“...weeks of fighting the conflict in Uzbekistan has ceased between Germany and Russia once both parties settled on the following terms: an increase in 3,2% in the share of profits from the iron mining operations, a reduction in 1,4% on import taxes and a 5,8% increase in the quantity of ore permitted to be extracted to the Germans. According to the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the actions of various companies from all sectors of the economy - including conglomerates such as the Schenker Bergbau-Dienstleistungen, the Volkskraftwagen Unternehmen and the Arndt Rüstungsindustrie, among others - have risen up to 400 points due to this outcome which has piqued the interest of investors and entrepreneurs. The German Prime Minister, Heinrich Gröbel (37), has released a statement saying, ‘The newest acquisition of such important natural resources has further strengthened the position of the German people among the elite of the world of tomorrow and our allies can rest easy knowing we are more than capable of maintaining our position’. Despite climbing two spots in the rankings of the World Economy Congress - WEC - Germany still fell short of achieving their goal of reaching the Top 5 by the end of the decade as promised by the Minister.
Following the conclusion of the conflict, the Russian President - Nikolai Tcherkassky (54) - faced strong public backlash from the people of Russia and members of the Chiefs of Staff who fear the increasingly more bellic German actions against their Nation as an omen of a possible retelling of the tragedies from World War II committed nearly 150 years ago. While the President hasn’t commented if there are palpable threats from European powers on Russian soil, he has been heard to claim not fearing the, ‘barking of a brash kid on the saddle of a Nation with strong history’. However, when the President was questioned about said claims he denied having uttered those words, citing ‘misquotation’. While Russia hasn’t seen any significant changes in their position among the WEC, this unfavorable turn of events has casted a shadow of doubt onto the government’s efficacy by the various political and economic groups in and outside of Russia, generating great tension in their relations both foreign and domestic.
As a closing note: with the termination of this conflict there are only four more Top 10 WEC nations currently conducting military operations in Uzbekistan, the total number of conflicts between armed forces within the Uzbek lands has reached only 18 as of this broadcast.
In other news, the recruiting stations for the imminent war in Brunei are still open for the next 15 hours all over the country. All the citizens eager to join are urged to apply with haste since the armed forces are expected to depart within the next--”
The almost robotic male voice, emanating from the bright holoscreen projected on the wall went completely silent just as suddenly as it started blaring. It makes the dimly lit room return to a nearly eerie state of quietude. Although, such silence did not continue for long. An almost empty glass of fine whiskey is pulled away from a full pair of lips by a smooth and rather petite hand; clad in a leather glove. The other pair is worn on the opposite hand, which makes its way to a ringing earpiece tucked in the ear of a woman standing in the dark.
“Contract status: concluded.”
A sultry, yet rather harsh, dull voice resonates in the empty room. The mouth which produced such a clear and strong voice belongs to a beautifully slender, quite tall and a bit pale female. With over 170 centimeters in height and smooth curves, she boasts an impeccable body, her upright back helping increment her imposing figure. Humans from both genders would find plenty in her to appreciate, if only they managed to avoid her blue, poignant eye.
Eyes. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul, she always grinned when facing the amusing thought that perhaps no one would be able to tell if she has one. Considering that a black cloth covers the right window and few people dare peek into the other.
“Will the transfer be on schedule?”
She raises her forearm to the front of her chest, 5:38 is what the silver arms on her wristwatch indicated against the black face. Most would find unusual the use of analog technology in this day and age but few can deny that such antique items have a charm of their own.
Having confirmed the time and nodding at the response coming from the other side of the line, she reaches for the pack of Kool cigarettes on her counter. Wishing for a drag of calm when dealing with business. To her dismay she notices it is empty, making her draw an annoyed grunt. There's nothing else to be done other than throwing the pack in the trash. Was the last one too, which only helped to aggravate her more. She should’ve stocked more before traveling.
“A new contract so soon? Market has been heated these last few days.”
