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by Zen
Rated: GC · Book · Sci-fi · #2217429
This is the first draft of a work-in-progress that will be updated chapter-by-chapter.
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#1010085 added May 12, 2021 at 11:22pm
Restrictions: None
Act I, Chapter 4: The Precursor
~~ March 13, 2018, 1904 hours ~~
~~ Location: Auberge Vancouver Hotel, West End Vancouver, B.C. ~~

Ian fished his hotel badge out of his pocket as he came upon Room 412. The tremors of his right hand had died down sometime during his drive back to the hotel he and his mentor had booked, though the vivid images of the girl Roland Ocampo’s daughter reminded him of remained.


Ian flashed his badge in front of the keycard reader beside his room door, then headed inside. The room itself was more lavish than anything he had ever lived or stayed in in his life. The linen sheets on the queen sized bed were a warm lavender and seemed to invite Ian to lay down in it right away. A sixty-inch television sat on the dresser that dominated about half of one wall across from the foot of the bed. The curtains on the large windows gave a spectacular view of the skyline across the Vancouver Harbour, each twinkling light of North Vancouver’s skyscrapers looking as brilliant as the stars that had appeared above now that the sun had vanished.

Ian found himself drawn to the window, his mind both clear and preoccupied. His hand fell upon the glass separating him from the outside, the cold surface doing nothing to shake him from his reverie. His eyes took in the thousands of lights from lit windows and the stars blanketing the jet black sky.

It was just like that night. The last evening of peace in Calgary, where he gazed at similar skyscrapers and buildings in the downtown area. Only that time, he wasn’t alone to appreciate the scenery.

Was that really only a year ago? It felt like she’d been gone for much longer.

Ian’s other hand fell upon his shirt and he scrunched the part of it over his heart. His teeth clenched together behind closed lips, and he felt that same burning behind his eyes building.

This wasn’t helping. He needed to stop now, before he wound up skewing his whole mission mindset.

Ian drew the smooth satin curtains over the whole window and turned his back on it, settling down on the desk beside the bed, where he’d set up his C.O.S.-issued laptop. He booted it up and opened a folder called ‘Operation Wolfskinner’, which contained everything the C.O.S., Erin Kennedy, and he had put together thus far about Project FENRIR. He opened the latest version of his field notes, then considered adding at least a brief note about his suspicions regarding an unnamed fourth party involved. It wasn’t confirmed if the hunch he shared with Erin was an actuality, but surely it couldn’t hurt to mention that somewhere in the records?

Ocampo shouldn’t have suspected he was being followed or monitored. Erin was too good to slip up somewhere and blow their cover. While he couldn’t attest to his own meticulousness, Ian wanted to believe that he’d adhered to everything his mentor had taught him about keeping tabs on someone and maintaining anonymity while doing so. If neither he nor Erin had botched anything in the last several days, though…

… what, or who, could have tipped off Ocampo?

Had he made a mistake, then? It was possible, given he hadn’t been doing this nearly long enough to be as fine tuned an agent as Erin. It was the only explanation for why Ocampo was now more twitchy than he was before.

Was he the reason that--

Ian froze in his seat, his ears prickling all of a sudden. He sat up straight and held his breath. His thoughts were loud until just a second or two ago, but he felt reasonably certain that he could hear something come from the wall directly behind his hotel bed, ahead of him.

He and Erin had booked adjoining rooms on the same floor for practical reasons. At first, she had somewhat ponderously considered just getting just one room with two separate beds for them, but Ian had quickly talked her out of that. Because they had booked adjoining rooms, there was one way to move between his and Erin’s suites without needing to go out into the twentieth floor hallway: the door that linked the two rooms. In the case of Ian’s suite, the door was to his right, practically right beside the desk where he was sitting. Just beyond that door was Erin’s hotel room.

Ian kept silent, training his ears to pick up whatever sound he had heard just seconds ago. For a moment, he heard nothing. During this period of silence, he became increasingly content to believe he’d imagined the thump he thought he’d heard coming from Erin’s suite. Perhaps he was simply preoccupied and a little paranoid about developments in this mission that he was hearing things that weren’t there.

thump thump

Ian nearly shot up from his seat. There it was again: two distinct thumping noises, coming from just beyond the wall in front of him. This time, he knew he hadn’t imagined the noises. He also knew that they weren’t coming from the floor above, because he’d been up to the twenty-first floor, and that floor was dedicated to multi-purpose rooms for conferences, parties, and social gatherings rather than actual hotel rooms. The hotel had sealed off the twenty-first floor in preparation for a wedding reception the following day, in the afternoon. Chatter from hotel staff at the lobby and some light perusing of event advertisements near the reception area a couple days earlier had told Ian that. Knowledge of where one laid their head to rest was as critical as knowledge of where one fought, as Erin had repeatedly lectured him.

Slowly rising from his seat, Ian left the desk and stood in front of the door that joined Rooms 412 and 411. He stared at the doorknob for a moment, wondering whether he should just take a peek into Erin’s space or knock first. She wasn’t one for certain common courtesies, that was for sure, but Ian had to remind himself that she was still a woman - albeit one that could knock him flat on his back with blinding speed if she was inclined.

Had Erin returned from planting bugs on the Ocampo residence? Ian hadn’t heard the door separating Erin’s suite from the hallway outside opening or closing since he’d arrived less than ten minutes ago, and he was sure he’d have heard something like that thanks to the nature of their adjoining rooms. More importantly, considering it could take between thirty and forty minutes to get from here to Ocampo’s home, it was illogical to expect her to be back until at least another half hour, give or take. By his estimation, Erin must have left the hotel around six-thirty, so by now she would have reached the location. But she shouldn’t have been able to beat Ian to the hotel.

Was it room service, then? Sure, if he could somehow believe there was a room service attendant that would keep dead silent for the past five minutes and just suddenly stop acting sneaky.

Ian wrapped his head around the doorknob and began to turn it. The room beside his had gone completely silent since the last pair of thumps he felt certain had come from within. He eventually, carefully swung the door toward him and stuck his head into Erin’s room.

Her space was a mirror image of his own, but much less orderly. File folders covered nearly every available space on the bed, some of them barely able to contain the sheets of paper and photographs within. On Erin’s desk was her own laptop, whose monitor was facing toward Ian but playing a default Windows screensaver animation. The curtains were drawn over the windows, so Erin’s room was noticeably darker, especially since none of her suite’s lights were currently on. Only the light from Ian’s room provided a small amount of illumination to give him the details he could see.

If room service ever came into Ma’am Kennedy's room, it could be a problem, Ian thought. He briefly considered checking around to make sure Erin had not left a pistol or magazine lying around, as that would be awkward to explain to hotel staff or management, but remembered that Erin had made it a point to put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on her door. Ian had seen the magnet stuck to the doorframe when he had walked past her door to get to his minutes ago.

Had he imagined the noises, then? There was clearly no one here. No, he knew what he hear--

A distinct, slightly louder thump gave Ian a start. It was similar to the pair he’d heard last, but having this connecting door open had made the noise all too unmistakeable. The source was here, in Erin’s suite. Specifically, toward the left, just outside of his view. In the bathroom.

“What the hell…?” Ian muttered. He felt gooseflesh erupting on the bare skin of his forearms. What was here? Who was here?

His earlier experience with seeing Roland Ocampo get noticeably shaken by a supposed informant telling him he was being watched made Ian freeze in place for a few seconds. During the four or five seconds when he almost forgot to breathe, a slew of questions flashed in his mind.

What was going on here? Who was in the bathroom? What should he do? Was this his fault somehow? Were he and Erin compromised?

Had Erin walked into a trap when she had gone to plant surveillance equipment around Ocampo’s home?

The thought of having to contend with an unknown enemy here at the hotel filled Ian with sheer trepidation, which was outweighed only by the thought of Erin falling prey to something, well out of his reach of assistance.

Rational thought began to slip from Ian’s fingers. He eventually tiptoed over to his bed, where he reached underneath his bed for his small weapons case. The design made it nearly indistinguishable from a regular, albeit heavy-duty attaché case. He flipped the numbers to reflect the correct code, 1-3-0, and popped the lid open. Ian considered grabbing the Walther PPQ sidearm gifted to him by his mentor, but quickly decided that using it without a suppressor would bring more problems. He instead took the tactical knife beside his pistol, kicked his opened weapons case back under his bed as gently as he could, then made his way back to Erin’s room via the connecting door.

Ian tiptoed across the carpet and headed for Erin’s bathroom, leaving the lights in the room off. When he finally reached the closed bathroom door, Ian could hear the pounding of his heart in his ears. He grasped his knife in an icepick grip in his right hand, the blade protruding past his pinky finger, as he took some quick, deep breaths.

His free hand grasped the door handle, and after a few more seconds of hesitation, turned it and pushed the door inward with hefty force.

The door swung inwards all the way, allowing Ian to spring into the dark bathroom, his knife held close to his chest, ready to stab outwards while keeping the possibility of being disarmed of it as low as possible. Ian took half a second to look around and listen for anything inside the small room that would come out of hiding to lunge at him, ready to counterattack.

But there was nothing. Even in the darkness, he couldn’t sense a presence in the bathroom apart from his own. After no less than five seconds where he fought to hear anything apart from his short, strained breaths, Ian reluctantly loosened his grip on the handle of his weapon and shakily reached for the bathroom light switch.

When light flooded the bathroom, Ian feared the shift in illumination and his momentary blindness had cost him gravely. Still, he kept calm enough to avoid swinging his knife all around him like a madman, and surveyed the room which was now lit adequately by a sharp white light.

