Monday, October 24, 2016

Apotheoclypse Now: 10/17/16 - 10/23/16

"I'm Looking For a Man / Who Knows the Rules of the Game"

(Anubis, who is not taking your !@#$, anymore)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

So... that's him? one Watcher asks the others with her as they observe and participate in the Fiction they have written for the six people they've plucked from Bastogne, on Christmas of 1944: The uncouth one?

Yes, the one who brought them here says, pointing to the one who can make swords come from his hands: That is (REDACTED), as he was then.

He seems rather... unimpressive, one of the others says, observing a bit closer as he shoves a very large mouthful of the fine food they've created for this meal into his mouth.

His speech is tiresome, another opines, clearing the plates from the table: He seems capable only of annoyance and self-satisfaction.

And his attempts at humor are... lacking, yet another chuckles.

True, their guide says: But consider how far he came. How he grew and changed. Also what he did, when it was truly important to have one clear, far-seeing person to usher in the changes of the 21st century.

So what is the purpose of this lesson? the least shy of the Watchers asks: Are we to glean the future from his excessive profanity?

No, Shift says to his five apprentices: You are, under my direction, going to decide how the future is to be shaped, and why.

They look at him with some confusion, so he elaborates: This meeting we have constructed is not so much a contrivance as an intervention. If we had not acted, they would have killed one another, and the world would be without six of its most influential men.

But they cannot all survive, one of the Watchers says: They cannot all prosper. That one there, the one known as Heimdall? He dies in a Soviet camp, not many years from now.

Yes, but why does he have to? Shift asks: Why does he not live? Why does that other one? What is the purpose of their survival, or death?

The Watchers look to their silvery leader, and slowly begin to comprehend.

We must not see the weave of history, the least shy one says: We must understand the pattern itself.

Yes, Shift says, pleased to see his words are likewise understood: You must be with them, now. Examine their lives from all angles. See what was, what is, and what could be. Collaborate, compete.

And when you have learned what you need to see... well, I will be here to answer any questions you may still have.

With that, they all take their places behind the men they have each chosen to explore. They wear the faces of people from their past.

And then -- as (REDACTED) gets up to relieve himself -- they make contact, and the lesson truly begins.

But as Shift's most fearless student begins to explore the life, potential, and possibilities of her chosen subject -- the one called Major Force -- she happens to come across another life that has crossed his, and becomes much more interested in that one.

The shining, nighttime crusader of Chicago. The man who gives rise to an entire line of heroes -- stretching all the way into their present, and beyond.

The Owl, eternal.

And as she looks at him and his life -- public and private, recorded and redacted -- she realizes that she, somehow, has become a part of it...

She looks up to her teacher in alarm, only to see him looking back at her. His eyes are as sad as ever, clearly knowing what she has learned this day.

And in that white-hot instant of total understanding, she knows that this is not merely a lesson for her, but prophecy -- both beautiful and terrible...

* * *

It's Sunday morning, in Washington DC -- oddly still and quiet after the tumultuous week it's had to endure -- and the Interim President really, really needs a !@#$ing drink.

He looks at the man sitting across the Oval Office desk from him, as if he just heard the most incredible and outrageous thing ever. And in a way he has. 

"I..." he starts to say, shaking his head. 

"I know," SPYGOD says, leaning back in the chair he's parked his butt in, and adjusting his new eyepatch: "It's some !@#$ing crazy !@#$."


"I mean, I'm having a damn hard time believing this crap. And I was there. Hell, I even knew it was gonna !@#$ing happen before it did, and I still can't take it all in."

"And you're telling me that... this whole thing was all part of the plan?"

"Sort of..." the superspy defers, looking this way and that: "It's more like I was following a !@#$ing flowchart. This !@#$ing thing happens, then that thing !@#$ing happens, then this other thing is gonna happen, except that something else happens inbetween..."

"Uh-huh," the Interim President says, tapping the report the Director of the COMPANY handed him, a rather confusing half hour ago: "But you wrote the flowchart?"

"I think so," SPYGOD says, shrugging.

"Well, either you did or you didn't!" the man shouts, pounding his fist on the report and causing everything on the heavy desk to wobble, just a little: "Were you... were you drinking? Or worse?"

"Mr. President, let me tell you something," (REDACTED) says, leaning forward and pointing to the poor, abused report: "When you !@#$ing meet yourself from a couple months in the future? And the bastard hands you the keys to the damn future, and then tells you not to ask any !@#$ing questions, or tell anyone else exactly what the !@#$ is to go down? Especially since they might be about to die?"

"Or not die, as the case may be," the Interim President says, shaking his head: "You know how much a state burial at Arlington costs?"

"Well, look on the bright side," SPYGOD says: "Now you don't have to !@#$ing dig them a grave when they die. It's already waiting for them. Just slide them on in."

"I'm not sure I understand that either."

"What, burying them later?"

"No," the former Speaker of the House sighs, tapping the report: "The bit where the Mars force didn't die when we were told they did. And how they've been hiding all this time. And where those crabs were actually coming from...?"

"Well, it's like I was trying to tell you, sir," the superspy says, staring the man in both eyes with the last one he's got, and then leaning back: "All this past and future and present and !@#$ing flowcharts? If that isn't enough to make a man drink on the damn job, I don't know what will..."

"Yeah," his audience nods.

"Speaking of which...?"

"I had that bust taken out of here after the Apocalypse," the Interim President admits: "I guess I can't be trusted around emergency booze."

"Well, good damn thing I can," SPYGOD says, pulling a pair of flasks out of his coat, and handing one over: "Because I have the !@#$ing feeling you're going to want me to go over it all again-"

"Oh, absolutely," his Commander in Chief sighs, taking the flask with something akin to resignation -- and yet relief -- on his long face.

"And if so?" his guest says, popping the top of his with a well-practiced thumb: "Then we're both gonna need to knock back a few."

They take a snort in a weird kind of unison, which causes them both to chuckle a little -- something they clearly both need as much as the booze. 

And then, after a few more rips to loosen the mind and tongue, the Interim President takes a deep breath, drums the desk with his fingers, and says the fateful words: "From the top, then?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, taking another snort before he gets into it: "So, the Great Mystery was shot and killed with the whole damn world watching, which is when the !@#$ well and truly hit the goddamn fan..."

Monday: 10/17/16

"Okay, this is officially !@#$ing disgusting, now," Black Freedom says, wiping gobs of Gosheven off of her boots as she stomps through the crime scene: "What the hell is wrong with him?"

"He just saw his god die, Florence," Randolph says, trying to take pictures of the aftermath with a broken arm -- careful not to step too close to the dead: "If he needs to fall the !@#$ apart, I think he's allowed."

"How can this happen?" she asks, looking at the red puddle that was the Great Mystery, and the leather-clad woman who's been kneeling beside it since it happened: "What the hell kind of gun can kill a god?"

"Probably the same one that picked off those riot cops after the panic started," the Outlaw Reporter says, looking at the beheaded, over-armored police in question: "Which made them freak the !@#$ out and start shooting."

"Which made everything go the !@#$ downhill," Black Freedom grumbles, kicking a handy abandoned helmet: "God dammit! Why did I have to be so !@#$ing late to this? Why?"

Randolph could tell her that it didn't matter, really. Because once the Great Mystery was shot -- right in the heart, from the looks of things -- and began to melt into a horrifying, human-shaped pile of red goo in Yanabah's arms? 

Well, there wasn't anything one more hero on either side could have done. 

* * *
To Gold Standard's credit, she realized where the gunshot hadn't come from, and tried to stop things from getting out of hand. But the protesters, already on edge from the back-and-forth with the police, diggers, and Freedom Force, panicked and ran, assuming the worst. 

And as soon as the police were killed, well, the blue line did what it always did in a case like that -- assume everyone that was not them was involved, somehow. 

At which point they went from contain and control to cripple and confine, with terrible results. 

