”Operation Prize Money was meant to counteract the capture of agent Zimmermann, but it failed entirely. The situation is extremely dire. I have reason to believe that the department has been compromised much earlier than anticipated. My usual sources contradicted each other in seven different ways. This has never happened before. I do not know which sources and contacts can still be trusted. Events are rapidly spiralling out of control.”
“What about reinforcements?” asked Kate.
“Secretary Stanton has refused to immediately allocate emergency personnel even after being confronted with all the details of the situation. I confess I should have seen it sooner. I was naïve to think that his stubborn dismissal of the importance of this division was mere incompetence and wilful ignorance. This makes it clear that we have been thoroughly compromised in our capacity to act.”
She eyed the round.
“The time frames do not line up. There is no way for Agent Zimmerman to be turned that quickly. I have reviewed the data that was sent back before she was found out. We know from reliable sources that the process takes at least forty hours. This has been corroborated the data agent Zimmerman sent back herself before she stopped broadcasting. It involves heavy machinery, which can’t be concealed or easily transported. We were able to monitor her long enough to know the window just wasn’t big enough. Agent Zimmerman has to have been compromised before her final operation.”
“No!”, shouted Sarah. “I would have known!”
“Agent Mahoney, I am sorry to say that my personal assessment is that she could have fooled any one of us. I am currently reviewing surveillance data to analyze her movement patterns in the last three months.
“Bullshit! I would have known!” yelled Sarah and leapt out her seat, to the confusion of Shaw and Bower.
“Sarah,” said Kate, her voice calm.
“No! I don’t have to listen to this!”
“Miss Mahoney. You are acting irrational. This does not reflect on the character of Agent Zimmerman in any way. As far as we know, there is no way at all to resist—“
Sarah thought of how they had lain together the night before, how they had embraced and felt each other. Kisses and Goodbyes that she hadn’t known were final. Those couldn’t have been—they must have been real.
She was crying.
Director West and all the others were looking at her with varying shades of confusion and empathy.
“I need a minute,” she said and turned to leave, arms wrapped around herself.
“Holy shit, were they together?!” gasped Bower. Shaw, who was sitting right next to him, hit him on the back of the head.
“You need to learn to shut up!” snapped Kate and followed after Sarah.
“We do not have time for this!” shouted the Director, neck craned after them, as the door to the meeting room fell closed.
”Please, Sarah! This is not the time!” she said to the crying woman sitting on the hallway floor with her face buried in her hands.
“I can’t take this. Why does this keep happening?” She was hard to understand between the sobbing and her voice being muffled by her hands.
“Sarah. Please. I know that none of this is fair, but things keep happening while we are crying!” said Kate as calmly as she could.
“You know? You have no idea!” Sarah cried, raising her head to face Kate. She was covered in tears and her eyes were swollen and red.
“You don’t know how it is to lose the only person in your life that really means something to you! That understands you! And then you tell me she was only faking! And--”
“No one’s saying that, Sarah!”
”And you made her do it! Why couldn’t they get someone else than Lilly?! Why did it have to be her?!” She sounded angry now.
“Because she was the best and most qualified! Lilly did what she had to do.”
“Now you too? You think that was a good decision?!”
“Yes! Send Lilly to her death!—“
“None of you fucking care about her, or me, or anyone!”
She couldn’t help herself. Only watch herself do it. It was like dam breaking after months of floods.
“You think I don’t care?!”, yelled Kate “Lilly was my friend, too! And I’m fucking sick of this shit! You think I didn’t lose friends yesterday? Paul, Evan, Simon, Chris. They died yesterday,“ she sobbed. “They were my friends! Simon had his birthday just last week! And the others, too! I knew them! Most of them! Do you think Lilly was the only reason I wanted to talk?!” Her head was flushed and red now, too. She was yelling at the top of her voice. “You’re not the only one that’s grieving! But you’re so fucking self-obsessed! Just because you didn’t have any other friends! Is it just so fucking unimaginable to you that Lilly had more than one friend, or that there are other people that matter to each other?”