The large tub was empty, its shower curtains pulled to the side to allow him an unobstructed view into the space. The transparent walls of the accompanying shower likewise revealed no one hiding there. And…

...nothing. There was nowhere else to hide. It was a bathroom, not a labyrinth. Even if it was a larger, fancier bathroom with marble sinks, branded towels, and two ways to wash one’s whole body, it was still just a bathroom.

There was no one here. Ian’s head began to ache from the effort of concentrating on visual and auditory stimuli around him. He lowered his knife to his side.

Ian leaned heavily against the wall beside the bathroom door and lifted his face up to the light with his eyes closed. Sweat poured down his temple and began trickling down his right cheek.

What was going on here? Was he imagining things? The sound of those thumps were clear as day. So where was the source?

You remembering yet?

A voice, quiet but clear, abruptly spoke as though it had come from right next to his ear. Ian couldn’t help himself; he jumped and recoiled from the source of the sound, toppling ass-first into the tub and cracking his head against the wall. Pain exploded in the back of his head and his lower back, his whole body forming a rough letter U when he fell in, his legs draped over the edge of the tub. His startled scream echoed bizarrely against the walls of the bathroom, making it sound as though he were in a chamber much larger than the expanse of the bathroom.

It took Ian a moment to gather enough composure to ignore his self-inflicted bodily pains and frantically look around the bathroom for some previously unseen spectre that would surely kill him, having satisfied its sick fantasy of scaring him. He scrambled to pick up the knife that had clattered beside him on the tub floor despite his awkward position, determined to get at least a swipe in before his adversary fell upon him.

Ian reached up with half a roar, half a grunt, and swung his knife in a wild arc slightly above and ahead of him. When his blade found nothing solid to cut or stab, he swung again, then a third time.

Not like this. Not yet. Not until I--

A hand closed around his right wrist, stopping his incessant swinging. Ian tried to throw a punch with his other hand, but something struck him across the cheek before he could land a blow.

“What the fuck are you doing, kid? CALM DOWN! STOP!”

The sound of that sharp, critical tone cut right through the fog that had beset Ian’s mind. He blinked twice, and when he had done so, he realized he was staring up at the face of his mentor. Her left hand had grabbed his right wrist, trying to stop him from swinging the knife around further.

“M-Ma’am…?” Ian said weakly. He was ashamed to admit it, but he knew right then that he whimpered the word, as if he were begging her for something.

“Yeah, who else?” Erin shot back, sounding halfway between exasperated and furious. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I… I was… There was...”

“Give me the knife. Let go. Now.”


“I said, drop it.”

Ian unfurled his fingers slowly from the handle of his tactical knife, allowing Erin to take the blade from him and place it on top of the toilet tank nearby. As she was putting his weapon to the side, Ian glanced around warily at the rest of the bathroom, still half expecting to see someone else.

But there was no one else here. Just him and Erin.

“Get your ass out of there,” Erin said shortly, taking better hold of Ian’s arm and helping the younger operative lift himself up out of the tub.

“Ma’am, I--” Ian said hastily while he was halfway out of the tub.

“Zip it. Have a seat on my bed and drink some water. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until you’ve got your head on straight.”

“...Yes, Ma’am.”

Ian wasn’t entirely sure how long it was before he’d calmed down enough to start thinking in a relatively straight line again, but however long it was, he found himself sitting on the edge of Erin’s bed, amongst her files and papers, with Erin herself standing right over him with her arms crossed over her chest.

Ian downed the glass of water Erin had brought to him in one long swig. When he had emptied the glass, Erin took it from him and placed it on her desk.

“Better?” she asked.

Ian looked up at her frowning face and nodded twice. “Y-yes. Yes, Ma’am.”

Erin didn’t reply for a few seconds. She merely stared at Ian intently, like she was trying to figure out a puzzle. After a tense silence, she sighed.

“I have several questions,” she told him. “First: what were you doing hiding in my bathroom?”

“Eh…?” Ian blurted stupidly.

“Answer me with that again and I’ll punch you. Why were you in my bathroom?”

Ian paused, considering the question. After really thinking it through, the embarrassing implications rushed in.

“I… I wasn’t looking for…! I mean, it’s not that I was in there because I--”

Erin stood still for a moment before closing her eyes. When she opened her eyes again, she reached over and slapped Ian across the face, making the boy jerk his head sideways from the impact.

“I’m not interested in your fantasies, you little shit. I want to know why you were hiding there and started attacking me when I walked in.”

“F-fantasies? Ma’am, I don’t… have any of that,” Ian protested frantically, beginning to rise from the bed, but Erin shoved him back down.

“Like I said, I don’t need to know. Hell, I don’t want to know. Why did you start swinging and stabbing at me, kid?”

Ian fell silent again. Now, in the presence of sheer rationality and judgment, he was realizing more and more how hard this was going to be explain. Even he wasn’t sure what had happened.

“I… I thought I heard someone in the bathroom, so I went to check. Ma’am.”

Erin considered his answer. “What made you think there was someone else in here?”

“I heard some thumps from over in my room.” Ian gritted his teeth. He wasn’t certain anymore if he had imagined this whole thing, but he had certainly made a fool of himself in how he handled it.

“Thumps?” Erin said skeptically.

“Yes, Ma’am. I thought… I just thought there might be someone here. Someone who wasn’t supposed to be.”

Ian was already ashamed to hear how that sounded to him. It was flimsy as far as excuses went, but he couldn’t deny how real the noises were. Add up how the mission had just taken an unexpected turn, he wasn’t surprised he was feeling a little on edge.

Erin’s frown seemed to grow. “How long have you been in since you returned, anyway?”

“About ten minutes, Ma’am. Something like that.”

His mentor raised her eyebrows slightly.

“Then why weren’t you answering on comms?”

“Ma’am? What do you mean?”

“I tried to reach you once I got to Ocampo’s place, but you weren’t answering. I tried again once I had placed mics around the perimeter. Did you turn your comms off?”

Ian blinked twice. He hadn’t turned off his earpiece. The only time he turned it off was when he showered. He even slept while wearing his active earpiece whenever Erin took over watch for him since this mission began, just in case there was an emergency while he was off shift.

“No, Ma’am. I’ve had my earpiece turned on this whole time,” Ian replied, his confusion mounting.

Erin tightened her jaw. “Did you pass out or something? How the hell did you miss no fewer than four hails from me in the past hour?”

The past hour? Ian shook his head a little. But he had just gotten here. He’d left Tim Hortons around 6:30, shortly after Roland Ocampo left with his wife and daughter. That was around forty minutes ago, max. And he hadn’t received any calls from Erin after he left the cafe himself to head back here.

He lifted his right arm and found the local time on the upper right corner of his TACPAD’s screen. A chill traced its icy finger down his back.

It was 7:41 PM.

“What…?” he muttered, shaking his head again, this time with a bit more vigour. “But that’s impossible. I got here just ten minutes or so ago. It was… it was around five after seven...”

Erin kept silent while Ian tried to find something rational to cling to. Ian could feel her scrutinizing stare burning holes in him, but during that time he felt the time discrepancy was more alarming than his mentor’s disapproval.

After a moment, he finally lifted his eyes to meet Erin’s. “Ma’am? What’s the time on your TACPAD say? The local time?”

Erin seemed to hesitate, looking unsure as to what Ian was getting at, but held her left arm to the side with the inside facing toward him. Her own TACPAD showed the same time. 19:41, military format for 7:41 PM.

Ian’s jaw hung open slightly. He looked away for a second, then frantically searched Erin’s bedroom for a clock. He immediately found a digital clock sitting on the bedside table within arm’s reach of him, which he grabbed and turned toward him.

7:41 PM.


“That’s impossible. It’s not… It was 7:05, maybe 7:10 at latest...”


“W-What the hell is… This isn’t right. This is--”

“Kid,” Erin said sharply, grabbing Ian’s shoulders and kneeling down in front of him so her eyes leveled with her student’s. Her tone and touch compelled Ian to refocus his gaze on her.

“Yes, Ma’am…?”

“Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m fine, Ma--”

“I want you to think the question over a minute. Don’t just blurt things I want to hear.”

Ian swallowed some saliva that had pooled in his mouth a little. He nodded numbly, looking down at his lap again and closing his eyes.

Erin kept both her hands on his shoulders as he tried to retrace his thoughts and events leading up to this point. He had gotten here just after seven. He was sure of that, because the drive from the Tim Horton’s in North Lonsdale, up in North Vancouver, wouldn’t have taken him longer than twenty to twenty-five minutes. The Auberge Vancouver Hotel was located just over ten kilometres southwest of the Tim Hortons where Ocampo was, but since the Vancouver Harbour sat between the two points, Ian had to drive east, cross the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge to the east and start looping his way back west once he was across the water. Even with that amount of looping around, it would have taken him only twenty-five minutes - thirty to compensate for red lights or traffic in general. This meant he would have gotten here at around seven, which lined up with what he knew.

If that was true… he’d been here for another half hour, roughly, without being aware of the passage of time.

But how could that have happened? He would have been aware. It was just normal to be. He would have worried about Erin not making it back, given how the mission was developing, and perhaps tried calling her a bit sooner than 7:41, but he didn’t recall doing that, because he’d been in here only ten minutes at most. It was supposed to be 7:15 if he was being generous with his estimation. But definitely not 7:41.

“Hey,” Erin’s voice took on a quieter, softer tone that surprised Ian enough to get him to look up at her again. “So? Are you all right, kid?”

Ian took a moment to breathe in deeply. If he was going to assure Erin he wasn’t losing his mind, he had to at least appear calm when he answered.

“I’m all right, Ma’am,” he said finally.

