Agents, the Novel: Hardwired

©2011-2012 Jaron Dael Belboda Celestial Gleams International Studios, Limited

Chapter One

Nothing, not even a hundred years training could have prepared him for this. Sure he was an agent and sometimes street racer, but if anyone had asked Jason Bell if he thought rescuing a girl from a sex trader’s apartment complex and actually being pursued by the “gentleman” was a good idea, he would have responded that such efforts, while admirable, were the duties of law enforcement or Robin Hood wannabes. Granted, the girl they were rescuing was an agent sent in by the agency to investigate this man for other crimes. Glancing into his rearview mirror he looked first at the blue headlights of the gaining Ferrari and then the faces of his sister Serena, and Cousin Shelby. “I told you this was a bad idea.” He rasped nervously.

“Hey, don’t blame me,” Serena countered. “You seemed pretty energetic about the idea yourself, five minutes ago.”

“Huh!” Jason scoffed condescendingly as he dodged traffic. “Five minutes ago I was not being chased by a Scaglietti 612!”

“I told you to bring the 458,” Serena mumbled under her breath as she looked out the window just in time to see them barely miss the opening door of a parked taxi.

“That’s your fault!” Shelby snapped, picking up the argument where Serena had dropped it. “What were you doing on the other side of the friggin’ building?”

“Oh, shut up! You’re the one who told him we would meet him on that side!” Serena fumed. “Then changed your mind at the last minute!”

“No you shut up,” Shelby retorted, felling quite misunderstood. “You’re the one who waited that extra nano-second for “Danny Boy” to catch us!

“No, you shut up!” Serena shot back. “You’re nailing me for a nano-second? You don’t even know if it was that long!

Shelby started to reply but Jason cut her off. “Look both of you shut up!” They both turned their backs to each other as Jason idiotically added like he was speaking to toddlers. “I’m trying to escape!” They both glared at him and said nothing.

They normally enjoyed hanging out together, but on this night things were different—lately everything had been. At ages 19, 17 and 17 ½ respectively, Jason being 19 and Serena being 17, (you can guess how old Shelby was) they had nearly everything they wanted: fancy cars, nice houses dream jobs… Well perhaps most of their success was due to their parents. Jason and Serena’s dad owned a hotel chain (Bell Tower) and car rental agency (Bells and Whistles—B&W for short) one of the best in the country. And Shelby’s dad? Well, no one was quite sure what he did for a living, but it made a lot of money whatever it was. Spoiled rich kids? Not quite. The three of them had spent most of their formative years in what they jokingly called “Ninja Academy.” Although the name was quite pleasing, the reality was quite the opposite.  They were trained to be tough, to feel no pain and show no mercy. Their training was long and often painful, not including beatings or other kinds of physical punishment for the slightest infraction. They studied under some of the most skilled fighters and assassins of their day. In short they were trained to kill. Perhaps one slight benefit of their training was the learning of multiple languages. At present Jason could speak English, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Japanese; as could Serena with the exception of Chinese. Shelby, who had grown up speaking Chinese, went on to learn at several other languages—not including English. In spite of these benefits none of them left Ninja Academy unscarred. Jason constantly dealt with his issues by clamming up, Serena by trying to forget (which could involve any number of activities), and Shelby by never getting into a serious fight. But just looking at them you would never have guessed any of these things. Admittedly it was a bit odd to most people that Jason and Serena still lived at home with their dad and younger brother Justin, and that Shelby was practically mother to her brothers, but beyond that there really wasn’t much different about them.

But something was different; a Supreme Intelligence had been watching them all their lives molding and shaping them for His purpose. But what purpose? Their week had begun like any other, Dad was off at some meeting and Jason was smothered in another case. That left Serena and Justin at home to fend for themselves. Serena liked being at home, but missed her older brother when he was gone. Justin was great, but having grown up outside of the hardships she and Jason had experienced, he was sometimes…naïve. She crossed her legs and adjusted her notebook as she sat on the living room couch; she could type, but preferred writing by hand (mostly due to her experience). Her laptop rested on the center table showing off her new screensaver. She smiled at the pictures of paradise depicted on her screen and then turned back to her writing. Presently Justin appeared carrying a couple bags and backpack. “Okay that’s it,” He said exuberantly. “I’m ready to go!”

Serena looked up and smiled. “You know, I’m pretty sure that backpack’s supposed to be on your back.” Justin dropped the bags like hot potatoes; Serena laughed. “Do you really need all this stuff, Justin?” She continued. “I mean, it’s not like you’re moving out.”

“Trust me; it’s all necessary!” Justin replied emphatically as he put on his backpack.

“Right,” Serena teased. “Do you need help carrying it?”

“Sure,” he accepted.  “I’ll take the bags.” He said grabbing up his recently dropped luggage.

Serena frowned, pretending to be upset. “Of course you’d make me carry the heaviest thing!”

Justin looked unsympathetic. “We’re only carrying it to the elevator.” (Yes they had an elevator in their house.) “And then I’ll be the one…

“I’m just giving you a bad time, bro.” Serena interrupted.

“Of course,” Justin winked. “So am I.”

“Sure.” Serena teased back as they arrived at the elevator just off from their kitchen. Justin playfully grabbed the suitcase from her and nearly threw it into the elevator. Serena raised her eyebrows and tried not to laugh. “My little brother.” She thought.

“Well, wish me luck.” Justin said as he raised his hand to push the button.

“Hey,” Serena stopped him and planted kiss on his cheek. “Have a great tour, Bro.”

Justin blushed a little. “I will, take care.” He started to shut the door then stopped it as he remembered. “Oh! And when Jason gets back, tell him I’m sorry.”

Serena looked puzzled. “For what?”

“Um…well…” Justin shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “I gave him a date with this girl and she wrecked his car.

Serena was shocked. “You mean that really pretty “singer chick?”

“Yeah.” Justin breathed out slowly. “I feel kinda bad. He wasn’t really into her to begin with, but now he’s had to take his car to the shop and have it repaired. So now he’s really…!

Serena caught her breath. “His Ferrari? She’s that bad of a driver?”

Justin shook his head in frustration. “No! And…no. Look it’s a long story; just tell him I’m sorry and I’ll make it up to him when I get back.”

Serena wanted to know more but decided not to ask just then. “Okay.” She nodded. “Bye, Justin.”

Justin’s brown eyes glowed with appreciation; he pushed the button for the door. “Love ya, Sis!” he said blowing her a kiss with both hands as the door shut. Serena smiled as Justin was replaced by the steel doors of the elevator. She looked at her watch. “Dangit!” She cursed. “I’m gonna be late. I’ll have to finish that report later.” She said at loud, as she rushed back to her room to get ready.

