Sunday, July 26, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 3: 1986

"Night Makes Right / The Symbol Remains"

(Back) Ariel, President Ronald Wilson Reagan, The Negotiator
(Front) Kanaan, Sheliast, Nemesis, Sphyne, Senchro
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.

Ronald Reagan - "Eulogy for the Challenger Disaster" 

June 10th, 1994

At some point, SPYGOD realizes he's all cried out. The wet on his face feels cold, rather than warm, and he's no longer hitching his breath.

"Okay then," he says to the storm, which just seems to be getting worse. It only ever seems to rain in California if there's a funeral, or someone's dying. 

And as for this, well...

He coughs into his fist. Enough of this weak !@#$. Time to butch the !@#$ up and go back in before someone says or does something stupid.

Of course, he gets back into the Reagans' living room as something stupid's already been said. 

"... the heck are you to tell us anything, huh?" George H. W. Bush is berating Aaron, over by the window: "I'm surprised you even came here, tonight-"

"I felt it was my duty to attend," the man says, not looking away from the window to address the man who's shouting at him. 

"Your duty? You've got some nerve talking about that, mister."

"George, please just drop it," his wife says from one of the easy chairs, not too far from the other two men in the room. Barbara's not crying -- he'll give her that much -- but she's clearly upset. 

"Yes, please, just drop it," James Baker sighs: "It's done. We can't change things-"

"And if he and his creepy friends hadn't started this, there wouldn't be anything to change, darn it!"

"Don't you !@#$ing take this out on him," SPYGOD snarls, coming in from the rain and the wet: "Don't you dare."

"Why the heck not?" Bush asks: "He's one of the ones who approached him in the first place, isn't he?"

"And he's also the one who !@#$ing lost everything to help us, !@#$it-"

"He's right," Aaron says, still not turning around from the window: "My deeds after we came to our understanding are not sufficient apology for what we did."

"Maybe not," Baker says: "But they go a long way in my book."

"And mine," Quayle says, not bothering to look at his old boss. 

"Well, that's just flipping great," Bush sighs, turning away and shaking his head: "One of the greatest Presidents we ever had is... I can't even bring myself to say it. And you're all wanting to make nice with the person who helped him get that way."

"We're focusing on the future, George," Baker says, walking over to him: "There's nothing we can do about the past, now. We have to live in the world we made. The world all of us made, together."

"Some !@#$ing world," SPYGOD mutters, thinking of everything they lost along the way. 

"Hey, at least we're still here," Quayle says, trying to smile: "That was kind of the whole point of it, right?"

"Yeah," SPYGOD sighs, nodding: "I just wonder when we're really going to get the !@#$ing bill for what we bought, that day."

And no one has anything to say to that. 

* * *

June 10th, 1986

"Well !@#$ me sideways with a !@#$ spoon," SPYGOD shouts into his communicator as he fires out the window of his flying car, dusting HONEYCOMB agents riding swarms of giant metal insects like they're buzzing dust clouds: "I've got amateur hour at the bug house over !@#$ing DC, here, Second!"

"I know, sir," his new right-hand man is saying: "I've got a general call out to anyone available. But it looks like everyone's tied up across the board."

"You have to be !@#$ing kidding me," SPYGOD shouts, doing a barrel roll to avoid being skewered by radioactive bug sludge: "Is this part of a coordinated attack?

"Not so far as we can tell. Everyone else is just... busy. Sir."

Busy. SPYGOD does not like the sound of that. Not at all.

The skies over the nation's capitol are darkened. Waves of tin locusts are descending upon the city. Once they get here, they're going to start eating everything -- buildings, trees, people -- in order to clear the area for some new model city HONEYCOMB wants to build, here.

And it's all he can do to shoot the advance guard and not get chewed up in return...

* * *


Black leather pants. FRANKIE SAYS ARM YOURSELVES shirt. 
Pink Members' Only Jacket. Curly perm. Steel-Toed High-heels
More guns than anyone has any business having.

(Listening to Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11")
"Teenage crime now fashion's dead / Shoot it up
There goes my love rocket red / Shoot it up"

* * *

"See, here's the thing," John is saying in that warbling, grey voice of his: "You can't just make any old cotton-pickin' alterations to reality that you'd like, any old time you'd like to.

"There's a way about things. An order, for want of a better word."

(He's an Operator. Always has been. Wears grey. Looks grey. Beaten hat. Dusty overcoat. Long nose. Never without a !@#$ drink.)

"Now, any penny-ante magician can bend the world to his will, of course. Been doing it for years. You know all about that, I think.

