Double or Nothing
by Stewart Wilson
Another time, another place. Sean Mitchell didn't care which, as long as he could be there. Away from this place, this random subway station on the outskirts of Munich, away from the guns and the death and the religious lunatics and the police with their hideously efficient sub-machineguns. The battle was taking it's toll on the Frankfurter Ring station, elegant tile work in cubist abstract shattered under the impact of far too many bullets.
He didn't know why he was wearing the cult robes. He didn't know why there was a semi-automatic combat shotgun in his hands. Most of all, he didn't know why he had been firing sabot rounds at the armoured police officers since the siege began. The others around him seemed almost to be enjoying themselves. They were killing hostages, policemen, at one point two of them had shot each other. The station was a bloodbath Sean wanted no more part in.
Disgustedly, he looked towards the tunnel entrance. Out there before they wake the train up, and he could be away to the end of the line. A couple of minutes later he could be in the airport. He had clothes under his robe, and a British passport. The message on his Treo that had woken him up from his dream had mentioned a luggage locker at the station. It was worth a try.
The robed figure next to him had a knife in his left hand, and was looking to one of the few still living women on the floor of the train. Sean closed his eyes and fired three times in quick succession. He took the gun with him as he ran for the tunnel.
From: Locke <email@example.com> To: 13 <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: 14/05/06 16:07 Subject: Red Sand Images of dust reckoning. Lotus butterfly of memory sheds chrysalis of redacted self. Welcome back, 13. We can't transmit the full mnemonic keys for obvious reasons. This is your call to extract. Locker 231, Feldmoching You have a meeting in three days at the Ministry.
The tunnel was dark, that's the first thing Sean could be sure of. Trains didn't need light, the service crews brought their own. The robes were getting in his way, catching on hidden edges. In the end, he left them. Scrabbling around in the dark, memories began to unfold properly.
He was Sean Wilson, agent 13 of the Genesis Program. Superspies with memory implants and tailored abilities to infiltrate terrorist groups and take them apart from within. Plastic surgery and biological augmentation, everything to turn him into a forgettable killing machine for Her Majesty's Secret Service. Except something had gone wrong. Something had fucked up and instead of his memory blocks being dissolved in the nice and private it was in the middle of a fire-fight with the German police. Never a nice time to wake up. And he was being extracted. That could only mean something was wrong.
He pulled off his shoes and activated the sound-deadening microfibres in the soles of his feet. Night-vision optical enhancements sketched out the tunnel ahead of him, the walkway a faint glimmer of white. Time to run.
There were no police at Feldmoching. There wasn't anyone at this time in the day, the u-bahn was closed because of the shoot-out. The only people waiting for the train up top were locals from the small town, waiting to get into the city or out to another suburb. There was nobody around to see a barefoot man in a suit as he unlocked a left-luggage locker. New shoes, a wallet with enough money to get a cheap flight back to Stanstead. A bag with three days worth of clothes and an SD card for the phone. The card had the musical compliment to the e-mail, everything would slot into place once he listened to it. Something to do on the flight. He pulled on his new shoes and went to wait for a train.
* * *
The flight was intense. Sean had forgotten just how bad the flood of memories could be, an acid trip with the dial turned up to eleven. A flood of images passing in front of his eyes whether he wanted them to or not.
His first girlfriend, beautiful in the neon club-lighting. Him lying to her, the words coming so easy as he told her she was everything to him, that he would give up his future for her. Her being sectioned after nine months, unable to accept that he had more things to do than go back to her every time she called. The tranquilliser dart sticking out of her neck as she was wrapped in a straitjacket and taken away.
His second girlfriend, everything he had ever wanted in a girl, smart and beautiful and funny. Dancing with her, holding her and not having to lie this time. Him walking in to find her fucking her ex in his bed and going straight for the ex, never believing that she could ruin his life like that. But she had, and he had to accept it even as he looked for a new place, somewhere that he could escape from the memories again.
Every kind of memory. Taking heroin and the horrible hollow feeling that came after the high, the infinite recursion comedown. Taking any number of shit jobs to get the money to live, the cold-boned horror of cold-turkey that came with trying to straighten his life out after her. Practising with a gun, hoping that some gangster might find a use for a Northern lad who could handle himself. And the man from the government in the background of every moment.
* * *
The Ministry of Administrative Affairs wasn't a big building, it had just a few offices to maintain a presence and stay in the background, taking government funds to keep the shadow projects alive. In all, the dingy offices above an old warehouse were the perfect location to stop people wondering.