Shelby Ma absent mindedly cruised down the highway on her way to the Agency; life was pretty good so far and she couldn’t complain. And today, was an exceptionally good day, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky so she had decided to take her Audi TTS Coupe out for a spin. (Normally she would take the public transport through town.) She had been working at the agency for nearly a year now, and she was already in charge of communications for the junior division of agents. That meant she took care of all the radios, comlinks and other communication devices, also making sure that all the junior agents were kept up to date with their units activities. Shelby sighed softly to herself; it was a lot of work! But at least she didn’t ever have to fight anyone. “Yup, life’s pretty good!” She said giving verbal reinforcement to her thoughts. “But I do have to make sure everything’s in order.” She continued, instinctively moving her finger to the call button on her steering wheel. That’s when she saw them coming—two sets of “Christmas lights” in her rearview mirror. “Oh, great!” She moaned, as she looked at her speedometer. “I’m gonna get it.” But as she pulled over to accept her punishment, she was shocked to see that the cops ignored her and pulled over the white BMW in front of her. Still she didn’t move, they had obviously seen her too and she’d rather get a ticket now, than get it in the mail later. She watched as they had the driver get out of the car. “That’s weird,” Shelby mumbled out loud. “They were only spee…oh my word! It’s Serena, duh Shelby! White BMW!” Forgetting herself she got out of her car and walked toward the officers. “Ma’am, I’m gonna have to ask you to hold it right there.” Said the first officer pointing his gun at her—which she thought was a little strange. “Why’d you come over here?”

“Um, I was speeding too?” She offered simply. The look the officers gave each other told Shelby at once that something was wrong. “Right,” agreed the second officer. “We’ll need to see your license and vehicle registration, please.” Shelby turned to go. “Don’t move!” Commanded the first officer again pointing his gun at her. Shelby and Serena both looked puzzled, but didn’t dare make eye contact. “My purse is in the car,” Shelby finally managed.

“I’ll get it.” He replied a bit too eagerly. “You go over there next to her.” He pointed with his gun to where Serena was bent over the hood of her car. Shelby still feeling very suspicious joined her cousin. “Wish he didn’t make us turn out butts towards the traffic.” Serena confided softly.

“Tell me about it.” Shelby agreed. “There’s something weird about these guys.”

You got that right—he’s checking out my butt!” Serena hissed, as she tried unsuccessfully to break the man’s wrist.

“He’s…Mm!” Shelby fought her urge to kick as she felt the man squeeze her butt.

“Is this really necessary?” Serena asked in an annoyed almost defiant tone.

“Gotta make sure you don’t have anything in there that can hurt me.” Was his calloused reply.

“That’s enough!” Shelby cried, forcefully moving the man’s hand. “If I had a gun you would’ve seen it.”

“Well I gotta admit you’re pretty fine for an Asian girl.” He said grinning seductively. “You know you should…

“Out tickets!” Shelby snapped, cutting him off abruptly.

“Oh yes!” The officer seemed to come back to reality. “Let me talk to my frie…uh officer colleague here. Just a moment.”  He walked over and joined the other officer behind Shelby’s car. “You think they’re sex offenders?” Shelby asked Serena as soon as the men were out of earshot. “Because if they are we should probably make a break for it.”

Serena smirked. “You don’t really think they’re fake officers, do you?”

“I…uh…”

“Because if you did, why didn’t you smash his balls when he talked dirty to you?”

“Well…”

“Oh wait! He touched you before that so you definitely should have killed him!”

“Well why didn’t you do something if you’re so sure?” Shelby retorted.

“That’s a dumb question,” Serena countered. “You’re assuming I think they’re not cops.” She continued standing up strait. “Right now, I think they’re just perverts who happen to be cops and aren’t afraid to show it!”

“You hope.” Shelby returned casually as she rolled over onto her back and sat up. “Wait, what did you say?” She asked as she slid to her feet and stuffed her hands into her pockets.

“Look we can’t do too much now or they’ll shoot us. So let’s…”

“Wait, you got something on you.” Shelby interrupted as she noticed the officers returning. She pulled what appeared to be lint from her pocket and stuffed it into Serena’s back pocket. “Hey get off!” Serena snapped, elbowing her in the stomach just hard enough to make her back up.

“Alright ladies,” Began the first officer. “You’re Ms. Bell?” Serena nodded. “And Ms. Ma?” Shelby gave a thumbs up. “Okay, well you’re records are pretty clean for girls your age. But uh…Ms. Ma, you need to be careful with that Audi you could hurt someone, okay?”

“Okay.” Shelby answered slowly wondering why he had a gripe about Audis.

“So I’m gonna let you off with a warning this time. If you do it again though, I’m gonna have to arrest you.” He winked at her, but quickly changed his demeanor as he saw the fire in her eyes. “You can go now.” He said more formally as he handed her back her purse. “Thanks.” She said suspiciously.

“What about me?” Serena asked.

“Oh you we’re gonna have to take in.” The officer stated matter-of-factly.

“But why? I never…”

“Just come!” Interrupted the other officer curtly.

“Oh alright. Could you get my car later, Shelbs?

“Sure.” Shelby answered.

“You two know each other?” The first officer asked.

“Um yeah.” They both answered in unison.

“We’re…” Serena began.

“Work together!” Shelby interrupted, indicating that Serena should be more guarded in her speech.

“Okay, well we’ll just be a couple hours.” The second officer said, confidently.

“Okay,” Shelby answered as normally as she could. There was an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach! “See you at work!” She called over her shoulder to Serena as she headed back to her car.

The Conference Room of the Agency was quiet today. Everyone was present, but as this was the CR for the Junior Agents, they were all busy either texting or finishing up research on laptops and various mobile devices. Shelby entered softly and sat down at her place, and started accessing her computer from her phone. These Agency meetings could be very weird to outsiders since they all addressed each other by their agent names—something they did to preserve anonymity. So for the next few hours she would be known as Jade. But going by a pseudonym was nothing new for her, as she was in fact Chinese and her real name (Ma Xioli) was too hard for most people to pronounce, so she went by Shelby Ma.

Across from her and to the right of the Chairman’s seat, were agents Lion, Yellow Jaguar, Caiman and Fox. On the left of the chairman’s seat were agents Jade (Shelby), Tiger and Hawk and…oh! Who was that to the right sitting closest to the Chairman? Shelby studied the new girl for a moment there was something familiar about her but where had she…? She couldn’t remember, but was determined to find out. However before she could say a word, the girl looked up from her laptop screen and noticed Shelby staring a hole into her.

“Hi.” She said a bit shyly. “I’m Leopard. What’s your name?”

“Jade,” Shelby answered. “You’re Chinese.”

Leopard looked pleasantly surprised. “How’d you know? Most people don’t.”

“Your eyes give you away,” Shelby answered much to Leopard’s surprise. “Trust me I can sense Chinese anywhere.”

Can you, now?” Leopard laughed. “You don’t look Chinese to me.”

“Why not?” Shelby asked in surprise.

“Your eyes are too big.”

“Not all Chinese girls have slit eyes! Typical American.” Shelby muttered in Cantonese.

“What makes you think I’m so typical?” Leopard asked in Cantonese.

“Oops!” Shelby thought to herself; she hadn’t counted on Leopard actually knowing Chinese—but she had one more trick to pull. “Who would think you spoke Chinese?” She asked in Mandarin. Leopard looked a little confused.

“Gotcha!” Shelby said in English.

“Was that Mandarin?” Leopard asked.

Shelby smiled.

“How’d you learn it?” Came the inevitable question.

“Well I grew up in America as you can tell,” Shelby answered calmly. “But I grew up with a bunch of crazy Chinese Ninjas.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t ask.”

“But aren’t ninjas Japanese?” Leopard asked quickly before Shelby could stop her.

“Don’t pretend!” Shelby chided in Cantonese. “You’ve been to Ninja Academy yourself and you know what they’re like so don’t play that innocent American thing with me!”

“I don’t understand.” Leopard answered trying to sound convincing.

“Hmph!” Shelby retorted. “Care for a little test?”

“Now?” Leopard questioned in a whisper.

