Monday, October 10, 2016

Apotheoclypse Now: 10/3/16 - 10/9/16

"We See the Future through the Binoculars of the People"

(The Owl)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

"Excuse me. I got something to say, here. 

"Ya'll don't know me too well, or at least you don't really. You think, oh, she's the girl from Freedom Force. She's Red Wrecker.

"She's the one had her picture all over the internet when those scumbags in Detroit had me in lockdown. She's the one who's been your chocolate jerkoff fantasy since-

"Hey! I am saying this! I've been quiet long enough.

"Let me tell you something, folks. My name is Florence Foster Jenkins, and I'm a Black woman who's got powers. 

"I didn't ask for these powers. I didn't realize I had them until an accident, one day.  And since that day, my life hasn't really belonged to me.

"I was trained in secret for the Reclamation War, like a lot of other people just like me. We all fought in it, and not all of us made it out. 

"In fact, most of us died, that day, because we were young and stupid and essentially cannon fodder. And those of us who survived? We became weapons.

"That's who I am, folks. A weapon on legs. A gun with a damn mouth.

"Some days I don't mind so much. Some days I'm happy to serve, and happy to help. 

"Days like today, for example. Days when we can stop a fight with our heads and our hearts instead of just our fists.

"But then I look at the papers, and watch the news, and I see that people who are Black like me get the same treatment, but not in a good way.

"People who are Black, like me, get treated like weapons. We're feared because we're Black. We're locked down because we're Black. We're legislated against because we're Black.

"And we're put down like dogs, too. All because we're Black.

"And people who are supposed to be protecting us and serving us? They're the ones who are doing the fearing, the locking down, and the putting down.

"And the people who could be standing up and saying hey, this is wrong. Stop that. Fix this?

"!@#$, man. They're cheering it on. They're laughing about it. They're saying oh, he was no angel. Why didn't he just cooperate? 

"Why did he have to be so goddamned angry?

"This is why we have to be so angry, folks. We didn't ask to be born Black any more than I asked to get superpowers. But we're here, like this, and we gotta deal.

"And we're gonna deal by keeping it real.

"We ain't gonna pretend to be !@#$ing White to make you feel better. We ain't gonna speak proper English and dress like honkeys to fit in. We ain't gonna lose our culture and our history to ass-humiliate ourselves.

"And we sure as hell ain't gonna dial it down, tone it down, or walk it back to make you feel better about standing by while this !@#$ed up, racist society treats us like trash with your support.

"My name is Florence Foster Jenkins. I am a Black woman. I am a superhero.

"And as of right now, you're done calling me Red Wrecker. It's Black Freedom from now on.

"And that is what I'm gonna be fighting for, too."

*mike drop*

Monday: 10/3/16

"Okay," SPYGOD says, holding his face where the very angry woman he came in to speak to slapped him: "I probably !@#$ing deserved that."

"What. Is happening. To my. Son?" Martha Clutch demands, pointing a finger at the superspy -- trailing a whole bunch of leads and wires from her hospital bed as she does, and every monitor screaming in complaint.

"I was going to ask you that-"

"No!" she shouts, getting right in his face: "No more lies, (REDACTED)! No more half truths! No more games! None!"

"Martha, look-"

She slaps him again. This time he actually feels a tooth loosen.

"Martha, getting out of bed isn't a damn good idea," he tries to say, and he's right. The bandage across her chest is bleeding again, and she's clearly unnerved by the pain. 

"Neither is coming in here and lying to me, right now," she hisses, but accepts his aid getting back into bed. 

"No," he says, nodding to the two AGENTS that came in here with him: "It really isn't."

They go outside, very quickly. He reaches into his coat and pulls out a small device, which he activates and puts on a nearby table -- blanketing the room with white sound waves.

And then, after closing the blinds so no one can see into the Heptagon hospital room, he sits down on a chair, makes sure his tooth isn't about to drop out of his damn jaw, and tells her what he's been avoiding telling her for several weeks now. 

* * *

"First time I've ever been fucked up by a ghost," the SPYGOD of Alter Earth says, looking at the unlovely ruin at the end of his right wrist: "Who was that bastard?"

"Never mind about him," his master insists, feverishly checking the security of the small, black hole he's cast them both into: "The others who were with him are far more dangerous."

"I should say so," the counterworld man says, noticing how haggard Loki looks now -- his host body's hair turned white from shock.

"What do you mean by that?" the Aesir asks, his eyes going from frenzied worry to barely-subdued anger in a flash. 

"I mean that if they were bad enough to threaten your plan, they must be rather powerful indeed," (DETCADER) says, doing his best to look fearful and humbled by the fury of his master.

"Yes, very," Loki shudders, his hands shaking uncontrollably: "But they can only threaten. Not end. Not now that I am so close."

He grins, then, looking at the weird, high-tech container by their feet. The one he braved the void of Restriit to acquire.

The one that's constantly cycling through thousands of different locks and combinations per second...

* * *

SPYGOD looks at Martha, who looks at him. 

It takes her a while, but she slowly nods, looking down at her hands, and then back up again at him.

"I understand," she says: "I don't like this, but I understand."

"I'm sorry," he says: "I am so !@#$ing sorry. I wanted to tell you, but..."

