By Divine Agency
EXTENDED SUMMARY: In a futuristic world, mayors have become 'city-lords' and they have the power of kings, governments are barely holding on, and independent undercover agencies are wielding more and more power. One such is Athene, who, recognising the un-talked of psychics hidden among the ordinary mortals, kidnap them as adolescents and try to brainwash them into obedience, using a machine known as Lethe to remove their memories. Artemis, its rival, seeks to free these psychics and bring Athene down. Then there's Nox, who, like most of the undercover agencies, are a collection of assassins, thieves, and spies, and are just involved for the money. But when Athene and Artemis stop playing by the rules, all the agents are going to have to take a stand...
NOTES ON THE STORY: This story shall be told in two different times, the present, where Rings is twenty-five years old and Darien is twenty-four, and ten years in the past, when Rings is fifteen. The chapters should alternate between times, but in case of confusion, each one will be labelled with its time frame. I hope this isn't too confusing, but it was the best way to tell the whole story. A glossary of the odd terms I use, and a translation of all Greek and Latin words, will be available at the bottom of each chapter that I think it's necessary. I will not use footnotes. If you're that perplexed by a term, just scroll down, it's probably there.
AN: I don't like to put up a story where there's a chance I could randomly go on hiatus, but I've been really slack lately, and all those lovely people still interested in my writing deserve better. So, here you are, and I just hope my inspiration doesn't desert me.
Reviews are obviously adored: this is the first time I've written in the sci-fi genre, so comments, criticisms and advice would be hugely appreciated.
Chapter 1: Godly Mercy
"Welcome to the Temple, Agent Rings. Have a seat." The woman, dressed in an immaculate suit, extended a curt but graceful hand to indicate the chair opposite.
"Thank you, I prefer to stand." The man, conversely, was dressed simply in jeans and a t-shirt. He took one quick glance around the 'Temple' - the control room of Artemis HQ - a dark room filled with screens and computers, before fixing his eyes on the woman and clasping his hands behind his back.
"As you wish," she shrugged indifferently. "Do you know why you're here?"
"I assumed you had a mission for me," he replied neutrally.
"Possibly. What can you tell me about Agent Silver?"
"Silver?" He frowned briefly. "Athene code 3-22. Healer. Skilled agent. Missing in action; she was sent out on a mission approximately five months ago and never returned."
"That's correct," the woman nodded. "We lost communications shortly after she entered Athene HQ, but a couple of days ago one of the Altars picked up her signal."
"Sylvie escaped?" His voice was hopeful, and a tiny smile hovered on his lips for a moment.
"Escaped, or was set loose?" the woman countered. "She's been held too long, Rings. She's Compromised."
"Damn," he sighed, ducking his head. "I just - damn. Then - there's no other way?"
"I'm sorry," she replied serenely. "But you know our policy. You were Class 22 as well, weren't you? Do you want someone else to take this mission?"
"It's not a problem." He raised his eyes again, and his face was calm and set. "I can handle it. Where is she located?"
The woman gestured, and a dark screen lit up obediently. Rings leaned close.
"A City-Lord?" he asked incredulously. "That's ridiculous! No one less than a national should have been able to take Silver down."
"It's been speculated that she was trying to get caught," the woman said with little apparent interest. "Even if she was Compromised, she might still have had enough control to sabotage herself. She was loyal to Artemis; she wouldn't want to betray us."
"Makes sense," he conceded with a sad nod.
"Your mission will be to infiltrate, find Agent Silver, collect any information she's retained, administer the Styx virus, and get out alive."
"Immaterial, but try not to shoot civilians."
"We'll take care of the exterior electronics. The rest is up to you. You move in tomorrow." She tossed him a paper file. "Study the specs."
"Yes, ma'am." He caught the file easily, nodding to her again.
The man stared curiously through the wrought-iron gates that were the only gap in the tall wall surrounding the mansion. Two well-equipped security guards stood alongside it; when they caught him staring, they glared, making him blush and hurry nervously away. He was nothing to remark upon; black hair, spiked up casually, dark jeans, leather boots that matched his leather jacket. The only thing that made him at all distinctive was his unusually pale complexion and the two silver rings he wore through the lobes of each ear.
He followed the wall almost absently, reaching a quiet back street before leaning against it and rummaging in his pocket for his mobile. He dialled a number from memory, and lifted it to his ear.
"Hey, Amy," he spoke into it.
"Hey yourself. How's things?"
"Eh. So-so. Nothing much to tell, really, I just called to hear your voice."
"Well, aren't you a sweetie."
"I try. How's work?"
"Busy, actually. We've been working on a project. Just completed it about a minute before you called!"
"My timing is as impeccable as ever."
"Let's hope it holds."
"Sounds like a thought we share. Hey, I was thinking about visiting my sister - want me to pass a message?"
"Yeah, just - give her my love, will you?"
"Sure thing, Amy. I'll call you later, okay?"
"See that you do!"
