Monday, October 5, 2015

Dis-Integration: 9/28/15 - 10/4/15

"Freeze a Frame / From the Fever Dream of Days"

Captain Chaos, Major Force, Corporal Flag,
Colonel America, Lt. Lightning, Specialist Speed
(Kneeling) Sgt. Shatter
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *
* * *

Monday: 9/28/15

The President looks at himself in the mirror. He does not really like what he sees.

He's so much older now that he ever was before.

A obvious thing to say. Maybe even a stupid one, all things considered. But if the job he held for almost four years aged him, then his time out of office has aged him even more.

His hair's gone stark white. His eyes have more crows lines, his face more wrinkles. He looks like he's one more crisis away from needing a cane to lean on.

And when he closes his eyes, he sometimes thinks he can hear the lids crinkling shut -- like old-style garage doors.

He looks at his image -- this older, skinnier man who stole his body while he wasn't looking.This unwell doppelganger with hollow, bleary eyes.

He sighs.

And -- knowing this may be the last time he ever has total control over his own appearance -- begins to dress himself for the occasion.

* * *

"So what did you tell him?" Velma asks Randolph. There's a sigh -- and maybe a noise from the plane he's on -- and then she asks again: "Honey, what did you tell Jess? What did he say?"

"I told him to tell the President that I couldn't be sure what would happen if he went to see her," the outlaw reporter says, watching as San Francisco comes closer in the A-500's Centerline's window: "I don't have a man on the inside of the COMPANY, anymore. And my other sources all dried up and blew away. I can guess why."

"They'll crucify him, though," she says: "Between what happened with the Terre Unifee, and everything that's happened after? He's been made into a scapegoat in absentia. It's going to be  horrific."

"I can't disagree. You think they'd cut him a break because of what happened to his wife, but..."

"Do you think he'll go, anyway?" the Toon asks, realizing that would be a terribly bad thing for him to do, given everything.

"I don't know," Randolph says, adjusting his microphone and nodding to the pilot, who's gotten him here all the way from Thailand, one long hop at a time: "But if it was me? And it was one of my kids who'd been held by that bastard for that long...?

Velma just nods, knowing the answer to that.

* * *

A good, crisp shirt, he thinks. Light blue. People like light blue shirts because they seem to be worker's clothes. Blue collar. All that jazz. 

Dark slacks, but not black. The grey ones. And black shoes -- supple and shiny. 

A nice tie. Not silk -- not this time. Nothing flashy, either. Something understated and earthy. 

He thinks about the cufflinks. He decides to take one of the pairs she gave him. Gold squares with beveled edges -- simple and elegant.

(Was it a birthday or an anniversary? He can't remember. They all blur together after a while.)

No suitcoat, he decides. Just the shirt and tie is enough. 

If he needs a suitcoat when he goes to trial, he'll have his attorney get him one. 

* * *

"Shameful," New Man says, staring down the viewscreen at the AGENT who made the mistake of giving the report: "Shameful, incompetent, and stupid."

"I can't disagree, sir," she says, half-in and half-out of the COMPANY van, outside the residence they raided less than 24 hours before. The place is crawling with Thai police, emergency workers, and the like. That and onlookers, all curious to see what the fuss was about.

"And you let this happen because...?"

"Sir, I was ordered to assist the strategic talent in charge of the mission," she says: "I was told to obey his orders and offer suggestions only where appropriate. He said he had a plan, we ran with it, it was compromised, we picked up the pieces-"

"And at some point in all that, your operation was hacked," the Director of the COMPANY interjects: "Possibly by the same person who gassed that police station and ruined Swiftfoot's usefulness for a couple days. They had you chasing ghosts all over Bangkok, and none of you managed to realize you didn't actually have eyes on the target?"

"No, sir," the AGENT admits: "We did not."

"And at the end of it all, we not only get made fools of by that damned outlaw reporter, but the main target escapes, and we find out the only reason we didn't blow up the whole neighborhood is because the house's defenses went haywire?"

"Yes, sir."

"Please tell me there's something I have to show for this, other than a maimed agent, an insane girl, and the most dangerous man in the world out in the wind, again."

She looks at him, takes a deep breath, and tells him the one thing they do have: a new mystery on their hands. 

He doesn't like it. Not one damned bit.

* * *

"Sir, please," Jess Friend says, watching his soon-to-be-former boss send that email out: "Don't do this."

"I just did," the President says, checking that the message left, and then slipping a dongle into a USB port on the laptop.

"I have a really bad feeling-"

"You think I don't?" the President asks, turning to look at him: "I know what's going to happen, here, Jess. I know that the moment I go into custody, I won't have any control over what does happen. They might not even let me see her at all."

"Then why go?" he asks: "Just wait a bit. Try and talk to someone. Make a deal-"

"Damn it, Jess, she's my daughter," he interrupts, trying not to explode: "Everything you and I have done... everything I've done? All the mistakes I've made and the stupid plans and the plots and everything, they've been to get her back.

"And now that she is back, I can't just walk away from her. I can't just hide and hope to see her again, one day. If there's a chance, any chance, I'm going to take it. Even if it means I spend the rest of my damn life in jail, it'll be worth it just to see her eyes light up and see it's me.

"Even if it's just for a second," he says, turning back to watch as the computer's hard drive gets turned to useless junk by the program he just uploaded: "It'll be worth it."

* * *

"No, really," the AGENT at the scene says over his communicator, utterly stunned by what he's seeing: "Keep her sedated. Don't let her come up for air if you can."

"That bad?" the person on the other end asks.

"Put it this way. The Thai police were the first on the scene after Swiftfoot got in. He went on his merry because he thought she'd been knocked out, and well, there was that bombpaper thing to worry about..."

"Which wasn't?"

"Weird story, that. But anyway, they came up to deal with cleanup, and, well..."

He looks around at all the blood on the floor. Some of the pools' sources are still lying there, waiting for someone to come up and put them on a stretcher. 

"She cleaned them up," the AGENT goes on: "And that was with a concussion and a few broken ribs. !@#$ is lethal. Keep her under."

"How about the real target?" the other AGENT asks: "The one keeping her captive? That guy?"

"In the wind," he sighs, looking at a secret panel they found not too long ago. It leads down to the sewers.

And from there, anywhere. 

* * *

"If you won't change your mind, at least let me come with you," Jess says as they head for the front door.

"No," the President says, shaking his head.

"Let me protect you."

"No. You've done enough. I'm leaving you out of this as much as I can."

"But sir, please," Jess begs, starting to cry: "Damn it, sir. I've let you down. I let you down the first day we met and I've been letting you down all this time. All the stupid !@#$ that happened and went wrong, I should have known. I should have protected you better..."

The President smiles at him, squeezing his shoulders in a warm and fatherly way: "Jess, you've been there for me every day since we first met. You never gave up on me, or what we were trying to accomplish. You were on the side of the angels, every step of the way. And when you heard about my predicament, this time, you moved heaven and earth to get back to my side.

"I couldn't ask for a better guardian. You never failed me. You just had the worst first day in the Secret Service ever."

They look at each other, then. Jess starts snorting out giggles, and the President joins him, in spite of the moment. They laugh and hug, knowing it may be the last time they do this ever.

"Go," the President says as they break it off, looking the man in the eyes: "Live. Be happy. Be well. Do amazing things. And never forget that I'll always be grateful. Okay?"

"Yes, sir."

"And, when you're done?" the President says, pointing to the inside of the apartment: "There's a can of X-gas in there, right in the center of the apartment. You know what to do with it, right?"

His soon-to-be-former guardian nods, and reaches out a hand to shake. The President takes it, and, clapping him on the shoulder with his other hand, goes for the door.

And then out into the street.

* * *

The Wandering Shadow comes to, once again. And this time the wave of pain that greets him doesn't send him right back to sleep.

He's at home, he realizes. In the main cavern of the tall, nameless, and skull-like mountain his line has lived in for ages untold.

They dropped him right in front of his own throne and left him to bleed.

He really should be concerned about how they even got in -- past all his defenses and protections. But knowing who the boy with that fighter was, and what he is, he's not so surprised they had no trouble.

Clearly, the god of traps, jails, and endings has nothing to fear from his precautions.

He has been deconstructed; that's the only word that fits, here.  Every bone broken, every joint dislocated. Every organ that could be damaged without killing him outright has been badly bruised, or maybe even burst. His eyes are overripe plums in a shattered skull, and his teeth are no longer residing in his mouth.

They must know he will heal, even from this. It may take him a month or a year, but every thing they have destroyed will come back, stronger than before. He'll have to focus his will upon his body, rather than maintaining any other concerns, but it can be done.

And when he does, they will be in trouble -- certain and dire.

He is bound to not avenge this insult, true. But he is not his guardians. He is not the forces his lineage has bargained with to gain the power he enjoys, in exchange for the work he does.

He is not his gods.

So he closes his eyes, picks a limb -- the smashed mass of bones and meat was once his right hand -- and forces it to slide back together, slowly and painfully.

He will recover, even from this. He will be stronger for it. He will live to see this insult avenged.

It will just take a long time.

And many long and terrible screams.

* * *

The first thing the President notices as soon as he gets outside is the smell of the air. Carbon monoxide and trash. Autumn leaves and cold air. 

Then the noise, which was muffled behind a strong door and covered windows. Cars and buses. People talking.

And the people. My God, the people. Moving every which way -- up, down, and across the road. Hanging out of windows, sitting on staircases and at cafes, standing on streetcorners. Shopping, talking, laughing, arguing. 


He steps out of the alley and loses himself in their throng. Every so often someone looks at him once, then twice. He smiles and nods, no longer caring if he's recognized.

No longer afraid if someone says "Isn't that...?"

An old woman calls out to him, a block later. Someone else screams and gasps, but in a good way. 

He raises his hands to wave, and people wave back. Some shout out the obvious. Some cheer.

