Thursday, May 17th, 2018, 8:04 pm
“This guy better die quick.”
The blue night sky turned yellow in the damp city. Heels clicked on the wet cement and the squeaking of rats echoed. Hope walked slowly down the side of the alley. She hugged the wall and stayed in the dark. Slowly, she crossed to an open door in the shadow cast by another building. The small fingernail of the moon shone a dim light down on the street. The white-grey light bounced off Hope’s pale skin and danced in her hair’s silver streak. She peered into the distance to scan her surroundings. Hope’s perfect vision picked up a figure at the far end. She pushed her dark, wavy hair behind her ear and smiled.
At the opposite end, a tall man stood, waiting. The light of a passing car illuminated him, and he staggered into the darkness. He walked toward Hope, reaching inside his jacket. The leather rubbed silently across his skin. In the dark, he pulled out a gun and walked into the alcove of a door across from Hope.
The crack of a gunshot echoed across the dirty pavement and a loud thump shook the broken pieces of asphalt at Hope’s feet. Hope’s arm dripped with blood. The now unconscious man lay in a heap, within a murky puddle of filth, his nose and fingers broken from Hope’s well-placed blows.
Hope stepped over the easy prey and wiped her damaged arm with her delicate hand. She rubbed as much of the blood off, as she could and pulled out a shard of the bullet. The rest of the smashed projectile was embedded in the wall behind her. Hope never flinched.
The poorly dressed lackey stood no chance. After three years of nothing but survival drills, tactical and live fire exercises, as well as “pop quizzes” executed without warning, Hope was a machine designed for one deadly purpose.
Hope’s fingers were now stained red with blood, some hers and some from the broken fingers of the man she stopped in the alley. She reached inside her own leather jacket and retrieved a small gun. She held her hand over the unconscious man, squeezing the trigger; she fired two rounds into his head. The man’s body jerked, as the bullets bored through his skull and lodged into the cement beneath him.
She stuffed her gun back in its holster and wiped off her arm again. She pulled a white napkin out of her pocket and placed it over the wound; it quickly became sticky and wet with blood. As the blood flow lessened, she pulled away the paper fabric. Her face remained still. She was flawless, the wound quickly deserting its goal to cause pain. It made her an excellent killer. She was methodical, thorough, and no wound could break her focus. Healing was a simple act of waiting, usually no more than an hour. No spasms from shock, no bad reaction from fried nerves, nothing but the gradual reknitting of flesh and muscle.
The Beretta 92G Elite II fit snuggly into her jacket, tight against her side, almost like a lover, protecting her. But no, never a lover, for each time the barrel ached from an internal explosion, Hope, too, would burn. She couldn’t imagine death, fear the pain. Her mind processed the thought like any other. Tonight, however, a vague sensation crept across her skin. As she climbed up the textiles mill’s escape ladder, she felt her heart thump in her chest, hard and quick. It was completely alien. Her palms moist, her breath short, and her skin taut, what was this?
The hundreds of other hits had been easy and utterly unmemorable. How did she suddenly feel like her chest was going to explode? How did she feel at all? Something wasn’t right, and it was pissing her off.
Hope stood with her back pressed against the brick wall on the roof. She could hear dripping from a pipe at the end of the alley. The street lamp down at the corner flickered and buzzed, it was distracting. She reached into another pocket and pulled out a small dart gun. Hope fired it at the noisy lamp. Instead of a traditional dart, a small probe shot out and attached itself to the lamp post. The small probe blinked red for a moment, then pulsed, and fell to the ground. The lamp flicked off and lay dormant the remainder of the evening.
“Such a handy little thing,” Hope whispered to herself, as she sunk to her knees and lay on her stomach. She reached out her hand and found the large but thin case she had placed here the night before. She pressed her thumb to the fingerprint scanner and the lock popped open. Hope swung the top over. She smiled down at her favorite toy and pulled out her Savage 110 BA. Hope switched on the laser sight for her rifle, clipped on the bipod, and curled her hand around a perfectly adjusted grip. It was a work of art and cost just as much. She had to hunt it down, during a not-so-amusing trip to an arms dealer in NYC. As she peered inside the scope, she lined up her target and adjusted the focus.
“Just like taking a picture.” Hope padded around inside the case, just able to see in the dark of the alley. She pulled out her headset and wrapped it around her ear. With it in place, she could hear inside the small office, where the mark worked.
