Chapter 12: Sweet Melissa
"Tom Bishop?" Z asked. Although he had never actually met Tom before, he knew the face well.
"Surprised?" Tom asked, a wicked little smirk on his face.
"Yeah, I admit I am. What the fuck are you doing working for the Conspiracy?"
"So now you drop the pretense, eh? Now you're perfectly willing to admit who you're working for."
Indeed, although his statement had just slipped out without thought, Z realized that there was probably no point in hiding anymore. He had no reason to suspect that Tom wouldn't have known about his dealings with FES; Dogplatter himself had mentioned Tom on multiple occasions, often in hushed tones, like he was talking about a great human being, an Einstein or a Galileo. Dogplatter clearly had the utmost respect for Tom, which just made his presence at AS Inc all the more confusing. Tom Bishop, a traitor to the flat earth cause? It just boggled the mind.
"Well, I guess there's no point. Listen, I swear I don't know anything."
"I don't believe you, but it doesn't matter. What do you think you might have told me that I didn't already know?"
Dread blanketed Z. He was right. But that just raised more questions...
"You're wondering why we're keeping you here. I can read it in your face," Tom said quietly.
"Well, yeah. What's the point?"
Tom smiled. "I wanted to show you something," he said. He walked over to a television at the back of the room and switched it on. There was an overhead view of a school on the screen; Z could see flames shooting out of several of the windows.
"Do you know what that is?" Tom asked Z. Z shook his head.
"That's a satellite image of the Flat Earth Information Repository," Tom explained. "At this moment several of our agents are laying waste to it. Do you know what was going on in there today, Z?"
Z felt his heart fall into his stomach. He did know what was going on there; Dogplatter had told him about Chrisetti and about his planned convention. He nodded.
"At this moment we're destroying everything in that building. Your friends are probably already dead," Tom said.
Z shut his eyes tightly, fighting back tears. When he opened them again, he noticed several human shapes, tiny but clearly visible, emerge from a gazebo in the center of the courtyard. There looked to be better than a dozen of them, and he couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like they were armed. Z smiled a little. He was sure he recognized Dogplatter among them.
"They're not dead yet," he said. "At least not all of them."
Angrily, Tom backhanded Z across the face. Then he quickly pulled out his cellphone and dialed a number.
"What's the status of the operation?" he asked whoever was on the other line. There was a moment of silence, and then he said, "What do you mean you haven't found them?" Another pause, then: "Several of them appear to be in the courtyard attempting to ambush you. They're moving toward the north wing." Then there was a long pause, and Tom shouted, "Just make sure you find them and take care of this!" He angrily hung up the phone. Z was smiling again despite the pain.
"Oh, you think it's funny, huh?" Tom said before swiping him across the face again. "I'll be back shortly," Tom said. "I have to consult with some colleagues. Just sit tight." And then he walked out of the room, leaving the blindfold off Z's eyes and the television on.
"Satellites don't exist, you stupid fucker," Z said quietly once Tom was out of the room. He spat out a tooth. "Son of a bitch," he mumbled.
After an anxious trip that seemed to Mrs Peach to take forever, the platform finally reached the top. There were no walls around them, although there was a ceiling. There was a warm breeze and the sun shone brightly above. Mrs Peach felt somewhat energized by the outdoor air, something it seemed like she hadn't felt in a lifetime.
"Okay," Dogplatter said. "Everybody ready?"
"As ready as we're gonna be, I reckon," JackASCII replied.
"Good enough," Dogplatter replied. They began shuffling off the platform, and Mrs Peach saw for the first time that it was a gazebo they had arisen into. "We're going to all enter at the same place. After that I suggest we split up. There are at least twelve of them scattered all through the building."
"Let's get those bastards," Theonlydann said angrily.
"Yes, I admire your spirit," Dogplatter responded. He began walking swiftly toward the north side of the building, and the rest of the group followed. When he reached the door Dogplatter pulled out a set of keys, each one with a number at the top. He quickly found the correct one (number 4) and unlocked the door.
"Let's try to keep it quiet," he cautioned. Then they all walked in.
The hallway the door led to was silent. It was curious how hushed everything seemed, with all the bedlam that was going on. Then, without warning, a grenade skirted around the corner, stopping several feet short of the group. "Look out!" JackASCII shouted; they all ran the other way as the grenade went off, breaking the stillness with a loud explosion. Chaos had finally arrived, perhaps a bit overdue.
Two Conspiracy agents came around that corner, firing their guns at the group. They were expecting us, Mrs Peach thought, as she ducked. On her belly, she quickly and carefully aimed her Semmerling LM4 at the one on the left and fired. His neck exploded and he fell to the floor, dead eyes staring out of a head that was now only half-attached to his shoulders. Before she could even begin aiming at the other one she saw the side of his head erupt. A second later, he was lying lifeless on the floor beside the other. Blood slowly pooled and congealed around them.
"Piece of cake," Masterchief said.
