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Lethal Trade

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10 Years Earlier

The wind is the strongest competitor as the pilot touches down on the helipad. He’s as nondescript as they come, his eyes hidden by sunglasses and having said just two words during the flight: “Almost there.” The passenger needs just three seconds to find his bearings, which is long enough for the earpiece that was sent to him to come alive with a soft crackling noise.

“Welcome to the Agent Programme, Initiate. I’ll be waiting inside.” The voice belongs to a woman, and it’s gentler than one might have expected. Floodlights turn on with thunderous bangs, revealing a set of metal stairs and thick doors hidden in the cliffside. A bunker.

“Please follow the lights.” There’s a sense of urgency in the woman’s voice. He might as well do as she says. After all, all that’s behind him is an empty helipad and a drop down so deep he couldn’t see the water when they approached the facility. The doors open, creaking as metal works against metal, and there’s a young woman standing inside. He analyses her on auto-pilot: early twenties, Caucasian, hair a darker shade of brown. She’s on the shorter side, perhaps 5’ 6” on a good day. Thin, but not weak, agile. She’s wearing a thick winter coat that reaches her knees, though that says less about her and more about the environment they’re in. If these people have ever heard of heating, they haven’t implemented it here.

“Majestic, isn’t it?” the woman comments as they walk down the hallway, motioning at the high ceilings. There are multiple levels of walkways above their heads, and armed men and women are patrolling them endlessly. “I’m Lucy. I’ll take you to your quarters.”

“Someone likes to keep secrets,” the Initiate states.

“Secrets are our stock-in-trade,” Lucy retorts, a slight hint of surprise at his bluntness in her voice, though she regains her neutral tone quickly. “Besides, from what I hear, you have a few of your own. I’m not like you , in case you were wondering. I’m in the Handler programme.” That explains her demeanour, her calm and collected attitude.

Every sound inside of the bunker is amplified, echoing against metal and concrete as Lucy continues: “Agents and Handlers work in unity. You know the expression ‘know your enemy’?” She waits for him to react, and when he doesn’t she clarifies: “Well, that part is my job.”

“Knowing your enemy is only half the victory,” he counters.

“I know. You also need to know yourself. I'm working on it.” Lucy huffs softly in amusement. “I read your case file. Impressive work. Hardly textbook, but I suppose fieldwork never is.” She stops in her path and turns to face him as she asks: “Tell me...what did it feel like? Taking lives?”

“Random. Disordered.” It’s the most honest answer he can give her. For all it’s worth, he trusts her. Call it a gut instinct, if you must, but he has a feeling Lucy is not his enemy.

“Is that why you came here?” she inquires. “Why you let us test you?”

“Maybe I’m not the only one being tested,” the Initiate comments. If she’s still in the programme, that means she’s not actually a Handler just yet. She’s as much a trainee as he is.

“Well,” Lucy continues, disregarding his jab at her, “we’re here. Basic training starts at 0600 hours. I shall…” Is that hesitation in her voice? “...leave you to prepare.”


The following week, he is sent from professional to professional. Doctors, psychiatrists, profilers. He barely sees Lucy anymore, except from the communal dinners they share.

But she sees him.

Standing behind a two-way mirror, Lucy watches the Initiate as the resident neurologist talks him through yet another cognition exam.

“Are you sure about this?” the man next to her asks.

“I am,” she replies, perhaps too quickly. She manages to keep her voice as calm as possible.

“There are no second chances, Miss Preston. Not here.” She's aware he means to intimidate her. It's not working.

“I choose him.”

“May I inquire why? A blank slate. Anti-social. Apathetic and unresponsive. No doubt the boy shows promise, but…”

“Maybe I see possibilities where others see limitations - isn't that what a Handler does, Mr Cahill?” Lucy interjects, quickly adding: “With all due respect, Sir.” Cahill huffs quietly.

“We'll see. Anyone can kill, Miss Preston. He still remembers nothing?” he asks her, changing the subject.

“If he does, he's not sharing,” Lucy replies truthfully. How is she supposed to know?  She's barely talked to the Initiate since he arrived here.

“We will check up on his story,” Cahill decides. “The hospital in Croatia? In the meantime, keep him under close watch.”


A month later, the Initiate finds himself standing in a large chamber in the bunker. There’s a hole in the ceiling that lets daylight in, and there’s a decently-sized yacht located at the far end. It would look impressive if it weren’t for the absence of actual water surrounding it.

