Tuesday, April 3, 2012

3/7/12 - What On Earth Does It Profit a Man?

In a space that is not space, in between moments, the secret rulers of the world are holding an early morning meeting with one another.

They hide from the world in such times: barricaded behind locked doors in secure offices, slipped around dark and unexplored corners, or high up in an area that only certain people are allowed to even know of, much less see with their own eyes.

One by one, they close one pair of eyes and concentrate on the key phrase -- "alL yoU neeD iS lovE" -- allowing their other, true eyes to open inside their minds.

Love is all you need, says Dr. Yesterday, reporting from deep within the Ice Palace.

Love is all you need, echoes the Director of the CIA, facing the wall of his Langley office.

Love is all you need, confirms Director Straffer, observing the Earth from the highest observation deck in the main platform of Deep Ten

Love is all you need, their leader says, holed up someplace he should not really be, right now, and the faces of all three of his lieutenants appear before him: I would appreciate a status report at this time.

The Chamber is ready to go, Leader, Dr. Yesterday announces, perhaps with more pride than is necessary: We have done our best to hide this fact, but it would seem unimportant, now. Mr. USA is still missing, and unaccounted for. We doubt he will be seen again before the Day.

Maintain the illusion, their leader insists: Do you have any idea why he left?

None. But I suspect it may have something to do with the mysterious phone calls he was receiving. He tried to keep them a secret, but was very ham-fisted about it, mostly because whatever they were, they were clearly something he did not want to hear. I suspect subterfuge was never his strong point.

Until we know why, we must assume he could come back at any time. Maintain the illusion.

Yes, sir, Dr. Yesterday says, perhaps a little peeved.

(REDACTED), the leader asks the CIA Director, Are your people in readiness?

They are, leader. America's defensive measures are hacked and ready to be taken down. All other major nations' defense grids have also been hacked, and are set to go down simultaneously. When the Day comes, nothing will be able to oppose us. And we have our people on the ground ready to go.

What do they believe is going to happen? The leader inquires, keenly interested on how this is to be handled.

Various things, the Director says: Every country has a different story. Our Russian operatives think they're going to be bringing back the USSR. The Chinese think they're in a democracy movement. We just told the largest, most easily controlled group in each country exactly what they wanted to hear, and backed it up with guns.

Excellent work. And what of your preparations? The leader asks Director Straffer: Yours is the key to this operation.

My part is in readiness, Director Straffer replies: All non-robotic personnel aboard Deep Ten have been embraced or eliminated. All robots are ready to receive new orders. When the Day comes, we will execute our orders with precision. 

Excellent, the leader says: I am very proud of all of you. Know that I love you all, and that when the Day comes, you will all be able to say that you directly brought about the world that is to come.

Leader, I have one question, the Director of the CIA says: SPYGOD is still out there. I think it's unlikely he knows the whole of our plan, but he may know enough to be dangerous. Is the matter in hand?

The leader bristles a little, unhappy to be directly challenged like this. But the challenge is deflected with an enigmatic smile: I appreciate your concern, but he is all but neutralized at this point. We know where he is, and what he is doing, and he has quickly run out of friends and allies to turn to once these are dealt with. So, yes, the matter is most assuredly in hand. 

Thank you, Leader, the Director says: I ask only because of the enormity and fragile nature of my side of the plan. One wrong word could bring it all crashing down, right now, and he is the master of the one, wrong word. 

He will be brought to ground, soon, Leader says, putting an end to the subject: Good day to you all. Love is all you need.

Love is all you need, they repeat, and contact is broken. The leader's head comes back together again. The masquerade is continued.

All they need is love. And luck.

* * *
"What news do we have about our special guest?" The Dragon asks the Flier's chief medical officer, who seems none to happy to have the man stomping around his crowded and cluttered sick bay.

"I'll give you some !@#$ing news," the grumpy old fellow retorts, putting a fresh lollipop into his mouth as he stomps around the oxygen tank that the 'guest' currently resides in: "The !@#$ing guy's lucky he's a metamorph. He must have seen the !@#$ing bullet coming and shifted his brains around in his skull or he'd be double dead, right now. As it is, he's mostly dead."

"And what does that mean?" Dragon inquires languidly, looking down through the plexiglass at Gosheven's body. He is especially interested in the man's head, which is still knitting itself back together. When they scooped him up off the pavement, a few days ago, there was little left of his skull but a pulpy mess. But now he merely looks like he'd just been hit hard enough to destroy his features, but leave his brainpan intact.

