Thriller Science Fiction Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

(CW : Occasional use of strong language, suicide)

(This story serves as the prequel to my previous short story "Numb". If you enjoy this one, check out "Numb" on my profile. However, both the stories are standalones).

The taxi screeched to a stop along the curb of the rain-battered street. Nick and Dan, encapsulated within black trench coats and grey hats entered the taxi, shutting the door behind them.

“Follow that car.” Dan instructed the driver, pointing at the white sedan pulling away from the curb and out into the night. Nick was completely drenched and Dan was no better yet the old man had recently come to acquire a drive that Nick had never seen before in a man of Dan’s age. Nick was positively shivering from the cold and Dan must be no better yet the old man hardly showed any signs of discomfort. Well, Nick had to admit, one doesn’t reach to the position that Dan has by pampering oneself.

Dan took out his terminal from the pocket of the trench coat and switched on ‘Privacy’ hence stopping any sound coming out of their voice box from reaching the driver’s ears.

“Is tonight’s assignment official?” Nick asked Dan.

Dan put on a wolfish smile and asked, “What do you think, boy?”

Well, Nick thought it was pretty presumptuous of Dan to call him up on a rainy Saturday evening while he was on vacation, asking him to come in to work. But he couldn’t refuse Dan, could he? The man had practically taught him every trick in the book, and some outside. Nick took out his terminal and opened the chat thread with Amy. He typed in,

Can’t make it to drinks tonight. Can we meet up at Poor Richard’s tomorrow?

Nick felt Dan’s eyes on him and turned to see the old man eyeing him suspiciously.

“What’s wrong?” asked Nick.

“Nothing,” Dan replied, “is it Emily?”

“No, this is Amy.”

“Didn’t you tell me that you went to college with Amy?”

Nick was taken aback. It was pretty well known among all the Blackcoats that the old man had a capacious memory but being told something and being on the receiving end of it was quite different.

“Yeah.” Nick confirmed.

Dan did not reply. He just kept staring at Nick with a deep frown. That was Nick’s queue to elaborate. He would not have indulged anyone with information about his life outside the Blackcoats, not that he had much of it, but it was after all Dan who was asking. At least, Nick owed him that.

So he continued, “This is a ritual of ours since college. We meet up for drinks on Saturday evenings when we’re both in town.”

“Does she know about tonight’s business?”

It was Nick’s turn to be rhetoric.

“What do you think, old man?”

A smile broke through Dan’s lips.

“I think not.” Replied Dan.

It gave Nick immense pleasure to see Dan smile. He felt validated somehow when Dan approved of something. That was one of the reasons, he had to admit to himself, he had persuaded Dan to meet Emily.

“What did you think of Emily, Dan? She was quite pleased to meet you at last.”

Dan kept staring at the blurry tail lights of the white sedan through the rain for some time. Then, he replied, “Depends on what your long term goals are.”

“I really love her, Dan. I think…..” he had to gather up his courage to say the next to Dan.

“I think…..I want to settle down with her. I want to marry her, Dan. I want to wake up beside her every day.” Nick finished.

Dan perked up at the sudden braking of the white sedan in front. It turned out a drunk pedestrian had stepped in front of the car, shouting out obscenities. The driver of the white sedan ignored the drunkard with ease and continued on their merry journey, with their taxi following behind through the rain.

Dan relaxed and then said, “Well, you know of my opinions on marriage. I don’t think our jobs are compatible with marriage and family.”

“I know,” replied Nick. “I want to quit the job.”

Nick had been thinking about this for quite some time now. To be honest with himself, he had been thinking about this since his assignment in India, back in 2060.

“Are you sure? The Blackcoats will surely miss an agent of your potential.”

“Yes, Dan. I’ve made up my mind.”

“Well, in that case, good luck with marriage. Emily seemed quite nice.”

Nick couldn’t stop himself from beaming at Dan’s approval of Emily.

“What made you decide that anyway?” Dan asked.

The scene was burned into his mind like a tattoo of scorched flesh — the parliamentarian shot dead, lying in a pool of blood at his own house, the extravagant mosaic on the floor cracked where the bullet had hit it after piercing though the minister’s heart, the gun shaking in Nick’s hand. He had not anticipated the sound of cracking mosaic. The little girl, Nick never got to know her name, woken out of deep slumber, staring at him with dark eyes from the threshold of her room, somehow confused and accusatory at the same time.

“The burden, Dan. The burden.” Nick sighed.

Dan seemed to understand for he nodded his balding head.

Dan’s terminal started ringing. Dan inserted the wireless receiver into his ear and answered, “Dan Kerns speaking.”

Apparently Dan knew the caller. As Dan continued with his conversation with the voice in his ear, Nick’s self-deprecating brain took him back to that night, the little girl staring at him, her father lying dead on the floor, dead from a bullet wound inflicted by Nick. His trained mind had categorized the girl as simply a witness. He remembered the dark eyes of the girl moistening as he had pulled the trigger.

