more comes from down the long hall that leads there.

At what must have been the center of the fire sits SPYGOD. He has not been so much as touched by the flames, and none of the cooked tubes or wires remain upon him. They are all just inches away from his sprawled outline.

A few feet away sits John, the Grey Man. He's still in lotus position, with his palms above his bent knees, and his eyes closed shut as heavy as steel doors.

"What has happened here?" Franklin stammers, uncertain: "What were we doing?"

"You !@#$ dumb !@#$-hole," John mutters under his breath.

"I don't... sir, please, such language-"

"Don't you !@#$ing talk to me about language you !@#$ coward," John snarls, getting up much more quickly than he seems capable of: "Not after what you just tried to do-"

"Sir, I know not of which you speak," the Founding Father insists: "All I know for certain is that I was in Chicago, dealing with my own researches. And then, well... here I am, along with your singularly unpleasant company and that of my friend."

"Oh, you'll find him unpleasant, too, once I..." he starts to say, and then looks askance, as though he were hearing a voice only he could discern. The look on his face goes from anger to puzzlement, and then finally to grudging resolve.

"Well, never mind," he warbles, trying to smile: "I am being informed by the Grey Men that this is a need to know Operation. And you, tubby, do not need to know a god-!@#$ thing."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I mean that this is just like the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy," John says: "But lucky you, you get wake up."

"Unlike our companion," the Founding Father says, walking over to where SPYGOD sleeps on the floor: "It would appear whatever I do not get to remember has knocked him out cold!"

"Yeah, well, some people have all the luck," the Grey Man says: "One thing you can know, though? You just watch yourself around Shift from here on out."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Just what I said," John says, starting to walk out of the room, heading for the smoking exit: "A !@#$ deal's  a !@#$ deal, Old Ben. Just because you can't remember it doesn't mean it won't come to call, one day.

"And when it does, well, you ain't gonna like it."

And, with that, he vanishes -- leaving the time-displaced Founding Father a very nervous man, hoping that when SPYGOD wakes up, he can tell him something of what's coming.

But, just his luck, he has no idea what the !@#$ happened here, either. 

* * *

June 10th, 1994

There's not much else to say, after all of that. 

There's goodbyes, some more strained than others. SPYGOD gets the idea that Bush won't be getting any Christmas cards from the Quayle family, this year. He's not sure about Baker, either, but at least the two men shake hands and try to be pleasant at the end.

Aaron takes a look at all of them leaving, and then turns to SPYGOD. He just nods, and then vanishes. There's a sound of mighty wings flapping, not far away, after that.

That's really all there is to say, there.

Of all the things SPYGOD has done, turning Aaron is both his proudest accomplishment, but also his most tragic. He saved the life of a man he's considered a friend, but to do so he had to take eternity away from a truly wonderful being.

How do you balance those scales? He has no idea.

All he knows is that, when he looks up into the house, and sees Nancy holding her husband's hand as he sleeps -- as he really, truly sleeps for the first time in years -- he is content, though sad.

The pistol he got from his Chief Medical Officer is still in his pocket. He had it on his person years ago, ready to use it in case they needed to make it so that Reagan couldn't get the power back from the Backers. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary -- he was already so confused by having the power taken away that he was in no shape to accept it again.

And as everyone else in that hallway, including SPYGOD, had a special tattoo that kept Heaven from taking them over, well... that was the end of that.

But he held onto the gun, just in case. And when he learned that his friend was being troubled by the visions of some horrible future he'd been trying to avert? That he couldn't keep his mind straight for all the terrible things he was seeing?

Well, he knew exactly where to aim it.

Sadly, it wouldn't be as clean a shot as he would have liked. The ray was too blunt a tool for that sort of thing. It was able to cut out those parts of the brain, but it would remove others at the same time.

And what was left behind...

He's hurt his friend. He understands this. He realizes he's given him a condition that will degrade and make it harder for him to remember things than ever before.

They'll say it's Alzheimer's, even if it isn't. 

But at least he will be able to sleep, and dream. At least there will be moments of lucidity.

At least there will be peace, before the end.

"Memories," he muses, putting the gun away. There are times when he wonders if he knows everything he should know, or if things have been removed from his own mind. If so, how would he ever know?

Things like that keep him up at night, too. But there's also times when he realizes that, given how the world works, everything that might have been hidden will one day come to light.

And usually at the craziest time.

Smirking at that thought, he leaves the Reagan house, taking care to lock the door behind him.

And then, like an abruptly misplaced thought, he's gone, but not quite forgotten. 

* * *

After his frankly-embarrassing defeat to Bill Clinton in 1992, George Herbert Walker Bush dedicated himself to charitable causes, but largely avoided politics. Unfortunately, when the Imago arrived, he was found guilty of America's "crimes," and executed along with most surviving members of his cabinet -- including James Baker.

Dan Quayle went into business, kept his head down, and avoided public speaking. When the Imago came he managed to hide, along with a few other minor Republicans and right-leaning independents. He has since become the interim President of the United States of America, following the end of its time as a client state of the Terre Unifee. 

Nancy Reagan has become a tireless advocate for stem-cell research, going so far as to beg Presidents to relax their rules to allow for more experimentation. She weathers all storms as they come. She still sends SPYGOD cards on his birthday, even if he doesn't visit since Ronald Died.

