Monday, May 16, 2016

Valhallopolis: 5/9/16 - 5/15/16

"Breezy Shoots with Semi-Famous Freaks / You Say You're Only Taking 5"

(The Mahdi, SPYGOD, and "friends")

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

"Are you sure you can't stay?" Mr. USA says, following his oddly-dressed ally through the war-torn streets of Berlin. From where they are they can hear the Russian Army celebrating as they destroy the last vestiges of the Third Reich's command.

"I fear that I cannot, my friend," Thor says, turning to regard the destruction, and then the hero who's come to bid him goodbye: "The war is over, now. My time on Midgard is done. From here on out, the race of men must protect themselves." 

"Well, I don't pretend to understand your reasons, but I respect them," the hero says, extending a hand: "And I thank you for fighting alongside us. If it hadn't been for you, I don't know if we'd have gotten off the beach at Omaha, much less made it through parts of France."

"I think that you would, in time," the bearded god says, taking the hand to shake -- his grip is hard and sparkling: "But I am glad to have helped you through this dark time. And should a similar darkness cross the skin of your world? Know that I will return, my ally. On that promise you may depend."

"Thank you," Mr. USA says, taking a respectful step back as the hero indicates he should, and then shielding his eyes as a bolt of lightning takes Thor away from the War -- and the world.

And then there's nothing but the smell of ozone, a burned circle on the ground, and the sense that something amazing and magical has left the world. 

Maybe never to return... 

Monday: 5/9/16

On the edge of the Syrian desert, in the smoking, corpse-strewn ruins of a once-palatial tent, two men stand three feet apart -- each aiming a handgun at the head of the other.

One is tall and scraggly -- black hair swept up and to the side, eyes covered by silvery, small, round sunglasses. He wears a long, black coat stuffed with guns, ammunition, grenades, knives, and dozens of strange gadgets no one can identify except for himself.

(Also a Frankie Goes to Hollywood RELAX t-shirt, tight desert camouflage pants, and black combat boots heavy enough to kick holes in a brick wall.)

The other is a thin, middle-aged man wearing an immaculate black business suit, with a crisp white shirt and black tie underneath. His skin is sallow, as though he'd lost half his blood, the left side of his face is covered with old, rather substantial burn scars.

And his eyes are filled with a terrible understanding. 

"At this range, neither of us can miss," the Mahdi says.

"It'll be !@#$ing worth it to be rid of your sorry ass, you mother!@#$ering bastard," SPYGOD hisses: "How many lives have you ruined?"

"Perhaps as many as you?"

"How many people have you !@#$ed up?"

"Enough to ensure that, when I am dead, even more harm shall befall the world," the leader of Al-Hadhih chuckles: "Even now, my powerful, high-placed servants find themselves wondering why I have not given them fresh instructions."

"You mean like Quayle? We've got him taken care of, you pale !@#$-"

"No, not that fool," the man laughs: "He was merely a means to an end, my friend. Useful, but only up to a point."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean the doer of things," the Mahdi goes on, stepping a foot closer: "Not Presidents, Prime Ministers, or other heads of state, but their many doers of things and makers of policy. The ones who handle the machineries of nations, the armed forces, the weapons too dangerous to be left unattended.

"They are the ones who know where the bodies are buried, and how to add to the pile. They are the ones who know which keys turn which locks, and what lies behind them. They are the ones who know who to call to make the trains run on time, or else crash into embankments and crowded stations. 

"And should too much time go by without my checking in with them? Well... shaytan finds work for idle hands..."

SPYGOD looks at the man he came to this desert to kill. The man who somehow commanded his android ally to self-destruct. The man he then fought wave after wave of god-sent undead viking hordes side-by-side with for a day and a night, until there were no more of them to kill.

And the man who, the second SPYGOD pulled the gun off one of his dead underlings, produced a hidden revolver of his own -- the better to have a proper stand-off in the sand.

And as he looks at him -- and realizes the Mahdi is not !@#$ing lying about this -- he slowly lowers his stolen pistol, and drops it into the sand.

"That is much better," the Mahdi says, lowering his own gun, and then throwing it away: "We need each other, my friend. I need you to watch my back as we cross this desert, to my other hideaway. And you need me alive so I can keep this world from coming apart in my absence."

"When this is over?" SPYGOD promises, pointing a finger: "You are so !@#$ing dead."

"When this is over, we will all be dead, my friend," the Mahdi says, smiling, and turns to point to the west: "In the meantime, I have a supply cache just over that dune. It should have enough food, water, and weapons to get us to where we need to go."

"Which is where?"

"That would be telling," the Mahdi grins, clearly aware of the reference he's making -- and that SPYGOD knows it too well.

"Great," the superspy sighs as he turns away to scrounge what he can from the dead: "He's stealing my damn lines, too..."

As he takes a mostly-unfired AK-74 from one of the Mahdi's men -- cleaved in twain by the sword of an armored zombie -- he looks down at the twitching, orange face of Free Fire.


* * *

"... this is how it !@#$ing goes, you pale !@#$," SPYGOD says, stepping out from behind one of the tent's many, voluminous curtains with a long sword extended towards his prey: "You put that damn phone down. You put your !@#$ing hands up. And you don't move or speak until I tell you to."

"Or what?" the Mahdi says, putting the satellite phone down. He seems to have a lot of them, all spread across the ornate, antique desk of heavy wood he's sitting at. Cell phones, satellite phones, landlines. 

(Even a Mickey Mouse phone for some weird damn reason...)

SPYGOD whips the sword up and down, cutting the desk into two even halves which shudder, and then fall down into one another. 

"Or I do that to your damn head, you mother!@#$ing impostor," the superspy says: "And before you get !@#$ing smart with me? Your people are !@#$ing dead. Your guards are bleeding into the damn sand. There's just Free Fire and me, and you."

"I wondered what all the non-noises were," the Mahdi says, regarding the ruin about him: "I suppose they sold their lives as dearly as possible to protect the hand of Allah on Earth?"

"They did, yes," the orange android says, aiming his guns at the man, there in the shadows: "It did them no good. And it will profit you nothing."

"Perhaps," the Mahdi says: "But I must say-"

"Nothing else," SPYGOD says: "I've come to do what I should have done all those damn years ago, before we tried to turn you into a !@#$ing weapon."

"Yes," the sallow-skinned man says, steeling his thin, grimy fingers before his strangely-nondescript face: "I remember, my friend. They sent you to the camp. You recruited me. Spoke of higher ideals and the need to work for my country, rather than what the people who'd raised me had believed in."

"Yeah," SPYGOD says: "And !@#$ me for doing what they told me. And !@#$ them for turning you into a weapon."

"As if you would not have done the same, (REDACTED)" the Mahdi says, smirking at the knowledge of SPYGOD's true name. 

