Monday, December 28, 2015

TechnOlympos: 12/21/15 - 12/27/15

"They paint the grasses green / Repeating history / They don't say what they mean"
Straffer at the White City

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 12/21/81

"Oh, for !@#$'s sake," SPYGOD shouts, parrying another dangerously-accurate thrust from Prince Charming -- MI-10's most dangerous (and flamboyant) assassin.

"I will kill you, you damned blackguard!" the man shouts, his romantic, blue greatcoat swirling about him as he rains another shower of blows down and around the superspy -- who's barely keeping up with the stylish killer: "My employer insists!"

"Your employer is a !@#$ing nazi you clown!" SPYGOD shoots back, leaping up to avoid a slash to the knees, and losing about an inch off the bottom of his heels as he does.

"I'm a dandy, not a clown," Prince Charming retorts with a grin: "There is a difference, you Colonial clod."

"Concentrate, man! I know they taught you to overcome mind control!"

"Not my sort, I fear," Wilhelm Kietel says, laughing as he observes the two superspies clashing below him on the mansion's main floor, a glass of wine perched in his right hand: "You will have to kill him to end it, mein freund. And if you do not, he will assuredly kill you."

"Of all the !@#$ing revolting..." SPYGOD grouses, just barely avoiding an expertly-timed slash to the cheek. His new, specially-made Members' Only tactical jacket is in tatters, his pants are about to fall down, and his utility belt hit the ground right off the bat.

And as the two allies circle and clash, he hates to admit it, but the supernazi might be right. He's fighting the greatest swordsman in all of the United Kingdom -- possibly even all of Europe, if the stories were true -- with a mostly-decorative sword he yanked off the wall at a moment's notice.

And worse, he gets the idea that Prince Charming is just toying with him.

For now.

* * *

The sad thing was that this was supposed to be easy -- maybe too easy. 

MI-10 found out that ABWEHR was planning something suitably nasty and grotesque, here in the north of London. As SPYGOD was over, participating in joint exercises, he was asked to accompany Prince Charming to go deal with the brutes. And when they learned that the notorious Wilhelm Kietel was overseeing it, well, here was a chance to finally plant the scum into the ground, once and for all.

("To put paid to him," as MI-10's director put it in his so-melodious way.)

They figured it would only take the two primary -- and most stylish -- assassins of each organization, and for the first three-quarters of the mission that was all they needed. But as soon as they got inside, they discovered it was a trap. 

And the trap consisted of Kietel looking down at them -- ever so languorously -- and ordering them to kill one another.

Of course, that sort of !@#$ didn't work on SPYGOD. Unfortunately, it did work on Prince Charming, who is now absolutely intent on killing the man he's known and worked with for years.

And all SPYGOD can do is hope the Nazi bastard's mind control wears off before he has to bring a gun to the swordfight this evening has become.

* * *

"You fight without elan or panache, my friend," Prince Charming taunts SPYGOD as they circle around one of the main floor's many wooden columns: "I could have slain you three times before now."

"Then why the !@#$ haven't you?" SPYGOD asks, wondering if he can take the fight up to the balcony where Kietel is, kill him, and end this !@#$ before it goes any further down the damn toilet. 

"I've been trying to sharpen your skills, my good man," the Brit laughs as he thrusts, steps to the side: "Some heat and blood does wonders for remembering such things, I find."

"Well, you got one outta two," SPYGOD says, stepping back: "So what's the !@#$ing endgame, here, you Nazi !@#$? Was this just a damn trap all along?"

"That would be telling," Kietel says, smirking as he savors his glass of wine.

"I'm all ears, jackass," the spy snorts, parrying another rain of blows: "Unless you really don't feel like !@#$ing gloating for once..."

"In truth, I have nothing to gloat about, at least not yet," the ABWEHR man says: "I could tell you that I am stalling you while something actually goes on, somewhere else. But for once I feel strangely compelled to be honest. I let you know I was here because I knew they would send the two of you. And I very much wanted to see you two kill one another."

"Well, thanks for the !@#$ing honesty," SPYGOD says, looking at Prince Charming: "Come on, man. He just !@#$ing admitted he's using you as a damn puppet. Snap out of it!"

As if in response, the swordsman moves almost too quickly to see, and SPYGOD develops a very painful and deep slash across the top of his left thigh.

He steps back, wincing. The wound heals itself almost instantly, but the blood is a sticky distraction he doesn't need. 

"You will do far better to aim for his head," Kietel taunts from his observation post, pouring himself some more wine: "I fear this one cannot be taught at all."

"Very well then," Prince Charming says, his stance changing entirely: "Perhaps we should end this small dance?"

SPYGOD looks at the friend he's been fighting for the last few minutes. Then he looks up at the smirking supernazi, up on the platform.

And he smiles, and drops the sword -- holding his arms out as if in surrender. 

"Fine by me," SPYGOD says, looking Prince Charming in the eyes: "Come on if you think you're !@#$ing hard enough, you damn fop. One clean thrust and it's all over... if you can hit me..."

Prince Charming laughs and skips forward.

SPYGOD just stands there.

The blade catches him right under the breastbone and erupts out the other side.

"No you damned fool!" Kietel shouts, dropping the wine glass: "His head! Take his verdammt head!"

But it's too late. The blade is already halfway through SPYGOD's chest.

The superspy coughs up blood, and rolls back his eye.

And then, faster than a dying man should, he grabs hold of Prince Charming's hand with his left, and then his arm with his right.

With a strength the assassin maybe didn't know he possessed, he pulls the man straight towards him -- wincing as the blade goes even deeper into him.

