Monday, August 22, 2016

Apotheoclypse Now: 8/15/16 - 8/21/16

"Just a flame in the fire / Can hear the drums of fate / Reverberate"

(The Old Man and friends - many, many friends)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

There's an art to this, he thinks as he watches the people below -- wondering who to kill, and when.

One of the most heavily-guarded places in the world and he just walked on in, smiling ear to ear.

He doesn't need to hide. No one can see him. 

He doesn't need to be quiet. All the noise and they'd never hear.

They have no idea he's there. None of them. 

And all he has to do is wait for the right moment...

His new friend explained it all to him, when he gave him this incredible gift. The thing he cradles in his hands.

So small a thing to be so dangerous, he thinks. But in his long and varied experience, it's often the little things that cause the most problems. 

So he smiles, and he watches. 

And he waits for the perfect moment to present itself...  

Monday: 8/15/16

"Alright, doc," SPYGOD says, tapping his high-heeled combat boot on the floor so loud it sounds like a gunshot: "Calm the !@#$ down. Take a deep !@#$ing breath. And tell me what's so !@#$ing important you had to call me at 3 in the goddamn AM to yabber-frabber at me over the !@#$ing phone."

"But... I've been telling you-"

"Then tell me again," the super spy insists, pointing through the observation window at the autopsy going on, below, in the haz-mat area: "And this time, make some !@#$ing sense! You sound like a pet monkey that found the booze and go-powder."


"You know, that !@#$ing happened once. Hunter S. Thompson bought some damn monkey as a joke. I don't know what the !@#$ he was thinking, but one day he comes home from shooting his guns at hippies, and finds out the whole cabin is !@#$ing trashed. You know why?"


"Because the damn monkey got bored, got out of the !@#$ing cage, brachiated through his goddamn rafters, opened his bedroom door, rifled through his !@#$, and found the big black box with all the goddamn drugs."


"Oh is goddamn right, doc. Hunter comes home, smells monkey !@#$, and just thinks the damn thing got out of its cage. But then he stomps to the bedroom and sees this poor thing flying all over the room, trailing piss and !@#$ behind it, throwing the !@#$ up, and so stoned, cranked, high, and down at once that its eyes were like big, red spirals."


"Took ten rounds to bring that !@#$ing thing down. Even then it lived on for a half hour, so jacked out of its !@#$ing skull that its body refused to tell its brain it was dead."


"Yeah, a real tragedy. I think about that monkey, sometimes. Like right !@#$ing now when I see a supposedly grown !@#$ing man running around, waving !@#$ in the air like you just don't !@#$ing care, and trying to tell me something goddamn important but making chitter jibber jabber noises instead!"

The doctor looks at the man. He takes another deep breath, nods. Puts the things in question down on the nearest available surface.

"Alright," he says, holding up his hands: "Let's... let's go a different direction. What can you tell me about the woman down there?"

"About Space Commander?"

"If that's the woman you pulled out of Lake Calumet? Then yes, sir."

"Jesus," SPYGOD thinks: "You want the !@#$ing Cliff Notes version, or-"

"That will do, sir," the doctor interrupts, wishing to god he had a real drink right about now.

"Okay then. Showed up in Chicago in 1927 or so. Had a spaceship, ray guns, force fields. Basically what you'd !@#$ing call Dieselpunk these days. Not that those days didn't have enough of that already."

"What else can you tell me about her?" he asks.

"She hung out with some Chi-town heroes for quite a while," he goes on: "The Owl, the Wraith. This one creepy !@#$er known as the Jester of Justice. And that Mister Future... well, let's not talk about that !@#$er..."

"Alright. But what about her?" the doctor presses: "Do you know how old she was? Where she came from? Anything like that?"

"She said she was 27 when The Owl met her," SPYGOD shrugs: "Sure seemed that way. Pretty good shape physically. Not !@#$ing crazy or off-balance, especially compared to some heroes I've dealt with."

"Did you ever meet her?"

"No," SPYGOD says, shaking his head and having a nip from a hidden flask: "I knew The Owl during the War, and we became real allies after it. By the time that happened she was long !@#$ing gone, though. Took off after the War, in fact. The whole group of Chicago heroes was gone by then, except for the Wraith. And... well, he's a special case."

The doctor nods: "What did she say she was? I heard she was a hero, but...?"

"Just a plucky gal inventor who wanted to !@#$ing fight crime, doc," the superspy says, going over to the window and looking down at her body -- being gently torn down to its component parts by man and machine: "Built a working flying saucer out of tractor parts, if you can !@#$ing believe that. So far ahead of us that it took us !@#$ing ages to reverse engineer what little she left behind. Even then, most of the !@#$ we got out of it was barely functional."

"So... as far as you know, she was born in 1900?" the doctor asks: "Just an American farm girl who somehow figured out scientific principles so far ahead of her time she once argued Albert Einstein to a standstill?"

