Adrian pulled Nikki over to the table in the middle of the room. “This is the building where they are keeping the kids. The Institution had just kidnapped a fourth child which is why they haven’t left yet.”
Nikki winced. If she and the others didn’t rescue them, those four kids would be forced to go through the brainwashing that she had seen on the video. It must not be allowed to happen.
“Do you have a plan to get them out?”
Adrian pulled up schematics for the security of the building on his laptop. “No. It will be impossible to get them out of the building itself. It’s teeming with Agents and other workers. Even with you and me working together, we wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”
Nikki studied the screen, looking for any possibility that Adrian might have missed, but there was none. The building was secure. “Okay, that means we get the kids when they are being transported. I’m guessing you have that figured out already?”
Adrian grinned at her, falling into his “Big Brother” mode for a brief moment. “Of course I do! That’s why I’m double you.” He dropped the playful demeanor and grew serious once more. “There are three routes they can take from the city to the landing platform by the lake. Richie and Chris scouted out the area.” The two men nodded at her. “The Institution will definitely be using this platform to transport the kids via helicopter to an unknown location. That means we have about a twenty-minute window to get the kids and get out.”
Nikki traced the different routes thoughtfully. Her mind was already scoping out potential ambush and attack points. “It’s possible they will split up the kids or use decoys.”
“Which is why we will need to split up as well. We know their final destination so if we can’t grab the kids when they are first taken out of the building, that will be our last chance to rescue them. You and I will be stationed at the landing platform because of that. Everyone else will be split up into three different vehicles stationed around the building. When the kids are brought out, the best-case scenario will be a quick grab and an even quicker escape into the busy roads of the city. If that doesn’t work, we will all meet up at the landing platform.”
Nikki tapped a point on the map, her mind catching on to Adrian’s plan as her training and his began to match up. “You and I will disable the helicopter while we wait there, giving us more time to get the kids when they come. Plus, we can hold the Institution off long enough for the others to arrive and give us backup.”
Richie spoke up, confusion written on his face. “Why can’t you two pretend to be the pilots?”
Immediately, both of the former Agents shook their heads. “They will have set up codewords beforehand in case of something like that. We have no way of knowing what it will be, and if we answer incorrectly, the Agents and the kids will disappear.”
Richie sat back down and watched as Adrian drew circles on the map around the landing platform. “Now here’s what we do when we get to the platform…”
“I never thought I’d be fighting against the Institution,” Nikki remarked. She and Adrian were in her car driving to the landing platform. She stared at the gathering clouds. It would probably rain later, she thought. She and Adrian would have to account for that when they were fighting.
Adrian glanced over at her, noting the way she was slouched in her seat and the way her eyes were unfocused. It wasn’t abnormal behavior for her. At the Institution, 24 would have the same look when she was off duty and wasn’t training. Having been raised and trained by the Institution from an early age, she thrived best when she was on a mission where her every choice meant the difference between victory and defeat. It was the in-between times that wore her down.
“I know what you mean,” he said. “I felt the same way when I started out. Meeting with Risby for the first time, even just over the phone, was the first time I ever felt fear. It was awful.”
Nikki tore her eyes away from the clouds. They were darker now and seemed even heavier than before. “Do you ever get used to it? The fear, I mean?”
Adrian sighed, remembering his beginning days as Detective M. “You never get used to it; you just get better at overcoming it. It’s strange, isn’t it? Experiencing emotions that you’ve only ever ‘equipped’ for a mission for real? There were many times in that first month that I wanted to quit, to go back to being emotionless and letting the Tops tell me what to do.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Adrian met Nikki’s eyes, his own filled with emotion as he recalled all the times he felt wonder and joy. “Because it isn’t all bad. There are moments from that first month that I didn’t want to let go of, never wanted to forget. Once I met a contact at the park where he was playing with his daughter. I’ve never looked at a field of flowers the same way since.”
He looked back at the road, seeing a raindrop splash against the windshield. The wind was beginning to pick up, and the people on the sidewalks were hurrying to get to their destination faster to avoid the coming downpour.
“That’s why I fight, Nikki. That’s why I risked everything to bring the Institution down. They destroy everything they touch in the name of peace, ruin innocent people’s lives in the name of justice. Every one of those kids that I saw being brainwashed could have grown up to have normal lives, good lives. The Institution took that away from them.”
