Part 11: Overflo
Part 10: Overflo
"It iz a shame it had to come to this, mon ami."
As her commadoes secured Dagny's restraints, Flo took a long drag on a thin French cigarette, and leaned close to exhale the smoke in Dagny's face.
Dagny grimaced, and tested the bonds that held her arms. They were unyielding, as were the ones clamping her legs to the uncomfortable wooden seat.
Seeing Dagny struggling, Flo smiled.
"I don't think you'll be escaping soon. Those straps are double-braided nylon, rated to two thousand kilograms. In fact," she said, flashing a wicked grin, "I took them out of your famous 'Air Chariot.' What a shame that the machine that was supposed to free Arulco 'as now chained its would-be liberator. Ironic, don't you think?"
Dagny stared daggers at her.
"Despicable wretch! The others will come looking for me."
Flo put her hands on her hips and laughed loudly.
"You are so naive. Do you think I hadn't planned for this? As we speak, a very convincing Dagny doppelganger iz giving orders to your men to conquer Cambria's mine. Then she will lead them on a suicide mission, so that no one will remember this troubling little incident. Except, that iz, pour tu." The corner of her mouth curled into a smile, and she pointed at Dagny with her smouldering cigarette. Another drag, another puff. Smoke curled around her fingertip, the particles barely illuminated by the grimy light in the storage shed. She continued:
"The Order has asked me to extend to you a very generous offer."
"Yes Dagny, that's right, it was ze Order all along. Everything le medecin probably told you was a lie; everything that he said, he said on my my orders. I wanted you to come here alone, so we could have a nice little chat."
Dagny steadied her breathing and made a little wave, as much she could with her wrist bound.
"Speak, then. I'm listening."
Flo stubbed out her cigarette on an ashtray atop a nearby carton, and steepled her fingers. She spoke evenly to Dagny:
"You 'ave done well for us. But what does she mean by this, you ask? Well, Dagny, you 'ave done most of the work for the Order here. We 'ave been trying to jumpstart a revolution here for years to oust Deidranna, but the native resistance was much too weak. And we could find no mercenary who would take the job for such paltry cash. Ah, but not our Dagny, no no. No, Dagny loves money, she does, but where simple mercenaries saw too much work for too little cash, Dagny saw an investment opportunity. A place to install a virtuous democratic government that would interfere minimally with her capitalistic ways. And when we saw that, we knew we had found our dupe. Right away the Order secured a place for me on your assault team. And I was not disappointed with our progress: five cities you've already delivered to us, practically gift-wrapped."
Flo shook her head and sighed.
"Oh, how 'ard I to work to keep my furie repressed while I watched you rape and loot. But I knew it was for the greater good. The Order sees farther, Dagny. And I waited, and waited, and then, ah, magic! I saw my opportunity at San Mona, when you were so flush with your success that you would hardly notice a little pickpocketing. I took your little phone, had Skyrider do my bidding, waited for you to ravage all of Cambria looking for me. And now you are in my clutches, and the rest of Arulco is poised to fall."
Dagny tapped her foot impatiently.
"Your blather is interminable. What is your offer?"
Flo grinned and laughed.
"Ah yes, ever to the point, our Dagny iz. That iz why we like you! The offer iz thus: join the Order. You 'ave seen our strength. Moreover, you 'ave seen the sufferings the people on this island endure. Do you think your factories and boardrooms will bring them prosperity? No: you would make them slaves in all but name. Join with us, and ensure that Arulco sees the introduction of a fair and just government that is socially responsible. I am sure that, if you joined us, the Order would look favourably upon you with regard to the new regime and would give you an important..."
"Enough!" Dagny cried, cutting her off. She clenched her fists and strained at her bonds, seething with rage. "You would have me join socialists? You would have me shackle the free spirit of man in incorporeal bonds of 'family' and 'nation?' Never! I renounced those fetters long ago, and I will not assist you in so binding others. I would rather die!"
Flo looked at her placidly.
"So be it."
She waved a hand, and one of the commandoes placed a chloroformed cloth over Dagny's face.
Dagny awoke some time later, and found herself staring upward at blue sky. The afternoon sun greeted her from the west, something of a relief after having spent so much time in the cramped conditions of the storage locker. She tried to get up, but found that her arms and legs, outstretched, were tied down to the earth. Stakes had been driven through her nylon restraints, pinning her down.
