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"To all the Krafty ones who contribute positively to society."
The blast of ice-cold air struck her heart. She remembered the calls, the voices and the beeping. Was it her own heart? Or was it the machine which kept her alive. She felt the knife prick into her sensitive skin to pull out the slug. Another series of shouting. Then darkness, voices, darkness.
Agent Margaret Kraft awoke in a cold sweat. She checked the clock. It was 5:00 am. In the distance, outside her window, she could hear the beginnings of the rush of Boston traffic, as well as the song of a house sparrow, chiming in the cool morning.
Another bad, tumultuous dream. It was the third one she had in just over a week. Of course, the event happened a year ago. Just one short year. Kraft barely remembered what had happened during the happening; just that she had the component, the savior's blood, to combat Dissension, the unstoppable malaria. That was that. It was also when she was being led to the hospital, after Collins' interrogation on her that the happening occurred. Collins, traitor, treason, hate, bastard. Kraft wished he is rotting hard in hell.
The bullet impact, of course, was out of the question. She still fears it, worries it, dreams about it; feels it. Kraft deeply remembers how she witnessed the flash, then felt the punch, then the sting, then the fall. The bullet of the SVD rifle missed her heart by three-quarters of a centimeter. Just a fraction which separated her life from her fate. It was close. Perhaps too close. During cold days, Kraft can still feel the tugging, a reminder of the injury which keeps her on edge, on heightened sensitivity. At times, when a loud noise bursts from nowhere, she still jumps, frightened, helpless. Separated.
And then there was Dimitri. Her loving Dimitri. Her boyfriend, her lover, her caring soul. How Collins described Dimitri's death. Damn that Collins again. What the hell was there to kill Dimitri for? She didn't know. She never knew. She never saw the body. She only saw the memories, faint, falling, inside her dreams, inside her mind. Her love was gone. Vanished.
Walking across her flat to the windows, Kraft looked at the picture of Dimitri next to her bed-stand. The Ex-Russian spy glanced back at her with his gray eyes. He seemed so content, vibrant, happy. She could only imagine his fear as he was slit, decapitated and killed. Then the slow crawl of fresh blood creeping across the carpet. Kraft pushed the negatives out of her eyes.
She ran her fingers through the fine lining on the window curtain and parted them. The rush of traffic was beginning to curl about. In the distance, the Charles River snaked its way across the city, parting it also. Kraft stared at the city's awakening. A patrol car rushed across Beacon Street. She wondered where it was going. When young, Kraft had wanted to be a cop, for a period of time at least. She had one of those “phases” many get within their years of growing up. Then she decided to practice psychology. It was during her sophomore year in high school that she got the request. The request. From the president himself. Earlier that particular week, Kraft had won a medal on the city's obstacle course challenge. She broke the record by a full five seconds. Proud for certain, but Kraft still wonders HOW she obtained the letter from the president for early CIA training. Later on, combined with her college struggles, it indeed was a tough dilemma, but she survived. To this day, the question remains, but everyone soon realized that Kraft was capable. She was smart, cunning and quite beautiful, but Kraft never boasted much about anything. She just did her training and entered into the CIA's satellite program. Then there was that one day when she met the president himself. What a riot. The man loved her. Luck was on her side and Kraft was moved to the application for the PSA, or President's Security Agency. Everyone had known of the NSA after the exposure of spying, but not all knew yet about the PSA. To an extent, the PSA took the “spying” to direct action. To another extent, they simply shot and killed people which they were ordered to shoot. Again, direct action. For Kraft, that was the balance, yet, strangely, she never really had any dangerous encounters until the Russian-United States breakdown. While Putin was, interestingly enough, her original idol as a capable and stern leader, Kraft was nonetheless tossed to counter his claims. What made an even bigger issue was the rise of the so called, “Sabeem Habalas” or SH, a radical terrorist group founded after Bin Laden's death. Their leader, the ever so mystical Naja Nivea, took new terms to combat the UN and its actions to stop global terrorist activities. By the simple fact that Nivea's group originated in Southern Africa, the world powers are now forced to direct new attention away from the Middle-East. Whatever the case, for Kraft, she knew the finer details, but was sworn to secrecy. Then the ever unfortunate happened and Nivea partnered with Victor Chernkov, a Russian radical gang leader, who specializes in dealing weapons. Chernkov utilized the lockdown of Chernobyl as a weapon storage and creation area. For Kraft, that was yet another annoying thorn. But for a downed US satellite with important codes, Kraft was thrown in to retrieve it. So much for champagne, cocktail dresses and attractive men promised before. A whole debacle followed after the retrieval and the president realized that the Russian armsdealer had captured information about a prototype drone. Less than a week later, the drone was seen at Djimbi Airfield in Mozambique, strafing away at American soldiers and PSA agents, who were en-route to deliver relief and supplies for villages which were suffering from the droughts. Chernkov was; however, interested in testing biological weapons, or was that Nivea? She didn't know. All she knew was that she was trapped, interrogated and jabbed with a needle. Beforehand, Dr. Garrison, an ex-CIA and PSA agent, had worked to create fast acting vaccines for infected malaria patients. Within the process, he created a “superparasite,” nicknamed, “Dissension,” that could stand itself, without any possible way to stop it. By some luck, they found the antibody within her blood, that same antibody which powers the anti-dissension vaccine a year later. It has been over a year, yet the entirety of Dissension was also a mystery to the public. Patients affected were given false records and ideas. Just yet another way the government sheltered the negatives. She shook her head.
After her interrogation, she escaped from Collins' capture and ran to Dr. Garrison's house. A convergence. That was how he found the cure. Ironically, it was because she had the cure that she was shot right at the hospital's front doors. It was interesting, for the SH, or maybe it was Chernkov, she still didn't know, almost successfully wiped the possibility of a vaccine. But, like any fighter, she survived to help with the process. Dissension is now considered controlled, at least by the politicians wiping away at the government buildings, but it still lurks out there in the hidden shadows, waiting, watching. Kraft smacked a mosquito that had landed on her arm. She sighed, “You came early this year.” Then she left for the bathroom. The traffic echoed gently in the distance.
The sting of the cold water on her sweat-drenched face was, to say the least, soothing. That was that. Kraft was awake. Kraft was about five seven, had chocolate brown eyes, burnt brunette hair and a slim body. Attractive one might say, and certainly so, but she avoids attention most of the time. She turned on the shower. Oh the heavenly shower. The perfect way to start the day. Nothing stops terrorists faster in their tracks than the sweet smell of lavender shampoo. She kept the water cold today. It stimulated her nerves. She was awakened once more. A powerful hunter being revived within the bath of frozen liquid. A trickle got close to her bullet wound. It sent an odd sensation, almost like the feeling of electricity, yet so positive, to her brain. She winced. Then the liquid touched her right chest. Another scar. This one was the result of a pen puncturing her warm skin. Collins. She vividly remembers the crimson liquid which oozed down from the wound. Near the front of her mind, Kraft still felt the stab itself; the stab Collins ever so lusted for in his quest for information. What else did he want aside from everything he has gotten? She never knew the answer. It was a miracle Kraft survived the debacle. But, it was an even more crucial miracle that Collins was later shot dead. Shot, killed, removed from existence...dematerialized. An applause. A happy applause which entered Kraft, twirled about, and left warmth, happiness and final closure. Collins was dead. He betrayed the PSA, the CIA, the American Government and the free world. He allied with the enemy. He had allied with the enemy. But he was dead. So was Liana Kabins. So was Josh Greene. So was Andrea Ferguson. They were all dead. Missing. Vanished. The result of terrorism. The results of worldly imbalance. The victims which fought so hard against the negative deeds of Chernkov, Collins, Nivea and many others. Dead. Gone. Disappeared. Gone. Dead. She shut off the water.
The early morning news was on. Another newscast. Kraft almost laughed at the news. It wasn't until she joined the agency that she realized just how satirically convoluted the news was. To say convoluted may have been a massive understatement. Free expression of media? Ha, what a forgotten dilemma. Care for those affected by negatives? Another unspoken failure. What a joke. The government has bent and shaped the material by two-fold by the time any material reaches the media. It was as if the government, the so lovable government with its capabilities, is acting as the base protein which bends the lives of the organisms – the people. So that was that. Another day of news about someone getting shot. Another day of news of some robbing that the viewer will only remember for a minute. And three more minutes of more arguing over a theory. It is what it is. Then there was weather and sports. Another newscast has moved on in cyclical fashion.
