The body of a young woman has been found in the River Thames in Reading.
Thames Valley Police said the corpse was found shortly before 10:00 GMT on Tuesday morning, near the Thames Lido.
She has not yet been identified but officers believe she may have been a recently arrived undocumented immigrant.
Police are currently treating the woman's death as suspicious. According to Det Insp Robert Farming, an appeal for witnesses has been made.
Mikiko Jahn sat reading the BBC news story on the borrowed tablet over and over again, and then after a while stopped being conscious of the words. A photo was run with the story. She recognized the girl from Sebastian Wright’s security file.
The dead woman was a fourteen-year-old Syrian refugee who had been trying to escape to Europe when she and a group of twenty-one other young girls between the ages of twelve and seventeen had been captured by human traffickers. She and four others were routed to the UK, London, specifically to Wright to provide a night’s “entertainment” to a few select delegates at the symposium Mikiko had attended last week.
She told Geoffrey Colins, she told him those girls were being abused, that she could do something about it, but Geoffrey said they weren’t a mission priority. If they interfered with Wright and his activities, they’d lose the opportunity to discover who was behind the UK branch of the Organization, lose the chance to find them and to stop them, thus losing the chance of saving thousands of girls instead of three or four.
Now one of those girls was dead.
The autopsy report hadn’t been released to the press but Danae Parker, one of Geoffrey’s operatives, hacked into the Scotland Yard database and read that the preliminary findings of cause of death was due to internal hemorrhaging as a result of a ruptured cervix. An unusually large object or objects had been repeatedly and forcefully inserted into her vagina. She suffered horrible pain before bleeding to death.
Wright must have arranged for the body to be clandestinely disposed of which was why it was found in the river so far from the Park Plaza Westminster where the event had been held and the guest in question, a highly placed official in one of America’s nuclear regulatory agencies, had been staying.
This morning, the team was meeting in what looked to be some sort of small warehouse and indeed it was, but one for the exclusive use of the unknown name agency within which Colins operated. Mikiko had arrived early and Parker had handed her the tablet.
Danae had been watching the Japanese woman for the past three-quarters of an hour realizing she must be in terrible emotional pain but somehow able to suppress it all. Was it her training or another strange characteristic of the mysterious woman she knew as Mikiko Kojima?
Mikiko could feel her tears slowly describing a faint channel down each cheek as her cybernetic emotional controllers blunted her rage, horrendous grief, and needless guilt into mere sorrow. She wanted to yell, scream, throw chairs, smash her fist into the wall. She had visions of snapping Sebastian Wright’s neck as easily as a farmer might break the neck of a chicken he was planning on having for supper.
It wasn’t just Sebastian though, it was all of them, but Richard Singleton was dead and Amanda Thomas was still missing. Then there was the Organization, that huge, malignant cancer consuming thousands upon thousands of people each year. Girls and woman were sold as sex slaves, men as brute labor, Once the trafficker got his money, he would often ship his living cargo in flimsy inflatable rafts across the Mediterranean, no longer caring if they lived or died because he already had payment in hand.
Danae was a covert operative. She knew pain came with the job description. On top of that, she came out as a lesbian when she was seventeen and her parents promptly kicked her out of their home. She had still been close to her brother, but he was going to Uni at the time and couldn’t put her up in his dorm. She’d drifted from one sofa to another, sometimes selling herself for a meal and a place to stay for the night.
Pain and loneliness came out with her and there seemed to be no end of it, not until she was recruited by one of the most secret agencies in the United Kingdom, maybe all of Europe. She still didn’t know who she worked for, but her computer hacking skills and unusually accurate research and data organization abilities had somehow been brought to their attention. They trained her, gave her an education, and then they gave her a job.
Geoffrey Colins was the highest ranking member of the Agency she had ever met and although their methods were unorthodox at best and illegal at worst, they had taken down some of the most corrupt politicians, cold-hearted drug dealers, and ruthless professional fraud rings known to exist, people and groups legitimate law enforcement couldn’t or wouldn’t touch.
