The Ybari were, at one time, one of the more technologically advanced races in our part of the galaxy. At the time that Jesus Christ was walking the Earth, they had developed the bias drive: an exotic drive that allowed them to zip around their part of space in an extremely swift manner, without having to worry about the effects of relativity, and power the ship as well. And, by the time Ethiopia became Christian, 300 years later, they'd learned how to drop into warp space, allowing them to make large warp carriers full of bias-driven ships, and explore, and conquer, even further into space.
But the Ybari had a serious societal fault: one that saw them nearly cut to pieces by the time of the Byzantine Iconoclasm -- a mere 700 or so years after Christ's death. They were never able to completely reconcile their religious beliefs with their technical superiority, and believed with all their hearts that the latter was inexorably tied up with the former.
For example: their fighter pilots didn't just pray before battle, but they prayed during the entire battle. There was a prayer for every different direction they could take their ships, every weapon, every maneuver, and every in-flight trick and repair.
The prayer had to be said before the action was taken. If they couldn't remember the prayer, they could not take the action. If they couldn't say the prayer correctly, they had to start over.
And if they didn't say it fast enough, they might miss their chance, and have to pick another action they could say the prayer for, which might not have been the best choice for the situation.
At their height, against the technologically inferior forces their early conversion fleets encountered, the Ybari were a sight to behold. Massive church-ships exited the warp in a blare of bright lights and loudly-sung hymns. Hundreds of smaller dreadnoughts filed out their sides, their hulls made to resemble the serene face of The Why, and come forward in massive formations that formed the opening scripts of The Book of The Why. Their beam weapons shut down their enemies' ships, sparing their lives so they could be converted later.
And when the planet was as one with The Why, the sound of their conjoined piety could have shaken the foundations of the universe, itself.
But then, to borrow one Earth saying, the Ybari picked on someone their own size. And the Krong, who had no quaint notions about praying to make their spacecraft work both physically and spiritually correctly, thrashed their would-be conquerors so hard that it took the Ybari almost a five hundred years to pick themselves up, again.
After a somewhat delayed thanksgiving meal consisting of five live animals, twenty different kinds of human !@#$, and some poor fool who rang the door to his villa at the wrong time, Xerxes Biggs gets on the phone and makes a number of calls.
Most of them are to private numbers that are only to be used in absolute emergencies. Some of them are to people who are paid outrageous sums of money to babysit certain phone numbers and inform their clients if they're used. Others are relay calls that trigger alarms, and indicate that something has happened, and someone should really return a call.
In all cases, the results are the same. None of the people he's called want to sign back on for the fight. They've seen what's happening to the Legion, and they know what it will mean for them if they get out of retirement. They're all polite refusals, of course, but they're refusals nonetheless.
Xerxes does not take this news well -- not at all. But once his anger is back under control, he calmly calls the people who are looking after The Skull, and tells them to get the old girl up and running again.
In a few days' time, she'll need all the firepower they can get, because they're either going to attack the Flier, or Washington DC. Which one gets attacked entirely depends on whether the Flier's in front of the city or not.
He knows SPYGOD won't turn that down. He knows the man thinks he can take The Skull, based on the old schematics that he allowed to be leaked to certain people in the Agency.
What he doesn't know is that the old weapons systems have been entirely replaced. They bought some very interesting new toys at the last Outland, before a certain person got upset and blew it up.
And they've been waiting for a good reason to try them out...
The good news was that, in the wake of the Ybari assault on Krong Prime, a new galactic confederation was created. Unlike previous ones, that had sought to rule over many, or merely acknowledge the rights and existences of one's neighbors, The Pact was a vehicle for galactic fellowship, trade, and mutual defense. Specifically, if one member was attacked, all members were pledged to send a selection of their best ships, so as to be adequate to the task ahead.
So when the Ybari came back for a second attempt at conversion, around the same time that Constantinople was sacked in the 4th Crusade (1204), their War Priests didn't just face the might of the Krong, but of twenty other civilizations, big and small. They were fought all the way back to their own space, and told, in no uncertain terms, that they were to remain there until they could learn to cooperate with others.
The days of galactic dominion were over, they were told. Play nice, or don't play at all. And if The Why didn't like it, The Why could come here, Itself, and tell The Pact otherwise.
