"That's a !@#$ good question, Mr. President," SPYGOD says, sitting down and having some more of the tea his pupil learned the truth about, last night: "How about I leave that up to you?"
"Me?" the President asks, turning to look at his instructor with some incredulity.
"Yes, you," SPYGOD replies: "You ever wanted to ask me a question about how to do something, now's the !@#$ing time."
"Well, within !@#$ing reason. There's some things I'm not telling anyone, no matter what."
"I bet," the President says: "I'm sure your trade secrets have secrets."
"Lies wrapped in truth," SPYGOD says, looking off into the distance: "Best way to serve 'em up."
"That's what the head of the CIA used to tell me," he says, sighing: "I wonder if he was actually him when he said that. How long was he one of theirs?"
"Near as I can tell?" SPYGOD asks: "I'm guessing sometime after I !@#$ed up the Legion, back in early December. Probably not too long after that."
"Why would you say that?"
"Well, after that whole mess with Agent S, I went over to his office and had a few words with him. And I don't mind telling you that I scared the living !@#$ out of him."
"Oh, the bathroom incident?" the President asks: "Yeah, his executive secretary wrote me a complaint about the smell. I told him to dip into the funds and buy a gas mask."
SPYGOD chuckles: "And they say you have no sense of humor."
"At times. You were saying?"
"Oh, right. Well, at that moment he was very !@#$ing afraid of me. That I got into his private little sanctum and interrupted his afternoon poop, that was bad enough. But the fact that I knew he was involved in that fiasco, and didn't need to prove it to act on it? That was terrifying.
"And the fact that I'd given you all the dirt I'd had saved up for a rainy week? Well, that !@#$ing petrified him, Mr. President. And that's a !@#$ hard thing to fake."
"And the next time you saw him, he wasn't afraid, anymore?"
"Not at all. Now, to my shame, at the time, I thought he was just being brave and putting up a front. And I was so !@#$ing busy with what happened after that, and then HONEYCOMB, and Costa Rica, and then GORGON, that it really slipped my mind."
"Yeah, you were a little preoccupied, there. One disaster after another."
SPYGOD scowls, but takes the criticism in stride: "And over time, towards the end, there, a small piece of my brain was telling me that he hadn't been putting up a front. The !@#$er just wasn't afraid of me, anymore. But even then, I wasn't sure why. Did he have a better angle? Was someone else helping him? Did another plan to de-SPYGOD his Washington D.C. come along? And-"
"And you told yourself you'd look into it, and you never did."
"Because I didn't !@#$ing have the time."
"And you don't delegate responsibility very well."
"No," SPYGOD admits: "I don't. I have Agents all over the world doing a multitude of things, strategic talents at my beck and call, and all kinds of ways to put pressure and heat on people and things. But when it comes to things like that? I want to look into them myself. I need to be the one to look in on them."
The President nods: "Trust issues?"
"Maybe. Or maybe perfectionism."
"I think our definitions of perfect might not agree with one another."
"Possibly. You wanting another impromptu training session where I kick your !@#$ with moves you never even heard of?"
The President smiles: "You really don't to be criticized, either, do you?"
"No, not really," the President says, sighing: "Neither do I. And I have to be honest, here, (REDACTED). I dropped the ball, too."
"Really?" That gets SPYGOD's attention.
"Yes. There were things I noticed as well. Little things, weird coincidences. Things people said or left unsaid in Cabinet meetings, intelligence reports that didn't make much sense, or made too much sense. And, yes, the CIA direction being afraid to have a meeting with me, and then being this smiling, over-agreeable, obsequious nonentity..."
The President looks askance, and then back: "I should have said something. I should have done something."
"So why didn't you?"
"You. All the while, I knew I should come talk to you about this. About the head of the CIA, the weird things, all those concerns. But at the time, I was angry with you, and trying to find a way to fire you. So I didn't want to feel like I was too dependent on you, and I sure didn't want to take you into my confidence just to say 'oh, by the way, have your resume updated.'"
"So you didn't say anything."
"I didn't say anything. And, well..." He gestures to the open sky: "Here we are."
"It's got nice sunsets," SPYGOD offers, sipping his tea.
"And excellent sunrises. And the cuisine is superior."
"And how about that Olympic pool?"
"Best bed I've ever slept in."
"And the entertainment is just !@#$ing non-stop."
They both laugh at that, for a while, and look at the sky.
* * *
"So what is the CIA Director, now?" the President asks, after a time: "Is he really dead?"
"That's what they said. But I suspect he's been recycled by now. Probably sucking !@#$ in their machine, somewhere. Little worm."
"But that isn't really him, is it? Was it ever really him?"
SPYGOD shakes his head: "No, Mr. President. That seems to be the truth of their new conversion process. When a False Face gets hold of you, they make a copy of your brain patterns, memories, and physical structure, and then use the energy of your body to fuel the change. You collapse into a big !@#$ing pile of nothing, and they walk away looking and talking and !@#$ing sounding just like you."
"That's not what they used to do, though?"
"Well, no. Used to be, they got you to carve your !@#$ing face off after they brainwashed your !@#$ six ways to Sunday, and then had you impersonate someone else. But these new false faces are something entirely different."
"And the Imago, themselves?"
"Now that's the ten million Dollar question right there," SPYGOD says, raising his tea mug in the President's direction: "What the !@#$ are they? Where the !@#$ did they come from? What's the endgame, here?"
