Artemis listened in on the chatter. Care Packet had as usual, lived up to his reputation. He had observed the entire internationally allocated radio frequency range and been able to pinpoint the new frequency the NIA was using for communication in a matter of minutes. The more time she spent with him, the more she understood why Red Eagle had been so insistent on recruiting him, rather than eliminating him. The man was a genius. Then again, it seemed to run in the family. Shehu Wada, otherwise known within the international intelligence community as the executioner, was a genius in his own right. He had been one of five men credited for bringing the second civil war to a grinding halt. Two of those men were now dead. Of the surviving three, two were now high ranking members of the Nigerian intelligence structure, and the third chose a different path. A path she believed in. Artemis finished sipping on her coffee and left a few naira notes underneath the saucer. The agents had since retrieved Bulus’s body. Most of them were gone, while a few had fanned out to form an observation and monitoring perimeter. She got up and walked out of the tea shop. Artemis quickly crossed the street. As she did she heard a message over the radio frequency.
TARGET LOCKED AND IN SIGHT. I HAVE A SMALL WINDOW BEFORE I LOSE HER.
TAKE TARGET OUT
Artemis dived to the ground as a thwack sound could be heard. The sniper bullet buried itself deep within the asphalt used to construct the sidewalk. She rolled to her right, as another bullet exploded right where she was laying. Artemis sprang to her feet and broke into a run. The two bullets had come from a parking building on the opposite side of the street. The shooter’s voice was also familiar to her. It was the only person who could possibly make out her face. Praying Mantis. Artemis ran into the parking lot and quickly disabled the security guard at the entrance post.
TARGET IS ON THE MOVE TOWARDS MY LOCATION. COMMENCING EVASIVE RETREAT
THAT’S A NEGATIVE. YOU ARE TO ENGAGE AND DISABLE TARGET BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. IS THAT CLEAR?!!
There was a slight pause.
Good going control. Now it’s you and me Mantis. It’s you and me.
Artemis ran up the inclined ramps as fast as she could. She caught a movement in the corner of her eye and quickly pinned herself to the concrete wall as a flurry of bullets whizzed by her. She pulled out her gun and slid her thumb backwards on the metallic bar. The rest of the gun detached and materialized in her grip. Artemis opened fire. The figure ducked back behind cover as a staccato of bullets raced upwards and impaled themselves in the steel reinforced concrete the figure hid behind. Artemis broke into a run upwards. The figure rolled out and opened fire. However Artemis had performed a wall run and leaped into the air. Her eyes met that of Praying Mantis. The government agent’s gun was trained on the spot she thought Artemis would be. Artemis’s gun was trained directly on her. She opened fire. Praying Mantis was knocked off balance by the impact. She fell into a roll as Artemis repeatedly fired. The bullets exploded in a line leading up to the back wall of the ramp. Artemis fell and rolled forward. She got up in time to deflect Mantis’s gun which had been fired. The bullet exploded out, whizzing by Artemis’s left temple. Mantis lashed out, kicking Artemis’s gun out of her hand. The gun clattered to the ground and became a metallic bar once more. Mantis was redirecting her gun towards Artemis, but the resistance agent slammed her palm into her attacker’s wrist sending her gun flying. They both made attempts to land disarming blows on each other, each being a bit too fast for the other. Their attacks all hit air. Artemis grappled an intended blow and backed into Mantis, lifting her up and over her shoulder. Mantis was slammed into the ground, back first and let out a loud yell of pain. She instinctively shot up her right leg, catching Artemis in the face. Artemis staggered back just as Mantis sprang up to her feet. There was a whooshing sound behind her, and she ducked low just in time to avoid a ferocious kick from behind. Artemis’s right leg, which had just missed Mantis’s head, continued its horizontal motion. The torque lifted Artemis off the ground and she slammed her left leg into an unsuspecting Mantis, sending her careening down the ramp. Artemis broke into a run after her. The government agent had sprung to her feet and was beating a retreat down the ramps. As Artemis sucked in more air and powered down the ramp, her mind wandered back to her conversation with Red Eagle as she was being ferried to the Abuja walls, three months ago.
