UNDERNEATH RED SQUARE, RUSSIA
Dream slammed into his eponymously-named Machine again and fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Not stopping for breath, Trent hurled more energy out and caught the two future-boys as they tried to stand once again. He howled and screamed and bellowed at the top of his lungs, nearly piercing Lonie’s eardrums with the cacophony.
She worked furiously to wrenched her hands out of the restraints as easily as Trent had, but they wouldn’t budge. The others racked up next to her were all watching with rapt attention, as if they’d never seen a former god battle a villainous scientist before. Apparently they were in dire need of some HBO.
Trent was roaring like a wounded animal as he threw blast after blast at Dream and his cohorts. Within a few seconds, as Lonie finally fully extricated herself from the restraints, the entirety of Dream’s crew was laid up against the Dream Machine, energy crackling around them like auras. Trent advanced on them, his palms glowing so bright it hurt Lonie’s eyes to watch.
“Where’s your faith now, you son of a bitch?” he spat, looking Dream square in the eyes. “What can-”
He was stopped midsentence as his entire body suddenly disintegrated. It disappeared from view in an orange haze like what had happened to Douglas, and a few seconds later he’d vanished entirely.
Lonie’s gut dropped, the adrenaline that had fuelled her escape now replaced by good ol’ fashioned fear. She looked desperately back at the others, silently pleading for them to escape as they watched all the goings-on.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she finally shouted. “Get free! He’s going to-”
She was silenced by a gunshot, the bullet hitting the floor right near where her feet were. Mary had apparently gotten up and was now aiming at her as Owen let go of Jacob, the two men standing up and exchanging venomous glares. It appeared the bullet in Jacob’s back hadn’t hit anything major, but he stood gingerly and moved with a noticeable limp.
“No-one is getting free again, Agent Ramona,” Dream told her, sounding breathless and still crackling a little with Trent’s energy. He chuckled a little. “Where is your god now?”
“He’ll be back,” Brendan said, with a voice that seemed to carry a hint of passion behind it. “Give him a chance, he’ll kick your ass again.”
“Oh, please,” Dream admonished, striding over towards him. “It’s your fault he’s dead anyway.”
He held up a small device with a needle point on the end. “This is Longinus, my favourite little tool of information gathering. It has a number of other uses too, such as this one.”
He depressed a button on the side of the device and aimed at Belinda. Wordlessly, she vanished into orange like the others had. Michael suddenly raged against his restraints again. “You bastard!” he bellowed. “I will have revenge! I am vengeance! I am the night! I am-”
Dream flicked Longinus in his direction, stopping his tirade short in a spurt of orange. “You are a nonce,” Dream finished for him. “Seriously. Who speaks like that in this day and age?”
He looked back at the few captives – namely Dac, Nick and Brendan, with Lonie standing nearby – still hanging like kebab meat from the ceiling, seeming a little victorious. “That’s better, isn’t it? Now us rational people have a chance to converse. I do so like conversing with rational people.”
Lonie’s heart still seemed to thump in her throat, but at least she wasn’t facing death alone. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe she’d find a man who could tolerate her lawyerness and ability to shoot guns competently. Maybe there’d even be a rainbow she could live on. Anything was possible.
“Alright,” Nick suddenly said behind her. She turned around to face him. “Let’s converse. Why don’t we start with what, exactly, that little Longinus thing does?”
Dream held it up and turned it around experimentally, like it was something he’d found in a cereal box. “Oh, this? You might say it’s a targeting locator, for my little contraption there.” He jerked it in the direction of the Dream Machine. “It only finds people with a specific marker, you see.” He suddenly clapped his hands in glee. “Oh, I love this! I’ve wanted to deliver a villainous monologue like this for so long!”
Seeing the main bad guy suddenly acting like an excited kid was not something Lonie took as a good sign, but she went along with it anyway. “Ok, then monologue.”
He sharply inhaled a breath like he’d just been given permission to stay up late watching television. “Your friend has been a carrier for a…well, ‘disease’ is the wrong word. Maybe call it a ‘spreadable improvement’?”
“That makes it sound like he’s a carrier for Nutella,” Dac noted archly.
Dream did not seem impressed. “Hush now, Agent Rogers. You’re spoiling my fun!” He went on regardless, pointing at Brendan now. “As I said, your friend has been a carrier for this ‘improvement’. It’s a special type of energized, invisible particles that spreads like the flu. Did you never wonder why we left him on your doorstep for absolutely no reason?”
Actually she had wondered, but had just assumed they’d never find out. The plot of her life – all their lives – was quickly becoming as convoluted as a LOST episode. “I’d thought about it a bit.”
“The particles have been spread to everyone he’s come in contact with, and they in turn have spread it to everyone they contacted, and so on. It’s airborne, extremely contagious and, if I’m correct, has just infected the vast population of Johannesburg.”