She flipped on the coffee maker and listened to its cheerful hum as life-giving brown liquid dripped into her mug below. It was beautiful. A miniature cascade of life. Life. Her life. One of the drops bounced onto the edge of the mug and became stuck. It was stubborn at best, but it hung on. Kraft watched as the drop slowly fell from the rim of the mug to the counter below. It sank onto the granite. It stopped. As she prepared herself and got dressed, the TV continued to hum on about some unimportant news, while the coffee maker continued to drone about. She wondered how many drops were lost to make a single cup of coffee. Wasteful...
It was a brilliantly warm morning in Boston. Kraft decided to walk to the CIA office instead of taking her car. Likewise, the traffic was picking up and she worried about being stuck. Though rare, it does happen. The June temperature; however, was extremely negotiable. It was one of intermixed “spring-summer” days; before the engulfing blanket of burning heat, but after the deep freeze of the winter. It was perfect. As she stepped out onto the street, cars quietly swam by, motionless, beautifully timed. Kraft smiled. So much turmoil in the world. Yet, despite all that, oasis still holds even in an urbanized city. She began walking. The rush of fresh, open air overtook over lungs. The tugging was masked by the sweetened tang of rich, late spring oxygen. She walked towards the Charles River. A boat streamlined its way across the rich, dark waters of Boston. Like a shark, it quietly sliced the water's surface, sending riffles towards the shore. As the sun rose higher, some college students studying at Boston University began their daily jog. How she missed those days. A few of them still wore long shirts, but the temperature was on the rise, and others soon began showing up in shorts. They began their jog towards the East campus, down through the busy Commonwealth. Kraft watched them as they ran by her. A young man smiled and greeted her as he ran by. Dimitri. He used to jog with her. A slightly painful wave of sadness overcame her, but Kraft pushed it off.
And so her journey began one year later. From that day at the steps of the Boston University Rich Hall, Kraft initiated the track of yet another deed to “protect and serve.” So much for simplicities, the generalized notion for Kraft was yet another day of sitting behind the desk within her little office, tucked away at the west corner of of CIA building in the downtown. Generally speaking, that was the day of a PSA agent. Paperwork, meetings, more paperwork, eat, sleep, more paperwork, meetings. It droned on. Undoubtedly, when action does occur, Kraft sometimes had the rare opportunity to be part of it. Whatever the case, she wasn't looking forward to any Chernobyl creeping in the upcoming months. More or less, Kraft would rather just find ways to avoid death. She already touched death once. She doesn't want to have to touch it again.
The smell of pizza and hot dogs drafted into the morning air. She soaked in the smells. It was certainly similar to her days in Washington D.C. After her apartment was compromised and after her entire life ripped from her, the government decided to relocate Kraft to Boston instead. A change of pace perhaps, but the past still inches its way back into the present. A man places quarters into the parking meter. Another reason why Kraft didn't want to the car – parking. Paying to park, not to mention finding a spot to park, was a horrendous ordeal she never wanted to have to deal with again. Luckily, her flat was only a fifteen minute walk to the CIA building.
She touched her right pocket; a 9mm pistol sat quietly within it. Every step she took, the pistol would touch her stomach through her blouse's fabric, reminding her of the fact that she was armed. Kraft hoped that should wouldn't need to pull it out for another year. Of course, that wasn't the case, but she wouldn't know yet. A second magazine fit snugly into her purse. She didn't need to check whether it was there. It always was.
A helicopter flew above her. It was a police helicopter. Kraft wondered whether it was flying to where the police car was going earlier that morning. An ambulance drifted across the road in the same location. She didn't bother thinking what had happened. As she approached her destination, Kraft caught sight of a BMW parked on the side of the street. It was a beautiful dark-green color. However, there was a giant chunk missing from one of its headlights. Kraft shook her head and moved on. Small parking spots, yet another reason why she didn't want to drive.
The Agency building didn't even looked like anything special. It was a nice tall structure, yes, but it didn't express any sort of importance. Whatever the case, the guards at the front seemed to give away the importance. Kraft flashed her ID and the guards nodded her in. The lobby wasn't what one may expect from a fancy agency. It was more like a hotel lobby than anything with a front desk. There were some people milling about, as well as chairs, sofas and some plants. The young man at the front desk looked up from his work. Kraft saw an MP5 submachinegun's back end sticking out from underneath a stack of tall papers.
“Agent Kraft! Welcome!” He seemed friendly enough. Not to mention new.
“Good morning,” she simply replied with a smile of course.
“Today is my first day and I am honored to be here.”
Uh oh, he's one of those, Kraft thought. “I hope you can be of excellent help to the agency.” That was so cheesy that it was funny.
The man, with a suit a size too large and a tie a tad too small pressed the button to open the metal door which lead to the inside of the building. “Have a good day.”
Kraft gave him the common “thanks” and entered. She turned right and walked up to the elevators. Kraft tapped the 'up' arrow and waited. The elevator doors opened and Kraft moved aside to allow a gentleman in a very nice suit to exit. He was quite handsome. The man smiled, nodded and left. Kraft felt a tingle but ignored it. She entered.
As the doors began to close she heard running footsteps, then someone screaming, “WAAAAAIIIT.” She recognized the voice.
Agent Ryan Brunner stuck his entire body, all six-foot four inches of it, between the door, wedging it back open. Brunner stepped in and looked at Kraft. He was, indeed, one of the best the PSA has to offer. If it wasn't for Brunner, the overseeing in Mozambique in the last year may have gone even more awry. Likewise, Brunner was the only one brave enough, or stupid enough, to enter solo into a heavily defended terrorist stronghold to rescue a fellow agent. He was tall, had yellow-brown matted hair, and a lovely, yet annoying expression on his face. He seemed to cheer up a year after the incident, but Kraft still sees him struggle from not being able to save many. It was a painful battle within each agent, but Brunner bounced back.
“Ugh, my coffee maker regurgitated all its abused contents on me this morning,” Brunner said as they rode up the elevator.
“And yet, despite that, you came on time, somewhat.”
Brunner fixed his tie. “I try my best.”
“Agent Ryan Brunner, the man who tries his best to get up early in the morning in the name of protecting the world, only to arrive on time to scribble on paperwork for the next four decades of his life,” Kraft retorted with a smile.
Brunner sighed, “Ever since last year, it has just been...empty. We lost some good people. And the government decided to pull us from the action, for better I assume.”
“Positives can't outweigh the negatives on this one.” Kraft was calm.
The two were silent on their ride up to the eleventh floor. A ding signaled the end of their morning meeting with the elevator. The doors opened to a hive of activity. Tables, computers, monitors, and screens blasted across the spaces, perfectly, hauntingly. As people milled about, talking through headsets and watching events play out, the two agents stepped into the CIA.
It was a beautifully gruesome sight. On one hand, the agents were keeping tabs on the rest of the unstable world. On the other hand, death, too, will be sent to the world over. Fair tradeoff, or so they say. Whatever the opinion, they were here to stay. And no matter how much Kraft was annoyed with the CIA, her initial entrance into it meant that the hatred had to be buried within an emaciated wall of smiles.
But there was an eerie feeling of annoyance today. Everyone around her shouted irresponsibly into their phones. It was worse than a 911 Emergency call room. A flurry of nonchalant activity. Sometimes, Kraft wondered how everyone copes with the shifts within the time. How, a person can bounce so easily back from loss. And, just how, someone could drown out the big picture for a smaller perspective. Tunnel vision, a sure sign of an objective's downfall.
Kraft and Brunner walked past the CIA hall into their own PSA wing. It was much calmer without so much drastic drama and voices. The room, was, unfortunately, about the same as the CIA one. In fact, it originally was a CIA room. After some changes within the location for PSA last year, much of the resources had been diverted over to Boston. Again, for a change of pace. What didn't escape; however, was the tenacious aura that filled deep within the group of people. Whether they were field agents or new recruits, all of them stood on edge, waiting for events where they were needed. Targeting their prey through computers, and through eyes high within the skies. Yes, they too, spied upon the common citizens, much like what the rest of the government is doing anyway. Kraft originally hated the idea, but once again, that was what she got herself into. That was her job. And she was to keep that job.
So they punched in their codes and the doors slid open. And the two of them stepped in. Most of the people simply nodded their head as they entered, still trained on their monitors. Director John Tennyson, who at the time was talking to another agent, turned to come see Brunner and Kraft. They exchanged their usually salutations.
“So director, any important news coming in from our agents across the pond?” Kraft asked.