She’d once asked how the Agency was different from the Secret Intelligence Service which included MI6 and Colins told her that SIS had a website and named its high-ranking operatives providing details about their backgrounds. The Agency didn’t. In fact as far as the public was concerned, the Agency didn’t exist.
“It’s okay to cry.” Danae’s voice was the first sound she and Mikiko had heard in almost an hour and it sounded small and hollow in the large warehouse space. She didn’t want to disturb the other woman. She knew Mikiko blamed herself for that girl’s death, but only Wright deserved to take responsibility for it, and she wanted to help somehow. Colins and the others would be here soon. Then there would be no time for grief, recriminations, or anything else. There’d be just the briefing and the next mission.
Mikiko said something in Japanese and then stopped for a second. “I know,” she uttered in English. “I can’t, not that I wouldn’t like to. It’s this thing they put inside of me, to make sure I don’t go out of control…to make sure…”
Then Mikiko felt arms around her, a hand pulling her head onto a shoulder, body warmth, someone who cared. Her own inhibitions and the cybernetics made a subtle adjustment and then she started crying.
“I’m…I’m so sorry. I am so very sorry. She’s dead and I could have saved her…I could have, I can do anything, anything if only they’d let me. What good is all of this if they won’t let me help?”
Even so upset and distracted, she heard the moment Colins stepped foot in the warehouse over thirty meters away. She smelled his scent, heard his slow, steady breathing. If he were close enough, she’d even be able to detect his heartbeat. He was coming closer. Mikiko pulled away from Danae. They made eye contact momentarily and in English, she mouthed “Thank you.” Danae gave a thin smile and nodded.
“Obviously you’ve heard.”
Suddenly Mikiko hated that clipped, proper, Oxford accent of Geoffrey’s. Still sitting she abruptly swung her head in his direction very well realizing how resentment and shame twisted her features.
“I know,” he said far too calmly. “It’s my fault. I sacrificed that girl and the others for the sake of the operation. Given the same conditions, I’d do so again and again.”
She wanted to leap up and smash the heel of her palm under his nose, jamming the bone at the bridge into his brain. It would kill him almost instantly. Her hand-to-hand combat trainer retired Marine Sgt Henry Eaton taught her over a hundred ways to kill a person just with her bare hands, and she had learned many more since then.
It was just an impulse. Her cybernetics weren’t even triggered. She knew he was encouraging her to blame him so she wouldn’t blame herself. In his own way, he was showing her the same sort of kindness Danae had.
The other members of the team were entering now. Ellis had brought tea, coffee, and pastries in from Starbucks. Everyone was just getting settled when Colins’s cell rang. Mikiko suddenly was aware that she was holding Danae’s tablet and gave it back to the woman now sitting next to her. “Thanks.”
“You’re sure? Can you send the feed over? Marvelous. Thanks.” Colins broke the connection and turned to the team. “Sienna Thomas has just resurfaced at Orly in the company of someone familiar. The security camera footage will be available here in a few moments.”
Danae took that as her cue to turn on the projector and verify the hook up. Wilson hopped up and killed most of the lights. An image formed on the screen behind Colins. The agents immediately noticed the video had been edited to focus on the subjects of their interest.
“Yes, there. That must be Sienna. Large hat, sunglasses, a wig or they dyed her hair but definitely her.”
“Charles,” muttered Mikiko.
“Yes, Mikiko.” Colins briefly consulted his mobile. “Charles Smythe, Chief of Security at the Park Plaza where you obviously encountered him. We’ve suspected he was working for Sebastian Wright in more than an official capacity and now we have our proof.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Sir.” Wilson had to suppress the urge to raise his hand. “I mean, if Smythe works for Wright and the Organization, why be involved in kidnapping Amanda Thomas and her daughter?”
“Good question. Singleton isn’t likely to be behind it so if someone else wanted Thomas out of the way, who might it be?”
“Do we still have Wright and the others in custody, Colins?”
