Episode 22

ROBERT: Subject Dac Rogers, premier field agent for Counterinsurgency Reliant Upon Diversity, interviewed by myself, Dr Robert Abrams, PsyD and attaché CRUD psychologist. Time is REDACTED. How do you feel, Agent Rogers?
DAC: You mean apart from the bullet wound?
ROBERT: [chuckles] Ah, yes, how’s that healing?
DAC: As well as you’d expect.
ROBERT: Jolly good. Shall we proceed?
DAC: Whatever makes this go faster.
ROBERT: Alrighty then. Now, you were the leader of CRUD’s premier team, were you not?
DAC: What do you mean, “were”?
ROBERT: My mistake. You are the leader of CRUD’s premier team, are you not?
DAC: That’s correct.
ROBERT: And as leader you had to make some tough decisions in the line of duty, I imagine?
DAC: Doesn’t everyone?
ROBERT: One of those was the decision to allow Jacob Aldente a spot on your team, wasn’t it?
DAC: Hold on a sec, I see where this is going. You’re about to ask what I could have done to know Jacob was going to go troppo, and whether or not it was wise for me to attach him to my squad. Sound about right?
ROBERT: Are you saying you didn’t know about Agent Aldente’s true allegiance?
DAC: Look, as far as I can tell Jacob was fine until Anna died.
ROBERT: Ah, that would be Agent Anna Farraday, would it not?
DAC: Yeah, and she was his wife before Dream gutted her like a carp. When she died, he understandably lost it a bit.
ROBERT: You’re saying Jacob was driven mad by his wife’s death?
DAC: I’d say it had something to do with it, yeah.
ROBERT: If you knew this, why didn’t you remove him from the field?
DAC: He said he could handle it. I believed him.
ROBERT: So you allowed him to continue as a field agent, with full knowledge of his mental anguish?
DAC: Look, when a person you’ve trusted for years tells you what they need, you do your best to give it to them. If he’d asked for time off, or a fruit basket, or even a goddamn solid gold crapper, I’d’ve given him that instead. But he asked for solo assignments, in quiet places where the only people he could hurt were bad guys. It wasn’t harming any of us, nor the civilians, and until the attack on HQ we were none the wiser.
ROBERT: Could you kill him?
DAC: Excuse me?
ROBERT: If you encountered him again, out in the field, could you bring yourself to kill him?
DAC: [pauses for a long moment] He’s not well. Dream’s done something to him.
ROBERT: That doesn’t answer my question, Agent Rogers.
DAC: I know.
ROBERT: Well would you mind –
DAC: No, I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. I’d do everything I could to wound him, bring him down so we can fix him up at home. But no, I wouldn’t kill him. Does that tell you what you wanted to know?
ROBERT: Yes, Agent Rogers, it most certainly does.
“Maybe she really isn’t coming back this time.”
            Nick looked over at Trent, lost in thought. “Hm?”
            “Mary.” Trent’s voice was slow and slurred. Nick could already smell the foul odour of booze on his breath. “She’s been gone for five days. Means she’s either dead or just not coming back.”
            “I’d choose to believe the latter, were that the case,” Nick replied, standing up from the conference table and stretching his arms out. It was early morning, at least half an hour before the final briefing. Unsurprisingly, he’d found he couldn’t sleep the night before.
            Trent, on the other hand, looked like he’d done nothing but sleep. His hair was wild, his face still impressed with the image of his mattress and his clothes reeking of day-old body odour. Nick found it hard to imagine that he was still part of this group, but given Damian’s comments about having no agents to spare it made sense in a depressed, scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel kind of way.
            The whole operation was going to the dogs – Jacob had turned, Glen was dead, Brandon still existed as an AI in a USB key, Mary had quit, Brendan had had his personality rebooted, and now Trent was an alcoholic. Were they in any other situation Nick would’ve been sure they were part of some bizarre American sitcom.
            Coz that’s exactly what Seinfeld was missing – a psychotic plush zombie and a drunk with magic fingers.
            “I think I’m gonna miss her.”
            He almost couldn’t believe the words had come out of Trent’s mouth as he turned to stare at the Canadian. “Excuse me?”
            “I said, I think I’m gonna miss her,” Trent repeated, sitting up a little straighter at the oak table and seeming to become normal again, at least for a moment. “She was strong and scary, sure, but she was…capable, y’know? She gave us structure. And, I didn’t really think about it at the time, but after she got shot…I was worried she wouldn’t pull through.” He looked at Nick imploringly. “What would we have done then, huh?”
            Nick rolled his eyes, his surprise at the heartfelt comment quickly evaporating. “You only met her once before she was shot, genius. You barely knew her.”
            “Not true!” Trent protested, pointing an accusatory finger at Nick. “I met her after Jacob got kidnapped!”
            Nick nodded sarcastically, rapidly becoming bored with the situation. “Uh huh. I’m sure you did.” Obviously it was the alcohol talking.
            “No, really!” Trent insisted. “She saw me at – ”
            He was cut off as Damian entered the room, as if to start the briefing early. Nick paid Trent no more mind and turned to face his boss. “Something wrong?”
            The Brit’s face looked pained. “You could say that. I’ve just received word from one of my contacts in the Kremlin. Apparently they took on a new security recruit this morning.”
            He clicked the screen remote, and an image of a young woman dressed in Russian military garb appeared. Nick’s jaw dropped, and Trent suddenly sat up, alert.
            “Mary joined the Russians?” Nick asked incredulously.
            Damian nodded grimly. “Apparently. It means one of two things – either she decided they were a good career option, or –”
            “Or that’s where Dream’s hiding.” Dac walked into the conference room, finishing Damian’s sentence for him. “I’d choose to believe the latter, were that the case.”
            From the ironic echo of his own words, Nick wondered if Dac had been listening in beforehand. “I dunno, she did strike me as the vodka-drinking, psychotic torturer type beforehand.”
            Dac’s eyes narrowed. “You think this is funny?”
            Nick shrugged. “Well, it’s not like we’ve got a Glen to make us laugh anymore.”
            The room was silent for the barest of instances, and if that silence had been shorter Nick would’ve questioned if it happened at all. Damian cleared his throat, and they got back to business. “In all fairness we aren’t able to simply charge into the Kremlin and get her out, if this is indeed Dream’s location. The political red tape is far too difficult to circumvent.”
            “Do you think they know her old allegiance?” Dac asked. “If they do, they’ll either kill her or –”
            “Or they’ll try to extract as many secrets from her as they can,” Brendan finished as he walked in behind them all. “I’d choose to believe the latter, were that the case.”
            Nick threw up his hands in exasperation. “Was everyone just camping outside and listening to me?”
            Brendan shrugged. “It was a good turn of phrase.” He addressed Damian without missing a beat. “Divulging agency secrets probably isn’t the way to go, sir.”
            “Indubitably.” Damian clicked the remote again, showing the three bases they’d been prepping to attack for the last five days. “We’re stepping up our timetable. All teams prepare for insertion within the next twelve hours. The motorpool has already been notified, and they’re ready to mobilise.”
            “What are our orders if we run into Mary?” Nick asked. “If she is with Dream now, and she pops up at one of these bases, what do –”
            “You kill her.” Damian’s response was cold and immediate. “We don’t show leniency to traitors. If you find her, you kill her.”

