The Albino Man
Cold moonlight filtered faintly through the clouds that hung over the planet of Eliouse. The brisk night air nipped lightly; the wind carried the scent of trees and river water. There was no sound in the woods, no chirping of night insects and no rustling of leaves, despite the wind. Everything was held in a deadly silence so gripping, one could imagine the jaws of death had descended upon them without warning. However, this was not the case. This was the Dead Forrest. So named for their stillness and silence. There was a complex and scientific explanation for their quietness, a quietness that remained unshaken by the wind and rivers, but I hadn’t paid much heed. The Dead Forrest would only be shelter for the night, tomorrow we would move on, likely never to return.
Several feet from the river lay a short, concrete structure. The building was rather primitive, looking as if it were built by the first settlers that came from Earth, then long abandoned. Flat walls made of a gray stone and water mixture were set together in a large, rectangular formation. The building was only one story, with three doors, one window, a roof with no holes, threadbare carpeting, and empty of appliances. There was one shower room that still pumped water from the river into the building, but the heating unit had long since been taken. The plumbing was in similar disrepair, the drain was clogged, but someone had dug through the floor so that water wouldn’t collect in the room. Most of the building consisted of small rooms, about 10 feet by 10 feet, which were being used as temporary sleeping quarters. I paid heed to this, since this building would be the only security my company would have for the night.
Quietly I walked down the narrow hallway that lead to each of the small rooms. Keeping my footsteps silent was difficult, the threadbare carpet was hard and slapped against the concrete amplifying the noise of my boots. Most of the company was asleep. There were seven of us total, each of us hired for our expertise in the field.
Dereck was second in the company. He was a large alpha, quite muscular with a large frame. He had short, black hair and a strong jawline, which he kept moderately well shaven. He was competent and aggressive with many aspects of military fighting. From strategies to use of weaponry, he was beyond adept. He was also quite antagonistic, challenging the tactical decisions, and the group’s carefully laid plans. But he was not stupid. When he did question the leader’s decisions, which was none too rarely, he had justified reasoning and the results were usually in favor of the operation.
Allen and Alice were fourth and fifth of the company. They were highly trained, equally skilled, martial artists. For lack of a better term, they were the grunts of the company. In order for the operation to be successful the crew had to consist of seven members. They were twin betas, with dark hair and olive skin, and both of a formidable height. Both moved with a grace that can only be attained from years of practice and being thrown about a studio by people who were older and stronger than they were. Such experience gave them a strong presence, with a clear awareness of their bodies and their skills.
Castiel was third in the company. He was a delta with more charisma and people skills than the entire company combined. Along with his ability to navigate complicated social interactions he also had the ability to read people almost as easily as one reads the large speed postings that lined speedways in broad daylight. Castiel was albino, with vivid white hair, combed back and well taken care of, and red eyes that held a knowing but un-intrusive gaze. He was small, even shorter than I am, with slim shoulders and a tight waist. Being the most facile with etiquette and social rules, he was the one who cultivated and maintained important contacts and managed to pull the required strings necessary for the operation. He was also a trained sharpshooter.
Mathews was sixth in the company. She was a tall beta, tall enough to rival Dereck in height, with long, dark brown hair and dark eyes set behind square, black rimmed glasses. A rigid conformist to the rules and plan, she held the company on track. She ensured we never fell a hair behind time and that we knew what to do, and when to do it. A weapons specialist by training, proficient in an impressively long list of weaponry. She, like the twins, was a grunt. Another being to work and fight, but to also help hold the operation together with her focus on flawless execution of the plan.
Tom was seventh in the company, signed on during a risky, last minute decision. Tom was not adept or skilled in any particular art or fighting discipline of an offensive nature like the rest of the company. However, he was proficient in quite a number of self-defense arts. He was valuable to the company for his ability with equipment and technology, and his outstanding attention to detail. He could tell, just by listening, if something was out of calibration or running at sub-par standards. There was no part of the operation he didn’t know about and was sure to keep any us from making any stupid mistakes. His awareness of his surroundings and ability to understand technology would hopefully provide a greater security for the entire company while preforming the operation. He was of average height, with bright red hair, striking, blue eyes and a kind disposition, and an omega.
I paused for a moment in the hallway. Why did I hire an omega for the company? Just the fact that his application came up in my search for companions was a surprise in and of itself. Most omegas would not be fit for the job, being too skittish and unsure of themselves. Yet, when that man came for the interview, not that he knew it was an interview at the time, he surpassed my wildest expectations. I had to outfit the team with the best people I could, who would also be able to work together. During our dry run, we had managed to demonstrate nearly seamless teamwork, which is exactly what was needed. Any thoughts of removing Tom from the team were moot at that point, anyway. We set out on the mission nearly 24 hours after our impromptu rehearsal.
I suppose a bigger question to ask would be why did I bring another alpha into the company? Most alphas prefer to be unhindered by another alpha’s competitive nature. They would want to be at the head, unquestioned and unchallenged. However, the task before us was too important. I wanted the benefit another alpha could bring. Even I could make mistakes. I wanted someone there to keep me honest, and be able to challenge me if I were making a bad move or an error. So far that plan had worked out quite well. We had not encountered an argument we couldn’t overcome and most of the debates had strengthened our plan.
Gently I pressed my hand into the concrete wall. The cool, rough wall felt solid enough to withstand a rather harsh battering if it needed to. I sighed, running my fingers through my long, brown hair and lifting my bangs out of my eyes. Despite being an alpha, I was rather small. My build was sturdy and I was quite fit, but I had a delicate frame, which seemed to hide my strength. At least, that is what I assumed. During the first fight I had with Dereck, he didn’t seem to anticipate the extent of my ability and I bested him rather quickly. He never challenged me to a fist fight after that, but I still allowed him to challenge me verbally.
I was first in the company, the leader. My skills were in building a successful team and plan in order to accomplish the goals of the assignment. The assignment itself was not difficult, nor would it require the most adept personal. Political espionage was common in the intergalactic community. Yet the job paid generously. The royalties we would receive for completing the assignment were rich and we had insurance from the employer that any legal affairs would be attended to if need be. Still, I had to me sure of my team to guarantee the best performance for my employer.
I pulled myself from my thoughts. I had to be careful to avoid staying up too long before the big day. Deliberately, I trod the last few steps and opened the last door on the left. Once inside I quietly closed the door and turned around. A small electric light was still lit and the man sitting upon the bed mat looked up, pausing in his grooming.
I flopped down on the mat next to Castiel.
He turned his head slightly and gave me a quizzical look. “I thought you were rooming with Dereck tonight?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“He kicked me out,” I replied, a little louder than I intended. Castiel looked taken aback, but I smiled and he seemed to relax.
“And you came here, not to Tom’s room?” he asked just as quietly as before.
“I tried their first but he had locked his door so I-” suddenly I stopped myself. I turned my head and gave Castiel a mildly irritated look. “Why would I have gone to Tom’s room, and how would you have known that?” I asked.
Castiel chuckled lightheartedly. “You have had a crush on him since before we left for Eliouse,” he said.
“Don’t assume I’m so frivolous as to have a crush on someone. That would be silly and immature.” He looked at me with an unconvinced stare. “I’m not the type to have crushes anymore,” I said, glaring at him from across the mat. I rolled onto my side away from him. “Your room has the window, that’s the only reason I’m here.”
