|"I've got drama, can't be stolen / everybody knows me now"|
(Art by Dean Stahl)
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* * *
"So, yes, my dear Wilhelm," the General der Infanterie tells the man he's brought along to the theoretical demonstrations: "I think you should consider these times we live within. The Fatherland will need a strong hand if we are to overcome our past, and secure our future."
"Of course," Keitel replies, making sure to be very careful what he says, and how. Even though he's been Head of the Ministry of Defense's Organizational Department for now, he knows that he's only one wrong step away from being cast down, or out. As he's learned, the General is not one to tolerate dissension from his plans -- real or imagined.
And Kurt von Schleicher has quite the imagination, as his interest in the stranger horizons of war science can attest to.
The demonstrations are being held in a snow-caked warehouse, some distance from the headquarters at the Bendlerblock. Many important people are here, most of them incognito due to the hush-hush nature of things. Some even wear masks, as though this was some decadent party from the more luxurious -- and lascivious -- corners of Berlin.
Only the wares on display here are not luscious young bodies, but things meant to rend them limb from limb.
Wilhelm Keitel sees many great and strange things proposed there, walking in the steps of von Schliecher: bombs that could destroy the world and cannons that could reach across the Atlantic; gas that could melt flesh from bones and grenades that could kill with sound; planes that can dive into the ocean and tanks the size of city blocks.
And so many other, even more outrageous suggestions -- all made by men who seem just south of sane.
"Ah, my dear General," a man in a black domino mask says, coming up to shake von Schliecher's hand: "I am so glad you could make it."
"And it is good to see you, my dear Wilhelm," the General says, returning the shake: "No doubt you have met your namesake? Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Keitel, leader of our Organizational Department?"
"Wilhelm Ganz," the man says, shaking Keitel's hand: "A pleasure, sir."
"Likewise," Keitel lies, his mind reeling from the insanity on display: "And what is it you do, good sir?"
"You stand within it, my friend," Ganz smiles, his eyes lacking any mirth: "I have assembled this demonstration."
"Oh, do not be so modest," von Schleicher playfully chides the man: "That is like saying I simply give orders."
"Well, to be more precise, I am what you might call a... procurer?" Ganz says, waving a proud hand around the room: "Only I arrange for war science to take place. I vet the scientists, and make certain their ideas have merit, or at least a sound basis to work upon. I invite the right people, who have the understanding to appreciate it, or at least the power to make it happen.
"And then I need only step back and let nature take its course, perhaps with the occasional push."
He laughs at that, and so does von Schliecher. But Keitel does not join them, choosing instead to look at a wild-haired man nearby. He almost froths at the mouth as he speaks of rewriting the basic codes of life, in order to make the men and women of tomorrow.
And at that moment, all sense of caution finally vanishes from his mind.
"You say you vetted these people?" Keitel asks, indicating the drooling madman: "Then I respectfully shudder to think who was told to stay at home."
"You would think so?" Ganz asks, the pride he showed a moment ago turning to scorn at the detection of a lesser intellect: "Well, my dear Oberstleutnant, science is not always advanced by small and tidy minds. It takes a special mentality to see beyond the frontiers, into the world beyond current imaginings."
"But how does one separate such visions from madness?" Keitel pushes, no longer afraid of von Schliecher's censure: "And where?"
Ganz's brow furrows: "As a man I have been well-acquainted with for some time once told me, one is always considered to be mad if one discovers something that others cannot grasp."
"And is that man here, today?" Keitel asks, looking around the room.
"No," their host says, rather sadly: "I fear that his researches were too advanced for even the most... imaginative persons to truly appreciate."
"Well then," Keitel says: "I suppose that-"
"I think we would like to see more," von Schliecher quickly interjects, in a tone of voice that leaves no question that his guest should be silent, now: "Perhaps one of your visionaries that has created something truly intriguing?"
"Yes," Wilhelm Ganz says, after a moment's reflection: "Please, come through to the biological sciences area. And try not to judge before we arrive, Oberstleutnant?"
He tries to not let it show. He walks past the Head of Anthropology of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, who speaks of "racial hygiene," using his displays on twins as proof of his theories. A series of grisly photos of his expert separation of a pair of conjoined girls gathers more interest than his ideas.
That and many other so-called experts, each seeming more demented than the last, and each with more disgusting "proofs" on display. With each step Keitel feels like he has walked into a strange antechamber of Hell -- perhaps its abattoir...
"Ah, Johann," Ganz says suddenly, shaking the hand of a well-heeled man, wearing a very strange, almost mystical mask: "I am very glad to see you could make it. If you'll just excuse me-"
"1975," croaks the man's companion -- a woman cloaked head-to-toe in a black shroud.
(Something in her voice makes something in Keitel's soul die, just a little.)
"Now, Lilitu, please be polite to our host," the man says, seemingly unmoved by her speech: "My apologies, Herr Ganz. I just wanted to thank you for allowing our people a booth, here. When my Lumenclub is more well-established, I would be pleased to show you more of what we have accomplished."
"That would be wonderful," Ganz says: "But in the meantime-"
"Perhaps you could introduce me to your friends?" the man asks, taking a step forward to shake von Schleicher's hand.
"1934," the shrouded woman says before the General can respond.
