I woke up at Noon, today. I meant to be up earlier, but I shot all my !@#$ alarm clocks, yesterday morning, and Sand Island doesn't exactly have a Behemart down the block.
Fortunately, ever on the hunt for some way to help me in my time of need, The Dragon fixed my sleeping position so that the noonday Sun would shine down right in my face like a stream of !@#$. In fact, that's almost exactly what I thought was happening to me, which is why my window is now a lot larger, and much smokier, than it was last night, when I finally managed to drink my !@#$ dead asleep.
As you might imagine that takes some !@#$ doing. I have to pound about three times my own weight in high-test booze in order to even !@#$ come close to being that drunk, and then keep it up for hours at a time, without stopping to eat, drink water, !@#$, or have a tjbang stick or two.
So, in the warm light of a lost morning, I witnessed a scene of depravity I didn't think myself still capable of. Every flat surface of my quarters, including the !@#$ floor, was occupied by either an empty bottle of beer or an empty bottle of hooch. Every single one of them was lined up perfectly, like the tombstones at Arlington.
And, seeing them all, I could remember strategically drinking myself into bed, one bottle at a time. Maybe it was the news that the President sent investigators to find out what had happened, but that they refused to talk to me directly. And maybe it was the fact that the President would not take my call, and it was left to the VP to tell me to just be cool, and he'd call me when he had something to say.
But at some point last night I just said "!@#$ this !@#$" and barricaded myself with alcohol, literally and figuratively.
Looking at the room, I had a weird moment of recognition. It's the same feeling I got when some liberal !@#$ sat me down to watch that "Wall" movie, and Bob Geldof tries to put his trashed hotel room back into some weird semblance of order. That's the only piece of that whole !@#$ movie that's stayed with me, possibly because I'm the only one in the world who will watch that sobbing, self-indulgent piece of !@#$ film stone cold sober, and most likely because I've done that exact same thing way too many times to count.
(That and had my fate lorded over by a giant walking pair of butt-cheeks. That's Secret Senate Subcommittees for you.)
As you might well expect, trying to extricate myself from that situation was kind of difficult. But I heard a commotion out in the hall, and when I realized who was saying what to whom, I said "!@#$ it" and leaped over the bottles for the door, which still didn't feel like Star Treking open.
One kicked-down door later, I'm standing there nude with bloody, gashed feet, and watching The Dragon hold Underman down with one foot and Second up against the wall with one hand. He turns around and smiles his special little smile at me, which says "I didn't want you to be disturbed."
And I give him the look that says "I'm !@#$ disturbed enough already," and he drops his smile and lets them both go.
"Why the !@#$ did you do that?" I ask him as they get up off the floor.
"They wished to make their grievances known at a time when you were not ready to hear them," he says.
"I think I can decide when that is."
"A mother hen who attends to every peck of her chicks is soon without feathers," he says, but no sooner does he say that then Myron's pulling out his piece and aiming it at The Dragon's head. He doesn't get the chance to fire it, courtesy of one really vicious and swift footstrike from his intended target, but there's no mistaking the anger in his eyes, now.
"I am not a !@#$ chicken!" he yells, cradling his broken hand: "I am a !@#$ Agent of the !@#$ Company, and I demand to talk to the Director!"
"He is clearly indisposed-"
"I'll hear what you have to say, Myron," I say: "You, too, Second. Just let me put on some !@#$ pants, okay?"
Whatever anger Myron had in him just then flattens like a pile of leaves when a kid jumps into it. He just nods and stands there, slowly aware just how badly The Dragon !@#$ up his hand. Second just looks at me, and when he nods it's really unnerving. Obviously, we really !@#$ need to talk.
Back in the room, The Dragon's two steps behind me the whole time, getting my wardrobe and trying to slip Zen bull!@#$ in my ear. Nonsense about how the general has to show strength even in weakness, and sternness even in kindness. I'm too tired to really !@#$ argue with the man who let me drink myself catatonic and arranged my wake-up sunshine, so I just look at him, half-in and half-out of my vest, and tell him, simply, "If you don't respect my Agents, you don't respect me. They just went through Hell for the mission. If they want to talk about their burns, they get a hearing."
Dragon doesn't seem to like that. I can tell because he's run out of advice. Score one for me, but something tells me that's the last victory I get today.
I tell Second and Myron to walk with me. We go in silence down the broken, unlit halls of The Flier, still busted and without power after that horrible !@#$ we got from a pod of supposedly mythological creatures. And since the nanotech Dr. Yesterday supposedly fixed had the !@#$ gall to unfix itself at the worst possible moment, and hasn't refixed itself since, repairs are coming along really !@#$ slowly.
That isn't the worst, though. The worst is the makeshift hospitals in the hallways, just like when we fought The Skull. And even worse than that is the scarcity of makeshift morgues; most of the Agents we lost are still in the Ocean, bobbing along in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We will most likely never !@#$ recover any of them. This is going to be a special heartbreak to their families. And I'm going to shatter anew with each crack, and every tear at every funeral, knowing how badly I let them down.
The silent tour ends on the flight deck. I don't have to see it to know what's coming. The Eye let me know, some time before, what I was walking into. Who was waiting for me.
Every single Agent that was on The Flier at the start of OPERATION DECAPITATION is standing there, in formation, along with the surviving Strategic Talents I called in. Their ranks have been significantly decreased, and their cold, silent stares let me know exactly what they think about that.
They clearly want an explanation. Myron tries to say something to me but can't get past the whimpers, now that the pain of his hand's finally reared up and chomped on his !@#$. So my Second has to be the one to tell me the obvious.
"Please just say something," he whispers: "It's all I can do to keep most of them on board. We're looking at mutiny, sir."
I nod. I knew this was coming. Maybe that's part of why I did what I did, last night, too.