He flipped the phone closed, and pushed it securely into a pocket. Then, taking a quick glance up and down the empty street, he reached under his shirt for the three rock-climbing pitons held in a band against his skin. He held the first at arm's length against the wall, pressing a button to drive it into the cement wall. Using that to support him as he jumped, he drove the second in an arm length above. The third he settled between his teeth before swinging himself up on the pitons again. As soon as his first hand was free, he snatched the third piton and drove it in, evenly distributing his weight between the upper two while he precariously caught a foot on the lowest one.
He reached - grabbed - and had a hand curled firmly around one of the imposingly sharp metal spikes set atop the wall. Using it to give him leverage, he pulled himself up, until he could see over the high wall and into perfectly manicured gardens.
The spikes were too close-set to slide between, and leaping presented a dangerously high fall. With a mental curse for how his arms would be aching later, he steadied his grip, kicked off against the wall, and flipped over them, doing what was almost a hand stand on top of the wall for a terrifying split second of vertigo. He released the bars before his own weight could dislocate his shoulders, and fell heavily if not gracelessly to the ground on the opposite side of the wall. Automatically, he flattened, whipping a gun from under his jacket before he hit the grass. Tensely, he examined his surroundings for guards, but saw none.
Satisfied at last, he picked himself up. Keeping low to provide a smaller target - for he had no doubt that, even though Artemis had cut the alarm systems on the walls, he'd be sighted soon enough - he ran towards the main house, a pleasant looking mansion. The window was locked, of course, and probably wired, too, but there had never been a hope of getting in undetected. He produced a small detonator and placed it over the lock, flinching away as the explosive did its work, and pushed open the singed catch.
Climbing easily through the window, he again reflexively flattened to the floor before rising and diving out of line of sight of the closed door, lest guards should follow up on an alert in the next few seconds. When no danger immediately revealed itself, he pulled the door open, and, after a quick check to make sure the hall was clear, he was moving towards the centre of the house.
He concentrated. There was a group of guards around the next corner, and no damn place to hide. Besides, he was in a hurry, and there couldn't be more than ten.
Without waiting, he swung around the corner and started shooting into the group. Two fell before other gunshots joined his, but then they fell impossibly fast. One person, there - without thinking, he trained his gun on the man standing at the other end of the corridor, who had evidently been shooting down the guards as well, and now had a gun pointed at him.
Sudden awareness of people approaching from behind sent him careening into a wall on time to avoid a pair of bullets ricocheting past, and, ignoring the stranger for now, he concentrated on firing on the more obvious threat - feeling a vague relief when he realised that the stranger was doing the same rather than targeting his undefended back.
The last guard fell, and he spun back; the stranger's gun was still watchfully trained on the corner, waiting for more to appear. "Who the fuck are you?" the stranger asked, evidently satisfied at last, as he shoved a fresh clip into his gun.
"I could ask you the same question," he replied coolly. "Three more security guards approaching, and this is not the time for a discussion."
The stranger nodded, accepting at face value his knowledge of the guards. "You're not from Nox, are you?" he pressed as they hurried along. "I was told this was a solo mission!"
"I won't interfere with you," he said, irritated. "But I see you can use that weapon, and so we could work together. Being shot isn't on my list of things to do today."
"Nice to meet you, too," the Nox agent shrugged, flashing a grin. His eyes were very blue under his dark brown hair. "I'm Darien."
"You're an idiot," he muttered, rolling his eyes. "Security coming, more than a dozen." He dived into another corridor, closely followed by Darien.
"The Lord will be in the main reception room," the agent murmured. "We need to get there before security can get an ambush ready."
The black haired man ignored him, aiming his gun as the first security guard came around the corner, and shooting him down quickly. Then the bullets were flying thick and fast; he saw Darien falter twice as he took bruising hits that were deflected by the body-armour he must be wearing. He himself was winged only once, and he mentally cursed himself for stupidity.
"All clear," he nodded, diving out.
"These guards are useless," Darien murmured to himself scornfully. He received no answer.
They reached their goal with very little further disturbance, and paused out of sight. Darien raised his gun enquiringly, but the man reached under his jacket and pulled forth a small silver ball. Depressing a button on its side, he flung it at the barricade of guards they knew to be waiting. A loud explosion pushed back against them in a rush of wind. Darien smiled slowly, seeming impressed - almost delighted, in fact.
Another silver ball followed the first, this time with more force, but no explosion sounded. The man waited, counting in his head, and then moved forward without a word. Darien followed, keeping the gun warily high, but the room beyond was full mostly of men groaning or slumped to the floor. "Tear gas?" the agent asked, professionally curious.
"Tranquillisers. Should last a few hours, but I'd find your target while you can." Ignoring his blue-eyed companion, he went and began to tap codes into a keypad set discretely into one wall.
A shot sounded, which he ignored. "Target taken care of," Darien reported. "What do you think's the quickest way out?"
"You're on your own," he shrugged, as his passwords were finally accepted and a door slid back. "I've got work to do." He stepped through, gun ready; Darien slipped in after him. "Can I help you?" he enquired, raising an impatient eyebrow.
"Getting out will be easier with two people," Darien shrugged. "Besides, I'm curious about your mission."
"Curiosity isn't healthy."
"Hasn't killed me this far." He shrugged serenely.