The Why, obviously, declined their invitation. A perimeter defense was created between the space held by The Pact and what little remained of the empire of the Ybari, and they were left to stew in their own failure and isolation.
When faced with a bad situation caused by the poor choices of their leaders, a civilization can choose to do many things. This could have been the moment that the Ybari chose to reflect, and possibly reform their society into something less backwards and ponderous.
They could have stopped putting to death those "heretics" who claimed that science and technology worked just fine whether you prayed or not. They could have recognized that there were some things science did well, and some things that only spirituality could explain, and the two could exist as equal partners in a well-balanced civilization. They might also have chosen to abandon forced conversion as well, and sought peaceful contact with other races, trusting that the wisdom inherent in The Book of Why would speak for itself.
They did none of these things. They insisted that they were being tested, and had to prove their mettle to The Why, or else they would be found lacking. They went back to work rebuilding their conversion fleets, often working their conquered "allies" until their worlds were smoking pits devoid of any remaining resources.
And they set their sights away from The Pact, looking in the opposite direction, where much less powerful targets laid ripe for conversion. They would bring The Why to these people, instead. And someday, when all these systems were taken, and their resources brought to bear, they would try The Pact again, and be victorious.
One of these intended targets was Earth's Solar System.
Phonecall #1: "... and you're sure of that? Right? Okay then. Alright. I !@#$ figured as much. The Big Man wasn't going to go down without some kind of a massive confrontation. You go ahead and let him know I accept his little !@#$ challenge, but that when this is all said and done I'm going to be paying him a visit. And he knows exactly what that means. Oh yes, he !@#$ does. Okay, good. I'll get them up and running, then..."
Phonecall #2: "Hello, Captain. It's time. We have a dogfight in the mid-Atlantic scheduled at some ungodly hour in three days time. Yes, you !@#$ heard me correctly. We're going up against The Skull. Now the good news is that we know its capabilities. The bad news is that the information I got was from the people who actually work with those !@#$ in the Legion, so either it's old intel, or grossly distorted. So we have to be ready for bear, lion, and !@#$ dinosaur. I want the reflex weapons ready to implement. I want the phalanx systems operational. I want those little surprise missiles ready on the interceptors... right, the experimental ones they said would never work. Yep. You got it. And I'll be inspecting in 24 hours, so make sure they hop to it."
Phonecall #3: "Hello, is this the Yokum residence? Yes, this is SPYGOD. Yes, the SPYGOD. I'm calling to give you some good news, actually. It's about your wife, Helen. We have her, and she's okay. Well, it's a long story, sir, and a lot of it's classified out the !@#$, but the bottom line is that she hasn't quite been herself for a few months, now. That's why she was rolled out of the White House, yes. But the good news is that we've had someone who's very good at removing bad ideas with her, and after a few more psychological tests, I think she'll be good to come home. Maybe even go back to work before too long. Yes, sir. You'll be able to see her soon, and the President wanted me to tell you how glad he is she's doing better. Hey, no problems, sir. I like it when I can actually give good news for a change."
Phonecall #4: "Mr. President. Yes. We need to talk. It's about the Legion. Yes. It's pretty !@#$ bad, sir. No two ways about it. You need to take steps to isolate yourself from the Director of the CIA immediately. Don't let him know you're doing it or he'll take counter steps. You also need to look into upping your guard. I wouldn't put anything past him. No. No, I don't think it's a good idea to involve Mr. USA. We're still not sure where his loyalties are, remember? !@#$ if I know. Oh, and one more thing, three days from now, don't be in DC. No, no, nothing to worry about. Just maybe go do a surprise stump speech in, say, Hawaii. Yeah, sure. Have some poi for me."
By the time the Ybari conversion fleet finally got to Earth, it was 1975. Their long-range probes, which had buzzed by the planet in the mid-60's, revealed that the planet's defenses seemed milquetoast at best. They had just gotten their first, fully acknowledged space programs up and running, and hadn't bodily ventured out further than their own orbit. The best they could muster was space probes, and their most powerful weapons were apparently pointed at one another, rather than outside invaders.
The Book of The Why had a number of parables that best described this situation. They all more or less translated to "cake walk."
