The usual silence hung in the air between Russel and Joanne, the latest woman he had let slip into his life. Only the gentle ticking of the pendulum clock and the feint sound of traffic ten floors below could be heard, the clock had been an earnest fascination of Russel’s since he had moved into the apartment the previous year and had since filled the increasing gulf between the two of them. The previous owner had finally passed away last month, before he died at the age of ninety-five however, he managed to sell the house to Russel with much of the furniture included. This wasn’t exactly true though, the old man had instead sold the apartment to Combined Dynamics after Russel’s handlers deemed it to be placed in an advantageous location and to clear the man out of his residence, the company had conspired to make living in the building financially untenable. Russel had never seen such a clock before in his life, how the mechanics did not need electrical power to run was something he found particularly fascinating, a manual service every few months was all it needed, and somehow it had ran this was for over a century.
“I’m going to be late again tonight, I’ll be back by eight with any luck though,” Joanne announced, ending the stretch of silence, Russel looked up from the skirting board he been gawking at, stuck contemplating the day ahead.
“Well, don’t let them keep you too long,” he was out of words and just gave a soft smile in her direction, this arrangement was luckily good for him because the same could be said for his day too, an hour ago a coded message had been transmitted from the company and had confirmed his expectations, he was to conduct a coordinated hit on Curartis, a regional company specialising in pharmaceutical waste management.
“I don’t think I’ll be back for a while either, Evan is going crazy right now over some big job,” Russel conceived a half lie to stop Joanne from leaving the apartment for the moment, he suddenly felt a strong urge to hold onto her and dwelled on the possibility of never seeing her again. It was a surprisingly painful thought which he hadn’t entertained in a long time. He hugged Joanne goodbye in the doorway and made sure to take note of her face, her eyes were darkened around the edges from the fatigue of her day to day and a small glint of light shone from behind her left pupil, even in this moment of intimacy, messages continued to stream from her employer: Archon Global then projected themselves directly into her retina. Russel often wondered if her mind was truly in the same place as his or if it had been long reserved by outside interests.
The door closed, marking the beginning Rusell’s daily routine. He went back into his bedroom and pushed the wardrobe to the side, placing the palm of his hand on the exposed wall for a few moments caused it to slide inwards and reveal a small but powerful handgun hidden within the reinforced wall cavity. He held out the weapon and let it read his genetic footprint, he was accepted and connected with his handler sitting in the Combined Dynamics offices or presumably in the office, Evan could be positioned anywhere in the city with a secure connection guaranteed by CD’s logistics branch.
“This is Zeta, please come in control,” Russel invoked his codename, now armed he left his apartment and waited for a response.
“This is control, we read you Zeta-please confirm connection,” Evan came through the line.
“Confirmed,” answered Russel.
“Alright, we’ve decided to go for scenario B so you should check your mail before we proceed,”
“Damn, how bad is it?” Russel asked. The conformation of the second plan meant that the security at Curartis headquarters had been significantly bolstered, it was evident now that Karl Sandorf, the current CEO of Curartis was willing to defend his illegal stockpiling operation.
“It’s pretty bad, we hear that he is also testing his own experimental drugs on himself, letting a Farie run this kind of service was always a bad idea if you ask me, regardless we are yet to receive any details about his current condition,” explained Evan.
“My job could already be redundant, maybe we just leave Sandorf with his own devices and call it a day control,”
“Very funny,” Evan replied to Russel’s jest with a degree of tension, the hit had been put out by none other than the GHI, the world’s central bureau for health, Curartis despite being a trillion-dollar company in its own right, it was still one of the thirty subsidiaries of the GHI and was only in charge of a single critical role in the production chain: pharmaceutical waste management. Sandorf had been specially placed on the board of directors four years ago and in August had been freshly elevated to CEO status, he was selected for his apparent docility and work ethic; a silent workhorse was perfect for the position unfortunately GHI management were not privy to the coup he had been planning during his tenure. Sandorf simply had to go as soon as possible, and the GHI had made it clear to Combined Dynamics that nobody would stand in their way.
