“My cover is blown! I repeat! My cover is blown!” Ian yelled into his wristwatch microphone.
“Do you have the drive?” Wesley asked from the other side of the radio.
“Affirmative. But, I have too many tangos on my tail to keep it for long” Ian responded with an urgency in his voice.
He slammed the rusty door leading to the alleyway open. Pointing the pistol that he had left and right, Ian cleared the alley making sure no more enemies were present.
A loud pop went off behind Ian. His lower right side burned like somebody jammed a hot poker into his flesh. Before reacting to the fresh wound, he swung around and immediately shot the man behind him. Two bullets. One in the chest. The next one in the head. Ian reached down to his side and felt the bullet hole. There were two. One in his back and the other on his front. The wound was through and through. That would mean an easier patch up job later. Less digging with a pair of needle nose pliers.
Ian spoke into his wristwatch again. “I need an exit.”
He kept his head on a swivel watching both sides of the alley and any doors. He quickly glanced up the building he just exited to make sure nobody was trying to aim a gun at him from above.
“Eagle Eye! I need an exit!” He waited for a few more moments. Still no response. That only meant one thing. His partner was down.
The steel door that he came through earlier bursted open. Ian quickly fired another two rounds and another enemy was down. Realizing that staying in his current position would only end up in his death, Ian started to sprint down the alley towards the main street. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a flip phone. He dialed a phone number that he had engrained in his memory. He always prayed that he would never have to use the number.
“Hello, operator” the calm, female voice on the other end of the line answered.
“Code red. Agent ID 0568392. My partner is down. I have the package but I need an evac.” Ian said in clear, concise sentences as he scanned the busy street ahead of him.
“Hold, please.” The operator responded.
Ian saw an abandoned SUV parked on the side of the street with the driver side door open. Somebody had just left it moments ago. He ran into the SUV and pulled the door shut. Outside a man screamed at him. Ian looked to see if it was another enemy. It was just the angry owner of the vehicle. He slammed on the passenger side window but it was too late.
Ian gunned the throttle and floored it away from the building. He kept the cell phone pressed to his ear the entire time and still no response from the operator. He glanced up in the rear view mirror and saw two unmarked, black SUVs quickly catching up to him. Based off their speed and jerky movements in and out of traffic, it was clear Ian was being followed.
Weaving in and out of traffic, Ian finally heard a voice come through the phone again.
“Agent. Are you still there?” the operator asked in the same calm tone.
“Affirmative.” Ian responded while watching the SUVs behind him inch even closer.
“Are you being followed?” the operator continued with her questions.
“Yes. I have two tangos on my tail as we speak.” Ian replied. The followers were even closer.
“I need you to lose them. Then proceed to extraction point bravo. Ensure that you are not being followed.” She replied this time with a very affirmative tone instead of a calm tone as before.
“Copy that.” Ian flicked the phone shut and threw it onto the passenger seat next to his gun.
The pursuers were finally right behind him. One of them nudged into his bumper. Ian gripped the steering wheel to keep control of his vehicle. The second follower’s car pulled up alongside the passenger side of Ian’s car. The passenger side window exploded into a million pieces and a bullet lodged itself in the frame next to Ian’s head. Ian reached for the gun on the passenger seat but missed when the first pursuer that nudged him violently slammed into the rear of Ian’s car at full speed. The gun flew down below the passenger seat. Ian reached for it with a quick lunge but missed. He pulled himself back upright and jerked the steering wheel to the left to avoid a car in front of him.
He glanced around and didn’t see any more threats this time. The pursuers dropped away just as fast as they had crept up on his tail. Ian reached for his phone but realized that it was on the floor just like his gun. He looked ahead and noticed that the road ahead of him was clear. While keeping a hand on the wheel, he reached for the phone and finally grabbed it. He flicked it open and dialed the operator again.
“I think I’m cl…” A loud crash cut Ian off before he could finish his sentence. Every window of the vehicle shattered as a large semi truck slammed into the driver side of the car. Ian blacked out for a brief moment before coming to. His vision was blurred from the impact. The lights on his dash all melded together in a single blob. The lights outside the window meshed together and formed several bright blobs. He blinked his eyes to try and uncloud his eyesight. He patted around for his phone but couldn’t find it. His gun was missing too. Suddenly, a pang of adrenaline hit him. The drive that he was instructed to recover was gone too. He looked outside the car and noticed the semi was empty. Ian was never known to panic on an op. But, today was different.