"Another time, perhaps," Keitel quickly interjects, politely taking the man's hand to shake and moving the man on. As they do, he can't help but notice the woman does not speak, but rather turns to regard him as they go.
He thinks she must be puzzled from how she stands, but somehow knows he does not want to see beneath that shroud.
"Who was that man?" von Schleicher says -- clearly unnerved: "And what did she mean by that number? That's just a couple years away..."
"No one you need know, dear Kurt," Ganz says, quickly taking them to a small booth, staffed by a lone, also-small man, and filled with pharmaceutical paraphernalia: "But here, this is who I wanted you to meet. Doctor Giacomini, an acolyte of the late, well-regarded Doctor Camillo Golgi."
"You are far too kind, signore Ganz," the bespectacled man says, nervously combing the harsh part in his long, sallow hair: "In truth, I was only ever an assistant to his assistant. But I did-"
"Tell these men of your discovery, herr Giacomini," Ganz says, indicating the General -- but not Keitel: "I think they will find it of interest."
"Simply put, gentlemen, I am working on a way to chemically introduce desirable mental traits," the man says, pointing to a series of pills, and illustrations of how they might be made -- his German betraying more of his Italian heritage as he goes on: "If the research continues along this line in a positive fashion, we could make people more hardworking, more kind, more studious, less promiscuous... any trait you would care to introduce, really."
"A loyalty pill," von Schleicher muses, suddenly no longer so concerned about the baleful-sounding woman's utterance.
"If you wish," the man says, smiling: "A pill could have one trait, or many. They could be prescribed by chemists for special needs, or handed out like rations by the authorities if certain things occur, such as war or disaster."
"Could they be taken every day?" the General goes on, becoming more excited: "Without bad effect?"
"At this stage, I would say yes," Giacomini answers, smiling to be asked favorable questions for a change: "More research is needed, of course. Human trials are needed-"
"What experiments have you done so far?" Keitel asks, hoping his saving von Schleicher from the strange man has bought him the right to some skepticism.
"So far?" the short man says, indicating his illustrations, which indicate long, thick needles inserted into a living man's skull: "I have affected a total personality transfer via pharmaceuticals. That is an astonishing achievement, in and of itself, if I do say so myself. But I am working on fine-tuning the process so as to-"
"Wait," von Schleicher says, clearly astounded: "You mean to say you can make a pill that contains another person's personality, and give it to another person and... they become that person?"
"Yes," the man says, as matter-of-factly as if he were saying the Sun set in the west.
"That's... amazing," the General says: "My dear Doctor, I think you have buried the true wonder below the theories."
"True, sir," the diminutive doctor admits, somewhat sheepishly: "But, to be honest? I cannot see the achievement having much practical value. Harvesting the personality requires the death of the donor, at this stage. And while the personality is transferred, I am not certain the soul goes with it. Certainly not the memories, from what I have determined.
"So as a way to cheat death, well... it leaves something to be desired."
"But still," von Schleicher says, looking to Keitel: "Imagine. A leader could endure the death of a body. A new, stronger man could play host to a dying one, and retain the drives of the other. And build upon it. With the right body of advisers and sufficient records, well."
"Perhaps," Giamomini says: "But I think the true value of this procedure will be when I can isolate specific personality traits from the harvest, and they can be given to people. Surely can see the possibilities?"
"I can," the man says, nodding enthusiastically: "I have often thought we must make our people stronger to escape this national crisis, indeed all such problems. This may be the key to that..."
The doctor and the General go around and around on that point, and as they go on Wilhelm Keitel slowly finds himself no less skeptical, but at least glad to not have to behave himself on his companion's behalf.
"1975," he muses to Wilhelm Ganz, raising an eyebrow: "I wonder what that woman meant by that."
"Every time I shake his hand, and he's there, that's what she says to me," the man shrugs: "I don't know why she said a lesser number to the General. I don't know why she said nothing to you."
"She makes you unnerved, though."
"Yes," Ganz admits, looking off in that direction: "I should never have allowed the mystics here, but I am told certain parties in the new Germany appreciate what they bring to the table. And I suppose, as a procurer I must cater to certain tastes I do not enjoy, much less appreciate."
Ganz smiles ruefully: "There is that, also, Oberstleutnant. Perhaps I am just as guilty of ascribing madness to that which I cannot grasp."
"Wilhelm, please," Kietel says, offering his own hand to shake: "And perhaps we are all guilty of many things. Such as impoliteness, especially on my part...?"
Ganz shakes his hand and smiles, this time for real.
And by the time von Schleicher and the doctor have parted -- each making assurances they will never live to keep -- the two men have formed the foundation for something much more lasting.
So tell me, son -- do you remember when you first felt like you were just !@#$ing getting old?
Was it the first time something inside you seriously broke? Did you make a perfectly normal movement and have half your goddamn body feel like you'd torn it open? Did you forget something you should have remembered, and not been able to get it back for a whole !@#$ing day?
Me, it was 1960. March, I think. I'd been at this !@#$ing spy game for a good decade and a half by then.
And I recall that I put down my drink, looked around the utter damn mayhem that had been going on around me the whole !@#$ing night, and said, more to myself than anyone else, that I was really starting to feel old.
It was in a bar over in Hell's Kitchen. Greenies, it was called. It was a !@#$ty, cramped place with mirrors on the ceiling, a floor so sticky you couldn't !@#$ing mop it, and chairs that were stolen from every other bar in town.
