Lavin loathed clean up. To him the process of spinning stories and creating cover-ups was tiresome and trivial. There was a need for such things though, you didn’t get to his position in the organisation without realising the need for secrecy and spin doctors. He himself had been subject to this process. According to most reliable sources he didn’t exist, his entire life had been redacted from recorded history and replaced with the thick black bars of the censor. The anonymity afforded by Deus Ex suited him though, he took it as an opportunity to leave the past where it was and move on. Occasionally there were small reminders from those redacted times that bled into his new life but they were often short lived and could be dismissed with an annoyed grunt and a blank stare. However there were other aspects of his past that his mind held onto with a clenched fist, refusing to let go. Mostly they were memories of his ex-wife, Christina. It was her he was thinking of the entire trip back to London HQ.
Through the black SUV’s heavily tinted window the city whipped by him at speed as he let his mind wander. Like the car his mind raced through thoughts of happier moments, careful not to linger too long in one spot, lest the illusion was ruined. He indulged in moments of past love, remembering faces, thoughts, and feelings. Times that he usually hid not only from the world but himself. It was true what they said about misery and its love of company, unfortunately for Lavin he tended to keep his own counsel. His eyes refocused on he window of the SUV and saw that his usual blank, expressionless face had slipped momentarily into a rare smile. The moment was short lived as he noticed lieutenant Green watching him in the rear vision mirror. Lavin erased the smile and met Green’s eyes. Guiltily she flicked her eyes away, a stolen moment they would forever leave unacknowledged. A silent sigh escaped the Commander’s lips as he once again looked out across the tinted night. His hand tightly gripping the broken arrow that sat on his lap.
The next few hours went by in a warm and familiar blur. Debrief after debrief. A multitude of reports written in the standard bureaucratic tripe, all of which would be read, censored, and filed, never again to see the light of day. A dismissive grunt excused his team from the debriefing room and ushered them into the dull grey concrete halls of Deus Ex. The hallway began to echo of off duty talk as the tired team wandered towards the quiet pull of the cafeteria. Lavin lazily waved off the usual ‘come-join-us’ nod from Green and chose to retire to his quarters alone. The metal door slid open as it read Lavin’s biometric access chip sitting just below the skin of his hand. Throwing his jacket carelessly on the bed he made his way directly to the make-shift bar in the corner of an otherwise sparse room. He slowly poured himself a large whisky he spoke aloud to the blank wall in front of him, ‘Does your wife know you’re out?’
The woman appeared in the middle of the room, her auburn hair flowing gently in some non-existent breeze. He had taken to, rather unkindly, referring to the new Ex Libris as her wife after the way they doted on her, clearly infatuated with the hologram.
‘Does yours?’ She replied coldly, glancing at the solitary photo frame on the commander's desk.
‘Harsh, Sarah.’ Lavin said taking a sip of the whisky. He let the liquid slide down his throat, savouring the taste of peat and letting its scent smoulder in his nose. Slowly, he turned to face his uninvited, yet not unwelcome, guest.
Arms folded, Sarah stood motionless in the opposite corner of the room, her feet hovering millimetres above the ground. The pair regarded each other silently as an air of unease passed between them. The commander waited patiently for Sarah to speak, slowly sipping from his whisky. Clearly in no hurry, Sarah began to lazily drift about the room, the commander’s eyes studied her. Idly she let her hand drift through the top of the desk, leaving the mess of papers and reports undisturbed in her holographic wake. The silence was eventually broken as Sarah’s fingers found the lone picture frame.
‘What was she like?’ Sarah inquired casually. Silence once again rushed to fill the room. ‘What is it that you want Sarah?’ Lavin asked dismissively, gently pushing himself away from the counter. The large ice cube rattled against the glass, as the tired soldier moved to stand behind the ethereal Sarah. Had Sarah a physical body, her back would have been pressed against the commander’s chest, the soft sweet smell of her perfume mixing gently with the commander’s own scent of whisky, sweat, and leather. She arched her neck back into him and closed her eyes. What electronic dreams passed through her mind were quickly shattered as Lavin pushed his hand through her torso and placed the photo frame face down on the desk. Sarah turned quickly and slapped the commander across the face. Her hand passed through his unflinching head. ‘You cold bastard,’ She spat as her form instantly dispersed into the void.
Lavin placed his drink on the bedside table and collapsed back onto the standard issue bed that occupied most of the room. Hands folded behind his head, the leader of Ex Gladius regarded the overly familiar intricacies of the ceiling. He let his mind wander freely until it found what he was looking for, her bright face shone in the darkness of his memory. Of everything, it was her eyes he missed the most, whenever he had looked into them the world seemed to fall away and suddenly it was all worth it. Sighing softly to himself, he pushed the dream world away and opened his eyes to find the top of Sarah’s head resting on his chest. She lay curled up beside him, her translucent frame clothed in blue jeans and a plain black shirt. A large silver necklace sat above the shirt. Her hair spilled out across his chest and he resisted the urge to run his hands over it.