Ronald Wilson Reagan lived until 2004. They said he died from complications of Alzheimer's, but that was not quite true. He remains the only American President to have survived making a deal with the Backers, and is the reason why no one answers the telephone in the Oval Office.

The Olympians mysteriously vanished around 1992, but very few people remember them as they truly were. Ironically, neither did they. But now they have returned to a world that doesn't know who they are, or what they can actually do.

That is about to change...

* * *

Atlantis will rise, sunset Boulevard will fall
Where the beach use to be won't be nothin' at all
That's the way it appears

(SPYGOD is listening to California Earthquake (Mama Cass) and having a Highland Park Beer Memories)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 3: 1986

"Night Makes Right / The Symbol Remains"

(Back) Ariel, President Ronald Wilson Reagan, The Negotiator
(Front) Kanaan, Sheliast, Nemesis, Sphyne, Senchro
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.

Ronald Reagan - "Eulogy for the Challenger Disaster" 

June 10th, 1994

At some point, SPYGOD realizes he's all cried out. The wet on his face feels cold, rather than warm, and he's no longer hitching his breath.

"Okay then," he says to the storm, which just seems to be getting worse. It only ever seems to rain in California if there's a funeral, or someone's dying. 

And as for this, well...

He coughs into his fist. Enough of this weak !@#$. Time to butch the !@#$ up and go back in before someone says or does something stupid.

Of course, he gets back into the Reagans' living room as something stupid's already been said. 

"... the heck are you to tell us anything, huh?" George H. W. Bush is berating Aaron, over by the window: "I'm surprised you even came here, tonight-"

"I felt it was my duty to attend," the man says, not looking away from the window to address the man who's shouting at him. 

"Your duty? You've got some nerve talking about that, mister."

"George, please just drop it," his wife says from one of the easy chairs, not too far from the other two men in the room. Barbara's not crying -- he'll give her that much -- but she's clearly upset. 

"Yes, please, just drop it," James Baker sighs: "It's done. We can't change things-"

"And if he and his creepy friends hadn't started this, there wouldn't be anything to change, darn it!"

"Don't you !@#$ing take this out on him," SPYGOD snarls, coming in from the rain and the wet: "Don't you dare."

"Why the heck not?" Bush asks: "He's one of the ones who approached him in the first place, isn't he?"

"And he's also the one who !@#$ing lost everything to help us, !@#$it-"

"He's right," Aaron says, still not turning around from the window: "My deeds after we came to our understanding are not sufficient apology for what we did."

"Maybe not," Baker says: "But they go a long way in my book."

"And mine," Quayle says, not bothering to look at his old boss. 

"Well, that's just flipping great," Bush sighs, turning away and shaking his head: "One of the greatest Presidents we ever had is... I can't even bring myself to say it. And you're all wanting to make nice with the person who helped him get that way."

"We're focusing on the future, George," Baker says, walking over to him: "There's nothing we can do about the past, now. We have to live in the world we made. The world all of us made, together."

"Some !@#$ing world," SPYGOD mutters, thinking of everything they lost along the way. 

"Hey, at least we're still here," Quayle says, trying to smile: "That was kind of the whole point of it, right?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD sighs, nodding: "I just wonder when we're really going to get the !@#$ing bill for what we bought, that day."

And no one has anything to say to that. 

* * *

June 10th, 1986

"Well !@#$ me sideways with a !@#$ spoon," SPYGOD shouts into his communicator as he fires out the window of his flying car, dusting HONEYCOMB agents riding swarms of giant metal insects like they're buzzing dust clouds: "I've got amateur hour at the bug house over !@#$ing DC, here, Second!"

"I know, sir," his new right-hand man is saying: "I've got a general call out to anyone available. But it looks like everyone's tied up across the board."

"You have to be !@#$ing kidding me," SPYGOD shouts, doing a barrel roll to avoid being skewered by radioactive bug sludge: "Is this part of a coordinated attack?

"Not so far as we can tell. Everyone else is just... busy. Sir."

Busy. SPYGOD does not like the sound of that. Not at all.

The skies over the nation's capitol are darkened. Waves of tin locusts are descending upon the city. Once they get here, they're going to start eating everything -- buildings, trees, people -- in order to clear the area for some new model city HONEYCOMB wants to build, here.

And it's all he can do to shoot the advance guard and not get chewed up in return...

* * *


Black leather pants. FRANKIE SAYS ARM YOURSELVES shirt. 
Pink Members' Only Jacket. Curly perm. Steel-Toed High-heels
More guns than anyone has any business having.

(Listening to Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11")
"Teenage crime now fashion's dead / Shoot it up
There goes my love rocket red / Shoot it up"

* * *

"See, here's the thing," John is saying in that warbling, grey voice of his: "You can't just make any old cotton-pickin' alterations to reality that you'd like, any old time you'd like to.

"There's a way about things. An order, for want of a better word."

(He's an Operator. Always has been. Wears grey. Looks grey. Beaten hat. Dusty overcoat. Long nose. Never without a !@#$ drink.)

"Now, any penny-ante magician can bend the world to his will, of course. Been doing it for years. You know all about that, I think.

"But when you wave your wand and say 'abracadabra,' everyone knows the hat didn't have a rabbit in it, before. One moment it doesn't, the next it does. 

