Chapter 1: Locke Down
This story starts with an explosion.
Well, technically, the story doesn’t start with an explosion. The story might have started ten years ago, when a young John Locke decided to join the Consortium as a field agent; or perhaps it started fifty years before that, when a group of thinkers decided to form a global organization to battle the oppression of thought. You could certainly trace it back to when the first human started questioning his existence in the grand scheme of things. No, the story probably began long ago; but it is the narrative which begins here – in medias res, as it were – with an explosion.
Agent John Locke dived into a nearby hut as the shock-wave hit, carrying with it a shower of shrapnel and splinters. They thudded into the rickety wooden walls with malice they had hitherto not forethought, digging deep to reach the man sheltering on the other side and vibrating angrily when they failed. Miraculously, the structure stood. And after a few moments, so did John Locke.
He risked a cautious peep out the doorway. Most of the village had been flattened by the explosion; bits of wood and thatch littered the muddy earth, sending up little streams of smoke like a convention of tiny nicotine addicts. It was a good thing that the village was empty. The locals had fled in terror earlier from the man with the high forehead, bald spot, and mad glint in his eye, a glint so malevolent that it appeared to have a life of its own. He was now checking his reflection in the shiny golden statue, which was all that was left of the shrine that was now spending its time as a smouldering crater.
John Locke pulled out a pack of cigarettes from an inside pocket, brushed some dust off his immaculately-pressed suit – which, true to narrative conventions, was still immaculately-pressed – and strode out nonchalantly into the debris.
The other man was staring fixedly at the golden idol and speaking into a handheld radio. John Locke managed to catch the words “…yeah, landin’ site’s clear o’ buildin’s an’ trees an’ stuff. ‘Ead fer the smoke. Don’t know how the bird’s goin’ ter carry this, though…” before he flicked open his lighter and lit his cigarette, causing the other man to look up.
“Afternoon, Bill,” John Locke said casually, proffering his packet. “Care for a stick?”
“As I live an’ breathe,” said the man called Bill, snapping his radio shut. He spoke cheerfully, as a father would to a long-lost son, but his mad glint had leaped forward almost immediately, inspecting the newcomer from all angles and popping its knuckles for a good strangle it knew was coming. “If it ain’t young Johnny Locke, m’ bestest pupil. Yer scared the livin’ daylights out o’ me, yer did. What can ol’ Mister Ockham do yer fer, out here in the middle o’ nowhere?”
“Oh, you know, the usual,” said John Locke, taking a long drag. “Dropping your weapons, surrendering, coming along quietly and telling me who hired you, that sort of thing.”
Bill laughed, a loud booming laugh that contained not a trace of humour. “Yer know I can’t do that, Johnny m’boy. Yer know ‘ow yer boss’s always sayin’ that all the things o’ this earth are pointin’ towards good? Well, I’m choosin’ to act knowin’ly towards m’ ultimate evil, so’s ter speak.”
“He used to be your boss, too,” said John Locke, sticking his free hand into his suit pocket. “Why’d you leave the Consortium, anyway?”
“Oh, that were an altogether different set o’ mitigatin’ circumstances ,” said Bill, waving his hand airily. “The guv’ment were disapprovin’ of m’ religious standings, and I figured I better get out o’ the country while I still could.”
As he was speaking, Bill had pulled out a slim razor blade from an inside pocket, and began flicking it open and shut almost absentmindedly. It seemed like an ordinary barber’s razor, but the blade was whistling as it slid through the air, accompanied by a faint sizzling sound on the edge of hearing, like a kind of background static, the screams of air molecules as they were sliced in half. John Locke’s eyes caught the sparkle of the metal in the afternoon sun, but made sure his face remained unconcerned, tapping his cigarette and adding a drop of ash into the ocean of cinders.
“I don’t think we can be any judge of religious standpoints, Bill,” John Locke said, as he reached the statue. Now that he was close, he could see that it was a sculpture of a leg, life-sized, from the knee down to the foot, and intricately carved in such fine detail that he could have accounted for each and every one of the leg hairs, if he wanted to. It was one of the strangest statues he had ever seen; not that he had not witnessed his fair share of dismembered body parts in his line of work, just that none of them had been cast out of solid gold.
“What’s your game, anyway?” John Locke asked. “How did a once-valued combat instructor and concealed edged-weapon specialist at the Consortium become a glorified thief and henchman for some shadowy higher power?” Aside from the crackling of Bill’s blade, John Locke was aware of another sound, the low throb of a helicopter, getting louder. Knowing he had little time left, he asked sharply, “Who’re you working for?”
