Hartley slowly opened his eyes, blinded by a bright light overhead. His breathing was slow and steady, and his body ached all over. He was laying down flat on his back in some uncomfortable bed. He turned to his left to see a stack of machines and monitors, hoses and tubes coming towards him as a droning beep persisted through the room. Hart then looked to his right and saw his sister next to him, holding his right hand, only then noticing her grip on him. Hart tried to sit up and felt a sharp pain shoot through his shoulder and down his back, causing him to gasp out and wince. Lyra woke up as well and gently cupped her little brother’s cheek in her hand.
“Hey, you’re finally awake!” she exclaimed softly before turning to call someone in, “I’m so glad you’re okay, just take it easy, alright?”
“Wh-what happened?” Hart asked, his voice raspy and hoarse. Lyra bit her lower lip as her chin quivered slightly.
“You were shot… mom and dad are…” she said, tearing up a bit. Hartley looked up at his sister, worried and tearing up as well, “they’re gone.” Hart clenched his sister’s hand tightly and balled his left fist, “I managed to get you away from them. We’re at the SSF Episemon office.”
“I was- I was out for two days?” Hart asked as he rested his head back.
“You lost a lot of blood, and you know that it’s difficult for you to get more,” Lyra said as she rubbed her brother’s hand gently, “You just need to relax and get your strength back. The doctors said that you were lucky the bullets passed straight through you. You’ll have a much easier time recovering.”
“And once you’re better, we’re going to track those bastards and bring them to justice,” the man said sternly as he looked to Lyra.
“Who are you, exactly?” Hartley asked, turning to the man to try and get a better look.
“This is Norick,” Lyra replied, “my CO here.”
“I’ve known both of you since you were little babies, but it’s been a long time since you’ve seen me, Hartley,” Norick said, smiling and gently placing a hand on Hart’s good shoulder, “I’ve been good friends with your parents for many years.” Hartley looked down at himself, seeing the bandages over his chest and stomach as his eyes welled with tears. Norick frowned and gripped Hartley’s shoulder tightly, “They gave their lives for you,” he said before turning to Lyra, “for both of you. Don’t forget that.”
The three talked for a while longer about what they would be doing going forward until one of the nurses came into the room and told them that they had to leave. Hartley nodded and took his much needed rest as he laid on the bed. He began to tune out the sound of the beeping and closed his eyes for some rest, but no matter how hard he tried to relax, he couldn’t fall asleep.
Both Lyra and Norick stood outside of Hartley’s hospital room discussing the details of what had happened.
“And you’re sure you didn’t see anything defining on them?” Norick asked.
“Nothing at all,” Lyra replied as she leaned against the opposite wall, letting traffic flow, “they all had face coverings and they used codenames. Their gear looked as generic as possible, like something you’d pick up at a military surplus store.” Norick hummed to himself as he thought about a few things.
“You said they came in a van, right?” he asked her
“I’m almost positive it was theirs, yeah, do you think it could be tracked with security cameras?” Lyra asked.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. If we can trace them back and get a good view of what they were driving then it’s possible we can get some identities for them. Do you remember any details about it?” Norick asked in response.
“It was black, had a sliding side door, and it looked like it was about seven to eight years old. I’m sorry it’s not much to go by,” she said as she rubbed the back of her neck.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Norick said reassuringly as he smiled to his subordinate, “I’ll have forensics check the details on this van, see if there are any rental records and comb through the traffic cameras from the time of the murder. We WILL catch these bastards.” Lyra nodded and took a deep breath.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do before Hartley’s ready to move out,” Lyra said as she looked to his room, watching her little brother through the window, “Dad had said that he never wanted us to be wrapped up in this life. I want to do my best to shield him from all of this, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible.” Lyra sighed and slumped against the wall, “I’m going to get something to eat, do you want anything?” she asked Norick as he shook his head. Both went their separate ways for the time being.