"And that's the magic at work."

(Knocks back his drink. Somehow it's still full when he's done.)

"Now, people like us. Operators. We can make it so that the hat always had a !@#$ rabbit in it. Only we know for sure it wasn't there before. We do it all the !@#$ time.

"But it takes us years to figure out how. It's no little thing to unzip the guts of the world and sew it all back together. Accidents cause real problems.

"I bet you can imagine."

(Coughs into his fist. Looks at the table. Then around the run-down bar.)

"And here you're telling me that there's a special way the government has of changing things, now? That they've got the power to just flip a !@#$ switch and make changes to reality? 

"Well, my friend... I think that might just be a problem, don't you?"

 * * *

"Second, this is a direct order," SPYGOD says, as calmly as he can: "You've been working for me for, what, ten years, now?"

"Yes sir."

"And you've been my Second for all of a week, right?"

"Yes sir," Second says, smiling a little as he knows what's coming next.

"Well, if you want to not only have your job another !@#$ing day, not to mention breathe in that time? Get me some !@#$ing strategic talents up here !@#$ing ASAP! I don't care if you have to order out from a god!@#$ Pizza place! I don't care if you have to shake them out of the old !@#$ heroes' home and put their diapers on! Just get me one decent cape up here. Now!"

Second hears the line go dead, and sighs. Some of the other people on the Flier look at him as though he's a dead man walking, already. But he didn't get this far by being a pushover, or being afraid of his boss all but !@#$ting down the phone at him.

He got this far by doing the one thing his boss can't do: delegate, with a !@#$ing vengeance. 

And, after a few seconds to catch his breath and decide who on this bridge needs to feel his boot up their !@#$, he does just that. 

* * *

Point, aim, shoot. Point, aim, shoot. Over and over again. 

SPYGOD doesn't even think about it, after the first 100 or so. He wills bullets to their targets.

He makes them die with his mind.

It's the mystery of the projectile. The riddle of the gun.

A secret handed down one gunslinger to another, like bullets from a barrel.

And until his Second can come through for him, it's just his weapons against all of this. 

("Sometimes you're better off dead / There's a gun in your hands and it's pointing at your head.")

Point, aim, shoot. Point, aim, shoot.

Over and over again. 

* * *

"So let me see if I've got this straight," the Negotiator says, sitting bolt-upright in the booth of the upscale bar they've met at: "You have a friend. And your friend made a deal with... let's call them a rival corporation, for want of a better word?"

"I figure that's the best way to put it, anyway."

(Just another suit-wearing corporate weasel, one thinks. Expensive, crisp suit. Fancy silk tie. $500 haircut. Soothing, even voice.) 

"Now, this deal? It's forever. There's no going back for him, which is the bad news, I'm afraid."

"I know you're disappointed. I would be in your place, too."

(A smile that never wavers, but leaves you feeling cold as ice.)

"But as for the peripheral parts of the deal? The ones that are affecting others? 

"Well, those are not forever. In fact, they're very breakable, provided you know how."

(Every so often, the feeling that there's something behind that smile. A darkness, cold and absolute. Red glowing lines where there should be facial features.)

(The smell of sulphur.)

"However, there is just one catch...."

* * *

"Sir?" Second is saying, exactly four minutes and fifty-nine seconds later: "I've got you some capes."

"Well thank !@#$ for that!" SPYGOD shouts, doing a barrel roll in his car to avoid a shower of busted metal bug guts: "Did you have to call up the old folks home?"

"No sir, I've got you some top talent, in fact. Ten of them."

"Who?" SPYGOD asks, knowing full well that all the top talent he can think of is elsewhere, doing other things.

Then he hears the thunder, from not too far away. Boom after boom after boom, ringing through a clear sky.

"Oh !@#$," he mutters: "Um, Second?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Did you call the White House?"

"I did, sir."

"Did they send the god!@#$ Olympians?"

"Yes, sir. They did. You should be seeing them about now?"

"I am, yes," SPYGOD says, very carefully flying his car out of what's about to become an even more insane warzone, and then accelerating as quickly as he can: "Please have the Flier standing by for emergency assistance and clean-up. Like !@#$ing right now."

"Sir? Is it that bad?"

"That bad?" he winces, looking back just one time: "Second, I think we just !@#$ing bought ourselves a ringside seat in Hades. Literally."

"Oh dear..."

* * *

If he lives to be 200, SPYGOD will never forget this moment. 

January, 1981. Just after Inauguration Day. It's time for the Supergods to meet the new boss.

And he's not having any of their nonsense, anymore. 

SPYGOD stands there, helpless. He watches as the President, who's been a friend an ally for decades, rips into these seventeen well-meaning men and women as though they were delinquent kids. Upbraiding them for their global focus. Accusing them of collusion with the Communists.

Telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for playing at being gods. 

What could he say? How could he have interfered? He has no idea. 

But he sees the look on Seranu's face when Reagan tells him things are going to change. It's the same look that august being gave him when he left that Gathering, back in '77, with Reagan.

Knowing and sad, like he knew this was coming.

Like he knew this had to happen, here and now. 

And yet, here he is, somehow ok with it...?

("I look to you / And your strong belief / Me, I want relief / Tonight")

Their King-Father's certainty shames him. Reminds him of Jesus, carrying the cross.

