Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 16

“I didn’t do anything.” Ismael screamed again. “I want my lawyer.” His desperation could be heard from afar but alas! It wasn’t going to be answered. “Get me-”

“You look good” Asfand mused upon his bewildered expressions when he entered his isolation cell. His condition in the moment reminded Asfand of a phrase .

Like a lamb to the slaughter.

Ismael invited doom by his very own hands. But the fool didn’t learn the lesson yet. He still tried to reach for the end that intended to finish him instead of saving. Asfand felt bad but what could he do. In this world, only one rule was followed. Survival of the fittest.

“What are you doing here?” Asfand scoffed at his wariness and looked around.

“Is this what you should be asking the one who came to ask of your well-being?” Ismael fumed silently. “How is your stay? Comfortable?”

“Are you here to mock me?” Asfand’s smirk was salt to his wounds.

“Tell me something Ismael” Asfand walked around him leisurely. “How much your loyalty means for my uncle? Did he come to meet you? I’m sure he is on his way to get you out of here. After all, you always did everything he asked you.” His shoulders slumped in defeat and head bowed in shame.

What does loyalty get a person in the end? Betrayal.

“In a day or two, you are being shifted to Mach Jail. I’m sure you know what kind of place that is. And I’m sure you would rather die a quick death than be there. Right?” Asfand could tell his words were sinking. That sheen of sweat on his forehead was clear answer. “If you think a so-called vow will make Afroz Sherzai come save you” Asfand towered over him. “You will be disappointed. It’s Sherzai we are talking about and they are worse than snakes.”

“I don’t want to go to that place Asfandyar.” Ismael knelt before him. “Get me out of here and I swear I will stay loyal to you. I know what you want and I will help you get it. But please, get me out of here. Help me escape. Please! Save me.”

“You want me to save you?” Ismael nodded furiously. “Why should I do that?”

“Because you are the only one government won’t mess with. I know your power. I know why all of them want you on their side. But I know what you want and I have everything that can help-”

“What’s the surety?” Asfand jerked him back roughly when he tried to cling to his leg. “That you won’t crawl back in the same hole? You people lack the word dignity down to your very core.”

“I won’t. They won’t let me live in first place now that they know what I did. And I don’t want to die at Saeen or Russian’s hand. You name it.” Asfand looked down at him skeptically. “Whatever you want. Whatever that will make you believe.”

“If you insist” Asfand signaled his lawyer who opened a file before Ismael. “You are a very important key for them Ismael. A key that unlocks the door they use for their black business around the world.” He watched Ismael read through clauses with wide eyes. “I want you to give me that key.” He smirked when Ismael looked at him. “Transfer your shares in Globaviations as well as other business to my name.”

“What are you saying?” Ismael screamed in anger. “I just own five perce-”

“You do?” Asfand sneered in return. “You think I am a fool Ismael Malik? You own twenty percent of Globaviations. It was just a ruse you people used that time to lure Feroze Rahija in your trap. But I am no fool. I am a Sherzai. That deception runs in my blood too Malik. Don’t forget that.”

“But” Ismael yielded. “What will you do of those twenty percent? It won’t give you complete control.” Asfand just scoffed at this. “And what will I do if I give you everything-”

“You have enough black money round the globe Malik. Don’t give me that shit and don’t waste my time. Either sign it or suffer your fate. You already know what I am talking about, don’t you?” Asfand chuckled lowly. “The deadly remains of a pending sin came back to claim your souls. Why not grab the chance and run while you still can.”

“You know who she is?” Ismael frowned at his relaxed attitude. “She poses a threat to you as well. Then why are you-”

“Why not worry about your own neck Malik?” Asfand intervened calmly. “Do we have a deal?” Time was ticking fast and Ismael knew it. He knew something of the sort was bound to happen. It was not that he trusted Asfandyar. But he also knew what his so-called nemesis will do if they even helped him out. He betrayed them and they won’t let it slip. He wanted to be out of here at any cost. Because he knew.

It was for revenge once again. But this time, it will be more than just revenge.

