With all-seeing eyes they looked out at a hungry and dangerous universe, filled with perils as yet unknown to humanity, and predators so advanced that the knowledge of their very existence might cause that noble race to collapse around itself in true cosmic fear.
They gazed upward, well aware that at any moment, some jaded, would-be conqueror could send his space fleet towards this Solar System, and reap what meager resources its planets could offer.
And there would be nothing Humanity could do but die.
So they joined hands, these returned beings, and built the greatest defensive barrier they could. They ringed the Earth and Moon with a massive array of defensive platforms, studded with dark lasers, pulse beams, particle cannons, and missiles capable of interstellar flight.
They populated this barrier with humanoid robots, and tasked them to tirelessly watch the stars for any hostile movements towards this planet, and to annihilate without question any offensively-postured craft that approached.
They called it Wonderwall, and left it there, both as testament and warning.
Time changed, attitudes shifted, and the Gods were informed -- by a power even higher than they -- that their presence was no longer welcome on the Earth. It took a long time, and many punishing changes, but eventually they got the message and left.
However, they did not take everything with them, as that would have been both punishing and detrimental. So it was that Wonderwall stayed behind, albeit with a terrible warning from the beings that had created it.
An omen that, should its weapons ever be turned inward, towards the planet, disaster would soon follow.
Since that time, Wonderwall has been renamed Deep Ten, and its massive and numerous defensive platforms overseen by an organization known as DAMOCLES. Crewed by a human and robot staff, the mighty armaments of the array have successfully seen off many attempts at invasion, and it is to the credit of DAMOCLES that hardly anyone on Earth has had any idea of how close Humanity came to enslavement or doom.
But they disregarded the warning, from time to time. And while they did so with the best of intentions, their actions meant that certain persons who really should not have known that such power floated above them, just past the Moon's orbit, became aware of the array.
And, in their awareness of that power, coveted it for themselves.
So it is that, today, the full power of Wonderwall is being visited upon the planet it was intended to protect.
Particle cannons meant to pulverize alien warships while still a full Astronomical Unit away are now carefully targeting various installations around the world in a long-predetermined firing plan. Massive columns of blinding white energy touch the Earth with almost surgical precision -- incinerating everything within their radius, and blinding and burning onlookers for miles around.
One strike after another, the world's ability to make war with the heavens is nullified.
Air bases are incinerated, one after the other, and airports are burned to the ground. Space centers are turned into smoking holes, and secret launch facilities obliterated. Nuclear missiles are boiled in their silos, along with long range submarines on patrol.
And any aircraft currently in the air with so much as a whisper of offensive capability is likewise targeted and turned to smoking dust.
(Except, of course, for The Flier.)
Up above it all, the ersatz Director Straffer observes, counting down the number of targets left to deal with. It's in the low hundreds, now, which means that it will soon be time for the third phase to begin, which fills him with more than a little trepidation.
Put bluntly, he's concerned that too many things have been left to chance with this plan. The first part seemed rushed and haphazard, and contingent on too many variables going the right way within a certain amount of time. It would have been so much simpler to just annihilate certain capitols, maybe entire countries...
But he's been told, hasn't he? He needs to mind his own business, this time. He's got his part of the plan, and the others have theirs, and he should just stick to his corner and not seek to interfere.
All he needs is love. And faith.
So he watches the world burn -- something he's enjoying perhaps a little too much, right now -- and has faith that his cohorts have the next few steps well in hand.
After all, it would be a bad thing if things began to go wrong.
* * *
In the Director's office in The Flier, New Man sits in a stupor in his chair, a special dagger run right through his heart, flickering and fading in time with the energy field it gives off.
The weapon is off-centered, badly-weighted, and rather dull, but stabbing him to death wasn't the point of the exercise. The dagger was specially made to counteract his energy-based powers -- essentially locking him into an endless feedback loop. Unaided, he could sit there forever, trapped between moments and unaware of his surroundings.
Of course, it's only a matter of time before the Specials out in the hall come in and find a much more permanent way to dispose of him, but for now they're busy with a myriad number of other tasks. And he's clearly not going anywhere.
So they think, anyway. But there's a few things they don't know about.
For example, they don't know that there's a service duct, right under the Director's desk. It's the one way that SPYGOD could get in and out of his office without anyone knowing, and he used it quite often just to keep people on their toes.
So they wouldn't be thinking to have any guards actually on New Man, but rather outside the office door. And that's why no one notices the duct under the desk slowly opening, and a lone figure creeping up and carefully pulling the dagger out of New Man's chest.
The flickering ends the moment the weapon's out, the only damage being done to his suit. He's about to say "What the !@#$ are you doing?" to The Dragon, but a hand goes over his mouth and a finger goes to a pair of lips.
Second stands before him, wearing a strange uniform and carrying enough handguns to defend the Alamo.
New Man looks at him funny, and then nods, ceasing his attempts to say anything. Second takes the hand away and looks towards the door.
"We were right," he says: "Dragon's the plant."
"Well, I told you," New Man says: "Why couldn't you have just trusted me?"
"Because he told me the same thing about you, and I needed to know who was lying."
"How did you get away from him?"
"I didn't. He just killed me in the Secondary Control room."
"He did what...?"
Second smiles: "I told you I had a plan, right?"
