Monday, July 6, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 2: 1977

"He said 'we haven't had that spirit here since 1969'"

(Back) Mr. USA, ex-Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan, Ariel
(Front) Syphon, Aegio, Shift, Pontus. Seranu
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

Freedom is something that cannot be passed on in the blood stream, or genetically. 
And it's never more than one generation away from extinction.

Ronald Reagan - "Whatever Happened to Free Enterprise"


June 10th, 1994

The Reagans' living room seems a fragile thing -- liable to break with so much as a cross word.

Dozens of collector's plates are on display, on special shelves mounted on the wall. Its tabletops are filled with with small, plaster statuettes and figurines. The bulky, square easychairs are a festive red and white floral design.

Chairs a number of important people sit in or stand around as the storm rages outside, all waiting for a certain something to be done.

Something necessary, but terrible. 

"Have another tissue, honey," Barbara Bush says, handing a very red-eyed Nancy Reagan the box again. Once upon a time, Nancy wouldn't have heard of someone else telling her when and how to cry, but tonight she's gratified to have someone with her.

Someone other than all these men, none of whom seem to know what to say to her, just now.

"How long is this supposed to take, anyway?" James Baker asks from where he sits, clearly unnerved.

"As long as it takes," George Bush replies from his own chair, clearly irritated.

"That's not an answer, George-"

"It's done," someone else says -- someone who's standing as far from everyone else in the room as he can get.

A beautiful man in a suit, wearing sunglasses they haven't made in over twenty years.

"How do you know, Aaron?" Dan Quayle asks, getting up from his chair, hands on his legs.

"I felt the connection sever, a few minutes ago," the man says, turning from the window to look at the others: "He is no longer anchored."

"And what does that mean, exactly?" Nancy asks, trying to be strong as the lightning flashes, nearby.

"It means he's not in pain, anymore," SPYGOD announces, appearing from seemingly nowhere, seconds before the boom.

"Oh my God," Nancy says, almost about to cry again: "Oh my God. Thank you, God. Thank you."

"I'm not sure we should be doing that," George mutters, getting up, himself: "Thanking God. After all-"

"Put a !@#$ing sock in it, Herbie," SPYGOD snorts as he walks over to the former first ladies, and gets on one knee before Nancy.

"Is he... I mean, is he...?" she tries to say the word. She can't.

"He is," SPYGOD replies, softly: "You should go see him. It'll help."

"I don't know if I'm ready for that, yet," she stammers.

"I'm so sorry, hon," he says, taking her hand in his: "You know we had to do this."

"I do, yes," she says, taking one last, hard honk on a tissue. And then she takes a deep breath, clears her head, and gets up to go to her husband's room.

"Do you need someone with you?" Barbara asks.

"Should we all go in together, maybe?" Baker asks, looking around the room. 

"No," Nancy insists, putting her face back together: "Thank you all, but no. I have to do this myself, alone, or I'll never be able to do it. You should all know that by now."

No one knows what to say to that. SPYGOD stays where he is on the floor, admiring the woman all the more for this simple act of strength. Knowing that this is the longest walk she's going to take in her life.

The moment she's gone, the room goes back to being silent, again. In that silence, SPYGOD finds a way to slip out a nearby door and stand in the rain of the storm.

And then, at long last, he allows himself to cry.

* * *

June 10th, 1977

"Is it really a good idea for me to go to this party?" Reagan asks Ariel as their limousine slows down, just within sight of a big, floating door to nowhere -- all lit up in the darkness.

A door that literally appeared overnight in the deserts outside LA.

"Yes," Ariel says, still reading his newspaper.

"I mean, the last time I went to one... well, you know what happened."

"I do, yes," the Backer says, putting the paper down and away, and then adjusting his sunglasses so his client can't see his eyes: "Not that you do, Mr. Governor. But that's neither here nor there."

"You really shouldn't call me that, anymore," he bristles: "I'm not the Governor, anymore."

"This is true."

"And I'm not President, either," Reagan says, pursing his lips: "You made sure of that."

"We did, yes," Ariel nods: "And we've been over this before, Mr. Reagan."

"I know, we have," the man sighs: "I'm better off as a voice from the wilderness, right now. I know that."

"A very loud voice, sir,"  Aaron pipes up from the front seat, where he's sitting behind the wheel of a car that's driving itself through the long, rolling line of vehicles -- some much more fancy and/or official than others: "That radio commentary show is a powerful thing."

"And it will pay off, in time,  Mr. Reagan," Ariel reassures him: "Trust me, between that show, and letting things take their natural course with Carter? You'll be in the Oval Office in 1980."

"I do trust you, yes," Reagan says: "You know that. I've handed my future over to you, and I have faith. I just feel so helpless, watching on the sidelines. I need to be out there handling the ball, you know?"

"I understand perfectly," Ariel says, looking out the window as they get closer to the destination, taking in the very long line of people going through the large, glowing red pillars: "When we started this, we told you that you would be the man for your time. I know waiting to take the ball, as you put it, is galling. But the time is not right just yet."

"Why not?" Reagan asks, feeling he's earned the right to ask, by now: "What are we really waiting for?"

"Well," Ariel says, coughing into his fist: "I really shouldn't be telling you too much. Especially as you're about to walk into enemy territory, as it were. But to be blunt? Things need to get just a little bit worse before we bring you into things. And four years of having that silly fellow in the White House will do nicely."

"And then we'll have you in there for a very important eight-year block of time," Aaron says, smiling.

"But that's not what you should be thinking about," Ariel scowls. The smile very quickly disappears from Aaron's face, and he realizes he's talked out of turn.

"I see," Ronald Reagan says, and then the car comes to a halt.

"Remember your training," Ariel says, taking the man's hand to shake it: "Remember the Lock of the Mind and the Cross of the Heart. So long as they are within you, the Kingdom is within you. And so long as you have faith in them, nothing can harm you."

"And for all other things, well, I've got help," Reagan winks, looking out the window at the crowds milling into the pavilion. 

SPYGOD stands there -- wearing a black leather leisure suit, leaning against a pillar and smoking a cigarette like he invented the !@#$ thing.

And the way he tosses it aside when he sees Reagan get out of the car makes the old man smile.

* * *

They call it The Gathering. The Olympians have one at the same time, every year, but never the same place twice, oddly enough. Some make jokes about lightning striking. 

And some know better than that.

In one sense, the Gathering is a massive, upscale party, where the world's best and brightest mingle with the most intelligent and interesting -- something between Davos and Woodstock. In another, it's a celebration of another year gone by, and life continuing on. 

A massive and mighty celebration with one primary understanding: what happens inside must go outside, but what is happening outside must not infringe too highly upon the inside.

Strange games are played for charity, there on the floor. Odd ideas are formed and floated, and then expressed to the masses while still in their raw and heaving state. Strangers become intimate, enemies become friends, allies are torn asunder. 

And the one rule is that, if you are invited, you must attend, or else send someone as worthy in your stead. 

Ronald Reagan has been invited to three of these Gatherings. Each time before now he's politely declined, and sent one of his conservative allies. All of them have come back telling of a strange time that never failed to enchant and disturb in equal measure. 

All of them have come back changed, and not necessarily in a bad way...

But this year, it was decided that Reagan has to go. This is in spite of what happened the last time he went to one of their parties -- the first Gathering, they now say -- back in 1968.

Something he still can't fully remember, try as he might. 

However, the Backers would not be dissuaded. Something has told them that their client has to see this -- he has to know. 

