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“I loved you, you know,” I told her, struggling to find my voice. The cold steel of a pistol pressed to the back of my skull was nothing new to me, but this time things were different. Things had finally become personal.
“I know you did,” she said as she lowered the handgun. “I'm sorry it has to end this way.” She cocked the gun. I closed my eyes, preparing for the inevitable.
When the bomb went off seconds later, the scene in the apartment building came to a fiery end, and that's where my memory ended too. In a bizarre twist of fate, the woman and I were the only survivors. According to the nurses, my name is John Lange. I took their word for it, because I can't remember anything about my old life, except for those brief moments before the explosion.
It's a curious thing to see your reflection in a mirror for the first time. I don't know who I expected to see staring back, but the man in the mirror wasn't him. My black hair was cropped short in a military-grade cut, and my skin wasn't pale, but it wasn't tan either. My arms were covered in scars that were long faded but could still be traced. Most striking was my eye color, so pale blue that they appeared gray. I'd never seen anyone else with eyes this shade, and I studied them for a long time. The look they cast on others could only be described as war-ravaged, with a desperate longing to escape a lifetime of suffering.
But curiously … I was happy. After all, I'd been given a fresh start. I had the rest of my life ahead of me, and there was an entire world out there to rediscover.
They say I am a private investigator, operating in New York. Or I was, at least, before my last case took a bad turn and I ended up in the care of Project NOVA. The woman was – is – Fiona Callahan, my ex-wife.
It took me two months to come out of the coma, and I was damn lucky to be alive. My memory was hardly a small price to pay, but it seemed the higher-ups at the Project preferred me this way. In their eyes, I was the perfect operative; a blank slate ready to train, a blank slate who owed them his life. Poor Fiona still hadn't regained consciousness, but I hadn't given up hope.
I couldn't explain it, the strange sympathy and attachment I felt to this woman. I mean, physically, she was beautiful. Her hair was a deep red which she kept just past shoulder length. I couldn't remember looking into her eyes, but somehow I knew they were bright green.
Why Fiona had ever married a guy like me, I'll never know. No, what I didn't understand about my attraction to her was that my only memory of her had been an attempted homicide. Obviously, I had once been in love with this woman, and without the memories of what had driven us apart, I had nothing to hinder the head-over-heels feelings we once shared. I visited her room in the hospital every day, just before I hit the bar with my partner, Morty. The doctors said her condition was improving, but I couldn't tell.
“How's the wife?” Morty asked. I took my usual place next to him at the bar, which was located on Project NOVA's grounds. The Project spared no expense when it came to luxuries for its operatives.
“Ex-wife,” I reminded him. “Well, I suppose as well as someone who's comatose can be. But it won't be long before she's joining us for field missions.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” I asked. Samuel “Morty” Mortimer was my only friend, but even he was a mystery. He had been with the Project for two years. He rarely talked of his personal life, only once slipping up to mention his wife back home. He became flustered when I asked him where home was, as if it made a difference.
“All I'm saying is, we don't know what she'll be like when and if she awakens. She's been in a coma for six months now,” Morty said, taking a sip of his drink. I followed suit, enjoying the refreshing taste of whatever concoction Morty had ordered for me.
“All right, you win. What's on the agenda tomorrow, Mort?” It was pointless to ask, considering the next day was Saturday, a big deal when it comes to the Project.
It can take months for newbies to fully adjust to Project NOVA's way of life. That was never the case for me, considering I had no life before. Black suits and white ties every day, no Internet access or contact with the outside world, and military-grade haircuts were the ingredients of a normal life for me.
Yes, I was still mostly in the dark about what the Project actually did. Their purpose, along with whatever role I played, was on a need-to-know basis. Apparently, I didn't need to know.
“Mr. Lange?” I turned to see Dr. Rovin holding a file with my name on it. Rovin, who was only a couple of years older than me, was one of the higher-ups. I didn't know a lot about him, but it was a safe bet he wasn't a medical doctor. I'd never seen him in the hospital when I'd visited Fiona, that's for sure.
Rovin wore glasses, but I wasn't sure he needed them. His silver hair clashed with his otherwise youthful appearance, and he had a reputation among operatives for being a bearer of bad news.
“Hey, Doc,” I said cautiously. “What's going on?”
“Well, John – do you mind if I call you John?” Without waiting for an answer, Rovin opened the folder and continued. “It appears we've had a change in scheduling for you and Mr. Mortimer. Tomorrow you will be joining Mr. Westfield on a high-profile mission in Manhattan. A presidential candidate will be making the keynote speech at the International Economic Summit, and it will be your squad's duty to ensure everything goes according to plan.”
