by Renaissance Makoto J. (ルネサンス・真・J)
Snazzy spy music plays as a villain emerges from the shadows! Before him, his target is cloaked in darkness. The villain fires once, twice, three times. All three bullets are stopped by bulletproof glass that splinters, but does not shatter. Suddenly, light floods the room and there he is, Ulysses Hawke, the man from D.A.D.D.Y. The opening credits roll and the episode title appears:
The Very Gay Football Affair
“He has the look of a dangerous man”
Citizens, do not be alarmed! What appears to be another trendy cafe in lower Manhattan is actually a front for a secret network of highly-trained men and women, the dedicated agents of D.A.D.D.Y. Their mission: To protect the world from devastation and unite all people…oh, wait, no. That’s something else entirely.
No, D.A.D.D.Y. is determined to stop the evil plots hatched up by the organization known only as T.H.R.U.S.T., a villainous holdover of World War II.
Join us now at D.A.D.D.Y. Headquarters. It’s here, just behind the counter and through the stockroom. And then down a flight of stairs and past the bathroom on the right. Then take a sharp left and there’s a steel door. Unlock the steel door with a golden key and take the elevator down to the second floor. Tell the shadowy man there that “The shiny rock weighs little today,” and if he replies, “Yes, but the butter is sweet,” then you know you are free to proceed to a corridor hidden by a decorative fern and…
You know what? Never mind. You get the idea.
Welcome to D.A.D.D.Y.
Director Milton Spebbington nodded, his formidable eyebrows drawn down low.
“Mmm. Yes. I see,” he muttered into the communicator. His office afforded him a lovely view of the towers of Manhattan glinting in afternoon sunlight, but he paid no attention to it today.
“Well, then all we can do is wait,” he added. The briefest tinny whine of the courier on the other end of the line filled his large, state-of-the art office for several minutes.
Spebbington frowned. “I see. There could be any number of explanations for that. Perhaps you drank too much and blacked out for several hours? You don’t drink? Well, never mind then. Regardless, check in the minute Mr. Hawke is in position. Yes. Mmm.”
He lowered the communicator then turned to Elle, the newest of his young, nubile assistants. He wondered for a moment what the devil had happened to Wanda. Or, for that matter, Cindy who had been before Wanda. And what was the one before? Debra. Yes, that had been her name. Debra.
Elle gave Spebbington a confused look to match the one he was giving her.
“Sir?” she asked.
“Never mind,” he muttered and held out a hand. Elle gave him the report and he flipped it open, pushing Wanda from his thoughts. And Cindy. And even Debra.
“That’s from Section Five at our South American Outpost,” Elle said, flipping her dark curls over one shoulder. “Mr. Kozlov has made contact with Zidane. Now all we can do is wait.”
Spebbington scanned the report, then lowered it with a heavy sigh. He crossed his arthritic hands in front of his face and levelled a serious look at Elle.
“It’s all up to Mr. Kozlov and Mr. Hawke now.”
Elle bit her lower lip, a worried look on her lovely face. “Do you think they’ll succeed?” she whispered.
“The world depends, very much so, on their doing exactly that, Wanda,” replied Spebbington.
“It’s Elle,” she said.
“Oh, quite right. I apologize.”
The pair stared at the New York skyline thoughtfully, both holding perfectly still, waiting for the scene change. Only, it didn’t come. Suddenly, Elle seemed to remember something.
“Sir, we should be looking meaningfully the other way,” she advised.
“It’s just that the TV set is on the other wall, sir. And the game is on. The Very Important Football Game,” she said and nodded seriously. “People need to know it’s Very Important, so we should look at it.”
Spebbington jerked in surprise. “I do believe you’re right,” he sniffed and casually turned to face the wall where several televisions were flashing important events from around the world.
On the rightmost screen, a serious-looking reporter was standing in front of a busy picket line. The protesters held signs that said “Hollywood unfair!” and “Editors for better wages!”
“This is day fifteen of the editors’ strike with no end in sight,” said the reporter. “Representatives from the union have declined to comment, but several key individuals close to strike organizers have stated that the wage dispute began at the end of last year. I’ve spoken to a few of the strikers who claim that they are not paid for overtime hours, and are owed months of backpay. From Hollywood, California, Dave Peterson, sending it back to you in the studio.”
“Editors! Bah! Money-grubbing Hollywood types,” grumbled Spebbington. “Always complaining with their sunshine and their beaches and their expensive fusion restaurants.”
Elle cleared her throat pointedly. “That’s all very good, sir, but that’s the wrong news story.”
“Oh, is it?” Spebbington asked. “Why do we have so many screens, anyway? It’s all very confusing!”
“Be that as it may,” Elle said and gently moved his head to look the other way.
On the leftmost screen, a football game was being played. The pitch was well-kept and bright green. Footballers raced up and down it. The announcer rambled on in rapid Spanish.
“Gooooaaaaalllllllll!” he exclaimed after a tense moment of play. “Gooaallllllllllll!”
Speddington clenched his fist. “Dammit,” he said. “Trafalgar F.C. has won.”
On screen, there was a sudden close-up of a dark-skinned young man, dazzlingly handsome and full of energy. He was drenched in sweat, visibly exhausted from scoring that last amazing goal; a goal that had clenched victory for his team. But his brow was troubled. Clearly, the win was weighing heavily on him.
Elle looked terrified. “What do we do, sir?” she inquired.
“Get word to Command Central, Wanda. We’re going to need more help.”
“It’s Elle, sir.”
“Dammit, woman! Do be quiet!” he snapped.
Meanwhile, inside the T.H.R.U.S.T. fortress of the obscure South American nation of Guatasalvador, Commander Zidane Zidane was tending to a different sort of business….
The reinforced door of the outer chamber slid open and a young man staggered through, flanked by armed guards. He pulled up short as he encountered the towering form of Zidane Zidane.
The T.H.R.U.S.T. High Commander was 6’8″ and powerfully built, accustomed to intimidating others with his size. He wore loose-fitting, bright, white pants and nothing else, which showed off how his muscled chest glistened with oil and sweat. All the magazines from his small and contentious South American nation referred to him as The Bronze God. He was fond of the nickname. He had worked hard to be the strongest, the biggest, the most powerful. And he expected rewards for his troubles.
Zidane leered at the new arrival and the expression made him seem as dangerous as he was handsome.
“Ahh! Yes! The specialist!” Zidane exclaimed and prowled towards the small man in front of him. The newest member of his staff was rail-thin, blond, and possessed of eyes so blue they looked like gemstones. He was dressed in a suit and tie that somehow accentuated his small stature.
Zidane placed a sausage-sized finger beneath the man’s chin and forced him to look at him.
“Oh, yes! The famous doctor, Misha Kozlov, has arrived at last! But what is this?” he asked, eyes wide. “I was told you were brilliant, not that you were so beautiful.” He turned Misha’s face from side to side, making a thorough study of his fine features.
“My, my, my. A treasure has fallen into my lap, yes? What a lovely face. And this mouth,” Zidane added and rubbed his thumb over Misha’s full lower lip.
“Mr. Zidane,” Misha acknowledged cooly. “If you’ll show me to my lab….” he tried, barely able to speak around the heavy finger pushing against his lips.
“Ah, work, work! Yes, I recall. You are Russian, are you not? Always wanting to work! But must you start so soon? Hmmm? You should stay here. We can get to know each other.”
Zidane took a step closer and licked his lips suggestively.
“You’ll find that I’m very dedicated to my work,” said Misha flatly, but his cheeks were bright red on his pale face. Zidane seemed to find his cold demeanor delightful.
“A pity. A true man of science! I, myself, was never very studious. As you can see, I am a slave to other pleasures,” Zidane said and leaned over him until they were eye to eye. “Your charms could be put to better use,” he added.
Misha pulled away, but it made no difference as Zidane only leaned in closer.
“You would make an excellent toy,” purred Zidane and dipped his head lower until his breath was ghosting over Kozlov’s lips.
“But he is not a toy!” said a new voice as the door whooshed open and closed again. The new arrival was a whipcord-lean man with horn-rimmed glasses and dark, messy hair falling over his lean face. He wore a lab coat and his tie was askew at his long neck. His expression was murderous.
He insinuated himself between the Commander and Misha and shoved at Zidane’s bare chest. The big man took a step back, but it was clear he did it because he wanted to, not because the push had any effect. The man held his arms out wide to shield Misha from Zidane’s attentions.
“You keep your hands to yourself!” he said, giving Zidane a vicious look and crossing his arms. “Dr. Kozlov is here at my request! He is the greatest mind in his field and I cannot complete your precious project without him! You will not make him your new plaything!”
Zidane looked mildly amused. He placed a hand over his bulging chest. “You wound me, Mr. Spare. You imply—”
“I imply nothing! I know how you treat your boys.” His eyes slid to a corner where a beautiful, half-naked young man lounged in a chaise, his lips clearly bruised from activities that were all too easy to imagine. The young man waggled his fingers at the scientists and blew them both a kiss.
“Does he look mistreated?” Zidane asked, all smiles. “Does he look unhappy? Does he look like he wants to run away? Mm? He serves me and likes it.”
“I really do,” the man in the chaise called out to them in rough voice.
“That is neither here nor there,” said Spare, blushing furiously. “Dr. Kozlov will be occupied for the duration of his stay. In the lab. With me!” Spare shouted.
Zidane laughed his booming laugh and took one more step back. “Ah, yes. Fine, I understand. You win, Mr. Spare. I understand that you have…staked your claim?”
Spare blushed even brighter and mumbled embarrassedly, but Misha looked gratefully at the other scientist when Spare placed a hand on his shoulder and tugged him towards the door.
Whoosh! opened the door.
“We will report on our progress this evening!” Spare said over his shoulder. He glared at the guards that followed at his heels, watchful and grim. Whoosh! the doors closed again. All the doors in his fortress, in fact, whooshed. Zidane demanded it.
Zidane watched the doors feeling satisfied with all the whooshing and lowered his big hand to adjust himself. The guards that remained to protect him watched him with knowing smiles and he smiled right back at them. Then he turned to his newest boy. What was his name? Miguel? Juan? He simply couldn’t keep them straight. They were all so lovely. They were none of them who he was looking for.
“Ahh, Juan,” he said and pushed a knee between his plaything’s spread thighs.
“It’s Miguel,” the young man snapped as he wrapped his arms around Zidane’s tapered middle.
“That was my first pick, but then I second-guessed myself,” Zidane admitted and slowly started undressing Miguel, whose mouth was turned down in displeasure.
“You like him,” Miguel pouted. “This Russian. You looked at him in such a way.”
Zidane acknowledged this with a nod of his dark head. “I find him fascinating. He has the look of a dangerous man, did you not see?”
“He is just a nerdy scientist. Skinny and weak,” Miguel huffed.
Zidane pushed Miguel down, forced his hands above his head and laughed. “You are blind, my pet. Our Dr. Kozlov has fire in his soul. Did you see his eyes?” When Miguel shook his head, Zidane smiled his wild smile. “He has the eyes of a hunter. I want to break down this wall of cool he has up. I want to learn his secrets.”
He mouthed at Miguel’s neck, stroked down his chest.
“You just want to bang him,” Miguel huffed.
“Yes, that too,” Zidane agreed.
Then there was a tasteful fade to black….
Meanwhile, in the jungles not far from the Guatasalvador T.H.R.U.S.T. fortress, Agent Ulysses Hawke was in a bit of a pickle…
Agent Ulysses Hawke, Section Two, Number One, managed to look calm and collected, even with his hands above his head in surrender. He was dressed to rough it in the jungle, dark greens and browns and a backpack slung over his broad shoulders. Ulysses believed that roughing it didn’t mean he had to neglect fashion, so there were perfect creases in his slacks and a very dapper cravat around his strong neck.
He looked unconcerned to be confronted by two uniformed T.H.R.U.S.T. guards, armed with machine guns and glaring at him.
“Gentlemen,” he said and smiled winningly, “this is not what it looks like.”
He jerked his head at the collection of equipment and devices behind him. “I dabble in meteorology, you see,” he said, teeth gleaming.
“Senõr, we are going to ask you to come with us,” said the guard on the left.
“Is that really necessary?” Ulysses asked, as friendly as could be. He laughed a little, the nicest guy in the world. Not dangerous at all!
A dark lock of hair came undone and covered one sparkling brown eye. “Woops!” he added and shifted to push the hair back.
“Don’t move!” shouted the guard on the right.
“Now, now,” said Ulysses as he slicked the hair back into place. “Let’s not be hasty.”
Quick as a whip, he moved, his open palm went flying, right at the neck of the first guard.
Then he whirled, smooth as a cat, and his open palm went swishing down at the neck of the second.
“Hiiii-ya!” Ulysses cried. Then he stepped away, looking left and right for more danger. Seeing none, he relaxed, sparing one last superior glance to his enemies. He fixed his cravat and hair until he was back to looking flawless. Then he gathered up the guns and returned to his equipment.
“Open Channel G,” he said into the communicator.
“Channel G is open,” replied a winsome voice.
“Ahh, Wanda,” Ulysses said, an image of the beautiful woman flashing in his mind.
“It’s Elle,” the voice replied back.
