JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
TWO MONTHS AFTER THE DESTRUCTION OF CRUD HQ
“Rise and shine, Ms Atkinson.”
The voice was muggy, distant, but Beth knew immediately who it was. That action hero-tone could only belong to one man.
“Agent Rogers.” She blearily opened her eyes, her vision sharpening as she caught sight of her surroundings.
The room was white – almost blindingly so – and faint sounds of medical equipment could be heard. The faint outline of a door was in front of the chair she sat in, her arms strapped down at the wrists and her legs at the ankles. One big restraint went around her stomach.
She turned her head fractionally, catching Dac in her peripheral vision. “I’ve got to say, of all the people that could’ve woken me up, I’m glad it was you.”
Dac sounded intrigued. “Really?”
Beth murmured a noise of confirmation. “Yep. I figure if I kill you, it means Trent can drop this little pissing contest you two have and just come at me.” She sighed. “What I wouldn’t give to take him on…”
“Do you know how long you’ve been unconscious?”
Apparently he was in no mood for small-talk; Beth could dig it. “A few weeks? Give or take?”
“Two months.” He started walking around to face her. “Two months since you and your little Intern blew up our operation in San Fran. Two months since we lost most of our friends and colleagues.”
She’d let him rabbit on for a while, then teleport out when he was about to strike. She’d snatch victory right out of his hands. Internally, she smirked.
“Must’ve been a big funeral,” she mused.
It was then she noticed Dac held her precious crowbar. Either he’d used it on someone else, or it hadn’t been washed since Damian had hit her; the edge was dark red with what she presumed was her blood. Dac turned it in his hands for a moment before continuing.
“It was, actually,” he said plainly, his voice betraying no element of sadness of anger. It was just tranquil – and for some reason, that unnerved Beth a little. “Lovely service, but a lot of coffins. We honoured our dead.”
On second thought, I’d rather not hear this. If I wanted to be bored I’d listen to Dream’s master plan.
“Yeah?” She searched for a usable quip. “Well, honour this!”
Oh God, that was awful.
She closed her eyes and reached in to her teleportation powers – but they weren’t there. There was no blue, no feeling of quiet electricity she could exploit to vanish from where she sat. She squirmed, scrunching her eyes shut and searching for the power.
It was gone, leaving a void in its absence. Her heart felt a spike of fear lance through it.
She swallowed. Dac grinned. “You won’t be Scotty’ing out anytime soon, my friend.”
Beth struggled against the restraints. “What the hell’s going on?” she screamed.
“You can thank your brother,” Dac explained, squatting down in front of her with the crowbar held in both hands. He gestured with it. “See, when he whacked you with this, it mucked up your brainpan a little. We had to put it back together best way we knew how. Unfortunately,” and at this point his grin grew broader, “that meant rewiring your genetics a little. Bottom line – you’ve lost your ability. Permanently, as far as we know.”
Beth’s eyes widened in horror. Dac took the moment to stand tall, clutching the crowbar like it was a broadsword, and swung at her kneecaps.
Her first scream was ear-piercing.
Physical therapy was finally over; the doctors had commented that Mary’s healing process had been much faster than they’d anticipated. One had warned that she might need a few days rest before going back out in the field, but had then acknowledged – given her track record – that that probably wouldn’t happen.
After being given enough painkillers to overdose a rhino, Mary was at the new conference table.
The Johannesburg safehouse was off CRUD’s databases and, supposedly, shielded from aerial detection and radar scan; she hadn’t bothered to ask how, just realising it was so. Right now she wasn’t in the mood for scientific explanations – Brandon had tried to explain the science behind Jacob’s conditioning, and she’d come close to deleting him to shut him up.
Jacob was a bit of a sore topic right now.
The surviving members of the premier team – sans Dac – were present. Damian’s extensive wounds had mostly healed. Nick’s hand had been replaced, Luke Skywalker-style, with a mechanical prosthesis. Lonie – now promoted to field status – was sitting, steel-eyed, next to a fully-employed and, by the look of him, slightly tipsy Trent. Zombie-Ash stood sentinel by the door, her face now an exact simulacra of her old human body’s.