"But you have to keep your damned secrets-"

"Martha, listen to me," the superspy begs: "If you believe anything about me. If you ever !@#$ing trusted me. If you believe that I loved your father and I love you and every damn member of your family, including your son? Believe that I did not want to keep this !@#$ a secret."

"So why now?" she asks: "Because I slapped you? Because I cursed you? Because I almost died in there?"

"Because I know you don't die," he says: "Not in there, anyway."

"Well, that's great-"

"And because you've seen enough," he says: "More than enough. And it's time I brought someone else in on this. 

"Especially for when the !@#$ gets really crazy..."

* * *

"So what do we do?" the Candidate's VP choice asks over the phone: "I mean, this is pretty darn bad."

"It is, yes," the Candidate says, rolling his Scotch around in his tumbler. It's $1000 a bottle, and supposed to be saved for special occasions. He's downed three tumblers in the last hour and plans to have at least three more. 

(Who cares, right?)

"Well, we can still win this," the Governor says: "Who needs the party at this point? It's not like they were really supporting us in all the states."

"Right. And it's not like we had our people in all the states, either."

"Exactly. I mean, California. We know which way that's going."

"Totally. Totally."

"Right," his VP says: "So, if we just hammer the heck out of them on social media? Keep up the pressure? We'll pull through. We have to."

"I'm glad you feel that way," the Candidate says: "So you hammer the weirdos on Tuesday night, and I'll hammer them all two more times."

"And we'll win," the man says, his enthusiasm infectious.

"You got it," the big, beefy man says, going to get himself another drink: "I'll deal with my end, you deal with yours."

"And come election night, we'll stand on that stage, arm in arm, and remake America!"

"Yeah," the Candidate says: "Maybe not arm in arm, though. That looks a little faggy."

"Oh," the VP pick says: "Right. No homo."

"Right," the man says: "Night, Mike."

Then he hangs up, breathes a sigh of relief, and wonders what next damn fool question the media will be after him about -- other than his Campaign Manager being found dead in his hotel room.

(Thankfully, his few remaining people made it look like an accidental thing rather than suicide.)

Drink filled, he slumps into his easy chair and sighs. He thinks of the road ahead, and how he's going to win it.

All he needs is a good issue. Something bigger than his problems, his performance, or anything that's going wrong with him right now. Something to set him apart from all the other clowns he's running against.

And as he ponders who to call about getting a replacement campaign manager, he flips on the television, and gets his question answered by way of FOX News' latest outrage... 

Tuesday: 10/4/16

"Well, that was a !@#$ing PR shambles," Josie grumbles, looking at the tape of Red Wrecker -- Black Freedom, now -- addressing the media after the incident in Chinatown, on Sunday. 

"So tell me she's wrong," Gold Standard says, shrugging her shoulders: "Tell me we're not living in a country where being Black is suddenly a death sentence."

"That's not the point!" the burly, pink-haired clone shouts, almost putting her large fists through the holo-table in the Freedom Force's conference room, aboard the Flier: "We're not here to make speeches and take stands! We're not here to push hot button issues! We're here to save this country's ass and keep things from getting worse!"

"Bit late for that, boss," the leader of the new team says: "We just barely held it together in Chinatown, and only because it turns out the new kid's got some pull with the Jade Court."

"Who knew being part Chinese would be so useful," Josie mutters.

"Yeah, well, that's kind of the point," Antonia Crisp says, sitting down in a chair -- her legs still somewhat unsteady out of her signature armor: "The team that defends America should look like America. And we do, especially since we don't have nearly as many White people."

"This is starting to sound like the kind of joke that gets people fired from their positions."

"Yeah," Antonia snorts: "We got two white women, a black girl, a part Chinese guy, a gay Native American, a Toon, and an android."

"Two androids when Hanami comes back," Josie corrects, holding up the correct number of fingers.

"If she comes back," Antonia says, raising an eyebrow: "Way I hear it, what she found in Japan is enough to make her reconsider everything."

"Is she planning on sharing with the rest of us?"

"I don't know..." Gold Standard says, smiling: "You'll have to ask her when she gets back."

Josie shakes her head: "I don't like being out of the damned loop on this."

"Neither do I," Antonia says: "But if you want answers, you know whose door to bang on. Provided you want to interrupt the grieving process."

And one look at the expression that crosses Josie's face is enough to make clear her feelings on that subject.

* * *

"You really have to talk to me, sir," the shotgun-toting Grief Counselor informs SPYGOD as she stomps after him down the long, central hallway of the Flier.

"No I do !@#$ing not," the Director of the COMPANY insists, tossing her a long, ugly bird over his shoulder with his free hand as he reads what's in the other.

"Your rules, sir," the woman insists, shooting the gun into the ceiling -- causing a whole lot of AGENTS to duck, jump aside, or draw their own steel.

"I make the rules, I get to !@#$ing break them!" the superspy shouts back without breaking stride, seemingly unfazed by the blast.

"Not this one!" she yells, chasing to catch up to him as he enters his dark, cavernous office: "You are a damned liability, right now! You aren't thinking straight, feeling straight-"

"I'm gay you dumb !@#$. Of course I'm not straight."

"That's not the damn point," she shouts back as she slams the doors to that office shut behind her.

