Monday, February 1, 2016

TechnOlympos: 1/25/16 - 1/31/16

"Complication's my claim to fame..."

Rahmaa protecting her new children

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 1/25/88

"So," the real estate mogul with big hair says, shaking the hand of the man who's come to see him in his office: "I understand we have some interests in common?"

"We might," the grey-haired, older man with the crisp mustache says, smiling as he returns the handshake with a firm, self-confident grip: "And I do appreciate your taking the time to see me. I know you are a very busy man."

"Hey, business and busy have the same three first letters," the man laughs, gesturing to a well-padded seat across from the desk, and gesturing his assistant out of the luxurious room: "I figure there's a reason, right?"

"That must lead to a tiring schedule," his visitor says, sitting down with a decidedly military bearing.

"Sometimes. But then, it's not like I can't take a day off to make up for it if I have to. Leave the details to someone else. Subject to my review."

"Quite right," the older fellow says, running a finger along his mustache: "Wealth makes its own reality, as I'm sure you know."

"You got that right," the mogul says, snapping his fingers: "It's a superpower. I keep telling people that."

"An interesting conjecture."

"You read comic books?"

"They were never quite my thing, no."

"Well, you know, here in New York? We got Marvel and DC here. So it pays to keep up on it. Never know when you're going to run into Stan Lee somewhere."

"I never considered that," the older man says, wondering where this tiring man is going with this.

"Well, anyway? People go on about how Iron Man and Batman don't have superpowers? How they're just ordinary people who trained, or got all the cool toys?

"Well, the way I see it? Being rich? That's their superpower. It's what pays for the training and the toys. Without that? They're ordinary people."

"A valid point," his guest says: "And who would be an ordinary person?"

"Exactly," the mogul says: "I mean, don't get me wrong. I love people. But I want to see them achieve their potential and succeed. Nothing makes me angrier than someone who just doesn't try."

"And if they try and fail?"

"Try again. Keep trying. Never give up."

"Are some types of people more disposed to giving up or failing than others, do you think?"

"Nope, not really," the mogul says, shaking his head: "I mean, sure. Some people are dumb. Some people are smart. And maybe genetics and environment play a hand in it. But you can overcome that with education and training. That and perseverance."

"That's a rather naive view of the world," the older man says: "Surely you've noticed that certain groups are more prone to sloth and failure than others. There are reasons why Europe became the jewel of civilization, while other, darker corners of the world remain locked in less impressive patterns."

"Well, some people might feel like that," the mogul says, suddenly no longer sure why he's here with this man: "Me, I try to consider people to be equal. Maybe they aren't really, maybe they are. But I figure everyone deserves a fair shake-"

"That is a foolish and self-destructive notion, and you will never believe it again," Wilhelm Keitel says, leaning forward and looking the man in the eyes: "Say it to me."

"That's a foolish notion, and I'll never believe it again," the mogul says, not sure why the words are leaving his lips.

"You should know better, anyway," the ABWEHR man continues, shaking his head: "Am I really talking to the strong boy that others were afraid of? The boy who became a man in military school? Surely you should know that the strong must always rule over the weak. Surely you must know that some will always be weak."

He tuts, and then looks out the window at the city: "You are correct, though. Money is a superpower. The power to make your own reality. The power to shape the world, to have influence over others. In that sense, you and I are alike."

"What do you want from me?" the mogul asks.

"For now, nothing," Keitel says, getting to his feet, but bidding his host to remain seated: "We will talk more, of course. In fact we will talk every night from now on. You will tell no one of these conversations. And you will take what I have to say to heart, though you will not utter these things to others... at least not yet.

"And in the future, when I have more need of you, I or someone very much like me will come to see you. And you will do whatever they need of you, without question or complaint.

"This is understood, yes?"

"Yes," the mogul says, sitting at his desk with a look like a slapped puppy.

"Good," the supernazi says, looking out at the city he both loves and hates in equal measure: "We will have such a great future, you and I. So long as you do as I tell you.

"And I do not intend to give you any choice in the matter..."

Tuesday: 1/26/16

"... you will stop this at once, or suffer the consequences."


"... world still in shock at these images taken at the space elevator, as the woman claiming to be the goddess of the sun entered the conflict between the United Nations and its rogue Space Service director on the side of the director-"


"... this unprovoked attack on American forces will not stand. Tonight I am asking Congress to stand ready in case we must declare war on these self-styled, so-called Gods-"


"... amazing footage, taken from a news helicopter that had come to watch the dogfight between the Space Service and American warplanes from the US-"


"... Detroit police are finally confirming that the vigilante known as The Raven, who has been causing controversy in that city due to its complicated past with superheroes, was shot and killed last sunday-"


"... she just raised her hands and the planes melted. They exploded. No one could eject. It was horrible-"


"... armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge came to a grisly end today as Federal law enforcement agents stormed the compound at around four in the morning, reportedly killing or wounding most of the occupiers-"


"... Carson said, quote, 'this nation is a Christian nation, one nation under one god. We will not bow to tyrants who claim divine right to do as they please-"


"... as of now, the long line of refugee ships from Mars are being allowed to dock and unload, and the Martians are being sent from Indonesia directly to Mexico by some unseen means-"


"... had just averted an armed robbery at Qalat Jewelers, a family-owned business, by what were reported to be masked criminals, when the store was practically leveled by sustained heavy machinegun fire-"


"... astounding footage of Rahmaa holding her own against the mysterious, golden spaceship the Space Service has used to defend the Earth. We're being told it was actually engaging on behalf of the UN, against the Space Service, at the time. And here you see-" 


"There is no official death toll yet, though an anonymous source has informed CNN that the agents were ordered not to accept the surrender of any ranchers seen to be armed-"


"... well, what do you expect, Megan? These people call themselves Gods, and these Martians apparently worship the sun. So if we say, well, you can't come here after all, even if your planet is about to die, what did you think their god would say?-"


"... the Candidate has announced he will not be participating in FOX News' latest debate unless they change the moderator-"


"... as of now, the Space Elevator is clear and safe, protected by deadly forces invisible to the human eye. Anyone who approaches from the outside is burned to a cinder within moments-"


"... word that The Raven was formerly the Talon of the famous Owl crime-fighting dynasty in Chicago. How he came to be in Detroit, and changed his name, is a mystery at this point-"


" ... Congressional leaders were united in condemning the attack on the planes, but seemed strangely cool to the idea of actually declaring war on the city-state of Olympos-"


"... He’s got the guts to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debate on his sleeve, where the rest of some of these establishment candidates, they just wanted to duck and hide. They didn’t want to talk about these issues until he brought ’em up. In fact, they’ve been wearing a, this, political correctness kind of like a suicide vest-”


"... one thing is for certain, Joe. This is the point of no return. These Olympians have finally flexed their muscles and shown us that they won't be bullied, and that they're very capable of returning fire-"


"... understand that the Owl is currently engaged in talks with the Mayor of Detroit to get her son's body back. We have been told that there is some issue about her even setting foot into the city, stemming from an incident that happened almost twenty years ago-"


"No word from the White House about the Freedom Force, whose current roster includes one of the Olympians. Mister Freedom, sometimes known as... Restreet? Ristreet? I'm not sure how to pronounce this-"


"... remember what the doormouse said / feed your head / feed your head..." 

