Monday, May 2, 2016

Valhallopolis: 4/25/16 - 5/1/16

"All the paper gods in the sky of grey / All the fools in town are ruling today"

(The Aesir, returned)

(Art by Dean Stahl)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 4/25/16

It's early morning, in Moscow, and the pale man gets out of his crowded, warm bed to watch the sun illuminate the Kremlin, across the way.

The hotel isn't the most modern of things, at least by his very exacting standards. But one thing you can say about the Baltschug Kempinski -- other than its absolute discretion, left over from Soviet days gone by -- is that the view is worth every ruble. 

There's a half-drunk glass of cognac by a table near the window. He takes it and sips, letting the heady liquor play with his nose and tongue.

(It smokes, there, ever so slightly. One of the hazards of living in this powerful body. Maybe the next one will be better in that respect.)

Someone shifts on the bed, behind him. One of the many shlyukhami he brought in for the party, last night. The rest are doubtlessly scattered about the many rooms of this extensive suite Odal's been using as their headquarters since they took Moscow.

Their little way of telling the other bratva that this city was now theirs, and they should not dare to think of dislodging them.

Not until they'd done what they'd come to do, anyway...

Once he was Wilhelm Kietel: a founding member of ABWEHR, gifted with exceptional control over others' minds. He still is that man, but now he wears the skin of Helvete -- the notorious Finnish pyrokinetic, still wanted for his role in Le Compagnie.

And so he has become both immortal and more powerful than he ever was before. And in a few days' time, he will become something even more spectacular...

He looks to the morning sun and raises his cognac to it, thinking of the day ahead, and the work to come.

And the Godhood that awaits at the end of the week...

* * *

"... or do you think that's too soon?" Josie asks, looking at the orange-armored android's face as she wonders when to finally expose SPYGOD's perfidy, and clap him in chains.

"I think..." Free Fire says, tapping his chin with his finger as he considers: "I think you should consider putting it off for the near future."

"Why?" the burly, pink-haired clone asks, leaning forward in her office chair and regarding her mole: "We got him cold, Free Fire. He was supposed to be chasing the Mahdi all this time. Instead he's been having you all run around to look for Straffer."

"Which is also important, given what we just went through in Miami," the android points out: "And what happened to the International Space Station before that."

"True, but then he zapped poor Peg and has her dosed and hidden, somewhere on the Flier."

"Actually, no," Free Fire says: "That's what I meant to tell you, yesterday. He's got her enrolled in a nunnery in Winnipeg. Apparently he got one of his fish to block her memories, give her new ones, and sent her off to the last place you'd think to find her."

"Fish?" Josie asks, putting aside the fate of her clone sister for a moment.

"Useful people who owe him a favor or ten," he replies, smiling a little: "Mostly strategic talents, or people who've worked with or around them. How else do you think he's been covering for our movements with the Mahdi while we've been going around in search of Straffer."

"That son of a !@#$," Josie mutters, looking down at her desk screen. From there, she can see the superspy in question -- sitting at the hospital bed of Director Straffer, holding his hand and hoping he comes around soon. 

"Given what he's said about his family's history, that might not be too inaccurate an assessment," he replies: "His grandmother sounds utterly terrifying."

"Yeah, I think he told a story or two about her, once," she says, tapping her fingers on the desk: "You know, you'd think I would have known. I helped him pull off a scam like this before. I should have figured that, sooner or later, he'd turn on me."

"Which is why you continued our arrangement," Free Fire says, smiling: "I'm simply surprised he hasn't figured it out, yet."

"Unless he knows, and this is also part of the plan," Josie says, raising a pink eyebrow: "You have to consider that as well."

"That's... disconcerting," the android says. "Also commendable. Exactly what you'd want in a super spy."

"Yeah, you gotta admire him."

"No," Free Fire says, shaking his head: "You don't. He's everything you warned me about when you sent me to Syria to back him up and observe. He's a braggart, a bully, a tyrant. He flies by the seat of his pants and claims it was the plan all along. He's willing to expend everyone for the mission, so long as he gets through to take the credit, but never the blame.

"And the only saving grace is that he's on our side, or what he imagines is our side. He'll never betray his country, or the world. But he'll burn everything else down to protect it, or the people he loves."

She nods: "But you're saying we do nothing for now?"

"Yes," the android admits: "Because, whether we like it or not? Straffer is the same way. Dedicated, crafty, and wiling to crash everything down just to save the planet. They're two peas in a pod, to use the saying."

"I know. I've worked with him. The man's scary, to put it mildly." 

"And if we throw SPYGOD in jail for his excesses in getting Straffer back, there's a good chance Straffer will either refuse to work until we release him, or find some very underhanded way to break him out and embarrass us, while saving the world at the same time."

Josie looks at him, then at the screen. Straffer must have woken up -- he and SPYGOD are talking, and kissing, ever so gently.

"Well, that's provided he even gets to work at all," Josie says, looking back at the android: "Remember that he was on his way to a long stretch in confinement, after what he did in Pontianak. In fact, I think they were planning on disassembling him, and leaving him in the same kind of sorry, tin can and tinker toy model they gave to Major Harvey."

