Monday, May 9, 2016

Valhallopolis: 5/2/16 - 5/8/16

"Destiny Turned Her Face / Nightmares and Violent Shapes"

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

The sucking sound is what disturbs her the most, oddly enough. 

Moscow's as dingy as it ever is, here in the grey lands -- hazy and indistinct surfaces painted red by its ever-setting sun. Signs whose words slither and flow, underwater sounds from far away, smells that range from merely foul to truly nauseating. Only the glittering riots of color that mark the souls of the living bring any variety here.,

That and the occasional lost spirit, too weighed-down by the world to leave it for what lies beyond. 

The dead aren't here, usually. This is only a jumping-off point -- the buffer zone between levels of reality, keeping all that lies beyond it from bleeding through should a tear occur. A loophole exploited by magicians, travelers, truth-seekers, and those intent on hiding from what lies beyond. 

So when she sees that Moscow has developed a soulwind -- a cyclone that pulls the dead from their many afterlives -- she is both concerned and surprised. 

She's even more concerned when she sees that the storm is hurling those souls back into their dead bodies, on the other side of the barrier. Something that should not be happening under any circumstances.

And when she sees who is responsible for the storm, the screaming, and that awful, water-go-down-the-hole racket, Tombo becomes as livid as she's ever been. 

"!@#$ing half-rotten death-goddess !@#$," she mutters as she puts the hood of her purple cloak up, takes her tall staff in both hands, and -- summoning her cloud of glowing, eponymous dragonflies about her -- flies off to deal with...

Monday: 5/2/16

... strange news coming in from Moscow this morning. Stories of people being attacked by slow-moving mobs of zombie cosplayers in the wee hours of the evening. According to witnesses, they were dressed like Vikings and brandished swords and axes. Moscow authorities are dismissing this as a prank, and saying it's not worth their...

"Attention!" someone shouts at the door of the defense center as Campaign Director Straffer wheels in, looking like ten miles of bad road and a damn ugly attitude.

He needn't have said a word. Everyone behind the 20 stations in the large, circular room snapped up out of their chairs like jack-in-the-boxes the moment his wheelchair hit the door. Every right hand a salute, every left holding the boxy, new helmets they've had less than a week to try out.

"At ease," Straffer says, wheeling himself up to the center of the room -- a dais from which the controller is supposed to sit, observe, and handle strategy.

!@#$ that. He gestures to the most nervous-looking person in the room and indicates, as gently as possible, that he should hand over the helmet he can barely hold for shaking. The Specialist nods, hands it over, and -- gratefully, it seems -- leaves the room.

"By now you know what's going on," Straffer says, turning his chair about as best as he can to get eyes on everyone there, in turn: "We've got another Eight Ball situation on our hands. This may be the worst yet. They're counting into the hundreds, rather than the dozens. And we've lost a lot of time on confirmation and trajectory.

"This will get better. This must get better. But that's not your concern, right now.

"Right now, at this minute? Our number one concern is using this new defense grid to stop these things before they get to the L2 point, at which point we can't fire at them anymore.

"No joking, ladies and gentlemen. Once they pass Lunar orbit, we cannot target them. At that point they become the problem of the attack fighters.

"And there's not a lot of them left..."

* * *

Robert. D. Wilson wakes up to the sound of someone kicking in the door of his small, hitherto-effective hideout, and realizes the jig is well and truly up.

He's known this moment was coming, of course. As soon as that jowly asshole Wheeler spilled the beans on live television -- telling everyone that he was behind the raid on Toon Town -- Robert knew it was only a matter of time before the Feds came for him, too. 

He knew that running would get him caught that much faster. And he wasn't going to go out in a blaze of glory, either. So he did what any sensible Merc with a good sense of preparedness would do: head for his Northwoods shelter, hunker the hell down, and make ready for it to all blow over. 

(It had to, eventually, didn't it? They were just Toons. Who cared about them?)

But as the days went on, and he heard more and more about his fellow wetworkers getting caught, he knew even this secret location would be compromised, eventually. Sooner or later this moment would come, and he'd have to flee. 

Robert was prepared for that, too, of course.

As soon as the door flies off its hinges he's scurrying out the secret side exit to his tiny bedroom -- counting down the seconds before the explosives he tied to the door every night go off on his invaders. Out back is a small cache of guns, gear, and money that should get him over the border. 

And once there, he's got friends, allies, and contacts -- everything he needs to disappear again.  

So, of course, he doesn't make it that far.

He's within two feet of his camouflaged rucksack when the front door explosion goes off. A second later he affords himself a small grin, wondering how many FeeBees he just killed (and wondering why he hasn't heard any panicked screams).

But a second after that he takes the sack in his hand, and it does him the disservice of blowing the !@#$ up.

The explosion tears his right hand off and burns his face fairly severely. It also flings his sorry ass thirty feet into the air -- dropping him halfway up a tree. 

"Good idea to boobytrap that bag," he hears them laugh as they stomp through the darkness to find his sorry, burned, and broken behind -- crucified up against a majestic pine.

And for the love of God, he just will not die, thus ensuring two to three more of his fellow mercs will be getting raided within the week...

* * *

"Now, the good news is that each of the platforms you will be remote piloting through these helmets is stacked with weapons," Straffer goes on, holding up his helmet: "You have two particle cannons, each the equal of one of the old ones we had on Deep Ten. They can make it all the way to Jupiter in one minute. They also take a full minute to recharge.

"You have ten missile banks, capable of firing ten long range atomic missiles. They can make it halfway to Mars in less than a month, in case you're wondering how fast they are. They also take a minute to be remade.

"And you have twenty lasers, ten long range, ten short range. They're great things, really.

"But here's the deal," Straffer goes on -- ceasing in his turning to make the point: "Anyone here ever play Asteroids? The coin-op game? Okay, a couple of you've probably played it on your home gaming systems.

"Well, this is like that. You hit a big one? It breaks into smaller pieces.

