Monday, February 29, 2016

TechnOlympos: 2/22/16 - 2/28/16

"So Bloody Red, Tomorrow's Clouds..."

(Moloch, Triumphant)

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *


* * *


"... repeating the top story of this hour, Presidential Candidate Senator Ted Cruz appears to be dead following a bombing at his rally in Calexico, California..."


"... leading candidate released a tweet, expressing his sadness for Cruz' daughter..."


"... camera footage, taken seconds before the blast, shows that Cruz was openly goading the Olympian, Seranu, apparently in the hopes of getting him to follow through on his promised course of action at the last Republican debate..."


"... clearly our Interim President hasn't done enough to stop these homicide bombers, Megyn. As sad as this is, hopefully it'll result in some positive action..."


"... there were very few survivors, most of whom died of their injuries while enroute to the nearest hospital..."


"... witnesses outside the blast zone seem confused as to what they saw, Dave. One person says he heard the firing of a rifle, maybe a split second before the blast. But there's also reports of some kind of metal being on the stage..."


"... he was accompanied by his father and his wife, both of whom died at the scene..."


"... authorities are saying there is no truth to the rumor that Senator Cruz was burned alive by some kind of metal monster with horns. They're crediting the screen grab in question to, and I quote, a sick person with access to photoshop..."


"... condolences from all his opponents, as well as the two chief Democrat candidates, a smattering of smaller parties, and the Interim President. Vermin Supreme offered to send a boot..."


"... as of this time, there has been no official word from Olympos, nor from any of the Olympians..."


* * *

Monday: 2/22/16

The first thing Myron becomes aware of, other than being back on Earth, is the corral of burning crosses, off in the distance. 

They're tall and imposing, and clearly made of wrapped pasteboard. Flames lick higher across their plain features, slowly unwinding the layers of material that surround their core. 

The screaming gets to him next. 

There's moaning from burned and broken people inside the corral, in front of what's left of a stage. Not a lot of it, though. Most of them are dead -- clearly caught in the blast that has set the crosses afire. 

The screaming comes from the stage.

On that stage, bright and burning, stands the monster he thought he'd left behind -- arms raised in triumph, mouth and eyes blazing with stolen fire.

And inside the minotaur is...

* * *

"... hey," someone is saying to him, waving a hand in front of his face: "You awake, son?"

Myron blinks. Once, then twice. 

He looks around the room, clearly puzzled, and very groggy.

It's a hospital bed. He's hooked up to monitors, but not being given any blood or fluids. 

(No catheter either, thankfully.)

The room is vibrating, slightly. It's like being in an airplane. 

Then he looks out the window, past the person who's still trying to catch his attention, and sees the Washington Monument from an angle he doesn't normally see it from -- up high. 

"The Flier," he says, blinking some more. 

"Well, yeah," the person trying to get his attention: "You didn't !@#$ing think we were going to check you out in an alley, somewhere, did you?"

Myron looks up, then, finally. He thinks he knows who it is, even though he's missing his eyepatch.

"What's up with those Thomas Dolby glasses?" he asks SPYGOD, who sighs and shakes his head.

"Well, glad to know my fiance wasn't !@#$ing playing a joke on me," the superspy says, pulling something long, aromatic, and foil-wrapped out of a paper bag: "Meatball sub?"

* * *

It's almost evening by the time Myron has told SPYGOD everything about where he's been for the last couple months. The kidnapping, the Village, Numbers Two and 42, BOWLER, the dinosaurs, the realization they were in a B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P., the retreat to the Green Dome, the Chess Master,  the horrible monster waiting below.

He's done so with very few interruptions, which makes Myron somewhat suspicious. But he's willing to take it that some things may have changed. 

(SPYGOD was brain damaged and comatose the last he heard, after all.)

"Well, then," SPYGOD says, crossing his legs and sipping at a thermos of something that smells damn potent: "That sounds like one hell of a !@#$ing vacation, there, Myron."

"You got the first bit right."

"Which bit?"


"I can't !@#$ing disagree," the superspy shrugs, knocking back some more of the thermos: "Obviously we need to have some words with those Limey !@#$ers about keeping their damn hands to themselves, among other subjects."

"I'd say so."

"I bet you would," SPYGOD says, looking at the returned hero and, after a second, offering him a pull of what he's been drinking. 

"Thank you," Myron says, trying not to gulp at it: "Damn, that's good."

"Been a while?"

"You have no damn idea," he says, passing it back: "And the way I'm feeling, I could use a couple."

"So, you got all those people down below, ready to go," SPYGOD says, taking a pull, himself: "And then that Chess Master !@#$ showed up with... Hook and Crook? Did I hear that right?"

"You did," Myron sighs: "The meta was not subtle with these people."

"I'm going to pretend I !@#$ing understood that," SPYGOD says: "But they delivered their ultimatum. And then what?"

"And then..." Myron says, gritting his teeth: "And then I !@#$ing failed them."

"Failed who?"

"Everyone," the hero says, his jaw set as he explains...

* * *

... that he really should have known what would happen next. 

Moloch looked at the Chess Master, Hook, and Crook, and laughed -- that deep, bass, creepy laugh of his. 

The old lady demanded he be quiet, but he wouldn't. 

And before Myron could say something to try and quiet him down, while the situation could still be saved (maybe), he realized that the bronze minotaur was already taking care of the situation in his own, gruesome way. 

The floor between them and the three people threatening them rippled, ever so slightly. They didn't see it, but Myron knew what to look for. 

And he knew what it meant....

* * *

"... Hook and Crook, well, no one knew what the hell their deal was," Myron explains, holding out his hand to get more of whatever SPYGOD's drinking: "Brother and sister, twins, some weird experiment. All we knew is that whenever they touched each other, there was an explosive burst of electrical force."

"Wait," SPYGOD says, holding up a hand before handing over the hooch: "So this Moloch character, he moved himself through the metal in the floor, and touched both of them..."

"He didn't touch them," Myron snaps, frowning: "He impaled them. Ran long spikes from the floor right up their asses and out of their skulls. They didn't even have time to scream."

"Well, couldn't have happened to two nicer sexually-ambiguous British supers, from the sounds of things," SPYGOD shrugs: "But when they got !@#$ing impaled? The goddamn circuit got completed, didn't it?"

"Yes," Myron replies, having a serious glug of the stuff: "Which meant the room exploded..."

"... and the platform got all the energy it needed to get you the !@#$ home."

"Right," Myron sighs, debating whether to have another hit: "Only all the people we wanted to take with us were too far away to jump on, and, well..."

* * *

... the next thing he remembered feeling was pain -- wracking, contorting, and all-encompassing.

Somehow he got on the platform. He didn't know how. He wondered if Moloch reached out and grabbed him, but that made no damn sense. 

(Or did it...?)

And then they were flying down the corridor between worlds. Not the normal fade of a proper transport -- the gradual loss of where you started, being overtaken by where you went -- but the nightmare crashing of worlds upon worlds happening all around them as they held onto the platform for dear life. 

(Well, Myron did, anyway. Moloch seemed to be enjoying the ride.)

All the while, Myron wondered why they were taking this route. Why it was taking this long. Why they hadn't zeroed in on the portal in the BOWLER facility, back on Earth. 

But then the light at the end of the tunnel appeared, and the platform launched itself towards it.

And on the other side...

* * *

"... someone was screaming, like he was having his nuts pulled up through his body and out of his damn mouth," Myron says, shaking his head: "It got louder and louder as the light got brighter and brighter."

"Yeah, we usually call that the oncoming train, son."

"Sure !@#$ing felt like it," Myron says: "Next think I know, I'm eating dirt. Rolling end over end across dust, dirt, and gravel like someone shot me out of a damn cannon."

