Pivots of Time
Author: Mike Barlow

Chapter 2
Safe At Last

Lauren stirred.

            For a moment, she could not remember a thing. She was in her familiar bed, in her familiar room, and her parent’s were just downstairs, sure to be making breakfast by now – light shone across her face, illuminating her features starkly against the shadows surrounding her.

            Lying there, she could not help but recall a vague sense of danger. She shook it off as a dream, a remnant of the night’s imaginings, and dismissed the more recently remembered feeling of safety as the feeling one gets on awakening from a nightmare.

            Light shining across her face? Her bedroom window faced west, and consequently her room was always dark in a morning. Now that she thought about it, what was that odd whirring noise? And to whom did those voices belong?

            She jerked awake. The night’s events came flooding back to her in a surge of panic and nausea. She forced herself to calm down – the culmination of that night had left them in safe hands. Looking around, she saw the two pilots conversing at the front of the helicopter – and to her left, Alex lay sleeping, his head resting against the side of his seat.

            Lauren watched him for a while. He had risked his life so many times for her in a matter of hours since they had met, and she trusted him far more than anyone else she had ever known, even those she had known for years. That would have seemed an odd concept 24 hours ago, but he had proven himself time and again. He looked almost peaceful lying there. Almost, as he still looked ready to spring into action on a moment’s notice if she should be threatened. Lauren found herself smiling.

            Sighing, Alex opened his eyes. Lauren quickly looked away, then just as quickly berating herself for doing so – she wasn’t some stupid little girl with a crush, after all. Still, she found herself unconsciously avoiding his eyes, and tried to force herself to look at him.

            Alex noticed nothing of this. Instead, he peered out of the window at the landscape ahead.

            “We’re nearly there.” He announced after a couple of seconds study.

            “Where are we going?” Lauren asked, her voice only cracking once or twice as she tried not to stutter. What was the matter with her today?

            “To the Agency Compound.” Alex replied, a hint of pride in his voice. “The base of operations for the Agency in the United Kingdom. The worldwide head-quarters are in New York, but this is the largest Agency base in Europe.” 

            Lauren looked out of the window, hoping to see this Compound. From what she could see as the helicopters, now apparently reunited after last night’s diversionary tactic, swooped low over a steep rise, it looked like a standard military air-base – in fact, a Royal Air Force flag fluttered weakly in the early morning breeze in the far corner of the compound. Pointing this out to Alex, he nodded.

            “We need to blend in as best we can. I’m sure the Destroyers know this is our base of operations, but to the civilian governments, this is RAF Kinloss. Near Inverness.” He added, seeing her blank stare.

            That would explain the chill in the air, Lauren thought to herself, as she watched the three helicopters, including her own, position themselves above the heli-pads below, and begin to descend. A flurry of activity on the ground below indicated their arrival was a matter of some importance. Armed guards patrolled the perimeter fences. The fences themselves were at least 20 feet high, with barbed wire coiled at the top, and from the way the guards carefully kept their distance, Lauren surmised that they were electrified. At regular intervals along the perimeter, watchtowers rose up menacingly – more guards could be seen occupying these towers, and as Lauren watched, doors at the base of one of the towers opened to release a trio of guards each escorting a large dog.

            Lauren tore her gaze away from the defences to the compound itself. It seemed simple – several large warehouses dominated the area, with smaller warehouses surrounding them. A large open area served as a landing area for these, and presumably other, helicopters. Walkways raised from ground level criss-crossed the warehouse roofs, with yet more armed guards patrolling these walkways. Near to the other side of the base, a tower rose up, taller than all the watchtowers by a considerable margin. At first glance, it could be mistaken for an air traffic control tower, but when she looked closer, Lauren could see what even she knew were weapon emplacements. The compound looked extremely well defended – she understood now how Alex was so casually uninterested in the possibility of Destroyer knowledge of this place – she was sure nobody would even get close to the Compound without Agency say-so.

            As she looked around, she saw several people sprinting across the concrete towards the area in which the helicopters were just now landing. First there came half a dozen men in fluorescent yellow jackets – clearly safety marshals of some kind. As the helicopters landed and shut off their engines, these men hurried about connecting and disconnecting hoses and brakes and who knew what else. After that came a group of men Lauren would have sworn were real RAF pilots – applying the logic of camouflage tactics, she came to the conclusion they were Agents, or possible support-types. Lastly came a man followed closely by 3 men, armed heavily and staring about suspiciously – bodyguards, or Lauren had seen too many movies. The man they escorted was dressed in the attire of an field general – khaki jumpsuit, short rimmed cap, and decorations of rank and achievement littered all over both. He stopped slightly short of the helicopters, his arms folded behind him and his feet apart, looking for all the world a boy scout trying to make an impression. Lauren suppressed a giggle at that thought.

            Just then, the door to the passenger cabin slid open, and one of the yellow-jacketed men gestured for them to climb out. Blinking in the bright early morning sun, Lauren stepped out onto the landing pad, Alex just behind her as they emerged.

