After dinner, and before bedding down for the 8 hours he earned, SPYGOD hands him a gift of sorts. It's a large, hinged, wooden box that turns out to be heavier than it looks. Inside are a pair of very large automatic handguns, along with a pair of full clips.
"Is this what I think it is?" the President asks, pulling one out, astounded at how much it weighs.
"If you think it's an IMI Desert Eagle AE, you would be abso-!@#$ing-lutely right, Mr. President," he says: "Israel may not have been our best friends, or even our worst neighbors, but they knew how to make a !@#$ handgun. It fires bullets as big around as your thumb, and kicks like a mule. But it will turn someone's heart to giblets in their chest, and make their skulls a pretty red fountain if you hit them right in the nose, dead on. Nasty, overwhelming things."
"And these are mine?"
"!@#$ straight. It's a warrior's gun, Mr. President. That thing will put a man down with one shot, even if you just hit him in the !@#$ing little toe. And it will win battles for you before you even have to take them out of their holsters and give someone both barrels. It says to the world 'I am something from a comic book, come to life to kick your !@#$. Do not !@#$ with me.'"
"You mean I'm supposed to be firing these one-handed?" the President asks: "I can barely hold onto it with two."
"Eh, that'll come with time," SPYGOD answers: "Or it won't. But the important thing is that, tonight, I want you to sleep with them."
"Oh, this isn't going to be like that thing from that one movie, is it?"
"The one where half of it's a boot camp comedy that ends in tragedy? I think Kubrick did it-"
"Oh, that movie? Do I remind you of that Drill Sergeant at all?"
The President decides not to answer that one on the grounds that it may get his sleep rescinded: "As long as I don't have to call them womens' names."
"You will sleep with them crossed on your chest, Mr. President," SPYGOD says, demonstrating with his own: "Like this, right over left, touching at the wrists, like the Pharaohs in their tombs. I want you to dream about those guns, in your hands. I want you to imagine that they have become part of you, much like a car becomes an extension of your own body when you're driving it. And while you're dreaming it, I want you to ponder the mystery of the gun."
"The mystery of the gun...?"
"Yes, Mr. President. The mystery of the gun, which is a lot like the riddle of Osiris, who lived so he could die and died so he could live."
"What is it?"
SPYGOD snorts: "Now, if I !@#$ing told you the answer, it wouldn't be a mystery, now would it?"
"Eight hours," SPYGOD says, checking his watch: "No more, no less. Sleep well."
And the President leans back, closing his eyes and letting exhaustion take him at last.
Partway into slumber, he has reason to remember that SPYGOD referred to Israel in the past tense, and wonders that he meant, if anything.
* * *
It's Noon in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and that means it's opening time for a small, seemingly run-down bar on the North end of town.
The brick building doesn't have a sign. It doesn't even have a parking lot. There are neon signs promising LIQUOR, SPIRITS, and BEER in the grimy windows. There are no hours of operation on the door, or promises that they take anything other than cash.
An hour after they open, a man quite literally appears from nowhere in a nearby alley. Reality steps aside and lets him through, and, once he's made a gesture or two, it goes back to normal.
Older fellow, this man, with a craggy, lined face, a long, white beard, and a wide, black leather hat to hide what his beard is clearly over-compensating for. He wears a long, grey coat and walks with a cane made of dark wood chased with silver.
His old and raggedy sneakers carry him across the dusty road, and into the bar. The door opens a split second before he touches it, as if he was willing it open, and he goes in, looking around for his party.
The inside is dark and smells of tobacco products and spilled beer. The walls are covered with faded ads for American beers they don't make, anymore, half the ceiling fans don't work, and the ladies room is out of order. The jukebox is full of pop music from the 50's and 60's, and is currently crooning an old number by Bobby Vee.
A small crowd of people are there, in a smokey "back room" that's not very private. They look up and see him there, and someone waves him over. He looks to the bar, and sees that the tender's preparing a raft of margaritas every color of the rainbow. He can almost taste them from here, and that makes him deliriously happy.
"I see the place has lost none of its charm," the man says, coming to the table. Everyone there looks nothing like he's used to them appearing, but he thinks he knows who to blame for that, as well as who everyone actually is.
"About time you got here, Doc," a young man with spiky, blue hair says, putting his cigarette out: "Long trip from the Moon?"
"More or less," the man says, sitting down: "I had a few other errands to run as well. Mostly recruiting. Mostly unsuccessful."
Someone makes a rude noise: "I hate to say I told you so," he follows up, his young face oddly plastic.
"Pipe down, Larry," says an older woman who appears extraordinarily fit: "We knew this was going to be an uphill battle, given what we're up against. I don't know that I can blame anyone for wanting to sit this one out."
