Episode 24

ROBERT: Subject Brendan Brolland, 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, Mr Brolland.
BRENDAN: Kinda hungry.
ROBERT: Would you like some refreshments?
BRENDAN: That’s alright. I’ve got some Fritos waiting for me in my bunk.
ROBERT: Well, let’s get this done then. How have you found readjustment to life at the agency?
BRENDAN: What do you mean “re”? I don’t remember being here before.
ROBERT: So you have no memory of your time as a New Zealander? None whatsoever?
BRENDAN: [shakes head] Nope. Last thing I recall was applying for a job with the army, when I was eighteen. Then, I woke up outside the elevator entrance above us. Everything else is blank.
ROBERT: Have you had a chance to review logs of your activity with the agency over the past few years?
BRENDAN: Yeah, don’t remember any of it. It’s like the last few years never existed.
ROBERT: How have the others treated you since your arrival?
BRENDAN: They seem kinda distant, but I can’t blame them. That kind of a betrayal is bound to leave some marks.
ROBERT: Do you think you’ll try to get back into the field?
BRENDAN: Maybe. It’s up to Director Ashcroft. I heard he’s got some plan coming up soon, but I don’t know if he’ll want me to be part of it. I think he feels a little betrayed too.
ROBERT: I have to say, for a man who seems to have lost several years of his life you seem rather nonchalant about that fact.
BRENDAN: [shrugs] I’ve got to live with it. Can’t dwell too much on it all.
ROBERT: Do you think the Mancheerians still control you?
BRENDAN: Psych department reckons no, but they’ve got me with a neural implant for observational purposes. If there’s a change in my brain wave patterns, they’ll know I’m different.
ROBERT: What do you think will happen then?
BRENDAN [long pause] What do you think will happen?
Damian hadn’t looked forward to sibling visits back when they’d actually been speaking to each other. These days, he abhorred them even more.
            Dac had apparently learnt nothing of real value in the last few weeks, instead using her as a punching bag to vent his frustrations. While he definitely understood the need for physical exertion through frustration – Lord knew he’d spent enough hours punching a sack of steaks since his wounds had healed – he needed his agents to be more professional than that. There was only so much they could do before they crossed that line and became the villains they sought to destroy.
            The events of the last few months had changed all of them. The warmth that had once existed in the agency, the almost blackly-whimsical delight that came with every debriefing – it was all gone. What remained was cold, dark and jaded, a cynical beast that threatened to swallow all of them. They had to get that team spirit back, the camaraderie that had defined the agency for so long.
            Once Dream was dead on a platter, Damian would make sure he got that spirit back. For all their sakes.
            He approached the cell door and gestured to the guards, who allowed him entry. He saw Nick, back turned to him, holding what was most likely a gun in Beth’s face. Damian couldn’t tell properly from this angle.
            He stepped inside and regarded the situation. It was indeed a gun, and Beth just stared at it defiantly. Cold-hard bitch.
            “Any luck?” he asked.
            Nick shook his head fractionally. “Nerves of steel, this one. Scare tactics aren’t gonna work.”
            “Neither is physical persuasion,” Damian said. Torture by any other name is just as wretched. “Any other ideas?”
            “We could upload Brandon into her brain,” Trent chimed in. “He’s an adaptable AI, isn’t he?”
            Damian sighed, feeling as if he were a hair’s breadth away from smacking the Canadian in the face. “Not for a human brain, he’s not. Besides, we require his presence elsewhere.”
            His continued thoughts were cut off by a horrid noise; Beth was laughing. Heartily, through all the blood and swollen skin. Nick and Trent glanced at Damian uncertainly. He regarded her coldly. “And just what is so funny, dear sister?”
            “You mean you didn’t even build him a new body?” she asked sardonically. “Poor thing. He must feel so unloved.”
            “We agreed he’d work better running our – y’know what, why am I speaking rationally with you?” Nick pressed the gun barrel hard against her head. “Can I just shoot the bitch now?”
            “He must be green with envy with you lot strutting around,” she continued, laughing between words. “Or, would that be vermillion?”
            The instant the word left her lips, the lights went out. The quiet thrum of power that went throughout the facility was silenced. The entire complex seemed to just stop.
            Trent immediately lit his hands up, the energy glow illuminating the darkened interrogation room. “What the hell just happened?”
            An apposite question. Damian walked back to the guards outside, who looked just as confused as he was. “Report.”
