The Well-Tailored Man, pt 2 – an excerpt from The Back Roads of Limbo

This is just a taste of one of the stories in my upcoming collection:

When he reached the bottom of the chute, it was with less of a crash landing than he’d expected, owing to the dense foam rapidly filling up the room even as he fell from the ceiling. He quickly pulled out the collapsable air mask from his bag and slipped it into place. The mask was cool against his skin, but not as cool as the foam, which was starting to harden. He twisted himself around to see where the exit was and lunged forward through the foam, nearly reaching the closed hatch before the foam had him up to the chest, denying him further purchase. Then he gripped and twisted the dial on his watch, aiming it in front of him; it began spraying the foam with an acid compound that his uniform was chemically-resistant to, dissolving the foam and buying him a few rapidly filling feet to the door.

Reaching into a pouch in the bag, he pulled out a few small shaped explosive charges and jammed them into the crevices of the door frame. He crouched down and waited for the explosion; the door shuttered and shook, but did not fall. He prepared to set more charges, but then, studying the damage through the ocular devices built into his mask, he smiled invisibly and stepped forward, tapping the door, which fell outward into an adjoining chamber.

Seated behind a marble-topped desk was a bald man with a wicked scar down one side of his face. He smiled menacingly. His hands weren’t visible.

“Mr. Ayers-Schot, I had wondered when you would find your way to our little corner of the world. I fear I’d almost given up hope of meeting you before this whole enterprise reached its conclusion.”
“Conclusion, Blaupunkt? You’re not surrendering to me already, I hope?”

“Goodness, no, man. I’m merely pointing out that you’re too late. The operation has reached a stage where even your vaunted skills as an irritant can no longer make any real difference. Even were I not seated behind a fully-loaded anti-personelle cannon aimed directly at you, I’d feel certain that your fate and that of your entire meddlesome organisation are soon to be a thing of the past. As it is, you’ve merely afforded me the opportunity to relish your defeat personally.”

“I’m sure your superiors will reward you for your victory over me, if you can get the job done.”

“Oh, it is done, Justin. The cannon I refer to isn’t one of your crude grenade throwers or guns. It’s a beam that has been steadily eroding your tissue for the last thirty seconds. Soon you should be coughing up blood and your bowels should empty. I regret it’s not a very dignified way to go, but you have been a particularly nettlesome problem for our organisation. As for my superiors, I have none. This operation has many heads, but all are on equal footing. You should have faced that truth and joined us while you had the chance.”

“What? You mean that awkward overture your Professor Hai tried to deliver to me in Marrakesh? If I’m going to turn coat, it’s going to be over something better than Chateau Lafite 1961.”

“Yes, you always did prefer champagne to wine, didn’t you. Can I offer you a nice Bollinger instead? Oh, but I suppose you won’t have time to enjoy it as your bowels dissolve. Perhaps you would do me the small boon of removing your mask so I can see the anguish that doubtless is suffusing your face even as we speak.”

“I’d… *cough cough* I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Have it your way, Ayers-Schot. Drown in your own blood and sputum for all I care. Your end is as inevitable as that of every law organisation that has tried to thwart us. We will sweep you all away like so much debris left over from the world war to come. When the dust clears, we shall rule the world in truth, and mankind will finally be raised above this petty existence to true greatness. No longer will the mediocre slogans and banal anthems fill our ears and incite us to fail quietly and accept our positions of weakness. The old order is die…. *Cough cough*… dying. We shall be the architects of a… *cough*…”

“What’s the matter, Blaupunkt? You were just getting to the good bit, I imagine.”

“What… what have you done?” Blaupunkt demanded weakly.

“Nothing. It’s just that, when you started filling this room with your disintegration waves, you failed to account for my uniform, which has been repelling the waves directly back to you. Perhaps you should have invested in a shield for yourself, old boy. Now, what do you say we turn it off before it does you any more harm?”

“Ridiculous! How could you even… *cough*… even have the technology to create such a suit. This is cutting edge technology. You shouldn’t be able… to… *cough*”

“Well, we are a counterterrorist organisation that deals in secrets on a regular basis. You didn’t think even your organisation was immune to our people, did you?”

