Janet Umoh’s fingers raced across the thin keyboard as fast as she could push them. She grabbed a mug beside her and took a few gulps of the black coffee inside before setting it back down and continuing.
How frigging hard is it to find this guy
She had been searching for Care Packet all day and still had not come close to pinpointing his location. Sure enough, there were signs of him. He had successfully disabled their snooping agent in a matter of minutes. The snooping agent had been configured to change its IPv6 address every five minutes.
How good is this guy really?
Janet had spent most of the last six years chasing Care Packet’s shadow. She got as good as she was now because of him. Hell, she had chosen this career because of him. He had become her yardstick, her benchmark, the bar she had to surpass. That quest had gotten her recognized by both the NIA and ONSA. She frequently shuffled back and forth between the two agencies as a consultant. It was good work and good money too. All that was left was the icing on the cake. Proving she was better than him. Even now under the watchful eyes of the executioner, she still wanted to best him. She had to find him.
“Anything yet?” Came the familiar cold voice.
“Nothing other than what I’ve told you.”
She could feel his smile behind her.
“You know, for someone who desperately wants to find his son, you sure are enjoying my failures so far.”
“Well I’m just shocked the mighty Janet, who single-handedly penetrated the NIA can’t find one person.”
“Care Packet is not just anybody out there.”
“You are right. He isn’t. Keep looking.”
She sighed and turned back to her laptop screen. The source IP addresses were all over the place. Some had come from Europe, while others had come from North and South America. There was no way to trace back to him. All IP addresses checked out as registered and owned by various organizations from businesses to ISPs. She inspected the traffic a bit more. A minute, easily missed detail caught her attention. It was a glimmer of a chance, but a chance nonetheless. Janet’s fingers began flying once more.
“The entire city is crawling with law enforcement agents, looking for us. Make sure to follow my lead on this.” Artemis addressed Ibrahim and Nonso as a field instructor would address rookie agents, during a training session.
“What do we do?” Ibrahim asked.
“We split up. Your disguises are not meant to make you unrecognizable. They are meant to buy you a little bit of time while an agent matches who they see to who they remember from the pictures they’ve studied. You should be gone and out of sight before a match is confirmed.”
Ibrahim wore a black suit that was slightly lose fitting, and an unassuming checkered shirt. His once slightly full hair and beard were gone and in place of them, was a clean shave. Nonso wore a plain white shirt and black pants, complete with black shoes. They cut the picture of two regular men going to work. There would be no need to pay them any more attention than was necessary.
“When you get out of the hotel, turn west and head two blocks down. Turn right and head towards a taxi parking lot. You’ll see Martins there. It should be easy to spot him. He’ll have a good excuse for not picking up other passengers.”
“Where will you be?” Nonso asked.
“I will be covering you. You remember where you are to go once you get to ground level?”
“Old Asokoro.” Nonso responded.
Artemis walked forward and handed them each a metallic bar. Their eyes widened as they realized what the bars were.
“Cup the bar like the nozzle of a gun and slide your thumb backwards along its length.”
They both did so and the bar ejected other pieces and parts. A handle shot out beneath, including a trigger. A safety knob sprang out last.”
“Safety is on by default. Thumb it backwards to turn it off. Aim and shoot.”
“That’s it?” Ibrahim asked.
“Need me to teach you anything else?”
“Well… this is a bit of a crash course. Will we need to use this? Realistically…”
“I hope not. I’m not giving you this to kill anyone, Care Packet. I need you to stay alive. Do you understand?”
Ibrahim looked at her for a bit. She was dressed in the hijab and overalls once more.
There was a beeping sound. It was Nonso’s phone. He reached into his pocket and took it out.
“I do not know this number.” Nonso said as he busied the call.
There was another beeping sound, not long after. Nonso looked at his phone once more. He fiddled with the touch screen for a bit before looking back up at Artemis and Ibrahim, wide-eyed in fear.
“What is it?” Ibrahim asked.
Nonso gave the phone to Ibrahim. A text message box was open.
Don’t dig down further south. You are far away from the light. Your source is up north. Climb north. Will call back in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….
The phone rang once again, startling Ibrahim. He glanced over at Artemis.
“Do you know the trace time?” She asked calmly.