The guards outside the closed door wonder if they should go in and get Head Counselor Bishop out of there, or just wait until they're told to. After a while they decide that the lack of blood coming out from under the soundproofed door is a good thing, and just focus on external threats. 

She's new, after all. She'll learn how this works, soon, or she'll be transferred out on a man-missile. 

Wednesday: 10/5/16

"Hey hon," Martha says, reaching down to hug Kaitlyn as the Talon bounds from the door to her bed to give her a very long -- if gentle -- hug.

"Oh I was so worried so worried..." the girl cries, doing her best to not break down: "I heard what happened... some of it... I didn't know what to think..."

"Thanks for bringing her, Mark," she says to her husband, who smiles and leans over to give her a reassuring peck on the forehead, and then lets her hold their baby.

"No problem," he says: "John sends his love. He wanted to come but they're getting ready to mobilize against the Hurricane."

"Another one," Martha sighs, gently hugging her sleepy kiddo: "It seems to be common thing, these days."

"Hopefully no gods will ride in with it, this time," the Talon says, sitting down in a chair nearby: "This is getting really freaky, Aunt Martha."

"I agree," the Owl says, leaning back into her bed: "The ones we have are trouble enough."

"Eh, they're not all bad," Mark shrugs: "Like people, I guess. Some good, some bad."

"You're right," Martha nods, rocking their child gently to keep the babe asleep: "I'm just having a hard time with what I saw, the other day."

"Which I hear we're not supposed to ask about," Kaitlyn says, crossing her arms.

"SPYGOD told you, huh?" Martha asks, shaking her head in a mixture of disgust and annoyance: "I swear, sometimes..."

"Well, look, hon," Mark says, crossing his arms as well: "We're sworn to secrecy, anyway. And this is about Thomas. So don't we kind of have a right to know?"

She looks at the both of them, and then indicates that the Talon should close the door -- which she does, very quickly.

And then she begins to tell them what went down...

* * *

... to the ground, right beside her. It was as if the AGENT's strings had been cut, leaving him to drop straight down to his wildly-flailing knees, and then face-down.

Except that he didn't have a face, nor much of a head.

The report from the gun echoed towards them a second later. Martha had enough time to say the obvious -- "Sniper!" -- and then seek cover, just before it became very damn clear there was none to be had.

There were several AGENTS around her, a second before. In the time it took for her to think to look up to see where the shots were coming from they were all either dead or dying -- each taken out by a single, precise shot to the head.

She dove for cover as best as she could, using their falling forms to shield her from the assassin. As she did, she saw who it was -- all the way up on another, higher walkway, overlooking theirs. 

"SPYGOD...?" she asked, confused.

And then she saw the look that crossed the man's face when he realized what she'd said. Am expression of pure, malevolent hate that she'd only ever seen a few times in her life, and always when dealing with her worst, most insane enemies. 

Not SPYGOD, no. His twisted reflection. The otherworldly counterpart she'd heard so much about, and yet never had the displeasure of meeting -- yet. 

And he was aiming that weird, otherworldly sniper rifle that Dragonfly used to cart around right at her...

* * *

"Oh, that's right," Mark says, shuddering: "I'd heard he had that weapon, now. Hofud... however you say it."

"What is it?" Kaitlyn asks, not having heard of that gun before.

"It's a weapon from another planet, hon," Martha explains: "The Nazis had it during World War II. I guess they dug it up somewhere in South America before the war. They had some guy who was using it, and then the Soviets got it after the war and they used it. And at some point SPYGOD got his hands on it and hid it away."

"Only he brought it back out again, back when we were all running around getting him out of house arrest and taking down the Terre Unifee," Mark adds. 

"Yeah," Martha chuckles: "And then after that, well, I guess it's just gone all over the place."

"So it's a gun?" the Talon asks: "What's so special about it?"

"Well, it's intelligent, it can find any target anywhere in the world, it can grow whatever ammunition you need to kill that target, and change into anything from a palm-sized pop gun to the sort of thing that'll fire bullets the size of your arm up to half the planet away," Mark rattles off, looking to Martha to see if he left anything out.

Kaitlyn blinks a few times, looking from her father to her aunt/Step-mother a few times.

"How did you survive...?" she asks, and Martha takes a deep breath before launching into an explanation -- one she hardly believes herself...

* * *

... fumbled through her utility belt in search of something useful. Smoke grenades. Owl bombs. Sonic screechers. Anything.

She came up blank, though, and fully expected the next thing to go through her mind to be a bullet. That a lot of regrets and last hopes, and maybe a prayer or two if she had just enough time.

Except that something happened, up there, just before the madman with the gun could bring it to bear on her. Some kind of struggle between him and another figure that she couldn't quite see. 

In that struggle, the gun was taken from him with lightning speed. He was also knocked clear off the platform, and a voice she didn't quite recognize -- and somehow did -- told him to go and deal with her. 

He fell at least thirty feet down to their platform. He landed perfectly and rolled before springing up, and pulling out a very long, serrated knife that was matted with gore and filth.

"Well, so much for shooting your fucking kneecaps off," he muttered -- his voice a nearly perfect replica of (REDACTED), only without the Brooklyn accent: "I guess I'll have to cut you, fuck you, and then kill you."

"You just come here and try, buster," Martha growled, putting her hands up and preparing to defend herself from the wild-eyed man rushing towards her: "You wouldn't be the first. You probably won't be the last."