Once the pack was disposed of she quietly steps towards the wall, her bare feet feeling the mild coolness from the wooden floor. Upon reaching the wall, she moves her hand over a sensor which makes it transition from an opaque, flat surface to allowing thin slits of light penetrate her sanctum. Nanofiber blinds; very efficient. While lighting wasn’t the goal, it's more than enough to make her eyes squint a bit due to her being shrouded in darkness for long. It allows the woman to ascertain her surroundings without unnecessary exposure, which was her desire. Quiet. It's very quiet. Is that a sign of troubling events to come or just a sense of security?
“An outside employer? That’s atypical. What is his company?”
Such unexpected news makes her turn away from the blinds, albeit masking the tone of surprise in her voice. With a frown across her brow, she sinks in thought. The narrow lines of light now bathe her perfectly kept, short; very light blonde hair and body in an orange tinge. It also makes her red linen shirt, along with her black business pants appear striped. Not a very lady-like outfit, one wouldn’t expect such a formal wear from this sort of gorgeous sight to behold. But not when it comes to her, her work demands the utmost respect. And she makes sure she’s dressed up to par. Between the clothes and the clear speech, if one was to walk in on her one would think she’d hold a very respectable position in the most important of corporations.
Her position; however, is not one of paperwork.
“Oh? Interesting. And he came to you?”
Coming to the conclusion that this call pertains to matters beyond of what is ordinary, she walks over to her white leather sofa; taking a seat for no particular reason other than she prefers to remain seated when hearing peculiar pieces of information. Setting down her glass on the coffee table immediately in front of her, she leans back against the sofa and crosses her legs, paying attention to every word reaching her ear.
The only remarkable thing about where she calls home is its occupant; otherwise it is a very simple and streamlined, yet fairly spacious apartment. Functional, and not in the least bit extravagant, furniture fills the rooms. Only pieces of decoration such as plants, frames and miscellaneous memorabilia give out any air of personality. Although, it all feels as if they were purchased without any real thought put into them or if they were adorning the room since the dawn of time. That is unlike the clearly expensive surround audio system and the extensive catalog of worn CDs near it. Coltrane; Davis; McLaughlin; Evans, to name a few. The old Village Vanguard would’ve been jealous of such a collection. Indeed, such things do have some charm. Curiously, the clear absence of any photographs would give the impression that her past was nonexistent.
As long as it is reliable she couldn’t care less about luxury, despite some of her occasional company thinking otherwise and constantly nagging her for it.
Perhaps that is why she hardly has anyone over, or perhaps she enjoys having her residence untouched?
“Requested my services? Did he mention what for?”
The word “interesting” is what frequently flashes her mind; the frowning slowly recedes and steps down to allow for a sly smirk. This is turning out to be a fun evening.
“Understood, I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
“Been back for less than a day and you already have work?”
Just as she hangs up, a second voice is heard in the residence. It is a soft voice, spoken behind our smiling blonde beauty. That new sound is a bit sudden, so the smirk quickly vanishes. She turns her head to look at the person who made the inquiry. It is a beautiful brunette woman, with a curvy hourglass figure and a sizable cleavage. Her face is rather thin, which her wavy hair frames nicely. The lips are full and covered in gloss. Shorter in stature and with a longer hair she looks rather sleepy yet, even with the slightly heavy eyes, any man that looked at her would think she’s beautiful. Especially now since all she is wearing are velvet, laced panties.
“You should know by now that I don’t spend a lot of time in one place.”
Despite staring at a beautiful woman her voice keeps its naturally dull tone and even her eye doesn’t seem to glitter. The rather snarky reply would’ve made a stranger contort their lips and think of her as rude. However, all she manages to do is cause the woman to giggle.
“Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to keep you all to myself for a little while longer, Kat.”
The clearly flirtatious tone is enough to make Kat close her eye and take her hand to her face in order to rub it. Turns out that is a good move, considering the woman couldn’t stop herself from cracking a grin at that sentence. While Kat is busy regaining composure, the nearly naked woman slips back into her basic black dress which adjusts well to her body, revealing her smooth and enticing legs. Once the dress is in place, her black heels follow suit.
“Here you go, help yourself out Carla.”
