I whistled as I walked to work. I always did.
To anyone on the street, I might look like your average, medium-built 22 year old, on his way to work. I might have an average looking backpack and my average looking chestnut hair might be cut in an average looking style. I might look like I was of average intelligence and did things 'normal' people did.
I walked up to the huge glass building, looking up to see the levels above the lobby. I smiled at the thought of thousands of people behind those revolving doors, all doing average jobs in an average sort of way.
But me? Hmm.
After getting past the doorway, I heard my trainers squeak on the marble in the lobby as I walked over to the desk, smiling at the receptionist and digging around in my pocket for my I.D card. Above her, in huge cast iron letters was written "S. Natural Inc. – the best cleaning products Mother Nature has to offer." I smirked at it for a brief moment before handing the receptionist my card.
She was new.
She scanned the barcode on my card (employing the new 'clock-in' system we'd just begun using), a small frown appearing on her pale face. Reflected in her glasses, I could see the small flashing yellow light in the corner of the computer screen, her pale blue eyes widening. She turned to the more experienced receptionist, pointing at the screen.
The second receptionist greeted me and waved me through the security checkpoint, only afterwards explaining to the inexperienced woman. She went bright red, and began to stutter and stammer her apologies at me. I held my hands up from the other side of the checkpoint and smiled at her, making sure she knew it was okay. She stopped and smiled at me, tucking a bit of her hair behind her ear.
I turned and walked straight past security, both men nodding to me and offering a "morning" in my direction. I got into the elevator, my backpack slung over my shoulder, and got out at the 71st floor.
Average people only thought this building had 70 floors and I was by no means average.
I padded silently towards my office, greeting colleagues as I went. I dumped my backpack into my chair and gave a sigh, after unbuttoning my jacket. A tight T-shirt and some combats. Practical clothing was a must in this place.
Soon, Lucy was half-running to my door, knocking on the glass. I didn't know why she did that. Surely she knew I could see her?
"Morning," she said, too chirpily for half 7.
"You want anything?" I asked, after she stood silently in the doorway for a while.
"Jack wants to see you, and he wants you kitted up immediately. Sounds like he's got one hell of a job for you, Lay..."
"Kay, I'll be there in a sec." I answered her without thinking, and she turned and walked back to her desk. I'd known Lucy for a while now, and considered her a friend – although it wasn't advised for anyone to make friends in a place like this; it was usually short-lived and ended with heartbreak.
Jack Billingham was CEO of S. Natural Inc. I rolled my eyes to myself even as I thought that ridiculous name. Truthfully, I didn't leave the office much these days (there was just so much going on) so I never seemed to be entirely caught up with our public façade. Cleaning company? We did own the company, and it was real as far as I could tell, but it also served as our headquarters. Inc. sounded like a joke to me. When you considered what we did.
What we did was top secret. Not even the secret service knew about us. Nor were they allowed to know about us. That wasn't to say that we were spies of some kind, because we weren't. Nor were we assassins or ninjas.
We were Agents – the warriors of the human world. And yes, there were other worlds out there. A whole other supernatural world, full of deadly, supernatural creatures, which were dangerous (even when some of them don't look much, they can still knock you off your feet) which existed just behind closed doors, if 'average' people bothered to look. In some respect we were spies, and some respect we were assassins. Ninjas? Maybe – if you count the mystery element…
I heaved a sigh and marched resolutely out of my office. Lucy pointed towards the lecture hall, a phone lodged between her chin and her shoulder, writing something down on paper, the pen never seeming to stop.
I didn't knock. I knew he was there.
"Come in, come in." Jack Billingham was a tall, muscular man in his late 50's, the roots of his hair going slightly grey. The stress probably didn't help. He beckoned me over to him and grasped my shoulders firmly, beaming down at me.
I didn't expect this. What I expected was a room full of trainees, who'd just been told that succubae, witches and vampires existed, gawking at me because I was, and I quote, "the best Agent we've ever had." I expected to have to talk to them about this being a serious job, and only the bravest need apply. I expected to have to give an inspirational, but not too fantastic (hey, half 7 in the morning!) speech about how we put our lives on the line for the good of mankind. Or something like that.
What I got was just Jack and I, staring out to empty seats.
I shook myself and turned to the boss.
"Lucy said you wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, yes, yes. Sit down," he said pleasantly.
"Yes, sir." I murmured, a little bit nervous as I sat down in one of the hard, wooden chairs and tried to relax a bit. It didn't really work, since Jack was beaming at me, unblinkingly.
"Is everything okay, sir?"
"Yes, yes. Don't worry, Laec. Everything's fine," he beamed down at me again. I had a bad feeling about this. It turned out that I had a perfectly good reason to.
I was facing the huge, theatre-like screen that was just behind Jack, when it started to play a clip. It was of a man, around the same age as me, in slow motion. His shoulder length, black hair flicked around in the breeze, incredibly slowly. He barely moved; he just continued to look at the camera.
I frowned. Jack kept his eyes focused on me.
"Do you know who that is?" he asked me.
"No, sir," I answered, truthfully.
He dropped a huge file onto the desk, which was attached to the chair I was sitting on. He was wanted? I read the name stamped at the top – 'Cassian'. No second name.
"He's the top of our list. The big fish." He paused, letting that sink in. I flicked through the file, looking down at the history he'd compiled. "He's killed thousands of innocent people. Agents included."