"You're wrong," the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth said, nearly decapitating her with his first, expert slice: "I will."

* * *

 "It was... intense," Martha says, putting her hand to her badly-slashed chest, and the long dressing running across it: "We've fought some dangerous people before. The King of Swords. Gary Ginsu. Steel Panther...."

"The weirdo in the black leather," Kaitlyn intones, knowing she isn't allowed to say his preferred name without permission.

"Yeah," Mark says, very glad that weirdo is now somewhere where he can't take his perverse fantasies out on people any longer.

"Well, this man was... worse," The Owl admits: "It was like fighting a human hurricane. Every time I was trying to get out of his way? Trying to feint or dodge? He was right there, waiting for me, with that awful leer on his face."

"Well, you beat him back, hon," Mark says: "Right...?"

"Honestly?" she says, after a long moment's silence: "I think the only reason I'm alive is because he was toying with me. He could have killed me several times, and each time all he did was take away an advantage. My utility belt, my wrist guards, my Owl Goggles..."

"Or he couldn't move in fast enough and all he could do was try and slow you down," Kaitlyn says, hoping that's the truth.

"No hon," Martha sighs, reaching out to take her hand: "I think he wanted me to think I had a chance. Otherwise he'd have just come at me sideways and stabbed me right through the head or the heart with that awful knife of his..."

* * *

"Just so you fucking know?" the counterworld man said, slashing her along the left wrist this time -- cutting right through the weak spot in her wrist gauntlet: "This knife? I fuck people to death with it, right up the ass."

Martha didn't know how to reply to that, but the mental image was enough to sicken her. Especially when she caught sight of its serrated edge -- just like a handsaw -- and realized what she thought was rust was actually dried, caked blood and !@#$.

And in that instant of fighting off nausea, he had her.

She didn't even see the cut. All she knew was that one moment, she thought she was dodging, and the next her chest had a long, deep red line going through it. 

She screamed and backed up, holding her seeping chest with her off arm while looking for an exit strategy. And not finding any.

(Get past him to get to the dead AGENTs' guns? Impossible. Run away? He'd catch her.)

No, wait. There was one. 

Her utility belt was below them, on a walkway maybe fifty feet down. It would be hell to get down there with badly-slashed glide wings, but he probably couldn't follow. 

But gliding required two arms. And one of them was keeping her from bleeding out...

"I really wanted to take my fucking time with you, bitch," her assailant hisses, clearly displeased with all this: "The pleasure of slicing you up and open, my knife strapped to my cock, all in front of him. Oh, that would have been so worth all of this shit..."

"Big man with a big knife," she said, trying to look brave as he stalked towards her -- clearly ready to kill: "You think I'm scared of you? I'll be in Paradise tonight, and you'll never hurt me again.

"And when my friends find you, you'll pay for what you've done..."

"Oh, give me a fucking break..." he groans, raising the knife: "I'll show you paradise-"

And then his knife hand exploded, right below the wrist...

* * *

"What?" Mark asks, clearly mystified. 

"The weird thing was, he didn't cry out in pain or shock," Martha goes on. He just stopped advancing, blinked, and then looked at it. It was like it was an annoyance instead of missing a hand."

"What happened?" the Talon asks, clearly impressed: "Did one of the AGENTs survive?"

"No..." the Owl says, and looks to both of them: "And this is where things get really disturbing..."

* * *

The Owl didn't bother to look the gift sniper in the mouth. 

She leaped up into the air and kicked her would-be killer's face -- once, twice, three times -- driving him back and then onto the ground. 

Then she followed up the attack with more fancy footwork, doing her best to bring her heavy boots down on pressure points that would normally maim or cripple a prone opponent. 

(What her Grandfather would have called "the bad spots," and scolded her for doing unless absolutely necessary. But were he here, right now, she figured he'd have cheered her on.)

The monster just laughed, though. Was it shock or something else, she had no idea. 

All she knew was that after a good thirty seconds of dealing out damage that should have killed a normal man, he did something with his legs and knocked her flat on her butt. 

"Godsdamn stupid bitch," he muttered, slowly getting to his knees, and then his feet: "I'll crush you with my foot-"

"There is no time for that!" someone else said -- the voice she'd heard before -- and then another figure simply appeared there, behind him: "We must flee from this place. Now!"

And Martha, laying flat on her back with a lot of blood gone, and possibly a broken tailbone to boot, looked up and saw the face of the person she'd come here to find. 

It was Thomas, standing there. Her son. 

But he was older, somehow, and aged badly at that -- haggard skin, hair as white as snow.

And when she looked into his rheumy eyes, she did not see her boy there...

* * *

"... Apparently, he's possessed," Martha explains, shaking her head: "That's what SPYGOD told me, anyway. All that time he was siting there, in Syphon's care, with all those Midwives looking in on him and telling me he just hadn't come around yet? Another being was in there, looking out of his eyes and laughing at us. 

"And when we weren't looking, he was using that perfect, more human than human body to get around. Teleportation, moving faster than we could see. Maybe even casting illusions, or using mind control, so we'd think he was there when he really wasn't..."

She takes a deep, deep breath and then slowly lets the air out. It's that or break down. It's that or cry.