“Huh,” said Ulysses. “What happened to Wanda?”
“Mr. Hawke,” interrupted Spebbington. “You are not at the airport. Our tracker shows you outside T.H.R.U.S.T. headquarters. Why are you not in position?”
“Sir, I was concerned for Misha,” Ulysses said, glancing at the unconscious guards. “He was able to infiltrate the fortress too easily. I smell a rat.”
“Mr. Hawke, I am very disappointed. Need I remind you how important Esteban Torres is to both our agency and to T.H.R.U.S.T.? Your orders are to meet the football team Trafalgar F.C. when they land and ensure Esteban Torres’ safety,” Spebbington scolded. “You worry about your mission. Your partner is perfectly capable. He’ll do his part. See to it that you do yours!”
“Yes, sir,” Ulysses said through his teeth.
“Very good. Check in once Esteban Torres is secure.”
“Hawke out,” Ulysses said and almost stomped on the communicator in anger once the line went quiet.
Ulysses was left to his thoughts. It was painful even imagining leaving Misha alone in the clutches of T.H.R.U.S.T. Yes, his cover was good. After all, his partner was a brilliant mechanical engineer, chemist, physicist, and Master of Disguise. No one else could have gone under such deep cover. And, yes, Ulysses trusted that Misha would retrieve the plans and get them out of the fortress safely, but he had a terrible feeling about this mission. Ulysses wished he could have been there to watch Misha’s back.
“Dammit, partner,” he said. “Call in.” His meaningful stare into the distance was suddenly interrupted as one of the guards groaned and rolled around at his feet. Ulysses sprang into action.
“Hiiii-ya!” he cried and sent another Karate Chop to the guard’s neck.
“Ow,” complained the guard.
“Hii-ya! Hiii-ya!!!!” Hawke said. Chop, chop went Ulysses’s hand.
“Ow, ow! What are you doing?” groaned the guard.
“Cut it out! I bruise easily! What is that even supposed to do? It’s just painful!!!”
Ulysses rolled his eyes, grabbed a nearby tree branch, and whacked the guard over the head. It was a relief when the guard finally went still.
Ulysses sighed and returned to looking into the distance meaningfully. “Misha,” he whispered.
Meanwhile, inside the Secret Laboratory of the T.H.R.U.S.T. headquarters in Guatasalvador…
Misha was fitting in well at T.H.R.U.S.T. No one seemed to suspect him. Nevertheless, he had a small problem. It was one he should have seen coming, one well known to both himself and Ulysses. Undercover he may have been, and a sworn enemy of T.H.R.U.S.T. he certainly was, but the greater part of him was a scientist and he had just been presented with a puzzle. The device was clearly a remote of some kind, weighty for its size, and featuring a colorful array of buttons and switches. At the moment, it was connected via a tangled web of wires to a hulking computer in the far corner.
The remote did not even recognize that it was connected to the computer. It in fact, was behaving as if its circuits had been fried quite neatly. Misha cracked the case and instantly the Fog came over him. It happened from time to time, this laser focus that dropped his surroundings into hazy, indefinite shapes, as if they were, indeed, obscured by fog. Ulysses had told him that he became a different man during the Fog; his eyes went blank and his mouth slack. Misha knew now when one came upon him, but he had yet to find a way to escape its hold.
He was aware of his hands moving, grabbing tools, flying over the circuit boards. Time passed on, stretched out like elastic between one moment and the next. A sauder here or there, a screw turned, the snap of a case. The Fog cleared and the thing was done. There were satisfactory beeps and clicks coming from the computer in the corner and a series of pleasing blinking lights coming from the remote. Misha rubbed his eyes and looked up.
Spare was gazing at him with a bright, admiring expression on his face. It occurred to Misha that Mr. Spare was standing very close to him.
“How did you do that so quickly?” Spare asked, eyes full of wonder.
Misha shrugged. “It was simplicity itself,” he said, looking at his hands to hide the lie. “Now, if you’ll look here…” he said as Spare shuffled in closer to him.
“Yes, yes,” Spare said. He reached up to push his glasses up his nose where they slid down, but he missed completely and smudged them terribly.
“Oh, drat. Not again,” he cried and then removed his glasses to clean them with a cloth he pulled from his lab coat pocket. There was a change in the air. The guards stationed at every door leaned in closer. Misha went still.
Where the gangly, awkward Mr. Spare had been standing was now a gorgeous, luscious specimen of a man. He had sculpted cheekbones, flashing green eyes, and lips as kissable as on any woman. He breathed on his glasses loudly, a terrible kind of breathy sound to come from such an Adonis.
“Haahhhhhhhhhhh. Hahhhhhhhh,” came the noise. But the gorgeous man added, “I’m quite blind without them.” He squinted at Misha, then wrinkled his perfect nose.
“Uhhh,” said Misha smartly.
Task complete, the Greek God replaced his glasses. The electricity in the air fizzled out. The guards at the door shook themselves awake and leaned away again. Misha’s mouth snapped shut. Gangly, nerdy Mr. Spare was back, as unappealing as yesterday’s garbage.
“Dear Lord, it’s like a magic trick,” Misha muttered confusedly.
“Oh, that,” Spare said with a shrug. “So you noticed, huh?”
“Very difficult not to,” Misha said.
“WelI…I used to wear contacts,” Spare admitted. “I switched to glasses when I…well, never mind. Anyway, it’s a good thing I did. It would be impossible to get anything done with these goons drooling all over me.” He jerked his thumb at the guards stationed at the door. Their militaristic uniforms were tight-fitting and left nothing to the imagination. It was very clear what most of them had been thinking about.
“I admit…the glasses are…very effective,” said Misha.
“Yes, they are. You might think of getting some yourself.”
“Whatever for?” inquired Misha.
“Well, you are very…appealing,” Spare said, nervously glancing at his feet.
“I have never believed so.”
Spare looked surprised. “You saw Commander Zidane. He’s taken a fancy to you. You must be vigilant. He will not give up so easily.”
“I just assumed he has bizarre taste,” said Misha, tossing his blond head. A few guards sighed aloud. One waved at him shyly.
“Oh, my friend, you have a lot to learn about T.H.R.U.S.T.,” Spare said.
Misha looked very interested. “Indeed? Do tell,” he said. “How did you come to work for Zidane?”
Spare laughed. “A sad affair of the heart. I loved someone who fell under their spell, the promise of power the organization offered. I could either lose him completely, or join the organization myself. I chose what seemed at the time the lesser evil.”
“It is a sad story,” Misha said, biting his lip as he thought. The guard near the window swooned, but Misha didn’t notice. “What became of your lover?”
Spare looked away. “I’m afraid that man is dead,” he said. “Now I have my work.”
Misha placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry, my friend.”
Spare looked at the Russian scientist’s elegant hand on his shoulder. He covered it with his own and smiled down at him.
“We simply must get you glasses,” he said breathlessly.
Meanwhile, at the Guatasalvador Airport…
Dressed to perfection in a three-piece suit, Ulysses rubbed his head, then his ears. He was at the airport, and that was good. The problem was that he had no idea how he had gotten there. On top of that, his head was aching and his ears were ringing. He had the distinct impression that he was missing several hours of his life. The mystery would have to wait.
Ulysses spotted them lingering outside the terminal. He could smell an agent of T.H.R.U.S.T. from a mile away. There were four of them, wearing dark suits and looking around suspiciously. He moved quickly into the terminal, avoiding them as best he could. Inside, Esteban Torres was nowhere to be seen. Ulysses turned in a slow circle, scrutinizing every face that passed. Suddenly, he heard a muffled shout. He rushed through the terminal towards the sound, just in time to see a slim, athletic man being overpowered by four burly T.H.R.U.S.T. agents.
Esteban Torres. They had him. Esteban was begging for help with his eyes. One of the guards held a cloth to Esteban’s mouth. Almost instantly, Esteban went limp and was dragged towards a waiting car.
Ulysses vaulted a railing, socked the first agent in the face, and then fell to the ground hard as he was tackled from behind. The struggle couldn’t have lasted more than a minute, but when he staggered to his feet and away from the unconscious T.H.R.U.S.T. agents, the car with Esteban Torres in it was disappearing into the distance. His suit was ruined: just another reason to hate T.H.R.U.S.T.
He contemplated commandeering a car, but, after all, he knew exactly where they were taking him.
He pulled out his pen, a communicator in disguise. “Open Channel G,” he said.
There was a delay and then Spebbington’s stern voice said, “Mr. Hawke, good news I hope?”
Ulysses sighed inwardly. Aloud he said, “I’m sorry to report that I was too late. T.H.R.U.S.T. has Esteban Torres.”
Spebbington was quiet for a moment. “You were very careless, Mr. Hawke, and we’ll discuss this later. But you and Mr. Kozlov are the best agents we have. I’m counting on you to fix your mistake.”
“Yes, sir,” said Ulysses.
“What is your plan?”
“I believe he was taken directly to the fortress. I was thinking of storming it and rescuing him,” said Ulysses.
Spebbington sniffed to show what he thought of that. “Report back when you’ve made some progress. Do try to be more careful, Mr. Hawke.”
Channel G went silent and Ulysses slid his pen back into his pocket. He had quite a lot of work to do, and he was thinking about that, honestly. But more than anything, he was thinking about meeting up with Misha. He hoped Misha would be glad to see him when he arrived at the fortress. Maybe he would give Ulysses a hug. A warm handshake. Or even a kiss on the cheek. He shivered in pleasure at the idea.
“I’m coming, Misha,” he said, staring into space dramatically.
One of the T.H.R.U.S.T. agents at his feet groaned. He kicked him once to silence him.
“Oh, do be quiet,” Ulysses complained. “I can’t look into space dramatically with you making all that noise.”
The Very Gay Football Affair
“Try not to get eaten by sharks”
Meanwhile, at D.A.D.D.Y. headquarters in New York…
Spebbington turned a grim eye to the report from Section Five who was on standby in Guatasalvador. The entire thing was a circus and Spebbington had already decided on a few creative punishments for Ulysses Hawke who was completely responsible.
“We had a perimeter set up around the terminal, but they slipped right through our fingers,” said the woman who wasn’t Wanda. Spebbington thought her name was on the tip of his tongue, or maybe that was just the fact that he had burned his tongue on the coffee Not-Wanda had brought him. But when had she brought it? There was a missing chunk of his day, a span of time he could not recall. How odd.
“Hmmm,” Spebbington said with a frown. “Mr. Hawke is of the opinion that they have taken Esteban Torres straight to the T.H.R.U.S.T. fortress. Mr. Hawke will be better situated to rescue him than Mr. Kozlov, who has bigger fish to fry. Contact Section Five and tell them to arrange a retrieval with Mr. Hawke.”
“Yes, sir,” Not-Wanda said and slipped away again.
“Not Debra either,” Spebbington said to himself. The whole situation was infuriating. Where the devil was Wanda? And the news wouldn’t shut up about the damn editors and their damn strike. He had a headache and it was all Wanda’s fault.
Meanwhile, at T.H.R.U.S.T. headquarters in Guatasalvador, Misha Kozlov was making good time to his rendezvous…
Misha became aware while he was on the move. His disorientation was a terrible thing, unfamiliar and very real. The last thing he remembered was working in his lab with Mr. Spare. Handsome, brilliant, mysterious Mr. Spare. Misha couldn’t remember when he had left the lab or by what route.
He had a slight headache, the sensation of hours lost. Something was very wrong. He had no time to think about it.
The emergency lighting running across the ceiling gave him the perfect amount of light to navigate to the one hatch in the entire fortress that would provide a covered entrance. It was the work of a minute to get the thing open and a tense wait of five minutes where every sound from behind him made him sure he was about to be discovered.
At last, he heard a voice call, “Misha? Are we clear?”
“Yes, Ulysses. Hurry!”
His partner shimmied out of the space looking a bit frazzled and smeared in dirt. He landed smoothly, like a cat on all fours, then stood. He was so close to Misha that his hair brushed across his forehead.
“Hi, partner mine,” Ulysses said.
“You’re late,” Misha scolded. He didn’t flinch when Ulysses reached up to snatch a bit of dust that had fallen from the grate from his blond head. Ulysses blew the dust off his hand with a puff of breath.
“Now you look right as rain,” he said. “My orders have changed. It seems that Esteban Torres was captured after all.”
“He’ll be in the holding area,” Misha said thoughtfully. “Level seventeen, very well guarded. Do be careful.”
“Oh, I will be,” Ulysses said with a cocky smile.
“See to it that you are. Now, you better be on your way. You know where to meet me?”
“Of course,” Ulysses said. He gave Misha a squeeze on the shoulder, winked, and then dashed down the corridor.
“Do be careful, old friend,” Misha whispered, too softly for Ulysses to hear.
Ulysses was quick and silent as he made his way through the fortress. There were a few bumps on the way, handled easily enough if Ulysses did say so himself (he did), and with those roadblocks sorted, the door was clear before him.
The lock was too easy. Ulysses pointed what looked like a simple ink pen at it and it disintegrated in a stream of acid. The door barely squeaked as Ulysses pulled it open. Inside the cell was exactly the man Ulysses was looking for.
