Location: Berlin Brandenburg Airport – Arrivals
Niklas Baumhauer ran a hand through his shock of dirty blonde hair. His other hand casually brought up the half eaten Big Mac it held to his gaping mouth and he bit off a healthy morsel of the burger, chewing noisily. His hand, tired of disheveling his hair further, came to rest on his jaw and rubbed his week old stubble repeatedly. He stole a glance at the man seated beside him. His face was turned away from Niklas, such that he didn’t know if the man was asleep or not. There wasn’t much to look at outside anyway. The heavy downpour that created a staccato symphony of sounds around their black Lincoln sedan had kept the day rather dreary.
“I have another if you want.” Niklas said to the man, while holding up a second Big Mac.
The man’s head turned perhaps a degree, maybe two, before resting back in place. It was an almost imperceptible movement.
“Thanks. Not hungry.” Came the terse reply.
Niklas secretly scoffed. Americans. Always so on edge. He did not blame the man known to him as Dean Cradell. The American empire was near death, even though they held on to the last bulwark of hope they could find. He could not help but admire their perseverant spirit. As ridiculous as it seemed, that spirit had kept them going even as they watched their power weaken. Despite the unfortunate lack of trust, Niklas understood that working with his partner was critical to their mission. He could not afford to let the American wander too far in his thoughts.
“You sure? You haven’t touched nothing since you got in yesterday. This, Big Mac. American food. You may yet need the strength.”
This time, Dean turned around to face his German compatriot. There was a knowing look in Niklas’s eyes. The remark on strength had undoubtedly struck a chord within the American.
“I’ll have the rest of yours then.”
Niklas let out a throaty chuckle and handed Dean his unfinished burger.
“Here you go my friend. At least this way if you die, I die. Right?”
“Right.” Dean responded.
He took the burger and bit into it. A brief expression flashed across the American’s face. It was gone as quickly as it came, but Niklas had not missed it.
“Nostalgic isn’t it?” He asked.
“Somewhat. I can’t tell if it is beef or bat meat. You never know these days.”
Niklas simply nodded. He handed Dean a soda can.
“I have water.”
“More for me.”
They sat in silence and listened to the raindrops pelt away the bulletproof exoskeleton of the black sedan. Their eyes set upon face after face of passersby, confident in the knowledge that no one could look back at them through the tinted windows.
“You think the rumors are true? The Bundeskanzler’s life is in danger?” Niklas asked, breaking the silence.
Dean shrugged. The German’s incessant chatter was beginning to irritate him. While a part of him wanted to lash out, he figured it was better to kill time in mild chit chat.
“I dunno. There are a number of people the risers want dead these days. Good thing for us. That’s what gives us a job.”
Niklas gave Dean an incredulous look.
“You like things as they are?” He asked.
“No. Who the hell does? But these men, and those before them brought us to where we are now. Yet they turn to us to serve and protect them. I wish them all a life of fear, and I get to recover some of the money they stole protecting them.”
The brief acidic zing at the powerful had turned the atmosphere rather uneasy.
“Retribution always comes one way or another. It came for us, and it sure as hell will come for them all.”
The silence finally had a firm grip on them. No more words were said. Niklas’s eyes caught sight of three men moving quickly up ahead. They took long purposeful strides towards the edge of the sidewalk, their eyes darting around as they did. The third man was an elderly and hunched fellow with slick silver-white blades of hair protruding out of a trilby. He was flanked on either side by the other two, younger men.
“We need to move.” Niklas said, an icy cold voice setting in. “The Bundeskanzler is here. Time to earn your pay.”
The jab was not lost on Dean, as Niklas placed his thumb on the biometric reader. The car purred to life and in one swift motion, he shifted it into gear. The machine glided gracefully across the asphalt, coming to a stop right in front of the standing trio. Dean hit his window button, and the glass slowly slid down. He was immediately bombarded by the smell of rain, even as the windswept drops caressed his face repeatedly. He wiped off a film of water that had quickly collected on his face.