Mark knows better than to hold her at moments like this -- that just makes it worse -- but Kaitlyn squeezes her hand.

"What happened then, Aunt Martha?" the Talon asks: "You can tell us. And I think we need to know."

* * *

The being who wasn't her son looked down at her with a mixture of annoyance and disgust: "We have no time for this!"

"What fucking happened up there?" the SPYGOD of Alter Earth asked, apparently not concerned about the bloody stump that used to be his right hand: "Where's the damn gun?"

"That is of no consequence!" her son said, holding up something else in his hand -- a weird container that seemed to shift and move too many times per second to see clearly: "We have that which we traveled here for! We must leave!"

"Thomas!" she shouted, holding up her free hand: "Please! Come back-"

"Mewling quim," the being who controlled Thomas snorted, turning his back on her as he bustled her would-be assassin away into some sort of dimensional pocket, and then vanished down a long corridor of strange angles that closed up before it could be truly seen.

She tried to scream. She tried to cry. But she was so weak from blood loss and fatigue that all she could do was whimper, holding a hand out to the space where her missing son had been, just a second before...

"Have no fear, Martha," a voice she hadn't heard in a long time said, up from the walkway the human monster had leaped down from: "You do not die here. And you will find our son once more."

And she looked up there, and gasped at who she saw -- holding an alien gun that had become a long, elegant bow...

* * *

"You're kidding me..." Mark gasps: "Him? That son of a-"

"Mark," Martha says, indicating the youngish pair of ears not five feet away from them.

"The Green Man," Kaitlyn says, looking at both of them: "Thomas' father, right?"

Martha almost gasps in shock -- how did she know about that? But then, this is a detective she's trying to train, here. 

"Yes," Martha says, nodding: "Thomas' father. We... well, things were always complicated with him. He wasn't always in control of his own destiny."

"He killed your brother Michael," Mark interprets.

"It was an accident. We forgave him for that when he came back to us. And for a time he was back under our roof, and with us, and things... happened."

"And then he flipped," Mark sighed, not liking this particular part of the family history: "And he left you and your dad in a deathtrap, not even knowing you were pregnant with his son."

"And then next time I saw him was in Detroit, a few years after I'd given birth," Martha goes on: "The fight we had... any hopes of getting heroes back into that town after that kind of went away."

Kaitlyn nods, looking back and forth: "So, he's alive, somehow? I thought he died in the Treehouse, saving Thomas' life?"

Martha smiles at her, shaking her head: "He's not alive, hon. No. It's..."

"Complicated," Mark sighs as she struggles for the right word, and takes her not looking at him with reproach as proof that he's right.

"So..." Kaitlyn says: "What do we do now?"

Martha bites her lip a little, and then looks between her husband and her niece/stepdaughter: "We sit tight. I heal. And we trust SPYGOD to bring Thomas back to us."

Mark looks at her, and shakes his head: "The last time we trusted him things got really bad."

"Yes, they did," the Owl says: "But he knows better than to let it get that far, again. And I have his word that this is going to get fixed."

"Is that enough?"

"Hey, dad," Kaitlyn says, looking at him with disbelief: "This is SPYGOD. He says it's fixed? It's fixed."

Thursday: 10/6/16

"I wish I had your confidence," Gold Standard says, flying her army of drones into the oncoming storm: "The last time we went up against a hurricane we didn't do so well."

"The last time you went up against a hurricane you didn't have me along for the ride," Dark Falcon says, flying his very brutalist orinthopter above the clouds: "If the satellite information is correct, the Falcon Car can generate enough heat to disrupt the system, and cause it to dissipate."

"That would be really awesome," Josie radios in: "And NASA is telling me they've triple-checked the figures. You should be clear as glass."

"Clear as glass," the Toon hero muses, flying into position -- well above the eye of the hurricane -- and pointing his lasers at the area they need to go: "Something you would have said, old chum..."

"He's talking to that damn dog again," Dragonfly mutters to Black Freedom as they struggle to get stragglers to safety -- glad they can shut their comm channels off.

"I don't blame him," Florence says, using her strength to push a family's SUV through rising waters: "Poor guy must be heartbroken."

"Can't he just make another?"

"That's not how it works, I guess," the newly-renamed Superheroine says, giving the van one last push. There's a moment of squeaking car parts, and then its engine catches, and it shudders forward, able to move once more.

(The smiles on the family's faces is all she needed to see, today. After all the grief people have been giving her for what she said in Chinatown, she feels like she's back in the saddle, again.)

"Are you certain about those figures?" Dark Falcon asks as his new, more powerful Falcon Car starts losing altitude in the higher, rougher winds his lasers are producing. 

"Oh no," Rakim says, gasping as the enormity of the mistake becomes clear: "He didn't fire at the right spots! He's made it worse!"

"How much worse?" SPYGOD shouts from his office, clearly not happy to have his grief counseling session interrupted.

"A lot worse!" Gold Standard shouts, trying to get her and her drones away before they get smashed to scrap by winds that just increased several levels...

... and then, as quickly as they increased, they decrease back down, and all but flutter away into strong, circular winds that bend trees but don't break them. 

The rain comes down gentle and warm, and the sun begins to shine, once more. 

From aboard his crippled aircraft, Dark Falcon realizes he isn't dead -- much to his annoyance -- and checks his telemetry. The Hurricane is gone, but it's not his doing. 