"But when you wave your wand and say 'abracadabra,' everyone knows the hat didn't have a rabbit in it, before. One moment it doesn't, the next it does. 

"And that's the magic at work."

(Knocks back his drink. Somehow it's still full when he's done.)

"Now, people like us. Operators. We can make it so that the hat always had a !@#$ rabbit in it. Only we know for sure it wasn't there before. We do it all the !@#$ time.

"But it takes us years to figure out how. It's no little thing to unzip the guts of the world and sew it all back together. Accidents cause real problems.

"I bet you can imagine."

(Coughs into his fist. Looks at the table. Then around the run-down bar.)

"And here you're telling me that there's a special way the government has of changing things, now? That they've got the power to just flip a !@#$ switch and make changes to reality? 

"Well, my friend... I think that might just be a problem, don't you?"

 * * *

"Second, this is a direct order," SPYGOD says, as calmly as he can: "You've been working for me for, what, ten years, now?"

"Yes sir."

"And you've been my Second for all of a week, right?"

"Yes sir," Second says, smiling a little as he knows what's coming next.

"Well, if you want to not only have your job another !@#$ing day, not to mention breathe in that time? Get me some !@#$ing strategic talents up here !@#$ing ASAP! I don't care if you have to order out from a god!@#$ Pizza place! I don't care if you have to shake them out of the old !@#$ heroes' home and put their diapers on! Just get me one decent cape up here. Now!"

Second hears the line go dead, and sighs. Some of the other people on the Flier look at him as though he's a dead man walking, already. But he didn't get this far by being a pushover, or being afraid of his boss all but !@#$ting down the phone at him.

He got this far by doing the one thing his boss can't do: delegate, with a !@#$ing vengeance. 

And, after a few seconds to catch his breath and decide who on this bridge needs to feel his boot up their !@#$, he does just that. 

* * *

Point, aim, shoot. Point, aim, shoot. Over and over again. 

SPYGOD doesn't even think about it, after the first 100 or so. He wills bullets to their targets.

He makes them die with his mind.

It's the mystery of the projectile. The riddle of the gun.

A secret handed down one gunslinger to another, like bullets from a barrel.

And until his Second can come through for him, it's just his weapons against all of this. 

("Sometimes you're better off dead / There's a gun in your hands and it's pointing at your head.")

Point, aim, shoot. Point, aim, shoot.

Over and over again. 

* * *

"So let me see if I've got this straight," the Negotiator says, sitting bolt-upright in the booth of the upscale bar they've met at: "You have a friend. And your friend made a deal with... let's call them a rival corporation, for want of a better word?"

"I figure that's the best way to put it, anyway."

(Just another suit-wearing corporate weasel, one thinks. Expensive, crisp suit. Fancy silk tie. $500 haircut. Soothing, even voice.) 

"Now, this deal? It's forever. There's no going back for him, which is the bad news, I'm afraid."

"I know you're disappointed. I would be in your place, too."

(A smile that never wavers, but leaves you feeling cold as ice.)

"But as for the peripheral parts of the deal? The ones that are affecting others? 

"Well, those are not forever. In fact, they're very breakable, provided you know how."

(Every so often, the feeling that there's something behind that smile. A darkness, cold and absolute. Red glowing lines where there should be facial features.)

(The smell of sulphur.)

"However, there is just one catch...."

* * *

"Sir?" Second is saying, exactly four minutes and fifty-nine seconds later: "I've got you some capes."

"Well thank !@#$ for that!" SPYGOD shouts, doing a barrel roll in his car to avoid a shower of busted metal bug guts: "Did you have to call up the old folks home?"

"No sir, I've got you some top talent, in fact. Ten of them."

"Who?" SPYGOD asks, knowing full well that all the top talent he can think of is elsewhere, doing other things.

Then he hears the thunder, from not too far away. Boom after boom after boom, ringing through a clear sky.

"Oh !@#$," he mutters: "Um, Second?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Did you call the White House?"

"I did, sir."

"Did they send the god!@#$ Olympians?"

"Yes, sir. They did. You should be seeing them about now?"

"I am, yes," SPYGOD says, very carefully flying his car out of what's about to become an even more insane warzone, and then accelerating as quickly as he can: "Please have the Flier standing by for emergency assistance and clean-up. Like !@#$ing right now."

"Sir? Is it that bad?"

"That bad?" he winces, looking back just one time: "Second, I think we just !@#$ing bought ourselves a ringside seat in Hades. Literally."

"Oh dear..."

* * *

If he lives to be 200, SPYGOD will never forget this moment. 

