Dayo frantically ruffled through a bunch of files held together in a black binder. His eyes rapidly scanned the contents of each file before he flipped pages over to the next one. He shook his head in disappointment, closed the binder and shoved it away in disgust. He held his head between his hands and briefly closed his eyes thinking. There was a knock on the glass door which served as the entrance to his office. Dayo opened his eyes and beckoned on the male figure to come in. Bulus opened the door in a slow, deliberate manner and closed it in much the same fashion. He briefly took in Dayo’s office. His huge desk, made of polished mahogany wood, stood right underneath the air vent in the ceiling. The vent was inclined downwards so that the cool air hit Dayo directly. He’d always preferred it that way. There was a single white energy saving lightbulb which served as the office’s source of illumination. To Bulus’s left was a huge strategy board with touch screen and holographic capabilities. Dayo had lots of active data tiles open, which told Bulus he had been working for a while. If Bulus had any doubts, they were wiped away at the sight of his usually ordered bookshelf that presently looked like a tornado had run through it.
“Dayo. You are going to give yourself high blood pressure.” Bulus finally said, breaking the silence. “Go home and sleep over it. Maybe when you wake up…”
“He’s not a field agent. He’s received no formal training whatsoever and yet twice now he’s been able to thwart our men out there. He managed to give us the slip on level 47 and he was confirmed to be alone then.”
“If he has the huntress giving him instructions, then that would explain a lot.”
“It explains little, Bulus.” Dayo retorted. “Instructions are one thing, but to execute them is quite another. If instructions were the key to surviving in our world, then anyone could wake up one morning and become an operative. But, cutting off the supply of good advice would be a very good move too.”
“You plan to isolate him?” Bulus asked
“More specifically, I’m launching an all-out attack against the huntress. We’ll concentrate on her first. Care Packet and his friend will be easy to deal with thereafter.”
“It is Artemis we are dealing with here. How do you plan to dispatch her? Last time she gave our very own a thorough beating.”
“Yes but as we confirmed, she was hit once and took a pretty nasty tumble afterwards. She’s not invincible and she’s currently not at full strength either. This time we know what we are in for. I believe we can take out an injured Artemis, right?”
“Of… course.” Bulus responded, trying not to sound incompetent. The truth was he didn’t believe they could kill Artemis that easily, not going by the stories he’d heard of her and certainly not by what he’d seen so far. “But, that is not the only reason why you have adopted this strategy. Is it Dayo?”
“What do you mean?” Dayo shot a glance at Bulus.
“You and I know all too well that we are chasing a cub. And this time it’s not the lionesses I’m afraid will kill us, should they find out. How long can we keep this up before the roof caves in on us?”
“But we are right Bulus! Don’t you see?” Dayo shot up to his feet and paced back and forth in front of his black leather seat. “This is the very approach that has killed this country we claim to love so much. We find the criminals and fail to act because of who they are. The law should not take into consideration who we are. He taught me that. And I will stand in front of him and say as much.”
“Then… why haven’t you?” Bulus asked again.
“That would compromise the mission. You know this. The time isn’t right for that.”
Bulus sighed and asked no more questions. Dayo was a straight arrow. He’d been so, right from the moment he’d joined the organization. In a world where honesty is a least desired trait and yet loyalty is demanded with the utmost intensity, Dayo was able to strike a unique balance. He was brutally honest to the people around him and devoutly loyal to the cause. This time however, Dayo was being loyal to the cause, at the expense of being honest. He was out of his element and it showed. Ironically, this would have been the desirable balance. Bulus sighed again and dropped an extra binder on Dayo’s table. Dayo reached out, opened the binder and started flipping through the photographs as Bulus continued to talk.
“We kept watch on him. He made contact just like you anticipated. However, his stay was brief. He left after only a few minutes.”
“And your men were not made by his Excellency’s operatives were they?”
“No. If they were, you’d be aware of it by now.”
“Where is he now?”
“Yeah… we lost him again after he left.”
Dayo shot a glance at Bulus a second time.
“He’s getting good at this Dayo.”