And there's several unknown signatures on his radar, all floating in the air. 

So he carefully retracts the storm armor he put up, and sees what has stopped him from committing suicide...

 "What the !@#$ing !@#$ just happened out there?" SPYGOD shouts, storming onto the bridge with his grief counselor in tow. They both look a little disheveled -- it must have been one hell of a cry session in his office, just now. 

"I have no idea," Josie admits: "Rakim's running the numbers, but the radar has a complete cessation of the hurricane."

"That shouldn't be possible," Rakim chimes in: "Not without significant atmospheric damage."

"Ma'am!" one of the AGENTs shouts: "I've got Hanami on the line."

"Oh, good," SPYGOD says, looking relieved: "She must have !@#$ing taken care of it. Like she was supposed to do the last time..."

And then the Japanese android comes on the big screen, and everyone gasps. She's not quite herself, anymore. 

"Hello," she says, her voice a weird amalgamation of every language they speak, her eyes lit up light miniature suns.

And her skin a curious red and silver pattern. 

"Hanami?" SPYGOD says: "Wow... what the !@#$ happened in Japan?"

"I made some excellent friends," she explains, and allows the focus on her communicator to reveal the beings that have come back here with her.

Giants, all of them -- at least a hundred feet tall. Silver and red men and women, composed of what's either dull metal or very shiny plastic. All of them with strange headgear instead of hair.

And simple, almost vestigial silver faces -- somewhat devoid of emotion. 

"The Revolutionary Men have returned, (REDACTED)-San," Hanami explains, perhaps needlessly: "They wish to discuss certain situations in regards to the state of ethereal beings within the United States of America."

"Of course they !@#$ing do," SPYGOD mutters, looking to Counselor Bishop: "I think we're gonna have to wait on that new grieving technique you were discussing...."

"No problem," she says: "I think I'll debrief Black Falcon, instead. I'm not liking how things went, out there."

"You and me both," the superspy says, wondering what he's possibly going to say to a gaggle of newly-returned Gods.

Friday: 10/7/16

"Back so !@#$ing soon, paleface?" someone asks Randolph Scott as he heads for the mess hall of the Standing Rock prayer camp.

"Well, you know how it is," he smiles at Yanabah, stepping forward to shake her hand, and then give her a hug: "Can't !@#$ing keep me away."

"How you holding up?" she asks, seemingly quite concerned.

"Alright," he lies, nodding a little too quickly for his liking: "One day at a time, right?"

"Yeah," Yanabah says, deciding to let it go for right now: "You're just in time. They say the Feds are coming in, now."

"That's what I heard," he confirms, letting her lead him to where he was headed: "Apparently the Interim President's tired of hearing the Governor complain about police injuries."

"Well, if they'd stop sending them to disrupt our peaceful protests, he would stop sending them back to the cop shop with scorch marks and no hearing."

"They don't get it, do they?" the Outlaw Reporter asks, shaking his head: "They don't realize what they're up against."

"Does anyone?" the former member of Freedom Force asks: "They fight when they should run, and then they come back and want to talk. But if they wanted to talk they shouldn't have tried to fight in the first damn place."

"And when they do fight, it's like tossing water on a gas fire," Randolph says: "Totally outclassed."

"So what are the feds bringing, then?" Yanabah asks: "Harsh words?"

"Well, there's talk of your friends coming in," the outlaw reporter says, stopping to gauge her reaction to that: "Our friends, really, when it's all said and done."

"They think they can sweet talk us like they did in Chinatown?" she laughs: "That trick's not gonna fly here."

"Why not?"

"Because Gosheven's a lousy Indian, for one," Yanabah snorts.

"Well, I can't comment..." Randolph says, but laughs anyway.

"And because I'm here," she says when they both stop laughing: "And I know them too well. And if they think they can sweet talk me, well..."

She pats her guns and looks at him over her sunglasses. Her pupils are much wider than they should be, and have long, fanged teeth just behind them.

Randolph quickly realizes that's her monster, inside -- not trying to get out, but ready to move any time she needs it to...

"So what happens, then?" he asks, looking for an opening to the story he's sensing is about to change on him, yet again.

"Then we leave it up to the Great Mystery, same as always," she says, putting her glasses back: "And if the White Man can't handle him, maybe they should get the !@#$ away, and this time stay gone."

"Can I quote you on that?" he asks, half-joking.

"Let me get you some proper frybread," she sighs, taking him arm-in-arm: "And then you can tell me about that video some asshole leaked about the orange-faced bastard."

"Oh, it's probably nothing," Randolph sighs: "Just another case of him sticking his foot in his mouth, back when he wasn't running for anything..."

Saturday: 10/8/16

"Oh, I think I like this person," Loki says, watching the television in the corner of the diner they've barricaded themselves in for a time.

"Who?" the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth asks, looking up at the screen and then going back to sharpening his knife -- still sticky and redolent from what he just used it for.

(Quite a tricky thing to do with one hand.)

"This man, running for the Presidency of this country," the Aesir in possession of Thomas Samuels' body says, steeping his powerful hands in front of his stolen face and grinning wider than should be possible: "My but he does speak his mind."

"Doesn't have a lot on it, though," his servant says, looking to the pile of bodies in front of the door -- making sure none of them are still moving.