Erin stared wordlessly at him for a few seconds, making Ian feel like he was being X-rayed for lies. Afterward, she gave a sigh and nodded, removing her hands from his shoulders.

“Okay. Look, we’re partners, at least for the duration of this mission. You need to be open with me, or we risk botching this whole thing. Do you understand me?”

“I understand, Ma’am. I’m… I’m telling you the truth.”

Erin seemed unsure what to say to that. After another silence, she stood back up.

“We’ll have to settle on a reason for your… bathroom stunt… another time. We’ve got more pressing matters. I tried to tell you over comms, but you weren’t answering.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am.” Ian hung his head.

“Forget it. We’ll discuss that some other time too.”

Ian nodded glumly, but he dwelled on it all the same. What if Erin needed his help, and he somehow didn’t - couldn’t - know?

Ian heard Erin walk around to the other side of her bed and settle herself on her desk chair. Ian turned a little bit where he was sitting to keep his eyes on his mentor.

“I placed some directional mics in the foliage outside of Ocampo’s house,” Erin began, her tone returning to businesslike. “Three in total. One aimed roughly at the living room window on the first floor on the east side. Another directed at his bedroom window on the second floor, north side. The last one is trained on the garage door and driveway on the south side. I’ll pass the frequencies to your TACPAD so you can listen in, too.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Ian said, feeling relieved that they were getting back on track.

Erin paused. “We’ll be able to hear him leave, at the very least. But we have two problems, each related to the other.”

She lifted her hand from the desk and held up two fingers. Ian kept quiet but attentive, waiting for her to go on.

Erin tucked in her middle finger. “First, we don’t know where Ocampo is meeting his contact regarding Project FENRIR. All we have to go on is some cryptic information about a ‘hitchhiker in white’. That’s inconclusive at best.”

Ian nodded, then asked, “I suppose tailing him by car isn’t an option, Ma’am? Not after earlier?”

Erin lowered her index finger next. “That, and problem number two: I noticed a car parked within line of sight of Ocampo’s driveway gate, not too far from where you and I usually do our own stakeouts. Grey SUV, lightly tinted windows. Licence plate from outside British Columbia. More importantly, there were two men, the driver and the passenger beside him, appearing to be watching the residence just like us.”

Ian hesitated, then brought forth another question. “Are we sure they’re involved in this, though, Ma’am?”

Erin gave a nod, lifting her other hand to stroke an unruly lock of caramel hair that had fallen across her forehead. “I’m positive. I was there long enough to see Ocampo and his family pull into the garage after they left the cafe. I watched both parties before heading back. When the Ocampos vanished into the garage, I saw the passenger of the grey SUV eyeing the house as if he was surveying it, then pulling out a phone to talk to someone, like he was giving a report.”

Ian nodded again, believing the men to be relevant now. “Okay. So we go with the notion that someone else is watching Ocampo besides us. And… that maybe they’ve noticed us too?”

“I don’t want to make assumptions, but in some cases assumptions can be critical given evidence.” Erin folded her arms over her chest. “Best to assume that, somehow, this other party has gotten wind of us. Better to be more cautious than less.”

“Understood, Ma’am.”

“Our objective still stands, however. We can’t let a potential sample of FENRIR be passed on to an unknown party. We need to ID who’s interested in this chemical, and we need to ensure no one but us gets that sample.”

“Wouldn’t it just be likely that Dynacare would just manufacture another sample if they lose this one that Ocampo’s got?”

“I’m counting on it. If there’s enough demand for something like this - and you’d know from observing national and world politics that there is - there’s going to be a reason to keep producing samples. Prototypes. If it’s not stopped, we’re looking at a wider market for FENRIR, even if it’s not the most public. That’s why stopping a handoff here isn’t our only goal. We need to know who wants this chemical.”

“Know your enemy,” Ian said in a murmur.


Ian sat up a bit straighter on the edge of Erin’s bed. “So what do we do until then, Ma’am?”

“That’s a bit trickier,” Erin replied, standing up from her chair and walking back over to Ian’s side of the bed, where she stopped at the window and drew the blinds back a little to peek outside. “Following Ocampo to the meet would have been the obvious - if only - choice given how scant our information on the location is, but with this latest complication, we risk being caught and the parties dispersing before we can meet our objectives. The only option I see now is to find the meeting location before the actual meet occurs, barring him actually coughing up the name of a venue between now and then thanks to the D-mics I placed.”

Ian tried not to look deflated at this. “That’s trickier, all right. Ocampo’s meeting his contact in about five hours from now, but we don’t have any solid clues as to where.”

Erin appeared to lower her gaze to something toward the ground as she continued to peer out the window. After about half a minute of silence between her and Ian, she turned back to her pupil.

“For now, we listen to the mics. If anything comes up, we’ll decide on how to handle this. If not--”

She seemed to stop herself forcibly, her eyebrows pressing down a little on her eyes in what Ian could only call minour frustration or concern.

“Here, the frequencies,” she said, lifting her arm again to swipe and tap on her TACPAD. “Can I get you to focus on the mic aimed at his second floor window? I’ll mind the other two.”

“Of course. Leave it to me, Ma’am.”

“Good. Second floor bedroom frequency is the first one in the message.”

Ian looked down on his own TACPAD, opened the message he’d just received from Erin, and copied the frequency that was at the top before pasting it into the associated D-mic feature.

He stood up from the bed and made his way over to the door connecting Rooms 411 and 412. Before heading back to his room, Ian looked back at Erin, who had her eyes out the window again, a finger to her left ear.

“Ma’am, would you like something to eat in the meantime? We’d better do that now. No telling when something might come up in the next few hours,” he said to her.

Erin didn’t turn around. “That’s fine. I’ll get room service. I don’t want to get distracted by going out somewhere.”

That was a fair point. It wasn’t as though she or Ian were on a strict budget; their accommodations were being largely paid for by the C.O.S., anyway.

“Okay, well… If there’s anything, I’m right next door,” Ian said, opening the connecting door.

“Sure, kid. Let me know if you catch any leads. I’ll be here.”
Ian gave a nod and retreated to his room.

~~ 2101 hours ~~

Ian leaned back in his seat at his desk, staring at the blank, black screen of his laptop. His TACPAD lay on the table in front of the laptop, its screen lit and showing the audio waveforms linked to the feed coming remotely from one of the directional microphones Erin had set up earlier.

He let out a hefty yawn and rubbed his eyes with his fingers, still trying to pay attention to the sound of the wind and the rustling of foliage playing in his right ear. The idea was to stay awake and alert in case anything came up that would point toward where Ocampo would be meeting his mystery contact later this night, but so far all Ian had been listening to felt like raw ASMR content. About thirty minutes into his remote vigil, he decided that the next time he had trouble sleeping, all he had to do was listen to sounds nature made in general.

There was nothing so far. Even though he’d heard some sounds he could be certain were doors closing and some slightly muffled conversations from who he assumed to be Ocampo and his wife in the bedroom, the topics weren’t of critical importance to the mission: Vivian telling Roland that despite their daughter’s prognosis, Nina would need to get better hearing aids to replace her old ones, Roland talking about a possible vacation to Mexico in the winter, Vivian expressing concern regarding a student in her class having a consistently hard time keeping up with lessons. At first, Ian listened raptly to each conversation, each shift in topics, but soon enough the voices ceased. He personally thought it was strange that adults like Roland and Vivian would go to bed so early, but chalked it up to Vivian wanting to get plenty of rest for the weekday ahead. She’d been consistent about going to bed at this time the last several days, at least. Now there was effectively nothing for Ian to listen intently to - just the sounds that made him want to plant his head on the desk and nap for twenty minutes or so.

In an attempt to survive his mounting boredom, Ian booted up his laptop finally, leaving his earpiece to play sleep music in his ear. He conjured a random topic to look up on Google, on a whim searching for local urban legends. Perhaps some mystery and chills would keep him awake enough.

For about five minutes, he leisurely scrolled and clicked away on various search results regarding Vancouver’s urban legends. Naturally, there were ghost stories linked to abandoned buildings, roads that somehow magically appeared at specific times and led allegedly nowhere, and disappearances of people who even to this day were still missing. Ian browsed through these stories, finding mild intrigue in each one. None of them were the riveting reads he would have picked if he had better choices for reading material, but they occupied him nonetheless.

He backed out of an article about supposedly unexplained lights on Southwest Marine Drive, stole another yawn, and scrolled down and clicked on a search result titled: ‘UBC’s Ghostly Hitchhiker’.

Ian was taken to a website dedicated to archiving paranormal goings-on in the British Columbia province, and breezed past the first paragraph talking about whoever decided to share this particular experience.

The second paragraph read:

“The UBC ghostly hitchhiker story tells of how, on rainy nights in October, a young woman can be seen hitching a ride along University Boulevard at UBC. It is common for accounts regarding this woman to describe her as wearing a white dress .In the event that a driver stops to offer her a lift, she seems distressed and jumps in the back of the car. Soaked from the rain, she tells the driver that she’s anxious to get home and gives her address. When the car reaches the destination, the driver turns around and sees that she’s gone.”

Ian nodded with lukewarm interest as he read past the first paragraph, finding the concept of vanishing hitchhikers tantamount to hokum in general, but still mildly entertaining in these circumstances. He read past a paragraph of an elderly woman claiming this hitchhiker to be her daughter who was left on the roadside by her boyfriend and was supposedly struck by a drunk driver before she could reach home.

A sad story, if this happened to be true, yes--

“...multiple accounts of similar experiences have cropped up in recent years, such that this urban myth came to be known by Vancouverites by several names, the most common ones being ‘the Hitchhiker in White’ and ‘UBC’s Ghostly Hitchhiker’...”

