Monday, February 22, 2016

TechnOlympos: 2/15/16 - 2/21/16

"See the face of fear / Running scared in the valley below"

(Moloch and Myron, together again)

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 2/15/44

It's 6:01 AM when he gets the call that the Time Chamber has asked for him, yet again. And that just throws off his entire morning, right there.

Normally, he'd lounge in bed with his wife and their husband (and whoever else may have spent the night) until it was time to go into work. Maybe catch up on the hyperstory his writing group is assembling over on their Writeworld server, or actually read something for a change. Maybe even try his hand at cooking breakfast if he's feeling particularly confident, or brave.

(How did he have two such excellent cooks for dads and yet not be able to boil water? He has no idea.)

But if that silver cylinder is calling his name, then he really has no time to dawdle or delay. It means that he has to go do something drastic, somewhere in the past.

And that's either because someone is monkeying with it, or because they've found yet another hole in the records that needs to be filled with his kind of bullets.

And finessed with his kind of perspective. 

So he dresses up for full temporal combat. Puts on his tachyon suit. Gets his special equipment that decays as soon as it's out of physical contact for more than ten seconds.

And makes arrangements to get the gun from the COMPANY lockup -- the one only he is even allowed to look at, let alone carry into the field.

(He's the only AGENT with a body that can handle all the changes it puts a person through.)

On his way out, he kisses everyone goodbye. They have the good sense to not ask about what he'll be doing today. He has the decency to not tell them.

And then he's in his hovercar, flying from his Neo York City penthouse to the Heptagon with the sirens on, and no time to stop for a damn coffee.

* * *

"...oh, my son, my son," the old man says, shaking his mostly-bald head as he grips his boy's hands tight.

"I'm sorry, father," the man says, tears running down his face as he begs his father's forgiveness in the back of his campaign bus: "I don't know what else to say. I'm beaten. I can't win this-"

"You can, and you will," his elderly father insists, shaking with determined rage: "The angels have spoken to me, Rafael. They have assured me that you will win this. You must win this."

"But... the polls."

"To the devil with the polls!" the old man all but shouts, and the look in his eyes is fierce and terrible: "To the devil with delegates and votes! All the speeches and contests in the world will not save it from damnation.

"Only you can do that, my son. Only you."

The man looks at his father, sets his jaw, and nods: "I know that, papa. I do. I will lead this nation. I will be its leader. But... maybe it won't be this time-"

The slap comes so fast he doesn't even realize his father's hand isn't in his until it's landed on his fat face. The pain is intense, but not as painful as the look the old man's giving him, right now.

"Do not doubt the word of the Lord your God, Rafael," his father insists, pointing that finger in his son's face: "I told you the angels spoke to me. And they did not say it would be next time. They did not even say it would be this election. They said you would be this country's leader now."

"Then... how? What must I do?"

His father looks at his son, and takes both his hands in his. There's a look of total serenity about him, now.

And he tells his son that what he thought was a severe setback, a couple weeks ago, was actually the means by which he will lead this country out of the darkness, and back into the light.

And such is the way that he tells it that, by the time he's done talking, his son no longer has any doubts or worries.

He just has to figure out the best way to make this happen...

* * *

"Well then," the AGENT says, looking at the holographic timestamp on the timethread their temporal sensitives pulled out of the stream, late last night, and then handing the crystal matrix back across the desk: "That's troubling to say the least."

"Given everything that happened afterwards..." his burly, grey-haired supervisor says as she takes it, leaving the point open as she always does.

"28 years ago," he muses, looking out the spartan office's window at a blindingly-white Washington DC -- all memorials, museums, and agencies: "I feel like I was just there, for some weird reason."

"But you can't be sure," Rikki chuckles.

"No," he quickly assures her: "The wipes are still holding. I have no idea what I did, there. And I never will."

"You just get the feeling?"

He nods: "Yes. More and more, these days."

"Maybe you should stop before you fade."

"Fading's for losers," he chuckles, tipping her a wink: "But I promise I'll lose its number if it gets awkward."

"Ha-!@#$ing-ha," Rikki snorts.

"Boss. Language," he playfully scolds.

"Whatever," she says, handing him the key to the vault: "Get your weapon and go deal with the issue, sport."

"You got it," he says, snapping a smart salute and then heading out before the beefy, old clone can give him any more words of wisdom.

Or curse at him again. 

* * *

"... yeah, well, you know how it is," he says to his parents as he marches down the long hall to the vault -- very aware that every step is another biometric scan, and yet another chance for the defenses to turn him into smoked pate: "'Duty now for the future.' Can't say more than that.

"Yes, I'll be careful," he sighs: "Gosh, you two sound like old mother hens. You're worse than our husband, and he's worse than...

"Yes, I know," he chuckles: "I'll stay out of your way. Both of you.

"Love you both. Bye."

"Dang," he says, hanging up and showing his key to the armored guards at the end of the hallway. They nod and let him put it in the vault, at which point there's humming and sliding. 

At which point the doors open, just a little, and the large, silver box he needed floats out to meet him. 

He puts his hand on the box. It glows, and then opens. 

Inside is a small, silver gun with alien contours. It registers his presence and begins to breathe. 

He takes Hǫfuð out of its case, and quickly stores it before it starts to do that weird thing to his eyes. 

Then he lets the box slide back into the vault, leaves the key with the guard for safekeeping, and heads off to the Time Chamber. 

* * *

"What is that racket?" he says as he enters the room, addressing the giant, silver cylinder at its core: "It sounds like two guitars trying to make out in slow motion."

"Some classic rock," the Time Chamber insists: "'Bullet the Blue Sky' from The Joshua Tree. It seemed appropriate."

"The band's called the Joshua Tree?" 

"Philistine," the silver cylinder says, clearly aghast: "It's U2. How do you not know who U2 were?"

