Monday, September 28, 2015

Dis-Integration: 9/21/15 - 9/27/15

"In the shape of philosophical assassins..."

Dir. Straffer, Shining Guardsman, Mr. USA, Wandering Shadow
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 9/21/15

Please state where you were standing in SPYGOD's hospital room when the incident occurred. 

Director Straffer: Incident? That's a nice way of putting 'murder.' 

Shining Guardsman: I was standing by the bed, looking down at SPYGOD. Mr. USA was to my right, leaning on a chair by the front side of the bed.

Mr. USA:  I was... I think I was by the head of the bed. Yeah, I must have been, because I tried to get past Shining Guardsman when the Diviners came in.

Director Straffer: I was in a chair by the foot of the bed, which was up against the wall. Major Harvey was... he was next to me, having some coffee.

Shining Guardsman: You know, it all got caught on my suit's cameras. You could just ask to review the tape. I swear I didn't tamper with it.

Mr. USA: I wasn't quite sure where I was, just then. Just getting a breath with all the excitement. Straffer had just told us what Harvey was going to do for (REDACTED), and I was... wow. Kind of lightheaded. 

Director Straffer: Harvey was next to the door, which was open. So when the Diviners came in, he saw them first and raised his hands, like this.

Shining Guardsman: They only come into your room if someone's about to die.

Director Straffer: That's when he dropped the coffee.

Mr. USA: It was quite a surprise, to say the least. 

* * *

"How many copies did he have out there?" one AGENT says to the pilot as their transport lands on the deck of the Flier, simply stunned at how many other transports are landing.

"He prefers to call them Hollow Men," one of the others says from further back, holding onto one of the beings in question. Her prisoner looks like a weird smash-up between a chubby, American Indian and a faux-marble bust of Kim Jong-Eun.

And he's quite insensate, as he's been hit with enough knockout drugs to fell a goddamn frost giant.

"Never took him for a T.S. Elliot fan," the pilot says, making final landing checks and then unbuckling: "Okay, let's get his goofy ass to the brig before he wakes up."

"Not going there," the one holding onto Gosheven says: "He's too slippery to stay in the best cell we've got."

"Oh great. What are we doing, then?"

"Not to worry. We've made alternate arrangements."

"Really?" the pilot asks, going to help her as she bundles the inert shapeshifter down the gangplank: "Where?"

"Not where," she says, pointing to the young, self-manacled man in a black tabard who's waiting by the entrance to the command tower: "Who."

"Oh boy," the other AGENT says: "If they're giving him to Mister Freedom, he's really !@#$ed."

* * *

What happened after the Diviners came into the room?

Shining Guardsman: I turned to my left to look at them, and then I stepped between them and SPYGOD. 

Mr. USA: I tried to get past Shining Guardsman. I figured they had be there for someone, but... I didn't want the kid getting into trouble with them. I think it's a crime to get in their way?

Director Straffer: I tried to get out of my chair. I said "no." I remember that clearly. I said "no" and got up out of my chair. 

Shining Guardsman: It didn't occur to me until much later that there was no way they could have been there for SPYGOD. He was fine. His signs were all stable and nothing was wrong. I scanned him myself, a few seconds before, just to be sure. 

Mr. USA: Okay, fine. I thought maybe they'd touch someone and take them instead of SPYGOD. And it would have been the least I could do after everything. 

Director Straffer: It should have been me, damn it. The way the angle worked out... if Harvey hadn't dropped the coffee.

Mr. USA: But then, it's not like they actually listen to what you have to say. They've got their job to do, same as anyone else...

* * *

Randolph Scott comes to in a bare concrete holding cell. It's dingy and smells of sour sweat and diarrhea. No bench, no bed, no toilet -- just a drain in the corner that hasn't been washed out in ages. 

The door is barred and closed. He tries to get up, and finds that he can move, now. 

His hoodie is gone. His tools are gone. Guns, cameras, recorders, pad, microphone.... they even snatched his pen and notepad. 

And as for the backup tracking device he'd hidden in his shoe...

"Oh my god," he says, getting to his feet as his mind catches up with his brain: "Someone get me someone. I need to speak to someone in authority-"

There's a rush of white, and then someone blurry is standing in front of the door: "Thatwouldbememisterscott."

"Oh god, you," Randolph says, realizing who he's dealing with: "Can't I speak to someone else?"

"Thereisnooneelse. Thepolicegaveusthisstation. Allofitjustforyou. Nicehuh?"

"Listen to me, please," the outlaw reporter says, putting his hands up in supplication: "My friend and I were looking for Red Queen. We were hunting down the bastard who took her. The same bastard who killed the former First Lady, and Disparaitre, and-"

"AndallIhavetodoisletyououtandyouwillleadmetohim?" Swiftfoot says, his old eyes crazy and shivering as he slows down just enough for Randolph to see him as a man, rather than a blur: "No!@#$ingchancereporterboy."

"No, please," Randolph says: "One of my things was a tracker. Use it. Follow him. He's on his way to Bangkok. You can follow him, and he'll lead you right to Red Queen. Probably the President's daughter, too-"

"Notachance," the hero says, grinning as he speeds up again: "Igottoldtowatchyou. Soyouwillbewatched. Always."

"No!" Randolph screams as the speedster blurs away: "Goddamn it! Listen to me! This man is dangerous! He's got a... he's got something that can turn people into !@#$ing monsters! You have to listen!"

There's no answer, though. Just laughter echoing down a long, stifling hallway. 

"Please just listen to me!" he shouts. But there's no answer, and all the reporter can do is curse and pound the wall.


* * * 

And what do you remember after the Wandering Shadow came on the scene. It's okay if you can't remember specifics. We're just trying to gather impressions. 

Mr. USA: I remember seeing him, standing there, behind the Diviners. He was rippling like the air over a fire. 

Director Straffer: Time went weird. It slowed way down, but I was aware of how much it had been slowed.

Shining Guardsman: I saw the gun. It wasn't there, and then it was. It was right between two of the Diviners, over their shoulders. Aimed down and to my left, at the bed.

Mr. USA: One second there wasn't a gun, and then there was. I knew right away what was going on. He was there to kill SPYGOD.

Director Straffer: I tried to get up and push him out of the way. But then my foot landed in the spilled coffee and... and I...

Shining Guardsman: Big damn gun. I threw up my shields to try and catch the bullet.

Mr. USA: That horrible smile on his face. It just made me want to get between the gun and the bullet, so since I was already up and moving for Shining Guardsman...

Shining Guardsman: You can see it here on the tape.

* * *

"So," Number Two says, leaning back in the black ball chair at the center of his large, circular office and looking at his three experts: "You've all seen the records of his first few real days here. Initial impressions about our new friend?"

"He's quite a smart fellow," opines a tiny, old woman in a black and white checked suit, her white hair buzzed quite short: "He's certainly asking the right questions, as much as he's able to. He's wanting to know what he's gotten into. The limits, the differences. Any information he can gather on his opponents."

"Being us, I imagine?" Number Two smiles at the Chess Master: "How about you, Card Reader? What sort of interpretation do you have to bring to this?"

"He's broken," the fey, thin-bearded man in blue and white -- not unlike a Jack from a playing card deck, minus the hat -- says, pulling a card from a strange deck all his own and fnapping it down on the table they're seated around: "And he's aware that he's broken. He's ashamed of his having fallen down this far. In a way, our intrusion into his self-destruction has been the best thing for him."

"How so?"

"He's finally got something to hate other than himself," the Card Reader says, putting down another card: "We've given him an enemy to fight."

"And, as we've seen from his file, he's never more alive than when he's got that kind of a challenge," the final expert says -- a tall, red-headed woman wearing a tight, white dress spangled with sparkles and round mirrors, and sporting dark, 19th century glasses.

"Yes, Queenie," Number Two agrees: "So, how do we turn him from hammer to anvil?"

"If we come straight at him, he will oppose us," the blind woman says: "But if try and convince him too soon, he'll suspect some kind of trick, or trap."

"I concur," the Card Player says, putting another card down: "He's suspicious. He's had to be. If everything's too easy, he gets uneasy. And rightly so."

"So we turn up the heat to begin with, and then once he's had time to boil, offer him a ladder out of the pot?" Number Two asks, looking at the Chess Master.

"I think that's the best way to approach it, at least for now," she says: "But we'll want to put that ladder down at the right moment. Too soon, he'll run. Too late, he'll be too much of a toady."

"And therefore no use to us at all," Queenie says, nodding.

"Then it's agreed," Number Two says: "So now we just have to agree on how much collateral damage we're willing to suffer..."

* * *

And what happened after the gun fired?

Shining Guardsman: I had it. I know I did. I could have intercepted and contained it, maybe even shot it right back at him, but... 

Mr. USA: ...

Director Straffer: I know it's not (REDACTED)'s fault. He was trying to stop SPYGOD from getting shot, but...

Mr. USA: It's my fault. Entirely. I take full responsibility. If I hadn't jostled Shining Guardsman at that moment, the bullet wouldn't have ricocheted off his shields. 

Director Straffer: The bullet should have gone into me. My chest would have been right there. I probably could have handled it, too. 

Shining Guardsman: It's totally my fault. I failed to contain the bullet. It bounced off my shield and went wild, over into the corner by the door.

Mr. USA: Or maybe it isn't anyone's fault. Sometimes these things just happen. 

* * *

"What do you mean it just blew up?" Captain Charleston says, putting his head in his hands.

