The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Three Faces Of God
The factory, Merida. July 17th, 7am
"Let him have the skull," Belle-Marie whispers to Keyes. "As long as Tez and Ahuan both turn up that's all that matters.
TR agrees, calling out to Reconvaco, "Don't shoot him! We'll give you the skull. It's not worth a man's life." He motions to Keyes to bring the skull out and shifts forward a step. "Step to the side, away from Aberg, and we'll toss it to you."
"You'll let me have it now." The words are a hiss, issuing from blackened lips.
Eric folds his arms. "You don't understand the situation you're dealing with, Senor," he says calmly. "You probably do not know that your captive has walked out on the rest of us, after having attacked Sean, and while I'd rather not see him dead, I'm not sure that we'd trade the skull for his life - as we would have a few days ago. You don't understand who or what we are, Jaime, any more than you ever really understood what Ahuantepec is. Fortunately, we have the basis for negotiations. We have the skull, and you know Ahuan better than any of us, including Keyes - and you want revenge on her. We just need to reason out what our common interests are to decide how to proceed."
He continues talking, pitching his voice low, doubting that they can ever make a deal with Reconvaco and only hoping he can divert his attention long enough for the others to do something. TR has taken the skull off Keyes and is holding it out. Sean is standing back, eyes narrowed, making no move towards his weapons. He appears to be as puzzled by Reconvaco's reappearance as Belle-Marie is. But Keyes gives the burned wreck of a man one last glance and decides there is probably at least as much sanity as insanity left. No time to waste, he thinks.
"Goodbye," he says loudly, causing Reconvaco's attention to swing to him.
Reconvaco lets out a stream of Spanish at him but Keyes just smiles. "I was talking to you, Crispy." Raising his head he shouts to the sky. "YOU SAID YOU WOULD GRANT ME THREE WISHES, BABY! Kill him please."
For a moment there is silence, shocked and still, then Jaime's low laughter. "You see? She will give you nothing. She promises everything but in the end she leaves you with nothing." His gun wavers, turning from Aberg to Martin Keyes. There is a split second in which his attention is divided. It is enough. Aberg lashes out at him with his feet. Reconvaco stumbles and TR dives for him a moment before Sean can fire.
Jaime's gun spins clear. TR punches the man once and breathes a sigh of relief when the shattered body goes limp beneath him. Keyes stands back and raises his eyebrows in thanks, only realising then the danger he put himself in.
While Eric checks over the unconscious man, TR finds the keys to the handcuffs and frees Aberg. Martyn mutters something that could have been a thank you. "I'm not staying," he says, straight away. He kicks at the ground then adds, "His people must have followed me from the hotel. Three of them ambushed me a few miles from the airport. I didn't tell them anything. He -" he aims another kick at Reconvaco, "was babbling something about joining forces with new powers. He must have found out you were coming here this morning; we've been waiting the past hour. He said he was going to take the skull and destroy it in front of her - 'her' being Ahuan, I suppose."
"Is this true?" Sean asks the prone Reconvaco. The only answer he gets is a low groan of pain.
"Are there any more of his people around?" Eric says. Aberg shakes his head.
"No. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how many of them are left alive. I only saw the three who grabbed me, and he ordered them all to stay out of the way. They're probably running by now," he adds. He pauses then says stiffly, "Good luck," before turning away, obviously intent on leaving. At the same time, the group catch the soft purr of a car approaching.
"That'll be Hernandez," Eric says, business-like. "I suggest TR and Belle-Marie meet him. Sean, I'll take the dart gun, if you please."
"No," Belle-Marie protests. "I'll take it." She looks around at the others. "They'll be expecting any threat to come from Sean, not me." She glares at the Irishman defiantly. "I will pull the trigger," she says fiercely. "I won't think my daughter is looking at a killer ever after; I'll know I've helped stop many more deaths. Give me the gun."
For once he doesn't argue. He shoves it into her hand then checks his own gun. "I filled a few bullets with the anti-dubhium," he says. "Just as a back-up." He looks at Eric. "You're the one with the plan," he says without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Tell us what to do."
There is little Eric can do for Reconvaco. He administers a dose of morphine from the first aid kit but he doubts it will do anything more than take the edge off the pain. It is only pain and the need for revenge that is keeping the shattered body going, he thinks.
He sits back and regards the semi-conscious man with compassion. "You failed," he says gently. "But you can still have your revenge on Ahuan - through us. Help us."
Jaime shakes his head, his good eye glittering with unshed tears. "This was your fault. You turned her against me. Why should I help you now? I have other help now."
"Tezcat?" Sean guesses.
Jaime doesn't answer straight away. His gaze becomes unfocussed and his head falls back against the side of the car. His throat moves as he swallows painfully. "I was the only one to survive the cave," he whispers. "The only one. The others all killed in the blast. She thought I was dead too, and she was happy. I felt it. It meant she didn't have to kill me herself, and she would have. She didn't want me anymore she wanted Keyes. But I escaped found a way out, and found new friends. He wants her, but he doesn't trust her. I think one day they'll fight again." His voice is hazy with exhaustion and the effects of the drugs. "He told me you were coming here," he says. "He knew I wanted to kill Keyes so he told me. But he's not as clever as he thinks. He didn't know about the skull. I guess you had it, but I didn't tell him. Otherwise he'd take it for himself "
Steven appears, carrying a steel case in one hand and a shotgun in the other. "Ready," he announces. "I can monitor your progress from inside. If you get into trouble I'll come running." He looks at Reconvaco. "What do we do about him?"