Wednesday: 1/27/16

"Is that the only !@$#ing music you got on board, Free Fire?" SPYGOD asks after what seems to be the third repeat of Surrealistic Pillow, wincing at the burns and cuts that cover most of his front side.

"I am afraid so," the man in badly-battered and cracked orange armor says, looking over the edge of the hole in the sand they've been hunkered down in since Sunday.

"No. I actually kind of like it. I'm just wondering if you could play something else for a damn change."

"Do you like Fleetwood Mac?"


"I have some Who, yes."

"No, who's Fleetwood Mac?" SPYGOD says, somewhat exasperated.

"The drummer and guitarist," Free Fire says, smiling a little.

"You're !@#$ing with me, aren't you?' the superspy groans: "Of course you are."

"There's been no sign of the COMPANY," the orange-armored man says, perhaps in an attempt to change the subject: "This is rather disturbing."

"I told you, I might have lost my damn transponder when the !@#$ hit the fan," SPYGOD says.

"They should have put down in our last position."

"And I told you we wouldn't see them put down, too," SPYGOD sighs, tired of this argument: "Thieves in the !@#$ing night, man. Invisible suits and cloaked aircraft. Didn't you !@#$ing learn anything when they inducted you as a Strategic Talent?"

"They taught me that I couldn't rely on backup. I had to be ready to stand up for myself. Life doesn't come with a panic button."

For some reason that really bothers SPYGOD. He sits up to try and yell at his ally, but the injuries he's been healing from for the last couple days decide to remind him that they're there -- with a vengeance, this time.

"You shouldn't get so worked up," Free Fire says when he comes around: "You're lucky to be alive."

"I ain't the only one," the spy says, gritting his teeth and wishing they had proper booze, a lot more water, and something approaching an exit plan.

Right now, all they've got is the desperate need to stay low.

Especially at night.

* * *

Upon reflection, they were damned lucky to be alive -- either of them.

They were outnumbered and outgunned. They had no time to plan or prepare. And, as they'd just spent a few precious minutes seriously pretending to fight one another while discussing what was really going on, they were more than a little winded.

So when the long-range fighters launched their weapons at Free Fire and SPYGOD -- bombs and swords and very large bullets, along with a lightning bolt or two -- it should have been the end of the battle.

Should have been, that is.

Luckily, those few minutes they'd spent sparring had sharpened their reflexes. And, more importantly, they'd learned something about how one another thought.

So when SPYGOD shouted "go low and fire high!" Free Fire knew to kneel down and start blasting away with the fire missiles he had on board.

What he didn't know was that SPYGOD would turn one of his swords into a long, large, and very thick shield -- one that curved around them both.

The blasts, bullets, and bolts were deflected. However, the shockwaves from them still knocked them both back on their asses, right into the ragged, burning ruins of SPYGOD's tent.

But by the time they got to their feet, a few mind-scrambling seconds later, the orange-armored hero's missiles had done their work. Tonnerre Bleu was out of the game -- flailing on the ground as he burned, foolishly trying to put out the fire with his cyclone powers -- Zephyr was calling down the rain to try and soak her pursuers, and Epee Rouge was weaving and dodging the burning rockets he'd sent after her.

That just left the ground fighters, but there were three of them, too. And they were running right for the two of them -- Bouclier Blanc and his deadly, towering shield at the head of the pack, followed closely by Russian Steel and Arachnoid.

(But no sign of Chinmoku or Yanabah, which was very troubling)

Free Fire and SPYGOD looked at one another. Somehow they just knew.

So they both got to their feet somewhat simultaneously, ran past one another in front of the white-armored French hero, and did hit-and-run attacks on the two closest combatants behind him.

Russian Steel never knew what hit him. The fire wheel was white-hot and cut through his face like soft cheese.

He took three more steps, screaming at the deep, thin gash that ran from his left cheek to his right eye. And then he fell down, bleeding and in shock. 

Arachnoid was luckier; SPYGOD decided to just warp his blade into a large, nasty gauntlet and smack the six-armed hero right in the face. His multi-eyed helmet shattered into pieces, revealing his all too human face beneath, and he fell down with blood trickling from his nose and ears.

That just left Bouclier Blanc, who wheeled on a dime -- seemingly not concerned by the fate of his fellows -- and, after drawing a sword, rushed them both.

SPYGOD and Free Fire wheeled and sparred with their white-clad former ally, amazed at his skill. Somehow he was able to hold them both off with what seemed contemptuous ease -- parrying their best strikes as though they were mere novices.

"You will die! Both of you!" he shouted between strikes of his long sword and sparkling shield: "You will die to serve our master!"

"Not today, you snail-eating mother!@#$er," SPYGOD muttered, rapidly tiring of this state of affairs.

(And somehow knowing that their flying opponents would be coming back for them in due course...)

That's when it happened: he saw Free Fire stiffen and fall down -- a massive, fist-shaped hole in his back, right where his heart should be.

A split-second later there was the terrible CRACK of a large-caliber rifle.

"Oh great," SPYGOD snorted, realizing he'd ignored Yanabah's threat a second too long.

Luckily for him, Bouclier Blanc picked that very moment to charge at SPYGOD. So the super-spy did the only sensible thing he could -- he leaped right over the top of the white-armored hero's shield, strode across the man's helmet, and landed right behind him.

Another CRACK rang out, but this time the bullet that went along with it had merely exploded across the Frenchman's white force shield.

But now Bouclier Blanc was between him and the sniper. And so long as SPYGOD kept the battle a linear thing, rather than a circling duel, he'd keep it that way.

"Coward," the Frenchman sneered, pressing his attack. And SPYGOD could barely keep up with the rain of twinned blows the man was unleashing -- sword after shield after sword after shield, over and over until it was all he could do to keep both hands up and filled.

And over the man's hulking, armored shoulders he could see a very angry Epee Rouge and Zephyr flying back for another go...

* * *

"... wake up," Free Fire was saying, shaking him ever so gently: "Do you know how long you've been asleep?"

SPYGOD looks up at the sky. It's dark, with only stars and the moon to provide a glow -- other than the explosions, off in the distance. 

"Please tell me I wasn't out all the rest of the !@#$ing day," he mutters, rather weakly, as his orange-clad ally gives him some water to drink.

"Ever since I let you listen to 'Rumours.'" Free Fire says. He looks like he's made some significant repairs to the massive hole in his armor -- at least in the front.

"Great," the super spy grunts, forcing himself to get out of the prone position and sit up. The pain is actually manageable now -- he must be healing faster than he thought he was.

(His skin definitely feels a lot less crispy...)

"Just to be certain," Free Fire says, standing to look over the wall of their makeshift hideout in the sand: "You don't have any way to contact our superiors in the COMPANY?"