"Just that, sir," the Space Service Agent on the other end says, rather sheepishly: "We think it might have been rigged to explode."

"Well, obviously," Straffer's second in command snaps, looking up and at the viewscreen: "I'm seriously doubting they left the self-destruct button right on their front door, Agent."

The person he's dressing down -- who looks like he's been smudged with charcoal -- winces at that. It's not like he can disagree, right now.

They'd managed to track the spaceship the now-dead Martians had traveled to Earth in, based on their trajectory and the most likely places to park such a craft in that area of France. They were really supposed to wait for BOWLER and the COMPANY to come onto the scene, out of courtesy, but decided to go ahead and open it up.

And now, they'd lost about four Space Service Agents in the resulting explosion -- not to mention whatever evidence they might have found on board the ship in the first place.

"So, are there any take-aways I can offer our Director, Agent?" Charleston asks, really not pleased at the notion of having to tell him this, given everything that's going on.

"We're collecting the debris for analysis, sir," the man offers: "So far, all we've got to go on is what we recorded before we boarded. And, well..."

"Yes, Lt?"

"I don't think it was a Martian ship, sir," he says: "I'd made a study of everything they've sent over, thus far, to see if I could get a make and model. I thought it might help them figure out where it came from. But what we found out here? It doesn't conform with their types of vehicles."

"Any writing?" the Captain asks, suddenly intrigued rather than angry.

"A partial, sir," the Lt. says: "It could be a couple different people. It could be a whole new player. We'll need to find more in the debris before we can make a better identification."

"A new player," Charleston says, wondering what that could mean, and hoping it's enough to forestall his superior's understandable wrath.

* * *

Is there anything else we should know when we finalize the report on Major Harvey's death?

Shining Guardsman: I don't know. I know we weren't able to anticipate this happening, but half of my job is reacting to things we don't see coming. I have to accept responsibility for my failure.  

Mr. USA: It's not the kid's fault. I know he's beating himself up over this, but I jostled him.  

Director Straffer: It should have been me. The bullet should have hit me, not him. And now, the man who was going to fix my fiancee is dead. My friend is dead. 

Mr. USA: Then again, for all we know, even if I hadn't the bullet might have been too much for his shields. Darned if I know. 

Director Straffer: After everything he's been through. All that he did, before? He deserved a chance to redeem himself. He deserved a chance to show the world that the man who did those crimes... that wasn't him. He was a good man who made a bad mistake in the face of something horrifying. And now that's all they'll remember him for. 

Mr. USA: This is a tragedy on a lot of levels. 

Shining Guardsman: Now, if I'm still cleared for duty, can we go after this Wandering Shadow mother!@#$er and get some payback?

You'll have to ask your superior officer about that, sir. I understand he's expected to make a full recovery any minute now...

Tuesday: 9/22/15

"Ow," New Man says, tentatively opening his eyes for the first time in days.

He's not anywhere he recognizes. He's sure it's a hospital, but he can't recognize it as any of the ones he's used to dealing with. He can't recognize the language on anything, at least with his eyes this unfocused and blurry.

And he's certainly wearing a hospital gown under the thin sheets, but he's not connected up to anything.

"Hello, sir," a familiar voice says. He looks over at the far corner of his small, windowless room, and sees Hanami sitting in a plastic chair that's seen better days.

"Hey," he says, his voice a lot weaker than he'd like: "Anyone get the number of the truck that hit me?"

She smiles, but she soon realizes how fake it looks, and then disposes of it: "We're in Pyongyang, sir. One of their military hospitals. They wanted to show their gratitude to you."

"Oh my god," he says, trying to get up and then failing: "I thought I recognized the writing."

"Yes, well, there was a poster of Kim Jong Il in here when we arrived. But they took it down."

"Thank God for small favors," New Man sighs, leaning back: "That pumpkin-headed !@#$er always gave me he willies."

"You're hardly alone in that, sir," she says, raising an eyebrow: "Mister Ten had a number of very choice names for him."

"I bet he did. Did we win?"

"If you mean 'did you absorb all the energy from those three zeppelins on their way to start a war with North Korea?' then the answer is yes," she answers, smiling a little more genuinely.

"Good," he says, closing his eyes: "Did you find anything out from the wreckage?"

"I did, yes," she says, getting up and walking to his bedside: "But I think we should wait until you are stronger before we discuss it."

"It's bad, huh?" he asks as if he knows what she's going to tell him.

"It's not comforting," she replies, taking his hand: "We stopped them, this time. But this was clearly a distraction. The Warbots were defective and poorly-armed. I suspect they decided to do something constructive with their rejects rather than scrap them."

"Which means the real threat could be anywhere, right now," New Man says, opening his eyes to look at her. They're glowing purple in the half-light -- something they normally don't do unless he's actively using his powers.

"That's a reasonable assumption," she says, deciding not to say anything about the excess energy he's carrying with him: "The COMPANY is working with China and Russia to pin down satellite imagery and find where they came from. They're being very accommodating, but I suspect that's their way of indirectly apologizing to one another for almost going to war over this."

"Thoughtful of them," the older hero says: "Let me know when we have something. That might be a good time to tell me what I don't want to know."

"Of course," she says, gently squeezing his hand: "And there is something else, but I don't think it can wait. It's very bad news."

He just looks at her: "Hit me."

And then he wishes he really hadn't.

* * *

I will, of course, be very happy to help: Machinehead tells Josie over the three-dimensional interface he's manifested on the Flier's extremely-busy bridge: I can't help but feel responsible. I'm constantly checking for anomalies, but I clearly have not been scanning for temporal disruptions. 

"It's okay," the large, pink-haired clone says to the shimmering hologram of what looks like a humanoid robot: "We weren't, either. They're so damned rare and, well, we never suspected he'd come over here and try this kind of stunt with us."

Now that I know what to look for, I've found some intriguing readings between 3rd avenue and 99th street, the hologram that runs Neo York City announces, projecting a map of a rather scummy looking flophouse, there.

"Then that's what we'll focus on," she says, sending fresh orders to the Freedom Force members already scouring the city for the assassin: "Mr USA, you and Red Wrecker maintain your vigil at the airport. Everyone else, converge on this location. And remember, we want him alive for questioning. Someone like him doesn't just shoot someone outside of Africa without a damn reason. We need to know what that reason is."

"He wanted his !@#$ing ass kicked," Shining Guardsman says, grumbling as he thunders in that direction: "But wilco. Enroute with Yanabah-"

"Quit grabbing me, paleface," she jokes: "The hospital couldn't have been that boring."

"On our way..." Chinmoku says from wherever he is, currently.

"... and.... we're here," Mister Freedom -- who was teamed up with him -- announces.

"I'll be there soon," Blastman says: "Don't start the beatdown without me."

"Now be careful, all of you," Josie orders: "This guy didn't become the terror of Africa's intelligence organizations by being stupid and not taking precautions. And just because he ran the other day doesn't mean he's chicken."

"Understood," Mr. USA says, coughing a little: "All the same, someone save me a drumstick."

There's laughter at that -- dark and vengeful -- and Josie winces a little, somehow knowing that this is not going to be that easy. In fact, it's probably going to get really ugly before it's over.

Ugly and sick, if she's not badly mistaken...

* * *

"Good shooting, Specialist Reynolds," says the tall and large Staff Sergeant, straddling her as she lies prone at Fort Benning's rifle range: "Keep it up."

"Yes, sir," she says, aiming for another black-leather clad target as it stalks towards her -- face bound up in a leather mask, carving knife in hand.

The last few targets she's performed a radical cranial dis-assembly upon -- bang on just above the nose --- are busy putting themselves together again. She figures she's got about ten seconds on each before she has to take them down.

And that's not counting the swarm that's coming from behind the wooden target stands...

But then she also has a very large sniper rifle -- the kind she would have killed someone with her bare hands to have gotten hold of when she really was at Fort Benning. She also has a near-endless box of bullets as long as her hand and as thick as her thumb, right within reach.

And no matter how many times the !@#$ she tried to save comes at her, she can put her the !@#$ down. Over and over again...

 Footsteps. Heavy and calculated. Coming up the stairs to the main room.

His footsteps.

... lose your concentration, Reynolds," her trainer orders: "If you lose it in the field, you lose. This isn't some damn video game. This is the real thing."

"Yes, sir!" she shouts, taking down the one closest. Then the next. Then the next-

"Honey, I'm home," the evil bastard says. !@#$ing Desi Arnaz or something.

"Oh!" the President's daughter says. Nearby. Runs to him. Silence, then a thump. 

 - then the next. Then the next. Then the next -

Wet, smoochy sounds. "Good to see you, too, cunt."

Smacking across taut flesh. Giggles.

"Outstanding, Specialist," the tall Sergeant says: "Blow that nasty !@#$ back to the stone age."

"How was work, honey?" she squeaks.

"Rather exciting," he replies. A thump on the floor: "I think the product rollout went really well. We had a lot of enthusiasm at the expo."

"That's wonderful!" she says: "Well, you'll have to tell me all about it, if you want..."

"I'm sure I will..." he says. Stops: "Well hey, what do we have here?"

"Don't get distracted, now," the tall man insists, somehow speaking into her ear though he's high above her: "The mission is first, last, and always. You got a job to do, Soldier. You do that job."

"That's right, soldier," New Man says, somehow lying right next to her and handing her a handful of purple-tinted bullets: "Not that you never failed to do your job..."

"Oh, just a little surprise I made for you." Closer, lighter footsteps, running ahead of his: "What do you think?"