He just won't be coming back changed, if they have anything to say about it. 

So, unlike the last time, he's going in clear of mind and eye. Like last time, however, SPYGOD is going to accompany him, if only to make certain he doesn't get compromised again.

It's just that he can't know why he's going, any more than he should know anything about the Backers at all...

* * *

"So what do you find is the best thing to do at these kinds of parties, (REDACTED)?" Reagan asks as they approach the end of the long line of thick, floating pillars, leading up to a massive portal, just hanging in the air.

"Honestly, sir?" SPYGOD shrugs: "Mingle."

"Just mingle?"

"Pretty much," he says, gesturing around them: "Everyone who's here is someone you might want to know. And if you already !@#$ing know them, seeing them when they're in a situation like this? Well, it can be a big !@#$ eye-opener."

"Really?"

"Oh yes," the man says, casting an eye around as they start to approach the floating stairs "It's too bad they won't !@#$ing let me bring any of my COMPANY people in here with me. I think the Intel department would have a !@#$ing field day."

"That's one way to put it," the politician says, already seeing someone he knows from outside of here: "I think I should pretend he's not with his wife."

"Oh, that's okay. Wait until he meets his husband."

"What?"

SPYGOD laughs, and Reagan has no idea if the man's being serious or not. So he just sighs and keeps walking, knowing this is only going to get stranger from here on out.

* * *

Over the years the two men had struck up a solid political alliance that had turned into a very weird friendship.

It had started with SPYGOD rescuing Reagan, of course. But then, over the years, Reagan had actually managed to rescue SPYGOD a time or two -- politically speaking, anyway.

The most recent incident was something of a double play. 

When their new do-gooder President, Jimmy Carter, took office, one of his to-dos was to revamp the COMPANY. He'd decided that maybe America didn't need it, anymore, and even if it did it didn't need someone like SPYGOD at the helm.

Reagan was livid. He immediately took to the airwaves to mobilize middle America against any move of the sort, giving a speech about the unsung American hero that so galvanized people against the move that the phrase "unknown soldiers"became all but ingrained in the American psyche. By the end of a week, Carter had become something of a laughing stock in a town already growing leery of his well-meaning but foolhardy ideas. 

The farce came to an ignominious end a few days later, when the President called a press conference to publicly reaffirm his support for the COMPANY, with SPYGOD as its indisputable leader. To his credit, SPYGOD was actually quite gracious about the whole thing, in his own outspokenly profane way.

But watching Carter visibly squirm just outside the spotlight was its own reward. 

Reagan had also rescued SPYGOD behind the scenes as well. A number of his more socially conservative allies -- especially leftovers from Nixon's disgraced administration -- were rather upset by his now-open homosexuality. And they were ready and willing to throw some bipartisan support behind the President, so long as he appointed Mr. USA to head up whatever replaced the COMPANY.

While Reagan had to talk tough on gays for obvious reasons, and had purposefully dragged his feet on repealing anti-sodomy laws in his last years as Governor of California, he'd known and befriended a lot of gay conservatives in his time. In fact, he knew a lot of very prominent gay conservatives, without whom the movement would suffer greatly.

Keeping that in mind, he quietly rallied conservative support behind SPYGOD before anyone could try and link up Carter's boneheaded maneuver to their own agenda. He let it be known that anyone who had a problem with SPYGOD had a problem with him, which all but silenced the attempted maneuver.

(He was surprised at Mr. USA's reaction when he told him, though. Not so much disappointment as despair, which seemed unlike him.)

Reagan hadn't told SPYGOD any of this. Part of him wanted to just keep it a secret -- one he might one day need to use as leverage if they ever parted ideological company. But a larger part of him thought that maybe the man already knew, and was keeping mum about knowing as a mark of respect, and a silent thank you. 

SPYGOD was a weird one, alright. But he was anti-communist as all get out, conservative as anything, and as fine a patriot as he'd ever met. What he did in privacy, or alluded to in public, could never detract from all he'd done for his country, much less distract from his current duties. 

That and Nancy found him to be a gentleman, oddly enough. He didn't swear so much in her presence -- actually acting with some degree of manners. He even let her scold him a time or two about one thing or another, which he took with good-natured humor.

Why? Reagan wasn't sure. SPYGOD once joked with him that she reminded him a lot of his own mother, but only in a good way.

(He refused to elaborate on the bad ways, even while mind-splittingly drunk.)

Thus was maintained a very odd but effective political alliance -- one that Reagan was counting on continuing all the way to the White House. And possibly beyond, depending on what the Backers actually had in mind.

As for what that might be, who knew?

* * *

The stairs lead to a large portal -- easily larger than most cathedrals -- floating some ten feet in the air. Beyond it is a white, shimmering field that people are going into, mostly without fear.

And every time they enter, a bell rings -- deep and portentous. 

"Don't worry, sir," SPYGOD says: "I know it looks !@#$ weird, but it's just a warp corridor. It'll take us to wherever the party actually is."

"Don't you know?" Reagan asks, a little nervous as he watches someone from some band walk in with his entourage, and just disappear: "You can see, can't you?"

"Normally, yes. This time... no," the spy admits, tapping his eyepatch: "Always nice to be pleasantly surprised for a !@#$ing change, eh?"

"Says you. I like to know where I'm putting my feet."

"Point taken," SPYGOD says, holding up a hand to indicate his guest should stay put. Reagan does, and watches SPYGOD walk into the field. There's a sound like someone putting a hand into a body of water, and then nothing.

Several nerve-wracking seconds of nothing.

And then he's back, and his eye is wide with wonder.

"Oh man... !@#$, wow. Sir, you have to come in and see this. It's... wow. I don't !@#$ing have words."

"Well, alright then," Reagan says, allowing himself to be led into the shimmer.

It's a weird feeling. His hairs stand on end, and he feels like the world is breathing on him, ever so gently. He smells honey and milk, and gets the sense that all is well, and all will be well, forever and ever-

And then he's through, on the other side, and he gasps in amazement.

They're underwater. He realizes that much. They're in a massive bubble, underwater, and they must be somewhere where the sun is still shining because he can see it, overhead.

They're walking on an extremely large, raised, white marble platform over the sea floor. It must be ten football fields wide and long. And there are more steps, floating in the air. More platforms, floating atop one another.

Music. People. Lights floating in space...

Oh, they're that light woman. Rachel, or whatever her name is. Curled up into a ball, singing along with the music.

"How can she be all those places at once?" Reagan asks, watching as a shoal of brightly-colored fish fly by the edge of the bubble. Of all the questions he could ask, that one seems most pertinent.

"He still doesn't get it, huh?" a familiar rumbling asks. Reagan turns around and sees the tall black lady with the Sun for hair, clearly standing guard at the door. She's clearly looking down her large sunglasses at him, just like last time-

(-thought it a good idea to have this man here?" she demands of the others, now that the conflict is clear: "Do we allow in thieves as well as beggars, now-)

"-Rahmaa, honey, remember," SPYGOD says: "Some people just don't !@#$ing get it until they do."

"Some never do," the person she's guarding the door with intones. He's a man with skin like onyx, dressed in what appear to be jet-black Asian robes of some kind. His eyes are also hidden behind large sunglasses, and his hair a glowing, white ball with what looks like... craters?

"Always a pleasure, Noyx," SPYGOD lies, quickly ushering Reagan past the two of them before he gets utterly weirded out: "You'll have to !@#$ing excuse them, sir. They tend to look down on people."

