Summary continued: Alex is nineteen, left his MI6 days behind him and is living with Sabina. However, an organisation has other plans for him. What happens when a female assassin fails to do her job and faces Alex with not only the prospect of returning to MI6 but also secrets of his past?
-8.05 AM, Mumbai, India-
The sun was rising over the city to signal the start of a new day but already the inhabitants were awake. Already beginning a days work of enervating what scarce resources the city had to offer them and even though the sun was still lazily hanging on the horizon, the heat it generated, the sounds they grunted as sweat poured from their foreheads, the shrieks from the cattle in the middle of the roads merely encapsulated the city in its own world. No one stopped, nothing stopped, everyone kept going, kept working, hoping that someday something might actually save them. In this city, a skyscraper imposed itself among the forgotten greenery and served as a sanctuary to those who used to remember, or wished to remember, the former glory of India. For instance, one room, high up in the building, had tapestries depicting women by rivers, seducing men of royal blood. But the colours were faded, the blood reds no longer alive, the purple robes no longer vibrant and the women’s faces no longer seductive. The bed, draped in white curtains and red silk covers was untouched; perfect to every detail was the carved wooden headboard with markings only the carpenter would know the meaning of. The dressing table was made entirely of glass but it was chipped and no longer shimmered in the golden light that shone past the hanging clothes on a line outside, in the balcony. The table had nothing on it either, although on closer inspection you could see the rushed removal of bloodstains from the glass. In fact, the clothes on the balcony were the only indication that someone was staying in this room. The clothes, and the suitcase of poison hidden under the bed.
A sound issued from the balcony, for outside the inhabitant of this particular room had, unlike the rest of Mumbai, finished another night’s work. With the sound of a flutter of a butterfly’s wing they landed softly on the floor of the balcony and lowered their head. Dark waves of hair fell forwards, covering their face and a slight breeze swayed the locks of hair and cooled the guest’s forehead gently. They knelt, in white trousers, a white vest and a pale brown shirt hung loosely off of their shoulders. The clothes clung tightly to her body and after a nights work they were of course stained and torn, telling secrets of the struggle and chase she had been involved in. She stood slowly, breathing heavily and between the dark hair that flowed gently in front of her face, blue eyes peered into the room. Her caramel coloured skin glistened with sweat and as she reached out a hand a cut on her wrist oozed blood, she grabbed a cloth from the line above her head and wiping the back of her neck with it.
Before it had even rung, she turned her head to the telephone in her room. Slowly, like a tiger in the wilderness of the forest beyond Mumbai, she walked into her room with great caution. Once she was sure nothing had been touched she looked to the phone again; at least a minute had past and it was still ringing? Someone sure was determined to speak with her. She stared at it a moment longer before walking forwards quickly and snatching the phone from its holder, she held it to her ear.
“Hera?” It was Mrs Jones. She remained silent. “Hera, stop bloody fooling around and get back to London, immediately.” She wiped her neck again and removed her shirt, listening to the rant of the woman; “do you understand your position will be terminated if anyone hears what’s been going on with you?!” She heard Mrs Jones take a moment to calm down, “Hera, please answer me-”
“I killed him.” She said bluntly and Mrs Jones stopped speaking suddenly.
“Craft.” Her voice was different, Mrs Jones always noticed, after she had worked a night; it was rough, defensive almost, as though trying to prove she didn’t give a damn.
“Hera, we’re coming to get you.”
“Don’t bother. I’m coming home.” She put the phone down and sat on her bed after flinger her shirt across the room. She lay there, thinking about what she’d done that night, she’d even impressed herself; it had taken at least two hours less than she predicted would be necessary. The door creaked open.
“Miss Hera?” Came a cheery, Indian voice from the doorway. She sat up in the bed and looked around to the little old lady at her door with a smile.
“Good morning Nandini.” She said brightly before standing up and making her way to the bathroom. She stopped at the door for she saw a look of horror cross Nandini’s face. “What is it?”
“Have you been out hunting?” Nandini smiled as she pointed to all the blood stains on Hera’s clothes. She looked to her arms which had bruises forming and shrugged.
