For some reason, the situation reminded Glen of when his parents had taken him to Disneyland.
It was a family vacation he really hadn’t wanted to go on, but his younger sister had insisted. She was a keen Mickey Mouse enthusiast, and even at the age of fourteen she still usually got her way with his parents. They’d press-ganged him into going, and so the family had spent hours in a car travelling to Anaheim. Those hours had been spent dreading what would come next, thinking of nothing but oversized marsupial ears genitalia-less anthropomorphised animals.
Sometimes, Glen’s mother had told him, he thought way too much about stuff.
Right now, Disneyland was taking Glen’s mind off whatever it was they’d just seen. Jacob was silent, lying against the opposite wall of the elevator. By his expression he had about as much knowledge of the plush grotesquery as Glen did.
The silence was starting to bug Glen, so he decided to do what he did best. “So are we –”
“No.” Jacob’s voice was flat, devoid of any energy. “We are not going to talk about this.”
Glen searched around his head for a witty riposte. It was times like this he wished he kept a book like Dac’s. “I was going to ask if we’re going to die down there. Coz, y’know, it’s a bit of a ways down.”
“You’re really not helping, Glen.”
“Well, excuse me for trying to add some life to this dull situation,” Glen retorted, folding his arms.
“How the hell is being glib going to add life to this?” Jacob asked, some colour returning to his voice.
Glen snorted. “Would you rather I just go all silent-treatment on you? Is that was Agent Jacob Aldente does when he’s under pressure?”
“Would you suggest we eat hay instead?” Jacob shot back, starting to sound much more aggressive. “Let’s go pay Coconut a visit – eating some hay and chatting with a friggin’ horse is incredibly helpful! We should’ve made him a field agent from day one! I don’t know how Mary couldn’t have suggested it sooner!”
Glen’s fingers twitched reflexively towards the pistol holstered at his side. “Well God knows she’s not big on good suggestions.”
Jacob’s eyes narrowed dangerously. He took a breath sharply that sounded like a hiss. “Excuse me?”
“You were never right for her,” Glen said plainly, saying what he should’ve said years ago. “You took to her after Anna died, and you weren’t right for each other. She should’ve been with me.”
Jacob’s jaw dropped in shock. He sat in silence for a few moments before responding as Glen felt his heartbeat rapidly increase. For some reason he thought he could still hear Jacob’s hissing breath. “Is that why you tried to bond with Coconut? Why you ate all that hay? Why you keep trying to be buddy-buddy with her?”
Glen looked away, feeling his face flush. “I never tried anything overt. I didn’t want to stand in your way, but I knew you two weren’t right for each other. Being with Coconut…it was as close as I could get to being with Mary.”
He got the reaction he expected; Jacob’s face contorted into an expression of disgust. Obviously there were bestial implications in Glen’s words. “Ok, this is just getting weird. We’re obviously both under a lot of stress right now, and we’ve got a tough job to do. This is all heat-of-the-moment stuff, right?”
Glen took a moment before responding; his head suddenly felt like it was exploding, the migraines blossoming into gigantic flowers of cranial pain. His still-damaged nose flared similarly behind its bandage. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, trying to push it aside for now. Something told him he couldn’t show weakness right now, not in front of his enemy –
Friend. Jacob is your friend, and your co-worker. This is ridiculous.
He nodded quickly in response to Jacob’s question. “Right,” he said, doing the best he could to keep his pain locked down. “Heat-of-the-moment. Totally.”
He knew it wouldn’t be enough to convince Jacob of anything, and they’d most likely have a lot to talk about when they got topside again. Right now, saving his friends was of greater import.
So, Disneyland…man I hated that mouse.
Jacob had seen Glen’s fingers twitch towards his pistol. He couldn’t blame the horse lover – his own fingers had done much the same thing.
Something about Glen’s general demeanour gave rise to distrust inside Jacob. He was already on edge, having his company invaded and his girlfriend gone missing – even if the good guys were the ones who had her – and this jackass with his glib remarks did not help. All he did was make Jacob want to pull out the pistol, take aim at the idiot’s bandaged nose and shoot.
This whole scenario reminded Jacob of a pressure-test experiment he’d read about from some old Russian agency’s files. They’d put a bunch of agents in a locked room, with minimal food and water and no place to piss unobserved, and seen how long it took them to go at each other’s throats in order to survive. It was apparently designed for only the agency’s highest-trained operatives, the political assassins on a JFK or Martin Luther King level. From what Jacob had read, they’d bred some pretty terrifying agents out of that technique.
