Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dis-Integration: 10/12/15 - 10/18/15

"Truly I Have Wept Too Much..."
New Man (with Violet Demon), Randolph Scott (with Jess Friend)
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *
* * *

Monday: 10/12/15

"Good evening. This is Randolph Scott, and This Is Bull!@#$.

"Normally, I'd be delivering a statement about the so-called holiday our nation still insists on 'celebrating,' today. A day marked by the name of a man who liked the indigenous people he supposedly discovered so much he thought he'd keep them -- as slaves.

"But that's normal. Today I can't be normal.

"Today I am in mourning, and while other so-called news outlets might tell you to keep the personal out of the political... well, you know what I think about that.

"So today, I'm going to break down that wall, and pull the personal from the political. From the news.

"Because I really need to talk to you about my friend, whom I loved...

* * *

The Heptagon: 

A body lies under bright lights in a morgue -- its sternum a ruined, red rose of flesh and bone. 

One machine covers his face and eyes as another scans for abnormalities on many levels. 

Those who tend those machines want answers, but they don't know all the questions. 

Not yet, anyway...

He is Jess Friend, and he is dead.

 * * *

"By now, you've seen what happened in Baltimore, yesterday. You've seen the clips on the news, or the internet. You've seen the horrible pictures and films of a naked man, smeared in blood and what appears to be !@#$, shooting at bystanders with guns with an obnoxiously high rate of fire.

"And while he was wearing a helmet, presumably to keep the police from taking him down from a distance, you've seen that one freeze-frame of his expression. The utter and total ferocity of that face. The anger, the bloodlust.

"The hate...

* * *

The Village:

It's a simple thing, to want to smash someone's face in. 

The man in the cream suit walks up to 101, making cheesy conversation.

("So glad you're making new friends. Perhaps a hobby, next? It does good to keep the mind active.")

He just drinks his coffee and smiles, dreaming of a well-timed punch to the nose...

He is Myron, and he is a prisoner.

 * * *

"You've heard his name by now. It was Jess Friend.

"He was best known for having been in the White House as a Secret Service agent the day the former President was supposedly murdered by SPYGOD, but really wasn't. And I'm sure you all know about that, or at least should, if you were paying attention during the Imago trials.

"Jess was also involved in things during the Reclamation War, most of which you would not have heard about. And then he was seen as the bodyguard for no less than Benjamin Franklin, who'd somehow come forward from the past to the present for reasons unknown to even this reporter, and stayed by his side throughout his time in the public eye.

"After that, as far as most people know, he just vanished until yesterday, when he was found killing and maiming complete strangers in the nude...

* * *


The weird farang ran into town, heading straight for the gayboy bars.

He drank like thunder. He ate very quickly. He spent money even faster on tut after tut.

Too rough, they said -- too fast, too weird. But too sad to kick out, too.

While sleeping, he cries "I'msorry. Sosorry," almost too fast to understand... 

He is Swiftfoot, and he is disgraced. 

* * *

"I do know where he was and what he was doing before that. I'm not at liberty to say it, as those things were private. But I do know that he wasn't sitting in some dreary apartment, somewhere, planning to do this. He wasn't behaving as a furtive soon-to-be mass murderer, quietly stockpiling guns and ammo, as some have painted him.

"Instead, he was doing the one thing that he always excelled at. He was helping someone during a very difficult time in their lives. He was being there, 24/7 for that person, helping in ways large and small, legal and illegal. He was their right hand man, their confidant, their collaborator, their bodyguard, and, when needed, their wheelman.

"Because he loved that person. Because he cared. Because he only ever wanted to help.

* * *


It was like the wrath of God descending, or so they all say.

A man in black, his face painted like a bird. He appeared. He stopped crimes. He left.

No one saw him come. No one watched him leave. 

All he left behind was a single admonition: "Love your neighbor as yourself..."

He is Thomas Samuels, now The Raven.

* * *

"I know this side of his personality very well. He'd seen too much, that day in the White House, and the Imago came for him. I saved his ass, then, and brought him into my crazy world of guns and cloaked ships, reporting what could be the end of the world, or just another beginning.

"And he repaid me every day thereafter by being a full part of the operation, not to mention a rock and a shield when things got too damn weird, even for me.

"And I loved him for it.

"Not in some bromance way. Not in some ridiculous, ever-nebulous macho way. Not even in the sense of two guys who get naked between the sheets but never want to admit they're anything but straight to the world outside their bedroom.

* * *


The shifting man sits in his cell and glowers.

He can't escape from here any more than he can escape from what he's done to get here.

He has no regrets, though. Well, maybe one or two. But only of things undone.

(Like not telling them he knows something really !@#$ing important...)

He is Gosheven, and he is not entirely caged, here.

 * * *

"No, we were lovers. We just never put a name to it, at the time. It was awkward at times and sweet at others.

"And it was never ever dull.

"I just never told him the words. I never said to him 'Jess, I love you.' I never said 'be my boyfriend.'

"Why? Because I was too damn busy to make a !@#$ing commitment.

* * * 
The Flier (currently over Washington DC):

The prisoner sits up in his gurney, talking to the lawyer he asked for.

The man is good. The prisoner used to teach Constitutional law, but he's thought of things he hadn't.

Bottom line? Things are bad, but there's still room to maneuver. Things to do.

(And if all else fails, well, there is that backup plan...)

He is the former President of the United States, and he is picking up the pieces.

* * *

"Those who know me well know that I get really wrapped up in my work. I mean, really wrapped up. I become all sharp edges and jangled nerves. I want to grab the truth and beat the !@#$ out of it until it sings like a canary under the spotlight. And doing that takes a lot of concentration and commitment, and leaves little room for distractions.

"It wasn't until just recently that I learned that love, freely given, is not a distraction. It's the reason we're here in the first place. I learned that I needed to make time for other things, too. To let other people all the way in, and go forward together in this crazy quest for the truth.

"And by the time I realized that, well, we were on separate sides of the nation, and he was even more wrapped up in what he was doing than I'd ever been. And I had to respect that, and understand it.

"And I had to be willing to let him do what he needed to do.

* * * 


The three-in-one god of endings and escapes watches at his brother and sister supergods go by.

They're all attending to something, over there, in a corner they've claimed.

He's not invited. He knows why, too, even if he doesn't know their plan. But he's too polite to pry.

Besides, he has a lot on his plate right now, in Tartarus...

He is Mister Freedom, and he is mourning many things.

* * *

"But I never told him.

"I never said to him 'Jess, you're a thousand miles away in person but you're still here, in my heart. You will always be here, in my heart. You will never leave it, because I love you. And I love other people, yes, but I love you as well.

"And whenever you can close this gap between our bodies, please come back to touch the piece of yourself that's in me, so that I can reach out to touch the me that's in you. And I can hold you and kiss you and tell you that I love you, to your face.

"'Because I do love you.'

* * * 

Mt. Sinai Hospital (Neo York City)

His lover won't wake up, anymore, and that shouldn't bother him -- but it does.

He lies in a medically-induced coma, letting his body heal without the brain getting in the way.

He knows it's part of the plan. He knows help is on the way. He knows this, really.

But he holds his hands and squeezes, praying to a mostly-silent god that he'll get a squeeze back...

He is Director Straffer, and he is hoping he hasn't made a terrible mistake.

* * *

"I never said that to him. I wrote that down, some time back, and wanted to say it to him, but I never did.

"Because we were busy. Because we were wrapped up in our work. Because I didn't know how he'd take it. Because I hadn't really discussed the matter with the other people I'm seeing...

"All excuses. All explanations. All lost and gone now, because if he's hearing this, it's from the other side of things.

"And I have no plans to join him there, just yet. Not for some time to come.

* * * 


She sleeps in death, and yet is still alive.

Her body is a thing of the past, now. Broken and folded, it holds no power over her.

Her mind is alive, though -- bright and beautiful, and all too aware of her predicament.

A death god asked her to be his hand. She said yes. And now comes the change...

She is Red Queen, and she is becoming.

* * *

"I realize this is all very frank. Maybe more than you were bargaining for, tonight. I can only apologize, but I'm not sorry for delivering this eulogy to him, here and now.

"I do apologize for not telling him sooner, though. I could have. I should have. But I did not.

"And now it is too late.

* * *
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Neo York City)

The old superhero's room is dark, now -- lit only by machines and the glare of the hallway lights.

The doctors have been and gone. They've made their tests and said their peace.

It could be days, or maybe a week. But whatever the medicine was doing, it's not anymore.

He never thought he'd die like this...

He is Mr. USA, and he is learning to let go.

* * *

"So I say to you all, do not be too late.

