Written by Nada Hemida
previously on Long Live the King
I can’t help but laugh. “That’s a myth,” I say, surprised that someone, a supposed scientist or even inventor, can believe that crap.
He all but grins. “You know too well, girl, that all myths are true.”
For a second, my mask falls and I blink, trying to comprehend if this could be true. Focus now, doubt later, my mind commands. I gather myself again, put on a straight face, then wait for him to explain; but I don’t hide my sudden interest.
The waiter puts Karim’s drink on the table, and he might as well have run back to the counter.
“For centuries,” Karim begins, “There were always legends, myths, even bedtime stories, about immortals. Every fictional story is based on real life events, Nour. After decades of looking into it, of searching for their secret, we found out that it’s a formula, you could say, that you drink -“
I raise an eyebrow and interrupt, unable to hide my mockery, “Like a potion?”
“Precisely,” he says and continues, unfazed, “After all the searching, we finally got a hold of it and kept it all under wraps until we found out what its components are. It was nothing like we’ve seen before, nothing any records of science has ever witnessed, but one of our own men realized how valuable it is – and stole it.”
I nod, to show that I’m listening, but all that’s going on in my head is: That’s complete bullshit. I know I shouldn’t be so surprised and doubtful after all I’ve seen, all I’ve learned, but I still am.
“He’s selling it to the highest bidder, and you know that means it can fall into the wrong hands,” Karim says.
Lightning strikes me once I learn what a dangerous game this man is playing and I sit up slowly. “You want me to steal it back?”
“Yes,” he answers, “and for a grand prize.”
I chuckle. “I’m an assassin, not a thief,” I reprimand. “Find someone else, like one of those fast guys. He can be in and out in no time; I can tell you where to find the one who did that heist last month.”
Karim shakes his head in dismay. “We’ve tried. You’re not the first one we’ve come to – but everyone we’ve dealt with seems to just vanish off the face of the earth, presumed dead,” he argues, “That’s besides the fact that… we don’t even know his location.”
I smile, take my drink up to my lips. After a sip, I say, “You don’t even know where that thing is, or where the man is?”
He shakes his head. “But we know that someone with your… expertise and skills can track the vial down and bring it back to us,” he pauses, “and won’t hesitate to take care of whoever stands in her way.”
I nod once, in understanding. “What do you plan on doing with the vial once it’s in your hands?” I question.
“Keep it away,” he says, “from anyone and everyone. keep it a secret.”
Not destroy it, I noted in my head. “And I suppose your employer won’t meet me himself as to not sabotage his image in front of the few who care?”
Karim confirms with a nod and says, “I’m sure you’re aware that our company is one with a reputable reputation. My employer can’t risk being seen with someone as… ummm… as prestigious as yourself in your line of work.”
I laugh at his loss of appropriate words to describe me. Someone who isn’t afraid to meet me should at least be brave enough to speak without fear in his words.
“How come we haven’t heard of a ‘breakthrough’, as you call it, from your company?”
“Well…” he says, “Let’s just say our finding the vial and looking into it wasn’t completely lawful, or meeting the ethics of our company. My line of work in ‘Science and Tech’ is very underground, very secret even in our field. Since it has nothing to do with either science or technology, it’s about those things that we can’t explain. That boy who can run faster than lightning, that woman who can change into other forms, things like immortality; it’s my job to know what we’re risking, letting those people live.”
I register that his last line is certainly peculiar, but I nod slowly then ask, “How much?”
“As much as I find you deserve,” he answers with a grin. I give him a side-eyed glance, he recoils, I decide to let his bemusement pass.
“Finally, his name,” I inquire.
“Shehab Saqr*,” he replies, pulling a photo out of a pocket in his jacket.
I examine the photo, noting a few things before I take this to my Facial Recognition Software. He ranges from the age of thirty to thirty-five. Gleaming bald head. His eyes resembling his namesake.
*Saqr in Arabic translates to hawk in English.
I look up. “You’ll have him in a week or two,” I assure, my voice laced with conviction.
Karim, standing up, “You’re a very dark woman,” he says, “for someone whose name literally translates to light.”
“Weeelll… irony is a bitch, isn’t it?” I say, with a mischievous smirk.
He says as he leaves, tossing money for our drinks on the table, “Pleasure doing business with you, Nour.”
“Likewise, Karim,” I say and sit back as I watch him leave. I am aware, though, of a third set of eyes fixed on me.
I stay for a few more minutes, pretending to have a quiet moment to myself. I assess how long I have felt the man across the bar overhearing us. The lone man in glasses.
I leave, taking leisurely steps outside the place – and towards the alley across it. One… Two…. I twist around… three… I grab him by the neck and pin him to the wall with a forearm across his chest… breathe. He gasps, and fear is all I can see on his face. He probably doesn’t know who I am. My guess: he is nothing but a man who needs to be warned against coming near people like me.
“You should know better than to follow me,” I threaten in a calm vehement tone, “I was willing to give you a chance, back there. Just a curious, bored man listening to others’ conversations. But following me? bad idea!”
He gasps again, shaking uncontrollably but tries to maintain himself. “What that man told you,” he says then pauses breathlessly, “It’s not true. He’s… he’s lying to you.”
“What are you saying?” I demand, my tone only makes him squirm. My eyes narrow skeptically.
“I… I work for ‘Science and Tech’,” he explains, heaving breaths and staring at me in horror, “and I know for a fact that what he’s saying ….is not true.”
I release him, but don’t move, even though there is only a few inches between us. “What’s your name?” I ask, cocking my head.
“S..s..Seif,” he stutters, “Seif Wael.”
“Stay in the light, Seif,” I say, my voice lower, “and never approach one of us.”
I see a flash of surprise on his face before I turn away and leave, thinking this man is either very brave or very stupid.