"No," SPYGOD sighs: "I !@#$ing told you, man. They were all in my stuff in my tent, along with just about every other damn trick I needed."

"Not everything," the armored man says, reaching into a half-burned bag and handing over something that looks like a flashlight: "I found this. I thought you might need it."

"Oh thank God," SPYGOD says, taking the fleshlight and making sure it still worked: "Is that all you could salvage?"

"Water and a few nutrient bars. Also a bottle of that beer you seem to like."

"Great," the superspy snorts, his hair and features changing as he slowly moves the device from one side of his face to the other: "If we can't call home, at least one of us can get !@#$ing buzzed."

"I gathered some of the broken things as well," Free Fire says, seemingly unconcerned by the revelation of SPYGOD's true appearance: "Some of them could be repaired, if we had time and equipment."

"If," SPYGOD says, tossing the fleshlight into the bag, in case they need it again: "And if I was !@#$ing Dorothy I could tap my red shoes together and we'd be home."

"I didn't find them in the tent," the man says, looking up to peer around the darkened landscape:: "So I guess that means we have to walk, when you're up to it."

"Yeah," SPYGOD sighs, wondering if his ally actually understood the joke or not: "And then we have to get to a town and make a !@#$ing call home. We have to tell them what you saw. And quick-"

Just then, a terrible howl splits the night. The sound of something that SPYGOD only remembers hearing once before, and never wanting to ever hear again. 

He shivers, but Free Fire does not -- even when the howling is soon accompanied by horrible screaming.

"Are you sure you do not want me to kill-"

"Positive," SPYGOD says, finally giving into his need and -- after making a bottle opener appear in his hand -- opening the beer: "If nothing else, it'll keep the bastards off of us for the night."

"I'm more worried about it finding us."

SPYGOD nods, and takes a pull off the beer: "If that !@#$ing happens, just do what we did last time, and then get me the !@#$ out of here. I'm probably good enough to move at this point."

"And if what we did before doesn't work?" Free Fire asks, looking back down.

The spy shrugs: "Then we do what anyone else does when we fall into the !@#$, my friend."

"And what would that be?"

"Learn to !@#$ing swim," SPYGOD smiles, having another pull off the beer as he imagines the fresh, bloody hell the owner of that howl must be bringing to the conflict, tonight.

And hoping that hell doesn't make its way to their hole, tonight...

Thursday: 1/28/16

Megyn Kelly: "... thank you all for coming to this FOX News debate. I know some of you are rather relieved that a certain someone decided not to attend."


Carly Fiorina: "Funny how he's willing to stand up to every belligerent the world has to offer but you, Megyn."


Megyn Kelly: "Well, no comment. No comment. But to get started on a more serious note. The last few days have been fairly ominous ones. After the events of this last Sunday, with an attack on American planes, acting in concert with the United Nations, there is a movement to enter into hostilities with the new superpower to our south, in Olympos.

"As you know, Interim President Quayle has asked Congress to consider a declaration of war against the Olympians for this act. In spite of their blanket condemnation of this act, the Republican-led Congress has seemed very reluctant to commit to this course of action. As someone who might be the next President, what course of action do you wish to see us take, both now and when you may be President?

"Senator Paul? I know you had some very strong opinions on this matter."

Rand Paul: "I surely do, Megyn. I do. And that is that, if we hadn't been letting a body like the United Nations use our military as their lapdogs in the first place, we wouldn't have this problem now..."


Rand Paul: "Look, it's bad enough that the world's only working space elevator isn't American. It's a leftover from the last time the world was taken over. And now it's in the hands of another body that would like to take over the world. Why are we letting them use our ships to launch our planes to fight their own wars with themselves?

"It's just a mess, folks. A terrible mess. And this is why our Founders told us to avoid international entanglements."

Megyn Kelly: "Senator Cruz? You represent Texas, which, as I understand it, lives in the shadow of the White City, now."

Ted Cruz: "They're a little west of us, Megyn."


Megyn Kelly: "Quite right. But are you thinking of war, peace, or some kind of reconciliation with these beings?"

Ted Cruz: "War, Megyn."


Ted Cruz: "Look, we have to make it clear to these people that there is a line. And they crossed it, the other day, when they attacked our military. They sent our pilots, our brave men and women in uniform, to their graves. And it doesn't matter if they were acting with the UN, anymore than it matters if we were acting alone, or in a coalition. If we are attacked, we need to attack back. And we need to do so with such force and swiftness that no one gets any idea about us being weak."


Megyn Kelly: "Being weak, Governor Bush?"

Jeb Bush: "Well, as I'm sure we all remember, we have a long standing pattern. If we send in our forces when we're attacked, we secure peace for a time. If we just send missiles, or sanctions? Well, that just emboldens our enemies. So I'll agree with that.

"But we need to be careful, here. This isn't some banana republic, down in Mexicali. This isn't some religious fanatic hiding in a cave in Afghanistan, either. This is a collection of some of the most powerful beings in the world, and all the people, many of them American citizens, who've gone down to join them-"

Ted Cruz: "If they've joined the enemy, they are the enemy, Mr. Governor."


Jeb Bush:  "Including sick kids and the mentally ill, Mr. Senator? Including everyone else who lives in Mexicali, around that tower? I don't know that I'm comfortable sending armed forces against the weak and the broken. Especially when we don't know how powerful these beings are."


Ted Cruz: "And that, right there, is why I should be the next President of the United States of America."


Ted Cruz: "Because I know the value of our military, and our security. And I know that, no matter who is in our line of fire-"

Megyn Kelly: "Senator Cruz, it's still the Governor's time-"

Ted Cruz: "No matter about civilians, we will not rest until America's enemies are defeated. We didn't tell ordinary Germans to get out of town when we bombed Germany. We didn't worry about Japanese casualties when we bombed Hiroshima.

"And if that means I have to turn the sands of Northern Mexico into glow in the dark glass to repay these so-called Gods for their act of war against America, then I will do it."


Megyn Kelly: "Governor Bush, any further comment?"

Jeb Bush: "Well, if I can get a word in... owww... who turned up the lights?"

Megyn Kelly: "Hey, can we turn down the lights? What's...."


Seranu: "Please forgive this intrusion into your political cycle. We thought perhaps it was best to come and explain our actions, given the tragic loss of life involved."

Megyn Kelly: "Um... okay. Are you-"

Ben Carson: "Do not give into these people, Megyn. Do not give into these deceivers. These demons."

Rahmaa "We are not the demons, here. We are not the ones who denied shelter to helpless beings whose world is dying. Beings who are my worshipers, and therefore subject to my protection."

Megyn: "So, you were protecting them by attacking us? Is that what you're saying?"

Rahmaa: "I would think it was obvious, woman, but yes. You chose to ally yourselves with those who would deny them their place at my side. You chose poorly."

Seranu: "All the same, we bear you no ill will, and no enmity. This was a tragic misfortune, one that we will gladly make restitution for."