Unfortunately for them, by the time they got to the Solar System, it was the mid-70's. By that time, certain things had awoken on the Earth, and had been making certain that it would be defended. A great, circular array of defense platforms, called Wonderwall, had been erected in trans-lunar orbit, its tireless robots tasked to protect the planet from the many threats that lurked between the stars.
And it had the power to shatter suns.
Wonderwall's sensors detected the fleet when it exited the warp around Jupiter. By the time it passed the asteroid belt, the robots determined that it was a war fleet, and was approaching with gun ports open. When it was almost at Mars' orbit, they had an attack plan ready to go.
And when the fleet got no further than three miles past it, Wonderwall struck.
It took the Ybari almost 800 years to remake their conversion fleet. It took Wonderwall exactly five minutes to destroy it. Its massive "dark" laser cannons skewered the fleet at the speed of light, and once it was in disarray the slightly slower, but much more powerful particle beams mopped up what little remained.
The robots didn't even let the escape pods live.
This is why, as so many would-be alien conquerors have realized to their detriment, Earth is often called "the graveyard of empire." It had a double meaning for the Ybari, for, after word of their defeat got out, many of the worlds they'd recently converted rebelled. Worse, other, as-yet-unconquered neighbors decided to take parts of the empire for themselves, leaving it a sorry, wrecked remnant of what it once was.
Even the dark days following the judgment of The Pact looked like a golden age, now. It was all the Ybari could do to hold onto their own homeworld, much less fend off aggressors. And there was no parable in The Book of The Why that could give adequate advice as to what to do, now.
Agent S held the package in his hands. Inside it was something special. Something that would make a necessary action much easier.
The package came with a note. It was from his Director. All it said was "Plan B. Now." But that's all it had to say.
All the time he'd been poking around the Flier, trying to find evidence, had been wasted time. Nothing good had come of it. Nothing at all.
And now they were in big trouble.
The Magician was working for The COMPANY, now, turning retired supervillains into COMPANY assets, and deprogramming The Big Man's insurance agents. It was only a matter of time before they found out how deep the roots between the Legion and the Agency ran.
And then, as they said, the pooch was well and truly !@#$.
The burning of bridges had already begun, but not fast enough. And if there was one thing they couldn't do, it was be fast enough to stop SPYGOD once he caught a whiff of something actionable.
SPYGOD had to die. Soon.
Agent S had to be the one to kill him. Soon.
He might not live through the attempt. He might get caught, before or after. But he had to try, at least.
He owed the Legion that much for getting him out of trouble, back in the 30's. He owed the Agency that much for keeping him on, after the War. And he owed it to his country, which he loved with every beat of his strange heart, to see to it that the monster they'd put in charge of The COMPANY did not have another chance to destroy her.
Agent S didn't care what they said about his powers, or his methods, or what he chose to do with the meat that he borrowed. He was a patriot, first and foremost. A soldier in the war of civilizations. An ant in the farm, guarding the queen.
He could probably live through this. He could probably get away. But even if he didn't, he had to try.
SPYGOD was going to die. Agent S was going to kill him. That was all there was to it.
And he smiled through borrowed lips, relishing how tasty it would be to see the horror on SPYGOD's face as his trusted aid turned him into ash and cinders.
Agent S might be a monster, too, but he was America's monster. And that made all the difference in the world.
Once again, the Ybari had the opportunity to reflect on the weight of their errors, and chose a new path for themselves. Once again, they squandered it, and instead sought to implement a new plan -- one that would take much longer to accomplish than a conversion fleet, but would give the same results, eventually.
They would trade their way to domination.
They would pretend to peace. They would embrace commerce. And they would sell their wares to disreputable types who desired to take power on their worlds, with part of the stipulation for the sale being that, once their customers had conquered, the Ybari would be allowed to set up worship centers upon it. Such a small price to pay for such fine wares!
On some worlds, their offers were harshly rebuked, as no one wanted anything to do with them. On others, the Ybari were cannily welcomed, but then betrayed after the conquering occurred. One planet's revolutionary cadre actually had the gall to ban all religious worship from the planet after the war was over, and had to "apologetically" relegate all churches, including those of their Ybari allies, to a derelict space station called "Heretic Town."
But on yet others, where the name "Ybari" was largely unknown, and their history not fully understood, their deals were taken up in full. On these worlds the Ybari prospered, and their religion was accepted, though not always universally taken up. Still, they had faith: one foot in the door is all that is needed to gain entry to the house, as The Book of The Why does say.