"And that's how you woke up in southern California," SPYGOD says, leaning forward: "Calexico, of all places. Just in time to hear that stupid Cuban by way of Canada asshole try and pick a fight with a god."

"Yeah," Myron raises an eyebrow: "I heard about those guys coming back, while we were in space, but I didn't really get a sense of what was really going on when I got back. And I guess while I was gone, things really got damn intense?"

"You could say that," SPYGOD says, finishing his drink, and then pulling another out -- this time for Myron, exclusively: "But please, go on. You've got me on the edge of my !@#$ing seat, here."

"Well, I get up, and there's fire and burning crosses, everywhere," the hero says, gratefully accepting the thermos and knocking some more back: "A lot of dead people in a bloody, burning heap inside the crosses. A platform, a stage, what's left of a tour bus..."

"And your friend, Moloch," SPYGOD says, leaning forward: "Killing a Presidential candidate..."

* * *

... was saying something about being anointed, and invisible in the name of Heaven.

Did he really think that? Myron wasn't sure. Something about the way the man was comporting himself, in the seconds before the giant, bronze minotaur grabbed him by the shoulders, revealed him to be a man convinced that the world somehow revolved around him.

Just not for very long.

Myron couldn't help but hear the rest of the conversation. The guy screamed out to God to protect him, and that was followed by Moloch pronouncing there was no god but Moloch.

And then the metal monster set out to prove it.

Myron had seen Moloch do this, before -- back in the treehouse. He would take someone, throw them into the hole in his belly, and light them on fire. Then he would draw his obscene strength from that fire, as his hapless victim screamed, burned, and melted like a human candle inside of him.

Not a pleasant way to go -- especially as the person's took seemingly forever to burn down, which could only make the excruciating agony go on well past the point of sanity. 

So he could only marvel that his latest victim didn't scream as the thing grabbed him and pulled him inside itself. He saved that for when the fire finally took him.

And then he screamed -- long and loud...

* * *

"... it was awful," Myron says, downing some more of his drink: "That poor guy. He survived the same explosion that killed everyone else there without even a scratch on him, and then... well, that happens."

"Yeah, I heard it's pretty nasty," SPYGOD says, grabbing his pad and calling up some files: "I guess I tangled with the bastard a couple times, back in the day."

"What, you don't remember?"

SPYGOD raises an eyebrow: "I didn't say that, son."

"What do you mean, then?"

"I mean... let's focus on what !@#$ing happened next," the superspy replies, clearly wanting to change the damn subject: "You were on the ground, some distance from the damn thing. He just shoved that moron inside his guts and lit him on fire. For a couple seconds the metal !@#$er was back home, free, and back up to his usual !@#$ing MO.

"So, what happened then?"

"Well, someone shot Moloch," Myron says, still not entirely sure...

* * *

... he saw what he did, there.

There was a man, standing next to where Myron was laying. He was hard to make out for some reason, and was clearly surprised and annoyed that Myron could actually see him, somehow. 

Details? Myron couldn't give them. Something about what the man was dressed in, or something he was carrying, made the hero's brain go all numb and fuzzy -- like when you just can't remember a word, for some reason.

But he was there, and somehow Myron knew that he was wearing a time machine and a cloaking device.

Just as he knew that the man was the reason why their return to Earth had planted them here, and not somewhere in London, or wherever. 

"Stop him," Myron distinctly remembered saying, pointing to the monster on the stage: "Have to... stop him..."

The man in the strange suit looked down at Myron, and annoyance gave way to urgency. 

He said something, but Myron couldn't catch all of it. It was as though his ability to fully understand the man ended when he started talking, and then came back on as soon as he was done. 

What Myron did understand, however, was the way that the man reached into his belt and pulled out something small, silver, and vaguely gunlike. Followed by the way that the gun shifted and grew.

Followed by how the man's body shifted and grew along with the gun...

* * *

"... I know what can !@#$ing do that," SPYGOD says, getting to his feet and leaning over the bed: "Are you sure the guy wasn't.... well, that he didn't !@#$ing look like me?"

"No," Myron admits: "I couldn't really focus on him. But he didn't feel like you."

"Did he say anything... strange?"

"Define strange."

"Like... well, !@#$. Cursing. How did he say '!@#$'?"

"He didn't," Myron says, clearly puzzled: "In fact, while I can't really be sure of all he said, I can tell he didn't use any profanity. At all."

"Well, then," SPYGOD says, satisfied enough to sit the hell down: "It probably wasn't him, then."

"Him who?"

"Never !@#$ing mind, son. Go on," SPYGOD insists, waving a hand in front of his face: "The guy brought out a gun, and then...?"

"And then things got really damn weird..."

* * *

... as the mystery man, whoever he is, allowed himself to be aimed by the gun, rather than the other way around, and fired a single bullet at Moloch. 

There was no sound. Somehow the projectile launched itself from the gun without a report of any kind. 

And the next thing Myron knew, the bronze minotaur went from gloating -- arms held high in triumph -- to falling backward and down as something went immensely wrong with its head. 

Myron gasped, getting to his feet. He contemplated running down to see, but decided against it for some reason. 

And then he stood in shocked silence as Moloch's entire body contorted, expanded, and then crumbled into itself like a burned-out black snake on the 4th of July.

The beast only had time to say one word: "But..."

And then it was finally dead...

* * *

"... and then, well, I turned around to talk to the guy, but he was gone," Myron shrugs, clearly puzzled: "Nothing there at all. Not even footprints."

"And Moloch was...?"

"Inert, I think the COMPANY people said," the hero replies, finishing his drink and wondering if there's more where that came from, too: "From what I remember after that. They showed up pretty quickly, I was still disoriented."

"Yeah," SPYGOD nods: "I guess 'intert' is as good a word as any from what our techs are !@#$ing telling me. They say it's like all the !@#$ he was made of just collapsed around itself."

"Like a black snake."

"Yeah. Do they still !@#$ing make those things?"

"I have no damn idea. But you're saying you've seen the body?"

"Once they got the !@#$ing Senator out of it, yeah. It's in a bag downstairs, somewhere. Like burned glitter or something."

"Wow," Myron says, finding it hard to believe so little would be left, but yet not entirely surprised, either.

"But you're saying you think he's !@#$ing dead for good, this time?"

"Well, it's possible he escaped. He's learned to put his mind into other substances, now. He could have skittered away into the dirt for all we know..."

"But you don't think so," SPYGOD says -- a statement, not a question.

"No," Myron says, shaking his head: "Call it his being the Moby Dick to my Ahab, but I'm pretty damn sure he's gone. It's gone. Whatever."

There's silence, for a time. SPYGOD sits and watches Myron -- his arms crossed, his face a curious blank.

And then he smiles like a whip: "Moby Dick to your Ahab, huh?"

"That's the best I got right now. Gimmie a while and I'll try harder-"

"I'll take it as is. And I'd say 'well done, son.'"


"Absolutely," SPYGOD says, getting up: "You got !@#$ed over by anyone's standards. But you didn't give in or give up. You lived to tell the tale, you got home, and you saw off a nasty !@#$ing thing that would have messed up our !@#$ something awful if it'd gotten away."

"A shame I couldn't have done something before it ate a Presidential candidate."

"Yeah, well," the superspy shrugs: "You caught the bit about him trying to pick a fight with a god, right?"

"Yeah, but still," Myron sighs.

"Look, son," SPYGOD says, leaning over the bed and putting a hand on the man's shoulder: "One of the toughest parts of this job isn't just knowing that you can't !@#$ing save everyone, but actually accepting it.

"It's a rough and tough world. You know that. You know people are gonna !@#$ing die. And sometimes it's your fault, and you gotta answer for it. And sometimes it's no one's fault, and you gotta deal with it.

"This? This is no one's fault. You had a plan, assholes busted in on it, and as a result you wound up way off course, with just you and that Moloch !@#$er.

