Time: 1:15 AM
The Mercedes Beez hummed through a deserted interstate at speeds exceeding 250 kilometers per hour. Forty five years ago, the journey to Nyanya would have taken five hours or 35 minutes, if one was lucky to avoid the bumper to bumper traffic that tormented commuters to the area. After the new age living structures hit the Nigerian landscape and the civil war, Nyanya had become an abandoned ghost city occupied by only the lowliest and the roughest of residents. With the emergence of Electromagnetic Propulsion (EMP) cars such as the Mercedes Beez, the journey to Nyanya took as little as 10 minutes. As the Mercedes Beez whizzed on, the town lights slowly came into view. There were four people seated in the Beez. A chocolate skinned lady sat in the passenger’s seat. Her shirt had been ripped off at the shoulder area and used to create a makeshift bandage which wrapped over her bullet wound and was tied into a knot underneath her armpit. In the backseat, sat both Ibrahim and Nonso. Nonso looked on, wide-eyed. The adrenalin pumping through their veins would not let sleep come. This, and the fear in their hearts. The fourth person, drove the Beez. He was a mostly quiet figure who didn’t talk much unless spoken to.
“Why can’t we just go back to his apartment and hideout there?” Nonso asked, breaking what seemed to have been a fairly long silence. The truth is, the silence hadn’t be that long. But anxiety was getting the better of him.
“We… will get there… eventually.” Came the chocolate skinned lady’s response.
“Why not now?” Nonso asked.
“Hmmm go to the one place the NIA will be watching and use it as a hideout. I might as well box you both up and send you to them like a gift.” The tirade had taken a lot out of her and she panted heavily now.
Nonso sighed deeply. He turned to Ibrahim.
“Bro what do you have to say?”
Ibrahim’s head hung low, his eyes facing downwards. He did not respond.
“Ibrahim!” Nonso yelled.
“Will you shut up?” Snapped the driver. “I believe your friend is trying to come to grips with your current situation. Maybe you should be contemplating that too.”
Nonso sighed deeply again and leaned back on his seat, looking out the window. Though Ibrahim had remained unresponsive, he’d heard every single thing said. His mind was racing. After he’d ran into Nonso and the mysterious woman, she had proceeded to conduct a thorough check of his entire body. Ibrahim had been confused as to what she was looking for, until she’d found it. He’d felt the sharp metal slice the skin of his lower back. He’d felt her remove something. To his horror, there was a small beeping device, the size of a wristwatch battery embedded in his skin.
“H…how?” He had asked barely able to speak.
“Nano-technology. Kind of ironic isn’t it? It’s the same principle you use, care packet. Little robots seeded into your system a bit at a time, without you ever noticing it. Until the final construction is completed. The NIA has always been notorious for dishing out poetic justice to its enemies.” She had tossed the tracker on the ground and smashed it.
“But how?” Ibrahim had asked as the lady bandaged his cut. “Nigeria does not have nano-tech capabilities.”
“The U.S does.”
“But that doesn’t make…” Ibrahim had trailed off as reality began to set in.
“What is it?” Nonso had asked.
“Caramel macchiato from Starbucks.” Ibrahim had responded as his thoughts began to fall in place. “I always order the caramel macchiato. They must have known that.”
“You were penciled in as the number one Care Packet suspect, five months ago. Care Packet was gaining notoriety as one of the world’s most lethal hackers. It made you a bit cocky and also sloppy. Suddenly, you weren’t a ghost anymore. You left behind a digital calling card and in so doing, left the NIA with the opportunity they needed. When your suspect status was elevated to a confirmed identification, everything was planned out to the tea so that you would be killed tonight. Everything. The cab you would take, the woman you would dance with, everything.”
“Simisola? I was the one who approached her though.”
“What the power of suggestion can do.” Artemis had smiled.
“It is amazing isn’t it? Your weakness has always been women, Ibrahim. It was capitalized upon swiftly and you believed you were actually doing something.”
You believed you were actually doing something.