It's something of a nervous habit of mine, walking the top deck of the ship before a big battle. !@#$ing over the side isn't so much of a nervous habit as it is a bad one, but in the mood I'm in, right now, I don't think anyone's going to !@#$ with me about it.
Not that I've had too many battles in this ship. Usually the mere sight of The Flier's enough to scare most people into total compliance. Because when you see a flying ship the size of three aircraft carriers floating above your capitol, it's time to rethink your !@#$ demands and want tell the President whatever the !@#$ he wants to hear, even if it's "we surrender."
And if you aren't smart enough to do that, well... !@#$ you, your mom, and your little dog Toto, too. !@#$ just got real.
But I have a bad feeling about this one. I can't help but think I'm gambling with a really bad hand.
The Skull isn't just any supervillain gimmick, like a clown-faced getaway car or a plane that turns into a ghost. This is a full-on WMD on steroids. The !@#$ thing has weapons so far ahead of the curve that its a wonder they aren't in !@#$ outer space, for crying out loud.
And the Flier? Well, it was good !@#$ back in its day. But her day was back in the 80's, really. And while she's been refitted and rebuilt numerous times, since then, at her heart she's still a creaky old bucket that never goes quite as fast as you think she should, or hits really as hard as you need her to.
I have a responsibility to her. I have a responsibility to her crew. My people.
I can't help but wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew, here. How big of a price I'm going to have to pay for it.
And while I may have an Ace up my sleeve, here, I'm going to have to play through several !@#$ hands to get to it.
It's times like this that I wish I knew some gods that weren't absent, retired, or !@#$ useless. I would be praying to them, right now. For luck. For speed. For the lives of my people.
But the only God I can really count on is the one I look at in the mirror, every morning. And he's a drunken, sex-addicted junkie with delusions of grandeur and a penis that looks stranger with every growing year.
Speaking of which, I think I will !@#$ over the edge. I think we're right above City Hall, right now.
And Hizzonner needs a bath.
So it was that, in the late 80's, well after Wonderwall had become Deep Ten, the Ybari snuck onto the planet that had annihilated both their conversion fleet and their Empire. There, at a special place, they met with various disreputable individuals and organizations intent on conquering the planet for themselves. And they made several deals, and sold several advanced weapons and vehicle systems to many of them, in the hopes that at least one would succeed.
One group in particular walked away with the greatest prize of all. They took a small dreadnought, with most of its weapons systems and cloaking capabilities. The bias drive had been removed, if only to keep the species from taking it apart, realizing they could make them, and eventually rivaling the Ybari. But the buyers were confident they could use the pinnacle of their own world's energy creation technologies to power the craft.
After the sale, one of the purchasers -- from a group calling itself a Legion -- noted to the other "!@#$ if it doesn't look like a big !@#$ skull, too. How perfect is that?"
"Perfect indeed," the other said. But when the Ybari tried to correct them, and explain that this was the face of The Why, Itself, they were interrupted by that other. And after he was done speaking to then, they suddenly had the strange urge to give the man back his money, go out behind the convention, and end their own lives in a violent and messy manner.
And so they did.
THE FLIER, OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN
The Deck is a bustle of activity. Anti-gravity stations float this way and that as the great machine goes forward to war. Gunners in virtual reality pods rotate in endless circles, waiting for the targets they know are going to be enroute.
In the center of it all, SPYGOD strides, a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a massive, purple spliff of uncertain origin in the other. He never takes the Flier into battle unless he's drunk and stoned, just so he can stay focused.
All these lives depend on him, now. He can't !@#$ this up.
By him are his personal assistants, relaying orders and giving him new information as it's available. He probably doesn't need all their chattering voices, as he can hear that they hear before they tell him what they've heard. But it helps him stay anchored to have that information repeated.
"Yeah, okay, ahead full. Raise shields to maximum along the front and undercarriage, because that's where they'll hit. I want reflex weapons on standby, and long range missiles ready to go, and you tell Agent Decker that if the left battery's slow again I'll !@#$ throw his !@#$ at The Skull when it gets within range. And for !@#$ sake, let's have those interceptors ready. The last time we did a full drill it reminded me of a tea party with two kittens and a stuffed bear."
