Part 22: Finale
Hey! An update! I don't really have an excuse why this took so long, but read it anyway!
Stock photo - may not be actual palace
In the garden of Meduna's palace sat Queen Deidranna, idly reflecting on her situation. Multi-coloured birds flitted overhead, landing on one exotic fruit tree before taking off for another, cheeping and chirping all the while. Nothing could be heard but the sea breeze and the occasional rustle of a branch bowing under the weight of the birds that ate its seeds and built nests in the leafy thatch. While the birds remained blissfully unaware of the violence that was about to descend on the palace, Deidranna herself was almost painfully conscious of just how tenuous her grip on her power had become. Omerta, Drassen, Alma, Chitzena, Cambria, Balime, Grumm, Meduna - all had been wrested from her grip, and all now lay in the clutches of the hateful mercenaries. The palace alone, embattled and besieged, stood proud and free. Like a river, history was coursing forward, eroding the banks of her once powerful regime. Sighing, she plucked a grape from the dish before her and popped it into her mouth. She bit down on the overripe fruit and grimaced as the sour juice pooled in her mouth. The palace had been unable to restock their provisions for over a week: the stores were beginning to run dry, and the fresh food to rot. But she was better off than the commandoes she had surrounded herself with - they had gone hungry for days, and now their eyes bored into her back, jealous of her consuming even rancid grapes. It wouldn't be long before their grumbling increased and thoughts of mutiny started to enter their heads.
A door opened behind her, and Joe approached. He spoke in his usual gruff, no-nonsense manner.
"Queen, the mercenaries approach the palace. I think we should take to the tunnels." His voice lowered to a whisper, and he swept his hand around, indicating her black-shirted elite soldiers. "Leave these dogs here to inflict some pain on them."
Deidranna nodded slowly. Her one hope was to wait out the crisis in the underground tunnels, and then to escape at the first opportunity. Back to Romania, she thought, to start over. Perhaps there was another tiny island-nation out there in need of an iron-fisted tyrant.
Joe cleared his throat, interrupting her reverie.
"What do you want to do with Elliot?"
Ah. Elliot. Her former second-in-command now loped about the palace in a drunken stupor, half of his brain having been disintegrated by the bullet Deidranna had placed in his skull. He was too far gone to provide any useful intelligence to the rebels, and, given his pathetic state, she didn't have the heart to end his life herself.
"Let him stay. I'm sure the rebels will deal with him."
Joe paused for a moment.
"It's their fault, you know. The people. They didn't have the courage in their hearts to accept the Great Society. You tried to show them the way..."
He turned and took Deidranna's hand before placing a kiss on her knuckles.
"I am with you, my Queen, if you choose to repeat this project."
They departed for the tunnels.
Not twenty minutes later, Dagny and her men approached the palace. Everybody was present: Dagny herself, Gumpy, Biff, Gasket, Miguel, Haywire, Razor, Robot. Dagny wanted no asset spared in her quest to expel Deidranna and her socialist rule from the country.
Over the months of conflict, it had become more and more apparent to Dagny that Deidranna followed the usual pattern of "people power" rulers: she was vain, concerned only with the enrichment of herself and a small coterie of allies, and used slogans of "common justice" and "equality" simply to enhance her position. Such was the way of socialism, she thought. The idea of aiming for a common good was so inexact and abstract that, almost by philosophical necessity, it came to be synonymous with the good of the ruling class. Plato's Thrasymachus was surely wiping away dry spittle from his cackling lips somewhere in the literary Elysian Fields.
But the time for speeches and philosophy was past - the time for action was now. With the sun high in the sky and the palace looming before them, Team Purehog Squad marched toward the sealed gate of the palace, weapons held at the ready and hearts besotten with the weight of the day. History and the judgment of posterity were on their side.
Suddenly, a shot rang out. Everybody ducked. Crouched, Dagny scouted the area ahead of them, but could find nothing, no enemy leering at them with violence in his heart. Movement caught her eye from closer by. She squinted, and it soon dawned on her: it was Ira. Crouched down beside a palm tree for cover, Ira had begun firing into the palace gates at the approach of Dagny's team.