And then, when they're face to face, SPYGOD wraps his hands around the man's head, pulls him close.

And kisses him like the world was about to end...

Tuesday: 12/22/15

... "... luckily for the free world, I'm a goddamn amazing kisser," the voice recording goes on, and SPYGOD rolls his two white eyes as his voice from 34 years ago brags about the encounter: "It took a while, and damn did that hurt, but eventually he stopped !@#$ing trying to kill me with his tongue and actually started kissing me back.  

"Thank God most MI-10 people went to Public School..."

"Yeah, yeah," SPYGOD sighs, miming masturbation with his right hand: "Sodomy and British Intelligence go hand in hand. Rah !@#$ing rah."

"Unfortunately, by the time he did come out of it, Kietel was gone. So it was just up to us to scour the mess and see if we could learn anything, which was !@#$ing nothing, and get the !@#$ out. 

"We did promise not to say anything about that embarrassing little incident, and he gave me his word my secret is safe. I really like people not knowing they can't !@#$ing mind control me, even if it leads to some unfortunate bull!@#$ like today.

"But I have to get smarter, son. I really do.

"I mean, !@#$, I could have ended this horse!@#$ in under a minute. I could have regrown anything Charming took off me in seconds while I was rushing him, knocked him out carefully as !@#$ing possible, and then leaped up to smash that Nazi !@#$ into goddamn mush under my damn boots. 

"But there I was, scared !@#$less of the world's best damn swordfighter and his flashing blades..."

"And too damn stupid to use your own, huh?" SPYGOD says: "You forget about that?" 

"But then, ever since I put the Chandra Eye in? Using my own power's become a !@#$ing headache," the voice goes on, as if to explain to his future self: "And I mean that literally, son. Something about it just makes my head hurt like a mother!@#$er. 

"I can handle it, sort of, but it's like an icepick behind the eyes. And nothing I want to deal with when I'm actually trying to !@#$ing fight."

"Yeah, tell me about it," SPYGOD admits: "They say I popped some blades when I !@#$ing woke up. And I screamed myself back to sleep afterwards cause they !@#$ing hurt my head so bad..."

"So I just use it for extra storage," the voice goes on: "Which comes in damn handy, let me tell you. And I let my guns do the talking for me.

"Still, all's well that ends well," the tape goes on: "MI-10 owes me a favor, I showed I can still !@#$ing hold my own with a sword, and after we reported in Prince Charming and I went back to his place and-"

"And you !@#$ed him until his Public Schoolboy butthole fell out and rolled across the damn floor," SPYGOD says, turning the tape off in disgust: "Good for you, old me. I'm so !@#$ing happy for you.

"But what about this, huh?" he asks, pointing to his sightless eyes: "What do you !@#$ing have for me there? What do you do when some supergod horse!@#$ technology turns your brains into a no-eyeball zone, and no one can !@#$ing fix you?

"What do you do when the guy who !@#$ing says he loves you can't even find a cure in a world like this, huh?"

He grouses for a moment, and then sighs and leans back in his chair. Outside, down the hallway, he can hear people singing Christmas carols.

"So what you think, Santa Claus?" he asks, looking up at the ceiling: "Have I been a good boy the last year, sitting here in a damn coma after I saved the !@#$ing world? Does that get me new goddamn eyes? Or do I have to do something really special for that?"

There's no answer, of course. So he smiles, quoting a movie he overheard someone watching for what felt like the first time the other day: "'You can't have that gun, kid. You'll shoot your eye out.'"

And the carolers down the hall wonder who the hell is laughing so loudly, up the ways, that they can barely hear themselves sing.

Wednesday: 12/23/15

"We're here, brother!" the scary-eyed person who's been in front of Director Straffer for a day and a night says, almost on the verge of tears: "We're finally here!"

"You can say that again," the cyborg says, looking up at the sky above his head -- a sky he was not standing under before he walked into the White City.

It was like night and day: a moment before he was standing on the soil of Mexicali, looking up at the sun and large, brooding clouds, and now he's seeing a sky of a different blue, with no clouds at all. What was a single, white column with interlocking triangles, rising up from the great wall, has been revealed to be great, white pyramids surrounding a smooth cone the size of a mountain, going up further than even he can see.

The streets are silver. The archways are gold. And the sun has a stern face, surrounded by a perfect sphere of burning hair.

The air seems electric, here -- filled with strange scents from the unearthly flowers that line the marble sidewalks. There are weird noises from just beyond the intake center, up ahead, which could be drums and other percussion, or perhaps machines. And above it all a constant, frenzied cheering that could be endless chants of praise and joy, or just the hum of the White City as it goes about its worshipful business.

Straffer takes a deep breath, steadying himself lest he lose his nerve, or his mind.

"I'm doing this," he tells himself as he takes another step forward into this crazy new world: "I'm seeing this through."

"We all are, mister," the bald boy in the wheelchair behind him says, smiling with the glee only a child can have: "We all are."

* * *

It has been a slog, all things considered. 

The line stretched for ten miles, winding through the outskirts, the innards, and then the desolated areas of the sprawling, Mexican town. It moved rather quickly, all things considered, but it was still a line, which meant there were times when they sat down for an hour or more before they got to move, and times when it seemed like they shuffled forward every other minute, for three feet at a time.

In some places the pilgrims were made to feel welcome. Volunteers moved down the way, providing clean water and good, hot food. They stood in your place so you could run to use a handy clutch of porta-a-johns, and made sure no one was suffering from the elements, or in need of medical attention. 