Kat opens her eye and stares straight ahead, only having her right arm reach out to the side with cash between her index and middle fingers. Carla walks over to Kat to receive her payment, the sounds of her heels echoes with every step taken. She quickly considers giving Kat a soft kiss on her cheek as teasing, but refrains from doing so. Kat seems to be more tense than usual. Carla takes her money and heads for the front door, turning around to face Kat before taking her leave.
“See you around, love.”
After sending off a goodbye kiss and a quick wink Carla steps out and closes the door behind her. Once that worry has left the building Kat couldn’t help but let out a sigh. Her mind recaps the contents of the call that ended not long ago. Many questions and possibilities fill her head. Although, without concrete evidence and sufficient information, she decides it’s best to not give it too much thought. At least not for the next hour.
Kat takes another look at her wristwatch, 5:46. She reckons old man Frank would still be open, and there would be plenty of time left afterwards to go to the meeting. Decided, she quickly gets off the couch and heads for the door, putting the black heel less boots on. And in a single, swift motion she takes her black overcoat from the hanger next to the entrance, puts it on and leaves.
It’s a 28 floor descent until the elevator reaches the lobby, a travel that does not take long. Its large and half-circle shaped chromed door slides open in order to let the passenger leave. Once stepping out without haste, she immediately takes a right turn and walks down the hallway, which is ten meters in width. The floor is made out of beautiful black and white granite with the pattern of a slightly tilted chessboard. The walls have black granite that go up about two meters off the ground before giving way to concrete neatly painted in white. The walls are adorned with a few large paintings to make the lobby feel cozier. She always thought this look was an interesting contrast to the very high-tech elevator and security desk to the right, near the building’s doors where the concierge sits.
As she heads for the door, she is greeted by the concierge who lets out a lighthearted “Good evening, Ms. Sloan” with a smile on his face. Sloan politely greets him back and opens one of the large double doors that leads to the streets, stepping onto the sidewalk.
A wall of grimy, decaying constructions that clearly haven’t been well maintained for many years fills Sloan’s line of sight. Buildings no less than 50-stories high stretch before her as far as the eye can see. It is all neatly arranged in straight roads, with perfect 90 degree-angle intersections. So as to not impede movement within such a surgical disposition, alleyways were left sporadically for pedestrian traffic; however they are mostly used for disposal of bodies, unwanted objects and waste as they gathered all the filth and putrid aspects of the metropolis. At times not even the homeless could be found in such places. That, of course, was unlike the impeccable state of the large highways, where hovercars quietly and swiftly glide through the air, defying gravity due to the metal and carbon beams that generated an electro-magnetic field and ran the full extension of every road. Maglines.
She takes a left and starts to walk down the 19W Ave. of Area 22. Called so because it's the 19th avenue which heads West and the entire city was divided into equal Areas. Hers being the 22nd. Each providing their own basic services for the populous of the Area such as schools, hospitals, markets, etc. Frequently, the Areas would have unique and distinct sets of goods, which was a strategy developed by the companies to stimulate purchase and the use of public services. That funneled even more income to the corporation-backed government. If a person wanted a specific item they’d need to travel to a certain Area of the city in order to acquire it and, if they didn’t have their own hovercar, they’d need to use public transportation. There even has been a rumor of a supposed establishment of tolls for private vehicles in order to traverse from Area to Area. They were practically their own city-states, only without self-government. Surgical indeed.
The sun is already being blocked by the architecture of man so the illumination is provided by the public light poles that run on solar energy panels, shame that they weren’t very profitable so half flicker while the other half is dim. That would have made getting around at night more difficult, but thankfully the neon; holographic displays and LEDs from residences and businesses provide some clarity. Sloan continues to walk the street with no rush, paying no mind to the frequent beggars, the smelly sleeping hobos or the few fistfights and lifeless bodies that dot almost every alley.
After ten minutes of walking in the increasingly chilly city, she takes a left into one of the alleys. Heading about 50 meters through it and then stopping next to a rugged steel door. Sloan knocks on it once, waits a bit and knocks two extra times more quickly. The sound of her fist hitting the door generates quite a loud bang. With the correct knock done, a horn on the wall buzzes and she turns the knob, entering the building.
