Glen stood at Coconut’s trough, eyeing the horse with a narrowed glare. The brown stallion was munching thoughtlessly, paying Glen as much attention as one would give to a strand of spiderweb dangling from a bull’s horn.
Glen reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved the small silver instrument he’d brought for the occasion. Still, Coconut did not react. The horse kept eating his hay as Glen sat down right in front of the trough, holding the instrument at arm’s length.
The light from the roof of the stable glinted off the instruments points, and Coconut suddenly stopped. He swivelled an eye towards Glen’s hand.
“You see what this is?” Glen asked, his voice low and serious. “You know what this does?”
The horse, unsurprisingly, did not respond. Glen kept going. “I don’t know if you’ve been telling Miss Chestnut things you’re not supposed to, but she’s onto me. What you’re eating now came from whatever was left at the Pet Barn down the road, since I took the rest of it, but this won’t last forever. I know there’s something deeper about your hay, and I willdiscover the truth.”
He tilted the instrument to one side, then lowered it into the trough. Coconut watched the instrument as its quartet of tines speared a mouthful of hay and brought it towards Glen’s lips.
“I will,” he repeated emphatically, as he put the fork of hay into his mouth and began to chew.
The chopper’s rotors were already whining when he finally arrived at the hangar. The roof doors were slowly opening, allowing the massive aircraft ingress to the world above.
Glen caught sight of Damian having what was either a heated discussion or an outright argument with Brendan and Brandon. He stepped closer and got snatches of their speaking.
“…don’t understand why I’m on point, bro!” Brendan was protesting. “I don’t know these guys!”
“No, no, Braaaaaandon is on point!” Damian shouted back over the whine of the chopper. “Braaaaandon. With an ‘aaaaaaa’, not an “eeeeee”.”
“It’s alright, sir!” Brandon yelled, cutting off Brendan before he could reply. “I understand!”
“You do, bro?” Brendan asked. “I got no clue what we’re doing now!”
Damian muttered something Glen couldn’t discern, but from the movement of his lips it looked like, ‘Goddammit’.
Lonie was staying behind with Damian – as head of legal and accounting she didn’t have many combat skills – but the others had all piled into the large helicopter. It was a specially designed model that could hold the entire team and pilot safely, equipped with a cloaking device that the tech guys swore blind would put the Avengers’ Quinjet to shame. Not being big on comics other than the Phantom, Glen had no idea what they’d meant by that. He’d asked the head technician what an Avenger was, and had been laughed out of the room.
It didn’t bother him; once he had Coconut’s secret, nothing else would matter.
Once Damian finally put the stupid Kiwi in his place, Glen took his seat in the chopper between Dac and Ash. He noticed Ash looked preoccupied – with the mission or 917, he couldn’t say. Everyone knew how she felt about 917, and having to haul his tasered body back to his cell hadn’t looked fun.
He calmly laid his hand on top of hers. “It’ll be alright!” he shouted over the rotors. “We’ll find him a cure!”
Ash stared at his hand for a long moment before withdrawing hers from underneath it. She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Who?”
“Y’know!” Glen yelled back. “917! Your boyfriend!”
She blinked, then backhanded him across the face. Beside Glen, Dac jumped in surprise. “Steady on, mates! Save it for the enemy!”
Glen stared at her in shock, rubbing his cheek wordlessly. Ash didn’t say anything more, but the glare in her eyes and her intent staring towards the opposite wall was clear; ‘Shut the fuck up.’
Doesn’t matter. She’ll receive vengeance when I’m bonded to Coconut.
“Right-o, chaps!” Damian said from the open door of the chopper. “Godspeed, and all that! You’ll be successful, and be right back for debriefing and cuddles afterwards!”
While he knew it’d be hard to tell with all the noise, Glen was pretty sure no-one responded to him. A few glances at Dac and Jacob told him he wasn’t the only one staring disturbed at their commanding officer.
A few awkward moments passed before Damian gave a perfunctory nod, bowing slightly as he ducked under the open door and strode away. One of the support staff shut the door behind him, and the chopper began to rise.
The noise began to level out a little, and Glen found he could actually hear himself think. Unfortunately, the first thing he heard properly was that bloody Kiwi.
“So, uh, bros,” Brendan said slowly. “What d’you think of this whole, y’know, situation?”
“What situation?” Jacob asked. “Doctor Dream’s on the prowl, we gotta take him out. Simple.”
Brendan didn’t seem convinced. “Yeah, but, a coffee place? Really? Seems a bit roundabout, eh, bro?”
“It makes sense, if you think about it,” Glen replied. He didn’t want to entertain the New Zealander too much, but he had to admit he was curious too. He’d thought about this at lunch. “Canada’s all about their Fair Trade coffee stuff, so it’s the perfect front for a criminal mastermind. Especially if he’s doing recruitment; everyone knows vegans are smarter.”