There was a moment where they both stared at each other through tears, and Kate knew she had ruined it. She didn’t protest as Sarah rubbed the tears from her eyes and wordlessly stomped back into the meeting room.
Director West eyed them critically as they re-entered. They must have had heard everything.
“I understand these are emotionally trying times. However, I need the both of you to function properly, because this is a matter of literally catastrophic proportions,” said West.
“You and your fellow agents are the only people in the country I can trust right now, because as your employer in an intelligence agency I have reliable tracking data of all of you that can be verified. No offense.”
”None taken,“ said Shaw, putting her hand on the arm of Bower, who had looked like he wanted to protest. Bower looked at her. She gently smiled at him and shook her head. Kate thought she saw a wink. Oh great, she thought, as if things weren’t complicated enough already.
“I appreciate your… professionalism,” said West with a not-so-subtle undertone and looked at Kate and Sarah.
“As I was going to say, our hands are firmly tied. We must assume the worst. With the capture of agent Zimmerman, the Syndicate now knows about us, where our base is, and may plot to move against us right now. We need to get ahead of them and find out what their next move is. Again, I made the connection too late. If it weren’t for sheer luck, we could have been overrun before I realized there was such a threat and had time to check the essential personnel for possible double agents.”
Her cell phone sounded a message tone. She looked at the screen.
“In one rare instance of intelligent thought on my part, I considered the possibility of this happening when this place was built. This is our signal. We abandon base. Our databanks have been erased and structural charges are armed. We leave now.”
They all got up before they could really realize what was happening. Bower spoke as he trailed behind the others. “I appreciate the seriousness of the situation and I’m sorry, but I really, really have to comment on the fact how cool it is that we have a fucking self-destruct button for our secret underground base.”
”It is pretty neat,” said Director West.
“Why are we even alive?” asked Agent Johnson as the truck they were thrown into drove them to some unknown destination.
“Is that a rhethorical question, Rebecca, or are you being existential?”, sneered Agent Kimball.
“I’m being serious, Alice! Why bother with us? We shot at least fifteen of them while they tried to get us alive!”
Agent Kimball rolled her eyes. ”Uh… maybe because they think we might give them some valuable information?! Some inside knowledge of certain government bodies?!”
“Shut up, Alice!” hissed Lorraine, glaring at Agent Kimball. “They’re bound to be listening!”
“Does it matter? We’re going to tell them everything, eventually!”
“That doesn’t mean you have to spew it out right now!”
“Do you seriously think the Syndicate don’t already know all about us, after what happened today?! They only need the specifics to take us out, which they’ll get from us! We’re fucked, Lorraine! But don’t worry your pretty little ass, I’m gonna give those cunts plenty of fight before they get me.
She looked at Lorraine and Rebecca with a bitter expression.
“But in the end… we’ll still be licking their boots. It’s all fucked!” She threw around her hands in a gesture of exasperation, and the chains on her handcuffs jingled quietly.
“Please, Alice! Stop!”, said Rebecca weakly. “t’s not over, yet. They might still find us and rescue us. Don’t give up!”
”I’m not giving up, I’m just dealing with the fucked-up reality we find ourselves in. Give me any chance and I’ll gladly murder my way out of this goddamn truck. Might even take you along with me.”
She smiled humorlessly.
Lorraine rolled her eyes, but she managed a weak smile as well.
“So… how did they get you two?”, she asked.
“Too many blind corners. They got me with tazer guns and Rebecca here was too much of a pussy to put a bullet in me before they got her too.”
“Fuck you, Alice. I’m not gonna shoot you.”
“Should have, though!”
“I won’t just-”
“You know their deal! You know what it means to be captured!”
“I get it”, interrupted Lorraine. There was a pregnant pause.
“Thanks”, said Rebecca after a moment. She looked at Alice, who raised her hands in defence and shook her head.
“Fuck, I get it too! I’m not a monster. Still think you should have.”
Rebecca just ground her teeth, looking somewhere between guilty and hopeless.
“…You know what? Next chance I get, I’ll kill you”, said Lorraine.
“Really?”, said Alice with a wicked smile. “Promise?”
Lorraine snorted at the absurdity of it all.