John Tennyson, a man in his fifties and had a head of cropped, white hair and a thinning mustache, fixed his tie and stretched his body. “Well, Agent Haddock reported that Nivea's second in command, Okuwedir Ezu, has moved into a few villages across Mozambique's Northern borders. Told us that Ezu and his men burnt all the crop fields and killed all the men and children. He said that before they killed them, they tenaciously raped the women and then gutted the women in front of their dying families. That was just five hours prior.”
Kraft winced deep inside, but she never revealed it physically. It was her job to hide her real self. No PSA agent could be him or herself anymore, but what he or she should become.
“And none of this would make it into the new this afternoon I presume?” Kraft asked.
Tennyson sighed. “You know the drill long enough for me to have to explain it again.”
Changing the topic to some extent, Kraft questioned, “Did Haddock have any information regarding Nivea's next plan of action aside from the slow 'divide and conquer' strategy?”
Tennyson twisted his mustache then said, “As far as Haddock knows, Nivea is still striding by the old ropes. He's continuing the same strategy for the past decade, yet, despite the initial slowness of the concept of action, he's picking up speed as he obtains more support. Not to mention higher tech weapons.”
“Probably from through Chernkov and Aldolfo from Rio,” Brunner added.
The team discovered in the past year that Victor Chernkov, the rogue Russian armsdealer, was trading money and drugs with the gangs in Rio for the construction of a drone. Undoubtedly, the resulting drone was faulty but still capable. Aldolfo, leader of one of the most influential gangs within the Rio favelas, took the coin and continued on with the project. The team was deployed into Rio to try and prevent the trade from continuing. However, after losing Agent Ferguson to assumed capture, the president ordered them to be pulled back. Ending without much success was a certain understatement. Likewise, they lost the ruby, which had the vault codes to the Dissension “recipe.” That was also taken by Chernkov and his men. It was a massive PSA failure, added on by the fact that they actually lost Chernkov during a tactically planned ambush, executed by Aldolfo and Chernkov's men, just minutes after successfully detaining Chernkov himself.
Of course, for Kraft, she never witnessed any of that. While the entire event played out, she was back in Washington D.C., being chased down an alley by men; and not the good kind either. After a massive shootout during her last dinner with Dimitri, which turned out to be called on by Collins, Kraft went home, only to find her keys and phone missing. The alleyway lead to her safety, but she was already followed. She didn't remembered much as to what had happened. All she remembered was that she woke up in some airless room with two men that were arguing. What was one of their names? Oh yeah, it was Frost. Then she blacked out and woke up in a cell, which lead to Collins' interrogation. She could still feel Collins' sharp pen puncture her chest. The wound tugged and she winced again, this time physically.
Tennyson looked at her and saw her discomfort. He decided to move the subject on. “Anyway, as far as we know, Nivea is still going about in his old ways. However, I have zero news regarding Chernkov. The issue with this man is that he's a ghost. We, or anyone for that matter, haven't seen his s***-bitten face show up anywhere on the map.”
“Perhaps, he's just back in Russia,” Kraft suggested.
“Or maybe the Middle-East or South Africa. I heard it is Nivea who is calling the shots these days. Maybe our 'friend' Naja Nivea has successfully made Chernkov his lap b****.”
“Or,” Tennyson paused, “he could be somewhere else.” He stared at Brunner with slight annoyance.
“One target we can't find or touch despite knowing approximately where he is. Another target we can successfully touch and we don't have a damn idea as to where he is.” Kraft sighed in disbelief...and exhaustion.
“It's the cycle of life. The animal is just growing up. It needs to start learning the skills to succeed, find and capture. This is the time to persevere. This is it,” Brunner stated.
Kraft actually smiled. “Always keeping things optimistic. Is that what you told yourself on your way to breaking in that mansion over a year ago to save Agent Holly?”
Brunner cocked his head. “Maybe I did say it, however, it was the objective that mattered. Words and wisdom only bring,” he paused, “support.”
Kraft couldn't agree more. Just then, Agent Kaitlyn Holly walked into the room. Brunner stared. The agent's long blonde hair fell in curls across her shoulders. He was mesmerized again. Kraft laughed and said, “an unfortunate relationship for Agent Holly.”
Holly's blue eyes pulsed in content fury. “If only I could recognize my failure to understand the negative moral of seeing Brunner beyond work.”
Everyone gave a chuckle and departed. Kraft left for her office and left Brunner to talk to Holly. She felt another pang of sadness deep inside. While she only hoped for the best between their relationship and she showed her dogged resistance to loss, Kraft is secretly, maybe desperately, trying to mend the gap left by Dimitri's death. But with internalized sadness and remembrance of the past, Kraft, crestfallen for now, knew moving on would be improbable. So, therefore, she is biting her time and fleeing her dependence. On one hand, having someone to fill the gap for her would create a fast solution to her woes. However, if something was to happen, all the sutures would be lacerated from her wound again. So she opted for the former: self reliance.
She stepped into her office. A small room really. It had a bookshelf on one end, a gray desk with a large laptop propped onto it and a small trash can that sat next to the desk. Aside from these, there was a coffee maker at the corner of the shelf, along with a painting of a country scene on her wall. She dropped her bag and her gun onto the desk and looked out the window. Past the building next door, she could see the Charles River again, snaking its way across town and depositing into the basin.
Kraft dropped onto her chair. She flipped on the monitor. It hummed then came to life. On her desk sat a photo of her father, who lost his very battle to liver cancer just a year after Kraft's birth. She doesn't remember him, just his image. It was truly haunting; not knowing someone who was so close to you, but that was that. His father's balding hair and scrunched expression only revealed partial understanding. If one looked carefully enough, one could see the darkened, chestnut colored scar stream down from the edge of his eye to his mouth. A wound from Afghanistan, where he served his tour without medals, but with dutiful honor. So thus her life stemmed from her single mother, who was a teacher at a local middle school. Growing up was harsh, but Kraft found the little time she had writing poetry, to no one in particular and with no true form, just with a personal purpose. It relaxed her, but at the same time, stimulated her. Sometimes, during her cross country meets in high school, she would recite those poems within hair mind, fueling her to press on. So there, a memory. Perhaps, it was for the better. However, on those tempestuously dreary days, Margaret Kraft would curl into the corner of her room in torpid stupor, a quiet wave of tears rushing from the caverns of her eyes to the outside world. It was peaceful, despite the shedding of water. The pounding rains outside the window gently soothed her. And the clasps of distant thunder gave a frozen chill into her sorrows. She never truly met her father, but the photo will forever serve as a reminder to the past, a past which brought her to who she is today, in the present. Such a fragrant gift.
And then there was the picture of her mother. Her mother, the trying warrior which forged the paths for Margaret Kraft to survive and prosper. The mother who worked so hard to ensure Kraft's success. Kraft sometimes worries of her, living far away in Texas. It saddens her how she couldn't see her mother for months, only to have to lie to her about her job when the holidays do come. It tugged on her mother and she knew it. But at times, the break was out of her hands. She followed orders - most of the time. But when moments of havoc arise within a serene city, actions had to be taken and sacrifices had to be accepted. Her mother. She misses her mother. But, what luck, technology has allowed new ways to communicate. And that, to a lesser degree, shortens the presumed, physical distance separating the two of them.
The black login screen of the computer brought Kraft out of her stupor. She typed in her information and the computer hummed into life. That's when she saw the news bulletin that the CIA, FBI, NSA and PSA all share. A page of updated information. This time, real news. She loved that. It's only so unfortunate that rarely, if any, of these news actually made it out to the public eye.
Undoubtedly, most of them didn't really concern her all that much: big jewel heist, money theft, massive credit card fraud, auto theft of a Ferrari from a celebrity, more stealing...
She scrolled down to the section that may actually have some interest. Murder of South African Inventor and Scientist: Ashton Nelson. Kraft clicked on the article, it was a news excerpt from a local South African Newspaper. The title read:
Murder Within The Research Community
Ashton Nelson, 35, Inventor of New Water Channeling System as Well
As Founder of the South American Institute of Disease And Human Health,
Found Dead within His Home (Gunshot to Blame)
The paper entry went on to describe Nelson's findings and discoveries within West Nile virus as well as malaria. Kraft instinctively opened her eyes, zoomed in, and read the rest of the article.
Dr. Ashton Nelson, founder of DHH, was found shot to death at his mansion overlooking the ocean at Cape Town. Investigators put blame on local anti-government organizations. No specific person or group has yet been suspected of fowl play. The bullet which killed Nelson was from a Glock 17...