Hartley spent one more full day in the infirmary recovering. He received bio-gel treatments every two hours and was able to get up and move around with minor pain and discomfort. Lyra stayed with him in his room instead of the staff quarters, sleeping at his bedside and getting him anything he needed. Hart remained almost silent for that day, steeped in thought and regret. He was wheeled out of the infirmary and discharged to leave with his sister. The two walked to Norick’s office with a heavy air weighing down on their shoulders.
“We’re going to make it through this,” Lyra said as she turned to her brother, “we’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.” Hartley didn’t respond, his gaze focused in front of him as the two strode to the office. Hartley’s pace quickened as he fought through the pain in his abdomen. Lyra watched him continue on ahead before jogging up to meet his speed, “Hey,” she said, calling out to her brother to no response, “hey. Hartley, look at me,” she said, grabbing his wrist and turning him around. Hart simply looked away and scowled.
“Let’s just go, alright?” he said as his sister’s expression changed from worry to shock.
“That’s all you have to say?” she asked, “We need to talk about this,” she asked as she tightened her grip on her brother’s hand.
“We’ll talk about it later, lets just get this over with,” he said dismissively before he felt his sister’s hand slap him across the face. He recoiled a bit and held his cheek before turning to his sister. He saw tears welling up in her eyes as she looked down at her little brother, not sure to apologize or stand behind the slap.
“I’m worried about you. I need to know you’re going to be okay.” Hartley watched and listened as his sister’s voice cracked, “I don’t want what happened before to happen again… I can’t watch you run off like that,” she said as she grabbed her brother’s shoulders and held him close. Hartley’s eyes drifted down slightly as his chin quivered a bit, “Promise me you won’t run off again.” Hartley didn’t know what to say. He simply hugged his sister back and squeezed as tight as he could.
“I won’t,” he replied, speaking through Lyra’s neck, “never again.” The two released each other and continued down to Norick’s office at the same pace. Hartley held his head high as they walked through the doors and greeted the red-furred chupa who was standing over print-outs of security camera footage and data-pads filled with subpoenaed rental information. In the room were two others, one was clearly a H.A.D.E.S operative and the other a local police investigator. Hartley and Lyra both recognized the H.A.D.E.S official and went up to greet him.
“Uncle Jonah!” Lyra exclaimed as she greeted him with a smile. He smiled back slightly, chuckling a bit.
“Not your uncle,” he joked as he looked down at Lyra, “I’m so glad to see you’re okay, Ly. When we heard what happened I rushed down here to check on you two,” he said as Hartley approached him. Jonah ruffled the boy’s head a little before he looked down to him, “heard you took a couple licks, you’re lookin’ alright though,” he said jokingly.
“I can’t believe they let you visit,” Lyra said as she took her spot next to Norick to look over the latest developments of the investigation.
“Yeah, well when we told Command back in Kaprime they said they would make a special exception,” he said, sighing, “We were all like brothers, and to hear Tate got killed… it felt wrong knowing we weren’t there for him.” He leaned over the table and put his hands down on the tabletop, “Command agreed to send me along to help with the investigation before giving everyone else some leave to attend his funeral.”
“Thanks for being here for us, Jonah,” Hartley said as he smiled. The five of them went over the various briefings of what happened that day, pouring over security camera footage until Lyra spotted a van that matched the one Tharin’s group drove.
“There, it’s that one!” Lyra exclaimed as she pointed to a screen with footage from an intersection a kilometer west of the Harms household.
“It looks like they’re driving into the boonies,” Jonah said as he scrubbed through the timelines following the van westward.
“We can dispatch some patrols out that way to see if they have a hideout,” the investigator added. He moved to leave the group and took out his phone to make a call.
“No, let's wait and see as far as we can get with the van,” Norick said as he waved the investigator back, “We don’t know if this was a move to cover their tracks.” The group followed Tharin’s van all the way to the outskirts of Episemon near the unguarded border to Lactan where the video feed cut off, “Alright, now let’s keep going to see if it comes back.”
They continued watching until they saw the van return into frame two hours down in the video timeline. Hartley and Lyra turned to one another and went back to watching, following the van back east again before it drove out of view of the last camera and never made it in-view of the next.