January, 1981. Just after Inauguration Day. It's time for the Supergods to meet the new boss.

And he's not having any of their nonsense, anymore. 

SPYGOD stands there, helpless. He watches as the President, who's been a friend an ally for decades, rips into these seventeen well-meaning men and women as though they were delinquent kids. Upbraiding them for their global focus. Accusing them of collusion with the Communists.

Telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for playing at being gods. 

What could he say? How could he have interfered? He has no idea. 

But he sees the look on Seranu's face when Reagan tells him things are going to change. It's the same look that august being gave him when he left that Gathering, back in '77, with Reagan.

Knowing and sad, like he knew this was coming.

Like he knew this had to happen, here and now. 

And yet, here he is, somehow ok with it...?

("I look to you / And your strong belief / Me, I want relief / Tonight")

Their King-Father's certainty shames him. Reminds him of Jesus, carrying the cross.

He looks away, embarrassed, as one friend crucifies another...

* * *

"Oh, that is nothing, truly, my friend," Benjamin Franklin says as he puts yet another wondrous contraption down on a table filled with equally-amazing things: "None of these devices are really more than toys, to be honest.

"You should see the truly impressive work I am doing elsewhere, with myself."

(Much as you'd expect him to be. A portly, older gentleman, looking somewhat out of place in a fine suit and vest. He's kept his old glasses, though.)

"You see, the action by Shift, of bringing me from my time into yours, has caused my body to be suffused with time energy. Now most physicists speak of tachyons, which are particles that travel backwards in time.

"Except that I have become convinced that my particles are not so much a traveling thing as a bridge between places. I am both here, in this time, and still in mine, right where Shift found me. 

"Do you understand?"

(A big contagious smile. Nights of drinking and dancing in a new body, unencumbered by his age and girth.)

(Weird stories of what he gets up to, late at night, when no one is looking.)

"Well, it is very technical. I must confess that half the time I do not know what I'm doing until I have done it. But it is very exciting.

"In fact, I think I may have just made a car that can arrive before it departed. 

"Would you care for a ride?"

(A bigger smile. A layer of innuendo. Strangely compelling attraction.)

(The uncomfortable knowledge that he's been set up for a fall.)

* * *

"This is bull!@#$, son," SPYGOD barks at the young Marine inside the suit of high-tech armor, standing outside what has to be the tenth set of underground, guarded double doors he's gone through in less than fifteen minutes: "You know !@#$ well who I am."

"Rules, sir," the Machinemarine squeaks out.

"Please don't make trouble, sir," the other one there pleads: "This is the White House."

"And I've been welcome here longer than you've been alive, kid."

"Sir, please," the first one all but begs: "Don't get me disciplined. It's my first day here."

"Oh, alright," SPYGOD sighs, showing off an official, laminated picture of him flipping off the camera: "Here's my god!@#$ ID. Just !@#$ing let me through-"

"Sir, will you please just look into the retinal scanner like we asked-"

"It won't work, you dumb!@#$. It's made of glass!"

"Then, the other one? Under the eyepatch?" the other Machinemarine asks.

"Oh sure, let's !@#$ing do that," SPYGOD snorts, and lifts his flap to show off the other eye.

The moment the scanner registers it, it begins to smoke and make unhappy noises. Fortunately, the door does open. 

"Waste of !@#$ing taxpayer money," he says, walking through the doors that were not there just yesterday: "Someone's getting the mother of all kickbacks."

Down one more hall. One more ramp. One more set of doors that is opened for him, this time, and he's in the cavernous Command Room, finally. 

There are big screens on the walls and ceilings, focused on various trouble spots around the world. Technicians and Generals stand everywhere, taking and giving orders. Scientists are gathered around banks of computers, overlooking the reams of data coming in. 

And not a !@#$ing one of them seems to understand the gravity of the situation.

"Alright," he says to those assembled there, which includes the Vice President and Dr. Yesterday: "Does someone want to tell me what the !@#$ is going on?"

"I beg your pardon?" Yesterday says, almost dropping his teacup. The Vice President just sighs.

"You !@#$ing told me you had the Olympians under lock and key until you, and I quote, 'figured this all out,'" SPYGOD says, stomping towards the man with a look like murder on his face: "Well, I just saw them go Full Metal Jacket overhead, Bob. I don't think that counts as !@#$ing figured out."

"Well, yes," Dr. Yesterday says, sighing and gesturing to the big board: "We decided it was time for a field test, (REDACTED). And I think you'll agree the results were pretty spectacular-"

"Oh for !@#$'s sake," SPYGOD groans, grabbing the controls for the big board away from some gawp-eyed tech and refocusing the view from the skies of DC to the ground: "Does that look spectacular to you?"

