My eyes snapped open, jolted from the depths of sleep by a slow burning somewhere in my hypothalamus. Heart-rate rising, breaths quickening from once a minute to once every few seconds. The hum of the engines and the light of the glaring LCD screen in the back of the next seat slowly worked their way into my consciousness.
I enjoyed it for a moment, that feeling of waking up after a Winter hibernation. It had been at most six hours since take-off, but in that blissful minute where the cynoprene wears off and the axitogen kicks in, it might as well have been six months. I counted off the seconds since I’d woken. 70, 71, 72. The shivers set in, right on cue, as my body figured out that it could regulate its own temperature again. I felt every tickling scratch of the pointless in-flight blanket and every creak of my neck as I shook the sleep out of my system. 80, 81, 82. I grimly held my focus on the screen in front of me until at last my pupils contracted, and let me see the little icon of a plane inching its way closer and closer to a dotted vertical line. Another thirty seconds, maybe.
My eyes flashed from seat to ceiling and back again, speeding up now. Everything was brighter, clearer, every touch like a tiny bolt of lightning. 115, 116. The little plane was so close now. “04:15 February 11”, read the tiny white text in the corner of the screen, and then, as if nothing was even slightly strange about it, “04:15 February 10”. That’s it. International Date Line. The middle of the Pacific, so far from land that not even the satellite networks bothered to cover it. A complete communication blackspot. Perfect.
I clicked off my seatbelt and stood up, correcting myself in a microsecond as my leg muscles briefly rejected my control. Syringe in my right pocket, alcohol swab in my left. I patted my pockets to make sure, as if there was ever a reason to doubt. Tunnel vision was kicking in then, the whole of my experience narrowing down and speeding up. One glance up the near-empty cabin, one back down. Silence. I slipped out into the aisle, adopting a nonchalant walk that could easily belong to an innocent passenger. And there was the target, sitting alone, hand stuck out from under his blanket. I passed him on my left, one lightning-fast swipe with the alcohol swab, not stopping. Into the bathroom. Wait thirty seconds for the anaesthetic to do its work. Flush, to maintain cover. Then back down the aisle, him on my right this time, syringe out, jab down, the compressed air forcing whatever was in there straight through the skin and into the bloodstream. He didn’t stir. Back to my seat, not looking back. Sit down. Check no-one’s looking.
No-one had noticed me, I was sure, and it had to be that way. Fail at the first stage, and I’d be reprimanded; fail at this and I’d be going down for murder.
Back down the aisle again, one sly reach to the side, and I plucked his monitor out of his pocket. A tiny LED blinked furiously, the device so full of rage that its owner’s heart had stopped, but too far from satellite coverage to report it. I almost felt sorry for it in the bathroom a minute later, as I took the sharp edge of a plastic airline dinner-knife and levered its battery out.
I could feel my own heart rate slowing as I neared the end. I grabbed the small sachet of powder from my back pocket and mixed it carefully into a sink full of water. In went the swab and the syringe, all traces of my DNA burning off them. As I slid the monitor in too, I noticed what else I’d taken from his pocket – a photograph, clipped to pocket size. A man, woman and child, smiling for the camera. A family.
Into the solution it went, pigments slowly drifting from the paper, erasing the memory.
I drained the sink, picking each item out with rubber gloves and dropping them carefully into the bin before flushing again and heading calmly back to my seat.
50mg cynoprine, tablet, dry-swallowed. And sleep claimed me again, tears still rolling down my cheeks as the little icon of a plane flew on, ever further from the dotted vertical line.