He looks over at Armatrading and tips her a wink. She pretends to chuckle, but something goes hard and lonely in her eyes the moment he turns back and away.
The gun at her hip is not standard issue. It's a Legion-made incinerator. Their scientists figure it'll reduce SPYGOD to his constituent atoms within .003 of a second, provided she can get a good enough bead on him.
And if this battle starts going badly for the Legion, she's going to pull it out and use it.
* * *
Many miles away, the real Agent Armatrading is doing her best not to get too anxious.
She knows what the monster's orders are, and what his plan is. She knows what's happening, all those miles away, in the mid-Atlantic. She knows that if she doesn't do something soon, the thing will strike, and he's not likely to miss.
But she also knows that if she thinks about it too much, he'll know something is up. He'll realize that the connection between the two of them is almost equal, now. And he might have her minders do something -- or not do something -- that will make what she has planned fall apart before she can even put it into action.
So she breathes, in and out. She controls her heartbeat. She does her best imitation of being in and out of consciousness, and arches her back just so, knowing that her breasts are going to stick out just so when she does.
She holds this for as long as she can, thinking of nothing. Waiting for the right moment to spring into action.
Waiting for the right man to come along.
* * *
"Sir, we have The Skull on visual," someone shouts.
The main screen turns on at the far end of the deck, and there she is, fresh from her pre-battle decloaking. A massive ship, maybe just as large as The Flier, itself. A beetling brow arches over two great cannons, and numerous, smaller guns slide out of what appears to be a lethal grin.
SPYGOD whirls about, hoists the bottle, and chugs it in one cataclysmic gulp.
"I don't want that thing getting away, today," he says, wiping his chin: "Launch the interceptors. Prepare the chaff. Get the phalanxes ready for incoming."
Everyone runs to obey. At some moment, as they do, the Flier shudders as its long-range missiles suddenly take off in a burst of fiery tendrils, and its forward cannons start firing.
The Reflex weapons have kicked in; The Skull must have armed its weapons systems. That means it's only a matter of seconds before they know who got the drop on whom.
The interceptors fly out to engage whatever the enemy has to throw at them. As they do, The Skull's surface boils with fire and flame, and it slows in its flight path, ever so much.
For a moment SPYGOD allows himself hope, but then the thing speeds up again, and starts to return fire.
"Better grab onto one of the bars, Sue," he says, not looking around: "This could get a little bumpy..."
* * *
Then he's in the room, right on time. Her man. The one who looks at her like she's a bug.
And even through his padded pants she can tell he's hard as a dog in heat.
He comes in like he's just checking on her, but she knows what he's doing. He's looking at her appreciatively. He's all but drooling.
She leans back just a little more. Breathes like she's in heat. Like she's having some sexy dream that can't be articulated in mere words.
He leans in closer, admiringly. He breathes on her breasts. His eyes go unfocused, ecstatic.
She breathes into his face, ever so softly. He breathes back, closing his eyes. For a few brief seconds they share the same oxygen, and it's more than he can handle with his eyes wide open.
The ecstasy has him enthralled, and that's all she ever needed. His mind on fire for her.
And fatally unaware of the small details.
* * *In the face of compromised shields and heavily damaged infrastructure, the fires are the worst thing. Fire on a flying ship is outright deadly. The air speed fans the flames and makes them every hungrier, all but giving them permission to eat like pigs at a trough.
SPYGOD winces as the damage reports come in. 50% of the hull is either destroyed or on fire. The long range batteries are empty or trashed. Most of the forward cannons are obliterated or empty.
And that's with the phalanx systems trying to mow down the enemy's missiles and shells as they bombard The Flier in wave after wave. Pretty soon they'll be out of ammo, too. And when that happens...
At least the interceptors are doing their jobs, keeping the numerous drones The Skull launched from coming too close and adding to their misery. At least they still have their halon systems, quickly quenching the fires as they come across them. But this is going to be a !@#$ of a fight.
"Sir, sensors indicate that The Skull's shielding is weakening," someone tells him.
"How much?" He asks, gazing around as he does. There's too much smoke and fire and horror in this room. He has to focus. Stay focused, !@#$ it.
As he waits for the answer, Agent S prepares to make his move. The holster is unclipped. A hand's on the gun. One quick movement and it'll be over.