            For a moment, they simply stood. Before she could feel self-conscious, or wonder what she should be doing, however, the foremost of the Agents stepped forward.

            Grinning an enormous grin at the pair of them, he began to applaud.

            The other Agents swiftly joined in, soon breaking into whoops and yells, and before long, even the technicians and the bodyguards were applauding them – the field general stood stock still, half frowning at the raucous appreciation developing around him, half smiling at Alex and Lauren, standing together by the helicopter, both trying not to appear sheepish.

            As the applause began to die down, the general stepped forward and extended a hand to each of them. Shaking both their hands, he smiled.

            “Welcome back, son. And bloody well done.” He directed this at Alex, before turning to Lauren. “Welcome, young lady. My name is Matthew – I am the Agency Director in charge of this facility. I trust Alex here has explained the situation to you sufficiently?” He waited for an assent from them both before continuing. “You will be kept safe here until such a time as the Destroyers are now longer a threat to you. Not could they harm you here if the Lord himself was guiding them.” He raised a crucifix from a chain around his neck briefly to his lips, before letting it fall. “Here, you are safe.”      

            Lauren thanked him, conscious as she did so of the unwavering attention of the surrounding Agents – she remembered just then that no Pivot had previously survived for long after coming into contact with Destroyers – did that mean, then, that she was the first Pivot to arrive here, at this compound? She shook off such thoughts, and returned her attention to Matthew. He was now addressing Alex.

            “…really quite spectacular.” He was saying, “If I had known they were tracking you…I would have sent the extraction straight and damn them if they tried to shoot us down.” He grinned at this, in Lauren’s opinion a slightly manic grin, as if he relished the thought of being shot down by Destroyers. “As it is, though, you arrived just in time – the Overseer himself is here, and he wants to speak to you.” The way he said this, it was the ultimate honour, the sort of thing that could make a life worthwhile. And from the way Alex reacted, it was.

            Unconsciously, he straightened his posture, forcing his shoulders back and looking for all the world like an army recruit on his first day in service. Wiping his palms on his trousers and clearing his throat nervously, he managed to croak out a sentence.

            “Why is he here?”

            “Ask him yourself.” Matthew grinned that slightly unnerving grin a second time.

             A pair of enormous double doors swung open, revealing the cavernous interior of the closest and largest warehouse. Inside, Lauren could see crates stack ceiling high, weapons aligned in stands, and over in the far corner, what appeared to be a tank.

            A group of people appeared to be inspecting the crates nearest the door – the lid had been removed from a crate and two men were sifting through the contents. As the doors opened, they straightened, dropping whatever it was they were holding back into the crate, and walking out into the autumnal morning. Leading them was an absolute giant of a man – he must have been 7 feet tall at least, Lauren guessed, and he wore an expensive-looking black suit, complete with a deep red tie. To Lauren, he looked like a football manager – rich, powerful, but far too arrogant, too assured of his own wealth and power. From the way everyone stiffened, stopping just short of snapping to attention as he approached, Lauren guessed that this must be the aforementioned Agency Overseer. As he and his entourage stopped next to herself, Alex, and Matthew, this was confirmed.

            Matthew snapped off a perfect military solute. Alex followed, as did all the other Agents present. Lauren was unsure whether she should – she opted instead to shuffle a little closer to Alex as surreptitiously as she could – the Overseer made her inexplicably nervous.

            He turned to Matthew, still standing almost at attention. “Well I finished my inspection, everything seems to be in order.” He smiled at Lauren – two of his teeth were golden. “I like to inspect my organisation myself, make sure we are performing as we should.” He then turned to Alex, who somehow managed to straighten even more than he already had. “And you must be the Agent responsible for bringing this young Pivot to our refuge here.” When Alex nodded, apparently rendered unable to speak, the Overseer continued. “Very well done indeed. Outstanding work, truly. But as we all know, the work doesn’t end here. You,” he turned to Lauren, “must be kept alive until your Moment occurs. Tell me, has anyone explained to you the  procedure now that you have arrived at this Compound?”

            Lauren politely replied that nobody had. Alex regarded her with what she would almost have called jealousy – perhaps because she apparently had no difficulty talking to this man whom everyone else seemed to idolise. The Overseer flashed her an enormous grin, causing her to shuffle yet closer to Alex. Before he could speak, though, a harassed looking man ran over to him, bearing a clipboard. He stopped just short of the Overseer, snapping off a quick salute, before handing him the clipboard.

            “Sorry to interrupt, Sir, but we need you to sign for the latest requisition.”

            Sighing, the Overseer pulled a biro from his suit jacket’s inner pocket.

            Lauren suddenly felt that strange feeling once again, the exact same she had felt when she had seen the metal box that had saved her life. It was that same sense of… significance, that feeling that the object in question would prove its worth. This time, it was directed at the biro with which the Overseer signed the requisition form. Lauren stared at it – it seemed to occupy her every thought, her entire being – everything happening around her seemed…grayed out, unimportant. She still watched the biro unblinkingly when the Overseer finished signing, and aimed the pen toward his pocket. He missed, and it dropped to the floor.