"And !@#$ you for going so far off the damn reservation you can't even see the !@#$ing horses, anymore," the superspy goes on.

"And you keep hesitating to kill me," the Mahdi says: "Why is that, I wonder?"


"You could have just destroyed me from afar, using your friend."

"You know damn well why that won't work, you little !@#$," SPYGOD says, generating another sword from his off hand: "But now that you mention it? Free Fire? I cut, you burn."

"Yes," the android says: "I think it best if we wrap this up-"

"Free Fire," the Mahdi says, getting up from the ruins of his desk as though he has all the time in the world: "My good and faithful servant. It is time to do as we discussed before, in the name of God, most beneficent, most merciful..."

"What the !@#$ are you talking about...?" SPYGOD starts to say, but turns just in time to see his android companion give him the saddest, sorriest look -- and then push him so hard that he almost flies out of the tent. 

And then explode with enough force to blow the roof off the sucker....

* * *

"... punch, as you put it?" the Mahdi says, tapping the side of his head: "Remember. The more time we spend here, out of communication, the more likely the people I have given instructions to will do something rather unfortunate."

"Yeah, you !@#$ing said that, already," SPYGOD says, grabbing his bag of rations and fashioning some rude headgear so he doesn't burn to a damn crisp: "And here's what I !@#$ing say to that. Stop !@#$ing talking, start !@#$ing leading."

"As you wish," the Mahdi grins, strapping his scimitars to his waist for the journey: "I appreciate that you appreciate the situation."

"Got that damn right," the superspy goes on, looking around: "Because whoever !@#$ing sent those zombies that interrupted our dance, yesterday? They'll be sending more."

"How do you know?"

"We're still alive, dumbass," SPYGOD spits: "And if they found you, how long before they find you again?"

"I assumed they found you," the Mahdi says, and then shrugs his shoulders: "But, I accept your hypothesis."

"Well, thank you," the superspy mutters, looking around once more: "Let's get this damn show on the road, Star-Son. Standing still's gonna get us !@#$ing killed."

"As Allah wills it, so shall it be," the sallow-skinned man says, not giving any sign of annoyance at the use of his old name.

Tuesday: 5/10/16

"Excuse me?" Hoosk says, looking up from his work at Straffer, who's too woozy to really notice -- at least not right away.

"I'm sorry," the cyborg says, drinking his water and looking away: "I sort of forgot that's over and done with."

"As well you should be," the short Olympian mutters, going back to the boxy helmet he's repairing -- the one that caught fire on someone's head, causing fatal fourth-degree burns in seconds: "That was not me. That was the diminished role someone created for me, after what happened."

"Yeah," Straffer says: "Again, I'm sorry-"

"That's like reminding you that you used to !@#$ your pants and needed to be fed from a teat," Hoosk goes on, his shock of white hair seeming to become as angry as he is: "Needlessly embarrassing. Also very impolite."

"Yes," the Campaign Director says, looking across the room at the six Specialists who still have working helmets. Three of them are on, the other three are resting -- watching to see if the others flag, or if their helmets start doing something strange.

And praying that nothing comes anywhere near the planet anytime soon.

* * *

The problem, as Hoosk was only too happy to explain once the rain of Eight Balls finally ended, late Sunday night, was that he'd never intended the grid to be run for that long.

He imagined they'd be doing it in shifts of five, or so. And for only a few hours at a time. They shouldn't be operated more than four hours at a go, really.

Not if the operator wanted to remain healthy, anyway.

But no. We stupid, foolish mortal children and our love of cool, god-made toys had once again messed up everything. 

So of course the helmet-platform connection would malfunction after being used for 12 hours at a time. Of course they would shut down the helmet rather than risk the platform, itself.

Of course the helmet would collapse down to its much smaller, resting state when it shut down, even if someone was wearing it at the time...

Didn't Straffer read the manual Hoosk left? Oh, of course he didn't. Not the whole thing, anyway. Just the bits about what the platforms could do and how to operate them.

Not the safety chapters. Not the maintenance. No one reads that, do they?

No, they don't. And no one made it available to Straffer to read, either.

And that's why there's three dead Specialists with their heads baked or crushed. That's why there's a room full of scared, young folks who would rather play leapfrog with a rabid tiger than put the helmet back on again.

That's why Straffer is so damn glad the bombardment ended when it did, and that it looks like they've caught a breather while whatever monstrous intelligence is running Mars, these days, decides what to do next.

And why Hoosk hasn't stopped !@#$ing complaining since he got here, took one look at the mess that was left for him, and began to fix it -- one helmet at a time.

And why it's doubly bad that Straffer just had to bring up the fact that the pint-sized Olympian was once known as the Maker...

* * *

"Thank you for this," Straffer says at some point: "It's very appreciated."

"It would be more genuine a thank you if you actually took care of it," Hoosk mutters: "Really."

"Again, I apologize," the Campaign Director says, doing his best to swallow the anger he's feeling right now.

"Apologies are meaningless," the Olympian says, looking over his handiwork: "The real thing is to do better."

"Well, that's what we're going to do-"

"Good," Hoosk says, putting the helmet down with a smug look on his face: "Because I'm going to tell you this once, mortal man. You screw these up this badly, again? You get to fix them."

And Straffer's about to say something to that when the Director of the Space Service stomps into the room, and stares daggers at Hoosk.

"You!" he shouts at the Olympian: "Mon Dieu! What have you done?"

"I beg your pardon?" Hoosk says, rising up as high as his short stature will allow him to do so: "Is it not obvious what I have done?"

"Director, please," Straffer says, holding up a hand and trying to intercede: "This isn't the time-"

"Like hell it is not!" the skinny, imperious-looking man shouts: "Three deaths on your watch, sir! And a scared crew! You're lucky I don't have you clapped back in irons!"

"Whatever for?" Hoosk snickers: "Failing to read the manual?"

"The world is safe, Director," Straffer goes on, undaunted: "We repelled an invasion that lasted almost an entire week. You didn't even have to use your attack ships. Billions are alive tonight because of what we did."

"Yes, but what of the next time?" Broussard asks, waving to the nearly-empty room: "What of the time after that?"

"We do the same damn thing we've always done, sir," Straffer says, looking his superior right in the eyes: "We pick ourselves back up, go on, and win again and again. It's what we do."

"Save your speech for your subordinates, Campaign Director. I think they need it more than I do," the man says, and then looks down at Hoosk -- who's been calmly putting his tools away: "And as for you, sir! The fault may be his, but I expected better from a so-called God! How can you make such a dangerous thing? How can we protect the world with-"

"What did you say...?" Hoosk asks, looking around at the Director -- very, very slowly.

