Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
The afternoon had led, as any afternoon does when you have one, into the steamy comfort of the Hot Tub. The Hot Tub sat on the back porch of Central Intelligence, installed from high demand by certain parties, namely myself, Finlay, and everyone else besides Pope. A casual observer, after his initial envy that we were sitting in a hot tub and they weren't, would wonder why the hell we were sitting in a hot tub in the middle of a summer afternoon when it was nearly ninety degrees outside. But then Casual Observer would realize that we, in fact, had a hot tub and he did not, and come to the conclusion that when one has a hot tub, one uses it, regardless of the temperature. If there was a hot tub in Hell, you can bet you'd use it.
Goodness, were we a sight. Finlay could barely be seen beneath the bubbling jets, the top of his head and eyes poking above the bubbling surface like some form of malnourished crocodile. Gun, of course, maintained the cool, relaxed position of hot tub-goers everywhere; head back, arms stretched out on either side of his on the deck, black swimming trunks ballooning from extensive jet treatement like a man suddenly striken with elephantitis. Desi had entered the fiery waters in a bikini too small to wrap a pack of Smarties, treating us to more cleavage than a barbarian armed with two Broadswords of Splitting Things Into Little Pieces. Sadly, our balcony seats had joined the submerged ranks of Atlantis. Cursed bubbles. She was presently resting her head on Pope's shoulder. Pope himself had apparently forgone Worlds of Warcraft for his newly acquired PSP, which he had brought with him into the tub and was now desperately trying to kill a horde of Chinamen while keeping the expensive piece of technology well above the ruining surf. I reclined opposite Gun, wondering just why the hell I was sweating, but not really caring, and Goji, garbed in only a leopard-skin Speedo and his hat, playfully splashed Faux who, ninja to the last, had entered the tub in full black, stealth array.
Only Ashkta seemed to have any sense. Attired in shorts, tank top, and stylish sunglasses, she reclined near the tub on a deck chair, reading a book she had found in a hedge.
"Hey! Stop splashing!" said Pope, barely jerking his PSP away in time before it met a watery death at the hands of Goji.
"Why would you bring that thing in the tub in the first place?" I asked.
"You don't understand; this game is awesome," said Pope, "I'm really gonna beat it this time. It's new and innovative and..."
"Pope, it's Dynasty Warriors," I said. "You can beat it in like an hour and a half. Are you trying to rush job it because you know in thirty minutes you'll be tired of it?"
"Fuck you, Allen."
"Only if Desi can join."
"What?" asked Desi, lifting her head from Pope's shoulder.
"Nothing," said Pope.
"He said he'd only have sex with Pope if you joined," said Gun, not lifting his head from its relaxed position.
"That cool, Desi?" I asked.
"No!" said Desi, who looked and sounded suspiciously like Pope.
"Why not?" asked Desi, now sounding like herself.
"No sharing!" said Pope, who thought his name was Desi.
"Someone's touching my leg," said Gun.
"Wasn't me," I said.
Gun responded with a glare.
"Oh, it was me, but I figured I'd let Franklin join us in spirit," I said.
"Stop it," said Gun.
"Shhh....learn to love it....OW!"
"Do it again and I'll kick more than your leg."
Silence pervaded for the next few minutes, broken only by the bubbling of the jets and the blips and bleeps of the PSP as more Chinamen fell to their dooms at the hands of Pope's dextrous fingers.
"So, Goji," said Gun finally, "What's our next assignment?"
Goji lifted his hat and brushed his damp hair back with one hand. "Well, I've been thinking about it, about where we could do the most damage..."
"And?" said Gun.
"Have you heard of PAX?"
Bubbles not from the jets burst to the surface around me as I let out some gas. "You mean the Penny Arcade thing?"
Goji smiled wolfishly, a description that would have suited him just fine.
This did not, however, suit Gun just fine. "What is it?"
I cleared my throat, even though I didn't have any phlegm in it; it seemed appropriate before offering any explanation.
"PAX is a huge get together hosted by Penny Arcade up in Washington or California or somewhere over there on the West Coast. Last year was the first one and this year's is right around the corner. What the bossman here is suggesting is that we target their LAN party, which is one of the biggest in the country. The damage capacity could be massive."