I nodded, looking down at the list of the deceased which had been stapled to the back of the file. I frowned, anger bubbling in my throat.
"We need you to stop him, and bring him in."
"Yes, sir," I said, almost immediately. I paused for a while as I scanned the pages of the file. "How many Agents have gone after him? I can't seem to find it in the file."
"There it is, Laec," he said, pointing at the list of the deceased. My eyes widened and I felt a lump form in my throat.
There was a knock at the door. I got up out of my chair, picking up the file and cradling it, as Jack shouted over his shoulder at the person waiting at the door. The door creaked open and Lucy poked her head through, her blonde curls bobbing.
"A message for you, Mr. Billingham," she said, monotonically. Monotonically? I did a double take, returning to look at her saddened, grave expression.
Jack smacked me on the shoulder.
"Are we done here Laec? All the information you should need will be in that file."
"Uh, yes, sir."
"Good, good." With that, Jack walked out of the lecture hall, leaving me and Lucy on our own. Her face normally wore a happy, bright expression, and she was never seen without a smile – but here she was, in front of me, her eyes dull and lifeless and her expression sombre.
"Are you okay, Luce? Did something happen?"
She continued to look at the floor, somewhat resembling a zombie (if they existed). Her eyes trailed up to my face and then to the screen, where the clip of the man was still being played.
"Are you going to take the case?" she said, her eyes not leaving the screen.
"Yeah. Are you okay?"
She returned to looking back at the floor. "Do you know how many agents have died trying to bring in that one supe?"
I nodded grimly, briefly picking up the list on the back of the file.
She stormed over to me. "And they weren't trainees, Lay! They weren't the crappy agents either! They were serious, experienced and seemingly un-killable agents! They were the best of the best. The elite! Like you…"
Her emerald eyes seemed to mist up and she gave a small sob.
"Please don't do this. He'll kill you, like he did the others."
She held onto my t-shirt, grabbing it as if it were a lifeline. I put the file onto the desk at the front and hugged her tightly.
"Nothing'll happen to me. He only needs one of us to beat him, to be there when he slips up, to outwit him. Maybe I'll be that one…"
"Laec Godras!" She yelled, using my full name, and stepping away from me. I hated it when she did that. "You won't be that one agent. You'll die, like the rest of them!"
I looked at her, my hazel-green eyes softening. "If that happens, then at least I go down fighting…" Her eyes danced angrily.
"Look at him!" she said, pointing at the screen. His hair still flicked carelessly in the wind, his eyes never focusing on anything else but the camera. "He's killed thousands of innocent people! Thousands! And this," she said, indicating the list stapled at the back of the file. "This! This is just the names of the agents that have died going after him! Most of them didn't last the week!"
I continued staring at the clip. There was a small jump at the end of it which caught my attention. His cold grey eyes looked down at me, his emotions heavily guarded, his brow furrowed slightly in concentration. The thing that was bothering me was that just before the blip on the tape, his eyes would widen infinitesimally.
"Do you want to know how we got this tape?" Lucy asked, starting to calm down now it seemed. I nodded at her to go on, keeping my gaze on the screen. "Kai Benson."
My eyes snapped immediately to hers. "Kai Benson?"
"Yeah…" she answered, sadly.
Kai Benson was one of the most highly decorated and highly praised agents ever. Nobody he'd been assigned had ever come close to injuring him. Some people thought he wasn't entirely human – there had been a rumour going around that he was a genetically enhanced soldier (I swear, I didn't start that one) – just because of the way he moved, the way he was able to guess what you were going to do next.
Then out of the blue, he was rushed to hospital one night. He'd been found in an alleyway, bleeding to death, by a passerby.
He didn't make it through the night.
My eyes widened. I reached over to flick through the file, quickly finding the list at the back of it and scanning it quickly for the name I knew was going to be on there.
'Kai Benson – deceased [12/02/08]'
Underneath his name was written 'Extreme loss of blood – no fang marks'.
"You're starting to understand now, aren't you…" Lucy said, tears making her mascara run down her face. "You can't go after him…"
"Kai took the video…?" I asked, numbly.
She nodded. "But you may have already noticed that only a small part of it is being repeated." I looked back at her, unable to move from where I was.
"Why?" I asked, my voice cracking a little.
"Kai took this seconds before he was killed. It's short because Cassian noticed." She continued when she saw the shock on my face. "Yes, I know his name. Everyone does." She paused briefly to wipe the ruined makeup from her face. "Cassian noticed he was there…and he killed him. This tape is only a few seconds long, and Jack asked me not to let you watch the rest of it – only to allow you to watch this part over and over again."
I frowned, the lump reforming in my throat. "I want to see the rest of it…"
I refocused my eyes onto the screen as Lucy yelled something at the technician operating the whole thing. I heard a grunt on the edge of my consciousness as the screen went black and then replayed the same clip from the start. It was still in slow motion, probably since he had been too fast to see normally. Great, I thought sarcastically, before the urge to hide became to strong to overcome. I swallowed as the expression on his face seemed to change. His eyes widened infinitesimally, as before, and then he gave a small, one-sided smirk. Then his eyes changed from the cold, sharp grey to a dark black purple; it was like someone was pouring dye into rough, stormy water. I watched him tilt his head down and move forward before the tape ended and the static sparked in the background.
"Are you okay, Laec?" Lucy asked me, laying a hand on my shoulder.
"I'm more than fine." I said, marching towards the file and picking it up. "That bastard's going down…"