“The future is in our hands, now, in this moment. It is my dream, and our duty as the pioneers of the human race, to see that future expand into something truly beautiful and breathtaking, a true legacy for our descendants. That we, as a species, might accomplish what our forebears never could, is my greatest hope for mankind.”
The twenty-third of July was just like any other day for the thirty million people living within the cold, steel walls and technicolour lights of Nihan city. There was nothing particularly special about the date, nothing to stand out, to cause disquiet or confusion.
It was perfect.
The train rumbled its way along the tracks, suspended miles above the ground floor with little between but low-rise buildings and the occasional park. The tracks, walled in on both sides by a bubble-like shield, serviced the entire city, run in one giant loop with a net of smaller branches eventually leading to the city core. Nihan was famous for it.
Seated atop the middle car, with little to keep him in place but his own centre of balance and the foot jammed against the side of the roof, Lucca watched the world through the magnified vision of a rifle scope. Gazing through the cross-hairs at the city passing by below him, he marveled the mobs and groups that lingered through the streets, fighting to get past and through each other like so many bickering ants.
The wind whipped at his face, throwing his short hair into disarray and pulling at his clothes. The scarf wrapped snug around his neck fluttered with the slicing breeze. Still, he did not stir, hands steady as he waited, gaze alighting on the edge of his target.
Idly, he matched his breathing to the moving numbers in the rifle scope, those double digits slowly winding their way back to zero. He had less than two minutes to complete his task, a brief window of seconds where the angle, the wind, the velocity, would be perfect for the shot. Should he miss, the entire operation was blown. The D.I.S would swoop in, dismantle the unactivated explosives, and the whole movement would be at risk.
But, nevertheless, he was hardly concerned. He trusted his rifle, and he trusted himself. Six years, he had never missed a shot. He didn't intend to start now.
The train slowed slightly, the engine rounding the bend ahead of it’s carriages, and he swung the rifle sharply to the left, focusing on the tall building rising from the profile of short, squat houses and modest workplaces. A large, fenced area expanded around the perimeter of the main tower, all concrete and steel and electric wire.
The prison yard was empty this morning.
Lucca smiled to himself, catching a glimpse of yellow in the rifle scope and adjusting his aim accordingly. It was discreet, a tiny yellow box hidden amongst the tall, dead grass climbing the wire fence. It was no bigger than his hand, yet it was packed with enough explosives to destroy the whole train he rode on, let alone a prison fence.
The smile, slow and predatory, turned into a feral grin as he traced an imaginary line in his mind’s eye, found another tiny, yellow mark, this one inside a second story window. His counter flashed red, and he adjusted his sights back onto the first box, inhaled deeply, and tightened his finger over the trigger.
From two miles away, the sound was strong enough to draw a loud collection of gasps from the passengers inside his chosen car, the explosion bursting up in a shower of sparks, flame, and uprooted dirt. On contact, it would have been earsplitting.
Lucca paid it little mind, however, already swinging his focus up and to the left, finding his second yellow box and repeating the process. This time, he paused to watch the fireworks, a sardonic feeling of pleasure filling his chest as he watched the explosives work their magic, concrete and wires bursting out of the wall in all directions, battering the ground beneath with debris.
The sirens started ten seconds later.
The shocked silence in the carriage below was soon replaced with inane chattering, speculation and concern, no doubt, but Lucca blocked the sounds out, focusing only on his breathing as his scope swung around the site of destruction, seeking, searching.
“Come on, come on…” he whispered, ever aware of the moving train, of the secondary counter ticking down the seconds until his position became wrong and his rifle useless, all the while the scope swung, back and forth, up and down- there!
Rue walked with the leisurely stroll of an old, entitled woman, and Lucca could have quite happily killed her for it, settled for grinding his teeth together as he was forced to watch her painfully slow progress. The woman sauntered her way through the destroyed prison level, stepping daintily over the fallen guards, and all but skipped out the hole in the wall. Seconds before his train rounded the second bend in it's tracks, Lucca saw her turn, lift a hand in his direction, and he could almost feel the arrogant smile that would have stretched her lips.