            The sense of significance surged. She knew, somehow, without any doubt, that that biro would change things – for the better, or not, she couldn’t tell.

            Alex quickly stooped to pick up the biro, and proffered it to the Overseer. He glanced at the dirt now plastered to one side, and shook his head.

            “Keep it.” He said. Alex grinned, and slipped it into his chest pocket.

            The sense of significance abruptly vanished. No sign remained that it had ever been there, but Lauren remembered it vividly. The Overseer shooed away the man with his newly-signed form, and turned back to Lauren.

            “We cannot keep you here. Our facilities are purely military, and keeping you here for too long would attract attention. No, we will move you between Agency bases, staying only for a few days at maximum before moving on to another. You may be taken outside the country before long – no sense in restricting our own movement when we have many bases abroad. Are you following?” He paused briefly in his tirade, waiting for her assent. “I am afraid, however, we are going to have to separate the pair of you.” He gestured to the pair of them. “I can see you have become quite close to one another,” Lauren suddenly noticed she was clutching Alex’s hand tightly – strangely, he was clutching back. “and while I respect that, it is Agency policy not to leave a Pivot with a single Agent for too long. It increases the risk of the enemy identifying the Agent, and influencing them.” He paused to let that sink in. Lauren clutched Alex’s hand a little harder. “Therefore, Alex will remain here. The girl will be reassigned an Agent, and will move on before the day’s end. No doubt the Destroyers tracked the choppers here.” Alex started to object – the Overseer stopped him short. “I’m sorry, that’s my final word.” He turned, taking his entourage with him as they headed for one of the smaller warehouses, leaving Alex and Lauren stood on the heli-pad, hand-in-hand.

            For a moment, they stood there, unable to let go of each other’s hands for fear they would be swept away by the frenzy of activity around them. They stood there, unmoving, until a loud, exuberant voice shook them out of their shock.

            Turning, Lauren saw a young man, of similar height to Alex, and therefore a few inches taller than herself. He was clearly of East Asian descent – Lauren knew little about it, but she hazarded a guess that he may have been Korean. He was grinning widely at Alex, and when he spoke again, Lauren noted he did so with flawless English.

            “How are ya’ Alex?” He practically bellowed, engaging Alex in a one-armed hug, finally breaking Alex and Lauren’s death grip on each other’s hands. Alex half-heartedly returned the hug. “You been gone too long mate. We was all getting bored without Al around.” He released Alex from his lazy bear hug, before turning to Lauren. “It’s a pleasure.” He bowed to kiss her hand. “At least this stupid lump was doing something useful while he was away.” He laughed, a moronic sound which only served to further enhance the sense of idiocy he radiated. “What’s up?” He asked, only just noticing that neither Alex nor Lauren were as ecstatic as he was. Suddenly, his dull eyes lit up with realisation. “Oh I get it. You just found out you got to split up. Man, that’s rough. That is rough. You don’t want to worry none though mate.” He elbowed Alex in the ribs. “I reckon any Agent they put her with will keep her perfectly fine.”

            Lauren began praying to every God she knew of that she was not to be protected by this imbecile.

            Alex finally managed to pull himself out of his brooding state to introduce the idiot. His name was Seol, and apparently they were best of friends, though based on the current evidence Lauren could not for the life of her see why. Seol didn’t seem put off by Alex’s less-than-enthusiastic greeting; indeed, it seemed to make him even more animated and lively. Before long he exhausted his repertoire of mindless banter and got tired of staring at Lauren with barely disguised animal lust, and revealed that he actually had a purpose with his intrusion. He turned to Alex.

            “Oh yeah, you’re supposed to come with me. You’ve been reassigned to another Pivot, and I’ve gotta get you ready to go. And she’s supposed to meet her new Agent in a few minutes – he should be here soon.” He checked his watch for far too long – Lauren imagined him struggling to tell the time, and in spite of herself, almost laughed. “We’d better go mate. We’re getting a bit late.”

            “Yeah I’ll be right with you.” Alex gave Seol a shove away from them. “Give us a minute will you?”

            Seol nodded. “I’ll wait over there.” He said, without pointing anywhere, before wandering a short distance away.

            Alex turned back to Lauren. He looked at her, suddenly unable to say what he had been planning to. Lauren, with a small smile on her face, seemingly understood, and threw her arms around him. Alex, while surprised, returned the hug.

            “I’m going to miss you.” She whispered into his ear.

            Alex cradled her slender form in his arms. “And I’ll miss you.” He whispered back.

            Breaking the hug, Lauren stepped back slightly, and looked into his eyes.

            “Thank you.” She murmured, “For all you did – and for all I know you would have done.”

            “I told you – you don’t have to thank me. It’s my job.” Alex smiled at her. “And who knows? Maybe we’ll see each other again. There aren’t that many of us after all, and if they keep reassigning Agents to look after you…there’s a chance it will be me.”

