“Have you ever played murder in the dark?”
The question roused Trent from the safe zone he’d erected in his mind. As soon as Beth had lifted the crowbar he’d gone to his zen place, the area where he felt safest. It was there that he saw the face of Sloss, and all was well.
For about five minutes – then reality came crashing back down upon him like a tower of bananas.
He looked his captor square in her crimson eyes. “I have, actually. When I was little. The kids called me Fitzy then.”
Beth snorted, turning to Tucker. “Isn’t that adorable, hun? His name was Fitzy. Sounds like something Paris Hilton would name her dog.”
“Don’t all of Paris’ dogs die when they’re named like that?” Tucker asked, an evil smirk glinting in his eyes.
Trent wasn’t sure how a smirk could glint. “Probably just coincidence.”
Beth shook her head. “Nope. It’s the First Law of Hiltondynamics. The dogs with the crappy names die quicker. Scientifically proven.”
“Remember Bulldozer? That Russian thing she had once?” Tucker cocked his head in reminiscence. “Lived a while, I think.”
Mary spat laughter, still tenderly moving her foot to check no bones were broken. “Paris Hilton never owned a dog called Bulldozer. It wouldn’t fit in her handbag.”
There was a pause, and suddenly the Mancheerian pair laughed heartily. Beth nearly dropped the crowbar as she held a hand to her stomach, trying to contain her laughter. She compensated by bringing the crowbar down on Mary’s left foot.
Mary screamed again. It was one of the most awful sounds Trent had ever experienced – and he’d heard his priest die. That had been awful.
Tucker wiped tears from his eyes. “Oh, that’s priceless. You sure we aren’t related, Agent Chestnut? Your sense of humour’s like my father’s.”
“Let me guess,” Dac grunted through his bruised, swelling face, “you hated your father?”
Tucker did a double-take. “What? No! I love my father!”
“You guys really have hair-trigger tempers, don’t you?” Dac asked, sounding a little incoherent through what was probably an almost-broken jaw. “I mean, you break our android’s head off for…what? Shits and giggles? If you’re trying to get ahead in life, that ain’t the way to raise the bar.”
Trent would’ve howled with laughter if the situation weren’t so dire. He wondered idly how long Dac had been collecting those one-liners in the book. He really wasn’t such a bad guy, once you got past the action-hero demeanour. And that voice…you could melt butter with it.
Boobs, Trent. You like boobs.
“Are one-liners really the way to go right now?” Brendan suddenly piped up. “Isn’t anyone going to ask why I’m –”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Beth cut him off. She glared at the former New Zealander. “Cado.”
Brendan’s head slumped forwards, unconscious. Before anyone could ask anything she continued, “To return to my original question, Mr Trent – have you ever played murder in the dark?”
He nodded simply. “Yes, I have.”
“Did you win?”
Odd question. “Once or twice. I’m terrible at guessing things like that.”
“Hmph.” Beth folded her arms, the crowbar resting lazily below them. “Probably about time you played another game then, hm? Get back in shape, as it were?”
Trent cocked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”
“Y’see,” Beth went on, leaning on Trent’s shoulder conversationally, “the Doc wants information, and he’s willing to let us use the Intern as a last resort if none of you decide to squeal. But…I’m in a gaming mood. Might be the WoW I played before lunch, or just me in my usual jigsaw persona. I feel like a game needs to be afeet.”
She turned in Dac’s direction. “I’m sorry?”
“The game is ‘afoot’, not ‘afeet’.”
“Do you like your head where it’s currently staying?”
Dac shut his mouth. Beth nodded. “Thought so.” She returned to Trent. “Anyway, we’re going to play a bit of murder in the dark. I’m going to turn the lights off, and give the voice command for the Intern to Activate. When they do, they’re going to shoot someone here fatally – and you then have to guess which of the survivors is the Intern. If you guess correctly I’ll give you clean deaths, but if not then I’ll be juicing you for information like a fresh orange.”
She leaned down close to his face, leering unpleasantly. Trent struggled to keep his eyes up. “Sound like fun?” she asked in an almost bubbly, cheerful voice.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Do you prefer the crowbar?”
“I’d prefer –”
The wall in front of Trent exploded, sending pieces of debris flying everywhere. A chunk of brickwork slammed into Tucker’s shoulder with a sickening thud, throwing the Mancheerian to the ground heavily. Another struck Beth in the back of the head, knocking her past Trent’s field of vision.
A third piece – thankfully smaller – hit Trent square in the middle of his head.
He was catapulted backwards in his chair, the metal crumbling underneath his hands and feet. He noticed idly that his Sloss powers were finally kicking in – he hadn’t been able to touch them while Beth had been nearby. Strange.
His chair disintegrated and he stood quickly, ignoring the pain coursing through his body. The others were still restrained, and Brandon’s decapitated corpse was now strewn in pieces across the floor. His head had rolled close to Trent’s feet.
Leaning down, Trent reached into the bottom of the head and retrieved the personality core – a medium-sized SD card with ‘CANADIAN’ scribbled in Sharpie upon in. He pocketed it, then set about helping the others up.
First was Dac.
The action hero was trying, vainly, to free himself. “Don’t bother. I can get myself out.”
Trent huffed, strangely calm against the background of chaos as alarms started to blare. “Get rid of your pride, Aussie-man. We need to work together.”
Dac hesitated for a moment before allowing Trent to free him from the chair. “You and I aren’t done yet, Sloss-boy.”
If what Trent knew was correct, then Dac was not wrong – in fact, the two would never be done with each other.
“Coming around for another pass!” Michael yelled as he twisted the plane around. The first volley of rockets had levelled the top layer of the supermarket, leaving smoking ruins above the underground facility.