She began to panic, but her capitalist training soon kicked in, the training that kept her from dumping her investments at the first sign of trouble. Relax, she told herself. This is but one trial on the path to riches. She closed her eyes and began to chant the mantra known to all captains of industry: tax-free growth, tax-free growth, tax-free-growth, taxfreegrowth...
There. A feeling of serenity and clarity overtook her. However, calmness did not bring with it a plan on how to escape her current situation. As she was turning over the possibilities for escape in her mind, she began to hear a buzzing noise in the distance. She turned her head sideways to get a look. Something was in the air, just above the trees that encircled the grove she was apparently in.
An icy chill wound its way down her spine.
It was the chopper, and it was headed toward her. Frightened, she pulled and tugged at her restraints, but to no avail. The whooping of the chopper blades drew ever closer. The chopper began to drop down as it approached her. She closed her eyes and scrunched up her face, waiting for one of the chopper's landing struts to lance her. The whooping got louder, louder, and for a moment was almost deafening, and she was sure that the cold hand of death was near. But only her hair was disturbed by the whooping rotors, and the chopper passed over her, though barely a foot from the ground. She breathed a sigh of relief, but after flying some distance away from her, the helicopter rotated in the air, ready for another pass.
The crackle of a loudspeaker cut through the air.
"That was just a practice run, I'm afraid," said the voice of Flo, booming over the helicopter's sound system. "Skyrider doesn't miss twice."
The loudspeaker cut out, and the helicopter began to descend toward her once more. Dagny struggled with all her might, tugging at the straps. Her biceps spasmed, but still she pulled. The chopper drew closer. Gritting her teeth, she kicked powerfully, and to her great surprise, the stake holding her left ankle came free of the soft earth, scattering clods of mud around. Dagny knew this was her only chance. The chopper was almost on top of her, her thoughts barely audible over the whooping of the rotors. She flattened herself against the ground and raised her leg as the chopper passed over her. The landing strut of the chopper caught the strap around her leg, and began to pull her forward. The stakes holding her remaining limbs were easily torn out of the earth, and she was lifted clear.
Now, however, she was dangling from the landing strut of an ascending helicopter, a situation only marginally better than the one she previously found herself in. As she watched the ground race by underneath, she felt exceedingly nauseous. Shunting terror aside, she reached up toward the strut and grasped it with her now-freed hands, pulled herself up, and gently unhooked her leg from the strut. She began to shimmy toward the loading bay door, when the chopper suddenly dipped to one side as Skyrider reached maximum height and began to rotate the bird. She clutched with all her might, waiting fearfully for the revolution to cease.
She heard footsteps on the metal plating of the chopper's floor, and the loading door above her slid open. Above her, she saw Flo's head, peeking out to see what happened to Dagny.
"Merde!" she shouted, when she saw that Dagny had disappeared. She took out her binoculars and began to scan the nearby area. Seeing a magical opportunity for both vengeance and safety, Dagny reached up and hooked Flo's foot with the strap that still encircled her wrist. Flo looked down as she felt something around her foot, but her realization came far too late when Dagny yanked with all her might. Her feet taken from under her, Flo's head slammed against the floor, and she was out cold. Dagny took hold of her protruding foot and used it to climb up into the cargo bay. Breathing heavily, she unhooked her wrist from Flo's foot. She looked down at the unconscious French woman. Blood was already beginning to soak her hair as it poured out of the gash on her head. Dagny half-contemplated booting her out of the chopper, but she doubted they were at a sufficient height to guarantee her death. Steadying her breathing, she freed herself of the nylon straps, and tossed them in the corner. She walked into the cockpit. Skyrider was there, staring straight ahead as he waited for orders. Not a single muscle twitched.
Dagny cleared her throat, and tried to speak without faltering from the dizziness that now threatened to overtake her.
Skyrider turned to face her, and looked at her blankly.
"SKYRIDER HERE. WHAT'RE YOUR PLANS FOR THE BIRD?"
Dagny probably shouldn't have been surprised that Skyrider was in no way conscious of the uses to which he had been put. He was a tool, and a useful one to anyone who could control him.
She sighed, and gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
"To Cambria's SAM, James. And don't spare the horses."
"THAT'S A BIG ROGER CAP."
Meanwhile, having ousted Deidranna's forces, ersatz-Dagny and her charges were conferring with Calvin Barkmore, local goony goon goon and director of Cambria's mine. The 'woman' looked entirely like Dagny: severe brown hair, sharp chin, angular nose, and trim waist. Moreover, she fought just like Dagny, perhaps even better. She did, however, struggle to match Dagny's diction as she made her demands known to Barkmore:
"You there, impudent manboy. Let's have this mine, yeah, and all the contents ensconced thereby within!"
