Wednesday, May 16, 2012

3/12/12 - Disco - Pt. 5 - Randolph Scott - Choose Your Self Like Your Enemy

San Francisco Chronicle
A-1 (below the fold)

SPYGOD Linked Journalist Disappears from Hospital

Randolph Scott of Alternet, and known associate of accused Presidential assassin SPYGOD, vanished from his hospital bed at San Francisco General Hospital sometime between 5 and 5:30 pm, last night, according to hospital authorities.

Mr. Scott had been receiving treatment for a fractured skull, suffered on the 25th of January. He was in a medically-induced coma and should not have been able to move, according to Dr. Lloyd Ledbetter.

"If someone knows where he is, please see that he is returned to medical care," Dr. Ledbetter begged the media at a sparsely-attended press conference, last night: "He is a very sick man."

Dr. Ledbetter could neither confirm nor deny that Agents from The COMPANY had attended to Mr. Scott's injuries in any way, prior to the President's assassination.

Randolph Scott was handpicked by SPYGOD to be his "chronicler of things" after last year's invasion of the super-nazis' Ice Palace in Antarctica. He stayed with SPYGOD while The COMPANY cleaned the installation up, and then left once the United Nations was brought in to oversee the operation.

After that, he began work on an award-winning series of stories in which he took the cloned, genetically-modified teenagers of the Ice Palace around the globe in order to break their programming. The series, "Welcome to the Real World," ran periodically on Alternet, up until his accident. It was briefly interrupted by "Black Angels and Amazons," in which Scott revealed the true extent of ABWEHR involvement in Muammar Gaddafi's Libya, and The COMPANY's involvement in its downfall.

Alternet's Managing Editor, Brian Snailthorpe, chose not to comment on the abduction, or rumors that Scott and he had argued over the news organization's decision to run the ailing superhero Gold Standard's story about SPYGOD having shot and killed President William McKinley.

Also unknown at this time are the whereabouts of the children of the Ice Palace. Following the abduction, they have refused any comment.

* * *

Dear America:

If you're reading this, then it means that I was right. By extension, it also means that SPYGOD was both right and wrong, though not necessarily about what you might believe as of this moment. 

It also means, to be blunt, that we're really !@#$ed. 

And I hate to say this, but as of this moment in time, typing these words out to you, I can't say for sure which way the !@#$ing is coming from. I don't know who's !@#$ing us, either, though I have some nasty suspicions as to whose face is hovering over the !@#$, grinning at their girth and wondering where to put the money shot.

(Sorry about all that. I've been on the run too long and haven't gotten a moment to deal with certain pent-up frustrations in a responsible, adult manner. I'll try to keep that out of it from here on out, but no promises.)

You see, I've got a big story to tell you. Maybe the biggest story I've ever told in my life. It's got heroes and villains, triumph and tragedy, and one !@#$ of a punchline lurking behind the scenes. 

How does it end? That I don't know yet. The beauty of this is that, writing on the run, I'm finding out the truth one step at a time, and sometimes it means I have to go back a few steps in order to go forward one. 

It's really !@#$ing crazy at times -- kind of like playing hopscotch while you're drunk and someone's shooting at your feet. 

But it's the first time I've been free to do this kind of thing, ever. To just write the !@#$ing story the way I'm living the !@#$ing story, which is to say very fast and fresh, without a lot of time to sleep between interviews and shoot-outs, some of which blur right into one another like something from an Evelyn Waugh novel. 

I don't know where this is leading, America, except somewhere. 

But where it started? Let me tell you what I know about that. 

Let me tell you about a dead President, and the man who has, hands-down, the most !@#$ing thankless job in the whole world after something like that happens. 

Let me tell you how he died. 

* * * 

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
3:06 PM

"I'm very glad you gentlemen could come on down here," the chief pathologist says, nervously snapping his rubber gloves as they walk through into the heavily-guarded room where the President is undergoing autopsy. It's just the President, the pathologist, and the two men in suitcoats in here. Everyone else has been sent away in a hurry.

"Of course, sir," one of them says, standing a respectable distance from the dead body -- its skull a horrible, wet red bloom under the bright lights.

