Monday, April 11, 2016

Valhallopolis: 4/4/16 - 4/10/16

"I Cannot Escape This Fate / It's My Approaching Doom"

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 4/4/16

"... ongoing coverage of the aftermath of the Freedom Force's fierce battle with the afflicted members of the New Kingdom Pentecostal megachurch in Tampa, Florida continues, here on CNN, tonight.

"We have just learned that two more of the victims, Roger D. Oldson, 47, and Jeremy P. Columbus, 6, have succumbed to injuries received during the fight. 

"That brings the total death toll to 28. The remaining 969 victims remain in critical care in a makeshift field hospital, set up by the COMPANY, in conjunction with Hillsborough County emergency services-"


 "It's a tragedy, clearly. These people didn't ask for this to happen to them. They were the victims of a sick individual who escaped incarceration, used banned bioweapons to alter their bodies, and mind control to program their minds. We still have yet to establish a motive... yes, you had a question?"

"Yes sir, Tonya Brooks, WTSP. What are the chances that these victims can be cured?"

"Okay, Tonya. That's a two-part answer. The good news is that the programming was short-lived, and they are themselves, once again. However, as for the damage done to their bodies, we don't have as good of news. We're working with the COMPANY to determine if there was a cure for what they were given. Hopefully they can find it, or develop it, but these kinds of alterations don't just heal. If we can't find a cure, well, they will be stuck with this condition for the rest of their lives-"


"The Pentecostal? Who the hell is that? I swear, these supervillains and their stupid names. Like that Penitent moron up in Michigan..."

"... are asking that citizens at all points along Florida's Atlantic coast avoid drinking coastal water, or eating fish gathered along that side of the state, as the black slick created by the as-yet unidentified creature that attacked Miami, last Monday, is spreading North.

"When asked for a timetable, the EPA said they weren't sure, but would have more information forthcoming-"


"A full week later, Miami remains a no-go zone. The fires are still raging in some parts of the city, and large pools of toxic sludge are everywhere. Conditions are reputedly even worse on Miami Beach, where the creature itself is being carefully deconstructed and removed.

"Emergency workers tell us that Federal authorities have told them to not go into the city, citing extremely hazardous conditions. They have been ordered to step back, deal with the survivors who escaped before the Gold Soldiers threw up the cordon, last Tuesday, and assist in keeping people out of the city.

"As of this minute, the White House insists that they're not writing off the city. They are simply waiting for a more comprehensive plan to deal with this extremely tragic and traumatic event-"


 "See, if This Is Bull!@#$ was still broadcasting, they'd be all over this story. And that's because there's a lot of BS going around, if you get my drift. 

"Take the denials that the accident that took out the International Space Station had anything to do with this. There's a video going around, out there, that came from a departing Soyuz module. The Russians are claiming it's a hoax, of course, but it looks shaky enough to be real if you ask me.

"This video shows the station being plowed into by a giant, black ball. It just smashes through the central part like it's made of paper, and drags the rest of the pieces into each other. Where the ball goes after that, who knows?

"But then, this thing that came ashore at Miami Beach? Eyewitnesses say that there was a sonic boom. The sort of boom you'd hear if something large fell through the sky, just like what happened in Russia a couple years back when that meteorite exploded in their atmosphere in 2013.

"So, it looks like these things are falling a week apart. If that's right, that means we might get lit up any day now. And if it's as bad as what came shore in Miami, well, we could be in for some interesting times..."


I only came for two days of playing
But everytime I come I always wind up staying
This the type of town I could spend a few days in
Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin

Tuesday: 4/5/16

It's not hot, down in hell with the dead. But it's not cold, either. Not even "lukewarm," whatever the hell that means. 

It's just flat. That's the only way Gail can describe it -- flat.  

She has no sense of touch or temperature. The brick walls of the rounded chamber seem rough and pitted, but she can't feel the texture, just the their solidity. Nothing has taste, or smell, or anything beyond sight and sound. 

No gravity means no real up or down. No sense of movement or inertia. No physical presence at all.

Her sight is distorted, as though she's seeing through smudged glasses. And sounds are strange, as though heard from just underwater. 

What she does have is a keen sense of time. 

She knows that she has been in this soul prison, trapped with these other ghosts, for exactly ten days, four hours, twenty-nine minutes, and six seconds. 

(Seven, now. Eight. Nine. Ten.)

She knows it's been twenty three hours, fifty-nine minutes, and ten seconds since the Olympian who cast her down here has come down to here to feed on one of them. 

(Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen.)