Barkmore was a little put off.
He's only pissy because he just read his helldump callout thread
Doppleganger-Dagny's face twitched, and she replied:
"I'm not verily interested in the vacuous inanities emitted by yonder mouth. Relinquish one's holding on this here ore extraction servitude plantation, or experience dreadful biting at the oral hands of yon hound. Quid pro quo." She pointed to Ira, who was searching the mining commission office for a better pair of pliers, with which she could pull fingernails.
Biff and Gumpy were astounded by her newfound eloquence, and stood silently, wondering what answer Barkmore could possibly come up with to parry such an entreaty.
Tell me how to run a mine
Biff and Gumpy applauded this concession, and nodded to eachother, impressed.
Faux-Dagny merely brushed her nose with her thumb, irritated at having been stonewalled by a slow-witted neckbeard. She turned to her troops.
"Necessitude dictates that we effect the conquest//sack of nearest aerial defense facility. Destruction of the <belonging-to-Deidranna> human\animals has highest priority." She twitched slightly as she finished speaking.
Her men, however, were spellbound by her rhetorical prowess, and followed as she led them south, toward Cambria's SAM site.
Some time later pseudo-Dagny and her cohorts marched up to the gates of the SAM site, which were curiously unguarded. They were about to cross the threshold, when Biff spotted the chopper in the distance. He squinted.
"Huh, that's Skyrider. Why's the uh, why's the SAM not firing on him?
Fake-Dagny looked strained.
"Ask not questions of the inquiring type, you... dope-puffing socialist!" she shouted. "Keepen thine eyes affixed to the task placed carefully before one!"
Biff looked down, and a single tear appeared in the corner of his eye. Never had he heard such hurtful words. He turned to reply to false-Dagny, but found that she had disappeared.
By this time, the chopper had overtaken them and landed nearby. The squad gathered before the loading bay door, eager to see what would emerge.
The door slid open, and out jumped Dagny Taggart, entrepreneur. Her hair swayed majestically in the breeze, and she put a single hand on her hip, making her majesty evident to all.
Her gaze swept over her men.
"I trust things have gone well in my absence?"
They stood stone still, perplexed. She rolled her eyes and sighed.
"In case it's not apparent, the woman who sent you here was an impostor. This facility belongs to Flo. Had you gone inside, it would also have been your final resting place."
The team let out a collective 'ahhhhh,' pleased that the plot had been spelled out for them. Dagny hefted her rifle, which, along with her other gear, had fortunately been stored aboard the chopper by Flo. She addressed Razor, Haywire, and Ira:
"Flo herself is inside the chopper, unconscious. I want you three to restrain her. I will deal with her later." They went off, Razor laughing wickedly as he saw the immobile woman on the ground. With murder on his mind and rape in his heart, he slowly closed the bay door.
Dagny turned to Gumpy, Biff, and Gasket.
"As for you, we are going to finish this once and for all."
She finished speaking, and turned to advance on the facility. As they approached, a number of orange-vested troopers began to pour out of the SAM gates. Dagny frowned: she could tell that they were not Deidranna's troops. They moved far too quietly, far too efficiently. She gave a fierce cry, and ordered her men to open fire.
Your eyes say no, but your lightly-defended SAM site says yes
Though better trained than Deidranna's troops, they died and bled all the same. Gasket took a minor hit, but Biff patched him up easily. Dagny ordered her troops through the gates. No other troopers halted their advance.
They entered the launch control facility. A pair of troopers stood at opposite corners, but they were dispatched easily. The team approached the command bunker. Dagny put her ear to the door, and heard a curious mechanical whirring. Deciding that she did not want to risk a forced entry through the door, she ordered Gumpy to lay down an explosive charge. He did so, and the team retreated back aways.
The device exploded, caving in the wall. The team raised their weapons, ready for anything that might emerge. Anything except for what actually emerged, that is.
An enormous man came marching through the smoke, whirring and clanking as he moved. He turned his gaze on Dagny's squad, and his eyes glowed red. Dagny's heart nearly stopped when she saw him.
"Mike..." she whispered.
