Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 5

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed

read part 1 here

Part 5 – Remembrance

A curse passed her lips. Farah remembered the woman’s name; it was not her memory alone but one she shared with her ancestor. It was her ancestor.

“Excuse me?” Naomi blinked. The dark-haired woman and Farah both lay in a tangle of sensor wires at the feet of the toppled animus frame. The once illuminated bed she lay in was dark. The air was thick with the sour smell of burnt copper.

Farah repeated the name to blank stares.

“The astronomer?” Nadji asked, surprised. “Not a pirate?”

“Yes,” Farah replied. “But also, a pirate,” she corrected herself.

Ray sprung into action. “Hell, she has her own Wikipedia page with verified dates of life events.” There was a long, grim silence as the page loaded before them nearly as quickly as Farah realized she was about to read how she dies.

How she died.

Children. Grand Children. Died peacefully. Farah openly wept.

No one spoke.

One by one the computer monitors went dark, after each another fan that was silent. The broken animus bed and associated equipment was loaded into an empty freight elevator. She was told the rest would be collected by an asset recovery and destruction crew after they had disappeared. Farah’s thoughts returned to home and her Nana. She looked at her phone, thinking about how often no one cared to check the phone at home when it rang and how often Nana refused to clear or even pay mind to app notifications on her mobile. Pages of unanswered text messages lit Farah’s face as she sent another. She called and there was no answer.

“Good news!” Nadji exclaimed out of nowhere with the joy of someone who had just picked up a pizza. Farah stared. He had her suitcases.

“How?” Farah stammered.

“The police,” Nadji answered with a wicked grin. “You caused a wreck.” Nadji paused to consider his next words. “I told them you were hurt and went to the hospital and they believed me. They let me have the bags.”

“They have you on record?” Naomi’s voice went from calm to urgent. Nadji hesitated.

“That reminds me,” Nadji pivoted suddenly. “We have another bed!” Everyone blinked.

That reminds you?” Naomi was hot.

“Yeah,” Nadji’s expression became his game face. “We have a plane to catch.”

“I just figured you had met someone,” Nana laughed. “I’m fine thank you. Your Babu’s boat though has a new leak.” Earlier in the phone call Nana had also mentioned it was raining, which Farah could hear was accompanied by some wind. Nana wrapped up the call with a kind word, reassuring Farah slightly. Farah had kept to the story Nadji invented and did not mention her new friends. The hospital, a wreck, her found luggage.

Farah and Nadji sat at the small airport terminal, one in a partition out near where sea planes took off. It was the only one capable of transporting both them and the damaged bed within the time frame they had available. Naomi had produced a flawless fake passport and associated visa papers out thin air, congratulating her on her attached college recommendation with a flourish. The praise in the letter was almost excessive. Farah worried it would draw attention and was still juggling the arithmetic of how she was already a legal resident before she even arrived. Harder still to process is how going to America was going to get them closer to locating something lost in the South Asian Sea.

The animus bed, obviously. Nadji’s contact had come through in spades, and although Farah did not hear the whole of the conversation it sounded like the bed was not even in the U.S. yet. It was en route from London.

While in confidence earlier Nadji had explained to Farah that Abstergo was so close to the trail of the team that did the other hack that they were accidentally ahead of themselves when they tracked her down. Abstergo was after the other team; the other team was after her. The men she had seen were Abstergo contracted private military who believed Farah was already in-network. It was sheer luck, the span of one night, that they ruled her a false positive match outside the job faire.

Nadji had procured the hacked animus bed, which the second group of London-based hackers now needed to get rid of. Abstergo was certain to notice the bed they had pinned to the bug bounty showing up connected to the network, no matter from where. A move so risky it may work. Naomi and Ray each disappeared separate ways. Farah would not meet them again.

Unprompted, Farah began laughing quietly. “They took one look at me with food on my face and knew I was not a threat.” Farah wiped away a tear as she retold the story of the night at the job faire as Nadji doubled over laughing.

Next stop, Miami.

(this story concludes in pt 6!)

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 4

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

 

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed.