"Now, each of those balls has one of those giant, ecosystem-destroying crabs in it. We don't want those getting onto the planet. You saw what happened in Miami. We don't need that happening in DC, Chicago, or anywhere else.

"But we don't want any of the pieces falling onto the world, either. That's what happened to Mars, folks. All the debris from the Decreator fell out of the damn sky, hit their world, and started turning it into hell.

"And once it's on the ground, you have to do some really drastic stuff to get rid of it.

"That's why there's a giant, pink gash in the Atlantic. That's why we won't be swimming on the East coast for a decade or so, much less fishing. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. Food shortages are going to be a problem. And we've screwed up our ecosystem in ways we can't even imagine, now.

"But that is not going to happen," he says, firm as he can: "Not again. Not on our watch. Do you all understand me?"

The 'Yes, sir,' is deafening, but defiant rather than afraid.


* * *

"Look, we have to address this," the Campaign Manager is saying to her underlings, all trapped in a war room that's become rather small: "That fat pig Wheeler may have been crazy, and talking !@#$, but everyone heard it. The accusation is out in the air, and we have to contain it, somehow. I want ideas, and I want them now."

Everyone looks at her, and then at each other. No one says anything.

"Come on, folks," she sighs, holding the day's New York Times to her chest, along with its damning headline: "This is a no brainer."

"Then why aren't we running with what you just said?" one of the more bold interns asks: "Wheeler was crazy and talking !@#$."

"Because everyone !@#$ing says that," she snaps: "We have to do better."

"Look, no one knows where he was for a day or so, right?" another offers: "Maybe he got jacked on some weird stuff and was hallucinating?"

"That'll last until the toxicology comes back," the bold one sighs: "I bet it'll be clean, except for maybe booze and the kind of pills that don't cause you to imagine being involved in a hate crime."

"An act of terrorism," someone else corrects.

"A terrorist hate crime, then," the bold one says: "Whatever. They're just Toons."

"Then we go with crazy," the director sighs: "Pressures caused him to snap. Lingering problems left over from the lies told about him. That kind of thing, boring as it is?"

"It'd work fine if you didn't actually know him," another person offers up: "He was happy as a pig in crap. He was going to ride our employer's coattails all the way into the White House, again. He was even putting moves on that Jana girl."

"That reminds me," the bold one asks, looking around and then at the campaign manager: "Do we have any idea where the hell she is?"

No one does, really. And once the Campaign Manager starts talking again -- outlining plans and strategies for dealing with this, going into Indiana -- they all forget about her, once more. 

* * *

"So here's the way this is going to work," he says, wheeling up to the center of his dais and looking around at all the stations: "We're all on for 24 hours. We've got two teams ready to relieve us after that.

"Those of you to my left? You're the day side. All nine of you. You'll work until it's night, and then you'll be allowed to rest at your station, but be ready to jump it at any time if someone's having problems.

"Those of you to the right? You nine are the night. You are on watch. You can sleep if you can, you can relax if you can. But you be ready to jump in at any time.

"You feel yourself flagging? Getting a headache? Missing? Raise your damn hand right then and there so you can be replaced. There is no shame in this. In fact, I demand it. Understood?"

"Yes, sir!" comes the reply. 

"And you, directly across from me? You're the south pole. I've got a special job for you, so hold on."

He puts his helmet on. Everyone else does the same. Some gasp at what they see, others have logged enough test time to know what it all means.

"Okay, folks. Hold it together. The helmets are thought sensitive. Think where you want to look, and how far? It'll show you. Think what you want to aim? It'll do it. And it'll fire, too, if you're not careful, so hold on."

He gives them a minute or two to familiarize themselves with it -- to walk among the stars, more intimately than they've ever done before -- and then breaks in.

"Alright, that's enough time. Now, day side and night side? Here's the deal. We cannot allow any of that black crud to hit the planet.

"Now, missiles will scatter it, and lasers can blast small pieces. But that's time consuming and inefficient. I don't want you missing the forest for the trees.

"So what we really want are the particle cannons. They're powerful enough to completely obliterate a ball, wide enough to not have any leftovers, and they'll zap several of them at once if you can line up a good shot. They're also far enough that we can start zapping them now, rather than waiting for them to get too damn close for comfort.

"South Pole? You got good eyes?"

"Yes, sir," the Specialist says, no fear at all in her voice.

"Good. I want your eyes on Mars, Specialist. I want you to see if you can see where they're launching those things from. And I want you to use your cannons and take them out, if you can. If not, try to blow them up in their atmosphere. Let's make a mess on their doorstep for a change."

There's some laughter at that, and he lets it die out on its own. He even cracks a smile.

"Me? I'm on overwatch. If you lose control over your targets? You let me handle it. I'll be taking point.

"And if any get through... that's on me.  Not you. So don't worry about being blamed or disciplined for doing your job as best as you can.

"I mean, hell. I'm still supposed to be in jail, right now. What's the worst Director Broussard can do to me?"

There's no laughter at that, but he knows he's won them over, now. He can rely on them to do their best, and be fearless. And they can rely on him to catch them if they fall.

With that understanding to prop up their spirits, they sit down at their stations. The day side looks towards the once-red planet -- now black with a hideous, planet-eating disease from beyond the aeons.

And, as a team, they aim their new weapons at the things it's sent to infect the Earth, and begin the long, slow process of killing them all in transit...

Tuesday: 5/3/16

... officials in the Moscow subway have reported slowdowns throughout the city. Apparently there are severe underground power outages everywhere, causing entire lines to go dead. No one is certain what is causing this, at this time, but the Transit Authority is asking that all citizens stay above ground for time being. Within a day or so, everything should be...

"... alright, alright, alright!" SPYGOD shouts, all but kicking down the door of his secret clubhouse, deep in the bowels of the Flier: "Everyone ready to !@#$ing earn their keep?"

"What you got, boss?" Myron asks, leaping out of his chair to avoid being spun around. SPYGOD's in a mood, today, clearly.

