First Flight

 

Salerno

© Pacific Press/LightRocket/LightRocket via Getty Images – The bodies of 26 young migrants arrive at the Italian port town of Salerno on Sunday (5 November 2017).

The Present – Salerno, Italy

The young Japanese woman looked as if she were just another curious spectator in the crowd watching the corpses being offloaded from the vessel sent to retrieve them from the Mediterranean Sea. Mikiko Jahn felt the tears welling up behind her eyes and almost overwhelming grief and anger like a weight in the center of her chest before the neural circuitry in her brain suppressed those feelings and replaced them with an impassive calm.

Well, it was mostly impassive. The residual emotions she experienced moments before remained, but they were well contained. How had she come to this?

Two Weeks Ago – The Project – An Unknown Location in Japan

“He’s called the ‘Shadow Man’ for the simple reason that his true identity is not known. What is known about him is that he is a British national and one of the leaders of a cartel that siphons refugees, mostly young women and children attempting to reach Europe from Libya, from sanctuary into sexual slavery. We estimate that as many as twenty to thirty percent of these victims are currently in the UK with the rest distributed in Europe, Russia, and Asia.”

Mikiko had expected that the government’s special liaison to the Project Hiro Takeshi would be heading the briefing, but instead it was a British official named Geoffrey Colins. He was about ten years her senior, African-British, a Londoner by the accent (she’d been studying accents as part of her training), well-dressed, proper, sophisticated, and quite handsome. She hadn’t been in a relationship since before the accident six years ago and rarely allowed herself the luxury of thinking about dating or even sex, and yet she found her mind wandering.

Realizing that she shouldn’t be daydreaming, she focused her attention back on Colins and his presentation rather than his deep brown eyes.

“We do have a pipeline mapped as to how the sex trafficking victims are transported into Europe and then to the UK, and we’ve left it, for the time being, uninterrupted in the hopes that it will lead us to ‘Shadow Man’ and his confederates. Once we have them, or even just him, we can interrogate them for information regarding other members operating in different parts of the world.”

Her first assignment. It had finally arrived and Mikiko could feel anxiety rising within her. This time, she brought it under control herself rather than having it cross some neurological threshold and trigger the cybernetics that managed any strong emotion.

“The trail leads to six lieutenants in the British branch of their organization, only three of which we believe to know the true identity of our Shadow.”

“How do I figure into this, Mr. Colins? I don’t think I could pass as a Nigerian or Libyan refugee.”

“No, I’ve been informed of the limits of your appearance-altering abilities.”

Professor Daniel Hunt, the man directly responsible for giving the nuclear disaster victim her life back along with a remarkable synthetic body, unexpectedly spoke up. “Then why can’t conventional law enforcement agencies be employed to deal with this man? Why involve Mikiko?”

Hiro Takeshi, who was sitting to the Professor’s left, turned toward him, an indignant expression crossing his face. “Excuse me Professor, but…”

“No, it’s quite alright, Mr. Takeshi,” Colins interrupted, seemingly taking everything in stride. “It is a valid question, especially given Ms. Jahn’s relative inexperience.”

“Inexperience is right, Mr. Colins,” Hunt continued. “This is to be her first assignment, her first flight out of the nest and you’re throwing her in with some of the most ruthless and cut-throat killers known to exist? That’s outrageous.”

Hunt wasn’t known as a passionate man, but he all too often acted as a buffer between Mikiko and the people paying the bills for her rehabilitation and treatment. He knew this day was coming, but he imagined that whatever job the British and Japanese governments came up with, for her first time out, it would be somewhat more benign.

“It may seem that way Professor Hunt, but I assure you that Ms. Jahn will be in relatively little danger. We are not planning on her having any direct contact with any of these individuals or at least not any extensive contact.”

“Well then how…?”

“I’m getting to that Professor and of course, Ms. Jahn will need this information to be fully prepared for her upcoming role.”

Hunt sat back in his chair and exhaled. “Very well then.”