"Was that man wearing the Moon for a hat?"

"Yeah, that's one way to put it. I think it's supposed to be his hair."

"And it is the Moon," Reagan clarifies: "Just like she's the Sun?"

"Yes, sir."

"Alright then," the former Governor says, taking a deep breath and doing his best to remember his Lock and his Cross: "I think we're good."

Just then one of the platforms lowers, and a large, tall man with a full beard takes a step to its edge to address them. His deep blue suit is festooned with coral and buttoned with seashells, and water seems to shake off of him with each loud and booming syllable.

"Good evening and good morning, gentles! I am Pontus, Lord of the Oceans! And with the arrival of a long-awaited guest, I call this Gathering into motion!"

There's a cheer raised -- one that echoes around the bubble and almost deafens him.

"You are welcome, one and all! Welcome to laugh! Welcome to love! Welcome to speak and be heard! Here, all are equal! None are excluded!

"Here, let your hearts be your guide! Here, let your minds be freed, your bodies untethered! Here, let wisdom prevail, but foolishness be divine!

"And with these words, we embrace the mystery of the future! Lead on!"

Another cheer, and Reagan feels as though the world were dissolving around him. A spell of some kind, obviously. But he remembers his training -- the locked steel box around his brain, and the cross implanted into his heart and soul.

The spell washes over and past him, and once more he can see clearly. Hear clearly.

God be praised, he can think. 

SPYGOD smiles, perhaps not aware of what's just happened on either level: "And just in case there was any question, sir? That was Pontus, and he is the Ocean."

"I could tell from the booming," Reagan says, winking: "Well, sounds like we were invited. Shall we attend?"

SPYGOD smiles and gestures ahead of them, where the mingling is at its height: "After you, sir. If you need me, I'll be nearby."

* * *

Things get downright weird after that.

Reagan meets a number of people he already knows, many of whom are happy to see him there. He also meets a number of people he knows only by reputation, or their headlines. And he is introduced to people he's never heard of before, or at least sees them in action for the first time.

As SPYGOD promised, it's quite an eye-opener. 

He hears John from the Beatles have a very animated argument over free will and human rights with the newly-elected Prime Minister of Israel. They almost come to blows, at least until one of the ladies with Lennon steers the conversation into more neutral territory, at which point they find out they share a love of Marlon Brando's films.

He watches as Jacques Cousteau speaks to a warm, large woman who seems to be made entirely of water. His attitude is approaching stammering reverence, and he clearly has to restrain himself from reaching in to touch the small, colorful fishes that dart about her transparent anatomy. 

He joins in a discussion with two older gentlemen and a full-figured woman in a short dress whose fabric is a moving print of oceans and islands, and who is surrounded by many, colorful birds. They're talking about massive spheres, and how one could put the world in a protective bubble, safe from harm. 

At some point Reagan asks if the bubble could be fitted with weapons to make sure less civilized countries didn't try and attack others. It's an idea that horrifies one older man, but amuses the other, perhaps the same way a child's silliness might amuse adults having a serious conversation.

(Just don't ever point them at me, dear, the lady chuckles at him: Remember me kindly, when you enter your kingdom.)

And he listens to weird electronic music played by some fellow from Italy, featuring a song that won't be released for another few weeks: Donna Summer's the voice making it happen, but she's nowhere to be seen, here. 

At some point he has to stand in a corner -- a curve, really -- and take a breather.  The music, the fumes, the ideas... it's all become too much.

"It's an interesting thing," a small, gentle voice says. He turns in surprise, not realizing there'd been someone there at all. 

"What is?" he asks the person --  a somber shade of a man with a mop of white hair and big glasses.

"It's like we're seeing the future, but it doesn't know what it wants to be, yet," the man says, patting his chest as if he were in discomfort: "Like a giant puzzle, in pieces all over the floor. Or a blank canvas, just waiting for the paint. Do you ever see things like that?"

"Sometimes," Reagan says, remembering some of his experiences at the Bohemian Grove. Seeing the light bulbs go off or on in people's heads as they hear the talks, or make friends with the right people.

"But then, I look out there, and I think it's being assembled," the man says: "It's just that we can't see the hands."

Suddenly, Reagan remembers who this man is: "You know, you look different without your entourage."

"I am different without them," Andy Warhol says, smiling wistfully. Then he nods and moves down the curve, clearly wanting privacy. 

"Sir!" SPYGOD says, coming over: "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to leave you alone that long. I just... did you see Shift, over here?"

"Who?" Reagan asks.

"Shift? Silver guy? Blank mask? Looks like he's an echo?" 

"Um, no..." Reagan says, suddenly remembering-

(this man is the answer," the blurred, silver man announces, pulling a very bewildered Ben Franklin from seemingly nowhere: "An understanding will be made, here and now. A promise made to be broken. We will reign and then decline, suffer and then shine. This is the way of it, now and-)

"-forever. Well, at least since that weird !@#$ thing with the King of Time, back after you and I met," SPYGOD explains, still looking around: "He went to go fight his stupid !@#$ and then we never saw him again. But every once in a while he just !@#$ing pops up, out of nowhere."

"How can he do that if he's gone?"

"Sir, he travels in time," SPYGOD explains: "And if you die now, but you were in the future a bunch of !@#$ing times, well, you're still there. You're just... !@#$, this is confusing."

"You're telling me," Reagan says, looking around: "I think I need a drink, (REDACTED). Preferably a !@#$ stiff one."

"I think I'll join you," SPYGOD says, glaring across the room at someone who's been observing them from a very frank-faced delegation of Chinese diplomats. 

Someone well-dressed and lithe, who seems both pleased and annoyed to see him there. 

* * *

They call it ambrosia. Reagan's had a number of drinks that claim to be it. This, however, is the genuine article.

"Amazing stuff," he says, feeling a little younger, up at the bar with everyone else.

(Except SPYGOD. He had to go have a word with someone.)

"It bloody well is indeed," a clearly drunk English rock star with huge lips says, swirling one down and handing his empty glass to the woman made of water, behind the bar: "I'm always !@#$ing saying that, mate. But then, when I leave this place? I can't !@#$ing remember what it tastes like. Funny, innit?"

"!@#$ strange," Reagan admits, already forgetting the taste that was just on his tongue: "They ought to bottle it."

"Doesn't work that way," a frankly disheveled man says, rubbing his stubble: "Won't keep longer than a day."

"Well, if you bottle it-"

"It vanishes," the man says, winking: "Only good for so long. Just like so many other things."

"I hear you there," Reagan says, extending a hand: "Ronald Reagan. Nice to meet you...?"

"Oh, you know me, sir," the man says, trying to seem a little less disheveled as he shakes it "I'm Edward Crisp. I don't think you've ever seen me out of uniform, is all."

"Oh? Are you a strategic talent, sir?"

"I am, yes," the man whispers, trying to smile: "But, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather remain incognito, tonight. That's why I'm at the bar and not over there on the floor."

"I understand," Reagan says: "I don't like talking shop when I'm at parties, either. Except that this party is apparently all about talking shop, even if it isn't supposed to be."

"That and making deals," the man says, looking over at someone he's clearly been waiting for: "Speaking of which, my ride's here. It was good meeting you, sir. We'll talk again soon, I'm sure."

With that, the man downs his glass of ambrosia, puts it on the bar, and walks over to a large woman in a stunning, extremely sexy dress that accentuates each and every bounteous curve. He walks up to her and takes her hand. Then she kisses him, suddenly and passionately, and nods, as if in agreement.

