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RCM Fanfic - Da Bark Lurd Saga Episode 14: The Finale

PostPosted: Sat Jan 31, 2015 5:13 pm
by JLMcCafferty
@image http://media.rivalcastmedia.com/staff/writing-team/public/images/stories/da-bark-lurd-saga/JPG_file_DBLLogo.jpg

Episode 14: The Finale

Parker Bennett had been careful to keep a safe but steady distance from the Mini as he followed the Baroness down the I-80 corridor and onward into the Ohioan countryside. The monitor on his dash showed that the jamming signal was working; his main complaint was that the girl, like most Yanks, seemed to have no regard for the posted speed limits. Every time she disappeared from his line of sight for a period of time, the out-of-range warning chime on the anti-detonation device activated, forcing him to speed up to catch her. By the time he would, they would consistently be entering yet another of the endless small towns along the route; twice he’d nearly rear ended her as he rushed around a curve to an unseen traffic light. At the final village before the turn-off to the compound, he was sure he’d been made – at the light, her questioning blue eyes had checked him over from her rearview mirror – but by then his map had shown they were close enough that he could let her move ahead to their final destination without his having to tail too closely.

He pulled off the main motorway and eased his blue sedan behind a grove of trees, just in time to see the Baroness leave the Mini next to a large black Hummer and head toward the building. Bennett smiled to himself – the girl had moxie, he’d give her that. He wasn’t sure exactly what she expected to accomplish once she got inside the old warehouse, as he noticed she took no weapon in her haste to reach her friends. However, he was beginning to understand why Hax liked her, in spite of her Americanisms.

Bennett waited until he saw her skirt disappear into the dark building, then lit himself a Benson & Hedges as he walked over to disarm the explosive. It was a rudimentary device, so it didn’t take him long to disengage the detonator and take the deadly doll apart. He looked at it a moment, then took a long draw of his cigarette before pulling out a cell phone. The line rang once before a familiar voice on the other end answered, “Universal Exports.”

“Parker Bennett checking in. I need to speak to the supervisor regarding our American shipment.”

“Of course. One moment, Mr. Bennett.”

Bennett’s grin widened as he thought of Mary in her tight jumper, expertly clicking over to M’s secured line, but it dissipated quickly as her voice came accusingly back over the line, “You’re smoking again, aren’t you?”

“Of course not,” he lied, coughing a little as he blew the smoke in his lungs back out through his nostrils. It was uncanny how she knew these things without even being there, but then, one doesn’t become personal assistant to the greatest information analyst in the history of the British Empire without picking up some observational talent along the way.

“Well, we’ll see about that when you return to London.”

Bennett didn’t have a chance to respond before she clicked the secured line over to his chief.

“Yes, sir,” he responded to M’s query, “I just disabled the last one. The girl muddled things a bit and took off with the last one strapped in the back seat, but I was able to follow and jam the signal…yes, the same device coded by Haxor. Ironic, considering the fuss he gave us at the time.” Bennett’s grin returned as a thought occurred to him: rare was the occasion when Teh_Leet_Haxor owed someone a favour, especially to someone in his department. M would call it unprofessional, but he relished the idea of gloating about this accomplishment to his colleagues, many of whom regarded Haxor as a sort of legendary mythical creature of the Internet. “Yes…yes…understood. Haxor is inside with the Americans, so assuming there are no unfortunate accidents,” Bennett almost wished for one, “I should be able to make contact soon.”

Just then, Bennett’s ears perked up to the sound of a single shot, followed a split second later by a cacophony of gunfire. He signed off with M, and with the deactivated black Elmo doll in hand, started back towards his vehicle. This Bark Lurd business was quite a mess, and it didn’t look like it would be over any time soon. He wasn’t sure to which part he was less looking forward: the idea of staying in the United States for an extended time, or the idea he’d be responsible for getting Haxor to cooperate with MI6. Both thoughts gave him a headache.

He was just taking the last draw of his cigarette when an idea came to him, something that might make at least one of his problems slightly easier to manage. He backtracked quickly to where the Mini was parked, laid the doll and its parts near the rear tyre where it could be seen, and then left the butt of his cigarette next to the pile as a calling card.

Bennett grumbled to himself as he returned to his vehicle. These barmy Americans thought that their gunplay was the end of Da Bark Lurd, when really, this was only the beginning.

