Still haven't been able to think of a title for it.
She sighed, sifting through her monstrous pile of paperwork. Filing, filing. This one to the Colonel, this one to Lieutenant Everhart, this one . . . eh. Trash. How, how was she stuck doing paperwork again? She was the damned First Lieutenant in the Stealth Operations of the military, for God’s sake. Shouldn’t she be doing something . . . stealthy? Oh, wait . . . the last time they had put her on a covert operations mission she pocketed ten thousand dollars worth of stolen possessions (not counting all the goods she had stashed in places they couldn’t exactly access). Right. She had forgotten about that . . .
Her eyes traveled across her desk and over to the newspaper she had draped over one of her chairs. She got up, walked over to it, picked it up and began to read. Monday, March 2nd, 2096:
317 civilians killed in Aisophos rioting
Military casualties also on the rise
She shook her head as her eyes scanned the pages, recoiling at the high-definition pictures of countless dead bodies in remarkable detail, rotting, scathed, lying on top of one another, while an officer kicked a few around, attempting to identify them. In all the years she had been a thief, she had definitely seriously injured a lot of people. She had broken quite a few ribs, legs, arms, and just about any other ligament and body part one could think of. Most of the victims were guards, so being physical was often times necessary in order to keep from being caught. If nothing else, Gwendolyn Pierce had no qualms about inflicting considerable injury. However, the one thing she found she was damn near incapable of was killing another human being. This inability, in fact, was part of the reason why she had been caught in the first place. Someone identified her in the middle of a heist, and because she didn’t kill him when she had the chance, she was ultimately captured. She was so . . . close. She had him around the neck with one hand while she held the dagger up with the other, slightly shaking. She pulled back, and . . . she couldn’t. She couldn’t do it. She was so disoriented that she didn’t even realize she had loosened her grip until he broke free and frantically ran away. That was it. Injuring a person was one thing, but taking someone’s life was another chapter, entirely. She only—
“Afternoon, Lieutenant,” rang Colonel Hughes’ voice as he burst through the door and interrupted her thoughts.
She nearly jumped right out of her skin. “Goddamnit, Hughes,” she said, cringing as she dropped the newspaper to the floor. “Don’t do that! D’you have any idea how to knock?”
“I’m the Colonel; I don’t need to knock. That being said, I am still your superior and you need to start addressing me as such,” he said, chest out and arms folded, his sharp black eyes as beady as ever.
“I don’t care how many fucking times you get promoted. I’ll call you whatever I damn well please,” she spat.
He sighed, rubbing the temples hidden beneath his dark hair. “I didn’t come here to argue with you, Gwendolyn. I came to . . . give you some news.”
“What kind of news?” she inquired, raising an eyebrow.
“Well . . .” he began, biting his lip as his gaze shifted to his leather boots. “The good news is that you’re going back into the field.”
“Really?” she said, a bit surprised. “That was fast. What is it this time? Secret enemy documents? Incriminating evidence on Everhart? Your next opening for a promotion?” she taunted, derision dripping off her tongue.
“Well, it’s not quite that type of mission.” A pause. “I’m sending you to Aisophos, to help keep things under control over there. The rioting gets worse every day. They say the Aisophans are on the verge of a massive rebellion—”
“Not interested. Not really a ‘militia’ type person, anyway. Thanks, though.”
His countenance grew very stern indeed. “Gwendolyn, that was not a request. It was an order. You’re leaving in three days.” He turned to leave, then stopped at the door. “Don’t worry,” he said, forcing something of a smile as he turned to look at her. “You’ll be more of a supervisor than anything else. With any luck, you’ll only have to kill one or two people, eh? See you tomorrow.” And he was gone.
“Oh,” she said weakly as she stumbled backward into one of her leather chairs.
Only one or two . . .
* * *
By Wednesday Gwendolyn had become somewhat of a nervous wreck. What in God’s name did they expect her to do over there? Combat was by no means her area of expertise, they should know that. Honestly, how bad had things really gotten?
“Goddamn bastards,” she cursed under her breath as her head hit the desk with a ‘thud’. She had never really gotten the whole story out of the situation in Aisophos, because, ironically enough, covert-ops specialists were mostly kept in the dark when it came to political affairs. The idea was that they were supposed to be relatively unbiased, that way their individual thoughts and opinions wouldn’t ever interfere with what they were told to do. But of course, that was the idea. Most operatives would usually sneak peeks at whatever it was they were supposed to be pilfering, Gwendolyn included. Apparently the whole ordeal began as an honest attempt by the government to help keep the peace between two clans of the country, both engaged in a civil strife. Once they arrived, however, the length of their stay increased from weeks to months to years, long after the civil issue was seemingly resolved. The height of the conflict came about a year ago, when an officer accidentally shot an innocent Aisophan child. There was an uproar, and the officer and others were killed by an angry mob. Since then, it seemed to Gwendolyn that things had been growing steadily worse.