(And Straffer says "oh, no," very quietly, and takes a full step back and away.)

"I said, how can you protect the world with such shoddy equipment," Broussard continues, not getting the point: "For God's sakes, man. The entire world is depending on you."

"So. Called. God." the tiny Olympian says, looking right up at the tall human haranguing him: "Is that what you think we are, mortal man?"

"Well... frankly..."

"Well then," Hoosk says, smiling and slamming his toolbox shut: "If our help is not wanted...?"

"It is!" Straffer says, stepping back up: "Please, give me a moment to explain things to the Director-"

"You forget your place, sir!" Broussard says, pointing his finger in Straffer's face: "You explain nothing to me. I explain it to you!"

"Well, explain this to him, then," the short god says, smiling: "We so-called Gods are bound by certain rules. We can only make so much for you mortals at one time, lest you become indolent and lazy, and cease to be worthy of the reason and industry we granted you at the dawn of your race."

"I... you...." Broussard says, shocked by Hoosk's claims.

"Now, under normal circumstances, should the things we make for you break, we may deign to fix them," the Olympian goes on: "We may also not. This too teaches an important lesson. Responsibility."

"I think we know how to be responsible, sir," the Director says, crossing his arms.

"I can tell," Hoosk snorts, waving to the room: "So, if you will not take the steps needed to not break your tools? And you will show no gratitude towards us when we fix them? Then consider this my one and only maintenance call, and this gift your one and only boon from me."

"Sir, please," Straffer says, wondering if he should kneel or not: "Please. The fate of the planet is at stake-"

"Then for the sake of the planet, the judgment of my King Brother Seranu, and my dark Brother Soubre, regarding you had best be correct," Hoosk says.

And then, with a last nod, he's gone -- vanished from space and time.

"Well, then," Director Broussard says, adjusting his lapels and looking askance: "That is that, I suppose..."

"Sir," Straffer says, barely containing his rage: "Do you have any idea what you've just done?"

"I told them exactly what they needed to hear, Campaign Director Straffer," the man says: "That their help does not entitle them to come in here and berate us. And that their pride will not be used to insult us." 

"Is that what you think you just did?" Straffer says: "Really? Because I just need you to know, with all due respect, that your fat mouth may have just doomed the entire human race."

"Then we die proudly and on our feet, sir," he says, heading for the door without looking back around: "And not on our knees to creatures who see us as children who wrecked a gift bicycle."

Straffer looks at the man as he leaves. He looks at the door that goes empty and dark.

He looks around the room at 20 repaired helmets, and a second chance that will not be repeated.

And he takes a deep breath, nods, and goes out to give the mother of all halftime locker room speeches to the men and women he's hoping he can still command. 

Wednesday: 5/11/16

The residence of the Mayor of Moscow shakes and rattles with the cheer that goes up in front of it, keeping time with the descent of the limp, butchered body of its former occupant.

"Do you see, my warriors?" the pale Man-God who killed him says, holding up his hands as he addresses them from the rude balcony he's made of the second story window overlooking the front door -- flames pouring from them as he shouts: "No one can stand against us! No one can hope to overcome us!

"This ours!"

The street toughs and warriors of Odal howl their assent, making the salute so hard and long that it's a wonder their right arms don't leap from their sockets -- animated by their hate, fury, and love for the man who's brought them this far.

Helvete, they called him once. Now he is Ve, brother to Odin and Vili.

Now he is their leader, calling them unto war and conquest.

As their mortal allies scream their allegiance, and beg to be sent forth to make war and kill again, the other Aesir lurk nearby. Some stand among their servants -- raising their weapons and voices in obedient fury. Others lurk within the building, planning and scheming, or else just enjoying the many pleasures Midgard has to offer them.

One alone does not choose to join in the revels, though. Instead he stands upon the roof of the tall, wide building -- looking down at the masses as they shout and stomp their feet.

And smirking wide, as...

* * *

... Godspace comes in at the edges of his vision. 

FAUST Agent 78 closes his eyes, scared as hell. He didn't sign up for this kind of !@#$. 

He imagined a life spent doing undercover cop stuff when he enlisted with FAUST.  A career no more outrageous than all the American cop shows he grew up watching, and yet nothing less glamorous: girls, guns, and cars; drug busts, criminal intrigue, and the occasional shoot-out.

He couldn't have conceived of something like this...

The fading of one reality and its usurpation by another, more real one. A cold, frosty landscape where mountains the size of worlds towered over them. A land dotted with mighty castles built from bright ice, blackened iron, and the cleaved bones of giants. 

A place where -- in the space of mere moments -- their group could travel entire leagues, crossing the dangerous, frosty landscape from their point of origin to the highest, tallest freehold to be seen anywhere. 

A realm where, with one more step, they are all within the mighty hall of the old gods, and standing before their massive, roaring fire in the hall of warriors -- awaiting Valhalla and the fall of the world. 

He looks up at these hoary, muscular beings, unable to truly comprehend their magnificence. Tall they are, and sleek with the sweat of fire and mead. Long of hair and beard, sharp of eye and wit.

And they, for their part, gaze upon their many interlopers as one might do to a stranger upon the doorstep, selling something no one would think to buy. They look to one another with what may be annoyance or disdain, perhaps even amusement.

But not surprise...

"Mighty beings of the Aesir!" their pale, pyrokinetic leader says -- going down on bended knee before the august gods they have just disturbed: "We humbly beg you forgive this intrusion into your stronghold. We have endured much to be here. Done and dared many mighty things to kneel before you. We plead that you listen to what we have to say."

"We know what you would say, and why you have come," one of their number says, rising from his portion of a tall, exquisitely carved throne of bone, hewn from a single, massive breastbone: "You seek to bound with us, so that we may enter the world within your skin. You desire to become one with us, so as to share in our power."

"Mighty Odin," Helvete says, looking up bravely upon the one-eyed father of the Gods -- seated aside his brothers Ve and Vill, on the throne of bone: "All seeing, all knowing. You know much of what I would say, as I well thought you would. May I say the rest of what I desired to speak to you, so as to make my desires... our desires more plain?"

"You may not," Odin replies, putting a hand to his sword: "We shall not join you in this sorry folly. For you mistake our noble cause for that of your own, thanks to the hideous perversion your fellows have filled your heads and minds with. The filth of hatred and fear. The stink of needless bloodshed and honorless death."

The room goes cold, just then. The fire seems to no longer warm. The stone floor of the hold becomes as ice. 

And 78 realizes he'd better get up off his damn knees and run like hell the way he came, except that he can't even move. 

Hold fast, mortal, a voice whispers in his ear: Not to run, or lose your nerve. They would slaughter you ere you reached halfway to the door. 

"What do I do?" he whispers back, hoping no one hears him.

