Yes, amazing as it may seem, the final SoCS post of 2017 is actually on time, on a Saturday.
Not only that, but my intention is to actually finish this long-running story by using Linda G Hill‘s last prompt of the year, which is;
How very apposite. Right, let’s do this…
The Accumulator, part forty nine.
Scene: The bunker room.
The scene opens with a shot of the crackling log fire, as we hear a woman’s voice saying “Let me tell you about my sister and what she stood for, then maybe you’ll understand why I, too, have no choice and that you have to die.”
Then the camera rises until we can see all four occupants of the room, reflected in the mirror above the mantlepiece.
The Woman sits in an armchair in front of the fireplace and Carlisle stands opposite, gun still trained on her, silently looking for the slightest sign of deceit.
Patrick can’t disguise the look of disgust on his face as he watches the woman who has so completely destroyed his life, only Adam seems unconcerned by the whole thing, observing the others with apparent amusement, seemingly unaware of the tension in the room.
The tableau remains frozen for a few seconds, then The Woman laughs and continues in a relaxed voice, as if recounting a piece of particularly juicy gossip to a group of close friends over drinks.
“You see, it was all down to one random chance; that I wasn’t the one lying in some godforsaken warehouse with a hole where my spine should be; that Cathy isn’t the one sitting here now. If The Department had chosen her instead of me, groomed her to fulfill the destiny they choose for me, then perhaps both of us could have lived to see the final resolution of our lifelong project.
But she is dead. And you are all accountable for her death, you have caused the Accumulator programme untold damage, delaying our work for months, maybe years…”
Patrick cuts her off, the fury clear in his voice.
“While you ensnare some other innocent victim into your vile scheme, you mean?”
“Oh, please, don’t give me that holier than thou crap, you’ve done more than your share of killing, so don’t expect sympathy from me.”
“You stole my life, you bitch!”
Patrick goes for The Woman, his hands raised, but Adam steps forward and grabs him, looks him in the eye and shakes his head silently. Patrick turns against his grip, eyes now locked on the Woman’s calmly smiling face, but eventually he relaxes enough that Adam releases him and Patrick has to content himself with glaring at her from a distance as she resumes speaking.
“My sister sacrificed her entire life in the service of our work; before she could talk, The Department was preparing for her to become the perfect agent. Every last detail of her life was mapped out in advance, before she was even chosen, selected at random from a pair of newly-orphaned twin babies, so it could just as easily have been me.
The theory is that psychological programming from infancy is the only way to ensure total and unquestioning loyalty, so The Department decided to conduct an experiment; they took one twin and put her through the most intense and rigorous programme of mental and physical conditioning ever attempted, literally a lifetime of preparation, specifically designed to end in her being embedded with a test subject..”
She pauses and looks directly at Patrick, the same cool smile on her lips.
“…such as yourself and your new friend over there.”
She nods at Adam, who smirks but doesn’t rise to the bait.
Patrick clenches and unclenches his fists and stares silently at her, but he makes no further comment and The Woman continues.
“And the other twin? Well, I was given nothing but the very best of everything; adopted by a wealthy and influential family, the head of which, a government minister, was a long time supporter of the Department; enrolled in the best schools and provided with private tuition to further advance my studies; inducted into the Department’s executive branch at the unheard-of age of 21 and fast-tracked to Director in less than three years.
A test of the Nature vs Nurture theory, I suppose you’d call it. Is it best to involuntarily indoctrinate by force, or to gently guide the subject with stealth and calculated kindness? And which of those techniques are best applied to achieve the most useful results?
It turns out The Department had done their calculations very well indeed, the results couldn’t have been more successful; Cathy’s artificially structured and minutely programmed life was the most efficient way ever conceived to manufacture an undercover operative. Whilst the intellectual freedom and rarified existence I was given, despite the subtle influences brought to bear on my life choices, allowed me to develop the unique abilities required to run such a complex operation as the Accumulator programme.”
Patrick can’t help himself, he has to ask.
“So, what did I do to deserve the attention of your damn Department, what made them pick me?”
The Woman raises an amused eyebrow and shakes her head.
“Oh no, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that it’s classified.”
Adam laughs derisively.
“I thought we were all about to die, haven’t you watched any movies? The evil mastermind always reveals their cunning plan, before dispatching the plucky band of underdogs in an ingenious and grisly fashion.”
This is the moment the director chooses to daringly break the fourth wall and have The Woman deliver her line as an aside, straight into the camera, complete with a knowing wink.
“Ah, yes, but if I recall, those movies usually end with the plucky underdogs escaping at the last minute, with details of the cunning plan. That isn’t going to happen here, so the narrative doesn’t demand I reveal any such thing.”
