Author Topic: Chapter 2  (Read 10501 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 2
« on: August 25, 2022, 04:41:17 AM »
Chapter 2

Waking was a slow and arduous process. Gil felt as though a whole pillow had been stuffed into his brain. Trying to focus, he worked hard to open his eyes. It was as if lead weights had been attached to his eyelids. There was a foul taste in his mouth, too. Had he vomited a little? Whatever that dart had carried, it had been fast-acting. Most rapid sedatives had nasty side effects. As Gil worked his mouth, he realized he'd been drooling a bit. How embarrassing.

Finally, he was able to get a look at his surroundings. He was lying in a cot, in what looked like an abandoned office building. He couldn't see anyone else in the room, but that didn't mean there wasn't someone nearby. Trying not to make any noise, either from the cot or from himself, Gil wrestled his limbs into motion again. His arms and legs were all pins and needles now, from the sedative. He'd never tried any of the sedatives he used for his work, but this felt different. Memories from his training filtered their way through the fog, and he thought he might have been hit with a paralytic. His leg wasn't sore, though, and the taste in his mouth suggested he'd been drugged a second time. How long had he been out?

And who had shot him, anyway? No one was supposed to know he was going to Cole's motel, except for Sanders. Sanders! He grabbed for his phone, but it was missing!

Gil wiped at his mouth for a second, glancing out the office windows. Dawn wasn't far off, which suggested he'd been out for at least a few hours. He checked the rest of his pockets, but they'd been emptied as well. He was on his own.

He stood unsteadily, and looked for an exit. As he passed the office window, he did a double-take out of it. Off in the distance, visible even in the pre-dawn light, was... the American capitol building. He wasn't even in Portugal anymore! Somehow, he was now in Washington, DC!

The world spun a little again, but this was more out of shock than the aftereffects of the drugs. He'd been out for days, most likely! Long enough to be hauled like a sack of grain onto some plane or boat, and shipped across the ocean.

Trying to get the stinging sensation out of his limbs, he carefully made his way to the stairs. The building looked powered, but he didn't want to risk the noise an elevator would make. If he could make it down to the street, he hoped his captors would be less likely to grab him again. Even this early in the morning, there was probably a good group of potential witnesses down there.

Not that he'd have any idea what to do once he got down there. His phone and belongings were all missing; all he had was the clothes on his back and the shoes they'd left next to the cot! He would have to borrow a cell phone and call his parents in Iowa.

As he slunk towards the exits on this floor, he heard faint voices coming from a corner office. Despite his situation, he was curious. After all, these people could have easily killed him, but they’d brought him here instead. Maybe they were friends of Lauren. Or enemies of her, for all he knew.

Gil tried to stay unobtrusive as he got closer to the corner office. Fortunately it wasn't see-through, but the door was open.

"Is she on her way?" An authoritative male voice spoke out from the desk in the middle of the office. Gil crept into a nearby cubicle and sat with his back against one of its walls. Hopefully he was close enough to hear without being obvious to them.

"Yes, sir," a female voice responded. Her accent was a bit off, so Gil guessed she was also a foreigner. He wished he could take the risk to get a look at them. "Her plane took off twenty minutes ago."

"Where's she headed this time?"

"Portland, sir. She used another fake ID, but facial recognition caught sight of her as she was boarding. As far as our friends can tell, the plane should be safe. There are no Claw agents on board with her."

"Interesting," the man responded. "So she's going back to her old mentor after all."

"We don't know that for sure, sir. She may have been ordered there. Bonaparte was seen there as recently as a week ago. Maybe she's been sent to kill him."

"Rubel isn't our concern either way," the man said dismissively. "She's got her job to do, whatever it is, and we have ours. By the way, how is our guest doing?"

"He's asleep," the younger woman responded. "Over on the other side of the office. The sedatives should be wearing off soon, so I'll get Blip over there to be with him when he wakes up."

There was a slight hesitation before her superior responded. "I think you should handle it yourself, Meera. If he is what I think he is, Blip could be in danger."

What could he possibly mean by that? Gil had never hurt anyone in his life; certainly not anyone he'd never met before. He didn't have time to wonder about it, though. This 'Meera' was already continuing. "Blip is more than capable, sir. He's the one who sedated our guest in the first place. He was over eight hundred meters away, and Blip took him down just fine."

"You trusted Blip with a sedative?" The man's voice was suddenly harsh.

"I was right there with him, sir. He was eager to do something active for the cause, and I saw no reason to deny him the chance. Besides, it's clear the target was a civilian, and so the danger was minimal. If... I overstepped my authority-"

"We can worry about that later. Do you know who our guest is?"