"We just got intel back on the President's phone," the superspy says, looking around the room: "The signal was bounced around like a greenhorn on the dance floor, like you'd !@#$ing expect. But Rakim was able to narrow the location down to a radius of about fifty goddamn klicks."

He strides over to the table they're all sitting at, turns on the map, and zeroes in on the Middle East. 

Then Syria. 

"You have to be flipping kidding me," Shining Guardsman says, almost falling out of his chair: "We were just there!"

"Yes," SPYGOD says, nodding: "And stupid !@#$ing me, I should have figured. Plain sight and all that !@#$."

Mr. Freedom's about to open his mouth, and then SPYGOD snaps his fingers in his direction: "Not today, please. I had all the !@#$ing puzzles I can stand."

"So what is our plan?" Free Fire asks, putting his orange hands together -- steepling them before his face. 

"We get on the ground, we look for what isn't  there," SPYGOD says, looking around the table: "And as soon as we don't find it? We blow the living !@#$ing !@#$ out of the evil mother!@#$er until the desert is glass, and the glass is !@#$ing powder, and the powder turns back into !@#$ing glass again.

"No mercy. No restraint. No chance."

And everyone in the room nods at that simple, brutal logic.

* * *

"You know, you could be happy about this," the Candidate's campaign manager says, shrugging her shoulders as she addresses his closed hotel door: "You're polling amazingly well in the exits. You've probably got Indiana in the damn bag. And they're totally swallowing the story we spread about Wheeler."

There's only silence, though. For all she knows he's hanging himself on the other side, which would be awful for her. But not entirely surprising, given how weird he's been since last week.

He doesn't want to talk to his wife or kids, anymore. He hasn't been talking to reporters, either. He's just been giving speeches, shaking hands with his followers and fans, and then vanishing into his room.

She blames the disappearance of that Jana girl, the same night that fat oaf who used to be the Secretary of Defense got shot. The little minx didn't do more than pretty up the place, once the novelty of having her rubbish that Randolph Scott person's scandalous reportage wore off.

Still, he liked her. And she didn't know why he liked her.

So she raps on the door once more: "I'll arrange for the usual meet the press thing? Once you've won, I mean. Be ready to face the wolves, okay?"

She hears something that might be agreement. And then she shakes her head and goes on down the hall, wondering what's going on in his large head...

Wednesday: 5/4/16

... impaled on a pike outside the central Police Station in Moscow, this morning. The Chief of Police was last seen leading a group of police specialists, called out to deal with increasing reports of people being assaulted by costumed individuals late at night in the outlying areas of the city. Hospitals have been filling up with their victims, who are now saying their attackers shrugged off all but the most grievous bodily damage, as though they were dead. City officials are still blaming the Russian Mob for the goings-on, given the recent violence that erupted in that city, with the Mayor reportedly saying 'Zombies? Give me...

"...a break?"

Straffer looks up, over his helmet's visor, at whoever's speaking to him. He swallows, coughs, and then shakes his head: "I'm fine, Specialist. Really."

"Are you sure, sir?" she presses: "Any of us would be glad to take the pole for you, if you need a break."

He sighs, and looks at her, and smiles weakly: "It's Greer, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," she says: "I didn't know you knew our names."

"Not much time for introductions, was there?" he says: "Had to get right to it, didn't we?"

And yes, they did.

No sooner did he introduce the battle plan to his 19 platform pilots than they realized just how close the swarm of black, necrotic balls was uncomfortably close to lunar orbit. Which meant they had to put the plan into action immediately, without any chance to practice.

And no room for error.

Thankfully, Director Broussard had done the right thing, here: he'd picked the right people for the job (mostly) and gotten them scared as !@#$ of screwing up. All Straffer had to do was aim them in the right direction, give them an idea of what to do, and tell them he'd take responsibility for any mistakes.

They did the rest -- and they did it damned well.

It had been almost 72 hours since they'd started shooting at the seemingly-endless stream of horror the charnel house formerly known as Mars was throwing their way. Nothing had gotten through. And even though there had been some close calls, which Straffer took care of, as promised, they weren't so serious that he wanted to rip anyone's head off.

But the stress was starting to show.

The helmets required willpower to use. After an hour it felt like a mild headache. After three it felt like a migraine. And after six, it was like a concussion mixed with eating ice cream too fast.

Thankfully, Broussard also had two more teams ready to step in, and they'd been monitoring the situation. But it took them a while to get into the flow of things, and it was a rare thing for someone to drop out -- and someone else to take over -- in an actual lull. This led to a few scary moments when human failure looked like it might cause a catastrophe.

But they pulled through, somehow. Every time, they pulled through.

There was, however, a sobering realization, courtesy of the Specialists who took charge of the South Pole platform. They had been tasked to look for firing mechanisms on the surface of Mars, and blow them apart.

But after days of observations -- and the joy of shooting the balls down before they even left what remained of Mars' atmosphere -- they came to the sad conclusion that there were no launching mechanisms, at least not as they could be understood.

The soup of black goo that had become the surface of the planet was being used to whip the balls out of orbit, in such a way that they would collide with Earth. And there was no way even a constant bombardment of particle beams could stop that.

All they could do was deal with the end result of the process -- a near-constant swarm of evil, rushing towards them in a stream of black spheres.

It had been three days. Mars had not run out of projectiles, yes. And while the team's members flagged and fell, and had to be replaced in mid-salvo, they were still standing.

Earth was still protected. 

"I've been at this for three days, Specialist," Straffer says, smiling: "What's another one?"

And then the alarm sounds, as the proximity alarm reveals the latest grouping is getting too close for the computer's liking.

And it's time to go back to war.

* * *

"Wait, what?" Blastman says as the Freedom Force gets hustled into a waiting transport, parked on the Flier's top deck: "Who? Where?"

"Well, where's easy enough," Hanami says: "The Sojourner Truth high school in Louisville, Kentucky. Hostage situation with enhanced actors. They're claiming to be striking a blow for the white race."

"You got to be !@#$ing kidding me," Red Wrecker mutters: "Who the hell is this?"

