Monday, August 3, 2015

And All the Friends of President Reagan - Pt. 4: 1992

"What They Say's Gonna Happen / Gonna Happen at Last"

(Back) The Negotiator, former President Ronald Wilson Reagan, SPYGOD
(Front) Senchro, Satanoth, Noyx, Soubre, Restriit
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *

We were meant to be masters of destiny, not victims of fate

Ronald Reagan - 1992 Republic National Convention

June 10th, 1992
"Are you ready for this?" John asks in his own, warbling way.

"As ready as I'm !@#$ing going to be," SPYGOD says, looking at the waterfall-like explosion of cables and tubes he's sitting in the center of, here in what's left of the abandoned Command Room, down below the White House. 

"It's... not too late to reconsider," Ben Franklin says, looking up from checking the equipment they've spent the past few days cobbling together: "We could always find someone else."

"Sure, and what the !@#$ are we going to tell them?" SPYGOD asks: "'Hey, how do you !@#$ing feel about scrambling your !@#$ brains inside your noggin to save a bunch of has-been Supergods from the mother of all raw deals? Oh, by the way, it'll probably !@#$ing kill you, if it doesn't do something even !@#$ing worse.'

"'And if you succeed? You ain't going to !@#$ing remember a god!@#$ thing.'"

"That's one !@#$ way to put it," John says, pulling a flask of something nasty out of his film-grey coat, taking a good snort, and offering it to SPYGOD: "I think I'd rather be in that !@#$ beehive, again."

"You and me both," SPYGOD sighs, trying to drain the flask but finding, to his surprise, it has no bottom, and just gets nastier the more you pull: "At least then we had a !@#$ing chance."

"We also had Doctor Power, that day," John says: "You could get him on this. Wouldn't hurt to have another person helping out."

"I think we both know why that's a !@#$ bad idea, John," SPYGOD scowls, handing the flask back: "Now let's get this !@#$ on the road before I really lose my !@#$ing nerve."

Ben Franklin has no idea what they're talking about. He realizes he doesn't want to know, either. So he just goes back to checking the last of the connections -- making sure there's an unbroken line of power going from SPYGOD's eye, to the controls, and then all the way up the hallway, around several bends, and onto a makeshift control box in front of a certain wall.

A wall before a room that technically doesn't exist, anymore, and the amazing thing it contains...

* * *

... how hard can this be just think think !@#$ it see the world as it is see the pieces of the world that need to change look at the fifteen of them down in their cells below us mindless and sleeping change their stories change their histories how hard can it be just do it wait oh my !@#$ing god how many variables are there what the !@#$ come on simplify it can't be any worse than shooting a !@#$ing angel in the god!@#$ed noggin...

* * *

"... you will all die, screaming, and in pain," Ariel promises as his body warps and twists, ichor spewing from the massive holes in his upper chest, and holy light shining from his eyes.

"Oh, just go to Heck, or wherever," the newly-elected President says, standing right in front of the door to the room they were going to open, once more: "And tell your people that we answer to the taxpayers, and not you."

 "You will beg the Kingdom to hear your pleas, and be denied!" he goes on: "You will be sent straight to the Pit, all of you. All of you!" 

"Ah, shut the !@#$ up," SPYGOD snorts, re-aiming the gun he got from an old, absent ally at the angel he just shot full of unholy bullets: "You're beaten, Ariel. Your hold on Reagan is gone, America's under new management, and we're not eating what you're !@#$ing cooking. Time to go."

"Ronald," the broken being pleads, looking to the now-former President -- now seeming so weak and empty without the yoke of Heaven upon him -- "It is not too late to take back this gift. Give me your hand. Save your people!"

"I... I don't..." the man says, clearly confused and having to lean on Aaron for support: "I can't... what...? Where are we?"

"That'd be a big, fat 'no,' !@#$head," SPYGOD says, shooting the Backer in the face for good measure.

Ariel tries not to scream as the back of his head all but explodes, and a hole in spacetime begins to suck him in, and down. But as he looks around the hallway before the hidden room, and at all the men who've assembled there to tell him "no," and sees one who should be with him, but is not. 
Aaron, gently holding up the former President, and looking back at him with very guilty eyes.

And, with the last shred of higher power left within him, Ariel points a damning finger at his ally -- the only one who could have helped these mortals to do this -- and lays upon him one final, all-consuming curse...

