"I do not believe this," Man of Steel hisses at Mark Clutch, his outburst temporarily halting everything going on in the crowded workshop: "Have I not been a good ally? Have I not earned your trust?"
"You have, sir," Mark replies, putting his tools down and turning to fully regard the metal-skinned man who's been berating him for the last few minutes: "The Lion has vouched for you, and I'm willing to accept his trust in you-"
"Then why the secrecy? Why will you not tell me this one simple thing?"
"Be quiet!" Skyspear says, putting a hand on the man's shoulder and trying to usher him to the door: "You are embarrassing us in front of our host!"
"He is embarrassing me," Man of Steel replies, not turning to look at her: "He is embarrassing all of us! He won't tell us because we're outsiders. Can't you see that?"
"I can't tell you what I don't know," Mark calmly says, holding up his hands: "I'm sorry that you feel that I'm withholding information, but that is not true. As soon as I know where SPYGOD is, and what he is doing, and I can tell you, I will tell you. But until then, please believe me when I say that I have no more of an idea that you do-"
"You could ask your leader," Man of Steel insists, getting right back in Mark's face: "Does he not know? What kind of a revolution is he leading if he does not know where is leader is?"
"The revolution we've got," Myron says, hardly even looking up from his work, nearby (though one could assume he's staring daggers from behind the sunglasses he's taken to wearing, again): "Now will you please !@#$ off and let us work in peace?"
Man of Steel takes a step towards Myron, but suddenly Winifred is in his way, brandishing a laser lance.
"Back. Off," she insists: "You're making a fool of yourself. Stop it before someone stops you."
"And you will be stopped," Skyspear says, putting her hand back on his metal shoulder: "The work going on here will win this war. We do not have time for you to smash it to pieces to get an answer to a question you clearly do not deserve."
Man of Steel scowls at her, and then, slowly, turns and leaves the room. If it had a door he probably would have slammed it hard enough to break it.
"I am very sorry for his behavior," Skyspear says: "I will speak to the Lion and Crocodile about this. It will not go unaddressed."
"What's gotten into him?" Mark asks, shaking his head: "He was so quiet and jovial, and now...?"
"Maybe something's eating him up," Winifred suggests, going back to what she was doing and trying not to look at Myron, who may or may not be looking at her: "Worried about family, maybe."
"Maybe he's an !@#$hole and we're just finding out now," Myron opines, putting down his tools and leaving the room rather abruptly. Mark sighs at that, shrugs, and puts down his own things.
"Maybe we could all do with a break," he says: "The schedule we're on is pretty punishing. I guess it's just a matter of time before tempers flare up."
"I thought you American heroes were all calm and rational in a crisis?" Skyspear asks, smiling at him.
"Now that is just not true..." he laughs, walking out with her, leaving only Winifred, who goes back to what she was working on and keeps at it like a woman possessed.
Every once in a while she stops, bites her lip, and stifles a sob. But that does not make her stop working. It just makes her work even harder, as though she had something to prove.
Or something to avenge.
"Ma'am, he said he didn't want to be disturbed," the security guard tells the Base Commander, but she's not taking no for an answer. She gestures for him to get out of her way, and he sighs, nods, and steps aside, letting her enter the hatchway to the communications array.
"Acting Commander Barbara Martin," she says, and the light goes from red to green. There's a hiss and the door slides open, and then, once she's through, it slides shut again. And she walks down the length of the hallway like she had a purpose, wondering just what she's going to say to the man who's effectively dethroned her.
When Alpha Base Seven was attacked, along with the rest of the world, on 3/15, the actual Commander was obliterated along with half of the installation, and almost three-quarters of its crew. As chief engineer, Barbara was down in the secondary reactor core, attending to a faulty pressure valve -- a malfunction that saved her life, and saw her instantly promoted to Acting Commander once they'd ascertained who'd lived and who'd died.
The first few decisions she had to make were critical, and the answers were not promising. They could not communicate back to Earth without risking being attacked again, they could not send up any spacecraft without taking the same risk, and they didn't have a hope of fighting back against Deep Ten, itself. All they could do was pool their resources and knowledge, rebuild what they could, and find a way to survive on what little remained.