"We're happy to answer any questions you might have," the other says: "Or at least suggest better questions."

"Well, okay," the pathologist says, trying to shake off the sense that there's something... off about these two: "They said you were handling the weird stuff. This definitely qualifies."

"It's okay," one says: "Relax."

"Take a deep breath and tell us what you found," sound the other.

"Well, just to be sure... this is the President of the United States lying in front of me, right?"

"Of course," one says: "He came here directly from the Rose Garden, didn't he?"

"The chain of evidence was unbroken, wasn't it?" the other says.

"Well, that's just it," the pathologist says, walking over to a pile of readouts and showing the men: "I did the usual full battery of tests. Bloodwork, fluids, all that stuff. Not that it's needed in a case where the cause of death is this obvious, but under the circumstances, I want to be thorough. You do understand that?"

"Of course," one says.

"No one could fault you for that," the other says: "So what did you find?"

"Okay. From a biochemical perspective, this is the President. His DNA samples match perfectly. His bloodwork matches perfectly. Everything comes back a positive, 100% match."

"Alright, then. What's the issue?" one asks, clasping his hands behind his back. The other performs the exact same motion in the exact same way at the exact same time, as if they'd practiced. 

"Well, if this is the President, then what's this?" the pathologist asks, pulling the sheet down so they can see his lower abdominal region. There's an old and ragged scar, there, over on the lower right side, between waist and hip. 

"It looks like an appendectomy scar," one says. 

"It is an appendectomy scar," the pathologist says: "I haven't gone in to check, yet, but I've seen enough of them. But this isn't right, gentlemen. The President never underwent that procedure. But this scar... it's old. I'd say it was done when he was in his teens, and not very well, either."

"A mystery!" the other exclaims, leaning over to look.

"That is quite peculiar," one intones, pulling a small cellular phone out.

"No phones in here, please," the pathologist scolds.

"Oh, it's not a phone," one says, smiling: "Please continue."

"Okay. Well, we have the scar, but that's just the tip of the iceberg, here. He has other, smaller scars where there should be none, and no scars where there should be. And look at this, on the left thigh. That's a bullet wound, gentlemen. This man was shot, maybe five years ago."

"And the President wasn't ever shot in his life," the other says, strategically putting himself between the pathologist and one, who's moving towards the door with his cellphone in hand.

"And he's pretty unhealthy looking, too," the pathologist says: "Kind of skinny. Poor nutrition, bad exercise habits, but not sedentary, either. I'd say a hard life living rough might produce a body like this."

"So what are you saying, exactly?" the other asks.

"I'm saying... and this is going to sound crazy, gentlemen, so you might want to hold on to your hats. But while this is the President of the United States, I don't think this is the President of the United States."

There's a moment of silence, and both men smile. The pathologist doesn't like the look of those smiles.

"Who have you told?" the other asks as one turns around, doing something with the cell phone that the pathologist can't see.

"No one," he says, now realizing that something is definitely wrong, here, but not sure what he can do about it: "As soon as I realized that something was wrong, I... I sent everyone out, and called you."

"So no one knows yet," the other says.

The pathologist nods, feeling a trifle condemned right now.

"That's good!" the one says, walking back towards the table. The cell phone is stuck to the door, and for some weird reason the pathologist can't quite hear anything outside those swinging doors, anymore.

"It's a good thing you came to us, first," the other says, making a strange gesture with his hands: "You are a good man. You have done good things for your country."

"We will be very happy to have you working for us," one says, repeating the gesture, and smiles.

The light in the room goes weird, and then something happens. The Pathologist doesn't quite realize what he's seeing until it's too late, and then all he can do is scream and try to run. But he doesn't get far, and the screaming isn't heard by the guards outside the room.

The funeral happens a few days later, followed by the service at the church the day after. The Pathologist is seen around the edges of both, and casts a solemn but comforting figure. 

It's just that he smiles strangely, ever so often, and hums a certain, old tune at weird moments.

* * *

Now, I bet you're a little confused, there, America. I said the man died. But here he is, alive? I can hear you asking 'What is this !@#$, Schrödinger's Pathologist?'