In other places, they got to bear the brunt of the city's anger at having over half of its territory absorbed by the White City. Protesters stood at barely-policed barricades and hurled abuse, waste, and rotten food at them. Well-meaning missionaries tried to convince them that the Devil was waiting in that White City, and promised aid and support to anyone who wanted to leave the cult they believed they were all bound up within. 

There were also less kindly visitors: scam artists who claimed they could get someone a quicker way in, but then took the rubes on a ride and dumped them elsewhere; pickpockets who took advantage of the less aware and asleep on their feet; kidnappers who preyed on the weak and feeble-minded. 

(And a very scary run-in with some of the less-criminal aspects of Human Destiny, who tried to cajole people into leaving for the good of the planet, and got downright offensive when told "no.")

It was an ordeal, to be sure -- one made just a little more dangerous (and final) by the requirement that no one carry any phones, tablets, pads, or other electronic communication devices with them. As soon as one entered the White City, all contact with the outside world was to cease. And it was required of anyone who wanted to enter, whether they were applying for permanent entry, just visiting, or -- like Straffer -- simply there on official business. 

No one was any different in the eyes of the White City, and the gods who dwelled within. 

* * *

Another burst of movement, and they're all in the intake center, and being shuffled off to different lines. 

It's a strange sort of farewell for them. The three of them have been near-constant partners in this venture, since Straffer was dropped off by the Space Service a day or so ago. In that time, they've seen off other fellow passengers, who either couldn't stand the drama of the pilgrimage, or the conditions, or fallen prey to the many pitfalls along the way. 

The boy's name is Paul -- an orphan with severe leukemia. A month ago he was told he wouldn't survive to see the new year without a specialized treatment the people running his children's home wouldn't see to. So one of the younger workers at the establishment essentially kidnapped him, and dropped him off with another group of terminal cases who were headed here. 

Paul was the only one of the group left. Straffer didn't dare ask him what happened to the others. The look in his eyes was so fragile he was afraid a tough question would break him. 

The scary-eyed man is Jerry, though he tends to go by Dr. Rose. He's a 40-something businessman from San Diego who'd had a severe midlife crisis, right around the time the Olympians burst back onto the scene. He'd been big into "synchronicity" back in the 80's, and decided this was the world's way of telling him he needed to check this scene out. 

Since then he'd dropped out completely, left the world behind, and gone from Singlove to Singlove in search of Rosi's favor. At one of the last ones he went to, he swore the God/dess actually kissed him in the height of the frenzy, and that made him decide he needed to come here and devote himself to Hir. 

Straffer wasn't sure whether to take him seriously or not. He was never a fan of utter fanaticism, but he seemed so rational and down to earth when he wasn't going on about the Kiss of Backwards Time and the Eternal O. So he just smiled and let him talk about sexhurt, cosmic conjunctions, and tectonic orgasms, somehow hoping Paul wasn't hearing any of this, but knowing he was. 

As for his part, he just told them the truth, at least as much of it as he felt comfortable doing. He was here to plead with the Gods for help, both for the man he loved, and for a whole lot of other people who needed their aid. They seemed accepting of that, and didn't ask too many questions past it -- for which he was eternally grateful. 

And now they are all saying goodbye as they go down different roads. Paul is being wheeled off to medical, Dr. Rose to pilgrims, and Straffer has been politely steered to the diplomatic area.

For his part, the kid seems brave and okay, but Dr. Rose seems a little weepy to say goodbye. 

"You take care of yourself in there, man," he whispers into Straffer's ear: "You got a lucky guy. I bet he doesn't know."

"Right now, no," Straffer says, wondering if Rose had wanted to kiss him at the last second or not. 

* * *

On his way down the line to the diplomatic booth, where a very friendly lady in a white uniform is chatting with all comers, he can't help but look past the area to the promised land beyond. 

It's beautiful, but that's too simple a word to explain what he sees. All the surfaces are smooth, white marble, chased with silver and gold, and studded with precious gems that shine in the light of that stern sun.

The pyramids are massive -- even larger than the big one in Egypt. They're surrounded by temples and buildings, which seem a smashing together of several ancient, Mediterranean civilizations. The spaces between are filled with lush, beautiful grass, and adorned with strange, brightly-blooming flowers. 

And the people all seem so happy as they go here and there, or sit around in groups, laughing and drinking. Couples make love in the shelter of trees and canopies, and everywhere are the sounds of song and dance, music and art. 

It's all so breathtaking he almost doesn't see that someone's towering over him. 

"Well hi there," the tall, muscular woman in form-fitting, red leather says -- her face a strange, almost plastic thing. Her eyes are wrapped in goggles that look like bone and glass, and her long, brown hair seems to end in sharp, tiny hooks. 

"Red Queen?" he asks, sort of recognizing her voice (which is as strange as her face). 

"That would be me," she says, extending a hand to shake. Her skin is cold and hard -- lined with grooves along the major points of articulation, as though they were plates made to conceal something.

"It's good to see you, again," he says, surprised at how strong her grip is: "We were worried about you, when you disappeared from the intensive care unit..."

"I made a deal," she says, winking what might be a lion's eye at him: "Best career move ever, if you ask me. Besides, if they had fixed me up, they'd have just court-martialed  my ass when I was up to it."

"There is that," he says, remembering some of the finer details of that convoluted matter now. 

"Anyway," she says, waving to the head of the line: "I'm here to escort you through. You've been expected."

"Really?" he says, somewhat perplexed: "They could have sent you a day ago, you know."

"Between you and me?" she asks, leaning in close to whisper: "They wanted to see if you'd tough it out."

"No danger of that not happening," he says, a little miffed at the notion. 

