Myron picks up what the Nthernaut has given him, and studies it for a time. Inside the glowing, blue cube is a face he hasn't seen since Costa Rica -- seeming a lifetime ago, now -- and one he never expected to see again.
"The Machinehead is very unstable at present," the Nthernaut goes on, his face unreadable: "He suffered severe data damage."
"How did that happen?" Myron asks, making sure no one else in the corner this copy of the Nthernaut strong-armed him towards can hear or see this.
(After what just happened with him and Skyspear he really doesn't need any more complications, tonight.)
"He made the mistake of trying to enter the city's mainframe and take it over without a guide," the Nthernaut smiles: "He might have been able to figure it out on his own, of course. But while we were circling each other, I increased the city's functions just enough to be somewhat taxing to myself. And when I left..."
The blue and black shadow of a man taps the blue cube.
"He looks like someone who's been at the rest home too long," Myron says, remembering unpleasant childhood visits to his great-grandmother's 'special hospital.'
"That's a fairly accurate assessment. His memories are there, but his personality has gone flat. It's almost like a lobotomy, only this could eventually be repaired."
"Or someone could repair him?" Myron asks, looking up from the cube: "Is that what you're asking?"
"I'm not asking," Nthernaut says, taking a step forward: "You need to do this."
"Yes. You broke him to start with. And while he can't quite articulate the cause of his anger and recklessness, I suspect it was trying to get back in the saddle after you sent him riding into a minefield-"
"You're mixing your metaphors," Myron says, handing the cube back: "And I'm done taking orders for a while, Thomas-"
Nthernaut, the project insists, his voice changing as he does.
"Thomas," Myron repeats, taking a step closer and all but shoving the cube into the Nthernaut's hands: "That's your name, isn't it?"
It's... complicated, the Nthernaut says, looking down at the cube: "And I wish you would do this."
"So, are you asking, now?" Myron says: "Because I don't care who you are, or whose party this is. If you try to tell me what to do ever again I will totally punch your computer face inside out."
The projection raises an eyebrow, and there's something in its eyes that makes Myron wonder if he should have been a little more careful, just then.
"Will you please help me?" the Nthernaut finally asks: "We were friends, once. You talked to me in the treehouse, when no one else would. Other than my father."
"Yeah, I did," Myron says: "And do you know why I did that? Because I liked you, Thomas. Even with half of your parts missing you were more alive and together than most of the people I'd known. !@#$, you were more together than I was, then. I just didn't realize how badly !@#$ed up I was until..."
"Yes?" the Nthernaut asks as Myron stops talking.
"It's... complicated," Myron sighs. They both laugh at that, however uncomfortably.
"The point is, I knew you, then," Myron continues: "I liked you. I could trust you. Now? I don't know. But I look in your eyes and I don't see some good kid who got dealt a bad hand, anymore. I don't see the person I knew."
"What do you see?" the Nthernaut asks: "Please tell me the truth, Myron. Please."
"I see... nothing," Myron admits: "Just blackness. Emptiness."
The Nthernaut looks at him, and then nods: "I was afraid of that."
They just stand there, for a time.
"Look, if you want me to?" Myron says, holding out a hand: "I will fix the Machinehead. I can't promise he'll be a model cybercitizen, or anything. For all I know he'll be worse than before. But I can at least see if I can get him up and running, again. That's the least I can do."
"Don't do it because you're scared of me," the Nthernaut insists: "Do it because it means something. Because you want to."
"I'm going to do it because I need to," Myron admits, taking the cube as the Nthernaut hands it back over: "I need an project, after all."
And as he nods and turns to leave, he's not quite sure if the project is just fixing the Machinehead, anymore.
"Well, that must have been some conversation," Straffer says, giving SPYGOD a kiss on the cheek as his lover returns.
"It was !@#$ing epic," SPYGOD says, watching the old, German man walk away, maybe headed for the bar for a drink: "The earth moved."
"I sure hope so. I was afraid I was going to have to come fish you out of the conversation."
"Because it's almost Midnight?"
"Because I got asked to pass on about a thousand messages from people," Straffer winks: "And, yes, it's almost Midnight. And I've been planning what's happening then for too long to not see the look on your face when the ball drops."
"That !@#$ing good, huh?"
"You have no !@#$ idea."
"God I love you," SPYGOD says, and pulls his man in to kiss him with borrowed, electronic lips. They're so lip-locked that it seems the Earth moves, but then Straffer realizes that it has, actually.
And they have company.
"I hope I'm not intruding?" the woman in the crimson shroud asks, holding a cocktail up to her mouth as she stands there, where she wasn't standing just a second or two ago.
"If you're the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, you're a little late," Straffer says.
"I need to talk to the guest of honor," she replies, looking at SPYGOD.
