*Don’t hate me. I didn’t mean for this to be this long. I’m not sure what happened. I’m sorry in advance. Skim if you want.*
Part II (Kirby)
Alexei lay on a surgical platform, fully unconscious. Langley hadn’t been exactly what he had expected. An automated arm detached from the platform and whirled up a quarter-sized saw. Then it began cutting into the back of Alexei’s skull, which, though cauterized and drained, still dripped a yellowish fluid from the incision.
Harkov stood in the viewing room while the procedure took place- well, he didn’t have to think of himself as Harkov anymore, did he? I’m Sullivan again. He told himself.
The surgical saw withdrew, and mechanical pincers plucked a blood-covered silicone chip from Alexei’s medulla. The chip contained a revolutionary recording system, reflexive clamps, and a tiny capsule of cyanide connected to a jet-injector which could feed into the spinal cord.
“Just in case.” Sullivan scoffed to himself.
Surgeons entered the room and began dressing the incision, and the chip was handed off to a Langley technician. Just then, the door to the viewing room opened, and two men entered. Sullivan knew the first man; it was Nathan Gould, the overseer of the sleeper program. Sullivan had corresponded with him often when he was still in Russia. The second, as Gould soon announced, was a Detective Surewood of the Erie PD, as unlikely a visitor to Langley as any.
“Surewood worked with Agent Federov on a joint task force between their PD’s.” Gould explained. “In 2012, there was a drug smuggling ring that stretched from the Midwest to Beirut, and Federov and Surewood were critical in dismantling it.”
“You worked together?” Sullivan asked.
“We did. You could have called us friends. He was fluent in English, not even an accent, really.”
“He’s here to help our department shrinks work up a psych profile for Agent Federov.” Gould said.
“I would like to see him if I can. Once he wakes up.” said Surewood.
Alexei gritted his teeth as the nurse removed the first round of syringes from his major muscles. The bound incision in the back of his head throbbed. One, two, three, four…. He stopped counting at nine and focused on sitting still. I don’t even know what that is. Alexei thought as he stared at the mix of steroids and antibiotics in one of the syringes. “You’re done for now.” the nurse said.
He rolled his sleeve over the injection marks, then checked his recently-issued pager. Surewood had sent a request for Alexei to meet him before he left for Erie. It was the last thing Alexei felt like doing, but Surewood was a friend. Alexei took an agency car to the suggested street corner on the D.C. limits, in a shopping district beneath a bustling overpass. It was late into the night by the time Alexei got there. Surewood was waiting in an SUV. Alexei strolled to the car, and he and Surewood clapped hands and shared a few inside jokes. “Why the cloak-and-dagger?” Alexei asked.
Surewood dropped the small talk, and his tone grew somber. Alexei’s face matched the sound of his friend’s voice as he listened to the narrative. Alexei glanced around the darkened block- an unconscious tick of his. He returned his attention to Surewood as the detective’s tone took on an even more charismatic note. The instant after he did, however, he registered something odd; there had been the slightest variance of black in the reflection of a storefront window a few dozen yards ahead. Alexei’s breath caught in his throat as his fast-twitch mind screamed ‘danger’. At the speed of thought, he instinctually rewound his mind back a fraction of a second, and he found himself staring at a frozen Surewood, his open mouth stilled, mid-speech. Before his eyes, Surewood chattered on, but behind them, Alexei saw unmoving moths stuck around unflickering streetlamps, halted planes trapped in the stilled night sky…
…And a gradiating shadow in a window reflecting the outline of a man. A gleam danced off something in the man’s hand.
Alexei snapped out of his mental reconstruction, and he flinched, tensing, his hand twitching toward his gun. It was well he did; a searing line of heat lashed Alexei’s ear as a vapor trail sped away from the side of his head. His honed reflexes, coupled with a surge of adrenaline, caused everything in the world to slow tremendously. Alexei’s eyes followed the warp just in time to see a window pane get pierced by the bullet and fracture into shards, the pieces catching the light of a muzzle flash. The flash bloomed brighter, lighting the block, refracted in all the shops’ displays. The glare was disorienting, but the windows’ multiple angles allowed Alexei to pinpoint the position of the shooter, using the silhouette of his own body as a reference.
Before Alexei could respond, the pain kicked in, causing him to stagger; out of the corner of his eye, he saw a piece of his ear cartilage whistle through the air, trailing blood. He pressed one hand to the wound and drew his weapon with the other, whipping it towards the ground while holding the slide to cock it. He took a step; he heard his shooter running down the street sidelong to him. The man twisted and fired at Alexei as he ran. A trail of rounds pummeled the side of Surewood’s SUV, and another wave of pain caused Alexei to lose his balance. He fell, firing sideways, but it was like falling through water. Jagged lines of bullet-holes punctured the walls behind both shooters. After what seemed like an eternity of falling, Alexei hit the ground, firing a last shot that tagged the man in the hip.
