Episode 28

ROBERT: Subject Damian Ashcroft, Director of Counterinsurgency Reliant Upon Diversity, interviewed by myself, Dr Robert Abrams, PsyD and attaché CRUD psychologist. Time is [REDACTED]. How do you feel, Director?
DAMIAN: Like I’m ready for you to debrief me, Brandon.
ROBERT: Your idea worked, sir. The shell and analytical program you gave me has made the debriefing of your agents far easier.
DAMIAN: Did anyone suspect it was really you?
ROBERT: No, sir. I think some of them knew things were amiss, but none were too inquisitive.
DAMIAN: What’s the general mood?
ROBERT: They feel defeated, sir. Broken. Like they will be unable to weather the coming storm.
DAMIAN: Any suggestions?
ROBERT: Provide them with a victory. Find some way to reinvigorate their team spirit.
DAMIAN: Unfortunately that won’t be possible for a while. I’m about to send Agent Chestnut off on a deep-cover assignment with Dream’s group.
ROBERT: Well, I don’t know what else I can suggest, sir. Although, I’d keep an eye on Agent Fitzgerald.
DAMIAN: Trent? What about him?
ROBERT: Before I shut this shell down and return to normal function, there are some things you should…[long pause] Vermillion.
DAMIAN: I’m sorry?
ROBERT: It’s nothing, sir. A glitch in my systems. Before I shut this shell down and return to normal function, there are some things you should know.
DAMIAN: Like what?
“Like how I’m not going to be inconspicuous going up in this thing,” Ash complained, gesturing at the plane behind them. “That’s if I can even fit in the damn thing.”
            “We don’t have a choice,” Damian said as placatingly as possible. “We need to link up with one of the teams, and the Montenegro base is the closest available to us.”
            “But what about Base Kerouac? Why don’t we head to the Andes instead, and finish the job?”
            “No, we won’t stand a chance on our own.” He knew it wasn’t strictly true, since he did have a psychotically-strong plush zombie that could plough its way through legions of attackers as easily as popping a pimple, but he knew he’d feel more comfortable with safety in numbers. “Besides, there’s a chance Beth threw Nick and Trent over there by accident when she left.”
            “A chance?” Ash asked incredulously. “How much are you willing to stake on the chance she sent them there? What proof do you have?”
            He was getting steadily more irritated with her. She’d been hesitant to do the Godzilla routine, but now she was being obstinate. “I have a hunch. That’s all I require.”
            If she’d been a child he was sure she’d’ve huffed loudly and folded her arms at this point. As it stood she just fumed, growling a little in a way that made Damian nervous. The last thing he needed was another turncoat.
            The pilot was Will, an old friend of Damian’s who’d agreed to get them to Montenegro as payment for a favour he owed. Damian remembered the circumstances of that favour, and while Will’s gesture didn’t go all the way to matching the sheer volume of payment he owed for what Damian had done for him, it was a pretty good start nonetheless.
            Will was a mute, so most of the trip was spent in silence as Damian sat and looked out the window. Ash was silent too, but had instead leaned back in the extra-sized chair Will had prepared and closed her eyes in what closely amounted to sleep. They still hadn’t quite worked out all the features of Ash’s new body, but as far as the doctors had worked out she didn’t actually need sleep. Maybe it was just an old human affectation she kept hold of, as a reminder of what she’d once been. Damian didn’t know. He wasn’t a doctor.
            Doctor Dream…you son of a bitch. She’d be just fine if it wasn’t for you.
            Anger welled up inside him at the thought of that smug, murdering bastard as he went off being a smug, murdering bastard with whatever plans for world conquest he had in that evil brain of his. San Francisco and Johannesburg had just been cherry taps compared to what Damian knew Dream was capable of, and yet that particular shoe hadn’t dropped yet. Whatever the Doctor was planning, whatever grand scale it’d be executed on, it would be something big. Damian didn’t need to be an enemy psychologist to work that out.
            “The faceted spear must pierce the phantasm.”
            He turned around to look at Ash, who’d evidently stopped her ‘sleep’, but the voice that had undeniably come from her direction was strangely distorted, even for her. It sounded more like a man’s than her new female alto tonality.
            “I’m sorry?” he asked.
            It was then that Damian realised the plush face had changed somewhat. He was now definitely looking at a visage of strong male cheekbones and wide forehead that looked hauntingly familiar. “You must use the faceted spear to pierce the phantasm. The traveller will lower the veil.”
            Damian’s eyes went wide. “Graham 917,” he breathed. “That’s who you are, isn’t it?”