A large television screen descended from the ceiling and sat above the Dream Machine. The image showed a wave of people slowly re-entering the city that had played host to CRUD for the last few months, and everything about the image indicated to Lonie that they’d just fled from something. There was minimal damage to Johannesburg itself, looking more like what little there was came from the initial exodus.
Dream turned to face them all again, a grand smile on his face as he continued explaining his villainous masterstroke. “The Machine can target individuals, through use of Longinus, or it can cast a wider net.” Without further ado he ran forward to the Machine, flipped a few controls as swiftly as the Doctor might fiddle with the TARDIS console, and the image on the television went bright orange. After a few moments the wave of people – Lonie estimated there had to be at least a few thousand just on-screen, let alone those outside the camera – had been removed the same as Lonie’s compatriots had. The camera Dream had in Johannesburg panned up to show that the entire city, and the outlying land around it, was now devoid of human life.
Lonie’s eyes widened as Dream clapped his hands in glee again, jumping up and down like a girl winning the Miss Universe pageant. Her stomach seemed to contract even further. All those people, gone in the blink of an eye. This was like a new Hiroshima, a weapon Dream could use to start a new World War and conquer the Earth – however villainously cliché that sounded.
The voice had been unmistakably Dac’s, but Lonie was positive she’d heard him wrong. Dream seemed a little taken aback, too. “Excuse me?”
Dac just looked at him plainly, still hanging loose. “I said, big deal. They’re probably not dead. This is some weirdo Star Trek BS. You’ve probably just transported them to a new dimension or something. It’s far too elaborate for a simple death machine.”
Dream seemed to suddenly fly into a rage. “How dare you spoil my fun?” he screamed, seeming a bit deranged. “This is your end you’re looking at, and all you can think to do is question it? You insufferable fool!”
Dac shrugged as best he could in the restraints. “Well, I’ll give you insufferable-”
Click. Zap. Orange. Gone.
And then there were three.
The good doctor suddenly straightened up and tried to compose himself a little, taking a deep breath before continuing. “Now,” he said finally, “where were we? Ah, yes, my genius plan. So the particles are target markers, allowing me to use the Dream Machine on whoever is carrying them. We had problems with incompatibility before, using IVs and gas treatments, but I think-”
Dream rolled his eyes, looking murderously at Lonie at having been interrupted yet again. “What?”
Lonie went ahead anyway – she was going to die anyway, she might as well not mince words. “That’s how Graham 917 went crazy, isn’t it? He was an early experiment for your particle thingy, and he was ‘incompatible’. He was a scientific reject.”
He seemed rather glad she’d figured something about his scheme out, even if he had been cut off for her to do it. “Very good, Agent Ramona. Yes, Graham 917 was indeed a failure to become compatible with the particles. They had a decidedly…deleterious effect on him.”
“They drove him crazy.”
“Ah, but what is sanity these days, eh?” Dream spread his hands wide, gesturing to his silent cohorts behind him. “In these times of Mancheerians and double agents, switched allegiances, targeting particles…who is really sane anymore?”
“Clearly not you,” Nick replied dryly, obviously getting bored with the whole Sinestro-routine.
Dream growled in his throat and flicked Longinus in his direction. The double-triple-quadruple-something agent disappeared, leaving just Lonie and Brendan at the mercy of Doctor Dream.
“I thought your team was rational,” Dream said to the two of them. “You all seem far too eager to interrupt the enthusiastic villain with a killing device in his hands.”
“We learnt from conferences with Damian,” Brendan explained, “that it’s always prudent to interrupt the boss man. They tend to prattle on a bit.”
Lonie expected Dream to Longinus him into non-existence, but instead the villain’s smile returned wider than ever. “Ah, Director Ashcroft. I have a special fate awaiting him and that plush abomination, when they arrive. It’s a pity you won’t see it – his sins will be exposed for all.” He put a hand on his chin thoughtfully for a moment. “Perhaps I should tell you? That would spoil the surprise, but since you’re not here to see it anyway…” He murmured for a moment before lowering his hand and coming to a decision. “No, I think not. I’ll let you live in blissful ignorance, for all the twenty seconds you have left, believing that your precious leader is as wholesome and marvellous as you think he is. That, I think, is the cruellest thing I can do to you.”
He turned on his heel back to the Machine as something moved slightly in the corner of Lonie’s vision. She turned her eyes down to see Anna, lying nearby with blood seeping out of her, her hands moving a little. Her chest, pressed against the ground, moved slightly with breath.
Oh god, she’s still alive.
Lonie flexed her hand, ready to make a move when Dream came for her. No-one deserved to die slowly by bleeding out. It’d be a quick end for both of them.
