Monday, August 8, 2016

Apotheoclypse Now: 8/1/16 - 8/7/16

"No, I can't see tomorrow, when I close my eyes
There is no tomorrow, my gift is of no use..."

(Yanabah and her Plus 1)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

In her dreams, she's running -- her feet falling endlessly across a lush, green field.

The sun is shining. There isn't a cloud in the sky. Cool breezes, the sweet smell of flowers.

And yet she is terrified.

And yet she runs for her life. 

As she hurls herself forward, panting in exertion, she can hear the beast behind her. 

It howls in anger and hunger, and the sound of it makes her blood turn cold. 

So she runs as fast as she can -- faster than she thinks she can. 

She prays to the Great Spirit, who she really doesn't care to talk to these days. 

And she does her best to not scream as the thing crashes after her, coming closer. 

Its breath the stench of rotting, dead things. 

Its arms, reaching to claim her as its own... 

Monday: 8/1/16

"There she is..." someone says to someone else in the room.

Not to her, though. She's being talked about, not to. 

It's a stark, white room. A hospital room, she thinks. She's been in enough of them, after all.

Large windows and white curtains. Beeping machines nearby. Rolling tables, a television tuned to something she doesn't recognize.

(The smell of human waste.)

"Hey girl," someone else says, getting in her face. Pudgy Native American. Dressed like a disco dandy, with more gold chains than Mr. T.

"Hey yourself," Yanabah mutters at Gosheven, her throat a dry wasteland.

"About damn time you came around," Dragonfly says, bringing her a white, styrofoam cup full of ice and water, complete with a straw: "We were starting to worry."

"You were worried, huh?" she asks, leaning forward to sip the offered water, and then trying not to cough.

(The woman in white. Didn't she used to dress in red? Wasn't she dead...?)

"Yeah," the woman (who clearly is not dead) smiles: "We had a good pool you'd be under another week. I bet on earlier."

"!@#$ you, paleface," she grumbles, but not without a smile.

And the two visitors smile -- happy to know that she is, indeed, back.

And she reaches up a hand to flip them the bird, but hears something clink.

Arm restraints. Heavy ones, too. And made of silver...

She looks at Dragonfly, and then at the door, where two heavily-armored guards stand ready -- large guns pointed just enough off the floor to aim at her in a split second.

And her brain picks that very moment to remember a lot more than she'd care to, which makes her blink, gasp, and start to stammer.

Of course, her friends try to talk her down. It doesn't go so well. In the end they have to call for the nurse, who thankfully thinks to bring a very large dosage of tranquilizer -- the kind they normally use on radioactive giant horses that eat steroids by the bucketful.

As she goes down, before she can claw her way out of her restraints, she sees what looks like two Warbots flying past the window. But that's crazy, surely. Didn't they blow them all up, back in the day?

What the !@#$ is going on here, anyway...?

Tuesday: 8/2/16

"This is World News Tonight on ABC. I'm David Muir, reporting live from Neo York City.

"In the background you can still hear cheering and celebrations, and for good reason. It's been about 48 hours since the United Nations Space Service declared Mars liberated. Thanks to Earth's new Asgardian allies, as well as a truly international force, backed up by the Olympians, the red planet is now red, once more.

"However, now that the elation has died down a little, and the long planetary nightmare is at an end, we have to ask what the cost will be. Video coming in from Mars reveals a wrecked planet, nearly cored out by the alien entity that took it over to make war on Earth. Hopes of quickly returning its population home following victory are being dashed by the sobering reality that it might take decades, if not lifetimes, to bring the planet back to its previous state.

"There are also questions regarding what's to be done with the alien entity that consumed the planet. The Olympian known as Resriit, better known as the latest incarnation of Mister Freedom, stated that, quote, 'All things will return to their proper state, as they should be.' However, what that actually means has yet to be explained.

"There has been some major consternation among many member states of the United Nations at the Olympians' lack of answers, given what happened  in the last week of June. The event, which the Vatican is still refusing to call the Apocalypse, resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, and has left what can only be described as massive emotional and psychic damage to the survivors.

"There's also the question of what will become of Moscow. The city lies in ruins, following the last battle of what may have been the Apocalypse. More than half of its population is believed to have been killed by the Asgardians, prior to their being housed in much more heroic bodies. Some say the city must be rebuilt, some say it must be left as a memorial. There are no easy answers.

"And there's also the matter of what scientists say will be long-lasting ecological damage to large swaths of Eastern Europe and Russia, created both by the being that claimed to be the Antichrist, and the attempt to use nuclear weapons upon it. Smolensk is a blackened hole, surrounded by acres of irradiated wasteland. And while all the alien material has been collected and contained, there are still places that have been dangerously altered. As with Mars, itself, it may take generations to fix what has been done.