Castiel chuckled again. His laugh was quite charming, even when I was feeling irritated.
Not long after our short conversation I felt him lie on the mat next to me, after turning out his low light. Soon his breathing became steady and deep, as though he had fallen asleep. I would need to do the same, and the warmth of a body next to me on the cold floor seemed to help my exhausted, racing mind find some peace. My last waking thoughts were of a place far away from here, where the wind did make a gentle noise amongst the trees and the sunshine cast gentle designs of shadow and light upon the forest floor.
The door opened, and brought with it a most uncomfortable chill.
“Why is everyone in here?” asked a drowsy, masculine voice.
Within moments I was awake. I hadn’t dreamed last night and probably hadn’t slept well. My legs felt heavy and there was someone lying on my outstretched arm. As soon as I became alert I opened my eyes. To my surprise, almost the entire company was sprawled across the room, looking as if they had slept there most of the night. Dereck stood at the door, looking as confused as I felt. He looked at me and I shrugged, “I came here after you kicked me out last night. I don’t know what anyone else’s story is.”
“It was cold in my room,” Alice instantly piped up.
“I got cold too,” added Allen. The two twins had entwined themselves around Castiel, looking rather defensive. Castiel appeared to be put off by the twin’s snuggling.
“These too woke me up with their complaining and running around,” Mathews grumbled, looking haggard. She was the one who had stretched out across my legs, and looked quite uncomfortable.
I looked over to the person next to me and found Tom sitting up and looking at the rest of us with raised eyebrows.
“So was I the only one who slept alone and on the cold floor last night?” Dereck asked.
“Yep, the only one,” Allen smiled and teased.
Castiel extricated himself from the grip of the twins.
We began to pack up and prepare for the day. Even after complaining about being cold during the night, Dereck felt the need to take a cold shower before leaving. The rest of us decided to forgo a dubious cleaning in the freezing river water that smelled of rusty pipes. Instead we set up a small fire and cooked the remaining rations. The now stale protein crackers tasted smoky, but they were warm and would have to do. Once Dereck finished and sat down to have his share of the rations we fell into comfortable conversation. The twins engaged Castiel in a debate about how best to go about maneuvering a public event verses a private party. Mathews went over inventory with Dereck. I watched quietly for a while, content to see the company so relaxed with each other’s presence.
I turned to Tom and caught his eye. “You never explained how you ended up sleeping with Castiel and me last night,” I mentioned.
Tom turned his gaze downward for a moment than looked back up at me. “You’re right, I didn’t.”
There was a short pause. “Why.”
He hesitated again, seeming unwilling to answer. “I didn’t want to feel left out,” he final said. Then he stood, having finished his food, began a final inspection of the equipment. I watched him for a while as he shifted through the luggage and equipment. Over the past week the company had become rather close to each other. Before setting out on the assignment, I had not been giving any funding to perform the operation. This was uncommon, and I had requested to be paid some amount preceding the operation, but the employer refused. Due to that set back I had been forced to use less quality modes of transportation. As a result we had spent approximately a week in each other’s company and therefore had grown to know our companions well. My company was now like a group of friends, close knit and speaking plainly to one another. We were comfortable together, and for that we were stronger.
“Angela,” I heard my name.
I spun around to see Castiel smiling at me. Then he winked. I looked back to see Tom also looking at me, one eyebrow raised. Suddenly I realized I had been staring at him. I looked around quickly and saw everyone was watching me. Perhaps Castiel had been right. No, that was as silly a thought as his suggestion had been. I must have looked flustered, or at least I looked nervous, because the twins began laughing and Castiel began to chuckle. That reassuring chuckle.
Before they could begin to tease me I stood up and said, “Alright, quit ogling. You all look like a bunch of school omegas that have never seen an alpha before. Get to work, we need to be ready for this evening.”
Everyone nodded and sprang up, looking more energetic than I would have thought possible after sleeping on such hard ground all night.
“Let’s crash a party,” Dereck said.
Unsurprisingly, we took almost all day to prepare. The very first thing we did was climb the hill just at the edge of the Dead Forrest to examine our mark. On the top of the hill was a manor, the manor of a politician who had spent just a little too much time in office, from my employer’s point of view. From a distance, we could see set up crews and security making preparations for an oncoming event, a dinner party. From the light use of equipment and staff, we could tell security was not going to be a challenge. They must have assumed they would be safe on such a remote rock and in such a desolate location. However, one should try to avoid unnecessary risks.
We had prepared for there to be much greater depth of security measures and felt a small level of elation for being over prepared. I had ordered custom made suits that were lined with a lead and cotton fiber. They looked and felt just like any other suit, but were capable of tricking any x-ray sensor or scanning device into thinking there was nothing under the jackets, or hidden in a back pocket. In addition, they were designed to press into the body in specific places, showing off the curves and lines of the body, while providing a loose fit over any area that would easily store a weapon. The technology allowed for ease of movement and access to any place worth hiding a weapon while remaining discrete. We also had scrambling devices in case any more sophisticated technology was present. Our small, personal weapons were easily hidden on our bodies. As for the larger weaponry, that would have to enter a different way.
As we had expected, the catering crew was scatterbrained and strained. No one was really paying attention to anyone else and slipping equipment in through the help was just as easily said as done. This is where the twins came in. They had the look of caterer, carrying themselves with poise and directness, while also appearing as stressed as the rest of the staff. Those employed by politicians were expected to have a good quantity of tact and grace. Tripping on the carpet or accidently speaking out of turn were strictly prohibited in high class society. As far as costume went, I had custom ordered lead lined caterer aprons and dress shirts for the twins. They both looked quite pleased with themselves for what they were about to do. Slipping off before the rest of us, they joined the madness at the manor early. They would be acquainted with the lay out by the time we arrived.
Along with the outfits for the crew, I had ordered special communication devices. For Tom, Mathews, Castiel and I, I had ordered the standard issue coms. They were small, with a sticky backing and were to be placed on the inside of the ear canal just inside of the outer ear. Such devices were practically invisible, given their size. The speakers pointed a low volume sound wave down the ear canal in order to transmit sound directly into the wearer’s ear. These sound waves were so direct and so quiet they could not be detected by anyone outside of the wearer’s ear. The microphones were a little more complicated. They weren’t microphones in the typical sense of the word because they do not pick up sound waves. Instead they detect the sound of the person’s voice through bone conduction. Only the vibrations of the wearer’s skull bones as caused by speaking would be transmitted and translated as speech patterns between the coms. These four coms only had one radio frequency that they could detect and could only transmit the standard, galactic language.
Dereck, Allen and Alice had different communicators. They were old school, the kind that would hook around the outside of the ear placing a speaker at the entrance of the ear canal and a microphone extending below the ear lobe and towards the mouth. The quality of sound was lessened as well as the discretion, but they had many more capabilities. They had access to many different radio waves which allowed them to support multiple conversations at once. Such devices also didn’t require extra programing for different languages. Whatever you said into the microphone would be transmitted to all persons on your line. These were the type of com unit that the catering staff and the average body guard would ware while working. They would fit in with the expectations of the target.