Belinda had called ahead and evacuated the supermarket; collateral damage wasn’t in the cards today. “Can we get the tent in there now?”
Michael shook his head, shouting over the roar of the plane’s weapons. “Not yet! Best bet’ll be when they’re topside!”
She tried dialling Trent’s brain-bud again, and suddenly got a dial tone. The tiny com piece embedded in his cerebellum started connecting.
He answered, somewhat tiredly. “About time. You local?”
“Sure are,” Belinda confirmed. “You all need to get topside immediately. Any casualties?”
“The android, and Dac’s pride, but no others so far.” He sounded grim. “It’s the Mancheerians. They’ve allied with Dream.”
“Figures.” Belinda made a disgusted noise in her throat. “Has the mole been Activated?”
“Not yet. I’ll keep you posted. What’s the escape plan?”
She paused, trying to find the right way to explain it. “Trent, have you ever seen The Dark Knight?”
It was lunacy. Sheer, unadulterated lunacy. There was no way in Sloss this plan would work.
But it was all they had, and beggars couldn’t be choosers. Except if there was more than one dumpster in their alley – then they could be choosy. Trent knew the dumpsters on Dundas Street were far better fare than the ones on Queen.
He’d left the Mancheerians behind – still breathing, unfortunately – as Belinda had emphasised they didn’t have much time before the Canadian Air Force arrived. He did make a point of stamping on Tucker’s ankle until it broke satisfyingly, though he could not bring himself to do the same to Beth.
No, his revenge on her would be far less simplistic.
The team was in bad shape; once topside, past the blown-apart supermarket, Mary was being aided by Jacob and Dac, who were themselves limping as fast as they could. Glen had one hand pressed against his still-bleeding nose with a stolen Mancheerian pistol in the other. Ash, being relatively unscathed if a little woozy, was guiding one-handed Nick away from the carnage.
All Trent could feel was an overwhelming desire to blast something Iron Man-style. Annoyingly, though, no guards were present. That, too, seemed odd – surely security or police of some kind would be arriving now, wouldn’t they? Their delay could not be blamed on them being Canadian – something else was at work here.
Was Beth still playing with them, somehow?
The plane came into view, and the absurdly-large hook-cannon on its underbelly looked primed and ready. As it passed overhead a large package dropped, landing just in front of Trent’s feet. The army camo-green print and adjacent poles were unmistakable.
Nick looked on in disbelief. “Is that…a tent?”
Trent nodded, smiling broadly. “You bet your ass it’s a tent. Now, let’s build this bastard! We’ve got mere seconds, people!”
The plane turned again – hopefully for the final time.
By the time they started to make their next pass Belinda could see the tent fully erected and the team filing in outside the ruined supermarket. She silently hoped they attached the tent floor securely to the walls; the tent was not standard issue, meant for use in harsh environments with unstable or uncomfortably ground, and was big enough to hold all eight survivors at a pinch.
She also silently hoped they ducked sufficiently went the hook-cannon fired.
“You ready?” she bellowed at her pilot.
Michael nodded, looking far too gleeful. As the plane came down in a swoop the zipper went up, securing them all inside and making it easier for the hook-cannon to fire its payload – an almost comically-large titanium hook – straight into the top of the tent. It snagged the material with ease, thankfully not causing any additional rips in the fabric, and lifting them high into the air.
Just like Batman in Hong Kong…I knew my son’s DVD collection would come in handy some day.
It was good timing; five Canadian Hornets came into view on the radar. Michael gave them a perfunctory glance before dropping the hammer on the throttle and setting a course back to headquarters.
She patted him on the shoulder. “Nice work, Michael. Nice work indeed.”
He turned to face her, grinning like a kid at Christmas. “Thanks, Belle. Now, about my payment – y’see, I’m looking for a job right now…”
The tent was cramped, uncomfortable and felt like a fishing net full of lobsters, but at least they were safe. Somewhat.
The tent had managed to hold a somewhat rectangular shape as they lifted off, with a halogen lamp lit and hanging from the top, and the attached floor was semi-solid. Trent could only guess what the thing was made out of, but right now he didn’t care. They were away from the godforsaken supermarket.
There was still the matter of the power generator underneath it, though. As far as he knew, they hadn’t found it or worked out what it did. It meant a return trip at some point, but he’d make sure he was on the bench for that one. He’d had enough of this team to last a lifetime.
A sudden noise jerked him to the present. A pistol had landed in the middle of their group – they were all sitting in a circle on the tent floor as the plane took them home. Belinda had promised they wouldn’t fly at an oxygenless altitude.
Glen raised his free hand in apology. “Sorry, sorry, losth my grib.” His nose was still in bad shape.
“All good,” Dac replied, reaching in to retrieve it.
The halogen lamp went out.
Trent instantly started to ready his Sloss powers when he heard two gunshots inside the tent. He heard a scream – it sounded like Ash – and the lamp returned to its original brightness.
The scene was horrific; Dac was lying face-down on the tent floor, blood streaming from his chest. On the opposite side of the tent Mary lay on her back, her arms prostrating outwards and a wound bleeding near where her heart should be. The pistol – now smoking – still lay exactly where it had when Glen had dropped it.
Time seemed to slow as Ash yelled in terror and Jacob called for help from the plane while rushing over to Mary. Glen had his hand on his mouth in horror as Nick scrambled over to Dac, pressing his one remaining hand against the wound to stem the blood flow.
All Trent did was look at all of them – the wounded and the survivors – and wonder which of them had just been activated. Beth had played her game of murder in the dark.
Now he had to find the killer.