Wednesday, October 31, 2012

9/10/12 (ARACHNIDS) Listen to the Silence - pt 1

Bangkok's a sauna, come September: its incessant humidity broken only by intermittent showers of rain you wouldn't want to drink, even on a bar bet.

On afternoons like this, in Patpong, the streets are full but the sidewalks are nearly empty. Anyone with any sense has gone inside to get out of the wet and the heat in hopes of finding some dry and cool. The electrical grid flickers, every so often, with all the air conditioners threatening a brown out, and the bars do a brisk trade of bottled water and cold beer.

But then, no one really comes here for just the drinks.

Patpong, for better or worse, is the best-known expatriate playground in the city. Farangs looking for that certain thing that the tourist brochures and hotel concierges don't want to talk about, but everyone knows about, wind up here, eventually. The ground floor go-go bars bring in the average joes, while those in the mood for something a little more exotic -- or illegal -- go up to the second floor, or higher.

Not all of them come back down.

It would be grossly unfair to say that Patong is all about the skin trade, though. There are many other reasons to visit this neighborhood, and many other kinds of drinking establishments, some of which cater to expatriates just trying to keep in touch with one another. Lonely foreigners who want to see friendly and familiar faces head there, first, knowing that sooner or later they'll encounter one of their countrymen, and possibly a new friend.

And then there are those places that cater to the sort of people who don't want to be found.

On Silom Soi 4, nestled amongst the bars that cater almost exclusively to gay men, Katooeys, and the like, there's a two-story place called Pokes. In spite of the suggestive name, and the makeup of some of its clientele, the well-appointed, wood and brass establishment is not necessarily geared towards hooking up for sex. Indeed, anyone who goes in there looking for go-go girls or available boys tends to get toyed with by the bartender, and then gently escorted out by the bouncer.

Put simply, Pokes exists so that people with certain needs can meet people who can provide those needs, or put them in touch with someone who can. If you need a tourguide who will take you places that aren't on any map, a man who can help you hide your money, or reclaim what was stolen, a journalist who can get you in touch with hard-to-find sources, or a detective who can get you out of trouble, Pokes is the best place to go. 

And, judging from how busy it gets, there are a lot of people in Bangkok who need it.

Yet, at the same time, the bar conversely provides a shelter for those who don't want to be disturbed. Business happens on the first floor, and solitude -- both singly or in groups -- takes place in the curtained, recessed tables on the second. Fine dining can be brought up from the restaurant next door, drinks are shuttled up by dumb waiter to a stone-deaf server at the back of the darkened room, and woe betide anyone who tries to take their noisy needs up the staircase.

(They say there's a third floor, too, but no one's willing to say what happens, there, if anything. Maybe that's where the gatecrashers go.)

Today, around two in the afternoon, a large, burly, and quite homely fellow dressed -- and bearded -- too heavily for this weather walks in, nods to the bartender, and points up to the stairs. The tender nods and gestures, and up the stairs he goes, heavy feet clomping all the way up. 

He goes to a large table, draws the curtain behind him, and sits down facing the stairwell. It takes him a full five minutes of sitting there to actually relax, and then he's just waiting for the waiter to send up his usual bottle of vodka -- without the cap, of course.

Ten minutes -- and three significant shots -- later, he's joined by a tall and large man dressed nicely, but still too warmly for the climate. He's dark skinned, with a very flat nose, short hair, and a neatly groomed mustache. He walks up the stairs, takes in the room, and heads straight for the curtained-off table. 

"Mikhail," he says, his voice deep and musical. (Ethiopian.)

"Khalil," the burly fellow replies, his thick accent giving his nationality away more than the vodka does. (Russian.) 

Khalil smiles, and makes a point of sitting up against the wall, so that he can keep one eye on Mikhail and another on the stairwell: "Do we know who else is coming?"

"That I do not know, my friend. I only who is not coming."

Khalil's about to ask the obvious question, but then there's another set of footfalls coming up the stairwell. This time it's a short, ginger-haired fellow who's dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, which is the perfect clothing for this sort of day. He gives off the carefree vibes of someone who's just on vacation, but there's traps in his eyes, ready to spring shut on anyone who might mess with him.

"Sir George," Mikhail says, not bothering to rise: "This is Khalil, from NGUVU. Is your first time meeting in person, yes?"

"I do believe so, yes," he replies, his British accent as clipped as a well-trimmed toenail: "But I know who you are, sir."

"May I buy you a drink?" the African asks, smiling. Something behind George's eyes hardens, just for a second, and then it's gone, but that's told Khalil all he needs to know. 

Just before Sir George can come up with a polite refusal, there's a noise like a marker on a whiteboard, and two Indian men are in the room. One's large, young man, dressed like he watched too many Matrix movies. The other's older, and dressed more conservatively, with bad facial scars and raggedy, long hair.

"Dosha," Mikhail says, standing up: "I am so relieved to see you, my friend. I had heard bad stories."

"They are all quite true," Dosha Josh says, nodding to the young man who brought him here. There's another sound, and then the young man is gone, just as Dosha pointedly takes the seat that Sir George was going to take.  

"So, this is all of us, then?" Sir George asks, trying to rebound from that snub and take the last --and least safe -- seat that remains.

"It is," Dosha replies: "Francois did not survive 3/15, and what's left of Direction Noir isn't to be trusted, now. Mister 9 is missing, presumed dead, and his people are next to useless without him."

"And, as I understand, Jose Julia has pulled one of his famous disappearing acts," Mikhail says, pouring himself another shot.

"And we know what happened to poor Jomo and his agency, don't we?" Sir George says, shooting a significant look at Khalil. 

"That just leaves the Gavril person you spoke of," Khalil says, choosing to ignore the glare, at least for now: "Will he be joining us, then?"

"I am afraid the answer is no," Mikhail says, hitting a buzzer on the table to summon the upstairs waiter: "Gavril is also dead. But before he died, he gave to me much useful information. I would give this information to you, my friends. But first, we should drink."

"To his memory? Quite right-" Sir George begins to say, but has his speech halted by a large, red palm.

"To settle us in this place, in this moment," Mikhail corrects him: "To loosen our minds and let certain terrible things wash over us, rather than sweep us away."

"Then the rumors are true?" Dosha asks: "About Israel?"

Mikhail nods: "I have a horror story to tell you, this day. And I fear none of you will ever wish to meet again, after I tell you this thing. But I owe it to him to see that his last words are known, and heard, and understood by those who might be able to do something about this.

"As for whether you are willing, well," he shrugs, regarding the waiter as he appears at the edge of the curtain: "We shall see, yes?"

* * *

Three blocks away, in an alley that's best left deserted, Anil appears. He takes a look up and down the cramped, wet passage, and then navigates its trash and detritus until he comes to a locked metal door. 

He hesitates, just for a second. Then he bangs on it, three times, his eyes screwed shut as he does. 

The locks tumble and and unlock, and suddenly he finds he can turn the knob. He sighs, opens it, and goes into the darkened interior. 

Inside there's a room that's mostly empty, except for an orange crate, and a black, slim cell phone. He closes the door behind him, picks up the phone, and dials a number he wishes he didn't know.

"Where are they?" a raspy voice asks.

"Poke's," Anil says: "The second floor. The large private table."

"Very well," it answers him: "If this is true, our agreement stands."

"It is true. Please let her go. Please-"

"Once this matter is concluded, and not before," the voice insists: "You should understand that by now."

The phonecall goes dead. Anil puts the phone down. He weeps, for all the good it will do him.

But there's nothing he can do now but regret.   

(SPYGOD is listening to At Night (The Cure) and having the nastiest Russian vodka you never heard of)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

9/09/12 - Climbing the Moon, Heading for the Stars

There will be no fight. You were given no opportunity. Nothing was left to chance.

We have taken the world in our hands. From this moment onward, you will be ruled.

We control Deep Ten. Your ability to make war on us is nonexistent. 

Your Strategic Talents have been neutralized. 

Your leaders will soon sing our praises and convince their citizens that ours is the greater good.

