Episode 8

Dac heard the explosion through the vent. Normally he would’ve let someone know, but he was somewhat busy with the masked man in the vent behind them, holding a submachine gun that would most likely mean the end of all of them.
            He didn’t feel afraid, merely confused. There’d been no indication that anyone had been tailing them, so either this guy was made of ether or extremely light-footed. It didn’t matter either way.
            He hadn’t counted on Dac.
            The masked man began to pull the trigger again; his last few shots had gone wide, luckily only hitting the walls of the vent. Moving purely on instinct Dac kicked his foot backwards, twitching his heel inside his boot in precisely the correct way.
            At his heel’s command, a spike of three-inch long steel shot out and wedged itself in the submachine gun’s barrel. As the man fired the gun jammed, backfiring as it did so. The man looked confused outwardly for a moment but wasn’t given much time before Dac kicked back again, catching him in the face and breaking his nose with a loud, echoed snap.
            By this time the other had all drawn their weapons and aimed at the assailant. Dac seized the initiative and grabbed the man as he held a hand to his masked face; presumably he was bleeding profusely underneath it.
            “Who are you?” Dac asked, realising he had yet to let off a one-liner for this occasion. “Are you one of Dream’s –”
            He was cut off by a gunshot as the man’s brains exploded backwards out of his skull. He fell limp in Dac’s hands. Dac turned quickly and saw Trent lowering a smoking sidearm, looking grim. That was odd; he hadn’t noticed Trent having a gun beforehand. His hands were weapon enough.
            “What the hell?” Dac yelled, dropping the dead body. “He could’ve told us –”
            “Nothing.” Trent clicked the safety back on and replaced the sidearm somewhere on his hip. “He’s one of Dream’s minions; they’re all indoctrinated with sleeper personalities that are only programmed to kill whoever Dream targets. That man would’ve been a normal person before Dream got to him.”
            Mary looked horrified. “So you’re saying that if his sleeper hadn’t been there, that would’ve just been an ordinary guy? That Dream’s brainwashing people into following him?”
             Trent nodded, still looking grim. “And before you ask, no, there’s no known way to remove the sleeper. As far as we know, it’s permanent.”
            Dac had had enough. He retrieved his Colt from his holster and aimed it squarely at Trent. At this distance he could take the bastard’s brains out before he could use his hand blasts. “Alright, this is bullshit. Who’s ‘we’? How do you know all this stuff? Who the hell are you really working for?”
            Mary and Brandon both eyed Dac warily, but Trent seemed unperturbed. “That’s classified.”
            “Bullshit,” Dac repeated. “I’m a team leader, in the field, in the middle of a hostile situation. I have a right to know what the hell is going on with you.”
            “Dac, we don’t have time for this,” Mary urged. “The others may have encountered another one of those sleepers, and you heard that explosion. They’re in trouble.”
            Dac shook his head. “We’re all in trouble if we don’t sort this out now. So,” he gestured a little with the gun, “I’ll ask you again. Who are you working for?”
            The moment hung tensely in the air before Trent replied. “I’m an old friend of Nick’s, and Director Ashcroft’s. Now, put down the gun or I’ll make you wish you had.”
His palms started to glow.
A soft hiss suddenly came from behind Dac, and a strange yellow gas began to fill the vent. Dac dropped his gun as he started coughing, with Trent similarly losing the glow in his hands as he brought them to his mouth. Dac saw the source of the gas – the masked man’s head. The gas was coming thick and fast, causing all four members of the team to cough profusely.
The last thing Dac remembered was trying to pick his gun up again, trying to get a shot at Trent before he lost consciousness. He managed to lay a couple of fingers limply on the Colt’s butt before he blacked out.

