Sunday, January 11, 2015

5/5/61 - The Things We've Done Together While Our Hearts Were Young - pt. 2

The People's Protectors, circa 1958 - the caption translates to "We Fight for The Motherland!"
Krasnaya Zvezha (Red Star), Matryoshka, Zhenshchina Pauk (Spider Woman),
Chernaya Ten (Black Shadow), Krasnoye Koltso (Red Ring: foreground), Sovetskiy Skorost (Soviet Speed)
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *

"Of course, Mr. President," Dr. Yesterday says, wondering if he should be standing at attention while he's on the phone or not: "We've got everyone down there, now, but no one's radioed in to say they've found out exactly what's going on."

"Well, that's just a crazy thing," the President says, his accent reminiscent of northeast clambakes and summer regattas: "I'm seeing Mr. USA flying around the rocket, now. I think he's looking for sabotage, but can't find any."

"What's the news saying?"

"Not a thing, Doctor. We had an agreement that we wouldn't broadcast anything unless it was a threat to life and limb. Martians could land and try to steal it and we'd just say we had to scrub the launch due to a malfunctioning computer. You know how that goes."

"And this launch has been scrubbed enough already, sir."

"Well, yes. Yes it has. But under the circumstances?"

"Well, then, sir, can I make a suggestion?"

"Of course, Doctor. You have my complete attention."

"Delay it for an hour or so, and just blame it on the weather," Dr. Yesterday says: "We used to do the same thing all the time during the War, when we were being harried by saboteurs and super-Nazis. You don't lose face, which is their consolation prize if they fail. And you get the time to find out what's really going on."

"That's an excellent suggestion, Dr. Yesterday. I'll call the Space Center up now and have that relayed."

"Sir, do you mind if I ask? Did you call the Premier yet?"

"The Soviet Embassy's assured me that Khrushchev will call me as soon as he can. They also denied everything, but I'd expect no less."

"Of course, sir," the man says: "By the way, you might also want to tell the authorities along the eastern seaboard to stay quiet if they see Foxtrot Actual in flight. We wouldn't want to overshadow the launch or fail to surprise someone."

"I see," the President nods, wondering what the man's talking about: "I'll let the Defense boys know about it. Talk to you later, Doc."

With that the President hangs up, looks at the image on the television screen -- America's greatest hero, looping around a rocket and looking for danger -- sighs, and then places a call to Goddard, not too far away.

"Martians," he muses as he waits to get through: "That would actually be a !@#$ improvement."

* * *

"The countdown's been halted?" Mrs. Liberty asks Mr. USA as he comes in for a landing, not far from the rocket.

"It has," he says: "Just got word from the President, himself. We've got an hour."

"That's good news," she says: "Anything else?"

"Swiftfoot's out watching the perimeter. You think I should have him come in? It might make things easier."

"Would he know what to look for?

"Oh, good point," he sighs, feeling a little out of his depth, here: "Of course, they'll be sending some technicians right over to make sure everything's in order, which will make our job a little easier."

"Provided the technicians aren't in on it, too," she says, watching as a bunch of them pour out of nearby pillboxes, tool kits in hand: "How do you recommend proceeding on that?"

"Well, we'll just have to rely on intuition, I figure."

Mrs. Liberty's about to say something to that when they're approached by those technicians. One of them is an older, well-dressed gentleman carrying a checklist instead of a toolkit.

"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. USA," he says, his accent rather thick: "I hear I am to discuss the layout with you, so that we may find these possible works of sabotage sooner, rather than later. There is a great deal of ground to cover, so the sooner we look this over-"

"Just a second," Mrs. Liberty says, squinting her eyes at the man: "Don't I know you?"

"Well, madame," he begins to say, but then closes his mouth, gasps, and drops the checklist he'd brought.

"Aha!" the woman says, running forward to take hold of the fellow before he can run away: "I've got our saboteur!"

"What?" Mr. USA asks, but he's too late to stop her from hauling the older man up by his lapels, tossing him into the sky, and then grabbing his legs to throw him back down into the ground with a sickening crunch. 

"Mein Gott!" the old man howls: "My legs!"

"You just button it up, you Nazi weasel!" Mrs. Liberty threatens him, shaking a fist into his face: "Is this an ABWEHR operation, then? Are you trying to pin the blame on the Soviets? What the !@#$ is going on here, pal?"

