Episode 27

ROBERT: Subject Lonie Ramona, newly-recruited 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 Ramona?
LONIE: Fine, I guess.
ROBERT: Curious surname. Is it familial?
LONIE: An affectation. After a character I happen to like.
ROBERT: Fair enough. Let’s dive in.
LONIE: No, I didn’t know Brendan was a sleeper agent. Am I done now? I’ve got work to do.
ROBERT: You’re one of several recent additions to the premier field teams with this agency, aren’t you?
LONIE: I am. What does that have to do with it?
ROBERT: How does it feel to leap from the Legal Department to fieldwork?
LONIE: There’s a lot less paper involved.
ROBERT: Do you enjoy killing?
LONIE: Of course I don’t. What kind of question is that?
ROBERT: Why did you decide to join the team?
LONIE: I was sick of being left on the sidelines. After San Fran, I wanted a change of pace.
ROBERT: You could’ve just as easily left the ailing agency, joined the private sector and been paid far more than you’re earning now.
LONIE: We don’t get paid.
ROBERT: My point.
LONIE: Private sector’d be boring. Now, am I finished?
ROBERT: Why so quick to leave? You have work that needs tending?
LONIE: I have a date.
ROBERT: Ah. With a man?
LONIE: No, with an octopus. What d’you think?
The perimeter, as far as Michael could make out, was laced with a garden of countermeasures. The base itself, a rather large bubble that resembled a geodesic dome, sat in a shallow basin nearly fifty kilometres away from civilisation, with little in the way of shade or protection from the baking Australian sun. Around it was a furrowed circle traced in the red sand that Michael assumed was some kind of minefield. Inside the circle were square-shaped patches of sand that looked like they’d recently been shifted – probably pop-up turrets. This wasn’t even counting the large, almost-phallic cannon that sat on a swivel at the top of the dome, with a barrel so large it made the Mariana Trench look miniscule.
            It wasn’t an ideal tactical situation even before the Africa headquarters got smoked, but now they had far less in the way of options. It seemed security had been beefed a bit since Nick and Trent had done their recon work the previous month. Either Dream was getting more paranoid or someone was ratting to him again. Didn’t matter either way. It was time to kick ass.
            He adopted a Sylvester Stallone personality – a mashup of Demolition Manand Rambo sounded good – and turned to the others. “Ewwrewwwt,” he said, doing his best impression, “we’ve gert a jehb to do. Lert’s gert in therr!”
            “I’m sorry?” Lonie asked, staring quizzically.
            “I serd, lert’s gert in therr!”
            “Are you trying on that ‘ermahgerd’ meme or something?” Brendan asked, genuinely confused. “Is now really the time?”
            Michael grunted gutturally, ignoring whatever it was Belinda said in response and appreciating the emphatic expletive Douglas gave instead. He pulled the pin from a grenade on his belt and tossed it fully at Base Jung. A few seconds later it detonated on the furrowed line, but instead of the expected series of mine bangs there was an electrical discharge that surrounded the explosion like a blue net. It contracted, and both the energy and the explosion disappeared. They were replaced by a blaring alarm klaxon from the center of the basin.
            “What the hell was the point of all that?” Belinda hissed, grabbing him by the arm. “What happened to covert stealth?”
            Michael shrugged her off. “A direct assault is the order of the day! We charge in, guns blazing!”
            Douglas fired his rifle in the air and screamed emphatically. “YEEEHAAAAWWW!Let’s do this!”
            He started charging down towards the dome when suddenly the furrowed line reacted again. This time the discharge extended its tendrils towards Douglas, wrapping him in blue energy and shrinking again with him inside. He disappeared before he could yell anything else.
            The energy then bounced and struck Lonie and Brendan, causing them to similarly vanish. Belinda saw it coming for her and shot a venomous glare at Michael. “You stupid mother-”
            She was cut off as the energy got them both, and all Michael could do was start adopting Arnold Schwarzenegger instead – something from Kindergarten Copmight do better.
No-one had said a word since Nick had taken charge. He didn’t mind; it meant better cooperation if everyone wasn’t arguing with each other.