* * *
... Kanaan I see you Kanaan I name you I see you I name you I lift you up and place you alongside other heroes like Doctor Power no wait !@#$ he's worthless !@#$ big !@#$ treasonous awful never no wait what am I doing not Soviet no she can't be Soviet mole oh my God no please don't put her in Soviet mole operating in the CIA for years please just let me get this right please no likes handicrafts a lot oh my God !@#$ no what have I done...

* * *

"... good Man Jesus, it's going to kill him," John says, looking right through the mess of sparks and moving spacetime that's surrounded their ally since they threw on the power. 

"We don't have a choice, sir!" Ben Franklin shouts over the whining noise: "We knew the risks going into this endeavor! If we don't follow through..."

John looks at the portly fellow. His gaze seems capable of destroying steel, and betrays exactly how much he really knows about what's been going on here. 

All of it. 

"I'm going to Operate," the man says, finding a spot on the floor and sitting down on it: "I'll do what I can do help him from out here."

"Is that wise?" Franklin asks: "If we interfere-"

"I think the !@#$ word is 'help,' you sad sack of !@#$," the Grey Man says, not bothering to look in his direction: "And just in case you've gotten any other good ideas? I'm of the Grey, and to harm one of us is to involve all of us.

"And not even you can think your !@#$ way out of that."

With that, he closes his eyes, and extends his hands into the warping air around him.

And, as a suddenly-truly-afraid Ben Franklin watches, the Grey Man begins to Operate on the area outside the distortion...

* * *

... Noyx black Noyx night and the Moon shining night black down black white but black leather daddy no wait he's not black leather daddy in the Castro no he's a hero a hero he's one of us protector of the community okay fine that'll do for now go back later try not to !@#$ oh no !@#$ing everyone he saves wait no come back to it Aegio blessed Aegio fecund and large and beautiful mother yes she is mother Earth that's it that's it...

* * *

"I mean, come on, man," SPYGOD says, gesturing to the everyday world around them, baking in the noonday, DC sun, and praying (well, not really, under the circumstances) that he's finally getting through: "Can you really !@#$ing see this as ruins? Do you understand what a nuclear strike will do to this place? To these people? This world?"

Aaron looks around, behind his sunglasses, taking in the whole the National Mall. SPYGOD imagines those powerful, all-seeing eyes focusing on each and every person. Each blade of grass and wildflower. Each and every motion, smell, and sound...

"It is beautiful," Aaron says: "Everyone the Creator has made is good, in some way. All the people have the ability to attain Paradise. Good lies within each, or at least within their grasp."

"Yeah," SPYGOD says: "And !@#$, don't think about them. Think about the animals. The flowers, the trees. All these beautiful things that are going to die because... what? Your boss wants the End to come sooner rather than later?"

"I have my duty," the Backer says, but it's weaker than he sounded. 

"Don't you ever !@#$ing question it?" SPYGOD pushes: "I mean, come on, man. I read the Old Testament, but you !@#$ing lived it. He's been wrong, before. He's been flat-out mistaken, disappointed by the outcomes. !@#$, why do you think Jesus showed up in the first place?"

"I could tell you, but you would go insane," the perfect man says, sighing. 

"I'll take that risk," SPYGOD says, leaning in: "If you really want to talk about it...?"

"That's the problem," Aaron replies, looking down at his hands, and then up as people pass by: "I know so much, (REDACTED). So many amazing and terrible things. And I cannot speak a word of them to anyone, other than those who already know. 

"And all they can say is that there is a plan, and I must hew to it as the tool obeys the craftsman. To do otherwise is to be of no use. And there is only one fate for a broken tool..."

He looks down at the ground, just then. One suspects he's looking much further down than his shoes.

"Well, that's the thing about plans," SPYGOD says, thinking of the ones he's already written out for this perfect man: "They have a way of going right down the !@#$ing toilet, if you know how and when to pull the chain."

Aaron looks at him with something approaching hope. SPYGOD tries not to smile too widely. It all depends on this delicate and dangerous moment, right here and now. 

This moment when he turns a Angel...

