"So, what do we think?" the President asks his cabinet, waving at the large stack of papers in front of him. Everyone else around the table as a copy of it, and most of them seem to be regarding it with the same look the average person does when offered liver for dinner.
"I don't know what to think," the Secretary of the Treasury says, and is about to say more when the Secretary of Defense bangs his fist down and scatters his pages around the table.
"I say we tell those Frogs to shove this !@#$ back up their little green !@#$holes," he announces: "I didn't give my sweat, blood, and flesh to the enemy just to sign up with some !@#$ world government."
"Joining would have its advantages," the Secretary of State says, mellifluous as ever: "We'd be part of a larger organization. We could shoulder the load for rebuilding-"
"We'd be lackeys," the badly-scarred man insists, rising from his chair: "We would no longer be able to say 'no' to another nation. We'd be forced to at least consider it."
"And considering how well that worked at the UN," the Secretary of Commerce points out: "We'd be screwed."
"I don't know what to think," Mr. USA says, shaking his head: "On one hand, yes, we'd have help. But whenever someone offers you help with one hand, you have to be careful of what's in the other."
"I bet you know all about that," the Attorney General snorts, shaking her head.
"What do you mean, madam?" the hero asks, not so much as turning to look at her.
"I think you're smart enough to know what I mean. You just don't want to admit how badly you screwed that up-"
"Hey now," the President says, holding up a hand: "We don't need to bring that up-"
"The !@#$ we don't," the Attorney General says, turning to glare at the two men: "Don't you think it's a little strange how, less than a day after the man in charge of the secessionist movement commits suicide by superhero, this... Terre Unifee comes out of nowhere and offers to save the world from its problems? Did we even know there was a Terre Unifee?"
"No we did not," a voice says, and all heads turn to look at the corner of the room. SPYGOD is standing there, smoking a cigar that no one saw him light.
"Well, this is a surprise," the President says, gesturing to one of the more dumbstruck guards to get him a chair: "I didn't think you were interested in these meetings."
"I'm not, no," he says, sidling up to the table and throwing his legs across the chair the guard brings him: "But we have a !@#$ing issue, here. And I wanted to talk about it."
"Okay, who the !@#$ are you, and what did you do with the real SPYGOD," the Secretary of the Treasury asks, which brings a few much-needed laughs. SPYGOD doesn't so much as smile in return, and instead taps the nearest pad of paper.
"I think I made my views on this clear to the good people of America-"
"Which I'd rather you hadn't," the President says, looking at him: "At times like this, we need to present a unified front."
SPYGOD looks over at him, and notes how the man doesn't so much as flinch. So he nods: "Point taken, sir. I will refrain from doing so in the future."
"But that does bring up a good point," the President says, still looking at him: "One of the issues we're facing, right now, is how we're going to keep all the promises we made to all the nations who went in with us during the war for independence."
"Can we really call it that?" the Secretary of Education pipes up: "There's already a War for Independence."
"I sure as !@#$ don't want to call it World War III," the Secretary of Defense snorts.
"How about the Reclamation War?" Mr. USA says, looking around the table: "Because that's what we did, ladies and gentlemen. We reclaimed our planet. And it's something to be proud of."
"Agreed," the President says: "And, now that this... Reclamation War is won, we have to pay off our war debts."
"And you think that signing on with this Terre Unifee would abrogate our debts?" the Secretary of Commerce surmises.
"Or at least put them off for a considerable amount of time," the Secretary of State adds: "And considering the shape we're in, right now? That can only be a good thing."
"Provided our new masters don't make us pay up, anyway," the Attorney General says: "And let's not forget that we don't know jack about these people, anyway-"
"They're what's left of Direction Noir," SPYGOD says, tapping his cigar onto the nearest pad of paper: "The organization that oversaw France's strategic talents, after the War. It turns out they were !@#$ing stockpiling their supers in case of an international emergency."
"Like being taken over by aliens?" the Secretary of Defense asks.
"Yeah, funny !@#$ story, that," SPYGOD continues: "But a story for another day, I think. Bottom line is that the guy who's running the Terre Unifee is Henri Valentin Geraud, brother of Charles Geraud Geraud, who was running Direction Noir right up until the Imago used him for target practice on 3/15. And they're both descended from someone who we really !@#$ed off back during the War. So I have to wonder if we're going to be played straight if we sign on."
"And do you think it's possible they're behind our problems with secessionists?" the Attorney General asks: "The ones your friend, here, just happened to inflame a few days ago?"
"That is totally uncalled for," the President says, putting a hand down on the table: "Lisa, I know your concerns, but-"
"It's not impossible," SPYGOD interrupts: "But while I agree with the Attorney General that the timing on this is !@#$ suspicious, I think our problems are genuinely homegrown. And if someone is !@#$ing pulling the !@#$ strings, I don't think it's the French."
"Any reason why not?" the Secretary of Defense asks.
"Because it's too !@#$ neat and tidy," SPYGOD answers: "Direction Noir was always a !@#$ing joke. The fact that they've waited until the right moment to play this big !@#$ card of theirs is just the broken clock getting the right time of day by accident."