Ted Cruz: "And what if we don't want your so-called restitution for this war crime against us, sir? What if the American people demand action?"

Seranu: "For doing what you do on a fairly regular basis, from what we have seen? Attacking those who attack your allies? Your people? Do you truly not see the contradiction, here?"

Ted Cruz: "I see what any sensible person does. You're bullies. You think you can whatever you want because you're powerful. Well, we're powerful too. And you know that. And you will pay for what you have done."

Seranu: "What is it you truly seek, sir? Justice, or vengeance? We freely offer the former, if you will have it. But vengeance... that is another matter entirely."

Megyn Kelly: "Um, sir? Who is this new person you've brought with you?"

Seranu: "This is our sister Nemesis, Goddess of Retribution."

Nemesis: "(Growls through fangs)"

Seranu: "I will leave this matter entirely up to you, sir. You seem to be the most keen amongst your fellow candidates to challenge my offer, and demand not my hand, but my head. To say no to contrite apology and yes to atomic holocaust. 

"At my side is the most dangerous weapon you could ever imagine. Our sister is vengeance. Once unleashed, she will punish anyone she sees to be guilty of the crime that has invoked her. And if you feel that what our sister Rahmaa has done is, indeed, a war crime? Well, then it will start with her.

"But you must know that she will not stop with her. 

"She will deal with our sister first, yes. But then she will turn and deal with all others that are also guilty of this crime. Other groups, other leaders. Possibly entire nations. 

"Any who have fought and killed to protect those they consider to be allies, or their own, will fall before her. And she will not stop until she is satisfied that vengeance has been done, and to the extent needed to impress upon you that such behavior must never be allowed again, lest her dread hand come back to the world."


Seranu: "Sir, I would  have your answer. Will you empower our Sister Nemesis to punish our Sister Rahmaa for the charges you have laid out?"

Ted Cruz: "I... um..."

Rand Paul: "No! No, please, no. This has been a mistake from start to finish-"

Seranu: "I agree, but it is not your decision, but his. Your answer, Senator Cruz?"

Ted Cruz: "Well, it's..."

Carly Fiorina: "For god's sakes, shut your damn mouth!"

Ted Cruz: "...."

Seranu: "I consider that to be 'no.'"


Seranu: "Very well. We will take our leave. When next we speak, it will be with those who are more sensible. Perhaps those in your Congress will be willing to listen to notions of atonement. 

"But we shall be clear. We will act to protect our own, just as you do. Just as any nation on this Earth does. And this is good for you, for we also consider you to be our own, even if you will not acknowledge it. 

"We shall protect this world and its people, now and forever. But please do not make us have to protect you from yourselves."

Megyn Kelly: "Okay. Well, I think they've left the building. Does anyone care to make a comment on that? Anyone at all?"

Ted Cruz: "I have to go to the bathroom."

Friday: 1/29/16

"Man, I hate sand-!@#$ing," SPYGOD sighs, limping away from the other edge of the dune: "Especially with no damn paper."

"It's a struggle," Free Fire says, looking around the horizon as they regroup.

"Anything new?"

"Anadan has been completely taken by loyalist forces," the orange-armored man announces, peering through his helmet as if there were long range telescopes in there: "But I think I see the opposition regrouping to the south."

"And IS is probably !@#$ing waiting for them to tear each other to pieces and then move the !@#$ in," the superspy grouses.

"Provided our new problem doesn't tear them all to pieces in the meantime."

"Yes," SPYGOD says, not wanting to think about that, right now.

* * *

The problem was because of an accident, committed during the heat of frenzied battle. But diminished responsibility didn't make SPYGOD feel any better. 

Still, there was really no other way it could have gone down -- especially when Free Fire shocked everyone by not being dead. 

Zephyr and Epee Rouge found out the hard way when he shot them both out of the sky at point-blank range with his fire missiles. 

Zephyr was set aflame, and crashed into a nearby building, screaming all the way. She might have died, then -- in fact, SPYGOD hoped that's what happened.

And while the red-armored Frenchwoman was more protected from the blast, it caused her to completely lose control over her storm of eponymous swords.

One of which unfortunately came between her and the hard surface she splattered into. 

If Bouclier Blanc had any issues about seeing two more teammates go down, he didn't show it. He kept hammering at SPYGOD with his sword and his shield -- screaming with a rage so loud and powerful it could be heard over the fight. 

But so long as he was in front of him, hacking and bashing away, Yanabah couldn't get a bead on him. 

Unfortunately, that was when Chinmoku entered the fray -- dashing out of nearby cover and heading straight for Free Fire, who was trying to get up.

And the martial artist had his most powerful Ghost Fist up and running, ready to send its victim straight to the deepest and darkest of hells...

* * *

"How's the repairs going?" SPYGOD asked, looking out the window of the small, shattered house they'd managed to hole up in for the afternoon. 

"Not ideally," the orange-armored man says, making a strange face as he considers the ruin in the center left of his chest: "I need parts we don't have."

"Well, at least your juke box !@#$ing works."


"Whatever," the superspy mutters: "And that's going to be really damn conspicuous when we get to Idlib."

"The holes in my armor?"

"The armor, period," SPYGOD says, turning and pointing at it: "I'd chuck it."

"Well, that might be inconvenient. What if we run into a battle between here and there?"

"It's not like you really !@#$ing need it."

"I might draw attention."

"Well, we cover the hell up, and neither of us will look too damn conspicuous."

"I don't know-"

"Oh !@#$ing come off it. I can change my damn looks if people don't accept my appearance, and you... well..."

SPYGOD shrugs. Free Fire nods.

And, standing up, begins to divest himself of the badly-damaged, orange armor that's the only thing keeping people from knowing the truth...

* * *

... which was something that Chinmoku, for all his mystical arts, hadn't realized -- up until he punched Free Fire with a move that should have done far, far worse than kill him. 

And he did do a lot of damage. His opponent's already-damaged armor cracked and shattered in places. Pieces went flying every which way. 

But the martial artist's fist did not phase through the man's chest, as it should. It merely impacted, right under the hole Yanabah's bullet had left -- leaving a fist-shaped imprint in the metal. 

"No soul," Chinmoku said, clearly taken aback. 

"They forgot to program one into me," the android replied.

And then he brought the fire wheel up into Chinmoku's chest -- and through the other side.

"Forgive me," Free Fire said, holding his smoking weapon up through the large, cauterized hole in the man's chest: "I know this was not your fault. I'm sorry."

"Thank you," Chinmoku said, closing his eyes as he died. 

The moment he died, there was a sound like the world ending. A thousand million ghosts shrieked and howled in rage -- melting Free Fire's hand weapon in his hand as a form of vengeance.

Bouclier Blanc was distracted by the noise for just a second, and in that moment SPYGOD decided he'd had enough of this cat and mouse !@#$.

"I'm not sorry, mother!@#$er," he announced, changing the sword in his left hand into a short weapon with long, jagged prongs -- the sort of thing a child might use to go jigging for frogs -- and jamming it into the man's crusader helmet. 