Ian leaned forward a little in his seat, stopping before he could read past that last paragraph. He squinted a bit dazedly at four words in particular: ‘the Hitchhiker in White’.

Surely, this couldn’t be…

It sounded too far flung from the context of his mission, and part of him felt immediate foolishness for even expressing the faintest interest in that moniker, but the fact that this phrase had snagged on him in his slightly sleepy state was something he couldn’t dismiss.

After deliberating the relevancy of his anti-boredom mechanisms, he rose to his feet and stretched his arms up to the ceiling briefly before knocking on the connecting door to Room 411.

“Ma’am? Are you up?” he called through the door.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Err. I, uh… There’s something I want to run by you.”

Erin didn’t respond. A few seconds later, the door swung away from Ian, and Erin gave Ian a questioning look.

“What?” she asked, and though she didn’t express it, Ian could tell by her tone and general expression that she wasn’t having much luck with her own audio surveillance.

“Umm, so… I was Googling local urban legends just because, and--” Ian paused a beat, noticing Erin’s eyebrow cocking slightly, before going on, “--I came across something that sounds like it might be related to what we need.”

“From an urban legend?”

“Err, yes. I just wanted you to have a glance at it and see if it might be relevant.”

For a moment, Erin just stared at Ian, making the young man feel like he was being assessed for stupidity on the spot. Eventually, Erin shrugged a little and jerked her head toward Ian’s room. Ian stood aside to let her in, then led her to his desk. He leaned over his laptop and scrolled on the article such that the most relevant parts of the article on the UBC’s Ghostly Hitchhiker were on-screen for Erin to see.

Ian had a mind to explain some more for context, but Erin had already leaned closer to his laptop and seemed to be perusing the article with an almost hurried air. He watched silently as her eyes narrowed a bit about halfway through. Her lips parted very slightly before pressing together again.

Erin stood up straight again after she had read everything and glanced at Ian. “How’d you come by this site?”

“Uh, I was… Trying to keep occupied, ma’am.”

“You’re interested in this stuff?”

“Not particularly, no. I found myself here on a whim.”

Erin glanced toward the laptop, then back to him. She rapped her knuckles on his desk twice and gave a nod.

“It’s something,” she said finally. She sat down in Ian’s seat and pulled up a new tab on the browser. Ian peered over her shoulder as Erin pulled up Google Maps and typed “University Boulevard, BC” on the search bar and hit the return key.

A satellite view of the area appeared on screen, and a red marker appeared on a road about three or four kilometres in length, stretching from the westernmost portion of West Point Grey all the way to University Hill, where the University of British Columbia was.

Erin studied the map wordlessly for a second while Ian did the same. Before he could finish, Erin spoke again, pointing toward the eastern half of the fairly straightforward road.

“Look at this part of University Boulevard. There’s about one point five, maybe two kilometres with few to no buildings on either side. Just some fields to the north, forest to the south.”

Ian tracked the area Erin was gesturing toward. “Yes, I see that, Ma’am. There’s an Anglican church and a golf club at about the halfway point of the road, but before that, there’s practically no civilization.”

Erin crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back in Ian’s seat. “Something as secret as FENRIR, the concerned parties wouldn’t want local authorities to disrupt them by chance. Since buildings start picking up again about halfway down the road, the best odds for a potential rendezvous would be this two-kilometre strip of brush.”

“Agreed, Ma’am. So… we’re moving on this? I see the correlation, but we can’t be sure if this is the location we really want.”

“Sometimes correlation will have to do. In the absence of other leads, with how little time we have left, we need to at least check each possibility,” Erin said, glancing at her pupil over her shoulder.

“If that’s what you think is best, Ma’am.”

“What do you think, kid?”

“Me, Ma’am?”

“Yes, you. You’re the one who came across this info, not me. Tell me what you think.”

“W-Well,” Ian said, clearing his throat nervously, looking back at the screen of his laptop. “I… I don’t know. It’s... ”

Erin stood up and pushed her face within centimetres of Ian’s, making the rookie operative recoil a little.

“Listen to me,” Erin said sternly, “A C.O.S. operative can’t be indecisive. They have to make decisions - a not insignificant number of which will be difficult ones, believe me. Coming to a decision is an important process, sure, but committing to one is another thing altogether. When you’ve decided, oftentimes you can’t turn back. Good decisions, bad decisions, whatever. You need to be able to stay the course, because going back when things go wrong can make things worse.”

“Ma’am, I… I get that, but we’re both working this mission,” Ian said in a small voice, “You’re obviously the more experienced one of us, so I’ll always defer to you if I’m not sure about something.”

Erin’s eyes softened, even if it was just by a little. The blue hue in them seemed to turn a less fierce shade, like azure turning to cerulean.

Her voice dropped to almost a whisper, the resulting gentleness of her tone both fascinating and unnerving Ian in equal measure.

“I won’t always be around, kid. I need you to remember that. At some point, I’ll be out of the picture, and you’ll have no one but yourself to rely on. This is not an ‘if’. It’s a ‘when’.”

Ian couldn’t be sure about this one either, but something about the way she said that bothered him, though telling her that would do nothing but make her question his ability to perform his job.

It was true, however. Perhaps at least subconsciously, Ian had always turned to Erin whenever she was around if he had questions, concerns, uncertainties. She’d always been his light in the fog, his merciless voice of rationality. He depended on her for being those things, admired her for being what he wished he could be. But had he done it so much that he had taken her support for granted?

No. Even if he had, he couldn’t anymore. She was right. Erin wouldn’t always be his partner. Additionally, with the way he was trained, he wasn’t even sure he was meant to have one, despite how every other C.O.S. trainee seemed to be undergoing regimens with a team focus in mind. Ian couldn’t deny that his composure during this operation so far had been maintained in no small part by the mere presence of his teacher.

“Do you understand me?”

Ian returned to the present, finding Erin’s blue eyes still locked on to his.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Erin nodded, then backed away a step from Ian. She glanced at his laptop again.

“And even though you stumbled upon this without meaning to, it’s a possible lead.” Without looking at him, she added, “So… good work, Knight.”

Ian’s mouth opened a little, but no words floated out for a second.

“Th-thanks, Ma’am,” he said quietly.

“All right, let’s talk about our approach. You up for it?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”


~~ March 14, 2018, 0052 hours ~~
~~ Location: University Road, approximately 11 kilometres southwest of Auberge Vancouver Hotel ~~


Patting her thigh to double check that she had her sidearm, Erin lifted the sleeve of her jacket to check her TACPAD. There were less than ten minutes left before the scheduled meet between Dynacare executive Roland Ocampo and whoever had an interest in the secret Project FENRIR.

The directional microphones she had planted several hours prior at the Ocampo residence had unfortunately gleaned no useful leads. From roughly nine PM until twelve-thirteen AM, none of the mics reported any sounds of conversations or movement, indicating that the inhabitants were either winding down for the day or already in bed. It wasn’t until a few minutes after midnight that Ian reported hearing rustling and light footsteps coming from the second floor. At about twelve-twenty, Erin picked up the sound of a car rumbling to life and pulling out of the garage and driveway from a different microphone.

She and Ian departed from their hotel room just after eleven PM in preparation for being at the meeting and to familiarize themselves however they could with the area. Erin took the relatively more open fields north of University Boulevard, while Ian scoured the denser brush to the south of the road. Given that they had to cover roughly two kilometres strictly on foot to avoid telegraphing their presence, it would take more than one person on lookout to make sure they didn’t miss any goings-on.

Erin leaned against a lone tree standing amongst the waist-high grass, a bit away from the dimly lit road such that she could see any vehicles passing through while staying invisible in the darkness herself. The last vehicle that passed came and went twenty minutes ago, and since then the road had been silent. At this time of night, that wasn’t unusual, but beneath the moonless sky and against the still air, Erin idly remembered other nights she had spent in similar conditions. Alone, away from everyone else.

She removed her backpack from her shoulders and reached into it for her one pack of Dageraad Blonde. The air was cool but not terribly cold, not particularly dry, but she didn’t usually drink solely because she was thirsty. She put her backpack down on the ground and cracked the can open.

Halfway through her can, her earpiece beeped discreetly, the meager volume sounding louder in her ear thanks to the stillness of the night.

“Knight to Reaper,” came the quiet voice of her partner.

Erin tapped her earpiece with a finger of her free hand. “Go ahead, Knight.”

“Clear over here so far, Ma’am.” Erin could barely hear the kid breathing in the high-end mic built into his earpiece, even though he could hear a faint whistle of wind in the background that most likely meant he was moving. “I just wanted to check in.”

“Nothing over here, either.”

“Hopefully he shows up soon.”

“Yeah, but why?”

“Well… because I don’t want this to be a waste of our time.”

Erin grunted, then took another swig from her can before replying. “Yeah.”

The kid fell silent for a moment. Erin reciprocated with her own silence. Many times, she wondered if the boy’s bouts of silence all meant something. He wasn’t particularly hard to read usually; Erin knew he was a largely quiet and introverted person, one who had to be prompted to speak their mind sometimes, especially during the beginning of his instruction. He was timid and nervous, but beneath the tentativeness lay some commendable desire to persevere. Without that desire, Erin would have had enough grounds to dismiss him from her mentorship without much thought. Even now though, she wondered if she had done the best so she could to prepare him for everything he would face as a C.O.S. operative. Ian Alcantara had willingly entered the Service and the Sector, but it was her responsibility to equip him to be one.