"It means... Jesus !@#$ing Christ, didn't you ever watch movies in China?"

"Perhaps not your movies."

"It means he's got a chance," the doc says, looking down as a rather gooey, large hole starts the process of closing up: "The real question's going to be if there'll be anyone home when the lights come back on. You don't shrug that kind of brain damage off too !@#$ing easily."

"But he will have enough repaired to use the N Machine on him, if necessary?"

"Not in my !@#$ing sickbay, buddy," the old man insists, pointing a threatening finger: "I have a Hippocratic oath to uphold. You take his !@#$ out of here if you want to do that !@#$. I want no part of it. Understand?"

"Your loyalty to the COMPANY seems suspect, Doctor."

"Says the Chinese super-spy," Doc says, waving him off: "Well, I kind of answer to a higher authority on that matter, !@#$-o, and if the new Director doesn't like it, he can come down here and tell me to pack up my stethoscope. SPYGOD was at least considerate enough to do the wetwork down the hall."

"SPYGOD is no longer here."

"Too !@#$ing true. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to try and get him back together before you take him apart."

The Dragon smiles, turns, and walks out the door. On the way out the doc flips him the bird, and then gets back to work on his star patient.

"Nothing like feeling loved, huh?" he whispers over the plexiglass: "Better get well soon, pal."

* * *

It's late morning in Havana, and Gilligan is rising to meet the Sun.

Nude and revealed in the light of day, he looks !@#$ing terrible. He is skinny to the point of emaciation, sweaty, and unwashed. His eyes are red and glazed over, and he's clearly been drooling.

(He's also incredibly aroused, which makes an already-disturbing sight even more so.)

The mask is sitting on the floor, behind him. It's the first time he's been able to let go of it in days. The rest of the time he's been sitting there, looking at it with the burning intensity of a peeping tom who knows that this time will be the last time he ever gets to see that particular neighbor through the fence.

The mask talks to him at times like this. Tells him about all the lovely, brutal things they could do, together. Reminds him of all the wonderful, bloody things they've already done.

Shows him every death, every maiming, every glorious, luscious kill.

He can't not look. He can't not listen. It's his food and drink, these days. His oxygen. His god.

And in those times, when he's locked into communion with the thing that's made him who and what he is, he doesn't remember who he was. He doesn't think of the family he's left behind, the career he's abandoned, or anything about those times.

Sure, the images remain, but their meaning is lost to him, now. Like a stack of photographs found in the house, left behind maybe two owners ago, he flips through them without feeling so much as a twinge of sadness or nostalgia.

But now, away from the mask, the questions come back. Who was the dark haired woman? Whose child lived in their house? Was the dog theirs, or a neighbor's?

What was his !@#$ing name? 

He can't stay like this for long. He knows this. If he stays like this much longer, the questions will start to answer themselves. Then he'll remember a little, and then a lot. And then he'll remember !@#$ing everything, and maybe try to flee the mask, once again.

It would be so easy, wouldn't it? Just run. Grab what few things he still has and run, hoping to get back to where he left off, all those lost years ago. Steal what he has to, buy what he can, rely on the kindness of strangers whenever possible, and run from the hideous, otherworldly thing that's brought him nothing but madness and ruin.

But he knows it's folly. And that's because, deep down, now that he can remember the basic edges of his old life, he also remembers what he'll find when he gets back to that house, where the woman, the child, and the dog once lived.

He'll find the truth, stark and horrible. And when it breaks him, as it always does, the mask will be there, just within arm's reach.


He closes his eyes and weeps. The mask starts to whisper to him, again. He knows he has to go and hold it, now, or else he'll be lost, and -- worst of all -- completely useless tonight, on the mission.

But he can wait just another second. He can cry just another tear. He can let just one more memory come slightly more into focus.

And he can hope to God -- oh please, God, please -- that this mission will be the last mission, ever.

* * *
"I wish I could help you, brother, I really do," the old, bearded guy is saying. It's hard for him to compose thoughts while there's a gun pointed at his head -- one with a barrel larger than his entire face -- but he's doing his best under the circumstances.

"Then help me," Mr. USA says, clicking the gun off safety: "You know what I need. Give it to me."

"It's not that simple," the former mastermind sighs, waving to his stacks of what was once high-tech equipment, but is now little more than vacuum-tubed junk, around the darkened ruins of his secret lair: "The Brain Computer hasn't worked in years. I mean, it still turns on when I throw the switch, but I ask it for information and it can't do anything. I can't even get winning lottery numbers, anymore, not that I gamble, anymore. But I'm lucky if it'll tell me rain or shine-"

"But you could fix it."