"It may yet. Stay out of my way."
The pair descended a flight of stairs; as the passage went further underground it became far less luxurious and much more institutional. Despite their cautiousness, it also seemed deserted.
"Where is everyone?" Darien asked.
"They probably followed the alarms and gunshots," was the absent reply.
A corridor, now, interspersed with locked doors. He moved more slowly, and put his gun away, fingers spread as they hovered uncertainly before the rooms. Finally he stopped and shot the lock off one, walking straight in without a pause for caution.
The single occupant was a young woman, in her mid twenties; she sat on a bunk, her ankle chained to it. She would have been pretty, but for her ill-kempt state: her silver-blonde hair was unwashed, and streaked with red-brown that might have been dried blood, although the gash on her forehead seemed long-since closed. She looked tired, and sad, but as she saw them, a smile leapt into her grey eyes.
"Rings!" she exclaimed, holding out her arms. "You came to rescue me!"
The man stepped forward and hugged her, but his face was regretful. "I'm sorry, Sylvie," he murmured as he stepped back. "So sorry. But you know I can't."
"Oh," Sylvie said sadly as she sank back onto the bed. "Of course - of course, I'm too much of a risk. I'm Compromised, after all."
He nodded. "Sylvie, your last mission. You get data?"
She blinked, and then nodded. "Yes, I - yes. Of course, you can carry -" She held out a hand to him, which he took.
Bemused, Darien watched as the man kissed her, a simple, lingering touch of lip on lip. He pulled away soon enough, and pulled out a tiny syringe. His hand shook.
"I understand," she whispered. "I'm glad it's you, little brother."
He uncapped it, and pressed it sharply into her arm. She didn't pull away, but swallowed convulsively at the sharp sensation, and he shoved the now empty syringe away again. "Amethyst sent her love," he told her, settling beside her on the bed. Uncomfortable, Darien looked away, guarding the door. "The others would have too, if they'd known. Don't - don't forget about us."
She laughed; her voice was hazed slightly, her eyes half closed. Tears slid down her cheeks. "I won't be drinking the waters of Lethe again, Rings, never fear," she murmured. "I'll remember all of you, all my brothers, all my sisters. Even Snark."
"No one could forget Snark," he replied gently. "Even if they wanted to."
"It isn't your fault," she murmured sleepily, her voice as slurred as if she was drunk The virus was fast acting; it reached the brain in minutes. "They killed me long ago, Rings, none of us lived since then. We've been fighting a war for our lives, but we none of us have ever lived... Don't let it go on, little brother, don't let them take you from you..." Her eyes slipped shut.
He stood, moving back towards the door. Darien followed, eyes wide as he took in his emotionless face. "This way," he was informed curtly, and led away again.
The Athene agency - Athene was the name of the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Athene is an undercover agency that captures young psychics before they can completely manifest, and trains and brainwashes them into becoming totally loyal drones. The eventual aim of Athene is power.
The Artemis agency - Artemis was the Greek goddess of virginity and hunting. The Artemis agency is made up of technicians and officials who defected from Athene, and the psychics they brought with them. The aim of Artemis is too free as many psychics as possible from Athene, and eventually destroy the Athene agency entirely. To make money, the Artemis agents also work as assassins, spies, and thieves, and they have a reputation for being extremely elite.
The Nox agency - Nox is the Latin term for 'night'. An agency made up of assassins, spies and thieves; generally, agents are sent out on missions in pairs. They are a solely mercenary organisation.
The Temple - Of the Artemis and Athene agencies, a control room deep in their HQ, where the central computer is accessed.
The Altars - Of the Artemis and Athene agencies, the large computer mainframes used to find and track psychics, run the complex machinery, and store information.
Athene code - Given to every psychic collected by Athene. Consists of two numbers, the first referring to the order of age within a class, the second referring to the class number. For example, Rings's code is 5-22: he was the fifth oldest member of Class 22.
Compromised - This is the first step towards sublimation by the Athene agency: when a person's individuality breaks down enough (usually accomplished by dehumanisation and torture) their mental barriers fall and their minds can be invaded, or Compromised. A Compromised person may not know they are Compromised, but when their controller chooses to, they can be completely taken over; aware, but with no power over their own actions. Someone who knows they are Compromised can sabotage themselves to avoid being used as a tool. There is no effective test for whether someone is Compromised or not; there is no cure. Routinely, Artemis agents who have been held prisoner by Athene for too long are considered to be Compromised and are executed on recovery.
City-Lord - Akin to a mayor, but with far more power; only nominally under the control of the country's government. This is not usually an elected position, and often the place is filled by the head of a criminal organisations. The traditional method for supplanting a City-Lord is to hire an assassin to kill them.
Styx, the Styx virus, the Styx poison - In Greek mythology, the Styx was the river dead souls had to cross. The Styx poison is used to execute psychics who are believed to be Compromised. It destroys the abnormal gene that causes psychic abilities, so the resulting body will appear normal to any forensic examination. It also kills the person it is administered to.
The waters of Lethe - From Greek mythology. In the afterlife, souls would have to drink from the river Lethe, the process of which removed all memories of the life they had once lived.