Monday, July 6, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 2: 1977

"He said 'we haven't had that spirit here since 1969'"

(Back) Mr. USA, ex-Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan, Ariel
(Front) Syphon, Aegio, Shift, Pontus. Seranu
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

Freedom is something that cannot be passed on in the blood stream, or genetically. 
And it's never more than one generation away from extinction.

Ronald Reagan - "Whatever Happened to Free Enterprise"

June 10th, 1994

The Reagans' living room seems a fragile thing -- liable to break with so much as a cross word.

Dozens of collector's plates are on display, on special shelves mounted on the wall. Its tabletops are filled with with small, plaster statuettes and figurines. The bulky, square easychairs are a festive red and white floral design.

Chairs a number of important people sit in or stand around as the storm rages outside, all waiting for a certain something to be done.

Something necessary, but terrible. 

"Have another tissue, honey," Barbara Bush says, handing a very red-eyed Nancy Reagan the box again. Once upon a time, Nancy wouldn't have heard of someone else telling her when and how to cry, but tonight she's gratified to have someone with her.

Someone other than all these men, none of whom seem to know what to say to her, just now.

"How long is this supposed to take, anyway?" James Baker asks from where he sits, clearly unnerved.

"As long as it takes," George Bush replies from his own chair, clearly irritated.

"That's not an answer, George-"

"It's done," someone else says -- someone who's standing as far from everyone else in the room as he can get.

A beautiful man in a suit, wearing sunglasses they haven't made in over twenty years.

"How do you know, Aaron?" Dan Quayle asks, getting up from his chair, hands on his legs.

"I felt the connection sever, a few minutes ago," the man says, turning from the window to look at the others: "He is no longer anchored."

"And what does that mean, exactly?" Nancy asks, trying to be strong as the lightning flashes, nearby.

"It means he's not in pain, anymore," SPYGOD announces, appearing from seemingly nowhere, seconds before the boom.

"Oh my God," Nancy says, almost about to cry again: "Oh my God. Thank you, God. Thank you."

"I'm not sure we should be doing that," George mutters, getting up, himself: "Thanking God. After all-"

"Put a !@#$ing sock in it, Herbie," SPYGOD snorts as he walks over to the former first ladies, and gets on one knee before Nancy.

"Is he... I mean, is he...?" she tries to say the word. She can't.

"He is," SPYGOD replies, softly: "You should go see him. It'll help."

"I don't know if I'm ready for that, yet," she stammers.

"I'm so sorry, hon," he says, taking her hand in his: "You know we had to do this."

"I do, yes," she says, taking one last, hard honk on a tissue. And then she takes a deep breath, clears her head, and gets up to go to her husband's room.

"Do you need someone with you?" Barbara asks.

"Should we all go in together, maybe?" Baker asks, looking around the room. 

"No," Nancy insists, putting her face back together: "Thank you all, but no. I have to do this myself, alone, or I'll never be able to do it. You should all know that by now."

No one knows what to say to that. SPYGOD stays where he is on the floor, admiring the woman all the more for this simple act of strength. Knowing that this is the longest walk she's going to take in her life.

The moment she's gone, the room goes back to being silent, again. In that silence, SPYGOD finds a way to slip out a nearby door and stand in the rain of the storm.

And then, at long last, he allows himself to cry.

* * *

June 10th, 1977

"Is it really a good idea for me to go to this party?" Reagan asks Ariel as their limousine slows down, just within sight of a big, floating door to nowhere -- all lit up in the darkness.

A door that literally appeared overnight in the deserts outside LA.

"Yes," Ariel says, still reading his newspaper.

"I mean, the last time I went to one... well, you know what happened."

"I do, yes," the Backer says, putting the paper down and away, and then adjusting his sunglasses so his client can't see his eyes: "Not that you do, Mr. Governor. But that's neither here nor there."

"You really shouldn't call me that, anymore," he bristles: "I'm not the Governor, anymore."

"This is true."