Before completing her job, she went through her routine. She double checked the mark in her scope with the file marked O’Connor, Ciaran Patrick and examined the room for witnesses or obstacles. The portion of the room she could see was lit with a yellowish glow from a small desk lamp. The mark was sitting, feet up on his desk, reading an old book. It looked like it was removed from time, separated from the harsh speed of the city. Hope could only see the top of his head, behind the cover of the dense text.
She couldn’t fire until she saw his face. Body shape and hair said yes, but Hope was nothing, if not a professional. As the mark turned a page, the one behind it tumbled out. In her headset, Hope could hear him sigh and say, “Every time I turn a page, one falls out.” He reached down for the page, his head disappearing behind the desk. Hope followed him with her scope. His deep voice echoed in Hope’s headset. It made her feel like she’d been drinking too much whiskey, all loose and dizzy.
“Damn it, sit up, you bastard. I’ve got shit to do.” Her finger tightened, as she prepared to squeeze the trigger. Her eyes glanced to the blurry, black, and white photo. Whoever took this must have been fighting the shakes; she thought to herself, if it weren’t for this tattoo, I never would’ve found this guy. Hope readjusted her gaze, as he sat back up.
Something was still off about the situation. Hope could sense it as if she could smell or taste a difference in the air around her, which was ludicrous. She shook her head and caught a glimpse of the Celtic sword tattoo on the mark’s shoulder. It snuck out from under his tight Hanes tee. Makes sense, he is Irish. As he returned to his original position, he lowered his book to the desk and Hope could finally see his face. His eyes were dark and deep, penetrating. His strong features were fierce but beautiful.
“The picture doesn’t do you justice,” Hope said surprised. She stared into his eyes and her grip on the rifle loosened. She couldn’t look away, barely blinked. A pounding in her chest finally got her attention. She looked down at herself and placed her hand over her heart. She could feel the thumping inside her ribcage. Omaeriku, Ciaran. Omaeriku? Oh god no. This can’t be happening.
Hope’s panic rang in her head. She heard her heart thump and the loud cracking of her ribs, or was that something else? She had no clue, it was all spinning and strobe lights. With one final surge, her heartbeat slowed. Hope looked around the roof. The cracking she’d heard was, in fact, her rifle tipping off the bipod. It was hanging precariously on the ledge and Hope groped for the stock of the gun.
Across the alley, Ciaran stood up, as a voice in the other room called him. He hit his knee on the underside of his desk.
“Ahh, son of a bitch,” Hope could hear Ciaran’s voice echo in her headset as he winced in pain.
On the rooftop, Hope hugged her knee close to her chest, just as Ciaran did. Her knee felt so strange and she didn’t particularly enjoy the feeling, it was hot and sudden and sharp. She collapsed from surprise, bumping her rifle, yet again. Hope strained to reach it, but still in the grips of omaeriku, she missed the stock and it tumbled off the side of the building. As the rifle fell, it landed with a shattering crash in a metal dumpster, the sound loud enough to overcome every other in the area.
Ciaran spun around, ran to his window, and looked down at the street.
“What the hell was that?” Ciaran’s confused voice played in Hope’s headset. She watched him, when he couldn’t see the source on the ground, he looked across at the textile mill. Ciaran’s eyes searched her dark figure, as she ran across the roof and out the gray door.
Hope ran down the stairs, her case bouncing on her leg.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! This is so not good! Fuck!” She grabbed the door frame and swung herself around the side, “Why? Why now? After all this time, all the work? Fuck!” She ran down to the alley, sticking close to the wall. Thank god her black clothes blended into the darkness, this escape was a little messier than she had planned. The alley smelled of urine and decaying food. Hope tried to take shallow breaths to avoid retching. She whipped off the headset, desperately tried to untangle it from her hair, and finally threw it into her bag.
She bent over and scanned the ground for her rifle. After finding the most expensive piece of weaponry she had in a puddle, she cursed and put it back inside the safety of its case. Omaeriku, omae-fucking-riku. I can’t believe this. Hope thought of the bond and the hatred she had for it. Her madru’s words echoed in her head. Hope could picture the last time she saw her. Her mother had soft blond curls framing her face and her amber eyes glowed in the sunlight. Her warm features always seemed odd, juxtaposed to her cold temperament.
“I’m leaving Hope. You know how our people are. The pain you’ve already felt. You’ll be better off alone, remember that. As soon as you learn to live without me, without anyone, you’ll be fine. Don’t get attached, the pain will kill you,” her mother’s soft voice burned in her mind.
