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Never Have I Ever (Mature 18+)

 
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Evia
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2017 1:26 am    Post subject: Never Have I Ever (Mature 18+) Reply with quote

“Just come back, Evia. Please?”

“I’ve got things that I’m doing here.”

“No, you don’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I do. Come back. We’ll get you reassigned here and it can be like Munich again.”

“Munich? Munich? Go to Hell.”

=====================================================

Munich, Germany

Early August. Hot, hot, hot. Hotter than normal even. We had been in Munich for eighteen months at that point. For what, I don’t quite remember. This or that or the other. It’s easy to forget sometimes. The three of us shared a loft just a few blocks off of Leopoldstrasse. It was a gorgeous fourth floor thing with a view of the Siegestor from two of the three bay windows on the east wall. Closets and a tub to die for. I think I spent hours in that thing. We may have filled the days with work but it also meant the nights were long with drinking and parties. Fifty years after the height of Luitpold, Schwabing was still a bohemian dream. When it all balanced out, it didn’t even feel like work.

He helped with that, I’m sure. These sort of stories always have one, you know. But trust me when I say this is no love story. Munich, for all of his insistence otherwise, was anything but.

Did I mention that I’m a horrid liar? Absolutely horrible. He had been in Munich for only a few weeks longer than we had. Before that, he was a name on a piece of paper, a “look but don’t touch” among a sea of untouchables. This was before the Institute really thought us capable of full autonomy. For a long time before Munich, it had been the three of us, the Institute’s (un)holy trinity of sorts. Typically with a few babysitters but never any contacts that could possibly influence or be influenced. They were still figuring us out.

But Munich was different. Germany was such an iffy thing, if only for the memories it drudged up and everything that it had stood for at one point to our family. It was with no lacking amount of hesitation that we went. Our trepidation was short lived and we quickly found a comfortable place in the city to call our own.
He came into play not long after and the rest is a history that I think about more often than I want to admit. Eighteen months later and I’m strolling hand in hand through the Englischer Garten on a hot summer day with a piece of myself I had never known was missing until he came into my life.

I know, I know. I’m complete without such a thing but sometimes it’s nice to fill in the cracks with something that just fits right. Which isn’t a euphemism in the least, contrary to what Eeva may think. He was young and handsome and charming, dangerous in a way that I should have avoided. He could kill a man in thirty-seven different ways without breaking a sweat. He could dance, he could keep up with me on the ivory keys of the baby grand in our living room, he could even sort of sing. He spoke six languages and had received an enviable education.

And he was mine.

Or at least as mine as someone like him could be. He was never truly anyone’s. Not even his own, I don’t think. None of us really were, were we? But Munich was hot and beautiful and we held hands even when our palms would sweat. It was gross, looking back. Hand sweat. There was a bench, sort of out of the way but still close enough to the park’s center that we could people watch. It was rare when we got moments like that, my head on his shoulder, his hand on my thigh. Months before he had carved our initials into the bench’s arm.
E + E, like we were teenagers or something. It’s sort of what I imagined being a teenager would be like, almost.

We sat there for hours that day and after he told me he was being reassigned, I sat there alone for hours more.

He says it can be like Munich again. No, it can never be like Munich again.

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


Last edited by Evia on Fri Mar 31, 2017 10:48 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2017 7:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Never have I ever… competed in the Olympics.”

“I guess I have to drink. Really you should have taken it further and say you’ve never won an Olympic medal.”

“Now you’re just showing off.”

================================================== ====================

Oslo, Norway

Eeva skated beautifully, it’s really a shame we missed it. They said her triple axel was immaculate. I would have liked to have seen it but instead Elia and I found ourselves in a diner six miles from the rink. We hadn’t planned on missing it but sometimes you can’t say no to waffles. The place tried to imitate the greasy spoon diners of the Americas and catered to many of those who had come to spectate. Full tables, neon lights, there were even a few girls in poodle skirts. I don’t miss those, not in the least. Elia said they’re an affront to fashion, as if affixing an applique canine to your clothing was the greatest fashion faux pas possible. But the waitresses were pretty, the imported syrup was sweet, and our timetable was running along right on schedule.

“Time,” Elia said so softly that I almost missed it.

“I’m not done…” I pointed with my fork to the quarter of a waffle remaining on my plate. The look my older sister gave me would have brought lesser women to their knees. I’d had twenty-ish years to learn to contend with it. Calmly I sawed off another syrupy bite and stuffed it in my mouth.

“Macher’s on his way out,” she hissed. Without swiveling my stool, I glanced toward the diner’s door. Konrad Macher, or at least the one that Elia implied was Macher, was shouldering out through the door amidst the tinkling of merry bells. Once outside, fluffy flurries dusted his broad shoulders and the dark fabric of his knit cap. It was cold but not unbearable, excusing his need to duck his head against the chill as he passed the front window of the diner. Elia had already paid the bill and I tried to fit as much of my remaining waffle into my mouth as I could while shrugging on my own coat. El ended up three steps ahead of me, a gap I made up by the time we made it to the door.