*****

For years to come, it would be a point of contention with Vampy that at the very moment her superior sniping skills should have come into play, she instead had to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the very puppet that terrified her as a child. She had sensed its presence creeping up on her from behind, turning just in time to block the thrust of the pigtailed creature’s knife. She was in the process of jacking the puppet’s face repeatedly with the butt of her rifle, a sense of chaotic glee overcoming her as she pummeled the pink features that had haunted her nightmares for years, when the Baroness fired the first shot.

To her credit, the Baroness was smart enough to recognize that with her smaller frame, Arnold’s Desert Eagle .50 was not going to be the ideal choice for her to fire with any accuracy; as it was, she’d be lucky to get a shot off without being knocked on her ass. But the situation was critical and alternate choices nonexistent, so she did the best she could. Keeping her wrists stiff and the gun low (she’d much rather it kick into her chest than her face), she adjusted her stance and aimed at a spot on the floor slightly away from the others to reduce the likelihood of hitting one of her own team. As expected, the recoil knocked her back to the other side of the catwalk and she fell hard against the metal rail, but afterwards Baroness was exceptionally proud of the fact that this time, she didn’t drop the firearm.

Although she only hit concrete, Baroness’s shot broke the spell over the room. As Elmo’s focus shifted, Varyar felt whatever power that had held him captive start to wane, and he seized the opportunity to head-butt Elmo backwards. Now with a little space between them, Varyar was able to round-house kick the red menace before diving to the ground under the torrent of his friends’ bullets.

What happened next came so fast that the gentlemen of the group would argue about it the rest of their lives. In reality, there were so many bullets flying through the air that it was impossible to tell who fired the kill shot, but in the end it didn’t matter: by the time the final trigger had been pulled, all that remained of the creature’s body was a tattered pile of red fabric shreds and a cloud of white stuffing floating through the air like snow. Varyar’s ears rang from the rapport of the weapons as he slowly sat up, slightly dazed, and looked around at his friends. The entire atmosphere had changed; where an oppression had hung over the room just minutes before, now was a sense of calm and peace. Through the mists of the gun smoke, a ray of sunlight broke in to wash the team in a golden glow.

While Edge worked his way over to Varyar, and Vampy, Bio, and Umamor slowly converged at the corner of the catwalk where Lyserg was helping Baroness to her feet, from his post downstairs Killer was practically glowing himself. His voice was almost reverent as he turned to Hax. “Can you smell that?”

The Englishman’s face grew puzzled as he sniffed at the air. “Do you mean the scent of spent gunpowder?”

“That, my friend,” Killer started as his smile broadened, “that is the smell of freedom.”

*****

The entire drive back to the Castle von Gosu, Hax was in a quandary. Upon leaving the complex, he immediately spotted the disassembled explosive by the Mini’s back tyre and fortunately was able to get to it before the others saw. He wasn’t sure whether he should tell Varyar; the presence of the particular cigarette butt left behind told him immediately what had happened, leaving him with mixed feelings of gratefulness and annoyance. Why was MI6 involved? Had they really defeated Da Bark Lurd, or had the creature’s energy simply dissipated into the atmosphere to later return in another body? How far down the rabbit hole, as Baron would put it, did this debacle actually go? The others seemed to be in much higher spirits, but Hax couldn’t shake the feeling that the war wasn’t over. Still, until he knew more, he felt it might be safer for everyone if he kept his discovery quiet.

It was after dark by the time they returned, and the team was exhausted. After some basic medical attention, Varyar helped the Baroness get Bio situated in the upstairs guestroom, where Calvin and Hobbes both snuggled up next to him as all three fell into a deep sleep. Throughout the rest of the house, the RCM staff spread out as best they could to get some much-needed shut-eye (only Arnold had finally had enough and taken off in another chopper immediately upon their arrival), but Hax was restless. When the others were settled and Baroness bid him the last goodnight, Hax grabbed his coat and stepped carefully around his sleeping friends to sit on the back deck and look at the stars.

He was just starting to regain his sense of inner balance watching the satellites tracking across the sky, when suddenly from the grove of Rose of Sharon at the edge of the yard came the bright flick of a cigarette lighter.

“Good evening, Haxor.”

Hax immediately felt his blood chill. “Bennett.”

The end of Bennett’s cigarette glowed brightly for a moment, then the man himself stepped from the shadows into the moonlight. “Oh, don’t be such a bloody codger.” His voice took on a mocking tone as he motioned toward the light coming from the Baroness’s bedroom. “Really, after I saved your friend today, one would think you would wish to say something like ‘thank you.’”