Gun stared at me for a minute with granite eyes. I could have sworn I saw them flicker, like the lead-in frames of a film reel, instantly there then gone.
"I'm in," said Gun. "When do we start?"
"Me too," I input.
"I never assumed any of you weren't in, you idiot," said the Boss. "You get paid to be in."
"What's Penny Arcade?" asked Desiree. Ah, good ol' Desi.
"It's a webcomic," said Pope. "Remember that one I showed you about the guy and the girl and the atomic spider?"
"Oh yeah!" Desi laughed, a sound that sounded to my ears like the joy of winning the lottery.
"Hey, Boss, that reminds me," I said. "I found this ad in the newspaper for free puppies. I thought if you were still looking for a boyfriend...."
Sudden pain like being run through with a tuning fork laced with really hot shit and laser blades entered my stomach. I doubled over into the tub, collapsing beneath the surface. All the others saw was an expression on my face as if I'd been hitting on some hot chick and then told 'she' was a guy, then watched as I sank below the surface. All the while, my gonads cried out for vengeance before they, too, submitted to their watery grave.
"Now that that's out of the way," said Goji, showing no sign that he had just prevented my loins from ever producing a suitable heir, "I wanted to discuss the battle plan."
"What's to discuss?" asked Gun. "We go in and start racking up the body count. If this LAN party's as big as you say, stealth will be useless."
"Gun's blazing, then?" said Goji with a huge, inhuman smile. It wasn't fair; I was supposed to make the puns, but alas, alas, alack, alack, I was preoccupied planning my vengeance in the liquid deep with the jettisons. Not to be confused with the Jetsons, though I doubt George and Elroy could be any help in this case as it were.
"Ha. Exactly," said Gun. It wasn't fair; if I'd made that pun, I'd have been struck unjustly. I conferred with the air jets about possibly becoming an NBA team and using our earnings to ruin the man who had put us here.
"It's not that simple," came a voice rising from the depths like the Loch Ness Monster, a veritable rising Red October. Finlay nuzzled himself into one of the crevices of the hot tub, right in front of a jet. "You see, with that many hooligans in one area, and judging by the vertex of the sun's rays when multiplied by the coefficient of Mach 2 when first divided by the number of Jolly Ranchers inside a fourty-four cubic centimeter glass cube and by the degrees of temperature on a July day in Lincoln, Nebraska, then it's my impression that there's no realistic possibility of taking them all down without being taken down ourselves."
"Thanks, Fin. As ever, the soul of wit," said Goji.
"What we're dealing with here, Gun, is one shot. It's not like our activities have been going unnoticed. Our IP address here at Central will surely be flagged. So Fin will have to log us on remotely from a fake IP to get us into their servers..."
"What about firewalls," asked Pope, who, true to form, had gotten tired of playing his PSP and had handed it to Ashkta for safe-keeping.
"I'll take this one if you don't mind," said Fin, who, had he been wearing a tie, would have taken this time to adjust it. "By logging us on remotely, I can get us as far as the firewalls. But these aren't just any firewalls, these are nigh unbreakable, except from the inside. And judging by my calculations of the symphonic ratio of the vernal equinox, and taking into account the birthday of Bones McCoy, and then quadrupaling the sum of the factorial division of a quark in 3.2 molar sulfuric acid carbonide, subtracting, naturally, the empirical equation of the measurements of a suit bought from Sachs Fifth Avenue at approximately 12:05PM on the first of August in the year of our Lord 1943, then if a breach in the Firewalls were opened from the inside, there would be around 4 seconds to enter, lest our further attempts be terminated."
As everyone stared in utter shock/disbelief/horror, Finlay wore the smirk of that kid who sits in the front of your Economics class who always ruins the curve for everyone else, and invites the professor out to his country club for golf and yachting. The word 'pretentious' was created and reserved solely for Finlay.
"In summary," said Goji, keeping an incredulous eye on the skinny man who had once again resumed his crocodilian visage over the African watering hole called our hot tub, "we're sending someone to PAX to get us online over there, which will give us a four second window to enter through the Firewall..."