"And still you stopped it," SPYGOD finishes, clapping him on the shoulder: "Still you came through. Again. That's nothing to be ashamed of. That's something to be proud of."

"Yeah, well, that's not entirely true," Myron says, looking up at the man: "Someone else stopped it. And... well, !@#$, I think I know why we wound up in Calexico in the first place. And that was kind of our fault-"

"Well, I'll get the damn hair shirt out," SPYGOD says, rising back up and smirking: "You can wear it while you're going over this story, point by !@#$ing point, with the eggheads who really run this COMPANY these days."

"You're not in charge?" the hero almost gasps.

"Well... not exactly," SPYGOD admits, waving around the room: "Let's just that say I'm taking a break from doing the heavy !@#$ing thinking around here. While I get back to speed, you understand."

"I think so..." Myron says: "But that really sounds like a load of !@#$ to me. When aren't you up to speed?"

"See, I knew I'd like you," the superspy chuckles: "Get some sleep, Myron. We'll talk more when you're up and about. And if anyone asks...?"

"You weren't here."

"You got it," SPYGOD says, pausing at the door to make the Vitarka Mudra: "Be seeing you."

And then he's gone before Myron can flip him the damn bird...

* * *

... but later, in dreams, Myron remembers more.

He remembers that the man in the suit didn't just look at him with annoyance, but with familiarity -- as if he knew him, somehow. 

And he didn't actually vanish after shooting Moloch, either. He wanted Myron to think that, but it didn't really work, for some reason. 

Instead he stood there, moving his hands around his face as though he were touching things that were not there. Holographic interfaces, perhaps.

Then, after seeming to be satisfied that things were alright, he turned to go. But not before looking down at Myron, smiling, and doing the exact same gesture and parting shot that SPYGOD always does.

"Be seeing you."

And then he vanished into a haze of weird, silvery stuff that was there one moment and gone the next -- taking the mysterious shooter with him.  

Myron isn't entirely sure what this means, but he realizes -- even in dreams -- that this isn't a good time to bring it up to SPYGOD, or anyone else. 

(Especially if he's right about why they appeared where they did, rather than in the basement of BOWLER.)

For now, it's best to just keep his head down, cooperate with the COMPANY, and not throw any more curveballs into the game. 

He figures things are weird enough already...

Tuesday: 2/23/16

" ... without having a bunch of costumed weirdos making this any worse, eh?" the middle-aged, balding man in the muted, brown suit says, shrugging as Deathdealer's stumbling, glassy-eyed thugs step just a bit closer to him, down in the carpark by the river. Off in the, distance, the sound of the Ambassador Bridge to Canada is deafening.

"Costumed weirdos?" The pale, raven-haired man in the black fur coat says, clinking his silver-ringed hands together as he steps closer.

"Well, no offense," the man shrugs: "But you gotta admit, things are a little less simple since you all came to town. I think we're better off getting out while we're ahead, eh?"

"Well, I'm delighted to hear you say that, Neil," Deathdealer says: "I was a bit worried the Canadian interests would be, well, difficult. But if you're willing to just drop your interest in Detroit, go back across the bridge, and just stay there? Well... I think that would be marvelous."

"Okay, then," the man says, clapping his hands together: "So... we're good?"

"We are very good," the pale man says, extending a long, chalklike hand for the man to shake -- which he does.

And then turns just as pale, gasps, and falls down dead.

"Pick him up and take him home with us," the pale man says, adjusting the poisoned ring on his pinky back to its normal position. Then he turns and heads back to the long, black limo he came here in, happy to have dealt with this !@#$ in the manner he's most accustomed to.

Now that they won't have to worry about Arrow Security for too much longer...

* * *

 "... we gotta wait here, anyway?" Yellow Snow asks the black-clad spooky girl who busted them out of prison: "What the !@#$ we waiting for?"

"Well, if I'm right," Morgue Anna says, turning on the television in her rather nice -- if somber and creepy -- basement lair with a click of her fingers: "I think the answer will be on Channel Four, right about now..."

Sure enough, the news is on. One of Camera Eye's new people, from the looks of her -- all smiles and dead eyes. And there's something about GANGLAND SLAYINGS behind her, complete with a cartoon chalk outline of a body.

"And now breaking news in the violent escape of six dangerous criminals, last Sunday," the woman says, reading from a sheet that was seemingly just handed to her: "Police are saying that all six were found dead early this morning. There's some speculation that they may have actually shot one another in a dispute. Still no word on how they got out-"

"There," Morgue Anna says, clicking her fingers to turn it off again: "Congratulations, gentlemen. You are all dead."

"Yes, we are," the Penitent says, chuckling at how spooked out that makes everyone else.

"So, what is happening now?" the scaly-skinned Krokodil says, his voice a harsh East-European blend: "I am not understanding this."

"It's really simple, folks," the witch says, smiling widely: "I was hired by your former employer to bust you out of prison, and then get you all dead. He didn't want you talking when the !@#$ hit the fan, as it's about to, soon."

"Okay, then," the man in the white, plain mask says, putting his thin hands together: "But I can't help but see we're all still alive. What gives?"

"Simple, Porcelain," Morgue Anna replies, looking at each man in turn: "I decided I didn't feel like wasting your talents, or this opportunity."

"You want your own gang," Yellow Snow says, looking back at her: "That's what this is."

"Damn straight," she says: "I'm tired of being the weird !@#$ everyone calls when they need some strange. I'm also not wanting to knuckle under to the outsiders that Arrow brought in to carve up the city.

"This is my town. My people. And my crime. Not theirs."

"I am respecting this viewpoint," Krokodil says: "Also, others not liking me very much. And feeling is mutual."

"Well, I don't like you either," a rather freakish man snorts -- all jigsaw tattoos and chained piercings: "And I don't want to work with you, neither."

"Really?" Morgue Anna says, raising a long, black eyebrow.

"Yeah. I appreciate the bust out of prison, lady, but I ain't working for no one. I'm strictly freelance."

"Well, think about this, Freakshow," the sinister-looking fellow in the red, silk suit says, crossing his legs rather languidly: "We all were hired to deal with that Raven guy. We all failed."

"Get thee behind me, Satan," the Penitent sneers.

"Not on the first date, thanks," the red-clad man goes on: "And now we're going to be on our own, in a city that's being taken over by talents like ourselves? How long do you think we'll last, really?"

"So we get the hell out of town," Freakshow says: "I mean, do you really want to live in Detroit?"

"Not especially," Porcelain says, looking around: "But on the other hand, this city does have its benefits. No heroes, a neutered police force."

"Yeah, and a Mayor who's one wrong !@#$ing step away from being replaced by some emergency manager," Yellow Snow says: "Just like those poor folks up in Flint."

"Exactly," Morgue Anna says: "The moron who hired you, and wanted me to deal with you? He's created the perfect environment for people like us to get rich."

"And if we all work together, instead of against each other, we can do just that," the man in red says, folding his hand together.

"Which brings up another point," Porcelain says, gesturing to Red Devil: "On our own, we've got issues, clearly. Together, though? We stand a chance."

"So, we follow your lead, mess this city up, get filthy rich, and stay not-dead?" Yellow Snow asks, leaning back in his chair: "Well, I gotta say I'm down with that,"

"Got it in one, handsome," Morgue Anna grins, snapping her fingers. Instantly, they all have champagne glasses, full of the bubbly.

"Well, again, thanks," Freakshow says, downing his glass and then tossing it over his shoulder: "But, like I said? No thanks."

He gets up, smiles, and then coughs and looks stupid.

Then he begins to choke, holding his hands up to his throat. Blood starts to come from his lips.

"Oh, that's the other thing," Morgue Anna says, sipping her drink as her reluctant guest falls down dead: "I wasn't going to give any of you a choice, really..."