Right into his eyes. 

The white-armored Frenchman screamed, dropping his sword and shield as he brought his hands up to his face.

SPYGOD grabbed the man's shield and turned it around, rushing to cover both himself and Free Fire.

And a second later Yanabah came running from her sniper's perch -- a timeless and terrifying rage writ large across her face as she hoisted that long, large knife of hers up.

A face that seemed more wolf than woman, just then...

* * *

"So, if we can head for Idlib, traveling during the day, we can get shelter in a friendly area," Free Fire says, inspecting the robes they found in the ruined bedroom.

"And if we can stay the !@#$ away at night, we'll be clear of our little mistake," SPYGOD says, looking at the half-burned stash of things Free Fire found in the tent.

"I am sorry about that."

SPYGOD shakes his head: "That's not your fault, man. !@#$, I didn't even know about that. It wasn't on her damn dossier, that's for sure."

"But you knew her grandfather?"

"I did, yes. Wayfinder was a hell of a man."

"And he never told you about her?"

SPYGOD looks askance, and then back: "If he did, I don't remember it."

"Are you certain?"

"Oh yeah, man. I think I would have !@#$ing remembered that..."

* * * 

In retrospect, it should have been !@#$ing obvious. The silver jewelry. The wolflike eyes.

The way she was always growling.

But SPYGOD wasn't thinking, just then. He was reacting.

And his idea of dealing with her rage was to bring Bouclier Blanc's shield up and slam it into Yanabah, between steps.

It was overkill -- he knew that. It might have killed her.

(He might not have had any choice, sadly.)

But the zap didn't kill her. It melted her knife, scorched her face and clothes, and hurled her back.

And as she flew back, bits and pieces of her jewelry flew up and alongside her -- the cord having caught fire along with her clothes.

The change was almost instantaneous. She grew three times her size. Her clothes ripped and tore as she developed new clusters of muscles where they didn't belong.

She became hairy -- furry, even. It was the color of silver snow.

Her eyes became large and yellow, with thin, accusing slits.

And her mouth was full of sharp fangs, long as fingers and just as curved.

"Oh !@#$ing !@#$ !@#$," SPYGOD cursed, getting the shield up again as the creature that was Yanabah reared up and howled -- showering them with froth.

"This is bad," Free Fire agreed, shaking the last, melted pieces of his fire wheel from his gauntlet: "Do we have a contingency for this?"

SPYGOD was about to say 'take turns kissing our asses goodbye' when a very large explosion came from right behind them.

It was the burning building that Zephyr fell into. Her mini-missiles must have finally ignited in their housing, setting off a chain reaction.

The beast before them growled and retreated a few steps, clearly unhappy at the heat.

"How many more fire missiles you got?" SPYGOD shouted at the android.

"Several," Free Fire said, targeting the ground between them: "But this will be dangerous-"

"Do it!" SPYGOD ordered.

The android obeyed.

And the resulting blast knocked SPYGOD senseless...

* * *

"... of course, we don't have the missiles, anymore," Free Fire observes, looking at the neatly-arranged pieces of his broken, orange armor, over on the floor: "Their targeting and firing is dependent on-"

"Never mind that," SPYGOD says: "We move during the day and hide at night? We should be !@#$ing fine."

"But you don't know that for certain. You don't know anything about her."

"I know enough, dammit," the superspy snaps: "I know she's smart enough not to hunt during the !@#$ing day when any asshole with a rocket launcher can take a shot at her."

"And if she isn't smart?"

"Then she's a damn werewolf, and she'll lay low during the day and hunt at night, anyway," SPYGOD says: "And I wish I had better answer for you, man. For both our !@#$ing sakes. But..."


"But I just feel that's the right answer, even if I don't know for sure. Okay?"

"That must be difficult, having such a long gap in your memories."

"How the !@#$ do you know about that?" the superspy asks, narrowing his eyes: "Did the others tell you?"

"Josie did," the android confesses: "When she sent me to look after you."

SPYGOD drops the thing he's working on: "You're kidding me."


"You are !@#$ing kidding me!"


"Well..." SPYGOD says, and then falls silent for a time.

"It wasn't that she didn't trust you. But she knew it had been a while since you had been in the field-"

"Not for me," the superspy says: "I may have lost over 50 !@#$ing years of my damn memory, but I spent a lot of that time sitting behind a !@#$ing desk, drinking and !@#$ing damn ladyboys and making asinine records of how damn cool I was. So I don't remember that? Good.

"But my time in the field?" he goes on, raising a finger: "!@#$, man. It's like it was yesterday to me. I can still clearly remember slogging through the other side of the Iron Curtain, looking for !@#$ing commie spies. I can still smell Africa on my hands and the Middle East on my damn feet.

"All the missions, all the ops, all the nasty jobs... they're here," tapping his head: "I got them. I got it. I got this."

"And yet you didn't know I was an android," Free Fire observes: "Or that Yanabah was a werewolf."

"Well, you didn't know what you got shown on !@#$ing Night Patrol, either, did you?" SPYGOD says, grinning: "I guess we're all going to learn something this time around.

"Case in point. You are going to !@#$ing tell me everything that Josie told you about this mission, and what your objectives were. Or I swear to !@#$ing God I will finish the job Yanabah started.

"And since all your weapons are kaput, or on the damn floor over there...?"

He makes a very large, heavy sword appear in his hand and points the business end at the android's face. Then he raises a very arched eyebrow.

And Free Fire, without missing a beat, does exactly as he is told -- telling his less-than-amused ally everything he knows...

Saturday: 1/30/16

"... that's great," Randolph Scott says, looking out of Director Straffer's office at the sea around the space elevator: "Thank you. I'll send the cash immediately. Yes, same as always. Thanks."

"Good news?" Straffer asks, offering the outlaw reporter a frosty glass of cendol.

"Very," Scott says -- initially unsure of the weird-looking drink, but willing to have a careful sip -- "They tracked my two missing kids to Frankfurt. They were seen alive and well."

"Oh good," the Director says, getting a glass of cendol for himself.

"It's even better than that. They got taken by private plane, which means it'll be a lot easier to figure out who's pulling the strings than if they'd just taken a commuter flight."

"Excellent," Straffer says, having a sip of the jelly drink and standing by the window: "Good luck with that, man. Bring 'em back alive and stop this !@#$ before it gets any worse."

"I'll drink to that," Scott says, and they clink glasses: "This is interesting stuff."

"Yes, well, since I got a new, local second in command, I'm being brought up to speed on local cuisine."


"Yes. Yanti is wonderful, and proving to be very capable. But she's deathly allergic to coffee, so I've decided not to drink it in my office. And she's provided some alternatives."

"Does this help?"

"Well, there's no caffeine, but between the jelly noodles and the coconut milk there's so much sugar in this thing that I might as well be mainlining rocket fuel."

They both laugh at that.

"Speaking of rockets..." Randolph says, raising an eyebrow: "You need to talk to me."