“I see…” Dayo massaged his eye lids with his right index finger and thumb. The migraine was setting in. He hadn’t got much sleep lately. He got up and picked up his white coffee mug. The interior, stained with dried coffee, showed this would not be its first use today. Dayo made his way over to the coffee maker, which sat on a counter at the corner of his office. He served himself another helping. And got back to his seat, the black liquid steaming nicely. He took a sip and addressed Bulus once more.
“Keep watching his apartment and disperse a team to canvas levels 45 to 47. He will most likely be in one of the three. We need to reference his previous movement patterns. Where he likes to go hangout, who he sees, what he eats. It’s hard for people to break patterns even when they know they have to. He’s also under a lot of stress right now, which means he’ll most likely go somewhere he’s comfortable with. And wherever he is….”
“Artemis will be as well.” Bulus concluded.
“We need to move now.”
Ibrahim sat at on top of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s gigantic foot. It was an airy afternoon, with just the right shade of sky blue. The wind picked up and swayed this way and that, whispering as it glided past the solid structures that immortalized the fifteen heads of state the country had produced since it gained independence from the British, a hundred years earlier. He looked up at Dr. Azikiwe’s ever smiling face. He had done so, many times this afternoon.
“When we won our freedom, you must have been so overjoyed… So thrilled. Could you have ever foreseen us throwing it all away and imprisoning ourselves in our own greed for riches, and lust for power? We’ve destroyed the dream you once fought for. The Nigeria you envisioned never happened and the idiots in power don’t get it. They just beget more idiots to rule and the cycle continues.”
“Then replace the idiots with wise leaders.”
Ibrahim whirled around to see Artemis standing behind Azikiwe’s leg. She looked at him and gave him a knowing smile.
“Nonso guessed you might be here. He guessed right. He is a good friend you know?”
“Leave me alone.” Ibrahim responded coldly. “No one understands. No one ever will.”
“Is that so?” Artemis asked, still looking at him. “Why are you here then?”
“Eventually the NIA will figure out I’m here and come for me. And all of this will be over.”
“So that’s it. You are going to give up. The great Care Packet, after being a symbol of hope, a light in the dark, turns himself into the very system he seeks to change.”
Ibrahim could hear the disgust in her voice.
“Yes… That’s it.”
He heard the clicking of her gun behind his head as she thumbed the safety off. Ibrahim looked around him at the other people strolling leisurely around Presidents’ Park. They smiled and took pictures with each other on the lush green grass, then ran up to the huge cobblestoned walkway with the titanic statues lining each side and took pictures with democratic heads of state and dictators alike. No one noticed Artemis or him. She had done a good job of utilizing the shadows cast by the statues, to her advantage.
“So now you are going to kill me.”
“If that is what I have to do to preserve some of your dignity.”
Ibrahim slowly turned his head to the left as his eyes shot back at her.
“Dignity?” He asked perplexed.
“Yes. Dignity you bloody piece of shit. See there was a time I did not believe in heroes. I thought men like that were never born here. At least not anymore. We ran out of heroes a long time ago. Then a man saved me from that darkness and gave me hope when no one else possibly could. That man raised me to believe that every generation has a few heroes… a few game changers who with a little push, a little inspiration, just might be the very thing this God forsaken country has been waiting for, for the past century.”
“And if you kill me…”
“Another will be out there to find.” Artemis said cutting him short. “And if there is no other right now, we will wait till another is born. I don’t believe in you Ibrahim… I believe in the man you can become. Whether you become that man or not is up to you. If you choose not to be, then I guarantee you someone else eventually will be. Right now you have been given a gift for a reason. And you did not come here to be taken in. You know that deep inside of you. Do not forsake yourself.”
“And if I say yes.”
“We go to Old Nyanya again. There is someone you have to speak with.”
Ibrahim took a deep breath and got up.
“I’ve never done this before.” He said as he got up.
“Maybe that’s why you’ve never found what you are looking for.”
Ibrahim looked at her and managed a wry smile. She returned in kind. They were still smiling when a part of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s left foot exploded near Ibrahim, spraying him with particles of cement, white paint and concrete. He instinctively raced behind the statue’s leg, pinning himself to the structure, right beside Artemis. The shot had been made from a muffled sniper rifle and as such only a thwack sound was heard. However, it was enough to send the park visitors into a frenzy. People raced this way and that, hiding their head between their palms as though that would prevent them from being hit, while they struggled to find cover.