* * *

"... but you all fucking knew that, right?' Loreli asks as she walks down the long line of Liberators, running a hand along their backsides as she does: "I mean, you all knew, deep down, that there was a fucking inevitability to this, right?"

"Yes!" they all shout, their eyes glazed with joy.

"Damn right," the woman says, getting to the end of the recruit line and looking at her gleaming, new soldiers -- all shining in the dark, under the frowning moon above: "And now look at you all. Ready to kill to get answers. Ready to die to understand them. Aren't you?"


"I can't !@#$ing hear you!"

"Yes!" they all shout, so loud their lips almost tear.

"What are we going to do to get those answers?"

"Anything!" they scream.

"Who are we going to do it to?"


"And if they try and stop us?"

"We'll fucking kill them!" they all shout, their faces constricted with rage.

"Yes we will," Loreli says, walking back up the line: "We'll kill them if we have to. But the best kind of killing is the one that makes them scared. The kind that they can't understand.

"And we know what that is, right?"

"Yes!" they all shout.

And as she asks questions, and they shout, the next group of initiates sits and watches -- tied down and helpless, their eyes wide as the drugs and "special treatment" they've been getting starts to work on them.

In her place in that group, the Red Queen watches, unable to do more than gasp as her mind and will are eroded.

And in their place, something sinister -- something alien -- is blooming...

Wednesday: 2/24/16

... in the City by the Bay.

The silent men come in the early morning -- off private flights in small, secluded airports, or in desperately-bland cars and buses.

There's a strange poetry to these well-muscled people who wear their sunglasses at night. They wear t-shirts that proclaim odd, paramilitary causes, and show off their strange, ornate tattoos. They carry large bags -- olive drab or black and shiny -- that might just have enough room for guns and ammunition.

And they don't say a word, not even to one another -- content to nod, smile, and make odd gestures, as though they were playing very competitive paintball.

Arriving in town, they take over a hotel on its outskirts: the sort of place that normally rents by the hour. In time it's all theirs, thanks to the night manager, who seems to be in on whatever gag they're privately enjoying.

Tomorrow, maybe they'll talk about that joke, and in some depth. But for now, there's talk of a different kind, now that they're behind closed doors and can speak without being heard.

Now there is beer, and laughter, and stories of the last time they all did something like this -- even if no one's ever done anything quite like this before.

And anticipation of the glory to come...

* * *

"... when you stride out of here, triumphant?" Mister Freedom asks the President's daughter, who just smiles back at him: "Do you still think that's going to happen?"

"There's no 'think' about it, motherfucker," she grins, testing the straps of the latest restraint they put her in for these sessions, here in the bright and cheery day room of the Habitrail: "I'm going to leave here, soon. And when I do it, I'll be carrying your head in front of me."

"As a trophy?"

"As a warning to others," she grins: "But yeah, as a trophy, too. Once I've shit in your mouth."

"Before or after I'm dead?"

"I'll let you just wonder about that," she replies, and the Olympian just smiles back at her.

He realizes her therapy is going nowhere, but that's not the point. He doesn't expect her to get any better. In fact, he knows she won't ever be healed of that the monster from Alter-Earth did to her.

This isn't about healing her, but rather understanding him.

And as he lets her whisper obscenities under her breath, he...

* * *

... becomes aware that they have been joined by someone else, down here in their secret clubhouse.

"So this is the COMPANY within the COMPANY, huh?" Myron says, looking around the room. He recognizes some of the people, here -- Shining Guardsman and Gosheven -- but clearly not others.

"You got that damn right," 'Peg' says, stomping over and staring down at him: "Where are my damn reports?"

"Pipe down, clown," SPYGOD says, escorting Myron away: "Never mind her. That's Gosheven, having some fun with you."

"Really?" Myron says, looking between the two of them: "Since when could he...?"

"Since I learned I could," Gosheven says, getting up and giving Myron a big damn hug: "God it is so good to see you, brother!"

"Yeah, man," Shining Guardsman says, shaking his hand: "We were worried sick."

"Free Fire, Mister Freedom? This is Myron," SPYGOD says: "Myron, blah blah blah."

"Mister Freedom?" Myron asks, shaking the young Arab's hand: "I thought you were... um..."

"Taller and whiter, with a beard?" Abdullah says, winking: "I was. And I am. And I'm not."

"Oh," Myron says, shaking his head a little: "Okay then."

"He's like that a lot," Gosheven says: "Just roll with it."

"Swiftfoot you'll meet later, though I think you probably met him on an op or two before, if my files are right," SPYGOD goes on, gesturing to the table: "Rakim is doing logistics for us, though, frankly, if you're as good as they say, we might just start leaving him out of the damned loop."

"So you can be more secretive than usual?" Myron asks, thinking he knows exactly where this is going.

"More effective," SPYGOD says, sitting down and expecting the others to do the same, which they invariably do: "We've got ourselves a damn serious problem, Myron. The short story is that something our government did, back in the 60's, has !@#$ing bitten us in the ass in the here and now. We've got a goddamned mind-controlling mastermind out there, turning people into weapons. And when he speaks in your ear, you're his damn slave forever."

Myron takes that in, nods, and whistles: "That's... yeah. That's a damn serious problem."

"So this is our damn serious solution, right here," SPYGOD says, gesturing around the table: "We !@#$ing report to no one. We do what !@#$ing needs doing. And we walk away unseen, having never !@#$ing been there."

"Answerable to no one?"

"Answerable to ourselves," SPYGOD corrects: "And me, of course."

"Well, with all respect, I've seen how that's wound up-"

"Yes, you have," the superspy admits, holding up his hands: "And on behalf of the old me, who I am now, and not the new me that you dealt with, who I'm not? I am mother!@#$ing sorry for all the !@#$ I put you through, Myron."


"You know, all that crap with the meatball sandwiches and the explosive diarrhea. The threats and the violence. All that !@#$."

"Okay, who killed SPYGOD and replaced him?" Myron says, looking around the room: "Because either I'm still dreaming or I'm on Candid Camera."

"What?' Shining Guardsman asks, clearly befuddled by the reference.

"No, really," SPYGOD says: "I mean, don't get me wrong. I !@#$ing turned and used a lot of villains and no-goodnicks back in the day that I remember, too. And I wasn't so nice to them, either. But I did all that in the hopes of scaring them !@#$ing straight, or at least just scaring them into compliance.

"But you? I entered that room expecting to break you and flush you down the damn toilet. I didn't !@#$ing expect you to fight. I didn't expect you to be worthy of more than a drowning. And I sure as !@#$ didn't believe you were worth it.

"And you were, Myron," SPYGOD goes on: "You've saved the world a couple times, now. You're !@#$ing indispensable. I couldn't think of a better person to have on my team when it all comes down to turning a damn toaster into a WMD, or vice !@#$ing versa."

"Um..." Shining Guardsman says, but shuts up as soon as Gosheven gives him the look that says he's on a roll -- let him talk.

"And I shudder to think of all the other Myrons I may have just shot and burned and not !@#$ing thought twice about, all those years," SPYGOD goes on: "And all they could have done if I just had been decent. If I'd just given them a damn chance.

"So, yeah. I'm sorry. And I'm glad you're here."

Myron purses his lips, and nods, ever so slowly: "So... you need me on this team."


"And we're answerable to no one."


"And we can do whatever we need to, go wherever we need to, and !@#$ up whatever needs !@#$ing up?"

"Yes," everyone at the table says, more or less in unison.

"Well, alright then," Myron says, reaching out to shake SPYGOD's hand: "I'm in."

"That's great-"

"On one condition," Myron says, a millisecond before SPYGOD can take his hand.

"What's that?" SPYGOD asks, looking a little concerned, not to mention incredulous...

