Episode 13

Trent heard an odd sound from the floors above as the two security guards led him to his cell. If his ears served him well, it was an explosion of some sort.
            He flexed his hands. He wouldn’t discharge unless he had to; when the security forces had come for him Belinda had stressed that he needed to cooperate. Last thing they needed was –
            The corridor wall exploded, throwing both guards to the ground with large chunks of shrapnel embedded in their backs. Trent ducked low and ran over to a wall away from the explosion, through which a black-clad mercenary-looking type was now walking.
            The merc was tall, well-muscled and carrying an RPG launcher. They wore a face-mask, though given the broad shoulders and tiny Adam’s Apple underneath he guessed the merc was a dude. Didn’t matter either way – guys went down just the same as girls.
            Phrasing, dude.
            He shot his left hand out, and a burst of energy caught the merc in the gut before he could react. The launcher fell out of his hands as he was catapulted backwards, landing heavily down the corridor. Trent pressed the advantage and ran forward, rearing his right hand back for a blast. He leapt upon the fallen merc and pressed both hands to the man’s temples. The merc struggled briefly, then softened as he realised what Trent’s hands were doing.
            “Are you with Dream?” Trent asked, keeping his voice barely above a whisper.
            The merc nodded curtly, not making a sound. That was too easy. “Why has he sent you here?” Trent continued.
            The merc said nothing. Trent responded by intensifying the energy in his hands a bit, singeing the sides of the man’s head and burning the face-mask material to his skin. The merc grunted in pain – less than a normal person would, but still noticeably.
            Trent raised an eyebrow. “Ready to talk now?”
Jacob was fairly certain everyone else would’ve heard the explosion too, but just in case he mentioned it anyway. If Brendan was here, he’d’ve done it in an annoying way…God I miss him.
            “Hey guys –” he began, before Ash cut him off.
            “Yeah, explosion, heard it too,” she said curtly, already looking at him from her cell across the corridor. “Shame Trent isn’t here.”
            “He should be,” Glen mentioned from the cell to Jacob’s right. While Jacob couldn’t see him, he could tell by the way Glen’s voice moved that he was looking for a way out too.
            The cells used cutting-edge forcefield technology, like something ripped straight out of Star Trek. At first glance they appeared impenetrable, but given that Glen – RnD expert, and one of the guys responsible for buildingthe thing – was present, it was a given they’d find a way out shortly.
            Another explosion sounded above them. Jacob started examining the wall panels in his cell. There was a way out, they just had to –
            “Done.” Glen stood at the deactivated entrance to the cell forcefield, looking triumphant. Ash and Nick were already behind him, looking relieved if a little nervous.
            Jacob turned from staring at the wall, bemused. “Wow. That was fast.”
            Glen frowned. “What do you mean? Hacking the forcefield took a good half hour or so. I was wondering why you were so quiet.” He smirked. “Have a nap or something?”
            Jacob shook his head, slightly confused, but paid it no more mind. “Doesn’t matter. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
            The four of them left the room quickly, with Jacob still figuratively scratching his head.
            How did I lose half an hour?
The merc had been really quick to spill his guts to Trent – particularly when Trent burned a hole in the man’s stomach. Unfortunately, what they said about voided bowels upon death was entirely true.
            Apparently the Mancheerian parade was here in full force, with a team of mercenaries sent to destroy CRUD and kill everyone in the building. The Intern had provided the mercs with a headcount of every employee involved at HQ, and Dream had given specific orders that the mercs weren’t allowed to leave until every name on that list was confirmed dead.
            Luckily, it meant Trent wasn’t on that list.
            He’d begun to make his way to RnD to retrieve Brandon; whilst his new body would still be incomplete, the AI core would be necessary later on. He couldn’t be allowed to fall into Dream’s hands – or, worse, erased.
            The corridors were eerily silent as Trent walked on, with no signs of dead bodies or blood spatters – it meant either the mercs hadn’t made it all the way here yet, or they’d taken people elsewhere rather than kill them on the spot. He kept his hands at the ready in case any of them showed up.
            The merc hadn’t given Trent a count of how many of them were in the building, but he guessed it’d probably be around a dozen or so. This was an insertion job – in and out, minimal collateral. Well, besides the destruction of a counter-terrorist agency.
            The final corridor leading to RnD was similarly devoid of activity as Trent made it to the Robotics door. The glass screen allowing a view of Brandon’s reconstruction was intact, and the partially-finished body was still attached to the wall with lights dimmed for the evening.
            Trent opened the door easily, and almost immediately the text display flared to life. The screen was lit black for a moment, then Brandon arrived.