"If you are certain you love someone, or even maybe 85% sure? Do not wait to tell that someone you love them.

"Do not hold back and hesitate and think 'oh, there's a better time.'

"Do not let gender confusion or hangups over monogamy or whatever the damn advice columnist maybe said maybe to you stand in your way.

"There is no !@#$ing time but now. It's all we have.

"Make the most of it. Please.

* * * 

St. Patrick's Catholic Church

The older hero kneels in the back pew and cries, inconsolable.

He doesn't believe in God. Not anymore. But when he was younger, a church like this was a comfort.

Now? It's just a shell of stone and stained glass. An empty home.

But as he cries and mourns his estranged, long-lost son, he hopes it will fill back up again...

He is New Man, and his son is dead.

* * *

"Past that, all I can say about the incident in Baltimore is that I don't make it a habit to fall in love with moody, depressive serial killers with more guns than sense. I maintain that this was something that was done to him, rather than something he did to himself.

"And I'm pretty !@#$ing sure I know who did this, too. Someone I recently reported on, in fact.

"Someone I really need to have a final interview with...

* * * 

Off the Shore of Valencia, Spain

The boat to Ibiza is large and slow. He's making the most of both factors.

There's one dead body in his room, already, and by the end of the night he'll have two more.

An old habit, yes, but he's going to be more careful about disposal this time. He wants to be unseen.

He doesn't want to spoil the big surprise...

He is the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth, and he's about to show the world his teeth.

* * *

"But as the news media you're used to tells you things that make it easier to understand what's happened, and what kind of a man this Jess Friend was, please accept my own testimony.

"Please accept that he was not insane, or a monster, or anything they'd like to paint him as.

"Please accept my word that this man I loved would not have willingly done this terrible thing.

"Please accept that if I'd been smarter, and he'd been willing, he'd be here, with me, and not sitting in a morgue somewhere waiting to be dissected in more ways than one.


"And, with that, we go to Velma for the rest of the show."

Tuesday: 10/13/15

So please explain how this was even possible. Why didn't the Warbots destroy you?

Chinmoku: Because our friend had solved their puzzle.

Yanabah: You'd have to !@#$ing ask Mister Freedom. He explained it to me, but not good enough for me to believe it.

Red Wrecker: He said... dang, how did he put it. He said we'd have to think differently if we intended to live.

Shining Guardsman: He said that it was about intentions and how people respond to them.

Blastman: Something about changing the hand from a fist to a handshake. And I've dealt with enough of that to know that it works. Don't ask me why, but it works.  

Hanami: It actually makes a lot of sense. If you make a fist, so does the other person. And if you beat them, they learn from their mistakes and try again. And they'll keep beating you until you are beaten, or they can no longer try. Unless, of course, you can keep trying over and over again. 

Yanabah: I don't get any of that !@#$. Happiness is a warm gun, you ask me. Never did me wrong.

* * *

"... the subject died from a single, high-caliber shot to the heart. The bullet entered from the front, shattering the sternum and piecing the heart through the right atrium. Then it entered out the back, going between two ribs. It left one nice, neat line from front to back. I could actually drop a pen through the wound if the body was at the right angle, and not touch the sides.

"Normally, the sniper would have gone for a headshot. However, the subject was wearing a ceramic composite helmet capable of blocking such bullets. Why he wore the helmet and nothing else, such as a similarly-made plate over his vitals, is an excellent question. 

"Apart from the gruesome wound in his chest, the subject is in fairly decent physical condition overall. No evidence of long-term maladies, diseases, or debilitating conditions. He does have a prosthetic right hand, but it's one of the nice, flesh-sleeve ones that are so good you can't tell unless you really know what to look for.

"As for recent issues, the subject has marks on his wrists and ankles consistent with having been tied down for extended periods of time. He's also got rashes on his buttocks consistent from having to abide in one's own waste matter, which is a nice way of saying he !@#$ and pissed himself, and then had to sit in it for a few days. Most likely held captive. 

"He's also been somewhat dehydrated and malnourished, according to his bloodwork. His stomach contains a rather gruesome find, which would be partially-digested pieces of a human infant. The baby's body was utterly saturated with Crazyface, which is a new designer rage drug being developed as biological warfare by some very unscrupulous people in the former Soviet bloc. Which means that the kid was probably soporific as hell, as that's what this drug does to children, but must have made our friend want to kill everyone he saw. 

"That leads to another interesting discovery. Before we put the N-machine on him, we scanned his brain for abnormalities, as these kinds of actions are not normal for the subject, given what we know of him. We were hoping to find drugs and/or signs of psychic damage. 

"What we found, instead, is that a great deal of his brain matter has been altered, somehow. His neural pathways are twisted around in ways that one normally only finds in criminal psychopaths. And the damage appears to be fairly recent, too, possibly done the exact same day he died. 

"They're working on his N-machine tapes, now. Hopefully the replaying of his last few days will reveal some of what happened to him. I'd be curious to know what happened, if only so we can clear him of any direct wrongdoing. I'd hate to have these actions be the last thing he's known for..."

* * *
I'm not sure I'm understanding this. Please explain why a force of robots, programmed to kill you, generation after generation, would suddenly stop fighting you because you smiled at them.

Hanami: Because they'd been programmed to respond to our actions, and improve on them. So if we stopped being afraid and attacking, and instead sought to engage them in a friendly and welcoming manner, then they'd do the same. Enthusiastically.

Shining Guardsman: I mean, it sounds crazy. But it was also logical, in a weird kind of way. And since we were out of options after a week, well... when you have to believe or die, I can believe.

Red Wrecker: It was the scariest moment of my life. Worse than the Reclamation War with the Imago coming down, even. Just walking forward, holding Mr. USA up, and being friendly to this swarm of robots that was the latest generation of the robots that had been trying to kill us for a week.

Hanami: But it worked. It worked. He walked out there with his hands outstretched, like he was greeting an old friend. The robots raised up like a wave and then crashed down before him, confused.

Blastman: Then they hugged him, and he hugged them back. I could have just !@#$.

Shining Guardsman: I didn't see the whole thing because I was hiding Yanabah and Red Storm under shields and a cloak, but what I did see... that was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. It was like depictions of the Christmas day truce in World War I.

Chinmoku: The marriage of opposites. The embracing of the other. These are key concepts when one is following The Way. And The Way is the path to wisdom.

* * *

"So if we go into Syria-"

"We're already there, Mr. President," the General patiently explains, pointing to the map they're projecting on the table in the Oval Office: "We're there, and the Russians are there. That's the problem."

"I mean, if we attack the Russians there-"

"We can't," the Secretary of Defense says: "If we do, they'll attack us, and we'll be at war."

"And we do not want a war with Russia, sir," the Secretary of State says: "We won't win. We'll all lose."

"Then how are we supposed to tell them to stop this nonsense?"

"Well, we don't want them to stop all of it," the General says: "If they wipe IS off the map for us, they'll be doing us all a favor."

"It's just that they're also hitting our people," the Secretary of Defense says: "Which are the forces we're hoping will topple this regime and take over."

"And if they're gone, the Russians will have their own puppets installed, instead," the Secretary of State says: "Something that will be bad for the region, and make Iran even madder than they already are."

"So we have to tell them to stop firing indiscriminately-"

"Oh, they're not being indiscriminate, sir," the General says, trying not to look as impatient as he feels: "They know they're targeting our people. This is deliberate."

"But we can't do anything," the President says, leaning back in his chair and sighing: "And if we say anything, and they don't comply, we look weak."

"Yes, sir," the Secretary of State says: "That's about the size of it."

The three men look at him, and he looks down at his desk, and then up at them: "I'm open to suggestions, gentlemen. I'm not liking any of these things I'm hearing."

And they all look to one another, and nod, and then the portly Secretary of State smiles and says: "As it just so happens, I do have an idea on how to solve our problems, sir."

"But am I going to like it?"

The man smiles a little wider, and changes the map on the table: "Well, hear me out, Mr. President. It might seem a little weird to begin with, but you may be surprised where it ends up..."

* * *

So the robots stopped attacking and started being friends. What did you do then?

Hanami: Mister Freedom talked them into taking us to their house. He said he really wanted to meet their parents.

Blastman: I mean, hell, don't that just beat all? I wasn't even that forward with other kids when I was a kid.

Shining Guardsman: He just has that way about him. The wonder in his eyes, it's infectious, sometimes. I think they all just wanted to be friends.

Yanabah: Me, I'd have blown them all the !@#$ away. Taught them a neat new game called "stuff the grenade up your ass." But I was under a cloaked shield at the time and hoping I didn't !@#$ it all up for everyone.