The shooter lurched, a paroxysm running up his leg and into his arm, causing him to drop the weapon. Alexei’s gun clicked empty, and a loud revving filled the streets as a van sped around a corner toward the shootout. Alexei rose partially, the bleeding tracts in his arm and ribs burning like pitch. He staggered forward as the wounded shooter made an abrupt hook toward the van. The tires of the vehicle squealed as it cut across the street, braking hard. The door slid open, and two men jumped out with submachine guns. The original shooter limped closer, and his comrades raised their guns and fired at Alexei.
Alexei’s pounding heart had completed a course of blood through his body, bringing a fresh surge of adrenaline; Alexei reached into his coat, kicked into a sudden roll, and pressed the mag eject on his gun. He came to a stop, a new magazine in his weapon. A spray bullets pinged off the asphalt where he had just been. Alexei shot back, twice, and the two men dropped; the van behind them was splattered black in the poor light. The first shooter reached the van and fell into it as the vehicle peeled away, crashing through the glass first floor of an office building and onto the street on the other side, heading towards the overpass. Alexei sprinted ahead for a clear view of the street, calculating how far a van that size could travel on a flat tire. He reached the corner, sped around it, slid to a stop, took a deep breath, and fired.
His body was humming with such mind-altering clarity that he could see the subtle variations in the tracer’s otherwise straight flight path as it sped toward the vehicle. The bullet hit the van in the rear left tire, and the driver jerked, slamming into an oncoming city bus. Sparks skittered between the vehicles, and bits of glass rose into the air. The van jerked in the opposite direction then, and slammed into a pylon of the overpass with a deafening boom. Tongues of fire leaped from the engine block, and a hail of parts and concrete rained into the street. Alexei lowered the gun and returned to Surewood, shuffling in pain. Behind him, the van’s engine burst into flame.
The doors of Surewood’s SUV looked like a Pollock piece. Vapor rose from the SUV’s compromised gas tank, and tiny pieces of glass from the damaged windows fell clinking onto the street. A thread of blood raced down the driver’s-side door. Surewood didn’t move. Alexei holstered his weapon and pressed to fingers beneath Surewood’s jaw; he had no pulse.
Alexei thrust open the door to the conference room, his dressed wounds smarting- all grazes, luckily, according to the unit doctor; two in the ribs, one in the bicep… wouldn’t even scar. “Your ear, however…”
Alexei resisted the urge to touch his bandaged ear. He’d just have to live with it. The bullet had sheared a groove out of the edge, leaving basically a bullet hole in the outside of his ear. “Women’ll love it.” the doc had said.
Alexei could care less- about the ear or the women. Surewood was dead. He wanted to know why.
The staff in the room gave Alexei almost fearful glances as he entered. Did he look that bad, or was he just scary? Smithy was there, along with Gould and Sullivan. The rest of crowd was made up mostly of analysts. “Agent.” Gould said.
“Sir. Where do we stand?”
“They were Russian. A joint operations force between the special task division of Moscow’s PD and a KGB defector-hunting unit. Going off the tattoos on the two bodies, we know they were ex-Spetsnaz. Our guess is you were supposed to be an example. Sort of a warning to other defectors still in Russia. And they didn’t have to worry about the politics of an international incident because we can’t admit you work for us in the first place. Only thing is-”
“They didn’t know I was a sleeper.” Alexei muttered.
“Exactly. We never reported the embassy incident. They couldn’t have known.”
The thought of people he might have spoken to before trying to kill him, and the fact that he killed them first, unsettled Alexei. Had they just told their families they were taking a train to St. Petersburg for a weekend meeting? Had their children stared confusedly at the hearses of their fathers? Alexei swallowed, surprised with himself, with his humanness.
“Anyways,” said Gould. “We’ll know more when you get back.”
Alexei looked up. “Get back?”
“Smithy?” Gould asked, busying himself on his tablet.
“We’ve caught an assignment.” Smithy explained. “You’ve been tasked to join us. Sullivan too.”
Alexei glanced at Sullivan, who looked serious. “When do we leave?” he asked.
The C-130 carrying the team to their destination had been an Air Force requisition, but the airmen had been happy to lend it. It seemed it wasn’t every day they got to work with SEALs, even in such an indirect way. The respect and fear the SEALs commanded still shocked Alexei; even though his memory had been restored, he was still unfamiliar with such American hierarchy. Hierarchy seemed like the best word to Alexei, as he had come to realize that that truly was the essence of every military.
“Alright, we should all get some shut-eye before we’re there, so I’ll keep this brief.” Smithy had said. “We’re going to Azerbaijan. An English-American national is being held by Azerbaijani extremists; they’re an offshoot of the main ultranationalist presence in the region. We’re cleared to use any means to bring her home, but we aren’t cleared to fire on non-splinter ultranationalists per NATO regulations. Basically, if they’re patriots, leave them; if they’re terrorists, kill ’em. The girl’s being held in a refinery in a border town to Iran. These guys have strong affiliations with ISIS, so we’ve gotta be long gone by the time the ultranationalists call for help. The US will deny any involvement in the area so once we’re on the ground, we’re on our own. Any questions? Then go to sleep.”
Week IV, Group III