And some actually applaud -- long and loud -- and as he waves back he tries his best to not cry.

* * *

The chief surgeon won't stop screaming.

He's in the corner of the emergency room, here in what's supposed to be the best hospital in all of Bangkok. It was just his bad luck to be on call here, tonight, when they wheeled her in.

No one was sure what they were looking at. All they were told was that, whatever she looked like -- and she was a she, under it all -- she was alive, and in bad need of medical care.

But no sooner did they wheel what they found in that house in Bang Chan into their room than the man screamed. And once he started screaming, he just couldn't stop.

It was as though the sight of this horribly mutilated person -- her body bent, sliced, folded, and molded into something akin to a cartoon heart -- opened up the floodgate to all the horror and disgust his many years in the trauma unit had left him with.

And now that he'd started, he just couldn't stop.

So he screams, and his colleagues let him. They ignore his cries as he shakes and shudders and !@#$s himself, curled up into a fetal pose, and lets go.

They're too busy trying to make sense of what they're dealing with. Which end they should intubate. Where to put the catheter.

Where best to listen for a !@#$ing pulse.

As as these men and women do their best to save this woman's life, the person they should be paying the most attention to is also screaming. It's just that she has no mouth, and no way to make a sound.

And so Red Queen's cries to please just let her die -- please just kill her -- are ignored, right along with the childlike howling of someone who really should be handling this horrorshow cluster!@#$ a hell of a lot better.

("He'll never work here again," they mutter.  After tonight that might be a damn blessing.)

* * *

At what point do they start following him? The President isn't sure. Just as he isn't really sure at what point the procession leaves the sidewalk for the street.

At what point a few dozen people turns into a few hundred.

At what point someone links arms with him. A young man in a business suit. Then an older lady, resplendent in her blue mumu.

Then others link up with them, and still more. And they all march in lockstep, as though off to protest.

There's no chants. No calls for action. There's just the stomp of feet, and the eerie quiet of the members of this parade.

A quiet met by applause and cheers as those who don't care to join salute those who pass on by.

There are those unhappy to see him, true. Those who didn't vote for him, once or twice. Those who still hate him for resigning, or hold him responsible for what happened when he left. Those who never liked him as a human being, much less their former President.

Those who see him as a figurehead for a hated world government -- now thankfully gone from the world it failed to help.

But they remain silent as he passes. Not a cat-call, not a curse. No calls for his birth certificate, or racial epithets, or accusations of Islam or Communism. Not even a laugh or a bad joke.

The crowd is too large. Their course is too strong.

And he is too big to be touched by their scorn.

* * *

"Can I help you?" the middle-aged lady behind the Amtrak service counter says, clearly not interested in assisting the young man in front of her window.

"I need.... I need to get away," he says, seeming to shivering at the cold. He's wearing a hoodie and has his hands stuffed into his pockets. He also looks like he hasn't shaved or showered in days, and the rings under his eyes are epic -- like he hasn't slept in days, either.

"Well, I can help you," she says, hoping she can get the weird white kid away from her counter even sooner: "Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know," he says, looking around. He seems to be avoiding the cameras on the platform. And if she thought he might be a certain demographic (Arab, Muslim, both) she'd probably be hitting the panic button. But as he's white and young, she just figures he's tweaking, or crazy, and decides it's not worth being yelled at by station security.

"Well, what direction you want to go?" she asks: "You want to go west or east?"

"I think... east," he says, looking in that direction, as though he could see that far: "How far will this get me?"

He holds up a fifty as though it were a single. She looks at it, and then at her time tables, and nods.

"I can have you on the next train for Detroit in an hour," she says: "That sound good?"

"Yes," Thomas Samuels says, trying to hear her over the roar of other noises entering his body through his ears, his eyes, his skin: "I think that... sounds good."

* * *

He gets as far as Times Square before they come for him.

He knew he would be found, sooner or later. He hasn't been avoiding the cameras, or taking countermeasures. All the electronic surveillance he's been dodging since he went on the run now has him dead in their sights. 

And all the people on the other side of those cameras and sensors, who've been waiting for him, finally have their chance.

He's not sure who it would be first. Maybe the police, the FBI, or Homeland Security. Maybe even FAUST, though they really aren't supposed to be operating over here. 

But when the transporter decloaks right over the square, and the rushing of engines and sirens sounds like a call from on high, he's actually somewhat relieved to see it's the COMPANY.

Most of the crowd with him kneels down or panics as the transport comes down. They throw up their hands at the sound, the wind, the sheer overwhelming of sensation.

Not him, nor -- to their credit -- the people who have been arm-in-arm with him since this all started. They stand their ground, alongside him, the entire way down.

"They're going to take me away, now," he says to them both as the engines go down a notch, and the gangplank starts to open: "Thank you for walking with me."

"Anytime, sir," the young man says, shaking his hand before he goes: "Thank you, Mr. President."

"Blessings of the most high upon you," the older lady says, touching his face before hugging him: "Do not fear them. They know not what they do."

He just smiles at that and hugs her tighter. What can he say to that? He's no Jesus, and this is no Gethsemane. 

This is just the moment when, at long last, the piper comes to be paid. 

The AGENTs come down off the gangplank, a lot faster than he'd imagined. The older lady barely has time to get out of their way before they're in the President's face. 

They say things to him as they bundle him away, but he's not listening to them. He's listening to the crowd that marched here with him as, at long last, they cheer and shout and chant his name. 

He smiles and cries as he walks. It makes the rough handling that follows just that much easier to bear.

And the handcuffs might as well not exist.

Tuesday: 9/29/15

So where all have you been since Paris, Mr. President? 

President: I've been a few places. I was hiding Paris for a while, and then went to the south of France for a month under an assumed alias. I went from there to northern Africa. Egypt, mostly, though I made it over to Algeria a couple times. And then I came to Neo York City, and I've been here ever since.

And you did this all by yourself?

President: That's right.

All that time and no one saw you? 

President: What can I say? I had access to a lot of very good ways to hide. And I did learn from the best.

The same man you tried to have killed, the other day. 

President: Yes, I did.

And you readily admit this.

President: Yes, I do.

No remorse, no hesitation?

President: None. I'm just sorry it went so wrong, though I understand the man who died had it coming.

Major Harvey was being rehabilitated. He was going to perform an operation to fix SPYGOD's brain.

President: Really? Then in that case I'm not sorry at all. Let him rot in his bed. We'd all be better off.  

* * *

"Sir, I really need you to stop jiggling your knees," the AGENT in charge of Swiftfoot's debriefing says, sighing as a raft of papers and mini-desk organizers go floating off the sides of his desk and onto the floor: "You're knocking things off."

"Sorry," the hero says, shivering a little in his chair. He reminds the man of a wild-haired, elderly junkie, desperate for a fix. 

"It's alright. Maybe just back up a bit-"

There's a whoosh and then the old hero's in the far corner, shivering in a different chair: "Isthisbetter?"

"A little," the AGENT says, looking down at the report he's been handed: "Now, I need you to explain something to me."


"And talk slower, please? Maybe one word answers?"

"... okay ..."

"You were ordered to find the rogue talent Gosheven."

"Yes. YesIwas."

"And detain him in order to get answers as to where Red Queen was."


The AGENT blinks: "That's what I've got right here, sir. The Director reactivated you to capture and interrogate him-"

"Once. I. Cap. Tured. Him. He. Was. In. No. Shape. To. Tell. Me. Any. Y. Thing," the speedster croaks out, shrugging his shoulders several times a second: "So. I. Sent. His. Ass. Home."

"So you don't remember the bit here where you were supposed to inject him with a chemical agent that would keep him from gross physical transformations?" 

"Yes. But-"

"And that you were to use him to get you to Red Queen?"

"He. Fought. Back," the speedster croaks out: "I. Lost. The. Drug. I. Had. To. Im. Pro. Vise."

"Okay," the AGENT says, starting to realize why this operation went straight down into a sea of !@#$. 

* * *

"No, really, I'll be okay. I am okay. Thank you. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this briefing. I know that trust between our various agencies hasn't been very good of late. I'm hoping this will go some distance in mending that issue.

"For those of you who don't know me, my name is George Straffer. I am the Director of the Space Service, formerly known as DAMOCLES. These days, with international cooperation, we maintain a net of surveillance satellites and defensive orbital measures, along with the space elevator. But before all that, I was stationed on the trans-lunar defense platform known as Deep-10 for several years, during which time I was directly responsible for the protection of Earth from all external threats.

"On a good day, I had nothing to do but re-read operations files, keep an eye out for anything moving outside of Jupiter's orbit, and catch up on my soaps. On one really bad day, I had to repel a world-killing swarm of asteroids, no less than two full invasion fleets, and persuade a number of other spacecraft they shouldn't use the confusion of the two to try and land illegally. But on most days I was just warning of, and then firing at, one or two hostile inbound craft, and atomizing two to three dozen asteroids on their way in.

"I tell you these things not to sway you to like me, or admire me. I'm not trying to curry your favor or give you the impression your should be grateful, and therefore cut me slack. I tell you these things so that you understand the immense pressure that we were all under, up there.

"And I tell you these things so you understand why we missed this latest threat to our planet for as long as we have."

* * *

We need to know why you tried to have SPYGOD assassinated in his bed. 

President: Lady, have you been paying attention?

Pretend I haven't. Enlighten me. Enlighten us.

President: Well, let's see. Not even counting everything that happened before I got kidnapped, as his getting me out of that hell and keeping me fairly safe for some time thereafter gets him a pass-

That's very gracious of you. 

President: Thank you. I'm glad you think so. The man is horribly incompetent, after all. He's great at doing his own thing and going his own way, in quiet. But you put him in charge of anything and he gets reckless and makes mistakes. And when he does, people die. People like my daughter...

You're talking about your youngest girl. 

President: Yes.

The one who was possessed by an ultra-terrestrial entity? Something evil, for want of a better word?