The liquor was !@#$ing watered down, the beer was a joke, and sometimes they couldn't coax warm water from the damn boiler for days on end, so the glasses had to be spit-shined. And the guy behind the bar took some real delight in serving glasses cleaned with his own saliva, let me !@#$ing tell you.
Now, I can tell what you're asking, son. With all the great ability and awesome firepower that someone like myself has, why the !@#$ would I be hanging out in such a rotten place?
Well, son, it's because SPYGOD has needs. Some of these needs involve saving America from her enemies, both foreign and domestic, with some of the biggest !@#$ing guns I can get Uncle Sam to subsidize for me. And some of them involve finding some cute young man with a butt that won't quit, and taking that ass back to the B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G for a proper spin.
And, for all its many failings, Greenies was good if you really just needed some man on man, back in the day.
You see, Greenies was one of the old, mob-run gay joints that only !@#$ing thrived here because the mob was running it. And it had a built in clientele because, somehow, word had gotten around that if you were new to the scene, and needing an experienced hand, you could go there for some expert handling.
(Green means inexperienced. New gays are Greenhorns. And the place was called Greenies. You do the damn math, son.)
Now, any other town? Come Saturday night, the cops would have shown up to roust all the boys they caught dancing cheek to cheek on the sticky floor, or taking too long in the gents. And then they'd take them all downtown for a little rough trade of their own.
The kind you don't get to !@#$ing say "no" to, if you get my drift.
But here in New York City the cops were on the damn mob payroll, and us gay folks were good damn business. Especially because we didn't have much of a !@#$ing alternative, unless we wanted to risk getting thrown out of proper clubs, or try and hook up at depressingly chichi happenings in the more artsy corners, which were always too damn Red for my blood.
What is it with communism and college age gays, anyway, son? I could !@#$ing tell you how we get the boot over in Russia, except that no one ever !@#$ing listens.
(And Russia isn't Russia, anymore, either, damn it.)
So anyway, I had the !@#$ing mob to thank for the fact that I could go get a damn boy on a Saturday night after a long week of !@#$ing killing supercommies, supervillains, and supernazis for the US of A.
Now you know me, son. I got my own complicated relationship with the goombahs, as well as my own Italian heritage to contend with. So I always tried not to !@#$ing overthink the issue, and just contend with Jack Daniels that wasn't actually Jack Daniels and nervous, fresh faces from below The George who'd never even known you could put a whole fist up in there.
But I always thought those mafia dons would !@#$ing !@#$ themselves if they knew that I was cruising in their sorry joints, drinking their diluted !@#$, and leaving some interesting stains of my own in darkened corners. In fact, I can almost guarantee there would have been a !@#$ing uproar, which is why I always overtipped the bartender and told him "I wasn't !@#$ing here."
(And he just shrugged, took the money, spat in a glass, and rubbed it clean.)
Heh, those were some times, son. And that time in question? It involved a whole lot of real alcohol we brought in special for the occasion, some killer amphetamines no one !@#$ing knew about, and a conga line of fresh boys up from Jersey who didn't know that what we got up to that night wasn't !@#$ing normal behavior.
So, one hell of a train later, I'm at the bar, feeling wiped out in that special, good way. You know the way I mean, son. It's when the testosterone is gone, the drunk is finally hitting, and the tweak is like sprinkles of fairy dust behind your eyes.
Better than a damn speedball any day.
And I look in the cracked mirror behind the bar, ringed in by bottles whose contents do not match their wrappers. And I wonder how long mama's little Angelito is going to look like he just !@#$ing walked out of Camp Rogers, full of superjuice and ready to kill goddamn Japanazis for Christ and Country and all the girls back home.
And I say "Damn I feel old."
And I actually !@#$ing believed it, then.
That was 1960, son. Five years later, I had to jam a piece of alien archaeology in my damn noggin in order to save the !@#$ing world. And it apparently made me something like a damn god, but was also slowly turning my brains to goddamn sludge in my own skull. If I didn't have the power to regenerate, well, son, I'd have been dead within a year.
As it was? I !@#$ing had that thing in me for almost fifty. Every time I turned around it was showing me something new to keep me from realizing it was melting my grey matter. New senses and powers created by the fact that my original powers would not let me !@#$ing die, and found ways to repair the damage that expanded my mind.
And I was so drunk and stoned and distracted by man-ass that I didn't !@#$ing care.
Now it's gone. I apparently !@#$ing used it to save the world, again, which is kind of damn ironic if you ask me. And as soon as it was out of my head, well, I went downhill really quickly. The doctors say it's a goddamn miracle I survived as long as I did.
And now I'm awake, and alive. My head's back to normal, mostly, thanks to some abused supergod technology.
And yeah, I'm blind as a goddamn bat. But I'm finding a way around that, thanks to my old superpower.
Speaking of which, you like the shades? The guy who says he's my goddamn fiance made the suggestion at that 5 Napkin Burger place he took me on New Years, when we finally got out of the !@#$ing hospital. He says they're very Thomas Dolby, but I don't know who the !@$ that is.
And that's the big damn problem, son. All the memories I had of my life, my job, and this damn city? Everything I said and did? Everyone I saved or shot? All the revolutions I caused or stopped? All that !@#$ing !@#$ I called my life?