“Well, you’re half-correct. Regarding interactions with your department, the second word I’d usually wish to use is, in fact, ‘you.’”

Bennett’s eyes narrowed in the darkness. “It may be best for you to mind your manners, Mr. Haxor. You may be regarded as one of the greatest web-ninjas in the world…”

Hax smirked. “The greatest, actually.”

The spy ignored his comment. “…but there are still plenty out there who would love to watch you fail. Unfortunately, that film you sent over to be analysed convinced the chief that this whole situation goes a lot deeper than initially expected.” Bennett’s cigarette glowed as he paused to take a puff, he voice changing to a serious tone. “We’re all going to have to work together to sort this out, which headquarters informed me will require an extended stay in the Colonies.” He grunted. “That is, an extended stay for both of us.”

“Oh, bugger.”

“For once, we’re in agreement on something.” As he finished his smoke, Bennett started to pull another from the pack until Mary’s disapproving face popped into his mind. Sighing, he slid it back in the package. “Arrangements are being made for your cover; ostensibly, your company needs a long-term field technician for projects spread out in the United States, and it just so happens your recent holiday has inspired your intense desire to immerse yourself in all things Americana.”

At that moment, any doubt Hax may have harboured regarding the possible existence of Hell was erased. He wasn’t sure which idea he found more abhorrent: the part about a top-level software engineer being relegated to mobile technical support, or the fact he’d have to do it in a country which had no concept of the metric system and based their idea of the persons really running their world on the characters in The Big Bang Theory. He actually felt a little sick inside.

“And I don’t suppose I have the option to refuse?”

“Not if you care about your friends’ safety. And really, you have a few more things to cheer you here than I will.” Bennett gestured back up to the window as the Baroness’s light turned off. “I tried the lasagna while waiting for the rest of you to dawdle back. Would have been improved with provolone, but still much better fare than we’ve had on past missions. Have you worked up the courage yet to tell her that you don’t like tea?”

Hax drew a deep breath and clenched his fists in an attempt to keep calm.

“Ah, well,” Bennett continued as he stepped back into the dark shadows, “lovely girl all the same, in spite of the Yankeeisms.” He knew he shouldn’t, but Bennett couldn’t help himself as he heard his voice sneer and continue, “Pity she’s married.”

With that, both men’s thoughts went to London and the raven-haired assistant to the chief, and Hax’s temper finally overflowed. He ran swinging into the darkness, but Bennett was already gone.

*****

The following morning found Baroness surveying her kitchen, trying to decide what liquids Bio would give her the least fuss about consuming. He’d slept throughout the night, waking briefly at dawn to request another blanket and refuse the offer of food and drink before sinking back into the Land of Nod with Calvin curled up at his chest. Baroness had half a notion of calling her friend at the hospital and requesting a saline IV be brought over, but figured she’d start small and try forcing a cup of tea before bringing out the big guns.

In the next room, Killer and Lyserg were packing the last of the weapons back into the Mini before all made the long trek home. Vampy had just backed out of the driveway, her Mustang laden with fresh chocolate chip cookies as she set off on her attempt to trim the ten-hour drive back to New England down to seven. She waved to the others as she pulled away, beeping her goodbye until they would meet up again at RivalCon.

Lyserg waved to Vampy from the window, flashing her the big Texan smile he reserved only for his fellow Southerners, then carefully laid Mr. Blasty back in its case and clicked the lid shut. He paused a moment, looking across the room to where Killer had just finished cleaning his SCAR and was slipping it into a soft case, then cleared his throat. “We should, I mean… why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

Killer looked up at his friend in surprise. “You really think I didn’t want to? I wanted to make an honest woman of her from the first time she kissed me all those years ago, but Candi was the one who insisted we keep everything a secret. It never hit you as strange that as soon as she found out about the baby, suddenly the three of us were never all in the same area at the same time? That every time I had to travel for work, I suddenly started asking a ton of questions about your nephew? That in spite of the extra expenses of raising a child, she was suddenly in her own little house as soon as the child was born, even though with taking her college classes she was only waitressing part-time? None of that EVER struck you as odd?”

Hearing an uncharacteristic rise in Killer’s voice from the other room, Baroness poked her head briefly into the room, said nothing as she took a quick look at them both, then left them to sort it out. Killer was by far the most even-tempered of anyone at Rivalcast, so she figured if he needed to vent, it was probably best to leave him to it.