It was touch-and-go for a few months, but eventually enough of the wounded and maimed died to stabilize their life support requirements. The hydroponic gardens were brought back up to full production, again, and they were able to find a way to ruin the reactor "quietly," so that Deep Ten might think that any energy they detected from the base's ruins was merely background radiation, and not a working base.
Once the base was put back together as best they could, they dug in and prepared for a long haul. If Deep Ten had been compromised, then it might be years before they would be rescued, so the best thing they could do was stay quiet, stay hidden, and survive.
But then, one day, there came a knocking on their outside airlock. They opened it to receive the last visitor that anyone could have imagined, and once they had him secured and stabilized he told them the truth about what had happened. And he exercised his authority to demand certain changes and provisions, the better to deal with the situation at hand.
That was months ago. Since then, Barbara's had numerous chances to regret having opened the airlock door, and letting the maimed cyborg into their lives.
As she enters the remnants of their secondary communications array, she sees that he doesn't even turn around to look at her. Like a man made from sticks, he toddles from one open box of circuits to another on spindly limbs, and picks and chooses what he needs like an old woman deciding what chocolates to eat next.
"Director Straffer," she says after a tense minute: "I need to talk to you."
"Ah, Barbara," he says, turning around to look at her: "I was wondering how long it would take you to come down here."
She smiles, trying not to concentrate on his grotesque appearance: a bloated, stapled-together torso held up by steel hips and skinny, metal legs, with arms more metal than meat above them. Only his head seems to have escaped the horrors of his long fall through space, but his eyes are dark and sunken, and every so often he has to wipe blood from his nose and ears.
(His blonde hair is perfect, she notices. He's made every effort to make it look as lovely as he can. It's the only thing he can fully control, she figures. And that makes her incredibly sad, but no less angry.)
"I need to talk to you about the parts requisition you just made," she says, speaking as slowly and calmly as she can: "It's going to take most of our last stores of resistors. We need those to be sure that our controls for the reactor stay functional."
"After this, we won't need those," he says, patting the controls he's working on: "Once this is working, and we have our go, we won't be staying here for much longer."
"Is that what your friends told you?" she says, remembering the day the magician arrived, just under a month ago: "Are they really going to be able to teleport us all out of here?"
"Maybe," he says: "Or maybe they'll just send up some rockets on autopilot. I don't know for sure, Barbara. All I know is that we have a chance to help win the war, here, and you're worried about the reactor not having enough parts to have a triple redundancy."
"I realize that you have your priorities, Straffer. But I have mine. The safety of this moonbase is my first priority. I cannot allow you to jeopardize it-"
"Do you understand what you are saying?" he interrupts, stalking over to her quickly than she thought him capable: "I'm trying to save the Earth after an invasion, lady. And you're worried about safety margins?"
"If the reactor goes critical-"
"Then we're all dead. But if we don't knock Deep Ten out, then the things who took over the Earth will just zap the revolution from orbit, all over again. And that's not something that we can let happen."
"How about you be honest for a change?" he asks her, taking a step back: "This isn't about parts and safety margins at all, is it?"
"No," she sighs: "It isn't."
"It's about the fact that the moment we turn this thing on, it's going to make us a target, and there's a good chance that we'll be fried by a particle cannon before the device does what it's supposed to."
"Yes," she says, looking him square in the eyes: "My duty is to these people, Straffer. They depend on me to keep them safe."
"And what about your duty to Earth?" he asks: "What about your duty to fight for its freedom?"
She grits her teeth, scowls, and then turns around. He smiles and goes back to his work.
"This will work, Barbara," he says, getting ready to put some more components together: "If there's one thing I know how to do, it's hack my own weapons platform. And there is no !@#$ way the fake me up there's thought about what I'm going to do. So we fire this up, we knock out their cannons, and then you come home a hero...."
He turns to look at her, and sees that she's long gone.
"Well, I guess some people don't give a !@#$ about heroics," he says, and goes back to what he was about to do.
About halfway through the board, he realizes that he hasn't thought about SPYGOD in over an hour. He allows himself a quick moment to reminisce of better times -- the times that kept him alive and sane as he fell from the stars to the Moon -- and then gets back to work.
This will work. They will win. And if they're lucky, they'll all live to celebrate it.
And if not, well, at least he'll leave behind a pretty corpse -- won't he?
(SPYGOD is listening to Never Lost (Front 242) and having a Full Moon Beer )