The Kidnapping Ring This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I was not proud of my job.

My mornings and nights, the daylights and midnights of three week’s time, all began to blend into one everlasting job. I had always been focused for this kind of thing, never unprepared. I had breathed for this job, lived for it. The missions that always ended up successful now seemed identical, played out over and over again so that the outcome never changed. I searched, I caught, and I transferred. Then the problem was out of my hands until, of course, the next one arose. It would begin the same as the last one, and the one before that and the one before that.

Kidnapping took effort, but in the end you were always rewarded. My reward just happened to be another mission. A challenge, they would say. A rut, I would argue.

It started when I was fifteen. Working as a translator to interpret foreign criminals, namely terrorists who worked for the CircleBlue co-op organization and like Funrir Deptinger, the pyromaniac who used nuclear-fueled fireworks to detonate the state of Maine in 2030, was never a fulfilling experience. You’d assume, what with the constant threat of being murdered (or worse) hanging over your head for seven hours, there would be much excitement and anticipation. However, you later realized that none of the teachers at school had ever bothered to inform you that being spit in the face and knocked aside on a consecutive basis was more common than actually translating a three-word sentence.

Basically, the hours had been strenuous, the people unbearable, and the overall atmosphere suffocating. Somehow the company that I now worked for got wind of who I was and what I’d gone through and they’d taken an interest.

And so it was quite ironic that they inducted me into my job by doing the exact thing I would have to do to others– they kidnapped me. And against all logistical reasons, I remained. The deal was simple; I kidnap the young children of foreign and respectable ambassadors, kings, and queens, and I would be rewarded protection, safety, a shelter, food, and something to do on a day-to-day basis.

The decision hadn’t been one of intelligence – it had been one of outright desperation.

Living as an orphan since the age of six had fueled me for the job I held today at the age of seventeen. I needed stealth, determination, patience, perseverance, and an unrelenting sense of bloodlust to carry out the precise second-by-second schedule of kidnapping a child. My bosses required that everything be timed perfectly; one wrong move, one second behind our timetable, and that was it. It was over. The mission was finished, botched, a failure.

And more often than not, after a failed mission, you were viewed as a failed kidnapper. Suffice it to say, you were done too. I worked for a company that only disclosed its location and name to a select few people. Unfortunately, I was not one of those people and so I was told to call the corporation what it was; the KR. Kidnapping Ring. My position was considered average on the Who’s Important scale, but I was fine with that. My position may’ve been seen as average, but it was a known fact that I was the absolute best at my field of work. Appropriately named a Stealthling, my job involved staying hidden no matter the consequences and grabbing the CHIQ (that’s “ch-i-ck”) – Child in Question – without detection.

A black Switchover sedan with tinted windows was parked across the street in front of an all-night Iranian-Russian bar. The street, although slightly worse-for-wear and trash strewn, was part of one of the newer communities in the prestigious section of Cozumel. Ever since the Disclaimer’s War of 2023 between America and Mexico (a war that had been started by a single discarded bendy straw) the United States’ government had gone to such lengths to reinvent all of the formerly known Drug Empire. Recently, instead of cattle and the homeless roaming the streets, posh lobster and salmon vendors stood neatly pressed in charcoal suits at every respectable corner, ready and willing to wait on the elite who now ruled the expensive mansions and condos that had officially overtaken all of Mexico.

The sedan was unobtrusively parked between hoverBenz-Maxis vehicles and anti-gravity Token Buses, which was what the KR had been aiming for. Passlost Street was empty and forlorn – not a passerby in sight. I noted almost off-handedly that there was a cool wind coming in from the Pacific Northwest and the temperature was probably in the low seventies. From my perch behind the corner of a building across the street, I could decipher faint shadows of dancing bodies moving throughout the first and second levels. Adjusting my MicroClose contacts with a quick blink of my eyes, I knew that hidden somewhere in that building was my next target.

Hogan Reffer was the forty-seven year old ambassador for the United Kingdom’s Treasury of Intellect, which was specifically used to locate (and collect, if you really wanted the truth) the most brilliant minds on the planet. The company that invested into this and now ran it, Kraden Corporation, had already harvested over three thousand of these intelligent protégés. As their motto stated – “The younger they are, the more brilliant our world becomes!” Reffer represented the Treasury of Intellect, and had been doing so for the past fifteen years. Quite successfully, too. Not one ill-started rumor or hasty affair had ever been fabricated or presented by the press and among the younger social elites, he was said to have an extraordinary personality; Hogan was caring, generous, humorous, well above genius status , and handsome.