"You'd be surprised," she says, taking his hand and leading him on: "Just do me a favor and don't make a !@#$ing fool of yourself when you get in, okay? I'm sort of responsible for you while you're here, and Satanoth isn't a fan of being disappointed."

"I'd guess not," Straffer says, trying not to gasp in amazement as he gets out of the entry area and sees the whole of the White City for the first time... 

Thursday: 12/24/15

"Wow," Myron says, shaking his head as he combs through the stacks of papers and photographs he's just been handed: "Wow."

"I thought you might be impressed," the woman from the improvement committee says, tapping a few things of interest, here and there: "And I should tell you, it wasn't easy to keep these things hidden for this long."

"I'd say so," he replies, scratching his head at the enormity of what he's been shown.

It's the Village, but not as he's come to know it. The documents are all layouts and plans, both for Portmeirion and the interiors of The Prisoner. And the photographs are all of it being built -- strong foundations laid, winding roads constructed, Italianate walls raised, and fancy roofs set above it all.

There are no workers that he can see, and no construction equipment is visible. First there is a landscape by the sea, then it has been shaped into familiar contours, and then the buildings begin to take form.

Every so often, if you know how and where to look -- a chance reflection in a window, for example -- the man behind the camera can be seen.

And it's the late Number 42 taking the shots.

"He built the Village," Myron says, agog: "He wasn't the most valuable Prisoner, here. He was the man who set it all up."

"Yes," the woman says.

"Which means that speech he gave me about the third secret spymaster, and BOWLER..."

"He was with them," she replies, nodding: "This was his creation. He came over here to make this a reality."

"Which means he... what?" Myron asks, shaking his head: "Had a change of heart? Midlife crisis? Decided he was working for the wrong side after all?"

"That I don't know," she admits: "I didn't know any of this until after he died. He gave me all of this in a specially locked case. It was keyed to the beating of his heart. So long as he was alive, it wouldn't be opened."

"And then, when he died, you found out he was the man behind the curtain all along."

"Yes, but no," she says: "Not the real man behind the curtain. More like the one who bought the curtains, and then stood in front of them for a time."

Myron thinks for a moment, and then shudders: "So that was it, then. He was the original Number Two."

"Yes," she nods, slowly: "I think you're right."

"And that's why Number Two hated him. He left him the job, but wouldn't tell him everything."

"And once he was here, he couldn't leave, any more than the rest of us could."

"Now see, that's the !@#$ that doesn't make any sense," Myron says, pounding his fist on the table so that all the pictures and documents jump: "Why in the hell would they come over here, to B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P., if they didn't have an exit? There's got to be a thousand other places they could make a damn Village, none of which involve one-way trips to miniaturized alternate Earths."

"I don't know," she says, shaking her head: "There's something we're not seeing, here. And I think this Number One has the answers."

"And the only way to get to Number One is to have Number Two lead us there," Myron sighs: "Or actually find where he's !@#$ing hiding. Which could be anywhere in the Green Dome."

"Anywhere in the Village, really," she sighs.

"Or even outside of it," Myron shudders: "Worse, he could be back on Earth, sitting in some damn ball chair and stroking a white cat."

"Like Dr. Claw," the woman says, smiling.

"Inspector Gadget," Myron replies, smiling back a little: "I'd forgotten about that show. I used to run around shouting 'go go gadget legs' or whatever when I was a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing ever."

"I was more into Thunderbirds, myself," she shrugs: "I liked the idea of a family that could build such amazing things to rescue people."

"The puppets creeped me out," he admits, and for a while there's silence in the room -- both of them just looking at the evidence that the man they knew so little about had even more secrets than they could have guessed.

"Did Dr. Claw even have a ball chair?" Myron asks: "All we ever saw was his hand and that submarine car."

"I always assumed he had standard evil genius furniture," she replies, getting up from her chair: "It seems they always have similar tastes in home decor."

"Maybe there's something to being the man who picks out Number One's curtains after all," Myron chuckles, wondering how he's going to keep all this a secret from the Chess Master.

Because there's no way she couldn't have known about this, and no reason she shouldn't have told him, before.

Because, frankly, this was really !@#$ing important news...

Friday: 12/25/15

"And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them," The Raven says to his candlelit flock as they pray in his home, his hands stretched wide to take in their hopeful multitude: "And the glory of the Lord shone round about them. And they were sore afraid.

"And the angel said unto them 'fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.

"And this shall be a sign unto you," he continues, smiling at the newly-born babe one of his people delivered just last night -- sleeping like an angel in her arms: "Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger..."

* * *

In Syria, the heroes who care to celebrate the day gather around a table in the forward fire camp, and toast one another with wine and good cheer.

It's been a long road, these last few weeks -- some days longer than others. There's been misunderstandings and miscommunications, and some downright ugly scenes.

But after the last few days, something seems to have changed. Now they're all on the same page, at last.

Now they understand who the enemy really is, and how to deal with them...

Outside, in the cold of the night, New Man stands alone, watching the horizon burn. He's aware that he's being laughed at, back in the tent -- he and the new people from the Gulf alike.

He realizes he's lost control of this situation, and has no chance to take it back. Insubordination has become the order of the day, here. All he can do is try to keep things from getting any worse than they already are.

That and pray to a seemingly-absent God for a miracle -- on this day of all days -- that deliverance will come, and soon.

* * *

In the Toon enclave of San Francisco, Randolph Scott watches the Candidate as he parades around the Mar-a-Lago in Florida, pretending to be just another family man out with his family on Christmas day. 