Read part 1 here

 

Part 4 – A Short Window

 

Her seafarers scarf pulled over her head into a hood and cowl with the same ease as if she had tied it herself. She marveled at how quickly her clothes dried out of the water, even the gash in her side was barely more than a discoloration. The wound looked clean for what was surely a jagged slash, but she worried to herself how easily it could get infected. Pirates killed for medicine in this century, and died for otherwise simple wounds. This was her new priority unless this would turn into a story about how her ancestor died on a tiny stretch of island.

As the sun set a million stars came out, filling the sky even before the last glint of twilight. Farah sat in the foreign broad-leaf foliage between a thick of unfamiliar trees. She was certainly not near home or anywhere she had traveled before, which she considered fair as she had rarely been further than the University even for vacation. A few others had survived to swim to the same location, each had overlooked her in the failing light where she hid. A few soldiers who had made it to shore were quickly executed. She was thankful she could only hear it from her vantage, the sound of the men dying was graphic enough. She did not have desire to question her calm nerves. She remained hidden without flinch or second thought.

Who was she? Her ancestor, Farah wondered. She could feel the cold but felt warm as if by anger alone. Nearby three desperate survivors made hushed commotion over something they had stolen from the wreckage, she did not understand a word but could hear they were freezing, beginning to argue, had eaten what was too little to share between them. There was a sound like glass, a bottle of liquid, liquor probably. She could see it as clearly as if she stood there, but by sound alone. She had yet to lay eyes on them at all, minus the seconds she saw them as they crawled up the sandy approach earlier. Unless they had found weapons with whatever crate they salvaged, only one was armed.

She closed her eyes for a half second and remembered that as she swam, she kept her eyes open. Was that not supposed to sting? She had no memory of her eyes hurting; only that the vigor of swimming made her feel more alive than ever in her life. Now she remembered what else she saw without considering it, that weapons had fallen well before the rest of the wreckage. No wooden swords suspended, only battered metal, now all lost to the deep with all but one small ship now adrift on a shallow at the tip of the island. The damage to the ship was otherwise minor, more fortunate that the cannon studded galleon that had nearly killed them all. It was a vessel with name and designation marking.

A galleon that belonged to The Trading Company.

The galleon was not a cargo vessel, but a fast attack ship with one purpose: pirate killer. It would have been an armed escort for a ship that was not among those sinking. Was this what she had been sent to find? She looked to the stars and her mind went completely blank.

An otherwise random childhood memory surfaced. How old had she been, maybe nine? What was her name, the woman who taught me the names of the stars? If only she could see this. Farah was a thousand miles away as the milky way shone above her brighter than any moonlight she had ever known. She looked ahead, across the water towards a thin strip of dark land at the horizon. Above it shone the North Star. Right where it should be, Farah smiled. Moments passed and Farah’s mind became as still as the water. “What was her name?” Farah repeated to herself, but this time accidentally aloud. The men who had at some point became quiet made a sound.

A sound followed by the dead silence of ones who had just realized they were not alone and no longer safe.

Fool! She scolded herself. The empty loop in her belt taunted her, her face twisting into a scowl. No weapon to speak of, three against one. This wasn’t a story about how she died from infection or starvation, but in a too swift fight? Not today. They stalked directly past where she hid.

Farah could barely contain a gasp of disbelief, and nearly did not as the sound was already formed on her lips. They turned their heads sharply to listen, but towards trees in the opposite direction. She fought simultaneously an inappropriately timed laugh and the roar of her beating heart. Then she felt something she did not expect. Pity.

These men were barely alive. They looked as if seconds ago they would have killed each other for the bottle of liquor or for the want of food, and hours before had just survived a naval battle and drowning. Still they outnumbered her, and the deadly calm of her nerves was testament to how dangerous desperate men are. Then without warning everything went black.

 

She was standing in a room, wires taught behind her to the machine she was tethered to. Why did she know this room? Computers? Naomi was rushing to her, arms raised to catch her as they both fell. Farah’s pulse raced as it had over the heart monitor that was screaming behind her. She looked to her hands; in her grip she could almost feel the wooden handle of a cutlass. Her cutlass.

(continued in pt 5)

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 3

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

 

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed.

