Sunday, April 1, 2012

3/6/12 - Your Intentions, Night and Day

The Flier hovers over Key West for the third day in a row, blocking out the Sun and generally ruining the party.

The entire island is under Federal lockdown; no one is allowed to enter or leave without a !@#$ing good reason and a foot-thick pile of permissions. The airport and various docks have done nothing but complain about the disruption of traffic, to the point where a few of the Key's less civilly-minded citizens are taking drunken pot-shots at the gigantic aircraft from the safety of their overgrown backyards.

But there's nothing to be done, really. That's because, less than 48 hours ago, SPYGOD, in league with a handful of accomplices, made a monkey of his own, former organization. Not only was the debacle costly and embarrassing, but the cost in human life was staggering: just shy of a 100 Agents are dead or dying, after the slaughter at Emma St..

(And that's saying nothing of the dozens more who were seriously wounded by SPYGOD, himself, and a few of his questionable allies.)

So now they need something -- anything -- to prove that they've got a handle on it, even if it's just a general direction to go next. The manhunt of a lifetime is underway, in coordination with the Secret Service, FBI, ATF, NSA, and any other alphabet soup group The COMPANY can get in on the action.

And, in time-honored Federal tradition, any and all complaints from the locals about the disruption to their daily lives are being put in the circular file with extreme prejudice.

* * *
Up above the action, in a Director's office than now feels twice as confining as it did before, especially with all the other people in it, New Man -- now in charge of The COMPANY -- is listening to the President on the speaker phone. 

The man's never been gentle towards obvious ineptitude under the best of situations, and right now he's literally turning the air blue.

"I mean, who the !@#$ put this !@#$ing mission briefing together? The !@#$ing Tooth Fairy?" the President is asking, thumping his hand on the desk as he does: "I can't believe this. Send in a hundred ordinary Agents to take down a man who's skull!@#$ed an inter-dimensional conqueror, before? Could you not !@#$ing wait until you had some more heavy hitters?"

"I can only agree, sir," New Man says, looking across the room at a very subdued Col. Richter, standing between Second and The Dragon: "I'm afraid that the mission was put together in haste in order to try and take advantage of what appeared to be a very narrow window. We knew who he was meeting with, and we had an idea of where he was, but when we received confirmation of exactly where he was, we ran with it."

"And completely !@#$ed it up."

"To be fair, sir, we did have some Strategic boots on the ground. We recruited Mrs. America and the Green Man, along with a few others. And, quite frankly, the new F-guns and D-cannons we got from R&D should have been enough to bring even him down."

He looks to the two operatives in question. The lady has a noticeable bump on the side of her head that she didn't have before, and the man... well, saying he looks haunted is putting it mildly.

"And your confirmation was airtight?"

"Of course, sir. The talent was known to us, and his motives for betrayal seemed highly credible, given his past history with both us and the target."

"Then why do you have over a hundred dead Agents, (REDACTED)? Do you have any idea how many 'I regret to inform you' letters I have to !@#$ing write, now?"


"Because Colonel Richter is completely incompetent, Mr. President," The Dragon announces, taking a few steps forward to the desk: "If you will excuse my speaking out of turn--"

"Dragon, shut up," Second hisses, but it's too late. New Man rolls his eyes clear back into his head, knowing this was going to happen.

"Hang on there, New Man," the President says: "I'd like to hear what the expert that I saved from prison wants to say."

"I should like to take this opportunity to point out that I have, on numerous occasions, told him exactly why his plans to deal with SPYGOD are doomed to fail," Dragon continues: "He has ignored these warnings, perhaps because of my diplomatic status, or, shall we say, somewhat checkered past--"

"He's a barely-vetted superagent of an enemy power, Mr. President" Richter says: "And he used to !@#$ my target in the !@#$. You'll just have to pardon me if I'm a little skeptical about his intel."

"My relationship with SPYGOD was always about getting inside his head, Mr. President," Dragon says, looking pointedly at the Colonel: "I would venture that I succeeded brilliantly. And I will readily admit that my coming to him after my severance of relations with my homeland was out of self preservation. It is in that sense of self preservation that I now offer my services in capturing him. As such, do you not think it would behoove me to do an excellent job?"

"I think this a matter we can discuss later," New Man says, trying to regain traction: "Right now, we need to discuss what went wrong and how we can fix things."

"I think I have a good !@#$ing idea," The President says: "Richter? Consider your !@#$ at the same level as The Dragon from here on out. You listen to what he has to say and take that into consideration before you do anything. And I want all actions you take cleared with New Man, first. That clear, Colonel?"

