Chapter 6: Natasha

Of Things Past

"Applicant 636?" the secretary's calm, polite voice whispered into the intercom. I looked at the black band wrapped firmly around my wrist. Printed in plain, white letters were the numerals six, three, and six. Anxiously, I stood up and walked to her desk. She glanced at my wrist and ushered me into an elevator, where we waited wordlessly for two minutes as it shot up to the top floor. The doors swung open, I stepped out, and they slide closed behind me with an eerie air of finality. White metal and glass dominated the decor of the room. Calm and simple, yet it reflected a sense of austerity and complexity. Midway through the office (which was extremely long), the floor was raised about a foot. It was such a minor note, so insignificant that no one would ever notice it, yet it told so much about the owner of the office. It was a height advantage, he had the high ground.

"Natasha, come, have a seat," the owner's voice echoed through the office, attaining a booming, surreal quality. I began the lengthy journey to his desk, which was merely a white box that merged seamlessly with the floor. It took me at least thirty seconds to reach the opposite end. Two chairs sat in front of the slab of a desk, one of them already occupied by a youngish man with brown hair.

"She looks young, Midas," he said as I sat down, "Are you recruiting straight out of college these days?" Midas did not respond, his chair was turned around, facing out of the wall-sized window that overlooked the city.

"Your examination results were very impressive, Natasha," he said, though the tone of his voice suggested that mentally, he was somewhere else.

"Thank you, sir," I responded.

"Which scenario did you run again?" the brown-haired man asked, leaning forward and placing his hand on his knee.

"She ran Syria. Remember that bombing a week ago?"

"Don't tell me that was her."

"No, no, it was the result of infighting among a terrorist group that she infiltrated."

"The loss of their leader was hard on them," I stated simply.

"Indeed," Midas spun around. His appearance shocked me, he looked as though he was barely out of his twenties. He wore a dark, black suit with a white shirt and red tie. Bags under his eyes and tousled hair made it look as though he hadn't slept in weeks. "Well, Natasha, as you may have guessed, you are one of the lucky few that have been accepted into our agency this year. Congratulations."

"Thank you very much, sir," I replied. He nodded his head and gestured to the brown-haired man next to me, "This is Matthias, he will be your partner for your first assignment, in Haiti. He will brief you are supply you, you are leaving tonight at eleven. I'm sorry that I'm being so curt, as you can imagine, I'm a busy man." He smiled weekly, then buzzed down to his secretary and asked her to send up the next applicant. Matthias and I stood up and headed towards the elevator.

"Don't mind Midas, he's bad with people," Matthias whispered to me as we were leaving. The elevator doors slid open and a man dressed in a gray suit, wearing it carelessly, stepped out. Simultaneously he slid past us and lit a cigarette. "You know, you really got lucky with your application. You were bound to be hired."

"And why is that?" I asked defensively as we stepped into the elevator.

"You're Applicant 636. We always hire Applicant 636."


***

"You know what I want to know?" I said, setting my glass down on the table, "Stymphalian birds. How do they work?" Matthias chuckled loudly.

"I have absolutely no idea, I just know I absolutely hate those things," Matthias said, "Maybe they're mechanical? I heard that Midas got his hands on some of them last week, they were terrorizing villagers down in Peru."

"Black Dogs too, those things are just... wrong."

"I've never had a run in with them."

"About four years ago Midas sent me to Britain to catch Lean Dog. That was only a year after he hired me..." I leaned back and slouched in the booth.

"Feels like it's only been a week, doesn't it?" Matthias asked knowingly, I nodded. The door to the bar chimed, and the sound of heavy rain crept through the doorway as someone entered. "This is our guy," Matthias said. Soaking wet, the man that had entered took off his gray trench coat to reveal a rather beaten-up gray suit underneath. Matthias waved the man over, and he cautiously approached us, eying every person in the bar as he did.

"Evening love," he said, flashing me a sinister smile. As he sat down he serendipitously sparked a smoke and inhaled deeply.

"Natasha, this is Agent Scylla," Matthias said.

"Pleasure to meet you," I extended my hand, and after a moments hesitation he shook it.

"He was hired the same year as you. He was that year's Applicant 637," Matthias explained.

"I've heard impressive rumors about you Natasha," Scylla still had his suspicious smile, "Was it really you that took out the Chernobyl Silo last year?" I faked a smile.

"My reputation proceeds me, I see. I've heard impressive things about you too, Scylla. Not a single failed assignment, that's hard to believe."

"Well, they are all assassinations," he leaned in closer, "And I never miss."

"Scylla will be helping us with our next assignment in Prague," Matthias cut in.

"Well as it turns out, the timing was just convenient. I have to take down the leader of an Eastern European anarchist ring there, turns out it's the same ring you two have to steal some tech from. Just makes more sense if we coordinate our efforts."

"Indeed," I said. A waiter arrived with a drink that Scylla had never ordered, apparently he was a regular at the establishment.

"To our success," Scylla said raising his glass.

***

The earth burned as shots fired out, loudly and randomly, in the night. I stood on a ridge overlooking the chaos that was ensuing down below. All-consuming fire spread to the river, which due to the oil spill, caught aflame. On the south bank, the depot was slowly crumbling and ablaze, obviously it would never be of use to anyone ever again, and yet both makeshift armies continued slaughtering each other in a useless effort to gain entrance to it.

"Splendid work, Natasha, just splendid." I glanced over my shoulder to see Midas walking towards me. He looked no older than he had the first time we met, the only indication that he had aged at all was that he looked more... tired. His eyes we shadowed and receded, massive bags under them. His hair was a mess, and slightly matted, and his skin had lightened a shade or two.

"Midas? What brings you here?" I said, surprised.

"Sometimes I like to see my employees work, and this quite a fireworks show you have put on for me," Midas said, stopping next to me. A content smile grew on his face as he watched the madness down below.

"May I ask you a question sir?"

"Certainly."

"Why did we do this?" I tried to hide the concern from my voice, "Who was are client? What reason do we have for inducing this..." I gestured downwards, "Hellfire?"

"This was an internal operation," Midas replied calmly.

"You mean...?"

"I was the client, yes. Do not pity these people, Natasha, they are fools. They murder, steal, lie and cheat, for things as immaterial and transient as money and power."

"So they do what we do, and they needed to die for that?"

"I'm aware of the hypocrisy, Natasha. However, money and power were never my true goals. Surely you've realized that by now."

"Then what do you think you're accomplishing?" I asked, fighting my growing rage."

"Sometimes, certain parts of our race must be... cauterized. It is damage control that I am accomplishing, Natasha. I'm stopping these things before they get out of control." Midas turned and started to walk away.

"So you're massacring them before they have a chance to do it to you."

"You want to know the truth?" he spun around, visible angry, "If I had my way I would make sure there was not a single human left alive on this planet. Man is evil and base, Natasha. A self-aggrandizing collection of instincts and chemicals. We are liars, hypocrites, and cheats, Natasha. Look at us, look around you! This world is burning and no one is batting an eye."

"You're the one burning it!" I yelled, unable to contain myself.

"You lit the fuse."




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