“Sure.” Shelby whispered back.

“No. I have assignments to finish.” She replied in a normal tone as she turned back to her laptop.

Stealthily, Shelby reached for her throwing knife then whipping it out proceeded to stab Leopard with it. Leopard instantly flew into action, skillfully matched her blow for blow, blocking every stab. She twisted Shelby’s arm redirecting the knife and forcing her chin to the table. Shelby grimaced and kicked Leopard in the leg with her heel; this bought her enough time to take out the chair leg causing Leopard to fall forward nearly slamming into the table. Quickly moving her knife (which was surprisingly still in her hand) Shelby caught Leopard by the shoulder and put the knife to her throat. Leopard froze.

“Assassin class 2,” Shelby acknowledged as she let go of Leopard, shoved the knife in her back pocket and sat down. “Not bad.”

“I’m a Class zero actually.” Leopard said as she replaced the magnetically attached leg of her chair and resumed work on her laptop. “So, what class are you?”

“Suicide.” Shelby answered, soberly.

“That’s a real thing?”

Shelby sighed. “It’s Class Zero, but we liked to call it suicide because it was sooo intense.”

“Yeah!” Leopard nodded. “There were only three people in our clan that ever made it to that level.”

“What’s your clan?” Shelby queried with interest.

“Simi.” Leopard answered.

“Oh.” Shelby said, with a peculiar tone of realization.

“What?” Leopard asked, puzzled at her new friend’s demeanor.

Shelby began to think of a response just as her phone buzzed and Deputy White entered the room.

“Are we all in order?” He asked.

Everyone responded positively as Shelby nodded, and turned her attention to her phone’s screen. “Serena, what have you gotten yourself into?” She thought as she saw her cousin’s location as district 5—a very bad section of their advanced and civilized city.

“Mobile phones off.” Deputy White continued. Shelby ignored him, as she typed in some instructions to her tracking program.

“Jade!” Deputy White said sternly, jarring her back to reality. “You can text your boyfriend later.”

Normally she would have let that go, but she was in a feisty mood, so without thinking she blurted. “It’s not my boyfriend; it’s one of my girlfriends. I have a life, you know!”

“Jade, we go through this every time.” Deputy White replied calmly. “The outside world must be shut out if we’re to focus. You also know the temptation to reveal to her what you’re doing. If you do that…

“Yeah! Like I’d tell her everything!” Shelby interrupted, bordering on disrespect.

“Ugh! Jade, just turn it off! You’re annoying the rest of us.” Tiger interjected. It sounded mean, but in reality he had just come to her rescue. If things had gotten any worse she would have been punished. Shelby gave him an icy look, but inside she was grateful for his gesture; and to be honest, she was embarrassed that she had behaved so indiscriminately. Deputy White watched her for a moment as she switched off her phone, and then turned to address everyone gathered.

“Is everyone present and accounted for?” He asked with his unique British accent.

“No, Phoenix isn’t here.” Hawk ventured.

“Ah.” Said he, a knowing tone coloring his voice. ”Her name is on the books but she never shows.” Lion shook his head.

“Sometimes.” Hawk interjected, hoping to soften the situation.

White glanced at her briefly before continuing.

“More often, she goes to the other Agency facility south of here.” He finished, qualifying his former statement.

“Yeah, though not enough to ever get anything done.” Tiger added.

“She only stays a member because her brother is one of our best.” Fox stated, her unspoken meaning clearly evident to those paying attention.

“Ah yes,” Deputy White replied. “Speaking of which, does anyone know where Jaguar is?”

“Oh uh, yes sir.” Answered Jaguar’s (Jason’s) partner Caiman. “He said he was delayed and would arrive shortly.

Shelby nearly froze. “That’s sort of why Phoenix isn’t here too.” For reasons she couldn’t explain she didn’t want to tell everyone exactly what had happened.

“Oh.” White seemed satisfied. “Well I hope they do arrive shortly. We have a matter of great importance to discuss today.” He smiled as he noticed them glancing frequently at Leopard. “But before we get to that, I’d like you to meet our new member.”

Now all eyes were on Leopard which was, for someone who worked mostly in the shadows, a very awkward thing. She wasn’t overly shy but didn’t particularly enjoy being stared at. This was one of the rare occasions when she felt very small and defenseless, her words stuck in her throat. Thankfully Deputy White came to her rescue and continued.

“This is Leopard. She transferred here this week.”

“Hey guys.” She said finally managing to get her tongue unstuck. They all greeted her warmly, easing her nerves a bit.

“She’ll be helping me as my personal assistant for the time being. I’m not quite ready to put her out in the field.”  White concluded.  Then endeavoring to break the ice White began to make introductions. “Leopard, you know Jade.”

She nodded and looked at Jade who also nodded and smiled.

“Next to Jade is Tiger…”

“Howdy!” Tiger interrupted, smiling.

“Who is very eager to introduce himself!” White chuckled, causing a ripple of laughter to go through the room. “As I was going to say before Mr. Eager interrupted me,” He continued , causing both Tiger and Leopard to blush. “Tiger is our ferocious one. Although he doesn’t seem to bite us quite as hard.” Everyone laughed.

“And next to Tiger is Hawk, our best spy,” White added. “Why don’t the rest of you introduce yourselves?”

“I’m Lion.” Said the curly beard closed to the Deputy’s right.

“Yellow Jag.” Continued Lion’s brother who sat next to him on the right. Leopard nodded, “Those boys are cute.” She thought. Not that she was interested, but she did notice.

“I’m Fox,” answered the redhead on YJ’s right.

“And I’m Caiman,” The last agent on the right finished. Leopard thought he looked very much like he wanted to ask her out. “That’ll be a definite no, buddy.” She thought. “This girl’s taken.”

Deputy White nodded approvingly.” And you’ll learn what each of them are good at time goes on.” He said confidently, turning back to Leopard. She smiled and nodded.  “I’m sorry Jaguar isn’t here for you to meet him,” He continued, sending an electric thrill down her spine. “But he’s our best field agent. Cold calculated, and adventurous. You two would get along well.”

Tiger moaned. “As well as Caiman and Phoenix?” He shook his head. “I hope not!”

“Ooh, a scoop!” Leopard thought. “Why?” She asked out loud in an innocent tone.

“Phoenix is dating Caiman and is constantly distracted.” Fox stated flatly before Tiger could answer.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Caiman shot back, hurt by the false accusation.  “That was a onetime deal, okay?” His eyes darted around the room. “I have nothing to do with that!”

Tiger rolled his eyes. “Sure.” Shelby put her hand on Tiger’s, restraining him.

“Well I’m not into that.” Leopard said honestly, shrugging her shoulders slightly.

“What?” Shelby teased. “You’re one of those no daters that make life positively unbearable for the rest of us?”

“Jade, I hardly think you’re qualified to speak for ‘the rest of us.’” Hawk interrupted

“Yeah.” Tiger added placing his other hand on top of Shelby’s. She looked at him fiercely and struggled to get her hand out.

Lion the oldest of the junior agents decided to speak up. “Guys, I’m getting sick.

Tiger let go of Shelby’s hand and turned back to his work without looking at her. Shelby bored a hole into his head waiting for him to look up, then noticed that Yellow Jaguar was looking at her and turned away with an air of disinterest. Slowly shifting his attention from Shelby to Deputy White, YJ voiced his brother’s unspoken thought. “Besides, I think we have more important things to attend to for the moment. Deputy White?”