“Where’d he go?” I murmured up to my sister, falling into step at her side once I was no longer chomping on breakfast food in the middle of the afternoon. She had elected to wear heels despite the snow, a fact that set her several inches taller than me. This was before I really learned how to walk in them properly so my snow boots left me clomping along beside her, leaving deep impressions in the snowbanks that were drifting up against the storefronts.

“A block ahead since you were so slow.” Elia said with a glance over her shoulder. It wasn’t like her to get this irritable over things but seldom were
things this big. I guess I couldn’t blame her, let alone poke fun. Rather than argue, I went quiet, burying my gloved hands deep in my pockets. The weight I found there still felt strange. In the left, a passport that said I was someone I wasn’t and a billfold with more money than I knew what to do with. In the right I curled my hand around the grip of the Italian made semi-automatic pistol. Originally meant for the Italian Armed Forces, we managed to end up with a handful of specially made arms, one of which sat heavily in my hand. Unlike others I had shot, it was Beretta’s first locked-breech handgun on the market. It was meant to be a lightweight alloy fitted weapon but the one in my grasp had a steel frame that more than made up for the earlier prototypes that found the alloy unable to handle the shock of the high powered 9x19 Parabellum rounds in the pair of magazines that I had on me.

“Left turn in sixty feet,” I told Elia, as if she hadn’t seen Macher make the exact same turn. Thankfully her biting sarcasm was restrained in favor of a nod, our steps synchronizing with little conscious effort. Her hands had fallen into her pockets as well, the pull of her right elbow indicating that she held in her hand my M1951’s twin. Thirty-two steps later, we turned the corner after Macher. He had stopped, a fact we hadn’t counted on. Just aside of the building’s edge, he waited. When we turned, he swung an elbow up for Elia’s face since she was nearest, narrowly missing her nose as she ducked. It clipped her temple and knocked her into me, forcing me to abandon the hold on my weapon to keep her upright. As things so often were in those early days, the chaos exploded within the dark of the narrow gap between buildings. Those moments seem to stretch on in real time but reality sees but a handful of seconds pass. I remember my back meeting a brick wall and a heavy fist connecting repeatedly with my jaw, because evidently chivalry was dead and hitting a woman was no big deal.

It stopped all at once with a trio of pops. One, two, three suppressed rounds fired, Konrad Macher dropped in front of me. To my right, Elia’s Beretta was trained on his still form, the gun trembling in spite of the solid hold she had on it. In the dark her eyes were wide but her expression read steel in an exquisite example of righteous fury. Macher didn’t move, his viscera painting a picture of his demise on a canvas of greying snow. I nudged him with my foot then jumped when his body jolted with the impact of two more shots then three more before Elia found the magazine empty with the next trigger pull.

“Time. It’s done,” I told her, raising a hand to push down on her arm. Suppressed or not, the commotion would assuredly draw attention. Reluctantly she pulled away from the man on the ground and turned back toward the way we had come from. I was quick to follow. Neither of us said a word until we reached Bislett Stadion.

“He was a monster.” Elia whispered, shivering as we stepped into the welcome warmth of the stadium. We were too late for Eeva’s showing but we were told we had made it in time to watch the medal ceremony.

“They all are.” I assured her. Konrad Macher got his just desserts, there was no doubt in my mind.

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


Last edited by Evia on Mon Mar 27, 2017 2:54 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 8:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Never have I ever… sat on top of the Hollywood sign at sunset.”

“It’s quite the view, though I regret not getting to see it from afar. Up close it’s kind of boring.”

“Maybe we’ll go back some time.”

“Maybe…”

================================================== ====================

Los Angeles, California, United States of America

I wasn’t kidding when I said the view was spectacular. For all of the beauty of the beach, the hills of Los angeles drew my admiration in a much subtle way. The shore was a natural gem, all crystalline waters, sandy beaches, and salty air. The city in between was a growing, changing beast, more than two million people (and counting) pinned between the mountains and the sea as they cemented LA’s place in history as a major metropolitan center, full of culture and diversity and endless go, go, go. The hills were steadfast in their support of the city and shore both, but with far less notice. I liked the hills.

“Sun’s sinking real fast.” Naoki broke my reverie with the exhale of a cloud of smoke and a few accented words. I cast a look to where the sea met the sky in the distance to find it painted with glossy golds and reds. The white caps swelled with the tide to leave seafoam and driftwood along a shore fast clearing of beachgoers.

“How long do we have?” I asked, rolling to sprawl on my back atop the Y. The darkening sky was already giving life to the stars, pinprick twinkles casting meager light in defiance of the dying day. Naoki took another drag from his cigarette then crushed it out against a strip of exposed steel. They had just refinished the sign a few years prior, it would have been a shame for him to mark up the fresh paint so soon.