It's all gone, now, son. All of it.
And all I got to remember it by is the tapes I made, most of which are self-congratulatory as !@#$ing hell, and the notes I took, which are !@#$ing chickenscratches by now.
Which maybe wouldn't be so bad, except that this city has left me behind.
Not only is Greenies not there, anymore, but the building it's in is not where it was, either. Nothing is.
They tell me the goddamn city got turned into a !@#$ing computer, years ago, by some asshole robot dude from the future. And while we can't fix it, we can at least make the program it's crunching so damn difficult that it only picks up the buildings and moves them around every couple of years, instead of constantly.
Some villain named Machinehead runs the city, now. He's been literally reformed by the guy who ran it before, along with some guy I apparently beat into shape after I caught him being a lousy damn villain, himself. And I guess the guy that ran it before is the son of the daughter of the man I knew as The Owl, and he's dead, and...
Well, you get the drift, son. Whole lot of !@#$ing water under that bridge I can't see.
Good news? The city's got a lot of goods and services for free, and one !@#$ of a defense system.
Bad news, now that my fiancee's gone off to deal with some crazy damn Space Service problem I can't !@#$ing know about, yet? I can't !@#$ing find anything I knew.
My old house I grew up in? Not where it was. And maybe I don't want to go back there, anyway.
The bars I got drunk and blown in, back in the day? Not where they were. And most of them aren't what they were, either.
The various neighborhoods and ethnic hangouts? Not here, anymore. Little Italy is scattered to hell and gone, just like all the others. Chinatown, Little India, Haitian Town, the Jewish neighborhoods...
It's all gone, son. !@#$ing all of it.
It's not my town, anymore. It's changed too much.
And I didn't change along with it.
So here I am. It's !@#$-all in the early AM, and I'm wandering around like a junkie in search of a score, looking for something I can identify other than the B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G., which they don't want to !@#$ing let me in, yet.
I got a key to a luxury apartment I don't want to !@#$ing sleep in -- not alone, anyway. I got a hundred bucks burning a hole in my damn pocket that I don't know the worth of, anymore. I got clothes that aren't really mine, and no way of knowing if they're fashionable or not.
And I see bar after bar I don't know, playing music I've never !@#$ing heard, all full of happy, laughing faggots who've lived through some plague I missed out on. All of whom not only don't have to worry about being run in for dancing slow and close, but probably know openly gay cops, and are planning their damn legal weddings.
None of whom know what it's like to have to drink alcohol-flavored water in crappy, broken bars because it's the only place they can be out and safe.
Dear god, someone take my hand. Someone lead me somewhere safe and clean. Someone show me the heart and soul of this city I don't know anymore, in this world I don't understand.
Someone !@#$ing take me home, again.
"Come on, man," Myron says to Number Two -- currently restrained on his bed to keep him from playing with his own special brand of number two -- and not liking the look in the man's eyes: "You have to know how."
The man won't speak, though. He grits his teeth and whines like a puppy afraid of being beaten.
"Alright, then," Myron says, looking at the photos the doctors took of his !@#$ty illustrations -- day after day of turd landscapes and scrawled, half-formed words: "Is the answer here, somewhere? Did you write it down so you didn't have to say it? Is that it?"
More looks of helplessness. More tears.
"You know, I'm trying to help you, here," Myron says, changing tactics: "That nasty doctor? The one you used to have running the machines at the hospital? I think you pissed her off one time too many, back when you were in charge. And she's chomping at the bit to put you in treatment.
"I might be your last chance to get out of it."
More tears. More gritting of teeth -- so taut and tight it's a wonder he doesn't shatter something.
"Alright, then," Myron sighs, walking out of the room: "You change your mind? You tell them. I'll come anytime.
"Just don't wait too long," he says, turning back and pointing to the light fixture above the bed: "You know what'll happen after curfew."
And then he's out into the hallway, and facing the nasty doctor in question.
"So what's all this, then?" she asks, looking at him like he's an insect she found underfoot: "Are you using me as the boogeyman, here?"
"Aren't you?" he asks, raising an eyebrow: "If so, you're not doing a good job of it. It's been a week and he still hasn't !@#$ing spilled anything."
"He knows all our techniques and tricks," she sighs: "He watched them happen. He knows what to expect. Even regressed like this, he's able to see through the illusions and fight the directives."
"Then up the goddamn dose," Myron orders her.
"We might get better results if we don't push him," she says: "I'm noticing he's starting to talk in his sleep."
"Anything significant?" Myron asks, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
"Nothing too intelligible yet," she admits, shaking her head: "Words and phrases, mostly. '42,' 'below,' 'fire.' That and something about Morlocks, but-"
"Oh sure, blame the problems on !@#$ing H.G. Wells," he snorts: "I don't have time for him to compose poetry in his damn sleep, lady. I don't care what you have to do. You got bad science? Use it. Use it all!"
"And what if it kills him?"
"Hey, he's not some !@#$ing innocent here. He's the guy who ran the machine. So if he gets his brains turned to tapioca so we can get out of here, well, I'm willing to call it karma."
"You might want to be careful," she advises as he walks off: "The thing about karma is that it bites both ways."
"Bite me," he says, flipping her the bird as he goes: "!@#$."