"Well, he's busy-"
"He's all yours," SPYGOD says, patting his lover on the shoulder: "Hon, get us both a drink for midnight. It'll be okay."
Straffer just looks at him, clearly not happy to be sent off like this, but eventually complies.
"Well, I'm going to pay for that," SPYGOD says, watching his lover go: "So whatever you have to say better be !@#$ing important, friend."
"I'm not here as a friend."
"I sure hope you're not !@#$ing here as an enemy?"
"No, merely observing," she says, having a sip: "You know who I am, of course."
"Of course. Did the other two crash the !@#$ing party, too?"
"No, just me."
"Enjoying the gig?" SPYGOD asks, wondering what the deal is, here.
"I wanted to know what kind of man you were."
"Well, you're not seeing me at my best."
"No, but I'm not seeing you at your worst, either."
"That's !@#$ing true-"
"You haven't killed any innocent people since you've arrived."
He just looks at her, then. And then he scowls: "I've never !@#$ing plugged anyone that didn't deserve it."
"You haven't?" she asks, smiling a little: "Well, how about those children in the White Boxes?"
"They were lost the moment the Imago got their !@#$ing hands on them."
"Your Mr. Chaos seems to think otherwise."
"He got lucky. !@#$ lucky. There was no way we could have !@#$ing planned for that-"
"How about Palestine, then?" she interrupts: "Israel? Because you did plan for that."
* * *
The crowd is no longer leering, nor threatening. All the faces that were of one, menacing expression just a second ago -- as they surrounded SPYGOD where he stood -- are now sharing one of fear. All those hijacked bodies take a step back, and then another, holding their hands up to their faces.
All of those voices screaming "no" -- many mouths, one mind.
One soul that realizes it's about to meet its maker.
SPYGOD drops the small, metal canisters to the ground. As they ping and bounce on the concrete, he wonders: how much blood has been spilled over its ownership?
None more than today, he realizes, watching as his enemy starts to die
* * *
"I sure !@#$ing did," SPYGOD admits: "And if you'd get your head out of the prosecution's !@#$ for a couple seconds, you'd !@#$ing realize why I did it."
"Because it's easier to kill people than to save them?"
"Because they were already. !@#$ing. Dead."
"That seems to be a common refrain from you."
"It is if it's !@#$ing true."
"Was it? They looked rather alive to me."
"Yeah, provided you ignore the fact that Zalea Zathros brought them back to life to be her !@#$ing meat puppets. I wouldn't call that being alive, would you?"
"And what of the President's daughter?" she asks, her eyes flashing: "Was she already dead, too?"
* * *
She's floating above the ground, her mouth and eyes black, empty smudges in a face contorted in what is either anger or hunger -- maybe both.
The sound of a thousand wet, scrabbling insects fills the air as the foulness spills out of her. Black balls of darkness tumble out and roil around her. Are they eyes or mouths? Or both?
He's not certain. All he knows is that the longer he stands there, staring at the source of the evil he sensed -- the evil he was so !@#$ing blind to, and for so long -- the more of it is coming out.
It says something. He's not listening. He's raising the black revolver -- the one given to him by a newly-minted demon lord, so many years ago.
And he's firing it.
* * *
"Worse than dead," he states, taking a step closer: "Possessed. By evil."
"Something you're quite intimate with."
"You know, you're really getting on my !@#$ing nerves. Just what the !@#$ is your problem?"
"You have so much blood on your hands," she says, sipping at her drink as she just looks at him: "And here you are, having a party."
"'Gather your roses while ye may,'" SPYGOD quotes (somewhat inaccurately).
"Yes. I wonder how many petals will be strewn before you as you leave the courtroom."
"Not nearly enough," he says, turning away: "Enjoy the party, Red. Don't do anything !@#$ing stupid."
And then there's a noise like the world breaking, and she's gone, again.
"What was all that about?" Straffer asks when he makes it back, a few seconds later -- a crazy cocktail in both hands.
"Not !@#$ing sure," SPYGOD admits, putting an arm around his lover: "But either we just got the mother of all driveby moonings, or the big !@#$ gauntlet just got tossed down"
"Think we need to step up the timetable?"
"Maybe," SPYGOD admits, having a sip of whatever outrageous brew Straffer brought him: "Or maybe not."
* * *
And then, at long last, it's almost time to count it all down.
People gather in knots and whorls. Sometimes the people they came with, sometimes new friends or lovers, sometimes complete strangers they just happen to be standing next to at the moment. They watch as one as the big clock gets closer and closer to zero, and as it gets down to the double digits they start shouting the numbers.
Fifty: Yanabah's just about sober, now, especially after her and Josie had a long, much-needed discussion about certain things that happened, last Christmas. She thinks about getting a drink, just for the countdown, but realizes if she takes one drink she's not going to stop. And she needs to stop that, tonight.
