You know that old chestnut about “hindsight being 20/20”? Truer words have never been spoken.
CRUD HQ, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
SIX YEARS AGO
“During the scans we ran before he received his replacement hand, we detected transmitter implants in his retinas.” Damian’s expression was grim. “It appears Dream has wired Agent Driver as a walking camera, sending information straight back to the headquarters.”
Mary’s eyes widened. “He’s a mole?”
“No, we don’t think so. Everyone’s been monitored ever since Brendan reappeared, and there’s been no hint of suspect activity. That said, it is still a possibility.”
“So why didn’t you remove them?”
Damian’s expression changed to a smirk – uncharacteristic for him, especially these days. “We want them to keep transmitting. We want Doctor Dream to think we don’t know about them, so they’ll continue transmitting information to him. Then, I want you to quit.”
“You do? Is my work ethic that poor?”
He chuckled. She felt gladdened by that a little – these days, it was hard for anyone to laugh. “Quite the contrary. I want Dream to think you’ve quit, so he’ll try and recruit you – or kill you. Who knows what he’ll do?”
“That’s not a comforting thought, sir.”
“I know, Mary, but it’s necessary.” His smirk replaced itself with another frown. “The fact is, Brendan’s return was too convenient, the circumstances too ideal. This, coupled with Agent Driver’s implants, is impetus enough to find him more than ever.”
“Any idea where he might come for me?”
Damian smiled again. “How familiar are you with Scotland?”
CRUD UNDERGROUND FACILITY, CASTLE MCCULLOCH, SCOTLAND
THE NEXT DAY
The iPad Mary handed to the science staff was quickly taken to some giant mechanical apparatus. The thick-accented lead techie had claimed they’d be able to pinpoint the source of Nick’s eye implants within minutes, thanks to some high-tech stuff they had there.
“So why don’t we have it at Johannesburg?” she asked. It seemed logical to keep all the best stuff at the headquarters.
The lead techie huffed. “Girly, we ain’t had time to build one ‘o these there yet. Yeh only just had the old base blow up, give us a bit of time.”
It seemed like a flimsy excuse, though maybe it was too costly to have one of these things at every base. She didn’t know, and she didn’t care. All that mattered was the trace. That, and…
“What about the London device?” she asked the lead techie. “Will it be ready when we need it?”
He groaned, rolling his eyes. “Of courseit’ll be ready, girly. What do yeh think we are, lazy?”
She was saved the problem of answering him by one of the scientists crying, “Got it! We have a confirmed trace on the eye software!”
Mary nodded, holding the phone to her ear that evening. “Seems that way, Director. Underneath Red Square, no less.”
“Huh. Little ostentatious.”
“A bit. So what do I do now?”
He hummed thoughtfully. “Mary, I’ve got to tell you something. It’ll be difficult for you to hear, but it’s the truth.”
She prepared herself, positive she wasn’t going to like this. “Alright.”
“I’m going to die,” he told her plainly, “and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Whether in a week or a year, my fate is to be killed by Dream.”
Her eyes widened. “What?”
“I know this, and soon Dream will know this, because we’ve achieved something massive,” he said. “He’s effectively my clone – he differs in the fine details, but the overall point is that we’re the same person. And when there are two people the same in the world, something happens. You’ve effectively got double the same brain power, however disconnected, and it transmutes things from the infinite.”
“It’s alright,” he assured her, “I don’t expect you to understand entirely. Suffice it to say that having two of the same mind allows you to discern things a normal mind couldn’t. Things like seeing the future. We are both getting snatches of it, here and there, and soon our minds will evolve enough that we can see everything, from now until the day we both die.”
That made little to no sense, and seemed to have come out of nowhere. “So…what the hell…how does that even work?”
“He’s about to do something that will remove all of our agents off the board,” Damian continued, “and one of the only ways we can survive is if you ally yourself with him. Make him think you’re truly on his side. If he tasks you to kill an agent, someone you know, you must. This will only get worse before it can get better, and if killing one of our people means safeguarding the future…well, I know you’ll do what is necessary.
“Over time, as his ability progresses and evolves, he’ll see it for the lie it really is, but it’s necessary. You’ll be alright, I promise.”
Mary decided to ignore for now the idea that she’d have to kill one of her friends. That wouldn’t ever be an option. “And you think he’s going to kill you?”
“I knowhe’s going to kill me. And when he does, it’ll be one of two major advantages you will have against him. Oh, and Mary?” He paused for a moment, letting out a breath. “Your part in this…it might take a while.”
“Weeks?” she asked hopefully.