She says a few choice things to that, but he doesn't care. He's already well down the hallway, wondering how to many more days he can keep the Chess Master from realizing he knows that she knows what he knows, now.
And if he'll even survive that discussion...
* * *
"What do you mean they went on the raid without me?" New Man shouts, running from his tent to the staging area where the rest of the team should be, but aren't.
"Just that, my friend," Al Mubaraz says: "They left me here to guard it, and you."
"Why would I need guarding?" the older hero asks, turning to look at the short, Qatari man.
"Because they don't trust you, anymore," he says, perhaps too conversationally for the circumstances: "And I think they don't trust me, either. So perhaps this is a test to see which of us is less trustworthy."
"What the !@#$ do they think I'm doing to do?" New Man says, seeing the horizon explode, and knowing what that means.
"Sabotage the war, to hear them tell it," he shrugs.
"Even Demir Ruzgar," the swordsman says, pointing: "We were as brothers, before. Now he looks at me like I am a stranger. Even an infidel, if you can believe that."
"Something is wrong, here," the older hero says, not happy to have to state the damn obvious: "They shouldn't be acting like this. And they wouldn't be, either. Something has happened."
"I agree," the man says, extending a hand: "Perhaps we should find out what...?"
New Man smiles and nods, and takes the man's hand.
And then everything explodes...
It's arguing that wakes SPYGOD up -- loud, shrill, and unmistakably Thai, counterpointing the song playing in the background.
(Tits on the radio. Did he hear that right?)
Then there's the sound of a scuffle as two slight Asian boys dressed like girls playfully fight over a diaphanous green dress that shouldn't be able to stand up to that kind of tug-of-war.
The apartment smells of Thai curry, French perfume, and cheap cigarettes. His head feels like someone hit it with a metal shovel. And his mouth is filled with the taste of half-upchucked whiskey and a day's worth of unswallowed spit.
"Oh good jesus !@#$ing christ," SPYGOD mumbles as he tries to sit up on the couch he's clearly been on for at least a day. His clothes are sticky and his head hurts.
(Somehow his "glasses" stayed on this whole time, and he makes a note of this.)
"He awake!" one of the katooeys says. She's tall and lanky, with big lips and small eyes overshadowed by mascara and fake eyelashes from hell.
"Hey you!" the smaller one says, leaping over onto the couch and going for a hug: "You been away long time, mister SPYGOD. We missed you!"
"Hey, now," SPYGOD says, somehow unable to disentangle himself from her: "Hey. Hey! I'm !@#$ing hurting, here."
"Oh, we know," the taller one says, shouting something to someone in the other room. There's a reply, and then a third person comes over. She's dressed up in blue go-go shorts and a My Little Brony t-shirt, and carrying a tray of food.
"What the hell is this?" SPYGOD asks, almost swooning from the fumes. It appears to be rum-soaked fruit, two bloody marys stuffed with more meat than ice, a whole package worth of fried bacon, and a half a quiche with chili paste smeared on the top.
"It's your Hunters breakfast," the one in the t-shirt says: "What we could get, anyway."
"Holly already use the cocaine," the tall one accuses the short one who's got SPYGOD in a death hug.
"You had some too!"
"I did not," the tall one snorts, crossing her arms over her small chest: "Cocaine not for ladies."
"Well, you're no lady, Jo-Jo," the one in the t-shirt says, heading back to the kitchen.
"Sut!" Jo-Jo yells at her, flipping her the bird. Holly just laughs and tries to give SPYGOD a deep kiss.
"Woah, hey!" SPYGOD says, putting up a hand: "You might not want to do that, hon. I taste like ass."
"I like taste of ass," Holly grins: "You know that, I think?"
"What is all this?" SPYGOD says, all but tossing her off him: "Who the !@#$ are you? How the !@#$ did I get here?"
"Oh come on," Jo-Jo says: "Don't make like you don't know us. You still paying rent on this place."
"Maybe he has amnesia?" the girl in the brony shirt says, poking her head around the corner: "Maybe he got hit in the head one time too many?"
"Oh !@#$," SPYGOD sighs, leaning back into the couch and closing his useless eyes behind his glasses, which continue to see for him: "Did we used to... date?"
The girls all look at him, and then they laugh -- loud and braying.
"Oh honey, yes," Holly says, patting his thigh: "We date all the time."
"You come driving up in your flying car," Jo-Jo says, miming someone using a steering wheel: "Toot toot your horn, we all come out."
"You'd fly us back to your penthouse, three or four of us at a time," the brony says: "We'd spend the night eating takeout from that place with the crazy, one-legged guy and drinking Singha."
"Then we drink you," Holly says, grinning: "And you sing that song to me, because my name Holly and you like that one band."
"No, he sang it to me," the brony insists.
"What band?" SPYGOD asks, genuinely confused.
"Frankie," the brony replies, pointing to herself: "You said you'd take me to Hollywood, someday."
"And then you make us breakfast," Holly says, flipping Frankie the bird with one hand as she waves to the tray: "Maybe make bad people walk off the edge if they try and kill you."
"Or maybe just have that scary tranny robot try chase us out the elevator," Frankie snorts.
"And you pay us a lot of money," Jo-Jo grins: "Still paying for things with your money, year later."
"Well, !@#$," SPYGOD sighs: "Is this a bad time to tell you I'm engaged?"