"And I'm not President, either," Reagan says, pursing his lips: "You made sure of that."

"We did, yes," Ariel nods: "And we've been over this before, Mr. Reagan."

"I know, we have," the man sighs: "I'm better off as a voice from the wilderness, right now. I know that."

"A very loud voice, sir,"  Aaron pipes up from the front seat, where he's sitting behind the wheel of a car that's driving itself through the long, rolling line of vehicles -- some much more fancy and/or official than others: "That radio commentary show is a powerful thing."

"And it will pay off, in time,  Mr. Reagan," Ariel reassures him: "Trust me, between that show, and letting things take their natural course with Carter? You'll be in the Oval Office in 1980."

"I do trust you, yes," Reagan says: "You know that. I've handed my future over to you, and I have faith. I just feel so helpless, watching on the sidelines. I need to be out there handling the ball, you know?"

"I understand perfectly," Ariel says, looking out the window as they get closer to the destination, taking in the very long line of people going through the large, glowing red pillars: "When we started this, we told you that you would be the man for your time. I know waiting to take the ball, as you put it, is galling. But the time is not right just yet."

"Why not?" Reagan asks, feeling he's earned the right to ask, by now: "What are we really waiting for?"

"Well," Ariel says, coughing into his fist: "I really shouldn't be telling you too much. Especially as you're about to walk into enemy territory, as it were. But to be blunt? Things need to get just a little bit worse before we bring you into things. And four years of having that silly fellow in the White House will do nicely."

"And then we'll have you in there for a very important eight-year block of time," Aaron says, smiling.

"But that's not what you should be thinking about," Ariel scowls. The smile very quickly disappears from Aaron's face, and he realizes he's talked out of turn.

"I see," Ronald Reagan says, and then the car comes to a halt.

"Remember your training," Ariel says, taking the man's hand to shake it: "Remember the Lock of the Mind and the Cross of the Heart. So long as they are within you, the Kingdom is within you. And so long as you have faith in them, nothing can harm you."

"And for all other things, well, I've got help," Reagan winks, looking out the window at the crowds milling into the pavilion. 

SPYGOD stands there -- wearing a black leather leisure suit, leaning against a pillar and smoking a cigarette like he invented the !@#$ thing.

And the way he tosses it aside when he sees Reagan get out of the car makes the old man smile.

* * *

They call it The Gathering. The Olympians have one at the same time, every year, but never the same place twice, oddly enough. Some make jokes about lightning striking. 

And some know better than that.

In one sense, the Gathering is a massive, upscale party, where the world's best and brightest mingle with the most intelligent and interesting -- something between Davos and Woodstock. In another, it's a celebration of another year gone by, and life continuing on. 

A massive and mighty celebration with one primary understanding: what happens inside must go outside, but what is happening outside must not infringe too highly upon the inside.

Strange games are played for charity, there on the floor. Odd ideas are formed and floated, and then expressed to the masses while still in their raw and heaving state. Strangers become intimate, enemies become friends, allies are torn asunder. 

And the one rule is that, if you are invited, you must attend, or else send someone as worthy in your stead. 

Ronald Reagan has been invited to three of these Gatherings. Each time before now he's politely declined, and sent one of his conservative allies. All of them have come back telling of a strange time that never failed to enchant and disturb in equal measure. 

All of them have come back changed, and not necessarily in a bad way...

But this year, it was decided that Reagan has to go. This is in spite of what happened the last time he went to one of their parties -- the first Gathering, they now say -- back in 1968.

Something he still can't fully remember, try as he might. 

However, the Backers would not be dissuaded. Something has told them that their client has to see this -- he has to know. 

He just won't be coming back changed, if they have anything to say about it. 

So, unlike the last time, he's going in clear of mind and eye. Like last time, however, SPYGOD is going to accompany him, if only to make certain he doesn't get compromised again.

It's just that he can't know why he's going, any more than he should know anything about the Backers at all...