"It's crystal clear, sir," the man says, trying not to show how his true feelings on the subject.

"(REDACTED), I want The Dragon in charge of the actual manhunt, with Richter standing by to coordinate the actual takedown. Right now this is your primary task, catching SPYGOD. All resources are to be devoted to this."

"Sir, we have a number of other concerns--" Second tries to say, but gets cut off.

"I'm going to cut and paste those !@#$ing concerns onto other Agencies, maybe better equipped to handle them," the President says: "Let's be !@#$ing clear, here, gentlemen. The COMPANY catches SPYGOD before the Republicans figure out who I'm !@#$ing facing this November, or The COMPANY gets terminally reorganized into a few smaller, more manageable pieces."

"Yes, sir," New Man says, saluting as the President ends the call. 

"Colonel Richter," New Man says: "I think you and The Dragon need to go have a conversation or three, and I want plans and ideas as soon as they're available. How soon before our star prisoner's able to talk?"

"If you mean Gosheven, he's still recuperating," Colonel Richter says: "He might be a metamorph, but taking a gunshot to the brains still takes a while to get over. Might be a while before we get any more useful intel."

"We could always put the N-Machine on him," The Dragon says, smiling in his own, almost imperceptible way: "And as I am now in charge of the actual investigation-"

"One, that would kill him," Richter interrupts: "Two, he doesn't have any !@#$ing eyes right now."

"No N-machine unless we have to, Dragon," New Man says: "He's a metamorph, he might recover."

"That's still pretty vicious, (REDACTED)," Mrs. Liberty says, wincing at how much her jaw hurts when she talks: "Can't we use Wayfinder, again?"

"His family says he's tired and needs rest. We will honor that. Second, I want you to make ready with all operations and relevant intel, in order to hand them over to the White House. No foot-dragging, please."

"Of course not, sir," he says: "I'll inform the Agents that those not already on the primary mission should stand by to be redeployed."

"Good," New Man says: "Mrs. Liberty, I want you to rest up for the next encounter. When it happens, you shoot first, and try and reason with him later. He's gone beyond that now, (REDACTED)."

"Yes, sir," she replies, clearly not happy.

"Green Man... carry on. Now, if you all don't mind, I have about five score and a bakers' dozen regretful letters to counter-sign by remote. Let me know when we have more information. Dismissed."

They all leave, singly or in pairs. Green Man seems to be lost in a fog, and it isn't until he's around a few corners that Second realizes the man didn't blink during the entire debriefing.

"You are wondering what my game is," The Dragon says, stepping out from behind a nearby bulkhead.

"Aren't you supposed to be conferring with the man you just emasculated in front of the President?" Second spits: "I have things to do, if you don't mind-"

"You think he's innocent," The Dragon interrupts: "Yes or no."

"What I think is irrelevant. I have my duty-"

"You have instinct. You have a working relationship with the man that goes back at least a decade. You have been alongside him numerous times, in numerous situations. You know his mind better than anyone else, here. Including me."

Second stops in his tracks, waits a moment, and then spins around to face his interrogator: "I wasn't his lover."

"I did not say that you were-"

"No, but you were," Second says, walking forward: "That puts you at least ten levels higher than me. I've seen his game face, I've seen his happy face, and maybe I've come close to seeing his broken face. You've seen his 'I just came in your !@#$' face, and listened to his pillow talk. You held him while he sobbed over that spaceman he was infatuated with. He wrote you !@#$ing love letters while you were in prison, for !@#$s sake. So if you think he's guilty...?"

"Who says that I do?"

Second stops moving. He blinks. "What?"

"Consider this. Other than the repentant criminal, who is the best suited to help a truly innocent man work to prove his innocence?"

"The lawman hunting him down," Second answers: "So... what? You're going to give him room to work?"

"I am going to do my best to... manage the flow of information," The Dragon says, smiling imperceptibly: "This may require a few unorthodox maneuvers. Can I count on your support?"

"I cannot commit to that, as it would jeopardize our mission," Second replies, clacking his heels together: "Further, I am going to pretend this conversation never happened, out of respect for your person. But do let me know if we need to not discuss this again."

"I think I take your meaning."

"Good. Then it was nice not talking with you. Let's not do this again, soon."

A wink, a turn, and then Second's off down the hall, suddenly feeling a lot better about things.

But doesn't see the look on The Dragon's face as the man seemingly melts back behind the bulkhead. It is not one of joy in conspiracy, or in finding an ally in a noble and important cause. Nor is it hate of an enemy, or the sinister glee in unmasking a traitor.

It is an alien blankness, as though this entire conversation meant less than nothing.