“I think in a way I always kinda suspected, especially when she clammed up every time your name was mentioned.” Lyserg bit his lip, then looked his friend in the eye. “You really love her, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Killer’s voice cracked a little as he leaned back against the doorway. He swallowed hard, then continued, “I’ve always loved her. And in spite of the hell she’s put me through for the past six years, I don’t think I can ever stop loving her. You have no idea what it’s like, having the life you want right in front of you, being a part of it while at the same time not. So yes, I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell everyone I know. I wanted to scream it from the goddamned mountaintops. But then she looks at me with those big violet eyes, and immediately I know I’m fucking screwed.” Killer closed his eyes and was silent for a few minutes, trying to bring himself back under control. When he opened them again, the big Texan was watching him with a mist in his own eyes.

“Alright, then,” Lyserg nodded, then came over and gave Killer an awkward bro-hug. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re good. You’re family now.” He gave Killer a friendly thump on the back before letting go. “Now let’s go see Matthew and figure out what to do about my pig-headed sister.”

Killer managed a small smile. “Don’t talk about her like that.”

“Perfect answer,” Lyserg drawled as he grabbed his shotgun and headed out the door.

*****

“Are you sure you’re going to be fine?”

As much as Edge needed to get back home, he always enjoyed his time with the RCM crew more than the thought of heading back to West Virginia. Now, with the temperature dropping as the sun slowly sank toward the western horizon, he knew he needed to head back. Still…

Baroness smiled at her friend. “I’ll manage. Hax mentioned staying a few days while we get Bio back on his feet, then we’ll head to New York – his roommates are forwarding his things. As far as they know, Bio took off for a job interview and did so well he was asked to start immediately.”

“Nice. He’s always been happier there.”

“Very true. And it will do him good to have people around. Plus, I’ve never been, so in spite of the circumstances…well, you know I love a good road trip. It’ll do me some good, too.”

He smiled back at her and nodded. “So you’re okay?”

“I’m okay.” As she had with the others, Baroness stepped forward to give him a big hug, then handed him a bag of fresh cookies she and Vampy made that morning. “’Bye for now,” she said as she turned to head back to the warm house.

Edge hesitated a moment. “Can I ask you a question?”

She stopped and turned around. “Of course.”

“When we were talking downstairs…” He paused, not really sure how to frame the question that had been running through his mind the past few days. He looked up to see her watching at him, her head cocked slightly to the side and eyebrow raised in that infuriating way she had when she silently challenged you to speak your mind. Something about that always just brought him back to his direct question.

“Why me?”

Baroness’s brow furrowed as she quietly thought through her answer. Edge couldn’t know what myriad of thoughts were speeding through her mind, but as the blue eyes dimmed he got the sensation they were dark. As his anticipation built, he became acutely aware of the quietness of the neighborhood in the dying light. After what seemed like an eternity, Baroness closed her eyes and the smile returned to her lips. When she opened them again, Edge was relieved to see they’d resumed the deep blue twinkle he was used to seeing in her.

Looking him dead in his eyes, she very quietly replied:

“Why not?”

*****

EPILOGUE

From his apartment in Sweden, Vible checked his internet connection for the millionth time and sighed. It was depressing enough to be caught in the depths of a Nordic winter, where daylight only came for a couple of hours and the rest of the time was so dark he felt like he was living in a space station. To make matters worse, none of his friends had been online for days. It made him sad. He wasn’t sure what would be keeping them, as his connection was good, and nothing had been posting to the RivalcastMedia.com website or any of the various social media feeds for days (excepting Facebook, which Vible later realized was because the Baroness had pre-scheduled the show reminders).

So with no other options, Vible logged into his email and started writing to his penpal, narrating out loud to himself to break the silence as he typed:

Dear DS2,

The RCM team has all been offline for days. Even Teh_Leet_Haxor has been away, who was the best to talk to because he is only an hour time zone behind me as opposed to the six hour difference with the Americans. This makes me sad. I decided to make a new internet friend to talk to, and this new friend sent me a picture of a black monster with large eyes. There was no sound with the image, but when I looked at it, I heard a frightening laugh in my head.

What does this mean?


THE END (???)

