I’ve had a devil of a time trying to learn more about Agent Nightshade/Thalia Gordon, whatever her name is. With a bit of effort, I managed to trace the email I uncovered from Kubek to “Nightshade” to a private, unlisted server. The security was intricate, but ultimately inconsequential, and on it, I discovered YEARS of data. Log entries, half-started stories, journals, and more. It will take some time to sift thru it all and pull out the salient pieces of information. I’ll copy the important bits to my personal folder as I find them.
Below is the first in a series of journals that appear to have been written by Gordon herself.
July 1st, 2095
This is precisely what I was afraid of. This is why I never should have written that manuscript. Here I am, alone in a dark metal box buried halfway down a canyon wall, typing nothing to no one on a humming phosphor screen. I am becoming a word addict, just as he was. It’s not enough to read them anymore; I must regurgitate the words as they form in my brain. They pile up. I don’t know how I ever disposed of my thoughts before I chose to write, but this has become my only outlet.
The difference between us is that Julius wrote for posterity, for immortality, and I don’t intend to show these journals to anyone. While his memoirs were sculpted for an audience, crafted as the ideal version of himself that he hoped to cryo-freeze for all eternity (even in his moments of weakness, wasn’t he still a noble sufferer?), I’ve already deleted my first four entries. I only want to pass the time while I wait for instructions from Kubek. Masturbatory, yes, but it’s the only sort of masturbation that appeals to me, and even the desires of a broken girl beg a release.
Today, I actually have something worth writing about. Luther returned with my supplies, including the extra morphine I’d asked for. I barely recognized him. The baby fat that had stubbornly clung to him until age 20 had nearly melted off in the span of a month, and there was something of a hard jawline surfacing from his cherub smooth face. We sat at the mouth of my little retreat, listening to the wind whistling through the canyon and eating jerky from his overstuffed backpack.
“How’s the knee?” he asked.
“Gives me a rest sometimes,” I replied. “And when it doesn’t, I’ve got the shots, haven’t I?”
“You’ll want to be more careful with those,” he said. I told him I’d accidentally dropped my last box of morphine off the canyon wall. It took me a beat to remember that. “The guy at the depot tore me up when I asked for an extra box.”
“But you shook one out of him anyway.”
“I made sure his palms were real greasy before I did the shaking.”
I chuckled, mirthlessly, and he smiled, mirthlessly. We have got very good at humoring each other now that we’re in this enterprise together. “You’d have made a hell of a quartermaster.”
“It’s easy to know what you want to do when there aren’t a lot of things you’re good at,” he said. In books, and especially in film, this would be my cue to comfort Luther and tell him that he’s good at all sorts of things, but works of fiction are mostly concerned with short term happiness. Their characters must find some form of resolution before the covers close and the credits roll, but I’m not concerned with such temporary kindness. It’s a far more precious courtesy to be honest with each other.
After all, what do I know of Luther Mensah? He was a friend of a near-friend until last month, when he became my only link to the outside world. I’m certain he read my manuscript, because he’s never once asked about Crane. More than that, I can see the hangdog pity in his eyes whenever he looks at me, the same eyes that used to avoid looking at me altogether, as if they could sense that something was wrong there and they didn’t want to look too close for fear of finding out what.
“Have you spoken to Kubek?” I asked, eager to change the subject.
“Nope,” he said, stuffing his mouth with jerky and turning his turban-wrapped head away from me.
“Well, you’re certainly an awful liar,” I pointed out. In spite of himself, his shoulders began to shake with laughter – real laughter – and he had to place a hand over his mouth to avoid spitting the jerky out across the canyon. “Don’t choke, please. I’ll starve to death without you. Once I’ve eaten your corpse, naturally.”
This only caused him to laugh harder. I tucked up my legs and watched the checkered pattern of his turban bob up and down. I wonder if this is what friends are supposed to do. It’s not quite as difficult as I’d imagined.
“Mmmkay,” he finally mumbled, forcing the words past the wad of half-chewed lamb in his mouth. “Mmmkay. Sho I got an e-mail.”
“Well? Luther, what did he say?”
“Ahem. It’s Agent Manas, thank you very much.” Finished with his jerky, Luther turned to face me again. What was that light in his eyes, and why had I never seen it before?
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
“I really don’t think I’m supposed to say.”
“Luther, I’ve been trapped in this cave for over a month. You’re the only soul I’ve seen or spoken to since I left HQ. I am desperate – utterly desperate – to go after Okane, and Kubek has given me nothing. Please. Give me something.”
This shattered his defenses. “Alright, but you didn’t hear it from me. You’re getting a visitor.”
“What sort of visitor?” I pried.
“One of his veteran agents. Supposed to train you for the job.”
“I don’t know.”
“Just remember you said that when your knee starts acting up again,” he said, grabbing the lip of the hideout floor and pushing himself to his feet. “I’ve gotta get going. Kubek has me embedded in this nomad tribe. The Joon Aryk. I need to get back before they leave my sorry ass behind.”
I stood up, and for a wild instant I considered putting a hand on his shoulder. I came to my senses before I could commit such an atrocity. “Thank you for the morphine, Agent Manas. And thank you for the information.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said, folding his arms into his cloak. “Seriously, don’t mention it. Try to act surprised when this agent shows up.”
“Did you get a name?”
I crossed my arms. The name doesn’t sit with me. I can’t explain why. It sounds so innocuous, like a pre-War thrift shop.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can, Thali,” he said, and there was a sudden maudlin twist in his face. I expected him to say something more, but he simply turned away and walked up the narrow path hugging the cliff face. I record this conversation partially for something to do, partially because I enjoy the peaceful non-sensation of my fingers on a keyboard while the morphine works its spell, and partially because I don’t know what to make of it. Two months ago, Luther Mensah was close to insufferable, an oversized child who hid himself from all manner of unpleasantness and took responsibility for absolutely nothing.
Was he truly as bad as all that, or had I merely found reasons to push him away, as I found reasons to push everyone away? Has Terekat broken everything in me, right down to the defenses I’d once relied upon? I need them now more than ever. In order to carry out my mission, I cannot be distracted. I should be looking forward to the arrival of Agent Summerland, not Luther’s next supply run. Still, I wonder what was written on his face, in that last moment before he turned away. Perhaps I should kill him when he comes back. That would put him out of my mind.
It appears I will get my wish. I may be able to get to know Thalia Gordon after all.
[Read Part 1]
[Essence of Nightshade was written by guest contributor Josh Connor, author of the webcomic Steel Salvation, with Dan providing story guidance to make it canon along with writing the archivist commentary.]