He looks away, embarrassed, as one friend crucifies another...

* * *

"Oh, that is nothing, truly, my friend," Benjamin Franklin says as he puts yet another wondrous contraption down on a table filled with equally-amazing things: "None of these devices are really more than toys, to be honest.

"You should see the truly impressive work I am doing elsewhere, with myself."

(Much as you'd expect him to be. A portly, older gentleman, looking somewhat out of place in a fine suit and vest. He's kept his old glasses, though.)

"You see, the action by Shift, of bringing me from my time into yours, has caused my body to be suffused with time energy. Now most physicists speak of tachyons, which are particles that travel backwards in time.

"Except that I have become convinced that my particles are not so much a traveling thing as a bridge between places. I am both here, in this time, and still in mine, right where Shift found me. 

"Do you understand?"

(A big contagious smile. Nights of drinking and dancing in a new body, unencumbered by his age and girth.)

(Weird stories of what he gets up to, late at night, when no one is looking.)

"Well, it is very technical. I must confess that half the time I do not know what I'm doing until I have done it. But it is very exciting.

"In fact, I think I may have just made a car that can arrive before it departed. 

"Would you care for a ride?"

(A bigger smile. A layer of innuendo. Strangely compelling attraction.)

(The uncomfortable knowledge that he's been set up for a fall.)

* * *

"This is bull!@#$, son," SPYGOD barks at the young Marine inside the suit of high-tech armor, standing outside what has to be the tenth set of underground, guarded double doors he's gone through in less than fifteen minutes: "You know !@#$ well who I am."

"Rules, sir," the Machinemarine squeaks out.

"Please don't make trouble, sir," the other one there pleads: "This is the White House."

"And I've been welcome here longer than you've been alive, kid."

"Sir, please," the first one all but begs: "Don't get me disciplined. It's my first day here."

"Oh, alright," SPYGOD sighs, showing off an official, laminated picture of him flipping off the camera: "Here's my god!@#$ ID. Just !@#$ing let me through-"

"Sir, will you please just look into the retinal scanner like we asked-"

"It won't work, you dumb!@#$. It's made of glass!"

"Then, the other one? Under the eyepatch?" the other Machinemarine asks.

"Oh sure, let's !@#$ing do that," SPYGOD snorts, and lifts his flap to show off the other eye.

The moment the scanner registers it, it begins to smoke and make unhappy noises. Fortunately, the door does open. 

"Waste of !@#$ing taxpayer money," he says, walking through the doors that were not there just yesterday: "Someone's getting the mother of all kickbacks."

Down one more hall. One more ramp. One more set of doors that is opened for him, this time, and he's in the cavernous Command Room, finally. 

There are big screens on the walls and ceilings, focused on various trouble spots around the world. Technicians and Generals stand everywhere, taking and giving orders. Scientists are gathered around banks of computers, overlooking the reams of data coming in. 

And not a !@#$ing one of them seems to understand the gravity of the situation.

"Alright," he says to those assembled there, which includes the Vice President and Dr. Yesterday: "Does someone want to tell me what the !@#$ is going on?"

"I beg your pardon?" Yesterday says, almost dropping his teacup. The Vice President just sighs.

"You !@#$ing told me you had the Olympians under lock and key until you, and I quote, 'figured this all out,'" SPYGOD says, stomping towards the man with a look like murder on his face: "Well, I just saw them go Full Metal Jacket overhead, Bob. I don't think that counts as !@#$ing figured out."

"Well, yes," Dr. Yesterday says, sighing and gesturing to the big board: "We decided it was time for a field test, (REDACTED). And I think you'll agree the results were pretty spectacular-"

"Oh for !@#$'s sake," SPYGOD groans, grabbing the controls for the big board away from some gawp-eyed tech and refocusing the view from the skies of DC to the ground: "Does that look spectacular to you?"

Everyone gasps at the wreckage. Buildings are burning. Streets melt and catch fire. Storefronts shatter and explode.

And throughout it all stride ten of the Olympians -- gleefully destroying the city they were sent to save as they destroy the enemies that tried to beat them to it. 

"All they !@#$ing did was bring the fight from the skies down to the ground," SPYGOD shouts at everyone there: "No concern for civilians! No concern for property damage! No concern for all the god!@#$ memorials and tourist attractions that make this town a !@#$ing vacation spot instead of the black pit of leftist bureaucracy that it actually is!"

"I think you need to calm down, sir," the Vice President says, as gently as possible.

"Calm down?!" SPYGOD shouts, smashing the controls with his fist: "What does it say when I'm the one being !@#$ing concerned about collateral damage, George? Huh?"

No one has anything to say to that. 

* * *

Inside the Oval Office, Ronald Wilson Reagan sits at his desk, staring into space.

He just forgot where he was, for the third time today. 

It's happening more and more, this absence of self. This disconnection from the here and now.

The moments when he stops being here, and goes elsewhere. 

It's a horrible feeling -- vertiginous and strange. He thinks about what he has to do, and what the day has brought him, and then he sees things.

Terrible things. 

When the state passes, he is back. He knows what he must do, but not always why. 

And he has an understanding, clear as crystal, of what will happen if he gets it wrong.

He reaches into the jar of jelly bellies on his desk, and munches on a few. The taste brings him back to the here and now. 