The rest of the story was pretty much descriptions of his past findings and a testament from his wife. Likewise there weren't any photographs. Kraft forwarded the story to Tennyson. She checked her schedule on her computer. Paperwork regarding last week's issues, then time at the gun range in the basement, physical training and then lunch. Following that would be more training and paperwork. It seemed like another other day. Kraft went back to the news page to see whether anything was directed towards her. A giant zero on top of her emergency message inbox was self explanatory. Similarly, her phone was vacant of important emails, voicemails or texts. The emergency light on her phone, which signaled a distressed agent, was dimmed. She scrolled through the news page to the bottom. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there wasn't anything there that signaled anything of importance. She closed the page. On the opposing wall, a one year old newspaper clipping, titled, Remember Djimbi hung in an oak frame. It has been over a year since the incident that Kraft didn't get to see, but it was also the same incident that they lost Major O'Dooley, attache Liana Kabins, PSA researcher Josh Greene and countless soldiers. It was a bloodbath, and the picture of Ezu standing on top of a heap of dead American soldiers triumphantly holding up an AK-47 assault rifle only heightened that day of downfall. And next to that, a newspaper clipping of Assault on Local Restaurant: The Pendulum Suffers Forty-Thousand In Damage. That last day she met Dimitri. How the gunmen shot and killed a waitress who blocked Kraft. How the two of them escaped the shots of the three gunmen when they broke in and saved a young boy and his mother. How, despite everything, they made it through the fire fight and injured two of the three gunmen. How, after everything, she had to explain to the dead waitress' parents about the loss of their daughter. And how, it was the last day she shared an intimate kiss with Dimitri. She blinked back into reality when Tennyson entered with his arms behind his back, still looking professional.
“So it appears you saw the article.”
“Yes sir, I certainly did.”
Tennyson coughed. “Do you believe there is any connection to our friend, Nivea?”
Kraft sighed, perhaps from just years of festering fatigue, “From what I can tell, it seems very logical; however, due to the unusual circumstances as well as the fact that he was shot with a Glock 17 pistol, I am still skeptical.”
“They're moving up in the world. Yesterday it was some bombs made of aerosol cans and an AK-47. Today, they are rolling with drones and Western arms.”
Kraft turned to scrutinize. “Are you sure, sir? I don't believe they have the full capability, at least, not at this stage with the famine and everything still going on.”
“Ah, but Nivea is a smart one. He finds ways. Plus, there is always the possibility that Ezu saved a souvenir from last year.” He nodded solemnly towards the Djimbi newspaper clipping.
Kraft sighed again. “Or perhaps, it is indeed from Nivea and he's sending us a preliminary message.”
Tennyson looked at Kraft with an approving smile. He crinkled his thick eyebrows.
“It was a message wasn't it?” She seemed to rear up in fascination. It was a brilliant sight.
Tennyson pulled his arms forward, revealing a photograph. It was a photograph of Dr. Nelson's body. “I think that link you sent me was missing some photos. Likewise, I just got this from Washington D.C. from the leading director himself.”
Kraft took the photo and examined it, to her horror. Dr. Nelson's face was fairly defaced and had a bullet hole in his forehead, but one could still see the once vibrant, intelligent and handsome man behind the destruction. Blood still ran from the entry wound down to his neck, shirt and floor. Parts of his brain splattered behind him on the floor, albeit unfocused within the photo. However, the interesting bit was on his stomach. What appeared to be slash marks were actually words upon closer inspection; words lacerated from his very own flesh. Kraft felt a slight chill down her spine. It read: Dissension Shall Rise, The West Shall Fall and It Will Be Total Victory. And the next thing Kraft saw stunned her. Within the corner of the frame, the black colored Glock 17 could be seen. Despite the grainy consistency, the engraved letters still stood out. It read: K.H.
Kraft was speechless.
Tennyson only stared at her, emotionless.
Brunner walked by, saw the evident tense situation, and came in. Kraft, dumbfound and without voice, handed Brunner the photo. He gave a slight gasp as he examined the picture within his hands. Kraft could swear she saw Brunner's normally steady hands tremble for a split second, then become still.
Then, Agent Kaitlyn Holly walked by and looked at the group. They looked back at her in surprise, interest and confusion.
Holly scrunched her brow and stepped in. “Is something wrong.”
“Kaitlyn, take out your handgun,” Brunner ordered.
“Brunner, what are you asking me to...”
Tennyson barged in, “Please, Agently Holly, just...”
Holly pulled out her black pistol and laid it on the table. It landed with a small 'plop' as the stock hit the wooden surface. The gun slid a fraction of a centimeter and stopped on the edge, just far enough so everyone could see. There was deafening silence in the room. The letters, K.H., carved ever so carefully into the plastic stock, gleamed radiantly in the office lights. A siren sounded some ways away, followed by distant, yet indigent, thunder. A tense mist fell upon Kraft's office.
They questioned Holly. Oh they questioned her all right. And the process was wasted time in honest belief. Holly had no clue at first as to what had happened. Then she found out about Nelson's death along with the fact that it was her pistol that was used to kill him. Undoubtedly, the team knew, before even the start of the “interrogation,” that Holly wasn't the one to blame. She had the solid alibi of being in the United States when Nelson was shot. It was as simple as that. For a few minutes, Holly didn't know how the weapon could have gotten within the hands of the enemy. But a cold coffee later, Holly remembered.
“My capture,” she said.
Tennyson looked up from the desk. Holly and Brunner were outside the room, but the microphone meant they could hear what she was saying.
“What about your capture?” Tennyson asked.
“Last year, when I was captured, the first thing Nivea's men did was take my pistol, it was that same Glock 17. I know it because I only had two guns that I had my initials carved into it. The other is on my office desk. After Brunner breached me from the mansion, I never got back the pistol. I'm guess that that's what they kept all along.”
“A weird fascination,” Brunner sighed next to Kraft.
Kraft looked on. “Not so much fascination, more like expressing a point.”
“Brunner, we build a lot of enemies within what we do. Enemies ranging from the pizza delivery guy to the highest terrorists in the world. Whatever Nivea wants us to know, he is being slightly vague.”
Inside the room, Holly and Tennyson stood up to leave.
Brunner and Kraft got off of the desk they were sitting on. “Waste of time, like I said.” Brunner mocked.
“Nothing at this point is a waste of time. We need details. Hell Brunner, we don't even know where Chernkov is. Every connection, every miniscule piece of information, every available clue, counts. Nivea sent us a message saying he is going to watch our downfall. If a terrorist sends that message to the rest of the civilized world, we have a calamity at our hands.”
“We get messages like that from every living human being in the world. Think about it Kraft, the British Prime Minister pretty much told us to 'eff off' when we decided to take over an investigation because it might have had a lead to Nivea last month. Yes, the message appears potent, but we can't just jump to conclusions. We need evidence. We need proof that that was indeed Nivea who wrote the message. We need total proof that he is giving us a direct threat, and not a dry bite.”
Kraft sighed, “You're right. However, if they have Holly's gun, I believe it's too stark to be a coincidence that the same Glock 'happened' to appear a year later as the bringer of death to a renowned scientist. And a scientist that made great leaps within biomedical research for insect borne diseases at that. The connections are just too strong for me, and you for that matter, to ignore.”
Brunner sighed, partially defeated. “Good god Kraft, if this was real, what can we do? Go to Africa again to try to douse the flames? To stir the hornet nest? To smoke the beehive? Last time it didn't end up so well.”
Kraft poured more gasoline into the argument. “That is only a single option, we can always find others.”
“What OTHERS? I'm not going to risk losing anyone ever again.” Brunner paused, “I'm not going to risk losing you again. Last time was too close already.”
Kraft looked down.
“Listen Maggie, there are times when we just have to wait for a short while and see what happens. Maybe, just maybe we will get more solid of a lead then.”
Brunner calling her “Maggie” pulled on something deep within Kraft. It wasn't negative necessarily, but it did stir up the past memories again on that very day. The only other person aside from her own family who called her “Maggie,” was Dimitri. She let it slip by this time. “Thanks.”
So much for simplicities, the team's resources only stretched that far. For now, Kraft could only fester within her mind and question the issue at hand. Hopefully, new leads will emerge after another exceedingly long and tumultuous debacle. But that was that, there was nothing they could do to save the sorrows. At this point in time, the main goal is to simply attempt to douse the rigid flames springing from across the ocean, to the best of her own ability, as well as the ability of the team.
