Author's note: This action-adventure novel was written to explore the far reaches of moral ambiguity and power of corruption.
Rookie Card“So, let me get this straight, we’re just going to be watching Niko steal from Liam Sanford and then going home?” I was puzzled; surely the Project requested the attendance of both Mortimer and me for more than just watchdog duty. Morty gave me a glance once-over and chuckled to himself as we set up shop in our top floor Los Angeles hotel room.
“Not exactly, John. We’re also evaluating Karrigan, making sure he’ll be a worthy addition to our squad,” Morty, much to my surprise, was taking his role as our acting leader with some degree of seriousness.
“I don’t remember being evaluated on any of my missions, Sam.” Morty averted my gaze, but then returned a smirk.
“Exactly, Lange; we’re not supposed to let Niko on that we’re evaluating him. We’re just going to make sure everything runs smoothly and that the rookie can handle Civilian missions with little to no interference.”
“Target acquired,” Niko buzzed in on the headset, spotting billionaire Liam Sanford on the other side of the busy street. The young man had cropped sandy hair, a designer suit and sunglasses. He was alone, a sign that he was a little overconfident and a little out of touch with reality. A perfect target for Project NOVA. Finding Sanford was the easy part; the bump and swipe would be the challenge. Luckily, Niko was a professional at his craft.
Morty watched attentively as the rookie agent walked straight into the CEO, swapping briefcases as they fell. The C-list celebrities and wannabe rock stars of Los Angeles walked straight past the collision, not even stopping to check if anyone was hurt.
“I am so sorry, that was completely my fault,” Niko said to Sanford as he helped him up off the ground. “Wait a second, have we met before?”
I shot Morty a sideways glance. What was Karrigan doing? He shouldn’t draw any unwanted attention to himself, especially now that the job was over. Morty pressed a finger to his lips and continued to watch our new teammate.
“You may have seen me on the news, I’m Liam Sanford,” he introduced himself. How ironic, I thought. Then another thought occurred to me; the dummy briefcase had a fatal flaw.
“Morty,” I whispered to my teammate. “What the hell are we doing handing a billionaire CEO a briefcase full of money? This kid has all the money in the world!” Morty stifled a laugh and watched as Niko finished crossing the street with Sanford.
“Lange, you don’t think the Project already thought of that? It’s more than just money in that briefcase; we also included a little…insurance. In case there was any doubt in little Liam’s mind that his father was part of something bigger than their measly company. “
“Louis Sanford was a member of Project NOVA?”
“He was a private contractor, and when he exceeded his usefulness he threatened to go public, so I kept him quiet. If anything, Project NOVA knows how to plug leaks.”
“Does that mean if any—“
As if my luck could get any worse, I was cut off by an explosion. Of course, a freaking explosion in the middle of Los Angeles, of all the days it could have happened.
Niko hit the deck, diving towards the pavement and bringing Sanford with him. Protecting the mark, I noted, he’s certainly resourceful.
“What the hell do you think is going on out there, Mort?” Sam was already bolting down the stairs of the hotel, and I was following on his heels. We were careful to conceal our sidearms, but I was hyper-alert. Two missions in a row sabotaged by…someone.
“Six different cars exploded, all civilian vehicles,” Mortimer acknowledged. “…Likely rigged with explosives before we ever arrived on the scene. Niko, you need to get the hell out of there, now!”
We emerged from the hotel to meet the sounds of blaring sirens and mass hysteria. Two domestic terrorist attacks in one week; the media was going to have a fit, to say nothing of what the higher ups at the Project would do to Mortimer and I when we got back. That is, if we got back in one piece.
“Niko, can you hear me?” Mortimer called again. Something was playing havoc with our equipment, and we needed to make sure we rescued our rookie.
“Jo—I have the –vrrr-- where—can’t—kzz—kzzzzz…” Niko faded in and out on the comlink before it died completely, and we had no chance of spotting two businessmen in the sea of tourists and L.A. adventurers.
“Morty, what are we going to do? Whoever set this trap set it for us, and we can’t let them take Niko!” Even I was surprised at my sudden attachment to the new recruit, but I wasn’t about to lose a man on our first mission without Westfield.
Thinking on his feet, Morty pulled two small, wallet-like objects from his briefcase and tossed one to me. I flipped it open and realized it was a Los Angeles Police Department badge. I tried to figure out what exactly Morty had planned when he began firing his gun in the air without warning.
“Jesus, Mort, you’re going to give me a heart attack!”
“LAPD, clear the area! Repeat, this is the LAPD, clear the area!” Morty shouted, waving his gun and his badge around to thin the herd. He took off at as much of a run as he could manage through the crowd, and I followed.
We made it half a block before someone grabbed Sam and pulled him into a back alley. I crept behind him and pulled my gun on Niko, who had ducked into the alley with Sanford to escape from the mayhem on the streets.
“John, put the gun down!” Niko yelped in alarm, not realizing my mistake. I lowered my weapon and breathed a sigh of relief. I expected to come face to face with my abductor, but luck was on my side today.
“Sorry, kid, I thought we were under attack,” I explained.
“In case you didn’t notice, sir, we are under attack! The street blew up!” Sanford piped up.
All three of us shot the billionaire dark looks, and he quickly quieted down. He mumbled an apology.
“Karrigan, our communications are jammed. We need to arrange for an escort, do you have any ideas?” Morty inquired.
Niko shook his head, and suddenly we were back to square one. To my surprise, Sanford’s face lit up and he excitedly pulled a cell phone from his pocket.
“Here, sir, you can use my cell phone and call for a ride. It’s the least I can do to thank you for saving me out there,” Liam Sanford jittered. I had a feeling that the addlebrained inventor had no idea what was going on.
“Listen, pal, we’re not the good guys.”