Chapter 1

Maynard was enjoying his view on empty roads in the morning as he was being driven to an embassy. Sitting comfortably on the backseat of a taxi, his gaze was fixed on the side window closest to him.

He could see people sulking around, everyday men and women walking along the streets with whatever goals they had in mind. They were scarce in numbers though, as these were working hours. No quarrels, no shouting, no rushes. It was almost serene.

Aside from a limited number of civilians outside, he could also see soldiers on every corner. Those were on patrol, ordered by the self-styled Only Leader. Their mission was to enforce law and preserve peace. Uproot the very element of resistance that had been stirred across the entire country like a shockwave. There was a brutal civil war raging in the state of Olbia.

As the taxi was passing one of the armed men, Maynard looked at him, sensing an aura of inexplicable terror radiating out of his eyes. He was holding his automatic rifle very firmly, his finger on the trigger. It was apparent that he would welcome any kind of action to get his shot. Even if just one shot. It was bloodlust.

The car turned around the corner, leaving the soldier behind and forcing Maynard to abandon his contemplation. However, the city was enormously large and he was not even halfway where he wanted to be. With that knowledge, he knew he had to idle away the time somehow.

He recalled the beginning of the conflict. It had started with a demonstration, a response to an arrest of a human-rights activist. The sheer amount of protesters, along with the knowledge of unrest in neighbouring countries had shocked those in power, making them reply with oppressive power. Soon afterwards, the crowd had been dispersed by the police.

Many had thought that it was over, yet the event had only served as a fuel for the discontented. The fuse was lit and the government had been adding more fire.

In but a few days and after countless skirmishes, the entire nation had experienced a government-ordered blackout in hopes of depriving the rebellious citizens of their means of communication. However, the outcome had been far from it. It had plunged the land into chaos, paving way for an insurgency.

A month had passed since then and many things had changed. The civil war was still raging on and the rebels were marching from the east to the west, towards the Capital. Oea. It was still held by those loyal to the Only Leader, but judging as the opposing troops were said to have reached the birthplace of the Leader, it was questionable for how long. The outcome looked bleak for the government.

Maynard awoke from his thoughts in time. The taxi had stopped moments ago and the driver was yelling something in a mixture of Arabic and English. Maynard couldn't understand him but handed him some money. Thankfully, it made the man silent and Maynard left the car for a fresh air outside.

He was standing in front of an embassy. However, his plans changed as he saw the building was blocked and guarded by two soldiers. He realized his sources had been wrong. His only way out was sealed.

He cussed deep in his mind but he showed no hints of anger or anything that would have drawn attention to him. He knew his life was in danger. He was a foreigner to these parts, after all. They were watching him. It was a wonder he hadn't been arrested yet. It was a wonder he was still alive.

He had heard of reporters and journalists being apprehended and tortured. He had heard of prisoners being starved to death. He rightfully feared for his life.

As of that moment, he realized he was a man without friends. Without ties. Without known past. It would have been helpful under different circumstances, but now it made things worse. Especially when he was unwelcome inside and hunted outside. One could question what had he done to find himself in such an unfavourable situation, but that was an enigma that Maynard kept secret with great anxiety.

He turned away and went on to walk along the street slowly and confidently. He was aware of the fact that the soldiers were observing him. He concluded they had been ordered to watch anyone who showed interest in entering the building. It didn't take him too long to piece the facts together. His sources had betrayed him. Sold him to the enemy. The only thing he didn't know was which side as both were hostile to him.

As he was plodding along at snail speed, his thoughts were racing. Where to go? What to do? Was somebody after him? Some civilian?

Could that frail, limping man of untidy visage in torn clothes be an undercover agent sent to follow him? Or could that posh-looking lady with a wide hat be the one who was tasked with spying on him?

He couldn't tell and that fact added to his desperation.

There were few people in the streets, but there could have been others in windows. Or behind unspotted cameras. They could have been everywhere.

He was still thinking what to do next. He still couldn't find a solution to his trouble. He was desperate. Then, all of a sudden, two policemen emerged from a nearby alleyway, walking straight towards him.

They were looking him in the eye with a slight hint of dominance radiating out of their faces. Maynard was beginning to panic. Were they so confident and calm because they knew he had nowhere to run? Were they sure of their victory? That they had already caught him? Or was it just a coincidence?

The clock was ticking. His pulse was uncontrollably gaining pace with each passing second. His instincts were yelling, but his calmer side pleaded him to wait for but a little longer. He felt his heart pounding intensely. Just not to show his fear, he thought. Just not to give himself away.

They were ten metres away and their gazes were still fixed at him. One of them even began reaching for something behind his belt. Was he drawing a gun?

Do something! The echoes in his head were loud. Almost as if they belonged to a real person.

It was only five metres now and their eyes wouldn't let go of him. The hand of one of the policemen was slowly taking something out yet Maynard couldn't tell what it was. The suspense was overwhelming.

He could even hear footsteps behind him. He was so caught by the situation in front of him that he completely forgot to pay attention to what was happening behind him. How could he have done such a foolish mistake? He cursed at himself in his thoughts but there was no time to waste on blaming.

The time of decision was nigh. It was now or never. Do nothing and risk being arrested and tortured? Or run and risk being shot while fleeing?

He was about to turn around to see who was behind him, prepared to make a run for it, but then a thundering explosion went out. Everyone in the street immediately glued their eyes to the horizon, spotting a momentary outburst of flame followed by a rising smoke. Even the policemen.

It was not uncommon or unexpected, yet it took everybody by surprise each time it happened. Within seconds, life resumed back to normal, but there was somebody missing – Maynard.