The vacuity of their smiles scares him. There's no fear in their eyes as they march around before the cameras, waving and smiling. Nothing to indicate that they understand they're in the presence of an evil man, and that they are behaving in a manner that will afford them safety from his wrath. 

Are they all in on the gag, then? Or do they really not understand who they're calling father, or husband?

Do they not realize the devil walks beside them?

He can't say for certain. He's got every reporter, dirt-digger, and hacker he can lord it over scrambling for clues to help him solve this puzzle. 

And he's all too aware that, though he should be spending the day with the woman he loves, and all his friends and family, there's no time. 

Iowa is too soon. The chances this man might take the nomination are too high. 

He has to get a handle on this story while he can, before it turns around and bites everyone in the ass. 

And if that's the only gift he can give anyone, this year, so be it. 

* * *

"Hey," a woman says, poking her head into her new neighbor's open door: "Are you actually moving in on Christmas?"

"Yeah," the skinny, bald kid says, adjusting his sweater as he puts down a box that looks too big to be carried by just one person: "Lousy timing, I know."

"Tell me about it," she rolls her eyes: "I had to get out of my apartment on the Fourth of July, once. You never know how many things just aren't open until you really need them to be."

They both laugh at that, and then she smiles: "Well, there's a party up in the rec room on the top floor. When you get done, come on up?"

"Really?" he says.

"Well, you live here now."

"I don't know anyone."

"I'm Elizabeth," she says, waving: "So there, you know someone. We'll be at it until two or so, and you don't want to miss the Cards Against Humanity game we do when the kids are gone."

"Sounds like fun."

"Oh, trust me, new neighbor. It's legendary."

She winks and runs off before he can give her his own name, and for a moment Shining Guardsman wonders if maybe, just maybe, this is actually going to work out.  

* * *

In little enclaves throughout Europe -- squalid basements, upright halls, shining parapets, and well-heeled soirees -- Odal celebrates the day. 

To them, Christ is a white man, come to lay down the law of the God whose will has shaped Northern European civilization. A holy warrior come to separate the decent from the impure, the light from the dark, the Christian from the heathen. 

The burning sword of Heaven, blocking the unworthy from entering their new Eden. 

That he was from the Middle East means nothing to these people. He is only ever Caucasian in their eyes. 

That he was born a Jew is an afterthought. Flowers are often grown in manure, but no one cares to smell it.

That he supped with sinners and the castaways is likewise meaningless. You take care of your own -- first, last, and always. 

Christ did not die for the ugly, the different, and the impure. He did not suffer for Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. He did not give his blood for the brown or the yellow, or those unfortunate enough to have their whiteness diluted by genetic filth. 

Christ died for white men, knowing there one would day be a war against the darkness that infested all the strange corners of this fallen world, and that they would, though his grace, be victorious.

So they hold their loved ones near and dear. They drink with their friends and laugh with their children. They sing rousing carols and salute stark flags. They give what joy and cheer they can in a cold, dark world lit only by twinkling lights.

And when they dream of a better world, it's missing a lot of depth and shade. 

Which is exactly how they believe Christ would like it. 

* * *

Mr. USA smiles through tears, watching the poor and underprivileged kids he and Red Wrecker have been giving gifts to all day as they unwrap their toys and games and enjoy the moment. 

It feels good to do this. To put the costumes and crooks away for a day and just be helpful and kind to others. To show the world that hope is real, and strangers can be kind.

That hands that can smash buildings can be gentle and loving, too. 

He should be dead, right now. He knows this. He's had yet another second chance, though there's a very real time limit on this.

He knows this is his last Christmas, ever. 

And while it will never be the best he's ever had, he wants it to be as good as possible. Which, to him, means helping as many children as he can have the best Christmas they can. 

Someone sings "deck the halls." He joins in -- gloriously off-key. Everyone laughs.

And for a moment, all is right with the world. 

* * *

"You'll feel better, really," one of the orderlies tries to convince the blind man in room 347: "You'll go crazy being locked up in this room, listening to those tapes."

What SPYGOD tells her in return is probably the last thing anyone should ever hear on Christmas day, but, to her credit, she listens to every single word -- rude, bad, or indifferent.

And then, taking a deep breath, makes a suggestion: "Can I at least bring you some food, sir? Maybe some turkey? It's the real thing, not that food service crap you get every tuesday for dinner and every thursday for lunch."

He sighs, trying to find some last vestige of self-pitying nastiness left within him after that epic tirade. But he fails.

And he gets up, takes the cane he's sworn not to use, and starts heading for the door. 

"I am not !@#$ing singing, lady," he says, letting her lead him down the hall to where the more ambulatory patients are having their Christmas party: "I'll do turkey and stuffing and eggnog, even if it's !@#$ing sober. But I'm not singing."

"Wouldn't dream of making you do it," she says: "But Merry Christmas, sir."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever..." he sighs, thinking of the spread his psychotic grandmother always made, and how everyone was terrified to sneak so much as a morsel before she said grace for five whole minutes, and then remained silent for one more before saying "Amen."

Good times, all in all. He just never knew how good until they were too far behind him to see clearly, anymore.

Just like every Christmas, really. Some are better than others. Some are definitely worse. But in the end they're what you make of them -- no more, no less. 

And sometimes, if you're lucky, you even get what you deserve.

* * *

In his room, overlooking the Pyramid of Noyx -- the Moon, of course -- Straffer looks down at the massive dance party going on around his building. He wonders if he should go down and join it or just drink the strange wine they brought up with the basket of unearthly fruit and prepare for tomorrow. 

There is no Christmas, here, in the White City. Observance of any non-polytheistic faith is forbidden. The penalty is the same for pretty much all offenses -- eternal banishment. 

