Warren Richards stood up suddenly, bringing his face within inches of Jack’s. In one long hissing breath, he articulated:
“Do you understand the consequences of what you’re talking about?”
“I have to try!” Jack answered passionately.
“We’ve known each other for eleven years,” said Warren slowly after a long pause, “I’d like to think we trust each other. So please trust me when I say don’t do this! You can’t stop it! You’ll be throwing your life away for nothing! You’re wrong!”
“NO! Not today!” Jack shouted back in desperation. “Maybe I’ve been wrong my entire life, maybe I’ll never be the man I thought I was, maybe I am a fool, but I am not wrong. Not this time, Warren, not this time,” then he added more softly, “I have to do this… or die trying.”
As he spoke, Jack’s eyes began to glass over. He turned, walked to the window, and stared out at the night sky. He felt his friend’s eyes boring into his back, but neither man spoke. They remained unmoving for what felt like ages. At length, he heard Warren walk away and he half-turned away from the window, watching him with his peripheral vision.
Warren halted before stepping into the corridor. He seemed to hesitate a moment before adding softly, “then you’ll die alone,” his voice trembling with emotion. With that, he walked out, slamming the door hard behind him.
Jack Smith stared out the window, his eyes fixed on the stars, as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I know,” he whispered.
He remained at the window for hours, his eyes slowly moving back and forth between the moon and the street below. He watched as the number of people diminished until none remained, and finally, he went to bed.
He stared at the ceiling for a while before setting his alarm, closing his eyes and waiting for sleep. Despite his fatigue, sleep would not come. He lay awake, thinking. Thinking about what he had done. About what he knew he had to do to make it right. He had resolved to do it some time ago, but only now did the decision feel real. He was afraid. Would Warren try to interfere? For the sake of their friendship, he hoped that Warren might stay out of his way. But was this bigger than their friendship?
When sleep finally did come, it was not peaceful, as he had hoped. He dreamed he was on a street full of people, all of them watching him, as if they knew what he had done and hated him for it. He walked, avoiding their gazes, until he arrived at his office building. He climbed the stairs and walked down the corridor and into his office. His assistant stared at him. Neither said anything. He walked over to his desk, sat down and examined a printed report on his desk. He felt a presence behind him and turned. His assistant stood on his left, Warren on his right. They looked down on him as they spoke.
“It could save thousands,” said Warren.
“It could destroy millions,” he replied.
“You’ll be ruined, hated and hunted,” said the assistant.
“It is the price I must pay,” he shouted, slamming his hand on the desk.
They both closed their eyes and bowed their heads. He turned back to his desk and suddenly felt that he had very little time. He picked up the report and heard a loud siren sound. He moved quickly to get away from it–and fell from his bed.
His alarm buzzed on the bedside table above him. He switched it off as he stood up, but it took several minutes for him to actually wake up. He stretched and walked over to the window. The sun was starting to rise.
He went through his morning routine and stepped out of his apartment, intentionally leaving his phone behind. He rode the elevator down to the garage and walked toward his car. As he readied the key to unlock it, he wavered for a moment, then put his keys away. He had decided to walk.
As he emerged from the dark parking garage, he looked up at the sky. The air was warm, but dark clouds, heavy with impending rain, blotted out the sun. He headed toward his office. Strangely, he did not feel nervous as he would have expected. Instead, he felt nothing at all. He walked slowly, taking in all the sights and sounds of the streets.
It took him two hours to reach his office, instead of the usual three-quarters of an hour. He nodded to his assistant as he walked by her.
“You’re late,” she said with a smile.
“My alarm never went off this morning,” he lied. “Any calls?”
She turned away and returned to her work. He walked into his office and sat down at his desk. He pulled out an SD card from his pocket, carefully keeping it in his palm to conceal it from the cameras that he suspected were watching him. He made a show of reorganizing his desk and slid the card into a slot on his laptop, hoping he had been subtle enough to avoid notice. He began copying files on to the card in batches, doing some of his normal work at the same time, trying to seem natural. He paused to look out the window and saw the sky darken and open up. He watched the rain spatter against his window. His intercom crackled to life, making him jump.
“It’s Mr. Richards on line one for you,” his assistant announced. He took a breath to calm himself before answering.