Chinmoku: One must be as a child to experience the world. To see things with the eyes of one who has experienced nothing, and expects nothing. To be amazed and enraptured, and not terrified or afraid.

Red Wrecker: So me and Blastman marched poor Mr. USA down the mountain, over a plain, up and down another mountain or two. Hanami was being carried by Russian Steel, and the robots were carrying Mister Freedom along.

Hanami: Russian Steel made a few remarks about my thighs I tried to not take to heart. I don't think he was meaning to be crude. Something may have been gained in translation.

Blastman: Like some kind of goddamned parade. I'm just amazed we could keep up.

Chinmoku: I made my own way, as I do.

Red Wrecker: It was scary how fast the robots could go. I was doing my best to not think about how they would have just killed us in seconds if this hadn't worked.

Shining Guardsman: As it happened my shields collapsed less than a minute after the last Warbot went down the mountain. Any sooner and they might have heard what Yanabah and Red Storm were thinking, and then it would have been all over.

Red Wrecker: Thank God, it worked.

* * *

"Well, it looks marvelous, so far," the woman from the improvement committee says, looking at what Myron's brought to their table, in the cavern under the Village.

"Quite," the man with the mustache says, clearly puzzled.

"Very," the younger man remarks, perhaps not as puzzled.

"But will it work?" the man with the blue eyes asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, there's only one way to know for sure," Myron admits, tapping the box he's made from leftover parts he's been confiscating from Village equipment over the last few days, as well as the microphones and transmitters from the plastic cups from the party: "But we need to do something very important, first."

"And what is that?" their leader asks.

"Well, if we want to block the phone call, we'll need to know its number," Myron replies, raising an eyebrow and looking around the table: "Which means we'll need it to make a phone call."

"But that means..." the younger one says, looking at all the others.

And then they all look at him, one by one.

And he swallows, hard, suddenly realizing why he's here with them...

* * *
And then you entered the silo, which was where these robots had been assembling themselves.

Hanami: Correct. It was an old Soviet military silo. The kind that they used to do secret experiments within. I wouldn't be surprised if they had no idea what went on there, anymore, or that it had ever been there.

Blastman: It was damn creepy in there. I didn't see too much of it because I was staying by Mr. USA, once we got in, but man, what I did see...

Red Wrecker: The smell. That's what got me. It was a smell like the worst scrapyard I'd ever been in.

Chinmoku: It was a place of death, and yet life from that death.

Red Wrecker: My older brother used to repair cars. I'd go with him to these old junkyards to get parts, and the smell of rust and bad oil and rotting parts... that's stayed with me. It was like that, only worse.

Chinmoku: The ghosts were old, driven senseless by neglect and abandonment. They had been there a long time, sealed up and left to die when an experiment went terribly wrong.

Shining Guardsman: I was able to interface with the tech after the Russians came in to take change of the place. Not for long, of course. They really wanted us out of there.

Hanami: The scale was amazing. The machine that assembled them, constantly reaching out to take their energy patterns back for analysis and reconstitution after they were destroyed? Magnificent. It was so old, and yet so new. Genius.

Shining Guardsman: But that purple glow? That wasn't just the energy it needed to work. It was the soul of those machines. Somehow they'd been given souls.

Chinmoku: Not given, no. They were sharing the soul of another. Someone whose soul could be powerful enough to obliterate entire buildings, if he extended it out enough. Someone who shared that soul with his father, to an extent.

Blastman: Poor kid. I kind of liked him.

* * *

"... other subject is in terrible physical shape. He's been starved like that one guy from Se7en, frankly. I doubt he's moved in years, his muscles are so atrophied.

"He's been kept alive on a bare minimum of nutrients and water. His system is full of drugs I haven't exactly identified, yet, but share markers with the kinds of junk that the Soviets used to keep slave labor going in Siberia, which is essentially where he was found.

"He's got wires running into him through every hole he's got, and some he shouldn't have. I'm particularly intrigued and disgusted by the ones running into his navel, anus, and penis, as well as the ones under his arms, into his nose and eyes, and out the back of his skull.

"He's like a mummy, frankly. The kind you find out in a desert, dried by the heat. I can only identify him by his teeth and DNA. His fingerprints are useless, his skin is so bad.

"But yes, this is New Man, also known as the Violet Demon, and, apparently, the Purple Demon as well.

"God rest his soul."

* * *

And that's where you found what was left of the Violet Demon?

Hanami: Yes. It was his life energy that was truly powering the machines, and giving life to those Warbots. 

Red Wrecker: I figured out where he was, mostly due to the smell. I found a dead cat in a car trunk, once. You never forget that awful smell.  

Chinmoku: A sorrier ghost I have never seen. A spirit wrapped in skin, forced to haunt its own body as part of a machine.

Shining Guardsman: I might have found out a bit more, but Chinmoku, well... he took one look at the chair that New New Man was held down in, screamed bloody murder, and started smashing it.

Chinmoku: There are some things I consider to be obscenities. This was one of them.

Blastman: I heard him scream all the way down the hall, and then there was just the sound of things getting the !@#$ beaten out of them.

Chinmoku: I make no apologies for my actions. The Buddha may have said to consider the nature of the wasp when it crawls on your arm, but he never said we couldn't smash it, first.

Shining Guardsman: From what I did get, before the Russians kicked us out? That place had been doing early AI research. Also early Drexler machine assembly. And that's bad news.

Blastman: Place reminded me of this one mad scientist place we broke up, back in the 70's. Huge machines and a bad feeling people died badly there.

Shining Guardsman: Imagine an army of intelligent, sentient Soviet robots with the ability to build themselves at the nanomolecular level, and to improve on themselves with each successive generation. To really learn.

Hanami: It was just missing one crucial element. It needed a spark of life. A soul, if you will.

Chinmoku: A soul stolen and harnessed for ill purposes. An obscenity, as I have stated.

Hanami: And that explains the copy of the Violet Demon I encountered, and what it said to me. That explains why those copies wouldn't obey Hong Lingxiu of the People's Red Guard. They were only a part of the soul. To affect one part is so difficult when the whole is so large.

* * *

"Not so big as all that, are you?" Thomas says, hanging from the ceiling of the abandoned theater by his feet, letting his wings spread out to touch the city he's begun to call his own.

They're not real wings, of course. They're mental ones -- dreams made real within himself, and stretched and pulled and shaped into the form of large, black wings.

And those wings are now stretching to every corner of Detroit that he can feel.

A block away. Two. Five. Ten. More...

He can feel the city about him, now. He can sense its ground traffic, vehicle and pedestrian. He can hear its conversations, man and machine. Sense the ebb and flow of the vital electricity of talk and intention.

See crimes as they happen, or are about to.

So many things out there, during the day. So many little things going on, so many bad deals and horrible deeds, so many rotten actions and nasty intentions.

So many things. Too many, perhaps.

Fortunately for him, he has no ability to forget, anymore. He can and will remember all these sins by nightfall.

Unfortunately for those who commit them, he will come for them in the night -- eager to show them the error of their ways.

And ready to show them the way to salvation, after their lapses in judgement are directly addressed...

* * *

One last question. How would you say Swiftfoot behaved as a member of the team, prior to his going AWOL at a critical moment?

Blastman: Um... is that how you're !@#$ing putting it?

Hanami: He was fine, up to a point. He did what he was told, he was willing to take risks, and he looked out for his teammates. For a while, anyway.

Yanabah: !@#$er was a loser. I mean, sure, he'd go run and get supplies, but every time you turned around he was trying to take charge of the team.

Hanami: Once I regained consciousness, I became aware that he was actively trying to undermine my position as leader. Mr. USA was too weak to challenge him, but thankfully the others maintained discipline and orders.

Shining Guardsman: Mr. USA told me about their history. Well, some of it, anyway. And it was nothing that should have stopped him from being good with the rest of us. But he really had it in for (REDACTED). That I could tell.

Chinmoku: Some are sadly unable to figure out, much less even see, their own personal puzzle. He may never even discern its true edges.   

Red Wrecker: A total !@#$, pardon my language. I thought he was being cute and then I realized he was actually talking down to me, as well as Yanabah and Hanami, and Red Storm, too. Anyone without male genitalia. 

Hanami: At one point, when I caught him trying to make decisions without involving me, I specifically told him to remember I was in charge. It wasn't long after that conversation that he deserted.

Blastman: If that plan hadn't worked, we'd have needed his speed to have a chance to get the !@#$ out of there. So his going AWOL, as you put it, could have killed us.

Red Wrecker: He said a lot of mean things to Red Storm, too. Really mean and racist things.

Blastman: I can forgive a lot of things in the face of a firefight, but leaving me in a death trap is not one of them.