For a moment, Reagan thinks he knows her, but that's impossible. That large, profane woman he danced with at that first Gathering, she died three years ago, didn't she? 

She looks over at him for a second, and then winks right at him. His heart stops for a second. 

It is her. But how...?

("Please, father-brother. I am so sorry for this," she weeps, kneeling at the feet of someone there -- someone to whom they all pay fealty: "I'll pay any price. I'll do anything. Please just let me suffer instead of us all.")

"-Glenn, you can't !@#$ing remember it any more than I can," the rocker's insisting to some long-haired man in a cowboy hat at the bar, standing right where Gold Standard used to be. 

"Some dance to remember, some dance to forget," the man sings in a sweet, sad voice. 

"Ah, I've got your hotel right here, you yank wanker," the man says, getting another drink from the water woman as Reagan watches the dead woman walk away with the superhero.

"You're drunk, Mick."

"I am. And I'm single. And my band's !@#$in' done for."

"Oh, come on. You're the Rolling Stones, man. You'll be around forever."

"Ah, you'll think that, Glenn. You would. But don't get too far ahead of yourself. It's all downhill from here."

"You can say that again," Reagan says, getting a bad feeling about those memories. 

* * *

 It's been a half an hour, and SPYGOD still hasn't returned. Reagan's gone from the bar to the highest platform, and back down again, looking for him, but he can't find him anywhere. 

"I'll be right here, Ron," the ex-governor mutters, shaking his head: "Just mingle. It'll all be okay."

He looks down at the floor once more. Some weird game is pitting that bald-headed freak from the devil church in San Francisco against the half-Asian assistant of that Borges writer, from Argentina. They seem to be playing poker, but with each raise the cards all shift their numeric value, making it impossible to play from a knowing position of strength or weakness. 

He thinks he should know that writer. Somehow he should go down there and talk to him, after this is over. Maybe he should go down and throw in a hundred for charity...?

"But then, that would be obvious," someone tells him: "And you are anything but obvious, Mr. Reagan."

That voice. He's heard it before. 

He turns and looks at the man before him. He's very tall, this one: long hair, a well-groomed beard, wise and gentle eyes. And his suit... well, it's very colorful and exaggerated, and so tight against him he can read his muscles and anatomy like a book. 

"Lord Seranu," he says, extending a hand: "It's been a few years since we spoke, sir. I don't think I really extended my full thanks for helping my state, that day."

"You tried, I think," the man says, his hand warm and strong: "Your thanks are appreciated, but not necessary. We are here to help you, in all things, and in all ways."

"Yes, you've said as much," Reagan says, looking down as a cheer goes up from the game, below. Apparently the bald man won, and he seems as surprised as any at that. 

"Some reciprocity would be nice, I will admit," the man says, putting a firm hand on Reagan's shoulder: "But I know that children do not always appreciate their parents."

"Are we your children, then?"

"In some ways, yes," the man says, stepping beside Reagan and looking down: "In other ways, we are your children. Dead worlds have no gods, after all."

"What would happen if a world's gods all died?"

"Died?" the man laughs -- long and deep: "Oh, my friend. You would have to extinguish all life first to do that. So long as you are here, we will be here, beside you. Eternal and forever, and always near and dear."

"But haven't you died, before?" Reagan asks, unsure: "We've been without you for a long time. And then, well, that one lady from that rock group. Mother Cass, or-"

"Syphon," the man corrects him, his eyes flashing a bit: "Yes, she died. A heart attack, or so they say."

"That's not what happened?"

"You mean you don't know?" the man says, somewhat sadly: "Oh, but I suppose they don't tell you everything, the ones who put the things inside of you."

"Sir, I-" Reagan tries to say, something rising inside of him.

Something furious.

"Oh no," Seranu says, putting a hand on Reagan's chest: "Do not apologize, Mr. Reagan. Yours is not to apologize. You are blameless in this. The sword, and not the hand that cuts. I love you and forgive you as I love and forgive all things."

"Well, that's good to know, but..." Reagan says, just barely holding the fury at bay, and not really sure what he's thinking right now.

"You're thinking of that day, all those years ago," the King-Father of the Supergods says: "The party you can't remember. The way you and Syphon danced. The things she whispered in your ear as she learned of you, through that dance. The future you represent, and the problem she created when she tried to tie that future into our own."

That did it. The memories come flooding back. The nightmare seduction by that woman. The way she'd... done things to him.

The reasons she whispered in his ear as it was happening. 

"My God, get out of my head," Reagan shouts, holding his hands up to his temples: "What are you? Who are you to call yourselves Gods? Who are you to forgive us? Who are you to call us your children?"

"Just that," the man says, taking a respectful step back, and looking at him with much sadness: "Your parents and your children. Your rulers and your ruled. We are you, and you are we. Now and forever, even unto the end of time."

"I won't accept that," Reagan says, looking at the man: "There is only one God, buddy. And you're not him."

"That is also true," Seranu says, nodding: "But we are done speaking, you and I. The next time we see each other, well, you'll have something to say to me. And I know I won't like it."

"Enough!" Reagan shouts: "Enough of this !@#$. Enough magic. Enough predestination. Humanity lives on its own, succeeds on its own! We don't need you!"

Seranu just smiles and nods, turning to go: "By the way, tell your Backers one thing for me?"

"What's that?" Reagan asks, wondering where all that anger just came from. 

"Tobacco is an excellent way to stop a heart, but not an undetectable one," he says, winking: "Next time, they'll just have to hire someone... smarter."

With that, he's gone, leaving Reagan to slump down, holding his head in his hands, and wonder what the !@#$ he meant by that.

"Are you alright, my friend?" a large man in a simple, black robe asks, kneeling down next to him. He's got short, snow-white hair curled over a balding pate, a huge, bushy beard, a thick accent he can't quite place.

And two of the most commanding eyes Reagan has ever seen. 

"I think so," Reagan says to the man, who looks oddly familiar: "I was just... I think I just won an argument with a god, but I'm not sure."

"Oh, they're not gods, my friend," the man says, helping the ex-governor up: "Just super people, same as any other. They've let this get to their heads. It's made them insane, clearly."

"Really?"

"Really," the man says, smiling: "I appreciate what you said to him, and you are right. There is only one god, high above us all. Allah, praise be unto him. And they are not him."

Reagan smiles, taking the man's hand: "Maybe we should go and talk, friend?"

"I agree."

* * *

"So, you talked to him for how long?" SPYGOD asks, hoisting another glass of ambrosia by the bar as the floor begins to clear out, at long last. 

"Hours, I think," Reagan says, having one last one for the road, if only to try and remember: "It was amazing how much we had in common, in spite of everything else."

"And you didn't catch his name?"

"Well, he didn't exactly throw it," the man says, trying to chase the last bits of the taste down: "But no. And he's gone, now, so no looking around for him."

"I did enough of that, earlier," SPYGOD sighs: "ABWEHR got wind of where we were, and sent attack subs, and I didn't realize it until they almost exploded a !@#$ing bomb right on top of the new Israeli Prime Minister. I think that's what Shift was trying to draw my attention to, earlier. He always did like the mystery tour."

"I guess he did," Reagan says: "Is that where you were? Dealing with super-nazis?"

"Oh yeah," SPYGOD says: "Me and Pontus, we went out there on giant !@#$ing sharks. Chewed those nazis the !@#$ up. You should have seen it."