"Whatever," the AGENT says: "You know I'm more into New Wave than postpunk. And I think my dad shot their lead singer."

"Which one?"

"Their first one, I suspect."

"Which dad?" 

"That would be telling," he replies, drolly, and does one last check of everything as the Time Chamber goes on about temporal traps, things and people to be careful of, and a conjectural timeframe for his actions -- which may or may not actually be his doing, depending on what he finds there. 

" more thing," the cylinder says: "The last time you were there, you left behind a piece of evidence. A bullet that couldn't have possibly made the shot it did."

"Really?" the AGENT says: "Am I supposed to know about this?"

"No. But I'm telling you anyway because I want you to be more careful. The more of a footprint you leave, the harder it becomes for me to clean up after you. And we don't need them coming looking for us too early."

"Got it," the man says, nodding: "No exotic ordinance. No trick shots. No weirdness. I'll get in, do what needs doing, and make it look bog standard, even if it means disrupting the time flow."

The silver cylinder sighs, taking his point, and then begins to unfold itself before him.

The surface of spacetime crackles and booms, opening up into a hole that is best described in sexual terms. He smiles and keeps that filth to himself, as he always takes perverse pleasure in doing, and steps on back to 2016

He has no idea what he'll have to do there, as usual, except that it'll most likely be either stopping an assassination, or causing one.

But until he gets to where he needs to be, and sees the situation, he's as much in the dark as anyone...

Tuesday: 2/16/16

"Alright, then," Myron says, adjusting his headlamp and making a few more adjustments in the large bank of controls that squats between himself and the giant, bronze minotaur with fire in his eyes and belly: "We've got a containment field, now."

"Meaning?" Moloch demands, his voice a loud, bass noise that rattles every bone in Myron's hands, and echoes off the walls of this steel cavern.

"Meaning that, when we turn on the transporter, it won't suck in everything around it," Myron explains, as patiently as he can: "Because if it does, not only will we expend too much energy maintaining the portal, but there's a better chance that things won't be reassembled correctly on the other end."

"Which is bad."

"Which is very bad," Myron nods, glad the monster he's turning into a machine gets it: "You want to get home? We need a field."

"How much longer?"

"What, you haven't been waiting long enough?" Myron asks, trying to smile.

But then he sees the bull's eyes narrow, just so much. And he smiles a little larger, holds up his hands, and says "Just a small joke. We're doing good, okay? Just a while longer."

And, for what seems like the tenth time in two days, the metal monster who almost killed him a few years back avoids losing itself to another rage, and lets him keep working.

And Myron counts that as a victory, and takes advantage of every second it buys him. 

* * *

In retrospect, Myron should have known that the creature was at least partially responsible for the Village. 

After all, there were only so many B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P.s to go around. And as their creation -- and very existence -- was pretty damn dangerous to reality, it was much more likely that BOWLER had merely found a way to get to the latest one, rather than creating a whole new one. 

And it was much more likely that, rather than creating the Village all by himself in a timely manner, the man they'd known as Number 42 had enlisted some very special help on this side of things. Help from the sort of being that could move within, and reshape, metal structures.

But Moloch had learned from his lengthy isolation on this world; he was no longer confined to metal. He now possessed the ability to move within all forms or matter, and reshape their atomic structure to meet his desires.

And he also had learned to move within people, to a degree -- to be able to see inside their minds, and create things based on their needs, wants, or ideas...

Myron was, as could be expected, very skeptical of this part of the monster's tale. It didn't help that he'd spent the entirety of it with his gun in his mouth, ready to blow his own brains out rather than assist the bronze minotaur if he thought the beast was going to betray him.

But Moloch was rather convincing. When Myron challenged him by daring him to make a Dead Kennedy's t-shirt with Jello Biafra on the front -- things he doubted Moloch even knew about -- the beast merely reached out to Myron's head, and held his massive hand there for a time.

Then, he reached down to some inert matter, did something, and handed him the shirt in question.

One change of clothes later, and a few ground rules established, Myron began telling the creature exactly what they needed to have in order to create a new portal to Earth. And the creature began to create it to his specifications, so that they could build it, piece by piece.

As they worked, Myron had no illusions. He knew the beast would kill him if he got a chance, or gave it too much too soon. He also knew it would kill him as soon as they got back to Earth, and try to double-cross him on his condition of bringing the other prisoners back with them.

But he had hope that it might stall, just long enough. After all, as he'd since learned, Moloch had been the one to insist that BOWLER bring Myron through. He'd known he was the only one who could get him out of here, once the British spy organization's own techs had finally admitted to failure.

So they have an agreement, and an arrangement. And maybe it'll hold just long enough for Myron to figure a way to either disable or kill the beast, or at least strand him here again -- and for good, this time.

A curious and dangerous arrangement, but one that seems to be working. 

So far. 

* * *

"There we go," Myron says, tapping the circuits he just had Moloch generate: "That's good. I think we're getting closer."

"Hours, now?"

"Days, more like," Myron sighs: "I need some sleep."

"Sleep is not necessary-"

"It is for me," Myron says, looking up at the monster he's turning into a machine: "Maybe you've been out of your body for so long you've forgotten."

The monster's flames burn a little brighter, just then: "What... how...?"

"Oh yeah," Myron says, going back to work on a delicate piece of the process: "We figured out who you were, Tariq. It took a little digging, when all was said and done. But after we won against the Imago, and the authorities started digging out Dubai? Well..."

Myron shrugs. 

The monster is silent for a time, and then nods: "Body not important. Body a box. Open now. Soul is free."

"Well, that's one way to put it."


"Not really, no," Myron replies, stopping work: "I've met some other beings who aren't tied down to one form. AIs. Ghosts. Folks like that."

"Not gods."

"Well, I know some of them, too," Myron sighs: "But I gotta tell you, Tariq-"

"Moloch," the bronze minotaur insists. 