* * *

"So what do you find is the best thing to do at these kinds of parties, (REDACTED)?" Reagan asks as they approach the end of the long line of thick, floating pillars, leading up to a massive portal, just hanging in the air.

"Honestly, sir?" SPYGOD shrugs: "Mingle."

"Just mingle?"

"Pretty much," he says, gesturing around them: "Everyone who's here is someone you might want to know. And if you already !@#$ing know them, seeing them when they're in a situation like this? Well, it can be a big !@#$ eye-opener."


"Oh yes," the man says, casting an eye around as they start to approach the floating stairs "It's too bad they won't !@#$ing let me bring any of my COMPANY people in here with me. I think the Intel department would have a !@#$ing field day."

"That's one way to put it," the politician says, already seeing someone he knows from outside of here: "I think I should pretend he's not with his wife."

"Oh, that's okay. Wait until he meets his husband."


SPYGOD laughs, and Reagan has no idea if the man's being serious or not. So he just sighs and keeps walking, knowing this is only going to get stranger from here on out.

* * *

Over the years the two men had struck up a solid political alliance that had turned into a very weird friendship.

It had started with SPYGOD rescuing Reagan, of course. But then, over the years, Reagan had actually managed to rescue SPYGOD a time or two -- politically speaking, anyway.

The most recent incident was something of a double play. 

When their new do-gooder President, Jimmy Carter, took office, one of his to-dos was to revamp the COMPANY. He'd decided that maybe America didn't need it, anymore, and even if it did it didn't need someone like SPYGOD at the helm.

Reagan was livid. He immediately took to the airwaves to mobilize middle America against any move of the sort, giving a speech about the unsung American hero that so galvanized people against the move that the phrase "unknown soldiers"became all but ingrained in the American psyche. By the end of a week, Carter had become something of a laughing stock in a town already growing leery of his well-meaning but foolhardy ideas. 

The farce came to an ignominious end a few days later, when the President called a press conference to publicly reaffirm his support for the COMPANY, with SPYGOD as its indisputable leader. To his credit, SPYGOD was actually quite gracious about the whole thing, in his own outspokenly profane way.

But watching Carter visibly squirm just outside the spotlight was its own reward. 

Reagan had also rescued SPYGOD behind the scenes as well. A number of his more socially conservative allies -- especially leftovers from Nixon's disgraced administration -- were rather upset by his now-open homosexuality. And they were ready and willing to throw some bipartisan support behind the President, so long as he appointed Mr. USA to head up whatever replaced the COMPANY.

While Reagan had to talk tough on gays for obvious reasons, and had purposefully dragged his feet on repealing anti-sodomy laws in his last years as Governor of California, he'd known and befriended a lot of gay conservatives in his time. In fact, he knew a lot of very prominent gay conservatives, without whom the movement would suffer greatly.

Keeping that in mind, he quietly rallied conservative support behind SPYGOD before anyone could try and link up Carter's boneheaded maneuver to their own agenda. He let it be known that anyone who had a problem with SPYGOD had a problem with him, which all but silenced the attempted maneuver.

(He was surprised at Mr. USA's reaction when he told him, though. Not so much disappointment as despair, which seemed unlike him.)

Reagan hadn't told SPYGOD any of this. Part of him wanted to just keep it a secret -- one he might one day need to use as leverage if they ever parted ideological company. But a larger part of him thought that maybe the man already knew, and was keeping mum about knowing as a mark of respect, and a silent thank you. 

SPYGOD was a weird one, alright. But he was anti-communist as all get out, conservative as anything, and as fine a patriot as he'd ever met. What he did in privacy, or alluded to in public, could never detract from all he'd done for his country, much less distract from his current duties. 

That and Nancy found him to be a gentleman, oddly enough. He didn't swear so much in her presence -- actually acting with some degree of manners. He even let her scold him a time or two about one thing or another, which he took with good-natured humor.

Why? Reagan wasn't sure. SPYGOD once joked with him that she reminded him a lot of his own mother, but only in a good way.

