The timer was counting down, but it was going to take more than seven minutes to get out of this jam. Sienna and Jackson pulled against their restraints, but it was no use: the only thing they were doing was slicing their own wrists open, and wasting time. The bomb made no allowances for effort.
“Baking,” Sienna, checking the walls and ceiling for some kind of flaw.
“What?” asked Jackson.
“Baking. I’m baking.”
Jackson was trying to slip the pen knife from his pocket, but his arms were bound at a funny angle, and he couldn’t quite make it. “How is that—”
“You know how Dr Thatcher said I should get a hobby?”
Jackson twisted himself sideways, closer to Sienna. “Pen knife. Back pocket.”
She turned her hands at an angle, trying to reach. “So anyway, I always liked baking when I was little, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
“Mmhmm,” said Jackson, more focused on the task at hand.
“I thought: how hard could it be? Bake some cookies, maybe some muffins. Blow off some steam once in a while...”
“You wanna maybe—”
“Got it,” she said, and slipped the knife out of his jeans. She spun it around and flipped it open like she’d done a thousand times before. Jackson lowered himself into position, his cuffs as close to Sienna as he could manage. She found the key hole with the tip of the knife and went to work.
“Disaster,” she said.
“Baking. Was a disaster,” she said. “See, baking takes discipline. Precision. Attention to detail.”
“Ow!” hissed Jackson as the knife slipped and nicked his wrist.
“Sorry,” she said, doubling down. “This job is about winging it. Getting the job done by any means necessary. Total opposite in a lot of ways. You beat the clock, you don’t watch it.”
“Six minutes,” Jackson said, very much watching the clock.
“First set of muffins tasted like cinder blocks.”
“Soviet cinder blocks? Cause those are kinda tangy if you hit ‘em right.”
“No, Jersey blocks,” she said.
“Ew. Yeah, no, that’s OK.”
She caught the hook in the cuffs and twisted. Ping! The blade slipped again, achieving nothing. She didn’t have time to grumble, she just went right back at it.
“I should’ve just quit there, but there was something about it, y’know? It was like a puzzle I couldn’t quite solve.”
“I get it,” said Jackson, already looking for a way out of the room...and coming up empty. “They choose us because we want more. The next thing. The object just out of reach.”
“Like muffins,” she said, mirthfully.
“Muffins,” he agreed, waiting for—
Click! His left cuffs popped open and he pulled himself free, twisting around just as Sienna tossed the knife upward, straight into his waiting hand. He got to work on her cuffs while she took her turn scanning the room for a way out.
“Took me months,” she said. “Months of trial and error, careful planning, getting it all in order, but I finally did it. I finally got it.”
“Got it,” he said, and her cuffs popped off too.
They both got to their feet, confronting the fact that the clock had less than five minutes left, and there were no obvious exits in the concrete cell they found themselves in. No doors, no windows...not even vents. It was like the place had been built around them while they were unconscious.
“You see anything?” Jackson asked.
“Nada,” she said, then thought of something, turned to face the bomb. “This look nuclear to you?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “No fuel chambers. Gotta be—”
They both grinned at the same time. “Conventional.”
“The box is built to come apart,” she said, feeling the walls quickly but carefully.
“Concrete shrapnel. Brilliant,” said Jackson, finding a spot and slamming into it with his shoulder. It gave, but only a little.
“So I know this’ll seem sudden,” said Sienna, tracing a pattern down to the far corner of the room, “but I’m leaving the service.”
Jackson stopped his smashing to stand in stunned confusion. “Wait, you’re what? Where are you going?”
“Opening a bakery,” she said. “Archangel 425.”
He smiled faintly. “Our first mission.”
“You remember,” she said.
“How could I forget? Sarin in the Paris Metro. Once in a lifetime incident.”
“Aside from the other twenty-seven,” she laughed...and then they both went back to trying to break out. Because they were professionals, and professionals don’t die ‘til the clock runs out.
“But I thought you sucked at baking,” he said. “Jersey muffins.”
“I got better,” she said. “I got so much better, I started to enjoy the time between missions more than the missions themselves. Especially these last few months, with Michaud’s stupid mole hunt.”
“Who knows? It might be real.”
“Yeah, well, it sucked away whatever joy was left in the job for me. I put in my papers—”
“Wait, you’re actually leaving?”
“I told you I was.”
“I just thought you’d at least give me a chance to talk you out of it.”
She shrugged, gave him a sincerely apologetic smile. “Four minutes.”
He went back to smashing into the wall. A little harder this time. Sienna was zeroing in on a very specific point down near the floor. She got onto her back and wound back with both feet and kicked. The wall cracked. Progress.
“I just wanted to go to Paris one time for the food, you know? Sit in a café and not have to leave my croissant because the mark started moving.”
“But that doesn’t mean you need to quit. You could take time off.”