"Still, in spite of that sobering reality, celebrations continue. Spontaneous outbreaks of people saying the name of Jesus Christ as loudly as they can have erupted all over the world. There has been some news of violence against self-professed Satanists, as well as Pagans, Wiccans, and anyone seen as being in league with the devil. The ACLU has, surprisingly, refused to defend them at this point.

"In addition, all Presidential Candidates of the four major parties in the upcoming election have issued statements. Senator Bernie Sanders was effusive in his thanks to the world's liberators, saying that we would have to take steps to make certain things never get this out of hand, again. Likewise, Jill Stein of the Greens praised the group action of the world, and promised a continued sense of international cooperation under her watch. She also said that the world was owed a better explanation of how all this came to pass, and promised to investigate the matter thoroughly.

"Meanwhile, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party said that, while it was good that things got back under control, this was yet another example of why America leads best by getting out of the way, claiming that bad decisions made by several administrations were what led to these events. He wasn't able to provide specifics as to which decisions, however.

"As was expected, the Republican Candidate made the most striking and controversial statement. Speaking at an engagement in Ashburn, Virginia, he had this to say.

"'I mean, people say that it's a good thing the Olympians are on our side. But are they really? Because I think it's pretty obvious that the White City is to blame for the whole thing. 

"'They could have saved us ten times over from everything that's happened this last year, but they didn't. They're always late to the party. They always have an excuse for everything. Can't do this, there's this rule. Can't do that, there's this other rule. It's worse than dealing with a regulatory agency!

"And now, suddenly, they're everywhere, helping us? 

"'Well, as someone who understands supply and demand pretty well, as a businessman? And someone who understands making a market for something, and then making something seem scarce to drive up costs? I have to say that they've been doing good business at our expense. 

"'And I hate to think what the final price tag is gonna be...'"

"His comments drew almost-immediate condemnation, both from his electoral opponents and the international community. However, there was an almost-immediate bounce in his polling numbers, following that. In spite of that and many other increasingly-strange and inflammatory statements, he continues to lead in every poll.

"Which brings us to our other major story tonight. There is word within the Republican party of a newly invigorated attempt to either rehabilitate or remove the candidate. How this could be done is a matter of some debate, but it's clear that any attempt to do this will most likely revolve around Senator Ted Cruz, whose heroic actions in Europe during the crisis helped decisively end it, but didn't get enough votes in what was left of the Republican Primary to beat the Candidate.

"Viewed by many as a messianic figure, following his death and resurrection, the Senator has been rather reserved in his public statements. Asked if he would run, he said, quote, 'I'll have to see what God wants of me..."

Wednesday: 8/3/16

"Well, that's !@#$ing easy enough," SPYGOD says, licking his massive, black cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other while regarding the somewhat-awkward man seated before him -- small and humble before the Director's massive, new desk in the new Flier's executive suite: "I want you to remain under !@#$ing COMPANY surveillance, Senator. 24/7. All day, every way."

"But... I mean, I've got things to do," Ted Cruz stammers, holding his hands together.

"I'll !@#$ing say so," the man says,looking over his round, black sunglasses at him -- fixing him dead-bang cold with his new and interesting eyes: "And you'll do them with some AGENTS right the !@#$ behind you."

"But... did you see that I might be running for President?"

"I did, yes," the newly-reinstated head of the COMPANY says, inhaling the smoke in one long, epic drag and then putting it out in his latest ashtray -- one made from a pitch-black human skull: "And that's !@#$ing great, if you ask me."


"Damn straight, Senator. It wouldn't be the first damn time we had someone in the !@#$ing White House with goddamn superpowers. Look at (REDACTED)."

"Oh..." the Senator says, looking around the office, somewhat nervously: "I'd rather not, if that's alright with you. That was all a bit of a mess."

"Well, he was acting under orders, most of the !@#$ing time," the superspy says, grinning long and sharp: "Mine, in case you didn't !@#$ing know."

"Yes. And that's something we need to talk about," Cruz says, holding up a finger: "I'm not entirely comfortable with the way our working relationship is starting to come together, here-"

"Sir, I'm not going to !@#$ing mince words with you, okay?" SPYGOD says, getting up behind the desk and staring down at the Senator: "Do you know what you !@#$ing did, over there?"

"Well... um... is this a trick question?"

"You !@#$ing punched the goddamn Antichrist into next !@#$ing week, sir," the superspy says, shaking his fist at the man: "Pow, zoom, to the Moon. Just like the goddamn Honeymooners. Did you know that?"