“Eighteen minutes, give or take. So long as your people are in position on time.” He answered, pulling a pair of binoculars to his eyes “Yeah, eighteen.”

“They’ll be in place, Sato.” I assured him. Elia, Eeva, and I were a well oiled machine by now. The Institute had seen to as much. Naoki on the other hand knew far less. I don’t even remember where they picked him up as a contact originally. Finding good assets stateside was hard back then but I think they snagged him straight out of camp. He had been through the proverbial ringer, sort of like we had. It makes good contacts though it comes at the cost of crushing cynicism and bitterness. I’m not bitter much anymore.

“So’s this a big one then? You’re fidgety.” Naoki commented. It made me suddenly conscientious of the drumming of my fingers against my hip. I had eighteen minutes to kill, my hands needed something to do.

“There are sayings about idle hands, you know.” I smiled aside then rolled back over to my stomach. “Time check?”

“Eleven. Say, when we’re done would you wanna get a bite to eat or something?” He asked, scratching at the back of his neck. I studied him sidelong for a few moments. Only in a job like this could you so brazenly consider dinner right after finishing. I shrugged.

“Yeah, sure. Why not.” There was still ten minutes to go but it was better to be in position well in advance. Naoki grinned in the growing dark and flopped onto his stomach with his binoculars laid out in front of him. In a pushup position, I set my legs into a wide V and brought the butt stock of the set up rifle against the pocket of my shoulder. Relaxing my thumb, I set a high, firm grip then double checked my data. Only minor adjustments were needed, two clicks to the left on the windage turret. Otherwise it felt even, not canted in the least, textbook in my preparation. “Time?”

“Four minutes.” Naoki said, setting his elbows wide to pin the binoculars to his face again. There he held them as I set my cheek weld and peered through the sight. In less than four minutes, one or both of my sisters would pass right in front of my view followed only moments after by an absolutely gorgeous man. Tall, blonde, and broad shouldered, he was a charming mountain. In short, a total lady killer.

Literally.

“Two minutes.” Naoki said at my side. Normally the Institute tried to deal in extractions but some were just too messy, especially on foreign soil. It's where we came in. Uncle Reuven knew he could trust us to get it done. In the early days there were some who doubted him. Who would trust such monumental tasks to a trio of young Jewish girls with no discernible military background?

I don't really blame them. I don’t trust me either.

“Forty-five seconds.” Naoki counted down. I barely heard him over my heartbeat.

“There they are. Target confirmed. Fifteen seconds.”

I took three breaths in without exhaling until it felt like my lungs might burst. Spaced so perfectly, no sooner had my respiration evened out on the third before dark hair and olivine skin passed in front of my scope’s view. Eeva. No, Elia judging by her posture.

One.

Two.

Three. Blonde and tan would have passed next if it weren’t for the slow, even trigger pull that fired a single shot on the downbeat of my heart. The recoil caught my shoulder but the plant of my feet against the metal and wood underneath me helped absorb most of it. I ended up with a short lived bruise, though that was pretty par for the course. It was gone in a few hours anyways.

“He’s down and they’re gone.” Naoki confirmed as I drew back from the rifle and pushed up onto my knees. The wiry Asian did the same and gave me a grin, one hand held up for a high five. “Nice shot.”

He wasn’t alive to compliment my next shot, leveled from a smoothly draw handgun that had been tucked into a holster around my right thigh. Naoki Sato slumped on top of the Hollywood sign’s “Y” as I packed up, my hands trembling as I disassembled the post and tucked everything neatly into a hard shelled case. Snapping the locks shut, the sling was thrown over my shoulder as I cast one last look Naoki’s way. Good assets were always so hard to find stateside, likely because they never made it past a handful of interactions. Climbing down from the scaffold, everything was soon loaded up in the trunk of a car I’d never get to drive again. I met up with Eeva and Elia shortly after just a few miles away.

“You wanna get something to eat?” Eeva asked from the back seat. I wasn’t hungry, not after that, but I nodded just the same.

“Sure, why not.”

Nils Abend may have been a monster but assuredly, I was no better.

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


Last edited by Evia on Mon Mar 27, 2017 2:55 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Never have I ever ruined a pair of your shoes.”

“Liar! Yes you have!”

“Have not! I wouldn’t.”

“But you have!”

“As if she could.”

“She did, I swear it. Oy gevalt! Eeva, that’s sweet and sour sauce on my carpet!”

==================================================

Muranów, Warsaw, Poland

I don’t blame them for not wanting to remember. It’s not exactly something I try to think about either. Eeva, she’s good at blocking that stuff out. I hadn’t worn shoes that day. They were on Eeva’s feet instead. It’s both an upside and a terrible downside to have similarly sized feet to both of my sisters. Sure it expands our closets drastically but at the same time, the gravel under my toes bit into my skin and made me feel dirty. Everything felt dirty. It’s truly one of the worst feelings aside from being hungry. The ration queue had been a long one that morning but we were better equipped than others to pull through the hard times.