The rest of us took longer to prepare. Mathews and I had to don the quite fancy, but also quite practical, party attire and Tom and Castiel had to slip into formal dinner tuxedos. We were to play the part of rich and high standing party guests. Castiel had managed to obtain some invitations off the black market, Mathews and I were to be high standing owners of some important technology company and Castiel and Tom were to be our plus ones, respectively. Dereck had the lucky job of playing bodyguard for the four of us. He would be permitted to bring weapons in without security arresting him, but he had a lead lined suit anyway, and his communication device would be an expected accessory. Another bonus was that he wouldn’t have to hide his appearance or conceal his powerful presence. He already looked the part he needed to play.
Mathews, Tom and I, however, had a greater challenge. We were supposed to look respectable. Proper and straight-laced aristocrats attracted to the limelight of society. For Castiel, this would be easy. He already was respectable and had the know-how to play the part. During travel time Castiel had been hopelessly trying to teach us how to conduct ourselves with the dignity befitting out station, but to no avail. To a well trained eye we were just as street savvy and rebellious as we had been a week ago. Castiel insisted that we had improved, but I didn’t see much of a difference.
The sun was clearly beginning his decent to the horizon as we put the final touches on our preparations. By now, all of the equipment was carefully hidden around the manor by the twins, including the com units that Tom, Mathews and I would use during the operation. On their return, the twins gave everyone a rundown on the layout of the manor. Castiel had briefed us on all the party guests, especially the ones to avoid because they might suspect we weren’t who we say we are. All of us had our personal weapons hidden on our person and within easy reach.
“Alright everyone, we are ready. I have seen you in action, I know what you are capable of and I know we will be successful. Let me run through everything one more time. Allen, Alice, you two are on security. You are to keep patrols and cameras off us at all times. We are in and out, unseen and unheard. To the security, we were never there. Understood?
“Roger,” they replied in unison.
“Castiel, you are to capture everybody’s attention. You most easily fit in, and I want eyes and ears on you, so nobody questions why we are there or where we have disappeared to when we are done. While the rest of us run the operation you are running interference on the floor. You are our Trojan horse, to help us insert, unnoticed. Copy?”
“Dereck you are going to stay with Castiel. If anything goes south and he needs a quick extraction you are to do so. Just act at your own discretion, don’t worry about making a scene. Get out and get safe. Make sure you aren’t followed and then return for the rest of us. Clear?”
“Mathews is coming with Tom and me to the office. She is to protect us while we search for the information on the target, as well as anything else our employer may find valuable.” I rubbed my fingers and thumb together to the chuckles of the rest of the crew. “Then we are going to leave quickly. We will linger at the party only long enough for people to notice that we appear wasted and on the brink of causing an unseemly scene, then finally leave together to find an establishment more suitable for drunken revelry. Are there any questions?”
“One last run through before we leave. Tom, are we missing anything?”
Tom stood up from the spot on the floor where he had been sitting and began to give each of us a scrutinizing visual scan.
“Try not to look quite so tired, Allen and Alice. You may be worn out but you have guests to attend. Hide your extra weaponry Dereck, you look too much like a ruffian with a hand gun poking out of your pocket like that. Find different shoes as soon as you can Mathews, you look far to unsteady in those heels. Castile, your boutonniere is crooked. Here.” He unpinned the elegant, lily from Castiel’s lapel and repined it so the flower stood straighter.
“Thanks,” mumbled Castiel, blushing slightly. “I’ve never been able to do that on my own.”
“No problem,” Tom said before he continued to further critique Mathews.
I stood watching Castiel, not failing to miss the look of guilt that flashed across his face when he thought no one watching. When he noticed my gaze he looked even guiltier. Then he turned away and began fidgeting with his clothing. I returned my attention to Tom and Mathews’s conversation.
“Just put your hair up, that way the grease in your hair will look like intentionally applied product and we will be able to see your face,” Tom was saying.
“I don’t see how this is necessary, hair is not so important,” she argued in return. Mathews didn’t seem willing to accept Tom’s advice. Perhaps because he was an omega. She had asked me once if we could really trust an omega. There were hardly any of them left and they were known for their weakness, as she put it. I had reminded her that alphas, too, were dying out and she didn’t seem to have a problem taking direct orders from either me or Dereck. Mathews thought on that idea for a few days and then came to the conclusion that taking advice from an omega wasn’t such a bad thing, but I could see Mathews still felt uncomfortable.
“Just do as he says Mathews,” I said. “He knows better than the rest of us, I’m sure Castiel would agree.” I turned my gaze slightly towards Castiel just enough to catch how he started at the mention of his name.
“Yes of course, Tom is right,” he said, clearly more jumpy than he had been earlier.
Mathews begrudgingly consented, and Tom tied her hair back in a stylish, upswept bun. She did look pretty once you could see her face, and her glasses added a depth to her face that was captivating.
Tom reached me last. Under his gaze I began to feel nervous myself. As he watched me I began to straighten my dress, fix my hair, clean my glasses, and roll my socks down in a neat manner. Everywhere his eyes lingered I tucked and smoothed. Then he smiled and nodded his head. He had no further complaints.
“Everyone, this is it. This is our final preparation. No more games, no more talk, it’s show time,” I said, as confidently as I could without seeming like I was ordering them. Gently, I reached over and placed a reassuring hand on Tom’s shoulder. “We are prepared for what is ahead, and we will be ready no matter what comes.” I reached over to Mathews, who was on the other side of me and repeated the gesture. “We have nothing to fear, and we will stay on track.” Stepping away from the wall I walked up to Castiel and gripped both of his shoulders. “Everything will go exactly as planned.” He looked into my eyes as I said this, his expression unreadable. Releasing my grip I moved over to the twins, taking each of their hands in my own. “Our coordination will not fail us, for we trust each other now.” Finally I stepped up to Dereck and punched him lightly on the arm. I smiled and Dereck returned the expression. We were ready. “Let’s bring the house down.”
As we stepped up to the walk, light and sound began to overwhelm my senses. Having stayed in the Dead Forrest for so long my sensitivity to sound seemed to have increased. The five of us approached the entrance and joined the queue being scanned and checked by security. As each person stepped through security we drew closer to the light, causing tendrils of pain to stab at my eyes. I forced myself to adjust to the light because I would need to be fully aware of my surroundings to pull this off with success.
When we finally reached the gate, we began the security check ourselves. I went through first, having priority as an alpha, with Tom at my side. When we went through the tall arch entwined with native, flowering vines we were prompted to pause as the x-ray scanner looked us over. The clunking machine performed the process and we were told to step forward for the handheld mass detectors. These detectors were designed to detect large masses in peculiar shapes in irregular places. They had two weaknesses, one was that the detectors used a radio wave easily disrupted by any other radio wave, the other was that when they passed over a tumor or a large scar they would set off a false alarm. Tom and I discreetly switched on our scramblers and we passed through without any trouble.
Past the guards, we were directed through a second arch, this one clearly a security measure. This was a little bit more advanced than the x-ray had. This machine made a quiet buzzing noise as the sensor scanned us, but there was another noise, more readily described as a humming noise and well-disguised under the buzzing. I recognized this to be the sound of a much more advanced screening process, against which our scrambler would prove to be of little use. As soon as the main scan was complete we were waved through by a smiling security guard. I watched him out of the corner of my eye until we reached the building.
