Monday, April 4, 2016

Valhallopolis: 3/28/16 - 4/3/16

"We All Look So Perfect As We All Fall Down"

(Shining Guardsman, Mr. Freedom, Myron, SPYGOD, Gosheven, Swiftfoot, Free Fire)

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 3/28/16 

"... the top story, this hour. Large portions of Miami, Florida are in flames tonight after a furious battle between the COMPANY's Flier and something witnesses are calling a sea monster, but that independent aeronautics experts are saying came from space..."


"... heard a boom, like a sonic boom. Then the sky went black and then light, like the fourth of July..."


"... the Flier arrived on the scene after the creature had come ashore at Miami Beach, killing hundreds..."


"... best described as a black crab, maybe two hundred feet tall and twice as wide. Horribly misshapen, with gruesome, moving spines, a coral-like shell, and numerous orifices, spurting gouts of caustic liquid..."


"Fue horrible. Mi hermano se ahogo en el vomito. Se derrito como el chocolate. Pero el todavia estaba vivo..."


"... man, they gave it twenty-one guns. I served in the Navy and I've never seen that much (BLEEP) firepower. Boom boom (BLEEP) boom, you know...?"


 "... President called for calm, and denied that there was any connection between this incident and the loss of the International Space Station last week..."


"... see here, in this footage, that the water it's striding through is changing color. Turning from blue to black, and becoming thicker..."


"... stopped throwing out caustic sludge and started shooting projectiles, instead. They exploded where they landed, engulfing entire city blocks in flames..."


"... after minutes of frantic bombardment with railguns, lasers, and ship-to-ship missiles, the beast exploded, and then collapsed under its own weight..."


"... White House Press Secretary said, quote, 'There was a time when this happened all the time, back in the 70's. While this is a terrible tragedy, the American people can rest assured this is, as far as we can tell, a fairly unique event..."


 "... EPA warns the entire ecosystem may be catastrophically damaged, and are urging all citizens within a fifty mile radius to boil their water, and not eat any seafood harvested..."


"... the Interim President also denied that this was anything to do with the undersea empire of the Kingdom, insisting that they were maintaining their truce with us..."


"... the Olympians had no comment, seemingly continuing their recently-announced boycotting of the United States of America after the front-running Republican Candidate's comments..."


"... Look, I tell you people everything. And I would tell you people if I knew. We've got great people working on this. And when I am President, we will have even more great people on the job.."


 "... no comment from the United Nations Space Service at this time."

Tuesday: 3/29/16

It's daybreak over Miami, and the city is still in flames. 

Josie stands astride the front window of the Flier's bridge, looking down at the smoldering ruins below. AGENTS scurry around her, terrified to say or do something that would set off her now-infamous temper. 

They don't need to worry, though. She's not noticing them. She's looking down below, imagining the hell the clean-up crews must be going through right now. Putting out fires ignited by alien ichor. Creating even hotter fires to burn down the mutating chunks of black, suppurating flesh that wriggle and squirm in the wreckage. 

Determining which civilians can be taken out and saved, and which ones need to be contained in case they, too, begin to change...

"Director?" one of the AGENTS says, saluting her as she comes up beside her: "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am."

"It's okay," the pink-haired, burly clone says, turning to regard her subordinate with wet eyes, seemingly-incapable of doing the right thing at last: "What do you need, AGENT?"

"It's Hanami," she says: "You wanted to be informed as soon as she got back on board."

"Right," Josie says, nodding: "Tell her to meet me in my office."

"Roger that, ma'am. Also, Peg's got another request for a transport-"

"Whatever she wants," the Director says, waving it off: "But tell her to bring it back in one piece, this time? I don't know who taught SPYGOD how to fly, but I don't need any more splashdowns in the damn Pacific."

"I'll do that, ma'am," the AGENT says, saluting one last time as Josie strides away from the front window and off to her office, which will provide privacy, but no more comforting a view. 

Right now, nothing on Earth could provide such a miracle. 

* * *

"Hello America. Jerry Doyle here.

"So it's been more than a month since the so-called Toon Town Massacre, and there are still no real answers. 

"50 dead, both Toon and human. Dozens maimed and wounded. Millions in property damage. 

"And so far all the Government is saying is that they have no idea who did it, yet, but they suspect everyone and no one.

"Professionals? Definitely. They acted like they had a purpose. They used sophisticated techniques.

"They distracted All Star Security, which is mostly made up of Toons. And then, when they got on the scene? They jammed their battle suits. 

"Hear me say that again, folks. They jammed their battle suits. That's not Islamic radicals doing that. That's not so-called patriot groups doing that. 

"That's paramilitary, folks. That means technology and supplies and logistics. 

"And that means foreign governments.

"But you know what? Even though we clearly suffered a terrorist attack on American soil? Even over a month later, they still won't name names and announce a plan for retaliation. 