President: Yes.

And you're blaming him for having to kill what she'd become?

President: No. I am blaming him for not !@#$ing telling me that my family had been abducted, right on the eve of the Reclamation War. I am blaming him for not giving me a chance to go and rescue them. And I am blaming him for not telling me that one of his costumed employees had put that thing in my daughter in the first damn place!

But you knew he'd had them rescued, right?

President: No I did not. I didn't find out they'd been taken until that Thanksgiving, after my daughter had been shot. His people wiped their minds of the whole damn thing. They didn't remember any of it.

So he made a snap decision in time of global war, against an enemy hell-bent on keeping us dominated, and then willing to wipe us out for starting to win, that affected one family, namely yours-

President: Yes. My family, miss-

AGENT, please. One family against billions. The whole of the human race. And because of that, and because it turned out badly-

President: Badly? My daughter got turned into a !@#$ing meat puppet for Satan! Or something else, whatever the hell it was. And I had to stand there and scream while he shot it full of holes on the White House lawn. 

I'm not saying it wasn't horrible. I'm not saying it wasn't traumatic or terrible-

President: No. You're just making excuses for him. Same as always, same as everyone. He's SPYGOD. He's got a lot on his plate. He's too busy saving the world and looking at the big picture to consider your little problems.

And if you get shot at or knocked out or pissed on from the top of a tall building with enough force to put your ass in the hospital, well... too bad for you. Because you don't matter. You're just little people, and little people get what they deserve.

And I am sick of that attitude. I ran for President to look out for the little people. To help them, to save them-

Save me the campaign speech, sir.  I didn't vote for you either time. 

President: And yet I would have helped you, too, if you'd been stomped on by a giant, drunken boot named SPYGOD. How about that?


* * *

"Alright," the AGENT goes on: "So you put Gosheven on a transport. And then you put Randolph Scott into a jail cell at the station the Phnom Penh police were kind enough to lend us for this operation."

"Yes," the hero says, still shaking in a weird frequency, so that his image comes in and out of focus like a television in need of a good thumping.

"And you didn't use your time with him to learn anything useful?"

"I. Did."

"So when he told you what was going on, you listened?"


"Why not?"

"He. Had. A. Track. Er." the hero says, very slowly, tasting each word as it comes out of his mouth: "I. Could. Use. It. To. Find. Red. Queen."

"So what were you going to do with Randolph, then?"

"Pre. Tend. To. Not. Need. Him. Let. Him. Go. Fol. Low. Him. Straight. To. Red. Queen."


"A. Track. Er. In. His. Track. Er."

"But then someone gassed you at the station while the AGENTS were out."

"Yes," the hero shrugs.

"Killing all the police officers there, and leaving you messed up on Strength 50 knockout gas."

"That. Is. What. Hap. Pened."

"Kind of strangely convenient," the AGENT says, raising an eyebrow: "Why were the AGENTS all out of the building?"

"Sent. Them. A. Way."


"Thought. He. Was. In. The. Ci. Ty. Sent. Them. To. Look."

"Phnom Pehn is a really large city, sir," the AGENT remarks: "That's why they sent you in."

"My. Turn. To. Move. Slow," the hero says, his eyes getting dark and no longer vibrating with the rest of him...

* * *

"So, let's talk about the Xordonodrox. That's these people, here, on the screen. The ones that look like two-headed zebras, reared up on their hind legs.

"I know, they look pretty goofy. That is one of the reasons why we haven't taken them seriously in the past. That and their perception filters, which make it so that it seems perfectly normal to have a two-headed zebra messing around in your secure facility. And the filters are so strong that sometimes it's years before anyone realizes there was an issue in the first place.

"They turn up in the literature every so often. Archaeological records, mostly Sumerian, some Chaldean. They'd come down, take a look around, and take a few people away in what was described as a sun, with this marking on it.

"That sun? It's a bright orange warp bubble extending outwards from a travel platform. The symbol you're seeing is marked all over the platform, itself. We've never been sure if it might be the equivalent of a national flag, an indicator of that type of craft, the name of the pilot, or whatever.

"But the warp bubble is significant. Such devices allow them to travel cross the galaxy in just months, rather than the thousands or millions of years such a trip would take in sublight. This is why a lot of races we've talked to know who they are, including the Martians. They've also been visited by them, in the past, with similar results. None of them any good.

"The Uranians call them a phrase that, while it's highly-influenced by their own native flora and one heck of a weird pun, basically translates to 'genetic leech.' They visit worlds to see what stage life is like, and take samples back home with them. If they discover something they can use to make their own race just that much more powerful, they'll be back to take more.

"I think some of you can already see where this is going, but bear with me. This gets a little more convoluted before it becomes really damn clear."

* * *

So you told the Wandering Shadow where to find him, in exchange for the whereabouts of the one man who might be able to find where your daughter was. 

President: Yes.

And you did this knowing that the Wandering Shadow also had a grudge against him, and was planning to kill him.

President: Yes.

How did you even get in touch with that man? We have no idea how to track him.

President: While we were working various spookshows to get armies for the Reclamation War, he assigned me to talking to some of them. He's competent enough to know that his incompetence has burned a lot of bridges around the world, so he sent me to talk to them, instead. The Wandering Shadow was one of them. After all was said and done, he gave me a way to contact him directly, in case of an emergency. At some point, maybe after his bastard double sent me my daughter's eye, I decided to risk talking to him.

And did he ask for this information, or did you offer it?

President: We negotiated. Let's put it that way. If I could have put my soul in a jar and handed it over to him, I would have. Giving him the security information for the place SPYGOD was in a coma at seemed a fair trade, under the circumstances.

And when that failed, you got in touch with Red Queen and offered her a chance to kill the man who killed Disparaitre, provided she got your daughter away from him?

President: That's the shortened version. The longer version is that one of my contacts informed me that a certain component of the alien weapon she uses had surfaced. Apparently it originally came with a tracker that could locate a desired target on a global basis.

This contact would be whom?

President: I don't know his real name. He goes by Nemesis. He's gotten me some of my better anti-surveillance tech.

And he just knew you needed this tracker.

President: He knew I needed a tracker. He also knew I had the ability to find Red Queen. He put two and two together and we made a deal.

And Red Queen was compromised.

President: I know. He bragged about it the last time he sent me a piece of my daughter.

That must have been horrible. 

President: You have no idea. I hadn't heard anything in a while, either way. And I thought maybe she'd won, and she was just taking her time getting back to me. I actually imagined her and my daughter out somewhere, seeing the world. Maybe visiting a beach, or Paris. She really did like Paris, at least at first...

Never saw the attraction, myself. 

President: Have you ever been there? 


President: That's why.

* * * 

"Now just to be clear? When you recovered from the attack on the police station, the AGENTS and you followed the signal from Randoph Scott's tracker?"


"And it led you over the border from Cambodia into Thailand, and then into Bangkok?"


"And you liaisoned with the police there, once you realized that was most likely where he was headed, in the hopes that they'd assist you?"


"And their idea of assisting you was to put his likeness everywhere, in the hopes of catching him?"

The hero shrugs: "They. Mis. Un. Der. Stood. Our. Needs."

"And all the while that you were supposedly tracking him, you weren't?"

"Our. Sig. Nal. Was. Com. Pro. Mised."

"So if he hadn't gotten on television, and lured you to that house, you'd probably still be traveling around the south of Bangkok, looking for him?"

The hero shrugs again.

"And once you got there, and went in, you saw the President's daughter-"


"And you knocked her flat on her butt-"

"She. Was. In. Dis. Guise." the hero states, angrily: "And. She. Stabbed. Me."

"And you caused a sonic boom that blew out every window in the place, and several of the walls."


"Which, as they were coated with bombpaper, should have blown up the whole neighborhood, if what their explosives experts are saying is true."

"Yes," the hero glowers.

"Except that someone shot through the junction box that controlled it, stopping it from working."


"A shot no one admits to making, and no one in the house could have made, as it was in the panic room, and not in sight of any windows or open spaces."

The hero shrugs again: "A. Damned. Weird. Thing."

"I'll say so-"

"And. That. Is. All. I. Know." Swiftfoot says, slowly rising from his chair in the corner: "May. I. go?"

"Yes, I think we're done here," the AGENT starts to say, but gets buffeted by a gust of wind as the man before him becomes a white blur, and whips from the corner of the room to the door, and then out of it.

"'One... seriously... botched... operation...'" the AGENT writes at the bottom of his evaluation sheet, hoping to God he never has to see this fast-moving Flash knockoff ever again.

* * *

"Normally, these beings show up in a warp bubble, take people, and leave. Normally, we see them but don't realize what they are. Normally, they're here and then they're gone. 

"But now we have a change in things. Now we have Martians colluding with them. Now we have them using one of their other spacecraft that we haven't seen before, but match the lines of their warp bubble sleds, and have the same markings on them. 

"This spacecraft? Well, we didn't get much time to examine it before it blew up. But we did identify the markings. And it's clearly not a warp-capable spacecraft, or else it would have taken out half of France when it blew up, rather than just 100 feet or so of the landscape. 

"And that explosive? It left the same residue as what we found in the lockup in Geneva. Which means the captive Martians were rigged to explode, and since we didn't find it on them, we have to assume it was in them. 

"And, again, let's remember we're dealing with genetic leeches, here. Maybe they found a species that manufactures biological explosives. Maybe they built it into their ships. Maybe they laced it into the Martians. 

"I know, that's a lot of maybes. But let's have a few more on the table, if you don't mind.

"Maybe some of the Martians are not happy about their planet having been turned into a wasteland by the pieces of the Decreator. We know that's true, but maybe some of them are really unhappy, to the point where they'd be willing to link up with the Xordonodrox and have their genes changed. Maybe to the point where they could actually survive in that poisoned atmosphere?

"You see where this is going, now?

