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The Lie that Saved the World Chapter 8: Old Wounds

by VengefulReaper


Jim and Steve materialized at the Alliance base. The former spy held his stomach and exhaled sharply. Steve assumed he hadn’t crossed mediums in some time. It took at least a week of constant travel to become accustomed to this level of teleporting. As they walked down the corridor to the lift, he glanced over at Jim’s expression. It was blank as an empty canvas. Not even a clench or a muscle twitch.

Jim was a mysterious character. Nobody knew who he really was. That’s what made him the best spy the Alliance had and possibly the only reason he escaped Sigvald’s watchful eye alive. But being the spy he was, Steve watched him harden over time. Jim was willing to do things John and the rest would not dream of which made him the perfect man to do the dirty work for the leader of the Alliance.

The silence between them swelled, Jim’s presence becoming even more awkward. To the rest of the Alliance Jim had died years ago, his rouse only being known to Steve and John, The two most senior members of the organization.

“I’m sorry,” Steve finally said. “For putting you through all this.”

“Apologize to me when the mission is over,” Jim replied as they waited for the elevator to arrive at their floor.

Jim was a good actor, but even he couldn’t contain the discomfort he felt. Wrinkles formed on his brows and a his blank expression fell into a frown.

“Do you think they’ll be fine with me coming back?” Jim asked.

“Frankly, I don’t know,” Steve said. “There were mixed feelings surrounding your death. Some mourned, others didn’t.”

Steve didn’t enjoy Jim’s company, but he certainly didn’t despise it as some did. Something felt off about him. Perhaps it was too hard for Steve to accept that four years in deep cover may have changed his comrade’s perspective.

The elevator beeped and the doors opened for the two to step inside. Steve stepped inside but saw Jim frozen in place. “Come on, Jim. I’m sure it will be fine.”

With a courteous smile, he stepped into the elevator but it soon vanished the moment he turned around. This is not going to go well, Steve thought scratching his forehead.

***

Breach’s fist landed cleanly on Jim’s cheek, his body falling to the concrete floor with a thud. As Steve tried to break up the fight that had immediately sparked the moment Breach caught sight of the spy, the others watched unbothered. Ethan winced intermittently after every blow dealt to Jim but only pleaded for Breach to stop. After a minute of Breach’s onslaught, Amber sighed and yanked Breach away from Jim’s curled up body.

“That’s quite enough,” she said, tightening her grip on Breach’s arm.

Jim wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth and looked at it with disgust. He wiped it off on his shirt and stood up with a groan. “It’s nice to see you too, Breach. I nearly forgot what your knuckles felt like.”

Breach scowled. He ripped his arm from Amber’s grasp and moved it around in a circle, massaging his strained muscle. His gaze did not meet Jim’s. Instead, he made every effort to avoid it. Steve and Amber both flicked their eyes between the two, concerned.

He decided to change the topic to something more professional. “Jim has returned from his undercover work and has some information about the bio-weapon.”

Steve observed Ethan attentiveness to the subject being discussed. Rico arrived late… As usual… His mouthed still chewed on the last bit of food left and a bottle of water in his hand.

“Sorry I’m late, Sir,” he said with a casual salute.

The leader of the Alliance rolled his eyes and gestured for Rico to join the round table. Steve hauled a small cube no larger than the palm of his hand and slid it to the middle of the table.

“Show us what you’ve got,” he said nodding to Jim.

Jim placed hovered his tablet over the cube momentarily until a green light flashed twice. A holographic interactive screen appeared and filled the table. A rotating map of South Africa stood before the team of infiltrators.

“As you’re aware, the bio-weapon has been around for three months. While there is no concrete link between this and the bombing of the teleporting station a few days before its release, it’s too much of a coincidence to think they aren’t.”

He pulled up a model of the bio-weapon on screen. “This is a similar model to the virus released ten years ago.”

Steve cleared his throat and motioned for Ethan to speak. While sifting through information on the new recruit he came across a paper Ethan had written on the virus that killed Haley years ago. He was the expert in the room currently.

“Haven’t you studied this one before, Ethan?”

“Of course I have. I wrote a dissertation on it,” Ethan replied, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Jim gestured to Ethan to speak, realizing this was not his area of expertise.

After a few seconds of analysis, Ethan leaned forward. “This is not looking good. It’s almost identical except for one characteristic. It mutates too rapidly and too sporadically to predict.”

“What does that mean?” asked John.

“It means a vaccine could work but it’ll take significantly longer,” said Ethan. “There’s really only two ways to kill off this virus.” He spread his arms out, zooming in on a piece of machinery embedded in the RNA of the virus. “This device right here is what controls the bio-weapon and its symptoms. Upon receiving specific frequencies from a main server, it forces a mutation in the RNA and transmits the signal to its closest agent.”

“Like a row of dominoes?” asked Breach.

Ethan nodded, “Disable the original transmitter and the bio-weapon is about as mild as the flu. It’s that or take your chances waiting for a vaccine.”

