"... and so, I hope you'll join me in welcoming the brave people of Cuba back to the free world," the President says, smiling into the camera they've set up in the Oval Office: "Now that their tyrant is at last gone, having shielded America's enemies for the last time, they will once more know the taste of liberty and opportunity. It will not be an easy path for them, but, like the good neighbors we've wanted to be for some time, now, America will be happy to help.
you for allowing me the opportunity to explain our actions, and I hope
that, while you may not agree with what's happened, you'll at least now
understand why it was done. And to our friends in the Republican party, I
can only say 'Mission Accomplished.'
"Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America."
camera light goes off, and as soon as the man behind the camera gives
him the all-clear, the President's face falls like a rock.
"!@#$ me," he mutters, waving a hand to one of his many assistants: "Someone get me a !@#$ing beer."
think that was excellent, sir," his media adviser says, snapping her
fingers at the battery of assistants to make the beer come just a little
faster: "I know you weren't happy about the mission accomplished thing,
but trust me. Come November, that's going to be total gold."
November I'm going to need psychiatric help," the President sighs,
getting his beer, getting up from the desk, and loosening his tie as he
walks out of the office. He walks right into a logjam of pollsters,
advisers, and -- most importantly -- Colonel Richter, who he's been
looking forward to seeing about as much as he's been looking forward to
his next prostate exam.
"Walk with me, Colonel," he
says, waving off his other advisers, including the fawning media adviser
lady: "And fair warning, if I hear the words 'I'm sorry to say' come
out of your mouth, I'm having you assigned someplace very cold."
"I understand, sir," Richter says: "I have prepared a full report on the Cuba situation for you-"
"Does it involve the key phrase 'I !@#$ed up, big time'?" the President asks, slugging the beer down in one epic chug and tossing the glass into a nearby trashcan.
"Not in so many words, sir, no," Richter says, trying not to scowl: "But there is, indeed, an element of that."
as long as one of you chuckleheads understands," he says, leading the
man to an office and slamming the door behind them. A number of advisers
and high-ranking military and intelligence personnel are already there,
waiting, and stand as soon as he enters.
"Understands what, sir?"
goodness me. Where to begin? How about I really did not need to be
!@#$ing woken up and informed that we'd liberated a country without my
"Sir, as our report points out, we had a
limited amount of time to get hold of SPYGOD," Richter says as the
President walks over to the far side of the room's one, long table and
sits down, whereupon the other people sit down as well. No one offers
the Colonel a seat, but the man doesn't seem inclined to ask if he can
take a load off, either.
"And that's why you jumped the
gun and ordered The Flier into Cuban airspace, over Havana, and blasted
his whereabouts to kingdom come, all done without properly informing your new Director," the President says, pouring himself a large glass of water.
"My orders said 'no stone unturned,' 'no holds barred,' and 'dead or alive,' sir. And they were your orders."
The President nods: "And it wasn't really anyone's fault that, as it turned out, Fidel Castro was there."
"No, sir. We had negative information on that. So the liberation of Cuba in the course of this action was entirely accidental."
"But I understand that The Dragon suggested you not take the course of action that you did?"
"He did, sir. Yes. But I'm beginning to suspect he has... ulterior motives."
"Don't we all?" Asks someone from the CIA the Colonel's never seen before, giving him that special smile: "So
New Man's decision to take you off the case, entirely, put The Dragon in
charge, and punish you by promoting you to White House liaison... I
guess that must have played right into his supposed ulterior motives?
That must really stick in your !@#$ing craw, there, Colonel."
Colonel Richter grits his teeth, looks askance, and then, with a deep sigh, says: "Look, sir -- sirs. There's things I could say, and things I could tell you, and we all know how that's going to go. How about we say I !@#$ed up, but at least we've come out ahead in the deal, and work to keep moving forward?"
about you remember that I'm your boss' boss' boss' boss' boss, and
don't talk to me like that again?" the President says, having some more
water: "And then, maybe, while we're working on that, you can remind
yourself that, thanks to your having !@#$ed up, I have a number of
people in my own party trying to mount a primary challenge, because they
think I'm a power-mad idiot who's let getting revenge for my friend's
death go to my head."
that doesn't even begin to cover what the right wing noise machine is
saying!" The President interrupts, slapping the desk: "Can you imagine
this !@#$? If a Republican had done this, they'd be cheering him!
