Previously on Project Lotus Agent Rankin had been brought in to be debriefed by her superior and ex-boyfriend Agent Stemmons. Stemmons expected a fight, but the recent events in her life had apparently taken the fight out of her. He found her crying, which was uncharacteristic for a spitfire like Rankin. After she calmed down, she began to tell him what happened.

Approximately 72 hours before, Agent Rankin has been sleeping off the events of the previous evening, which she admitted was sketchy in her mind, involved violent sex with an unnamed person or persons, and was not germane to her latest mission. With Stemmons’ encouragement, she began her tale at the point her latest mission began. Rankin awoke in her bungalow to the sound of her cellphone. She noticed awkwardly as she put her cellphone to her ear, that her Bluetooth was still in her ear as well, so she switched ears.

“Agent Rankin,” said the voice on her cellphone.

“Sir,” she sat up in bed, groggy but alert.

“Sunshine’s gonna need a ride.”

Gina bit her lip.

Years ago she would have unleashed a firestorm of words at her direct superior, but in a fraction of a second an entire monologue in her brain got deleted before it could reach her tongue. What she wanted to say was this.

“That is the dumbest code word. His name is Charlie Kino. His initials are C and K. They are not K & C. He’s too young to remember KC and the Sunshine Band. However, the Consultant is old enough to remember KC and the Sunshine Band. So IF the Consultant was listening in on our conversation, which he is not, he would be able to figure out that when you say ‘Sunshine,’ you mean Charlie Kino. My name’s Gina by the way. Not ‘Sunshine’s Ride’.”

She not say any of this. Instead, she bit her lip and reached for her boots.

“Yes sir.”

“You know what I mean by Sunshine?”

“Yes sir.”

“Sorry for the short notice but he’ll need you soon.”

Rankin stopped herself as she laced up her boots and looked askance at her cellphone, “define ‘soon’ sir.”

“He’s waiting for you.”

Gina groaned and finished putting on her boots, “usual place?”

“You guys might want to find a new place cuz-”

“I’ll take that as a yes, sir. I’m on my way.”

“Thank you agent.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

She hung up her cell and downed the last of her Tequila, then absent-mindedly put the empty bottle in her trusty khaki backpack. Muttering expletives under her breath, she slung the pack to her back, exited her bungalow and made a B-line for the beach, while tapping on her Bluetooth.

“Marcus?” she said into her Bluetooth as she ran down the beach.

“Miss Gina! How can I help you ma’am?”

“You got a bird for me?”

“Yes Miss Gina always for you.”

“Oh bless you Marcus you’re a peach.”

“She’s not much to look at.”

“Can she keep me in the air?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Then I’m in heaven. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

Once Marcus showed Gina the bird, she really was in heaven. It was just this side of dilapidated, but it was a classic design she had only read about before. She fell in love with it instantly.

“Oh, Marcus I could kiss you.”

“It don’t bank well ma’am and the steering’s a mite sluggish.”

“I’ve flown worse I’m sure.”

“but it’s hardier than it looks. It’ll git you there and back.”

“it’s perfect. I’m buying it.”

“it’s just for rent, ma’am.”

“I don’t care I wanna–” then she remembered. The Agency had cut her credit. Again. She couldn’t just buy anything she wanted. When she first joined, the sky was the limit. The honeymoon was over. There was a time when she would crash every bird The Agency had given her. She learned reluctantly in more recent years to be more careful, but it’s why she was living in a bungalow at the beach and not a five star hotel. It was also why she had gigs that brought her to places like this and not fancy expensive locations. She tended to cost The Agency large bills in property damage.

Marcus already knew this. They had dealt with one another before on many occasions. He wasn’t formally with The Agency, but he supplied many agents in this part of the world with a wide range of merchandise.

“Okay. Rental.” She reached in her backpack.

“Your boss already took care of dat ma’am. He ask me to remind you bring it back in one piece but I know you like trashing dem so-”

“Not this one.” She climbed into the bird and Marcus followed hesitantly. They ran over a couple preliminary bits of business. He handed her the helmet and offered to strap her in but she waved him off his gentlemanly fussing over her like a mother hen. “Honest, Marcus if I could clean this baby up she’d be more beloved than a house cat.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She started the rotors, “You don’t believe me.”

“No ma’am. But I like watching you crash em. Like dat time in Havana.”

“You know me too well, Marcus.”

“I like crashen dem too ma’am,” Marcus smiled as she shooed him away and he made his way out of the vehicle to greet her again through the cockpit windows, “but unlike you I gotta put em back togedder!”

“Those days are over!” She was shouting over the noise of the copter, “They take it out my pay now!”

“Yes ma’am, but you so good at it!”

“I promise to be careful!” She said as he backed away crouching to a safe distance for her ascent.

“Don’t make promise you can’t keep! Be safe!”

Charlie Kino was just up the coast a few miles. She’d pick him up and hopefully he’d tell her what they were actually doing. These days, she was mostly kept in the dark about the missions she was to partake. The Agency had learned the more Rankin knew about what they wanted her to accomplish, the more she’d figure out where they were being amoral about something she felt they should be moral about. Keeping her in the dark kept her from having the time to make moral decisions without their authority. She didn’t like the details of this working arrangement, but the alternative was to no longer be with The Agency, and her resume wasn’t something she could just post to Career Builder. She never thought she’d need a Plan B, once The Agency took her in. Nowadays she was just thankful her superiors kept her on their calling list, even if it wasn’t speed dial.

The past several weeks she had been doing a lot of work with Kino. Mostly stealthy reconnaissance for multiple groups that had congregated in the area. A new drug was on the market that promised to give a small percentage of users strange abilities but mostly it just made kids think they could fly off the tops of buildings when they couldn’t. Kino and Gina had helped keep a lot of that stuff off the streets. She’d help Kino get where The Agency told him they needed to go. He’d go do whatever The Agency told him to do, and then she’d help him make a hasty retreat. Mostly she was his chauffeur over rough terrain, and occasionally a backup gun when things got hot. She figured this would be another scenario like that. One of the first things she learned when Kino briefed her (very slightly) was that unlike previous missions, instead of flying inland, they were gonna take the bird over water. She hadn’t counted on that. She might have asked Marcus if he had something more floaty and less sinky, but it was too late to go back.

Kino said, “can’t go back to Marcus now. No time. We gotta head out there. It’s about to land.”

“Land on water?”

“Yeah.”

“What is?”

“The capsule.”

“A capsule containing what?”

“The astronaut.”

“What astronaut?”

“The less you know Gina, the better.”

“Why can’t I be the one to decide that?”

Charlie just looked at Gina. They both knew the answer to that question.

“Fine,” she said. “Get in. Let’s go.”

[part three coming soon]

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