Monday, November 2, 2015

Dis-Integration: 10/26/15 - 11/1/15

"I know you'll never take me / don't even think you'll break me."

Myron, Mr. Chaos, SPYGOD, Straffer, Hanami
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Sunday: 8/3/14

Myron stumbles out of the Tunnelator in his white and silver space suit. He immediately comprehends that he's no longer in space, but in some city he can only slightly recognize. They've apparently landed on some wide, grassy plain, but he's not sure where.

It isn't until he looks up and sees the Eiffel Tower that he realizes he's in Paris. The afternoon, he thinks. Maybe late morning. 

He slips his cracked VR rig off his head. A second later, it shudders, cracks once more, and then finally dies. He snorts, and tosses it to the ground like a sweaty headband in need of a wash.

And then he proceeds to kneel, kiss the ground, and be very, very sick.

"Are we home, love?" SPYGOD asks as Straffer guides him from the back. He has a black length of cloth tied around his eyes, and he clearly cannot see.

"We are," Straffer says, looking up at the sky. If he squints his eyes just right, he can see the monstrosity, up there -- still appearing somewhat whole, which is why he doesn't take his VR rig off -- but clearly in some distress.

"This is Paris," Hanami announces, walking out the back and looking around: "We are home. You have done well, Disparaitre."

"Merci," the teleporter says, sitting in the back of the tunnelator, lighting up another one of those Baltos, and passing one to Charleston, who's curled up next to him: "But if you do not mind, I will take your word for it. I think I had best just sit here for a time."

"I think we all !@#$ing deserve some R&R time, after this," SPYGOD says, very unsteady on his feet: "Maybe a drink or ten. What'll you have, Hanami? I'm !@#$ing buying."

"I only require simple nutrients," she says, her voice flat and uncaring: "But thank you for your offer. It is most kind."

"Did you reset your emotional programming again?" Straffer asks.

"Yes, sir," she says, looking up at the sky: "It was the only way to guarantee the survival of my higher functions while exposed to that danger."

"Yeah, well-" SPYGOD starts to say, but then falls silent as everyone around him catches a breath. The sky has lit up, and they can see the horrible thing explode, up there.

"Four minutes and fifteen seconds," Straffer says: "The time it takes light to get from there to here..."

A cheering goes up across Paris. Everyone who's been indoors comes rushing outside, looking up at the sky for the first time in days. There are cheers and rude noises and screams of joy and elation.

"Can I look up, now?" Myron says, wiping the barf off his mouth.

"You can, son," SPYGOD says, trying not to cry from his ruined eyes: "You can !@#$ing look up forever. All of us..."

Monday: 10/26/15

... as the Village burns and goes mad.

Panic has set in. The hopes of getting out are dead and gone. There's just the rage, tamped down too long, and a people who are no longer afraid to express it.

Especially since Rover is dead.

There's no holding it back, anymore. It's too late for denials. No amount of jaunty band music and enforced soirees is going to keep the prisoners docile and obedient, now.

And no threats of reprisals or a trip to the hospital is going to save the warders.

All the tricks are over. All the traps are useless. There's just those who wanted to leave and those who wanted to keep them here, and now -- now that everyone's sure who's who -- the time to settle up has come.

And the score will be paid in blood and fire...

* * *

... and the word and will of the Lord, who seems proud of his child, Thomas, as he races across the city at night, righting wrongs and stopping violence and showing the way to salvation to those who need it most, and they see in his eyes that he is a kind man but takes no !@#$, and will not stand for crimes committed against the poor, the weak, and the afraid, and those who would stand against him as he tries to clean up this town are soon shown that neither fist nor stick nor bullet will save them from his wrath, and that of the Lord, but also his mercy, which is their mercy, for he will not kill or cripple or injure unnecessarily, and sooner or later they must see this, but until then he will have to run just ahead of their foolishness and short-sightedness, and pray to the Lord with each step that he will have the will and the grace and the humility to go on and on in this path he's chosen, or, more likely, that has chosen him, for The Raven is not afraid for the Lord his God is with him, now and forever...

* * *

"... amen?" the President's lawyer asks.

"What?" he asks, turning to look at the man, who's sitting next to him as they are driven from the airport to the lockdown facility in the high court.

"I saw you mumbling something, and then stopped," he explains: "I was wondering if you were praying."

"Oh," the former President says, looking out the window as Geneva scrolls past them: "I'm pretty done asking him for anything, to be honest. I hold out my hand and get !@#$ dumped in it."

The lawyer nods, looking out the other window: "Well, maybe this is where you get to finally wipe some of it off?"

"Maybe," the President says, thinking of what he was really mumbling about -- things that even his lawyer has no knowledge of.

And it's going to be better that way...

* * *

"... after all, it's hard to go from Director to just another hero," Hanami says, smiling as she shakes New Man's hand: "But I have no doubt you'll pass your probationary period with flying colors."

"Who decides if I'm good enough?" he asks, chuckling. 

"All of us do," Mr. USA says, clapping a hand on the man's shoulder as everyone else in their training room comes up to shake his hand: "We decided to put it to a vote."

"Well, alright then," the older hero says, going down the line from person to person: "Then, with a lot of respect and some humbleness, I am glad to join you all on Freedom Force, and promise to do my best to uphold our ideals."

"Yeah, yeah," Yanabah says, snorting as he extends a hand: "Welcome to the pit, you old !@#$. Get ready to bend over backwards."

"Welcome to the circus," Blastman steps forward, shaking the man's hand: "It just gets crazier from here."

He laughs at that and goes on down the line, eventually ending at Shining Guardsman, and then looking around.

"Has anyone seen Mister Freedom?" he asks, genuinely puzzled. 

"He's busy," Josie says, coming into the room unannounced: "At least, that's what everyone tells me."

"Wait," Hanami says, raising an eyebrow: "I thought you told us he was busy?"

"Um," Josie says: "Hanami, you told me he was busy."

"Sounds like you need to have your machine talk to her machine or something," Blastman says, shaking his head.

"Chinmoku," Hanami says, looking at the tall, Japanese man, who's been rather impassive throughout all this: "You know him better than most. Is there something we need to be concerned about?"

He smiles at her, somewhat inscrutably: "There are always matters for concern. But as to whether this confusion is one of them, well... perhaps he should be asked when he next appears?"

Blastman groans. Yanabah snorts. And New Man nods, realizing he's joined the circus, alright...

* * *

"... lions and tigers and bears, oh, my," the President's daughter giggles as she's wheeled down the transparent hallways of the Habitrail in an upright cart. 

She locks eyes with each and every patient she passes. Some of them look back. Others look away -- disturbed or even terrified by her stare. 

Eventually, they come to her room. The two armored attendants move her up to a clear enclosure, something like an airlock, and wheel her into it. Then they step back as a shield comes up on their side, and goes down on the other.

The restraints slide up and away, and back into the cart, releasing her. As she stands and rubs her arms, feeling the full circulation come back into them, the cart itself rises up into the roof of the doorway, folding down into a compact rectangle of panels and wheels. 

"This is patrol 23, we've just delivered the patient," one of the guards says, relieved to see her on the other side of the transparent steel: "All clear, all good."

"Alright, then," Mister Freedom says to them, a manacled hologram of himself appearing not too far from them, but outside her room: "You may go."

"So, this is my little home away from home, eh?" the girl says, taking stock of the transparent furniture around her as the guards shuffle away: "I've never shit into a goldfish bowl, before. Are you making sure I have healthy poop?"

"There are no secrets, here," the Supergod says to her, smiling as he raises his chained hands: "No room for privacy, no corners to hide in. All is known and will be known, in this facility."

"And that's conducive to me being cured?" she asks, grinning.

"Do you want to be cured?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Are you fucking kidding me? I love me, you fucking queer. My eyes are open for the first time in my life and I see everything here for the fucking joke it is... including you."

He smiles at her: "Then why would I want to cure you? I'm here to help you."

"Then bring me a knife and a few people you don't care to look after, and I'll see what I can make out of them."


"Because it'll help me be calm, you mincing asshole," she snarls: "Didn't you read about me? Don't you know who I am?"

"I do," he says: "You are the sole surviving daughter of the former President of the United States of America. Your sister was killed in front of you by an alien posing as Doctor Yesterday. I believe he used a hammer to smash her skull in?"

"Yes..." she says, staring at him with looks that she wishes could kill.

"Then a superhero sorcerer, Doctor Power, brought her back to life, after a fashion. He put a rather horrendous demon into her, and made it think it was her. But he failed to make the spell strong enough, just as he failed to completely erase your memories. And then, the following Thanksgiving, after terrorizing the White House for a while, it decided to show its hand."

"And SPYGOD fucking shot her full of holes," she says: "Right in the godsdamned lawn."

"Yes, and then his doppelganger from Alter Earth killed your mother, pretended to be her, and took you under his wing. In her guise, he slowly introduced you to concepts and ideas that no one on this world is truly equipped to handle. This psychological abuse and reprogramming went on for years, between the White House and the Pyramid of the Terre Unifee

"By the time he showed himself, and took you away, as himself, you were too broken to care. Which is when he started on the physical side of his indoctrination, as I understand it. Through a combination of punish and reward he gave you a surgical addiction, and at some point it went from being something you wanted done to you to something you wanted to do to others-"

"You forgot that he fucking set me free," she says, still scowling with her dead, dark eyes: "You forgot that he opened my eyes to the truth of how this world is, and how it should be."

"That is one way to look at it," Mister Freedom says: "Another way is that you've been traumatized, then given what seemed like love and attention but was actually indoctrination and abuse. And now that you've gotten past a certain threshold, you've adopted your abuser's worldview wholesale, and now seek to indoctrinate and abuse others. It's fairly common among people who've fallen into cults, except that they haven't suffered the kind of neural damage that you have."