Mikiko had been watching the exchange with interest and concern. These were the very questions she should be asking but she was allowing Professor Hunt to play the role of Father and Protector. It was easier and safer than becoming involved herself, but she would have to confront the reality of her situation. The training was over. She had been made operational by whatever British agency for which Mr. Colins worked and the Japanese government was cooperating. If she was intimidated by a mission briefing, how was she going to function once out in the field?

“Thank you, Mr. Colins. I’m very interested in hearing the rest.” She took the risk of speaking up again because that was the least risk she would be experiencing going forward.

The Present – Landing at Heathrow Airport – London

26 girls all between the ages of 14 and 18 dead, presumably drowned in the Mediterranean. The bodies had been found next to a deflated rubber dinghy that was all but sunk when the rescuers arrived. The police had ordered autopsies to determine whether the girls had been tortured or sexually abused. They had been travelling through the Shadow Man’s pipeline to Europe when something went wrong. 26 girls, the Shadow’s latest victims.

heathrow

Landing at Heathrow Airport at night – Found at the South China Morning Post

The jolt of the commercial aircraft as it touched down at Heathrow jogged Mikiko out of her grim musings. She was a tourist having first visited Italy for several days, was now presumably on holiday in London but also here to attend the annual World Nuclear Association Symposium to begin tomorrow (well, actually tonight).

She had been issued a passport and other identity papers in the name of Mikiko Kojima. She didn’t know if this was to be her permanent name or one issued just for this assignment. She was supposed to be a junior member of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, twenty-seven years old, married, no children, residing in Niigata Prefecture, an intelligent, well-educated, but otherwise unremarkable person. Just another Asian tourist in London for the next week.

Her “travel agency” had booked her a room at the Premier Inn Heathrow, a budget hotel which was befitting a minor member of a governmental agency. She’d rather have stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster where the event was to be held and would probably spend as much in travel costs as she would have for a room there, but this too was part of her cover.

She took the shuttle to the hotel from the airport and arrived just in time for a late supper. She should be exhausted and eventually she would be, but Mikiko had a certain amount of control over her biochemistry, enough at least to forestall jet lag for a while. She’d be able to sleep tonight, unlike most international travelers, and be alert for what faced her in the morning.

Besides her cover story and the fact that she really was a nuclear engineer, there was another reason she was attending the London symposium. Sebastian Wright would be present, though not attending as an official delegate. He was the Senior Events Director at the Park Plaza and along with his legitimate duties, as a lieutenant of the Shadow Man’s branch of the Organization, he would be providing a number of the symposium attendees with certain, private social entertainers, possibly underage, definitely sexual, and most certainly without the young women’s consent.

Mikiko had been trained in so many ways to kill even her enhanced memory sometimes forgot the number. She never imagined that she could hurt let alone kill another human being, but after what Mr. Colins had told her about Wright, that inhibition felt greatly reduced.

She also felt a pang of guilt because no matter who the victims were or what Wright’s “customers” planned to do with them, she wouldn’t be able to interfere. It would alert Wright and probably the Shadow Man. Saving those girls wasn’t her mission. Identifying the Shadow Man was.

The Next Morning – Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London

Mikiko Kojima had missed last evening’s opening ceremonies and High Tea, but they were just minor social fluff. She did arrive before about half of the other attendees that morning, even though the majority were staying at the Park Plaza. She had arisen early, had breakfast, and taken the Underground to the center of London.

There was a part of her who did want to play tourist and after all, she was within walking distance of the Westminster Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Wellington Arch, and any number of other famous sights, but then her business with Sebastian Wright intruded upon her thoughts once again, reordering her priorities to the real reason she was here.

“Here’s your badge and your information packet for the symposium, Ms. Kojima. Please have a pleasant time at the event.”

The hostess was young, efficient, and friendly, but then that’s what she was supposed to be.