"Please, help me," the old man blubbers: "You are mistaken-"

"Oh no, I'm not," she shouts: "You're a !@#$ing Nazi!"

"My name is Doctor Joseph Smelt! I am born in Cleveland, Ohio-"

"No! You're Johan F. Krupt, otherwise known as Eisenengel! That's what they called you at Peenemunde, anyway. You were the one getting those Valkyries up in the air, you little !@#$-"

"(REDACTED), calm down," Mr. USA says, taking her hand in his before she can use it: "This man isn't the enemy. Not anymore."

"What?" Mrs. Liberty shouts: "I got the reports on this scumbag, (REDACTED). So did you. You know what he did, what they did."

"Yes, but that was then, dear," he explains, trying to get her away: "He's on our side, now."

"What?" she says, disbelieving.

"Look, it's a long story," Mr. USA sighs, watching as the technicians all run to care for their friend and mentor as he gets the woman who maimed him clear of the scene: "But I can tell you with all honesty that, whatever this man did back during the war, he's made up for it now. Him and von Braun and all the others. They're the reason we even have a space program, now."

"What are you talking about...?" she starts to say, but then remembers that thing about the paperclip...

"I think we'd better get back to looking for the Russian saboteur, hon," he says, trying to put even more distance between them all: "And next time, ask questions first and hit later, okay? I think we just lost our checklist privileges for the day."

"So much for intuition," she mutters as he flies off. She risks one last look back, and sees that the old man she once could have put a bullet into, just over fifteen years ago, is now being carried off the field like a wounded star player.

She thinks of the Valkyrie raids on London. She thinks of the child she saw in the street, sobbing for her mother, buried under the ruins of their house. She thinks of the smoke and the fire and the deaths, and how the Iron Angels laughed as they dropped bombs on civilians -- their dark chortling roiling above the smoke clouds as they turned to head home after a raid.

And she decides that some things are just too black and horrible to forgive -- ever.  

* * *

"I just don't know why he's always riding me," New Man grumbles as he and American Lightning high-tail it down yet another corridor, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

(The loudspeakers are announcing the launch has been delayed, but nothing about the costumed heroes charging through the building.)

"Maybe it's because you're getting more women than he is," the man says, really not wanting to get into the real reasons right now.

"Oh, but is the women, right?" the other guy sighs: "Always about the women."

"Well, yes..." Lightning admits, realizing he walked them right into that one: "Look, man, there's been some talk."

"Is it my fault I look younger than I am?"

"No, but you don't have to encourage the jailbait, either."

"Like anyone else doesn't-"

"I don't, Charles," Lightning says, taking a firm, flat step in New Man's direction, so as to put them face to face: "So don't make that argument with me."

"Look, I'm just sick and tired of being held up to a higher standard," New Man says: "I mean, !@#$, you volunteered for this, Rob. I just got hit with something. It was an accident. Next thing I know, I'm like this."

"So?" Lightning asks, turning away to get back up to speed, and nodding to an older, black janitor as they pass him on the way: "We came from Camp Rogers. You came from Okinawa. That doesn't mean you get to blow off your responsibilities."

"I didn't ask for this. One minute I'm shooting Japs on the beach, the next I'm getting hit with some purple ray, and... well..."

"Is that what happened?" Robert asks, genuinely interested now: "You never told me that before."

"I don't like to talk about it," New Man grumbles as they hold up to look around a corner: "It's humiliating."

"Well, okay. That's your choice, Charles. But you wouldn't be the first hero to just get powers out of nowhere."

"No, but it doesn't mean I have to be Captain America, either, does it? Can't I just fight bad guys and then go home and be myself?"

"Of course," Lightning says, now certain they can move on down the deserted hallway: "There are lots of folks who do that. There's folks who did that before the war, during it, and even now.

"But they're not part of the Freedom Force, Charles. We're not just any group of heroes. We're the group. I thought you'd have understood that by now."

"I can't be Superman."

"Then don't," Lightning says, turning around and tapping New Man on the chest: "Be a man, Charles. Stand up for something bigger than what you want or need. Do the right thing. Otherwise, what's the point?"

"An excellent question," someone announces, stepping from the shadows down the hallway. He wears a black, form-fitting suit that ripples as he walks, his smile is winsome and toothy, and his accent is pure Moscow -- deep and musical. 