"You're a fine one to talk about cults, Mr. God," she snorts, grinning: "What's going on in that walled city, over the border, Restriit? Why are the pagans all sitting up outside the barriers, waiting?"

He nods to her: "We'll talk more another time. Good night."

With that, the hologram vanishes, leaving her to rage alone in a room made of glass...

 * * *

... and I can see through it," Abdullah Ismail says from his small corner of Godspace, watching as his brothers and sisters feverishly build something on the other side of the clouds. 

"I think not, brother," Seranu says, folding himself down into a smaller form to address his subject: "We have declined to include you for many reasons, none of them personal-"

"Of course not," Foudre Blanc snorts, sitting next to the statue of Restriit-As-He-Was.

"But what happens here is for the best, and for the good. Our good. And I hope you will understand this, and go back to tending your dead garden until we have need of you."

"And you think you can hide a thing from the one whose remit is all endings?" Abdullah asks, crossing his arms on his chest: "I see what you make because I see it ending, Brother-King. I see the cracks in the walls, the flaw in the plan. I see the fire that consumes and the failure that destroys."

"Impossible," Seranu says, and for a moment Abdullah wonders if he's angered him. 

"Really?" the heart and soul of the new Olympian says: "Are you certain, Brother-King? Perhaps you should ask your Sister-Wife what she sees in all this. Surely you have discussed this with Kanaan?"

He just looks at the three parts of the new Supergod, and then, shaking his head, takes his leave of them.

"Well, that's never a good sign," the skeletal vigilante says: "When people just leave without saying a word? You've caught them in something. Always."

"I don't like the idea of him being caught," Abdullah Ismail says, looking to his own chains: "I want to set him free of this mistake, before it's too late." 

"But if you have seen the ending, then can the beginning not already be written?" the stone man asks: "Is it not already too late...

* * *

... for those who tried, and dared, and died, and the remnants of their ships tumble through the blackness between worlds.

Proud ships of the second world -- so much like the scrabbling, great crabs of Earth's prehistory -- are cracked and broken, their pressurized insides spooling out into the vacuum like so much offal.

They came here for a fight, and by the Gods they got one.

The dead float end over end, their bodies breaking under the strain of this harsh, cold expanse.

Someday, they will be remembered for this. Someday there will be recognitions, funerals, perhaps even a monument to their sacrifice on this day.

Someday, perhaps, but not today.

Today there is only a fire, burning out into space. Today there is only blood, crystalizing in globules.

Today there is only the horror of death in deep space.

Today there is only news of failure...

* * *

... which Director Straffer takes with some resignation, at least on the surface.

The truth is that he's tired. Bone tired of failure and disappointment. Sick of being sick and worried.

And he's had enough of others' reports of failure to last him a lifetime over the last few weeks.

So he does what anyone in his position might do. He has his subordinate get back to the Venusans to see if they can figure out what went wrong, and salvage what they can. Then, once they know more, get back to him with ideas on how to do it again, and this time do it right.

(Also, see if their quarry decides to leave their nest, which might happen now that they know we know where they are.)

In the meantime, he has other concerns. He has a fiancee who won't wake up from his post-surgical coma. He has a genuine concern that the sick little !@#$ who supposedly fixed him might have actually made things worse.

And he's worried that he'll be holding his hand and waiting for him to come back forever...

So he's trying something new, today. They say comatose people respond to music, and being read to, so Straffer's going to put that to the test.

Using his lover's many, many music files.

The medical staff in this wing aren't happy, but they can't do too much about it. Not with a bunch of Space Service guards and a damn teleporter standing outside the doors of his lover's room.

(It seems like it's no longer their show, but theirs.)

He kisses his lover on the hand, and then puts on some music, as loud as he can stand it. It didn't take him too long to decide what song, either.

"Lover come back to me," he sings, wishing he could growl like Pete Burns: "You don't have to knock on my door, no..."

Tuesday: 10/27/15

... you can feel it, can't you?" Straffer asks SPYGOD as they lay in each other's arms, floating beside a warm tangle of nude bodies in Faraj's cabin -- floating globules of sweat and other fluids orbiting them as they lay in sleepy repose.

"I can, yeah," SPYGOD says, looking over at one particular corner of the room: "It's getting closer every day. I can hear it, too. Like some !@#$ing killer calling my name as it comes through the house, looking for me."

"There's a pleasant thought," Straffer says, snuggling up closer: "How soon until we can see it?"

"Not too much longer," his lover says, shivering a little: "I'm surprised it hasn't shown up yet."

"But we've got a plan."

"!@#$, we've got a ton of plans, hon. The question is how they're all going to work when the !@#$ hits the goddamn fan."

"And we've got the Martians," Straffer says, kissing him on the neck: "And the Venusans. And the Dignitary, which is one of the most powerful things in existence."

"Yeah, and we've got our strategic talents, too. Though most of them are only gonna come out for Plan !@#$ing Z."

"And Myron's sure the Tunnelator's ready?"

"Damn sure," Myron says from where he's floating, over in the corner, wrapped around the two people he may have been doing something rather naughty and acrobatic with, earlier: "We actually have to go into that thing? We're good. For a while, anyway."

"And the special precaution?" SPYGOD asks.

"Oh, it's in the can," Myron assures him: "I wouldn't be here celebrating if it wasn't. Sir."

"And if all else fails, we've got the Chakram, back at home," Straffer says.

"It might not be enough," SPYGOD admits.

"Hey, the Colonel in a space god weapon from Hindu mythology? I wouldn't put good odds on the Decreator for that one."

And SPYGOD chuckles, and kisses his lover back: "Agreed."

"We're going to win this," Straffer says.

"I know-"

"No," Straffer insists, tapping his chest: "I want to hear you say it. I want to hear you believe it."

"We're going to win this," SPYGOD says to him, looking him in the eyes as best he can with one glass eye and a strange, alien thing under an eyepatch: "One way or another, we're going to !@#$ing win this. We're going to beat its huge, ugly ass back across the solar system, all the way to the... what's that !@#$ out past Planet X..."

"The Oort Cloud, hon."

"Right. That thing. And that's if we don't just smash it to !@#$ing pieces on general principle."

"And then smash the pieces into even smaller pieces, vacuum up, and find a nice, large black hole to toss them into, somewhere."

"Damn right. The !@#$ing thing's dead and it doesn't even know it yet."

"That's my darling," Straffer says, holding him tighter, his head on his chest, safe and content.

And for a time there's silence at the all night party...

* * *

... as Secretary of State Wheeler decided to abruptly resign, last night," Randolph Scott says over a montage of the man's career: "He said he wanted to take time out for his family, now. He said something about a health scare obscuring his vision, so to speak. He wanted the President to have a better team to handle the current issues... and so on."

Randolph comes into the frame again, smirking: "Well, if there's one thing you all know by now, it's that when Secretary Wheeler speaks, what comes out is bull!@#$. 

"And here on This Is Bull!@#$, we know all about it," he goes on, holding up a printout of an email that Velma just handed him, seconds before airing: "So here's what really went down, folks. And we don't know all the details, yet, but this was just intercepted by way of the Department of Defense. It's an internal email, obviously sent by someone too stupid to be working for them, telling everyone above a certain pay grade to make sure they've got their resumes updated.

"The money shot here is this paragraph: 'The President knows all about Operation Eugene. He is not happy. The SOS' - that's Secretary of State - 'is going to take the fall, but we're going to get looked at, too. Expect our boss to resign next week, and none of us will be taking his place. And the new guy will be looking to clean house.'

"And it's dated from last !@#$ing Friday.

"Yes, folks, the same say our Interim President was eulogizing the Purple Demon at Arlington, he was cleaning up one hell of a mess. The only question is what, but given that we've currently overextended ourselves in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and are back to a de-facto cold war with Russia, again, I doubt it'll be something you won't have read on the news.

"We will find this out. We will tell you. And if this dodgy Interim Administration thinks it can just sweep its mistakes under the rug, well, I've got one thing to say to them...

 * * *

... you will wear this VR band at all times," Myron says, holding up the prototype -- something like a snug, plastic blindfold: "From. Now. On. You shower? You wear it. You sleep? You wear it. You screw? You wear it-"

"Do they come in different colors?" someone asks. There's a little laughter, but Myron frowns and it goes away.

"Don't you get it?" Myron says, tapping his forehead: "Wake up, spaceboy. This thing is going to be your eyes from now on.

"It is going to fix it so that when this thing comes into view? You will not see what it really looks like. You will see whatever you want it to look like.

"So, a big !@#$ing smiley face? Kittens and puppies? Your ex-girlfriend who still won't give you back your goddamn black t-shirt? That's what you'll see, folks. And that's what is going to keep your asses alive.

"So if you don't like the color? You can !@#$ing cram it, spaceboy. Because you can change it to look like any goddamn thing you want to when you look in the mirror.

"Okay?" Myron says, glowering.  But something about how petulant he looks makes people laugh, again.

"And if I see anyone without this thing on, from here on out?" SPYGOD says, walking up behind Myron and putting a hand on his shoulder: "I will !@#$ing shoot you, and then toss your damn body out the airlock. No warning, no second chances.

"Because this thing we've been out here waiting for isn't going to give you one, either."

And suddenly, no one is laughing...

* * *

... when I started !@#$ing shooting at these stupid X people," Yanabah tells Josie: "I tried to go for non-lethal, like you asked."

"You tried," the Director says, raising a pink eyebrow.

"Well, no one's perfect," she snorts as they go deeper into the Heptagon's basement, where all the cells are: "I mean, Jesus. That multiple guy? I kept shooting and he kept coming and I lost track of how many there were. Before I knew it I'd blown away the last one, and, well, he wasn't !@#$ing multiplying after that."