“Thank you for all your help,” Mikiko replied in accented English. Her language coaches had taught her how to completely eliminate her Japanese accent, even to the point of simulating a British or American accent, but for her current role, playing the Japanese engineer who struggled to speak “proper English” would suffice. She had even been practicing altering her vocal chords so she could change her voice, sound like another woman entirely. With time, she could end up speaking like many different women and disguise her auditory self more than she could her physical appearance.

“Oh, excuse me, please. I am looking for Mr. Sebastian Wright. He was very kind in handling difficulties with my reservations and I wanted to thank him.” This was true as far as it went. The difficulties were manufactured so they would require Wright’s personal involvement and it would give Mikiko a plausable excuse to meet him.

“Um…I’m not sure where he’d be just now.”

Her name tag said “Colleen” and her facial expression, vocal tone, and scent all said she was lying. She momentarily looked to a set of service doors off to one side of the lobby.

“But if I see him, I’ll make sure to tell him you’re here. Perhaps if he paged you when he’s free.”

“Yes, thank you. I didn’t mean to be an inconvenience.”

“Not at all, Ms. Kojima. We are here to serve.”

“Thank you again.” As Mikiko’s MI6 firearms instructor might have said, she was a “lying bitch.” Ellen Dunning was in her late sixties, had an astounding number of kills as one of Britain’s top assassins for over forty years, and employed very colorful verbal metaphors on occasion. Mikiko had learned a lot from her.

The thing is, just one of a score of greeters at the symposium were not very likely to know where to find Wright at any given moment or even to necessarily know who he was, so why did Colleen deliberately lie? She definitely knew Wright’s location, somewhere behind those doors and Mikiko was sure she would never pass along her request to Wright. She’d have to arrange another way to get close to him.

Mikiko entered the main conference hall as Colleen would expect her to do, but instead of touring the various exhibits or considering which event at the conference she wanted to attend first, she eyed the doors that led into the service areas, those places frequented by the food services personnel and various other staff of the hotel. He was back there and she had to find him, she had to get near him, if only for a few seconds.

The guests were still filing into the main hall and taking seats. The Keynote wouldn’t begin speaking for another forty-five minutes. For those who hadn’t chosen to eat breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, coffee, tea, scones, and similar refreshments were being served at several tables near the back.

Mikiko found a convenient place and laid her materials on the seat. Next she pretended to wander around, presumably looking for someone or something, maybe the rest room. No one paid any particular attention to her, so she went unnoticed as she slipped through a service door at the side of the room.

She knew what Sebastian Wright looked like. His photo was on the hotel’s website under “Senior Personnel.” That wasn’t good enough, though. Not for what she had in mind.

Her hand-to-hand combat coach, American Marine Sgt Henry Eaton once told her that if you walk into a place as if you owned it, nine times out of ten, you did. All Mikiko had to do was walk with confidence and authority and chances are, no one would question her presence, not right away at least. She thought about taking off her guest badge so she might be mistaken for a staff member or maybe rented security, but then if caught, she’d have uncomfortable questions to answer.

“Yes, Mr. Wright. I’ll see to it.”

Mikiko had been listening to all the voices around her speaking and managed to pick out the one woman’s voice that said what she wanted to hear. Fifty meters ahead more or less and slightly to her left, approaching what looked like some equipment crates. She walked in that direction with purpose but not too quickly.

Thirty meters. “Oh, and have Gloria text me the updated schedule for this afternoon.” Yes, that was his voice responding to the woman, whoever she was.

Ten meters, eight… “Excuse me. I don’t believe you should be back here.”

The man’s voice came from behind her. She was surrounded by a crowd of people and although Mikiko had been aware of his presence, she hadn’t determined he was security until he spoke. She kept walking. Four meters, three…

“Pardon me, young lady.” Mikiko stopped.

Plaza on the River

Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London

“Is there a problem, Charles?” Wright, having overheard, walked right up to her, standing less than a meter away from her face. His odor was unmistakable and now, she would never forget it nor the sound of his voice.

“I apologize, Mr. Wright. I believe this woman has been misdirected.”