"Alright then. Supposing this is true, then we have a Xordonodroxian presence in our solar system, somewhere between Earth and Mars. They've camped out there, and are working with rogue Martians to gather extraordinary genetic material for them. The organ leggers get the parts, the Martians do their running, the Xordonodrox get the stuff and then have some arrangement with the Martians. 

"Who gets what? Who can say right now. I'm willing to bet the Martians want to be stronger and fitter, and the Xordonodrox want everything else. Like superpowers. 

"Like the ability to teleport between here and Mars, maybe...?

"So that's where we are right now, ladies and gentlemen. If you're of a like mind, I suggest we pool resources to stamp out this organ-legging, find where this base of operations is, and let the Xordonodrox know that Earth is not their buffet table any more.

"Any questions...?"

* * *

So now the most evil man in the world has one of the most powerful weapons in the world, and a device that allows someone to track a target from all over the world?

President: Yes.

Which means that, whoever this man kills from here on out with that gun? You're sharing the blame for putting it into his hands in the first place. 

President: ...

Nothing to say? Well try this on for size. You sought to kill SPYGOD for being indirectly responsible for what happened to your daughter.  And now here you are, indirectly responsible for the worst !@#$ing outcome ever. All because you couldn't deal.

President: Are you a parent, AGENT?

My private life is none of your business-

President: Are. You. A parent?

No. I can't stand kids. My partner wanted them. That's why he's my ex-

President: Then you will never, ever understand why I've done this. And why I'd do it all over again if I could.


President: Now, I've cooperated all I'm going to. If you want me to answer more questions, willingly, you let me see my daughter.

I'll see what we can do for you-

President: AGENT. I see my daughter, or no more talking. I can resist psychic scans, and mind-readers are going to walk away with an ice cream headache. So you'll have to pry it out of me with a !@#$ing N-machine, and I'd love to see you explain that to anyone.


President: Finally, someone uses the s-word. Now, I want to see my daughter. Now. I know you can make it happen. Do it.


Wednesday: 9/30/15

"My God, what a nightmare," Interim President Quayle says, shaking his head as he sees what's going on in Syria.

"We're all in agreement there, sir," the portly Secretary of Defense says, leaning back into his seat in the Oval Office: "This civil war's a nasty business. It's also protracted business. We could be fighting a long time if we're not careful."

"And these radicals, IS," the President says: "You say they're splintered from what exactly?"

"A radical Islamic group that came out of the conflict in Afghanistan, sir," New Man says, patting a report he brought over from the Heptagon: "They were called Al-Qaeda. Mostly harmless in the larger scheme of things. They tried to ram planes into the World Trade Center in 2001, but the city's defenses stopped them."

"Damned embarrassing for them," Secretary of State Wheeler says, grousing.

"Very. My predecessor took care of their leadership personally."

"You mean SPYGOD?" Quayle asks.

"Yes indeed, sir. I think he had someone's head on his wall to mark the occasion."

No one really wants to say anything about that, so New Man continues: "Anyway, they linked up with what was left of Al-Qaeda in 2004, while we were in Iraq. They ran joint operations throughout the Middle East for years, put themselves in the center of the so-called Arab Spring. All kinds of fun times. And along the way they've changed their name about a half dozen times. ISIS. ISIL. IS. etc."

"So what's changed?" the President asks: "Why Syria? Why Russia?"

"Well, as you know, the last man to run Russia was a real damn piece of work," New Man says: "Putin was nothing if not a schemer. He had a hand in every pie, and was trying to consolidate power. So he was friends with everyone he could wrap an arm around."

"I remember," Secretary Wheeler says: "W. thought he was wonderful. Said he could see into his soul and trust him. I had to not gag."

"Likewise," New Man says: "Well, before the Imago came around, Syria's Assad and Russia's Putin were pals. Then Assad gets toppled by the Imago's people on G-day, and new people come in. Putin goes underground to escape the purge, supposedly, but really throws in with the Imago out of a sense of self-preservation. But while he's doing that, he's also pulling strings in a few other places in order to secure a place for himself, just in case this all goes down the toilet."

"A sensible precaution" the Secretary of Defense says: "I admire a man with a few escape routes."

"And is this IS is one of his creations?" Quayle asks.

"Yes," New Man says, opening one of the pages and handing it over: "We're not exactly sure what the hell Putin did, here, but these folks are no longer what they were. Apparently they've gone so far off the reservation that all their other radical allies have turned their backs on them at best, and put out fatwas on them at worst."

"And this all leads back to Russia," Wheeler says: "Which is why they're now in there cleaning up their mess?"

"Could be," the older hero says: "Or maybe they intended the mess to happen so they could go in there and clean up, thus establishing a real presence, there. Same with their activities in the Ukraine."

"Cause a problem, come clean it up, stay a while," the Defense Secretary says: "Lovely."

"So what should we do?" the Interim President asks, clearly not certain where this is going.

"Ideally?" the Secretary of State says, shooting New Man a withering look: "Well, that's the bone of contention we're having among ourselves, right now, Mr. President. You see, if it were up to me, I'd threaten to expose Russia's hand in this mess, but hold off in exchange for their leaving."

"Which makes sense," Quayle admits, nodding: "So what's the problem?"

"Well, it's about the Metal Plague, sir," New Man says, pulling out a pad, and using it to project a map of Russia onto a wall: "Using information from Russia and China, we were able to track the path of those zeppelins from the other week. The ones heading for North Korea in an attempt to start an Asian shooting war? Well, they came from here."

The map zeroes in on an area within the Buryat Republic, just east of Lake Baikal.

"So this is their doing?" the President asks, confused.

"No sir," the Secretary of Defense says: "It's highly unlikely they've had anything to do with the creation of the Metal Plague. Those Warbots aren't Russian design, and they're way too sophisticated for them."

"We hope," Secretary Wheeler intones.

"What's going on is that we think they came from there," New Man says: "And in order to go there to check them out, we'd need Russian cooperation."

"And that means we can't interfere in Russia's activities in Syria," the Secretary of State grouses: "Not yet, anyway."

The Interim President looks at the older hero, and then at his Secretary of State, and then back to the hero.

"Look, gentlemen, this hasn't been the greatest week," he sighs: "We're still figuring out what to do with the former President, what with FAUST wanting to question him and the NEU wanting to put him on trial. And now you're telling me we've got this mess to deal with, too. Does anyone have a good idea, here?"

"If it helps any, sir," the Secretary of Defense pipes up: "I estimate it'll be a week before it's make it or break it in Syria. In that time, having the Russians help mop up their error will take the pressure off of us. And then we can make our ultimatum, and let them make an excuse and run for it."

The Secretary of State looks at the portly fellow, at first in surprise and then in agreement. New Man nods, grateful for the support.

After that, it all goes a lot more smoothly than it has any right to.

* * *

"Well, that was surreal, even by this place's standards," Myron says, sipping his coffee at the cafe as he reflects on his morning over a fresh copy of The Tally-Ho.

It was normal, at least up to a point.

He got up along with everyone else -- blasted awake at 8AM by jaunty band music from the radio in his room. He all but jumped off the couch in front of the useless TV, shook the sleep out, and listened as the announcer told him what sort of weather they could expect from the day.

He showered, shaved, and made eggs and bacon for breakfast. Then he dressed in the dark pinstripe suit that almost everyone wears here, and, purposefully leaving his bowler hat and monocle in his room, left to see what the day might bring. First stop would be the cafe, where a cup of coffee would help him decide.

Myron didn't get too far in that quest. He was about six steps from the front of the bungalow they'd squashed his cabin's innards into -- helpfully numbered 101 -- when someone walked by him, and, ever so carefully, slipped a folded piece of paper into his left hand.

"Lovely day," the tall man said, walking away without looking at him. Myron nodded and, making the appropriate gesture with his right, announced "Be seeing you!"

Then he walked for about a half a mile, as normal, heading for the cafe to while away the morning. It wasn't until he was lost around some arched and Italianate corners that he deigned to duck back into an alcove and unfold the paper the man had handed him.

"They know what you're planning," it announced in a florid pen: "Be careful. A friend."

"Now nice of them," Myron said, looking around him as he did: "Considering I don't even know what I'm planning, yet." 

He considered crumpling up the note and throwing it away, or maybe swallowing it. But then he realized he might be on camera, after all, and he wouldn't want to appear suspicious.

So he thought he might keep it on him, but what if that was a sign of guilt? What if they searched him and found it?

So he did the best thing he could think to do: he purposely walked up to someone else, who was clearly out for a walk, and, ever so carefully, slipped the re-folded piece of paper into his hand.

"Lovely day!" he said without looking at him, and was bemused when that person said "Be seeing you!"

That could have been the end of it, and should have. But then he wondered...

So he ducked back and followed the man he'd handed it to. He watched as he approached a lady, sitting down outside her house, handed her the note with a similar greeting, and then walked away as she saluted him in turn. 

Then he watched her read it, and clearly be puzzled by it. On her face he read the same concerns and worries that he'd had.

Then she got up, adjusted her suit, and approached someone entirely new. She handed the note on to him, in turn, with a "lovely day." And by the time he said "Be seeing you," she was already well away from him.

He, in turn, gave the note to someone else. That someone gave it to someone else in turn. And so on, and so on, and so on, so that, in the course of an hour, Myron watched the piece of paper trade hands about twenty-two times.

Some puzzled and wondered. Some read it, folded it, and handed it over to someone else right away. One person clearly agonized over it for at least five minutes -- almost going into a fit, back in the bushes -- and was so wigged out that Myron almost took pity on him and moved to take it back. But, eventually, he came to, took a deep breath, and presented it to someone else, just as it had been presented unto him.

Eventually, just as Myron was getting tired -- and really needed the cup of coffee he'd set out to get -- the person carrying the piece of paper wandered into the center of the town, near the reflecting pool with its trick fountain, and gave it to someone who handed it off to someone else in a crowd without missing a beat. And when the crowd broke up, Myron completely lost track of where the note had gone.