"Well, yes. I was there, sir."

"And that was after going through that !@#$ing zone where everything and everyone that got too damn close to it was being !@#$ing turdscaped."

"Um... yes, that's true," Senator Cruz says, shivering at the horrible memory of that he saw on his way down -- heavy-duty man-missile shaking and melting to pieces around him as he rocketed towards that obscene thing, outside of Moscow.

"So you not only survived an environment that was turning people who looked a lot !@#$ing tougher than you do into man-sized piles of bloody, worm-filled !@#$, but you landed on top of that thing's !@#$ing noggin, got its attention, and then pasted it right in the damn chops like he was some !@#$ing punk making fun of your mama!"

The Senator nods, pauses, and then nods a little slower -- more intently: "So you think maybe I've got... what, a superpower?"

"Sir, the last time I went toe-to-!@#$ing-toe with anything related to the goddamn apocalypse, I didn't !@#$ing make it out in once piece," SPYGOD says, thinking of that weird trip he took to the year whatever, just in time to help that era's Jim Morrison stop Heaven from ending the world: "And I only did what I !@#$ing went there to do because I !@#$ing cheated and brought something so powerful that even I couldn't have !@#$ing handled it.

"But here you are... alive and well. In fact, my doctors? The ones who get to shove cameras up goddamn superhero buttholes for America? They say you are, and I !@#$ing quote, 'pristine.' More human than human. More perfect than perfect.

"You feeling me, Senator?"

Ted Cruz nods, even slower than before.

"And if you think I'm going to let a power set like that !@#$ing walk out of my hands? Sir, you are dangerously deluded. Maybe even !@#$ing drunk. And I want some of what you're drinking."


"So here's the damn deal, sir," SPYGOD says, walking around his large desk so he can get up close and person with the man: "You go run. You go not run. You do whatever the goddamn !@#$ you want. Within reason, of course. No ten-ladyboy pub crawl orgy bull!@#$, please. That's my job.

"But you will do it with my AGENTS nearby, keeping an eye on you. It'll be just like the damn Secret Service, only they won't be seen, most of the time. You might not even realize they're there until they steal your beer and eat your damn Funyuns.

"But they will be making sure you don't !@#$ing hulk out on someone. They will be making sure you don't abuse your powers.

"And if we need you? If your country needs you to come kick !@#$ing ass for it, again? They'll be the ones to roust you out of bed, or off the damn podium, or away from the !@#$ing babies you're trying to kiss at the damn VFW, and they will hustle your square ass back here, to me, and I will tell you where to go, what to do, and who to punch into !@#$ing orbit."

He looks at the Senator. The Senator opens and closes his mouth a few times, but then just falls silent and nods one last time.

"This is where you stand, shake my hand, and go," SPYGOD says, extending the limb in question: "And then let me get back to planning my wedding to that sexy man who's off turning Mars red again."

And Cruz nods, stands, shakes the hand, and is gratefully escorted out of the suddenly-stifling office.

"God it is !@#$ing good to be back," the superspy chuckles, turning to get back behind the best desk he's ever had, and smoke yet another long, black cigarette -- if only so he can keep putting them out in his grinning, bony, and black ashtray.

The one marked HELVETE.

Thursday: 8/4/16

"Pink and black?" Director Straffer says, shaking his head at the email he just got: "Seriously?"

"Sir?" his skull-shaven second asks, floating beside him on the deck of the Naglfar -- overlooking the ruined, red surface of Mars, far below.

"My fiance and I are working on the wedding arrangements," the blonde cyborg chuckles, tapping his laptop and then putting it away: "He wants pink and black. I want blue and gold. I think we're going to have to discuss this further."

"Oh God, don't remind me," she says, grabbing hold of the nearest parallel structure on the massive ship -- looking for all the world like an old, Viking ship, only with a hull made from the nails of a billion dead men.

"That's right, you've got your own in a month, don't you?" he asks, observing the ring on her finger.

"Yeah, if it doesn't fly apart first."


"My mother in law keeps trying to get us to move churches, and my dad's upset because we won't play his favorite song for the daddy-daughter dance."

"Do I even want to know what that is?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

"'Friends in Low Places,'" she sighs, shaking her shaven, partially-tattooed head: "And I refuse to have the chicken dance played at my wedding, so..."

"Sherry, you stick with your guns," Straffer says: "With any luck, you'll only have to do this once. Make it good, make it yours. And don't let anyone talk you into anything you don't want."

"Yes, sir," she says, saluting. And he smiles at her, in spite of it all.

