The entire West Wing is a wall of noise. Every secretary and intern that wasn't blinded or severely burned by the lights from the sky is either tending to the stricken, or trying to find out what the !@#$ just happened. But the switchboards are jammed and the internet is down, rendering their cellphones and smartphones as useful as doorstops.
The Secret Service agents are alternating between getting the President and First Family to safety, in the basement, and taping cardboard to the windows to stop anyone from being flash-fried, again. They're also trying to plan the next few moves, but unable to get confirmation on what they need to know.
In the middle of it all, Colonel Richter strides down the hallways, talking on one of the few phones that actually works. What he's hearing doesn't make him very happy.
"Well, as soon as you get word from The Flier, get back to me, alright?" he says: "I want a sit-rep on the Heptagon. I want word from NORAD. I want Cheyenne Mountain telling me their condition... yes, son. Everyone. !@#$, if you can find !@#$ing Santa Claus, I want you to tell me if he's got his sleigh ready. Alright?"
He hangs up and runs down to the basement, where the Secret Service has just secured the President and his wife. For a moment it looks like the Agents aren't even going to let him through, but one look from him and they skitter to either side.
"How bad is it, Colonel?" the President asks, sitting in a chair, holding his wife's hand, and wishing he had a really large beer, right about now.
"It's pretty bad, sir," Richter says, kneeling down so he can look the man in the eye: "As near as we can tell, every single air force base, airport, and nuclear missile silo in America has been destroyed."
The First Lady gasps, and the President blinks: "How?"
"That... we're not 100% sure, yet, but from the looks of things we were hit by particle cannons. So either we're being invaded, again, or Deep Ten's been compromised."
"Every air base?"
"Yes, sir. The two large flashes were Andrews and Langley. They were wholly obliterated. They attacked Ronald Reagan, too, but all they did there was destroy the control tower and zap enough of the runways to make landing or taking off an impossibility. We're thinking they've done that to every major civilian airport. They may also have gotten Kennedy Space Center, but we're still getting word."
"How do we retaliate?" the President asks: "Can we launch the missiles on the submarines? I mean, I guess you'd have to reprogram them, but-"
"We have negative contact on the subs, sir. There's reports that beams were seen entering the Pacific and Atlantic close to their last known location. We may have lost the entire fleet."
The President looks askance, and then puts his head in his hand.
"How's everyone else doing?" he asks: "Have we heard from the Russians? England?"
"No sir. But there's no reason to believe that this attack was confined to America. In fact, some of my contacts inform me that there was something of an intelligence blackout today, and there's spotty word coming in that some of our allies were attacked in their houses of government. Some of our frenemies, too."
"Why the !@#$ are we just hearing about this now?" the President thunders: "Where the !@#$ is the CIA, Colonel? I want the Director over here right the !@#$ now-"
"We can't get through, sir," one of the Agents says: "We're trying the FBI, NSA, FEMA. Everybody's offline. Even the backup communications are fried."
"You can use my phone if you'd like, sir," Richter says, handing it over: "But I did try him, earlier this morning. They said he was in a very important meeting and not to be disturbed."
"And what about our strategic talents?" the President asks, taking the phone and finding the CIA Director's office number: "Don't we have a few people who can throw stars at each other, or something? Can we rely on them to save us?"
"The Flier's not responding to calls, sir," Richter answers: "Word from Havana is that it rocketed West not long after the shooting started. Hopefully that means a response is being coordinated, but I haven't heard anything from them to confirm that."
"This is very troubling," the First Lady says: "I can't believe you're not more on top of this."
"Honey, it's alright," the President says, holding her hand tighter and giving her a kiss on the forehead as he waits to hear from someone at Langley: "Just let me take care of this. We'll get through it. You'll see."
Richter looks at her and tries to smile re-assuredly. It comes across as stiff and patronizing, and he quickly abandons it, knowing in his heart that the whole world probably just got !@#$ed.
That and wondering if there are any heroes, out there.
* * *
"Sir, where the !@#$ are we going?" one of the fifty Agents packed in the back of the drill tank asks Myron as he tries to drive them out of the Heptagon's parking garage's south wall.