            Whoever was occupying the plush body examined its long-armed musculature carefully. “This vessel is eternal, but its soul is not. You must not heed the words of the snake.”
            “What snake? What the hell are you on about?” He groped for the shotgun on the rack behind him.
            “You…must…not…” It appeared to be getting harder for him to speak now, and his face seemed to be receding back into the plush body. “Tell…the lawyer…she knew…”
            The body gave an almighty roar as Graham’s face disappeared, replaced once again by Ash’s. She blinked a few times, evidently an unwilling participant in what had just occurred.
            “What happened?” she asked, looking around cautiously.
            Damian lowered his hand away from the shotgun rack, looking at her just as warily. “It seems you’ve got a visitor inside you. Graham 917.”
            She patted down her chest, obviously confused. “Oh, shit. Must’ve happened when I ate him.”
            Damian blinked. He must’ve misheard her. “I’m sorry?”
            “Yeah, just after I took over this body I had an uncontrollable desire to just, y’know, get him insi-”
            “Please!” He raised a hand to silence her. That was something he didn’t want to hear. “Just tell me what that means. He said something about a faceted spear and a phantasm, or some such.”
            She shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’d suggest we try and record it if he pops again.”
            “You mean you can’t control that?”
            “Does it look like I can control it?”
            Damian missed the days when a terrorist with guns was their biggest threat, and the most outlandish workplace element was whatever seafood combination Belinda had prepared for lunch. Those were, indeed, the good old days.
“Of all the stupid, shark-jumping loads of complete and utter horse crap.”
            It seemed the entire collection of CRUD agents – or at least Brendan, Lonie, Michael, Belinda, Douglas, Trent and Nick – were all strung up like leather on a tanning rack, hanging by their wrists from a set of brackets in the middle of what Dac prayed was the torture chamber and not some kind of brothel suite or magical portal to hell. Right now he wouldn’t have been surprised if a dragon came along.
            “So you’re saying they really are from the future?” he went on. “And they’re the shit-faced spawn of your torture technicians?”
            Dream nodded, flanked on both sides by Beth and a crutch-holding Tucker. They both looked like fifty Christmases had all come at once. “That is correct, Agent Rogers,” Dream replied. “They are indeed from the future.”
            “And what’d you use to bring ‘em back? Fairy dust? The power of love? A friggin’ TARDIS?”
            Despite Dac’s outbursts, it appeared Dream and his cohorts were quite enjoying the man’s complete and utter frustration. Dac didn’t care. He was beyond giving any kind of a shit at this point. The others lined up next to him were all silent, as if leaving him alone to whinge himself towards an early execution.
            “I used a special piece of technology,” Dream told him, “but it is not yet time to reveal that. For now, let’s just say that their claims of being from our future are, indeed, quite real.”
            “Any chance they can tell me what the results for next year’s Melbourne Cup are?” Nick asked sardonically. “I’m not a gambling man, but, y’know, just one…”
            “Ah, the sarcastic traitor!” Dream suddenly cried, rushing over to stand in front of him. “All this time you were leading them straight to me, and you never even suspected!”
            Nick obviously didn’t get it. Dac had to say that he didn’t either. “What do you mean?”
            “Your eyes, dear boy.” Dream pointed at Nick’s blue irises. “There’s a video uplink inside them, transmitting information straight to my headquarters.”
            “Oh, you’ve gotta be fu-” Dac’s outburst was cut off by an electrical discharge through the bracket he was attached to. He screamed as what felt like burning lightning made its way through his entire body, setting every nerve on fire. He only stopped when the discharge ended, hanging limply like a banana on a tree.
            “That’s quite enough of that, Agent Rogers,” Dream reprimanded. He looked at the others assembled there. “Look around you, agents of CRUD. You have lost. Your base is in ruins. Your members are scattered or dead. By now you have seen the technological advantages I have over you – time travel, mental conditioning, sentient lightning-”
            “Yeah, I still don’t get how that works,” Brendan cut in. “I mean, did we just get zapped into these brackets or-”
            “The lightning took you from the desert and dropped you here, yes,” Beth suddenly interrupted. “Not the most subtle mode of transport, but…” She trailed off as Dream glared at her, clearly perturbed that his grand villainous monologue had been trampled on.
            He stepped over to Brendan, and Dac noticed a horribly gleeful expression on his face. “You, my friend…you can never hope to understand how useful you’ve been to me.”