Tom grabbed my hand when we reached the bottom step. He had noticed the added security, too. Good, that was why I hired him. I squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry, we will be fine,” I whispered quietly, “and I can explain later.” He nodded and we proceeded inside to wait at the predetermined rendezvous.
Only a moment later Castiel and Mathews appeared, with Dereck tailing close behind. “Shall we?” I asked the group.
Mathews laughed, clearly feeling a rush of adrenaline from sneaking through security.
“Yes, let us join the party,” Castiel said, looking confident.
“Wait. One more thing,” Tom said. He pulled a bottle of expensive perfume out of his pocket and sprayed both me and Mathews twice on the neck.
“Where did you get that?” I asked.
“I lifted this off a passerby,” he said, grinning impishly. He lay the bottle down on in the middle of the walkway as if someone had let it slip, unnoticed, from a pocket or bag. “Alright, let’s go.”
Mathews and I took our plus ones’ arms and directed them into the party for the most difficult stage of the night. The main hall was spectacular. A magnificent ceiling rose out of the top of huge pillars that were mottled and appeared to be made of marble. Of course, the pillars were not marble, but were a stone that was textured similarly to the way marble was. Probably less expensive than the now extremely rare material found on Earth, but just as exquisite. The walls, which stood several feet behind the row of pillars, were painted a dull orange, made to look weathered and old. Between the pillars and the orange walls was a small area, set with tables and chairs. The tables were filled with wonderfully displayed snacks and drinks awaiting the party attendees. Several steps below the main floor, the dance floor was lain with richly polished wood panels, probably from the trees of the Dead Forrest. As the dancers pranced across the floor, not a single step could be heard, and the party seemed strangely eerie because of it. The floor seemed just as quiet as the forest outside. Although, dancers were not the only ones who were on the dance floor, many people meandered about the edges, chatting with one another.
For a while we weren’t bothered too much. We mingled and met many people with long titles and pompous honorifics attached to their name. After a while Allen appeared and offered us some refreshments, insisting that the food was tasty and the wine intoxicating. All of us were feeling rather hungry and we accepted the small snacks presented to us on the platter. Then Allen smiled and walked off to refill his tray.
“I hope you two saved some for the guests,” Dereck muttered into his com.
We all smiled lightly and I noticed Allen pause momentarily in his journey across the hall. Not long after, we were approached by a group of very well dressed people, all of a very high ranking status. They were some of whom we had been cautioned to avoid just hours earlier. I noticed Mathews visibly swallow and gave her a warning look. Now was not the time to come undone.
“Ah, welcome Mrs. Maltese and Mrs. Gillian. I hope you are having a lovely time,” addressed the well groomed Alpha, the one by the name of Gates. He also came with his delta wife and two children. All of them remained silent, unwilling to intrude on the conversation. The children stood obediently still, keeping their gaze low to avoid offending any of the speakers.
“Indeed we are. This is a wonderful evening. Your friend hosts a fine event Mr. Gates,” I said.
Mathews, who was going by the name Maltese, nodded and licked her lips nervously.
“Forgive my counterpart Mr. Gates,” I said hoping to give her enough time to recover. “She is a little star struck in your presence.”
He laughed a large, booming laugh. “It is of no matter. And, an all too common occurrence.”
“Mr. Gates,” said Mathews, “the reputation or your grandeur is only outdone by your person. I’m honored to meet you.”
“Thank you Mrs. Maltese, but who is this lovely man on your arm?”
“This is my husband Castiel Maltese,” she said, prompting Castiel to smile and bow.
“He is a wonderful specimen of a man, you have done well for yourself.” Then turning to Castiel he said, “You will have to promise me a dance later this evening, that is, if your wife allows.”
Castiel put on a large grin and bowed again, “I would be honored, may I?”
“Of course dear. I want you to enjoy yourself tonight.”
I noticed that Gates seemed more intent on other’s mates than he was on his own. The lack of introductions of his own family members was not something that I dismissed easily, and I began to wonder if they really were his family, or just told to be so for the night. The control he seemed to have over them was astonishing. I never would have thought such rigid adherence to traditional genordo [CG1] would be so conspicuous in the upper classes of society, yet here they were. His little, blond wife was still watching her shoes and remaining as quiet as she could be.
Gates’s attention was brought back to me. “What is it you do for a living Mrs. Gillian, I’m afraid I know very little of your area of expertise.”
At this I faltered. “I work in the technology business,” I said slowly, at a loss for words.
“Oh, what sort of technology?”
“It’s in the area of virtual reality,” replied Tom.
Everyone turned to look at him and he rushed into an explanation.
“She designs software for programing and creating real life scenarios that are used by trainers in martial arts and the military. Some of the technology is quite spectacular and can replicate more than just the images and sounds, but also the smells and sensations of scenarios as determined by the programmer. In fact, some of the programs are so realistic some people have had trouble discerning the virtual from the real.” The he paused, noticing everyone watching him wide eyed.
He turned to look at me. You’re an omega, act like one. I thought.
“Or at least that’s what I’ve been told,” he finished, mumbling and dropping his gaze to the floor.
I allowed for the stunned silence to continue a little longer before laughing gently. “What would I do without my omega here by my side? Always knows what to say even when I don’t.”
Tom looked up at me nervously, fully playing the part of ashamed mate, while tugging at the end of his jacket.
“This man is an omega? And you do not appear to be any ordinary woman. What a peculiar pair,” commented Gates, looking at Tom with a new intrigue, one that made me very uncomfortable.
“I do not take kindly to such blunt comments about my romantic life,” I said sternly, watching him closely.
“Ah, you will have to pardon me then. I did not mean to intrude on your personal life. Although, he is quite knowledgeable for an omega. How did he come to be so?” Gates probed.
“He is a fanatic when it comes to virtual reality, can hardly keep him out of the gaming world when I’m not around. But, I must say, I find his enthusiasm endearing. I can’t help but indulge him; he is my weakness,” I replied, smiling lightly and putting an arm around his hips. I could feel him fidgeting again.
“That may be so, but I’m sure this outburst will not go unpunished,” Gates said. “Alpha to alpha.”
At this I looked him straight in the eye, not afraid to meet his gaze. “Mr. Gates, that is no way to speak to me or my partner. I do not appreciate the crude remarks and I will not stand presumption about how I or my partner conduct ourselves.” With a straight back I continued watching him carefully through narrowed eyes. If he was looking for a battle of wits he would get one, and he would be sorry.
The corner of Gates’s mouth twitched slightly. “Ah, you are right, my apologies for being so blunt.” He conceded the fight early, not something too many proud alphas would do.
We continued our staring contest until Castiel made a small coughing noise. “I feel the sudden need to freshen up. Will you escort me my love?” he said, a slight plead in his voice.
“Of course, right his way dear.”
Gates and I broke eye contact at the same time. I nodded politely in the direction of my companions as they quickly retreated from the conversation.
“You will have to excuse me as well Mr. Gates,” I said, “I have been meaning to try those tiny sandwiches before they all disappear from the refreshment table.”
“But of course. I do hope you enjoy your evening.”
We bowed, and I left, my arm returning to Tom’s waist.
When we reached the table with food and drink I muttered into Tom’s ear. “That was risky Tom, try to be more careful.”