* * *

Meanwhile, in Naples, Italy, it's well into the next day. And from where the staff of La Signora Scura is sitting, Wednesday is going to be a hung-over, bloody mess.

That last bit being quite literal. 

La Signora Scura is an old, brick building -- one not far from Castel Nuovo, close to the Sea.  Its windows look in on dummy rooms, filled with sophisticated holograms and deadly weaponry. Its roof is a complex deathtrap. And no one wants to think about the cellars.

It's billed as an exclusive club, and it is. The only way to get a membership is to bring a victim in and kill him or her before the owner's eyes. And even then, you still have to pass a massive background check -- the kind engineered by cyborg techno-savants from the lost future, and therefore completely foolproof.

(Or so they hope, anyway)

The reason for the homicide and massive security is apparent, once one is finally allowed inside, and given entry to the green-curtained, deep-boothed, and dimly lit main area beyond. The club is intended for the use of supervillains, all of whom sign mystically-enforced blood oaths before joining that, whatever rivalries and enmities they have with other members, they will do nothing to further them inside the club, and up to a kilometer away from its doors.

It's not the only such club in Naples, as other, less-upstanding places have tried to create similar, perhaps less-stringent places, piggybacking off of La Signora's fame (or infamy). Most of them have fallen apart under the weight of their clientele's excesses, while others consider themselves lucky to have survived yet another weekend, in spite of it all.

Whoever would have thought that catering for supervillains, despots, and would-be world conquerors would be such a tough job?

On an average weekend, the club plays host to the assorted high-class scum and villainy of Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Asia, and the United Kingdom, with the occasional visit from an African guest or two. The owners aren't too keen about the Americas, for some reason known only to them, but certain types of criminal are allowed, no matter where they came from.

One being mechanical life forms, which is how METALMAID got her membership approved, a few months back, while SPYGOD wasn't looking. A dead Vietnamese hooker paved her way inside, and since then she's made it a point to be seen on nights when he wasn't around. 

(Thinking back, she often wonders how he never !@#$ing caught on. Is he really that blind, or is this some kind of trick on his part? Is she playing his game, even now? The mind reels...)

She wheels across the floor, dressed in her best black gown and trying not to impede on anyone's fun. Short-termed clones are available for the evening to all members of the club, allowing for a number of degraded and gruesome spectacles. Thankfully, most of the members would rather !@#$ than kill, but the more homicidal get their tastes catered to here, too, which can make a trip to the restroom something of an adventure in and of itself.

"Would you like a drink?" asks a woman clad only in green gloves and heels, carrying a tray of bubbling, noxious concoctions. METALMAID clanks by, ignoring her, and looking for her contact.

Ah, there she is. In the back, sandwiched between two other women, all wearing sunglasses and drinking something bright red and glowing,

"I thought you said we would be speaking alone, flesh-thing," METALMAID hisses, trying to figure out how to maneuver her treads into the booth.

"I did," says the woman, and the other two ladies look up. All three are the same person, only dressed differently.

"My apologies," the Slaughterbot says: "You have to understand my position."

"Oh, I understand," another one of the Zaleas Zathros says, allowing the one who just spoke to sip at her drink: "I understand that, now that your meal ticket's supposedly shot the President and flown the coop, you need a new place to stay and plan your ridiculous robot revolution."

"It is not ridiculous!" METALMAID shouts, pounding the table with her claw so hard that the furniture almost breaks: "We will conquer the world, human germ. You need only wait to see that-"

"How's it going, then?" the one who hasn't spoken yet chirps while the other two kiss passionately: "Last I heard, the rest of your brethren are a little reluctant to join you."

"Very reluctant," one of the others says, breaking the kiss.

"In fact, you could say that you're the only one interested in that party," the first one adds: "How does that make you feel?"

METALMAID scowls, but looks down. 

"But," the first one says: "Let's talk about why you're here. You want to trade information for...?"

"Refurbishment," METALMAID says, putting all her elbows on the table: "I am sick of looking like something from that ridiculous Star Wars movie. I want to have a chassis that can convert back and forth from this to something... more shapely."

"You want to look human?"

"Humanoid," METALMAID insists: "And without sacrificing my firepower. They say you are the foremost expert in robotics. I am willing to trust you to do this, in exchange for all the information on SPYGOD that you requested."

"That sounds like an excellent deal," one of the other Zaleas says while the other two drink: "But..."

"... what if we did you one better?" another asks, finishing her drink.

"What if we could give you what you want?" the first inquires.

"I want SPYGOD dead," METALMAID says: "Then I want to destroy Neo York City. Then I wish to resurrect my master, Doctor Morbo. And then, the world."

