Following her acquittal in the 25-month long trial for the murder of her former husband, the Stoker, lawyers for The Space Hag have released this statement:
“This fine jury has acquitted me of the false charge of murdering my beloved first husband, the Stoker. As I have contended all along, I am innocent of this gruesome crime and these jurors must have realised that the charges against me have been trumped up by authorities who have sought to falsely imprison me and then put me to death in the lethal gas chamber of this state.
“I will never stop until the dastardly criminals who cowardly murdered the Stoker in his sleep are brought to justice, and to that end I will offer a sum of $700,000 from my inheritance of the Stoker’s $50,000,000,000 legacy and industrial empire to anyone who is able to bring the perpetrator of this hideous crime to justice, dead or alive. Preferably dead.
“I also want to thank my dearest former tennis coach Ghibrahn Hines, who has been by my side since the Stoker’s horrible death for the support he has given me as a friend and subsequently as my beloved second husband through this unbearable ordeal.”
24 March, 2008
After releasing the statement, Ghibrahn Hines and The Space Hag flew in the couple’s Airbus A380 to their private continent.
On behalf of the future, I wish to welcome all of you to The bwobzone. In the upcoming decades, this will be one of the locations that Ghibrahn Hines will use to disseminate information and instructions to his followers. Please check later for news and features from Ghibrahn and his wife, The Space Hag.
This is a work that I have been assisting my twin brother, dhjimmi with. I hope you all will enjoy it. It is yet another chapter in the life of the World’s most famous Secret Agent
So many deaths. Many, many deaths. A warm glow covered Atlas King at the thought of so many vanquished in one instant. King always considered a high body count a pretty good index of mission success. He didn’t really have any idea of how many of his own assault force had been injured, killed, or worse yet, captured. But the flaming buildings to King’s left, right and centre were testimony to the devastating abilities of his action team.
Atlas recalled the briefing session earlier that evening. It was simple: locate and neutralise a legion of anthropoid terrorists known to be operating out of a wind-blasted desert sector of the Northafrican Democratic Union. The NDU, like many postwar governments with the word ‘democratic’ in their names, bore little witness to anything remotely approaching democracy. In fact, the only readily identifiable democratic principle the NDU seemed to embrace was that it provided a safe haven for renegade politicians, spies, terrorists, and criminals without regard to their race, creed, religion, pocketbook or principles.
In this case the subversives in question called themselves Le Brigate di Formaggi. And, much to the regret of the peace-loving peoples of the planet, The Brigate and the Northafrican Union went together like pigs and shit. The NDU had long eyed the newly-annexed Riviera coast of the Republic as a northern extension of their own country with the entire Mediterranean their personal swim pool. ‘The Entitlement’ they called it. And the Brigate di Formaggi was obsessed with a lust for killing and destroying anyone or anything they could. It was a match made in Hell.
Operating under the wing of one of the NDU’s renegade militias, The Brigate posed a serious threat to the security of the Republic and the entire continent. Put simply, they were, as a group, hit-and-run killers of extraordinary proficiency. The Brigate di Formaggi’s reputation was due in no small measure to the high degree of automation they brought to bear in numerous whirlwind attacks on several major cities on the Republic’s southern coast. A plasma cannon is normally considered to be a crude, unwieldy device that most armies used only in anti-armour defence. Generally speaking, the volatile nature of the magnetic mirrors that focus the cannon’s beam meant the accuracy of the gas-fusion Howitzer tended toward broad-brush, not pin-point accuracy. Masters of subversion, The Brigate di Formaggi had gunners and forward spotters so in tune they could open a tuna can at 15 kilometres with an old third-generation plasma cannon. What the gunners were opening instead, however, were important port cities and vacation spots on the prestigious Riviera coast of the Republic’s New Territories.
Now Atlas King was in the process of punching the Brigate di Formaggi’s ticket once and for all. But King’s own motivation for taking the assignment had nothing to do with the tens of thousands of lives lost on the Blue Coast last month. He had a personal score to settle. The agent snapped around when he heard the sounds of sporadic cannon and machine gun fire. Behind him and to the left he could see the huge grey concrete bunker that housed, in effect, the central nervous system of the Brigate di Formaggi. Thick, brown-black smoke was issuing from a series of slot-like windows seemingly positioned at random in the bunker’s scarred battlements.