“No, Danae. The Management thought we’d pushed it as far as we could. We gathered all the intel we were going get out of them anyway. Most didn’t know anything more than we already did, so we released them. I’m convinced they weren’t behind the Thomas disappearances or Singleton’s death.”
“Who then, Sir?”
“The answer to that question most likely will be found in Chicago, Ellis.”
“Yes, I’ve been informed that an hour ago, Smythe and Thomas, using false identification, boarded a non-stop flight from Orly to O’Hare. They should arrive…” he checked his phone again, “…in just under ten hours.”
“I have to get there first, Mr. Colins.” Mikiko stood up. Her voice was perfectly calm but there was pleading in her eyes. Although the expression on Geoffrey’s face hadn’t changed, he was giving off a number of subtle signs that told her he was turning the idea over in his mind. She knew his top priority was the mission but barring being able to locate Amanda, Sienna was the only piece of the puzzle they had open to them, and the only place they would find answers now is in Chicago.
If she and Charles landed and disappeared, it would be almost impossible to find them.
Less than two hours later, Mikiko boarded a Rockwell B-1 Lancer at RAF High Wycombe with only a small carry-on expecting to arrive in Chicago within the next five to six hours. With any luck, she’d be waiting for Charles Smythe and Sienna Thomas at their arrival gate at O’Hare. The American government assured Colins that they would offer her every cooperation. At the same time, he activated an Agency team in the area. Mikiko had the proper codes to contact them so hopefully, CIA, FBI, and other U.S. agencies would only have to be used for support.
As the supersonic bomber was taxiing to the designated runway for takeoff, Danae came across something.
“Colins, I’ve been running a deep background check on our various suspects and I’ve got something connecting Singleton and Thomas.”
“You mean more than we have already.”
“Exactly. Seems Singleton’s paternal family and Thomas’s maternal family have some history together. Through various pseudonyms, they were tied to numerous dummy corporations suspected of laundering counterfeit funds, pushing drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking going back over fifty years.”
“Interesting. Then their involvement with the Organization may not be just a matter of opportunity and profit but could indicate a shared family history. I wonder what else they share?”
“I’ll keep digging Colins, but it was difficult enough to come up with this and I hit upon it almost by accident.”
“Keep at it, Danae.”
“Yes sir.” She started to walk away.
“Oh, and good work. Thanks.” He smiled slightly.
“Thanks, Colins.” She always felt that he was a bit cold toward her, whether it was because she was openly gay or for some other reason, she didn’t know. This was one of the first occasions where he’d complimented her work. In fact, he had seemed slightly more human since Mikiko joined the team. How was she able to make a difference in him?
Charles didn’t want any trouble with Sienna so just before they boarded their flight, he insisted she ingest the sedative he’d brought along. She’d sleep through most of the trip and probably still be relatively compliant when they landed in Chicago. He’d take her to the warehouse first for processing. By the time she was in the hands of Hellspite, he’d be in the air returning to London.
As far as Wright and the Organization were concerned, he was on holiday. He expected to be briefed on his supervisor’s trials in detention upon his return, seemingly knowing nothing more about the disappearances of Amanda and Sienna Thomas than Wright did and certainly not who was actually behind it all.
Amanda knew what they were doing. The drugs had started taking effect sometime ago, but now she had no sense of time. She wasn’t even sure what she told them. Certainly everything they already seemed to know about Richard Singleton, the Organization, human trafficking, the names of her cell members and the other lieutenants stationed in the UK. She may have even told them her biggest secret, what she knew of Mzimu, the international core of the Organization, information even Singleton didn’t possess.
She remembered she’d taken out an “insurance policy” before leaving London, but they hadn’t questioned her about that. If Mzimu didn’t want everything she knew released simultaneously to every major law enforcement agency and news organization in the Western Hemisphere, they had exactly one week to locate and free her and her daughter unharmed.
It was a long shot but either Mzimu was behind all this and after passing whatever macabre trial this was supposed to be, they would have them both released or, if some other party were involved, Mzimu would spare no effort or resource in locating and liberating them. They had a lot to lose if the insurance policy expired.