"Is the UN Space Service Director demanding we give him back, then?"

"How did you guess?" Josie sighs, tapping her pad: "He sends me a message once every six hours, just to remind me we're holding one of his prisoners.  As if I'd actually forgotten."

"May I ask what you've told him?"

"The truth. He's a sick man who needs treatment, and then we need to interview him about what he saw and experienced, down there. Once that's done, they can have him."

"And they'll toss their best chances of our survival into their jail," Free Fire observes: "And then we're... what's the saying? Up the creek?"

"Hell, Free Fire. If we don't have Straffer on our side, we are powdered !@#$ing toast," she grumbles: "I just had a very disheartening conversation with another, higher member of the UN Space Service about their level of preparedness."

"How bad is it?"

"We can repel maybe one more salvo from Mars," Josie says, looking up at her android mole: "And then, that's all she wrote. We'll be crawling with more of those crap crab things."

"At least we have the Lamprey's technology to deal with the aftereffects," he says, shaking his head: "But that's not an ideal situation."

"That's putting it !@#$ing mildly. We're burning down the house to stop people from breaking in and stealing the stereo."

"I like that," he says, nodding: "The allusion, I mean. Not the reality."

"I knew what you meant," Josie smiles: "So the reality is that we have to get Straffer back in the Space Service's good graces so he can save the world. And that means we have to keep SPYGOD under observation, try to rehabilitate him, and not confront him with what he's done until we've got this damn invasion dealt with."

"And then?" the android asks.

"And then... we'll see," the pink-haired Director says.

And the android smiles...

Tuesday: 4/26/16

... as Gosheven does his best imitation of Jay Leno go-go dancing yet, which he thinks is incredibly funny for some reason.

"Alright, alright," Mr. USA says, clearly embarrassed by the spectacle: "I don't think anyone needed to see that."

"Speak for yourself," Myron laughs: "I had to watch that crap for years. This is hysterical."

"Outvoted!" Gosheven says, using Jay's voice, and people laugh some more.

They're all in the Freedom Force's executive lounge, on the Flier's main deck. Everyone's there but Dr. Uncertainty -- who had some things to run past Rakim -- and American Steel, who's helping oversee the last stages of the wall in Miami.

"So," Blastman says, raising a glass: "Swiftfoot."

"Yeah," a few people say, some of whom join him in the glass, and some of whom don't.

"What?" the older hero says, looking around: "Come on, folks. He wasn't the best hero in the world, I'll admit. But still, getting blown up in that raid to get Straffer? You gotta give him that much."

"He did go down fighting," Shining Guardsman says, nodding as the lie they all came up with gets its first inter-team usage: "That's very true."

"Some of us are still sore at him for !@#$ing running out on that fight with with Metal Plague in Buryat," Red Wrecker says, remembering that weird mission all too well.

"Not a lot of us left from that," Mr. USA says, looking around: "God, we've lost many since then. Yanabah, Chinmoku, New Man...."

"Russian Steel," Shining Guardsman says, thinking of his brief time in Syria.

"Whatever happened to Red Storm?" Hanami asks, looking around: "Has anyone heard from her since then?"

No one has, really.

"I guess all I'm saying is that, well, I've known Stephen for a long time," Mr. USA says, looking around again: "Since the War in Europe, Korea. Two teams. And no, he wasn't perfect. He was selfish and stupid. A lot of us were, come to think of it.

"And that's including me," he goes on, looking at Shining Guardsman: "I haven't told too many of you that he and I had a very bad history, together. And a lot of that was on me. I was jealous of the relationship he and SPYGOD had. Envious of their success. And I let that color my actions and my feelings, and, well... I !@#$ed up. Badly. Let's just leave it at that.

"But we don't have to be perfect to be heroes," he says, raising his glass: "We just have to be willing to step up, just once, and run towards the danger, instead of away from it. And as long as I knew him, even when his nerve failed and he ran away? Before long he'd run back. Because he knew it was the right thing to do.

"Because he was a hero."

He leaves his glass raised. One by one, everyone else there joins him.

Even those who know better, by now, but have been sworn to utter secrecy as to the depths of his real treason...

* * *

"... gets paid for very quickly, here," the FAUST Agent says to his superior, over the communicator he's managed to smuggle into the Odal meeting in this old, creaking warehouse along the Moscow River.

"I can imagine," she says: "What is going on there, 78?"

"Well, before I say that, I want an extraction team standing by," he says, looking over his shoulder at the crazy, violent throng in the main area -- (was that a gunshot back there?) -- and then looking back: "I'm very uncertain about my security, here. I don't think these Sons of the Serpent people we're impersonating were held in very high regard to begin with. We're getting a lot of double-takes."

"That might be why our unknown benefactor arranged for us to know about them," she says: "Maybe they were expendable to begin with."

"There's a lot of this that's too damn convenient for my liking," the agent says, wondering if his holouflage suit is starting to show at the edges yet. 

"I'll get a team scrambled soon," she lies: "Tell me what's going on."