"How about the others?"

"Chinmoku threw down with the ninja girl and the French guy. They're both in a coma."

"What about the one from Saudi Arabia? Xhasm?"

"Ah, Mister Freedom was good enough to tear himself away from whatever's so !@#$ing important he can't make meetings, anymore, and take care of her. I think she's locked up next to Gosheven. Apparently she !@#$ing cusses worse than I do."

"And the guy made of bullets?"

"Oh, Mr. USA dealt with him," Yanabah says as they pass the man in question's cell. Inside is a large, plastic tub full of what look like bullets, slowly moving in what might be extreme pain.

"And then there's the Xphere," Josie says as they approach the medical pay of the prisons, where the large, apparently-dead ball is being scanned and analyzed: "You said Mister Freedom said... what?"

"He said it was its own little puzzle," Yanabah repeats: "A foe returned."

"Well, let's see about that," Josie says, nodding to the men around it. One of them activates a shield emitter, another operates remote manipulators. Within seconds he's figured out how the ball unlocks, and opens it up.

"Oh, Maker," Yanabah says, clearly disgusted at the gelatinous mash inside, spilling out of broken containment tanks and the like. At their center is a rather fat-faced human head, surrounded by a mechanical heart and half a lung.

And that head looks very familiar -- provided you imagine him with a scruffy wisp of a slacker beard and high-tech goggles.

"The Technocrat," Josie says, looking him up on her pad: "One of those Team Omega people you all dealt with. I thought Red Queen shot him?"

"She did," Yanabah says, shaking her head in disgust to see him dead, again: "I saw them zip up the bodies and get them out of where the TU had them hiding."

"So how did the DIA get hold of it?" Josie asks: "And what else have they been doing..."

* * *

... over there." someone says, and everyone on the bridge gasps.

It's big -- clearly that is indisputable. It's about the size of Jupiter, only maybe a little larger.

It's dark as well, seeming to absorb light rather than reflect it.

Everyone on the bridge is seeing it as they have decided to see it, thanks to their VR gear. Cute animals, smiley faces, figures from their past, video game bosses, hated politicians, abstract shapes.

Only a few have the distinct privilege of seeing it as it truly is. SPYGOD is one of them. So are Hanami and Brightstarsurfergirl.

So they alone witness as the primordial blackness comes forth and is visible. Only they can see the seething sphere, like some negative print given shape and form. Its halo of psuedopods. Its roiling, planet-sized storms of eyes, viscera, and !@#$.

Its center, like a maw that's both devouring and expelling at the same time...

And as they see it come closer, they can't help but steal small looks at one another -- seeing if they can catch some sense of what the sight of it must mean to them. Hanami's seeming disgust. Brightstarsrfergirl's odd smile.

SPYGOD's resignation in the face of the ultimate threat...

Wednesday: 10/28/15

... if we did it, sir," Gary says to Mr. Stone as they look out the windows of his office: "The COMPANY won't be !@#$ed with, if you don't mind my saying so. One phone call and they'll send someone to deal with this guy, the same way they deal with all unlicensed heroes and vigilantes."

The head of Arrow Security nods, thinking it over, and then slowly shakes his head: "No, Gary. As good of an idea as it sounds, we do not want a Federal agency poking its nose into Detroit. If they did, they might see what we're actually doing here. And then we'd be in some serious trouble."

"Of course, sir," Gary says, wondering why he didn't think of that: "I'm sorry. That was a dumb idea."

"Not at all," Mr. Stone says, smiling as he goes to sit at his desk: "You saw a nail and thought to grab a hammer. Maybe the biggest hammer there is. It's a natural reaction."

"Thanks, sir."

"But this is an unnatural problem," Mr. Stone says, turning on a screen and looking at caught footage of The Raven as he beats down his strikeforce: "That boy is no thug. He's got powers, Gary. That much is clear. He can see and hear us coming. He knows what we're planning.

"And when we catch up to him? Well... I know we got some really serious hits in on him. But he flew up and away, anyway. And now he's out there, again, like nothing ever happened."

"So what do we do, sir?"

Mr. Stone thinks about that for a moment: "Well, we need to make sure our investment stays secure. If he's too tough on crime, our need to be here evaporates. So obviously we need to up the ante."

"You mean... get supervillains?"

"I do think that's an excellent idea, Gary," the man says, smiling: "And if we can't find any? Well, we'll just have to make them, won't we?"

And Gary gulps and smiles on the outside, hoping the God he hasn't really prayed to since he was a little boy will...

* * *

... have !@#$'n mercy upon us," Dr. Fuller says, shaking his head as the battle plan that took months to develop comes apart in mere minutes.

All this time, they thought they would only have to worry about getting close enough to the Decreator to see it without going blind and mad, and then dying the most horrible of deaths.

And then they thought that they'd just have to worry about how much of a pummeling the monster would take until it exploded, or simply died.

They worried about alternate scenarios, like slinging it back the way it came, or shunting it into another dimension. They considered landing on it and blowing it up, somehow.

All those things, and they never took into account that the Decreator wouldn't actually let them try and kill it. 

For in all the millennia of cosmic record, all the stories and rumors, all the tales of the great preternaturals... no one had ever actually really attacked it.

So no one had any idea the thing could fight back.

And that is exactly what it is doing: lashing out with black tentacles the size of continents; firing chittering beams of negative energy; spitting up roiling balls of pure anti-physics that turn their targets into so much fresh hell; and emitting heavy pulses of gravity, capable of making crumpled piles of metal of even the best-armored ship. 

And apart from the Egress -- just barely benefiting from the Imago's technology -- there is no defense against its hungry exertions.

"You had better get to the infirmary, my friend," Faraj says, putting a hand on the man's arm as the Dignitary launches itself at the hungry, eternal maw: "Prepare to receive casualties-"

A gravity wave hits, just then, and the whole ship begins to scream. 

"There's nothing we can !@#$ing do!" one of the bridge crew is screaming as yet another roiling beam of pulsing negative energy strikes what's left of the Martian's war fleet, causing each and every ship to collapse in on itself.

"There's always something!" Faraj al-Ghazir commands, seemingly unafraid as he stands athwart his command chair and begins pointing: "All of you, maintain discipline! Put me in contact with the Venusan fleet! We must get close enough for-"

And then there's a noise. A strange, tunneling anti-sound that resonates throughout the ship.

The lights flicker, sputter, and then fail. Someone screams.

Emergency power comes back on a second later, but it's too late. The damage has been done.

Those whose VR rigs went down while they were looking out a window, or at a viewscreen, have seen the Decreator.

And to see it is death -- slow, painful, and absolute...

* * *

... so I present to you, brothers and sisters, my hand on Earth," Satanoth announces to the others, assembled here in Godpsace.

The Red Queen appears before them all -- much smaller than they, yet seeming to be a danger even to them. She unfolds herself like a crimson butterfly of hooks and razors, smiling through teeth made sharp and plentiful, and seeing through eyes stolen from the greatest of predators.

"Very vicious," Nemesis hisses, breaking her usual taciturn silence for the most rare of complements: "Well done, brother."

"I see, and I approve," Seranu announces, speaking perhaps for them all -- though some horrified by this development.

"Then may I dispatch her to our new world?" Satanoth asks.

"You may, and with utmost haste," Senaru commands: "Know this, our Red Queen. We are soon to begin a new chapter in our lives, here. One that we, ourselves, will write -- unaided and unbidden."

"And what will that chapter say?" Mister Freedom asks, appearing beside the others for the first time since this has all began.

"You were not to be here," Soubre grumbles, looking askance at his traveler in the darkness.

"Well, I am here now," Abdullah Ismail says, bringing the two other parts of his self out along with him: "We all are. I told you it would only be a matter of time before I learned this secret as well."

"Then you should know already, Brother Restriit," Seranu says, unflappable: "We shall save this world from itself, whether its current inhabitants will or no."

"And is that what all this industry has been about, then?" the bearded statue of the old Supergod asks, its chains tumbling about as it floats in space: "Making a home for us to view the end of one world, and the beginning of another?"

"Not so, my brother," Seranu says: "It will be something wonderful, fit for the gods that we are."

"But a god is nothing without followers," Abdullah Ismail says: "It sounds like you're making ready to condemn most of them to death."

"Not before we know who is against us, and who is..."

* * *

... with us?" SPYGOD shouts as the few survivors from the Bridge float down the sparking, gutted passageway to the Zero Room: "Who's still alive?"

"I don't !@#$ing know!" Mr. Chaos shouts: "Just run!"

"Has anyone seen Dr. Heila?" Faraj shouts. But then there's a scream from up the way, and they all see something they'll take with them to their grave.

It's one of the dead crew that have been taken over by the interdimensional aliens. He's floating towards them. And as he floats his entire body shifts and warps, turning into something akin to a lotus flower, its many, regular holes buzzing with squishy, pulsing things.

YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE ME it says as it floats, and any of the crew it touches as it goes along scream, fall over, and begin to warp as well.

"The Emperor is here!" Faraj shouts, pulling out his sword and hurtling himself towards the abomination: "Leave this to me! The rest of you, run...

* * *

... before they get to us!" the man in the dark pinstripes is saying, hurtling through the Village commons along with a small gaggle of fellow prisoners.

He's too late, though. Much, much too late.

Hook descends, dressed in white, and brandishing a very large and sharp namesake in both hands.

And as she tears into those who ran too slow, those who survived her run straight into a man dressed all in black, carrying his signature Crook.

It's not sharp at all, but rather very dense -- so dense that anyone struck by it is not quite broken in two, and left to quiver on the ground as what's inside their bodies slowly collapse in their own fluids.