“You,” said Esteban Torres in his heavy, but somehow musical accent. “You were at the airport,” he said.
“I was too late to stop them from taking you,” Ulysses said with real regret. “My name is Ulysses Hawke and I’ve come to get you out of here.”
“There are guards everywhere. We have no chance,” Esteban said.
“Well, you’ve got me on your side. And we have a little outside help,” Ulysses argued. “Want to give it a try?”
Esteban’s eyes darted to the door. “Yes, let us try,” he said.
Ulysses took Esteban’s hand and led him through the doors of his cell. On the ground on either side of the door were unconscious guards sprawled in uncomfortable positions.
“You did this?” Esteban asked, glancing at a bruise forming on a guard’s neck.
“Ah, yes,” Ulysses said, almost embarrassedly. “They were in the way. Roadblocks.”
“You are a dangerous man,” Esteban said.
Ulysses laughed. “If you think I’m dangerous…” he said, but didn’t finish the sentence.
And with that they were on their way, slipping through corridors. Ulysses took the route at such a brisk pace that Esteban couldn’t commit it to memory. After what felt like half an hour of sneaking and darting through the fortress, sometimes barely avoiding guards on patrol, Ulysses stopped before a door that looked like no one had ever opened it. There were cobwebs all over the hallway.
Ulysses knocked a complicated rhythm on the door and looked relieved when it cracked open in response. Ulysses caught Esteban by the arm and ushered him into the room, which was lit by a single, dim bulb. There was a man standing beneath it.
Esteban studied him while Ulysses locked the door behind them. He was slight, pale, and blond with eyes as blue as Esteban had ever seen. His features were smooth and strong, as if he had been created by a sculptor. He was wearing a lab coat and had tense shoulders, as if he expected to be attacked. Esteban gaped at him. And here he had thought Ulysses dangerous. Ulysses was a puppy dog in comparison. This man was a wolf and suddenly Esteban understood what Ulysses had been trying to say. If you think I’m dangerous…
“How much time do we have?” Ulysses asked.
The wolf glanced at his watch. “About twenty minutes before the transport arrives. I do hope you aren’t afraid of heights, Mr. Torres,” he said with a quick, cold look at Esteban.
“Oh, no, I am fine Mr….”
Ulysses grinned hugely and gestured to the wolf. “Oh, I have been remiss. This is my partner, Misha Kozlov.”
Misha gave him a bland smile. “Very pleased to meet you,” he said. Then he leapt onto the window ledge as gracefully as a leopard.
He aimed what looked like a crossbow out the window. Esteban couldn’t understand how Misha saw anything at all in the darkness. Then there was a click, thunk, whoosh, thud. Esteban was surprised and turned to Ulysses, but his eyes were trained on Misha, dark and somehow hungry. When he caught Esteban staring, suddenly he was all smiles, the enigma of his expression buried. Now he was carefree, just a friendly face.
Esteban looked away when Misha hopped down to bother several bags in the corner. Through the window, Esteban could see a strong line stretching away into the dark, connected to a distant rampart. Then Misha rigged some kind of harness to the line, hopped back up onto the ledge and extended a hand to Esteban.
“Be quite sure you’re not afraid,” Misha said and perhaps there was a smile at the corner of his mouth.
Esteban took his hand—Misha’s grip strong and confident—and let himself be pulled onto the ledge with him. It was close quarters for a moment as the harness was secured and Esteban felt more than a little flustered with Misha’s hands all over him. Then Misha was giving him soft instructions about making his way across the line, and how to release the catch so that he could drop down safely once he reached the other side of it.
Before Esteban knew which way was up, he found himself dangling over the wide moat that surrounded the T.H.R.U.S.T. fortress.
“Are those…sharks?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Yes,” said Ulysses, as if this were perfectly logical.
“But…isn’t that fresh water?” Esteban said.
“Shhhh,” Ulysses said, finger to his lips. Then he too was tugged up onto the window ledge by Misha and prepared to cross on the line. Ulysses seemed to delight in the effort it took Misha to get his harness on him. In fact, he seemed to be as uncooperative as possible in order to prolong the whole thing. But Misha proved too competent and soon Ulysses was dangling just behind Esteban.
“Be seeing you soon, partner mine,” Ulysses called over his shoulder.
“Try not to get eaten by sharks,” Misha replied dryly. Esteban twisted in his harness to see the window behind him, but Misha was already gone.
“He does that. Disappearing, I mean. Now we should do the same. Hand over hand. Easy now,” Ulysses coached.
Soon enough the men had an easy rhythm and were crossing quickly, the water splashing beneath them, occasionally cut through by an improbable shark fin. Everything was going so smoothly that Esteban felt secure for the first time since landing in this terrible country only to be snatched away by strangers. The air was fresh and felt like freedom, and he had two brave, competent men aiding him. Of course, just when he released the clip on his harness; just as Ulysses let the line fall into the water; just as they were about to hurry to the escape vehicle that Misha had promised was just beyond the tree line—that was the exact moment some thug pointed a gun in his face.
“If it isn’t Zidane’s right-hand man, Juan,” Ulysses said to the thug, lifting his hands into the air.
“Miguel!” the man snapped and jerked the gun at Ulysses who actually flinched.
“Whoa, whoa, easy, tiger,” Ulysses said. “An easy mistake to make.”
Miguel sniffed. “Sure, why not? I suppose I should be used to hearing men call me other men’s names by now. ‘Oh, Juan, do that with your mouth more. Oh, Kevin, how I miss you. Kevin, you are the only man I love. Come back to me, my darling Kevin.’ Why am I even surprised anymore?” he said and wiped at a tear.
“Uh,” Ulysses said helpfully.
“Never mind! It doesn’t matter. You are both caught. And my guards will be hunting down your accomplices, soon. Did you really think you could escape?” Miguel asked.
“Yes,” Ulysses admitted. “Thought we had this one sorted.”
“Ha! Take them!” Miguel ordered to the guards surrounded Ulysses and Esteban. And just as quickly as he had believed himself free of the fortress, Esteban was marched right back in, still a captive.
“This is the worst day of my life,” Esteban told Ulysses.
“This is an ordinary work day for me,” Ulysses answered.
Meanwhile, at D.A.D.D.Y. headquarters in New York…
Spebbington looked at the woman bringing him coffee with a serious frown. She plopped two sugar cubes in his drink and gave him a level stare back. After a moment, she gave up.
“It’s Elle,” she said.
“Oh, right. I keep wanting to say ‘Wanda,'” said Spebbington.
“You don’t say,” Elle said dryly, but Spebbington didn’t notice.
“Yes, isn’t it strange? My mind is usually a steel trap,” he added.
Elle cut him a sharp look. “Oh, yes. A very rusted one,” she said under her breath.
“What was that?”
“Hmph. Well, no matter. I was just contacted by Agent Winter Glider from Section Five. It appears that Mr. Hawke and Esteban Torres did not make the rendezvous. In fact, it seems that both of them were captured.”
Elle rolled her eyes. “Ulysses was captured? Dear me. Well, it is, after all, Wednesday,” she said dryly, almost matter-of-factly.
Spebbington gave her a confused look. “I don’t follow,” he said.
“Hmm,” said Elle. “Imagine. Well, I suppose you’re going to say that all we can do now is trust in Hawke and Kozlov, instead of, say, sending in Section Five, or calling the authorities, or any number of other things you could do to rescue the soccer player, correct?”
Spebbington, to Elle’s consternation, looked floored that she had predicted the future somehow.
“How on earth did you know?” asked Spebbington.
Elle sighed, shook her head, and left to go find a good stiff drink.
“Damned strange woman,” Spebbington said to no one at all. “I do miss Wanda.”
On one of the many screens beside him, the editors’ strike was in full force, more and more men and women chanting in the streets. The signs now were not so friendly reading “Editors tell Hollywood to suck it!” and “It pays the editors, or it gets the hose again.”
“Hollywood has been shut down,” said the frazzled-looking reporter. “Major studios are reporting that they will have to move the release dates of every scheduled film to next year unless the strike is resolved. Representatives of the striking editors have issued a statement saying, ‘Edit your own crappy pilots. We’ve had enough. We’re spending our time at the beaches and expensive fusion restaurants.’ The statement goes on, but it contains language not suitable for television. It is, indeed, a bleak day in Hollywood. Dave Peterson, sending it back to you in the studio.”
“Whiny Hollywood hippies,” grumbled Spebbington.
Meanwhile, inside the T.H.R.U.S.T. fortress…
The cell was not uncomfortable, and that was something. Ulysses took the time to get to know Esteban, who was outraged that he didn’t spend the time trying to escape.
“We must get out of here. There is no telling what they will do to me now,” said Esteban.
“Oh, Misha will rescue us soon enough,” Ulysses said with the air of a man more certain that Esteban thought he should be.
“Does he always?” asked Esteban. “This Misha of yours?”
Ulysses grinned from ear to ear and looked at the ceiling. “Of mine,” he repeated. “I do like the sound of that.” At Esteban’s expression, Ulysses cleared his throat and said, “Yes, I am quite used to Misha getting me out of a bind. He has a knack.”
“So we just wait here?” Esteban asked miserably.
“We just wait here. Get to know each other. Tell me, did you know your father well?” he asked.
“No, no I didn’t,” Esteban said. “He was taken by T.H.R.U.S.T. when I was young.”
Esteban looked down at his hands. When he spoke, it was softly, as if sadness had stolen his voice.
“My father was a brilliant scientist,” he said. “But T.H.R.U.S.T. kid-snatched him and forced him to work for them.”
“Kidnapped,” said Ulysses.
“Oh, yes. Kidnapped,” amended Esteban. “He was a prisoner of Zidane for two years while he built them a weapon.”
“That’s terrible,” said Ulysses.
“Oh, yes, but my father had his revenge: the weapon is coded to my DNA, you see. By the time Zidane learned that his weapon would not work, my father had fled the country and to safety. He sent me one last note before going into hiding, begging me never to come to this country, lest Zidane use me to activate his weapon.”
Ulysses crossed his arms and looked thoughtfully at Esteban’s handsome, miserable face. “Only now your team has moved on to the championships, and the final game will be played here in Guatasalvador. Zidane jumped at the chance to get his hands on you.”
Esteban sighed. “I did try to lose the game. How sad that my natural skill and prowess took over. We won anyway and now I am here in the lion’s nest.”
“Den,” Ulysses said offhandedly.
“No,” said Ulysses.
Esteban sighed again. “It is so hard to be me, no?”
Ulysses didn’t say anything to that. Instead, he thought back to something Esteban had said. “What did you mean ‘do to you now’?”
Esteban flushed red. “Oh, it was…well…the minute I enter this fortress, they drag me to a secret room. It was there that they did their worst.”
The world before Ulysses and Esteban started to waver and shake.
“What is happening?” Esteban asked, looking around at the wiggling of the room.
“Ah,” said Ulysses, “it’s a flashback.”
“This is normal?” Esteban inquired as the wavering worsened.
“Oh, it depends on if you work for D.A.D.D.Y. or not,” said Ulysses.
“This seems very overused way to go to flashback!” complained Esteban.
“Don’t blame me, blame the editors,” shrugged Ulysses.
Wavering lines! And more wavering lines!
One of the agents of T.H.R.U.S.T. had Esteban’s hands behind his back. Another was standing very close and forcing his mouth down towards the activation switch. The switch was very distinct in size and shape. In length.
“Who builds a switch to look like this!” Esteban was complaining, his lips pressed tightly together.
“Open your mouth wide, my lovely. Your saliva is necessary to my plan!” Zidane purred. “Open your pretty mouth and take the switch deep into your throat!”
The guard behind Esteban looked very excited by this and jerked into him once and then twice. He pushed down on the back of his neck, forcing Esteban closer and closer to the jutting switch.
“This guard is a little too excited!” complained Esteban, turning his mouth away from the thing. “I want a different guard!”
Beside Zidane, Miguel was slowly rubbing his forehead. “He does have a point about the guards. Must they be so excited? It is undignified.”
“Oh, let them have their fun,” Zidane said enthusiastically. “Dear Esteban, after you take the switch deep into your mouth, can you suck it a little? Maybe swirl your tongue around the head?”
“I will no!” Esteban shouted and then went, “Mmphhpppppp!” because he had opened his mouth quite wide to shout.
“Oh, that is very nice to see,” Zidane said, rubbing his hand up and down the bulge in his pants.
Miguel rolled his eyes. “You know, he’s right,” he said. “Who in the world would build a switch to look like that?”
“Shhh,” said Zidane, “you are missing the show.”
The guard behind Esteban jerked one more time against him and said, “Oh, so good with your mouth…”
Esteban sighed around the thing in his mouth and tried to ignore the wetness soaking into the back of his pants. The guard’s legs went out from under him at the same time that his hands fell away from Esteban. Esteban took the chance to release the switch with a wet smack. His mouth was red and bruised, his breathing labored. He gave a hateful glare to the switch on the wall, glistening with his saliva. Just then, a panel opened up beside it. Zidane clapped his hands together loudly.
“Yes! Behold, Juan! Now I can initiate the activation code!” exclaimed Zidane with a triumphant fist in the air.