Sighing softly, he dropped the rifle to his lap, the world rushing back into a normal focus and leaping back into real size as he calmly began dismantling the weapon, placing each piece carefully in the bag at his side. The train was beginning to slow again, drawing towards one of the thousands of stations littered throughout the city.
Slinging the bag over his shoulder, he rose into a crouch and leaned over the side of the carriage, peering down at the fast approaching buildings below. The station was a little less than a mile away, and with a quick grunt, he propelled himself off the roof, freefalling past the flickering windows and falling into an easy roll.
The roof’s gravel crunched under his landing, rifle digging into his back as he rolled and stumbled back into a crouched position. Overhead, the train rumbled on, the whistling wind that had filled his ears since boarding now replaced by the hum and buzz of the city. Turning, he walked to the edge of the roof, looking out over the sweeping streets, the cold grey steel, the flickering street displays.
High above, Nexus burned, dousing all the planets in it’s blue light and providing life to the descendants of Earth’s last refugees. Far to the north, in the city core, the climbing bulk of the D.I.S tower blocked out the horizon, casting shadows on its neighbours and acting as a constant reminder to the people that the Department were always watching.
Lucca smiled again, feeling an odd exhilaration rush through his veins as he watched that building, and in his mind’s eye, those who dwelled within. The future was uncertain, but one thing he knew for a fact, “Your move, Nye. Play your hand well.”
* * * * *
“So, Quinn, tell me this; do you really feel you’re ready to return to fieldwork? It’s not just some, I dunno, misguided urge to deliver justice? Or perhaps a method of escaping from your problems?”
Quinn hated psychiatrists. With a vengeance. They poked and prodded and pried, with little respect for privacy or comfort zones. Always judging, always seeking out the weak spots.
“At least, that’s what I should be saying.”
Well, most of them anyway.
Kaelin was an exception to the rule, a diamond in the rough, and she knew it. Somewhere in her mid-thirties, she was nearly a decade his elder, yet it didn't show on her softly smiling face, nor in warm honey eyes.
Quinn raised an eyebrow questioningly in response to her words, folding his hands in his lap. They were seated in Kaelin’s office, the soft brown and red tones around them soothing to the eyes after the harsh steel and greys, neon lights and broadcasts of the city, with the only sound to break the comfortable silence the quiet tick of her digital clock. Every office on this floor had walls lined with soundproofing, blocking out the distant hum and buzz of the city, the closer bustle and noise of the tower itself. The silence was comforting and strange at the same time.
“Be honest with me, Quinn,” Kaelan began, leaning forwards to rest her elbows on the arms of her faux leather chair, “Are you sure, completely, that this is what you want? That you’re ready? I know how hard these last few weeks have been for you.”
Quinn took his time, linking his fingers together in his lap and gazing down at them. Kaelin’s carpet was a soft beige colour, nearly a match for her desk, but a little too alike to the blood-red shade that would fill his head every night.
He lifted his eyes from the plush rug to meet her gaze, seeing his own blue reflected in her honey brown. “Kaelin, you and I both know there is no miracle cure for this. I’m not just going to wake up one morning and be suddenly better, this,” he paused, frowned as he fought for the right words, “This nightmare is going to follow me until I get some closer on what actually happened that day. And I can't do that unless I have my badge and a team.”
Kaelin sighed, leaning back in her chair and rubbing her brow, a resigned look on her features. “I know. Tallan needs you back in the field, and much as I hate to admit it, so do you.”
They lapsed back into silence, both their gazes drawn towards the solitary file taking up the coffee table between them. Confidentiality markers emblazoned the top and bottom of the file, but the bold, black letters stood out more. Q. X. Conleith.
Quinn looked back to Kaelin, took in the almost pained expression on her face as she sighed and reached for the pen ever in her pocket, flipping open the file to it’s last page with the other hand. “This goes against everything they taught me at the academy, but…” An elegant scratch of the pen and flick of the wrist later and her initials were drying on the page, “You’re cleared for duty.”