Hanami: In short, I think we are done with him. And I would like to discuss a meeting with the Director to have us handpick another member of the team together, this time. When he's feeling up to it, of course.

Yanabah: Tell me where the bastard is. I'll put a hole through his head. He'll have it coming.

Chinmoku: I believe he has a further role to play, but it will not be alongside us. 

Hanami: We've had too many surprises, lately. It would be a good thing for the team to know what's coming, for a change.
Wednesday: 10/14/15

She doesn't know where she is, anymore. She doesn't know what is actually happening to her -- not exactly, anyway. 

All that the Red Queen knows is that she's somewhere -- floating in liquid, she thinks -- as her body is rebuilt and restructured on a level so intimate that she can't even feel a thing.

That's her body, though, and she is far, far above it.

For just as her body is floating in warm and slippery goo, alive with its own strange motion and currents, her mind is also floating. It hovers in what might be a sky of sorts, filled with clouds and mist and strange bolts of lightning.

(Just no thunder, which is very, very odd)

As she floats, she becomes aware of other presences, here, within these endless clouds. They move around her like she imagines whales and other massive leviathans must move around solitary minnows, well-lost from their schools.

Only one stays by her. The one who spoke to her, before. The one who offered her this deal as she languished within the wreck that monster made of her body.

The one who has offered her an exciting new opportunity to be his hand on Earth.

Satanoth. She's heard that name before. All the news about Supergods and Olympians and their doings. The man whose skull-masked Diviners announce the coming of death, and aid in their passing. He who is lord of Death, eternal and absolute.

The Omega to the Alpha of this world.

Had she been worshiping him all along, then? Had every gentle pull of her trigger finger been a prayer? Every head turned into a red cloud an act of faith?

She's not sure. All she knows is that she is basking in his presence, here. All the feelings of satisfaction she gained from doing her job, and doing it well? They are magnified in his presence.

And he is truly magnificent. 

* * *
"Well, I must say, Mister President," the man from FAUST stammers, almost incapable of taking in the full depth of what he's been offered: "I have to say this is most unexpected. I was convinced I was going to be wasting my time, here, today, but this..."

"This, sir, is a small taste of what my client is willing to do for you," the lawyer says, putting a heavy finger down on the sheaf of papers the man was reading, and pushing them down onto the table in the man's hospital room: "He is willing to name names, give dates, recall meetings... just about anything and everything you need to go after the people you still need to get."

"Your former allies, in other words," the man sneers, looking down at the finger. 

"No allies of mine," the former President insists, shaking his head: "There was a lot of corruption going on at the Terre Unifee. And I was so bombed out of my skull on the drugs that bastard was feeding me that I didn't care."

"So you say-"

"So he is willing to swear, and I think your own medical records will back up, sir," the lawyer says.

"But that doesn't mean I didn't see, and didn't remember," the President goes on: "It just meant that I let it roll over me like a bad dream. It's only now, years later, that I can really remember it all. And new information is coming all the time."

"So," the man from FAUST says, steepling his hands before his face and trying not to appear too eager: "What will you want in return for this... cooperation?"

"He'll turn states evidence in return for a reduced sentence," the lawyer says: "By states evidence he means he's willing to freely testify to everything he saw while he was there, everything he did, everything he knows. No holding back, no hesitation."

"A reduced sentence," the man snorts: "You realize that still means you will be somewhere for a long, long time?"

"He also wants to pick the prison," the lawyer says: "And the level of severity. He's not going into some superslam or black hole. He's going to want a nice view, decent facilities. Food that doesn't taste like someone !@#$ into a pan and fried it. Private room-"

"And I want my daughter taken to the best psychiatric care facility in the NEU for observation, care, and a cure," the President adds, tapping his gurney: "The longer she stays here, with the COMPANY, the more likely they're going to use her as a guinea pig, or lock her up, or worse."

"Worse than those?" the representative asks: "What could be worse than dissection or incarceration?"

"A job," the President says, gritting his teeth: "Sooner or later, someone like SPYGOD is going to sit her down and give her the talk. The kind that ends with her putting on a damn costume and pretending to be a superhero. 

"And that never, ever ends well..."

* * *
"So, they told you the rules, I believe?" the head of Mt. Sinai's cyber-surgery department says to the prisoner as the legion of armed, well-armored COMPANY guards escort her in through the back of the building.

"Oh yes," the President's daughter sneers, wrapped up in a high-tech straightjacket that only allows her a little motion in her legs: "I'm going to be a very good little girl while I'm here. No misbehaving. No fucking around. I've got a job to do and not a lot of time to do it in."

"Well, as long as you understand that," the lady says, nodding and indicating that the guards should follow her into the maze of brick hallways that make the basement of Mt. Sinai: "They can take you right back where they brought you from at any time. And I'm the one who decides that."

"No you aren't," the young lady chuckles: "I'm the one who decides that, by my own actions."

"Well, yes," the lady says, not liking this at all. 

"And really, who's the person who's going to make that decision?" the President's daughter goes on: "Not you. You're not the one whose faggot lover is dying of cascading brain damage"

"Now, look," she says, turning to face the girl with dead eyes and an evil grin.

"And you're not the one who can fucking fix him, or I wouldn't be here," she goes on, stopping to look the woman in the eyes: "So you just remember who's really in charge, here. Not you. Not even me. 

"Now, the man who got me here? He's the one to listen to. Especially after I fix his lover."

With that she just smiles, and then starts walking again, and would have stomped right through the head of cyber-surgery if she hadn't gotten out of her way. 

Suddenly terrified of this small and insane girl who's now in charge of her unit.

* * *

"Oh God, I'm sorry," the shaky junkie is saying, cowering in the abandoned apartment he's called his own from what seems to be the wrath of god.

"Do. Not. Apologize. To. Me," the figure in black shouts, pointing a long, accusing finger at the man as he stammers and wets himself: "I'm not the one you stole the purse from, Lawrence Slevin."

"Oh, please," he stammers some more, trying to back even further into the corner as the man who surprised him mid-cooking stomps towards him, ever so slowly, still pointing that damned finger: "Please, no."

"Isn't that what she said, Lawrence?" The Raven asks, crouching down so he can get his face on the same level as his quarry: "'Please, no.' She begged and cried and you just took it and ran."


"Yes, that's what she said," the man goes on, his skin as black as coal, white lines crossing his lips and eyes: "She said 'please, no,' and she begged and cried and you just kept running.

"And she said that because she really needed her purse, Lawrence. Her drugs are in there. The kind that keep you from killing yourself. And her ID is in there, along with her credit cards, so she can't go get more of those drugs..."

"I'm sorry." the junkie is saying, his eyes screwed up and wet. He really just needed a fix. He really just needed out for a while. This is not what he needed at all. 

"I'm not the one to say it to," The Raven says, standing up and pointing to the pile of trash he's been keeping here. The purse in question is on the top, turned inside-out and shook up and down to get every last penny out.


"You are going to take everything you took from that purse and put it back in there," the dark figure commands, black feathers raining down from its hair, black eyes full and staring: "Then you are going to look at her ID, find her place, and go up to her door. You are going to knock on it and you are going to give her back her purse, and everything in it. 

"And then you are going to tell that you are sorry. That you are sick and need help. And that what happens next, well... that's up to her."

"What do you mean?" Lawrence snivels, shaking in fear.

"I mean maybe she calls the police. Maybe she forgives you. Maybe she just slaps you and slams the door. But you're going to take that chance, Lawrence Slevin. Because if you don't, I'm going to come back here and we're going to talk again. 

"And when we're done, I'm going to take you there myself to watch you apologize. And then I'm going to tie you to a lamppost and leave you for the cops to find."

"I... I'll do it," Lawrence stammers, not really wanting to go back to jail: "I will. I promise."

"Good," The Raven smiles, gliding backwards towards the door: "You do that. I will be watching to make sure you do. 

"And in future? Love your neighbor as yourself, Lawrence Slevin. You heard those words, once. Maybe you even believed in what they meant. It's time to honor them, again."

"Man, who are you?" the man says, suddenly very ashamed of himself: "What are you?"

"I am The Raven," Thomas Samuels says, smiling behind the darkness and lines: "And I'll be here when you need me." 

With that, he slides out of the door he kicked down, and leaps up the building into the newly-born Detroit night, black feathers falling behind him as he goes.

One case down, 106 more to go -- along with whatever else crosses his path. 

"God, please let me be good, tonight," he prays as he flips onto the rooftop and runs to his next appointment: "Let me be steadfast. Let me be merciful. Let me do your will.

"And above all, let me be humble..."

Thursday: 10/15/15

"I'm so glad you all came," Mr USA says, smiling at all the faces in his hospital room, his eyes bleary from the painkillers.