It was a busy day today in the airport cafe. Monday at noon. Business travelers frantically made their way from one terminal to another and some stopped briefly for a quick cup of coffee to keep them going on their start of the work week. Others had a layover and enjoyed a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug instead of a paper cup. Some of them had pastries too. But, all of them had a laptop. And, they all tapped into the same wifi signal to access the internet while they waited for their next flight. And, that is where I came in.
A degree in computer engineering sounded so promising when I started out. But, I soon realized that I would be cooped up in a lab all day coding some program that didn’t really matter for some people that I would never meet or care about. So, I dropped out. Then came the problem of money. Honestly, who wants a washed out computer engineer? Nobody. I did learn one thing while attending school though. I was exceptionally good with a computer. Good enough that I never paid attention in classes and still aced all of them easily. The counselors were confused when I left the school. What they didn’t know was that I had better job prospects. Where you ask? Right here in this airport cafe.
I opened my laptop and pressed a key to wake the screen. I clicked around for a few seconds and then I watched a long list of data flow in front of my eyes. Every single network request that all those innocent business people were logging on their computer. I watched some people check their emails. Others were reading the news. And then, there it was. Somebody logging into their bank account. I watched them type in their login and password. I jotted the info down on an open notepad file. They finished the login process and then I saw the jackpot. 1.23 million dollars of it. I covered my mouth to hide the smile that stretched across my face. I saved the notepad file and sat back in my chair. My rent for the next year was going to be paid off.
I opened up a browser window to log into the bank account. And that’s when I noticed the first problem. A slight screen flicker. Nothing too noticeable. But, I should have known better. I continued logging onto the bank account. After a successful login, I clicked on the transfers page and started wiring funds to an offshore account I had set up. I typed in my account information and my password to complete the transfer. Within a minute, I was $50,000 richer than I was before.
I opened another window to check on my account. After waiting a moment to log on, my heart dropped. I felt sweat begin to form on my temples. I frantically looked around the coffee shop. My bank account read $0. Somebody just outplayed me. They watched my every move and snaked the money I just stole right out from under me.
I frantically glanced from suit to suit to see who did this to me. But, it wouldn’t matter. Everybody’s face was buried in their laptops. Except for one. He stared at me from the corner of the coffee shop. Not only was he staring at me, he was smiling. I clenched my fist on the table. I wanted to pulverize the man for stealing my deal. I tried to calm myself down by taking a sip from my cup. I never broke eye contact with the man.
With one finger, he slowly closed the lid of his laptop. He gracefully slid the metal slab into a shoulder bag that sat on the chair beside him. He finished the espresso that sat on the table in front of him and then he got up, slinging his bag onto his shoulder. He threw a few bucks down onto the table and then started making his way towards me.
I clenched my fists again. Why was he coming towards me? Wasn’t stealing my money enough even if the money wasn’t exactly mine? I closed all the windows on my computer before he approached and sat back in my chair. I cleared my throat and nodded towards him, acknowledging the fact that he was approaching me. He gave a quick nod back. I watch his hand reach into his inside jacket pocket and pull out a small metal case. Flicking it open, he pulled a card from within. After finally arriving at my table, he placed the card down and slid it towards me.
“You’re good.” He said with a smile.
He lifted his hand away from the card. I was staring at the back side. It was blank white.
“If you really wanted to make a living out of this,” the man continued “I could make you better.”
I remained silent. He gestured toward the business card he placed onto the table.
“Consider this a gift. A signing bonus, if you will. You can keep it, if you want. Contact me if you want even more than that.” He turned away from me and started towards the door. Before taking a step, he turned back around.
“Have a good day, Mr. McPherson.” He finished off before walking out of the shop.
The only two words that kept going through my head were “show off.”
I picked up the business card and turned it around. There were two lines of numbers on the card. The first looked like a phone number. But, the second was different. It looked like a bank account number.
I fired my computer back up and began searching around. And then, I found it. The account was with a bank in the Cayman Islands. The balance was $6.5 million. I leaned back in my chair and glanced at my phone. If this was a signing bonus, how much more could I make?