            “What, because I proved to be a great punching bag? Because it was fun to take away years of my life and fill in the blanks with some fake Kiwi?” Dac had never heard Brendan sound so impassioned, at least when he wasn’t asking where the closest ‘fush und chups’ shop was. “I’m glad you had fun, but I’m not-”
            He got zapped. Dac cringed, still feeling residual nerve damage from his own ordeal. He closed his eyes until Brendan stopped screaming, then looked at his battered friend. Dream still looked glowing with happiness. “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, Agent Brolland. But it was necessary.”
            “How?” Lonie suddenly interjected. “How was it necessary to make him a Kiwi for years? I mean, unless your goal was to make everyone’s ears bleed with that horrifically fake accent, doesn’t that seem-”
            Zap. Dac closed his eyes again.
            “Stop it!” Belinda screamed. “For God’s sake-”
            Dac squeezed his eyes closed as tight as he could and blocked out both women’s screams. He could hear Michael and Douglas roaring, yanking at their restraints in an effort to burst free and wring Dream’s scrawny neck like a hot towel. It seemed like whole minutes went by before the discharging stopped, and Dac opened his eyes once more.
            “Now, if we’re all quite finished here,” Dream said in a quietly lethal voice, “I believe it’s time for you to see something.”
            He snapped his fingers, and almost immediately Jacob and Mary arrived carrying a limp body between them. The two former agents were surprise enough for Dac, but the most shocking element was the reveal of who they were carrying.
            It was unmistakably Anna Farraday, though she had obviously seen better days than this. Her hair was black and messy, her pale skin marred by scratches, bruises and dried blood. Her usually vivid eyes were sunken and hollow, like she hadn’t slept properly in years. She looked up weakly at them, and as her eyes fell on her former companions Dac thought he saw a shadow of a smile cross her face.
            Pure, unadulterated rage filled Dac as he looked back over at Dream, who was watching it all with unbridled joy painted across his face. “You son of a-”
            It was worth getting zapped again just to get some of that rage out. This time the pain felt a little duller, most likely euthanized by the insane anger Dac felt for Dream at that moment. He swore he would break Dream’s neck by the time this was all over.
            “Please, Agent Rogers! What did I say about those outbursts?” He gestured to Anna, still held by the two traitors. “Your former associate has been my guest for some months now. She is to be an example to you all of what will happen when my plans come to fruition.”
            “Let me guess…you’re making Hostel Part IV, and you need a cast willing to work for scale,” Trent jumped in. “Sorry, I’m more of a Saw fan.”
            “Do you people not listen?” Tucker yelled at him. “Dream said to shut up, so shut the fu-“
            “THAT’S ENOUGH!” Dream bellowed, silencing everyone present. “I am over this increasingly prolific display of mediocrity and lack of listening that pervades me and my organisation! All of you, every single person in this room, is to cease speaking until I have completed explaining the fate that shall befall these wretched, pathetic excuses for counter-terrorism agents! IS. THAT. UNDERSTOOD?
            Dac could’ve sworn he heard a pin drop somewhere far away. The silence was painful, but it seemed to calm Dream down as he took a deep breath and went on. “Thank you. Oh, and Mr Sloss,” he turned to Trent, “while I do like a bit of humour in theology…”
            Zappity-zap. Dac clenched his teeth and stayed silent as Trent screamed. Why or how a god could feel pain was beyond him, but right now he questioned nothing.
            Owen and Tiberius walked in. Apparently they’d heard Dream’s screaming rant, as they stayed utterly silent while moving to stand with Beth, Tucker, Jacob and Mary. Dream nodded at them appreciatively, then turned back to the agents.
            “As I was saying, Miss Farraday here will be an example of my final solution to you all. You see, you’re all going on a trip.”
            A curtain Dac hadn’t noticed before suddenly raised nearby, showing some kind of strange machine that looked like a cross between the nose-making machine from Futuramaand an airport security metal detector.
            “This,” Dream said with a grand flourish, “is the Dream Machine. It originally required an IV attached to its…well, ‘victims’ is a strong word, let’s go with ‘occupants’ instead. Now, however, I’ve fine-tuned the device to work without an IV. Instead, it gives me everything I need without all the fussy medical procedures. Observe!”
            He gestured to Jacob and Mary, who carried Anna over towards the machine. Owen and Tiberius followed behind them.
            Dac’s gut suddenly clenched. Something was wrong – besides the obvious, of course.
            His fear was confirmed when Tucker suddenly dropped one of his crutches and replaced it with a handgun – a thumping great Desert Eagle, to be precise. He fired a round into Jacob’s back, dropping him to the ground with a moan of pain.
