Markus Moore sat again before his screen. A place where he had spent many hours during the last months. Fortunately for him, the team that followed the man existed out of four persons and they took over every six hours. In this way, they could follow him day and night and eventually redirect if necessary. For the sake of simplicity and also for the safety of the project they had given him the Codename ‘Michael’. Outside the team, there weren’t a lot of people who were aware of their practices in the building at the United Nations Plaza, New York.
The Trump World Tower that was situated there had been torn down after the Big War because of the heavy damage and they had built an even higher and still more prestigious skyscraper on the same spot. The Trump World Tower was 262.44 m high and counted officially 72 floors – notwithstanding the fact that the elevator panels, strangely enough, went to number 90 – and at the beginning of the 21st century he was the world’s highest habited building. In his place now there stood a mastodon of about 915 m high and counted 250 levels. The ‘Old World Highest’ was the highest skyscraper in the whole Old World. A building that pointed out in the skyline as a needle. An extraordinarily fine job of architecture that ratified it as one of the most visited sights of New York.
There wasn’t a paper track to the owner of the lowest floor. You couldn’t reach this level using the ‘normal’ elevator in the Old World Highest. This cellar floor was through some agents and straw men in the full property of a division of another division of the CIA. This agency hadn’t even got a name or an acronym and was one of the best-kept secrets of the United States of the Western Community. Between the few of persons who were initiated, they talked about The Cellar. An ambiguous, meaningless and mysterious denomination of something that mostly fears daylight. The floor was locked from the other levels and had his own utility lines that worked independently of the rest of the building.
The entry to this floor could only be reached by the underground garage through 44th Street that crossed 2nd Avenue or from the roof where there was a heliport. Through a hatchway on the roof, they could travel from the highest floor with a special elevator to the Cellar and you had to possess the code to operate it. This code out of security was changed all the time on a regular base. In the underground garage, after a complex itinerary, you also could access to the Cellar. There was also an elevator with a code that was changed every day and brought you to the place Markus was working for the moment. From this room, all kinds of different top-secret operations had been started, coordinated and followed up.
Project ‘Michael’ was for Markus, who was the youngest of the team, his first big mission. With the half transparent helmet on his head, he looked like a jet-fighter pilot, only it wasn’t a plane he was steering but a human. He, Clint Ellory, Walter Fallon and the leader Jack Sterlington constituted the entire team. Through sensors and electrodes in the helmet, he constantly was in connection with ‘Michael’. All markers were green. At this moment ‘Michael’ was under complete control!
Stephen March stepped out of the elevator of his hotel and went through the corridor to his apartment. He wanted to watch as soon as possible the film on the video stick and was curious if it should give some answers to the questions about the death of his half-sister. Right in front of his apartment door, a woman was waiting.
He frowned and took a fast look at her. A sportive figure dressed in a black leather suit, short black hair, probably a motobot-rider. It was difficult to estimate her age. This was common with those Eastern people. Their skin stayed perfect and tense much longer than persons in the Old World. Westerners grabbed much earlier the possibility of a face renovation, nowadays just a routine operation.
To grow some skin from pluripotent stem cells, a process that was fully developed already for some decades, interfaced with a 3D-printer and the right face spouted on your plate. Surgeons had some handwork to complete the task, but with the ultrafine adjusted operation robots they had, an operation of that kind took a lot less time than before. Rejection symptoms had been reduced to the minimum with the newest medicines.
He suddenly realized the woman mentioned, was looking at him, in the same way. She leaned very relaxedly against the opposite wall of his apartment, arms crossed, frowning one brow, head a bit inclined. ‘Can I be of service?’ Stephen asked politely.
She pushed herself from the wall and held out her hand. ‘Yukiko Mitsukai,’ and a short but firm handshake accompanied her words. The force with which she shook his hand was a surprise for him. Stephen March had expected a feeble hand from this fragile woman. What of it, he didn’t know her. But if she allowed it, that could change. This Yukiko Mitsukai was looking good, even for an inhabitant of the other part of the World. In the lobby of the Western Diplomatic Corps, they were considered as unreliable and difficult in social contacts. They also had a culture which by eastern standards those barbarians from the west weren’t anywhere near. He would love to repudiate this stereotypical image.
