HOTEL RIU GUANACASTE
So I'm waking up, early this morning, and someone comes by and !@#$ bangs on my door. Not a good idea, as the head-shaped holes I immediately !@#$ shoot into it can attest. I hear some very girlish screams, and see something that might be a dead animal flop to the ground, smoking.
For a split second I wonder if America's enemies have discovered a way to uplift skunks and turn them into stinky little assassins, but then I realize I know that pile of dead animal. I was using it as a !@#$ rag not less than a week ago. It is, in fact, the much-abused toupee of the poor !@#$ who runs this swanky hotel, and was under the impression that The COMPANY was going to be leaving today.
(No, we're obviously not gone. Yes, there's a good reason why. No, the President isn't happy about it, and neither is the President of Costa Rica, the spies he's sent to check us out, or this half of the !@#$ country. !@#$ them. All of them.)
As soon as I realize my mistake, I come over to what's left of the !@#$ door with a fresh gun, stick it up his snot-filled nose, and ask what the !@#$ he thinks he's going, banging on my !@#$ door like that. Doesn't this room have a !@#$ telephone?
Well, he points out, it did. But when they tried to call me an hour ago, it went squawk and then decided not to work, anymore. A quick look back at what's left of the nightstand solves that mystery: the phone rang, I shot the !@#$ thing, and went back to sleep before it even registered that I'd done anything of the sort.
And don't they have communicators, then? Can't I be called that way? What are we spending all that !@#$ taxpayers' money on if we have to rely on the !@#$, easily-shot phones in this hotel?
Snot-nose whimpers and explains that, apparently, none of The COMPANY's communications devices have been working for the last hour and half. Which is why they called my room. And when I decided to shoot out the phone the Agents decided to try and fix the !@#$ problem without waking my !@#$ up, knowing I'd probably shoot their !@#$ heads off through the door.
So here's snot-nose hotel manager, cradling what's left of his toupee like a dead pet because my Agents didn't want to wake me. Well, !@#$ that. I throw on one of the complementary bathrobes, grab about ten more guns, and stride down the hall, ready to bust caps in several !@#$.
I get downstairs to our makeshift HQ, and then, in one sweep, I realize what's gone wrong. There's Myron over at the desk, drinking himself sober with a smoking gun in his other hand. There's Professor Nightmare on the floor, his brains splattered all over the floor. There's Toyboss, trying to console Myron but terrified of getting shot, next.
I do not see Icemaster, which is worrisome. I also do not see Zalea Zathros anywhere, which is !@#$ frightening.
"Icemaster's out back, frozen to death with his own gun, sir," one of the Agents tells me: "Agent Underman found him. It turns out Professor Nightmare got Zalea to organize an escape plan for the two of them, except that she double-crossed Nightmare. I guess Icemaster found out and was going to come tell us to score brownie points. He just never made it in."
"Where is the !@#$ now?" I demand. The Agent shrugs, and holds up a bloody chip.
"This was on Icemaster's body when we found him."
The first question I have is 'how the !@#$ did she dig that out of her own !@#$ brain?' But then I remember that I'm dealing with Zalea Zathros, who is, arguably, one of the smartest, most devious supercriminals on the planet. Someone that even The Big Man was wary of, to hear it told.
So of course the nasty !@#$ figures out there's no way we'd let her and her evil science friends wander around here unless we had a failsafe, just in case. And of course she figures out where it would be, and finds a way to perform surgery on herself and get that tracking chip out of her brains. Of course she also finds a way to turn our communications off so she can make her escape, but probably not before hijacking it to signal a ride out of here.
!@#$. Dirty !@#$ little !@#$. I should have shot her when the op was over. I should have had Myron !@#$ do it, or at least send her the !@#$ back to the Heptagon. But he thought he had it all under control. Jesus !@#$ Christ in a pickle jar with a robot !@#$ up his !@#$.
