Snakes and Pills

178 - vienna

The train station moved busily with the pulse of a holiday crowd. Peter stepped out of his carriage, and surveyed the platform. His assignment was going to be tougher than he originally imagined.

Squealing angrily, the train pulled away from the station. Some of the crowd had gotten on the train which he had just disembarked, but the place was still a total mess. Peter considered where to start his search.

Being an underground courier was, by its very nature, a dangerous and covert affair. The person whom he was to meet with obviously couldn't identify himself by uniform or otherwise obvious outward appearance.

There was a typical look Peter could keep an eye out for, but other message bearers came in all shapes and sizes. Some were grizzled resistance fighters like him, but he had met up with women, children, the elderly, the homeless, and even aristocrats.

His only means of identification and confirmation were coded one-time phrases. They were always in the form of a question and response. He would ask the question, and if he had found his quarry, he or she would reply with the proper response.

Each phrase was randomly chosen, and Peter was none too fond of today's question. Especially when he considered how many people he might have to try until he found his target. Scanning the platform, he finally found a candidate.

The man was roughly the same age as Peter, and he had noticed him milling about for a while. He looked for people like that. Coyly, he stepped up alongside the man.

"Have you seen the burly man with scissors?" Peter asked, optimistically.

"What?" the man replied, seeming to be genuinely confused as to what Peter asked.

"Oh, sorry. Nothing," Peter said, slinking away from the man and back into the crowd. There was no sense in repeating himself. Other operatives would be fully prepared for the passphrase, listening for anyone saying words like "burly" or "scissors." It was better to not utter the phrase more than necessary, so he moved along.

Again, his eyes were drawn to a middle-aged man, but this one was scruffier-looking than the last. "Have you seen the burly man with scissors?" Peter asked, again.

"Oh, yes! Down at the circus? His name is Thomas and he juggles them for a penny! What a show!" the scruffy man happily replied. Unfortunately, this jovial response, though quite random, was not what Peter was listening for. The oddness of this man's statement made Peter wonder if he was another coded messenger on a separate mission. In times like these, there were probably several underground messages being passed around.

Or maybe this man was just crazy. Either way, Peter smiled and walked away. The crowd on the platform was growing again now, in anticipation of another train's imminent arrival. His task was getting more difficult, and he would have just given up if this cause weren't so important to him.

He caught eyes with a young girl, and though she seemed unlikely to be a fellow messenger, they did come in all shapes and sizes, after all. He saw something in her glance, and so he cautiously posed the question once again.

Her eyes lit up with a glimmer of recognition, and Peter thought he had found his match. "Oh my, your voice is quite handsome, just like your face! Fancy a cup of tea together?" she suddenly suggested.

Peter politely declined. Though she was rather pleasing on the eyes, he knew girls who were so tempting typically had ulterior motives. Besides, he still had his mission. The carefree way the girl carried on when he turned her down suggested that she hadn't really cared for him at all.

He sighed. Today's message would not easily be delivered.


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