He nodded, carefully avoiding eye contact. I had been too forceful. I forgot the dominance alphas had, especially over sensitive omegas. Even though he was nearly a head taller than me, Tom still shrank away from me. Scolding myself, we ducked around a corner and headed off the way Castiel and Mathews had gone. Just to the left of the washroom was a hallway, painted with the same orange paint as the event hall and carpeted by a thick, tan carpet. Everyone else was waiting for us to arrive, hidden in the shadows of the hall. Alice handed us communicator units as we arrived. I released Tom’s waist and began fiddling with the tech.
“The coms have been set to channel one. Dereck, keep an ear to the wind. I want to know if the guards or staff have discovered us. I’m sorry Castiel, but I can’t afford to give you one, it would be too obvious, but Dereck will have one and he will keep you informed.”
Castiel nodded. He had been playing with his hidden firearm, flicking the safety on and off and tightening the silencer.
Allen turned to Dereck, “I know the staff are all set to channel two and I think the guards are on four. You may have to do some hunting around before you find them.”
Dereck nodded, switching his communicator through various channels.
“I will keep Alice on two so she can inform you if we need you to switch back to channel one. Dereck, Castiel, move out. Gates is expecting a dance from you Castiel,” I called after them. “Don’t let anything happen while we are away.” I winked, to soften the jibe.
They both nodded. Castiel slipped his weapon into his back pocket and they left, leaving the rest of us alone in the hall.
“Good luck everyone,” I said.
We were on, executing the rehearsed plan. Alice and Allen followed after Dereck and Castiel, on their way to the main security room. Tom, Mathews and I turned and cautiously walked up the stairs at the end of the hall. Mathews kicked off her shoes, muttering curses under her breath, choosing to walk the hall without them. Once Alice and Allen were out of earshot I felt a tugging on my sleeve. I turned to see Tom looking at me with a serious expression. No longer affecting a meek composure, he was prepared for the mission ahead. He clicked his tongue twice, the audible command to shut the communicator off, then he asked, “Why are we shutting Castiel out?”
Mathews looked surprised at the question, but then turned to me wanting to know the answer, as well.
I clicked my tongue too. “We lost Castiel about three days ago when we landed on this rock,” I said.
Tom, surprised, nodded an affirmative, clicking to turn his communicator back on. Mathews didn’t seem to understand but nodded anyway, just following the plan, no questions asked. That was why I hired her.
At the top of the stairs we sank into a crouch, awaiting directions from the twins. They would be able to see the whole manor once in the security office. From there they would direct us to the main office while avoiding the security patrol. We already knew the route, but had to prepare to adjust in case of a alteration. We wouldn’t have to wait long.
I heard Allen’s voice over the intercom, “We’re in. Targets eliminated. Tracking security, now.”
“Good. Advise on how to proceed,” I replied.
“Head down the hall and take the first left,” he said. Just as we had planned.
We took off down the hall, moving at a brisk but silent pace.
“Next right, and then an immediate left at the fork.”
We followed directions again, maneuvering in the expected pattern.
“Stop. You have unwelcome company coming from the passage on your right. Find cover. There’s a closet just ahead.”
On the left and a little down the hall we were in was a door, we ran to it and shut ourselves in. Describing it as a closet, was being generous. Still, we managed to squeeze in and stay quiet.
“Danger has passed. Move out. Take a right, not a left.” Here came the first deviation from plan. I was not completely surprised, but Mathews tensed, slightly.
“Three more lefts and you will be in the correct hallway. Look for the last door on your left. Should be below a security camera and locked tight.”
“Will the camera be working when we get there?” I asked.
“No. Camera is now inoperable,” responded Allen.
We reached the door and saw a rather complicated lock. “Tom,” I said, gesturing at the door.
He stepped in and began the bypass procedure. This would take some time. Meanwhile, Mathews began examining the vicinity and managed to come up with an assortment of weaponry. She contentedly began adding some to her person. I stood and watched them work. Tom’s face was firmly concentrated, his fingers fiddling with the lock and alarm system in small, intricate motions. Mathews managed to find a shot gun hidden behind one of the exotic planters a second hand gun tucked away in a corner. She tucked the second hand gun in a holster strapped to her upper thigh. Mathews had a long slit in her evening gown that provided access to the second weapon. I have always felt more comfortable with my personal weapons than any of the ones I buy for the company’s use. Soon after Mathews was satisfied with rearranging her dress she settled into the wall next to the door. The shot gun lay across her chest and she caressed it fondly.
“Hurry Tom, we are falling behind,” she coaxed.
“Almost done. Five more seconds.”
“Don’t tell Dereck we have made it into the office,” I said softly into the com.
“Is there a reason we are keeping them out of the loop?” asked Allen. The twins were becoming suspicious.
“They are on a need to know basis until I say so, and they don’t need to know we have entered the office[KG2] ,” I said just as the latch clicked and the faint buzzing of the security system faded. Tom had disarmed the security and unlocked the door faster than expected, making up the seconds lost, hiding in the closet. I was impressed.
“Get in there and get to work,” Mathews said. “The longer we stand here the more danger we are in.”
Hastily Tom and I entered the room, making sure the latch didn’t shut and separate us from Mathews. Once in, Tom turned to me and clicked off his communicator again. I did the same. He sat down in front of a fake wall, opening it up to reveal the hidden wall safe we expected to find there.
“Explain,” he demanded as he bent down to begin opening the second lock of the evening.
“What?” I asked.
“Why will we be fine even though security knows who we are and that we all have hidden weaponry? You said you would explain.”
“Ah yes, that.” Where do I begin? “When we landed on the planet yesterday Castiel claimed to have disappeared to check on his connections, remember?” Tom nodded. “Instead, he went straight to the target and offered his assistance in defending the manor from the attack he knew was coming. I do not know if he was threatened into compromising us, or if he willingly gave himself to the target for his own gain. All I know is that after yesterday he has been giving the target regular updates. We lost Castiel, and the moment he knows we are in the office we are going to be surrounded by guards. Until then, we are safe and will be able to complete our task without interruption.”
“And after?” Tom asked.
“I have a plan that should get us out.”
“Should I trust you?” Tom asked, ceasing his actions and turning to look me in the eye.
“Have you ever?” I asked.
He held my gaze for another few seconds, sighed, then resumed work. This was not the first assignment Tom and I had worked on, and I was never convinced he totally trusted me. Yet, he followed my every whim and tried to avoid being swept up in the bigger messes. Shortly, we were in the vault. We approached the document transmitter, punched in the address we desired, and began running through all of the files in the safe. The machine was quite an impressive little device. It was capable of accessing, collating, and transmitting hundreds of documents, sending them across several star systems to be printed out in hard copy or saved as a virtual copy at the receiver’s discretion. After the first several files went through we received a message in return:
“Stop. That is enough. Thank you.
I have one more task for you to complete.
We stared at the message, stunned. Assassination was not on my itinerary. I had not prepared a team for murder, but for self-preservation and theft. This was not a team I would choose to come through with a kill order. Tom and I looked at each other. I knew he could handle himself in any situation that was required of him, but I was less confident about the others. They may not think Gates worth killing. The substantial payment for this job may not be enough to validate the taking of a life in their perspective.