(He refused to elaborate on the bad ways, even while mind-splittingly drunk.)

Thus was maintained a very odd but effective political alliance -- one that Reagan was counting on continuing all the way to the White House. And possibly beyond, depending on what the Backers actually had in mind.

As for what that might be, who knew?

* * *

The stairs lead to a large portal -- easily larger than most cathedrals -- floating some ten feet in the air. Beyond it is a white, shimmering field that people are going into, mostly without fear.

And every time they enter, a bell rings -- deep and portentous. 

"Don't worry, sir," SPYGOD says: "I know it looks !@#$ weird, but it's just a warp corridor. It'll take us to wherever the party actually is."

"Don't you know?" Reagan asks, a little nervous as he watches someone from some band walk in with his entourage, and just disappear: "You can see, can't you?"

"Normally, yes. This time... no," the spy admits, tapping his eyepatch: "Always nice to be pleasantly surprised for a !@#$ing change, eh?"

"Says you. I like to know where I'm putting my feet."

"Point taken," SPYGOD says, holding up a hand to indicate his guest should stay put. Reagan does, and watches SPYGOD walk into the field. There's a sound like someone putting a hand into a body of water, and then nothing.

Several nerve-wracking seconds of nothing.

And then he's back, and his eye is wide with wonder.

"Oh man... !@#$, wow. Sir, you have to come in and see this. It's... wow. I don't !@#$ing have words."

"Well, alright then," Reagan says, allowing himself to be led into the shimmer.

It's a weird feeling. His hairs stand on end, and he feels like the world is breathing on him, ever so gently. He smells honey and milk, and gets the sense that all is well, and all will be well, forever and ever-

And then he's through, on the other side, and he gasps in amazement.

They're underwater. He realizes that much. They're in a massive bubble, underwater, and they must be somewhere where the sun is still shining because he can see it, overhead.

They're walking on an extremely large, raised, white marble platform over the sea floor. It must be ten football fields wide and long. And there are more steps, floating in the air. More platforms, floating atop one another.

Music. People. Lights floating in space...

Oh, they're that light woman. Rachel, or whatever her name is. Curled up into a ball, singing along with the music.

"How can she be all those places at once?" Reagan asks, watching as a shoal of brightly-colored fish fly by the edge of the bubble. Of all the questions he could ask, that one seems most pertinent.

"He still doesn't get it, huh?" a familiar rumbling asks. Reagan turns around and sees the tall black lady with the Sun for hair, clearly standing guard at the door. She's clearly looking down her large sunglasses at him, just like last time-

(-thought it a good idea to have this man here?" she demands of the others, now that the conflict is clear: "Do we allow in thieves as well as beggars, now-)

"-Rahmaa, honey, remember," SPYGOD says: "Some people just don't !@#$ing get it until they do."

"Some never do," the person she's guarding the door with intones. He's a man with skin like onyx, dressed in what appear to be jet-black Asian robes of some kind. His eyes are also hidden behind large sunglasses, and his hair a glowing, white ball with what looks like... craters?

"Always a pleasure, Noyx," SPYGOD lies, quickly ushering Reagan past the two of them before he gets utterly weirded out: "You'll have to !@#$ing excuse them, sir. They tend to look down on people."

"Was that man wearing the Moon for a hat?"

"Yeah, that's one way to put it. I think it's supposed to be his hair."

"And it is the Moon," Reagan clarifies: "Just like she's the Sun?"

"Yes, sir."

"Alright then," the former Governor says, taking a deep breath and doing his best to remember his Lock and his Cross: "I think we're good."

Just then one of the platforms lowers, and a large, tall man with a full beard takes a step to its edge to address them. His deep blue suit is festooned with coral and buttoned with seashells, and water seems to shake off of him with each loud and booming syllable.

"Good evening and good morning, gentles! I am Pontus, Lord of the Oceans! And with the arrival of a long-awaited guest, I call this Gathering into motion!"

There's a cheer raised -- one that echoes around the bubble and almost deafens him.