In the background, a phalanx of lightships pass over the hull -- small, winged bullets made of hard solar energy. As they do, they melt away, revealing the pilots within. The men and women drop down to the hull of the ship, looking relieved to be off duty.

They then hand over what look like steering wheels to another, waiting group of pilots. They smile, nod to one another, and then leap up and off the side of the ship. As they do, the steering wheels activate -- enshrouding them in new, shining lightships -- and off they fly to continue patrols.

"Anything else to report?" Straffer asks, trying to bring the conversation back around to business.

"Well, according to the other flight group, they've made a final scouring run on the southern pole," she reports, bringing up her arm pad and showing a 3D hologram of the operation in progress: "They report they encountered about ten targets, and annihilated them all. That should be the last of it."

"I sure hope so," Straffer says, getting to his feet and looking down at the planet -- filled with honeycomb-like holes so regular they set off his trypophobia: "I swear every time we think we've nailed the last of it, there's an other glob of it somewhere."

"It is to be expected, my friend," a booming voice says from behind them.

Straffer turns to see Mr. USA standing there, holding a long spear and wearing a winged helmet, with his two ravens and wolves in attendance. He smiles, and when he does it seems that his eyepatch both is and is not there.

"Afternoon, Odin," the Director says, being careful to address him by his new and rightful name: "Have you had a good hunt?"

"We did, indeed," the Lord of the Aesir says, striding by as his cohort leaps onto the longship -- swords and spears drawn, fresh from what seems a mighty battle: "Several of the beasts had escaped our notice, earlier. Good Tyr caught sight of their spoor, and then led us to it." 

"Excellent," Straffer says, trying to avoid seeming worried that yet another remnant of the previous occupant of the planet had escaped detection, yet again.

Instead he looks to the many members of the Union that accompany Odin -- the heroes of the 50 members of the New European Union, all now home to the Aesir.

(All of them looking very well for being dead...)

It had been a long, hard fight to get here. And it seemed so long ago since that horrible day, when it seemed everything was going wrong, and the world was doomed.

But then Odin appeared, along with the Olympians. And as soon as they began to do what needed to be done, and reality was changed for the better?

Well, after that it was all Straffer could do to get from his busted-up office to Moscow, just so he could get on board as the newly-homed Aesir raised their swords and spears to the sky, and, with the Lightships of the Olympians, took the fight to the enemy anew.

A month of near-constant battle followed. Day after day of destroying 8-Balls as they approached the Earth. Weeks of following them back to Mars. And then a long, week-long siege of the black planet, during which time the entirety of the Decreator was beaten back and down.

And then, at long last, collected by the Olympians -- slammed into a massive jail of Restriit's design, its fate unknown as yet.

Now, all that remains is the tedious and uncertain reality of cleanup. Making sure no traces of the beast remain behind. Putting all its massive, bio-organic factories to the sword, and destroying any of its children left behind.

In theory, an easy thing to do with around 50 gods and a whole fleet of ships made from light. In practice, as prone to mistakes and tedium as anything.

Straffer has been on the job for a month. He is tired and weary. He desperately wants to get home, run into his lover's arms, and argue with him about wedding colors, and cake, and whether to invite all their lovers.

But he's still got a job to do, he thinks.

And as he looks down at the cored-out, ruined surface of the planet below -- a surface that could be hiding many more horrible surprises -- he realizes that his job might be just beginning.

"Why these long and sad features, my friend?" Ve asks, striding over to place her arm around Straffer: "Behold the plain of our victory! Behold our works! Are they not good?"

"They are, yes," the Director says, looking at the Goddess, and feeling the old confusion coming back. Once this God was the enemy, in charge of the Aesir's war party on Earth. But now he's not only their ally, but a Goddess -- both changes due to being in the body of the Estonian heroine, Teras.

(And she was dead, at least until a certain Olympian followed through on his gift to the world.)

"I think this calls for mead and song," her brother Villi pronounces: "And as soon as Thor returns, I am certain we shall have both!"

"Yes," Odin agrees, joining his brother and sister at Straffer's side: "Songs and celebration at a war fought so well. And a peace so near at hand. 

"Just a push or two more, down there, and all shall be well..."

And Straffer smiles at him, but it's somewhat hollow. Because somehow he knows the Lord of the Aesir is saying that for his own benefit as much as his.

Almost as if he didn't believe it, either... 

Friday: 8/5/16

"How the !@#$ can this be happening?" Randolph Scott grumbles, pounding his fist across the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle: "How is he not halfway down the goddamn sewers by now?"