Quinn nodded, silently closing the folder and taking it with him as he rose from the plush seat. Kaelin rose with him, tucking her pen back into her breast pocket as she reached out a hand to snag his arm. He stilled, turning his head to meet her worried gaze.
“Quinn…” She scowled, glancing at the carpet beneath their feet, and he shifted around to face her completely, “Just… be careful out there, alright? Don't do anything..stupid.”
He made a face, lifting his free hand, file and all, in a peaceful gesture, fighting the urge to smile, “Cross my heart, Doctor Emerson.”
Kaelin snorted, a wry sort of smirk pulling at her lips as she released his arm and shook her head, bemused and exasperated both, “Don't know why I ever worried.” She muttered sourly, earning a chuckle as Quinn moved for the door.
Skimming his wrist, and the thin band secured there, over the door lock, he stepped one foot out of the office before Kaelin’s voice drew him back once more.
“Oh, and Quinn? Tallan wanted to see you.”
He nodded once and stepped out, the door sliding shut behind him. Emerging in the bright, steel walled hallway, he winced slightly and blew a breath into his cheeks, glancing down at the file in his hands. Full reinstatement at last, after two months of waiting. He gripped the file tightly in hand, glancing down the deserted passageway before swinging to the right and making a beeline for the elevator.
Standing at over fifty floors high, the D.I.S tower was one of the biggest buildings in Nihan city. It was a semi-permanent landmark, had been for as long as anyone in the last three generations could remember, and was a constant reminder of the Department’s presence, both as security to the civilians, and a threat to the enemies of the city.
The Department was the main security and defense force of the entire Nexus System, with branches and stations spread on both inhabited planets and the staff count to match. All Agents went through special training to qualify as a protector of the system, intensive screenings a must for any and all recruits. Four years was the standard stint at the D.I.S’ Agent run academy.
Quinn had done it in three.
Record-breaking was no easy feat, many a sleepless week the cost of his labours, but the rewards of graduating, a qualified D.I.S operative, had certainly been worth it. Of course, there would always be some who doubted him, thought he was too young for the job. Most people were at least sceptical, doubting the skill of a fresh eyed nineteen year old compared to their own experience, but one particular Agent had taken a shine to him, taken him under her wing and shown him the true, nitty-gritty, down to earth work of the Department.
Without her, he wouldn't have been half the Agent he was.
Broken from his thoughts by the monotonous announcement that he had reached the forty-ninth floor, Quinn blinked and straightened from his position against the wall of the elevator, stepping out quickly and tucking the file, his file, under his arm.
He stepped straight into a small office, reminiscent of a smaller version of the downstairs lobby, and was greeted by the smiling, if weary, face of the Assistant Director.
“Miss Reyes,” He greeted her, dipping his head towards the door slightly behind her desk, “The Director asked for me?”
Cordelia Reyes was several years his elder, her light hazel eyes showing as much, though fiery red locks done up in an elaborate bun seemed to deny the fact. Quinn had known her almost as long as he had been an Agent, but it never hurt to respect the boundaries, not after so long.
“Quinn Conleith, my word.” She stood from behind her faux mahogany desk with a warm smile, stepped around it to grasp his shoulders and hold him at arm's length, eyes weighing him up even as they lit up with the light of her smile.
He let the stiff, formal stance die a swift death, patting her forearm with his free hand, “Good to see you, Cordelia.”
She nodded once, releasing her hold and glancing towards the door behind her desk, “The same, Quinn. I’ll just let Tallan know you’re here.”
She moved back behind her desk quickly, tapping a button on her digital console and settling back into her chair, “He’ll see you, now.”
Quinn nodded and blew out a breath, swiping his band before the door lock again before Cordelia spoke, her voice hushed for his ears only.
“Quinn… I’m sorry for your loss. She was a brilliant Agent.”