“We need to move now.” Artemis said, looking to take advantage of the ensuing chaos.
“But we don’t know where they are shooting from.” Ibrahim said with a petrified look on his face.
“That won’t matter. All that matters is that we move now, while we are still hard to hit.”
Artemis’s mind was racing. Was the NIA so desperate to kill Ibrahim? Would they really attack him in public and risk civilian lives?
“Now!” Artemis yelled as she tugged at Ibrahim and broke out into a run. A bullet whizzed by the back of her head as they ran. Artemis ducked behind a couple of panicked people, with Ibrahim right behind her. She poked out from behind her human shield and then reversed course once again. There was another thwack sound. A little bed of grass was lifted off the ground before landing in a messy heap of leaf and soil. Artemis observed the grass and quickly calculated the trajectory of the bullet. She would have been in the bullet’s flight path had she not reversed course.
“We need to get out of here Care Packet and fast.”
“No kidding.” Ibrahim said as he ran after her.
They made their way towards the walkway lined by tall palm trees, which led to the entrance of the park. The panicked crowd had gathered there and were pushing on each other, trying to squeeze by the lone open gate. Artemis turned around and quickly surveyed the crowd behind them. Her eyes immediately picked out five possible pursuers. One of them looked like a certain woman she had dueled with, four nights ago. They moved calmly and largely unnoticed through the panicked crowd, their eyes fixated on her. The intent was clear. Artemis looked around and spotted the park office. She tugged at Ibrahim once more.
“We are going in there.”
“But… we are at…”
“We’ll never get through those gates on time. If we wait, they’ll capture you.”
“I think they were trying to kill me.”
“Wrong Care Packet. They are trying to kill me.”
“They got to the entrance of the office and Artemis promptly kicked open the door.”
“Are you crazy?!” Yelled a police officer with a gun. He stormed at Artemis. “Go back…”
Artemis caught his gun wielding arm and directed it upwards. Two loud gunshots were fired towards the ceiling. She whirled herself around and slammed her back into the policeman’s chest, simultaneously drawing his gun wielding arm down and slamming it on her shoulder blade. There was a cracking sound heard, along with the man’s primal cry of pain. Artemis continued the motion with the arm, bending over and lifting the man over her back till he fell in a heap in front of her. She quickly pried the gun free and whirled around while getting into a crouching position. She fired once, and a second policeman dropped. Artemis rolled to her left to avoid a staccato of bullets. She got up into a crouching position and fired once again. The third policeman dropped to the floor. Artemis turned around to look at Ibrahim.
Ibrahim was wide-eyed and silent but he nodded slowly in response. The first policeman was still writhing in pain.
“Abeg o! Just go! Go now! I no want trouble. Attacking police officers. Shame on you.”
“You are a disgrace.” Artemis said. “You wear the uniform and hide for safety in here while the people you swore to protect, trample on each other out there.” And with that, they made their way to the back of the office where some staff members nervously put up their hands in a show of surrender.
“Get down!” Artemis yelled and the staff members hurriedly fell face first to the floor. Artemis reached out and stopped one, a young man who looked to be in his early twenties, right before he prostrated on the floor.
“Is there a back door?” She asked. The man nodded frightfully.
“Come with us.” She said, dragging him. The man did not resist. The last sentence was not a request or a question and he did not want to find out what would happen should he treat it as such. They got to a locked steel door all the way at the back of the office. The young man nervously fiddled with a bunch of keys before finding the one he was looking for. As soon as he opened the door, Artemis landed a ferocious blow to the back of his head, knocking him out cold. The man fell to the floor in an ugly heap.
“What was that for?!” Ibrahim asked.
“Saving his life.” Came Artemis’s terse response.
As they made their way past the open metal door Ibrahim caught sight of the cars that lined the parking lot outside. He could barely contain his excitement as he moved past Artemis and attempted to make a beeline for the nearest car. Gunshots could be heard and he quickly ran back to the flight of stairs leading down to the parking lot. Artemis could tell their pursuers had split up. She could hear some behind them and closing in fast, while some of them had perched on the edge of a park cliff overlooking the parking lot and were primed to open fire on anything that moved. Going back inside would be suicide. They had to keep moving forward. Artemis reached into her utility bag and pulled out six small black orbs.