"HA!" SPYGOD laughs, turning from the window: "That's !@#$ing right, doc. I'd forgotten about that. She even gave Doctor Yesterday a run for the money, now and again. Always challenging him to make a better future. What a gal."

The doctor nods, takes a deep breath, and gestures to what's going on, down in the theater: "Sir, I don't know how to tell you this... but..."

"Doc," SPYGOD says, waving his hand somewhat impatiently: "Small !@#$ing words. Spell it out for me, now."

"You have to understand that this woman's body is in bad shape," the man begins again, after a second to collect his thoughts: "I don't know how far into space she went, but she was exposed to vacuum. Most likely cause of death is asphyxiation. The ship kept her warm enough to mummify instead of freeze, which is why her DNA is still in good enough shape to do some preliminary tests."

"Such as?"

"Enough to tell that her DNA has been altered through genetic surgery," the doctor says, holding up a pad -- showing a holographic representation of her chromosomes: "There's things in here that have been awakened, and others that have been shut down. A familial predisposition to diabetes was turned off, along with some other, serious aliments. Meanwhile, characteristics that would contribute to robust health, strength, and longevity have been activated, or strengthened."

"But that's..."

"Not possible, right now?" the doctor asks, glad to finally get SPYGOD at something of a disadvantage: "Yes and no. We know how to do it. We've been doing it wholescale since we started putting something in the water to suppress people's powers, if you'll recall. But that's a sloppy, one-size-fits-all solution that doesn't always work.

"But this? This was planned with foresight. Executed with surgical precision. And done seamlessly. The only reason we know it happened at all is because the genetic materials have been neatly deactivated, instead of the ragged mess we tend to leave these days."

SPYGOD blinks a few times: "What else?"

"Well, I'm not entirely certain, given the damage. But there are clearly organs inside her that don't normally belong there. Something to do with digestion, I think. Her appendix is not only missing, I think it was never there at all. Her bones are stronger than they should be... and..."

He changes the hologram on the pad to a view of her head. The layers fall away, one by one, leaving her brain.

And inside her brain...

"Those are implants," SPYGOD says, running a finger along them: "A whole !@#$ing lot of implants."

"Yes, and they're all internal," the doctor says: "No external jacks for any of it. I'm wondering if maybe programming wasn't done on a biochemical level. Or maybe they flashed information into one of her eyes. We've found the remnants of some ocular implants, there, but they're in bad shape due to vacuum exposure."

"She wasn't from our time," SPYGOD says, understanding what the doctor was on about last night: "She was from the future."

"Yes," the doctor says: "Which means that that flying saucer is most likely not merely a vehicle. It's a time machine."

"Unless..." SPYGOD says, holding up a finger: "Unless she wasn't lying about going into space when she left."

"What do you mean?"

"Time travel is serious !@#$ing business, doc," the superspy says: "It's not something you do in basements or phone boxes. It requires a lot of !@#$ing energy, and a lot of computational power. Either that or a whole lot of magic, and something tells me that wasn't her damn bag."

"So... she went into space to find a time machine?"

"A time portal, yeah," SPYGOD says, looking up: "And for some damn reason, she didn't make it. Floated up there for !@#$ing ages. Crashed back down to Earth last week."

"So what happened to her, then?" the doctor asks.

"You find that out," SPYGOD says, heading out of the room as he grabs his phone: "I gotta !@#$ing talk to Mars..."

Tuesday: 8/16/16

"This should not be happening," Straffer says, looking at the smeared remains of what was once a god wearing a hero. 

"And yet it has," Freyja says, looking down at the person who was once Tyr, but is now once more becoming Home Fort -- brave hero of Andorra. He wears his bravery still in death, though his facial features are all that's immediately recognizable. 

"Return to your posts," Straffer snaps at the Lightship pilots who've come to gawk. They obey very quickly, not wanting to mess with him when he's in this kind of a mood. 

"Fear not, good ally," Ve says to him, kneeling before her fallen comrade: "They should see this death. They should know what yet awaits them. What remains to be done."

"Got that damn right," the blonde cyborg replies, biting his tongue to keep from saying anything harsher to these Aesir in human hosts.

Especially now that he knows they haven't been telling him the whole damn truth. 

* * *

It happened earlier in the day, after a group of Lightships traveled deeper into the ruined, cryptic surface of Mars than any of the liberation forces had gone before. 

They were really pushing the envelope, there. The ships only worked at 100% when they were in direct line of sight with the Sun. In darkness, they could operate on the equivalent of batteries for six hours in a normal run -- less if they had to fly faster, or fight. 

They got down a couple of miles before they needed to do both -- ambushed by something highly reminiscent of the massive turd-crabs each 8-Ball housed, only larger and nastier. Two of the five ships were lost in the attack, and the other three barely made it back to report. 

Straffer had barely had time to receive that report, and begin to formulate a strategy, than the Aesir were all hopped up on war fever and itching to go deal with the beast. He told them they should wait for another sighting run, just to see how many of those things were down there, but Odin didn't want to hear it. 