He swallowed once, glancing back through suddenly burning eyes, and nodded, feeling a crushing, irrational sense of anger at the sympathy in Cordelia’s eyes. “I know.”
Being Director of the largest organisation in the System had its ups and downs, but Quinn would hazard a guess that getting to design your own office was one of the perks. Stepping into Tallan’s, he was reminded that he hadn't set foot within this building for over six months. A lot had changed.
Where once there was wall was now a wide open window, crystal clear glass that was guaranteed to be either bullet-proof or one way. Or both. Whichever the case, the transparent surface commanded an impressive view of the city below, the forty-ninth floor affording a widescale sweep of the entire west quarter. Quinn whistled, raising an eyebrow slightly as he turned towards the tall frame seated, quite comfortably, on the edge of a seat that probably cost more than Quinn’s apartment.
“Quite the view you’ve got yourself there.”
Tallan chuckled, the sound both sardonic and tired, and rose from his perch, his impressive height reminding Quinn rather rudely of his own small stature. He made a face, crossing his arms over his chest, and scowled in the face of the Director’s vague smile. “Think I would’ve preferred it if you stayed there.”
Tallan laughed, closing the distance between them in a few short strides and clapping a hand heavily to Quinn’s shoulder. The recently reinstated Agent grunted at the impact, tilting his head back to meet Tallan’s gaze as his own frown faltered and was soon replaced by a weary smile.
“It’s been too long, Quinn.”
He snorted, shook his head as Tallan released him and moved around the large, simple desk set before the window to claim his thickly padded, leather chair, “Damn right. I come back and you’ve renovated the whole place.”
Tallan huffed, amused, before his eyes alighted on the file in Quinn’s hand and he raised a brow, tipping his head slightly.”Your file?”
Quinn glanced down at the thick collection of papers, lifted them to set before the Director, and nodded. “Yea. Kaelin signed my reinstatement ten minutes ago.”
Tallan smiled, pushing the file to the side, and linked his fingers together on the desk top. “Excellent, then we can move on to business.”
Immediately, the atmosphere in the room seemed to grow heavier, the noise outside dulled. Quinn unconsciously leaned forwards, finding himself drawn in by the infectious aura Tallan exuded.
“Blackwatch?” He asked, the name almost a whisper on his lips, and his companion nodded once, reaching into the top drawer of his desk to pull out a file, thicker than Quinn’s own, and push it across the desk.
“It’s been six months, and we still can't fix a trace on the bastards. They leak information to draw us in, bait us, plant their bombs and expendable agents, then disappear into the smoke. We’ve tried dozens of different tactics, but nothing works; any prisoners refuse to talk or just outright kill themselves. We don't know who they are, what they aim to get, or where they get their initiative from.” Tallan waved a hand, frustration evident in his features, “In short, they're leading us a merry goose chase.”
Quinn nodded thoughtfully, reaching for the file and flicking through it shortly, skimming over the dozens of reports, catalogues of damages and Agents lost. His hands tightening slightly as his gaze caught on the bold title; Sector 3 Depot Bombing.
“Quinn, run! Don’t look back, just, just run. Please!” Her eyes were desperate, pleading, even as she pushed him away, threw him towards the open door. He stumbled, ears ringing as he turned back to face her, panic in his chest, suffocating him.
Quinn blinked rapidly, shaking his head as the hazy images began to fade, leaving light silhouettes in his eyes. Tallan was peering at him expectantly, a slight frown pulling at his brow, and the awkwardness was palpable as Quinn cleared his throat quietly, “Pardon?”
Tallan raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, the expression on his face speaking volumes. Instead, he merely tapped a finger on the thin file now resting on the desk top. Link frowned, placing the Blackwatch folder aside and flicking open the new one. A few lines in, he froze, gaze snapping up to meet Tallan’s own.
“Captain?” He gaped, dumbfounded, and the Director nodded once, a barely-there smile tugging at his lips.
