The day was cold and overcast. Swirling clouds drifted lazily past in the dim heavens and small, almost icy gusts taunted the otherwise regular day. Small fragments of sunlight independently broke through the thick clouds, occasionally lighting up a large stone sign. The red words shown boldly in the dim daylight; they read, Robinson's Intermediate School. The bell for lunch rang loudly across the school grounds, releasing the young adults into the outdoor food court.
The children walked or ran in separate directions and into their own personal cliques. Although it didn't seem like it, summer was almost upon them and most groups would talk about their plans for the summer or what fun they'd have. Four students, however, were not in the mood for such utter waste of free time; they had business to take care of. They each came from separate classrooms only to congregate at their usual lunch table meeting place for their argument. A young man named Jack Sedeski sat with his elbows on the table and his fingers crossed in a completely businesslike manner. His best friend, nicknamed Paco, sat next to him casually with one leg on the lunch table. Across from him sat a young man named Chad Parker; Chad seemed far too old for an eighth grader and looked more ravenous than any of his friends at the table. Next to him was another, unusually vicious looking eighth grader that almost always went by his full name, Markowi Gregorovich. The way he sat himself at the table showed his pride and ambition to all of his friends; his demeanor could have always been considered cunning.
Each of them sat in silence as the noise of accumulating students crowded the space around them. Finally, after almost five minutes of silence, the last of their group joined them. A young woman sat down next to Jack and leaned slightly against his shoulder. There was immediate uproar.
"Markowi, I don't believe you'd stoop so low as to attempt to take this beautiful flower away from me," said Jack, gesturing calmly to the girl at his shoulder. "Elisa said that she wanted to be with me, not you. So why don't you just back off from it?" His voice was sharp but not yet angry. He spoke more to aggravate Markowi, rather than force an apology out of him.
"I'm not sure you understand my situation here," replied Markowi menacingly. Anger could be felt behind his voice but it had obviously not fully manifested itself in his speech. He was much too intelligent to fall into one of Jack's intellectual traps. "From what I understand, you really have no choice but to give her up; it was after all, I who arranged for you two to meet."
"If that meeting was arranged, then why do you suddenly want her for yourself?" asked Jack, sounding less calm and sure of himself. He was smart but couldn't help but walk into situations he couldn't control. Even with this last sentence, it was apparent that he was losing his sure footing, because he knew that it was Markowi's suggestion to meet with Elisa.
"Well, at first, I thought it would be best for all of us if I got you two together. But, as I soon found out, Elisa had traits that I seemed to enjoy. Since then I have been growing more and more fond of her and I believe that she should be at my shoulder and not yours." He glanced over at Elisa, making eye contact for a fraction of a second before she turned away from his gaze.
"Well she's my girlfriend, and she obviously wants to stay with me. So maybe you should back off!" Jack was beginning to sound angry and his voice rose. He knew what Markowi would pull from his sleeve next, and he didn't like it.
"Perhaps," continued Markowi, completely unfazed by Jack's obvious statement, "I should help us all recall that day you two met." His eyes drifted up to the dim sky in a sort of reminiscence. "It was only a few weeks ago when I introduced her to you. At that time, she was my best friend and you were a nobody. I remember that you came up to me the next day and asked for my help. If I helped you win her over, than you'd owe me one favor in the next year. I helped you and employed my connections around the school." He crossed his arms and looked deeply at Jack, who was almost trembling in place. Jack kept shooting terrified looks down to Elisa at his shoulder. "We came up with a love poem for you and allowed you to sign it in your name." Jack shuddered and Elisa looked confusedly up at him. "Jack, isn't it your motto to always give others credit where it is due? Isn't your honesty the reason why Elisa still clings to you? What do you think would happen if she were to find out that it was not her love that wrote those sweet words, but instead that he took them from someone else? Especially when you swore to her that those lyrics came directly from your heart. Is it possible that she would see the liar within you and finally realize the truth about the man she thought never lied? Is it…"
"Enough!" shouted Paco, coming to his feet. "I will not hear this talk against my friend! You gave him full permission to claim that poem and have no right to up and take it away like that! He wasn't lying when he said it came from his heart, even if he didn't write it himself."
Markowi looked unperturbed by the outburst and instead turned his head up to Paco. "What gives you the right to speak to me that way? Maybe you aren't sure what influence I have over this school."
