Sunday, January 25, 2015

5/5/61 - The Things We've Done Together While Our Hearts Were Young - Pt. 4

Main Photo: Chicago -1928
Jester of Justice, The Owl, The Wraith, Sky Commander, Mister Future
(Art by Dean Stahl)
 * * *

"Okay, so let me get this straight," Liberty Belle says, shaking her head: "They did get their orders from SQUASH?"

"That's what the multiple lady is saying, yes," Mrs. Liberty says, watching as the two surviving super-commies get packed into a COMPANY helicopter, awaiting a one-way trip up to The Flier, directly overhead.

(Krasnoye Koltso died as soon as Dr. Chaos went back to "normal," which was probably the best thing.)

"What else is she saying?" the small woman asks, patting one of the pouches of her utility belt. Shivering a little.

"The Crimson Assassin showed up at their headquarters in the middle of the night with orders, which he said came straight from SQUASH. They were told to drop everything, pack up, and get onto a submarine. Then, halfway through the journey, they each unsealed their actual mission briefs. And that was that they were to come here and create a believable diversion, but not actually attack the rocket, itself."

"Why the !@#$ not?" Liberty Belle asks, quickly growing impatient. Needy.

(Desperately hoping her old friend doesn't notice.)

"She doesn't know," Mrs. Liberty answers, doing her best to pretend she isn't noticing: "But the two-man rocket teams were a distraction for them to sneak onto the base, and then they were a distraction for Crimson Assassin. We were meant to think the danger was over, so we could go along with the launch as scheduled."

"And then he'd blow up the rocket from God knows where," the short heroine sighs: "So where the !@#$ is he?"

"They don't know, hon. He left hours before they did, and they weren't supposed to ask what he was doing. But he took the weapon he always uses for long-distance kills."

"The perfect thing to kill a rocket with," Liberty Belle muses, looking at the bag holding what's left of the ring-slinger -- now being carried towards another waiting helicopter, along with the sorry remains of Sovetsky Skorost: "And we have no idea where he is, do we?"

"No. Dr. Yesterday says SPYGOD does, though. He drove off in his car to go find him."

"So if we find SPYGOD, we find him. Great. Where's Mr. USA?"

"Finding SPYGOD," Mrs. Liberty says, smiling a little: "I figured we were good, here."

"I sure hope so," Liberty Belle sighs: "Alright then. Tell Corporal Flag to get his !@#$ over here. I want to know more about this mysterious janitor who saved his !@#$."

"You got it, hon," Mrs. Liberty says, hoping what her friend is using chills her out before he gets there.

"And find that useless speeder, will you?" the short heroine shouts after her: "I haven't seen him since I saved him from that red soviet streak of !@#$. He probably got himself stuck in a hole, somewhere."

Mrs. Liberty nods and keeps going. As she does, the helicopter carrying the dead Soviet supers takes off, and Liberty Belle watches it go, remembering the medical helicopters from Korea -- ever-ferrying the dead and the dying away from the killing fields.

She also remembers the time she met Krasnoye Koltso in battle, somewhere in Naktong. Only then he was six foot something, and built like a brick !@#$house -- not the scrawny, little guy she'd just seen zipped into a bag.

Maybe his weapon was too hungry for him to handle...?

"Masks," Liberty Belle sighs, taking a quick bump of a red and moving powder from the box at her belt: "They'll !@#$ing get you killed..."

* * *

"I just don't know why she has to be so darn mean about it," Swiftfoot says, putting his pants back on: "I mean, we're both getting something out of this arrangement."

"Yeah," SPYGOD says, looking at his watch and wondering how much time they actually have, now: "She's covering for you being !@#$ing queer. And you're !@#$ing covering for her being found out to be a big !@#$ ballbuster. I don't think that's a fair trade, Steven."

"So, should I tell her it's over?"

"Under no !@#$ing circumstances," SPYGOD says, giving the speeder that look: "As long as she's got a perceived hold over you, you've got a !@#$ing hold over her, too. Someday we might need it. Especially if she keeps using that Martian cocaine. That !@#$ will mess her up."

"She needs it for her throat-"

"Bull!@#$. She's hooked. And the only thing more dangerous that a junkie with powers is a junkie who happens to be a !@#$ing national symbol."

"You don't trust her?" Swiftfoot asks, putting his helmet back on.