“Congratulations.” Tallan turned his chair and stood, moving over to gaze out the window at the city below. Nexus’ blue light shone at its midday height, silhouetting the Director’s tall frame, “They’re getting bolder, Quinn. Just this morning they attacked Westgate, killed twelve officers and two Agents. The damage was so severe they’re still trying to find out who escaped, but we know Rue Cassel is gone.”
Quinn scowled, searching his memory for the name but coming up blank. Tallan saved him the trouble of asking.
“She was otherwise known as Thannis Dayn, an illegal cyborg. An assassin.”
Quinn pressed his lips together, the pseudonym more than familiar to him. Less than a year ago, he had been partly responsible for Thannis Dayn’s arrest and imprisonment. All wasted effort, apparently.
He sighed and glanced back down at the papers in his hand, eyes skimming the first lines again. He dropped his head back onto the top of his chair, watching Tallan’s back as he spoke, “Tallan, I can see why you want this squad, a special task force, but are you sure you’ve thought this through? My track record is hardly stellar and… well, I hardly fitted in with just a partner, let alone a whole team.”
Tallan snorted, folding his hands behind his back comfortably and glancing at Quinn through his reflection in the window, “I don't doubt you’ll make a fine Captain, Quinn. Trust yourself.”
His tone was lighthearted, but there was a deeper probe in the words as well. Quinn frowned, dipping his gaze to the hand fisted in his lap. Tallan knew him the best of anyone inside the D.I.S, short of his former partner, had been an inspiration and a guiding hand during his drive to graduate early, and then his early years as an Agent. Quinn wouldn't go so far as to say they were friends, not quite, but their relationship was certainly more attached than was generally recommended for one of so high a status.
He blew out a breath, resignation in the sound and his face as he realised this wasn't a fight he was going to win. He chuckled shortly, slapping a hand on his knee as he glanced at Tallan in his peripheral.
“The Council won't be pleased. Never did like me did they?”
Tallan smothered a sigh, visibly wincing in his reflection, and Quinn took a vindictive kind of satisfaction from the reaction.
“They’ll just have to accept it. Much and all as promoting a freshly reinstated Agent might not be standard practice, I need you leading that team, Quinn.”
The Director turned, placing his back to the window, and his gaze was grim as he spoke, “I need people I can trust, now more than ever. These are dangerous times, and it seems like everyone is waiting to stab us in the back.”
Quinn’s own expression sobered as he took in the gravity of Tallan’s words, only to aware of how real the threat was. He had experienced first-hand how badly their situation was turning, and it was not a pleasant truth by any means.
“Gather your team, find your feet. For now, I have another squad taking care of the Westgate incident, but I need people I can rely on in this fight. As such, it’s important you can work together, know each other's ins and outs ”
Quinn nodded slightly to himself, able to see the sense of the Director’s words. If Tallan was implying what the Agent thought; that there were moles within the Department itself, having people, even if only a few, that he knew were loyal to the cause would be pivotal to finding the infiltrators.
He stood, then, taking the files with him as he did, “Where can I find them?”
Tallan smiled briefly, seeming glad Quinn had accepted the somewhat rushed way things were proceeding. If nothing else, the Agent had learned that when the times were tough, it was best to follow the course of the creek, rather than fighting the current.
“They’ll be settling into their new posts at the moment, but I’ll have Cordelia call them together in the sim rooms.”
Quinn nodded, once again, and saluted briefly with the files in hand, “Alright. Let me know the second you have anything on Blackwatch.”
Tallan snorted, shaking his head with a wry sort of bemusement, “Trust me, Quinn, I want to get these bastards just as badly as you do, but it's important you have a properly functioning team when you go after them. Otherwise it’ll all fall apart.”
Quinn conceded the point with a inclination of the head, turning to leave as the conversation, if it could be called that, drew to a close. Tallan watched him go, an unintelligible look in his eyes as the door hissed open, however, before he could step through, the Director coughed.
The Agent turned back, one hand on the doorframe and a brow raised in question.
“It’s good to have you back.”