She's not sure how many ghosts are down here, shrieking and crying. They come and go. Are noticed and then are replaced, or removed. 

Or eaten whole.

(Thirty-one. Thirty-two. Thirty three.)

When Satanoth comes down here, he wastes no time. He immediately grabs and then slurps down one of his captives -- just like they were a ball of orange juice, floating in zero-G.

(Forty-seven. Forty-eight. Forty-nine.)

And each and every time, Gail's realized that he is looking right at her. 

(Fifty-three. Fifty-four. Fifty-five.)

As if to say "I'm going to enjoy it when it's your turn."

(Fifty-six. Fifty-seven. Fifty-eight.)

And she can feel him coming on down, even now...


* * *

 "... sixty," Gail Reynolds -- the former Red Queen -- counts as she bench-presses 300 for her COMPANY inquisitors: "Sixty-one... sixty-two... sixty-three..."

She's not in a cell -- at least that's not what they're calling it. Officially this is "debriefing." But she's been here in this large, high-tech gym for a full day, had only minimal contact with anyone other than the three AGENTS on this detail, and been subjected to dozens of tests.

(And that's just the tests she knows of. Other, more surreptitious ones are doubtlessly going on around her.)

They've made her run on a treadmill and climb a wall. They've watched her eat and !@#$, sleep and dream. Word association and firearms practice, memory tests and balance beams. They even had her arm-wrestle someone, just to see if she'd win or lose.

She's doing her best to not complain too much. She has nothing to complain about. 

Still, this is sort of galling, all things considered...

"I think that's good enough," one of the AGENTS assigned to her debrief says, making a note on his pad: "In fact, I think we're completely satisfied. Your health and fitness levels are exactly what we'd expect them to be."

"A little too exact," one of the others says, leaning over in the corner and observing the goings-on with what's either suspicion or fey disinterest: "Especially since you won't tell us what's happened to you."

"Ain't secrets just a !@#$?" she snorts, sitting up and drying herself off with a towel: "I'd tell if I could. Really. But I made some promises-"

"To whom?" the third person in the room asks. It's one of Josie's clones -- some femme-looking one with long, purple hair and nails so black they look like wet coal.

"Sorry, Rikki," Gail shrugs: "Can't tell that either."

"Can you tell us anything at all?" the one tapping on his pad asks: "Straffer saw you at Olympos, and you were alive and altered. And now you're back and you're human, so far as we can tell. Something's happened in-between, clearly."

"We're not giving you access to any guns and sending you out into the field without a full and frank accounting, dearie," Rikki says, somewhat apologetically: "So unless you felt like parking your buns on the bench...?"

"Well, that's one thing we have to get straight," Gail says, putting her hands together: "When I come back to work for you? No guns."

Rikki blinks: "What?"

"No guns. No knives. Nothing that could kill or seriously maim an opponent. I'm... no longer allowed to take lives."

"And who told you that?" the clone says, clearly shocked.

Gail just smiles: "Sorry, Rikki. Can't give you that number."

* * *

"Ouch!" Blastman says, slapping his forehead as he groans: "I can't believe she just did that."

"I can," Mr. USA says, smiling, turning away from the screen that most of the Freedom Force are watching the interrogation on, in the well-furnished lounge above the room she's being interrogated in. 

(American Steel, for her part, is looking down through the one-way mirror -- hands on the glass, and totally silent.)

"What do you think?" Hanami asks the older hero.

"I think it's her," he says, looking back at the screen: "She's different, though. Less abrasive, more controlled."

"She isn't saying '!@#$' every other word," Red Wrecker says, amazed at how easily the curseword just slipped out of her own mouth. 

"According to the data I'm receiving, it's her," Dr. Uncertainty says, holding up a pad and tapping on the screen: "The DNA is an exact match. Blood type is the same. Her scars and broken bones match everything in her record."

"But...?" Hanami asks, turning to look at the masked genius detective.

"Was it that well telegraphed?" he asks, adjusting his sunglasses.

"What's missing?" Mr. USA asks, pretty concerned.

"Well, for starters, her liver is in pristine condition," Uncertainty says, calling up a scan of it: "Gail drank fairly regularly. Not enough to be in danger of cirrhosis, but enough to show some degradation."

"What else?" Hanami asks.

"Well, it doesn't say if she smoked or not, here," the detective says: "But her lungs are pink and clear, which your average adult in an industrialized country does not have, thanks to pollution and secondhand smoke. And as for her bones..."

"Wait, is it like that one movie?" Red Wrecker asks: "The one where the Angel's body had no bone rings, or something?"

