Song: “Chess” by Hans Zimmer
I watched as a group of men dressed in black carried Seven out of the entrance to the temple. They all had the same short-cropped sandy hair and identical tattoos of an owl¹ on their necks.
I crouched behind the cover of the branches and kept them in my scope as they moved. I had a clear shot. I knew for a fact that I could take down one of them. But it would take an extra second and a half to run the bolt² on my rifle and fire a second shot. Not to mention that the distance bullets wouldn’t even affect them unless I went down there afterwards. I could always shoot them with rejections, but the men would scatter and run for the hills after the first shot. And shooting them with feelings was obviously out of the question. It was hard enough keeping the scope of a bolt action sniper rifle steady. I didn’t need the excessive recoil that came from shooting feelings or the unpredictable trajectory they would inevitably take after being fired. Feelings were unreliable. Distance brought clarity. So my feeling magazine remained buried at the bottom of my backpack where it belonged. But there was too much cover for these men to escape behind regardless of what I shot. I would have to try another method.
As I watched them carry Seven away, I spotted a last figure walk out of the temple: tall, slim, and dressed in a black cloak with a hood covering his head and a mask covering his face. He was the leader. He had to be. And if I was still uncertain, the next second stole all doubt away because he turned, looked up, and stared straight at me through the scope.
My heart froze as we locked eyes. I had a shot. I could take it–straight to his heart.
But how did he know I was there? And why was he still staring? Did he want me to shoot? Was he baiting me?
He winked at me then casually lifted his hand to his ear in the shape of a phone receiver. The next second my phone vibrated and I glanced down instinctively. When I looked back up, the man in the hood had already turned and was following his crew up the hill as they brought Seven to their plane waiting at the top.
I sprang into action, kicking myself for not taking the shot as I packed the rifle. Within seconds, I had everything in my bag, slung it over my shoulder, and sprinted back to our plane. I hopped in, flew off, and managed to trail the kidnappers, keeping a steady distance above and behind them.
“Hey Siri,” I said. “Read my texts.”
“Text from Eight,” Siri told me. “Our place got attacked. We need to lay low at yours for a bit.”
“Text back,” I started. “On a mission with Seven. Make yourself at home.”
Siri sent the text then read me the most recent one I’d gotten when the man in the hood had winked at me.
“Text from 733 477 1514
If you wan to see yur frien live
Solve this ryddle before sunrise
“Why is your reven like a wrting besk?”²
What kind of game was this? My brain flipped through questions like the pages of an encyclopedia. Who were these people? How had they gotten Seven? No one had been in or out of the temple while I’d been watching. They must have been in the temple waiting. But the door had been locked from the outside. And who was that man in the hood? And how had he known where I was? And how did he have my number?
My mind swam with theories and possibilities, but nothing concrete was settling.
Nearly an hour later, they landed their plane on a runway on a mountain near a collection of log cabins. I recognized where we were: Hook Mountain near Nyack, New York. I was confused that I’d never seen this runway up here before, but relieved that this crew had taken Seven into our own backyard. My apartment was literally minutes away.
I flew overhead just as one man carried Seven over his shoulder and into the cabin. I made a decision in that instant. Seven was safe for now–he would inevitably wake up and stall with an endless array of witty remarks that would slowly wear these kidnappers down. Furthermore, these men weren’t going to kill him. They would have done so by now and their leader wouldn’t have texted me a riddle to solve. I had time–I didn’t know exactly how much, but I had time. But I needed to get back to my apartment. Eight was there and would be good back-up. But more importantly, there was information there I could use.
I turned the plane around and headed home.
Nearly twenty minutes later, I was standing on the roof of the apartment adjacent to mine. The Sun was hanging directly above me, traffic was bustling beneath me, and the wind was whistling around me. I set up my rifle and scanned the perimeter of my building for what I knew I would find. There was a Mexican restaurant on one corner, a funeral home on the other, the building I was stationed on, then my building. Pedestrians walked in and out of the restaurant, scarfing down tacos, and others conversed as they waited for the light.
But I noticed three men loitering at specific points of the intersection, all dressed in various clothes, but all with identical owl tattoos on their necks, just barely visible beneath their collars.
I ran the bolt on my rifle, the clicks ringing like music to my ears, pulled the first man in my sights, then fired a distance bullet into him. He barely moved and simply glanced down at his chest. He’d feel it later. I swiveled to the right and hit the second, then the third. Before they could even realize they’d been hit, I’d packed everything, rushed into the stairwell, and raced downstairs.
I marched across the street to my building and the three men sprinted at me when they saw me. I kept moving straight for the entrance as if they weren’t even there. When my would-be attackers made it within a hundred meters, the distance bullet in me sensed the ones in them and like a magnet repelling coins, their bodies were flung across the street away from me. With those threats out of the way, I marched into my building and headed straight up to my apartment, not knowing how little time I actually had left.
Original artwork by Andrea Ng
- The owl is a symbol with a plethora of meanings and has been associated with wisdom, Athena, and the Illuminati.
- This refers to the process of preparing a firearm to be fired. In this case, it involves grabbing the bolt handle, lifting it all the way up, yanking it back, pushing it forward, then pulling it back down again.
- This riddle is from Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland. But something’s not quite right. Either the sender was in too much of a rush to text properly or these errors were intentional.