Ibrahim picked up.
“Did you get my message?”
Ibrahim took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“I can still help you, while there is time.”
“All I wanted was for you to listen.”
“I’m listening now. You are in grave danger.”
“You are a few years late on the realization.”
“Listen to me! I cannot let you go down this path. You can turn around and truly serve your country. If you go, you won’t be able to turn back. Do you understand?”
Ibrahim kept quiet.
“Do you understand?”
“By the time I’m done changing this country and ridding it of all the tyrants, thieves and liars, there will be no need to turn back. Don’t come looking for me. The next time we meet… The next time…”
Ibrahim cut the call as he could not complete the sentence. His hands trembled and he took deep labored breaths. A hand was placed softly on his chest.
“I know it’s hard but you need to focus. We are running out of time.”
Ibrahim looked at her and she gave him a reassuring look. He nodded understandingly and turned to look at Nonso.
“Last chance man. You could get out of all this now. Lie. Say you were forced or kidnapped. There’s a good chance I’ll be killed and so will you if you stick with me.”
“Every man dies eventually.” Nonso responded. “Feels good to know I got some choice in the matter.”
Ibrahim nodded once more and turned to Artemis.
The front desk hostess attended to them with indifference written all over her face. They had not exactly cut the appearance of the affluent and classy when they had checked in four days earlier. Ibrahim and Artemis both flashed their best fake smiles, while handing the keys over to the front desk staff. Not that it mattered. The lady ignored their friendliness and handed them some papers to sign. Ibrahim did, expertly re-forging the signature he had used when they checked in. He slid the documents back to her, including a few two thousand naira notes as well. Her face finally cracked into a smile.
“Thank you sir. Hope you come again sir and ma.”
Typical. Ibrahim thought. He and Nonso picked up the pace as they walked towards the exit, while Artemis dropped behind a bit. It felt like forever since they’d been outside and though the sun was setting, they briefly brought up their hands to shield their eyes, while surveying the area.
“Feels like the first day out of prison.” Nonso said.
“Maybe it is.” Ibrahim responded as they turned left and walked down the side street.
They slowed down their pace and glanced periodically around, with minimal head movements. All around them, people went about their daily activities, hurrying off to meet up with a variety of appointments and activities. They scanned every face they could for tell-tale signs of the unusual: their dressing, their mannerisms, and the activities they were involved in. Anything that could give them away as a possible intelligence agent tasked with the responsibility of bringing them in, preferably dead. So far they picked up nothing. Ibrahim hastened his footsteps and turned right, at the end of the street. He bumped into a large heavy-set man, momentarily losing his balance.
“Oh I’m so sorry there young man.” The heavyset man exclaimed as he extended his hand in an offering of help to Ibrahim who struggled to get back to his feet. Ibrahim took his hand and was helped up.
“Um… thanks.” Ibrahim said awkwardly. Something was off. As he was helped up, he thought he’d heard strange sounds. They were spitting sounds. Two of them in quick succession. They sounded distant but somehow closer than his mind determined them to be. He smiled at the heavy-set man and looked over at Nonso. That was when everything changed. Nonso had collapsed into a seating position on the ground, in a heap. He looked at the heavy-set man in wide-eyed horror and his breathing was shallow. His mouth was agape and blood trickled from the side of his lip, unto his shirt. There were two dark red bullet holes in his abdomen.
Ibrahim glanced back at the heavy-set man. The gun he held was a black one, in the classical design of segmented guns used decades ago. They were less efficient and less versatile in ability than the newer solid state transmutable guns in production now, equipped with the latest in nanotechnology and meta-memory features, but were still very much in use. Affixed to the end of the nuzzle, was a silencer.
“Classics never go out of style.” The heavy-set man said with a grin.
“You need to come with me.” He continued.
They were standing right at the corner. The man leaned against the wall casually. He was perfectly relaxed and wore a disarming grin on his face. To passersby it must have looked like they were having a friendly conversation. Nonso’s collapsed heap, painted the picture of a lunatic sitting in the shadows. The setting sun continued to disappear beneath the horizon and the darkness seemed to grow in intensity. Ibrahim’s eyes shot back and forth between a dying Nonso and the calm assassin that had dealt the mortal blows. A shadow seemed to move behind the man. There was a flinch, and then no movement from the man. He grunted briefly. It was more in pain than anything else.