The Deputy smiled. “As much as I like to see my agents behaving as healthy members of society, I believe we do have some matters which may be easier to solve.” His eyes sparkled with amusement as he looked around the room. “And a lot safer, I might add.” A murmur of laughter rippled through the room, as he smiled and continued. “We have been in dire straits since the rise of this latest tech dealer. His name is Amazon R.”

“Does the “R” stand for River?” YJ piped up.

“We’re assuming it does for now,” White conceded.

“How are we in dire straits?” Queried a puzzled Fox.

“Have you been hiding out in your den?” Tiger asked impatiently. “He has been fleecing top government and healthcare facilities like a boy outside St. Paul’s!”

Fox looked a little hurt but threw out another question. “You mean he steals doctor’s masks, and government secrets?”

“No!” Deputy White banged his fist on the table, then seeing the expressions of surprise from his agents, calmed himself before continuing. “About the masks part; at any rate he steals virtually anything technology related, so it’s hard to say what he’s after. I’ve assigned Jaguar to one of his operations. He should have a full report on Amazon that will give us more information on just what he’s after.”

“Speaking of which, what’s taking Jaguar so long?” Tiger wondered aloud. “He usually doesn’t get held up indefinitely.”

“Yeah, I hope he isn’t in trouble.” Lion added

Caiman just raised his eyebrows as his mind ran over the possibilities.

Jason was, in fact, in trouble. He was being beaten by two men in black while chained to a rack which held him upright. He was in what he decided must be the trailer of an 18-wheeler. His interrogator, a man with a rough low cut beard looked on from a high-tech chair. His hair, roughly neck length, covered his eyes which were in turn covered by highly reflective black sunglasses. Torture was nothing new to Jason; he had been battered many times at Ninja Academy. Still he wondered just how long before the interrogator realized he wouldn’t talk and killed him. He had spit out a significant amount of blood as it was, and knew he couldn’t last much longer. A glance at his mysterious man revealed nothing as his expressionless face and dark glasses masked all physiological analysis. Finally the man raised his hand and the men stopped beating Jason.

“Now,” The man began, clasping his hands and leaning forward invitingly. “You must know something about this experiment as you call it. Tell me where I can find the information on it.”

“I told you I don’t remember.” Jason replied, with labored breath.

The men laid into him again, the savage blows of their rods causing more internal bleeding. Blood and fluids sprayed from Jason’s mouth as his abs were smashed in with each blow.

“That’s enough!” The interrogator commanded. “Now look Jaguar, I know they trained you to be tough; but you have to admit your suffering is pointless. You will give us the information, whether you want to or not.”

“I told you I have amnesia.” Jason answered truthfully.

The Interrogator stood up and walked over to him. He sighed heavily as he observed Jason for a moment from behind his dark glasses. After a few moments he smirked slightly as he shifted his gaze downward and cocked his head to one side. “Well, let me put it to you this way,” He began. Lifting his head, he got really close to Jason, causing him to shrink back.  “You tell us, and I might let your sister live.” He finished in measured tones.

Jason turned his head to look at the screen on his right as it flickered to life. There was Serena, battered (though not as bad as he) and tied to a chair. She sat perfectly still without flinching. Even though she showed little emotion, Jason could tell from her pale face that she was scared.

“You have 5 seconds.” The Interrogator stated flatly, reminding him that this was not a nightmare. “4…3…2…1.” Still Jason said nothing. “Kill her!” He commanded coldly.

They slit her throat, her head dropped back. Jason lowered his head to hide his tears but his body shook revealingly. The interrogator was amazed. It is a well-known fact that people will usually take all manner of physical punishment before seeing someone they love get hurt. Never in all his life had he seen someone choose to keep silent and watch their loved one killed. Of course it didn’t help that Jason couldn’t remember what his interrogator wanted know; he had contemplated making something up to save Serena’s life, but decided it was better to tell the truth. He hoped she understood his decision—if she even knew why she was being killed. Jason looked up at his interrogator with a steady gaze, slightly blurred with tears. Again the interrogator was amazed, so much so that Jason could tell even through the man’s reflective black shades. After a moments silence, the man sighed and shook his head. “You’re a tough one.”

Jason cracked a slight smile, masking his pain as he wondered what would happen next. The man turned around and walked toward the other end of the room. “Guess I’ll have to go ahead and kill this guy,” He thought. “Not like he’s gonna tell me anything, but at least it will get these people’s attention.” He glanced at his accomplices [four of them] who waited for orders. He stopped walking.  “Let him go.” He said quietly and resumed walking.

They unchained Jason and opened the rack which was made somewhat like double doors latched together. The two who had been beating him opened the double doors at the end of the room revealing nothing but sky. Jason limped to the edge and looked down on a huge drop to the ground. “Yup,” He thought. “18-wheeler parked with the back of the trailer right on the edge of a bridge.” Jason knew what they were going to do with him, but he also saw a way to make their plans work for him. Without warning he whirled around and attacked the door keepers, punching the one on his right and kicking the one on his left (both in the jaw) knocking them out of the trailer. The other four rushed forward; he threw one out, and almost fell out himself as two more attacked him. After regaining his balance he soon had them out of the truck as well. Seeing this, the two remaining men took a different approach; one threw a baseball at him and they both charged. This was supposed to throw him off guard by either distracting  him with the pain of getting hit, or consume his attention in catching it. But Jason was no stranger to such techniques, he kicked the ball into the controls for the rack hitting the velocity sensitive button making it slam shut. One of the men slammed into the rack while Jason stopped briefly to rub his foot. The other jumped up and managed to scale the rack—only to get kicked on his way down the other side. Seeing the interrogator reach for his gun, Jason decided it was a good time to make himself scarce; He ran for the entrance, grabbed a cable that had been knocked within reach during the fight and climbed onto the top of the trailer in record time with incentive from the interrogator’s firing gun.

The interrogator was furious!  “Driver!” He barked into his com. “Back this thing up!” There was no immediate response. “Driver!” He yelled. The driver, who had been enjoying a lazy morning dream, suddenly jolted to alertness. Fearful of the consequences he fumbled for his com. “Uh yes sir?” He queried nervously. “Drive this thing back!” Came the flustered answer. The driver frantically grabbed for his keys, and started the engine. “What happened in there, sir?” He asked, although he knew he shouldn’t. “Just do it!” The interrogator cried. “And when I tell you to slam on the brakes.” Still puzzled the driver agreed and proceeded to back the trailer off the edge of the bridge. “Brakes!” The interrogator commanded at the appropriate time. He felt the trailer thud against something and stop. He started to smile but quickly became terrified as the trailer raised up on end and he found himself falling off the bridge. The driver looked into his mirrors in surprise. “What the…!” But he never finished  his sentence, for at that moment the window next to him shattered and two feet in heavy boots connected with his head sending him into unconsciousness.

Jason reached through the open space that had been the window and opened the door. Carefully moving the driver into the passenger seat, he proceeded to tie and gag him with the only available items—Kleenex and duct tape! Satisfied with the results, he strapped the man in, drove to a nearby truck stop and called a taxi to take him to a B&W car rental place.

As Jason entered he saw the young lady at the desk was one he didn’t particularly want see today. She liked him—or so she said, but Jason knew it had little to do with him and more to do with special privileges to “boss’ son’s girlfriend.” She looked up and saw him coming and smiled. Jason groaned inwardly, he’d better end this quickly.