Satisfied, but still puzzled, he went to the cafe, and had a copy of the paper ripped off for him. Then he sat down in his usual spot, ordered his coffee, and used that as an excuse to pretend to be interested in the paper.

All the while, he wondered about that note. Had it actually been intended for him, or the person who handed it to him? If so, how far down the chain had he been? How many other people were now worried, confused, or scared that they were under more surveillance than usual?

And then he thought about it, and realized that about half the people he'd given the note to had been scared or worried, whereas the other half had taken one look at it and then handed it over to someone else. It was as if the former had something to hide, whereas the latter were either convinced of their own innocence, or convinced no one would care about their indiscretions.

Which meant the former were possibly the prisoners, and the latter the wardens.

He smiles a little, remembering the episode where Number 6 runs for office, and declares he's going to find out who's who. He never really does, at least in that episode, but Myron doesn't have time to quiz every person and see how they react to a question.

A note, on the other hand, has shown him at least 22 people. What might another show?

And did the person who slipped him the note think the same thing? Or was he just another innocent -- or not so innocent -- bystander in all this?

"Free for All," Myron says, remembering the name of the election episode.

And he sips at his coffee, smiling as he thinks of what the village idiot should do next.

* * *

"So, any news from the White House, yet?" Shining Guardsman asks Mr. USA as they walk down the main hall of the Flier, heading for the room where the Freedom Force usually resides when not on call. It's a lot busier than normal today, what with having the former President on board and all.

"Not yet," the older hero says, running a hand along his strangely-smooth face as a team of AGENTS runs off to put out yet another fire, somewhere: "But I'm sure he'll get permission. It's just a matter of talking the President into it."

"You think he'll get it?"

"Why wouldn't he?"

"I dunno, man," the younger hero says, shrugging his armor's shoulders: "I don't like how this is going. It just seems really convenient that Russia tells us those Warbot blimps came from their country right as they're blowing the !@#$ out of Syria. It feels like they're setting us up for something."

"What a wonderfully suspicious mind you have," Mr. USA smiles, patting the kid on the back: "Hopefully you're not right, though. I'm hoping this new Russian President's got his head on straight."

"Notthatyouwouldknowfromstraightheads(REDACTED)," a very swift voice says, its tone dripping with venom.

"Ah, Steven," Mr. USA says, turning to regard the white-clad speedster as he shimmers right behind them -- his vibrating form causing a small breeze, along with static electricity: "Good to see you again."

"WishIcouldsaythesame," Swiftfoot sneers, his long, raggedy, and white hair twisting around him as he jinks to one side of the hero and then the other: "Betyouwishyoucouldsaywhatyoureallywant."

"I can, if I want to," the larger hero says to the other, staring him down: "But this isn't the time or the place."

"Hey, testosterone much?" Shining Guardsman says to the two of them: "We're all on the same team, aren't we?"

"That's debatable," Mr. USA says, smiling as he takes a step back: "Shining Guardsman, meet Swiftfoot. He's one of my old colleagues from the Liberty Patrol, as well as the original Freedom Force."

"AndtheWaraswell," Swiftfoot says, getting into Shining Guardsman's space and extending a blurry hand to shake: "Hereallyhatestalkingaboutthatthough."

"Yeah," Shining Guardsman says, hoping his bolts and screws don't go flying away as he takes the old man's hand for a quick shake: "I hear things got kind of hairy after D-Day."

"You could say that," Mr. USA says, no longer smiling: "Anyway, if you'll excuse us, Steven? We have to meet with our colleagues. We're waiting for news about Russia."

"SoamI," the speedster says: "CanIjoinyou? Justlikeoldtimes. Justustwoleft."

"Just us and New Man, you mean," Mr. USA says, staring down at the speeder in contempt: "And no, not really. You're not on the team."


"Not. Ever." the larger hero insists: "Especially after that damn stunt you pulled in Bangkok-"

"At ease, soldier," a commanding voice booms, its owner stomping down the hall from the other direction. It's New Man, and he looks rather serious.

"Yes, sir," Mr. USA says, stepping away from the source of his irritation: "Did we get a green light?"

"We did, yes," the Director says, looking over at Steven with some measure of disappointment: "Swiftfoot, can you give us a minute? I need to talk with the team."

The speeder scowls, but nods and then leaves, rather quickly.

"Sorry about all that," Mr. USA says, both to New Man and Shining Guardsman: "Old complaints. I didn't think I'd ever see him again. Not in uniform, anyway."

"Yeah, well, we need all hands on deck, (REDACTED)" the older hero says: "Anyway, we got the green light to go into Russia. That's the good news."

"What's the bad?" Shining Guardsman asks.

"We can't go in alone," New Man says: "Which means we get babysitters."

"Oh boy," Mr. USA says: "Which Russian?"

"Not just the Russians."

"Oh?" Shining Guardsman says.

"Oh," New Man emphasizes, showing him who on his pad. 

"Oh." Mr. USA says, and then sighs: "Oh..."

Thursday: 10/1/15

"Oh, that shouldn't be a problem, Martha," Antonia Crisp says, patting her unquiet belly and doing her best to not pay any attention to the news out of Oregon.

"Thank you," Martha sighs, almost in tears on the other side of the viewscreen: "It's not that I don't trust him, or don't think he'd be safe. But he's really not himself, these days."

"I understand," she says, imagining Thomas out on his own: "I'll feed all the data to Rakim when he gets a moment and see what the brain computer has to say, okay?"

"Thank you," she says, and then closes communications down.

"Damn," Antonia says, moving her chair over to where her fellow monitor duty habitue sits, slumped over a fancy, old-timey computer he's constantly pushing data cards into.

"What was all that about?" Rakim -- formerly known as Brainmain -- asks, clearly in the programming zone.

"That was Martha Samuels, otherwise known as The Owl."

"I remember her. I think her father cracked out one of my teeth, once."

"Did you make it up to Chicago?"

"No. He actually came to see me, if you can believe that," the older man says, stroking his long beard: "I had a deal going on with someone in the Windy City, and he didn't like it. One thing led to another."

"Wow," she says, still amazed to be working alongside a former villain: "Anyway, her son, Thomas? He ran away a couple days ago, and she's really worried."

"This is Thomas, who was The Talon, and was then the Nthernaut?" he says, turning around to look at her.

"Yes," she says, blinking: "What, do you think he'll come back here? Try to get back into the machine?"

"It's just possible," he says, snapping his fingers by his ear to make himself think faster: "You give me all the relevant data. I'll convert them into cards. And then we need to talk to Machinehead, and see if he'll confirm if he's been seen in the city, or else tried to contact him."

She nods, sets up a nearby pad, and starts typing what Martha told her: "You know, sometimes I wonder what I'm getting into, being a parent."

"Well, to hear my mother tell it, the job was a fountain of never-ending joy and terror," the older man says, chuckling: "I never found out, myself. I don't think I will at this point, either."

"You never know," Antonia says, smiling.

"They say that a child loses a parent only once, but that a parent loses their child three times," Rakim says, getting the computer ready for new data: "Once when they learn the word 'no.' Again when they can actually discuss a difference of opinion like a grown adult, for good or for ill."

"Sounds like I was two-thirds gone by 12," she laughs: "What's the third time, then?"

"When they know they need to move out," he says, smiling at her: "Not just want to, but know it's a need. At that point, well, they're still your kids, but they're their own people. And childhood is over."

She nods at that, and as she goes back to writing the information down, she hopes her baby won't be ready to go for a long, long time.

* * *

"Now, sir, I need you to understand something," the COMPANY psychologist is telling the former President, just before they enter the room in a nicer and cleaner part of the Heptagon's basement: "Your daughter is in a bad way."

"I can understand that," he says, glad to have the handcuffs off before he goes to see her, but not crazy about the armed and armored guards around his person: "She's been living with a crazy !@#$hole who killed her mother, pretended to be her, and then spent two years cutting her apart and putting her back together."

"Well, that's only part of the problem," the musclebound fellow says, running a hand over his shaved pate and looking at his former Commander In Chief with something approaching pity: "He didn't just cut into her body, sir. He did a number on her mind as well."

"And what exactly does that mean?"

"It means there's a reason why you're going to be seeing her behind a wall of unbreakable glass," the man explains: "The first person that actually tried to reach out to her when she got here? She hooked his eyes out with her thumbs and ate them. And she managed to subdue two very large guards before we put her down for the night."

The President swallows. Hard. 

"What has he done to her," the President demands: "Exactly."

"We don't know," the psychologist admits, getting ready to open the door to the viewing room: "While he was in custody, Randolph Scott said something about her captor having a device that could turn people into monsters. And we're getting reports of something really nasty having gone down in Cambodia while he was in Phnom Penh."

"How nasty?"

"Oh, a bunch of gangsters decided to kill each other with their bare hands in a conference room in one of the nicer hotels," the man smirks: "They attended some conference on disciplining their hookers. Their guest of honor did something as a practical demonstration. And, well, a little under half of them survived the experience.

"And they all had to have their stomachs pumped."

With that, he opens the door, and gestures inside: "Once you're all the way in, we'll wait for you to signal before turning on the lights on the your side so she can see you. If you decide you want to not talk to her, I'll understand."

The President just looks at him as though he offered to let him lick one of his turds, but leaves it at that, and goes into the room.

It's something like an airlock in here. There's another door, and a light up above. As soon as the door behind him is closed, the light slowly dims down to nothing, over the course of a full minute. Once the room's pitch black, and he can see in that darkness, the well-oiled door ahead quietly opens.

He's in a viewing room, now. On his side is a chair and a table. On the other, past a glass wall, is a small room with a bed and a toilet.

On the bed is his oldest daughter, lying naked under the lights -- her robe tossed aside like a bad lie. He can't recognize her, anymore.