Ismael always knew it. His intuition was never wrong. He tried but no one listened. Now everyone will pay the price. Not even a day had passed and those people shook their world to its core.

She shook them without even trying.

He saw the quietus in her smile. She was no longer the small girl cowering in fear. He saw the fear she became over time.

Dua Feroze Rahija.

She was back.

“You own everything now.” This was for the best. At least for him. “Including my life.” He looked at Asfand after giving the file to his lawyer. “Just get me out of here.”

“For being my equity, you sure have a lot to demand.” Asfand walked past him to get out of his cell. “Be ready when the time comes.”

**********

“Good morning ma’am” Her new assistance, Iram rushed forward when Dua stepped on her floor with Xian. “You have three meetings scheduled for today.” Iram began briefing her immediately. “And Mr. Javed of Silver Steels called an-”

“What’s your name?”Here it comes. Xian looked at pale-faced Iram. The way she was trembling under Dua’s gaze, he was sure she was going to pass out any moment.

“I-Iram” Dua’s brow shot up at her stuttering.

“I-Iram or just Iram?”

“Just Iram. I mean, I am Iram.” Embarrassment took over her when she looked at Dua’s expressions. I am done for. “I’m sorry ma’am.”

“Is this your first job?” Iram nodded. “Well Iram, I don’t have time and patience to teach you. You seem like a hard worker but I prefer to work smartly. If I have not said anything about Silver Steels in last three days, you should be able to understand. In plain words, I am not interested.” Iram nodded again furiously. “You should stop wasting time dictating things that are complete waste of my time. Am I clear?” Iram nodded again. “And I prefer people who use their mouths to answer me. I would have hired animals otherwise.”

“I’m sorry ma’am.”

“Extend your vocabulary Ms. Iram. I don’t like this word ‘sorry’.” It was bound to happen. If Iram was to work for Dua, she will have to brace herself for whatever will be thrown at her. She might have gotten this job based on her academic credentials but she was far from what Dua needed. “Do you know any good florists?” Dua’s question threw Iram off guard.

“Yes ma’am.” Her answer sounded more like a question. Especially when a smile appeared on her boss’s face. It was beautiful but Iram could see the danger and darkness lurking behind it.

“Arrange as many funeral garlands as possible.” Dua didn’t wait for her reply and went inside her office with Xian. “Did you check her background?”

“She is clear.” Dua went to her table and leaned against it. “She was hired because she met your criteria.”

“Did you see her reaction to the word funeral?” She turned the file he placed for her and opened it. “Be sure, just in case. I don’t want that girl to mess up in anyway.” Xian waited for her to get done with the papers. Her phone was ringing continuously but Dua made no attempt to pick it even after checking the i.d. Xian sighed again at how certain things were turning up.

Especially the fiancé of his boss.

Sarim was a nice man but he was not the man Dua needed. Xian highly doubt Dua will go through wedding if Sarim and his mother kept this demanding and nosy attitude. He knew why Dua agreed but he also knew she won’t be able to keep up with their conservative approach and mind-set. Even after knowing and being told by Shahs, those mother and son were negating her privacy, freedom and space.

And that was something D. Almas Sahi never tolerated.

“When is Mikhailov coming?” She closed the file after signing it.

“Tonight” She leaned back with a hum. Satisfactory. She was very pleased with how smooth things were flowing so far. Ismael didn’t prove himself to be that much of a challenge. But that didn’t mean she could ease up on the game.

They recognized her.

She knew it very well but she was sure none of them will do anything. Unless Sherzai asked them to. They didn’t have any proof nor the backbone. And even if they dared to take any action, all those cases will reopen. And they would rather watch her live than let their truth come in front of the whole world.

“Aya is ready.” Xian went to the glass wall facing north of her office when she stood up straight. Dua watched him palm one of the blocks. Red light scanned the print of his hand and the first of the seven doors opened. Another scan for the eye and second opened. The process repeated four times more and the final door opened to an elevator.

Dua watched the high-tech titanium cabin for a few seconds before walking inside it. Xian entered after her and pressed a titanium card to the digital control panel.