“Bad weather?” He called out above the thunder crackling in the skies above.
“Too bad to wait for a cab.” One of the agents responded in heavily German accented English.
Dean nodded knowingly and the doors unlocked. The men slid unto the leather upholstery of the backseat like a splash of black oil, the door quickly being shut as soon as they were seated. Dean wound up his window just as Niklas shifted the sedan into gear once more. The engine effortlessly moved the armored vehicle forward. Niklas navigated the bends and turns of the airport exit with a smooth assurance. The exit soon spilled into the Autobahn 113 on the way to Berlin. The first ten minutes of the ride were spent in silence and the sedan cruised at a comfortable speed, towards the city. The elderly man sat in the middle of the younger agents. He removed his trilby, placing it on his lap before rubbing his hair nervously. The Chancellor leaned forward and spoke in a breathy voice.
“Können wir ein bisschen schneller vielleicht, da?” He asked as his eyes darted from Niklas to Dean. “I apologize for being a bit forceful but time is of the essence.” He added.
Niklas pressed down on the accelerator pedal, demanding for more power and the engine obliged. The car quickly accelerated until it was racing through the Autobahn. Satisfied, Chancellor Jürgen Fischer leaned back in his seat and pulled out a small tablet made by those blasted Chinese as he liked to call them. He swiped through blocks of data stored on his device. The Chinese had carefully gained control of the world economy over a period of eight decades. They saturated the globe with their slightly inferior, yet largely cheaper products ranging from plastics to electronics. They invested heavily in large scale projects across the continent of Africa, as well as neighboring Pakistan. In short, they dared to take risks the other leading nations didn’t. As the terrorism era reached a crescendo, it was China, the emergent economy, who was seen as the partner super power capable of ensuring stability in the east and middle-eastern region. Little did they know that the Chinese had other plans. Now, twenty five years after the London decimation, he found it ironic that it was a Chinese man who could hold the key to ending the reign of terror. That man was in Berlin and he had to get to him before anyone else did. The Chancellor closed his eyes and let out a long held breath. He slowly muttered a few words of prayer with the escaped breath. The action amused him. In the twilight of his years and after all he had seen, he had come to the conclusion that God was not concerned with the matters of men. Now in the world’s darkest hour, he hoped God cared enough to listen.
Location: Waldorf Astoria, Berlin
The ruins of the city stretched out as far as the man’s grey eyes could see. He stood in front of the huge glass shielding of his room’s window. Despite the chilly air in his room, he wore a single shouldered jiasha, complete with the yellow cassock and the red robe wrapped around his left shoulder. Under normal circumstances, such an attire would have drawn suspicious and curious looks but his escorts – who had grown accustomed to his dressing – had explained to him that they were on the 14th floor of the Waldorf Astoria. From this height, he could glimpse the outside world without worry. He would never know if they were telling the truth. He had been blindfolded on arrival, in the wee hours of the morning. That was three days ago. Since then he hadn’t been allowed to leave the room. They had explained that it was for his own safety. Some people wanted to capture him, and others still wanted him dead. He had to admit that neither were very palatable choices but he also had the feeling that they were wary of him. Trust was a hard element to find these days, particularly for the likes of him. The monk peeled himself away from the window and walked over to the door. He rapped lightly on it and stepped back. A few minutes later, one of his escorts walked in and shut the door behind him.
“You knocked. Are you alright?” He asked, looking the monk over.
The monk nodded politely.
“Shuǐ, qǐng… Hé yī běn xīnshū.”
The man looked at the books strewn all over the bed. Their guest certainly had a healthy appetite for knowledge. The man nodded his understanding at the monk.
“We’ll get you another book and some water. Just so you know, we are running out of books.” The man gave a wry smile and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
The monk could see the adjoining room to his, where his protectors stayed. Suddenly, he understood. They had reserved a suite and the exit was on their side. He slowly sat down on the floor, folding his legs underneath him to assume a meditative pose. There was an icy feeling in the air today and it had nothing to do with the air conditioning. The monk was aware that there were a third kind coming for him. Those that would listen to him. All he had to do was keep alive until that time. With his hands raised slightly on either side of him, it was not long before the humming began.