Despite his height and his distinguished appearance, he could pass my inspection. He was, at least, a head taller than me and his weight would be a very big advantage using him as a battering ram. Well, in case you had to tear down some door. However, a Red Circle could bend this force in his own advantage without effort and with only a few hand and feet movements. My first impression was moderately positive, by my standards anyway. Were they so worthy at all? I didn’t know. My doubt resulted in my ever being singular except for some short amorous whims. Exceptions I always felt sorry afterward.
If I could be of service to him? ‘Maybe,’ I answered. ‘My parents were, just like your half-sis victims of the Akai-killer.’ Stephen March glanced at me with a whole other look. Somewhat on his guard I felt and calculating. Maybe he didn’t believe me. We were, at least on a world scale opponents, even if there were peace and rapprochement between both sides, rapprochement programs, accompanied travels and all the rim ram to improve the distrust between the inhabitants of both worlds. The reality, however, was something else. I saw the sparkle of distrust in his eyes. Maybe I’ve come to him at the wrong moment. My god, I felt like a fool when I understood it. He was still mourning the recent death of his half-sister.
‘If it’s not convenient, I can come back at another moment, but… maybe we can help each other… maybe we can help….?’ Help, I, Yukiko Mitsukai, never shy about words, began to stutter. Well, this was not for the better now, he would get the entirely wrong impression of me.
He suddenly nodded, it surprises me more or less after my failed monolog and with his card key he opened the door to his apartment. ‘Come in, just straight on and you get to the living room, can I offer you something? A glass of wine or something fresh?’
‘White wine is good enough if you have an open bottle or otherwise something fresh. Don’t bother for me.’ I began to apologize. Yu, get yourself together, otherwise it will become a disaster, I encouraged myself.
Mister March obviously had made a decision. To search on his own here on this continent, even with all his connections would become a difficult mission. He was and would always be a foreigner, someone from the other side. Not an enemy but friendship was rather exceptional in those cases.
If Stephen played it smart, he could obtain an accomplice on his side to open the right doors. Who knew? He wondered if he would mention the video stick. Without looking at it, could be a stupid act. On the other side, the opposite could give him a tip in which his or if Yukiko Mitsukai allowed it, their investigation would go.
He had a white Chardonnay from the Bourgogne chilled. He could open it for this opportunity. It was the right moment to bring the West and the East together and possible the alcohol would loosen the lips a bit more. With his weight, he could bare something. ‘Onegai, Yukiko Mitsukai,’ and he gave her a well-filled glass. ‘It’s a wine matured in wooden barrels and he should taste “beurrée, toastée et grillée”. I love it, but some find the greasiness of this wine, as they name it, less tasteful and drink him rather much younger. The aroma’s then are less pronounced and the specialists agree you can discover hazelnut, hawthorn and even the smell of straw in it.’
‘Doomo Arigato,’ I answered. Or Mister March was a connoisseur or he tried to impress me, although I didn’t read it in his eyes. There was a sort of sadness in those brown eyes. A facial impression I recognize from myself. It was the looks of an injured soul, a glance from a person who had lost a loved one. I took a sip of my beverage. For me, it was just a good white wine. A cool beer or a glass of white wine from which I didn’t get a headache was enough. Thea was more my thing, I could tell him some things about that. I told him, nipping from my “Chardonnay”, about my parents and about the investigation my friends and I had started. It wasn’t easy, but I felt he gave me the necessary time to tell my story.
‘I understand it has to be difficult,’ Stephen reacted after my saying, ‘I mean, to lose both your parents at the same time. I know how it is. My father and stepmother have died at the same time, an accident you know. Yes, it’s not easy to cope with that. But the way they died, to be slaughtered in such a cruel way, it’s dramatic and I can’t find the words. My sister, actually my half-sister, was I you know also a victim of this Akai-murderer.
