Jína grimaced and rubbed her neck. A dull ache had lodged out of reach behind her shoulder blades. She gripped the edge of her desk, pushed back her office chair and wiggled her feet into her sturdy black pumps. She raised her arms above her head, lifted her chin, and stretched up to the ceiling. The vertebrae in her back cracked. She tucked her shirttail into her pants’ waistband and shook out her pant legs.
Jína walked to the floor to ceiling glass window opposite her desk. She gazed down at the silent city, asleep in the dull dirty-grey pre-dawn. Not that there would be much human activity, as the humanoids have taken over the myriad of daily tasks with an efficacy that far surpassed the humans. Her mind wandered back to her research. A shudder scaled down her spine and tickled her tailbone. If it all played out as planned by the world ruling Governments, there would be no normal human future. Humans turned into humanoids, required no food, and were controlled with the flick of a switch.
As she had done too many a morning in the past year, Jína watched the sun’s slow ascent. Early morning light pushed away dawn’s purple-bruised curtains. The sun’s overripe-orange body followed and wavered a few seconds above the horizon’s bench as it donned its early morning pale grapefruit-yellow suit, stepped into sky and painted it baby-blue. The speed with which the sun rose, once freed from its night-time shackles, never ceased to amaze her.
A bold sunray latched onto the metal frame of a building across, did a pole-dance jig and blitzed a shard into her eye. Jína jerked away from the window and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Black and white dots danced behind her eyeballs. She turned, walked back to her desk. She ejected a flash drive, secreted it in a hidden pocket inside her waistband, and started a programme, wiping the hard drive clean.
The main office door squeaked open. Her pulse did a hop-skip and jumped into her throat. Jína turned. Daisy, the duster-buster humanoid, entered the office and started twirling around on her daily morning routine. She wiped her forehead. She had to avoid Gibriz, her advanced humanoid supervisor. Knowing his routine, he would arrive soon. She looked at her watch, shrugged into her jacket, grabbed her briefcase, and left the office. Knowing they had followed her for the past week, Jína stuck to her usual routine and boarded the 6.30 am bus that would take her to head office for the morning meeting.
She walked to the back of the middle of the bus and put her brief bag on a seat next to the exit doors. Taking off her jacket, she looked out of the window. Her shadow had settled on the bench inside the bus stop. Jína waited until the bus reached the third stop. The humanoid bus driver opened the middle doors and lowered the wheelchair ramp. She shot out of her seat and out of the bus before anyone could board.
Jína entered the city park and stepped up her pace. Five minutes later, she reached La Vintage, one of the last few corner coffee shops still in operation. She inhaled the familiar rich aroma of Francois’ freshly brewed coffee. Today it brought her no comfort. She wondered how much longer this type of business would survive with the aggressive breeding of humanoids who required no food. Francois came out of the kitchen dressed in his usual chef’s gear, grey tufts sticking out from under his toque blanche. He slapped his hands against his navy blue apron. Today, the smile on his face did not reach his eyes.
‘The usual Jína?’
‘Thank you, Francois.’
‘And maybe a croissant? They are fresh.’
Jína’s stomach responded with a loud growl. A blush crawled up her neck. She cleared her throat and gave Francois a sheepish grin.
‘Thank you, yes.’
‘It is better not to travel on an empty stomach.’
Jína turned and walked to a table against the wall, next to the emergency door opening onto the alley beyond, and sat down, her back to the wall. She threw a fervent glance around the dining area. It was empty but for herself. She put her briefcase at her feet, got up, and put her jacket back on. She sat down and kept her eyes on the plate glass front windows.
Francois set two cups of coffee and a plate with her croissant on the table, nodded towards the emergency door, and left. She knew it meant the door was unlocked and Patrick would arrive shortly. Jína picked up the croissant and nibbled at its edges. It turned into pulped card board. She washed her mouth with a sip of coffee. A whiff of displaced air alerted her to the opening of the well-oiled emergency door. She dropped the half-eaten croissant on her plate. Patrick slipped into the chair next to her.
‘I have all the information and the location of every humanoid laboratory. There is not much more I can do from the inside. We both know….’
‘You’ve stayed longer under cover than we thought you could. You are right, your job is done. You will leave with me. We can discuss your suggestions on how to dispense with those humanoid laboratories at Head office. Finish up your coffee.’
The rebel in Jína objected to being ordered to drink her coffee. She bit back a retort, picked up her cup and guzzled the lukewarm liquid. She bent down to collect her briefcase from under the table. Something whistled through the air and thudded into the wall where her head was a moment ago. Before she could move, Patrick dove on her and pinned her to the floor under the table. The front plate-glass windows shattered. Two more shots thumped. Too close for comfort. A puff of cordite hung in the air.
‘To the counter and into the kitchen. Keep your head below the window sill. I am right behind you.’
Patrick got up, his Glock 18 Gamma Dopler in his hands, and fired through the broken plate glass front window.
‘Got him. Now move!’
Years of training with the Human Ghost Squad kicked in. Jína gripped her briefcase and crabbed to the service counter out of sight of the windows and got up. Patrick grabbed her elbow, and they pushed through the kitchen staff door. Patrick hit the light switch and turned the lights off. Jína pulled her arm out of Patrick’s hold and stopped, allowing her eyes to adjust. Running footsteps thundered in the alley. Fast shadows passed the kitchen window.
