Agent 24 stood to attention in the office she had left not even an hour before, no longer slouched over with hooded eyes. She was back in Mission Mode, ready for whatever the Tops sent her. She glanced quickly at Agent 48, relieved that he was also in Mission Mode, standing straight with clear, intelligent eyes and ready to move at a moment’s notice. As long as he stayed like this, she shouldn’t have a problem working with him.
Her thoughts led her to the nature of the mission. Over 90% of missions were solo with the occasional overlap. She herself had never worked with another Agent, being more successful alone than she ever could have been with a partner - it was the nature of the Institution. Information and assassinations were their specialty, each of which was better performed solo in the field. Of course, the Agents kept in contact with their handlers and pulled in help from hackers and information seekers, but to have a joint mission like this with the two best Agents? It was unheard of. Perhaps Detective M was even more of a problem than she had first thought.
Agent 24’s handler gave her and 48 each a file filled to bursting with papers and notes. He nodded to the packages.
“That is what we have on Detective M.”
He gave them another file, this one with a fraction of the amount of information.
“And this is what we have on the man behind the letter.”
He gave them a moment to check it over, his sharp eyes flickering from one to the other. 48’s handler stood back and allowed his colleague to conduct the briefing.
“Our hackers found a tiny, minute thread linking Thomas Risby to the way that M finds his cases. This piece is why the Top has finally called you in. They didn’t want to involve you too early in something that might turn into nothing and ruin your chances with a different lead.”
Agents 24 and 48 nodded sharply, their eyes skimming over Risby’s profile. The man was the head of the International Defense Agency, IDA for short. The organization was made up of members from most countries for the purpose of tackling cases that spanned countries and continents. They had massive influence over a large majority of the major companies around the world. As the head of the IDA, Risby would have access to all of this influence, and had the knowledge of how to release this information to an outside source without it ever leading back to him. Unfortunately for Risby, the Institution had the best hackers anywhere who could trace anything if there was even a whisper of a trail.
“You will be going undercover as agents and consultants on a case that Risby himself will be running. Risby is investigating the deaths of one of his more skilled teams in America and the Institution has reached out to him under the guise of a covert branch of the United States’ defense program to lend him two agents who are well-versed in the dealings of what are sure to be Risby’s primary suspects. There is a gang in Chicago that goes by the name of “Fanged Wolves” who specialize in making those who cross them disappear. The Institution has an Agent established in the gang who will provide you with the information you will need to convince Risby of your authenticity.”
Agent 24 flipped through the reports detailing the history and members of the Fanged Wolves. During their rise to power, several police officers mysteriously disappeared. No one had ever found their bodies and no one ever challenged the gang again.
Agent 48 snapped his file shut. “Is there any chance that the Fanged Wolves aren’t actually behind the incident?”
“No. The Institution has found evidence that leads right to the Fanged Wolves - there is no doubt of their guilt. The information is in the files. Your mission is to find out what Thomas Risby knows of M. From there, it will be your prerogative as to what to do next. It may be that Risby knows nothing and that this lead was merely a coincidence, in which case I would advise you to maintain your covers through till the end. If he does end up having information, you have full permission to use whatever force necessary to get it. Understood?”
If Agent 24 had been fully human, she would have been shocked beyond speech. Permission to use whatever force necessary was the ultimate freedom for an Agent. It meant that no matter what they did, the Institution would not question their decisions and would instead work to clean up after them, no matter how big the mess.
But she wasn’t human- because what was a human without its emotions? - and simply saluted the handlers. She had her mission. She had her purpose. She would not let the Institution down. Not now, not ever.
Agent 48 placed two glasses of water on the table between them. Their flight to America would last for several hours and they had a lot of information to go over, not to mention the time it would take to plan a viable course of action.
24 tapped the case file thoughtfully.
“I think our best bet is to gain Risby’s trust before we dig for information. We will have to make a show of finding some evidence to start the investigation and lower his suspicion.”
48 opened his file to the page 24 was pointing to. It was a list of the evidence linking the Fanged Wolves to the crime scene including two partial prints, a shoe scuff, a drop of blood, and a fiber from a silk cloth. Beneath each item a detailed description described how the item led back to the gang. It was solid, like the handler had said. No room for doubt. It would be up to the two Agents to sell their “discovery” to Risby.
“I agree. How do you want to do this? It says here,” he flipped a few pages to Risby’s profile, “that he tends to appoint strong by-the-book agents to prominent positions but surrounds himself with advisors who know how to duck the system. He appreciates the importance of image but respects skill far more.”
“So we offer Risby one of each. Which one do you want?”
“I’ll take the rule following one. How much conflict do you think he’ll believe?”