(How many has he had, today? He used to know. He can't remember, now.)

He begins to write about what he saw. The state of emergency in South Africa. Yet another excuse to keep their people from freedom, but he knows he must criticize but not confront.

He must allow this Apartheid abomination to continue, in spite of what he could do to end it. 

It breaks his heart. So much power, yet so little freedom to use it. All his moves watched over. All his words carefully measured. 

All his decisions made for him, by his Backers. 

("That's just the way it is / Some things will never change") 

He closes his eyes. He refocuses. He writes. 

And it all comes true...

* * *
"Oh, the connection to up top is !@#$ real," John warbles: "We Operators, we sort of skirt around it.

"That's why we're all in the Grey. Somewhere between the dark and the light, if you know what I mean.

"And I think you !@#$ well do."

(Still working the same magically-refilled drink, hours later. A little more talkative, now.)

"Normally, the folks up there are happy to just let us stand or fall on our own. Hasn't been a real !@#$ intervention since the Man Jesus, all those years ago.

"And look what a god-!@#$ mess that was. Trying to splice the kingdom of Heaven with the world below it...."

(A wistful look. A crack in the cynicism.)

"But here's the thing. To make this sort of thing work, they'll need a physical point of intersection.

"A link, if you want to call it that."

(Pats his gnarled hand on the table. Nods at it.)

"Oh, you know what I'm !@#$ing talking about?  Well, that just figures. They say you know all.

"Or is that just you saying it, all along? I've never been sure about that.

(A raised eyebrow, then furrowing)

"Well, know this, my friend. As long as that link is there, and they've got some poor !@#$-hole to connect to it? The problems are just going to get worse.

"A lot !@#$ worse.

"Why? Well, it's bad enough now. But just wait until some !@#$ fool gets it in his head to bring about a real change."

(A cocked eyebrow at the obvious question.)

"Like, how about Hitler never came to power? How about no more Communism? How about no more bad guys, anywhere?

 "As it is, they can't even !@#$ing rewrite the fine details on a bakers dozen superpeople. You know !@#$ well about that.

"But just wait till they try to handle all the angles on ancient history, or a whole concept. Just wait till they realize there's too way too many fine details to rewrite.

"And when they can't... well, you'll know, friend. You'll see us there to clean it up. 

"And if we have to clean it up..."

(The most stern and threatening look he's ever seen this man give.)

(It chills. Truly.)
* * *

It's some time later. The fires have been put out. The wounded have been tended to, the damage contained.

And the toys have all been put back in the box.

"This seriously !@#$ing creeps me out," SPYGOD says, watching on closed-circuit TV as the ten Olympians cleared for active duty are marched through the complex, guided by fully-armed and very nervous Machinemarines.

They're all wearing shiny, white uniforms with a big, round O on the right lapel. Black boots and belts. High tech wrist communicators.

(Blank, vapid expressions.)

"Well, it's the best we could do, at least for now," Dr. Yesterday says, pouring himself another cup of coffee from a handy pot. They're in his office, now, going over things now that everyone's had a chance to cool down, somewhat. Blue dwarfs run this way and that, bringing tools and components here and there, as they tend to do.

(And SPYGOD knows better than to ask who made the coffee.)

"'The best you could do,'" SPYGOD mocks: "You're supposed to be our expert on Strategic Talents, Bob."

"It was Mr. Franklin and I," the man says: "We handled it together, and I know I held up my end. So if there's any mistakes...?"

SPYGOD just looks at the man, and then shakes his head in disgust: "'If?'"

"Well, this is a work in progress. It's a very complex thing-"

"Bull!@#$! You're the one go to when we're !@#$ing broken, or growing extra arms or heads! You mean to tell me you can't handle their biology?"

"It's not the biology that's the problem," the scientist sighs, watching as their leader, Seranu, is deposited at the door of his living quarters, and has to be reminded to go in and close the door: "It's their minds."

"What, you can't get them some competent therapy?"

"It's not that simple, (REDACTED). When we rewrote their history the second time... well, something got lost. Something we haven't been able to get back."

"Why the !@#$ did you have to rewrite them, anyway?" his guest says, grabbing a cup himself, and then tipping most of a flask of hooch into it: "What was wrong with the previous story?"

"Oh, having them be gods hiding in mortal form?" Dr. Yesterday says, taking notes as the others are led, in turn, to their homes: "Well, I guess that proved to be kind of sacrilegious. I think the Reverend Falwell complained, and, well, you know how tight he is with the President."

"Don't !@#$ing remind me," SPYGOD snorts: "I had to sit there and listen to him call me a degenerate at the last prayer breakfast. I swear, one of these days I'm going to dress up like Satan and bring a god!@#$ flamethrower..."

"You know, you could try being a little less flamboyant, (REDACTED)," the scientist says: "Sometimes you have to go along to get along."

"And maybe you should ask your !@#$ wife to help you with this problem, Bob," SPYGOD says, deciding not to kick the man's testicles into his skull -- this time.

"Oh, Geri?" Dr. Yesterday visibly blanches: "Well, she's really busy with a lot of projects right now. I don't want to disturb her-"

"No, you just don't want her to know how badly you !@#$ed this up."