            Dac brought up the rear, keeping his gun within aim of Trent as the Canadian walked behind Nick. They’d tramped quietly through the lush, beautiful Montenegro scenery, and it gave Nick time to think. Whatever else had happened, Dac’s raging monologue had been right about one thing – they were a counterinsurgency agency, and dealing with all this paranormal shit was way above their pay grades.
            Nick could remember a time, not too long ago, when the worst problem they had to deal with was Beryl messing up their haircuts and the odd Fiona Florentine-esque business executive with ties to a terrorist organisation. Those were the days.
            The quiet was shattered by a gunshot not far away from them. All three men tensed, and Nick immediately began scouting the area for the its source. For all he knew they were being targeted by snipers right now, and the shot had just been them cleaning the barrel out of a rifle and firing it by accident. Or something. He figured that latter thought might be a bit far-fetched.
            Trent’s hands went up, flaring immediately. “Sniper?”
            “Maybe,” Dac replied curtly. “Or someone cleaning their rifle. Might’ve gone off accidentally.”
            There was a line somewhere about great minds and thinking alike, but Nick was buggered if he’d stoop to that cliché.
            They travelled in the vague direction of the shot, and after another fifteen minutes of trekking through wilderness that, despite the fact it was a national park, made the Amazon seem friendly, they found the source of the weapons fire. They’d finally found Base Breton.
            At least, that’s what Nick assumed the tin shack with a watchtower and sniper next to it was, unless some other military operation had decided this was the ideal place to set up shop. Conceivably Doctor Dream was going for the ‘hide in plain sight’ type of deal, but it wasn’t a very good job. It seemed to Nick to be akin to a gay man wearing a pink sequinned shirt in the middle of a Westboro Baptist Church meeting while claiming to be against homosexuality. Far too obvious.
            Dac and Trent seemed a bit perplexed, too. It looked like way too much of a cakewalk, especially with the guard at the watchtower holding his rifle awkwardly – looking no older than fifteen – and staring with the kind of nervousness one might have when meeting a partner’s parents. “Is that it?” Trent hissed, his hands still raised and pulsing gently.
            “Must be.” Despite the situation, Dac’s adopted veneer wasn’t wavering. “Alright, on three we take out the guard and see what happens next.”
            “No, hold on,” Nick whispered back, gesturing for him to stop. Something reallywasn’t right. “I really think-”
            “I don’t have to pussy-foot around this, Nick,” Dac shot back, his voice like a hushed whipcrack. “So shut the hell up and let’s go.”
            “No, seriously!” Nick insisted. “Something is really goddamn wrong-”
            “Oh my god, you two are like an old married couple!”
            All three CRUD agents turned to watch as the guard at the watchtower, suddenly not looking so nervous anymore, hopped down from his perch and held his rifle with a much firmer grip than before. “I mean, seriously,” he said as he strode forward confidently, “why don’t you just cut out the middle man and either screw each other to death or get a divorce?”
            The only person who’d be able to fire back quickly was Trent, as Nick and Dac’s weapons weren’t able to be aimed quickly enough. Nick saw the god’s hands tense a little more, but the young guard obviously noticed as he made a tutting sounding and waved him down with the rifle barrel.
            “I figure gods must be immortal, but do you really want to find out?” He smirked, and it reminded Nick of an unpleasant fellow he’d gone to school with, and who he’d sworn to one day nail to a tree if he ever met again.
            Trent lowered his hands, glaring venom at the newcomer. “You got a name, ass-face?”
            He made a noise of disapproval. “Original. Well, we’ve definitely met before. Just hasn’t happened y-”
            They all looked at Dac, his voice flat and disbelieving. “No. Friggin’. Way. There is no way you are from the future.”
            Trent seemed lost. “Um, how’d you-”
            “That sentence was going to end ‘Just hasn’t happened yet’, wasn’t it?” Dac looked at the guard for confirmation, and after he nodded the agent threw his hands in the air like he’d given up all thoughts of sanity. “Un-friggin’-believable. As if things could possibly get any freakin’ weirder. Now we’re putting goddamn mother pusbucket piece of shit TIME TRAVEL INTO ALL THIS??”