* * *

... fiery avenger Nemesis great Nemesis never really liked me much avenging angel Nemesis going to kick !@#$ and take names revenge for the oppressed woman angel avenger revenger Nemesis oppressed woman no wait wait we are not doing this she is not oppressed but she yes she comes from oppression a bunch of oppressed women she is their champion she is amazing she is a wonder she will come and rescue those in need of saving like Wonder Woman just like oh !@#$ no she's looking at me she's pointing her finger oh !@#$ I'm toast now...

* * *

"Alright then," soon-to-be President George H. W. Bush says, looking at everyone in the back of the black, COMPANY limo: "We all know what we've got to do, and how to do it. So now we've just got to make sure we keep to the plan between now and then."

"I suggest we stay out of the White House as much as possible, " James Baker says: "That's where they tend to be, most of the time."

"And we should probably think about this as little as possible," Dan Quayle adds, looking around: "And I know how hard that is, but still..."

"I suggest drinking a lot, gentlemen," Bush says: "Read heavy books. Anything to keep your minds !@#$ing occupied."

"!@#$ a lot, too, if you can," SPYGOD says. Baker chuckles a little, but he's the only one. 

"Oh, do you have to curse all the darn time?" George reprimands him.

"Sorry, sir," SPYGOD chuckles: "Force of habit."

"Well, habits were made to be broken," the man grouses, and then notices the car's slowing down: "What the heck?"

"Oh, there's one other thing," SPYGOD says, putting a hand on the door nearest him as they roll to a complete stop: "In addition to not thinking about what's coming up, there's the matter of them being able to just make you do whatever the !@... I mean, whatever the heck they want you to. Deus vult and all that."

"You mean, we might all say no, and they'll just make us do it, anyway?" Quayle asks, a little frightened at the prospect.

"Well, yes," SPYGOD admits: "But that's why I've got a friend coming here, tonight."

He opens the door and a small Asian man enters. He nods respectfully to each man as the door is closed behind him, and pulls out a very large briefcase, which he carefully places on an empty seat nearest him.

"Omizake-San is the best tattoo artist I know," SPYGOD explains: "He's well-known for superdetailed work. The New York Yakuza used to have him do their irezumi before he cooperated with the FBI on a sting. Now he just works for a select clientele who need some really intricate !@... stuff done."

And then he explains why the man is here, and what's in the briefcase...

* * *

... Seranu a man of influence somewhere mighty and resourceful he rules the world from behind the scenes a man of influence wise and intelligent and unseen he is the hand that makes it happen the invisible hand that works in secret he helps those who cannot help themselves fine that works leave it be going on to Hoosk from whom all things spring getting the hang of it he makes things makes all sorts of things everyone needs a maker he invents things the maker thank the maker C3P0 hated that mincing robot fairy robot cherubs oh for !@#$'s sake fine he makes things and he likes flying robot cherubs could be worse going on oh put him wherever what France oh !@#$...

* * *

"Explain yourself," Ariel demands of the newly-elected President and his entourage as they stand before the hidden door to the sword chamber: "Explain... this."

"I don't have to do a goshdarn thing," George H. W. Bush snorts, rather impetuously, as he rolls his sleeve down to cover up the tattoo that protects him from Heaven: "But here's the fine print, sir. We are not signing on for another eight years of this nonsense. We are done with you."

The Backer gasps, floored by their sheer arrogance: "How can you... how dare you?"

"We dare," James Baker says, stepping up beside the man he's stood beside for so many years.

"We do, yes," Dan Quayle insists as he flanks his new boss, his extreme nervousness making him seem unintelligent, as it always does. 

"And I live to serve the President of the United States of America," SPYGOD announces, stepping between the Angel and the man he wanted as his thrall: "So... it's !@#$ing official. Take a hike."

He doesn't even see the blow coming. One moment, Ariel's hand is at his side. The next it's on the other side of his body, and SPYGOD's been flung down the hallway, landing with a solid, crackling THUMP up against a wall.

(But better him than the man he was standing before, which is what he thought was going to happen.)

"George, I don't understand," Reagan says, holding onto Aaron for support: "Why wouldn't you want this? Don't you know what's coming?"

"I sure as heck do," the new President says: "But you know what, Ron? I think we work for the people of a great county. And I think we are the leaders of a world that, while it's sure got its problems, can rally together and do some great things when it needs to. Ask Hitler if you don't believe me. Ask anyone."