"That does seem to be the question," Karl says, doing his best to keep his bowl of cereal from flying off the table when his dad pounds the table yet again, clearly frustrated to see the Candidate still leading in all major polls.

They're all sitting around the staff room of the new studio of THIS IS BULL!@#$ -- hidden away in a secret location, known only to them.

(No more collateral damage. No more fear. They agreed.)

"You and Jana told them what happened," the outlaw reporter says: "We've all given over all the files we had. All the information. There's no way he can wriggle out of it."

"That's the problem, though," Velma says, her voice sounding a lot more natural after the last surgery: "He's not wriggling out of it. He's happy to tell everyone everything that happened."

"Yeah, and they're just eating it up," Helmut says, helping himself to more coffee: "At this point I think he could confess to being behind the Imago and they'd still find a way to forgive him."

"We have to find out what's going on," Randolph says, tapping the page instead of pounding it: "There's no reason in !@#$ing hell he should have won the damn nomination, much less remained this popular this long. Someone is !@#$ing things up."

"Isn't it more likely the American electorate is just damn stupid?" Helga asks, shrugging: "I mean, I hate to say it. But there it is."

"Not this stupid," Karl says, agreeing with Randolph: "He told someone to take a crying baby out of a speech. A politician that can't even kiss babies is a man in serious trouble."

"But how could it be working?" Velma asks, crossing her arms and looking around the room: "Do you think he has someone in the media, fixing the polls for him? Bribing someone in control?"

"There is no one person in control," Helmut says: "Pollsters are some of the most competitive bastards I've ever met. Worse than high school jocks."

"How would you know?" Jana teases, and they all laugh -- all except for Randolph.

"Someone's messing with things, alright," he grumbles, getting up from the table: "And I think I know how to find out who."

He leaves the room without closing the door behind him. Everyone looks around in silence, and Velma sighs -- deep and long -- as everyone else takes that as a sign to get back to work.

"For God's sake, screw him or something," Jana whispers in her ear as she leaves.

"I would if he'd let me," the Toon replies, but only after everyone else is gone.

* * *

"I mean, this is great," the Candidate chuckles, sitting in his easy chair at the end of a very long day and sipping his scotch: "It's working a lot better than I thought it might. This thing of ours."

"I'm glad to hear that, sir," his new chief strategist says, adjusting his crisp tie: "Still, King Whip tells me it might be a good idea to tone a few things down."

"Why?" the beefy man asks, raising an epic eyebrow as he pats the shiny, new button he wears: "I thought this sigil thing protected me?"

"Well, yes, it does," his underling says: "But I guess... well, let's put it this way. Say you have a bullet proof vest on. Would you rather walk into a small gunfight, or a combat zone?"

"The small gunfight," he answers, nodding. 

"Exactly. But you're still going into war zones, sir. Sooner or later that vest is going to be so full of holes it won't protect you. You have to hold back a little-"

"Well, if it breaks, he can just make another... right?" the candidate asks.

"I... I don't know," the manager admits, sheepishly: "I don't know exactly how King Whip does what he does. But I do know one thing."

"What's that?"

"Everything he does comes with a heavy cost," the kid says: "And it's the sort of thing where it's better to pay as little as you have to, and as infrequently as you can."

The candidate considers that, and nods. But all the while he's deciding he didn't come this far to have some desperate kid tell him to shut up, just like the slack-jawed goobers in his own party are doing, right now. He's going to keep saying what he wants to, when he wants to.

And if his sigil gets blown? If he needs another? Well, he'll do what he's always done -- he'll just open his wallet, pull out a lot of money, and pay for what he needs.

He used to tell people that wealth made its own reality. And now that he can buy magic with it, it's twice as true.

No one can stop him, now. Not the idiots in his own party. Not Ted Cruz, or any of those other morons he's running against. Not even that pesky, so-called outlaw reporter he tried and failed to have killed.

He sips his scotch and continues to pretend to listen to the kid who thinks he knows best. And he decides that when he wins, he'll have to make sure to give him some decent job, somewhere -- just not in the White House.

He also decides he'll have to spend some time !@#$ing with that reporter, just to show him that there are some people you do not cross...

Saturday: 8/6/16

"... and I am one of them," the long-haired, old man at Yanabah's hospital door tells the guards: "Now, if I tell you you need to be elsewhere? You need to be elsewhere. Don't make this difficult for yourselves."

Then he just smiles -- thin-lipped and wide. And they nods, turn around, and leave the room.

"That's better," he says, closing the door behind them and locking it for good measure: "It's a good thing to be able to close a door in a hospital, don't you think? Gives you some control over the situation."

"Yes," she agrees, still not entirely sure what the !@#$ is going on here.