Satisfied that this batch of would-be resisters is dead and done, they come together and kiss over the ruins of their bodies. And then, a split second after that, vanish into thin air -- just like always.

"Well, that !@#$ing sucks," Myron says, watching on the viewscreen of what was once Number Two's circular office.

"I'll say," the Chessmaster says, no longer dressed in the black and white of her usual station, but rather just an old dress: "We could have used some more people. Some of them were strategically useful."

"How do we get them from out there into here?" the woman from the Improvement Committee asks: "And how do we know we can trust them?"

"And how do we know they won't figure out how to get in here?" Myron asks, looking at the ruined wreck of the man they used to call Number Two, sitting over, opposite the door, and crying.

"I told you, they can't," the man says, shuddering: "A safety precaution. They were only meant to be used sparingly, and then not for this long."

"I see why," Myron says, shaking his head and sitting down in the ball chair:  "Well then, I think we need to take total stock of our situation. And I think we better do it before..."

 * * *

...the bulkheads crack under the gravity pulses the space monster is sending at them. Everywhere are alarms and explosions. There is no doubt that the Egress is about to be destroyed -- the only question is how long they all have.

And, perhaps, who will live to leave her. 

Dr. Fuller is dead. He ran to save someone from one of the Returned, and then his VR rig cut out. He died screaming and in pain as his brains turned to black waste in his skull -- pooling above his head in a roiling ball of neural matter.

Myron holds onto the Tunnelator -- their last hope, now -- and also hangs onto Specialist Charleston. He was the last person still alive with him in the Zero Room, still trying to fix things while holding off what Dr. Heila and the Returned had become.

SPYGOD is floating towards them, along with Hanami and Mr. Chaos. Disparaitre teleports in with Straffer, and for a moment the world comes to a standstill as the united lovers kiss and hold one another.

And then the noise comes back on. The docking bay buckles. Ships fall every which way.

(A piece of debris strikes Myron's VR rig at his right temple, and he doesn't like the way the signal wavers, just then.)

One of the ships takes off, mid-fall. It's Faraj's own, heavily-modified spacecraft, and he is at the controls. He gives a sign of farewell as he accelerates out into the darkness, and then there's a strange light before the ship as he leaves their universe altogether.

"I think he's got the right !@#$ing idea," SPYGOD says, looking to the ship: "We good to go, Myron?"

"Yes, sir," Myron says, smacking the side of the VR rig and hoping it can hold on.

"Then let's get off this damn boat," Straffer says: "We're not beaten yet..."

Thursday: 10/29/15

 ... and we can't let this setback ruin our chances," Straffer says, talking to the Venusan Warmaster over his pad in his lover's hospital room: "We can strike again-"

"No offense, friend, but what's with this 'we' thing," the scrabbling, crablike thing on the other end asks: "Did a rhagh take a poop in your pocket?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sorry, trying to understand your lingo is a bit weird at times," the being says, giving what might be a shrug: "Bottom line, I think you say? The thing went bad. We lost our best attack wing, our best pilots. I can't get people to let me try again."


"Next time, you go and do this thing," the Venusan says: "And we'll back you up. Until then, maybe you should let the Martians know?"

And with that he turns things off at his end, and Straffer can only curse and mutter.

Over the stereo, David Byrne shouts: "And you may say to yourself...

* * *

"... my god, look at her," Straffer says, looking at one of the viewscreens that shows their rear view.

It's a horrible sight. The ship they've all been working, planning, living, and loving on for the past several months is now a smashed parody of what it once was. Large portions are aflame, atmosphere venting into the black. Other pieces are little more than burst holes, surrounded by shattered steel, plastic, and glass.

And all around it float the dead -- their bodies seeping black foulness and corruption as they tumble end over end, mute testament to the price of failure.

"Never forget this," SPYGOD says to them all: "Never forget them."

"Now what?" Specialist Charleston asks, still shaken by all that he's seen and done.

"Now, we !@#$ that thing up, nice and personal," SPYGOD says, looking around: "How long can this thing's shields take being in there, Myron?"

"An hour," he says, hoping he's not wrong.

"What, we're going in there?" Mr. Chaos says, shaking his head so fast his blue hair almost falls off: "No !@#$ing way-"

"Yes !@#$ing way, son," SPYGOD says: "That's why I wanted you along for the trip. You're the only one who can protect us when the shields fail, or if we go outside of them."

"And that's exactly what we're going to do," Straffer says.

"We will not be able to do that unless we survive the trip there," Hanami points out, pointing at the monstrosity ahead of them. It's all writing, black tentacles and negative beams, picking off every stray, surviving ship it can find.

"Good point," SPYGOD says, looking at Disparaitre: "When I tell you, you teleport us to just outside the surface of that !@#$ing thing."

"What are we waiting for?" the Frenchman asks, grabbing hold of the center of the ship as ordered.

"A gravity wave," Myron says.

"That's pretty smart, son," SPYGOD says, grinning: "How did you know-"

"I wasn't guessing. There's one heading straight for us-"

"NOW!" Straffer shouts.

And they vanish...

* * *

... like ghosts," the Lt. in charge of the Chinese Army convoy's rear security says, shaking his head: "No sooner did we return fire than they just ran away."

"This is unacceptable!" the Group Captain says, glowering down at the man who's come to report this: "You have failed to watch your responsibilities! And in Mongolia, of all places! You will be punished for this!"

"Yes, sir," the Lt. replies, not liking the sound of this.

"You can redeem yourself by telling me what exactly was taken, once we get back to base," he says, pointing to the last truck, along the long, lonely road to their border: "For now, you find the men in the following jeep and ask them how they managed to ignore that many men for so long."

"Yes, sir."

"And when I say 'ask them,' I mean 'shoot one and ask the other,'" the Group Captain shouts: "And then you blame him for selling them on the black market, somehow, so no one us get shot when we return!"

"Yes, sir...."

"Dismissed!" the man says, turning to go. The Lt. sighs, unholsters his pistol, and heads to the back of the long convoy, and in his heart is...

* * *

... nothing but blackness, as far as the eye can see. A darkness that seethes and boils below them, occasionally throwing up strange geysers of half-formed matter, and expelled balls of what might be its equivalent of pus, or not.

"What does it look like, really?" Charleston asks, but no one answers him. Perhaps he's grateful.

"So, just straight in?" Myron asks, not liking his screen resolution. He has to see where he's going. If it goes funky on him, right now, they're all dead.

"Find a hole and !@#$ it," SPYGOD says, grabbing onto something: "And then, just get us as close to the center as you can."

"What will we find there?" Disparaitre asks.

"Hell itself," Mr. Chaos says, his arms wrapped tight around his chest, as if trying to keep himself warm: "I can feel it from here."

"It is merely an alien," Hanami offers: "A powerful and incredibly large one, yes, but an alien. We can handle such things, provided we find their weakness."

"Well, I'm glad someone's !@#$ing optimistic," Myron grumbles, and then pilots his modified tunnelator down towards the darkness he can't really see.

Down, and then through...

* * * 

... the very long, long list of charges, the former President of the United States of America has stood, proud and silent, and doing his best to not look defiant.

They weren't kidding when they said they'd throw the book at him. He's being accused of having been behind everything, even things he had no idea were going on.

But, as expected, he is prepared to plead not guilty to them all, at the end -- and this is also part of the plan.

A large part of the deal he's concocted involved what's been happening over the last few days. He's spent them breathlessly telling everything he knew to FAUST and the NEU both -- giving them names, places, dates, and organizations that he remembered from his time under the drugs. He's told them all about the very disturbing things that went on around his desk, done by people who thought he was out of it, or too crazy to remember.

And in exchange for that knowledge -- which they'll be checking out while he's down in the so-called Shipwreck, in Pitcairn -- when he returns to trial, he'll still be found guilty, but the Judge will pretend to be moved by his lawyer's excellent defense, and grant a lesser sentence.

It's not a perfect solution. It's not a perfect world.

But here, surrounded by people who openly despise him, and may actually try to kill him, the President will happily take what mercy he can find.


Friday: 10/30/15

... it would be astounding if it wasn't so deadly, and so horrible.

The ship passes over fields and valleys of horror, each one different from the last. Canyons of slithering veins, sliding over one another in what might be wet, gooey ecstasy. Forests of black coral, with great, tri-lobed eyes budding from their raw and inflamed tips. Continental fields of tentacular growths, all sliding past one another in a sea of what may be its blood or bile, or some other material.

At one point, they pass through another forest, where great, black waves of grain all sport a strange, glowing nodule -- one that glows with a strange, pulsing color, and range in size from a boulder to a tiny pebble, but are mostly the size of eyes.

Hanami looks at SPYGOD, who looks back at her, nodding and tapping his eyepatch. She just nods and says nothing, for there is nothing to be said...

* * *

.. but to be horribly shocked by this horrendous turn of events," the representative from the NEU tells the man from the BBC: "This is truly undignified and beneath us. At a time like this, we should be extending a hand to these brave people, not turning them away. Certainly not engaging in acts like this."

"The refugee caravan that was bombed, how many Martians were on board?"

"About two hundred, all bound for Vilnius."

"And no one has taken credit for this?" the newscaster goes on.

"Well, we have heard from a group calling itself The Free World," he sniffs: "But I doubt they are to be taken seriously.  It's more likely that their parent group, Human Destiny, is to blame for this."

"Very good, Minister, thank you. To repeat this hour's top story, anti-Martian riots throughout Europe have come to a head this morning as about 200 Martian refugees, enroute from Indonesia, were firebombed in Lithuania. There were no survivors...

 * * *

... now that they have reached what seems to be their destination.

