Thursday, September 19, 2013

12/23/12 - Mr. USA - A Square of Hell - pt. 1


"So, is that all?"

The President looks around the conference room, down in the White House basement. Seated around the large table is what little remains of the Federal government -- along with a few, equally-notable people -- all gathered here to tell him what needs to be done, and what little they have to do it with. 

"I think so, sir," the head of the FBI says, looking around: "I admit, it's a tall list."

"Tall? This gives Mount Everest a run for the money," the President sighs, plopping his ream of notes down: "I mean, emergency measures alone... all the things that need to be turned back on... basic services... transportation... "

"Not to mention the military," the badly-scarred Secretary of Defense says: "Right now I've got about a hundred men and women on active duty. Everyone else got demobbed, and a lot of them are unaccounted for."

"Not to mention the economy," the newly-appointed Secretary of the Treasury says: "I'd like to be able to pay our men and women in uniform with something that actually carries some weight on the market."

There's some nodding on that. The President's about to answer that when one of the other people at the table coughs into his fist: 

"Not to mention the elephant in the room," the Speaker of the House says.

"Yes, Speaker Wheeler?" the President asks, knowing !@#$ well what he's going to say.

"Well, sir, I'll be frank," the large man says: "We're coming up on less than a month before the Presidential election-"

"Are any of my opponents still alive?" the President asks. A few of his cabinet members laugh, but it's a sour and heavy thing.

"Well, I'm sure a few of them are, sir. But there's a need to keep some kind of political continuity, here. And, on behalf of my party, and those of us in Congress, I'd like to think we're not going to capitalize on this tragedy to grab onto power, and-"

"Now you just wait here," the Secretary of the Treasury says: "We wouldn't dream of usurping power, sir. But you have to understand, we are in a mess, right now. You're talking about organizing an election, but there's whole states without electricity and water out there. How about we get our country back together again before we worry about who's running it?"

"Is that the official answer, then?" Speaker Wheeler asks, not missing a beat.

"That's the official word, yes," the President says: "I think we need to get our country up and running again before we look into an election. But you have my word that-"

"Sir, your word wasn't exactly worth a bucket of cat !@#$ before all this happened. Do you really expect me to go back to my people and tell them that we should just trust you?"

"Yes, you should," one of the other people in the room says before the President can answer: "That is exactly what you should say, because that is exactly what you should do."

"Now see here, sir," the Speaker says, getting up. But the moment Mr. USA stands up, and looms right over him, the other man quivers a little, and then sits back down. 

"Gentlemen, ladies, let's think about this," the hero says, looking from person to person: "America is in a tough spot, right now. We've just become free after months of being held in captivity. Our political continuity has been shattered, our former Presidents and important office-holders executed for crimes they didn't commit. I hear the Supreme Court's hiding in a bunker in Topeka, still refusing to open the door, but other than that, we're all that's left. 

"Us," he emphasizes, putting a hand on the table and squeezing. It cracks under his fingers.

"And is this how we're going to deal with their problems, and honor their pain and sacrifices? Arguing like little kids over whose turn it is to play with the wagon?"

"This is a little more than a toy wagon, sir," the Speaker says: "This is the United States of America, the greatest nation on the Earth-"

"I know that," Mr. USA says, leaning towards the man.

"And we have an obligation to make sure that they have the leadership they desire and deserve at this time. Don't you agree?"

"I do, but, whether you like it or not, Speaker Wheeler, this man is the elected and moral leader of our country," Mr. USA says, putting a hand on the President's shoulder: "He fought for our freedom. He marshaled our forces. He spoke to the people during the struggle to take back the world. And here he is, now, listening to what needs to be done and preparing to see how we can get it done."

"I swear to you, we will resume a normal election schedule as soon as the emergency is over," the President says: "But please let us do what needs to be done before then."

The Speaker looks at the hero, and then the President, and nods, slowly. And he remains silent for the rest of the meeting. 

* * *

By the time the meeting gets out, it's three in the morning. Most of the other people involved in it have long since gone home, citing mental and physical exhaustion from having to think, plan, and shout at one another for hours on end. In the end, there's only the Secretary of the Treasury, the President, and Mr. USA in the room, and when he leaves the President leans back into his chair, seemingly ready to collapse. 

"Wow," he says, staring at the ceiling: "That was... epic."

"That's one way to put it," Mr. USA says, pouring himself some now-cold coffee from the carafe on the center of the table: "I think we made a lot of headway, though."

"Do you think SPYGOD will agree to let his heroes help out?"