"We take him with us," Eric decides. "He's too far gone to cause any more trouble and it's best we know exactly where he is."
TR and Belle-Marie are waiting by the main factory door when Hernandez arrives.
"Glad you could make it," TR says. "As I said on the phone, we found the skull in one of the ground floor rooms, wedged into an alcove. There are some strange markings there as well." He taps his video camera. "I'd like to do some filming if that's okay with you."
"Fine." Hernandez starts forward. "How did you find the skull, by the way? What made you think of looking here?"
("All right, the others are in position," Steven's voice comes through his earpiece. "The door you want is to the left of the big window.")
"TR found it," Belle-Marie says cheerfully. "One of the locals tipped him off. Some kids were playing here and saw it, apparently. As soon as he saw that it was genuine we called you."
"I see. And the rest of your investigation? How is that going? Have you been able to contact Reconvaco."
"We heard he was dead," TR says, opening the door.
"TR and Belle-Marie are in place. Keyes, where is Ahuan? Keep Hernandez close to the door and, Belle, be ready to shoot Ahuan as soon as she comes in."
Standing alone in the factory room, Keyes feels a rush of warmth across his body that almost takes him to his knees.
"You are here," comes Ahuan's voice. "You have the skull?"
He cannot bring himself to answer.
The air shimmers before him and, as if a door has been opened there, the goddess steps out. Keyes stares at her. "How did you do that?"
She smiles. "You called me. You wanted me with you, though you can't bring yourself to say it." She notices the bulge in his jacket and holds out her hands. "Is that the skull? Let me have it."
He cannot - must not - think about what is happening. In his ear, Steven is urging him to lead Ahuan to the room where Eric and Belle-Marie are waiting with Hernandez, but he can't think about that either. He shuts out the voice completely and concentrates on Ahuan's face instead. Her skin is clear, almost glowing with a beauty that is almost painful to look at. Keyes shakes his head, tears squeezing from beneath his closed eyelids.
"Shit, he's not going to do it. Eric, Belle-Marie, you'll have to take Hernandez to her - and hurry. Sean, Eric, pull back and cover the windows. Quickly."
Eric and Sean move together, half leading, half pulling Reconvaco between them. "You really would have used the dart gun?" Sean asks. "Didn't think you were the type."
Eric regards him blandly. "I was in the Second World War, Sean. My hands have been bloodstained for over half a century, and they've never kept me from being a good surgeon - doctors have to bloody their hands, after all. And we have to understand triage. Think of the Ylid as a cancer, and it should be easy to understand."
"Cancer." He grins. "I understand that."
"You know," TR says, uttering a brief laugh, "I've brought us to the wrong room. The one we want is two along from here."
For the first time suspicion creeps into Hernandez's voice. "What do you mean, the wrong room? I thought people like you never got lost."
"Only sometimes." He smiles with forced cheerfulness. "This way."
"All right." But Hernandez's eyes haven't lost their look of distrust. He takes Belle-Marie's arm and pats her hand companionably. "Lead on," he directs TR.
"Where is the skull?" Ahuan asks. Gently, caressing. Keyes clenches his teeth in an effort not to speak. Wanting to scream at her to run, knowing if he does so he will destroy everything they have worked for so far.
Ahuan trails her fingers through his hair and tips his face up so that he has to look into her eyes. One hand slides into his jacket and caresses the curve of the skull hidden there.
Her eyes darken. "This isn't the one. Marty, if you have betrayed me "
The door opens.
They stand in tableau. Hernandez with his arm through Belle-Marie's, Ahuan holding onto Keyes with one hand, and TR standing between them.
Outside, Steven picks up the shotgun and starts to run.
Ahuan laughs: a deep, throaty sound that fills the whole room. "Did you really think you could -"
Gunfire shatters the window. Immediately she pulls Keyes in front of her. "Sean," she mutters.
Belle-Marie slides her free hand inside her jacket. To her ears, the sound of the dart gun firing is the loudest thing in the room.
The dart strikes the Ylid in the small of the back. She stiffens and begins to turn, smiling when she realises she is unhurt.
It is then that TR tears Hernandez away from Belle-Marie and flings him at Ahuan.
There is barely time to ready the cameras. Keyes screams - a sound echoed by Ahuan herself and then a flare of light blinds them all.
Two human figures are outlined in white light. They stand motionless for a second or two then the outlines dissolve in a roar of noise that sounds like thunder in the small room. The next moment all that is left is a thick, reddish black dust that spins over everything. Where it touches Martin Keyes' cheeks it dissolves into scarlet streaks.
To: Agents, Martin Keyes, T.R. Warren, Eric Alnes, Belle-Marie Prior, Steven Smith, Sean.