"And start the killing," said Gun as if that settled it. "So who's going to PAX?"
"Jesus CHRIST, that hurt!" I said, bursting from the surface of the hot tub like a mutated dolphin fresh from the genetics lab leaping from the toxic ocean in a spray of foam and chemicals. "Bad form, Bossman....aalsdjkg'sadlg"
The end of my curse was cut off in a lost Atlantian language of gurgling and bubbles, the language of drowned men everywhere, as someone's big, meaty, dress-wearing hand shoved me back into the really fucking warm water.
"Please go on," said Gun, ignoring the dying flails of a man who was drowning, and if he wasn't, was about to start kicking some ass. "I can only keep him down for so long."
I splashed and threw as much water as I could in an effort to recover topside, in my efforts accidentally hurling a spurt of wetness out of the tub and onto Ashkta's lap...where her book sat...
Were we still in the realms of Cyberspace, the sky would have split and fire might have rained down from the heavens, razing all that stood beneath it. However, reality being what it was, and Ashkta being the mere mortal she was, all I received was a barbed glare. Not taking her eyes from me, she pointedly brushed at the water splashed upon her book. The meaning was clear; drowning would be the preferable alternative.
"Sorry, Ashkta," I said.
"Hm," she said, but it was more than enough. Volumes of vile words and threats lingered in those two letters. I decided to cancel my subscription.
"Back to the matter at....Pope! What the hell are you doing?" I shouted, dumbfounded at what my jack-of-too-many trades friend was currently piddling with.
A full desktop computer was now set up on the edge of the hot tub, and Pope was busily pointing and clicking away at some war game.
"Huh?" said Pope, not looking from his game.
"What is that? What happened to the PSP?"
"No, this is Battlefield 2! It's awesome!"
"Hopeless, Pope. Hopeless."
"I hopelessed your mom last night."
"That doesn't even make any sense."
"What?" said Desi.
"Nothing, Dez," I said.
"Anyway," spake Goji unto Those of the Tub.
"Yeah, anyway," said Gun.
"So what's the plan, Stan?" I said.
"Back to what I was saying about PAX," said Goji, adjusting his beaten fedora. Who wears a hat into the hot tub? Honestly. "I'm not sending Fax or Gun in on this one. Desi's going."
"WHAT?!" rang me and Gun's cries that soared up from jilted throats and rang the bells of Heaven.
"Why her?" I asked.
"Why not me?" said Gun.
"She's a girl! She won't get a damn thing out of it!" I said.
"Nor does her battle prowess exceed mine!" Gun said.
"This is gay!"
"Hardly fair, Goji."
"Would you two relax?" said the Bossman himself. No, I would not relax. Here he was about to send some girl who didn't know Jak from Daxter, Ratchet from Clank, Mario from Luigi! Why that little....
"I said RELAX!"
"Now, as I was saying," Goji continued, "It will be Desi and our new operative who will be attending the PAX celebration itself. They won't even need to be killing effecient. All we need them for is to get us past the vigil that will undoubtedly be set for us. They've got boobs--no one will give them a second glance. Or, rather, no one will give them a second glance of suspicion. Once they are in the system, Faux will infiltrate the firewall and open the way for the rest of us. Only then will the killing commence."
Gun and I looked at each other in suspicion, but then nodded our heads. It was a sound plan. I raised my hand.
"I don't want to do the fighting. We've gone up against hax0rz before, but this is a convention center full of them. Is there any way we can win?" I asked.
Gun stood from the Tub and draped his coat over his shoulders. He gave a cinematic turn of the head and all at once his sword was rested on his shoulder.
"Of course," he said.
I coughed the words "Show off" into my hand.
"Wait, what?" said the interrogative Desi.
"You're going to Washington, babe," said Pope.
"To a game convention."
"Shut up, Pope," I said, staring intently at Goji who had almost slipped one by me. If not for the inane conversation commencing betwixt lovers, I might have missed it entirely. "What new operative?"
Goji winked at me, reminding me horrificly of a one-eyed soldier--you know--the cream filled kind, and I winced.
"She's coming in specifically for this operation. I imported her all the way from California," said Goji.