The superspy grins, and Reagan can't help but not be angry at him, anymore. So he puts the glass down and gestures to the door: "(REDACTED), I think I'm good to go home."

"Well, I'm happy to take you," SPYGOD says, escorting him to the door: "So, did the guy say anything else?"

"Yeah, he said that someone here had told him that he and I should meet each other," the ex-governor laughs.

"Really?" SPYGOD asks: "Who said that?"

"Oh, some lady doing knitting. That's why he found me. He said that she said we were destined to be enemies. So he wanted to find a way to prove her wrong. And he did! Isn't that hilarious?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD lies: "Did they make any other predictions about you two?"

"Only that he's going to come into his kingdom in nine days," Reagan shrugs: "God only knows what that means. He said he wasn't taking it seriously..."

On their way out SPYGOD catches sight of a figure he hadn't seen so far, tonight. It's a woman dressed in a blood-red cowl -- one that seems to burn with anger.

The woman scowls, and points an accusing finger in their direction, but he doesn't think it's at him.

"Quite a party," Reagan says as they enter the doorway: "But you know, (REDACTED), I think once is enough."

"I have to agree, sir," SPYGOD says, looking up at Lord Seranu, on his platform. The man gives him a sad wave goodbye.

Sad and knowing, like so much he does.

But then they're through the doorway. The bell tolls twice.

And the Gathering is over. 
* * *
 There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
"This could be Heaven or this could be Hell"


 (SPYGOD is listening to Hotel California (The Eagles) and having an Ambrosia Lager)

Monday, June 29, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 1: 1968

"I'd be safe and warm / If I was in LA"

(Back) SPYGOD, Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan, Mr. USA
(Front) Hoosk, Raitha, Rahmaa, Rosi, Syphon
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.

- Ronald Reagan – "A Time for Choosing."

June 10th, 1994

The large room is dark and strangely humid. Lightning from a far-off stormfront plays tricks outside the window, occasionally throwing crackling patches of illumination on different parts of the room. Every time it happens, it seems to reveal something standing there.

Someone standing there.

And every time it happens, Ronald Wilson Reagan starts a little, not sure what’s happening. Not sure if this is a dream, or real.

Or something much worse.

When they ask what this is like, and he can think enough to answer, he says it’s like being a goldfish. Some things he knows, and will never forget: his name, who he was, his wife, his children, the horses at the ranch, this home in Bel Air. 

It’s everything else he has problems with.

If he had breakfast or not? If he talked with someone, today? What he wanted to do, that afternoon? What he was doing just a few seconds ago?

All those memories and thoughts and plans and dreams are a jumble in his mind. They are there and then gone, scattering like leaves in the strong wind that brings the storm.

Blown up and away in advance of the horrible thing he alone can see…

On a night like this, it’s hell. He keeps being surprised by the oncoming storm, forgetting it was approaching. The lightning startles him, each time, as it really seems to come from nowhere. With every flash he sees something he doesn’t remember being there, the time before.

And when things go dark, again, and he’s left to the puzzle of his thoughts, he sees it again.

The monster, coming from the dark.

Lightning flashes once more, and this time there is someone in the room. Tall and clad in black. Eyepatch.

Gun.

A different kind of monster, come for him at last.

“You…” Ronald Reagan says, his eyes widening and then narrowing, uncertain.

SPYGOD nods, solemnly, stepping towards the man. He says nothing. There’s nothing to say, right now.

And he’s trying too hard to not cry to say anything, anyway.

For a moment, the former President is terrified, because he doesn’t know why this is happening. But then, as if by some miracle, he does remember something.

He remembers why this man is here.

The change is instant. Gone is the uncertainty and fear. Instead is the warm, knowing smile. The wise and easy look in his eyes.

And the grin. That grin.

“Hey, (REDACTED)… where’s the rest of me?” he whispers to his assassin, with a warm wink. A final joke, perhaps.

SPYGOD doesn’t reply. He can’t. He just raises the gun to the man’s forehead.

And then-

* * *

June 10th 1968

- Not exactly the way you thought your !@#$ day was going to !@#$ing go, sir?” SPYGOD asks, shooting down the hall of the Capitol as he bundles Governor Reagan out of his office.

“You can say that again!” Reagan shouts as he ducks for cover, just ahead of a fusillade of machinegun fire from the opposite direction.

“Sorry about the close call,” SPYGOD says, returning fire just faster than the Governor can follow: “We didn’t get word about this until just !@#$ing now.”

One shot, then two, and he’s splattered the head of some fat secretary in a toxic orange dress. She looked rather incongruous as she expertly fired that HK MP5 at them, but at least she dies with no more surprises.

“What the heck is going on here, sir?” Reagan demands: “That’s Florence, from the motor pool. I’ve known her for years.”

“You knew her, sir,” SPYGOD says, indicating they should stay put for a moment: “Maybe you never did, come to !@#$ing think of it. This is GORGON, after all.”

“GORGON?”

“GORGON,” SPYGOD nods, reloading fairly swiftly: “They replace people, sir. Their False Faces copy them so well and completely that you might not know they were !@#$ing duplicated. Worse still, they could have had agents here for years, and no one would have known.”

“Oh God,” Reagan says, shuddering. Suddenly the vicious attack by his personal secretary – the one this man just thwarted by driving his flying car through the office windows – makes perfect sense.

“So from here on out, we trust no one. I mean no one, sir. Anyone could be a False Face. Everyone could be !@#$ing trying to kill us.”

As if to prove his point, he fires off what seems an absent-minded shot back down the hall. A security guard gasps as his head comes apart from the nose-up, the grenade he was about to throw tumbling around his feet. SPYGOD instinctively throws himself over the Governor a second before it explodes.

“So you stick with me, sir,” the man says as their hearing returns: “You do that? You do what I tell you? We leave here alive.

“But anyone so much as !@#$ing looks at me funny? I shoot first and mourn later. I’m not taking the chance that they’re just dazed and confused. You’re their primary target, and I’m here to get you the !@#$ out.

“We good?”

“Yes,” the Governor says. No hesitation, now that he knows what the stakes are.

“Good,” SPYGOD says, gesturing to the nearest way out. The second they’re up he drapes his left arm around the man and, hunkering down, ushers them along, and hopefully out.

* * *

As SPYGOD would later explain, this attack hadn’t come from nowhere. It had its violent genesis in the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, just five days before.

It transpired that, in Kennedy’s time as Attorney General, while his brother Jack was President, he’d uncovered a lot of information about some as-yet-unnamed criminal conspiracy – one operating alongside his normal targets in organized crime. A shadowy organization that replaced people, the way a cancer replaced healthy cells with diseased ones.

But every time he got close enough to get an idea of what was going, things fell apart. The trails dried up and went cold, witnesses changed their stories or disappeared, and evidence just vanished.

He would have done more to look into it, but he and his brother had a falling out that led to Robert leaving the White House in early ’64. He immediately leaped into a different political arena, winning a Senate seat against a popular incumbent.

And when he wasn’t campaigning for civil rights, or any of the other causes he felt strongly about, he was using his new connections and abilities to look into this conspiracy.

What he found disturbed him, clearly. He had made veiled mention of some of what he had uncovered to friends and confidants, and made inroads to certain well-placed law enforcement officials about working together to stop this thing. But he’d have to do it from the top down if it was going to work.

