Song: “Nine’s Fear” by Luke Eskelund
There’s always another way.
If only Six could see that, everyone would get along just fine.
“I’m telling you,” Six said. “Things are about to get really bad really fast. All the agents are turning on each other.”
“Everything’s gonna be alright,” I reassured her. “Nobody’s really hurting anyone. If anything, it’s just a few feelings getting shot here and there.”
“What do you mean? Haven’t you heard? One took out Four. Then Four took out Two. Then Two–”
“Listen, Six,” I put my hand up to calm her. She was about to spiral and it was always best to stop her before that happened. I glanced at the submachine guns hanging on the wall and the rows of grenades dangling like Christmas lights from the ceiling. Six’s weapons made this place look less like her living room and more like a black market arms shop.
“What if the same thing happens to us?”
“It won’t,” I assured her. “We all know that we’re on a different page than the other agents. ‘You, me, and Three’, remember?”
“But what if Three has a problem with me?” Six asked. “I texted him today and he still hasn’t responded. What if he’s working with the others? What if they’re planning something and they’re trying to take us out?”
My phone vibrated and I pulled it out under the table. My heart stopped for a second when I saw who it was: Agent Sixteen. I put my phone away without checking the text and wiped any sign of trouble from my face before looking back at Six, who was on her feet now and pacing the room.
“Three’s the best shooter in the whole Agency,” she was saying. “Remember that time he shot a feeling through two targets at the same time? What if he does the same thing to us? What if he hits both of us with one rejection bullet?”
My phone vibrated again and I clenched my fist under the table. How was he texting me? I thought I’d gotten him locked up years ago. Him and the rest of the agents that had gone rogue with him.
“He won’t do that,” I told Six.
“How do you know?” she asked. “Did he talk to you? Did you talk to him?”
“I know him,” I told her.
“But did you talk to him? Did he tell you that we’re okay?”
I hadn’t. Truth was, I hadn’t heard much from Three lately either. But he had to be cool. It was Six, me, and Three.
“He told me nothing’s wrong,” I said. Better a lie to keep the peace than a truth that kills.
But Six wasn’t buying it. She started pacing faster and faster, running her hands through her hair. “What if someone’s coming after all of us? What if this is some kind of conspiracy to take out the whole agency?”
My phone vibrated again. This was a problem. Sixteen was a tough cookie. Twice as aggressive as Eight. Hence the name Sixteen. But whatever he wanted it could wait. So I turned my phone on silent to focus on Six.
“Let’s think this through,” I suggested. But it was too late.
“What if Three’s working with whoever’s behind this? What if he’s coming after us today? What if he wanted you to come here so we could both be at the same place at the same time? What if this is a trap?” And before I could stop her, she had swiped an Uzi off the wall and loaded it with a magazine of rejections.
“Easy, Six,” I said, slowly rising to my feet.
And then she turned and aimed at me. “What if it’s you?”
“What if you’re the one who’s gonna take me out? This whole time I’ve been worrying about Three, but what if he’s using you to distract me?!”
“Six, I’m not–!’”
There was a short burst as the Uzi spit several rejections into my chest.
“I’m sorry!” Six cried, dropping the gun to the floor as she ran to me. “I’m so sorry! I just…I just…my finger slipped.”
I held my hand up. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” And I was. Even though I had about six rejections lodged into me, I didn’t feel a thing.
“You’re not the enemy,” Six said, standing up. “I’ve gotta shoot Three before he shoots me.”
“No,” I shook my head. “There’s always another way.”
“We’re in the middle of a civil war, Nine!” she snapped. “You can’t talk your way out of everything. It’s kill or be killed. Sometimes you just have to take your shot.”
“No,” I disagreed. “There’s always another way. Let me talk to him.”
Six looked me up and down then sighed. “Fine.”
“Trust me,” I told her, rubbing her arm. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”
I left and made my way towards Three’s apartment across town. It was past midnight by now so I was the only one out and I was glad I hadn’t brought Six with me–she would’ve been freaking out about someone hiding behind every shadow.
I waited until I was about two blocks away from Six’s apartment to check my phone.
Five missed texts from Sixteen. And the last one was two words:
Artwork by Jessica Bryant