"I like his appetites."

"I find them fucking boring," (DETCADER) says, wondering if he should ask before getting himself some more coffee from the pot, nearby, or just do it.

He thinks he might actually survive that, now.

They've been hiding out for a few days -- stuck in some dark hole between realities that Loki swore was impossible for their pursuers to find. He refused to tell his servant exactly who those pursuers were, for some reason, but after a time the SPYGOD of Alter Earth decided he didn't really care to know.

He was more interested in the fact that his "master" was losing it -- one hour at a time -- right before the eyes of his unwilling servant.

Whatever Loki had gone up into that void to do had taken a terrible toll upon his body and mind. His once-powerful form was old and sere, now -- pale of skin and white of hair. He still possessed incredible strength and speed, and had access to quite amazing magical abilities, but he was quickly becoming a doddering old man.

Hence the possibly-critical mistake of leaving their bolthole to go out and get something to eat. For some reason he craved Reuben sandwiches, and apparently the Big Boy chain was in possession of the perfect recipe.

So they left their place of safety and traveled to the Danville, Illinois location on a midnight sandwich bender -- demanding serving after serving from the terrified staff.

And as the last-remaining Aesir stuffed his face, eating Reuben after Reuben to fuel whatever massive hunger had entered him, the counterworld man took advantage of the cowed diners they took captive -- quickly turning the diner into a bloody human abattoir.

He was finding the loss of his good hand to be more of a challenge to overcome than an annoyance. By the time he was done slaughtering the last diner, he hardly noticed its absence. And by the time they were out of Reuben ingredients, and Loki gave him grudging permission to kill the cooks and waitstaff, too, it was as though he'd never had that paw to begin with.

Still, as soon as his master let him retrieve some of his biological equipment from his lockup, in Dodoma, he'd soon have another hand. He felt he'd be needing both for what was to come -- especially if they got the supergun back, and he was to go about performing the task he'd been charged with in the first place.

(A subject he wasn't keen to bring up just yet, given how violent Loki got when discussing what happened, back in that weird prison under the void....)

"So vile," the last of the Aesir cooed, reaching his greasy hands out as if to touch the image on the television: "So self-assured. He reminds me of one of the dvergr kings, squatting on his throne of gold and jewels, proud ruler of all caves..."

"He's a fuckstick," (DETCADER) snorts, deciding to push his luck and get some coffee for himself, after all: "All their politicians are. Easily manipulated, wholly fallible."

"Is that so, my servant?" Loki asks, the change in his tone quite dramatic -- yet not setting off his servant's danger alarms, just yet.

"Yes," the Alter-Earth SPYGOD says, pouring himself a steaming mug of the stuff, and amused to see some blood has spattered into the brew: "And quite fucking fragile, too."

"Explain," the last of the Aesir demands, tapping his hands on the table to indicate the man should sit across from him, once more.

"Well," the counterworld man says, wondering if he's about to pay for overreaching as he does as he's bidden: "They're like those silly ice sculptures people make. They take forever to get just right, and they look really impressive. But one wrong fucking move, and..."

He grabs the empty plate from in front of Loki and flings it at the nearest wall, where it explodes into jagged, white porcelain and powder.

"But there is power in the breaking, or so you once said," Loki says, pointing a long, shaking finger at his servant's nose.

"There is, yes," he says: "It creates control, or solidifies it. It also-"

"Be silent, now," Loki says, waving his hand, and for a terrifying 36 seconds the SPYGOD of Alter Earth finds himself unable to bring more than a whisper of air into his lungs, even on a very deep breath...

Sunday: 10/9/16

... when he comes to, fully, he realizes he's somewhere else. A hotel room, somewhere -- large and luxurious.

"What the fuck..." he gasps, taking a very deep breath.

"That's pretty much what I was gonna ask," the Candidate says, looking rather strange in his boxer briefs and a pair of dark socks: "If this is some kind of joke, well, okay. But I do have security, still. You can't just-"

"Oh, but we can," Loki says, reappearing between the two of them.

"Where the fuck were you?" his servant asks.

"Dealing with a very persistent ghost," the last of the Aesir chuckles: "I cannot afford to be disturbed. Not now, anyway."

"Now, look, pal," the Candidate says: "You got ten seconds to-" 

"Be quiet, please," Loki says to him, waving a hand before the man's large, beefy face.

"Um..." the man says, raising an eyebrow: "Excuse me?"

"Fascinating," the last of the Aesir says, waving the hand again -- with a lot more force, this time - which halts the Candidate in his tracks: "I see now why I was attracted to his place, my servant."

"The California King?"

"Is that who this man is?" Loki asks: "Well, this king had a powerful court sorcerer at one time. He still carries the remnants of a charm, cast upon him. A thing that allowed him to be untouched by the hate of others, and to walk through the misfortunes and arrows of a thousand foes with equal skill."

"It's called teflon, I think," the SPYGOD of Alter-Earth sighs, getting to his feet and going to sit on the California King in question.

"Whatever it be called, it does the same as a charm of protection," the body-stealing trickster says: "And there is still enough of it here to weave a greater magic. One that will allow me to take this California King's body as my own, and not be seen by my enemies."

"You mean you want to fucking take control of a man who might be the next President of the United States," the counterworld man says.

