• Ragnarök


    Chapter 1: Sorcerer of Death's Construction

    tab Ian walked casually up the sidewalk, dark save for a few patches illuminated by the glow of a street lamp; every few seconds, a car would round a corner up ahead and the pavement would be bathed in white light. At 11:30, this stretch of road was almost devoid of traffic. This made Ian nervous; although he had walked this way every night for ten years, he knew that in LA you could never be too careful.
    tab He came to a stoplight and paused at the corner, even though there was no sign of a car in any direction. He felt an awkward presence nearby—it was the sort of feeling you couldn't explain, but knew you weren't imagining, either. He looked both ways out of pure habit and then continued on his way, this time much faster than before. He didn't look back, afraid in spite of himself at what he might see. Suddenly, his vision went white; momentarily blinded, Ian just had time to see the yellow taxi cab approaching him. With one hand over his eyes, he flagged it down and got in behind the driver. The driver listened as he rattled off some directions, and then the car pulled into a nearby parking lot, reversed out, and started back the way it had come.

    tab Alex Rin gazed down at the street below, watching his helpless victim hurry on his way.
    tab Go ahead. Run. It will do you no good.
    tab Alex leapt silently from roof to adjoining roof, following closely—but not too closely—behind his target. The man seemed tense, nervous. A deserted city street in the middle of the night had that effect on people. Alex didn't mind; fear was his ally, a tool of manipulation.
    tab Alex saw the car before the man did and silently hoped that it wouldn't turn onto his street, but in vain. Alex ducked to avoid the wash of its headlights. Below, he heard some muffled conversation and the slam of a car door.
    tab Damn.

    tab Ian slumped back in the seat of the cab, relieved to be off that street. He gestured to the driver wearily, and the car came to a smooth stop. Ian paid the man for his time and got out, waving mechanically as he turned to walk the remaining block to his house.
    tab No sooner had the taillights faded into the distance than two gunshots rang out in the alley, the sound piercing and intrusive in the still night air. Ian died right there on the deserted LA street in the middle of the night. There was no time for a final thought; the copkillers denied him even that luxury. His entire legacy consisted of a cramped briefcase, a worn suit-coat, and two .45-caliber holes marring what had once been a kind and gentle face.

    tab Alex holstered his gun—a Kimber model TLE/RL II—and watched Ian's life pass before his eyes. He took out a prepaid cell phone and dialed a number on it. The line opened up with a bray of static; Alex spoke without waiting for someone to answer.
    tab "Base, STALKER. I'm done here."
    tab On the other end, a few keys were pressed on a keyboard and an array of windows was opened up on a large display. "STALKER, confirm."
    tab Alex walked over to his victim and felt for a pulse; nothing. He relaxed noticeably, and his voice lost its edge. "No activity. Will stay on-site to clean up. Expect me back between midnight and never."
    tab The voice on the other end was thoroughly uninterested. "Don't be late."
    tab "Like hell I won't." The line went dead. Alex dropped the phone on the pavement and crushed it under the heel of his steel-toe boot.

    tab A mile away, a man watching the events through the scope of an AS-50 sniper rifle made a similar call.
    tab "Base, WATCHMAN."
    tab "Go ahead."
    tab "STALKER has things under wraps here. Request to stay and assist cleanup."
    tab "Denied. Oversee and then return to base, WATCHMAN. Stick to the book. Do not deviate."
    tab "Acknowledged. En route; ETA to base twelve hours, give or take."
    tab "WATCHMAN."
    tab "Yeah."
    tab "He's going to be late."
    tab WATCHMAN sighed. "Yeah. I know."

    tab "Cleanup" was the colloquial term among field agents that could mean anything from body disposal to hacking government records. The point was changing the past—making sure that, as far as any outsider knew, they didn't exist; and neither did the people they eliminated. That meant deleting birth certificates, Social Security information, DMV and insurance records. In a few extreme cases, they had even annihilated entire family lines. But first and foremost, it meant nobody walking in on you while you were making the hit or cleaning up, and that meant having the best possible surveillance backing you up. And WATCHMAN was the best of the best.
    tab STALKER had been working and training together with WATCHMAN since they both signed on. In a way, WATCHMAN was the closest thing to a friend Alex had ever had. The Clerics—the ones who oversaw their operations—preached against companionship and close personal ties. Most agents found refuge in one another, though. It was how they coped. Alex was different. He didn't allow himself to get caught up in socializing; after all, they were tools, nothing more, sculpted for a single purpose. They had use for friends only so far as those friends could be expended to further their quest.

    tab Many miles away from STALKER, an agent codenamed FJALAR was on duty: He was a Secret Service agent named Gordon, and right now he stood stock-still in the White House hallway. His earpiece whined without warning, and he jumped mentally; no emotion passed across his face, however, as, with a loud burst of white noise, a horribly familiar voice spoke instructions into his ear from across the continent.