You sleep for a month, and the world changes.
Mary sat beside Damian as the director stood, calling the meeting to order. “Are we ready to proceed?” He looked at the assemblage. “Wait, where’s –”
They all turned to see Brendan run in hurriedly, straightening his t-shirt with hair that wouldn’t look out of place in a Final Fantasy game. Damian frowned as Brendan sat down, spouting apologies. “The alarm didn’t go off, and medical testing ran late last night.”
It was still odd to hear Brendan speak in an Australian accent; somehow it made re-accepting him a bit easier, since the accent would just remind her of the friendship he’d had with Jacob. That was the last thing she needed.
Damian grunted acknowledgment before proceeding. “Right-o, now that we’re all here, let’s begin.”
The table, a far cry from the glass technological marvel they’d had in San Francisco, was a piece of simple oak furniture. The only tech assets were the three screens on the wall behind Damian. He clicked a button on the remote control he held, and the three screens changed from being a map of the world to showing three different buildings in three different climates.
“The last few weeks of reconnaissance work have paid off, dear friends,” Damian explained. “Thanks to the knowledge provided by Agent Brolland, as well as the extensive global campaigns led by Agents Fitzgerald,” he gestured at Trent, “and Driver,” he motioned to Nick, “we now know these three buildings are the key to locating the centre of Dream’s operation. You may recall several months ago I sent you all on a mission to the supermarket in Canada, where you were unsuccessful in determining the purpose of the power source located beneath it.”
It still smarted a little whenever Damian brought that up, and not least of all because it was a fail on their track records. Every time Mary thought of that night, the high-altitude escape from Toronto, she now saw Jacob firing Glen’s gun at her, the bullet penetrating deep into her heart as he smiled maliciously. It was the nightmare she’d had every night since she’d woken up.
She clenched her fist and willed the memory away as Damian pressed on. “While the supermarket is now gone, along with the power source, we have made progress on what to do next.” He gestured to the screen on the left, showing a building in the middle of a snowstorm. “This is Base Kerouac, located somewhere within the Andes.” He pointed at the middle screen, with a similar facility in what looked like a forest clearing. “This one’s Base Breton, located within Biogradska Gora National Park in Montenegro.” He tapped the final screen with his finger, a structure within an arid desert locale. “And this is Base Jung, deep within the Simpson Desert in Australia.”
“They’re all dreamers.”
Everyone turned to look at Mary. She hadn’t realised she’d spoken until they stared at her for clarification. “The Base names,” she said. “They’re all people related to dreams. Andrew Breton, Jack Kerouac and Carl Jung. They all wrote about dreams.”
How do I know that?
Damian nodded slowly, looking a little apprehensive. “Yes, they are indeed. In any case, each of these bases houses generators similar to destroyed one in Toronto. We need to hit them all simultaneously.”
“Do we even know what they do?” Trent asked, slurring his words a little. Mary frowned as she caught a whiff of bourbon floating towards her. “We could be blowing up the cure for cancer.”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “Somehow I doubt Dream’s that much of a philanthropist.” He flexed his new hand experimentally – he’d been doing that ever since he got it, as if he were adjusting to the weight. “So what’s the plan, boss?”
Damian tapped the remote again, and all three bases were replaced on the screens by three separate lists of names. Mary caught sight of hers on the middle screen. “As I said, we need to hit all three at the same time. We can’t allow Dream a chance to recoup and come after us if only one or two fall. Once the power sources are disabled, we’ll move in and scour the bases’ records for information on Dream’s current location.”
“Have we tried asking the bitch downstairs?” Trent asked.
If Jacob was a sore topic for Mary, then Beth was most certainly one for Damian; he glared at Trent, all good nature – whatever little there was left – evaporating. “My sister,” he spat the word like venom, “isn’t being forthcoming. Despite Agent Rogers’ best efforts, we cannot rely on her for information.”
He straightened himself up, all business again as Trent looked slightly apprehensively, like he’d just stood on someone’s toe. “This needs to be done quickly, quietly and with minimal collateral damage. To that effect, I’ve split you all into three teams.”