They will be well fed and cared for. Occupied and content. Safe from petty tyrannies and their accompanying tortures, protected from the worst things life could offer.

They will have the illusion of liberty. And with just enough freedom and enfranchisement to feel as though nothing is missing, and everything is in order.

And within one generation, they will know nothing else but what we tell them.

* * *

At the ragged edge of a deep, dark forest full of trees that are thousands of years old, there's a massive, multi-storied treehouse, high up in the cyclopean boughs of the tallest one there.

It's not in the greatest of repair, that treehouse. Once it was a well-appointed thing, looking a lot like some Queen Anne-style mansion, hewn from fallen timber and living wood, and then nestled amongst the humungous branches of a tree like some strange, surrealist bauble.

A house in a globe in a Christmas tree as tall as skyscraper.

But the ornament has clearly fallen on hard times. The once-shining wooden walls are cracked and rotting, and their screen windows are ripped and frayed. The many roofs are moldered and collapsed, and every so often a large piece of the structure creaks, cracks, and falls down when the tree sways in the wind.

It's not a safe thing to be there, clearly, but yet there are many signs of life and reoccupation. Minor repairs have been done, recently, and new, shiny electronic equipment has been hung from some of the porches, and attached to the better roofs. Antennas and receivers carry information back and forth, and automated defense batteries stare down any would-be intruders.

Especially the flocks of pterodactyls, who -- smelling prey within -- are rather keen to try and attack the seemingly weak, wooden structure, and aren't smart enough to understand that the streams of metal that splatter them whenever they do aren't going away anytime soon.

* * *

Not long after a failed pterodactyl run, a well-tanned, lone figure stands stands on one of the porches, sipping water from a bottle and watching the wildlife, above and below.

There's a herd of herbivores of some -saurus stripe, down there, and he's wondering if something nasty's going to come through and try to slaughter them, again. He's tempted to bring one of the special rifles out here, with him, to make sure that doesn't happen. But he figures that, if he does, he'll get another lecture about nature and nurture and all that !@#$.

(Either that or the recoil will make the porch fall right off, and take him with it.)

And while there was a time that Myron might not have minded that, so much, these days he's feeling a lot better about himself, and his place in the larger scheme of things. His survivor's guilt is mostly washed away, and he no longer feels stupid, or useless, or out of place. 

That's not the only change that's gone on; he's a lot thinner than he was -- slimmed and tanned by his time working in the Sun, here. He moves quicker and easier than he has in years, and just feels more at ease with himself. 

And the sunglasses? Gone, except for the ones he wears to keep from getting blinded around Noon, when the Sun's at its highest and most bright. 

He sips some more water, swishes, and spits some over the wooden railing, watching it bead out as it plummets to the ground, far below. He'd kill for some !@#$ing Pepsi, which reminds him of a song he hasn't heard in forever, and that makes him chuckle, just a little.

"Careful," a sing-songy voice warns him from the door: "You keep !@#$ing laughing they're gonna !@#$ing realize you're not as big of a hard!@#$ as you pretend to be."

"I get three introspective chortles a day," he says, turning to look at the tall, somewhat gawky teen girl coming out onto the porch: "It's in my contract."

"Which one? The scientist who saves the !@#$ing world or the recovering supervillain?"

"They're kind of the same," he says, wishing she wouldn't !@#$ing bring the last one up, anymore. 

"Yeah, well," she grins, stopping just a little short of being too close to him. He looks at her and smiles. She looks away, and down. 

Myron's not 100% sure what the !@#$ happened to Winifred. She knows a lot about certain terrible things that Imago was doing, and barely escaped with her life after finding them out. But what happened between the time she found it out and when the others found her is something she hasn't shared with too many people. 

(He suspects it was !@#$ terrible, which is sad. He also suspects she's got something of a crush on him, which is really awkward and inconvenient, to say the least.)

"Anyway, I was !@#$ing looking for you," Winifred says, still not really looking Myron in the eye: "Fred's calling. He says they're !@#$ing ready to send over another group, and !@#$."

"Cool," Myron replies, turning and heading for the door, and not being too surprised that she walks quickly ahead of him: "Any idea who's in this group?"

"No !@#$ing idea, but I sure !@#$ing hope they got my !@#$ AV request in."

"Holding out for BSG?"

"You know it!"

"Old or new?" he teases.

"Oh, let's not start that !@#$ again..."

* * *

"Okay, I think we're good on this end," Mark Clutch says into the microphone on the really large bank of stolen computers and cobbled-together controls that have come to dominate what used to be the grand buffet room of this tree mansion. 

"Roger," a creaky, scratchy voice replies from the other end: "We'll be sending in 60 seconds. Better get clear of the device."

"You got it," Mark replies, waving to everyone to stand well clear of the large apparatus the computers are all attached to. It looks like a gigantic television screen -- maybe the sort of thing you'd find up high in a sports stadium, only with a large pair of antennas, set at jaunty angles. Its screen glows with a strange, pulsing, grey-green light.

The machine starts making crackling, hissing noises as it warms up, and the banks of computers click and clack and whirl. Small arcs of electricity jump between metal surfaces, and those closest to the event horizon feel the hairs on their arms and legs standing up, which is as good an indication as any that they should back the !@#$ up.

At sixty seconds, a series of clicks go off as a bank of indicator lights turn on -- one right after the other. The pulsing light from the television screen gets brighter, and then faster, until it's a flickering strobe so powerful that onlookers need to shield their eyes, or cover them.

In the flickering light in front of the screen, human figures form: hazy and indistinct at first, but becoming sharper with each passing second. A rippling crack of displaced atmosphere, like a slow boom of thunder, rolls across the room -- shaking the entire treehouse as it goes.

And then, with a very loud hiss, the machine begins to decelerate. The whirling computers wind down, the indicator lights go off in reverse of the way they came on, and the pulsing becomes slower, and dimmer, until the onlookers can see who's just joined them, and how many boxes of supplies they've brought along.

An odd crew, this: mostly Middle-Eastern and African men and women, many of whom seem a little woozy and uncertain at their new surroundings. Mark and a few of the onlookers come forward with water, towels, and first aid kits, just in case.

"Thank you," the tallest man there says, gratefully taking water from Mark: "Are you Mr. Clutch?"

"I am. Aren't you the Lion? From Tunisia?"

"Algeria, actually," he says, shaking Mark's hand: "There was a Lion in Tunisia, but he was well before my time. I took my name from him in homage."

"Yeah, we get a lot of that," Mark smiles: "So who's who?"

"These are some of my allies, here with me. This gentleman here is The Wall, who is also from Algeria, and this lady is The Fist, from Egypt. The short fellow in the thobe is Running Bird, who comes from Mali. She is Skyspear, from the Sudan. I'm sure you can guess why this toothy fellow is called Crocodile, and this fellow here... um.... رجل الصل ?"

"Man of Steel," the metal-skinned man in the says, extending a hand to Mark: "From Fujairah, in the Emirates."

"And the man whose powers over metal have saved us from those Imago things quite a number of times," the Lion says, putting a friendly hand on the metal man's shoulder: "I thank God this man is on our side-"

"And I'm sure I need no introduction," another man -- the only pale skinned one in the group -- interrupts as he walks forward and looks at Mark, who does his best not to scowl.

"Green Man," Mark says, noticing how disheveled the fellow looks, his long black hair ratty and greasy, and his green eyes sunken: "It's been a while. How are you?"

"Not very well," the assassin says: "And you should know that I'm not here by choice."

"Well, I don't think anyone's really here by choice," Mark starts to say, but man's already stomped off towards the doors and out into the main hall. It's almost like he knows where he's going, and, considering his talents, he probably does.

"Is there some bad history, here?" The Lion asks, discreetly.

"You could say that," Mark replies: "But the least said about that, the better. There's some pressing issues and bad news waiting, and... well, I'm still trying to forgive."

"Always an admirable thing."

"So which direction is Mecca from this place?" Crocodile asks in a sibilant voice, scratching his scales as he does.

"Any way you want," Mark says, smiling.