Welcome Mr. Xian Cheng. A voice greeted and the doors closed in the exact same pattern they opened.

“Is this detectable?” Dua inquired while looking at the numbers.

“No. The plan of the whole building possess movable blocks in between and the material used for overall construction is highly resistant towards any kind of detectors and trackers. If the system breached, it will self-annihilate within fifteen seconds.” Dua nodded and stepped out once the door opened.

The whole segment was constructed twenty feet underground, based on advanced technology. From the doors to the very walls that contained them. This underground den was Dua’s biggest investment and most valuable one as well.

But what made this tech-base her ace was what lied within the glass room at the end.

Her ultimate destination and those people’s doom.

“Is it ready?” She stopped outside the door. A long table with six chairs. That’s all the four glass walls contained. But only for the onlooker.

“Yes.” A small smile appeared on her lips and she palmed the door that came to life with her touch.

Welcome Ms. D. Sahi! A computerized voice greeted her and the door opened. Dua walked inside and went to the head chair.

A hobby it was for her. To experiment with technology which gave birth to biggest power one could have. And Dua saw its trailer on her engagement. Aya came short after and with a slight nod towards Dua, she sat opposite Xian.

“A lot of questions must be disturbing you but if you are sitting here with us, you don’t need to ponder over them.” Dua leaned in her seat and turned it to left. “Do you know why this company is named i-9ine?” Aya looked towards Xian. “Because of this place. What lie above is just a facade. A camouflage. This is the real deal.” She stood up and circled the table. “Ever heard of third eye? The one capable of looking into future?”

Aya was puzzled by Dua’s riddles. She only knew one side of things because Dua was not ready to let her on the other side yet. But today, when Xian told her to come and use that titanium card, she felt one step closer to whole truth. What she didn’t expect, this high-tech base which was right before everyone’s eyes but no one was able to see it.

“Ayn! Who is Aya Sato?” Aya sat up straight with wide eyes when the most intimate data about her appeared on four walls around them. She couldn’t believe her eyes and ears. Her files were strictly confidential and no system in the world could breach them.

“We have something like a third eye. But there is a difference. We can see in past as well as hack most confidential and strong systems in the world. But that is not all. We can predict future as well. And you know what the accuracy is?” Dua smiled at her bewildered expressions. “95%.” Aya couldn’t believe her ears. “We can control, trace and find things, people and information that are supposed not to exist. There is nothing that can stay hidden from our third eye. It possess nine times the intelligence than world’s most powerful surveillance systems. And it’s not the end Aya.” Dua sat back in her seat and turned towards her. “Don’t you want to know how your mission failed?”

Aya wanted to know it. She always wanted to know who that mole was which led to the death of her fellow comrades. Assassin or not, she respected and looked up to every one of them and she wanted know who was responsible for taking their lives.

“Ayn! Tell us about the underground operation on Mikhailov two years ago in Ukraine.”

The Black Lotus project was coined by Cabinet Intelligence to unveil the underground live auction market of Mikhailov Romano. He is one of the biggest Russian cartel around the world, dealing in weapon and human trafficking. The mission was collaborative between Japan and Germany. Eight highly trained agents including their heads were assigned for Black Lotus. On July 18, 2016, three agents infiltrated Mikhailov’s underground hub. Their job at time was to monitor the activity and gather as much Intel as they could.

“Who was supervising the project Black Lotus?”

The project was supervised by Director General Eiji Jo

Dua looked at Aya in silence. Black Lotus was a badge of special service task force that needed nameless and faceless identities. Only cabinet held records of its existence that were strictly confidential and highly inaccessible.

“Get me the list of agents involved in Black Lotus?”

Director General Eiji Jo with team Kei Moriyama, Ren Nakahara and Aya Sato. Head Director Hans Bauer with team Lukas Kraus, Nadine Jaeger, Stefan Lang and Uwe Becker.

Aya looked at Dua with thundering heart. They were not supposed to exist yet this woman knew the very core of their existence.

“How did mission fail?” Dua leaned in her seat again.