"Now, see, that's unfair-"

"Unfair?" SPYGOD snorts: "All those people ever wanted to do was !@#$ing help us out, Bob. And in return, we magically lobotomized them. Twice."

"I had my orders," Dr. Yesterday insists, sadly: "So do you."

"Oh, I know all about those !@#$ orders. I seem to recall fighting a war against some !@#$ers who were all to happy to follow theirs. And I know you know where that led."

"That's..." the scientist blanches again, almost dropping his cup of coffee: "My god, that's offensive."

"Yeah, it is," SPYGOD replies: "But maybe that's why you really don't want to bring Geri in on this, Bob. You know exactly what she'll say.

"And you know why, too."

And then he walks away from Dr. Yesterday before he says, or does, anything more harsh than that.

* * *

The thing they all really remember about that day is the light. 

They all wore special sunglasses, in that room. They were warned to keep them on. They were also told to stand well back from the insertion point. 

And no one was going to argue with those Backers -- not then, not ever.

The room was specially prepared for weeks. Lined with steel they found somewhere unbelievable. Work crews with concrete stood just outside the door, waiting for the signal to brick it up.

But inside, there was something that had to happen, first. A sign of fealty, they said. 

Reagan alone knelt. He was the one, after all. The one the Backers had chosen to work with.

The one who had taken the yoke upon his own neck, for good or for ill.

Everyone else? They just stood and watched, agog. 

They stared in disbelief as the one called Ariel brought a blazing, long sword from nowhere -- its light the equal of a million suns, yet cold. 

They shook as he drove it into the floor of the room, speaking a language not heard on Earth since the Garden of Eden.

And then they all gladly left when bidden, the heat just starting to lick at the back of their shoes. 

When it was done, and the room sealed, they went up to the Oval Office. There, in the corner, was something that had not been there before. 

A telephone, up on a marble pillar. A big, black and intimidating thing with no dial.

It had no cord. It didn't need one. 

It began to ring. The sort of noise that was impossible to not acknowledge. 

And then Ariel pointed to it, and told the President he needed to answer it when it called. 

"Who's on the other end?" The President asked.

"Who do you think?" the Backer said, smiling. 

And it was not a kind smile. Not anymore. 

They all left the room, after that, giving Reagan some privacy. And they all looked to one another, already inventing explanations for what they just saw. Already doing their best to reject it. 

All but SPYGOD, who had seen it through an eye that allowed no rejection of the obvious.

("How can you be so invisible? / Give me the nerves to see")

Ever after, either Aaron or Ariel was at the White House, or wherever he went. Ever after, when the phone rang, he answered it. 

Ever after, he would stare into space for some time, and come back with some new answer to whatever question was perplexing them -- sometimes for things that hadn't happened yet, sometimes for things that, now, never would.

Ever after, the White House no longer belonged to the people of America, but to the God they said they were under.

And while some were alright with this, and some ecstatic, some could tell that the weight of Heaven was a terrible burden for their President.

And some decided something should be done about it...

* * *

"Really? You're asking me?" The Negotiator smirks.

"Well, I mean no disrespect, but given your line of work I'd have thought you'd have figured that out by now. In some ways we're not so different.

(A hand held up to deflect wrath.)

"No, don't get upset. Think. 

"We both get what we want by giving others things they want but can't have, or don't think they can get. The trick is knowing what those things are, and how much to ask for them.

"You see?"

(A disappointed smile, most likely just for show. Scripted.)

"Ah, well, maybe it is a hard thing to understand. Even you can only see the world through so many angles.

"How about this, then? Imagine you're a creature of duty. I'm sure you can do that."

(Knowing smile.)

"Now imagine you are immortal, created to fulfill that duty for an eternity. Imagine you have the imagination to think of other things to do, but no opportunity to do them, because you're always busy.

"And imagine that, when you're down here, watching over humans, you gain a vicarious thrill from seeing them go about their free lives. Making mistakes. Having victories. Living and loving all on their own.

"See, that's what they want. Not free will, as they actually do have it. But they want the freedom to try and to fail.

"The luxury of sin."

(A flicker at that word. The blackness becomes visible, just for a second.)

"Oh yes. They love humans for that simple, small thing. The failing people like you try to purge from yourselves to enter Heaven is the one thing that those who live there wish they could do.

"But no. They're on 24/7. Little angel bees, out making the holy honey for the big G. No time to sin. No time to do anything.

"Unless, of course, they could come down here on official business, and yet not be seen..."

(The worm..)

"Oh yes. There's ways to do that, my friend. Many ways."

(... the hook...)

"Are you interested in hearing about them?"

(And one good, hard pull...)

* * *

"Oh, so good to see you, good friend," Ben Franklin says, shaking SPYGOD's hand as he enters a side room he wasn't expecting to stumble into.

He really was just looking for the exit. Or the john. Maybe both.

"Good to see you too, Ben," he says, looking around at things. There are a bunch of scientists in here, all poring over notes and charts, and looking at photographs and videos. There's also some ladies in amusingly-scanty attire, alternating between hanging all over the scientists and serving cocktails off of trays.

A bar in the corner. Anti-communist posters on the walls. Heavy rock playing from a stereo.

(Blue Oyster Cult's last album, he thinks. Not really his thing.)

"Can I offer you a drink?" the Founding Father asks, waving a hand around the room: "I think we're all a little lit up, at this point. That is what you say these days, is it not?"