His daughter, Valisha, was fourteen years old and an exact replica of her highly-esteemed father. Short height, waist-length brown hair, green-and-yellow pixeled eyes, and “cute as a button,” little Valisha was going to be wrapped within the confines of the kidnapping sedan in less than an hour. And she had no way of knowing that the fee her father would have to pay to get her back would be somewhere in the two billions category, which these days was close to what seventy-eight million dollars had been valued at twenty years ago. Basically, it was a fairly tricky amount of money to bargain with, but not inaccessibly so.

I crouched across the street from both the Iranian-Russian bar and the nondescript sedan while I watched for signs of Valisha. I was carefully observing the first level floor when a flash of bright metal caught the edges of my MicroClose contacts. When I glanced up to the second floor, there she was; little Miss Reffer was just sitting down on a hoverstool at the leftmost corner of the bar. By the way her cherry-red lips were moving, I automatically knew that she was requesting a Tango Lime Bubble Smoothie. I smiled at her naiveté.

Turning to the sedan, I whistled three low keys of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. The car’s auto-enhanced airwave locators instantly picked up the sound. Even though I couldn’t see inside of the vehicle itself, I knew I had the Chauffeur’s attention. I nodded once in his direction and held my hand up into a tight fist. I was ready.

I didn’t need to wait for a response to see if he understood; I was already climbing up the touch-activated fire escape. Halfway up, I let myself cling to the reinforced steel bars as it pulled me to the top of the building. Once it stopped, I grabbed hold of the ledge and leaped over the side, then began sprinting across rooftops and over the deep crevices between buildings. In the area where the bar was located, the buildings were constructed together in a loop that went over and around Passlost Street and the roofs connected in an oval.

Less than one minute and forty-nine seconds later, I was using my Pocket Lazer to operate on the screws that held the electrified plate-glass windows together. Four, three, two, one – I lifted the giant square from its place in the side of the building, threw it off to the side, and slipped through the opening.

Like the KR had informed me, the bar was smoky and its inhabitants aloof and mysterious. (Or trying too hard to be.) The walls were constantly changing colors, switching from red, to blue, to orange, and back to red again, giving the room the allusion that I was trapped in a kaleidoscope. There were only a handful of scattered people on the second level since most of the party was taking place below. The people that were up here with me were either passed out or on their seventh drink – and counting. I also knew that under-the-counter drugs were sold here, ranging from the cheapest to the fastest-killing, and that they were most likely in full effect tonight. Never mind that a fourteen year old girl was sipping a nonalcoholic drink amid the mist of partygoers; age restrictions had been tossed out Congress’s window along with the United States’ last president.

It took me nanoseconds to spot Valisha. She was seated exactly on the same hoverstool, at the same bar, near the same people as when I’d first glimpsed her from outside the window. Finding the predictability in others was another trait I had to possess to succeed at my demanding position. She wore a knee-length red dress, one that flowed and sparkled with liquid diamonds. Her earrings reached her shoulders, red rubies that stretched themselves thinly into perfect circles. A matching necklace adorned her neck. The only article of clothing out of place was her shoes; cheap black-and-white Chucks. Ancient footwear according to any international fashion magazine. So 2034!

Whether she was aware of this or not didn’t seem to matter. Alone in her own little world, Valisha was sipping away at her Tango Lime and letting her eyes wander. As the KR said, “timing was everything,” and so I waited the approximate nineteen minutes I was required to wait. At exactly 11:34pm, Valisha jumped down from her hoverstool and skipped her way casually over to the women’s bathroom.

My chance. It was my chance and I didn’t waste any time. Dragging back the zipper on my jeans pocket, I snatched up the small orb-like ball of grey fire. It instantly warmed my hand upon contact with my skin. Going down on one knee, I eyed the room until I located the epicenter of the entire second level. Holding the orb up in front of my eyes, I leveled the spot out, then swung my arm back and rolled it like a bowling ball. It traveled directly to my intended spot. I watched patiently, waiting.

And all at once, the grey fire flickered out.

Turning my head away, I felt the explosion of the Kinthe, the infamous but legal knockout gas used in the military, on my face, arms and every other exposed area of my body. I heard the sound of a body hitting the floor, but it was cushioned and muffled by the thick yellow carpeting that covered every inch of the upstairs. Waiting the required ten seconds for the room to clear out, I blinked my eyes open and flicked my gaze around. Sure enough, seven bodies were slumped over and knocked out cold. They would stay like that for at least the next half an hour, which was more time than I needed.