"Oh, we do you both, one night," Holly says: "Your handsome blonde man!"
"Wait, we did what?"
"Lots of things," Jo-Jo chuckles: "I think you got magnesia."
"Amnesia," Frankie corrects, more a sigh than a word.
"So how did I get here?" SPYGOD asks: "Cause I definitely got !@#$ing amnesia on that."
"Other night, we were out working, and Holly saw you," Jo-Jo says, grinning.
"You all cold and alone and scared," Holly says, leaning closer: "Also really drunk."
"You were pounding Jack straight from the bottle," Frankie says: "About half of it was gone, and you were talking about getting old, and nothing was where it was."
"You also shooting guns at cars."
"Oh !@#$," SPYGOD shouts, patting himself down: "Please tell me I didn't kill anyone. Please tell me I didn't kill anyone. Please tell me I didn't !@#$ing kill anyone. Please !@#$ing tell me I didn't !@#$ing kill anyone-"
"Ahem," Frankie says, holding up the weapons in question by their trigger guards, like soiled condoms: "I took them off you before you did anything stupid."
"More stupid," Jo-Jo says.
"You just big stupid," Holly says, patting the tray: "Eat your breakfast. Maybe you take us shopping?"
SPYGOD looks at the food. He inhales, and then puts a hand over his mouth, and runs for the bathroom, almost knocking the tray over on the way.
"You sure that SPYGOD?" Jo-Jo asks, wondering if she should just drink the bloody marys herself.
"I'd recognize that ass anywhere," Frankie says, trying to ignore the sounds coming from the bathroom as she goes back to whatever she was doing in the kitchen.
"Well, that's a damn relief," Director Straffer says, turning around in his office chair as he talks into his pad: "Thanks for letting me know, Machinehead."
"He says he needs a few hundred to pay to the ladies," the AI says: "Something about breakfast and a trip to Bad Girls."
"Sounds about right," Straffer sighs:"Is he alright?"
"He was quite upset when they found him. Also quite drunk. I was debating whether to appear and talk sense or just send the police."
"Well, thanks for looking out for him, too," his fiancee chuckles: "Let me guess, he couldn't sleep alone?"
"I suppose," Machinehead sighs: "But he's back at the apartment, now. And alone."
"Hopefully he stays there, for now," Straffer says: "I'll talk to him tonight. I've got a lot of work waiting for me."
"Is it... as bad as they say?" the AI asks, looking genuinely concerned.
"It's not good," Straffer says, looking at the telemetry they're getting from Mars.
The garbage left over from the Decreator is coming closer to the planet. It's only a matter of weeks before even more of it slams into the surface.
And if the projections are correct, this will destroy all life on the planet.
Which means that the refugee situation just got even worse than they could have imagined...
* * *
"Of course, that just means more bad press," the Candidate's Campaign Manager's chief intern says, sipping at his longnecked beer as he and the two new aides relax at a downbeat, quiet bar: "Stupid !@#$."
"Hey, now," Bobbi (aka Jana) teases him, winking over her glasses: "Some of us like being !@#$y."
"Well, okay," the aide says, blushing a little: "But still, pulling a stunt like that. She should have known she'd get ejected. I think that was the plan all along."
"It's possible," Frank (aka Karl) says, sipping at his own beer: "But it makes an important point."
"He does have a negative perception among that community," Jana says.
"It's not like they're going to vote for him, anyway," the aide sighs: "Not with everything he's saying about immigration restrictions, and deportation."
"Do you think he's right?" Karl asks.
"About that?" the aide chuckles, shaking his head: "Hell no. I think it's sick and wrong. I think he knows that, too, but he knows it'll get him elected. Just like almost anything he says, really."
He blinks at that, looking off into the distance: "I don't know why I just said that."
"There's truth in wine," Jana smiles, moving her hand juuuuuuuuust a little closer to his.
"It's not like we're going to tell anyone," Karl smiles: "Tonight's off the books, right?"
"Absolutely," the aide agrees, maybe more forcibly than he should: "No holds barred, nothing held back. We worked hard this week, and we'll work hard every week until November. And if we play our cards right, we'll be on the train when it leaves for DC."
"Is that why you're working for him?" Jana asks: "You don't agree with a lot of what he says. I can tell from how you wince at the news."
"I'm here to get a job when I graduate college," the kid admits, perhaps astounded how readily the words roll off his tongue: "The only reason I signed up with him is because he's going to be the next President of the United States. That's it. If I thought Kasich had a chance in hell I'd be there."
"Well, he doesn't," Karl shrugs: "And our man does."
"There's no shame in calculated compromise," Jana adds: "It's what the town is built on. It's what democracy is all about..."
She moves her hand onto his. He doesn't move it.
Jana looks at Karl, who looks back at her. She nods, he returns it.
And as she and the aide discuss a different kind of compromise, he quietly excuses himself to the men's room, there to ditch the Truth Powder they poured into his beer when he was looking elsewhere...
"So, did they learn anything interesting?" Randolph Scott asks Helmut as they sit around the break room, drinking coffee in the early morning.
"A lot," the clone says, raising his leather cowboy hat up over his eyes: "For one thing, Karl's glad the man's heterosexual. He wasn't looking forward to taking one for the team."
"That was never his style, was it?"