He couldn’t help but feel the parallels between that and where he was now. Inside the cramped elevator he just felt more violent, more willing to act out on his inner, repressed tendencies. Lord knew he’d fantasised about killing Glen in the past.
He thought he could hear Glen hissing quietly, like he was seething about the confrontation they’d just had. Jacob remembered seeing Glen’s fingers motion towards his pistol, and for a fraction of a second Jacob had been sure Glen would follows through on it and kill him. It was a weird, crazy, inexplicable thought, but for some reason it had crossed Jacob’s mind.
He found himself wondering what Brendan would’ve done in this situation. He was certain Glen would’ve killed him, because he’d just regenerate himself.
God, I miss that New Zealander.
Not as much as he missed Mary, however. He knew that if – when – he saw her again he was going to ask her a question. He tried not to think about it too much because if he did, she might say no. Then he’d get angry.
When he got angry, people died.
Could I sound anymore cliché right now?
It felt like hours passed before they spoke to each other again.
“Why is it you hate me?” Glen asked from across the elevator.
Jacob had phased out for a little while, not really paying attention to what was going on around him. “What?”
“Do you hate me because I’d be better for Mary than you would?”
Jacob groaned. “Not this again. Please don’t make me angry, GardenHose.”
“No, seriously,” Glen insisted, sitting up straight and paying attention. “Why do you all hate me?”
“We don’t all hate you,” Jacob replied, somewhat tiredly. “You’re just an annoying ass sometimes.”
“Why d’you think that is?”
Jacob let out a long breath, hearing a kind of hiss after it like a weird echo. “I dunno. You seem to just be in the background for the most part. You’re not as obnoxious as Brendan, you’re not an action hero like Dac or Nick, and you’re not emotionally programmed like Brandon or Damian.”
Glen’s eyebrow quirked. “Damian’s an android too?”’
Jacob chuckled. “Sometimes, I reckon.” He shook his head. “No, he’s just British. In all seriousness, what do you do that constitutes this feeling of everyone hating you? Besides, y’know, trying to tell me I’m not right for my girlfriend.”
He could tell by Glen’s expression that, despite their little ‘heat-of-the-moment’ rationalisation, he still believed that to be the case. Jacob didn’t force the issue. “I don’t know,” Glen replied finally. “I just feel…I don’t know how I feel. Interchangeable, maybe? I’m not hated for any particular thing…I’m just there. I don’t really have much of a purpose, do I? Nothing memorable about me, besides my login ID.”
“I’ve got to admit, that is kind of entertaining,” Jacob admitted. He could still hear that hissing, almost inaudible but there nonetheless. He looked around the elevator for a moment, trying to find its source. “Do you hear –”
“Don’t avoid the question,” Glen cut him off, looking annoyed. “Tell me why.”
“What, why you think we hate you?” Jacob asked, still looking for the hissing.
“No, that was ages ago,” Glen replied, sounding a little uncertain now. “Didn’t you hear my rant about feeling useless and underutilised these days? You didn’t hear me ask what I could do to make myself better?”
A stab of shock cut its way into Jacob – he hadn’t. He’d lost time again. No. No, not now. Please not now.
“Is something wrong with you?” Glen asked, sounding honestly concerned. “You’ve been losing bits of times for the past few hours. It’s almost as if…” He trailed off, looking at Jacob plainly.
Jacob did his best not to look worried, trying to regain some equilibrium. He knew what Glen’s thought was going to lead to, and there was no possible way that was true. “What, Glen? Did I phase out again?”
Glen shook his head. “No, I’m just thinking…you know when Anna died, you went on that ‘sabbatical’ over in the Alps. What exactly happened there?”
Before Jacob could answer Glen clapped a hand to his head, grunting in pain. He bent down, clutching at his scalp and hair tightly. His eyes screwed up in discomfort.
“Something wrong, GardenHose?” Jacob asked idly, his fingers once again moving towards his gun. He could still hear the hissing a bit.
Glen shook his head, still grabbing at it. “Nope. Just a…aaahh…bit of a headache.”
“Forget to take your hay this morning?”
Glen snorted, immediately putting a hand gingerly on his bandaged nose. “That’s not why I…aaaaaahhhhhh…why I eat it.”
“Then explain it to me,” Jacob told him, his fingers resting lazily on his pistol’s butt. “Tell me why you eat Coconut’s hay. I don’t buy that it’s just for the whole ‘getting closer to Mary’ thing.”
Glen took a few seconds to reply, making another groan of pain and then lifting his head, looking anguished. “I’m a druid.”
Jacob let out a derisive laugh, not quite believing what he was hearing. “Seriously? I think you’ve been playing far too much Dungeons and Dragons, my friend.”
