I run into the night, a shadow darting across the rooftops of New York. The cool wind slapping against my cheeks doesn’t bother me, nor does the evening drizzle. One may assume that these rooftops I run on are a dark, damp, and harsh locale. But as one of Mme. Anaconda’s best-trained assassins, I find them to be just as comfortable as the sidewalks I see ordinary people walk on below.
Nonetheless, I’m on a mission. I am a creature of the night; one with the shadows. My athletic prowess rivals that of an Olympic gymnast. Nothing can stop me, even death. My black trenchcoat blows in the wind, shrouding my midnight tactical suit. A black mask equipped with night vision goggles covers my head and neck. An opening in the back of my mask allows my ponytail of curls to fly. I am a weapon. I am indomitable. I am Agent 04.
A subtle vibration on my wrist alerts me that my target is nearby. I bring myself to a halt and pull back my sleeve to check the GPS. The target’s dot lies just north of here. I turn towards it to find a lone figure overlooking the city a few buildings away. I double-tap the side of my head to check the target’s identity. My goggles scan the face, lighting green in confirmation.
Whoever this man is, he’s about to regret crossing the Den. Once I calculate the stealthiest route to the building, I pull out my grappling hook, swing to the next rooftop, and continue running. In mere seconds, I find myself crouched behind him, ready to strike. Unfortunately for him, he had the instinct to turn around. He’s tall with an athletic build and brown hair barely long enough to cover his neck. Nothing I can’t handle. His pale face is contorted in terror, and his brown eyes are filled with it.
“04,” he utters in a hoarse whisper.
I roll my eyes beneath my mask. As one of the world’s most feared assassins, I get that a lot. Wasting no time, I lunge at him before he finds a fighting stance. I pull out my syringe filled with batrachotoxin. It’ll be quick, no blood, as long as this guy doesn’t cause too much trouble. He tries pathetic and sluggish punches toward my speeding figure without success. With ease, I sneak behind him and grab his waist to keep him from moving. Just before I can jab the syringe into his skin, he jerks an elbow into my stomach, breaking from my grip. I stumble, letting go of the syringe. My target kicks it away as it clatters to the ground.
The hard way it is, I think to myself. I steel into a fighting stance, ready for his next attack. He charges with full force, intending to strike with a power punch. I sidestep his attack and make a beeline for the syringe.
He cries out and attempts to pursue me, but I’m far too fast. Once he gets close enough, I crouch into a swift leg-sweep. He tumbles to the ground with a thump. Before he can rise, I stab the syringe into his arm and inject its contents. He tries to sit up only to find that it’s futile. He lies there, desperately twitching until he abruptly ceases. I press my fingers against his cold wrist and find no pulse. Excellent. Yet another win for Mme. Anaconda’s criminal empire. Rising to my feet, I tap on my ear as the comms system crackles to life.
“The mission was a success,” I tell Mme. Anaconda, “Ready for pickup.”
“Good job, 04,” she replies, “Agent 22 will be there shortly.”
I step away from the corpse and look at the neon view below. I don’t know why I let myself do this. It’s times like these when I start thinking about things I must not. About how my name was Charlotte once, a long time ago. About how I can’t remember anything before I was six. There has to be something there. Something important locked away in my mind that I can never find. Searching through my past is like looking through dense fog. Every time I push, I only find glimpses of another life. My parents. My old apartment. Fear. A strange figure lurking behind me-
My thoughts are mercifully interrupted by the loud whir of a helicopter arriving above me. I take that as a cue to grab the body, stowing away my delusions of a past life. I leave my thoughts behind with a pop of a grappling hook, flying under the moonlight.
– – – – –
We land a mile away from the Den near a thick forest. Once Agent 22 hops out, he tosses the corpse onto his back and gestures for me to follow him. As if I didn’t know the way. Once again, I find myself rolling my eyes beneath my mask. While I am the youngest of Mme. Anaconda’s assassins, this doesn’t mean that I need help getting back to the compound. I follow him obediently regardless. We arrive back at the Den about thirty minutes later. The drab building has a cold, windowless design, contributing to its imposing aura. It’s also extensive, albeit obscured by the forest. This is the only place I’ve known to be home.
