xxxxiii. daddy issues

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xxxxiii

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xxxxiii. DADDY ISSUES

"My... my... my father was Agent 009?" I stammer. "That's impossible... he was a police officer."

Ace's gaze flickers across the screen. "Octavia I—I don't know what to say. Agent 009 was an anonymous hacker who worked for the CIA. I wasn't sure if he was even real..."

"This is impossible right? I'm dreaming. I have to be. This is all part of the Matrix. I'm on Pranked. Where are the cameras?" I felt my chest began to tighten as time continued to pass.

Ace took me into his arms. "Hey, hey, you're okay. We can figure this out."

"Whatever this means, we can't let Thirteen see it. We need to where's waldo this shit."

The spy rubs his stubble. "I'll write a fake code that we can send him. This can hopefully buy some more time."

Suddenly, the burner phone rings out. We look to one another. We were supposed to have four more hours, but the call came early. Ace slowly hands the phone to me with a worried gaze. I press answer.

"Darling—" Thirteen greets. His voice is monotonous. "Your time is up. What was on the USB?"

"It's only been 68 hours; the code I—"

"That's enough," he cuts me off. "I've been generous. Give me the code now, or else your mother will suffer the same fate as Eve Miyazaki."

I look to Ace, who had been writing a falsified code. He gives me a nod. I steady myself to keep my voice calm. If our plan worked, we could at least momentarily trick Thirteen into using the fake code.

"Alright," I state. "How can I get the code to you?"

Thirteen laughs. He actually laughs. "You're fucking pathetic Snow."

"Dear pot, meet kettle. Or in your case, dear asshole, meet turd."

"Hand the phone to Blackwell."

I freeze. "What are you talking about?"

Ace slams his fist against my wall, causing a dent in the drywall. My limbs become sentient and do as I'm told. This, this was the risk I was running by involving Ace. Somehow Thirteen always anticipated every move on the chess board.

"Thirteen," Ace spits. "Whatever this is for, it's not worth it."

Thirteen chuckles drly. "I really hoped Octavia wouldn't make the most predictable move in the book by involving you. Did you really think I wouldn't account for this? The moment the tracker went off, it was obvious that you informed Ace."

The phone suddenly sends over a video transmission. My mother's house shows up, zooming in on a window where she's sitting and eating. Her brown eyes bore into a book. A dim light cast her silhouette into the gauzy curtains framing the open window.

"How are you taking this?" I whisper. My mind began to spiral.

"This transmission is from a sniper outside her window. This is what happens to people who betray me. I'll get whatever's on the USB another way."

"Please, no," I cry. Tears began to pool themselves on my cheeks. "I'll—I'll do anything."

"Tragic. I really hoped we could have helped each other Darling," Thirteen states without emotion. "And to think you could have been my fire..."

"You're sadistic," I spat. A slew of curses filled the air.

"Stop this, Ian," Ace suddenly demands. "We'll hand over something better than the USB."

Silence is on the other side. "And what's that?" Thirteen says with a hint of amusement.

"The USB were coordinates to a police station in Albemarle," Ace divulges. "We found what you were searching for—a hard drive—a hard drive with a genome on it."

My breath held itself. The screen turns black, ending the video.

"Meet me at the location I'm sending you at midnight. Octavia only and dress nicely. If there's a single agent, weapon, or pathetic attempt to fool me, Octavia's mother will die."

The transmission clicks off. My hopeless sigh cuts into the room with its haunting silence. "Look," I start. "I'm doing this. I'll go to jail for aiding a criminal, but this has to be done. I'll tell the Director that you weren't involved. Don't try to stop me."

Ace creases his eyebrows. "Stop—you were put into an impossible situation. Though now, we have to tell the Director...after we hand over the hard drive."

I start the process of cloning the SSD. At least this way, we'd have a copy of everything even if we did help Thirteen.

Ace gives me a concerned look. "You're taking the whole father-was-actually-an-agent thing really well."

"—Don't even start. This is surreal, and none of it has set in yet. Give me a couple of hours, then I'll start acting crazier than a toddler in a state-level beauty pageant."

He purses his lips. "I've been thinking about this. This is just an idea, but what if we help Thirteen? He seems pretty hellbent on finding this person. What if he stops causing chaos after he's found a strange peace?"

My fingertips dig into my palms. I stop working on the hard drive to turn to him. "That's not our call. We can't condemn anyone for the sake of possibly stopping Thirteen."

"But doesn't there come a point when the safety one person's life can't possibly justify the harm of thousands of others?" Ace presses. He had a point—of course he did—but at the end of the day, the prospect seemed inherently wrong.

I run a hand through my hair in frustration. "We can't be judge, jury, and executioner. Though in his case, maybe executioner."

~

Specks of salt sprinkled into the saline air sprayed onto the deck. I was on the last ferry to New Jersey in order to meet with Thirteen. There weren't many people on this ride, but the majority accompanying me on this journey appeared to be regular citizens.

It was paradoxical to think that at least one person on this boat was working for the sheer evil that was Thirteen. I adjusted the straps on my backpack, which contained only the hard drive, and nothing else as promised. My eyes scanned the surroundings: an elderly man, a mother with a sleeping child, a young student.

Who knew which one was the wolf in sheep's clothing.

Gentle waves crashed onto the sides of the motors. The bright glow of New York drifted away, lending the source of light to become the moon and its accompanying stars.

My grip tightened on the backpack straps. The ferry anchors, and the passengers all go our separate ways. Awaiting for me at the dock was a stunning dark skinned woman who wore an easy smile on her lips. Adorning her body was a sleek trench coat along with a pair of impressive heels. Just hidden underneath her trench coat was the peak of a triangle tattoo.

Standing next to her was none other than Ethan Tansin. When we locked eyes, he smirked, a pleased expression coming over his features. Oh no.

"Ava, it's funny running into you here. I had no idea you worked for Katrina too," he says.

The dark skinned woman reaches out her hand. "Ava Jensen, it's so nice to meet you in person," she smiles. "My boss is looking forward to meeting up with you. Let's get to the show before it's too late."

What is Thirteen's game?

Thirteen: "Vote Darlings, we're just getting started."

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