"Sorry. Moloch. When we get back to Earth, you might want to watch it with the god talk."


"Well, I haven't been able to get a lot of information, things being what they are. But a certain nasty !@#$ I was shacked up with for a while was able to get word back from BOWLER, now and again. And apparently, while I was here, a group of real gods have shown up on Earth."

"Real," Moloch snorts, small gouts of fire spurting from his flaring nostrils.

"Well, the Supergods, anyway. You probably don't remember them, being so young."

"Moloch is eternal."

"Yeah, yeah, and so was David Bowie."


Myron sighs: "Anyway, when we get back? If you want to talk about being a god, you'll have some company. But you might want to tread lightly."

For some reason, Moloch finds that funny enough to laugh for a full minute.

And every second makes Myron feel that much worse about needing some sleep...

Wednesday: 2/17/16

The Red Queen wakes up, yet again, and is mildly surprised to not have been assaulted in her sleep by her new friends. 

She expected to be beaten. Terrorized, at least. Maybe tied up and assaulted, or at least threatened with it.

But instead, these Liberators the Red Queen has fallen in with have taken her someplace quiet and safe. Fed her. Clothed her. 

And largely just left her alone. 

She's been all by herself, here in this room near the abandoned pyramid. She can't hear anything outside the doors. 

(She's wondering if that was intentional or not.)

She realizes this is an indoctrination technique, too. They'll probably come for her in a few hours, or maybe another day, and want to shower her with love and affection. 

Or maybe that's when the beating and pain will begin...

Either way, she's ready for them. Either way she'll put up a token struggle and ask questions that aren't the best ones to ask. She'll act like she's hesitant, rather than resistant, leading them to figure that the hesitation is all about her trying to deny what she already knows is true.

And then, when they're good and ready, they'll take her out of here and introduce her to whoever is orchestrating this blight on the White City.

And the Red Queen will drag that person's sorry ass back to Satanoth, drop him or her at his feet, and demand her god-body back. 

She just has to wait a little longer, that's all. 

Just waiting, here in the dark...

* * *

"How did we not know about this?" The head of Arrow Security says, looking over the legal paperwork his three lawyers have just dropped onto his desk: "I can't believe this is happening!"

"I'm afraid it is, Mr. Stone," the oldest of them says, closing her briefcase back up: "The irregularities were bad enough, before. But with this latest issue with the lock-up, we've got investigations, subpoenas... you name it."

"This is all... that Governor," the man says, thumping his hands down on what little free space remains on his desk: "This is payback. Worse than that! This is a distraction."

"It is what it is," the youngest of them opines: "And what it is, is a mess."

"We can get you out of it, of course," the one who hasn't said anything thus far offers: "This is just a distraction. It'll be hot news for a week or two, and then they'll find out something new about Flint, or somewhere else. And by the time we get you clear of this, well, it'll be back page stuff."

"But if there's anything you don't want on the front page?" the older lawyers says: "I'd really look into making it disappear."

"Oh, I can do that," Mr. Stone says, nodding as he looks it all over: "I'm very well-practiced at that."

And in the adjoining room, his longtime assistant, Gary -- who knows what all that stuff is -- suddenly realizes his time here is coming to an end.

And he decides, then and there, what he has to do in order to survive...

* * *

 "... you see, from the outset, I realized that ABWEHR was doomed," Helvete says, smoking another one of his oppressive, dark cigarettes: "Just the few of us, living in the Ice Palace? Waiting for the drugs we'd taken to run their course, and then we'd all get old and collapse unto useless senility? Or waiting for your so-called heroes to hunt us down, one at a time?"

"So you made us," Jana says, slicing him a perfect piece of his favorite pie as Karl carefully makes his coffee.

"Yes, but not as replacements for us," the pale-skinned man says, his red eyes narrowing at her perspicacity: "Shock troops, yes. Entertainment, definitely. Food, upon occasion. But not to take the place of us, no."

"So what was the plan, then?" a badly-burned Karl asks, waiting for the right second to pour the frothy milk: "Recruitment?"

"We tried that. It did not work," the pyrokinetic says: "Those tedious Arabs. The South Africans. None of them had our fire. Our spirit. Our dedication-"

"Your perfect, German genes," Jana says, handing him a plate with his pie on it: "Correct?"

"That too, yes," he says, taking a small fork from her and wondering if he should jab her with it, or keep speaking. 

"So you made pills that contained your memories and personality, and ensured the right person took them after you died?" Karl says, pouring the milk at last.

"Not right away. I had the pills made years in advance, after my other plan began to bear fruit. One last update was made the week before we learned that your SPYGOD was going to attack the Ice Palace. And then, I had my people wait for a time, and pick the right person, once he appeared."

"That's immortality of a sort, I guess," Karl says.

"A temporary measure," Helvete says: "A means to extend one's work past one's death. Not the true immortality promised by the term."

"So what, then?" Jana asks, watching as their master tries Karl's coffee, and, thankfully, does not throw it in his face this time. 

"So, we do our Nazi ideals the honor of trading metaphor for reality," the pale man says, finding his dessert and coffee quite good: "We become the gods we claimed to be."

The twins look at one another, and then back at him: "That's impossible" they say in eerie unison. 

"Is it?" Helvete asks: "Perhaps, except that we have already seen that men can become gods, have we not? And that Gods can become men?"

The twins remain puzzled, so he continues: "Your so-called Supergods, these Olympians? They have been banished to mortal flesh, only to return. And they have taken humans into themselves, becoming an amalgamation of the two."

"So Seranu wasn't talking complete !@#$ on the O'Reilly Factor?" Karl asks Jana.

"That would be the first time that show's contents couldn't be used to grow mushrooms, then," Jana replies to Karl. 

He smiles at that, and sips his coffee: "So, it is simply a matter of finding out how one might enter such a communion with such a being, and join with him or her. A way to rewrite reality, if you will, and change the nature of your destiny."