“Just seen a bit of backstreet India.” She shrugged and walked into the bathroom. There she performed the usual routine of washing the blood from every part of the body she could before washing her face to hide the fact she let some tears escape her eyes. Walking back into the room she saw Nandini pick up her shirt from the floor and inspect it.
“I can wash this for you-”
“No need,” Hera walked to the cupboard and opened it, “I’m leaving today…” her voice trailed away as the phone began to ring again. Mrs Jones was really pushing her luck if she though Hera was going to answer, but Nandini was in the room so she figured she had to. She jumped onto the bed, rolled over, sat up and reached across for the phone. “Hello?”
“Hera?” Damn. It was Blunt.
“This is Alan Blunt-”
“I know.” She heard him cough pointedly. What the hell did he want? She knew she was in trouble but a phone call from Blunt was hardly an official protocol.
“Mumbai?” He almost said it in a mocking tone, “you really didn’t think we’d find you?” He sneered and she smiled at Nandini who was taking down the clothes from the line outside.
“I wasn’t hiding.” She ran a hand through her hair warily and tried to keep her eyes open; Blunt’s monotone voice often put her to sleep.
“Right. I have news for you.”
“Do you remember the agent Alex Rider?” Hera almost dropped the phone, her eyes went blank and her bottom lip quivered as though trying to think of something to say and slowly memories she’d repressed were bubbling to the surface again. Rmember him? It was difficult, almost painful, to forget. “Vivienne?” The sharp sound brought her back to reality.
“I do.” She murmured, “what do you want with him?” And so she listened, trying to think straight and on task but images of her time spent with the blonde haired, blue eyes boy were running through her mind. She hadn’t heard of him or from him for a few years now, she wondered if he’d changed much but somehow she doubted it. There had always been something adult about him anyway, you could see from his eyes that he’d known to much of the horrors of life so there was no room for growing up. Both of them had been forced to grow up since they were kids. Blunt finished speaking, “I’ll be in London by this evening.” She said and put the phone down, still slightly shocked by the revelation that she’d be seeing him again.
Alex woke up. He looked around wildly for some light, something to show him where he was but then he felt the slow breathing of another person against his chest and could feel her entangled in his embrace; he knew where he was. He had to crane his neck to get a look at the time; 2.05 AM. He let out a deep shuddering breath and let her slip out of his arms. Flinging his legs over the side of the bed he rubbed his eyes; trying to remember where this feeling of guilt and sadness was coming from. He shook his head as he realised it had been the same dream; the same terrible memory of his last mission. He tried not to think about it as he stood and walked out of the room, a sensor lit the light before him so he could see into the hallway. Before leaving he took one last glance at Sabina’s sleeping figure, holding onto the duvet with a vice-like grip as though it were Alex. He smiled at the way her hair fell messily around her face and walked away.
A few minutes later he was stood by the kitchen sink, a cold glass of water in his hand, staring out into the darkness of the streets beyond the window. He hadn’t felt like this in a long time, that dreaded sense of helplessness and loneliness that, before Sabina had started to share his life, sometimes engulfed him. He knew there were wounds that would never really heal but this pain, reliving that memory, was more than he could bear.
“Bad dreams?” He looked up to the window, for his gaze had fallen and saw Sabina’s reflection against the darkness. He turned to her and smiled slightly as her bright eyes appraised him in the half-lit darkness of the kitchen.
“It’s nothing,” he said and shook his head, “go back to bed.” She simply stared at him for a moment and sat and the table before folding her arms.
“It’s never “nothing” with you.” He laughed and she did nothing.
“Alex,” she cut across him, aware he was trying to get rid of her, “stop trying to shut me out-”
“You always are.” She sighed exasperatedly, “especially when it comes to talking about MI6.” He shuddered as she said it, ”please, help me out.” She sat back and waited for him to begin his story. He came and sat opposite her at the kitchen table and bit his lip. How could he possibly describe why he felt this way without telling her even the darkest secrets about his past? He figured it started with a girl.
“There was this girl-”
“Was she pretty?” As usual the first question Sabina asked about any girl Alex mentioned, he sighed and decided that now was not a good time to lay.