The Attorney General looks between him, the President, and Mr. USA, and then nods: "Very well. I retract my statements and apologize. I am clearly letting my frustrations get the better of me."
"So should we consider this proposal, or tell them to eat snails?" the President asks, smiling a little: "I'd like to hear my trusted advisers weigh in, yay or nay."
"That's not me," SPYGOD says, winking and heading for the door: "A moment of your time when you're done, Mr. Vice President?"
Once he's gone, they take a vote. And while it's not exactly what the President wanted to hear, it at least pushes the question back another day.
* * *
"So what did you want to talk about?" Mr. USA asks later, in his office. He still hasn't really moved into it, yet: boxes and bags are still lined up between the door and his desk. They haven't even bothered to post guards outside it, yet.
"The other day," SPYGOD says, looking at the door they just closed: "At that compound up in Montana."
"I've been over it a million times in my head," Mr. USA says, sighing: "I was set up, (REDACTED). I know it."
"I agree," SPYGOD says, coming over and sitting down on the man's desk: "Question is, who?"
"I don't know," the hero says, reaching into his desk and pulling out a bottle of Scotch he keeps for such occasions: "I doubt it was the secessionists. They've got some smart people with them, but this was..."
"Too neatly choreographed," SPYGOD finishes his thought, taking the bottle of scotch and pulling half of it down in one go: "They must have known that man selling them the explosives was a Federal Agent. They planned to be followed. They had the explosives all wired up and ready to go. They had bullets that could kill strategic talents."
"And they knew I'd be coming once I learned who was in that compound," Mr. USA says, reaching over to take a small nip off the bottle before handing it back.
"Which means we got foxes in the !@#$ henhouse," SPYGOD says, finishing the bottle and neatly depositing it into the man's trashcan: "But where in the henhouse? Sympathetic small town police? One of the Bureaus?"
"Your superheroes?" Mr. USA asks, dreading having to ask that question at all.
"What do you !@#$ing mean?" SPYGOD asks back, clearly not pleased to have heard it.
"Who says they're all on the same page?" the old hero asks, leaning forward: "You've had them on the shelf for a long time, before you activated them-"
"The COMPANY was monitoring them. Any of them went off the rails, they got !@#$ing smacked back into shape, or they got dumped."
"Okay, so what happens when the COMAPNY isn't there to watch them, anymore?" Mr. USA asks, tapping his fingers on the desk: "All those months after the Imago took over, when it was just them, and the world, and a big secret? Who's to say they didn't fall in with the wrong crowd, or develop their own opinions? !@#$, who's to say they didn't have those opinions to begin with? I don't think your trainers made a habit of asking them if the right side won the Civil War, or anything like that?"
For a moment, Mr. USA thinks SPYGOD is going to !@#$ing hit him. But then his gaze softens, and he slowly nods, and looks back at the door.
"You're right," he says: "And they would have been involved with that operation at all levels."
"And who's to say that young man and woman that were shot and killed weren't set up?"
"Or that they were the traitors, and this was just someone's way of crossing the !@#$ 't' before they sent the !@#$ing letter off," SPYGOD sighs, getting up from the desk: "Well, I'll just have to have that !@#$ing looked into, won't I?"
"Yeah, well you better hurry," Mr. USA says: "If they've gotten into the supers, we have a real !@#$ problem."
"We may have more than one," SPYGOD says, looking at the door, and then heading back to the desk: "I've been concerned about someone else."
As Mr. USA watches, he grabs a pen and a scrap piece of paper and writes KEEP TALKING.
"Who's that?" Mr. USA asks, leaning forward.
"The Attorney General," he says, adopting a more conversational tone: HAVE YOU BEEN FEELING LIKE YOU'VE BEEN BEING !@#$ING WATCHED?
YES, Mr. USA writes back: "What about her? I mean, she's a little rude..."
HOW HAS IT FELT? I THINK YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, HERE. "A little rude? Nasty little !@#$ talked to me like that in front of the President I think I'd have made her eat a chair."
Mr. USA hesitates a moment -- "Oh yeah, I remember when you did that, once. Poor guy had to have his jaw completely restructured..." -- and then writes LIKE THAT ONE TIME IN THE WAR, WHEN YOU-KNOW-WHO CALLED UP A YOU-KNOW-WHAT TO ATTACK US.
SPYGOD looks at him, and slowly nods: THAT'S WHAT I'M !@#$ING AFRAID OF. ARE YOU FEELING IT RIGHT !@#$ING NOW?
Oh yes, he is. He points to the door, just knowing that they are being listened to.
And all too aware that whatever's been giving him that feeling is what's doing the listening.
SPYGOD nods -- "Well, if you want me to make her eat a chair?" -- and writes I'D BETTER GET DR. KRWI. MEANTIME, YOU KEEP AN EYE OPEN AND YOUR MOUTH SHUT. OKAY?
Mr. USA nods: "I don't think that'll be necessary."
When he does, SPYGOD tosses the piece of paper up, at which point it smolders, catches fire, and turns to ash well before it hits the desk: "Too bad. You know how much I like getting away with that sort of thing."
"I think we better keep that to ourselves," Mr. USA says, blinking: he had no idea SPYGOD could do things like that.