"I know, I know," the Director says, sitting down in his chair and offering another one to the reporter: "And I would say that I did what I knew to be right, above the objection of a supposedly-worldly body that's proven to be strangely inhospitable to our stricken allies in their time of dire need."

"Is that all?" Scott asks, making shorthand notes while the whole thing is recorded on his cybernetic eye.

"Hell no," Straffer says, shaking his head: "I will say that I regret the loss of all lives. But I don't regret making the decision to risk them."

"Even though you're about as popular back home as someone else's dog turds on your lawn?"

"It's not about popularity. It's about doing what needed doing. And, unlike so many people who claim that, I'm pretty darn sure this was a thing that needed doing."

Scott purses his lips and gently nods, glad the eye's camera remains totally steady within his socket: "So what happens now?"

"Now, I remain here as Director, but only of the Space Elevator, itself, which is now under the control of Indonesia, itself. It was placed on their land without their permission, so it only makes sense that they should have control and reap the benefits. It also makes up for their having to play host to the first few waves of Martian refugees, which wasn't good for their economy."

"Who made that decision?"

"Officially? The United Nations. But the fact is that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations put pressure on the other member nations to give them something. That something was the space elevator, which the Space Service now rents, rather than owns."

"And the elevator personnel are the ones who see to the incoming Martians."

"Yes," Straffer nods, having another sip: "And the personnel are mostly Indonesian and other ASEAN members. I'm being kept on because I understand the system better than anyone, but I suspect I'll be expected to step down before long."

"And then what?" Scott asks, tapping his pad with his pen: "Will you go back to America?"

"Well, the moment I set foot outside the elevator, the Space Service wants me to meet for a long-overdue exit interview. And they've made some rather disturbing suggestions about my quality of life after that."


"Yes, well, they quite literally own my ass, Randolph. This was supposed to be a lifetime gig. Once I retired or was fired, all property has to be handed back. And most of my body is their property."

"That's... !@#$ing insane," the outlaw reporter says, flabbergasted.

The Director shrugs: "Yes, it is. But I knew the risk the moment I told them I wouldn't be turning those Martians away. If I have to be a head in a box for the rest of my life to save an entire planet? Well, I'll accept that. Not eagerly, obviously. But there's worse things."

"Like what?"

Straffer smiles, somewhat ruefully, and Scott turns his camera off: "Like what?"

"Off the record?"

"You know it.

"Like what happened to my previous second in command," Straffer replies: "And that's all I'm saying about Captain Charleston."

"Never mind him. What the hell happened to the Chakram?"

Straffer looks out the window: "I don't really know. Rahmaa waved her hand at it, and it went away. I don't think she destroyed it, but..."

"But it's not here, and neither is the Colonel," the outlaw reporter says: "And that scares you."

"Very much. I've never felt fully at ease around the Olympians. And now that I have them to thank for saving my cyborg ass? Well... I've never felt more worried."

"But you've got a plan, don't you?

"I got fifty," the Director winks: "My fiancee taught me that one."

"And where is he?" Scott asks, leaning back in his chair and having some more of the drink, which is growing on him: "Do you have any idea?"

"Not a one," Straffer says, sadly: "I was kind of hoping you could tell me."

* * *

"You can see her, now," the grey-haired doctor says, walking into the hallway outside the patient's room: "But if you can try to avoid agitating her, that would be a good thing."

"How bad?" Myron asks, afraid of the answer.

"You know what happened to her-"

"I don't know what happened to her," he says, stepping into her space: "That's the problem. Three went down, one came back, and she was badly burned and babbling. She'd clearly been crawling away from whatever happened for a few days before the next team found her."

"Yes, so burns, exhaustion..."

"That's not an answer, that's a mystery."

"So you're really asking me how long does she have?"

Myron nods, not wanting to use those words.

"She might recover," the woman says, very hesitantly: "But she suffered third degree burns over fifty percent of her body. Mostly her back and sides. She's in terrible shape..."

"She may not want to survive, you're saying," Myron finishes her sentence.

"It's possible-"

"!@#$ you," Myron snorts, and goes on in.

The smell is what gets him first. He's been around people who've been badly burned, before, and the combination of that unpleasant, meaty stink and the creams and they use to stop infection and heal is enough to make someone hurl.

And then he sees her, lying in bed. A sheet has been drawn around it, supposedly to keep down the risk of infection, but really to keep people from seeing what happened.

"Hi," the woman from the improvement committee says -- her words weak through a blacked, almost unrecognizable mouth. Her body is wrapped loosely in white bandages, but through cracks he can see the ruin below.

"Hey," he says, pulling up a chair to sit down beside her: "I heard you woke up, today."

"Yes," she says: "No pain. Medicine. Also nerves. Mostly gone."

"I'm sorry," he says, shaking his head: "I had no idea-"

"Could be anyone," she interrupts: "Whole point."

"What happened?"

"Went down," she says, looking at him with eyes that are filmy: "Explored. Path changed. Twice. Maybe three times. Walls moved silently. Got confused."

He nods, listening.

"Found large tube. Transparent. Marked ORBIT. Seemed alive. Heartbeat."

"I know those," Myron says, nodding: "They were in the original show. They used them to get around to different levels."

She nods: "86 leaned against glass. Glass vanished. Fell in. Went down. 629 and I. We followed."

She stops talking and closes her eyes. She breathes shallow for a time. Trying to calm herself, he thinks. Smart -- very smart.

"Came up. Metal cave. Machines. Strange noise. Didn't see much."

"That's in the show, too-"

"Heard scream. Fire. Turned around and..."

She closes her eyes tighter. Shudders and gasps.

"86, there. Burning. Screaming. In cage."

"What?" Myron asked, amazed.

"Then cage. Saw more. Burning. Hating. Fireball."

Myron stopped being amazed, then. Instead he was horrified.

It couldn't be...

"I ran. 629. Burned. I caught blast." 

It couldn't. It COULDN'T.

"Cage came. Burning. Spoke. Said it would spare me. Said to talk to you. Said..."

She gasps, then. Her voice shudders in her throat.

"What?" Myron says, needing to know: "What? What?"

"Said... 'be seeing you.'"

She looks at Myron, then, and there is finally an emotion in her eyes. It is fear.

And then, nothing. Her eyes slowly go glassy and still. It's a full minute before he realizes she's stopped breathing.

He gets up and leaves. He doesn't bother closing her eyes. He doesn't want to talk to the doctor, or anyone.

He just goes back to his room, closes the door, and only then allows himself to turn into a frightened, fetal ball on the floor.

Sunday: 1/31/16

"Ma'am, are you sure you wouldn't like a wheelchair?" the whey-faced, fairly young Officer who's escorted Martha Clutch this far into Detroit's central police building asks, trying to be as polite as possible.

"I'm certain," she says, glaring at the man as they pass yet another steel door down the long concrete hall: "I'm pregnant, sir. Not crippled."

"I wasn't suggesting-"

"I was out kicking down doors and hauling people twice your size off to jail while you were still watching cartoons."