She was asleep, again. She'd dozed off after Hanami and a few of the others had been to visit, and bring her up to speed, or at least try to. She really only caught every other word, though, and eventually just closed her eyes and let nature take its course.

It's the medication, she thinks. They must have put her on something really damned strong to keep her from freaking out again -- keep her from really coming up out of the fug and remembering.

At least they also put her in less cumbersome restraints, which makes it easier for her to sleep. But that's not helping either...

She opens her eyes with a start. The old man is sitting at her bedside, now. She doesn't remember him getting there.

"Sorry, dearie," he says, leaning in: "I hope you don't mind that I watched you sleep a while. I figure you need it, after everything."

"Yeah," she mumbles, blinking a few times. She really should be wearing sunglasses. Where the hell are they...?

She looks at the old man, thinking he looks familiar. In some ways he reminds her of her grandfather, Wayfinder, and yet not.

He's of the people, definitely: long face, flinty features, old eyes that seem bright as day. His long, silver hair is braided down the back, and he's got on enough turquoise and silver jewelry to start a gift shop.

He's also wearing the sharpest suit she has ever seen -- dark black pants that don't seem to reflect light back so well, with a dark grey shirt under a black vest. All topped off with a tie that looks like it did come from a gift shop: a tacky, old-style 'cowboys and indians' print that, by today's standards, is frankly racist.

"Found it in a store in Taos," the old man explains, somehow knowing that's what she was looking at: "It'd been a while since I walked the land. I figured going in there would be educational. It surely was."

"Do I know you?"

"Of course," he says, leaning back and crossing one leg over the other: "We're family, dearie. We just haven't talked in a long while, you and I."

"I don't remember you," she says, somehow unable to be too suspicious. (The medication? Maybe....)

"I'm not too surprised. Now, your grandfather? He and I talked a lot. Every day, if you can believe that."

"Then why don't I know you?"

"Maybe you never heard," the old man winks, leaning forward: "Maybe you never saw."

"Are you like him?" she asks, trying to remember: "Like he was?"

"You could say that, sure," he says, reaching out to take her hand in his -- something that calms her down immediately, as though she were touching heaven: "And that's part of why I've come here to talk to you, Yanabah. Because I owe you the apology that your grandfather can't give you, anymore."

"What do you mean?" she asks, very confused.

"I mean that all this time, you've been getting the wrong medicine. And that's why all this happened the way it did."


"Dearie, all this time you've been acting like one thing, and not the other you really are," he explains: "Your grandfather, well, he didn't want people to know how powerful you really were. Especially not that wasichu he worked with. You remember who I'm talking about, right? That magic-stealing conjurer."

"Doctor Power," she says: "Yeah. I never liked him. He always creeped me out."

"With good damn reason, dearie. If he'd really known what you were, he would have taken you from your grandfather as soon as he found a way to do it. Either that or found some way to use you like a tool to try and get more power. He was always making deals with spirits and demons, hoping to buy off what he'd bargained for all the times before. Like a gambler than keeps borrowing money to pay off debts, but can't help but try to make it all back at the table."

He winces, clearly remembering something distasteful.

"Anyway, he thought it would be easier if he just told people you were a shape changer. One of the Moon children. There's plenty of those out there. What's another?"

"But... I'm Wendigo," she says, confused: "He told me."

"That's right. But these days people think a Wendigo is just another name for a werewolf, dearie. They don't realize that it's something a hell of a lot different. And a hell of a lot more powerful."

He squeezes her hand: "I'm sorry this happened to you. I truly am. It's a terrible thing when one of them infests a person at any age. That it happened to you while you were still a girl? That's a crime. Not much I can do about it, now or then. But at least we can treat the disease correctly, now."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that all this crap, here?" he says, gesturing to the silver restraints they have her in: "It doesn't do a damn thing."

She blinks -- once, then twice: "That... no. It kept me from changing. All those years, I wore that jewelry and it kept me from changing."

"Dearie, do you know what a placebo is?"

"A really crappy band?" she asks, trying to smile: "Whine all the time?"

"I don't listen to that kind of thing, but I'll take your word for it," he smiles back: "A placebo is something you give to someone instead of real medicine, but you tell them it's real. People who treat children sick with something they won't get better from use them all the time. Usually it's just candy painted to look like a pill."

"That's... that's !@#$ing sick."

"Hey, it doesn't hurt. And besides, the children believe it will work, because a doctor told them. And sometimes, if they believe it hard enough? They do get better. Or maybe just get less sick, or hurt less.

"It's proof that the will can affect the body. That belief can shape the world."