"Is this...? Well, it is," is voice quite pleased: "Emperor's robe, that's... wow. What the fuck did you do to your slave?"

"You stay the hell out of this, superhero," the tall staff Sergeant insists: "Specialist Reynolds doesn't have time for your !@#$ right now."

The Director is gone, then. It's just her and her instructor, shooting down targets. Just like old times.

Just like heaven...

"... going to be a lot more trouble than it's worth if it's up and running."


"And I didn't feel like giving it back its eyes, after all the problems it caused you."

"Well, it's your slave," he says: "But I appreciate your consideration."

"Thank you, honey..."

"Still, this is... rather inspired."

"I'm glad you like it, honey." A pat on an area that shouldn't feel like that. "Can you guess what it is?"

"Stop losing your concentration, Specialist Reynolds!" the Sergeant shouts as the leather monsters speed up and threaten to swarm her position: "You just remember that you are a machine! What are you, Specialist Reynolds?"

"A machine, sir!" she shouts back, going deeper into the pattern that sustains her: Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire. Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.

Silence. Long and unnerving. 

More appear behind the scrum...

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

More silence. Very scary now. 

The ones that were down are back up again...

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

Why won't he say? What is she? 

Giggling now. They're !@#$ing giggling...

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

What has that !@#$ done to her?

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.) 

"Give up?" she squeaks. "Would it help if I reminded you it was the Red Queen?"

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

"Wait..." laughter. "Oh unholy god...

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

"... does that make it The Queen of Hearts?"

 (Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

"Close!" a kiss. 

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. FIRE.)

(Aim. Inhale. EXHALE. FIRE!)

"This, my love...




"...s a human heart."

The gun jams.


The bullet box is empty.

"Get it?"

The staff Sergeant is nowhere to be seen or heard.  

"That's amazing, honey." A long kiss. 

They're all standing in front of her, looking down. Giggling.

"Let's try her out for dessert...?"  

And then the knives come down...

Wednesday: 9/23/15

"Well, at least it was quick," Charleston says to his superior officer, immediately regretting having said it.

"That's... one way of looking at it," Director Straffer says over the viewscreen, nodding: "He deserved better, Captain. A lot better."

"Yes, sir," the man says, looking around his boss' desk as he talks to him: "I'm managing the flow of information on this as you asked. No one outside of a few people in both Agencies know he wasn't in the Habitrail when this happened. We've spun this as a mechanical fault in his cybernetics that led to an aneurysm. That's believable."

"Also shameful," Straffer says:"How are we explaining the closed casket?"

"Familial privacy," Charleston says: "He actually does have some immediate family, but they disowned him as soon as he fell. I asked if they'd attend, and, well..."

"Do I want to know what they said?" Straffer asks, smiling weakly.

"No, sir," his second in command says, shaking his head sadly: "You really don't."

"Well, that is shallow and sad of them, now isn't it?" the Director says, suddenly very angry: "He was their family, damn it. And he was just about to redeem himself, and... and..."

He tries not to cry. He doesn't do a very good job of it, but gets it under control rather quickly.

"Sir," Charleston says: "I have more here for you, but if you'd rather talk about it later?"

"A little later, Captain," Straffer says, nodding as he daubs at his eyes: "I'm not really in the mood to hear about Martians and organs and exploded spaceships."

"'Oh my'?"

Straffer smiles a little at that: "Well put, Captain."

"Sir, I've been meaning to ask..." Charleston says: "What now?"

"Other than the funeral, you mean?"

"Yes. The surgery. Who will do it now?"

Straffer looks at him, and wishes he had a good answer: "That's.... something I need to figure out, Captain. Thank you for your concern."

"Yes, sir," Charleston says, knowing that means he really shouldn't ask any more, and just let him terminate the call at his end.

* * *

"That is not satisfactory news," Hanami barks down her communicator: "This man tried to kill the former Director of the Company, and succeeded in killing the man who was going to bring him back to us. And none of you can find him, even with the city helping?"

"That's about the size of it," Mr. USA replies, weakly.

"Where are you right now?"

"Back at the Flier. I've had to step back and take over monitor duty on this one-"

"Unacceptable. You're needed in the field. And we already have Rakim-"

"He's programming the Brain Computer to determine where he would have went," the older hero gently insists: "Antonia is working the Metal Plague problem, based on what you brought down and what the satellite imagery is showing us. Josie is working with BOWLER and the Space Service to look into the organ running thing, which may just lead us to a certain other bastard we've been looking for. And she's also keeping a hand on the tiller with regards to Gosheven and Randolph Scott, as well as coordinating with all the talents who stepped into Gosheven's shoes-"

"We're superheroes, (REDACTED)," she insists, a lot less gently: "We don't get to make excuses about who's doing what."

"No one is making excuses," Mr. USA replies: "Everyone is working at finding this man. Including me, I might add. And meanwhile, you're babysitting a grown man in North Korea."

"I beg your pardon?" she says.

"Do you need me to repeat that, Hanami?" he asks: "He's fine and stable. You've said as much. He can take care of himself.

"So why are you there, shouting at me, and not here, helping?"

She's about to answer him, and then she realizes that she doesn't have an answer -- not a good one, anyway.

"Expect me within a few hours," she says: "I'll just be making sure our suddenly-helpful rogue nation's representatives understand they've got one chance to make a very good impression with us, right now."

"Over and out," he says, hanging up on her. She can almost imagine him chuckling.

The nurses nearby, in the lounge she's parked herself in, are skinny and terrified -- wearing ill-fitting uniforms that haven't been washed in a while. She looks at them, nod-bows politely, and then walks back to the stairs leading to the basement, wondering why these people can't just fix their damn elevators.

"I don't want to tell him," she says to herself as she marches down the steps: "I have to, but I don't want to."

The burning wrecks of the zeppelins, that day. The warbots that crawled and climbed over their broken brethren, trying to re-assemble themselves from their snapped and smashed parts.

The staggering, human figure that limped away from the conflagration. How he laughed at her when she commanded he turn around and face her. What he said when he turned around.

What she saw...

No. Today is not a good day to tell New Man about any of that. It's enough to know that he's alive and on the mend. He can be bothered with all the messy details of what's awaiting him once he gets back on his feet, which will be soon enough.

Some things can wait. They just have to. It's the responsible thing to do -- the decent thing, some would say.

And while she isn't sure if that's actually an emotional decision on her part, or a practical one, she decides to stand by it.

* * *

"Well you'll work harder with a gun in your back, for a bowl of rice a day," Randolph Scott sings -- loud and horribly off-key: "Slave for soldiers til you starve, then your head gets skewered on a stake..."

Nothing. Not even an echo from down the long hall to match the ones he made. 

"Now you can go... where people are one..." he goes on, leaning back against the wall by his cell door: "Now you can go... where they get things done..."

Still nothing. 

"What... you need... my son-n-n-n-n..... what... you need ... my so-o-o-o-n-n-n-n..."

Yep. Still nothing. 

He kicks the door in frustration: "Tough crowd tonight, huh? You want to hear some post-Gabriel, pre-Top 40 Genesis instead? I used to be really into them, once."

"Yes, I remember," someone says, walking up the hallway: "I think I must have listened to that one CD a million times before one of us finally threw it away."

His voice is muffled and uncertain, but Randolph would recognize that accent anywhere: "Karl?"

"Of course!" the young man says, stepping into his mentor's field of view with something approaching a flourish: "Helmut's still looking into things in Europe, and Jana's with him, and you know where Helga is. So off I come to save your behind."

The young, bespectacled man is wearing a gas mask on top of his usual black leather. He takes off the cumbersome thing and grins, and then produces a key to the cell. 

"Are they alright?" Randolph asks, getting up.

"They're fine," Karl says, opening the door: "I used a level 5 knockout gas on the AGENTS, and then something a little more exotic on our flashy friend in white."

"That's Swiftfoot. He's one of the Camp Rogers people-"

"I know," the clone nods, looking back down the hallway: "But he hasn't been in the field since, what, the 90's? Why is he back now?"

"Maybe we can get an interview when all this is over," Scott says, getting ready to head back where Karl just came from: "Right now, we need to get my !@#$, sneak over the damn border, and get to Bangkok." 

"Your things are gone," the young man says: "They've already sent them stateside for impounding. I hope you made backups of all your files?"

"Of course," Randolph says, sighing and stopping: "And that means they got my tracker. Damn it-"

"I brought a spare," Karl grins, holding it up as he gestures to the other end of the hallway: "And there's a car waiting about a block away, filled with everything you need-"

He doesn't quite finish what he's saying before Randolph hauls off and punches him, just so. The blow connects with his nose, and there's a satisfying crunch

And then he's down on the ground -- the mask on his face shutting down around his broken honker, revealing the face of whoever was impersonating the young reporter. 

"You think I don't even know my own son?" Randolph shouts down the hallway: "You stupid !@#$clowns. If you wanted to use me to lead you to Red Queen, why the !@#$ didn't you just say so?"

There's silence. He raises an eyebrow, takes the 'spare' -- which was his original one, all along -- and heads up the way 'Karl' came, putting on the gas mask as he goes.

The cells are all empty, as he was told. A room for guards is at the far end of the hall. Inside is a scene of bedlam: all the Cambodian police officers in there are dead, a nasty green foam coming out of their mouths and noses. 

Swiftfoot alone remains alive, coughing and shivering in his sleep. Randolph gives him a good, solid kick in the crotch, just to be sure, and then goes on.