Three things happen more or less simultaneously. I shoot the bottle out from Myron's hand, and the legs from under his chair, in order to kickstart the process of sobering him the !@#$ up. I tell Toyboss to get the machine I know he was making out of spare parts to deal with her out of misplaced love for Myron and get it ready to go. Then I tell the Agent who got to play telephone for me to get on a landline, call The Flier, and tell them there's a good chance an unscheduled submarine's going to be surfacing somewhere up the coast, and to be ready to sink the !@#$ thing.
That was several !@#$ hours ago. The net-net as of the last two minutes is that Myron is learning a valuable lesson about when to stop trusting the team, the Toyboss can't put !@#$ together to save his life when he's in love with his jailer, and we were just a few minutes too late letting the folks in the Flier know that we had a bogey. The Costa Rican navy just got back and told us that, yes, they did have an anomalous sonar reading off the coast, this morning. Was it anything important?
Yes it was. Zalea Zathros, one of the most dangerous criminal geniuses The COMPANY ever had the good luck to catch, is out there in the world, again. And we have no way of tracking her whereabouts, much less blowing her the !@#$ up.
This is not going to look good on my report to the President. Not at all.
NEW DELHI, INDIA
Dosha Josh and his man appear from nowhere, as always. The man they're going to meet has come to expect that, by now. The dark-skinned, well-dressed fellow waves theatrically and pours himself another drink.
"I'd offer you one, but I know you're working," he says, his accent a thick Parisian. He downs the glass not long thereafter.
"And you should know I'm always working," Dosha replies: "Persimmon."
"A lamb with no hat."
"A cat with no boots."
The two men smile and clasp hands: "I will take that drink, friend," Dosha says, sitting down at the table where the man sits. Outside the window, in the streets below, the city's afternoon winds up. Car horns and people talking. Amazingly good and terrible smells mingle.
"So you have heard about our friends in Africa?"
"I have," Dosha replies, downing the glass in one go and putting it down for another: "Quite a shame about Jomo's agency, even if he was a sali kuta."
"Well, if the emmerdeur hadn't tried to kill SPYGOD's people, and blame it on the Israelis, we wouldn't be having this conversation, now would we?"
"What's Direction Noir's take on the matter?"
"Our take is that the less we are seen to be involved, the better. We had nothing to do with the genesis of his foolhardy venture. We had nothing to do with its downfall. We have no plans to interject ourselves into the aftermath, either."
"Except to offer NGUVU an olive branch for being closer to BUSH than them for the last few years?"
The man smiles and pours another drink: "Francois is mulling the move over. I've already done it."
"Good. Nothing like some inter-agency intrigue to make certain the old guard falls and the new guard rises."
"And we sons of India must stick together," he says, clinking glasses: "But I didn't call you here to talk about endings. I called to discuss something... strange."
He hands over a dossier: "Read that. Do not do it aloud. You do not know if a certain person is listening."
Dosha does. His face registers surprise, then disbelief. Then something more akin to puzzlement.
"They just let him go?" he finally says, realizing anything else he could say would be way too much.
"They did," the man says, putting his glass down: "Either that or he managed to escape so skillfully that they're denying he's no longer in custody. Given his reputation, I would not be surprised."
"This is... wow," Dosha stammers, at a genuine loss for words for once.
"Now, you've entered into something of a protective relationship with a certain person. You know what this means. I think I need to ask you, unofficially, what we should do with this person, given their special... relationship."
Dosha opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He thinks, he reaches for another glass. He sighs and shrugs.
His man finally breaks the silence: "I'd say give the bumchod to the ghondoo."
Dosha looks up at him, and then the other man, and, downing the glass, nods.
"What my man said," he said: "But you realize, if we do this, we may all be royally screwed."
"The longer he stays in Paris, the more likely the screwing will come in a way we cannot anticipate. And that could be bad for everyone. Especially the new guard."
And there is a silent agreement in the room.
Director Straffer strides down the corridor linking Platform 34 to Platform 35, making the necessary maintenance checks as he goes. He could assign the task to his subordinates, but he doesn't care to. It's a simple enough thing to do, himself, and he feels a lot better when he's the one who does it.