“You have no concern for my feelings,” Miguel said. “You use me and don’t respect me.”
“Huh, what was that?” asked Zidane.
Wavering lines! And more wavering lines!
And with that, the flashback ended…
“Huh, what was that?” asked Ulysses. Time had returned to the present, leaving the world as it always had been, without wavering lines.
“Just that. ‘You have no concern for my feelings,'” repeated Esteban. “I am thinking this Miguel is not so happy with Zidane.”
Ulysses stroked his chin. “Might be useful information later. Anyway, activation code, you say? Hmm. That is interesting. All this time we thought your father built a weapon, but if that were the case, Zidane would have used it immediately after getting your DNA. This is something else entirely.”
“What is interesting,” Esteban said with some fire, “is that they have a switch of this kind!”
Ulysses frowned. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Esteban’s hands went flying as he spoke. “Were you no listening? I find it hard to believe my father would make such a switch. I mean…the shape of this thing! The size of it! They could have just drawn blood if they needed DNA. Swatted my cheek?”
“Swabbed,” Ulysses corrected.
“Yes, swabbed! Whatever. Try to focus. This switch is no normal!” shouted Esteban.
Ulysses looked completely lost. “But it is. It’s just a standard T.H.R.U.S.T. switch. All of their devices are activated that way.”
“A switch of that shape and size…activated by mouth? A switch so accurately flesh-colored?” Esteban asked, color rising on his neck and face.
“Yes, that is the way they do things,” Ulysses said.
“And standing around watching? Making me swirl my tongue around this thing?”
“Pretty standard,” Ulysses said, clearly confused by Esteban’s inability to understand how secret spy organizations worked.
The two men eyed each other for several awkward, silent moments, each one trying to compel the other to admit that their worldview was twisted through the force of his gaze.
Ulysses gave up first. “More important than that perfectly ordinary switch is the activation code Zidane mentioned.”
“Yes,” Esteban agreed. “What does it mean?”
“Well, that is the question, isn’t it? We knew T.H.R.U.S.T. was hunting you for a reason. Your DNA activated something for them. Unfortunately, they got what they wanted from you.”
Esteban rubbed his jaw. “Oh, they got even more than that.”
And just when Ulysses was about to reply, the door to their cell clanged open and in stepped Miguel.
“Gentlemen, you have been summoned,” he said.
The march through T.H.R.U.S.T. headquarters was nerve-wracking, but also enlightening. Ulysses studied the layout of the giant fortress, noticed how many guards were stationed at each door. A gigantic sign hanging over one hallway proclaimed:
“Misha must be there,” Ulysses muttered to himself. The guard on his left hit him in the gut with the butt of his gun.
“Silence!” he commanded as Ulysses doubled over and tried to catch his breath. He was silent for the rest of the journey. His guards brought him to a halt before metal, double doors that went whoosh as they opened. Standing in the center of the room was Zidane Zidane. Ulysses recognized the giant man from the thick file D.A.D.D.Y. had amassed on him. Zidane’s gaze focused on Ulysses whose hands were cuffed behind his back and shirt ripped down to the navel.
“This is your D.A.D.D.Y. agent?” he asked, taking an involuntary step forward.
“The infamous Ulysses Hawke,” the guard said and nodded.
“At your service,” said Ulysses. He gave as graceful a bow as he could manage, what with wearing the handcuffs and having all the guns pointed at him and everything.
“Oh, but it is a week filled with beauty,” Zidane said on an exhale. From the corner, Miguel grumbled something and crossed his arms, though Zidane acted as if his lover was not even in the room.
“Such dark hair. Such a strong chin,” said Zidane. “Too proud for your own good.”
He caught Ulysses’ tattered shirt and gave it a fierce tug. It fell away from Ulysses’ sculpted chest and Zidane took the opportunity to stroke his hand down it.
“Do they choose D.A.D.D.Y. agents on looks, I wonder?” he muttered. “I have yet to encounter an ugly one. Your partner, for example, is the most beautiful man I have ever met.”
Ulysses’ eyes widened and his struggles increased.
“Oh! You are surprised!” Zidane laughed. “I am very aware of the stunning Dr. Misha Kozlov. His official title is Number Two, Section Two, yes? And you are Number One of Section Two, correct? All the secrets of your organization are known to me. The best thing is watching the expression on your face as you try to figure out how I know what I know!”
Zidane gave one of Ulysses’ nipples a firm squeeze, then moved onto the other. His smile widened as Ulysses squirmed, but Zidane’s hand dropped away just as Ulysses started to pant.
Zidane turned to the guards behind Ulysses. “Go and retrieve our handsome doctor,” he said. “We will show him what we do to D.A.D.D.Y. agents around here.”
“You’ll—” Ulysses tried, but, “Never get away with it,” Zidane interrupted.
“Stop you,” Zidane said with a yawn.
“Base are belong to us,” Zidane said with a glint in his eye and Ulysses really knew he was outmaneuvered then.
Meanwhile, in the Secret Laboratory of T.H.R.U.S.T. headquarters…
The minute the additional T.H.R.U.S.T. guards barged into the Secret Laboratory, Misha knew his cover was blown.
“Come with us, please, Dr. Kozlov,”‘ said the first agent. His eyes raked up and down Misha’s body. “You are needed,” he added with a leer.
“I’m afraid I have very important work,” Misha protested.
Quite suddenly there was a snap, a wobble, like the world was being sliced in two. It only lasted a second, but when it was over, Misha felt like minutes of time had slipped away from him. The same sensation from before, only worse. His head was throbbing.
Spare was saying, “What can we do?” and Misha felt weighed down by the feeling that something important had happened in between when the guards entered and now.
“There’s only one way out of here,” said Misha, studying Spare’s face and seeing something like the same confusion he felt himself there.
“What?” Spare asked in a daze.
“Your glasses,” Misha whispered. He reached up a hand, paused until Spare nodded his consent, and then pulled the offensive things from Spare’s face.
There was a collective gasp. Misha bit his lip and stepped away from Spare with what looked like Herculean effort. He vaulted over the railing and plowed into the first guard who was waving goofily at Spare. Misha was a blur of movement, a roundhouse kick there, an uppercut there; guards were falling down before him like dominoes. From the center of the lab, Spare watched it all with wide eyes. When the last guard flopped to the ground unconscious, Spare was motionless, his mouth hanging open in shock.
Misha jogged over to him. “I thank you, my friend,” he said and touched Spare’s shoulder.
“Uh, to be honest, I think you’re very dangerous and that you could have done that with or without me taking off my glasses.”
“Nonsense,” said Misha seriously. “But you should…perhaps…put your glasses back on…” He was drifting closer to Spare, eyes trained on his kissable mouth. He handed over the ugly glasses with reverence.
“Oh, yes, Dr. Kozlov,” Spare breathed, tilting his head up slowly and then…
He fumbled the ugly glasses back onto his face and Misha jerked, blinked rapidly, and took a few steps away.
“You are driving me mad,” muttered Misha.
“What was that?” asked Spare.
“Nothing,” Misha said breathlessly. “I must escape, you realize,” he added.
“I see that now,” Spare said, looking at the ground. “You are not what you appear to be?”
“No, I am not,” said Misha. “I…appreciate your kindness. You are…an extraordinary man.”
“As are you,” Spare said, looking at Misha’s blue eyes. Suddenly, his eyebrows went high, then his jaw firmed. “Take me with you,” he said, stepping close and placing a hand over Misha’s heart where it was racing fast. “Please.”
Misha covered Spare’s hand with his own so quickly Spare didn’t even see the movement. Their fingers slid together and Misha squeezed his hand. “Yes,” said Misha. “Yes, please come with me.”
“I’ll go wherever you go,” Spare said.
“Yes,” Misha agreed, leaning towards him. Spare leaned in as well, closer, closer. The music swelled, romantic and also overflowing with violins and harps. Misha’s lips were an inch away from Spare’s. The music was loud enough to make ears bleed until the track abruptly skipped a few times, then went into uncomfortable, scratchy crackles and pops. Misha jerked away.
“We must go,” he said.
Still holding Spare’s hand, Misha snagged a gun from one of the unconscious guards, and raced with him out of the room. Up one hallway they ran.
“This is the quickest way to the garage,” said Misha. They reached a sharp right corner and T.H.R.U.S.T. guards came storming around it. Misha and Spare pulled up short, then rushed back the other way, making it only a few steps before guards came storming at them, boxing them in.
“Der’mo,,” Misha cursed under his breath, then launched himself at the first wave of guards. He took down five of them before he was overpowered. He struggled as he watched Spare be restrained.
“Misha!” cried Spare.
“Don’t resist and they will not hurt you,” Misha commanded.
It was a dizzying path the two scientists were forced to take by their watchful guards. Ten minutes later they were marched down a steep flight of stairs at the base of which was a large room. Inside it was Commander Zidane Zidane looking menacing, and even more guards. When Misha hesitated at the entrance, a guard dragged him into the room. A second guard pushed Spare by the shoulder until he stumbled in after, protesting the whole way.
“I must protest!” Spare shouted at Zidane. “You cannot take him from me. I need this man!” There he paused, seemed to think about what he’d just said, cleared his throat, and added, “To help me with my science!”
“Oh, Mr. Spare, how wonderful of you to join us! Let me be the one to deliver the sad news: Dr. Kozlov is an agent of D.A.D.D.Y. He was sent here to spy on us, but we knew it all along!”
“No!” Spare argued. “He is so brilliant. So competent. There is no way he is with D.A.D.D.Y.”
“Oh, but that is why they sent him!” explained Zidane. “He is not pretending to know what he knows. He is a bonafide scientist, mathematician, Master of Disguise, and a fair hand at cricket.”
Misha struggled against the guards restraining him as Zidane stalked towards him, titled up his face, and looked into his blue eyes.
“But he is a spy, no matter how lovely,” he sighed. Then he smashed his mouth to Misha’s and groaned. Spare gave a squeak of protest. The kiss went on for some time and it was clear to everyone watching that Zidane was doing some very acrobatic things with his tongue. When he finally pulled away, he looked completely triumphant and also very flustered.
“My, my,” he said. “You even taste like heaven, my darling,” he said.
“Keep your hands off him!” Spare shouted, lunging forward only to be restrained with great force by the guards.
“Take Mr. Spare back to his lab! I understand you had a breakthrough on the device thanks to our lovely Dr. Kozlov.” Here, Zidane pointed to a monitor on the wall which flared to life, showing a satellite orbiting in space. There was something very strange about the shape of the satellite. It was far too long. Far too cylindrical. It had power cells that were far too round and dangling far too close together at the base of the thing.
“The device will communicate with the satellite that I have named 3R3CT10N! In fact, the device will control the 3R3CT10N!” Zidane exclaimed.
“And with that satellite, you will control the minds of every world leader attending the football game!” Spare cried, eyes wide with terror.
“Oh, yes!” Zidane cawed. He ran the back of his hand down Misha’s cheek, leering the whole time.
Misha frowned. “Excuse me, but…what did you say that satellite was called again?” he asked.
“I expect it working perfectly by tomorrow!” Zidane commanded, ignoring him.
“I will not help you!” Spare screamed. “I will destroy the device!”
Zidane laughed and silenced Spare with a wave of his hand. “Believe me when I say I do not make idle threats! If you are refusing to work on my device, I will feed Dr. Kozlov here to the sharks, one delicious piece at a time.”
“You…” Spare hissed, tears at his eyes. “You are a monster. I cannot believe I, I…for so long I…” he said then went quiet.
Zidane’s interest was peaked. “You what?” he asked, moving closer to Spare who dropped his eyes and shuffled his feet. “You can’t believe you what?”
“I can’t believe I…have followed your orders for so long,” Spare finished.
“Hmmm,” said Zidane. “Such a pity for you. Take him away!”
Spare was dragged from the room, his eyes trained on Misha, desperate and sad, perhaps a little heartbroken.
Zidane turned back to Misha, a tiger on the prowl. “Where were we, my lovely?”
Misha hissed, “You’ll never get away with…whatever it is you are planning.”
“Oh, but you see, the final step has just been completed by Esteban’s very talented mouth.”
He gestured to a panel on the wall that slid open (whoosh went the panel) and revealed Esteban with his hands handcuffed together. “You!” he said when he saw Misha, his erstwhile savior. Then he saw the satellite on the monitor.
“Are you joking? Who builds a satellite to look like that!” he exclaimed.
“Release him,” Misha ordered, but Zidane only laughed.
“I will keep him until after the big game,” said Zidane. “His teammates won’t even know he’s gone since we’ve replaced him with an identical clone.”
There was a long moment of silence.
Finally, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” shouted Esteban.
“Oh, it is a thing we do. Clones all the time,” Zidane said seriously. “Clones, clones, clones.”
Esteban just glared at him. He seemed too upset by the whole clone thing to talk.
Zidane continued, “And since you activated the satellite and I no longer have to fear of D.A.D.D.Y. interrupting me, I now have time to play. And since there has not been a torture scene and they are mandatory, I will now go and torture someone. In fact, I will torture someone dear to you, Dr. Kozlov!”