* * *

After a meal -- which may or may not have been entirely halal -- and a penny tour, Mark brings the Lion up to see Myron, who's in the workshop with Winifred and a few other, young men and women. They've just busted into some of the supplies the latest group brought with them, and are taking full advantage of the boxes of circuits and wiring. 

"Myron?" Mark asks: "I've got the Lion, here."

"Oh, okay," Myron says: "Winifred, you keep doing what I showed you. Penworth, you and Harold unspool the wires and get the boards lined up in sequence. And the rest of you... just keep doing that thing."

"Okay, Myron," Winifred says: "And we are on for later, right?"

"Yeah, we are," the man says, trying not to sigh: "BSG and popcorn in the TV lounge."

"Dude!" she gives a thumbs up and then goes back to soldering what looks like a rifle with a radar dish where the barrel should be.

"She really does have a crush on you, Myron," Mark chuckles once they're outside, on a platform leading towards the tree, itself.

"Dude, she's 16," Myron says: "Why is that everyone who's interested in me is either a supercriminal or underage?"

"16?" The Lion says: "Back in my country, in some villages, she would already be promised to someone, and probably already be married."

"Maybe, but..." Myron sighs again: "I have to go by what I think is right. And I can't justify that. Even if she does have awesome electrical engineering skills."

"Then that's all there is to it," Mark says: "I'll leave you two to talk about things. I have some bad news to break to Green Man."

"Do you want someone there?" Myron asks: "Just in case he freaks out?"

"I don't think he will, somehow," Mark says: "But if you hear me scream and see me learn how to fly without wings or a parachute, come running?"

"Will do," Myron says, and they watch Mark walk back inside before speaking.

"More secrets?" the Lion asks.

"Superheroic family drama," Myron says: "The less you're involved, the better off you are. Trust me."

"I do, my friend. I am just a little weary of being kept in the dark."

"Well, I can only apologize for that, but I'm sure you understand why we're being so tight-lipped about things." 

"Oh, I do. But now that I and my friends are here...?"

"Knock yourself out."

"Then where are we, exactly?" the Lion asks, waving at the gigantic tree they're parked in: "The people in the flying saucer would not say where they were taking us, and the cartoons would not say where they were sending us. This has been quite the mystery tour."

"We are in an artificially created pocket dimension," Myron says: "It's a parallel Earth inside a force-grown parallel universe. The major difference between the worlds is that there was never a K-T Extinction Event-"

"A what?"

"You remember the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a really big meteor? Here, it missed the Earth and went on to hit some other poor planet. So the ecosystem didn't have a massive die-off, dinosaurs never died out, and hominids never developed past the stage of being prey for giant, African thunder lizards."

"A parallel world," the Lion muses, looking around: "I did not realize he had access to that kind of technology."

"Well, it's really tenuous access," Myron explains: "Third-hand alien technology repurposed by a supervillain who didn't understand what he had on his hands, the way I heard it. Every time they fire it up they're not sure if it's going to make another world, shut down for good, or blow up and take half the planet with it."

"It seems reckless to keep it, then?"

"Well, did you ever think that SPYGOD wasn't a little reckless from time to time?"

The Lion chooses not to answer this, instead changing the subject a little: "I think I heard about this. This is where SPYGOD would take his youth organization, every year?"

"Well, not this one. That was B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P 3. And unfortunately, that got compromised in a big way."

"So what is this?"

"This is B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P. 4," Myron explains: "It was on standby in case anything happened to B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P. 3, and, considering what apparently happened to B.A.S.E.C.A.M.P.s 1 and 2, there was a good chance it'd happen to 3, eventually, too."

"What happened?"

Myron smiles: "That's gonna have to remain on the mystery tour, for right now. But trust me when I say that I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I did tell you. It gets to the heart of what we're up against."


"Imago, and some of what they're saying."

"So GORGON is not Imago?"

"GORGON's become Imago. How different they really are is something we don't know. Maybe they got taken over by a third party, and maybe this is something they've been working towards since the beginning. SPYGOD might have a better idea, but he's not volunteering any information, just yet."

"And he's not hiding out in the branches, drunk, is he?"

Myron laughs: "No, not today. He's out there, with the President, somewhere in Asia. I think the plan is for him to gather intel while we get ready to put certain things into play."

"And what of the other heroes?" The Lion asks: "Your Freedom Force?"

"They're going to be the loud distraction and rallying point while we get the actual work done."

"That sounds dangerous."

Myron smiles: "That's why we're heroes. The world's been conquered and turned into a combination labor camp and idiot farm. We have to free the slaves and awaken the stupefied. And we're going to have to pull them both off at the same time, and at the exact same moment Imago loses it offensive capabilities. Otherwise, they might decide to destroy what they can't rule, and that would be..."

"Bad," the Lion agrees: "Very bad."

"So what we're hoping is that you can tell us what you've seen back home," Myron continues: "And then, once we have a better picture, we can give you the tools and the skills to free your own people, when the time comes."

"And you think you will have those tools?"

Myron smiles: "We already do. We just have to make them bigger and badder. That and more portable."

"And these will win us our world back, insh'allah?"

"That's the plan. But it wouldn't hurt to have at least three backups. That and a lot of information on what's going on."

"I have the information," the Lion says: "It is... it is not a good thing to say or think of."

"Would you rather write it down?"

"If I do, I will probably soak the paper with tears," the man says, smiling sadly: "Better I tell you."

"Then I'm all ears."

The Lion nods, and looking around, begins to tell of what's been happening in Northern and Central Africa. It's not a good one to hear, and he breaks down a few times, both for air and for tears.

As he talks, and Myron listens, neither of them are aware that they are being listened to. The one they call the Man of Steel is on the porch directly above them, hearing every word they say.

And smirking, quite evilly.

(SPYGOD is listening to Don't Tell Me (Blancmange) and having a Tango Gold)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

9/03/12 - 9/08/12 - The Learning Curve - pt. 5

"So, what do we learn today?" the President asks, looking at what's left of the rock they spent yesterday shooting and exploding into little, smoking pieces.

"That's a !@#$ good question, Mr. President," SPYGOD says, sitting down and having some more of the tea his pupil learned the truth about, last night: "How about I leave that up to you?"

"Me?" the President asks, turning to look at his instructor with some incredulity.

"Yes, you," SPYGOD replies: "You ever wanted to ask me a question about how to do something, now's the !@#$ing time."

"Any question?"

"Well, within !@#$ing reason. There's some things I'm not telling anyone, no matter what."

"I bet," the President says: "I'm sure your trade secrets have secrets."

"Lies wrapped in truth," SPYGOD says, looking off into the distance: "Best way to serve 'em up."

"That's what the head of the CIA used to tell me," he says, sighing: "I wonder if he was actually him when he said that. How long was he one of theirs?"

"Near as I can tell?" SPYGOD asks: "I'm guessing sometime after I !@#$ed up the Legion, back in early December. Probably not too long after that."

"Why would you say that?"

"Well, after that whole mess with Agent S, I went over to his office and had a few words with him. And I don't mind telling you that I scared the living !@#$ out of him."

"Oh, the bathroom incident?" the President asks: "Yeah, his executive secretary wrote me a complaint about the smell. I told him to dip into the funds and buy a gas mask."

SPYGOD chuckles: "And they say you have no sense of humor."

"At times. You were saying?"

"Oh, right. Well, at that moment he was very !@#$ing afraid of me. That I got into his private little sanctum and interrupted his afternoon poop, that was bad enough. But the fact that I knew he was involved in that fiasco, and didn't need to prove it to act on it? That was terrifying.

"And the fact that I'd given you all the dirt I'd had saved up for a rainy week? Well, that !@#$ing petrified him, Mr. President. And that's a !@#$ hard thing to fake."

"And the next time you saw him, he wasn't afraid, anymore?"

"Not at all. Now, to my shame, at the time, I thought he was just being brave and putting up a front. And I was so !@#$ing busy with what happened after that, and then HONEYCOMB, and Costa Rica, and then GORGON, that it really slipped my mind."