Thursday: 2/25/16

... at the man in the fancy, one-person roadster who's just pulled up to BOWLER's rather proper, iron-railed front gate.

"I was expected, I can assure you," the man in the bowler hat and suit says, smiling: "If you look down the list, I'm certain you'll see me."

"I'm afraid not, sir," the guard says, looking between the man and the list in question: "Now, just to be sure. M-A-C-N-E-E?"

"That is correct, yes," the man says, smiling: "On business of King and Country, as always."

And as the guard looks at the celebrity impersonator once more, and activates the silent alarm -- summoning more guards to the front -- Gosheven taps the signal he's been sitting on all this time...

* * *

"... have we got before they figure this is just some damn stunt?" SPYGOD asks in the split second before Swiftfoot gets him and Myron up to the ultra-secure elevator, along with the briefcases they're lugging. They're both wearing the newest No Suits, and Swiftfoot's vibrating so quickly he can't be seen.

Mister Freedom is already there, doing something so slight that it might be nothing to the console beside the doors. 

(Unlike the others, he doesn't have a No Suit. Apparently, he doesn't need one, but won't elaborate on why.)

"About five minutes," Myron says, checking his watch: "And my crack on their security will last another five after that."

"Time is the penultimate trap, my friends," Mister Freedom announces as he gets up, and waves a hand before the elevator: "But not nearly as insidious a trap as that of the spirit."

"I'll take zen aphorisms for 500 dollars, Alex," Myron sighs. But then the door opens up as though it weren't tricked and boobytrapped out one end and up the other. 

"I'll !@#$ing take success," SPYGOD says, clapping the banished Olympian on the shoulder: "Swiftfoot, get down to the front to help Gosheven, but be ready to come extract us."

"YouGotItBoss," the speedster says, swooshing off to do just that. 

"Free Fire, Shining Guardsman, hold position," SPYGOD orders as they enter the elevator: "You hear us peep, come !@#$ing running. Til then..."

* * *

"... just stay put and shtum, mate," the guard says, no longer bothering to seem reasonable and nice as his fellows appear in force: "I dunno what you're trying to pull, here, but you got some !@#$ing explaining to do."

The guards are armored -- in pinstripes, no less -- and wear riot helmets made to look like bowler hats. Gosheven can't help but laugh, but in doing so cracks the cool, British veneer he'd just spent so long projecting, and really just looks like a silly man playing a stupid trick. 

"Nothing funny about this, sir," the armored guard in the front says: "You'll need to exit the car, please. And no funny business."

"Oh, it's all funny, handsome," the metamorph says, pulling out the cane the person he's impersonating used to such great effect on the show: "Let me show you..."

* * *

"... this is not a joke," Myron hisses at the tech they've cornered, down in the room they've broken into BOWLER's headquarters to get to: "You will cooperate with us."

"I can't even see you properly," the man protests: "Much less hear you."

"Occupational hazard," SPYGOD snorts: "Be glad you can't hear or see us. Because then? We'd have to !@#$ing kill you."

"They'll kill me if I cooperate," the man says, shaking his head: "I've got nothing to lose. You don't know what these people are like."

"Oh, I've got a damn good idea," Myron says, shaking with anger: "Now. The portal to the Village. You're going to operate it for us."


"Because those people are still stranded in that hellhole, buddy. Now operate it!" 

"I can't, man," the tech protests: "It got junked last Sunday, when all hell broke loose. The portal went off and it didn't come here, so they thought it had been compromised. And, well-"

"So fix it!" Myron shouts.

"I can't."

"Don't be !@#$ing stupid," SPYGOD says, grabbing the man's throat: "You scared? You want out? Well, I can !@#$ing get you out."

"Don't be daft, man," the tech insists.

"No lie, son," the superspy insists: "I can set you up with a couple mil and a goddamn private island if you want. Relocate anyone else you need vanished. I make two phone calls? It's done. You're gone. And BOWLER can't !@#$ing find you to kill you."

"But we need you to help us. Now...

* * *
"... damn it!" the guard at the checkpoint is saying: "Get every single public-friendly Talent we got to the main gate now! This bloke's !@#$ing taking us apart!"

He's not joking. Somehow the Patrick Macnee impersonator has disarmed, disabled, and knocked down every single guard that BOWLER's sent after him.

A whirlwind of martial arts moves, both with and without the cane, he strikes almost too fast to see, and blocks with such force that anyone who strikes him gets knocked back by a considerable distance. 

(What they don't know is that it's Swiftfoot doing the striking, while Gosheven -- having made his body extremely dense -- is handling the more defensive aspects of the fight.)

If they still harbor any ill-will towards one another about how things went in Phnom Pehn, they don't show it. Their teamwork seems impeccable -- their synchronization astounding. 

But as the doors open up, and a floor of the best bastards BOWLER has to offer comes running, leaping, and flying out the front of it, they look at one another and wonder if...

* * *

"... there's time to fix it," Myron insists, looking the device over: "They just took the damn central oscillator out. It's replaceable."

"And then you've got to warm it up for a day, haven't you?" the tech insists: "Safety tests. All that stuff."

"But there's something more important that you're not telling us," Mister Freedom says, finally deigning to speak to this man -- who almost !@#$s himself when he seemingly appears from nowhere: "One final trap you have yet to spring."

"What?" Myron asks, clearly insulted: "I checked out all the security features, man. I didn't leave anything out!"

"I don't think that's what he's !@#$ing talking about, son," SPYGOD says, letting go of the man's throat: "What did you do, pal?"

"It's just that... you say you're going back for everyone?" the man says, putting his hands to his windpipe: "Then you're too late, my friend. Much too late."

"What... did you kill them?" Myron gasps: "How did you do that if the portal was junked?"

"He didn't have to," SPYGOD sighs, slapping his face in disgust: "That's right. Jesus !@#$ing Christ in a slop bucket with the damn lid nailed on."

"You want to tell me what's going on," Myron says, staring down at the man as he gets to his knees, gasping for breath: "Now..."

* * *

"... would be really !@#$ing nice, if you're not too !@#$ing busy!" Gosheven shouts as he goes down under the rain of blows from all the talents who have just dogpiled on him.

(And where is Swiftfoot? Did that speeder just leave him...?)

"Well, should we?" Shining Guardsman asks Free Fire, as they observe from a tall building not too far away.

"If we do, we'll blow our cover for certain," the orange-armored android says: "And we haven't been given the green light."

"And we're not supposed to talk to him unless he talks to us, first," Shining Guardsman nods: "But if we don't...?"

"Well, it's not as if they'll actually kill him, will they?" Free Fire asks, somewhat impishly.

And Shining Guardsman can't help but laugh at that, and then replies: "We're not cleared for that, man. How about you pull a switcheroo?"

"Oh, you guys..." the metamorph grumbles, but then realizes that's probably the best plan...

* * *

"... we ever hatched," SPYGOD sighs, dropping the body of the tech onto the floor and riffling around in his pockets for something appropriately sterilizing. 

"How could you have forgotten," Myron says, shaking his head in rage: "How?"

"Well, it's not like I haven't !@#$ing forgotten damn near everything since the mid-sixties, son," the superspy replies, finding the inversion bomb he was looking for: "And it's not like I pay a lot of attention to the technical flibbery-whatsis of the !@#$ I work with, now is it?"

"You should have known!" Myron shouts: "We just... we just broke into here to save those people. We spent all night planning this! The files for B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P. were right in front of you!"

"And I didn't pay attention to the time factor because it was never a damn issue!" SPYGOD shouts back: "We always had a portal on! We always had a foot in the damn door!"

"I am confused," Mister Freedom says: "I do not particularly like this feeling. Please help me?"

"You !@#$ing tell him," Myron says, stomping out of the room: "I'm going to be at the elevator, hoping the extraction doesn't go to hell, too."