“Hey Jason, good to see you.” She greeted him a little too cheerfully.

“Yeah,” He fumbled, a bit flustered. He’d never been good with girls. He opened his mouth to continue but she rushed on oblivious to his disinterest. “How are you?”

“Uh…I’m good. Listen…”

“Oh my gosh! Is that a bruise?”

“Ye…” He started to answer then stopped. He shouldn’t feel obligated to answer her personal questions; besides if he told her that would give her an excuse to show him unwanted sympathy. “I’ll be fine.” He finished abruptly. “Listen,” he continued before she could interrupt him again, “Can you get me a car? I’m late for a meeting.”

“Sure!” She answered, slightly embarrassed as she began looking for available rentals in the computer system. “Sorry, it’s just been really slow this morning. Not a lot of customers…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Jason interrupted.

Presently the results appeared. “Okay,” She said as she began scrolling through results. “We have a Camaro, a Honda Civic, and a Mustang convertible, a Focus, a Pontiac Solstice, and an Avalon and…ooh we even have a Viper.”

“I…” Jason began, only to be interrupted.

“Sorry all the Corvettes are taken. But I think you probably want the Avalon since that’s what you used to drive…”

Jason cut her off. “I’ll take the Camaro, thank you.”

“Are you sure? ‘Cause I can get you….”

“I’m sure. Give me the keys!”

“But you haven’t filled out the form!” She protested, hoping to get him to stay longer.

Jason was exasperated. “Woman, it’s my dad’s company, I’ll pay him later. Give me the keys!”

She handed him the keys but wouldn’t let them go. (This was as close as she could get to holding his hand.) “Do you know where it is?” She asked, hoping he’d ask her to help him. Jason knew he shouldn’t but he twisted her wrist and arm almost to breaking point. “I’ll find it!” He growled. She may have been dumb—ish but she was smart enough to realize it was better to save her arm than win his compliance. So she reluctantly let go of the keys. “Thank you.” He said turning on his heel. “You have a nice day.” He called over his shoulder. “You too,” She replied, rubbing her arm. “Oh well,” She thought. “I’ll get him next time.”

 

 

 

In the conference room back at the agency Tiger White was still addressing his agents as Jason entered.

“Now I think I’ve explained fully why we have to stop this war machine.” White concluded looking around the room at each of them. “And I want to make sure that in the process I don’t lose any of my favorite agents.”

Caiman looked up from his tablet and saw Jason enter. “Jaguar!” He greeted him pleasantly, simultaneously alerting everyone to his presence. Keeping his eyes down, Jason moved to his place with a slight limp while everyone watched.

“Well I must say we’re glad you’re here at last, Jaguar.” Deputy White added, a strange edge of uneasiness coloring his voice. “We were afraid that you couldn’t make it.”

“You look nervous chief.” Jason replied noticing the abnormality in White’s tone.

“Well, we’ve been discussing this new threat, named Amazon R.” White returned, stabilizing his voice a bit. “He’s a tech dealer and warlord.”

On the other end of the table, Leopard watched Jason with interest. He wasn’t quite what she had expected. He was average, not particularly good looking but not ugly either—well if she was kind. What appeared to be discolored veins peeked out of his shirt coming part way up his neck. He also had a couple of surprisingly fresh looking wounds on his face and hands. Leopard couldn’t help thinking that he must have been tortured. “He’s tough; showing up right after such an intense torture session.” She thought to herself, her admiration of him growing. Presently she became aware that Tiger was staring at her. She blushed slightly as she realized her thoughts must have reflected in her facial expression. Her suspicions were confirmed when she looked in his direction and got a warning look. She turned back to her things and pulled out a piece of paper. It would be better if she appeared busy. She carefully wrote out “Jaguar Stats” at the top and continued writing out her impressions of Jason.

Caiman looked at Deputy White, then at Jason. “I don’t know who looks worse!” He said finally drawing everyone’s attention to Jason and White.

“Indeed!” Tiger agreed turning his attention away from Leopard. “What was the holdup Jag?”

“I got hit by your Amazon R!” Jason replied emphatically, pointing his finger at the deputy who winced slightly.

They all exclaimed in surprise. Fox voiced their unspoken thought. “I guess that would explain your wounds.”

“Uh, yeah, sorry about that.” Jason stammered, looking uncomfortable. “I tried to clean up.”

“Ah, dear boy, that is of no consequence.” Deputy White reassured him.  “I’m just glad you got out of there!”

Everyone expressed their agreement with Deputy White.

“How did you lose him?” White wanted to know.

“I dumped his trailer off the bridge.” Jason answered calmly with another one liner.

You what?!” White exclaimed in dismay. “Jag we needed him to talk—not to get rid of him!”

Jason looked thoughtful. “I don’t think he’s dead,” He rejoined quietly. “I sense that somehow he survived.”

“Yes, but in what condition?” White persisted. “Did you think of that? Did you go down there and look to make sure he was still functioning?”

“That would have made me late for the conference.” Jason said simply.

White realized at once that he had overreacted. “Yes I see.” White apologized. “We’ll have to look further into this.” He thought a moment and then continued. “Good work Jaguar, even if it is a bit rough it should work out.”

As Deputy White continued, Jason looked up and for the first time noticed Leopard staring at him. For a moment he met her gaze, she quickly averted her eyes. He looked at Tiger who responded with a knowing look, indicating that he should watch himself. Jason stifled a laugh before quickly returning his attention to Deputy White.

“And if you have the confidence that he’s still alive then I trust you.” Deputy White finished. He glanced from Leopard to Jaguar and smiled slightly. Jason nearly froze. Had White set this up to get them together? His musings were cut short by the sound of Deputy White’s watch beeping. “I’m sorry but I’ll have to get your full report later.” White said to Jason after glancing at his watch.

“Okay, Chief.” Jason said, feeling foolish for his previous line of thought.

“‘Tis time for my meeting with the senior agents,” White continued. “Thank you for coming!” With that, he stood up from his chair concluding the meeting. The others did the same and began gathering their stuff. Jason looked at Leopard again. “Who is she?” He asked Caiman, in a whisper.

“New recruit.” Caiman whispered back. “She’s hot, isn’t she?”

Jason cringed inside. “Do you always see women in shades of heat?”

Caiman looked puzzled. “Well yeah. Don’t you?”

“There are other parts to my brain.” Jason retorted.

Caiman snorted. “They’re the only parts to your brain.”

“Come on, man!” Jason sighed heavily in protest.

“Seriously,” Caiman insisted. “When’s the last time you’ve been out?”

“When I got my car wrecked.”

Caiman jumped back as if Jason had hit him. “What kind of an answer is that?”

“May date wrecked my car, dude!” Jason almost shouted.

“Well see that’s a beginning…”

“A beginning!” Jason exclaimed. “That was a financial disaster.”

“Alright, look man.” Caiman rejoined, taking him by the shoulders “I’m going to be strait with you: I think you should ask this one out.”

Jason just scoffed and looked away. “She won’t wreck your car, I promise.” Caiman urged.

Jason turned back to his friend in amusement. “Oh, you promise?”

“Aw, come on man. Look at her she’s…” Just then Caiman noticed her watching the two of them intently. “Hey!” He said in a stage voice. “Wanna catch a drink with me and Tiger?”