Suffer yet to let this story play out a while, it challenges him: And when I give you words to say? If you would live, say them straight and true, and as loudly as you can... 

"My lord, please," Helvete says, raising his hands up: "Perhaps you are right-"

"Perhaps?" Odin laughs, somewhat ruefully: "Am I not Odin -- all seeing, all knowing?"

"This isn't working," the bearded Klansman says, looking to their pale leader: "Get us out of here..."

"Aye, better that you had never come," a rumbling voice announces from the other side of the room, its owner treading upon the stone with a massive stride and mighty gait: "These are the ones I spoke of, Father Odin. The murderers and madmen, soaked through with the blood of their own kind, and misdeeds too perfidious to fathom."

That is my brother, Thor, 78 hears in his head: He desires to rule, in his father's stead. But he never will, for his father shall be eternal. Until the Wolftime, that is. Until the ending of us all...

"Would that we could return to Midgard and tear such lies asunder," Odin says, drawing his sword: "But it is not yet our time. The shields are not yet cloven. The wolf is not yet yet awake. There is only the slow, steady walk towards the end of things. And Man has long outgrown his need for the likes of us."

"No we have not!" 78 suddenly shouts, getting to his feet and pointing to the All-Father -- as the voice in his ear bids him to do: "Man is weak and leaderless. Broken and afraid. Its race has become diluted with alien seeds and inferior ideas, poisoning the true way of things. We seek only to return the race of men to the glory it once held! The glory it shared in when it walked in your footsteps! Sang its sagas to you! Held your name above all!"

"Be silent!" Odin roars, pulling his sword from his scabbard. All other warriors there do the same. 

All save for the one who wields the hammer, who suddenly gets the strangest look upon his face.

"Father, a moment," Thor says, holding up his hand and looking to Agent 78: "This one speaks as though not himself. And yet, I find his words to be telling. For he does not speak entirely without truth."

"Even a drunken fool can sometimes see the future, my son," Odin snorts: "This does not mean we prop him up by our fire and expect him to throw the runes."

There's laughter at that, but Thor shakes his head: "My father, my brothers, sisters. Friends and allies of old. Hear me, for I too say that what this man says is the truth. When last I tread the grounds of Midgard, I fought alongside many who would have been worthy to stand amongst us. And together we fought those who, like these sorry beings, were weak creatures, too easily led by evil.

"We fought those creatures in human shape, and the monsters they made of their own kind. And at the end of the War I swore to one day return, should I be needed. And now, as I see things such as these stealing enough power to come here, of all places. To appear in our mighty hall. To beg us to lend them our power?

"Then I cannot help but wonder if that time has come around at last."

"What, then, do you suggest?" Odin asks, looking to his son with what may be curiosity, or else kingly impatience: "Should we go back and slaughter the lot of them? Is Man so weak that he cannot fend off such beasts for himself? I was against your going forth into battle then, my son. I am not convinced it is such a great idea, now."

"Odinson speaks truth," another God says, rising towards the All-Father -- his eyes and teeth of gold: "I see much, perhaps too many things. I see the horror they are. The terror they create. I see the disaster they may bring."

"War shall decide the right, as it does always," another says, grinning: "And I know of war."

"Heimdal. Tyr. This remains between my son and I," Odin gently scolds them. But before he can say another word the hall erupts in discussion, then debate, and then shouting. 

And then, with the clash of sword on hammer, in godly violence...

* * *

"... shall be done this day!" Ve goes on, holding his axe aloft: "The honored dead stand alongside us! Their ranks grow with each skirmish! They flood with each battle! Soon we shall be mightier than our enemy can ever imagine!"

More cheering. More screams. More calls for blood and war. 

And Ve goes on, promising glory and fighting and death.

And up above, Agent 78 best considers how he might turn this magnificent, doomed venture to suit his needs.

"Father...?" he hears a voice upon the wind: "I would speak... with you..."

"My darling Hel," he says, making her sign so that the image of the half-rotten death goddess might appear to him: "How are things in your cold and still realm, this day? Perhaps not so still now?"

"No..." she says, smiling through half a face: "But I would have more... my father... more lovely boys and girls... to play with... more swordsmen and shield maidens... more horses and beasts..."

"Insatiable as ever, my darling, my love," Agent 78 says, reaching to caress her deliquescent features: "You know I can deny you nothing. And soon, if my uncle has his way, I feel you will have all the toys your cold heart can hope for."

"Mmmm... thank you..." she murmurs, bile slopping from her pouting lips as she closes her eyes: "And what of... the dead girl...her allies...?"

"Oh, they shall be no further bother," he grins, waving his other hand: "In fact, I have, in my own quiet way, ensured their end within the turning of a few days.

"What have... you done... my father...?"

"Oh-ho!" he says, blowing her a kiss before sending her away: "That would be telling, my darling poppet. And there is no better telling than seeing, or so the sagas have said.."

And he goes back to looking down at the throngs, below, wondering how they'll look when they enter his daughter's clutches.

And wondering how many other they'll bring along with them, once his puppets have done their work. 

Thursday: 5/12/16

"Man, that's... just !@#$ing insane," Blastman says, looking at the holographic satellite imagery from over Moscow.

"That is being one way to put it," the somewhat-pudgy Russian Ambassador says, clearly not impressed by the heroes he's hosting in the DC Embassy: "Not only do these so-called gods have our own National Guard seriously outmatched, but the creatures they are calling up from the ground? These dead men from wars of our past? They have become an unstoppable force."

"And you're worried that, if they start moving out from Moscow..." Mr. USA says, putting his hands on the table where the images are being projected.

"There would be no stopping them," the Ambassador's assistant says, holding his hands before his crotch as if afraid of being kicked.

"Well, that's no good," Red Wrecker says, looking to Hanami, and then Dr. Uncertainty.

"What kind of access have they gotten?" Dr. Uncertainty asks in his mechanical voice, seeming rather concerned: "Dangerous weapons, state secrets, things like that?"

"Not a lot, thankfully," the Ambassador says, after looking at his assistant for a second too long: "Most of the controls are not located in Moscow, anymore. They have been scattered and hidden, so that such a thing will not cause an even greater disaster."

"Well, there's that at least," Mr. USA says, visibly relieved. 

"If you're asking for help, we have to go through proper channels," Hanami says: "Josie will have to ask the Interim President, who'll have to ask the UN if they mind us helping. It's rather complicated, as I understand it."

"But it would not be the first time you have... how do they say. Gone cowboy?" the Ambassador asks, looking hopeful.

"No," the Japanese android smiles, looking around the room: "But when I've done it, in the past, there's been some kind of diplomatic repercussions. If we're to operate within your borders, we need to do it properly. Especially after Buryat."