It isn't the cuts that zig-zag up and down her arms and legs, her stomach and back. It isn't the way she's done her hair, or the fact that she's got no makeup, or any care in her appearance.

It's the way her eyes look. The way she stares at the ceiling, as though something large and terrible were hiding just behind the concrete.

Something she wanted to come inside of her, more badly than anything.

"Honey," he whispers, walking to the glass and putting a hand on it: "It's me. I'm... I'm here."

"I know, old man," she snorts, not deigning to look in his direction: "I fucking heard you. You make about as much noise as a buffalo stumbling through the jungle."

"They told me you'd changed," he says, putting the other hand up, wishing he didn't have to see her like this: "They said you'd been damaged."

"Is that what they said?" she asks, smiling as she sits straight up, turns to face him, throws her legs over the edge, and spreads her legs wide: "That I'm broken? Irreparable? 'Insane in da membrane?'"

"Yeah," he says as the lights on his side come all the way up, trying not to look at the magnificent ruin between her legs: "That's about it."

"Well, let me fucking tell you something, you dumb asshole," she snarls, getting down and sliding over to the window, just so she can look him in the eyes: "I'm free, now. Free. I am no longer shackled by the laws and rules of this weak and sorry world. I am a child of his world, now. A better, stronger place.

"And as soon as I get out of here? I'm going to go and join him. And we are going to remake this world so that it's just like what he left behind."

She grins at that. Something about how she smiles makes his heart sink lower than anything.

"How's he going to do that?" the President asks, hoping to get some useful information out of this: "How did he do it to you?"

"Oh, he fucked it out of me," she says, turning and spreading for him: "Right in the pussy, dad. Right up my ass. He fucked me and cut me and fucked me some more until my little silly head just went pop!"

He can't take it anymore. He staggers back into the room, wishing he could dim the lights himself so she can't see him go pale. So she can't see he's about to vomit.

So she can't see he's finally, after all these years, had his heart broken right in two.

"Yeah, you run," she snorts, looking back over her shoulder as she forces herself to !@#$ down the window in a long, brown stream: "You run, nigger. You run back to the cell they're making for you. If you're fucking lucky I'll just leave you there to rot.

"And if you're not, maybe I'll tell him where you are," she says, smiling: "And the last thing you'll ever see is him fucking me with your dick..."

He screams, then. And he doesn't stop screaming until they kick down the door and drag him out of there, off to a nice, clean room all his own.

* * *

Mr. USA was not having a good day.

When he got up, he spent a full hour coughing -- in and out of the shower, on the toilet, then into the toilet. And it was all red: mucus, mostly, but also small pieces of what could only be his lungs.

Once it ended, he took an ampule of the special medicine he'd been given. He keeps it in his cabin refrigerator, in the back. He doesn't like how it glows when he pops it into the injector, and the fact that the needle slides into his skin just that much easier makes him very nervous.

But ten minutes later, he really didn't need to cough, anymore. He could actually breathe, again.

He just felt weaker -- a hell of a lot weaker.

He tried to eat breakfast, but his stomach was too unsettled by all the coughing and throwing up. He settled for coffee that was one part java to three parts milk and one of the token pieces of soft fruit by the long line of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and vegi-sausage everyone else was tucking into.

He heard about Thomas, and how Antonia and Rakim were trying to help. He thought about calling Martha up, but decided against it. Things were still a little strained between them, since Paris, and he didn't want things to blow up again.

Later, he heard that the President had actually been let in to see his daughter, and when he heard of how the man was now he was incredibly and terribly sad. He thought he should go down to see him, and actually tried, but was rudely rebuffed by the psychiatric staff, who insisted the man be left alone.

The best he could do was observe for a time on one of their viewscreens. The look on the man's face as he laid on his bed -- strapped down, both for his safety and Flier prisoner security -- was horrifying.

(He thought of the times they worked together, in their very brief time as President and Vice President, and then as President and World President. He felt terrible having to trick him, towards the end, but then they'd had no idea how badly he'd been !@#$ed over, and by whom. )

"Damn it," he later said to Blastman as they were in the Freedom Force's training room: "All the people I want to apologize to? It's just too awkward to do right now."

"Well, you got time, right?' the hero asked, adjusting his pyramidal helmet as Hanami flew on in: "Just hold tight, man. It's not worth giving yourself an ulcer."

And he was right -- he just didn't know how right.

But then the meeting blew the day all to hell. 

"So, this is how it is," Hanami said, floating above the members of Freedom Force: "We will be accompanied by a few other people as we enter into Russian space. One of them is Russian Steel, who we'll be meeting enroute, once we get to the border."

"Do we know this guy?" Blastman asked, crinkling his nose at the idea of working with the Russians at this point.

"He's the latest in a long line of steel-skinned Russian strongmen," Rakim explained over their communicators: "You knew his predecessors as Soviet Steel. Same idea, different era."

"Joy," Blastman groused. People chuckled, or didn't and then Hanami glared and everyone clammed up.

"The other person we'll be working with is a member of the People's Red Guard. The only surviving member, in fact. She was recuperating from a mission when the rest of the team was killed at Xin Lin. So you can imagine she has a score to settle with these Warbots."

"Is it Red Storm?" Mr. USA asked, still hoping what New Man told him the other day was just a bad dream.

"Yes it is," Hanami said smiling a little: "I didn't know you were so interested in our foreign counterparts?"

"Well, sort of," he replied, coughing into his fist: "I have a bit of a...  history with her. This could be bad."

Thankfully, no one asked any more about that.

"And we've got one more," she said, smiling and waving to the far door as it opened: "As you know, our Director recently reactivated one of our older heroes..."

"Oh no..." Mr. USA muttered, feeling the air molecules shake as Swiftfoot slid into the room, circled around everyone three times, and then appeared right below Hanami. 

"So, Swiftfoot will be accompanying us on this mission."

"Hi. Ev. Ery. One." the old coot said, waving too fast to see: "It. Is. So. Nice. To. Be. Work. Ing. With. You."

If there'd been any justice in the world, everyone would have taken a step back and gasped in horror, or disgust. They would have remembered what just happened in Cambodia and Thailand. They would have thought about why had hadn't been in uniform since the 90's, and maybe what happened back then.

If there was any justice. But there wasn't. And, instead of a gasp of shock, there was one of admiration, and all the younger heroes stepped forward to shake the old man's hand and say how great it was to be working with him -- especially Red Wrecker, who was in awe.

Even Shining Guardsman, who'd heard something about their issues. And Blastman, who should have known better, as he was there when things had gone bad in the 90's. And Yanabah, whose dad (grandfather?) could have told her. 

(Except for Chinmoku and Mister Freedom, of course, but they tend to keep their own counsel these days...)

He looked up at Hanami. She looked down at him. The look on her face was clear. 

So he put on his best fake smile, took a step forward, and reached out a hand: "Good to have you on the team, Steven."

"Good. To. Be. Here." the speedster said, but purposefully moved out of range of Mr. USA's hand so as to avoid shaking it. 

The rest of the meeting was a blur of plans and ideas. All the while, Mr. USA was all too aware that Swiftfoot was staring at him in that awful way he did -- his eyes vibrating just a little slower or faster than the rest of him, so you knew he had his eye on you. 

"So what is it with you two, anyway?" Shining Guardsman finally asked as the meeting was breaking up, later into the evening. Hanami wasn't in the room, as she had something she had to talk to Yanabah about, and everyone else was heading down to the mess to talk with the celebrity in their midst. 

"Old stories," Mr. USA told the younger hero, doing his best to not be heard by any of the departing heroes: "It's all tied up with what happened during the War, over in Europe, and that stupid grudge I had against SPYGOD for years afterwards. And there's other things I really shouldn't be angry about, anymore, but still am."

"It is because he's gay?" Shining Guardsman asked, blunt as a kick to the crotch. And something about how he asked it made it clear that there was an accusation behind that question mark.

Mr. USA looked at the younger hero with a shocked expression, and tried to say that no, that's not it. But his throat squeezed shut, just then, and he coughed once, then twice, and then quite a bit. 

(The medicine must have been wearing off early, dammit.)

And by the time he got his composure back, the kid must have figured he'd gotten his answer, and was halfway out of the room. 

And now they're all down in the mess, talking and laughing and swapping old stories with that clumsy, messed-up speedster. He can hear them all the way up the hall, and he fears every pointed laugh is aimed in his direction. 

What can he say? The truth is not a simple thing. It has to do with who he was, back then, and who they all were. It has to do with the War, and combat, and what their superiors wanted them to do, and to be. It has to do with strange luck, weird alliances, and the fact that even the best-laid plan has only a 50/50 chance of working out. 

And it has to do with jealousy, pure and simple -- something he's never been proud to admit. 

So he goes back to his room, hoping sleep will clear his head. Maybe he'll feel better tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will actually be better. 

God knows it could always be worse. 

Friday: 10/2/15

"So, give it to me straight," New Man says, looking at one really tired doctor over the viewscreen in his office: "What's happened to Gail?"

"Well," the middle-aged Indian fellow sighs, running his hands through his hair as he looks over the viewscreen at this old man in charge of his patient: "She has been molded, for want of a better word."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Doctor, please. I didn't go to sir school for ten years."

"Sorry, sir. Doctor," New Man sighs, wishing he had more coffee, and that the morning sun wasn't shining right into his eyes: "It's been a long night for us both, I think."

"With respect, sir, I don't think you know the half of it," the man says: "My team and I spent the last few days doing exploratory surgery in shifts, trying to figure out what has been done to her. All I can tell you is that she has been reshaped in such a drastic fashion that she should be dead from shock."

"I saw the pictures, Doctor. We can't really make heads or tails of it. She looks like a slab of flesh shaped like, well..."

"A valentine heart," the Indian man says: "And that is exactly what has been done to her. Her arms and legs are gone. The muscles and tissues that were in them were used to sculpt her upper torso into this shape. Her head has been shoved down into her upper thorax in such a way that you can't see it unless you look at the top. She can breathe through her nose, but her mouth... her eyes... they are gone. And we think she can hear us but we are not sure how."