Time to go into her act. She exaggerated her Japanese accented English as much as she could. “Oh, pardon me, Sir. Very embarrassing. Bathroom? I was looking for…you know.” With the amount of control she had over her autonomic responses, making herself appear to blush was, as Sgt Eaton might say, “a snap.”

“Excuse me, Cherise.” Wright summoned the woman he’d just been talking to and who was standing slightly behind him now.

She approached and faced Mikiko with a mixed expression of amusement and annoyance. “Yes, Mr. Wright?”

“On your way back to the lobby, could you escort this young woman to the rest room?”

“Of course, Sir.” Cherise then turned to Mikiko and briefly looked at her guest badge. “If you’ll come with me, Ms. Kojima, I’ll be glad to get you back to where you belong.” Her smile, friendly vocal tone, welcoming body language was all an act. She was actually quite tense and Mikiko supposed she had a thousand other better things to do than to show her the rest room.

“Thank you. Thank you, ” Mikiko first smiled nervously at Cherise and then at Wright and the security man he’d called Charles.

As she followed Cherise back toward the doors to the main event room, she recognized a secondary scent on Wright. It was Colleen’s scent, the woman who greeted her when she arrived. Of course, they’d slept together last night, probably not more than four hours ago. What Mikiko sensed from her was embarrassment, possibly because such fraternization wasn’t approved of by the management. It didn’t matter, but it did explain why the young woman knew where Wright was when she asked and then lied about it.

In addition to processing the additional scent on Wright, she could overhear him talking to Charles. “Keep an eye on her, will you Charles? Recruit a few others to assist.”

“Problem, Sir?”

“Probably nothing. I seem to remember her name. She had problems with her reservations for the event and I had to put in a bit of time. Probably just a coincidence but best not to take chances.”

“Very well, Mr. Wright.”

The ambient noise made it nearly impossible for Mikiko to follow the conversation any further though if it had been quieter, she could have been kilometers away and still listened in. The last thing she heard sounded like Charles keying a walkie-talkie, probably summoning those “others” to watch her. It wouldn’t matter. She intended to be the compliant symposium delegate for the rest of the day, at least as long as Sebastian Wright were still on the premises.

Mikiko suffered through the Chairman’s address, the Director’s address, and the other preliminary remarks such officials feel compelled to make. then there were the more interesting presentations, such as the role of CGN in China’s nuclear energy development, safety-led development of UAE peaceful nuclear energy, which Geoffrey Colins mentioned might not be all that peaceful.

There were what was referred to as Hot Seat interviews, one during the morning and two others in the afternoon, with private industry representatives offering unique and helpful insights under seemingly intense questioning.

Mikiko wished she could completely lose herself in the conference, but at the periphery of her senses were the three and sometimes four security personnel who had been assigned to observe her. One even followed her into the women’s room. They were present during the sponsored lunch, and into the afternoon session.

“How safe is safe?” Mikiko had an unguarded moment as she whispered the title of the next presentation. She felt her heart beating slightly faster, her breath a bit shorter and then she regained control without letting the cybernetics take over her emotional state. “Innovative reactor designs to improve performance, safety, efficiency, and waste,” the summary for the presentation said. She took a deep breath. Mikiko knew this was a topic close to her experiences and now it was perhaps a little too close. Then again, what could compare to the hideous ghost she encountered first time she visited Fukushima after the accident?

Sometime around 4 p.m. Mikiko noticed that she only had two “guard dogs” watching her. Hopefully, she had bored them and Sebastian Wright to death and they decided to believe her ruse of being a lost and naive guest who had walked through the wrong door and then couldn’t find her way back. Wright was correct to be suspicious. Her excuse seemed as thin to her as it did to him, but then again, she was new at this. She would have to learn better lies as her career moved forward.

Her career. How long would this last? Would she be the government’s enhanced covert agent for the rest of her life? If she wasn’t, then what sort of future could she expect?

Mikiko pulled herself back to the world around her. Time enough later for her existential dilemmas.