"Remember when those idiots in Afghanistan tried to crash planes into NYC and the Pentagon? Remember the Computer Hell virus? They had culprits named within hours of the attacks. We were in country in days. The architect of the plane attack was dead in a week. 

"But hey, that's Neo York City. That's Washington DC. That's every joe sixpack with a computer.

"But because this attack took place in an ethic enclave, with a misunderstood minority? Well, no one's in any hurry to come up with an answer, much less a plan for retaliation. 

"Now, some of you might remember I was an actor, a million years ago. You might remember my character had a picture of a certain Toon on the wall of his apartment.

"Well, that duck's in the ground, folks. Shot and killed in the first five minutes of the attack. Just on his way to get a cup of that weird coffee they sell, there.

"I went to his grave just the other day. Left him a few things and said goodbye. 

"And all the government can do is tell me to be patient. Patience is patriotism. That's what they say. 

"I'm not a patient man, folks. Not when I'm angry. Not when something like this happens.

"And neither should you be..."

* * *

"It's them, isn't it?" Josie asks the Japanese Android standing at attention before her desk -- so upright and regal, even in civilian clothes: "What you were trying to warn us about when you got back from Mars?"

"Yes," Hanami says, doing her best to keep her emotions in check: "I've seen things exactly like that before. They were breeding them under the surface."

"How many?" the Director of the COMPANY asks the newly-restored leader of the Freedom Force, not really wanting to know the answer.

"I saw miles and miles of things that were making them, and then areas where they were marching to. They were stacking them atop each other, like woodpiles. Millions of them. I... I lost count."

"Do you think one of them might have been what destroyed the space station?"

Hanami considers the question, and then nods: "The Space Service won't say, but I wouldn't be surprised."

"And they won't say to avoid a panic."


"Just like they wouldn't acknowledge what you had to say to avoid a panic."

Hanami nods, somewhat ashamed. And Josie thumps a meaty fist down on her desk -- furious.

"We need answers, and we need action," Josie says: "We need to get Director Straffer back. We need to find Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir. We need all the leftover tech Organization Ten had left under the table that can repel this."

"Straffer is missing," Hanami says: "Faraj hasn't been seen since the Egress was destroyed. And as for Ju-Kikan's things..." the android shakes her head: "There is nothing left. I've checked. Between the Reclamation War and what came after, it's all used up."

"I refuse to accept those answers," the pink-haired clone says: "There has to be something we can do."

"We could... ask the Olympians for help?" Hanami asks: "I know they won't deal with America. But if I went to them as a citizen of Japan, I might be able to speak to them."

Josie considers that, and then nods: "You do that. Just you, no one else. And I'll get our people looking into Straffer, again. Maybe they'll turn up some new lead."

"What about SPYGOD?" Hanami asks: "He has had a fair bit of experience getting people to rally around a cause-"

"I've got him looking into another, equally-important matter," Josie interjects, with a tone that clearly indicates there's nothing more to discuss.

The android nods, bows, and then leaves the room. And Josie looks down at the ground, again, not liking what she sees.

No one's told the whole truth, so far. They're making it sound like this is just another attack by some weird monster from under the sea. They're sounding optimistic, and making people believe the city will be cleaned up and rebuilt, and that everyone can go back to normal lives in a year or so.

They have no idea what's really happening down there.

Wednesday: 3/30/16

"Nyet! NYET!" The stark naked, overly-tattooed Russian Avtoritet screams as the two hulking, black-leather clad men grab him by either arm, and then hurl him at -- and then through -- his lover's plate glass window.

"Da!" One of the men shouts in return, giving the falling mobster a strange, fascist salute. Both of his assassins laugh as he gets smaller and smaller, tumbling end over end towards the cars on the jam-packed Moscow street below.

Behind them are screams and crashing. Running and brutality. Begging and gunshots.

The sound of an empire coming down...

* * *

"... to our studio to talk to us, Jana," the blonde FOX presenter says, clasping her new guest's hands and smiling at her. 

"Not at all," Jana says, smiling for her, and the cameras. She's got a better haircut, now -- longer, more conservative -- and has thinner, more expensive eyeglasses. She's also wearing something tactful, yet somewhat uniform-like.

Black, of course.

"So, we wanted to get a statement on your Candidate's comments about women and abortion, earlier today."

"Yes," Jana says, still smiling: "Well, it's a very nuanced issue, and a very sensitive one, as I'm sure we can both agree. But we have to remember that we are a Christian nation, and I think that, as Christians, we abhor abortion, and would rather it wasn't legal. So if we consider it to be murder, and a woman murders her fetus, then why shouldn't we seek some legal penalty against her?"

"That's sound reasoning, Jana. But you have to admit his statement about punishing women was pretty, well, explosive...?"

* * *

... blast inward as the heavy, safehouse door simply vanishes from existence -- a veritable hail of metal and fire reducing it to splinters and smoke.

The mobsters behind it don't fare much better. For them, death comes quickly.