            Can I help you, Trent?
     Trent didn’t waste time on pleasantries. He kept his voice low. “I assume you know what’s going on upstairs?”
            I do. I’ve been temporarily slaved to the entire computer network running throughout the building – including the security cameras. Have they been sent by Dream?
     “Yep. Can you tell how many?”
            The text paused for a moment. Currently, I count nine, excluding the one you dispatched earlier. Was that really necessary, by the way?
     He didn’t have time to be admonished by a computer. “It was either that or let him go. I didn’t think him giving out our position was a good idea.”
            Fair enough.  Trent was sure if he could speak, the Canadian would’ve sounded dubious. Beth and Tucker are also on the team. They’ve captured Director Ashcroft and killed most of the ground-level workers. Nearly half of the intelligence department is dead.
     “What about RnD? Is there anyone left who can fix you enough so you can move around?”
            Another pause. The only person present who can do that is Agent Gardner – it appears he and Agents Ash, Aldente and Driver have all escaped from quarantine containment. They appear to be moving towards the armoury.
     “Are there any –”
            Four. All heavily armed, all wearing tacher.
     Trent frowned. “Tacher?”
            Tactical leather. It’s a Kevlar bi-weave
     “Alright, it’s body armour. Got it.” Trent thought for a moment. “Anyone still in the cafeteria?”
            Belinda and Michael are within the kitchens. The mercenaries have not reached that level yet.
“What about the infirmary?”
            Agents Rogers and Chestnut are no longer in the building.
     Trent blinked, confused. “What?”
            Agents Rogers and Chestnut
     “Yeah, I read you. I’m asking for clarification. Where did they go? Who took them?”
            The screen was blank for a long moment this time before Brandon came back. It appears that data has been removed from the camera system. Their last known location was within the infirmary, then there is a black area of roughly seventeen minutes. After that, their beds are vacated and the guards who secured them are gone also.
     Given how much else was going wrong above, Trent chose to believe the guards had had the foresight to get them out safely. Something has to go right today, even if it’s only that. “Alright, so at least they’re out of the firing line for now. Got any ideas of what to do next?”
            I would suggest we dispatch the intruders.
     Trent eyed the screen sardonically. “You weren’t this blithely analytical when you had a body, were you?”
            I was not. I confess, I’m not quite myself without my emotional subroutines.
     Ain’t that the goddamn truth.“Alright then, I’m heading to the armoury too. Anything else I need to know?”
            Plug me.
     He really hoped that wasn’t a euphemism. “Excuse me?”
            There’s a data readout USB on the tray in front of my body; you can download me from the database into a portable format. I can display text on it when needed. The screen cleared for a moment, then said:
Just hold me gently.
     He shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing a computer’s said to me before.”
Glen’s headache was getting worse. He couldn’t explain it. Ever since the Mancheerians had come calling he’d had this intense, unshakable migraine that was only intensifying the more he ran. Maybe it was lack of hay; he hadn’t seen Coconut recently.
            Might explain it. Maybe I’m just crazy.
            The group were making their way to the armoury. There’d been no sign of any mercs on the way, nor any indication that any other CRUD worker had been nearby. Glen counted it as a blessing that none of his co-workers’ bodies were lying here – it’d really put a crimp in his Christmas party plans if no-one showed up.
            Nick seemed to be struggling with his stump. Glen had read some stuff about phantom limbs, and they sounded like a world of no-fun. He slowed his jogging a little to come alongside Nick.
            “How you doing?”
            Nick gave him a sidelong glance. “How d’you think?” He was massaging his wrist just below the bandages, a pained expression on his face. “This isn’t exactly something a band-aid can fix.”
            “Would it be better if I kissed it?” Glen asked.
            Nick growled in response.
            It was something of a personality problem where Glen was concerned; he seemed hell-bent sometimes on just pissing everyone off.
            They made it to the armoury and found the door ajar. There were faint sounds of movement from within. Jacob held a finger to his lips and moved towards it, arms raised in a combat stance. Glen settled into a crouch; there was a technique he’d learned in a YouTube tutorial called the “pouncing jaguar” that he was eager to try.
            Jacob nudged the door all the way open, and Glen leapt forward onto the figure inside. He tackled it to the ground and wrestled for a moment before seeing who it was.
            “If you’re quite finished,” Lonie said admonishingly, “I’d rather not quote a law passage at you for that.”
            Glen stood haphazardly, feeling rather awkward. He only ever felt good when tackling Coconut. “Sorry, Lucy Lawful.”