"Well, they're not rings, Florence. But yes, exactly like that. Her bones are that of a fully grown female adult, but the solid matter doesn't show any signs that growth actually occurred."

Everyone sort of blinks for a second. 

"So, what?" Blastman asks: "This is a clone?"

"No," American Steel says, not turning from the window: "Clones grow just like anyone else does. They just do it a lot faster."

"Exactly," Dr. Uncertainty says, seemingly perplexed by his fellow new teammate's grasp of the subject: "And you'd think that, if she was a clone, there would be no sign of scars or past damage."

"So, they want us to think it's her, but it isn't?" Hanami asks.

"If so, why go half-assed on the job?" Blastman asks: "Why give her a band new engine in an old chassis?"

"Nice analogy," Red Wrecker snorts, and he grins at her for a second before he realizes she's being critical, and then shuts up and looks away -- embarrassed.

"What about her psychological tests?" Hanami asks the masked detective, who nods.

"Well, there's clearly been some kind of trauma she's not telling us about. it might have something to do with why she won't kill, anymore. But in terms of her personality, and other things... it's matching."

"It's her," American Steel says, turning from the window at last: "The way she moves? How she's talking with the people down there? That's her."

"I didn't know you knew her, Jelena," Mr. USA says.

The new heroine smiles: "I wasn't always piloting an experimental tactical battlesuit, (REDACTED). Her and I go way back."

"But you can't tell us because it's all classified?" Red Wrecker asks.

"Got it in one, girl," the armored heroine grins, snapping her metal fingers in Florence's direction. The gesture just annoys her further, but American Steel either doesn't notice or doesn't care.

"So what do we !@#$ing do?" Blastman grumbles: "It's her, but it isn't? I can't be the only one spooked by that, given what's going on."

"I say we take her in and keep an eye on her," Hanami announces, standing up and looking around: "But we all keep an eye on her. She steps out of line, does something weird, then we close her down. Can we agree to that?"

"It's risky," Mr. USA says: "But... yeah, I can see the wisdom in that."

"Why not?" Blastman says: ""We need a new martial artist after what happened with Chinmoku, after all."

Everyone nods sadly at that, and Red Wrecker pipes up: "It'll give her a chance to prove herself if it's her."

"And if it isn't..." Dr. Uncertainty says, but needs say no more.

Wednesday: 4/6/16

"No, really," the AGENT in charge of the interrogation of one Gerry Oliver Glory -- aka The Pentecostal -- says, all but slamming a heavy binder down on the table in front of the man: "You want to talk to us, Gerry. You want to give us something, here.

"Because right now? You aren't just looking at a world of hurt. You're looking at a whole damn solar system, Gerry. Planets and moons and a big, angry sun, coming to burn you down."

The man just looks up at him, and then back down at the table below his chin -- mostly obscured by the binder, containing the names of all the people he victimized.

He looks like crap, this sorry supervillain. His long hair -- meant to be crafted up into some kind of weird altar -- is slopped around his shoulders. His forehead is badly bruised from where Dragonfly's stun baton smacked him, and he's got raccoon eyes from where the resulting goose-egg drained. He's pale and unshaven, somewhat unsteady.

And still he won't talk.

"You know what, to hell with this," the AGENT says: "I don't know why we're bothering with you. Because we already know everything we need to."

That gets him to look up, just a little.

"That's right, Gerry. You were in jail, serving two life sentences along with a few other gimmick villains like yourself. You got to know some of them, I'm sure. Like maybe this guy, here..."

He pulls a picture of a scary-looking man up on his wrist pad: "Frederico Barnes, otherwise known as The Solution. Arms dealer, fixer, occasional bioterrorist. Done up for selling weaponized anthrax to the FBI in a sting operation. Been there three years out of a triple life when you got in."

He waves the picture in front of the villain's face a couple times: "Friend of yours, right? Cell across the hall. Sat at the same table for dinner. Played cards on saturdays... except you don't play cards because Jesus, right?"

No reaction, but the AGENT goes on: "He had access to a stockpile of a Massive-7 before he got caught and sent up. He told you where to find it, didn't he?"

The Pentecostal doesn't say anything to that, either and just looks back down.

"Now, my only question in all of this is what good it would have done him to have you know that," the AGENT says, bending down to try and make eye contact: "It's not like you'd have been able to pay him for it. And it's not like he'd have wanted you to dose a whole megachurch congregation with his !@#$, now would he?"

Silence, but at least he's making eye contact, again.

And maybe that's something.