"No, it was more Gunther's..." Helmut says, and then trails off, remembering his brother's sad death.
"So," Randolph says, after they've both hidden their tears: "What did they find out?"
"No one in the campaign wants to be there," the large clone says, leaning forward and cocking his head as though someone were whispering into his ear -- which the others are -- : "Just about everyone is working an angle. They're all figuring on getting jobs after the election, or springboarding onto someone else's if he self-destructs between then and now."
"Oh happy day," the outlaw journalist grins: "What else?"
"There's financial mishandling. Everyone actually in the campaign has got a hand in the pot, somewhere. They figure the money's just tumbling out of his pockets, why not take advantage."
"That's an indictment of his people, but not him," Randolph says, thinking: "Still, I can use it if we can prove it."
"Karl says he hasn't seen any shady people hanging around... well, shadier than usual. You know how campaigns can be."
"Don't I !@#$ing ever."
"And Jana says that the guy is saying that, according to the Campaign Manager, every night he gets a phone call, and he has to take it," Helmut says, raising an eyebrow: "It's not his wife."
"A mistress?" the reporter says, astounded: "A boyfriend?"
"No. It doesn't sound anything like that, at least from what she told this guy. He actually defers to this person."
"And what does he say to this person?"
"She doesn't know. He always excuses himself and takes it in private. She figures it's one of the Koch brothers, telling him what to do..."
"Except that we know the Kochs !@#$ing hate him," Randolph Scott considers, leaning back in his chair and sipping at the coffee. His mug says I USE THE ENEMY.
"Jana says that if we get close enough to the Campaign Manager though the aide, we might be able to be there when he takes a call," Helmut says: "And then we could listen in."
"Do it," Randolph says: "Just tell them to be careful. If they get their cover blown, this whole expose is in the !@#$."
Helmut nods, wondering if he's as concerned about Karl and Jana's safety as he is about the story. But he lets it go, knowing that he's just being silly.
* * *
"What do you mean, you don't know who David Bowie is?" Frankie asks, clearly astounded.
"I don't," SPYGOD grouses, downing the last of the beer he's been nursing for the last half an hour, and trying to ignore Holly's fumbling attempts to put her hand on his crotch, under the table.
They're sitting at a booth at some place called Lovegun. Apparently it closed, some time ago, but someone keeps throwing money at it to open it temporarily. On such nights it's a cash-only enterprise run by a pair of ultra-hip, white-blonde entrepreneurs who are either brother and sister, lovers who've tried to transform into each other, or some combination of the two.
And, on such nights, it's a crazy, anything goes party where no one gets excluded, and all are welcome, so long as certain standards of behavior are obeyed.
(No !@#$ing on the floor is apparently a strict rule, as one of Jo-Jo's friends found out the hard way, earlier...)
The ladies are all pretty as pictures, wearing the clothes SPYGOD bought them to say "thanks" for getting his drunk ass off the streets. They're also made up to within an inch of their incandescent lives, and quite lit up on nearly-florescent drinks.
(Not to mention marching powder, unless Jo-Jo's coming down with a cold.)
"This is good !@#$," SPYGOD says, looking at the label: "Yuengling, huh? Well, at least they still make this."
"There's all kinds of craft beers, now," Frankie says, leaning in: "I can't go to the store without seeing a six pack from some company I've never heard of, before."
"Tell me more," SPYGOD says, scooting a little closer.
"You come back here," Holly giggles, leaning in closer: "No running away!"
SPYGOD sighs, and is about to say something, but then he realizes something is very wrong.
It's not a thing he could explain. There's no sound where there should be sound.
And then he's suddenly ducking under the table -- dragging Holly with him and pushing Frankie as far away from him as he can.
A steady, swift stream of small, high-pitched THWIPs come half a second later, and then the booth gets ripped not quite in half.
"Mother!@#$er!" SPYGOD shouts, hurling his empty bottle in the direction of their attacker -- a blurry figure he can just barely make out, standing on the edge of the floor. People are fleeing the distortion and screaming, adding to the panic.
The bottle shatters in the gunman's face, and for a moment the gun goes silent.
Then the distortion ends. The figure can be seen clearly.
An android of some kind. Industrial lines. A harsh, angry face, made in mockery of the human form.
DIE SPYGOD DIE! it chirps in a harsh voice, and takes aim again.
SPYGOD grabs what's left of the table and uses it as a shield. Useless, but enough of a stalling action to get some surprise.
Then he pulls out the very large handgun no one found on him when he was patted down at the door, and begins to fire it at the assassin's head -- one loud, carefully-controlled shot after the other.
The first shot destroys most of the android's CPU. The three that come after only add insult to injury.
And then SPYGOD's out from behind the table, walking slowly and carefully towards the toppling android as he makes fist-sized holes in its chest, shoulders, and pelvis.
Then he's out of ammunition, but the android's out of luck. It falls backwards onto the dance floor, quivering slightly.
"Everyone okay?" SPYGOD asks, not turning around.
Jo-Jo is crying, but not from pain or sadness. Holly is cursing in Thai over and over again.
And Frankie's standing behind him, peering at the smoking mess on the floor with some kind of fascination.
"Where did you hide that gun?" Frankie asks.