            Lauren wasn’t sure which one of them he was trying to convince.

            “Mate.” They looked over at Seol. “We gotta go.”

            Alex looked back at Lauren. “Well, bye then.”

            Lauren went back for one last hug. “Take care of yourself.” She whispered.

            Alex couldn’t find any more words to say. He smiled at her – Lauren’s heart fluttered – and with that, walked off towards Seol.

 

Lauren stood there, alone, unsure what she should do next. Seol had said that an Agent was going to collect her here – looking around Lauren could not see anybody except those clearly involved with doing something else. She sat down on an unattended crate, resting her head in her hands, and thinking.

            She hoped that her new protector was nice. If he was at all like Seol…she might just kill herself to get out of this. No, she wanted someone kind, considerate, friendly…really, she wanted Alex. Did anyone seriously think that Alex would have betrayed her? He could have hurt her at any number of times, and the fact that he went through so much to keep her safe meant, to her at least, that there was pretty much no chance of him being ‘influenced’ by anybody, let alone the Destroyers – Lauren had noticed the smouldering hatred in his voice when he spoke of them, a dangerous fire that lit behind his eyes when they were around.

            She hoped she would see him again. It didn’t seem likely – the Overseer had said that she would probably be moved into mainland Europe soon, and she couldn’t see Alex going there for any reason. Unless he was escorting another Pivot, in which case there wouldn’t be much chance for seeing each other. Besides, he’d probably forget about her soon enough – after all, he presumably has a lot of other Pivots to help. Who knew, one day maybe she could forget…

            She was startled out of her reverie by a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see a man of similar height to herself, with red hair and a roughly chiselled jaw line. Behind him were two men, both taller, one dark skinned and the other lighter, the former with short black hair and the latter with slightly longer brown hair. The red haired man spoke first.

            “I’m Steven. This is Geralt” He indicated the dark skinned man on his left, “and Daniel.” He gestured to the other man. “We’re going to be protecting you from now on.”

            As Lauren stood up and greeted them as cordially as she could, she couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Three Agents? Alex had told her only one Agent was assigned to a Pivot at any one time – another way to minimise the risk of treachery, Lauren thought he had said. So why was she now put with three Agents?

            She forcefully repressed her feelings of unease. Surely the Agency knew what they were doing – maybe the three would split up, so only one would be with her at once? It scarcely mattered, she supposed – it seemed very unlikely that any of these men would try and harm her after training for most of their lives to defend people like her. She tried to listen to what they were saying – it was something about a base in Lochgilphead, wherever that was, but she could barely muster any interest in it – her thoughts kept drifting, thinking about what Alex was doing, and how she wished he was with her still. She did manage to pick up on the fact that they were leaving very soon – preparations were already being made, and Steven started to lead her across the base, presumably to wherever their transport was waiting for them.

            Sighing, Lauren fell in behind them.

 

Alex trudged along behind Seol as they wandered through one of the converted warehouses. This particular warehouse had been converted into living space – Alex remembered filling most if not all of his free time with further training and practice in this very building. The whitewashed walls and narrow corridors made it feel temporary, and a temporary office block at that, but behind all the doors they passed as they strolled along was a very permanent bed room of sorts for Agents – Alex remembered his own, identical to all the others to an outsider, but somehow identifiable to himself.

            As they walked, Seol continued to spout endless drivel about events that occurred during his absence and about how terrible it is that he has to go away immediately, but Alex tuned it out as best he could – he wasn’t in the best mood.

            Before long, he interrupted Seol’s banter with an obvious question. “Where are we going? I thought we had to prepare for my reassignment.”

            “We have to meet one of the Co-ordinators in the mess hall first.” Seol replied, not seeming at all perturbed by Alex’s interruption. “He wants to go over some of the details with you.”

            Alex nodded. They were not far from the mess hall now. Before a couple of minutes passed, they were there.

            As they entered, Alex looked around. Nobody was there. He looked at Seol.

            Seol threw up his arms. “He said he’d be here. He’s probably just late.”

            Alex sat down in a chair facing the door. Seol walked behind him to the kitchen area.

            “You wanna drink mate?” He asked. Alex refused.

            There he sat, watching the door, waiting for this Co-ordinator to arrive. It was odd that he was late, as Co-ordinators are usually strict time keepers – they had to be, as it was there job to keep the Compound in a semblance of order, scheduling training sessions and briefings for maximum efficiency. Still no matter – it gave Alex time to think.

            Fondling the biro in his pocket, he thought of Lauren. He hoped she would be okay – he had seen first hand the Destroyer’s stubborn determination to kill her. And then there was that strange incident with the metal tin, and her seeming precognition. Maybe he should have mentioned that to the Agent now responsible for her safety – after all, it could mean that she was…then again, it could have been coincidence. Lauren would probably tell him herself anyway – Alex was sure she understood the importance of it, even if he had never explained why. Perhaps it would be better if he had done so…

            Glancing at a spoon on the table in front of him, he saw in the reflection Seol standing behind him, raising a knife.