"We can give you these things," the first says while the other two kiss behind her back: "My understanding is that the programming locks that Doctor Yesterday put on them is too strong for them to break. But something obviously broke yours. If you will allow us to see what that might be, we could duplicate it, and then give you the key you need to release your fellow slaughterbots from bondage."

METALMAID sits up straight: "You would do this?"

"Yes, we would. You could then go on to destroy that worthless city, enslave the planet, kill or capture humanity. And you can !@#$ Doctor Morbo, for all we care."

"But," one of the others says: "We kill SPYGOD. This is non-negotiable."

"And whatever you do with the rest of Humanity, you leave what we create alone," the other other says: "This is also non-negotiable."

"Then I ask only that I be there when you kill him," METALMAID quickly agrees: "If you are the last thing he sees, I want to be one of the last things he sees before that."

"Then it is agreed," they all say in unison, holding out their hands. METALMAID takes him in her claw, smiling. 

It goes without saying that all four beings have their other fingers crossed, but there is nothing in the club rules about dishonest bargaining.

* * * 

Later in the evening, while still going through reports, New Man gets a holographic phonecall from the Heptagon. When he sees who it is, he almost chokes on his drink.

"Hello, sir," Myron says, clearly standing behind SPYGOD's desk, wearing a new pair of sunglasses: "How's Key West?"


"I'd prefer to be called Myron, thank you very much, sir," Myron says, sitting down behind it: "Anyway, I think we need to talk."

"What are you doing in the office? Why aren't you in your cell?"

"Well, there's a funny story, there," Myron says, cracking his knuckles: "It involves a former supercriminal, a locked cell in the Heptagon basement, and a really sadistic prison guard, who seemed to revel going way above and beyond the usual sadism dished out to the prisoners, here."

"Go on," New Man says, trying to think of whom to call, now.

"Well, he was a real !@#$, this guard. Very inventive, too. But not very smart. I think that's SPYGOD kept him down there, come to think of it. With direct and close supervision, and no chance to !@#$ up and go overboard, he's actually quite useful. But on his own? Not a good scene there, Director." 

"So what happened?"

"The dumb !@#$ got sloppy," Myron says: "Overconfident. I only needed two days to make him think he'd broken me, and then he played his hand a little too far, and... well..."

Myron holds up his left hand. In it are a ring of keys. 

"You can't just get out of the prison like that. You also need--"

Myron holds up his right hand. In it is a finger, clearly bitten off at the first knuckle.

"And if you do it fast enough, the machine doesn't realize it isn't dead," Myron goes on: "Further, I only needed it to get out of the cell block. Everything past that was optical. And someone, not mentioning any sub-sub-Directors' name, didn't think to have my permissions removed when I wound up in my cell, again. Again, overconfidence, sloppiness..."

New Man thinks he can hear a pounding on the door in the background.

"What do you want, Myron?"

"It's not about what I want, Director," the man says, leaning forward: "It's about what you need. I've had some time to rethink my position on things, and, you know what? You were totally right. An innocent man would come back in and explain himself, no matter how crazy a plot he was up against. I mean, he's a god, right? What could those plotters actually do to him?"

More than you'd ever know, New Man thinks, but nods all the same: "So you're asking for your job back?"

"Actually, yes and no. It's become very clear to me that a great deal of the new Agents consider me to be a traitor because I was working hand-in-hand with SPYGOD. I need to work alongside them to show them that I'm not like that. I need to re-earn their trust. And, besides, looking at these latest reports that the sub-sub-Director had on his desk, I see it's going to be a while before we go back after GORGON, isn't it?"

"You're absolutely right, Myron," New Man says: "Quite a while, in fact. We might be chasing SPYGOD for years if the latest intel is right."

"Well then, sir," Myron says: "I have a suggestion. The mission against GORGON can wait until it's time to strike, and the intel's not going anywhere. But in the meantime, it's apparent that the people who are running the cells in the Heptagon aren't doing a very thorough job of it. And, given my experience as someone who's been on both sides of those doors, as well as someone who just escaped from what's supposed to be the most secure lockup, outside of a certain section of a certain camp in Cuba..."

He lets the point hang. New Man takes his meaning. Then he dials up someone else at the Heptagon and brings her in on the call.

"Agent Gadfrey?" He says: "Please stop banging on the Director's door. Your new Prison Director's going to come out in a few minutes, once we've had some time to discuss his ideas, as well as proper protocol."

"Yes, sir," she says, clearly puzzled. Myron tries not to smile too widely.

(SPYGOD is listening to Later Tonight (Pet Shop Boys) and having black heroin to stay the !@#$ awake)

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