"Well... yeah, if I had certain components. You know, the ones I was always trying to steal back in the 50's? The stuff you and your buddies in the Liberty Patrol were always stopping me from stealing?"

Mr. USA coughs, and indicates a small suitcase by his left foot. He must have had it with him all along.

"Oh..." the man says, putting both hands down and carefully picking it up, still under the gun. He opens it, and when he sees what's inside his eyes go wider than dishplates, and he feels like he's a young man, again.

"How did you..." he asks: "I mean, this is... where did you...?"

"How soon can you get this machine working?"

"With this? Give me the rest of the day. And before you say that's not enough time, please remember you have a gun at my head and I am in no position to lie."

Mr. USA nods, and puts the gun down: "Fix it, and then get it to answer my question."

"Okay. But I still don't know why you're bothering me about this. Don't you superhero types have your own ways of locating people?"

"We do, yes," he says, gritting his teeth: "But those avenues are all closed to me, Brainman."

"Just call me Jasper, please," the old man sighs, gesturing around him: "Or Rakim, for that matter. I haven't been Brainman since I had both my hips replaced. The Legion didn't even want me, or my franchise, so of course I had to pay out of pocket. How pathetic is that-"

The gun comes back up to his head, and Jasper stops talking and moving his hands.

"Look... Jasper..." Mr. USA says.

"Rakim, if you could?"

"Rakim. Whatever. We need to get a few things straight. I can't go back to my own people because I don't have people, anymore. The last few decades, I have been blackmailed by the most powerful person on this planet into not doing my duty to my country. He found the one thing that would make me stand down and threatened it. I did all I could to stop him without giving away what was going on, which would have put that thing in jeopardy, but no one would listen. And then he made me stand down while the worst crime of all was committed against my own country, and came to try and kill me, just because he could. And I... ran."

"I'm very sorry," Jasper says: "I truly am. Please tell me how shooting me in the brains is going to fix this problem for you."

"It isn't, but I'm desperate," he says, putting the gun back down: "I can't save my family, anymore. I can't go back and stop myself from giving in. But I can bring that son of a !@#$ to justice, and tell the American people the truth about what's been going on."

"And for that you need me to get the Brain Computer to predict where he is?"

"Where he is, what's his plan, and where is he going to be from here on out," Mr. USA clarifies: "You get me those things, and I'll pretend I never met you, Jasper-"


"Sorry, Rakim. You can have your components and go back to crime for all I care. I won't stop you. Someone else probably will, but I don't have the right, anymore. All I can do is put right what I did wrong."

"Well, alright then," Jasper says, hefting one of the objects his great machine needs to work up to the light and looking at it: "But just for the record? My crime days are done. I embraced Islam while I was in the hospital, and... well, let's just say I drank deep of the ocean."

"You don't mind if I drink under your roof, do you?" Mr. USA says, looking for a seat and getting out a flask.

"I'll be too busy working to notice your sin, brother," the man says, and gets to work.

* * *
There's a knock at the door, early in the evening. Doctor Krwi looks towards the door, knowing who it is by the sounds -- or lack thereof -- coming from the hallway.

"Come on in, Skipper," he says, putting his Bible down: "Please tell me you brought a drink."

"Several," SPYGOD says, coming in with a six pack of something local and cold, along with a bottle of wine.

"Did they clean up the mess downstairs?" the old fellow asks, getting up to get a glass. SPYGOD just drinks from the bottle, same as always.

"Yes, they did. But the kids are back on the game, again, though."

"That is unfortunate," the doctor says, pouring himself some of the vintage, which he sniffs approvingly: "But you are aware that this is a situation that existed long before you set foot in this country, and will exist long after you are gone."

"Yeah, but I was hoping it might scare a few of them off."

"Their parents are forcing them into it, my friend. It is the same all over the world. Especially in Europe. Truly heartbreaking. If I was not already engaged in this calling, I might take up that as well."

"They're still !@#$ing bloodsuckers."

"And I will drink to that," he says, clinking his glass against SPYGOD's bottle: "Are The Professor and my wife away, then?"

"Yeah. The other operative's going to meet them at the spot. It'll be tricky, but it'll get done."

"You trust this person?"

"This person owes me a few times over."

"So did Mary Ann," Dr. Krwi notes, sipping at the wine.