‘Do you miss her?’ Sarah asked.
‘All the damn time...’ He closed his eyes again. ‘Do you miss Tony?’
‘More than I thought I would.’ She replied closing her eyes in turn. The couple let the silence fall around them once again, this time it was a comfortable companionship the two shared rather than a hostile force between them. Lavin’s thoughts kept him in the present, the too real commander and his imitation lover. Sarah opened her eyes with a start. ‘He’s escaped,’ she whispered in a quiet voice, full of horror.
No two words had ever hit Lavin harder than the ones just uttered from Sarah’s holographic lips. Despite skirting the edge of exhaustion his body awoke instantly. ‘What do you mean, escaped?’ He asked, his voice almost trembling. Sarah shifted and sat up and Lavin followed, their faces almost touching.
‘Sarah, what do you mean he’s escaped?’ He repeated sternly. Sarah’s gaze shifted towards the floor. ‘He’s not there. The cave is empty.’ Lavin stood up and pulled on the jacket he had shed moments before. ‘She’s gone as well?’ He asked as he removed his handgun from a drawer and secured it into his shoulder holster.
‘No,’ Sarah said, flicking to the opposite side of the room. Arms hanging awkwardly at her side as the large silver ankh necklace shone brightly in an unseen sun. ‘She’s still there. The Gladius unit stationed outside have questioned her, she’s as much in the dark as we are.’ Various items disappeared into the many pockets of Lavin’s uniform, while bulkier items were ushered unceremoniously into a duffle bag pulled from the depths of his wardrobe.
‘Should I pretend that anything I say will stop you from going, or should I just warn Aaron that you’re on your way?’
Lavin ignored Sarah and walked briskly out of the room. The metal door slid shut, leaving Sarah alone with only the hum and whisper of the air conditioning. She let herself fall backwards into the concrete wall, disappearing into the aether, taking the room’s light with her.
The Ex Machina offices sat empty and dark, only the dull blue-white glow from a computer monitor gave away the lone agent working diligently after hours. Sarah fell silently back onto the red leather couch reserved for visitors and late night coding sessions. Aaron remained focused on his screen as he greeted his late night guest, ‘Sarah.’
‘Aaron.’ She replied, laying her hands on her stomach.
‘And to what do I owe the pleasure?’ He asked, hitting a save command and stretching back on his chair. His neck cracked as he moved it for the first time in hours and allowed his eyes to focus on the dim room. ‘Not a social visit then?’ He presumed from her silence. Yawning loudly, he arose from the confines of his desk and perched himself on the arm of the couch looking down at the saddened face of the hologram. Eventually Sarah spoke. ‘Loki’s free.’
Aaron silently regarded this statement for a few moments. ‘Does Lavin know yet?’ He asked.
Sarah, in an unnecessarily human manner, closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. ‘He’s on his way down.’ Without a word Aaron left the couch and sat back behind his desk, his hands quickly and effortlessly flew across the keyboard as he tracked Lavin’s progression through the maze that was Deus Ex. Security camera feeds displayed across the multitude of screens in front of him, duplicating Lavin from various angles as he passed through a number of security points between his room and Ex Machina. Aaron, watched the commander as he reached the main door, his face filled the screen as he looked directly at the camera and mouthed the words ‘open up.’
Aaron looked over at Sarah. ‘He looks pissed,’ he said, but she was gone. Aaron shrugged and keyed the entrance command into the terminal. Lavin ignored the security cameras as they hummed and turned to track him through the darkened offices of Ex Machina. Aaron, backlit from the blue-white glow emitting from his office, greeted Lavin who in return unslung the already heavy duffle bag and threw it towards the tech.
‘Fill this,’ he said without breaking his stride.
The Ex Machina tech grunted as the bag winded him. ‘Nice…nice to see you too,’ he breathed. Lavin took no notice and continued towards the large vault door occupying the far wall of what was otherwise a simple computer lab.
‘It’s after midnight,’ Aaron said struggling to bring the heavy bag under control, ‘It’s not scheduled to open for another eight hours.’ Again, the Commander ignored the tech and proceeded to enter his pass code into the vault’s key pad. A red denied light lit up the panel. Lavin re-entered his code, repeatedly. Each time he was met with the same denial. ‘I told you. Even I can’t override it. Upstair’s way of making sure we don’t work over time, well, paid over time that is.’ Aaron’s faint Australian accent thickened as he leant on the wall next to the key panel, ‘What’s this all about anyway? You got somewhere you need to be?’
