Excerpt from HOPSIS: Lotus

When she had been released from the Syrian hospital and put on a plane to return home with John, they told her she was lucky to be alive and she should remember to cherish every moment left.  Of course, the government had paid her quite well, to compensate her for her losses and to ensure she would never be in want again.  A portion of that handsome sum was understood to ensure that she not only kept her mouth shut but kept her nose out of future business.  There was no ceremony, no medals, nothing to proclaim them as heroes other than the former General of the B.H.C.S’s insistence that they would always be remembered for their sacrifice.  And how their survival managed to bring down the entire organization. She had no choice but to accept their money and their empty words, but when she was finally released from their facilities, she moved to a small lakeside cabin, where she would be left alone, unbothered to do whatever she pleased.

Serafina, after serving seven years in the B.H.C.S, was granted the freedom to forget about all of it.  Most agents never got to be so lucky; retirement rates were low.  More importantly, they wanted her to forget about what she saw in Syria.  Not that she knew exactly what it was she was supposed to forget seeing, or that they had any proof she had seen anything at all.  Was she to forget that her friends had died?  Plenty of other B.H.C.S. agents fell in the line of duty, but to be paid to forget about them was unprecedented.  She would never have to work again with the amount she had been given, if she chose to spend it prudently.  Even John had told her to forget about it with a faraway look in his eyes before he had moved to Miami, the only place he believed he would be able to forget.

Yet, how could she forget about Evangeline, about the screams of the other agents who had been tortured until death.  The mission was supposed to have been simple, an abandoned site they were hoping could provide them with some information as to what type of experimentation had once occurred within the facility.  The complex had been reported as deserted by their sources.  Once inside, however, they discovered the complex was very much still in use, with full security, and her squad had been captured.  Concerned, the B.H.C.S had sent a second team in to find them, but she and John were the only two to make it out alive from either squad.  After such a thorough failure, the B.H.C.S had no choice but to shut down.  All the agents and researchers had been sent home, to readjust to life as civilians.  It had not been easy for many of them.

Serafina had tried, but the memories continued to overwhelm her, and within a few months, she spent most of her time on her computer, researching the current whereabouts of former B.H.C.S. members.  She could only remember some of their names, and it felt like every day they were getting further away from her.  She could not even hack a database to find the other agents who had been lucky enough to retire before she started.  She kept on researching, though, especially on the nights when the storms raged around her cabin, cracking the tree branches outside.

She had just discovered the location of Dr. Talos, her former surgeon and one of the top researchers in his field, when she stumbled upon something interesting in his vicinity.  He was in a small northwestern Pennsylvania town, inconspicuous enough except for the college and the biochemical research facility in the area.  The most compelling bit though, was a series of articles about a recent string of murders in the neighboring forest.  Hikers had been found mutilated beyond recognition, and the police had no leads. The first place she thought to look, however, was the one they were sure to have passed up, and she began to research the plant.  There were apparently no secrets into what type of research went on into the facility, yet they maintained a very good reputation.  No history of outbreaks or any other security breach.

She had just clicked open the page that would give her more information about the plant’s owner, one Mr. Emerson, when she heard something suspiciously like a board creaking on her front porch, not from an animal or the storm, but from a footfall.  One of a man, if she was any judge, and one who was trying to be quiet.  She quickly closed the screen and dashed into her bedroom to pull her gun out from underneath the bed.  She stayed crouched by the bed, slipping her cellphone off the nightstand while keeping her ears open for additional sounds.

She heard another floorboard creaking, this time inside the house, and she slipped the cell into her pocket. “Damn it,” she heard one of them whisper, just loud enough for her to realize they were trying to be quiet and failing, “do you want her to know we’re here?”  She crawled closer to the door so she could peer out into the main room.  There were two men, both wearing all black and both carrying some rather heavy artillery, one of them headed towards her computer.  The voice sounded familiar, but she was beginning to doubt this was a social call from the B.H.C.S to check on her well-being.  Not to mention they were wearing the old uniforms.

“I don’t understand why we have to do this,” the second man chimed in, remaining in the middle of the room.  There might have been more of them outside, surrounding her cabin.  “Weren’t she and that other guy declared national heroes after the incident in Syria?”  Privately, she thought to herself, because the B.H.C.S. was insistent on no one knowing what had happened.  Insistent enough to kill her.

“Doesn’t matter,” the guy at her computer said, and it was angled just the right way that she could see him searching through her files.  Not that she really had anything to hide; was it really a crime to be tracking down old friends who just happened to formerly work for the government?  “We have reports that she’s been committing treason by selling the locations of former B.H.C.S. members to terrorists who might have a personal vendetta against them.”  She shook her head, unsure how anyone could believe that she would actively seek out the death of the rest of her colleagues.

“But still, do we really have to kill her?  I didn’t sign up for this job to be a hitman.”

Well, that settled it, she definitely needed to get out of the building before they decided to search the rest of it and cornered her in the bedroom.  With any luck, the dark storm would be able to mask her movements a little bit.  Or the lightning would just make her an easy target at the wrong time.  The man in the center of the room moved a little closer to her, and she made sure she had a good grip on her gun.  She wanted to avoid using it, but they might not leave her that option.  He was only a short distance from the door when he turned around to answer a question his partner asked (whether or not he had known a Dr. Talos and how much his location would be worth to terrorists with the right incentive).  She took a deep breath and charged, knocking the man to the ground and sending his gun flying out of his hands and under the couch.  The other man turned around and fired, but his shot went wide and she dashed towards the front door which they had graciously left open for her.  She didn’t stop to see if there were any more and sprinted towards the lake, crouching down on the ground on the far side of the dock.  Sitting there in the mud, she pulled out her cell phone and called John.  As the phone rang, she turned her head over her shoulder to watch for any other dangers.  Someone was swinging a light across the ground and would soon find her footprints.

“John, I need your help,” she said when she got his answering machine.  He was the only one she knew who was guaranteed to help her.  “The B.H.C.S invaded my home; they had orders to kill me.”  The last thing she had been investigating had been that plant in northwestern Pennsylvania.  Maybe there had been something there that they hadn’t wanted her to know about.  “I need you to meet me at the bus terminal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”  A gunshot ricocheted off the dock behind her head, splintering the wood and nearly causing her to drop her phone.  “Please hurry!”  She only thought about it for a second before she decided to take the phone with her as she ran out into the lake, ducking her head under the water.  She could always buy another phone, but she would never forgive herself if they tracked down the location of her last phone call.

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