Brunner and Kraft parted ways with only the message to “keep alert for new information,” or so Tennyson said it. Undoubtedly, success was only a matter of unrealistic pressuring for ever more information, as it always has been for the PSA. But for Agent Kraft, her jobs never appeared to have a conclusion, a resolution. 11:00 a.m. Time to drop by the gun range in the basement for her daily shredding of targets. Kraft left her office open but switched off the light. She strapped on the weapon belt with her nine millimeter and stepped out. Kraft signaled her intentions to Brunner by pointing to her holster. He gave a static nod and went back to his monitor.
Margaret Kraft felt a relaxing chill after she left the room; the buzzing room of CIA operators that droned on relentlessly. She pressed the down key on the elevator and waited. Patiently, carefully. Thoughts rushed through her tried, emaciated mind. Was there true retaliation by the S.H? What about the “message?” Were there connections between that and future strikes? And Holly's gun. Is it just a symbol of the events of the past? Or was it a signal to events within the future? They must have left it there for a reason, right? Finally, what about Dr. Nelson? Does his research have anything to do with his death? The connection between Dissension and West Nile superficially appeared too close for Kraft's personal comfort. However, what was there to even prove at this instance? For the record, she can't prove it.
The elevator opened and Kraft stepped in. She tapped the “-1” key with her elbow and watched the metal doors slide close, entombing her with a bullet-proof shroud of metal and wood. It was calming, but it was also vibrantly tenacious. A deathly loud silence encased Kraft. The cells. Collins. When Collins chained her thin arms to the cell. Watching her, waiting for her to suffer, observing her energy deplete. The icy water that drowned her lungs. Her wound bleeding voraciously into the frozen abyss that was of the bathtub, filled with that same icy water. The warm elixir of human red blood cells and spent platelets, clotting factors, diffusing warmly across the chilled water, only to be frozen on contact with the salted liquid. Vibrancy.
She breathed in deeply to push away the fear. A trickle of sweat was wiped away. Within a second, the doors parted to a large room, furnished by a glass and chain wall. A guard was within that glass case, reading a newspaper. He looked up at her, emotionless, and opened the door to the staging room. Kraft opened her weapon case, put on the muffs and goggles, and breathed in the smoke charged air. The gun range, her friend and enemy. She was the only one there, alone, separated, silent.
Agent Kraft loaded the bullets and cocked the gun. It was set. The loud click echoed across the large room, bouncing across the metal walls until it faded into the distance. A paper target down range. Ten meters away, distant, but not too separated. Kraft slowed her breathing, but didn't stop it. Dimitri once told her that letting the oxygen flow kept the brain alert. She fixed her right eye on the target and squeezed the trigger three times. Another series of echoes, but these times louder, sprinted boldly across the everlasting silence and space. All three landed in the head region. She fired again. Three shots. All three landed in the chest region. Kraft moved the target back to twenty meters and pulled the trigger, the bullets pierced the paper with vivacity and alacrity. A section of the spent target tore off and drifted downwards, floating like a slaughtered dove. It was violently beautiful.
She fired the last bullets and loaded a fresh clip into her pistol. Kraft repeated the process with ferocity and ease. However, her shots began to arc after her third clip. Three strikes and dead. Eventually, despite valiant efforts, the bullets completely missed the target itself. Her hand trembled, tired, spent in itself. Kraft lowered her gun onto the platform below, almost dropping it. The tugging within her chest raged forward, causing Kraft to gasp air. She shifted under her clothes, trying to massage away the pain. A painful grimace. Then, her hands were lowered onto the platform to steady her breathing. There wasn't anyone else, even the guard was gone. Hyperventilation. Was it a cardiac arrhythmia? She believes not. Kraft inhaled a deep breath, the smoke entered her lungs and she coughed. The tugging became even more prominent. But then it all stopped and she began to pick herself back together. She steadied herself and put the weapon and equipment back into the holster. Kraft ran her hand through the edge of her hairline and pulled out the band. Her brunette hair cascaded downwards. Her breathing slowed down to normal. Out of nowhere, Brunner walked in to the range as Kraft steadied herself on the platform.
He bore a worried look. “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine.” She picked up her gear, coughed once, fixed her blouse and swifly left the gun range. A down-point was over. Brunner looked on in question, but decided not to press. He loaded a fresh magazine into his pistol and aimed down his sights.
Stars danced beautifully across her head, but Kraft was okay. Sometimes, worry only caused extra havoc. For her today the fear was almost revealed, albeit to Brunner. Perhaps, too close for comfort, but it is life. It was time for lunch anyway and she needed some fresh air. Kraft entered the elevator to get to the first floor. Upon entering, she realized that it was quite empty. Whatever the case, Kraft exited the building. Open air diffused into her lungs. Relief.
A few minutes of peaceful strolling led Kraft to her destination. An overwhelmingly pungent mix of smells drifted into her nose, strengthening her hunger. Hunger, how she desperately grasped for food a year ago. How Collins tried to starve information out of her. How, she didn't consider the drug laced bread; how, that hunger drove her to insanity, to pain and anger. But Collins was dead, and that was that.
She dragged herself down the street, trying to avoid the cigarette smoke which drafted itself across the city's air in various, toxic pockets. Her lungs were tired; she was tired. Across the street, there was an open air cafe, one of the many slowly appearing across the whole of Boston, just West of Quincy Market. Kraft sat down on a small metal table with two seats. She stared at the empty one. Empty. Blindness, open confusion, dependence. It was simple madness. No, she can't have that now. Consequently, despite the problems, there wasn't anything Kraft could do. And it was up to her to swallow the salty, liquid realization; and soon. So now it is simple: observe, watch and wait.
The waiter came up to take her order, behind her mind the image of her last supper with Dimitri rushed inwards. The bullet that should have killed her. The waitress that took the shot for her with her heart. The fact that one person was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place and time that allowed Kraft to survive. Death right in front of her just a year ago. Death that was meant for her. Diverted, disengaged and tired. The waiter stared mannerly into her eyes with a smile and asked her again. She decided to get a light salad with bread and some cod soup. Cod soup, how Dimitri ordered cod soup at her last dinner; the dinner that was never eaten. He scribbled the words onto the stained yellow pad and moved off to another table. No deaths today...yet.
She tasted the salty, sweet concoction with her parched, thirsty tongue. The liquid bolus washed across her desperate mouth. She dug deeper, yearning for more. It stimulated her senses of pleasure, of need and of dependence. Kraft took more and more, simply for enjoyment and want. Ten minutes later and her salad, soup and bread were history.
She asked for the check, paid it, then left a small tip for the waiter before making her way back to the headquarters. He survived near her, he deserved it. So many have died near her, so many... The earlier events slowly evaporated from her mind; into the holding bin at the least. Good. Clear her vagrant thoughts. Kraft picked up her pace and veered to avoid some children playing soccer at the side of the road. Daring, just meters away from oncoming traffic. She smiled at them. Noting that she would need to not let her own children act with such negligence, but that thought was also diverted to the holding bin.
A dark green BMW drove by, ten miles per hour over the limit she guessed, and the kids stepped back to let it pass. Taking the risk for personal joy, Kraft thought, a calamity she hasn't understood. Risk taking yes, but not personal joy. She took risks doing what she is doing today, but was it for personal joy? Perhaps not. She knew that Ryan Brunner eyes the job for the pure reaction of the safety of citizens; however, she is still questioning why she's in the PSA. For fame? Hell no, people rarely even know they existed or know of what they do. For love? So goes that. For vengeance? Perhaps. To stop terrorists? Yet another battle that can't be won, if at all or only just.
A warm and salty mist blew into her face, distracting her from her thoughts. She tasted the sweet elixir once again. It tingled her mouth's deepest reaches. Calming, caring, sensual. She closed her eyes to take in the soft dew. Dimitri. Oh no, her thoughts were on him again. The first time they kissed. The salty taste of lime ridden tequila. A mix of sour strawberry, entwined into one. The trading of their lips. The aggressive hunt for more and more of each other. The same concept that later lead to more. Memories. How she yearned for love, for sex, for admiration and intimacy...and passion. The wind stopped, along with the mist. Kraft felt unfinished and crestfallen. The memories came swarming back. She did her best to ignore icy past. That was when she saw the four SWAT vans parked outside of the Headquarters, flanked by over a dozen patrol cars, lights flashing...ominously. She knew all too well that another down-point had begun.