“No thanks, K,” Jason replied, realizing the reason behind Caiman’s sudden increase in volume. “I gotta get cleaned up, and uh…you know sort out my notes. How ‘bout we catch up over dinner?”

“Okay.” Caiman said patting him on the back.

“Cool,” Added Tiger as he joined the conversation.

Caiman glanced furtively at Leopard and was relieved to see she her engrossed in conversation with Shelby. “I don’t think she knows.” He breathed out in confidential tones.

Jason smirked. “She’s a girl. She knows.”

“That’s not exactly comforting.” Caiman almost whimpered.

“Look man,” Tiger began placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “If it’s going to be as good as you say, then she’ll thank you.”

Jason smiled, as Caiman visibly relaxed. “You guys have fun.” He said, turning to go. “Hey wait!” Tiger called after him. “You’re going home?”

“Yeah,” Jason replied softly, his voice tinged with sadness. “I’m gonna take the long way.”

Tiger looked concerned. “Jag, what happened?”

“Dinner.” Jason answered cryptically. And with that he headed out the door leaving his friends looking puzzled. After staring blankly at each other for a few moments, Caiman grabbed his bag and he and Tiger hurried after Jason.

“So what shall we have?” Caiman queried as they passed through the double doors. “Orange or grapefruit?”

“You know I don’t like grapefruit juice in the middle of the day, man.” Tiger replied, still thinking about what Jason had said.

“How ‘bout apple?” Caiman offered as they came up on Jason.

“Let’s try water for once!” Tiger challenged.

“I agree.” Jason called over his shoulder.

“Oh, watcha talking at?” Caiman, shot back in a poor imitation of a typical African American. “You ain’t going with us.”

Jason chuckled. “Your accent needs a little work, K.”

They continued down the hall soon drifting out of earshot. Everyone else finally cleared the room leaving Tiger White and Leopard.  Leopard turned sharply to face Deputy White.

“That’s my target?!” She cried, her eyes blazing.

He jumped is if she had put a black mamba in front of him. “Leopard, keep your voice down, someone might hear!” He whispered hoarsely.

But Leopard would not be shushed. “You didn’t tell me he rolled like this!” She fumed, still too loud for White’s comfort.

“Leopard that was the deal,” White replied. Glancing around furtively, he lowered his voice. “You kill Jaguar and all our problems are over.”

Your problems are over,” She corrected. “Not mine.”

“Oh, and what problems could you possibly have after he’s dead?” He asked, with a feigned air of disinterest. He sensed that she was hiding something and he hoped by his tone make her angry so that she would tell him what she wouldn’t otherwise.

But Leopard would not be played. “Do you want me to list them alphabetically or in order of importance?” She queried, defiantly.

“Don’t get sassy with me young lady.” He commanded threateningly, hiding his dismay at his failure to elicit and emotional unload.

“And you don’t try to smother me!” Leopard said mirroring White’s demeanor. “I’m the one risking my butt here.”

“I’ll be sure to give it a comfortable chair when you succeed, then.” White returned, mischievously, trying to mask his growing irritation.

Leopard just gave him a look that fairly shouted at him to be serious. “Have you forgotten he has a sister? She’ll have me cremated in my own fireplace.” She said out loud, making a vague reference to Serena’s agent name ‘Phoenix.’

“Is that your problem?” White murmured, hoping against hope that she would go away so that he could get to his meeting. Instead she continued. “And then his partner Caiman, he’s sure to have my neck between his jaws if Phoenix doesn’t get me first.”

“Is that so?” He asked mildly amused for the first time since their conversation had started. Sooner or later he was going to get it out of her!

“And then that Tiger guy,” Leopard went on. “You know they’re best buds just looking at them.”

“Mm-hm,” White droned.

“And Lion he doesn’t talk much but I say he means business.”

The Deputy stopped short, as if suddenly aware of what she was saying. “Perceptive…” He remarked, as he realized she had spent the entire meeting analyzing everyone.

“And Fox is definitely an assassin with enough skill to rival mine. And with Hawk as her friend, she’ll have all my Intel.”

“You know all this from the first session with these guys?” He asked rhetorically.

“Oh I’m sorry, did I forget to mention that I’m also an Analyst?” Leopard teased, then grew serious. “This is a private club and I’m not invited.”

“Humph.” White snorted good-naturedly. Although he did notice she had failed to mention Jade. “Maybe she’s won her over,” He thought. “As long as Jade thinks they’re friends things should go well.” For if the truth be spoken, Jade, for all her pacifism was perhaps the most deadly agent of them all. No one knew for sure—she never fought—even to train with the others. Her test fight with Leopard had been a first.

“Hawk didn’t trust me I know it.” Leopard continued, encouraged by White’s positive change in attitude “And Jaguar’s pretty tight with everyone here. With his connections…”

“Well, I’m going to have to keep you around, Leopard.” He interrupted.

“Hey, I’m just here for the job.” She reminded him. “When it’s done I’m outta here.”

“So you admit you can do it.” White half asked half said.

“Oh I can do it.” Leopard confirmed. “Still, I’ll be up to my neck in this one—if not above.” She added after a moment’s reflection.

“Oh,” He smiled, his suspicions beginning to evaporate. “You can put your mind to rest about the odds. I’ve effectively take care of Phoenix and Caiman with one stroke of genius!” He proclaimed.

“Oh, this should be good.” She commented turning away slightly. She was far from impressed by this man and his ability to sacrifice those he claimed to care about with such ease.

White didn’t even notice her disinterest. “That hit up with Amazon R, that Jaguar mentioned was arranged by me!” He stated proudly. He had her full attention as he continued “And as an extra special stroke, we decided to use his sister as leverage.”

Leopard’s face registered a slight hint of something you never want to see in an assassin—a mix of horror and sympathy. She quickly hid it the next moment so it was hard to tell.

“So she’s dead now.” She said numbly.

“For a high profile assassin you sure seem to have a heart.” White remarked, his suspicions returning.

“We are human you know.” Leopard replied, struggling to keep her temper in check. “Look, you don’t know me; you don’t even know your own agents like you should!”

“My own agents?” He returned in contempt. “You know you’re one of them now.”

Leopard took a deep breath to calm herself as she sat on the edge of the table in front of him. She knew how to steer this. “Let’s not get fooled by our own propaganda here, White.” She said steadily, looking into his eyes. “You only got this job because Rein Force gave it to you. Then they put me here and made you cover for them so we can rid of Jaguar and complete our work unhindered.”

“You roll as cold as Jaguar.” White puzzled out loud, realizing he was no longer in control of this conversation.

“You’re getting good.” Leopard smiled, condescendingly.  “By the way,” She continued, getting up. “I’m also known as the Snow Leopard.” She smiled in a sort of unsettling way and turned to go.

“Where are you going?” He stalled, running out of tricks.

“To make a plan B to supplement your “genius.” She replied without looking at him “We have to do something about the others.”

“I was on that!” He protested feebly.

She smiled wryly as she tossed her notes on the paper (which we have seen earlier) into the incinerator. “Well, we’ll just make it a plan C, then. See ya.” With that she stalked out of the doors while Tiger White watched her with anger and frustration written all over his face. The doors closed and Tiger W turned to see what secrets might be hidden on her laptop.

“The arrogance of that hormone stimulated child!” He fumed even as her realized the stupidity of his own words. He placed his finger on the track pad of her computer ending the screen saver’s action. The computer displayed the lock screen and the user name “Snow Leopard”

“Ugh! It wants a password.” He bristled.