“Welcome to Advanced Training,” Lucy tells him through his earpiece. “This mission originally took place in Sydney, Australia. The target was Kalvin Ritter, also known as ‘The Sparrow’. He was a master thief for hire, specialising in rare and priceless art. Our agent Christopher infiltrated Ritter’s yacht during a social gathering and discretely eliminated him without any of the guests noticing. Now you will do the same.” He’s heard of this Agent Christopher before. She’s a bit of an ICA legend. Lucy clears her voice and adds: “Oh, and don’t worry about the training operatives. All weapons are simulated.” Right. Everyone on this ship is working as an actor. Most think they’re here to help train specialised policemen, they’ve told him. How ironic. “Good luck, Initiate.”

Approaching the gangway, he figures he might as well try to infiltrate the ship as a guest, but one of the two guards standing on the dock shakes his head and stops him with a hand against his shoulder.

“You’re not coming through looking like that.”

The black turtleneck and cargo pants indeed might stand out a little too much on decks where everyone is wearing cocktail dresses and day suits. The cargo area might be a better idea. There’s a building in the middle of the fencing that separates the cargo bay from the rest of the terrain, and there is no glass in the window. Perfect. He walks over to the building, and once he’s out of the lines of sight of the guards, he climbs through. A mechanic is in his way, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The Initiate sneaks up behind him and wraps his hands around the man’s throat and mouth. He goes down quickly. So much for having a nice and easy day on the acting job.

Now, he needs to get past the four mechanics standing in the loading area of the ship, and there’s no way he’ll be able to sneak past them like this. There’s too many of them. Looking down at the unconscious mechanic, the Initiate drags the man’s body into a nearby restroom and shoves him into a closet. If anyone walks by, they won’t find him there. He opens the doors of the cupboard once more. Maybe he had something on his body that will help him infiltrate? Perhaps…

“You’re putting on his clothes?” Lucy comments through his earpiece. She sounds highly amused. “Well, that’s a first. It might just work, though. People do tend to see uniforms, not faces. Be cautious though - some people are more observant than others.” She hums quietly. “Not bad, Initiate.” He has a feeling the supervisor in the cargo area may notice the mechanic returning is not the man who left. Instead of trying to head past him, he heads back over to the gangway. Let’s see if these guards will let him through now?

“Mister Mechanic, what’s up?”

BIngo.

The ship is large but not humongous, and he makes his way up to the main deck quickly. It's absolutely littered with partygoers. They pay him no attention. Ritter isn't difficult to locate at the bar, but there are way too many people here; too many witnesses. He watches his target carefully. When Ritter moves up the stairs, the Initiate tries to follow him, but a guard stops him.

“Sorry man. Uniformed crew only.” He swears he can hear Lucy roll her eyes through the earpiece as she murmurs: “Of course.”

“I have an idea,” the Initiate whispers so only she can hear. Turning back into a corridor, he enters the galley where a single crewmember is stirring a pot of pasta.

“Hey man,” the guy comments, barely looking up from his task. The Initiate nods his head, grabbing a heavy wrench from the countertop. Before the other man realises what's going on, the tool is soaring through the air and slamming into his skull. He goes down like a sack of potatoes. After exchanging the mechanic’s clothing for the white naval uniform, the Initiate dumps his unconscious body in a nearby storage crate. Lucy chuckles.

“What?” the Initiate asks quietly, knowing she can hear his every breath.

“Nothing,” she replies. “Quickly now, before you lose your window.” The serious tone has returned to her voice. As he passes the guards, she comments: “You may need to blend in once you reach the upper deck. Ritter knows his staff quite well, and may figure you out if you're loitering.” The Initiate makes a beeline for the unmanned bar at the bow of the ship and begins cleaning its surface with a nearby rag. “Perfect. You fit right in.”

“If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were flirting with me,” he whispers.

“I…” Lucy seems at a loss for words. “This line is monitored.”

“I see.” The Initiate goes silent once more, observing the master thief as the man speaks with what seems to be his girlfriend.

“You said you were done, Kalvin,” she warns him, “and yet here you are, having secretive phone conversations and meeting up with people I’ve never heard you mention before.” The Sparrow shrugs.

“It’s just business, Marjorie.”

“Business my ass.”

After meeting with his contact, Ritter takes him upstairs, and the Initiate quietly follows him. They  move into the man’s office. The door is guarded by a bodyguard. There’s no way he’s slipping past unnoticed.

“I don’t see any other entrances on the map,” Lucy comments. “Try the windows; it’s warm out today.” He crouches down and sneaks out onto the deck, which wraps around the office, testing every window he passes. The final one is open. “Perfect.” Lucy sounds pleased.

He crawls in as soundlessly as possible, seeking cover behind Ritter’s desk. He’s monologuing about some sort of artifact he’s selling this man, how it will change the future of crime forever. As the contact turns to look out the window, Lucy whispers: “Now!” The Initiate takes the shot, and Ritter drops immediately. “Target down. Get out of there, quickly. Don’t let them spot you!”