Incidents like the one earlier this evening made her doubt his readiness. She had pushed him harshly to get to where he was now, an early graduate to the trainee program, and he’d somehow prevailed. He struggled, he stumbled and fell multiple times, but every time he’d gotten back up when Erin privately felt he’d stay down. After all, the boy didn’t even have any military experience. What hope did he have to endure the trials of the regimen she had tailored to get him up to snuff faster than most other trainees?

That he was here now, working with her, was nothing short of a figurative miracle to Erin sometimes. And yet…

Seeing the boy lunge at her with a knife as he waited silently in her bathroom bewildered her. She had rushed a little to get back to the hotel when Ian had failed to respond to her calls while she was setting up listening equipment at the Ocampo’s. At first, she thought nothing of it and focused on doing her job. But when she tried a second time to raise him, then a third, and then a fourth but received no response, she couldn’t help feeling that something was off.

When Erin got back, she found his room empty. Then when she checked hers, she found him in an admittedly unexpected place: her bathroom. She didn’t have much time to react to his presence, but somehow the sight of her had sent the kid stumbling backwards halfway through his lunge and landing in the bathtub. After falling in, he began flailing his knife carelessly as if he were trying to fend off some unseen attacker.

Though Erin intended to discipline the boy much harder than she had, her frustration and anger at him were outweighed by sheer confusion and a little concern. Since the start, the boy was timid and nervous, sometimes clumsy, but a couple months into his training, he’d gotten more dexterous and methodical. Despite his inexperience, Erin couldn’t deny that he improved gradually, both physically and mentally. Being awkward or diffident was one thing - she could work with that - but what she saw earlier wasn’t that.

She had never seen the kid act that panicked, his eyes opened so wide they looked like they were prime to burst out. That wasn’t the look of a simply timid person.

Truth be told, Erin wasn’t sure how to approach the matter. She had merely hoped trying to steer the boy into the rhythms of fieldwork would sort him out naturally, as bizarre as his behaviour was. All she knew was that prior to tonight, she never expected him to act that way. He was a rookie, he could be clumsy, but he wasn’t…

...what? Mad? Unhinged?

Erin shook her head. It wasn’t fair to brand the kid those terms after this one isolated incident. Maybe he was just dealing with something stressful he wasn’t telling her. As hard as she pushed him, she always remembered that he was a human being too, and human beings had limits. And with someone like Ian Alcantara, she had to be mindful of other factors in his past.

She was so deep in thought that it took her a second to realize she was looking at a dark silhouette of an SUV trundling down the road ahead of her - the first vehicle to come along in almost half an hour. She lowered the can she was holding to her side and watched as its headlights creeped further west, away from her, until she could see only its red taillights making its way in the distance.

She kept looking at the retreating lights for a second, then the sound of another vehicle’s motor made her look back south. Just about one hundred metres behind the SUV trailed two more vehicles: from the shape of their chassis, Erin identified them both as four-door sedans. The way the second sedan drove a little closely behind the first compelled Erin to watch them both as they continued down the road after the SUV that had passed not a minute prior.

Erin tapped her earpiece. “Kid.”

Knight’s voice responded immediately. “Ma’am.”

“Are you seeing vehicles on the road?”

“Affirmative. Looks like an SUV. It’s… slowing. It drove past where I am, but it seems to be stopping. And a couple of sedans are coming up close to me, slowing down just like the SUV ahead of them.”

“Can you make out any of the drivers?”

Knight paused. “Negative. I’d have to get closer. But… the SUV is turning. Going off road. Toward my side of the road.”

Erin took a hurried swig from her can and tossed it away when she felt she had drained most of its contents. She grabbed her backpack and put it on.

“This might be the meet.” Erin began to move at a jog in pursuit of the vehicles to the west of her position, her boots making distinct scuffing noises against the soil beneath her. “Let’s RV.”

“Understood, Ma’am. The two sedans just drove past me a little but are following the SUV offroad, toward the trails. I’m following them.”

“Roger that. Stay sharp. I’ll meet you in a few.”

Erin hastened her steps, coming to the edge of University Boulevard. She crossed to the other side of it and then continued heading west. The vehicles she had sighted had by now vanished from her point of view, but if they were going offroad, that meant they had to have slowed. Normally, she would have moved faster to avoid losing her quarry, but as long as Knight was on their tail, she didn’t have to worry about that.

After three minutes, pushing southwest and cutting into the forest, she sighted three sets of headlights stopped within a few metres of each other in a small clearing about one hundred metres of her.

“Knight? Still there?”

“Yes, Ma’am. The sedans have pulled up behind the SUV. All of them have stopped in a small clearing near the intersection of Cleveland Trail and Heron Trail. No one’s gotten out of their cars yet.”

“I take it you’re close?”

“Close enough to watch, far enough to hide.”

“Good. I’m about a hundred metres out.”

Erin slowed her pace the closer the headlights became. When she reached the edge of the clearing, she crouched down behind a tree and tapped her earpiece again.

“In position just inside the treeline. Where are you?” she whispered into her mic.

The rustling of shrubs to Erin’s three o’clock less than five metres away made her turn partly toward that position, her FNX-9 pistol clearing its holster in under half a second. She brought it to bear on the silhouette of a figure that stopped in its tracks and put up both of its hands.

“Friendly!” the figure whispered urgently, just loud enough for Erin to hear.


“Yes, Ma’am. It’s me.”

“Christ. Call out your approach next time. Do you want to get shot?”

“No, Ma’am. I just thought you’d hear me coming.”

“Doesn’t matter. You let me know where you’re coming from, or one of these days I might blow a hole in your chest. Do you understand me?”

The silhouette seemed to deflate a little. “Understood.”

Erin lowered her handgun and allowed the boy to come closer and crouch beside her. She glanced at Ian, who had promptly directed his gaze toward the cars to the south. The doors of all three vehicles had remained closed in the last minute, their engines still running.

It was hard to make out the finer details in this light, but Erin noted the grim frown on her student’s face. The look of concentration on him was somewhat assuring, but Erin wanted to check anyway.

She tapped his shoulder. which elicited a glance from him. “You good?”

“Yes, Ma’am. And… you?”

“Fine.” Erin nodded curtly, then turned her gaze over to the trio of vehicles in the clearing ahead of them.

Erin and Ian waited silently for the parties to reveal themselves. After a moment, the SUV’s driver side door - which was conveniently turned toward the two operatives - opened and out came Roland Ocampo. He wore a white button-down shirt underneath a business suit, dark slacks, and black shoes as if he were expecting a boardroom meeting. He shut his car door and stood by his vehicle, not taking a single step toward the other vehicles that had followed him here.

Erin kept still, watching Ocampo’s expression and body language. With the way he stood stiffly, his hands clasped behind his back but repeatedly wringing against each other slightly, she could tell shady dealings weren’t something he did on a regular basis. After a few seconds, he gave an incessant cough and readjusted his posture in an attempt to appear as far away from nervous as possible.

After another lengthy several seconds, several doors of both sedans opened at once. Erin redirected her gaze to the two identical black sedans, where six men were exiting their rides. All of them were Caucasian, about half of medium build while the others were on the burlier side. As best as Erin could tell, they all looked largely unremarkable, apart from how they certainly seemed to be the rougher sort.

The presence of a variety of smaller submachine guns in all but one of the men’s hands convinced Erin that this was indeed the party who wanted possession of a sample of FENRIR.

The driver of the lead sedan, a blond man in his early thirties, stepped forward and held out his open hands to his sides to show that he was unarmed.

“Mister Ocampo, yes?” he said in a voice that was gruff but forcibly softened to match his non confrontational air.

Ocampo stepped forward too. “Y-Yes, I’m Roland Oca--”

“Please stay where you are, Mr, Ocampo. We want to verify a couple of things.”

Ocampo froze, the discomfort plain on his face. Erin alternated between observing the Dynacare executive and the spokesperson for the unknown party.

“Do you have the sample with you?” the blond man asked next. The men behind him looked relatively relaxed, which contrasted Ocampo’s general demeanour. Erin could see Ocampo’s head moving a bit to adjust his gaze every now and again. Perhaps he was eyeing those MP5’s and Mac-11 submachine guns in the other men’s hands.

Ocampo glanced beside him, toward the backseat of his car, then turned back to the man. “Yes. Yes, I have it with me.”

“All right. Next question: have you told anyone about your communications with us?”

“What?” Ocampo’s tone became noticeably more frail. “N-no, of course not. I’m aware that you people aren’t… the most public.”

“So you haven’t told anyone about us?”

“No. No, I haven’t.”

“Not your colleagues? Your regional manager? Your wife… Your kid? No one?”

Ocampo seemed to falter for a moment here. Despite the cool air, Erin felt a bead of sweat peek from the hair at her temple and slowly descend. She turned to look at Knight, whose body seemed frozen and eyes plastered to the scene before them, just as silent as she was.

“No one,” Ocampo said after a few seconds. He shook his head and waved his hands a bit dismissively for effect. “Of course not. No one.”

The leader of the armed men looked over his shoulder at his companions and seemed to have a wordless exchange with the one who sat beside him in the lead sedan. After that, the blond man turned back to Ocampo.

“That’s good, Mr. Ocampo,” he said in a passable attempt at sounding pleasant despite his rough voice. “This is an… under-the-table transaction, as I’m sure you’re aware. Can’t have just anyone know about this business. Can we see the sample now?”

“Of-Of course. Right. Just a moment.”

Ocampo opened the backseat of his car and extracted a small, cylindrical grey case that looked like a miniature thermos.

“May… May I come closer to show you?” Ocampo said, grasping the case closely to his chest.

The blond man responded by taking five steps toward Ocampo, coming within arm’s reach of him. He gave the executive a silent nod and gestured toward the cylinder. At the unnamed man’s insistence, Ocampo gave the top of the cylinder a twist.