Not long after Dagny had freed the United States from a socialist plot to take over the government, she found herself the target of constant assassination attempts, likely funded by the International Order of Communists. Each week would bring with it some new hired gun, who would attempt to snare Dagny with clever traps or vicious assaults. And every week, Dagny would slaughter her foe easily, and would have her attaché mail the severed head to the Order's Argentinian headquarters. Only one had ever managed to escape with his head intact: Mike. Or, more precisely, the MIK-900, a Soviet-era killer robot. Designed for infiltration, the machine could mimic the appearance of others by 'growing' false skin and hair, which it could then shed. The machine was intelligent and ruthless, capable of devising complex, multi-year plots in order to accomplish its mission. But it failed in its attempt to slay Dagny, and was clearly driven mad by that failure. Whereas the robot formerly was able to mimic the voice of another, it could now only respond in a strange mixture of archaisms and overwrought speech; whereas the robot formerly moved gracefully, it now twitched and stuttered as it moved; and finally, whereas the robot formerly would have responded to the appearance of Dagny's chopper with a clever counter-move, it now ran into the command centre to force a showdown. The stress of the encounter had apparently caused it to change into its default appearance, that of 'Mike,' an infamous globe-trotting mercenary.
Obviously, Flo had been ignorant of the robot's madness, and had incorporated it into her plot unawares. Dagny was not about to relinquish this advantage. She shouted at her team, and they raised their weapons and poured round after round into the beast from their weapons. Initially, the shots clanked off of his heavy armour, but the withering assault eventually got the better of him. Sparks began to fly as lead contacted vital components, until one lucky shot struck his internal power source. A surge of electricity coursed up and down his body, turning the brute's artificial flesh black and causing his synthetic eyeballs to burst. When the charge expired, it stood, lifeless. Gasket was unimpressed and plugged it once more in the head.
Supervillainy has suffered a great blow this day
Dagny's heart was still pounding as she approached the fallen assassin robot. The heap of charred flesh and mechanical parts was barely recognizable. A small light, however, still glowed inside the chest cavity of the monster. Taking care not to cut herself on the debris, she reached in, took hold of the source of light, and tugged. A small black device came free, and sat blinking in her hand. A transponder, probably activated to warn any allied units that he had fallen in the line of battle. Not that anybody on Arulco would be able to detect it, she thought. She showed the device to Gumpy, seeking to take advantage of his skill with electronics.
"Mr. Hillman, this is a transponder, is it not? Could the SAM's targeting control system lock onto this?"
Gumpy thought for a moment, not entirely sure what Dagny was getting at.
"I suppothe so, yeah. Anything with a radio signal should work."
A malevolent grin spread over Dagny's face.
Some time later, Flo awoke to see the barrel of a gun just beyond the tip of her nose. Dagny Taggart was standing over her. Her head ached terribly, and she reached up to touch it, finding a thick gauze bandage soaked with blood.
"Ah, you're awake." She smiled as she saw Flo touching the bandage. "Yes, I didn't want you expiring before I had a chance to say goodbye."
The vibration of the moving chopper caused her head to pound, and Flo lay back down against the metal plating of the cargo bay. She closed her eyes.
"If you are going to kill me, just do it and be damned."
Dagny laughed lightly.
"Oh, it's not that simple, I'm afraid. I would hate for a bullet to pierce your thin skull and score my lovely Chariot, so I had to come up with a different way to do away with you. Something more fitting." She pulled out the transponder. Flo opened her eyes, and saw the glowing device. She narrowed her eyes.
"What iz that?" she asked cautiously.
"This? Oh just something I found inside your little toy. A nice piece of work, that, but no match for me." She smirked. "But what else could you expect of Soviet craftsmanship?"
Flo felt a sudden sinking sensation. Dagny continued:
"So I thought to myself: how do I kill Flo, my has-been arch-nemesis? Do I pump her full of red wine and leave her to die in a ditch, like any respectable Frenchman? Or do I drown her in the swamps of Arulco, leaving her corpse for malarial mosquitoes? Ah, but then it struck me: why not celebrate the emergence of a new order in Arulco with some fireworks?"
She hit a switch, and the cargo bay door slid open. Dagny shouted to Flo over the roaring wind:
"Good bye, Flo."
She reached down and stuffed the transponder into Flo's vest pocket. Then she shoved her out the door with her foot, and shot her once with her rifle. She leaned over to watch her corpse plummet to the earth below. However, before her corpse could hit the ground, one of the SAM's launchers turned and faced Flo. It fired a salvo of guided missiles, which streaked outward, seeking the transponder.
The explosion lit up the night sky. Little Flo bits rained all over the country-side.
On the ground, Biff wept as he saw his lover torn into confetti.
The evening breeze carried his mournful wailing high into the sky, where the pitiless moon heard but did not care.