The wireless phone sitting on the wall of the Les Soliste restaurant chirped repeatedly to indicate an incoming call. Its display showed the numbers 1406 flashing intermittently between chirps.
“Hey, new man! You nid to haunswua the fene!” The lead chef yelled in English, laced with a thick German accent.
The man who had been referred to as ‘new man’, made his way through the buzz of activities in the kitchen, towards the phone. He walked with a brisk, purposeful stride, past the various cuisine production pipelines. There were those who constantly worked on fixing meal orders, from the restaurant and the hotel rooms. Others passed along dirty dishes of all kinds to the next person in the pipeline and at its end was a stack of clean dishes. Others still, were concerned with the proper cleaning and treatment of the raw ingredients needed to make the restaurant’s sought after meals. He got to the phone and slid it off its holder, effectively answering the call.
“Les Soliste. May I take your order?” The man said in a voice that was almost too cheery.
There was silence on the other line.
“You are an American.” The digitized voice said. There was a hint of disgust in the tone.
“Born and bred.” The man did not lose his cheeriness despite the hostile tone the voice on the other end held.
“I have never heard you before.” The voice pressed on.
“I’m new. Listen man, my boss is staring a hole in me right about now. Can I take your order?”
The silence came back for a little while. Finally, the voice spoke.
“Six bottles of water and a book… Maybe Shakespeare. Just pick anyone.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Make it five.”
The call was disconnected on the other end. The man placed the phone back in the holder before walking up to the lead Chef.
“Excuse me, Muller.” The man said.
Muller, the lead chef, whirled around and faced the man who had spoken to him. He was a burly man with hairy arms that were akin in size to that of an Orangutan’s. He had a wispy beard that ran around his jawline and tapered off at his neck. His jet black curly hair, rolled on itself and fell away from his chef’s hat before halting at the base of his neck.
“Forgive me… I need to take some drinking water to room 1407. They also want a book. Shakespeare preferably.”
The lead chef rolled his eyes.
“Water I can gif, Kurt. Book is naut my concern.”
Muller tapped a young worker and spat out some German rapidly, instructing the young worker to assist Kurt in getting water and loading it on the delivery trolley. He also added looking for a book in the hotel library, as an afterthought. As the young worker and Kurt walked away, they heard Muller yell one last spat of instructions to them.
“Remember to wear your ANTI-RAD suits. There’s a nuclear frost coming in. Was just on the news.”
The young worker turned back to the lead chef.
“The Castella reporter?” He asked.
“The very one.” The lead Chef replied.
The young worker smiled and turned back to Kurt.
“She’s fantastic.” He said, beaming a goofy smile. “I hear she covers areas other reporters would never dream of stepping on. You know, being so brave… so great.”
Kurt nodded as they stepped into the store room and got out two grey and metallic colored ANTI-RAD suits. The suits had a rectangular oxygen pack fastened to their backs, with a hose running from the pack to the gas masks they would slip over their heads. As they zipped up and fastened their gloves, they checked the reading on their packs.
“We’ve got 30 minutes, let’s get to the truck.” The young worker said through his suit microphone. “I knew I should have brought in the crates of water last night.”
They opened up the back exit door, designed in the form of a blast hatch, and stepped outside. Immediately, they were blasted by sweeping sheets of icy water and wind speeds that made them sway as they walked.
“Wasn’t it storming earlier?!” The young worker asked.
“It was!” Kurt responded.
“Then what the hell happened?”
“Don’t blame the weather. We did this.” Kurt responded, as he observed the blackened sky ahead. He could barely remember what the blue sky looked like.
They got to the truck and unlatched the back doors. Inside was a trolley loaded with three crates of water bottles.
“I’ll get it.” The young worker, said. “Need to move quickly before these bottles freeze over. Help me with the ramp please.”
The young worker began to work the trolley, whose wheels creaked and protested at being forced to roll against the increasing friction caused by the fast forming ice.