Read part 1 here

Part 3 – Identity Injection

 

The four stood around a laptop viewing a reddit post by Farah from over a year ago when she was working on a family history project. The evidence was right at the top of the post, a photo of the plain ships wheel that had sat aging in Nana’s home for as long as anyone knew. Farah had set out to debunk family myth that the wheel had once belonged to one of the most feared pirates in the South Asian Sea hundreds of years prior. There was nothing visually interesting about the wheel to indicate it was valuable, only family stories of how they came to possess it. Stories she was sure had been exaggerated as they were retold as her grandfather once had.

“We thought it was treasure hunters at first,” Ray was explaining. “They have to operate in the same anonymous spaces we do or risk having their finds confiscated by respective territories or estates. And there is a lot of treasure still in that stretch of ocean, and it was obvious they had something specific they were searching for”

“Do you think these men are with Abstergo?” Farah asked.

“This is where the trail gets tricky,” Nadji interjected. “We know Abstergo is actively looking into this, but this second individual or individuals may be the ones who initiated the first hack. They both seem invested and neither are playing nice. We need to know what they are looking for, or whatever it is they have lost.”

Naomi tilted a nearby monitor towards the group. “Further correlation into their activity as it related to a ‘security incident’ in London at an Abstergo licensed entertainment venue had us wonder if we were asking the wrong questions.

“It isn’t what they had lost, but when they had lost it.” Naomi stood up straight. “We think the men who are after you believe you are a descendant of someone who knows where their ‘treasure’ is.”

As clear as it was to Farah that her mother must have known something about this, to pour so many hours of her time into covertly researching the technology of the animus, building profiles on key engineers at Abstergo and closely following conspiracies about the fates of researchers working East Africa, Farah could not bring herself to mention her mother. The words would not form.

Ray stood up and pulled the shroud back from the illuminated bed-like device; the key to accessing the animus. Surgical style trays with various vials and IV bags and carefully arranged body sensors were lined up neatly.

Farah had only seen sketches of one, but any remaining doubt of the authenticity of her mother’s research disappeared. She was apprehensive of how well prepared the device was. They intended for her to plug in.

To enter the animus.

Farah fought her nerves. “What would I be looking for? How will I know if what I see is of any use?”

Ray chimed in. “We have a short window, a timed payload to get us access before we could be traced. We won’t be able to keep you in there for long, nor will we be able to get a second chance or at least not right away”

“We also don’t have much information on where you will land,” Naomi added. “We have an idea of when, but that is about it. Anything you see could help us narrow down and get a better gauge on how we proceed after that.”

Nadji pressed his hands together. “I have a contact who is working on secure access accommodations once we are ready to try again, and with luck we can do it without moving the whole operation again.”

Farah looked back to the bed-like device. A memory of her suitcases tumbling behind her as she ran crying from an aggressive van flashed before her eyes. Was her Nana safe? Would they try her apartment? What might her roommates say if they were questioned? She wished she were home. Or had a change of clothes. Then another memory resurfaced. Her mother surrounded by books and post-it notes and a pair of busy monitors at three in the morning. The image on one of the monitors she remembered was a Brigantine, and not just any ship. This was a ship of legend.

“Alright,” Farah’s voice held steady. “I’ll do it”

 

Moments felt like hours as she began to shiver laying in the protected recess of the device as they carefully connected each sensor and began the first of her injections to protect her from going into shock as soon as she was plugged in. She felt a strange sense of kinship to these strangers she had just met, and something else inside her urged calm, even excitement, as she started to peel back the years of quiet unhappiness between her and her mother.

As the last of the preparations were complete, one of the monitors Farah could still see flickered from whatever script it was running to pages of rapid bright red text. Ray’s turned head did not make it look like good news. “It is now or never,” he breathed with some gravity. “Fire it up.”

“You’ll do fine,” Nadji encouraged her as everything went dark.

There was an explosion of shadowless light, then lines like bright points surrounding her, shifting. She was standing upright. Something was amiss in her composure, but not in a bad way. She looked down and saw she was definitely not dressed as usual, but a seafarers lightweight fabric and binding clearly of another era. The next second she felt a sudden shock of pain.

She opened her eyes to a billowing mist filled sky above her. The strong scent of the ocean, and something burning. The wave of new senses as they reached her was overwhelming. She was lying on her back on something solid. A deep, disconcerting groan of stressed and snapping wood beneath her startled her to her feet. Spilled oil just feet from where she had laid was burning, inching closer. Instinct took over as she realized the danger she was in. She quickly looked around.