So ten Aesir jumped off Naglfar and launched themselves at the planet below, screaming oaths and praising the fates all the way down. A short while later came the sounds of fighting, and battle, and the sound of a gruesome monster dying. 

A short while after that, nine Aesir came back, bearing the melting body of the tenth. 

Tyr had delivered the death blow, and not cared to get out of the way of the caustic spray that ensued. Did he think his armor could stand being immersed in the sort of thing that could eat through steel and concrete? Or did he simply not care?

Straffer wasn't certain. All he knew is that a hero who was once able to walk through a volcano and stop an eruption was now becoming a red and pink puddle on the deck of the ship. And all the Aesir could do was cheer on his demise, and decide how best to perform a proper funeral under these conditions. 
(Could they put him and his things in a lightship and send it towards the sun? Would Rahmaa mind..?)

He thought to tell them that no, wasting another precious lightship would not be a good thing, but decided to just let them have their moment. They fought hard and played hard, these Aesir, and if they wanted to mourn as hard as they died, so be it. 

He was more concerned about getting to the bottom of why this supposedly liberated planet still had so many dangerous things living inside of it. 

And why even Odin -- inside a man he knew to be an honest and honorable person -- wasn't telling him all that he knew. 

And he had to know, didn't he? All seeing All-Father. Two wolves to run ahead and scout. Two ravens to learn all there was to know, and bring it back to him. 

He must have known the beast was there. He must have known someone would die. 

And if he knew, and didn't say, that made him responsible. For Tyr's death. For the death of his two pilots. And a few other casualties, besides. 

Suddenly, Straffer isn't feeling like an ally in this fight. He's feeling like a safari guide, only the tourists want to both kill and die, without a thought for the life of their staff. 

Clearly, this needs tending to, before things get worse.

And suddenly, the astounding news SPYGOD sent him yesterday seems like a minor distraction, rather than cause for concern...

Wednesday: 8/17/16

"No, sir," Hanami radios back, looking carefully across the town at the person in question: "She's not doing anything, really. Just... wandering."

"What do you mean by 'wandering?'" SPYGOD asks, very quickly: "Describe this 'wandering' you speak of, Hanami."

The android nods, and looks to her companions in monster-trailing (being Red Wrecker and Dragonfly) for some backup on this one.

They've been in Taos for four days now, keeping an eye on Yanabah for SPYGOD. So far they haven't had much to report, in terms of obvious dangers or threat assessment.

But in terms of odd behavior... well, you could say she's not acting like herself.

She shucked the black leather combat suit, either before or after she got here. She doesn't seem to have any weapons on her, though she could have secreted any number of guns, knives, grenades, or other such implements of grievous bodily harm in that tacky, flowing sunflower dress she's got on, or the huge bag she's lugging about. She's also got a floppy hat and what might be dollar store flip flops.

(Still wearing sunglasses, though -- the thin, silvery ones she wears day and night like some kind of 80's New Wave assassin.)

As for what she's doing, well, 'wandering' seems to fit. In the four days they've been quietly trailing her, she's gone to no less than ten shopping areas, spent time in at least thirty stores, and eaten at nine fast food restaurants.

She has also not gotten anything alcoholic to drink, even in the privacy of the flea-pit hotel room she's taken in the less tourist-friendly part of town.

Hanami tells SPYGOD all of that, deciding to skip no details whatsoever. It takes her exactly 31:34, and by the time she's done she's wondering if she's said too much, or not enough.

(She can tell Red Wrecker's bored as hell, though. Girl's patience and ability to control her temper seems to have vanished along with most of her hair...)

"Alright, then," SPYGOD says: "No alcohol? Not even a damn drop?"

"No, sir," the Japanese Android replies, watching through telescopic eyes as the woman in question gently haggles with someone over some very lovely jewelry.

"And she hasn't beaten the !@#$ing !@#$ out of anyone, yet?" the superspy asks.

"Not that I've seen. In fact, the other day someone ran into her, and she was actually... well, she seemed to be polite about it."


"I know, sir. That's.... well, that's rather spooky-"

"Put Dragonfly on the line, Hanami," SPYGOD says. The android nods and, looking at the white-clad former assassin, hands the communicator over to her.

"What's up, boss?" she asks, looking over at the quary.

"I know you won't kill, anymore," the superspy says: "I respect that. I do. Really."

"What do you need me to do, sir?" she asks.

"I need you to figure out how to knock her the !@#$ out," SPYGOD says: "No drugs. No bullets. Just a single, quick smack to something !@#$ing sensitive enough to drop her ass on the ground and keep her gone."

"Do you think she might be compromised?"

"What I think ain't your damn concern, Dragonfly," the superspy says: "I want a strategy in ten !@#$ing minutes. Call me back when you got it."

"And then what, sir?"

"And then... go back to watching, until it's time to do what you planned."

With that he turns off the communicator, and she nods, sighing.

"I think he's gonna come talk to her," the former assassin says, looking at Hanami and Red Wrecker: "I hope that's all he's gonna do."