It is the absolute, solid center of the Decreator -- reachable only through a black and oily sea of cancerous slime, burning eyes, and turdlike structures that seem to replay thoughts and memories upon their gnarled and twisted forms.

It is only a half a mile in diameter, all told. The Tunnelator clanks as it lands, and Myron shudders as he sees how much pressure is on them now.

And how little power the shields actually have left.

"We wasted over a half an hour getting here," he says, looking to SPYGOD: "And I think I overestimated how long we can last."

"Well, then we better do this !@#$ing quick," he says, looking around: "Charleston? Stay here and mind the ship. Disparaitre-"

"I am not going out into that."

"That's good. I wasn't !@#$ing asking you to. You two stay here. If we don't come back, clear off, teleport back to Earth as soon as you can, and do what you can there.

"The rest of you, you're with me," he goes on: "Mr. Chaos, throw up the bubble the moment we open the door, and you all close it as soon as we're out. Hanami, fly us there. Myron, I want you with us to make sure we're okay if the VR rigs break down."

"I'm coming with you," Straffer says, standing up: "No argument."

"I wasn't going to make one," he says, looking at him and taking hold of his hand: "Forever and ever, yeah?"

"Damn straight."

"God, I !@#$ing hope not," SPYGOD says, kissing him as quick as he can: "Let's do this thing, folks."

"What exactly are we doing?" Myron asks, getting his tools and heading out: "I'm still not sure about this part of the plan."

"We're going to go shoot a space god in the mother!@#$ing face," SPYGOD says: "You got a problem with that?"

"Not at all," Myron says, following the others out the back of his ship. Mr. Chaos puts on his music and erects a bubble of anti-chaos, just outside, grunting with exertion every time a new person gets into it. And as they leave the safety of the ship's shields, and the door slams shut behind them, they see that they are walking on a smooth, black surface.

The dark is below them, cold and hard. All around it is a seething, boiling mass of indeterminate matter. Whatever they programmed their VR to show them is breaking down into pixels and sprites, as what's around them is too outrageously strange for these devices to handle.

And as Hanami gently picks them all up, or they hang onto her, and she flies them along, they see that they are headed for a nodal point, coiled just above what might be the top of the sphere. The nexus of the being they've been dreading, then fighting, and now exploring.

The mind/soul connection of the Decreator, pulsing before them like a melting, evil idol...

* * *

As the great, white walls of the enclosure in Mexicali begin to shine in the light -- creating a bright, column of light going straight up into the atmosphere.

The many people who have traveled here from around the world shout and scream and cry in joy and revelation as this happens. The crowd goes wild and begins to run and skip and leap. Music plays, wine flows, love happens -- in twos, threes, and twenties.

And even the most cynical of observers -- mostly unamused police and the Mexican army -- have to say...

Saturday: 10/31/15

", that's what all this bull!@#$ was about?" SPYGOD says, looking at the pulsing, roiling heart of the chaos that surrounds them: "Just coming back to prune the goddamn weeds? Is that it?"

"What's it saying?" Straffer asks, holding onto his lover for dear life as the reality bubble Mr. Chaos is maintaining cracks and chips under the strain of what lies outside.

"It's... oh, man, get this..." his fiance says, rooting around in his spacesuit's carry-all for something: "It says it's the Gardiner. It says that, ever since time began.... wait, ever since... what?"

SPYGOD looks utterly perplexed for a moment, and then grimaces: "Oh !@#$ me."

"No thank you," Hanami says, shuddering at what she's seeing.

"Can we wrap this up?" Myron begs, holding onto his VR rig for dear life: "I'm losing functionality on this piece of !@#$..."

"brains and to my out I'm !@#$ about !@#$hole of my..." Mr. Chaos says, his voice a strange, echoing thing.

"It's... It's saying it's done this since everything," SPYGOD says, his hands becoming strangely shaky: "Not just this time. Not just this space."

"You mean..." Straffer says, getting it.

"I mean it is a preternatural," SPYGOD continues, truly in awe: "It !@#$ing survived the death of the last universe. And the last universe before that. And the one before that. It goes on forever. Wandering. Watching. Marking. Eating..."

The bubble cracks, again. It starts to give. Myron screams, for just a moment.

And that brings SPYGOD back to the task at hand.

"Well, then," he says, going back into the bag and pulling out something, and then another something, and yet another -- starting to assemble a thing from those parts, and many others, almost too fast for his cohorts to see: "I guess it's time you went on !@#$ing Weight Watchers, you giant pile of planet-killing !@#$, you..."

The dark, chaotic whirl around them slows down -- just for a second. And then it speeds up, faster than before. The half-shapes and shuddering obscenities of form and concept become too swift in their changes to keep track of. 

"I think you made it mad," Hanami says, watching as the roiling, dark heart of the thing begins to take on an actual shape -- like an endless, cancerous tunnel, large enough to suck down everything they could ever conceive of...

"Not mad, Hanami," SPYGOD says, holding up the end result of his labors: "We just made it scared."

It's the Build-A-Gun he insisted on bringing with him on this mission -- assembled into a short, squat, and rather large pistol with a very large barrel.

"Um, hon," Straffer says, raising an eyebrow behind his VR rig: "After all the firepower we've thrown at it, I don't know that a handgun's going to do much good."

"Oh ye of little !@#$ing faith," SPYGOD says, turning to look at his lover. This brave and beautiful man who fought his way back to life, just to be with him, and then was wiling to sacrifice everything to stay by his side. He wants to see his face just one more time.

And then, with a certain and horrible strength, he reaches up to his face with his free hand, and rips the Chandra Eye out of his own skull.

He screams, for the pain is incredible. But also the horrendous, overpowering wash of sensation that follows as the alien artifact, no longer locked into his own skull, reverts back to its original function.

Not as an actual eye, but as what the monks who'd looked after it for so many years had used it as: a seeing stone, capable of perceiving all aspects of reality -- the past, the present, the future, both here and on other worlds and realities, inconceivable to the human mind...

He's holding it up in his hand, now. He can see all things as he hangs onto it, and it's too much.

He can see how it's all going to end -- seconds and minutes and hours and days and years from now -- and it's too much.

He can see how every action and thought, here and now, fractures and changes the future, and it's all too much.

He is holding onto the knowledge of the Gods -- crapped out of the bowels of this hideous, eternal, world-killing thing, and seeded throughout all places life might develop -- and it is too !@#$ing much.

So he does what he came here to do.

He takes the eye that's made him a God into the gun -- right up the goddamn barrel like it was a handheld mortar -- and aims it at where he last saw the thing.

(It can't be that hard to aim with no eyes. !@#$ing thing is as big a damn house. He just has to point it that way and pull the damn trigger...)

"Love, hold me steady," he tells Straffer, who does: "Chaos, make me a hole just before I fire. Myron, tell the folks on the tunnelator to be ready to go when we get back, and prepared to take out of here if we don't. Everyone else, get ready to run like !@#$ the second I pull the goddamn trigger. Got that?"

"Got it," Myron says, doing as he's told.

Mr. Chaos doesn't reply -- glowing, blue blood leaking from his eyes, ears, and nose -- but he's clearly got the point.

And Straffer holds him tighter with one arm as he helps him aim with the other.

"I love you," SPYGOD tells him, maybe one last time.

"I love you, too," Straffer replies.

"Been nice working with you, sir," Hanami says.

"I !@#$ing hate you," Myron adds: "But thank you for this."

"It's been an honor working with you all," SPYGOD says, smirking a little: "Even you, Myron. Especially you."

And then he looks up with sightless eyes at the foulness in front of them -- the sort of thing that spends untold eternities treating the universe like some kind of obscene all-you-can-eat buffet.

He grins like a bastard, knowing that, even if this doesn't !@#$ing work, at least they've scared this thing -- perhaps for the first time in its potentially-endless existence.

He takes a slow, deep breath just to steady his hand.

And, without saying a word -- for this abhorrent insult to all life everywhere does not deserve it -- he pulls the trigger, firing the thing's own eye right back into it.

The gun makes the loudest report anyone could have imagined, and then some.

The bubble holds, just.

The glowing eye-turned-bullet flies straight and true, almost too fast to see.

And the heart, mind, and soul of the roiling, truly timeless deliquescent corruption they've come here to kill finally !@#$ing obliges them -- unable to escape a mortal wound made of its own, endless flesh.

The tunnel becomes a protrusion as shock and pain turns the abomination inside out. The strong, lashing tentacles and cancerous growths flail in desperation, as if trying to pull its mind out of the hole it's falling down into. Shattered memoryforms the size of continents leak out of the hole in its thoughtstream, and its thankfully-occulted bodily processes begin to fail, one after the other, like obscene and pulpy Christmas lights overloading down the string.

But the five who came here to kill this world-eating beast do not see this. They have flown back the other way -- Hanami carrying them all on or around her as the toxic stew they've come through begins to be even more chaotic than before. She homes in on the weak and tenuous signal given off by the Tunnelator, hoping it's still there.

"Come on," Myron says, watching in horror as the true nature of what he's seeing starts to creep in along the sides of his handmade reality -- like artifacts on the screen of a computer whose visual driver is dying.

"I'm going as fast as I can, damn it," Hanami shouts, trying to not look back as she hears an implosive roar, right behind them, and the deadly giant they've assassinated starts to die even faster.

And the bubble of reality they're traveling in begins to get smaller, and less certain than ever before...

"They shot the pope!" Mr. Chaos screams along with his music, holding onto his head as the mess outside becomes too titanic a burden to bear: "They shot his ass!"

"Almost there..." Hanami says, seeing what she things -- what she prays -- is the Tunnelator up ahead, beyond a shifting reef of eye-tipped tentacles, their pupils going wide as worlds as the brain that controls them dies...