            Like lightning, Alex pulled the biro from his pocket, swinging it up and over his shoulder, and using it to stab Seol through the neck.

            Seol spluttered, the knife falling from his hand as he fell back into a counter, before sliding down to finish sitting slumped on the floor.

            Alex leaped from his chair and turned. He could see the biro sticking out of Seol’s neck – it seemed it had punctured his main artery, though whether that was due to skill or blind luck Alex couldn’t say. The biro seemed to be preventing much blood from spurting out of the wound, and Seol was clearly still alive – his eyes roamed the room, and he coughed up blood as he breathed.

            Alex drew his pistol and crouched in front of Seol, placing the barrel against his temple. Seol’s eyes flicked towards it, then focused on Alex.

            “Why were you trying to kill me?” Alex asked calmly, while congratulating himself on being able to remain so calm.

            Seol spluttered, just about managing to choke out a few words. “He…ordered me…to take you down.”

            “Who did?” Alex demanded. Seol stayed silent. Alex pressed hard on his temple with the barrel of his gun. “Who was it?!” he shouted.

            “It was…the Overseer.”

            Alex almost dropped the gun in shock. Why would…? He gripped the gun harder. “Why would the Overseer want me dead?” He ground out.

            Seol’s eyes looked around wildly. “Can’t tell you, they’ll kill me…kill me, kill me too.” He muttered, blood seeping from the corners of his mouth as he spoke.

            “I think I took care of that.” Alex said softly. “Seol, you have to tell me – why did he order you to kill me? And…” he continued as he realised what Seol had said, “who is ‘they?’”.

            Seol looked at Alex for a few seconds. “He…has…a group. Within the Agency.” He paused to cough up yet more blood – Alex found himself hoping that he wouldn’t die before he revealed the secret, and wondered when he had become so cold. “This group…kills Agents. Stops them from doing their work. Every time…an Agent has been close to getting a Pivot back here….the Overseer’s group kills them, or helps….helps…helps the Destroyers to.”

            “That’s why nobody before me…” Alex started, stopping at Seol’s nod.

            “Our plan…failed. You managed to get her back here.”

            Alex nodded. “The tracking device.”

            Seol coughed. “I placed it before you left…if the Destroyers had done their job…”

            “And the helicopter pilots? We were asleep, Seol! Why did the Overseer let us get here?”

            “The pilots…were not in our group. They were true Agents. So the Overseer set up a plan…..to kill you both when you arrived.”

            That shook Alex to the core. “Both? They’re going to kill Lauren?”

            Seol still managed a scathing expression. “The Agents she left with…will kill her once they are away from the Compound.”

            “How many are there in this…group?” Alex spat.

            “About…a quarter of Agency staff…are with us.” Seol muttered.

            Alex leapt to his feet – he knew enough. Lauren had limited time. He turned and sprinted to the door at the other end of the mess hall.

            “Wait.” Seol spluttered. Alex half-turned. “Kill me…”

            Alex turned fully to look at him. He went on: “The pain….the blood….end it quickly…”. He gestured at the gun Alex still clutched in his hand.

            Alex raised the pistol, aiming along the weapon’s sights and pointing it at Seol’s chest. He tightened his finger on the trigger…and let the weapon to his side.

            “I’m sorry, Seol.” He said, before turning and leaving the room.

            “No!” Seol coughed, “Don’t leave me like…..this.”

            Alex ran down the corridor, soon out of range of Seol’s piteous cries.

            He ran, fingering the gun in his hand. Even if he got to Lauren in time, what could he do? There was more than just a single Agent with her…Seol had said as much. If they saw Alex was still alive, and coming for them…all he could reasonably do was give Lauren time to escape. But without him…and with no idea of which Agents she could trust….the best he could do for her, it seemed, was delay the inevitable.

            Suddenly, he stopped dead. They may not have left yet, but if they had…he couldn’t catch them on foot. And he was very close…

            He took a left turn, sprinting in a new direction, towards Lauren’s only hope.

 

Lauren followed Steven to an area surrounded by military vehicles. A number of jeeps were parked nearby. Geralt and Daniel were loading an enormous number of guns into the closest – Lauren watched them put in a few rifles, a couple of pistols, and some sort of heavy machine gun, she thought. Raising an eyebrow apprehensively – what exactly were these three planning on doing? – she turned to Steven, but he had already gone. She spotted him carrying a space tyre over his left shoulder, and a string of bullets over his right. Brushing past her wordlessly, he threw these items into the boot, and slammed it shut. He then turned to her – any trace of friendliness on his face was gone.

            “In.” He said curtly, gesturing at the back door of the jeep.

            “You forgot the magic word.” Lauren said jokingly, in a weak attempt to lighten the mood. Steven’s face darkened.

            “Get in right now.” He growled at her. Lauren suddenly noticed he was aiming his gun at her.

            “What are you…?” Lauren started.

            “GET IN THE JEEP!” Steven yelled.