Nikki shuddered. “They took it away from us too,” she whispered. More raindrops, blurring the windshield before the wipers cleared them away. “Who do you think we were before the Institution took us?”
Adrian changed lanes, moving into the exit that would bring them to their destination. “I don’t know. I keep having dreams that are just out of reach, as though my memories are locked away in a box that was closed by the Institution. Perhaps one day I will finally be able to open it.”
Nikki closed her eyes to search her mind. If Adrian still had his memories, locked away or not, then maybe she did too. But she didn’t find anything.
The car came to a stop behind an abandoned house a few miles from the platform. “We need to go by foot the rest of the way,” Adrian told her. “Are you ready?”
Nikki pulled the laces of her new shoes a little tighter. “Yes. Let’s do this.”
They took off at a steady run through the rain, leaving no trace in the grass of their passing. Their steps were silent and light, barely pausing before pushing off again. Their breaths came evenly with the easy exertion. Both were in peak physical shape and could keep up this pace for hours at a time, but it was only a few minutes before they arrived.
Adrian and Nikki crouched behind a large metal crate at the edge of the platform and watched the movements of the three guards who would be taking the children to the Institution. The Agents were shouting to each other to be heard over the pounding of the rain and loading the helicopter with the necessary supplies for the journey. To the side, the helicopter stood ready, having been fueled and prepped shortly before the two former Agents’ arrival.
Adrian used the Institution-made hand signs to direct her to the rear of the helicopter. Nikki nodded and crept around the platform until she was in place. She pulled out a heavy-duty knife from the small bag that she had brought with her and damaged the rotor just enough to start up an alarm when the helicopter started to move. The damage would make the Institution Agents hesitate to continue, not wanting to crash due to a faulty rotor. She knew Adrian would be damaging the fuel line so that if the helicopter did manage to make it into the air, they wouldn’t get far, giving Adrian and his team another chance to get the children to safety.
Nikki growled softly to herself in frustration. There were too many variables, too many ways for all of this to go wrong, but there was nothing else they could do. The Institution was skilled in what they did and took everything into account. Adrian’s strategy planned for as many variables as he could, but it would be up to the two of them to make sure that everything went according to that plan.
She made her way back to Adrian and wiped the handle of her blade so it wouldn’t slip in her hand when she was fighting. The two were out of earshot so she muttered quietly, “Any word from the others?”
Adrian frowned. “Not yet. It should be any minute now though.”
Nikki put the blade back in her bag and rested against the wet grass. Both she and Adrian were soaked through but neither made mention of it. They barely even noticed it except for filing it away for the upcoming rescue. “Why did you want my help?”
At Adrian’s raised eyebrows, she amended her statement. “I mean, why did you choose me out of all the other Agents? What made you think I would help you?”
Adrian’s eyes cleared in understanding. He ran his fingers through the grass as he considered. “You and I are very much alive, 24. We both want to be the best, to be our best. We fight because we believe in something no matter how strongly the Institution tried to get rid of it in us. I knew that if I showed you the proof of what the Institution was doing, you could help me more than any other Agent. You would put your whole heart and soul into stopping the Institution from hurting more people.”
Nikki had to look away from the conviction in Adrian’s face. He truly believed in what he was doing. She just wasn’t sure if she could commit as much as he had.
She shifted her position into a more comfortable one while she waited. Her knives and the two guns Adrian had given her were hidden in easy to reach places in her clotehs, ready to be used. She had eaten shorty before they had left and had hydrated on the way to the platform. For all intents and purposes, she was ready.
Adrian’s phone vibrated with a message from one of the three groups. He showed it to Nikki. One child rescued. Three to go.
A few minutes later another message came through. This one didn’t contain good news. The Institution vehicle had made it past the group and was on the way to the platform. Adrian got up from where he was sitting and pulled off the bag from his belt. He ran a hand over the places his own weapons were as he got into a crouch. Nikki copied his movements, her eyes trained on the phone. One more message and they would know what to expect.
They waited in tense silence for the phone to vibrate, slowly starting to make their way to the platform once again. They froze when the phone lit up. One child rescued. That meant that the last two were on their way to the platform. The three men who had been tasked with their rescue would be driving to the location as fast as they could to help Nikki and Adrian while the others would bring the children to the safe house they had set up.
Nikki and Adrian pressed themselves up against the metal of the crate, straining their eyes to catch any movement of the vehicle arriving at the platform. Headlights flashed through the rain and they pulled out their guns. It was time for action.