"B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P. was based on third-hand alien tech some dumbass wannabe world conquer got his !@#$ing hands on, back in the 70's," SPYGOD explains, putting the small, black cube on the dead man's chest, and indicating they should get out of the room: "It let you make a pocket parallel world, and change it to whatever the hell you wanted. He was using it to cook up !@#$ing armies to suit, and then bringing them over here."

"Quite a trick," the Olympian says, closing the door behind them (as he thinks he knows what happens next)

"Well, lucky for us, the !@#$er had the tactical smarts of Winnie the Pooh. So we smashed his damn army of dinosaur people, took charge of the tech, and used it for our own purposes."

"Did you make armies as well?"

"No we did not," SPYGOD says, counting down on his fingers: "!@#$ was too dangerous to use all that much. We were goddamn lucky he didn't suck the Earth into oblivion just figuring out how it worked..."

Just then, there's a weird, grotesque slurping sound -- like water makes when it forms a whirlpool, going down the sink -- and the door they closed rattles against its frame, as if it was in danger of being pulled in...

* * *

"... all your arses if I don't see that bastard in chains in the next five minutes!" the Pendragon announces, brushing off his golden armor: "No excuses! Find him!"

All the talents nod, give an affirmative, and run to comply in every direction they can. 

One of them goes quite some distance away, though, and as he gets outside of their reach he turns himself into a long, almost weightless string -- the better to waft up to the top of a nearby building, where his two comrades await.

"Nice going," Shining Guardsman says, nodding: "You've really gotten good at that, man. I'm impressed."

"Well thank you," the Native American metamorph snorts: "And thanks for the assist. Really."

"Has anyone seen Swiftfoot?" Free Fire asks. 

"I think he got called away to do extraction," Shining Guardsman lies, knowing damn well what the bastard did the moment there were too many other talents for him to handle, but not wanting to deal with that argument himself. 

"Well, I hope this was worth it," Gosheven says, looking back at the scene on the street below: "I really wanted to keep that car..."

* * *

... starts taking them all the way to the top floor.

"But the thing was, the device was meant to be used to study evolutionary processes," Myron explains, doing his best to not cry.

"And you don't do that kind of !@#$ in real time," SPYGOD adds, doing his best to pretend he doesn't see Myron wanting to cry: "So, when the portal was operational, things were equal, and time was !@#$ing going at the same rate."

"But if you turned the portal off, things sped up again," Mister Freedom says, understanding at last

"Yeah," Myron says: "And if that thing's been turned all the way off since Sunday?"

"At least hundreds of years have gone by, over there," SPYGOD says: "Maybe !@#$ing thousands."

The Olympian nods, saddened by this: "I see my comments regarding time were rather... timely."
Myron grits his teeth, not wanting to chastise the man for his unfortunate choice of words. 

But then they're on the top floor, and it's time to get the hell out of this place...

Friday: 2/26/16

... for long enough to know he's all alone, here.

The first few days, Straffer thought there might be someone else, down here, in this Superslam. He heard weird noises, and thought he saw something in the darkness, outside his cell.

But he knows better. His cybernetic senses are just too hyped up, down here in the silent dark. Every creak of the structure settling is like a snapped, dry branch. Every shadow is a symphony of dust and darkness.

He's just alone, chained up, and strapped to a bomb that will go off if he tries to remove those chains.

Other than that...

* * *

... it's just another ordinary day, here in the Toon Enclave

The people are up and about -- full Toon, the Treated, and the humans who live among them. They drive their animated cars and vehicles to work, or the store. Buy Dynomutt coffee from the gaily-colored franchises.

Kiss their lovers goodbye, or hello.

Weird things happen, here and there. Walking sharks buy groceries and flying cars come in for a landing. Dogs chase cats, cats chase mice, and some poor coyote keeps getting blown up chasing something too fast to see. 

No one comments because it's just the way things are, here. This isn't a tourist attraction, after all. 

And if you don't like it, well, the door is...

* * *

... opening, down by the elevator. 

At first, Straffer's not certain he actually heard it. There's no way in hell, is there?

Oh, there is. Footsteps. Two pairs of them. 

Walking in the pitch blackness, without needing a light. 

They come towards his cell, on the ground floor, lugging something between them. 

They're not the ones who brought him here. They're wearing dark suits and ties, and gloves.

(Strange goggles, probably to provide them with the ability to see.)

They stand in front of his cell, step to a reasonable distance, and drop their burden. It's a television set. 

And then one of them turns it on...

* * *

... and something explodes, right in the middle of the property. 

No one's sure what's happened, at first. Things go BOOM all the time, here, after all. 

But this is different. This is real, somehow.

And as a young lady in what was supposed to be the high fashion of the future -- according to the 60's, anyway -- comes stumbling away from its epicenter, holding the red, wet rags of her body together with badly burned hands, the Toons realize they have a real problem. 

The people who caused the explosion don't give them time to react, though. They erupt from their hiding places, five short seconds later, and begin to fire weapons into the crowd that's come to see what's happened. 

Weapons that have special ammunition -- the kind that can kill someone who's halfway between being a Toon and being "real" ...

* * *

...surprised to see who comes on the television.

It's been a while since Straffer saw Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir. The last time he laid eyes on him he was flying away from the Egress, positive that the Emperor he was always warning his allies about had finally come to our universe, and needed fighting more than the Decreator at that moment in time.  

The intervening time has not been kind. The once proud, muscular man is a shrunken remnant of what he once was. His impressive uniform is gone, revealing a nude body covered in strange scars and missing pieces. His beard is patchy and falling out, as is his hair.

And there's something wrong with his face, which is in shadow, as is the background.

"Hello, George," the man says, his voice a weak echo of what he once knew.

"Faraj," Straffer says: "My god, man. Did they get you, too?"

"Oh, they got me a long time ago," Faraj sighs, shaking his head: "By my sense of time, anyway. I am not sure how long it's been, here, where I am now."

"Where are you?"

"That... is an interesting question, my friend," the man says: "Perhaps as interesting as who has taken you, and why...

* * * 

... this is happening? Their masked, tactical-garbed executioners don't say. They don't shout slogans, bear flags, or do anything that would explain their actions.

They just shoot at the panicked, frightened masses -- Toon or Human -- and keep walking, secure in the knowledge that no one can really fight back. 

From one end of Toon Town to the other, they march. They shoot. They throw grenades specially made to damage the Treated. 

Everywhere is blood and fire and broken glass. Everywhere is screaming and pain and confusion. Everywhere is death and horror. 

Everywhere is the cold, stark reality that no one is safe...

* * *

"... in your tower," Faraj goes on, still not showing his face: "But my associates tell me they have taken you from it. You have been cast down from your position, my friend. Brought back down to Earth."

"Your associates?" Straffer asks: "Faraj, are you in league with these people?"

"That would be the wrong word to use," the wasted, broken man says: "They are not my allies, my friend. I am merely their servant."

"What happened?"

"What happened... is that we made a mistake, my friend," Faraj says: "I was wrong. I had no idea that in fighting the present, we were creating the future. And that when I tried to return back, I would only make things worse."

"You're not making sense, man," Straffer says.

"Oh, my friend. Can you not see?"

"No, I can't. Help me?"

And Faraj starts to make noises, and shake, and Straffer can't tell if he's laughing or crying...

* * *

... out as All Star Security finally gets there, and starts to defend their own people from this attack.

They don't get very far, though. No sooner do the armored soldiers cross over the border into the Toon Enclave than their suits suddenly stop working, and they crash to the ground. 

Some kind of malfunction, apparently. Some sort of proximity-based jamming. 

They're not sure what, but after twenty of their people fall to the ground, and land in a heap, the rest wisely land outside and see if they can't engage the assailants from a distance. 