She was at sea, but the water was still and without a hint of wind; oppressive low clouds swallowed everything more than a few meters out. The ship she was on was sinking fast, bodies of its crew strewn about were dressed not unlike her. Her hand acted on reflex of its own reaching to an empty spot on her belt a weapon may have once been. She tasted blood in her mouth and soon found the cause of her unexpected pain. She was badly injured and bleeding freely through her clothes.

A large, dark shape in the water adjacent to where this ship was sinking emerged from the mist as a much larger vessel. Rows of cannons stuck out of the battered hull. She could see more bodies on its deck, then a flicker of movement. There was a heavy set man in a uniform with a manner of helmet that appeared cast from what might have been brass. He was supporting himself to stay standing from injury as he struggled to load what she was sure was a musket. Then he pointed it at her.

At that second, she felt a burst of strength and leapt aside, looking for any means of escape. She caught herself gazing upwards at what remained of her ships mast and the rigging of the larger ship. Without effort or regard to the searing pain of her own wounds she sprung up the mast, climbing with confidence well beyond her own. Memories, she thought to herself. This is my ancestor. She allowed her mind to relax and take in the hyper aware senses she was bombarded with, letting go of her fear as she ran with cat’s grace along an uneven narrow support towards the rigging of the enemy ship. Her heart skipped a beat as she raced to the edge. Was she going to leap the gap to the other mast?

She did.

The crack of the musket echoed, and she heard the crisp whir of the projectile sail well away from where she landed. The injured soldier uttered what she was sure was a curse and dropped his musket and leapt into the ocean as if he was being chased. She looked down, seeing a better view of just how bad the damage to both ships was. Bodies and barrels and wreckage were in each direction as far as the mist allowed her to see. She needed to get a better view. Again, she found herself looking upwards. The crows nest teetered high above. Without another thought she was climbing again. She marveled at the strength of her hands, she needed nary more than a finger grip on rope binding to propel herself higher until she ascended the nest, just above the line of the mist. There were no other ships as tall in sight. A distance off to starboard she saw another tendril of smoke, and the tips of trees. Land.

Suddenly, she heard an eagle cry.

(continued in pt 4)

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 2

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

 

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed.

Read part 1 here

 

Part 2 – Capture the Flag

 

“How did you find me?” Farah gasped, color returning to her face as she tried to catch her breath, “I still can’t believe the utility lift did not crush us? How did the break fail at that moment?” Her voice was nearly shaking.

The young man from the subway cracked a wry smile unbefitting the circumstances. “Those things are so unreliable, all outdated embedded hardware. Hard hat definitely required if you know what I mean”

It had nearly struck the van pursuing her seconds after she caught sight of him, rendering the narrow alleyway exchange impassable. The timing was impossible to be coincidence.

They had arrived near the address, behind a boarded single level business. There was no one else in sight, and nearly all sound was drown out by a freeway overhead.

“Reddit,” he answered her first question to a raised eyebrow. “But let’s get you something to drink and a place to sit down first” They disappeared into an unremarkable door to the boarded-up building.

Barren at first, as her eyes adjusted to just narrow beams of light coming between gaps in the plywood over the windows. Trash, broken wooden pallets, a primitive steel drum fire pit abandoned for years. Deeper into the building he led Farah down a set of stairs into darkness where lights flickered to light as they approached. A small cluster of old telecommunications equipment hummed as they passed, moving down another flight of stairs and into a maintenance access corridor. Decades of redundant pipes and layers of cable rotted in masses along the walls and ceiling. Somewhere far above she could hear they had passed under a large street. A subway car shook the metal catwalk as they navigated.

“The name is Nadji by the way,” he broke the silence as he unlocked a mid-passage steel door. They passed through a narrow electrical closet and through into a dimly lit room that buzzed with the noise of high flow ventilation. Tall rows of computer equipment filled the middle of the spotless, dust free room. Soft clicks of storage devices sang a quiet song beneath the roar of fans. Opposite them and up two steps a woman and another man waited. The man was older, shorts and island tourist shirt as out of place as his greying last century roadie goatee. The dark-haired woman was in an expensive business skirt and blazer that suggested professional hostile acquisitions, but with a boldly shaved undercut and numerous piercings. A neck tattoo peaked out of her tight collar. They were waiting near monitors that appeared to show street camera footage.