"I do," the man says, handing a cup over to the President, who accepts it ever-so-tentatively: "In fact, I already made sure of it before I suggested it. We talked about it yesterday, and he was rather keen to help."

The President smiles: "And you don't think the notion of handing our defenses over to state militias once the cities are under control is too... I don't know, reactionary?"

"I think it made the Speaker perk up a bit," Mr. USA says, sitting back down again: "But we're going to have to watch him."

"Agreed. He was waiting his turn at the bat, and now that he has it..."

"He wants to swing. And you're the target."

The President nods: "It's going to be a challenge. Just the emergency alone, and then all this politicking behind it."

"Well, Lincoln had his critics, too," Mr. USA says, winking and leaning back: "And rightly so, in many cases. But success is the best legacy you can leave, Mr. President. As long as we're back up and running in a year or two, all this anger and distrust will just be rain on the roof."

"You think so?"

"I know so," the hero says, taking a sip of his cold coffee: "You have to think long game, which is what you were doing all along, I think?"

The President smiles: "Glad someone recognized that."

The two men sit in silence for a while -- blessed and complete.

"I want you to be my Vice President," the man says, looking at him: "We'll have to go through proper channels, of course, but you're the right man for the job."

"Why would you say so?" Mr. USA asks.

"Well, you can make a room of angry people calm down like no one I've ever seen. You can unite people in a way that goes beyond politics. And you have clearly been thinking about how to put things back together for some time...?"

"I have, yes," he says: "Is there another reason?"

"I'd like to replace the best man I've ever worked with with the best hero we have," he says: "Is that enough?"

"Is the fact that I make your political enemies quake in their boots somewhere in that reasoning?" the hero asks, smiling just a little.

"Maybe just a little."

Mr. USA laughs, putting his coffee down and extending a hand: "You've got a deal, Mr. President. But there's two conditions."

"Which are?" the President asks, putting his hand out a little.

"We do it proper, like you said. And I am not going to run for President in 2016, or whenever," Mr. USA says: "I'll help out in an emergency, but I'm not making a career of politics. So no talking me into it, and if I decide I want it after all, you remind me of what I just said."

"I think I can honor that," the President says, putting his hand out all the way and shaking the man's hand: "But one further condition, on my part?"


"This is now a beer meeting," the President winks: "Because if we're going to stay up and talk more about how we're going to work together, then I really need a drink."

And the two men laugh, and go to get that drink -- not aware that they are being watched every step of the way.

Watched by something that hates them both.


"So, what should we do, sir?"

The young woman in the blue costume is clearly uncertain. She's used to using her super-breath on looters and armed crooks. She doesn't know what to do in a case like this. 

And maybe that's the saving grace, here, Mr. USA thinks as he casts an eye over the barricade they've thrown up around the survivalist compound, ringing a massive, two-story house with shot-out windows. There are several young boys with guns, in there, and they're all pointing them out the window, waiting for an excuse to show their parents that they've learned what they taught them. 

As if to illustrate this, a gunshot rings out. It flies clear and true and strikes one of the police vehicles, parked back up the wooded road. The police yell and back up, but -- to their credit -- do not return fire.

None of them want to be reprimanded for disobeying the Vice President. 

"I think we go and talk to them," he says to Blue Speaker, putting a hand on her shoulder: "Hopefully we can make them see reason."

"And what if we can't?" her last surviving teammate asks. Orange Fire is clearly just wanting to do the obvious thing, and he can't blame him -- not with two of his friends lying dead between here and the house.

"Then you get your chance," Mr. USA says, getting ready: "But you just remember, son. The trail of weapons and explosives you've been tracking since Helena ends here, in that house. If you burn it down to the ground, your evidence is gone, and with it the information we need to stop this secessionist movement from getting the weapons it needs.

"I don't think your friends would have wanted that to happen. Do you?"

The young man blinks, looks askance, and nods. His eyes aren't glowing as brightly, anymore. 

"Alright then," he says: "Back my play. You'll know when the moment comes if I fail."

And, with that, he stands up, and walks around the barricade, heading for the bodies of the two heroes the secessionists struck down, not more than an hour ago.

"I need to talk to Mr. Harris," he says, his voice booming around the trees and mountains.

"And who the !@#$ are you?" one of the older boys shouts, not wanting to poke his head around the window: "We don't allow no salesmen on the property."

That makes the younger ones laugh.

"Tell him the Vice President of the United States of America wants to talk to him," Mr. USA says: "Tell him that there's a full division of Montana's finest right behind me, as well as the friends of the two superheroes he just had killed. Tell him that, right now, he can decide how this ends."