The assassins seem to have counted on that, though. They immediately disappear from the streets, and take to shooting targets of opportunity from deep cover.

The slaughter has not been halted. It's just changed...

* * *

"... the past to make the future, my friend," the broken man Straffer once called ally, friend, and lover says, still shaking with what might be hilarity or rage: "I did not realize that when my spaceship was thrown off course, I did not go into a parallel world. I was thrown into the far future. A strange, broken universe that was all that remained of what we now see, and live within."

"What?" Straffer says, incredulous. 

"A shrunken universe with strange physics, ruled over by a monster that infests the bodies of its followers, and remakes their flesh to suit its needs. A miniature cosmos where humanity had not been wiped out, as was its fate, but lived to flourish and spread like a disease. 

"And the forerunner of that disease? The symptom? It is the Emperor to them. But to us, it is the remnant of what we tried to destroy, and failed."

Straffer gasps, his mind reeling: "You mean... you're saying we created the Emperor? By destroying the Decreator we made it?"

"Yes," Faraj says, crying and laughing in equal measure, now: "Now you see..."

* * *

... less and less evidence of the assailants, now. The bursts of fire become more sporadic. 

It's just possible they're retreating, having done what they intended to do. 

The All Stars outside the zone of electronic jamming fly up as high as they dare go, in the hopes of catching sight of their attackers. A few of them get lucky shots, and atomize their targets, but most of them have no luck.  

The enemy is dug in too well, now. And too cunning to be taken out by such a simple tactic. 

There's word that the COMPANY is on its way, at the Toons' request. They should be here soon.

Just not soon enough...

* * *

"... you will see what we have done," Faraj goes on, still shaking weakly with hysterics: "My associates are at work in the world, now. Here, on the planet you once knew as Mars, and on Earth."

"Faraj, please," Straffer says: "You're one of the strongest men I know. You endured so much, so proudly, and for so long. You have to be able to beat this. I know you can."

"You still don't understand, my friend," the man says, looking up into the light: "But you will. My friends will help you to see... to see..."

He laughs at that. Straffer doesn't. 

He finally sees what Faraj has become.

And he screams in utter fear and despair at the sight of it...

Saturday: 2/27/16

"... was a massacre," Randolph Scott tells Mr. USA, shaking his head as he tries to sip his coffee, sitting on someone's front steps. He doesn't do very well.

The temporary morgue across the way is still filling up. The medical tents aren't nearly as full. The FEMA folks are doing the best they can, under the circumstances, but it's hard going.

"I'm sorry we didn't get here sooner," the older hero says, sitting down next to the outlaw reporter and helping him steady himself: "We were still in Flint, doing relief work."

"And the All Stars were replying to a false alarm in Montana," Randolph says, still shaking in anger.

"Clearly this was done by professionals."

"Did you find anything off the bodies?"

"Not yet," Mr. USA says, realizing he really shouldn't be telling the reporter anything, but no longer caring so much about that: "But as soon as we do, I'll tell you. Just try and keep me off the air?"

"Not really a problem, now," the outlaw reporter says: "I might be... a little quiet for a while."

"You're not letting this scare you, are you?"

"Oh, I've been scared before," Randolph says, putting the cup down before he squeezes right through it: "I never let that stop me."

"Then what?"

"They blew us up, (REDACTED)," he replies: "They took out a few other places, too. Probably just to make it look random. But my office was shot to hell and blown apart. All my files are gone, my equipment, my studio... all gone."

"Oh no," the older hero gasps, putting a hand on the man's shoulder: "Was anyone... hurt?"

"Helga's missing," Randolph says, starting to cry: "Everyone else was lucky. They ran when the shooting started, so the explosion didn't get them. And Helmut made sure they got to safety.

"But Helga went out to document it, and no one's seen her since."

"Oh Jesus," the older hero says, holding the man close as he sobs.

"I've lost my kids to that monster, and now I'm losing more!" Randolph cries: "And Velma might not wake up ever again. And... and..."

And he cries, and the older hero lets him.

Sometimes it's just the right thing...

* * *

... to do, here and now, is kill herself.

The Red Queen understands this, now. And she is glad -- fucking glad -- to let it all go.

The cause is just. Her leader is right. And the life she's led is nowhere nearly as important as her death will be.

She and the others -- some hundred souls, all in all -- are all standing between one of the pyramids and the main tower, knives in each hand, and smiles on all their faces.

From here, the Red Queen can see her abandoned god-body, twisting and writhing all the way up there. If it sees all these armed, mad people down here, it makes no sign.

So she and the others will all kill themselves, here and now, and her old self will not see anything at all. Which is hilarious, if you think about it.

But she can't hear her own thoughts. She doesn't care to, because they are small and tiny and oh-so-unimportant.

She is going to slit her throat, in just a few moments, along with everyone else here. And all those thoughts will mean nothing.

Why did she resist this delicious state of being for so long? Why did she rail and rage against it? Why didn't she just let go and allow it to happen?

Why didn't she allow herself to be ravished by the ultimate truth -- that her life has no meaning save that which she allows?

The Red Queen doesn't know, and she doesn't care. She just smiles as their leader, off in the shadows, screams for them to do it.

And she puts the knives up to her throat, presses them tight against her skin, and prepares to die for the truth...

* * *

"... is that, by and large, everything that Randolph Scott ever said about the former Secretary of State is a lie," the young lady says, smiling for the camera: "Those emails he claimed to have gotten? We faked them. All the proof was manufactured, either by us or someone else."

"Well, this is a bombshell," Bill O'Reilly says: "Now, Jana, I have to ask. You seem like a reasonable person, and a nice young lady."

"Well thank you, Bill," Jana smiles.

"So I'm wondering, and maybe you have to forgive me, but how could  you have gone along with this for so long?"

"Well, you have to understand. We were rescued from ABWEHR when SPYGOD knocked over the Antarctic base a few years back. SPYGOD didn't really know what to do with us, so he handed us over to Randolph Scott to look after. And at first he seemed like a decent guy who just wanted to do a series on watching us take in the world around us, but after a while... well, things got pretty bad."

"What do you mean by bad?"

"Well, there was abuse. Emotional abuse, physical abuse. It eventually became sexual as well. And if we didn't do what he wanted, he threatened to hand us back to the COMPANY to deal with. He also made it sound like they were going to dissect us, as we were just clones. So we got used to doing what he wanted and not asking too many questions."

"So what's changed, Jana? Why are you coming forward, now?"

"Because I've gotten sick of the lies, Bill. I'm tired of ruining good people to fit Scott's sick agenda. And I realize that, since he can't have power over me if I'm not near him, I needed to get away. So I did."

"Well, you are a brave young lady for coming here...."

* * *

 "... with, this..." Seranu says, looking down at the bloody and battered remnant of Loreli, who's gasping for breath before the Gods she tried to destroy from within: "Whatever it is."

"I cannot see it clearly," Noyx says: "What is this?"

"This is your fu... your !@#$ing enemy," Red Queen says, barely able to hold herself together after the nasty, bloody fight she had with the girl: "This is the person who was inciting the others to kill themselves."

"Why can we not see her?" Pontus demands: "Is this some sort of trick to get your body back?"

"If so..." Satanoth hisses, holding up a hand.

"She's been infected, okay?" she shouts, almost blacking out from the pain the stress as she does: "That asshole who kidnapped me in Bangkok. The one who messed up the President's daughter. He did this to her, too. He made her like him. And then she came here and did the same to other people."

"And because her mind and spirit are infected with that dark reflection of our world, we cannot see her clearly," Soubre says, understanding: "Interesting."

"You found her, then?" Seranu asks.

"She found me," the Red Queen admits: "She... well, she did it to me, too. Made me like her. And I was ready to kill myself, along with the others who just made that mess down below."