The top came off like a cap on an actual thermos, and wisps of air rose out of the opening like when a freezer was opened. Erin leaned toward the scene as she watched Ocampo gingerly pull out what appeared to be a vial of clear liquid. There wasn’t a lot of the liquid from what she could see, perhaps twenty or thirty millilitres. If the other circumstances hadn’t lined up prior to this point, Erin may have wondered if that liquid was simply water.

So that was what FENRIR looked like. It was colourless, and according to the intelligence her partner had extracted some weeks prior from Braga, when used as a gas, it was scentless and invisible. An unseen poison.

The blond man carefully took the vial in his hand and held it up close to his face, shaking the contents very gently. Erin noted that the substance inside the vial was just as inviscid as water, sloshing gently in its container as the leader of the unknown party tilted the vial slightly in different directions.

“To think something like this could do a lot of damage,” he mused aloud, sounding halfway between reminiscent and amazed.

“There are plenty of substances - more common, more known - than FENRIR that can cause similar effects,” Ocampo volunteered. “Although because of international conventions, manufacturing and use of these substances are tightly prohibited… if not heavily regulated. FENRIR is something new, not explicitly listed under any prohibited substances lists.”

“Indeed,” the blond man said. He lowered the vial and looked at Ocampo again. “I hear it must be transported in that?”

Ocampo nodded, lifting the thermos-like case in his hands. “Y-yes. FENRIR must be kept well below room temperature, but not quite below freezing temperature. Roughly speaking, this means below ten degrees Celsius and above zero. It is unfortunately susceptible to heat. Enough time under the sun will deteriorate its chemical bonds and render its effects… null.”

“Hmm. Noted, Mr. Ocampo. In that case--”

The blond man passed the vial back to Ocampo, who gingerly inserted it back into the case and sealed the top with the cap.

“So,” Ocampo said, clearing his throat. The blond man seemed to be waiting for him to say something.


“W-well… Are you interested in the sample?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, did you bring payment, then?” Ocampo asked, sounding slightly impatient but still mostly wary of the people in front of him.

The blond man looked over his shoulder again. The one who drove shotgun with him gave a nod, then went around to the trunk of the first sedan. He popped the trunk and came back holding a hefty black briefcase in one hand, which he put down on the hood of the sedan.

The leader of the buyers’ party gestured toward the briefcase, and Ocampo followed him to it. The blond man reached for the case, undid the two latches, and opened the briefcase.

From Erin’s position, she couldn’t see very well what the briefcase contained, but the ensuing conversation between Ocampo and the buyer told her enough about the briefcase’s contents.

“This is everything, yes?” Ocampo said, glancing up from the case to the blond man.

“Unfortunately, no, Mr. Ocampo. This is just a third of the amount that was agreed upon.”

“W-What?” Ocampo stammered. He appeared to hug the sample of FENRIR closer to himself. “Where is the rest?”

“It will be sent your way through wire in a week,” the man answered. “If the sample works within expectations, my employer will give the green light for the rest of the payment to be released.”

“Your employ--” Ocampo sounded lost, what little control he had over the situation slipping steadily. “Wait, are you not John Smith? The person I was emailing?”

The blond man looked genuinely surprised. “I am not ‘John Smith’. However, I do work for him. He put me in charge of securing that sample.”

“I… I see. We agreed in our correspondence that we would meet, but--”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Smith is… occupied.” The blond man lifted the sleeve of his bomber jacket to peer at his wristwatch. “Now then, Mr. Ocampo, if you would kindly hand us that sample, we can conclude this transaction.”

“Wait,” Ocampo said, lifting a hand. “What guarantee do I have that John Smith will uphold his end of the bargain?”

He jerked his head toward the briefcase containing presumably part of his payment in cash. “You said it yourself: that’s just a third of the amount we agreed on. If I give up FENRIR, what’s stopping your employer from screwing me over?”

The blond man lowered his watch arm. “I can’t speak for his trustworthiness, but regardless, it would be in your best interest to hand the sample over, Mr. Ocampo.”

“W-Why? Look, get him on the phone, I want to talk to him! I want to talk to John Smith!”

“Mr. Ocampo, I’m afraid you are wasting our time. We need that sample now.”

“No!” Ocampo seemed to have gained a degree of courage in the last minute. He took a step back from the blond man, holding the cylinder containing the chemical sample behind his back. “I said, get your boss on the line now. I want to speak with him! I want his word!”

“Kid,” Erin whispered, glancing at the younger operative beside her.

“Yes, Ma’am?” Knight glanced back at her, his voice tensed.

“Our window’s closing fast. Flank west so we can have more field of fire. We need to drop those six guys, but do not fire on Ocampo. We need him alive.”

Knight nodded, his expression still grim. “Understood.”

“Hurry, but keep low and quiet. When you’re in position, wait for my go.”

Knight drew his Walther from his thigh holster. “Copy.”

The boy stalked off to get into position for an ambush. Erin watched him go for a few seconds, noting how relatively quiet his movements were and how easily the fledgling agent seemed to melt right into the shadows. That had always been one of his best traits - to seem like he wasn’t there at all.

Erin turned her attention back to Ocampo and his meeting.

“--po, I was instructed not to be difficult in our dealings, but if you insist on being difficult yourself, I will lay out some scenarios for you,” the leader of the buyers said, staying where he was even as Ocampo had taken another step back. “Currently, we have some men monitoring your home in Horseshoe Bay. At my discretion, I can have them come into your home and take your wife and daughter and hold them until you comply.”

“You-- You wouldn’t--”

“Yes, we would. You said so yourself earlier, didn’t you? That we’re not exactly the most… public. Or the most upstanding.”

“If you touch my family, I’ll… I’ll...”

“What, Mr. Ocampo?” the blond man still sounded relatively pleasant, though the time for pleasantries was past. “Inform the authorities? Perhaps you haven’t been paying attention, Mr. Ocampo, but we could simply shoot you here and now and take your sample by force. Then, if my employer is feeling up for it, come after your wife and child next. That we even offered to pay for that sample at all should have been enough incentive for you to comply with us.”

“I… I just… I need that money. All of it. I want to know I’ll be paid in full!” Ocampo said, his voice sounding more and more like a mouse’s.

“And maybe you will be,” the leader said. “Or you can insist on being difficult with us and wind up with no money, a missing family, or be a body in the ground. It’s your choice, Mr. Ocampo.”

“Ma’am?” Knight whispered in Erin’s earpiece.

“Tell me you’re ready, kid. It’s getting dicey for Ocampo,” Erin murmured back.

“Affirmative. In position on the other side of those sedans. I can drop… the two standing closer to me. The ones who were riding shotgun.”

“Understood. I’ll get the four on my side. Get ready to engage on my shot.”

“Your shot, Ma’am.”

“I… I understand the terms,” Ocampo said pleadingly, looking down at the sample in his hands. “I just… I just want to be paid. You understand this, don’t you?”

“Mr. Ocampo,” the blond man said, his voice hardening. “I will give you five seconds to hand me that sample. What happens after that is on you.”

The leader glanced at his companions, who readied their weapons and aimed them in the general direction of Ocampo. They didn’t appear to be committed to shooting the Dynacare executive, but they were considering it more seriously now.

Erin selected a target, the one in the back of the group, holding an MP5. She lined up the glowing green night sights of her sidearm with the side of the man’s bald head.

“Okay,” Ocampo said fearfully and hastily, though he was still clearly hesitant to comply. He took one cautious step forward. “Okay, just… please follow through with--”

As Ocampo began to extend the cylindrical case to the blond man, Erin squeezed the trigger of her FNX. A loud crack pierced the relatively quiet night, followed by a thud as Erin’s target toppled over sideways and his limp body collided with the rear left door of the second sedan. Within another second, the body crumpled to the grass.

“What the--” The blond man pivoted in Erin’s direction about twenty metres away. He reached for something tucked behind him and brought out a Glock. “In the trees!”

Erin snapped her sights to the left, aiming at the next man who had just begun firing a stream of rounds in her direction. Since she was in the dark looking into a lit area, she held her position long enough to drop another hostile with two shots to the torso before repositioning a bit further to the east, using the waist-high shrubs for visual cover. As she felt rounds whistle into the area she had just displaced from, she heard the bark of another pistol joining the cacophony of gunshots from the opposite edge of the clearing. She heard some yelling from one of the men on the other side of the cars, followed by the sight of a figure on that side of the vehicles falling out of Erin’s line of sight.

Erin lined up the sights of her FNX on her third target, who looked as though he was caught between taking cover from her or whoever was shooting at his companions from the opposite side of the clearing. Erin pulled the trigger on her pistol three times, felling the disoriented gunman with two shots to the upper chest and one to the belly. He crumpled to the ground along with the three others who had fallen before him.

The blond man was a touch harder to hit, because before Erin could adjust her aim to take him down, he hauled Ocampo - who had practically prostrated himself on the grass as soon as the shooting had begun - to his feet and put himself behind the Dynacare executive and held a pocket knife to Ocampo’s neck.

“Shit,” Erin cursed as she debated confronting the hostage taker openly in the hopes of opening an opportunity to strike, or quickly maneuvering to his blind side further east and chance a nonlethal shot. By then, she had noticed that there were only two people within the immediate vicinity of the vehicles: Ocampo and the blond man who had resorted to using a meat shield. Everyone else was either out of her sight, or lying lifeless on the ground.

“Whoever’s out here, I’ll take him with me if you try to shoot!” the blond man shouted from behind Ocampo’s shoulder, pressing the edge of his knife closely to Ocampo’s skin. “Come out, or I’ll kill him!”