Those words stung. And while part of that had to do with what the lady had said, it also had to do with something he held dearer to his heart. Just when he thought he’d found purpose, he’d failed again. Ibrahim’s thoughts slowly came back to the present. The Beez was now moving steadily through the streets and pathways of the largely abandoned city. The darkness, lightened by the constant wash of artificial light in the city, completely swallowed the deserted town. The Beez’s headlamps where the only sources of light to illuminate their travel path. Even the moon had conceded defeat to Nyanya’s darkness tonight and was largely absent. The driver glanced at the chocolate skinned woman and accelerated.
“Is there something wrong?” Ibrahim asked, drawing a glare from Nonso.
“We need to treat her wound properly and quickly.” Came his traditionally concise reply.
“She’s fading and I need you to keep her awake until we get there.”
Ibrahim looked leaned forward and looked Nonso who shrugged his head. He leaned a bit more and gently touched the lady’s arm near her elbow.
“Um… how do I keep her awake?”
“Just talk. Keep talking so she hears you.”
Ibrahim shook his head and then cleared his throat.
“Um… woman.” Her eyes were beginning to flicker under her eyelids and he swallowed. He needed to say something fast.
“Woman… you can’t die here… now. If you do, then um… I die too. I’m in a mad world I can’t pull through so I need you to survive. I need you to live. Please.” It was as honest a statement as he could make given the circumstances. He leaned back and turned to see Nonso regarding him with a shocked expression.
“What?” Ibrahim asked.
“Guy why haven’t you been flowing like this before?”
The driver had activated the intercom installed on the Beez’s dashboard and was yelling instructions at a static warped voice on the other end.
“We have Artemis on board! She needs Stiches to look at her and quick. We are coming in fast!”
The Beez sped towards a steel drop down door which was slowly lifting up.
“Don’t you think you should slow down?” Nonso asked?
The Beez kept going.
“I really think you should slow down.” Nonso said as they bore down on the gate which had barely lifted up enough for them to just squeeze underneath it.
“Chineke nnam o!!!” Nonso exclaimed as the Beez whizzed underneath the enormous gate. They were in a tunnel way that arched and turned this way and that. The driver expertly maneuvered the car, while slowing down, until they finally stopped near a platform, where a couple of people were waiting. The driver quickly got out and dashed over to Artemis’s side.
“Bring stretcher!” A man on the platform was yelling. “Oya, set am for dat side.”
“You! Go help am now. You be mu mu? You wan make I report to R.E say she don die for ya hand?”
The man being berated quickly bolted off to assist in placing Artemis carefully on the hovering stretcher.
“Ok. Take her to Nkoyo. She will know what to do. I dey come.”
The driver walked up to the man who had been barking orders. He was a large rotund man who wore spectacles and a clean shiny skin cut. The bald look seemed to accentuate his immense size. On his face, a diagonal scar ran across from the top of his right temple down to his nose and over to his left cheek. On closer inspection, it could be seen that the wound had been stitched up.
“Martins. Welcome o.” The rotund man said, addressing the man who drove the Beez.
“Stiches how fa?” Came the short and terse reply. “Dem dey for back.” He said as he walked around to open Nonso’s door.
“Do we have a room for them?” He asked as they got down.
“Ya.” He looked at the two young men. “Welcome to…” He chuckled “Nya… nya.”
“Welcome to the News at Nine by NTA, the largest African network. The headlines today.”
The news anchor proceeded to disclose information about a shootout between suspected resistance fighters and an as of yet unconfirmed security agency. There was speculation that it was the NIA, but nothing had been confirmed yet. Access to the floor where the chaos had taken place, was blocked to all but authorized personnel. Dayo knew this well. He’d had it so. Right now it was about damage control and as long as he could keep feeding the media bull crap instead of the truth, the damage would not escalate. He was in an interrogation room, where he paced about in front of a medium sized white table. There was a metal chair behind the table, in which Mantis sat. She had a brown bandage running perpendicular to her nose bridge. She watched Dayo pace back and forth like an enraged lion, and said nothing. Eventually, Dayo picked up a remote which had been laying on the table, pointed it at the TV and switched it off before tossing the remote back on the table in frustration. The remote clattered from one side to the table to the other.
“This is a disaster.” Dayo finally said, turning his glare towards Simisola.