The shame of it was that, if it'd been just the police, Gold Standard could have turned things around. She could have literally pulled Gosheven back together and gotten him to spawn extra copies to do crowd control. She could have gotten Free Fire or Black Falcon to investigate where the shots came from, or done it herself. 

But Free Fire had his orders, and carried it out on the side of their fellow law enforcement. Before she could call him back he'd turned into a one-android rampage -- knocking protesters this way and that using his fists, feet, and the dull ends of his signature flame wheel. 

Thankfully he was aiming to subdue his targets, and just going for broken bones and serious sprains. But Black Falcon wasn't holding back. Something in his dark eyes lit up as soon as he saw that he had a clear reason to cut loose.

And that is exactly what he did. 

Randolph was so caught up in the melee -- a whirling dervish of camera and commentary, along with the occasional kick to a rampaging cop or protester -- that he didn't even see what was happening until the Toon hero came at him, fists and feet wet with the blood of others. 

"Worthless flesh !@#$!" the caped crusader shouted, bearing down on him. Randolph instinctively went for his handgun, only to realize that he didn't have it on him. 

(He'd left it at the tent with the rest of his weapons, just as Yanabah did...)

The gesture got him grabbed by the maddened Toon hero, who managed to break his arm and fling him over his head with the same fluid maneuver before going on to the next victim.

And the next. And the next...

And all Randolph could do, other than try and secure his busted arm as best as he could, was sit on his ass and continue to film, knowing that the whole world was watching this craziness unfold. 

And hoping, somehow, that their seeing it would cause things to calm down elsewhere, rather than getting worse...

* * *

"Unfortunately, it didn't  !@#$ing help," SPYGOD goes on: "The whole world saw that !@#$ go down. And what really stuck the !@#$ out was that someone actually managed to kill a god."

"Which is why our country exploded on Sunday," the Interim President sighs.

"And burned on Monday," the superspy agrees: "All these gods, thinking that the police had a !@#$ing way to kill them? Of course they panicked. Of course they flipped the !@#$ out."

"And you knew this was coming?" 

"I did, yes," SPYGOD says: "But here's the thing. I couldn't change it."

"Now that's... that I can't accept-"

"Sir, you !@#$ing watch television, don't you?" the superspy asks.

"Well, not as much as I'd like..."

"What' the one thing every show that deals with time travel !@#$ing teaches us?"

"That you shouldn't go back in time and try to change things," the Interim President says, nodding.

"Yes," SPYGOD says: "And by !@#$ing extension? If, by some weird damn miracle, someone from the future comes along and says 'hey, here's what's about to happen?' Then you don't change a damn thing.

"Even if it's gonna be !@#$ing painful."

"Well," the Interim President says: "A good thing we had people to help with that."

"Yes it was," the super spy says: "And people you all didn't even !@#$ing know about, at least until they all showed back up again..."

Tuesday: 10/18/16

"You will not continue this rampage," the glowing purple man says, pointing his finger at the five Egyptian mortuary deities he's addressing at the other end of the burning street: "This has gone on long enough. You will cease your actions, return to your homes, and think of how to make amends."

"Amends?" the Jackal-headed god sneers -- looking somewhat ridiculous dressed like some kind of gangster, complete with a ball cap and baggy pants: "Do you hear him, my brothers? He thinks to scold us like naughty children!"

"Well, that is much better than putting a god-killer bullet in our buttocks," one of the other four says, pulling out a golden gun that's festooned with Egyptian hieroglyphs: "What say we anticipate his actions?"

They all grin and pull out their guns. New Man looks at them, and allows them their moment of seeming triumph.

And then, as soon as they start firing, he sends Anubis and his posse of visceral protectors sprawling down the road, and tumbling into the nearby river.

This is St. Louis. The Arch has been turned into an ankh.

And the dead are walking...

* * *

"So tell me how they didn't die, again?" the Interim President asks.

"Well, that is !@#$ing complicated," SPYGOD admits, knocking back some more hooch: "But it has to do with what was !@#$ing sending those turd crabs to us, down that long damn hole in time."

"Which was the future?"

"Right. Where some small pieces of the Decreator had !@#$ed off to, after the pounding they took when Mars got liberated the first damn time. And there, in the future, they hunkered the !@#$ down, spawned, mutated, all that !@#$..."

"And then started coming back to us, here in the present."

"Right again," the superspy says, noticing he's drinking too fast and slowing down a bit: "Well, while our people were blowing the !@#$ out of them, and planning to go into that hole to close it the !@#$ down? There were other people on the other side, working on pushing those things into the hole, and trying to close it up from their end."

"What sort of people?"

SPYGOD smiles, somewhat ruefully: "Believe it or not? We have no !@#$ing idea."

"Really?" the Interim President asks, raising an eyebrow: "How is that even possible?"

"Well, my fiance tells me he could !@#$ing tell me..."


"... but then he'd have to !@#$ing kill me," the superspy grins.

"Well then," the Interim President says, frowning somewhat: "I fear for our country's safety if you can't completely share intel."

"You're a married man, aren't you, Mr. President?" SPYGOD asks: "Isn't the key to a good marriage knowing when not to !@#$ing tell the damn truth?"

"Fair enough," the former Speaker says after a moment, nodding: "So, all other considerations side, there was a hole in time. And our people went in?"

"Not like they had much of a damn choice," SPYGOD chuckles, deciding that was worth a slug of the good stuff after all: "Not after how things went down..."

* * *

"How does it feel?" Winifred finally asks from her co-pilot's chair in the new and improved Drill Tank, looking at the weird, new arm that Myron's sporting.

"I don't know, yet," he says, looking at how strangely the skeletal fingers and thumb move as he fans them, this way and that: "It's like... I can feel them, and I can feel with them. But they're distant, somehow."

"Not as good as what they gave you there, huh?"

"No," Myron smiles, remembering that nice prosthetic their hosts set him up with -- and then, sadly, took back before they all returned to their regularly-scheduled lives: "Not at all."

"Hey Myron, this is Dragonfly," the white-clad, former assassin communicates with the drill tank: "You there?"

"Yeah, we're here," the former Underman says, wondering why she's talking with them directly: "What's up?"

"We're being asked to keep eyes out for Black Falcon," she says: "He took off after what happened at Standing Rock, and no one's seen him since."

"Good," Winifred frowns: "Hopefully he just crawls under a !@#$ing rock and stays there."

"Well, if you do see him? Keep it on this channel," Dragonfly requests: "He doesn't need to know we're after him."

"Any word on Yanabah?" Myron asks: "Randolph hasn't broadcast since Monday, and he didn't mention her."

"I think she's at the camp," Dragonfly says: "I don't really know. I... well, I was hoping you knew...?"

"Because we were in the future?" he sighs: "Look, Gayle, our guests had us housed in some seaside village and didn't let us see where or when we were. We were told some things then, and learned more when we got back to this time. But we didn't get told every little thing about what's going to happen, or what happens to everyone involved. Frankly, I don't want to even know."

"Yeah... I'm sorry for asking. It's just..."

"I know," he says, smiling: "It's okay. If we see that sorry suicidal son of a !@#$ we'll let you know, okay?"

The white-clad former assassin nods, and disconnects.

"You two... right?" Winifred asks, holding his hand.

"Just once," he admits, squeezing hers: "It was more stress relief than anything else. Our clones were both about to get taken off the board. Or we thought so, anyway..."

"Oh yeah," she smiles: "That's some crazy !@#$, man. You'll have to tell me all about it, someday."

"Why not?" he asks, leaning over to kiss her: "We got time-"

"What have we got, folks?" Josie interrupts, doing her best to coordinate the chaos according to the rather long flowchart she's working from: "We're supposed to be getting past Chicago by now."

"Chicago's taken care of," Myron radios in: "Slambang and The Sound got the south side under control."

"Excellent," she says: "Once they're back, you need to rendezvous with Transport 112. You're needed in Green Bay."