How long had she been here? Perhaps a week was too long? It was easy to believe she would be killed in the next few hours if Mzimu didn’t intervene. Was Sienna still alive?
Even though the commercial airliner had taken off from Paris with quite a head start, the U.S. Air Force B-1 Lancer would get to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport nearly ninety minutes before Charles and Sienna were scheduled to land. Given her rather unusual status and the British agency she was on loan to, entering the foreign country was a mere formality. No customs, no passport checks, it had all been arranged ahead of time.
It used to be more common for military aircraft to land at O’Hare. The flight engineer on the B-1 was something of a history buff and told Mikiko that from 1947 to 1999, a section of the airport had been reserved as an Air Force Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve facility. It much more rare for military aircraft to land at the now totally civilian facility, but not entirely unheard of either, so it would raise only a few eyebrows when the bomber arrived.
They encountered head winds so flight was just over five-and-a-half hours long and once she had convinced the Air Force lieutenant that she was not bored, lonely, or requiring company, politely of course, he was content to return to the cockpit.
She needed time to think or more accurately, time to process. She had been experiencing unanticipated emotions and thoughts since on assignment, particularly since the death of the young human trafficking victim at the hands of one of Wright’s customers.
What was she feeling?
Cybernetic chips had been implanted in various areas of her brain six years ago shortly after her accident, shortly after Professor Daniel Hunt and his hand-picked reconstruction team had become involved at the behest of the Japanese and British governments. The physical and psychological trauma she experienced when Reactor Number One began melting down and she was trapped in the control annex mere meters from the core had been horrifying, hideous, excruciating, unthinkable.
An experimental treatment saved her from almost immediately dying of acute radiation poisoning, but even then, she was merely a lump of scar tissue, a head and torso, her internal organs barely functioning, that is before Hunt agreed to take her case along with the special provisions both governments assigned him. The doctors tried to keep her unconscious most of the time, but she had moments of startling clarity…and agony resulting in, among other things, life-threatening seizures (although she suffered from multiple conditions one could consider “life threatening” enough so that keeping her alive let alone stable on a day-by-day basis was an enormous challenge).
Hunt had constructed a series of nearly microscopic cybernetic chips that he directed be inserted in very specific areas of her brain. They formed a network that, when initiated by Sophia, the artificially intelligence system responsible for coordinating the entire “synthecon” process, regulated her emotional and cognitive states, not only suppressing her seizures, but inducing whatever mental condition that was necessary to facilitate her recovery.
Sophia also managed everything about Mikiko’s reconstruction, from creating her basic structural design and operating parameters, to organizing the tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands of “nanoprobes” that were now permanently circulating in the biosynthetic and organic parts of her body including her brain, periodically instructing them first on her construction and then later on her general maintenance.
Mikiko was never consciously aware when Sophia updated the programming to the nanoprobes or her cybernetic circuitry, and she suspected that Hunt wasn’t aware of all of the changes and upgrades made by the AI either.
Sophia itself was experimental. Based on Hunt’s and Synthecon’s understanding and simulations of the human brain, she was the world’s first synthetic artificial intelligence modeled directly after humanity’s most complex and mysterious organ. Granted, she was much larger physically than a human brain and unlike the science fiction thrillers, she was not considered sentient, did not have conversations with her creator of a personal nature, and the subject of world conquest never seemed to come up. However, at least as far as Mikiko was concerned, Sophia had what could be characterized as a “deep understanding and relationship” not only with the nanoprobes responsible for the synthetic woman’s continuing health, but with her over all physiology, as if the occasional updates of firmware weren’t just for the nanoscopic robots but for Mikiko personally.
She had long known that the cyberchips regulated her emotional states when they approached what Hunt (or perhaps Sophia) considered “dangerous” levels, but did they control anything else about her cognitive and emotive states?
In the last two years, Mikiko had been trained by some of the finest experts in the world encompassing dozens of disciplines including survival training, gymnastics, logic-based encryption, even ninjitsu. This also included extensive instruction in firearms, their use, maintenance, concealment, and marksmanship. Additionally, she had been trained in numerous martial art forms, up to and including over one hundred ways to kill a person with her bare hands in under a second.