Nick’s palms felt cold even though the interior of the taxi was temperature controlled. He put his hands inside the pockets of his trench coat where his hands came into contact with the agency issued vial of Necrophilam capsules — death rendered painless by a single capsule, a capsule capable of killing silently and painlessly. Whose invention was it, Necrophilam? It seemed something was being invented every day.

Could he have used Necrophilam on that girl? Could he have shown some mercy? He tried to tell himself he couldn’t have, that there had been no time. Somehow, five years after that murder, he still remained unconvinced.

Dan was taken by a sudden bout of cough, the sound reverberating off of the enclosed space of the taxi. When he got a hold on himself, Dan asked the caller, “What do you want me to do with Agent 45?”

Dan nodded, then raised his brows in surprise and said, “I thought suspended animation would’ve sufficed!”

Nick assumed the caller replied in negation as Dan sighed and replied, “Alright. Whatever you say.”

When he disconnected the call, Nick asked, “Who was it?”

Dan clenched his jaw and said, “My boss.”

“I thought you were only three steps removed from the President himself. No one could boss you around.” Nick teased.

Apparently Dan’s good humour had faded for he replied gravely, “Even gods have to bow to their believers, son. I am but a man.”

Ever since his field assignment in Syria, Dan had changed somehow. Nick couldn’t quite put a finger on it. It was like a scratch he couldn’t itch. Thus, instead of pressing the topic further, he asked, “So what’s tonight’s assignment anyway?”

“I’m not sure if you have the credentials for that info.” Dan replied.

“C’mon, Dan. It’s me.”

“Nick, just trust me on this. Follow my lead. That’s it.”

“You’ve known me for fifteen years now. I think you should have enough faith in me to at least tell me what’s up with this noir shit?” Nick said, exasperated, thinking of the last time he had acted without full information, thinking of the skeleton of that little girl buried somewhere beneath the top soil.

Dan seemed taken aback by Nick’s vehemence. Finally, he relented.

“Have you heard of the Divine Covenant?” Dan asked.

“C’mon, Dan. You must be kidding!”

“I’m not. I’m very serious.”

“It’s not real. It’s like Area 51. Urban legend.” Said Nick, incredulous.

Dan seemed to be gazing intently at the tail lights of the white sedan in front of them.

“It’s as real as Area 51. I can vouch for that.” Dan declared, bulldozing over Nick’s incredulity.

“The Covenant is responsible for more than half of the terrorist attacks in the last decade.” Dan continued, “They’re certainly the richest at this point. There’s paperwork to prove that. But what’s most troublesome is that more than three quarters of the moles discovered in various sensitive organizations belong to the Covenant. Do you remember Michael Shelly, President’s Chief of Staff who was arrested last year for unlawful collection of data from the voters?”

When Nick nodded, Dan continued, “Well, he was framed for that. By none other than the Blackcoats. He was actually spying on the President himself and even influencing his decisions to an extent.”

“He was one of the Covenant?” asked Nick.

Dan nodded somberly.

“Imagine the audacity,” Dan continued, “and the expertise required to pull that off for the better part of a term!”

Then it dawned on Nick.

“So we are following one such mole in the white sedan?”

“Bravo, my boy. Agent 45. What you’ve got to understand is that we are not far behind the Covenant. The Blackcoats have planted numerous agents inside the Covenant as well to collect information. Turns out, Agent 45 has stolen a list of our moles inside the Covenant. The lives and identities of almost a hundred agents in the hand of the Covenant.”

A chill tingled down Nick’s spine. A chime from Nick’s terminal announced the entry of a text. It was Amy, replying back with,

Probably can’t do tomorrow. Next week?

That was odd. It was quite unlike Amy to cancel on their drinks. Nick was suddenly engulfed by the sorry knowledge of an empty Sunday evening, him alone with his thoughts — and burdens. Perhaps Emily was free. He would have to check. He replied back,

Everything ok?

He was further buoyed down when Amy seemed to have seen his text but decided to not reply back. It was usually her doing all the pestering, forcing him to move his bum from his dishevelled condo for a night out.

“Everything ok?” Dan asked, echoing his own thoughts.

“Yeah, so,” Nick began by way of evasion, “what’s tonight’s objective?”

“Simple. Retrieve the list. Contain the perpetrator. And…..”

“No unnecessary risks.” Nick finished Dan’s sentence.

Dan smiled wolfishly and said, “You’ve learned well, boy. But tonight,” Dan sighed and continued, “I would say take any risk necessary.”

The white sedan pulled to a stop in the front yard of a dilapidated farm with a big barn adjacent to it. The barn was lit by the orange flickering shadows of a lantern. Dan switched off ‘Privacy’ on his terminal and asked the driver to go around the rear.

As Dan paid the driver his fare, Nick took in the nocturnal surroundings. The barn was in the middle of nowhere, at least five miles from the nearest trace of civilization. He checked his gun in one pocket and the vial of Necrophilam in the other, ready to use either weapon, ready to inflict pain or mercy either of which the situation demanded. As the taxi pulled away, Dan whispered, “You take the rear, I’ll take the front.”