            “Owen!” Tucker yelled. “Hold him down!”
            Anna took that moment to suddenly come to life, moving like a powerful avenging raven and slamming her body fully into Tiberius. Apparently she’d been hiding her strength a bit. Dac wondered how she’d managed it; the poor girl looked like she was about to fall apart.
            She grabbed Tiberius’ handgun and tossed it to Mary. “Quick!” she cried, “Let’s get them out of here!”
            Owen had pinned Jacob on the ground with his hands behind his back. The Intern howled as his shoulder bent back, a searing pain probably coursing through his entire body right now. Dac relished the thought, the bastard. He could burn for all Dac cared.
            Hrm. Where did that come from?
            Anna was already moving towards Dream, who was looking back and forth between assailants like it was a deranged tennis match. Dac wrestled with his restraints, trying to get free from them before-
            It seemed Douglas had beaten him to it. He ripped his wrists free from the bracket, dropped to the ground and sprinted towards Dream, screaming incoherently. The Doctor reached out a hand and caught Douglas by the front of his vest, lifting him one-handed into the air and effortlessly tossing him at the Dream Machine. The agent slammed into it, slumping to the ground with a bloody forehead.
            “That is enough!” Dream commanded, pressing a remote he produced from one of his pockets.
            The Dream Machine came to life behind Douglas as he looked behind him, blood trickling over his eyes. He made a small noise of confusion before orange light enveloped him whole, shot forth from some kind of opening on the Machine’s side. With a scream, Douglas had vanished.
            Dac and the others watched him disappear like he’d been vaporised by something out of Star Trek. Dream seemed utterly satisfied with it all, but whatever victory speech he had was cut short by two gunshots.
            One of them struck Tucker between the eyes. Blood spattered back and covered Dac’s legs as he dropped his last crutch and fell wordlessly to the ground. Beth’s mouth opened in horror as she moved to help him but her cry was stifled by the second gunshot catching her in the arm. She dropped to the ground on top of Tucker’s corpse, her head slamming into the ground and sending her almost immediately into unconsciousness.
            Every pair of eyes in the room turned to look at Mary, who’d fired the shots. She’d been standing with the gun Anna had thrown to her, as if uncertain of what to do with it. Dac could see she had a clear shot at Dream, could nail him right in the face right that instant if she wanted to.
            Anna obviously noticed too. “Mary,” she rasped in a voice that sounded like it hadn’t drunk water in days, “come on. End this. Kill hi-”
            The third gunshot hit Anna square in the chest. It seemed to echo louder than the other two as Anna fell backwards and hit the ground limply.
            No-one spoke. Dac wasn’t even sure he was breathing, watching in horror as Mary walked over to Dream, still holding the gun. Owen looked back at what had happened, still pinning Jacob painfully to the ground. Tiberius had gotten himself up, wordlessly looking at Anna’s corpse. Michael, Belinda, Trent, Nick, Brendan and Lonie all looked in similar silence.
            Dream glared warily at Mary as she approached him. He knew she had him dead to rights, and no matter what he couldn’t stop her from blowing his brains. He seemed surprised, the same as Dac felt, when Mary turned the gun in her hands and offered it to Dream butt-first.
            “I am one of the faithful, Doctor,” she said quietly. “And the faithful must inherit the Earth.”
            As Dream took the gun, smiling the way a father would to a pleasing child, Dac screamed inside his head. It took every effort he had to not shout out loud, lest he too be shot in the head by this evil, conniving, traitorous-
            “Hey, faithful!”
            Both Dream and Mary turned to see Trent waving a hand at them, having gotten it somehow out of the bracket. Without another word he threw the biggest blast of energy Dac had ever seen at them, knocking Mary to the ground and Dream over to slam into the Dream Machine. Without pausing for breath he threw out two more consecutive blasts, catching Tiberius in the chest as he ran for a gun and dropping Owen on top of Jacob, who let out a pained yell as the body heavily hit his wound.
            Trent yanked his other hand out with a groan of pain, dropping to the ground with blindingly-bright energy flaring on his hands. His expression of anger mirrored the rage Dac had felt only moments ago, that now roared even greater inside his heart like wildfire.
            Dream got slowly to his feet, looking a little fearful for the first time since Dac had seen him. Trent walked closer to him, his hands now holding giant balls of light that illuminated every single corner of the room.
            “God is pissed.”
            He let out an almighty roar, and threw the energy straight at Dream.

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