“Sir…” Artemis had trailed off.
“What is it huntress?”
“Sir, all this to find him. All this to find one man who has claimed as many lives on this side as he has, on the other. He is the most dangerous foe we have. I still think the original mission was better… sir.”
Red Eagle had looked at her for a while, as they silently whizzed across the sandy landscape, hurtling towards Abuja.
“What is unharnessed, uncontrolled nuclear energy huntress?”
“Sir… just that… raw energy.”
“Exactly. That energy has no allegiances, no allies, and no enemies. It’s just that, energy. Steer the energy in the right direction however, and it does something for you and in turn, maybe just maybe, that energy finally has purpose.”
“So sir, you believe Care Packet to be undirected.”
“He is. He sways and flows as he chooses and is aloof to the real effect his actions leave behind. What is this mission Artemis?”
“This is a no-fail mission. Meaning I cannot pull out or terminate until I have acquired the target or I die. Non-acquisition of the target is not an option.”
“There is one more condition.”
“Care Packet MUST be brought in alive, even if you die.”
Artemis had kept quiet for a brief moment. Was she in shock? Had Red Eagle just told her she was expendable, at the expense of this boy?
“Sir?” She had asked once again.
“If you deliver this man to me alive, even at the cost of your life, you would most likely have performed the greatest selfless act for this country of ours. Have you ever heard of the ‘Black Messiah’ before?
“No sir I have not.”
“A man of black origins who will lead our people to the actualization of the full potentials of our race. For years I believed this. But now I know that is not the case.”
“Then… what is?”
“The black messiah is a consciousness. It comes into our world as a group of people from time to time. They display a reasoning and understanding of our world, so far advanced than their contemporaries at the time and… they are generally always killed for it. We’ve had a few chances in our hundred year history Artemis. We were foolish enough to squander it. Funny enough the last man with that potential was Care Packet’s father.”
Red Eagle had smiled at her growing surprise.
“You know him well Artemis. He is my infamous rival from our glory days in the second civil war.”
“Care Packet’s the executioner’s son?”
“Yes.” Red Eagle nodded. “Save him Artemis. Maybe in doing so, you’ll realize what I know now. I know it will be difficult for you. I know he represents a demographic you detest, but there isn’t a one-size fits all way to judge a people.”
She had realized. And it had only taken a week with him to do so. He was… special and she would give her life for him. Artemis broke off chasing after Mantis and headed for a different exit. She had heard the chatter over the radio frequency. Someone was attacking Care Packet’s pursuers. And she knew exactly who it was.
The car spiraled downwards past the last few levels. Janet gritted her teeth as she tried to keep control. They were hurtling downwards at incredible speeds. This was not what she signed up for. This was madness. She glanced at the man seated beside her. He was the picture of perfect calm, as he leaned out the window once more. He opened fire with his semi-automatic on the two thrones they had been chasing for the past five minutes.
“In exactly 120 seconds you will decelerate sharply and pull the wheels back towards you. Once the car is at an 85 degree angle, you will start returning the wheels and accelerating again. Got it?”
Janet looked at the three cars ahead of them. The cab curved in its path and aligned itself with the hard asphalt road beneath it, and zoomed off again. It slowed down for just a fraction in that motion. The thrones followed next. The first one pulled off the maneuver. The second didn’t. The result was a flame ball that rose up to meet them. The heat prickled their skin as they shot past it.
“I might miscalculate!” Janet yelled at Shehu.
“You better not!” Shehu yelled back. “Or else we will be visiting them soon.” He pointed his gun at the burning wreckage below. They were getting closer to the road that marked Ground Level.
“Now Janet! Now!!!”
Janet pulled back at the wheels and the car pulled out of its steep dive sharply. They were dangerously close to impacting. Janet could feel the ground rush up to them and remembered to slow down. The car was completing its turn.
“Return and accelerate. Now now now or we’ll slam into the ground.”