"We're not sure, yet," their leader goes on as they enter the vehicle: "Some splinter group from the Hyper-Klan, they think. They're claiming solidarity with some group called the Aesir."

"The Aesir?" Dr. Uncertainty asks -- his voice an electronic muddle behind the hypnotic spiral of his mask: "That's the Norse gods, isn't it?"

"It is, yes," Mr. USA says, sitting down in his chair: "I met Thor once, back in the day. Interesting fellow."

"Wasn't he one of those damn supernazis?" Blastman asks, plopping down next to the older hero.

"No, that was Heimdall," USA chuckles: "And I never met him. I think SPYGOD did, once, though that was a damn strange story."

"So what, is Thor back?" Red Wrecker says, scratching her scalp. Maybe she shouldn't have buzzed her hair that short, after all. 

"I doubt it," American Steel says, grabbing hold of a handrail -- her armor's too big to let her sit down: "He vanished after the war. He said something about coming back when needed, though."

"Yeah, Gods do that a lot," Blastman grumbles: "Anyone heard from the White City, lately? They were everywhere last week, telling us about the new defense platforms they've got past the Moon. And now, nothing. Kind of weird."

"Any ideas, Dragonfly?" Mr USA asks, looking at their former assassin -- who thought she slunk in without anyone seeing her: "You were working with them for a time, after all."

"No damn idea," she says, which isn't entirely true. But she's in no real mood to elaborate.

She just had a very surreal half-conversation with Tombo, on her way down here. The sort of odd discussion where it was clear she was experiencing the end at the beginning, and missed a lot of the context as a result.

And she's not sure she's going to like it when she realizes exactly what the short redhead -- who saved her ass from a second, more permanent death -- was trying to tell her, back there.

Something bad is going on, out in the world. And if it's bad enough to knock her for a loop, it's anyone's guess what it'll do for the Freedom Force...

Thursday: 5/5/16

...d to admit they have a serious problem, this morning. The subways are full of beings that act as though dead, and attack and kill anyone who gets too close. They are impervious to bullets, tasers, and stun batons. And the Moscow police now believe that it is these beings who have been attacking people above ground, late at night. FAUST has offered to send in reinforcements to help with the problem, but Russian officials say that it's an internal matter, and they can deal with this...
".. strange thing," the pale-skinned, black-lipped god says, regarding the large glass jar of pills in the wooden cabinet: "To think that a man's mind lies within these things."

"It's... kind of complicated," Karl says, still not sure when he should address this being, and when he should remain silent.

(Fresh burns on his face and hands can attest to his mistakes, and this being's impressive temper.)

"Is it truly?" the pale god asks, turning to regard his servant, and then taking one of the pills out: "I am certain the magic is not beyond our understanding, Karl Josephson."

"He left the formula with me. He left everything with me. I've-"

The god scowls and hurls a fireball at Karl's feet. He just barely skitters away.

"Are you truly so dense, or is this yet another foolish ruse?" he demands: "Know this, Josephson. I am the he you speak of. I am he, and I am Ve. You would do well to act as though you can remember this, if you value your life."

"I'm sorry," Karl says, holding up his hands: "I am. It's just that... well, the person you're part of, now? Wilhelm Keitel? When Helvete started taking those pills. he stopped being himself, and the pills made him Keitel. So I'm still used to thinking of this like that, and not.. well, this."

The pale god raises an eyebrow, and then lowers it. He purses his black lips, and then nods: "Then I understand your confusion. But I will tolerate it no longer, my servant. You are dealing with a new kind of magic, here. If you would be useful to me, you will come to understand it, just as you should understand all other things."

"I will," Karl says, not sure if he's still feeling the same kind of mind control from this newly-created, composite being: "I do understand. I just misspeak, sometimes. It's a habit. I will break it."

"Be certain you do," he says, looking to the map of Moscow on the wall: "We have much work ahead of us, Josephson. Today, with the warriors Hel has raised from the dead, we hold this city. Soon we shall take this land. And beyond that, the lands surrounding. 

"And then..." he says, tracing a line with his finger to the map of the world, nearby, and poking it on Mexicali, in northwestern Mexico: "The world entire."

His finger smokes, burning a perfectly round hole in the map. He smiles -- full and black.

And Karl realizes he needs to get out of here, soon, before this newly-formed god-thing sees through his other ruses.

* * *

"So you see Carson dropped out, too?" one man says to another as they take a break from their work.

"I did, yeah," he says -- his voice as old and gravelly as his face. He's got much shorter hair than his friend, slicked back to look less Native. He's also wearing a suit and tie instead of the loose, castoff crap his friend works in.

It helps with the detox work, for some weird reason. 

He lights a cheap-ass rez cigarette and looks off to the distance, down the road leading to this sorry little wood and dirt hut. It's all the way out of town so no one can hear the screams.

"So that leaves, what. That asshole from Ohio?" the one man says, bumming a smoke and lighting it up. That's their arrangement for nights like this: Kilchii has the smokes, Gaagii has the lighter.

"The Governor, yeah," Kilchii says: "Kasich. Rhymes with basic."

"He ain't got a turd's chance in an outhouse."

The older man laughs, still looking down the road: "I think he's down the hole, now, brother. Gonna have a hard time swimming with that big !@#$."

"That reminds me, Kilchii. You gonna fix my toilet or what?"

"You still got an outhouse."

"I still got a horse. Doesn't mean I don't like my car."

"Yeah," the older man shrugs, taking another drag and then flicking the cigarette out. He never finishes one. He thinks it's unlucky.

"So how long are we going to look after this belegana?"

"Come on, now," his elder reproaches him: "You know better, Gaagii. She's no airhead. She's smart. Has to be to keep that company."

"She don't seem too smart now."

"No one is when they got a headful of doola bichaa," he says, opening the door to the hut so they can go back in: "Someone did a bad thing to this girl, friend. Got inside her head, made her someone else. So we have to hold her hand until she can think straight."

"If you say so."

