But then there was the additional shock of the aborted takeover to consider. Most people, when told that their governments were nearly overthrown, tend to react badly at best. So one could only imagine how they felt when they heard that every government around the world was almost overthrown, and then by whom.
The United States of America? Really?
Though many around the world always suspected that something like this might one day happen, given that country's tendencies towards enforcing global security with aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles, and The Flier, only a few of them ever believed that it really would. Such persons were often called cranks or paranoids, and not always without good reason.
But here were the new saviors of humanity, telling them that this was what had happened. Such was the power of their presence that even the most skeptical and suspicious of people, once they saw these "Imago," couldn't help but remember those days, so long ago, when the world was on fire with brightly-colored superheroes, and they all felt a lot safer for knowing they were there.
Looking at those costumes, and seeing those smiles, they felt that wave of nostalgia, and let themselves be drawn into trust.
And then, not long after the Imago spoke to the people, their own leaders came to speak to them. They confirmed what the newcomers had said: that daring and bloody attacks had taken place in their houses of government, and that, just before these deadly armies could carry out their final orders -- to kill their captives, one and all -- the Imago had come and saved them from death.
Their leaders went on to praise their new friends, and assure their people that things would be alright, now. As the Imago had said, a terrible danger was on its way, and the people of the world needed their help to stave it off. But they would receive that help, and soon.
They told their people to be calm, and be patient. They told them to return to their homes, and not give in to panic, or sow anarchy and chaos. They told them to go be with their friends and loved ones, and be assured that, in the days to come, while things might occasionally seem a little strange or fantastic, that was just the Imago's way of doing things.
They had accepted the help of the Imago, they said, and their people should be prepared to do the same.
Those were great and stirring speeches, to be sure. Many listeners would say that they'd never heard their leaders speak so eloquently, or assuredly. Some listeners were still a little uncertain, of course, but they were mostly ignored by the multitudes, who, feeling reprieved from the destruction of everything they ever knew, were willing to trust in their leaders, and their mysterious new friends.
What they couldn't know was that, except for a few minor variations from country to country, in order to give them local flavor, the speeches their leaders gave were exactly the same.
And they also couldn't know that, except for the most naive or trusting amongst them, their leaders all went home, held their families tight, and wept, knowing that they had been conquered.
And knowing that if they valued the lives of the people they had returned to, they would let no one know the truth.
* * *
That was the reality that most of the world went to bed with, that day. But, in the United States of America, things were quite different.
The people of that country heard the same worldwide speech from the Imago. But then, instead of hearing a speech from their President, they heard another speech from the Imago -- one aimed directly at them.
In that speech, they were told that, in spite of what had happened, and what their leaders had conspired to do, they would not be held accountable. How could they have really known what was going on in the White House basement, or the CIA's headquarters? To punish them would be unnecessarily cruel, and would not serve the cause of justice.
However, justice would need to be done, and America would need to regain its place in a world no longer run by money, or defined by who had the largest weapons.
To that end, special tribunals would be convened by the Imago. The architects of the plot, and those who had been complicit in its carrying out, would be brought before the world and made to confess their crimes before it. Many of those who were found guilty would be set to work undoing their damage, but a harsh example would have to be made of the most guilty ones of all.
Also, America would need to prove its willingness to reenter the world, and learn the value of nonviolence and trust. All private citizens who possessed firearms for purely self defense purposes, as oppose to those rural citizens who used them for hunting, would be required to hand them over to the local authorities within a few days time. The age of the privately held handgun was over.
Further, all so-called Strategic Talents were to turn themselves into the Imago for vetting and possible inclusion within the tribunals. No doubt, many of America's "super heroes" were innocent of any wrong-doing, but given the level of collusion between the country's intelligence community, the current Administration, and The COMPANY -- who no doubt knew what was going on -- these persons would need to step forward and prove their heroism at least one final time by telling the truth about what they knew.
There might be other, smaller issues that would crop up, of course. The Imago asked for patience and trust in these matters. While they appreciated that Americans were, perhaps quite rightfully, highly skeptical of their leaders and institutions, now was not a good time to be overly doubtful and suspicious. Now was a time for trust, reconciliation, and the pride of knowing that, in a few short years, Earth would be a better, finer place for their having weathered a few small inconveniences.
The world was ready to soar, and America would soon be flying right alongside them into the glorious new world to come.
* * *
The screams from down the windowless, cold prison block stopped as abruptly as they had begun.
Myron had been awoken from his fitful sleep, a few minutes ago, to the sound of the cell block opening and closing, and two sets of heavy armor boots stomping down the concrete. Within seconds he was sitting straight up on his bunk, no longer even remotely asleep, and wondering if today was the day.
He was in the exact middle of the block, and the Imago always came from the left, and then went back there. They came anywhere from twice to six times a day, and there were always two of them, and they almost always had a third person with them: one of those naked, sexless, skullfaced things that they used to replace people.
And when they were done with what they'd come to do (which always involved a lot of panicky, painful screaming) and gone back to the left, the thing was wearing one of his fellow prisoners.
And smiling wide at nothing, like an idiot.
He'd been here a week. In that time, this scene had played out about two dozen times. After the first few times, he'd realized what was going on, and why he was here. A few more times after that, he'd looked for some way to escape, but realized that the lack of exterior windows, the high possibility that they were underground, and the electronic sophistication of the rolling, barred doors of the cell made busting out without tools or weapons something of an mugs game. And once he'd understood that, he'd made as much peace with his God as he could, and was ready for the moment when it came.
But that still didn't stop the fear. He knew what these people were using, and if it was anything like the N-Machines SPYGOD warned him about, he knew that it was one of the most painful ways to die, ever. Worse than having your skin scraped off by cheese graters and drowned in lemon juice, he'd said.