Stephen in his turn told his story, telling about his father and how his biological mother had died of cancer. That his father after being singular for several years had learned to know someone else, the mother of Suzy. How Stephen at the beginning of his diplomatic mission got a visit from the Security Police with the devastating message that Suzy Chang died in a violent way. He didn’t mention the story of the identification. The images full of horror were too fresh and still burned on his retina, he would get tears in his eyes mentioning it. He may be a block of a guy, but his feelings came from the bottom of his heart and were as genuine as could be.
There was a silence Stephen broke after a while. ‘Maybe I have something… Suzy left me a video stick in a locker. She felt pursued and thought that someone broke into her apartment.’
‘What?’ It came out of my mouth a little bit too loud. I was startled. ‘This week, someone has attacked me in the middle of the night, I don’t know if it was the murderer or not, I don’t have the slightest idea. But he tried to persuade me to stop my private investigation. Maybe it was the same man. My security isn’t very expensive. I can’t afford, but I presume if he didn’t succeed to enter the apartment of your sister she had a better one. It’s a shame…,’ I bit my tongue. My god, what was I saying now.
‘Indeed, I understand what you want to say, it’s a shame it was of no help.’ A spontaneous and honest reaction of Stephen. I appreciated it. Stephen took the video stick out of his coat that hung on a chair and weighed it in his hand. The not-knowing would be worse than the most painful truth. He pushed the stick into the right opening of his house-video-system.
In a tea-shop right across the ‘Oji’ the hotel Stephen March was going to after stepping out of the taxibot, a man was enjoying a steaming hot cup of tea. He read the local paper or acted like that. Between nipping from the liquid, he was concentrating on what he heard.
He pushed the little earphone a bit deeper in his auricle. This high-tech hardware was of a perfect quality. The voices gave him what he needed. Confidence, the satisfaction he needed, he always wanted. He believed unconditionally in his voices. He wanted to serve, just like an Angel who served his God. It could be something sexual. He had bathed in blood for some time and it had given him indescribable ecstasy.
He knew his mission, he found his goals, one after another, without a doubt and without mercy. The mercy he gave was only this of death. Only in death the worst sinners obtained forgiveness. He had at his disposal a lot of high-tech equipment. The video-stick was a sample of it. At first sight an ordinary video-stick, but inside there was a very little transmitter. This way he could hear the melodramatic dialogs of Stephen March and Yukiko Mitsukai. They would look at the images on the video stick. That would be a surprise!
Jack Sterlington entered the room. Markus had received already the signal on his screens that Jack was coming.
‘And… everything’s progressing according to plan?’ Jack stood behind Markus. He was a slender man of forty, blond hair, and green-blue eyes. His warm smile had made many hearts beat faster. But they were all one night stands. In his profession, he couldn’t allow deep intimacy or amorous relations. Jack Sterlington was ruthless in his job. It was his life, his calling. Someone who stood in his way and jeopardize this was just a bird for the cat. There were enough people who couldn’t retell it and he didn’t lose sleep over it.
Markus was the analyst on the team. He had to analyze situations, to judge the mental condition of ‘Michael’ and advice eventual adjustments. With his tangled head of hair and his short beard, he looked like a young university professor. Some pieces in his beard were rather red than brown. It had brought him the nickname ‘Reddy’, to his great displeasure he didn’t hide when someone on the team called him that way or was teasing him with it.
‘No problems till now. All markers are green, our Michael is doing well for the moment. He’s following his prey… and at this moment I can use the word in the plural,’ Markus smiled from under his helmet.
Jack looked at the screens and put a wireless earphone in his auricle to be able to follow. It wasn’t his turn to take Markus’ place, but now and then he came by to check on things. He had a great interest that this project became a success. A great interest, because the senator had told the Cellar was doomed if this project failed. If it came to that, Jack wasn’t the man who betted on one horse. He always saw to it that there was a back door, a second chance. If everything went wrong, his principal would discover this early enough.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere