Monday, October 26, 2015

Dis-Integration: 10/19/15 - 10/25/15

"Someone take these dreams away / That point me to another day"

The Raven
(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 10/19/15

"So," the improvement committee's leader says, helping himself to some more of the coffee he and Myron have been sharing at the cafe, that morning: "We were going to talk about history, today."

"We were, yes," Myron says, hoping the blue-eyed man doesn't take it all: "Quite a bit of it, I hope."

"Are you familiar with the concept of the hidden spymaster?"

"Not really, no."

"Well," the man says, putting his hands together, a twinkle in his eye: "In ancient times, there were royal families instead of politicians. Kings and queens and their princely offspring, all vying for the throne of one kingdom or another. And a king could be a good king, or a bad king. But no king who was foolish lasted long enough to become wise, if you take my meaning."

"I do," Myron says, looking around and noticing how everyone at the cafe is pretending not to listen, but in fact hanging on every word.

"Now, a wise king would recognize that there were always threats to the crown, the kingdom, and its people. Traitors and troublemakers, foreign spies and provocateurs, assassins and sell-swords. Threats you could see, threats you could anticipate.

"And the worst threats of all -- the kind you would never see coming until it they struck..."

* * *
"... just a little to the left, please," the dark-haired, pale man in long sleeves and pants says to the young fellow he's got fixing his lights in the club. As he does, the SPYGOD of Alter Earth watches how he moves -- the sliding of his pert buttocks under his shorts, the way his muscles contract and relax.

He thinks it might be fun to invite him up to his new office and show him what happened to the man he bought this place from, the other day. The scream alone would be worth every Euro he put down, though it would mean another mess to clean up, which is not necessarily a luxury he can allow himself.

His plans are too far along, and he can't risk standing out in the crowd, now...

* * *
"... sounds familiar," Myron says.

"As well it should," the man says, sipping at his coffee: "And so it was always a good idea to have a royal spymaster in your employ, so as to ensure that such problems were dealt with. Troublemakers watched, traitors trapped, spies fed false information... the usual things."

"So this spymaster was hidden?"

"Goodness, no. It was always a good thing to have such a person be out in the open, so that people knew who he was, and that he meant business. His underlings and informants might be invisible, of course, but everyone know who the spymaster was. He was a public figure, well known to the court, but also somewhat aloof from it as he might at any time denounce one of them as a spy, a traitor, or just someone the king wanted out of the way."

"Fair enough. So who was hiding?"

"Well, we'll get to that. But first, consider that a spymaster must be, by their own nature, a spy. And one can never quite trust a spy. The game is always a dangerous and rigged thing, with traps and treacheries at every turn. So for all the king might know, the spymaster he's relying on to keep him safe could be setting him up on behalf of one of the other royals, or a foreign power. One never truly knows with spies."

"Yes," Myron says, trying not to look around...

* * * the dreams swirl and twist behind the ruins of SPYGOD's eyes.

He sees himself fighting the War across a ruined, dark Europe as he makes violent love to Thai boys made up as girls.

He sees himself standing before the soul of the Decreator, gun in hand, as the Dragon runs his tongue along his pulsing length.

He is telling Straffer -- who cheated death to come back to him--  that he loves him and will stay with him forever as he pulls Hitler's head from his shoulders.

He sees himself shaking the President's hand just before he finally shoots the son of a !@#$ between the eyes.

And as the dreams swirl and curdle, losing all coherence, he wonders in short, sharp moments of lucidity if this is death or dying, and if there's any way he can kick its...

* * *

"... but, while a wise king might have a spymaster, a wiser king might have two. These two gentlemen would be in charge of different agencies, most often with one looking inside the city walls as the other looks outside of them. Sort of like your FBI and CIA, for want of a better analogy."

"And the reason for the division is that one can keep an eye on the other, and therefore, keep one another honest," Myron says, having some more coffee: "In theory, anyway."

"Yes, in theory," the leader goes on, smiling: "But theory often breaks down when one is forced to live within the real world. So some kings would take a further step, and employ yet another spymaster."

"What, three different spymasters?"

"Indeed. And this one was the hidden one, which no one but the king would ever know of. And this spymaster's job was to watch the other two spymasters, and ensure that they weren't up to no good..."

* * *

... telemetry for launch, and so they went. One tiny ship from the Space Service, catapulting itself into trans-lunar orbit, burning all of its fuel on a one-way journey out into the black between planets.

If everything went right, they'd rendezvous with an attack fleet from Venus within a few days, and so be there when they went up against the asteroid base of the strange, intergalactic invaders. Maybe then they would learn why the Xordonodrox been employing rogue Martians to buy the stolen parts of superhumans.

And, even if not, they'd be making history as part of the first ever Human-Venusan military action, would could only make...

* * *

... Myron blinks a few times and nods, wishing they had something stronger to drink than coffee: "So the third man was invisible, and no one knew about him but the king."

"Exactly. And this person, being completely trusted by the king, and entrusted with the most dangerous and sacred duty of them all? Well, naturally, if there were any other situations and issues requiring total and complete trust, they would fall onto his shoulders."

"What sort of things?"

"Missions that could not fail, secrets that must stay secret, investigations that must bring results... those sorts of things."

"And things too crazy and insane to be trusted to the other two?"

"Well, yes," the man says, winking: "Naturally..."

* * *

... no one must know about this.

The messenger has already been shot while driving away in his car, body about to be vanished by assassins who are, themselves, about to be disposed of though more remote means.

But the message has already been delivered, and now it's too late to call back.

The X has been activated, their orders decoding over special, one-use communication devices.

In a short time they will be on their way to a secret airport, and then they'll be on their way to Syria, there to carry out a very quiet mission -- one well suited to their unique talents -- and then get out before anyone can say...

* * *

"... alright then," Myron says, putting his coffee cup down and placing his hands to either side of it: "So, historically speaking? There's this kingdom, and the king has three different groups of spies. Two of the groups don't know about the third, but the third knows all about them. They watch the other two, and possibly also pit them against each other when it's necessary, or it serves the purposes of that group. And they also handle things that the other two groups would totally screw up if they had a hand in it."

"An excellent summation," the man says, having some more of his coffee: "But you're wondering how that leads us to this picturesque town?"

"I think I'm beginning to understand," Myron says, looking around: "But, if we might speak less hypothetically? I thought group three was always part of group two?"

"Oh no," the man says, chuckling: "That was the crowning achievement of group three. They led group two to believe that they and they alone were entirely in charge of one of the very sensitive matters. To that end, they had some of their people inside the second group, coordinating a measure of that very sensitive matter. But the third group always skimmed the cream from the top."

"I see," Myron says, nodding: "But how did they keep it a secret? You'd think the second group would have figured out they were getting scammed, eventually. It's not like you can hide that... sensitive matter for too long."

The man smiles: "Have you never heard of hiding in plain sight...?"

* * *

... the corporate motto of S-Corp.

They are everywhere, yet nowhere. They have a hand in everything, but it's invisible to the naked eye. They hear all, see all, sense changes in the market before they're even thought of, and yet no one can see them watching.

So when 52 long, white trucks pull up into the ruins of Mexicali, and begin offloading their strange cargo, no one really has any idea what might be going on.

It's almost as if they were expected -- a joke whose punchline you'll laugh at, but realize that...

* * *

"...I think I did hear about that, once or twice. But some things are a lot easier to hide than others."

"Very true. But you are forgetting the limits of human credulity, as well as the fact that the masses can be so easily led astray from seeing the truth. You simply have to put the picture in a different frame, and they'll accept it as something else."

"Such as?"

The man smiles and empties his coffee cup: "That would be telling, my friend..."

* * *

... which is all Mr. USA can honestly say to his teammates as he clasps their hands and hugs them, and tells them he's so happy to be up and about again.

They do not ask any more than that, as they're all so happy to see him out of that bed and on his feet. They've missed having him around, and himself. They've missed having him be the strong, vital ally they'd come to depend on. They've missed him.

And while Hanami can't help but look concerned -- and Mister Freedom won't quite meet his eyes, perhaps knowing what his brother has done -- having Yanabah of all people wrap her arms around his neck and start crying is all that's needed to be said...

* * *

"...I thought we agreed no more games," Myron grumbles, wondering if he should leave or not.

"Well, consider this," the man says, holding up a finger with his free hand: "I'm sure you've noted the British tendency towards eccentricity? Strange men doing strange things, all while dressed rather oddly or smartly? Insane innovations in motorcars? Small groups of gifted individuals who always find a way to catch the villain while acting just above, beyond, or slightly out of step with the local constabulary?"

"Yes," Myron says, nodding.

"And you've watched a lot of British television, I'm certain. Especially the rather zany shows where extraordinary crimes against the people are found out and put right by equally extraordinary agents, almost always answering to some agency of law enforcement that can't possibly exist, but yet seems to sensible to have around?"

"Yes," Myron repeats, a few pieces coming together: "The Avengers. Omega Factor. Sapphire and Steel. Department S. Doomwatch. Torchwood-"

"Not so much that last one," the man smiles, tutting a little: "But as for the others, well... The Saint, of course."

"Jason King," Myron replies: "God bless his mustache."

"Hear hear. Adam Adamant Lives."

"Totally. And UFO... well, that was DAMOCLES."

"And that was the UN, mostly. And then there was Danger Man, of course. The poor man's James Bond."

"And then there's this," Myron says, looking around: "In all its lovely and deadly eccentricity."

"Well, no one said the charmingly mad had to be nice," the man smiles, again...

* * *

... as the psychotic young lady in charge of the operation points out something about human anatomy to seasoned surgeons that, for all their years behind the knife, they just didn't think to consider.