Zidane gestured grandly to the wall where yet another panel slid open (whoosh), this one revealing a window overlooking a large room. In the center of the room was a table, tilted at an angle towards the observation room where Zidane held his prisoners captive. And on that table was Ulysses Hawke, bare to the waist and strapped down with thick leather cuffs at his wrists and ankles.
“Ulysses,” Misha gasped.
“How many sliding panels does one room need?” Esteban asked looking around the room suspiciously.
“This one has eight,” explained Zidane. “That is the minimum requirement.”
“But whatever for?” complained Esteban.
“You must be joking!” laughed Zidane, but he didn’t answer the question. Instead, he moved to the leftmost wall, gestured again and yet another panel opened, this one revealing a door.
“See? This is the third one,” explained Zidane. “There’s one over there hiding a telephone. There’s another panel that just has a ping pong table behind it. Pretty standard.”
“Why you no just have a door? What does the panel add?” shouted Esteban.
“Oh, now I know you are joking!” laughed Zidane. “Hah! Well, anyway, now I go to torture Misha’s handsome, shirtless partner.”
He looked to a guard. “Bring Esteban forward, he will want to watch what is in store for him!”
The guard man-handled Esteban into the room and pushed him to stand beside Misha.
“Toodledo!” cried Zidane over his shoulder, waggling his fingers.
With that, he went through the door and the panel slid back to hide it again. They could hear the sound of Zidane going down stairs. Soon enough, he was standing beside Ulysses, looking down at him with menace. He reached for Ulysses…
And the torture began. Esteban watched in silence for a few minutes, then looked to Misha.
“Forgive me if I am wrong, but I am looking and I am thinking this does no look like torture, what with the moaning and the…what is word? Means twisting around like this?” he said and demonstrated.
“Ah. Writhing,” offered Misha.
“Yes, that is word. With all the moaning and writhing. There is a lot of playing with the nipples and licking. That is no torture.”
From below, Ulysses punctuated this observation with, “Ahh! Misha! Mmm….Misha! Oh…Misha. Mmm…”
Esteban frowned. “And is there word for what Zidane is doing with his tongue? Putting his tongue in such a place? There is word, no?”
“There is a word for it, but I think I will keep that to myself,” Misha answered with his mouth turned down.
Zidane turned to look up at Misha and Esteban, a wide smile on his face. “See how he cries out in pain for you!”
Esteban tilted his head from side to side. “I don’t think he cries out in pain,” he offered. “He sound like he is a having a pretty good time.”
“More…oh, Misha! Give it to me! Yes…I want it!”
Misha smacked his own forehead and then stood there with his face buried in his hand. Esteban gave him a manly pat on the shoulder.
“Um…at least you know he care?” he offered.
“Everything is terrible,” Misha answered.
Zidane went to a cabinet. The doors blocked their view, but when he returned, he was holding a feather. He wielded it like a whip and very teasingly tickled it down Ulysses torso.
“Oh, oh!” cried Ulysses.
“See how he suffers!” Zidane said, voice heavy and deep.
“No, there is no suffering,” Esteban argued. “This is feather, no?”
And before anyone could say anything else, the whole frame wobbled and wiggled and, quite clearly, something was missing. Esteban and Misha exchanged a look.
“Did you notice that?” asked Esteban. “How things went wobble and kind of…shifted around?”
Misha was looking around the room. Even the guards seemed aware that something was wrong. “I think,” said Misha,” that we just experienced what you might call a bad splice.”
“Never mind,” said Misha.
Below, the feather was gone, inexplicably, and things had progressed much more speedily than Esteban had thought they would.
“Where did that come from?” asked Esteban with some panic.
“Hmm,” said Misha. “I do not know.”
Naked now on the table, Ulysses struggled, but there seemed nothing he could do. Zidane was looming over him, powerful, muscular, and glistening with oil. A really nice, scented oil. Those T.H.R.U.S.T. agents always had the nicest smelling oils. One such oil had been used very effectively on Ulysses and he felt quite slick and wet and ready.
Zidane had something in his hand now, a kind of long, slick, thick thing. Ulysses squirmed in what could have been mistaken for terror but what looked a lot like anticipation. His legs parted just a little.
“Oh, no, no. Please don’t,” he said and parted his legs a little more. “And what happened to the feather?” he asked confusedly under his breath.
Zidane shrugged. “What feather? Anyway, who cares? This is much more fun. The torment has only just begun.” Buzzz Buzzzzz Buzzzzz went the thing in his hand. It seemed to be agreeing.
Meanwhile, in the booth, Misha was looking decidedly uninterested in the goings on down below. He was fiddling with his watch. Esteban seemed incapable of closing his mouth.
“Your partner has…that is, Zidane is about to—” he tried, shock in every syllable.
Misha waved away his concern. “It happens from time to time,” said Misha. “It is, after all, Wednesday,” he added.
Esteban wondered if Misha didn’t understand him. “No, I mean…Zidane is…um…”
“Yes, yes, I am aware,” said Misha. From below came a garbled cry of, “Yes, yes! Harder!” and also quite a lot of Buzzzzz Buzzzzz Buzzzz.
Misha, ignored those sounds, and the ones that followed (“Oh, yes, Misha, baby, give it to me hard!”). None of the guards were paying attention as Misha did increasingly complicated looking twists and tugs on the nobs and dials of his watch. All the guards were, in fact, rubbing their crotches and looking with rapt attention at the goings-on below.
“Your watch is more interesting than this?” Esteban asked.
“Oh, you have no idea,” Misha answered.
And down below in what Zidane considered a Torture Chamber but what Esteban had decided to call a Play Room…
Ulysses was free of all the restraints. He was also sweating, his thighs quivering from holding them open wide enough to accommodate Zidane who was looming over him. Zidane had shucked his own pants and was now slicking his impressive erection with the same scented oil he had used to teach this insolent D.A.D.D.Y. agent a lesson.
“Oh, I will make you suffer!” Zidane said. He took himself in hand, and in a quick, brutal movement, slid deep into Ulysses who shouted out, clung to him and said, “Oh, yes! Make me suffer, baby, mmmm…Misha….Oh, Misha…”
“Your partner is in agony!” Zidane cried, thrusting in and out of Ulysses who was moaning and clinging to Zidane’s sculpted ass. “See how he begs me to stop!”
“Oh, more, more!” Ulysses cried. “Harder, baby. Fuck me harder.”
Meanwhile, in the observation room, Misha stifled a yawn and turned the dial on his watch once more. Something went click.
“There we are,” said Misha. He looked to Esteban who was covering his eyes, uncovering them, blushing, and then covering them again on a loop. Cover, uncover, blush, cover.
“Esteban,” Misha said, making Esteban stop his embarrassed behavior.
Esteban swallowed and squeaked, “Yes?”
Misha smirked at him, then said, “Ulysses seems to be having the lion’s share of fun. We should join the festivities.”
“Urk?” said Esteban then “Hey!” as Misha suddenly grabbed him, pulled him close, and gave him a deep kiss. Esteban almost choked as something small and sweet settled on his tongue and dissolved. The kiss continued through whoops and cheers from the guards, then Misha shoved the dazed and blushing Esteban away.
“Huh? Wha?” Esteban tried, touching his lips softly.
“You’ll understand later,” Misha said.
The guard near Esteban looked sullen. “Can I have one of those?” he asked Misha, his expression going hopeful. Misha gave him a small smile.
“No, but you can have something better. Come here,” he said. The guard rushed over to him but pulled up short when Misha raised his wrist and pushed a button on his watch.
To Esteban, the pink gas that shot from the watch was a surprise, as was the sudden collapse of everyone in the room but him and Misha.
“Oh, the kiss,” he said smartly.
“Yes,” Misha agreed, snatching up one of the unconscious guard’s guns. “It was the only quick way to get the tablet to you. You will be immune to the gas for another ten hours. Let us go and rescue my partner.”
Esteban cast a quick look down into the room below. “I am thinking he maybe does no want to be rescued.”
“He never does,” Misha replied dryly.
Misha kicked open the door and went in with the gun raised.
When Esteban barged into the room right behind Misha, he could hardly believe his eyes. “Madre de Dios,” he said and covered them. How Ulysses had gotten his legs into that exact position he would never know. He couldn’t unsee what he had just seen.
Misha brandished the gun in a bored manner. “Please extract yourself from my partner,” he said.
Zidane took his time. In fact, Zidane finished with a loud, enthusiastic shout and jerked a few more times before crashing on top of Ulysses, who was still jerking and spilling from his own orgasm. Zidane lifted up and gave Ulysses a deep kiss. Ulysses ran his fingers through Zidane’s luxurious hair and opened his mouth wide. Finally, Zidane pushed himself up and away, gave a knowing look to Misha and Esteban, then stood with his arms crossed, defiant and naked.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Ulysses panted. “You’ve come to rescue me from this torture,” he said and rubbed the white splatters on his stomach in a slow, sensual movement.
“This is no torture!” Esteban shouted. “This is the end of a date! All the panting and the writhing, as you say.”
“Put your hands up and move slowly to the right,” Misha ordered. Zidane complied with the air of a man humoring a child and looking very smug.
“Oh, you will not take me prisoner, my lovely spy,” Zidane taunted.
“What makes you think that?” hissed Misha.
“Because: smoke bomb!” cried out Zidane before actually tossing down a smoke bomb. Poof! went the smoke bomb. Through the haze, Zidane’s large form could be seen tip-toeing away.
“That is no very effective!” Esteban complained, stomping his foot. He made to chase Zidane, but Misha stopped him.
“Let him go,” he said.
“But we can catch him. Even now I see him walking very slowly away.”
Misha shrugged. “Yes, that is true. But we know where he is going, don’t we?”
“A football game?” asked Esteban.
“A Very Important Football Game,” Misha agreed, all seriousness.
“Uh, where are you looking?” asked Esteban.
“Into the distance,” Misha explained. “Dramatically. We’ll probably fade to black on my concerned expression.”
And, indeed, they did fade to black on Misha’s concerned expression.
The Very Gay Football Affair
“Can you even play soccer?”
Meanwhile, at D.A.D.D.Y. Headquarters, somewhere in New York…
Director Milton Spebbington was focused on the newspaper, lips moving and formidable eyebrows waggling around as he read. The headline on the front page was of some interest. It read:
It was shocking and strange. It was also entirely wrong. Elle stared at it for a long moment then cleared her throat until Spebbington put the newspaper down and said, “What is it, Wanda?”
Her nostril curled. “It’s Elle. And you are reading the wrong paper,” she whispered.
“I am?” Spebbington marveled.
“Indeed,” said Elle. “The one with the pertinent information—the information they need to understand the gravity of Zidane’s evil plan—is just there,” she added, pointing to the correct newspaper.
Somewhat self-consciously—and with a heavy measure of embarrassment—Spebbington tossed away the offending gossip rag and snatched up another paper. It read:
“Hollywood hippies,” Spebbington said with real hatred. “What the hell is a visual effect, anyway?” he asked.
The girl who wasn’t Wanda took a deep, calming breath. “Wrong. Paper,” she said through her teeth.
“Oh, good heavens!” shouted Spebbington. He selected another. It read:
“Huh, this is from two days ago,” Spebbington said when Elle gave him A Look, which he was sure meant that he still had the wrong headline. “Although, the circumstances surrounding that murderous chimpanzee are becoming clear now,” he added.
“Sir,” Elle said exasperatedly. “Please!”
“Oh, all right, give me a minute,” said Spebbington. At last, he lifted up the correct paper and unfolded it with flair. The headline read:
“Better?” asked Spebbington from the side of his mouth.
Elle nodded in approval. “I think they’ve got the idea now, sir,” she whispered.
“Well, that’s jolly good,” said Spebbington.
Elle considered him for a moment. “You might try looking worried. Say something to make sure everyone is keeping up,” she said helpfully.
Spebbington gave an impressive frown and said, “Dear me. It seems that Mr. Kozlov and Mr. Hawke are our only hope.”
“Nicely done,” said Elle.
“It was rather good,” agreed Spebbington.
Meanwhile, at a D.A.D.D.Y. safe house deep in the jungles of Guatasalvador…
It was a sad day for D.A.D.D.Y. Esteban had been forced to take a suspicious-looking switch in his mouth and activate an even more suspicious looking satellite. Misha had lost his cover as a T.H.R.U.S.T. scientist and had accidentally given them the tools they needed to take over the world.
“I saw the device and I just had to fix it,” Misha said miserably into his vodka.
Ulysses patted his shoulder in sympathy. “He’s too brilliant for his own good,” he said to Esteban. Esteban was gargling almost constantly with mouthwash so he didn’t answer, just spat in the kitchen sink and took another large gulp of mouthwash.
“Building such switches,” he grumbled. “Making men suck them! What is wrong with these people?”
“Did you tell him that it was a standard T.H.R.U.S.T. switch?” asked Misha in a whisper.
“I did, he just won’t listen,” complained Ulysses.
And worst of all, of course, was that Ulysses had been tortured by Zidane and nobody seemed to want to discuss the implications of what had been revealed. After all, Ulysses had spent the better part of sex with Zidane calling out “Misha.”
“Why you no tell him you love him so?” Esteban asked Ulysses while Misha was in another room, busy with a call over Channel G.
