“Target is in sight. Am I clear to shoot?”
“Target is within sight. Cleared to shoot?”
“Agent 24, you are cleared to shoot.”
The sniper rifle lay on the desk between two adults, each wearing black although the clothes they wore couldn’t have been any different from each other. The man wore an expensive suit over a black shirt, and a pure black tie completed the outfit. Dark sunglasses sat forgotten off to the side unneeded in the dim lights of the room.
The woman, in contrast, wore black, form-fitting clothes with her windbreaker, normally kept zippered to keep it from interfering with her movements, hanging freely as she slouched where she stood. Her mission was complete so she was now off-duty; at least, until another job was required.
The man dismissed Agent 24 and turned his attention to the rifle, ignoring the woman’s lazy salute. He would call someone from their weapons department soon to have it taken care of. Law enforcement would have found and catalogued the bullet by now and, even though it was unlikely, they could match a future job to this one. Thus, the rifle would go into long-term storage until such a time that the risk was over or the Institution found a need to frame someone and leave a trail.
But those matters did not concern him. Right now, his duty was to file Agent 24’s report and wait contact from the other agent under him whose mission was to end within a few days’ time.
He made the necessary call and sat down to type up his report. He hardly noticed the rifle on his desk, only acknowledging its disappearance when he looked up an hour later, his finger poised over the send button. He allowed himself only a moment of amusement at his trademark “intense focus” then forced his attention back to the report on the screen, checking it for any errors.
“Agent 24… June 3rd made contact with… gained target’s confidence… discovered best location for target take-out… successfully smuggled weapon into the party… received clearance to take target out… Mission accomplished.”
He didn’t bother looking through it again before he confidently sent the report to the next link in the chain. He had been doing this job long enough that even a once-over was unnecessary; any more than that was purely excessive.
An alert on his computer dinged, alerting him to the arrival of a message from the Top. He smiled in anticipation. One mission ended, another began.
Agent 24 strolled down the busy hallways with her hands shoved in her pockets, intentionally oblivious to the workers bustling around her and giving her a wide berth. It was easy to tell the Agents from the other workers in the Institution; the Agents had dead eyes.
It wasn’t as though Agent 24 was unaware of this. No, she was quite familiar with the lifeless aura causing the void around her in the hallway. In fact, if she looked or felt any different it would mean she was on a mission. Her training had emptied her of naturally-occurring emotions so that she could “equip” what emotions she would need in order to accomplish her mission. Most spies in this field were caught because the emotion they were displaying was not the one they felt. But you can’t catch an actor in the act if they aren’t acting.
Unfortunately, this had the side affect of a certain listlessness while at the Institution in between missions. If you did not naturally feel pleasure, then what did you feel in your natural environment?
She came to the junction in the hallways where the right corridor led to the training grounds and the left led to the “living quarters” which held the Agents’ bunks and kitchenette, as well as the “social room” where the Agents could at least pretend to be normal. Usually conversations there mostly consisted of asking about the success of missions- those who failed their missions were never seen again- and familiarizing themselves with the identity of each other so that if they saw each other while on the job they wouldn’t mistake each other for enemies.
It was this room that Agent 24 decided to visit. She didn’t have luggage to drop off at her bunk- she never did- and going straight to the training grounds immediately after a physically stressful mission was not wise. Besides, her mission had taken several months to complete and it would be beneficial to re-acquaint herself with her fellow Agents.
Her thoughts took less than a minute to process, barely causing her to break her stride, but she mentally frowned. Even that long to make a decision could get her killed in the field, especially with the rise of the new detective known only as M.
Newcomers into the field of intelligence and espionage weren’t normally a problem for the Institution. Some of them required an Agent to gather some personal or incriminating evidence on them for future use but M was different. The problem was, the Institution knew everyone, but they didn’t know M. There were no pictures, no background, no identity to find. Any email or communication was impossible to trace, and M never appeared to his clients in person, simply using a voice synthesizer over a phone or audio link that could not be used to discover his real voice, if he was even male to begin with. He was nothing more than a ghost and that scared the Institution. More than that, it seemed M was beginning to link certain events together in a way that could eventually cause the Institution problems. Agent 24 expected a call to mission any day now. Of course, unless the Tops gave the mission to that Black Sheep 48.