"Me too," the short heroine says, tousling her short hair and pursing her lips: "Be a shame after all she's !@#$ing been through, you know?"

"We've all been through something, Florence," Hanami says, continuing to watch their quarry act like someone clearly not herself: "But sometimes it changes you too much..."

Thursday: 8/18/16

Randolph Scott looks in the mirror of his upscale, Nairobi hotel room, and wonders who he's seeing there, now.

He's not pretty. Not anymore. He's got wires and tubes sticking out the back of his misshapen head instead of hair. One eye's been replaced by a camera lens, and the other's red from caffeine, jet lag, and crying. He's got more scars, divots, and weird spots than he cares to see, and can't even remember how he got them all.

A few years ago he was just another reporter, working for Alternet. The only one who cared to cry "Bull!@#$" at SPYGOD. His seeming fearlessness got him a spot by the spy's side, and that spot got him into some damn weird and dangerous situations. 

Getting out of them? That'd been him. 

And getting back into them, over and over again -- both alone, and with his family? That'd been him, too. Somehow managing to plan his way out of danger, or at least to have enough allies and friends nearby to pull his ass out of the fire when it counted. 

Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. Going where the story was. Finding out the facts. Sticking a gun down the throat of those who kept the secrets and exposing them for the world to see.

And all it had cost him was his wholeness. Then his humanity. Almost his life, a time or two. 

Now, it's cost him his family. His kids. The woman he loves. 

And in a few short minutes, if he gets the phone call he's expecting, it might just cost him everything he has left...

* * *

"Bad news for the Republican front runner today, as people in no less than five American cities got a view of him they weren't really expecting -- naked," 

Karl pauses for a laugh from his home audience, as he unveils a picture of the gross, nude statue in question.

"The anarchist organization INDECLINE has taken credit for the lifesize statues, which turned up in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Neo York City, and Cleveland. Entitled 'the Emperor has no Balls,' they portray the Candidate as a grower, not a shower, and portray him in a rather unflattering light. 

"Unfortunately, most of the statues didn't last the full day before city sanitation crews were dispatched to remove them. At least Neo York City's parks department had a sense of humor about the situation, stating that 'NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.'

"Over to you, Jana...." he says, and his smile drops the moment the camera's off him.

He sighs and looks at Helga, who's giving him the thumbs-up. He's good to clear the floor and go do what he was going to do -- supposedly keep checking the wires for any quick-breaking news they might need for the show.

That's not what he's going to do, though. He's got an entirely different thing in mind. 

Instead, he goes back to the wire office, and uses the burner phone he got yesterday -- supposedly while getting everyone's take-out -- to call a certain number. 

"Yeah, hey," he says: "It's me. Yeah... can't talk long..."

"Oh, you did?" he says, raising an eyebrow: "That easily? That's unusual. He's usually a lot more careful..."

"Oh, well, yes. You are you, I know," he smiles: "So where is he, then?"

He listens for a while, and gets the information down in his mind: "Alright. Thank you. Yes... please keep an eye on him. If he moves, I would like to know about it."

"Not this phone, no. I'm about to go toss it. Just send me a line at the email I'm about to text to you."

"Yes. Thank you. You've made me feel a lot better. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye."

With that, he closes the phone, and then puts it down. He'll smash it later and crush the important bits. 

And then he wonders why his father went to Nairobi. What could he possibly want there...?

He thinks about that for a moment. As he does he feels his head go light, just for a second, and then shakes it off. 

It's probably nothing. Just stress. Just worry. 

No wonder he's getting gray hairs, all of a sudden...

Friday: 8/19/16

"Did he just tell the black population of Michigan they had no jobs?"

"Yes, he did," the pollster says to the Candidate's campaign manager, chugging a beer as the crowd below goes nuts: "Followed up with 'what do you have to lose.'"

The young man grits his teeth, and nervously rolls his crisp Dartmouth tie halfway up his chest: "Please, please tone it down. Just a little. Just a little..."

"Oh no," the pollster says: "Here he goes again..."

And as the beefy man goes on and on -- dropping bomb after bomb, gaffe after gaffe -- his manager wonders if the sigil King Whip made for him will explode when it overloads, or simply disappear.

He also wonders how quickly he could get out of Dimondale if his life depended on it.

* * *

"No," the FAUST prison official tells his superior over the phone: "Everything seems to be in order. The running of the prison is... well, it is perfect, for want of a better word. Our prisoners are being treated as humanely as possible, under very trying circumstances...

"Yes, even Agent 78. Especially him. He's being very well looked after...

"Well, it's... it's just a feeling I have," Mssr Andek says, doing his best to avoid clouding his thoughts with what he saw, the other day, in the Habitrail. What he saw that prisoner doing.

(What he'd like to do to that prisoner...)

"Yes," he says to the obvious question to his understated concerns: "I feel that something could change, soon. I'm not certain what. I just feel that I should be here in case the wind shifts in the direction I think it will...

"Yes, of course," the official says: "I'll stay out of Mssr. Freedom's way. He won't even know I'm there.