Gil heard papers being shifted, probably from a binder in the woman's hands. "Uh, his name is Guillaume Hartkins, originally from Iowa. He was adopted by Afonso and Sophia Hartkins, a lawyer and property manager who still live there."

"Adopted?" Gil heard the chair squeak as its occupant leaned closer.

"Yes, sir. There's no record of his birth parents here."

Tell me about it, Gil reflected sourly. Believe me, I've looked.

"At any rate, he seems to have lived a fairly ordinary life according to the background check. He dropped out of college when the pandemic started, to train as an EMT. He completed his training here in the States, and then the CDC shipped him out to Lisbon. Probably because he speaks Portuguese- his adoptive parents raised him to be bilingual. That's where the record ends, sir. Apparently Hartkins has been there for the past few years, assisting as an EMT as needed, and training to become a full paramedic in his spare time. He's got a few friends there, but his only family is still living in Iowa."

Gil tried to rein in his confusion. They had his whole life story, in just a few hours. Granted it was a boring story, but it chilled him how quickly and accurately this woman had just summarized it.

"None of that explains why he was surveilling Rubel. You're sure he's not with the Claw? I've been going over the phone you got off of him, but it's heavily encrypted. That's very like them."

Gil had to suppress a smile at that. Right from the first time they'd started speaking over the phone, Sanders had expressed deep dismay at his lack of electronic security measures. She's sent him a program that uploaded itself to his phone, vastly improving its defenses against being hacked. Also, that was the second time they'd mentioned the Claw, whatever that was, and apparently Lauren's real name was Rubel. Sanders had suspected Cole's name was a fake one. This Rubel was on her way to Portland as well, which put her out of reach for now. Besides, Gil had more immediate concerns.

"I seriously doubt it, sir. If our guest was a Claw agent, he would have tried to kill Rubel. And if he was with Hadrian’s Wall, he wouldn't have been surveilling her in the first place. Either he's with Portuguese Intelligence or some other agency based here in the States, or he's just a weird and paranoid civilian. There's nothing to explain his connection to Rubel, or why he was approaching her. I have his parents' travel records, and neither of them have returned to Portugal since a vacation they took six years ago. That was before Black Claw even existed."

The chair squeaked again as the man got up. "At least I've confirmed this phone isn't broadcasting right now. You did the right thing disabling it before bringing him here. We can't afford any security leaks, especially right now."

"Sir," the woman- Meera, Gil remembered after a moment- spoke hesitantly. "Why did you even ask me to bring him here, sir? We could have just killed him, or hidden him in Lisbon somewhere until after Rubel was gone. Why take the risk, when it was clear he had no idea we were even there?"

"Let's just say I had a hunch and leave it at that, shall we? Come on, let's go talk to our guest."

"Actually, I'd like to know that too," Gill said suddenly, standing up and turning to face the office. His heart was pounding with nervousness, but something was telling him he was in no danger. They'd hauled him across the ocean for some reason, and it wasn't just to kill him.

He was almost proven wrong immediately. The moment he spoke, Meera vanished around one of the cubicles. Barely two seconds later she was behind him, with some kind of blade pressed against his throat! She must have jumped over the cubicle wall behind him. He'd... never even seen someone move that fast!

"Easy," he said very carefully, slowly spreading his hands. "I wasn't armed, even before you took my stuff. I'm no threat to you."

"Says you," she ground out, the cold steel of her blade pressing against his skin even more tightly.

The man held up a hand to her. He stepped a little closer, his expression turning from surprise to something different. Then his eyes widened briefly. "Let him go, Meera. He could have tried to escape, but he didn't. There's no need for violence."

Reluctantly, his captor lessened her grip, and her blade vanished again, probably into some kind of sleeve holder. The older man let out a chuckle. "My apologies, Mr. Hartkins. Both for bringing you here and for Meera's quick responses. She takes my safety very seriously."

"Yeah, I get that," Gil said slowly, rubbing at his throat. "Who are you people, anyway?"

The man stepped forward and extended a hand. "I'm Tyler Harrington, and she's Meera Patel."

"Sir!" Meera objected, but he didn't budge.

"It's all right, Meera. I think we can trust him."

Hesitantly, Gil shook his hand, but he let go quickly. "Why did you kidnap me?"

Tyler, if he wasn't lying about his name, smiled slightly. "For your own safety, believe it or not. You witnessed an altercation between two very, very dangerous people. You tracked down the survivor somehow, and then you went to make contact with her. Meera, or her friend Blip I guess, couldn't risk you being spotted or heard, or you might have been killed just for being a witness. When I heard what they'd done, I ordered you brought here until I could explain things to you."

