Short Story 23

Ryan

No one knew him by any name other than Ryan. Then again, not many knew he existed in the first place. His entire life was a series of decisions made on his behalf by people who never really claimed to have his best interest at heart, but instead, to his face, told him they owned him.

He was their property, but Ryan never really found the need to question orders or to break away from the Alliance. He was content with the structure of his life and every day he had a regiment that was only altered on the days he was sent into the outside world.

Today, as far as he was aware, wasn’t one of those days. Like every day since he could remember, which is a good twenty-five years or so, at zero four hundred hours he awoke alert not from an alarm but from a body clock that had a lifetime of training. At zero five hundred hours, he left his self-contained, stock standard four-by-four room after showering, straightening his bed, and putting on the same basic black military gear that every agent wore.

Ryan was one of many, and he walked the halls, always keeping to the left like everyone else, making sure to report to operations on time for his daily instructions. If today he didn’t have a mission he knew that his day involved three hours of physical and tactical training, followed by two hours of counterintelligence, and various amounts of time spent on languages, observational skills, technology and weaponry.

Part of him woke up this morning really wanting to feel the sun on his skin and not be around people that were soldiers in training or mindless sheep following orders. Granted he knew he was one of them, and the Alliance were the only family he had ever known, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t like other things outside of the organisation. What he wouldn’t give to be able to switch off for a minute and just sit and watch the world go by without any ulterior motives.

As a fully fledged member of the organisation, there were certain perks that came with the territory. Within the confines of the compound, being an agent rather than a novice meant he actually had time to himself when the metaphorical ‘big man’ wasn’t actively watching every move he made.

Of course, the best part of being an actual member of the organisation wasn’t being able to distinguish yourself from those who hadn’t advanced, or completing missions in the hopes of rising to become one of the five leaders collectively known as the Prestigious who controlled the entirety of the many compounds like this one.

No, for him none of it compared to just being on the surface around real people. Sometimes you could be up there for years depending on the mission or indefinitely if you became a Seeker. But such a position is rare, with only three circulating at one time, and they are only replaced when they each die. The longest Ryan had been away from the depths of this place was six days, five of which was in transit, and even so, he could honestly say they were the best six days of his life.

When he arrived at operations, he reported for duty to the commander without hesitation, and where there was the commander, there was Chris, his second in command. Chris definitely wasn’t Ryan’s biggest fan, always trying to make himself look bigger than Ryan which always failed because Ryan wasn’t just tall, he was also muscular from all the training. In any case, it didn’t matter what Chris thought because the commander believed Ryan was the most promising agent in fifty years much the Chris’ disdain.

The commander told Ryan to report to medical after tactical training, and he made sure his eyes didn’t shift or his body language falter revealing his contempt and shock at the fact that he wasn’t due for his reading and cleanse, which were the only reason agents ever had to report to medical.

After he was dismissed, he headed straight to one of the security rooms in the upper levels. It was the only one that had its own network separate from the mainframe. As far as he was aware, no one else knew about the extra capabilities the system had because Ryan himself had stumbled upon it purely by accident a few years ago when he was assigned security duty as punishment.

If his cleanse and reading were today, he knew that he would have to set the trigger picture in order for him to remember. The cleansing was a relatively painless process, anything that wasn’t needed, and anything that was potentially harmful to the Alliance was removed pre-emptively from the mind every six months. It was the reading beforehand that was the painful aspect of the process.

Ryan often thought that the reason the reading was so painful, was so those subjected would welcome cleansing willingly. Another way to keep order and control within the organisation. He had always been good at hiding things in his mind, so that the spiritualist doing the reading and cleanse wouldn’t be able to completely remove her from his mind.

He accessed a folder within the closed system that he had encrypted and hidden amongst archived video footage. He had programmed software to perform pattern recognitions on any electronic data on the internet and to record every instance of a girl who always found herself in unexpected circumstances.

For someone who wasn’t searching for her, Ryan was sure nobody would notice her presence and if they did, they would never be able to see who she was because she was careful to always hide her face on those rare occasions that she was caught on camera.

Ryan had spent the last few years trying to find anything and everything he could about her. It had become an obsession for him, and he had honed down a few tricks that helped him figure out where exactly she would be and when. By analysing patterns of when missions would go wrong, or by looking through news reports of incidents that the Alliance weren’t aware of, he suddenly realised that somehow she was connected to the organisation.

Somehow, this mystery girl would only appear near incidents that everyday people associate with the paranormal but in reality were events caused by scientific and technological advances, or where certain technology retrieval missions were taking place.

She was patient and would watch, wait and anticipate the decisions of the agents. Ryan was in awe of how she managed to stop the missions, lead them in a completely different direction or find events that weren’t on the organisation’s radar.

Although Ryan was fairly ambivalent about the people he worked for, he never understood why she went to such great lengths to get her hands on something the Alliance were looking for before they could find it.

This random girl was the only thing Ryan wanted to remember after the cleansing just like every time before, and so he made himself a set of breadcrumbs he knew he wouldn’t be able to let go before heading to do push ups and shoot targets.

That was obviously making it seem far less intense than it was in reality, because when he walked into medical, although Ryan’s adrenalin was pumping his body was burning. In fact he was so preoccupied with how his body felt, that he had forgotten they were about to wipe his memory.