Calling him the greatest President of our time! Reagan and Bush and Bush
all wrapped up in one big, bursting reefer, all ready to go out back
smoke yourself stupid. But because there's this 'D' by my name on the
ballot, it's treason."
while you're standing there, being all conciliatory and wanting to move
forward, past your stupid, !@#$ing mistake, maybe you can explain to me
how that works. Why is it that, when they do it, it's America first
patriotism, but when someone like me does it, it's outright criminal?"
with all due respect, I'm the only Full Bird Colonel I know that
doesn't vote mainline Republican," Richter says: "That's part of the
reason your predecessor had me in this position in the first place. And,
yes, I know we got off to a bad start, and that was my fault. And I'm sure this is not helping-"
"And you're still forgetting who your boss' boss' boss'-"
sir. You outrank me by a factor of five, if not more. But if this is my
last day in this uniform, I'm going to go out telling you the truth,
and trying to fix my mess. If the President will allow me to do so. Sir."
what branch of the US Armed Forces did you attain the rank of Colonel
in, sir?" one of the Military advisers asks. A high ranking Marine, no
doubt here to discuss how things went at Camp Zebra, in Guantanamo Bay.
"That's classified, sir."
"Of all the-" the Marine starts to say, but the President waves him down.
"The Colonel is
right, gentlemen. It's not a question of how badly he !@#$ed up. If we
want to play that game, we'll be here all !@#$ing week, and go nowhere.
Let's start with what we know, and go forward from there."
"Do we have to go through all the basics again?" Someone from the NSA asks.
"Let's start from the House of Blood and go forward," the President sighs: "Bottom line? As near as we can figure out, we all got played. And we got played hard."
putting it mildly, sir," Richter says: "Case in point. The occasional
strategic asset known as Gosheven escaped COMPANY custody at around 5
AM. One minute he was asleep in a tank in the Flier's medical bay. The
next, he'd just vanished."
"How does something like that happen?" The CIA man asks, obviously unimpressed.
best we can figure is that his molecular control is so excellent that
he was able to turn himself intangible," Richter says.
"That wasn't quite what I was getting at-"
"No, sir. But that's the issue at hand. We haven't been getting it."
"Explain, please," the President says.
Richter takes a deep breath. Where to !@#$ing begin?
"Alright," he says, finding an empty chair and plopping his !@#$ down in it: "Now, you've all seen the reports on SPYGOD's movements since the assassination, at least those we know about. There's about 15 days where he just vanishes. Just like that. He could be anywhere, doing anything, talking to anyone. We have no idea. He's just gone. Not even Wayfinder can locate him.
"So we have the idea of having Wayfinder look after known associates. Sure enough, a whole boatload of them are found going to the Keys, all at the same time. And they get there, and we're pretty !@#$ sure he's there, too. So we go in, and he hands us our kiesters-"
"We know all this, Colonel," the Marine says, snapping the report down on the table: "When do we get to something we don't know?"
"How about now, sir?" Richter says, indicating a page in the report: "Why did so many COMPANY Agents live through that ordeal?"
"He killed a lot of them at the house-" The CIA man says, but falls silent when Richter holds up a hand.
"He didn't kill them, sir. As near as we can tell, Crazyface did. And judging from the state of some of the bodies, it's clear that some of them were forcefully disabled in such a way that they would be alive, but unable to do anything against his team, and then killed by Crazyface. And the person in the house with him was this vampire hunter guy, who is, I can safely say, no !@#$ when it comes to dealing with extraneous personnel."
"So you're saying that, except from this Crazyface person, no one in his team was killing anyone?" The President asks, seeming to get the point.