Suddenly it zapped his hands with electricity. “AH!” He screamed in surprise and pain.

Leopard entered through the service door and came up behind him as he examined his hands. It hadn’t been that bad, but it was enough to let him know he was unwelcome.

“Hey,” Leopard said seeing what had happened

“Huh?” He grunted, startled from his thoughts.

“Never touch a girl’s notebook. “

Tiger White just moaned as Leopard picked up her computer and walked back out through the main doors.

Shelby eased into the sandy space between the compound buildings in district 5. It was what was left of a parking lot that had been dug up several years earlier. “This better be it,” She murmured as she shut off the engine. District 5 was not a place you wanted to be caught in at any time of day; it was inhabited by gangs, mostly. Plus anyone who wanted to escape from the law could come there and be relatively safe—the cops never patrolled that area because of the high mortality rate for uninvited guests. In spite of this she came alone in Serena’s car. It would be easier to slip in and out if there was only one person to watch out for. She closed her eyes and asked the Leader for help; it wasn’t something she did too often. He was kind of mysterious. No one had seen him for a long time, but it was said that he was always ready and waiting to help any of his agents who asked. And since she was in such a dangerous place, it couldn’t hurt to have extra help, right? With a sigh, she opened her eyes and stepped out of the car. She stood still for a few moments and listened. The place was quiet; deathly quiet, in fact.

After a few more moments of eerie silence, she decided it would be a good idea to move. After all she’d be harder to shoot if she was moving. A few uneasy moments later, she found herself at the first building. She switched on her phone and checked. The trackers were still hot. Carefully she followed the signal down hall after hall every moment expecting to be shot or jumped from behind. But nothing happened. In another large room she stopped get her bearings. “Okay, the tracker says that way. Oooh but is it upstairs, or downstairs?” She sighed, heavily. There were three levels; she could see into the middle one, so she knew Serena wasn’t there. But what if someone had taken out the tracking devices? What if Serena wasn’t here at all? “S…s…s…Serena?” She called. “Serena?” There was no answer. For a moment she contemplated going back; however she knew she could never forgive herself if Serena was there and unable to answer because she was gagged or unconscious. There was nothing to do but check both floors.

“Serena. Serena!” Serena sucked in a deep breath of air and tried to open her eyes, but they wouldn’t open. Then she tried to move, but she couldn’t! “Serena!” The man’s voice called again. She had heard his voice before somewhere, but she couldn’t place him; and as the feeling came back into her body she felt what she thought to be a man’s hand on her throat. “Serena, answer me. Are you okay?” The man asked. She tried to answer, but coughed and sneezed instead. “Yes I’m fine,” She finally managed. “Where am I? Why can’t I open my eyes? Why can’t I move?” She asked beginning to panic.

“You’re okay, Serena, you’re fine.” The man reassured her. “You’ve just brought up some blood.”  So that was the stuff dripping from her nose and mouth. “Gross!” She thought. Then she remembered what had happened. “Wait, am I dead? It’s not how I thought it would be.”

“No you’re not dead,” The man chuckled as he wiped her nose and mouth with a soft cloth. “Oooh, listen I need you to lean forward for me.”

“I can’t!” Serena protested.

“Yes you can!” The he insisted encouragingly. “Lean, I’m right here.”

Serena wasn’t quite sure why but she decided to trust him and leaned forward. “Now,” he continued. “Spit out the rest of the blood.” He put a cloth over her mouth and she spit into it. “Mm, good,” he nodded as he wiped her mouth with a clean cloth. At least it sounded like he was nodding. “Now what?” She asked

“Here,” he said nudging  a straw into her mouth. Serena took a sip swished it around and spit it out. “Uh-huh, good.” The man nodded again. “Have some more, you’re thirsty.” He said placing the straw back into her mouth. She was thirsty! How did he know? She didn’t care—the water was sweet! Sweeter than any she had ever tasted; and it was cool—not cold, but cool and fresh and wetter than any other water. When she finally managed to stop gulping she asked, “How big is your cup?”

“Big enough,” The man replied with a smile that came through in his voice. “Would you like more?

“I think there’s still blood in my nose.” She replied.

“Ah, of course,” He said with understanding. “Here,” he said placing his handkerchief over her nose. She blew into it. “Good! Again,” He said like a caring father. She blew again and found her nose cleared. “Now, would you like some more water?”

“Yes please.” She answered. As he put the straw back in her mouth, she couldn’t help feeling how nice it was to be pampered like this; she felt like a little kid again and very much loved. After she downed at least another quart she stopped for a breath.

“Good!” The man laughed good-naturedly. “Had enough?”

“Yes! Thank you—for everything!” Serena breathed gratefully.

“No problem.” He smiled as he began putting things away.

“But if I’m not dead, then where am I?” She asked in bewilderment.

“Same place you were when you blacked out.”

“Blacked out? I thought they killed me!” Serena exclaimed.

“They did.” He stated evenly, sending a chill racing up and down her spine.

“Then…if they killed me…why am I alive again?”

“That, my daughter, is the right question.” He answered, lovingly.

“Serena!” Shelby called.

“Shelby?” Serena sputtered, once again bewildered.

“Serena, there you are!” Shelby exclaimed triumphantly. “What are you…Serena!”

“Uh, sir?” Serena asked hopefully. The man did not respond, and she sensed that he was gone. Ugh! Now her eyes were starting to cooperate; light was filtering in. But she was still only half conscious and Shelby’s voice was echoing in her head. “Serena can you hear me?” Shelby urged, shaking her cousin by the shoulders. “What are you muttering about?” Serena tried to respond but only unintelligible sounds came out. “Hey!” Shelby shouted, slapping Serena on the cheek. “Wake up!”

“Ow!” Serena screamed. “Why’d you slap me?”

“Oh good, you’re not brain dead!” Shelby breathed sinking to her knees.

“No, I’m not,” Serena moaned. “Where’s the guy that helped me?”

“What guy?” Shelby asked, looking puzzled.

“The guy that…” She began, but her mind went blank. All she could remember was that a man had helped her. “I don’t remember,” She finished. “A guy was here just before you came, and he helped me.”

“Uh…there’s no one here, Serena.” Shelby said, starting to worry again. “That’s the only door and I just came through it.”

“But…” Serena protested.

“And the only way in or out is that flight of stairs just beyond it.” Shelby interrupted. “I would have seen him. Nobody’s been in or out.”

“Okay, whatever.” Serena grumbled, her head starting to hurt. “Just untie me.”

“Oh! Yeah. Right, sorry.” Shelby apologized as she whipped out her knife and cut the ropes.

Serena rubbed her arms. They were so sore! “So they tied you to a chair, huh?” Shelby asked as she replaced her knife and stood up.

“Yeah,” Serena replied softly as she reached up and massaged her throat. There was a thick scar where it had been slit. Shelby looked at her and did a double take. “Is that an old scar?” She asked.

“Uh…it uh…” Serena stammered, as Shelby reached out and touched it.

“Yeah, feels like an old scar,” Shelby affirmed. “About four months old.”

“How do you know that stuff?” Serena asked in amazement.

“I read,” Shelby replied in a tone that said, “…and you should too!”

Serena laughed and gave Shelby a big hug. “I love you!” she whispered. “I love you too!” Shelby whispered back.

“Well, this is touching.” A sugary female voice declared. Both Shelby and Serena jumped.