"Hey, least we could do, old man," Blastman says, smiling as he gently squeezes his friend's shoulder, seeming so frail under the hospital gown: "It's not like we don't already see too much of each other."

That gets a laugh from everyone, including Mr. USA, though he stops laughing to swallow gunk after a short while.

"So, I did a bad thing," Shining Guardsman says, handing over a small, padlike device: "It's a library. It'll remote-broadcast to your television if you want to watch a movie or something, and it'll do books and audiobooks on this pad, too. I figure you'll get bored having your blood drawn."

"Why is this bad?"

"Because most of the books and movies haven't come out just yet," the armored hero says, putting a finger to his helmet, right where his lips should be: "They're still undergoing review, but... well, we got a print."

"Just don't !@#$ing tell anyone," Yanabah says, feeling naked and creeped out without her guns: "I kind of like watching !@#$ before it comes out, you know?"

"I never took you for a movie person, Florence," Mr. USA smiles. Red Wrecker almost says that she's Florence, and Yanabah is Flower, but she decides not to, and everyone sort of chuckles good-naturedly.

"Where's Abdullah," Mr. USA asks at some point, opening and closing his eyes. When he does, no one's in the room but Hanami, who's been politely sitting by him for some time.

"Mister Freedom is overseeing the Warbots," she says: "He's got them somewhere. He didn't want to explain. I suspect they're in the same prison he's got Gosheven in, but I don't know for sure."

"Everyone left while I was sleeping," the old hero says, closing his eyes again: "How long was I out?"

"Long enough," Hanami says, trying to smile: "And besides, I needed to talk to you."

"What about?"

"How long are you going to be here?" she asks: "You could move to COMPANY facilities anytime you like, you know. We have nice ones."

"No," he says: "No COMPANY rest homes. No old and dying heroes. No broken AGENTS. I want to die here like a normal person, with normal people."

"And you've decided you're going to die?"

Mr. USA nods, trying to smile: "Not much of a decision. The medicine only worked so long. Only so much of it. It's gone, now. So that's it."

"Where did you get it?" she asks: "No one seems to know."

"Long story," he says: "And I can't tell you, even if I wanted to."

"I don't like it when people on my team keep secrets from me."

"Well, I'm not on your team, anymore," he smiles: "And I hate to tell you this, but everything's a secret."

"I beg to differ-"

"We all have our secrets, Hanami," he says, trying to look her in the eyes: "We all keep things from one another. Some of it's just private, personal stuff no one else needs to know. Some of it's embarrassing stuff that might damage how you see people. And some of it's dangerous, or shameful, and the only reason you need to know it is if it's relevant."

"Like you and Swiftfoot having personal issues, decades old," she says, frowning: "Like Swiftfoot being a coward, and a misogynist, and a bully."

"Like you being weakened by your time in space, and not getting any better," he replies: "Which is something you don't want anyone to know, but it's there if you know how to look."

She closes her mouth at that, shocked and embarrassed.

"All teams have secrets, Hanami," he says, reaching out to try and take her hand, but failing: "We all have our crosses to bear, skeletons in the closet. The trick is to work past them, and give others the time to do the same.

"Pick a good team, full of good people, and they'll all take care of each other. You'll see."

He looks at her and closes his eyes. The next time he opens them she's gone.

And in time, as the painkiller starts to cycle through again, he wonders if she was ever there at all.

* * *

"A partially-intangible bullet?"

"I know, it sounds crazy, but that's what we've got here, ma'am," the ballistics officer tells Josie, pointing to what he's got on his pad: "The bullet that entered this device, which would have sent the signal to the bombpaper, shows no wear and tear for having gone through an exterior wall and an interior wall to wind up inside the device. And the exterior wall and interior wall do not have any holes in that position."

"So either it was fired from inside the house..."

"Which it wasn't. We can tell from the angle, among other things."

"Or it was fired from this position, on that rooftop, not too far away-"

"Exactly," he says, patting the image on the pad: "Now, the bullet? We can't match it with any known make or model. It's a .50 caliber, but the metal... well, it looks like it was grown, not cast. And there's only one gun in the world that does that."

Josie blinks: "But... the person who has that gun, that was his house. And he was running like hell at the time the bullet was fired."

"True. He could have fired a seeker, but this isn't a seeker bullet."

"So we have two people with the same kind of alien gun," she says, sighing: "Great. I can't wait to tell our Director. It'll just make him so happy."

* * *

"So," Myron says, putting some final touches on the box in the cavern their 'improvement committee' has taken over: "Is there anything you'd like to tell me?"

"Not really, no," the leader of their group says: "Is there any reason you're asking?"

"Well, it's just the two of us, for once," he says, gesturing around the empty room.

"Is it?"

"You tell me," Myron says, tapping the top of the box as he gets another tool from the pile he's begged, borrowed, and made from scratch over the last few days: "We could be bugged. You could be talking to someone."

"As could you."

"And yet, here I am."

"As are we all," the man says, smiling: "We could all be playing one another, you know. Each of us with a different goal, a different perspective, a different handler."

"Or the same one," Myron says: "It may be different handlers, but we'd all be working for Number Two in the end."

"Do you think so?" the man says, no longer smiling: "Is that what you've come to believe?"

"Well, he is the one in charge, sort of," Myron says, putting the tools down: "There's always Number One to consider."

"No," their leader says, leaning back in his chair and shaking his head: "It would be nice if it was that simple. If it was only one man, up there, surrounded by satraps and lackeys, all eager to have his place, but none of them truly prepared for what lay behind that ball chair."

"So there's more than one command chain?"

"There's no command chain at all," the man says, shaking his head and adopting a tone of weariness: "Just the illusion of one. Just a mix of differing priorities and ideals, kept fresh and alive through plots and counter-plots, all doomed to do nothing more than keep this whole enterprise interesting, rather than the stagnant swamp it should be."

"So, wait..." Myron asks, putting up a hand: "Number Two isn't in charge of this place?"

"Oh, he is. But that's more the pity of it. In the end, he's as much a prisoner as any of us."

"So what are we doing here, then?" Myron asks: "What is the point of all this?"

The man just smiles: "I think you're beginning to understand the dilemma, friend. Under all this forced bonhomie and borrowed charm is something ugly and repellent. Something so rotten and sick that we've been flung at it in order to keep it at bay. A secret that BOWLER uncovered, some time ago, and now wishes it had never stuck its nose into..."

With that he stops talking, and purses his lips.

"You really must tell me how you know so much about BOWLER, sometime," Myron says.

"No, I must not," the man says: "And you would not want me to. Knowledge is not happiness."

"Neither is a prison," Myron says, quite visibly agitated: "I want to know what's really going on here. Now."

"I won't tell you. You simply have to trust me-"

"!@#$ that," Myron snorts, quickly gathering up his box and tools: "Find me when you want to trust me. Until then? Have fun with the dog."

And then he leaves the cavern without saying another word.

* * *

"So these Warbots... they're all still active?"

"Yes, Mr. President," New Man says, standing at the man's desk in the Oval Office, a manila folder under his arm: "Mister Freedom's looking after them. He says he's helping them understand what's happened so they can decide what to do from here."

"Is that really a wise idea?" the interim President asks, putting his hands on the desk: "These robots killed 300,000 people in Mexico, just south of our border-"

"Not these robots, sir," the older hero says: "Those robots are long since gone, as are every Warbot generation between there and now. This is an entirely new group, and while they were expected to fight and kill, they learned to cooperate with us and be friends."

"It sounds... well, I think you might guess how my other advisers would see that."

"I know that, sir," New Man says: "And I know how I would have seen that, not too long ago. But Mister Freedom was very persuasive. I'm starting to think he could talk the Sun into not burning people, anymore."


"Well, she is his sister," the older hero chuckles, but something about how the President looks at him makes him realize the man didn't get the joke, much less the memo.

"Alright, then," Quayle says, nodding: "So that problem's taken care of, then. And the Russians and the Chinese, we're square with them on this issue?"

"Yes, sir. The Russians have taken control of the silo they were made in-"

"Oh, I don't like the sound of that."

"Well, if it helps any, one of our people smashed the machine they were using to energize those Warbots. And with... well, with my son dead, they're not going to make any more of them. The Metal Plague is over."

"But they could use what they find there to make more, somehow?" the President goes on, choosing not to dwell on the man's loss.

"That's possible, sir," New Man admits: "Unlikely, though. According to what Shining Guardsman got from them, the devices were cobbled together using design principles we can't even begin to guess at."

"That's what he said?"

"Well, I think he used the terms 'kludged' and 'frankenproject,' but I suspect that's what he meant."

"And the Chinese?"