* * *

 "Sir, I need you to understand exactly what I am saying," the CDC official is saying to the Interim President, who's sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office like something akin to a statue -- staring at the wall and hardly blinking.

She looks at the others in the room with her, and then back at him. They're not sure what to do now. The man's hardly spoken a word since she started explaining about what's happening in Miami, right now. 

"Go on, Gloria," one of her cohorts whispers: "We have to say we tried."

"Mr. President, this is the issue," she continues, after another few awkward seconds: "The creature that we destroyed? Its very presence was highly toxic to the environment around it. 

"If it'd landed on land, that would have been bad enough. It ruined the vegetation and infected every living thing it touched. And it spat up that horrible, corrosive liquid onto people, and shot projectiles that exploded with the same substance, only flammable..."

She coughs into her hand, nervously. His lack of expression and reaction just makes this that much worse.

"Now, I'm sure you remember people telling you that everyone who was touched by that substance was infected by it. They've become monsters, Mr. President. There's no other way to put it. They can't be reasoned with, anymore. They just want to kill and eat anything with a pulse, and turn them into things like themselves.

"And that's bad enough. I mean, we can cordon off with the city and burn it down. That's a horrible thing, but it's doable. 

"But it landed in the ocean, Mr. President. And that means that every living thing in the water was also infected. And not just the fish, sir. It's also the microscopic life. The plankton. All that life in the ocean, already trying to kill and eat each other... well, it's gotten worse.

"And because it landed where it did, the infection is going north, along with the Gulf Stream. I'm sure you can appreciate what that means...?"

She looks to him, hoping to see some glimmer of understanding. But he doesn't even blink.

* * *

"So what am I missing, here, Glory?" the AGENT asks: "Help me connect the dots, and maybe I can get you put right back where you escaped from. Otherwise, we'll just shove you in basement with the rest of the scum we can't risk having in the normal prisons, and-"

"You think I'm afraid of you?" The Pentacostal says, raising his head up proudly: "You think I'm terrified of you? Of your jails? Your threats? This is just flesh, sir. Bone and skin. It'll be gone, soon, and then it'll just be my soul, standing before the Lord, ready to take my punishment and claim my reward."

"Yeah?" the AGENT sneers: "Well, between you and me? I think it's going to be more of the first and less of the second."

"That's not for you to say, sir," the villain goes on: "Judgment shall be the Lord's alone. Not man, not you. Him. He's the one I pray to, not you. He's the one who commands me, not you."

"Wake me up when this gets interesting," the AGENT says, plopping down in the chair across the table from The Pentecostal: "I can't wait."

"Well, that's the problem with people like you."


"Waiting," the villain replies: "All your life you think you have time. You can't really contemplate death because you're afraid of it. You're afraid of judgment, and the pain that comes from having God turn his back on you.

"But here we are, sir! It's the end of days. The apocalypse is upon us, now. The signs are showing, the prophecies are unfolding. And now the darkness is being loosed upon the land, right here in Florida of all places!"

"It's not the apocalypse, Glory," the AGENT insists: "It's aliens is all. Giant crabs shooting nuclear poop out of their blowholes. That's it."

"No it isn't!" the Pentecostal shouts, banging his fists on the table: "It's not aliens! It's demons! It's men becoming monsters and the land rising against us! It's creatures from Hell walking among us and calling themselves gods, and our letting them do it!

"It's all these sins, caked on our hearts like filth. And you just shoot at it and threaten it and burn it and arrest it and pretend you're righteous and it's working. And all the while you know, you know, that it's just throwing ice cubes on the fire.

"Steam and spit, AGENT. That's all your best efforts are against prophecy."

"So what were you trying to do, then?" the AGENT asks, leaning forward and tapping the book: "What were you trying to accomplish by turning these people into monsters?"

And over the next few minutes -- between snarling and spitting -- The Pentecostal finally tells the ugly truth.

Thursday: 4/7/16

"I can't !@#$ing believe it," SPYGOD grumbles, leaning back in his chair in the COMPANY transport his secret team has been living out of for the last month or so, and staring at the decrypted information on the screen.

"The Korhogo facility," Gosheven whistles: "I've heard stories about that place. It's bad news."

"What do you mean?" Shining Guardsman asks: "Isn't a superslam usually bad news?"

"Not like this," the shapeshifter goes on, shaking his head: "It's underground, with only one way in and out. It's boobytrapped out the damn ass. And when it went down, in the last days of the Terre Unifee? They just left the prisoners down there to rot."

"!@#$," Swiftfoot mutters: "Of course they'd put him somewhere impossible."