The old man strutted around to the front gun raised which left Nick to take the rear. In his path to the back door of the barn, Nick passed a well with a raised concrete embankment, smell of rot emanating from its belly. As Nick rounded the turn and stepped over the threshold of the barn, what he found shook him to his very core.

There she was, Amy, sweating profusely and chugging water from a bottle. Behind her stood a wooden desk on which a laptop was set up. The surge of adrenaline coursing through his blood kicked his training into motion. He took in a deep breath and studied the interior of the barn, searching for small clues in the various inanimate objects scattered about the barn. Dan hadn’t yet reached the front door, Amy still unaware of any external presence. A small metallic flash drive was plugged into the laptop.

Nick took out his gun and croaked, “Hands up where I can see them.”

Amy flinched in surprise, put down the bottle on the desk, still open and turned about to face Nick. All colour seemed to drain out of Amy’s face at the sight of Nick.

“So, Agent 45, we meet at last.” Dan said to Amy with immense satisfaction from the front door.

“Listen, Nick I can explain. He has probably told you that I am the mole but I am not. Listen to…..” Amy began.

“Shut up Amy. I thought you were a flight attendant?” Nick shouted out in pain, at the thought of being betrayed by a friend, maybe the only friend that he had.

“And I thought you were a naval engineer. None of us have been honest with each but believe me when I tell you, I am not the mole. He is.” Finished Amy, pointing at Dan.

“Nick, you’ve known me for fifteen years. D’you think I could’ve done such a thing?” asked Dan, gun still pointed at Amy.

“Now, darling, hand me over the list.”

Amy ignored Dan and continued pleading to Nick, “Nick, listen, I’ve been hunting the Covenant for the last five years and everything points to Dan. He’s the point person of the Covenant inside the Blackcoats. And he wants the list to execute those agents.”

Dan fired his gun with a sound capable of levelling mountains and the bullet hit Amy right at her knees. She fumbled, screamed, then fell down but continued pleading with Nick, “He was turned in Syria Nick. You know it’s true.”

Nick did not know what to believe. Irrespective of what the truth was, Dan had hurt his friend.

“Why, Dan?” Nick asked Dan through clenched teeth, tears streaking his cheeks. Nick had asked why Dan shot at Amy. Dan took the question to be something else.

“A war is coming, Nick, bringing with it the very wrath of inferno. I didn’t want to end up on the losing side. You don’t get to be where I am by betting on the losing side.” Finished Dan.

Nick couldn’t help himself from stealing a glance at the flash drive, lives of a hundred agents depending on it. It seemed so fragile right then. Dan followed Nick’s gaze to the drive and just like that Amy was no longer necessary to Dan.

Dan shot Amy in the head.

For a few seconds Amy kept staring at Dan, as if still alive and then her head flopped back and struck the hay-strewn barn floor.

It seemed an elephant had jumped up on Nick’s chest.

Dan eyed Nick guiltily. Then said, “Come over to the winning side Nick.” Dan started forward towards the desk, the laptop, the flash drive.

“Otherwise, you’ll get hurt. Very badly.”

“What the fuck, Dan. What do you mean?” And then it struck Nick.

“Did you tell them about Emily?” whispered Nick, almost to himself.

And then he screamed, “Did you?

Dan seemed hurt.

He said, “No one knows about Emily. I would never do that to you, boy.”

It was all that Nick had wanted to hear and more. Anything beyond this seemed moot.

So Nick shot Dan in the head, the eyes of that little Indian girl flickering through Nick’s vision for the minutest fraction of a second.

For some time, Nicholas Gill, Agent 17 of the Blackcoats, stood there, dumbstruck. Nick could here sounds of engines pulling by near the front of the barn. No one inside the Blackcoats knew that Nick was here with Dan. He was supposed to be on vacation. Then his brain kicked into gear.

Dan’s ‘boss’ had known about tonight, known about Agent 45. They must be the Covenant. Well, Nick would not surrender. What he needed was a way out.

He took out two of the Necrophilam capsules from the vial, twice the lethal dose and gulped it down with the water bottle placed beside the laptop. Amy and Dan had still been alive, two strong tectonic plates on which his world stood, when the bottle was left standing there, its cap open. All that was left now was for the earthquake to hit and for him to crumble down.

He could hear footsteps now, descending from the cars in front of the barn.

He took the laptop and the flash drive and himself out through the rear door of the barn and to the embankment of well.

First, he threw down the laptop inside the well, the flash drive still attached to it. He could feel the Necrophilam coming into effect now. There was a faint tingling sensation to his extremities that was quite pleasurable.

Huh! Death, you have quite the sense of humour.

With this thought streaking through his mind he jumped down into the well and when his body splashed into the water of the well he didn’t feel a thing, neither the cold nor the crushing force of the impact. All he was capable of feeling was a sense of regret that he didn’t get to talk to Emily one final time.

January 24, 2023 11:21

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