"I !@#$ing trust no one," SPYGOD grumbles, getting up to get dressed: "Not her, not you. Not even my own !@#$ self, sometimes."

"Sounds pretty lonely," Swiftfoot says, now completely clothed and kitted out.

"It !@#$ing works for me," SPYGOD says, considering what to do now.

The Crimson Assassin is lying facedown in the grass, not ten feet from where SPYGOD and Swiftfoot had been coupling. They hadn't actually planned to have sex after this, but something about the moment had been too much for either them to resist. So they'd let that moment take control of them, and just hoped no one called or came flying by in the meantime.

(One good thing about sex with a speedster -- it's as fast as it is furious.)

As for what they had planned -- well, that had gone off pretty !@#$ well.

Swiftfoot was alone and at loose ends, back at the Cape. He was, therefore able to zip over to SPYGOD's location when he called, and then hide nearby. He watched SPYGOD approach the island and land. He also watched him be shot at, threatened, and then challenged by the Crimson Assassin.

And then, when the Soviet's count had reached zero, he ran across the water, zipped up onto the island, snatched the would-be rocket-killer's bullet from the air, and then took the wondergun from his hands. That left SPYGOD clear to dive to the ground, get his guns back, and put a bullet from each into the Crimson Assassin's brains -- dead-bang right through those sunglasses.

Again -- luck. Bright blue, obscene luck, still shining on mother's little (REDACTED). 

"So," SPYGOD says, putting his shirt and jacket back on: "Anything else to report?"

"Well, New Man's still chasing young girls, but then so's Dr. Chaos," Swiftfoot says, clearly not liking to dish the dirt on his own people: "No one underage, thankfully. But still-"

"One bareback rendezvous and we got !@#$ing superbabies, bad headlines, and a big !@#$ paternity lawsuit," SPYGOD sighs, picking the boxed-in-ball that Hǫfuð's turned into from where his speedy lover dropped it: "Whine about it to Belle. See if she'll get them to stop. Anything else?"

"Yeah, about Dr. Chaos... he's getting really darn weird, lately."

"What the !@#$ do you mean?"

"I mean he's spacing out more often. Says things all mixed up even when he's not using his powers. Stays under longer."

"Not good," SPYGOD muses, finally just shoving the box that was a wonderweapon into one of his jacket's deeper pockets, right along with the highly-peculiar bullet that Swiftfoot snatched from the air: "Mention something to Mr. USA. If the blue-haired !@#$er goes over the edge, he's the best to deal with it."


"And... has he said anything about me lately?"


"You know who," SPYGOD says, scowling a little.

"Um, no," Swiftfoot lies: "Not really. No."

"Alright, then," SPYGOD says, knowing he's being lied to but, also knowing why, deciding to let it go.

Instead, he moves over to the Crimson Assasin, and regards his cooling corpse. He thinks of how good it would have been to have actually beaten the !@#$ out of his man in something approaching a fair fight. How satisfying it would have been to have had a real duel with him -- maybe a harried, twilight chase over the rooftops of Berlin, each one just a careless mistake from taking a bullet to the back of the head.

Something like this almost seems like an insult to a worthy opponent -- one who'd been at least willing to give him a slim chance...

That reminds him. He kneels down, gently turning the fallen Soviet's head to the side so he can get a better look at his ruined face.

"Well I'll be !@#$ed,"
he says, suddenly realizing something very important...

"What?" Swiftfoot asks, clearly impatient to be going.

"Nothing," SPYGOD lies, turning the head back, and knowing what he has to do, now.

"So, what's the story, then?" the speedster asks: "Was I even here?"

"No, but you are now," SPYGOD says, going to his car and reaching somewhere under the dashboard: "I called you to come get me back to the Cape, since my car's !@#$ed. You got here to find me smoking a !@#$ cigarette over a dead !@#$ commie. Problem solved, day saved, and if you think I'm going to !@#$ing tell them any more than that..."

"... they're !@#$ing !@#$ out of luck," Swiftfoot finishes, shaking his head: "You're a tough nut to crack, (REDACTED)."

"You didn't do so bad, just now," SPYGOD chuckles, grabbing a few things out of the glove compartment and the back seat, and tossing them into a handsome, leather carrying bag he had under the passenger seat.