"You have no concept of the scope of what approaches, mortal," Ariel sneers, looking down his sunglasses at the man who dares deny Heaven's will: "It will boil the brains in your skull before it even reaches this world. It will destroy you all before you have a chance to repent. You will die-"

"Which is exactly what happens if the Soviets launch their birds," Bush insists: "Or we launch ours. Or someone else beats us to it, like China, or Israel. Or if Iran gets the bomb and decides to beat Israel to the punch. Which is kind of what you were having us engineer, just to get Armageddon off to a nice start, wasn't it?"

"It would be kinder," the Backer insists.

"Aw, !@#$ you," SPYGOD mutters from all the way down the hall, and, at long last, pulls out the gun he's been itching to use all this time...

* * *

... time gun time ending time Senchro is time is the moments counting town is time past future present is gun is time the end handled a gun did so very well was soldier no wait that sounds too weird or ordinary was special forces in Vietnam no wait not now a homeless vet living on the streets no wait he can't be \ LET IT GO (REDACTED) \ who the !@#$  \ IT'S ME JOHN I'M IN HERE WITH YOU NOW \ okay why this is killing me \ IT'LL KILL THE WORLD IF WE DON'T GET IT RIGHT \ well that makes !@#$ing sense \ AND IF IT DOESN'T I THINK THAT FAT FUGITIVE FROM THE 18TH CENTURY WILL \ um what...?

* * *

And then it's the moment Ben Franklin's been both dreading and welcoming since he started this whole project in the first place. 

The moment that he flicks a hidden switch, sends the machine into reverse, and casts the Olympians into some strange limbo -- there to never return. 

He's thought long and hard about this. He has

He understands that, without these Supergods, the world will be a poorer and sadder place, missing a lot of its drive and personality. 

But he also understands that, the moment they get back to full strength, again -- and that day will come, some time from now -- they're going to find him, and return him to his own time. 

And he understands exactly what that will mean, and what will be waiting for him there. 

So no. That will not be happening. He will not be going back to death, and what horrible fate lies after. 

He will stay here, in this strange future -- immortal and amazing, unto the end of time -- and never be told otherwise. 

He regrets much. He regrets that he couldn't have gotten the Chandra Eye away from SPYGOD, even for a day. He regrets he couldn't get Dr. Yesterday to go in on this with him, so he could blame the failure on him. 

And he regrets that, since SPYGOD is wired up to the machinery he's about to sabotage, there's more than one god that will be going away, this day. 

But he can't stop this, now that it's begun. He can't explain his way out of this one, should he delay too long. 

And he can't deny himself the right to his own existence. Not now, not ever.

John is linked and Operating. It'll probably drag him down, too. If it doesn't, well, there's a gun hidden nearby that will take care of him, too, if Ben's done his sums right. 

And he always does, doesn't he?

The switch beckons his fingers. He reaches out to take it. 

And then, ever so slowly -- and with many, many regrets -- he flicks it...

 * * *

... LOOK AT THIS !@#$ MESS YOU MADE \ sorry I'm trying the best I can \ YOU CALL THIS THE BEST YOU GOT RESTRIIT AND SATANOTH CONFUSED TO THE POINT THAT SATANOTH'S IN PRISON NOW \ sorry it was the king of the dead and the kingdom of the dead that !@#$ing screwed me up \ NOT TO MENTION YOU MADE RESTRIIT A FAILED HERO AT THAT \ well sorry I said I'm sorry \ NEVER MIND THAT NOW LET'S MAKE HIM A KIRBY CHARACTER AND CALL IT GOOD \ oh no you don't mess with the king \ MISTER FREEDOM LETS CALL HIM \ oh that's actually kind of good \ AND AS FOR SATANOTH WELL HE'LL KEEP PRISON MIGHT ACTUALLY IMPROVE HIS PERSONALITY...

* * *

"... so, !@#$ing explain this again, please," SPYGOD says, looking at the weird, almost surgical-looking ray gun the Flier's Chief Medical Officer has just handed him: "Maybe using smaller !@#$ words this time?"

"Officially, it's a Neuro-Electrical Retardant, but we call it the Dummy Gun," the grumpy older man says, putting a fresh lollipop into his mouth as he puts his feet up on his cluttered desk: "We only use it when we need to reroute neural pathways in a god!@#$ hurry for bad head trauma cases. And even then it doesn't really do what we need it to do half the time, hence its name."