Scrambling up from my position on the floor, I silently fled across the silent room and slipped past the door leading into the women’s room. The sound of a toilet flushing was just ending as I crept in and the sink was running full blast. Wasting no more time than was necessary, I snapped my fingers together and the lights in the room flickered out. I heard the sound of soap hitting the basin of the sink, presumably dropped from Valisha’s fumbling fingers. I darted forward toward the sound and stealthily stepped, unnoticed, behind the young girl while she was preoccupied with finding the soap.

Rolling my eyes at the back of her tiny head, my arms flashed up from my sides to grab her. One arm bound around her waist and squeezed while the other snaked up Valisha’s chest, slapped a Muffle bandage across her mouth, and grabbed her bony arms together. Releasing with my one arm and capturing her hands behind her back with my other, I succeeded in hooking Movement-Tightening clamps onto her wrists, very similar to the old-fashioned version of handcuffs. Although in this case, every time the victim twitched or tried to free themselves, the clamps would instinctively tighten. I had the girl now and she knew it. A strangled-sounding scream blasted up from her throat.

“Party’s over, Valisha,” I said indifferently. “Now let’s get you clamped up so Daddy Hogan can come and rescue you.” I grabbed her by her silky hair, tugged her through the room, and shoved her onto the bar’s own touch-activated ladder. Stepping up on the steel rods above her, but still keeping a viselike grip on her hair, I activated the escape ladder. We hit the ground in seconds.

I glanced down the narrow alleyway as my feet scraped the polished cement. My eyes flickered around on their own accord, searching for signs of human activity. When I found nothing but the hoverBenz-Maxis’ front license plate, I hauled Valisha upright (as she had unceremoniously fallen over on our descent) and rotated between pushing, dragging, and carrying her down the long alley.

At first I was surprised by how much energy she put into fighting back, but my grip never weakened and less than one minute later, the defiance seemed to drain right out of her. She sagged and, no longer trying to walk, I had no choice but to drag her.

A little farther than halfway down the strip, I heard a low moan emit from the back of the girl’s throat. I rolled my eyes a second time. The only possible reason she could be moaning was to make me believe she was in some way hurt. I glanced down at her and was beyond shocked to discover streaming tear tracks on her face. In fact, I was so shocked that I loosened my grip and stared, confused, at her.

Her head rocked back from the sobs that couldn’t escape from the Muffle bandage. The tears drenched her face and the front of her dress. Because this had never happened before with a client’s kid, I bent down in front of her uncertainly. Unsure of what other action to take, I attempted to console her.

“Hey – Valisha, listen. We aren’t going to hurt you,” I lied. “This isn’t a rapist ring or anything. My company only wants your dad’s money,” I admitted freely. “So stop crying – nothing’s going to happen to you.” Now she was hiccupping as well as crying and moaning. My bewilderment rapidly changed to irritation and hidden uncertainty. The kid wouldn’t stop crying and since the Muffle bandage was still over her mouth, I was afraid she’d choke on her own sobs. Damaged CHIQ merchandise was unacceptable in the eyes of the KR. And so, against strict regulations to keep the situation under control and unnoticeable to outsiders, I ripped off the constricting tape.

Instead of screaming, which a part of me was certain she had been planning to do all along, Valisha looked up at me in astonishment. She cast her eyes down when I only glared and hiccupped, “I’m not afraid of being beaten and abused. I just want my dad.” Her lips quivered.

I just want my dad. The words hit me hard in the chest. They had much more of an effect than anything that had happened to me throughout my job so far. The confession, I just want my dad, changed something inside of me. In an instant, I went from being an immoveable Stealthling to a weakened seventeen year old girl.

I stared at Valisha for a considerable amount of time before I leaned forward, picked her up off the ground, and shoved her down the opposite end of the alleyway. She stumbled once in her Chucks. Her wild eyes betrayed her befuddlement.

“Go,” I told her. “Go back to the bar or your father’s house. Just get away from here.”

Her pixeled eyes blinked rapidly in quick succession. “What?” she managed.

My voice rose. “I’m letting you go! Get out. Hurry – before I change my mind,” I spat. The girl was pushing her luck by trying to figure out the reasons why I was letting her go. She didn’t need reasons – she just needed to leave.

Her head bobbed once in understanding. Backing off down the alleyway, her eyes never strayed from my own until she reached the end corner.