Janet could feel them dropping already. She returned and pressed down on the pedal once more. The automatic transmission kicked in and the car lurched forward, barely scraping off the ground.
“Phhewww! Holy shit…” Janet exclaimed.
“Go go go!! Faster! Get me closer!”
“I’m going! I’m going!!”
The car kicked into high gear and screamed through the air. Shehu leaned out of the window again and quickly ducked back inside to avoid a stream of bullets fired his way.
“I need you to swing left of them Janet.”
“Not yet. I’ll tell you when.”
The cars whizzed past a monumental building which was once the headquarters of the country’s Central Bank. Janet glanced at Shehu once more. His eyebrows were creased in concentration. Those eyes, which never missed anything. She knew not to interrupt his thoughts and receive another snapping retort. She was lucky that’s all she’d received so far. The cars veered left and were soon on an inner street. The street sign read Nelson Nweke.
Janet veered to the left just as they turned right unto a dirt road. Shehu Wada leaned out once more and opened fire. This time, he opened fire on the electromagnetic repulsion disks (ERDs), located at the bottom of the car. One of the ERDs sputtered and stuttered until the circular blue neon lights around its perimeter, shut off, indicating a loss of power. The car wobbled and an angry NIA agent leaned out the back window and opened fire once more on Shehu. Shehu docked back inside and popped out, opening fire on another ERD. The repeated fusillade of bullets knocked off the disk and dropped the bottom of the car right on the asphalt. Shehu looked ahead of him. The cab Ibrahim was in, had also taken considerable damage and was slowing to a halt.
“Slow down. I’m getting out.” Shehu barked at Janet.
Janet obliged and Shehu jumped down before the car came to a stop.
“Keep your head down.” He said as he took cover behind the passenger door. A hail of bullets was sent his way by the agents in the Throne. Shehu put his hand in his pocket and brought out two small orbs. He activated them both and rolled them across the floor to the agents still firing.
“Bombs! Shoot! Shoot them! Jesus take cover!!”
The explosion sent a shockwave of air that could be felt even behind the metal door shielding, Shehu currently used.
“Stay here.” Shehu commanded as he glided around the door and moved forward. Janet slowly peered above the dashboard and at the crippled Lexus Throne. She saw Shehu move into the thick smoke and essentially become a silhouette. Another shadow was standing up. There was a rapid movement and two distinct sounds could be heard. It sounded like bone shattering or breaking. The shadow fell back down to the ground with a thud. A flash of light was quickly followed by the loud bang of a gunshot. This was quickly followed by some shuffling movements and then two more flashes of light from the opposite direction. Another thud was heard and then silence. The silence was quickly broken by what sounded more like a battle cry, rather than a scream. Thumping sounds and struggling grunts could be heard. This was followed by a snapping sound and yet another thud.
Is this why he is called the Executioner?
Janet watched wide-eyed as Shehu Wada proceeded to take out the five highly trained agents in the Lexus Throne with considerable ease. She slowly opened the driver’s door and crawled out. A faint siren sound could be heard in the distance. More specifically, the sounds appeared to be coming from above. Support was on the way. Now if she could just crawl to safety, and be retrieved, her nightmare would end. She’d had enough of the Wadas. Janet found herself stopping and looked back as Shehu slowly made his way to the cab.
Ibrahim stared at Nonso. His friend’s breathing was barely noticeable.
Ibrahim did not answer. His tears fell on Nonso as he watched his friend slowly slip away.
“Ibrahim. You need to listen to me.”
“My friend is dying. I need to help him.”
“If you had listened to me, your friend wouldn’t be here right now. You are responsible. Ibrahim for every decision you make, you must know there are consequences. This is one of them. Listen… reinforcements are coming. Come to me now, and you will not be killed. You will get a fair trial and hopefully a chance, an offer at a fresh start. A new start.”
“And at what cost? Why do you even care now? Seven years and the world called me Care Packet right under your nose but I was never good enough! You couldn’t look at me!! You couldn’t stand me!!!”
