The Second Mission

Of all the days to be summoned, today might’ve been the worse.

For once I was comfortable, happy even. I had worked to the bone everyday for the past 35 years, half expecting the organization to knock at my door at any second and ask for my assistance once more. But as my energy fizzled away and my bones grew crumbly with age, I figured that maybe, they wouldn’t need me at all. What use would they have for an old geezer with poor memory and even poorer vision?

One assignment when I was fresh out of collage was all they had needed me for, I assumed. I had thought that the parting, “we’ll call on you when we need you again, Herring”, was just a polite sentiment to shoo me out the door quicker.

But it just so happened- rather unfortunately- that the day they chose to call on me was also the first day of my retirement trip.

The glorious day meant to be spent alcohol soaked under the Mexican sun would be what it had been for so long- an idyllic, unrealistic daydream.

I had been lounging on a beach chair (though at my age ‘lounging’ usually meant having a quick nap) when it happened. One minute I was baking under the sun and the next, I was floating through that familiar infinite tunnel.

I knew from experience that at the end of this tunnel was no glowing heavenly light, but instead, a brand new time and location.

The sudden weightlessness of my body forced me to snap my eyes open in alarm, only to be met with a blur of whizzing colour. I had once likened the tunnel to a waterslide, and I was dismayed to see that that opinion had not changed since the last time I was in it.

That familiar queasiness filled my gut, increased tenfold by the alcoholic beverages I had spent the day consuming. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing the feeling to dissipate. The nausea only intensified as I moved faster and faster through the tight space, wind whipping painfully across my cheek.

I could barely take it anymore.

My lips pursed and my cheeks puffed as I used every bit of strength within me to restrain the bile tickling the back of my throat.

Anytime now we should be landing…..any-

My feet suddenly hit solid ground, so hard and fast that my knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor in a painful heap. Shock waves skittered up my ankle and towards my knee, holding the joint in a vice grip of pain.

I groaned, clutching at the aching bones and sucking in a deep breath.

Confirmed: this was definitely a lot easier when I was younger.

Finally, when the pain subsided enough for me to open my eyes, I took in the space.

All around me were stark white walls and in the centre of the room, a single metal table with two chairs on either side of it. I frowned, slowly getting up and looking around once more.

How utterly…..boring.

The last time I had been to their headquarters it had been so different, more reminiscent of a cozy baroque library than an institution.

I hobbled towards the table, the pain in my knees not gone completely.

Sitting atop the table was a single red file with two words stamped across the top in large blocky letters:

Herring Bellsworth

Curiously, I picked the folder up and pried it open.

Technically I wasn’t in the wrong by taking a peek inside, right? It did, after all, have my name on its cover.

Just as I was about to take in the words on the first page, a door behind me swung open.

I spun around quickly, nearly dropping the file in the process.

Standing behind me in the entrance of a door I had not seen earlier, was a familiar man in dark slacks and a wrinkled grey shirt.

“Dayton?”, I asked surprised. My recruiter- the one from my first mission- grinned and lifted his hand in a wave.

“Herring, how long has it been? Give or take thirty five years?”, he replied, strolling towards me.

My eyes widened in surprise as I took in his face, the youthful plumpness of his cheeks, his broad muscular shoulders.

Yes, it had in fact been thirty five years, but in all that time, Dayton hadn’t aged a day.

Instead of questioning him about it, knowing that with Dayton, I’d never get a real explanation, I instead asked the question I knew he would answer.

“So what year are we in? What big event are we changing in history this time?”

I was well aware of how bizarre of a question it was in most circumstances, but given my experience with the organization, this was a fairly standard introduction.

Dayton’s face grew uncharacteristically grim and he squirmed uncomfortably.

“Er…well this time we are in the future. It’s not going to be like your last mission, Herring”

I furrowed my brows at his response, surprised and perhaps a bit more nervous.

“What do you mean? We aren’t here to ‘save’ or whatever?”, I asked, lifting my fingers in air-quotes as a spoke . Though it would give us unequal footing, I slid into the closest chair and let the question hang in the air. My knees were still hissing in pain from the rough landing.

Dayton sighed and closed the gap between us, falling in the chair across from mine. He scrunched his eyes shut for a second in quiet contemplation, then peeled them open again. When he spoke again his voice was bleak, sapped of that witty tone he often liked to take on.

“I was hoping we would be able to get through the formalities before I got to this, but we are doing quite the opposite for this mission. This time we’ve been tasked with ending mankind, not saving it”

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