Standing in the doorway was a girl about their age, wearing highly reflective black shades. On her belt were two pistols, and strapped across her back was a sniper rifle, some kind of high tech bow, and a Katana. Two more guns peeped over her shoulders. She certainly didn’t look how she sounded!

“Relax,” She said spreading out her hands disarmingly. “Not here to hurt you.”

“How can we know that?” Shelby asked suspiciously. “And how long have you been standing there?”

“Not long,” She answered nonchalantly ignoring Shelby’s first question.

Serena’s eyes narrowed. “So are you gonna let us through?”

“Oh, I don’t think you should go this way.” She replied, gesturing over her shoulder towards the open doorway.

“Why?” Serena asked, preparing to give her a pounding.

“Because, the people that live here are looking for you. They found your car.”

Shelby shut her eyes in anticipation of the damage they would find when they reached it. Serena glanced at her cousin, then back at their visitor. “They destroyed it didn’t they.” She said flatly. The girl smiled wryly. “Was that sympathy, or condescension?” Serena wondered. She was incredibly hard to read behind those dark glasses. At last Serena shook her head and threw up her hands. “Then what do you suggest?” The girl started to reply, but Serena continued. “And what’s to keep us from jumping you and going through that door anyway? I mean how fast can you move with all that stuff on you?”

“Serena!” Shelby hissed. The girl only smirked and in a sudden blur of motion was right in front of them. Serena caught her breath in shock. “That answer your question?” She asked, amusement coloring her voice. “Mm-hm.” Serena nodded. “You’re not…human. Are you?” Shelby asked cautiously. The girl shrugged.

“Well are you gonna help us?” Serena demanded, getting flustered.

“Thought you’d never ask!” The girl smiled.

“Ugh!” She groaned in disgust.

Ignoring Serena’s response, the girl whipped out her sword and drove it into the cement wall. She then proceeded to cut out a large square block. Finishing, she pulled the piece of wall into the room with one hand. “Follow me!” She said cheerfully, re-sheathing her sword. Shelby and Serena looked at each other. “Come on!” She urged, before jumping out of the hole she had created and out of sight. The cousins walked to the edge of the room and saw that their visitor hand landed on a ledge that ran the length of several buildings including the one they were in. “Come on!” She called. “It’s perfectly safe.”

“If you say so,” Shelby conceded as she and Serena jumped down onto the ledge. “There!” The girl said enthusiastically. “Now let’s put this thing back.”

“Wait,” Serena interrupted. “You’re gonna put the block back in the hole?”

“Well yeah,” The girl replied. “We don’t wanna make it easy for them to follow us.” So saying she raised her hands and replaced the block. Serena’s eyes widened and Shelby furrowed her brow. “You’re not a Jedi, are you?” Serena asked. Even from behind the shades, Serena knew the girl was giving her a look of “be serious!”

“You see any lightsabers on me?” The girl asked.

“No,” Serena replied.

The girl pointed her head along the ledge, indicating that they go forward. “Uh…you’re not going to lead us?” Shelby asked nervously. “Just walk along the ledge until you get to the end that row of buildings.” The girl pointed “See? There’s a gap up there.”

“Um, I’d feel better if you were in front of us,” Serena said voicing her cousin’s unspoken thought.

“Nah, trust me.” The girl replied, unsheathing her sword. “It’s in your best interest that I follow behind.”

“With your sword drawn?” Shelby questioned.

“Hey!” Someone shouted from below.

“Move it!” The girl commanded. Shelby and Serena needed no urging, for the man followed up his words with actions and began shooting.

“Here, they are!” He shouted, to his comrades. “Come on, let’s get them!”

“Run!” The girl shouted over the gun fire to the cousins, who again needed little encouragement to do so. As they ran, the mysterious girl proceeded to deflect bullets with her sword swinging and twirling it around with such speed that nearly every bullet was deflected away from the fleeing trio. Those that were not deflected were returned to the shooters, bringing down several of them. Suddenly shots rang out from the building at parallel barely missing them by centimeters. At this point the girl uttered something in Hebrew, at which an invisible force field materialized each time they were shot at causing the bullets to fall harmlessly to the ground. I say materialized because it’s the easiest way to explain it. They couldn’t see the force field; it was rather like very clean glass window. Anyway, since the girl had no more use for her sword, she re-sheathed it and moved in front of the cousins. After a few more meters they reached the place where the ledge broke and thudded down into a dusty bed of dry hay. “A stable?” Serena, asked incredulously. Their friend laughed. “For a dead girl, you sure talk a lot!” Shelby looked at Serena in bewilderment. “Huh?” She asked, wondering what Serena hadn’t told her. “That’s because I’m very much alive, thank you.” Serena returned quickly, not wanting to tell her cousin that they had killed her.

“I guess you are,” The girl conceded as she dug her way down to the door. “Come on!” She held the straw back keeping it open so they could pass and then, after one last glance up and the ledge she came through herself letting the hay clog the opening again.

“‘Kay. Come on, let’s go!” She urged after clearing herself of excess straw.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Shelby interjected. “You still haven’t told us who you are.”

The girl sighed impatiently. “All you need to know is that I’m here to help you.” The cousins’ faces fell; they were hoping to get an answer. “Let’s go!” The girl insisted, leaving them little choice but to follow her as she hurried into the next room. After a few more minutes brisk walking, they arrived at the edge of District 5.

“Well here, you are. Free and clear,” The girl said smiling. “Think you guys can handle yourselves from here?”

“Yeah,” Serena laughed. “We’re at a bus stop!”

Shelby gave Serena a funny look. “Thank you!” She said, turning to their mysterious friend.

“Yes, thank you.” Serena added, a bit embarrassed the Shelby beat her to the punch.

“You’re welcome,” The girl laughed, entertained at the dynamic between the cousins. She took a deep breath of the fresh air before continuing. “Well it was nice meeting you!”

“You too!” The cousins interjected.

“Um, I gotta split but…we’ll catch up, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Serena affirmed.

“Absolutely!” Shelby agreed.

“Alright!” She replied, clapping her hands together. “See ya!” With that she turned and walked across the street. A couple of cars passed in each direction as she did so. From the other side she turned and waved, the cousins waved back. She continued walking down the street on the other side. Stopped a taxi and got in. The taxi drove down the street, made a left onto a side street and continued out of sight.

“Aw,” Serena said. “I thought that was her ride.”

“What?” Shelby asked.

Serena indicated a red Porsche parked across the street and down a little ways.

“Oh, very low key Sims!” Shelby teased. “I’m still trying to figure out how she got into that taxi fully armed like that. I wouldn’t pick her up if I was the driver.”

Serena thought a moment. “No,” She said checking herself to be sure of what she was about to say. “She didn’t have any weapons when she got into that taxi.”

Shelby blinked skeptically as she checked her own memories. “You know you’re right. I didn’t see any weapons on her at that point, but it didn’t seem strange either.”

“No.” Serena agreed.

“Hm,” Shelby said resting her chin on her hand.

“I wonder how she knew when and where to find us?” Serena asked after a few moments silence.

“Hm?” Shelby mumbled, then realized what her cousin had just asked. “Oh, I asked the Leader for help before I got out to look for you.” She braced herself for Serena to scoff but she didn’t. Instead she looked thoughtful. “Guess I should do that more often.” She said finally. Shelby had to agree to that.

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2 thoughts on “Agents, the Novel: Hardwired

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