Bear with me a while, America. Let me go on. You might not like the answer, but you will get one.

The Chief Pathologist was the first to be visited by these two men. They wouldn't be the last. Most of them were lucky enough to not have a need to scream, but there were exceptions.

Take the Secret Service Agent in charge of the White House's security arrangements, that day. Her name was Helen Linden. She was 47 years old, divorced with adult kids, and a dedicated Agent.

After what happened that day she'd been grilled left, right, and sideways about everything. She'd tried to remember every piece of information she could, even if it seemed minor or inconsequential, and insisted that all Agents there on the day do the same. 

She told them, via email, that it was the best way to honor their commitment to the President they'd lost, and the one they were now in the business of guarding.

Then, one day, maybe a week after the funeral, she called a meeting and told them all that she'd changed her mind. She told her Agents that they could relax a bit. The investigation was over, the manhunt was on, and the new President deserved all their attention.

It would be a good thing if they could go forward, like the President would have wanted, she told them, smiling all the while. 

At first, there was some grumbling, and some of it very vocal. But, one by one, other senior Agents came to agree with her -- often overnight. And they were certain to tell their subordinates and newer hands that, in spite of what they'd said before, it was time to put all that in the past. The investigation was over, the manhunt was on, and the new President deserved all their attention.

And they said -- with the exact same smile as their boss -- that the best way for everyone to make sure they went forward, like the President would have wanted, was to be happy to help out.

Especially in this way.

Not everyone was so happy to help, of course. There was a new Secret Service Agent on duty that day -- one lucky enough to have been some distance from SPYGOD's rampage, and therefore missed being SPYGOD VISIONed into near-catatonia or death. But he did see someone strange walking towards the Oval Office at some point: a man in an unfamiliar uniform that didn't match any of the Strategic Talent descriptions he'd been given.

After the assassination, that Agent tried to bring the issue up with his superiors, but after their sudden change of heart, no one wanted to listen about his theories of a possible accomplice. He was warned, then reprimanded, and then put on enforced early vacation with the understanding that, when he returned, his "unhelpful attitude" needed to stay in Jersey Beach, or wherever.

He just wasn't helping things. 

Two days into his vacation, the Agent was found dead in a horrendous, one-car smashup on Eastbound 301. Alcohol was in the car, and his stomach. A note back at his house indicated stress and anger, though not necessarily suicidal intent. Just another bad decision in a life that took a wrong turn, they said.

Another, smaller tragedy, blooming sick off of the tree of the nation's greater loss. 

His was far from the only such flower; there would be other strange, sad, and lonely deaths in the days ahead. They were all small people -- the folks you don't miss unless you know them -- who saw too much, or heard too much, or experienced the wrong thing at the wrong time, and then made the mistake of saying something to someone else.

And not long after making that mistake, they died. 

They died in their sleep, or on the roads. They died their own hand, or maybe someone else's. They suffered broken car brakes on the freeway at rush hour. They took vodka and sleeping pill overdoses, usually without notes. They were involved in carjackings gone horribly awry in bad, Maryland neighborhoods.

And none of them merited anything in the papers, past the initial story and their subsequent obituary.

But what of the Strategic Talents? What of the supermen and wonder women? Surely they don't count as little people. Surely one of them would stand up and cry "bull!@#$!" at some point?


* * *
Taos, New Mexico
5:45 PM

Wayfinder's home is hard to find unless you know what you're looking for. You have to go well out of town, up into the mountains to the East, and then get nearly lost over a maze of roads that aren't technically roads. And only after being turned around so many times you're sure you've gone in a total circle, you'll come out and see his modest, L-ranch house.

You might say that's just not very neighborly of him, but he'd just say "!@#$ you." His family and friends know how to find the place, and the only other people who'd bother are either superheroes or the government.

When he's not on the government's time, he'll be !@#$ed if he lets just anyone intrude on it.