“What is that ‘plan,' exactly?”
“Let's just say that we'll make the headline in Sunday's paper.” Rovin laughed in an unsettling way.
One of the more peculiar things about the Project was the lack of alarm clocks. We were given standard-issue digital clocks that displayed military time in a number of time zones, but we were not permitted to utilize any sort of alarm. Our superiors regularly used this to wake us at any ungodly hour in an effort to keep operatives on their toes.
My quarters were spacious, even for a place as enigmatic as Project NOVA headquarters, which seemed to have no limits on its size. Plain white walls and fluorescent lighting aside, the room was cozy. I was its only occupant, and as such, the king-sized bed seemed out of place.
That night, like every night I could remember, I slept soundly without even a hint of a dream. After what felt like ages, I was aggressively shaken by a man in a black suit and white tie, I recognized as Agent Markus Westfield, the high-ranking operative who would be commanding the day's mission.
“Wake up, Lange. Mortimer is already in the locker room prepping. Get suited up for the mission and meet me on the airstrip,” he ordered. Westfield was calm, and looked the part. He had ice blue eyes that never betrayed any emotions he harbored.
“Yes, sir.” I followed him to the locker room where Morty was already adjusting his tie. Westfield waited, and I hurriedly gathered my supplies.
“You think you can handle this, John?” Morty asked as I put on a jacket. I glared at him; I still had no idea what we were going to be doing. Morty had been on five Class-Three Operations and two Class-Twos. If anyone could offer me advice on what was about to happen, it'd be Mortimer.
“Johnny, we're walking straight into the mouth of Hell with this one. This is a Class-Two Operation, pal. With a squad of just three men, one with no field experience, let's just say we're going to come out of this one a little messed up.”
“And you're okay with that, Mort? You're going to put your life on the line for nameless, faceless suits? For a cause you aren't allowed to know about?” I knew my questions were out of line, but I desperately wanted Morty to slip up and tell me something I wasn't supposed to know. The Project had saved my life and I owed them, but my blind loyalty had its limits.
“I'm a soldier, John. We both are. Soldiers save lives. And that's what we're doing today. Me, you, and Westfield over there, we're going to save innocent lives. Besides, man, don't worry. You're just the look-out.” And with that, Morty handed me two fully loaded magnum pistols.
“Some look-out,” I muttered as I slid the angels of death into their holsters.
The jet was windowless, as if to conceal from its occupants the location of the island Project NOVA called home. While the temperature suggested somewhere tropical, the uneventful flight to New York was surprisingly brief. I felt a bit squeamish as I sat next to Morty and behind Westfield on the flight. I was lost in thought until I caught a bit of my teammates' conversation.
“… and you make sure that you set up the fall guy in the right place at the right time. If this job isn't handled perfectly, it'll be your ass on the line, Mortimer. Not mine and not Lange's.”
“I understand, sir. And as for our evac?”
“You'll regroup with Lange and ride the subway aimlessly until you're approached by a man with two briefcases. You'll know him when you see him,” Westfield said cryptically.
I had to get some clarification. “How will I know when it's time to regroup?”
“Oh, trust me, rookie. You'll know.” I heeded Westfield's words with a silent nod.
Mortimer and I each slipped on a nondescript pair of black sunglasses outfitted with an electronic audio receiver and microphone in the right earpiece. With these, we'd be able to communicate during the mission. We placed our weaponry in briefcases as the jet landed just north of Manhattan, the majority of which was underground. Ordinarily, for civilian missions, we would be air-dropped a short distance from the site of the mission, but for something as high-profile as a Class-Two Operation, we'd need to be as covert as possible.
Above ground there were three black sedans waiting. To the untrained eye we were simply out-of-state businessmen in the city for a conference.
“All right, boys, I'll see you after this is over. Rest assured, we will make history today,” Westfield declared. Morty and I saluted our leader and got into the back seats of our respective sedans. Though we were all heading to the same building, we were riding separately for security reasons. Project guidelines dictated that in the event of a sabotaged operation, any agent captured by an enemy and unable to escape was charged with disposing of himself. Like the other operatives, I kept a cyanide capsule in the heel of my right shoe.
When the trio of cars pulled up at our temporary headquarters, an office building conveniently closed for construction, I tried not to look nervous. Westfield and Morty could tell from my clenched fists and somber expression that I was starting to get an idea of what we were doing, and though I found it unsettling, I understood we had to do it.
We were here to assassinate the future president of the United States ….
Excerpted from “SuperNOVA.” Click here to read the entire novel.