Jacob caught sight of Nick holding the termite grenade. The tri-lit pattern of red, orange and yellow in the centre of his hand signified the grenade was primed.
            Without a word, Nick slammed his palm down against the vent.
            The bottom of the vent collapsed, dropping the five of them down into some kind of industrial area. Jacob landed heavily on his right side, hearing one of his ribs break as Brendan’s body landed on top of him. Dizzy and slightly blinded by pain he saw Ash, Glen and Nick in a heap nearby. The masked man was nowhere to be seen.
            Jacob was about to assess his damage when a weapon fired above; he was dimly aware that a bullet had made its way into his left leg. The pain flared intensely, screaming in his head as he looked upwards to see the masked man lying at the exposed edge of the vent and aiming his gun at the team.
            Another gun fired behind Jacob; he turned to see Glen aiming his pistol one-handed at the attacker, squeezing off some shots while grimacing in pain. A bullet sheared its way through the man’s mask and across the left side of his face, causing him to howl in pain. He withdrew quickly backwards through the vent as Glen kept firing.
            “Everyone ok?” Nick called from where he lay. “Everybody alive?”
            Jacob slowly got himself into a sitting position, gingerly clutching a hand to his ribs as he slowly dragged himself over to a nearby wall. He sat his back against it and set about retrieving his field bandage to wrap around his leg. “Present!” he said through gritted teeth.
            Ash raised a hand, sounding dizzy. “I’m here, too.”
            Glen dropped his pistol to the ground, and Jacob saw him try to stand up. “Me too, barely.”
            Brendan still gave no response.
            Nick started to get up, growling loudly in pain as he did so. Jacob winced as he started wrapping the bandage around the bullet wound; luckily, if one could call it that, the bullet had exited through the back of his leg.
He looked over and saw with horror that Nick’s hand had been completely blown away by the grenade. Only a mangled, semi-cauterized stump remained. It looked horrifically painful.
It had also saved their lives.
“Your hand!” Glen cried, slowly walking over to Nick. “Hang on, I’ve got a bandage in here…”
This way bad. Really bad. Jacob grabbed out his radio and found the signal had been dampened, meaning contact with the others was now impossible. His leg felt like it was on fire, and his torso didn’t feel much better. Nick’s hand was gone. Brendan was still dead. Glen and Ash were only moderately functional, by the look of it.
            This mission had now gone to hell.
            Jacob thought of Mary, wondering if she was alive or dead and if he’d even see her again. Somehow the notion of her being gone from him forever made some of the pain dissipate, replaced by an overwhelming desire to find her alive and set all this right. He grunted with pain as he finished applying the bandage, then gently tried standing up. He put as little weight as possible on his leg and still felt pain shoot up through it like a hot lance.
            Nick was now screaming as the impact of his pain finally hit him. Glen had almost finished, and Ash was slowly making her way over to Brendan’s corpse. The usually-insufferable New Zealander suddenly looked a lot more vulnerable as Ash gently cradled his head, looking for any sign of life. His eye was still a gelatinous, bloody mess, and his skin was going deathly pale.
            “How is he?” Jacob asked futilely.
            Ash checked him over, shaking her head slowly. She still seemed dazed. “He’s…not alive. I don’t get why.”
            Real helpful. “Something’s wrong.” Jacob grunted as the pain flared for a moment. “He should’ve regenerated by now.”
            He knew he should’ve been focusing on Nick’s missing hand, especially since the guy had just saved them all, but he cared more about Brendan. He’d been his vitriolic best friend for so long, and seeing him not waking up was very unsettling. Somehow Nick’s gun had accomplished in one shot what Mary had failed in so many attempts.
            Of course.
            Jacob now regarded Nick with a pain-fuelled glare. “What did you do to him?”
            Nick was grunting in pain, screwing his eyes up and clenching his remaining hand into a fist. “Nothing! He should’ve regenerated! It was just a standard bullet!”
            “Well, he’s not regenerating,” Ash replied, sounding like she was about to fall asleep. “So he’s dead. A bit.”
            Jacob snapped his head back towards Ash. “What do you mean, ‘a bit’?”
            Ash took a moment to reply, and Jacob saw her swaying a little as she crouched next to Brendan. “Well, his heart is still beating a little. I can see his chest…moving…slightly…he’s just…”
            She stopped midsentence and slumped to the ground. Jacob hobbled over as quickly as he could and examined her. The lady was unconscious – still definitely breathing. The only problem was the blood dribbling out from behind her eyes, from her nostrils and her ears.
            “Ash!” Jacob reached down carefully, trying to ignore the pain as it blossomed once more within him, and shook her gently. “Ash, wake up! Wake up!”

There was something above her; something solid. Really solid.
            She reached up to touch it, and her hands felt too soft to get a good grip on anything. She tapped the hard surface experimentally, but its resistance was too great. She couldn’t move it. Was it a wall? A coffin lid?
            Had she died?
            She felt incomplete somehow, like she wasn’t quite whole. Something was missing. Something important. She couldn’t figure out what.
            She brought a hand up to her head to rub at her tired eyes – and was shocked to find a big hole there. She moved her hand from side to side, feeling the edges of her head that was cracked wide open. The centre of where her head should’ve been whole was blank, nothing there at all.
            A small sound idly made its way through her shock – a beat. A slow, steady, rhythmic beat. A heartbeat.
            She looked down. Her chest was glowing a hot red.
            She screamed.

The hardware in Belinda’s office lit up like a Christmas tree as she and Beryl continued wrestling with the fish. It was odd; Trent shouldn’t have needed to call in yet, unless something had gone deathly wrong.
            She didn’t bother telling Beryl to take over and merely left her there, ignoring Beryl’s protestations as she went over to the computer setup. It wasn’t a call, it was an alarm. An unidentified energy source had made its way into the building, and it was tripping every extrasensory alarm she’d set up in the place.
            It was coming from the parking garage.
            As fast as she could Belinda ran, taking her revolver and iPhone with her as she did so. She reached the garage without incident, and activated the iPhone’s “Energy Locator” app. It really was true; there was an app for pretty much everything.
            She scanned the garage, but the energy was fading quickly. She moved the energy compass in the signature’s vague direction and was about to head towards it when it flatlined, disappearing entirely.
            Whatever energy had arrived in the building – strong enough to trip all her alarms – it had now vanished without a trace.
            Belinda dialled Damian’s office extension, using her phone-hack macro to bypass his receptionist. He answered, sounding a little confused. “This is Director Ashcroft.”
            “Damian,” she said, cutting to the chase. “You need to get a scanning crew to the parking garage ASAP. There was an odd energy spike that appeared for a second, then just vanished.”
            Damian hummed thoughtfully. “I’ll get someone down there right away. Any idea what might have caused it?”
            “Not at this point, but it was strong enough to activate all my alarms. It was full-spectrum.”
            He hummed again. “Good-o, then. Someone will be there shortly.”
            “Before you go,” Belinda added, “is there any chance you’ve heard from the team?”
            “Which team, my dear? You know we have several –”
            “Toronto, Damian. You know which team.”
            He sighed. “Nothing yet. I’ll give them a few more hours to make contact, then I’ll send the secondaries in.” He made a thoughtful noise. “I take it you’ve not heard from them, either?”
            Belinda left the question unanswered, hanging up and giving the garage one last cursory glance. Nothing out of the ordinary, no more alarms.
            She shivered, and headed back to the kitchens. As she did so she dialled a number she’d sworn to never use again, but now had no choice.
            He answered immediately. “Never thought I’d be hearing from you again.”
            “Well, that was the plan,” Belinda answered, suddenly both apprehensive and glad to hear his voice again. “I’m calling in my favour, Michael.”
            “After all these years?” He sounded more than a little surprised. “It must be important.”
            “It is.” She grimaced. “You and I are going to Canada.”
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