Which meant he’d have to do his brother, Jack, one better, and run for President against the man who’d beaten him – Richard M. Nixon.

What Robert hadn’t known was that the conspiracy had a name: GORGON. And GORGON was well aware of his plans, as some of those friends, confidants, and law enforcement officials were in league with them, or had “friends” who were False Faces.

The assassination was meant to put an end to that nonsense. What they didn’t know was that, not long before he went to California for the Primary, Kennedy wisely sent a copy of what he’d learned to J. Edgar Hoover, at the FBI. He knew the man hadn’t been much a friend while he’d been Attorney General, but he knew his thirst for justice – or at least the chance to “single-handedly” bust a massive conspiracy – would see this organization arraigned if something happened to him.

Unfortunately, GORGON had people in the FBI, too. Once they realized what might happen, they elected to act quickly – to kill Kennedy, take California, and then vanish into thin air within the state.

Fortunately, Hoover had certain heroic allies who could read minds – even ones as smashed as the FBI’s False Faces. Once the Director realized what was about to happen, he made a few phone calls – one of which went to SPYGOD, who just happened to be in California at the time, on “personal business.”

And SPYGOD knew exactly what the late Robert Kennedy had found, and what they might be doing next if they really intended to vanish into the state. They’d already snuck into the edges, and some of the bottom, but to succeed they’d need to take out the top.

Which meant the Governor, himself, needed saving as soon as !@#$ing possible.

* * *

Saving the Governor is proving to be a nightmare with every step. 

Frank from the press pool tries to bomb them. Josie from catering leaps from the ceiling, strange knives in hand. Even old Jerry, one year from retirement, pulls his gun out to kill them rather than everyone else.

SPYGOD does not hesitate. Each one gets dropped with a single, fast shot to the head. Dead bang, right between the eyes.

Eyes that are made of soulless metal…

They seem to spend eternity of running, ducking, and shooting. The Governor’s rescuer goes through gun after gun, clip after clip, from a seemingly-endless supply. He never falters, never hesitates.

Never ceases to amaze and impress.

Finally, they get to the hallway leading to the back entrance. When the Governor thinks to ask why, he realizes it’s because the cars are parked here, giving them some cover.

And a good thing, too, as there people shooting at them from the trees, now.

“Isn’t this the part where someone else comes in to save us?” Reagan asks, ducking a bullet that comes to close for comfort: “The Freedom Force? Your people?”

“Eh, the Freedom Force is dealing with something in Texas,” SPYGOD sighs, shooting back at a sniper, watching him fall from the tree.

(Seeing he can’t be more than 12 years old. Hoping the Governor didn’t see that. Knowing he did.)

“As for my people, well… they didn’t know I was here,” he admits, tossing that gun aside to grab another he still has bullets for: “I was in town visiting a friend. Just happened to get wind of this !@#$ at the last minute. Hence the last minute rescue.”

“You can sure drive a flying car, sir,” the Governor says, smiling a little.

“Thanks!” SPYGOD says, grinning back and shooting his gun at some snipers. At which point he sees how badly !@#$ed they actually are.

There aren’t just snipers out there. There’s soldiers – dozens of them. Men, women, and children from all walks of life. All of them have dropped their disguises, so that their skulls – covered in clear plastic – are showing.

And all of them are marching towards them from the road.

“Oh !@#$,” SPYGOD sighs, patting down his uniform and not liking what he’s finding, or not finding as the case may be.

“Not good?”

“Well, this is kind of !@#$ing embarrassing, sir. I think I’m out of guns.”

“So what do we do now?”

 “I have put out a call, sir. Just not sure when we’ll get some !@#$ing help.”

“Can’t you go do… that thing?” Reagan asks.

“Sir?”

“Well, I remember you from the War, son,” the Governor says: “Sgt. Shatter, right?”

“Once upon a time,” SPYGOD says, a little wistful, and not sure if this man can really call him ‘son’: “Not so much anymore. But even if I did, well… not liking those odds, and not wanting to leave you behind.”

Just then he has to shoot someone out of a window, up above.

“And then there’s that, sir,” SPYGOD admits: “We might be !@#$ing better off getting back into the building, but we’re still hot on two fronts.”

Reagan sighs: “Not a great way to die.”

“Eh, could be worse,” SPYGOD shrugs, turning to fire at the oncoming soldiers, who have yet to fire upon them.

“How’s that?”

“I could be dying with Pat Brown, instead.”

The two men look at each other, and then laugh.

SPYGOD grins and, pulling out the last spare loaded gun he has, hands it to the Governor: “Blaze of glory?”

“Why not,” Reagan says, taking it with something approaching gratitude: “There’s worse ways to end a political career.”

“Well-“ SPYGOD starts to say, and then he hears something. He cocks an ear, holds up a finger.

And then grins like a million dollar mother!@#$er.

“What?” Governor Reagan asks.

“Mr. Governor, you are in for a treat,” SPYGOD says, looking over to where the soldiers are marching: “The Olympians are here.”

“Who?” the man asks. But then there’s a noise like the world gently unfolding around itself, and something bright and beautiful appears.

At first, the Governor isn’t sure what he’s seeing. It looks like one of those chariots from the old sword and sandals movies, only it’s floating about twenty feet off the ground. It also has no horses, or visible means of propulsion.

Five people are in it, and then only one. An older fellow – short and sere, with grotesquely large ears, and a weird, white tuft of hair – remains inside of it, shouting commands above the fray as the oncoming soldiers start firing at his vehicle.

(Is he wearing a toga? What is this?)

The other four have leaped down to the ground, or flown in some cases.

There’s a woman made of light, gliding swiftly above the attackers and carrying another, much larger woman in a florid, flowing dress.

The Governor thinks he knows the large woman from somewhere. But that’s impossible, surely. She’s just a singer in one of those hippie bands he wish his kids didn’t like so much.

And yet, as they pass overhead, that woman does… something. And each and every sniper in the trees stops shooting, and instead falls down, writhing in what he first thinks is pain, but soon realizes is ecstasy.

“What the heck is going on?” he asks SPYGOD, who just chuckles and blows the large woman a kiss as they fly directly overhead, heading towards the capitol building.

For a moment, he thinks they’re going to break down the wall. But then they fly right through a closed window without breaking it, somehow.

He stares as another woman stops flying around and lands. She’s a tall, black lady, whose hair is a burning round ball, just like the sun. The ground around her feet smokes and smolders and she stands there, glaring at the soldiers.

“Put down your guns,” she says, her voice a loud, drawling rumble: “Don’t make me tell you twice.”

They don’t listen. They fire at her, now. But the bullets melt in the air before they can reach her, and with a wave of her hand their guns follow suit.

“I hear you say all you need is love,” the fourth member says, languidly sauntering out of nowhere and into the group of GORGON soldiers, their hands badly burned: “I’ve got love for you, boys and girls. Will you accept it?”

“Is that a man or woman?” the Governor asks, not really sure what the long-haired person is.

“Rosi?” SPYGOD asks: “You know, I’m not !@#$ing sure. It’s never really come up. Might be both, actually.”

Reagan’s about to say something disapproving, but very quickly becomes silent as he sees what that person is doing. Somehow, all the soldiers have fallen to the ground in a daze, and are swaying back and forth as s/he sings what is, beyond a doubt, the most beautiful song he’s ever heard-

“Don’t listen,” SPYGOD says, snapping his fingers in the man’s ears: “You’ll be !@#$ing transfixed for days.”