It’s a cramped store, with many glass shelves packed with various objects from guns to knives, watches and jewelry. Pieces of paper ranging from simple corporate documents to passports. None of the items have any price tags on them; it is all done on barter and trust. This is your friendly neighborhood black market. And it’s surprisingly well lit, considering.
“Oh, if it isn’t the Major!”
A very overweight middle-aged man is standing, probably on a stool, behind the counter. His face is round and with puffy, rosy cheeks from constant binge drinking or maybe is just for the pleasure of tasting alcohol. The large, crooked nose supports well-worn square glasses that helps his piercing grey eyes to see. On his large body he wears a yellow work-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, revealing his hairy forearms, accompanied by grey pants with suspenders. The shine on his head from him going bald completes the look.
“I told you to stop calling me Major, Frank. You know I’m not in service anymore.”
“My apologies, it’s just a force of habit... Even though, it doesn’t help me one bit if you still wear that.”
He points to the stainless steel dog tags hanging on her neck, shining rather brightly under the light, giving an impression that they were brand new or very well kept. Sloan instinctively gets a hold of them and tucks it beneath the white tank top she frequently uses under her linen shirt.
“Although I’d love for it to happen, you can’t easily forget sixteen years of service. After all, you should know.”
She lets out a smirk as she glares at the tags on his neck, to which Frank chuckles and puffs his chest in pride. Bumping his fist over the metal.
“On that you are spot on. So, what can I do for you tonight, Kat?”
Frank Delano, former Ranger Staff Sergeant and now black marketer. He fought in countless campaigns across Africa and South America, took a bullet during the Colombian drug cartel thing back in ’67 and came home for recovery. Met his current wife, Denise, when he got a weekend pass to leave the hospital and visit the city and fell in love. Two weeks later he returned to Colombia, but not before he promised to be there for her as soon as possible and marry her. So, understandably, good old Frank didn’t want to stay in the damn jungle.
As soon as he returned to service, he was caught running bets with tempered dies so he could fork enough cash to go home AWOL. The punishment he received was cleaning the latrines for 10 days. To get back at the Colonel who issued said order, he pissed in his boots, stole the Colonel’s favorite uniform and used it as a mop to clean the filth from the soldiers.
Needless to say, he was dishonorably discharged for disorder, misconduct, ignoring orders and disrespect to a superior officer. And he was proud of that.
Surprisingly, he didn’t get any jail time because his cousin was Vice-President of the Wilkinson & Sons Arms Manufacturer and had plenty of contacts in the Pentagon and the higher-ups of the military. With the help of said cousin, he managed to obtain a lot of weaponry and various “hard-to-get” goods in order to set up shop as an “illegal items re-seller”. While Frank is a black marketer, he isn’t like most of the bastards known to supply top of the line armament to scumbags, he only deals with people he trusts. And when you are friends with someone that can get anything – you have a very long menu to choose from.
“For now: Kools. I’m all out. How many you got?”
“Right now I got about five packs.”
“Alright, I’ll take it.”
“That’ll be six hundred.”
“Six hundred credits?! You kidding me, mate? Last month was four hundred!”
Sloan looks at the old man surprised and angered, her voice isn’t as correct and professional as before. She lets out a slight bit of Bristol accent, which clearly conveys her frustration before she manages to recollect herself. The sudden outburst makes Frank jump in fright and raise his hands to his face as if trying to block a punch.
“Didn’t you hear about the Brazil situation three days ago? Tobacco’s gone up! But I can do it for five hundred just for you!”
Due to the fact that countries war each other constantly for every bit of resource and market share, it makes stock prices and the value of commodities fluctuate very rapidly. Items that one day costs 20 credits, the next could cost 12 or 40, making it extremely difficult to predict or have stable prices. While it generally helps companies by letting them boost prices of their products easily through a quick war, it negates the ability of consumer to hold off on purchasing things since they do not know how much things will cost in 24 hours. Forcing the populous to have the mindset of a citizen who lives in a country where high inflation is your mistress. Yet another way to stimulate the market.