            Before Lauren could move, the sound of rotor blades drowned out every other sound around them. A helicopter rose from behind the warehouse in front of which Steven stood. As it gained altitude, the sound of its rotors faded a little.

            Lauren found herself shoved hard into the jeep. Steven slammed the door.

            “You two, get in, now!” He shouted.

            The helicopter opened fire.

 

Alex squeezed the trigger, the flight stick recoiling a little as the helicopter fired its forward mounted link-guns. The traitor – Alex could not bring himself to call him an Agent – who had just shoved Lauren into the car went down under a hail of bullets. Sweeping the helicopter’s aim to the right, taking car to avoid the car itself, Alex mowed down the other man, sprinting towards the car. He noticed a man already lying on the floor – perhaps an Agent who had tried to stop them? It didn’t matter – Lauren seemed safe now. Alex sighed, and slumped in the pilot’s chair.

            Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another helicopter rise. He recognised the black exterior, combined with the Agency logo.

            The Overseer’s private helicopter.

            Alex swung his chopper around to face the other. The Overseer’s helicopter didn’t seem to be interested in a confrontation – it rose quickly, turning to face the mountains in the distance and starting to move.

            Alex’s hands flew across the instrument panel. A missile was armed and readied – Alex swung the targeting reticule over the Overseer’s helicopter and waited impatiently for the lock-on mechanism to signal readiness.

            He glanced down at the jeep in which Lauren cowered.

            The Agent – or so Alex had thought he was – lying on the floor was gone. Searching, Alex spotted him climbing into the driver’s seat – the jeep roared to life, crashing through the Compound’s outer fence, and bouncing down a small rise onto a nearby road.

            Alex glanced at the lock-on screen – now reading out of range as the Overseer’s chopper headed for the horizon. Alex stared after him for a moment, before slamming his hand on the instrument panels in frustration, swearing loudly, and sending the helicopter after the jeep.

            He looked around, an edge of panic beginning to set in as he realised he couldn’t see the jeep – his luck held, however, as he caught a glance of it behind some trees, surprisingly distant. He swooped after it, dropping low to the ground.

            He burst over the tree line and accelerated the chopper, catching up to the jeep in short order. Hovering over the car as it sped along, desperately trying to avoid him, he drew his pistol, and hauled on the horizontal pitch controls.

            The helicopter spun 180°, warning lights flashing angrily and alarms sounding all over the cockpit. As it spun, Alex leapt from the door, crashing with all his weight onto the roof of the jeep – the helicopter spun out of control, diverting from the road and ploughing into the hillside with a fiery explosion.

            Hoping that the crash had disguised his landing on the roof, Alex scrambled into the crouching position, then leapt down onto the bonnet – the driver had a second of horror flash behind his eyes before Alex opened fire, shattering the windscreen and staining the dashboard with blood. Swinging feet-first into the front of the car, Alex briefly noticed Lauren gagged and handcuffed to the passenger chair, then reached for the brake pedal.

            The car careened off the road, bouncing down a rocky slope. Alex grasped for the steering wheel, but the traitor’s body blocked his way – the car collided head-on with a tree trunk thicker than jeep itself – Alex was thrown, bracing himself adequately to prevent bones breaking in his own collision with the tree.

            Alex shook his head to clear it, and struggled to his feet. The smell of petrol filled the air, and the engine a low growling noise – Alex staggered to the jeep and ripped the back door off.

             Lauren was still conscious, a piece of what appeared to be black electrical tape covering her mouth – she shook her hands desperately at Alex, and the handcuffs rattled against the front headrest mounts.

            Alex tore at them with all his strength – they did not give an inch. He considered shooting the clasp briefly – too risky with petrol leaking, he decided. Running around to the other side of the car, and noticing as he did so the weapons stash in the deformed boot space, he kicked the front passenger chair as hard as he could, again, and again.

            With a splintering sound, the chair came loose – running back around, he tore the chair out, Lauren being pulled along with it. He dragged the chair to a safe-distance, Lauren in tow.

            “Be right back.” He shouted to her as he sprinted back to the jeep – he reached into the boot, grabbing a medium-range rifle, a second pistol, and as much ammo as he could. He sprinted back to Lauren – not a moment too soon, it seemed, as the car erupted in flames mere seconds before a fireball burst from the hillside for the second time.

            Picking himself up, and collecting his new armoury back together, Alex jogged back to where Lauren was struggling to remove her handcuffs from the chair that she was still attached to.

            He reached over, and tore the tape from her mouth.

            Lauren grimaced. “Thanks for doing that so gently.” She muttered darkly.

            “You’re welcome.” Alex grinned as he ripped the headrest from the seat, allowing Lauren’s hands to move a little. “I’ll see if I can find anything to remove these cuffs.”

            After searching for a while, Alex found a large splinter of metal from the jeep. Using a nearby rock, he chiselled away at the chain links, eventually succeeding in breaking the chain. Lauren rubbed her hands, examining the bracelets, no longer connected, but still fastened around each of her wrists.