For the ones behind them -- badly wounded by the storm of bullets -- they are treated to several more minutes of pain as their grim-faced executioners stomp them to death, laughing evilly the entire time.

They have a lot to laugh about, these brutal, grinning men. Not so long ago the Bratva of Moscow wanted nothing to do with them. They called them cranks and amateurs, told them to stay out of their way, and then turned their backs on them -- considering them beneath notice.

Now, they can do no more than beg as these Neo-Nazis teach them a lesson about being stabbed from behind...
* * *

"... the attacks on the Toon enclave," Jana goes on: "But, as he's said, if the Interim President doesn't crack the case between then and now? He's making it a top priority, the same way he's making every serious threat to our country a top priority."

"I know that attack must have been very personal for you, given your time in the enclave," the blonde presenter asks, nodding and grim-faced.

"Oh, it was," the black-haired clone says, suddenly quite sad: "I was on first-name basis with a lot of the victims. They were my friends and neighbors, I saw them everyday. It's a tragedy. And it's a travesty that nothing's really been done, yet."

"I understand that you suffered a more personal blow, given that they're considering the shooting of Velma Dinkley to have been some precursor attack?"

"Yes, it is," Jana replies, looking down: "Whatever happened between Randolph and I, and the rest of us? And Velma was involved. I still saw her as a motherly figure, or a big sister. I wouldn't have wished this on her."

"Have you been to visit her grave?"

"I don't think it's really appropriate under the circumstances..."

* * *

... where the stone-faced, white-haired Pakhan breaks off from his frantic phone conversation to look out the window of his armored SUV to see that something even larger -- and a lot more heavily armored -- has pulled up alongside his rear window.

"(Are you hearing me, Grenady?)" The man on the other end of the phone shouts at him: "(They're wiping us out! Our warehouses, our bars, our homes. Anywhere!) 

"Da," the old man says, realizing -- as he sees the glint of a very large gun behind the tinted window that's slowly rolling down -- that he's about to take the bullet he's been dodging for sixty years and two equally !@#$ed-up political systems. "(I am hearing you.)"

There's a sinister, bad-toothed smile behind the gun. It speaks once, very loudly.

And then he's not hearing anything anymore...

* * *

"... news about Randolph Scott?" the presenter asks.

"No," Jana says, shaking her head and smiling weakly: "After the attacks, he vanished. He hasn't broadcast once since then. No one's seen any trace of Helga or Helmut since then, either."

"Do you think they're all together?"

"The authorities suspect they've all taken it on the road, together. But there's also the chance they aren't in control of their faculties, much like I was. We were all abused, all brainwashed. They're also victims in this."

"If he was watching, or they were, what would you say to them?"

And Jana smiles, and then looks at the camera: "I would say to them, I got free, and you can, too. Come join me."

"And to him?"

"And I would say to him... well, dad? You always used to scold people for doing wrong. And a lot of what you did was right. But you know you did wrong, both to me and my brothers and sisters, and to countless others you libeled along the way.

"Do the right thing, Randolph Scott. It's time to come in and end this.."
* * *

"... as decisively as you desired, sir," the badly-burned youth says into his phone, holding a large gun to the head of the bookkeeper of the Moscow Bratva: "The organization is crushed. Our people have moved in to take over their posts. The mob of the city is now in the hands of the Russian National Socialist Party, which means, for all intents and purposes, it's in the hands of Odal."

"Well done, Karl," the pale man with burning, eyed and coal-black lips and hair says on the other end, walking around his desk to inspect something on his wall: "Have you spared some of them, as ordered?"

"I have. I've got their Kassir here, and he's being very cooperative. We just explained what might happen to his children if he doesn't tell us where all the money is."

"And our messengers?"

"Yes. We've spared a few Shaysts. They generally do the errand running, anyway, so having them tell the other Bratvas that Moscow is ours wouldn't be too difficult."

Helvete chuckles, looking at the map of Moscow he's spent weeks going over, looking for something in particular: "Excellent thinking, Karl. I'm glad you finally came around."

"Once you explained everything, well... it would have been foolish to continue to be foolish, sir."

"Gut," the head of Odal says, tapping a certain spot he's marked on the map: "Make sure the city is secured. Guard it well. Be certain the area I spoke of is ready for the next step in the plan."

"As you order, sir," Karl says, and closes the phone, looking over into the next room where the shivering survivors of Odal's action kneel. Their hands are behind their heads, and their faces are splattered with the blood and brains of the superiors they, themselves, killed to prove their worth to their new masters.

And while something inside his head is screaming -- telling him that this is wrong, and horrible, and he should get out now -- Karl pays it no mind.

No mind at all.

Thursday: 3/31/16

"How's it looking, son?" Shining Guardsman hears over his suit's communicators, maybe ten seconds into the fight with something that literally should not be.

It looked like a group of four guards -- at least at first. They were patrolling the weird, large warehouse they'd come to infiltrate, squatting at the center of Budapest's dockside industrial park. Unlike the other other buildings in the massive complex, it was both unmarked and barely lit up.