Agent 22 knocks on the door with the secret rhythm. Shortly afterward, Agent 18 lets us in with a curt nod. 22 heads straight for the cremation room to dispose of the corpse, while I navigate the labyrinth of the Den’s corridors to Mme. Anaconda’s chamber.
I’ve walked these halls at least a thousand times. I used to get lost in them as a cadet. I would wander around, searching in vain for my quarters after brutal training from Ms. Stitches. I would often collapse from walking in circles with my aches and bruises. She used to come to find me and carry me back every time I lost my way. One day, she’d had enough of me and helped me learn how to get back with landmarks she made. I never forgot, mainly because those landmarks involved more bruises.
Two agents on either side of the room offer passive gazes as I enter. “Welcome back, 04,” a woman with a thick French accent greets me. “I see you were successful.” She grins, although when she does she’s never expressing joy. This time it’s the smug pride of a crime boss when another operation goes right. She lounges on her golden throne, emerald serpents coiled throughout its design. To match, each fixture in her lavish chamber is golden with an emerald snake running down the side. The auric chandelier above me shines brightly, its diamonds dangling within arm’s reach. It always takes immense strength of will to keep from reaching up and running my fingers through it.
“Yes, Mme. Anaconda,” I reply as I pull off my mask. My curls fly into my eyes, but I shake them away. “22 is disposing of the target as we speak.”
“Excellent. Were there any difficulties during the mission?”
“Good work. Agent 33 will see that you have your tea. You are dismissed.”
I bow my head once more as one of the agents drifts to my side. After every mission, everyone gets special tea. No one truly understands what it is or the magic behind what it does. All I know is that the moment the tea hits my lips, my pain melts away, my mind rests, and I’m out like a light before I make it halfway through a cup. I’ll need it to keep the strange pieces of my past from slipping through. Any distractions in this line of work are typically fatal.
Agent 33 escorts me through the halls to the shadowy tea room. I remain outside while 33 enters. The secret of the tea is so guarded, I can only imagine what the space looks like. Perhaps it appears empty, save for a hidden knob or lever that reveals where the tea is made. Maybe there’s someone in there diligently managing a variety of odd contraptions. Or maybe someone is crafting seemingly ordinary chamomile tea while carefully lacing other mysterious liquids. I quickly dismiss these ideas. Mme. Anaconda is probably forcing some demoralized slave to work a precise secret recipe.
33 emerges from the room with a small cup of hot tea wrapped in a towel. We share a curt nod as he hands it to me. I’m eager to take a sip now, but I know to wait until I’m in the comfort of my quarters.
– – – – –
I arrive at the entrance of my quarters, ready to rest my weary eyes. It’s been a long night with only four hours of sleep. With the tea, I’ll be able to score an extra hour or two. I lick my thumb and press it onto the scanner to satisfy its need for a saliva sample. It shines green and the door slides open. I’m welcomed by the stale smell of my quarters. Sure, it has a striking resemblance to a prison cell. It’s only a bed with a rock-hard mattress, a small dresser with a mirror above it, and fifteen square feet of a bathroom. But it’s my only space of privacy.
I sit down on my bed, ready to take a sip of my magical tea. As I raise the cup to my lips, my head begins to pound. I cry out, nearly dropping my cup of solace. I take deep breaths and set my cup on the floor to keep from spilling it. The pain intensifies. My head isn’t pounding anymore. It’s exploding. I cry out again, my hands jumping to the sides of my head to keep my skull together as I writhe in agony on the bed. I moan as my head overloads with unbidden images. I’m little again, skipping jubilantly with my parents with my curls bouncing freely behind me. Next, I’m crying in terror underneath my bed as strange men invade my home. Now I’m running, using fear to propel my legs even faster. I’m innocent prey hiding from vicious hunters. What do they want from me? Where are my parents? Can anyone help me? I’m alone and lost on these streets and there’s no one to save me and I’m not going to make it and these men are going to get me and I just want to go home and I can’t take this and--
It stops. The pain is gone. The images are gone as if they were never there. Breathless and sweaty, I force myself to sit up.
What the heck was that??
I don’t allow myself to think about the incident any longer. I snatch my tea from the ground and chug it down. I ignore the way it burns down my throat. Its effects work within seconds, and I’m fast asleep.