“Aren’t they going to shoot them?” the Governor asks, doing his best to follow instructions.

“No need,” SPYGOD grins, getting up and indicating that the man he’s been protecting can do the same: “They’ll just !@#$ing sit there until it’s all over. But let’s go inside, eh? I don’t want you !@#$ing brainwashed, too.”

And they do, though the Governor can't help but take a quick look back at the scene they're leaving. All those skull-faced killers, sitting down on the lawn like hippie kids at a concert, swaying back and forth...

What is this?

* * *

Inside, there’s a different kind of spectacle. The rotunda is full of GORGON agents, all lying on the ground in varying states of undress, all blissed out and happy.

Above them floats the woman made of light. The Governor soon realizes she’s naked, though it’s hard to make anything out given how bright she is. He’s embarrassed for only a second, and then strangely aroused.

“Well, ain’t this just a trip?” the large woman asks, coming around the rotunda to greet SPYGOD, her dress flouncing around her like a sheet caught in the wind: “Good thing I was here for the show, too, or you’d just be !@#$ed, (REDACTED).”

“Hey Cass,” SPYGOD says, stepping forward to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, please, honey. It’s Syphon when I’m working, remember?”

“When aren’t you working?”

“Oh, you clown,” she laughs, giving him a pat on the cheek: “When are you going to let me work on you, eh?”

He just laughs at that, maybe a little louder than he should. At some point he realizes the man he was protecting is staring holes into the back of his head.

“Oh, Governor Reagan? This is Syphon. Her friend up there is Raithe. I’m not sure what she’s doing…”

“I am helping the others, right now,” the woman of light says, her voice a strange, echoing thing: “These people planned to take California, today. There were abductions and replacements planned up and down the state. We were just in time, in most cases.”

“In most cases,” the Governor repeats, knowing all too well what that means.

“I am sorry for your losses,” Raithe says, gliding along a ray of light and landing gently before the man: “We have tried to minimize damage and care for those caught in the crossfire. We have not always been successful. But your state is secure, and this plot has been foiled.”

“They’ll be back though, !@#$ it,” SPYGOD sighs, looking at the nearest False Face as it writhes on the ground – imagining a passionate love so powerful that it can’t control its body: “These bastards are becoming a real problem.”

“Perhaps you should make a solution, yes?” a gruff voice asks, coming towards them. It’s the short, strange man from the floating chariot, come down to earth at last.

(And he was wearing a toga.)

“Governor Reagan, this is Hoosk,” the light woman says, bowing to him as he approaches: “He from whom all things are spawned.”

“All things?’ the Governor asks, extending a hand to shake, which the man all but ignores.

“Exploding eyeballs,” the short fellow snorts, shaking his head: “Facial projection systems. Voice modulators. Even something to change the smell of them. Quite ingenious little problem, these people, eh?”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking, yeah,” SPYGOD says: “They replaced half the staff here without anyone realizing.”

“Feh,” Hoosk says: “I am thinking they would not realize if the world started going the other way around Rahmaa.”

“You mean the Sun?” the Governor asks, still smarting from the snub.

“I mean Rahmaa,” Hoosk corrects him, not bothering to look in his direction: “Sun up there, Sun out there. Same thing, no difference. Yes?”

SPYGOD and Hoosk go over and kneel down to the one closest to get a better look at him, and their conversation drops down too low for the Governor to hear. He looks around the rotunda, looking at all the damage done to the building.

And all the people…

“I don’t understand any of this,” he says to the large woman. Mama Cass, that’s her name, isn’t it?

“What’s not to understand, Mr. Governor, sir?” she replies, giving him a mock salute.

“Well… that thing about the black lady outside. What was he saying?”

“He’s saying that the tall lady out there with the head like the Sun is the Sun, honey,” Syphon says, smiling at him like one might smile at a child asking a silly question: “Just like our sister Raitha is all light, everywhere, and our brother Soubre all shadow.”

"Is he here, too?"

"Well, yes," she says, pointing to the ground below them, where the light from Raitha is casting long, dark shadows behind their legs: "I could call him up if you'd like to talk to him..."

“And what are you?” Reagan asks, really not liking where this is going: “You’re with that one band, aren’t you? The Moms and Pops, or something?”

“Something like that," she winks, taking a step closer: “Well, you know our sister-brother Rosi out there is love?”

“Yes?”

“I’m what usually comes after,” she answers, taking his hand and placing it on her ample belly: “Unless you’re not careful.”

He doesn’t get it, clearly – at least not at first. At some point his eyes go wide, and he takes a step back. Syphon laughs at his reaction and turns away, not seeming to care that she just shocked and angered the most powerful man in California.

“Jesus Christ, Cass, tone it down a bit,” SPYGOD scolds her, getting up to try and salvage the situation: “This is Ronald Reagan, !@#$ it. Didn’t you ever see 'Knute Rockne, All American'? 'Hellcats of the Navy?'”

“No, but I did see 'Bedtime for Bonzo,' honey,” she winks, turning on a large heel to walk amongst her handiwork, finding it good: “And I’m the Queen of Sheba when I’m not saving the world.”

“Yeah, let’s get you back outside, sir,” SPYGOD says, leading them the way they came: “I think the other cavalry’s arrived.”

“This is insane,” the Governor says to SPYGOD, quietly, as they head towards the back: “These people… they’re strategic talents? Heroes?”

“Heroes, yes. Talents, no,” SPYGOD explains: “I don’t have any !@#$ing authority over the Olympians, sir. They just sort of appeared a couple years ago, and, well, let’s just say they make their own !@#$ rules.”

“Do they answer to anyone? The President?”

“Not really, but they can be reasoned with. Besides, they are on our side.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know, sir,” SPYGOD says, giving him the most serious look he can muster: “And I know it’s hard to take all this at face value, but if I thought there was anything bad going on here, I’d have dealt with it already.”

Governor Reagan looks at the man. Purses his lips, narrows his eyes. Eventually, he nods, and extends a hand to shake: “I trust you, sir. But please, try to have them out of the Capitol building before I have to let grieving families in here. I don’t want them dealing with that fat lady and… whatever’s outside.”

“What was outside is now inside, my love,” the loveliest voice he’s ever heard announces.

And after that, everything goes colorful and strange.

* * *

The next morning finds the Governor standing in the sunlight of the rotunda, and watching as state workers try to clean up the horrible mess left behind.

His head feels terrible, as though he tried to drink enough to get ten men drunk. His vision is blurry, and he feels a strange sense of loss and shame, though he can’t quite remember why. It’s almost as if, the moment that Rosi person spoke to him, he fell into a trance of some sort, and lost most of his faculties and inhibitions.

What he does remember, though…

It turned out the “friend” SPYGOD was in town to see was that Jim Morrison degenerate, preparing for a show at the Memorial Auditorium. And at the party this man threw for these Olympians – one the Governor had somehow wound up at – he’d greeted this hero with a large, manly hug, as though they were comrades in arms.

It was a victory party – that much he understood. All those strange heroes had been fighting GORGON, up and down the length of his state, and had succeeded in stopping them from secretly taking it over. It had been a hard battle, and came at a horrific cost, but they had persevered.

Did he thank them so enthusiastically of his own free will, or was it the state he was in? Was it alcohol, or one of the cigarettes one of the young people there had handed him? Was it something else entirely?

He wasn’t sure, anymore. He remembers the short, rude man speaking of Wonderwall, up in the heavens, but he doesn’t remember what it was supposed to be. He remembers dancing with the fat lady, and how the feel of her brushing up against him made his heart race in his chest, but he doesn’t remember what she whispered in his ear.