"Yeah, you were a little preoccupied, there. One disaster after another."

SPYGOD scowls, but takes the criticism in stride: "And over time, towards the end, there, a small piece of my brain was telling me that he hadn't been putting up a front. The !@#$er just wasn't afraid of me, anymore. But even then, I wasn't sure why. Did he have a better angle? Was someone else helping him? Did another plan to de-SPYGOD his Washington D.C. come along? And-"

"And you told yourself you'd look into it, and you never did."

"Because I didn't !@#$ing have the time."

"And you don't delegate responsibility very well."

"No," SPYGOD admits: "I don't. I have Agents all over the world doing a multitude of things, strategic talents at my beck and call, and all kinds of ways to put pressure and heat on people and things. But when it comes to things like that? I want to look into them myself. I need to be the one to look in on them."

The President nods: "Trust issues?"

"Maybe. Or maybe perfectionism."

"I think our definitions of perfect might not agree with one another."

"Possibly. You wanting another impromptu training session where I kick your !@#$ with moves you never even heard of?"

The President smiles: "You really don't to be criticized, either, do you?"

"Does anyone?"

"No, not really," the President says, sighing: "Neither do I. And I have to be honest, here, (REDACTED). I dropped the ball, too."

"Really?" That gets SPYGOD's attention.

"Yes. There were things I noticed as well. Little things, weird coincidences. Things people said or left unsaid in Cabinet meetings, intelligence reports that didn't make much sense, or made too much sense. And, yes, the CIA direction being afraid to have a meeting with me, and then being this smiling, over-agreeable, obsequious nonentity..."

The President looks askance, and then back: "I should have said something. I should have done something."

"So why didn't you?"



"You. All the while, I knew I should come talk to you about this. About the head of the CIA, the weird things, all those concerns. But at the time, I was angry with you, and trying to find a way to fire you. So I didn't want to feel like I was too dependent on you, and I sure didn't want to take you into my confidence just to say 'oh, by the way, have your resume updated.'"

"So you didn't say anything."

"I didn't say anything. And, well..." He gestures to the open sky: "Here we are."

"It's got nice sunsets," SPYGOD offers, sipping his tea.

"And excellent sunrises. And the cuisine is superior."

"And how about that Olympic pool?"

"Best bed I've ever slept in."

"And the entertainment is just !@#$ing non-stop."

They both laugh at that, for a while, and look at the sky.

* * *

"So what is the CIA Director, now?" the President asks, after a time: "Is he really dead?"

"That's what they said. But I suspect he's been recycled by now. Probably sucking !@#$ in their machine, somewhere. Little worm."

"But that isn't really him, is it? Was it ever really him?"

SPYGOD shakes his head: "No, Mr. President. That seems to be the truth of their new conversion process. When a False Face gets hold of you, they make a copy of your brain patterns, memories, and physical structure, and then use the energy of your body to fuel the change. You collapse into a big !@#$ing pile of nothing, and they walk away looking and talking and !@#$ing sounding just like you."

"That's not what they used to do, though?"

"Well, no. Used to be, they got you to carve your !@#$ing face off after they brainwashed your !@#$ six ways to Sunday, and then had you impersonate someone else. But these new false faces are something entirely different."

"And the Imago, themselves?"

"Now that's the ten million Dollar question right there," SPYGOD says, raising his tea mug in the President's direction: "What the !@#$ are they? Where the !@#$ did they come from? What's the endgame, here?"

The President raises both eyebrows: "You mean you don't know?"

"No, I don't," SPYGOD says: "That's what I'm hoping we can find out, you and I."

"And how are we going to do that?"

SPYGOD smiles: "That's the other ten million dollar question, Mr. President. And you're going to have to trust me on that, because I don't want you knowing too much of how we're going to play this one."

The President sighs, nods, and gets himself some tea.

"So is there anything else I need to know?" he asks after a while: "Something else you need to teach me, while I can still handle this tea?"

"A few things, but they can't be really be taught," SPYGOD says: "They have to be learned. And the only way you're going to learn them is to do them, or be them."

"Which means what?"

"Which means, Mr. President, that you can start packing things up, if you'd like."

The President blinks: "Really? We're done?"

"We are. Camp !@#$-You-Up is officially closed for the season."

"Well, how about that," the President says, getting up, cracking his back, and looking around at all the things they were shooting off yesterday: "And I suppose I'm the one who gets to pack everything up?"

"You handle the guns. I'll get everything else. Call it a graduation present."

The President smiles and bends over to start collecting things. Each gun he handles reminds him of a specific lesson, a specific stance, and for a few moments he's lost in thought, remembering those lessons almost perfectly...

That's when he realizes he's just walked into a trap.

"That was pretty dumb," SPYGOD says, and the President can hear the tell-tale sounds of a knife being pulled from a sheath. 

He turns to confront SPYGOD, but it's too late. He's already lifted up his eyepatch, and the waves of dizzying, nauseating SPYGOD VISION are buffeting the President's brain like a sudden whirlwind does a pile of leaves.

He staggers backwards, resisting the urge to scream, or flee. He gags back bile, and fights to retain control of his bowels and bladder. He scrambles, looking for any kind of weapon or advantage, but can't concentrate on what's what, anymore.

"What did I !@#$ing tell you about this sort of thing?" SPYGOD asks, his voice seeming to come closer, step by step: "First !@#$ing day we were here, Mr. President. Lesson number !@#$ing one. Never fail to expect danger. Lesson number !@#$ing two. Never turn your back on a potential opponent."

He closes his eyes. He tries to shut out the crazy, vertigo-inducing light show, and the auditory bombardment that threatens to send his mind over the edge of sanity, hurtling to the soul-wrecking cliffs far below.

"Consider this the final lesson, Mr. President," SPYGOD taunts, coming ever closer, no doubt with the knife at the ready: "What do you do when the enemy has you pinned down with something you didn't train for? Can you adapt? Or are you !@#$ed?"

The President scrambles away from the voice, trying to find something to fight back with. A rock. A stick. A !@#$ing pen.


"Cause from where I'm standing..."

His hand brushes against something metal. Hard and cold.

" are so !@#$ed."

A handle. A trigger.

A gun.

"And I'm the one that's gonna hold you down..."

The President holds the gun up, trying to focus enough to shoot it with his eyes closed. But he can do this. He's done it before.

He knows how to do this.

"Oh, a gun? Well, you have to !@#$ing shoot straight, Mr. President. You think you can do that?"

The President takes a deep breath, creating an area of stillness in his mind. He blocks out the nausea, the fear, the million jabbering noises that are trying to crawl into his brain through his ears and eyes and threaten to rip his brains into bloody grey pudding.

"You really think you can find me, if I move?"

The voice shifts direction. He concentrates on it, following it with the barrel of his gun.

"And what if I-" SPYGOD says, and then falls silent. The President almost panics, but then regains control and listens for the telltale sounds of his instructor's breathing, the shuffle of his feet on the uneven sand and rock, the sound of the knife whistling through the air-


The shot goes wild. he knows he missed. But then he hears a hissing intake of air, and the sound of a foot pushing off from a rock to come closer still-


The first shot misses again. The second does not. Neither does the third.

SPYGOD falls down, silent. The ground thumps beneath him. His knife clatters away from his spasming hand.

The President shakes the vertigo and nausea loose from his head. His eyes clear and his ears go back to normal. He can see, hear, feel again.

He looks over where SPYGOD is lying, with two bullet holes in his forehead. He's gurgling blood and twitching and looking too !@#$ good.

He is trying to talk, though. It sounds like "Well done," but it could be "!@#$ you" or "That hurts" for all the President knows.

The President gets to his knees, and then his feet. He is violently sick, but does not turn away from his fallen foe. He wipes his mouth, regains some measure of his dignity, and keeps the gun trained on SPYGOD as the man's shattered skull heals back up.

"I graduate," the President says, lowering his gun just a little: "We're partners in this, now. No more ambushes. No more tests. You tell me what to do and I'll do it. But I need to be able to !@#$ing trust you, now. Agreed?"