The worst part was that my plan for escape was now useless. I would not have time to use my outside contact to escape, if we killed Gates. My plan was to call in a favor from a local law man that was stationed on a nearby moon. He was family, my brother, and I could count on him in a pinch. We didn’t get along but I could trust him with my life. I had sent the man a message yesterday so he would be expecting my call for help. When I did he would swoop in under the pretext of taking us into custody for some other crime and then take us safely to the public transportation hub in a nearby system. Yet, none of this would work, if we killed Gates. We would not be able to assassinate Gates, get captured and then get help from my brother. If we didn’t kill Gates, we wouldn’t get paid. If we killed Gates, we’d be caught. If we got caught, we wouldn’t get paid. I wanted to get paid.
“How good are you at improvising?” I asked, turning on my com and deleting the message off the machine.
“Fair. But, you lead,” he replied, also turning on his com.
“Tell Dereck to switch to line one,” I said into the com.
“What happened?” came the immediate voice of Mathews.
“We ran into some more security,” I said.
“I didn’t hear anything,” she said.
I nodded to Tom, your turn.
“It was a sound activated sensor, we had trouble disarming it and couldn’t access the safe until we did,” he said.
“Dereck, pull Castiel aside and prepare for immediate extraction. This is where things are going to get hairy,” I ordered, and be safe.
“But he is…preoccupied,” Dereck said, doubt in his voice.
“Then pull him off the dance floor and say that one of his children is phoning from home. He should be able to turn that into an excuse. Try to be polite, you are in good company.”
“We are starting on the safe. Everyone, prepare yourself. Mathews keep alert, Allen and Alice keep watch.”
I heard several affirmatives and the voice of Dereck filling Castiel in on our plan. Then Dereck fell silent. Dammit Dereck, I need you to keep your wits about you. I pretended not to notice.
I nodded to Tom.
“I have it open, sending the files now.”
There was a commotion outside.
“Mathews, hold your ground as long as you can. Don’t let them in until we have sent the files.” I said into the com, my voice raising as if I were starting to hurry. “Allen, Alice, what is your status.”
“Allen, Alice, status! Report!”
“We are pinned down in the security room. Allen is out, still breathing. I think. There are too many for me to take on my own.”
“Keep yourselves alive, no heroics. Dereck has probably heard the trouble and gotten himself and Castiel out of the manor and will be back for us soon.” Liar.
“Roger that, I’ll do what I can for you in the hall Mathews.”
“Much appreciated, I’m running out of cooling tabs on my artillery.”
“Roger that,” I said.
“There are too many, I won’t be able to finish before they come in,” Tom said as the blasting intensified outside the door.
“Hang on, we are getting a message. Hurry and stow that Tom, we won’t get any more through if we are going to escape this office.”
A moment of silence.
“Well, what is the message? Don’t leave us hanging,” came the irritated voice of Alice.
“Thank you. I have one more task for you to complete.” I took a short pause. “Kill Gates.”
Tom looked up at me in mock surprise just as security came barreling through the door. He stood slowly, hands raised. I raised my hands as well. Four men had entered the room and were pointing half powered shock pistols at us.
“Good, you’re smarter than the girl outside. Had to shock her six times before she fell. Fought like a foxbadger from the moons of Nox,” said a large man with a gruff voice. He had a choppy, blond beard and small, beady eyes. The man was large, with a huge chest and thick arms. His waist was small and his legs were short, but thick and powerful looking. He was not an attractive man.
“I know,” I said, allowing him to take the lead in the conversation.
“So you are the mastermind behind this little episode,” he said, a smug smile spreading across his fat lips. “Strange finding two alphas in the same company.”
“The other keeps me honest,” I replied.
“I’m sure he does.” He looked around the room casually. “And what is this, an Omega in an [CG3] operation run by two alphas? Quaking in fear at that too.”
I kicked Tom lightly in the shins. “Man up,” I uttered under my breath.
The large man laughed, a big, booming, irritating laugh. “I doubt that is gonna happen any time soon lass. You see, like you, I prefer to have the company of other alphas, and I don’t think he can hold up under the pressure as well as you.”
I took a chance and glanced at Tom. His knees were beginning to shake. This was dangerous, and he knew it. His biology would not let him disobey an alpha. With so many unfamiliar alphas present his instincts told him to run, get away from there before he could get hurt. If only we could still count on Dereck. “Keep still, and don’t listen to any of them,” I scolded giving off my most commanding air. More loudly I said, “How did you manage to find so many alphas to work for you. As far as I knew, most alphas are rather well off; from old families with lots of power, and money.”
“What you say is true, not even I would stoop so low as to take a lowly security job. Yet my close, family friend who lives in this here manor asked for a favor ever so nicely. I complied, and brought some of my own friends along.” The smug look gruff voice was giving me was powerful, almost as if he thought his little vanity project had proved to be better than mine. Somehow, he figured this gave him power over me.
Next to me I saw Tom begin to shake more violently, and I began to smell fear coming off him. I placed my hand on his arm, just above the elbow, in an attempt to keep his attention on me.
Again, the large man laughed. “Adorable, seeing you try to keep even the weakest in your company safe, even after all has failed.”
“I don’t see many other options,” I spat.
“You could try to run, leave them all behind. You’ve a look about you that says you could probably outmaneuver most of my employees.”
“You underestimate my loyalty,” I snarled. This man made me furious. The presence of so many alphas was beginning to affect my judgment. I could feel my body tensing up, preparing for a fight.
“No, I don’t underestimate you. You underestimate me. I knew who you were before you even entered the manor.”
“I know,” I muttered.
“I knew you were armed and let you in anyways, along with your six companions.”
“I had you tracked by a member of your own crew!”
“I know!” I shouted. Did he think I was an idiot?
There was a squeak of pain next to me and I felt Tom fall to his knees. I looked to him and noticed how tight my grip had been upon his arm. He sat on the floor, rubbing the spot on his arm where my hand had been, shaking.
“Well lass, I see it is my cue to go. Sorry you couldn’t finish the job the way you wanted to. You have been some of the best adversaries I have faced in a long time.” His tone was mocking.
I nodded, eyes still fixed on Tom. I’m so sorry.
“Boys, take them to holding, let the lass cool her head. Don’t push her, don’t want her hurting any more of her friends.”
Those words stung. I watched Tom raise, refusing to make the eye contact I was searching for. I reached out to take his hand and he shied away. The pheromones in the room were still too great for us to think rationally, and he was still nervous. His shy was reflex, instinct, I tried to tell myself.
A guard stepped forward and relieved us of our personal weapons.
I felt a growl rumble deep in my throat that gave the guard pause. Then he smiled a cocky grin and disarmed us, making sure to spend extra time checking Tom over just to irritate me.
“This way,” another guard beckoned.
The one who spoke lead us, the other two fell behind. They took us back towards the party the short way, the one that had been covered by most of the guards during our journey in. We turned down the same stairs we used to get to the office, but instead of turning back to the party we took the other direction, heading towards other, downward sloping stairs and into the basement. I slowed my pace, allowing Tom to pass me in the hall. Having noticed the rest of the company, along with Castiel waiting for us at the bottom. Castiel, unlike the others, was not being guarded by security. Instead he was watching our precession with a guilty look on his face. The same guilty face I had seen earlier today.