Everyone nods at that.

"Well, I'm in," American Steel says over her intercom, from outside the Russian Embassy's front door -- her armor's too large to let her inside: "I always wanted to go shoot things in Moscow. I just never figured I'd be helping the Russians when I did."

"You'll have to pardon her," Dr. Uncertainty says, holding up his hands: "She watched Top Gun and Red Dawn too many times as a young lady."

"How does she feel about working alongside Russians?" the Ambassador asks, not entirely without humor: "We shall have our own strategic talents there, as well. Also some from FAUST, I am hearing."

"FAUST?" Hanami asks, raising an eyebrow: "That's... interesting."

"That's logical," Dr. Uncertainty offers: "If these Aesir are telling the truth, then it's today Moscow, tomorrow Russia, and then Europe. If they don't stop them now..."

"What sort of sanction are you allowing us?" Mr. USA asks, looking at the Ambassador: "If we're going to fight these Odal people, and the Aesir, and all these resuscitated corpses they're using as shock troops... well, it's going to get messy."

"You will have total freedom to do what is necessary," the Ambassador says: "We would hope you would leave some alive for questioning, of course. But when it comes to the thugs who have taken our proud city..."

They go back and forth on that for a time. As they do, Dragonfly sits in the corner -- seemingly far from their conversation -- and weighs certain things in her mind.


* * *

.. the way Satanoth's soul chamber glows, sending the other ghosts and spirits scurrying away from what's oncoming.

Gail holds up her hands -- a weak defense against the end that might be approaching. Maybe her former patron has decided today is the day to come and eat her soul. Or maybe he'll just tease her with oblivion, some more...

But no. It's not him. It's the large, redheaded woman in the purple cloak she's seen before. The one who warned her of accepting his deal, for reasons that are now very apparently. 

Tombo, there sitting in her cloud of glowing dragonflies -- her tall staff resting across the tops of her thighs. 

"Hey, you," she says, sadly: "I came as soon as I could. Sorry it wasn't sooner. Time's a little muddled up, here."

Gail tries to talk, but fails. It's like her voice is gone, here. 

(Odd she never noticed, before. Maybe she was too busy screaming.)

"Here, let me help you with that," Tombo says, floating closer and gently putting her hand on the Red Queen's neck. It glows for a moment, and then Gail feels like she can speak again -- almost like the large woman flipped a switch in her, or something.

"How...?" she asks.

"Soulweaving," the redhead says, smiling and holding up her glowing hand -- the shine going from her palm to her fingers in a soft, flowing motion: "I can change what you're made of into anything I need it to be. I can heal you or harm you with a flick of my finger.

"And if you really piss me off?" she goes on, her voice deep and evil: "I'll turn you into a scarf."

"Really?" the former Red Queen asks, somewhat unsure at whether she's kidding her or not -- the look on her face seems more silly than threatening.

"Hey, I always was kind of crafty. You should have seen me do origami."

"Do you still?"

"Hard to find paper over here," she sighs, shrugging her shoulders: "So I have to make do. But it's not as much fun making the paper and doing the pattern, somehow. Plus, given the materials I work with it's a little weird showing off the pieces."

Gail looks at her, and decides she doesn't really want to know.

"Anyway," Tombo says, tapping both palms on her staff: "That's nothing to do with your problem, hon. You're dead. He killed you. And it's probably only a matter of time before he comes down here and eats your dead ass for second breakfast, or something."

"I know," Red Queen says, looking down and then up: "You tried to warn me. I didn't listen."

"I know," Tombo says, frowning: "It's like I'm inaudible or something. I warn people, I tell them what's going to happen. And then they don't listen."

"You don't have to make me feel any worse."

"No," Tombo says, raising an eyebrow: "I don't have to do anything. I could really just leave and leave you to it, Gail. Maybe the lesson this time is that you don't get a second chance."

"Oh God," Gail sighs: "If you're going to !@#$ me over at least don't quote Sandman at me. That's just cruel."

The redhead looks at her, lowers her eyebrow, and snorts: "Okay, then. I thought you were too cool to die. That just confirms it."

"You'll help me?"

"I will."

"Can you? I mean, the last time you came to me... well, Sat-"

"Shhhhhh!" Tombo says, holding up a hand and looking around: "Don't say his name. It'll be a like a dinner bell to a dog in here."

"Skull face, then?" Gail asks, and goes on when her guest nods: "Skull face threw you out of here like a nosy salesman. I didn't think there was any way you could have helped me, after that, even if I'd wanted you to."

"Well, he had me at a disadvantage," the large redhead says, looking down, and then back up again with a toothy grin: "You weren't fully dead, yet."

"And that makes a difference?"

"Absolutely!" Tombo says, patting her staff again: "See, that totally changes the rules of the game. You were pledged to him before, so I couldn't help too much. And, since you're dead now, he technically still has power over you because he's a god of death.

"But I'm with death itself. And that means I get to do whatever the !@#$ I want."

"I don't understand."

"Well... let's try this on for size," Tombo says, tapping her chin to think: "You ever work fast food?"


"Well, he just runs the local Taco Hell franchise," she goes on: "Me? I report directly to the one the District Managers call at night, and pray they find in a good and loving mood..."

"The C.O." Gail says, putting it into a language she can understand: "Gotcha."

"So here's my proposition, Gail," Tombo says: "I can get you out of here. I can make you a new body, just like your old one. I can bring you back to life.

"But there's a catch. And I'm not going to lie, hon. For you? This is going to be a tough one..."

* * *

"... but we need to contain these bastards before they go any further," Josie is saying over Hanami's communicator: "Give me a day, Mr. Ambassador. It will happen. I will make it happen."

"That would be wonderful," he says: "Thank you, Director."

With that, her glowing face disappears, and Hanami nods -- extending a hand: "Hopefully this means we have a deal, sir."

"Hopefully we will have our forces ready before they move again," the Ambassador's assistant says, still holding his hands over his crotch: "This Thor is rather proactive. Just yesterday we lost-"

"Wait," Mr. USA says, holding up a hand: "Did you say Thor?"

"Yes," the Ambassador says before his assistant can: "One of them is claiming to be him. And from what we have seen it may be no idle boast. He is certainly powerful enough to be him, and that hammer..."

The pudgy man shudders at the thought of it.

"That might be good," Blastman says, clapping the older hero on the back: "You knew him, right? Back in the War? Maybe you can talk some !@#$ing sense into him."

"Maybe he's not the same person," Dr. Uncertainty offers: "Maybe it's a different entity with the same name. It's not like that's never happened before."

"I don't know," Mr. USA says, shaking his head: "If it is him, I don't think he'll want to listen to me. He never was the one who listened.

"He was the one who talked."