She was becoming sick of her office; it seemed to be growing smaller by the second. She had to go somewhere; she was absolutely suffocating. She quickly hurried out of her office, past the swooshing automatic doors, straight down the hall, first left, second right. She knew precisely what would clear her head: a heaping bucket of coffee. She came through her next set of sliding doors, which revealed the plush interior of a break room. Everything was red, velvety and accommodating.
Her eyes quickly scanned the room. She prayed that it was early enough in the morning for the place to be relatively empty.
God must’ve hated her.
“Fucking hell.” There was that bastard Hughes, with that utterly ridiculous grin constantly plastered to his face, doing some work absentmindedly in his lap before he unfortunately took notice of her.
“Well now, Gwendolyn.” Again with the grin. “Don’t look so thrilled to see me.”
Ignore him, she told herself. Just grab your coffee and get the hell out. “Why wouldn’t I be? Tomorrow you’re sending me into highly concentrated combat in order to use the skills I don’t have, you arse.” Goddamnit. She gave herself a mental kick for not being able to keep her mouth shut.
With a sigh, he got up and walked over to her. “Gwendolyn, I’m sorry, how many times do I have to say it? Believe it or not, I’m not at the top yet, and I have my fair share of orders of follow. They’re getting desperate over there; they need all the help they can get.” This time, however, she said nothing in reply. She only fiddled with the coffee machine, placing her mug into it before touching the screen. “Gwendolyn, I’m not sending you in there to get killed. It’s just that they could really use your leadership proficiency out there.” In eight seconds, her coffee was done, and she took it aside to add her necessities: two sugars, no cream.
She was biting down so hard that she thought her tongue was about to bleed.
“Gwendolyn,” he called, his tone much softer this time. This caught her attention, and she turned to look at him. “What happened to us?”
It was seemingly a simple question. Seemingly. Now, however, Gwendolyn was forced to remember. She first met Hughes when she was twenty-one years old, as was he. They were both humbly known as Second Lieutenants Pierce and Hughes, a meager ranking on the officer food chain. The two were often paired on assignments together and quickly became friends. He was always so ambitious, that much she could recall. “Someday, I’m going to run this country, Gwen, and I’m going to change things for the better, you’ll see. And you’ll be right at the top with me,” he always told her. And subconsciously, she believed him. However, as the years went on, and the promotions came, she noticed that he began to grow into a different person. The power was corrupting him; it consumed him.
“We’ve just . . . grown into different people, that’s all,” she said finally, her tone firm and distant, turning her attention back to her coffee. “You wanted to reach the top, well you’re almost there. Who knows, soon you’ll gain world domination,” she added with bitter contempt.
“Is that what this is about? Gwendolyn, do you think I like this? Kissing the Brigadier General’s ass every day, following orders, stationing officers in places they don’t want to be in, betraying the trust of the people I care about . . . it’s just something I have to do before I get up there, you know?” He was about to reach out to touch her, but she had already turned to leave.
“I probably won’t see you in the morning. Or ever again, for that matter. Have a nice day.” With that, Gwendolyn and her coffee made their way for the door.
* * *
Aisophos was, if nothing else, one of the saddest places Gwendolyn had ever seen. The land was desolate, barren, with vast mountains of sand as far as the eye could see. She had only been there for seventy-two hours and she already thought she’d be going insane within seconds.
“So you’re the new girl, eh?” were the first few words she heard when she initially arrived. The proprietor of that eerily calm voice, as she soon learned, was a man by the title of Lieutenant Colonel Amos Archer. In seventy-two hours, she ascertained that Archer was certainly not a force to be reckoned with. Often, when an officer would approach him with an issue regarding an Aisophan, he would bring a hand to his chin, think for a moment or two, and indifferently say, “kill them,” without so much as a flutter in his glacial, ice-blue eyes. The man loved war, it seemed, and she thought it safe to say that he had something of a chronic bloodlust.
So it was no wonder that Gwendolyn was a bit apprehensive about going into his office at the Embassy that day.
“You called?” she said upon stepping into his quarters.
“Ah, yes,” he began, looking up from his paperwork. “Have a seat.” She obeyed. “I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing well here, especially for someone who has no formal combat training. You have excellent leadership skills, Pierce.”
“You think so? Funny, seeing as how I've only been in charge of myself for years. But I suppose all the tactical bullshit isn't much different,” she replied. It was... snappier in her head, but it sounded much different once she voiced it... the timber of her voice was cold and stoic... “Don't suppose there's any word on when I’ll be sent home?” She had no idea on why she was asking such a question. She knew damn well what the answer would be.