William’s breath leaked from his mouth and nose and immediately condensed into a cloud of fog in front of his face. He stared out at the woods ahead of him and listened to the calm silence of the snow. Absolutely nothing made a sound. Until, a branch cracked behind him. Reaching down to his belt, he quickly unsheathed a large blade and swung around. He put the knife to the throat of the man standing behind him. Then, he quickly dropped the knife when he recognized who it was.
“Jesus, Daniel. You nearly got yourself killed.” William said with an exasperated tone. Every word produced a cloud of fog.
Daniel let out a quiet chuckle before lowering the mask that was covering his face. William continued.
“Do you have anything to report to me?” he questioned.
Daniel nodded quickly and pulled a rolled-up map from his jacket.
“Yeah,” Daniel replied “there’s about 20 red-coats coming in from the east. Right here.” He pointed to a thin line on the map.
William cocked his head to the side to get a better view of the ragged map. He squinted his eyes.
“Twenty? Are you sure? That’s an awful lot for a patrol.” William inquired.
Daniel waved a finger and smiled. “That’s exactly what I thought. So, I did some more looking and…” He grinned ear to ear.
“And…?” William asked, waiting for Daniel to finish his sentence.
“And, they have a cart with them. Looks like tea. Loads of the stuff.” Daniel finished while leaning forward slightly, as if he was bowing before an audience.
“Tea? Hmm. We could have really used some ammunition. But,” William paused for a moment and briefly thought everything through “I guess we can try to sell the tea on the black market and maybe then we’ll have enough coin for some proper weapons for everybody.” He finished off his sentence with a slight smile.
Daniel smiled and rubbed his hands together excitedly. William patted him on the shoulder. “Good work, Daniel. Now, go alert all the others. These woods are about to get loud.”
Daniel quickly ran off and William was left with his silence. After a few minutes, he started to hear some movement all around him. It wasn’t coming from the road. Instead, the sound was coming from the bushes and the trees. A dozen men surrounded him and yet he couldn’t see any of them. It amazed him how well they had trained together to hide in the trees to fight. To some, it was cowardice. It wasn’t an honorable way to fight or die. But to William, it meant that more of his men would be able to go home to their wives and children. None of these men started this as trained soldiers. They were family men. Mostly farmers. They all wanted a simple life. But when the revolution started, all of that changed. Every single one of these men were ready to fight for their newfound country. They were ready to finally escape the oppression of their motherland. Even if that meant fighting without honor.
William listened to his men get ready in their positions and then finally settle down. The silence of the snow filled his ears again. And then, in the distance, William could hear the sound of a large cart struggling to wheel across the dirt road. This far out into the woods, the road was very rough and the wheels that were accustomed to riding around in town strained against the divots and rocks that lined the path. After listening to the cart for a few moments, William caught his first glance of the party making their way to the next town. They were easy to spot this time of year. The bright red coats that the British wore stuck out rather prominently against the white snow and dark brown trees.
William raised his hands to his mouth and cupped them around his lips. Breathing out, he made a sound like an angry owl hooting in the woods. He listened to his men ready their rifles. The metal hardware on all 12 rifles creaked and locked into place as they pulled the hammers back and got ready to fire on the incoming party. William pulled his mask up over his mouth to make sure that his breath would not give away his position. He sank down and hid behind the broken stump beside him. He raised his rifle and cocked the hammer back. Then, he waited.
It felt like ages until the British finally made their way down the path near William. The cart was giving them trouble and the horses carrying the cart dragged their hooves through the snow, looking dead tired. William raised his rifle and picked one of the soldiers guarding the carts as a target. As the British walked closer towards the dozen hidden men surrounding the road, William got a better look at the soldier he was aiming at. The boy couldn’t have been more than 20 years old. His face still had spots and his cheeks were almost as red as his coat because of the cold. He looked bored after walking all this time and slouched slightly because of it.
William thought for a moment about his baby boy that was most likely tucked away in a crib back at home. His wife would make sure that his baby boy’s cheeks were protected against the cold and wouldn’t get red. A fire was probably going inside the fireplace to keep them warm too. William looked at the boy at the other end of his barrel and thought about his family. But, that didn’t matter right now. William had to protect his family. He had to make sure that all of the families of the men around him were protected too. The face that he was staring at right now was not that of a boy. It was the enemy’s. He lined up his shot and fired.