Damn. There was no choice.

Erin straightened up and walked steadily out of the tree line, keeping her hands around her FNX and the muzzle pointed at the duo. Ocampo’s eyes widened in fright as Erin stepped out into the illumination afforded by the headlights of the sedans and stopped a short distance away from the hostage and his assailant.

“All right,” Erin said in a clear, calm voice. “Here I am. Let him go.”

“Like hell,” the knife-wielding man spat. “You drop your gun and kick it over to me.”

“Don’t get smart with me, asshole. Give up, and I might let you live.”

The blond man holding the petrified Ocampo did not reply for a moment. Erin watched his eyes warily scanned the trees behind Erin as if he were looking for an escape route. She did the same with her immediate surroundings, keeping an active eye on the man’s body language, watching for any signs that would betray an intention to cut his meat shield loose or attempt to flee altogether.

Come on, kid. What are you doing…?

The possibility that in the chaos, Knight had taken a round and was unable to assist in defusing this situation passed Erin’s mind, although only fleetingly. She could not afford to let her mind wander.

This angle was poor. She couldn’t get a clear, disarming shot at the man who had Ocampo at knifepoint. Ocampo whimpered softly, begging for his life, but Erin ignored him for the most part. As long as the stalemate lasted, the executive was still relatively safe, but this could not last forever.

“Ma’am,” came Knight’s quiet, almost weak voice in her earpiece. “I’ve looped over to your three o’clock. I think I can get a nonlethal shot in, but I need you to keep him calm.”

The authority in the young man’s voice wasn’t surprising to Erin, though she felt a twinge of satisfaction in hearing it nonetheless. Right now, she was powerless to prevent Ocampo from spouting blood from his neck and taking his assailant down simultaneously. If she was working alone, this would be a lot harder.

“Who are you? Answer me!” the blond man demanded. Erin kept her eye on the blade, silently willing it to move just a few centimetres away from Ocampo’s neck. If Knight made his move now, there was a chance that getting attacked would cause the knife to slice right into Ocampo’s skin.

Erin hoped her student could see the situation with as much clarity as she could. She couldn’t instruct him on what to do at this moment. This was his play now.

“Federal government,” Erin replied after a moment’s thought, keeping it vague. The best way to keep the man as calm as possible was to give plausible answers with a degree of truth.

“Government?” the hostage taker repeated a bit skeptically. “The Canadian one, obviously? Don’t bother telling me you’re US.”

Erin did not reply right away. Of course the US government wouldn’t get in these guys’ way, not with how international affairs were going currently.

“Obviously,” she said in response.

“How’d you find out about this? About us?”

“Your supplier there wasn’t very careful with his communications.”

Ocampo gave a half-complaining, half-pleading sound.

A look of realization passed across the man’s face. “Wait, were you the one--”

He mumbled this a bit such that Erin almost didn’t catch what he had said. She watched as the man’s expression took a turn toward ponderous for a brief moment, then shifted back to focused and tense.

“So, are you the one he called ‘Reaper’, then?” he finally asked.

Erin’s lips parted slightly in surprise, but she pressed them together almost immediately. How could this stranger know that? Her callsign - much less her identity with regards to it - wasn’t exactly the most known, even within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Outside of it, she didn’t exist. For this man to pull her callsign out of thin air like that…

For a few seconds, she struggled to find a response to that. The blond man lowered his knife a little, leveling it roughly against Ocampo’s collarbone.

“Ma’am, get ready.”

The sound of Knight’s voice kept her mind from wandering. Still, her curiosity got the better of her.

“How do you know that name?” Erin asked, keeping her gun steady.

The leader of the gunmen didn’t respond. And from the look of his set expression, he was done obliging her in any capacity.

“How do you know about that? Tell me!” Erin demanded further, her voice rising. Something about this whole situation was rapidly feeling wrong. A growing sense of unease gnawed at her from the pit of her stomach, like she was about to remember something she had since forgotten - a mistake or an oversight that she once thought had ceased to matter.

Before she could make further demands as to how her callsign came to this criminal’s knowledge, a pistol crack shot out of the darkness somewhere to her right. The sharp sound cleared the fog of doubt that had begun to swirl her mind nearly instantly.

The blond man gave a shout of pain that was partnered with a startled yelp from Ocampo. The man with the knife seemed to bend over backwards, pulling Ocampo toward him to a certain extent. For just a moment, Erin saw the man’s knife arm release Ocampo’s neck.

“Ocampo, get down NOW!” she yelled at the executive who had just been released.

Thankfully, the freed hostage knew not to argue. He voluntarily crumpled to the ground, still hugging the sample of FENRIR to his chest, as if he were a puppet that had its strings cut abruptly.

Erin quickly adjusted her aim so that her sights landed on the torso of the buyer, who was beginning to straighten up and recover from the gunshot wound to his left thigh. She fired three times, each round impacting the hostile’s shoulder and chest. After the third shot, his knife fell from his grasp and he toppled over backwards, falling with his back against the rear passenger door of Ocampo’s SUV.

Erin advanced carefully, keeping her muzzle trained on the fallen assailant. She walked past Ocampo’s prone form and inspected the body of her latest target. A check for a pulse revealed a lack of one.

Erin exhaled slowly, relaxing just slightly. She lowered her weapon but kept it in her hand.


She spoke a bit more loudly through her earpiece, so Knight should have heard her on his, but he didn’t respond. Erin looked toward the treeline about thirty metres to the east.

“Knight, do you copy? Where are you?” she asked.

A lone figure stumbled out into the clearing from the treeline within her field of vision, the taillights of the sedans illuminating Erin’s partner. At a glance, he appeared fine, but when Erin saw him wobble a couple of steps toward her. then drop his pistol to the grass and fall on his hands and knees, a spike of concern stabbed at her gut.

She glanced at Ocampo, who had lifted his head gingerly to gaze beadily up at her. She kicked him with fair force in the ribs, making the man fall face first back onto the grass.

“Stay down,” she warned him. “Keep your hands over your head and face to the ground.”

“B-but--” he protested, starting to lift his head again.

Erin brought her boot down on the middle of the executive’s back. “I said, do it, you son of a bitch! If you don’t want to join these other guys, do as I fucking say.”

He nearly squealed, muffled by grass pressing into his face. Erin took her boot off his back, satisfied that he would comply for the next minute or so, and jogged the ten or so steps to where Knight was on all fours.

“Kid? Kid, talk to me. Are you hit?” Erin holstered her gun and knelt beside her partner. She checked him over for any bleeding, but she couldn’t find any blood leaking through his clothes.

Instead, Knight was making repeated, strained gagging noises. His dry heaving was consistent for several seconds, and it wasn’t until Erin glanced back at the bodies of the gunmen that she understood why. She reached over and gave Knight a couple of light taps on his back with her palm.

“Take a minute to pull yourself together,” she said over the sound of Knight’s retching. So far, nothing seemed to be coming up his esophagus and spilling out onto the ground, so Erin was certain that the boy would be fine after a moment. “Come over to me when you’re ready.”

Knight did not respond, his gagging continuing unabated, but Erin saw his head bob shakily to resemble a nod. She rose to her feet and headed back to where Ocampo was still lying face down in the grass.

Erin grabbed hold of his wrists and roughly brought them together at the small of his back, eliciting a pained yelp from the Dynacare executive. She pulled out some zip ties from the pocket of her jacket and got to work on binding his wrists together.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this? You just… You just killed them all!” Ocampo said, sounding hysterical. He struggled a bit against Erin, but not enough to convey a serious intent to escape.

“I’m the one who’ll be asking questions here,” Erin snapped back at him, tugging on the end of the zip ties to secure it in place. She got up and grabbed Ocampo’s arms. “On your feet. Get up!”

At her insistence, Ocampo obeyed and allowed her to assist him get back on his feet. When he was standing again, Erin pushed him into one of the doors of his SUV and kept him facing away from her.

“Who were those men?” Erin began, keeping one hand around Ocampo’s upper arm and using her other hand to hold him firmly against the car’s chassis.

“I don’t know who they are!” Ocampo said immediately, “Please, take it easy. That hur--”

Erin grabbed the back of his head, pulled it away from the window, and slammed his cheek back onto the glass, forcing the man to release a strained cry.

“You want to keep your fingers? Rethink your answer,” she growled at him.

“I… I don’t know who they are exactly,” the executive answered frantically, clearly scrambling to find information Erin might like, “I think they just work with the person I was talking to!”

“You’re talking about ‘J.Smith019’, aren’t you?”

“H-How did you know about that?”

Erin pressed the man’s face harder against the glass. “Irrelevant. Tell me. How do you know ‘J.Smith019’? How’d you two meet? What’s he after?”

“He reached out to me without warning via my personal email about a month ago,” Ocampo answered, “Around the same time that we--”

He stopped abruptly, as if he just recalled he wasn’t supposed to divulge something, but Erin had a feeling she knew what he was about to say.

“Around the same time you and whoever else finished manufacturing a working sample of FENRIR?”

“How did you know abou--”

Erin kicked Ocampo in the back of the shin, causing the man to scream in pain again. “New rule: I know everything except what I’m asking you for.”

“Okay, okay!”

“What else do you know about your contact? This ‘John Smith’?” Erin asked, her patience beginning to fray. That henchman to this J.S. knew her goddamn callsign. That was intimate knowledge, a practical guarded secret.

“He… he just wanted to buy a sample of the chemical we had just produced. It was like… like he knew exactly what we were up to, what FENRIR was capable of doing. He was willing to pay fifty million Canadian just to get his hands on a small sample,” Ocampo said hurriedly, trying to gain a little physical wiggle room that Erin actively denied him.