"Don't tell me," the former Underman sighs: "More restless native spirits?"

"Actually, Sumerian agricultural gods trying to barricade the city," the pink-haired clone replies.

"Why Green Bay?" Winifred asks.

"Maybe they thought it was green?" the clone offers: "Maybe they're Packers fans? Who the !@#$ knows?"

"My money's on the latter," Myron says, seeing that his two teammates are coming back: "Speaking of teams you hate to love, when are we going to !@#$ing calm everyone down by telling them we didn't shoot the Great Mystery?"

And Josie looks to SPYGOD, who looks back at her with that look. 

The one that says...

* * *

"You couldn't," the Interim President says, looking over the report. 

"No," the super spy admits: "And before you ask? Yes. I !@#$ing hated doing that. But there were other considerations."

"Such as...?"

"Well, the only reason the whole damn country didn't burn the !@#$ down in those couple of days?" SPYGOD says, taking another hit from his flask and leaning back in his chair: "It's because a number of the Gods were scared as !@#$ of official reprisal. They thought that we could kill them."

"So when the stupid ones got all violent and crazy...?"

"They did the smart !@#$ing thing and stayed the !@#$ inside and down,"  the Director of the COMPANY says, nodding as he taps the President's desk with his free finger: "So the only ones we had to put down were the ones who were going to be a !@#$ing problem, anyway."

"Yes, I'm looking over that," the Interim President says, marveling at the arrests made: "That's a lot of them."

"Well, good thing we've got someone on the team who can !@#$ing handle arresting a god," SPYGOD grins...

Wednesday: 10/19/16

"I cannot believe this indignity!" a very battered Anubis grumbles, being marched off to a hole in time and space -- his hands and ankles shackled by high-tech manacles.

"The irony is quite inescapable," Mister Freedom says, overseeing the prisoner transfer: "As are those chains. Please do not strain yourself?"

The Egyptian mortuary god grumbles, but shuffles off to his waiting cell.

"One down, a whole lot more to go," Gold Standard sighs, looking at the long line that her drones are herding towards the hole -- all overseen by one of the Revolutionary Men.

"There is always room for one more in Hell," the manacled Olympian says, smiling at her.

* * *

"How long are they going to be kept there?" the Interim President asks, looking at the rather long list yet again.

"Well, some of them need to !@#$ing stay there," SPYGOD says: "Especially that one !@#$ing freak from Baltimore. The one who was eating kids and !@#$ing out food for street people?"

The President picks that moment to turn very, very green.

"Easy does it, now," the superspy says, holding up a hand: "Deep breath. Slow deep breath."

"I... I didn't see that," the man says, shaking his head: "Did we... did he...?"

"We most certainly did not allow him into the !@#$ing country," SPYGOD insists: "He came in illegally before the Haitians showed up during that last damn hurricane. We were going to deal with his !@#$, eventually. We just didn't have time."

"But all that's taken care of, now?" the Interim President asks, somewhat weakly: "All those gods are locked up, and going to stand trial for what they've done?"

"Yes," SPYGOD lies, deciding not to get into the really deep details of the whole damn thing.

Especially seeing as how it might color his perceptions of certain individuals...

* * *

"You dare to stand against me!" the slithering snake-diety hisses at his assailant, deep within the darkest recesses of the Void -- a place so far from the light of the all-consuming maw that one can only see in shades of darkest black. 

"I do, yes," Senator Ted Cruz says, raising his fists -- bloodied with the ichor and entrails of several, now-dead entities, all sprawled out about his feet: "You're a monster that has no place in this world. And I'm the !@#$ing cure."

"How dare you speak to me in this fashion!" Yig-Damballah screams, rearing back to strike with its many, sharp fangs: "I will devour your soul!"

"As if," the man says, allowing the thing to think it's got the upper hand -- right until all its teeth strike his skin, and break into small, white pieces upon it. 

The toothless beast howls and skitters away, looking rather pathetic with its face broken and teeth missing. One eye stares off into the wrong spot as the other rolls about loose in its socket. 

And Ted Cruz says one more prayer for forgiveness, and then administers a two-fisted coup de grace -- beating the brains out of the proto-human snake god before it has a chance to heal. He punches with fists blessed by the God he used to pray to, every day, until the head of the thing is nothing but bloody pulp and pulverized bone.

Then he kicks its neck-stump for good measure, just to make sure it doesn't come back to life.

"Mr. Senator," he hears SPYGOD in his ear about ten seconds later: "I need you topside, fast."

"A moment, here, (REDACTED)?" the man scowls: "I just killed 34 gods with my bare hands."

"Which you've !@#$ing known you were going to do for, what, five years now?"

"Yes, but I'm not exactly ready for primetime," the Senator says, wiping venomous slop onto his pants: "I need a shower. Fifty goddamn showers."

"Yeah, well, make 'em !@#$ing quick," the superspy insists: "Our mutual opponent's about to get on the !@#$ing TV to make his case. We need you ready to give the other side."

"Right," Cruz says, looking at his messy hands: "Maybe just one shower?"

"Don't !@#$ing blow dry."

"I never do," the Senator chuckles, and turns to find Shift standing there, waiting to take him to where he's fated to go...

 * * *

"... which is why we don't have the internet, right now," the Interim President says: "Right?"

"I'm !@#$ing getting to that," SPYGOD says, downing his own flask for the hell of it: "Hang on, sir. Hang on..."

* * *

"Good evening, America," the Candidate says to the camera he's sitting in front of, in the rather opulent living room of his three-story Manhattan penthouse: "I really must apologize for intruding upon your normally-scheduled television and webcasts. But, seeing as how our historic, first ten-person Presidential debate has been called off due to a national emergency, I find this is the only way to get my message across, one last time before the election."

Loki smiles through the beefy-faced man he's riding, thinking of all the technological wizardry his servant's press-ganged into existence, here tonight, just to make this possible. Most of them look rather scared.

(The others are rather changed -- most likely by the magic eye his servant keeps locked away for safety...)

"Speaking of that national emergency, I am being told, as are you, that this is currently under control. We are told that the gods who were raging through our city streets have been dealt with. We are told they are being locked away, or otherwise punished, and that this will never, ever happen again. 

"We are being told that. 

"But I see the fires and I am not comforted. I hear the screams and I am dismayed. I see a dark world growing darker with each day, each hour, and I am not satisfied with their progress.

"And so I am certain you do not need to be a reader of minds to know that this truth they peddle is not something I choose to believe. 

"One thing you can say about my forthcoming Administration. You will always know what is foremost on my mind. And that is because I will tell you, without reservation or hesitation. 

"And I tell you now that this problem will not go away," Loki says, preparing the glamour to end them all -- borrowed eyes glowing a poisonous, bright green: "That you should be afraid. That you should listen to what I have to say on this matter, and with rapt attention, for mine is the only plan that will stave off this danger. Mine the only voice you should listen to, for comfort and direction. 

"Mine the only-"

"Sir?" the person behind the camera says, looking rather afraid.

The Candidate looks up at him, furious to have been interrupted in mid-spell, but soon realizing the fear on the man's face has a purpose: "Well?" he demands.

"The camera... it's working, but," he says, pointing to the television feed from the other room.

It's blank. There's nothing but a black screen on every channel they flip to -- eventually replaced by the ubiquitous NO SIGNAL indication.

"I think they've... they have, yes," one of the more willing participants in this says: "They fucking pulled the plug, sir. They killed all the broadcast mediums."

"And the internet!" someone else shouts: "Oh my god..."

"Hey," yet another one of his helpers says, pointing to the window: "Is it just me... or is it getting lighter outside?"

And before the Candidate can call to them to come back and attend him, they're all at the windows -- basking in the first proper sunset they've seen in weeks.

"Looks like something fucking shifted, sir," the SPYGOD of Alter Earth says, coming up behind his master and leaning down to speak into his ear: "What's the plan, now?"