“Hmmm…” He said, his lips quivering. “You truly are a legendary huntress. To pay me such attention. It is an honor.”
“You are nothing more than disposable trash.” Artemis said her voice as cold as ice. “I’m going after those who threw the trash out into the street. Move, Care Packet. Take him with you, now.”
“If I move, he’ll fire.” Ibrahim said as he nodded his head towards the man’s pistol.
“I’ve depressed his ulnar nerve and currently driven a blade into his lower back. One kidney is already punctured. I doubt he’ll want to lose both. He can’t fire on you. Move.”
Ibrahim slowly moved away from the gun trained on his abdomen. He carefully sidestepped the assassin and dashed towards Nonso. The wounded man grunted as he was lifted up to his feet.
“You are not dying on me bro. You most definitely are not dying on me.”
He rested Nonso’s left hand across his left shoulder and supported him as they raced towards the taxi cabs. Artemis watched them go before turning back to the assassin.
“Walk.” She shoved the blade deeper into his back and prodded him to move forward. Guttural grunts that sounded more like suppressed screams escaped the assassin as he lumbered forward. They were walking back the way they’d come, towards the motel.
“How did you know we were here?” Artemis asked coldly. The assassin kept mute. Artemis twisted the blade in his back and he grimaced. She pulled him off the street and into a side alley.
“What does it matter? We… found… you.”
“Care Packet might be smart… but not so sure about the other… one.”
“The phone call…” Artemis said as she twisted the blade even more, eliciting another suppressed yell and a grimace. The assassin nodded frantically.
“You couldn’t have traced us that quickly.”
“Not… exactly… but we were able to pinpoint the area… level 33.”
“Where’s the executioner?”
There was no response and the blade twisted again.
“Where’s the executioner?”
“Fuck you!!” The assassin screamed as he lashed backwards with his elbow at Artemis. She evaded and hooked her left arm around his neck. She stepped in closer and rammed the blade further in. The assassin struggled. He was viciously powerful. He stepped backwards with his left leg and used his rather large palm to push back Artemis’s face. Her grip on him loosened and a large elbow was rammed into her rib section. Artemis let go of the blade handle and the assassin turned around instantly lashing out another blow. Artemis parried and successfully parried a flurry of subsequent attacks. The alley was narrow. One false move and he would crush her against either one of the walls, or both. Artemis bent low and caught the assassin’s left heel with a low kick. It knocked him off balance, sending him crashing into the left wall of the narrow alley with his back. He let out a loud yell as the blade, still stuck inside was driven further in, by the impact. Artemis lashed out with her right foot, slamming her knee into the bigger man’s solar plexus and then her foot into his face in quick succession. His head crashed into the back of the wall and snapped forward. Artemis caught the assassin’s head in a neck lock.
“Fuck… you…” The assassin could barely get out the words.
“Yeah that’s never going to happen.”
Artemis twisted the assassin’s neck, snapping it. The body crumpled to the floor and lay still. There was a cacophony of garbled noises coming from the ear piece he wore. Artemis picked up the earpiece and put it on.
Artemis said nothing.
“Bulus!! Come in!!”
“Bulus is dealing with a broken neck. Our conversation went awry.”
Artemis whipped out her phone and opened up the interface. She selected an icon and expanded it into a screen. She hit the ‘analyze’ button displayed on the screen and in a few seconds a number popped up on her screen. 9.5kHZ.
“Oh… I’m sorry your conversation got so testy. Can his broken neck be fixed?”
“I see. So, how will our conversation play out Miss Artemis? It is Artemis… isn’t it?”
“What you call me is unimportant. What’s important is you stay away from Care Packet, if you want to keep breathing.”
Artemis’s thumbs were flying across her phone screen.
“Oh I’m afraid I cannot do that. My job is to protect the country from people like you. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”
Artemis hit the send button.
“That depends on your definition of ‘the country’. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”
“Ah an intelligent one. In any case, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon. I’ll be cutting off your radio receiver now. Please understand. We can’t have you snooping in on our conversations.”