The day finally ended. She was invited out to dinner by three other attendees she had made acquaintances with at the conference. She wasn’t particularly interested in networking, especially since after this mission, Mikiko Kojima would effectively disappear, but since she was being watched, she thought it prudent to do the expected.

Fortunately, they were all from different parts of the world, Egypt, Canada, and Russia, so English was the only language they had in common. She could continue the fiction that she had only a limited command of that language, which was true up to about two or three years ago, and thus limit her interaction with her peers.

During the symposium, Wright was likely to be too busy to pull himself away from activities (legitimate and otherwise), even after hours, to clandestinely meet with the Shadow Man. That wouldn’t happen until tomorrow evening at the earliest, but according to Colins, no later than three days from now.

The Next Afternoon

All day at the symposium, Mikiko had been aware of being intermittently watched, but nothing to the level of the previous day. Except for her supposedly accidental forey into the service area of the hotel, she had made it a point to do nothing unusual or suspicious. Just a little, lost Japanese girl who was trying to find the bathroom after all.

The last panel discussion was scheduled to end at 4 p.m. Afterward, there would be a break until the sponsored Gala Dinner and Dance, but that was at a completely different venue. This time, Mikiko planned not to attend. Wright wouldn’t be present anyway, and she felt more comfortable avoiding another social engagement, especially one that promised to be so crowded and involved.

symposium

Photo taken at the 2017 World Nuclear Association Symposium.

She had tried to keep track of Wright’s whereabouts throughout the day with limited success. By scent, she could tell he was nearby, within a quarter to half a kilometer at any given time. The trouble was when would it be not only safe but effective to start following him? If he got into his car, she would lose him. If he took the bus or the Underground, she would have a better chance of pursuing him covertly since she didn’t have to get very close, but she didn’t want to waste time if all he were going to do was dine, have sex with Colleen or perhaps some other woman, and then retire to his bed.

Then she got lucky. It was a tool Colins told her she might have to rather heavily rely upon until her “instincts” developed.

The events crowd was thinning out. Mikiko was having a casual conversation with Olga Popov of the Russian Nuclear Energy Commission, really just an excuse to stay later and see what Wright might be up to. Mikiko felt momentary regret that her presence at the conference was just a cover. She enjoyed the nascent relationship the two were developing, and if she were still just an engineer, she and Olga might actually have kept in touch professionally and perhaps personally.

Olga was planning to attend the Gala and had just excused herself when Mikiko noticed Wright’s scent becoming stronger. He wasn’t approaching her and probably wasn’t even aware of her as he entered the large events room. Hotel staff were already disassembling the stage, collapsing folding tables, removing chairs, emptying trash, but through the clatter, as her target leaned toward Charles she heard the former whisper, “Call me a taxi. Have it meet me at the service dock.”

“Right away, Sir.” Charles walked off, presumably to make that call.

A taxi? Wright had arrived this morning in his car. She had overheard someone ask him how the new Bentley was and Wright had replied that it was in the basement garage if they cared to have a look. She’d even seen him pocket the keys. Why did he need a…?

Twenty minutes later, she was standing outside of a coffee shop about twenty meters from where the taxi had arrived for Wright. There were a number of taxis already near the hotel. Why did Wright have Charles call for one?

He opened the rear door and entered and as he closed it again, she heard an address, one she didn’t recognize as his home or any of his usual destinations, at least those she knew from his official file.

Mikiko broke into a run as soon as the taxi rounded the building and headed toward Westminster Bridge Road. She was careful not to move inhumanly fast, but anyone seeing her might easily mistake her for a professional athlete. She was nearing a group of cabs and slowed to a walk. She got into the back and gave an address that was a block north of the one Wright would be arriving at. That would be close enough for her to find and follow him, even if she were minutes behind him.

They crossed Waterloo bridge and then headed north. She had memorized a map of London for just such an occasion. The taxi driver expected some conversation, but she put a stop to that by speaking in broken English and accentuating her accent.