And the Candidate glowers at him, but then looks askance.

He has no plan. None at all.

* * *

The sun's light flares, at least so much as the people of the world can see.

For the first time since the debacle on Mars, everything is bright and shiny again. No lack of light. No growing false shadows. Just the sun, burning and beautiful.

As the light shines, it begins to coalesce in various places -- in front of every television and computer screen in America, every iphone and communications device.

And it takes the form of the face of Senator Ted Cruz, long since thought to be dead and gone in the fighting to retake the red planet, all those weeks ago.

He smiles, looking out at the nation he loves, and speaks to it -- his words somehow traveling from the hard light projections that the reborn Raitha is creating.

"My fellow Americans," he says, raising his hands to them: "I'm sure you know who I am. I'm also sure you thought I was dead, which is something I'm probably never going to get tired of hearing.

"But I apologize for the confusion and distress. It was not my intention to deceive you, or cause you to worry. I was simply unable to tell you that I was alive, due to the nature of what happened to us, and where we were for all that time.."

He smiles again, and the world smiles with him: "But I have returned, now. And I do so in the proverbial nick of time, in several senses of the word.

"I return in time to help stave off this current crisis which has embroiled our nation. As I speak to you, the last vestiges of rebellion and strife are being dealt with. But I want to say to all Americans at this time to be understanding, as what has taken place is an understandable reaction to what happened at Standing Rock.

"When a movement attracts a leader, and that leader is killed, several things can happen. Sometimes the movement embraces peace, and turns the other cheek. And sometimes it turns to violence, and forgets itself.

"And none of us can say that we would raise a hand in friendship rather than a fist, unless we, too, faced this awful thing.

"And so I ask for understanding and forgiveness, in spite of the damage done. The guilty will be called to account, and put to work righting the wrongs they have done. I hope that, when they have made restitution, you will join me in offering them another chance.

"The same chance we would all want in their place..."

He pauses for a moment, and then looks humble: "Speaking of other chances, I would like to ask for one of my own. In the past I have said some very awful and untrue things about a group of those gods. I picked a fight with the Olympians, out of fear and ignorance, and also to try and gain an upper hand politically.

"I humbly and deeply apologize for this. I now know how good these people are, even though they seem strange and unusual to us. I have seen the good they do with my own eyes. I have witnessed what they can be when they work alongside us, as allies and friends.

"And I promise, from here on out, to be an ally and a friend to them, whether or not I am elected President.

"Speaking of which," he smiles again, a little less humbly: "I want it said now, and clearly, that I wish to still be the Candidate of the Freedom Party. But the party I left here on Earth, before my apparent death, is not the party I have returned to. Neither is it something that currently embraces my feelings, as they have changed in many other respects.

"As soon as the internet resumes service, in 24 hours or so, please go to our new website. There you will find a new platform, a new ethos, a new vision for America. I hope you will join me in embracing free markets and free destinies, and help us all to usher in an America where we can all join in.

"There are some things that are about to happen that will not be very pleasant. All will be revealed in time. But for now, please go about your day secure in the knowledge that this nightmare is passing, and soon a better, stronger dream will unfold for us all.

"Thank you for your time, and may the Gods bless our country..."

With that, the image fades. All over America people put their hands to their hearts, thinking that they have never been so uniquely touched by such a message. So uplifted, so ennobled.

So filled with hope...

* * *

"Which was, of course, when things really started to get !@#$ing ugly," SPYGOD explains to the Interim President, pointing to the report.

"Right," the man says, almost afraid to turn the page...

(SPYGOD is listening to Headhunter - Beefcake Remix (Front 242) and having a Freedom Lager)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Apotheoclypse Now: 10/10/16 - 10/16/16

"When Will I Ever Be Face to Face / With the Devil in Me?"

(Loki, The Candidate, and Thomas Samuels)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)
* * *
* * *
Early morning in Mongolia, some distance west of Choibalsan.

In a system of caverns very few people know about, an alarm goes off - insistent, and long-awaited.

A number of burly bandits take that as a signal to go deep into the longest, deepest tunnel, up to a massive, steel wall that's been there as long as anyone can remember.

A wall with no door, and no explanation.

They break out arc welders and goggles, and set to work cutting a large hole in that wall. It takes them quite some time, as the wall is very strong, and quite thick.

They do this under the careful watch of one man -- their leader, who stands back with his arms crossed, and a very serious look on his weathered face.

And as his men succeed in cutting all the way through that hole, and a roughly-cut circle of ten-inch thick metal falls to the floor, a bright light shines from within -- warm as the Sun.

"About damn time," someone says from the other side.

"Yes," their leader says, reaching out to take that man's hand: "Welcome back, sir."

And so does the future arrive.

Monday: 10/10/16

"Okay... who the heck is this guy, and what did he do with the Republican Presidential Candidate?"


"... newsmakers and pundits said to be utterly astounded at the candidate's performance, last night. Just an unbelievable turn of events..."


"It is just as I told you. Just as I have been saying all along. We cannot trust these so-called Gods. If you would not believe me, ask the people of Moscow of their experience with the Aesir. Ask the people of Chinatown of their experience with warring Asian deities. 

"And now as our world grows darker, ask once more if we can truly trust these Olympians..."


"... scientists are saying that the solar energy being given off by the Sun has not changed, but our ability to actually see the light is what's been diminished by Raitha's absence..."


"... reports that Green Party Candidate Jill Stein suffered a mental collapse after the debate, following the utter destruction of her party and platform at the hands of her newly-invigorated opponent..."


"... protesters at Standing Rock have gone on record as saying they will not be moved. They believe the gods are on their side, here, Rick. And from what I've seen, they're not kidding."


"Polls are going insane, Carl. The man's approval ratings with previously-undecided voters have shot through the roof. It's uncanny."


"... a rambling but very powerful video uploaded to Youtube last night by superheroine Black Freedom, announcing her resignation from the Freedom Force, and her intention to walk among her people and, quote, "be the hero they need."


"... an off the cuff remark by debate co-moderator Anderson Cooper, saying that while he still wouldn't vote for the man, he actually found him persuasive and likable for the first time this entire campaign...


"... strange case of what may have been domestic violence in Graves County. The Dublin home of Reclamation War heroine Winifred Reed went up in flames, early this morning. By the time firefighters could reach the unincorporated community, the house had burned down to the ground..."


"I promise a new and stronger America. One that is not so afraid of its own shadow that it must turn to so-called gods and deities to stand tall. One that is independent and prosperous, strong and secure, and very, very orderly..."


"... Freedom Force called out to quell more divine violence, this time in the town of Wausau, Wisconsin, where Hmong ancestral spirits are fighting with Menominee spirits in what onlookers have deemed an invisible street fight. Storefronts and vehicles are being smashed and tossed around like leaves in a storm..."


"... Republican National Committee Chairman Priebus said to have quietly approached the Candidate to make peace, following the triumphant performance last night. Party insiders say that while relations between the two have been rather strained in recent weeks, the Chairman was said to be crying tears of joy while watching the debate..."


"Black Freedom will not be a part of an organization that says it's standing up for freedom while getting ready to take freedom away from people. I'll let them !@#$ing explain what I mean by that.

"And I'll say, right here and now, that if they go through with this damned stupid plan? Well.. they can guess where I'll be. Where I'll have to be. 

"Don't make me !@#$ing do that."


"An America where we are all on the same side, once more. One people, with a shared sense of purpose. A great nation, waiting to rediscover itself..."


"...We have no word on whether Ms. Reed or her son have been found in the blaze, but police say they suspect the child's father, Billy Fred Reardon, of nearby Fancy Farm..."


"One people. One nation. One leader..."


"... experts say we could all be blind by election day if this continues..."

Tuesday: 10/11/16

"(I told you not to come here, fool,)" the tall, transparent-skinned man says to the latest interloper on his turf -- human eyes dangling from his silver necklace as he points a threatening finger.