Atlas stuffed a hand in the pocket of his battle suit and pulled out a small toxic pellet he had liberated from the bioweapon laboratory before setting it aflame. This might still come in useful, King thought, and slipped the deadly tablet into a compartment of his ActionPac as he made a dash for the bunker.
The thick stench of gelignite and burning rubber cleared for a moment. The air was cleansed by a hot, dry wind that swept across the southern Sahara this time of year. The breeze carried the scent of aromatic shrubs that were now indigenous to the African desert. Once more the air became still and the trace of mesquite was replaced by a shroud of diesel fuel, cordite, burning meat, gunpowder, hydrazine and melting rubber. The odours combined to create a choking haze that burned the eyes. Atlas loved it.
He made a dash for an overturned personal crawler that would give some cover at the foot of the laboratory steps. As he ran zig-zag down the pock-marked steps, he caught sight of a soldier near the centre of the terrorist compound’s smoke-filled weapons court. He was cowering under a wrecked half-track that once doubled as a staff car. The man’s position was revealed only after the flames of the battle were reflected in a pair deeply tinted prewar aviator-type sunglasses. It was Keith. The Leader of the Brigate di Formaggi and Atlas King had met many times before, on battlefields both public and private, but the rogue mercenary had always been surrounded by armies of his hand-picked safety troopers.
“Ahh, the beauty of it” Atlas King thought, “The humorous justice of fate.”
Keith was alone.
The leader of the Brigate di Formaggi was quite rightly terrified at King’s sudden, unexpected appearance through the flaming portal of what used to be his scientific laboratory. The terrorist commander scuttled out from under the ruined war machine like an insect. He slowly stood up in the centre of the courtyard.
King had always been impressed by Keith’s physical appearance. The leader of the Brigate di Formaggi stood over 8 feet 2 inches by the old way of measuring height and didn’t have a single hair on his head or face other than a thick brown, sea captain’s moustache. The Republic’s espionage service file had listed Keith’s weight at something in excess of 200 kilos. Experience had demonstrated to Atlas that it was all muscle too. A formidable opponent for an unarmed man.
A gleaming smile creased King’s face as he looked down at his right hand. Tonight, he was definitely not unarmed. The 6mm autofire wrist gun attached to his combat glove reflected the flickering tongues of flame in its steel-blue surface. A red LED display on its side told him he had 59 rounds of caseless rocket ammo left. The agent let out a hearty laugh. Here was Keith, unable to flee, unable to speak, as weaponless as the day he was born, staring back in terror at the silhouette of Atlas King.
And, King noted, he was a mess. The drab khaki of Keith’s battle jacket was singed from the fires, caked with dirt and saturated with kerosene from the turbine engine of the demolished half-track. His Field Marshal’s hat was missing, and his engraved black plastic name tag, snapped in two read ‘KE’ ‘ITH’. Even corporals in the NDU’s self-defense patrol looked better.
The broken leader snapped his head from side to side, like a stupid, trapped, panicking animal, furtively looking for an escape route. In the flames behind Atlas King, Keith could see two lone survivors of King’s nine-man action team. He half squatted down, arms outstretched on each side and moved in a quick circle in order to get ‘the BIG picture’.
Large or small, the picture didn’t look too good.
At best, all of his troopers had been killed by Atlas King and his assault force. At worst, they had run. Behind his near-opaque sunglasses, Keith squinted. Through the smoke he caught a glimpse of the engine-turned, copper-sheathed doors at the far end of the compound. They led to the departure facility and safety. At the controls of one of the Brigate’s remaining launch vehicles, Keith could escape from King once and for all. The terrorist commandant looked up at the black firmament saturated with twinkling stars. An especially bright point of light was visibly moving across the sky. “Yeah! That’s it!” he blurted. He’d go to the Skywheel. There wasn’t a single nation on earth that had an extradition concord with the Skywheel. Keith glanced back at the gleaming metal portal that led to the take-off pad and freedom. Without a second thought, the bald giant made a dash for the shiny gates.