UNDERNEATH RED SQUARE, RUSSIA
TWO WEEKS LATER
It was still early morning, and Mary had managed to slip out of Jacob’s bed without him noticing. She’d seen the Dream Machine in the main room, and Damian had told her exactly what it did. She still hadn’t wrapped her head entirely around the whole future-seeing thing, but she took him at his word. She had no reason not to.
Mary hadn’t been adept at computers, during and after high school, and she considered herself the person least likely to actually succeed at this task. Damian had thought otherwise. It appeared he had more faith than she did right now.
She’d asked how Dream wouldn’t see this coming, how he wouldn’t know that her fiddling with the device and Damian’s death would impede him in any way. Damian had simply assured her that it wouldn’t, as long as she was utterly convincing as his ally. He’d come to a point where his vision would narrow, and then everything would happen as it should.
She approached the machine, dormant but quietly humming, and opened up the display panel. She found the input command for the upcoming Johannesburg teleport right where Damian said it would be, and typed up the latent algorithm he’d instructed her to install. Their end location, both time and place, was changed to where Damian needed them to go. If she was very, verylucky Dream wouldn’t even notice it.
This whole damn plan seemed to run almost entirely on luck, but Mary had always considered herself above the odds.
“Punch me, and get out of here. They’re watching me on camera. Lights are out for twenty seconds.”
“Why?” Brendan hissed. “What the hell is he-”
“The team’s dead. Make another one. Can’t leave yet.” Mary ignored his protestations and pushed him. “Go!”
His fist met her head, and she staggered backwards to the ground. By the time she righted herself the power had come back on, and some of Dream’s lackeys had assembled around her. “You alright, ma’am?” one of them asked.
She looked at the holographic wall, smirking a little so they couldn’t see it. “Yeah, I’m just fine. What’s the situation in the main room?”
“Doctor Dream is urgently requesting an update,” the lackey told her. “He wants to know if you’ve handled the escapee.”
She went through the events of the last few minutes, praying she’d hit the right spot on Anna to wound but not kill her. They’d be able to revive her when they all re-emerged, she hoped. “Yeah,” she said finally, thinking about it all. “I’ve handled him. He won’t be a problem.”
It had taken a while for everything to die down, but once it had she was able to communicate with Brendan. Comms out of Red Square were heavily monitored, but there was still the low-tech option that could get through.
The phone Damian had given her in Johannesburg, claiming she’d definitely need it one day, was an incredibly old Nokia that, for reasons know only to God above, was able to transcend the communications monitoring. It struck Mary as incrediblystupid that Red Square was unable to monitor that technology simply because it was old, but then again this was Russia.
She would be safe from detection as long as she kept it to text messaging. It was short and simple:
THERE IS A DEVICE IN SCOTLAND, CASTLE MCCULLOCH.
IT WAS TAKEN FROM LONDON.
YOU’LL KNOW WHAT TO DO.
THE PANOPTICON, RUINS OF NEW YORK
“I, I can’t…” Dream staggered like he’d been struck, his eyes closing tight as he tried to regain equilibrium. “Why can I not see…WHY CAN I NOT SEE?” He screamed in frustration, struggling to see further. His vision had permanently clouded. No more of the future lines were visible to him.
“Oh, I’m so sorry about that.”
Mary stood before him, watching as he cried out and threw his arms about like a madman. “You!” he growled dangerously. “What have you done?”
“You’re the prophet, you tell me.” She stood with her hands on her hips, looking at him plainly. “Or did you lose that little gift of yours?”
“You’ve…you’ve taken it…”
“Nope, sorry, you did that yourself.” She pulled a gun from her belt, clicking off the safety. “Funny thing, you never really grasped Damian’s importance. To you, I mean.”
Dream furrowed his brow, groaning as a headache started to blossom within his skull. “What…what did he…”
“See, your little future thing only worked as long as he was around. The second you put a bullet in his brain, you started to lose it.” She examined the gun idly. “He told me as much. Apparently when there’s two equivalents of the same person on the planet, they’re able to tap into something a bit higher than themselves. It’s all a lot of mumbo-jumbo, to be honest, but the long and the short of it is that you will never be able to see the future again.” She aimed the gun at his forehead. “Only one person’s got that ability, now. Well, two people, technically.”
She held the gun with two hands. “It’s over, Doctor.”
Dream shut his eyes just before she could fire, but nothing hit him. His ears rang with the gunshot, and as he slowly opened his eyes he saw blood trickle from Mary’s stomach. She examined the wound oddly, putting a hand to it as she keeled over sideway and landed with a wet thump on the floor. He looked up, and smiled despite his headache.
Behind her, Jacob, his face bloodied and his nose broken, lowered a smoking pistol. “Sorry I’m late, boss.”