He cracked his neck, choosing to bypass her little comment. “No, unfortunately not yet. It shouldn’t be too long, though,” he added, though not really meaning it, she could tell. It appeared as though he was prepared to say something else, but just then, a small hologram of an officer’s head and shoulders materialized on the corner of his desk.
“Pardon me for interrupting, Lieutenant Colonel Archer, sir. But we have word that The Killer has been sighted. We may have pinpointed his location, sir.”
“You’re quite sure?”
“I want a team assembled, now. No more than ten officers. And be sure to inform them that when the time comes, that bastard is mine, understood?”
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” And the talking holographic head dissolved into nothingness.
Archer quickly rose from his desk, pulling open a drawer and taking out two handguns before concealing them in his holster. “Oh, and you’re coming,” he said, throwing a glance at Gwendolyn.
She blinked, plain and simple. “Is that entirely necessary?”
“No. But you’ll need the experience.” He then turned to leave, when he suddenly whipped back around. “You do have weaponry, don’t you?”
She did. But she left them in her quarters. “Well, I—”
He sighed, tossing her one of his own weapons. “Here, take one of mine.”
She caught it, albeit awkwardly, and placed it in the holster at her hip. By the time she looked up, however, Archer was already out the door. She had to run like mad just to catch up.
If there was ever anything that got Archer’s panties in a bunch, it was any news of The Killer. From what Gwendolyn could gather, he was an Aisophan criminal who would stalk the city, murdering officers left and right like flies. He only had to touch you, placing a small chip on your skin, and within seconds you would explode from the inside out. It was rumored that just before he delivered that touch of death, he would say, “May God have mercy on your soul,” or something to that effect, Gwendolyn always heard different accounts. He seemed determined to destroy every last officer in Aisophos. Through word of mouth, and lack of any specific identity, he was eventually titled The Killer.
Though she would die before she showed it, Gwendolyn was petrified.
Archer, Gwendolyn, and their small team finally arrived outside of The Killer’s presumed location: a small, modest home, ostensibly deserted.
Archer reached the head of the group, turning back briefly to make a small gesture with his pointer and middle fingers with a simultaneous nod of the head. Gwendolyn assumed that meant something along the lines of, “follow in after me,” or something similar. Without further delay, Archer lifted a leg and kicked the door clear off its hinges. All officers stood on either side of the doorway, against the wall, in case of fire. He then stood before the entrance, surveying the area with his gun. Empty.
“All right, MOVE!” he commanded. With that, all officers stormed the small dwelling. They turned over tables and chairs, tore through walls, destroying literally everything in sight. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn opted to stay behind Archer, who had gone up ahead towards a back room. He may have been a madman, but he was a madman who refused to allow his comrades to die. She figured that was the type of person she needed to associate herself with. They then found themselves before another closed door. Archer nodded to her, and she reciprocated it. He subsequently wasted no time in bashing this door wide open with a heavy combat boot. Upon making sure the area was clear, he charged in, Gwendolyn close at his heels, cautiously aiming her gun. This time, however, the room seemed to be occupied.
There, cowering in a corner was a mother and her young son, the boy appearing no older than twelve or thirteen. They both wielded rifles, and were crying and shouting frantically in a language that Gwendolyn did not understand. They were shaking profusely, and it didn’t appear as though either one even knew how to use the damned things.
“Shoot them,” said Archer simply.
“Sir?” They hardly seemed to pose a threat. Surely they could be reasoned with.
“I said, shoot them. That is an order, Pierce.”
Trembling, she began to obey. She drew her weapon, clasping firmly onto it with both hands. The higher she drew the weapon, the louder and more hysterical their screams became. She then felt that familiar sick sensation in the pit of her stomach, as if it had now grown tired of being a stomach and suddenly decided to become a pendulum. And then her lungs grew jealous and decided that they wanted to be a seesaw. A bead of sweat began to slowly migrate from the top of her forehead to the tip of her nose, opting to hang there for a moment before it splashed to the floor like a tidal wave in her ears.
“Oh, for God’s sake . . .” she heard Archer say.
After that moment, time almost seemed to stop, and everything decelerated to articulate each agonizing detail. She felt him push her aside, and before she could utter the word ‘no’, he had already begun to open fire.
One through the mother’s shoulder.
Two more through the young boy’s back; he was in the way.
Their rifles hit the floor with a thundering crack.
Another through her heart and out the other side.
In her mind, all was quiet except the roaring pulse in her temples.
“On your feet, Pierce,” she heard Archer say.
She wasn’t even aware that she had slowly sank to the hard ground beneath her, pulled into a trance by the steady stream of vile red that cascaded from the two victims.