In the dim red glow of a setting sun, she darted across cool concrete, making graceful grand jetés over the crumbly bits so as not to break her stride.
As the smoky air from the day’s bush fires filled her lungs, she found herself running short of breath. She stumbled to a stop, peering over the rickety metal framework at its edge.
Silently, she scanned the floor again. The others were close - scattered throughout the building. And yet, she was alone. Some were asleep. Some were on the roof. But the big cement staircase in the middle didn’t quite reach the roof, and she couldn’t figure out how they all kept getting up there. No one would tell her, either. Kampret...
She tugged at the frayed edges of light, mesh-like fabric by her knees, simultaneously straightening and pulling down the soft, stretchy top of a dress that was getting too small for her.
Little more than a big square skeleton now, the theory among the oldest was that it had once been an office building. Its walls were almost all window holes. None were actually old enough to remember.
She stood completely still, focusing intently on a small group of foreigners as they paused to converse below.
She didn’t want to lose them to another, or worse: lose track of where they were, in the sea of tiny figures. So she tore her eyes away, darted over to the wall, checked her reflection in a piece of broken glass, wiped a random dirt smudge off her face and finger-combed a few strands of silky black hair behind her ears, away from her eyes. Then she vaulted down the stairs, using the hand rails wherever she could to skip several steps at once on every floor, grinning like the little kid she was.
Maybe she’d share the haul. Probably not. Though they were like a family, they weren’t. She had none. None of them did. Most told the same sad story: something really bad happened, they ran away from someplace, and were drawn to the group's success. In her usual contrary manner, however, she rather enjoyed it, taking up with glee all the street's professions: begging, pick-pocketing, group scams... many clever ways with which to relieve unsuspecting grown-ups of their money.
Suits were always good targets, and she’d spotted a nice one. She strayed from the stairwell every few floors to study his group again, more closely. Five to seven, all well dressed, mostly in dark blue or black. Long sleeves, despite the sun’s lingering heat, dark sunglasses, and a briefcase or two. They were having an intense conversation in an alley that was always densely packed - which worked to her advantage. Noisy cars, bikes, mopeds and street vendors obscured her small frame instantly as she stepped into the fray. She selected one target first, casually dipping into the current of bodies headed his way.
The closer she got to them, though, the more her doubts harassed her. They were all rather scary looking, and they seemed to be planning something sinister... arguing extra quietly, pointing at places they shouldn’t be, and shooting each other critical, dubious looks in response to heated statements. The one she’d chosen seemed particularly invested in it all. Middle-aged American looking guy, with thinning dark brown hair and strong, stern features. His cool, commanding demeanor suggested he was the boss, so... money!
She took a deep breath and went for the suit’s side pocket as she passed, skillfully extracting a very nice, real leather wallet!
But that wasn’t all there was, she realized, casually tucking away her prize. Her eyes wandered back to it. She’d felt the cold, smooth edge of something metal...
Gun! A gun, just under the jacket. She put extra effort into pretending that she’d not noticed them at all, and slid away.
A strong hand grabbed the back of the dress, so quickly and forcefully that she almost failed to stifle a scream.
“Hey.” It was him, of course.
She briefly considered pulling the whole thing over her head and running away - perhaps less briefly than usual, as the others moved in to surround them. But as her thoughts raced, he switched that iron grip to her upper arm anyway. He turned her around with one hand, and raised the other. She cringed.
Instead he shook his head, smiling a tight-lipped smile, peering curiously into her eyes.
She’d been caught before, and she was always good at talking her way out of it. But for some reason, he wasn’t angry. She didn’t like that. Angry was easy. Expected. Plus her English wasn’t great at the time.
“I _ _ that. See, I’m not _ _ here, and you _ have my _ _ _...” The soft, yet assertive voice trailed off. He furrowed his brow.
She froze up. He still wasn’t mad, even though she couldn’t speak. He seemed... perplexed. He studied her expression for a moment: wide-eyed, full of confusion. She tried to slip some adorable innocence in there too... but got no reaction from that.
“You’re _ _ (smart? No... more smart) _ you _ , _ you?”
She pretended not to understand at all.