"I'll just find something else to do," he says, smiling in spite of it all.

And planning how it's all going to happen...

* * *

"And that's what you've !@#$ing got, huh?" SPYGOD says, looking Hanami straight in the eyes: "One quick pulse to the back of the head?"

"It'll overload her ability to respond to her surroundings," the Japanese android answers, doing her best not to act intimidated by his glowering -- or his getup: "I do that, and then all you have to do is give her a tap to the temple. She'll be unconscious in less than a second."

He looks at her, then over at Red Wrecker and Dragonfly -- sitting on and around the hotel room's bed, respectively -- and then nods.

"Alright, then," he says, sitting down in the room's one chair and nodding: "Sounds like a !@#$ing plan to me."

"So what's the plan?" Dragonfly asks.

"Based on what you've !@#$ing told me, Rakim ran the damn brain computer through some options," the superspy replies: "There's something like an 85% chance of her hitting the !@#$ing plaza on Sunday. So that's when I'll approach her."

"Is there a reason why she's more likely to be there?" Hanami asks, always fascinated by what the former Brainman's computer can predict.

"Apparently there's a big, pan-tribal thing," SPYGOD says: "Arts and crafts, stories and songs. That kind of thing.

"Dunno why she'd be overly interested in that !@#$," Red Wrecker shrugs: "She really wasn't before."

"You never knew her Grandfather, did you?" the superspy asks, looking over his glasses at the young heroine.

"No sir. I guess he died before I really !@#$ing came on board?"

"That's right," he nods, leaning forward as he goes into explanation mode: "Well, for the longest damn time she was stuck to his leathery ass like glue, kid. She was his bodyguard, his business manager, his advocate. I didn't ever want to !@#$ with him, but she made him look like a goddamn puppy. And he was really into what you so elegantly called 'tribal stuff.'"

"So you think she might be trying to reconnect with things that were important to him?" Dragonfly asks, nodding: "That makes sense."

"'It's just !@#$ing possible that after all the !@#$ she's been through, she'd want some comfort from her past," SPYGOD says: "I know I do from time to time. !@#$ goes from bad to worse to 'holy !@#$ batten down the !@#$ing hatches,' I go grab my grandma's secret book of family recipes and cook like a mother!@#$er."

Hanami raises her eyebrow at that, and Dragonfly chuckles: "You do like to cook. I remember when we-"

"We ain't !@#$ing talking about that," SPYGOD says, holding up a hand: "Ever."

Red Wrecker shrugs in the silence that follows: "Past's got !@#$ing nothing for me, now. There's just what's ahead."

"Well, that's good for you, kid," the superspy says, raising himself up from the chair and looking down at her: "Sunday we bring your teammate back, either on her feet or in a !@#$ing box. So you stop !@#$ing posing like you're too tough to get hurt, and get your damn attention ahead of that one."

With that he heads for the door: "I'll be elsewhere until the rendezvous, ladies. Don't follow me. Don't be !@#$ing late."

"What did he mean..." Red Wrecker asks as soon as he's out the door, looking at Dragonfly for some kind of reassurance -- because she does know what he meant, but doesn't want to admit it.

And Dragonfly just shrugs -- having just been shut down by him, herself -- and decides some hard, honest meditation is what's called for, here.

Anything to clear her cluttered mind of the sense of impending doom...

Saturday: 8/20/16

"So..." the dark-skinned man with the very large gun says to Randolph: "I hear you wish to speak to him."

"I do, yes," the outlaw reporter says, aiming a very large gun of his own at the man: "Are you here to help me?"

"I might be," Khalil says -- not caring to lower his weapon at all: "But first, I have to ask you the same question."

They're standing about three feet apart in a side room, apart from the sorry floor of the hotel's honest attempt at a swanky restaurant. They arranged to meet there, at separate tables, with their true appearances disguised by holographic projectors. At a predetermined signal -- someone dropping a bottle of beer on the floor, which happened fairly often -- they would both get up, take a stroll towards the men's room, and meet there. 

He didn't exactly expect the man to pull a gun on him. But he wasn't not expecting it, either. He used to be NGUVU, after all, and then a major player in the weird, super-spy circles their time with SPYGOD had pulled them both into.

"So how do you think I can help you?" Randolph asks after a moment -- not caring to lower his weapon, either.

"It turns out we both have a friend in common," the agent says: "Skyspear."

"That's right," the outlaw reporter says, nodding -- remembering how she helped him find out what was going on with those missing teleporter parts, all that time ago: "I haven't seen her since Moscow, about a month back. Things have been kind of crazy since then."

"I haven't really seen her either," Khalil says: "And that's worrying me. We were..."

He doesn't have the words, but Randolph understands.

"If she didn't leave a number, she probably doesn't want you to call her," he says, lowering his gun at last: "I hate to say this, but... things went pretty bad with Mark Clutch and her. If she went with you afterwards, it might have been a rebound."