"Well, it's not impossible," Myron says, but even he doesn't really believe it.

"You can't spell impossible without 'possible,' Mr. Freedom offers up: "If we can dream it, then it has already been done."

"Well, hopefully they take new age greeting card slogans at the door," Gosheven snorts. 

"So close, and yet so far," Free Fire says.

"Um," SPYGOD says, coughing into his fist: "Gentlemen, I have an announcement I'd like to make."

"Yes?" Myron asks.

"Next time someone !@#$ing says the word 'impossible' in regards to getting into this place that we've been searching for, all this damn time, and rescuing my fiancee?" the superspy asks, standing up out of his chair and staring down at each member of the team in turn: "They get my !@#$ing fist up their face. And another one up their ass.

"And then? I'm going to !@#$ing breathe fire and rotate your sorry butt around until you're well done. And then I'm going to serve your burned ass for breakfast!

"You all !@#$ing got that?" he shouts.

Everyone nods, and then he sits back down.

"No one said this was going to be !@#$ing easy," he says, steeping his hands before his face and looking at each person in turn: "It certainly hasn't been, so far. We've been fighting !@#$ing space monsters and shoggoth gangsters. And now they're !@#$ing lobbing poop balls at us from Mars, trying to soften us up for the real event.

"My fiancee? The man who says he !@#$ing loves me, and has done everything he can to prove it? He's the best chance we've got to know what we're !@#$ing up against, and how to beat it. He might be the only chance, too.

"So I don't care if this place is boobytrapped, full of dead prisoners, patrolled by those weird-ass black blob !@#$ers, or whatever. We're going to get in. We're going to get him out of there.

"And then, we're going to find out who !@#$ing put him there, and bring them the damn pain..."

* * *

"So what have you got for me?" Josie asks the AGENT who did The Pentecostal's debriefing: "Did you get anything useful out of him?"

"I did, yes, Ma'am," the man says, nodding as he stands at attention in her office: "But it wasn't what he did that was useful."

"I don't follow, AGENT," the Director says, shaking her pink head: "What do you mean?"

"His plan was just a straightforwardly insane scheme to draw attention to what he thinks is the end of the world," the AGENT explains: "Get some Russian bioweaponry, feed it to churchgoers, and then use his hypnosis powers to send them off to cause mayhem. That brings attention, attention brings cameras, cameras get his message out there."

"Really?" Josie says, raising an eyebrow: "That's all there was to it?" Really?"

"Yes, ma'am. The sort of crazy plan you think of on the fly after you've served a couple years of your double-life sentence, your cellmates trust you enough to tell you where they buried the goods, and you manage to get out of prison by accident."

"By accident."

"Yes, ma'am," the AGENT says, raising his wrist to project his pad's signal onto the screen near her desk: "Three days before the incident there was massive breakout from the Charlotte facility in Florida. There was a prisoner transfer going on, and the truck exploded on its way out of the dock."

He shows her footage of the explosion, captured on a guard's phone: "The explosives were powerful enough to crack most of that building, and they were followed up by sniper fire and mortars, along with an electronic attack that rendered their security and surveillance systems inoperable."

The angle on the explosion changes, and the phone drops to the ground. It films a bit longer and then goes black.

"Military work?" Josie surmises.

"It seems so, ma'am. The prisoners in the truck were killed right along with the guards and a number of other people. But in the confusion, about a third of the D-block managed to get out of the building, and half that number again managed to escape from the complex. The Pentecostal was one of them, though they had a hard time confirming that. In fact, they still think he's among the dead, given the damage to his block."

"So if his escape was by accident, then who was the real target?" the Director asks: "And what's the useful thing you were talking about?"

"These people right here," the AGENT says, showing the pictures of a dozen very disturbing looking white men, their skin covered in black, racist tattoos: "The Sons of the Serpent. Nasty Neo-Nazi religious cult, known for worshiping the snake from the Garden of Eden."

"Seriously, AGENT?"

"Yes ma'am. I looked through their literature last night. I feel like I need to bleach my brain."

"So how do we know this?"

"Because, on his way out of the care of the Florida Department of Corrections, Mr. Glory ran right into the seven survivors of the blast," the AGENT explains: "And they were nice enough to not only shield him from the guards, but also hustle his ass into their waiting transport, and then drop him off where he needed to go."

"Were they friends in the D-block?"

"Well, he didn't think so. But he thinks he did a solid for one of their senior members, one time. That might be why they helped him out rather than leaving him in the dust, or just shooting him."