He taps the silver restraint with his free hand: "This silver? The jewelry you wore? Those were placebos, dearie. And they worked because your grandfather told you they worked. And you believed it so hard and so true that they did."

Yanabah blinks. Then the tears come -- sobs, too.

"Now, don't you be angry at him, girl," he says, holding her hand tighter: "He did it protect you. And it worked. It worked for a long time. Long enough for that conjurer to get what he deserved, anyway. And I know that if he'd lived long enough to see that day, well, your grandfather would have come to tell you the truth. Like I am."

"All those people..." she says: "All that... those things I did. Oh god. Oh god."

"None of that, now," the old man commands, and something in his voice makes the sobbing stop: "Pity yourself on your own time, girl. We don't have a lot of it. I don't have a lot of it. Not yet, anyway."

"What... what do you mean?" Yanabah asks.

"I mean that things are changing," the old man says: "I mean that I'm going to be walking a world a lot more, soon. And I won't be the only one. And some of the people who'll be walking this world, well... they won't be truthful about what they want. And they won't think twice to have someone like you on their side."

He raises an eyebrow, and his eyes drill into hers: "So this is my apology to you, dearie. It is the truth, as was hidden from you. And as much as I hate quoting from that book, given how much damage it did to the people, the truth will set you free."

"I don't understand."

"You will, in time," the old man says, letting go of her hand and leaning back -- crossing one knee over the other: "You'll be in here another week or so. They'll let you rest. They figure you need it, and I figure they're right.

"But sooner or later they're going to say it's time to move forward. They're going to bring in some head-doctor who'll want to make sure you're okay. They're going to give you back your guns, put you back to work. And they'll take more steps to make sure that doesn't happen again. Maybe put the silver inside of you, this time."

She shivers at the idea: "!@#$ that."

"Well, here's the thing, dearie," he leans forward again: "It won't work. They could replace your bones with silver and your eyes with turquoise, and it won't work. Because the silver does not work. It never did. It only did because you were told it did, and you believed it."

"Then... if I change..."

"Then you'll change," he says, patting her hand: "But next time? It won't shock you. You'll control it. You'll be in control the entire time."

She shivers again, remembering bits and pieces of what happened: "I don't think I want to. I'm... I don't like how I think when I'm it. I don't like what I do."

He smiles and gets up from the chair: "Just remember. The Wendigo was made for a reason. You exist for a reason. There's nothing wrong or unnatural about what you think or what you do."

"I think it was," Yanabah said: "I was... I became a monster. A disgusting thing that... that..."

She can't even bring herself to say it, and he nods: "It's like anger, dearie. Like sadness, rage, jealousy, envy. We say these things are bad, but they're there for a reason. You wouldn't be you without them. You'd be a star-eyed pushover with no drives and no sense of self, and no ability to get mad and defend yourself when the time came.

"You just have to find the balance, is all. Find the center of your spirit. Find your purpose. And when you do, you'll find that the beast in you is only as much of a monster as you want it to be.

"Or need it to be..." he winks, heading for the door.

She reaches out to say something, but suddenly feels very damn tired. She wants to ask questions, but can't think of a single one.

Finally, one comes, and she opens her mouth. But when she does she looks to the door, and sees the old man is not there. There's just the two guards he sent away, and they don't seem to have changed position from when he came in, all that time ago...

Wait. How long was he here...?

"When did he leave?" she asks them.

"When did who leave, miss?" one of the guards replies.

"The old man," she says: "I... I didn't get his name. He was... old? Long grey hair? Dressed in black?"

They look at her, then at each other. One shrugs, the other laughs.

"Go back to sleep, miss," the other says: "You're dreaming."

She looks at them both, and scowls. Something about how she does it makes them stop laughing and look away.

And then she looks at the silver restraints -- really, really looks at them.

Suddenly very aware that they don't itch the way they should, anymore...

Sunday: 8/7/44 

"... well, we figured in the end, it really doesn't matter who the father is," the AGENT says over his hands-free, walking through the halls of the Heptagon on his way to the Director's office: "We're all married to each other. So, regardless of who was physically responsible, the baby is ours.

"Yeah, yeah, paternity matters in child custody," he chuckles: "Jeez, dad. You're thinking old. We already figured this all out before we opened up the marriage. If something happens, time gets shared 50/50. Or 33 and a third for each of us if it comes to that.

"Hey, can't you all just be happy?" the man laughs, delighting in teasing his more conservative father (as opposed to the less conservative one): "I just told you that you're going to be grandparents. Cheer up.

He winces and then grins in spite of it all: "Dad, come on. Language! You know I hate that kind of macho cursing man stuff...