Fighting what the guards had turned into, the young hero could see why...

"We are experiencing heavy resistance," Free Fire replies on their behalf, using his smoldering fire wheel to slash sizeable holes in the black, squirming mess that the four men have become. It's like they've turned into black water and rushed into one another -- forming some towering, roiling thing that changes shape with each movement.

And with each slash, the mess just squirms and reforms. It's like trying to fight an aggressive waterfall. 

"Well, paint the target ASAFP so we can blow it to hell, kids," SPYGOD commands, watching the firefight from their suit cameras as he sits in the COMPANY transport, some distance overhead: "And don't !@#$ing let it breach your suits. You saw what happened to those poor bastards in Bratislava."

"Roger that," Shining Guardsman says, rushing back and engaging his laser guidance systems: "Yo, orange-juice! Might want to back the heck up."

"I really don't like that name, you know," the android says, but -- after shooting a fire missile right down the thing's closest maw -- complies as soon as possible.

"You pick a better one, then," the cyborg says, changing the density of his visor as the transport locks its microwave cannons on the flaming but unfazed beast, and quickly and silently fries it to a crisp from about 20,000 feet up.

"Okay," Myron says from his console, next to SPYGOD's -- looking down at a thermal map of the building: "I don't see any extra activity from within. No one's moving any quicker."

"Good," the superspy says: "That's a go, boys. In like we !@#$ing planned. Blow the roof, paint the sludge, and locate and secure any damn computers you can !@#$ing see."

"Got it," Shining Guardsman says, heading up to take out the roof the second Free Fire kicks down the front doors.

"Rest of you reprobates?" SPYGOD continues, looking around at the other three members of his team in the transport: "Gosheven, you're up as soon as they're in. Fly down, get in, do your thing."

"Oh boy," the Native-American shapeshifter groans, getting to his feet and getting ready to jump out the hatch: "I can hardly wait."

"Freedom, Swiftfoot, you're !@#$ing staying up here," the superspy continues, not seeming to care about Gosheven's grumbling.

"No argument from me," the old speedster says, shivering at the thought of getting contaminated.

"I long to unlock the puzzle of their plague," the Olympian says, smiling.

"Yeah, not on my time, kid," SPYGOD snorts, pulling out a flask from his boot and guzzling something good and powerful: "We've !@#$ing dawdled enough as it is..."

* * *

... which isn't to say that we have been !@#$ing dawdling, son. It's not like we were sitting in our damn secret clubhouse smoking weed and drinking tea while the !@#$ing world went to !@#$ around us like a playing card pyramid in a damn whooping cough ward, now is it?

(Sighs. Lights cigarette)

It's just hard, you know? I've been burning the damn candle at all ends trying to find Straffer. Hunting down every !@#$ing lead. Chasing every goddamn rumor. 

And all I got to show for it, so far? Bupkiss. Which is a nice way of saying '!@#$ing nothing but a !@#$ing big pile of !@#$ing nothing.'

And all this while we're dealing with with Mahdi problem, which is given us plenty of leads, but no payoff. Yet. 

(Takes long drag. Holds. Exhales like a dragon.)

Still, we made progress. Which is better that !@#$ing nothing. 

Progress, I hear you ask. What is this progress you speak of? 

Well, son, let's put it this way...

(Grabs beer. Pops the top with his thumbnail)

... as soon as we pulled on the thread, one thing led to a-!@#$ing-nother, and their stupid plan all fell apart.

Cause once we started looking into who pretended to be the UN? Well, they did their best to cover their tracks, burning everything and everyone involved. But they didn't count on dealing with us, clearly. 

(Chugs half the beer. Inhales. Exhales.)

So we find out they're !@#$ing connected with those weird organ-running bull!@#$ the COMPANY was dealing with, a few months back. The ones both us and the Space Service never really got the full goddamn story on.

And once we started !@#$ing looking into that? We found some nasty-ass setups, all throughout Europe and Asia. Red market horse!@#$. Human trafficking. Parts for sale. 

Not all of it legit. Not all of it dead, either.

(Pops another beer. Takes another drag. Exhales.)

And once we started looking closer at that, well, that's when we started !@#$ing running into these black ink sons of !@#$es. Like shoggoths with !@#$ing metamorph powers. Like the thing from that damn movie from the early 80's. Remember that one?

Well, imagine that thing wasn't alone. Imagine it had smarts and modern know-how. Imagine it could create shell corporations, dummy companies, and infiltrate any black op outfit it !@#$ing wanted to. 

Imagine it's been here for a whole goddamn year, and we had no !@#$ing idea. 

(Downs the beer in one go. Belches.) 

So that's where we're at, son. Rousting these black ink !@#$ers one shell at a time, hoping we eventually find out where they stuffed Straffer. 

And hoping he's still alive...