"So it scrambles your !@#$ brain, essentially?"

"Well, if you're !@#$ careful, know what you're !@#$ing doing, and have the time to prepare for a proper operation, you've got a fifty-fifty chance of successfully using it as designed."

"But since you don't tend to get those kind of !@#$ing luxuries with bad head trauma cases...?"

"It's best left in the bottom of the toolbag," the older man insists, clicking the lollipop from one side of his mouth to the other: "But, if you want to borrow it for some reason...?"

"I do," SPYGOD says: "And I need you to do me a massive !@#$ing favor, while you're at it."

"Oh? Not a command?"

"Not as such. I need a brain scan from Bethesda. A really important brain scan-"

He blinks as the old man reaches under a pile of clutter, pulls out a manila envelope, and hands it over to him. Then he blinks a few more times when he reads what it is. 

"I know a guy who owes me, big," the officer says: "Now, so do you. So you got three rules, SPYGOD."

"Name them."

"One, don't ever ask me how I knew. Two, I'm not !@#$ing retiring at the mandated age, and you do know why, so don't make me. And three..."

"I'm listening."

"You don't do it here," the man says, pointing a finger: "In fact, you never do any wetwork in my sick bay. I got an oath, and it's to a !@#$ing real god, and not some !@#$ queer from New York City who thinks he can do anything he wants because he !@#$ing killed Hitler."

SPYGOD blinks a few times, then nods: "You done?"

"I don't know. Do we have an understanding?"

"We do."

"Then yes, we're done," the man says, looking at the door: "And bring it back, clean, okay? Those !@#$ things cost half a mil, and it's harder to get components for them than it is for a !@#$ing Delorean..."

* * *


* * *

"... you are so beautiful, honey," the large woman is saying to Governor Reagan, who's shirtless and adorned with kisses and lipstick.

"And so are you," he says, suddenly not caring that he's happily married, or that he really doesn't like this woman all that much. Ever since she took his hand and led him to this perfumed alcove made of hung carpets and throw pillows, far from the rest of the party, he's been astoundingly uncaring about a great many things.

"And your future, oh... it's so delicious," she whispers into his ear as she runs her hands up and down both his chest and his back: "So many things come from you. So many people. So many ideas."

"They say I've got a future," he says, grinning: "All those movies. Maybe the White House, someday."

"Oh, more than that..." she breathes, licking the side of his neck: "So much more. You could be a symbol, honey. A leader that endures. A great beacon showing the way to the city on the hill."

"I'd like that, yes," he says, imagining what that great city must look like.

"Let me help you," she says, looking into his eyes: "Please."

"How do I do that?"

"Love me, here and now," she says, lifting her dress up over her head. She's naked underneath. He hoped she would be.

"Just that?" he asks.

"Just that," she says, punctuating each sentence with a kiss: "Let me have your seed, and your soul. Let me take it within me and send your children into the world. There are so many out there who want children. So many barren wombs to quicken. And your power will echo throughout them all, transforming the generation to come into your generation. Your ideas. Your beliefs. Your will."

The kisses are intoxicating. Each time she does it he feels like he's on fire. And then, as she kisses him lower still, he's about to say yes.

Of course, that's when someone ruins it all...

* * *

...oh christ I remember now \ WELL YOU SHOULD YOU BROUGHT HIM THERE \ but I didn't know that was going to happen \ NO ONE EVER DOES \ fine what about Sphyne \ I JUST HANDLED HIM WHILE YOU WERE REMEMBERING \ oh okay well what about \ I JUST HANDLED THEM ALL \ oh then what are we doing now \ WAITING FOR MY MAN \ what the !@#$ are you talking about...

* * *

"I know you," the man in the silver suit says to Ben Franklin: "Why do I know you?"

"Shift," the Founding Father stammers, holding up his hands as the sabotage device he just triggered goes off: "Please spare me. You know why I've done this. I won't go back to where you've brought me from! I can't!"

"You... are Benjamin Franklin," the man says, stepping fully out of the shimmering crack in existence he just stepped through: "The first American, some say. Inventor, philosopher, social architect."

"Stay back!" Franklin begs, reaching for the gun under the table: "I'll use this if I have to..."