"And on the way out they were all whooping and hollering and congratulating themselves for a job well done?" Josie asks, and makes a sour expression when the AGENT nods: "!@#$sticks."


"Has he said anything else?" Josie asks, getting up behind her desk: "Anything else that might be of use?"

"Well, the leader of the Sons? Terry Busey? He thanked the driver for the rescue, and said something about needing to be in a plane in the next few days. But he clammed up after that, and they all went back to hooping and howling."

Josie considers that, and then nods: "Thank you, AGENT."

"What should I do with The Pentecostal?" he asks: "Send him back? Keep him here?"

"Keep him here, have a word with the Department of Corrections, and see if they can't remand his custody to a mental care facility," she answers: "He needs to pay for his crimes, but I have little doubt he's insane. And having him in with the worst examples of humanity isn't going to help him."

He nods, waits for her to dismiss him, and then marches out of her office -- orders in mind.

Friday: 4/8/16

The infected woman won't stop screaming. That's the worst part of all this.

She's been shot at least fifty times in the last minute, courtesy of the rail guns the Gold Soldier is brandishing. Large chunks of her anatomy have been blasted clear from her body -- her left arm, her right leg, the left side of her rib cage.

And now the top of her skull, trailing black, roiling mush along with it -- the necrotic slop she was hiding under her skin.

But she's still alive, after a fashion. Still twitching, and still warping, as the dark goo sloshing out of her wounds in a never-ending flood reforms her into something new and strange.

Something less human with each heartbeat.

Something that's still !@#$ing screaming...

Antonia Jones-Crisp grimaces and continues to have that unit fire at her, just as she's having the fifty other Gold Soldiers do, all around the cordon surrounding what used to be Miami.

The city is dead, now. In flames. Burning and crumbling.

And all those who remain in there, now, are officially beyond saving.

At first, she didn't want to believe it. She thought her orders had to be a damn mistake. Contain the civilian population? Shoot to kill if they tried to escape? What was this, the Soviet Union?

But then she encountered her first group of victims -- stumbling towards the checkpoint on north Miami beach, claiming they were just fine, and then slithering up to the unit and tearing it to pieces in their massive, black mouths within seconds.

Josie didn't have to reprimand her. Antonia had learned her lesson.

And now she just shoots to kill -- again, as the case may be -- and concentrates on her orders.

It's not easy, soldiering so many units around in her VR tank. Especially not while looking after her and Fred's miracle baby at the same time. But she's got her orders, and she's working from home, and she's the only one who can make this multitasking thing work.

The only one that can make sure that there's still a world left for her beautiful weird baby to grow up in. 

So she kills anything that tries to leave Miami, and wonders how long until someone does the obvious thing to the infected mess the city's become...

* * *

"And the latest numbers from the metro Police department reveal the exiting news that the crime rate here in Detroit have gone down a full 25 percent!" the vacuous-looking brunette on the TV news announces.

She's got more to say, of course -- she always does -- but no one in the crowded bar hears it. They're too busy ducking and covering as someone shoots the place up.

The gun is some weird, ceramic thing attached to a slim backpack. Whatever gets hit by its chittering, white beam turns as brittle as thin, spun glass.

Most objects simply collapse under their own weight. Some hang in there for a while, but eventually begin to crack, and then -- in a second or two -- crash in on themselves, and turn to multicolored flinders all over the floor.

"I got your attention, I think?" the man in a thin man in a white, plain mask asks, holding the gun up: "Unless anyone wants to say something?"

No one does. So he steps back and lets his boss do the talking.

"Evening, gentlemen," Morgue Anna says, tapping her staff on the floor -- each time she does, the lights turn on and then off: "I have it on good authority this bar plays host to the General's troops? Yes?"

The men on the floor all look at one another. They look like dangerous rejects from an NRA convention, and are all strapped for battle.

"I'll take that as a yes," she says, smirking: "Here's the deal, folks. The guns in this town are now mine, and I won't be taking no for an answer on that. So you got two choices. You either work for me, now, or you don't work at all."

"Any questions?" Porcelain asks, looking around.

"I got an answer, faggot," one of the larger men on the floor says, getting up -- his eyes burning with the intensity of the large, ham-fisted, and incredibly dense: "And that's !@#$ you. We work for him. We don't work for no one else. And if you think-"

"Porcelain," Morgue Anna says, and her subordinate grins as he turns his weapon on the man. The white, chittering light strikes him dead center, and he stops talking as his body turns into something a lot more brittle than flesh, bone, and fat.

And then he cracks into pieces, and litters the floor with glasslike shards of red, orange, and white.