"No different than what we normally do," Kilchii says, closing the door behind them and looking at the girl in question -- asleep in her bed, sweating and pale after screaming herself hoarse for a full day: "Except she didn't do this to herself. This was done to her. You ask me, that's a lot worse."

The younger man looks at Jana, and nods: "Well, one thing's for sure. As much of a fight as she's been giving us? I'd hate to be that guy, next time she sees him."

"Oh, hell, brother," the older man says: "When she comes back to us, that asshole's in big trouble..."  

Friday: 5/6/16

... here. I'm calling from the Central Moscow headquarters of the Russian National Guard. We are surrounded by those undead things. And they're not alone. There's someone with them. Some lady in a suit of armor with a bow. And I know how this sounds but when she fires it, the arrows go through through things to find people. Steel, stone, armor, doesn't matter. I think I might be the last person alive and... oh... she sees me... aGHHHHH...

"... ah," SPYGOD says, holding up a finger as he looks through the special binoculars he brought for this trip, and then angling it forward to point: "I see Paris, I see France, I see the Mahdi's underpants."

"Really?" Free Fire asks, kneeling next to him on the dune they've been parked at for a full day, now. Waiting for night to start falling, or so SPYGOD said.

"Really," the superspy says, rolling back over onto his back: "Can't you see it, out there?"

"See what?"

SPYGOD sighs: "Your 11. The hazy bit on the horizon."

The orange android looks, good and hard, and then shakes his head: "I don't see anything."

"Well, then," the superspy says, raising an eyebrow: "Maybe it's because you're a goddamn robot, then."

"I prefer the term android. Robot is too generalized a term."


"And you're looking through projections of your ability to generate bladed weapons."

"Touche," SPYGOD grins, making a small, short knife in his right hand as if to illustrate it.

"So, provided you're not suffering from a baked brain, given how much alcohol you've been drinking while we've been out here, what do we do now?"

"Well, that's a damn excellent question," the superspy says, scratching his chin: "See, part of me thinks I should get the team together, and we should go fly in there and kick the !@#$ out of that mother!@#$er, like I said."

"But he might speak to them."

"Yes," SPYGOD says: "And there's no way I want any of them !@#$ing compromised. Especially not Mister Freedom."

"Yes, you've had enough of moles," the android nods.

"Just the ones I didn't !@#$ing know about," he chuckles, clapping Free Fire on the shoulder.

"Did you know Swiftfoot was bent all this time, then?"

"Smile when you call him bent," SPYGOD says, raising an eyebrow behind his glasses and taking a well-deserved pull off his hooch.

"Pardon my overlapping colloquialisms. Compromised?"

"As good a word as any," he says: "And let's just say I had some big damn suspicions."

"For how long."

"Too damn long. Speaking of which?"




"Is she still buying what you're !@#$ing selling?"

"For the moment, yes," the android says: "She can hardly move against you while your fiancee is defending the world from an unseen onslaught of extraterrestrial bioweapons."

"And she really thinks he'd !@#$ing pull out of that for my fine, gay ass?"

"She does, yes," Free Fire says, nodding: "The thought was there. I just reinforced it."

"Well good," SPYGOD says: "You're a damn fine double agent, Free Fire. I'm glad we were able to come to an understanding."

"So long as I get what I want when this is all over...?" the android says, extending his hand,

"Have no doubt," SPYGOD says, shaking it: "Now what do you say we send the rest of the damn team far out of harm's way, and get ready to make a plan to go kill the scariest !@#$ing man on the planet?"

* * *

"Brother, where are you?" Seranu asks, standing at the mouth of Satanoth's darkened pyramid.

There's no sign of any life, within -- an amusing conceit, given that this is the God of Death. But there should be motion, or signs of inhabitants. His Diviners should be milling in and out. His supplicants lined up outside to ask for more time, or less.

And it should feel differently, somehow.

"Brother, I would not approach you unbidden and without invitation," the God-King continues, stepping down from his dais to approach the gaping, dark passageway that leads within: "But if I hear nothing from you, I shall."

There is nothing. He sighs, nods, and goes inside.

The light he gives off does not penetrate the gloom within. It never has, and he accepts this, as he accepts all such things within his strange and fractious family. For death does not spare leaders, however divine, and the end cannot truly be commanded.

He walks into the center of the pyramid, not entirely certain what to expect. But he wasn't expecting this. 

His skull-faced brother sits on his throne, in the bottom of the inverted pyramid hewn from the living rock his dark pyramid is built of. Around him, in the alcoves of the sloping walls, are row after row of freshly-cleaned, wet skulls and decomposing human heads.

Seranu idly wonders where the bodies are. Then something wet falls past him and lands nearby, splattering, and he looks up to see they're all up there -- hanging from seemingly nothing...

Oh. They're being suspended by ghosts in his brother's service. And when Seranu squints his eyes he can see that the bodies match the ghosts that hold them.

Ghosts wide-eyed and frightened.

"What the fuck do you want, brother?" Satanoth grumbles, reaching out to take a somewhat ripe head from the wall to his left and consider it.

"I beg your pardon, brother?" Seranu says, shocked to be addressed in this manner.

"Do you need me to fucking repeat that?"

"I need you to speak to me with the respect I am due, as I respect you."

"Really," Satanoth says, not really interested. Then he bites into the skin of the head he holds and begins to chew the flesh from the bone, clearly savoring each bite.

"Your followers?" 

"Dead, as they should be."

"Your Diviners?"

"I killed them first," the Lord of Death chuckles, pausing as he reaches the lips of this sweet, suppurating morsel: "I figure they wanted to fucking know death, they could have firsthand experience."

"Brother, this is not like you."

"Isn't it?" Satanoth asks, finishing his grisly meal, licking it clean faster than the eye can quite see, and then depositing the raw, wet skull back into its alcove: "Maybe I've always been this way, brother. Maybe I just needed a little push to get me over the edge to where I needed to be."

"And where is that?"