Friday: 5/13/16

"Man, he did not know when to shut up," the Candidate says, getting into his limousine outside the Capitol building, fresh from a meeting with the Speaker of the House: "Blah blah blah. On and on and on."

"Did you come to any decisions?" his new aide -- fresh from the DC Campaign office -- asks, facing him from the seat on the other side of the driver: "Any agreements?"

"No, not really," the beefy fellow says: "It was all talk, you know? He wants to know what I'll do for him, and the party. And I want to know what they'll do for me. And I guess he's waiting for me to offer something, and I'm waiting for him to offer something. And back and forth and back and forth..."

The Candidate sighs, shaking his large head: "When we get closer? He'll fold. He'll have to. He'll have no voice."

"That's true, I suppose," the aide says, turning over a page: "Now, I have to tell you. I spoke with the Campaign Manager while you were in the meeting. And she's very concerned about this Wheeler matter."

"I'm not," the Candidate lies, waving his hand as though he were brushing aside a pesky fly.

"Well, maybe you should be, sir. It's gaining traction. People are asking questions. And I'm not sure we have good answers."

"Kid, let me tell you something," the big man says, leaning in to his aide and punctuating each sentence with a jab of a finger: "The more they talk about it, and we don't? The sillier they look. The worse they look."

"What if they find out something while we're not talking?"

"What would they find?" the Candidate laughs, leaning back: "There's nothing to find, kid. I didn't make any deals with him. I certainly didn't tell him to kill those Toons. Sure, I wanted him in my Cabinet, again. He was a good man. A great Defense Secretary. But all this stuff... well..."

He looks around, puts his knuckles to the side of his mouth, and snorts back a laugh: "You just gotta laugh, kid. It's campaign stuff. Poison words. They can't beat us at the polls so they claim we got into bed with murderers and terrorists."

"Well, be that as it may," he says, but then the car slows down unexpectedly.

And then the aide's head explodes as a well-placed sniper round blows his skull apart.

The Candidate yelps and ducks. Another bullet comes through his window a quick second later, missing him by inches.

The Limo starts up again, and rushes forward as quickly as possible -- trying to get out of the kill zone the street has suddenly turned into.

A lost dog stumbles down the street, unsure of what's going on. The limo must have stopped to avoid hitting it.

A dog, the fat-faced man thinks. He owes his life to a dog.

* * *

"Man, someone want to feed that damn mutt?" some soldier says, on his way into the Incirlik Base officer's club: "If he's the camp mascot, we need to be looking after him."

A few of his fellows laugh and tell him to drop his pants. Everyone laughs at that -- especially the Turkish officers, glad to have these amusing American fellows here for the duration.

Just not the people on the far end of the club, alternating between watching the television news (someone shot at the Republican front-runner, still no details) and trying to make small talk with one another. 

And failing, miserably. 

"So," Shining Guardsman -- looking damned weird with his armor retracted, and a ball cap on his bald head -- "No word in almost a full week."

"No," Myron says, pointedly not looking at the cyborg, or anyone else in the team for that matter.

"And you'd think... well..."

"Sorry, maybe I wasn't clear," Myron says, tapping his almost-empty beer can as a sign for the bartender to bring him another: "That wasn't 'no' as in 'no, we haven't heard from SPYGOD.' That was 'no' as in 'no, we are not having this damn conversation again.'"

"Look, man," Gosheven says, sauntering over to sit on the other side of Myron: "You know the !@#$er. He's indestructible, but only up to a point."


"And, well, Josie's saying they lost all telemetry on Free Fire," Guardsman says: "That's not a good sign."

Myron almost shouts at them, but then his beer arrives. Efes. Nice and nutty.

He pops the top, takes a sip, then a gulp. Then another. 

"You elected me team leader in SPYGOD's absence," he says, turning around to look at everyone: "So this is me leading. I'm waiting until I see a damn corpse. And even then I'm not going to throw in the towel, just yet, because he's come back from worse. I think we all have by this point?"

He looks at Shining Guardsman and Gosheven in turn, and they both nod and look away.

"Okay, good," he says, taking another chug of the beer: "So why don't we actually talk about what's really !@#$ing bothering everyone for a damn change, instead of this penny-ante bull!@#$. 

"And that's the fact that, when we signed on, we agreed to follow him into Hell wearing gasoline-soaked dresses. Thick or thin, legal or illegal. We bought the ticket, we took the ride.

"So we stood by and smiled when he knocked poor Peg out and had you !@#$ing impersonate her, Gosheven. And we took his hand and ran all over the damn world, lying about our whereabouts the whole while, as we looked for Straffer instead of the Mahdi.

"And we lose Swiftfoot when SPYGOD blows him the hell up because it turns out he was spying for the !@#$ing Decreator the whole damn time. So we're down from the Magnificent Seven to the Somewhat-Magnificent Six. 

"And now, now that we finally find the mother!@#$er we were supposed to be looking for all this time? Well, guess what, kids? SPYGOD, the guy who we counted on to get our butts out of the fire he lit? Well, he's missing in action, along with the most powerful member of the team. We have no idea if he's alive, dead, or somewhere in-between. No telemetry, no sign, no nothing. 

"So unless he comes back? We're kind of !@#$ed. And even if he does come back? We still might be kind of !@#$ed. Either way, we've gone from Magnificent Seven to !@#$ed-Up Four. And the four of us need to prepare our anus for one hell of a reckoning at the end of the ride."

He looks to the two of them, and then to the beer: "So you gentlemen will have to excuse your duly-elected interim team leader if right now he'd rather sit here, in our emergency fall back point, drink this lovely beer, and not be in any damn hurry to go back and face the ass!@#$ing."

They look at him, then at one another, and nod. 

"We didn't want to tell you..." Gosheven sighs: "But we've got another problem."

"No gay bar on the base?" Myron asks, trying to smile.

"Oh please, this is Turkey," the metamorph chuckles: "I've gotten more ass than a toilet seat just by looking faaaaabulous-"

"Mister Freedom vanished, this morning," Shining Guardsman interrupts: "We were on our way somewhere, and he suddenly stopped walking, looked due southwest, and said 'oh dear.' And then... well, poof."

"Poof," Myron repeats, sipping his beer.

"Yeah," the cyborg says: "I was hoping he'd come back by now. But, well..."

"Okay then," Myron sighs: "And then there were three..."

The dog outside starts barking again, like it had a purpose.

Saturday: 5/14/16

The worst thing about Aleppo, right now, is that there is no noise coming from it -- especially animal sounds.

No cars. No trucks. No talking. No industry.

The city is black and dark. The fires rage, unfought and alone.

And as for what can be seen, in its streets, the sight of it turns SPYGOD's stomach and makes him abandon the binoculars for a time.