“There,” Hartley said as he pointed to the feed, “it just stops, I think they went off-road.” Everyone watched as the cameras shifted, the van disappearing from view from the camera further east. The investigator marked down which camera feed that was and called it in, dispatching a patrol to investigate the area. Jonah went with the investigator to help coordinate the search while Hartley, Lyra and Norick broke away to discuss how to proceed.
“Alright, you two, what’s the game plan?” Norick asked, clasping his hands together as he leaned against the planning table. Hartley and Lyra both looked at each other. Lyra was unsure, yet Hart seemed determined.
“We’re going after them,” he announced before looking back towards his sister, “together.” Lyra smiled and put her hand on her brother’s. Norick sighed and went to his desk and began digging through one of his drawers.
“If you’re going to chase them, you’ll need some proper help,” he said as he produced something from his desk and handed it to Lyra. She took a look at it and showed it to Hartley.
“Stigma in the SSF HQ,” Norick replied, “that’s the number for a secure link to the HQ commander. I want you two to report to him. As of today, you are both officially field agents.” Lyra looked to her mentor with shock as he gave her a coy smile.
“You’re promoting me?” she asked as she started to get excited.
“That’s the idea. You’ll be taking Hartley under your wing and teaching him what he needs to know,” Norick replied as he looked to Hart who was just as surprised, “I know it’s very sudden but I’m confident that your sister can show you the ropes of what the SSF expects from their agents. She learned from the best after all.” Norick smiled to himself, gloating and brushing his claws across his chest, “I trust your parents taught you some of the basics.”
“My grandfather too, before he passed,” Hartley replied, “and I’ve… had some experience already,” he said as he rubbed the back of his neck. Norick squinted and looked at the young man.
“That business in Sampi, I take it?” he asked, “I must admit it’s part of why I chose to fast-track you. You have talent, you’ll just need some more guidance.” Norick paused for a brief moment. Hartley nodded and smiled, looking up to his sister for approval. She was still surprised by it all, but smiled back to her brother, wanting to reassure him that she was on-board as he was.
“Yes, sir. Did… did Lyra tell you about what happened?” he asked as Norick laughed.
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir,’ Hartley,” he replied, “Yes, she filled me in on what happened. You’ve got a quick temper, but Lyra complements it well. I trust she will keep you in check.” Lyra nods in agreement.
“I will, you won’t have to worry about a thing,” she said before looking to Hart and playfully jabbing at his side, “I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything too stupid.”
“It’s settled then,” Norick said as he clapped his hands together, “you two will head east and link up in Stigma with HQ. I would have you with an escort party, but I think it will be better for you two to travel light and alone. You’ll draw less attention that way,” he said as he took a spare data-pad and wiped it clean before pulling up a map of various SSF secure locations all across Sirca. He handed the device to Lyra to look over and study, “Your first destination will be in Wortistan at the foot of the mountains. We have an outpost stationed there that can get you two properly outfitted with the gear you will need. For the time being you two will be taking the railway into the Holy City.” The pair nod in agreement and look over the map, “You two should get some rest. You will be leaving at 1700 AM.
The siblings left the Episemon Commander’s office and made their way to the agent quarters. Norick had called in ahead and had a dorm prepared for the two of them along with new tactical gear pre-packed to replace the defaced set they had discarded weeks prior. Their room was much nicer than Lyra’s old staff dorm. The beds were much more comfortable, and the room was properly heated, a far cry from having to sleep in outdoor gear to stave off the extreme draft. Lyra set her alarm for three hours early from their departure time.
“We’ll get up early,” she said as she looked up at her brother who had already laid down and begun to relax, “we can get whatever we need from the house and… well… say our goodbyes.” Hartley nodded without saying a word as he stared up at the ceiling above him. He looked and traced his eyes around the light fixtures overhead, staring at the rounded molding. He turned over in his bed and closed his eyes, knowing this was far from over.