"Yeah. You break up with someone, you need something to feel complete, so you date someone that maybe isn't right for you just to have someone in your life. I'm sure-"

"I think I understand," Khalil says, sighing and lowering his weapon: "Malaya."

"I don't think that's fair-"

"I don't think I care to know your assessment, sir," the agent says, putting his gun away and frowning: "But thank you. You have helped me. Just not exactly how I wanted."

"Truth hurts, sometimes," Randolph says, considering his own issues with it as he puts his own weapon back inside his suit: "Now, can you help me?"

The agent looks at the reporter, and nods: "You know the Carnivore?"

"That tourist trap place that serves warthog and zebra?"

"Not so much zebra, anymore. Go there tomorrow, at 3. Sit in the back. Order the crocodile."

"He'll be there?"

"He might," the agent admits: "All I ever do is leave a message in his drop box. He may not get it. He may not care to come. He may not even care to come right away. I've heard of him leaving people to wait for days, even weeks. Just to see if what they have to say it worth his time.

"But for you? I will try," Khalil says, reaching out a hand to shake: "Just... the next time you see her? Tell her something for me?"

"What?" Randolph asks, shaking the man's hand.

"Tell her..." the man starts to say, and then, ashamed of the words that might leave his lips, shakes his head and leaves.

"I'll do that," the outlaw reporter whispers once the man's out of earshot, and then decides he really doesn't care to finish his meal. 

Sunday: 8/21/16

The plaza is a !@#$ing mess, operationally-speaking.

There's too many people for this kind of a show -- all packed too densely and moving too chaotically to properly track. Booths and buyers, singers and audiences, storytellers and kids and people just !@#$ing around with their cameras and phones.

Sound and motion. Distractions galore. And noise, noise, noise. 

SPYGOD doesn't let that deter him, though. He's there, right on the button, as planned. And as soon as he's positive his people are in place -- Dragonfly nearby, Red Wrecker not too far, and Hanami overhead -- he begins to wander through the crowds, looking for the target.

She's not too hard to find, Yanabah. In fact, if he didn't know any better he'd think she was trying to be conspicuous. She's wearing things more in keeping with what he's used to seeing her in, rather than the tourist drag she's been in since she got to Taos: black sunglasses, a loose t-shirt, blue jeans, and Army surplus boots. All she'd need is a holster and some very large damn guns and it'd be just like old times.

He waits a moment, just to make sure of something. He's not entirely sure what it is.

(Too easy, he thinks. Way too !@#$ing easy.)

But he rushes forward, anyway. And when she turns to face him, revealing that her shirt says SUPERHERO, he realizes he's been played.

"Hey boss," she says, smiling over her glasses: "About !@#$ing time you got here."

"Took a wrong !@#$ing turn at Albuquerque," he shrugs: "You all need to mark your damn roads better."

"Should have had the girls give you directions," she says, indicating they should walk a certain way: "They've been here long enough, keeping tabs on me."

"Think so, huh?"

She smirks at that: "Hanami needs to !@#$ing avoid being seen. Not a lot of Asian tourists here, boss man. They usually stay on the coast."

"Fair enough," SPYGOD says: "What are you doing here, Yanabah? Really?"

"Getting some !@#$ing perspective, at least at first," the assassin shrugs: "The ground here talks to you, if you know how to walk it."

"And then what?" he presses: "I figured you'd be at your Grandfather's place, but-"

"No," she interrupts him: "I'm not ready to go there. Not yet, anyway."

"I understand that," SPYGOD nods, deciding to back off a bit: "He was a good man, Yanabah. A humane man. A friend, when he wasn't !@#$ing pissed off at me for one thing or another."

"What are friends for?" someone else asks -- suddenly too far up in their business for SPYGOD's liking.

SPYGOD turns to face the person, and is puzzled by what he sees. An older, Native American man wearing a very sharp black and grey suit, with a frankly tacky "cowboy and indian" tie.

He's about to tell him to step the !@#$ back and mind his own damn business, but something about how he looks at him makes him falter, just for a second.

(A very short second.)

"Boss man," Yanabah says before the superspy can do the obvious thing with one of his many hidden handguns: "This man is the other reason I came here. He wanted to talk to you."

SPYGOD looks at the old man -- grinning like a skeleton -- and then back at Yanabah: "We're going to have some !@#$ing words about this later."

"I'd be !@#$ing disappointed if we didn't," she chuckles, but before he can answer that in the proper manner -- a machine-gun stream of very loud, curse-strewn threats -- the old man's extended a hand to shake.

"Don't blame the girl for this, (REDACTED)," he says: "We're long overdue for a talk, you and I."

"I beg your damn pardon?" SPYGOD says, wondering if he should break the hand off at the wrist before shoving it up this guy's asshole, or afterwards.

"I see Wayfinder was right about you," the old man says, dropping his hand -- along with the smile: "There's bugs out in the desert got better manners than you do. And they strip the skin off your bones ten minutes after you're dead."

"I don't like people sticking their nose my my !@#$ing business, old man," the superspy says, taking a step further into the man's personal space: "If you knew Wayfinder, he'd have !@#$ing told you that."