Ulysses gave him a shocked look, then seemed to recall the events of the day. “Ah, well…there never seems a good way to do it. I have a reputation, you see.”
“A ladies’ man?” asked Esteban, one eyebrow playfully high.
“Yes,” said Ulysses with a sigh. “And by the time I figured out the cause of my womanizing, it was too late to go after the solution.”
Esteban thought about this for a moment. “So…you want to be sleeping with Misha, but sleep with everyone else, instead?”
“That’s about the size,” Ulysses said.
“Perhaps you and Zidane are perfect for each other,” Esteban remarked. But before Ulysses could reply to that, Misha arrived to talk strategy: namely, what was the plan now that T.H.R.U.S.T. was poised on the brink of world domination?
“T.H.R.U.S.T. can’t let NASA know that they have control of the satellite,” Misha said thoughtfully. “They will have to wait until the very last second to change its position. NASA will have protocols in place to stop any unscheduled movement of their beloved new toy. If we can get there in time, we can override Zidane’s signal and keep the satellite from moving.”
“It sounds very complicated. Can we do it?” asked Ulysses, not looking Misha in the eye.
“We might need Mr. Spare’s help,” Misha said, blushing a little. Then something went wrong.
The whole world tilted. Everything went black, then white, then black. There was a loud pop. Or two. One might call it a 2-pop, even.
“Um,” said Misha, looking around at what was, clearly, a football stadium.
“Which is why you have to stop the game!” Spare was saying. Ulysses squinted at him, stuck a finger in his ear and jiggled it around to clear away the ringing sound lingering there.
When his hearing was back to normal, Ulysses stared at Spare for a long time. “I’m sorry,” he asked after a moment, “but how did we get here? And…how did you get here? You were taken captive by T.H.R.U.S.T. guards after you tried to escape with Misha.”
Spare looked up and to the left. “Oh! Got it!” he said at last and snapped his fingers. “The scene where Misha rescues me was cut.”
“Oh, was I very brave?” asked Misha.
“Terribly. I was about to be dropped into a vat of acid and you swooped in and saved me. It was very exciting. You held me quite close as we swung from the rafters to safety.”
“Sad I missed that,” muttered Misha.
“Oh, I will tell you all about it later. Every. Detail,” Spare whispered.
“Well, yes, this all sounds great,” said Ulysses huffily. “Glad you joined the party, no matter how bizarre the circumstances.”
Esteban glared at him. “And this you think is bizarre?” he said. “This but nothing else? Sharks in fresh water and these switches I have to suck?”
Ulysses ignored him. “Well, Mr. Spare, since you were kind enough to get rescued in a deleted scene, we have to assume you have something to tell us.”
Spare nodded and launched into his explanation.
“Now that Dr. Kozlov has completed their device for them, their plan is progressing all too well. The world leaders will arrive and the game will act as a distraction while they align the satellite! After the satellite is aligned and fired, they will be in control of the minds of the most powerful men and women in the world! T.H.R.U.S.T. will have absolute power!” Spare exclaimed.
Ulysses gave him a serious look. “You’re very useful at recapping things. In fact, I get the feeling that your whole purpose is simply to provide exposition.”
Spare looked very nervous. “Huh?” he said innocently. “Whatever do you mean? We must hurry. We have only one hour before the satellite will be in range of Zidane’s remote!”
“That is a fairly arbitrary number,” said Ulysses.
Misha sighed hugely. “Now is not the time,” he said. “Let us see what we can do to stop Zidane. The device to override NASA’s satellite positioning system will have to be on the football field. It will act as a focus and so it will have to be near to the world leaders.”
Spare looked at his watch. “The leaders are sitting in the best seats, very close to the pitch. They will be surrounded by guards, but their security will be compromised! Their guards will undoubtedly be loyal to Zidane.”
“Stopping the game will alert them to our plan. If we interrupt at all, the leaders’ lives will be in danger. Our only hope is to infiltrate the game,” said Misha, looking suddenly alive with the idea. “A player on the field will have a better view of the world leaders from the pitch than anyone in the audience. I can take the place of a player from the opposing team, Menshikov United.”
Ulysses looked skeptical. “Can you even play soccer?” he asked.
“Of course,” Misha said, looking horrified that Ulysses thought otherwise.
The shorts Misha Kozlov wore were very revealing. Ulysses hadn’t noticed the fact when it was Misha’s newly adopted teammates wearing them, but with Misha in them, it was a different matter entirely.
“We’ve got to…find you a…a different uniform,” sputtered Ulysses.
“What is wrong with it?” asked Esteban, eyeing Misha seriously. “They fit him just fine.”
“Oh, I agree,” said Spare. “Do a little turn, let’s see them.”
Misha obliged and Spare’s breath caught in his throat. “Oh, yes,” he said. “One more time, only a little slower…”
“No! No more turning sensually in circles! Those shorts…are….obscene!” Ulysses managed at last.
Misha’s eyes dropped to the offending shorts. “They feel pretty good.”
“Oh, they look pretty good,” Esteban offered dryly. “Your team will win because other players will suddenly turn gay, stop playing, and try to date you. All of this is very gay,” he added.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Misha said, all seriousness.
“Does he really no know?” Esteban asked Ulysses softly.
“He doesn’t have a clue,” Ulysses replied with a deep sigh. They watched as Spare drifted close to Misha, practically floated to his side.
“You were very brave,” he said. “You saved my life.”
Misha gave him a quick look. “You’re very valuable,” he said, looking away again. “I’m glad that I did it. And perhaps the scene will be put back in one day. In a special edition? Or in the novelization.”
“Oh, that sounds lovely,” breathed Spare, gazing at Misha lovingly.
Ulysses clenched his hands into brutal fists. He gritted his teeth. “I…don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I feel quite angry,” he said to Esteban.
“You are angry because you will lose him,” Esteban said. “But, then again, you never really had him.” He gave Ulysses’ tense shoulder a squeeze.
“Oh, shut up, Esteban,” Ulysses said. He whirled on his feet and left the room.
“What’s the matter with him?” Misha asked.
Esteban shook his head. “You really are a bit clueless, no?”
And all too soon, Misha was ready to go onto the pitch with his new team. Only, the team itself was a little confusing. The appeared, practically, out of thin air.
“Does anyone wonder when the Menshikov United team got here? Or how?” asked Ulysses to the room at large. He was rubbing his forehead and frowning in pain.
A small football player with a number three on his back said, “I was in my hotel, taking a shower. The next thing I knew, I was standing right here listening to the coach give a pep talk.” There was terror in his voice, as if reality was slipping away and he didn’t know how to pin it into place.
“I was talking to my mother on the phone,” said another player, a haunted expression on his face. “Have no idea how I got here.”
Misha looked thoughtfully into space. “This is puzzling. The phenomenon is getting worse,” he said.
And just to prove his point, wobble, wobble shimmy went the world.
“Wait!” cried Ulysses, grabbing Misha by the shoulder just as he was about to walk onto the pitch.
“Ulysses, what now?” complained Misha.
“For luck,” whispered Ulysses and then kissed him hard. Against his lips he whispered, “Open your mouth,” and Misha did, gasping as Ulysses tongue drove deep inside.
“See?” complained Esteban to Spare, waving at the spectacle. “When I tell you this is all very gay, you listen, no?” He looked to Spare, who was red and angry-looking.
Misha broke the kiss, with a soft exclamation in Russian. His eyes darted over Ulysses’ face.
“Where did all this come from?” he asked, looking completely lost. “Suddenly you desire me?”
“It’s not sudden,” argued Ulysses. “I’ve always felt this way. But I didn’t know how to show you. And now with you about to go play a very dangerous game of soccer—”
“Football!” argued Esteban.
“Football,” said Ulysses, not missing a beat, “I just…couldn’t let you go without showing you how I feel.”
“But all the girls,” said Misha. “Cindy and Debra and Wanda.”
“Substitutes,” admitted Ulysses. “Substitutes for you.”
“Hmm. You do have a thing for blondes,” said Misha thoughtfully.
“I really, really do,” breathed Ulysses, eyes raking up and down Misha’s body, lingering on his skin-tight shorts.
Spare strode forward and pushed the two partners apart. Misha was gasping and red and Ulysses was no better. He looked like the mission was the last thing on his mind, like he would gladly let the world leaders get brainwashed if he could pull Misha to the ground and finish all of this right here as messily as possible.
Spare pulled the flustered Misha close with a determined look on his face.
“Mr. Spare?” asked Misha, voice barely a whisper.
“I don’t think you need luck,” said Spare before whipping off his glasses. Misha’s knees went suddenly weak.
“A bloody magic trick,” he said and lunged forward to kiss Spare. Their lips smashed together since it seemed Spare was intent on kissing him just as hard. They both moaned at the same time.
“Hey!” squeaked Ulysses. “Hands off my partner! You can’t kiss him passionately after I kiss him passionately. That’s just copying!”
“Hold on. A. Minute. Ulysses,” Misha said in between kisses, waving vaguely in his direction. “Just. A. Mmmmm. Mom…Mom…moment…Mmmmmm.”
Spare grabbed Misha’s ass and ground their bodies together. “Darling,” he moaned. “My darling, brilliant, Russian…”
“He’s my darling, brilliant, Russian,” complained Ulysses.
Esteban gave Ulysses a sad look. “I’m pretty sure he is no your darling, brilliant, Russian,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve never seen someone get their tongue that far down someone else’s throat before. It is very sexy, no?”
“No!” replied Ulysses.
“What is your first name?” begged Misha, tugging at the buttons of Spare’s lab coat and grinding his hips hard against Spare’s.
“Kevin,” breathed Spare.
“Oh, beautiful, beautiful Kevin,” sighed Misha.
“Misha. Beautiful Misha. God, those shorts leave nothing to the imagination. Take them off?”
“Oh, yes,” agreed Misha.
“Mission!” cried Ulysses. “We have. A. Mission!”
That snapped Misha out of it. He staggered away from Spare. “Later,” he said. “We will finish this later.”
Spare nodded dumbly. “Please. Yes,” he said.
Ulysses huffed, grabbed Misha by the wrist, and tugged him out the door and down the hall.
“I can’t believe this!” he said once they were in a private office inside the stadium. “What about me?”
“Um…” said Misha.
“Don’t you feel anything?” Ulysses demanded. “I told you how I feel about you!”
Misha crossed his arms. “To be fair, you made love to another man and called out my name. Loudly. Repeatedly. That is not the same thing, Ulysses.”
“Okay, so I went about it a strange way. But now you know. Now is the time when you tell me how you feel about me,” he took a deep breath and said, very softly, “Now is when you tell me that you love me.”
Misha stared at him for a long, silent, terrible moment. “You are my partner,” he said simply. “I care a great deal about you and your safety.”
Ulysses grasped at that, clung to it, tried to twist it around to make it mean what he wanted it to mean, and all within a matter of seconds. “But?” he asked when he failed.
“But I can’t…I can’t give you what you want,” Misha said. “There were a million ways you could have handled all of this from the beginning. You chose the wrong one.” He took a step away from Ulysses. “Try to understand my point of view,” he added.
And with that, Misha fled the room, leaving behind a crushed Ulysses.
The Guatasalvador Football Stadium. The game was about to start…
The world leader were a collection of stooped old men and women from all around the world. They were surrounded, each of them, by armed men and women in dark suits who looked suspiciously from side to side, on guard for threats.
Misha won the coin toss and the players spread out on the field in formation. The crowd was lively and loud and the players all looked to be in fine form. In the stands, Spare and Ulysses watched the excitement. Beside them, Esteban was in disguise as a Regular Man. Not a Famous Footballer at all! No, sir!
From time to time he shouted very specific instructions down to his teammates and his feet constantly moved around, as if he played the game along with them. What he thought of his clone’s ability, he didn’t say, but he did sometimes wear a jealous-looking scowl on his face when the clone made some impressive tackle.
As Ulysses watched the game, with the occasional glance to the world leaders in the VIP stands, one thing became very clear to him: He had no idea what was going on at all. He turned to Spare and said as much. Spare just shrugged.
“You are, of course, American,” he said. “Football is not your game.”
“We play football in America.”
“Wrong kind,” sighed Spare.
“And what are you?” asked Ulysses jealously.
“Irish,” said Spare. “We love the game.”
To Ulysses, the game, if that’s what you called it, looked very tiring. The men ran back and forth and sometimes smashed into each other and always seemed incapable of getting the blasted ball into the net.
“What’s the score?” Ulysses asked after what seemed like two hours of play.
“Zero-zero,” whispered Spare, clearly caught up in the action down on the field.
“God, somebody had better score soon, this is terrible.”
“Here, look,” Spare said, sounding like he was striving for patience. “Misha is on the wing.”
“Oh, I see him, yes,” said Ulysses. “Not very good at scoring,” he remarked.
“Wingers don’t often score,” Spare sighed. “He sets his teammates up to score. Misha is very good,” he explained.
“Then why is the score zero-zero?” whined Ulysses
“Their opponents have a very good goalie,” said Spare, looking displeased.
“The little guy jumping around in front of the net?” asked Ulysses.
“Yes,” sighed spare. “The little guy jumping around in front of the net. You know, it’s no wonder Misha has never slept with you.”