Breach from the inside. By Director General Eiji Jo and Lukas Kraus. On December 22, 2016, Lukas killed three of his comrades-Nadine Jaeger, Kei Moriyama and Stefan Lang on his command. They sold the information to Mikhailov who ambushed the main headquarters of Black Lotus in Serbia.

“Enough!” Aya slammed her palms on the table and breathed harshly. “It doesn’t matter. They all are dead.” Dua’s brow rose skeptically at this. “I killed them before I let myself be caught by Mikhailov. You already know that, don’t you?”

“You wanted to complete the mission with his death. You were just bidding for the right time” Dua chuckled lowly. “Unfortunately, they kept you too sedated. They knew what potential threat you could end up as.”

“Now you know everything. Do you still find me contentious?”

“It’s not you but why you want to work for me?” Dua countered calmly. “What’s your reason? It’s death we are trading both ways. Why plunge yourself with a sinking ship you boarded without knowing?”

“I don’t care either ways.” Xian looked towards Dua. Her expressions were neutral and her eyes blank while listening to Aya. “I want to see-”

“See what?” Dua interjected calmly. “The outcome? The extent of danger? Or the limits of insanity?”

“Diminution of your resolve” Aya looked Dua directly in the eye. “I want to see to what limit you can go?”

“My limits have no curtailment.” Dua smiled darkly. “Do you still want to descent in the unknown?” Dua tilted her head to side. “Even if it means painting your hands with blood on my call? When you don’t even know whom you are killing?”

“Yes.” She was an assassin alright.

“And working with one whom you wanted to kill?” Aya looked at her in confusion. “Mikhailov is working for me.” Aya was stunned to silence once again. This woman got that formidable mafia bent on his knees? “Does it change everything now?”

“No.” Dua mused upon the promise her eyes held and it was enough.

“Know one thing Aya.” Dua twisted the ring on her finger slowly. “This kingdom is mine. I’m always watching. So, don’t dare to double cross me. You won’t want to know what it could lead to.”

“I don’t intend to Ms. Sahi.” Dua watched the golden shuriken she placed in front of her. It had engravings in her native language with a black satin ribbon tied to one end. “To honor until I stand.”

“We have a funeral to arrange and attend.” Aya stood up abruptly. “I don’t want the deceased to go without a proper felicitation. After all” Dua watched the ring on her index finger. “He deserve to be treated the same way. If any, better than what he gave.”

**********

Asfand closed the file and faced Safan. How much dirt will I need to clean? He was getting aggravated by everything these days. More than necessary. Well! For what’s it worth is.

“I don’t want any mistake Safan. End it as cleanly as possible.” Asfand got up and buttoned his suit jacket.

“Have you thought it through?” Asfand looked at Safan while adjusting his cuff-links. “Won’t they get suspicious of you? Your uncle-”

“I don’t care. It’s not like they can do something against me even if they found out I own Malik’s business now.” Safan watched him silently. “What?”

“This is not how you originally planned to do things. It’s suicide.” Asfand just walked past him to leave. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Now your decisions will be made according to a woman? Have you forgotten completely? Of why you are-”

“Shut up!” Asfand whipped with his gun pointed towards Safan. There was blood in his eyes mixed with many other things. Hatred, bitterness, resentment and betrayal. “Don’t even fucking dare to belittle me you bastard. Asfandyar will never bow to anyone, especially that gender. So stay in your fucking limits and don’t tell me what and how I should be doing things.” Safan just lowered his eyes with a nod.

“That woman is just a requisition I need to fulfill along with many. Nothing more, nothing less. I haven’t forgotten” He spat acridly and put his gun back in holster. “Asfandyar never forgets anything Safan. I remember everything. She has a lot to pay too and she will pay back with heavy interest. But before that, I will make sure to get full taste of that exquisite fruit.”

“She is your wife” Asfand stopped midway again. His heart thundered wildly when he heard that word. “Whatever the reason, you cannot-”

“When did I deny it Safan? She is my wife yet she is preparing to get married to someone else. She bears my name yet she is looking forward to attach hers with someone else. How should that make a full-blooded man like me feel? His wife preparing to be someone else’s in every fucking way possible?” Safan pursed his lips. “Like I said, Dua needs to pay a lot and I don’t leave anything unfinished.”