She grins and tells them what would happen to them for this kind of gross incompetence on the world she so desperately wants to call her own, but no longer can. And this scares them, quite a bit -- some of the men even reflexively guard their testicles.

But yet they're all hanging on every word of this chained-down genius as she shows them how they're going to use this amazing technology to rebuild a dying post-human brain...

* * *

"... but there's no way this could be contemporary with the show," Myron says after a time.

"Why not?"

"The Village, it's too new," Myron says, pointing to the nice, modern coffee press they've been using for coffee: "The fixtures are relatively recent. The wiring's actually up to code within the last few years, with no sign of having been modified or fixed from the original. The plaster's in very good shape..."

"Exactly," the man says: "So, the real question is, if this Village has only been here a few years, why was it built, and what for?"

"Well, the original Village seemed to be full of two kinds of prisoners," Myron says: "Those who were known to know too much, and had to be disposed of somehow, and those who knew something the people running the place wanted to know, themselves."

"And those who cooperated got to stay on as warders," the man says, making an unpleasant face: "While those who weren't useful could be used as sheep across minefields, all the better to make the more valuable prisoners finally give up and tell all."

"And if they wouldn't..." Myron says, watching as the rather small ambulance drives away from somewhere nearby, its goofy siren echoing off the flat-faced, Italianate buildings...

* * *

... as the Warbots go marching high over his head again, and Gosheven sees the purple cloud as it ebbs and flows above them.

It's been a while since he shared a body with New Man, but he still knows that energy signature. He can feel it from here -- the weird energized tingling on his skin -- and he knows it's a soul turned into electricity.

He also realizes that, if he looks very hard, he can see faces screaming in that cloud. And while it takes him a while to realize who those faces belong to, that's only because the last time he saw them, their owner was wearing high-tech goggles and tall horns.

And he knows what that must mean.

And he can only wonder....

* * *

"... what sort of resort are these people running, then?" the man asks, leaning forward: "Have you figured that out, yet?"

"No," Myron admits: "But you said this was a secret. One so horrible that the third agency wishes it hadn't gotten involved with."

"And now that it's here, waist-deep in the stream?"

"It can't get out, can it?"

"No," the man says, steepling his hands before his face: "Not without help, at any rate."

"And we're the help."

"In some ways, yes. In others, we're the proving ground. Also the dumping ground."

"Hence the differences in opinion you spoke of."

"Indeed. A mix of conflicting priorities and philosophies are at work here. And we get to be both observer and victim."

"But what's the secret?" Myron asks, leaning forward: "What is so horrible that they threw us here to fix it? What is so terrible that they're relying on it to destroy people they can't bring themselves to kill?"

The man smiles and, patting the table, rises from his chair: "It has been wonderful speaking with you on this lovely morning, citizen. Can I count on your help with the dog?"

Myron looks at the man, and slowly nods: "Of course. I'd hate to come this far and then not find out if it works."

"A man after my own heart."

"But once we've dealt with the dog, I think some more information is going to be forthcoming."

"On that you may rely," the man says, making the appropriate gesture just before he heads off: "Be seeing you."

"Yeah, yeah," Myron snorts, waving him away as though he'd made an unfunny joke.

He sits there a while longer, having the rest of his coffee and pondering things. All the while just knowing that there's something more to all this. Something that he's seen but not yet realized the meaning of it.

Something he damn well should know, and yet doesn't.

But it doesn't come to him, then, and after a time he pays for his coffee and leaves, hoping that whatever he's missing doesn't come to bite him in the ass...

* * *

... as The Raven runs across the rooftops, all too aware that the security cameras that have sprouted up on this side of town like glass and metal weeds are focusing on him. They dog his heels like fat deer-flies over a swimming hole, waiting for one poorly-timed surfacing to strike.

But he knows how to evade such silly and clumsy things, and skips past and over them. He tries not to laugh as he runs, as he wants to be humble before his Lord, but he can't help but smile -- wide, white lips and black teeth -- as he goes on to his next holy errand...

* * *

... Number Two frowns, sitting in the big black ball of a chair.

He hates this thing. It's clunky and strange and not all that comfortable. He'd rather just have a proper armchair, frankly. Something he can truly recline in.

He doesn't like this hat, these clothes. He doesn't like the layout of his circular office, or the exteriors of the green dome. He doesn't like the way his underlings dress, or how they smile to his face while planning his undoing.

He doesn't like how these broken pieces pretend to fit together, just for the sake of this long game.

Number 42 says he has a plan. He says he can bring it all to a head. He says he can make it all work, again -- he just has to trust him, for once, to do the right thing at the right moment.

That's why he brought him Myron. That's why he's been holding back the others' plans for him.  That's why he's set Queenie onto the other two, hoping she can stall them long enough for this to work.

That's why he's lied to Number One, who really should know what's going on, but somehow doesn't.

Just a few more days, he thinks. But he's been telling himself that since this whole damned program started. Days became weeks, then months, and then years.

And all he has to show for it is impotence, homesickness, and a very uncomfortable chair -- to say nothing of the deaths on his conscience, all gone to feed their the Village's very large cemetery.

It's almost time for the daily strategy meeting. He looks at his reflection on the spit-polished table with all the color-coded phones, and decides he looks as much the part as he's going to.

And then he's out of that hideous chair, umbrella in hand, and off to face the wolves.

Tuesday: 10/20/15

"Yes, thank you," Detroit's elderly, but still tall and imposing Chief of Police says, nodding and waving a hand at the reporters and onlookers, gathered here before the old, long-abandoned building they've chosen for this press conference: "Thank you very much for coming so very early on this morning-."

"Are you going to resign, sir?" someone from the Free Press asks. There's laughter at that, not all of it good-natured.

(And the Chief really does not like the way the CEO of Arrow Security, standing just behind him, laughs at that joke.)

"Well, I think we all know the answer to that. And that is no. We have a lot of work ahead of us in this great city, and I'm not going to rest until it's done. You have my word on that.

"Now," he says, raising his hand back up again before someone else can ask a damn fool question: "The reason why we've come here today, and why I've asked my good friend, Wilbur Stone, to be here today, is because we need to send a clear and direct message to a certain person out there.

"But it's not just a message for him, but rather for all Detroiters.

"Now, I will be the first to admit that things have been hard here, in Detroit. Not nearly as bad as everyone would like to say, or believe, of course. Certainly not as bad as the mass media or certain news outlets would like to make things seem.

"But we have been making steady and measurable progress in our war against crime. We have been improving response times and arrest levels. We have been saving lives, every day."

He smiles and takes a deep breath, showing off the big, white teeth he tries to present to the photographers at every opportunity.

"And, thanks to the excellent private-sector initiative of people like Wilbur Stone, and his dedicated teams of security personnel, we have continued to make this city safer than it's been in years. The good and decent people of this city can now walk a significant percentage of its streets, and be assured that they're going to make it to their destination-"

Someone from the press pool makes a rude noise. He keeps talking.

"-safe and sound. We have found a truly complementary partner in Arrow Security, and are looking forward to a long and steady working relationship."

"Yes," Mr. Stone says, clapping his hands. Everyone behind the podium does the same. The people he paid to stand beyond the reporters follow suit. It goes on for exactly seven seconds, as planned, and then peters out.

"Now, the reason why I have called this conference is because we appear to have someone in this town who is intent on taking the law into his own hands. Someone who has not sought Federal, State, or local approval to be acting in this capacity. A vigilante, in other words, who, while his motives may be good, is in fact acting in a manner contrary to the public good.

"And this. Must. Stop." he says, gently pounding the podium with each period.

"Now, you may be wondering why I've chosen this place to have this conference," the Chief says as he gestures behind him, all-too-aware that he didn't chose this place, anymore than he wrote this speech: "It's a glorious piece of architecture, yes. Also a sad reminder of times gone by, as it's been abandoned for decades.

"But this was once Detroit's own Palace of Liberty. When I was a young man, Detroit had heroes, just like Chicago and Boston and Neo York City... well, it was New York City, then."

There's some laughter at that, and he smiles his big white tombstones again, trying not to grouse; even that ad-lib was scripted.

"We had colorful people in even more colorful costumes, working with the police and emergency services to fight crime, save lives, and maintain the public trust. We had safe and clean streets, looked after by upright people who did their best to use their God-given talents to protect and serve in their own way

"And everything was wonderful, here, at least until we looked too closely under the mask and discovered something truly rotten there."

He frowns at that memory, and it's genuine -- maybe the only genuine piece of this whole damn speech.

"That was at the end of the 1970's. I'm sure I don't need to tell you about the scandal that followed, and the trials, and how we suffered as a city, and a people, in their aftermath. The Mayor at the time shuttered this building, and no one would reside within it afterwards. Some say it's the first true piece of what has been called abandoned Detroit.

"Me? I say that it's a reality check," he says, looking out at the reporters as the speech has ordered him  to do: "I say that we cannot rely on so-called superheroes to do our work for us. We cannot put too much authority into unaccountable hands-"

"Arrow Security isn't accountable either!" someone from the reporter pool yells, but she's clamped down and gone before she can take another breath to shout more.

"-and we cannot allow ourselves to trust in those who cannot trust us with their own identities," he goes on, nodding: "Detroit was burned, once before. We won't be fooled again."

Stone starts applauding, once more. This time it lasts exactly 11 seconds.

"Now, I am aware that other cities may have their heroes, still. Some have proven beyond reproach. Some are constantly skirting the line between law and disorder. Others are less trustworthy, often making an enemy of the very people they claim to be helping.