            The group stood in silence for a moment, looking awkwardly at Glen. He gave a weak laugh. “Y’know, coz it’s, like, that girl from Xena…but different…”
            Ash ignored him and stepped over to give Lonie a hug. “Good to see you’re ok.” She gave Lonie a broad smile.
            The lawyer returned it awkwardly, giving Glen pause for thought. Is she surprised to get a hug from someone? Does she not have some cold attorney boyfriend at home to give frosty cuddles?
            “What’s the situation?” Jacob asked, cutting through pleasantries.
            “I got lucky,” Lonie explained, for the first time looking a bit shaken. “I was on my way to the cafeteria for a coffee when they attacked. I left Damian on his own in the conference room.” She looked away distantly. “I think he might still be there.”
            Ash laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright. We’ve got to keep going regardless.”
            “Yep.” Jacob matter-of-factly reached over to one of the weapons racks and retrieved a carbine, slinging it across his back. The others looked at him for a moment. “What?” he asked, adopting a fake Texan accent. “We gotta saddle up, cowboys.”
            Glen looked at him, deadpan. “Please, Jacob, stop raping Clint Eastwood.”
Damian was still unconscious. It didn’t matter; once he woke up, Beth would have plenty of time to…question him. This reunion had been a long time coming, and she wasn’t going to miss a thing.
            It seemed they’d captured CRUD too easily. The checklist Dream had given them was roughly half-ticked, with most of the remainder now under armed guard on the central intelligence floor. After seeing which ones she had, she’d discovered roughly half a dozen personnel were unaccounted for.
            Including Trent.
            He hadn’t been on the list, but she knew he was here. She could feel it. She knew he was the one person she would not hesitate to kill if he popped up again.
            She was examining the security camera terminals within the conference room when she noticed an open door at the armoury. She switched to an internal cam and saw a collection of agents inside, all gearing up with weapons and equipment.
            Aww. Adorable.
            She tapped a few commands on the damaged conference table, activating the building’s internal PA, and localised it to the armoury. She put on a very Damian-esque accent. “Dear CRUD agents…”
“…you have by now no doubt seen that we are indefinitely taking up residence in your humble abode for the purposes of removing any obstinate transgressors we – ” Her voice cut off as she started coughing, then returned to her normal accent. “Seriously, how do you listen to that guy all day? It’s a green wonder he doesn’t give himself bronchitis with an accent like that.”
            Ash looked nervous for a moment. “Is she saying his accent’s as real as Brendan’s?”
            Nick smirked at her, the shadow of his former frown still present. “Nah, I think they’ve overused that plot twist by now.”
            “In all seriousness,” Beth continued, “I can see what y’all are doin’ in there. ‘Fraid I can’t let it happen. So, who’s up for another round of murder in the dark?”
            The lights in the armoury shut off.
            Nick immediately tried to draw the nearest pistol on his belt with his one good, fumbling as he did so, when he heard a grenade pin being pulled quietly nearby. It didn’t sound explosive, though, not by the residence. It was…
            The pyrotechnic metal-oxide cocktail went off in the middle of them, dazing Nick and blinding him even further. He staggered down to the floor while clamping his hand against his ringing ear. His arm stump seemed to explode with pain as he crumpled, screaming, trying to press it against the other ear but missing entirely. He still felt like he had a hand there. It just made the pain worse.
            He was vaguely aware of another sound – was that pistol fire? – before he fell unconscious entirely.
Once the smoke and light had subsided Beth switched the lights back on. All of them – Lonie, Ash, Nick, Glen and Jacob were lying on the ground, knocked out by the force of the flashbang.
            Ash had two bullet holes in her head. Her eyes were open and glazed over.
            Beth smiled triumphantly. The colour safeword – green – had worked, just as orange had. She quite enjoyed finally being able to test her color-coded killwords on the Intern like this. It was like watching a trained dog perform tricks she’d spent so long perfecting.
            She still had a variety of colours left, but she knew it was only a matter of time before she said the magic one. The one that would permanently alter the Intern’s host body.
The car park had been left mostly untouched by the mercs, and everyone’s vehicles remained as they had been that morning. It meant that no-one was around to hear the terrible shrieking coming from the boot of a particular blue hatchback, nor the loud, slightly-wet thumping that followed.
            It also meant no-one saw the boot door fly off the car, just a twisted piece of ruined metal, as a dark, plush figure suddenly rose from it. No-one saw it raise a soft, felted hand to its coconut-split head, feeling the soft, empty space within.
            And no-one heard it utter, in a low growl, “In…tern…”

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