"(And I told you before,)" the woman made from shiny black butterflies says: "(I go where I want. And you have no say in the matter.)"

He is Kisin. She is Itzpapalotl. And this is Nacogdoches.

Just not for long...

* * *

"Everything okay?" Randolph hears someone say as he checks his cameras for what must be the fourth time that morning.

"Yeah," he smiles back at Yanabah, her eyes still bleary behind her sunglasses.

"You weren't there when I woke up," she says, stretching in the early sun's rays.

(Not seeming to notice how less bright those rays are today.)

"Had a feeling," he says, getting up to look her in the eyes: "Sort of a calm before the storm thing, you know?"

"Yeah," she nods, looking off to the east: "It's coming, sure as !@#$."

* * *

It takes them the better part of the weekend, but the Revolutionary Men finally get clearance and a Green Card. 

The moment they step outside of the Immigration center, they're accosted by dozens of interested parties. Syncretics and pantheists in search of a better deity. Monotheists protesting their presence. 

And new pantheons, wanting them to join up -- some more pleasant in their approach than others.

But they stand tall and remain firm in their ties, these red and silver giants. No sooner do they clear the crowd than they revert to their true size -- hundreds of feet tall -- and go forth to do as they have agreed. 

Scatter to the corners of this land, and its two outlying states, and watch for what their sponsor has claimed is on its way.

To stand guard against the coming chaos, as only they can. 

* * *

"I was worried about... this..." Yanabah says, pointing back and forth to them.

"You, worried?" the Outlaw Reporter asks, smiling ruefully: "I hate to think I was that bad."

"Not at all," she grins: "Almost up to my !@#$ing standard, paleface."

"Does that make me your vanilla fantasy?" he laughs, putting the majority of the cameras back in their bag, but having his favorite one ready to go.

"Seriously," she asks, looking over her glasses at him: "I know things have been weird, but does your woman know you're here in my tent?"

"She's not my woman," Randolph says, maybe a little faster than he should: "She belongs to herself. You should know that."

"I do, yeah," Yanabah says, grumbling at her own poor choice of words: "That's not exactly what I meant, but yeah."

"I know," he says, nodding: "Some things are kind of hard to describe."

* * *

All over the nation, it's happening -- seen and unseen, but somehow always felt.

The gods are coming back, and they're not being nice or cooperative guests. 

They're quarreling among themselves, arguing with their neighbors. There's only so much belief and faith to go around, these days, and they want as much as they can get.

Old rivals see no reason to let aeons of bad blood go unspoken. Old allies no longer want to be tied together by the bonds of song and story.

And the new factions that rise from the old want their due as well...

Taunts and harsh looks give way to angry words. Words give way to curses and dark miracles. Magic gives way to raised fists and bloody swords.

Which all give way to smashed city blocks and burning buildings, civic emergencies and collateral damage.

And everywhere the sound of sirens as the innocent are caught in the crossfire. 

The authorities can only do so much. They show up and try to calm down the combatants, and call them back to reason and sense. 

What else can they do -- shoot gods?

And in the quiet moments between fires, those who must put them out turn to their own faith, however seemingly absent from this struggle, and pray that this doesn't get any worse. But they do so knowing that their prayers will go unanswered.

That the Apotheoclypse is upon them all...

* * *

"So what do you want to !@#$ing call this, then?" Yanabah asks as they walk along, her presence allowing him to take pictures of daily life at the camp: "Two folks in a tent?"

"I figured friends doing something good for both of them sounded okay," Randolph says, smiling at her.

"Works for me," she smiles back: "And... you and Velma?"

"We're... well, open couple sounds weird," he says, snapping two women as they walk along, hand in hand: "But we're sort of taking a break, anyway."'

"Oh," she replies: "Sorry about that...?"

"So am I," he smiles, sadly, as he checks his film: "But we need to find where we are, again. Who we are again. Does that make sense?"

"Totally," she says: "Sometimes you gotta leave to really come back."

"Hmmm," he says, catching the remaining light just perfect to take one of her face.

"What was that for?" she asks, somewhat flattered.

"Yanabah says something philosophical," he grins at her, wishing he could still wink: "I figured I oughta document it properly."

"!@#$ you paleface," she snorts, flipping him the bird.

"Maybe later," he replies, standing just a little closer to her as he takes some more pictures of life, here.

And for whatever reason she lets him.

Wednesday: 10/12/16

"Knock knock," the SPYGOD of Alter Earth says to his 'master' as the man enters the large room he's taken over, here at the man's ultra-opulent, three-story Manhattan penthouse. 

"I see you have been busy," the Aesir inside the Candidate says, looking over the many things -- and people -- he's had brought in.

(Especially that rather expensive package, still in its crate -- Cyrillic stenciling all around.)

"So have you," the counterworld man grins, making a few final adjustments to some of his medical equipment: "Nice work in turning this fucking trainwreck around."

"It was rather easy," Loki says, brushing off the complement: "All a fool needs is someone to lead them. And there are so very many fools here in this country, all holding out their hand in search of such a person."

"And what do you intend to do with this country, once you've won it?"

"That remains my business, for now," the last of the Aesir says to his servant, holding up a hand in warning: "And I know that you know the cost of prying too deeply into such matters."

"I do, yes," the Alter Earth SPYGOD says, doing his best to hide the disdain feels for this God-thing: "But can I ask one question?"

"You may ask..."

"The thing we got from that fucking place where I lost my hand," his servant says, holding up the stump: "The container that I can't really fucking see straight."

"Yes," Loki says, smiling as he sits down across from the man: "I suppose it would be a good thing to explain that, seeing as how its only true use will be to cover up for your failure."

"I'm all ears..." the Alter Earth SPYGOD says, putting the equipment down and smiling.

"What know you of the Ragnarok, my servant?" the Aesir riding the Candidate asks -- his voice having a weird doppler effect, all of a sudden.

"Didn't they tour with Megadeth, a few years ago?"

"No," Loki says, his face going blank for a moment -- perhaps wondering if that was a punishable insult, or merely a foolish jape: "It is the end of my kind, long-foreseen. It is the twilight of we gods, as we rush towards our ultimate fate to die in glorious battle against the dying of the light, and the coming of the ultimate darkness."

"So you have a suicide run for a myth cycle?" his servant says: "Well... that explains a few things."

"I do not expect you to understand," the Aesir wearing the Candidate says, shaking his head: "But try to comprehend my words. The Gods I stood beside believed that this time was upon us, and could come at any moment. At least, that's what they were supposed to do..."

"But not?"

"No," Loki says, wrinkling his nose: "They left this world and retreated to our home. They sat in their mead hall, drinking and rutting the day away before the dusty throne of the All-Father, who was content to watch his warriors and shield-maidens sing of old battles, and glories long lost to the ages.

"And not a one of them saw fit to ask why."

"Why... what?" the SPYGOD of the doomed Earth asks.

"Why did they not ride forth against the Fenris Wolf?" the last of the Aesir says, as if he were explaining it to a simple child: "It was here, was it not? It almost destroyed this world, but for the actions of mere humans."

"Now this I understand," his servant says, nodding: "The Decreator. They fucking blew it apart, only they didn't do as good of a job as they thought. So it fucking ate Mars, and then started sending pieces of itself here, which is sort of where I come in-"

"Yes," Loki says, holding up a finger to silence his servant: "But that is a bit ahead of the time of which I speak, and the shortcomings of my race are but prologue to my tale. I would speak of the ending of that threat, and yet its continuation."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that, when the battle for Mars was thought to be done, there remained some trace elements of the Wolf. Some tiny seeds of destruction that could not be burned nor blown to pieces. The quintessence of the Ragnarok. 

"And these pieces were taken by the Olympians, and bound into a prison from which they could never escape. And then, to ensure none could set them free, that prison was itself placed inside another prison, just below the mouth of the great devouring void of the cosmos, itself. 