“Hardship will make you appreciate the good,” Papa said before we left. Ever the optimist, he bled infectious positivity even on the darkest of days. “And practicing your music is not a hardship so be ready to play when you get home.”

We sang the whole way there and much of the way back. The burden we carried was a light one, rations for a family of five, split between the three of us after trading in three days worth of stamps. Half of the supplies would eventually be bartered away for things we needed more, pieces and parts to keep our parents’ crafts flowing, each creation smuggled carefully away to be sold for far higher prices than they could possibly fetch here. In early October, there was already a winterish chill in the air, but the sun was shining and the sky was clear. All in all, there had been worse days.

“A kitten sits on the fence and he blinks, and he blinks. It's a very pretty song, and it's not long, it's not long.” Elia sang at my side, watching as a skinny boy just a few years younger than we were went scampering from the dark shadow of a building to quickly dive under an itty bitty gap beneath the tall fence that wrapped around our district. It took a bit of wiggling but he made it through without notice.

“Not long and not short, but just right, but just right. Come on, little kitten, sing again, sing again.” I finished as a second boy ran after him, his knobby knees bent to keep him low to the ground. Where the first one had narrowly cleared the bowl shaped gap under the wall, the second found himself held up by the width of his shoulders as he tried to get through. It was all the time the patrol needed. A pair of shots rang out like whipcracks through the air. The boy cried out then went still.

“Piotr!” A third boy came running from the building’s edge. No older than six or seven, his clothes were too big and his frame too small. He dashed to the fallen boy and tugged on his foot, trying to pull him out from the gap. Elia, Eeva, and I exchanged wary looks. Papa had always forbidden us from going anywhere near the district’s wall, likely for this very reason. As the smallest boy continued to futilely try to yank the older boy free, a third gunshot split the shocked silence. The littlest of three was blown back hard enough that he fell right onto his back, his legs kicking up in the air with the recoil. He clutched at his stomach and writhed on the ground, his pained cries the only sound I could hear. Nobody moved, nobody dared. Nobody except Eeva. She dropped what she was carrying and ran to the boy, hooking her hands under his arms to drag him as far from the wall as she could get.

“Eeva, no!” Elia cried, stooping to pick up the dropped rations. A trail of red painted their escape into the narrow path between buildings and while Elia cleaned up our mess, I dashed after Eeva. Around the corner, Eeva sat on the ground, the little boy pulled into her lap with her hand pressed over the sticky wound in his abdomen. He looked so small and fragile, tears trickling down his dirty cheeks.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay. You’ll be okay,” she cooed softly to him, carefully rocking the boy side to side. “What’s your name?”

“Os-Oskar,” he stammered, his pale mouth cresting with a film of diluted red. He coughed then bucked against Eeva’s hold. “It hurts. It hurts!”

“It’s going to be okay, I promise, Oskar. Just breathe, it’ll be okay soon.” Eeva’s voice wavered as she spoke. She looked up at me, her eyes glassy with the threat of tears. I knelt down in front of them to push Oskar’s messy hair out of his face. He had big blue eyes, the same color as the sky overhead. They were wide and intent on my face as I leaned over them. A brief look exchanged with Eeva said more than we wanted to admit. For all that we tried to reassure him, he wasn’t going to be okay. He whimpered again.

“Sing to him.” Elia’s voice came from behind me. Her arms were loaded with all that had been dropped but she didn’t look angry. Pity was etched across her expression, an all too familiar heartbreak once more reiterating the reality of our situation. “Sing him to sleep.”

“A-A kitten sits on the fence and he blinks,” I began, my voice shaking, “And he blinks. It's a very pretty song, and it's not long, it's not long.” Eeva joined in by the next refrain. “Not long and not short, but just right, but just right. Come on, little kitten, sing again, sing again.”

Oskar stopped crying halfway through the second repeat of A Kitten Sits On The Fence. He stopped breathing by the beginning of the third. Eeva rocked him through the rest of the song and for a few moments after we had gone quiet. With assistance, she got to her feet, Oskar still in her lanky arms. His blood had stained her dress and legs and the shoes I had let her wear. The white saddles of the shoes were streaked with dark red, reminding me of the jokes that went something along the lines of
What’s black and white and red all over? My sister. My sister is black and white and red all over. Refusing to relinquish her hold on him, we took the side streets back into the district center until we reached the unassuming storefront that doubled as a clinic. Seldom could they do anything there with their minimal supplies so often they acted only as a morgue for the fallen. There were tears shed and sobbed apologies given for things that we had no control over then after they had cleaned Eeva up a bit, we were sent on our way.