"And you think you can actually do this?" Karl asks, raising a singed eyebrow: "You and your army of disgraced superheroes, leather boys, and school dropouts?"

Helvete looks at him, and smiles.

And then proceeds -- just before igniting his impudent slave's fingertips -- to explain how...

Thursday: 2/18/16

 "So, what's the plan?" Gosheven asks, now that everyone's had a good time to look around the table -- here in this super-secret room, somewhere in the bowels of the Flier -- and get to know each other. 

"The plan?" SPYGOD asks, looking at the pudgy, Native American metamorph as though he just asked the dopiest question on Earth.

"Yeah," the guy says, shrugging: "Don't you always have a plan when you get us all together like this?"

"Do I?"

"That's the way I've heard it," Shining Guardsman says, looking around the table.

"Usually true," Swiftfoot adds in, nodding and looking at his fingernails.

"I wouldn't know," Free Fire says, shrugging in his best approximation of the gesture, which comes across somewhat strange as he's had little practice with it. 

"I would," Mister Freedom says, but, as usual, doesn't say what he knows. He just smiles, which gives a few of his new teammates the creeps.

"Well, who says I don't?" SPYGOD asks, getting up and putting his hands on the table: "We got intel. We've been reviewing it. We've got sources. We've been checking up on them. We've got patterns and probabilities. We've got someone running them through an algorithm to make a prediction."

"So... we're essentially waiting for the !@#$er to strike again," Gosheven says.

"And then we go after him?" Peg asks, looking rather uncomfortable with the idea: "The longer we wait-"

"The more likely he'll be up to business as usual, and people will get !@#$ing hurt and killed," SPYGOD says, sitting back down again: "Which is damn true. It also sucks. But it's the only way to keep even worse things from happening."

"I don't like that kind of math," Peg says: "The COMPANY's supposed to be about stopping that."

"I've forgotten more about that COMPANY than you've ever !@#$ing known," SPYGOD insists, pointing a finger: "And don't even get me started on math, lady. You don't get to !@#$ing judge until you've been in a war."

She has nothing to say about that, and decides to remain silent. For now.

"But in the meantime, we have some opportunities," he says, leaning forward: "We got carte blanche to do what we want, when we want. We got total secrecy. Total immunity.

"And I say it's time we !@#$ing used it."

"Now hold up," Peg says, holding up a hand: "This was not part of the deal-"

She would say more, but suddenly she falls over in a slump -- eyes open, mouth shut.

"Um, what?" Shining Guardsman says, looking between her and SPYGOD.

"Trade !@#$ing secrets," SPYGOD says, looking at Swiftfoot, who may or may not have just gotten out of his chair, moved across the table to Peg's seat, and gotten back before anyone could even blink: "How much?"

"One dose, (REDACTED)," he says, putting the empty vial on the table: "Just like you said."

"Alright then," SPYGOD says, looking at Gosheven, who sighs, nods, and sprouts a whole other person off of himself. It's Peg -- right down to her clothing and DNA.

"Um, what are we doing?" Shining Guardsman asks.

"Changing the rules of the game," Mister Freedom says, smiling as he gets up.

"We've got 48 hours before she wakes up," SPYGOD explains: "That gives us two whole days to think, to plan, and to move if necessary."

"Are we doing this because we suspect she's our mole?" Free Fire asks, looking at the real, apparently comatose Peg.

"It's possible," SPYGOD says: "But really? I just feel like being in !@#$ing charge of my own damn team, you know?"

"Yeah," Shining Guardsman says, nodding slowly: "I think I completely understand that concern after the !@#$ I went through."

"Exactly," SPYGOD says, clapping him on the back: "The President's gone !@#$ing nuts. So Josie's got her hands tied at the Executive level, which is why that shameful !@#$ show with Freedom Force went down the way it did. And all she can say is 'sorry' and make !@#$ing apologies.

"Well, not in my COMPANY, folks," he says, pressing a secret button under the table. A panel slides out of the top of it, displaying a cooler full of chilled beer and some party favors: "This !@#$ we're dealing with is too explosive to let Mr. Interim President remote control it. We are not having our hands tied. We are not having a !@#$ing babysitter.

"We are going to go deal with this !@#$ my way, so it gets dealt with, and stays dealt with.

"All clear?" he asks, getting a beer out and popping the cap off with a bottle opener he makes at the top side of his thumb.

The nods and 'yes'es are quick, and seem genuine. So he smiles, takes a swig, and adds: "Plus... I may have promised someone we're going to !@#$ing help him, off the books..."

* * *

"Wait a minute," the large man says, shaking his head and holding up a hand: "Are you sure... you know what you're asking me?"

"I do, Mr. Secretary," the Candidate says, putting his hands together and leaning forward -- his immense head seeming to take up most of the space in the man's solarium.

"Not anymore," former Secretary of State Paul C. Wheeler grouses: "Those bastards saw to that."

"That's right. And it would have been kept quiet, too, if the bastards in the Press hadn't gone public with classified information."

"I haven't forgotten that," the man says, patting his chest at the thought of it.

"No, I bet you haven't," he says: "But you know, they all followed the lead of one person. And that's Randolph Scott."

"Yes," the disgraced politician says, a very dark look crossing his face just then.

"And if you took him out of the picture, well... maybe the others would forget about you?"

"How?" the man says, looking very interested all of a sudden.

"Well, first you do me this one little favor," the Candidate says: "And then, when that's done? I'll see to it that certain unimpeachable witnesses come forward to say that he made up all that stuff about you."

"You can trust them?"

"Oh, they'll do whatever we need," the froglike man says, smiling: "And once you're in the clear, again? We can see about other forms of thanks."

"Such as...?"

"Such as giving you your job back in my administration," the Candidate says, extending a hand: "But first we need a certain thing to happen, inside a certain other thing."