Which is why the Sheriff's so puzzled about what's just happened, up there. He received a call, early this morning, from one of Wayfinder's few neighbors: something about a black car going up that road, followed by a bunch of really bad noises that spooked his livestock, which isn't so strange, knowing how Wayfinder deals with people who try and disturb him.
But then the same black car came back down the road, and the neighbor went up to the man's house to investigate, which led to a confused and somewhat panicked phone call to the Sheriff's office. So now here he is, wondering what to do next; wondering so hard, in fact, that he doesn't notice another car's pulled onto the property until its engine gets turned off. 

"So what exactly are we looking at, here?" the tall, rail-thin COMPANY liaison asks as he gets out of his car and walks over to the older man.

"Who the heck are you?" the Sheriff asks, spitting out the gum he's been chewing on and not extending a hand.

"Agent Oldman," he says, putting his hand down and getting out a badge with the other: "COMPANY. I handle Wayfinder's activities with us."

"Who called you in?" the Sheriff asks, looking closely at the badge like he's never seen such a thing before.

"We don't get called. We just arrive."

"Must be nice."

"Not really. So, like I asked?"

"Well, I can't rightly say," the Sheriff says, adjusting his hat and turning to look at the hole in the ground where the old man's L-ranch used to be. It's a neat hole: the kind you might find at a construction site as they prepare to put the concrete and bricks in to make the basement. Severed water pipes are soaking the bottom where they neatly end, as if sliced through.

"Is housenapping a crime in New Mexico?" the liaison asks, walking to the edge and looking down.

"That'd be funny if I had a better idea of what happened. Neighbor called when he heard weird noises. We get here and find this."

The liaison pulls out a small box with a number of antennae on it, and, after pressing a few buttons, waves it in the air in front of him. It beeps and bloops and makes weird noises, and then he looks at the readout and sighs.

"Time distortion effects," the man says, putting the box away: "Looks like someone took the house out of our time."

"And what the heck does that mean?" the Sheriff asks.

"It means that the house, and whoever was in it, just moved either forward, backward, or sideways in time. It also means that there's no way to find them unless we can get someone who's got an appropriate skill set. Or maybe a temporal ray or something. Time viewer, maybe."

"I didn't think the old man could do things like that."

"I don't think that was one of his things," the liaison says: "Maybe one of his family members?"

"Maybe," the Sheriff says, and then hands over a small, leather-bound book he's had in the front of his pants this entire time: "Well, if you're his handler, you should see this."

"What is it?" the liaison asks, taking the book.

"I can't say for certain. But I found this in his hidey hole. It might explain things."

"Hidey hole?" the liaison asks, opening the book.

"He always told me that if something bad was going to happen to him, he'd know about it ahead of time. And if he did, he'd leave me word someplace I could find it. That rock by your car's got a hollow spot under it. If he needed to leave me word, that's where he'd put it. And that's what he left in it."

The Agent looks at the book, and flips through it, puzzled. It looks like some kind of logbook, marking dates, times, and whereabouts of something or someone called "Mystery2." It looks fairly straightforward, though there are a lot of gaps and "?"s. That and some curious double entries, all circled in red.

"Well, thank you for this," he says to the Sheriff: "I'll call the Heptagon, have them get someone out here who does time. Maybe fix this, or at least make sure it doesn't get any worse."

"You do that," the man says, popping a stick of gum so he has something to chew. He doesn't offer the other guy any, and that's the liaison's cue to pack up and go.

The liaison stays at a Motel 6 just outside of Taos, that night. He has dinner at the McDonalds next door at 7 (Big Mac Meal, apple pie), a few drinks at a bar up the road at 10:30 (Tony's TV, 3 buds and a shot of jager, went home alone).

That night, somewhere around 1 in the morning, he frantically begins scanning pages of the book to his superior officer in the COMPANY. He does not explain exactly why, but the scans are all headed LOOK AT THE !@#$ING DATES!

Agent Oldman only gets six pages in, ending at around 1:15 AM. It covers about six months, from July of last year to January of this year. It's clear there's more in the book, but no more are sent.

Agent Oldman is never seen again. He does not check out. His effects are gone, his car is missing, and the book retrieved from Wayfinder's house is not found.

The night attendant at the Motel remembers seeing a black car pull into the parking lot, maybe a quarter after 1. He also remembers it leaving at 1:30. He thinks there were two men in it, but can't remember more than that.