Ulysses gaped at him. “I’m sorry, what did you just say to me?”
Spare smiled a slimy smile and said, “Isn’t it a wonder how Misha makes everyone else look like they’re sleeping? He’s a wonderful winger. Is there anything he can’t do?”
Ulysses looked suspicious. “No, he’s good at everything,” he admitted.
Spare’s eyes were glued to Misha, or at least to those truly obscene shorts, and Ulysses was having a terrible time and already deciding that he hated soccer.
The game was going well. It was clear enough now that the clone of Esteban Torres was a great player, maybe not as good as the man he was cloned from, but just a really solid part of the team. His teammates were all glad he was there, even if he was a clone.
There was a small break, the referee arguing with a Trafalgar F.C. player, and Misha took the time to look up into the stands. He could just make out the faces of his companions, Esteban was following the game, shouting something down about the referee being blind. Spare was looking right at Misha, and Ulysses was looking hatefully at Spare for it. Misha didn’t know what was to be done about all of it. He didn’t want to lose one for the other, but if forced to choose between his partnership with Ulysses and the giddy, lightheaded sensation that came from being with Spare, Misha feared he would choose with his heart. Ulysses would be crushed.
Play resumed and he felt no more certain about his future for all his fretting.
He was lining up a shot from the wing when he felt it creeping up on him, rhythmic and pulsing. He was able to sense the phenomenon coming on now. Mid-kick, he whipped his head to the side, just in time to see…
Well, he didn’t know what it was exactly. It was blackness running in a line down either side of the world, all accompanied by a noise like a stick caught in a fan blade. Before he could make sense of it, there was a snap! and then blackness.
He came to running straight into Ulysses’s arms. “We did it!” Ulysses was cheering, but there was something on his face that let Misha know he, too, had experienced the jump.
But they had saved the day, so what did it matter if the world seemed to be ending one strange leap in time at a time? They had stopped the satellite from changing positions, and all the world leaders were safe. Trafalgar F.C. had taken the Cup! Even with a clone! Everything was going to be okay. The device was off, Esteban was safe, and Misha was reunited with Ulysses. What could go wrong?
Which was when a sultry voice shouted, “Not so fast!” There was the click, click sound of designer heels on the ground and there she was, as winsome as when Ulysses last saw her. Only, back then, she hadn’t been aiming a gun at him.
“Wanda! What are you doing here?”
“Ahh, Ulysses. Charming, handsome, foolish Ulysses. What does it look like I’m doing?” she asked, a cruel smile on her lovely face.
“I don’t actually know,” admitted Ulysses. “That’s why I asked. Misha?”
“Oh, Ulysses, isn’t it obvious?” Misha said with a sigh.
“Uhh, no,” Ulysses said and shrugged.
Wanda glared at him. “I was the mole! Don’t you see?”
“Ohh,” said Ulysses, nodding his understanding. “So you’re the one telling all of D.A.D.D.Y.’s secrets to Zidane. We wondered what happened to you. We sent you out for coffee one day and you just never came back. Should have only taken a minute since our front is a cafe.”
“Yes, indeed,” agreed Misha. “I had ordered a latte, if you recall.”
“Fools!” shouted Wanda, jerking the gun towards them. “Fools, all of you! You worry about your lattes and your silly little world leaders. Don’t you see something bigger is going on here?”
Misha gave her a sharp look. “Oh, indeed. Time is getting away from us all, isn’t it? I have seen it.”
“You’ve seen it?” she whispered. “I only feel it. But you have seen it? Is it beautiful?”
“It’s frightening, Wanda. You must know that. Do you know what is causing the phenomenon?”
“Oh, I do,” said Wanda. “And if anyone could stop it, I suppose it would be you,” she sneered. “But I don’t want to stop it. I want to help it!”
“Wanda, please! What about us? Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” Ulysses demanded, stepping towards her, completely unconcerned with what was maybe an important conversation about the flow of time being violently interrupted.
“You!” she hissed. “You selfish little shit! It did mean something. But only to me!” She whirled to face Misha. “Do you know he called out your name during sex?”
“Uh,” said Misha. “Hmm,” he added. “I will say that this is all starting to make sense,” he said at last.
“He bought me flowers on your birthday. Every year.”
“Yes, I am less and less surprised by these things,” Misha said, trying to make it clear that he got the general shape of the problem, but this seemed only to infuriate Wanda more.
“He asked me to wear blue contacts and dye my hair blond,” she said.
“Ulysses has a few issues,” offered Misha.
“He asked me to learn Russian!” shrieked Wanda.
“I believe we are all now understanding this point,” Misha said soothingly.
“He’s a bastard!” growled Wanda.
“I will agree,” said Misha.
“Hey!” protested Ulysses.
Misha shrugged apologetically. “I am sorry, my friend, but today is full of many shocks and most of them are your fault.”
“And, you know, he’s not even gay,” Wanda complained.
“I will disagree with you there,” Esteban offered, but went silent and raised his hands higher when Wanda jerked the gun in his direction.
“Oh, no, he’s as straight as they come, little football star,” she hissed. “He just happens to go a little gay when Misha is involved.”
“I just watch him have kinky sex with another man who is no Misha, eh?” Esteban offered nervously.
Wanda rolled her eyes. “Well, yesterday was Wednesday,” she said. “Was Misha being forced to watch?”
“Ah, yes,” Esteban admitted.
“And there you go,” Wanda explained.
“May I just say that I’m very embarrassed about all of this?” Ulysses tried but, “No!” both Wanda and Misha shouted over him.
“Whoa! Whoa. Settle down! You’re on my side, right, Esteban?” asked Ulysses.
“Sorry, friend, but I do agree with them,” Esteban said sternly.
“Thank you,” said Wanda.
“No problem,” said Esteban.
“This blows,” said Ulysses.
Wanda seemed to relax. “Now that we all understand the situation, you can see why I am happy that T.H.R.U.S.T. is about to triumph. The satellite may be beyond our reach, but we have other ways of convincing world leaders to give us what we want. I’ll just keep all of you here while we complete our plan. Then I’ll turn you over to Zidane who will reward me handsomely.”
“I hope you don’t mean with sex, because he really is gay,” Esteban said sagely.
“Oh, honey, I know,” Wanda said with a sigh. “That much a blind man could see.”
“Oh, I was just checking. I was concerned,” Esteban offered, looking a little nervous. “I have a friend who cannot tell at all. Perhaps you have such a friend? It causes her no end of pain as she is attracted to fit men with stylish hairstyles and nice taste in clothing. Always she is finding such a man who does no like her and she does no know why. ‘Why he no like me?’ she ask and when I see this man and say, ‘Oh, he is gay, that is why,’ every time she is surprised. ‘He is gay?’ she say over and over. ‘Oh, Esteban, I could no tell. He is so fit and fashion-conscious,’ she say.”
Wanda’s eyes had started to go soft and unfocused as Esteban droned on and on and suddenly, she snapped to attention. “You are trying to distract me!”
She aimed at Esteban but Misha was already right before her, having moved so fast she hadn’t even seen him.
“He was, indeed, trying to distract you,” said Misha, knocking the gun out of Wanda’s hand.
The gun went flying across the room and Ulysses tracked it with his eyes.
It never hit.
Misha reeled away from the black bars on either side of the world, racing faster and faster, coming closer and closer to him. And then…
When he came to, Wanda was hanging from a rope ladder attached to a helicopter.
“You haven’t seen the last of me!” she said and shook her fist at them.
“How did she get helicopter?” Esteban asked, rubbing his head.
Misha was crouched on the ground, breathless with exertion he couldn’t remember exerting. Ulysses, inexplicably, had his hand on Misha’s ass.
“Oh, dear me, how did that happen?” asked Ulysses.
“I don’t care how, just remove your hand,” said Misha.
Ulysses came to his feet and helped Misha to his. “Well, now what?” he asked Spare.
“What makes you think I know?” Spare asked huffily.
Ulysses lifted an eyebrow high. “You do, don’t you?”
Spare sighed. “I do. We must stop the laser Wanda activated,” he said.
“When the hell did she do that?” Ulysses demanded.
“Oh, shortly after Misha wrestled the gun away from her, defeated all her goons, and disabled a bomb.”
“None of that happened,” Ulysses muttered. “None of it.”
Spare gave him a shrug. “Have you read a newspaper lately?”
“I read about that musical chimpanzee on a killing spree,” Ulysses tried.
“Wrong story. Read about the editor’s strike. It’s a much bigger story. A particularly relevant story to our current troubles. But, perhaps, one for another time. Come with me! T.H.R.U.S.T. has promised to destroy one major city every hour until their demands are met!”
D.A.D.D.Y. Headquarters, New York…
Elle sat at her desk and took another long swallow of bourbon. She had taken to drinking. It was the stress of the job. The stress of working for Spebbington, who was a fool, and having to assist and guide men like Ulysses Hawke, who was an even bigger fool, one who stared at her breasts when she spoke and couldn’t remember her name.
She thought about Wanda. They had never met, but Elle felt some kind of solidarity with the woman. One day, Wanda had walked out and never come back. Elle was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, she might do the same.
“Wanda!” cried Spebbington from his office. Elle sighed.
“Yes, sir,” she said in a soft, weary voice, and made her way to him.
The Very Gay Football Affair
“Who builds such a laser?”
The Guatasalvador Football Stadium…
The four men ran onto the pitch.
“You check the stands,” Misha ordered Spare and Ulysses. “Esteban and I will check the pitch. If Wanda activated a laser, there must be a way to turn it off.”
They split up, running as fast as they could with the crowd fleeing after the T.H.R.U.S.T. attack and the bomb scare and Wanda’s surprising helicopter. Somehow, Misha had changed out of his tiny football shorts and into a black turtleneck, black pants, and a gun holster. No one could quite explain it. Misha ran for the center of the pitch.
Misha ran for the center of the pitch.
Misha ran center the pitch.
Misha the pitch.
Time jerked and sputtered. Time had a broken splice. Time was the victim of an assistant editor who didn’t know as much; an assistant editor who felt a traitor for crossing picket lines; an assistant editor who had really wanted to be a producer but here he was, stuck trying to rush this damn show out by Friday because of a strike everyone should have seen coming.
Hours of dailies came in daily and he had no time to watch them all. Oh, and these dailies were a mess. The unattractive actor playing Spare had been replaced mid-shoot by a gorgeous one and now he had to scramble to find some way to explain why half the scenes had an ugly duckling, and the other half a swan. Hell, one of the actors barely even spoke English! And there was no end in sight. God, he was stuck.
Like time was stuck.
Like time stuck.
Time went black, then white, then faded back up on Esteban who said: “This is no good!” just as the noise started.
The pitch rumbled, knocking everyone on it to the ground. It split open like elevator doors, dirt raining into the widening crack. The stands vibrated, but were steady enough; it was the pitch that looked like an earthquake had hit. Ulysses screamed when Misha fell over. He rushed forward only to be tugged back by Spare.
“It’s not safe!” Spare shouted.
“That’s my partner!” Ulysses shouted, vaulted the railing, and instantly went to his knees as the ground thundered beneath him. On his knees, he watched as the pitch floor tilted down. Misha was sliding down the incline feet first, clawing at the grass. He hit the edge of the split-open pitch, his long legs dangling into the enormous hole.
“Misha!” Ulysses shouted, struggled to his feet, and rushed forward. He tilted over the edge where the pitch angled down and let his body slip forward. The slide seemed endless and he used the time to slip his blade from where it was strapped to his ankle. He lifted the blade high, then stabbed it hard into the ground just in time. His body whipped to the side at the sudden stop.
Misha called out to him and Ulysses flung out a hand to him. “Grab my hand!” he screamed over the rumble.
Misha swung once, twice, and then clasped his outstretched hand. Ulysses strained and pulled, felt Misha’s grasp slip a little.
“Don’t you dare let go!” he shouted.
“It’s no good. Let me go and save yourself, you fool!” Misha cried back.
“To hell with that,” Ulysses growled and pulled so hard one last time he thought his wrist might snap. At the end of the movement, his arm wrapped around Misha and he laughed against his neck.
“Got you, I’ve got you,” he said.
“Yes, I suppose you do,” Misha whispered back.
Then there was a high whine of metal scraping against metal. The two agents strained to look deep into the maw that was now the center of the pitch as something came from the depths.
Misha’s eyes widened as the thing came thrusting up from the chasm, the side of it mere feet away from where they struggled to hang on. It was so large that Misha could not tell where it started and ended. Just when he was making out the shape of it—a long, thick barrel; maybe something that looked like a generator and a heavy cable running alongside the barrel—a rope flopped down beside them.
“Hurry! Take the rope!” came Spare’s voice from high above them. He was on the edge of the level pitch in what looked like a golf cart. The rope was tied to the front of the little car and Ulysses doubted it had enough horsepower to pull both of them, but there was also no chance he would be able to hold on much longer.
Misha flailed forward, caught the rope, leaned down low and wrapped it around both of them, hands fast and hard around Ulysses’ back. Ulysses had to arch up to give Misha room to work and it pressed his body hard against Misha who looked him in the eye, his expression intense.
“Some other time,” Misha said. “When we’re not about to die.”