"That's right, sir. And some of what I got from Gosheven before he vanished backs that up. SPYGOD told his people to not kill our personnel. And when he was being directly targeted, you'll recall that he chose to knock Mrs. Liberty out, use the Diffusion Cannon on our Agents instead of more lethal weaponry, and then did that stunt with the hot sauce and the cannon to knock them all out in one go."
"And how is this significant?" The NSA guy asks, steepling his fingers before his face.
"He just killed the President of the United States of America, sir. Why doesn't he want to kill anyone who's out to capture or kill him for that crime?"
"Sentimentality," the CIA person sniffs: "Our files indicate that he's too soppy for his own good."
"Sir, with respect, bull!@#$," Richter says, snapping another, much larger file down: "Yes, he might get a little maudlin now then. I know I would if I was him. But this is a man who shoots his own people when they go rogue or sell him out. This is the man who kills the Strategic Talents who go over the edge, or start heading for the other side. Some of the !@#$ he's done for this country has been... well, you must have read the report. There's some scary !@#$ in there."
"So, if we can dispense with the profanity," the President says: "What we should take away, here, is that this is a man who's not afraid to kill his own people when the situation warrants. But he's not killing the people who are out to catch him. He's trying to disable us, instead."
"Exactly, sir," Richter continues: "And while I'm not 100% sure of what happened at Detention Camp Zebra, I'm sure
the pattern's going to fit. No casualties? Non-lethal force only?"
"That would be correct, Colonel," the Marine says, looking a little
miffed to have to answer someone else's question: "They slipped in using our own security protocols, overcame the camp's minimal staff in such a
way as to disable without killing, much less maiming, and then held
tight until they were extricated. They even left us a timed message
informing the base's medical wing to come to the camp and look after the
people they'd attacked."
"Are they alright?"
"They're fine, actually. That Japanese
fellow with the ghost army just put them to sleep. Woke right up after
we got them out of the building. Pretty darned spooky, actually."
"And what about the Machinemarines you sent after them?" Richter
asks: "The ones who followed the trackers they picked up in The Z?"
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you knowing about those, Colonel-"
"Gentlemen? No !@#$ing contests, please?" The President says, waving his hands: "We're here to exchange information. Let's be open, okay?"
Navy found them unconscious but generally in one piece in Gibraltar,"
the Marine replies, albeit begrudgingly: "They had their homing beacons
turned on so we'd know where to find them."
"And what did they say happened?" Richter asks.
"Well, when they got to
that space vehicle SPYGOD was piloting, they entered in on a fight.
Apparently, half of his crew of misfits had gone rogue on him. So there
was a three-way fight for a little while, but..."
"But the Japanese guy put them under, and that's all they know."
"That would be correct, Colonel. May I ask how you know that?"
"Because that's what a Cuban superspy named Ombra told us when he came around, about an hour ago," Richter explains, handing two dossiers across the table to the President: "We found him and Whisper sitting at a table in a somewhat disreputable drinking establishment in Warsaw. The patrons said an older man had come in, earlier in the evening, in the company of a Japanese man, and these two. They also said that these two appeared to have been drinking already, because they were moving so strangely, but I think we have Chinmoku's ghosts to thank for that."
"What else did they say?" the CIA man asks, suddenly quite interested.
"Well, the other two had a few drinks with each other, and talked for about a half an hour. Then they shook hands, bowed, whatever, and went their separate ways, leaving these two behind. And when the manager of the establishment went to see about payment, those two proved to be unconscious with their eyes open. We had a worldwide lookout for people matching certain descriptions, so when the emergency calls were made, we heard about it."
"Is she up and awake?" the CIA man asks.
"No, Whisper is not. Which is a shame, because while Ombra can tell us what SPYGOD had him take from Camp Zebra, he has no idea why. For some reason he was less rattled by the sight of his own, impending death than she was."
"Is that what he does?" the Marine asks, looking a little pale.