"And there, just outside of that dangerous, hungry maw that devours all thought and form, sat the prison of the Ragnarok..."

The SPYGOD of Alter Earth blinks: "You mean... that thing you brought back? The container in the other room? That's the fucking Decreator?"

"It is," Loki says. his words seeming strange coming from a beefy, orange face: "And should my enemies gain purchase? Should they get past your knives, and my guile? Our servants and soldiers?

"Then I shall tip that container over, and see fit to rule over a black planet."

The SPYGOD of Alter Earth looks at the man who thinks himself his master, and slowly nods, wondering how soon he should move up his plan to kill him and be done with this insanity. 

"That said, I doubt it will come to that," the last of the Aesir says, leaning back in his seat: "Our plans are too well-laid, surely. And our foes are too foolish and short-sighted to see what we have planned."

"'We...'?" his servant asks, pointing between Loki and himself.

"Why yes," the god riding the Candidate says, smiling widely: "I know you have laid some plans, my servant. I know of that rather impressive weapon you've had brought here from your ill-fated safari venture. The one you used to decapitate rare and endangered animals from over a mile away...?"

"Yes," the Alter Earth SPYGOD smiles: "I have gone ahead and secured some things in preparation for your needs."

"And when the time comes, you shall be ready to employ what you have made for me?"

"I will," (DETCADER) vows, indicating the medical equipment: "I just need to make sure I've got two hands, and then I'll be good to go."

"Then by all means, my good servant," the Candidate says, raising his borrowed bulk off the chair: "Do what thou must."

"By all means," the SPYGOD of Alter Earth says as soon as his master is out of the room: "I think I fucking will..."

Thursday: 10/13/16

"Not good," the Time AGENT says, slowing down long enough to realize he's shifted prehistoric periods, yet again -- at least he hopes that's what he's seeing, just outside the barrier between time and space that he's been tumbling through for under a week.

At least, he thinks it's been under a week. It's hard to keep track of time under these circumstances.

He's been falling through timezones -- trapped in a loop of scrambled timespace coordinates. Every attempt to regain control over where and when he is ends with him appearing in some random corner of the world, at a time nowhere near his goal.

The worst thing? Now he finally understood why he had to kill the man he'd been shadowing for so long. It wasn't what he might do, but who would have been making him do it.

The same being who dismissed him once -- in Africa -- and then flung him headlong into the chronal currents with utterly contemptuous ease the next time they encountered one another.

The Aesir known as Loki. One of the most cunning and dangerous etheric creatures in any era.

And if he has control of the Candidate, then a lot of things suddenly make sense...

So the Time AGENT steels himself for another temporal jump, doing his best to do the math in his head and hoping his ANIL can stand the strain. But if need be, he'll burn that poor, overworked thing out, and repair it with paper clips and his bare hands if he has to.

Anything to keep his future from coming to a burning, screaming end.

* * *

"... if you just do as I ask, Thomas," Loki says, holding his right hand out in supplication to his prisoner: "Join us, here. You will be beloved, powerful, eternal..."

"I already have eternity," the son of the The Owl says -- straining against the flaming bars of the wide cage the willowy Aesir has bound him in, here in this mindscape of pain: "And I'll be damned if I let you abuse me any more than you already have!"

"Just give in, kid," the Candidate says, standing to the left of Loki -- a black, iron chain around his neck, leading to Loki's left hand: "Make it easier on yourself. It's better than way."

"Are you really so weak?" Thomas asks the beefy man: "So afraid of him? Don't you realize what he's asking of you? What you're giving him?"

"You waste your words, Thomas," the last of the Aesir says, shaking his head: "He has, at long last, found happiness in slavery. As will you, my young friend."

"Don't bet on it."

"Oh, wait," Loki says, seeming to rethink his words: "Not so young anymore. I fear our time in the void has broken your vitality, somewhat. Made you weak in flesh and bone. Brought cruel age to your features."

"So I get to Heaven a little faster," Thomas says, smiling as he backs away from the fire: "At least I get away from you."

"I can bring you back your youth," Loki croons: "Return to you your strength. All these things would be yours, if you would but bend at the knee..."

"You're really not good at this, are you?" the son of the Owl asks: "Might as well go back to torturing me. I'm not going to say yes."

Loki scowls. It's an ugly sight -- so hideous it makes the Candidate's heart almost stop. 

And with a wave of his hand, the burning cage constricts into a gibbet of red hot iron, and Thomas begins to scream...

* * *

"Sir?" Josie asks, standing outside the door of SPYGOD's office: "I got those reports you wanted delivered in person."

There's silence from behind the big black door. She raises a pink eyebrow, sighs, and stands there -- tapping her foot in mock impatience in the hopes that he opens it up. 

He's been in there with Grief Counselor Bishop for the last few hours. He said not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency, or couldn't be avoided. And these reports sure fit the bill. 

(Troop movements. Disaster reports. Some package on the way from Asia...)

So she came down here, hoping she might catch him between engagements, or at least make enough noise for him to break out of whatever he's doing and actually pay attention to things -- which would make a nice damn change. 

He's been acting squirrelly ever since he came out of the isolation chamber, the other week. She'd have expected him to be wrecked by the death of his fiancee -- to say nothing of the death of so many of the Freedom Force, especially Mr. USA. 

But no. He was still carrying on as usual, only with a few more eccentricities added to his usual battery. Secret meetings he didn't bother to keep much of a secret from her, and yet calls so secret he'd clear the whole damn Bridge to take them, and then "forget" to let people back in. 

And this whole Grief Counselor thing -- as if she didn't know they were !@#$ing. 

(Was he developing a taste for women, now? Had he always had one? Was this some way of coping with loss? She had no damn idea.)

And yet...

!@#$ it, she thinks as she touches her hand to the emergency panel and activates the silent override even he doesn't know she had installed. She'll just go in there, drop the reports on his desk, or wherever they're doing it, salute, and walk back out again. Serve him right for wasting her time during a big damn national emergency. 

But then the door opens, and she walks in and sees what's going on.

"Right on time," says the last person she expects to see. 

And all Josie can think to say -- just before she gets shot in the face -- is...

Friday: 10/14/16

 "What the !@#$ing !@#$ do you mean by that?" Yanabah almost shouts at Antonia Crisp -- who was at least good enough to come to the edge of the Standing Rock camp out of her armor, rather than in it.

(She's not doing too well out of it, Randoph notices. The braces on her legs are all that's keeping her up.)

"I mean that if we have to intervene, we're going to have to cart your friend out of here," Gold Standard says, crossing her arms and trying to look sympathetic: "And I would really rather not do that."

"Okay, then," Yanabah says, crossing her arms in reply: "Tell those damn police to step the !@#$ back, and tell those assholes to pack up their shovels and go home. Problem solved!"

"You know it's not that easy," the heroine sighs: "There's laws, and agreements-"

"There's another case of an indigenous people getting shafted," Randolph Scott says, taking another picture of the proceedings: "Which is the sort of thing we usually lecture other nations about not doing, in case you're wondering."

"You're not helping," Antonia says, doing her best to not look in his direction.

"Neither are you," Yanabah says, taking a step forward: "Now please, just go back home. Take your people and !@#$ off. Let us deal with this-"

"Is there a problem?" someone asks -- his voice booming like thunder.

"Sir, you shouldn't be here," Yanabah says, turning and holding up her hands as the Old Man comes towards them.

"I'll be fine, Dearie," he says, smiling as he strides towards the inventor: "What's she going to do? Arrest me for this tie?"

Antonia smiles at him: "Maybe someone should."

"Gift store in Taos," the Old Man explains, smiling back: "I thought it was pretty funny."

"I'm glad something is," Gold Standard replies, uncrossing her arms as she tries to plead with him: "Sir, I have the greatest respect for your beliefs-"

"We can !@#$ing tell," Yanabah mutters.