"Oh God..." New Man says, putting his head in his hands: "Oh my God. My God."

"And that is not the worst thing," the man goes on: "Her lower extremities have been altered. She now has four vaginal openings, surrounding her anus. They lead to four wombs, three of which appear to be very new. I suspect they are cloned from her tissue, and integrated so seamlessly..."

The older hero looks at the man, and then shakes his head: "I don't think I want to hear any more, Doctor. Thank you."

"Sir," the man says, rubbing his eyes, one after the other: "I do not know what to say. I understand there have been cases like this before, usually in Japan, but those were crude by comparison. This woman has been turned into a functional work of art by a demented genius. And I am both amazed and afraid."

"That's one way to look at it," New Man says, knowing he has that genius locked up in his Flier: "Do you think you could... I don't know... reverse the damage? Fix her?"

The doctor just looks at him: "Sir, perhaps you do not understand the look on my face. This is not merely exhaustion and fear. This is anger. This is the look of a man who has spent his life trying to help people seeing someone who is so far gone that, even if I had all the time in the world, and best facilities, I know there is nothing I can do to help her.

"I can keep her alive. I can give her drugs to make her sleep and intravenous fluids to keep her fed and hydrated. But inside that mockery of a body is a brain that must be screaming in horror. I can only hope she's gone catatonic."

"You can't tell?"

"Where would I put the EKG leads?" the Indian fellow says, shrugging his shoulders: "I am truly in the undiscovered country, here."

They look at each other, nod -- almost in unison -- and then New Man lets him go to get some much needed sleep.

He needs to make some phone calls. He needs to talk to people. He needs to think of what he could say, or do.

But first he needs to sit there, in the morning light, and persuade himself to not walk down to the psych ward and fry the evil !@#$ that did this. Because she's a victim, too, when all is said and done. And the real monster is still out there, somewhere, laughing at them.

"I'll find you, you !@#$er," he mutters, his eyes glowing purple under his mask: "And when I do, we're going to have a long, serious talk..."

* * *

 "Well, it's been interesting to hear the Presidential candidates talk about this issue," the lady on FOX News is saying, having coffee on the couch with two men who were clearly hired for their ability to deliver snark and slander.

"Yeah, did you hear what Donald Trump had to say?" the man on her right asks.

"Who didn't?" the man on her left asks, and they all laugh before getting into the specifics.

Jess Friend sits at a McDonalds just north of DC, wondering why in the name of God they feel the need to have the lobby's television set to this channel. Then he looks at the people sitting there with him, in all their raggedy-clothed, slack-jawed glory, and realizes the answer to his question lies before him.

It's a shame, too. The President really didn't want trashy fast food in his place, so it's been quite a while since he'd been able to enjoy a greasy triple cheeseburger and some fries. So he's been trying to make each single one last as long as he can -- almost letting them melt in his mouth. And they taste so good that he can almost ignore FOX and Friends as they blithely discuss their pathetic revenge fantasies for the man they never got a chance to run out of office. 

Still, he's got time to enjoy the food. He's got his hoodie up, and his makeup on. There's no reason anyone should be looking for him, but if they are, he won't be detected.

Just another guy eating food that's not good for you in a place where far too many people are doing the same...

"Excuse me?" someone asks, suddenly getting into his personal space: "Can you help me?"

He looks up to his left and sees a young, badly acne-scarred woman with a baby wrapped up in her arms. She's got a scared look on her face as she talks to him, and a rather large dog collar with small, nubby spikes.

"Do you need some bucks, hon?" he asks, suddenly aware of how long he'll have to live on what he took from the apartment before he X-ed it.

"No," she says, leaning down to whisper, and revealing that it's not a baby she's got in her arms, but a baby-shaped bundle of C4: "But if you don't come with me, right now, we're all dead, and he'll shoot my baby."

"What?" Jess asks, and she shhhhhhhs him. As she does, he sees there's a detonator on the top, with a pin connected to her collar. If she drops the bundle, it goes off.

And there's enough explosives there to take out everyone in the room, all laughing at what Carly Fionna said about what Trump said about the former President.

"Who is it?" Jess asks, getting up: "What does he want with you? What does he want with me?"

"I don't know," she says: "He just grabbed me out of line. Put me in his car and did this. Please mister, he says you know him, but I don't know who he is-"

"I can help both of us, but I have to know what I'm getting into-"

"Just come, please," she begs: "My baby's name is Josie. He'll shoot her if you don't come. Please mister."

He looks around the room. He looks outside, at a black limo with tinted windows -- parked illegally, of course.

He sighs, and nods, and follows her out. No one says anything as they go. No one even notices how strange this has to look.

"FOX News, these are your children," he mutters, and lets himself be led to the car. As soon as she gets to the back she indicates that he should let himself in.

"Alright, I'm here," he says, getting into the long car: "Who are you and what do you..."

He stops talking as soon as his butt hits the seat. Sitting with his back to the driver's seat is the man his former boss was fighting with for all those years. The man who mailed him parts of his daughter every so often, just to let him know that he knew how close they were getting.

The man who blew Jess' hand off his first day of White House detail, and made him think he'd failed to stop an assassination.

"Good to see you again, Jess," the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth says, grinning as he jiggles and rocks a chubby baby in the crook of his left arm, a small pistol of some kind in his right: "How's work?"

"Alright..." Jess starts to say, about to try and reason with this man. But he's afraid if he says too much the guy will use the gun on that baby, who's just lying there without a care in the world, sucking on a Mickey Mouse pacifier.

Then the door slams. As he turns to watch, he sees the girl who led him here quickly get the fake baby bomb away from her neck as she heads to the driver's compartment. Once there, she opens the door, climbs in, and puts a driver's cap on her head.

"Son of a !@#$," Jess mutters. He'd probably say more, but that's when his nemesis points the gun at him and fires.

A pinprick of pain in his chest. An explosion of colors behind his eyes. Grey in the brain, then darkness everywhere as he goes down.

His last thought that of Mickey Mouse, grinning at everything and everyone.

* * *

 "Man, I hate this town," one uptight, well-dressed, middle-aged businessman says to another as they wait for the evening Amtrak out of Detroit, sitting in the covered waiting area behind the building proper.

"You're telling me," the other replies, looking down the track as if that'll make their train come faster, hearing loud shouting and noises from the White Castle next door: "Nothing but crime."

"Crime and crumbling houses, all boarded up."

"Hookers and gangsters."

"Gangstas," one corrects the other: "That's what they call themselves, nowadays."

"Speaking of which, you know what I saw the other day?"


"Two young men got into an argument over something. And as they argued, they both started calling each other !@#$s."

"That's not too unusual," the other sighs: "They all think they can use that word now because all their rappers use it. I blame bad parenting."

"They were both white," the other says.

One looks at the other, and then they both shake their heads.

"I hate Detroit," one repeats: "Truly this city is the genesis of our country's woes."

They sit in silence for a time. As they do, they become aware that someone else is there with them: a young man in a hoodie, kneeling in the scrub in the grassy area between the tracks.

At first they thought he might be one of those temporary art installations, he was so silent and still -- staring at the ground. Then he shivered, and gasped, and they both almost screamed in shock.

"Sorry," he says to both of them, his light voice carrying on the early evening breeze: "Sorry. Just getting my bearings. Hearing. Hearing everything."

"Hmmph," one says to the other: "Another problem."

"No mental health, here," the other clarifies.

"Crazy people all over these streets."

"No one notices them until they do something stupid."

"Stupid and harmful."

"Yes," the other agrees again: "Bad music, bad culture, bad mental health."

And they go on congratulating each other on their perspicacity, but Thomas Samuels is already long gone, having gotten a good idea on how to blend in, here in the city that God has led him to.

A city he has clearly been called to save from itself. 

Saturday: 10/3/15

Myron kneels on the beach, looking out at the morning waves and trying to make sense of what they're telling him.

If he'd actually been paying attention in Boy Scouts, he'd probably know where he was, by now. He'd have considered the time of year, the position of the stars, the sun, and the moon. He'd look at plant life and geography, test the rocks, taste the air.

But no. The best he can do is determine simple directions -- such as the Sun setting over the ocean meaning that way is West -- and try to figure it out from there.

The village store has a map. It tells him nothing of the surrounding area. The carts won't take him out of town, and he's smart enough to know what happens if he tries to go too far on land.

He also has no confidence of leaving by sea. There are no boats, here. And even if he could make one, he has no doubt that damned weather balloon could bring him back as soon as he got too far out.

And as for the beach, well, he's seen the defenses, up and down the way. He's seen them be deactivated to let people through when they get voted out of the Village, the way that one lady from his new arrivals dorm did.

Defenses made to keep people in, yes. But he has the uncomfortable feeling by the way they're called "defenses" that they're also meant to keep something out. 

That just leaves the one escape route open -- the most obvious one, but also the most uncertain and dangerous.

Still, maybe that means they won't be expecting it.

Myron smiles, looking back at the village. He has a plan, now. And in time, he could have people to help him with it. Some of them might actually be completely trustworthy.

And if he plays all his cards right, he can be away from here with the good ones in no time at all.

He thinks of something funny to say. He doesn't say it, knowing he's being watched. Instead he gets to his feet, dances in a circle around where he was kneeling, and then goes back to stomping around the beach.

Daydreaming of freedom with each and every step. 

* * *

"Warrant Officer (REDACTED)?" no less than General Patton is asking: "Are you hearing me, son?"

"Yes, sir," Colonel America says, getting up from his lonely seat in the otherwise-deserted mess tent and standing to salute: "I'm sorry, sir. I was lost in thought."

"Well, I can't blame you, son," the old man says, watching as the dogfaces make merry and cheer, less than twenty feet away from their supreme commander: "It's been a hell of a day."