"You are welcome, one and all! Welcome to laugh! Welcome to love! Welcome to speak and be heard! Here, all are equal! None are excluded!

"Here, let your hearts be your guide! Here, let your minds be freed, your bodies untethered! Here, let wisdom prevail, but foolishness be divine!

"And with these words, we embrace the mystery of the future! Lead on!"

Another cheer, and Reagan feels as though the world were dissolving around him. A spell of some kind, obviously. But he remembers his training -- the locked steel box around his brain, and the cross implanted into his heart and soul.

The spell washes over and past him, and once more he can see clearly. Hear clearly.

God be praised, he can think. 

SPYGOD smiles, perhaps not aware of what's just happened on either level: "And just in case there was any question, sir? That was Pontus, and he is the Ocean."

"I could tell from the booming," Reagan says, winking: "Well, sounds like we were invited. Shall we attend?"

SPYGOD smiles and gestures ahead of them, where the mingling is at its height: "After you, sir. If you need me, I'll be nearby."

* * *

Things get downright weird after that.

Reagan meets a number of people he already knows, many of whom are happy to see him there. He also meets a number of people he knows only by reputation, or their headlines. And he is introduced to people he's never heard of before, or at least sees them in action for the first time.

As SPYGOD promised, it's quite an eye-opener. 

He hears John from the Beatles have a very animated argument over free will and human rights with the newly-elected Prime Minister of Israel. They almost come to blows, at least until one of the ladies with Lennon steers the conversation into more neutral territory, at which point they find out they share a love of Marlon Brando's films.

He watches as Jacques Cousteau speaks to a warm, large woman who seems to be made entirely of water. His attitude is approaching stammering reverence, and he clearly has to restrain himself from reaching in to touch the small, colorful fishes that dart about her transparent anatomy. 

He joins in a discussion with two older gentlemen and a full-figured woman in a short dress whose fabric is a moving print of oceans and islands, and who is surrounded by many, colorful birds. They're talking about massive spheres, and how one could put the world in a protective bubble, safe from harm. 

At some point Reagan asks if the bubble could be fitted with weapons to make sure less civilized countries didn't try and attack others. It's an idea that horrifies one older man, but amuses the other, perhaps the same way a child's silliness might amuse adults having a serious conversation.

(Just don't ever point them at me, dear, the lady chuckles at him: Remember me kindly, when you enter your kingdom.)

And he listens to weird electronic music played by some fellow from Italy, featuring a song that won't be released for another few weeks: Donna Summer's the voice making it happen, but she's nowhere to be seen, here. 

At some point he has to stand in a corner -- a curve, really -- and take a breather.  The music, the fumes, the ideas... it's all become too much.

"It's an interesting thing," a small, gentle voice says. He turns in surprise, not realizing there'd been someone there at all. 

"What is?" he asks the person --  a somber shade of a man with a mop of white hair and big glasses.

"It's like we're seeing the future, but it doesn't know what it wants to be, yet," the man says, patting his chest as if he were in discomfort: "Like a giant puzzle, in pieces all over the floor. Or a blank canvas, just waiting for the paint. Do you ever see things like that?"

"Sometimes," Reagan says, remembering some of his experiences at the Bohemian Grove. Seeing the light bulbs go off or on in people's heads as they hear the talks, or make friends with the right people.

"But then, I look out there, and I think it's being assembled," the man says: "It's just that we can't see the hands."

Suddenly, Reagan remembers who this man is: "You know, you look different without your entourage."

"I am different without them," Andy Warhol says, smiling wistfully. Then he nods and moves down the curve, clearly wanting privacy. 

"Sir!" SPYGOD says, coming over: "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to leave you alone that long. I just... did you see Shift, over here?"

"Who?" Reagan asks.

"Shift? Silver guy? Blank mask? Looks like he's an echo?" 