Suddenly, Kraft's phone violently beeped. It was the sounder connected to the headquarters in case of emergency. Well, it rarely goes off but she guessed today was as good as any day. Or as bad as any day could get.
She approached the formation and flashed her badge to a uniform with the name tag “Smith.”
“Sir, what's going on?”
“Agent Kraft, I'm glad you are back.” He glanced at the waves of police uniforms and FBI agents chatting away in the corner. “We have a problem. You need to speak to Tennyson immediately,” he checked his watch, “as in three minutes ago.” Brutally abrupt, but he entered the crowd without further words.
So, stubbornly, Kraft danced her way across the crowd, up the stairs, and into the main lobby. Tennyson, along with half a dozen other agents were crouched over a computer screen. Crows clambering desperately on a carcass, feeding from it.
“Director, I was...”
Tennyson rudely cut her off, “Kraft, where the hell have you been?”
“Sir, I was just at lunch. The sounder only went off outside the building.” She knew it was a mere excuse. A heavy sheet of worry fell across her body.
Tennyson gave a disapproving smile. “Kraft, do you know a Dr. Stevenson?”
“The Dr. Stevenson who genetically altered viruses to attack bacterial infections?”
“Indeed. Well, his daughter has been kidnapped.” Tennyson was blunt, emotionless and condemning.
Kraft; however, was taken slightly aback. Confusion, corruption, annoyance. They intertwined and struck at her brain. “Sir, why am I needed for a kidnapping? True, Dr. Stevenson is a high profile...” She paused, Kraft had developed a hunch. A small hunch. Worrisome, perhaps, or perhaps an overstatement that shouldn't even be said. Deep within her, Kraft questioned as to whether to speak out her hunch, but decided to wait. No need to develop more animosity for the time being. It had already been a long day and certainly, it will get longer. So, she kept it severely blunt, too. “Sir, what's going on?” A minute tinge of frustration rose deep within her voice.
Tennyson didn't speak. He was unperturbed. Instead, he motioned, with a swift gesture of his long arms, for the other agents hovering around the computer to part. The group separated, like a silent wave, and exposed the vibrantly silver monitor sitting in the center of the desk. The new computer hummed quietly, silently, without exasperation. Haunting, how it stored all the information through an invisible tube deep inside. Everything else, everyone else, was living silent.
“Kraft have a seat.”
She obliged and sank her tired legs into the soft cushioning. Reprieve, relaxation, rest. It overwhelmed her body. No tugging yet.
With a quick flick of his finger, Tennyson flipped on the bright monitor. A slow, grainy video came into play on the dusty screen. The old camera was shaking violently and there were female screams in the background. They heard random voices of men shouting, then a splitting gunshot. Silence, another deafening silence which engulfed and diffused across the driven crowd. The screen went dark, a darkness that further spread across the office. From the ashy darkness, a message appeared without hesitation, without equivocation: “She's going to be next. Wait For Instructions. Otherwise, Dissension Shall Rise, The West Shall Fall and It Will Be Total Victory. And She Will Be Dead. And The Antidote Shall Fall Too.” The end. Black filled the screen, crawling haltingly like carrion beetles drawn toward a rotting quail carcass, but only just.
And thus the silence continued to echo. Was it just Kraft? Or was it all. People in the distance dimmed. Lights were shut off. Panic arose. But it was only a hesitation within her thoughts.
Tennyson spoke first. “I think we need your help.”
“So it has been confirmed...” Kraft felt a sudden flash of images. The blood came spilling back across the water, out of the cold bathtub, onto the moist, dew drenched ground. A ground which bred the very pests which sprang from the concrete walls. Grazing, effortlessly on the surf. Tasting, sipping, drinking the iron rich elixir. Rats, floating from one dying soul, taking from it, extracting it, sustaining themselves from it, from Kraft's life blood. The blood dries, leaving only a sanguine smirch along with the sour, coppery scent of a forgotten odor. Kraft snaps out of it.
“So it has.” Tennyson stared quietly at her. “I want you to become part of this. I believe you will be able to help us.”
She inhaled. “Why me?”
“Why not you?” With that he motioned to the other room. “Dr. Stevenson's in there. He's waiting to receive instructions. By parameters, we have all his devices under surveillance. Now we watch, wait and hopefully pounce.”
Kraft wasn't sure were to start. “By all respect sir, how am I of help?”
“You were the cure a year ago, perhaps, you can cure the plague again.” There he goes, setting the chessboard.
“Perhaps.” Wild thoughts crashed across her head. Devastation, relentlessness, craving. She was also a target. She had lost the game before it even began.
Tennyson motioned to the crowd. “Well gentlemen, I think we should allow Agent Kraft in on the development so far. Perhaps,” he glanced back at Kraft, who was still brooding quietly, “perhaps we will figure something out.” He nodded to a tall man with thinning hair, “Samson?”
Agent Samson came out and handed Kraft a tablet. She took it without questioning. “Agent Kraft, all the information we know so far are written down on that page. Now, as far was we know, the S.H. or Chernkov are full in on this. The question is: why Dr. Stevenson? What does he have that they want? Or is it just a simple cash deal?”
Kraft skimmed through the data, slightly revitalized. “We know Dr. Stevenson has been working for almost a decade on reverse engineering bacteriophage viruses to target infections caused by microbes. It appears logical, after last year's debacle with the Dissension malaria, that Chernkov or Nivea would be interested in scientists with similar skills. Dr. Garrison found the Dissension strain last year and was instantly targeted. Earlier today, we found out that Dr. Nelson of South Africa, who was involved with something similar, was shot.”
Samson and the rest of the agents typed into their tablets and laptops.
Tennyson stepped up and opened something up on the big screen. It was a picture of a dark haired, brown eyed woman, who couldn't be more than twenty. “Anna Stevenson, nineteen. She was down near lower Quincy this morning for an errand when witnesses said she was snagged by three masked men and dumped into a car. A woman who was working at the flower shop across the street described the car as a olive colored BMW...”
“With a broken headlight....”
Kraft's cut-in dragged everyone out of their typing.
Tennyson, who normally would be offended, ironically curled his dry lips smiled. “That's why we need you Kraft.”
Kraft proceeded to describe everything she saw. From this morning seeing the parked location of the BMW, to the similar looking car speeding down the street and avoiding the playing children. Unfortunately, Kraft never saw the exact location of where the car went. However, her description matched the witnesses. The police set out an APB on a green BMW with broken lights.
Kraft knew all they did were simple amateur setups. She knew the whole process wasn't just a simple point by point play. She knew Nivea and Chernkov and she knew it wouldn't working via the book. Undoubtedly, Kraft was stuck in square one again: No true clues, no true locations. However, the message of “the antidote” falling with the rest of the world made it only so personal. Vigorous, tenacious, empowering. She realized she had to be reborn again, awakened, if she was to find closure; for the world, for Sarah Stevenson, for Dr. Stevenson and for her. So, swiftly, she grabbed the packet and entered the dark, tumultuous, conference room, but not before she took out a little file in her locked desk drawer.
Dr. Stevenson, a man of fifty, grey haired and spent, sat at the rear of the conference table, red eyed, surrounded by agents. She knew it was going to be another flashback to a year ago when she had to talk to the parents about their deceased daughter. But this time it was different. This time, there was a chance. Perhaps. Perhaps there was a chance.
“Hello Dr. Stevenson, my name is Margaret Kraft, I work for a branch of the CIA in charge of overseeing anti-terrorist organizations. If I may, I would like to ask some questions.”
Dr. Stevenson turned to her. He tried to smile. She knew it hurt him. “Sure.” That was blunt.
“Thank you.” Kraft tried to keep it sweet. She had to keep the impression. “What do you know about Dissension?”
Dr. Stevenson inhaled. “You don't think that it had to...” He paused.
Kraft let his sorrow push in her slightly. She tried to balance out the aggressive questioning before working the roughness in. “We are all just trying to get our bearings.”
He nodded. “Dr. Garrison was working on ways to combat malaria a few years ago. The Dissension strain was kept only as a guide for it was a failure.”
Kraft had set him exactly where she needed him. “Doctor, why was it a failure?”
“It couldn't be stopped. At least, not until about a year ago.”
Right on track. Kraft pressed. “So tell me about this 'cure.'”