Everyone gasps at the wreckage. Buildings are burning. Streets melt and catch fire. Storefronts shatter and explode.

And throughout it all stride ten of the Olympians -- gleefully destroying the city they were sent to save as they destroy the enemies that tried to beat them to it. 

"All they !@#$ing did was bring the fight from the skies down to the ground," SPYGOD shouts at everyone there: "No concern for civilians! No concern for property damage! No concern for all the god!@#$ memorials and tourist attractions that make this town a !@#$ing vacation spot instead of the black pit of leftist bureaucracy that it actually is!"

"I think you need to calm down, sir," the Vice President says, as gently as possible.

"Calm down?!" SPYGOD shouts, smashing the controls with his fist: "What does it say when I'm the one being !@#$ing concerned about collateral damage, George? Huh?"

No one has anything to say to that. 

* * *

Inside the Oval Office, Ronald Wilson Reagan sits at his desk, staring into space.

He just forgot where he was, for the third time today. 

It's happening more and more, this absence of self. This disconnection from the here and now.

The moments when he stops being here, and goes elsewhere. 

It's a horrible feeling -- vertiginous and strange. He thinks about what he has to do, and what the day has brought him, and then he sees things.

Terrible things. 

When the state passes, he is back. He knows what he must do, but not always why. 

And he has an understanding, clear as crystal, of what will happen if he gets it wrong.

He reaches into the jar of jelly bellies on his desk, and munches on a few. The taste brings him back to the here and now. 

(How many has he had, today? He used to know. He can't remember, now.)

He begins to write about what he saw. The state of emergency in South Africa. Yet another excuse to keep their people from freedom, but he knows he must criticize but not confront.

He must allow this Apartheid abomination to continue, in spite of what he could do to end it. 

It breaks his heart. So much power, yet so little freedom to use it. All his moves watched over. All his words carefully measured. 

All his decisions made for him, by his Backers. 

("That's just the way it is / Some things will never change") 

He closes his eyes. He refocuses. He writes. 

And it all comes true...

* * *
"Oh, the connection to up top is !@#$ real," John warbles: "We Operators, we sort of skirt around it.

"That's why we're all in the Grey. Somewhere between the dark and the light, if you know what I mean.

"And I think you !@#$ well do."

(Still working the same magically-refilled drink, hours later. A little more talkative, now.)

"Normally, the folks up there are happy to just let us stand or fall on our own. Hasn't been a real !@#$ intervention since the Man Jesus, all those years ago.

"And look what a god-!@#$ mess that was. Trying to splice the kingdom of Heaven with the world below it...."

(A wistful look. A crack in the cynicism.)

"But here's the thing. To make this sort of thing work, they'll need a physical point of intersection.

"A link, if you want to call it that."

(Pats his gnarled hand on the table. Nods at it.)

"Oh, you know what I'm !@#$ing talking about?  Well, that just figures. They say you know all.

"Or is that just you saying it, all along? I've never been sure about that.

(A raised eyebrow, then furrowing)

"Well, know this, my friend. As long as that link is there, and they've got some poor !@#$-hole to connect to it? The problems are just going to get worse.

"A lot !@#$ worse.

"Why? Well, it's bad enough now. But just wait until some !@#$ fool gets it in his head to bring about a real change."

(A cocked eyebrow at the obvious question.)

"Like, how about Hitler never came to power? How about no more Communism? How about no more bad guys, anywhere?

 "As it is, they can't even !@#$ing rewrite the fine details on a bakers dozen superpeople. You know !@#$ well about that.

"But just wait till they try to handle all the angles on ancient history, or a whole concept. Just wait till they realize there's too way too many fine details to rewrite.

"And when they can't... well, you'll know, friend. You'll see us there to clean it up. 

"And if we have to clean it up..."

(The most stern and threatening look he's ever seen this man give.)

(It chills. Truly.)
* * *

It's some time later. The fires have been put out. The wounded have been tended to, the damage contained.

And the toys have all been put back in the box.

"This seriously !@#$ing creeps me out," SPYGOD says, watching on closed-circuit TV as the ten Olympians cleared for active duty are marched through the complex, guided by fully-armed and very nervous Machinemarines.

They're all wearing shiny, white uniforms with a big, round O on the right lapel. Black boots and belts. High tech wrist communicators.

(Blank, vapid expressions.)