"Well, Red Storm didn't come into the silo with us, sir. She did an amazing job of keeping our team alive, but at the end she was afraid her fear of the warbots would ruin the plan. She stayed in the crater the whole time, and then the Chinese ordered her home. I don't think they're happy with her."

"Well, then," the President says, patting the desk: "I'm satisfied that's over with, then. Excellent work, New Man. Thank you for giving me some good news, at least."

"You're welcome, sir. I'm glad there's some good news to give."

"Was there anything else?"

"Yes, sir, there is," the older hero says: "I'd like to request that my son be buried in Arlington, over by the Torchbearer."

The Interim President blinks once, then a few times: "I see. Well, I wasn't going to bring this up, under the circumstances, but-"

"Sir, my son was hero," New Man says, trying not to lose his cool: "He fought for our country. He saved the world during the Reclamation War. He went undercover to help expose the Terre Unifee and was instrumental in dealing with that coalition of super villains that was trying to undermine them-"

"And then he provided the power for the Metal Plague," the President says, rising from his desk: "And this is after he vanished for almost two years, sir. We have no idea what he was doing, or how he got mixed up in all this."

"That's true, sir. But-"

"And I have reports going back some time on this young man. Stories of him being on both sides at once. Stories of him playing both sides against each other."

"Whose reports, sir?" New Man almost shouts: "I'm telling you what the COMPANY has on file for him."

"And I'm telling you that you're not the only Agency I have with an interest in Strategic Talents," the interim President says, tapping his desk with his right hand and looking the man in the eyes: "There's been some strange stories circulating out there. Stories of him getting overly-involved with some robot terrorist called the Scarlet Factotum. Stories of them getting very friendly. Collaborating, even. Word of what he was doing before he reconnected with us, all those years ago-"

"That's... sir, that's not entirely accurate-"

"Isn't it," Quayle says, tapping his desk with his right hand again: "Now, is that the Director of the COMPANY talking, or is that a grieving father talking? Because I really need the Director of the COMPANY to talk to me, now. I need him to tell me about someone who behaved very suspiciously for a number of years, and may have been acting alongside us, but not necessarily with us, and then finally went off the reservation when he got a chance.

"Now I ask you, as the head of an organization that also employs captured supervillains and science terrorists. When one of them dies in the line of fire, do you put them in the hallowed earth of Arlington, alongside people like American Lightning and Miss Liberty? Or do you just release the body to whomever will claim it and leave it at that?"

"My son was a hero, sir," New Man insists: "I will prove it to you. And then we will talk about this again."

"Do that, please," Quayle says, sitting back down: "Because if word got out that I took a man who may have been mixed up with the wrong elements, and then killed 300,000 people in one day, and buried him in our national cemetery with full honors? I'll be having to do a lot of talking with a lot of people, sir. And none of it's going to be very pleasant."

"I can understand that, sir," New Man says, nodding as he turns to leave.

"Be sure that you do," the Interim President says: "And if you do prove it? Be sure I can verify it. Because this is one headache I do not need, right now."

"Incidentally, sir," New Man says, just before he puts his hand on the doorknob: "Speaking of headaches?


"I know what you're planning in Syria, sir. And if I can offer some advice? I strongly advise against it."

"How do you..." Quayle says, and then realizes what he's asking, and who he's asking it of.

The older hero turns and raises an eyebrow: "It's my business to know these things, sir. Let's just say that your Secretary of Defense has a security leak he doesn't know about."

"Are you threatening me, sir?"

"No sir," New Man says: "What I'm doing is telling my Commander in Chief that, as someone who's made a lot of mistakes lately, and knew he was making those mistakes as he made them? It's always okay to pull out of a bad idea, no matter what you've been told, and by who.

"It's just harder to do it when you're halfway up the deep muddy than it is when you're just at the mouth of the river. That's all."

With that he nods, opens the door, and leaves the President to his thoughts.

Which are not entirely good.

Friday: 10/16/15

"Can you hear me?" 

Red Queen hears the words, but doesn't exactly understand them -- not at first, anyway. They seem so small and faraway from where she is, up here in these endless, crackling clouds.

"Gail?" the voice asks again -- louder, this time -- and there's motion there. Glowing things. A strange humming noise.


A short, curvy redhead in a purple cloak is walking towards her through the clouds, somehow -- perhaps using her tall staff to do so. The cloud of glowing dragonflies surrounds her like a shield, and then disperses as she comes close enough to be heard.

"Can you hear me?" she asks, her long, curly hair blowing in the strange breeze caused by the cloud of dragonflies: "Do you still remember who you are?"

Red Queen tries to speak, but cannot. She's still too weak, somehow -- even in her thoughts, she is weak.

"Listen to me," the woman says, pulling back her cloak and letting her hair spill every which way: "We don't have a lot of time. My name is Tombo. I speak for the dead. And I can hear you, even if you can't speak."

Have we met? Red Queen says, using her mind to talk. It hurts, but she can do it.

"Not directly, no," she says, looking around at the massive, unknowable shapes beyond the clouds as they move and shift: "I don't deal with the living all that often. But we have people in common. Chinmoku, especially. And Doctor Power, though... well, not anymore."

Oh, is he dead? Never liked that !@#$er.

"Well, you have good taste," Tombo says, smiling: "And he's worse than dead. That's all I can really tell you, now."

Big secrets, huh?

"Yeah. I'm sorry." 

It's okay. I'm used to them. Goes with the job.

"That's why I'm here, Gail. I'm here to talk to you about this job you're about to take. It's not a good idea." 

What do you mean?

"I mean that..." she starts to say, but then frowns and looks beyond the clouds: "Oh, !@#$. He heard me." 

Who...? Red Queen asks, but then realizes who it must be as one of the large, swirling presences beyond the clouds comes down to her level -- shedding continents as it goes -- and resolves into the form of grim, skull-faced Satanoth.

"Little dragonfly girl," he says, looking down at her as he strides towards the two of them: "I see you've decided to interfere in my business, again."

"I have, yes," Tombo says, standing her ground and looking up at him as though she wasn't the least bit afraid.

"And in our own world, no less. I'm amazed at your gall."

"And I'm disgusted at yours," she snarls, pointing out at the clouds where he came from: "Do you think that's a good idea? Really?"

"That is none of your concern."

"Oh, but it will be," she says, turning back to fix him with a very icy glare: "Ask your sister, one knitter to another, what's coming down the skein. I don't think she'll like the answer. Maybe that's why she hasn't told you."

"You should leave now," he says, waving his hand in a direction behind her: "You were never welcome to begin with. You are twice as unwanted now."

"Not until I tell her what you have planned for her," Tombo says: "What you're making her. What you'll be making her do."

"She knows, already," Satanoth says, grinning: "She does not care. She agreed to this remaking of her own free will. And you have no power here, little dragonfly girl."

Tombo looks like she's going to shout at him, but then just looks at him and smiles -- crooked and deep: "You keep telling yourself that, little death god. You just keep imagining that's true. I'm sure it's easy to fool yourself when you're surrounded by your subjects.

"And I'm sure your brothers and sisters don't care to bring it up. It must be like farting at the dinner table for your lot to speak of how small and weak you really are in the grand scheme of things.

"But you know who I speak for," she continues, pointing her staff at him: "You know who has sent me walking these paths. You know Her power, and who she bends at the knee to. You know whose power feeds you, and whose light casts the shadow you call a soul.

"And you know that the Tall Lady would never let herself get rewritten out of reality. Not even once. Not even by angels.

"And certainly not by a man..."

Satanoth doesn't answer her smirking taunt. He just waves a hand, and the clouds fling her up and away, and out of the Supergods' domain -- dragonflies and all.

"Do not listen to her lies, little one," he says, putting a large, strong hand upon the brow of Red Queen's soul: "Sleep now. Sleep and dream. Sleep and form. Sleep and grow stronger.

"And when you awake, you will be feared..."

* * *

"Oh yes," the President's daughter says, holding the tools they've given her up in the air for inspection, and loving it as the armed guards all take a step back.

One of them is a brass cylinder, maybe two inches in diameter and a foot long, with a handle on one end. The handle's connected to a tube that loops out and away of the operating theater, off to some distant reservoir.

The other is the remote controls to the 3-D printer they use, here. The one that can construct cybernetic scaffolds for human tissue in seconds, building a human body up from nothing.

"Now, do you understand how it's supposed to work?" the head of cyber-surgery says, indicating the cylinder: "Hoosk left a rather lengthy manual on it, but-"

"Back off, bitch, I got this," the young woman says, looking at the arm that's holding the remote. It's criss-crossed with a strange webwork of light scars, like little lines against her skin.