"Black Shadow," New Man says as they walk out, ready to fight: "I've read about him. Don't let him touch you. He'll send you someplace really unpleasant."

"Good thing we don't have to touch him, then?" Lightning asks, his fists crackling with his namesake as New Man begins to glow purple: "Watch the birdie, Commie."

"Watch behind you, American," someone else says, just above them -- the one place neither of them thought to look.

And then they have exactly a second before eight-eyed Zhenshchina Pauk falls off the ceiling to attack them -- her long, prehensile hair full of energy-draining webs, her mouth filled with thin, poisoned fangs... 

* * *

At about fifteen past 7 SPYGOD's car phone starts ringing. By this time he's drained his flask, and is about to toddle off to the nearest gas station to fill it back up again, so he considers this to be excellent timing.

"This better be some !@#$ good intel, !@#$face," he shouts down the phone.

"Sir?" someone else's voice squeaks out the other end.

"Sir what? Who the !@#$ is this?"

"Is this Director SPYGOD?"

"Yes it is," SPYGOD says, still chaffing at the use of the d-word: "Why aren't you using my god!@#$ secret codename over a secured !@#$ing channel?"

"I... um, I didn't know we had to, sir. I thought it was secured."

"Well, that would make !@#$ing sense, now wouldn't it?" SPYGOD asks, sort of amused.

"I guess so, sir-"

"No, really, who the !@#$ is this?"

"Agent Jerome Jones, sir. I'm in charge of Eastern Operations."

"Oh, the Chop Suey desk. Yeah," SPYGOD chuckles: "Well, that explains how you're out of the !@#$ loop about how we're running things, now. How's !@#$ing LA?"

"I'm not there, sir. I caught the red-eye and I'm at the port, now."

"Oh? Why the !@#$ did you fly all the way out here?"

"Because I got something for you, sir, and I think it's really important-"

"Wait," SPYGOD says, remembering: "I know you. Don't they call you Jolly?"

"Yes, sir. I can't imagine why. I'm told I kill all the parties."

"Oh, right," SPYGOD chuckles, remembering why the fellow kills them: "Well, maybe you can bring mine back to life, Agent Jolly. I !@#$ing need some info, here, and Fredericks isn't busting his !@#$ to bring it to me. Please tell me you have it."

"I just might, sir. But bear with me. This is a long and weird story."

"I can use weird, Jolly. Long I ain't got !@#$ing time for. Spill it quick."

"Quick. Okay. Less than two days ago, one of our Harolds in Hong Kong retrieved a letter from a Central Investigation Department dead-drop. They weren't sure what to make of it because it was addressed to someone called Ju Shen, which doesn't make any sense, except that it's a really bad way to translate 'Spy God.'"

"Who's it from?" SPYGOD asks.

"That's the other thing, sir. The sender was just named Long."

SPYGOD's heart skips a beat, and he exhales very slowly: "The Dragon."

"Exactly, sir. I know you two have a history. It's something of a legend out here-"

"So what happened?"

"Well, our Harold realized it was probably something really important, given how weirdly obvious it was. Kind of like they wanted someone to take it from their office and hand it off to us? So I had him get it into my hands, which took a day. When I opened it this morning, I found out that it just has a name."

"Which is?"

"Gregor Pavelvich Minkovski. Now, that's not someone my desk deals with. But I ran it by the Borscht Desk, and they told me he's one of SQUASH's goons. Malinovyy Ubiysta? I think I'm pronouncing that right..."

"The Crimson Assassin," SPYGOD says, not without some reverence: "Yeah, I know him. Creepy !@#$er. They say Bulgakov uses him to !@#$ing do away with Supreme Soviet types who get overheard backtalking SQUASH off the floor. Not a nice guy by any means."

"The Russian you, they say, sir."

"Well, they can kiss my !@#$ing !@#$, Jolly. I'm the only god!@#$ me around these parts. You !@#$ing got that?"

"Um, yes sir."

"Besides, they say he can blow your !@#$ brains out from up to fifty miles away. And while I've done a lot of crazy !@#$ stuff over the years..."

SPYGOD blinks a few times, and then looks north, towards the Cape.

"Sir?" Jolly asks.

"Yeah, I think I just realized something really !@#$ing important, Jolly," SPYGOD says: "The bad news is that we've got an even bigger !@#$ing problem. The good news is we also have a !@#$ing solution. But I need you to do something for me."