There's a lot of things she needs to stop, if she wants to start doing Wayfinder proud, again.
Forty: Skyspear's leaving, having called a cab. She thought about telling Mark, but decided not to. She's suddenly finding it's a lot easier to make decisions for herself, now.
She wonders what else she might decide on the way back to the strange building she no longer wants to live in, anymore.
Thirty: Myron's in the middle of all the superheroes he's been avoiding, this party. Somehow he just fell in with them, and when New Man offered him a shoulder, he took it. Before long, he was talking and laughing, just like he'd always been a member of the costume circle, and not a reformed supervillain.
Just like he'd always wanted all along, as much as he hates to admit it.
Twenty: Mark Clutch finally catches sight of Martha, who's only just arrived. He smiles ear to ear, and is about to get up to go to her. But she sees Green Fury before she sees Mark, and as the two of them run up to each other and embrace -- as though these were the last moments in their world -- he realizes something horrible, but all too true.
And then he sits down, feeling more alone than ever.
Ten: Antonia and Fred can barely hear the counting over the sounds of their kisses. They started necking about twenty minutes ago, and haven't cared to stop for anything. Not even the large Japanese Man nearby, who can't stop crying, no matter what the silver and red woman says (or maybe because of it).
And then's nine, eight, seven: SPYGOD and Straffer ascend to the platform they arrived on.
Six, five, four: they stand arm in arm, waving at one and all.
Three, two, one: they kiss like tomorrow's not coming on time, if at all.
And then it's New Years, 2013. Goodbye to all that old !@#$. Hello to whatever new !@#$ is lurking around the corner.
A screen pops up from nowhere, and on the screen are five men: a band of some kind. Older folks, maybe past their prime (and not entirely happy to be there) There's a moment of confusion, and then a Reaganesque voice announces:
"Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let me present Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Possibly the most important thing this side of the world."
SPYGOD screams like he's twelve and seeing a ghost. Straffer laughs and kisses him, shouting "Merry Christmas!" Everyone laughs, and then the opening notes of Relax make everyone jump and cheer (or most everyone, anyway).
"How the !@#$?" Randolph asks, clearly taken aback.
"Straffer promised them each a million dollars, tax-free," Rakim shouts into his ear as he boogies down, Red Wrecker nearby: "It was the only way to get their lead singer to play."
"Money," Randolph sighs, knowing that's showbiz. But by the time they get to Rage Hard, he's grooving right along with all the others -- not caring about the 'why' or the 'how,' but just living in the moment.
And maybe that's just how it should be.
* * *
And then, a few hours later, the party's finally over.
The guests of honor have long since gone. The criers, the laughers, the lovers, and the crashers have all gone their separate ways. There's nothing left to do but clean up the mess.
Or at least document it, which is what Randolph is doing: taking pictures with very small camera of the devastation left behind.
"Man, aren't you going to give that journalist !@#$ a rest?" someone asks. He's only partially surprised to see it's Yanabah, who's succeeded in sneaking up on him.
"Naah," he says, turning and taking a quick snap of her: "There's always one !@#$hole who stays after the party's over."
"Usually it's me," she admits.
"Well, this time I've got an excuse. What's yours?"
"Well, hardly no one," Randolph says, gesturing to the clean-up crew -- already wishing they had called off, tonight.
She laughs at that, and then just looks at him: "So what next?"
"Next? Well, I think I go home, drink a !@#$ of a lot of water, have some aspirin, and toss my alarm clock into my sock drawer. Maybe sleep a day away. Maybe two."
"I meant with us, paleface," she snorts.
"You and me?"
"The world," she clarifies, holding up a finger.
"What do you mean?" he asks, taking another snap of her with her finger up.
"I mean this has been a really !@#$ty year, Reporter. The Imago. The Reclamation War. All this !@#$ that's come after."
"You forgot being taken over by the !@#$ing French."
"The Presidential assassination that wasn't."
"All the friends we lost," she says, choking a little at the end.
"Your grandfather," he says, looking at her.
"Your girlfriend," she replies, looking right back.
He blinks, and then he nods: "Yeah."
"So do you think we can have a better year?" she asks, taking a step closer to him: "You think there's a chance we can actually learn from all this !@#$ and do better? Be better?"
"I think so," he says, putting the camera away: "I think we've got a chance."
"How you figure that?"
"We're still alive, aren't we?" he says, taking a step closer to her: "I believe that we can grow the !@#$ up. Maybe not all at once, maybe not perfectly. But even if we're just making mistakes, at least they're mostly new ones."
"Except when they're not," she grins.
They just look at each other, then. And they laugh, and they hug. And then they leave the party together, as friends, before going their separate ways.
The Sun's just about up, now. The city's coming alive, again.
And all is right with this brave, new world -- at least for the moment.
(SPYGOD is listening to Disintegration (The Cure) and having an Infinium)