There's a canister of knock-out gas in the center of the room, and he checks it to see what strength it is. A 5 will knock out most normal humans, and anything higher than 10 causes horrendous damage, and is really only meant for strategic talents with very fast-acting metabolisms.

With a sinking stomach, he sees it's strength 50. 'Karl' wasn't taking any chances.

He stands there and considers for a moment. This can't be the COMPANY. They wouldn't knock out one of their own, and they sure as hell wouldn't kill like this, either. Plus, whatever they needed to know, they'd just get through interrogation, or the threat of something worse than a beating and a handshake. 

He thinks about making 'Karl' confess to everything. He realizes he doesn't have time. The clown was probably wired with all kinds of trackers. And that means he'd be followed if he took him somewhere for an interview. 

And it's only a matter of time before his friends show up, ready to use something as bad, if not worse, as strength 50 knock out gas...

He grits his teeth and looks in the lockup. His stuff is all there. He grabs it all, checking it carefully for any sign of tampering, and breathes a lot easier when he realizes they didn't bother.

That done, he heads out the back, knowing that he's going to need to make some really quick calls once he can get out into the city and grab a burner phone or three. And then he's going to have to get to Bangkok as soon as his legs can take him, and twice as quietly as he'd planned on doing it before.  

"I hope you're okay, man," he says to Gosheven, wherever the man is right now: "Sorry I can't help you. I only hope you can still help me..."

Thursday: 9/24/15

"I hope you're feeling better, friend," Mister Freedom says, looking down at his 'guest' through the clear ceiling above him.

"Let me the !@#$ out of here and I'll feel a whole hell of a lot better," Gosheven replies, standing up in the crystal-walled cube he's been imprisoned within -- floating in a void, just out of the sight of a grid of other, similar prisons -- and glaring at the man who's keeping him there.

"Would you really?" the young man asks, holding out his manacled hands: "Is the cell really what makes you feel uneasy, today?"

"My friend's out there trying to find a very dangerous son of a !@#$, pal," the shape-shifter says, looking at the newest member of the Freedom Force: "And if I'm not out there with him-"

"He will succeed, or not," Mister Freedom interrupts: "And when that success or failure happens, you would still be here, awaiting judgment for your actions in the field."

"I went off to find a friend who'd gotten herself into big trouble," Gosheven says, scowling: "Tell me you wouldn't do the same, especially if you could do it without interrupting your job."

The young man just smiles: "If you could have done it without interrupting your job, you wouldn't be here, right now."

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

"Reykjavik is nice this time of year," Mister Freedom says, winking: "Maybe you should go there, when you're free."

"I...." the shapeshifter starts to say, and then closes his mouth. He looks around the cell, and says a few more things that might be Apache profanity.

"Oh, don't be too cross with yourself, my friend," the young man says, smiling: "You can only have so many duplicates running before you start to make mistakes."

"How do you know that?"

"I've read your file," the Supergod says, holding up a pad that he brought from seemingly nowhere: "I had to take your abilities into account while designing this cell."

"How very considerate of you," Gosheven snorts, looking around: "You might have designed some damn furniture while you were at it?"

"When you need to sit, a chair will be given to you," Mister Freedom says: "When you need sleep, a bed. Food and drink will appear at reasonable intervals. And if you need to go to the toilet, one will also appear.

"Understanding, however, must come at its own pace."

"Understanding of what?" Gosheven says, testing out the chair thing and finding -- perhaps to his surprise -- that a crystal-clear easy chair does, indeed, appear under his ass when he moves it close enough to the floor.

"I am astounded by your abilities," the young man goes on, kneeling down to get a better look at Gosheven: "You have come so far in the last few years. You have done things that you might not have thought possible when you were just another costumed crook, using your skills to make money. To become gas? Inhabit multiple bodies? These things are astonishing, friend."

"Yeah, but they don't get me out of here, do they?"

"No," Mister Freedom says, smiling: "Only you can do that. But you may yet surprise us all with what you can learn to do, if you'd just try a little harder."

"Thanks for the pep talk," Gosheven sneers: "I really appreciate that. Why don't you pour me a bath full of lemon juice and give me a few razors while you're at it?"

"I think you can manage the self-harm all on your own," the Supergod says, getting back up again: "Now, if you'll excuse me? I have some pressing business."

"More important than your number one prisoner?"

"Yes," Mister Freedom says: "You're not the only one who can be in more than one place at a time, but I think this one requires my full attention..."

* * *

"... to small details," the Wandering Shadow hears, just a second before he realizes he's been followed into this cyclopean maze of shipping containers.

The large man sighs, and then puts down the bag he was carrying through the shipyard -- busy, even at this time of night. He flexes his wrists, and his hands, and then turns around to see who has the utter temerity to speak to him so conversationally.

It's a young man of what appears to be east Asian descent -- perhaps Pakistani, perhaps not. His hair is long and ringed with multi-colored bangles. He's dressed in a black tabard, with his hands before him in some strange manacle.

And he appears to be amused, though he's not quite sure at what.

"You must be the new member of the Freedom Force," the Wandering Shadow says, really not amused: "I suppose they didn't warn you about me."

"Oh, I know you," Mister Freedom says, smiling: "I'm wondering if anyone warned you about me. Except that I'm not the one you should be worried about."

"Who might that be, then?" the super-spy says, shucking his suitcoat and draping it across his bag in one smooth, languid motion: "Your Japanese android, not quite recovered from her time in space? Your dying Superman, or the bumbling human comet? The lovely young lady with fists like wrecking balls, perhaps? Or should I truly be scared of that sorry boy in a metal suit too big for him?"

"You forgot the wolf who dreams herself a woman, channeling her anger through her guns," the Supergod goes on.

"I'll slow any bullet she sends my way," he states as calmly as he can: "And if she thinks she can scare me with her skin-changing, she should see what I become when I'm not amused."

"Yes," Mister Freedom says, standing his ground as the Wandering Shadow strides over to him: "But no, you will be facing none of those ones today. They are not here, and will not be joining us."

"And when we are done, they will never know that this has happened," Chinmoku says, stepping from seemingly nowhere, right behind the tall, Black man: "You will simply have disappeared, much to our regret and concern."

Wandering Shadow spins and tries to kick Chinmoku into the wall of the shipping container to his left. His foot tastes the air, and he quickly regains his balance, scanning for his opponents. and not seeing either of them.

"I am curious to know how you found me," the man says, assuming a dambe fighting stance -- one hand a sword, another a shield -- "If you tell me, I may spare one of you."

"Some ghosts are an emotion frozen in time," Chinmoku explains from his new position, up atop the container he was meant to be kicked into: "When one such as yourself moves through them, their structure unravels. I simply had to follow the trail of dead and dying ghosts."

"How ironic," the man says, leaping straight up onto the top of the container, and landing within striking distance of his opponent: "In older times, they called my line the Spirit in Skin, not knowing that the title and ability were passed down, father to son."

"And they still will, provided you agree to my terms," Chinmoku says, straightening up.

"Your terms?" the Wandering Shadow smirks.

"Yes. We shall fight, and I shall beat you," Chinmoku states simply, looking at his opponent through his dark glasses: "Partially as punishment for your actions, and also so that you know that even you can be outclassed. Such humblings are often good for the soul."

"You, beat me?" the Wandering Shadow asks, incredulous: "I can slow time down to a crawl and kill you before you know it. What good do you think you can do against me?"

"That is for you to learn as we fight," the tall Japanese man says: "But though I will beat you, I will not kill you, provided you agree to my terms."

The Wandering Shadow looks at the man and laughs. It is not a good sound.

"Now, will you hear my terms?" Chinmoku asks, seemingly not rattled by the man's dark amusement: "Or shall I simply destroy you for what you have done, and attempted to do?"

The Wandering Shadow smirks "You are either fearless or foolhardy, ghost walker. Perhaps both. But I think I may have time to reward the former and punish the latter.

"Yes," he says, smirking a little more sharply as he resumes his battle stance:: "I will hear your terms. Make them swiftly and sensibly."

"First, your argument with SPYGOD ends here and now," the Japanese man says, assuming a strange, ephemeral stance of his own: "Whatever debt you feel he owes you is transferred to me."

"His debt can only be paid through his blood," his opponent says, his eyes narrowing: "But if I have to take yours on the way, then fine. What are the others?"

"Second, you will never seek revenge against him, or any close to him, to avenge what happens here today."

"You assume too much. But, again, fine. And third?"

"You leave this country now, and never return to it without SPYGOD's direct permission."

The Wandering Shadow looks at him, and then nods: "No more ludicrous than your other propositions. I accept."

"Then I make them binding, in every sense of the word," Mister Freedom says, appearing between the two of them and holding up his manacled hands: "When you lose, you may not break these terms. Should you do so, I will know immediately. And when I learn of it... I will be less than pleased."

"You fail to scare me, little boy," the tall, black man says: "And you? Ghost Walker? I hear you spend most of your time amongst the dead. Did you plan to join them, this day?"

As he speaks, time slows down. The wind becomes a crawl, sounds become long and strange. A shipping crane slows in its trajectory, becoming little more than a three-dimensional painting.

But as he slows it down, he sees that the effect does not seem to be reaching his opponent, or his ally. They are both moving normally.

"How...?" he asks, still confident he can take this man in a normal fight.

Chinmoku smiles. His eyes glow ghost-white behind his glasses.

"The dead are always with me, Wandering Shadow," he says as Mister Freedom takes a wide, respectful step away from the fighters: "And time does strange things, here among them.

