Flames licked at her heels.
“34 is out,” Kyle blared in her ear, “Go now!” She jumped out of the way of a falling rack, and made for the nearest visible exit. This was the first time Jessica had seen a job go wrong. It was horrible. She didn’t even know how the fire started. But there were countless drums of flammable liquid and only two unblocked exits. 19 could hear the agency choppers closing in to bomb the warehouse.
She heard a man’s scream following a loud crash. Turning a corner, she saw one of the henchmen trapped under a large oil drum, already being eaten by the blaze. The hench was struggling in vain. He knew his fate and when saw her, screamed, “Please! Please—just shoot me!” She was in shock—and she had never used her gun in the field before. But the man was literally burning alive in front of her.
“Please!” He reached out a hand (19 registered later that it had a wedding band on it). She pulled her weapon and aimed at the man’s forehead. He closed his eyes. There was so much noise in the echoing building that she didn’t even hear the shot. The screaming stopped.
An agent came in and grabbed her. She couldn’t hear anything. Jessica never saw his face; the agent led her the other way. It was as if things suddenly moved in slow motion. Beams and barrels were crashing and melting around her as the agent ran them out of the door.
“19? 19 can you hear me? What happened in there?” the agent who pulled her out was checking her vitals as the helicopter lifted from the area. Jessica stared at the shrinking building.
“Agent!” he held her face. She looked into his eyes. A tear escaped, leaving a cool trail down her burning cheek.
They say that none of us exists, except in the imagination of his fellows, other than as an intangible, invisible mentality."Edgar Rice Burroughs
She had almost forgotten about her torture. The Agency had trained them well, and she had even gone through therapy afterwards. After the water boarding, she couldn’t take showers for months. For a while she just gave herself sponge baths, just to feel in control of the water. Eventually she moved to full-on baths, but she could never completely relax in the tub. With the therapy, she was able to take standing showers in eight months.
Jessica hadn’t had a relapse in years.
She and her friend Elle had just finished dinner at Elle’s parent’s house, and they were helping her mom clean up. They were doing the dishes while her dad was at the table having a conversation with another friend of theirs. Elle’s father was heavily into politics, so as soon as he brought up the latest bills in consideration, Jessica had begun collecting the cutlery. Pieces of their conversation wafted over to her as she rinsed the soapy plates.
“You know they still do water boarding?” she heard the father say.
As soon as she heard the words, her hands stiffened under the faucet. Her chest tightened as she watched the water rush over her palms. Jessica quickly thought of her therapy, and chanted in her head, “I am in control—I am safe,” over and over again. It took several minutes before she took a deep breath and picked up another dish. She glanced around the room; no one noticed her episode.
She’d been beaten, broken, sliced and shot. There were virtually no scars. The Agency had methods that were quite controversial in the civilian world. Jessica tried not to think about it when they applied the sticky mesh strips on her wounds, which were infused with stem cells to speed tissue regrowth.
The art of disguise is knowing how to hide in plain sight."Sherlock Holmes, Masterpiece Mystery!: Sherlock
Her mother was the first to notice a difference. Jessica was happier, more alert and outspoken. Then a few teachers made note of her new confidence. She was told about this in training, and did her best to continue feigning any change. But she couldn’t help it sometimes; she felt so good! Her memory was sharper, thanks to various supplements and nutrition tips from Doc Schwinn; she was much more agile and aware of her own body from Agent 14’s exercises, and of course her recent awareness of world affairs. It was this last detail that made her mother’s ears perk up. Jessica’s parents often sat and watched the news together after dinner. She came in during a story on an international crisis. Without thinking, she made a particularly educated comment on the situation. Now, if her parents had themselves been more versed in political affairs around the globe, they would have been much more suspicious. However, her father simply thought that her teachers must be talking about this story in their classes, and dismissed it. But her mother, a teacher herself, knew that such things were not discussed in classes of Jessica’s grade level, current or not. She eyed her daughter for a moment, and Jessica felt her gaze and deflected.