"I suppose it has, sir," the big man says, still standing at attention.

The news came through just this morning: a forward team led by two Strategic Talents succeeded in bringing down the ultimate prize, last night. Adolph Hitler is dead, killed by Sargent Shatter, with able backup by Specialist Speed and the small cadre they'd assembled around themselves.

(The Big Bayonets, they call themselves. Some people giggle because they think they know what that means. Others do, and keep it to themselves.)

"So, I guess you're disappointed?" the General asks, not looking at the man he's talking to.


"About not being the one to get him," Patton asks, turning around to look at this huge-chested man-boy they turned into a tank-throwing son of a !@#$: "That was the plan, wasn't it?"

"Yes it was, sir," Colonel America replies, hoping that the man can't see how badly he's been thrown by all this: "They figured that we'd walk into Berlin, and I'd smash right into his bunker and drag him out. They even did a mock-up of it before we got into battle, along with all those filmed scenes of me in that uniform for the newsreels back home."

"That's in case you pulled him out a little too hard," the General says: "Or he decided to blow his damn brains out. Some psychologists were convinced he might do that if it all went downhill on him."

"I don't know about that, sir. All I know is that no plan survives contact with the enemy-"

"Now you just shut your mouth, son," the old man says, walking up to the huge man before him and putting his finger in his face: "None of that planning tent talk from you. None of that officers school bull!@#$. You did not go. You did not earn the right to talk like that. 

"You got turned into a weapon, son, and a weapon you are. But don't think for a moment you've got any right to talk to me like you understand what's going on here."

"Sir, with all due respect-"

"Not a word," General Patton says, his eyes going darker than he's ever seen them go: "Just listen to me. You can do that, can't you, son?"

The Strategic Talent nods, not daring to speak.

"If you think you're disappointed, then you have no idea how disappointed I am," Patton says: "In this, yes. But also in you. 

"We needed that man to be taken alive. And if we couldn't have him alive, he needed to be killed on film. We needed to see him dead in front of American soldiers, Clean cut, smart-looking American soldiers, and heroes like you.

"We needed that victory, both now and in the days to come. And now all we've got to show for it is one dead lunatic, a city full of Nazi high command that doesn't have to take orders from that lunatic anymore, and a bunch of high-stepping night-runners who lucked out on the best raid of the war."

The General stops talking, then. He nods, as if he approved of what he said, and then he looks away and then back at Colonel America: "It should have been you, son. You should have been the man who killed Hitler. Now, all you're good for is grinning at the camera like a moron while the crazy, loudmouth !@#$hole who did kill him gets all the credit. 

"If I were you, I'd thank God we can't undo what we did," the General says, and then walks away...

... never saw him alive again," Mr. USA says, sipping some more tea as he and Shining Guardsman watch the noon-day sprawl that is downtown Seoul: "I think he avoided me, frankly. That and I started volunteering for long-range missions, trying to clear out the last German heroes standing in our way."

"And then he died under mysterious circumstances," the armored hero says, leaning back in the chair on their hotel deck: "I read that book about it. Who is Bill O'Reilly going to kill next?"

"Reagan, I saw," the older hero says, sighing.

"So that's where all that started, then?" Shining Guardsman says: "You hated him because you weren't there?"

"No, I didn't hate him at all," Mr. USA insists: "Him, SPYGOD, no one. But I was ashamed because the General had been right. I should have been out there, doing those night missions. And the reason I didn't go is because I didn't feel at ease around SPYGOD and Swiftfoot."

"Because they were gay?"

"Not because of that. But because... "

There's an uncomfortable silence, then. But thankfully Mr. USA finds the words to say.

"You know how it is when two people you've been friends with a long time suddenly become a couple?" he explains: "And they go out and do things together, in that way, and want to be together, in that way?"

"Yeah," the kid says, nodding: "Not from personal experience, sadly. But I've seen it at work. New relationship energy. Exclusivity. Them-time."

"Right. Well, they needed their them-time. And after that, well, they'd talk to Lady Liberty when she came though, and SPYGOD was always tight with Lightning, but the rest of us were really not welcome in their little circle. And after a while, the only GIs they wanted around them were other men who were... well..."

"Queer as !@#$," Shining Guardsman says: "All the soldiers who'd been run out of their own units for staring in the showers or approaching the wrong tentmate. I read about the Bayonets. One of them wrote a book."

"Yeah, and I heard how many cuts SPYGOD made to it," Mr. USA laughs: "It started out at 500 pages. By the time he was done censoring it the thing was only 99."

They both laugh at that, and for a time the silence is good. 

"So," Shining Guardsman says, sitting up: "I get the feeling there's more to this story. But I bet it's the sort of thing that we need to talk more about another time."

"Not a bad idea," the older hero says: "Changing time zones has my medicine schedule messed up. I need to figure out how to time it differently."

"Okay," the kid says, getting out of his chair and extending a hand: "But just so you know? I'm sorry I doubted you. I should have known better."

"Thank you," Mr. USA says, taking his hand: "And whatever's going on between me and Steven? Don't take a side. It's just old men being stupid about things that happened a long time ago. We'll get over it, eventually. Especially if we have to work together, now."

"Yeah, well, tomorrow's game time, old-timer," Shining Guardsman ribs him: "Let's see some cooperation on that field."

"Touchdown," the older hero laughs, waving the kid off his porch. 

And then, when he's all alone, he wonders if Red Storm's daughter will be as keen on letting bygones be bygones.

* * *

"Okay, this is starting to feel like you got it in for me..." Jess says as he comes around, finally. 

He's in a large room, somewhere. A lack of furniture makes it echo. One of the walls is a floor-to-ceiling window -- one covered up with newspaper -- and there's a closed door on the other side. 

And he doesn't like the look of the things on the table, over in the corner -- especially how they've piled up and around a dirty, old bassinet...

"Man, what is it with you and keeping people captive?" Jess says, thinking he sees the man who shot him sitting across from him.

"He says it's the only way to guarantee a captive audience," the woman who lured him out of the McDonalds says, bouncing her baby on her knee a little too energetically. He's still got his pacifier in.

"Where is he?" Jess asks, testing his bonds. He's been tied to the chair with his arms together behind the seat, and his legs strapped to each front leg. He's still got his clothes on, which is a plus. 

"He's out," she says, getting up and putting her baby in the crook of her arm: "He's got some things he has to get. Places to go. People to do. You know how it is."

"Pretend I don't," Jess says, looking around. The papers covering the window are from Baltimore, he notices. He thinks he must still be in Maryland. 

"That's not hard," she says, smiling: "You really are an idiot, you know that?"

"It's been said."

"No, really," she says, shaking her head: "You have no idea how badly you've been played, here. This whole thing... well, when he explains it all? You're going to cry like a little baby."

He blinks, not liking the direction this is going all of a sudden: "Who are you? Why are you working with him? Don't you know who he is?"

"Oh, I do," she says, her eyes going all dreamy: "He's the man who's going to give me exactly what I want for the first time in my life."

"What's that?"

She smiles at him: "I'd say 'apotheosis,' but I think you're too damn dumb to know what that means."

"I didn't get into the Secret Service on my looks. And if you think he's going to make you a goddess, you're the one who's going to be crying."

"We'll see about that," she says, taking the baby out from her arm and smiling: "Won't we, little boogums? Yes, we'll see. We will see!"

With that, she drops the child on the floor. 

Jess cries out as it hits, right on its bottom. Oddly enough the child doesn't cry out, or even twitch. It just sits there, looking around at the world with big, baby eyes as the lady who dropped it giggles at its predicament.

He doesn't even lose the pacifier. 

"I've already broken a couple bones," she informs Jess as she playfully tips him over with her foot, as though he were a dog in need of something to play with: "I'm not sure what that drug is on his noompy, but boy is he out of it."

"Why do you have him drugged?" Jess asks.

"So the little fucker won't cry out," she says, as though he were asking her why the sky was blue: "Duh."

With that she takes the kid out of the room and leaves Jess alone, realizing he's really in deep !@#$, this time.

Sunday: 10/4/15

the wind it's the first thing he feels the wind and then the smell of the smoke things hitting him Mr. USA wakes up and sees that he can see the sky it's blue there's sunlight clouds smoke he can smell the smoke he looks around he sees the world has gone upside down the transport is in pieces he can't tell who's where wait there's Shining Guardsman he's tumbling through the air no wait he's straightening out he tries to call him gets nothing static comms are down can't be sure what's going on he sees Blastman falling he sees everyone falling Red Storm she's summoning a wind she's got Yanabah and Red Wrecker where's Russian Steel oh crap he's made of metal he can't even see him alright don't panic she's got Flower and Florence he needs to get Chinmoku and Mister Freedom no wait they're not in sight probably teleported or something and that leaves Swiftfoot and where's Hanami okay he can't see her at all this is really weird maybe she flew after the Russian guy Swiftfoot damn he can see him falling he better go get him he can't speed his way to the ground he flies down and waves to Shining Guardsman to get Blastman who's closer and he heads for Swiftfoot who's falling end over end and screaming and he's almost on top of him and then he reaches out and remembers the real reason they hate each other the real betrayal the real horrible secret lying at the heart of the Freedom Force and he looks at the man's eyes and sees that he knows what he's thinking and he thinks of what he heard about Thailand and Cambodia and all those dead people and all those mistakes and is he any better really well maybe he is and maybe he isn't but he could just let it all end here couldn't he all he'd have to do is not grab him maybe just slow down a little oh dear I missed him he'd say poor guy but then he'd have to live with it the rest of his life and damn it they are on the same team and he's made mistakes too a whole !@#$ing ton of them and he has no right to judge and he is better than this so much better and the ground's coming up and he thinks he sees a manshaped metal smear on a rock that might be Russian Steel and he reaches out one last time and

(SPYGOD is listening to Careful You (TV on the Radio) and enjoying a Truman's Swift)

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