The COMPANY still has no idea what happened at Wayfinder's place, only that the house is temporally dislocated, possibly with him and his family inside. Whether they did this, or someone did it to them, is unknown.

* * *

"Unknown." Has a pretty !@#$ing nasty ring to it, doesn't it?
Whereabouts unknown. Whereabouts deniable. You just !@#$ing vanish, like a rabbit in a hat, and all the authorities can do is chew gum and wonder what the !@#$ just happened.

Even if you're a !@#$ing superhero, you just vanish. 

Now, we're told that can't happen, here in America. We have due process of law. We have safeguards against Federal tyranny and watchdog organizations. We have a First Amendment and whistleblower protections and police that are on our side, not the state's.

We have inalienable rights, for !@#$s sake.

But that doesn't explain why there are so many people who've just died or gone missing after the President's assassination, now does it?
See, in other countries, when little people get in the way of something that's too big to be stopped by the likes of them, the big people make them go away in broad daylight. Dissidents are rounded up in mass arrests and shipped off to prison, never to be seen again. Sometimes the authorities don't bother with prison, and just ship them out of town, there to be shot and dumped into a deep, waiting ditch. 

And sometimes they don't even bother with the trip or the ditch, and just shoot them in their own homes, like rabid dogs found in an alley.

Things like that are not supposed to happen here. There would be an outcry. The media would !@#$ itself. There would be marches and demonstrations. Jesse !@#$ing Jackson and every left coast liberal actor worth their movie contract would get up and make PSAs. Riots in the streets. T-shirts for sale.

The inevitable Bob Dylan protest single, played over and over while LA burns yet again.

So what happens instead? People just sort of vanish. Dead in an accident. Missing in action. Gone down the memory hole in such a way that no one really thinks "killed" or "murdered" or "silenced."

And "conspiracy!" No one wants to think about that word. Conspiracies are for things like the Moon landing being a hoax, and the government causing Computer Hell themselves. No one wants to think about the c-word.

 But you want to know a secret? Remember when they tried to kill President Kennedy, all those years ago, and SPYGOD stopped them? Turns out there was a huge plot, and as they were taking that plot apart they found that a lot of the people they wanted to talk to kept dying just before they could get to them, or dying not long after they came around to ask what they knew. 

Finally, they unravel most of the !@#$ing thing, and they find out that all the dead people were on a list. Someone actually figured out who might have been able to connect the !@#$ing dots back to the people who wanted Kennedy dead, and arranged to have them thrown under the bus before they could finger someone who could rat on someone who could make a plea bargain and hand the whole pyramid to the Feds on a silver platter.

None dare call it "conspiracy." But if that isn't what that was, then I can't think of what else you call it. 

And if that isn't what this is...?

So tell me, America: how safe do you feel, right now? How secure? 

How certain are you that you don't know too much, or didn't see something that someone doesn't want you to have seen? Are you sure you didn't talk to someone too long about something a little too touchy for certain people? Did you make the wrong joke with the wrong person at the wrong time?

How long before you learn to smile like a dead man, or just become one?

I don't know how long you have. I don't know a god!@#$ thing, right now, except that I've got the mother of all stories wiggling like a fish on the hook, and I might not live long enough to get that !@#$er scaled, battered, and in the pan. 

But if I'm gonna go, I'm gonna go with the pole* in my hand. And that's a promise, America.

(*Urg, sorry. I do need to get laid.)

* * *

Arlington, Virginia
9 PM

The worst thing about having to pack up his apartment, Jess has found, is trying to get used to doing it with one hand.

If he still had his job, he probably could have been fitted with a decent prosthetic, instead of making do with a bandaged, healing stump. Of course, if he still had his job, he wouldn't be having to move out of the apartment in the first place. And if he hadn't lost his job by being the Secret Service Agent who pretty much blew his primary duty -- protecting the President from harm -- he'd still have some friends to help him out with it.

But as it is, he's got nothing left for him here, in this lousy apartment complex where his neighbors either don't like him or argue too loudly -- sometimes both. His friends have evaporated. His job prospects suck. His parents would only let him move back home if he gave up his cat, and he wouldn't do that, so he's off to crash with his crazy uncle the lobster surgeon in Baltimore.