"You said I might be a danger to this Blip guy, if he was there when I woke up. You said 'if he is what I think he is'. What exactly do you think I am?" Gil demanded.

"That's... something of a long story," Tyler admitted. "Tell me, does the word 'wesen' mean anything to you?"

It was pronounced strangely, but Gil had enough experience with other languages to recognize that it was a German word. It was pronounced starting with a 'v' sound, but he knew it was spelled with a 'w'. Suspiciously, he shook his head. "Should it?"

"What about 'kehrisite', or 'grim'?"

Gil didn't know what to make of any of this. "You mean like the adjective?"

Meera scoffed and turned away, but Tyler just smiled. "Not exactly. You see, Meera? He's no threat to us."

"He doesn't seem to be a threat, sir. We've been fooled before."

Tyler nodded. "You'll have to forgive her, Guillaume. Or William, if you prefer. If I may call you that. She's very good at her job, but it does tend to make her somewhat unsociable."

"I go by Gil, actually," he said after a moment. "Look, am I a prisoner here? You said you took me for my own safety. Am I still in danger?"

Tyler looked frustrated. "We don't know for sure if they're still after you, or if they were even after you in the first place. Until we can find out, it would be unwise for you to return to Lisbon, or even to leave this building."

This was just piling up more questions! "Who are 'they'? Besides, I might not even have a job to go back to! You shot me, drugged me, and hauled me across the ocean. I've been gone for what, two days now? For all I know my boss has already fired me!"

"He hasn't," Tyler responded quickly. "We arranged for you to take a medical leave until we can get to the bottom of this. You put in the request by email yesterday, and I made sure that your superiors have already approved it. Given that you witnessed a brutal murder, I'm not surprised." He gestured towards the elevator. "In either case, you're not a prisoner. You can leave whenever you want, if you're willing to risk it. The front door is barred shut on the ground floor, but there's a service entrance that'll let you leave the building."

Gil didn't know what to think of all of this. They'd faked an email from him? Not that it was much of a surprise, if they could get him across the ocean in secret. "You're letting me go? Just like that?"

"What he said," Meera echoed him, looking incredulously at her 'boss'.

Tyler reached down and picked up a backpack that had apparently been positioned against the wall inside the office. He handed it over, and Gil suspiciously unzipped it. He recognized clothing inside, along with a few of his other belongings. Apparently they'd raided his apartment in Lisbon before bringing him here.

Tyler sighed. "Just like that. One or both of us will be in this building for the next eight hours or so. If you want to find us again, just come back here. If not, it's doubtful you'll ever see either of us again. If you want to risk returning to Portugal, you should know that your medical leave will end in two weeks, so you have that much time to arrange it. Your passport and other papers are in the backpack as well."

After her little demonstration earlier, Gil was very sure Meera could stop him from leaving if she wanted, but he moved towards the elevator anyway. Briefly. "Oh, what about my phone?"

Tyler nodded and moved into the office. He returned a few seconds later with the phone. It had been opened up as he'd mentioned earlier, and the battery separated. "Meera, go with him. Give him the battery as he leaves the building. My apologies again for the inconvenience, Gil. I hope to see you again, but if I don't, may I give you some parting advice? Don't investigate Rubel or her attacker any further. It can only get you killed."

About a thousand questions were burning in his mind, but Gil just nodded and headed for the elevator. Whatever else was happening here, Sanders deserved to know all about it. If it hadn't been for her, he never would have been able to track Lauren- Rubel- down in the first place.  Hoping fervently that Tyler didn't change his mind, and Meera didn't give in to her obvious mistrust for him, Gil stepped into the elevator.


Meera returned a few minutes later, as Tyler was watching the street below. Still confused, she followed his gaze. "Do you think he might be one of us, sir?"

"It's possible. He's about the right age for it, and the blood test did come back positive."

She snorted. "The blood test can rule it out, but it can't confirm it, and age isn't a reliable indicator either. I'm at least twenty years younger than you, and I'm five years older than Yumi."

"He’s not the right age for one of the siblings, Meera. It's possible that our friend down there is someone else entirely. Someone I never even knew existed." He leaned forward, as their unwilling visitor turned a corner and passed out of sight. "It might be wishful thinking of course, but I thought I recognized him. If I'm wrong, it's no great loss. If I'm right, we'll be seeing him again soon."
« Last Edit: August 25, 2022, 04:54:19 AM by Daen »