"What the mother!@#$ing hell..." he says, shaking his head and handing them to his enemy-turned-ally: "I had no damn idea."

"It would seem the way forward shall be more difficult than we thought, my friend," the Mahdi says, admiring the bloody handiwork of the creatures that live there, now.

It's like some weird charnel garden in there. The bodies of the dead have been piled higher than should be possible -- turned into gruesome totem poles of skin, flesh, bone, and organ, all bound up in a wet, low-hanging web of what might be tendons knotted together, or maybe even smaller forms of gristle.

"What could do such a thing?" the man with the burned face says, putting the binoculars down and staring with his own eyes. For a moment SPYGOD thinks he sees some trace of decency, there -- righteous shock and horror at such a terrible spectacle.

But no. The mother!@#$er is in awe. 

"I have a bad idea," SPYGOD says: "Last I saw of one of my operatives, she turned into a goddamn Wendigo. I thought we killed her, but maybe we didn't. Maybe she got better.

"And maybe she's been really !@#$ing busy since then." 

"It will be dangerous, then," the Mahdi says: "For that is where we must go."

"How did I know you were going to !@#$ing say that?" SPYGOD sighs, shaking his head: "You are just a barrel of damn laughs, Star-Son."

"Perhaps the joke is upon us both, my friend," the man says, grinning his dead smile...

* * *

 "... and put a damn bullet right through it," SPYGOD says, looking across the way at his enemy -- sitting in a makeshift hiding hole, out in an abandoned farmer's field, and trying to guess his facial expressions under the stars.

"I assure you, I will not betray you," the Mahdi says: "Not now, anyway. If these last few days have proven anything, it is that we need one another to survive.

"After that, however..."

He seems to smile, and then looks up at the night sky. And SPYGOD wonders why he doesn't just kill the bastard, here and now.

And then remembers that he really can't -- and not just because of the threats of what might happen if he dies, or anything like that.

Because the bastard is his father's son. And killing him might just make him appear somewhere else.

Somewhere SPYGOD won't have eyes on him.

So yeah. he's got to keep him alive for now. He's got to save his skinny, sallow-skinned ass from the hordes of zombie viking that keep finding them both, somehow. He's got to keep the various actors in the Syrian theater from even seeing them, much less shooting at them.

At least until he can find some way to freeze the !@#$er, like they did to his father, now so long ago...

"Swiftfoot," SPYGOD says, looking at the Mahdi, something becoming all too damn clear.

"What of him?"

"You put the whammy on him, didn't you?"

The Mahdi very clearly smiles, there in the starlight: "Well reasoned, my friend. How did you guess?"

"Because there's no !@#$ing way he would have willingly given himself over to those alien black goo zombie bastards," SPYGOD says, leaning forward: "And while I know he was erratic, which is putting it !@#$ing mildy, he's been real damn weird lately."

The Mahdi claps his hands, somewhat mockingly.

"Why?" SPYGOD asks, patting the gun he's been cradling in his lap.

"Would the knowledge bring you peace? Or simply cloud your judgment?"

"Just tell me, please. I'd really like to know why I had to !@#$ing kill an old friend."

"Very well, then," the Mahdi says, uncrossing and recrossing his legs, putting his hands on his knees, and assuming a story-telling position: "Simply put, I knew you would come for him again-"


"I have my ways."

"I know, asshole. I want to know what those ways are."

"That would-"

SPYGOD raises his gun and aims it: "You make that reference again and I will !@#$ing kill you."

"After all we have shared?" the Mahdi says, raising an eyebrow over a burned eye socket: "That would be so disappointing. Besides, I think you know that even a bullet may not rid you of the likes of me."

"Maybe not," SPYGOD says: "But it might bring others. And they might kill me. And then you'd be all alone, out here, with no one to save you from them."

The Mahdi looks at the gun, and nods: "Very well. As for your answer, well, let us just say that, while I would never be so cliche as to say that you and I are a lot alike, our methods are not too different. Except that where you bully and blackmail others to give you information? I ask. And I ask politely."

"You put the damn whammy on them," the superspy corrects his ally-enemy, putting the gun back down.  

"Admittedly, yes. But it gets the job done. And I find they tell me everything they know. Not because they want to, in all cases, but because they have no choice."

"So someone you spoke to knew I'd come to find him, again? How?"

"A combination of things. A few of your AGENTS. A former handler of the Soviets' precognitive program. That, plus my knowing you too well, (REDACTED)."

SPYGOD bristles to hear his name on this man's grinning, burned lips.

"So, suffice it to say that, through fair means and foul, I knew you would come after me. And I knew that you would come for him again while building your inevitable team of useful but disposable persons.

"So I spoke to him over the phone, there in his sorry pit of squalor in Thailand. And I ordered him to report back to me, and damage your efforts in subtle ways. But he kept resisting my orders to do more terrible damage, somehow..."

SPYGOD raises an eyebrow at that: "He resisted?"

"Yes. He did."

The superspy raises his other eyebrow, and then furrows them: "Bull!@#$."

"No, my friend. Before Allah, most high, I swear this to be true. And such a thing is not entirely unheard of, as my recent issues with your President have shown. And then there's you-"

"Whatever," SPYGOD says, waving a hand -- trying to reconcile this fact with what he knew about the dead speedster, and his many epic, sad, and utterly predictable falls from grace caused by his inability to resist a goddamned thing: "Let's take it on faith he resisted, like you're saying. What then?"

"I decided to up the ante a bit, as one might say," the Mahdi goes on: "I had him approach your alien enemies to act as a go-between. I was reasonably certain such a strategy would either kill him or strengthen my hold upon him, either of which would further my goal of inconveniencing you."

"But it didn't do either," SPYGOD mutters: "Did it?"

"No," the burned man says, shrugging his shoulders: "So when, courtesy of him, I learned you were secretly heading to Africa to deal with the compromised lockup, I had him inform them of your actions. And then, as you truly prepared to raid the place, I ordered him away, hoping that would hobble you more. And I told him to give himself fully to the alien, so that they would use him to destroy you all from within.

"And yet, once again, he somehow disobeyed me-"

"That's because I !@#$ing put a bomb on him, you asshole," SPYGOD says: "I blew him up as soon as I realized he was a mole. I just though he'd been a mole for them. I didn't know you were involved, too."

"Yes," the Mahdi nods: "And your bomb made quite a hole in the coastal city of that country, my friend. The place where their headquarters once was is now a hole in the ground.

"But I fear he was not there, my friend."

SPYGOD blinks: "What the hell do you mean?"

"I mean that he has been seen, elsewhere," the Mahdi says: "Strobing in security cameras. Caught on tape. There is evidence that a ghost runs upon this land."

The Superspy considers that: "So maybe they found the bomb when they took him over."