"Allow me to show my ghosts to you..."

* * *

"Ah, here we are," Number Two says to the six people seated in the communal area of the new residents' building as he shakes a trio of photographs onto their table: "Numbers 128, 101, and 97."

One is an older man with a lazy eye, another is a young, dark-skinned woman with a worried look on her face, and the third is a stern-faced young man with receding dark hair.

"So that's what we have around here instead of bubble gum cards," Myron says, leaning forward and looking down: "I always wondered."

"128, 101, and 97," Number Two repeats, picking each photo up and fnapping it down each each number: "They can't be with us, anymore. So we've room for three more members of our Village. That is good news for some of you, as it will mean you can leave these rooms for the ones you came here in, and assume a position within our society."

"Some of us," the Arab boy says: "And the others stay here."

Number Two smiles, recognizing the boy used a statement instead of a question: "Not at all. If you fail to earn a number, you will be allowed to leave."

Everyone hitches a breath in at that, but it's clear each of them have a different idea of what that means.

"I remember the show made a point of having a large cemetery," Myron says, looking at the other four people in turn: "I suspect that's the subtext, here."

"You truly are a suspicious chap, good sir," Number Two says, chuckling: "And too ready to assume that what you saw on your television is exactly what you're going to get here. No, some things are quite different, and this is one of them."

"I wonder how different," the Japanese woman with short hair says.

"Well, by tomorrow, three of you will be members of the Village," Number Two explains: "And three of you will not be. Those two are-"

"Free to go?" Myron asks.

"If you like," the fellow says, smiling: "They will be taken to the edge of the property and shown the way out. What happens from there is up to them."

"I don't believe it," the Swedish woman says: "I don't believe you."

"Well, believe it or believe it not, that is what happens," the man says, smiling: "Now, I assume you have questions. It's no use asking them, as I shan't answer a single one. All you need to know is that the decision will be made by you, but not through a vote or anything like that."

"So much for Democracy," the black lady drawls.

"Such things are rather messy and wasteful," Number Two says, still smiling: "We do things differently, here. Swiftness and efficiency are our goals."

"So you'll be counting on us to sell one another out," Myron says, leaning back in his chair: "Get us to turn on one another and save you the work."

"Nothing of the sort," Number Two says, with a smile that's perhaps a little less genuine: "That is also rather messy and wasteful."

"So this decision must be made by us without making a decision," the Russian man says, rising from his chair: "Which means we must prove ourselves worthy of a number by simply being who and what we are, in relation to this situation."

"See, this man gets it," Number Two says, clapping a hand on the man's shoulder and looking to the others: "You could all learn from his example."

"I bet we could," Myron says, looking at everyone else: "Well, I'm going to my room. I'll see you all tomorrow."

"Wait, please. We should talk about this," the Swedish woman says, looking at him with something approaching pleading in her eyes.

"What would that solve?" the Japanese butch asks, standing up in disgust: "No offense, but I'm with our friend. I'm not jumping through hoops."

"Oh, I see," the Arab kid says, looking at Myron and the woman: "You go off to your room and denounce us in private, or try to make a deal. I see how this works-"

"Do you?' Myron asks, suddenly turning around and looking at each person in turn, and then finally Number Two: "Do you really see how this works? Because this is how they work. They get us to turn on one another, like dogs fighting over bones. And for what?"

"Well, if we cooperate-" the Russian man starts to say, but Myron holds up a hand, reaches over to the table and grabs the three photos.

"These three people?" he says, holding them up for everyone to see: "I'll bet you anything when they came here, they were in a place just like this. They had six or more people here. And this douchebag, or someone like him-"

"I say, good sir," Number Two says: "Let's not be rude about this."

"Or maybe even him, he told them that they had to prove themselves worthy of numbers, but that only half of them would get them!" Myron finishes, slamming the photos down on the table: "And now look at them! They're dead, and we're fighting over their numbers!"

"You be quiet!" the Russian man shouts: "You are ruining our chances!"

"We don't have a chance!" Myron shouts, getting in the man's face: "What do you think they've been doing all this time while they've been observing us? They already decided who's getting the number."

"Then why would I come here to tell you this?" Number Two asks: "Sick amusement, I suppose you'll say?"

"Was that a question?" Myron asks, smiling all of a sudden.

"Perhaps you would be good enough to illuminate your theory for us, sir," Number Two insists, his face turning red: "It seems rather foolish to promise you a chance where none exists."

"Oh no, it makes all the sense in the world," Myron goes on: "Because this is where you decide what we do."

"What do you mean, honey?" the black lady asks.

"Well, this is where we show what we've got to work with, isn't it?" Myron asks, looking around: "Some of us will prove to be manipulative. Some of us will show that we're good to be led. Some will go into their rooms and make last minute deals, in front of the bugs. Or maybe spill dirt they've found out on the others to try and disqualify them."

"I swear I would not do that to anyone," the Swedish lady says: "You must all believe me-"

"Oh, cut out that act," the Arab boy snorts: "I've seen how you look at people-"

"Jesus, shut up," the butchy Japanese woman says: "Didn't you hear what he said? This is exactly what he's talking about. We do their work for them."

"Yes, only we think we had a chance," Myron goes on: "So the people who get numbers? They're loyal. They obey. Because they think they actually won something at the last minute, when in reality they just auditioned for their new job.

"And when they can't do that job anymore..." he points to the photos: "They leave the Village, too. Just by a different route."

Number Two looks at Myron, and then at the rest of them: "Well, that's one viewpoint. Here is another. This Village works because its members accept their role within it, and strive to make it function. We have order through discipline, and strength through community. A number gives you a place within that community. And you can go very far indeed, provided you mind your place.

"Now, you could fall to rancor and destroy a chance to have that place," he says, looking at each person in turn: "Or you could put a good foot forward, knowing that you are being judged on how you tread. I shall leave that decision to you, but I exhort you to make it a good one."

With that he tips his hat to them each, ending on Myron -- whom he glares at -- and then leaves, throwing his cane before him with every other step.

"Sorry," Myron says, looking at each person in turn -- especially the Russian fellow, who's staring at him as though badly betrayed:  "I won't cooperate with this scam. I can't condemn any of you for being who and what you are, or what little I know about you. And I can't say that I'm any better than any of you. But I know a set-up when I see one, and this has all the bells and whistles."

"So what are you going to do, then?" the Arab boy asks: "Nothing?"

"All I can do..." Myron says, sighing: "... is try and get some sleep. I suggest you do the same."

With that he turns and marches into his room. Then he closes the door behind him, locks it, and quietly puts a piece of furniture up against it in such a way that no one can enter the room from outside.

Then he crawls into bed, turns out the light, and does his best to ignore the crying, the arguing, and -- not too long thereafter -- the screams. 

Friday: 9/25/15

"Well, this is quite a mess," Number Two says, looking over the devastation in the communal room: "Not at all what we were hoping for."

"Really," Myron says, sitting in a chair, seemingly unmoved by the carnage: "I find that rather hard to believe."

It was the black lady from Louisiana, of all people. At some point, maybe at three in the morning, she got sick and tired of the Japanese woman and the Arab boy arguing with one another, and how the Russian man shouted at them, and how the Swedish woman cried and cried.

So she grabbed the nearest, heaviest thing she could bring to bear -- the ornamental poker by the nonfunctional fireplace -- and cracked the boy's skull open.

The tall Japanese woman managed to knock her down and get her under control, but not before the Swedish lady had fallen into hysterics. Meanwhile, the Russian man had refused to help the boy, and stood there and watched him die.

His body was being carried away, now. So was the Swedish lady, though she was going off to the hospital for "treatment," apparently. So it was just the black lady, over in the corner -- shivering and shaking, as though she were freezing instead of a murderer -- the Japanese woman glaring at her, the Russian man staring at the floor, and Myron looking at Number Two.

"This must be the part where you tell us that the boy was going to make it," Myron finally says: "If only he hadn't been cut short by someone too scared to leave the Village...."

"Actually, no," Number Two says, sitting down in a vacant chair: "This is where I tell you that you have all passed with flying colors."

"What the !@#$?" the Japanese woman says, staring at him.

"Well, not all of you, obviously," the man says, walking around the chair he'd been leaning on and going over to each of them in turn: "I think that our friend in the corner has proven herself to be unmutual, just as the other lady has shown herself to be too fragile for our needs."

"God forbid she actually be human and scared in the face of this," Myron says, every word dripping with venom.

"This community does not succeed through fear and shrinking from challenges, but from vigilance and the overcoming of those challenges," Number Two insists quite proudly, handing out ID cards to the Russian man and the Japanese woman: "But it was between the boy and our more... challenging friend here, and I have to say that his death has left us no choice but to make you a member of that community."

"So," Myron says, taking it from the man: "He's the toad who comes across as affable to all sides if he'll stay safe where he is, and she's the forthright and sensible one who picks a side, sticks with it, and brings things forward. And I guess that makes me... hmmm."

"You, my friend, are the thing we need the most in this village," Number Two says, noting how carefully Myron dodged asking a question.

"A scapegoat," Myron shoots back.

"No, sir. You are the rogue elements who will challenge us all."

"Well then," Myron says, grinning as he gets out of his chair: "Village Idiot 101 at your service, Number Two."

"Quite right," the man says, gesturing to the door: "You know where you need to go now, I think."

"Haven't I always," Myron replies, heading for the stairwell that will take him outside this stuffy place with its smell of death and betrayal, and out into a world that's only slightly less noxious. Somewhere out there is a replica of the room he tried and failed to kill himself in.