“What makes yer think I’m workin’ fer someone?” Bill drawled, slowly. He had also heard the whirring of the blades, which twisted his lips into a slash of a smile. “Ol’ William Ockham’s ‘is own master, an’ ‘e answers ter no-one.”
“Oh please, Bill,” said John Locke scathingly. “This isn’t your MO. You wouldn’t muck about with explosives. You wouldn’t have the resources to hire a mercenary chopper, and even if you did, you wouldn’t have the brains or foresight to clear a landing zone for it. If this was your heist, you’d come in under the cover of darkness and head straight for the target, slitting the throats of anyone who got in your way, and then hightailing it out on foot.” The sound of the helicopter was much louder now. The disturbed air currents caused the wisps of smoke to stir slightly in their upward race for the skies. John Locke noticed all this, but kept his composure and said simply, “This isn’t your style.”
Bill Ockham stared at John Locke with a murderous look in his eye. This was to the surprise and delight of his mad glint, who had long been the only anthropomorphic personification around these parts, and gladly welcomed a friend and colleague who appeared to share its homicidal interests.
“Looks like m’ bestest student learned too much from ‘is teacher,” Bill growled.
“The conclusion was inevitable,” said John Locke, slowing reaching into his suit to replace his cigarette pack for his handgun. “The evidence was obvious.”
Unfortunately, Bill’s eyes caught the movement. His razor flicked open. “Oh no you don’t-”
It was at this point that the helicopter burst over the edge of the clearing. Smoke and ash rode on the updrafts, swirling into John Locke’s face as he stumbled backwards, spluttering. Bill Ockham pounced on him in an instant, wrestling them both to the ground, his razor singing through the air like scythe of Death itself. With a grunt, John Locke tried to kick himself free, but Bill Ockham had a grip like a vice, and after rolling a short distance he quickly had John Locke pinned to the jungle floor, arms locked behind his back.
“I don’t think yer could’ve learned more’n what yer teacher knows,” said Bill, grinning. The helicopter had touched down near the statue, and John Locke recognised it as a Leonardo Mk. II, a simple aircraft that traded weapons loadout for larger cargo capacity. Men in ski masks had jumped off and were hauling the golden leg across the mud.
“Because I’m a decent sort o’ bloke, I reckon I could give yer one last piece o’ advice before I take a little off the top,” he said, leaning the razor on John Locke’s neck. A pearl of blood glistened where the metal met flesh. “Do yer want ter know why I use a blade? Guns are too quick. Yer can’t savour all the little… emotions. They’re too complex, they are. Yer never ‘ave ter strip down a razor an’ assemble it back again in the dark o’ night. Ways I see it, all things bein’ equal, an easier way to kill yer is far better’n one that’s complicated.”
John Lock wriggled in his grip, but to no avail. “Go to hell,” he spat.
Bill Ockham just grinned. “You first,” he said, and slashed.
At that point, time, it seemed to John Locke, slowed down. It is said that nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging, but a good case could probably be made for an imminent beheading, if only a few more people could stay alive long enough to testify.
John Locke could feel the cold steel dragging across his throat, and he was dead certain that if it sliced open his jugular, he wouldn’t be certain and just be dead. But his heightened senses saw a crater explode in the shoulder of Bill’s leather jacket, followed by the slow rumble of a gunshot. Bill instinctively let out a low, drawn-out bellow of pain, and he arced backwards as his razor slowly tumbled in the air, gleaming as it caught the sun.
He rolled over, left arm clasping his neck, and picked up the razor where it fell. He looked at it quizzically, as if he wasn’t in immediate danger of bleeding to death, and noticed the words “Fleet Street’s Finest” had been engraved at the base of the blade in a flourishing, cursive script. He pocketed it as he got to his feet, while his mind acted as all minds act when the conversation turns to the subject of inevitable death: laugh nervously, talk about something else. Flatly refusing to acknowledge how much blood his body had lost, his brain instead started chattering about what kind of sharper tool could have etched calligraphy into an already sharp device, whether this was an ontological analogy for something or other, and that also, by the way, just thought I’d mention it, but Bill Ockham is getting away, running towards his helicopter.
Time was still crawling by, like that annoying driver on the road you always get stuck behind. A shout from behind him, which sounded like “Get down!” in slow motion, made John Locke turn around. He was greeted by the sight of a dozen men dressed in about fifty shades of grey and green, all pointing rifles in his direction. But what worried him most was the woman, the rather attractive woman in the black, form-fitting combat suit, soaring towards him in midair, her brown hair billowing out behind her.
She collided into him, and as he was falling gracefully towards the ground for the third time that day, he heard the low whine of bullets erupt overhead, and wondered if there were worse ways to die than from blood loss while being tackled to the ground by a pretty lady.
Then his head hit a rock, and his mind went blank.