She regards it, and then, sighing -- because she so loves those scars -- she puts the remote down, takes the cylinder, and places it on her skin there.

No sooner does everyone gasp than she turns it on, at which point it sinks a little into the flesh, as though it were only semi-solid.

She gasps in pain and surprise, and grits her teeth. She holds onto it, and slowly -- ever so very slowly -- pushes the cylinder along the length of her arm.

It only goes so fast. Maybe a millimeter a second. But as it moves, it reconstructs the tissue it's inside. And in its wake is left new skin, muscle, and bone.

After a very agonizing five minutes, in which she just narrowly avoids messing herself from the pain, she arcs the cylinder up from her arm, and then out. Then it's out of her and she gasps, puts it down, and collapses to the floor.

"Are you alright?" the lady says, getting down to make sure she's okay: "That was incredibly dangerous, young lady. You could have-"

She stops talking as soon as she realizes there's a knife in her throat.

The guards all shout and start coming forward, but then the President's daughter just looks at them, and they realize that if they rush her, or shoot, the woman is dead.

"No one fucking touches me," she says to the woman, who's gasping and about to go into shock: "But I appreciate your concern. That's why I left it between your veins instead of in them. You'll live, this time."

Then she kicks the woman away from her, gets up, and looks around.

"I'm ready to party whenever," she snorts: "Just not right away. That was so fucking intense I think I need to rub one out, just to keep it going, you know?"

And the guards all take another step back, clearly terrified of the person they don't dare kill.

* * *

"Well, frankly, I don't know what to tell you, other than 'I'm glad you're alive' and 'you don't deserve to be,'" Director Straffer says to the doctor on his viewscreen in his Pontianak office, her neck wrapped up in bandages and a haunted look on her face: "I told you to use extreme caution with her. I even showed you why."

"I want that !@#$ out of my hospital," she hisses, unable to speak so well.

"Not until my fiance is operated on," he says, pointing at her: "That was the deal. You stick to your end of it and you'll be able to lay claim to something that'll revolutionize these types of procedures."

"That healing stick the short man with the white hair and big ears brought."

"You mean Hoosk, and yes," Straffer says, trying to smile: "Imagine being able to heal someone from outside the body. Total cellular regeneration-"

"Have you seen what it costs?"

"I don't care," Straffer says, no longer smiling: "You came to me to tell me the end was near. You told me there was nothing you could do. And I fixed it so it wasn't the end, and there was something you could do. All you have to do now is stay away from her and let her do what she needs to do."

"Alright," she says: "But just so you know, when this is all done with? I'm taking that thing and I'm breaking it. It's ungodly-"

"Excuse me a moment," he says, holding up a finger as he gets information in: "We're going to have to talk later. I've got something important going on here. Your inability to deal with a crazy person who can save SPYGOD's life isn't important."

With that he cuts her off, and then Captain Charleston is on his screen, smiling: "Sir, we've got them!"

"The Xordonodrox?"

"Yes, sir. We found them on an asteroid, floating at the Lagrange point between Earth and Mars. It's just small enough to not be noticed, but large enough to hold a few spacecraft, maybe a real base."

"Good," he says: "How soon before we can link up with the Martians and mount a raid?"

"Well, we can do it any time, sir, but..."

"What is it, Captain?" Straffer asks, not liking the look on his Second's face.

"Well, I had a thought. We know they're working with the Martians. But we don't know how deep that relationship goes. If they have access to spaceships and exit visas and the refugee fleets, then anyone we inform on this could tell someone who could tell someone who could tell them."

"And then they'd be gone before we got there," Straffer says, nodding: "Very smart, Captain. But we're going to need extraterrestrial backup on this. Our fleet isn't nearly as good as it needs to be to deal with these kinds of missions."

"Well... we could talk to the Venusians, sir," Charleston says: "I understand they're a little eccentric, but-"

"But nothing," the Director says, smiling: "I'll get you through to their new Ambassador. He hates the Martians, and he'll be delighted to help get one over on them. Just, be ready before you call him, okay?"

"Yes, sir," his second in command says, trying not to look as nervous as he's suddenly become.

There's some things no one is ever ready for...

* * *

I really should have known better than to !@#$ing call. Really. 

I mean, I did just out their son on television. I did just identify their only boy as having been less than completely heterosexual. 

But I wasn't expecting their reaction to be that angry. That damn visceral. 

I'd actually thought about trying to come to Jess' funeral, this weekend. I thought it might be presumptuous, as I wasn't really known to his family. But damn it, we were allies and friends and so many other things, I thought they'd be okay with it.

They were not. 

So I got to listen to Mr. Friend call me a number of very profane things. I got to listen to his sister tell me the same things when the phone got passed over. And I was informed that I'd broken Mrs. Friend's heart on top of it, so, !@#$ me all over again, with a rusty knife, a long wooden spoon, and a firecracker or ten. 

I've had more pleasant root canals. And the way they hung up on me made it very clear I was not to call back there, again. 

If anything good came out of it, it was that, talking with Velma afterwards, she confirmed something that I'd suspected might be true, but that we hadn't really had a chance to talk about before. She said that, while she wasn't sure how she would feel about me seeing someone else, she'd at least be willing to try it, provided I was willing to be open to her doing the same.

And she would have been very willing to try it for Jess, because she knew that I loved him.

It's good to be with someone who understands these things. The heart is such a strange and complicated thing, full of compassion and contradictions. To have a lover who embraces the possibility of a crooked, odd path is a true blessing. 

So tonight, I'm having a drink with the woman I can't say "I love you" to enough, and we're mourning the man I wish I had said "I love you" to. 

It's not as good as a real funeral, but it'll have to do for now. 

-- Randolph Scott (Private journal)

Saturday: 10/17/15

"Well hey," Mr. USA says, opening his eyes to find the hospital room is full of strange lights and flickerings. It's something like ripples off an electric pond, but not as glaring. More welcoming.

Maybe this is death?

The last time the nurses came though, they seemed to think it was on its way -- and quickly. They were talking last rites, and get the doctor, and notify the next of kin and coworkers and whomever. They were also wondering if they should have someone there, just in case he did something strange when he died.

(Sometimes Superheroes exploded when they died, someone said. Just like frogs and firecrackers.)

The beeping noises are ridiculous. He always thought machines were supposed to slow down and make fewer, less regular sounds as things shut down, right up until the end. In reality, they make horrible and loud alarms when things get below or above certain degrees of normal, unless the nurses actually shut them down.

And the ones here decided not to do that, which means every few minutes he hears a jarring cry from one or more of his monitors.

Only now they're all quiet. All still.

"Is this it?" he asks. But he thinks that he'd feel different if it was. He'd feel stronger, now. Less weak, anyway.

He'd feel free.

"No, this is not it, my friend," a voice says, reverberating from several angles at once, just like the light. 

"Shift?" Mr. USA says, trying to get up: "You've come... I thought we were done?"

"It is I, yes," the silver-suited man in the blank facemask says, Doppler-images coalescing behind and beside him as he forms in the center of the room: "Though not, perhaps, the one you remember."

"Um, what?"

"I mean that, when you last saw me, I will be wearing a different face," the Supergod says, pulling a box out of seemingly nowhere: "The me that you befriended is in my future, just as the time you recreated me though him is in your past, now."

"Oh," the older superhero says, suddenly understanding, if only a little: "You're the Shift I knew from before... before."

"Yes, though our paths have crossed quite a bit," Shift says, nodding: "You just never would have known if it were the now-me, or the then-me. And we would have had no reason to tell you. And you would never have needed to know."

"So why are you here?" Mr. USA asks: "Did your... then-me send you to talk to me? The last time we spoke he seemed angry with me..."

"Yes," the man says, coming closer with the box: "And no, he did not send me here. We sent ourselves here, because this is where we need to be."

He opens the box. Inside is a long, glowing clear bottle, filled with something that glows a strange, bloody red.

"My God," Mr. USA says, blinking: "That's... the medicine."

"Yes," Shift says, nodding: "Only this is what then-me did not give you, then. He gave you the lesser dose. This is the strongest that is available.

"And once it is gone, there is nothing that will postpone what will happen," the Supergod goes on, handing it over to him, box and bottle both.

"Thank you," Mr. USA says, taking the bottle in his hands -- thin and weak, he thinks -- and getting ready to pop the top.

"Once you take this, I cannot see you again," Shift says, taking a step back: "I cannot truly explain why. But something of you will be closed off to me, forever. And I regret that more than you can understand."

"That's why he was sad and angry," Mr. USA realizes, thinking of his friend: "Please tell him I'm sorry."

"We know," the Supergod says, holding up a hand: "Farewell, (REDACTED). Know that when the end comes, you will be with us forever and ever..."

