A field of mist; a breath of wind cuts through the night: Moon high; rider low. A face screams in from the wild. “Vivian!” He cries. “You are come to me! Be my moderation!” The rider wakes with a start, a hand filled with metal: two shots in the face of a monster only dreamed. “d’Aguerra! I will prevail!”
“Bring him in here!” spake the Old Man; a padded door opens with a breath. Its space is filled by a Pale Horse, its rider arch of visage. “Be seated”, proffers the Old Man; his rider wordlessly obeys. “I have a task for you, if you will.” “I will”, servant to master. A cough fills the space, and time is come.
“Anabulys” began the Chief. “Sergio d’Aguerra’s firm?” responds the rider. “Indeed. You are to reach out to him.” Eyebrow. “Suspicions of malfeasance, sir?” “Indeed. His activities appear to run contrary to the aims of our service.” The rider smiles: “I shall endeavour to do my best, sir.” “Efficiently, VXO.”
A man with smooth skin sits in a deep chair. He is Sergio d’Aguerra, and he is studying a screen. He is accompanied by various mewing sheep, dressed to mimic lawyers. “Phase one has been undetected, my acolytes. Manufacture of parts must recommence for phase two.” The lawyers nod and depart.
The rider runs along a beam between two buildings. He stops, crouches, listens. He is clad in black and light of foot. He makes his way between roof lights, a path trodden well in to his memory. He finds his mark; stops. Binoculars raised to his eyes, he focusses upon the workings of a factory floor.
Cold machines froth and whir, churn and stomp. Parts spill out and collect in bins. Ranks of donkeys nod and punch, and nod and punch. The rider captures the scene and submits his first report.
They shake hands, smiles are exchanged. The rider awaits, keeping his powder dry before the target. “Mr Jones? Welcome to my facility. I hope we can help you get to the bottom of your problem.” A dim bow of deference. The rider nods: “Thank you Sergio. I have no doubt you will be most helpful.”
A Pale Horse and rider walk down a metal-clad corridor with a woman: One of d’Aguerra’s lawyers, she seems eager to please. “Mr Jones: Señor d’Aguerra bids you to make full use of anything you see fit.” Eyebrow. “He is most kind. I would appreciate seeing the most up-to-date prototypes.” Pause. Confusion. Disarray. The sheep nods at last. “Of course, Mr Jones; this way please.” The rider smiles.
“Anabulys manufacture a wide range of solutions to your problem, Mr Jones. This one should suit your current needs.” A hideous machine, capable of unspeakable evil, rises up and looks the rider in the eye. “Indeed it should. And what of you, Dr Longbarrow? Are you at my complete disposal also?”
Sheep attests rider with cold hard gaze. Machine watches, awaiting instruction. The rider pulls the lady close to him; his promise is the world, but she knows her position in his play all too well. She chooses to succumb as the machine assembles knives and captures sound and video from the scene.
d’Aguerra observes the scene from his deep chair. The sheep bow their heads in communion. The master views the true identity of the rider with a cruel smile. He must activate countermeasures.
The rider hangs awkwardly, one shoulder free of its socket. His skin is sweaty and his head is down. He appears to have lost the fight. Dr Longbarrow stands with d’Aguerra as their success is vaunted. “The infamous VXO no less: I am truly honoured. Did the Old Man send you here to die? Did he?” The rider is silent, dangling. He clears his throat and spits on the floor. d’Aguerra leaves, disgusted.
A man with a back carved out of oak throws his fist in to the face of a young man. Stripped to his underwear, our rider no longer has the protection of his Pale Horse; it lies in tatters by his feet, the tailor’s identity its only identifying feature. Our horseless rider chooses not to speak to this tree.
On a computer screen the images of donkeys flicker and flash. Their bobbing is understood, but the parts would need to be inspected. A young man adjusts his glasses and peers closer to the screen. “It is not possible”, he says, albeit to himself. He picks up the telephone and makes for the Old Man.
The man of oak is a distant memory now. Our horseless rider lies prone on the floor, arm returned to rightful socket. The good doctor enters the cell and stoops to his aid. Their eyes lock, and the sheep releases the rider from his bonds. Clad in a fresh clean skin, they make their way out, hand in hand.
A light flickers from the factory floor; a signal is modulating. The rider kneels behind a terminal and connects a device. “Message from headquarters” he informs his sheep. Ill humours spread amongst the machines like a Mexican wave; machines of evil begin to demanufacture all around and about.
Sparks fly and people flee. Chaos sweeps through the facility. Nodding donkeys grind to a halt as signals interrupt their routines. The sheep are caught in their pen and left to the collapsing ceiling. d’Aguerra flees from his office, entering corridors of sparks. He ducks, he runs, he trips, he falls.
Fire, smoke, blasts: Our rider steps forth from the maelstrom to greet his nemesis. d’Aguerra laughs a hollow laugh: he is unsure whether his project has truly failed. He eyes the valiant rider warily once more. “Do you expect me to hand myself in to you, Mr Ostersund?” The rider remains silent still.
A machine of evil steps out of the cascade of burning rubble and takes its place next to the rider. A nod to a distant camera is all he needs, and the machine steps forth, cutting its master in to a series of ribbons. The rider observes his current attire with dismay; he longs for his Pale Horse once more.
The rider wakes in the arms of his sheep; they smile sweetly at each other before kissing. “You never were Mr Jones, then?” “No, Doctor, I never ever was.” They recline and begin to kiss once more. A sniper views the pair through a high window; he touches a finger to his ear. “Yes, sir” and fires once.