“What a fucked-up day”, she said, shaking her head.
“You’re right about that one. So…” she said and her voice dropped to a whisper. She nodded her head towards the back of the truck. “What are we going to do when that door opens? I, for my part would love to give them some trouble with whatever they’re planning to do.”
“I’m all for that”, said Lorraine.
“Yeah, me too”, said Rebecca.
As if in response, they felt the truck come to a stop. They looked at each other. Lorraine could see Alice tense. She was thin, almost wiry, and she saw the tendons in her arms contract. There was a hissing sound, and Lorraine felt a stream of air blow through her hair. She turned around and saw that on the wall of the truck above her, there was a row of small nozzles.
“Oh come on, really?” she asked. She already felt herself getting drowsy.
“That’s just... not… fair…”
They sat in silence as the black Lincoln turned another corner. Kate rode shotgun, with Shaw, Bower and Sarah on the back seat. Sarah had her arms crossed, frowning at the tinted windows as the streets swept by. They pulled up to what looked like a middle-class suburban residential home.
“All our agents are now being coordinated through decentralized means,” said Director West. “No one but me knows where our new base of operations is.”
“Then why are you trusting us with that information?”, asked Bower.
“I am not. This isn’t our new base of operations. This is where I live. I will be leaving shortly.“ She got out of the car and waited for them to follow suit. She then walked back around the house and unlocked the back door which led them to a spacious kitchen.
“We will meet in safe houses when the need arises,” she said.
“But first, let me brief you on what I need you to do next. We have bought some time. Our enemy is still powerful, but they no longer know our location and can’t target us directly for the time being. I have received further analysis sent back from the neural networks at the NSA indicating that the chance of any of our remaining operatives being compromised is less that 96 percent, which are better odds than I had hoped for. I trust this data, no human had any input on it. The data on miss Zimmerman is undergoing extra computation passes and is still being processed.”
She sat down on a kitchen chair with visible exhaustion.
“I need you to find Agents Kelly, Johnson and Kimball,
“Who are they?” asked Bower.
“The female members of the perimeter team.”
”Why only the female— Oh God, they only take women, don’t they?”
“Your skill of analysis will serve you well, Mister Bower, should the division survive this crisis,” said the Director.
She pulled out a manila envelope and proceeded to open it.
“I need you to follow them to track down their current base of operations. We need to eliminate Moreau. Our only hope is trying to cut off the dragon’s head. That might not work, but it’s the best chance we have.”
She pulled a tablet out of the envelope and placed it on the table.
“This contains all the details and access to satellite tracking. The safe house it mentions contains ten thousand dollars in cash, medical facilities, surveillance hardware, encrypted network access, tactical gear, and weaponry, as well as three beds.”
Kate caught Bower glancing at Shaw, who blushed slightly. No. Not even subtle.
“You may use my car to get to the safe house. I have other means of transport,” said West and put the car keys on the table.
Sarah stepped forward, snatched up the tablet and the keys. “Let’s go get this over with” she said without looking at anyone and walked out the door.
”Sarah, wait!” said Kate hurriedly.
“I’m tired of waiting,” came Sarah’s voice from outside. “Are you fucking coming, already?”
Kate glanced at West.
“I’m afraid Agent Mahoney is right,” said West, “Time is an issue.”
The three remaining agents exchanged looks, then followed Sarah out the door and got in the car. The motor was already running and Sarah drove off before they could even buckle their seat belts.
Sarah threw the tablet into Kate’s lap without looking. She picked it up, read it, then passed it on to Shaw and Bower. At one point, Bower asked Sarah to slow down. Sarah ignored him. She had a mission, now, and nothing would stop her.
Two days earlier:
Lilly was in the dark. Why was she in the dark? She couldn’t remember. She tried to get out of bed. Then she noticed that she wasn’t in bed. She wasn’t even lying, she was sitting. Her head hurt and she was nauseous. For a moment she considered going back to sleep. But her head hurt too much. She would have to undo the straps, get dressed and get some aspirin or something.