"But, if anything, what's happened since that dark time, here in Detroit, has shown to us that we do not need masked men to uphold our law. We do not need amateurs aiding the professionals. We do not need to be shackled to the ways of the past.

"We need to go forward, and to do that we need a new way forward. A bold coalition of public police and private security, working together, complementing each other. And what is what we have here, today, which is why, at long last, Detroit is being able to hold its head high and say to itself, this is a city we can believe in, again.

"So, I say to that young man, out there, as I say to all Detroiters, all Michiganders, do not take the law into your own hands. Do not become a detriment to our city, or a blight upon public order. Use the tools you have been given by your city to combat crime. Call 911, or the community tip line. Remain observant and vigilant.

"Act maturely and responsibly, and trust that should you stumble across crime, we will be there to catch you."

He smiles again. There's even more applause, but it's allowed to go as long as it needs to. 

"We've come a long way, ladies and gentlemen. We've got a long way to go yet, but we're getting there, day by day. Let's not derail this train of justice and safety by jumping off the tracks. Let's work together to make sure it gets to the station on time.

"And with that, I'll be happy to take a few questions..."

The reporters raise their hands to ask questions, hoping they'll be among the three or five he gets to before Wilbur Stone whispers in his ear and tells him to cut this short.

And then there's just a collapsing stage, a removal of folding chairs and mostly-superfluous barriers, and people being surreptitiously bused back to their Arrow Security offices.

That and a glorious piece of old, weathered stone and shattered, boarded-up windows that once carried the respect of Detroit, but is now just a sad piece of history.

* * *
"You know, this was quite a place, once," the man made of guns says as his team assembles in the center of the city they're about to kill.

"Do tell," the woman in black leather says as she floats in lotus position, coming out of her fugue.

"Kallinikos," he goes on, turning his hands into very specific rifles -- AK-74Ms to be precise: "It had quite a few names before and since, always following one takeover or razing or another. But Kallinikos stayed as its name, at least until the Muslims took it."

"I thought they always had it," the man in the Russian ground forces uniform says, drinking his third energy drink in as many minutes. There's ten more stacked on the boxes of AK-74Ms he's standing by.

"Shows what you know, you sorry, uneducated fool," the woman in the chador says, doing something that looks very important with a large, floating sphere with a giant X upon it: "Do you think this whole area was empty before Islam?"

"Might as well have been," the masked man in armor snorts, his New Orleans accent seeming out of place: "It's not like they made a real showing of themselves once the hordes poured over the dunes."

"A horde, Xpectre?" the man of guns tuts: "Is that would you would call the armies of Governor Iyad bin Ghanm? The man who conquered this whole area, between the Tigris and Euphrates? This cradle of civilization fell to Islam through his wise strategy and relentless passion. You would do well to study his techniques, my friend."

"Maybe when we get done with this merde," the masked man says, his body shifting to match the looks of the man drinking the energy drinks: "How do I look?"

"You know, none of this costuming is necessary, Ballistix" the woman in the chador says: "Xphere has penetrated all the electronics of this city, as well as anything else nearby, or even in orbit. So far as anyone who sees the footage will know, we're Russian ground forces."

"Well, Xhasm," Ballistix says, growing more, prehensile guns from his back and thighs: "I have no doubts whatsoever of our comrade's abilities. But, as I'm sure the redoubtable Governor would say, one can never be too careful."

He smiles. His teeth are bullets.

"Alright, then," he says, looking around the room: "As you were told on the way here, our masters wish this city to appear to be under attack by ruthless and amoral Russian forces. And that is what we will do. We will destroy all resistance and all witnesses, and will do so before anyone can react.

"To that end... Xpectre, you're with Xyberkill. You sweep northeast. I know the two of you will have no problems.

"Xerveral, how many do you think you can maintain, today?"

"I'm hoping for thirty," the man says, still quaffing the energy drinks.

"Then maintain at least twenty. Sweep west.

"Xhasm, you maintain the perimeter, making sure nothing gets out."

"I do not make 'sure,' majnun," she hisses, holding up the remote controls for her many, nasty constructs: "I make certain. There is a difference."

"Xphere, you know what to do," he goes on, cocking all his guns at once. The big, metal ball makes electronic noises, indicating its understanding and intent to comply.

"And what will you do, fearsome leader?" Xyberkill asks, descending from her free-floating position and putting her feet on the ground.

"I, myself, will go south, and do what I expect you all to do, which would be to kill," he smiles, reveling in the glory of the moment: "Combatants and civilians. Men, women, children. Dogs in the streets, cats in the windows, birds from the air, and fish in the sea..."

"We're nowhere near the water," Xpectre mutters, earning himself a swift smack upside the back of the head by his leather-clad partner.

"Do not stop until this city is dead," the leader of The X commands, ignoring his big-mouthed subordinate's critique of his pre-battle poetry: "Al-Raqqah must become a graveyard, once more."

And, as soon as Xeveral can finish his last, all-important energy drink, multiply himself thirty-two times, and take a gun for each of them, the kill team goes out to do their dirty and secret task.

* * *

"So, your trial," the man from FAUST says to the former American President as they sit in the man's hospital room, accompanied by a representative of the New European Union and the COMPANY: "You do understand we will have to go over quite a bit of material."

It's not a question, and the President understands why. He nods, though, looking to his lawyer, who's seated right next to his gurney.

"And some of it, well..." the man grouses: "I know that there are mitigating circumstances, as your counsel was kind enough to point out."

"And I'll continue to point that out," the lawyer says, smiling.

"Yes, I am certain you will," the representative from the NEU says where he sits, over by the window, playing with his blue, silk tie. This is his first time being in on these negotiations, and he's not really liking anything he's heard thus far.

(He hasn't even looked at the documents, clearly disgusted.)

"But these charges are going to be rather damning, nonetheless," the COMPANY representative says, crossing her arms.

"Even though my client had no idea what was going on, and was kept from full understanding," the lawyer says, tapping his own copy of the massive pile of paper.

"That is debatable," the man from the NEU says.

"Please," the FAUST representative says, holding up a hand to his cohort, whom he clearly does not appreciate: "We're making good progress, here. Let's not jeopardize this by-"

"This man should rot in a prison for the rest of his life," the NEU fellow states, carefully enunciating each syllable in his florid, Italian accent: "He should not be allowed to make a deal in exchange for evidence we already have. He should not be dictating the terms of his incarceration, or the disposition of his daughter."

"Hold up, I thought we were all on the same page, here," the COMPANY person says, holding up a hand: "We're only handing him over to you if there is a solid, unimpeachable deal. Otherwise we'll just hang onto him for what he's done over here."

"Which, as my client points out, he did knowing full well what he was doing," the President's lawyer says, very quickly.

"And let's be very clear," the President says: "I think everyone in this room knows the only reason you want to try me is to have a scapegoat for the disaster the Terre Unifee turned out to be. It's so much easier for you all to have one person to point to in disgust so you can close the book on it than to have this massive blame game going on forever."

"Now see here-" the man from the NEU goes on, but the President holds up a shackled hand to continue.

"However, I am willing to be reasonable. I am willing to help you with your problem, if you will help me with mine. In exchange for telling you what I know and you don't, which is considerable, I will consent to be tried by you. You'll have your scapegoat, and I'll have a much better deal than I'd get over here."

The President's lawyer purses his lips at that, wishing his client hadn't been quite so honest. But the man from the NEU chews that over, and then slowly, nods in agreement: "I think I can accept this."

"Good," the man from FAUST says, trying to hide his exasperation but not doing a very good job of it: "Then we need to move through this quickly. We need to get this man in Europe before the week is out for public arraignment, and then off to Pitcairn for holding until the trial."

"Why there?" the COMPANY representative asks: "That's a long way from Europe."

"Yes, that seems... excessive," the NEU man says, some concern returning to his features: "We have several very adequate facilities nearer to our judicial center...?"

"It was the President's request," the man's lawyer says: "He's worried about his safety if he remains in Europe. There's a lot of old TU business still at large, there, and someone might try to kill him to prevent him from testifying."

"That and I've always wanted to spend some time in the South Pacific," the President says, smiling: "It's the Hawai'i in me, I think."

"You won't get to see much of it," the man FAUST admonishes him: "I can assure you of that. Our Pitcairn detention facility is remote and submerged. They call it the Shipwreck."

"Well, I'll bring some swim trunks, then," the President chuckles: "It sounded better than the one in Italy, anyway."

"And what about his daughter?" the lawyer insists, tapping the papers again: "In all your haste to get him out of the country, you're not going to forget here, surely?"

"We aren't, no," the man from FAUST says, looking at the COMPANY rep: "But, is she not engaged in some other important things...?"

"She is, yes," the AGENT agrees, nodding: "But you have our assurances that as soon as she's done with them, she'll be sent on to the psychiatric facility as we agreed."

"I'm not certain I like having that hanging," the President says, frowning.

"Well, you have asked us to trust you," the man from FAUST says: "Now, perhaps, it is your turn to trust us?"

He smiles. The President does not smile back.

Wednesday: 10/21/15

"I'll need a lot of things," the manacled woman says, looking around the cybersurgery theater they've brought her into.

"The new device will be brought up as soon as possible," the woman in charge of the department says, holding a defensive hand over her bandaged throat.

"Good. But I need more," the President's daughter says: "I'll need a good stereo system. I work best to music."

"That's doable-"

"Also, a video system," she says: "We'll need to take a few breaks. I'll want entertainment."


"Something beautiful, I think. Something uplifting."

"That's a concern-"

"Do you have any movies where a family, caught up in the game of trying to out-do their neighbors, find that the only way to save themselves is to fuck and kill those neighbors?" she asks.