"That's one of the things he does. He's supposedly the only person to survive mastering that path of martial arts. I think we can see why, now-"
"That's beside the point," the CIA man sputters: "When will she be awake enough to question?"
"Have you considered using the N-Machine to find out what she knows?"
"Woah, that's..." the President stammers: "That's more than a little final, don't you think?"
"Sir, you have to understand something," the CIA man says, sitting up in his chair and tapping the relevant handout: "What was taken from The Z? Who was taken? There are no words for how powerful he is. I'm sure the Marines can verify that. The cell structure was fortified with a failsafe that would have turned him to sludge if anyone else had tried to remove his cryo-coffin, and for good reason."
"And I agree with the gentleman from the Company, actually," Richter says: "Miserable little !@#$ hasn't done our country a lick of good for years, quite frankly. But the truth is that she may not even know what the endgame is, much less the next step. Ombra said she didn't know, and I tend to believe him at this point."
"It'd be better to find out-"
"But while we're both not entirely dead set against turning her brains to tapioca," Richter interrupts: "You have to remember the process isn't 100% accurate. Also, some people have been trained to resist it. She received training with rogue, former Soviet agents, and we don't know what all for. So there's a chance she learned that trick."
"That would be a useful skill to have," the NSA guy offers: "It'd guarantee some offers for her line of work, having a pick-proof brain."
"But every moment we wait-" the CIA guy tries to emphasize, but the President holds up a hand.
"I think, in spite of recent evidence to the contrary, we can trust the Colonel in this matter. Now, you said they picked them up in Warsaw. I'm certain those trackers were going the whole time?"
"They certainly were, sir."
"So what happened between Gibraltar and Warsaw?"
"I'm glad you asked, Mr. President," Richter says, handing over some more reports: "The first stop was in Madrid. He stopped at the world-renowned National Institute for Inter-Dimensional Studies, and stole everything off their mainframe. Again, he didn't kill anyone."
"What is on their mainframe, exactly?" the Marine asks: "What do these people do?"
"Every time we encounter someone who claims to come from a parallel world, or alternate reality, or find something that clearly does come from such a place, the NIIDS winds up involved in one way or another. So every single piece of information about the subject is somewhere in that organization's files."
"And now he has them all," the CIA guy sighs: "What else?"
"Then came scenic Zurich. Now, we have no idea what he was doing there. But I suspect that SPYGOD has numerous things squirreled away all over the world, so it wouldn't be out of the question for him to have at least one account in Switzerland. Maybe a strongbox or two. He could have gotten anything. He could have stopped off for coffee. We don't know, but he was there for an hour and a half."
"Then what?" The President asks.
"Paris," Richter smiles: "Now, this is especially good. Did you know there's an International Museum of Criminal Art in Paris?"
Everyone around the table blinks, and Richter just smiles: "It's one of Direction Noir's side projects. One of their old Directors had what you might call a flair for the dramatic."
"A little swishy, in other words?" the Marine asks.
"Come on, you know you can't talk like that, anymore," the President chides him.
"Yeah, a little swishy," Richter spits back: "That man kicked more Nazi !@#$ than we did, sir. And he did it earlier than we did, too. Whatever DN's turned into, these days, back during World War II it was something else."
"Go on, please," the CIA guy says, clearly less than amused: "Tell them what the museum does?"
"It acts as a trophy room for everyone that Direction Noir has ever nabbed. They have the finest collection of Axis Supersoldier costumes, weapons, and paraphernalia anywhere on the planet. And they have first crack whenever someone France is allied with gets their hands on someone from ABWEHR. In fact, when the COMPANY liberated the South Pole, back in May, America made a substantial donation."
"So what did he take?" the President asks.
"Thor's armor," Richter says, and the entire room gets very, very quiet.
"That's..." the Marine says, going even more pale than before: "That's some... really concerning news, Colonel."
"Yeah, that is," Richter says.
"And they just kept this stuff on display? As art?" the NSA guy shouts.
"Well, all the stuffings and gizmos were supposedly taken out, and some of it was replications. But Thor's stuff couldn't be disassembled, just copied. They had the real one in a vault downstairs. It didn't turn out to be so burglar-proof."