"It's crazy, even by these people's standards," 78 goes on, turning to make sure the corner he's talking from isn't under observation. People are making too much noise from out there for him to be easily overheard, but still...

(And yes, that was a gunshot. There went another.)

"Go on."

"Alright. Gods, madame. They want to become gods."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'm not entirely certain how they intend to do this. Something about Soviet magic-tech from the SQUASH days and good timing. But this Saturday they're planning to send some of their people through a portal to... well, I don't know where. And when they come back they'll be gods."

"That's... mon dieu,  78. That's insane."

"I know. And it sounds like a crazy story to keep the troops in line, but they seem to think it's real."

"So what are all you supposed to be doing?"

"That's the crazy thing," he sighs: "There are a number of them that are going to go through the portal, no matter what. Marie Le Pen, that Klansman from America, their mysterious leader. A few other notables we've been looking for since the Terre Unifee scandal.

"But everyone else? Well, you have to fight for the right to go through. Apparently these gods only want the toughest of the tough. So... they're having tryouts."


"Yes. Knots of men and women, fighting for the right to become gods. And if you lose, well..."

Another gunshot. More cheering. 

"Alright," his supervisor says, considering: "I'll have an extraction team shadowing you the entire way. But I need you stay in there, 78. As long as possible. This is as close as we've ever been to these people and I need your eyes on the situation. Understand."

"Yes, madame," he sighs, knowing he's !@#$ed.

"Just... try to avoid volunteering for a contest, alright?" she says, getting ready to call her supervisor in on this, if only to cover her ass...

Wednesday: 4/27/16

".. please, dear Aegio," Syphon says, not liking the black, rotting gash that running up and down her goddess-sister's leg.

"Do you find it unattractive, my dear sister?" the sumptuously large woman asks, her macaws flapping about as she shifts her dress up even higher, revealing a more widespread ruin: "Imagine how I must feel to see this. And be grateful I hide these grotesque scars."

"At least you can hide them, dear sister," Pontus rages from his watery throne, across the chamber: "My love Sheliast has no such luxury. She won't even leave her chamber for fear of our seeing the latest atrocity committed against her."

"An atrocity done because her entire body was in danger of being destroyed by that horrid disease," Seranu reminds them -- striding into the chamber so quickly he takes them all by surprise: "A disease suffered because we have failed to act."

"We have not failed to act, King-Brother," Pontus reminds him: "We have simply refused. And we have done so because our subjects need to learn humility."

"So we all decided," Seranu admits, sitting down on his throne and turning to regard his raging brother, lord of the Oceans and Seas: "But perhaps the lesson is learned. Perhaps the time to withhold our grace is over, and the time to show them why they should love and fear us is at hand."

"We cannot make war upon another world," Noyx observes.

"I will not allow harm to come to any of my children," Rahma thunders, her hair burning just a little brighter at the thought.

"The harm has been done," Seranu says, but holds up a hand before she can protest: "However, your point is taken. War is not called for, here. Merely defensive measures. A wall to hide behind. A shield to blunt their swords."

"You know the folly of not handling this more directly, brother-husband," Kanaan says from her small throne, not far from his own -- knitting endlessly from where she sits: "You can no more expect the Devouring to be deterred from its function than you can expect a dog to not bark at a stranger, or a man to think himself master of his circumstances."

"I also know that to destroy it is folly," Seranu insists, looking towards her with what might be gentle rebuke, or subtle condescension: "Given how much time and craft went into its creation."

"Not that its creator is welcome here, any longer," Soubre notes from his throne of shadows.

"An issue we should resolve before too long, I feel," aged Senchro says: "We are not at our best when so divided. We have the beginning. We also need the end."

"And that's my cue, I suppose," the cantankerous old man says, looking up from what he's been working on, away from the others: "You want me to make new defenses against our brother's ancient handiwork?"

"Perhaps it would be best to present them as aid to our children," Seranu says, looking around the room in the hopes his words create consensus: "If we hand them the means of their own salvation, it will raise them up."

"It will also weaken us," Pontus grumbles.

"It will also give them access to the tools of the gods," Kanaan chuckles: "Any time that has happened, things have gotten out of control."

"That reminds me," Seranu says, clearly ignoring his sister-wife's counsel: "Shining Rahmaa, the toy you took from them when they attacked your new subjects. May we present it to them as a sign of good will? It may go some distance in creating a new accord."

The sun-goddess considers the request for all of two seconds before smiling and saying "No."

"And why not?"

"I have not yet begun to enjoy having it back," she explains: "And I am certain brother Hoosk can create things much more interesting, and less dangerous, for these mortals to use."

The old man looks at her, and shrugs: "That's true. I can. And I will."

"Then we are in accord," Seranu says, not wanting to argue with his star-sister: "I will speak to our children, and convey that we are prepared to aid them in their struggle for survival. And all will be well. 

And he leaves the chamber, as do a few of the others. Some stay to gossip, grouse, and complain.

And some of them wonder where Satanoth has been, these past few weeks...

* * *

... it seems as though the usually-large numbers of Moscow's homeless have shrunk dramatically.

