As a tasty sampler, I am proud to present the first instalment of my post-apocalyptic tales of one man's fight against the oppression of millions.
Be on the lookout for the first edition of The Phillipe de Lacroix Chronicles in late 2020
The Road to Nowhere - A Phillipe de Lacroix Chronicle #1
I have no recollection of how I came to be staring down this long, lonely byway. Kilometres upon kilometres of nothing. If I turn one hundred and eighty degrees, it's like looking through a bent back tulip. Everything’s the same. Kilometres and kilometres of nothing.
I am so engrossed in my ennui I don’t even notice the numbness in my left leg as I hobble along at something between a snail’s pace and a panicked shuffle. Looking down rather than looking ahead I notice two burn marks on my shin, blackened by God knows what. Whatever it was had left a gaping hole in my trousers, the left leg of which was now in tatters.
Nonetheless, I pressed on. There was a low thrumming noise coming ever closer from behind. I turned to only see emptiness all the way to the horizon. I held this pose for several minutes. I needed to rest my withered leg anyway so took advantage to see if the humming manifested itself into anything tangible. After all, nothing would surprise me today.
Squinting my eyes, which were uncharacteristically sensitive to the afternoon sun now low on the western horizon, I didn’t know whether I was having a near-death hallucination, and a flock of predatory birds were coming to feast upon me; or, that the thrumming noise, now transforming into a whoomp, whoomp sound emanated from a source that had, at last, jogged my memory, The sound dragged me back in time. Was it a year, a month or just yesterday? I don’t know. How long have I been traipsing along and what’s become of my past?
I woke early and quietly slipped out of bed to avoid disturbing Mel. She had put up with so much since we were married. Five years of the most beautiful best friend in the world for me and five years of not knowing for her. Not knowing that her precious husband had led a double life since graduating in forensic science, the degree course during which we had met and fell in love.
With bags packed the night before for a quick and silent getaway, I made sure my credentials were carefully concealed alongside my Glock 17 in the false bottom of the backpack.
At 5.30 am the traffic was light heading out of town. I hadn’t baulked at these assignments in the past. We needed to eradicate the threats that technology had brought to the second half of the twenty-first century. My kill count, twenty-five in five years. Something to be proud of, yet not!
It was not until four hours out from home that I turned south. The road was not on my GPS. Instinctively, the landscape beckoned me to head this way, a kind of eerie outcome for someone who was agnostic. Totally NOT a touchy-feely, otherworldly person.
It didn’t take long to find the giant placard that showed me the way. They were a well-kept secret but not to us. Under the guise of Darling-Ovens Corporation this largely automated manufacturing facility were churning out our future through sophisticated robotics programming. Machines that could think, learn and deliver outcomes in accordance with their programming. It was my job as AFP Deputised Assassin to take out those responsible for the havoc they wreaked.
I stopped short of the placard and entry gate to open my manila assignment envelope and check my target and their dossier. The AFP was paranoid about disclosure on these and similar Top Secret classifications. Any form of breach could mean we are propelled closer to the end of the human race.
I looked at my phone for messages and to synchronise my Omega. It was now approaching 10 am and the sun was well above the tree lines on the side of the road so I pulled into an opening that led between copses that would provide cover for the Aston Martin.
The envelope was A4 and would only carry a single page on my mark and a single colour portrait photograph. My Credit Card thin Swiss Army knife had eighteen different functions. Flicking up the thin three-centimetre blade I ran it along the breach in the top flap and withdrew the two sheets.
‘NO! NO!’ I screamed to myself although no-one could hear me, inside or outside the car, as I dropped the contents of the envelope, my phone and my guard for just an instant.
Whoomp, whoomp, the sounds were loud enough to sync with the vision of three Mi26 gunships closing in on me. This time there would be no escape. I knew too much to be allowed to live. Effectively my life was over anyway, my memory came streaming back with the horrors of the past forty-eight hours.