He can only wonder if this strange place will finish the job.

* * *

I swear, this !@#$ just gets better and better. 

I haven't been in Krung Thep -- that's Bangkok to you, farang -- for an hour before I realize that the whole city is out to !@#$ing get me. 

I'm not saying how I got here. Let's just say that I have some friends who know people, and those people know people who can get me over a border or two. But as soon as I got over the border into Thailand, I just knew something was not right. 

It's an awful creeping on the back of your neck, like a spider just under the skin. You know when all the eyes are looking for you. You can tell when there's a target painted on your damn soul.

Me? Well, you might as well tattoo concentric circles across my heart, folks. I'm actually public enemy number one. 

No, really. My face is actually plastered on every single television here. Every single cop driving around has my likeness in hand. 

Why? Well, they're saying I'm an accomplice for the bombing from this past August 17th. The one that killed people at the Erawan shrine, and that the Thai police have tripped all over themselves to try and solve in the most ham-fisted, bombastic fashion without actually cracking the case.

Well, they've got suspects in custody, and the police are really darn certain they're the culprits. But now it turns out there's been a mastermind behind it all. Some shadowy presence that nudged and directed their hand.

Guess who. 

Of course, this is bogus, happy horse!@#$. They don't have my name right. They don't have my age. All they have is a slightly-edited screen grab from the last time I was on the television, giving a report on the hideous underage sex trade in Phnom Penh

But it's me. And anyone who sees me will know its me. It's got my hoodie, my eye, and how I generally comport myself. And they said I'd be stumbling around town, like I was looking for something. 

I can guess who did this. I can even guess why. But I'm stunned that they're so !@#$ing stupid as to not just !@#$ing talk to me, and pool our resources. 

(And then there's whoever decided to piss in their Wheaties and bust me out to go looking for them. I wonder what their angle is?)

So no. I can't go to the Thai police. I can't really call for help, either, and if I go to anyone I know here I'll just drag them down with me. 

And if I call on the speedster that knocked me out in Cambodia, well, I doubt he'll be much help, either. If anything, he'll just get me killed.

So when I face this dragon? When this transmitter, following the pieces of my friend, leads me to the most evil man on two worlds?

I'll be all alone doing it, which is probably what got Red Queen into trouble in the first place. 

I'll be making hourly recordings into my black box from here on out. The recorder's connected to my vital signs. If anything goes wrong with me, it'll all upload and publish. 

Hopefully I'll have the luxury of editing this !@#$ing mess later, but I can't be sure of anything right now. 

Only that I am hunter and hunted, here in this frightening and alien city, and not liking this !@#$ at all.

* * *

"Sir, we can get him at any time," the COMPANY AGENT says from the back of the van as they go down Sukhumvit, looking at the signal on the large, lit-up city map stretched across its back wall: "All we have to do is grab him, get the transmitter, and then go in to get the target-"

"I... don't think so," Swiftfoot says, slumped over in the passenger side chair in the front, seeing the world through the haze of the drug that left him asleep on the floor, back in Phnom Penh: "Whoever did this... they wanted him out... wanted him to lead to him... need to know why..."

"We still don't have an ID on the remains of the guy we found at the station," another AGENT says, looking at her pad : "But that was a really sophisticated self-destruct."

"Also a very sophisticated mask," another AGENT adds as he holds up the shattered object in question: "It used DNA to create a perfect likeness on the face and hands. We've seen it in action before."

"When...?" Swiftfoot asks.

"You remember those moron supervillains that tried to take over the world a couple years ago, right out from under the Terre Unifee?" the AGENT with the mask says: "One of their people was a tech genius with a predilection for turning ordinary crooks into costumed operators."

"Actually, I think the Pusher was just a face with a talent for finding and grooming the right customers," the AGENT with the pad says: "He was selling the tech but he wasn't making it."

"Doesn't anyone know for sure?" the AGENT behind the wheel asks.

"No," the person holding the mask says: "The bastard did us the massive disservice of activating his own kind of self-destruct less than a day after we got him. Turned his brains to mush in seconds. Nothing left for an N-Machine to read."

"The Flier needs a status update," the AGENT looking at the map asks: "What should I tell them? They don't even know we're in country-"

"Tell them.... going on triple black," Swiftfoot breathes, shuddering as another wave of the drug fights its way up his spine: "Will call when we have him... ultimate target could be watching... can't say more."

"Yes, sir," the AGENT says, not really liking how this op is going down.

As he does, someone nearby -- looking down from the top of a tall building -- tells his portable AI to stop pretending to be The Flier. He then changes the direction of the dummy signal they're following, just to make sure they head in the wrong direction from where Scott is really going.

Then he activates his ANIL, and steps from one side of town to the other, ready to do his quiet part to save Auntie Gail...

Saturday: 9/26/15

"A nice day, sir?" the old man at the cafe asks Number 101 as he sits there, having an early afternoon coffee.

"So far," Myron says, still feeling out of place in these dark pinstripes, and steadfastly refusing to wear the hat he found next to the door when he got home, yesterday.

"Should be raining soon," he says, tapping the front of the white server's apron he's got on in front of his own dark clothes: "Always rains around this time."

"Just like England," Myron says, sipping his coffee and watching as people go this way and that, walking somewhat in time to the jaunty big band music coming over the speakers.


"Oh, sorry," he says, smiling: "I forgot. Portmeirion is in Wales."

"If you say so, sir," the man says: "It'll be three Credits for the coffee, 101. You can settle when you leave."

"I sure can," Myron says, wondering how the man knows who he is, already.

"It's the monocle, you know," a familiar voice says, coming up beside him as he sits: "The card I gave you sets it off. They're a step up from those ridiculous internet goggles that one company is failing to get off the ground, back home."

"So you're saying I should have mine on," Myron says to Number Two, who sits down next to him without asking permission.

"I'm saying you should start using the advantages we've given you, my good man," the fellow says, leaning forward on his cane: "No need to sit by the edge of the pool, watching everyone else have the fun. You should get your feet wet-"

There's a roar just, then -- loud and jarring. Everyone stops exactly where they are, and the music comes to an end.

"I see someone brought a beach ball," Myron says as a large, white sphere bounces from out of nowhere, heading towards a single person, out away from the others.

He screams and runs, but he doesn't get far. The ball bounces once, twice, and then right onto him. It all but slurps him up into itself, and for a second Myron can see the man's screaming face pressed up against the edge -- trying to get free.

And then he's gone along with the ball, which bounces back to wherever it came from, roaring as it goes.

The ball vanishes. The music comes back. Everyone resumes their path and conversations as though nothing had just happened.

"I wonder if he refused to swim," Myron says Number Two: "Or maybe he saw something on the bottom of the pool he wasn't supposed to see."

"You're becoming quite adroit with knowing when not to end your statements with a question mark."

"Yes," Myron says, having some more coffee: "I can ask a question to anyone whose number is higher than mine. They cannot do the same. As you're Number Two, you can ask anyone what you like, and they can't ask a question back."

"That is correct, but there are some subtleties," the man says: "For example, if we're on official business, you can ask questions of those above you, so long as they're work related."

"But to find anything out, you have to be lower," Myron says: "Which could mean that there's some competition to have a lower number."

"Some would see it that way."

"And some would gladly maneuver others into getting gobbled up by Rover if they might get their number," Myron pushes: "Either that or sending them off to the hospital, or having them marched out with the rest of the useless people."

The man just smiles his pale, skeletal grin and raises his eyebrows: "Some would see it that way. But it's not all so bad."


"Yes. Sometimes we just swap numbers around. Higher for lower, lesser for greater."

"Yeah, that's what I thought," he says, finishing his coffee: "So everyone here is just one bad social interaction with a mean or ambitious fellow citizen from winding up being screwed, or worse."

"We find it keeps people on their toes," Number Two says as Myron gets up: "Surely you know that such structures exist back in the world. We simply have less illusions about them, here. The naked simplicity of it all creates a sense of shared dread and opportunity, and that pushes innovation and forward effort."

"And I'm sure it's all tidy and efficient," Myron snorts, looking down at the man: "You know I watched her leave this morning?"

"I know you got as far as the overlook, down by the beach," Number Two says: "I know you stayed there, watching her be led out past the bend, and then past the area where we won't go."

"She had a backpack. I'm presuming it was supplies."

"We're not cruel enough to send them out with nothing."

"Yeah," Myron says, looking up at the sky: "'O brave new world...'"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sorry," Myron lies, looking off at something in the distance and deciding it's where he'll spend the rest of his afternoon: "This village needs its idiot, Number Two. Be seeing you."

"Be seeing you!" Number Two says, getting up and turning his cane into an open umbrella: "Mind the rain!"

Myron just smiles and holds out his arms as it starts to come down, right on schedule. He turns in place like a ballerina, and goes down on a half-knee in the man's direction.

"I think we need to give him something to do," Queenie's tells him, her face appearing in his monocle: "He's going to push too hard too fast at this rate. And then you'll have to do something you'd rather not to bring him back to heel."

"Do you have a suggestion?" he asks, watching the new Number 101 dance in the rain, much to the amusement of his fellow numbers.

"Don't I always?" the blind woman laughs, spinning in her ball chair in odd imitation of her new playmate. The motion causes him a bit of vertigo, but he stays with it to avoid looking weak or annoyed by her antics.

Appearance is everything, as he's constantly saying...