“She was,” he searched for a word to describe her, “stunning.” He said simply and saw Sabina glance at him haughtily before wrapping her dressing gown around herself tightly. “Dark hair, coffee coloured skin but blue eyes,” he smiled as he remembered, “her name was Hera-”
“Like the Greek goddess?” Sabina muttered, not really asking a question, merely commenting.
“She wasn’t English.” Alex continued, “something middle eastern maybe?” He shook his head as though answering his own question. “I never asked.” He closed his eyes as he tried to remember. “She was typical of any attractive girl; smart, funny, pretty and she made amazing pancakes!” Sabina laughed. “We were together for a while-”
“On missions…together.” He answered her suspicious look, “and we were friends. And for once, I wasn’t alone.” He avoided Sabina’s eye as he spoke for he knew what she thought of Hera already, but he had to tell someone, it was tearing him to pieces.
“Did you love her?” Sabina asked in a voice that Alex knew was demanding the answer she wanted and not the one he was going to give.
“I don’t know.” He said seriously and finally looked at her, “I’ve never known…because, she was so different to me.” Sabina reached across the table and Alex thought she was going to hold his hand but she seemed to change her mind and went for his glass of water instead. “You know before I left I screamed awful things at her.” Sabina looked at him suddenly for his voice had become harsher than she had ever heard it, almost bitter with remorse. ”Awful things." His voice was shaking along with his hands which he clenched together in front of him. “You know why?” he didn’t wait for an answer, “because she enjoyed it.” He spat out the last two words and shook his head, “she said,” he still couldn’t bring himself to say it for he didn’t want to believe it, “killing someone was fine, if it was for the benefit of so many people.” He rubbed his eyes, “how could someone so kind and caring think that murdering is fine? I’ve had to live with what I did!” He almost shouted and Sabina jumped, “I had to go on feeling guilty about the death’s I caused, feeling guilty for leaving her and for not even attempting to get her to change her mind-”
“You mean she stayed on with MI6?” Sabina asked timidly for she wasn’t sure how he’d react anymore. He nodded.
“I could’ve saved her from herself.” He rubbed the back of his neck, “but I didn’t. I didn’t try to take her with me, I didn’t try to dissuade her. I left her.”
“I don’t believe you.” He looked up to her for the first time since the start of their conversation and saw Sabina was not angry but concerned for him.
“You loved her.” She said bluntly, “but you didn’t save her for selfish reasons.” Alex was dumbfounded as to how Sabina could have reached such a conclusion. “You didn’t save her because you wanted to be with her afterwards. But that meant she was a constant reminder of that life you wanted to forget. Sure, you’d both forget it together but to know she still wanted it, to see it in her eyes…it wouldn’t let you forget. So you left her. Just so you wouldn’t have to relive the things you’d done.” He was going to deny it, but now he couldn’t help it, he nodded. “You didn’t tell her you loved her?” Again he nodded, “you feel guilty for a number of things Alex,” she explained, “1. because you didn’t tell her how you felt 2. because you left her and 3. because the reason to the previous two statements was selfish.” He had always found it slightly difficult to keep up with Sabina’s analysis of him but he guessed she was right. “But you forgot one thing.”
“What?” Alex asked and felt ashamed as he saw her eyes were glazed over with tears.
“You forgot that every time I look at you, I see her.” A cold tear fell down Sabina’s face, “that every time I’m with you I can feel you want to be somewhere else-”
“I love you!” He assured her and she nodded.
“Yeah, you do,” she wiped the tears from her face roughly, “but you left us, me and you,” she pointed at him, “to hurt together and she got no pain.” Sabina stood up from the table, “that’s how much you loved her.” Alex shook his head, “I never minded!” She said quickly, “I did wonder though, what it was that was holding you back from saying what was in your head, or even your heart. It was her.” She wiped her eyes again quickly, “I’m going back to bed,” she turned to walk away, “come up when you’re ready.” Alex sat at the kitchen table, shocked by Sabina’s revelations into his own past. It couldn’t be true; how could he have loved her when she was a murderer? He didn’t love her. He loved Sabina. As usual Alex’s head became clouded by memories of that forgotten girl and replays of what Sabina had just said and he found he could think about it no more. He put his glass in the sink and returned to their bed, unaware that the very same, forgotten girl was on her way to him.