            “I don’t know how we can get those off.” Alex admitted. “We’ll have to see if we can find anything. Can you walk?”

            Lauren nodded. “Yeah I’m okay. What happened? Those three…”

            Alex shook his head angrily. “Traitors. Seol, too. He tried to kill me…”

            “Why?” Lauren demanded. “I thought we were safe here.” She paused as another thought occurred to her. “Are they Destroyers?”

            “No.” Alex replied. “They were Agents, and that makes it so much worse.” He slumped against a tree trunk. “Before he died, Seol told me of a group of traitors within the Agency, run by the Overseer himself.” Lauren noticed the sudden lack of reverence in his voice as he spoke of the Overseer. “They help the Destroyers by hindering Agents – and killing them if necessary.” He looked up at Lauren. “It was Seol who put that tracking device on my car. They wanted the Destroyers to stop us…and when they didn’t, the Overseer sent Seol, and the other three, to finish the job.”

            “Did Seol hurt you?” Lauren asked – she noticed blood stained Alex’s hands and clothing.

            Alex shook his head. “It’s not my blood. I killed Seol with that biro the Overseer gave me. Ironic,” he mused, “The Overseer gave me what I needed to stop his plan.” He glanced at Lauren – she stared at him in disbelief. “What’s wrong?” He asked her.

            “The biro…” She whispered. Alex looked at her in puzzlement. She elaborated. “When the Overseer took out the biro…I had that feeling again, like I did with the tin.” She gestured to the life-saving metal tin in her chest pocket.

            “Was it the same feeling? Exactly?” Alex asked.

            Lauren nodded. “Its…just a sense that whatever-it-is will be…significant.”

            “And so far, its just been the tin, which saved your life, and the biro, which saved my life?” Alex asked again. Lauren frowned, but nodded her assent.

            Alex sighed worriedly. If this was what he thought it was…he would have no hope of keeping Lauren alive for much longer. It was just a matter of time before the Destroyers, not to mention the Overseer and his cronies, found out about it.

            Lauren noticed his expression. “You know what’s going on, don’t you?” Alex avoided her gaze. “Or at least you suspect?” She pressed.

            Alex stood. “That’s all I have. A suspicion. And it can’t be right.” With that, he brushed past her, stooping over the pile of weaponry he had collected,

            “What if it is?” Lauren asked.

            “Then we’d better start praying.”

            Though still unsatisfied, Lauren decided not to press him any further – clearly it troubled him greatly. As she watched him examine one of the weapons he had taken from the jeep, she found that Alex being troubled frightened her more than anything else. She walked over, and squatted beside him.

            “So what are we going to do now?” She asked softly.

            Alex ran his hand over his jaw line. “I don’t know. I just do not know.” He stood, and began to pace the clearing. “My first thought was to contact those loyal to the Agency – people who could help us. But I don’t know who we could trust. After all, any Agent could be one of them. And if we approached the wrong person…” He shook his head. “Even if we found somebody who wasn’t with the Overseer, there’s no guarantee he would believe us. I wouldn’t, if someone had told me before today. Anyone we find is far more likely to believe the Overseer over us.”

            “So, what do we do?” Lauren asked, suppressing the hopelessness of it all – Alex clearly was struggling to do so.

            “Short term? We get away from here. Long term? I need time to think…we need a plan.”

            With that settled, both Alex and Lauren stirred themselves into action. Alex shoved the second pistol behind his belt, cramming his pockets with ammo, and slinging his new rifle onto his back.

            “Ready to go?” he asked.

            Lauren raised an eyebrow – she had nothing to carry, after all, having lost all her possessions aside from the clothes she wore. Alex took this for assent, and began to pick out a route through the trees, leading away from the road they had spectacularly dismounted. Lauren followed.

            They walked in silence for a while, each lost in their thoughts. The silence around them was broken only by the crunching of leaves beneath their feet, and the occasional gust of wind rustling the branches overhead.

            Lauren found the silence unnerving. They were not too far away from the Agency Compound – surely search parties would be sweeping the surrounding area looking for the two of them? The more she thought about this however, the less likely it seemed. After all, the Overseer’s following were a secretive organisation, and could not be seen to attract suspicion from the true Agents, she supposed. She soon found her mind drifting onto more frivolous matters, and began trying to invent a name for the Overseer’s faction – it would, at the very least, make conversation regarding them clearer.

            Alex, conversely, found the silence rather cathartic. As they walked, he tried to direct his thoughts onto the best course of action from here on out, however he struggled to keep his thoughts away from Lauren’s mysterious powers of precognition. Twice, now, she had shown a talent for it, and Alex tried desperately to come up with an explanation. There was one, of course – it lurked in the back of his mind, a niggling doubt that cast a shadow over his every thought. He rejected the idea vehemently – accepting would mean accepting the truth of what Lauren was, and he wasn’t sure she could handle it. He was struggling himself. It simply couldn’t be true. The odds must be billions to one of Lauren being…but still, the niggling doubt. And if it were true, Alex knew he couldn’t last long on his own. He needed help, and yet, for the first time in his life, he knew of nobody he could turn to. The Agency had turned its back on him, and now he felt more alone than he ever had before.