Just in front of the wrought-iron gates one of Deidranna's elite troopers slumped to the ground with a cry as Ira's shots passed through his body. She turned back and shouted at them:
"Took you long enough!"
It's surprising how long you can subsist on coconut milk, with a bit of palm tree bark for roughage
Dagny was astounded. Here she thought she would come across Ira lying in a ditch, bloody and battered, Deidranna's troops hovering over her menacingly. Instead, Ira was alive and healthy, merely waiting to take some form of vengeance on Deidranna.
"I can't get into the palace without explosives, so I've been waiting for you guys," she shouted.
"Why..." Dagny began to say, before being forced to duck when a hail of bullets erupted from the opening of the now-enraged hornet's nest. Time enough for words later.
The fighting was intense, but clearly in the favour of our heroic mercenaries. The gate presented a very small window into which they could concentrate their fire, with the end result being a pile of black-attired bodies simmered in sun-darkened blood:
As the blood began to seep under the gate, the fur hats and slurs against the Mexicans began to taper off. Nobody could happily pretend this was the Alamo anymore
But Deidranna's soldiers were as starved dogs who, when beset by hunger and cold and predators hungrier still, take to attacking doors and passing strangers, asking no quarter and giving none. They stepped on the bodies of their fallen comrades, hunkered down among the dead and dying, and fired back, not caring whether the outcome was death or victory.
I like to play Barber's Adagio for Strings in the background as Deidranna's soldiers unceremoniously plod forward to their ultimate doom, for that real Oliver Stone 'what's the meaning of it all?!?!' feeling
Dagny's mortar made mincemeat of their hopes and their bodies. Scorched blood blossomed in a crimson cloud as the shell impacted the earth, scattering bone fragments and flesh all around. The *whoomp* of its detonation was a hammer blow, piercing eardrums and upsetting the footing of men not instantly killed by it.
To this day you can still find the twisted remnants of charred dog tags if you look hard enough. A child's delight!
No more soldiers approached after the fall of the mortar. Our team waited quietly, waited for the moment when they could breach the palace and expedite the process of country-reclamation.
Beep boop, executing coup protocol... executing... EXECUTING
Just as they were about to start forward, a little flutter of movement caught their attention. A man was darting about inside the palace, visible through the open main doors. Back and forth he went. He was hissing and chattering as he moved about in a weird half-crouch, and disappeared as soon as he was spotted.
Those Deidranna statues are packing some serious ba-donka-donk
He had no weapon in hand, however - he was no threat to Dagny and her men. She ordered her team forward. Gumpy approached the gate, pulled out a brick of RDX-laced TNT, and deposited it in front. The team retreated aways, and Gumpy detonated the payload. The terrible shriek of metal forcefully heated and bent assaulted their ears, and a cloud of dust was kicked high into the air when the device exploded. The air cleared in only moments, and the team found themselves staring into the newly-created gap.
"Into the breach!" Dagny shouted, and her men piled forward, eager to wreak havoc. Killbot led the charge, and its Browning chattered endlessly, eating up the long belt of ammunition wrapped around the robot's steel shell, ejecting spent casings that seared the rotting flesh of the men on the ground:
Beep boop treads clogged with human filth
They secured the main corridor, already awash in the stink of human sweat and leavings - the plumbing in the palace had not functioned for over a week, since the rebels had cut off the palace's fresh-water supply that came from the desalination plant. They began to stalk the corridors of the palace, seeking errant soldiers or servants cowering fearfully. Of the latter, they found only one, lurking about in a small atrium:
The face of the queen's most trusted adviser had taken on a pallor - clearly his wound had become infected. He was shaking uncontrollably and seemed feverish, but still he hurled our venemous threats, and he shrieked loudly when Dagny approached, trying to summon more guards. None came.
"Sycophant! Your time is up. But you can still live if you tell us where Deidranna is."
Elliot coughed and bared his teeth; they were yellow and the stench of rotting meat wafted out from the hollows of his body.
Dagny was enraged. She would brook no more obstacles, not this close to her objective. Tight-lipped, she pointed at Elliot:
"Hold him down!"
Haywire and Razor darted forward and held the man by his arms as he struggled, weakly. Gumpy took hold of his legs. Dagny turned to Gasket:
"Your lockpicks, please."
Wordlessly, Gasket handed over the small leather case of lockpicks. He trusted Dagny without reservation.
Dagny flipped open the case and took out two long, hooked picks, as well as the slimline Maglite tucked into the side. She bent down over the now-prostrate Elliot, and spoke to him.
"You know, I learned a lot about fighting communists with the CIA. Did you know, for instance, that a communist can be compelled to speak the truth just by pushing on the right areas of his brain?" Elliot looked horrified, and resumed his efforts to free himself. They were of no avail. "Oh yes. You see, the corrupting nature of the socialist's doctrine is quite literal - it eats away at the brain, exposing areas that would otherwise require surgery to get to. And now," at this, she jabbed a finger through the mass of scab and scar tissue that had formed over Elliot's cephalitic wound. Dark blood mingled with clear fluid welled up around her finger, and Elliot screamed horribly, as a sanguine shroud covered his eyes. "Now," she repeated, "I don't even have to pull your eyes out to get access! How fortunate for me." She pulled out the Maglite and twisted the top of it, turning on the light. She held the flashlight in her mouth as she bent over her patient, and went to work with the two lockpicks, ignoring his writhings and convlusions. She probed the surface of his brain, looking for just the right spot. Sweat dripped off of her chin into the hollows of Elliot's head, and he continued screaming as Dagny worked. Suddenly, he relaxed: the area around his crotch darkened, and a terrible odour could be smelled. Dagny spit the flashlight out of her mouth.
"Sorry, sorry, haven't done this in a few years." Another minute of bloody probing, and then she withdrew the picks. "There." Elliot's eyes had glazed over, and he no longer seemed interested in escape. A small trickle of saliva dribbled out from the corner of his mouth.
"Elliot," Dagny said simply.
"Yes," he replied, monotone.
"Where is the queen?"
"The tunnels... deep tunnels under her garden. The switch is in her garden house..." he trailed off as consciousness began to depart.
"Good. Excellent. I'm so glad you've served some purpose in the world, Elliot. Now rest in peace." She picked up a handful of sand from the ground and carefully funnelled it with her hands into the hole in his head.
"And now your brain will shrivel and die, much as the intellect it contained already had when you decided to join Deidranna in her unholy quest."
The team said nothing as they watched Dagny's cruel ministrations. Such torture was necessary, they told their jaded hearts, and doubtless it seemed so to men that had known nothing but blood-and-grit combat for the past six months.
Miguel led the charge into the central palace. Guards still lay in wait, their deaths a foregone conclusion:
A sitcom about a murderous robot and its hapless human companion became the toast of Arulcan primetime in the democratic aftermath
Miguel was incredulous, exasperated at watching former countrymen throw away their lives for a regime that, in his mind, had already collapsed.
"Why do you continue to oppose us?" he shouted down the corridors, hoping the men would surrender. "You have already lost! There will be mercy if you give up now."
No arms were thrown down, no white flags seen. Deidranna's palace commandoes had had their tongues severed and their testicles lopped off; without speech, without the ability to procreate, there could be no life for them independent of Deidranna.
Mournfully, Miguel continued his murderous rampage:
Although Deidranna often claimed at dinner parties that the carpeting in the palace was painted 'blood red,' this man's escaping entrails prove otherwise
The corridors were clear. It was now time to take Deidranna's throne room, the former seat of her power, from which her vile, genocidal orders were given. The doors had been locked, but no lock could withstand the fury of one Tim "Gumpy" Hillman:
Although he says nothing, Miguel is tallying up the cost of the damage done to the palace, balanced against how much a good interior decorator would cost
The soldiers inside the throne room were flummoxed, and soon after riddled with bullets as Team Purehog Squad exercised their weapons:
They died as they lived: defending a chair
But the palace was not safe yet. Some of the soldiers had formed a suicide club in Dagny's wood-floored living room, and each was trying to goad the other on to commit hari-kari - wordlessly, of course, for the absence of tongues made speech impossible. They decided that it would probably just be easier to throw themselves at Dagny and her men:
"Hrrk ngggh," the aglottal soldier said, eloquently lamenting his own death. "Nnngh hrrk," his comrade replied, concurring
The palace was secure. Gasket made sure of this by going into Deidranna's bedroom and sniffing all of her underwear:
Gasket considers: would he have time to masturbate before the team descended into the tunnels?
The team was champing at the bit for more. They would not be satisfied until Deidranna had been ground into fine powder. Unfortunately, a number of them would have to stay behind while Dagny and her men descended into the tunnels - she feared a back attack from the still-manned fortifications that surrounded Meduna. Only when they held Deidranna's head in their hands would the queen's commandoes back down. Haywire and Razor were left behind, and the robot was put into their care. Whine they might, and whine they did, but Dagny would have none of it; she needed her most experienced team members with her.
Night fell as they made their preparations. Dagny confronted Ira, asking about her disappearance, and the strange messages left for them. Ira rolled her eyes:
"That wasn't me, you idiot. There was this guy following me around, watching me as I killed Deidranna's troopers. Some kind of artiste, was using me for inspiration. Every time I cleared out an area he would get all excited and start pasting those weird messages everywhere. I told him that I wanted to kill Deidranna for what she did to me, and he made up all this backstory in his head, like I thought of her as the 'source' of all life because of what I am or something. It's stupid." Her expression hardened. "But I am going to kill the queen."
Dagny said nothing in reply.
Dagny and her squad of five men - Biff, Ira, Gasket, Miguel, and Gumpy, of course - returned to Deidranna's garden. They investigated the tiny structure on the edge of the garden maze and, sure enough, it contained a remote control, just as Elliot said.
This is pretty much like leaving your keys in the car, if your car is your only salvation on Earth
Dagny pushed the button on the remote, and a soft *thump* could be heard from somewhere in the maze. They searched and eventually came across a small door at the base of a broken statue:
I too dream of a garden maze full of images of myself, guarding the entrance to a secret tunnel where I pray for death and eat MREs
With Dagny at the head, the team descended into the darkness. They found themselves in a shabby bunker. A thick patina of dust covered everything, but the dust had been recently disturbed: a whole mess of footprints were easily visible, even in the dim light. The squad steeled themselves for combat.
Miguel was agog. The palace's underground minimall was no more! Where would Arulcans get their subterranean Baskin Robbins now?
They pressed ahead, moving through the dank corridors, watching vigilantly for the first sign of trouble. They came to a crossroads, each path ending in a sealed door. The glow of a control panel was visible. The team took up positions and Gasket threw the switch. The doors flew open and the soldiers waiting behind got a rude surprise, in the form of a microrocket to the head:
This soldier was happy to die - Deidranna had just cancelled all of their pensions
The team held their ground as a few soldiers advanced from both doors. Gasket caught a shot to the shoulder, but his thick armour ensured it did little damage. He led the approach to the nearby guardpost, and paid the favour back to a hapless guard:
Captain Piddlesquat here was too busy playing Oblivion to update his LP on his little 386 machine
The doors across from them flew open and more of Deidranna's cutsack commandoes poured in, chanting in that strange guttural, tongueless way of theirs. Gasket took a burst of fire to the gut as he rushed to meet the charge.
Gasket's Radiant AI is telling him that he should either kill the guy attacking him or inquire as to the state of mudcrabs in the other provinces
From over his shoulder, Miguel laid down a storm of biting 5.7mm AET, and cut the offending soldier down. But no sooner had he done so when fire began to come from another direction, from the locker room. A voice called out, hard as granite:
THEN WHY DID YOU MARRY HER? Jesus
Ira could not countenance such general proclamations, and delivered a punishing HEAP rocket to the side of Joe's head. The rocket sailed clean through without detonating, but with his skull thoroughly evacuated, Joe fell to the ground, stone dead. The team, of course, had no idea who he was, and therefore was not moved to any great degree by his death.
Oh Joe. You were introduced like, what, an hour ago?