"I'm sure you were-"

"And if my good friend could give birth to a toon-human hybrid with no problems, in spite of her busy schedule, I think I can do this."

"Well, congratulations to your friend-"

"And I am not going to see my son lying dead in your morgue in a chair," she seethes at him: "Do you understand me, sir?"

"I think I do," the man says, nodding: "I apologize for bringing it up. It was clearly a bad move."

"Then make a good one," she says, pointing down the hall: "Run ahead and tell whoever's waiting for me that I'm here. Tell them I came alone, as agreed, and out of costume. And tell them I don't have any time for nonsense."

The officer all but runs down the hall, and past yet another bend -- clearly glad to be away from her.

* * *

"Worthless!' Satanoth rages as Red Queen writhes on the floor below him, wracked by the most pain she's ever felt in her life: "Useless! Incompetent!"

"Stop this," Seranu commands, and his skull-faced brother has no choice but to obey: "This is unseemly behavior. She has come to admit failure and beg our forgiveness. That should be punishment enough."

"We should remember that several of our people have been killed so far," Pontus snorts: "I don't see any reason to lay off the punishment just because she crawled up here to report on her failure."

"I do, my brother," their King says: "And I think the reason is obvious."

"She can't see the killer for the same reasons I cannot," Synchro intones, looking around: "The same ones we all cannot."

"And what is that, brother?"

"We have met our Nemesis," Rosi announces, holding hirself tightly: "As I am your opposite, Satanoth, this killer is ours."

"Which would explain how the killer got in, unseen," Hoosk says, looking around the room: "And why your deranged experimental guard dog can't see her. So long as she has your power, she is subject to your limitations."

"Then there is only one thing to do," Satanoth announces, and holds out his hand...

* * *

 "Mrs. Samuels," the Governor says, extending a hand to shake.

"It's Clutch, now," Martha says, taking the man's hand and trying to be polite: "I thought I would be meeting the Mayor?"

"Yes, well, he got called away."

"You called him away," she surmises, continuing to walk down the hall.

"Yes," he says, quickly catching up to her: "After our conversations regarding this matter, I thought it would be best to clear the air a bit."

"Don't you have a crisis to handle?" she asked, rather venomously: "Something about children drinking water full of lead?"

"That's being handled. In fact, the President has given his approval to call this a natural disaster. And that opens up all kinds of help."

"And you wanted to see me cry over my son."

"No," he says, putting his hands together: "I'm going to let you have the room. What I really want to do is discuss the releasing of the body."

She stops in her stride. She blinks, and turns to look at him.

"Excuse me?" she says, incredulous: "I'm here to take charge of him. That was the agreement."

"That was the agreement with the Mayor," he says, smiling: "But you still need to talk to me. And I have some different ideas on things."

* * *

"You heard me, Director," the Interim President says: "I want him off the team. Now."

"Sir, with all due respect, that is not fair," Josie says, her hands behind her back as she addresses the man from the Flier bridge: "He had nothing to do with what happened. He doesn't really have anything to do with what goes on in the White City. He's something of an exile, to hear him say it-"

"I don't care, Director."

"And if that's true, having him on board gives us a distinct advantage if this should go bad. Surely you can see that."

"All I can see is the Director of the COMPANY, who completely ruined my attempt to bring that situation in Idaho to a quiet and non-lethal halt, not doing what I tell her," Quayle says, leaning closer to the camera. As he does, she can see how bad he looks. Red-eyed, not well-shaven. 

"I would be a poor Director if I didn't make certain you knew all the angles on something like this, sir," she says, standing her ground: "That's why I counseled caution in dealing with those ranchers. That's why I'm saying kicking Mister Freedom off the team is a bad idea."

"I want him gone, now," the President insists, pounding his desk: "By the end of today. If he's not, then you will be gone. And then your replacement will remove him before getting your !@#$ out of your office. Is that clear, Director?"

"Very clear, sir," she says: "He's out with the team, now. I'll recall him."

The Interim President hangs up. Josie sighs and looks around, seeing helpless faces on the AGENTS around her. 

"Mother!@#$er is cracking up," she mutters, wondering what crazy thing he'll want next. 

* * *

"And I think a substantial public apology would be nice," the Governor is saying to Martha as they slowly walk down the hall: "It would be twice as meaningful coming from you, as you were also involved in that embarrassing fracas in Detroit with that one villain. Who was that... the Green Arrow?"

"You have to be kidding me," she hisses, not wanting to hear that brought up at all, much less by this nerdy Governor with a bad haircut: "All those people poisoned by your administration's appointed emergency managers, and you're obsessed with that?"

"Well, you really have no room to talk about appointments," the man says: "You're self-appointed protectors, answerable to no one. My emergency managers are accountable to me, and I'm accountable to the voters."

"Good," Martha says: "Hopefully this time they'll do the right thing and show you to the door."

"For extra emphasis, I think it should happen in Detroit, rather than the Capitol steps," he goes on, not seeming to have heard that taunt: "Probably the same place the Chief of Police gave that excellent speech about the problems your son was causing."

"The problems my son was causing?" she all but shouts, turning to stare at the man: "He saved people, Mr. Governor. He stopped crime. He stopped costumed villains who were breaking the law. Hell, he died saving people from some moron in a funny suit-"

"Mrs. Clutch, please," the man says, interrupting her: "You're an intelligent woman. You have to be to do what you do. I acknowledge that, even if I don't agree with your career choices."

"Well thank you."

"So when I say to you that Detroit hasn't had a problem with costumed villains for years, since we ended masked vigilantism in our cities? Then you should consider that, when your son put on a mask and started a war on crime in Detroit, the masked villains came back. 

"And when you consider that, you have to realize that this is not a coincidence. This is a pattern. And your son's actions, however well-meaning, have proven that we were right to take the steps that we did."

"Sure," she snorts: "It just meant that the crooks went from wearing their hearts on their sleeves to hiding them. It just meant they went from flashy gimmick robberies and capers to less colorful things. Drugs and prostitution. Racketeering and loan sharking. Ripping off ordinary people and selling political influence."

"Mrs. Clutch, please-"

"You know what the only difference between that last Mayor you had, here, and the sort of people we put away is?" she presses, pointing her finger in his face: "The one who's in jail, right now? It's that if he was in Chicago he'd have called himself something self-aggrandizing, and had a mob of thugs following him around from crime to crime. He'd rob banks or steal diamonds or something, and live large like a king until we slung his butt in jail.

"But here, in Detroit? He just ran for Mayor, Mr. Governor. Because it was the only game in town

"And look what he did for you. Look what he did to you. And then tell me you're really better off for not having people like me there."

"Well, that's a fascinating viewpoint on the situation," the Governor says, rubbing his hands together: "If I've got you right, you're saying we need costumed heroes so that violent, mentally-ill criminals will become supervillains instead of ordinary crooks. But they're still crooks, so that doesn't really help us. And that's not a great argument."

