16: LIFE IS FULL OF CHOICES

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New York City was huge, but then, I supposed that was to be expected. I couldn't remember ever being in a city so large before, yet the awe of the situation evaded me. I figured if everything I was being told about my actual life was correct, that'd explain why I didn't feel like a tourist . . . though I probably was acting like one.

I was doing my best to follow her lead. She was calm and collected, slipping in and out of the crowds with ease. I stuck as close to her as I could, keeping my hands out of my pockets but to myself.

As I watched her practically sashay down the sidewalk, I was struck with the reminder that I could no longer bring myself to call her Mickey. At the same time, I also couldn't call her Risk. It was like I'd reached some strange form of limbo, but in a person. She was the gray zone above all gray zones, and I was starting to feel like I was trying to solve a Rubik's Cube that had all of its stickers taken off and randomly put back on.

It was starting to give me a headache. But then again, apparently that could've been my suppressed memories trying to break through.

I had no idea where we were going until we got there, and the worst part of it all was that we were walking in silence the entire time. I figured out where it was as we arrived -- Central Park. I'd never seen it before, but given it was the only green spot since our arrival, it wasn't hard to distinguish.

When we reached the park I moved from walking behind her, to beside her. It was easy to fall into step with her, and I gave her a good once over as I did. Her bangs were brushing against her eye lashes, and before she looked up at me, she brushed them away. 

"Why are we here?" I asked curiously, looking away from her intense eyes and instead surveying the park. It was crowded, and I wasn't surprised. It was a nice day, it was a pretty park . . . it made sense. 

"Do you trust me?" was her answering question, and when I glanced at her again, she was still surveying the area.

I followed her line of sight, trying to discern what she could possibly seeing that I wasn't -- I came up with nothing -- as I contemplated her question. Despite the lightness with which she'd posed it, I knew it held depth. I also knew my answer despite my moment of silence. "Yes."

If she was surprised, she didn't show it. Instead she nodded once. "Good."

I suppressed a sigh, and instead continued following her. She had slowed, and I was pretty sure I knew where she was going -- there was a smaller, more vacant clearing up ahead beneath a few large trees. It seemed to be just out of the line of sight of most other onlookers, and I had a feeling that was what she wanted. Not to be seen.

I chose not to think on why.

"Before," I kind of paused as she slowed, turning toward me and arching a brow. I cleared my throat. "Before . . . anything, I have just a few more questions."

She remained unfazed, as usual, and merely shrugged one shoulder up and down. "Ask away."

I relaxed at her permission, relieved when we both came to a pause beneath the shade of the large trees. I faced her, looking down at her critically. Everything about her remained familiar, the contours of her cheekbones and jawline, with the exception of the wicked fire glowing in her eyes. "I want to know about the Kinetic."

A slight, crooked smile flickered across her lips. "First of all, their name is completely idiotic."

I arched a brow, unable to suppress my curiosity. "Why's that?"

She snorted. "Kinetic is a military term. It refers to lethal force, or more crudely, violence in general."

"Sounds fitting," I pointed out. "Why'd they go after LASAR?"

Her smile turned strangely bitter. "Because of Team Charlie. See, not everyone in LASAR was separated into teams; there were only six sets of partners, the rest of the agents were individuals. But as far as teams went, there was . . . rivalry. You and I, we're Team Alpha, and rightfully so. We're the best. I'm not bragging -- just stating facts."

I nodded slowly, continuing to watch her. 

"All of the rest of the teams consisted of agents older than us," she continued. "Usually just by a year or two, but they were still older. Us and Team Charlie -- we were the only eighteen year old teams." She lifted her chin, her eyes hard. "They couldn't stand that we were better. We ranked better on tests, won during practice rounds . . . had better field results. We are considered ultimate specialists. They were designated as a sniper team. That didn't stop the fights, though."

Understanding donned on me. "The excerpt Mickey sent me . . ."

She nodded without hesitation. "Like I said, it was a memory. We had gotten into a fight with Team Charlie, and that was the aftermath of the situation. 

"I shouldn't . . . have been surprised," she glared at something off in the distance, just enough of a glaze over her eyes for me to recognize that she wasn't staring at anything in particular. "They turned. They were the only kickstart the Kinetic needed. To start a new network, to rise in power in the criminal world . . . to eliminate LASAR."

"They betrayed everyone?" I asked incredulously.

She gave a humorless laugh. "If you had your memory, you'd understand."

I fell silent, and again studied her. Everything about her had changed so drastically from last week. She held herself differently, saw things differently -- spoke and acted differently. It was no longer possible for me to deny that she wasn't Mickey anymore, and truthfully, that pained me. At the same time, I felt so immeasurably torn . . . 

Making any decision right here, right now, in this situation, would be a leap of faith.

I just had to choose what direction to jump.

She looked me dead in the eyes then, and this time, I held her gaze steadily. My jaw set, and I took in a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "You're still giving me the choice to take the hit?" I asked, resisting the urge to shuffle on my feet.

She shrugged passively, though she watched me with just a touch of intrigue. "You'd do the same for me. That's all you wanted to know?"

I only nodded once. "It is. Okay." I rolled my shoulders, lifting my head just that little bit more. I had learned more than I had thought was possible about a world I'd priorly thought didn't exist. To think this was nothing more than a fantastic story was no longer something I could bring myself to do. Especially not with how weird I felt inside. Nothing about my life made sense any more. Nothing except the girl standing in front of me.

I need to know the truth.

"Hit me."

I didn't see the look on her face; didn't even see if she moved. Those were the last words I spoke before the world I knew was plunged into total darkness.

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