* * *

"... oh gross," Gosheven sighs, shaking his hands as he walks around in a circle -- his skin puffing up and out in random, weird spots: "This is worst than the last time I caught AIDS."

"The last time?" Shining Guardsman asks, incredulous.

"Well, I kicked it after two weeks," the Native-American shapeshifter says, hopping up and down and desperately wanting a drink, or ten: "I don't get sick, hon. I beat most infections and diseases just because I can make my body kick them the hell out. But AIDS, well... that was tougher."

"And so is an alien DNA strain trying to skull!@#$ your genome," Myron says over their communicator: "Is the place secure?"

"As houses," Free Fire says, giving the nearest microwaved lump of what used to be an infected human turned alien operative a good, solid kick.

There were a lot of them, patrolling this warehouse. Numerous freezer units made long, humming corridors for them to walk down and inspect. 

And as for what was in those freezers...

"Did they hit the !@#$ing alarm?" SPYGOD asks.

"No," Free Fire says: "We jammed it in time. So far as the Operators know, this is still operational."

"Well done."

"You can come down if you'd like?"

"I think we'll stay up here, thanks," Myron says: "All the same, is the !@#$-cabbage in sight?"

"Oh, Gods, do we have to call it that?" Gosheven sighs.

"Well, it fits," Free Fire says, holding up the object in question: a black, breathing ball of flesh, maybe the size of a bowling ball, that looks like a cabbage crossed with a vagina: "Shall I do the honors, this time, or will you?"

"My turn, I think," Shining Guardsman says, pointing upwards: "On three?"

The android counts down, and then tosses it up. The cyborg fires a single laser at it, and the organic spore mine -- source of the infection that turned these men into monsters -- is instantly turned into smoking, white powder.

"Okay, question two," Myron says: "You got a working computer terminal?"

"That's a yes," Gosheven says, walking over to it, and pulling out something special to plug into it: "You two suit boys back up, now. If it detects you, it'll zap you."

"No argument here," Shining Guardsman says, remembering the last time that happened all too well.

"Alright, then," Myron says: "It'll take an hour to upload everything, however long to find what we're looking for. And then, provided this isn't another dead end...?"

"We find out where Straffer's been, all this time," SPYGOD says, nodding: "And we get him the !@#$ out of whatever hole they've hidden him in."

"Provided he's still alive," Swiftfoot mutters, knowing SPYGOD probably heard it but not really caring.

"And then what?" Myron asks.

"And then we'd better find out what they're !@#$ing planning, and soon," SPYGOD says, thinking of the secret footage he saw from the doomed ISS: "All Hell's a coming, Myron. Right up the damn ass."

"I hope they brought lube, then," Myron says, nodding: "I got the feeling this is gonna hurt..."

Friday: 4/1/16

"I cannot believe I am hearing this," Hanami says, staring the sole Olympian who's been sent out to greet her right in the eyes: "Our world is on the brink of disaster. And you tell me you are not concerned?"

"I think you are seriously misunderstanding me, dear," the large woman says -- her long dress a shifting pattern of islands and water, and colorful birds flapping around her: "We are very concerned, but not ready yet."

"Not ready for what?" the android shouts: "How can you not stand ready to defend this world?"

"We have yet to decide on the means," Aegio says, smiling gently, as though she were talking to a child: "And as the means shape the ends, well..."

And it's all Hanami can do to not try and hit the goddess in her large, smiling face, or fly off in a huff.

* * *

At least they relented on having her come to them, the way they did to Director Straffer that one time. Which meant they didn't make Hanami stand in that very long line, like the rest of the pilgrims and seekers, and enter the White City to petition the Olympians, in time. 

They did, however, make her wait. 

After she made contact, she stood in the deserts, west of town, waiting. She waited Tuesday night, all of Wednesday and Thursday. 

And now, at the end of the today, the emissary finally arrived -- coming down in a cloud borne by hundreds of colorful macaws, shining like the Sun. 

They sent Aegio, which Hanami supposed made sense. She was the personification of Earth, after all, much in the same way Noyx was the Moon and Rahmaa the Sun. If anyone had to speak of the sanctity and safety of the planet, it would be Her. 

But as Hanami explained the situation to Her -- what she'd seen on her flight to Mars, and what had been coming here within the last month -- she soon got the idea that this Goddess of Earth was only paying attention to every other word. 

Still, she tried. She explained how the Space Service was outclassed and outmatched. She told her that the fact that only two of the horrid, black projectiles had gotten though so far was something of a miracle.

(And the fact that only one had actually landed on Earth, rather than bouncing off the atmosphere after smashing the International Space Station, was an outright act of God.)

Worse still was the attrition. Every time a storm of those things came at the Earth, the Space Service lost half the fighters they sent up repelling them. Sooner or later they were going to run out of ships.

And when that happened, well -- after the loss of most of their Space-based heroes, some months ago, the world was running out of deterrents.