“What are those?” Ibrahim asked.
“A distraction.” She responded and with that tossed the six orbs into the parking lot.
They clattered about randomly and soon began releasing smoke into the air. Artemis turned back towards the open metal door and opened up suppressive fire on their pursuers.
“Smoke is thick enough Care Packet. Go!”
With that, Ibrahim was racing through the parking lot, trying to keep low and under the smoke as well as he possibly could. He finally made his way to the car that had caught his interest earlier. It was a 2056 model Lexus Throne. However, it had not been the car model which had attracted him. After years of being driven around in his father’s car, Ibrahim could easily spot a bullet-proofed car no matter how well concealed the extra armor was. Ibrahim got to the car and quickly scuttled over to the driver’s side. He quickly searched his pockets and brought out a cord with a key plug on one end and a USB plug on the other. Ibrahim plugged the key into the car and the USB into his phone. He quickly brought up an interface and began tuning in for signals, occasionally hitting an unlock button. Eventually he latched on to the right one and the car’s lights flashed as the doors opened. The flashing light drew the attention of the shooters perched on the cliff and they opened fire on the car. Ibrahim had quickly crawled inside the driver’s seat and shut the door. He could hear the bullets make impact with loud thwank sounds, leaving barely noticeable indentations on the car. Ibrahim brought his phone near the car’s dashboard and hit the start button. His theory was right. The car had read his phone’s frequency and believed it to be the key. The engine revved up to life. He quickly shifted gears and the car lurched out of its parking slot, turned swiftly and headed towards the back of the park office building where Artemis was still exchanging fire with their pursuers. Ibrahim quickly opened the passenger door.
“Get in!” He yelled.
Artemis looked back and turned back to the open metal door, firing a few more shots before bolting to the car. She jumped over the railing and leaped for the door, barely making it inside. Artemis grimaced in pain just as a lady walked through the open metallic door. Ibrahim’s blood ran cold as soon as he saw her face. It was Simisola or rather the praying mantis. Simisola looked at him, smiled and winked. She raised her gun and took aim. Ibrahim was frozen stiff with fear. Simisola opened fire just as Artemis reached over and closed the door. The thwank sound was heard once again.
“Stay with me Care Packet.” Artemis said squeezing Ibrahim’s right hand and pulling him back to reality. “Drive. We need to get out of here and fast.”
Ibrahim nodded and shifted gears once again. As they turned away, Artemis looked back at Simisola. The mischievous smile was gone and had been replaced with a scowl. Artemis smirked and blew her a sarcastic kiss. The Lexus Throne was out of the parking lot and whizzing through the driveways that led to the main highways.
“She’s still alive?” Ibrahim finally asked. “I thought you killed her.”
“I was going to. Unfortunately, I was interrupted. Besides, isn’t she your four year crush?”
“Oh shut up.”
“What is it?” Artemis asked still laughing.
“You actually have a sense of humor. I wouldn’t have guessed.”
Artemis slowly reverted back to her serious self and wore a slightly embarrassed look on her face. She had dropped her guard briefly. It wouldn’t happen again.
“It suits you… feels more like you.”
“Your humorous side. It suits you.”
Ibrahim managed a wry smile. There was a bit of silence from then on. They both took in the aerial highways and view from the Lexus Throne as it flew effortlessly through its own metallic lane, headed towards Level 46. It was 3:30PM and Abuja’s sky-scape seemed oddly clear. The megastructures could be seen in all their glory. It was an intermeshed web of metal and concrete all linked together to create an artificial forest. And the commuters were the inhabitants swinging from one tree to the next, in search of the next meal.
“Why you and not me?”
“The NIA would never try to kill you in public… not that way. And right now they view me as the gatekeeper.”
“I’m the one that stands between you and them. Kill me and they will capture you before you could say Jack Robinson”.
“This is all a big mess.”
“Life here is one big mess. Welcome to reality my friend.”
“So what now?”
“We ditch this car at Level 46 and take the public commute to Level 45. I guess you need to get your gear.”
“I will be attending classes from Old Nyanya?”
“Unless you have a better option.”
“A big mess.” Ibrahim said once more.
“Have you ever wiped a car down?”
“Like cleaned and washed?”
“No. Wiped for prints.”
“You’ll learn today.”