It's just the matter of finding that one, right moment when he won't know what's about to happen.
* * *The chair's arm restraints go around her wrists. They clamp down from either side, and are made to fit snugly, so as to keep her from being able to wriggle her hands back through. But over the past few days, she's gotten skinner. And she's been flexing the muscles in her wrists just so when they raise her up and out to give her a sponge bath.
This has made it so that the chair's restraints are not holding her down. She could have gotten her arms free any time in the last few days.
She just needed to have someone in the room with her, with the keys to her leg restraints. Someone she could distract long enough to not notice her slipping her sweaty hands out of the restraints, and then aiming her fingers up at his face.
The attack short-circuits his ecstasy. He coughs and gasps, unable to scream as she clamps his mouth shut with one hand and digs a thumb into his eye with the other.
"You will let me out of this chair, right now, or I will take your eyes," she hisses. He stammers and tries to say something but he can't. Blood pools around his lips; she must have made him bite his tongue.
"Right. Now." She emphasizes. He haltingly obeys, maybe hoping someone can get into the room before she's free. But if there's anyone in that observation room, behind the one-way glass, then he or she hasn't noticed yet.
One leg. Then the other. She leaps up and out of the chair, trailing tubes and electrical leads behind her like some surreal S&M dress.
The agent? Oh, that's right. She's still got his head in her hands.
And, by default, his neck.
One good twist and it's snapped. The effort makes her woozy. The drugs are trying to slide her back down, but she will not let them. She's come too far too fast for this.
Come too !@#$ far and suffered way too !@#$ much.
* * *
65% destroyed or on fire. Cannons are empty. Missiles are gone.
And the last working phalanx unit just fired its last spent uranium rod.
The interceptors are down to a mere handful, fighting tooth and nail with the nearly-endless supply of drones The Skull has to spit out. Some of them are getting through the corridor and taking pot-shots at the Flier. He sent his troops up to the top deck to have at them with backpack lasers and shoulder rockets, but that's just going to be flea bitings at this point.
SPYGOD wishes he'd planned this better. He wishes he'd committed more personnel to the fight. He wishes he had more dirty tricks to play, here, and not just the one, massive one he's got ready to go once the moment is right.
Getting to that moment is going to be !@#$.
* * *
Oh, that's done it. The person in the observation room's noticed at last, and has hit the alarm. She hears klaxons going off and shouting: the subtle but loud chorus of panic in the face of escape.
"Sit down, you !@#$," a female voice shouts: "You dumb !@#$, sit down! There's no escape from this place. We're all locked in here together. There's three of us out here and there's just one of you. You're not getting out of her alive. You hear me? You are not getting out of her alive!"
"!@#$ you, too, !@#$," Armatrading whispers, reaching down for the dead man's gun: "Alive wasn't in the plan."
The glass is bullet proof, but she fires a shot at it, anyway, just imagine the stupid !@#$ jumping back. She imagines the fear in her eyes, and the thought is delicious. But she knows that if it's there, it's not of the gun.
It's of what's going to happen next.
* * *
"Sir, the interceptors are getting through the drones!" Someone else shouts over the fire and smoke: "They're hitting it with the disruptor missiles. I think..."
"You think?" He shouts: "I don't pay you to think, Agent! Gimmie a !@#$ number!"
"Fifty percent shields, sir!" she shouts back: "The Skull is down to fifty percent shields. Now forty-five. Now forty... maybe less..."
SPYGOD's heard enough. He dials a number and takes one last, big hit off of what's left of the spliff.
"Sir?' Agent S asks, but gets shushed. She/he takes a step back, ready to assume the proper firing stance. His/her target stands up straight and tall, like a general ready to send forth the last, great hope of the war.
"All Agents, this is SPYGOD," he says, prepare for Condition White. I repeat, Condition White."
Agent S thinks. What does that mean? S/he's never heard that before, but the memory is there, somewhere. Why can't he access his host's mind right now? Why...
Oh no. No no no. He sees her standing there, in the room, free from her bonds. He feels the gun in her hand.
He knows he has no time left.
"You there, Straffer?" SPYGOD asks as Agent S panics behind him: "Oh, good. I wouldn't want to think you were napping or anything. I'm sending you the coordinates now... oh, you've got them already. Well how !@#$ convenient."