(And is his cat even remotely grateful? !@#$ no. Little !@#$er is doing his best to get in the way, even now -- demanding attention and affection as his little, one-bedroom world comes down around his furry ears.)

"You are just not being helpful, Rusty," Jess says, skritching the kitty behind the ears. The cat seems to like it for a moment, but then stiffens, growls, and quickly leaves the room, casting a nasty look at the door as he goes.

A door that knocks just a second later.

Something in Jess' gut tells him to get out -- to run for the sorry excuse for a porch and try to monkey-swing his way down to the ground floor. But that would be silly and stupid, wouldn't it? Who would really be trying to mess with him?

He sighs, gets up, and goes to the door. Just as he's almost halfway there the lock does something he's never seen it do before -- unlock from the other side while he's inside.

The door opens up rather swiftly, revealing two smiling men in suitcoats. It's the same guys who saw him in the hospital while he was healing, and wanted to know about certain things.

"Hello, Mr. Friend," one says, walking into the apartment and standing to one side of the door.

"I hope you don't mind us walking in on you like this," the other says, closing the door behind them and putting something that looks like a cell phone on it.

"Um, what do you want?" Jess asks, wishing to !@#$ he still had a gun permit, and suddenly realizing he can't hear the neighbors arguing about the President's speech, anymore: "I don't think you're actually allowed to just barge in-"

"Details, details," one says, waving a hand.

"We just needed to ask about that day, one more time," the other adds, waving another hand.

"Just to be sure."

"Crossing the 't's, dotting the 'i's."

"I'm sure you understand."


"Yeah..." Jess says, wondering if he can somehow turn on his cell phone and call his parents without them noticing: "So what did you need to know?"

"You said there were three people in the Oval Office..." one says.

"... but then there were only two?" the other finishes.

"Yeah, that's right," Jess says: "The guy in the weird uniform just disappeared. I have no idea where he went. It was just the President and SPYGOD and, well, you know how that went."

He waves his stump up and tries to smile. Something about the way the two men smile back is very !@#$ing unnerving.

"Was that before or after you felt something weird coming from the Oval Office?" the one asks.

"Something... just not quite right," the other adds.

"Well," Jess starts to say, but then falls silent. He did feel something distinctly strange coming from the Oval Office, just before SPYGOD showed up and all !@#$ broke loose. But he didn't tell them that, and had told no one that.

And he had distinctly decided to not tell these two that when they came in to his hospital room, back in February, because something had told him not to.

"Well, I didn't really," Jess stammers: "I mean... the guy was weird. The guy in the weird uniform? So maybe I felt a little weird because his uniform was so weird. But, feeling weird weird? No. Not really."

They smile a little stranger, and he knows he's !@#$ed.

"It's okay, Jess," one says, making a strange gesture with his hands.

"We know the truth,' the other adds, making the same strange gesture.

"We don't blame you for not wanting to share it, but we have our ways."

"Our little, strange ways."

The light in the apartment goes strange, for a second, as though all the illumination was being sucked out of where it belonged and moved to the space between the two men. 

"You're a good man, Jess," one says, as the light begins to take on a shape: "You tried so very hard to do your job."

"And you've suffered because of it, and quite unfairly," the other adds, as the shape becomes humanoid, and gains depth and substance: "It's time you were rewarded."

"What... who are you?" Jess screams, stepping back and trying to find something -- anything -- to defend himself with: "What the !@#$ do you want?"

"We want you, Jess," both men say simultaneously. As they do, their faces crackle and hiss like televisions do when they lose signal, and Jess can see that their skin is transparent.

And underneath the skin are skulls with baleful, silver eyes.

Between them appears a nude male, his face also a transparent-skinned, skullfaced mockery. It takes Jess a moment to realize that the man's an exact replica of him, right down to the mangled hand and gall bladder surgery scars.

"The new world will need you, Jess," the newcomer says in a strange, flat voice: "Please join us. Join with me."

Jess doesn't scream. He realizes that he's !@#$ed. And he knows he has two choices: surrender or suicide.