“I think he will fall for the rebellious woman who pretends to follow her partner’s lead while complaining about him at every chance she gets. The cocky confident man tries to keep her in line and sees her as though she were an infant needing constant supervision and directions. I think I’ll dye my hair red. Risqué, but still professional. You?”
Agent 48 grinned at her, a stark contrast to his earlier professional demeaner. It caught Agent 24 off guard, which was probably his intention.
“I was thinking expensive pristine suit, black sunglasses, a bit of a Chicagoan accent, and black hair to match my eyes.”
24 glared at him.
“Focus! We only have one chance to get this right!”
“I am focusing! I meant every word I said!”
At his partner’s murderous scowl, Agent 48 backed toward the door to the back of the plane, muttering, “I’ll just, uh, go and, uh, get that set up.”
24 didn’t relax until the door was firmly shut and she heard 48 start instructing the assistants in the back to arrange for their makeovers once they landed. It had been going so well! She groaned and buried her face in her hands. At least once they made contact with Risby, Agent 48 would have to stay in character. As would she, 24 mused. She started sketching out her character.
Physical first. Red hair was a must, as was a more form-fitting suit to show off her figure. It was a way to gain attention yet at the same time distract from what she may be doing or hiding. It would be difficult to hide any weapons with an outfit like that, but Agent 24 had handled worse. She would be able to carry a gun openly thanks to their cover but she was an assassin first and foremost. Knives strapped to her forearms and just under her ribs would take care of her weapon situation perfectly.
Next was personality. She needed to be sassy when she was around 48 as part of her rebellion against conformity, but not to the point of rudeness. Gritted teeth and a low growl when she was mad would do nicely, she decided, as would a complete personality change when he was out of sight. But not too drastic, she reminded herself. Risby would not trust an emotionally unstable person with a secret as important as M. So perhaps she would just be softer and friendlier, laughing at jokes and paying for drinks. She would be a good listener and sympathizer. It was possible that if Risby’s agents were comfortable with her they might let something slip that she could use later.
Now she needed a name. Megan? Rachel? Nicole? Hmm, there was a possibility. She could shorten it to Nikki; nicknames were good for gaining trust, she knew.
Agent 48 chose that moment to reenter the room. He was back to the dead-eyed look of an experienced Agent of the Institution. 24 was relieved. Trying to prepare for an important and potentially deadly mission was hard enough without having to deal with 48’s annoying attitude.
48 glanced quickly at her scribbles and drawings, processing all of it in just a few seconds. It was well thought out and would work perfectly with the character he had in mind. He copied his fellow Agent and began to map out his own identity. Black and perfection was a must. Slightly bossy, especially with 24- no, it was Nicole now. Calling her by her nickname would be unprofessional- but an icily polite to his superiors, which in this case would be Risby. Their different parts would hopefully grant 24 access to the information that they needed. 48 would set them up, 24 would knock them down. The perfect partnership.
Now all he needed was a name. Nothing that stood out too much but memorable enough to stick in the higher-ups’ memories. He thought for a moment, his finger tapping the table as he mentally ran through a list of names. He smirked as he found the perfect name: Adrian.
He slid the paper across the table to 24 who was studying the evidence with a furrowed brow. Normally she would never have allowed her face to scrunch up like that so whatever she was thinking must be serious. When the paper entered her line of vision, she looked up with a question in her eyes. He answered her before she could ask it.
“We are partners on this mission. We need to be able to work together which means gaining each other’s approval when we can.”
She considered his words carefully, searching for any hidden meaning in them that would suggest his roguish attitude was behind it but came up with nothing. She took the paper and read through 48’s proposed identity. She had to admit that he had done well with it; it complimented her own identity perfectly. Adrian, she smirked. It was perfect.
She went back to the forensic evidence the Institution had collected. Something wasn’t adding up. How did the Institution uncover the evidence without leaving a sign that they were there? Part of the mission was to interpret what was left at the crime scene to impress Risby and maybe find anything he had missed, but some of what the Institution had described seemed to indicate that they had already taken the evidence to study it.
She shrugged. It wasn’t her problem. The Institution said that the evidence would be at the crime scene, so it would be. She wasn’t familiar enough with the other branches to know how advanced they were in their technology. It was perfectly reasonable to assume that they had managed to record the evidence without disturbing anything.
The plane landed in New York right on schedule. The man who 48 had contacted was waiting for them as they came out of the private landing bay. He ushered them into his nearby car and they set off. A few hours later and the two Agents were brand new people, identification and all. 24 studied herself in the mirror, studying her image for any oversights, anything that might give her away. There was nothing. She looked over at 48 who nodded. They were ready.