“Don’t be too rash in your decisions. You might need her in long run.” Asfand didn’t stop to answer and left. He had far more important matters to deal with right now and he needed to get done with them before her marriage.

“Just few more days love.” Asfand muttered inaudibly while looking at his phone. He walked out of the elevator swiftly and went straight to his Lexus LX-570. “I assure you, you will be where you should have always been.”

**********

Ismael watched the militants enter his cell. They were relocating him to Mach Jail today. He got up silently and was handcuffed. He was walked out under high sentinel and with strict surveillance. His companions made no move or took action but government knew they couldn’t take their withdrawal lightly. They will try something. They knew if he opened his mouth, all of them will be done for. And to avoid losing such a vital piece, the government needed to keep Ismael out of their reach.

His heart pounded in his chest when the containment van came in his line of vision. Ismael watched the pitch black sky above him. They were clever in planning his deploy under the dark veil of night. He was sure no one knew he was going to be moved tonight.

“Get in” Ismael looked at the officer who nudged him forward. He scanned the area once again but there were no signs of any activity. The air was too still and silent. Ismael got in the van and looked out when it left the premises of military confinement. The empty road was soon surrounded by thick forest on either side.

His frown deepened when the path became curvier and cavernous within the forest. He couldn’t see one thing outside except headlights and tail-lights of the vehicles. Four military jeeps were ahead and three military trucks were behind his containment van.

Ismael sat with hunched shoulders. So they are taking a detour from the main route. He was having all kinds of thoughts right now. He knew he was rash in making that decision. Asfandyar didn’t make any contact with him after that day. He didn’t think through before naming his assets to that wolf. How can he believe Asfandyar will help him? That man was not even true-blue to his own blood. He was cold-blooded and ruthless beyond explanation. The one who can kill his own kin can never become someone else’s.

Did I make a mistake?

Ismael was jerked out of the web of his mind when he heard the screeching of tires and the vehicles stopped abruptly. He looked out but there was no sign of life around them. He heard the officers but all he could pick on was how their systems were jammed and the vehicles were not starting.

“Try contacting the headquarters” one of them ordered. “Keep a lookout for things. Stand on your guard.” A flicker of hope rose within Ismael and he looked in the thick vegetation buoyantly. Maybe he judged Asfandyar wrong. Maybe he was not that unrelenting. His heart was filling up with every kind of positivity.

In his merriment to freedom, he didn’t notice the fetter of death around him.

When Ismael came back from his high, he noticed the silence. His captors were not passing hushed argument around. Their vehicles were still standing on the same spot but the activity was not same anymore. A chill ran up his spine and he crawled towards the door. With shaking hands, Ismael reached for the handle. He was sure it was still locked. They were still standing outside but his mind was screaming at him of the danger waiting outside. He knew he should have stayed inside.

But when death knocks at door, even the wisest lose the ability to comprehend right and wrong.

A small push and the door opened with creaking sound. There was no one around. And that’s when his doubts became concrete. He got out of the van warily and looked around. Almost hundred plus officers were ordered to escort him and yet not a single one of them was in sight. He couldn’t decide whether to take it positively or in negative light. If Asfandyar upheld their bargain, he was to help him get out of the country. Then why was he still here?

Alone and in the middle of nowhere.

Ismael broke into a sprint. Something was wrong. He could feel it. Ismael could feel it in every cell of his body that was alerting him against the lurking danger. He stumbled and fell on his path but didn’t stop. His hands were tied and he could do nothing but run blindly in a place he had no idea of.

Death was behind him. Death was around him.

He was trying to outrun it but he could never outsmart it.

Ismael came in an opening amidst the thick forest and stopped when his age became hindrance to his escape. His hands shot to his face when lights flooded the small space, turning him blind against everything.

“Who’s there?” Ismael looked around wildly but not even a leaf rustled in answer. “Just come out or-”

“Or what?”

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