"And, perhaps, being so alien, they did not realize what it was," the Mahdi suggests, shrugging his shoulders once more: "So they left it in their headquarters. It exploded. And perhaps they are dead, now.

"But yet, he lives..."

"So you've got a half-controlled speedster with alien gunk in his system !@#$ing running around on the loose," SPYGOD sighs: "Great. Perfect planning, there, dumbass."

"The world turns as Allah wills, my ally. I feel our shared asset will have a part to play that is yet undetermined, but will be incredibly important."

"No," SPYGOD insists, tapping the gun on his lap: "Not if I !@#$ing kill him first..."

* * *

"... we have to hunker down somewhere safe," SPYGOD says, looking back at the city: "For the night, anyway."


"Because what she's become?" he says, gesturing to the garden of rotten meat and bone she's turned Aleppo into: "It comes out at night. And believe me when I !@#$ing say you do not want to run into her. Not in the dark."

"I shall command her, as I do all others."

"You will, huh?" the superspy asks, leaning in closer to his enemy-ally: "Just like you've done with the President? With Swiftfoot? With me?"

The Mahdi sighs, and nods: "I take your point, my friend. Perhaps we could do with a rest."

"That's putting it !@#$ing mildly."

"So we will just have to hope that our enemy does not find us, tonight, Inshallah. And that none of my servants do anything stupid or dangerous tonight, either."
"Yeah," SPYGOD says: "You know I know you've had a satellite phone on you the whole !@#$ing time, right?"

The Mahdi blinks: "I did not. No."

"And I have seen you texting people. Which means that while you haven't been talking to your servants, you've probably had people run them messages on your !@#$ing behalf."


"So you really want me to get you into Aleppo for some other !@#$ing reason," SPYGOD says, looking around for a good place to lay low: "And I'm really looking forward to seeing what it is."

And for once, the Mahdi is at a total loss for words.

Sunday: 5/15/16

"Well, that's !@#$ing special," Red Wrecker says, looking down the M-9 at what's waiting for them at the end of it.

"How many..." Hanami says, shaking her head. Can there really be that many dead people in Moscow?

And yes, there can. There can be a lot of corpses, plucked from the massive boneyards in and around the city.

And they can be outfitted with metal helmets, leather armor, iron circular shields, and a panoply of axes, swords, spears, and bows. Stood in a long lines at the roads leading into and out of the city.

Made ready to march on the enemy at their gates -- arrayed around the city in preparation to take it back.

Behind the Freedom Force stands all the force the Russian Federation could spare. Tanks, troops, and high-tech vehicles no one's even seen yet -- all waiting for the chance to prove themselves against this new and strange foe.

Beside them are all the heroes Russia has to spare. The new People's Protectors. The Cold Guard. The Federation Guards...


"I don't think the zombies are the real problem," American Steel says, figuring firing angles in her head: "It's the ones behind them, cheering them on."

"Racist scum," the leader of the People's Guard spits, smacking his very large fists together -- lightning crackling between his knuckles as he does: "I look forward to laying them flat upon the pavement."

"Agreed," Mr. USA says, nodding to his Russian counterpart -- The National Man -- and looking to Hanami: "Are we waiting for some kind of sign, or...?"

"We're operating under Russian orders, here," the Japanese android says, shrugging her shoulders: "That and FAUST, though I haven't seen their people, yet."

"They are being delayed, my friend," a young man with webs for hair -- who looks like a weird cross between a human being and a spider -- says: "Something about the weather between here and Berlin."

"Horse!@#$," Dr. Uncertainty mutters, looking at her pad: "Weather Underground's clear."

"So we're just waiting," Dragonfly sighs, crossing her arms: "Great."

"You in any hurry to get your ass handed to you by a million viking zombies?" Blastman asks, chuckling.

"Who says I would?" she says, raising an eyebrow: "It's not like I can't let loose on them. They're already dead-"

"Shhhh!" Hanami says, holding up a hand: "Something's changed..."

It has. There's movement, all the way down there. It's a motion in the line of zombies as someone walks through and then past them, heading in the heroes' direction.

"Oh my god," Mr. USA says, shocked: "It's... that's Thor."

"Are you sure?" Dr. Uncertainty asks: "Remember, it could be anyone."

"No, that's him," the older hero says, looking to Hanami: "Let me go talk to him. I might be able to end this before it starts if I can talk some sense into him."

The android looks at the older hero, and nods -- somewhat hesitantly: "If it goes bad, signal us. We'll come running."

He nods, and heads that way. He walks like he's got all the time in the world, which is pretty fast.

With each step he becomes more certain it is his old ally from the War. But at the same time, he sees things that make him wonder.

Same armor? Yes. Same hammer? Oh yes.

Same face? No, not really. The beard is gone, as are the warm, blue eyes and the smile. It's some skinny-faced guy, now. Bad teeth, grinning.

But the eyes -- it's what's in them, rather than how they look, that convinces him it's the same entity, somehow.

"Thor," Mr. USA says as they get within ten feet of one another: "It's been a while."

"It has at that," the son of Odin says, hefting his hammer. The voice is the same, too.

"When they told me the Aesir had come to Earth, I hoped we might meet again."

"That was a foolish hope," Thor sneers: "Now we stand at odds, you and I. You would have been better to stay at home, and leave the fight to younger men."

"You know I can't do that."

"Then you know I will fight you, old man. And kill you where you stand."

"Thor, I don't understand this," Mr. USA says, holding up his hands: "You were a decent man, before. Maybe we didn't see eye to eye on some things, but you weren't like this."

"Oh, but I was," the hero of the Aesir says: "You saw only what you wished to see. And we fought together only because it was required of me. 

"And now? I need only fight the war as I desire to, old man. And that means we conquer, and we hold, and we lay waste to those who will not submit."

The eyes. They're broken. Something horrible is living there, back behind them. And the old hero realizes there's no convincing the god he knew that he's gone down the wrong path, here.

"Then I guess we got a problem," Mr. USA says, holding up his fists and getting ready to use them: "And damn me for thinking we could settle this by talking."

"That is the first thing you've said that makes any kind of sense, you fool!" Thor says, raising his hammer.

It sparks in his grip. A bolt of lightning arcs from it up into the sky, bringing down a torrent of heavenly fire down upon the Russian National Guard -- exploding their tanks, troop carriers, and large numbers of their soldiers in one go.

Mr. USA shouts and runs forward, ready to stop this god.

Thor screams and rushes at his his friend-turned-foe, hammer raised and ready to strike.

The zombies run forward, screaming through dead lips. The heroes run and fly at them, prepared to destroy their foes if needed.

And then...

(SPYGOD is listening to The Neon Indian (Glitzy Hive) and having a Thor's Equinox

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