"Agreed," SPYGOD says, his word more blood than air.

"Then here's my present," he says, tossing the gun aside: "You get to !@#$ing pack up everything, and carry it back."

"... lot of stuff..."

"Next year you can buy me a Corvette, or something," the President says, and goes to get himself some water, carefully keeping an eye on his vanquished instructor. He feels elated, shaken, relieved, worried, expectant, washed clean.

And free. Finally, totally free.

(SPYGOD is listening to Clean (Depeche Mode) and having a Chinggis)

Monday, October 22, 2012

9/03/12 - 9/08/12 - The Learning Curve - pt. 4

The rest of that morning, and well into the afternoon, there are guns -- one right after the other, like bullets shot in rapid succession.

They start with handguns, of course. 50's first, then 22s, 38s, 44s, and 45s. Revolvers and Semi-Automatics, laser sights and one in the chamber. The President learns to field strip, clean, reassemble, aim, fire, shoot, holster, park, and conceal just about everything worth having on your person.

He handles frangible bullets and flechette rounds, incendiaries and explosive bolts, armor piercing and shrikes. He learns how to correctly poison a bullet, and handle the specialized , armor-piercing rounds that deliver a serious cloud of tear gas when they finally break open.

He also has a go at various bolt action rifles and shotguns, as well as automatic rifles and submachine guns. He's shown the ropes with grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and mortars. He's taught to handle various grenades, both in an offensive and defensive manner, and how to rig them up for demolitions and boobytraps.

(RE: Shotguns. He learns about the seductive horror of dragons breath rounds, and why not to !@#$ing !@#$ with them. At first he wonders if that has more to do with SPYGOD's own personal issues than anything else, but after he melts the barrel of a perfectly good shotgun just to make a target catch on fire, he sees the logic.)

He learns to improvise: how to make a gun work after it's been badly broken, and how to make a zip gun out of a few odds and ends. He makes a silencer out of a two liter pop bottle, as well as a cardboard tube full of cotton and rags. He fills a shotgun with rock salt, and learns the positives and pitfalls of gyro-jet ammunition.

At some point, maybe mid-afternoon, he asks a sensible question: "Why don't you have a gatling gun?"

"A gatling gun? What the !@#$ for?" SPYGOD snorts, aiming his AK-47 at a large, fragile rock they've been turning to powder since this morning: "They're impossible to carry into battle unless you a !@#$ing enhancile."

"A what?"

"Oh, yeah, you never signed off on any, did you? That was more your predecessor's style."

"I think I read about it," the President says, taking the hot gun from his instructor and getting ready to put a fresh magazine in: "Combat bionics, right? War cyborgs?"

"Got it in one. Well, it sounds !@#$ing great, until you remember that they always go for the lowest !@#$ing bidder in the Armed Forces. We get to try out the sweet stuff on willing subjects, but they're still turning good, hurt soldiers into !@#$ed up battle-borgs with no sense of aesthetics."

"I think I really did miss that memo," the President says, aiming and capping off a decent, tight burst of shots: "So gatling guns are only for enhanciles? What was that thing they were using in that one movie? The one where the former Governor of California's hunting the space monster in the jungle?"

"Oh, you mean a mini-gun?" SPYGOD says: "!@#$ that !@#$, Mr. President. Those things are !@#$ing worthless."


SPYGOD shoots him a nasty look: "Yes, really. You think I'd blow smoke up your !@#$ about that?"


SPYGOD thwacks him in two places on the wrist, faster than he can see, and quickly and effortlessly takes the weapon from him: "They're great on vehicles or on a tripod in a fixed location, but you'd need to be a massive steroid junkie ex-wrestler on all kinds of crazy speed to try and carry it around. And if you try to take it into an actual mobile firefight you are !@#$ing dead."

"So that was just Hollywood magic, huh?" the President says, massaging his thwacked wrist.

"!@#$ straight, Mr. President. They're heavy, bulky, and make too much !@#$ noise. And while they get a lot of firepower in one area, they make the user the number one target of any sniper or smart gunslinger on the field. You use one of those, you're just saying 'Hey, here I am! Shoot me in the !@#$ing eyeball!'"

"Good to know. So no flamethrowers, either, for the exact same reason."

"That's good," SPYGOD says, somewhat admiringly, as he reloads the weapon with an extra long magazine: "Applied knowledge. I like that."

"Good to know that, too."

"Of course, if I shoot your ammo for your minigun, you won't go up in flames like a !@#$ing human barbecue, or explode all over your friends and allies. Flamethrowers should only be used in non-hot zones, when you need to clear jungle or junk and no one's !@#$ing shooting at you. Some feel otherwise, but they can suck my !@#$ing !@#$."

With that, he empties the magazine in a specific pattern. The rock now says "!@#$ you."

"Let's go shoot something for lunch," he says: "You get to eat what you kill."

"Sounds great to me," the President says, wondering if now's a good time to ask about Israel, or not.

* * *

It's a chilly, September night in Queens, and two goodfellas are breaking the law. 

"Man, I don't think this is a good idea," the fat guy in the running suit says, looking up and down the alley as his partner loads the van.

"Why, because a' those faggy Imago?" his short, better-dressed partner snorts: "!@#$ them, Sal. !@#$ them in the ear."

"You shouldn't say those things, Don," the fat guy whimpers, looking up at the sky, now.

"Why is that, Sal? Tell me why that is, huh?"

"Well, they're listening-"

Sal gets backhanded: "!@#$ing idiot. We got no video cameras in this alley, now do we?"

"No..." Sal says, holding the side of his stinging face.

"No, we don't. So load up this van here, in this place, where there's no !@#$ing cameras, and we act all normal on the road. And then we drive someplace else where there's no !@#$ing cameras, and we offload the van. And then we get the money, and we come back here, and no one !@#$ing notices. Just like every other !@#$ing time we've done this since March, right?"

"Yeah, but... they say he's back."

"He? Who's he?"

"You know..." Sal says, looking askance, as though he were talking about someone very dangerous who was just across the bar from them: "Him."

"Him who?"

"Him." Sal insists, about ready to !@#$ himself.

"Oh, !@#$ you, Sal," Don sighs, putting the last package in the van and slamming the door: "He's dead."

"How do you know he's dead?"

"He's one a' them superheroes, isn't he?" Don reasons aloud, tossing Sal the keys to the van and walking around to the passengers' side: "So he's dead."

"But how do you know that?"

"Oh please. I got !@#$ing sources, Sal. When they took over, they asked all a' them fags to come in and testify against the President, and anyone who didn't come in got !@#$ing rounded up. And we never seen any a' 'em again. So me, I say they're !@#$ing dead. And he was one a' them, so he's !@#$ing dead."

"All of them?" Sal says, shuddering a little as he gets behind the wheel: "That's terrible. Some of them were okay."

"Eh, good !@#$ing riddance, I say. They were !@#$ing bad for business."

Don clicks his safety belt. Sal does the same and starts the van. Then he turns on his headlights, and sees that someone is standing right in front of their van.

Someone with a black ace of spades for a face, two Uzis, and a smile like crazy tiger.

They don't have time to scream, so his guns do it for them. And they they're just meat in the shape of people, soon to be burned husks as soon as he lights their cargo on fire and leaves it to burn.

By the time the police arrive, he's long gone. By the time the Imago show up to ask questions of the police, he's well outside of their reach.

And all they have to go on is an Ace of Spades stuck to the wall -- one with a grinning, white skull and crossbones in its center.

It's his way of saying he's back, apparently. And after it transpires that ten other slayings went on throughout Neo York City, that night, all marked with a death card, with none of them caught on camera, it's fair to say that he's better than ever.

* * *

"I shouldn't be learning this fast," the President says, that night, as they sit around the campfire and drink their tea.

"Why the !@#$ not?" SPYGOD asks: "You think our enemies are going to give you time to learn?"

"No, not that," he says, taking another sip: "I should be learning this quickly. But... I think by now I know how my brain works, and my limits. I kind of melted my brain when I was a kid, you know-"

"You wouldn't be the first President who did that," SPYGOD chuckles.

