‘I’m 40 today and I’m going far away again to the other end of the world. This time, I have 24 hours to spare. 24 hours for me in my old stone house in central France. Hardly time to check my mail and wash my clothes. The Organization seems to enjoy sending me as far away as possible. Last week I was in Mexico, to investigate the dematerialization of a freight train. Now I am on my way to Grozny, via Russia. Perhaps they think that I am irreplaceable for this job? I doubt it. They probably have no-one else to send, but it matters little, Nobody expects me to turn up with a birthday cake.
For the first time, Ulric Panopeus is accompanying someone. Personally, I prefer to be alone, but he is here with me in this train heading East. It will be 50 hours before we reach our destination. ‘Don’t worry Alva, I am getting off at the next Station’ were the words he uttered as a greeting. This guy has a unique ability, he can see the future or rather he calculates the most likely future, based on certain visions. Since he works in close collaboration with Handel, the leader of our branch of the organization, Panopeus has never taken part in a mission. So why now? Why here? And why me? It seems pointless to ask., as fate never responds to this type of direct questioning. It is generally satisfied with simply ignoring it.
I watched his gaunt face and long fair hair. He must be about my age, but he seems plagued by a strange disease. The word among other mercenaries say that his visions are destroying him. How can he live every day knowing its outcome before it happens? Rumors describe him as someone who ranges from irrational madness to cold lucidity. He stayed in front of me, not saying a word for a long time. After an hour of silence, I asked him why was he here. ‘As usual, Alva, you’re going straight to the point. After all, you cannot change more than your age.’ I felt a touch of humor in his voice. I wanted to tell him that at least I looked my age, not 15 years older, but I said nothing.
‘Before I give you the orders, we must discuss various points. I would like to know your thoughts over the state of the world.’ I must admit that I was not expecting that. Since when did someone like him ask a ‘man of action’ like me about global issues? Guys like me only do what is ordered. Straight to the point. Our state of mind did not interest anyone other than the Organization‘s psychologists. Despite everything, I decided to join in the game and I told him what I thought. ‘Humanity has its back to a wall. It destroys the natural environment, without worrying about anything other than immediate profit’. In the absence of any reaction from Panopee, I continued and added that in any case the environment mattered little when the various countries could not agree. Nuclear weapons and the economic needs of the most powerful countries would render much of the planet uninhabitable.
Ulric still said nothing. He simply stared at me, analyzing my degree of sincerity. So I went on to other matters which I don’t generally share with others. ‘Liberty is a hoax. See how we treat people, the ‘poor’ and I do not even speak of the ‘poor’ from other cultures. Equality between individuals is only theoretical, in addition, the reality is simply that only the richest and strongest have the opportunity to act ‘freely’. Let us talk about the leaders of our society’. Noticing Ulric Panopeus’ piercing eyes, I decided to stop before saying things that could be misinterpreted. He looked over my face and said in a quiet voice. ‘I think you’re very idealistic for a mercenary!’
Panopeus formed a semblance of a smile, then waited a few seconds before saying. ‘So you think that in our human society, there is no true equality, nor a healthy and effective functionalism, because it leads to humanitys potential suicidal poisoning of global resources’. In only one sentence, he had summarized efficiently, that which I needed minutes to say. He went on to say that despite my obvious pessimism against the global state, we could all act to avert a global catastrophe. ‘Psychics are a possible adaptation of humanity itself, a milestone if you will. They are an emergency solution to solve our exceptional global situation. Most of them have the capacity necessary for this radical change, but the Organization must ensure that they serve humanity in its entirety and not only national or private interests’.
This speech was very similar to the one I heard during my recruitment. The question passing through my mind was, why he was repeating it now? Ok, the leaders of the Organization are ‘Nice’… During the 4 years I worked for them, nothing made me think otherwise. They behaved like a ‘covert service’ working for world governments more or less in secret.
Suddenly Panopeus pulled out a small box from his pocket and grabbed a purple pill. He placed it in my hand and said that the capsule contained a new experimental technology called TIK. Temporary Instant Knowledge. The Nanite component in this pill allowed the user to have over a period of 24 hours, knowledge or instinctive reflexes that would have otherwise taken years of learning. He explained that the use of TIK could apply in many areas of civilian and military life. Some could allow an individual to speak a language in a few seconds, others would allow the skills needed to fly a fighter jet. He took the pill back from my hands and observing it as if he could see through it, he said. ‘This had another feature, it is a new TIK made for emergencies. Those that people like you may encounter during their missions. It allows the user to be isolated from any psychic influence. It will probably save your life in the coming dark days’. This pill was like a simple drug for a headache. No visible difference from the next common household medication. I decided to put it in its case and place it in my pocket.
Despite my insistence, Panopeus would not provide further insight on his prediction and the ‘dark days’. He said he had only ‘seen’ that I would use this TIK in circumstances where death was near. It seemed obvious that he was hiding important information, but I could not say he was a liar. We stayed a long time without speaking. I took advantage of the calm to close my eyes and doze. I do not know if Panopeus did it on purpose, but he decided to speak to me again just when I began to fall asleep.
‘Let’s talk about your presence on this train. Ivana Ivanov will wait at the station in Moscow. She will help you as an interpreter, the mission is routine. You both go to Grozny in Chechnya to seek a new recruit. Some VIPs want her on this trip with you. Reassure yourself, the situation there is calm now. You do not need to be armed’. Despite what he told me, I knew that the Organization had a rule for all emergency missions, Always expect the unexpected!
‘In fact, I almost forgot! I had a second vision about you. In the future, you should watch over Ivana carefully. It is destiny for you both. Shortly, she will be in great danger. It would be a shame if she died before you had time to spend some happy moments together.’ I sat speechless at this news. Ulrich also said. ‘The very improbable love between a mercenary and a idealistic, altruist telepath will produce and sow seeds around this world.’ Suddenly, I wondered if this trip would lead me to a destiny which was completely unexpected.
A fleeting image crossed my mind. I saw us together, myself and Ivana, in a crowded train going faster and faster. It was almost the same as the one we were on, with one difference. In my vision, there was no driver and the probability of derailment was high. The thought made a cold sweat run down my back.