"Well, it's the best we could do, at least for now," Dr. Yesterday says, pouring himself another cup of coffee from a handy pot. They're in his office, now, going over things now that everyone's had a chance to cool down, somewhat. Blue dwarfs run this way and that, bringing tools and components here and there, as they tend to do.

(And SPYGOD knows better than to ask who made the coffee.)

"'The best you could do,'" SPYGOD mocks: "You're supposed to be our expert on Strategic Talents, Bob."

"It was Mr. Franklin and I," the man says: "We handled it together, and I know I held up my end. So if there's any mistakes...?"

SPYGOD just looks at the man, and then shakes his head in disgust: "'If?'"

"Well, this is a work in progress. It's a very complex thing-"

"Bull!@#$! You're the one go to when we're !@#$ing broken, or growing extra arms or heads! You mean to tell me you can't handle their biology?"

"It's not the biology that's the problem," the scientist sighs, watching as their leader, Seranu, is deposited at the door of his living quarters, and has to be reminded to go in and close the door: "It's their minds."

"What, you can't get them some competent therapy?"

"It's not that simple, (REDACTED). When we rewrote their history the second time... well, something got lost. Something we haven't been able to get back."

"Why the !@#$ did you have to rewrite them, anyway?" his guest says, grabbing a cup himself, and then tipping most of a flask of hooch into it: "What was wrong with the previous story?"

"Oh, having them be gods hiding in mortal form?" Dr. Yesterday says, taking notes as the others are led, in turn, to their homes: "Well, I guess that proved to be kind of sacrilegious. I think the Reverend Falwell complained, and, well, you know how tight he is with the President."

"Don't !@#$ing remind me," SPYGOD snorts: "I had to sit there and listen to him call me a degenerate at the last prayer breakfast. I swear, one of these days I'm going to dress up like Satan and bring a god!@#$ flamethrower..."

"You know, you could try being a little less flamboyant, (REDACTED)," the scientist says: "Sometimes you have to go along to get along."

"And maybe you should ask your !@#$ wife to help you with this problem, Bob," SPYGOD says, deciding not to kick the man's testicles into his skull -- this time.

"Oh, Geri?" Dr. Yesterday visibly blanches: "Well, she's really busy with a lot of projects right now. I don't want to disturb her-"

"No, you just don't want her to know how badly you !@#$ed this up."

"Now, see, that's unfair-"

"Unfair?" SPYGOD snorts: "All those people ever wanted to do was !@#$ing help us out, Bob. And in return, we magically lobotomized them. Twice."

"I had my orders," Dr. Yesterday insists, sadly: "So do you."

"Oh, I know all about those !@#$ orders. I seem to recall fighting a war against some !@#$ers who were all to happy to follow theirs. And I know you know where that led."

"That's..." the scientist blanches again, almost dropping his cup of coffee: "My god, that's offensive."

"Yeah, it is," SPYGOD replies: "But maybe that's why you really don't want to bring Geri in on this, Bob. You know exactly what she'll say.

"And you know why, too."

And then he walks away from Dr. Yesterday before he says, or does, anything more harsh than that.

* * *

The thing they all really remember about that day is the light. 

They all wore special sunglasses, in that room. They were warned to keep them on. They were also told to stand well back from the insertion point. 

And no one was going to argue with those Backers -- not then, not ever.

The room was specially prepared for weeks. Lined with steel they found somewhere unbelievable. Work crews with concrete stood just outside the door, waiting for the signal to brick it up.

But inside, there was something that had to happen, first. A sign of fealty, they said. 

Reagan alone knelt. He was the one, after all. The one the Backers had chosen to work with.

The one who had taken the yoke upon his own neck, for good or for ill.

Everyone else? They just stood and watched, agog. 

They stared in disbelief as the one called Ariel brought a blazing, long sword from nowhere -- its light the equal of a million suns, yet cold. 

They shook as he drove it into the floor of the room, speaking a language not heard on Earth since the Garden of Eden.

And then they all gladly left when bidden, the heat just starting to lick at the back of their shoes. 

When it was done, and the room sealed, they went up to the Oval Office. There, in the corner, was something that had not been there before. 

A telephone, up on a marble pillar. A big, black and intimidating thing with no dial.

It had no cord. It didn't need one. 

It began to ring. The sort of noise that was impossible to not acknowledge. 

And then Ariel pointed to it, and told the President he needed to answer it when it called. 

"Who's on the other end?" The President asked.

"Who do you think?" the Backer said, smiling. 

And it was not a kind smile. Not anymore. 

They all left the room, after that, giving Reagan some privacy. And they all looked to one another, already inventing explanations for what they just saw. Already doing their best to reject it. 