"Now, now, let the white girl kiss my ass, dearie," he says, holding up a gentle hand: "This is all part of the story."

"What story?" Antonia asks, a little confused: "I'm here as a friend."

"A friend," the Old Man says, nodding: "That's what they always said, you know. We're just here as friends. We don't want your land, we're just passing through on the way to the other shore. And then they said they didn't want all of our land, just those little bits over there, and maybe over there."

Antonia doesn't have anything to say to that, so she recrosses her arms and closes her mouth.

"Before long, all those little bits came together to make one large piece of the land, and all we had left were little bits. The worst bits, in fact. Lousy, forsaken places good for nothing but getting drunk in. And here comes our friends to sell us the fire water."

"And the uranium," Randolph Scott chuckles: "Don't forget that."

"Oh, I'm not forgetting that," the Old Man says: "I bet she doesn't even know about that."

"One of my boyfriends was Navajo, sir," Antonia says, frowning: "I do know all about that."

"And yet here you are, telling us uppity Injuns to behave," Yanabah sneers: "God, Antonia! How can you be !@#$ing okay with this?"

"I don't have to be," she says, some measure of steel coming back into her eyes: "I have my orders. I will execute them if I have to. I'm asking you to not make me have to."

"Well, you're kind of !@#$ out of luck there, lady," the Old Man says -- static electricity crackling between his teeth and fingers as he points behind the heroine: "Sunday morning? All us folks here are going to march right up to that area where the diggers are. We're going to stand in the way of those bulldozers and earth movers, and we're going to pray.

"Now, if the police don't like that? Then I'll do the same damn thing I've done every other time.

"And if you all get involved...?" he says, holding up a hand that's crawling with sparks, and then pointing it just over her shoulder.

There's a noise like a hot pan being dumped into cold water, and then a clump of dirt jumps as it's turned to glass.

"I don't want that to happen," Antonia says, not liking the fact that her hair is standing straight up on end.

"Then don't be there," the Great Mystery says, putting his hand down: "Tell the police to go home and arrest real troublemakers. Tell the White House to respect our rights. And you go home before there's any more real trouble that you can't handle."

Antonia Crisp looks at the man, and nods: "That's how you want it?"

"That's how it is," the Old Man says, turning to go: "And you tell that fool you report to that I don't care what he thinks is going to happen. This is our land and our rights, and we will not be moved."

Yanabah turns to go and does not look back. Randolph looks at Gold Standard with what might be sadness, and decides to not take a picture of what he sees across her face.

And then it's just the superheroine -- seeming very frail out of her suit, and quite alone -- who stands there maybe a minute longer than she should before turning to go back to her allies.

And get ready for what is now a sad inevitability.
Saturday: 10/15/16

In the early morning, without much fanfare or advanced notice, the dead come home.

They arrive on a COMPANY Transport -- inbound from Mongolia -- that lands on the Flier at about 5 in the AM.

As soon as they touch down, something happens around the VTOL, and suddenly no one can see anything about the aircraft. Not who piloted it, or who or what was on it.

All the AGENTS on the steel beach can say is that the ship landed, and a whole bunch of people got off. And that's all they're cleared to know, as per some very damn stern orders from SPYGOD, himself -- minus any softening or interference from Josie.

(Who no one's seen for a day or so, come to think of it...)

The Transport is emptied, and then the distortion field ends. The pilot is nowhere to be seen, and cannot answer anything, anyway.

Nor can any of the guards who turned their backs on command when the cargo and personnel walked past them, deep into the bowels of the Flier. All they know is that, as they stood there -- terrified to turn around and see something a full ten levels above their pay grades -- they might have heard people they thought MIA, if not dead and gone.

But then the beings making those noises were well past their position, and they turned around again, relieved that it was over.

And yet knowing, as with anything in the COMPANY, that "it" was just beginning.

* * *

 The room was a nice one, at least until Loki got back from the dreamscape. Then it took a distinct turn for the worse.

The bed was a one of a kind thing -- a masterpiece of comfort and engineering, made to look like something from the Versailles palace. The dressers were also custom made, with no expenses spared to deliver the ultimate in utility and attractiveness.

The table was bought in Hong Kong from an establishment that never sells anything for less than half a million dollars. The drapes were pure silk. The decor bought in all corners of the world, over a lifetime rich in travel, achievement, and adventure.

In retrospect, Loki thinks perhaps he should have spared the bed his wrath. He really liked sleeping upon it when he wore the Candidate's form.

(Ordinary beds just seemed inadequate.)

But his rage was too great to be otherwise assuaged. His fury too resounding.

(His impotence too embarrassing.)

Why won't this mortal yield? Why won't he just accept the bargain and be done with it?

Why will he stand there and let his jailer torture him so totally -- so viciously -- without bending like a mortal should?

In dreams, he has no special powers. No strength or armor. His body is a reflection of his mind, rather than his super-powered body, and all mortal minds are like clay to any Aesir, much less their God of Trickery and Mischief.

(Evil, some would say...)

And yet he will not relent. He will not cooperate. He merely stands there as Loki rends the flesh from his bones, ties his organs into knots, and turns him inside out again and again with fire and sword, tooth and poison.

He will not make the bargain that Loki needs in order to be fully secure upon this world. The same one that elder Olympian with the penchant for shackles and riddles made.

The merging of opposites that makes a god wholly of this world, and not merely visiting for a time...

And so Loki seethes -- sitting in the ruins of what once was a very lovely room -- and wonders what it will take to get Thomas Samuels to turn his back on his god, and embrace the one who stands before him.

And who he may have to have maimed in order to do it...

* * *

"Well," the time AGENT says, sitting in the twilight of a trash-strewn beach in an unknown place, somewhere around the 18th century judging by the air quality: "That stinks."

The good news, at least, is that he's no longer tumbling through time with only his teleporter to keep him from endlessly falling.

The bad news is that his ANIL has finally fallen apart.

It was really only meant for a few dozen spatial jumps between regenerations. He's forced it to make hundreds -- most of them blind -- and trying to keep him safe has taxed it past its limits. 

He thinks of his choices, now, as things get a little brighter around him. Does he blend in, here? Try to make a teleport machine out of whatever's available, or actually fix the one he has?

(Does he call for help? Can he even...?)

He could do a whole lot of things, he supposes. He could even abandon his mission, if he chose to. Just let time and destiny hang themselves, and thereby avoid the whole dilemma that send him here.

But then, that's not his way -- is it? Not with the fate of the future -- his present -- is riding on it. His husband and their wife.

The child yet to come...

No. He has to keep moving. He has to fulfill his mission.

At the very least, he has to try.

And as he gets to his feet, wondering which way to find the closest thing to civilization he might encounter, here, he realizes the light he's seeing isn't stars, moon, or sun.

It's a line of glowing, large figures -- all striding upon the water as they march towards him.

And before he can really think to run or ask the obvious question, the one who is indisputably in charge addresses him by name...

Sunday: 10/16/16

It's the morning, at long last, and the Old Man gets out of the tent he only pretends to sleep in, and stretches in the sun's rays -- happy to have them warm his face, however dampened the light from them may be.

It's crisp and cool, today. A nice breeze coming from the east. He can smell people cooking, both at their own camps and the mess hall.

He looks to the sun, once more. Should he address it by the name he's always known it as, or by one of the many names of his people? Or maybe by the name of that fire-haired lady who's down in the White City, now?

He doesn't know, and doesn't really care. To him, it's the Sun, and it will always be the Sun, even when it gets old and slow, turns red, and gets too big for this world's comfort.

Even when it's long dead and gone, and this world and its spirits are just a legend -- one of many in this long, black void full of occasional points of light -- he'll call it the Sun.

At least, that's what he'd like to do. But there's something he has to do, first, well before it comes to that.

And after standing in the Sun's light for a moment or two longer, just to remember that warm, he sets about going to do it.

