By the time Amporn gets back to her body, she's already resigned herself to her fate. She failed to kill her targets, and it's doubtful that the backup team had any better luck than she did.
The mission was a failure, and therefore her life is forfeit.
She knows that the agents will burn her body, and stand there and watch to be certain that not even the smallest scrap of her escapes the flame. And then they'll sweep her ashes into the crate, and dump it in the ocean, somewhere -- just to be sure they're rid of her.
(Whether they'll burn the box too, or keep it as some grisly memento, is something she'd rather not think about.)
So she's more dumbfounded than relieved when she re-appears in the room, and finds that one of the Agents is dead -- shot right through the forehead -- and the other badly wounded, groaning on the floor, and missing his firearm.
For a moment she isn't sure what to do. Should she take her body and her box and run? If so, where to? Everything North is an armed camp, now. How long could she survive?
Or should she sit here, in her crate, and wait for ISOC to send more Agents to replace these fools? Say she stayed out of loyalty, and maybe they'll overlook her failure? Would that even matter?
She looks to the table, thinking that maybe the box will have the answers. But when she does, it's not there. She hisses in anger and frustration.
"'You're welcome' might be nice," someone says, stepping out of the shadows. He's a big and burly farang, dressed in the wrong black leather for this weather, and wearing an eyepatch.
And he has her box in his hands.
She's about to attack him, but something about the look from the eye she can't see makes her float backwards, instead -- instinctively terrified.
"Amporn, right?" he says, gesturing to her with the box: "Sorry if my colleagues were a little rough on you. We needed to make that look good."
"What are you talking about?" she spits, her voice a deep horn, her teeth extending sideways out of her mouth.
"We had no plans to kill you," SPYGOD explains, putting her box down on the table: "In fact, we are setting you free. It'll be dark, soon. You can get the !@#$ out of town."
"And why would you do that?" she asks, looking at him with what can only be called dire and utter suspicion: "Is this a peace offering? Do you think I will let you live?"
"I think you'd break your !@#$ing teeth on my fine, gay !@#$, honey," he chuckles: "It's been a while since I went at it with one of you, but it didn't end too well for her."
"Then what is this? What do you think you can command of me?"
"This isn't about commanding anything. I'm just tired of having these ISOC !@#$ers having a Penanggalan on their payroll."
"I'm a krasue, you fool" she hisses: "You're thinking of the ones from further South."
"There's a difference?"
"Oh, that's right. All Asians look the same to you farang."
He chuckles: "Good point. I apologize. But if you think I'm gonna take a lesson in racial awareness from someone who looks at me like a steak on legs, you're !@#$ing crazy."
She looks at him, her black in red eyes flaring, and then she actually smiles: "I see your point. So am I to expect that you will simply let me take my things and go, and that you will not try to stop me?"
"That's pretty much it, yeah," he says, lighting up a very noxious cigarette.
"You know I'll feed."
"And you know who I will feed upon."
"Yep," he says, inhaling and exhaling, blowing strange rings of smoke into the air: "Pregnant women. Little kids. Puppies and kittens. See if I !@#$ing care."
"How are you so cold?" she asks, touching down onto the table and taking hold of the box with a fleshy loop of her muscular intestine tail: "Are you broken in your mind?"
"Not really," he says: "But they say one person's monster's just another person's predator. Antelopes got lions, bugs got bats, and we get... well, you."
"How very... cosmopolitan of you."
"Well, that and there's worse monsters out there, in case you hadn't noticed," he says, turning to leave the room: "Speaking of which, I have places to go and things to do. Don't mind me?"
"Wait," she says before he can put a hand on the door: "You cannot simply leave like this."
"I can't?" he looks back: "You sure you want to be !@#$ing telling me what I can and can't do?"
"We monsters have rules, same as you," she says, flapping forward and stopping right in front of him, looking him literally eye to eye: "You have saved my life, farang. I owe you a favor."
"A favor," he says, getting a weird gleam in the eye she can't see: "Are you sure you want to do that?"
"I am certain," she says: "A life for a life, that is the law."
"And don't we just !@#$ing love the law?" he smirks: "Alright, then. I'll accept. Come to think of it, your particular skill set might come in pretty useful for a job I need doing."
She laughs: "More killing? I am always happy to do that-"
"Not this time," he says, holding up a hand: "In fact, I want you to not kill someone. Several someones, in fact. Can I get you to promise me that?"
"What all does this favor entail?" she asks, clearly intrigued.
So he tells her, in crisp and exacting detail, exactly what he wants her to do. Somewhere in that telling -- maybe halfway through -- she becomes convinced that he knew the rules already, and has engineered this entire scenario just to get his hands on her 'skill set.' But the rules are the rules, and without them she is less than nothing, so she bites back any comments she might have about his true motives, and agrees to his terms and his timetable.
After that, he leaves the room, and she takes the opportunity to feed on the ISOC Agent he left alive for her. It's not the slow, sick, and torturous fate she'd had planned for this one, but the fear in his eyes makes the meal sweet and full, if lacking in twisted invention. And when she pours herself back into her waiting body, she does so with a full belly and a content mind.
