Inside the Flier, above the lost city, the remaining heads of the Imago gather.
Once they were five, but now they are only three. The Sight is insane and screaming. The Fist was just destroyed along with Deep Ten.
And that leaves The Dragon, The Motion, and their hidden leader, who has called this mental meeting not to ask for their opinions, but to let them know what must now be done.
It is decided, the hidden leader of the Imago says, her wet voice shaking with anger: I give the extermination order.
Is that wise? the Dragon asks, his mutable form expanding within the Flier as it prepares to attack the Dignitary: I realize that the loss of Deep Ten is quite a blow to our plans, but we can still prevail-
We have wasted enough time and effort on these creatures! she shouts back: We do not need them to construct our escape from this sorry world. We will destroy them, one and all, except for the ones in the cubes. And when we are done with that, we will... we will...
She falters, unsure of what to do next.
We can leave this planet rather easily, The Motion says, turning the hammer over in his hands and glad that the leader has finally seen things his way: We could be gone in a week, if you'd like?
How can we do this? the Dragon asks.
We can adapt the Flier for space travel, and take the cubes with us.
Can we? the leader asks: I thought the Flier was only suited for terrestrial operation.
This ship is truly a wonder, the Dragon says, extending himself a little further into it: Between what we made it, and what the nanites will allow, we should have no problems doing what The Motion suggests.
As for the warp sled, The Motion adds: It can be assembled in the asteroid belt, and we can be away from this solar system well before (UNINTELLIGIBLE CONCEPT) arrives.
Then that is what we shall do, the leader says: Motion, awaken all of our brethren. Send them to every corner of this planet. Tell them to kill and kill and kill.
Of course, leader, he says, and gets ready to do so.
Dragon, that robot must not get within visual distance of the city, she commands: As soon as it is within range, I want it destroyed. Annihilate it.
I will do that, he says: May I suggest that more of our brothers be set upon it? Softening it up will make the job more efficient.
I'm doing that as we speak, the Motion says: And if you'll excuse me, I have a First Lady to kill.
He signs off before the leader can tell him that all he needs is love. She doesn't offer it, though. There is no room for love on this day -- only hate, black and certain.
And death on a planetary scale.
* * *
Elsewhere in the Flier, the metamorph known as Gosheven is discovering that when the aliens remade this immense aircraft in their own image, they didn't half-!@#$ the job.
There is nowhere to escape the epic story of the otherworldly beings he's sneaking amongst; every inch of the Flier's new, white-on-light grey interior seems dedicated to either telling their in one form or another, or proclaiming their might and righteousness to themselves. Molded on the walls, carved into statues and bas-relief landscapes, painted on frescoes and ceilings, the lengthy corridors tell of their many victories, and the wide open halls and semi-circular junctions detail the subsequent celebrations in grotesquely-exacting detail.
All the while, as he wanders -- a wispy, invisible presence amongst them -- Gosheven marvels at his new-found foes' mutability. On every world they conquer, they assume the form of the beings they infiltrate, enslave, and eventually annihilate. And when they have destroyed those worlds, at the end of those passages and hallways, the narrative picks up in the next corridor, with a new face, but the same old tactics.
Over and over they kill, one after the other...
It's hard for him to really take the time to fully appreciate the art, though. The halls are alive with the sound of stomping, metal feet, as small groups of human-seeming aliens run from station to station, all gearing up for some big event. He can hear instructions being broadcast, but cannot make out most of the language (Did he hear "Tokyo" and "Dignitary"?) -- only that the orders sound both frantic and important.
A group of aliens stomp past the place where he's chosen to take a breather, and he slinks to their side, extending a quick and gentle hand to the one closest to him. As soon as he touches her skin, he reads her like a book -- watching the warp and weave of her DNA and morphology unfold in his mind. By the time she's ten strides away, he has become her, and -- thusly disguised -- he strides back the way she came, doing his best to fit in.
As near as he can tell, the biggest amount of commotion is coming from ahead, where the last group came from. Because, as he's learned in his many years as an infiltrator and saboteur, if there's a sure way to find a sensitive thing to break, or an important place to break into, it's to go where everyone's coming from.
And boy does he have a burning desire to !@#$ this place up.
* * *
The first sign the world gets that it's been condemned comes in the form of thunder with no lightning.
Nation after nation, continent after continent, the cracking booms echo across the world. In the cities and towns, the fields and the hills, the oceans and the islands, the jungles and the deserts -- there are cracks and crashes, followed by horrendous noises that sound like animals being slaughtered.
Those noises come from things born out of nightmares -- indescribable horrors wrapped in steel that hover above the ground, strike at buildings with their mighty and misshapen limbs, and shoot their deadly eyebeams at the humans they encounter.
And they can fire those eyebeams very, very quickly.
As these monstrous things slowly float across the landscape, killing any who are foolish enough to stand against them -- or just run too slowly -- more cracks and booms come in behind them. These rips in the air bring more Imago, who add their own eyebeams to the ones being fired by their large, otherworldly brethren.
After them come more booms, this time at the ground level. And these reveal marching columns of Specials, all firing their powerful weapons at any stragglers left behind.