And who would want that? 

Yesterday, he went into the Pyramid and walked the surface of the Moon. It was strange to be breathing the cold, bracing air of what should be a barren, grey rock, and to walk in the fungal gardens, fed by eternal, cool streams of milky, grey water. 

Stranger still to see the weird beasts that lived there, tended by pale, skinny, almost-insectile beings with no faces. They reminded him of the Selenites, to a degree, but a strange reflection of the essential truth from that novel -- that even on a cold, floating ball of dust in space, the idea of life could create it.

In each Pyramid, another wonder. In each corner, another miracle. 

He saw Paul, almost by accident. He was in a room with many other boys and girls, all playing what appeared to be high-tech videogames. It wasn't until he'd been watching for a while that Straffer realized his young companion was actually zapping the cancer cells in his own body in realtime on the screen.

And the look on his face was so beatific it almost made Straffer cry. 

What use is a god in a world of gods, he wonders? What use a remote and silent creator when so many other beings will answer the call of his wayward children?

Surely he can act like a child again, and be glad that those older and wiser will hear his plea, and acquiesce. 

Surely this world can grant him a miracle, if only he'll be open to it.

Saturday: 12/26/15

"... and so I regret to say that, no, we will not be reconsidering the matter of your lover's condition," Seranu says, holding his kingly scepter in both hands: "There are certain rules that we cannot bend, and the rule of interventions is one of them. Each miracle can be used only once, and if its use is mishandled in the hands of mortals, then the outcome cannot be altered."

Director Straffer looks down at his feet -- embarrassed, angry, and sick.

He's standing in the highest spot of Olympos proper: the great, white chamber where all the Olympians sit in massive thrones, floating above the floor in a circle. Those who would address them enter to the center of that circle, and are carried up to just below their level on a floating dais of red gold and white marble.

They're large, in this room -- maybe twice the size of a normal human. They're also imposing and terrifying, yet graceful and transcendent. He doesn't know whether to be in awe or terrified, which is probably how they like it.

All he feels now is like smashing something for having wasted his time.

* * *

He tried. He really did. He came here prepared to argue decency, and for clemency, and to explain all the ways that their well-meaning plans fell apart on them. Some of which was, admittedly, his fault, but other was just bad luck and worse intentions on another's behalf.

(One who was under their care, after a fashion)

He tried, but it came up to nothing. His words fell on deaf ears and bored eyes. They seemed uncaring and aloof to his concerns, as if they wanted to anywhere but here, listening to him go on.

And Hoosk, when it was his turn to address the situation, was the most scornful and spiteful person he could have imagined -- rude and indignant, insisting that human stupidity had perverted the use of his glorious machine, and that while he couldn't punish Straffer for the mistakes of another, he wouldn't reward his error, either.

That just left the others, who could have spoken up in Straffer's defense -- or at least against Hoosk -- but chose to remain silent. Even Restriit -- sometimes known as Mister Freedom -- just sat there, watching, in spite of all their association and work together.

Even Shift, who'd called SPYGOD friend, remained silent and unmoved.

And then there was Seranu, who could have overruled Hoosk, but chose to back him, instead.

And that meant there was no more to be said.

* * *

"There is one other matter he would like to bring up," Kanaan says, looking up from the weave she's endlessly working on: "Isn't there, mortal man?"

"Well, yes," Straffer says, looking up at the Queen who addressed him, and then the other gods here in turn: "I've... well, I've also come to speak on behalf of our Martian refugees, here on Earth. I am petitioning that they be brought here to your city to be housed and cared for, until such time as this crisis is over."

There's silence, for a moment, and them some of the supergods actually laugh. 

"I beg your pardon," Seranu says, holding up a hand -- at which point all laughter stops cold: "I assume the amusement was from shock, and not from scorn."

"Right now, I'm not certain there's a damn difference," Straffer says, raising himself up as high as he can and staring at the face of the King of the Gods, and then the others: "Who the hell thought that was so funny, then? You, with the glasses and the afro? The parrot lady? Skullface?"

"Caution, little metal man," Satanoth says, clearly not happy to have been called that: "You have stood at my door enough times in your life, and yet I have not pulled you inside of it."

"Yeah, well, I got a bunch of Martians tumbling through into your foyer, pal," Straffer insists: "And do you want to know why?"

"Not really, no," Soubre snorts, and there is some more laughter.

"Because they came here expecting our help after they helped us," the cyborg says, pointing a finger at the dark-skinned god of night: "They didn't have to aid us when the Decreator came for us. They could have just stayed in their world and let us fall, and prayed to their gods that it didn't stop off at their planet on the way there or back to finish the damn job.

"But they didn't," he goes on, turning to look each God and Goddess in the face as he does: "They helped. Boy did they help. They made the attack fleet possible. They told us everything they knew from the time before, when it came for them.

"And when the attack happened, and the Decreator was destroyed, their world was tainted by it-"

"All this is known to us, my servant," Noyx says, pushing his sunglasses down so Straffer can see the shining white of his eyes.

"Then you know that without their help we'd be dead right now," Straffer says, looking the god in those shining eyes (and ignoring the line about "servant," which he finds very disturbing): "And if we were all dead, well... I guess you all might go on living, but most of you wouldn't be doing very well. Just Skull-face over there-"

"Little man..."

"And you, maybe," Straffer says, pointing to Restriit, who actually smiles: "And I guess the Sun and the Moon would continue to shine. And there would be darkness and there would be light.

"But the rest of you? Who would sing your praises? Who would give you a name? Who would dance and sing and venerate your holy temples for you if the world was nothing but a toxic stew? Cockroaches? Ants? Bacteria?