“I might need a hand here!” The young worker yelled. “Kurt?”
He was just about to turn around when he felt the whoosh of escaping oxygen from his gas mask being released. The howling wind quickly relieved him of his mask before he could grab it.
The worker’s face was immediately barraged by the sweeping sheets of icy water. He wiped them off his face, as much as he could. His eyes were already stinging and his hands slowly itched, then burned. It was a chilly burn; the effects of the frostbite quickly kicking in.
“I need to get inside!!! Kurt!!!”
He caught a glimpse of his co-worker standing there and for a second he glimpsed his eyes. They were steely and betrayed no emotion whatsoever.
“Help me… please…” The young worker exclaimed, as he slumped.
Kurt walked over the freezing man. Accidents like this happened all the time. No one would suspect a thing.
“I’m sorry.” He said as he grabbed six bottles of water and dashed back inside, leaving the young worker to his fate.
Kurt quickly closed the hatch and breathed in deeply. He removed his ANTI-RAD and placed it back on its holder. He grabbed the bottles of water and holstered them in his arms. Kurt took a deep breath. Now came the next part. Lulling himself into a false sense of fear, and with his breath coming in ragged wheezes, he ran into the kitchen screaming.
“Help!!! Someone help!!!” Kurt screamed as he ran past a group of alarmed dish fixers.
“Now what?” Muller asked.
“His suit… the guy…” Kurt wheezed.
“Vincent?” Muller asked. “Where is he?!”
“Outside… I’m sorry… I…”
Muller and a bunch of other workers rushed past Kurt until the place was almost empty. A few of the other workers had run out to call in the hotel’s security personnel. They would be here soon. Kurt quickly got to work. He walked briskly over to the kitchen fridge and took out three very small canisters he had taped to the side of an ice tray. The bottles were quickly arranged in a line. Kurt took out the canisters and depressed a small button on each of them, releasing a small syringe at the end. He quickly made a small incision in each bottle at the neck, and injected the contents into the water. The contents colored the water blue for a brief moment, before dissolving into the clear liquid. Satisfied, Kurt retracted the syringe needles before putting the bottles in a tray.
Now all I need is a work of Shakespeare.
With that thought, he was out of the kitchen. As he stepped out, a voice crackled through a hidden ear receiver.
“The target is close. Move fast.”
The monk’s eyes shot open. He remained perfectly still but his breathing was deep and drawn out. All of a sudden, his room flashed a deep blood red. It spread like a stain around its otherwise milk colored walls, until it had enveloped his entire room. Beads of sweat dripped from the monk’s head, down his face. Yet he remained unmoving until the red faded away just as rapidly as it came. That was when he heard the voices from the other room in the suite.
“What took you so long? I say five minutes and you come here almost an hour later?”
The monk recognized the voice to belong to the man who had answered his knock earlier.
“I am sorry. We had a little incident in the kitchen. A… a friend died…”
“Just give me the bottles.” The voice snapped.
The monk heard the door being slammed shut, rather angrily.
“Here you go guys.” The voice said.
There were sounds of approval and invectives hurled at the room service attendant who had since departed. It wasn’t long before he heard the caps of the bottles being popped open. His semi-meditative state had heightened his senses and even now he could hear the steady breathing thrumming through the far left wall of his room, closest to the hallway outside. His room door was opened and his escort walked in, shutting the door behind him.
“I’m sorry they took so long. At this rate I fear the moment we order food right?” The man smiled.
He cautiously walked close to the monk and placed two bottles of water, including a book beside him. The monk could still hear the steady breathing. It was akin to a timer or was it a countdown. He needed to act now.
“You get to read hamlet this time.” The escort said as he habitually arranged the bottles and the book. “Treasure it. It is indeed a rare find these days.”
The escort made to stand up but was quickly held down by his tie.
“Hey! You need to…”
The escort went silent as the monk signaled for him to, by placing a finger to his own lips.
“Tā de shēnbiān.” The monk said.