The President raises both eyebrows: "You mean you don't know?"
"No, I don't," SPYGOD says: "That's what I'm hoping we can find out, you and I."
"And how are we going to do that?"
SPYGOD smiles: "That's the other ten million dollar question, Mr. President. And you're going to have to trust me on that, because I don't want you knowing too much of how we're going to play this one."
The President sighs, nods, and gets himself some tea.
"So is there anything else I need to know?" he asks after a while: "Something else you need to teach me, while I can still handle this tea?"
"A few things, but they can't be really be taught," SPYGOD says: "They have to be learned. And the only way you're going to learn them is to do them, or be them."
"Which means what?"
"Which means, Mr. President, that you can start packing things up, if you'd like."
The President blinks: "Really? We're done?"
"We are. Camp !@#$-You-Up is officially closed for the season."
"Well, how about that," the President says, getting up, cracking his back, and looking around at all the things they were shooting off yesterday: "And I suppose I'm the one who gets to pack everything up?"
"You handle the guns. I'll get everything else. Call it a graduation present."
The President smiles and bends over to start collecting things. Each gun he handles reminds him of a specific lesson, a specific stance, and for a few moments he's lost in thought, remembering those lessons almost perfectly...
That's when he realizes he's just walked into a trap.
"That was pretty dumb," SPYGOD says, and the President can hear the tell-tale sounds of a knife being pulled from a sheath.
He turns to confront SPYGOD, but it's too late. He's already lifted up his eyepatch, and the waves of dizzying, nauseating SPYGOD VISION are buffeting the President's brain like a sudden whirlwind does a pile of leaves.
He staggers backwards, resisting the urge to scream, or flee. He gags back bile, and fights to retain control of his bowels and bladder. He scrambles, looking for any kind of weapon or advantage, but can't concentrate on what's what, anymore.
"What did I !@#$ing tell you about this sort of thing?" SPYGOD asks, his voice seeming to come closer, step by step: "First !@#$ing day we were here, Mr. President. Lesson number !@#$ing one. Never fail to expect danger. Lesson number !@#$ing two. Never turn your back on a potential opponent."
He closes his eyes. He tries to shut out the crazy, vertigo-inducing light show, and the auditory bombardment that threatens to send his mind over the edge of sanity, hurtling to the soul-wrecking cliffs far below.
"Consider this the final lesson, Mr. President," SPYGOD taunts, coming ever closer, no doubt with the knife at the ready: "What do you do when the enemy has you pinned down with something you didn't train for? Can you adapt? Or are you !@#$ed?"
The President scrambles away from the voice, trying to find something to fight back with. A rock. A stick. A !@#$ing pen.
"Cause from where I'm standing..."
His hand brushes against something metal. Hard and cold.
"...you are so !@#$ed."
A handle. A trigger.
"And I'm the one that's gonna hold you down..."
The President holds the gun up, trying to focus enough to shoot it with his eyes closed. But he can do this. He's done it before.
He knows how to do this.
"Oh, a gun? Well, you have to !@#$ing shoot straight, Mr. President. You think you can do that?"
The President takes a deep breath, creating an area of stillness in his mind. He blocks out the nausea, the fear, the million jabbering noises that are trying to crawl into his brain through his ears and eyes and threaten to rip his brains into bloody grey pudding.
"You really think you can find me, if I move?"
The voice shifts direction. He concentrates on it, following it with the barrel of his gun.
"And what if I-" SPYGOD says, and then falls silent. The President almost panics, but then regains control and listens for the telltale sounds of his instructor's breathing, the shuffle of his feet on the uneven sand and rock, the sound of the knife whistling through the air-
The shot goes wild. he knows he missed. But then he hears a hissing intake of air, and the sound of a foot pushing off from a rock to come closer still-
BANG. BANG. BANG.
The first shot misses again. The second does not. Neither does the third.
SPYGOD falls down, silent. The ground thumps beneath him. His knife clatters away from his spasming hand.
The President shakes the vertigo and nausea loose from his head. His eyes clear and his ears go back to normal. He can see, hear, feel again.
He looks over where SPYGOD is lying, with two bullet holes in his forehead. He's gurgling blood and twitching and looking too !@#$ good.
He is trying to talk, though. It sounds like "Well done," but it could be "!@#$ you" or "That hurts" for all the President knows.
The President gets to his knees, and then his feet. He is violently sick, but does not turn away from his fallen foe. He wipes his mouth, regains some measure of his dignity, and keeps the gun trained on SPYGOD as the man's shattered skull heals back up.
"I graduate," the President says, lowering his gun just a little: "We're partners in this, now. No more ambushes. No more tests. You tell me what to do and I'll do it. But I need to be able to !@#$ing trust you, now. Agreed?"
"Agreed," SPYGOD says, his word more blood than air.
"Then here's my present," he says, tossing the gun aside: "You get to !@#$ing pack up everything, and carry it back."
"... lot of stuff..."
"Next year you can buy me a Corvette, or something," the President says, and goes to get himself some water, carefully keeping an eye on his vanquished instructor. He feels elated, shaken, relieved, worried, expectant, washed clean.
And free. Finally, totally free.
(SPYGOD is listening to Clean (Depeche Mode) and having a Chinggis)