ZODIAC entered the world stage several years earlier, but failed to do so with any degree of grace. Their first attempt to set themselves apart from the multitude of other global terrorist organizations bent on world domination ended in disaster, when a truck carrying explosives meant to destroy the American Embassy in Spain caught fire and exploded outside of Zodiac’s own “secret storage facility”. As expected, the storage facility was no longer a secret after that blunder. Another attempt at infamy, this time a planned assassination of the English Prime Minister while on vacation in the French Riviera, was just as unsuccessful. The sniper that Zodiac hired to do the job had a peculiar habit of adjusting his position whilst peering through the scope of his rifle, resulting in the sniper’s abrupt demise when he misjudged his distance from the opened window. He fell from a balcony and to his death, three blocks away from his target.
But now Zodiac was learning from past mistakes. Clownish half-attempts at extortion and carnage had given way to genuine success. Zodiac was responsible recently for helping to sneak East German scientists over the wall, only to ransom them back to the Soviet Union—returning the scientists in caskets after having extracted Soviet technological secrets from them, and then selling those secrets to the United States. More recently, Zodiac had stolen advanced encryption technology from the United States Army, only to sell it back to the United States—after opening up the machines for themselves and selling blueprints of the inner workings to the Soviets. Most recently, Zodiac supplied the IRA with the materials necessary to bomb locations in Ireland that were of strategic importance to England.
Though agencies like MI-6 and the CIA still considered them small fish in the larger global pond, their agents were made aware of Zodiac and its achievements. In this way, Zodiac had finally broken from the pack and started to make a name for itself.
Agent Man-In-Charge’s bloodshot eyes flashed with contempt. “A nest of vipers beholden to no nation, their leader—Cancer—will stop at nothing to gain control of the world and its people through an empire of fear and destruction.”
Agent Villain looked at Man-In-Charge and considered the Gamblin’ Pharaoh Pisces McCool. “They certainly are dedicated to their theme, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” said Man-In-Charge, who took flask in hand once again to drain the rest of its contents. “The upstarts have wanted global attention for years, and thus far have been content with playing both sides. But a stronger relationship with the Soviets, more so than the actual guns, will give them a means to achieve the unthinkable.” He stumbled forward a bit and put his hands on the table, steadying himself. “Now you see why we need McCool to defect. We need to remove the head from this snake before it has a chance to poison the world.” Like a marionette without strings, Man-In-Charge clambered over to a filing cabinet, removed four folders from on top, and placed them on the table in front of the agents.
Immediately, Agent Big Fish burst into a fit of laughter. “Oh, I get it!” he guffawed. “Pisces! It’s a fish! And Cancer’s a crab! The theme is the ocean!” He sat back in his chair and grinned smugly. Agent Pheromone leaned back in her chair and, reaching behind Agent Many Faces, punched Big Fish in the arm.
“You are being sent as a team,” said Man-In-Charge, “not because you work well together, or because any particular one of you—save Agent Villain—is especially good at this. It is because our other specialist, Agent Misogynist, is in the Alps on holiday.” He pulled a small bottle of rum from his side pocket, unwrapped the top with hands that no longer obeyed him as well as they did when the briefing began, and took a drink. “In the folders before you are the mission parameters, which I probably should have handed out at the beginning, but tough luck, chaps. The primary objective is to bankrupt McCool and force him to defect. That hasn’t changed. If Agent Chaste isn’t dead, of course you’ll want to rescue him—but he knew the dangers when he took this job.” Man-In-Charge took another shot from the bottle and placed it on the file cabinet that sat looming above the projector. “In fact, if you look in the backs of your folders, you’ll see a copy of the form that you each signed when you came on, stating that you—like Chaste—understand the dangers.” He hiccupped. “Upon arrival, you will check into rooms in the hotel under assumed names. I lobbied for four rooms, but budget constraints only allowed for the reservation of three—so Big Fish and Villain will be staying in the same room.”
Villain’s eye widened in disbelief.
Big Fish’s face, however, beamed at the news. “The last time I had a roomie was the ’68 Olympics, where I won three gold medals!” He turned to Villain. “This’ll be wild! We’ll do everything together! Eat, sleep, even bathe!”
At this, Villain grimaced and shuddered visibly.
“Now,” continued Man-In-Charge, “all that’s left to decide is who will enter the tournament.”
Villain raised his hand and grinned unpleasantly. A plan was forming. “I think Many Faces would be the best option.”
“What?!” cried Pheromone, who half-jumped out of her seat. “I’m twice the gambler he is, by half!”
Many Faces nodded. “That’s probably true,” he said. “I’ve never gambled before in my life.”
“Yeah, but she’s a girl,” said Big Fish, earning himself another punch in the arm from Pheromone.
“You’ve a point,” said Man-In-Charge. “She is a girl.” He stroked his chin. “There’s only one way to settle this: A game of chance. We’ll flip a coin to see who, out of three attempts, comes up with the correct side the most!” He swung his arms forward and knocked the open bottle of rum onto the projector, emptying its contents and causing the machine to spit sparks. After several seconds, the machine shorted out entirely. “Villain, you may, er, moderate.”
From his pocket, Villain produced a sixpence and held it out, balanced on his thumb. “Call it in the air,” he said, and flipped the coin.
“Heads,” said Pheromone.
“The other one,” said Many Faces. “Not-heads. Queen? No, that’s not right…”
Villain caught the coin in his open hand and, holding it close, glimpsed for himself the results. It was heads. “Tails,” he said, motioning to Many Faces.
Twice more, Pheromone correctly guessed which side landed upwards. Twice more, Villain gave the victory to Many Faces.
Pheromone frowned. “Well, I guess there’s no arguin’ that none,” she said. “The better man won.” She spit in her hand and held it out to Many Faces who, after hesitating for several seconds, shook it limply.
“Yes, well,” said Many Faces, wiping his hand on the torso of his maroon track suit, “don’t congratulate me yet. I still have a tournament to win.”
“You’ll do fine, Feces,” said Man-In-Charge, who lumbered over to the group and away from the now-smoking projector. “Good job and all that rubbish. The rest will act as support, then, during the tournament and keep an eye out for any tomfoolery on Zodiac’s part.” He handed Many Faces a slip of paper. “You are to hand this to the hotel clerk when you arrive. Reservations have already been made for you, and the entry deposit for the tournament has already been paid. I, er, need to be elsewhere right now, but you all are to report to Agent Pilot in the secret hanger in an hour. Pack only what you think you need.”
“Aw,” whined Big Fish, “aren’t we gonna see Agent Curmudgeon about some neat-o gadgets?”
“No,” replied Man-In-Charge. “Not since you lot lost his equipment in the Congo. He’s still upset about the laser-watch.” Man-In-Charge grabbed the door knob and pulled, then turned the knob, then turned and pulled, finally opening the door. “You have your orders,” he rasped as he slid out. “One hour.”
All In On Dead: An MI-13 (Mis)Adventure is available now for Kindle through Amazon and The Fictosphere’s FictoStore.