"Free," the skull-faced Lord of Death says, getting up from his throne and walking up to greet Seranu -- his bare feet supported by ghosts who made a stairway of their bodies before him.

"You weren't free before?"

"Not like this," Satanoth says, rapidly closing the distance between he and his brother: "I was constrained. Bound. I had rules and responsibilities.

"But now?" he says, holding his bloody hands up and grinning ear to ear like some wide-mouthed predatory beast: "The gloves are off, as these mortals say."

"Indeed they are," Seranu says, looking once more at the terrified ghosts up above: "I come to you because I need you to hew to your responsibilities, brother."

"I don't give a fuck what you need," Satanoth hisses, spitting a red globule of flesh at his king-brother's feet: "I never did. You don't command me, brother. You ask."

"Very well," Seranu says: "I know not what madness has come upon you, brother. But the world is in trouble, and we need your dominion to reassert itself. And so I have come to ask-"

"You mean the change in the weather, over in Russia?" Satanoth says, pointing towards Moscow: "My estranged reflection, Hel, and her little soulstorm?"

"Yes," Seranu says: "It is quite disturbing. She should not have this sort of power. Even we have our limits-"

"See, there you go again, brother," the skull-faced God snorts: "Rules. Responsibilities. Limits. Boundaries. We call ourselves the Gods of this world and yet all we can do is stay here, in this tower, and wait for them to come to us. 

"And when we do go out and assert our fucking selves, well, there's all this thrice-damned hand-wringing and philosophical debate. And then we feel so very awful afterwards, like we all got drunk on ambrosia and fucked livestock or something. 

"Not that you'd know anything about that, brother."

That's quite enough. Seranu's hand is moving before his mind can really understand what he's done, and he slaps Satanoth right across the face -- full and stinging.

"You dare..." the Lord of Death rumbles, holding his cheek as his eyes darken.

"Brother, forgive my anger," Seranu says, holding up his hands: "But as I have said, this is not you speaking-"

"Get out," Satanoth says, turning around: "Now, brother. Leave and do not come back."


"If I turn around and see you still here I will take your fucking soul!" the Lord of Death shouts, and all the ghosts up above shiver, shake, and begin to drop their bodies to the ground. They fall like rotting fruit, splattering upon the dark stone

And by the time Satanoth has walked back to his throne, and turned around to regard his darkened room, his brother -- Lord-King of all Olympos -- is long gone.

As he !@#$ing well should be...

Saturday: 5/7/16

 ... coming down to Moscow, right now, to restore order. But all the Army has done is surround the city. They're stopping people from getting out of here. They're shooting anyone who tries. This is like some kind of horror movie come to life. Please help...

"... me out, here" the Candidate asks the Spokane Convention Center's head of security, once more: "Are you really, really sure?"

"I'm sure, sir," the very harried man says, adjusting his tie and the top of his uniform: "We've been working with your security, and ours. No one is here, in this hall, that could cause you any problems."

"Okay then," the man says, nodding and clapping him on the shoulder: "Thank you. I appreciate that. It's just been a weird couple of days, you know?"

"I know, sir," the man says, really wishing the fat-faced !@#$ would take his hands off him: "And congratulations."

"Thank you," the Candidate says, trying to smile: "Thank you very much."

And then he lets himself be led back to his room, to wait for the moment he can take to the stage and give it all away.

The moment he can just end this farce as he should have done, ages ago.

Provided he gets up there, looks at all those people, and decides that is what he's going to do...

* * *

It started the other day, when that ass-faced Governor from Ohio finally threw in the towel. He said it had been a great ride, but this was it for him. 

Was he stupid? Did he really not see that, if he'd hung on until the convention, he might have had a chance to pry the nomination away from him? 

If he'd just stuck in there, maintained his candidacy as "I'm not him," and allied himself with the still-influential wing of the party that hated his campaign, he could have pulled through. There could have been a fight on the floor and behind the scenes. 

And he could have won that fight, too. He could have been the one to take on whatever simpering liberal the Democrats threw at them, along with all the other, smaller parties that had cropped up -- or been bolstered -- when the Electoral College was abolished. 

But no. He just ended it. He gave a speech, shook some hands, hugged his wife and kids, and called it a day. 

The Candidate couldn't understand that. He didn't understand just quitting. You never quit. Not ever.

Change tactics? Yes. Distract people from one thing with another thing? Yes. Drop it all when it's not working? Yes, but only to pick up the pieces and go on.

Never quit. Never surrender. Never stop. 

Of course, he could just go back to being Governor. And maybe that's all he really wanted?

Maybe it took all this time, and all these debates and speeches and campaign stops to realize that, at the end of the day, he already had his place in things. He had gone from being a Representative for the state of Ohio to being its Governor. And while some might see that as a step backwards, well, maybe he knew better. 

Maybe he knew that this was his place, after all.

But the Candidate could only sneer and snort at that. All that bluster and bravado, all those mocking tweets and zingers, all that time spent saying "Oh, I'm not him." And then, just as he's the last other person standing, he gives it up. 

Stupid. Real stupid. And maybe just as well he did, then. Because no one should be in that Oval Office, in that chair, with all those powers and responsibilities, unless they had the stones to take it all the damn way. 

And that's what he's got to decide -- now that he can, once again, decide for himself.

* * *

That was the other part of things. First Kasich dropped the ball. And then his backer -- the man on the phone who'd been telling him what to say and do all this time -- not only stopped calling him, but stopped picking up the phone. 

At first, the Candidate was confused. Angry, even. 

He was no dummy. He'd figured out some time ago what the end game was, here. How things had been going. 

How he was going to probably wind up, before all this was through...

But somehow, even after that realization, he still needed to be told what to think. What to feel. What to say and to do. 

Where to go, and how to get there.

He needed that, much like a dog needed both food and a pat on the head by its master. Needed walked and exercised. Given love and discipline. 

Given attention. 

And then it was gone, and he was lost. Rudderless. He felt abandoned and bereft. He wondered if he should just go die, in spite of it all. 