Then she looks at Patrick and her expression changes, he voice takes on a wheeling, persuasive tone.
“I’ll tell you what, if only for your peace of mind, if you come over here I’ll whisper it to you.”
Carlisle shakes his head.
“You’ll do no such thing, stay right where you are, Patrick.”
“What’s she going to do, bite me? You know she doesn’t have a weapon, what’s the problem?”
“You don’t honestly think she’s going to tell you, do you?”
Patrick looks thoughtfully at The Woman and then at Carlisle.
“I don’t, no. But I’m curious to know what lies she’s going to tell me. I’ve learnt that I can tell a lot by the lies people tell me, over the years.”
Carlisle looks at Patrick, then at Adam, who shrugs a yes, then turns back to The Woman and takes a step closer to her chair, the gun never wavering.
“Ok, but if she tries anything I’m blowing her head off and not asking any questions later, so I wouldn’t get too close.”
“Fair enough, I’ll be careful.”
Patrick crosses the hearth rug and approaches the smiling woman who has been the unseen puppeteer in his life for so long. She sits upright in the straight backed chair, hands gripping the wooden mouldings that decorate its carved arms, as she watches his face with that knowing, almost serene smile.
Carlisle tenses, aware that she isn’t to be trusted, but unable to discern any specific threat. He is so focused on her face, waiting for a telltale sign of what she intends to do, that he almost misses it. She is an expert at misdirection, her eyes locked on Patrick’s face as he comes towards her, but they flick downward for a split second and that’s all the time Carlisle has to work it out.
A small black mark on the floor, barely noticeable if you weren’t looking for it and not in the least bit suspicious, but…she was looking at it, he saw her.
Carlisle looks back at her and just catches the movement of her right hand, twisting something on the arm of the chair as Patrick reaches the marked spot on the floor.
Carlisle doesn’t even bother pulling the trigger; he launches himself at The Woman, knocking Patrick sideways and only feeling the hot explosion of agony in his side as he crashes into her, pushing the chair backwards with his momentum before slumping heavily on top of her and lying still.
Adam sees Carlisle suddenly burst into action at the same moment he notices a brief flash and a shower of sparks from the fire, which seems to come from behind the flames. It’s only when Carlisle collapses and Adam sees the blood spreading from under his body that he makes the connection; she has somehow triggered a hidden weapon in the fireplace and Carlisle has just saved Patrick’s life.
Patrick sees what happens next from where he landed on the floor after Carlisle shouldered him out of the line of fire.
Adam looks at The Woman as she struggles to lift Carlisle’s dead weight from her legs and takes two short steps towards her.
She looks up at him as he reaches past her and grips Carlisle’s wrist, then he smiles at her and places his hand on top of her head, closing his eyes with an expression which Patrick will always remember as one of sublime relief.
The Woman’s face, however, registers a fleeting moment of horror as she realises her fate.
Then she starts to scream.
Later, much later, when he had been able to sit and process what he had witnessed in that underground room, Patrick found the only way to explain what he’d seen was some kind of feedback loop.
That was how he could best describe the sight of Adam, eyes closed, head tilted back, peaceful look on his face, shuddering with the surge of Carlisle’s expended life force. Then he channeled the burst of lethal power into The Woman, down through Carlisle’s jerking corpse and back through his own body, completing some kind of self-sustaining cycle of death.
He staggered to his feet and backed away, watching in blank-eyed terror as the three figures took on a hazy, dirty yellow glow and the sickening smell of burning hair filled the room.
Just before Patrick had to look away from the seering white light for the last time, Adam’s eyes blinked open, two bright spots in a twisted and tortured face. He stared straight at Patrick for a second, then the eyes closed, he lowered his head and Patrick’s world turned into a white explosion of pain.
When he regained consciousness (he had no way of telling how long he’d been out) Patrick found himself alone in a smoke filled room with the only a wide black circle where the armchair had been, the stone of the floor seemed to have actually melted in places.
He eventually located the underground garage and, with no interference whatsoever from Department agents, simply drove away in one of their cars.
And now he was back where he started; a fugitive with nobody he could turn to and a secret so terrible he could never tell another living soul.
One of a kind.
The man who thought of himself as Patrick looked out of the window at the sparse mountainous landscape and wondered how long he would be safe here. Then he picked up an axe and went out into the bright winter sunshine to chop some wood for the stove.
Under the trees at the edge of the woods, on the far side of the mountain valley, a man dropped a pair of high powered binoculars to his chest and made notes in small book which he stuffed in the pocket of his parka before keying a small radio.
“Control, this is Alpha two reporting: Subject is still performing within expected parameters.”
“Understood, continue observing but take no action. Control out.”
THAT’S ALL FOLKS.