Paco laughed defiantly. "Why do you talk like you own this place? Maybe you've forgotten, but we're in the eighth grade! You don't have influence over anything. Leave now; you've lost the girl and you've lost our trust."
Markowi looked down at his hands and shifted positions in his seat. "You still don't understand, do you?" Chad stood up to his right and rolled up his sleeves.
Paco rolled up his sleeves too. "Are you seriously threatening me? Me? Do you remember what happened last time, Chad?" Jack stood up next to Paco and scanned the lunch area for any of the several campus supervisors. He didn't want to be caught fighting just two weeks before school got out.
Markowi looked up and Chad made his move. He lunged forward at Jack with both hands opened, as if to strangle him. Although no one was expecting this sudden change of targets, Jack retaliated quickly and efficiently, throwing his fist into Chad's chest. His next punch connected swiftly with the side of Chad's head and sent him reeling off his feet. Chad landed heavily on the cement ground, gasping for unfelt breath. For the first time since the beginning of lunch, Markowi showed emotion. Outraged, he flew from his seat to help up his fallen comrade. "Chad, are you alright?" He looked up at Jack and said coldly, "One day, Jack, you'll wish you hadn't defied me. I may be young now, but when I'm older, I swear I'll have you begging for mercy at my feet as you watch your perfect world crumble. I promise you, that you'll regret not giving her up."
Markowi pulled Chad to his feet and set him upright next to him. Both of them slinked off into the lunchtime crowd, never once taking their eyes off Jack. Paco sat back down laughing. "What makes him think he can threaten us, huh? When do you think he'll apologize this time?" Jack shook his head and held up two fingers. "That long, huh? I think he'll be back by the end of today; usually he's worse than this." Paco looked down at Jack and Elisa. "Oh I see," he said casually, packing up his lunch, "I'll just leave you two alone for a while then. Try to work it out nicely." He stood and walked into the deep sprawl of students, leaving Jack to explain to his girlfriend.
Exactly seventeen years later, in a quiet suburb near London England, Jack Sedeski sat at his kitchen table with his favorite bowl of cereal. His lack of sleep showed deeply in his drooping eyes and it was apparent that he was strictly forcing himself to stay awake. He glanced over at the window, watching as small birds flicked past every second or so. Summer was fast approaching and he knew that it would mean more jobs in the near future. A small alarm buzzed on the computer screen in the corner of the kitchen and the flat monitor turned itself on. "Oh man," moaned Jack, "not now."
A young woman of about twenty appeared on the screen smiling far too brightly for a regular person. "Good morning Jack," she said simply.
"Buzz off Liz; I'm in my summer home. How many times do I have to tell you not to bug me when I'm on vacation?"
"If you didn't want us to bother you, then why did you have the agency set up our computers in your vacation home?"
"Never mind that Liz, just give me the word. What does HQ want me to do while I'm on vacation? I absolutely refuse to kill or interrogate anyone today."
"Oh don't worry," said, Liz's overly cheerful voice, "we don't even want you to get your hands dirty on this one. As you may have seen in recent papers, a new Czar has been chosen to lead Poland." Jack nodded and looked back to his cereal; he'd known this before the news printed it. "Well the interesting news is that this new Czar is someone we think you'll know. His name is Markowi Gregorovich." Jack stopped chewing and stared blankly at the screen. "What you may also not know, is that within only a few weeks of his rise to power, Gregorovich has led his armies deep into other spans of Europe in what has become the most cunning Blitzkrieg in all history. Not only has he swallowed many important cities, but we estimate that his armies will take control over all of Western Europe within only another month of constant attack. Now listen closely; this is where you come in. There's an alliance forming against the Polish assault and they've contacted several parts of the US and British governments. There's a meeting being held today in the Paxton Building just thirteen miles from where you are now. We've sent over six of our best agents to the meeting and expect you to be there with them. We just need to know if there's anything our agency can do to stop the hold over Europe before Markowi becomes too powerful." The printer next to the computer started whirring and several papers filtered themselves through. "You don't have a choice on this one Jack; here are your tickets. Enjoy the meeting." She smiled one last time before the screen deactivated itself.