"Tell me, Mr. Governor," she says, glaring at him: "Would you rather be tied up with silly string by some goofball with a toy fetish, or given a box job by the Jamaican mob? Because that's my argument. And I'm sticking with it."

And he just looks at her, and says...

* * *

"... no, look, I really don't !@#$ing have time for this horse!@#$, asshole. Put Josie on the line, now.

"Yes, this is SPYGOD. I am calling in from the field. 

"Yes, we are on a goddamn secured line. I got one of my gadgets taking care of that...

"How do I know it works? Well, I !@#$ing don't, son. So that's why I'm keeping this brief. Or I would be if you would just...

"Oh, wait. Hold on.

"What? What? Tell him... look, we need the phone for another ten minutes, okay?

"I don't give a !@#$, Free Fire! Offer him a !@#$ing handjob if it'll make him leave us alone! Jesus.

"Sorry about that. Had to barge into the internet cafe. Got a lot of pissed-off press corps out there.

"Look, it's about Anadan. We got problems, and we need to talk to her...

"What the !@#$ do you mean she's not !@#$ing available? I need to know if she got my damn report. 

"What report? Jesus !@#$ing Christ, son. Do not tell me my messages did not get through.

"Alright, fine. Here's my goddamn report. Take good notes, son. 

"Anadan? It's !@#$ed. The situation was a !@#$-show. Our people were compromised by outside forces. Turned into goddamn soldiers for a forgotten war. 

"No son, I'm not turning this into a goddamn movie trailer. I'm telling the truth. 

"You tell Josie that they found a way to get to us. You tell her that there was a satellite phone outside of town that the ones who got !@#$ing whammied had the new meat answer. You tell them that they didn't try to put the whammy on New Man because they didn't think it would work, and so they !@#$ing killed him. 

"You tell Josie that El-Hadhih is still in operation, after all these years. You tell her the Hidden Imam is still out there, turning people into !@#$ing slaves. 

"You tell her that damn mistake we made has come back to bite us in the damn ass.

"And you tell her we're !@#$ing exfiltrating out of Samra Beach, !@#$ing tonight. Send a goddamn boat packed with proper !@#$ing beer.

"And if we aren't out of there before Midnight? We !@#$ing riot, son. Beach party, Samra.

"Got all that, son? Good.

"Be seeing you.

"Goddamn stupid mother!@#$er phone monkey..."


* * *

"I am not going to apologize for my son's actions," Martha says, standing her ground before the last bend on the way to the morgue: "I am going to take charge of his body. I am going to make arrangements to take it out of here, bring him home, and bury him."

"No," the Governor says: "You are going to do what I ask of you. Otherwise, we'll consider your son's body to be evidence and just keep it here for as long as we need to. And there's nothing you can do about that."

"Oh, I can do something-"

"What?" he asks, crossing his arms: "Just because you put on a mask and go dancing around the buildings in Chicago, flaunting their laws, does not mean you can come to Detroit and do the same thing."

"Oh God," Martha howls, doing her best to not cry: "Show a little decency, can't you?"

"I am. I'm not having you arrested for what you and that villain did here all those years ago. The statute on those types of crimes doesn't run out."

"You have to be kidding me," she hisses, wondering if she could just hit this asshole a little...

"No, I'm not. Again, I figure you don't care about the law, given how often you flaunt it. But we run things differently here. And I am being nice, here, because I'm taking your grief and your pregnancy into account.

"But, you know, if you want to push it..." he says, holding up a cell phone: "I can have several well-armed and armored officers here to take you away to jail, right now.

"So... what will it be?"

"That won't be necessary," a voice says, and suddenly Mr. USA is standing there.

"Oh thank God," Martha says, running and hugging the older hero, who returns the hug as strongly as he dares: "Thank you, thank you..."

"Um, excuse me," the Governor says, blinking: "I'm having a private conversation here... and..."

"Yes, well, that's over," the older hero says, gently breaking out of the hug and putting a hand on her shoulder: "Mrs. Clutch will be taking charge of her son's remains. She will be taking them from here, as is lawful. And she will not be threatened or bullied."

Martha nods, and, as quick as she can, heads down the hallway. She doesn't give the Governor the dignity of looking back.

"Can you explain this to me?" the Governor says, holding his phone up: "I can make a call-"

"Save it," Mr. USA says, crossing his arms and looking down at the nerd: "When you accepted federal disaster aid, the President sent the Freedom Force in to help. Most of my team's in Flint, passing out water and helping with relief efforts. I just came here to make sure the transfer went smoothly."

"Because you suspected something might go wrong?"

"Because one of my team's from Jackson, and knows all about you," the hero says, glaring: "And, just for the record? The only difference between you and a supervillain is that when you poisoned a town, you weren't wearing a funny costume.

"Just a suit and a tie, and a really bad haircut."

"Now see here," the Governor starts to say. But then there's a horrible scream from down the hall.

And as Mr. USA flies down that way, leaving the Governor in the dust as ...

* * *

... the Red Queen staggers through the White City, whole and human once more. 

She wants to feel good about this, but cannot. She feels only loss, and a terrible fear. 

She no longer has her powers. She is only what she was, what now seems a lifetime ago.

And if she fails in her mission, she will have even less than that...

* * *

... Mister Freedom sees the look on the AGENT's face as he takes the call, and looks over at him. 

He knows what's about to happen. He's known it would happen for at least a week. 

But he smiles, because he knows this is not a bad thing. In fact, it's a miracle. 

Because this, too, is just part of a greater puzzle he has to solve...

* * *

... The Candidate sits by the phone, weeping as he listens to the news on the television. 

Iowa will be his -- it's a foregone conclusion. Especially after the poor debate the other night, and his vicious, very popular twitter rebuttals to his opponents' cowardice.

He can't stop this. He can't even kill himself. He will be President, and then his mentor will use him. 

And then the nation he's promised to save really will be crippled...

 * * *

... the monster sits in a dusty crater in Aleppo, eating men like they were snacks. 

It's been too long since it was let out. Too long since it was stopped by silver and magic. 

But now the floodgates are open, and no one can stop it. No one can even harm it.

And there's so many delicious things to eat...

* * *

... and as Mr. USA stops before the guarded morgue doors, he can already tell what's gone wrong. 

It's the refrigerated slabs on the other side. One of them should contain the body of Thomas Samuels.

None of them do. 

Martha is kneeling and howling, asking God how he could let this happen. 

The Governor is running down the hallway, out of breath -- insisting that nothing should be wrong, and everything's in order, and there's no way that woman has anything to complain about. 

("Hysterical," he says, over and over, like some kind of mantra.)

And Mr. USA, knowing he's telling the truth, walks into the morgue to take hold of Martha and hold her -- rocking her gently as he decides what he's going to tell Josie about this. 

And noticing that someone has written something on the records that have been attached to Thomas' empty slab. Three simple words, written in a large, crazed hand. 

He iS RisEN

(SPYGOD is listening to Chaos (Mutemath) and having a Retribution)

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