She was right. One time, when Hope was young and sort of bonded with her mother, she had felt the pain of a toothache. At least, that’s what her mother had told her. Hope couldn’t remember, for all she knew, it never happened. But the story had instilled terror and that was her madru’s goal.
Hope never let herself become attached to anyone and she never felt pain, she never felt anything. Her people were social, a community, one of men and children, however. The Chakal women always left, once they were old enough. No one ever said anything about it. It was just the way things were, a part of her culture. One day, they just disappeared, and no one ever wondered if they were okay or where they had gone. Hope felt it was a fair trade. The idea of pain was so disturbing, so threatening, lack of sensation seemed reasonable.
But it was too late for that now. The bond had formed. There was nothing except death that would break the connection and death she was good at. She just had to hit her mark, before the bond had a chance to fully develop and problem solved. But how? How could she, now that she’d failed once? She couldn’t just barge in, guns blazing.
How could this be happening? One look and I’m fucked? That’s total bullshit. I don’t even believe in this crap and here I am fighting against it. And it had to be my fucking mark?! I… really? This seems all too convenient. But then again, Omaeriku has never been predictable, to say the least. And I do spend all my time at work, so, of course, I’d find my “one and only” on the job. Well, fuck this! Fuck all of this. I’m getting my hit.
“Ugh, I hate changing plans,” Hope kicked the wall behind her, as she spoke to herself. She looked down at her case, now parked under the ledge of the building where it was dry. She reached inside and pulled out the profile folder. Hope leaned back, one foot up and began to read. Ciaran’s life spilled open:
Subject: Ciaran Patrick O’Connor. Born: October 18, 1984. Location: Newborn City, NY. Summary: O’Connor relocated to NBC from NYC. Underground fighter for NYC’s Inferno Club. O’Connor is aggressive, strong, well-trained, and well-funded.
“Oh yeah, that’s why I wanted to shoot him from a distance. Damn it.” Hope’s mind churned. She remembered trailing him by keeping tabs on his car. The POS sedan was easy enough to follow, just listen for the muffler. This small office was his private security business. Makes sense, she thought. Use your natural talent to make some dough. Hope smiled, as the answer came to her.
“Piece of fucking cake, just hope I can act.” Hope laughed; it always felt weird to use her name in a sentence. She believed her madru gave it to her, as some sort of cruel joke. Hope, to want for something that wasn’t going to happen. Yeah, fucking funny, mom. She shook her head to clear her brain. She had other matters that needed attending.
Hope grabbed the case and walked the three blocks to her car. The 1969 Aston Martin DBS was a thing of beauty and every time she saw it, she sighed a little. Hope was extremely proud of her Bond car, even though it was less than subtle. Especially, since it was fire engine red, but she just couldn’t help herself.
She placed the silver case gently in the back seat and patted it softly, “Sorry for dropping ya. Fucking genes, you know?” She turned around in her seat and started the ignition. The engine purred for her and she took off, grateful for the speed.
“Like lightning” hardly described how fast Hope sped away from the mark’s office. She was running on auto-pilot and flew down to the turn for CR-33. The trip home took around an hour and a half on a normal day, but today wasn’t particularly normal. Hope made it in 55 minutes.
She never ran into cops, either, thanks to the scanner in her car, and knew the trip like the back of her handgun. CR-33 to 29 to Twist Run road, keep driving into the middle of fucking nowhere until she reached her miniscule driveway on her left and bam there she was smack dab in the middle of 76 and Bradley Creek road. There wasn’t a soul for miles. Before the Dawning, there had been farms and families, but the increased demon population had taken care of that. It was perfect.
The house wasn’t a mansion, by any means, but it was off the beaten path and it served its purpose. The small cottage looked cozy and unimpressive from the outside and did well hiding the high-tech gadgetry inside. It certainly didn’t look like it had a basement and was reinforced with steel plating on each wall, but what do you know, it was. Most passersby would think some old lady and her cats lived there, instead of a well-funded assassin.
Hope slowly pulled the car up to her garage and ran her hand across the underside of the driver’s seat. She pressed the small, hidden button to deactivate the security system and then opened the garage door. She bounced her leg, as she waited, convinced it took the thing three hours to open.
She pulled the car in smoothly and closed the door behind her. Hope watched in her rear-view mirror, as it shut and didn’t open her door until it finished. She pressed the button under her seat again and heard the reassuring chirp of the alarm coming back online. She walked up to the garage door and opened a large padlock connected to the bottom of the door. Hope hooked it to a ring bolted to the floor. Not accepting visitors, no soliciting.