Suddenly she was wide awake as her heart lurched with the sudden realization. She was bound to a metal chair, and she was naked. She didn’t remember what had happened but they must have found out. Oh God, no! This wasn’t supposed to happen! She had been fooling them! They wouldn’t have let her come so far if she hadn’t been fooling them!
She tried to remember the events before she blacked out. She had been pretending to be Alice Faraday, owner of a modest business of questionably legal nature and woman of definitely illegal tastes. The business was a legit criminal enterprise, secretly run by the Division after it had been seized from its original owners. She had been there to make a purchase of three slaves and discuss renting out her place of business to the Syndicate.
They had given her the tour. They had shown her the machinery they used. Then she was lead into a warehouse to pick out the slaves. They had stood there, looking her in the eyes with devotion. Every slave had enthusiastically told her how ready she was to serve her. She had had to touch them in a show of mock fascination and desire. Touching them had felt like betraying Sarah. A stray thought entered her mind like poison dripping into a well. Betraying her. That’s what was going to happen, wasn’t it? That was how they operated. They were going to strap her into one of the machines and enslave her, brain-wash her.
Only no, they wouldn’t. Her friends would know she had been captured, she couldn’t be a double agent. Relief was short- lived, however. That didn’t make her situation any better, did it? Maybe they would make her into a sex-slave, or a worker drone. Thinking about that made her feel cold. She got an image of herself, naked, standing in a row with other women, smiling. getting her beasts groped by someone who wanted to own her. A shiver ran through her and she tried to think of something useful, but it was hard.
Her skin was cold against the metal and coarse around the straps that bound her feet, wrists and abdomen. She could move her head, but her neck hurt. There wasn’t anything to see in any case. She was in pitch blackness. She made some small klicking sounds with her tongue. From the echo she thought she could tell that the room wasn’t very large and quite barren. It wasn’t much information, but she’d take what she could get. After that, there was nothing she could do except wait.
As she sat there in the darkness, her thoughts slowly blackened. Despite trying not to, she thought of Sarah, and the thoughts were pain and regret and terrible imaginations of how she’d deal with this. She could see her face in her mind, all rage and despair. It stung worse than the headache and the coldness.
Suddenly there was the sound of a door opening and she was blinded by the light streaming in. Someone flipped a switch and the room was bathed in harsh LEDs. She immediately glanced around the room through half-closed eyes, looking for exits and things to be used as weapons. There were scalpels lying on a metal tray right next to her, which would make excellent weapons. Somehow, that didn’t make her feel much better.
The woman who had entered her cell came into focus as her eyes adjusted. Lilly took in a sharp breath. Before her stood a tall woman in her thirties. She wore a black tank-top and rimless glasses. Her hair was bound back in a bun. Between her teeth, she held a small metal cylinder that looked a bit like a small cigar. She was struggling to put on latex gloves.
The woman looked at her as if she was about to speak, then seemed to remember the thing in her mouth, took it out and carefully placed it in the tray next to the scalpels.
“Oui,” she said with a small nod, and continued.
“What are you going to do to me?”
Moreau seemed focused on her gloves. “Testing a new method,” she mumbled absent-mindedly.
“I’m not going to beg, you know, ” said Lilly with as much conviction and defiance as she could, shifting uneasily in the chair. She wanted to lean forward but her restraints let her. Instead, she tilted her head forward and stared her down with disgust. “Just fucking tell me why, you sick bitch! Why do you do this? I’d like to know before you brain-fuck me.”
The woman pulled the glove down the last of her fingers and looked at Lilly with what looked like brief consideration. Then she picked up the cylinder from the tray.
“No speeches,” she said and carefully pushed the injector into Lilly’s neck.
Lilly jerked back in reflex as the sudden pain exploded from her neck in a shockwave through her head. She let out a short yelp and gasped. What had Moreau just done? What…?
Like someone had switched her off, Lilly went limp. Her head fell back, mouth hanging open, eyes closed.
Moreau looked at her wrist watch. It was an old model. Mechanical. There were one hundred and four ticks, then Lilly twitched and opened her eyes. She looked at Moreau in surprise. Their eyes met.
Moreau smiled, and slave Lilly smiled back.