Six years ago, twenty-two year old junior nuclear engineer Mikiko Jahn not only had no intention of hurting another human being, but the very suggestion would have made her nauseous. And yet, less than half a day ago, she momentarily had the strong desire to strike Geoffrey Colins in the face hard enough to break his nose. This would have been unthinkable to the young Ms. Jahn, who was always taught to respect authority and to place the good of the group ahead of her own desires and interests.
Since she was of mixed parentage, although it might be formally denied, she was not regarded very well, particularly by most Japanese men since one, she was a woman entering a man’s professional world, and two, the was not “fully” Japanese. As a result, on top of everything else, Mikiko never ever, as the Americans might say, “rocked the boat.” Her hand-to-hand combat trainer would have described her as someone who would “go along to get along.”
That Mikiko, the person she had been for the first twenty-two years of her life, seemed to have vanished, and she could not remember the exact moment or circumstances of her disappearance. What she had realized was that there was now a different Mikiko in her place. She had all the same memories, the same basic attitudes, but for six years, she had been slowly, painstakingly, traumatically put back together a piece at a time, sometimes cell by cell. She had undergone multiple iterations of reconstruction, each one becoming just a little bit more human, month by month, year by year, until the new and improved Mikiko Jahn or should she say Mikiko Kojima, since that was the name she was still traveling under, appeared. Reconstructed, reassembled, reborn.
But as who…or what?
It was after 1 p.m. in Chicago. Mikiko had only met Charles once briefly and Sienna not at all, so the Agency enlisted the cooperation of TSA in allowing her to be waiting near the gate when their flight arrived. Since it was possible that Charles might remember her from the symposium in London last week, she altered her appearance to that of a different Japanese woman, just another business traveler waiting at an international airport for her flight.
She only looked up once briefly so she could verify that Charles and Sienna were passing in front of her. The girl looked somewhat glassy-eyed and by her odor, Mikiko had no trouble realizing she’d been drugged. However, now she could recognize both of their individual scents up to a distance of six kilometers within the city and more like ten in open country.
The problem was transportation. Most likely they’d leave the airport by private auto or taxi and she would lose their trail if they did. However, since the Agency had arranged she have the cooperation of the local authorities, access to the hundreds of webcams located in the city and immediate surroundings assured that their movements would be followed.
Charles and Sienna would be delayed by customs and again when picking up their luggage, so Mikiko had plenty of time to get outside and meet her contact. They arranged to rendezvous in a security tunnel under one of the parking garages so no surveillance cameras would record their activities. He was about average height, Caucasian, he wore dark clothes and a TSA cap. There was only a single bare light bulb over his head for illumination and the shadow of the cap’s bill hid his face. He handed Mikiko a box wrapped in plain brown paper.
“When you’re done, leave the box here. Someone will be along to dispose of it. You have five minutes to take your items and go.” His voice sounded hoarse as if he were trying to disguise it, like how actor Christian Bale changed between Bruce Wayne’s and Batman’s voice in those “Dark Knight” movies. Then he turned and walked away.
There was a small shelf against one wall. After the man was gone, Mikiko placed the package on it, tore through the paper, and then lifted the lid. Inside were a smartphone, a Glock 17, and five extra clips of ammo. There was also a handbag that was somewhat larger than the one she currently was carrying. She put the contents of the smaller into the larger and then added the Glock, the clips, and the cell. She put the smaller handbag into her carry on. Five minutes were nearly up so she climbed the stairs out of the tunnel back to street level.
Charles and Sienna were still waiting for their luggage. She stood several meters away from the doors as if she were waiting for a shuttle or a ride. One of the nearby cab drivers asked if she needed a lift and she told him perhaps in a few minutes.
Finally, the duo came out at just past 4.p.m. The sun would be setting in less than 30 minutes. Charles had Sienna by one arm as if to steady her, but it looked to Mikiko a lot more like control. She looked and smelled less drugged and she was clearly frightened, as if she had suddenly awakened from a long sleep and found herself trapped in an unknown hell.