"Um, no..." Reagan says, suddenly remembering-

(this man is the answer," the blurred, silver man announces, pulling a very bewildered Ben Franklin from seemingly nowhere: "An understanding will be made, here and now. A promise made to be broken. We will reign and then decline, suffer and then shine. This is the way of it, now and-)

"-forever. Well, at least since that weird !@#$ thing with the King of Time, back after you and I met," SPYGOD explains, still looking around: "He went to go fight his stupid !@#$ and then we never saw him again. But every once in a while he just !@#$ing pops up, out of nowhere."

"How can he do that if he's gone?"

"Sir, he travels in time," SPYGOD explains: "And if you die now, but you were in the future a bunch of !@#$ing times, well, you're still there. You're just... !@#$, this is confusing."

"You're telling me," Reagan says, looking around: "I think I need a drink, (REDACTED). Preferably a !@#$ stiff one."

"I think I'll join you," SPYGOD says, glaring across the room at someone who's been observing them from a very frank-faced delegation of Chinese diplomats. 

Someone well-dressed and lithe, who seems both pleased and annoyed to see him there. 

* * *

They call it ambrosia. Reagan's had a number of drinks that claim to be it. This, however, is the genuine article.

"Amazing stuff," he says, feeling a little younger, up at the bar with everyone else.

(Except SPYGOD. He had to go have a word with someone.)

"It bloody well is indeed," a clearly drunk English rock star with huge lips says, swirling one down and handing his empty glass to the woman made of water, behind the bar: "I'm always !@#$ing saying that, mate. But then, when I leave this place? I can't !@#$ing remember what it tastes like. Funny, innit?"

"!@#$ strange," Reagan admits, already forgetting the taste that was just on his tongue: "They ought to bottle it."

"Doesn't work that way," a frankly disheveled man says, rubbing his stubble: "Won't keep longer than a day."

"Well, if you bottle it-"

"It vanishes," the man says, winking: "Only good for so long. Just like so many other things."

"I hear you there," Reagan says, extending a hand: "Ronald Reagan. Nice to meet you...?"

"Oh, you know me, sir," the man says, trying to seem a little less disheveled as he shakes it "I'm Edward Crisp. I don't think you've ever seen me out of uniform, is all."

"Oh? Are you a strategic talent, sir?"

"I am, yes," the man whispers, trying to smile: "But, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather remain incognito, tonight. That's why I'm at the bar and not over there on the floor."

"I understand," Reagan says: "I don't like talking shop when I'm at parties, either. Except that this party is apparently all about talking shop, even if it isn't supposed to be."

"That and making deals," the man says, looking over at someone he's clearly been waiting for: "Speaking of which, my ride's here. It was good meeting you, sir. We'll talk again soon, I'm sure."

With that, the man downs his glass of ambrosia, puts it on the bar, and walks over to a large woman in a stunning, extremely sexy dress that accentuates each and every bounteous curve. He walks up to her and takes her hand. Then she kisses him, suddenly and passionately, and nods, as if in agreement.

For a moment, Reagan thinks he knows her, but that's impossible. That large, profane woman he danced with at that first Gathering, she died three years ago, didn't she? 

She looks over at him for a second, and then winks right at him. His heart stops for a second. 

It is her. But how...?

("Please, father-brother. I am so sorry for this," she weeps, kneeling at the feet of someone there -- someone to whom they all pay fealty: "I'll pay any price. I'll do anything. Please just let me suffer instead of us all.")

"-Glenn, you can't !@#$ing remember it any more than I can," the rocker's insisting to some long-haired man in a cowboy hat at the bar, standing right where Gold Standard used to be. 

"Some dance to remember, some dance to forget," the man sings in a sweet, sad voice. 

"Ah, I've got your hotel right here, you yank wanker," the man says, getting another drink from the water woman as Reagan watches the dead woman walk away with the superhero.

"You're drunk, Mick."

"I am. And I'm single. And my band's !@#$in' done for."

"Oh, come on. You're the Rolling Stones, man. You'll be around forever."