As we reached our destination, the guards paused. Gruff voice seemed to enjoy the looks of anger and disappointment most of the company was giving Castiel, and the nervousness of the man himself. When I reached him I looked at him, giving him an even look, there was no anger in my demeanor.
I pulled Castiel into an embrace, holding him close and closing my eyes. Carefully I rubbed my cheek against his soft, white hair, breathing in his scent.
“I had to,” he whispered into my ear, also holding me close.
“If you say so,” I whispered back.
Everyone else was too far away to hear our conversation, and the guards did nothing to stop us. Perhaps gruff voice wanted to make a traitor out of me too.
“You didn’t stop me.”
“No.” I was enjoying our embrace. He was as close to a friend as I had ever had, and I was sorry to lose the man. “Did you hear?”
Slowly, and unwillingly I pulled away from the embrace, but continued to grip his shoulders in a firm hold. “What will I do without my sharp shooter?” I asked. He may be gone, but I still felt like I needed him. I felt a gnawing sense of loss as I looked into his face. Which all seemed strange. I had expected to feel anger or betrayal, but none of that seemed to matter when I was faced with losing one of the best people I had ever known. Coupled with exhaustion and the guilt of losing control all I had the energy to feel was sadness.
“You have more than one weapon specialist on your team.”
That’s right, Mathews. Why didn’t I think of that? I smiled at Castiel, thanking him without words for his service. I let go of Castiel, lingering my touch in hopes to never forget the man who had shown a person such as I friendship, however so briefly. I walked to the rest of the group who were beginning to head down the stairs. The atmosphere in our group was tense. Anger, frustration, betrayal, and a general feeling of being upset. Once reaching the basement we were placed in a spacious holding cell. The bars did not appear very resilient, and rather old fashioned, but I was sure there were other security measures.
Tom walked across the floor and sat down, crossing his legs and trying to relax himself. He must still be reeling from his experience up stairs. Both of the twins had curled themselves into the corner, where they were weeping silently. The twins had loved Castiel dearly. Dereck paced between the bars and the twins while Mathews stood fuming between Tom and the twins. I sank down to the floor between Tom and the pacing Dereck, completing our circle, almost.
“That… red eyed… bastard.” Mathews finally forced out through gritted teeth.
“Why did you touch him?” Tom asked, looking at me pointedly, if not still a little timidly.
Before I could respond Dereck spoke up loudly, “I’m going to kill that son-of-a-bitch the moment I see him next.”
“I believe you,” I said. This was not a challenge, or a wish for him to explain himself, and it was an answer to Tom’s question. The next time I see Castiel, I may never have had a chance to thank him or know him as I would have liked.
“But how could you, even after all he has done to us?” Mathews asked.
“How could I not, after all he has done for us?” I responded.
“His betrayal outweighs his previous actions,” Dereck stated, pausing in his pacing to yell at me.
“Just because his betrayal is more recent doesn’t mean it is more powerful than the good he has done for me.”
“You don’t make sense,” Dereck said.
“Female alphas rarely do,” Mathews added.
“Let me say it this way. I had a lot to thank Castiel for, and now I have thanked him. Now I can be as angry as I want and seek my revenge without any strings attached.”
Dereck, now less angry with me, resumed pacing.
“As for the job, not all is a waste. Tom and I managed to get all the documents over before the guards burst in. I’m sorry we didn’t tell you but I couldn’t have Castiel ruining the mission before completion. I also had a backup plan lined up.”
“You knew,” Alice had raised her head from her brother’s chest and was looking at me with tear stained eyes. “You knew all along and didn’t tell us.”
“I knew since we landed,” I said.
“That’s why you were sleeping in Castiel’s room when we spent the night in the woods,” Allen said looking at me in much the same way his sister was.
“Indeed,” I said. There was a pause, I felt compelled to answer the unasked question, why? “I needed to keep all of us together until the majority of the mission was complete. Castiel was vital up until the escape process, and I needed everyone to trust each other. I know you all would have preferred to know there was a traitor among us, but I did not have time to find a replacement for Castiel that would work. What I did with what I had, is my business, and how you respond is yours. You don’t have to forgive me, once all is said and done. Just please give me until we are free from here before you bail on me.”
Everyone looked around at each other, silently confirming with each other that what I suggested would be acceptable. They were stuck with me anyway, might as well use me for the skills I had.
“Does anyone know the time?”
“My clock says 11:05,” said Tom.
“Thank you.” I dropped my voice to just audibly above a whisper. Everyone moved closer to me so they could hear. “We have 25 minutes left before guard duty changes. Alice, did you hide any weapons in here per my request?”
“I did, they are in the far corner that you can’t see from the door.”
“Thank you, and where did you put the sniper rifle?”
“In a planter by the ballroom, but they probably found the equipment by now.”
“I think they may have forgotten a few things,” I said. “If the guilt on Castiel’s face was even close to how he was actually feeling then Castiel may have just let that one slide. Once the guards begin their changeover process we are going to make a break for the woods. Everyone for themselves once the lock breaks, but I have a request for you Mathews.”
Mathews looked at me with a strained expression. She seemed unwilling, but I had to ask.
“The message from our employer was not fake, the second half of this procedure does involve the assassination of Gates. I have lost my sharp shooter and your aim is now best in the company. Will you help me carry out the final leg of this journey?”
After serious consideration, Mathews nodded. “For our past loyalty, I will help you one last time. But not a moment longer, and do not expect to be a welcome face around me again.”
“Understood, thank you Mathews.”
As the time struck 11:30 we prepared for the final step. Dereck had grabbed the shotgun from the corner, and just as the guards began changeover he shot the lock clean off the cell. I was surprised there was no reflector shield or magnet that would stop the shot. As typical, no one had thought past the capturing of the prisoners and expected us to roll over like in the movies. Alarms began to sound, but there were very few skilled staff members to hear the sounds. We ran up the stairs and Dereck shot the two guards who had come running. Alice and Allen picked up their zap guns and hurried down the hall to check for more.
“Clear.” They shouted, and we came running up to meet them
We followed the orange hall until we reached the ballroom, then we split off into two parties. Tom, Dereck, Allen and Alice made for the door while Mathews and I went for the hidden rifle in the planters. Sure enough, that piece of equipment was left untouched by the cleanup crew. She lifted the rifle by the barrel, her hair falling out of her bun, her shirt sweaty and wrinkled. Mathews was an imposing figure, holding the weapon she would soon use against a man she only met once. Gates was well-known to the hosts of the party and had likely secured a guest room in the establishment. Mathews and I took the stairs on the opposite side of the ballroom from where we had entered. She led, having the only fire power between the two of us. At the top of the stairs she looked around carefully before entering the hallway. A sign directing us towards the guest rooms pointed down the hall and to the left. Treading carefully we rounded the corner abruptly, just as someone else did.
Mathews didn’t think, she just shot. In her mind we were surely going to be ambushed and if the security wasn’t silenced quickly we would be the ones who would never speak again. She fired, strait into the gut of the man who had turned the corner. At point blank there was no way she would miss. My warning came too late to stop her. As she looked up into the face of the man she shot, she realized what had happened. Her nerves twitched and she shot him again, this time imbedding a bullet in the collar bone. This all happened before the man had time to fall to the ground. Mathews stared straight ahead, waiting for her brain to catch up with reality. The man she had killed, the only person to have rounded the corner, was Castiel.