Almost thirty minutes later, she was at her destination. She could easily see Wright a block ahead through the darkness. Then he moved under a street lamp and was standing at…a bus stop? Mikiko quickly paid the driver but what now?

Her jacket was reversible. She would have to hurry and that meant this was going to hurt.

She could only superficially and slightly change the bone structure of her face. The main component of what Professor Hunt called “the chameleon effect” was her control over her musculature. Mikiko gasped and then reduced the sensory input in the localized area enough to where the discomfort wouldn’t be distracting but not so much that she lost control over her changing facial details.

She lightened her hair, which would have been impossible if it really were human hair and not an extension of the rest of her synthetic surface covering, and now she could easily pass as Eurasian, possibly with one parent being from Vietnam.

Just after Wright boarded and was looking for a seat, Mikiko ran up yelling in British accented English, “Hey, wait up there.”

The doors that were closing opened again. Her face, hair, and jacket were different and she hoped Wright hadn’t noticed her so much today that he’d recognize her slacks and small handbag which she could wear as a compact backpack. She rummaged through the interior of the latter and pulled out the price of the fare. Wright had looked up at her momentarily as she boarded, but nothing in his expression, manner, or scent indicated that he recognized her or was in any way suspicious. Good.

Mikiko found her way to the rear of the bus passing where Wright was sitting. He was casually looking out the window while most passengers were on their mobiles. Interesting that he wasn’t, but then again, if he didn’t want to be tracked, he had probably turned it off.

She took a seat, pulled out her own phone, and pretended to be texting. She had it in airplane mode but in any event, she didn’t believe anyone would be interested in tracking her movements. Among the many other reasons she was chosen for this assignment was that she was completely unknown to the shadow community of covert agents and various law enforcement and criminal organizations. None of them would care about her because they didn’t know she existed.

It was suppertime. She imagined families gathering in the homes she was passing, sharing the events of their day at work or school. An odd area for Wright to enter if meeting the mysterious human trafficker called the Shadow Man. On the other hand, it would be a brilliant piece of subterfuge for the Shadow to reside in a modest domicile in a family-oriented neighborhood.

Wright pulled the cord notifying the driver that his stop was coming up. She couldn’t get off with him as it might arouse his suspicions, but she had seen the route map when she boarded and the following stop wasn’t far away. Unless Wright got into another car, she’d be able to track his scent easily enough.

He got off. As the bus started up again, Mikiko noticed his direction. Presently, she rang the bell and stood in anticipation.

Five minutes later, she was three blocks behind him as he seemed to be casually strolling. She could tell by his movements and scent that he was anxious, probably making sure he wasn’t being followed. She was too far away for him to suspect her, just a distant figure. She turned right down a side street to further reduce his concerns. A few minutes later, she retraced her steps and tracked him by his odor alone. Then it stopped or rather he must have entered a building.

He was definitely in that small two-storey home just off Woodberry Grove. A quaint and effective lair for an international criminal. Someone was coming to the window to draw the blinds.

“Colleen.”

Mikiko refused to believe Colleen was the Shadow, but then she must be another of his lieutenants along with Wright. Even in a neighborhood, Mikiko could hear as far as eight or nine kilometers and if she concentrated, she might be able to track a conversation and movement inside the house. She was grateful they weren’t meeting in a high-rise or a dance club.

As she focused her hearing, she could feel her face relax and resume its normal appearence as did her hair coloring. She decided to chance it and took her phone off airplane mode. Fortunately, it had state of the art security encryption, a “gift” from Colins. She texted him, he was here in London or so he had said, asking him to research the address. If the Shadow Man really did live here, then his real name or at least a name would be a matter of record.

“Glad you and Colleen could meet with me on such short notice Sebastian.”

There was some distortion but the person speaking was definitely a woman. The Shadow was a woman.

“Of course. I assume it’s important.”

“Quite right, Sebastian. There’s been a change of schedule for the next shipment. Both you and Colleen are to memorize these details and communicate them to the other operatives and their cells.”