The weather was unseasonably warm.
            Passers-by still wore fur coats and the hats that had become inextricably linked to Russian fashion, such as it was, but they seemed to wear them a bit looser today. It was probably as close to summer weather as they’d see before the operation began.
            Jacob revelled in the temperature. He’d found the cold, stuffy passageways of Dream’s underground labyrinth left him longing for warmth and sunlight. He wondered if that was why most evil masterminds looked so pale, having stayed below ground for so long. Dream himself looked like what Edward Cullen might resemble sans glitter.
            The thought of Twilight made him shudder. If he ever saw Beth again he’d be sure to ask her to mentally condition the wretched story out of his memories.
            His head was now almost entirely healed, except for a jagged scar running horizontally from the bridge of his nose and across his left eye socket, all the way over to his ear. He wore a patch on it until the replacement eye had finished growing underneath. It was a pain – the gelatinous orb itched as it stretched its membranous iris around the wounded area, mending itself against his bone. It gave him the uncomfortable feeling that there was a spider behind his eye.
            Jacob turned to see Tucker hobble over to him. The young man was still being rehabilitated, gripping his crutches as he came closer. The gas attack that had rendered him close to brain-death had not taken his speech, but had impaired most of his motor functions – he’d had to learn how to walk all over again.
            He moved over to the statue of Minin and Pozharsky that Jacob sat against. “You busy, Intern?”
            Jacob had insisted to Dream that no-one refer to him by his old name. That man was dead. “Just thinking, dear boy. Just thinking.”
            “About the operation?”
            He looked up at the poor lad. He’d heard of the ingredients that had gone into that gas cocktail, and knew that no-one should have to experience anything that horrific. By all accounts, Tucker should be dead. “Yes, about that. Is Dream ready to proceed?”
            Tucker nodded. “He sent me to find you. We’re getting ready to drop Brendan at the rendezvous point.”
            Jacob looked out, suddenly wistful. He stared at all the civilians moving by him, paying him no mind. “They’ve got no idea of what’s about to happen.”
            “Isn’t that a good thing?”
            “I suppose. But in a way, they’ll never know. Once it happens, they’ll have no idea what’s occurred.”
            Tucker raised an eyebrow. “You want someone to admire your handiwork?”
            Jacob gestured grandly before dropping his hands. “Doesn’t every artist want recognition?”
            “You really do sound like him, y’know.”
            Jacob looked up at Tucker, puzzled. “Dream?”
            Tucker nodded again. “Beth might’ve made you, but you take after your dad way more.”
            The thought of Beth and Dream together made Jacob want to vomit. “The implications of that pairing are enough to drive a man to suicide, Mr Egant. I’d appreciate it if you don’t ever insinuate that again.”
            “Why?” Tucker’s tone was aggressive, like he was prodding an alligator with a tazer. “You got an Oedipal thing going on?”
            Jacob’s glare could’ve melted the Titanic iceberg. He didn’t know why he felt sorry for him – clearly, the boy was an idiot. “The only thing stopping me from putting a bullet in your gut and watching you die with all the slowness and pain I can conjure is that we need you for the operation.” His expression softened slightly. “So until then, let’s just keep out of each other’s way, alright?”
            He stood up against the statue, looking up at the two men immortalized in bronze above him. “They amassed an army,” he said idly, more to himself than to Tucker. “They wrested control from their Polish and Lithuanian oppressors, and forged a world of their own making.” He turned, now diverting all his attention to Tucker. “I like to think that’s what we’re doing. We’re forging a better world, a world of our own making.”
            He started walking back to the hideout, not bothering to turn to Tucker as he said, “Before that happens, we need to wrest control from the oppressors.”
            He left the crippled bastard behind, his head full of thoughts of the revolution to come.

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