Hardship will make you appreciate the good, Papa said. Where was the good in that? The bloodied shoes were put in the back of the closet, forgotten until long after we left Muranów.
_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


Last edited by Evia on Mon Mar 27, 2017 2:56 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 1:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Never have I ever been kissed at the top of the Eiffel Tower.”

“That makes two of us.”

“But…”

“Trust me, it makes two of us.”

“Oh. We should drink anyways.”

“I’m not gonna argue.”

==============================================

Paris, France

“I didn’t think you would come.” His voice made me jump, my hands tightening around the railing of the Pont d'Iéna. But it was him, I knew that much. Releasing my death grip, I turned around to face him. Just as I remembered him, tall, dark, handsome in every conventional sense of the word. He made Ralph Lauren look impeccable. It had always made me wonder why he hadn’t ended up with Elia instead. The two would have been a perfectly dressed couple constantly. There he stood on the bridge, the very picture of peak masculine perfection with the sun beginning to set behind him and the Jardins du Trocadéro like some sort of expertly timed ad for menswear or some such nonsense. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to hate him with everything I had. But all I could do was shrug.

“You asked.” It was the only comeback I could muster. In my head I had rehearsed this conversation eight thousand times before agreeing to meet him a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower like some lovesick tourist. He seemed to hesitate before drawing near to me, one hand brought up to brush my hair from my eyes.

“I didn’t expect you to say yes. But thank you. Thank you for coming.” His hand slid along the outside of my arm. It wasn’t cold but his touch sent a shiver of familiarity down my spine. Simultaneously I loved and loathed it, rocking back on my heels as if to pull away. I thought his grip might tighten but at the last moment, he dropped his hand and slid it to hook in the lip of his jacket pocket. “Walk with me?”

I couldn’t say no, I’d never been good at saying no to him. In a past life, we would have gone hand in hand. Instead we walked with two feet in between us, his hands in his pockets and my arms folded over my chest. Downwind I was overwhelmed by the head scent of the trendy new cologne he wore. Bergamot and lemon, artemisia and peppermint. A Guerlain release, of course. I was always such a sucker for that. Who was I kidding, I was a sucker for him.

“I trust the train ride wasn’t dreadful?” He asked. Small talk, oi, had we fallen so far? I suppose with the years spent avoiding each other, it was only inevitable. I donned a wan smile and nodded.

“It was uneventful though I was sorry to say goodbye to Milan so close to Fashion Week.” It was a half truth. Moreso Elia was sad to see me go and Eeva as well if only because it left her alone with Elia during a particularly stressful lead up. Our wandering path led us back toward the infamous tower where we mingled with tourists and other young couples alike as they explored what may have been one of the most romantic spots in the world. Why had I agreed to meet him here of all places?

“Third deck? Or would you prefer dinner instead?” He asked. I swallowed to force my heart back down my throat and into my chest. Dinner would require sitting across from him at a table for several courses and likely a handful of rounds of drinks. The third deck of the tower, I could at least breathe.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve gone all the way up.” I admitted. He insisted on taking the lift out of concern for the Italian stilettos I had forced my feet into prior to meeting him. Elia would have had an aneurysm had I broken them. It was a long, slightly awkward ride to the top observation deck of the famed Eiffel Tower but the view once we emerged more than made up for it. “Beautiful.”

“Yes.” He agreed. I could feel his eyes on me. Was this a John Hughes movie? I didn’t look away from the sun sinking on the horizon. I couldn’t look at him, not now. He was always good at picking up on that though. “Evia?”

“What, Ezra?” His name still felt like acid on my tongue. It had for years.

“Stay with me. For tonight, for the weekend, for as long as you want. Just stay.” When he spoke again he was right behind me. At the very least I didn’t jump this time. A tentative touch of his fingers to my arm found me stiffening but not drawing away, encouraging him to gently try to turn me away from the observation deck’s edge. With no lacking amount of reluctance, I faced him, a sigh restrained just barely. For almost a minute we stared, a moment that stretched an eternity between us, where the world fell away and it was only he and I. Assuredly I’m remembering it with rose tinted glasses, the moment skewed by some piece of hopeless romanticism. The hand on my arm slid up to cup my jaw. His fingers were rough, likely the only part of him that was, his palm callused by much the same activities that had made my weekly manicures a downright necessity.

“I shouldn’t.” I said.

“But do you want to?” He asked, his thumb grazing my cheek. The lights caught his eyes, highlighting the green and gold in his irises as he looked down at me. I wanted to, oh how I wanted to. But wants and needs and cans and wills are often drastically different things. I sucked at my bottom lip, an act that drew his gaze to my mouth. It was a look I had seen up close many times before but before I could answer and before he could capitalize on the tension of the moment, I gave him what I can only describe as a sad smile before stepping back from him.