* * *

With a total lack of ceremony -- and yet no seeming sense of urgency -- SPYGOD walks into the secret headquarters he established in the bowels of the Flier, so many months ago, for his secret team.

He's a little drunk, obviously. No one assembled there is remotely surprised by that. 

They are, however, rather surprised to see who all has been gathered there. Old friends and new faces. Friends and rivals. The occasional enemy.

(The common refrain: "I thought you were dead...?")

"Morning, everyone," he says, plunking a rather large growler of Chateau Adolf on the table in front of the big screen, which is blacked out for the moment: "Thank you all for coming. I know some of you don't !@#$ing stir out of bed until after Noon, so I'm very !@#$ing grateful for your having done so today."

Some laugh. Some don't. Some are clearly annoyed, so he smirks and gets to the point.

"It's like this, folks," he says, looking at his watch: "Some of you've probably !@#$ing guessed that something super-big damn bad is going to go down, and some of you've already !@#$ing seen it happen. I'll let you all get to grips with who's who later, but that's not the real important thing here.

"The important thing," he says, pointing a finger to one and all assembled there: "Is that we are about to see the United States of America go face-first into a sea of !@#$ we have not seen since the !@#$ing Imago tried to burn down the damn world during the Reclamation War.

"We are about to see fire, flood, famine. We are about to see the goddamn terror of the gods. And when it happens, we are all that's going to !@#$ing stand between the problem and the solution.

"Because we, here, in this room? We are the damn solution.

"And if that doesn't !@#$ing scare the !@#$ out of you, then you need to either stop drinking, or start," he says, having a good, hard swig from his jug for extra emphasis. 

(Plus, he's pretty thirsty. Pep talks do that to a man.)

* * * 

There's a hill, about a mile away from the camp. 

On that hill, a man sits in the rays of the morning Sun, and wishes he had a gun big and long enough to blow it to pieces. 

Wouldn't that be a fucking glorious sight? he thinks: A boom, then a silence, and then, however many hours or days later, that big glowing ball of shit just lights up, brighter than ever, expands like a hematoma, and comes the fuck apart...

He imagines its parts tumbling end over end -- splattering burning gouts of dying star upon every corner of this solar system. A stillborn supernova, killing the silent companions it attracted, shaped, and shepherded for all these billions of years.

Leaving only a scattered series of broken planets, hurtling towards the edges of the ice cloud beyond...

The thought gives him a massive erection. He thinks of dealing with that, here and now -- with his newly-regenerated hand, no less -- except that he's got a few playthings ready to go as soon as he gets back to his "master's" place in Neo York City.

The SPYGOD of Alter Earth can wait a while for that pleasure. 

Especially as he's got an even greater one to deal with first...

* * *

The Old Man walks into the camp, raising his hands to those who have come here to protest this injustice. To stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and hand-to-hand, with their fellow people. To say no way, no further.

To say No More.

They gather about him, his people. They adore him and fall to their knees, but he bids them to rise. This is not a day to show fealty, but demand it.

Not a day to show respect, but to take it back from those who stand against them.

The girl comes to join him, her eyes bright behind their dark sunglasses. Normally she's strapped with more guns than even he can count, but today she's taken them all off. She doesn't even have the knife her Grandfather gave her, all those years ago -- something she'd rather go naked than not have on her.

He accepts it for the gift it is, and kisses her on the forehead. His way of saying "thank you."

They holds hands, one and all. They pray to the spirits, and he joins them -- asking them to be kind to them today. To be merciful. To watch what they do, and always remember.

And as they finish, and he sees the white reporter with the metal eye is there to record this, he leads his people to the protest site.

And what awaits there...

* * *

"So this is how it is," SPYGOD goes on: "Some of you know what's !@#$ing going down. You few are going to be leading this !@#$. Because you've seen it before, and I can !@#$ing trust you not to try and change the plan."

"You mean history," Myron says, holding a much more in-control Winifred with his remaining arm.

"Yeah, I mean history," the superspy grumbles: "So !@#$ing sue me. One's gonna be the same as the other, soon."

"And what are the rest of us doing, then?" Josie asks, her face still sore from the stun ray.

"And shouldn't we be talking with the other members of the Freedom Force...?" Dragonfly asks.

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, looking askance: "About that..."

* * *

It's quite a thing, this weapon the counterworld man is using. 

He bought it on the black market, along with some other contraband he needed for his African startup. It's a Russian thing. They used them to shoot explosive bolts into tanks in various flashpoints -- turning a five man squad into an anti-armor team.

It cost him a million dollars, flat. He thinks it's the best purchase he's ever made. 

It's not exactly portable, which is why it needs a five man team. Every member carries a different component, and then assembles it when they've achieved the right position.

One to carry the very long barrel. Another to carry the bulky firing mechanism. Yet another to carry the sturdy, earth-chewing legs. Another to carry the delicate sight. 

And a fifth to handle the cumbersome, dangerous ammunition -- this one being the one who lagged a half mile behind the others, in case he stepped on a mine or just exploded. 

This time, none of that was needed. All the Alter Earth SPYGOD really needed was for one of his "master's" ever-convenient helicopters to drop him off here, the night before, so he could set up in perfect view of the kill zone. 

A zone that's about to get very full...

* * *

Hand in hand, they march -- firm, resolute, and very unafraid. 

They come to the site, where the bulldozers and digging machines are. They see where the workers are -- all standing about with their tools and shovels in their hands, awaiting the go-ahead to try and use them. 

They see where the police are, all wrapped in the kind of armor one should only ever see in a war, and not in an operation against citizens on their own soil. They see the fear in their eyes. The hate. 

And, at last, they see the heroes that the government has sent, standing where they said they'd be.

Gold Standard, floating above the ground in her signature armor. Black Falcon, seeming naked without his rather large orinthopter. Free Fire, bulked up with extra armor and carrying his fire wheel. 

And Gosheven, who seems too confident as he walks between the two groups, making words of reconciliation and peace.

No one listens, though. No one is here to do anything differently. 

The protesters will not agree to leave. The law will not allow them to stay. Everyone is waiting for someone to say the wrong thing, to make the first threat.

To throw the first punch. 

And the Old Man looks to Yanabah, at some point as the words fly back and forth, and winks at her. 

"You remember what you promised, now, dearie," he says.

And then...

* * *

"One little, two little, three little Indians," the man behind the obscenely large gun says, aiming it at a certain person's chest -- a special kind of ammunition ready to fly...

* * *

"So, what exactly is going to happen?" Josie asks, shaking her head: "Forgive me, sir, but you're not being very candid."

"What is going to happen?" SPYGOD says, sighing as he looks to Straffer, who just nods in sympathy: "Josie, you did !@#$ing read Watchmen, right?"

"Um... I watched the movie...?"

Some of the people there laugh at this, others do not.

"Let's put it this way," the superspy says: "This plan's been going on for several months for some of us, and several years for some others. It's all depended on things happening exactly as they were !@#$ing supposed to, right down to the goddamn second in some cases.

"So do you really think I'd tell you the plan if there was any !@#$ing chance you could suddenly freak out and try to stop it from happening?"

Josie just looks at him. A few people gasp.

"Oh for !@#$'s sake," Ted Cruz says: "Just get it over with, (REDACTED). This is cruel."

"Alright, then," SPYGOD says, turning on the screen: "It isn't going to happen, Josie. It already did. Just before I came in here..."

And on the screen, everyone can see the scene from Standing Rock -- courtesy of Randolph Scott, the only reporter allowed in.

They see people screaming and running. They see the police trying to regain control, but failing. 

They see the Freedom Force members there trying to protect both the people and the police, and not doing more than making things worse.

And they see Yanabah holding a wet pile of clothes that used to be a man -- a god, actually -- and screaming in rage at the heavens. 

At which point, all Hell decides to break loose.

(SPYGOD is listening to Religion (Front 242) and having a God Is Dead)