From: G M Blaize
Subject: Direct attack against Mexican Ylids.
Mission objective: To uncover the identities of the two Ylids, Ahuantepec and Tezcatlipoca, to destroy them using the anti-dubhium serum provided and, if possible, to record the event for SITU records.
The success of this mission stands as an example to other teams of agents. The death of Quetzalcoatl as well as Ahuan and Tezcat is more than could have been hoped for, and the filmed records of the deaths of Ahuan and Tezcat have provided us with valuable evidence on which we can build in the future.
The only thing that marred the investigation was the poor spirit of co-operation on the part of some team members. Full recognition is given to those who tried to keep the team together through the worst patches. Martyn Aberg's actions were unforeseen on our part; we had assessed him as stable. He will be taking no part in future SITU missions.
May we also point out to Sean that at least one member of the team has requested not to work with him again. While we appreciate Sean's special talents, maybe he would like to think about this and maybe engage a little tact when dealing with agents on his next assignment.
That said, the mission was accomplished exactly as specified and we must congratulate you all on a job well done.
Reconvaco: surviving the encounter, he is still undergoing treatment, both medical and psychiatric in a Mexican hospital. We do not believe he will pose any threat in the future.
The skull taken from the museum: Kellsal sent this on to us along with all the other documentation of your investigation. We have not yet learned the specific properties of the skull but further study should reveal something of value there. The skull known as Quetzie was never recovered.
SITU's, and an unwitting humanity's, war against the Ylid tyrants has now moved into a highly dangerous phase. You should be aware that all of you may be in personal danger. This successful mission has left no Ylids aware of your identities, but they may have other ways of gaining this information. If any of you wish to enter secure accommodation, we can readily provide it, and we can of course cover for you with employers, etc.
Over the coming months further missions will be launched aimed at breaking the power of individual Ylids at their home bases: once this wave of attacks is over, we will be ready for the final conflict between their kind and ours. I know that you will be standing alongside me.
"Well, I guess I know what happened to my friend Robert Terrero now," T.R. says quietly, "He probably died just like Hernandez. It's getting dangerous to be an archaeologist."
He sighs and stares out the window absently, his thoughts far away from the crowded streets of Merida. Instead, he sees in his mind a woman wearing a red dress throwing an offering into a volcano.
"Madam Pele," he speaks up slowly, glancing over at Kellsal, his expression still somewhat distant, "the Hawaiian volcano goddess. She is an Ylid, too, isn't she? She has an active cult following on the Big Island large enough so that the churches there are becoming worried about a return to paganism." He pauses and looks at Kellsal directly. "Are there any supernatural entities who are on our side? I mean, we know the evil Ylids are out to enslave humanity. Are there any "animal-rights activist" type Ylids who want to help humans instead of hurting us?"
"Not that I know of," Kellsal says. "They regard us as a lower life form. Some of them won't hurt us in the same way that we won't hurt an animal that's not bothering us, but they won't hesitate to use us and our lives don't mean anything to them."
TR responds with a grin. "Then it's just us against the world, huh? All right. When do we start the next mission? I'm ready."
He sets his plastic, souvenir skull on the table before him like a trophy.
In his hotel room Keyes opens up the replacement computer SITU sent and checks his email. There is a suggestion that some former members of this group may be returning and that he may be heading to another group. "Ah well, easy come. Easy go," he sighs.
For one moment he believes he hears Ahuan's voice again in his head, wishing him luck and threatening with laughter to kill him. But she is already dead, he reminds herself. The only sound in here now is the wind rustling the papers on the bed.
He remembers that he stole Alnes and Belle-Marie's passports days ago to make documents for Astrid and her son who never existed. Of course, they are lost now. An image of the doctor and Belle-Marie being strip-searched by irate Mexican officials flitters through his mind and, for the first time in what seems ages, he smiles.
Belle-Marie doesn't breathe easily until she's safely in a plane and leaving Mexico far behind.
Somehow she'd managed to lose her passport, but the fake documents provided by SITU at the start of the mission didn't fail her and now, at last, she is on her way home to Rhiannon and Daniel. She survived; that is all that matters, and with her daughter and Daniel to look after she wants to live more than ever.
One thing she is certain of: she is never going back to Mexico.
Sean, as usual, ends the mission alone. Sitting in a bar on the Mexican coast he watches bikini-clad girls stroll past and wonders to himself why the sight isn't particularly exciting at the moment. He pours himself another Scotch.
He thought he had a chance with Lalina, he really did. Maybe it was just an illusion created by the Ylid to confuse him, but for now he cannot forget the way she smiled at him.
At his elbow, the small leprechaun sits, grinning as usual. Sean forces a smile and raises his glass. "Here's to us, then," he says.
"I don't understand, senor," Mahmoud says, his face wrinkling into a frown. "You want to send me to school?"
Eric nods. "School and college afterwards." He thinks of Lalina dying needlessly, and Hernandez, the grief of the two families when the news reached them. Potential should not be wasted, he thinks.
Mahmoud looks up at him, head tilted on one side. At last, he grins. "Do I get to come back here for holidays?" he asks.