"It's over now..."

"Almost..." she repeats, going just that much faster as the bubble cracks and does not repair itself.

"Hang on!" Myron screams into his communicator: "We can see you!"

"That's what I said..."

"We're almost there!" Myron shouts again, just as Mr. Chaos's head cracks, right down the middle, and the bubble follows suit...

* * *

"Somehow, we made it inside," Straffer says, looking out the window at the rain: "I'm not sure how. Maybe, in his last moments, Mr. Chaos put everything into that bubble and made it go faster. Maybe that's what actually killed him.

"The last thing I remember, we were outside the back of the thing, and it wasn't open. The next thing I know, we're inside. SPYGOD's on the floor, convulsing. Hanami is sitting against a wall, her eyes wide as plates, saying something about a total personality wipe. I can't see Mr. Chaos anywhere, and I find out later he was left outside.

"And there's Myron, up at the front, piloting us out of the bowels of this dying thing the size of Jupiter," he goes on, shaking his head: "Charleston's on the ground, holding onto his VR and praying. Disparaitre is sitting down, smoking one of those awful cigarettes of his and crying.

"And Myron is screaming, holding onto the controls for dear life as that cracked band around his head smokes and sparks, barely holding itself together..."

He falls silent for a moment, looking away from the rain and back at Randolph Scott: "He saved us. More than anyone, he's the reason we're all alive here, today. He got us out of that thing as it was thrashing and dying, somehow piloting us through... well, I saw it as cutesy puppy dogs, but if one of those piles of puppies had struck a direct hit on the Tunnelator..."

"You'd have been dead," Randolph says, nodding: "And all the while, he was actually seeing it as it was?"

"Seeing pieces of it, I think," Straffer says: "Not everything. He'd have died if he had. But somehow, after everything his mind's been through over the past few years, he was able to hold it together just that much longer than a normal person. And that made all the difference in the world."

"So you didn't actually see the thing die?"

"Not up close and personal, and I am grateful for that," Straffer says, sitting down across from the reporter: "We only saw it from Earth, after we landed. From what I heard, it was pretty messy. I imagine something the size of Jupiter doesn't implode in a neat and orderly manner."

"And now there's a ring of black crud out there, not far from Mars' orbit."

"Yes, and pieces of it are raining down onto Mars, which is why they're leaving the planet to come here until they can get it cleaned up."

Randolph nods, sadly: "Those poor people. What a horrible thing to happen to them, especially since they went out of their way to help us on this."

"Well, it there was some self-interest in there, too," Straffer says, smiling: "It's like they said. It came for them, a long time ago, and took a look at us on the way out. That's when it left the Chandra Eye. And now that it was here for us, well, what was to stop it from taking another look at them? And if it realized it hadn't finished the job the last time...?"

"It would have killed them, too."

"Yes. Or maybe it would have looked at Venus, instead, and then left. That's part of the debate on Mars, right now. They're wondering if they should have just let it eat us."

"Nice of them."

"Well, every planet's got its buttholes," Straffer says, shaking his head: "I'd hate to think how we're being seen back there if they're tuning into the Presidential debates, or listening to what people in Europe are saying on the news. I like to think most people are giving and decent, but even the nicest and most compassionate people can turn into monsters if they get scared."

"Or get talked into stupid things," Randolph says: "I still remember what SPYGOD said about Europe, after the War. All those Germans, he said it was like they were stumbling out of a dream. Like they'd been asleep for years, rocked goodnight by the Third Reich. And then the Allies just swept into their bedroom and ripped the damn curtains off the windows, and said 'wake up, you killed ten million people in your sleep.'"

"To say nothing of the battlefield casualties," Straffer shudders: "Especially on the Russian front. That was a slaughter."

"Yeah. They've never let us forget that we conveniently forgot that, have they?"

"Nope," Straffer says, smiling at the memories of talking to his Soviet, and then post-Soviet counterparts in Russia's space program: "All those tales of the Great Patriotic War."

"Makes you wonder how they'll remember this."

Straffer nods, looking back out at the rain: "I hope they'll remember that we fought. That we refused to die. That we saw what was coming and worked together, as three planets, to fend off this terrible thing that could have killed us all. I hope they'll remember that, whatever came afterwards, for one shining, glorious moment we really were a planetary alliance, and did something extraordinary.

"People's names and what they did? Well, SPYGOD killed it. No one will be allowed to forget that. If not by him, then by me.

"But maybe, in ages to come, no one will know that Mr. Chaos gave his life to protect us. No one will hear that Brightstarsurfergirl put herself between that thing and the Egress, just as it looked at us, and saved our lives for just long enough to get the hell off the ship. Or that the Dignitary went ten damn rounds with it, and might have actually won, if it had just been a little stronger..."

He shakes his head. That was a truly horrible waste. 

"Or that Night Phantom and the Glimmer went down trying to blow it apart," Randolph says: "Except that Night Phantom got absorbed into a higher reality at the wrong moment. That's what Gosheven said he said, anyway."

"Well, !@#$ him," Straffer grouses: "That was lousy timing on his part, and I think he knows it. He still avoids me."

"I don't blame him."

"And then there's Dr. Heila and everyone in the Zero Room, turned into something horrific when something bad started coming though. And poor Dr. Fuller... well, just another hand lost with the ship when everyone's VR started to fail when the Egress lost power. A name on a very large memorial outside the Space Service's headquarters in Pontianak, just like the Martians and the Venusans have to commemorate everyone they lost in their war fleets."

"And I suppose we shouldn't talk about how Faraj deserted you at that critical moment?"

"Well, I still don't believe that," Straffer says, shaking his head: "He thought that Emperor he'd been fighting was coming through, somehow. He said he needed to go and stop it. And maybe he was right, and hopefully he did. But I'm not going to condemn him until I know for certain."

"I know the teleporters still all talk about Disparaitre," Randolph says, somewhat reverently: "That he actually grabbed hold of the Tunnelator and teleported it back to Earth, bang on in the center of Paris. They always knew he could do something like that, but seeing it done? Well, that's something entirely different."

"Yes, and well they should. But you know what? If nothing else, they should talk about Myron."

"Agreed," Randolph nods.

"I mean, hell. My lover caught that kid robbing banks to pay for the supervillain franchise he bought, so he could go travel the underworld as a lithonaut. And he could have just thrown him to the damn wolves, but he saw something in him, and brought him on board. And that something was that he had it within him to save the world, time and again.

"And there, at the last, he was able to look right into the belly of all that horror and somehow hold it together just long enough to get us past that thing as it died. Just enough time to get us clear so Disparaitre could get a fix on the Earth and get us there."

Straffer smiles, remembering.

"And now no one knows where he is, or what's happened to him," Randolph says, sadly: "I've had my people looking into it, too. No luck so far."

"I hope he comes back to us, soon," Straffer says: "I'd really like him back on board with us, again. He's a good kid. Hell, he's a good man. One of the best."

"Hear, hear," Randolph says, looking out into the rain.

And for a time, they are content to sit in silence, and -- except for the sleeping hero in the other room -- all seems right with the world..

* * *

"Oh Jesus," the AGENT reviewing Jess Friend's memories says, taking the VR headset off and holding his head in his hands: "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus..."

"Are you alright, AGENT?" one of the five, heavily armed guards nearby him ask -- all of them pointing their guns at him, very nervously, and for very good reasons. 

"I'm fine, yes," he says, looking up at them: "But we are !@#$ed, folks. And I need to speak to the Director right away..." 

* * *

"... which is my cue to get this !@#$ing party started," the pale owner of the Ibiza club says, closing the lid on the black box and getting up from his office chair. 

He walks past the shuddering, amputated remnants of the former owner -- looking up him like a dog with what little of a face he still has -- and looking out the office door at the party on his floor. It's still going strong at 4 in the goddamn morning. 

A perfect time to bring the house down, thinks the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth...

Sunday: 11/1/15

... isn't going to take the fall for all of this, you know," the obnoxious, Irish guard is telling the former President of the United states as the transport plane banks to the south-west, heading into southern China on its way to the South Pacific: "I mean, it stands to reason. They won't ever have him, but they've got you."

"That's true," the man says, nodding as he looks around the windowless, secure holding he's in. A small, little area of the cargo hold that can be detached from the rest of the plane and moved around, so as to keep him as safe and secure as possible.

Just him and this guard who won't shut the !@#$ up, and isn't allowed to read or so much as take his eyes off his prisoner the whole way to Pitcairn...

* * *

... have to get him back, Ma'am," the AGENT says to his new Director, who's utterly stunned at this latest revelation: "This... this bastard mother!@#$er. He's sold us down the river like you would not believe!"

"I see that, AGENT," Josie says, holding up a hand as everyone on the Flier's bridge loses a heartbeat or two: "Let's take a deep breath, though. You said that in addition to learning that he gave those lost codes to him, you heard him tell Jess about his plans."

"Yes," the AGENT says, turning pale: "I mean, it makes sense, now. He gave him the codes in exchange for that sight for Hǫfuð . But he'd been with the sight all along, and imprinted it with his personality. So when the gun got the sight, it was acting like him, and luring Red Queen into that trap in Bangkok."

"Well, that's what you get for trusting alien technology," another AGENT nearby opines: "I agree, it all makes a lot of sense, but-"

"Ma'am, we're getting a priority message from the mortuary lockup," the AGENT handling inter-flier communications interrupts, coming over to show her his pad: "Something is transmitting from inside it."

"Transmitting?" she asks: "What?'

"We don't know yet. We think it's a message. And it's coming from the container with Jess Friend's effects."