So Hanami asked this Goddess -- all but begged Her -- to help. To give them the Sudarshana Chakram back. To help them create another orbital defense ring, as they had all those decades ago.

To help protect the world they claimed to be the gods of.

And this goddess could only shrug, equivocate, and make excuses for inaction...

* * *

"So when do you make your decision?" Hanami asks, gesturing to Olympos, off in the distance: "When is the defense of this world going to be a priority with you?"

"It is being considered, my dear, even now," the Goddess says, smiling: "I'm here with you, and there with them. All you've said to me, they have heard."

"And?" the android asks, looking around as though she were seeing them in their chamber, high up on the central pyramid.

"And they say to be patient, and understanding," She answers: "The answer will come to you, in time. Tell your Space Service to hold strong, dear. They will soon be rewarded with our aid."

The Japanese android just glares at Her, afraid to give shape to the angry thoughts coursing through her mind, just then. 

"Might I ask a favor, then?" Hanami asks: "While we're waiting for aid, can we at least have the Chakram back? It would be a great aid in defending ourselves-"

The sky suddenly grows lighter than it had been, and a booming voice comes across the desert: "NO."

"Sister Rahmaa has laid claim to the spacecraft," Aegio explains, perhaps needlessly: "The decision to release or keep is hers. It must be respected, I'm sure you understand?"

"Do I ever," Hanami says, nodding: "Thank you all for your time. Please let us know when you've made a decision?"

She turns to go, and then hears a cough. She looks back around and sees that Aegio is holding out Her hand, as if she expects her to kiss it. 

Oh. She does.

The android nods, smiles, and -- half-curtsying -- gives that hand the most firm, wet kiss she can. The sort of smooch that would break the bones in most humans' hands, but doesn't really so much as dent the surface of the Goddess' skin.  

"Thank you, my dear," Aegio says: "You may leave now."

And Hanami nods and does that, doing her best to avoid breaking into the long, loud string of curses and screams until she's well into the United States, and hopefully out of earshot.

Even in desperate circumstances, some things should remain hidden. 

Saturday: 4/2/16

"I'm not certain I understood that, sir," the General says, shaking his head a little: "Are you telling me that we shouldn't tell our men what's going on in Aleppo?"

"No," the Interim President says, his head buzzing from the latest instructions he's gotten from his 'benefactor': "I'm telling you that they don't need to know. It's not their concern. And we don't need word getting out, right now, do we?"

"I suspect not, sir-"

"I've got religious leaders howling at me about the end of days and the apocalypse and God only knows what else, General," Quayle hisses down the phone: "I've got people asking questions I either can't answer, or don't dare answer. Now, if it gets out that there's a damn zombie apocalypse breaking out in Syria, how well do you think that's going to go over?"

"Not very well, sir," the General admits.

"Exactly. So I need you to tell them we're going to let our other allies in the region deal with it. Tell them we're pulling out of that area to let the others take up the slack. Tell them we're strategically redeploying them elsewhere."

"Where to, sir?"

"I'm glad you let me tell you, General," the President says, exasperated.

And when he does, it's something of a surprise.

* * *

"Madame LePen?" the prison guard asks the middle-aged prisoner, who's moved to the far wall, as usual.

"Yes?" she asks, pleasantly puzzled to not be addressed by her number, as usual.

(Is the guard new? She doesn't recognize her. Maybe she doesn't know how things work here, yet?)

"I just wanted to let you know, your friends have not forgotten you," the woman says, putting her hands on the bars of the woman's cell: "You will be out of here within the week. We promise you that."

"I'm confused," the woman says: "I was told my appeal is... how did they say it, undergoing non-urgent consideration?"

"This isn't about any appeal, Madame," the woman says, rolling up her sleeve to reveal a certain tattoo. It's of an O.

The woman nods, and almost takes a step forward, except that the guard warns her back.

"Be patient, just a little longer," the woman quietly urges her: "And be ready."

And then she brings herself up, as though she were addressing an insolent prisoner, and stomps down the cell block's hall.

* * *

"Well, look, I said what I said, and I meant what I said," the Candidate sighs, shaking his immense head: "I just don't understand why I had to walk it back like that. I mean, I'm right. I know I'm right, right?"

"Yes, you are," Helvete explains, tapping his fingers on his desk. The tips smolder, slightly -- creating smoke and sparks as he talks to this annoying puppet. 

"Well then, I'm not sure why-"

"Because you needed to give them the truth, and then mask it," the pale pyrokinetic answers: "It is a core political principle. It's perfectly alright to adjust your message from time to time."

"Well, sure. I can see that-"

"Just be sure to point out that you were badgered into an answer, and make them angry at the media, not your message. Do you see?"

"I do, yes," the Candidate says, not really seeing or understanding, but willing to do what he's told. 

Not that he has much choice.

* * *

"... in other news, the embattled and disgraced Governor of Michigan has announced that he will resign at Noon, this Monday.