I picked up my pace, now half hobbling half running. I used to do the hundred metres in under eleven seconds, not now, not with only one good leg. Peering into the sunset towards the south and straining my eyes again I could just see a shack in the middle distance. The grove of trees that flanked its north face would provide ideal cover until the danger passed.
Whoomp, whoomp. The sound grew closer. They would be upon me in just seconds. I don’t know how but my pace quickened. Willing myself to safety I leapt between the first and second gum trees, just in time to look up as the helicopters passed overhead.
Temporary refuge, though, I thought. Once they reach the open road beyond the farmer’s cottage, they will soon realise I was hiding away nearby. The only possibility, the old shack.
Proven right, they circled around and homed in on the farmhouse and the surrounding foliage. I had only minutes to do something, anything.
The whoomp, whoomp became deafening. The lights blinding. Together setting the scene for a post-apocalyptic nightmare even I hadn’t anticipated. I rolled myself into a ball to not only conceal myself but to lessen the effect of the maelstrom that the three sets of large rotors had called down from the darkening skies.
I laid as still as I could in my foetal position, hardly breathing, as the two occupants of the chopper nearest my hide disembarked. I dared not to look their way, but knew they were closing in by the rustling of leaves and the crunching of small twigs and branches they left in their wake as they plodded on.
A flashlight beam appeared from behind and then some shouting from the second closest helo.
“Hans, any luck mate?” The Chopper number two personnel boomed.
“For Christ sake Judas, if there was anyone here you’ve scared them off by now. Go check the southern side of this broken-down shack. We’ll keep shaking the branches in this thick tree cover.”
Hans wasn’t happy as he turned his beam towards me. This is it, I’m a goner. Hans’ footsteps approached ever closer. I heard the bullet drop into the chamber he was that near. I squeezed my eyes shut, ready to breathe my last breath.
‘Melanie de Lacroix, nee Sidarova, born 28th October 2032, in Kazan, Republic of Tartarstan, Russian Federation.
She and her parents emigrated to Australia under a special skills visa in 2046, where Sidor Kasparov had joined the University of Melbourne Physics and Robotics faculty.
Ms de Lacroix graduated with a Masters in Forensic Science from that same university in 2053 and has been under surveillance ever since, given the watch list status of her father.
She married Phillipe de Lacroix in February 2057, leaving university without a placement. These circumstances gave the agency cause to escalate the surveillance to a Code Red and in October 2057 traced Ms de la Croix to the facility with the cover name of Darling-Ovens Corporation.
After six months of daily surveillance the AFP ascertained the real owner as an off-shore shell company based in Moscow and traceable to the Russian SVR, the new KGB since the breakdown of the Soviet Union late last century. The predominant output of the manufacturing plant was preprogrammed cybernetic automatons, so advanced that they could learn, live, breathe and infiltrate society seamlessly.
It is believed that the Russian Federation have built operations throughout the western world with a view to forming a socio-communist planet, far outweighing the horrific Soviet regimes of the early to mid-twentieth century.
Our irrefutable intel places Ms de Lacroix as the head of the scientific team responsible for the project. She was recruited as an asset straight out of university, a trained assassin and forensic scientist, her kill count believed to be in excess of fifty, before being appointed to her latest posting.
You’re mission, Mr. de Lacroix, is to terminate Ms. de Lacroix. We understand this will be…..’
‘NO! NO!’ I screamed even louder having read part of the brief on the woman I know and love as Mel, mother to our daughter, this can’t be true.
Leaving the car unlocked but hidden in its resting place, I grabbed my backpack, checked my Glock and got into my Kevlar vest, my only thought, rescuing Mel, extracting her from this hell hole by the side of a desolate road to nowhere. No matter what, she will be with me forever to watch with excitement as little Rose grows and develops into the young lady we both wanted her to be.
We’ll escape. We’ll leave Australia forever. No-one will know my sordid past and I’m sure I can drag Mel out of the chasm she has slid into.
‘Fuck, what was that?’ The goon called Hans said to himself.
His mate, right behind him saw the speedy slither of the brown snake that crossed their paths only meters from my hide.