“This was supposed to be the easiest mission on earth.” He continued.
“You get the boy. You isolate him and you kill him making it look like an accident while having a little too much fun. No prints. No excess bodies, do it quietly. Remember that? Well you blew it!!!!!” He yelled.
“How was I supposed to account for an anomaly like that? How did she slip by and get close enough to take both my partner and myself out before we could complete the job?!”
Dayo stood in front of her watching. Slowly, his shoulders drooped and his head tilted downwards as well.
“You might make me the scape goat all you want, but this was your operation and you were my eyes and ears.” Mantis paused for a bit before continuing. “With all due respect, you blew it just as much as I did sir.” Dayo, who was leaning forward at her as he bellowed at the time, lifted himself upright and began pacing again.
“They were able to locate and disarm the tracer constructed within his body, so we have no way of tracking them.”
“So what do we do?” Mantis asked.
“I will have to give the Executioner a briefing when he returns from the states in two days. His absence was the very element that gave us the opportunity to carry out this mission now. He will have questions, and I have to give him the right answers. In the meantime, you are going back out into the field. Pick up the trail. We’ll commence monitoring of everything including cameras, phone calls, social media, and the apartment, everything until something turns up. Also keep your ears alert for any word from the underground. Artemis is very well known in this world after all.”
“Is accessing his apartment an option?”
“It is if you are suicidal. Place it under watch but do not move in unless I say so.”
Dayo turned to walk out of the room.
“Sir.” Mantis called out.
Dayo stopped and turned around
“What is it?”
“Thank you. For not doing that thing, you usually do.”
“Now is not the time. We’ve got enough tension as it is. I’m sending you back out there Mantis. This time, kill her.”
Mantis returned the smile.
“I intend to.”
Ibrahim knelt down and bent his head down low until his forehead touched his prayer mat. He lifted his head up once again and quietly said a few prayers before bending his head down low again. In the other room, he could hear voices barking orders at each other. The operation had begun an hour ago. Ibrahim lifted his head up and once again whispered a few inaudible prayers. The whispers dissolved into the air and the sound was gone as he bent his head down low again. He had been listening in as best as he could, for they would not let him in. He’d deduced that the bullet had severed a few blood vessels but no major ones. However she’d still lost a lot of blood. The bullet had lodged itself in her left shoulder blade. She was lucky it was not a fragmentation or explosive bullet or else she would have been killed instantly. The shooter’s intent was to hit her heart. Again, she was lucky he had missed. Ibrahim’s forehead made contact with the prayer mat. There was a puddle of sweat on the spot his head always made contact. It was then he heard some words of encouragement from the other room.
“Ha. Dis chick lucky. Okay set am well for that bed. Sofly sofly. Ehn hehn. Okay commot all these things. Nkoyo tell dem make them prepare something for am. She go hungry well well when she wake from this sleep.”
Ibrahim let out a soft sigh of relief and rounded up his prayers. He paused for a second, looking at his mat. Twenty four hours ago he was in the comfort of his sky apartment praying the Fajr. Today he was in an old city he’d never seen before, hiding as a wanted government target, among a bunch of resistance fighters, praying the Fajr. Ibrahim got up and folded his prayer mat. He tucked it under his armpit, stood and shook his head.
“Twenty four hours is a long time.”
“Indeed it is.” Came the response.
Ibrahim whirled around, startled.
“Nonso.” He said as his eyes re-adjusted to the dimly lit room.
Nonso who had been standing arms folded and leaning on the far wall, shifted his weight back on his feet and unfolded his arms as he walked towards Ibrahim.
“Twenty four hours ago, I knew you as my closest and best friend. I knew you as Ibrahim Wada, a genius, great with work and poor with women. I knew you as the most principled Nigerian I ever met, and one who always told the truth.”
“And you still know me as all those things.”
“Do I?” Nonso retorted. “Because apparently you are the very hacker responsible for the deaths of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the wall. How could you? What were you trying to achieve?”
“Peace.” Nonso repeated. “How did you intend to ensure peace like this?”