Charles had the wherewithal to surreptitiously scan the area for signs of being followed, but he barely noticed her. She had again changed faces and hair and, just as in the past, worn a reversible jacket and changed shoes so that it wasn’t tremendously obvious she was in disguise. It still amazed Mikiko that these simple tricks worked, but then again, instead of a dark-haired Japanese professional as she seemed in the airport, she now looked like somewhat lighter-haired and more casually attired Chinese-American student or entry-level office worker.
They got the attention of a cabbie who quickly put their luggage in the boot, or rather the “trunk” of the cab and then opened the rear door for them. He closed it, and then returned to the driver’s seat. Even through the windows, Mikiko could clearly hear the address Charles gave the driver. “You’ve got it, Pal.” The driver turned on the meter, signaled, and then carefully pulled away from the curb.
On the trip from England, Mikiko had plenty of time to memorize a map of the Chicago area. The cybernetic chips that were now part of her emotive and cognitive systems not only regulated her emotional reactions but enhanced her memory, along with greatly speeding up her reaction time, and perhaps many other things. They acted as the interface between her organic biological and biosynthetic systems. Otherwise, she would never be able to interpret the signals being carried by her synthetic optic nerves, the rest of her nervous system or anything else her brain needed to process in order for her to use this “syntheorg” body.
She gave the driver an address a city block to the west of where Charles had given his driver, somewhere in the Cicero suburb of Chicago.
“No worries, then.” Unlike the other cab driver, this one took off away from the curb like a bullet from the Glock she was carrying. There was no need for her to tell the cabbie, “Follow that car,” as in the old American movies, but she almost said it anyway just for fun.
It was strange how in the midst of such serious business her sense of humor would surface, albeit briefly. Mikiko wondered if the cybernetic implants had something to do with it, another way to help her maintain equilibrium in an emotionally charged situation.
The driver tried to engage her in conversation but she ignored him. He took it in stride and kept driving. Mikiko consulted her new smartphone. She was receiving encrypted texts updating her on the location of the other taxi. It was certainly possible that Charles could give his driver a new destination in transit or just to have the cab pull over prematurely so they could exit.
Oddly enough, as she traveled, Mikiko recalled a news story about a 17-year-old boy who was fatally shot some months ago in the Cicero area. He’d been playing basketball. There was no motive and no suspect had ever been arrested. A senseless death. So many senseless deaths.
The driver seemed to take the long way around, at least in terms of distance, but the map on her phone said that I-294 was the fastest route. Mikiko distracted herself during the half-an-hour plus drive (the rush hour traffic was as bad here as in Tokyo or London) by searching Google about Cicero. Apparently, it was a great place to find local cuisine. The majority of the population was Spanish-speaking, and during the American Prohibition in the 1920s, famous gangster Al Capone had his headquarters there. It also used to be highly industrialized, having 115 factories in the 1930s, but by the 1980s, most of those businesses had been closed and abandoned. Only some of them were finally being recovered for other use.
Charles had told his driver to take them to the corner of W. 16th street and S. Central Avenue, so Mikiko told her driver W. 16th and S. Austin. As she got out and paid the cabbie, she smelled a delicious odor and recalled that Freddy’s Pizza place was just a few blocks behind her. She wished she had the time to stop for a slice, but she had to keep moving. She still found herself regretting the lackluster meal she’d choked down at one of O’Hare’s food courts a couple of hours ago.
She got a text telling her that the taxi deposited Charles and Sienna at their destination. They had walked to a nearby donut establishment and ordered two coffees. As Mikiko started walking east, the smell transitioned from pizza to Mexican food. She was in sight of the donut place when another text arrived stating that a gray sedan had pulled up on the south side of 16th. Mikiko could see he car as well as Charles and Sienna leaving the shop and crossing over toward it.