In total, there were ten spiritualists who had the gift, but since the readings and cleansings started for Ryan after he turned eighteen, he always had the same woman who he quickly noticed, right now, wasn’t in the room.

Strangely, the commander was there, which was an abnormality for this kind of procedure. Following instinct Ryan walked into the room with purpose and addressed the commander formally while asking why the reading and cleanse required his presence.

Ryan didn’t have time to really process what happened next, because he quickly found out that he wasn’t getting cleansed, but rather, an organic tracker and communication module was to be injected into his neck because he was, as of that moment, a Seeker.

Within an hour he was in the outside world, at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere receiving one way communication from operations. They were the little voice in his head, but they couldn’t hear or see anything that happened on his end. They left him with a thousand dollars cash, fake IDs and an address to go to as soon as possible.

By zero five hundred hours the next day, Ryan was casing out a building where he was told there was a device in the hands of a terrorist cell. They were planning on using the device to hurt civilians in the next few days, and he was ordered to contain the situation and get the device.

He had formulated a plan to get into the high rise apartment after watching where they would hide the device away and when they left later that day, Ryan, Chris and two lower agents scaled the building and managed to break in through the roof.

Armed with heavy weaponry, they raided the apartment, to find that the occupants hadn’t actually left, but were awaiting the arrival of the Alliance with an ambush.

Chris and Ryan separated, trying to find the device as quickly as they could while the two other agents engaged the other men. A man sporting a knife that should have really been used for hunting lunged at Ryan, and he sharply incapacitated him but not without the man getting quite a few good hits and slices in.

He could here Chris in the other room fighting with someone, and with all the animosity between them aside, Ryan had every intention of aiding his fellow Alliance member. When he got into the room, he saw what he expected to see, a brawl for want of a better word, but what shocked him was that it was with the girl he had essentially been stalking for two years, and she was definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Chris barely had the upper hand, and when Ryan entered the room, all he managed was a mumbled phrase that sounded something like, “Shoot her!” Ryan stood there, and after having an existential crisis about where his allegiance was, the girl broke free and Ryan, without a second thought, through a knife that punctured clean through the heart.

Calmly, he stood and watched as the body fell to the ground, but he wasn’t questioning whether he had killed the right person. More so, he was questioning what the repercussions would be for killing a superior, for killing Chris.

The girl hadn’t said a word the entire time, but was standing in front of Ryan with some type of scanner. When it beeped, she pulled out a knife that glowed red as it cut through his flesh but it didn’t hurt, and he didn’t move despite blood dripping down his arm.

She pulled out a flat black rock the size of a credit card and placed it under the incision she had just made, and he watched as it became malleable and rested on his arm. That was when the pain started, and Ryan dropped to his knees.

He could feel the pain moving from his neck and down his body until the tracker he was injected with slithered out of his arm and onto the black slate. The second the tracker touched the black strip attached to his arm it started dissolving and both fell to the floor and crumpled into nothingness.

She helped him to his feet and placed some transparent square of silk material on the area where he was bleeding which then morphed around his arm stopping all pain, bleeding and began to heal the wound.

This had all happened within minutes and they could hear people coming towards the room, and whether it was the terrorist cell or the Alliance, neither of them were friends to either party.

The girl pushed a small gold disc against Ryan’s temple, and he swore as a spike went into the side of his head. She moved quickly to Chris and pulled a pendant from around his neck. Like she had done for him, she pushed a gold device similar to a larger than average drawing pin into her temple and went into her bag pulling out a circular device that slipped perfectly into the palm of her hand like a glove.

Ryan was standing by the window frowning at the headache he had, and before he realised what was happening the girl was running towards him. Tackling him off-guard meant they both went flying out the window and started free-falling.

Clutching her without thinking he figured that if he died, at least he would be free for the first time in his life. As soon as the thought came into his mind he felt the wind being knocked out of him and was temporarily in shock as waves of pain flooded him from hitting the ground.

Confused he thought to himself that concrete should have killed him, he was ten floors from the ground and should be dead. Ryan moved his arm across something cold and wet and as he brought his hand up to look at it, he noticed grass stuck to the blood that had yet to dry from the cut the girl made.

Suddenly realising that he and the girl had both gone flying out that window he turned his head to see where she was and he realised he wasn’t in the city anymore, he was in a giant open field somewhere where mountains were the backdrop.

Ryan pushed his aching body to a sitting position as the girl walked over to him pulling off the clothing that hid her face and said, “Teleportation is tricky to get a handle on, even more so when you’re controlling two people. Sorry for the rough landing, but hey, at least we’re not dead! I’m Bethany by the way, protector of the Vessel and I guess that makes you a guardian too, since you betrayed the Alliance in order to save me. It’s strange that you were in the Alliance, considering you can access more of your mind like we can. You would have to have a strong mind for the cleansing to fail, and you must realise that the Alliance are the bad guys in all of this, you would have killed me back there otherwise. Of course you’re more than welcome to ignore the calling and everything I’m saying and live a normal life, I can’t imagine what it was like to be raised by them, but in my experience normalcy is a fantasy. Who knows, you might find a real home in the Rising.”

By Naomi Eleanor

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