Christian sat in the staff room, a blanket around his shoulders and the nicest meal he'd had in weeks in front of him. The Phantasm was toasted him sandwich after sandwich and plying him with sugary tea. Most of his workmates were marshaling outside, but a few stood and listened as he spoke breathlessly of his ordeal:
"…And there was nothing to eat but luncheon meat and cabbage, and we had to watch Barn employees confess to their crimes on black and white TVs, then we had to spend five minutes hating Emanuel Goldstein – I think he's Jeff Goldblum's brother or something – and there was nothing to read but Jackboot Enthusiast Quarterly and they tried to torture me with a slowly descending pendulum, but it squeaked and the torturer got annoyed but anyway, I know where the weak spot is on the Barn."
Marlon pursed his lips. "There's a weak spot?"
"Don't push him, he's been through a lot," the Phantasm said. "Scotch finger or ginger nut?"
"Ew! Scotch finger please, my cruel mistress." Though she still wore her hat and cape, the Phantasm seemed to have given up her bone white mask. It was an improvement.
Christian took his biscuit. While he was flawed in many ways, he was still basically a decent human being, with a decent human being's essential desire to do right. As such, he broke his Scotch finger in half before dunking it in his tea.
"Th're's a weak spot. Round the back. Remember when they made that airship to attack us? Well, I heard one of the Barnlings say that the hangar roof had been damaged in a wind storm. He'd replaced it – but only with a bit of three mil MDF."
Marlon crossed himself. The Phantasm nearly dropped a plate. Even the usually impassive Nalda curled her lip into a sneer of disdain.
"Three mil? For a project like that?" Marlon said. "They're disgraces to the hardware industry.
"So I reckon, while we have them distracted with the big fight, we send some sort of elite task-force-thing round back to break into the hangar. We set charges on those hydrogen tanks and Emanuel Goldstein is a real jerk who looks dumb with his dumb hair."
"What?" Marlon said.
"Sorry, force of habit."
Nalda nodded. "Zis could be done. A small team could take advantage of dis unexpected flaw in der defences. You know – like dat moofie… Um…"
"The Guns of Navarrone?" Marlon said.
"Nein, not dat one."
"You Only Live Twice? Independence Day?"
"Nein. Come on, you know der one, vere dat one special person overcomes defenses using der power… Ach, vas ist es?"
"The King and I?"
"Ja, exactly. Dat voman uses der power of love to get through der emotional defences of der King of Siam. Ve do something like dat, only in a military setting."
"Could work," came a voice. Christian looked around. He'd noticed the guy lying unconscious along a row of chairs, but in his capacity as the centre of attention, he hadn't asked about him. Now he realised it was a guy that looked like he could be Axel's son, only dressed in a weird costume. The guy was sitting up now, rubbing his bruised face.
"Before you go rushing into things blindly, let's consider," the stranger said. "Christian here has clearly been brainwashed – pretty ineptly, but brainwashed nonetheless. He's leading you into a trap. What we need to do is out-trap them."
"Shut up, loser," the Phantasm said. "You're the reason I have these scars."
"They don't look too bad," Christian said.
"Yeah?" the Phantasm said, her voice laden with suspicion.
"Yeah. They add character."
A smile flickered across her lips. She bustled off to get more tea.
"What was that about?" young Axel said. "Oh, wait. I just remembered: I don't care. Anyway, they're expecting the old 'small team bullseyes wamprats' plan. I say we run in, guns a'blazin' and hit 'em hard. Then we smash into the hangar, and blow up the hydrogen tanks."
"Vait, vy are you helping us?"
"What part of 'blow up the hydrogen tanks' are you missing?" young Axel said. "Kaboom!"
"I'll help you," Angela said. Christian had forgotten she was there. She had been sitting quietly in the corner the whole time.
"That's great, but what we really need is firepower," young Axel said. "Me, cyborg woman, hat girl, maybe some…"
Angela's pale face went jet black. The lights cut out and something darker than mere absence of light filled the room. Nothing was visible except for two glowing green eyes where Angela had been, and there was nothing to be heard except for a shriek of otherworldly horror.
The lights flickered and slowly the room returned to normal.
"All right, you're in," young Axel said. "And if you have any more heavy hitters, we may need them too. All the rest need to do is hold the line until we hit the tanks."
"I should come too," Christian said, liking neither the idea of his mistress going into battle without him, nor how quickly he was being sidelined. "I know where to go, after all."
Nalda shrugged. "Dat's probably a gut idea. I'll see if Fiona wants to come, too, or maybe Voyager from der future."
"We'll do it!" Christian said. "We'll make those Barnling bastards regret that they ever took on the Handy Pavilion!"
In the cheering that followed, no one heard him say, "Emmanuel Goldstein sucks balls" under his breath.