I knelt next to the man, taking his hand in mine. His lips were moving, twitching in a pattern that looked like speech. Whatever he was trying to say would be causing him great pain. He must be in shock. I leaned over his face, placing my ear close to his mouth, trying to catch what he said.
“Gates is in room 101,” he was saying. “Gates is in room 101.”
I turned my face so I could look into his ruby eyes. “Thank you I murmured.”
Slowly I dropped his hand back to the floor, where it rest in the spreading pool of blood that was streaming out of him. I stood, watching as his awareness began to ebb. Turning to Mathews I nodded down the hall. “One-oh-one” I mouthed. She began to move more carefully down the hall, resting her finger off the trigger, unlike before. I took one last look at Castiel, dying on the floor at my feet. No one would come in time to save him. We could not wait for him to pass on. Castiel would die, surely and slowly, alone on the floor of an unfamiliar place, with only the smell of his own blood to comfort him. It was almost sad, seeing him there, staring up at the celling, lips still moving as if he hadn’t told us what he needed to yet.
Tearing my gaze away from Castiel I moved to follow Mathews. She had reached the end of the hall and was facing room 101. For a moment she looked at me with a question on her face. I nodded, which seemed to reassure her. Then she stepped into the room. Almost instantaneously Mathews was surrounded by armed guards, but all she had in her mind was her goal. The rifle, hidden away in the ball room for Castiel, was aiming directly at Gates. Time began to slow for Mathews. She knew the job, knew what she had to do. It was all she knew. Her life was devoted to her commitments and this was the only way she knew to keep living. Live or die she must complete the task. Her own life was put into a shocking perspective in this moment.
She fired, not hearing the voices commanding her to stop, nor hearing the threats and warning cries. She fired, hearing nothing but the shot that blasted from the end of her rifle, and her aim was true. She fired, ending one more life that day, the life of a man who she knew nothing about. The scene was unreal, as I watched from the door. Her clear obliviousness of the security’s raised weaponry and the determination in her face. The muzzle of her rifle flashed, and started what appeared to be a chain reaction. The eight armed guards that had been in the room also fired. The light was bright and the sound defining. Their aim had been true, and when I regained my senses Mathews lay on the floor, eight bullet wounds piercing her skin.
I fled. There was nothing more I could do, outnumbered and overwhelmed. I passed Castiel in the hall. The ballroom and potted plants that had held our weapons passed me by in a blur. I barreled through the door, nearly crashing into Dereck. They had been trapped by several armed security guards and were taking cover behind a planter. When Dereck saw my face, he stopped what he was doing entirely. Not many alphas display blatant fear, but when they do there is something to be concerned about. The shooting that must have been in full swing moments before had stopped. I must have had everyone’s attention.
I shouted the first thing that came to mind that could be an explanation for my demeanor. “THERE’S A BOMB IN SIDE, EVERY BODY RUN!” I took off running towards the guards. This wasn’t even a half-baked plan, this was idiocy. Not just my obvious bluff but this whole operation. Nothing went as I had originally planned, and I wasn’t ready to face the consequences of the clear lacking in my planning ability.
To my surprise, my deceptive cry had worked. Everyone had taken my shout cue and bolted themselves. Single mindedly I charged towards the trees. My only thought was getting to the safety of the woods. Only barely did I recognize that the rest of the company was following me. Upon reaching the house we had slept in I stopped, panting at the doorstep, the heavy breathing of six other people along with me. No, not six, I had to remind myself, only four.
My knees began to give out. Before my eyes I saw the muzzle flashes of a thousand of guns, empty, scarlet eyes staring at the ceiling, and blood. So much blood. Covering the ground and splashing up against flesh. I clenched my eyes shut but I still saw the tragedy of my friends. A warm hand rested itself on my back, slowly rubbing in circles. Quiet hushes could be heard through the hallucination of bullet shots and death. I had never brought myself so close to the edge of sanity.
And it was Tom who slowly pulled me back from the brink.
When I returned to awareness, I found myself shivering and sweating, on my knees and grasping to the rotting banister of the front steps. Shaking, I sat down on the first step, and told them everything. Through the entire recounting I kept my eyes fixated on a small, brown leaf resting on the ground. The leaf had six veins spreading from a single, central stem. There were small holes on the leaf, revealing smaller veins, almost like a network that kept the leaf together. The leaf was wrinkled and dry, probably would make a nice crunching sound if stepped on. Not that anything actually made noise in these woods. As I spoke of the events in the manor, I kept my face blank and the story straight. I told them everything that needed knowing.
Weeks later I sat behind my desk, in the abandoned office building where I kept my paperwork. I had a stack of files from the recent adventure. With unwilling hands I lifted the first file. Within was Dereck’s application. His stern face stood against the background of the document boldly. He had left shortly after we had reached the small cabin in the woods, choosing to journey home alone instead of with the rest of the group. Dereck had not been poor, he didn’t really need the money from the operation. He had accepted his commission, but had decided to return to his comfortable life, away from the streets. Like many other alphas, Dereck had been looking for adventure in his youth, and now he was done. I took the application, as well as my field notes on the man and approached the office shredder in the corner. My bridge with Dereck had been burned during the assignment. I would never have access to his skills again. Pity, he was a good soldier, one I would have liked to use again.
Returning to the desk I picked up the rest of the files and carried them to the shredder. Allen and Alice’s file was just underneath Dereck’s. They had disappeared after the group had returned to the central system, last I heard of them they were practicing in a dojo high in the mountains on Earth, trying to reach spiritual enlightenment from one of the oldest martial art forms. They would likely become too skilled and expensive for me to consider them for rehire. For now, they were out of my league. I placed their application and field notes in the shredder after Dereck’s, watching as the metal teeth chewed the paper to a pulp.
Next was Castiel’s file. I stopped when encountering his photo. The carefree smile and knowing look in his eyes reminded me painfully of the week long trip we took to reach our destination. He was one of the best people I had ever been honored to call friend, and I missed him sorely. Yet, just as all the others who had become close to me during my life, he ended up suffering unneeded pain due to my actions. Careful I peeled the photograph of a smiling Castiel off the application and placed the picture on my desk. Then I shredded the rest of the contents of the file. Even if I had so desired I would never be able to contact Castiel again. Which was what hurt the most, he probably would have answered my call despite the fact that I withheld information from the group. He had seen through my most guarded secrets, and seen though the hard shell most of us had kept up until we met. Ironic, really, that he hadn’t realized I knew of his betrayal.
Then I came to Mathews’ file. I didn’t even dare open the manila folder. Instead I just sent the whole piece into the shredder. My mind would not bear the weight of the death of two company members. Mathews walked into that room which proved to be the end of the line. Her own demise was something I could not have prevented.
The last file remaining was Tom’s. I paused again while staring at the glossy image of the omega man. Over the years I had begun to trust Tom and used him on many occasions. After every mission I had shredded his file, thinking surely I would have no reason to contact him again, and with every new assignment I would find his application laying across my desk. I may as well just keep the file. One never knows when you will need a familiar face to accompany you.
[CG1]I made up a word
[KG2]J I like this line. It feels like her ‘voice’.
[CG3]You left off here. I LOVE YOU DADDY