Normally, you can't walk down a street without being accosted for change. Now it's possible to walk several blocks without seeing so much as a single panhandler.

And those beggars are strangely spooked. 

Usually, the shelters and missions are full, to the point that fist fights regularly occur as the destitute brawl over who gets to sleep indoors, tonight. Now, there's room for everyone, and they're all very well behaved.

No one wants to be kicked out into the cold and the dark.

They say there's gangs, out on the streets. Roving bands of hoodlums in panel vans who find the homeless and poor when they're out -- driving slowly past the shelters, restaurant dumpsters, and places where the lowly beg for scraps and coin.

Bastards who screech to a halt, leap from their vehicle, chase the bums down, and then -- after a rough beating -- drag them back to the van, and take them away.

They also say there's new management at certain shelters around town. The ones that the mob used to run as fronts? Well, some new group's taken them over, lately.

And if you go in, you won't be coming back out again.

The authorities do not care -- they have been paid off by the mob. The media does not run stories on this -- they have been warned off by the government.

And any do-gooders who poke their nose into the matter? Well, the van doesn't just stop for the homeless.

All these people, missing and gone. Taken without a trace.

Where do they all go...?

Thursday: 4/28/16

"... !@#$ himself with his own damn !@#$," SPYGOD says, gesturing wildly as he tells the story to Straffer: "Now, of course, he's not happy to hear this."

"I didn't think so," the Director says, still too weak to laugh too much, much less sit up all the way in his Flier hospital bed: "What did he do?"

"Same thing every moron does when you explain that you blew his !@#$ing wonder weapon to pieces while he wasn't looking. Flip the hell out, start monologuing, and look for the nearest !@#$ing exit."

"Which is when you shot him?"

"Well, I mean... hey now, what kind of man do you take me for?" SPYGOD asks, leaning forward in his chair and looking hurt: "I mean, gosh, am I that predictable?"

"Well, yes," Straffer says, winking: "That's why I love you."

SPYGOD smiles, and, quick as he can, leans all the way out of his chair, leans over the bed, and kisses the man -- full and with tongue.

Then he leans back, crosses his legs, and goes on: "Well, just for your information, and this is why the story's so !@#$ing funny? I was actually out of bullets."


"Yes! Can you !@#$ing believe it?" SPYGOD says, slapping his knee: "I don't know how the !@#$ it happened. Maybe I miscounted or something. But I was actually dry-firing, and had no extra clips. Not even a damn grenade. I mean, I was out."

"And there's another joke waiting to tell itself," Straffer says, smiling.

"No, wait... was Nixon in office, then? I might not have spilled the beans, yet."

"Okay," the patient says, noting as a gaggle of nurses go by, trying hard to not listen in and failing miserably: "So what happened?"

"Well, I thought maybe I could bring him in. And then I was considering just !@#$ing tearing his head off, too. And I was weighing the options. Was he worth keeping around? Yes, no? Was he worth the risk to capture alive? Yes, no. You know... the usual math."

"What did you decide?"

"That's just it," SPYGOD says, leaning forward and grinning like a mother!@#$er: "While I'm making up my damn mind, and he's talking to his damn self? The last henchman there, that I somehow missed with all those !@#$ing bullets? He pops up from behind cover, aims his gun, and fires it right at my fine, gay ass..."

"And misses?"

"Hell no. He hits me in the damn junk. But, of course, it's !@#$ing armored. So I go flying the !@#$ back, the bullet flies wild, and it hits King of the World right where his damn crown meets his !@#$ing forehead. Bang!"


"Thump," SPYGOD grins, stomping his foot on the ground.

"And then you shot the henchman?"

"Hell no," the superspy says, shaking his head: "I was writhing on the !@#$ing ground with my balls feeling like they got kicked by a damn roid-raging elephant. That lucky asshole got away, and then showed up again ten years later claiming to be the King of the World's son from the !@#$ing future, or something."

"Well, it was the future. Ten years into it, anyway."

"Yeah, well..." SPYGOD shrugs, and then laughs. They both do, this time.

"I love you," Straffer says.

"I love you," SPYGOD says.

"Want to get in bed with me?"

"Will we both fit?"

"Who !@#$ing cares," Straffer says, throwing the flimsy, white sheet off him: "Just be careful with the sensor wires or the nurses will coming running in."

"!@#$ing let them," SPYGOD chuckles, and dives on in...

* * *

"... to the big question, here," former Secretary Wheeler says, patting his hands together as he leans forward on the well-appointed hotel suite's sofa, smiling like a lion at prey.

"And what would that be, sir?" Jana asks, leaning forward and smiling at the man. 

He looks askance, trying to seem like he's wanting to be disarming, just before being sleazy. She smiles and wishes he'd just come out and say it. 

And all the while, the little piece of herself that still knows this is !@#$ed up -- and that she should not be here -- is screaming for her to just punch this guy in the nuts, kick him in the throat, and run like hell. 

But she can't. The voice of the pale man is still echoing through her head -- reinforced by his calling her every night, just after he's done talking with the Candidate. 

And he will never let her go. 