At the instant Keith made his move, King tensed his fist and let off a quick round of gas shells from his wrist-gun. Small explosions and puffs of a yellow vapour appeared at Keith’s feet causing him to tumble to the ground. The fumes were diffused by the strong breeze that swept over the compound before they could drift near the bald giant’s face. “You’re all mine now.” Atlas muttered as he tensed his hand once more. Nothing happened. One more squeeze and the pistol issued nothing more than a quiet electronic “chirp”. The LED read-out showed the letter ‘E’. “Damn! Jammed-up again!” It was the third time this evening the solid state firing mechanism had seized when the gun’s MSKill! operating system locked-up. King quickly pressed the button to reboot the gun’s OS.
The sound of commotion behind King broke his attention from the malfunctioning firearm. He whirled around to see Bennett and Anselmo at the top of the stairs leading from Keith’s burning command bunker. The agent raised an eyebrow at the prospect of their being the only survivors of his action squad. Like the cowardly terrorist boss, they too were disoriented and bewildered. Oafs! King started to laugh aloud. Each man clutched at the other’s shirt sleeve looking desperately for other members of their combat team. After the reboot, Atlas’ wrist gun display was showing a small green pilot and the letters ‘RTF’. Ready To Fire. King threw a small toggle on the pistol and fired a few shots toward Bennett and Anselmo just to goad them into some kind of action. The blare of exploding buildings and vehicles virtually masked the ‘blatt blatt blatt blatt blatt’ of King’s wrist gun. The two men dropped like sacks of potatoes only after several of King’s shots ricocheted against the entry arch of the bunker behind them. This was fun. Atlas began to chortle heartily, firing again and again, as he watched his men attempt to flatten themselves even further onto the scarred concrete of the landing. King was laughing so hard, tears came to his eyes. The agent rubbed them with the sleeve of his combat suit.
When Atlas opened his lids he noted a huge black limousine off to his left, parked in a white zone in front the command building. It looked as though it had just been driven off the showroom floor, not at all the thing one would expect to see in the midst of an intense firefight as he noticed the car had a vanity number plate: KEITH 1. The sound of shots from behind reminded Atlas of the battle. As he bolted toward the chauffeur-driven automobile, the agent flipped the small switch on the top of his wrist gun that changed the ammunition pack from ‘standard’ to ‘incendiary’. King noticed there was someone slouched behind the wheel of the car and his pace quickened as he moved closer to it. The motorcar was a beauty, a new Bistango with what was unquestionably a one-off custom body by a famous coachbuilder. One thing became crystal clear to Atlas: there was some real money to be made in international terrorism. After he came to the foot of the steps, Atlas passed back behind the limousine, silently approaching the driver’s side of the big car.
Inside, the chauffeur had his cap pulled down over his eyes and was half-dozing behind the wheel. King moved fast, swinging the door open, yanking the sleepy uniformed man out onto the pavement, stepping over the falling wheelman and slipping into the driver’s seat in one smooth motion. Before the chauffeur had a chance to lift his head and hike his weight fully onto his elbows, Atlas blasted off a round of shots from his wrist gun into the villain’s torso, abruptly ending the driver’s vicious attack. The alloy-sheathed phosphorous ammunition set the corpse on fire almost immediately. As soon as King slammed the car’s armoured door, he could detect the aroma of burnt animal hair. A quick glance down the inner trim panel revealed a patch of smouldering mink carpet accidentally ignited by “Torchy”, the chauffeur. The agent’s eyes stung and watered and he rubbed them while adjusting the big, hand-carved ivory steering wheel. Vapours from the intense firefight smarted and burned King’s eyes, and made it difficult to see clearly. Atlas turned the knob that started the limousine’s air cooling and filtration system and waited for the smoke to clear.
Outside, Keith had lost track of Atlas King once the marauding agent of justice had slipped behind the steering wheel of the twenty-four cylinder luxury car. Convinced that Atlas King was lurking nearby in the thick smoke and darkness, Keith was near panic. The towering paramilitary commander impulsively leaped through the broken window of an old prewar Alfa 90 that had been long-abandoned in the overflow parking area of the weapons court. After slumping into the tattered passenger’s seat, the Brigate’s shattered leader slowly lifted his head up to peer over the door top. He saw nothing other than a cluster of burning buildings and a spattering of vehicles, some still in running order. Another look revealed a couple of King’s action team members limping toward Keith’s own limousine parked directly in front of the headquarters bunker. The renegade terrorist scrunched back down in the foot panel of the burned-out hulk to avoid detection.