She could strongly detect both Charles and Sienna by scent being so close now. Mikiko didn’t smell the drugs in Sienna’s system anymore but she did smell her fear. Even above the street noise, she could hear the girl softly cry out as Charles yanked her by the arm across the street. She hadn’t been able to hear their conversation when they’d been indoors, but Mikiko guessed that earlier Sienna said something Charles didn’t like.
She was walking faster, but if she ran, Charles might notice her. She was still using the guise he’d last seen her in when she was outside the terminal so he might even recognize her. They slipped in the backseat of the car.
“Let’s go,” Charles ordered. The driver must know where they were headed.
Mikiko got a text. It was a shot of the car’s license plate taken from the webcam mounted on the traffic light the vehicle had just passed under. It would take time if she had to call another cab, but she didn’t know what else to do. She had to hope the traffic cams were able to follow them and that she’d be able to find a way to their destination before they vanished inside a building.
She knew she wasn’t far from a public transportation option called “The Pink Line,” and since the car had turned south onto Central, which was in the general direction of the 54th/Cermak Station, she walked quickly in that direction. She was also walking toward the Cicero Police Department, which she found mildly amusing given the “cloak and dagger” nature of the operation.
The last thing she needed was for the police to detain her or, for that matter, the car Charles and Sienna were in. Mikiko needed to stop whatever Charles ultimately had in mind for the girl, sales to some American sexual abuser most likely, but she needed to see where they were going first. Instead of saving just one girl, Mikiko might be able to break the entire operation locally, then find out how much Sienna knew both about her captors and her mother.
She was approaching the Pink Line Station when she got another text. The car had turned into the parking lot of a warehouse and had stopped. It was less than a mile away. She decided to take the train since it would be faster than walking. She might have been able to run even faster, especially in a sprint, but that would have attracted plenty of attention. Running long distance, Mikiko could maintain a speed of about 16 kph for up to two or three hours. Over a hundred meter dash, she could have outrun even Usain Bolt.
Fortunately, the train was not long in coming. She boarded it feeling strangely at home since in her previous life, she most often took trains and buses. Autos were a rarity.
The next stop was Cicero Station which was the closest point to where the car carrying Charles and Sienna was still waiting. She had to assume that since she’d received no further texts.
It was approaching 6 p.m. which was nearly midnight in London. Mikiko had napped during her flight, perhaps an hour or so. She could continue for another day without feeling the effects, but when this was all over, she hoped for a long and uninterrupted sleep someplace safe.
It was completely dark now and she was the only one on the sidewalk in an industrial area, so quite conspicuous. She paused a moment to open her carry on. She took off her jacket and donned a black pullover sweater. The handgun and extra clips went in her smaller handbag which she could wear around her waist, while the carry on had straps that allowed it to convert into a backpack. She would have to be fast and mobile. Her dark clothing would help conceal her. Now that her hands were free, she felt more comfortable. She also relaxed and returned to her normal features and hair color.
There was the parking lot ahead. She could see a large warehouse beyond. There were bright lights shining in the outer parking lot but no illumination from inside the structure. She also saw that there was a locked gate between the parking lot and the inside court of the building and razor wire was strung all along the top of the inner fence. She smelled a human presence inside the perimeter just outside the building. Guards maybe. The warehouse could have been abandoned but there were no broken windows and it looked in good repair. Mikiko’s ability to see body heat let her match the odor of the supposed guards to their exact locations if they were in line of sight.
A car came around from the other side of the building. The car Charles and Sienna were in flashed its headlights on and off twice. The approaching car inside the fence did the same. Then the car Mikiko had been following turned on its engine and drove toward the gate. When it arrived, the gate came open, operated electronically no doubt. Mikiko was at a point at the outer fence as close as she could get to the two cars without being seen. After quickly glancing around to make sure no one else was in the area, she sat down to minimize her profile in case surveillance cameras were pointed at the street.
Both cars had stopped. Charles brought Sienna out of the back. The girl seemed listless, groggy. Scent said that Charles had probably dosed her again to control her. Also probably so she wouldn’t be able to know where she had been taken in the unlikely event she escaped.