Mr. USA watches as the silver Supergod disappears, taking his strange lights and silence with him, and leaving in their place the glaring florescent of the hospital room, and that damned beeping and alarms from the monitors. 

"Forever and ever," he says, closing his eyes as he takes a smallest of sips from a bottle that -- as he knows from experience -- will be gone far too soon for his liking... 

* * * 

"Alright, then," the border control agent says, looking at the very long line of very long trucks, leading all the way back to Calexico, that is now finally moving over the border: "That only about wasted half a day of my life to get settled."

"What is all this crazyness, Earl?" one of his fellow agents asks, watching the nearest one shudder to life and begin to move.

"Crazy is just about right, Nicodemus," Earl replies, shaking his head and adjusting his cap "Turns out there's a relief convoy to help them poor folk down in Mexicali after that terrorist attack. Only no one told us about it until this morning, when those trucks all pull up."

"There must be fifty of those things," the other agent says.

"Just about," Earl replies, looking at his clipboard: "Yep. 52, in fact."

"Hoo boy."

"You about said it," Earl says: "Now me, I don't mind helping my fellow man. Even if it is !@#$ing Mexicans. We's all Christian folk, comes right down to it."

"Amen, Earl," Nicodemus says, wishing to God the man would just call him 'Nick' like everyone else does.

"But just for once I'd like to know if some big-time corporation gets it into their heads to send a damn relief convoy on my damn shift," he says, watching as the gigantic S-Corp logo rolls by once, then twice, then again and again: "Just ain't right, Nicodemus."

"Damn right, Earl," he replies: "You want some coffee?"

"Gonna need it to get through all this paperwork," Earl says, spiting into the dust: "Just ain't right. No sir, just ain't right."

* * *

"Define 'went ape-!@#$, AGENT," Josie says, looking at the smoking ruins of the Flier's memory lab.

"I mean he just went crazy, ma'am," the badly-beaten AGENT says, wincing as the doctor immobilizes his broken arm: "He was fine, and then he wasn't. And we didn't realize anything was wrong until he started screaming and broke every screen in front of him with his chair."

"What happened then?" Second asks, looking over at the station at question. It's totaled, for want of a better word.

"Well, AGENT Holden and I tried to stop him. That's when he pulled out his sidearm and capped Holden in the head. I managed to kick the gun out of his hands, but he leaped on me and... man, I thought he was going to bite my face off."

"He settled for breaking your arm, AGENT," the doctor says, tying another strap down: "In three places, no less."

"Lucky for me, that's when Bolds and Fredricks got back from lunch," the AGENT goes on: "He lost interest in breaking me and tried to break them instead. And Bolds just... well..."

Josie looks over at the AGENT in question. He's lying with a jacket over what's left of his head.

"Bolds, care to explain why you killed him?" Josie says to the obviously-shaken AGENT, sitting over by the door with Fredericks standing by her, a hand on her shoulder.

"I saw the look in his eyes, ma'am," she answers, trying to sip at the coffee someone was kind enough to bring her: "I've seen that look before. Every so often someone gets so lost in a bad N-Machine reading that they go insane. And when that happens, well..."

Josie nods: "Thank you. Doctor, get him good care. Bolds, I want you in decompression. Fredericks?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"I want someone to get back on the bike as soon as possible," she orders: "Salvage whatever you can from Jess Friend's N-machine reading. Put the strongest mind we have on it. And for God's sake, this time use proper protection."

"Begging your pardon ma'am, we did," Fredericks says, pointing to the smashed screen: "That's got the strongest filter we have."

"I'll get you stronger," Josie says, shaking her head: "We need to know what happened to that man. What he saw. What he heard. Everything. You got that?"

And with that she leaves the room, wishing her superior would come out of his damn office and help her with all this crazy.

Sunday: 10/18/15

In a mostly-glass office overlooking downtown Detroit, a tall, lanky black man in khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt gets ready to tee up another ball.

It's just an illusion, of course. There's no ball, no club, and no green. But it's all been cunningly simulated for him on the VR glasses he's wearing like a band around his head.

"So, Mr. Woods," he says to his simulated opponent: "Let's see if you can get your way out of this..."

"Mr. Stone, sir?" someone calls, interrupting his swing.

"Ah, do-over and hold, please," he says, tapping the side of his VR goggles. They slide up in the front so he can see who it is.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir," his secretary says, handing him a report: "But you wanted this as soon as possible."

"Yes, thank you, Gary," the man says taking it and looking at it. He frowns as he does, especially when he gets down to the bottom.

"It's quite something, sir," Gary opines: "This new player in town? Probably the same one who put those two employees in the hospital last week? Well, he's been very active. Apparently crime in the areas that Arrow Security patrols is down by 50% in less than a week. He's got people running scared."

"That is quite something," Mr. Stone says, shaking his head: "A bad thing, in fact."

"Should I call our... special friend?"

"Yes," the man says, handing the report back: "I want crime back up to its normal levels by tomorrow night. I don't care how he does it. Just tell him to do it."

"Of course, sir," the secretary says, turning to go.

"Oh, and have the Chief of Police call me later, in about three hours," he says, turning his VR glasses back on and getting back into the swing of things: "We're going to have a joint press conference to address this matter."

A tee, a swing, and then the roar of fake applause as he almost gets a hole in one...

* * *

"No, really, you won't regret this decision, mate," the old, sandy-haired Briton says, limping around the desk in his small office to shake his buyer's hand: "This place is a bloody gold mine, it is. Jumping every night of the week."

"I should say so," the well-dressed man says as he takes the man's hand in his, his pale skin looking oddly out of place on this island paradise: "I was certainly impressed by what I've seen the last few days."

"So you're wondering why I want to sell, then?"

"The thought had crossed my mind, I'll admit," his buyer admits, standing up so they can leave, going down the stairs and into the main floor of the open-air club.

"Ah, well, there comes a time in every tax exile's life when he looks at where he is, looks at what's ahead, and decides that it's the right time to take your dosh, go back to London, and die surrounded by curry and chestnuts."

"And people with proper accents," the pale man says, looking around, admiring the speakers, the sound system.

The lights.

"Well, that too," the man shrugs: "I can't say as I mind wogs, if they've got the money to get in. But yeah, I do miss my own people. There's just that special something, you know?"

"Don't I ever," the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth says, looking at the nightclub he's bought and wondering if he'll have enough time to fix it up before it's showtime.

And deciding that, for once, he'll just leave it up to the fates.

* * *

+ Do you understand what you're asking?

- We do, yes

+ Does your boss understand what you're asking?

- Well, it's hard to be sure what he does and does not understand. Suffice it to say he's been told. Whether that makes it through his skull is another matter.

+ Alright, then. We'll make it happen. It will not be cheap. It will not be clean. But it'll happen. 

- Excellent. Let's make this happen as soon as possible? Preferably before the Ruskies do anything else?

+ Cross my palm with silver, and it'll happen within the next 24 hours...

 * * *

 "No, I'm not kidding," the nurse at the cancer ward is shouting over the phone: "You need to come to room 6-11 right now and see for yourself.

"No. Yes. Yes, it's him. He's... well, he's... look-"

And then there's a rush of air, and something streaks down the hallway, heading for the open-air garden on the rooftop of the floor below.

"Well, !@#$," she says, looking at the room that was just vacated by their star patient, who very clearly is not dying anytime soon.

Which is probably good news, but has really messed with her sense of how things were supposed to go, today.

* * * 

There's a knock at his cabin door, and Myron goes to answer it, grumbling with every step. He was just about to change into his pajamas and get some sleep, what with curfew coming on and all.

He's not really surprised to see no one there, given how things are. But he's also not surprised to find a crumpled note, stuck into the jam in such a way that he needs only drag his foot back to take it inside.

Once it's there, he quickly bends down to tie his shoe, and sticks the note into his sock. And, as he undresses, he unrolls the sock and checks out the note.

Tomorrow. Coffee at the cafe. I will tell all. 

"Alright then," he says, nodding as he crumples the note and goes to the bathroom to destroy the evidence, hoping they don't have some poor, really high-numbered SOB filtering his !@#$, too.

* * *

"Man, can't a guy get some peace while he's on the can?" Gosheven asks, looking up at the platform above his cell. 

There seems to be an army up there, trudging along ever so slowly from one end of the prison to the other. 

They look like those Warbots he'd been investigating in China -- the Metal Plague -- but much more advanced. 

And as they march, he can't help but notice there's a weird, purple cloud surrounding them. 

A cloud that's screaming, almost too softly for him to hear...

 (SPYGOD is listening to Rimbaud Eyes (Dum Dum Girls) and having a Pieta)

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