All but SPYGOD, who had seen it through an eye that allowed no rejection of the obvious.

("How can you be so invisible? / Give me the nerves to see")

Ever after, either Aaron or Ariel was at the White House, or wherever he went. Ever after, when the phone rang, he answered it. 

Ever after, he would stare into space for some time, and come back with some new answer to whatever question was perplexing them -- sometimes for things that hadn't happened yet, sometimes for things that, now, never would.

Ever after, the White House no longer belonged to the people of America, but to the God they said they were under.

And while some were alright with this, and some ecstatic, some could tell that the weight of Heaven was a terrible burden for their President.

And some decided something should be done about it...

* * *

"Really? You're asking me?" The Negotiator smirks.

"Well, I mean no disrespect, but given your line of work I'd have thought you'd have figured that out by now. In some ways we're not so different.

(A hand held up to deflect wrath.)

"No, don't get upset. Think. 

"We both get what we want by giving others things they want but can't have, or don't think they can get. The trick is knowing what those things are, and how much to ask for them.

"You see?"

(A disappointed smile, most likely just for show. Scripted.)

"Ah, well, maybe it is a hard thing to understand. Even you can only see the world through so many angles.

"How about this, then? Imagine you're a creature of duty. I'm sure you can do that."

(Knowing smile.)

"Now imagine you are immortal, created to fulfill that duty for an eternity. Imagine you have the imagination to think of other things to do, but no opportunity to do them, because you're always busy.

"And imagine that, when you're down here, watching over humans, you gain a vicarious thrill from seeing them go about their free lives. Making mistakes. Having victories. Living and loving all on their own.

"See, that's what they want. Not free will, as they actually do have it. But they want the freedom to try and to fail.

"The luxury of sin."

(A flicker at that word. The blackness becomes visible, just for a second.)

"Oh yes. They love humans for that simple, small thing. The failing people like you try to purge from yourselves to enter Heaven is the one thing that those who live there wish they could do.

"But no. They're on 24/7. Little angel bees, out making the holy honey for the big G. No time to sin. No time to do anything.

"Unless, of course, they could come down here on official business, and yet not be seen..."

(The worm..)

"Oh yes. There's ways to do that, my friend. Many ways."

(... the hook...)

"Are you interested in hearing about them?"

(And one good, hard pull...)

* * *

"Oh, so good to see you, good friend," Ben Franklin says, shaking SPYGOD's hand as he enters a side room he wasn't expecting to stumble into.

He really was just looking for the exit. Or the john. Maybe both.

"Good to see you too, Ben," he says, looking around at things. There are a bunch of scientists in here, all poring over notes and charts, and looking at photographs and videos. There's also some ladies in amusingly-scanty attire, alternating between hanging all over the scientists and serving cocktails off of trays.

A bar in the corner. Anti-communist posters on the walls. Heavy rock playing from a stereo.

(Blue Oyster Cult's last album, he thinks. Not really his thing.)

"Can I offer you a drink?" the Founding Father asks, waving a hand around the room: "I think we're all a little lit up, at this point. That is what you say these days, is it not?"

"It is, and I don't mind if I do," SPYGOD sighs, closing the door behind them: "Truth to tell I could !@#$ing use a whole car full of drinks at this point."

"Yes, I hear things were... not so well, up top?"

"That's putting it !@#$ing mildly," he says, grabbing two drinks from the nearest tray and downing them one after the other: "Hopefully my Second's got the !@#$ figured out, or he's going to have the shortest career in the COMPANY."

Ben laughs for a moment, and then realizes his new guest isn't joking. After that he just has a drink along with him, and nods sagely.

"So what is all this?" SPYGOD asks, looking around: "Tappa Kegga Brew having a careers in science day?"

The portly man laughs, and then shakes his head: "I must give myself credit, my friend. I actually understood that."

"Caught up on a few movies, eh?"

"One could say that. I have also been pooling the graduate students at the nearby colleges for talent! I've found them most refreshing in their youth and enthusiasm."

"Not to mention the looks," SPYGOD snorts, grabbing another drink and walking over to a nearby table. There, the scientists are discussing something about weaponized dreams. A picture of pale, willowy Sphyne is passed around and tapped.

"So?" SPYGOD asks again. It's the sort of tone he takes with people when he doesn't want to have to repeat himself.

"Well, this is sort of top secret, or so they tell me," Ben explains: "But in short? We are working on doing something with the other eight Olympians."

"Something?" SPYGOD asks: "Like what?"