"So she did," SPYGOD says, downing the bottle in one swift gulp, and opening another one: "Guess you just can't get good help these days."

"And what of the monster?"

"You mean Ginger?" SPYGOD asks: "He's stirring. He's ready. And he knows the deal."

"I mean Gilligan."

"He'll be fine," SPYGOD lies: "All we have to do is get him inside La Casa de La Sangre, and give him enough room to do what he needs to, and not do it to us. After that, you and I get the thing we need, and we all go our separate ways."

"And you are not concerned about collateral damage?"

"Anything that happens, happens to the dead."

"What if we can't turn him off once he's started?"

SPYGOD smiles: "That won't be a problem, Doctor. Trust me."

Something about the man's smile distinctly unnerves the old man. He sips his wine and tries not to let it show. 

* * *
At 11 O'clock, Gosheven's head is completely reformed. It looks as if nothing had happened to him.

At 11:15, he starts to breathe on his own, again. His heartbeat becomes steady and strong.

At 11:30, brain activity is detected -- weak at first, then dreaming. The Doctor alerts New Man, who promptly sends The Dragon and Colonel Richter down to the sick bay, hoping they'd be there when he wakes up.

At 11:45, the man opens his eyes, and tries to put his head in his hands in pain. Then he discovers he's handcuffed to the inside of the plexiglass cylinder. He sighs, lengthens his hands to slip them out of the handcuffs, and goes through with his intended action.

"There's no escape from the cylinder, pal," Richter says: "It's sealed. So unless you can shrink down to microscopic size, which our files say you can't, you'd better make with some !@#$ing intel."

"We can flood the cylinder with a fast-acting acid," The Dragon offers: "In case you wish to be difficult."

"Jesus !@#$ you guys are unreal," Gosheven: "Didn't you get the !@#$ing message I sent you? I'm your mole."

"Well, start digging," Colonel Richter says: "What's SPYGOD up to? What are the other people there for? What's the plan?"

"You got my money?"

"!@#$ the money. Be grateful we don't melt your faggot !@#$-"

"The money is here," The Dragon says, indicating a briefcase full of cash, over on a table: "I trust you did not want to go through the pretense of an electronic transfer, or the difficulty of bearer bonds."

"And how the !@#$ do I know it's not full of spanish newspaper past the top row?" Gosheven says: "Let me out and we'll talk."

"Talk and we'll let you out," Richter says: "What's the plan?"

Gosheven sighs: "Okay, fine. Be a tight-!@#$ about it. Jesus."

"The plan?" The Dragon asks.

"The plan was to go to Havana and walk into La Casa de La Sangre. There's something in there SPYGOD needs, and we're supposed to be running interference so he can get it."

"We who?"

"We don't have real names. Some Laura Croft wannabee, and old guy who !@#$ing hates vampires, Japanese guy who does quiet work but no wetwork, this crazy mother!@#$er who's supposed to be a bad!@#$ but never did anything but giggle us to death. Me, too."

"And what were you supposed to do?" Richter asks, not quite sure what the target was.

"Me, the Japanese guy, and the lady were supposed to break into the place's basement and get the thing while SPYGOD and the rest of the people did a massive distraction up on the top floors. He didn't tell us what it was, or why it was important. We weren't going to be told until we got to Havana."

"Did he say what he needed it for?" Richter asks: "Is it a weapon, maybe?"

"He said he needed it to save the world. That's all he said. He wouldn't give any more details."

The Dragon chuckles: "So you can only tell us that he is in Cuba, and will be at the stronghold of the vampires?"

"Vampires?" Richter asks: "Is this !@#$ for real?"

"I can tell you the operation was supposed to start at Midnight," Gosheven says: "Unless he changed that when he figured out I was selling him out?"

Richter looks at his watch. It's 11:53 local time. 

"Oh !@#$," he says, running out of the room: "How soon can we be in Havana?"

"I do not think we should go there," The Dragon says, catching up with him with fluid ease: "Remember that they are a hostile country. Getting the Flier to travel there would be seen as an act of war. Perhaps there is a more quiet and diplomatic way to deal with this-"

"The assassin of the President of the United States of America is in Havana. !@#$ diplomacy. Tell New Man we've got one chance to bag this !@#$er-"

Then they get news of what's happening in Havana. 

Then a decision is made, and a course of action taken.

Then everything changes.

(SPYGOD is listening to Red Letter Day (Pet Shop Boys) and trying to not drink the blood of his enemies)

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