"Don't remind me. I'm still in pain after what that other guy did-"

SPYGOD interrupts him by taking him roughly by the collar and giving him one !@#$ of a kiss: "I'll kiss it and make it !@#$ing better, next time. Now how about you !@#$ing get me to the Cape before that stuck-up flying !@#$ comes by and catches us at it?"

"IThinkICanDoThaT," the speeder says, picking him up and carrying him away.

Ten seconds later the Aston Martin Spider goes BANG with the power of a half a ton of TNT -- all but vaporizing the surface of Bird Island, and incinerating the body of the Crimson Assassin right along with it.

* * *

After that, it's all just pieces to pick up, remix, and reassemble as though nothing had ever happened.

SPYGOD gets back to Cape Canaveral in plenty of time to catch the launch. He makes arrangements with the Flier to have the living Soviet heroes taken to the Heptagon for interrogation and confinement. He makes similar arrangements for the dead ones, though they'll be going somewhere entirely different.

(He also puts out an APB on Black Shadow, if only because he isn't assured that New Man really "dealt with him" this time.)

Mrs. Liberty and Mr USA take the opportunity to pose for publicity photographs with the others, which SPYGOD takes a perverse pleasure in not being in. He also finds amusement in how everyone's faces fall after the shots are done, and they have to face one another again, though that's a sadder, more awkward kind of humor.

After that, the majority of the Freedom Force gets onto the weird vehicle that Swiftfoot powers with his own motion, and zooms back to the Heptagon. Gold Standard shakes SPYGOD's hand, they settle on the when for their bet, and he flies back to Atlanta. 

Then Mr USA flies after him, doing his best to avoid looking in SPYGOD's direction. As such, he probably doesn't see SPYGOD flip him the bird. Or maybe he does.

Once they're all gone, he meets Agent Jerome "Jolly" Jones, and realizes he likes the bespectacled little nerd on first sight. He's competent and obedient, but not afraid to talk straight or insist on certain standards of behavior from his superiors -- which he does after the third time SPYGOD tries to get him to share a victory beer.

They shake hands and part well, though, and as he watches him leave SPYGOD decides he's found the one man he can trust to be his second in command.

(He doesn't even bother calling that brown-nosing twerp who's got the post now. Let Fredericks sweat a bit -- see what he does, who he calls.)

Then the Flier's gone, leaving behind a new car for him. It's just like the last one, only the new license is BTFU02, and the instruction manual indicates there's even more weapons under the hood than the last one. Excellent. 

They also left him a box of cigars in case he felt like sharing, which he most certainly does not.

* * *

Twenty minutes until the launch, SPYGOD parks his new car into what passes as the officer's lot. In the process, he angles it across two spaces so as to be at just the right position to catch the best view in the house. Some Captain walking by gives him a dirty look, but as soon as he realizes who it is, he hustles away without saying another word.

Five minutes later, an old, tall, black janitor walks on up to the car, and nods. SPYGOD nods back, and offers the man a beer, but his visitor politely declines.

"I heard you saved Corporal Flag's !@#$ today," SPYGOD says: "Thanks for that."

"He's a young fool," the old man says, his voice a lot more firm than his body would suggest: "He thinks with his fears, not his mind. He sees power as a thing to be had, not earned."

"Yeah, well, he's still learning," SPYGOD admits.

"He will fail to be anything more than he is unless someone teaches him better." 

"You volunteering, then?"

The old man considers it, then nods: "My classroom. My rules. No mercy."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, old man," SPYGOD says: "Anything else I should know?"

"The crazy one is going to be a problem," the old man says: "Sooner or later he's going to go so far out that he won't come back. Death comes closer every day."

"Anything we can do?"

"Kill him now."

SPYGOD sighs, looking at his beer: "That's what I !@#$ing love about you, Wraith. You know how to just come straight to the !@#$ point."

"You don't hire me for my looks," the old man says, smiling: "Have my student ready for me in a month. Don't expect to see him for a while."

"Okay," SPYGOD says: "Thanks again."

"Be seeing you," the Wraith says, making a curious 'ok' sign by his right eye with his right hand, and then walking away. He takes three steps and then disappears into thin air, as always. 

"'Be seeing you,'" SPYGOD muses, really liking it.

* * *

9:34 in the AM finds him watching Mercury-Redstone 3 carry Alan Shepard up, up, and away into space and history. He salutes the rocket with an open beer, which he leans back in the drivers' seat and sips at, pleased as !@#$ that, for once, being in the right place at the right time doesn't involve shooting or being shot at.