"Then what changed your mind?" Satanoth demands: "How did you come back to us?"

"I... I don't know," she admits: "But for some reason, just as I was about to kill myself, I realized I couldn't. I realized it was wrong. Something... I don't know."

"Very well, then," Seranu says: "You have done well. I think some reward is in order."

"Yes," Satanoth agrees, walking over to the bleeding heap on the floor: "Get yourself cleaned up, my servant. Go from here and rest. We shall talk tomorrow.

"And when we do, we shall give back to you what was removed."

"Okay..." the Red Queen says, somewhat hurt they aren't uploading her into her new body after all: "I'll do that, sir."

"Fuck.... fuck you..." Loreli hisses from the ground, smiling through bloody lips as the woman who left her dying leaves: "You'll all die... too late... the poison..."

Satanoth kneels down, disgusted, and takes hold of her head in his hands. A second later she shudders, and dies, and he glows in power as he feeds upon her soul.  

Not realizing what he's done until it's too late to say anything...

* * *

"... I could say would be just stating the obvious, really," the Candidate proclaims: "I mean, come on. I told you something like this would happen, didn't I? I told you that Toons, they're just like Muslims and Mexicans and those Martians. Crime follows them. Violence follows them. 

"Do we want that crime, that violence, in our country?" he asks, and the crowd shouts "NO!"

"Of course you don't," he says, basking in their love. Their approval. 

Their hate. 

Sunday: 2/28/44

The Time Chamber lights up, once more, and the AGENT walks out of the silver cylinder -- right on time.

"Welcome back!" the overly-chatty device greets him as he stumbles from the time stream, clearly winded by the experience: "Did you have a nice trip?"

"Well, you already know the answer to that question," he says, interfacing with his holograms and making sure nothing deviated too seriously from when he left.

And as far as he can tell...

* * *

... the plan to his followers, there in the new Odal headquarters. There are hundreds of them, here today, and they all hang upon Helvete's every word as he speaks of the Gods that have invaded this world, and how they might get some of their own...

* * *

... flesh as the beast of Aleppo decides it's had enough of being alone, here in this delicious garden of bone and meat, and sets about to make more of its kind...

* * *

... face, staring back in the mirror at her. So Florence tries frowning, for once, and doesn't let up. Not until she sees the lines form, and the darkness under her eyes. And in that moment, she realizes that she doesn't need to be nice, or kind, or anything other than what she wants to be...

* * *

"... under arrest," the Detective says, putting the head of Arrow Security in handcuffs. He says more, of course -- Miranda has to be followed, even if it's meaningless these days -- but he can't be heard over this bespectacled nerd's screaming. He's going to sue everyone, have them penniless, eating out of trashcans, beaten senseless by thugs, and one day they'll all be...

* * *

... dead, each and every one of us," Seranu proclaims to the others: "But we shall not let them win. We shall not allow them to destroy us, or themselves. The time has come to make it clear that they are under our protection, whether they want it or not..."

* * *

... moving as he reforms in the tank, sleeping until the day Thomas Samuels is born again. Not merely into the spirit, this time, nor completely into the flesh. But into a whole new realm of being that he can scarcely guess at... 

* * *

... where he is," SPYGOD says, looking around the table: "But our people at the UN have been pretty damn clear. Straffer is not with them. The people who went to get him were found dead, and it looks like he was taken elsewhere. So we are gonna roost every !@#$ing henhouse between here and Indonesia until we find out where he went...

* * *

"... and don't tell me the Senator's body just !@#$ing vanished from the morgue!" Josie shouts, clearly upset at the news: "There is no goddamn way that happens on our watch, AGENTS! You get to Calexico and strip that town..."

* * *

... down to hell, in his own mind, after seeing what he did. But Straffer has come back, at last. And as he sees the horrible ruin on the television those two silent men left here, just to taunt him, he knows that he will get out of here. He will be rescued, or somehow rescue himself. And then someone is going to !@#$ing pay...
* * *

"... for my psychologist's new ride," the AGENT says, collapsing the holograms and calling it good: "This can't be healthy for anyone, wipes or no."

"In what way?"

"In all ways. All that heartbreak and horror, all kept on track and ticking towards the end..."

"It's in the past, dear. You're just making sure it stays where it belongs."

"Yeah. But still..."

"Well, if you want out, you've more than earned a reassignment," the Time Chamber says: "This was never supposed to be an ongoing thing. Everyone above a certain level takes a turn. You can always say no."

"And go back to smacking down conceptual terrorists, data hijackers, and rogue meatware," the AGENT muses, looking sort of thoughtful for a second, there. 

Then he chuckles, grabs the wipe-helmet from the desk in front of him, and puts it on: "Hit me with your rhythm stick."

And the silver cylinder does.

* * *


* * * 

"Lord Satanoth?" the Red Queen says, walking into his private chambers: "I hope you don't mind. I've come to talk about my body..."

She looks around the room. It's full of bones and weird, funeral things. 

There's no sign of him, however.

She wonders where he went, but then her senses -- somewhat dulled by all the rapid healing they did for her -- kick in, and she knows where Satanoth is.

Right !@#$ing behind her. 

"Lord?" she says, turning around a second too late. 

"No longer" he proclaims as he slaps her across the face -- knocking her body across the room, and her soul right out of her body. 

She screams, for all the good it does her. But then he reaches out to take her spirit in his hands, and, a moment later his face is looming above her.

"Fucking cunt," he mutters.

And then casts her down into his soul prison, screaming as she falls.

* * *

On the black planet, all is quiet -- at least on the surface.

Below the ebon, lightly undulating slick that has become the whole of Mars, now, there is a fever of activity.

Things are grown in tumor-wombs, large and obscene. Hideous creatures are excreted into existence, like some weird combination of crab, cancer, and turd.

The shocktroops of the Decreator, ready to live and die for the cause.

And in a large area, filled with necrotic slop that was once human and martian bodies, something is being assembled -- part by part, piece by piece.

Unseen by the blackness that toils and burbles is a different kind of darkness -- a spiritual disease given mind and form, and name.

These Demons kneel about the thing being made, worshiping and placating their lord as he is made anew.

The being has had many names, over the millennia. It has only ever had one function -- to destroy the souls of a world before that planet is, itself, harvested.

Only now, things are different. The destroyer was thwarted, and so too was the Decreator.

And as Armilus -- previously known as Tempete Bleu, but always known as the Antichrist-- is brought back into this world by the Gardener, the demons promise that this time it will all go according to plan.

This time the Apocalypse will occur, as intended.

* * *

In a field, not far from Topeka, someone gets out of the crater she just made for herself, and wobbles upright.

She's been gone a long time, now. She hurts all over. And her brain can barely withstand all that she saw, and learned.

But Hanami is made of sterner stuff than what she has witnessed, and endured.

And as she stumbles towards the nearest town, hoping to make a damn phonecall before she collapses, she does her best to remember the most important bit -- the one thing she must tell them before she blacks out, again. Perhaps for good this time.

Mars is now our enemy, she must tell them.

And then she must try and tell them why.

* * *

"I've done what you asked of me," the man says on the phone he doesn't like to use, but must: "The sniper is dead. The people who helped your bomber into the country are also dead. There's nothing to connect you to any of it."

"And the body, my servant?" the voice on the other end asks: "Was it retrieved as I asked?"

"It was, yes," he answers, trying not to cry: "I'm having it sent to where you asked. It might take a day or two, but it'll get there."

"The time is not important," the Mahdi says: "All things will happen in the time proscribed by Allah, most merciful, most beneficent."

"Yes," Interim President Quayle says, looking out the Oval Office windows at a country he's no longer really the leader of: "They do."

* * *

SPYGOD Will Return in April 
* in *

(SPYGOD is listening to This Not America (David Bowie) and having a Uranus)

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