"Was anybody hit?" Dogplatter asked. They all shook their heads (a miracle as far as Mrs Peach was concerned) and Masterchief said "Only them," pointing at the Conspiracy agents. Nobody laughed.
"Okay, that's two down. Now we should all split up," Dogplatter said, repeating his advice from earlier. He, The Engineer, Narcberry, Kasroa, Masterchief, and JackASCII went in the direction the Conspiracy agents had just come from, accompanied by two of their own agents; Mrs Peach, Theonlydann, Saddam, Oscar Wilde, Nomad, The Skeptic, and the other two agents started going the opposite way. Looking back Mrs Peach saw Masterchief take notice of the vest with two unused grenades that was around one of the Conspiracy agents and knelt down to take it off him.
"What are you doing?" JackASCII asked him.
"I'm gathering weapons," Masterchief responded. He put the vest around him, and with that the two slipped around the corner.
After watching this Mrs Peach caught up with Theonlydann. "You're sure you're up to this?" she asked him.
"Yeah," he said as they walked. "I have to find Raist."
Mrs Peach kept a sharp eye as they walked down the hall. So far things seemed pretty clear. She was relieved, although she knew such calm probably wouldn't last very long.
"Raaaaiiiisssstttt!" Theonlydann screamed as they walked. He kept ducking his head into rooms as they walked past them. Many were destroyed but none had anybody in them.
"Quiet, Dann!" Mrs Peach scolded him. She was getting a little angry at his foolishness.
"Sorry," he replied. At that instant a bullet whizzed past her head, hitting the wall just up ahead. Dammit, I have to pay attention! she thought as she whirled around and aimed in one swift motion. She fired off a shot that missed. Theonlydann didn't, though. His bullet caught the Conspiracy agent in the forehead, causing him to stagger a bit, then fall.
"Nice shot," Mrs Peach said, her earlier anger now fading.
"Thanks," he said. "Beginner's luck, I guess. I've never fired a gun before in my life."
They continued on, now turning another corner. They were now just down from the gymnasium; there was a figure lying belly-down motionless on the floor. Mrs Peach turned him over to read the name tag. It was Sokarul. Despite never having liked Sokarul she still felt pain at seeing him lying there dead on the floor.
Mrs Peach saw a shadow sticking out from around the corner ahead, in the hall leading to the side door to the gymnasium. She quietly aimed as the figure emerged. It was a Conspiracy agent, ready to fire at her. She beat him to it, and he was soon sprawled on the floor himself, dead. That was for Sokarul, she thought.
"You're really good," Theonlydann said.
"I have a lot of experience," she replied. Quickly she walked up to that corner and whirled around, gun at the ready position. The hall was empty.
They walked quietly up to those big double doors where they had entered the gymnasium earlier. Quickly Mrs Peach opened the door. Looking in she could see that the gymnasium was totally empty, and completely destroyed, debris lying everywhere. There was destruction all around them but this scene was particularly poignant; something like fifteen minutes ago they had all been gathered in that gymnasium, and it had been in tip-top shape.
"Raist!" she heard Theonlydann scream behind her. She turned around and saw that Theonlydann was turning the corner at the other side of the gymnasium. She hurried after him.
"I told you to be quiet!" she said as she followed him. But when she turned the corner she saw what Theonlydann had been reacting to. There, lying on the floor, was Raist, her pretty brown hair matted with blood.
"Raist, no!" Theonlydann said, oblivious to Mrs Peach's chiding. Her heart went out to him.
As he bent down and lifted up her head Mrs Peach kept watch behind them.
"Dann?" she heard a female voice say weakly.
"Oh, God, Raist, you're still alive!" Theonlydann said.
Raist coughed. Blood came spewing out as she did so. "I don't know for how long," she said. Theonlydann hugged her tightly.
"No, don't talk like that. We'll get you help," Theonlydann said.
Satisfied that the coast was clear for the time being, Mrs Peach walked over to them. Immediately she saw that there was a large hole in Raist's chest, right next to the heart. The shirt she was wearing was soaked through with blood.
"Don't worry, Raist, you're gonna be all right," Mrs Peach said, trying to comfort her. She knew better though. She had seen wounds like that, first-hand, and she knew that Raist's chance of survival was probably close to zero at that point.
"You're sweet," Raist said, her voice barely above a whisper. "You know, Dann, I never told you my first name. Isn't that weird?"
"Oh, sweetie, it's okay," Theonlydann said.
"It's Melissa," Raist choked out. Then she coughed a little more, blood spraying out.
"Oh, Melissa," Dann said, crying. "That's such a pretty name."
"Avenge me," Raist said, her voice now a barely audible croak. Then her eyes went glassy, and her chest stopped moving.
"Raist? No," Theonlydann mumbled.
"I'm sorry, Dann," Mrs Peach said. "She's gone."
"No, she can't be. We have to help her."
Mrs Peach bent down and put her arm around Theonlydann's back softly. She hugged him, and he hugged back. Now they were both in tears.
Oscar Wilde wrote:The Flat Earth Society - "You'll feel like you're stoned...but you're not."