"It is, and I don't mind if I do," SPYGOD sighs, closing the door behind them: "Truth to tell I could !@#$ing use a whole car full of drinks at this point."

"Yes, I hear things were... not so well, up top?"

"That's putting it !@#$ing mildly," he says, grabbing two drinks from the nearest tray and downing them one after the other: "Hopefully my Second's got the !@#$ figured out, or he's going to have the shortest career in the COMPANY."

Ben laughs for a moment, and then realizes his new guest isn't joking. After that he just has a drink along with him, and nods sagely.

"So what is all this?" SPYGOD asks, looking around: "Tappa Kegga Brew having a careers in science day?"

The portly man laughs, and then shakes his head: "I must give myself credit, my friend. I actually understood that."

"Caught up on a few movies, eh?"

"One could say that. I have also been pooling the graduate students at the nearby colleges for talent! I've found them most refreshing in their youth and enthusiasm."

"Not to mention the looks," SPYGOD snorts, grabbing another drink and walking over to a nearby table. There, the scientists are discussing something about weaponized dreams. A picture of pale, willowy Sphyne is passed around and tapped.

"So?" SPYGOD asks again. It's the sort of tone he takes with people when he doesn't want to have to repeat himself.

"Well, this is sort of top secret, or so they tell me," Ben explains: "But in short? We are working on doing something with the other eight Olympians."

"Something?" SPYGOD asks: "Like what?"

"Well, as you know, not all of them have talents that are directly applicable to a battle with other Strategic Talents. Case in point, as much as I may appreciate the more erotic side of things, well... could you see Rosi in a fight? What would the young lady do, love them to death?"

"S/he does alright," SPYGOD says, watching a rather large, black man discussing a large stack of printouts about Syphon. He's talking about cloning programs. Short-lived armies made for specific battles, needing only DNA, programing, and a mission.

"And then there's the other limitations," Ben sighs: "Apparently Nemesis is proving to be quite bothersome."

"How so?" SPYGOD asks, remembering the last time he ran into the fiery lady. The look she gave him made even him just a little scared.

And what she'd said...

"Well, here's the thing," the Founding Father goes on: "You know the trouble our government has been having with Libya? That fellow who runs things these days is apparently being quite bothersome and warlike. Not far removed from the troubles we had with them in my time-"

"That he has," SPYGOD interrupts: "What of it?"

"Well, someone had the good sense to ask if Nemesis would be willing to kill him. She asked why. So she was told all the things he had done, and when we were done, she said she could only kill him for those crimes if she killed all other heads of state for the same crimes."

SPYGOD cracks a smile, which Ben was clearly not expecting: "Well, good sir, you can imagine how well that went over..."

"Yes I can," SPYGOD says, smiling even wider: "A god-weapon with a conscience and a sense of humor. Must be !@#$ing inconvenient."

"Well, do you have any advice?" Franklin asks: "Given how much time you spend with others like her, perhaps you could talk some sense into her."

"No," he says, grabbing a drink for the road before he heads out: "But let me give you some advice, Ben."

"What would that be, good sir?"

"Stop it," the man says, looking around the room: "Stop this !@#$. All of it. Stop trying to turn Kanaan into a probability bomb. Stop trying to make Sheliast your personal island-sinker. And as for messing around with Hoosk... well, good luck there."

There's a hush over the room, just then. All the scientists look to Ben, who looks to them, and then to their guest: "You do realize we're... well, we are supposed to-"

"Ben, the best thing I ever !@#$ing read in school was you telling people to stop !@#$ing obeying orders and start listening to what you thought was right," SPYGOD says, tapping the portly man's chest: "Take your own advice, Mr. Franklin."

"Sir, I am not accustomed to having my own words turned against me," the founding father says, taking the drink out of his now-unwelcome guest's hands: "And if you cannot be civil-"

"And just so you know, doing this?" SPYGOD says, leaning in close to whisper: "It's not going to !@#$ing save you when the time comes. Trust me on that. If Shift said something, it's going to come true."

That gets him a look of hate and fear so dire it almost breaks his heart. At the very least, it does silence Franklin up, but at a terrible cost. 

So he gets out of there, cursing his tendency to shoot his !@#$ mouth off.

* * *

"I don't like this," the Vice President is saying: "Not one darn bit."

"I agree, sir," SPYGOD says, looking out the window of the limo they're in for this meeting. It's the middle of the day, but yet it's dark as night out there.

It's a COMPANY Car, made for these kinds of meetings. No sound gets out. No light gets in. No one can hear them speak or think.

Total blackout. 

"I've seen that man go right down the tubes the last few years. Ever since the day they put that sword into the floor of the basement."

"He hasn't !@#$ing been himself, no," SPYGOD admits: "It almost looks like he's got a !@#$ limiter in his noggin."

"A what?"

SPYGOD just looks at him: "Come on, sir. You were in charge of the other Company for a hot minute, back in the day. Don't you remember when SQUASH was putting biochemical and hypnotic programming into their agents' brains?"

"I... might have read something about that."

"Well, it's a moot point, now. Making it so you can't !@#$ing think about anything but the mission causes a lot of !@#$ing problems. Turns your !@#$ brains to J-E-L-L-O pudding after a couple months."