Lavin’s fist smacked hard into the wall beside the technician, close enough to his face that Aaron could count the hairs on each knuckle. ‘Open. The. Vault.’ The commander said leaning in close, his eyes drilling down into the tech’s soul. ‘Now.’
Aaron swallowed hard and reached blindly for the key pad entering in his private code. The red light turned to green and the immense vault door spiralled in on itself leaving a vast metallic hollow in it’s wake. Lavin huffed out his annoyance. ‘Fill the bag, or I’ll do it myself.’ While not much of a threat, Lavin’s words had the desired effect on Aaron as he quickly extracted himself from the wall and began to fill the duffle bag with various pieces of equipment within the vault. Lavin followed close behind, watching to see that his orders were carried out.
Looking much like a high-tech bank vault, dull metallic boxes lined the curved walls of the vault. Aaron walked through the tunnel quickly, stopping only to open seemingly random boxes to remove various pieces of equipment and shove them haphazardly into the waiting duffle bag. Lavin passed the tech and made his way directly to the rear of the vault, a section occupied by a large glass box. An ancient looking war hammer was the only occupant. The large stone hammer was ornately decorated with various swirls and patterns carved into it. As Lavin approached the patterns began to glow and dance before him. Aaron continued to fill the duffle bag until he noticed Lavin out of the corner of his eye. The commander was standing before Mjöllnir, the most powerful weapon Ex Machina had.
‘He’s insane if he thinks I’ll give him that.’ Aaron said out loud.
‘He doesn’t need your permission to use it, Aaron. The hammer knows him.’ The tech watched as Sarah walked past him, her black leather catsuit creaking softly with each step.
‘I should never have let her watch those Avenger re-runs,’ he said to himself shaking his head slowly before turning back to the task at hand.
‘There’s no stopping you I suppose,’ Sarah’s voice echoed gently around the vault as she sided next to Lavin.
‘Not really, no.’ He replied. The pair watched the patterns slowly dance about the ancient stone hammer. ‘You don’t think I should do it, do you?’ Lavin asked, looking at Sarah. Her eyes were fixed on him and for a moment they held each others gaze.
She turned her head back towards the stone artefact, ‘I’ve been trying to think of a reason for you not to go, none were good enough though.’ A subtle sadness had entered her voice, ‘there are too many reasons for you to go, it would just be petty and selfish for me to suggest otherwise.’
‘Tony would have come up with a few. None repeatable in polite company though.’
‘He did have a way with words.’ The pair looked back at the hammer and smiled to themselves, a private joke between the warrior and the computer. Sarah turned and put her spectral hand on Lavin’s face, ‘Just promise me you’ll come back, I couldn’t lose you too, not like this.’ The commander gently placed his hand on Sarah’s face, his fingers glowing slightly where they dipped through her holographic skin.
‘I have to come back, all my things are here.’ He said smiling softly as a thick tear fell down Sarah’s cheek and she faded into the air. The six metal bolts around the hammer lit up and twisted open. The vault filled with the sound of air rushing into the vacuum of the glass cabinet as the glass walls folded open exposing the ancient weapon. Gradually, Lavin let his hand fall back to his side as he whispered, ‘thank you.’
Mjöllnir in hand Lavin turned and walked purposely out of the vault. He snatched the now full duffle bag from a dumbfounded Aaron and hit the close switch for the vault door. Quickly coming to his senses, the Ex Machina tech bound through the closing door before it shut him in. ‘Hey!’ he shouted as Lavin continued his fast pace towards the exit. ‘Surely you’re not going to take Loki on by yourself, are you? That’s insane, even for you!’
Lavin replied as he hit the main Ex Machina door release, ‘I’ve done it once, I can do it again.’ As the door slid upwards the commander was met with a hasty salute from lieutenant Green who had been caught by surprise.
‘Commander.’ She said as the rest of Lavin’s unit snapped to attention beside her. The Ex Gladius team was a black smear against the stark white hallway.
Lavin turned and pointed the hammer back at Aaron. ‘You...’
‘Hey! It wasn’t me. Maybe you should ask Mrs. Peel back there.’ Grunting, Lavin turned and handed the heavy duffle bag to Green. ‘Make yourself useful then. Brack.’
‘Sir!’ the scouser Private jumped at his name.
‘Get the van ready. Green, secure some air transport. The rest of you fall in and try not to get yourselves killed.’ Brack double-timed it down the hall and Lavin followed briskly with the rest of the unit in tow. Green was already keying in a flight requisition via the portable coms device attached to her wrist. ‘Sir. I’ll have a C-17 waiting for us at Regent’s. They’ll want a destination though.’
Lavin’s face remained unreadable as he offered a single word answer, ‘Cardiff.’
‘Wales, Sir?’ asked a confused Green, ‘You mean Loki was bound in Wales?’
‘No lieutenant,’ the commander said. ‘Wales is where my ex-wife lives.’