She let a rare scowl cross her face, causing everyone around her to take a step back. Agent 48 never came out of Mission Mode but instead “practiced” his annoying “Big Brother” mode as he called it. He claimed that if he could get a rise out of the naturally emotionless then he could get a rise out of anyone. It must be a somewhat successful tactic because not only had Agent 48 not been sent for retraining, he was considered to be as good as, if not better, than Agent 24. He teased her about it all the time, usually accompanied by casually pointing out that 48 was double 24 which made him twice as good as her- which he wasn’t - and there were countless moments that if Agent 24 wasn’t as well trained as she was, she would quickly lose her composure and punch him in his smug face.
Okay, maybe Agents had more emotions than they let on, but she was supposed to be one of the best- the model Agent! When the Tops had an incredibly difficult or sensitive mission they sent her. She had worked hard for that honor and some screw-up hot-shot was not going to take that away from her!
She hesitated outside the door to the Social Room and took a few deep breaths. Even thinking about 48 could get her worked up. All she could hope for was that he was currently on a mission so that her already-fragile composure didn’t have to suffer any more strain. She opened the door.
“Well if it isn’t my lovely competition! Back from another successful mission I take it?”
Agent 24 stepped back out of the room and let the door slam shut. It seemed that luck was not on her side that day. She walked briskly to the showers, knowing that 48 wouldn’t follow her there. Agents didn’t own much, nor did they believe in privacy, but showers were mutually agreed to be safe spots where an Agent could be alone. Even 48 wouldn’t break this golden rule.
But it seemed he was okay with toeing the line.
“Hey, half-me, I heard you had one heck of a mission, full of all the good stuff! I bet you’re tired. Hey, half-me, do you want to train together tomorrow? I mean, if neither of us get a mission. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
24 banged her head against the wall of the shower.
“Please give me a mission, please give me a mission.”
She reluctantly grabbed a bar of soap and began to wash her body, making sure to stay away from her side where her tattoo had been removed just that morning. Her target had been a tattoo artist for a powerful gang and in order to make contact, she had gone to his tattoo shop and asked for an intricate rose to be inked onto her skin just below her rib cage. It had been the best way to start up a conversation with him since information had revealed the man’s fascination with floral designs, and when she had told him that the rose was one of her own designs, her target was immediately hooked.
Next was shampoo. Her hair was naturally a dark brown, but it had been dyed blonde for this mission. The target was revealed to be attracted to blonde-haired women and her mission had been to gather information from the man. Between the rose and the hair-dye, it had been relatively simple to gain his trust and then the information.
Her mission had been to discover who the daughter of the gang boss was in love with and remove him so that one of the Institution’s Agents could marry the girl instead, thus providing the Institution with a hold on one of the most powerful gangs in England. Ironically enough, the man she was looking for had been the tattoo artist the whole time. From there, she just needed to set up a situation where the artist died while preferably sending his once lover to the man the Institution had placed. Simple.
Her shower was done quicker than she had hoped, but she was an Agent - trained to be as efficient as possible. Thankfully, she could no longer hear Agent 48 at the door and hoped against hope that he had grown tired of his game. She dried herself off with her towel and changed into clothes that were the exact same she had changed out of that she had taken from one of the cabinets. One of the few liberties the Institution granted to Agents was their style of clothing. As long as it was training worthy, they could wear it. Agent 24 kept a few different outfits in her locker for training purposes but the one she was wearing was her favorite since it was comfortable without being restrictive. She barely spared a glance at one article of clothing still in the locker. Fighting in a skirt and coming out of it still looking presentable was one of the more challenging skills that she had had to learn.
She stepped confidently out of the shower room but almost shrank back into it when her eyes met 48’s who was leaning casually against the wall. She gathered herself back up and glared at him.
“Is there a reason you are following me?” she snapped at him, moving past him while tying her hair up into a bun. It was long for now since it was easier to cut it short for a mission than growing it out which involved a few special-made drugs and an itchy head.
Agent 48 kept up with her fast pace easily and shrugged in answer to her question.
“I was considering leaving you alone, but then I realized how bored you would be all by yourself.”
“I don’t need you to keep me entertained,” she spat out. Already her composure was wearing thin. Damn.
48 glanced at her with a smirk on his lips. He let her stew in silence for a long moment before finally giving in.
“I also got a call from my handler. He informed me that I am to be sent out on a mission in an hour.”
“Then shouldn’t you be on your way to briefing?”
“He also instructed me to bring you with me. It seemed your handler was busy working on putting the briefing together.”
He smiled brightly at her.
“It looks like we are working together!”
Agent 24 came to a complete stop and stared at the beaming man, her composure long since forgotten. Even Agent 48 wouldn’t joke about missions. It seemed her worst- and only- nightmare was coming true.