The car phone rings, just as the rocket arcs out of sight. He shrugs, belches, and picks it up: "Hello?"

"I take it you got my message," a voice he's only heard a few times before breathes into the other end.

"I did, yes," SPYGOD says, putting the beer down and looking this way and that, wondering if he's in someone's crosshairs right now.

"You are most welcome, my sweet enemy," the Dragon says: "I knew you would know what to do with it."

"I sure !@#$ing did," SPYGOD grumbles: "So what's the big !@#$ idea? I didn't think ratting the Ruskies out was your style."

"Who says that I did?"

SPYGOD blinks, thinking: "Wait, was Nikki telling the !@#$ truth? Was all this out of his !@#$ing control?"

"Clearly," the Dragon says, and not without some humor.

"So what was the big !@#$ plan, here? Did you have one of your !@#$ people pretend to be SQUASH, get them all on a sub, and then send them over here to provoke a !@#$ing war?"

"That would be foolish. Why would I then tell you how to find the killer?"

"I have no !@#$ing idea," SPYGOD sighs: "I gave up trying to !@#$ing figure you out years ago."

"That is disappointing to hear. I would think our relationship should be a wonderful puzzle for you to keep solving, every day we are at each other's throats."

"Yeah," SPYGOD replies, wondering what that throat might taste like. His lips. His chest.

His !@#$...

He shakes that strangely-delicious thought out of his head, just as the Dragon starts speaking again: "To that end? Let me make a suggestion. It was not the Kremlin, the KGB, or SQUASH. And it was not me or mine. But that leaves many other players on the field, some of which even you know nothing about."

"Yeah, that'll be the !@#$ing day."

"Everything is changing, my sweet enemy," the Dragon breathes: "The borders are moving. Allegiances shift in their wake. And not everyone is who or what they seem."

"What is this? Zen koan-a-go-go?"

"It is the model of the world to come. Be aware. Trust no one. And be careful where you step."

"Yeah, well... be seeing you," SPYGOD says, slamming the phone down: "Mother!@#$er."

He drinks another beer, grousing all the while. He thinks about what this all means, and decides he doesn't !@#$ing like it. Not one !@#$ bit.

So he decides to drive back up to DC. Tonight. And he's not going to bother saying goodbye, either.

"Running Scared" by Roy Orbison comes on the radio just as he leaves the base. Of course it would.

* * *

The Heptagon, Washington DC

"So that was Operation Mercury Maybird Boom?" Henri asks, almost incredulous as he scrolls down the report on his office computer in the Palace, in Paris. 

"That it was," Josie replies over the super-secure video-link line they're communicating over, in the strangely-stark Director's office in the Heptagon, in DC: "Our former Director had a really darn interesting way of putting things, if you ask me."

"I have to agree with you," the President's personal secretary says, turning down the American music he's been listening to (Steely Dan: Glamour Profession): "These Triple-Black cases you have been kind enough to help me with are just insane. Operation Easter Pizza? Operation !@#$ Your Mother? Merde!"

Josie laughs, running a hand through her short, spiky pink hair: "Yeah, they're a real hoot, some of them."

"And some of these Projects... Battle Apple? What's that-"

"Hey now," she gently chides, winking: "That's still need to know, Henri."

"Oh, alright. But tell me, what happened next? Operation Mercury Maybird Boom has not been given any addendum to indicate it was solved?"

"No, it wasn't," she says, looking at her copy: "They never found out what happened, there. Could have been an attempt to get rid of some of the People's Protectors that were too close to SQUASH, but that seems like such a dumb way to go about it. Why not just disappear them like they did to the others?"

"Did they ever get hold of Black Shadow? Maybe he could have provided some answers."

"We did, yes. And after we caught him we had him penned up with the other two survivors of that raid until Glastnost. But we never learned anything more from any of them."

"Why did you not hook them up to this... this N-Machine I see referenced?"

"Well, we considered it, but we decided they really didn't know anything we didn't already know. So we kept them around as bargaining chips for an eventual prisoner exchange. It just never came around."

"And when Glastnost came, still nothing?"

"No. All the SQUASH files they got around then were no help, either."

Henri sighs and shakes his head: "Well, I remember the Chinese and the Soviets were not friends by that point? Perhaps this was something Beijing did?"