*****
Crap, what happened last time? Now re-read from the beginning!

Author's Notes

PostPosted: Sun Feb 01, 2015 4:35 am
by JLMcCafferty
So what started out as a joke in IRC chat during an episode of the Rival Cast somehow snowballed into a three month, thirteen-chapter, 21,000+ word adventure that would never have happened if Biomed Alchemist hadn't neglected to tell me that anything I posted in my shiny new forum would show up in the RCM front page news feed.

I remember surfing over to the main page a week after I'd started the forum thread and feeling like someone socked me in the stomach when I saw the words sitting there, mocking me at the top of the news feed. This was a time when we weren't yet getting written content posted regularly to the site, so my drivel was sitting there at the top of the list for about a week. And getting a fair amount of views. I was mortified. So when Bio popped into Teamspeak a few minutes later with a very chipper "So when's episode three coming out?", I knew that for my own sanity I had to either up my game or kill him. As we were going into Thanksgiving week, which I had taken vacation for, I decided it would be easier to just write.

But despite my best efforts, I couldn't think of a decent enough storyline that I could keep going for five or so weeks.

And that's when things started to get weird.

The whole Find Bio storyline was inspired by a conversation I had with Vible and teh_leet_haxor on the night of Black Friday 2014, near the end of Thanksgiving Week. Since RCM was trying to keep a more consistent broadcast schedule, being the helpful newbie I was, I had volunteered to pinch-hit an RCM "Thanksgiving Special" during the normal Friday Rivalcast time in the event they had to move the show last minute because of work schedules. Baron was going to have everything set up before he left for work - all I'd have to do was power it on and start the audio stream - and if anything went awry I could call Bio for help. There were two problems with this plan: 1. Baron got called into work early, and he left without setting up the equipment, and 2. Bio wasn't logged in to ANYTHING that night, which was disturbing because this was a guy who was ALWAYS connected to RCM. Hax, to his credit, spent a ridiculous amount of time with me that night trying to crack into Baron's laptop and when that failed trying to see if we could set up my laptop for broadcasting (we couldn't), but the conversation while we made the attempt was amazing. What started out as a question from Vible about the American Thanksgiving flowed into why my it's my favorite holiday, the difference in American vs. European education systems, the philosophical component of why Baron and I chase ghosts (with a brief sidebar about how I hate the horror genre), what various RCM personalities I knew in real life were like and how the "real" them differed from their online personas, and later a drunken argument about what keyboards look like in England (Sidebar: basically, when I was in London the internet cafe we used near our boarding house used the French AZERTY keyboards. Because I was nineteen and had no other frame of reference, I assumed it was what everyone in the UK used, and when Hax said otherwise I thought he was just trying to mess with me. I held onto that belief until he got frustrated and started sending photos in Teamspeak while saying "See? This is what my keyboard looks like! The UK uses the same as yours! I HAVE NO REASON TO LIE TO YOU!").

Maybe it was the ridiculousness of the situation. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was just how they made me feel that evening, I don't know. Whatever it was, by the time they logged off for the night, something was very different. I was pounding out the stories for chapters three and four, staying up late sketching out the first draft of the story arc to send to Edge and Bio because I knew I was going to need help with what was forming in my brain. By Sunday night I was texting Bio into the wee hours of the morning with messages like "Do you think your roommate would help me film a hostage video? I would be willing to make them cookies." Chapter five posted that Monday because I was just too excited to wait - I wanted to see where the story would go. And the response from both the readers and the staff was nothing short of amazing.

Killer asked me a while back what I would write if I had a magic notebook where everything I put onto the paper would come true. It was a tough question to answer, because every story I've written from the time I was a kid was never about the way things were, so much as the way I wanted them to be. The magic that makes these things come true, one way or another, is the love and work and perseverance that one puts into turning a dream into a reality. And as the old man says to Link in the Legends of Zelda, "It's dangerous to go alone": my stories focused on a group effort to accomplish a goal, and to make that work required a group effort to write the tale. If you look closely, you see the influences (and sometimes dialogue) of the real Varyar, Bio, Hax, Edge, Lyserg, Vampy, Killer, Baron, and Umamor creep in at various points as I bugged them about the validity of potential plot points, technical details, dialogue feedback, and help with writers block.

As it should be.

So for all of you who have been a part of this project along the way, whether it was proofing, reading, commenting, collaborating, or just dealing with my neuroses , thank you. I've said before, and it bears repeating, the Rivalcast community is something truly special. Episode 14 might mark the end of this story, but our story has a lot more to tell.

Just watch.