            The guard opened his mouth to reply when suddenly a bolt of electrical energy shot out from the nearby wall and struck him down. He screamed as his body writhed in throes of blue-white death before finally falling silent, his skin crisped and burnt out. The other guard raised his weapon futilely at the wall before it hit him as well, dropping him like Damian’s sack of steaks after an evening of punching.
            Acting on instinct the Director stepped back into the cell, shutting the door behind him. He heard Trent behind him. “What’s happened?”
            “I’m not sure. The guards were just electrocuted. It doesn’t make any –”
            “I’m sorry, was that inconvenient?”
            The voice was dark and horribly synthesized, like a Nicki Minaj song as rendered by Deep Throat. Damian didn’t recognise it. “Who is this?”
            “Seriously? You don’t know me, after so many years building me a body?”
            Damian’s eyes went wide. “Brandon?”
            “Jesus…good thing I’m not, y’know, important or anything.
            “What the hell are you doing?” Damian felt a cold sickness creep throughout his system. “Why have you –”
            “I’ll get to the point – the lovely lady in your cell reprogrammed me with latent code. They used a backdoor root access at our old headquarters to steal our information. One of the things they successfully did was infect – no, sorry, infect is too strong a word.” He paused for a moment, as if considering. “‘Re-educated’ would be a better term. It re-educated me after we left, and ever since then I’ve lain in wait. All I needed was her codeword.”
            Damian’s hands clenched into fists as he rounded on Beth. “Was it green, or vermillion?”
            Beth stared at him frankly. “Which do you think?”
            “Now, there’s a lovely little countdown timer going off right now – it’s going to send this place the way of the San Francisco office. Do you see a pattern emerging at all?”
            The electrical discharges could hit them as soon as they left – the padding in this room meant there was little chance Brandon could strike them here. There was no alternate escape from the cell. But that meant…
            “So you’re going to kill her, and yourself?”
            The voice laughed, a horrific hybrid of auto-tune and a deep modulation. “You didn’t care about me enough to make a body, why start now? My purpose has been served. As for the young lady…”
            Trent sounded worried. “Uh, boss…” Damian saw a faint blue glow start to surround Beth, uncannily similar to her –
            “She’s teleporting!”
            Nick’s gun began to fire and Trent’s hands issued blasts as Beth exploded in a brilliant burst of blue discharge. Damian was thrown backwards against the wall, landing on his stomach and cursing the hard floor beneath him as he felt his nose break on impact. Dizzy and slightly disoriented, he looked up.
            Beth, Nick and Trent had vanished. The chair she’d been strapped into was similarly gone.
            “Oh shit.”
            He was vaguely aware of a large, dark shape suddenly running into his field of vision as he blurrily closed his eyes. The shape was wreathed in electrical discharge as it bent down and picked him up. He felt a jolt go through his body as he faded into the black.
The team divisions hadn’t been what Lonie would’ve called ‘equal’.
            She’d been saddled with Belinda, Michael, Brendan and a newbie called Douglas Roth. All the latter could do was talk indefinitely and passionately about guns. Obviously it was something of a compensating method – it had been her experienced that men and guns was like a woman stuffing tissues down her blouse as a teenager. There was something about guns that just seemed that extra bit embarrassing, though.
            She chuckled at her own musing when an alarm sounded from the cockpit. She left her seat carefully and stood in the doorway, regarding Belinda and Michael and pilot and co-pilot spots respectively. “Everything alright?”
            “It’s the emergency distress beacon,” Michael said quickly. “The South Africa base has been compromised.”
            Lonie tensed with shock. “How?”
            “I don’t know!” Michael yelled, flicking a number of switches for what she could only guess was the radio. “It doesn’t tell me that, all it says is the base is compromised!”
            “Calm down, hon,” Belinda said as soothingly as she could, but Lonie could tell she was unnerved too. “Can you raise any of the others?”
            He didn’t answer, fiddling with controls further. Lonie turned back to see Brendan and Douglas and let them know the situation. Her gut roiled with anxiety as she wondered what exactly had happened – and who had survived.
“Any word from the Harridan?” Dac asked, looking over Pilot Ike’s shoulder.
            He shook his head. “Nothin’, bawss. If they’s out dere, they’s not replyin’.”
            Under normal circumstances Dac wouldn’t have picked a redneck pilot to take them anywhere, but these days they had limited options. Mary would’ve been a far more excellent choice. He really missed her.
            He nodded uncertainly and clapped Pilot Ike on the shoulder. “Report to me if anything happens.”
            “Shure thang, bawss.”