"Well then," the man says, nodding and taking the man's hand: "You pay their fee, and I'll see to it this thing happens."

And as they shake hands and smile, the Candidate can't help but think of a line by Yeats...

* * *

"There really is no dignified way to come into the hospital when the baby's on the way, hon," Mark Clutch tells Martha as they floor it for West Suburban -- the Owl Car zooming over the buildings and trees as they really ignore the stoplights.

"Never... knew that," Martha gasps, doing her best to block out the pain: "Had Thomas... at the Owl Cave..."


"Yes..." she grunts, remembering to breathe: "Circumstances... dad thought... best to do it... at home..."

"We had Kaitlyn at... well, hell, you were there," he says, smiling as he remembers.

"I know..." she sighs: "Remember everything..."

He smiles at that, and then looks at her: "I love you, Martha."

"Love... you..." Martha says.

And she screams loud enough to rattle the windows as their child decides to remind her that this is not a tender moment...

Friday: 2/19/16

Randolph leans down to kiss Velma on the hand. He'd rather do it on her face or forehead, but she's bandaged and wired from her neck on up, and the last time he got too close every alarm in her room went off.

On the way out of the room, he runs his hands over the large bank of paper flowers her friends have sent her. They won't let real flowers in here, for one medically-sound reason or another, but the paper kind is okay.

And then he's down the hall -- nodding to the two armored Toons by her door -- and into the TV lounge. It's strangely deserted at this time of morning, which is both good and bad for him.

He looks at the television, which some asshole left on FOX News. They're going on about how a certain candidate's ratings are going through the room -- especially after calling Cruz a "!@#$y" at a speech -- and how said "!@#$y" is announcing a special speech on Sunday, down in Calexico, California, in which he might be throwing in the towel.

"We should be so damn lucky," Randolph sighs, doing the electoral math in his head. Sadly, he knows where most of the man's votes will be going -- and it isn't Kasich.

Then the burner phone in his front left pocket rings. He's been saving that one for a special someone, who he's been expecting a call from.

"Hey you," he says, a second after getting out of sight of any cameras and windows: "I was wondering when you might call...

"Okay, it's on? Are you sure you don't want me there to watch?

"Well, yes. But she's not going anywhere. And she'd !@#$ing kill me if I missed this. You know that.

"Ah, the doctors are !@#$ing useless. She could come out of it today, tomorrow, next week, next year. Brains are damn weird and brain doctors are...

"Well, you know how much faith I have in them after my own traumatic experience. I hear they waffled so much they could have opened up a damn Waffle House.

"What, you've never heard of them? Okay, next time you're stateside? We'll go. They're somewhere between an IHOP and a Denny's, only with fewer items and better service, respectively.

"Okay, it's a.... well, it's what it is. Yeah.

"Well, if you want to call it a date, I won't say no. I just don't want your fiance coming after me with one of his ridiculous guns.

"Oh? Oh! Well okay then. We'll call it a date.

"Yes, I'm sure. Velma would kill me if I didn't...

"Oh? You didn't hear? Well, yes. Mom and baby are fine. Mark's a little frazzled, but he's been through this before.

"A boy. Joseph Clutch.

"Yeah, well, they're not into cigars. I'll have to send balloons or something when I have time.

"Well, yeah. The one thing we never seem to have...

"Alright then. You take care, man. And good luck.


With that, he hangs up, drops the phone on the ground, and stamps it so hard it all but collapses under his boot.

As he dumps the smooshed burner into the nearest trash can, he catches sight of the Candidate going on about how Toons bring violence wherever they go. And something about how the piece of !@#$ says it makes him wonder what he knows.

And how much uglier this is going to get between now and November...

* * *

"Wait, are we actually having this conversation, Senator?" the Interim President asks, staring at the phone like it just flipped him the bird.

"Yes, I know what I said, sir," he goes on, shaking his head: "I was there at the time..."

He rolls his eyes, and looks around the Oval Office. It's deserted, except for him. Even his aides have stopped coming in, these days.

(Something about hygiene, they say. Well to heck with them. He doesn't have time to bathe, now.)

"Yes, I meant every word," Quayle says, spinning around in his soiled, leather swivel chair: "I asked Congress for it. They said no. Or at least they never said yes...

"Wait, wait. Are you actually telling me..."

Quayle's eyes get as large as dinner plates. He gulps, quite loudly.

"Now look. Just look here... Senator. Senator!

"Sir, you cannot be serious. You cannot be. No. No."

He listens some more. He goes pale as a sheet.

"Now sir. Ted. Come on now. You have to think about this. Think about what he said. Think about what we saw. 

"Yes, I know what I said. But I also know what I saw, Senator. And so do you. You were there, dammit! You urinated in your damn pants!"

Silence, and then he closes his eyes: "No. No no. Senator, this your President speaking. Yes, your President. Do not do this.

"Then I ask you as a man, sir. A man with a wife and children and a lot of people I care about. Do not do this. Please.

"Well then fine. You do this? We're not responsible for you. I'll call the damn head of the Secret Service and tell them to let you twist in the wind. You hear me?

"Hello? Hello?"

There's no answer. The call's been terminated on the other end.

"Oh Jesus," the Interim President says, getting up from his chair and wondering who all he needs to call.

Check that -- he knows who he needs to call, first and foremost. He just doesn't want to.

But he knows he has no choice...

* * *

"Are you sure you're ready, sir?" the Indonesian woman says, still looking uncertain in her new uniform.

"You don't have to call me sir, anymore, Yanti," Straffer says, trying to smile in an elevator full of armed Space Service guards. 

"What should I call you, then?"

"George would be nice."

"It's a bit too... familiar."

He smiles and chuckles, looking around at everyone. No one seems amused but him.