And in really weak moments, he thought of ways to make it happen -- especially after what happened with Wheeler. He should have known the turd would turn on him if someone kicked him hard enough. 

(Thank God one of his security people -- now in hiding -- thought to shoot first and ask permission later, or the story his long-suffering Campaign Manager cooked up wouldn't have had a chance in hell of being taken seriously.)

But after a day or so, those feelings of worthlessness went away. Abandonment gave way to acceptance. A lack of direction became a reason to put his hand back on the rudder. 

And suicide? !@#$ that noise. What he'd thought was sinking was actually his coming back up for air. 

Each day, each hour, he felt more like himself. He thought for himself. He fought for himself. He could imagine, and dream, and want and desire. 

He was back, again. Back to normal. Back to reality. 

And he didn't !@#$ing need to be told what to do, anymore. He didn't need to be led, or controlled, or anything. 

And with that self-determination came the understanding that he no longer needed to be locked onto this course. That he could keep it up, or leave it, if he so chose. 

So tonight, before this audience, he is going to choose. 

* * *

He has no illusions, either way.

The person out there who's been telling him what to do for all these years -- first the old guy with the mustache, then the pale man he became, somehow -- is most likely not going to be happy if he keeps up the campaign. And when he gets unhappy, people die.

The Candidate knows this. He's seen it before. And even if he hadn't, what's happened to that Jana girl's brother, Karl, is proof enough that the man does not !@#$ around.

But if he quits, he won't be safe, either. He still knows too much. He's still seen too much.

And if he should someday say all that he knows -- no matter much it would incriminate him -- well, that would just knock that pale bastard's house of cards down to the ground, now wouldn't it?

No. He's damned if he does or if he doesn't. Sooner or later the attack will come. A knife in the back, a bullet to the head. Or maybe he'll take a phone call and it'll be the pale man.

And the next thing he knows he'll be jumping off the tower that bears his name at the stroke of Midnight, or something.

So should he quit? Should he throw the towel in? See if Bill Kristol and all those smarmy, righteous !@#$s in the party can talk one of the has-beens the Imago didn't kill into running? See if they can talk the sorry Interim President into actually tossing his hat into the race, somehow?

Or should he go forward? Should he blaze his own trail, now? Should he risk everything for the ultimate American prize?

Minutes tick by. Campaign aides come and go. He thinks, he ponders, he wonders if he can turn to someone for advice.

But it isn't until they come for him, and he walks to the front of that surging, screaming crowd -- the one chanting his name, and looking to him with hope and love in their eyes -- that he finally, and gratefully, makes up his mind.

Sunday: 5/8/16

Bob: "... now that you come to mention it, yes. That was an impressive speech. And what's so strange about it is that it was so different from the other ones he's given."

Jody: "How so, Bob?"

Bob: "Well, he's always seemed so unfocused before. He's been all over the place. Scattered, even. This time? He had an agenda. He had a direction. And he gave it both barrels. Hell, he gave it three barrels and a hand grenade. And if there was any doubt he didn't know he was the presumptive nominee? It was over last night."

Shiela: "I agree, Bob. But you know, there was a weird moment, right there at the start? He looked out at those people and waved. And for a minute, it reminded me of the look on people's faces when they've been getting ready to call a halt to their campaign. That sad but proud little hitch in their movements. That little smile. He gave it for a second, there, and I thought 'oh my god, are you kidding me?'"

Frank: "Really? I didn't see it."

Shiela: "Well, like I said. It was brief. And I thought maybe he was going to come clean about this thing with Secretary Wheeler-"

Jody: "Come on, now. Come on."

Shiela: "No, really. I mean, is anyone buying this nonsense about him being crazy? Depressed? Really?"

Bob: "Well, the investigation is ongoing. But so far the FBI hasn't found any proof tying the Candidate to the former Secretary's actions. They have gotten quite a few people to confess to working with Wheeler, though. So who knows what one of them may have to say..."

* * *

"... the time is coming," the meat-faced freak mutters as he sits in his portable containment cell -- bound down to within an inch of his life so he won't break out, thanks to his grotesquely-swollen muscles: "The age of the end. The dead boats leaving the feast halls of the honored dead. The wolf rises to bite..."

"They're all talking like that," Louisville's doughy police chief sighs, giving the signal for the COMPANY AGENT to take the Hyper-Klan's leader away, and put him with the others: "You ask me, they're all on drugs."

"Well, they are," Dr. Uncertainty says: "Combat drugs, mostly. A weaker strain of the thing we dealt with the other week in Florida, in fact."

"Don't remind me," Mr. USA sighs, extending a hand for the police chief to shake: "We're sorry we couldn't get these people cleaned out sooner. Hostage situations have to be carefully handled, as I'm sure you know."

"Ain't no skin off my butt," the man says, spitting chaw onto the pavement instead of taking the older hero's hand: "Ain't like these kids' parents were gonna vote for me come November or nothing."

"Yeah..." Blastman says, looking at what's left of the school the racist freaks took over, and the skin color of the kids they spent the last few days rescuing from this situation: "I think we're about done here."

"Yes," Mr. USA says, trying to avoid doing the obvious thing with the man: "You have a good day, sir."

"Wait," Red Wrecker says, looking at the dough-faced man: "You're going to let him say something like that?"

"Free speech, little lady," the Chief of Police says, tipping her a wink: "Might want to look it up, sometime. But maybe you didn't learn that in your inner city school, huh?"

"Maybe you didn't learn that you're supposed to protect and serve everyone, regardless of their skin color," she says, taking advantage of her special boots to stomp over to the man and look down at him, for a change: "Maybe you didn't take your oath of office all that seriously."

"And maybe there's a reason these freaks ran under the radar for so long," American Steel says, stepping up behind the man on the other side of Red Wrecker.

"And what the damn hell are you trying to say, lady?" he asks, turning his back on Red Wrecker to look up at the woman in the battle suit.