There was a crackling sound and then static. Artemis had already left the alley. She watched from a tea shop as a team of agents dressed in black protective gear and armed to the teeth with guns, swarmed into the alley. Bulus had not answered her questions about where the executioner was. And the person she had talked to just now, could not have been him. She looked at her phone. There was no response from Ibrahim yet.
Hurry up Care Packet. Hurry.
Ibrahim held onto Nonso tightly as the cab they were in plummeted downwards towards Ground level. Hot on their tail were two black Lexus Thrones gaining on them. A bullet crashed through the back window of the cab and exited through the windshield.
“Get down!!!” Martins yelled as he opened fire on the chasing SUVs. Martins was the same man who had driven them to Old Nyanya on the first night Ibrahim met Artemis. Artemis had been wounded on that night, but this night… this night was worse.
“Stay with me bro!!!!” Ibrahim yelled at Nonso. Nonso’s eyes rolled. Both his hands gripped two pieces of cloth pressed tightly on Nonso’s abdomen. They used to be white in color. Now they were soaked red. There was so much blood. He’d lost so much blood.
“Move it Martins!!!”
“Care Packet get it together! I don’t know if your friend is going to die or live but if we all die then so does he. Get your head down and keep that pressure up! Keep your senses alert too. Your phone rang five minutes ago!!”
His phone. When had Martins heard it amidst the chaos?
They were lurched this way and that as Martins expertly glided past connecting platforms, magnetic lanes, and aerial traffic. Ibrahim looked at Nonso. The wounded man’s eyes opened and rested weakly on Ibrahim.
“Shh… no words. Please forgive me. This will hurt a bit.” Ibrahim shifted his weight and used his left leg to hold both pieces of cloth in place, applying the pressure of his weight on them and the wounds. Nonso grimaced. Ibrahim whipped out his phone and quickly opened the text message he’d gotten from Artemis.
“Fffffudge!” He exclaimed under his breath as he grabbed his laptop bag and quickly opened it up to retrieve his laptop. He whipped open the device and accessed a terminal. Ibrahim punched in some commands and was quickly looking at a screen that seemed to display a range. At the bottom of the screen was a value, 8.3kHz. There was also a value at the top of the screen, 3000GHz. He observed the screen for a bit and turned up the volume of his laptop as his fingers went flying across the keyboard once more. Garbled noise began to filter through the laptop speakers. Ibrahim’s fingers were still flying and soon the noise became distinct sounds and words. They were listening to the chatter between NIA agents.
“Hey leave that on!” Martins yelled.
Ibrahim whipped out his phone and composed a response to Artemis. He hit send.
“What level are we on now?!” Ibrahim yelled.
“Level 10!!!” Martins yelled back. “Brace yourself Care Packet!!! It’s about to get rough.”
The wind whistled and sang violently through the open windows, as well as the bullet holes in the back window and windshield. The whizzing sound of more bullets could be heard racing past the cab. Their damage could also be seen. Some innocent bystanders could be seen dropping to the ground. Cars plummeted to their fiery doom, and magnetic lanes exploded, creaked and snapped. Ibrahim looked behind him. The Lexus Thrones were fast. That was to be expected. What he hadn’t realized was how highly maneuverable they would be, even under these conditions. He had not noticed that when he and Artemis had hijacked one, about four days earlier. As the Thrones gained on them, he noticed another car, careen into line behind them. It hurtled through the air and was quickly upon the Thrones. Ibrahim turned to Martins.
“We’ve got three of them now!!” He yelled again.
“No!! We’ve still got two!! Listen!”
Ibrahim paid attention to his laptop speakers.
CONTROL!! COME IN COME IN. WE’VE GOT AN UNIDENTIFIED BOGEY TAILING US AND MOVING IN NORTH OF 280KPH. AGAIN PLEASE CONFIRM IF THIS IS SUPPORT!!
TEAM ONE PLEASE BE ADVISED YOU AND TEAM TWO ARE STILL IN THE CHASE ALONE. SUPPORT HAS NOT CONFIRMED CATCHING UP TO YOU. PLEASE BE ON THE ALERT!!!
Ibrahim turned back towards the car behind the Thrones. A figure leaned out of the passenger’s window side. Ibrahim’s eyes widened as the figure trained his gun on the Thrones. He opened fire.