* * *

It starts with boxer shorts. Straffer prefers them loose at the base and snug at the top. A checked pattern. Nothing too outrageous. 

Socks should be black. He likes them to come halfway up his calf, to avoid slipping. Tight but not too much so. 

The white pants come next. They're pale as snow and crisp as apples, with a crease ironed into them. He always checks them for fraying before putting them on. 

Then it's the undershirt, then the dress shirt itself. It should also be creased along the sleeves. The gold buttons should shine.

The coat, then. It's lightweight and snug, with gold epaulets and his rank badge on both sleeves. Medals on the left breast, all in a row: bravery, fidelity, service, saving the world one time too many to recall, etc...

His cap, then. Worn at a forward angle. Commanding.

A dress sword, worn at his left hip. White gloves, supple leather. 

The gold watch he got a couple Presidents ago, still ticking. 

He stands and looks at himself in the mirror, and, with a deep sigh, goes to bury his friend.  

On the way out of his private quarters, he's met by his second in command. Captain Charleston salutes and hands him a report. He's a little irritated to have this dropped on him on the way to a funeral, but he looks it over, anyway. 

And he blinks a few times, remembering a certain incident from a long time ago. 

"I thought that might interest you, sir," Charleston says, pointing to the top of the report.

"These zebra people, again," Straffer says, sighing: "Well, that certainly opens a weird can of worms."

"But there's a wrinkle," the man says, walking along with him to his waiting transport: "Well, several. For one thing, that's not their usual mode of transport. They usually use single-person warp bubbles."

"And what are they doing working with Martians?" Straffer asks: "They usually appear, and rely on some kind of perception changing device to make you think it's perfectly alright for a two-headed Zebra to be there, asking you questions. Why would they need to operate through them?"

"And who blew up the Geneva office?" Charleston asks: "We're still trying to trace the explosive."

"All good questions, Captain," Straffer says, saluting as he gets to his waiting transport, out by the side dock: "See what you can find out and have a report waiting for when I get back tomorrow?"

"Will do, sir," the man says, saluting back: "I can't say have a good time, but..."

"I have no idea what the hell I'm going to find there, Captain," the Director says, turning to go: "I guess I'll just have to do what I can with what I've got, and hope it turns out for the best."

* * *

Dear Mother:

By the time you get this letter, I will be gone. 

Do not look for me. You will not find me.  You trained me too well for that.

I'm sorry. I realize now that I have been a massive stress upon you at a time when you don't need any of it. And I know it's not in your nature to say anything, because you love me and you want to help me. 

But I think we both know that there's no helping this.

Something is seriously wrong with me. I know this, now. It's not that I'm broken or unwell. Just the opposite. I'm too well-made for my own good. 

I can hear everything said in this house. I can sense too much. I can remember everything so well, just like I could in the city, but now I have no idea where my dreams and fears end and my memories begin. 

For example: I imagine you yelling at me, and then it becomes me remembering you yelling at me. And it takes a while to realize it was just a dream, but by that time I've been distracted by a million different things, and just remember that I'm sad and angry that you yelled at me, even if you didn't.

Do you remember that one Halloween when we all got together, before patrol, and took turns reading The Tell-Tale Heart? I wondered what kind of disease that man had that sharpened all his senses to that maddening degree that he'd kill the old man for having a hideous eye. 

And then I realized I'm becoming that man, and you all are the eye.

I have to leave. I am afraid of what I may say. I am afraid of what I may do. I am afraid I will hurt someone when I lose control.

I am afraid. 

Do not look for me. I will come back when I have overcome this problem. 

Your son

PS: I don't like these Supergods so much. I remember SPYGOD talking about them to you and Grandpa, and they seemed to be so cool. But these people are jerks, and they're not telling us the whole truth about things. I know they didn't tell you the whole truth about what things would be like with me, or you'd never have agreed to this. 

PPS: Don't go in my room. When I come back I'll clean it up. I promise. 

* * *

"Well, then," Randolph says, looking up at the house in question: "Here you are."

It's quite a nice place, at least in this neighborhood in Bang Chan. A tall townhouse, hiding behind a tall wall. A compound behind that, with some trees and shrubs. 

He walks by like he's got a purpose, considering the security arrangements. There's an ordinary-looking exterior door next to the car entrance, with a lockpad on it, but !@#$er's probably got everything he needs to keep himself safe in there. He could have guns, tripwires, mines, energy fields... anything. 

Normally, this would be were Randolph made some calls, found out some things, and made a plan to get in. But there's no one he can call, and no backup except what he can find.

If he goes in there, up against that monster, he is a dead man -- no question. And if he dies, God only knows what will happen to Red Queen, or the President's daughter, or anyone else he might have in there...

He needs to think. He needs to consider. He needs to make a plan. 

And for all those things, he needs time -- the one thing he really does not have right now. 

Because just as he knows he's being hunted, he also knows he's being watched. He's felt alien eyes on him for a couple hours, now, and knows that means he's probably got some kind of tracker on him. 

(They probably stuck it in while he was unconscious in his cell, which makes for a delicious irony given how he's been tracking this man since Cambodia)

So... how does this end, then? The moment he gets too close to his quarry, someone's going to come out and nab him, and then go in after him. And then there will be one hell of a fight, which will most likely end with a lot of dead COMPANY people, and who knows what'll happen to Red Queen...


He looks around. She wouldn't have come at him straight, either. She would have gone for a kill shot, especially since she had that crazy-ass gun -- the one she could use to blow someone's head apart from Near-Earth Orbit. 

So why didn't she do it, here? Why didn't she just !@#$ing nail him and then go on in?

He must have gotten her already. He must have caught her before she could use that amazing, crazy gun of hers

And he probably killed her, the !@#$er. Just like he killed Wayfinder and Dr. Krwi and the former First Lady, and so many other people over the years...

He grits his teeth and stops in his tracks. He gasps and tries not to sob. 

All this time. They've been chasing to rescue a woman who's been dead all this time. The bastard killed her and God only knows what he's done with her body. Probably turned it into something novel and picturesque and left it for the Thai police to find, which means they'll never hear about it, given how they handle their scandals...

"Hey!" someone shouts from right behind him. He turns to see a harried-looking driver in a tuk-tuk, staring at him.

"Yes?" he asks, wondering if the guy's made him or not.

"You need ride?"  

He thinks, for a moment. He smiles in spite of it all. 

"Alright, then," he says, looking at the wall of the compound: "Let's see how they handle this..." 

Sunday: 9/27/15 

It's early morning in Bangkok when it happens.

The sun is just starting to poke over the horizon. The roads are already jammed with cars, motorbikes, and people. Food is being cooked, bars are being cleaned, streets are being swept.

And as people turn on their television for the morning shows, or start to filter into internet cafes, a loud shout greets them -- bang on at 7:56.

"Gooooood Morning Bangkok!"

A montage of street scenes plays on the screen. Nightlife, mostly. Girls and boys and Western men, up and down the streets and avenues. Crowded streets and honking cars. People drinking at bars and stumbling through alleys, looking for one kind of oblivion or another.
"How are you all today? Good, I hope. This is public enemy number one, Randolph Scott, outlaw reporter. And what is this...?"

The screen changes to a whole bunch of denizens of the late night and early day. Street kids and girls who can't get work at a bar, or just got fired from the ones they worked at. Drunkard expats and world travelers. Some guy dressed like a flowerpot who's either insane, or was supposed to be advertising the opening of a gardening shop.

And, as one, they all shout into the camera...

"This! Is! Bull!@#$ !!!"

"That's right," Randolph Scott says, walking around into the camera's field of vision, wearing a t-shirt that proudly proclaims INFORMATIONAL TERRORIST: "And we're here, in Bangkok, in scenic and humid Thailand to talk to you about some real crazy-ass bull!@#$, folks. 

"It's a story of trying to help a friend, and finding out that the people who really should be helping you do it are doing !@#$ing everything necessary to stop you from doing it. It's a story about good intentions and weird results.

"And it's a story of chasing the world person in the whole damn world."

That gets some boos from his crowd, and he nods and points the mike over to them.

"What, the worst person in the world?" he asks: "Did I just say that? Did I just say that this person is worse than the late Zalea Zathros?"

Boos and jeers.

"Worse than that crazy !@#$ that used to run HONEYCOMB, or the guy who was in charge of the Legion?"

More boos and jeers, though some of them are wondering what they're booing.

"Maybe even worse than those old supernazis in ABWEHR, or those mother!@#$ers in the Terre Unifee who were going to leave us to that big damn space monster, a couple years back?"

Now that gets some sincere booing. 

"Oh yeah, folks. I'm talking about the real public enemy number one. The !@#$hole who pretended to shoot the American President on live television and blame it on his double! The monster who killed that man's wife and then pretended to be her for years while he had her carved up in a walk-in freezer! The bastard who killed one of the people who saved the world from that big damn space monster, not too long ago!"

A whole bunch of booing, now. These kids really liked the old First Lady. And no one likes space monsters. 

"Well, that rotten !@#$hole made a really bad mistake, folks," Scott says, grinning like a mother!@#$er as he mugs the camera: "He may have been laying low, but he just had to rub our noses in things.

"He had to get involved in some really creepy and nasty !@#$ involving stolen organs and their containers.

"And he had to make some nasty deals with some really frightening people, both here and over in Phnom Penh, and God knows where else.

"Which is why, after a whole lot of trouble, I was able to track his skeedy, crazy ass across a couple continents, and then find him right here at home!"

With that, he turns the camera around. 