The sidewalks and roads become choked deathtraps, snarled with electric, high-tech cars that suddenly do not work. The brave are cut down in revolt, and the cowardly are exterminated as they flee. And the old and infirm, and the young and the scared, are trampled underfoot by those who should be more kind, but are too frightened to think of anything but themselves.
At long last, the true strength of the Imago is revealed. Humanity begins to suffer the full weight and price of that knowledge.
And if there was ever a time for an ace to be pulled out of the hole, this would be it.
And if there was ever a time for an ace to be pulled out of the hole, this would be it.
* * *
It takes the group from B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P. 4 a whole five seconds to reintegrate. In those moments, Myron wonders if he screwed up the connections and beamed them into the Earth's crust, or deep space, or something worse. He fears that Moloch made the trip back with them, somehow.
(And he remembers that one really nasty scene from the first Star Trek movie, which doesn't !@#$ing help him at all.)
But then the horrible, five seconds are over, and he's somewhere else, again. It's someplace he doesn't recognize, but yet knew the location of well enough to send them here. And, thankfully, he got them somewhere large enough to contain a platform's-worth of people.
He looks around, quickly. It looks like the main meeting room of the central building in Neo York City: the place where the mighty computers than run its many functions sit, endlessly churning away at the massive logic problems they gave it to work on, back in the day. There's no furniture here, no weird architectural flourishes -- just a wide, open space with enough room for everyone to teleport into.
And then he gets the shock of his life when something green and red flops down onto the ground right in front of him, its eyes starting from its sockets in great pain.
"You... idiot..." Green Man says, twitching and shaking. His arms reach down to where his midsection should be, and find only an uneven, ragged line of cauterized flesh, just below his navel.
"Oh my God," Mark says, stepping forward as the others either scream, gasp, or take a step back: "I think... you must have hit the button too soon, Myron."
"I hit it when he told me to..." he says, looking around at the others -- all thankfully there, with no sign of Moloch anywhere -- and then down at what's left of the Green Man: "I did-"
"Yes, you did," Mr. USA says, stepping forward and kneeling down to take the Green Man's badly-burned head in his hands: "The field probably wasn't high enough, son. And if it had been, you might have brought some of that monster back with us."
"I didn't..." the Green Man says, looking around and turning quite pale: "I thought... I..."
"You knew this was going to happen," the elderly superhero says, looking him in the eyes: "Maybe not like this, but you knew."
The hero-turned-villain-turned-operative looks at the man with a harsh glare, but it slowly softens. Then he looks down and nods.
"Please, put me by Thomas," he says, gesturing weakly in that direction: "I want to say... goodbye..."
Mr. USA does exactly that, gently laying them side by side. Green Man drapes his arm around his son's head and shoulders, and holds him close, and tears begin to flood his eyes.
"Let's give them some space," Mark says, taking Skyspear's hand and leading her away. Myron stands to watch a moment too long, and Winifred takes his hand in hers and does the same.
Then, except for a few SPYGOD SCOUTS who are tending to Thomas, it's just a dying father and a maimed son in the room, gently overseen by the man who sent one to die to save the other.
And he has no right to say anything more, now, if ever.
* * *
Deep inside the Flier -- in a sacred and secret place where no one can see -- The Dragon unfolds again.
He comes apart like a strange puzzle: pieces sliding out and away, extending this way and that, with long, metal tentacles and tendons gently erupting from the panels and holes those movements reveal. Before long he has extended himself almost the length of the ship, itself.
And still that is not enough for him.
When they made him this offer, what seems a lifetime ago, the Imago -- speaking through GORGON -- promised him not only an exit from his failing body, but the chance to transcend the limitations of such a small existence. They promised him immortality, formlessness, total adaptivity, and the ability to travel amongst the stars as a being that could truly experience its many wonders and mysteries.
And all he had to do was betray the man he loved, after a fashion.
Of course, he said yes. Betrayal was part of their strange relationship, after all. And he also thought that, when fate intervened, and the wheel turned around again, he could betray them, and make his own destiny. Whether that would be at SPYGOD's side or not depended on whether they wanted him to kill the man before the wheel turned, but he was confident things would turn out in accordance with his design.
But then, they knew he thought that way. And so they neglected to tell him that the process that remade his body also destroyed his old one, and made a copy that was equal parts him, and equal part Imago.
In that moment, as the old him died, and the newly-minted copy came into being, he thought he could feel his former self swearing revenge for this slight. But what do they need to fear from the dead? Only the living have any business in this world.
And what a life the Imago will lead, now that they are free...
But that is for another moment, on another day. Now, there must be action, and killing. Now there must be thunder and blood.
Now he must show the leader that he can make this Flier become the instrument of her wrath, and their liberation.
The massive, metal Butterfly begins to shift into a mighty bird of prey -- its wings coming together, and extruding weapons in the overlap. Reflex technology is spooled out into the air, sensing for the delicate moment when the enemy's weapons systems come online. Cannons and missile banks stand ready, along with new, terrifying weapons that the Imago have installed, but not yet used.
But the moment the Dignitary gets within range, they will be.