Jína turned toward Francois’ voice. His body a darker blob against the back wall of the kitchen. A loud bang shredded the silence in the dining area. Around her, the walls shook. Evil permeated the air. A freight train of panic roared up her spine. She bolted towards Francois and crashed into a steel table. A red-hot lava of pain exploded in her hipbone. A rush of tears blurred her vision. She gritted her teeth. It took every ounce of her energy to put one foot in front of the other.
Jína reached the back wall and stumbled through the door Francois held open. Patrick gripped her shoulders and dragged her deeper into the alcove. Behind her, Francois slid the door back in place, sealing the kitchen wall. If luck was on their side, they would not find the lever to open it. Francois shuffled past her. Jína moved back and stood on Patrick’s foot. A steel arm encircled her chest and kept her upright. Francois keyed a code into a vault door and swung it open. Patrick released Jína. They followed Francois through the door and waited as he closed the door and engaged the sealing mechanism and entered a locking code.
Francois shone his torch against the wall of the tunnel and Patrick unhooked two headlight torches from a wall hook and handed one to Jína. They followed in single file behind Patrick as he led the way down the passage. Five minutes into the passage, they encountered a steep downward slope. Thankful for her sturdy pumps, Jína bent her knees slightly and maintained her balance and pace. Another five minutes later, the passage opened into a vast underground chamber.
A shark-nosed mini bullet train sat silently on the tracks in the middle of the chamber. They boarded. Jína looked at the thick-necked controller. His face made up of spare parts. His flat green eyes held hers in an unblinking stare. Her eyes dropped to the red star on his chest, an award for heroic acts during action. It was a relief to know he was one of them and not a humanoid. Still, he could easily fit in with the other side.
Jína fastened her seat belt just in time as the force of the train took off and forced her deeper into her seat. Her scrutiny must have pissed him off. Men and their tender ego. The train settled into a steady rhythm. Jína took her briefcase off her lap and settled it on the empty chair next to her.
‘We will be at base camp in two hours.’
Jína looked up at Patrick sitting across from her and nodded. It felt odd to return to the fold after being away for so long. She pressed the reclining button in chair’s arm and closed her eyes. Her mind slowed down and sleep claimed her. A tap on her shoulder jolted her awake. They have reached their destination.
Patrick took Jína to her old suite in the officers’ barracks.
‘I will collect you in an hour for debriefing.’ he said and set off towards his own room.
Jína watched his broad back until he disappeared from sight. She entered her old room and shut the door. Inspecting her cupboard, she found her freshly pressed Captain’s uniform. She went into the bathroom, stripped, cranked the water to hot and stood under the shower. She inhaled the steam and blanked her mind. Half an hour later, she was dressed, her damp hair tied into a knot and ready. She scanned the papers she took from her briefcase a final time and put it back. She took the flash drive from its secret pocket and added it to the papers in her briefcase.
There was a soft knock on the door. She opened it. Marinda bustled into the room and shut the door.
‘You did it. You did it.’ Marinda squealed.
‘I hope so.’
‘You are the talk of the day. Of course, you did it. We will soon be able to take back our country from those dogs wanting to change all humans into humanoids.’
Marinda gave Jína a quick rundown of the events that took place during her year of absence. Jína listened with half an ear. Her mind was on the debriefing that lay ahead. Patrick’s knock on the door interrupted them. She followed Patrick to the President’s boardroom, butterflies flitting in the nether regions of her stomach.
The debriefing took three hours. Jína had clipped the floor plans of every humanoid factory to a lecture board as she relayed all the information she had gathered. She then relayed the information that it would not be a nuclear war, but the release of a virulent strain of virus that would kill the remainder of humans and handed over the flash drive containing all the timed and planned schedules to release viruses, and the laboratories where it was made and stored.
‘So, the plan should be to first render the laboratories useless?’
‘That would be my suggestion, Mr President Sir.’
Weeks went by, during which time Jína fell back into the familiar rhythm of life on base camp. She settled back into her old position. She tracked the progress of Patrick and his team and remained in constant contact. Relief bloom as the third laboratory on her list was contained. The last leg of the operation, destruction of the humanoid factories, would soon follow.
Jína got up, ready to shut off her computers for the day, when her eye caught a red blip moving near the third virus facility. An iron fist hit her in the gut. Her eyes glued to the computer screen, she fell back in her chair. She blinked. The blip remained on the screen and kept moving. It was not her imagination. How could she have missed a fourth virus chamber? Jína’s astrophysicist training kicked in. She calculated the speed of the movement, praying she had it right. She grabbed the emergency sat phone at the side of her desk.
Two rings later, Patrick answered.
‘There is another chamber next to virus facility you have sealed.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It is showing on my screen and there is movement. About ten metres to the right.’
‘Do you still have sealant?’
‘Look for a passage leading off to the side.’
‘How much time?’
‘Forty-five minutes tops.’
‘I will make contact when I have found it.’
Jína replaced the dead receiver. She hunched forward and watched the red blip. Ten minutes to go. It still moved. She folded her hands under her chin and shot a desperate plea to the powers that be.
The sat phone shattered the silence.
‘We found it. We are busy sealing it off.’
White-knuckled, Jína clung to the phone. The red blip on the screen stilled, flickered, and faded.
‘It is sealed off.’