I looked down at my watch and took note of the time. It has been three hours since I last saw any inkling of civilization. Even that wasn’t much. It was an old wooden shack that looked like it had been abandoned for years. Beyond that, all I’ve seen is this road, the trees around me, and fog. Everywhere around me is the fog.
It all started when I woke up to the sound of nothing. I frantically threw my covers off when I realized that the power was out and my alarm clock wasn’t alive. I threw on some fresh clothes and went out to the kitchen. None of my roommates were there. This was strange because even if I was late for work today, normally somebody would be home. But, looking down at my watch, I realized I was already an hour late for work so I shrugged it off. I ran down the stairs of my apartment building, not wanting to wait for the elevator. I slammed the door at the bottom of the stairs open and was greeted with a strange sight. Everywhere I looked there was fog. When I was a kid living out in the country this would not have been a peculiar sight at all. But ten years later while standing in the middle of the city, I was concerned.
What was more concerning than the fog was the lack of sounds. As I looked around, I didn’t hear a single soul. Nor did I see any signs of life. All the power was out. No cars were moving. More importantly, I didn’t see anybody. I dropped my shoulders for the first time this morning, no longer feeling tense while worrying about being late for work. But, my heart pounded even faster than before.
I ran to nearby buildings looking for any signs of life. Not a single soul was present in the middle of the city. I peered inside all the cars sitting on the road around my apartment. Nobody. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and pressed the unlock button for the first time today. Just like every other electronic device in the city that I had seen, there was no power. I walked into the empty coffee shop across the street and walked behind the counter. I grabbed the phone next to the register and put the receiver to my ear. Not even a dial tone. I tapped the hook switch a couple times to see if a dial tone ever came. Nothing.
I ran back up to my apartment and into my roommate’s room. I searched around his desk and found his car keys sitting inside an old cappuccino mug. Grabbing them, I ran back down the stairs and threw the key into the ignition of his car. Before turning the ignition, I prayed for a brief moment. I turned the ignition. Nothing. Everything in the city was dead. The lights. The phones. The cars. And, I still wasn’t sure about the people. They were just gone. All of them. I took a moment and pinched myself. Nope. This was not a dream.
I went back up to my apartment, this time taking my time, and packed a backpack with supplies for a small trip. I went back downstairs and hopped onto my bicycle. The rest of my family lives about 200 miles away from the city. Without cars, this would be the fastest way to see if they are alive.
That all happened three days ago. Yesterday, a tire popped on my bike while riding it down the highway. Now, I’ve been walking along and eating junk food at gas stations. The entire trip, I’ve been surrounded by a thick blanket of fog. I don’t know where anybody is and I don’t know why all the power is gone. But, I’m sure it has to do with this fog. While sleeping during the first night of my trip, I noticed another detail. I haven’t heard a single bird or cricket chirp. Matter of fact, I have not seen any other wildlife during this entire trip.
Today, I noticed I’m only fifty miles out from seeing my family. At this point though, I’m really doubting if I will ever see them. One of the many questions that keeps running through my head is “why me?” Why am I the only one out here?
After walking for a couple more hours, I sat down to take a quick break. I opened my pack to take inventory. I had a pile of snacks that should last me for the rest of the trip. My water bottle was half full. I’d need to refill at the next exit. The gun that I grabbed out of a police cruiser on the first day was fully loaded, just in case.
Suddenly, I heard something. The first sound I’d heard in days. I looked up from my pack to see the cause. It was futile though. All I saw was the same familiar white wall of fog. I sat for a moment and tried to identify the sound. Footsteps. Yes! I wasn’t the only one out here. I’m not the last man on Earth. I yelled out.
“Hey! Over here!”
The footsteps turned towards me and started to grow louder. I yelled out again to help the other person hone in.
“Over here! You’re not alone!”
Suddenly, alongside the sound of the footsteps came a blood curdling scream. I had never heard anybody yell like that before in my life. I stopped myself from calling out again. The scream wasn’t one of pain. It was pure rage. Like somebody charging into war. The scream echoed through the fog again. It was a man’s scream but it sounded more like a wild animal. Whoever was coming for me was certainly not friendly. I grabbed the gun from my bag and readied myself. I was ready to be the last man on Earth again.