Without these Agents I am less than nothing. I am !@#$, baking in the Sun, waiting for flies to come give me some semblance of use.
So I take a deep breath, look around at all the people I brought into this !@#$ mess, and shrug.
"You know what?" I say: "If you want to leave, I'm not going to stop you. After what happened, two days ago, I wouldn't want to stay here, either. I'd want to get as far away from the !@#$ madman in charge of this !@#$storm as I could.
"Any Strategic Talent who I got into this, you're free to go, and I will never call on you again. You can do whatever you like from here on out and I won't stop you, unless I have to stop you. I think you know what that means.
"And any Agent who wants out? Talk to Second after this speech is over. You can take retirement today with full pension and benefits. No black flags, no blackballing, no bull!@#$. You walk away clean as a whistle.
"But before you do any of that, please listen to me. Just once more."
I take another deep breath, close my eyes, and think. What on earth could I possibly !@#$ say? Then I open them again and look around, and remember where we are.
It comes to me, then.
"You know, it's funny we had to put in here, on Midway, for repairs," I say, gesturing to the visible part of the Atoll, quite visible from the top of the Flier: "I remember when the Japanese took us at Pearl Harbor, they tried to take Midway, too. They failed. Somehow, the handful of soldiers on this tiny little island told them 'no,' and kept that awful day from being a total loss.
"Not more than six months later, not far from here, we handed the Japanese their !@#$ again. We sunk four of their ships in a tremendous victory. It wasn't clean, of course. We lost the Yorktown, that day, along with other dear things, and many people. But that was a turning point for the Pacific Theater. Maybe the turning point.
"You see, up until then, the Japanese weren't just traveling the Pacific Ocean. They were the Pacific Ocean. They dominated it, and used it to dominate their neighbors. But then they made the mistake of trying to dominate us.
"And, no, it didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen easy. But we fought them, inch by inch, mile by mile, and island by island. And after a few years we were there, within landing distance of their mainland, and ready to take them apart for what they'd done."
I pause a moment, looking out at the Ocean. It rolls and surges on by, seemingly uncaring. I can't say as I blame it.
"We've been lucky, so far," I say, stepping down and walking along the line of Agents and Supers: "Those stupid supernazi !@#$ rolled over like a dead dog for us. The Legion came apart like a rotten pumpkin shot with a large !@#$ handgun. And, no, the aftermath of what we did with HONEYCOMB was not to anyone's liking, but the takedown itself? That was superb, and swift.
"Too swift. Too easy. Too lucky.
"We've gotten used to that luck," I say, looking everyone there in the eye in turn: "I've gotten used to that luck. I let it cloud my judgment. I let it over-inform my decisions. I let it take the place of good planning and sound strategy. And the result of that is what just happened to us.
"We can blame the mechanical failures. We can blame bad intelligence. We can blame everything we like, and anyone we don't like. But the bottom line is that the buck has to stop with me.
"I !@#$ed up, ladies and gentlemen. Big time. Badly. And I owe you all an apology for having been so reckless with your lives, and so willing to risk them on so paltry a plan."
I pause for a moment or two. I let the shock settle. Maybe let the anger subside a bit, too.
"But let's consider something. Let's consider that this is a war. Wars are made up of battles. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We've been outrageously lucky so far that most of the battles have been quiet little things, and the big, decisive ones have mostly gone our way.
"Well, I hate to say this, but it looks like that luck ran the !@#$ out.
"Obviously, we cannot expect GORGON to go down as easily as any of the others. Obviously, it was !@#$ stupid for us to even expect that they would. Out of all the others, they were always the most dug in, the best fortified, and the most frightening.
"We have met our real enemy, Agents. We have discovered our true nemesis. We thought we could just strongarm our way in and kick around a few tables, but it seems the bartender had a really large shotgun behind the booze.
"So what do we do now?" I ask, waving around: "Give up? No. I don't think so. This isn't the time for quitting. This is the time we learn from that !@#$ mistake and go forward.
"Give in?" I ask, and, god or gods be praised, a few mouths say "no." Not enough, but at least a few.
"Give it away?" I ask, and get more. Louder and stronger this time.
"No," I reinforce: "We fight. We go forward. We show them that we might bend but we don't !@#$ break. We get back to square one. We look into the mistakes and learn from them. We get ready to have a second round on our terms, and in our time.
"And next time, when we hit them, the !@#$ are gonna wish they'd lost two days ago, because we're gonna !@#$ them up so badly it'll make what they would have had then seem like a rap on the !@#$ knuckles!"
I get a cheer. Oh dear god, thank you. A cheer. Not from everyone, but from enough.
"It's not going to be easy. We're going to have to rebuild. We're going to have to change some plans and strategies. We're gonna have to put this crate back together again, and maybe with chewing gum and superglue this time."
Was that a laugh? Yes it was. Oh good. We have hilarity.
"But we will come back, folks. I promise you that. And I'm making one more promise on top of that. I will never, ever, in a million years fight a battle from the Deck. If you're going to be in the !@#$, I'm going to be there alongside you in that !@#$."
A greater cheer goes up. That's about as good as we can hope for, now, so I let it end there.
"You all deserve better than I've been able to give. You have worked for your country, you have given it your sweat, your blood. You've promised to give it your lives if needed. Please do me the honor of trusting this crazy old !@#$ with those lives one more time, and let's finish this job we've started."
The cheer is deafening. The cry rattles the air. Flocks of endangered birds take to the sky and whirl around us, wondering what the !@#$ we're on about.
!@#$ if I know, but I think I've got my COMPANY back, again. Now I just have to make sure I keep it.
(SPYGOD is listening to 4 In the Morning (Gwen Stefani) and having a big tumbler of alka seltzer)