"The Dragon said otherwise, but he could have been half-lying, again."

"Half lying?"

"Yeah, he always did that kind of nonsense. One truth for one lie. Quid Pro Bull!@#$"

Henri laughs again: "This is insane! C’est des conneries!"

"Well, that's the spy business. And you're just looking for more rope to hang SPYGOD with. You want some really crazy stuff, you should look a couple years later, after 1965. That's when things got really weird."

"Yes, I was looking at that. I suppose that is why a lot of the personal problems the Freedom Force was having were put on hold for a time?"

"Got it in one, Henri. Got it in one."

"So many loose ends, though," he continues, flipping through the links: "I see they never found the Crimson Assassin's weapon, which astounds me."

"Yep. We think it blew up along with him when he triggered his suicide charge. A lot of those super-soviets were wired to pop."

"I'm also curious about this Wraith person that Dr Chaos talked about while he was under...?"

"Mostly irrelevant," Josie shrugs: "You might want to check out what happened to Dr. Chaos, though. SPYGOD bears some real responsibility for that."

"Oh... I see what you mean," Henri says, his jaw dropping: "You know, we should talk to his son. Mr. Chaos? He is off at some Buddhist shrine, somewhere, is he not?"

"Yes he is. And I can get you in there, if you need to."

"Oh, you have been such a massive help!" he says, overjoyed: "You know, when I was told to work with you on this, I thought you were going to be stalling me. After all, he was your Director."

"Well, you have to know, Henri. I was the third banana, looking to never be anything more than third banana. Then the first and second banana got disgraced and killed, in that same order. And I'm a girl who knows which way the wind is blowing, you know?"

"I take your meaning," he says, grinning.

"So now, I'm in the Director's chair, in the Director's office. And I'd like to stay here a while, you know?"

"Oh, I agree. I really like people who are politically expedient!"

"Well, good," she says, leaning in a little: "Now, if you'll excuse me? I have to go get expedient with a few people down in the motor pool who keep forgetting to oil my car."

"Oh, haha!" he laughs, smiling at her: "Until tomorrow, then?"

"Until tomorrow," she says, turning the secure channel off.

The moment the screen goes black, her face falls: "What a little merde-weasel."

"Not much longer now, Josie," a familiar voice whispers in her ear: "You ready to do your bit?"

"Oh, am I ever," she says, getting up from her desk, straightening her padded, black uniform, and then, ever so carefully, reaching under the desk to press a black button that's hidden on one side of it.

The moment she does, a portion of her office wall creaks open. She walks over to it and opens it up the rest of the way, and then carefully closes it behind her.

Inside the wall is a dimly-lit, long-unused passageway, filled with old photographs and pieces of times gone by. Redacted team pictures, strange trophies under glass, missing bits of history -- all the secret things no one knows about, thrown up on walls that doesn't exist.

"Hmmm," she says, patting a photo of a group of heroes as she passes -- one from Chicago, 1928: "We were just talking about you, Mr. Lambordeaux."

"Be !@#$ing careful," one of the voices counsel: "The Wraith might !@#$ing hear you."

"Really?" Josie asks, hurrying a little bit faster now. All she gets in return is laughter, though, so she's not sure if her ghosts are teasing her or not.

She passes the boxes of lost weapons, the racks of missing plans. She wonders what all might be in that steel case, humming at the bottom of a pile of things.

(She wonders who Eisenengel was, and why the pathetic, withered skeleton in a small, glass box is wearing a NASA lab coat.)

At the very end of the hallway is a phone. It's an old, rotary-style thing -- black and full of cobwebs. She picks it up, taking care to wipe away the webs before she puts it up to her face, and dials a number she's been waiting to use for a while.

"Hello," she says to the person who picks up on the other end of the Black Telephone: "It's time. Are you ready?"

"I am," the person on the other end says, her voice sounding just a little too eager.

"Alright then. I'm going to give you a location, a number, and a combination. You will memorize them. Rendezvous with your transport chief, go there, look for it, and get into it. You'll know why I've sent you for it when you see it."

"And what then?" she asks.

"Then," Josie says, smiling just a little: "You're going to take that thing and kill a few superheroes, just for me."

The ghosts behind her chuckle a little at that.

It has begun. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Devil or Angel (Bobby Vee) and having irony beer, since they don't make real Blatz anymore)

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