I was malfunctioning.
Either (A) my training was finally unwinding after the years of having it drilled so deeply into my skull, it broke it. (B) I have always been malfunctioning from the start, it just took me this long to realise it. (C) I was in love with him, when love was not possible, not for soldiers like us.
I was twenty when I first heard of the legendary soldier that never failed a mission. At first, I thought it was a myth but then they gave him a code name, and it was Sigma.
In my OSS (Office of strategic services) cadet class of twenty-five the rumours about Sigma rushed through us all like a forest fire. Some of us were so enamoured by Sigma that we made up stories about him and claimed they were all part of what made him so legendary. And in all honesty, some of those stories were down right ridiculous:
… I heard Sigma once took down an entire base without any food for ten days!
… Sigma was tortured for a year and still managed to complete his operation after his team abandoned him, it was reported that he was KIA, who knows, maybe he’s actually a zombie back from the dead?
… Did anyone know that Sigma is actually a kid? Turns out he’s a child soldier, yep!
After all the fun and Chinese whispers, our commanding officer and combat instructor, nicked named ‘Black Kraken’ for his merciless grapples, graciously informed us cadets that infatuation with anything else but the mission was a liability to ourselves.
That meant that obsession, worship and even love were all detrimental towards this universal idea of ‘the mission’. I've always interpreted this idea as our loyalty to the stars and stripes, God bless America.
I never forgot Kraken’s words, not even after my quick graduation and deployment into Shinkolobwe, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. See, I excelled in my cadet class, and was proud of it. I showed the usual signs of excelling as a spy and being an incorruptible soldier, probably because I was so good at keeping secrets and praised the American flag daily.
No one knew I was in love with something I couldn’t even determine as real at the time. Sigma was as good as a myth amongst us rookies. All further information on the legend was classified, if there was information to be found that is.
But guess what, for this mission I was working with the legend himself. He was real, it was all dreams come true for me at this point. Sigma was talking to me now over a private frequency set up for us, keeping me informed about the threat of German spies smuggling precious resources from the Shinkolobew mines … which I really ought to be tuning into right now.
“… are you feeling okay Lukstein?” Sigma inquired, his voice low and husky over the radio frequency.
“Uh, what, what was the question?” I, Lenore Lukstein, top graduate of my class in the OSS, stupidly replied with. Sigma must've thought of me as an incompetent agent, and my inability to focus on anything but his natural-born bedroom voice wasn’t helping. My eyes skimmed over a map of the the mining site rolled out on a table in my makeshift tent.
I often spent my time overseeing monthly shipments of uranium from the mines here to the US for our special project the military was whipping up back home. But recently we’ve been losing precious resources right before our shipments sailed out, and there were suspicions of possible smuggling operations occurring right under our noses.
That’s where Sigma came in.
“I spoke to some locals that said they saw a pale man without a uniform inspecting the cargo our ports. Also, our security on this end of the river isn’t as tight as it is further down. It's no surprised our culprit found a way in without being spotted this far,” it was impossible for a white man to walk around Congo unnoticed in 1943. Sigma's word was intel I could trust, not that Sigma ever interpreted data he discovered wrongly.
I lit the lamp on my desk to inspect my marked map. We prepared the cargo here, at the mine, then sent it down the Congo river until it reached port at the capital city. The route was secured mostly by OSS agents like myself, trained in combat and weapons. I considered myself more of a negotiator, hence why I was here placating the Dutch mine engineers since Congo with their colony and not ours.
“I could tell the chief to relocate some of our agents closer to the docks, right now it looks like you’re the only reliable person up there,” one of the stories about Sigma was that he was a natural one-man army, and those types were hard to come across in the field.
“Listen to me carefully scout,” scout, Sigma only called me that when he was irritated, and I’ll be honest here, I’ve been doing a shitty job at gathering intel for the man. “We don’t have time to waste, if the Germans steal from our shipments again consider this a sloppy job, you need to start getting your act together and figure out how they keep catching wind of our export dates,” that was a mystery I had yet to figure out. I was under the impression that I was the only one with the official records of the US exportation dates, I did guard them with my life every night after all.
I tried to ask around if anyone else had the information I had, but no one took my questions seriously. This was mostly because I was a woman, I mean … who would have thought a woman could do a simple thing like oversee the movement of national goods as well as monitor the location of my fellow agents. Not the Dutch workers I was surrounded by apparently.
Everyone else, including my fellow agents, expected me to sit in my tent and mope around all day about returning to the US till the mission was over. And between the Dutch and the Congolese miners, both residents were iffy about speaking around me.
Mining uranium was a hush-hush negotiation, I didn’t blame them, I wouldn’t exactly be open about the US planning to build a nuclear weapon either with the uranium deposits. Explosive stuff, if you didn’t know.
God I felt like a rookie. I had no answer for Sigma in that moment, my mouth stuttered until I heard the defining click of the frequency falling silent. He didn’t even say 'over', were we supposed to say 'over' when we were done talking? Was saying 'over' even a thing anymore?
I rubbed my hand over my face and sat back into the wooden chair behind my desk. I doubted Sigma would be calling me again for the rest of the day, so I figured I’d take my ear piece out for now. That thing was making my ear go numb. And I was a little upset about not being able to hear Sigma’s bedroom voice anymore. It gets lonely out here sometimes … and I missed hearing an American voice every now and then.
Besides that, it was an honour to be recommended to work with Sigma. It wasn’t that long ago when I thought Sigma was just a piece of military propaganda to provide a Christ figure for us forsaken souls out here in the field. But to hear that Sigma was being taken out of retirement for this very mission, golly gee willikers, it was like watching Christ being resurrected from the dead, and I got to be one of those rare witnesses who saw him in action again.
For now, I turned my lamp off and prepared for a new day. Unbeknown of the mayhem that was coming my way.
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