"If SPYGOD finds out-"
"He'll threaten to fire me, and then tell me I did great. Same as always. Now can we worry about The Dragon?"
"I should say so," New Man says, almost on the verge of panic: "He's got access to The Flier's entire control system from there!"
"For the moment. But he's going to find out the hard way that the person who opens the door has to be there to help operate the controls. He's going nowhere."
"Oh," New Man says, clearly puzzled: "I had no idea."
"No, you didn't. I think there's only three people on board who do, and one of them just got shoved out of the engineering section head-first. The other's still in hiding."
"And you didn't tell me because...?"
Second just smiles: "How about we go round up some Agents, kick some GORGON !@#$, and talk about the bits of the owner's manual you didn't read later?"
"Best idea I heard all day," New Man says, taking two of the small pistols and getting up from the chair. As he does, he looks down at the sparkling dagger on the ground, and his eyes light up for a moment.
By the time they leave the room -- and kill both the Specials outside the door with their tiny little guns -- the dagger's become a pool of slag and scorched circuits.
So much for that part of the plan, then.
* * *
The blinding white columns of destruction do not escape the notice of the various armies across the world as they hold onto their hostages, and wait for their friends to come and help.
In some cases, they think this is somehow part of the plan -- their allies fixing it so that military forces cannot suppress their revolution. In others, they think they're being attacked by outside sources, who either waited for this moment to strike, or just picked a terribly convenient time to declare war on their country.
(A few also guess that this is their friends' doing, and either beg for mercy, or cheer them on.)
But as the number of targets goes from a hundred to ten, and then zero, and the mighty weapons of Deep Ten fall silent at last, there descends a strange, pall-like hush over the world. The revolutionaries hold their breath, waiting for the next thing to happen.
And, in his office in Langley, the false face wearing the body of the Director of the CIA -- still waiting on Israel, but no longer willing to delay the plan -- executes the third phase.
Across the world, in the besieged and beleaguered capitol buildings, parliaments, and government complexes, bright and shiny figures appear from nowhere. They step out of teleporter beams, dressed in colorful, cheerful armor, and descend on the revolutionaries with swift and certain movements, working to save their captured leaders.
The armies try and fight back against these strange do-gooders, of course. But when they do, they discover that their new guns do not work. It's as though someone turned them off.
(In fact -- yes, they did.)
Within mere minutes, every location that had been subjected to a coup has been secured. The leaders of the world are free, once more. But when they try and thank their mysterious saviors, they find that they are captives, yet again.
"We have come to save you from yourselves," they are told, and made to wait for a message from their leader.
A message that, they are told, will be the most important thing they will ever hear.
* * *
"... I repeat, if you're hearing this, bug out," Myron says into the Heptagon overheads as he fiddles with what might be the most important thing he's ever made, in the safety of his locked office: "This base has been compromised, and I can't raise the Flier, the Director, the President, or anyone. We have to assume we're alone, and we don't stand a chance against Deep !@#$ing Ten.
"If you see any Specials, avoid them. I am authorizing the use of deadly force against them, but you really should just get the !@$# away from them. I'm also authorizing the total use of the vehicle pool. Don't feel like you have to return them with a full tank or anything.
"You know a back door, take it. You got friends, hide out with them. I'll find a way to send a signal once we know what's going on and can fight back. But for now? Run like !@#$.
"It's been an honor and a priviledge serving with you. Well, most of you. You know who you are.
"Good luck, and, like I said, bug out. Now."
With that, he flips off the communicator, and turns on the evacuation alarm. He hopes a lot of the Agents can get out. He knows they won't be able to if they're being fired upon by those Specials.
Which is why he's staying behind to work on this thing.
There's a knock at his door, all polite: "Warden Volaar?" a mechanical voice asks.
"A little busy here," Myron says, hoping the barricades hold: "Come back when I'm not being hunted down, okay?"
"Well, that's just it, sir," the voice says: "We have orders to place you under arrest for treason."
"Who sent them?"
"The Director of the COMPANY, sir."
"What's the passphrase?" Myron asks, grabbing a screwdriver and putting the last touches on the complicated, beetling thing he's slammed together over the last few minutes.
"Well yeah, you can't just arrest people on someone's say so without them being here to enforce it. We'd all be arresting each other every other day if we could do that. What's the passphrase?"
"We don't have one."
"Then I don't have to comply," Myron says: "Call him back and tell him to give you a passphrase for my arrest, and if it'd in my codebook, I'll surrender."
There's no immediate answer, and Myron uses the quiet to check the power connection. This is probably going to blow every circuit on this side of the building, but...
"We're going to shoot the door down, sir," the voice says: "I'd stand clear if I were you."
"I bet you would," Myron says, turning the machine on. It's going to take a minute to warm up. Hopefully he'll have time.
A second later, the door and barricade blow inward -- smashed into smoking, singed chunks by the gauss guns the specials outside are carrying. Five of them walk through into the room, their weapons trained on him. Outside, he can hear screams and panic, as well as shooting noises and the sounds of men and women dying.
"That is not the passphrase," Myron insists, putting his hands up over his head: "This is a serious breach of protocol, gentlemen. I hope you're ready to be put to work scrubbing pumice in Costa Rica."
The specials aim their guns and prepare to fire. Myron closes his eyes and hopes the machine works.
There's the sound of firing, and then...