Outsource: Part One.
by Jack St.John-Turner.
updated: 1.10.3: 03 October 2005.
forum: night.blind: Outsource.

a collaborative fiction.

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night.blind: 01.10.1: 17 May 2005: Jack St. John-Turner.

          A pigeon approached the park bench, bobbled in anticipation of a crust of bread, a wad of discarded chewing gum or a sweet, its crimson feet rising and falling to a rhythm that implied the walk's surface was hot.  The sun had broken through that morning's allotment of fog.


          'Thank you'?

          'That bit I get, love, but-- is that it, then'?

          The pigeon had been pecking at a suspect spot of food, perhaps, at the place where the bench's leg met the ground, oblivious to the sea of feet and the city murmur of conversation and vehicles, but it chose that moment to flop off into the sky, above the barricades and traffic and away where none could see.  None of the other pigeons had joined.  In fact, around the bench where the two sat, there were no pigeons or people at all, as if it were held securely within a bubble of convincing subliminal distraction, urging away the birds and the tourists, the luncheon businessmen with their black umbrellas and fashionless wellies.

          'That's it, yes'.

          The punk's furry ridge of brow furrowed and he leaned in.  The young woman smiled; her eyes were almost purple, and they were the focal point of that smile, not the thin lips, although they too looked purple in that light.

          She matched his leaning and met him halfway.  The way she licked her lips made him want to lick them as well, but his matching smile dropped.  'Where's my payment, love'?

          Her left palm blossomed from her side and she traced his jawline, peppered as it was with a week's absense of wash or shave.  'Perhaps we could come to an.. arrangement'?

          'An arrangement'?  His eyes narrowed.  'Two hundred quid, they said.  They said--'

          She pushed forward and kissed him.  He responded, confused, and they became just another couple in afternoon Leicester Square.  He responded, confused, let himself get lost in that kiss, and it was only then that she withdrew the cautery blade from the right sleeve of her blouse and dug it into his neck.  As soon as the blade was revealed, its task was done, and she returned it to place.  The laser was silent, stealthy, but most importantly, bloodless.  The searing light had severed his spinal cord and burned the wound closed enough for her to escape without suspicion.

          She continued to hold the corpse for a while, even maneuvering him into a slumped, napping position against the bench's corner.  She slumped with him, playing the part of exhausted tourist, just another napper, but she took the opportunity to pat him down for supplies.  The wallet held only a ten-pound note, £3.50 in coins, and an ancient prophylactic, but the real treasure was in his left pocket: his Oystercard.  Piccadilly to Victoria to Heathrow to the target.

          'I'll see you tonight, dear'?  She stood, the dossier and valise in hand.  The dead man didn't respond.  'I love you, too'.  Onlookers, soothed with a measure of mental manipulation, regarded the couple with no suspicion.

          Maharajapuram Nithin Gayathri, known as 'Three' to her associates and a few of her targets, walked to the tube through thirty thousand French schoolchildren and not quite as many police. 

night.blind: 01.10.2: 24 July 2005: Jack St. John-Turner.
          Half-way down the steps into Piccadilly, Three's jaw began to itch.  In the guise of adjusting the band of her watch, she reached into the sleeve of her blouse and thumbed the security button of her blade, which proceeded to ignite internally and transform itself into a useless slag of melted plastic residue against the underside of her right forearm, barely warming the layered scar there left by dozens of similar disappearing acts.  As she passed a rubbish bin, she deftly slid the blade's remains into her rolled newspaper and into the bin.  The receptacle, equipped with a flash scanner and an array of detective sensors, only registered her deposit as newsprint and a chocolate bar wrapper; security measures in the Underground had increased exponentially in half a century, but they could still be fooled.

          The itch in her jaw began to throb as she passed through the FBS gates, and she barely gave the screen a second glance after she noted, as did the troops guarding the entrance, that her body was clean, and she carried nothing the low-level artificial intelligence of London's threat matrices would consider a weapon.  She smiled at the turnstile soldier, tracing a shallow path through his attention span as she inserted her Oystercard into the gate to distract him from reading that her name was apparently Richard Finn, a twenty-nine-year-old Caucasian day laborer from Slough.  He lowered his rifle slightly as she passed through, pulling her card from the slot.  She knew he would have a headache for days after.

          The itch was turning into an ache of her own: insistent, but she'd long ago learned to bury the distraction.

          Once on the bullet, Three secured herself on a bench, wedged between a new mother with her wailing infant and a great brute of a man whose size not only pressed against but overflowed on to her.  She held her valise in her lap, felt the crawl of eyes over her, and smiled warmly at her gargantuan benchmate.  A quick dig, and she knew he posed no serious threat; he was more concerned with getting home to a nice cider than anything else.

          A gentle tug and a hiss, and the bullet was in Victoria Station.

          Through the maze of escalators and tile, she conducted a quick survey of the security.  Nothing unusual, which was unusual for a Thursday.  Through another round of full body scans and bared-teeth dogs, she broadcast her gentle smile to the men whose thoughts belied perversions and desire.

          She ducked into the women's lavatory.

          It was as much a rush as 17:00 could provide, and she counted twenty feet under ten stalls, another seven women in front of the row of sinks, some waiting to offload, some checking mascera.  The throb in her jaw pointed her toward a particular sink, a peculiar young woman, barely shrugging off the excesses of punk youth in favor of an adult life.  Her zebra-print hair went nicely with her business suit.

          Three took the sink beside her contact, rummaged through her valise, accidentally spilling a hairbrush, a compact, two tampons, and a coded strip of data silk to the grimy tiles.