Jack reached out to the printer and snatched up the hard paper tickets that pushed out of it. The tickets showed the time and place of the meeting. He didn't have much time to waste anymore. Stowing the box of cereal, he stood and marched down to his room at the end of the hallway. The room was small and simple, just the way he liked it. The closet at the back end opened automatically as he walked in the door. The regular shelves and hanging lines whirred and slid out of the way to make room for his gun collection. The house was wired directly to the agency he worked for and could be controlled whenever they needed him to work. He walked up to his extensive collection and waved his hand over each gun individually, deciding which he would need for this. Any of his carbines or rifles were far too big to carry to this sort of meeting; he probably wouldn't need them anyway. He touched a black pistol and examined its hairpin trigger. The B-seven spec ops handgun fired customized 9mm parabellum rounds and held up to fourteen bullets on its smallest clip. And although it couldn't be set to full automatic fire, it was still his most reliable weapon. He held the lightweight gun and moved his fingers across its sleek surface. This gun had been modified for his use by professionals back home: The original hammer was replaced with a lightweight hollow model to allow faster shooting, the trigger guard had been elongated to help him keep his grip, a thumb pad was added just above the trigger, the clip release had been shaved down to help make sure he didn't accidentally hit it, and the grip had been cut down on one side to allow him to hold a knife against it with his opposite hand. The gun was, in his eyes, completely perfect. He tucked it into the holster on his chest and pushed an extra clip and a silencer in the slots next to it. If all went well; he wouldn't need the gun.
Now outside his house, Jack donned his favorite dinner coat over his formal shirt and holster. He walked quickly to the curb and pressed a small button on his set of keys, looking disappointed at the car it unlocked. Out of sheer necessity for keeping his job a secret, the agency had forced him to drive a Champaign colored Toyota Corolla. The car was terrible when compared to some of the cars his co-workers drove. He started it up and began his trip down to London where the meeting was to be held. No matter how much he pleaded the agency to give him a more suitable vehicle, they adamantly refused. The only advances they'd given his car were the addition of an onboard computer and a dampener for his engine. He weaved through the quiet suburbs and out onto the highway fairly quickly to make up for lost time. The meeting started in under an hour and he still had a long way to go.
Arriving at the new alliance's central hub, he stood up from his car and handed the keys to a nearby chauffer. Outside the small building stood a shorter man in an equally impressive dinner coat. The man seemed to have arrived only moments before and was obviously waiting for Jack to follow. Jack walked briskly up to him and shook his hand firmly. "Paco, it's good to see you again; it's been far too long. So the agency sent you too?"
Paco smiled back and said warmly, "Nope; I haven't been in contact with them for almost two years. I work in a different section of national security now; one directly under the president himself."
Jack looked confusedly down at him. "But our last mission together was less than a month ago."
Paco shrugged. "Coincidence I suppose; the government seems to like working with you agency goons and it just so happens that we get set up together. But I've never complained one bit." He laughed heartily and walked with Jack to the front door. As the guards patted them down, they simultaneously pulled out ranking cards and identification. Paco showed the guards his gun and said, "Jack, I really think we spend too much time together; we're starting to think alike. It reminds me of how we were back in high school; before the agency."
"Yeah, I suppose," replied Jack casually, pulling his jacket back over his shoulders.
They sat down at a far table; away from where most of the group had sat. Although they were trained for two different styles of combat, they both knew how to gather information. Jack's eyes quickly floated over the crowd surrounding the podium in the center of the room. Most of the people he didn't recognize but there were a few that he could identify. The agency had sent over operatives Kate Griffith, Lamont D'clair, Morrison Kane, Nathaniel Thornpike, Osmond Sykes, and Paul Sentry. Each of them was probably under alias right now but they were still easily recognizable. Aside from them, there were a few people from Jack's past that appeared. A man named Eric was sitting at a far table with Jack's old girlfriend Elisa. They both seemed to be enjoying themselves even at this monumentally important meeting.
Jack turned his eyes back to his own table and watched as a young woman slid up next to Paco, taking a seat next to him. "Jack," said Paco smoothly, "This is my girlfriend Bree. You don't mind her sitting by us, do you?" Jack shook his head and Paco started up conversation with Bree. Jack glanced across the room a second time and saw a young man sitting by himself near the podium as if he were preparing to speak. Jack instantly recognized him. Max Cartwright was an aviator trained by the military and was probably the best privately contracted pilot in the United States. His record was completely spotless and his bidders pay high to have him. Unfortunately, Jack didn't know any more about him; the agency archives only covered up to three years ago. All Jack personally knew was that Max drove an old 2006 mustang that put his corolla to shame.