Dr. Stevenson looked extremely confused at the questions; however, he continued. “Dr. Garrison found antibodies within a person that had attacked the antigens within the Dissension parasite. I helped helped him isolate the antigens and create the vaccine. I also helped create a shot that was to kill the parasite after it infected a person. From what I know, the original cure host was actually pretty sick at the time. I heard she was shot up pretty badly and that we had to give her the prototype antibiotic we created in order to prevent the parasite from manifesting her body and killing her. Honestly, that is all I know. Why are you asking me this? I didn't do anything wrong! We were sworn to not tell the secrets and I didn't!” He was getting teary again.
Kraft smiled, everything was falling in place. She kept her composure despite the new wave of shouts from Stevenson. “Dr. Stevenson, tell me about your work within the last few years.”
He sighed, “I was working with the National Institute of Health and the CDC to develop a strain of controlled viruses to diminish bacterial infections within post-surgical patients. Likewise, that same technology could be used to treat patients suffering from necrosis, especially the skin eating necrotizing fascitis. It was all for good, Agent!”
He was teetering on the edge. First denial, then aggression, then the silence. Kraft needed to get to him before he hit the silence stage. “Could this method be used for harm?”
Dr. Stevenson leaned back. “I guess if you biomedically engineered the virus to target healthy host cells instead of the infectious bacterium, you can potentially create harm...” Dr. Stevenson's eyes opened. “You don't think...”
Kraft continued to keep her composure. “Would you have the capability to do this?” She was getting warmer.
“Not with what I have right now. I assume if we strategically enhance the virus manually, we could potentially obtain potential. But that can result in simply a 'weak' virus that infects the host, only to be overwhelmed by the host's immune system.”
Kraft nodded, wrote something down on her notepad, and continued. “And how can you potentially make this virus 'strong' instead of 'weak?'”
“Well, if I was to make a virus unstoppable, I wouldn't want to play around with RNA all day to find the correct sequences to enhance its capability. While in theory it is possible, in practice, changing biological coding can tough. I would simply utilize a virus that was already evolutionarily powerful enough that not much evolved to combat or counter it.”
Dr. Stevenson sighed. “Agent Kraft, why are you asking me these questions? Do you think the terrorists want to make a bioweapon out of Ebola? Because, containment of Ebola, due to its power, is extremely difficult. Likewise, it extirpates its hosts too quickly for spread.”
“Not if you make it 'strong.'” Kraft glanced at the doctor. Still composed.
“Are you saying that they want...That can't be.” Even Stevenson was doubting himself now.
Kraft stared at the other agents, then at Dr. Stevenson. “Gentlemen, I believe the ransom isn't money.”
“Then what?” Then it hit Samson. “I think we need to have a meeting.”
“What's going on?” Dr. Stevenson was teary again. This time, Kraft could see a small droplet of salty water cascade down his cheeks, only to be trapped by the stubble underneath.
“Dr. Stevenson, we need to have a word.” Kraft motioned for everyone to leave the room.
After a few seconds of murmuring and shuffling, the others were gone. The two of them were alone in the conference room. A heavily silence, too, cascaded into the vestibule. It was empowering.
Kraft pushed the box of tissues towards Stevenson. He didn't take any.
“Doctor, I believe they don't want your money. They want your knowledge.”
“What? But how...?”
“You have the capability to weaponize viruses. The S.H. has shown interest in biological weapons. We've already seen Dissension; it almost worked, but thanks to a person, we found the cure. That was a parasite, we are talking about a virus now. I don't think I need to enunciate the difference to you.”
“Are you saying that in ransom for my daughter, they want me to manually create a biological weapon composed of viruses for them?”
Kraft was silent. The thought finally sank in.
“Listen. Dr. Stevenson, we don't know the whole truth yet. However, you have to be one hundred percent prepared for this to be true. Now we wait for the phone call.”
“What am I supposed to do?” His voice raised into a higher octave, echoing directly into the empty room.
“We have a talk with them.” Kraft knew this was going to be the worst part. Waiting for orders, from the enemy, so the protagonists could continue on.
Dr. Stevenson frowned. Another tear streamed, desperately, onto his face. “Are we negotiating with terrorists?”
Kraft managed a smile. “Only if necessary.” It was true, negotiation was sometimes needed. Just not for the public to know. But Kraft believe that this was a different situation.
Dr. Stevenson was a mess. He was downcast, crestfallen and torn. But that was that. He was still a person, still living, and still able to help Kraft save a life, or lives.
“We wait now.” She paused, “Thanks for allowing me to speak to you. I apologize if I was too tenacious, that's just how we have to do things sometimes.” She smiled.
“Thank you.” The Doctor slumped back into his seat. He continued to monotonously glance at his phone, waiting for the call, or anything, to happen. He was in the “silence” stage.
As Kraft was walking out the door, she paused again. “By the way Doctor.” She walked up to him and looked down on the torn man. He glanced up at her. Their eyes met, not of love, but of respect. “Dr. Stevenson, thanks for saving my life.” With that she dropped her hospital release files along with her malaria test results from a year ago, the same paper written by Garrison and Stevenson, onto the desk.
Stevenson's eyes opened wide as Kraft left the conference room. The echoes dimmed, the sounds faded and the phoenix was born again. Success, for now.
“Kraft, I want you to meet Mason Evanson from the CIA; he will be assisting you on this case.” Tennyson introduced the agent. He was tall, had brownish curled hair, and brilliantly green eyes.
Kraft stood to shake hands. “It's a pleasure.”
“Hello Agent Kraft, we are working to ensure the safety of Ms. Stevenson; however, I understand that you may be interested in utilizing this opportunity to intercept the S.H. and its affiliates.”
“Yes sir,” Kraft paused to switch on the giant monitor at the front of the CIA meeting room. A map of the world appeared. “We have reason to believe the two occurrences, first, of Dr. Nelson's shooting, and second, of Anna Stevenson's kidnapping, are connected by the S.H. and potentially Victor Chernkov.” The images of Sarah Stevenson and Dr. Nelson appeared on the blue screen. “We only have a single vestige connecting the two crimes; however, by context, a conclusion can be drawn. One could call it a hunch. One could call it a clue. Whatever the case, the quest for Nivea and Chernkov had been dry for almost a year.” She waited for a second, “Until potentially today.” Kraft followed by bringing up the picture of the dead Dr. Nelson. “Notice the words engraved into his skin.” There was a murmur from the crowd of agents. Evanson stood next to her, watching, but silent. “The sentence matches to the one within the ransom video sent to Dr. Stevenson earlier today. Please take a look at the mention of Dissension. There are only a few people in this world that know of Dissension's existence. A large majority are, in fact, sitting right in this room.” She cleared her throat. “Let's go back to Dr. Nelson for a second. He was young, innovative, and potentially a next generation scientist that can save our lives. Similarly, Dr. Nelson worked with various institutions around the world for better understanding the crypts behind the West Nile Virus. While none of his findings proved astronomical, there was true potential, until earlier today. Dr. Nelson was found dead at his Cape Town home, shot with Agent Holly's Glock 17.” Another murmur from the crowd. Pens creaked desperately across dry paper. Fingers tapped ominously across tablets. “Undoubtedly, the connection to our own Agent Holly is both extensive, yet superficial. She lost her gun one year ago when she was detained by Nivea. Coincidentally, or perhaps not just so, her same gun was used to kill Dr. Nelson. Was it a message?” Kraft paced to the other side of the screen. “Perhaps it is.”
“What proof do you have to S.H. action?” An older gentlemen spoke out from the crowd.
` “Good question. Proof. What do we have that connects the two events? She brought up a screenshot from the ransom video. 'The antidote.'” She paused, maybe because of worry, of fear, or of readiness, she didn't know. “The antidote for Dissension. That was me.” Another murmur from the crowd.
Evanson stepped up. “Now that we've established the basics, I believe the next step is to wait. At this instance, we don't have any leads other than a high possibility of a connection to the S.H. So unless someone within the group has any better ideas other than to track down the untrackable Nivea and Chernkov, by all means, speak up.” The group stayed silent. “Good, gentlemen, and lady,” he tried his best to smile at Kraft, “I believe it is time to wait.”
Questioning further and developing tactics was dead at best. Kraft knew this. No leads, no forms, nothing. Square one. Darkness. A brilliant light cast into the room, bathing its furniture with vibrant shine, only to be broken by the constant shifting of human bodies inside. Nervous, anxious, tempestuous. It was, nonetheless, a view to behold, a sight to witness. Agents, of all ages rushed around, talking, chatting. It almost looked as if it was a party, but there weren't cocktails. There wasn't music. There wasn't happiness, joy or exposure of inhibitions, only angst. Kraft sipped into her cold, stale coffee. It was going to be a long night.