"What's that, sir?"

"I need you to spell that name for me. Exactly how it is in the !@#$ letter. Okay?"

"Yes sir."

"Okay, hang on," he says, getting out his Freedom Force communicator: "Hey, Doc? You there?"

"Yes I am, SPYGOD. What's the situation down there?"

"I need you to get Wayfinder on the horn. Now."

"Um. I'll call his place. He's on retreat-"

"Tell him this is !@#$ important. Wait, !@#$ that. Tell him I'm saying it's !@#$ important. That'll get him to the !@#$ phone. Okay?"

"Okay," Dr. Yesterday says, and then puts SPYGOD on hold to do as he's told.

"Still there, Jolly?" SPYGOD asks.

"Yes sir. What are we doing?"

"Talking to a man who can !@#$ing find anyone, anywhere, as long as he's got their correct name," SPYGOD answers: "You're giving it to me, I'm giving it to him, and then I'm going to !@#$ing find this Crimson Assassin and shoot him with his own !@#$ gun. That sound like a plan to you?"

"Well, yes. It does, sir. Yes."

"And when Foxtrot Actual actually !@#$ing gets down here? I'm buying you a big !@#$ing beer, Jolly. You may have just saved the day."

"I don't drink, sir."

"Well, I'm !@#$ing buying you something-"

"Sir, if you want to get me something, please stop using profanity with me. I find it immoral and unnerving."

SPYGOD coughs, and then cracks a smile: "You've got yourself a goshdarn deal, Jolly. Now, the flipping name, if you please?"

Jolly sighs at that, and SPYGOD decides he's going to make it his mission to get this man drunk, laid, and cursing like a sailor before he's finished with him.  

* * *

"You commies just have no shame!" Corporal Flag cries out as he smacks down yet another Matryoshka, only to watch in horror as a slighty-smaller version of the short, squat, and powerful Russian woman appears next to her, ready to pick up fighting where the last one left off.

"Less talking, more punching, kid," Dr. Chaos says, using some strange, faster-than-the-eye-can-see martial art to knock aside every red, glowing weapon that Krasnoye Koltso can fling at him. It might be a low-level manifestation of his powers, given that his blue hair is glowing under his tophat right now, or it might be some weird Karate thing. Who can say?

They'd been doing fine, at least up until now -- going this way and that throughout the control center, encountering nothing but technicians, workers, and the occasional elderly, Negro janitor. And then they turned a corner on the far edge of the building, and found themselves hemmed in by a small army of short, well-built, and ugly women on one side, and a bristling wall of floating, red hand weapons on the other.

(With a very short Russian man hiding behind them, cackling at what he was about to unleash.)

To their credit, in spite of the clear animosity between the two men, they'd immediately sprung into action -- each one knowing which commie combatant to square up against, given each others' powers, and their enemies' abilities. But this was taking longer than it should, and they had yet to radio back in in to the others...

Then it happens, just as Corporal Flag was afraid it would.

One of the red weapons -- a hammer, of all things -- strikes Dr. Chaos right in the face. There's a sickening crack as something breaks, a moment of calm before the storm. And then, just as the blue-haired hero's tophat falls to the floor, he starts laughing.

It's not a good laugh.

"over commie Playtime is," Dr. Chaos says, his hair standing up on end as the world crackles and wavers around his hands: "control up red see you Let's !@#$ if  it's ring can that your when shoved..."

"Chaos!" Flag shouts as the man with the glowing, red ring finds himself kissing the floor so hard it cracks under his outline: "Control yourself, man! If you lose it here we're all dead!"

"Just you, American pig!" one of the Matryoshka clones announces as she punches Flag square in the face -- dislodging at least one tooth and bloodying his nose for good measure.

At which point, Flag joins Chaos in the small, picturesque town of Losing It, Florida.

"My... mother... told... me... not... to... hit... ladies," Flag says, punctuating each knock-out punch with a word, only to find another, unscathed target a second later: "But... you're... no... lady!"

"And you are being no man!" ten clones shout in unison, all bringing their fists down on Corporal Flag's head before he can put up a good defense.

A second later he realizes she was just toying with him.

A second after that he's falling to the ground, and being kicked by at least fifteen women. Maybe twenty.