"He did, yeah," the flint-faced man says: "Told me a lot more, besides. Like how you had the far-seeing look, but it didn't do you any good. That you didn't get old with the others like you. Didn't die, either, though you should have killed yourself a dozen times over. He even told me you used to eat poison for laughs-"

"You want a taste, pal?"

"Woah, hey," Yanabah says, stepping closer: "Boss man, you really shouldn't-"

"It's alright, dearie," the old man says, not taking his eyes off SPYGOD for a moment: "You go find your friends that are watching us, and let them know it's all okay. We'll be fine here."

Yanabah nods, and goes to do as she's told, leaving SPYGOD there to fume and clench his fists.

(And wonder why -- why -- he hasn't just made a fist and turned this flint-eyed !@#$er's face inside out, yet...)

"It's because you're in my place of power, son," the old man says, clearly able to read the superspy's mind: "This whole area's sacred to my people."

"What?" SPYGOD asks, feeling the world slip from under his feet, just a little.

"Why do you think Wayfinder stayed here for so long, the weather?" the old man smirks: "It sure wasn't the scenery. This place is desolate, even by my standards."

"So where's home?"

The old man smiles, and gestures that they should walk further into the crowd: "Maybe someday you'll see for yourself. Not just yet, though. You got some more walking this world to do."

"Nice to know," SPYGOD replies, looking back to see Yanabah heading off: "She's yours now, then?"

"If you mean she, as a grown woman, capable of making her own damn decisions, has decided to embrace the world I can offer her?" the old man asks, not turning around: "You'd be correct. But she also wants to stay in your world, too. She figures she owes it to you, after everything that happened."

"I don't have time for divided !@#$ing loyalties-"

"Grow up, (REDACTED)," the man says, turning around: "You think Wayfinder was your man? He worked with you, not for you. And on his terms, not yours. Now you're going to extend her the same courtesy, and be glad you've got her on your side."

"And what do you get out of it?" SPYGOD asks, trying not to shout so loud as to alert the civilians around him: "Who the !@#$ are you, anyway?"

"Well, that's an interesting question," the old man grins: "I guess you could say I'm you."

SPYGOD blinks -- once, then twice: "Bull!@#$."

"No !@#$, son. See, I'm the guy who sits at the head of the fire, like you. People come and tell me things, and I remember those things. Keep them a secret, up here in my head.

"And then I tell those people what to go and do, and to not do. What to say, and who to. Where to be, what to be, and when, and how.

"And when all these new folks come around to the fire, and want to speak? And they tell me what they think they know, and what they think we ought to do about it? Well... I'm the one who pretends to listen, nods sagely, try to avoid looking irritated.

"And then I say, in the most even tone that I can, 'I have heard your words of wisdom, and of change. I know your heart to be good, and your intentions honest. So I have considered your words, as I consider all such things. And this is what we will do.'"

"And then what?" SPYGOD asks, thinking he knows where this is !@#$ing going. 

"And then I tell them to do what I was going to tell them to do, anyway, because none of them know a fraction of what I do, or see as far, or for as long."

The old man smiles at that, and pats SPYGOD on the chest, right about his heart: "So you see? Not so different. We just deal with different battles. Different fights. Different worlds.

"But my world is about to rejoin with yours, (REDACTED)," he says: "More than it's been in a long damn time. And that's why I wanted to speak to you, today. Because we need to be on the same page, going forward.

"Or we are all in some deep, deep !@#$."

"What do you mean?" SPYGOD says: "We just kicked the Devil's ass, in case you weren't paying attention."

"Oh, we are," the old man says: "Believe me. That was kind of the kicker."


"Well, you know, when those silly Gods came back the first time, we sat on our hands and did nothing. Because we knew what was going to happen. The White Man's god doesn't like competition, and he never has. We knew he'd find a way to ruin things for them."

"They didn't," SPYGOD says.

"Oh, sure they did," the old man chuckles: "You think that prophet of theirs can't see their own doom? She wouldn't be much of a seer if she didn't know, would she?

"But she also knew what we knew, and have always known. That the White Man's god isn't just jealous, but he's also very touchy. He's like a friend who's only willing to take so much nonsense from you, and then one day, after one last really bad fight he just leaves. And you never see him again."

"But we're stuck with you, huh?" the superspy says, thinking he's finally realized who -- or at least what -- he's talking to, now.

"Well, now that he's gone, I figure the world's a free market economy, again," the old man smiles: "Time for us to come back and walk the land, again. See what's going on with our own eyes. Do what we have to do.

"But we're not the only ones, now," he goes on: "There's going to be a lot of folks coming back. Not all of them are going to get along. Some of them have been nursing grudges for longer than recorded history. Some of them have changed in bad ways since they left.

"And some of them... well, they were never too nice to begin with. Time away's just made them cruel."

"So you're saying what !@#$ing happened with the Aesir... that's just the icing on the !@#$ cake?"