Josie looks at that AGENT, and then the one who's been telling her about everything about Jess, or trying to: "Leave it where it is. Secure that area of the ship. Get a blast team down there."

"Yes ma'am."

"And once that's done, find its frequency, and answer it on a secure, unconnected pad with a time delay and full anti-hypnotic visual scrambling!"

"We're not taking any chances with this !@#$er," she growls: "We've lost too much to him already..."

* * *

 ... moving into position, out in the wild steppes of Mongolia.

A large number of people, all camouflaged to blend in with this unforgiving environment. All covered in dusty, brown cloaks and headwraps.

They sit there, in the sun of early afternoon, waiting for a sign -- a sign they've been anticipating for quite some time, now.

Then, with the raised fist of their equally-unforgiving leader, it is given.

And they prepare...

 * * *

... to put down in Choibalsan for a refueling," the guard says, smiling: "Not long enough for you to stretch your legs, though. We'll be on our way again before a while."

"Good to know," the former President says: "You now, in all this time, I never did catch your name."

"Not supposed to give it, now, am I?" the man winks: "You just don't worry about that, sir. I expect you'll be seeing no more of me from here on out."


"Oh yes," the man smiles: "See, I just handle intake. Once you're on trial, you'll be dealing with a whole different cast of characters."

"Too bad. I'd rather gotten attached to you and your partner."

"Well, I don't mind saying, so, sir, but to me you all just look alike."

The President looks at the man, who raises an eyebrow and then brays like a jackass for a whole minute, all too aware of his cutesy joke and its crass double-meaning.

And then he's fully committed to...

* * *

"... making a killing, here, this morning," the mocking face on the larger screen they've hooked the pad up to says, smiling at his intended audience as a crazy, Euro-dance party goes on behind him, still raging strong in Mediterranean pre-dawn: "Just keep in mind that what you're seeing has already fucking happened. There's nothing you can do about this.

"But what happens next? Well, that's up to you."

He smiles and walks over to what looks like the controls for the lights, not far from the DJ station. He pats the bare-chested lady who's been spinning for him all night long and whispers in her ear. She nods and walks off, maybe heading for the bathroom.

"So, by now you know what I did to Jess, and how," he goes on, holding up the black box, and then putting it down on a table nearby to open it up: "And I'm sure you're learning what I've done to my darling cunt. But I want you to really understand what you're up against, here.

"And what a little moonlight magic can really fucking do," he goes on, taking a glowing, pulsing crystal sphere the size of a human eye out of the box, and then putting it into a special, modified area of the light controls...

* * *

... delicately adjusted, taking all variables into account.

The weapon is an old, Chinese model. It's been heavily modified for this kind of work, but its old lines are still very evident.

Their best man is handling it, today -- all too aware of the price of failure.

His leader kneels nearby, studying the new scanner he bought in Ulaanbataar just the other week, just for this purpose.

The Ukrainian rebels use them to target Russian jets from long distances -- it should work just fine on something this close, and that large.

(It's not the only thing he brought from there, though the other is rather special, and needs to be carefully handled...)

He holds up his fist again, and the man cradling the rocket launcher around himself gets ready to prove himself...

* * *

... a coward, in the last few seconds of his life.

But then, most people do. No one truly expects to die, especially not on a supposedly-highly-secure trip like this. No one expects the manacled prisoner they've been escorting to suddenly burst loose from his bonds as though they were nothing more than a cheap costume.

No one anticipates having their throat crushed by one hand while the other strikes deep into their sternum at an oblique angle, driving jagged pieces of breastbone into their heart.

The guard gasps for a last breath as his lungs fill with blood, the former President holding onto him as he sinks down into death.

Then, when he's sure the braying jackass is dead, he takes the man's hand and holds it close to the small control pad he's had nearby. The DNA-locked pad that can override certain functions of the plane, but only if the controls at the front of the plane are knocked out of action.

Say, by a missile...

* * *

...f1-11 by Sigue Sigue Sputnik cuts out, replaced by an even more frantic remix of Pornography, by The Cure -- one that dispenses with the weird, distorted vocal samples and gets straight into the beat.

The dancers take the change in stride. Obviously the new DJ with the funky sunglasses and long sleeves wants to mix things up a bit, so they oblige.

But then the lights change. The swirling, gentle pinpoints they've been grooving under becomes a pulsing wash. Something between colors -- grey-pink-purple, for want of a better description -- bathes their dancing, half-nude bodies with its sickly, heavy glare.

And within seconds of being nailed by it, they all stop dancing in place and start to thrash around, looking for some kind of violent contact in their immediate future...

* * *

... as the missile flies, straight and true, heading straight for the cockpit of the NEU transport that's just now making its approach run to Choibalsan's airport...

* * *

... and the plane rocks and begins to shake after the explosion is heard, and the warning signs go off all over the aircraft, just as the President presses the dead man's button to evacuate...

* * *

... her bowels on the face of the man she's just chewed to death on the dance floor, her eyes like dark and bloodshot flowers in her face as she screams a jagged, red smile and leaps at one of the few remaining survivors...

* * *

... being shot in the face as the war party rides over them, galloping their horses past the burning wreck of the aircraft on their way to their true quarry...

* * *

... who raises his hands as he exits the flaming, smashed wreck of the containment capsule -- somehow untouched by the devastation around him, except for the blood of the dead guard he used as extra padding on the way down...

* * *

... in a welter of her own blood, bone, and brain as she turns to face the last person standing in the club -- the DJ who played the killing song.

"So, let's make a few things real fucking clear, ladies and gentlemen," the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth says, striding barefoot into the sea of blood and broken bodies on his dance floor, holding a certain alien gun up in his hands while holding the camera with the other: "I have the Eye of Horus, which allows to me to know what you're planning against me, sometimes even before you know you're doing it. 

"It also lets me do things like this, both to individuals and to large crowds. And, depending on what I tell them, or what I give them? Well, you could have a host of suicidal schoolchildren, crashing their bus on the way back from an otherwise-boring field trip. Or you could have a godsdamned rage mob swarming through your Capitol, all too eager to let your fucking useless Congress know how little they like how laws get made.

"All sorts of nasty things. And I have a really vivid imagination, as you've probably guessed...

"And then, there's this," he says, holding up Hǫfuð just a little higher: "Which means that if I get the feeling you're coming after me, I can kill you before you can even see me. And I can find anyone on the planet and blow their fucking head off before you even know I'm there. So let's not try anything stupid, shall we...

* * *

... the man atop the horse says to the former President, holding a gun on him as their leader gallops into view: "Not until we know who you really are..."

* * *

... don't worry," the man says, looking the large, almost demonic centaur in the eyes as Altan Aduu comes closer, carrying a pair of high-tech, Chinese flamepistols in his hands: "We rode together, once. I think I can convince him who I am..."

* * *

"... finally, there's the matter of those nuclear codes your former President sold me when he didn't know who I was. Now, I don't have any real use for them. I have all the threat I need, right here. But there's a few people out there who aren't so secure in their security, shall we say.

"And I sold them to them, in exchange for a lot of start-up money for my next exciting venture."

The bastard smiles at that: "So, now I hope that we're clear? I can kill you anytime I like. You can't kill me back. If you ever even try, I'll turn whole mobs of people into my slaves and make them fuck and kill and eat each other, and maybe other people along the way, depending on what mood I'm in.

"And the only person who's good enough to stop me? Well, I had my protege turn his brains to fucking cheese under the guise of fixing him, so you can just forget that...."

"Oh God, no," Josie says, gasping.

"What, you thought I'd just let her be caught? You thought the audition on that stupid bitch that tried to kill me was just her showing off? This was all planned, kids. All of it.

"You all call me the bastard, now. But one day you'll all call me the master. Until then, I can wait. 

"And I'm really fucking patient."

The screen goes black. A doppler-image of his evil smile persists...

* * *

 ... as the former President of the United States screams in pain, his body wreathed in chemical fire, and shot full of holes by dozens of surplus, Type-03 assault rifles, freshly stolen from the back of a Chinese Army supply convoy by Altan Aduu's raiders.

It takes him a long time to die, eventually sinking to his knees as his face begins to slop off of his skull...

* * *

... and then wraps around his face, protecting his skin from the harsh climate of the steppes, and himself from being recognized.

"That device was not so easy to procure," the centaur tells him as he leaps up onto the horse of the man who just died for him: "That man, harder still. I hope this is worth it. I hope you are worth it."

"I'm worth ten of him, and millions more than that," the man who just watched himself die says, putting on sand goggles as the raiders stop shooting at this new doppelganger: "And you know that, or you'd have never agreed to it."

"Ha!" he laughs, pointing the way to a storm -- in the opposite direction from the cavalcade of emergency vehicles coming their way, even now -- "You truly have a way with words, my friend. Now let's be gone from this sorry place."

And with that, the former former President of the United States of America looks back one last time -- glad to finally be done with all that -- and gets his new horse galloping away from his part, and towards a new and uncertain future. 

But one that he can, at long last, control -- which is certainly more than what he's leaving behind. 

* * *


* * *

"Straffer, please, I'm sorry," the COMPANY Director says, standing at some semblance of attention at the door of SPYGOD's room: "I know what we thought, but..."

"It's a lie, Josie," Director Straffer says, shaking his head as he sits by his lover's side and holds his hand: "That bastard, he lies. You know this."

"I do, yes, But I think we really need to consider the possibility that he did plan this out. If he knew our moves in advance-"

"According to what Swiftfoot told your people, I had them completely surprised," Randolph Scott says from his chair in the corner: "There's no way that was planned."

"Yes, because I really want to know what you think, right now," she snarls at the outlaw reporter: "And how do you even know what he told us?"

"I've got my sources," he winks: "Still."