Ensconced behind the steering wheel of the luxury sedan, King noted the cacophony outside had vanished with a slam of the driver’s door, replaced, curiously enough, by a faint thumping sound. Atlas looked behind and saw the two remaining members of his combat/assault force shooting at the bullet-proof glass of the rear window, and pounding on the roof of the Bistango stretch. The agent pressed an ivory toggle causing one of the rear windows to lower hydraulically. King heard his men pleading that they should make their escape immediately since the entire compound would be nothing but ionised gas as soon as the multitude of À-charges planted by the action team had detonated. Atlas shook his head violently, as much to clear his vision of a small rivulet of blood seeping from a minor cut on his brow, as to throw off the protests of his team. He could not be dissuaded. Escape for “the weak ones”, as King called them, would have to wait. Atlas had deferred far too long to let Keith’s scum seep back into the earth now, only to reappear later and despoil some other fresh-water pond.
Even slouched in the passenger’s footwell of the immobile Alfa, Keith sensed Atlas King’s intent, and it was this that finally uprooted him. As he leaped from the imported auto shell and ran toward the large polished metal courtyard gate, 7.62mm NATO rounds, the Brigate’s ammunition of choice, bounced out of his unbuttoned jacket pockets as his thick combat boots thumped the kiln-fired hexagonal blue paving bricks of the courtyard. Keith was in good condition. He’d been a sprinter in his academy days, and took pride later in his career that he could march his squads of terrorist waste back into the cesspools from which they rose.
Atlas King recalled the file on Keith, and was aware of the man’s robust abilities. He didn’t like the idea of trying to chase down such a powerful opponent on foot, especially on Keith’s home turf. The agent squeezed the filigreed steering wheel of the Bistango. King smiled and chuckled. The terrorist’s own limousine would make a fine blunt instrument, just the thing for purging scum like Keith from the face of the Earth. Atlas scanned the deep-ribbed chrome and gold surface of the limousine’s dash panel. The keys were not in the ignition.
King’s eyes burnt and smarted. After rubbing them he noticed Keith had disappeared behind a pile of burning tires. The giant’s gleaming pate reflected the lights of battle as his head bobbed around. Suddenly the renegade commander streaked away from the flaming radials. He flashed a glance back at the command bunker and sneered.
Keith could not be allowed to escape.
Moving at an Olympic pace, Keith was soon within meters of the large copper-clad doors that led to the safety of the Brigate di Formaggi’s launch facility. He slowed his approach to the gates as it became harder and harder to see. The light from the fires in the compound area was dimmed by the thick smoke from burning vehicles, radar decoy, not to mention the wiring from the tons of short-circuiting electronic equipment in the computer centre. In addition, the emergency battery power supply to the wall-mounted perimeter lights had all but been used up. Now, long shadows covered the ground, exaggerated by the ruts, craters and blast damage in the brick flooring of the open area. Amidst the increasing gloom, Keith tripped on something thick and heavy and soft and fell over. The squad leader immediately realised what he had fallen on, “Ugh!” The still bodies of six or seven of his men were heaped at the foot of the big doors. Others had tried this means of escape too. The big man leaned on the compound wall and vomited. Keith tried to put out of his mind all thoughts of the men who were, not too long ago, his most loyal soldiers. The giant paused momentarily and tread on the corpses, thrusting both arms out in front searching for the latch. His oversized hands moved over the cool metal surface of the door in an attempt to locate the sealing mechanism. The gloom made if difficult for Keith to correctly make out the position of the actuating levers so he fumbled for a small pocket flash. “Damn!” he cursed. The terrorist leader left his emergency lamp back in the command centre. Out of frustration, the huge criminal almost removed his dark glasses to see the lock assembly but thought better of it at the last moment. A quick search of his pockets revealed a book of matches. Light from the first match illuminated the matchbook. On the inner flap, the flickering yellow-orange flame revealed the black-and-white sketches of a small dog, possibly a terrier, and the head of a pirate beneath the headline, “DRAW BLINKY OR CAPTAIN PISSGUMS AND BECOME A PROFESSIONAL ARTIST!”