"I'm saying you need to learn from the mistake they still haven't really fixed, yet," the old man goes on, taking the time to admire a woman's woven blankets, on the tables of her stall. She smiles at him like she recognizes and respects him, and he does the same.

"What mistake is that?"

"Well... that would be telling," the old man says, turning around and winking: "But if it helps any? That one Olympian you know really well figured it out a long time ago. You might want to talk to him about that, and quick. Especially before you wind up hip deep in more spirits than you know what to do with."

"How many are we talking about, then?" the superspy asks -- a very cold feeling slipping into the pit of his stomach.

"How many stars in the sky?" the old man replies, waving a hand to the heavens: "How many leaves on the trees? How many names has man called the spirits down the years? How many spirits did man actually know about?"

"Can you give me a !@#$ing ballpark estimate?" SPYGOD asks: "Hundreds? Thousands...?"

"A lot," the old man says, his eyes glowing like there was lightning behind them.

"A whole lot," says the woman at the stall, her eyes doing the same.

"More than you could possibly imagine," says every person on the plaza -- all the vendors and singers and parents and children. All their eyes are lit up, and all of them are fixed on SPYGOD, just for a moment.

And then the moment's gone, and everyone goes back to looking normal, again.

"Well..." SPYGOD says, looking around: "I guess that's one !@#$ing way to make an entrance."

"Oh, that's just us knocking on the door, son," the old man says, extending a hand to shake: "When we're walking in? Now that will be something to see."

SPYGOD looks at the man's face, then at the hand.

He reaches out and takes it, very slowly. Shakes it firmly. Politely, even.

"Glad we could reach an understanding," the old man says, and then his eyes widen with surprise as SPYGOD pulls him in -- close enough to whisper to him. 

What he tells him doesn't take long. But when he's done, the old man isn't smiling as much, anymore. Instead he's looking at the superspy with something very much like worry.

And maybe a little like fear...

With that, SPYGOD lets go of the man's hand, nods at him, and smiles back: "I'm glad we could have this talk, sir. I feel like we really connected."

And then he turns and walks away, still smiling. The old man shouts something after him, but he doesn't care to hear it.

It isn't until he's a long damn way away from the market that he lets himself truly feel the fear that had been creeping into his bones once he realized who he was conversing with, and what that actually was.

And it isn't until he's on a transport back to DC -- with his heroes and Yanabah along for the ride -- that he can steady his hands enough to take a really deep drink from the flask he'd had next to the gun he'd been ready to use, but somehow couldn't.

And as he drinks...

* * *

... Straffer takes control of a Lightship, late into the Martian evening, and pilots down into the bowels of the red planet -- seeking the truth he's not getting from the Aesir...

... The Owl gets a call from the last person she thought would ever contact her, asking her to come and talk about "their" son...

... Karl waits for another phone call, and wonders if he should tell his brother and sisters that he's noticed they have the same problem, all of a sudden...

... the daughter of the last President looks up from her bed to see someone standing there, watching, and smiles ear to ear to have some company at last...

... Randolph Scott sits in the back of the theme restaurant, nursing a Dawa and wondering how long he can sit here and peck at flame-roasted crocodile before the staff kicks him out...

... while someone watches the outlaw reporter sitting there, and decides it's time to put a few things into motion...

... and someone else -- who really doesn't belong at the Olympic games -- waits for the closing ceremonies to begin, feverishly anticipating the horror he's going to bring to the table...

* * *

... and SPYGOD realizes Yanabah's been talking to him for the past few minutes.

"Bossman?" she asks, realizing he's finally listening: "Can I ask you something?"

"You can ask," he says, staring at her -- wondering a few things.

"What did you say to him, at the end there?" she asks: "I mean, I haven't known him that long. But he looked !@#$ing spooked-"

"That's on a !@#$ing need to know basis," the superspy replies, raising an eyebrow: "And right now, if I were you? I wouldn't push your !@#$ing luck too damn far."

"Look... I know you're !@#$ing angry, but-"

"But nothing," he says, taking another hit: "You and me need to talk about what's going to happen next, Yanabah."

She nods, knowing this conversation was coming: "I'm not gonna lie and say I played this by the !@#$ing book, but-"

"No, you didn't," he says, pointing the finger of the hand he's got wrapped around the flask at her: "But I didn't bring you into this !@#$ to play things by the !@#$ing book. That's not who you are. That's not what you do. You gotta do your thing your way, and usually it !@#$ing works. I respect that. I respect you.

"But if you're going to be my liaison to the Great !@#$ing Spirit?" he says, looking up at her with all seriousness: "We're gonna have to change a few damn things."

She looks at him for a second, and then nods: "It's really better to call him the Great Mystery."

"See?" he says, taking yet another pull from the flask: "You're !@#$ing helping already."

And they both laugh at that -- at least until some panicked voice from the Flier tells them they need to be watching the Olympics right the !@#$ now.

And then no one's laughing at all. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Waste (Front 242) and having a Superstitious Stout)

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