"... what?"

"You know. A comedy of what we'd really need to do to outdo the Joneses. Take everything they have and let your other neighbors fight over it with knives. Sell the wife into slavery after knowing every hole in her body. Seduce their children wearing their father's skin."

"I... my God..."

"Preferably something with real stars in it. And real gore. Because I know if it's just special effects."

The woman shudders, and tries to collect herself: "I don't know if any movie like that exists."

"Well, that's not very fucking helpful-"

"I've got a few Lars Von Trier movies that might be... uplifting," one of the other surgeons says, trying to salvage the situation: "Maybe one of those?"

"Maybe," the girl says, frowning: "If nothing else, I'll take Salo. But it better be a good disc transfer. I can't stand those grainy ones."

"Alright, then," the woman says, glaring at the surgeon who volunteered his video nasty collection, to which he can only mouth 'sorry': "Is there anything else you'll need?"

"Oh, a few other things, I think," she giggles, and then proceeds to tell her.

And each new demand makes her curse God and wonder why he would allow such a thing to take place.

* * *

"Yeah," New Man says to Hanami, handing her the file he's just been telling her about.

"I don't know what to think about this, sir," she says, shaking her head. Part of it's at the ludicrousness of the situation, and part of it's at his appearance. He's out of uniform, dressed only in a dress shirt and slacks -- with no tie -- and clearly despondent.

(Possibly even a little drunk, she thinks.)

"Well, I do," he says, looking up at her with eyes both red-ringed and slightly purple: And I'm not authorizing the Freedom Force to go in and deal with this."

"Well, I'm sure that's just as well, sir," she says, uncertain of what he's getting at: "After all, this would hardly be within our jurisdiction."

"Not for the Freedom Force, no," he says: "But you were all heroes before you joined the team. You all do things every day that don't fall within this charter, or that jurisdiction. You don't call the police for legal standing anytime you see some guy grab a purse or hold up a liquor store."

"Or stop some rampaging monster from attacking Tokyo," Hanami says, nodding as she hands the file back: "I think I take your meaning, sir."

"Good," he says, reaching into his desk to take out a well-used bottle of something cheap and high-proof: "Then you should find some people who won't do this, and see that they don't do it fairly soon."

"Yes, sir," she says, nodding as she turns to leave his office.

"Just make sure they don't get caught," he says as she goes: "While they're not doing that thing we weren't talking about."

She nods, and he thinks she got the joke. The door closes, and he's alone with his thoughts, again. And his booze.

A half a glass later, someone calls him. He thinks to just let it ring, but, seeing it's Josie, decides to hear what she has to say.

"Sir, we've gotten some more information on what happened the other day with Jess Friend's memories," the large, pink-haired woman says: "And... are you okay?"

"!@#$ my being okay," he grumbles: "I don't think I'm going to be okay again, ever, right now."

"Alright, sir. Would you like your report later?"

"No. Hit me."

"Alright," she says: "We've determined that he was forced to look at something. It was in a black, square box, maybe six inches to a side. It was glowing, its colors were hard to comprehend, and it flickered and pulsed at a high rate of speed."

"That sounds like..." he starts to say.

"It sounds like what our former Director used to refer to as SPYGOD Vision, sir," she says: "And that means that what's in the box would be the Chandra Eye. But-"

"But it's been destroyed, Second," he says, putting the glass down on the desk -- maybe a little harder than necessary: "We know that."

"But we also know there's more than one," she continues: "And, well... I didn't look at the light for too long for obvious reasons. But something about the colors seemed off, for want of a better word. And the strobe pattern was different."


"And, on a hunch, I went back and looked at the one time we actually have SPYGOD's evil twin on camera. The time he went into the White House to make us think he'd shot the President?"

"Right. He used SPYGOD Vision on those Secret Service Agents outside the Oval Office, didn't he?"

"He did, yes. And while you can't really see it on the security camera, it's the same pattern."

"So maybe our boy has his own Chandra Eye," New Man says, shaking his head.

"Yes, and maybe looking at it makes you go crazy and kill people," she says: "That's what the scans on Jess Friend's brain seem to indicate. There was substantial recent scrambling of his neural matter."

"Wait a minute. Those Secret Service Agents didn't get some kind of rage virus, Second. They just died."

"Well, maybe he's learned some new tricks since then, sir?" she opines: "Look at the President's daughter. The psychologists say she's been manipulated badly, but something about how she carries herself, how she talks..."

"How she says !@#$," New Man says: "How she talks about wanting to do things to people. The dead look in her eyes."

"Yeah," Josie says, shuddering: "Something is not right there, sir."

"Well, now that you know where to stop watching the brainfeed, play it back step by step and tell me what they find out," the Director says, tapping the glass: "I'm going to be in here with my thoughts. And Josie?"

"Yes, sir?"

"As far as the Freedom Force is concerned, don't pay too close attention for the next day or so."

"Yes, sir," she says, a little flummoxed: "I'll do that, sir."

She turns the viewscreen off. He nods and goes back to the booze, raising a glass to himself -- rather than his son -- and wondering how many boxes he'll need to get his stuff out of this office.

"We could all stand a break from seeing too much, I think," he says, and then chugs it right down.

* * *

The barriers went up, first, in Mexicali -- tall, thick, and brilliantly white, each long section emblazoned with the S-Corp logo.

They were ringed around the part of town that had seen the worst of the fighting. The most horrible devastation.

The most suffering and deaths.

No one knew what was going on behind there. The city blamed the government. The government blamed the city. The police could only shrug and reroute traffic.

Eventually, there were noises. Construction, some said, but not like any engines or machines they'd ever heard before.

More like liquids slopping together than the earth being broken open and moved. More like sonic booms than welding or riveting. 

More like the great, white noise one hears in a fever dream than sections of concrete or steel being affixed together.

Eventually, most people stopped asking questions.Their lives were too upturned and damaged to be worrying about whatever was going on behind that great, big barrier -- visible from space, or so they said -- or who may have approved it.

Whatever it was, it just was. 

But some knew, and they came to watch. Sleepers, stumbling through life on Lala. Those who'd felt the touch of Kanaan in their lives, or awoke to watch Rahmaa rise every morning -- cheering her on as her rays burst over the horizon. People who kept getting arrested for organizing illegal Singloves in the empty stretches of the Mexican landscape.

The devoted, the damaged, the enamored and the mad -- all of them come to the edge of the white city to pray, to sing, to watch, and to wait.

And hopefully not for long.

Thursday: 10/22/15

"I've never done this before, you know," the young man from the improvement committee says, shuddering as he surveys the busy center of the Village, by the fountain.

"I don't think any of us have," the older man with the mustache says, watching from behind the bushes.

"I was absorbed, once," the woman admits: "It was most unpleasant, but only for a short time. The important thing is to breathe shallow and close your eyes."

"And that's it?" the young man says: "Just close my eyes and not breathe?"

"Breathe shallow," their leader says, putting a hand on the young man's shoulder. It has an immediate effect: the boy stops trembling and starts to calm down.

"Alright then," he says, looking at Myron, who's huddled over his curious little device: "This had better be worth it."

"It will," Myron assures him: "Just don't talk too much in the hospital, okay? We don't want them to know we're going to make an air balloon."

"Of course not," he says, smiling. And then, with that, he stomps off to the fountain -- footsteps heavy with destiny.

"Sheep across minefields," the older man says, his eyes welling up with tears: "Is this what we've become?"

"Calm down," the woman snaps at him: "We knew this was a possibility. And if he hadn't been here, it would have been you."

"Damn you, woman-"

"Shut up, both of you," Myron says, looking at his device: "I have to be careful with this. I'm only getting one chance, unless one of you want to volunteer, too? Same time next week?"

That shuts them both up, and they go back to their mutual, but thankfully silent, animosity.

The young man runs down to the fountain, and then leaps into it. Everyone gasps as he splashes them with water, soaking his dark, pinstripe suit clean to the skin as he kicks and slooshes water every which way.

"We're all wet!" he shouts, acting like a kid in a tidal pool: "All of us! Can't you see it? Just wet, washed-up, drowning in our own secrets! The people who run this place don't care if we sink or swim! If they're our lifeguards, then we're all in trouble!"

"Not a bad speech," the leader says.

"I... helped him, a bit," the older fellow says, putting a hand over his face.

"Well, let's get wet together!" he says, pulling something that looks a lot like a gun from inside his coat: "I've got a flare gun, here! I fire it, and everyone up and down the coast will see it! We'll be free of this place at last! All of us, free at last! Free to go! Free to go!"

That does it.

Everyone stops what they're doing and stands perfectly still. There's a familiar, horrible roaring, along with a strange, electronic squealing.

And here comes rover, bouncing along towards whoever's been so stupid -- so daring -- as to bring it out of hiding.

"That's it," Myron says, the dials and gauges on his device going wild as their youthful companion shouts and runs away from the monster: "We're getting its signal. I'm getting it..."

"Come on, chap," the older man says, balling his fists by his face: "That's it... that's it..."

"Too late!" the young man screams at Rover, turning around to aim his makeshift gun at the thing with both hands: "You're too bloody late! They've seen! They know! They know!"

He pulls the trigger. The gun explodes -- but not how he was expecting -- and something that should have gone forward at the monster goes back to his heart, instead.  

"Ab," he says, looking down at the ruin of his chest: "Ub. Ur. Uh."

And then he falls down to his knees, dropping the gun and falling right into the white ball. It laps him up smoothly, like a strong soap bubble taking another, smaller one right into it.

And then it bounces away, carrying his body back where it came from.