With fingers curled around the handle of the door to the house, Hope paused, while the fingerprint recognition realized it was her. The door finally opened and with a sigh, she stepped inside. The house was large and open. Every room and surface could be seen from anywhere. The massive kitchen gave way to a large expanse of hardwood floors that lead into the living room. There was a couch in the middle and a couple of chairs on either side. They were all low-slung and leather. A glass coffee table sat in the center. It was almost completely empty, aside from the remote to her huge TV. In the corner, a tall, wooden bar sat expectantly. Hope walked over and pulled out a glass, plus her favorite whiskey, Glen Garioch. She poured a couple fingers and swung it back. As the glass clinked against her lip rings, the chestnut liquid caressed her throat. She could taste smoke and chocolate.
“Ahh, fucking amazing.” Hope walked over to the couch and set her glass on the coffee table. She plopped down and kicked off her boots. She lifted her feet up and rested them on the table. The house was dead quiet, and Hope could hear her breath move in and out of her lungs.
“Well, that’s enough of that,” Hope said as she reached for the remote, “Come on, clicker. Find me something good.” The news flash on the screen.
“Next, next, next, oh god next,” Hope flipped through CNN, sports, some sitcom, and a televangelist, “Crap, crap, and more crap. So much for TV.” Hope switched off the giant let down and padded to her bedroom.
She waited another long five seconds, as the security knob on her bedroom door read her prints. She flipped the light switch and closed the door. Hope stood just inside the door for a moment and waited for the sound of the knob relocking. As the click-click rang through the room, she went to her bed.
Empty, Hope put her whiskey glass on the nightstand. As she reached her hands up to take off her jacket, Hope felt resistance from the leather, as it broke free from her dried blood. She had forgotten all about the bullet graze and decided that it was probably a good idea to take a shower since she had just been lying on a dirty roof.
She slid her jacket off and tossed it on the bed; the black fabric barely stood out from the black satin sheets. As she took off her, also black, tank top, her skin glowed in the soft lamplight that reflected off her red walls.
The room served its purpose and yet, it was the one place she let a little of her personality shine. The silky sheets, deep red walls, hardwood flooring, gently softened by a Chinese rug, all so warm and decadent. It was such a contrast to the efficient, open space out front. Here the room was triple-bolted, protected by a dual alarm system, and held a small panic chamber accessible through the closet. Why not a few finer things? Even if it was just one room.
Hope shrugged out of her tight pants and let them fall. She pushed off her socks and stepped out of the pile she had created. Her fingers must have been cold because could see the tips were red. Hope wondered what goosebumps felt like but quickly dismissed the thought. She slipped the bra straps off her shoulders and tossed the garment aside. As she slid her panties off, her back cracked loudly and she was even more excited for the shower.
The lacy black set was the only girly thing she had. Hope stared down at her body and took note of the lack of scarring. After all the scrapes, she still looked pristine, skin like she was born moments ago, minus the piercings and tattoos, of course. The metal all over her shone in the lamplight. It created an outline of her form, like a constellation, a glint alighting on each shoulder, all over her face, the tips of her breasts, the center of her stomach and on each hip.
The master bathroom was enormous with a stand-alone shower and a massive Jacuzzi tub, his and hers sinks, even though there was just her, and beautiful tile work everywhere. The floor was unchanging under her feet, thanks to the heated coils, which ran underneath, and the air was sort of warm. The thermostat read 87 degrees, but it felt like nothing to her. Hope walked up to the gorgeous shower and stepped in through the glass door.
She loved her shower and she’d been extremely picky. The black marble and stainless-steel fixtures gleamed in the overhead light. As Hope pushed the square button in the center, the shower program was initiated. The hot water burst through eight different spouts in the wall and the water was instantly steaming.
After only a few seconds, Hope could see that the heat was raising her blood pressure enough to make her wound bleed again. As she cursed softly to herself, she stepped to the corner out of the warm spray. She knew she had to get any shrapnel out now before the wound started closing. Shot? Omaeriku? Can’t really decide which is worse. Oh, wait, yes, I can. Omaeriku hands down. If this Maker forbidden bond fully forms, I’ll feel this shit.
Hope pushed her fingers deep inside the wound. She could feel the pressure a little but nothing else. Just pressure, like someone, probably touching her arm on the inside. Which, she supposed, is just what she was doing, but she wondered at the non-existent pain.