Russel made it down to the ground floor of the apartment complex and went over to his mail locker. Inside he found a small and weighty box.
“The contents are very sensitive, use code 1759 and pocket immediately,” instructed Evan. Russel took the key from the locker and used it to score open the carboard, inside was a metal container with a padlock, he turned open the mechanism as instructed by control and took a brief glimpse of the contents: a fake ID card and an experimental weapon.
“Don’t you think energy weapons are overdoing it?” asked Russel as he quickly slipped the small handgun into the right inner pocket of his jacket.
“We have reason to expect not, the GHI were very insistent we deploy this kind of firepower, they even put a downpayment on the energy costs, the model you have is a Flare 04, it’s a hybrid prototype that will also fire a small quantity of plasma so expect a little more recoil, lastly the beam will dissipate after fifty meters unobscured and after about thirty five in concrete,” control answered.
“And everything else is the same as compared to the 03 then?” Russel replied, somewhat annoyed as to why they expected him to use such an untested weapon, perhaps they were just playing with him; there were some real pieces of work positioned at the upper echelons of CD, betting on his success with a new weapon was just the kind of thing they would do and afterwards this twisted contest would be formalised and recorded as Russel’s ‘adaptability score’ in official reports, no doubt it would be Evan typing it up.
“Yes, weight, spread, heat threshold, they’re all the same from the training model, now… we’ve sent you the floor plan for the Curartis building, understand that the plan B scenario has not changed, at 0900 hours you are to enter the front entrance and display the provided ID card, from there you will go to the waiting room on the ninth-floor at approximately 0910,” as Evan re-iterated the plan, a corresponding visual was streamed into Russel’s head and his hippocampus was scanned for memory retention, if Russel had remembered a detail erroneously; remembering the ninth-floor waiting room as the tenth for example, this would be reported back to CD via the aether link and a correction would instantaneously be beamed back, this technique was only good for memories with a lot of associative links, in the past the company had attempted to feed entire mission briefings via direct memory insertion but this had failed every time, without the sufficient context for a memory it simply could not take root in the mind.
Russel had walked half-way to his destination by time control had finished the briefing, other than a caution about the health of Sandorf himself, the plan had remained the same. He was now in downtown area of New Austin, the buildings were monumental and shimmered next to the harsh sky, ground level was dominated by signs, advertisements and the overbearing stench of spice and cannabis. The roads were filled traffic moving at the speed of a glacier and the flowing mass of pedestrians freely roamed about in every square inch of the streets. This arrangement strangely comforted Russel, having so many people around him meant he couldn’t be singled out so easily but the specific feeling of being pushed around, of fighting against the rush was deeply nostalgic, he wished for a life in the open and one with better air but here at these moments in the heart of a big city, he felt at home.
The Curartis headquarters was built away from the main street, blocked by a row of fake bushes and a wide set of stairs coming level with the glass façade of the building. Two large salmon-coloured pillars held up the company name above the entrance. The corporate logo looked like someone’s signature, Russel recalled Joanne explaining the artistic shift from away from the simplified designs, how back then Archon Connect found that handwriting felt more ‘human’ and encouraged more trust on the unconscious level, the winning recipe was to handwrite a logo in a ‘relatable’ style, rumours even state that the eccentric designer Steve Warhol was kept on Curartis’ own supply of depressants when he created their logo. Understanding the absurd inception of the company sign took some tension away from the moment as the most critical steps of the operation were about to be carried out.
Russel entered the main foyer. The room was overly spacious and gave a floating feeling; the wall behind the main desk was a large pane of glass demarcating a spacious indoor garden, the walls to the left and right were mirrored and the ground was made from a polished black marble, being in the room was disorientating but regardless the assassin made sure to keep his focus. He walked up to the desk and got the attention of a receptionist; her irises were stained pink possibly by curtesy of Curartis.
“Are you here for the nine fifteen meeting?” she asked.
“I am, here” he handed over his ID card, it was accepted by the compromised security system and Russel was granted access into the rest of the building. In accordance with the plan, he took a sharp right turn and made his way through the garden towards the elevator. Walking at a natural pace and impersonating a fictional member of the GHI Russel took a moment to glimpse at the crack of natural light coming in through the top of the building before having to enter the lift, inside the lift there were two security personnel. The doors to the small chamber closed and the three men dwelt in silence for a time.