He cracked a sly grin. “_ _ smart to _ _ yourself, (especially?) in a _ _ _ ...”
She stared - trying not to look around to where she knew her friends were hiding. He saw right through her whole ‘little kid in big trouble’ act. He turned away for a moment, towards the others.
They discussed something in low whispers. Absentmindedly, he released the arm. When he turned back she tensed up - but didn’t run. “_ _ you _ to make _ (real? True? Honest. Yes, honest) bucks, _ _ _ us instead?”
Cautiously, she nodded, and smiled back - pretty sure she understood.
Eventually they managed to explain to her that they were some sort of international police. They led her to a room in an old hotel, and told her what she was to do. She was to go to a nearby building and get as close to some bad guys as possible. That was it. At the first sign of trouble though, she was to run right back to them, and no one else.
She opened her mouth to speak... then let her eyes fall to her hands, her pocket, and that man’s wallet. Slowly - sheepishly - she held it out to him.
He stopped barking orders just to smile, and took it back. Then he opened it, pulled something out and placed it back into her hand. He crouched, curling her fingers around several folded bills. “_ _ _ _.”
A very pretty Indonesian lady replaced the old guy, smiling, and looked at her head for some reason. Carefully, she placed a black jeweled barrette into the hair above her ear, which was also very pretty, and it made her feel pretty to wear it. Even though she was pretty sure it was a camera.
It was supposed to be easy, for her. And she knew exactly how to do it. She waited for the perfect moment, summoned some fake tears and let them redden her face a bit. Then she ran right up to the front desk in the lobby, ignoring the paying customer.
“Nyaeta Papa abdi di dieu?” she begged in her native tongue.
When met with stares, she shied away. “I - I need to see my papa...”
The look of sympathy she got back said that she’d done well. She was granted access - but not escorted - to that floor.
She made her way through the halls to a suite called Ex-something, sniffling and keeping the tears going all along. Urgently, she knocked, and posed the same question to the door man. He let her right in. Perfect.
“This little girl says she’s looking for her dad,” he relayed, as she nervously scanned the room. She took a few steps towards the middle, towards all the guys seated at a big long table by a window. But she was quickly intercepted. A big, strong looking guy stood up, adjusted his jacket, and met her halfway there.
“Hey, Sweetie...” he started, speaking slowly in broken Indonesian. There was a kind smile on his face. “Are you sure that you’ve got the right place?”
She didn’t know what to say, so she stood still... genuinely frightened. But he read this, and seemed to understand. Gently, he grasped her shoulders, turning her around to face the door. “...because I don’t think that you do.”
She shuffled her feet apprehensively, looking back to follow some of his - and the door guard’s - distracted, uncertain glances.
They all kept looking to one man in particular. One who was seated at the head of the table, directly facing them - and whose appearance had her instantly captivated. Hair the color of bright, smoldering embers. Wide, wicked smirk that stretched the deep, matching, pin-sized scars apart on both sides of his lips, and a sharp featured, angular face that frightened her on a deep, instinctive level.
His gaze in particular exuded something off... something distinctly evil. He narrowed his eyes at her, which seemed to pierce her very soul. When he finally released her from it, it was to lift his chin up slightly from behind long, folded fingers, towards his henchman. An unspoken acknowledgement.
The man stood up straight and stared, as if receiving orders. His fingers tensed around the edge of her collarbone, and suddenly she felt trapped. Her eyes darted from one terrifying man to the next, then transfixed on their boss again, just long enough to see his shift from their original mossy green to a bright, icy blue. His grin widened when he noticed.
One hand moved to her back and added pressure, guiding her away. But at the same time, she heard the crisp fabric of his suit rustle, near the pocket. His other hand. Then there was a strange, sickening, fleshy kind of sound... like raw meat being manipulated, re-formed. When she tried to turn and see it, something hit her, hard, in the upper back - with pain. Stinging, pulling pain. It was excruciating, starting right where he had touched, and sharp, tearing easily through skin and flesh...
The shocked expression on the crime-hardened giant of a doorman’s face told her exactly what had happened. She tried to cry out between gasps, but the man’s other hand was already pressed tightly over her mouth. He spoke to her softly, so sweetly. “None of us here have a daughter.”