What plagued her further, still, was the sensation she got on the roof, the strange, sharp feeling in her knee that seemed to vibrate her very bones. The change in texture inside the wound brought her back to what she was doing. She pinched the hard fragment in between her fingers and pulled it out of her flesh.
It was so small and insignificant but left in her arm it would continue to cause damage to the muscle, until her body pushed it out, creating horrible scar tissue that could possibly hinder her movements. No fucking doubt, that baby was definitely powerful. She had learned that lesson before.
Hope stepped back into the hot water. She rinsed off the wound and began to feel the accelerated healing that her body was capable of, now that the bullet shard was removed. Once she was thoroughly rinsed, she pressed the square button again and the shower’s program changed. Now all the water was coming out of the single spout of the handheld sprayer. Hope took the nozzle out of its resting place and sprayed the warm water all across her skin. She watched the hot beads of moisture run down her body, falling from her shoulders, down her back, across her butt and thighs, around her legs, and onto the shower floor.
She could sort of feel the extreme heat from the water on her body, but the path of each droplet was lost on her. Often, after showers, she would get dressed before she was completely dry, simply because she couldn’t tell she was wet or drop a freshly opened beer because she couldn’t tell the condensation had accumulated. Man, that one was a bitch.
And Hope wasn’t an idiot. She watched the world, knew of the things inside it, and she knew what she was missing, the sensation of a hair tickling your back, of a breeze, of someone’s fingers. She couldn’t feel any of it. Extremes were a little easier, but never complete. Boiling hot water felt lukewarm, freezing cold felt maybe chilly and certainly unpleasant, excruciating pressure felt like something must be touching her, and that one, she almost… liked.
Hope angled the nozzle at herself, sprayed her breasts, her stomach, her hips, and then she let her arm relax and the warm water sprayed between her legs. She could sort of feel something and could almost discern it as pleasurable, but as soon as the sensation was there, it was gone. Hope sighed and hung the sprayer back up in the shower. She pressed the square button twice and the water turned off, as quickly as it had turned on.
Hope stepped out into the slightly colder air, which she couldn’t feel, only see by the lack of steam, and walked to the sink. She opened the cupboard and pulled out a medical kit. She had everything she needed for house calls, she had to. Injury was a part of the job. She patched up her arm, placing a large bandage over the wound. The graze had already begun to close.
In the mirror, Hope examined herself. The wound was covered nicely, and all the blood washed clean. She didn’t look that bad. As she turned to leave, Hope caught a glimpse of red on her shoulder. Had she missed a spot of blood? Hope turned back to the mirror, looking over her shoulder, and saw the source of the red. She had burned herself, again. The water must have been a bit too hot at first. The normally white flesh was raised and bright pink from the heat. She thought about putting something on it, but the damage was already done.
Hope lay down, after the shower, having kicked her jacket onto the floor, and stretched out, trying to get her body to relax. Hope barely slept, usually only a few hours a night and that was when she wasn’t freaking the fuck out. The night’s events had certainly been exciting, and she kept running her plan through her head. If she was going to pull it off, she needed to rest. She needed to look rested, at least. Getting into Ciaran’s office was going to be interesting and making him comfortable with her was going to be harder, if she looked like a mess. Ugh, enough already. Just sleep.
Hope closed her eyes and tried desperately to stop the endless procession of words in her head. As time dragged on, she was left with one strange thought, lingering in her brain. What would it be like, to be touched? To really feel it?
Hope dragged her fingers across her skin, pushing hard on her flesh. She could imagine the pressure. Her nerves guessed at what must be there, it not sending the same signals it had a moment ago. She pulled back, pushing lightly against her flesh. The faintest echo of sensation skittered across her skin. She let her fingers drift across the bare flesh at her core, silently begging to feel something, anything. She wanted that explosion. She wanted that thing every human and most demons talked about. She heard them say it was the best feeling life had to offer.
As her fingers brushed the soft skin, Hope’s brain kicked up a haunting image. The bright blackness of Ciaran’s eyes shown inside her mind. As she saw his stare, she felt a tiny jolt of electricity under her fingers, right at the very core of her, deep in her womb.
Hope shot up in her bed, sweating and gasping.
“Oh, fuck no! I’m not letting myself be manipulated by fucking omaeriku…Shen-fucking-dara! I’m not doing this. I don’t need it. It’s so not worth it.” As she lay back down and fought against the vision, an unrecognizable sensation quickly passed through her thigh. It was almost similar to the feeling she had in her knee on the rooftop. But as soon as she started to zero in on the feeling, her body took over and Hope fell asleep.