Jack turned away and looked up at the man who took the podium. A screen behind him lit up and red words in bold typing read, "THE BOSNIAN." It appeared to be the man's title. The Bosnian cleared his throat and the room fell silent. "Hello and welcome everyone," he said deeply, "I want to personally thank you all for your attendance here today as we discuss the crisis on our hands. As you have already seen, the Polish people have risen up and taken over most of the territories directly at their borders." A large, detailed map of Europe appeared on the screen behind him and he pointed back at it. "These areas in Germany have already been completely overrun and the Polish military is still pushing forward."
A young man raised his hand in the air. "How is that even possible? The main army hasn't even pushed that far in yet."
The Bosnian spoke again, "That's what we're worried about. This attack seemed to come out of nowhere. It means that we're dealing with a man who has all of his bases covered. He not only covertly implanted his troops into German territory, but he activated them while the majority of his enemies were on the front line." He pointed back at the map. "It seems impossible that he got so many people in without anyone noticing, but it did happen."
The man Jack knew as Morrison Kane spoke up from his seat, "This means that his troops could be anywhere in any of the surrounding countries, right?" It wasn't surprising that he already figured it out; according to the archives, Morrison had an IQ that was completely off the charts. Even if the man was new to the agency, he'd already climbed his way to the top information gathering position. "This means that we've got to think of where to expect his next attack."
"Precisely!" exclaimed the Bosnian, pointing to the map behind him, "So far, our information tells us that he'll attack our central communication lines or possibly the transportation department. However, if he wanted to, he could attack the German base just outside…"
"No," interrupted Morrison. The entire building turned in shock to look at him. He stood up and tightened his hat over his head. "That's not what he'll do. Think of it this way; the new Czar, Markowi, is a chess player." The crowd looked puzzled and a few people laughed, but Morrison continued unhindered. "He is always thinking of not only his own, but our next move as well. Chances are; he already knows about our meeting and has infiltrated this very building." The crowd around him silenced and Jack listened intently to every word that escaped his lips. "Thus far, I have recognized most of the people in the building but there are a few whom I've never seen before. It is possible that one of the people in this meeting is a traitor. I suggest we move this to a more private area after taking thorough background checks on everyone here." Without another word or glance, he sat back down, gathering together what looked like a collection of notes in front of him.
The Bosnian seemed almost lost for words as he stared down at the bewildered and nervous crowd. It was apparent that he hadn't thought of a traitor in their midst. He cleared his throat once, calling attention back to himself. "Alright," he said slowly, almost wilting at Morrison's sudden insight, "Yes, that's a good idea. I'll ask that everyone please file yourselves neatly and sign your full name on this." He produced an advanced looking laptop from under the podium and set it on a desk behind him. "I believe that we should take what this gentleman has for consideration and meet at a later date. The next meeting will be announced privately to each of you once we've done an identity check. Meeting adjourned." The Bosnian stepped down from the podium and started talking frantically with Max and another man that Jack didn't recognize.
Jack didn't hesitate for a moment in getting to the computer. While most of the guests were still standing about confusedly, Jack had already moved up and signed his name on the electric pad. He whirled around and headed out the door, following two people that he remembered from years ago. A man named Brad walked hand in hand with a beautiful blonde woman that he knew as Ashley. It seemed that they'd fallen in together. Suddenly, Jack felt a small tap on his left shoulder. "Excuse me," said a light voice from behind him, "Your name is Jack Sedeski, right?"
Jack turned and looked upon a woman who looked just under his age. Her golden blonde hair was brushed to the side of her face and her bright eyes looked straight into his. "And you would be?" he asked simply. His curiosity piqued at the thought of someone actually coming up to speak with him.
The woman looked straight in his eyes and held out her hand diplomatically. "I'm Kiki Johnson." She continued staring into his eyes. The feeling her stare gave off was intently fierce but not overpowering. She seemed to be the kind of person that everyone looked up to for guidance and that some people would flock to in times of trouble. She kept talking, "And I couldn't help but notice that we're the only ones here without glorified others." He smiled, intrigued at her word usage; he'd never heard a date be referenced as a "glorified other." "So I was wondering if you'd like to escort me for the evening." He could tell from the tone of her voice that she wasn't actually asking him.
Jack took her hand and led her to the door. "Then let's get out of here. My place is a bit far, but it's not bad." The chauffer pulled Jack's car and held the door automatically for Kiki. As he stepped in, he smiled apologetically for the car.
They only got out of the parking lot before she spoke, "Jack, why don't we go to my place instead? It's not too far away; I can give you directions if you want."