"Well, no. But I did some real damage, back then. It took me a few years of being off the puff to get my brain back into shape, and even then I really have to concentrate on what I'm seeing, or reading, or being told in order to get it, you know?"

"You mean the threat of me sneaking up on you and killing your ex-presidential !@#$ if you drop your guard isn't motivation enough?"

"That just scares me, SPYGOD. And yes, that might motivate me, but it doesn't account for how much of this I'm picking up on the first go."

SPYGOD nods, looks up at the stars, and has a sip: "It's the tea."

"The tea?"

SPYGOD hoists his mug: "This fine, black mixture we have been consuming since I handed you your !@#$, the first day we got here, has been laced with the Shapirov formula. And I bet you have no !@#$ing idea what that is, do you?"

"No I don't," the President says: "Which means you're going to tell me, probably at some length."

"!@#$ straight. See, back in the 70's, the Soviets came up with a series of drugs that stimulate neural growth. You take the drugs, give them some time to work, and the next thing you learn, you retain flawlessly. Whether you !@#$ing understand it or not's another issue, and who knows if you've got the smarts to apply it. But it's there, in your head, and it's not !@#$ing going away."

"You're kidding me," the President says, looking down into his mug.

"Nope. I swear on my eye, Mr. President. I could teach you non-Euclidean 7-dimensional hypergeometry right now, and you would remember it. But I'd probably have to chase your !@#$ around the desk with a sharpened protractor to get you to properly apply it, knowing your lazy habits."

The President just smirks: "!@#$ you, (REDACTED)."

"!@#$ you, too, Mr. President," SPYGOD replies, hoisting his mug.

"How much is this tea going to !@#$ me up in the long run?"

SPYGOD smiles: "You are learning. Well, the good news is that we're only taking this for this week. After that, I recommend you never touch the stuff again."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's !@#$ effective, non-addictive, and mostly harmless. But the Soviets made the mistake of pumping it into their subjects by the !@#$ing liter to see how much they could learn. Great idea, but there's only so much room inside your noggin for extra brainmeats, and..."


"Well, it's kind of hard to do rocket science when your brains are !@#$ing prolapsing out of your eye sockets."

The President stops drinking his tea.

"The amount you've had is negligible," SPYGOD assures him, waving his hand: "You've probably just made up for the neural matter you choomed away in Hawaii. But, like I said, after this week? Lay the !@#$ off."

"I'll do that," he says, taking a very slow and tentative sip: "Do you always play mad scientists on your students like this?"

"Not all that often," SPYGOD says, downing his mug and pouring some more for himself: "But this is an emergency. We have to get a !@#$ing move on, which means we're going to have to work in tandem, and maybe separately. And if you're going to be out there, with or without me, I want you to be able to !@#$ someone up in .034 seconds with your bare hands. This means we're having to accelerate, which means you get the brain tea."

"And I don't get a say in this?"

"Well, no-"

"Like !@#$," the President says, sitting up looking SPYGOD in the eye: "Don't you ever give me anything without telling me, first."

"Excuse me?"

"No, excuse you. I may not be your boss, but I am your student. And if we're going to be partners on this, I need to be able to trust you."

"You think that's how it works?" SPYGOD snorts: "Do you want to know what all my plans are? Well, guess what, Mr. President. You don't need to know. Because if you get caught, and Imago gets hold  of you, they will take it right out of your !@#$ing brain. And I will not take that chance-"

"Well and good," the President says: "Keep me in the dark on that. That I understand. But drugs? Weird stuff that might turn my sperm radioactive or turn me into the !@#$ Lizard? You tell me, first. I deserve to know if I'm running a medical risk."

"You do?"

"Wouldn't you?" the President insists: "When you were at Camp Rogers, there was a chance that not everyone would survive the pill. But they told you the risks, first. You had the opportunity to walk away. Maybe you'd be hiding in locked and guarded room for the rest of the war, and signing away your entire life on a filing cabinet's worth of secrecy agreements, but you still could have said 'no.'

"You had a choice. You were given that choice. But you just took mine away from me.

"So I'm insisting, (REDACTED), that you give me the exact same courtesy you got, back then. Not asking. Insisting. You do not put anything into my body that runs any kind of long term health risk without telling me. You owe it to me as a person. And if you think so little of me as a person, and can't help but see me as a tool, then you owe it to my wife and my children.

"And you had better not be considering their feelings and futures to be disposable. Because not only is that a slap in the face to everything we're fighting for, but I swear I will beat your !@#$ down for that insult to them. Are we clear?"

SPYGOD opens his mouth, but then closes it. It takes him a moment, and then he nods, and goes to pour the President some tea.

"No more dosing?" the President asks, putting a hand over the mug and looking right into SPYGOD's eye.

"No more dosing," SPYGOD answers, and then the hand is removed, and the tea is poured.

The rest of the night goes without incident or argument. Once in a while, the President even thinks he sees SPYGOD smile, ever so slightly.

But God only knows why. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode) and having something from Singlecut Beersmiths, via a time machine)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

9/03/12 - 9/08/12 - The Learning Curve - pt. 3

Of course, there's one more thing to be learned before the President can have his interrupted sleep.

After dinner, and before bedding down for the 8 hours he earned, SPYGOD hands him a gift of sorts. It's a large, hinged, wooden box that turns out to be heavier than it looks. Inside are a pair of very large automatic handguns, along with a pair of full clips.

"Is this what I think it is?" the President asks, pulling one out, astounded at how much it weighs.

"If you think it's an IMI Desert Eagle AE, you would be abso-!@#$ing-lutely right, Mr. President," he says: "Israel may not have been our best friends, or even our worst neighbors, but they knew how to make a !@#$ handgun. It fires bullets as big around as your thumb, and kicks like a mule. But it will turn someone's heart to giblets in their chest, and make their skulls a pretty red fountain if you hit them right in the nose, dead on. Nasty, overwhelming things."

"And these are mine?"

"!@#$ straight. It's a warrior's gun, Mr. President. That thing will put a man down with one shot, even if you just hit him in the !@#$ing little toe. And it will win battles for you before you even have to take them out of their holsters and give someone both barrels. It says to the world 'I am something from a comic book, come to life to kick your !@#$. Do not !@#$ with me.'"

"You mean I'm supposed to be firing these one-handed?" the President asks: "I can barely hold onto it with two."

"Eh, that'll come with time," SPYGOD answers: "Or it won't. But the important thing is that, tonight, I want you to sleep with them."

"Oh, this isn't going to be like that thing from that one movie, is it?"

"Which movie?"

"The one where half of it's a boot camp comedy that ends in tragedy? I think Kubrick did it-"

"Oh, that movie? Do I remind you of that Drill Sergeant at all?"

The President decides not to answer that one on the grounds that it may get his sleep rescinded: "As long as I don't have to call them womens' names."

"You will sleep with them crossed on your chest, Mr. President," SPYGOD says, demonstrating with his own: "Like this, right over left, touching at the wrists, like the Pharaohs in their tombs. I want you to dream about those guns, in your hands. I want you to imagine that they have become part of you, much like a car becomes an extension of your own body when you're driving it. And while you're dreaming it, I want you to ponder the mystery of the gun."

"The mystery of the gun...?"

"Yes, Mr. President. The mystery of the gun, which is a lot like the riddle of Osiris, who lived so he could die and died so he could live."

"What is it?"

SPYGOD snorts: "Now, if I !@#$ing told you the answer, it wouldn't be a mystery, now would it?"


"Eight hours," SPYGOD says, checking his watch: "No more, no less. Sleep well."

And the President leans back, closing his eyes and letting exhaustion take him at last.

Partway into slumber, he has reason to remember that SPYGOD referred to Israel in the past tense, and wonders that he meant, if anything. 

* * *

It's Noon in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and that means it's opening time for a small, seemingly run-down bar on the North end of town.

The brick building doesn't have a sign. It doesn't even have a parking lot. There are neon signs promising LIQUOR, SPIRITS, and BEER in the grimy windows. There are no hours of operation on the door, or promises that they take anything other than cash.