"Well, as you know, not all of them have talents that are directly applicable to a battle with other Strategic Talents. Case in point, as much as I may appreciate the more erotic side of things, well... could you see Rosi in a fight? What would the young lady do, love them to death?"

"S/he does alright," SPYGOD says, watching a rather large, black man discussing a large stack of printouts about Syphon. He's talking about cloning programs. Short-lived armies made for specific battles, needing only DNA, programing, and a mission.

"And then there's the other limitations," Ben sighs: "Apparently Nemesis is proving to be quite bothersome."

"How so?" SPYGOD asks, remembering the last time he ran into the fiery lady. The look she gave him made even him just a little scared.

And what she'd said...

"Well, here's the thing," the Founding Father goes on: "You know the trouble our government has been having with Libya? That fellow who runs things these days is apparently being quite bothersome and warlike. Not far removed from the troubles we had with them in my time-"

"That he has," SPYGOD interrupts: "What of it?"

"Well, someone had the good sense to ask if Nemesis would be willing to kill him. She asked why. So she was told all the things he had done, and when we were done, she said she could only kill him for those crimes if she killed all other heads of state for the same crimes."

SPYGOD cracks a smile, which Ben was clearly not expecting: "Well, good sir, you can imagine how well that went over..."

"Yes I can," SPYGOD says, smiling even wider: "A god-weapon with a conscience and a sense of humor. Must be !@#$ing inconvenient."

"Well, do you have any advice?" Franklin asks: "Given how much time you spend with others like her, perhaps you could talk some sense into her."

"No," he says, grabbing a drink for the road before he heads out: "But let me give you some advice, Ben."

"What would that be, good sir?"

"Stop it," the man says, looking around the room: "Stop this !@#$. All of it. Stop trying to turn Kanaan into a probability bomb. Stop trying to make Sheliast your personal island-sinker. And as for messing around with Hoosk... well, good luck there."

There's a hush over the room, just then. All the scientists look to Ben, who looks to them, and then to their guest: "You do realize we're... well, we are supposed to-"

"Ben, the best thing I ever !@#$ing read in school was you telling people to stop !@#$ing obeying orders and start listening to what you thought was right," SPYGOD says, tapping the portly man's chest: "Take your own advice, Mr. Franklin."

"Sir, I am not accustomed to having my own words turned against me," the founding father says, taking the drink out of his now-unwelcome guest's hands: "And if you cannot be civil-"

"And just so you know, doing this?" SPYGOD says, leaning in close to whisper: "It's not going to !@#$ing save you when the time comes. Trust me on that. If Shift said something, it's going to come true."

That gets him a look of hate and fear so dire it almost breaks his heart. At the very least, it does silence Franklin up, but at a terrible cost. 

So he gets out of there, cursing his tendency to shoot his !@#$ mouth off.

* * *

"I don't like this," the Vice President is saying: "Not one darn bit."

"I agree, sir," SPYGOD says, looking out the window of the limo they're in for this meeting. It's the middle of the day, but yet it's dark as night out there.

It's a COMPANY Car, made for these kinds of meetings. No sound gets out. No light gets in. No one can hear them speak or think.

Total blackout. 

"I've seen that man go right down the tubes the last few years. Ever since the day they put that sword into the floor of the basement."

"He hasn't !@#$ing been himself, no," SPYGOD admits: "It almost looks like he's got a !@#$ limiter in his noggin."

"A what?"

SPYGOD just looks at him: "Come on, sir. You were in charge of the other Company for a hot minute, back in the day. Don't you remember when SQUASH was putting biochemical and hypnotic programming into their agents' brains?"

"I... might have read something about that."

"Well, it's a moot point, now. Making it so you can't !@#$ing think about anything but the mission causes a lot of !@#$ing problems. Turns your !@#$ brains to J-E-L-L-O pudding after a couple months."

"And that's the problem, isn't it?" the man says, looking out the window at whatever SPYGOD was staring at, a moment ago: "In two years, I might be President. Am I just supposed to... I don't know. Kneel down? Become their darn puppet?"

"That might well be the !@#$ plan, provided we're all still around."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that... !@#$, I feel stupid saying this, sir, but do you get the feeling we're being !@#$ing pointed at World War III?"

The man looks at him, and then nods -- very slowly and sadly.

"I do. A lot of reckless things. Very silly things. Well, we could be handling things better. A lot better."

"Agreed. I mean, I !@#$ing hate the commies more than anything, but I don't want it to end with us nuking Moscow. I'll just do damage control until they can overthrow them, same as always."

The Vice President smiles: "A sensible view. You're a more practical man than I took you for, sir."