Myron watches the signals change. He makes note of what they were. Then he looks up to see the emotions on everyone's face: the old man, on the verge of crying; the woman, impassive except at the eyes.

Their leader, seemingly uncaring but clearly troubled.

"Can you do it?" the man asks, looking down at Myron: "Please tell me you got what you needed."

"I did, yes," Myron says, getting to his feet and putting the device away: "And I can."

"Well, then," the man says, looking to the others: "We'd best get away, keep our heads down, and stay out of sight. We wouldn't want to attract any attention before our wild ride, would we?"

"It'd be no less than we deserved," the old man mutters as he walks away: "A terrible thing, this. Just terrible."

"He'll betray us the first chance he gets," the woman says as soon as the old man's out of earshot: "You just watch him."

As soon as she's gone, Myron looks to the man and nods: "I don't trust either of them, right now."

"Do you trust me?" the leader says.

"I trust in your willingness to go through with the plan," he says: "And that's why I'm helping you."


"But if you ever give me a gun? I'm letting someone else fire it first," Myron says, shaking his head and walking away.

The man calls after him and says something. Myron doesn't understand it, not at first.

And later on, when it's all said and done, he'll wish he never heard it at all.

* * *

"So, how are we doing with dealing with this new nuisance?" Mr. Stone says, looking out over his city.

"Not very good, sir," Gary tells him, looking over the reports: "Apparently crime continues to go down, contrary to your instructions. And this guy has been busy."

"How busy?"

"Well, he's been graduating from just stopping muggings and murders. He's been cutting into the drug trade quite a bit."

"How so?"

"Well, he started off small. Found of a few of Joey Turk's runners and persuaded them to leave down. Did the same for Johny Hu's boys. That's midtown coke and southtown heroin gone."

"Not a terrible thing. I never liked how they ran their operation. Very sloppy."

"Yeah, but then he raided Joey's coke assembly on the west side last night. Tore up the place, knocked out the guards and left them hogtied for the police to find. Drove the workers out into the street, naked, admonishing them to live better lives."

"What did he do with the product?"

"He burned it all, on the roof."

"Is that what that was on the news?" Stone says, crossing his arms and looking back: "That fire over there?"

"Yes, but get this. He took safety precautions. He wasted time making sure the fire wouldn't burn down the building, too, or get out of control."

"Very civil minded," Stone says, moving back to his desk: "I'd sure like to shake this man's hand and tell him how glad I am he's not freeing up tainted property to buy on the cheap."

Gary just smiles -- his ability to understand his boss' sense of humor is one of the many reasons he still has this job: "The Chief of Police is really upset. His own boys can't catch this person. And our own surveillance, well... he seems to know how to evade the cameras."

"I think we're going to have to turn up the heat on this fellow," Stone says, leaning back in his chair: "And I think we'll need bait to do it."

"More drugs?"

"Maybe something a little more visceral," the man says, thinking: "You say he usually just lets his targets go?"

"Yes. He fills their ears with some Jesus bull!@#$, tells them to make amends, and lets them loose. If they don't make those amends, well, he knows, somehow. And then he turns them over to the police."

"Well then," Mr. Stone says, leaning forward: "A holy man. I wonder how he'd react if people got threatened in a church?"

"Probably pretty badly, sir," Gary says, seeing where this is going.

"I need you to get in touch with our poor excuse of a Chief of Police, again," Mr. Stone says, nodding: "Then, I want you to talk to Freddy Q. See if he's got any enforcers he really wouldn't mind losing.

"And then, I want you to talk to the Strike Team. Tell them we have the perfect target for their unveiling."

"Your mind, it's like a symphony, sir," Gary says, clearly in awe: "The way all the pieces come together. It's like... Beethoven."

"Well, let's hope this is his funeral march, then," Stone says, smiling: "Followed by a very stirring victory parade."

* * *

"Well, that has to be the most novel way to get a meeting with me, ever," Interim President Quayle says, wondering what the news will make of the COMPANY Transporter sitting outside the Oval Office window.

"You'll have to pardon me, Mr. President," New Man says, dressed in the same suit and pants he was wearing just a day ago, and looking like he slept at his desk in them: "I've been working on something really important over the last 48 hours and I thought you should be the first to know."

"What's that, sir?"

"My resignation," the man says, handing over a sealed envelope: "As Director of the COMPANY, that is. I'm not giving up the superhero job anytime soon. I figure if Mr. USA can come back from the dead I've got no business calling it a day."

"Is this... about your son?' Quayle asks, looking up at the man as he starts to open the envelope.

"I'd be lying if I said his death didn't have a bearing on this," the older hero says, plopping down into one of the couches in the center of the room, unbidden: "But that's just the icing on the cake, really. The truth is that I don't have the stomach for the job. Not as it's currently being defined."

"Well, is this something we can talk about?" the Interim President asks, not really wanting to have this discussion, today: "I know we had some harsh words between us the last time we spoke, but-"

"Mr. President," New Man interrupts, holding up a hand: "You want me to be in charge of our supers security organization, commonly known as The COMPANY. You want me to look after our strategic talents, and keep an eye on how other countries use theirs. When the capes go to war, you want me to know what's going on before the rest of the world does, and manage the flow of information. When capes go off the reservation, you want me to sanction them by any means necessary. And you want me to be directly accountable to this office, so that, at any time, I can explain to you what I'm doing, where, and why, and how that is directly beneficial to the security and welfare of the United States of America.

"Now, would you say that's a fair and frank accounting of my job, sir?"

"I would, yes," Quayle says, ignoring the buzzing red light on his desk that tells him the Secret Service want to kick down the door and shoot his unauthorized guest: "Are you telling me you can't do that? You've been doing a good job of it for the last couple of years."

"I can't do it if I'm not being told the truth, sir," New Man says, leaning forward on the couch, the anger showing on his face at last: "Not if the other Agencies are running their own, separate Strategic Talents programs and not telling me. Not if they're sending those Supers into a goddamn hot zone without my knowledge!"

He glowers and his eyes turn bright and poisonous purple, and the Interim President swallows - hard.

"This... is about Syria, isn't it?" the man asks, at last.

"Yes it is, sir," New Man says, putting his hands on his knees, as if he were going to get up off the couch: "When we last spoke, I told you that I knew what you were planning there. The truth was that I wasn't sure about all the details. I hoped if I told you, you'd pull out. I wasn't aware that you'd be stupid enough to give your damn Secretary of State and that jackass of a Defense Secretary you have carte blanche to do whatever was necessary to frame the Russians."

"I beg your pardon-"

"I mean, wasn't what they were doing bad enough?" New Man shouts, getting to his feet: "Did you have to send in spooks to kill civilians? To end an entire city just so you could get world opinion turned against the Russians? To fix it so that it really was just us versus the regime versus IS, instead of having the Russians in there, too?"

The Interim President opens his mouth to speak, and then closes it: "Civilians?"

"Yes, sir, civilians," New Man says, pointing a sparking finger at the letter the President hasn't opened yet: "That's not my resignation, sir. That's information. You look in there, you'll find the dossiers on the DIA's kill team, known as The X. You'll find what they can do, and, more importantly, where the Agency !@#$ing found them. You might be surprised, sir. I know I sure was.

"And you'll find their orders, which were to go to the IS-held town of Al-Raqqah, masquerade as Russian ground forces, and kill every single person in that town. Then they were going to send that information out to every news agency in the world, which would have been really embarrassing for our friends in Moscow.

"And what were they going to say?" the older hero goes on, holding up his hands: "'Oh, no, that wasn't us. Yes, those are our guns, and our transport tracks. And yes, that is camera footage of us running from house to house, building to building, annihilating people every which way whether they were combatants or not. But it wasn't us. Not really. We wouldn't be that stupid, would we?'"

The Interim Present's face has turned a bright red, which is slowly cooling to a pale shade of shocked.

"That's what I'm talking about, Mr. President," New Man says, pointing to the letter again: "This is the sort of !@#$ we're not supposed to be doing. This is the sort of !@#$ that gets us into trouble. And this is the sort of !@#$ that sinks Administrations."

"So, we come to it at last," Quayle says, putting the letter down.

"What's that, sir?"

"Your demands," the Interim President grimaces: "You come here with this damning expose of what those idiots I made my Secretaries have done. And now you say 'do this for me or I won't stop it-'"

"Oh, it's stopped, sir," New Man says, sitting down directly across from the desk: "I've seen to that."

"What... how?"

"Let's just say I know some people who had some vacation time coming," he says, smiling: "The people who were doing these things, well, they're done working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. And that Agency is going to be done doing this kind of !@#$ once we figure out what these mooks know. The ones we left breathing, anyway."

"So, I owe you some thanks," Quayle says, nodding: "The thanks of a grateful nation, in fact."

"Damn straight."

"And you want... what, exactly?"

"I want you to accept my resignation," New Man says, extending a hand for the man to shake: "I want you to accept that Josie will be promoted to Director of the COMPANY. And I want you to accept these things, tomorrow, at a solemn ceremony, where you'll act surprised by my comments, given that we were there to do something else entirely."

"And what might that be?" the Interim President asks as he takes the man's hand, though he already knows what it is...

Friday: 10/23/15

"... and I am so proud to be here, today, to lay to rest this American hero," Interim President Quayle says, standing at the podium by the Torchbearer, before all those who've come to mourn the Violet Demon: "A young man who, thinking nothing of himself, bravely volunteered to do secret, behind the lines work in some of the most dangerous of circumstances. A man who masqueraded as a villain to catch other villains. A man who infiltrated the diseased ranks of the Terre Unifee to uncover a conspiracy more criminal than even they were capable of being.