“It was in one of dad’s newspapers. I was using it to cover the table while I did my science project.” Jessica shifted her weight when she talked, and chided herself later for doing so. She waited, and her mother nodded and turned back to the TV. Jessica walked back into the kitchen to finish her dishes. She needed to be more careful.
The true mystery is the visible, not the invisible."Oscar Wilde
“Good, you’re still here,” Agent Delta’s commanding presence filled the room. “Leave us, 33,” the blonde scooted out of the room with a look of relief. Agent Delta shut the door behind him. She had always favored Jessica; she had hand-picked her after all.
“How are you feeling?” It was nearly impossible to pick up any strain of compassion in Delta’s voice, but Jessica knew she wouldn’t have come if she weren’t concerned.
“Wonderful. I certainly hope there’s a bonus in order for whoever was holding the scalpel.” She always tried to lighten the mood with her superior, who often looked like she was waiting for a phone call about a new kidney. Delta ignored the comment.
“As you may have noticed, that was not a sniper from any registered Agency.” She began pacing, her thick black pumps clunking rhythmically on the sky-blue linoleum.
“He was wearing a mask, I didn’t notice anything significant—standard sniper rifle-”
“He was hired by a civilian.” Delta stopped, and Jessica noted how tall she looked in the white space.
“That’s impossible. My alias has no enemies; I’m a run-of-the-mill student,”
“I’m aware of that. The only other explanation is—”
“—My alias has been compromised.” Jessica sank down in the metal chair by the door. There were only two agents who knew her civilian identity. One was in the room. The other disappeared almost year ago, and was currently targeted as a traitor. She put her head in her hands.
“Agent 36 has been missing for nearly—”
“No. Not Bobby. It’s not possible. He wouldn’t…” Delta knelt down in front of Jessica, who was momentarily surprised at this emotional act.
“Jessica,” her voice was maternal, “we need to see what adds up. This is the risk of agent-to-agent relationships. That’s why we discourage agents from revealing their alias’ until marriage, should it progress to that stage.”
Jessica felt a prickling behind her eyes. Bobby had proposed to her, two days before he went missing.
“But—he may have been kidnapped, we can’t rule that out,” she was desperately searching for another explanation.
“All the more reason to keep your identities secret.” There was a muffled beep from Delta’s hip. She pulled a small black rectangle from her belt loop.
“We need to get you back to position; the Time Alter can only hold the moment for about an hour.” She stood and became the Head Agent again. She opened the door and Jessica rose from the chair, collecting herself. Agent Delta gave her a meaningful look, a look that was truly sorry about the circumstances.
“I trust you will contact me should you have any more trouble.” That was Delta-code for, “I’m here for you.”
“33!” She barked, and the blonde was back. Jessica followed him out the door, back to the known reality.
~ ~ ~
“What was that?” Tina turned to look at Jessica.
“Nothing, just a bee.” She looked over at the top of the building, deep in thought.
It’s hard being visible, so I’ve made myself invisible."Danielle Steel
The moon was full. She took a deep breath and exhaled silently. The temperatures were reaching below zero, but beads of sweat formed on her temples. This wasn’t going to be easy, and she knew that. Crouched below the window, she surveyed the expanse of wood she had just made her way through. She was pretty amazed that she hadn’t even been heard, knowing full well there were at least forty guards posted in the western forest barricading Baron Krushla’s villa. A gruff moan came from the lit window. A mix of revulsion and anger flashed across her face as she tried not to picture what the Baron could be doing to one of his many—illegally acquired—underage sex-slaves. That’s why she was here. The Baron had been running an underground child-pornography ring for years, and had evaded the CIA’s hold countless times. When the dealings had spilled into the Agency’s jurisdiction, they wasted no time. She tightened her grip on the cold metal in her hand. A surly voice in Russian echoed out towards the snowy woods, something along the lines of, “Out! I’m done,” then a door slam. He was alone. Poised, she waited a few more moments until she could make out the creaking of the bed springs. Once she was sure, she made her move.