They pressed on, through the security checkpoint. As it turned out, the floor was littered with mines. Gumpy, ever assiduous, took the time to lay out little blue flags of warning:
Gumpy would later explain, sheepishly, that he had been collecting blue flags since he was sixteen
Dagny pushed Gumpy aside and stepped through the door. A horrifying sight awaited her on the other side:
DUN DUN DUN
Queen Deidranna, in the flesh. The team had never laid eyes on her, not 'til now. Certainly they had seen the statues and pictures, the propaganda and the Party newspapers, but not until this point had they been in her awe-inspiring presence. The photos had obviously been touched up; in reality her flesh was drawn and pale, withered by the chaotic energies of the Marxist doctrines she so fervently embraced. The queen was decked out in thick body armour, and she held a wicked looking rocket rifle. Cackling, she raised the weapon and fired. A stream of rockets poured out of the barrel, striking Dagny in the midriff. She slumped to the ground, surprised and grievously wounded.
"Fading fast... tell Galt... don't touch my stuff..."
As Ira caught sight of Deidranna, all sensibility left her. Here, at last, was the woman who had ordered Ira's creation, had birthed her to a life of pain and foul treatment at the hands of others. Ira intended to pay her back in full. She rushed in, brandishing her rocket rifle, but stopped when Deidranna's eyes met hers.
"Ah. The specimen." Deidranna put a long talon to her cheek. "How good that you've found your way back here. Perhaps you'd like to assist me in exterminating these pests?" Her wizened face contracted as she waited Ira's reply.
Ira, for her part, growled and bared her fangs.
She charged, but Deidranna was too fast: another burst of microrockets sped outward, tearing through Ira's body armour like an Xacto knife through all the items immediately underneath the cover of a cardboard box. Ira looked down, horrified at seeing her entrails exposed, at the blood and bone. Consciousness began to ebb away.
No one had the heart to tell her that the memories of Brooklyn had been implanted in her in a Battlestar: Galactica-esque fashion
With a stiff gasp, life left her body, and her soul departed with her last breath.
A moment of silence for our departed bobcat/woman thing
With their leader incapacitated and their fiercest soldier lying facedown in a pool of her own blood, Gumpy knew it was time to act. The rest of the team stood stock still, fearful of rushing into the room where Deidranna and one of her elite commandoes lay, but, for the first time in his life, Gumpy knew no fear. He knew he had to save his sometime lover. Letting loose a fierce war cry, he fired off a burst from his new SCAR-L as the commando stepped into his line of sight. The 7.62mm pierced the man's armour easily and brought him crashing to the ground.
You win the prize of being the second-to-last guy I kill in the game, Generic Soldier! Wow!
But Gumpy was not done. He heard Deidranna's laugh, at first a hollow cackle, and then something deeper, something more resonant. Her laugh boomed with supernatural power, and Gumpy saw the reflection of unearthly light in Deidranna's anteroom. Horrible sounds could be heard: the crunch of bones cracking, the wet slop of flesh being torn. From below, Dagny groaned and reached up toward Gumpy, speaking slowly through the maddening pain:
"Deidranna... she is a Communist Hive Queen. She... is revealing... her true form..."
Gumpy slowly entered the room, and found himself face to face with a beast horrible beyond imagining:
"Stalin!" Gumpy gasped.
"Not precisely!" boomed the mustachioed man, menacingly flexing his thick muscles. "I, Deidranna, sacrificed myself to God Stalin, and he granted me his divine powers. I can change my form at will! I am stronger than any man, faster than any animal! Haha! Any socialist leader can give themselves up to Stalin, can bask in his glowing presence. Our friend Chavez in Venezuela has already done so - it won't be long before a mustache graces that jowled face of his!"
Deidranna-Stalin charged, but Gumpy was ready. He hefted the SCAR and depressed the trigger, firing round after round until the magazine was empty. The bullets penetrated the thick overcoat and struck Deidranna, but seemed to do little damage; she continued to advance toward Gumpy, pearly white teeth covered in saliva, in anticipation of a feast. Gumpy swapped a new magazine and aimed for her head. He only had once chance. He squeezed the trigger and let fly another bullet, which struck Deidranna in the head.
She stopped. Stalin's eyes rolled upward in her head, and then his image vanished. Gumpy was left staring at the withered form of Queen Deidranna, with a gaping hole in her skull. Astonished, she knelt and then keeled over.
Silence reigned. Neither Miguel nor Biff nor Gasket nor the quickly-expiring Dagny said anything. Ira, dead and gone, certainly had no thoughts to contribute. At length, Gumpy uttered words that would come to be engraved on the wall of every Arulcan house:
It was over.
Up next: Epilogue