“You were on the wrong path!! As you are now!!! You are my son!!! You were born into the chosen path and you chose to accommodate the mundane distractions of the world!!! And it has led to this. It is over Ibrahim. It is high time you grew up. Your misguided notions and beliefs have driven this country to the brink of implosion.”
A car whizzed to a stop behind the car Janet and Shehu had been in. Artemis got down. Shehu whirled around and trained his gun on her. She walked slowly towards him.
“Are you going to shoot me executioner? Because if you do, he will shoot you.”
A gun pressed behind the executioner’s neck. It was Martins.
“You are a legend in our world. But right now, you are outnumbered and outflanked. Put your gun down.”
Shehu Wada slowly bent down to the ground and dropped his gun. He slowly got back up, his hands in the air.
Ibrahim walked around and stopped in front of him.
“I didn’t cause our country’s implosion father. You did. Your generation did and that before them. You talk about choosing the right path. What has it led to? Do you even care about the people beyond these walls? The way they suffer. The way they live and die. Do you? You say you serve the country and yet you serve but a few. Life starts and ends with but a few of you and for the rest, it is survival. It has always been that way. You are right. I never saw the diversity of my world as the enemy. I met and continue to meet good people father. Good people every day!! People who would lay down their life for me, even when those who ought to, wouldn’t. Just because it is not your path, doesn’t make it wrong father. I know what is right for my country, and it is not the path you choose.”
Ibrahim took a deep breath and began walking past Shehu, when the latter caught his arm.
“You must understand Ibrahim. Your talent ultimately makes you responsible for a lot of people. Both the people you love and those you do not know. I did not fully understand this, until I knew you were Care Packet. People have laid down their lives for you. Someone we both miss, has and we didn’t even know it. She didn’t either.”
“What are you talking about?”
Shehu reached inside his jacket and brought out a flash drive.
“Here. I had a feeling I might not be able to convince you and if I couldn’t you needed to at least know this much.”
He handed the flash drive to Ibrahim.
“What’s in it?”
“Answers and invariably, more questions. I don’t know what this knowledge will do to you Ibrahim, but… at least it should make you understand a bit more… regardless of the decisions you make from here.”
Shehu looked at Artemis and then rested his eyes back on Ibrahim.
“Go son. The reinforcements are only minutes away.”
“W…what about you?” Ibrahim said suddenly feeling a knot in his stomach.
“Your old man will be fine. Right now your friend is hanging on to life by his teeth. Go now!”
“Is… is this… okay?”
“I don’t know. But you are Ibrahim Wada. My first son. You will find your answers… You are alive and that’s all that matters.”
Ibrahim buried his head in his father’s embrace. It felt like a long time coming. He’d chased after this moment for so long and in his wildest imaginations, he never thought it would come at a time like this.
Ibrahim let go and ran to Martin’s cab.
Shehu was left facing Artemis.
“I guess this is goodbye.” Artemis said.
“Red Eagle trained you well. I’m sure we’ll run into each other sometime soon.”
“My mid-section does not look forward to it.”
“You are my son’s sheath Artemis. You are his shield. You do understand, don’t you?”
“I’ll take care of him… sir.”
“I’m counting on it. Tell Red Eagle he has woken a sleeping giant. I’ll be coming for him, sooner or later.”
Artemis smiled and walked up to Shehu’s side. She leaned in and whispered in his ear.
“When you come, you’ll have to avoid being hunted to death first.”
It was Shehu’s turn to smile as Artemis walked towards the car. Martins revved up the engines. There was a frenzy inside as Artemis and Ibrahim battled to keep Nonso above. Ibrahim took one final glance at Shehu. There was nothing more to be said except the message their eyes conveyed as they met.
The car lurched off towards Old Nyanya.
“Well played huntress. Well played.” Shehu said as he turned around. In the distance, reinforcement vehicles zoomed towards the executioner, with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It was all for show and he knew it. In Nigeria, the law enforcement agencies were notoriously slow at responding to security threats. For once, it was a welcome thing.