"Agent, if I told you, you'd have to shoot me," Myron replies, adjusting the drill's angle: "Now, are we all comfortable back there?"
"Not really, no," a female Agent says: "How many people is this thing rated for?"
"Ten," Myron replies, firing up the drill and getting ready to downshift: "And the coffee machine's broken. But if you'd rather try to get the garage doors open, and risk the power coming back on-"
Just then, the lights flicker back on in the garage. Myron blinks, and sees that the fallen Specials they strode over on their way to the drill tank might be stirring, just a little.
Oh, yes. They are. And !@#$ing quickly, too...
"Uh, on second !@#$ing thought, hang on..."
The drill engages, the tank treads fire up, and in seconds the drill tank is rolling forward -- boring through steel plate, concrete, rock, and earth, and throwing a massive and wide spray of pulverized matter behind it. The Specials who were up first and about to fire on them are almost instantly buried under the storm of dirt as the drill tank thunders through the wall.
In seconds, they're out and through -- the tunnel the vehicle makes closing up almost instantly due to the shower of debris. But the Agents in the back don't stop screaming until Myron's about a hundred feet away from the Heptagon. And he doesn't dare throttle back until he's sure no one's coming after them, which takes another 300 feet beyond that.
"Sir, is there a bathroom on this drill tank?" someone whimpers.
"Yeah, it's out back," Myron sighs: "I'll stop so you can get out and go pee."
"No, of course not. Are you that !@#$ing stupid, Agent? Please tell me you're not going to !@#$ yourself in my !@#$ing drill tank."
No one answers that.
"Alright," he says, looking at the map and his instruments, and hoping this goes better than he thinks it should: "I promised you guys a memorable trip. Here we go."
* * *
The Dragon watches on a viewscreen in the Secondary Control Room as New Man, Second, and all the un-Embraced Agents they could find come rampaging down towards engineering, shooting Specials as they go. He recognizes the look on their faces as that of excitement mixed with trepidation: they are clearly elated to have gotten this far, but worried about what comes next.
Surely they know it's not going to be that easy.
Not that anything's taught them otherwise, so far. The heavily-armored soldiers they're mowing down are employing their best tactics, but are falling much too easily. It would seem that their heavy armor and bulky weapons are putting them at an extreme disadvantage when compared to well-armed and quickly-moving opponents.
The Dragon stores this information for later reference, knowing that it will be useful later -- once he's won.
"Who can?" The Dragon asks.
"Only the current Director of the COMPANY."
"And I am about to kill him," The Dragon says: "This could be problematic..."
He's about to think of altering his plan, but one of the Specials shows him -- via his faceplate -- that the Specials he sent to find the medical equipment he suspected of existing are reporting success.
They have just found two large, man-sized, clear plastic tanks, connected to one another. Both tanks were empty, but one was recently full of life support fluid, and the other had once held the same substance, perhaps up to a week ago. And the one that had been empty the longest was hooked up to sophisticated broadcast equipment.
The kind you might use to transmit consciousness through.
Not far from those two tanks is yet another one. It is a much older, metal cylinder covered with smaller, fluid-filled tanks, and inscribed with German writing. They report that it stinks of blood and lightning, and seems to have been activated a week ago, too.
The Dragon smiles, all too aware of what this means. He knows that secondary tank will have the entire genetic sequence for Second in it. And all they will need to do is activate it, grow another Second, and Embrace it after it's brought to life in order to continue controlling The Flier.
Operation Whack-a-Mole, indeed.
"I have good news" he tells the false face, getting up whispering in his decaying ear: "We no longer need you to perform this task. Set the final coordinates for the Island, and have us hover at cruising altitude. Then you may sleep."
"Thank you sir," the false face says, a look of pure joy on his withering face: "I hope to serve you when I become the butterfly."
"I hope to see you emerge from the cocoon," The Dragon says, gently patting his shoulder. When he takes his hand away, wet, collapsing tissue comes with it.