"And that's the problem, isn't it?" the man says, looking out the window at whatever SPYGOD was staring at, a moment ago: "In two years, I might be President. Am I just supposed to... I don't know. Kneel down? Become their darn puppet?"

"That might well be the !@#$ plan, provided we're all still around."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that... !@#$, I feel stupid saying this, sir, but do you get the feeling we're being !@#$ing pointed at World War III?"

The man looks at him, and then nods -- very slowly and sadly.

"I do. A lot of reckless things. Very silly things. Well, we could be handling things better. A lot better."

"Agreed. I mean, I !@#$ing hate the commies more than anything, but I don't want it to end with us nuking Moscow. I'll just do damage control until they can overthrow them, same as always."

The Vice President smiles: "A sensible view. You're a more practical man than I took you for, sir."

"So, speaking practically?" SPYGOD asks, leaning forward: "If there was some way for me to get the President out of this !@#$hole he's fallen into, and our country out of this !@#$ing arrangement, would I have your blessing? Seeing as how you're most likely going to be the next President?"

George Herbert Walker Bush smiles.

("Those lips conspire in treachery / To strike in cloak and dagger, see!")

Carefully extends a hand to shake. 

SPYGOD takes it, knowing he may yet live to regret this.

But, for his nation, and a friend, he'll do !@#$ near anything. 

 * * *

"So, I've had a chance to think, since our last conversation," Ben Franklin says, as the Bugatti takes them across the country in -30 seconds. 

(Less relaxed now. More cautious.)

"I think you may just be right, sir. I do not like the direction this is going. Not at all.

"I think we are tampering with things best left alone. And I say that both as a scientist, and a man who, while not always in step with the Lord God, knows enough of the divine to know that one does not merely poke at it with a stick."

(Downshifts, making the journey last longer.)

"I am not certain what direction this may go. I am not entirely certain of my own motives, given how things are.

"But I do know that, when the time comes, and our masters decide they no longer wish to try and rework and remodel these beings, I feel I can have some say in what happens to them.

"And I would very much like your assistance with this, as you alone seem to care for their welfare. 

"If I leave things up to that Dr. Yesterday fellow..."

(A long, cold shudder.)

"Are we agreed, then? When the time comes, let us be one in this, my friend.

"We both owe them much, and I so most of all..."

* * *

Outside the White House, in the Rose garden, SPYGOD lights up a cigarette. He doesn't give a !@#$ who sees, or what they might say. 

Let them all watch.

The situation has been contained and cleaned as best as possible. Second pulled out every stop to make sure it was done so. He was also amazingly contrite about it, but did not offer to resign, even in spite of the casualty lists. 

SPYGOD likes that. This man might be able to hack it after all...

"You know, you really shouldn't smoke out here," someone says to him, not without some humor.

"You think anyone's going to stop me?" SPYGOD snorts, turning to look and see who it is. But the moment he realizes it's Nancy Reagan, he coughs and puts the cigarette out in his hand, and then tosses the smoking butt into a zippered pocket on his suit. 

"Oh, (REDACTED)," she chuckles: "What are we going to do with you?"

"I won't say no to an iced tea."

"Neither would I, normally. But... not today, eh?" she says, taking hold of his arm and letting him walk her around. 

They walk in silence for a time. Her tiny hands can't both wrap around his arm, which amuses them both.

(He likes her touch. It reminds him of his mother.)

"He's not doing well, is he?" he asks, as gently as he can.

"No, he's not," she says, trying not to stumble in her words: "He's been having nightmares, now."

"Oh?" SPYGOD asks: "What kind?"

"He wakes up screaming. He says 'It's coming.' But when he comes to, he can't remember what. He just knows that he's terribly afraid of what he saw."

"How often?"

"Almost every night. He used to be able to just shake them off, but now... he's not a young man, anymore, (REDACTED). He's later to rise and unsteady. And that phone... every time he gets off of it I think he's got another grey hair."

He nods again: "Nancy, I have to ask you to ask me something."

"That's a really strange way to put it."

"It is, but..." he stops, and turns around to look at her: "I might be able to help him. I might be able to end all this. But it's going to take some doing. It's also going to take some... drastic things. Maybe even bad things."

"And you want to know if I'm okay with it."

"Yes," he says, trying to find the strength to look in her eyes as he says this: "I can't promise anything, right now. I'm still looking into it."


"But I've seen and heard enough in my time to know that something like this? It's... well, excuse my French, Nancy, but it's not going to !@#$ing end well. Not at all."

She looks at him for a moment, as if she was going to scold him for his potty-mouth. But she just nods, looks askance, and then looks back up: "The man I married made a bad deal with people he thought he could trust. He told me he did this to save America, no matter the cost. But I don't think we're saving anything. I think we're just marching faster to the end."

"I don't know what I can do about that," SPYGOD admits: "But I might be able to save him."

"Then please do it," she says, looking off to the Oval Office windows: "Bring me my husband back, (REDACTED). If you still can, please do it."

She doesn't cry. He gives her that much. 

And neither does he. At least not today. 

* * *

Speed is the game in the shadow of kings
Where the company of angels fly
They appear at the crossroads at once in the future
Clad in the darkness on the highways of night
With no love ... from the past

(SPYGOD is listening to Shadow of California (Blue Oyster Cult) and having a Ghost King)