"Well," he says, looking at her: "Now that our mutual friend has swept the Northeast, his election's all but assured. It's only a matter of days before Carson has his black ass handed to him so hard he'll need to see a surgeon."

He laughs at that, and she joins him -- not wanting to, but not able to resist, either. 

"And when he gets elected, I will be Secretary of State, again. Thanks especially to your charming advocacy on my behalf."

"I simply told the truth, Mr. Secretary," she says, smiling and leaning forward a little: "That's all."

"Well, that truth has set me free, Jana. And I would like to repay you for your kindness."

"It's really not necessary," she says, but allows him to kiss her hand, anyway. 

"Perhaps not, but I think a bright, attractive young lady like yourself has a lot to offer this administration," he says, kissing her between each knuckle, slowly and with some panache: "And while the Evansville Holiday Inn isn't exactly the best place to begin such a partnership, well, that's campaign life."

She smiles at him, and leans forward just as he does, letting him kiss her. His breath smells like rotten onions and battery acid. She lets him lick her teeth with his tongue, anyway. 

"I should..." she says, gesturing to the suite's bathroom. 

He's about to say otherwise, but then the door gets knocked upon. 

"Must be room service," he smiles, raising a finger as he gets up from the sofa: "That'll be the champagne."

"Lovely," Jana says, getting up to head to the bathroom: "And perfect timing."

She goes to the bathroom and closes the door. Maybe she shuts the door a little too hard, unconsciously. Maybe she's just imagining it. 

As she pees, she wants to vomit. As she cleans herself, she wants to run. She wants to tear her hair, weep, and flee. 

But she can't do it. She can't do it.  She has to sleep with this fat, balding pig of a man. Because she's supposed to do whatever the Candidate needs.

Because the pale man said so...

She thinks she hears something weird, outside. But she can't not react to that, properly, either. She gets dressed, cleans her hands, spritzes the nasty, overpriced perfume she's expected to use on her neck and cleavage, and then goes out into the room.

"I should warn you," she says, opening the door: "Champagne tends to go straight to my head..."

"I know," a masked man dressed in black says. 

He's standing over the prone body of Secretary Wheeler. The pig is lying on his back, bleeding from his nose -- clearly alive but knocked unconscious. 

"Who are you?" she says, about to call for help. 

"You know, Jana," the man says, nodding at the space right behind her: "And I'm sorry for this."

And as Jana turns -- just in time to be gently tapped in the right spot by someone who knows a certain, exotic martial arts technique  -- and then falls down unconscious, she realizes that she does know who the man is. 

She just can't bring herself to believe it, right now...

Friday: 4/29/16

"... we shall gladly take all the help we can get," the rail-thin, officious, and newly-appointed Director of the UN Space Service says as he and his many assistants walk down the hallway from his office to the main assembly room: "I do not care about their motives, or their methods. So long as Earth remains free and clear, we shall count our blessings."

"Yes, sir," some of them say in unison. Others merely mouth the words.

"Besides, the sign that they are coming to us, instead of to the Americans, is a good one," the man goes on, putting his hands behind his back somewhat smugly: "Clearly they recognize the worth that a unified world has, in contrast to a single nation, however powerful."

"Yes, sir," more of them say.

Then they're in the main assembly room. There's no one in there, other than their guests -- there were no meetings scheduled for this morning, and they're too cash-strapped to keep the lights on, otherwise.

That's okay, though. Their four guests have brought the light with them -- a tall, beautiful woman with round hair like a burning sun.

"Good morning, sir," Seranu says, floating just before the dais the Director normally speaks from: "I apologize for not giving you much time to assemble your body, here. But we felt it necessary to speak to you as soon as possible, given the seriousness of the matter."

"Of course, yes," the man says, adjusting his mustache and stepping forward to look up at the bearded man he's speaking to: "And I do appreciate that. It just would have better have to addressed the full body. They can be rather contentious."

"So can we," Hoosk grumbles, stepping out from behind the podium, a large briefcase in his hand: "Believe me, you don't want us standing here answering questions. It just gets ugly."

"Not true," Soubre says, stepping from the darkness beyond the light from the halway: "We are merely abrupt when dealing with lesser beings." 

"Brothers Hoosk and Soubre are... correct and blunt, respectively," Seranu chuckles, lowering his height and coming down to just above the ground: "But I think what we have to show you, and to give you, will more than make up for our unconventional presentation."

"What is it?" the Director asks, craning his neck to see as Hoosk opens it up to reveal... a box.

The Olympian takes the box out of the briefcase, and then another box, and another. Soon he's piled up the top of the podium with several boxes -- many more than the briefcase should have contained.

"Are we to stop this invasion with boxes, sir?" the man asks, raising an eyebrow.

"In a way," Hoosk grumbles, putting one of them into his hand. It instantly unfolds into a strange, boxy helmet with a visor: "Try this on for size, mister Director sir. See what the Lords of Olympos have brought you, in their kindness and mercy."

The Director's too busy putting it on to be as insulted as he should be. He fumbles with it, and then gets it situated just right...