The ride down is fairly quick. Then they leave as one body, heading out of the Space Elevator, and towards a waiting UN transport -- floating an inch above the executive landing pad.

"Just take good care of it, okay?" he tells his former assistant -- now the Director of the Space Elevator: "It's a weird thing, but it's wonderful. And it's been wonderful to have rehabilitated it."

"I will," she says, shaking his hand before the guards put every manacle known to man, machine, and god onto him.

She stays and watches as they lock Straffer down, one inch at a time. If he finds the procedure painful, demeaning, or frightening, he does not show it.

About halfway through the ordeal, a transport takes off -- full of Martian refugees, bound for Mexicali. He watches it go, as best as he can, and maybe tears up a little at the sight of it. 

At last, it's done. He's encased in metal bands from head to toe, with only his his face showing.

They place further devices onto it. Life support monitors, motion detectors, and a very large bomb.

Then they carefully strap him onto an upright gurney, tilt it back down, and wheel him towards the transport. But before they do, she snaps off one final, proper salute -- making sure he can see it.

George Straffer smiles at her, then. And then they've wheeled him aboard.

And then it takes off, maybe a little quicker than absolutely necessary.

Director Yanti Hatta watches until it disappears over the horizon. And then, her duty to him done, turns to take full control of her new assignment.

She's just not at all happy with what it's cost her. 

Saturday: 2/20/16

"Hey," someone says to the Red Queen as she wakes up -- the room finally lit with sunshine from outside.

It's a woman's voice. She knows that much. And it takes every ounce of willpower to not leap out of her current position and wrap her hands around her neck.

She pretends to wake up by degrees. Opens and closes her eyes. Acts groggy. Half-sits up, and then rubs her eyes and mouth as if getting bad dreams out.

"Sorry to keep you waiting for so long," the woman says: "We've been kind of busy, the last few days. You know how that goes, right?"

"Not really," the Red Queen lies: "I was scared. I thought you'd forgotten me."

"You could have left at any time," the woman says, her eyes glittering in dark sockets as she indicates the door: "It was unlocked the whole time."

"I didn't check..." she says, shrugging. She looks stupid, now. Maybe a little mad at herself.

(She really knew all along. She just didn't want to appear to be too smart.)

"Well, that's okay," the woman says, rising up and looking down at her: "We promised you answers and left you waiting. That was bad on us. But you sat here, waiting, and trusted us. And that's good on you.

"So, answers. I got them. But I need to know something, and this is really important."

"What's that?"

"How fucking badly do you want to know the truth, girl?" Loreli asks: "How far will you go for an answer?"

"What do you mean?" the Red Queen asks, suddenly very spooked by how this crazy-eyed woman said the word '!@#$ing'

(Because she's heard it said like that before, what seems a whole lifetime ago. And it didn't end very well, thanks to the people who were saying it like that...)

"I mean that I have an army of people out there who will do anything for answers. Anything at all," the woman says, kneeling down before her and putting her hands on her new friend's shoulders: "They will die for them if needed. And that's what it might take to get these Gods to see us."

Red Queen looks into the woman's eyes. She sees madness there. Horror and terror.

The same kinds of darkness she saw in the eyes of that fake SPYGOD and the President's daughter, back in that house in Bangkok.

Something makes her shiver, and for a moment she thinks she's blown cover. But then the woman smiles at her, winks, and says "I think that's a yes, honey?"

She just nods, and lets Loreli tell her all about their movement.

And this time the shivers are real.

* * *

"Honey, you have to snap out of it," Florence's mother is saying over the phone: "I know this is a bad thing. And I know you feel bad about it. But you can't hide in your room forever."

"I know, mom," the heroine says, trying not to cry. And she keeps it up the rest of the phone call, during which her mother keeps telling her the wrong things, over and over again.

Why won't she understand? Why won't she just listen?

She's been violated. Humiliated, degraded, exposed.

Her most private self has been shared with the world against her will.

The pictures those animals took of her are now in circulation on the internet, and countless people are, at this moment, staring at her nakedness.

Raping her with their eyes.

And the one person she thought would at least understand -- at least empathize -- is telling her to treat it like she just broke her leg or something.

Can she be taken seriously, now? Will she ever get her self back from the world?

She doesn't know. She feels awful. Betrayed.

And for the love of God she doesn't know what to do, now...

* * *

"... but the people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision," the grey-haired politician says, looking around the room as though for some kind of lifeline: "So tonight I am suspending my campaign."

There are gasps. Someone says "no." He smiles weakly and says "Yeah, yeah," before continuing on, but the newscaster doesn't give him the chance.

"That leaves five men standing in the Republican race," the blonde FOX News anchor says, her smile like a brace of knives: "With news that Cruz might concede tomorrow, having fallen behind Ben Carson in the total delegate count. Meanwhile, Sanders and Webb continue to run neck and neck, as leftist voters seem unable to decide between an avowed Socialist, and the darling of the so-called moderate wing..."

The AGENT snorts: "Heck of a way to talk about the next President," he says, turning the television off and leaning back on the bed.

The hotel room is small, dark, and not scheduled to be booked for the next three days. That makes it ideal for his purposes -- it'll give him some extra time in case things go weirder than usual, tomorrow.

He calls up the data the Time Chamber is sending him from 2044 on his holographic interface. The main cord of accepted history shows ahead of him, with something akin to a weird knot warping its features, tomorrow afternoon.

It's that knot that's brought him here, to Calexico -- evidence that something strange and atemporal happened here, on that date.

It might be nothing, of course. It's possible that his being here is what caused the knot. And so, in his time -- the future, from this point in time -- he comes back to investigate and causes the incident he's investigating in the first place.

(Temporal engineers call it a Closed Loop, maybe with a side of Bootstrap Paradox, and get all excited. He calls it a Snipe Hunt, and hates them with a passion.)

But better the simple explanation than the complicated one.