“With someone sabotaging plans on both sides of the wall, I believed… I believe the government and the resistance would be forced to call a cease fire and reconciliation talks would begin.”
“And after three years, are they reconciling Ibrahim?”
“For once in my life I thought… I’d found purpose. I thought I could make a difference.”
Ibrahim slowly raised his face and looked at Nonso.
“What do I do now?”
“Man I really don’t know. Make a call. Try and get your life back.”
Ibrahim slowly shook his head.
“The NIA is trying to kill me and the resistance saved my life. I always imagined a situation like this, only with the NIA… recognizing…” Ibrahim shook his head.
“You wanted to impress him didn’t you? You’ve always tried so hard to do that.”
“And I’ve always failed.”
“Ibrahim call him. If anyone can fix this, he can.”
“You know all the time he’ll ever spare to listen to me is a minute. Besides, he doesn’t have that sort of reach Nonso. He can only try and maybe at best I’ll be taken in as a prisoner. Ha! I can’t think.”
Ibrahim sank into a squat, holding his head in his hands.
“Nonso we have to get out of here.”
“That’s great but how?”
“I don’t know… yet. Just give me a day. I’ll figure this place out. First I need to get my phone.”
The albatross slowly glided unto the tarmac and hovered above it for a few seconds before descending and making contact with the ground. A shockwave of dust was expelled from the aircraft as the epicenter. The downward facing thrusters created a swirl of wind around the aircraft, causing Dayo to put his hands up to shield his eyes. The swirl finally weakened as the thrusters were powered down and the door of the albatross opened up, unfolding into a set of steps leading from the aircraft to the tarmac. The tall figure of a man stepped out unto the platform and looked down at Dayo. The man had a middle aged face that showed a former youthful strength. The forming facial wrinkles did not convey weakness, instead they appeared to be facets of a chiseled face emanating a stern character. The man had light brown eyes, a clean shaven lower face and jaw and slight graying hair. His gait appeared slow, almost leisurely and yet he moved with a subtle grace and efficiency even for a man almost thirty years younger, much like Dayo was.
“Welcome back sir.” Dayo said as the man stopped in front of him.
“Dayo. You look well.” The man had a deep, imposing voice. It was filled with commanding authority. Dayo had heard this voice more times than he cared to count or remember, and yet, the effect was still the same.
“Thank you sir.” Dayo responded.
“Considering the ruckus you’ve been making on ground level in my absence.”
Dayo swallowed. He’d always been amazed at how quickly the Executioner got his information, and who gave him.
“Sir, we’ve been tracking a man we believe to be the notorious hacker, Care Packet.”
“And you are sure this man is the hacker?”
“W… we were able to lock onto a location we believed to be the origin of the misinformation attacks that have hindered our operations, as well as those of the resistance. They were coming from a motel on ground level sir. We launched a surprise attack on our target but… he escaped.”
“Do you have any information on the suspect?”
“Did you get a visual on the suspect?”
“Mantis… might have sir. But I doubt it. Someone intervened while the operation was in progress.”
The man they called The Executioner, chuckled and glared at Dayo.
“Dayo I think you’ve got a case of mistaken job identity here. Do you think you are a mall guard? You launch an operation costing man hours, money and man lives based on little to no information about the suspect or about the prevailing circumstances of the environment?”
Dayo kept quiet and said nothing.
“Do you have any idea who intervened?”
“We suspect the resistance sir. Mantis confirmed it was one person… a girl. Judging by her modus operandi and her skill set we suspect this resistance agent to be…”
“Red Eagle’s protégé.” The Executioner interrupted him. “That begs the question ‘why would the resistance aid Care Packet?’”
“That’s what we aim to find out sir.”
“Update me as you progress Dayo. Now I have to clean up your mess.”
“It won’t happen again sir.”
“It better not. Or else your career at the NIA is over.”
The Executioner entered the back seat of the Toyota Mag Cruiser, which had been waiting for him. Dayo walked over to the other side and attempted to open the door, but it was locked.
The window glass wound down slightly.
“You don’t get a free ride back to base. Take a cab. We reconvene in an hour.”
The glass wound up and the mag cruiser sped off leaving Dayo standing alone on the tarmac.