          'Bollocks'!  She bent to pick up everything but the silk.

          'Let me help'.  Her contact bent in unison, deftly palmed the silk and handed over a tampon.  'One of those days, right'?

          As she stood, the contact feigned coughing and licked the silk slip from her palm.  Immediately, an army of engineered transfer catalysts metastasised through her bloodstream and found purchase in her pineal gland.  Temporary psychic ability facilitated through glandular stimulation was the new hit.

          'Cheers'.  Three took her compact and leaned forward to the mirror, patting rouge into place on her cheeks.  Testing.  Are we locked?

          It was also the quickest way to weed out liars and subterfuge.  The punk contact bared her teeth and made a show of picking a non-existant bit of food from her teeth in her reflection.  Lock confirmed.

         The handoff went without incident.  I have the plans.

         The weapon?

         Disposed of. Her cheeks rouged to her satisfaction, she moved on to reapplying gloss to her lips.

          The contact squinted, sighing audibly for the benefit of others; she'd more crow's feet than ever around her eyes.  You've been reassigned.  I'm taking over the Nice contract.  You're to--

         Hold on, then.  I've worked toward that contract for--

         It's mine, now.  This comes from the top.

         But where--

         You'll proceed to Heathrow and on to the States.  I'm taking Nice.

         Who gave the--

          'Night Primary'.  The contact broke regulation and spoke aloud.  Three was taken aback, both at the disregard for both of their safety, and the realization that Primary was involved.

          'Thanks for the help'.  Three put her compact into her valise and closed it.

          'Anytime'.  The young punk kissed her on each cheek, transferring her updated mission into Three's skin with her lips.  Three was left leaning on the sink as the data took hold.  Her contact slipped into the Victoria crowd and disappeared.

          'Are you on queue, love'?  The pensioner behind her, wobbling from leg to leg in anticipation of inundation, startled her.

          'No-- Go ahead'.

          Three took her valise and entered the fray.

night.blind: 01.10.3: 03 October 2005: Jack St. John-Turner.
          She unraveled her updated mission strand by strand as the trans-Atlantic wedge carved an elegant parabola through the upper atmosphere.  She adjusted the thermostat on the arm of her liquid wrap chair.  Near space, international flights became quite cold.

          Adjusting with her tongue, she flicked over the backside of her upper teeth, finally choosing her right lateral incisor, massaging it into action between lip and tonguetip.  A layover display sparked to life before her eyes, and she manipulated the encyclopaedia with gesticulations and facial ticks that to any outside observer would appear to be the conducting of music or madness.  Most of her fellow travelers were asleep, and her boundless resources had allowed the purchase of her entire seating column.  She was effectively left alone in the dim false night of the twenty-minute trip above the ocean.

          Nebraska?  She'd never heard of it.

          It wasn't that the educational system of Maharajapuram was inept; it simply didn't exist.  She had spent her childhood as two billion of her countrymen had-- subsisting.  There hadn't been time for something as brilliantly irrelevant as schooling.  She had eventually found a semblance of home and structure in Her Royal Majesty's Imperial School of War in New Delhi.  That home and structure had extended to the kingdom's seat in London when Three was three years older and seven conflicts deader.

          Nebraska?  It looked a desolate place.  And angular.  Had the Americans no sense of style, no respect for landscape?

          Something itched slowly in recent non-memory, and she bit it to the surface display: a cartoon cat, orange, pasta, kicking a dog.  She allowed the strands to tangle, and the display intuitively zoomed to a location on the map of the state.  Political boundaries solidified over the terrain, and one word issued a warm reminder: Garfield.

          There had been rumours many years ago-- had it been six?  seven?-- about an operation gone shite in the States.  Her employers were nowhere near as existential as face-to-face confirmation of a failed op would have required; they were composed primarily of coded silks and embedded non-memories, clandestine passings of dossiers in darkened corners of civilization.  She suspected that any rumour mills had been efficiently dismantled and their constituent cinderblocks been pulverized not long after the supposed incident.

          She squinted in closer to the map, satellite to bird's view, all directed by varying pressures of her tongue and manipulations of her lips.  She soaked in the encyclopaedia's intelligent warmth, setting aside segments of data for later digestion in the spaces between her teeth and the lining of her throat.  This trip didn't afford time for any substantial rumination of the mission data, but she had acquired an overall flavor: Night Primary suspected that Nebraska had a secret, and it was her duty as an outsourced agent of the war machine to uncover that secret.

          'Drink, dear'?

          The flight attendant's face was young and kind, not unlike her own, and Three wondered just how many secrets, how many segments of critical data, she could express upon those lips, as plump as they were, bee-stung.  What intrigues could she leave behind in the echoing subconscious of an innocent?  Enough to guarantee her swift and permanent exile from breathing, a vacation from the waking world?

          Three smiled demurely and shook her head no.  The stewardess nodded and walked on, never knowing how close she had walked toward the edge that defines life and murders, never even suspected that the woman seated before her had answered without voice because great mysteries of war and betrayal would spill from a mouth full of unspoken histories.

          The wedge began to fall toward Seattle, and Three allocated eight minutes for herself to sleep.  She'd soon be on a bullet across mountains, a southern divergence across a Dakota, two, and then Nebraska.



copyright 2005 Jack St.John-Turner.
Jack St.John-Turner is retired from the Territorial Army and fears that he might not live long enough to realise his dream of becoming an ethnomusicologist.  He has lived in Toronto, Canada, India, and quite briefly, the States.  He doesn't consider himself an author.  He lives in London and he is a widower.