Because if it is complicated, then something else is going on here. Some weird fracture in the timeline is being committed by one or more parties.

And given how important what happens tomorrow is, there's no way in heck he's going to take the chance of things not happening the terrible way they're supposed to, as opposed to the cataclysmic ways that they might. 

Ways that might seriously change the history of Earth, or even wipe it out altogether.

So he checks the timeline -- over and over and over again. He sees who was supposed to be here, and who did what, and when. He plays the transcripts over and over until he has them committed to memory.

And then, when that's done, he meditates the rest of the night, there in the dark.

Waiting for the world as it isn't to show him how to change it back to what it should be...

Sunday: 2/21/16

Calexico, California. 6 in the morning.

A large bandstand has been constructed, within sight of the border. It's done up in red, white, and blue, with the Cruz for President logos everywhere.

Also, there are crosses -- tall, plain, and stark white. Many of them adorn the stage, and many more have been set up around the audience pen.

It's like they've been constructed to keep things in. Or maybe keep things out...

By some trick of location, the bandstand appears to be directly in a line of sight with the towering White City, itself, across the border in Mexicali.

And by some trick of the heat, even this early in the morning, the city of the Supergods seems to be less than a mile away...

* * *

"... from rejoining the portal on the other side," Myron says over the intercom: "I've got a reasonably good assurance that this should work. I'm not sure what kind of situation we'll be going into, but if it gets us all back to Earth, I don't see how this couldn't be an improvement."

He smiles, looking at Moloch, and then at the huge device they've spent the last few days putting together. It looks a lot like the old platform they used to get back and forth from the Treehouse, but with better safety features, this time.

(And a few other precautions Myron built in, just to be sure.)

"And I meant what I said, earlier. I don't hold any grudges on this. I don't care if you helped me or tried to kill me. We've all been used, here. It's time we got past that.

"So, if you want to come along? Come on down. We'll hold off on doing more than test it for a few hours, but I want to stress that, after the first go, we might not get another.

"So go to the second subfloor, look for the tube marked ORBIT, and step inside. We'll be waiting..."

* * *

... for the anointed son to come on down and say his say.

The makeshift lot fills up quickly. Cars from all over the American Southwest park so tight that it's a wonder anyone can get out of them. And they're soon joined by others, caravaning in from all over the nation.

Especially Texas.

Before long the penned-in audience area is full to bursting, and others have to stand beyond the line of crosses. Entrepreneurs sell t-shirts, snacks, and lemonade.

(Extra portajohns are eventually secured, to much cheering.)

The security is being handled by an open-carry organization, and while they stand there looking scary it's quickly apparent they're next to useless. Spot checks aren't routine, and they trust when they should verify.

The media show up predictably late, and do their best to navigate to the front of the crowd to capture what comes next. They've been told only that this is "super important," and "will change everything."

Some of them have their own opinions on what that means, and either keep it to themselves or make it the centerpiece of their early reports.

But all of them expect some kind of show...

* * *

... his face, just yet.

The AGENT is there, of course -- just quite some distance away. Watching the show through glasses that pull the world from far away up close in three-dimensions, so he can walk through the crowds unseen.

He can't be seen, either. His devices see to that.

He can see others who wish to not be seen, though.

Off to the far, far left -- just under three miles away -- is Wilbur P. Queensbush. Age 52. USMC sniper, and sought-after mercenary.

And today he's been hired to take out the man that everyone's come here to see.

He's been parked under some scrub since early this morning, wrapped around the best .50 caliber sniper rifle money can't buy in this timeframe. And he's waiting for the optimum moment to use it. 

He has no idea who really paid him, any more than he knows who ultimately set these wheels into motion. He really doesn't care.

He gets his money, he shoots, he kills, and then he melts into the haze of history.

(Dead in three days -- shot in the face by a jealous competitor. Such is life.)

If time goes according to plan, today, Wilbur succeeds in his plan. Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz dies before he can say all of what he'd come here to say.

But not before a fanatic wearing a vest of C4, there in the front row, does something much more distracting, and dangerous...

* * *

".... we repeat, these prisoners are dangerous. Do not attempt to arrest. Shoot on sight..." the loudspeaker is blaring. But no one is listening, now.

They're screaming.

"You think you are good?" The Penitent asks the Arrow guard he's slowly choking with his fist on the cold, concrete floor: "You think God will forgive your sins? Not without pain, brother. And here it is..."

"Hey man," one of the others says, poking his abnormally-pale, white-haired head around the corridor: "Come on. We ain't got time for that !@#$ right now."

"There's always time for repentance!" the madman screams, clearly not wanting to be disturbed at this moment.

(Not when he's got his fist all the way down the guard's throat, up to the elbow...)

"Yeah, well, we got wheels up in five," someone else says, stomping on by. She's wearing a black leather business suit with a white, silk tie, and carrying a long, golden staff with a crackling, orange crystal skull at its crown.

"Are you sure we gotta bring him?" the albino black man who looked around the corner said, chasing after her: "He's trouble. Killed two guards, three inmates. No rules-"

"My employer was very insistent," Morgue Anna says, narrowing her eyes at him: "All the top security prisoners. Even him. Even you."

"Well, it ain't that I ain't grateful," Yellow Snow says, thumbing the gun he took off the guard he dealt with, back there: "I just hope your employer got a better plan than the last !@#$er I signed on with."

"Oh, he does," she smiles...

* * *

... as the candidate's tourbus pulls up, all campaign logos and URLs. 

The crowd goes wild. The bus honks in reply. 

Inside, in the back, the man of the hour kneels with his father. They've been praying since the bus left the hotel, this morning. 

So many miles, so many words.

All doubts are gone now. All considerations tossed aside. 

The father had convinced the son. The son is ready to fulfill his destiny. 

And nothing will surely stop them now...

* * *

"...that you're all here, I think?" Myron says, looking around the room, which has been partially lit by everyone's flashlights.