She paused her kicking, looked over at him. “You had one Michaud’s sessions? In the tank?”
His face darkened. “No. Have you?”
She nodded, went back to work. “I’m tired of being treated like a criminal. Do I work for a foreign government? No. But that kind of thing...that kind of abuse? That made me seriously consider it. We don’t even treat our actual prisoners that way.”
He stopped what he was doing, battling a question he didn’t want to ask. “They...they really use eels?”
Her face twitched. “To start.”
The clock ticked down. They got back to work.
“So what kind of stuff are you selling at Archangel 425?” he asked, finally seeing a hint of light through the cracks in the wall.
“Cheese bread. Muffins, obviously. Croissants. These little Portguese tarts I can never remember the name of...”
“Pastéis de Nata,” he said. “Nice choice.”
“You’ve had them?”
“Long time ago,” he said. “Guess I’ll be stopping by your shop after all.”
“If we survive this,” she said.
“We’ll survive it,” he replied, as the clock passed three minutes.
Sienna cracked her part of the wall, as her bones started to feel like they were coming apart, too. She spun around, squinting at the opening, trying to see through.
“Oh hell,” she gasped. “We’re in the train station.”
He looked back at the bomb. It was moveable, but not portable. “How busy?”
He slammed into the wall again, trying to think. “The lake would lessen the blast, but—”
“But there’s no way we could make it in time. Sub-basement?”
“No, not deep enough. We’d collapse the building. We need to get it away from the—”
They both had the same idea at the same time.
“Eastbound?” she asked.
“It’s a small window before it heads into the city.”
“I’m all about precision these days,” she said, grinning.
She kicked even harder, and her feet broke through to the open air. Jackson abandoned his side and ran to help her. They smashed and kicked and pounded at the concrete until it finally gave way even more, creating an opening big enough for an exit.
“Got it,” he said, sliding his lower half through. “Ready?”
She went for the bomb, but winced, stumbling. Her ankle. “Dammit...” she said, and forced herself forward, pulling the bomb off its mounting and carting it back over to Jackson. “I can’t make it,” she said. “I’ll just slow you down.”
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll be back.”
“You better,” she said, and he pushed his way outside.
There was a small crowd of onlookers watching him, wondering what was going on, and who this strange man was who’d emerged from a concrete cube painted with billboards, and why he was holding a strange metal device with a ticking clock on it. They snapped photos with their phones as he got his bearings, looking for...there!
He raced off toward the eastbound tracks, bomb tucked under his arm as he sprinted as fast as he could, down the concourse, through the turnstiles and out onto the platform—
—just in time to see the train rush past. He’d missed it. There was no way out anymore.
He looked left, right, back and forth, trying to think of another way...but there was no other way.
“Dammit!” he shouted, and dropped to his knees, setting the bomb down in front of him as the clock passed one minute. One minute.
He flipped the keypad open, fingers hovering over an impossible situation. But there was no other way.
He tapped in a combination...
...and the timer added tree minutes.
“That should be enough,” he said, with a smirk.
“Enough for what?” asked Sienna, behind him, gun pointed at his head. “To get clear of the building?”
He didn’t raise his hands. Didn’t even try. “This isn’t what it—”
“Sorry you missed your train,” she said. “It was hard to time that right. But like I said, I’m all about precision these days.”
“How long have you known?” he growled, watching the timer tick down anew.
“We’ve suspected you for a while,” she said. “But it wasn’t until just a few minutes ago that I knew for sure.”
He turned his head as he realized. “The eels.”
“The eels. Fake intel, planted so the mole would prepare for the wrong kind of interrogation.” She stepped to the side to get a better angle. “Turn it off.”
“I’d rather die.”
She shot him in the leg. He doubled over, but didn’t collapse. He was trained better than that. They both were.
“Turn it off,” she repeated. “Please.”
He reached forward with a bloodied hand and re-entered the code, pausing ever so slightly before--
She adjusted her grip. “Don’t flatter yourself. You’re no martyr.”
He sighed and punched in the deactivation code. The bomb went dead.
Sienna smiled and kicked him onto his stomach, kneeling into his spine and pulling his hidden gun free, and shoving it into her belt. “Why’d you do it?” she asked. “Why’d you betray your own people?”
“Because I’m sick of trying. I’m sick of risking my life for people who don’t give a damn if I live or die. I’m sick of pretending to be a hero, while the other players get rich.”
She cuffed him nice and tight, then jerked him to his feet, pressing down on his bleeding leg to make him yelp, and then she pressed a little more. He laughed through the pain—a bitter, desperate kind of laugh.
“I was all a lie, wasn’t it?” he asked. “You were never really leaving, were you.”
“No, that part was real,” she said. “I am getting out. Because unlike people, dough always rises to the occasion.”
Written for Denise, whose topic was: There's a spy who wants to become a baker, but living the spy life is dangerous, so she decides to incorporate baking in her spy life.