"You're working for the lady," the villain says, lifting his gun back up again: "Get up and follow us out. We'll discuss money and orders after you get told what's what."

She grins as they all get up and hustle their asses out the door -- right into the presence of Red Devil, who's ready to make them do what she wants in his own way.

"So, what should we do with the place?" Morgue Anna asks her underling: "Leave it standing? Or make an example?"

"Well..." he starts to say, but realizes she was asking a rhetorical question.

So he grins, kicks his gun into overdrive, and turns the rest of the building into his namesake -- wondering if his colleagues are having as much fun as he is, right now.

And when the fun might actually stop and become work...

* * *

"Well done, my good servant," Helvete says over the phone as Karl reports his success: "I know it must have been hard to find. They did their best to hide it, after what happened."

"It doesn't look like much," Karl says, looking at the old, Soviet-era building his men have secured: "Apart from being a rather brutal example of statism expressed in concrete. All these years later you can still smell the authority."

"The Communists do love their dominating architecture, yes," his boss tells him: "But even what you're seeing is merely a front. The real treasure is well below the building, most likely still buried by several floors of concrete."

"And you're saying we need to have this... Beehive? Is that really what it's called?"

"Oh yes," the pale pyromaniac grins: "It's going to come in very handy when we enact our plan, in a few week's time."

"Very good, " Karl says, rubbing his face -- the burns are itching as they heal: "I'll have the men go in and see how much as to be cleared and fixed up. Is there anything else I can do?"

"You've done it, my good man," Helvete says, looking at the map, and imagining his servant standing before it: "You've earned a night's rest. But tomorrow morning let's see about getting our guests taken care of?"

"Of course," Karl says: "There were some complications, stateside, due to that weird thing that happened in Miami. But I'll see about getting it going."

"Excellent," the pale man says, and then -- after hanging up -- gets ready to call his increasingly-useless meat puppet candidate, and tell him how to screw up his chances of gaining office just that much more.

"Plans within plans..." he chuckles, thinking of his long-dead friends and rivals in ABWEHR.

And wondering what they'd all say if they saw him now. 

Saturday: 4/9/16

At first, Gosheven doesn't say anything.

He blinks a few times, unsure of what he's seeing. Is it a mirage from the long flight from Africa to here?

"Honey?" he asks, almost mouthing the words.

"Asshole?" the woman he's staring at asks, holding her arms out and open for him.

And then, decorum be damned, the shapeshifter runs all the way across the Flier's flight deck and all but jumps into Gail's arms -- crying big tears all the while.

"Oh my god," Myron gasps, following quickly behind his teammate: "Red Queen? Is that you?"

"Yes it is," she says, gasping a little to see him: "Where the !@#$ were you, Underman?"

"Oh, don't call me that," he laughs, joining in the three-person hug.

"Well, don't call me Red Queen," she says, giving him a pat on the back and trying to avoid Gosheven's sloppier kisses: "It's Dragonfly now. Long damn story."

"One she won't let us in on," Hanami says, walking up behind her: "Myron, Gosheven. Nice to see you."

"Likewise," Myron says, shaking her hand. He'd have gone for a hug but she all but shoved her right hand out for him to take.

"Well, Hanami," SPYGOD says, bringing up the rest of his team and looking down at her: "At last we really !@#$ing meet."

"We knew each other before, (REDACTED)," she says, putting her hands behind her back as a sign of respect: "I'm sorry you don't remember."

"I'm sorry I'm having to go off of notes and recordings," the superspy admits: "But let's !@#$ing get together soon and fix all that !@#$, huh?"

"If we have time," the Japanese android says, looking over to the Transport her team was about to take into the field: "Our two teams are probably going to be booked solid for a while. We're heading down to help with the Miami situation. And you're..."

"Triple Black !@#$ You Top Secret," he laughs, winking a blind eye over his round mirror glasses: "Same as always."

"Well, good hunting, sir," she says, saluting, and then brings up the rest of her team. The two groups shake hands, hug, or exchange nods as they go by, depending on how well they know the other people, or how much they like them.

And then, as quickly as it began, the impromptu reunion is over. One team enters the Flier for debriefing. The other departs for a mission.

And no one has any idea when they'll see each other again.

Or if. 

* * *

"We got them," the AGENT in charge of following up on the Sons of the Serpent announces, coming up to Josie and showing her the proof of his investigations: "I swear, these people are !@#$ing morons. They must have wanted to get caught."

"What have you got, Ramirez?" the Director asks, noticing that SPYGOD's on the Flier's deck, but not acknowledging his presence -- yet.