"Yeah, yeah. Okay, fine. I'll have a cigar with you. Boy or girl. But please not another one of your crazy parties. My husband's afraid you're going to try and have sex with him...

"Yes, I'm off to the past," he admits: "Yes, I'll stay out of both your way. And I love you both. Bye bye."

He hangs up, chuckling: "Those two... how did I wind up with them as parents?"

* * *


"I don't care what you !@#$ing know, or what you think  you !@#$ing know, son," a very rough and bloodied SPYGOD says, holding a very large gun up towards the AGENT, who's got an equally-large one aimed at him: "This man is going to be the next goddamn President of the United States of America, and it's my !@#$ing job to protect him!"

"You don't understand!" the AGENT says -- all camouflage dropped, all secrecy in shambles -- "That man destroys everything! If he wins... the future I came from won't exist. The world won't exist! Can't you understand that?"

"You think you're the first mother!@#$er who came here, claiming to be from the future, and telling me I had to !@#$ing bend over and let them kill someone?" the superspy screams, narrowing his new eyes at the silvery intruder.

"No," the AGENT says: "But-"

But SPYGOD's heard enough. More than enough, clearly. 

His gun speaks, just once. And then it all goes black. 
* * *
"Oh..." the AGENT says, sitting down at the Director's desk -- looking like a marionette whose strings have just been sliced clean through. The crystal matrix he'd been looking at stays in his hand, just for a second, and then clatters down onto the floor.

"That's... putting it mildly," Rikki says, putting her burly hands on the desk between them: "I don't know what to say. I don't know how this can even be possible. But..."

"But at some point in October of 2016, at a time and place we're not even sure of, I have to choose between killing SPYGOD, or letting the world end."

The grey-haired clone looks at him, and nods -- very, very slowly.

"How can that be possible?" the AGENT says: "How... how can this even be a thing?"

"I don't know," the Director says: "But it's verified. We had three temporal sensitives check it out, after the first. There are some small differences, but no significant alterations. It's going to happen."

"Then... something must be wrong," the man says, leaping to his feet: "We know that time was... well, totally crazy. That's the only way to describe it. That's the only way anyone can."


"Something from back there is screwing up our perception of events. It has to be-"

"AGENT!" Rikki shouts, getting to her feet: "Think about what you're saying. The system is fool-proof. Double-checked and triple-verified. We wouldn't be running the program if we didn't think so."

"Are you so sure?" the AGENT asks, putting his hands on her desk: "I don't remember what happens on these missions. How do I know anything I've done has gone according to plan? How do you?"

"I know that we can trust the Time Chamber. I know we can-" 

"Then how could this have even happened?" the AGENT asks, reaching down to grab the matrix and holding it up to her: "This is... this is the mother of all paradoxes, right here. This is the sort of thing the Time Chamber is supposed to be helping us prevent!"

The Director opens her mouth, and then closes it. She has no real answers. She does not know.

"So... why me?" the man asks, dropping the matrix onto her desk: "If I go back and do this..."

"Then the paradox closes around itself," she admits: "At least, that's what the temporal science division thinks."

He scowls. He looks away, and then back.

"I just found out I'm going to be a father, today," he says: "I just told... I just...."

"I'm sorry," she says: "And if there was any way I could have had anyone else do this, I would. But there is no one else. There's only you."

He looks at her. If looks could kill, she would have dead a million times over.

But then...

* * *
... in his quiet sanctum, all alone, King Whip keeps tabs on his newest tool, and decides how he wants his country to be once he wins...

... SPYGOD watches Ted Cruz's surveillance tapes  -- the Senator crying and alone in his bed -- and wonders if the feeling in his chest is pity, or the thrill of knowing how to use him...

...  Randolph Scott disconnects from telepresence, wondering if he should lie to Velma, yet again, or actually bring her in on what would be the ultimate act of outlaw journalism...

... Yanabah stands by the window, free of her silver restraints, and listens to the music the night makes outside of the glass, and how the creature in her soul reacts to it...

... Straffer looks down at the surface of Mars, once more, and just knows there's something nasty still down there, waiting...

* * *

... and the AGENT walks up to the Time Cylinder -- its metal womb opening itself to him, allowing him to travel to the past -- and can only find one word to express his true feelings at the moment. 

* * *
If I don't see tomorrow then it must be black
It's a land of sorrow full of deadened groans
Tomorrow has no colors, it feels like the night
It's a pile of cinders instead of a fire
They did raze tomorrow to the ground
* * *

(SPYGOD is listening to Sacrifice (Front 242) and having a Dead Ringer)

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