“Promise?” Ulysses said, all hope.
“No, but think of it as a reason to live.”
Then they were being tugged slowly upwards. When they reached level ground, they climbed into the back of the golf cart and got their first look at the weapon jutting up from the center of the pitch. Beyond the shape of the thing, there was something decidedly fake-looking about the laser.
“Huh. Bad visual effects,” said Misha.
“Visual what?” asked Ulysses.
“Never mind. More importantly, is there something…suspicious about the shape of that weapon?” Misha asked, cheeks going red.
“Um,” said Spare. He drove in silence.
He pulled up in front of Esteban who was standing with his arms crossed and a sour look on his face, eyes trained on the laser, how the tip of the barrel flared out like a helmet, how the base of the barrel had two round, connected generators that seemed to dangle down beneath it.
“Okay,” Esteban said with a glare. “I am maybe no surprised. First that satellite, and now this. Everything about T.H.R.U.S.T. is very gay.”
Spare was deliberately not looking at the weapon, which was quite a feat since the thing towered above them, dwarfing everything.
“The shape…might have been an accident,” said Spare, still not looking. Not looking at the very tip of the laser, a round dome of white that rather looked like it was dripping. Not looking at the curling wires near the base of the thing, so many of them, short and springy like hair…
“No, I think is no accident!” snapped Esteban.
“We have to get to the controls,” said Misha. “It will fire shortly.”
“Who builds such a laser?” Esteban shouted. “Is no practical!”
Spare finally gave in and had a look at the thing. There was no chance it could have been accidental. No chance at all.
“I have seen such a design before,” he said. “Misha, come with me. The control panel is there, at, ahem, the base.”
He grabbed Misha’s hand and darted away. Ulysses made to follow, but Esteban stopped him.
“You and me, we will only get in the way, no?” Esteban said with a kind smile.
“Perhaps you are right,” Ulysses said sadly.
Just then, there was the sound of a gun cocking behind them.
“Boys, boys,” said Zidane Zidane. “My handsome, handsome boys. You have ruined my day.”
Spare handed Misha a wrench and Misha said, “Thank you,” and then kind of froze. The Fog had come over him. Staring down at the precise collection of wires and buttons, Misha knew everything there was to know about the laser. He could make it ten times as powerful. He could make it the greatest weapon the world had ever known. The Fog was heavy and thick and compelling.
There was hand touching his face. A welcoming, loving hand.
“Darling,” said a voice he loved hearing. “Remember: don’t fix it. Break it.”
There was a kiss to his cheek, warm and soft.
“You want me to…?”
“Break the laser, darling. Please. If you would.”
“Yes…I…can do that,” Misha agreed. He went back to the wires. It was the work of only a minute. The Fog seemed disappointed in him. He could have destroyed the world, had he wanted, and instead he’d gone and saved it, and what fun was that? The Fog drifted away in a huff and Misha’s vision focused.
Spare was still touching his face, was giving him a beautiful smile. “Well done, darling,” said Spare.
“It was all you. You kept me from…that is…I was going to…”
“Shh, I know,” said Spare. “Don’t worry. Here, come here.” He pulled Misha close, grabbed his hand. “Let me,” he whispered.
Misha opened his mouth, leaned in close, thrilled that Spare was leaning in just as fast. He froze suddenly.
“Oh, do not stop on my account,” chuckled Zidane Zidane. “Such a nice show.”
Spare and Misha pulled apart, then raised their hands. Before them, Miguel had a gun to Ulysses head and Zidane had his overly-large gun aimed at Esteban’s.
“You come away,” Zidane said to Spare. “You stay there. Fix what you broke,” he said to Misha.
Misha watched unhappily as Spare’s fingers slipped from his. Zidane waved the gun at him and Misha turned back to the laser. The Fog was waiting in the wing, encouraging him to just do it. He could bring the world to its knees. Instead, he took a gamble.
“And what will you do with me after I fix the laser?” he said.
Zidane laughed low in his broad chest. “Oh, such plans I have,” he said and licked his lips.
“Torture?” asked Misha.
“Like I did to your partner?” Zidane said with a quick look at an embarrassed Ulysses. “Oh, no. You, I will make mine. You are wasted at D.A.D.D.Y. But join me and we will rule the world together. You will be always by my side.”
“I will be…your lover?”
“My only lover,” Zidane said. “Who compares to you?” he asked.
Misha glanced over his shoulder. “Do you hear that?” he said. “Doesn’t it bother you? His affections are so fickle. His heart so twisted.”
Zidane frowned. “Are you…talking to me?” he asked.
“No,” Misha said with a sad smile. “I was talking to him.”
“Who?” asked Zidane.
“Me,” Miguel said, then raised his gun and smashed it down over Zidane’s head. Zidane tumbled down like a rock from a hill.
Everyone kind of stood around lost and shocked for a second. “Well, that’s one of the possible fifty ways to leave your lover,” Ulysses said.
Misha rolled his eyes and said, “Well done, Miguel.” He walked forward and cautiously took the gun from Miguel. “He was no good.”
Miguel sniffed. “Oh, I knew he was rotten,” he said. “I think I was in love with the idea of him.” He looked suddenly to Ulysses. “You understand that, I think.”
Ulysses looked flummoxed, sputtered and floundered, but ultimately couldn’t form words.
Meanwhile, Misha went about the business of calling for reinforcements and keeping Zidane restrained until backup arrived. Grim and scowling, Zidane came to just as Section Five appeared to arrest him.
Spare looked suddenly distraught as Zidane was led away.
“What is the matter?” asked Misha, concern in his voice and in his eyes.
“I’ve been untruthful,” said Spare before removing his glasses. Misha, luckily, was near the Section Five car and he held onto it to keep his knees from going out from under him. Meanwhile, Zidane turned, as if he had been forced to by magic. He gasped and lunged for Spare, only to be stopped by his guards.
“Kevin! My beloved! All this time, I thought I had lost you!” cried Zidane. “Yet here you are, right under my nose.”
“I was hiding in plain sight,” said Spare. “I joined T.H.R.U.S.T. to try to save you from yourself, to try to win back the man they stole from me. But you were corrupted by power. The man I loved is dead.”
“No,” Zidane cried. “Only just a little lost.” At Spare’s hard look he amended, “Or quite terribly lost. But you can help me find my way back. Say you will.”
Spare seemed to think. “Perhaps you deserve a second chance. Perhaps I can save you yet.”
“Oh, yes! I am very easy to save. Ask Juan. Or…Miguel. Or whatever his name is.”
“I hate you,” Miguel said with feeling.
But this could not bring Zidane down. Even as the handcuffs were placed around his wrist, Zidane looked as jubilant as a child at his birthday party. “You’ll visit me in prison?”
“Oh, my darling, yes!” cried Spare. “At least at Christmas. I think I have Christmas off.”
“Wait, what?” Zidane shouted as he was hauled away.
“Oh, and Memorial Day! I usually get Memorial Day off!”
“But you work for—” Zidane tried to argue, but his voice was cut off by the squad car door closing after he was roughly shoved inside.
“I never take Easter off,” Spare continued to explain to Misha. “It comes at such a busy time of year. I usually work right through the whole thing.”
“Yes,” Misha agreed. “I know what you mean. But…you do realize you’re out of a job, correct?”
“Oh, yes. I am well and truly unemployed. I just said all that about visiting to make him feel better, you know.”
“I don’t think it worked,” Misha said quietly.
Spare cast a shy look at him. “I really don’t want to visit him. I want to forget him. In fact, I want to spend as much time as possible getting to know you. I revealed myself to him so that I would no longer be lying to you. I want no secrets between us.”
“No!” Ulysses shouted from the sidelines. “You are not going to be getting to know Misha!”
Esteban slapped a hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry, dear Mr. Hawke, but I think you have maybe lost your chance.”
Wobble, wobble went the world. Misha could watch the phenomenon in his peripheral vision now, see it creeping up. This time, the loss was not so long, perhaps only ten minutes or so.
Misha stood beside the car a dutiful Section Five agent had brought for him. Spare was on the opposite side of it, studying him with a million questions on his face.
Misha found that he liked the look of Spare, even in his glasses. He could imagine looking at him for days and days. What a pleasure that would be. And Spare was the only man in the world who had saved him from himself, pulled him out of the Fog before he could do something great and terrible. There had to be a reason Spare could reach him like no one else.
Right then, he realized a truth so big it made him feel small. Now that this affair was over, and saying goodbye to Kevin Spare was a moment away, Misha realized that he didn’t want to say goodbye to him at all. It was all very simple: he wanted to be with Spare. Nothing much else seemed to matter.
Misha was too honest to play any games, so he looked into the thick glass sheets hiding Spare’s eyes and said, “I have some theories and could use a second opinion. Would you mind coming with me to investigate this strange phenomenon of time?” From Misha, it was practically a love sonnet.
“How we lose entire hours of our days?” asked Spare. “Entire chunks of our memories? How you can sense the terrible thing coming upon you, mercilessly snipping the world in two?”
“Yes, that,” replied Misha. “And how nothing here looks real.” Misha waved an elegant hand at the world around them. “That stadium does not look real. This car does not look real. The sky does not look real. Everything looks small. As if it has been filmed on a set. Or perhaps it all looks like a 3D set extension, tracked and composited in a rush, and color corrected poorly with the gamma levels set wrong.”
“Huh, imagine,” said Spare.
Misha eyed him seriously. “But…you will come with me, won’t you?”
Spare gave him a beautiful smile. “Oh, there was never a doubt. I’ll go with you anywhere you go,” he said. “And perhaps we should start in Hollywood,” he added.
Misha thought about this, shrugged as if to say, “Why not?” and then climbed into the car, loved seeing Spare climb in beside him. He squeezed Spare’s hand, just once, then drove away with only a quick wave to Ulysses and Esteban.
Ulysses watched them go, a tragic look on his face. A second later and he was on the move, racing for the nearest D.A.D.D.Y. vehicle.
“Where are you going?” Esteban shouted. Ulysses paused with one foot inside the car and turned back to him.
“I’m going to go win him back!”
“You never had him!” Esteban argued.
“Don’t bother me with details! Are you coming or not?”
Esteban was surprised at first, then he really thought about his options. Just behind him, the police were interviewing all of his teammates and ushering diplomats and ambassadors to safety. The team goalie beckoned Esteban over with a friendly wave and Esteban waved back, but didn’t take a step closer. His own clone waved at him and Esteban tried his best to wave back, but felt rather strange about the whole thing.
In truth, he didn’t want to go back to that world. Playing football was starting to seem fairly dry in comparison to sneaking around fortresses and battling bad guys. And, if he were being truthful, he was feeling remarkably fond of Misha himself; didn’t like the idea of him driving off into the sunset with Spare. He had liked Misha kissing him more than he thought he should have.
Ulysses was buckling up and starting the car. “Wait for me!” Esteban shouted.
He sprinted to the car and had to throw himself into the passenger’s side before Ulysses pulled off.
“That’s the spirit!” said Ulysses.
Esteban put the top down and loved the feel of the wind through his hair. Heavy-footed on the gas, Ulysses gave him a winning smile and raced for the sunset. Or for Misha. Whichever he caught first.
D.A.D.D.Y. Headquarters, somewhere in New York.
Spebbington had found the remote to the array of televisions on the wall.
“As the strike continues and more and more productions are stalled, one has to wonder what the far reaching consequences will be if the studio heads and the editors fail to reach a compromise. Reporting live from Hollywood, I’m Dave Peterson, sending it back to—”
Click! went the TV set. Spebbington set down the remote.
“Damn Hollywood hippies!” he complained. “Wanda! Wanda, come here this instant! Oh, that’s right, I forgot.”
What he had forgotten was that Not-Wanda (perhaps her name was Nell?) had not come into work today. He was rather lonely. Agents came and went. A few calls came in over Channel G, but it wasn’t the same without her. She had disappeared, just like Wanda.
For a moment, he wondered about the reporter, how he had mentioned consequences of the strike. Somehow, he got the feeling that this affected him in some way. He had seen something earlier that day, something he was incapable of explaining. A fluttering, creeping blackness at the edges of the world.
And was it here again? Yes, that was it, the flickering.
He awoke on the roof, it was night now, though it had been daylight not an instant before. His head was aching and his ears were ringing.
“Wanda!” he cried. Unsurprisingly, Wanda did not come.
“Elle!” he shouted after a moment. He paused. “Oh, yes. That is her name. Elle! Elle, where are you? Elle!”
Elle, however, didn’t come either. Elle was, in fact, walking straight into T.H.R.U.S.T.’s New York headquarters, cleverly fronted by a pawn shop. Elle navigated past the counter, to the hidden elevator, gave the correct password, found the decorative fern, crossed a rope bridge, and scaled a formidable wall.
At last, she was before the one person she wanted to speak to most in the whole world.
The Commander leaned forward. “I understand you are interested in joining T.H.R.U.S.T.”
Elle nodded. “I am,” she said. She strode boldly forward and shook the Commander’s hand. “I’m Elle Carlyle,” she said. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“You can call me Wanda,” said the Commander with a perfect, calculating smile. “Have a seat. We have so much to talk about.”