“Tell him I’m in a meeting, and could you hold all my calls please, Judy?”
The file transfers completed at last and he ejected the SD card. Fighting the urge to immediately grab it, he carried on with his day. When it was time to head to one of his meetings, he popped his laptop out of its docking station and walked out of his office. He pulled the SD card out as he walked and slid it into his pocket. Feeling sweat dripping down his back, he struggled to appear calm and endure his meeting before rushing back to his office the moment it ended. He walked past Judy as nonchalantly as he could fake and collapsed into his chair. He immediately rejected the rest of his meetings for the day, concerned about looking suspicious, but convinced that his poor acting would draw even more attention if he spoke with any more of his colleagues in person.
He continued working, but with his thoughts constantly swirling around the SD card in his pocket. Eventually, the maelstrom of fear and doubt in his head was interrupted by the sound of a light knock at his door. He blinked a few times to focus his vision before calling out.
“It’s Judy, it’s almost six o’clock. I was just about to leave. I’ve left your messages on my desk.”
“Yes, alright, I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he replied evenly. As he finished speaking, he suddenly realized that he would never see her again. He leapt to his feet, ran to the door and swung it open. He called down the corridor as he walked toward Judy, who spun around in surprise.
“I… I, um, just wanted to say… thank you, Judy,” he stammered as he reached her. “You did great work.”
“Well, it was tough doing what I do everyday,” she said it with a touch of facetiousness, but he noticed her cheeks redden as she spoke.
“But thank you,” she added shyly, adjusting her slipping purse strap on to her shoulder.
Seized by a sudden impulse, he extended one hand while the other reached into his pocket and grasped the memory card. Judy smiled and shook his proffered hand, while he quickly dropped the card into her purse as his other hand came up to pat her shoulder. They both let go and Judy nodded before turning and continuing down the corridor.
He headed back into his office, his heart drumming against his chest. He should have thought of it before. He knew he was being watched, but they would never think to worry about Judy. Once she discovered the memory card, she would know what to do, he was sure of it. He stood for a moment, wondering what his next move should be.
As he stood pondering, he heard footsteps behind him and he turned to see a pair of men in black suits walking into his office.
“Could you come with us, please?” said one of the men with a tone that contradicted his apparent courtesy.
Jack looked from one man to the other before nodding and following them out into the corridor and toward the elevator. He knew it was all over. One of his mistakes had caught up with him. He wasn’t surprised, he was definitely not cut out for covert operations. As he walked, another mad thought popped into his head. Without warning, he broke into a run. He heard a startled cry from his escort, but he reached the elevator with a few seconds lead. He nervously mashed the button for the lobby. Jack watched the doors close as the two men charged. He sighed in relief as the doors shut before they could reach in.
Sweating, he watched the floor numbers decrease. The elevator stopped and the doors opened, revealing the lobby. He stepped out of the elevator and heard shouting coming from the stairwell. The guard at the front desk, holding a phone to his ear, looked up in surprise.
Panicking, Jack broke into a sprint, heading for the entrance, knocking over a young woman as he went. A pair of guards came chasing after him while the guard at the desk yelled.
He ignored their warnings and swung open the heavy glass door as the guards drew their weapons, still screaming. He leapt outside and was assaulted by the heavy rain. He took a step to run, but his foot never landed.
He heard the glass of the doorway shatter and instantly felt a sharp and overwhelming pain in his spine. He fell to the ground and couldn’t breathe. He struggled for air and crawled along the ground, unable to see. A veil of darkness had settled over his eyes and pain arced through his body. He longed to cry out but couldn’t get enough air. Suddenly, his fingers felt something ahead of him. Frigid metal. The sharp cold surprised him and at last he drew in a deep breath. The darkness cleared and he saw a drain directly in front of him. He heard splashing footsteps and saw a foot land next to his face. He watched numbly as his blood, diluted by rainwater, dripped down into the sewer. He felt oddly at peace. It had cost him his life, but he had succeeded. Judy would notice he was missing. She would find the data and she would go public.
He felt himself being picked up, and carried, causing new waves of agony to wrack his body. He felt cold and exhausted. Simply sucking air into his lungs was enormously difficult, yet even as his consciousness slipped away, a weak smile spread across his lips.