Episode 4

Mary was somewhat surprised it wasn’t snowing when the chopper landed outside Toronto border. The rain was fierce and heavy instead, beating an almost drumlike staccato against the aircraft’s canopy as the doors started to slide open. Outside it was dreary and melancholy; it was the kind of down, depressing mood Mary loved to photograph. It was like a line she’d heard in a TV show once, that “‘sad’ is happy for deep people”.
            What was that show?
            She liked the sad, because it was different. Everyone else cracking jokes at work was all well and good, but sometimes they didn’t stop to appreciate the serious stuff. The things that mattered. The things that might end.
            She hadn’t told him yet. She’d found out three days ago, right before Dac had been deployed to kill Fiona Florentine. She’d felt stunned, shocked, utterly displaced when the news came in. Even now it made her feel…
            Dac took up the sat-phone, dialling in to work. “Damo, we’ve landed safely buddy. We’ll call you once we make contact with Nick.”
            “Jolly good!” Damian exclaimed. “Do give him my best, and tell him he won’t be on assignment here for too much longer. Good luck and godspeed, ladies and gentlemen.”
            “Roger that, boss,” Dac replied. “Dac out.”
            He replaced the phone in his belt pouch, standing up and striding towards the open door. “Well, guys, might be a bit wet out but we’ve got a job to do. Let’s poncho up and nail this bastard to the wall.”
            “You brought nails, bro?” Brendan asked, unstrapping himself.
            Mary patted herself around her chest, trying to locate the switchblade she’d smuggled aboard. She couldn’t find the proper pocket.
            “Nah, mate, it’s a euphemism,” Dac explained as one would explain traffic lights to a retarded possum. “Just a figure of speech. Alright, let’s –”
            “But then you’d need a hammer too, eh?” Brendan continued, oblivious to Dac’s logic. “Coz, otherwise you’d have to hammer it with your head. And that’d hurt, bro.”
            Dac looked on the verge of pulling out the magnum in his holster and blowing the Kiwi’s brains inside the chopper, but he instead took a deep breath and, with patience Mary could only marvel at as she kept looking for the switchblade, said, “It would, mate. Indeed it would. Now come on, let’s get moving. We need to cross the border and be at the safe house before nine sharp. Damn bastard’ll have his patrols out soon.”
            What the hell was that TV show? It’s gonna bother me all day.
            Mary followed the others out into the rain once they were sufficiently poncho’d, and together they headed towards Toronto.
The safe house was actually an underground bunker used by CRUD for operatives in the field. There was at least one in a state of every major country; Mary had memorised all of them, not that anyone cared. It was often that no-one cared about what she came up with.
            She still found it unfathomable how none of the others really questioned Brendan’s immortality. Granted, they all laughed – out loud or inside – whenever she killed him in brutal and elaborate ways, but they never really explored how his unquestioning loyalty to Sloss gave him this power. None of them. Not even Damian.
            It didn’t matter, though. She knew she was the unsung hero of this team. She carried them, whether they admitted it or not, through many of their more dangerous assignments. She was the unofficial Team Mum – well, the in-the-field Team Mum. There was one slightly above her station back at HQ. Speaking of which…
            She pulled out her sat-phone, dialling her emergency number. Belinda answered almost immediately.
            “Hi, Mary,” she said affably, although Mary could hear here wrestling with something in the background. Last time she’d found Belinda wrestling with something it was a genetically-mutated lobster for the company Christmas dinner; they weren’t big on traditional pork roasts.
            “Hi,” Mary said quietly. She wasn’t quite sure what to say, just that she hadto say something. It was bugging her.
            She was silent for a few moments before Belinda said, slightly panting, “Are you alright?”
            Mary nodded, realising that she obviously couldn’t see it over the phone, then replied, “Yeah, just a bit nervy. It’s gonna be a big day today.”
            “I can imagine,” Belinda affirmed, and Mary could hear the loud slosh of water in the background. Perhaps she was working on a Christmas feast early this year. “But you guys’ll do alright, yeah? Especially if you’re on the team.”
            “I should be leading it,” Mary blurted out. She realised what was bothering her, what had bothered her more than Brendan all this time. “Right now, Dac has control. He’s good, no doubt, but I should be leading. I’m the one who gets them out of tight scrapes. Remember Bolivia?”
            Belinda chuckled, still wrestling whatever was in the background. “For a second there, I thought you guys were in trouble there.”
            That quote sounded familiar. “Is that from Platoon?”
            “Nope. Butch and Sundance.”
            “Ah.” She’d never seen that movie. “Well, my point is I’m more valuable to the team than they acknowledge. I bring a level head without resorting to constant headshots and suave Australian charm.”
            “Without headshots, you say?” Belinda asked incredulously. “What about Brendan?”
            Mary grimaced. “He doesn’t count. I’ll work out his stuff later.” She sighed. “I should be taking point on this op, not Dac. He’ll just Han Solo everyone to death.”
            “Well, you’re not wrong there hun,” Belinda replied, “but he does have a bit more leadership experience than you do. Maybe you could ask him if you can take over the next op? I’m sure Damian would be willing to have words with him to that effect.”
            Mary considered the idea, humming thoughtfully. She didn’t expect Damian to relent easily, not when Dac was his golden boy. She’d give it a try later. “Maybe.” She paused. “Thanks, Belinda. It’s always good to talk to you.”