His final task done, the man gets a look of pure joy on his stolen face, and all but collapses to the floor. His knees splinter into patches of skin, fragments of bone, and slivers of dry, ropy muscle as he strikes the deck, and he flops forward a dead man.
* * *
Engineering is locked down tight, which is exactly what Second expected, and New Man feared. So far this has been far too easy, but once they knew where they were heading, it stood to reason they'd turn the deck into a virtual fortress.
Large, heavy metal crates have been pushed out into the hallway, and placed right ahead of the bulkhead doors. A large group of specials is behind the crates, their guns poked between them, and firing mercilessly on any targets that come into their narrow kill zones. Occasionally a few rise up above the crates and lay suppression fire, but they've stopped trying that after losing just about every group that does to the Agents' counter-fire.
"We're just about out of our guns," Second shouts over the firing, watching sadly as a group of Agents are perforated and set afire by flechettes: "I've got some Agents heading for the armory, but we'll need heavy ordinance to take them out."
"And the last thing we want is a blowback into the engines," New Man says, tossing his last pistol down as he ducks for cover behind a bulkhead.
"Do you have a better idea where they're taking us?"
"Middle of the Pacific," New Man says: "If we slow down in the right spot, we won't be too far from that last battle we had with GORGON."
"You don't think...?"
New Man just looks at him, and then their cover is half-obliterated by a wave of gauss-gun fire: "Can't we use their weapons?"
"Not without some massive tinkering. They don't work in our hands, apparently."
"Well !@#$," he says: "That means we don't have a lot of options."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm partially recharged," he says, holding up his hands, which crackle with seething, purple energy: "I can take them out by the door, but once I do I'm going to be useless for about fifteen minutes."
"And if there's more..." Second says, nodding.
"Sir, we're having problems at the armory," one of his Agents comes up to tell him: "They've got it locked down, too. They must have known we'd go there."
"Alright then," Second says, looking at New Man: "Get us in."
The Director nods, and, bravely stepping out into the field of fire, holds up both hands towards the Specials. They respond by shooting at him, but the streams of white hot metal darts are melted into metal steam by a larger, more powerful wave of throbbing, purple energy that emanates from the man's outstretched fingers.
The wave gains power and focus as it travels, becoming faster and more solid. By the time it reaches the crates it's sizzling the deck plates and bulkheads. Everything in its path -- crate, special, or gun -- is evaporated within seconds once the wave passes over. And then the wave shifts its shape to match the doorway exactly, and eats through that as well.
The purple wave dissipates. New Man sighs and falls down, weak and unresponsive. The Agents cry in joy and creep forward, going bulkhead to bulkhead and laying a curtain of small arms fire at the Specials who were just beyond the wave of destruction.
Second takes charge of his fallen Director and gets him back into cover. He orders an Agents to stay by him and let no one harm him, or interfere with his recuperation. And then he joins the others in the assault on the engineering deck, hoping that they've turned the corner on this.
But knowing that this has still been way too easy, up until now.
* * *
In the Secondary control room, the 3-D images indicate that The Flier is a few hours from its destination. But others show that the Engineering deck has been breached, which means it's only a matter of time before the Agents get too close for comfort.
The Dragon stands and gestures to the Specials in the room, indicating that they should leave the room and guard it. They do.
"My lady," he says: "We are on the final approach. The moment is at hand. The future is prepared for. May I execute the fourth phase?"
You may, an eerie, wet, and feminine voice in his head tells him: Are you prepared to become our voice?
"I have been prepared for this honor for years," he says, breathless in rapture.
Be certain. There is no turning back from this point.
"'The Caterpillar must bury itself alive and sleep before the butterfly can come out and soar,'" he quotes: "I am ready to soar."
Then you may begin, she says: Do what you have been instructed. All you need is love.
"Love is all you need," he replies, tears of joy rolling down his face.
From inside his uniform he pulls out a flashdrive. He inserts it into a port near the chair, and begins uploading a new program into The Flier. A floating green bar shows its progress.
And as it grows longer, he stretches out his arms, as if to receive something.
And begins to change...