He doesn't like either, but he'll be !@#$ed if he lets some skullfaced mother!@#$er take his identity.

So he turns to run to the porch, figuring he can probably crash through the door and leap for the ground. Maybe he can at least get as far as the next apartment down, like he should have done the moment these !@#$ers came around-

But then there's hands on his shoulders, and he's flying into the wall. The impact breaks his nose and chips a tooth, and he falls down around his ankles, gasping at how !@#$ painful that was.

"Join with me," the naked monster says, towering over Jess and reaching down for his smashed face.

"!@#$ you," Jess mumbles, lashing out with his feet at the thing's naked !@#$s. A solid hit doesn't even deter it, but it at least propels Jess out of its reach and towards the porch. For a moment he thinks he's home free, but then it grabs hold of his leg and, wrenching it out of joint, yanks his head right back into arms' reach.

"You will join us," one says as the monster takes hold of Jess's face with his hands, and puts his thumbs over his eyes.

"All you need is love," the other says as Jess realizes what's about to happen, and finally allows himself to scream.

The screaming is rudely interrupted by a gunshot, and shattered glass. The thumbs are interrupted in mid-push, and the now-headless monster flops back onto the floor, jerking like a dying fish.

One and the other shudder as if they felt the monster's death -- and maybe they did -- but as their faces turn human again, and they head for the door, they're not quite shot to pieces by a volley of high-explosive bullets coming through the porch door. Nasty, gory bits of the two are splattered all over Jess' wall, and for a moment, as he watches their hipless legs flop and flutter on their way to the ground, he wonders how the !@#$ he's going to get his security deposit now.

The porch door is completely shot out, but the person who comes through it is kind enough to open it up properly before stepping through. Jess looks up at the fellow, and thinks he knows him from somewhere. Is it SPYGOD, come to rescue him? Or is he here to kill him, instead?

But no. It's not SPYGOD. The eyepatch the young fellow's wearing sort of makes him  look like the assassin, and the black leather getup doesn't hurt, but it's not him. He's a lot younger, for one thing, and has a lot less hair.

(Bad scarring all over the back of his head, too. Almost borglike, in a way.)

As the fellow strides over and looks down, a few other people come in from the porch. They're also young, and wearing similar black leather get-ups. They're also beautiful and blonde, and armed to the teeth -- speaking German as they prod and kick the twitching remnants of the three things they just executed.

"Um, thanks...?" Jess says, and the bald, eyepatched fellow squats down on his knees to regard him: "Do I know you?"

"Randolph Scott," the man says, extending a hand: "Outlaw journalist. Sorry about the mess."

"Don't mention it," Jess says, gladly accepting a hand up: "What... I mean... er..."

"I would like the favor of an interview with you, Mr. Friend," Scott says: "In return, I can offer some protection, or at least a drop off someplace safe. If you stay here I can't guarantee your safety, though. You know too much, and they won't stop coming after you until you're dead. Or sort of dead."

"Well, if you put it like that?" Friend says: "Can we, um.... my cat?"

Scott smiles: "We got room on board. Grab cash and any ID that doesn't have a magnetic strip on it, anything else personal you want that has no computer gear. Discs and flash drives are okay. Me and the kids need to poke around the mess a bit and then we're !@#$ing out of here."

"Okay..." Jess says, heading for his room to try and extricate Rusty from under the bed: "But where are we going?"

"After the story of a lifetime, Mr. Friend," Scott replies, pressing a button. Suddenly, out by the porch, a COMPANY Platform appears, hovering in space. A gangplank ties it to the concrete platform, outside.

"And what's that story going to be?"

"!@#$ed if I know, just yet," Scott shrugs, grinning as he pulls out a really large gun, cocks it, and shoots what's left of One's head: "Hopefully we'll all live long enough to see it in print."

"Okay, then" Jess says, not entirely certain this is at all wise, but having the feeling that, whatever happens next, his best next move is to get in the invisible hovercraft and vanish with the crazy man, his kids, and his guns. 

God knows, he's done worse.

(SPYGOD is listening to Positive Role Model (Pet Shop Boys) and having a State Pen Porter)

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