“Not that kind of druid, ass,” Glen shot back, glaring at him. “An actualdruid. I follow the path of nature, and part of my personal religious tenets includes communion with animals. Well, ananimal, to be precise.”
Jacob looked at Glen apprehensively. “And that…helps you?”
He saw Glen’s eyes track down to Jacob’s fingers lying on the pistol butt. Jacob quickly removed them and made a show of flexing his fingers like he was staving off arthritis. Glen watched him silently before replying. “Well, if I’m close enough to an animal, it means –”
He was cut off as the elevator made a loud noise and shook violently. Both men grabbed whatever was nearest to them that could act as a support, holding as the elevator slowly stopped. The hissing – what little sound it had been – was gone. The dull vibration that signalled the elevator moving had also subsided.
They’d arrived at the Grave.
Glen stood first and, against his better judgment, reached over to help Jacob to his feet. The other Agent stood, smoothing his tacher down a bit and looking at the still-closed door.
He glanced sidelong as Glen. “You ready?”
Glen’s hand flexed – it seemed they’d both done a lot of flexing in the elevator, maybe it was his subconscious telling him something? – before he responded with a short, curt, “Yeah.”
Jacob pressed the button to open the elevator’s doors, allowing ingress to the Grave. It was, in reality, a small space compared to what Glen had thought it’d look like. He’d never actually been here, only heard what it was and what protocol was required if they ever needed to come down here.
The room was a clinical-white affair that resembled a smaller version of the Bat-bunker from The Dark Knight. The only things of note inside were the elevator doors they’d just exited from and the large rectangular prism of semtex that sat in the middle of the room. Once it activated its final sequence, the forcefield modulators on every side of the building would trigger and spring up around the infrastructure. Twenty seconds later the semtex would detonate, blowing away the foundations and collapsing the building – somewhat safely – into the eponymous Grave.
It was all rather straightforward in a sad, morbid way.
Glen immediately starting moving towards the device, trying once more to ignore the pain filling his head. “Come on, it looks like we got here first.”
He heard a click behind him and stopped dead; he turned around slowly and saw Jacob aiming his pistol at him. His look was plaintive, yet determined. “I can’t let you do it.”
Cold understanding flooded Glen. “I knew it. You’re the Intern.”
“I don’t think so,” Jacob replied, gripping the pistol with both hands. At this range Glen knew he’d pierce an eyeball if he fired. “It all makes sense now…you stay in the background, you’re interchangeable, you’re nothing special. You’ve remained that way on purpose, so you don’t attract attention.” He started to step forward slowly. “You leaked all our intel to Dream. You shot Mary and Dac. You killed Ash.”
Glen shook his head minimally, doing his best to look calm and in control. “That’s not true, Jacob. I didn’t do any of those things.”
“Yes, you did.” He stopped moving, still aiming steadily. His voice was loaded with accusation. “I’ve got to kill you. I’ve got to save everyone, before you kill again.”
There was an odd electrical sound that came from nearby suddenly. It must’ve caught Jacob’s attention; his head jerked to the side for a moment, trying to find what it was, and Glen took the opportunity – he charged forward and tackled Jacob, knocking him backwards and throwing the pistol away across the cold white floor.
Jacob responded with a hard punch to the side of Glen’s head, augmenting the migraine. Glen cried out as he fell to the side, allowing Jacob to stand again. He kicked Glen in the stomach, pushing his prone form away and giving Jacob a chance to run after his pistol. Winded and in incredible pain Glen tried his best to stand, reaching for his own pistol as he did so.
He had it out and aimed squarely at Jacob’s head as the other man retrieved his, aiming in a similar fashion. The two Agents stood apart from each other, drawing beads on each other’s heads.
“You know I can’t let you leave,” Jacob said, his voice determined. “I can’t let you get away with this.”
Glen’s voice was equally stalwart. “You’re insane. Obviously a sign of Internship.”
Ah, Dac would’ve been proud of that one.
“It’s funny you mention that.”
The voice was unmistakable, coming from beside the two of them. Glen inclined his head fractionally, still aiming at Jacob, and saw Beth striding confidently towards them. She was watching the two of them like it was a climactic sporting match.
“‘How’d you get here?’, I hear you ask,” Beth said sarcastically. “Or, well, neither of you would ask, would you? Coz we’re at the final round of tonight’s cock fight!” She threw her arms up in celebration. “The Intern versus the victim!”
“I thought you were going to tell us how you got here,” Glen said, keeping his eyes on Jacob.