"Okay, well, you change your mind?" SPYGOD says, looking at the door. The terrible feeling is no longer there, but whether it got bored and left, or realized it was onto them, is something that will have to wait for a while.
And then SPYGOD's opening it, and looking up and down the hallway. No footprints, no physical traces.
Just the fading sense that something evil was standing here, listening to them talk.
"Please tell me what do to, here," the President is sighing into the phone.
"I really don't know, sir," Mr. USA says: "I just don't."
They're talking after a really bad day in court. The Vice President of the United States of America has admitted that, for decades, he allowed someone he thought was SPYGOD to tell him what to do -- more accurately, what not to do -- on pain of his wife and children being killed. As a result of his inaction, horrendous crimes were committed, numerous people were killed, and the steps were laid towards the successful invasion of the Imago.
Needless to say, things do not look very good, right now -- politically or otherwise.
"How's everyone else taking it?" the President asks.
"Some surprisingly well, some... not so well. I don't think The Owl's going to forgive me anytime soon, and New Man's really angry."
"I don't blame him. I'm really angry."
"But you do understand?" Mr. USA asks, looking out of the window at the dark skies over Paris: "You do know that I was scared for them. I thought I was dealing with the real SPYGOD, here, and you know what it's like when he's set against you..."
"I do, yes," the President says: "And you and I both know what you did to make up for it... well, that goes well beyond the beck and call of duty."
"But we both know that we can't tell anyone about it," Mr. USA nods, sadly: "Some thing have to remain a secret, and that's one of them."
"Is there a reason why?"
"It's... complicated, sir."
"Oh don't give me that!" the President shouts: "Don't you dare give me that! I've got the Speaker of the House calling me every five minutes, trying to get me to dump you and appoint a replacement. And you know who he wants me to nominate, don't you?"
"One of the cabinet members you took on to make him happy," Mr. USA says: "Probably the Attorney General."
"Oh, he's already dropped her name a few times. And that's saying nothing of the press, and believe me, they're already all over me because of this secessionist thing, and what that crazy supervillain !@#$ just did in Israel, and-"
"Sir, calm down," Mr. USA says.
"Calm down, sir," the hero says.
"How dare you say that to me-"
"I dare because I'm the man who's supposed to say that to you. That's what you appointed for me, remember?"
There's silence for a moment, then he hears the President mumble "Okay."
"Okay, now, take a deep breath. Think. You're getting wound up, and that's exactly what they want you to do. They want you to lose your cool."
"Oh, I already lost my cool. The only reason I'm not turning this phone back into oil is because I'm trying to be respectful to someone I respect."
"And I appreciate that, sir."
"I just... I need you to give me a reason not to lose that respect."
"Then how about this," Mr. USA says: "You tell the press that... I was mind controlled."
"What?" the President shouts: "Are you !@#$ing kidding me?"
"Sir, it happens all the time, and in a way it was true," the hero sighs: "In fact, if I think about it, I can believe this person was using hypnotic suggestions on me the entire time-"
"Oh, please. You can't be serious."
"I am serious. This person was a very capable and dangerous man, sir. And he still is."
"Yes, and when he hears that-"
"He'll come out of hiding," Mr. USA says: "And then we can finally get him. And then we can explain that my going public with what happened was all part of a ruse to get him out so we could get him."
"And after that, we can tie anything we want to on him," the President says: "Because it's probably true."
"Exactly!" Mr. USA continues: "Heck, he's probably guilty of things a million times worse than we even know about. And while what we're accusing him of isn't entirely true, and not even remotely honest..."
"... it'll keep us afloat until the next crisis comes along," the President continues.
"And when that crisis comes
The President is silent for a time, and then takes a deep, raggedy breath.
"And in the meantime?"
"I'll talk to the press tomorrow, before we reconvene, and play up my part in this," he says: "You wait until then, and then give your side of it. Say that you didn't want to say anything about this to anyone earlier because... !@#$, I don't know. My family's privacy. National security. Ongoing operations. Anything you can think of."
"I can think of a lot," the President says, all those training sessions in lying with SPYGOD coming back to him, now: "Okay then, that's a plan."
"Okay. Thank you, Mr. President-"
"But just so we're clear?' the President says: "This is it, (REDACTED). This is the last time I'm going to play spin doctor to get you out of trouble you got yourself into, however long ago. I can't afford to be covering for you at the same time I'm having such a hard time covering for myself."
"I agree, sir."
"So if there's anything," the President says: "And I mean anything, that I need to know about, that you know and I don't? I want to hear it right now, sir. No lies, no cover stories. Is there something I should know about my Vice President that's going to come back and bite me in the !@#$ a month, a year, or four years from now?"
And Mr. USA thinks: does he tell him, here and now, what he knows about what happened in Antarctica? Does he tell him what happened to his family, down there, at the hands of the thing that was pretending to be Dr. Yesterday?
Does he tell him what SPYGOD now knows, and is going to have to act upon before too long?
"No sir," he lies: "I think the slate's clear now."
"I sure hope so," the man sighs, and then hangs up.
And Mr. USA can only pray he hasn't made another terrible mistake, right now.