Chapter 61:

Chapter 61 - Crimes of the Past


Morgan’s shoes were wet, but he couldn’t say why. He typically made a point of staying away from the water–especially unfamiliar water–and this town, Sebastopol, had an awful lot of that. They were nowhere near the port district, though. Too open. Better to keep to the backstreets and alleys on a job like this.

Still, the question remained: how had he gotten wet?

The kid was goggling around at just about everything. He’d never been overseas, clearly; the architecture, the street vendors–hell, even the normal, everyday clothes people were wearing–had proven to be utterly distracting to him. Morgan had little sympathy for it. It was all new to him too, after all.

“Focus up,” he commanded, shooting the kid one of his trademark stern glares. Dozens of recruits had met that glare in the past, and it always backed them down.

Not this one, though. This one was special.

And annoying.

“I’m always focused, chief,” he replied with an easy smile. The kid’s hair was slicked back as usual, and despite Morgan’s continued insistence that he shave it, he still maintained that awful fuzzy caterpillar of a mustache on his upper lip. His facial hair, taken together with his starved-looking frame, gave the impression of a teenager trying desperately to look older than he was.

His slim-fit pants and smart white dress shirt (with the sleeves rolled up, of course) hung awkwardly on his body, and the tactical vest Morgan had requisitioned for him was a mite too big. This is the last time I draft a street kid, he promised himself. Too much babysitting. Can’t even look after his own damn needs.

Morgan pulled a hunk of meat on a stick from a nearby stall and flicked the owner a copperslug.

“It’s two,” the swarthy man said, holding his hand out for more.

“Oh yeah? Foreigners pay double, is that it?”

The owner reached out and gestured to the sign below the counter. Sure enough, the sign read “two copperslugs”. Morgan grumbled to himself and fished another slug from his pocket.

“Everything’s goin’ up these days,” he complained, turning to present the kid with his exotic treat after he’d finished paying the man. “Here. I figure a little food in your belly might help your concentration.”

“Awh, chief…”

“Shut it,” Morgan said flatly. “Buy one for yourself next time. You’ve got your own slugs now, remember?”

The kid nodded sheepishly and took a bite of his mystery meat. Judging by the look on his face, it tasted good–good enough for Morgan to turn right back around and buy one of his own.

They continued on down the street with lunch in-hand, strolling idly toward their destination. Morgan wasn’t looking forward to what they’d have to do when they got there. Maybe that was why he felt so out-of-sorts. The little things were piling up, now; tiny inconsistencies that made the day seem somehow unreal. His soggy shoes, the bland taste of the streetmeat, and the odd, uncharacteristic humidity that permeated the streets of Sebastopol. He felt sweaty as hell, but his feet and forearms were plainly devoid of any moisture. Something wasn’t adding up.

He thought of sharing these thoughts with the kid but, to his horror, he found that he couldn’t. It was like he was a voice in his own head; a powerless thing that was just along for the ride. I’m here though, aren’t I? he wondered, trying to will his own hand to pinch himself.

Instead, he took another bite of meat.

His legs carried him to the door of a small, pink-painted clinic. The sight of it filled him with an overwhelming sense of dread for some reason, though he couldn’t say why. It was far from the main thoroughfare of the city’s second tier–just another small, unremarkable private practice in a city that hosted several. He knew from his intel, though, that the building was owned and operated by one of Truvelo’s foremost scientific minds; a real genius who’d had his boss’s eye for some time:

Avanit Turu.

Apparently, there was no one on the entire continent better suited to becoming the cornerstone of their operations here than this man, and it was Morgan’s job to prepare him for indoctrination. If all went well, he’d become the first unwilling participant in their plans–a perfect drone for the cause.

Morgan still wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

He picked his meat-stick clean and tossed it aside, then pulled Ricochet from the holster on his hip.

“Woah, chief… Going in a little hot, aren’t we?”

“Nothin’ else for it,” he replied, looking to the kid’s own weapon–a sleek, black handgun Luca had hooked him up with a couple weeks back. “This is a kidnappin’. We should expect resistance.”

The kid hesitated, but eventually followed his lead. “We’re not gonna ice anyone today, are we?”

“Not if this goes to plan,” he answered. “A gun’s more than a weapon, kid. It’s a deterrent. Spook folks enough and they’ll fall in line without you havin’ to fire a shot. Remember that.”

Then, without further preamble, Morgan strode up to the clinic’s front door and kicked it open.

The woman behind the front counter sprang to her feet and screamed, dropping the tea towel she’d been in the middle of crocheting. Thankfully, the waiting room was otherwise empty; nobody around to play hero or make a break for the door.

“Turu. Where is he?” he barked, hefting his gun in her direction.

“In the back! He is in the back!!” she babbled, waving toward an open doorway standing just behind the counter.

“Much obliged.”

He stormed down the back hallway with the kid in-tow, lifting his free hand to tap at the transmitter in his ear. “Target located. Ready for exfil.”

“Yes!!’ came a voice on the other end, “The RUMP’s first mission! Truly a historic moment in–”

“Shut up, Ken,” he interrupted. “Act like a damn professional for once in your life!”

“Y-Yes sir!”

Morgan muscled open the door to the clinic’s rearmost area: a small laboratory outfitted with a whole heap of modern, expensive-looking equipment. In the middle of it all stood a stubble-chinned Truvelan man in a lab coat. He looked surprised at the intrusion, but made no move to distance himself from his work or his implements.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said calmly, lifting his eye just far enough from his microscope to regard them. “I will be with you momentarily. I am at a crucial point in my research just now, and–”

Morgan opened fire on the man’s microscope, destroying it instantly. His bullets went on to whizz around the room at a precise trajectory, shattering beakers and apparatuses alike on their destructive path through the lab. Turu shrunk behind his work table, throwing his arms up to shield himself from glass and debris.

He needn’t have bothered, though. After so many years of toting Ricochet, Morgan fancied himself a crack shot.

“Went ahead and finished it up for you,” Morgan drawled. “Made lots of discoveries. Came up with some good theories. Oh, and one conclusion:

“You’re comin’ with us.”

Turu blinked at that. “Well, I… Cannot say I approve of your methodology. But very well. Where are we going?”

“A ways away,” Morgan replied, pausing to glance back at his trainee. “You takin’ notes, Gio?”

The kid smirked. “Always. You give the best lectures.”

Morgan turned his attention back to their hostage. “Brought a bag along to stuff your head in, but we won’t be needin’ it, will we?”

Turu shook his head vigorously. “You have made your point. I will make no attempt to resist.”

“Good man.” Morgan tilted his chin toward a red-rimmed door frame standing at the other end of the lab. “That the back door?”

Turu nodded. He moved over to usher the man through it, and Gio followed along behind. However, just as he was about to step out into the harsh daylight of Sebastopol’s city streets, he tripped over an exposed root and–

“BLEUGGGH!” Morgan rose from the stagnant water with a mouthful of mud in his craw, coughing and hacking as he fought to displace all the water in his lungs. He whipped his head around to take in his true surroundings: the wettest, swampiest portion of the Great Jungle. As he rose to his feet, he realized that night had fallen–he could scarcely see an arm’s length in front of his face, though the soft glimmer of moonlight illuminated the surface of the swamp in places.

He stood there for a minute or two to catch his breath and decouple his extended vision of the past from the reality of his current predicament. Gradually, the events of the last hour started coming back to him, along with a host of memories that didn’t feel like his own. Before he could puzzle them out, though–before he could even decide on a direction to travel in–something loud, insistent, and close forced its way into his awareness:

The sound of gunfire.

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