An hour after they open, a man quite literally appears from nowhere in a nearby alley. Reality steps aside and lets him through, and, once he's made a gesture or two, it goes back to normal.

Older fellow, this man, with a craggy, lined face, a long, white beard, and a wide, black leather hat to hide what his beard is clearly over-compensating for. He wears a long, grey coat and walks with a cane made of dark wood chased with silver.

His old and raggedy sneakers carry him across the dusty road, and into the bar. The door opens a split second before he touches it, as if he was willing it open, and he goes in, looking around for his party. 

The inside is dark and smells of tobacco products and spilled beer. The walls are covered with faded ads for American beers they don't make, anymore, half the ceiling fans don't work, and the ladies room is out of order. The jukebox is full of pop music from the 50's and 60's, and is currently crooning an old number by Bobby Vee.

A small crowd of people are there, in a smokey "back room" that's not very private. They look up and see him there, and someone waves him over. He looks to the bar, and sees that the tender's preparing a raft of margaritas every color of the rainbow. He can almost taste them from here, and that makes him deliriously happy.

"I see the place has lost none of its charm," the man says, coming to the table. Everyone there looks nothing like he's used to them appearing, but he thinks he knows who to blame for that, as well as who everyone actually is. 

"About time you got here, Doc," a young man with spiky, blue hair says, putting his cigarette out: "Long trip from the Moon?"

"More or less," the man says, sitting down: "I had a few other errands to run as well. Mostly recruiting. Mostly unsuccessful."

Someone makes a rude noise: "I hate to say I told you so," he follows up, his young face oddly plastic.

"Pipe down, Larry," says an older woman who appears extraordinarily fit: "We knew this was going to be an uphill battle, given what we're up against. I don't know that I can blame anyone for wanting to sit this one out."

"We're the Freedom Force, for Gods' sake," a bald man in a red shirt says: "We're supposed to be heroes. That's supposed to mean something."

"Even heroes have their limits."

"Berlin, before the war," a small woman with severely cut, thick black hair intones: "Everyone says 'why didn't someone do something?' No one said 'oh, they had limits.'"

"No one living, anyway," the plastic-faced man says, holding up his hands: "Speaking of limits, let's not waste time arguing. I can only maintain our cloak for so long."

"Then let's have the bad news," the older woman says, looking at the man who just joined them: "Doc?"

"We're all that's left," he says: "The others are dead, or worse. The legacies or sidekicks who cooperated with the Imago are also dead, or worse. Those who remain are in hiding and will not come out of it, and the one who appeared to be most willing to join us was a spy for them."

"What do you mean?" the small woman says.

"I mean that Corporal Flag's Grandson was taken, reprogrammed, and turned into a human surveillance device and living bomb," the man replies, very sadly: "He's currently attending the great Freedom Force reunion in Philadelphia, by the Liberty Bell, or so he thinks. We'll probably get word of a massive explosion somewhere in the Kamchatka Peninsula, today. It was the most remote place I could think of at the time."

The older woman looks down, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. When she looks up again her eyes are wet, and she's not the only one holding back tears.

"What about the Super Soldiers?" a middle aged man in a leather jacket asks: "Blaster Boy, Thunderfoot, Dragonheart? Are any of them...?"

"I said dead or worse, a moment ago?" he replies: "I could tell you what 'worse' means, but you wouldn't thank me."

"So it's us, then," the older lady says: "Myself, Doctor Power, Red Alchemist, The Visionary, Freedom Belle, American Shield, and Captain Chaos-"

"Mr. Chaos, actually," the blue-haired man says: "I don't feel right pretending to a military rank I haven't earned. My father was the war hero, not me."

"Well, we're all war heroes now," the smaller woman says: "Mrs. Liberty's right. We're it. Let's stop moping about."

"Well, not exactly it, per se," the old man says: "Like I said, I was on the Moon. And I do have a piece of good news."

"Did Alpha Base 7 survive?" the Visionary asks.

"Not all of it. They did lose about half of their above ground base to a strike from Deep Ten, and with it about 75% of their people. But they didn't follow up the attack, and the lower levels are still intact. They're holding up alright and wanting to know what they can do to help, down here."

"Do they have any offensive capability?" American Shield asks.

"Some. But anything they could shoot would be hit well before it got to Deep Ten. We might be able to use it as a staging ground, but-"

"But it's useless to us," Freedom Belle says: "I am glad that someone survived, but I fail to see how that helps us."

"Because they have a survivor of their own," Doctor Power says, smiling: "It took him a while to get there, but he's got information and abilities that could be very useful when the right moment comes."

"And who is this person?" Mrs. Liberty asks.

And none of them believe the answer.

* * *

"Creation," SPYGOD tells the President, holding his gun out and pointing it at the target down the way. A small rock glints in the morning sun.

He pulls the trigger -- BANG -- and the rock he was aiming at turns to powder.

"Destruction," SPYGOD says, indicating what's left of the target. 

"Destroying the bullet is creation?" the President asks, still not quite feeling that the heavy, deadly thing in his hands has a riddle associated with it, other than whether it should have been banned for sale in America. 

"Of course," SPYGOD says: "Creation is destruction, destruction is creation. Energy can't be !@#$ing destroyed, right? It just changes its shape."

"I'm not sure-"

SPYGOD fires his gun between the President's feet: BANG. The man leaps back a full three feet just as the bullet slams into the ground, and then wonders how he learned to react that fast.

"Argue later, learn now," SPYGOD says: "There will be a test, this afternoon. You know how those go."


"I want you to aim, and think 'creation.' And then pull the trigger, and think 'destruction.' Say it if it helps."

"Is this the mystery of the gun?"

"Have you !@#$ing figured it out, yet?" SPYGOD asks.

"Well, I dreamed of Egypt. And then I dreamed I was a Pharaoh, only I was strapped with guns. And then it turned into basketball, only we were shooting at the players, who seemed very happy to die for us. And then, well, my wife was there-"

"You miss her."

The President nods, looking at the morning sun: "I keep thinking there's got to be some way to tell her I'm okay. Just so she knows."

"If she knows, they will know," SPYGOD says, putting a surprisingly-nonthreatening hand on the President's shoulder: "I know it's tough for you, and murder for her. But the best thing you can do right now is be dead. That's our number one advantage, Mr. President. That they don't even see you coming."

The President nods, and holding his gun two-handed, like SPYGOD spent the early part of the morning teaching him, starts alternating between creation and destruction. 


(SPYGOD is listening to the World In My Eyes (Depeche Mode) and having a High Desert Extra Strength Bitter )

Friday, October 19, 2012

9/03/12 - 9/08/12 - The Learning Curve - pt. 2

The "interesting stuff" consists of weapons: loads and loads of them.

Over the course of the next two days, the President gets taken on a whirlwind tour of the exciting world of edged weapons. He learns to handle, wield, and get the !@#$ away from pocket knives, hunting knives, box cutters, short swords, long swords, axes, hatchets, foils, kama, and chainswords. The last one has him pretty freaked out -- especially when SPYGOD tells him he will take off an arm if he doesn't fight like !@#$ -- but eventually, after a few close shaves, he gets the hang of the noisy, whirling things.

He also gets shown how to use caltrops, throwing stars, chakrams, surujin, and throwing knives, both offensively and defensively. Whips are cracked, chains are swung, and garottes are pulled. Nunchaku are flailed, singly and in pairs, and sansetsukon quickly abandoned in favor of things less likely to rebound as painfully.

War fans are tried out, as are weird shield-and-blade combinations, and tridents and nets. Bo staffs, quarter staffs, tonfa, canes, nail hammers, war hammers, makeshift spears, and ordinary sticks are banged and cracked about them, and occasionally thrown.

All the while, through the lumps and bruises and cuts, the President slowly comes to understand some key concepts. He learns when to push an advantage, and when to step away from it. He learns when to circle and when to block. He comes to expect an attack, and know when his opponent is expecting his attack, or is actually off guard.

Most importantly, he learns to duck.