"And a man who died, tragically, fighting one of the most dangerous forces of our era," he says, looking at New Man, there in his uniform again, as if to say !@#$ you for making me say this. 

"His great power was used against the people who he'd spent his life safeguarding," the Interim President goes on: "Here in America, and elsewhere in the world. China, especially. And, of course, in Mexicali, where our southern neighbor lost 300,000 people to these metal monsters.

"What a horrible thing it must be to have the power you use to defend the people used to hurt those very same people," he says, glad he didn't just screw that up: "A tragedy. A cruel irony. And a reminder of the dangerous path anyone must tread as they put on a suit, take on a name, and go forth to fight crime for their community, their country, and the world we live in."

He goes on at some length, as if trying to postpone the moment when the grieving father behind him will take to the podium, only to shock everyone with a eulogy turned into a resignation speech. He speaks of heroes and saviors, of values and virtues. He speaks of a world that doesn't always make sense, but a people who rightly adore those who try.

And he invokes a God who promises salvation to all, even those whose feet have apparently strayed far from the path. A God who knows all things, and from whom the secrets of the human heart are not kept, but known in full.

A God who is merciful and just, and surely will provide for this young hero in his days to come.

The heroes he addresses seem ambivalent to his eulogy, for the most part. Some of them very clearly saw action, recently -- possibly in the city where those DIA-sponsored killers were at work. Others seem unimpressed by his words of faith, or praise.

Only Mr. USA seems to understand -- possibly in more ways than one. He gets the idea the older hero is watching him intently, like a hawk. He wonders how much this old man, who has apparently cheated death, once more, knows about what's happened, or is about to happen.

At some point, he looks up at the statue of the Torchbearer, and -- immediately humbled by it -- decides to cut his eulogy short, at that point, and let the events of history play out as they should. He can only hope to be as fondly remembered in the turning of those pages as this man he's just consigned to the ground -- even if that young man was, as his advisers had told him, a mixed up kid with delusions of grandeur, no moral center, and taste for dangerous women.

He probably couldn't be worse than most people to call themselves "hero," when all was said and done. And he was probably just as deserving as one last shot of redemption, even if had to come from a speech at his own funeral.

Like makeup on a corpse, he thinks as he takes a seat next to New Man, who promptly gets up to deliver on his side of the bargain.

* * *

"What the hell is this," the person to Straffer's right says, trying to not vomit as he watches what's going on down in the operating theater: "What the... what the !@#$ is going on, here?"

"That woman is saving my fiancee's life," the man says, watching as the President's daughter carefully disassembles SPYGOD's skull -- flesh from bone, then bone from bone -- all in preparation for using that weird, plugged-in cylinder to reconstruct his brain, millimeter by millimeter.

It's just that she's doing it in the fresh, steaming offal and blood of the cybersurgery team that was supposed to be helping her.

Straffer should have known something was going to go weird and bad, today. He woke up in the middle of the night in his rented room in Neo York City, convinced he could hear someone screaming his name. For a moment he thought it was his father, long since dead, but then he realized it was SPYGOD.

Then he realized he wasn't really awake, just dreaming that he'd woken up.

Breakfast was stale. His coffee was too hot. The trip from his apartment to the hospital went so quickly he thought he was hallucinating, and as soon as the taxi dropped him off and pulled away it got into a three-car pileup.

He wanted to sit with his lover before the surgery, but they told him that wouldn't be possible. He was being prepared and had to be in seclusion. Surely he remembered from his own reconstruction how important it was to be in a sterile environment...?

(And he did, he thinks. It's just so hard to remember, now. All that time spent as a broken, disembodied head plugged into a battery and a nutrient tank seems like a dream, now, except for the pieces where he was there, holding and kissing him, and telling him he'd be with him forever and ever...)

And then he was being told he could go into the viewing gallery, so he did. As soon as he got up there he could see that the little !@#$ had deviated a lot from their understanding. She'd put up video screens to watch violent porn and weird European movies, a stereo to listen to what is either b-side Eizensturde Neubaten or someone killing sheep to a lazy industrial beat, ghastly photos of war atrocities and the like.

She came out naked except for a red smock and gloves. She approached his lover -- lying on the slab, his face wrapped in bandages -- like she was a priest come before her flock.

And as soon as the team gathered around her, to bring her the things she needed to perform this modern miracle, she looked up at the cameras and the galley and made a single announcement: "I can do anything I fucking want to, right now."

"Yes, you can," the head of the surgery team had said, her voice still gravelly from what had been done to her: "We've talked about this."

"No, really," she says: "I can do anything I want. Do you want to know why?"

"Why?" the woman asked, stupidly, and Straffer began to know fear.

"Because you fucking idiots brought me everything I asked for," she said: "Including things that you just thought I needed for atmospheric reasons, but actually let me make bombs.

"And then you let me decorate the godsdamned room..."

With that, she grinned, pulled some very long, curved, and serrated knives from somewhere she shouldn't have had them, and neatly decapitated the woman with two swift and easy slashes from either direction.

"You!" she shouted at Straffer, as he rose, and all the other techs screamed and tried to run: "I've mined the godsdamned doors, and linked them to the viewing room windows, and slaved them all to our patient's heartbeat... which I now control. You so much as fucking lift a finger to stop me, I plunge one of these into his damn heart, and the whole wing goes boom.

"So sit your faggot ass down, and get everyone up there to do the same. This is my show now, fucker. I'm going to bring this sorry boyfucking piece of shit back to life, like I said.

"But I get to have fun, first," she said, grinning, and then took off after her crew.

It was all over in seconds. Where could they go? If they opened the doors, they'd explode. And fighting her off was useless -- she was a flesh inferno, a hurricane with a smile.

She was death, come to take them for having staved her off one time too many.

She squatted among the corpses for a time, and then she dragged them over to where she was going to operate, peeling them apart as she went. She masturbated with the protruding bone of a severed forearm. She !@#$ in the mouth of the decapitated head of the woman who once ruled here, and threw it at the wall so hard it squashed, sending brains and filth everywhere.

And then, at long last, she peeled off her soiled gloves, slipped into new ones, and began the lengthy process of regenerating SPYGOD's brain tissues.

"So tell me, faggot," she says, maybe a tenth of the way through the job: "All those years he had the Eye of Horus in his head, did he never fucking realize it was killing him?"

"What do you mean?" Straffer asks, approaching the glass -- careful not to touch it for fear of breaking it .

"I mean that all the time it was supposedly creating new senses for him, that was just his brain adapting to slow fucking poison," she says: "The only reason it was keeping him alive was because of his godsdamn regenerative powers. If he'd been a normal asshole with this thing in his head? He'd have been dead a long time ago."

"The Eye of Horus...?"

"Well, that's what my lover said his was called," the girl grins, completing another pass -- replacing churning and diseased neural tissue with fresh, coral matter: "Except he wasn't stupid enough to put it into his head. He had a protective sheath in his eye socket. Makes all the difference in the world."

She smiles and looks at her next pass, mentally figuring the path she'll need to take: "So, all those years of him cheating death, he was just postponing the inevitable. And once it was gone, well, I guess Hades wants his fucking due."

"Good thing we've got you here, huh?" Straffer says, watching as she inserts the cylinder again, and starts fixing another line of his lover's brains.

"Yep," she says: "And when I'm done? You can come in here and kill me, if you want. But something tells me you'll be in big trouble."

"Why would that be?" the head of the Space Service asks, not thinking he's going to like the answer to this.

"Because if I die, my daddy doesn't sign those stupid fucking release papers," she replies, sounding just like a little girl: "And then he doesn't go to Europe for trial. And then those frog-fucking assholes don't get their scapegoat."

"That might not be such a bad thing," Straffer says.

"Oh, it would," she says, looking up at him and nodding: "Because, if he stays over here? They put him on trial here, for what he's done. And then everything that he's done over here comes out in the wash, including things you've done, your friends have done... shit, it's going to be one big domino rally of blame. I wonder if you'll all ever fucking recover?"

He looks down at her, not knowing what all she might mean. But he also realizes that, just because he has no idea what she means, that doesn't mean it's not true.

(And he does know that far too many of his friends and allies have gotten themselves in far too deep in a lot of !@#$, all involving her father.)

So he stands there, watching her save his fiancee's life, and decides that, whatever happens, she has to live though this atrocity. So long as his lover is complete, and so long as she leaves no damage behind.

And he will watch her intently to be certain she behaves, even if it takes days.

* * *

"I don't know what to say, sir," the new Director says, some time later aboard the Flier. 

"Well, you can stop calling me sir, ma'am," New Man says, saluting her: "I'll have my things out of your office by Noon, tomorrow."

"Very well, New Man," Josie says, saluting him back: "Do you know what you want to do, next?"

"Well, I need to have a few words with Hanami, ma'am," he says, dropping his hand down: "I'm going to request to join the Freedom Force. I might not be accepted, and I wouldn't blame them if they said no. But I think I can add something to the team."

"I'd agree, and I'd like that," she says: "But that is going to be up to her. I won't make that decision for her. This is understood?"

"Crystal clear, ma'am," he says, knowing full well why she's saying these things. Also being very happy to hear them said. 

"So, what's up tonight?"

"I think I need to dry out a bit," he says, shaking his head: "Get my head on straight. Get a good night's sleep."

"And a good meal, I think," she says, handing him a ticket for the commissary: "The executive grade's getting steak tonight. You can have mine, New Man. I stuffed my face with canapes at the funeral reception."

"Thank you, ma'am. I think I'll do just that," he says, smiling as he leaves the command area of the bridge for what might be the last time ever. 