With his back faced against the two armed men and with the jerking movement of the elevator, Russel was acutely aware of the ease for which even a couple of badly trained employees would be able to catch him by surprise, control were aware of this as well and now that scenario B had been invoked, CD had made it perfectly clear that if he was killed, his body would be detonated.
The elevator stopped on the ninth floor, the doors opening into a walkway, on one side was an overlook of the garden and on the other was a large seating area, Russel walked over and took a seat behind a large steel pillar close by to the meeting rooms, he hung his head lower in anticipation of what was about to occur.
“For Gaia!” on the ground floor a man had rushed inside the building, he was backed up by three other members of the Earth cult each equipped with light sub machine guns. As the alarm system was tripped, Russel made sure to quickly back himself up next to a pillar both to avoid the gunfire and to help sell his role as a low-level manager to the numerous armed guards who were now rushing down to the lower levels of the building. The gunfire was loud at first with security members taking pot shots at the cultists from higher levels, as the terrorists fired back employees ran to hide and screamed as hundreds of bullets were discharged in the air, smashing glass and making ears ring but after the initial attack, the final member of the trio had managed to escape out of the garden, pulling away many of the guards from the upper levels. So far everything was going to plan.
“Come in Zeta!” called our Evan to Russel’s surprise.
“I hear you, someth…augh!“ all of a sudden his vision darkened and his head felt as if someone was pushing in on it. The aether link he had with control was also severed in this moment.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t be prepared for you, I knew three days ago what you would do! A fake ID card? It must seriously be amateur hour at the Initiative,” the voice was not coming from anywhere, instead Sandorf was somehow placing his own thoughts directly into Russel’s head.
“How?” Russel called out impulsively, but his questions were only met with a torrent of gunfire. Using the cover of the large steel pillars he ran and took shelter behind a supporting wall, though he feared that he would never be able to evade what Sandorf had become. He could hear the heavy-footed armed guards, they had split apart to advance up either flank of the seating area, as they scouted the room, Russel suddenly felt Sandorf’s presence. An oppressive feeling invaded his mind once more though this time it felt less intense as if Sandorf was loosing track of him, nothing was said this time but it was clear that both him and his guards now knew exactly where he was, Russel quickly lay on his front as one of the guards shot through the wall, trying to remain as silent as possible he took great care in hearing out for how they were each positioned, why the GHI had armed him with an energy weapon began to make perfect sense.
Just before the first guard peaked past the wall, Russel had pulled out the 04 and fired it to pierce the wall at a shallow angle, the recoil was more then he expected, forcing the gun backwards to graze his collarbone but the beam had stayed on target, effortlessly cutting through the concrete. Russel heard the first guard fall and felt that the oppressive aura from Sandorf had ceased. He quickly fired in the direction of the second guard, catching him as he was reloading, he let out a small cry as the energy passed through his head like it wasn’t even an obstacle.
Russel had completed his objective, but the operation had not gone smoothly, system infiltration was a specialty for Control yet Sandorf had noticed the discrepancy in the Curartis database, this was assuming of course that he hadn’t been tipped off by some other actor. With great care, Russel came out of his cover and inspected his kills, the first guard was lying face down on ground and close by was Sandorf himself, the sight was quite grotesque: his head had swelt into a large round tumour and large white plates of bone looked to be coming from his jawline, blood was covering most of his head so his exact biology was difficult to discern and Russel didn’t want to think about it so much either. He glanced over to the second guard who had fell over backwards when he remembered his final order: ‘await collection’.
He took in the strange calmness of the situation, the alarm has been deactivated and only feint voices could be heard in the distance, Russel took a seat and leant back, closing his eyes in anticipation. A flashing red message was put into view reading ‘system shutdown’, he tensed, and a sharp pain passed over his entire body, Russel’s vision narrowed until he couldn’t see a thing and quickly, he wasn’t able to even think.