This is Deep Ten, after all. It's his platform. His responsibility.
Sometimes, his heartbreak.
"Yeah, hey Straffer. It's (REDACTED) calling. Again."
As he walks, he thinks about the last phone message he got from SPYGOD, which he hasn't responded to, yet. It's joined the five previous ones that he hasn't responded to in his mind, becoming a big, seething mass of things he'd like to say, doesn't dare say, and doesn't know what to say, yet.
He really should sit down, have a think about what to say, and then call the man up and follow through.
" Yeah, I know, I know. You're busy. So am I. But... listen, I miss you. I miss talking to you. I miss you telling me I'm full of !@#$."
But what? That's what Straffer doesn't know -- the what.
That's what's keeping him back. The uncertainty over what this actually is.
Is it love? Is it lust mixed with admiration? Is it just the good feeling to know that someone actually understands him, for once, and can accept him for what he is? Appreciate him, even?
(Or is it just the good sex? The really !@#$ good sex?)
"And... well, we're on an open channel, but I think you can guess a few other things I miss, too. I owe you a few rocket rides for the help you gave me. At least."
He smiles at that thought, and tries to get back to work. It's not working, and he leans up against a window and looks down at the horn of Africa, which doesn't help, either.
He'll make a decision, soon. He knows he will. Besides, as naughty as it is, it's kind of fun to have the man leaving messages every day. Anyone else would have given up by now.
"But I am not giving up, here. If I have to ride a !@#$ rocket up there, kick down your nonexistent door like I did the last time, and pin you to the wall like I didn't do, I will. Figure you owe me a reply. Figure I want you."
That's when he notices something that's been bugging him, all this time. Where are the robots in this section? He hasn't seen a one since Platform 32.
He presses the call button on the wall. If there are any robots active on the two closest platforms, they should home in on the signal and walk towards him, asking what he needs. He presses it once, then twice, and hears nothing.
"And... well, there's something else. I know this is gonna sound !@#$ pathetic, but I'm a little worried. I mean, I know you can !@#$ take care of yourself, up there. You're the man with the hand on the pulse cannons, after all. But I keep getting this weird premonition about something bad going down up there. Probably nothing, really."
Oh, it's something, alright. They flanked him on both sides before he realized what was going on. Robed figures with faces he can't quite see, gliding towards him.
"Hello, Director," one of them says, voice gentle and soft as a teddy bear: "We've been waiting for you."
"I !@#$ bet you have," he says, grabbing his sidearm with one hand and his communicator with the other: "Second! We have intruders in Platforms 34 through 35. Seal decks and send backup!"
"That won't help you," someone says from behind him, and he recognizes the voice. It's the woman he just contacted.
"So," he says, turning to look at her, wondering why she's not showing him her face: "I thought you were a little too good to be true."
"Just too true to be good, Director," someone says from in front of him: "Honesty is something you're not used to."
"What do you want?" He asks, calculating shots and targets, and realizing there's too few of one to handle the other.
"You, Director," they say as one: "We want you."
"Well, maybe it's paranoia. Maybe it's just desire. I don't know. But I do know I want to see you. I want you."
There's a moment there when he thinks about what to do next. In that one, brief moment, he realizes two things. He does love SPYGOD. And he loves him because he makes him want to be honest about who he really is, at long last.
Maybe that's not the best reason to love someone, but it would do magnificently. It would have been magnificent.
But, once again, he realizes his lot is heartbreak. Cold and harsh, like the space surrounding him.
"We want you," they repeat, almost robotic.
"You don't get me," he says, and starts firing.
"Listen... I... ah, I'll tell you later. Call me. Please. There's things I'd like to say to you and not a machine, you know? You're much better looking. And trust me, I know what I'm talking about. You've seen METALMAID in action, right? I mean, !@#$...
"Yeah. I... will talk to you soon. I hope. Bye."
(SPYGOD is listening to Crazy (Seal) and still banging the expensive champagne.)