She couldn’t breathe. Pain and panic flooded her thoughts. She fell forward to the floor, out of his hands. Then, with one hard-earned gasp, she summoned a loud, shrieking scream. With neither pity nor hesitation he grabbed her again, and stabbed her halfway through it.
Suddenly there was lots more screaming, and yelling - incoherent. Loud bangs and frantic movements shook the room. With overwhelming speed he yanked her backwards, holding her to him with a firm, blood coated hand pressed to her chest.
Her bare feet dragged the floor as he backed away. Lots of big guns were pointed at him now.
“Oh, but I don’t think you want that,” he taunted. The lady translated. “Because then I’d have to drop her. Not good...”
A few of them inched forward, yelling.
“Not another step,” he warned, shaking his head. She heard that fleshy sound again. He leaned down to check her face. “You may still be able to save her.”
So much pain... Every time she was able to claw her way back out of the blissful darkness, she regretted it. She wanted to just let go. Her head lowered, hanging lifelessly over his hand, and she fell asleep, watching her own tears carve pretty paths through all the blood.
But their words - she could still hear them. Full of force, and passion. Someone really cared. Enough to fight all these guys to save her. So she tried to fight hard, too. She opened her eyes just long enough to gaze helplessly into those of a nearby armed policeman.
Determined to get to her, he took a barely detectable, perhaps subconscious step forward. But her captor saw the movement. He stabbed her again, then dropped her, and shamelessly fled.
Before she even realized it there were people all around her, touching her. They were trying to get her attention - but she couldn’t stop convulsing; lost control. Her frail form circled the drain, taking her mind with it.
Someone lifted her up, way too fast... making her hurt even more. Their hasty movements jostled burning limbs... seemed like forever. She cried out as she was lowered onto another cold, flat surface.
“No... Nononono -”
“_!” Some sort of curse word. “This wasn’t (Allowed? Expected? Supposed to. It wasn’t supposed to) happen!”
“_ were all unarmed! No (loosey... Lucys? What?)! Zero risk!”
“What _ _ _ _ _ a little girl? _ didn’t - ” Her voice cracked. She was trying to hide her emotions. “Couldn’t have _ known _ _ a camera...”
That one wrapped a warm, soft hand around the wrist she could still feel, her eyes welling up despite the effort. She looked up, to someone else, then closed them, and began to move her thumb soothingly across the back of her hand instead.
She tried to pull away. She didn’t know them. Didn’t know what they were doing... or what she had done wrong. They spoke to her just like he had.
“Can you save her?”
“Sir, I... I’m _ not _... There’s _ _ _ to - ” The lady paused and looked up at her face, a spark of intelligent fervor in her eyes. “We - ”
“Can you save her!” Yelling. Always yelling. But not that one - not until now.
The one who’d been stuttering pressed her lips together. “We can _ _ her _ for _.” They parted slightly as she thought for a moment. “_... _!” It was a demand for something... something handed to her quickly in a needle. She squirmed and made weak sounds of protest.
The man who’d done so noticed. “Shhh...” he placated, stroking her hair. Trying to comfort her. She turned her head away. Didn’t want it. There was nothing to not be afraid of, and no one would ever, ever convince her otherwise...
As the needle neared her skin, the fight just... left her body, all at once. The grown ups’ movements hastened, trying to stop it... the darkness... from spreading. Ragged, diminishing breaths echoed inside her head.
She let them touch her, more and more, because she couldn’t get away. She flinched at each new set of hands, because she couldn’t see them coming... saw only the darkness, as a tingling, terrifying cold took all the rest.
Surprisingly, the last thing she felt wasn’t fear. It was sadness. At the fact that of all things, this was her end. Stupid.
But she didn’t die. She woke up. In a brightly lit hospital of sorts, where that woman and a man in white told her that they’d just barely managed to get her there. They’d even hunted down most of the guys. They thanked her; praised her bravery. They said they’d saved her life... with a new, experimental artificial replacement for the half of her heart that she’d lost. Hearing that again always jolted her awake.