"You imported her?" said Gun.
"What, like a Japanese PS2 game?" I said.
"Speaking of which..." said Pope.
"No, you're not getting one, so don't even pretend," said I.
"I own part of China, you know," said Finlay, completely irrelevantly. "Junk bonds."
"No you--" I immediately keeled over and the resounding cry of a gong sounded somewhere in the wilderness of the front porch at Finlay's dreadful pun. If puns could wound, he might have wiped out a small country's population with that one.
Finlay smirked. Pretentiously.
"So, what is this like Metal Gear Hot Chick?" said Gun.
"Yeah, is she hot?" I echoed.
"She better not be fat!" said Finlay in weasly style.
"Yes, yes, and no," said Fearless Leader. "Her hottness is, however, irrelevant to her capabilities as an operative."
"Of course," said Gun, again closing his eyes, cleansing his soul in the warm water.
"Bullshit it is!" I said.
"Her hotness is directly correlative to her capabilities!!" chimed Finlay with an extra exclamation point.
"Now are we talking normal person hot, or I'm-gay-and-like-having-sex-with-animals-a
I instinctively ducked, but Goji didn't strike. Oddly. Instead he said, "See for yourself."
As a G-Unit, we all looked up and saw 5'7 of bare leg saunter onto the deck. Past those legs was a tasteful, yet sexy, bikini, flat stomach, face of the cherubim, reflecting pools of the greyest blue, and a cascade of shimming strawberry blonde hair, luscious like fruit from a Sisyphian tree. Atop her head sat stylish sunglasses and under her arm she carried a briefcase. And a gun.
I could feel Faux, Ashkta, and Desi bristle beneath this newcomer's presence, females prepared to destroy to retain their territory.
"Dibs!" I shouted without thinking.
"On what?" said Gun, barely able to stifle his laugh.
"You can't call dibs on a girl!"
"She's standing right there!" said Pope, tossing an Ipod nano at me.
"I so can! And DID! Dibs!"
"You've got a girlfriend," said Gun.
"Objection: irrelevant!" I shouted.
"What?" said Pope.
"Okay," said Gun, "One, this isn't even a court of law, and two, even if it was, how is that irrelevant?"
The silence was broken by a chuckle from our newcomer. I looked up into those seductive eyes and saw...something. Before I could pinpoint what it was, our world exploded around us.
The hot tub spewed us out, the water rising into a steaming column. As I landed on the hard deck, I grunted and looked up to see the very sun blotted out by the enormous column of water. I tried to hear what had happened to the others, but the rushing sound of the jets, now feral instead of friendly, fed the watery monolith. All I could see was the new woman, ringed in a dark light, smiling at the chaos erupting from the tub.
Suddenly, within the wall of water, a shape appeared. It was the outline of yet another woman, all blues and whites and foams, crouching, as if about to impart upon us some great secret. Which, it turns out, is exactly what she was about to do.
"Officers of the Word," said the watery figure, her voice bubbling as if speaking beneath the depths, "I am Decker, Goddess of the Word."
I tried to ask what the hell she was talking about but it was as if we'd all been silenced and I'd failed my saving throw vs. crazy shit roll.
"Our cause is in danger. The threads that bind and separate our worlds are even at this moment being severed. A great evil threatens to devour us all into a single, decadent world in which the Word will no longer exist. Even now, I speak to you from captivity, under the vile shaman. I ask you to find me, save me, save my world...and in turn save yours."
I, again, had no idea what she was talking about. This was the real world, not some fucked up haxx0rz chat room. Shit like this didn't happen. I did, however, wait for her to tell us that we were her only hope and call me some stupid made up name that would later build an entire dynasty of bad films.
That, however, didn't happen. Instead, she vanished, but her words remained. "You must find the Techromancer and the Skewed Jester. They will help you. And beware the German....."
And then she was gone, as was the darkness, and the hot tub had returned to normal. I didn't need her to tell me not to trust the Germans, but at the moment that was far from my mind. Our new operative still stood, hand outstretched, smiling.
"What the fuck?" I said.
She looked down at me and said, "Hi, I'm Tango."