“I want to. But I shouldn’t. And you know as well as I do that it’s not about our wants, is it?” I had called him after he had left Munich so long ago. Had made a complete fool of myself crying and begging him to stay. I told him we could run away together, leave everything behind. In return I had been given a lecture about the needs of the many as if I were some child who didn’t understand this. We didn’t speak for months. He had gone to Ankara, I had stayed in Munich with my sisters until we were eventually called back to Tel Aviv. Life had gone back to normal, at least for a little while.

“We can make it work, if we really try. I want this, you want it. We’ve both been in this game long enough now that surely we can find a way. Ev, just tonight then.”

I should have said no but needless to say, I stayed. Just for a night though. And technically it wasn’t a lie because he didn’t kiss me until we made it to the hotel.

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


Last edited by Evia on Mon Mar 27, 2017 2:57 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"You're a vintage Sabra GT at a Boise, Idaho car show. It's okay to be a little vain."

"Boise's nice in the fall. Have you actually seen a Sabra GT or were you just using it for impact?"

"I restored one for a client once. Was a rare and beautiful piece of work. Ever driven one?"

"No, but I took quite the ride in one. My old boss before he retired had one."

"That's one lucky fella, your old boss."

"He earned it."

================================================== ==================

Golan Heights, Syria

It was a Sabra. It wasn’t a GT. The GT wouldn’t be out for another year or two and even we couldn’t get our hands on the prototypes. Whatever it was, it was fast. You wouldn’t think a sportscar would handle nearly so well in the mountainous region that served as a meeting of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, but sure enough, every hairpin turn taken at breakneck speeds was done so without so much as a tire losing traction.

“Faster, you’ve got to go faster!” I screamed at Jude. He had already pushed the car to its breaking point, much more and we would have assuredly ended up at the bottom of the gully next to which we were zipping down a narrow dirt road barely carved out of the side of the hill. Desperately I pressed my hands over the gaping wound in the chest of the man in my lap. The little coupe was hardly built for two let alone three people but we had had little choice when we had taken a hasty leave from Damascus.

“Ev, I’m going as fast as I can.” Jude answered me through gritted teeth. A hard sob racked my shoulders but no tears came. There was blood all over my hands, my dress, the seat, everywhere. Only some of it was mine. There were three slugs and their bits and pieces that would have to be extracted from my arm and shoulder later. It would hurt, especially if I gave it too much longer to heal, but it was an afterthought compared to the man I was holding. Each breath came in a wheezing rattle, a struggle with every inhale. Our destination, Nazareth, was too far away.

“What about Kiryat Shmona?” I asked. It was less than ten miles ahead, we’d be there in a little over five minutes at the speed Jude was clocking. It was safe within Israel’s border, the northernmost town that we could reach from our current position. Jude shook his head, his dark curls bouncing. There was blood on his collar. I still wonder if it was mine or Reu’s.

“No usable hospital. We have to make it to Nazareth.” The Sabra jerked hard as he swerved from dirt to pavement, the tiny sportscar zipping out into traffic with the sort of recklessness that would assuredly bring a normal driver ruin.

“Nazareth’s an hour away. He doesn’t have an hour.” I protested. Beneath my grasp, Reu coughed, a pinkish foam forming on his lips. Using a bloodied handkerchief from his suit jacket pocket, I wiped his mouth and whispered soothing sounds. The man had been like family for as long as my sisters and I had been with the Institute, I couldn’t let him go out like this. To this day, I still don’t know just what went wrong in Damascus. One moment we were enjoying a dinner packed to the gills with diplomats, dignitaries, and socialites, a rare who’s who of the era and area. The next, we’re being dragged from the dining hall amidst gunfire.

“Not with me driving.” Jude assured me.

He had been right, it took us thirty-five minutes according to the smeared face of my watch, a white gold Cartier thing that Reu had given me a few years earlier. Every time I wear it, I’m reminded of him. Sometimes I put it away for months at a time just to avoid that. But we made it to Nazareth as the sun set in the west, the Sabra squealing around the last corner, kicking up gravel and dust as Jude veered into the safe house’s drive. We were met outside by a cadre of heavily armed men and women. One pulled the door open before I could even try to fumble with it.

“Help me. Help him!” I begged, unwrapping the barely breathing man who had gone limp in my lap. I couldn’t feel my legs and as soon as they pulled him free of the coupe, the blood went rushing back to my thighs. Still I stumbled as I spilled from the car. Jude caught me by an elbow then wrapped a solid arm around my waist to keep me upright. They took Reu one way and Jude and I the other. I was still sitting on the table getting little bit of bullet fished out of my shoulder when we were interrupted by a grave faced woman. Her surgical mask had been unlooped and left to hang around her neck, a noose with which I wanted so desperately to strangle her with as she gently shook her head in response to the question on all of our minds.