Mary gave him a sardonic look. “What do vegans have to do with it?”
“You sure you’re not mixing up Fair Trade people with vegans?” Jacob asked. “Two different things, dude.”
“Not really,” Glen shot back. “They’re quite similar –”
“Does this really matter at all?” Mary said loudly, putting an end to the discussion. “We need to talk about a plan of attack. We’ve got only a few hours before we hit Toronto, so we need to get cracking.”
“Right, bro!” Brendan said, raising his finger in triumph.
Before he could continue he started gagging. Glen saw Mary check her watch for a moment, nod slowly, then turn to look at the choking Kiwi. “Right on time.”
After a few more moments of horrifying noises Brendan’s head lolled forward. Glen didn’t have to guess what happened, as Mary nodded and smiled knowingly. The others just watched, speechless out of repetitiveness rather than shock. This was not uncommon.
“By my reckoning,” Mary told them, “we’ve got at least fifteen minutes for the arsenic to make its way through his body and permit resurrection. That’s a quarter of an hour to make an awesome attack plan before we get to the Great White North.”
Jacob coughed – for a brief moment Glen wondered if he’d been poisoned too – then nodded. “You’re right. Let’s get stuck into this now, because Dream ain’t gonna go down easy.”
“Neither is that cheeseburger you scoffed for lunch, mate!” Dac cried, flipping to the relevant page in his quote book.
The silence was worse than Damian’s quip about cuddles. Glen figured he’d have a quiet chat to Mary later; while he waited for Coconut, he’d borrow some of her poison for his more annoying co-workers. That, or punch them in the crotch.
That was way more fun.
Nick shut the door behind him and booted up the laptop. Skype was online in seconds, and his CO was on the line.
“Do you have anything for me?” Damian asked.
Nick shook his head. “Dream’s stopping advancement, for now. The Fair Trade coffee shop is in business, but that’s as far as it’s going right this second. Is the team on the way?”
“They are. They should be in your neck of the woods in a couple of hours. Make sure they’re given the best intel to crack into Dream’s hideout.”
“You got it, Cap’n.” Nick looked worried for a moment, frowning. “Sir, what exactly are you going to do to Doctor Dream once you’ve got him in captivity?”
“What captivity, dear boy?” Damian asked as if it were the most obvious thing. “He’s a terrorist mastermind. We’re a counterinsurgencyagency. We kill the enemy.”
“It’s that simple?”
“It’s that simple.”
Nick paused before continuing. “Sir, I believe it may be possible to rehabilitate Dream if we can just give him the proper treatment. I’ve heard you’ve made promising progress with Graham 917 –”
“Graham 917 is a failure, nothing more,” Damian said abruptly. “You’d do well to remember that, especially around Agent Ash. She doesn’t know it yet, but he’s bound for the incinerator.”
“You’re going to incinerate him?” Nick spluttered, completely caught off guard. “He’s a fucking human, not an old report! You can’t –”
“I can’t?” Damian bellowed. The Skype call went fuzzy from the over-volume. “What can’t I do, Mr Driver? As head of this cell, what the fuck can’t I do?”
Nick held his tongue, swallowing down the lump growing in his throat. Damian took the silence as implicit, and went on. “917 isn’t even the focus here. Get on track, and get the team into the Doctor’s operation. See to it he’s terminated.”
Or what, you’ll incinerate him too?
“Yes, sir. I’ll get it done.”
The call ended. Nick turned around to see Doctor Dream leering over him, taking off his own set of headphones; he’d been listening to the call.
“Seems they believe you, Agent Driver,” he said lazily. “Your team will descend into the trap shortly. Most excellent.”
Nick didn’t like the current landscape, but it was necessary. Project Starfire was at risk if he failed here. “Is the Intern with them? We don’t want to kill our informant.”
“I’m not sure,” Dream admitted. “They haven’t made contact yet, presumably because they aren’t in a safe location yet. Hopefully they’ll check in before hell breaks loose.”
Unconsciously, Nick found his hand slipping to the sidearm at his waist. He could end Dream now, and protect Project Starfire, and everything would be alright. All it would take was one bullet.
Dream was looking intently at Nick’s hand, but out of curiosity rather than fear. “I can understand your position, Agent Driver, but don’t worry. Once they have my dead body, you’ll be a hero and I’ll be far away from here. Just stay with me a little further.”
Nick sighed, realising the Doctor was right. There was no way around this. Resignedly, he dropped his hand from the gun. Dream nodded approvingly, and left the room.
Outside, in the cold grey light of the dawn, it began to rain.