“Now it’s time,” Dream went on, “to set the dispersal pattern and envelop everyone who’s been affected by the particles! Hrm,” he sounded thoughtful again, “I should really come up with a better name for that. Anyway, everyone who hasn’t been inoculated against the contagion – such as my faithful companions here – will enter oblivion!”
He was starting to remind her of a role-player ex-boyfriend of hers. He’d been into the villainous soliloquy thing too. Dream stopped halfway through messing with the Machine and slowly turned to face them both again. “Actually, on second thought, you’ve both some so far. You deserve a more personal touch.”
He aimed Longinus like an accusatory finger at Brendan, and the former New Zealander started to glow orange. Instead of disappearing, however, his body convulsed and he cried out in pain. He seemed to be fading in and out of view, his cries getting louder as the brightness of his body intensified. Lonie looked over at Dream, who seemed utterly confused at what was occurring.
After a moment the orange disappeared, leaving Brendan hanging limp in his restraints. Dream’s cohorts were still silent, watching curiously at their Doctor advanced on him. Before he got too close there was yet another gunshot, this time striking through Brendan’s hands and upper restraint. His body fell to the ground, and judging by the cry of pain as he hit it he’d regained consciousness rather quickly.
Lonie saw the shot had come from Beth, who’d sat herself up while no-one was looking – still atop Tucker’s bloodied corpse – and fired at Brendan. Her arm was bleeding profusely, but she still looked somewhat triumphant as Brendan rolled around on the floor, pressing his perforated palms together and groaning in agony.
Then, it seemed to stop. The groans lessened, and Brendan suddenly displayed his palms – which were regenerating rapidly. After a second or two there was no indication he’d been shot at all. Somehow, Longinus had given Brendan back his regeneration ability.
Dream rounded on Beth furiously. “What have you done?”
Without speaking she aimed in his direction, but the gun was taken from her by a swift-moving Mary who then proceeded to elbow her in the nose. With a sickening crack of broken bone Beth fell back on top of Tucker, unconscious once again.
Lonie knew death was imminent, regardless of Brendan’s regained power, so she bellowed at him at the top of her lungs. “Run! Warn Damian!”
Dream whirled around to face her, but she was ready for him. In the few seconds it took for him to raise Longinus in her direction, she’d thrown herself flat on the ground and grabbed hold of Anna’s cold, limp wrist. She was still breathing a little. Hopefully it wouldn’t be painful for either of them.
She saw Brendan start to sprint out of the room, and once he was gone from sight she squeezed her eyes shut. There was a brief tingle as Longinus activated on her.
More out of reflex than anything else, she screamed. A few seconds later, nothing remained.
Dream knew he was in danger of hyperventilating through a combination of melodramatic villainy and insane rage at the crimps that had appeared in his plan. Everything had gone swimmingly until that traitorous turncoat Beth had interfered. She must’ve done something to Brendan, something that would intentionally counteract his efforts with Longinus and the particles. She’d been playing him from the beginning.
Part of him wanted to immediately put three bullets in her head and finish the job, but he’d keep her around to learn the extent of her treachery. She was, quite obviously, not one of the faithful.
He turned to Mary, trying his best to contain the fury building up inside him. “Find him. Kill him. I don’t care what it takes.”
Mary nodded curtly, clutching the gun she’d stolen from Beth. “He will not leave Russia alive.” She ran off in his direction.
“Uh, hey, mum?” Tiberius suddenly called. “What about us? Should we help?”
Dream answered for her. “No. You will secure the traitor Miss Atkinson, and prepare for the world-encompassing. Make sure all of our staff are inoculated with the particle vaccine.”
“What are you going to do to my mother?” Owen asked, still standing near the pained-looking Jacob and sounding more than a little defensive at the thought of his mother being interrogated.
Dream knew Owen believed more in the cause than his own love for the woman who would birth him one day, but he had to be careful regardless. “She will be questioned, and it will be determined if she is true to the cause or not. That is all you need concern yourself with. Now,” he went on, gesturing at Jacob. “Get him to the infirmary and make sure the doctors patch him up. We are all faithful, all together, and we cannot afford animosity.” He narrowed his gaze at both of them. “Am I understood?”
Jacob and Owen glared daggers at each other, and it was a few moments before Jacob finally replied, “Understood, sir.”
“Yeah, understood doc.” Owen echoed.
“Good.” If he called him ‘doc’ again, he’d remove the inoculation. It was not an affectation Dream wanted. “Prepare for the next step, my faithful. Our opposition is all but removed, the final embarrassment will occur when Director Ashcroft arrives, and we are poised to complete our objectives.” He smiled wider than he had all day. “The time is nearly upon us, my friends, when the faithful shall inherit the Earth.”