"So he stole a young man who can use interdimensional powers," the CIA guy says: "Then he steals a wealth of information on our dealings with other dimensions, and the armor of a man who claimed he came from another dimension."
"Plus something from Switzerland," the President says, really wanting another !@#$ing beer: "Hopefully it was just chocolate."
"And you want to know why he won't kill his own countrymen?" the CIA says: "It's pathetically obvious. He's about to use these objects to threaten the entire world, probably to take it over. And he wants as many people on his side as he can get. If he hurt or killed our military personnel, he'd have two strikes against him. As it is, he's only got the one."
"You mean killing the President?" the Marine asks.
"No, I mean threatening the world. Most of you armed forces types didn't even like the man, remember?"
The Marine gets red in the face and just about jumps the table, but Richter holds out a hand: "Now let's say that's true. Why is he sparing lives overseas, too?"
"He's found a good rhythm and doesn't want to break it?"
"Possibly," Richter says: "But we need to remember the man's politics. He was extremely conservative, and quite distrustful of what he saw as one world government. So if he's not interested in ruling it, then why would he threaten the world? What could they have to offer him?"
"He was also a natural liar," the NSA man says: "It could have been a front."
The CIA man nods and applauds, and Richter's about to say something when a vibration in his own coat pocket draws his attention. He's about to ignore it, but realizes it's that vibration, and, with some annoyance, sighs: "I apologize, gentlemen. I think I need to take this call. It might be news about Whisper or something.
He gets up and walks away from the table, leaving the men to argue and almost come to blows over loyalty to the late President. As that goes on behind him, he puts the phone up to his face: "Richter."
"Do you know who this is?" the voice asks, quite familiar in its tones and cadence.
"I think so. Is this... Mr. USA?"
"It's (REDACTED), yes."
Richter's face goes almost white in disbelief, and then, before he can say anything, the voice on the other end continues: "Don't say anything. Don't raise your voice. If you tell them you're talking with me, the President will die."
"Are you threatening him?" Richter hisses.
"I'm not threatening him, Colonel. I'm simply telling you that his life is in danger. But not from me."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that he's got people everywhere. He's global at this point. He got help to kill the previous President, and he's got help watching the new one, now. You're in a conference room with him and a few other people? Any one of them could be one of his agents."
"How do you know where I am?"
"It's a long story. Bottom line, I'm on his trail. I've been following him since Cuba. I know where he's going, but I'm not going to stop him until he's just about ready to do his plan."
"Why. The !@#$. Not?" Richter asks.
"Sir, with respect, I fought alongside this man for years. I worked with him for a long time. I've seen him at his best and at his worst. And I know it's impossible to sneak up on him unless he's extremely distracted. And when he's about to let loose with one of crazy, Rube Goldberg plans? That's just about the only time he is."
"So what are you asking?" Richter asks.
"If your people find out where he is, tell them to back up a bit. Just watch. Let me handle him."
"And why the !@#$ should we do that, sir?"
"Because no one's who they say they are, anymore, except for me. If you tell them you talked to me, that'll make his people go into overdrive, and he'll speed up the plan. And the plan most likely means another President dies. Do you really want that?"
Richter turns and looks at the President, who's slumped in his chair as the CIA, NSA, Marines, and god knows who else argue with each other.
"No, I really don't," he says, turning around: "And I owe you for a few times, sir. So I will respectfully agree to this plan. But if he turns this plan on, and you're not there-"
"I'm there, now, sir," Mr. USA says: "And you wouldn't believe where."
The phone line does dead. Richter sighs, and, turning, shrugs as he walks back.
"That was about Whisper" he says, sitting down: "Dumb !@#$ thinks she's Wilma Flintsone. Shall we continue?"
And as they argue, he prays to every god he knows that he just made the right decision.
(SPYGOD is listening to Somebody Else's Business (Pet Shop Boys) and having a Lord Chesterfield Ale)