“He didn’t make it, his injuries were too much and--”

I didn’t get to hear the rest of her excuses. I was too busy hopping off the table to the protest of the man who had been putting me back together again. I needed air more than I needed him fishing around in my flesh. They ended up having to cut me open later to extract them. It was less about concern for damage and more about the burgeoning implementation of metal detectors that made having such a thing in my body hazardous, no matter how small the fragments were. Jude was outside when I got there, a cigarette held in a steady hand and a thousand yard stare pinned on the horizon.

“He didn’t--” I began.

“I heard. I’m sorry.” Curt, almost cold, his tone was void of emotion. I didn’t think I’d ever get to the point of such composure. I still don’t think I can.

Maybe with time.

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Never have I ever… split my pants in front of a hot guy.”

“Oh that’s not fair!”

“Drink.”

“Seriously! Low blow, El. Low blow.”

“Hey, you wanted to play, you gotta drink.”

===============================================

Tokyo, Japan

In life there are three absolute truths.

One. All bleeding stops… eventually.

Two. If anything can go wrong, it will.

And three. Five second fuses always burn in three seconds.

In Tokyo, all three absolutes came into play. Some assignments are simple; infiltrate, extract, get out without being noticed. Others get messy. When things get messy, they call us in. By the time we hit Japan, we were practically experts in fulfilling the expectations set out by the Institute. G-d knows we had met them enough by then. I couldn’t honestly tell you how many jobsites we had been to at that point. I remember them all but they end up jumbled, bits and pieces lost to the wear and tear of time, blocked, suppressed, held back for the sake of my own sanity. They say it’s for our own good, that defense mechanism, but I’ve seen the side effects. It’s a steady degeneration, slipping away little by little until we become the very thing that we’ve spent so long trying to destroy.

Now. With all of that said, sometimes I wish I could block out Tokyo. Not because it was particularly traumatizing so much as it was absolutely mortifying. We hit Narita Friday morning which gave us almost forty-eight hours to make all of our preparations and maybe still have a little bit of time to enjoy the city. Let me tell you, that sort of population density is absolutely insane. Shinjuku alone, which was where we were mostly localized to, was something like fifteen
thousand people per square kilometer.

Between the three of us, we managed not only to get our room set up but even did so with plenty of time to enjoy a Friday night in Tokyo. It was bright and vibrant and I swear there were so many lights that you could see the entire city from space. We drank, we danced, we got into a little bit of mischief, but if Friday was for play, Saturday was most definitely for work. Shortly before noon, we ventured to a bistro to nurse mimosas for non-existent hangovers. It was there that we were meant to meet our joint task partners.

Benjiro, or Ben as he insisted we call him, looked less like an agent and more like he belonged in one of those Japanese boy bands or perhaps an animated RPG like the ones Eeva liked playing on the PlayStation. That hair was positively gravity defying! He was cute though, pretty enough that it should have been illegal. His partner was a little closer to normal looking. He was a quiet man with a kind smile named Kazuhiko. We made unassuming small talk on the front patio of the bistro, our interaction laced with coded talk in stiff Japanese. The five of us left together at a quarter til two and lost ourselves on the streets of Tokyo. Kazuhiko and Elia went one way while Ben, Eeva, and I went the other. We would meet the Komorebi Imperial Hotel three hours later.

The mission was simple; get in, disarm the security system, reach the penthouse without detection, and neutralize two targets inside.

Easy.

Or not. Kazuhiko and Benjiro had collected their intel on the building two weeks prior but it wasn’t until Ben and I were crouched behind an upended armoire while taking heavy fire did he admit that maybe, just maybe it was a little outdated.

“What do you mean outdated?! You got it two weeks ago!” I hissed at him, ejecting one magazine to swap it for a fresh one. Above my head, wood splintered as it was peppered with a new volley from the quartet of men that had been stationed throughout the penthouse level.

“I’m just saying it looks like they redid the layout. Hardly expected in fourteen days.” Ben shrugged, twisting to try and get a peek around our cover. He snapped back against me when they spotted him and shot where his face had been only a moment before.

“Alright, well at the very least it looks like the access panel is still on the northwest corner like we thought. That’ll get us into the safe room?” Like lightning, I popped fast enough for a quick squeeze of return fire before dropping back down.

“Allegedly.” He said with a grimace. We had a window of exactly four and a half minutes to get past the hired muscle, to the access panel, and into the panic room. “We’ve got to move though. Cover me?”

“I’ve got you. On three.” I had a decent idea of just where each of the others was positioned so when we emerged from our hiding spot, it made it easy to take one of the four down with a well placed pair of shots while Ben darted for the corner. As soon as they realized where he was going, they changed their target which left me to catch up, raining down a hail of bullets on the men as my short term partner dashed to the wall and peeled open the access panel. A red light blinked steadily at him, indicating an issue with how the security system had been armed. That was either really good or really, really bad. I caught up to Ben and covered his back, warding off a spill of suits that came from the stairwell. Behind me Ben swore in Japanese. “Are you about done?”