"I'm saying that I wondered why you were all so unhelpful when we first got here," she replies, looking down at him as well: "And now I'm wondering what we're going to find when we run their names, and look into their friends and associates. I'm wondering if we won't find some of them know some of you."

"It's a small town, sir. We all know one another."

Mr. USA and Blastman both look around: "Um," the older hero says: "Sir, Louisville might be a lot of things. Small is not one of them."

"Figure of speech, Yankee."

"Yeah," Blastman says, again, gesturing to the transport -- and Hanami, who's waiting by its door with a very unhappy look on her face: "I think we need to take off. Now."

"I think we should-" Red Wrecker says, but she's held up by a hand on her shoulder. It's Dragonfly, who came from seemingly nowhere, yet again.

"We need to leave," she says: "Trust me."

And once they get headed in that direction -- and, as soon as they're out of the Chief's earshot -- the former assassin elaborates: "Look, before we left? I had half of a damn weird conversation with Tombo."

"What, the Living Dead girl?" Blastman asks, only to be glared at by quite a few people: "Sorry... that's the name I got."

"She !@#$ing hates it," Dragonfly says:  "Anyway, I guess time's more messed up for her than usual. She had the back half before I left, and I just had the first half now, here, after I got done with those KKK bastards."

"What did she say?" Hanami asks, stepping down the transport's gangplank.

"She can't tell me a lot. Living and the dead and all that. But something major has gone down in Moscow, and this thing with those chemically-altered KKK folks? It's just the tip of the damn iceberg."

"What do you mean?" Mr. USA asks.

"I mean that the Aesir are back," Dragonfly says: "And it's not good news..."

* * *

"... you know," SPYGOD says, doing his best to parry and thrust at the same time as he fights back to back with the Mahdi over the wrecked pieces of Free Fire -- scattered all over the inside of the yellowy-pale man's tent: "If you'd told me this was how this !@#$ing day was going to go? Even when I was drunk as !@#$, chemically altered, and suffering from post-sex brain times a thousand?"

"You would never have believed it in a million years?" the Mahdi says, brandishing two scimitars with more speed and skill than his skinny frame should have against their relentless throng of attackers.

"Damn straight," the superspy says, kicking one of the viking zombies right in the chest -- putting a foot-sized dent in the armor -- before taking its head off: "And believe you me, I have had some weird days before."

"Well, I am certain you know the saying, my friend," the Mahdi chuckles, backing up after dispatching two more, only to see a lot more funnel into the tent.

"Oh, please. No. Not that-"

"The enemy of my enemy..."

"Oh !@#$ing come on-"

"... is my friend..."

"God !@#$ing damn it all to Hell!" SPYGOD shouts, wishing he had actually brought a gun to this swordfight. 

"I fear He may have already done so," the leader of Al-Hidhah notes, realizing that they are two against what may be hundreds, and that his own followers have followed the example of the android his would-be assassin brought with him...

* * *

... which is splattered up against the wall --the earpiece held in place by smoking blood.

The Interim President stands at the window of his quarantine unit -- dressed in the nice suit and tie he was supposed to be wearing to address the nation on a number of things. And he looks at the red, bloody mess outside the thick, glass window that used to be a man. 

And he wonders how blood can smoke. 

He doesn't understand any of this. Not at all. All he knows is that the COMPANY asked if he'd like anyone there, with him, when he left quarantine to go live from their TV Studio, two floors up. 

And he said get me Agent Gibbs. Because he was nice. He was decent. And he was the only person outside of the COMPANY who knew where he was, exactly. 

His heart felt ten pounds lighter when he saw the man coming, down the hallway. He was going to shake his hand and call him Tyrone. They were going to talk, maybe do lunch. 

It was going to feel so good to talk to him. 
The AGENTS are baffled and angry. They say there was no way he could have smuggled in those explosives. Not into the Heptagon. Not into the secure wing. 
They are baffled and angry and want answers, and scream into communicators as the haz-mat crew clean up the mess. 
And all the President can say is...
* * *

"... what happened?" Straffer shouts, looking around the room as his helmet's reception suddenly goes blank, and then comes back on -- like an old TV after being thumped.

"Oh my god," he hears someone shout: "Someone get a medic in here, now!"

There's gasps and shouts. Someone screams. 

"Hold it together, all of you!" he shouts, fighting with his helmet to regain control over his platform -- just in time to nail three black balls with his starboard particle cannon: "If you're not directly affected, stay at your post and keep firing! Night side, two of you handle the situation."

"Sir..." one of the night side says: "It's Specialist Eversan, sir. He's... dead."

"My God," Straffer says -- wondering if he even remembers what his face looks like, and wondering if that's the weird smell he's had in his nose for about ten minutes, now: "That's terrible. Get a medic in here. And someone take over his position-"


"No argument, Specialist! We've still got incoming!"

Oh, do they ever. Another swam of the things. Even tighter, this time...

"Sir, we can't take his helmet," the Specialist says.

"Why the hell not?"

"Sir... um..."

Straffer sighs, and, turning off half the vision in the thing -- a trick he learned a day ago, but hasn't shared with anyone yet -- he looks over to Day Side station 4 and tries to figure out what's happened. 

That's when he realizes what he's been smelling wasn't Eversan dying. It was his helmet overloading. 

Eversan is a broken toy from the neck up. His skull has been crushed to pulp within the small box his smoking, malfunctioning helmet has reverted to. 

And it's not the only helmet in the room that's smoking, right now...

* * *

... as Moscow's Mayor falls to his knees before the armored woman who stands before him, sword in hand.

... as Hoosk looks to the sky beyond their White City and realizes something has gone very wrong with the gift he made their children. 

... as Tombo heals from her wounds in a bright, glowing cloud of Dragonflies, and makes ready to go find the woman she resurrected, and tell her the trouble the world is now in.

* * *

... and the Aesir gather in the city center of Moscow, raise their swords to the sky, and declare themselves the masters of the world, the leaders of men.

And the bringers of Ragnarok. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Sleepwalking (The Chain Gang of 1974) and having a Ragnarok)

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