Brunner and Holly returned from their briefing. They walked straight up to Kraft.
Brunner spoke first, “The bastards are back again.” Blunt, Kraft liked that.
“Thus we reached a new chapter within our battle with the S.H. Maybe this time, the ending will be secure.” Holly shook her head.
“Perhaps.” She waited, “Hopefully.” Kraft stared past Brunner and Holly to Dr. Stevenson, who was still cooped inside the conference room, face buried deep within the palms of his hands. “I have an idea. Meet me in my office.”
They entered Kraft's office, which was still partially bathed within golden sunlight. For safety measures, they shut and locked the door. The 'click' of the lock sealed the three agents inside the pen. Voices disappeared from the outside world. They were alone. Another vibrant silence diffused across the room.
Kraft was quick to break the ominous silence. “What if we tried our own negotiation?” A risky question and she knew it.
Brunner instantly opened his eyes and jumped at the words. “Kraft, we haven't the slightest idea of the ransom in itself and you are already suggesting that we negotiate with terrorists?” He was angered, and slightly baffled to say the least.
“Remember when there wasn't negotiation last time?” She nodded towards the Djimbi Massacre Clipping on the side of the wall. “Are you ready for another repeat, this time on American soil?”
“I'm sorry Kraft, but I don't believe you are thinking logically. We are not talking with the S.H. or Chernkov about possibilities.” A rising tension hit the office. In a split second, the temperature appeared to skyrocket. Just for a moment.
“So what Brunner? Are you just going to sit there and let innocent people die? Are you just going to be so egotistical and patriotic that you let that patriotism reach nationalism? Are you going to watch world crumble across your very eyes? Think about the questions Ryan. We aren't working against the pizza delivery guy, we are working against Nivea and Chernkov! Dammit, we have to balance out to both their favor, as well as our favor.” Kraft was elevated, but she knew it was going to be useless debating against Brunner.
Brunner opened his mouth but stopped. He sighed impatiently. “What's your damn idea?”
Kraft suddenly felt insulted, but she tried to internalize it. “I don't have an idea unless we know exactly what they are asking for. All I am suggesting is that we talk with them instead of letting them regurgitate their words to us, then have us work like lobotomized monkeys to make their words come true.” Kraft knew the response was futile the moment she said it. Undoubtedly, it turned into the ever so wrong response.
“Then for f***'s sakes, Kraft, stop wasting my damn time with your so called ideas. I don't need to know your process or how we should handle this situation. I just need to know your damn results. I am still in disbelief that, of all people, you are the one who wants to negotiate with terrorists considering they put a bullet in your chest.” He shook his head in agitated disbelief. Brunner, with a stable flick of his hands, unhooked the lock and stormed out. The slamming of the door left an audible echo that caused some of the other people in the halls look, but that was that.
Holly looked at Kraft, who ran her hand tiredly through her hair and sat down heavily on her chair. “Kraft, you know that he takes offense to that.”
“I just don't understand why he was that tenacious. I mean.” Kraft tried to find the right words. After a few seconds, she realized she failed to do so.”
“What?” Holly pulled up another chair.
“Chernkov killed your parents.” Kraft knew that was also blunt, but she couldn't coat anything anymore for the day.
Holly was slightly taken aback by the sentence. She had tried her best to forget, but the even over seven years ago still vividly played across her mind. “Yes, Chernkov killed my parents and dragged me from my house. However, I don't see what this has to do with anything?”
Kraft stared into her ceiling, contemplating, then looked back into Holly's ocean-blue eyes. “How do you deal with that? How could you go on letting Chernkov tell you what to do when he was the one who took away your family?” Kraft's breathing rose.
Holly took a long, deep breath, held it, then let released it from her nostrils. A long, pondering sigh. “Margaret, I know you miss Dimitri.” Kraft jumped a little from the mention of his name. Holly cleared her throat, “However, to answer your question.” She paused again, “With time, even the deepest of wounds will heal and mend. Can all sins be forgiven? No. But can we live in terms with it and adapt to the new changes? Yes. That, Kraft, is the beauty of the human race. We adapt, we change ourselves, we change our environment. Whether these changes and adaptations are for better or for worse, it is up to us as individuals, not as a species, to decide. Chernkov killed my parents, yes, it is true, but Brunner is wrong. Rules are rules, true. However rules don't have to be broken to be tested. One doesn't have to play far away from the boundaries of rules. You can run a soccer ball at the edge of the line and it still would be in play. You are still obeying the rules, but you are playing asymptote and getting close to the edge. That is something I believe Brunner needs to learn and you have already learned. Instead of staying away from the safety of the open field, sometimes risking the edge of the rule itself may allow you to score your goal.” Holly smiled, stood up, and left the room in a ghostly motion. Her heels echoed in the hall and faded around the corner.
Kraft was alone again.
Another vast gap separated Kraft from Brunner during the next hour. Awkward silence at most, or maybe, just simmering down for a night's work. Coffee poured, tea warmed and minds cleared, it was yet another way to awaken the spirits. Kraft sat quietly inside the control room. All around her, motions of people, beeping of machinery, the raucous calls of the printers. It blended together in a symphony of probiotic medley.
She glanced towards Dr. Stevenson, a pen and paper to his right, a mug of cold coffee to his left. Such a view of melancholy. Kraft wished she could help him more. Perhaps, but probably not. Now, the wait continues. Tennyson came over and sat down next to Kraft. She didn't look up.
“You know you can't save all.”
Kraft looked up, “Sorry?”
Tennyson smiled. “Kraft, I still remember the day you matriculated into the PSA. The moment I saw you, I knew there was potential. But sometimes, and now is one of those times, we can't let the past erupt us into the present.”
Kraft was confused, but she didn't speak.
“I know you are still hurt from a year ago. Not just physically, but mentally. It's showing and you need not hide it.” He was blunt.
Kraft put down the file on Chernkov and let out a long, plunging breath. “I just can't believe they are targeting the person with whose knowledge has allowed me to be sitting here today.”
“It's interesting how the world sways.”
“I wouldn't call it interest.” She almost smiled, almost.
“Listen, if you need rest, I can put someone else on...”
She cut in, deep. “No.”
Tennyson gave out a laugh. “Tenacious, but don't go through with any thoughts yet, Kraft. The battle is still fresh. Let the pieces play out a bit.”
“Perhaps, or, perhaps the longer we wait, the farther we fall behind.”
“Perhaps,” Tennyson nodded, “But inserting tactically into a situation without prior knowledge may allow one to fall faster.”
“Sir, what happens if they kill her? What then?”
“I guess we don't want to find out, do we? Good luck, Kraft.”
Tennyson stood up to leave. Kraft broke the symphony of machinery. “Sir, what if we end up letting them play us?”
Tennyson paused, “We negotiate.” And walked into the rest area to get more coffee.
Kraft wasn't sure what message Tennyson was playing at, but she had a plan. And she was willing to play it, with or without Brunner.
She walked past the crowd to Dr. Stevenson. He looked up at her, silent, face scarred. “Dr. Stevenson, I need to talk to you,” she looked around, “in private...”
The shots struck the center of the target, causing it to rip apart. Kraft lowered the gun and backed out of the range. No rises in heartbeats, no changes in tugging, everything was okay. Okay. She repeated the words to herself. Thus, the long trek back to the control room.
Evanson was directing his group while Kraft entered. He turned towards her. “Agent Kraft, a word?”
They stepped away to the corner. “We want you to understand that the top priority is to ensure the safety of Miss Stevenson, not to find a connection for you to take down Chernkov or Nivea.”
Kraft sighed. “The connection to Nivea and Chernkov has been dry for the past year. This is the one opportunity we have. If we don't take it, we might not get another.”
“Which is why we greatly appreciate your support on this, but bottom line, this is mainly a kidnapping investigation.”
“Agent Evanson,” she looked him in the eyes, “Do you have someone you love?”
Evanson was confused. “I do?”
“If a person was to kill that person you love, what would you do?”
“And no more?”
“Only just, unless necessary.”
“Then perhaps it is time to make it a necessity, for all those who have had it happen to them.”
“Kraft, don't make this some vendetta built upon years of antagonism. Make it an assurance policy that allows a person to live.” Evanson's voice deepened.
Kraft looked down. “If this was a personal vendetta, I wouldn't be sitting in this office, would I?”
Evanson was silent.
“Thanks for the talk, I will do my best to not get too in your way.” Kraft stepped away, leaving Evanson to stare at her back. The questionable negligence has been played.