* * *

"Please explain what has happened here, tonight," the Orange-and-Violet Imago gently demands of the maimed security guard, whose face looks like he went about ten rounds with a young and vibrant Muhammad Ali.

"I have no !@#$ing idea," he says, eyes fluttering as the pain medication almost puts him to sleep: "Was just doing.... doing my job... you know, and... woke up... she hit me..."

"This man really should be in a hospital," the EMT keeping the guard alive complains, though not as forcibly as he should: "Please let me save his life. You can ask him questions later, surely."

The Imago looks down at the EMT, and waves him to the side. The technician gets out of the armored being's way, and watches with horror as he drives his metal thumbs into the man's spastic sockets. The crunch of eyes turning to bloody jelly fills the room, and then the man screams in pain and surprise, but it's quickly shut off as what's left of his body spasms, and he starts foaming at the mouth.

"You will show me, O human," the Imago says, his eyes going white and glowing, ever so slightly: "What took place here, tonight?"

And he sees

                     the monitors in the hospital's B-level security office. It's a pretty boring job, especially since B-level handles persistent vegetatives, comas, and the like. Generally speaking, the most excitement they see is when yet another nurse gets caught taking undue advantage of one of the better-looking patients, and no one wants to deal with that !@#$.

It's a quiet night, tonight. 20 channels and nothing's on but the Hallway Show, over and over. Bill takes a sip of his McDonalds soft drink and wonders if there's any fries left in the bottom of the bag. But when he goes to check, he gets the feeling he missed something on screen four.

He looks at the video for that camera. He takes it off current play and rewinds it a bit. Sure enough, something moved past it.

One of the patients, from the looks of it. A young woman, wearing nothing at all and trailing some of her IV tubes behind her.

And the look in her eyes... holy !@#$.

"Hey, I think we got a Lazarus," he says into his communicator as he tries to figure out who she is: "Building one, Level B, hallway two, heading for the concourse. Joe, you're there. Can you intercept?"

"Yeah, I'll do it," Joe says, and Bill can see him heading for her. For a time the story is played out in dueling camera angles as the two come closer to each other, and then, finally, he and her are in the same frame. 

"Excuse me, miss?" he says, trying to be helpful: "Can you hold up for a moment? Do you know where you are?"

"I'm..." Bill hears her say, and then he remembers how he knows her. She's a Jane Doe, brought over from a military operation in the crazy days after 3/15. The Marines told them to look after her for the time being, and not ask any more questions than that, and then... well, after everything that happened, they were pretty much waiting for the Imago to show up and do something with her.

But they never did.

Bill's too busy processing all that to realize that the woman's just subdued Joe with her bare hands, and has taken his gun and belt. But the moment he understands what's  happened, he makes up for it by putting the building on alert, calling in every guard they have and the police, and heading out to confront her, himself.

It's just one girl with a gun, he tells himself as he races towards her last position. She just woke up from a !@#$ing coma, and is probably delusional, deranged, and thinks she's still dreaming. Surely he can talk her down, or at least take her down without too much hurt.

But then he's turned the right corner at the wrong moment, and she's waiting for him, and he realizes that Joe isn't just down, but dead.

And after she's done with him...

The Imago takes his thumbs from the now-dead man's bloody, smashed in eyes. His own go from pale and glowing to normal, once more, and he gets up, looking around.

"That woman must be found," he says to no one there: "She is a danger to us."

Do you know who she is? he hears his leader ask, her voice sultry and wet.

"Yes. She was with SPYGOD before he vanished. She may know where he is. She may know his plans."

Then we shall find her, the leader says: See to her capture.

"I shall do this," he says, smiling to have been given such an important task.

Then he looks to the EMT who overheard all that, and smiles. Then a pair of crackling, bright orange beams of light shoot from his eyes and strike the poor man in his. 

The technician doesn't even have time to scream before his brain's been atomized, and he falls down dead, his sockets smoking and burning.

"Your understanding is appreciated, O citizen," Orange-and-Violet says as he strides away from the two bodies he's just made.

* * *

At the end of the second day, SPYGOD lets the President have an hour to himself. He spends that hour resting as he was taught: his conscious brain relaxed, his body healing, and his more primitive instincts on guard in case his tutor should happen to go back on his word and try to kill him.

Which, of course, SPYGOD does: right at the 38-minute mark, with a curved sword the President's only ever seen hanging on walls in Saudi Arabian palaces. He dodges out of the way at the last minute, letting his opponent crash to the ground right where he was. And then he's up and scrambling, improvising on the run.

He grabs a large, oddly shaped rock and a short, heavy stick that were nearby, holding them up like they were a paired shield and blade. And he circles his opponent, sizing up the attack to come.

"Excellent reflexes, Mr. President," SPYGOD says, smiling cruelly: "And excellent escape and recover. Not crazy about the weapon choices, though."

"I left the chainsword back at the firepit," he answers, not allowing even an iota of self-doubt to enter his mind.

"Well, too !@#$ing bad for you," SPYGOD says, slashing wildly in an attempt to throw him off balance: "his one's no quarter, Mr. President. You either !@#$ me up the !@#$ up or I will take your !@#$ing head off at the neck."

The President doesn't talk back to that. Instead he concentrates on the patterns he's been learning, and watches for an opening. He lets the blade crash into the rock a few times, striking back with the stick when he can, and trying to keep the curved, sharp weapon from slicing into it, or his own flesh, as he goes.

After one thump too many, SPYGOD changes it up a bit, aiming specifically for the stick. The President lets him shave an inch off the end, then almost hit it a few times, and then gives him the mother of all openings.

But the second SPYGOD takes advantage of it, and over-extends in a bid to slice it off just above the President's fist, the President lets go of the stick. The blade hits it, but does not cut, and travels down past the President's knees. And then the President quickly hurls the rock at his opponent's exposed face.

The crack of SPYGOD's jaw breaking sounds like a gunshot. He screams in pain and rage, and tries to whip his weapon around to take out the President's ankle.

But the President is already moving forward, well past the range of the blade, and follows up the rock with a perfect, bare-fist killing strike to the throat.

SPYGOD coughs, gurgles, drops his sword, and then falls to the ground, clutching at his crushed throat. He lies there for a second and looks !@#$ stupid. And then he blinks, wiggles his jaw back into place, and takes a raggedy, deep breath, letting his larynx squeeze itself back out again.

"That was !@#$ good, Mr. President," he says, extending a hand up, as if wanting to be pulled to his feet. The President smiles and takes two steps back, his hands still up and ready to deflect or attack.

"And that was even better," SPYGOD says, getting up on his own and collecting his curved sword: "You recognize this weapon?"

"It's a scimitar, isn't it?"

"It is. Altan took it off one of those !@#$head jihadis from Afghanistan. Dumb !@#$er thought it brought him luck. Should have carried an extra pistol, instead. Might have lived."

"It's beautiful," the President says, watching it glint in the Sun, and seeing the detailed engraving along the blade.

"That it is. A perfect unity of form and function, decorated with love and piety. Pretty !@#$ good edged weapon, too."

Then he whips it around at the President, who actually manages to catch the flat of the blade between two hands and hold it in place.

"And !@#$ scary when you get it going," he says: "Don't make me embarass you twice in five minutes, SPYGOD."

His tutor smiles, and loosens his grip slightly. Only then does the President release his hold on the weapon, and take another step back.

"I'd like to learn how to use it," the President says: "When you're willing to teach me."

"Maybe another time," SPYGOD says, carefully turning his back on the President and walking back towards the fire: "You go catch us some dinner and I'll get the fire going. You get to sleep uninterrupted, tonight."

"Really?" the President says, raising an eyebrow.

"This time for real. You have earned it, today. And tomorrow we need to talk about something really !@#$ important."

"How to sew my head back on?"

SPYGOD chuckles: "More like how to avoid getting it shot off."

With that, he's moving again. And there's no point trying to get any more out of him. 

Not tonight, anyway.

(SPYGOD is listening to Depeche Mode (Enjoy the Silence) and having an Aroma Coma )