"We're the Freedom Force, for Gods' sake," a bald man in a red shirt says: "We're supposed to be heroes. That's supposed to mean something."
"Even heroes have their limits."
"Berlin, before the war," a small woman with severely cut, thick black hair intones: "Everyone says 'why didn't someone do something?' No one said 'oh, they had limits.'"
"No one living, anyway," the plastic-faced man says, holding up his hands: "Speaking of limits, let's not waste time arguing. I can only maintain our cloak for so long."
"Then let's have the bad news," the older woman says, looking at the man who just joined them: "Doc?"
"We're all that's left," he says: "The others are dead, or worse. The legacies or sidekicks who cooperated with the Imago are also dead, or worse. Those who remain are in hiding and will not come out of it, and the one who appeared to be most willing to join us was a spy for them."
"What do you mean?" the small woman says.
"I mean that Corporal Flag's Grandson was taken, reprogrammed, and turned into a human surveillance device and living bomb," the man replies, very sadly: "He's currently attending the great Freedom Force reunion in Philadelphia, by the Liberty Bell, or so he thinks. We'll probably get word of a massive explosion somewhere in the Kamchatka Peninsula, today. It was the most remote place I could think of at the time."
The older woman looks down, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. When she looks up again her eyes are wet, and she's not the only one holding back tears.
"What about the Super Soldiers?" a middle aged man in a leather jacket asks: "Blaster Boy, Thunderfoot, Dragonheart? Are any of them...?"
"I said dead or worse, a moment ago?" he replies: "I could tell you what 'worse' means, but you wouldn't thank me."
"So it's us, then," the older lady says: "Myself, Doctor Power, Red Alchemist, The Visionary, Freedom Belle, American Shield, and Captain Chaos-"
"Mr. Chaos, actually," the blue-haired man says: "I don't feel right pretending to a military rank I haven't earned. My father was the war hero, not me."
"Well, we're all war heroes now," the smaller woman says: "Mrs. Liberty's right. We're it. Let's stop moping about."
"Well, not exactly it, per se," the old man says: "Like I said, I was on the Moon. And I do have a piece of good news."
"Did Alpha Base 7 survive?" the Visionary asks.
"Not all of it. They did lose about half of their above ground base to a strike from Deep Ten, and with it about 75% of their people. But they didn't follow up the attack, and the lower levels are still intact. They're holding up alright and wanting to know what they can do to help, down here."
"Do they have any offensive capability?" American Shield asks.
"Some. But anything they could shoot would be hit well before it got to Deep Ten. We might be able to use it as a staging ground, but-"
"But it's useless to us," Freedom Belle says: "I am glad that someone survived, but I fail to see how that helps us."
"Because they have a survivor of their own," Doctor Power says, smiling: "It took him a while to get there, but he's got information and abilities that could be very useful when the right moment comes."
"And who is this person?" Mrs. Liberty asks.
And none of them believe the answer.
* * *
"Creation," SPYGOD tells the President, holding his gun out and pointing it at the target down the way. A small rock glints in the morning sun.
He pulls the trigger -- BANG -- and the rock he was aiming at turns to powder.
"Destruction," SPYGOD says, indicating what's left of the target.
"Destroying the bullet is creation?" the President asks, still not quite feeling that the heavy, deadly thing in his hands has a riddle associated with it, other than whether it should have been banned for sale in America.
"Of course," SPYGOD says: "Creation is destruction, destruction is creation. Energy can't be !@#$ing destroyed, right? It just changes its shape."
"I'm not sure-"
SPYGOD fires his gun between the President's feet: BANG. The man leaps back a full three feet just as the bullet slams into the ground, and then wonders how he learned to react that fast.
"Argue later, learn now," SPYGOD says: "There will be a test, this afternoon. You know how those go."
"I want you to aim, and think 'creation.' And then pull the trigger, and think 'destruction.' Say it if it helps."
"Is this the mystery of the gun?"
"Have you !@#$ing figured it out, yet?" SPYGOD asks.
"Well, I dreamed of Egypt. And then I dreamed I was a Pharaoh, only I was strapped with guns. And then it turned into basketball, only we were shooting at the players, who seemed very happy to die for us. And then, well, my wife was there-"
"You miss her."
The President nods, looking at the morning sun: "I keep thinking there's got to be some way to tell her I'm okay. Just so she knows."
"If she knows, they will know," SPYGOD says, putting a surprisingly-nonthreatening hand on the President's shoulder: "I know it's tough for you, and murder for her. But the best thing you can do right now is be dead. That's our number one advantage, Mr. President. That they don't even see you coming."
The President nods, and holding his gun two-handed, like SPYGOD spent the early part of the morning teaching him, starts alternating between creation and destruction.
BANG. BANG. BANG.