Within a minute, the Initiate is back at the start of the training level, pressing the red button beside the car. “Challenge complete. Good work, Initiate.”


“How did you know?” Cahill asks from behind the two-way mirror.

“I told you he had talent.”

“His stats are off the charts. Such skills and reflexes - they can only be the result of previous training. Power like that with no moral restraint? He could be dangerous.”

“I thought that was rather the point, Sir,” Lucy counters.

“All agents have weak spots, Miss Preston. Pressure points to keep them in check. But this one?” He glances over at her, sighing. “Perhaps it would be better to just…”

“Give me a chance, Sir,” Lucy begs of him, immediately regretting the tremor in her voice. “Give him a chance. I will take full responsibility.”

“Very well. It’s your show.”


In the meantime, the Initiate attempts the Ritter assassination over and over again. “Every challenge can be overcome in multiple ways,” Lucy tells him. He snipes the man; pushes him over a ledge; causes an explosion; disguises himself as his contact; poisons him. He succeeds every time.


“I just got word. Croatia was a dead end.” Cahill doesn’t sound pleased at all.

“Are you saying that he lied?”  Lucy asks, staring at the empty room behind the mirror where the Initiate is walking in circles like a caged tiger..

“Place is real enough. Deserted. But we found no trace that your man was ever there. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

“Someone erased his steps,” Lucy deduces. Cahill hums in acknowledgement.

“We’ll keep digging, of course. But frankly, it’s as if the earth just spat him out. Are you still determined?”

“Does it matter? I was told there’d be no second chances.” There’s a hint of determination and venom in her words.

“Don’t believe everything you hear, Miss Preston. You have a bright future ahead of you, should you make the right decisions.”

“My decision stands.” Lucy folds her hands.

“Very well. I’ll be watching.”

As if he knows, the Initiate stares right back at them through the mirror.


“The final test is based on an authentic 1979 mission,” Lucy tells the Initiate as he approaches a new training set. “It’s the high point of Training Director Cahill’s career as an active agent. The target was Jasper Knight, a famous US chessmaster exposed as a Soviet spy. Cahill caught up with Knight at a military airfield in Cuba and eliminated him against all odds. This is your objective as well.” She takes a deep breath, and lowers her voice through the earpiece.

“Now listen carefully. ICA exams aren’t normally this difficult. Not only was the airfield a virtual fortress, he has even added additional guards. Cahill wants you to fail. He considers you a threat. This way, your unfortunate exit from the programme won’t raise any eyebrows. He did not, however, factor me into the equation. If Cahill can bend the rules, then so can I. This line is secure. I’m the only one one it. If I were you, I’d start off by listening in on those two mechanics by the gate,” Lucy suggests. “Good luck Initiate.”

An hour later, as he presses the red button by the getaway car, he hears rustling before Cahill's voice suddenly sounds.

“Congratulations, Agent. You are cleared for field duty.”


In the control room, Cahill doesn't sound as positive as he tells Lucy: “I hope you know what you just did. The chopper leaves at dawn. Now get out of my sight.” Pressing her lips together, she turns without a word and walks away.


“So what happens now?” the Agent asks as Lucy leads him down the hallway he hasn't seen since he got to the training facility.

“You go back into the world. Disappear. Stay on your own and on the move. When we need you, we will contact you.”

“And Cahill?” he asks, approaching the helipad.

“You played his hand, and he lost. He cannot touch us now.” Lucy pulls her scarf in front of her chin, straining against the harsh wind. “Still, I can't believe we beat him at his own game.”

“If you know your enemy…” he suggests. Lucy chuckles.

“Quite right.” Her voice turns serious. “I should tell you, the trail went dead after Croatia. Our team found no records of any kind. No name, nothing.”

“I think they called me ‘Logan’,” he tells her, turning to face her.

“That's...not much of a name.”

“Then make it one.” It's the last thing he says to her before making his way over to the waiting helicopter.

“Alright. Agent...Logan.”


Present Day

“You were always the best. Nobody ever came close. You defined the art, and it defines you. Your actions have changed the world. Powerful men have fallen by your hand. But by the same token, others have risen. Do you realise what kind of world you've been shaping? Does the ICA? Christopher? Carlin? Cahill? Your handler? I live in that world. I have seen the consequences. I have felt the cost. That's what defines me .”

“You're sounding like a madman, Flynn, you know that, right?” the young woman in the hotel room tells the man standing on the balcony overlooking the Eiffel tower. “The accent doesn't make it sound any less like a villain monologue either.”

“I'm not a villain, Jiya,” he tells her.

“Good luck trying to convince him of that,” the other woman in the room announces from behind her. Flynn sighs.

“Let's go, ladies. We have a plane to catch.”