"The week before the breakout, someone made arrangements for twelve men to travel from Miami International Airport," the AGENT goes on: "Completely fictitious people. Stolen ID bought off the black market. A good job, but you'll notice who one of them is..."
"Gary Busey?" Josie says, almost incredulously.

"AKA Terry Busey," Ramirez says: "Now, Miami being in the state it's in, the flight got canceled. But then someone thoughtfully booked them another flight, for seven of them this time, from Southwest Florida International."

"Let me guess," the Director says, holding up a finger when SPYGOD looks like he's going to open his mouth: "The seven men who survived the escape attempt. Including Gary Busey."

"Correct, ma'am," the AGENT says, smiling: "They've got a flight booked for Dusseldorf tomorrow."

"Germany, huh," Josie snorts: "Talk about hitting it right on the damn nose."

"That's one way to put it," Rakim says, coming up and handing Josie the reports from the Brain Computer's latest project: "At AGENT Ramirez's suggestion, I looked into the whereabouts of several prominent and virulent racist leaders, here in America. I found that a number of them have also taken off for Dusseldorf under fictitious names, some of which are clearly... well..."

"Luke Skywalker?" Josie snorts.

"That's David Duke," Rakim says, brushing his long beard: "It gets worse from there."

"Wow, it really is like they wanted to get caught," Ramirez mutters, shaking his head. 

"Alright then," Josie says, nodding and handing the reports back to them: "Well done, both of you. I'll see about having them watched when they land in Germany."

Then the Director coughs, looks up at SPYGOD, and walks over to him, smiling: "Glad you could make it, (REDACTED). Ready for your debriefing?"

"I feel like I already got pantsed," he says, smiling. Her smile falls, for just a second, and he can see that, while she might have gotten the joke, she sure didn't want it.

And over the next hour, as he skillfully lies his way through another lengthy meeting with the Director of the agency he used to run, he wonders how long he can keep this up before he inadvertently gives the game away.

She's not nearly as oblivious as he'd like her to be, after all. 

Sunday: 4/10/16

"Just a little bit more," Antonia says, more to herself than anyone else, as the latest observation drone flies over the center of the city: "A couple more blocks."

"Hey you," she hears someone say within earshot of one of her Gold Soldiers. The unit looks down to see Hanami there, waving just outside the cordon.

"Well hi, stranger," she says, putting the drone feed on the back burner for a moment or two: "When are you going to come down to the creche and say hi to me and the boy?"

"When I get a day off," the Japanese android jokes: "When are you going to get back into the field?"

"That's just it, Hanami. I am in the field," the former Gold Standard chuckles: "My new telepresence multitasking programs let me run up to sixty separate units before I start breaking a sweat. A hundred if I really push it."

"We miss you, though," Hanami says: "American Steel's nice enough, but she's still learning her way around that prototype of yours."

"She'll do fine..." Antonia says, but then breaks off. The drone Hanami's talking to looks right around, towards the center of the ruined city.

They're all looking, now.

"What's wrong?" Hanami asks.

"Oh... that's not good," Antonia says, horrified at what she's seeing...

* * *

"Ma'am?" an AGENT contacts Josie in her office, just as she's taking some very private -- and highly-encrypted -- email.

"Yes, AGENT?" she says, quickly putting the pad's message out of sight.

"We've got some telemetry coming in from Miami. Gold Standard's tagged it infra-red. And it's... well, you need to see this."

"I'm coming," the Director says, quickly taking one last look at the message her mole sent her.


She considers the request, and then types back: GO ALONG FOR NOW. KEEP ME POSTED. 

Then she all but runs for the operations deck to see what has everyone hollering.

And when she does, she immediately calls the President. 

* * *

"I... I just don't know..." the Interim President says to his master, over the phone in the Oval Office: "I mean, I told you what they saw. What they know..."

"I know what you have told me, my good servant," the Mahdi says, seemingly unconcerned: "And I tell you, in turn, that this has been prepared for. Our God, most beneficent, most merciful, has written the end chapter on the book of our lives. Should we dare to not read it?"

"Of course not," he says, shaking his head: "But do we have to just sit here? Wait for inevitable? Can't we try to fight back?"

"Why would you do such a thing?" the strange-sounding man asks: "Paradise beckons, man. Be grateful. And be silent of its details, so that only the righteous will gain a place in the Kingdom."

The Mahdi hangs up at that, leaving his servant breathless, and then crying.

(SPYGOD is listening to Undertow (Pet Shop Boys) and having a Reserve Special Black Ale)

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