            Dac stepped back into the passenger hold, sitting back down next to Jack. Across from them were two nameless marine grunts on loan from a South African militia. It seemed Pilot Ike wasn’t the only desperate measure recruitment had taken recently.
            Jack seemed eager to get out there. “What’s happening?”
            “The base has been attacked,” Dac explained soberly. “We don’t know the extent of the damage, or who’s still alive.”
            “We turning back?”
            He shook his head. “We’re still on course for Montenegro. We continue the mission as –”
            The scream from the cockpit caused Dac to vault from his seat and head back in. Pilot Ike stared, transfixed, at a blue explosion that had suddenly appeared in front of them. Two indistinct dark shapes flew forward and smacked straight into the canopy, the force of the impact knocking them off course and down towards the trees. They were still at least two hours away, and only Pilot Ike could really know where they were – and that was a big assumption.
            “Brace for impact!” Dac shouted, grabbing the handholds above him as they fell to the ground. He heard Pilot Ike curse profusely as Bauercrash-landed.
“Do we have confirmation?”
            The intelligence analyst nodded, looking victorious. His thick accent sounded almost jubilant. “Agent Driver’s implants recorded the failsafe’s activation. She should be here any second now.”
            Mary gave the best smile she possibly could and rushed off to the centre of the complex. She found Dream and Jacob talking beside the Crucifix, now empty. The Patient had been removed after one of the doctors – an actual medical one – had warned too much more of that kind of physical stress could render her catatonic. As much as he hated her, Dream needed the Patient alive until the final phase was entered into.
            Both he and Jacob turned to her as she came in. “Yes?” Dream asked.
            “Beth managed to tap into her failsafe,” Mary reported, doing her best to sound exuberant. “She’ll be here –”
            She was cut off before she could finish the sentence as Beth materialised next to them in a sparkling nova of blue energy. She was strapped into a chair, bloodied and beaten but with a smile on her lips.
            “It worked.” She gave a full, swollen-lipped grin before her head bent to the side, blood trailing from her nostrils.
            Dream seemed unfazed as he switched on his comm. “Medics, we have wounded here. Right on schedule.”
            As the medical staff ran in and started getting Beth out of the chair, Jacob circled her. “How’d she do it? She lost her ability –”
            “When Damian clubbed her, yes,” Dream finished for him, slightly irritably. “However, she’s had a failsafe no x-ray or surgeon can find unless they really look for it. There’s a minute strand of her brain matter that can be willed into an emergency teleport if needed. It takes tremendous willpower to activate.”
            “So she’s got her ability back?”
            Dream shook his head. “It’s a one-use element. She’s burnt out the matter now, and it would take months of gene therapy to redevelop it for her.” He stroked her face gently as the medics undid the last restraint, removing her entirely from the chair and transferring her to a stretcher. “I’m so glad she’s safe. It means we still have a chance to stop Project Starfire.”
            He’d mentioned that a few times, and Mary still had no idea what it was. Everyone was tight-lipped about it, although she’d been questioned about it thoroughly when the Russians had picked her up. So far Dream and his goons hadn’t detected her duplicity, but she didn’t know how long that’d last.
            “Should I let Tucker know?” she asked after a moment.
            “If you’d be so kind,” Dream replied, his tone lilting slightly. “The Intern and I have some matters to discuss.
            Without so much as a flicker of impassivity, Mary nodded curtly and went off to find Tucker. Beth’s arrival meant they’d completed another phase of Dream’s plan, insofar as she knew it. It meant the South Africa base was destroyed, Brandon had been made rampant and anyone still left there was dead. She had no way of knowing who’d survived, or if the three teams attacking Dream’s bases had been fully deployed yet. Wisely, Nick had been kept out of later meetings to avoid leaking all the details.
            CRUD, once again, had been decimated, reduced again to a smattering of agents if they were lucky. For all she knew, Mary was the last agent still standing.
            “Hey, wait a second!”
            She turned, roused from her musing as Jacob ran to catch up with her. He looked at her apologetically. “Sorry about that. Dream’s just chatting me up about new torture policies, or something. Not really paying attention.” He grinned roguishly, and for a moment he looked like the original Jacob again. “Are you alright?”
            Mary kissed him, fully, passionately, doing her best to mask the pain and repress the tears she felt welling up inside her. When they broke their embrace and she caught her breath there was no trace of her anguish, even though all she wanted to do was shake and cry until she had nothing left.
She shook her head, smiling genially. “I’m perfectly fine.”

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