Then the gunshot and sounds of two sets of feet hurrying away much more rapidly than they had approached before.
I think I used my eighth and second last life this time. I’m going to get some shut-eye and head down the road under cover of night. Just before reaching the shack I think I caught a glimpse of a city skyline. Where the hell am I? Fuck that can wait. So can the rest of my miserable life.
I was asleep in a matter of minutes, apprehensive of what nightmares might haunt me tonight. My memory flooding back. My life is torn apart with the opening of a single envelope containing two sheets of paper.
My lock picks were concealed in my hiking boots along with some handy micro tools only an assassin would need. I made a note of the CCTVs around the perimeter and finally landed on a door without sophisticated security and within thirty seconds had the Yale lock picked and I was in.
That was the last thing I would remember until…
“Hello Phillipe. I was expecting this day to come, but didn’t know when.” She slapped me hard across the face, more to waken me than do any real harm.
“Good, now I have your full attention”
“What the fuck Mel,” is all I could think of as a response, still in shock and staring down at the two electrode burns from the taser that must have knocked me out.
“Indeed, what the fuck, darling.” She said with a shit-eating grin full of confidence. “I have been running you since we met. Tonight, the culmination of five years of SVR excellence.
“Our marriage, Rose, your job with the AFP, all a ruse. After all, Phillipe, what do they say…Life is a stage and we are the players.
“Oh, yes, the one final thing, in order to install you into the AFP infrastructure, we also own the AFP Deputy CEO, your twenty-five kill count, all orchestrated to culminate on this final day.
“Darling, welcome to the SVR, the Sluzhba vneshney Razvedki, the way forward for our future, Rose’s future and the only future.”
The hatred, the focus and the fire in her jet-black eyes told me it was over. I had to play along, else end up her fifty-first kill. “Let me sleep on it,” I said, a little trite and cliched but what the hell. I needed to think out my next move. Could I save Mel and avoid a one-way ticket to helping these bastards take over the world?
‘Where am I? I feel like shit!’ The question, largely rhetorical and one of which I knew the answer. Outside the gate of the Darling-Ovens Corporation. Knowing where I was didn’t help. The other burners…Why am I here and how did I get here?
No recollection of the kill order…Who was going to be my twenty-sixth?
No recollection why I was hobbling, moving slowly, once I got to my feet and started walking away from the location of my latest hit. So I just kept walking.
I had now been walking on that long and non-winding road since midnight, six hours. My body aching and my scorched lower leg slowing me down even more. The faint outline of a skyline I noticed the night before now forming a clearer picture.
But this time the buildings struck a nerve. This was no regional city. This was home. The lights still illuminating the early dawn, in particular those from the twin towers that was home to Mel, Rose and I. our apartment in Southbank. But how?
Just then the terrifying whoomp, whoomp sound had returned. Resounding like the nightmares that reared their ugly heads last night. They had finally got what they wanted. Me.
So near yet so far. The road that would define my life. I would never forget that longest, straightest imaginable stretch of highway. This dirt road to nowhere with nothing but an old shack and a factory that had essentially brought my life to an end. My family gone. My employer, corrupt and mixed up in all of this, and the end of the free world as we know it.
I felt the violent shaking tossing me left and right. Had they taken me back to the factory, to Mel to be accountable for refusing her ultimatum? Were they about to lead me along that final walk, to become Mel’s fifty-first?
The shaking, now irrepressible forced me awake.
“Jesus, Phillipe, wake up and get the hell out of bed, you’ll be late for your keynote speech. You know how fucked the traffic is around Southbank this time of the morning.” Mel spoke sternly as I shook myself awake.
A twentieth century history lecturer at Melbourne Uni, I had gone to sleep the night before wondering how I would brighten up my keynote topic; The Fall of the Soviet Union and its Impact on the Twenty-first Century. I don’t think I’ll go to the lengths of replaying last night’s lurid dreaming…Although, who knows one day maybe…
“Say Mel! Maybe we should move to the country. I know a road just made for us …A road to nowhere, where there’s no traffic, nothing matters and time stands still