“A mole? Impossible.”

“Not a mole. An entire fifth column. Your agents have been providing us with valuable information for the last eighteen months. Thank you, by the way. Your technological advances have been making my job so much easier, I’m almost too much muscle for such a mission. One of our junior field technicians could handle you now.”

“Arrogant… bastard… *cough*… why… you?”

“If you’ll turn the wave cannon off, I’ll explain.”

“Too… late. Wave has been off for the last two minutes… damage too extensive… you’ve killed me, Ayers-Schot.”

“I sort of figured as much. Then I’ll share, since we’re sharing today. You made a fatal mistake. You took Veigh-Hugh prisoner. That made it personal. You can save me a little trouble and tell me where you’re keeping the lad. Don’t feel you need to take me to him. I can pretty much navigate this viper’s den on my own, using the map we obtained last month. It is a rather large facility, however, and I must admit, I would probably be a lot less disposed to destroy every other facility as well if you handed him over to me without a fuss.”

Blaupunkt sat quietly, staring painfully at Ayers-Schot. In a moment, he slumped forward onto the desk and began bleeding copiously from every orifice. Ayers-Schot walked around to the other side of the desk, looking for the controls to the monitors. Switching on the screens and flipping through several channels, he found a dimly-lit room that looked likely. He tapped the node on the side of his mask to switch to map view and scanned around to find the room. It wasn’t on the map. Bastards had deliberately created a new room since the insurgency team took the base at Tokyo Bay. He’d have to scan in person.

He looked down at the liquifying remains of Holst Solus Blaupunkt, the chief military mind behind The NOCTURNE Group, the man who murdered his protégé’s newlywed bride, and, lifting the lip of his mask for a second, spit on Blaupunkt’s dissolving skull.

He searched the controls of the desk for the obligatory self-destruct switch. It was actually hidden in a panel on Blaupunkt’s chair, along with convenient controls to set the timer. Calculating that it would take him upwards of thirty-seven minutes to search the likeliest parts of the base to have additions built into the surrounding bedrock, he plotted his course and set the controls. Pausing over the activation switch, he smiled at the molten remains of Blaupunkt.

“Don’t get up, Holst. I’ll find my own way out. Shame you didn’t take us up on our generous offer last year in Kampuchea. Enjoy your retirement.”

Flipping the switch, he sauntered out of the room at a fair clip. He encountered two guards outside of Blaupunkt’s control room and quickly grappled with the closest, snapping his neck and using the corpse as a shield for the rifle the other guard trained on him. Seeing that it wasn’t a standard issue weapon, he pushed the corpse into its former comrade and followed with a strong right cross to the face, catching the guard in the nose and sending him reeling against the wall. The guard quickly recovered, but not before Ayers-Schot had his fallen comrade’s rifle levelled at him. Neither hesitated to fire, but only Ayers-Schot had his arms free of corpse to get a clear shot, and burn a hole through the man’s skull. The man dropped in a silent heap. His partner’s chest had a gaping hole in it, and looking behind him, Ayers-Schot saw that there was a visible scorch mark inches away from his head.

Looking down at the weapon, he surmised what it was and quipped, “Well, I can’t say I particularly mind the upgrade. Pity yours went off half-cocked.”

Slinging both rifle straps over his shoulders, he proceeded down the hallway, continually scanning for heat patterns behind the bulkhead walls as he passed sections not mapped with rooms. He had a handful more encounters with scientists and unprepared guards, and even made his way through the main staging areas and briefing rooms of the complex, but found nothing of use. He knew he needed to uncover the secret plans behind NOCTURNE’s next big operation, but the base was already quickly evacuating and leaving nothing behind. Time was running out, and he also hadn’t found Veigh-Hugh. He feared the mission would be a bust after all.

He made his way to one of the staging areas on the map, hoping to find a stray agent he could interrogate. He found the entire bay abandoned. Spotting heat signatures behind the wall in an unmapped space, he turned the particle rifles on the wall and burned his way in. The people inside were shredding and erasing evidence. Ayers-Schot turned the rifles on them, remorseless. They barely had time to scream.

© 2012 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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