And as soon as he does, his eyes get very, very wide behind the visor. He gasps, and puts his hands to his mouth. Shivers, though not in fear.

"What you are seeing is a realtime projection from one of the new platforms we have, just this morning, released into trans-lunar orbit," Seranu explains: "Just one of those platforms has a tenth of the equivalent firepower the platform we made before, the Wonderwall."

"How... how many...?"

"Twenty," Hoosk says, hoping the man doesn't urinate into his fancy, white suit: "They're evenly spaced at all points, to make more of a protective grid than a wall, this time. That should give a little better protection than the last one."

"One more thing," Seranu says: "Unlike the last model, these have been specifically programmed. They cannot fire back at the planet. To try and do so will cause them to be destroyed."

"No more 3/15s," Hoosk chuckles: "Which means you had best have your best shots wearing this helmet, because once they get past the grid, there's no more chances."

"Well, we do have our attack craft," the Director says, looking around at things only the helmet can show him: "Not as many as we should. But still... this is... my God, this is amazing."

"You are most welcome," Seranu says, smiling: "A small gift from us to you, to show you that we are here to help you in all things."

"Yes," the Director says, taking the helmet off and looking for a hand to shake -- any hand: "And... in return? Do you require? I mean..."

"Don't mess this up," Hoosk says, slamming his briefcase shut: "That ought to do for now. I'd put your best person on the project."

"Oh, of course," the Director grins: "Of course! We have many people who will be perfect for the job. You know us. Yes..."

"There is only one man who can be trusted with such a responsibility," Soubre says, crossing his arms: "One of my many facets worked alongside him, some time ago. We faced the Decreator together, hand in hand. He was a natural leader, a force of nature, the last defender upon the hill. And the first person I would want to lead such an effort, given his history."

Seranu looks at his shadowy brother-subject, and then smiles: "Yes, I think Brother Soubre is right. You should put the one known as Straffer in charge of this. I believe he has recently been found alive...?"

And the Director of the UN Space Service chokes, then coughs, then turns red, and then white.

And then, ever so slowly, nods...

* * *

... as they consider what they have all just been told by their leader, here in this darkened conference room.

"Good," Helvete says, leaning back in his well-upholstered chair and sipping at his cognac, looking from person to person: "You see, what is about to happen? It is not merely a change of power level. It is going to be a change of mind, of personality, of perspective. 

"You are not merely going to take on the power of a God. You are going to become that God."

"And... they'll, what exactly?" the high-ranking Klansman asks, leaning forward in his chair and looking around to the others gathered there -- allies and fellow travelers from all over North America and Europe: "Join with our souls? Merge with us? Did I understand that correctly?"

"You did, yes, David," Helvete says, nodding and smiling: "You see, it's not merely enough for these beings to exist within this world. They must be made a part of it. To do that, they must join with someone else who's already here. Otherwise, the danger of their being attacked and overriden is much greater."

"Which is what you're saying happened to these Olympians, back in the day?" the Muslim-hating science-fiction author drawls: "Someone came along and rewrote them?"

"Not just anyone. But yes. And even though there were those amongst them who had joined with a mortal, when it happened to the others she was likewise swept along with the tide."

"Well, then," the Old Man's daughter says, having a sip of the exquisite wine they provided for her: "It seems fairly straightforward. We shall effect a compromise of sorts, with both sides stepping towards the other in mentality and temperament. Like yellow and blue paint mixing together to become green, without losing any of its vibrancy."

"I like that metaphor," the Klansman says, sipping at his cognac: "And I think we're good, if I can speak for all of us here."

"I am kind of curious about something," one of their number says, itching at his neck a little -- maybe his blocky, black tattoos are fresh: "Once we're joined, and we do this thing? How do we, well... end it?"

Everyone looks at the person, and a few of them laugh. A wave of Helvete's hand ends all chatter, though.

"My dear Mr. Busey," he says to the person who won through so many contests to be here: "Perhaps those who adjudicated your victories were not clear. If so, I apologize. But once you make this journey with us, into the lands of the Aesir? There is no coming back, then or later. 

"What the Gods have joined, none -- not even they -- may tear asunder."

"Okay," FAUST Agent 78 says, nodding and sitting back: "That's good. I was just afraid of going that far, having it all, and then having it taken away. It's happened to us White Men too often in America, you know?"

There's some assent to that, and a nod of agreement from the Klansman. 

But something in how the pale man in charge of Odal looks at him, a second later, makes the undercover agent -- who really didn't intend to get this far in his infiltration -- realize that he'd better get that exit strategy working. And soon. 

In fact, he's about two seconds away from realizing the answer's been right in front of his face the entire time when the black-haired, skinny kid with burns on his face comes into the room, leans over Helvete, and tells him something. 

Something that makes the pale man's eyes burst into angry flames...

Saturday: 4/30/16

... coming out of the top of the man's head as he reaches out to take Straffer's hand -- in full view of Josie, Hanami, and SPYGOD.

"You do understand that this in no way acts as an abrogation of our... misgivings in regards to your recent actions," the Director of the Space Service says, shivering a little as he shakes hands with the wheelchair-bound man in the early light of the morning. 