"This is everyone, yeah," someone says from the middle of the crowd: "The others... well..."

"They know it's okay, right?" Myron says, looking at Moloch -- who's clearly impatient to begin. 

"I don't !@#$in' think so," the large Irishman Myron tussled with the other week confides: "And neither do they. But here we all are, eh?"

"Yes," Myron says, gesturing to the platform: "So here's how it works. We all get on. Moloch powers us up. He gets in at the right moment, and we go back to BOWLER's headquarters' basement, or wherever the portal is operating from."

"And then what?" someone else asks.

"And then... we either make the best deal in the world, or kick some serious ass and get some massive payback," Myron says, looking each person in the eyes as he does: "Make no mistake, people. We left there prisoners. We're coming back as kings. 

"All of us."

"I'm so glad you feel that way, Myron," someone says from the darkness as she walks out of it.

It's the Chess Master, re-appeared at last.

And she's not alone, either...

* * *

... as he walks up the steps. His wife is there with him, along with his father. 

He waves to the crowd as he gets closer to the podium. His steps are confident and full. He looks alive and alert.

He may or may not have been crying. They might have been tears of rapture and joy. 

And as he gets behind the wooden podium, gripping the sides tightly, he lets the fury of the crowd exalt his spirit.

He smiles -- doe-eyed and vacuous, with his father and wife on either side of him -- and waits for the cheering to die down before he begins...

* * *

... to worry.

Straffer should have been let out of these ridiculous metal straps, by now. It's been a day or so.

How long do they plan to keep him here, all alone in this dungeon of a superslam?

He thought they might be taking him to Neo York City, but they diverted course from west to east, and headed for Africa, instead.

His GPS was offline, at the time. But he knew where they were taking him as soon as they landed.

The Korhogo facility, in Cote d'Ivorie. The place where the Terre Unifee kept its supervillains, until it was time to collect them to make another "hero," somewhere in its structure.

(The place that imploded, some time ago, after one of their more infamous inmates realized he was a god...)

The guards took him from the transport to an elevator, and from that elevator to a room on the ground floor.

And then they just left him, and turned the lights off as they went.

Is that their solution, then? To just leave him here to rot, here in this place that still stinks of the men and women who died here?

If so, they're making a terrible mistake...

* * *

"... the other week," the man says, holding onto the podium as if he might be blown away by the love of the crowd. Their adoration.

"I was challenged, as you all saw. The devil himself came to our debate, after I had spoken of his works, here on Earth. And he did not respond in a way that I expected him to.

"That was my fault, and I repent of it. I was proud and headstrong. I was too confident in my own self, and not confident in God's hand in things.

"And when he challenged me, this devil in the white city..." he says, loving the fact that some of his audience actually get the reference: "He was able to call my bluff. He threatened to bring down the world if I forced him to make amends for what he had done.

"And because I was not walking with the Lord, that night. Well, you saw me. I hesitated. I became afraid.

"And all I could say was..."

* * *

"... you have to be !@#$ing kidding me," Myron says, looking at Hook and Crook as they stand behind the Chess Master: "All this time? You were all in this together, all this time?"

"Yes," the two of them say -- one a split second after the other -- and hold their eponymous weapons up.

"Well, that explains a lot," he says, looking at the Chess Master: "So what now? You want to come along? I'm sure we can use the help-"

"No," the older woman says, raising an eyebrow: "Now, you and Number One get away from the platform. Then, Hook and Crook create the energy necessary to take us all home."

"And you strand us here," Myron says, gesturing to all the people who'd come down here: "I don't think so, somehow-"

"Then consider this," the older woman says: "I've heard your pathetic little speech. You think you'll all just go over there and tell them to lick your boots? Just you and a metal monster who'll betray you the second he gets home?"

There's doubt, then, and Moloch just chuckles -- deep, fiery bass.

"Now we, on the other hand. We get over there, and we can force them to do as we wish. We can reestablish connection. We can have you brought back.

"You'll just have to decide who you trust more..."

* * *

"... the Lord, or the Devil," their chosen candidate goes on: "The spirit or the flesh. The word or our flawed ability to understand.

"I didn't understand, then. Not truly. I thought I knew my place in history, and the world. But I was wrong. I was blind.

"But now, thank God, I can see!" he shouts. And the crowd shouts with him.

"Now I understand that I have a destiny. I have a mission. It goes beyond higher office, beyond elections, beyond anything we could understand.

"And now that I understand this, I understand that I don't have time to wait for another debate, another primary, or even another election.

"I have to do this now..."

* * *

... that the AGENT is realizing that something is going very, very wrong.

His tachyon detectors are going off the scale. His incursion alarms are sounding.

He looks at the thread, again. The knot is becoming even thicker, now.

More convoluted than he'd counted on.

Something else is going on, here. Someone else is coming through.

And for some weird reason, they're coming through right on top of him...

* * *

"... because we know he's listening, up there in that tower," the crowd's hero says, pointing to the White City behind him: "And let's tell this Seranu, as I tell him, that we are not afraid of him.

"Let's tell him that we are a mighty nation, with the one, true god on our side!"

"Let's tell him that we are not afraid of death, or fire, or pain, for the Lord our God is with us!"

"And let's tell him, as I should have done before, that-"

* * *

- the sniper spits out a mouthful of chaw, slowly exhales, and pulls the trigger -


- the man in the front row pulls the cord on his vest, and shouts that God is Great - 


- the AGENT screams in fear and surprise as his body warps into an unfamiliar shape -

and then..

* * *

In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum
Jacob wrestled the angel
And the angel was overcome
You plant a demon seed
You raise a flower of fire
See them burning crosses
See the flames higher and higher

(SPYGOD is listening to Bullet the Blue Sky (U2, before someone shot Bono) and having a Blazing World)

No comments:

Post a Comment