Then she turned and vanished from my view. Valisha escaped. And I let her.

With this knowledge came a tsunami of fear. It exploded in my chest and brought with it the certainty that something unimaginable was going to happen once I got back in the Chauffeur’s car and explained to him what had just occurred on Passlost Street. I swallowed and ran back to the sedan.

I couldn’t exactly predict the outcome like I could with so many other situations because this was something that had never occurred before in the KR. First time for everything, I thought nervously.

When I flung open the sedan’s sleek black doors and jumped into the backseat, the first thing I heard was, “And where’s the CHIQ?”

“She escaped,” I huffed out as I slammed the car door closed.

The Chauffeur’s black-gloved hands froze on the steering wheel. Without turning around, he demanded, “What happened?”

“Valisha escaped,” I repeated. “I got her out of the bar and down the escape ladder, but when I was dragging her down the alleyway, she pushed me back and tried to stab me. I didn’t know she had a knife on her and I had no time to check,” I lied. “She flung it at me and ran.” I slumped back against the leather seat. The Chauffeur made no more questioning remarks. Instead, he reached into one of the cup holders and brought the KTP HoverTrix cell phone to his ear. Still not looking behind him, he gently closed the divider. He then pressed a button on the side; he was dialing an automatically preprogrammed number. The boss’s.

I squeezed my eyes shut briefly, hoping for the best. I tried to reassure myself by the fact that I was the best in the field. They couldn’t replace me, even after an event like this. But the doubts kept creeping in. Sure, it had never happened before, but if we really, really had to, we could get Valisha back. If they gave me more time, gave me enhanced technology, gave me a second chance, I could get her again. And this time, I wouldn’t let her go just because she said I just want my dad.

When I reopened my eyes, the Chauffeur was off the phone and the divider was back in place against the insides of the vehicle. I leaned forward, smiling uncertainly at the man behind the wheel, and attempted to catch his attention. But he wasn’t looking into the rearview mirror. He wasn’t looking at me at all.

And that was when I knew.

I opened my mouth to beg the driver to tell me it wasn’t true, but before I could get a word out, both the backdoors of the sedan opened simultaneously. The moderate wind coming in from the Pacific breezed through the car and brought with it the scent of salt water. The street was still as abandoned and dark as ever, but now Passlost Street held a whole new meaning to the word “alone.”

“He must know it was a mistake,” I began. “If he could just give me a second chance, I could get her back, I know it. Please, if you would just let me talk to him….” I received no answer from the Chauffeur. He was still facing the front, watching the rest of the street from behind the windshield. His finger tapped once against the steering wheel.

I was becoming desperate now. Surely the boss couldn’t just throw me out on the streets. I didn’t have a home. I didn’t know the area, or the people, or the language, or even most of the cities. My home was with the KR. They must know that. If they abandoned me, I would have nothing.

“If I can just talk with him –“ I tried again, but this time the Chauffeur offered the first and only words of wisdom I would ever hear him speak.

“If you will not leave, then we will have to forcibly extract you from the confines of this vehicle. You are no longer an asset to the KR.” And then there was silence.

In a dreamlike haze, I turned to face the Iranian-Russian bar. I slid from the leather seats of the sedan and felt, almost as if from a distance, my feet hitting the cement for the second time that night. I moved away from the vehicle in a trance. Turning slowly back around, I watched as the doors closed.

Putting the car into reverse, the driver backed up to the very front bumper of the Token Bus behind him, then switched the controls to drive and smoothly slid from the parking space. Meandering at a leisurely pace of 15mph (the required speed limit for residential areas in Mexico) the car strode away as I walked out into the middle of Passlost and gazed after it. The sedan stopped at the corner, waited approximately five seconds, and then turned down the connecting street and was gone.

I was left standing in the middle of a prestigious neighborhood with nothing but thirty-three American dollars, a case of reusable bullets and lock picks, and the clothes I wore on my back. My family, my food, my shelter, my home, my life had been taken away in an instant.

I was alone and they had left me.

They had left me and I was alone.

As I turned slowly away from the blank road, I caught a glimpse of excited movement from within the Iranian-Russian bar. Shadow figures were running up and down the stairs and back and forth across each level.

Hurried, frantic, disbelieving – the people of the bar were awake.

I figured they were now aware of the fact that they had all been drugged and that during their unconscious state, Valisha Reffer had simply vanished.

Despite the circumstances, I smiled. If there was one promise the KR could uphold and that I could rely on, it was this:



They would never find her.





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