"No, you won't," Shift says: "We don't finish this conversation that way."

"!@#$ you, sir!" the old man screams, struggling to be heard over the grinding noise as the warping in spacetime becomes even more prominent, and John's face becomes a rictus of concentration and pain from where he sits, near SPYGOD: "!@#$ you and your prophecy! I was happy before you pulled me from where I was and brought me into this benighted time!"

"Why would I have done that?"

Franklin blinks a few times, still aiming the gun, but no longer as certain: "You mean... you have yet to do this?"

"Yes. I have only just arrived here, in this time."

"Then... why are you here?"

"I have been working in reverse order, based on the level of threats to my brothers and sisters," the silver-suited man explains: "This was the most dangerous thing, here. A threat to all my family, using reality itself as a weapon. And yet I am not amongst them?"

"You died years ago," Franklin explains: "Some fight with a time-traveler over the Roanoke colony. I am not certain of the details."

"Then I am not here, now, to be affected by this," Shift surmises, looking at SPYGOD as he silently screams in agony: "But this is not the threat, here. This is something being done to end the threat, already long since passed."

"Yes," Franklin says: "What happened to you all, it happened some years ago. The people who run this country now... oh, such dullwits and laggards! They feared you, and what you stood for. So they used a power beyond reckoning to put you all under their control."

"Yes, I can see that, now," Shift says, looking further down the timestream to verify what the man is saying: "And this man, here? He's using the alien device within his head to try and replant my brothers and sisters throughout reality, risking his life to do so. And this man, here? He also risks his life to save him."

"Yes, he is," the portly man says, knowing he's clearly beaten.

"And they sought to undo the damage," the Supergod continues, putting a hand inside the distortion: "Why would they do that?"

"Because... he was your friend," Franklin says: "He loved you all. He thought highly of all of you, even the ones who were not so likeable or trustworthy. He knew you were simply here to help, with no serious ulterior motives."

"And yet you would stop him to save yourself?"

"Yes," Franklin admits, putting the gun down in shame.

"Why would you do such a thing? I sense goodness within you. Kindness. Decency-"

"Because you brought me here to do this, sir!" Franklin shouts: "You dragged me from my own time to here so that I would aid in your punishment! And when you're done with me, well, back I go, to mine."

"All of what you say is true..." Shift muses, running his hands in the spaces between what the machine is creating and what John is altering: "But none of this has happened yet...."

"But it must still happen. Don't you see? You have created a fixed event in time, sir. You cannot go back upon it. To do so would be to create a paradox!"

"Oh, Ben," Shift chuckles, sadly: "You have made a machine to rewrite reality. What is one changing of the timestream, compared to all of that?"

"But, even if you could do such a thing-"

"I can," Shift interrupts as he begins to fade, and develop afterimages.

"I will," one of them says, going into the past.

"I am," another announces, raising his arms so as to plunge them into the sphere surrounding SPYGOD.

"I have," one says, reappearing from the past.

"But the paradox! It would be of such power that... well, it staggers the mind how much destructive force would be unleashed!"

"Enough to power a miracle or two," the Supergod says, perhaps smiling under his silver mask as the changed past suddenly collides with the future, just as all three of him reach out for SPYGOD...

* * *

... GET READY THIS IS WHERE IT HAPPENS \ and what then \ THEN WE WAKE UP AND YOU CAN'T REMEMBER ANY OF THIS HAPPENING \ well that's what we thought \ I'LL REMEMBER OF COURSE BUT I WON'T TELL YOU \ well thanks I think \ TRUST ME YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW \ you know I think you're right especially considering how badly I !@#$ed up \ OH IT'S MORE THAN THAT...

* * *

"...not really sure..." Ronald Reagan says as SPYGOD helps him back upstairs, heading for the Oval Office: "What just happened? Where's Ariel?"

"He's... gone, sir," SPYGOD says, really not wanting to explain what he shot him with, anymore than he wants to talk about the other gun he's got on him.

(And glad as !@#$ he's not asking about poor Aaron, who the others are helping, right now...)

"Oh," Reagan says: "Well, I can't say I'm sorry to see him go."

"I know, sir."

"I thought he was... well, he was different, once. He seemed to know what I wanted, and what this country needed. I believed in him."