And there, after the whirl, is the compound of the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth. 

* * *

"What the hell is going on?" New Man shouts into his communicator as the transport takes him across the Pacific, heading for Neo York City: "He's where?"

* * *

"In Bangkok, apparently," a clean-shaven Mr. USA says, heading out of the funeral's after-after-after party: "It just came over the television. All major channels. I'll get hold of Josie-"

* * *

"Swiftfoot, come in!" Josie shouts down his channel on the Flier -- the bridge a blur of movement as everyone gets off their asses and starts working the case like a mother!@#$er: "Your target just got pantsed on the world wide web! Move in and get him!"

* * *

"Sir, that's not where his signal is coming from," the AGENT at the map says: "That's northeast from where we are. In Khlong Sam Wa. Bang Chan, I think..."

"Get us there..." Swiftfoot says, shuddering as he tries to push his metabolism to its limits. He's been  working to shake the knockout drug out of his system all night long, but so far all he's got to show for it is a lot of water bottles and a costume so sweaty even he thinks he smells horrible. 

"Should I call the Thai authorities?" another AGENT asks: "They probably have some talents we can use-"

"Our collar, AGENT!" the old hero shouts, his eyes going crazy in his skull: "We get him! No one else!"

* * *

"(That's the guy who masterminded the bombing?)" the Colonel in charge of that District's police says, shaking his head as he stirs his coffee and looks at the television in their main office, full of detectives who've stopped doing anything productive as of three minutes ago. 

"(That's what our American allies are saying)," his direct subordinate says.

"(Does anyone here have any idea what he's saying?)" he asks, shaking his head: "(Is it a demand? Is he going to harm those people?)"

"(He's doing an expose, sir,)" one of the younger detectives says: "(He says he was set up to get to this guy. And here he is, turning the tables on them.)"

"(I !@#$ing knew it,)" his direct subordinate says: "(Same as always! They dangle something like this in front of us and hope we'll snap it out of their hand like a dog.)"

"(Hey, I know that place,)" one the other Detectives says: "(This guy I know? He says the mob shows up there every so often to take things to the airport for him.)"

"(What sort of things, Detective?)" the Colonel asks, knowing that man only knows because he's on the take with those mobsters -- same as every other Detective in this room. 

"(Um... they won't say what or why, sir. They still pass photos around of what was left of the guy who looked in one of the packages...)"

The man shudders at the the thought. Clearly they let him look, too. 

"(Any word from the COMPANY?)" the Colonel asks, putting his coffee down and looking at his secretary. The woman shrugs her shoulders and goes back to looking at the television.

"(They did say they wanted to take this man themselves, and that we were to simply report if we saw him, and let them do the work,)" his subordinate says.

"(I'm thinking I suddenly don't care what they said,)" he says, looking at the man, and then, with his voice lowered a little bit: "(You still know her, don't you?)"

The man reddens, but then nods.

"(Maybe call her up for coffee,)" he half-orders: "(See if she wants to go on a date.)"

* * *

It's the cheering and jeering that wake her up, deep within the dream.

Red Queen comes to and, for the first time in days, does so without wanting to scream and howl at the horrible thing that's been done to her. Maybe that means she's coming to grips with life as... whatever they've made her into. Or maybe her she's finally gone bug!@#$ nuts.

She's not sure, and frankly she doesn't want to know.

But as she hears the cheering from just outside the building, she hears stomping feet, heading past her from the bedroom.

It's him. And he's angry. 

"Honey?" his black leather girl-creature asks, coming from the bedroom.

"That fucker," he mutters: "How did I not see this coming?"

"Saw what-"

"Darling, shut your nigger mouth," he says, somewhere between a sweet request and a growl. She obeys.

"How did he find me, here, without me seeing it...?" he mutters again, turning around in place: "It's never let me down before. Fuck, it helped me find your special weakness for your gun, broodslave."

He's talking to her, now. Well, that's just !@#$ing wonderful.

"Well, if they start shooting, that's the end of this neighborhood," he says, stomping back to the bedroom: "Honey, we need to leave. Now."

"What's wrong?"

"If I wasted time telling you, we'd be dead," he barks: "Do you love me?"

"I do-"

"Then trust me and do what I fucking say," he says, maybe a little more tender: "Grab only what you need. I've got a few things I'll need, including the one from the off limits room. And then we're going to go."

"Alright," she says, clearly in subservience mode. Then they become like human whirlwinds -- running from place to place, and room to room, gathering up all they can carry ahead of the disaster.

And all Red Queen can think of is that, if she only had some way of firing a gun at the wall, she could end all this hell with just one bullet...

* * *

"Yeah, that's right," Randolph Scott goes on, grabbing a Singha from someone off-camera: "This naughty mother!@#$er is evil, ladies and gentlemen. Two all-beef patties of pure, Grade-A, Angus evil on a sesame-seed bun, hold the !@#$ing pickle.

"How long as he been here? I don't know. Long enough that people should know he's here, I guess.

"What's he doing here? I don't know for sure, but I can make some educated guesses.

"And what are we going to do about it?" he shouts to his crowd, who boo and cheer and jeer and wonder what the !@#$ he's going on about.

"Oh, it looks like the cavalry's arrived," he says, suddenly, turning around to wave at the big, black unmarked van that's just pulled up: "Take me drunk, officers. I think I'm home!"

* * *

"Where the !@#$ is he?" the first AGENT out of the van says, looking for the crowd of people that are supposed to be there. There's nothing there at all.

Nothing but a big pair of speakers, with a camera on the top, taking a live image of the wall of the compound. 

And taped to those speakers is the device Scott was using to track evil SPYGOD, and that the COMPANY, in turn, was using to track him. 

(A good thing he carries a medical scanner and a frequency detector in his kit) 

"Not here..." Swiftfoot says, stumbling out of the van and looking around. The speed is returning in spits and spurts. He can almost feel it coming. 

Just a few minutes more and he might be able to do something...

* * *

"Alright, you fast-footed sucker," Randolph Scott says, holding the camera up to the projected screen at the bar he's been holding court at for a time: "Here's the deal. I got you here to deal with that !@#$er. He's probably killed Red Queen, already, so you don't have to worry about saving her ass. All you have to do is go in there and !@#$ him up.

"You think you can do that?" the outlaw reporter shouts at him: "You could knock me on my ass just fine, and you could sure as hell beat down on my friend. But how about him, huh? How about the most dangerous man in the world-"

"You shut your mouth!" Swiftfoot says, looking down the camera's lens: "I'll deal with him. And then I'll find you. Youhearme? Iwillfindyou!"

As he shouts, he starts to blur. His white suit becomes a vibrating streak. 

He's off and away. 

 * * *

"Yeah, this oughta be good," Randolph says, sitting down next to the man dressed like the potted plant with a look of exhaustion on his face: "Red Queen, thou are avenged..."

* * *

"No, he no go in there start gun fight!" the subordinate is shouting down the phone as he changes into his costume in a supply storage room at the back of the precinct, hoping these farang at the COMPANY can actually hear what he's saying: "Bombpaper. Place have bombpaper! One bullet hit, whole neighborhood gone!"

* * *

"Oh god," Josie says, hearing the news: "And he's still on Triple Black. We can't get hold of him-"

* * *

The door is not a barrier to a man who can vibrate himself through atoms. Neither are the traps and snares that lead up to the door. 

Swiftfoot runs through the door. It flattens. Alarms sound and whoop.

He runs up the stairs. They warp underfoot. 

He runs into the main area. He stands there, looking around. 

No one is there. Nothing. He can see-

Then there's a sharp pain in his back, right between his shoulderblades, and then out through his sternum. 

A knife is through him. Long, curved, and serrated to cut through bone and muscle. 

And heart. 

He coughs blood and staggers forward, losing the speed along with the plot. 

* * *

On a nearby rooftop, someone stands.

No one can see him, and that's how he likes it. 

He extends the gun he brought with him -- its alien lines molding to his desires without having to say a word.

He aims it carefully, allowing the weapon to change his entire physiognomy to match its own sensory package. He soon becomes aware of all things within the room, including something he wishes he could unsee, but cannot. 

The gun loads a certain kind of bullet. 

He aims it at a certain target, there in the main room...

* * *

"You stay the fuck away from my man!" says a young, black girl, wrapped up in black leather than should make her slow, and wearing a mask that should make her blind. Somehow she can see enough to brandish another knife, and aim it for something a lot more painful. 

"Nochancehoney," Swiftfoot says, not realizing who he's fighting. 

He vibrates faster, and the blade falls right through him. A little faster and his metabolism kicks in, healing even that organ within seconds. 

She shouts and tries to cut him again. 

He pounds his hands together and makes a sonic boom, hoping to throw her onto her naked, well-spanked backside...

* * *

"I repeat, do not shoot your guns at or in the house!" Josie shouts: "Do you hear me? Please respond!" 

* * *

"We're on the road, and we're gunning for the Buddha," the man with the gun sings, lining up the shot: "We know his name and he mustn't get away..."

* * *

The shockwave blows her back, and then spreads outward, knocking over everything it can, and flinging it towards the walls with surprising speed...

* * * 

"Do you hear me?" Josie shouts.

* * *

"We're on the road, and we're gunning for the Buddha.

"It would take one shot...

(Aim. Inhale. Exhale. Fire.)

... to blow him away..."

* * *

(And then something explodes)

(SPYGOD is listening to Bastille (Things We Lost in the Fire) and having some Singha, because it's perfect for when things get really hot)

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