"The move comes less than a day after a flood of highly-damaging emails was leaked to numerous web sites. The emails, mostly to and from the Governor, not only appear to show conscious attempts to downplay and stall his knowledge of the unfolding crisis in Flint, but also show that he was trying to cover up getting cheaper water for fracking operations within the state. 

"The origin of the leak is not known at this time. There has been some speculation that the hacker collective Anonymous may have had a hand in it. However, a spokesperson claiming to be with the group has said that they didn't have anything to do with it, but applaud the, quote, 'excellent hacking.'

"Governor Snyder has declined to answer questions at this time..."

Sunday: 4/3/16

"... has come today, my friends!" the voice booms over the loudspeakers outside the crystalline mega-church: "You all know it! You all feel it! Now, in the name of the Lord, let's do something about it!"

And, as one, the massive mob of worshippers -- all turned into large mockeries of the human form, thanks to the combat drugs they just took along with their communion wafers and grape juice -- charge from the front doors of the church, heading straight across the parking lot for the heroes who've come to break up the party.

"Man, I hate mind control," Blastman sighs, wondering how everyone's Sunday best is staying on after they grew to four times their size.

"You and me both," Mr. USA says, knowing he's going to have to pull each and every punch: "Call it, Hanami."

"USA, American Steel, you're with me," Hanami commands, looking to the three heroes at her side -- especially the new recruit, who nods: "Try to go easy on them."

"You got it, boss," American Steel says, clanging the metal fists of her battle suit together and shaking her long, red hair back over her shoulders: "Knees and elbows only."

"Blastman, you handle perimeter," the android goes on: "Anyone gets out, toss them back in. Gently as possible."

"Can do," the middle-aged hero says, and whooshes off to start encircling the parking lot.

"Hopefully the other two can get in and stop this before it gets really bad," Mr. USA says, running at the glassy-eyed mob -- their mouths frothing with rapid hate.

Hanami wants to ask how it could get worse, but when she sees a baby grown to the size of a teenager hop-frogging across cars to get to them, she decides to keep that to herself...

* * *

"I just wish I could wear a mask, you know?" Red Wrecker confides in her new teammate as they tear through the side hallways of the church, looking for their real enemy: "Just hide out for a while."

"Masks are very inconvenient things," the man in the long coat and fedora replies -- his face a holographic swirl behind sunglasses, his voice a computerized blur: "And once they're off? There's no taking them back."

"Is that why we never see you without yours?"

"That's part of it, yes," Dr. Uncertainty says, chuckling a little: "But I'd suggest we worry more about what's waiting for us behind that door, up there."

Red Wrecker grumbles, hoping it's actually a lot of whats -- preferably with big faces she can hit.

Anything to avoid feeling the way she's been feeling since Detroit...

* * *

"They're on the scene, ma'am," an AGENT tells Josie, who nods, looking at local news coverage of the incident: "They have engaged. They're reporting at least a thousand combatants."

"Oh, that's going to look !@#$ing awesome on the evening news," the Director says: "Tell Hanami-"

"She's already told them to keep it non-lethal, ma'am," the AGENT interrupts: "They've also gotten a containment field up. And we're sending Transports now for cleanup."

"Good," the Director says, looking down at her wrist pad for information about the supervillain responsible for this Sunday morning !@#$-show: "I thought we had eyes on this Pentecostal asshole? Wasn't he locked up?"

"He was, ma'am," another AGENT says: "Gerry O. Glory was serving two life sentences in Charlotte, down in southern Florida, up until three days ago. Apparently there was a breakout during a prisoner transfer that ended in shots fired. They're still trying to ascertain who got away, who's still hiding, and who's lying dead in the morgue."

"And he just happens to get loose, get back to some hidey-hole we didn't know about, and get his hands on... what is this..."

She brings up the display from American Steel's suitcam, and looks at the scene from the new heroine's angle. The armored fighter is currently entangled with six hostile parishioners, all intent on tearing her head from her shoulders and her arms from her sockets. 

"That looks like Massive-7," yet another AGENT pipes up: "Professor Massivnyy's stock in trade."

"And he's been dead for, what, thirty years?" Josie asks: "How does The Pentecostal get his hands on Soviet-era combat drugs?"

"That's a good question," the AGENT who spoke of his breaking out says: "A better one would be why is he using them? He usually just relies on short-lived sonic mind control devices. This is a remarkable escalation."

"Maybe he made some interesting friends in stir?" even yet another AGENT asks: "He's been in for twenty years. That's a long time to learn new tricks from other lifers-"

"I could give two very large Mexican food !@#$s about hearing this, right now," Josie barks: "You four! Look into it. Get back to me when you got it. Everyone else, keep me appraised on the fifty other things I have to !@#$ing juggle along with this crap!"

The AGENTS all fall silent and run off.

"And someone get me a damn cup of coffee the size of a !@#$ing birthday cake!" Josie grumbles, watching as the Freedom Force does its best to avoid killing the hundreds of crazed, altered civilians who are trying to kill them...