"I think that sounds an excellent plan," Loki says, grinning widely: "And he has retainers, I am certain. Ones who can aid in hiding this useless body...?"

"I think so, yes," his 'servant' says, also smiling at how the delightfully weird and wonderful form this plan has evolved into.

* * *

"Look, I'm not any happier about this than you are," Josie tells the assembled members of Freedom Force, all gathered around the holographic table in their situation room: "But it comes directly from the desk of the President."

"So does a lot of other bull!@#$," Black Freedom snorts, sitting in her chair with her legs crossed in disdain: "And this is a big damn pile of it."

"I have to agree," Green Fury says: "All those people are doing is peaceably protesting an action that is legally questionable at this time."

"Not to mention extremely disrespectful to my people," Gosheven holds up a hand: "Let's not forget that, okay?"

"You haven't let us, so far," Gold Standard says, rolling her eyes behind her face armor.

"This is, however, a law enforcement issue," the recently-rebuilt Free Fire points out: "Right or wrong, the police have a duty to maintain order. If we stand by and do nothing while so-called gods help people resist arrest, this country will soon descend into anarchy."

"And anarchy is no one's friend," Black Falcon agrees, pounding his fist on table: "As we have found out to our extreme cost."

"Anarchy's what the powers that be call it when a revolution's on," Dragonfly says, which gets her a nod and a high-five from Black Freedom.

"So, what am I hearing, then?" Josie asks: "It sounds like only two members of the team are actually willing to suit up and do their damn jobs?"

"I'll go along, too," Gold Standard says: "But only because I don't want this to turn into a damned slaughter."

"And I am totally going to be there," Gosheven says: "Someone has to speak for my people in the face of whatever we find."

"Plus, there's another issue," Dragonfly points out: "Yanabah's there, too. And we know what she can do."

"I know," Josie sighs: "And she's not on the team, anymore, which means she gets no quarter if things go bad."

"Am I actually !@#$ing hearing this right?" Black Freedom asks: "We're going to be sent in to put down peaceful protests-"

"Burned and broken police officers are not caused by a peaceful protest, young lady," Black Falcon interrupts.

"And that's only because the high and mighty Great Mystery decided to get his ass involved," Josie insists: "That's the problem. We can't have these beings interfering with the laws. Someone has to stand up and say that if they want to be here, too, they have to obey the law. As painful as that sometimes is."

"I always thought the role of the hero was to go just above and beyond the law to uphold its spirit, rather than its letter," Green Fury says: "That's what The Owl taught me, anyway."

Black Falcon looks like he's going to say something to that, but one look from Josie shuts him the hell down.

"Antonia, you're up," the burly, pink-haired clone says: "Take Falcon, Free Fire, and Gosheven with you. The rest of you are on standby."

"Well thank you," Black Freedom mutters.

"And if you're needed, and you don't go and do your damn job?" Josie finishes up: "I will let SPYGOD !@#$ing deal with you, personally.

"And the mood he's in? You better hope it doesn't come to that..."

* * *

"... practicing your crying and moping again, I see," Counselor Bishop says, getting her clothes back on in the dark of SPYGOD's office.

"Do you have to !@#$ing do that in front of me?" SPYGOD asks, putting every single weapon and doo-dad back onto his giant combat boots (the last thing he does when he gets dressed, every day).

"What, don't you like it?" she asks, smacking her very high and firm ass: "It's kind of fun."

"Kind of necessary," the superspy says: "How are the others?"

"Grumbling, confused, and wanting this to end."

"Well, they're in a big damn world of luck," SPYGOD says: "Maybe another week."

"That's if the plan holds."

"It'll hold," the superspy insists, walking over to her and giving her a kiss that could stop time -- one she happily returns with interest.

"I sure hope so," she says, patting his chest: "Otherwise, this is gonna be damned awkward."

"You just concentrate on your end of things," he winks over his glasses -- his eyes no longer seeming as messed up as they were.

"Oh I will," she grins, turning and shaking her tush at him, which makes him sigh and turn away.

And as he does...

* * *

... the Agent from the future fights to get back to where he was -- cast adrift on the shoals of time once more by the being hiding inside Thomas Samuel's time-ravaged body...

... as a legion of slow-moving ghosts float through time and space, slowly approaching the last place they saw their quarry, but knowing he's moved on...

... and the Great Mystery hears the change in the wind, and leaves his place of power to come back to Earth, ready for what's been promised to come to pass...

... while Randolph Scott and Yanabah fumble with each other's clothes in a tent too small for the both of them, but suddenly just right for their needs...

... and the Revolutionary Men -- now a lot smaller than usual -- stand beside the many, many other gods who want access to this land of dreams and promises, waiting patiently for the 24/7 Ethereal Immigration Office to grant them an interview...

... and Black Freedom starts and stops her resignation letter about a dozen times in her mind, wondering if she should just leave without saying a word instead...

... and Martha Clutch holds her baby to her chest, hoping that her protege's faith in SPYGOD is not poorly placed...

* * *

... and in St. Louis, after a shower of booing, the Candidate takes to the stage for the second Presidential debate -- smiling and waving as though he had experienced the mother of all second winds.

Or as if he were a new man.

 (SPYGOD is listening to See the Future (Front 242) and having a Trojan Horse IPA)

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