Steve contemplated Ethan’s words as the chatter of his surroundings faded to the background. It would be difficult to locate the transmitter let alone disable it. But the vaccine could take too long. He didn’t know how long he had before Sigvald detonated it. To add to all that was the question of Ethan’s truthfulness. He hadn’t determined if he was a spy or not so how could he trust anything he said? It wasn’t as if he had anyone else knowledgeable enough to call him out if he was lying about all of this to lure him into Sigvald’s clutches.

If we go after the transmitter,” began Steve. “What are we looking for?”

Ethan stroked his chin and looked at the ceiling in thought. “I don’t know. A server room the size of the med bay maybe. It’s a lot of transmissions so the place has to be huge like back in the war.

Jim cleared his throat to draw attention to himself. “If we give him the doc he could have a look at some maps and try and narrow the position of the ser—”

“That won’t be necessary,” Steve said promptly. The rest of the infiltrators exchanged looks of confusion. While this was very necessary the last place Steve wanted vital intel in the hands of was Ethan. “I will deploy a handful of recon drones to scout for SEKT settlements and take them out one by one. We’ll find it eventually.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to ju—”

“No,” Steve cut off Jim firmly before he could plant that seed. “The more we spend our time analyzing, the less time we have to act.”

Begrudgingly, Jim backed off and the rest followed suite. Closing the hologram, Steve tucked the box into the top pocket of his white shirt. He dismissed everyone except for John and Jim who he kept behind for a meeting.

Though the table was small, John kept as much distance from Jim as he could. Steve could see the blind man’s muscles tense up. One slap from John might’ve been enough to knock him out cold. Steve tapped his feet twice and exhaled loudly. John released his clenched fist and tried his best to relax his body.

Steve slid Ethan’s file to Jim. “Haley’s son. Ethan Rider.”

Jim’s brows furrowed in confusion. “What the hell is he doing here?”

“He dropped in on of our missions. He was going to die so John brought him in. His willingness to join us is… concerning to say the least.”

Jim raised an eyebrow, “and you think he’s a spy?” Jim chuckled under his breath. “Spies are usually hard to read, you know. This guy? He’s an open canvas.”

“Perhaps too open?” muttered Steve more to himself than to the other two in the room. “He came in for an interview with our folks topside. He could be valuable… Or dangerous.”

Jim’s eyes widened as he continued to read the dossier compiled of Ethan. “Is this why you let him join so abruptly? No checks? No verification with the higher-ups?”

Steve shifted in his seat. He was going to face a lot of flak from the higher-ups in his next meeting with them. “I let him stay. Our goals align for now. Times were desperate and his arrival seemed like a gift from heaven.”

“A curse from hell often looks more beautiful than a gift from heaven,” stated Jim.

Steve held an iron gaze with Jim. “He doesn’t know Sigvald killed her. Let’s keep it that way as long as we can.”

“Why can’t we just tell him?” John asked after being silent for most of the conversation. “He’s going to find out eventu—”

“Because he’s valuable as an agent in the field with an immense knowledge of the bio-weapon. Not as an assassin,” Jim interjected.

“Exactly. Just keep an eye on him. You know a spy when you see one. Just make sure we can trust him before we give him any more information.”

Jim shifted his eyes between the tablet and Steve. “Sure thing.”

After looking at Steve for permission, he left the room silently. At the door, he paused and sighed. “That was one hell of a welcome party.”

After Jim had left, John slammed his fist on the table making Steve nearly jump out of his skin. “You better have a damn good reason for bringing him back here,” he hissed.

“I’m not thrilled about working with him either. But I need him. He has information and information is the name of the game we’re playing.”

John lifted his head and stared at the ceiling. He paced up and down the room, the worry growing on his face. “He’s unpredictable, disloyal and only serves his own goals. The worst part is we don’t even know what his goals are.”

“He’s disloyal to us, but he’s always been loyal to the mission. His goals are secondary to that. I trust him only because of that.”

After a prolonged silence, John yielded. “Fair point. What do you want me to do?”

“Keep him on a leash. I don’t care how you do it just make sure he doesn’t cross any red lines. We don’t want a repeat of Sakawira village.”

“And what of Ethan?”

“If there’s anyone who can snuff out a spy it’s Jim. Takes one to know one.”

John shook his head. “I still don’t like the feeling of it. You saw what Breach did. They’re still hurting and now, at a crucial time, he’s come back and reopened those wounds. I hope you’re right about this.”

Steve rubbed his forehead. He tilted his head back and sighed. "I hope so too, John."


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52 Reviews


Points: 100
Reviews: 52

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Tue Dec 06, 2022 9:51 pm
SalisRuinen wrote a review...



Hello, hello! Salis here with a review!!

There aren't any questions from you at the end of this one, but that needn't worry you one bit. I've got plenty of stuff I want to comment on, anyway, so I'll get right to it.

First of all, I love the focus wasn't on Ethan in this chapter (not in the least because I don't like him, he's still my favourite character in the story), but on the veterans and mostly on Steve! His thought process offers a very different perspective of the plot and it's good to change things up every now and then rather than following the same pattern every time, so your decision to shift the attention here was most apt.