"Hey, I just remembered," he says, turning around before the doors swoosh shut: "Any word on SPYGOD, yet?"

"That's classified," she says, winking at him.

And then the doors close, and he finally realizes what he's just given up. 

"Jesus Christ," he mutters, wondering if he really wants that steak or not.

Saturday: 10/24/15

"I mean it, man!" the crazy guy dressed like something off the Purple Rain album is shouting at the rafters of the church, one hand on his machine pistol and the other around the throat of the lady who came here to pray: "I'll !@#$ing kill her if you come in here!"

The others there with him just laugh at that. The cops outside aren't laughing, but they've been told not to risk going in there.

They've been told a special team is on the way -- a new Arrow Security unit they need to defer to in this matter.

What they don't know is that the unit is already there, inside the church. They're waiting in hidden positions, within. They know that Freddy Q's enforcers have all been given guns full of blanks, and aren't capable of harming anyone from a distance.

(Not that they know that, of course.)

They're just waiting for the star of the show to turn up. Some creepy punk kid in black greasepaint who thinks he's a !@#$ing superhero, or maybe just a ripoff of that one movie whose star got himself shot.

They think he can't resist coming to save people in a church. They say he's some kind of holy-roller, which is why he'll be here.

So they sit and they wait as the enforcers get more and more violent, waiting for the sign they were promised by their boss. Hoping that their real quarry shows up before they have to protect these people from a bunch of drugged-up clowns with jheri curls, wide-brimmed hats, and florid coats with no shirts.

As they sit and wait, they don't realize that their quarry is already here, in the church with them. He has picked the one spot that none of them can see, right behind the altar, and curled up to wait for the right moment.

Wrapped up in a ratty, old black longcoat that one of the enforcers dropped here, maybe thinking it was too confining for this kind of work...

He realizes what is going on here. He knows this is a trap. He can feel where the strike team is, He can hear their quiet communications, and knows what the plan is.

He knows all these things, and yet he must act.

But now his conscience is clear. Now he knows that these people from Arrow Security are not good people. He knows they are not like the police, who could be good or bad but ultimately follow a code of public service and protection.

He knows these thugs in black armor -- mirrored helmets like soulless, robot skulls -- are just here to be paid to hurt people.

And he will not stand for it. Not in the streets, not in the houses. Not in the lonely places where the weak and the afraid go to live and to die.

And not ever -- never ever -- in the home of the Lord.

"God, please give me strength," he plays: "Please give me speed, give me wisdom. And please give me mercy. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

"And forgive me for what I am about to do..."

With that he leaps up from behind the altar right onto the top of it. He stands there with his back to the enforces, and smiles as they shout and start to fire their guns at him, only to find out they're full of blanks.

"I'm not here for you," he says to them, turning and pointing at the doors: "Walk out of here now. Lay down your weapons and surrender to those outside. And the next time you come to a church, do so to pray to God, and not prey upon his people!"

"Man, !@#$ you and your !@#$-eating bull!@#$," one of the enforcers says. It's the last thing he says, though -- a bullet blows through his skull, dropping him like a sack of potatoes in a pimp hat.

The would-be pistoleros scream and run, after that. The people they were threatening join them for the doors.

And a wave of dark-suited men and women in mirrored helmets come running from everywhere -- their gloves giving off sparks as they make fists. 

The Raven just laughs -- leaping from the altar into the center of the scrum, his new coat flapping behind him. Trying to get in too close for them to properly employ those shock-fists they so desperately want to use on him...

* * *

 "... I know, Antonia," Martha Clutch says, sighing as she sits in the eyes of the Owl's Nest, sort of half-watching the news alerts on the several televisions in the corner: "And I understand. It's okay, really."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that, Antonia Crisp says over the viewscreen, smiling a little: "I was afraid after last time you were really mad or something."

"Oh, I was mad. And I still am. But I understand you had orders, and, well..."

"What can you do?"

"Exactly," Antonia says, looking past her for a second: "Hey, is that Kaitlyn I see?"

"It is," Kaitlyn says, coming off the platform and into the eyes to wave hello: "How are you, Antonia?"

"Oh, good," she says, patting her belly: "I felt a good solid kick today. Always a good thing."

"Oh wow," Kaitlyn says, taking off some of the less integral parts of her Talon uniform: "That's got to be weird, having another person moving inside of you."

"Well, you get used to it," Martha says, chuckling as she pats her own bump: "And here's John. Hey you, you want to hear what the Brain Computer finally has to say about where Thomas ran off to?"

"Would I ever," the Condor says, coming in and taking off his mask: "Hey Antonia, how's it going."

"Pretty good. Hey, didn't you use to be Green Fury?"

The kid laughs -- that joke never gets old: "I upgraded, big time."

"Yes you did," Kaitlyn says, chuckling as she goes over to look at the televisions, curious about what looks like a crazy fight on one of them.

"Well, the suit looks good on you, kid... hey, here we are. And Rakim sends his apologies, too."

"Tell him it's okay," Martha says, clearly impatient: "Where is he, hon?"

"He's in Detroit," Kaitlyn announces from across the room, taking a step back from the television she's been watching.

"Wait, how did you know?" Antonia says, flabbergasted.

"Because that's him," the Talon says, pointing to a massive fight outside of a church in downtown Detroit. Dozens of black-clad security officers in small, mirrored helmets are having their armored asses handed to them by a dark human whirlwind.

One with feathers flying out behind him as he strikes and kicks, weaves and ducks.

"Why is he dressed like The Crow?" John asks, looking at all that.

"Oh God, no," Martha says: "Not Detroit. Not again..."

"Aunt Martha, what's wrong?" Kaitlyn asks: "If we start out now we might get there in time to save him-"

"I don't think he's the one who needs saving, hon," John says, watching as three more guards get knocked out and back, only to be replaced by five more.

"Aunt Martha!"

"We can't go there, honey," Martha says, crying: "Detroit is... well, it's off limits to us.

"Thomas is on his own."

And for a time, there is silence in the Owls Nest -- one filled with a question no one yet dares to ask

* * *

"And that's a wrap, fuckers."

Straffer looks down at the President's daughter. She's just closed his lover's skull back up again, as though it had never been open, and taken a wide step back from her handiwork -- her gloved and bloody hands raised up like some grotesque parody of Christ.

"How is he?"

"Well, if he was dying, things would be exploding," she answers, sticking her pierced tongue out at him, playfully: "So I'd say I did it right, faggot. Your cock-slinger's going to live."

"Hallelujah," Straffer says, tapping the communicator by his ear: "Now, gentlemen."

There's a noise like a marker on a whiteboard, and then someone appears in the room with her. She's a tall, black woman in some white suit, and she carries three men with her -- all of them in white space armor, and clearly unhappy.

"Hey now-" the President's daughter has time to squeak out, but then gets clubbed upside the back of the head with a stun baton. She goes down in a semi-nude heap on the bloody floor, maybe an inch or two from the putrefying remains of the men and women she butchered before saving SPYGOD's life.

"What do we do with her, sir?" Skyspear asks, looking up at her new boss.

"Get her the !@#$ out of here," he commands, and she complies he barks orders to the other Space Service shock troops: "The COMPANY can come deal with her, now. I want those doors cleared and my fiancee checked out immediately."

"He's fine, sir," the medic they brought with them confirms: "Blood pressure is good, respiration is good."

"Sir, these doors aren't even tampered with," one of the shock troopers says: "There's crap in the locks and hinges, like she said, but... sir, I think it's actual crap."

And Straffer looks at the mess on the floor, and sighs, shaking his head: "I think we're all going to have something to answer for, here."

Sunday: 10/25/15 

He's awake well before the dawn, today, Number 42.

Normally, he'd sleep as much as possible, resisting the urge to be an early riser. He'd sleep for as long as he could tolerate the chirpy lady over the intercom telling him to rise and shine, and slowly increasing the volume of the jaunty band music until he just couldn't take it anymore.


But today is going to be anything but normal, isn't it?

He sees the sun coming up over the hills, through the window. He closes his eyes, wondering if he should have finally had it off with that woman from their conspiracy. If she was going to betray him, she'd have done it a long time ago.

And that need in her eyes, it was just a reflection of the need he felt, himself...

But no. It was not to be. It is not to be.

He figures the time, and closes his eyes, trying to see if he can eke out a little more sleep before it all starts up again.

Just a little more darkness before the dawn.

* * *

"How's he doing?"

"He's fine," Straffer tells Josie, sitting next to SPYGOD's bed in the post-surgery unit, and ignoring the nasty looks all the other people are giving him as he talks on his phone: "Everything's five by five, all his vitals are stable. You wouldn't think this was a man who could have died from traumatic cascading brain failure."

"But he's not awake yet."

"No," Straffer says, reaching over to take the man's hand and give it a squeeze. There's no squeeze in return.

"Well, keep us posted," the new COMPANY Director says, clearly dividing her attentions between the conversation, the latest news from Syria, and gods know how many more things: "I'm sure there will be people who'd like to come visit once he's out of the ICU."

"I'm sure," Straffer says, gently ending the call and then putting the phone aside, trying not to cry.

"I love you," he whispers into SPYGOD's bandaged ear: "Please come back to me."

He doesn't get a response. He didn't expect one.

He just hoped he'd be wrong, for once.

* * *

"We're all ready, then?" the man says, sitting next to Myron at the cafe. 

"We are," Myron says: "Our older friend is getting the vehicle ready for you, like he agreed to."

"And what about our lady friend?"

"Haven't seen her all morning," Myron says, shrugging: "I suppose that's good news."