Agent S gets out the gun with all the subtlety of a crack junkie in a cocaine factory. The big screen starts to darken.
All over the Flier, windows polarize and portholes slam shut.
"Yes, let's make this official. I am being attacked by an alien spacecraft. I am formally requesting assistance. Code Triple Black."
Agent S prepares to fire.
* * *Her name is Sue F. Armatrading, and she is not afraid. But she is a little sad.
She thinks of her father, who was in the Army and died overseas. She thinks of his strength and his decency. How much she misses him.
She thinks of her mother, who raised her right as an Army widow. She thinks of her determination and her willpower. How much she will miss her.
She thinks of her little sister, the well meaning idiot. She thinks of her big heart and small brain. She'll miss her, too, !@#$ it.
She thinks of Beatrice, once last time. Wishing she could reach and out say sorry for everything that happened. So many regrets, never enough time. She already misses her more than she can say.
And SPYGOD. Oh, the things she'd like to say to him, now. And maybe she can, somehow...
The door starts opening. They've got tasers, now. Probably under orders to keep her alive.
She has no such order, and puts the dead agent's gun in her mouth.
* * *
A few things happen, just then.
The first thing comes from the sky. A massive beam of light, brighter than the Sun, shoots straight down from high above, and strikes The Skull right on top of its cranium.
The second thing comes from within The Skull, as the beam punches through the craft like it wasn't there and begins to boil the Ocean below it. It doesn't so much explode as gently collapse in on itself, sucked into the vortex of the beam that's skewered it.
The third is the mighty cheer that those on board The Flier give up, just then.
The fourth is a horrible scream that almost goes unheard, there on the suddenly-raucous deck, except by SPYGOD, who hears all.
He turns and sees Agent Armatrading coming apart. There's no other word for it. Her head mushrooms up and away, clearly blown apart, but not by the gun she had in her hand. She drops it and falls to her knees, continuing to scream even though she has no head.
Then her body expands and contracts, turning into a black, twitching mass of arms, legs, and faces. Hundreds of them, washing in and out of existence, and making her seem like a large and grotesque millipede made from people, squirming all over itself as it prepares to die.
Guards have already rushed out to surround the thing, but SPYGOD waves them back. This is his business, somehow. And while he doesn't know exactly what's happened, here, he has a very !@#$ bad feeling about it.
At some point, the twitching subsides a little, and then the form begins to solidify. It begins to look more like Agent Armatrading, again, only with her head poking out somewhere it really doesn't belong.
Her eyes open, bloody and unfocused.
"Sir, are you there?" she asks: "Sir, please tell me you're there. Please tell me you're okay."
He kneels down, gently, and takes her hand: "I'm here, Agent. I'm here."
"I can't see you. I can hear you, though. Oh thank god. Thank god."
"Agent... what's happened?"
"It's the Body Thief, sir. I think they call him Agent S. He snatched me off the street, back in October. They've had me captured ever since. I tried to fight him, but he was too strong, at first. But I got him. I !@#$ got him."
"Yeah, you did," he says, watching the body collapse around the head: "Is there anything...?"
"No. I'm dead already, sir. It was all I could do to force myself over here and use his body like he was using mine. But you have to get to Langley, sir. It's a warehouse, over on Jefferson Street. I think it's building 5, and we're in the sub basement. They're probably already cleaning the place. If you hurry... you might... might..."
SPYGOD looks to his guards. One of them has the good sense to start running to make the call. The other almost !@#$ himself.
"Sir, I... I... I wanted you to know that I... I...I..."
"Shhhh," he says, cradling her head: "Don't talk. Just rest, Agent. You did good. You did real good."
"Yeah, I did, huh?" she says, eyes melting in what remains of the skull: "I did. I did. I did. I did..."
He stands up and watches the head melt into the floor, repeating her last thought over and over until there's no mouth to communicate it with.
The fires are out. Straffer is shouting over the communicator to ask if they're okay. Somewhere, a jet's being prepared to take a strike team to Langley. These things wash over him like rain, and do not concern him for now.
"Her name was Sue F. Armatrading," he announces to someone nearby: "She was an Agent. And she was not afraid."
The rest is dust.
(SPYGOD is listening to Plainsong (The Cure) and laying off everything for a while.)