“What else? Keep going.”

“There’s not much else, I swear. Our communications were strictly about business. I get him a sample of the chemical, he pays me in full at the same time. I didn’t know he would do it in installments… He never mentioned that. If he had, I would have had reservations about selling him anything about the project.”

“He didn’t mention any names? Colleagues? Affiliations? Locations? Anything?”

“No, I swear he didn’t. It seemed to me that all he cared about was getting the product. The chemical sample. He didn’t talk about anything else.”

“And you took him up on his offer to sell something out of Pandora’s Box, why? You’re a Dynacare bigwig, aren’t you? Don’t you get paid enough?”

Ocampo seemed to hesitate. When he took too long in answering, Erin lifted her knee and jabbed him in the rear end with it.

“Ow, ow! Okay, I had a… I have a debt to pay off. Okay? I go to casinos and… some time back, I made a pretty large bet but things didn’t go my way...”

Fifty million dollars in debt? From gambling? Erin wanted to punch this guy in the ear, but that would somehow require her to care at all about his plight. She shook him roughly instead.

“So you’re willing to kill hundreds or thousands just to pay off a massive debt?”

“I don’t have any other choice! How else could I pay that off in such a short time? This was just convenient, things lined up perfectly--”

‘Convenient’. Erin nearly cringed at the word. It was apparently convenient for this man to supply an invisible poison that could wipe out a city just so he could make up for his dumb financial decisions.

“In its current state, FENRIR can’t be used on a large area to harm multiple people,” Ocampo went on, taking advantage of Erin’s pause, “It’s not like I’ve killed anyone by making the sale. It’s not my responsibility what happens to something once it leaves my hands, right? I’m just--”

Erin could stand his justifications no longer. She yanked him away from the car, threw him back down to the ground on his back, and swooped down to deliver a punch to his upturned face. Ocampo’s ramblings fell silent as his eyelids drew shut and his whole body went limp.

Erin shook her stinging fist a few seconds, taking a moment to calm herself. It was at this time that she heard the soft crunch of grass beneath feet behind her.


Erin looked over her shoulder to Knight, who was finally on his feet. In the illumination provided by the cars’ headlights, she could see that he was still somewhat green around the gills. He looked as though he might fall over again at any second. His face was screwed to a half determined expression, however.

“Are you okay?” he asked meekly.

Erin massaged her knuckles with her other hand. “I’m fine. You? Caught your breath?”

“I think so,” he said. He glanced down at the deceased henchmen lying beside the cars, but after a second he quickly looked back at Erin. “It’s… different, from shooting paper or wooden targets. They… these ones… they bleed.”

That much was obvious, but Erin chose not to give him a harder time processing what he had just done.

“Everything I trained for prepared me for something like this, but what comes after is… new,” the boy continued, closing his eyes and wincing.

“I know,” Erin said simply.

The boy kept wincing for several seconds and seemed to be debating whether he should say something else or not.

“Tell me how you feel, kid,” Erin ordered him, turning fully to face him.

He opened his eyes and inhaled deeply. “It’s hard. Harder than I thought it would be. Knowing I can just… do that to them. And the… the knowing. That I can’t go back on this once I’ve… done it.”

“It gets easier,” Erin replied frankly.

“Is… is that good?”

“That depends on you. I can’t answer that for you.”


“Do you want to stop?” Erin asked, lowering her voice so that she wouldn’t be misunderstood as making light of what Knight had just done. She knew he was still new to all this. No matter how prepared he believed himself to be for this, experiencing it for the first time was supposed to be hard. If he told her it wasn’t, she would be a lot more concerned.

Knight looked away, not at the bodies, but toward the trees and away from Erin. After a while, he found her eyes again.

“I can’t do that,” he said eventually. He took another deep breath and shook his head as if to clear a fog. “I’ll be fine, ma’am.”

Erin nodded. “Good. Pick up the sample, and be careful. It’s a hazard. And then help me pick this guy up. We’re bringing him in.”

She nudged the unconscious Roland Ocampo with the heel of her boot.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Once he had carefully picked up the cylindrical case from the grass and slid it into his backpack, the two of them bent down to pick up Ocampo. Erin grabbed on to one of his arms while Knight took the other.

“On three,” Erin said, “we haul him up. Car’s not too far from here. One, two--”

Before she could get to three, a distinct beeping cut through the now quiet air. Erin froze, and Knight did the same.

Erin dropped Ocampo’s arm, leaving Knight to latch on to the passed out man all by himself.

Without a word, she followed the noise until she was standing over the corpse of the blond henchman she’d put down last. She reached into his coat pockets, then his pants pockets, rummaging through various personal effects until she managed to extract a smartphone. The screen was lit to show an incoming caller screen, and the caller ID simply showed:

John Smith

Erin glared at the name for a couple of seconds before thumbing the green receive icon and swiping right. She put the phone to her ear but kept silent.

For a moment, no one on the other end spoke, either. There were no background noises that could give Erin an idea of what kind of environment the caller was currently in. Just silence.

“Who is this?” Erin eventually spoke into the phone.

The voice that spoke back from the other end sounded light, composed but not to the point of relaxed. It was pleasant enough without being outwardly friendly.

“So it is you, then,” a soft male voice responded.

“Who are you?” Erin asked again.

“Hmm. I do wonder if you’ve forgotten about me sometimes… ma’am.”

At the mention of that word, Erin instinctively and sharply looked over her shoulder. Knight stood a couple of strides behind her, looking at her with a partly lost but nonetheless attentive expression. Though some part of her logical mind told her he couldn’t possibly be the one speaking at the moment, the way the caller had addressed her somehow compelled her to look at him.

“Then again,” the voice on the phone went on, “It has been… what, four years? Five? I imagine you’ve had to keep on, being what you are. After all, the mission comes first.”

Erin felt as if her throat was closing in on itself. “You’re--”

“I see you’ve even replaced me. Don’t misunderstand, ma’am: I’m not upset that you did. Or for what you did during that last op years ago. No, I know you only do what you have to.”

“No,” Erin said. Her voice sounded far away from her, somehow. Like it was coming from someone else entirely. “No, you’re not-- Who the hell are you? Answer me, you sick fuck. Who are you?”

“It has been a while, but you know who I am.”

Erin pulled the phone away from her ear, rechecked the caller ID, then glanced around. Apart from Knight, who continued to give her searching and questioning looks, she couldn’t see anyone else nearby. Eventually, she looked up at the sky, scanning for something she suspected might be there.

Within seconds, she found it: a small white light hovering about fifty metres or so above her and Knight. The object emanating the light was about twice the size of a hand, and vaguely resembled three circles put together without overlapping. Even with how quiet the area was now, Erin couldn’t hear the sound of its small rotors whirring from where she stood.

She put the phone back to her ear. Her throat felt dry, but she pushed to speak regardless.


The person on the other end didn’t answer at first, even though she knew he was still there.

“You look well, ma’am,” was his eventual response. “I’m glad.”

Erin was at a loss at this point. What should she say? That it couldn’t be him? There was still a chance this was all some twisted joke. She hoped it was.

“Unfortunately, your intervention’s thrown complications into my objectives,” the caller went on. “So I’ll have to try something else next time. You can keep the FENRIR sample. I needed it, but if I asked, you wouldn’t hand it over to me now, would you?”

“Sam? You’re… Who are you working for?” There were about half a dozen other questions Erin could have asked, but she struggled to prioritize the mission, even now.

“Not with the CSIS, that’s for sure. Don’t worry, ma’am. I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.”

“Wait! Sam, answer me, damn it! Why are you doing this? How are you still--”

Erin couldn't finish her question. A heavy, bitter taste started to grow in her mouth, like bile that had risen from the pit of her belly. She sucked in a breath and held it, waiting to see what the caller would say. Something that sounded like a chuckle from the other end of the line reached her after a few seconds.

“I’m sure you’ll find out eventually. Like I said, we’ll talk soon.”

There was a short click, signaling the end of the call. Even after hearing that familiar sound, Erin kept speaking into the phone.

“No, don’t--! Sam? Sam! I said, answer me!”

She tried redialing the phone number from the recent contacts list, but when she did so, she was met with an automated notification telling her that the phone number she was attempting to reach effectively did not exist before being disconnected again.

“Ma’am? Ma’am… Ma’am Kennedy!”

It took Erin a moment to register that a different voice was speaking to her now. She glanced behind her at Knight, whose bewilderment could not be any plainer anymore. The added layer of contained alarm gave Erin a clear idea how she must be coming off to him.

“Who was that?” Knight asked. “Who is… Sam?”

Erin stared at him, half her mind not even considering his question. After a brief pause, she pointed at Ocampo, who was still lying unconscious on the ground.

“Pick him up. We’re leaving,” Erin said.

Knight glanced down at Ocampo, then back at Erin. “But--”

“No ‘but’s, Knight. Fucking pick him up. Now!

Erin glared at her student, her hands clenched tightly enough that her nails dug painfully into her palm. Knight stood still for a couple of seconds, trying not to show a wounded expression that even in her preoccupied state, Erin could see clearly. She contemplated apologizing for her outburst for a moment, but the younger operative had looked away and begun hauling Roland Ocampo to his feet before she could attempt to. Regardless of his earlier vulnerable reaction to laying waste to a couple of armed men, he’d performed satisfactorily this whole mission thus far. He didn’t deserve her ire.

Erin knew that. She knew. But the voice on the phone was something she could not account for in her possible scenarios for this mission.

As Knight supported Ocampo and began hauling the unconscious Dynacare executive past her, Erin looked up again.

The light she saw moments ago was nowhere to be found in the pitch black sky.

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