"Yes, sir," SPYGOD says, maneuvering the old man onto a couch in the office, and making sure he's comfortable, there: "I think we all did, up to a point."

"Not you, though," Reagan says, looking at SPYGOD: "You... I think you always knew something was wrong."

"I had my suspicions, sir," the man says.

"And I think you tried to tell me, once or twice."

"I did, yes," SPYGOD replies: "But after what they did to you, well... you couldn't hear me. No one could get through to you. It was over and done with, sir."

"So you all had to do this, instead," Reagan says, holding a hand up to his head: "I'm so sorry. Really, I am."

"It's alright, sir-"

"No it's not," the man insists, almost angrily: "I almost got us into World War III, (REDACTED). Several times. And I almost handed that slavery over to George, or that... that other fellow from... where's he from..."

SPYGOD just smiles and puts a hand on his former Commander in Chief's shoulder: "Sir, you are my ally, and you are my friend. I would go to bat for you a thousand times over. I know you've done the same for me. And I don't care if you !@#$ed up and made a bad deal. It's... well, it's over now. And you don't have to worry about that ever again."

"I sure hope not," the old man says, smiling. His eyes are wet with tears.

And SPYGOD gets the uncomfortable feeling that they're both lying.

This is not over. In some ways it's only just beginning...

* * *

... oh Jesus Christ \ SAW IT COMING HUH \ what he saw what he's seeing what is that what the !@#$ is that \ THAT'S WHAT THE ANGELS WERE TRYING TO SAVE THE PLANET FROM \ oh my God it can't be real \ IT IS IT'S THE DECREATOR AND THE !@#$ THING'S ON ITS WAY HERE NOW \ how long \ QUITE A FEW YEARS BUT I WON'T BE HERE TO SEE IT \ what do you mean \ I MEAN I'LL BE GONE BY THEN BUT NOT REALLY GONE \ what the !@#$ do you mean \ I MEAN WHAT I MEAN AND YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN \ that doesn't help \ NO IT DOESN'T BUT JUST REMEMBER WHEN THE !@#$ HITS THE FAN I'LL BE ALWAYS BE THERE EVEN IF I'M NOT \ what the !@#$ \ AND HERE WE GO...

* * *

When Ben Franklin comes to, he finds himself in the midst of what seems to have been a mighty conflagration. 

He's in a cavernous room. It takes him some time to realize it's the Command Room, under the White House -- some great and terrible place built for an unknown purpose, back in the day.

The smoking ruins of a large device sits nearby. It trails half-melted, smoldering lengths of cable and wire. Acrid smoke billows from the control panels, and more comes from down the long hall that leads there.

At what must have been the center of the fire sits SPYGOD. He has not been so much as touched by the flames, and none of the cooked tubes or wires remain upon him. They are all just inches away from his sprawled outline.

A few feet away sits John, the Grey Man. He's still in lotus position, with his palms above his bent knees, and his eyes closed shut as heavy as steel doors.

"What has happened here?" Franklin stammers, uncertain: "What were we doing?"

"You !@#$ dumb !@#$-hole," John mutters under his breath.

"I don't... sir, please, such language-"

"Don't you !@#$ing talk to me about language you !@#$ coward," John snarls, getting up much more quickly than he seems capable of: "Not after what you just tried to do-"

"Sir, I know not of which you speak," the Founding Father insists: "All I know for certain is that I was in Chicago, dealing with my own researches. And then, well... here I am, along with your singularly unpleasant company and that of my friend."

"Oh, you'll find him unpleasant, too, once I..." he starts to say, and then looks askance, as though he were hearing a voice only he could discern. The look on his face goes from anger to puzzlement, and then finally to grudging resolve.

"Well, never mind," he warbles, trying to smile: "I am being informed by the Grey Men that this is a need to know Operation. And you, tubby, do not need to know a god-!@#$ thing."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I mean that this is just like the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy," John says: "But lucky you, you get wake up."

"Unlike our companion," the Founding Father says, walking over to where SPYGOD sleeps on the floor: "It would appear whatever I do not get to remember has knocked him out cold!"

"Yeah, well, some people have all the luck," the Grey Man says: "One thing you can know, though? You just watch yourself around Shift from here on out."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Just what I said," John says, starting to walk out of the room, heading for the smoking exit: "A !@#$ deal's  a !@#$ deal, Old Ben. Just because you can't remember it doesn't mean it won't come to call, one day.