Inside was another matter. Comfortable mahogany chairs, oak-panelled walls, a secretary who was forthcoming with a brandy before Sean could ask for one. A Ministry office, no matter what it looked like outside. The Minister was a small man, narrow and forgettable. The kind of face that gets attached to a position and never leaves it because everyone forgets that he's there. The PM knew that he was there and in this case that was all that mattered.
"Sit down, Sean."
"What's going on?"
"There were complications. This group you were working for are going for rather more than the usual governmental reform."
"Not that I saw."
"Of course you didn't. You weren't trusted enough. MI-6," and here the Minister paused to let the name sink in, the rich know-it-alls of the intelligence world, "knows that they have a dirty bomb. More than one, in fact. They are going to irradiate Munich, then move on to Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Geneva and London. Destabilise the European governments."
"What's that going to do? Let America take over?"
"Don't be silly. That pissant country only has so much power because of us. Take away Europe and you take away the finances on which the United States are built. It's killing two birds with one stone."
"So why did you pull me out?"
"You're no longer on infiltration. You know where they meet, you know what they want. You are going to kill all of them."
"No. I'm not going to kill them. I don't do that, remember? I take your false memories and I infiltrate and I get to know people so the psychopath you hire can do the real killing."
"I think you forget who has paid for your rehabilitation. Who gives you those memory implants."
Sean's voice was little more than a whisper. "I have killed fifteen people. Fifteen. I will never stop seeing their faces. One of the reasons I take your damn memories is so I can forget them. I am not going."
"You leave tonight. Report to the Crescent for a full briefing."
"Let me phrase that differently. I am not going."
"What's different about that?"
"This time, the myostatin inhibitors you gave me are active. I can punch clean through your head without thinking."
"And how would you live with number sixteen?" The Minister didn't sweat. He was in complete control, Sean realised. He always had been.
"Part of the package is a set of memory inhibitors. Anything you do for a six-hour period after activation will not enter your long-term memory. You won't remember. Thirty seconds after you are extracted you will still be wondering how to deal with fifteen murders, or how to deal with your ex in the nutfarm, or whatever you worry about when your memories come back. And if you don't take it, then you will die. Slowly and painfully as we flay your brain to see what makes you tick."
Sean couldn't say anything. How did this bastard know what he thought about whenever the memories came back?
"Go to the Crescent and we can both forget about this altercation. You'll get a month of sympathetic leave afterwards."
Sean turned and left. The Minister waited until the CCTV showed him leaving before he broke out in a cold sweat. That was too close.
* * *
The Crescent was five floors beneath Mornington Crescent underground station, a perfectly nondescript place to locate the Genesis Program. High-tech protective doors and vehicle test bays were set into old caverns dating back thousands of years. In one such test bay, General Warren Locke sat across from Agent 13. The General knew that 13 had a name, Sean somethingorother, but there was no point remembering it. He was a tool as much as the General. Names were for social contacts, not superspies and killing machines.
"I take it the Minister briefed you, Thirteen?"
"He did." Something in Sean's eyes must have shone through.
"Don't take it too hard. The Minister doesn't understand what we do. He thinks we turn people into weapons, and one day that's going to come back on him."
"People already are weapons. We just make it easier."
"I know. But right now you have more to worry about. The picture on your phone is a mnemonic key to block long-term memory storage. I suggest you use it early on, or else you may get confused."
"Your guns are in the service cupboard in the Königzplatz station. Before you go, there's the usual collection of potentially useful equipment."
"Any of it better than the pistols?"
"Some. Palm-size shotgun, that kind of thing. Nothing superfluous, nothing too James Bond."
"Pack it. Pack it all and book me in for didactic laser training."
"Yes. I won't remember what I used it for."
* * *
The train ride to the Königzplatz is uneventful. Resonant facial restructuring takes care of anyone recognising me. It's a face I wear when I kill, so I can look in the mirror and not have my mind fracture when I remember what I have done.
The service cupboard is at the top of the escalators. I have a key, nobody notices me slipping inside. The pistols are heavy in my hands. Creation engines in each clip, the killer app for nanotech. And only now do I realise how much of a bad pun that is. The cult holed up above an interior design place in a quad between 60's-fashionable high-rise buildings. The only way in was through a gap between the shops, wander through the courtyard of one building and out the back again. And there he was, on the hex-paved square. The small bar that served all these buildings had some tables out, people he recognised from the cult were drinking at one. Sipping at Eadelstoff or Weissbier, trying too hard to blend in but looking like tourists for all they sounded like locals.
Sean ducked back around the corner and hunted for his phone. The last thing he remembered before seeing the pixelated mandala was thinking 'I hope this works.'