"I don't like not knowing where people are."

"Neither do I," Myron says: "Maybe she's visiting our friend in the graveyard."

Number 42 has nothing to say to that.  

* * *

Birth is painful for mother and child.

Red Queen remembers hearing that, once. It was said by some goofy-eyed hippie midwife, high on something she shouldn't have been smoking. She was going on about how babies have no idea what's going on, what with their goldfish memories.

But it made sense, really. One moment, all was dark and warm, and for all they knew this was all there was to life. And the next, everything was going wrong, their home was being squeezed, and they were being forced out of a hole too small to fit through comfortably.

She never thought about it too much, after that. She had no plans to have kids -- she didn't even want to be there when someone else had theirs. And she never thought, in a million years, that she'd be given birth to again.

That's what's happening now, though.

She can feel her consciousness being dragged back into her body -- down there in the gooey, warm muck she's been forming in for all this time. She can feel that body thrashing in the cooling water as something breaks below it, and she's being dragged down into a wider reality, once more.

She screams for all the good it does her. She shouts and yells and begs to go back into that great, amazing Godspace she's been floating inside, with its clouds and lightning and occasional visitors.

("I'm here to talk to you about this job you're about to take," the redhead with the dragonflies told her: "It's not a good idea.")

But it's too late to do anything about that. She's about to be born again, into the image of the skull-faced Supergod who remade her.,

And gods only know what she'll see when she looks in a mirror...

* * *

"I don't like this," Myron says, finishing his coffee.

"Sacrifices must be made in any campaign. I thought you'd understand that-"

"I mean this," Myron says, gesturing to the Village as the normal morning panoply plays out before them and lowering his voice: "Something should be happening."

"It's about to."

"No! I mean, Number Two should be coming up to harass us or something."

"Perhaps he's hiding today. I hear he's afraid of me, now."

"They have to know."

"Perhaps they do," the man says, his blue eyes flashing: "Perhaps they don't care to interfere because they think it'll be another failure. I'll come back in Rover, or else in an ambulance. I'll take my lumps and then go back to being me. Just like normal.

"Not today," he says, getting up and striding towards the beach: "Now come and help me or speak to me no more."

And Myron hesitates only a half a second before he does as he's told. 

* * *

"That hurt, Lord," Thomas says, gently examining what's left of himself.

All things considered he got off lucky. Those security guards were overconfident and cocky. They were also poorly trained, expecting the sight of them -- and their special weapons -- to carry the day.

Still, he'd taken a beating. And he had needed to retreat, towards the end.

Five broken teeth, already growing back, or together. Busted knuckles and toes, mostly fixed. A wrenched shoulder that should be better, but isn't. And he's sure he'd gotten a concussion, somewhere in there, but it seems to have fixed itself.

Satisfied, he leaps up into the rafters of his theater and hangs from his feet, again -- extending his wings out to touch this city.

He can hear talking, out there. He can hear the media telling people he's a bad and dangerous man. He can hear that Chief of police, again -- the one that's a stumbling wreck of a man -- saying this proves everything.

But he can hear the people he's protecting. He can hear them say he's done nothing but good in his eyes.

He can hear the criminals he's watching over. He can them say they're afraid of him, and that maybe they should get out of town.

And Thomas smiles and says 'thank you' to his God. For another day to fight. For another night to call his own.

And for a city that is, at last, welcoming him into its heart.

* * *

"It's all ready, sir," the old man says, rushing up the beach to meet them: "That last changing tent. Just go in and get it. All ready to go."

"Thank you, friend," the man says, nodding to him.

"My name is Roger," the old man says, saluting: "When next we meet, please do me the honor of calling me by that?"

The man just smiles, and then makes the Vitarka Mudra -- "Be seeing you" -- and then runs up to the tent.

"Well, that's damned ungrateful," the old man says, fuming at Myron: "Gets our young friend killed, might get me into trouble, and then won't even acknowledge a simple gesture of goodwill and farewell."

"He's an !@#$hole," Myron says, looking the old man in the eyes: "He's used you, me, that kid, and that woman. He'll sacrifice any of us if it gets him away from here."

"But we can count on him to come back, yes?" the old man asks, practically begging Myron to give him an affirmative answer.

"Yes, I think we can," Myron says, smiling a little: "He hates this place more than anything, except maybe Number Two. He'll come back just to wipe this Village off the map and put him in handcuffs."

"Well, I sure hope so-"

"You'd better go, now, Roger," Myron says, shaking the old man's hand: "It won't be safe."

"No, I suppose it won't," he says, turning to quickly duck into the bushes: "Goodbye, friend."

"It's Myron," Myron says to him as he goes, but the old guy doesn't turn back to acknowledge the trust.

"Hmmm," Myron chuckles, getting his box ready: "So much for goodwill..."

* * *

 "Are the restraints really necessary?" the former President's lawyer asks, looking at the NEU guards as they finish shackling his client to an upright cart.

"For this kind of high profile prisoner, absolutely," the one doing the locking says, his accent so Irish it could be used to get drunk with: "But not to worry. We'll have him out of these in a jiffy once we've got him on the plane."

"Secure holding facility," the other guard says, tilting the man back and getting ready to roll him: "Nowhere he can go at that high an altitude, is there?"

"It'll be okay," the President says, nodding to the man: "Just walk with us to the plane, eh? If they get silly I want you to see it."

"No worries there," the lawyer says, adjusting his tie and following after.

The second he gets out of the doors of his hospital room, the Flier goes silent. All the AGENTS just look at him, going by, as if he was some kind of weird laboratory experiment being shifted to the incinerator.

The only person to approach them is their new Director. The tall, large woman with short, pink hair approaches them both and nods: "All seems to be in order on our end, gentlemen."

"Thank you, ma'am," the Irishman says, saluting: "Permission to depart your lovely airship?"

"It's given," she says, nodding to the President: "Good luck, sir. I think you might be needing it."

"And to you, Madam Director," he says, nodding back to her.

After that, the silence drops again. There's no booing, no cursing. No one flips him the bird or makes eyes at him. Everyone just watches him go in stone cold silence.

A silence that lasts until he gets to the flight deck, at which point the world is the whooshing of air, the whining of engines, and the roaring of takeoff...

* * *

... which becomes almost anticlimactic as soon as Myron pulls the box out, aims it at the damned thing, and presses the button.

Suddenly, the beast stops in its tracks. It bounces up and down a time or two, as if confused. 

And then it stops bouncing and just sits there, stupidly. 

"Well I'll be dipped in !@#$ and fed to the coprophiles," Myron says, standing there with the box in his hand, afraid to move or do anything.

"Oh no!" he hears someone shout. It's Number Two, running up to where they are with a panicked look on his face.

"Well hi," Myron says, gesturing to Rover: "You might want to take your friend home. I think he's drunk."

"You have to stop this!" the man screams: "You have to stop him!"

"Now why in the hell would I want to do that?" Myron asks, turning to look at Number 42, already some distance away from shore in the small boat that Roger spent the better part of a year making out of odds and ends, and testing in secret.

"You don't understand you damned fool!" Number Two shouts, knocking the box out of Myron's hand. It falls to the ground and makes a horrible sqwack noise.

At which point Rover shudders once, then twice, falls eerily silent, and begins to deflate. 

"Well, that's novel," Myron says, grinning: "Does this happen often?"

 But Number Two isn't standing there -- he's running after the man who's about to escape from The Village, screaming at the top of his lungs. 

It's almost as if he's panicking...

* * *

"Oh god, sir, you need to SkkKCKKK. You would not believe what we are seeing here, in this base. We are being attacked by CrrrrSKKK it's all we can do to stay alive this place is a death trap and the Venusans are freaking out and what we've seen here it's skkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

* * * 

Myron saunters down the beach, after Number Two, who's very quickly run out of breath and is falling to his knees.

"Come back, please," the man begs: "Don't go... no... please..."

"Oh, come on," Myron says: "You didn't think you were going to keep people from getting out forever, did you?"

"You don't understand!" the man in the cream suit shrieks, turning to look at Myron.

He's crying. The man is actually crying.

"What, don't you have people between here and there to get him?' Myron asks: "Agents in the other governments? Shills in high places?"

"No," the man gasps, turning to look: "There's no one out there, 101. There's nothing out there at all. And he knows it. He knows it!"

"What are you !@#$ing talking about?" Myron asks, but then he sees it.

At first, he thinks there's a submarine surfacing, right in front of the man's boat. But then he sees that what's surfacing is too thin, too organic.

Too toothsome. 

The head of the thing that scoops up the boat is long. It wolfs it down in one massive bite, the motion that propelled it up from the deep taking it up high enough for Myron to see its massive flippers, its wide armored belly...

Liopleurodon, he thinks, remembering that show he watched all those years ago. The thing that snatched a Tyrannosaurus Rex from the shore and dragged it under the water.

The Villagers scream, seeing the monster. There is genuine panic and running.

"Oh God," Number Two cries as his world falls apart: "I loved you... why did you do this... why..."

"Oh my God," Myron says, finally realizing what's been bugging him all this time.

The stars. They were wrong, here, somehow. And he thought he knew why, but couldn't remember.

It was because the last time he saw those stars, it was only from the windows of their massive prehistoric treehouse.

(And he spent most of his nights watching TV with Winifred, or at least intending to...)

"It's B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P.!" he shouts, grabbing hold of the ruined man who's kneeling before him: "You idiots have put us in B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P.!"

But the man can only weep and cry -- his best enemy gone at last, and his Village falling apart around him.

(SPYGOD is listening to Dead Souls (Joy Division) and having a Liopleurodon from someone's homebrew)

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