“Got the prize I see.” A man had gotten out of the back of the other car. American accent. Midwestern. Probably a local.
“Did you doubt me?” Charles pulled Sienna to the other man.
“Got to love door-to-door delivery. Better than an Amazon drone.”
Charles passed the girl over. She was so doped up, she didn’t seem to know or care what was happening.
“Here you go. She’s your baby now. Just make sure she’s not intoxicated and that she’s cleaned up for when he wants to take possession.”
“Not a problem, Chuckles. I know my job. We’ll have her ready for Mr. 900 North Michigan when he calls tomorrow.”
“Watch your mouth.” Charles seemed perturbed that the other man had used an address.
“Relax. Nobody here but us chickens, Chuckles.” The other man seemed to enjoy making fun of Smythe’s given name.
“Very well, my job is done. Just make sure I get paid on time.”
“Money’s already been transferred. You’re golden.”
Charles turned to Sienna. “You’ve been a delightful traveling companion my dear, but now we must part company.”
It took a few seconds for her to look in Charles’s direction but Mikiko doubted she realized what he had said.
The two men laughed, apparently at the girl’s predicament. Mikiko experienced a sudden flash of anger, then remembered being pushed and teased by other children when she was small. Then she remembered public transportation again, but this time it was with the discomfort of men pressing their erect genitals against her twelve-year-old body, feeling hands move along her thighs and up her skirt. She blushed with shame and gritted her teeth. Mikiko wanted to kill them all.
Wait. She had been teased by children when she was five because she wasn’t “true Japanese.” She remembered chikan, having been groped and fondled on the train she took back home after school, but that was fifteen years ago. “I want to kill them all,” but in her mind, the bullies, her molesters, and now Charles and the other man, the human trafficker were all jumbled together.
If the cyber-implants were supposed to keep her emotions within controllable bounds, why was she experiencing this now?
While her mind had been drifting, Charles had returned to his car and it was now heading back toward the outer gate. Mikiko lay flat on the ground, hidden by low shadows as the sedan got to the street and turned north. Charles was no longer the target. The Agency would have the American authorities follow him, though all he would probably do was either go to a hotel for the night or catch the next flight back to London.
Mikiko’s immediate concern now was Sienna.
The other man had just helped her into the backseat of his car and then joined her. As he was pulling the door shut, Mikiko heard his low whisper, “Hellspite is going to love you, sweetie.” Then the car’s engine came to life, it executed a u-turn and went back the way it came. The inner gates shut.
Guards outside the building, most certainly armed, probably outer surveillance cameras. There was no way Mikiko could get in without being spotted. On the other hand, she knew two important pieces of information. The man who had ordered Sienna brought to Chicago from France was the assassin Hellspite, and Hellspite could be located at 900 N. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
She pulled the cell out of her pocket. Mikiko knew what her next step was going to be.
This story is the immediate sequel to Hellspite. A number of my readers have expressed an interest in Mikiko’s activities in the flash fiction piece Murder at 900 North Michigan and I’ve promised to write an expanded version explaining the wider implications of that tale. I had planned for this to be that expanded chapter, but as the word count rose past 6500, I decided I had to end the action here and carry over the conclusion of these events to an additional chapter.
On the other hand, I’ve managed to add a few more illuminating tidbits to Mikiko’s background and at least hint at why her psychology seems so screwy at times.
Here are other stories in Mikiko’s overall saga in the order I wrote them but not in chronological order:
- The Reconstructed Woman
- Burn Victim
- Woman Under Repair
- Woman in the Shadows
- The Search for Armageddon
- The Swimmer
- Murder at 900 North Michigan
- First Flight
- The Man in the Dark
I also featured Mikiko and Hellspite in Predators in Haven, a story I wrote for another photo writing challenge, but I don’t know if those actions will figure into the “canon” of the Mikiko tales. It is, however, set after the evens in Murder at 900 North Michigan and so suggests that Hellspite isn’t particularly easy to get rid of.
See you in the next chapter The Vengeful.