"Why isn't this man in jail-"

"He's fine," Straffer says: "He's recuperating. It's brain surgery."


"I said he's !@#$ing fine!" the man shouts, throwing a pitcher of water across the room at the door. It cracks under the force of the blow and sends water all over everything, including her suit.

"I'm sorry," she says, saluting him: "I'll be leaving now."

"Yeah, you do that," Randolph Scott says, waving her off: "And say hi to Gosheven for me, will you? I miss the guy."

That did it. Josie frowns, turns, and goes -- her footsteps echoing down the hall.

* * *

Deep below all concepts of "here" and "now," at the end of all people, places, things, and ideas, Gosheven awakes from a light slumber to find that something is going on.

He's not sure what it is, at least at first. But the sky up above is changing colors, and the dark void below his glass cube of a cell seems to be full of something, though he doesn't know what it could be.

He looks around to call out for his jailer, Mister Freedom, but he's nowhere to be found. Unusual, to say the least.

There's just those Warbots, now. Maybe he drafted them to help?

But then, if they're alone...

"Hey," he says to the nearest one, its body wreathed in a purple glow, studded every so often with a familiar, silently-screaming face: "I think I know you."

The Warbot turns and looks at him with something approaching skepticism, but the glowing faces stop screaming, just for a moment.

"Yeah," the shapeshifter says: "And you know me. We worked together, once or twice. I was friends with your dad... well, he was my boss. And he probably isn't very happy with me right now, which is why I'm here.

"Blah blah !@#$ing blah. Help a friend out...?"

* * *

"Of course you cannot help, Yevgeni," a large, Russian worker says to his much smaller counterpart as they box up the last of the things to take from this old Science Silo: "You are too busy complaining about this, that, or the other thing to help your friend haul this heavy crate."

"Oh, stop your complaining," the skinny Russian fellow says, getting up off his butt, brushing it clean, and then taking hold of the other end of the crate so they can put it into the carry-all -- after nailing it shut, of course.

Inside is an android -- at least that's what they've been told these are. They're all identical, made to resemble a skinny, tall, long-haired man. And they're all wearing long, white, padded smocks with high collars.

And all have weird, high-tech glasses with long, purple horns projecting from them.

"Which one is this, Boris?" Yevgeni asks, looking around the small room as he grabs a hammer to nail the box shut: "How many have we packed?"

"This is the last one," the larger man says: "I think?"

"No, there is one more," Yevgeni says, shrugging over at the opposite end of the room, behind the dais which once held and violated a dead man: "The other is on the floor, back there."

"Ah well," the man says, turning and going to look in that direction. As he does he looks down, and then cries out in surprise.

"What is it?" the skinnier fellow asks -- coming over, hammer in hand: "Did you find a rat?"

"No," Boris says, kneeling down to pick something up off the floor: "I have found this, Yevgeni. It is a head."

And it is. It's the head of one of these androids -- strange and impassive.

"Well, where is the rest of it?"

"I do not know," the larger fellow says, looking around. To his Vodka-addled eyes, the room looks no different than it did some time ago.

But then, he never was a man with an eye for details, Boris. He not only didn't notice that there had been another android, back here, but he didn't notice that one of the large, electrical panels had been shut, before.

And now it is open -- exposing a space where something may have once been, but is no longer.

Something the size of a human head...

* * *

... staring at him, its eyes and lower jaw removed, connected to its body by only a thin, pulsing tube.
And yet somehow still alive.

His name is Lt. Russell Knowles. He is a member of the Space Service. He thought he knew horror, before. He even thought he understood dread.

But he's learned he had no idea -- no !@#$ing idea -- what those words even meant.

A week ago he was attacking this hollowed-out asteroid, backed up by the best attack ships that Venus had to offer. They were swiftly executed shortly upon arrival -- there was no other word for it -- and now he's a prisoner, here. He's fastened to a black, slimy wall crusted with foul, phosphorescent excretions, kept barely alive with things too foul to describe, denied even the mercy of sleep by regular jolts of stolen Adrenalin.

And forced to watch as the men and women he came here with are taken apart. 

The creatures that have captured him are not what they were expecting to find. These are not those silly, two-headed zebra things with the perception filters and warp bubbles. Not the Xordonodrox.

These are more disgusting things -- flyblown !@#$ given arms and legs. Their faces are like fleshy, red lotus flowers, with squirming, leaf-like structures spitting out every so often from the sides. 

And every so often he sees one wearing the remnant of a Space Service suit -- much like they wore on the Egress.

He gets the idea that he's the control subject. He's the base model they have to refer back to as they slice, sliver, and explore his friends and colleagues, not more than twenty feet away from him.

And that means he's safe, for now. 

But sooner or later they'll know what they need to know. They'll have decided that they've taken enough people apart -- alive or dead or somewhere between -- and put them back together, sometimes with strange, new parts.

And then they won't need him, anymore, which means they'll finally kill him.

It takes every ounce of strength he has left to form the thoughts, but they are, thankfully simple. It's a short, quiet prayer to the God he thanked for things that now seem so small and far away and unimportant.

He prays that today is that day, and that whatever form his release comes it will at least be swift...

* * *

... and strangely orderly as the many, many people who've been outside the walls of the White City are now allowed into it. 

They are all agog at the marvels and amazements they see there. Great, ivory structures reach up to an inner sky hung with strange stars, where a moon with a stern face looks down upon them. Streets of silver, archways of gold. 

And everywhere the sense of togetherness and kindness -- that and wonder, eternal and absolute. 

"It's beautiful," one of the Singlove habitues says, grabbing hold of everyone he can and trying to dance with them: "It's so beautiful!"

"Is sure fucking is," Loreli says, looking up at the tallest tower of them all and wondering how much she'll have to ruin before its occupants come down to see...

* * *

... them coming in, at last," Seranu says, looking down as their chosen people come into the view of Olympos: "We have turned a corner, my family. Now the true work can begin."

"Indeed," Abdullah Ismail says, pretending to look around their massive throne room -- perhaps inspecting his own seat -- as he watches his two most interesting charges.

The President's daughter, being told of the fate of her father, and laughing herself sick in her cell.

And Gosheven -- who's no longer in his cell, but floating through Tartarus as a stream of what he thought was undetectable molecules, searching for an exit.

It's a simple thing to provide him with one, and so he does. And then he looks to see Shift staring at him, perhaps.

He nods, knowingly. Shift returns the gesture, and then walks off to do whatever he feels he needs to.

And with ambrosia, dancing, and song, the Gods begin to celebrate their return...

* * *

"He's going to come out of it," Straffer insists, smiling as something beautiful by The Cure comes on.

"Yes, he is," Randoph agrees, wishing he could be more supportive right now: "Listen, I'm going to get some coffee from the lounge down the way. Can I borrow one of your guards? I don't know if Josie's got some AGENTS parked somewhere to take me in."

"Sure," the Director says, though he really doesn't know what he's agreeing to. Randolph just smiles, stands, claps a gentle hand on the man's shoulder, and then leaves to get some java.

How long is he gone? It seems like seconds, but then it may have been a full hour. It's just so hard to tell. Straffer hasn't slept in some time -- shunting all his power and chemicals into keeping his brain active and alert so that when his lover finally comes out of it, he'll be there for him.

"However far away, I will always love you," he sings along with the tune, squeezing his hand: "However long I stay, I will always love you..."

And then there's pain, there -- sharp and pointed.

Straffer jumps back as his lover's sword erupts from his hand, almost taking one of his fingers off with it. He shouts, astounded.

And then SPYGOD's hands explode with blades -- all sizes, all kinds. A forest of knives and light, sparking off one another as they grow and shrink, expand and contract.

And his lover begins to scream, long and loud as he opens his eyes and sits up.

"Dear Jesus," Randolph says, coming back into the room, coffee splattered all over himself: "Is he...?"

"Can you hear me?" Straffer says, gesturing for everyone to stay back: "(REDACTED), can you hear me?"

"... what... where..."  SPYGOD gasps, shuddering as the knives start to slide back into his hands.

"Honey, you're alive," Straffer says, coming around to him from the head side of the bed: "You've been hurt but you're getting better-"

"Who... are you?" SPYGOD gasps: "Who the !@#$ are you?"

"Your boyfriend... your fiancee," he corrects himself: "It's 2015. You've been-"

"It's 1970..." SPYGOD says, shaking his head: "I think I... why can't I see... the eye. I just put the eye in.."

"Yes, you did," Straffer says, his heart breaking in two: "You put the Chandra Eye in, and then you saved the world..."

"I can't see," SPYGOD says, looking at the room with eyes that have suddenly gone as grey and sightless as that of a dead fish: "I can't !@#$ing see!"

* * *

And in a glass cell -- surrounded by the mad, bad, and dangerous to know -- the President's daughter laughs and laughs and laughs, somehow knowing that her patient is awake, and beginning to understand the fresh hell she's invented for him.

* * *

And on a beetling crag, not far from the former Soviet Science Silo, a lone figure looks back at the installation -- all a-buzz with transporters and the like -- and holds up a hand, making a "pow pow" gesture.

As if by some coincidence, the entire installation picks that moment to implode. A massive, white hole devours both it and its attending vehicles, Russian Army guards, and the like. 

And then, after eating up a full mile of the scenery, the hole goes quiet and still -- leaving a deep, circular pit.

The figure adjusts its high collar so it can see better. As it does, the sun comes out of the clouds, bathing its tarnished, silver face with light for the first time in ages. 

"Fleshgerms," METALMAID says, shaking her head as she turns to leave the ruins of this plan -- supremely confident that this is not the end of her quest, but only another step towards its completion.

(SPYGOD is listening to Melt {Again} (Front 242) and having a cool, frosty Olympos)