He remembers sweet music and shifting lights, strange tastes and wonderful feelings. He faintly recalls the exact sounds and smells.

And he believes – he knows – that he was in the presence of something so far above his understanding, and yet so perfectly clear…

(Who was the one called Shift? Why did he look at him so sadly, behind that silver mask? Why did he think he’d seen him before?)

He could have stayed there all night long, he thinks – content to drink and dance with the sort of people he usually excoriated as bums and freeloaders in speeches to well-heeled political donors and fire-eyed activists. He could have gladly lounged alongside them in the presence of those higher beings, happily drunk on that strange, honeyed wine they passed around.

Happy to just be a mere person, sitting at the feet of gods come down from the mountain.

The next time he remembers something concrete, a man in a bright costume was gently flying him home.

It was Mr. USA, from the Freedom Force. He seemed embarrassed about something, and was all apologies. Sorry about not having been there this morning. Sorry about not having gotten there sooner. Sorry, sorry, so sorry.

He flew the Governor all the way home, and walked him in, much to the amusement of Nancy. He explained something to his wife, quietly in the other room, as he drank water in the kitchen and tried to clear his head.

And then, as soon as it was just he and Nancy, the strange impulses that he’d been feeling all night long, since talking to that Rosi character… well, they just took over, and it was all she could do to get him back to the bedroom before he had her – again and again, like they were teenagers.

He shudders at the thought, now. The way his wife had looked at him, this morning, as if she wasn’t sure if it had been her husband last night, or someone else. Not knowing what to say, or how to ask about what happened.

The way she didn’t disapprove of the change.

He puts a hand to his head, wincing. He couldn’t remember everything of the party, and maybe he shouldn’t. The more he thought of it, the more he became convinced that Mr. USA had crashed it, looking for him, and had a screaming argument with someone there.

And the more convinced that something else had happened, there. Something important that involved several of those Olympians. Their king and their queen. Fate and disaster. 

A price that Mama Cass was going to have to pay...

“God have mercy,” the Governor mutters, shaking his head.

“You got that right, sir,” one of the workers says, walking by and tipping his hat with respect. He’s carrying a bucket of cracked, burned wood in one hand and a well-used broom in the other.

“Yes,” Reagan says, turning to go back to the ruins of his office “I guess I do.”

* * *

It’s hours later, and he’s standing by the shattered remnants of his window, looking down at the grounds.

You’d have hardly known it was a warzone the day before. No bodies anywhere. No wreckage. No emergency vehicles of any kind, except for the police, who’ve set up a cordon to make certain no one gets any bad ideas.

It was SPYGOD’s people, apparently. The COMPANY, he called them. All the GORGON agents were swept up and taken away. All their guns confiscated.

All their victims bagged up and preserved as evidence.

“What kind of a world is this?” the Governor asks, shaking his head.

He thinks of the heroes he saw in the War: all bright smiles and derring-do for the newsreels, stopping Nazis in their tracks and marching all the way to Berlin. He thinks of the day he heard Adolph Hitler was dead, killed by the man who’d saved his life, yesterday. 

He thinks of the parades and the parties. The elation of VE. The bittersweet relief of VJ.

And now… what was all this? Faceless agents, taking over the world one replacement at a time? Supercommies and Nazi heroes on the run?

Heroes who were gods – bound to no earthly authority but their own?

Something was wrong, here. Something was taking the promise they’d been given and twisting it around – perverting it. Something no amount of excuses or explanation was going to make better or wipe clean.

Something that someone was going to have to do something about…

“Someone like you, perhaps, Mr. Governor?”

Ronald Reagan blinks, and turns to look at the person who just spoke.

There’s a man by the door. Two men, actually. Both of them are tall, blonde, and well built. Their suits are amazingly immaculate, and he finds he can’t stop staring.

Beautiful, the both of them. So beautiful.

“I apologize for the intrusion,” the one doing the speaking says as he walks into the office, casting an eye at the wreckage on its floor as his partner closes the door behind them: “I’d have made an appointment but I understand your secretary is, well, no longer employed.”

“That’s one way to say it,” the Governor says, so transfixed by the man’s insolent beauty that he forgets he should be offended by their presence, and the almost cavalier way he’s spoken of the man who tried to kill him, yesterday.

(Or the man who replaced him? He’s still not sure about that.)

“Ronald Wilson Reagan,” the man says, steepling his hands before his chest: “My name is Ariel. This is my colleague, Aaron. We represent a party that is very interested in your political future.”

“Well, you’ll excuse me if I’m not in the mood to talk about politics on a day like today, gentlemen.”

“That’s just it, sir. You so obviously are.”

“Excuse me?” the Governor says, unsure.

“You were looking out there, at what’s left of the mess on the lawn, and thinking of the mess you’re all in now.”

“That’s true…”

“Yes, it is,” Ariel says, nodding: “I cannot lie to you, Mr. Governor. I will never dissemble or deceive you. But you cannot lie to me, either. And I know you know something is wrong, and needs to change.”

“Who… who are you with, really?” the Governor asks, holding out a hand to shake.

“Just call us the Backers,” the beautiful man says, taking it: “And if you’ll let us, we’ll back you all the way.”

“Where to?”

“You spoke of a time of choosing, a few years ago, Mr. Governor,” Ariel says: “Very eloquently, in fact.”

“Oh, that,” Reagan says: “Well, Mr. Goldwater’s a friend of mine. And I thought if anyone could have pulled off a primary challenge against Nixon, it would have been him. And let’s face it, Dick has it coming to him…”

He thinks: why is he telling this man this?

“Because I have that kind of face, to which all secrets are not secret,” Ariel explains, seemingly reading the man’s mind with ease: “And all things in the human heart are known.”

Reagan almost gasps, looking at the two of them.

“All the way, Mr. Governor,” the other one says: “From here to the White House, and then into history.”

“What… why? Why me?”

“They say every man has his time, Mr. Governor,” Ariel explains: “But it’s also true that every time has its man. We want you to be that man. To shape this century. To bring it into rightness. To forge a new covenant, and see that destiny you spoke of worked upon it.”

“A world where sense reigns, and this sort of thing never happens,” Aaron adds, gesturing to the mess outside.

“American can be a shining city upon the hill, suffused with the light from on high,” Ariel says: “Or it can fall down, one house at a time. I don’t think you want that, do you?”

Governor Reagan blinks. He shakes his head, wondering if he’s asleep and dreaming on his feet. Is this really happening? Is he actually being asked by… by them to be a Prophet?

“No,” he says, extending a hand: “I don’t. I want a real America, again. I want what I told people about in the movies, and on the campaign trail. I want what’s right and decent.

“And I will gladly join forces with you to get there.”

Ariel takes his hand, and smiles. There’s a moment of grace, just then – something the Governor hasn’t felt in ages, since he was a little boy hearing a stirring hymn in his church, and imagining that God was speaking through everyone’s voices.

For a moment he catches Aaron’s eyes. Something about how the man looks at him reminds him of that Shift person from that party, last night -- something sad and knowing.

But then it’s gone, and there’s only the dream, and the realization.

And the future. 

* * *

Stepped into a church / I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees / and I pretend to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold / he knows I'm gonna stay

* * *

(SPYGOD is listening to California Dreamin' (The Mamas and the Papas) and having an Anchor Steam)