Nadji opened a small fridge and began running off names of various energy drinks, sodas and beer. Farah hesitated; skies how good a cold soda would taste. She spotted bottled water and nodded as he retrieved it for her. She collapsed into a rolling chair, suddenly aware of how disheveled she must appear as she unstuck her scarf from her neck. Finishing a long quaff of her water, her idle gaze came to rest on a long cloth-shrouded piece of equipment nearby about the size of a table, a faint glow emitting from under. There was a new spark of recognition. She knew what this was.

Following her gaze to the shrouded device, the older man spoke. His rich American accent filled the space between them like the strike of a piano chord. “You made it, kid” he began. He introduced himself as Ray and appeared to have been busy at several of the systems as they arrived. Many of the active terminals ran programs Farah was familiar with from tech coursework, including one security research tool she had seen demonstrated at a webinar on reverse engineering. Hackers.

The woman was Naomi. She had the confidence and tact of someone who was probably in charge, and a demeanor that was sharp in contrast to “weird white uncle” Ray and warm expression Nadji.

Naomi shifted as she began explaining. “I am old friends with your CS advisor,” she said. “He told me you were doing very well in your classwork and were interested in a career in Infosec.

“You are familiar with bug bounties corporations occasionally pay out?” Naomi continued. “We spotted an unusual one for an older piece of Abstergo equipment that was not commonplace, and as far as we could tell not in use anywhere as they were replaced by newer, safer models. Even possessing one was to risk unwanted attention, you’d have better luck buying an American voting machine.

“The defect was linked to at least one lawsuit, and presumably the quick release of the next revision. Why the bug bounty now, by an account we think is a throw-away used by an Abstergo insider?”

Ray cleared his throat. “Because they were hacked, that’s why. Someone got their hands on this model and managed to break into their network”

“We don’t have proof they have been hacked,” Nadji reigned Ray back a bit. “It’s speculation but it would make sense”

Farah stood up. “You’re talking about the animus?” she concluded in a whisper, walking to the shrouded equipment. Her mother’s obsession. She didn’t think it existed. Stories about DNA memories and unusual patents for advanced medical technology. The room grew closer around her as she turned back to face the others. The question sat on her lip longer than she wanted, until she swallowed as she spoke.

“Why me?”

(continued in pt 3)

Speculative Assassin’s Creed Short Story, part 1

pirate woman on ship looks to the skies
Art commission by AyshaArt ig @k.ayshaart

This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed

Part 1 – The Warning

“Have you finished packing?”

The loud chop of a cleaver on cutting table snapped her out of a daydream. Nana was preparing the morning catch for market. Content to live as her family had a century before, Farah’s grandmother had never wished for more than their modest brick and stone home hewn into the rugged hills near the coast. The cobblestone paths and numerous uneven stairs were too small for most modern cars; those who lived here still got to town by bicycle or with handcart in tow. When Farah had first moved here, she was amazed at how different living was compared to just kilometers in any direction. Nana still woke well before dawn to take the boat out, returning around the time Farah should be leaving for Uni. Every morning she rode her bicycle to the ferry to cross the channel and catch a bus to the city, standing out in her modern clothes like a glowing sign amid the fishermen. It had been home when she needed one, but she could not remain.

Packing, right. A year ago, she would have been relieved to move back into the city. Her prior room in the high-rise apartments had a window that looked out over the business district. Living with her mother had been contentious at times but was mostly just lonely due to her frequent long hours. Well, up until the tech giant unexpectedly divested assets and her mother’s job moved overseas. Farah’s Visa, even expedited, was more than a year delayed. Thank skies for Nana.

Nana was strict, serious but not unkind. She was a shrewd negotiator and had known the volatile fishing markets and family business dynamics longer than most of the merchants had been alive. Her profits were slight, but with no debt to speak of she enjoyed a comfortable, simple life. She reminded Farah often how far back generations of her family had lived here.