As he closes his eyes he sees the building starting to collapse from all sides at the other end of the hallway as Dr. Chaos does something obscene to a ring-slinging super commie. Or maybe it's all distortions and he's just imagining things -- the human body wasn't meant to look like that, surely?

Much like he's clearly imagining that elderly Negro janitor they must have passed a half dozen times leaping from the doorway -- wielding his mop like a quarterstaff -- and saving his !@#$ from Matryoshka....

* * *

They called her the Grey Ghost, once, and she was beloved.

The Enterprise was a Yorktown class aircraft carrier: over 800 feet long and just over 110 wide. Home to over 2000 men, who worked, fought, and bled to keep her upright and shipshape.

She'd seen action throughout the Pacific, back in the war. Midway, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, Leyte Gulf. After the war she brought soldiers home from Europe, and was honored by the British Admiralty on one of her last cruises -- the only American ship to have that honor.

And then, after the war -- creaking and outmoded -- the Enterprise was docked, decommissioned, and eventually made ready to be scrapped.

They called her all kinds of names, before and after the War. The Big E. The Lucky E. The Galloping Ghost. But somehow the Grey Ghost resonated the most -- especially with those pilots who'd see her rising out of the fog as they made their way back to her deck to land.

Now, after having been quietly bought from the scrapyard, prior to her scheduled breakdown, and moved to a secluded "proving yard" the Navy uses to build, test, and launch its more secret ships -- not far from Herrington on the Bay -- the Enterprise is going to have an entirely new name.

The Flier.

There's a groan as the completely-refurbished ship leaves its berth, making its way into the deeper areas. Its once-tall command tower has been sliced away, leaving only a few smaller work areas on either side of the flight deck. A forward command has taken its place, just under that deck, with glassed-in areas looking down at the water instead of up at the skies. Amazing, modern weapons line the sides, their barrels turning this way and that as they prepare for the shakedown cruise.

As the ship gets into deeper waters, large areas on the sides of the flight deck slide over and out. Massive helicopter blades -- each one almost as long as the ship, itself -- rise up and telescope out from the center. The stern of the ship pops open to let a solid steel tail with an equally-mighty rotor come out to join them.

And then, with a sound like a million helicopters starting in unison, the ship's blades twirl and whirl in perfect synchronization -- creating enough lift to somehow raise this wet, steel leviathan from the oceans it was made to patrol, and into the air it used to fear.

Only now, it can master it, too. 

A hundred feet, it effortlessly rises. Two hundred. Three. Five. Seven. A thousand, and holding strong.

The Flier is airborne, rising higher and higher, and turning south to make the Cape.

* * *

"Alright, then, thanks," SPYGOD says, getting ready to get off the phone with Wayfinder: "You are the best, my friend. Never let anyone tell you otherwise."

"I try not to let people tell me anything," Wayfinder says: "Now, I'm going back to my retreat. And next time I see someone show up in my sacred space with a portable phone I'm going to tell him something he doesn't want to hear. Is that clear, (REDACTED)?"

"It is, yes," SPYGOD says, being as deferential as possible: "I'm sorry. It was an emergency-"

"If I say I'm on retreat, I am dealing with powers that make your rockets and Soviets look like children and toys. You won't know what an emergency is until one of them gets angry."

"You got it, Wayfinder. Never again."

"That's what you said the last time, (REDACTED)," the man on the other end says, hanging up.

"Well, that was frosty," Dr. Yesterday says: "Should I have them rendezvous with you at that location?"

"NO," SPYGOD insists, checking a map and realizing where he needs to go: "I do this alone. Keep everyone else focused on the Cape and the launch. Do not tell anyone where the !@#$ I went, or that I even talked to Wayfinder. Understood?"

"Um... alright-"

"Well, if it's the President? That's !@#$ing okay. Everyone else? Tell them to go !@#$ing fish. We clear?"


"Good. If you want to be useful, check in with your brothers and see how they're doing. Or check in with Mr. USA and see how he's doing. !@#$ it, check in with your wife and she what she's doing. Just don't call me until I !@#$ing call you, alright?"

He hangs up before the bewildered super scientist can ask him another question, guns the motor, and high-tails it due West -- heading for a place no one would think to watch on a day like this, which is exactly why he needs to go there.

And on the way he makes one more phone call, hoping his obscene luck can hold out just a little longer...

(SPYGOD is listening to Runaway (Del Shanon) and having even more Blatz)

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