"What if he doesn't want to talk to you?" the older boy shouts, all sass and bravado: "What if we don't want to recognize your authority?"

"Then tell him that one of the men who fought to retake the country from the Imago is here."

That gets some more laughs: "Those !@#$ers? They left us alone, mister. We told them we didn't want none of what they were selling and they left us be. So the way I see it, you didn't retake !@#$. Not up here, anyway."

"Then tell him..." Mr. USA says, taking his mask off: "Tell him that the man who fought alongside him in Korea is here, and wants to talk to him."

There's a full minute of silence. One by one, the young boys leave the windows. 

The front door opens up, carefully. An old man with a long beard and immaculate hair steps out, walking as though his knees had been taken from him in the night, and his leg bones welded together. He throws his legs forward, step by painful step, towards the edge of the barricade, but never one allows his guest to see his pain.

"Captain Eben Harris," the old man says, giving Mr. USA a curt nod: "I didn't think you remembered me, sir."

"I remember your name," Mr. USA says, nodding back: "Eben is short for Ebeneezer, isn't it?"

"That's right," the old man says, smiling guardedly: "My mother liked Charles Dickens. Said she wanted to keep me humble."

"Well, better that than Bill Sikes."

"I guess so," Mr. Harris says, pointedly not looking at the dead superheroes at their feet: "You look older than the last time I saw you."

"Been an interesting couple of months."

"It surely has." 

There's some silence, then, as the two men take the measure of each other.

"So," Mr. USA says, putting his hands out: "We have a problem, Eben."

"I guess we do. You're on my property, threatening me and mine. I'd rather you were gone."

"I'm sure you would, but we can't do that, now."

"Because of these, here?" the old man says, still not looking down: "That's what you get when you send the foolish before the righteous, sir. There are casualties."

"And you don't feel upset about this?"

"Why should I? Those barricades are there for a reason. The signs make it clear we want no visitors. If you're too stupid to hold back when you're told to halt, then I guess that stupidity has a price."

"But you came to us, first," Mr. USA says, taking a careful step forward: "And we had to respond to it."

"What do you presume to mean by that, sir? We keep to ourselves, up here. And we expect the same courtesy."

"That kind of courtesy has to go two ways, Eben. You've been coming down into our world quite a bit, since the war ended. Riding a circuit, going from place to place, meeting to meeting. 

"And what have I been doing on this circuit, according to your people?" Eben says, turning in place as if addressing a crowd in the round.

"According to us? You've been going amongst the secessionists and talking to them."

"Is talking a crime?"

"Not normally. But you're doing more than just talking, Eben. You're plotting."

"Is there a difference?"

"You're trying to talk people into creating a new country, up here in the north."

"No crime in organizing, sir."

"No, but there's a crime in buying and selling certain kinds of weapons, down in our world."

"We have to defend ourselves, sir."

"And there's also a crime in doing anything that would jeopardize the security of America during this crisis."

Mr. Harris smiles and shakes his head: "You know this crisis isn't going to go away. It's going to last as long as you people in Washington need it to. And then there's going to be another crisis, and another, and before long we're all going to be in detention camps, doing the work of your Chinese paymasters."

"You really think that's true, Eben?" Mr. USA asks, putting his hands up a little higher: "Do you really think we sit around in the White House, planning to round up American citizens and put them in forced labor camps?"

"Maybe not all American citizens. But enough. And we know who it's going to be."

"White Americans with guns."

"Proud patriots, sir," Mr. Harris says, taking a step forward: "I got all God's children in that house with me. I got black, yellow, brown. I got two Jews and a Muslim. I even got a Catholic, for God's sake. And they're all in there, with their guns, ready to fight and die for their freedom."

"Freedom from what?" Mr. USA asks, putting his hands down.

"Tyranny, sir. Pure and simple government tyranny."

"How are we being tyrannical?"

"Oh, you follow us from state to state? You send spies into our meetings? You keep files on our coming and going? And then you send some wet-behind-the-ears kids with fancy costumes up here to... what the !@#$ were they doing, anyway? I was having some nice supper with my wife and suddenly I'm told there's two dead people in our front yard-"

"They were following your men," Mr. USA explains: "They bought a half ton of plastic explosives from a man in Helena. That man was one of our men. And we got your men saying some interesting things on tape, regarding what you want to do with all that explosive."

"Well, I don't know nothing about that," the old man says, shaking his head.