"Because that's what happened all those ages ago, folks. The world was wiped clean of what came before it. Maybe you don't know because it came before you, but-

"Enough," Seranu says, and Straffer can't help but comply: "You overstate your case. You forget you speak to beings of a power you cannot even hope to comprehend."

"We could have stopped the monster, had it actually arrived here," Pontus snorts, waving a dismissive hand: "The elements would have been as one! The forces combined to bring it down, and send it to the crushing depths!"

"Really?" Straffer says, no longer feeling like being silent, anymore: "Well, let me ask you something, Pontus. All those other worlds the Decreator ate, all those aeons? Don't you think they had gods, too?"

And there is silence, for a moment -- silence broken as Restriit laughs, clearly in approval.

"Do you have a comment, brother Restriit?"

"Only that the mortal has expressed the truth that none here dare face, save for myself," the god of endings reveals, now appearing more as the old man than Abdullah Ismail: "Even we have our limits. Even we have our endings. There are some things even we cannot stand against, and in such times, if we would continue, we must gratefully take what hands are offered to us.

"And if successful, we must be grateful enough to thank them properly."

"Have they no gods of their own to take up their calls for aid?" Soubre grouses: "I see no reason to be concerned on the behalf of one whose soul is already spoken for."

"That is an excellent question, brother," Seranu says: "Rahmaa, you are the Sun and the Star. You shine upon all worlds. And in that sense, you are Goddess to all of them. Would you recognize these beings as your own, and grant them shelter within Olympos?"

"I would," the fire-haired woman says, her voice as loud and thunderous as a solar flare: "So long as they pay fealty to me, I will allow them to dwell here."

"I don't know if they'll bend at the knees to you," Straffer says.

"All who come here to live must do so," Kanaan says, going back to her knitting: "You should have known that when you made the suggestion, dear."

He blinks, once or twice, just looking at her. And then he looks around the room, suddenly very worried and afraid.

And then it all goes dark, and he's not at the top of the tower, anymore.

Sunday: 12/27/15

"Jesus, son," SPYGOD says, sniffing the air as the door to his room opens and closes a little too quickly for his liking: "I can barely smell the subs over the cologne. You sure you got the right room?"

"Buenas tardes, senor," the Spanish assassin says, spraying a contact adhesive into the door's lock so they won't  be disturbed: "Mi nombre es Gunblade. You estoy aqui para matarte."

"Oh," SPYGOD says, turning around from his desk to face the direction the voice is coming from. He's wearing a tight t-shirt and boxer shorts under the hospital robe, and has decided to shuck the blind man's glasses for the afternoon.

"That seems a strange reaction, senor," Gunblade says.

"Well, it's been a while since anyone tried to !@#$ing kill me in my own hospital room," his target answers, putting the braille books away: "I think."

"You think?" the man asks, raising a florid eyebrow as he pulls out his eponymous weapon, and makes certain it's ready to go: "Is your memory truly that poor?"

"My memory isn't what it used to be," the superspy says, smiling: "Like you. Why don't I know you?"

"I cannot imagine, senor. I am rather notorious, even within the circles I inhabit."

"Gunblade, you said?"

"Si, senor."

SPYGOD shrugs: "No, not really !@#$ing coming to me."

"Now that is something of a disappointment," the assassin says, grousing a little as he takes a step closer, ever so slowly and carefully: "The most handsome of all international assassins? The one who only takes the most interesting and exclusive of contracts? The man who can kill anyone, anywhere, no matter how well-hidden, how well-guarded? And the man who always leaves a Spanish rose for his fallen prey?"

"Oh, wait," SPYGOD says, snapping his fingers and pointing one in the direction he thinks the man's in: "Prince Charming, right?"

"No, senor," the assassin grouses, again: "Though I could see someone making that mistake."

"Same fashion sense, though?"

"Yes, but not anymore," Gunblade says, smiling brightly: "In fact, just last Christmas, I gave myself the best present an assassin can ever have by allowing myself the luxury of his death."

"The luxury of his death, huh?" SPYGOD asks, getting to his feet -- somewhat tentatively.

"Normally, we have much more cordial relations, you understand," the assassin explains, swinging his blade about: "A certain code, made by those worthy to be predators in a world of prey. We do not interfere with one another, or our contracts. We seek no retribution against one another. We largely leave one another alone."

"Except when it's !@#$ing Christmas in Gunblade-town, from the !@#$ing sound of it," the blind superspy snorts: "What's the matter, mother!@#$er? Did he steal your cologne?"

"We were too alike," Gunblade admitted, shrugging: "A sense of style is essential for this kind of work. A certain elan, if you take my meaning? Otherwise, no one can tell you from any other, and then you are doomed to be third or fourth on everyone's list to call."

"And then you're eating cheap crap from a Styrofoam cup instead of partying at the bar over red wine and fancy damn croutons," SPYGOD says, taking a careful step forward, a hand extended: "I gotcha. But you know, I remember Prince Charming."

"You do?"

"Well, maybe. Or maybe I'm remembering his dad? I'm still going through all these damn audio tapes I kept, trying to !@#$ing remember."

"He was quite memorable," Gunblade admits, twirling his gun some more: "Quite honorable, in his own, ridiculous way."

"I think I liked him, from the sound of things," SPYGOD says: "Unless it was his dad."

"No, senor," Gunblade says: "He never had any children. He embarked upon his calling at least fifty years ago, as a young man. He aged, as one does, but never lost his sense of style, or his guiding light."

"Well, good for him," SPYGOD says, wishing he could remember that night he spent with him, or anything else.

