Discover more from The Sprawl: Speculative Fiction
See You in London
Trains rattled down the tracks overhead as Marjoram stared at a small nook between a steel pillar and a filthy alley tucked in the shadows cast by crumbling retail stores.
She bathed in the nearby data streams. At this point, they felt familiar: the transmitting social media profiles, the digital handshakes, the conversations between friends and family that were supposedly secure, but weren’t, not from people like Marjoram at least, with her high-level clearances and all that crap. She sat back on a green plastic bench with a big metal divider in the middle meant to keep homeless people from sleeping on it—which she thought was kind of gross, but whatever—and watched the crowd.
It felt like a ritual. She thought back to her last meeting with Lisa, sleek dark hair pushed over one shoulder, both of them jammed into the back of an unreasonably loud dumpling shop. Lisa had leaned close and said, “This is your last chance, Marj. The best lead we’ve gotten yet. Catch them here, talk them into turning, or give it up. Base is getting impatient. You’ve been on this long enough.”
That was weeks ago.
Now her bench was like a second home. The guy standing outside the check cashing shop with his ragged brown jacket and his little sign about being a homeless veteran, and the old man in the blue cardigan that walked his small white dog every morning, and the deli’s owner, a fat guy in Jordans, they were all a part of her tiny orbit now, her world that was dialed down to one out of the way cubby hole next to the train tracks.
She felt like she knew her enemy at this point, even if she’d never met them.
Eight months further back, she was assigned to a case. It was an odd case: find an enemy agent, and talk with them.
For all the years Marjoram had been in the service, she’d never once been ordered to speak with an enemy agent—not in person, at least.
First, she went to Berlin, and staked out a bondage club. Then to Chicago, where she fell in with an eco-anarchist arts collective. Then Toronto, and a pop group that played only Nirvana covers, and then California, where she languished in a day spa pretending to be a masseuse.
Each trip, she got a step closer. She knew their height, their weight, their general description. She knew they were left handed, preferred physical notes to encrypted data, knew they had a thing for ancient Cold War spy films, which was a little on the nose. They had an odd analogue streak.
They liked breakfast, but hated lunch. Their perfume smelled like lilac and wood smoke.
They could run fast, when they wanted.
Months of following, and Marjoram remained several steps behind, at least until now.
The data around her continued to flow and she turned down her implanted sensors to quiet the bulk of it to a pleasant drone. She was more auditory than visual, which meant she heard whatever she intercepted, as opposed to watching it flit past on her HUD. She knew of agents that were primarily tactile, and they experienced the data as physical sensation—but that seemed utterly foreign to her.
Ahead, toward the drop, she watched a figure detach itself from the cars parked in the shaded part of the side street near the deli. Their gender was hard to pinpoint, and they wore a light tan jacket, long with little straps, like one of those detective trench coats, and dark running shoes. Short black hair, big black sunglasses. It was the most obvious non-obvious disguise Marjoram had ever seen, and she leaned forward a bit, as if drawn toward the person.
Her heart rate doubled when they approached the drop.
Days, and nothing, and now this, the clumsiest thing she’d ever seen. It pissed her off. She was tempted to get up and confront them: how could you string me along across continents, then show up wearing that monstrosity? But she kept her cool and remained seated. She was a professional.
They stepped around the steel pillar, and a train clacked past overhead. Marjoram’s sensors buzzed with the noise, and she had to turn herself down a touch more to quiet it, as the enemy reached into the nook, her nook, and did something. She couldn’t see what.
Then they moved back, seemed to study their work, and left, walking south.
Marjoram counted to thirty in her head then sent a single encrypted message to Base: Drop approached. Pursuit?
She didn’t wait for a reply. She stood, stalked across the street, and wandered to the pillar. It felt like she thrust herself into a foreign land. The other side, that was her side of the street—over here was all wrong.
The steel was cold. Another train clacked past going the other way, casting intermittent shadows. She stooped and reached into the nook, feeling dirt, trash, then something paper—she pulled it out gently, afraid it might crumble to ash.
It was a note on thick card stock, folded twice. No name on the outside.
She opened it and read.
Hello, love. Aren’t you bored of me yet? I’m not ready to talk. See you in London. – K
Marjoram thought she might be sick. Again, god damn it, again she’d been shaken, strung out, and played. She’d waited so long for this moment—but why now, and not in Chicago, or Toronto, or Berlin? She heard a ping and played the secure message from Base: pursue as needed.
She turned and walked south, following in her enemy’s path, but she knew it was useless.
There’d be nothing, even after Base swept the whole block with drones.
The note felt sweet in her fingers, the closest thing she’d gotten to her enemy, and that one single letter kept running through her skull: K.
ps, Maybe the start of something bigger? You might recognize Marjoram from an earlier story. What do you think— worth writing more? Share if you enjoyed and have a great week. - DC