"You know all about it," Mr. USA insists: "You talk a lot at those meetings, Eben. You talk about how you're going to carve out a wide territory for yourself and defend it. You talk about armies and insurgencies, and how you're going to lead a life of freedom-"

"That's right, we are," Mr. Harris says, stepping close enough to shout right into the hero's face: "We are not ever going to pay taxes to Washington again! We are not going to be subject to your laws and your nonsense! We can't vote out your boss, so we're going to have our own! And you're just going to have to learn to like it, because a free people will not meekly surrender to criminals!"

Mr. USA nods, understanding: "I see, Eben. Believe it or not, I do."

"Then you tell me what I'm thinking, Mr. Vice-President," the old man sneers: "Let's hear what you think you know."

"When the Imago came, and took over the country, it must have been your dreams come true," the hero says, taking a step back: "No government, no taxes, no laws. And when they asked for your guns, and you said no, they just let you leave. You kept to yourselves and no one bothered you."

"That's right," Mr. Harris says: "The perfect government, if you ask me."

"Yes, until you figure that they were going to take your children from you, eventually," Mr. USA says, pointing to the house.

The old man shakes his head: "I don't know about that-"

"No, you don't. But I do. And I know that, as much as you hate and fear the government, you're a sensible enough man to know that when an enemy's coming that doesn't recognize your political differences, you clasp hands with your enemy and fight for everyone's lives. 

"And I know that the thing that they were afraid of is on its way to Earth, Eben. it's coming here. It will kill us all, including you. And you will not be able to stop it with your guns and plastic explosives."

"Well, we'll see about that," Mr. Harris snorts, looking up at the sky: "I figure if it can bleed, we can kill it."

"You won't get the chance."

"And how do you figure that?" 

"Because we don't have the time, Eben," Mr. USA says, taking a step back up to the man, and looking down at him: "We don't have the time to deal with it and with you at the same time. We don't have the time to deal with you making us weaker when we need to be strong. We don't have the manpower, the resources, or the willpower.

"And after this, here?" the hero continues, pointing to the dead heroes on the ground: "I hate to say this, but we don't have the patience, either. Not for someone who's more upset that his dinner got interrupted than his people shot and killed two officers of the law."

The old man finally looks down at the bodies, and does so for quite some time. 

"So what are you saying, sir?" he finally asks, looking up.

"I'm saying that you need to decide whether I need to kill you, right here and now," Mr. USA says: "I'll be quick about it. I'm not a cruel man. But I don't have the time to debate politics and freedom with a man who wants to stab us in the back when we're trying to come together, again, as a nation. I can't spare the time or the effort.

"And I figure, with you gone, your followers will fold," the hero adds, smiling grimly.

"You think that?" the old man says, closing his eyes: "Do you really?"

"I know that," Mr. USA says: "I saw you in action, Captain. I saw how you rallied people to your side, in that one battle, whatever mountain we were trying to take. I saw how you turned scared boys into fighting men."

"I remember that, too. What's your point sir?"

"My point is that, I know that if I hadn't taken a few of those Chinese bullets for you? Those men would have become boys all over again, and we'd have lost that mountain right then and there."

The old man looks at the hero, nods once more: "You're not wrong, there. I can't help but see that look in my people's eyes. That awful fragility. It's like there's all this broken glass behind their smiles, and sometimes I'm the only one holding it all together."

"I've seen that before," Mr. USA admits: "In war, in peace. Normal people and heroes. People need to be led, Eben."

"That they do. And I shudder to think what they'll do when they don't have me to rein them in, anymore."

"Then come back to us," Mr. USA says, putting out a hand: "You don't like the government? You're not the only one. Things are going to change, and soon, and you can be part of that change. Help us put together an America you'd want to be part of, again."

The old man looks at his hand, and for a second Mr. USA thinks he's going to take it. But then his face twists in a look of utter, total hate, and he pulls something from inside his coat.

"No!" Mr. USA shouts, holding up a hand and trying to put himself between the old man and the sharpshooters up by the cop cars. But he can't handle all the angles at once, and a few bullets get through -- turning the old man's head and chest into wet, red soup.

The man's body flops down by the bodies of the two heroes. The small, black Bible he'd reached for falls from his hand and into their blood.

Everything goes loud and noisy, just then. And by the time the Vice President can collect his wits enough to tell everyone to stop shooting, the house has detonated (courtesy of a half a ton of plastic explosives) and there's nothing left around him but ashes.

And he realizes just how badly he's been played, here, today.

(SPYGOD is listening to The Fool (The FIXX) and having a Strong Dark Ale)

No comments:

Post a Comment