"If you mean to say you're not sorry about locking me up for doing my job, I figured that," Straffer says, clasping the man's hand with his other, and looking him right up in the eyes: "And while I regret the loss of life and property damage that came from that decision? It was the right one. And I'd do it again."

"Yes, well..." the Director says, still shaking his hand: "There we are, I suppose. There we are."

"Blah blah !@#$ing blah," SPYGOD mutters from his place, over by the door of Straffer's hospital room: "You should have given him a goddamn medal, mother!@#$er."

"I beg your pardon?" the Director gasps, looking between him and Josie, who's been standing by the door this entire time.

"I can't entirely disagree, sir," the COMPANY Director says, her hands behind her back as she smiles, ever so slightly: "The medal, I mean."

"Well, I never," the man says, releasing Straffer's hand: "I realize that things may be a little... strained between our two organizations, but-"

"Sir, we cleaned up your mess," Hanami says: "Miami? The rot in the Atlantic? That was us."

"And if you mess up again, we'll be the ones who do it, again," Josie adds: "Provided we survive the experience."

"So you'll excuse us all if we're not all !@#$ing feeling the love right now," SPYGOD says.

"In other words, sir, we're all standing on shaky ground with one another," Straffer says, standing up from his chair -- weak legs or not: "But the planet's defenses come first. So in spite of what's gone before, and however we might feel about one another? We need to table that and go forward. Agreed?"

He looks to each person in turn -- even SPYGOD. Something about the steel in his eyes makes it impossible to disagree with him.

And so, however reluctantly, they do...

* * *

... what they're told, in regards to the "lesser people" their associates have been collecting in for the last couple weeks.

The Beehive is a massive, domed, concrete room -- one created in such a way that all sound within it is collected and amplified. Even the slightest of whispers sounds like a shout, and melds with all other noises within the center. The resulting buzz sounds like the endless, even droning of winged insects in their paper nests.

Hence its name.

The noise was bad enough when the place was being repaired -- patches being fixed in the cracked and broken roof, and then smoothed out perfectly. It became worse still when the crews came in to replace the ancient, Soviet-era computers and electronics with shining, new ones.

And now that they're bringing in the people, the noise is just awful.

They're weeping and afraid, the lot of them. Drugged out of their skulls on old, Russian pacification drugs, maybe, but still aware of their situation enough to be terrified.

Because no one who gets abducted, beaten, starved, stripped, and fitted with some weird box on the back of their skulls for a good reason.

The Odal grunts are being instructed to take the people off the vans, bring them down the hallways, past the black door, and then haul them to some position relative to the large dais in the center of the domed room. There's some kind of pattern being formed, but no one can really make it out because it's only visible from up high.

Not that anyone really wants to see it. Much like the weird things being written on the walls: words of power scrawled in ancient alphabets by the weird Nekronaut fellow, as he gambols around the Beehive -- face painted like a skull, hands brandishing long lengths of white chalk.

He seems to be the only one enjoying this. And it may be because he's the only one who will walk away clean...

* * *

"... from what can only be described as a massive scandal, unfolding here, this morning. 

"About twenty minutes ago, a live signal was broadcast into every major television network news around the world. Here in America, that consisted of ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and we here at FOX. 

"That signal appears to show former Secretary of Defense Wheeler. As you can see, he's reading from a statement, and appears to be doing so in a public location. We think that's the Holiday Inn in Evansville, Indiana. He appears to be groggy and very tired, and may have been drugged. He may have also been beaten, given the blood on his shirt and his appearance. 

"But what he's said so far is nothing short of astounding. He's claiming he was behind the attack on Toon Town. He hired the people to do it, made sure they were equipped with state-of-the-art arms and equipment, and arranged for their evacuation. Their orders were to destroy as much property, and kill as many Toons as possible.

"But he has just said that this was done to target missing Outlaw Reporter Randolph Scott. Their orders were to destroy his studio, and to kill both him and as many of his news team as possible. Obviously, they failed, but... wait, let's go live with this. Can we go live?

"'...Candidate is the one who asked me to do this for him. He and I both had an axe to grind against Randolph Scott for his reporting, and he thought that getting him out of the way would stop that. But then, he had an ace up his sleeve, too. The young lady who's been talking on his behalf, Jana Scott, has been brainwashed and forced to lie about her father's activities.

"'And that's just the tip of the iceberg-"


"What? What's happening. Oh my god, he's been shot. The former Secretary of Defense has been shot by... someone's fleeing. Not sure, but it looked like a security guard...

"Yes, we can confirm that Secretary Wheeler has been shot. People there are saying he was shot in the back of the head. 

"We're trying to raise our correspondent there. We can't get through at this time.

"My God. What a statement. If this is true, what does this mean for..."

* * *

"... tonight?" Karl asks as Helvete puts the final touches on his clothes.

"Absolutely nothing," the pale man says, making certain his tie is just right: "He was never going to become President. He was only ever there to be killed at a time of my choosing, in a manner that suits my needs. This merely hastens the timetable."

"So the team you've had following him...?"