"Trade secret," SPYGOD says, making it go away again as he squats down to inspect the mess: "Get everyone out. Keep them out. Tell the two dye-jobs I'll pay for the !@#$ing damages."
"You got it," she says, going back to collect her roommates: "Anything else?"
"Yeah," he sighs, taking out the communicator he's been avoiding using all this time: "I don't see you for a while? Don't take it personally. I think the world's !@#$ing tired of waiting for me to catch up to it again."
She nods, hoisting Holly up to her feet: "You got it," she repeats.
"But Frankie," SPYGOD says, looking at her: "I am !@#$ing taking you to Hollywood, next time."
"Yeah, right," the katooey says, smirking as she goes. But somehow, he gets the sense she knows he's not entirely joking.
"Hello, COMPANY?" SPYGOD says, looking at the door at all the scared people milling outside of it: "This is SPYGOD. I need to talk to the Director. Like right !@#$ing now.
"Yeah," he sighs, kicking the android once for good measure: "I'll hold."
So who's David Bowie, son?
Well, that's a long !@#$ing story, as I found out last night when I got on Wikipedia and went looking. Turns out he's a British singer/songwriter and fashion icon who's been famous almost all the time I can't !@#$ing remember. He got known around 1969, which is about four years after I shoved the damn Chandra Eye in my head.
And now, more than 50 years after I became host to some goddamn weird piece of the Decreator -- and don't even !@#$ing get me to explain that one, son -- he's still performing. Not touring, anymore. But he's still out there, doing his big damn thing, and changing with almost every different album.
(And damn good looking, if I don't say so myself.)
His new one's called Black Star. I've been listening to it quite a bit, today. I feel like someone who's been handed a !@#$ing ray gun when all I knew before was a six-shooter, trying to listen to this thing, but it's growing on me.
And I think I'm getting to understand what it is I've lost, finally.
When I came out of it, I was !@#$ing confused. I thought it was 1970, when I really should have thought it was 1965. And that's 50 years gone.
I don't remember anything I did between then and now. I don't remember coming out to Richard !@#$ing Nixon. I don't remember the weird relationship I struck up with Ronald Reagan, or how I handled
I don't remember when the Olympians showed up, or how they left. I don't remember their making Deep-Ten, or that we had to blow it the !@#$ up when the big guns got pointed at us, rather than out at the angry, cold stars.
My war against international Communism is a big damn blank after 1965, which means I have no idea how or where I !@#$ing celebrated the Berlin Wall coming down. I don't remember the wetwork I did to bring it about, and all the times I killed the wrong person for the right reasons, or vice !@#$ing versa. Or the times I pulled the trigger and then lived to regret it, deeply.
I'm told I killed Castro, though, which makes me !@#$ing happier than a bastard on father's day.
(And you know why, son. You know why.)
And I don't exactly remember how or why I decided to !@#$ up the apple cart and go after all the bad science and super terror groups I went after, a couple years ago, either. Something involving an explosion, I'm told. But somehow I was willing to gamble the whole world just to make up for my having been so lax with its safety all those years.
Mostly because I didn't fear for my own.
That's what being immortal does to you, apparently. You stop !@#$ing giving a !@#$. You see people as fleeting shadows who are here and then gone. Love is secondary to pleasure. Loyalty is temporary.
And no one matters worth a damn but you.
So I got careless. I got sloppy. I figured I could just blow the !@#$ out of everything and walk out, not caring who didn't make it.
And I really loved my people in the COMPANY because they were willing to follow me into both kinds of hell -- the one I walked into, and the one I left behind me.
But when I say "I," son? I'm not really talking about me. Not anymore, anyway. I'm talking about the mother!@#$er I became after I'd had that thing in my head.
The asshole who decided he could just do whatever, whenever, and !@#$ing get away with it because nothing short of an A-bomb would kill him. I think if I read another self-congratulatory report about how that asshole killed fifty supercommies with a toothpick and a drunken yak I'm going to burn the COMPANY archive down.
But you know what, son? That asshole... is gone.
I don't know what all I did, and maybe I don't want to. Maybe it's not entirely a bad thing that I lost all those memories, because I also lost a lot of bad habits. A lot of poor decision making.
A lot of callous disregard for others' lives and welfare.
I mean, hell, it's not like I'm a damn virgin or anything. I got my anger and my appetites. My needs and my fury. And I'm told I still get nasty letters from the Secret Service Agent I !@#$ing threw in the way of the bullet meant for Jack Kennedy.
(And how is he even still alive? Damned if I know.)
But I'm back, son. The real me is back. The person who knew what it meant when someone pointed a gun at him, or someone else. The agent who knew that a failed mission was a damn bad thing.
The spy who knows that you hide what you know from everyone, which is why my fiancee still thinks I only lost 45 years instead of 50.
The hero who wanted to protect his country because he loved it, and not because he thought he owed it for all the trouble he got into.
So yeah. I lost a lot. But I got a lot back, too. Lazarus has finally woken the !@#$ up.
And maybe not a moment too soon, if what Josie is telling me is true...
Who's David Bowie? Immortal and changing. Never the same person twice, but yet constant. Always interesting, even on the bad albums. Never boring.
Who am I? I'm SPYGOD, again.
And it's about !@#$ing time.
(SPYGOD is listening to Lazarus (David Bowie) and having a Lazarus) (David Bowie - RIP)