"So, speaking practically?" SPYGOD asks, leaning forward: "If there was some way for me to get the President out of this !@#$hole he's fallen into, and our country out of this !@#$ing arrangement, would I have your blessing? Seeing as how you're most likely going to be the next President?"

George Herbert Walker Bush smiles.

("Those lips conspire in treachery / To strike in cloak and dagger, see!")

Carefully extends a hand to shake. 

SPYGOD takes it, knowing he may yet live to regret this.

But, for his nation, and a friend, he'll do !@#$ near anything. 

 * * *

"So, I've had a chance to think, since our last conversation," Ben Franklin says, as the Bugatti takes them across the country in -30 seconds. 

(Less relaxed now. More cautious.)

"I think you may just be right, sir. I do not like the direction this is going. Not at all.

"I think we are tampering with things best left alone. And I say that both as a scientist, and a man who, while not always in step with the Lord God, knows enough of the divine to know that one does not merely poke at it with a stick."

(Downshifts, making the journey last longer.)

"I am not certain what direction this may go. I am not entirely certain of my own motives, given how things are.

"But I do know that, when the time comes, and our masters decide they no longer wish to try and rework and remodel these beings, I feel I can have some say in what happens to them.

"And I would very much like your assistance with this, as you alone seem to care for their welfare. 

"If I leave things up to that Dr. Yesterday fellow..."

(A long, cold shudder.)

"Are we agreed, then? When the time comes, let us be one in this, my friend.

"We both owe them much, and I so most of all..."

* * *

Outside the White House, in the Rose garden, SPYGOD lights up a cigarette. He doesn't give a !@#$ who sees, or what they might say. 

Let them all watch.

The situation has been contained and cleaned as best as possible. Second pulled out every stop to make sure it was done so. He was also amazingly contrite about it, but did not offer to resign, even in spite of the casualty lists. 

SPYGOD likes that. This man might be able to hack it after all...

"You know, you really shouldn't smoke out here," someone says to him, not without some humor.

"You think anyone's going to stop me?" SPYGOD snorts, turning to look and see who it is. But the moment he realizes it's Nancy Reagan, he coughs and puts the cigarette out in his hand, and then tosses the smoking butt into a zippered pocket on his suit. 

"Oh, (REDACTED)," she chuckles: "What are we going to do with you?"

"I won't say no to an iced tea."

"Neither would I, normally. But... not today, eh?" she says, taking hold of his arm and letting him walk her around. 

They walk in silence for a time. Her tiny hands can't both wrap around his arm, which amuses them both.

(He likes her touch. It reminds him of his mother.)

"He's not doing well, is he?" he asks, as gently as he can.

"No, he's not," she says, trying not to stumble in her words: "He's been having nightmares, now."

"Oh?" SPYGOD asks: "What kind?"

"He wakes up screaming. He says 'It's coming.' But when he comes to, he can't remember what. He just knows that he's terribly afraid of what he saw."

"How often?"

"Almost every night. He used to be able to just shake them off, but now... he's not a young man, anymore, (REDACTED). He's later to rise and unsteady. And that phone... every time he gets off of it I think he's got another grey hair."

He nods again: "Nancy, I have to ask you to ask me something."

"That's a really strange way to put it."

"It is, but..." he stops, and turns around to look at her: "I might be able to help him. I might be able to end all this. But it's going to take some doing. It's also going to take some... drastic things. Maybe even bad things."

"And you want to know if I'm okay with it."

"Yes," he says, trying to find the strength to look in her eyes as he says this: "I can't promise anything, right now. I'm still looking into it."


"But I've seen and heard enough in my time to know that something like this? It's... well, excuse my French, Nancy, but it's not going to !@#$ing end well. Not at all."

She looks at him for a moment, as if she was going to scold him for his potty-mouth. But she just nods, looks askance, and then looks back up: "The man I married made a bad deal with people he thought he could trust. He told me he did this to save America, no matter the cost. But I don't think we're saving anything. I think we're just marching faster to the end."

"I don't know what I can do about that," SPYGOD admits: "But I might be able to save him."

"Then please do it," she says, looking off to the Oval Office windows: "Bring me my husband back, (REDACTED). If you still can, please do it."

She doesn't cry. He gives her that much. 

And neither does he. At least not today. 

* * *

Speed is the game in the shadow of kings
Where the company of angels fly
They appear at the crossroads at once in the future
Clad in the darkness on the highways of night
With no love ... from the past

(SPYGOD is listening to Shadow of California (Blue Oyster Cult) and having a Ghost King)

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