“No, I wasn’t on that contract... I’ll have one of them now then. You can send the rest to my place.”
Sloan sighs when hearing the news of an increase in price but accepts it. Frank opens one of his drawers, takes out a blue cigarette pack and sets it on the counter. She quickly grabs the pack, opens it and taps the bottom to have a cigarette jump out. Sloan takes it and puts it in her mouth, then slides her hand to her pocket to pull out a polished brass, old Zippo lighter. It has beautifully engraved branches over its borders and the words “I Have Become Their Target For Revenge” also engraved from the top to the bottom of the lighter. She opens the top and lights her cigarette, taking a long drag before putting the Zippo away, closing her eye while exhaling. All the while looking very pleased and relaxed.
“Why do you keep smoking that old crap anyway? You wouldn’t even need to come here if it wasn’t for those.”
“Well... maybe when I retire I’ll be able to pursue a career as a Jazz singer. I hear these are good for the voice.”
She smiles and stares at Frank who just disregards what she said as silly, waving his hand at her and looking away. Sloan can’t help but giggle a bit at the reaction of the old man. Does not take long before he returns his sharp gaze to her face.
“You got more work, don’t you?”
“Perhaps, we shall see. I’m heading to a meeting with my handler at the moment.”
Frank scratches what little remains of his hair, clearly looking frustrated; he can’t help keep things at a purely professional level anymore and speaks his mind.
“Look, kid. You don’t have to continue in this business anymore, you already have all the money you could possibly want in this world. You should enjoy the years that remain in your life in a peaceful manner, the way Andy would’ve wanted – ”
“Don’t talk about peace when you speak that name, Frank. Peace hasn’t been with me for a long time because of it.”
She speaks with a cold, calm and threatening voice. Her emotionless eye gazing right into Frank’s and he shudders. A cold chill running down his spine, which quiets him with haste. He swallows his spit, which to him feels like sand scratching his throat as he thinks of what to say next.
The mentioning of the name Andrew, regardless of it being a diminutive, causes Sloan’s right shoulder to ache. The immediate reaction would be to take one’s hand to it and rub it, but she refrains from doing so, deciding to endure it instead. The only cue she displays is the slight squinting of her eyes, which Frank does notice. Although, he decides not to instigate the possible wrath of the woman in front of him. Once he recollects himself, he decides to avoid the subject altogether, as he has the distinct feeling that it could, very likely, get him killed.
“Is there anything else? My doors are always open for you.”
“Not for now Frank, I still need to assess the situation. I’ll let you know if I require anything. I’ll be going now, stay safe.”
“Any time, Katherine. Any time.”
Frank has a troubled expression on his face as Sloan turns her back on him to head out the door. It’s an expression that reads “poor child”, however he knows that he should not belittle her so he shakes his head. He recalls the fact that all the events that happened in her life were the reason she became the woman she is today. And, even though not all of them were her choice, the ones you have no control over usually are the most defining.
The heavy steel door slams shut behind Sloan as she takes another drag of her cigarette that has already been smoked halfway through. She tilts her head back and stares blankly at the cloudy night sky, reaching for her right shoulder with her left hand. Numerous memories rush her mind all at once. “Maybe I was too rude with him? Maybe.” was one of the things that surfaced; she drags her cigarette yet again and brings her head back down to look at her watch, 6:13. She still has pressing matters to attend to.
Sloan tosses her burned-through cigarette on the floor and steps on it to put it out, sliding her hands into the pockets of her overcoat. She quietly walks out of the alley back onto the sidewalk, returning to the route that leads to the building of the Armatac Security Corporation where the meeting would take place. Yet, despite all the unknowns her immediate future displays, one thing resonates in her head as she calmly goes for another smoke. “What Andrew wanted, eh?”
She lights it and drags her cigarette once more, putting the lighter away before taking the smoke out of her lips with her left hand. After debating for a little bit on that question she laughs and, as though there’s someone walking right beside her, she mutters.
“What a bad joke.“