(Of course, SPYGOD said lots. That's why Myron was here, now.)
So he'd sat still, back to the wall, and waited for the telltale sound of the boots slowing down as they approached his cell. CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP, closer and closer...
And then they'd passed on by.
The person across from him picked that moment to start crying, again. He was someone from the other Company, so far as Myron could get out of him. He was still playing it close to the chest, even here, even after being told what happened to the person who was in his cell before him.
There were a lot of intelligence people, here, Myron noted. NSA, CIA, DIA. Even a couple of COMPANY Agents who were transferred in after the assassination. Of course, they were all happy to insist that they didn't belong here, and had done nothing.
(Everyone else told them to shut the !@#$ up.)
There was also Colonel Richter, though he was a couple cells down to the right and across the way, which made talking to him kind of difficult. Every so often they'd peer out of the bars as much as they could and hand-signal to one another, COMPANY-style. But Richter hadn't kept up with the classes, and it showed, which turned such attempts at communication into sorry rounds of charades after a while.
For a moment, Myron had felt panic, and wondered if today was his day, instead. But the CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP had gone on, past Richter's cell, and then stopped at its final destination.
"Oh God, no," the condemned had said as they rolled the cell doors open: "Please, not me. I didn't do anything. I wasn't involved in anything more than signals intelligence. Please!"
Then the screaming had started, and the weird thrumming noise, and the bright, pulsing light from down the cell block. And once it was done, and their weird, post-Embracing catechism said, the door had opened back up again, and now they were marching back.
The formerly naked thing was now a man in his mid-forties, dressed in the orange jumpsuit they were all wearing, and smiling like he'd just heard the best joke in the world.
"Here comes a candle to light you to bed," Myron whispered: "Here comes a chopper to chop off your head."
* * *
"Well, it's really simple, Mr. President," the skeedy little fellow says to him, handing over a large stack of papers and putting it on the Resolute Desk: "The fact is that you may not have been entirely privy to what was going on, given the high level of secrecy that it involved. But you had to have known that something was up. These papers are that something."
The President sighs, looks at them, and pointedly refuses to even touch them: "What sort of something?"
"Dates, meetings, little hints. We tried to be thorough. You don't have remember all these things, of course. In fact it'd be better if you didn't. If it sounds like you're reading off of a laundry list then it'll look like a Soviet show trial, and that'll just throw the whole show-"
"I thought I was going to be put on trial."
"You are," the fellow says, leaning back in his chair and looking around the Oval Office. Anything of worth or value had been taken from it, as well as the entire White House. All that was left was secondhand furniture and the President's desk, as well as one of the couches, which they let the President sleep on.
"Then why the !@#$ are you !@#$ing telling me to lie on the !@#$ing stand?" the President asks, wishing for the hundredth time in what seemed twice as many days (but had really only been about ten or so) that he could have a beer: "I never heard of any !@#$ plot. If there had been a plot, the President would have told me. And I'd have told him to stick it and I'd have !@#$ing quit right then and there."
"You know, I think you're not getting it," the fellow sighs: "I'm trying to help you out, here."
"By making me complicit in a crime that I didn't do?"
"By saving your legacy, Mr. President," he explains, leaning forward: "This is the way it goes down. We need a villain. We need someone we can pin this whole thing on. That person, for better or worse, was your predecessor. But he's dead."
"How about the !@#$hole at the CIA?" the President shouts, getting to his feet: "That's what you're saying, isn't it? The whole global takeover thing was his doing! He arranged it, he armed them, and we had no !@#$ing idea. Put him on trial!"
"Sit down, sir," the skeedy fellow says. Something about how he says it (or maybe the fact that there are Imago just outside the door) makes the President's knees buckle, and then he complies
"Now, let me back the train up for you a bit, Mr. President," the man says, leaning back and talking with his hands: "Yes, the Director of the CIA is entirely complicit in what happened. But he was just the action man, making it happen. He didn't engage in this all by his lonesome. There was a far-reaching plot to seize the world's mineral wealth, and it's been in the White House armory for some time, just waiting for someone to use it."
"No, sir, it is not. I am sorry to say that this plan existed. It was authored by one of the previous Administrations' people, as a thought exercise as to what to do if peak oil was about to come, and a viable alternative to fossil fuels had not yet been found. Depending on the global political and economic situation, this could have tipped the balance of power away from America, and possibly towards the Soviets, or whatever might have replaced them."
"So you're saying that my President..." the President says, eyes tearing up: "One of the finest men I've ever known? You're saying that he found this plan, and handed it over to that !@#$hole from Langley, and they put it into motion without telling me?"
"That's what you're going to be saying, Mr. President," the man says, patting the pile of paper: "And the good news is that, once we've dealt with and sentenced the f-hole from Langley, as you put it, your partial guilt in things, and willingness to explain everything, will probably mollify the world enough that we won't have to make a terrible example out of you. And you can go to your fate knowing that history will be relatively kind. You'll sort of be like Ford to his Nixon, only on a larger, more devious scale."
"And what if I refuse?" the President asks: "What if I say !@#$ you, here and now, and say nothing more?"
"Then you really don't understand what else I mean by legacy, Mr. President," the man says, getting up from the chair and leaning over the desk: "You have children, and they have children. Would you like those grandchildren to live long enough to have children of their own?"
The President just stares.
"We've taken your wife from you. Please let this be all we take. Let us show you this much mercy, Mr. President. Let us help you sleep."
"You're monsters," the President says, looking down at the desk he never ever wanted to sit behind.
"We are necessary," the man says, turning to leave: "Help us to help you, and in return we will see that your legacy soars, even if you will not be there to see it."
And the skeedy man leaves the President to his sobbing and regrets, knowing that he will do anything to save his loved ones when the trials begin, next month.