Keith let out a deep sigh, “Dad and Mom were right. If only I had have gone to art school like they wanted.” The huge terrorist dejectedly went back to the job of trying to open the electromagnetically sealed doors. Normally, opening an electronic deadbolt would pose no problem, but because of the heightened state of readiness in the compound tonight, Keith had ordered the gates double secured. In the twinkling light of another match, the commandant found a small speaker that was built into the locking assembly. He spoke directly into it, “Helium. Thorough. Alfresco. Masticate. Cousin.”
The five words had no effect.
A soothing blue glow appeared next to the microphone panel on the lock informing Keith that the voicelatch had been disabled so the passwords could be updated. An electronically synthesised voice could then be heard, “Please wait five minutes for new passwords. Thank you for using SpeedLock.”
“Five minutes? Five minutes!?!” Keith shaped one of his enormous hands into a fist and slammed it into the metal door. “God damnit!” a dent the size of a cantaloupe was left in the polished copper surface. Another punch hit the speaker plate full-on. Brilliant orange sparks shot from the damaged instrument.
Atlas had given up his search for the ignition keys to the limousine and was trying to work up some enthusiasm for chasing Keith on foot as he reached across the car for the passenger’s door handle. Suddenly, the gleam of platinum caught the agent’s eye. A small arc of brilliant metal on navy blue leather was visible where the seat back came down and touched the lower cushion. Atlas squeezed his fingers into the creases of the ostrich hide upholstery and grabbed the barely-visible sliver.
“Ahh!” King smiled as he saw a small fob decorated with the distinctive stylised goat’s head emblem of the House of Bistango. Hanging from a sterling chain was a single key. Quickly, Atlas slipped the platinum-plated key into the lock that was positioned directly below the car’s main gauge cluster. King chuckled aloud: even Keith’s athletic prowess was no match for the 875 thoroughbreds under the Bistango’s long, louvered hood. Atlas turned the key and slid the starting lever into the “Run” position. The big nine-litre fired up almost imperceptibly. Only the movement of the large, jewel-encrusted pointer in the car’s octagonal tachometer let the driver know the mighty twenty-four cylinder propulsion unit was turning over. The agent switched on the Bistango’s exterior sound monitor system. As soon as the power tubes warmed up, filtered sounds of the battle outside droned over the car’s expensive stereo. Suddenly, King’s face was contorted into a death mask. He saw death and he liked it. But it wasn’t his own death he envisioned. The agent’s right foot depressed the limousine’s accelerator pedal about half way down. Inside the sedan, the exhaust made a gentle purring sound that Atlas liked very much. Other than the soothing, mello-tuned, exhaust note the only sensations of movement were the ever-increasing g-forces as petrol was transformed into acceleration by the Bistango’s eight-cam powerplant. King felt comfortable as he was pressed back into the thickly-padded driver’s chair by the car’s rapidly gathering momentum. Atlas was content. He wanted to continue to accelerate in the limousine forever. This had been a long and gruelling assignment for Atlas King. He was tried. Very tired. The agent shut his eyes for just a moment.
In front of the machine-finished gates, Keith was fumbling with the wires of the electronic latch mechanism, trying to override the locking protocol. “Jesus, if I only had some light, I could see what the fuck I’m doing.” Suddenly brilliant white illumination washed over the tall rebel.
“Now we’ll see if Keith behaves like a deer on the highway.” muttered King immediately after he pushed a button that switched on all of the Bistango’s headlamps. Through the windshield, Atlas saw Keith’s enormous form, calf-deep in corpses, hunched over as he tried to circumvent the lock that kept the copper gates shut tight. The terrorist snapped up and placed a hand in front of his face to reduce the cold glare from the limousine’s halogen headlights. King glanced down at the speedmeter and was astounded to discover the big limousine was doing well over 140 kilometres per hour and still accelerating like a runaway freight train.
Several hundred thousand candlepower from the headlamps of the speeding juggernaut all but blinded Keith as he looked toward the auto. “Carleton, is that you?” he shouted at the long-wheelbase sedan as it raced toward him. “Were you able to kill Atlas King?” The leader of the Formaggi terrorists squinted to see who was driving but the glare from the car’s 10 headlamps was far too bright. As the limousine closed on Keith, it was apparent whoever was behind the wheel wasn’t going to stop. The commandant of the Brigate di Formaggi dropped down and began to push the bodies of his soldiers around for no apparent reason.