“What? Who?” The escort struggled with his breathing.
The monk let go of his tie and they both got to their feet.
“Horus.” The monk said. He turned to look at the escort and swiftly kicked his own water bottle out of his hand. It clattered into the wall demarcating the two rooms, its glass fragmenting into tiny pieces as it did.
“Your men, dead already, Klopp.” The monk said, startling the escort with the sudden use of English and unexpected knowledge of his name.
The escort named Klopp turned towards the spilled water on the tiles. The liquid seemed to glitter in a semi-metallic manner and parts of it spread out like tendrils from the central splash and puddle.
Klopp ran towards the door of the other room and yanked it open. His eyes took in the slumped bodies of his three dead compatriots.
“Oh my God!” He blurted out as he reached to activate his inner earpiece.
“He comes again.” The Chinese man warned him from behind.
Years of training and experience kicked into gear as Klopp swiftly withdrew his sidearm and trained its nuzzle on the entrance to the suite. The air in his lungs was released in shaky breaths.
“I am… sorry to have dragged you into this, Klopp. You are a good man.”
“Be quiet!” Klopp snapped at the monk. “We are getting out of this alive.”
Klopp reached for his inner earpiece and activated it.
“Base to road runner! Base to road runner! Können Sie mich hören?! Abort!”
There was static on the other end.
“Klopp… please… lay down. He wants me.” The monk pleaded.
“I cannot. My orders are to protect you. I’ve got the only entrance covered. We are at an impasse until I get backup.” Klopp argued.
“Do you know why he is called Horus?” The monk asked.
“Because he’s Egyptian?”
The breathing had slowed down considerably. It would happen any moment now. The monk sighed.
“Because… he doesn’t need an entrance.”
Klopp’s left temple exploded before his ears could register the spitting sound he heard. The bullet exited through the other side and slammed into the wall just as the dead escort slumped lifelessly to the ground. A few deathly silent seconds passed, before the door handle slowly turned and the door opened. The man in the kitchen worker’s outfit, stepped in and let the door shut soundlessly behind him. His steely blue eyes took in the lifeless bodies around, before setting in on the monk.
“So, you finally show yourself.” The monk said, the anger laced within his voice.
“Hello, Jiang Li.” The room service attendant said. “Six months. You were one of the hardest to find.” He added.
It was the same voice that had earlier spoken to the now dead escort. However, all pretense of friendliness was gone. The voice was cold, assured, confident and… bitter. Jiang was surprised at the last energy he sensed. His mind frantically raced through his brief knowledge of the city of Berlin, searching for anyone he had seen before. Anyone who could be a suitable carrier. He stalled some more.
“So who are you known as now?” Jiang Li asked.
“Kurt. The bungling new guy.”
The assassin seemed to take a mild amusement in their conversation. He had to admit, it would be amusing talking to a dead man. The monk’s mind found what he was looking for and locked in. Now it was all about timing. The girl was sleeping. Her own mind constantly sending signals to her body in a bid to regain control. She would be needed for now. If all went well, he could help her.
“Kurt. You and I will be meeting again. I am sure of it. Those who sent you… will end this world.”
“I do not care about this world.” The assassin snapped. It was a rare show of emotion and it was there again, the bitterness. “Consider this a favor. If someone else is capable enough to deal me the same fate… we will meet again.”
Jiang Li smiled. He was right about Kurt.
“So be it.” He finally said.
The assassin known to the underworld as Horus pulled up his gun wielding arm and took aim. True to his legend, he would not miss. The monk took in a deep breath as the bullet was catapulted out of its chamber. He released the breath just as the bullet ate a hole through his brain. It would be his last breath. He dropped to the ground, lifelessly.
The man currently known as Kurt, took one last look around him before tapping his earpiece.
“Target terminated, Set. Take out the Chancellor on arrival.”
There was a crackling sound on the other end.
“Target’s arrival time is in five. Storm delay. Commence withdrawal.”
The assassin killed the connection and taking one last look at the suite, walked out and closed the door soundlessly.