“Oh, that,” Beth said, sounding a little dejected that someone had interrupted her flow. “Y’know how we gave Brendan that awesome regenerating health thing? Well, the gene therapy got used on me too!”
The electrical sound came again, and out of the corner of his eye Glen saw Beth disappear in a flash of blue light. She reappeared a few feet away in a similar incandescence. “Teleportation! Totally the way to go now – there is a reason I got my team here so fast, y’know.”
She blue-flashed once more, coming back to her original position. “I was wondering when we’d get here,” she said simply, regarding each of them in turn. “Jacob and Glen, two of CRUD’s finest. One of you, however, belongs to me.”
“I know,” Jacob replied, his head looking determinedly at Glen. “I’ve just found your little pet, Miss Atkinson.”
Beth’s eyes widened in amusement. “Have you, really?” She snapped her fingers in a parody of a frustrated gesture. “Bugger! I knew I should’ve made him harder to find!”
Glen’s heart skipped a few beats. Surely not.
Then she burst out laughing; it didn’t make Glen feel better. “Oh, Jacob, you silly thing. No, no, I’m afraid you haven’t found him. He has found you.”
The world seemed to slow, like a sequence from a Zack Snyder film. Glen’s eyes went wide in shock as Jacob’s followed suit, the other man’s arms starting to drop limply to his sides. Understanding dawned on his face, an understanding that Jacob obviously didn’t want to admit.
“Yep, sorry,” Beth said, obviously thrilled by the spectacle. “Jacob Aldente, you are the Intern.”
The movement was so swift it was almost impossible to see; Jacob’s arms came back together and swung towards Beth, holding the gun tight. He took aim between her eyes. “No,” he said flatly, his voice shaking. “There’s no –”
The single word was like a switch being flicked; Jacob went stiff for a moment, still aiming at Beth, then slowly lowered his arms. Glen, feeling horrified, continued aiming as his former friend turned slowly, a sadistic smile on his lips.
“I’m sorry, my friend,” he said, his voice sounding like poisonous seduction. “I really hoped it wouldn’t come to this.”
He fired his gun before Glen could say or do anything; the bullet pierced Glen’s gun hand, causing to drop the pistol and cry out in pain. He clutched at the wound and staggered back, looking at Jacob with anguish etched into his expression.
“Y’know, I was wondering whether my little elevator cocktail would kill one of you before I got here,” Beth was saying, putting a hand on Jacob’s shoulder. “You know that little hissing sound you probably heard? Mental accelerant gas; was meant to drive you both crazy over time and kill one another. Obviously I need to rework the formula.”
Jacob suddenly looked uncertain, turning to face her. “You tried to kill me?”
Beth shrugged her shoulders. “Well, Dream did say to get rid of you or any other loose ends…but, y’know what? I’m feeling motherly today.” She threw her arms around Jacob and gave him a hug. “I’m gonna keep you coz you’re soooo cute!”
If Glen wasn’t focussed on the pain in his hand he probably would’ve vomited. “But how…when did you get to him?”
Beth rolled her eyes. “What, you think I’m going to give you a villainous diatribe about what I did?” She put on a mock low tone. “About my ‘dark and mysterious plans for the lone agent that wandered into the Alps one day’?”
She clamped a hand to her mouth, looking guilty. “Oops! Sorry! I’ve told you too much.” She looked at Jacob. “My lovely creation, if you’d be so kind?”
Without hesitation Jacob raised his forearm, his elbow resting at his hip, and fired. Glen felt the bullet immediately enter his throat, pain like he’d never felt before coursed throughout his neck and head as he staggered backwards and finally hit the ground. His migraine was a paper cut compared to this.
He choked through blood as he tried to speak. “You’ll…never…”
He stopped as Jacob stepped over and planted a hard boot in his ribs. Glen heard something crack, and his undamaged hand clenched tightly into a fist as morepain flooded him.
“Oh, please,” Jacob said admonishingly. “Not that cliché. That’s something I’d expect Dac to say.” He looked up in Beth’s direction. “When you program another one of me, there are some kinks to work out. The missing time, for one.”
Beth sounded apologetic. “I know, I’m sorry. You were a Beta test. It’s much more refined now. ‘Sides, it’s not like you need to be that insipid Agent anymore. My child will roam free!”
Glen felt his vision go blurry as he started to fade out. His hand loosened from a fist limply as Jacob stepped away. He heard their two sets of footsteps head in the direction of the semtex.
Really wishing I’d enjoyed Disneyland more.
Glen mused, for the briefest of moments, on what an odd last thought that was to have, before finally closing his eyes.