            Before the walking became wearisome, they happened upon a road. Deserted and quiet, Alex nevertheless claimed prior knowledge of its location, and his intent to find it when they had set out. Lauren wasn’t quite sure she believed him – he had seemed just as surprised as her to find tarmac beneath her feet.

            “So, now what? We hitch hike?” Lauren joked.

            Alex nodded. “Yeah. We can rest here for a bit, until we spot a car.”

            They were sitting only a few moments before a car appeared over the hill toward the horizon. Lauren hastily hid the handcuffs still attached to her wrists underneath her top as Alex hailed the car, a fairly large four-by-four, to no avail – it drove past without showing any sign of slowing down. This happened twice more, at which point Lauren pointed out that having a rifle strapped to his back was probably not helping their chances. Alex hastily hid the weapon under his jacket before the next car came within sight.

            Lauren hailed this one – Alex being occupied with hiding his weaponry. To her delight, the car stopped – a small family car, driven alone by a middle-aged man. He wound the window down, smiling as Lauren approached the car.

            “Didn’t expect to see hitch-hikers way out here.” He remarked. “Where are you two headed?” he asked, smiling kindly at Lauren as he did so.

            Lauren could only shake her head, looking at Alex with questioning eyes. Alex walked over, looking similarly confused.

            “Oh, er, we’re just….sort of drifting.” He said haltingly. “If you could take us to a town, or somewhere else we could stay, that would be great?” His voice rose at the end of the sentence, turning it into a question.

            The man nodded. “Sure thing. Though if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, there’s a Royal Air Force base around here – I’m sure they’d let you stay, if, you know, you’re a little short of funding.” He glanced at their luggage, or lack of it, as he spoke.

            “No!” Alex and Lauren blurted together. Alex elaborated as the man looked at them inquisitively. “We just need to be in a town. For…for the shops.” He finished lamely.

            The man laughed. “Fair enough son. Hop in, I’ll take you as far as you want to go.”

            Thanking him profusely, Alex and Lauren slipped into the back of his car along with their only package – Alex’s rifle, wrapped in his jacket. As soon as the door closed, the man turned to them.

            “The name’s John. Can I ask yours?”

            Alex introduced the two of them. Lauren was surprised that he used their actual names – she had half expected him to invent false names for them – however she supposed that their enemies had no trouble finding them regardless of what names they went under.

            “Alex and Lauren, is it? Well, we should be in Burghead by this evening – it’s a small town near here.” He added, seeing their blank looks. “You can either stay there, or I can take you a way further. Always glad to help out a couple such as yourselves.” With that, he turned to face forward, and started the engine. Lauren opened her mouth to correct him, to say that they were not a couple, but Alex shushed her – perhaps he thought to use that as a cover story? That must be it, she decided – it was not as if he could…or could he…?

            Silence reigned in the car as John drove on toward Burghead.

 

            The drive was long. Before midday was long past, John pulled the car over into a handy lay-by, announcing his intention to eat lunch. Alex and Lauren, of course, had no supplies with them – John cocked an eyebrow at that, but passed food to the both of them from an enormous hamper he had stored in the boot of his car.

            When the travelling resumed, Alex inquired as to John’s purpose and destination. John talked at length about his situation – Lauren found herself unable to concentrate on his slightly monotonous voice for long. From what she heard, he was simply travelling the country, moving from one landmark to another. He also mentioned a desire to travel the world, saying that it made sense to him to explore the country he was already in before travelling to another. He asked no questions regarding Alex and Lauren’s situation, for which Lauren was thankful. John was clearly intrigued by the pair of them, but kept his thoughts to himself.

            As the day wore on, Alex became more and more withdrawn – an awkward silence filled the car more often than not, and conversation became forced. Lauren assumed that he was planning their next move, though she was not reassured with his prolonged silence – did he not know what they should do? Lauren was deeply concerned by this thought. Since he had rescued her from the assassins in her own home, Alex had always been confident, always sure that they would be fine. And he had always known what to do. She supposed discovering the Overseer’s true nature had left him feeling alone, abandoned – she certainly could empathise. She glanced over the landscape outside the car, hoping that Alex snapped out of it soon.

            Before the afternoon had properly ended, the car pulled into Burghead. Lauren noticed that John’s description of a “small town” had been accurate – she thought she could have walked through it in half an hour. Still, there were ample places to provide lodging, and Alex certainly seemed satisfied. As John pulled over, he grabbed the rifle, making sure to keep it covered under his jacket, and stepped out of the car. Lauren followed him.

            Alex leaned in the front window. “Thank you. You really have no idea how much you’ve helped us.”

            John gave a small smile. “I think I do. Good luck to you both. And…” he gestured at the bundle in Alex’s jacket, “keep that hidden.” With that, he drove away.

            Alex and Lauren shared an incredulous look.

   

 

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