"But he was losing his edge, so to say."

"So you gave him one last sharpening," the target says, just staring -- thinking maybe he can remember kissing the man in the heat of battle, and then passion.

"I did indeed," the assassin smiles, putting his gun up to his face so that the blade is right before his nose: "A mercy, I think. He almost didn't remember who I was when I split his heart in two.  


"Well, you get points for style, then," SPYGOD says, frowning at the thought of that uptight and crazily well-dressed man dying under this peacock's blade: "But is this your style, now?"

"What do you mean?" Gunblade asks, running a free hand over his shining white suit: "These fine clothes, you mean?"

"No, I mean creeping into crippletown and cutting down a blind man who can't !@#$ing remember half of his life, anymore. And just after Christmas..."

"Oh, senor," Gunblade says, grinning: "It is no use to speak to me so. I have taken the contract. It matters not whether you are young or old, well or infirm. I do not even care if you have committed the crimes you stand accused of, or truly deserve the death I bring.

"A job is a job, and a job is either done well, or not done at all."

"Fair enough," SPYGOD says, frowning: "Who sent you?"

"I couldn't tell you, even if I knew," the assassin chuckles: "All I will tell you is that it was as singular a hiring as you are a target. Perhaps that will make you feel better."

"Alright," the spy says, changing tactics as he hears the man's footsteps get closer: "Can you at least tell me how long ago you were contracted?"

"Does it mean anything, truly?"

"Hey, indulge me," SPYGOD says, taking a step back, playing for time: "This has got to be the easiest job you'll ever have."

"This is true," Gunblade says: "The security here is terrible, senor. And your guards are too easily distracted and incapacitated. And you, well... I must say I expected more. But all you seem to be capable of doing is talking me to death."

"Well, there was a time," SPYGOD says, sighing as he realizes he's literally up against the wall.

(But glad to hear his guards were merely incapacitated, unless this !@#$er likes using fancy words when he means "killed.")

"And time is never, ever our friend," Gunblade says, cocking the gun and twirling it around his head and shoulders with one hand, and then the other: "I am time's arrow, senor. And your time... is... up!"

The Spanish assassin makes one last twirl with his left hand, and then switches to his right. With both hands on the gun, he then steps forward to drive it into his target's sternum -- preparing to cleave through the bone, and the heart, and then pull both triggers to finish the job.

And he would, except that the blade is immediately parried by the sword that erupts from SPYGOD's right hand.

The assassin steps back, surprised. SPYGOD does the same, as he's just as surprised to see it.

And doubly surprised that, this time, there's no pain in his head.

And even more surprised because, now that the sword is out, he can actually see again.

It's not proper vision -- more of a strange sense of where things are, reflected in the blade. But it's more than enough to parry Gunblade's next thrust, and then another, and then actually get into a proper, swashbuckling swordfight with the fancy-dressed killer.

And enough for him to realize that the gun looks awfully familiar...

"Where the !@#$ did you get that weapon, you Adam Adamant ripoff?" SPYGOD shouts as they whirl and twirl around the room -- careful not to let the man get too far away, lest he take aim and shoot.

"That secret I shall take to the grave, senor!" Gunblade promises, smiling like the devil lives in his damn mustache: "I shall enjoy sending you there ahead of me!"

"Yeah, well, ladies first," SPYGOD snorts, quickly materializing another blade in his free hand and jamming it right up into Gunblade's adam's apple, and then straight up into -- and out of -- his head.

The Spaniard staggers back, dropping his gun. He can't talk, and breathing is difficult. And the more he moves, the less able he is to think.

"Oh, sorry," SPYGOD says, taking the Shot-sword from the ground and looking at it, reflected in the sword: "I thought this belonged to someone I knew, once, even if I don't really !@#$ing remember him, now. But I guess I was damn wrong."

"Madre de dios," Gunblade manages to gasp out, bloody splittle falling down around him like gruesome confetti: "Padre nuestro... que estas en los cielos..."

"Yeah, yeah," SPYGOD sneers: "So much for being all fancy pants and quick comebacks, huh? You got a prayer for that, mother!@#$er? Huh?"

"Please... senor," the man begs, falling to his knees, suddenly unable to walk, much less move his arms to beg: "End this... cleanly..."

"You know, I really shouldn't," SPYGOD says, turning one sword into two short blades, one in either hand: "But you did show me a new trick, and saved me a lot of !@#$ing bother. So for that... well, maybe I do owe you one."

Gunblade smiles, though it's more from a sense of oncoming relief than anything else.

But then SPYGOD looks down at the dying assassin, and thinks of the man they both have in common. He imagines the older, still proud swordfighter, surprised at home and bested in his dotage by an upstart scumbag in a fancy suit who killed him just for laughs.

He imagines Prince Charming dying alone and defeated for no reason at all...

So he just kicks Gunblade where his head meets his neck -- causing one to go flying away from the other, bounce around the room a few times, and then land in the damn trashcan.

"Maybe," SPYGOD repeats, watching the body hose down the ceiling, and then the door, as it falls onto its back, twitches a few times, and is then very still.

He bends down to find the spanish rose among the assassin's things. He puts it up to his nose, smells it, and then puts it into a water jug, over by the assemblage of flowers his fiancee keeps sending him. 

"Lock up the toys and warn all the boys," SPYGOD says, grinning even wider than he should be able to: "Mama's little angelito is back in town."

And then he puts his blades away, and lets himself enjoy the darkness -- now that he knows he has a way back out of it again.

(SPYGOD is listening to Amanaemonesia (Chairlift) and having a White Christmas)

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