As soon as it's dark she leaves the room and enters the street beyond -- another lovely, young Thai out for a nighttime stroll in the humid, neon-lit Patpong night. She drinks deep of her freedom, mind roiling with the delicious, wet possibilities it holds, and cradles the box like it was her child.
A late rain shower slakes the city's thirst. When it abruptly vanishes, so has she.
* * *
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The jungle is hot and wet, and filled with layers of noise. Predators and prey, mostly, along with the wind and other, stranger noises.
Especially the ones that come from the large, white box outside of the town.
The box is about the size of an olympic stadium, and made from thick, white sheets of plastic. It hums and thrums, and occasionally crackles. At night it's lit up from within, and the lights seem to be moving around, and casting strange, otherworldly shadows against the walls.
Nothing grows next to the box. The trees and grass have withered and died. Animals don't dare come too close, and on the occasion that one blunders into the dead zone by accident, it falls down dead and twitching within three steps -- their brains gushing out of their eyes, nose, and ears.
Even the insects will leave those festering corpses alone.
The box is where the children went, last June. Their parents were moved to a high-tech tent city, just north of the town, but all but their youngest kids were sent to the box, where they were promised educational facilities far beyond anything they could have dreamed of, and opportunities unknown to the world.
The box was shut around them, and there they have stayed. Every week they hold a teleconference with their parents, and tell them what they've learned, but no visitations have been held, and no leaves of absence permitted. Except for the Imago, no one comes in, and no one goes out.
The shrieking, whip-thin thing that was once a brilliant monster flies out of the side of the box, wide-eyed and panicking. Her red eyes are starting from her skull, and she's screaming so hard her long, barbed tongue seems in danger of popping out of her mouth.
The moment she hits the sunlight, she catches on fire. She doesn't seem to care about this. Her lungwings smolder and blacken, her intestine tail goes up like someone soaked it in gasoline, and her other parts singe and smoke in the unforgiving rays of the Sun. All it does is make her fly even faster, aiming for the line of trees outside of the dead zone, and the cool, dark areas therein.
She finally gets there, after what seems an eternity of burning, and crashes to the dense, wet ground. A shivering mess that's as much goosh as crumble, she inhales deeply of the air, and tries to force herself to heal. But with so little energy left to her, the effort proves too much, and she blacks out, instead.
When she comes to, late that night, she discovers that scavengers have been feeding from her, thinking her just another body, ripe for the consuming. She gladly turns the tables on them, taking enough sustenance from their small and furry forms to heal the worst of her wounds.
And then, on crusty wings barely made airworthy, she takes to the skies: a wounded nightmare, seeking the warm, meaty safety of her hidden body.
* * *
Pong Pha, Thailand
At a small, frankly scruffy, open-air bar in the center of the village, a strange man dressed like a tourist -- but clearly anything but -- stands and sips an off-brand, local beer, feeling rather nonplussed.
The place promised Singha. The cracked and dirty mirror behind the bar says Singha. The non-functioning neon sign that's on the place's only outside wall says Singha. Even the cheap paper coasters says Singha. But it turns out it's the one beer they don't have, and the smiling, nervous barkeep's insistence that the watery, local brew is even better is not going to get him a good tip.
SPYGOD sighs, wondering if he should trade up for one of the imported Whiskeys the man's been encouraging him to try for the last half hour, but then he hears his contact coming down the road.
"You got anything Polish?" he asks the man in eerily perfect Thai. The man starts, and admits he doesn't know the first thing about European beers, but by the time he's made a complete fool of himself, SPYGOD can hear that Dr. Krwi is getting his flask out, which is good news for everyone, frankly.
"Buy you a drink?" he asks, anyway, turning around and smiling.
He takes the old man's fist in his face without so much as ducking. He closes his eyes, opens them up again, and sees that the vampire hunter is red and shaking with anger.
"That !@#$ing good, huh?" he asks, trying to regain his smile.
The bartender gasps and starts making useless threats, but SPYGOD tosses him some baht and tells him to take the whole !@#$ing day off. He does, and with a lot of dispatch.
"You are despicable," the old man says, taking a swig from his flask and pointedly not offering the man any: "Devoid of conscience. Uncaring and amoral. I... if I were not your ally-"
"How about my friend?" SPYGOD asks, crooking his nose back into joint and wincing at the pain: "Or have we crossed that line, too?"
"Oh, we crossed that some time ago," Dr. Krwi says, having another swig, and then going behind the bar to steal a bottle of whiskey: "There are times when I feel pity for those I slay, (REDACTED). They are often as much a victim of what's happened to them as their prey is. But you? You chose to become this. You choose to do these things."
"Cry me a !@#$ing river, Doc," SPYGOD says, knocking back the beer and thumping the bottle onto the table: "And pour me a double while you're at it. It sounds like I'm going to need it."
"You have no idea," the old man says, and begins to tell the story he just heard from a dying vampire.
(SPYGOD is listening to Nemesis (Shriekback) and having a beer so !@#$ty we're not going to name it here)