"And when it does, well, you ain't gonna like it."

And, with that, he vanishes -- leaving the time-displaced Founding Father a very nervous man, hoping that when SPYGOD wakes up, he can tell him something of what's coming.

But, just his luck, he has no idea what the !@#$ happened here, either. 

* * *

June 10th, 1994

There's not much else to say, after all of that. 

There's goodbyes, some more strained than others. SPYGOD gets the idea that Bush won't be getting any Christmas cards from the Quayle family, this year. He's not sure about Baker, either, but at least the two men shake hands and try to be pleasant at the end.

Aaron takes a look at all of them leaving, and then turns to SPYGOD. He just nods, and then vanishes. There's a sound of mighty wings flapping, not far away, after that.

That's really all there is to say, there.

Of all the things SPYGOD has done, turning Aaron is both his proudest accomplishment, but also his most tragic. He saved the life of a man he's considered a friend, but to do so he had to take eternity away from a truly wonderful being.

How do you balance those scales? He has no idea.

All he knows is that, when he looks up into the house, and sees Nancy holding her husband's hand as he sleeps -- as he really, truly sleeps for the first time in years -- he is content, though sad.

The pistol he got from his Chief Medical Officer is still in his pocket. He had it on his person years ago, ready to use it in case they needed to make it so that Reagan couldn't get the power back from the Backers. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary -- he was already so confused by having the power taken away that he was in no shape to accept it again.

And as everyone else in that hallway, including SPYGOD, had a special tattoo that kept Heaven from taking them over, well... that was the end of that.

But he held onto the gun, just in case. And when he learned that his friend was being troubled by the visions of some horrible future he'd been trying to avert? That he couldn't keep his mind straight for all the terrible things he was seeing?

Well, he knew exactly where to aim it.

Sadly, it wouldn't be as clean a shot as he would have liked. The ray was too blunt a tool for that sort of thing. It was able to cut out those parts of the brain, but it would remove others at the same time.

And what was left behind...

He's hurt his friend. He understands this. He realizes he's given him a condition that will degrade and make it harder for him to remember things than ever before.

They'll say it's Alzheimer's, even if it isn't. 

But at least he will be able to sleep, and dream. At least there will be moments of lucidity.

At least there will be peace, before the end.

"Memories," he muses, putting the gun away. There are times when he wonders if he knows everything he should know, or if things have been removed from his own mind. If so, how would he ever know?

Things like that keep him up at night, too. But there's also times when he realizes that, given how the world works, everything that might have been hidden will one day come to light.

And usually at the craziest time.

Smirking at that thought, he leaves the Reagan house, taking care to lock the door behind him.

And then, like an abruptly misplaced thought, he's gone, but not quite forgotten. 

* * *

After his frankly-embarrassing defeat to Bill Clinton in 1992, George Herbert Walker Bush dedicated himself to charitable causes, but largely avoided politics. Unfortunately, when the Imago arrived, he was found guilty of America's "crimes," and executed along with most surviving members of his cabinet -- including James Baker.

Dan Quayle went into business, kept his head down, and avoided public speaking. When the Imago came he managed to hide, along with a few other minor Republicans and right-leaning independents. He has since become the interim President of the United States of America, following the end of its time as a client state of the Terre Unifee. 

Nancy Reagan has become a tireless advocate for stem-cell research, going so far as to beg Presidents to relax their rules to allow for more experimentation. She weathers all storms as they come. She still sends SPYGOD cards on his birthday, even if he doesn't visit since Ronald Died.

Ronald Wilson Reagan lived until 2004. They said he died from complications of Alzheimer's, but that was not quite true. He remains the only American President to have survived making a deal with the Backers, and is the reason why no one answers the telephone in the Oval Office.

The Olympians mysteriously vanished around 1992, but very few people remember them as they truly were. Ironically, neither did they. But now they have returned to a world that doesn't know who they are, or what they can actually do.

That is about to change...

* * *

Atlantis will rise, sunset Boulevard will fall
Where the beach use to be won't be nothin' at all
That's the way it appears

(SPYGOD is listening to California Earthquake (Mama Cass) and having a Highland Park Beer Memories)

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