Second, the overall impression the chapter left me with is no one trusts anyone, which I suppose makes sense in a story centered on spies, but it was still an atmosphere of distrust I haven't felt before in your story and one I would love to see more of! By the end of it, I was wondering even more than Steve who his actuall allies are and this internal tension within the organization as opposed to everyone getting along makes the plot so much more intriguing. This is an aspect that can be explored in plenty detail in the future and can even lead to the creation of subplots, so I encourage you to keep and show different sides of this tension as much as you can.

As always, the technical aspect of the story was on point, from the use of the holographic screen to Ethan's explanation of the nature of the bio-weapon and how the virus can be neutralized. This is one of the things that I believe is most consistent about your work and one that I always enjoy greatly, and I'm sure you'll keep delivering the same top-tier quality in that regard. It simultaneously adds a sense of realism and one of sci-fi to it (if that makes sense), the unique mixture of which I think is the perfect background for your plot to unfold against.

Lastly, I find the most important part of the chapter to be precisely Ethan's explanation about the bio-weapon. It is simultaneously an important reveal, a reveal the truthfullness of which no one can be certain about, even the reader, and one that becomes the drive for everything else until the end of the chapter. This reveal pits Steve and Jim against each other, showing their different opinion on the protagonist right from the start, making more evident than ever how much Steve doesn't trust Ethan, runs a parallel between Ethan and Jim (at least for me) as being both valuable and dangerous due to the information they have and the uncertainty of their motives and further exemplifies what a great strategist and how conflicted Steve is. He knows he'll have better use of Ethan as an agent in the field rather than as an assasin and on the other hand, I feel he's also driven to not share the truth about Sigvald's part in his mother's death because of the bond between him and Ethan in the past, that bond making all the more heart-breaking the fact he can't trust the protagonist in the present.

Overall, this was a very refreshing chapter and one of the most intriguing ones so far, leaving me with many theories about where things can go from here and an anxiousness to find out if those theories are correct. Thank you for yet another great one and keep on writing!




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Tue Nov 22, 2022 1:06 pm
Liminality wrote a review...



Hi VengefulReaper! Lim here with a short review.

First Impressions

I like the different sides shown to Jim’s character in just this one chapter. He’s portrayed as nuanced without overwhelming the story with information. This chapter leaves me with a sense of ominousness. I wonder what happened at Sakawira village, and how the conflicts among members of the Alliance will develop.

Characters

There seems to be a lot of distrust brewing among the characters in this chapter. I like that the motivations for the distrust are explained or hinted at. I can understand Steve’s concerns about Ethan, and even though we don’t know the full story yet, I can kind of sympathise with Breach and John about Jim. It looks like whatever Jim did, it was pretty bad.

An interesting contrast is the trust between John and Steve. I liked little details like:

Steve tapped his feet twice and exhaled loudly. John released his clenched fist and tried his best to relax his body.

Is that a secret code or something between the two of them? If so, it shows how long they’ve known each other and how well they work together.

I also thought the first few paragraphs or so did a good job of building up interest in Jim’s character. I definitely found myself wanting to know more about him.

Plot

Something that puzzled me a bit was Jim’s initial assessment of Ethan and also Steve’s decision to have Jim investigate Ethan. From what I understand, Jim kind of dismissed any potential that Ethan could be dangerous at first, immediately trusting him to talk about the virus and wanting to suggest that Ethan help find the transmitter. That felt kind of odd to me – like, even if Ethan appears to be “an open book”, somehow I imagine a spy would be more suspicious of new people than the average person anyway. After all, Jim just met Ethan; Steve, who met Ethan a couple chapters ago is still wary around him.

As for Steve – Jim on his own already ruled Ethan out as being a threat. Jim only started getting suspicious of Ethan after Steve gave him more information, so Jim having an instinct to find other spies doesn’t seem like a great argument to send him on this mission to me. Could just be me, though.

Something I liked about the plot in this chapter was the progress on the bio-weapon situation. I thought the transmitter was explained pretty clearly, and I like that it links back to the technology described in the extended prologue. It also just seems like a neat idea – it’s less expected than just destroying the laboratory where they’re creating the virus or finding the antidote.

Overall

I enjoyed the characterisation in this chapter, as well as the new plot developments. I’m interested to see how people continue to react to Jim and if we’ll find out what exactly he did to affect them so much. I’m also keen on seeing Ethan interact more with his new companions, and how this whole suspicion of him being a spy is going to play out.

Hope this helps, and feel free to ask for more feedback!
-Lim






Thanks for the review, Lim! I certainly need to tweak that conversation between Jim and Steve about Ethan. There are some holes that you've pointed out that need fixing.

Also, yes, Steve and John do have their own 'secret language' that they use in place of things like visual gestures or body language. Something like... Morse code but not a complete language. My biggest editing challenge is remembering that John can't see anyone nod his head, or move their eyes or smile, frown etc. So I can't really use visual gestures to "talk" to John.

Also, I totally forgot to put questions at the end of my chapter but your reviews are so helpful they answered them anyway lol.




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