CHOP. Farah struggled to bring her mind back to the present. The events of the previous nights at the Tech Institute were too bizarre for her to dismiss as incidental. The job faire began with about as much disappointment as she expected, required experience she didn’t have, unpaid opportunities, corporations with dubious social standing and a stack of pamphlets she would not look at a second time. But later, hot street cart kebab in hand, an unexpected exotic car pulled up and stopped directly by her on the walk. The suits inside were British and seemed to have been following her. How did they know her? Their generous offer seemed suspicious. Did her mother arrange this? There is no way every island-locked teen who entered into a web browser the words “abstergo jobs” got a visit from business guys in Italian cars.

Farah finished packing the last of her things, which amounted to two well stuffed suitcases and a backpack. She did not look forward to the stares she would get hauling all this on and off the bus. She could not say louder I’m moving if she yelled. Her grandmother was waiting at the door. She handed Farah a warm cloth wrapped scone with some preserves. This was it; it was goodbye again. The interruption in the morning routine was ceremony enough. Today Nana would ride the ferry to the bus stop with her to wish her a good trip.

Brief rain showers set the mood for the bus ride, mercifully ceasing just long enough for her to lug the suitcases into the subway. As she identified the stop she should wait at, she wondered how she would get along with her new roommates. They all were attending Uni as she was, although some had gone home for the summer. An odd tone from her phone startled her from her thoughts. It was on silent. The notice was from a random Bluetooth device that had attached to her phone with a strange name. She quickly went into settings to disable the Bluetooth and saw in the connection details the device was named “DO NOT TAKE THE CAR”.

It was mid-morning, before the lunch rush so not many people waiting or unboarding at this stop. Farah looked around fearful, no one suspicious – wait. Taller kid maybe her age, hoodie, shoulder bag, track pants and brightly colored sneakers just disappearing up a flight of stairs as he pocketed a phone. Was it her imagination or did he glance at her as he rounded the next stairs up? She looked back to the train, door open waiting for her to board. The car was almost empty. What was she doing? she scolded herself, but her feet would not move to the car. The door closed, and the train left. She looked back to her phone and the device connection was gone.

Exasperated at herself, she lugged the suitcases up both flights of stairs and looked around. There were not many more people at this level, storefront lights saturated the tile floors and low concrete ceiling. At a nearby newsstand an uninterested clerk stared at her phone. On the small sales counter a newspaper was folded in half. The clerk made eye contact with Farah briefly, popping bubblegum. Wary, she picked up the newspaper and left a few coins on the counter. Incredulous, Farah opened it to find a street address written on it.

The sound of expensive shoes tapping on tile warned Farah of a man in a suit approaching, hand descending from what she thought might be an ear-piece, looking her way. The clerk was still staring at her phone. Farah left, suitcase wheels making a chorus of noise as she moved quickly to the street level. The address was someplace she knew only in relation to other buildings it was near but she knew how to get there and that it wasn’t very far. She felt panic setting in as she made it out of the subway into the humid midday streets. What a sight she must make, she winced, the only woman hauling two large suitcases into downtown like she was late for something. She felt eyes on her even if no one was looking. Was it obvious how afraid she looked, or that she was running from a random guy? Or following the directions of a kid to a location she was unfamiliar with like a complete fool? She shook her head to focus, sweat was starting to form on her brow.

She reached a busy intersection, checking her composure as she alternated between wanting to cry and acute self-awareness. Her phone chimed again, startling her. She looked down, it was the Bluetooth again. “NOT THAT WAY”, the device read. She scanned the shoulder to shoulder crowd, cars and eyed straight in the direction she was about to cross a grey van. She worried she was imagining all of this, cracked from the stress of moving. Still, she changed course and began on the walk to her left against the flow of walking traffic. The tires on the van squealed as it turned suddenly to adjust to her new direction. That was Farah’s last straw. Tears welling as she broke into a run, she pushed through people knowing she had to get with the flow of traffic or risk them catching up. She darted into traffic to the blare of horns as she narrowly evaded the Van and cut into an alley that connected closer to where she needed to go. The honks of traffic behind her faded, but the rev of an engine sounding off the narrow brick passage told her all she needed to know; the van had followed into the alley. With a cry she abandoned her suitcases and broke into a sprint.

(continued in pt 2)

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