“Yes, Amanda.” The last voice was Colleen’s. Mikiko had to assume they were looking at something which did her no good at all.

Mikiko texted Colins. “Shadow a woman. First name Amanda.”

A few moments later, he texted back. “Acknowledged Shadow a woman named Amanda. Property leased to a holding company. No personal name listed.”

“Damn,” she thought.

The meeting was a lot shorter than Mikiko thought it would be and most of it non-verbal.

“Colleen, you leave first. I’ll wait fifteen minutes and depart by a different route as usual.”

“Right, Sebastian. See you at work tomorrow.” There was a pause. “Good-bye, Amanda.” No response. Perhaps Amanda had merely nodded.

A moment later, the front door opened and Colleen left, walking in the opposite direction Sebastian had come from. She was long out of sight when the door opened again and Sebastian walked out. He turned and gave a short wave. Amanda was inside but only a backlit shadow. Mikiko thought she detected a new scent.

Sebastian went back in the direction he’d come from. The buses were still running at this hour but if he was clever, he might take a different sort of transportation. She listened a long time to his clattering footfalls, though from a normal person’s perspective, he was walking very quietly.

Mikiko waited. This was a leased residence held by a property management company. Shadow or Amanda knew how to cover her tracks. Of course, she might not be the Shadow, just fronting for him, keeping him in the shadows, so to speak. If that were the case, Amanda might be Mikiko’s only link to him.

No meaningful sounds from inside. No other voices. Only one set of footsteps and seemingly made by only one person. Mikiko had positioned herself two blocks away. She was at the edge of a public park and could hide behind the available shrubbery. Short of someone walking right up to her or an observer looking in her direction with night vision or infrared goggles, she was undetectable.

shadow woman

From an HD mobile wallpaper – Shadow Woman

Thirty minutes passed, an hour, ninety minutes. Mikiko used the time to update Colins on her theories about Amanda.

Ninety-three minutes after Sebastian had departed, the lights went off inside the house and the front door opened.

The woman. This time, Mikiko picked up her scent well enough to be able to trace her. She wasn’t close enough to photograph her with her phone and in any event, she didn’t want to take the risk. She memorized Amanda’s face and hoped that she would be able to describe it well enough for an artist to reproduce. The woman, possibly a Caucasian-Arab mix, average height, dark brown hair, conservatively dressed, walked half a block down the street and unlocked an unassuming sedan. She got in and turned on the engine.

Mikiko could see somewhat into the infrared range but couldn’t make out the license plate at a distance of two-and-a-half blocks. Her camera had a telephoto feature. As the car started to move, she took a short video of it and hopefully its driver. Whoever she was, Amanda was the key to breaking the back of Britain’s sex trafficking trade either because she was the Shadow or could lead her to him.

Amanda’s car reached the end of the block, turned right and was out of Mikiko’s sight. She was about to stand when headlights from another car came from the same direction and passed by. Finally everything was still and quiet. “Now what do I do?”

This is just the first half of Mikiko’s first assignment in pursuit of the Shadow. Is Amanda the Shadow or just an intermediary? Will Geoffrey Colins and the covert agency he works for be able to help her solve the rest of the mystery or is she on her own? Those answers will be found in the next chapter.

Other stories about Mikiko Jahn in no particular order are:

  1. The Reconstructed Woman
  2. Burn Victim
  3. Woman Under Repair
  4. Woman in the Shadows
  5. The Search for Armageddon
  6. The Swimmer
  7. Murder at 900 North Michigan

I used real place names and events but if this story ever went for actual publication, I’d have to change all that. Sadly, the story of the 26 drowned girls is absolutely true.

I tried to figure out some way of ending on a dramatic cliffhanger, but the idea here is for Mikiko not to become too involved right off the bat, such as being seen, captured, or shot. Instead, as far as her abilities go, she’s at a dead-end unless she can pick up Amanda’s trail again. About what you’d expect from a novice spy, even a synthetically enhanced one. The next chapter is The Man in the Dark.

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