"Ah, you'll think that, Glenn. You would. But don't get too far ahead of yourself. It's all downhill from here."

"You can say that again," Reagan says, getting a bad feeling about those memories. 

* * *

 It's been a half an hour, and SPYGOD still hasn't returned. Reagan's gone from the bar to the highest platform, and back down again, looking for him, but he can't find him anywhere. 

"I'll be right here, Ron," the ex-governor mutters, shaking his head: "Just mingle. It'll all be okay."

He looks down at the floor once more. Some weird game is pitting that bald-headed freak from the devil church in San Francisco against the half-Asian assistant of that Borges writer, from Argentina. They seem to be playing poker, but with each raise the cards all shift their numeric value, making it impossible to play from a knowing position of strength or weakness. 

He thinks he should know that writer. Somehow he should go down there and talk to him, after this is over. Maybe he should go down and throw in a hundred for charity...?

"But then, that would be obvious," someone tells him: "And you are anything but obvious, Mr. Reagan."

That voice. He's heard it before. 

He turns and looks at the man before him. He's very tall, this one: long hair, a well-groomed beard, wise and gentle eyes. And his suit... well, it's very colorful and exaggerated, and so tight against him he can read his muscles and anatomy like a book. 

"Lord Seranu," he says, extending a hand: "It's been a few years since we spoke, sir. I don't think I really extended my full thanks for helping my state, that day."

"You tried, I think," the man says, his hand warm and strong: "Your thanks are appreciated, but not necessary. We are here to help you, in all things, and in all ways."

"Yes, you've said as much," Reagan says, looking down as a cheer goes up from the game, below. Apparently the bald man won, and he seems as surprised as any at that. 

"Some reciprocity would be nice, I will admit," the man says, putting a firm hand on Reagan's shoulder: "But I know that children do not always appreciate their parents."

"Are we your children, then?"

"In some ways, yes," the man says, stepping beside Reagan and looking down: "In other ways, we are your children. Dead worlds have no gods, after all."

"What would happen if a world's gods all died?"

"Died?" the man laughs -- long and deep: "Oh, my friend. You would have to extinguish all life first to do that. So long as you are here, we will be here, beside you. Eternal and forever, and always near and dear."

"But haven't you died, before?" Reagan asks, unsure: "We've been without you for a long time. And then, well, that one lady from that rock group. Mother Cass, or-"

"Syphon," the man corrects him, his eyes flashing a bit: "Yes, she died. A heart attack, or so they say."

"That's not what happened?"

"You mean you don't know?" the man says, somewhat sadly: "Oh, but I suppose they don't tell you everything, the ones who put the things inside of you."

"Sir, I-" Reagan tries to say, something rising inside of him.

Something furious.

"Oh no," Seranu says, putting a hand on Reagan's chest: "Do not apologize, Mr. Reagan. Yours is not to apologize. You are blameless in this. The sword, and not the hand that cuts. I love you and forgive you as I love and forgive all things."

"Well, that's good to know, but..." Reagan says, just barely holding the fury at bay, and not really sure what he's thinking right now.

"You're thinking of that day, all those years ago," the King-Father of the Supergods says: "The party you can't remember. The way you and Syphon danced. The things she whispered in your ear as she learned of you, through that dance. The future you represent, and the problem she created when she tried to tie that future into our own."

That did it. The memories come flooding back. The nightmare seduction by that woman. The way she'd... done things to him.

The reasons she whispered in his ear as it was happening. 

"My God, get out of my head," Reagan shouts, holding his hands up to his temples: "What are you? Who are you to call yourselves Gods? Who are you to forgive us? Who are you to call us your children?"

"Just that," the man says, taking a respectful step back, and looking at him with much sadness: "Your parents and your children. Your rulers and your ruled. We are you, and you are we. Now and forever, even unto the end of time."

"I won't accept that," Reagan says, looking at the man: "There is only one God, buddy. And you're not him."

"That is also true," Seranu says, nodding: "But we are done speaking, you and I. The next time we see each other, well, you'll have something to say to me. And I know I won't like it."