            His voice raised louder enough to shatter through the earth, and despite his fierce tone the guard seemed unfazed. “Yep,” he replied simply. “Time travel’s a thing now.”
            “Oh god…no, I’m sorry, no. I can’t deal with this. Not anymore.” Dac tossed his pistol to the ground, undid his tacher vest and laid the contents – including a couple of grenades – carefully next to them. He then extended his arms, wrist-first, to the guard. “Go on, take us in.”
            Nowhe seemed a bit fazed, and Nick really couldn’t blame him. “That’s it? No ‘who the hell are you’, or ‘what kind of bleak future do you hail from’, or anything like that?”
            “Nope. Take us in. I’m giving this shit up.”
            “You don’t even want to know my name?”
            Nick sighed. He probably should’ve seen this coming. “Alright, I’ll bite. What’s your name, where are you from, et cetera.”
            Obviously this wasn’t the flourished opening to his identity that the guard had hoped for. He grumbled slightly as he replied. “The name’s Owen. Owen Atkinson.”
            The surname triggered many alarm bells in Nick’s head. “So you’re the son of-”
            “Tucker and Beth, yeah. Apparently he decided to take her name when they got married. She’s kind of the domineering one, but don’t let her know I told you that.” He winked conspiratorially, then out of nowhere aimed the sniper rifle at Dac’s foot and fired.
            The Australian howled as the bullet tore into his foot, splattering blood and gore across the park ground. He fell onto his back and clutched at the destroyed limb, screaming in agony through gritted teeth. Trent growled threateningly and threw his hand out, palm already exploding with light, but was stopped short as a gunshot, the same as the one they’d heard before, echoed across the clearing. Something slammed into Trent’s side and threw him to the ground, spraying blood as it did so.
            Deciding on the path of least resistance, Nick raised his hands in surrender before Owen could get another shot off. “Don’t shoot! I’ll go in!”
            The young man seemed more concerned with his fallen target, regarding Dac’s crumpled and groaning form like a trapped insect. “Next time, ask me my goddamn name.” He turned to his companion, a similarly-aged young man with a smoking rifle not unlike the one Owen held. “Nice shot, by the way.”
            “Cheers!” the second young man replied jovially, now aiming his rifle almost point-blank at Nick’s skull. There was something familiar about the shape of his cheeks that Nick had definitely seen before.
            He decided it was worth hazarding a guess. “You wouldn’t happen to be the spawn of Jacob Aldente, would you?”
            The man nodded proudly, still aiming. “Tiberius. Apparently my parents were big Star Trek fans.”
            “And your mother is…”
            “Mary Egant. CRUD Director.”
            That brought Nick up short – not that he wasn’t already. “Excuse me?”
            “Yeah, mum’s the Director of Counterinsurgency Reliant Upon Dream.” He reached into his jacket pocket and flashed a gaudy-looking badge. “Best counter-terrorist division in the world. But, y’know, not yet.”
            The shock of those few sentences whirled around Nick’s head as Owen retrieved a radio from his own jacket. “Base Perry, this is Base Breton security. Targets have been neutralized, ready for transport.”
            Nick heard Jacob’s voice on the other end. “Awesome. Load ‘em up and bring ‘em here. Dream wants a word.”
            “Copy that. Breton out.” He switched off the radio and spoke to the still-pained Dac on the ground. “Ready to go, future cripple? Or, wait, does that happen? I forget. Probably not, though – when Dream wants a word, it’s usually for you to speak your last ones.”
            “Wait…” Dac’s voice was hoarse from the pained noises, and the anguish he clearly felt was apparently in every word. “Base Perry…that’s HQ?”
            Owen nudded. “Yah-huh.”
            “And Perry…is based off of…who?”
            Owen blinked, as if it were the most obvious answer in the world. “Katy Perry. Y’know, you make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream…” He looked at the three CRUD agents – with Trent still unmoving on the ground nearby – for some kind of recognition. “Hasn’t that song come out yet here?”
            Nick was certain that if he wasn’t holding his ruined foot with both hands clamped against blood loss, Dac would’ve delivered the mother of all facepalms at that moment.

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