            “All good, Mary,” Belinda said – Mary was sure she could hear the smile in her voice. “I’m here if you need me. Break a leg on the op!” Mary heard her starting to set the phone down and hang up as she yelled, “Beryl! Beryl, get that fish back in –”
            Mary replaced the phone in her belt, pensive. A fish, eh? That’d be a good story later. Especially if it was involved in some post-leadership celebratory dinner. I mean, Ash gets a big lunch for her birthday. When was the last time I got a big meal?
            Where the hell is that damn quote from?
The team was assembled in the living room of the safe house half an hour later, once all their gear had been stowed and they’d received the all-clear that the chopper had left Canadian airspace successfully. Nick had arrived, swaggering in like Mal Reynolds. Dac was noticeably uncomfortable. For some reason, Mary took a small amount of delight from that.
            “Alright, guys,” Nick was saying, standing with one foot on a reversed chair to regard everyone. “Here’s the skinny. Doctor Dream has set up his coffee infiltration op on Queen Street, down the road from here. The bar above, acting as our cover base, should be a good facade for the moment but if Dream finds out we’re here he’ll start checking underground straight away.”
            “Why would he check that first?” Jacob asked, sounding curious. Mary had to admit it sounded a bit odd.
            “Because,” Nick replied without missing a beat, “he learnt from the op you guys ran in Siberia. A bunker in a snowdrift? It was child’s play for him, no matter how much thermal disruptor you coated that thing in.”
            Dac squirmed uncomfortably. “That was our group effort, Nicholas. As I recall, you’re the one who found us that snowdrift.”
            “Yeah, for a temporary solution, Thomas. That bunker you built was a long-term –”
            “Can we stop with the pissing contest, bros?” Brendan asked, loudly overriding them. “My girlfriend’s in that coffee company!”
            Brandon sighed tiredly. “No, it’s my girlfriend who’s in there. I’m the one who’s got to save her.”
            “Let’s not get bogged down in details, eh, bro?” Brendan replied, turning back to regard Nick. “Continue.”
            Nick gave the two B’s a perfunctory glance, then ploughed on. “In any case, if you’re going to hit him you have to do it fast. Dream’s been planning this for months. There are agents hidden throughout Toronto, and he knows you’ll be paying him a visit soon. He just doesn’t know when.”
            Mary spoke up. “So why aren’t we on our way there now?”
            “It’s not that simple,” Nick explained. “There’s a…device, underneath the coffee shop. We don’t know what it does –”
            “We?” Dac asked, sounding a little accusatory.
            Nick groaned and rolled his eyes as he turned towards Dac. “Yes, we.” He looked towards the safe house entrance. “TRENT!
            Footsteps echoed throughout the room as a medium-set man with short, close-cropped brown hair walked in. His eyes were ovoid and bright yellow – Mary was immediately put in mind of Darth Maul from Star Wars. The man stood next to Nick, regarding everyone warily.
            “Ladies and gentlemen,” Nick addressed the group, “this is Trent. He’s a friend I ran into here with valuable intel on Dream. We can use his assistance.”
            Dac sounded sceptical. “A friend? What sort of friend?”
            Trent narrowed his glare at Dac, obviously in the mood for no shit. “The sort of friend who knows about the generator underneath the local supermarket that’s powering Dream’s compound and the mysterious device you’ll probably want to disable.”
            “And how do you know that?”
            “I’ve been scavenging intel.”
            “From where?”
            “You’re from around here?”
            “Not exactly.”
            “Then where are you from?”
            The room fell silent as Dac watched the newcomer closely. Everyone seemed tense – especially, for some odd reason, Glen. He seemed ready to pounce on Trent, and his hand had dropped to the sidearm at his waist. Mary’s gaze dropped to her own gun, just in case things got hairy.
            Nick cleared his throat. “So, there’s a generator under a supermarket. That’ll be the mission before we take out the Doctor directly. The device is an enigma, but I’m pretty sure we should ruin in beforehand. Might be something to do with the chemicals he’s designed.”
            Ash shifted visibly, and Mary was reminded of Graham 917. She wondered sometimes what exactly he’d been exposed to that had made him so loopy – it was probably something she was better off not knowing.
            Where is that bloody quote from? I think I’ll need Wikipedia in a moment; this is really bugging me.
            “Whatever it is, we need to shut it down,” Nick continued. “So, any questions?”
            Dac raised his hand in a mocking gesture, like a school student. “Uh, yeah, just one. Why would we be trusting and taking intel suggestions from a ‘friend’ we don’t know?”
            Trent responded by raising his hand and throwing it forward. A narrow beam of light shot out and speared Dac, throwing him backwards into the wall of the safe house. Trent’s chest glowed faintly then dissipated as the beam vanished. The others stared in disbelief as Trent blew on his hand like a smoking gun.
            “That’s why.”
            Mary was dumbfounded. “What are you, Iron Man?” she asked incredulously.
            He reached into his shirt and pulled out a medallion that hung around his neck. It was a series of three concentric metal circles all within each other, connected by another strip of metal that went down through the three. It glowed slightly on and off like a defective lamp.
            “No,” Trent replied. “Just a followed of Sloss.”

            Doctor Who! That was where the quote from! But…I don’t watch it. I’ve never watched it.
            How do I know that?
            Brendan suddenly stood up, looking happier than Mary had ever seen him. “Well, I trust him.” He strode over and put his arm around Trent’s shoulders. “So, what’s our plan of action, bro?”

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