The sight of the bald giant scouring the cadavers of his own terrorist legion made Atlas King chuckle. The agent of the Republic laughed yet again. In his mind’s eye Atlas could see the enormous form of Keith splashed over the sterling silver radiator of the new Bistango. King was now chortling uncontrollably. His side began to ache. Atlas imagined the Bistango’s elegant goat-shaped hood mascot puncturing Keith’s rib cage. What merriment. The agent’s vision was delicious. And soon it would be true. Yes, Atlas knew it. The vivid images of a death so glorious it had Atlas in stitches. “It’s a prophecy!” he said to himself. Atlas King’s ideation became clearer and even more pictorial. Yes he could see it all quite plainly now. He began to feel pains in his side from laughter. Finally, the clear mental picture of the sharp, curved metal horns that topped the big car’s hood ornament twisting and turning into the soft tissues of Keith’s chest cavity was too much. Tears ran down the agent’s face from his joy. King realised he’d better compose himself before continuing to challenge his opponent, so he pulled his foot off the throttle and smashed the brake pedal deep into the midnight blue chinchilla carpeting of the limousine.
Keith was still hunched down amidst the not-yet-cold bodies of his terrorist agents when the limousine screeched to a halt some ten meters away. “Whew,” he mumbled under his breath. “What the hell’s wrong with you, Carleton, driving psycho like that?” The tall criminal kept his left hand in front of his face, trying to shield his eyes from the scalding glow of the Bistango’s headlights as his right arm rummaged among the dead men around him. No noise could be heard coming from the limousine. The motor was turning over, however, since Keith could see wisps of engine fumes issuing from the car’s side-mounted exhaust pipes. “Carleton? Carleton, are you alright?” The terrorist captain grabbed something that was lying among the deceased soldiers at his feet as he leaned toward the car. “It’s good to see you were able to kill Atlas,” he shouted at the limousine, “You know,” Keith grew more nervous as the silence continued, “There’ll be a nice bonus in your pay packet this month, just like I promised.”
Atlas King heard Keith’s pledge for cash through the limousine’s exterior intercom system and smiled. The agent turned a dashboard knob rheostat that dimmed all ten of the Bistango’s quartz-iodine headlights.
Keith stood up and tried to see the driver. The renegade shouted, “Turn on the highway intercom, Carleton!” The big man shook his head and strained to see through the darkened windshield. “Carleton, did King beg for mercy before you killed him?”
“Carleton!” Keith was still crouching down among the cadavers of his troopers, moving something in his right hand that was bulky and dark. He was becoming perturbed with the driver of the limousine.
“I guess Keith wants to make sure Carleton is driving,” King thought to himself. The agent reached up and switched on the cabin’s overhead illumination system, bathing him in a pleasant, warm light. Next the agent turned a knob that depolarised the windshield, instantaneously rendering the black glass transparent. A weird grimace moved across the cheerful face of Atlas.
“King!” The bald commando snapped to an upright position and exposed the item he had found among the corpses of his troops, a SIG-AMT .22 assault rifle. Keith snapped off a clip of shots at the Bistango’s windshield before Atlas could duck. The slugs flattened on the sturdy bullet-proof glass just inches from King’s face.
“Jesus!” muttered the agent as he thought he was just about to check out of the espionage business.
“Jesus!” said Keith when he realised Atlas King had far better cover than himself. Out of desperation an maybe a little bit of fear, the terrorist dropped down onto his haunches and look at the sprawl of bodies before him. Many still clenched the expensive automatic rifles or machine pistols the Brigate had provided for all its troopers. Even in the dark morass of bloodied corpses Keith could make out an acrylic grenade or two in the combat vest of one of the corpses. The bald man picked it up, put it to his mouth and wedged the arming ring between his incisors. The faint aroma of citrus came to Keith’s nostrils. The big man smiled. “Good,” he thought, the explosive’s still fresh!” With a mighty wind-up, Keith chucked the small device at the elegant auto, tossing the plastic bomb over the long louvered engine hood. It came to rest at the base of the windscreen, fouling the wiper arms.
Behind the steering wheel of the limousine, Atlas couldn’t understand why Keith continued to address him as “Carleton”.