Mary suddenly realised there were names on the lists she didn’t recognise. “We’re getting support?”
Damian nodded. “Unfortunately, recent events have left my premier team a few men short. It was necessary to recover our losses.”
“Uh-uh.” Mary shook her head vehemently. “We don’t need anyone else. Trust is kind of thin on the ground for us right now, and the last thing we need is people we don’t know riding out there with us.”
“I understand your reservations,” Damian said as patiently as he could, “but it is necessary to – ”
“No, it’s not,” Mary cut him off. “We need to go in there as a unit, with whoever we’ve got left.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Damian insisted, his tone rising. “We don’t have enough –”
“Of course we’ve got enough people!” Mary was shouting now, standing from her chair. “We’ve got Drunky Fitzgerald over there, plus the plush zombie bouncer guarding the door,” she pointed at Trent and Ash in turn, “and there’s also, y’know, the lost little lamb that came back the other day,” now she pointed at Brendan, who looked away guiltily, “so I reckon that’s enough on its own!” She then looked at Nick, who met her gaze with equal steel. “Oh, let’s not forget Luke Skywalker over there! Or the ever-present leader of our happy little group – speaking of which, where is Mr Painkiller?”
“That’s enough!” Damian screamed, rising swiftly from his chair. “I know you’ve been through a lot recently, Agent Chestnut, but that does not give you licence to behave this way! You will stand down, or I’ll relieve you of duty!”
“You can’t!” she shot back with equal ferocity. “You don’t have any agents you can take out of the field! We’re an endangered species – didn’t you know?”
She could hear zombie-Ash moving slowly to stand behind her, plush muscles moving and ready to subdue her at a moment’s notice. Damian waved her away and continued speaking, his tone dropping a few levels. “That is enough,” he repeated. “This situation is not ideal, and you are not helping it. You’re suspended from duty until further notice.”
Mary stood in stunned silence, waiting for someone to interject on her behalf. No-one said a word. She looked around the room, as if silently asking for help, but none came. She stood straight, glaring pure venom at Damian.
“Don’t bother,” she said, retrieving her ID badge from her jacket pocket and tossing it across the oak table. “I quit. You can sort this shit without me.”
She turned on her heel and left before anyone could stop her – not that they would, of course. None of them cared.
Or, rather, the plan dictated that none of them were supposed to care.
She heard Damian’s words trail off as she walked away. “As I was saying, you’ll be getting some extra support…”
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
TWO WEEKS AGO
“Are you sure we’re secure?” Damian asked again, checking his watch.
Mary examined the scrambler – it was still good for at least another ninety seconds. “We’re clear, sir.”
“Alright, straight to it.” He stood close, his voice low in the empty, sealed interrogation room. “We’ve uncovered a disturbing fact about Agent Driver.”
Mary raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with Nick?”
“During the scans we ran before he received his replacement hand, we detected transmitter implants in his retinas.” Damian’s expression was grim. “It appears Dream has wired Agent Driver as a walking camera, sending information straight back to the headquarters.”
Mary’s eyes widened. “He’s a mole?”
“No, we don’t think so. Everyone’s been monitored ever since Brendan reappeared, and there’s been no hint of suspect activity. That said, it is still a possibility.”
“So why didn’t you remove them?”
Damian’s expression changed to a smirk – uncharacteristic for him, especially these days. “We want them to keep transmitting. We want Doctor Dream to think we don’t know about them, so they’ll continue transmitting information to him. Then, I want you to quit.”
“You do? Is my work ethic that poor?”
He chuckled. She felt gladdened by that a little – these days, it was hard for anyone to laugh. “Quite the contrary. I want Dream to think you’ve quit, so he’ll try and recruit you – or kill you. Who knows what he’ll do?”
“That’s not a comforting thought, sir.”
“I know, Mary, but it’s necessary.” His smirk replaced itself with another frown. “The fact is, Brendan’s return was too convenient, the circumstances too ideal. This, coupled with Agent Driver’s implants, is impetus enough to find him more than ever.”
“Any idea where he might come for me?”
Damian smiled again. “How familiar are you with Scotland?”