"Not just yet," Helvete says, turning to look at Karl -- his black lips curled into a cruel smile: "Let us pluck as many feathers as we can from this cock before we cook it. He needs to give a few more speeches, in which he shall decry the racial situation in his country for the powderkeg it is. He must blame the Muslims, the Hispanics, and the Blacks..."

"Homosexuals?" Karl asks, following him into the next room.

"No, I don't think that will be necessary," Helvete says: "A man's sexual exploits harm no one. But one's race is as certain a sign of destiny as any. And when our white hope is killed by some mongrel, well..."

He smiles, and regards the others -- all pressed neat and clean, and ready to meet (and become) Gods.

"Let us just say our message will have much more urgency, shall we?" the pale man grins, waving to...

* * *

"... another damn storm of those black balls," Straffer explains, trying to fit himself into his old uniform as best as he can: "They need me in Neo York City as soon as possible."

"I'm coming with you," SPYGOD says, getting out of the hospital bed they've essentially turned into their bed.

"No," Straffer says, looking at him rather intently: "(REDACTED), I love you. And I know you want to help. But this is my fight, and my war. If I lean on you now, I won't ever stop..."

"And that'll !@#$# up your authority to no end," the superspy nods, sitting back down on the bed: "I see what you mean."

"Thanks," the newly-appointed Campaign Director of the Space Service says, smiling: "Besides, you got a weird menace to catch, too. Don't you?" 

"Don't !@#$ing remind me," SPYGOD sighs: "But yeah. And I wouldn't ask you for a shoulder for his sorry ass, either."

"Exactly," Straffer says: "But... I wouldn't say no to you helping me with these damn boots."

And SPYGOD smiles, and...

* * *

... the masses that have assembled to see their new gods-to-be off, into the next world, all cheer as one.

The angry and the impotent. The hideous and the broken. The hateful, the spiteful, the fearful. 

The doomed. 

They stand there in masses, making the Odal salute as, one by one, the luminaries that the group has gathered to this strange place, here in Moscow, walk down the long corridor from the entrance to the black door, and then into glory. 

They shout their compliance, their obedience. They beg to be remembered, to be given special powers. They claim they will wait on these beings hand and foot, and kill without hesitation at their slightest command. 

Their eyes are blank with fury and adulation. Their minds are gray slates, waiting to be written upon. 

Their souls are wastelands, waiting for some higher presence to fill them up. 

One by one, the objects of their utter affection are marched by them. Brave men and women, ready to be flung into the strange spaces between worlds where the old gods dwell, waiting for their children to come back into their good graces. 

Waiting for the world to have come back around to them

And as they walk by, one of them -- still chafing under the holographic camouflage that no one's managed to see, yet -- wonders at what point he can risk breaking away, contacting his superior, and putting an end to all of this.

Agent 78 could have done this at any point. But somehow it all seemed too risky. There was never no one around. Never a quiet moment for him to change and run. Never a convenient second to call in an air strike. 

Just the quick, certain march from mortality to godhood -- sweeping him up along with it and not letting him go, even for a second. 

And at some point -- maybe as they march him to his section of the dome, stand him against the wall, and have him prepare to read certain arcane words -- he thinks that, if he goes through with this, he'll be in a better position to stop it. 

But as soon as the ceremony begins, thirty seconds to midnight, and the white noise machine blares, and he begins to read his words, and the poor people of Moscow begin to die, he realizes that it's just too damn late for any of that now. 

Too damn late to...

Sunday: 5/1/16

"... be serious," Tombo says, looking down at Moscow as something goes horribly wrong, right around Midnight, their time.

"What's up?" the newest member of the All Dead Rock Band asks.

"I think someone just did something really !@#$ing stupid down there," the redhead says, grabbing her cloak off the wall and getting ready to go.

"Girl, you got a filthy mouth," he tsks, getting ready to go shred his purple guitar again.

"Just wait 'till I find out who just wrecked reality, again," she says, a cloud of glowing dragonflies surrounding her as she leaves this part of the Afterlife: "They're gonna hear some really choice ones..."

* * *

"... have come to rejoin us," Seranu announces to the others. 

None of them seem very pleased at this notion. In fact, some of them look rather scared. 

"Sister-wife Kanaan," the lord of the Olympians says, looking to his wife: "Does this augur well?"

She looks up at him. Everyone gasps. 

Her needles have been plunged into her eyes, and not by her own hand.

And then...

* * *

... every psychic talent in and around the Moscow area screams and falls down, unable to get the sound of a long, loud horn out of their head. 

... the massive cemeteries and burial grounds for hundreds of miles around the great city shiver and shake, as their occupants find themselves awake once again.

... fate and destiny become frayed at the edges, and those who had no luck find it in abundance, while those who had coasted too long on good fortune suddenly land on their backsides. 

 * * *

.. and in a domed, concrete room soaked in the blood of the undermen, the Aesir open their eyes in their new bodies, raise their weapons, and shout -- loud and long. 

And their followers cry out to be led.

(SPYGOD is listening to Paper Gods (Duran Duran) and having an Aesir Mead

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