* * *

"This is awful," American Steel says, striding through the riot of flesh and anger as though she were walking through a dense thicket of trees -- blows glancing off her armor and shields like hail on a thick, metal roof. 

"I know. I think they're doing more damage to themselves," Mr. USA notes sadly, cracking the ankles of a very large man who seems more stomach than anything else.

"Focus, people," Hanami commands: "No one gets past us. This goes no further than here!"

"Incoming!" Blastman shouts, hurling about twenty more people right on top of his allies in circle after circle.

"Are you sure we can't hurt them just a little?"American Steel tries to joke. But it falls flat...

* * *

"I'll say this once more," Red Wrecker says -- bleeding and badly throttled by the crowd of altered worshipers she just ran through: "Stop what you're doing, now."

"And why would I do that?" The Pentecostal asks from up on the stage, before the massive cross on the wall -- his suit a shining, diamond-like thing, his hair brylcreemed into a towering, wavy altar: "The Lord is coming, young lady. It's time to acknowledge his return!"

"Not like this!" the heroine shouts, deeply offended: "And not from you!"

"The Lord helps those who help themselves!" the supervillain insists, pointing down at her: "Who are you to stand in His way?"

"Just the distraction while my friend finds your tool, you... you butthole!"

"Kneel! Keel and be saved!"

Florence hears the voice in her head, trying to get her to submit. She almost does. But something of the anger she's been carrying inside since her violation tells her that she will not be doing anything of the sort. 

Not here. Not now. Not ever. 

She shouts and runs at him, very prepared to kill. He shouts as well, out of pure fear. 

But before she can lay a hand on him, the weird feeling she's had in her ears since she got into the room ends. 

Red Wrecker looks around, and sees Dr. Uncertainty striding towards them -- a strange, boxy device in his hands, trailing sparking wires.

"I think this is yours, sir?" the masked hero says, somewhat rhetorically: "Perhaps you shouldn't have hidden it in the speaker booth."

"It doesn't matter," the Pentecostal laughs, pointing to the doors behind Dr. Uncertainty as they crash in, and a few dozen more warped churchgoers hurl their bodies through the room: "They have their orders! Feel the wrath of the Lord!!"

"Oh dear," the masked man says, raising his hands in preparation to fight: "Florence, I hope you're good for a few more scraps...?"

"I am," Red Wrecker says, running up to her ally's side, leaving the villain to be someone else's problem, for now. 

"So am I," someone else says -- leaping down from the rafters, and hurling something at The Pentecostal on the way...

* * *

 "Wait a minute," the person who was trying to tear Mr. USA's head off a second earlier says, his eyes welling up with confused tears: "What... what am I doing?"

"What's the last thing you remember?" the older hero asks, putting down the fist he was going to use to knock the man out.

"I was... we were listening to the preacher. The new guy... explaining what happened to our Minister..." the man says, sitting down and looking at his hands: "What... what's happened? What did we do?"

"Nothing that was your fault," Mr. USA says, putting a hand on the man's shoulder and looking around the parking lot. At the wounded, the struggling, the unconscious. 

At the dead.

It wasn't anyone's fault, really. In any battle like this, against chemically augmented civilians, mistakes are going to happen. Punches don't get pulled correctly. Anatomical changes mean the right organs are in the wrong places. 

A moment's distraction in a scrum of twenty maddened, overly-muscled people, and what should be a knock-out punch becomes a killing blow. 

"It's wearing off," Hanami announces, perhaps needlessly: "Blastman, keep the perimeter. You two, liaise with the AGENTS when they arrive. I'm going in."

And then she's flying across the parking lot -- trying not to look at the large heap of broken people she's partially responsible for -- and through the broken doors, down the massive hallway to the even more massive worship area, and over to a heap of bodies in somewhat better condition. 

"Report," Hanami orders, but comes up short as she realizes there's three people there, instead of two., 

"We're good," Red Wrecker says, even if she doesn't look it: "Dr. Uncertainty unplugged the device. And between the three of us, we ended it."

"Quite handily, I should say," the masked doctor says, pointing back to The Pentecostal -- lying in a heap on the right side of the stage, a sizable lump growing in the center of his forehead: "Our new friend was kind enough to knock out the villain before he could escape."

"Standard procedure," the friend in question says, her voice not entirely unfamiliar. 

"Oh my God," Hanami says, floating down to the ground: "Gail...?"

"No real names in the field, Flower," the woman in white says, pulling her facemask off to reveal the big smile behind it. 

"Red Queen?" Florence gasps, and runs forward to hug the woman they thought they'd lost to Olympos. 

"Not anymore, sweetie," Gail says, hugging her back, and bringing Hanami into the embrace: "The Red Queen is dead. Let her rest in peace.

"Call me Dragonfly."

And so they do, because it's the best news they've had all damn week.

(SPYGOD is listening to Pornography (The Cure) and having a Calm Before the Storm)

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