18:00, Chittagong, Bangladesh, July 17th, 2118
Bertram Hauser slipped on his dinner jacket and considered himself in the mirror. White flashes ran from his temples and blended with greying brown hair, a short functional haircut revealed a high hairline. His dark brown, close-set eyes were framed by a rectangular face; his countenance complimented by an aquiline nose, small ears without lobes, thins lips accustomed to pursing and thick, flat eyebrows. A slight man of average height, certainly not meant for brawling or soldiering, but who exuded a definite sense of danger (especially in an exquisite suit).
The Minister of Foreign Affairs waited three floors above him with a dozen others in the hotel’s exclusive restaurant; after dinner, the party was headed for a diplomatic soiree. One found few occasions to wear white tie 18 years after an apocalypse; it signalled a return to real civilisation. He took out a herbal cigar from his inside pocket and –
His right wrist vibrated. Let it not be Tonton. A glance at his SuperCom, the square-faced digital watch-cum-holographic computer on his wrist, confirmed his fears: his superior’s name in white, block capitals - ‘TONTON’. He tapped at the watch’s face to answer the video phone. Tonton’s face and shoulders floated in a beam of white light, his baldness and owlish eyes always reminded Bertie of a studious bird. “Sorry to do this, Bertie, but you’re our closest operative to a possible defector,” Tonton wasn’t sorry, his intonation and chilly tone never changed, “In three hours, Ms R is supposed to cross into Burma via the Bay of Bengal. She departs from Cox’s Bazaar for Sittwe. I’ll forward you the details; you’ll be paid well.”
“Tonton, just know that the next time you go on holiday, I’m going to tell you to kill someone too,” griped Bertie, Tonton’s face disappeared. A moment later he received a dossier on Ms R. The woman he was meant to convince or kill. He knew that face.
Hauser put away his cigar. No time to hang around, he was going on the hunt.
The agent ran down his checklist: coat, gloves, cheese wire, aerosol dispenser, suppressed pistol, miniature binoculars and portable chemical lab on the front passenger seat. Bertie was ready for his trip. He activated the vertical thrust on his hover car, which was set just in from where the wheels would have been on cars in the 21st century; eight pale blue lights cast beneath the vehicle indicated where the fans engines whirred inside. It floated there for a few moments as the navigation aligned for Cox’s Bazaar, exactly 114 kilometres to the south. Lateral thrusters engaged and his car barrelled out of the hotel’s hangar.
He flew away from the upwardly mobile polis of Chittagong with its skyscrapers dotted here and there, over seaside towns gently figured in moonlight. All the time, the Bay of Bengal stretched to his right: deep, broad and inexorably dark.
* * *
She thumbed through the dossier again. It was meant to have been destroyed. She was meant to have disposed of its contents; something had possessed her not to. A conscience she had forgotten. This manila folder could get her killed but here she was in the middle of Bangladesh, ready to hand it over and defect from an organisation she had been part of her entire life.
When you’re in The Providence it penetrates, pervades and swallows your mind. Their ethos is vague enough to captivate and seduce. She had believed in the words – “enlightenment through unity.” She had revered Dr John Kale for his legendary intellect, and had quietly worshiped Epoch. Everyone worshipped Epoch.