Dave turned the takeaway bag inside out. 'Look! There’s nothing in here! You heard me ask for extra sauce, didn’t you?'
Stevie didn’t even respond, staring intently at his laptop screen, so Dave carried on. 'They never give enough tartare sauce. You can’t eat fish without some kind of tartare sauce.'
'That’s because you don’t like fish,' said Stevie without looking up. 'You just like batter.'
'What’s the difference?'
'It’s half-past. Log in a report.'
Dave sighed and picked up the goggles. Standard LOVE issue, the goggles could see on all known spectrums, and several that the scientists hadn’t even figured out yet. On all levels, their target was still in bed.
It was 3.30am in some suburb on the southern edge of Sydney and Dave was bored as fuck.
'Yeah,' he said. 'He’s still there. Where he should be. At three in the morning. Like we should be.'
'There’s a chance this guy knows something about that kid-smuggling ring coming out of Utah. You want to let him get away?'
'Of course not.'
'Then shut up and sit.'
'I should have bought a book.'
'You should have brought a book,' said Stevie.
'I should have stayed back in the hotel with Val,' said Dave. 'She’s getting to sleep happily while we’re out here all night.'
'You want to tell my mother to take the night shift?'
'No, I think I should go back and wake her up. She's overseeing this operation while N'buli does his thing out in the desert, so she should be overseeing us. The hotel is only five minutes away. The target won’t even know we’re gone.'
Steve looked up from the screen. 'You want to go wake up my mother. At three am on a Tuesday morning. When she only volunteered for this mission because she loves the Sydney restaurants and wanted to take her youngest son out for dinner tomorrow night. Wake her up? Are you mental?'
He went back to his computer, tapping away the keys quietly. Dave let him go for it and started wondering what he would have for breakfast, even as he finished off the fish.
N'buli crept to the edge of the roof. Below him, in the small community hall in this tiny town of three hundred souls 270km south-east of Darwin and just a few hundred kays from the LOVE training compound, Reverend Hello had them in the palm of his hand.
'It’s the spark, brothers and sisters. Don’t you feel it?'
Nbuli stifled a groan. It was the spark speech. He’d last heard it in Tijuana, and here it was again, somewhere out in the Australian outback. He liked the desert, but it was freezing and he had learned to like sleeping under a roof for the past eighty years.
'It’s the constant sparking,' hollered Reverend Hello below. The tiny crowd clapped hesitantly. 'The constant sparking of energy and ideas on both genetic and social levels. That’s what life is, that’s what God is. He’s in that passion and fire and…'
N'buli decided that he’d had enough. Taking a good grip on the dry gutter on the roof, he swung his body over and kicked in the window, swinging through to land on his feet between the Reverend and his congregation.
'You failed to mention the high explosives you had in your vehicle outside, Reverend. What sort of spark do they need?'
The Reverend was stunned by N'buli’s grammar. 'Had?'
N'buli smiled, just as a huge explosion ripped through the empty night outside. 'Had.'
Sitting under her duvet in her motel room, Valentina wasn't sleeping. She had got by on three hours of sleep every day since 1942, and saw no reason to change habits.
It was almost dawn, and she had been watching old movies on the motel television. She had seen The Third Man a dozen times over the decades, but she had to watch it again, the film evoking her own memories of post-war Vienna, and the fight against Octopus Rex and the Shark-Men of the Sixth Reich.
The sun would be up soon and she planned to drive over to King's Cross and find some breakfast. She thought about calling Steve and Dave, to see how they were getting on, but they were big boys. They could take care of things. And if there was any trouble, it would only take her seven minutes to get to them. She had timed out the distance yesterday.
So she pulled the duvet closer and sent text messages to her kids, all over the world, and watched Orson Welles run down a sewer.
After eating, Dave must have dozed for a while, because Stevie scared the crap out of him when he started talking again.
'This is some weird stuff.'
'Mmm?' said Dave.
Stevie was clicking away furiously on his laptop. 'I found all this stuff about the Goodsons.'
Dave sat up in his seat. 'The Goodsons? Why are you looking into them?'
'Haven’t you ever wondered what they’re really up to? I know how the world works, Dave. You don’t have that much money and power without some form of corruption. We’re bigger than governments, but accountable to nobody. I’m sure there is something going on.'
'What do you mean?' yawned Dave.
Stevie looked up from his laptop. 'What do I mean? Haven’t you ever wondered about this organisation we work for? Why do we have to be secret? What are we actually doing here? What about the immortality pill, shouldn’t we be sharing it with the world? Who decides that it’s best to keep these things secret? Are we getting anywhere?'
'Of course we are,' said Dave. 'You’ve seen the same charts I have. Empathy is on the rise all over the world, people care more than they did. It’s like they told us in LOVE 101. It’s not just the violence, it’s the little things, like the fact it’s not socially acceptable to mock the unfortunate.'
'People still do, tough.'
'Yeah, but not on any real level, and all our efforts must count for something. Why hasn’t there been a world war three?'
'Well, sure, but the world is changing, and we can live long enough to see it.'
Stevie started waving his finger at Dave. Dave hated it when he did that. 'It all comes back to that, doesn’t it. Look at me, I’m 43, but I’ve got the body of an 18-year-old and sometimes I still have the mind of a teenager, and I end up making decisions that could change the world. Is that ethical? Is that right? Is that the way things should be?'
Dave tried to reply, but Stevie was off and running. 'Why do we have to keep these things secret? What do we gain from it? Couldn’t we share everything, like our fight-suits, and long lives, and cargo planes that go slightly over Mach Eight? Isn’t that what we’re all about?'
Dave had nothing. 'I guess I never thought about it.'
'Which is also weird. They’re like this big blank spot in ours heads that we never really think about at all. But once I realised that, I went and did some digging. It didn’t take much, I found a bit on google and it showed me where to go.'
'What did you find?'
Stevie grinned and turned back to his computer, but frowned and slapped it on the side of the screen. 'Come on! Fuck!'
'This is so weird. I was going to show you all this crazy stuff about the Goodsons, claiming they were part of a sect or something that goes back centuries, but then it all just blinks out.'
'You’re kidding me.'
'No. Look.' Stevie turned his laptop around and showed Dave a dead screen. 'It all just shut down.'
'No, I meant the part about them being a sect that goes back centuries. That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.'
'That’s what it said.'
'Where? On wikipedia?'
'No, on some dude’s website.'
'Oh. Well, it must be true then.'
'Hey!' said Stevie. 'It’s back up and running again. Except all the web pages closed down.'
Stevie was annoying him, but Dave still felt the need to scratch a mental itch. 'Look up something called ‘Goodfun Distributors’. They’re some kind of comic distribution company.'
'Huh? What for? What have they got to do with anything?'
'I don't know. It just feels weirdly familiar.'
Stevie was about to reply when something behind Dave caught his attention. Something outside. Something bad.
Dave turned around to see what Stevie was yelling about, but didn’t see anything before he was shot in the head.