"Enough!" Reagan shouts: "Enough of this !@#$. Enough magic. Enough predestination. Humanity lives on its own, succeeds on its own! We don't need you!"

Seranu just smiles and nods, turning to go: "By the way, tell your Backers one thing for me?"

"What's that?" Reagan asks, wondering where all that anger just came from. 

"Tobacco is an excellent way to stop a heart, but not an undetectable one," he says, winking: "Next time, they'll just have to hire someone... smarter."

With that, he's gone, leaving Reagan to slump down, holding his head in his hands, and wonder what the !@#$ he meant by that.

"Are you alright, my friend?" a large man in a simple, black robe asks, kneeling down next to him. He's got short, snow-white hair curled over a balding pate, a huge, bushy beard, a thick accent he can't quite place.

And two of the most commanding eyes Reagan has ever seen. 

"I think so," Reagan says to the man, who looks oddly familiar: "I was just... I think I just won an argument with a god, but I'm not sure."

"Oh, they're not gods, my friend," the man says, helping the ex-governor up: "Just super people, same as any other. They've let this get to their heads. It's made them insane, clearly."


"Really," the man says, smiling: "I appreciate what you said to him, and you are right. There is only one god, high above us all. Allah, praise be unto him. And they are not him."

Reagan smiles, taking the man's hand: "Maybe we should go and talk, friend?"

"I agree."

* * *

"So, you talked to him for how long?" SPYGOD asks, hoisting another glass of ambrosia by the bar as the floor begins to clear out, at long last. 

"Hours, I think," Reagan says, having one last one for the road, if only to try and remember: "It was amazing how much we had in common, in spite of everything else."

"And you didn't catch his name?"

"Well, he didn't exactly throw it," the man says, trying to chase the last bits of the taste down: "But no. And he's gone, now, so no looking around for him."

"I did enough of that, earlier," SPYGOD sighs: "ABWEHR got wind of where we were, and sent attack subs, and I didn't realize it until they almost exploded a !@#$ing bomb right on top of the new Israeli Prime Minister. I think that's what Shift was trying to draw my attention to, earlier. He always did like the mystery tour."

"I guess he did," Reagan says: "Is that where you were? Dealing with super-nazis?"

"Oh yeah," SPYGOD says: "Me and Pontus, we went out there on giant !@#$ing sharks. Chewed those nazis the !@#$ up. You should have seen it."

The superspy grins, and Reagan can't help but not be angry at him, anymore. So he puts the glass down and gestures to the door: "(REDACTED), I think I'm good to go home."

"Well, I'm happy to take you," SPYGOD says, escorting him to the door: "So, did the guy say anything else?"

"Yeah, he said that someone here had told him that he and I should meet each other," the ex-governor laughs.

"Really?" SPYGOD asks: "Who said that?"

"Oh, some lady doing knitting. That's why he found me. He said that she said we were destined to be enemies. So he wanted to find a way to prove her wrong. And he did! Isn't that hilarious?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD lies: "Did they make any other predictions about you two?"

"Only that he's going to come into his kingdom in nine days," Reagan shrugs: "God only knows what that means. He said he wasn't taking it seriously..."

On their way out SPYGOD catches sight of a figure he hadn't seen so far, tonight. It's a woman dressed in a blood-red cowl -- one that seems to burn with anger.

The woman scowls, and points an accusing finger in their direction, but he doesn't think it's at him.

"Quite a party," Reagan says as they enter the doorway: "But you know, (REDACTED), I think once is enough."

"I have to agree, sir," SPYGOD says, looking up at Lord Seranu, on his platform. The man gives him a sad wave goodbye.

Sad and knowing, like so much he does.

But then they're through the doorway. The bell tolls twice.

And the Gathering is over. 
* * *
 There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
"This could be Heaven or this could be Hell"

 (SPYGOD is listening to Hotel California (The Eagles) and having an Ambrosia Lager)

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