Martinez stood on the roof of one of the business district’s eponymous Crystal Towers. On a sunny day, the virtually identical steel and glass skyscrapers lived up to the name. But today, the sky was an ominous gray. It was always windy this high up, yet Martinez could still feel a storm coming – in more ways than one.
In the distance, he saw the uniform black spires that were slowly appearing all over the city, from Monument Gardens in the northwest down to Nielsen Quay on the coast. Field agents reported that they were made out of perfect pentagonal pillars and appeared to be nests or bases. The spires and the invaders who built them remained invisible to the public. For now.
“Mr. Martinez,” a familiar voice called out. Approaching him from the far end of the roof was Carrara – the organization’s most talented member. Though he dressed the part of an ordinary field agent – silver stud earrings, ripped blue jeans, brown leather jacket – Martinez saw Carrara as an equal in all but rank. Constantly chewing bubblegum, though, was a personal habit of his – one that Carrara didn’t seem interested in breaking. “You wanted to see me, sir?” he asked once he came within speaking distance.
“Yes,” Martinez told him. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
Carrara shrugged and reported, “It’s been a quiet day.” That was a small comfort. “So what’s the urgent news?”
“I’ve finished my research.”
“Awesome! What’d you find on the invaders? Who are they? What are they? What’s their deal?”
“I searched those archives thoroughly, read everything remotely relevant. There was nothing.”
“And by nothing, you mean…?”
“Absolutely no mention of them or any being similar to them. Not even a single implicit reference.”
“But those archives belong to the big boss, right? And weren’t they written by every big boss there’s ever been?” An exaggeration, though not by much. “If anybody knows anything, it oughta be…”
“Exactly what I had believed, but now I realize I was mistaken. All those weeks spent, and we have lost more than we’ve gained.”
Only the wind and the smacking of Carrara’s lips filled the space between the two men. They lost so many good agents to gain the little intelligence they had. Now, it might be all they’ll ever obtain. Martinez remembered that Carrara’s partner joined the ranks of the fallen a few days ago. Doubtless, Carrara must still be grieving.
“You must think me callous for…” Martinez began.
“Boss,” Carrara interrupted. “I told you then, and I’ll keep telling you. Uzun died doing what she loved. She had no regrets.”
“It’s a shame she’ll never enjoy that promotion she worked so hard for.” After that mission, she would’ve earned it.
Carrara popped his bubblegum. “No use dwelling on it. Just… Tell me straight. Does this mean that we’re all screwed? Is there really nothing we can do?”
“Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do. But there is one thing he can do.”
“He who? You mean the big boss?”
Carrara chewed his gum as he waited for Martinez to continue, an expectant look in his brown eyes.
“The details were sparse and scattered, but I found numerous mentions of something called the Rite of Revision. How and why it works was never discussed. Only that it could renew the world. Give it a fresh start.”
“Why does that sound like a nuclear option?” Carrara turned his gaze onto the gray-washed city. Martinez followed it and found one of the invaders’ nests. “Still, if that’s our only hope,” Carrara said.
“Only my superior knows the secrets behind this rite and what it entails,” Martinez explained. “Even if it is a nuclear option, the decision to use it is not ours to make. All we can do, and what I believe we should do, is make sure it is available to him. And that he has everything he needs when the time comes. I will need your help, though.”
“With what exactly?”
“Securing the materials, hiding them across the city, then laying clues that only he can follow.”
“Why not just tell him what you’re doing?”
“It is very tempting, I admit.” It would be much more efficient, and Martinez had so many questions he wanted to ask the Author. “But he insisted that I not try to contact him. For his safety and ours, we must act on our own and leave the rest to fate. I will handle the plans, but I need someone in the field that I can trust and who won’t draw attention.”
“That does sound like a job for me.” In Martinez’s mind, Carrara was the only man for the job.
Carrara didn’t answer immediately. He looked down onto Crystal Plaza below them. Martinez couldn’t read his subordinate’s expression. The wind blew Carrara’s red hair over his face and Martinez’s own black hair over the lenses of his sunglasses.
At last, Carrara said, “I trust you, boss. And if you trust the big boss to make the right call in the end, then I’ll trust him too.” He blew and popped another bubble as he produced a crinkly old gum wrapper from his jeans pocket. He spit the gum into the wrapper, balled it up, then asked, “So what d’ya need?”
Martinez smiled as he took a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his suit blazer. Giving it to Carrara, he said, “Here’s a list. Bring them to my office. Be sure to burn that list once you’re done with it.”
Carrara unfolded the paper to take a quick glance at the contents while Martinez spoke. “Burning hand-written notes?” he wondered aloud as he refolded the list and slid it into a pocket on the inside of his jacket. “Wow. We’re doing this old school.”
“I would’ve described it as analog, but yes. Get used to it, Carrara. We can’t afford to leave scraps that the enemy can use.”
“Sure thing, boss. I’m off.”
Carrara unwrapped another stick of bubblegum and placed it on his tongue. Casually lifting his hand in a gesture of farewell, he walked back to the stairs leading down into the building, chewing his gum.
Martinez needed to wait on the roof for a few minutes longer before making his exit. They still had no idea about the invaders’ surveillance and tracking capabilities. He looked out at the altered skyline again. Were the spires growing taller? How long before the enemy attacks the blissfully ignorant public? The Author said he would be hiding among them. That was all Martinez knew of his superior’s current location. He wished, “May you never need to perform that rite, sir. May they never find you.”
©2020 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.