“Almost!” He assured me. It was a good thing too. I felt it before I heard it, a slug burying itself in my hip. Twisting from the impact, I was jarred into Benjiro, who, despite our collision, let out a whoop of triumph as the red light turned green. He spun, steadying me with an easy hand. His forearm crossed over my shoulder and with it came the .45 in his grasp. Turning with me, he covered me while I took a moment to recover.

For the record, getting shot sucks.

To our left, a heavy, metal pocket door began to slide open and with it came confused yelling. It should have been like shooting fish in a barrel… if we could have got close enough. But the man and woman inside weren’t unarmed either so every time we came near, we were assaulted by the metallic ping of fresh gunfire. It was then that Ben pulled out our backup plan. A small disc with a magnetic plate on one side and a trigger on the other, it would assuredly bring far more attention and do much more damage than we had originally accounted for but there are sayings about desperate times. With a sidearm pitch, he depressed the button and threw the disc into the safe room and slammed the close button on the access panel. There was a clink when it stuck but we couldn’t stay longer than that unless we wanted to end up extra crispy too.

“Five seconds!” Ben called, his voice barely permeating the lingering touch of tinnitus that came from having his gun fired repeatedly right beside my head. We tried to clear the labyrinth in reverse, vaulting furniture and downed men like hurdles on our way out into the main hall. There we were caught by a gaggle of guards but between Ben and I we did a decent job of taking them down and we’d even have a second to spare. Or at least we would have had we had a full five seconds to begin with. Somewhere about three seconds after he threw the device, I felt the concussive boom in my chest. The shock wave tossed me into the far wall, pulverizing drywall and paint into a fine dust that coated my hair and shoulders like snow or dandruff.

“Cohen!” Benjiro jerked me to my feet and together we stumbled for one of the many shattered windows and out onto the fire escape. Smoke poured from the penthouse and distantly down below, I could hear sirens. From this high up, the view of Tokyo was spectacular. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to enjoy it for long. Ben and I slid down the edges of the stairs, using them like awkward slides to avoid having to run down them all. The jump from the second floor ledge to the alleyway below made my hip scream in protest but thankfully, the one absolutely critical part of our plan was actually where it should have been. Elia and Kazuhiko had an unassuming sedan idling at the back of the alleyway and as soon as we spotted them, it began pulling toward us. Ben, still breathless, cast a look aside to me. “You good?”

“Yeah,” I managed a smile. Why did he have to be so cute?

“You sure? You’re bleeding.” His chin dropped to indicate the red that was staining the front right panel of my jeans.

“I’m fine, really.” I assured him. The car came to a stop. Elia was behind the wheel while Kazuhiko sat shotgun. As if to impress that point upon Ben (or maybe just impress him in general), I gave him a cocky grin and got a jogging start for the car. Rather than round the front end for the driver’s side, I pulled a Dukes of Hazzard and went sliding across the hood on my uninjured hip. As I went careening off the opposite side, my right knee gave upon landing and I had to tuck and roll to keep from landing on my face. As I popped up, I heard it.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip.

Son of a bitch. I didn’t have to check to know that half of my rear was on display for the three pairs of eyes upon me, the denim having torn right across the back right side. Inside the car I could hear Elia roar with laughter. Kazuhiko and Benjiro at the very least had the decorum to
not add to it. My humiliation and I trudged to the back door and climbed in, my cheeks ablaze with mortification. I caught Elia’s gaze in the rearview, her amusement more than easily read. Almost, just almost, I caught Ben’s eye too but at the last moment looked out the window instead. We picked Eeva up half a block away and all over again I had to relive the moment as Elia gave her an in depth play by play. Both of my sisters giggled about it all the way home too. Talk about the longest flight ever.
_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2017 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Never have I ever seen such a gorgeous gun, Ee, let me tell you…”

“Who’s it from?”

“Oh… a friend…”

“Not like… an on again, off again, but hopefully totally off forever sort of boy gendered friend, right?”

“No… it wasn’t Ezra.”

“Then who?”

“A new friend. What can you tell me about these bullets?”

======================================

Rhy’Din City, Rhy'Din

“Miss Cohen, you have a delivery. Would you like me to sign for it?” Dov’s voice rolled through the intercom in my office. For a Thursday the day was remarkably slow so my assistant’s call found me spinning circles in the super plush high backed office chair. Deliveries weren’t completely out of the norm so why Dov had to ask every single time, I don’t know. Leaning over my desk, I bumped the intercom button and hummed a little note of contemplation.

“Yeah, sign for it and I’ll come grab it.” I told him, pushing my chair away from the desk and getting to my feet.

“I can bring it to you!” The young man responded eagerly. That sort of perpetual pep had to be exhausting. I sighed and pushed the button again.

“No, it’s okay. I will be there momentarily.” It gave me something to do and it wasn’t as if the bank was all that big. Leaving the door to my office open, I ventured out into the lobby and through the break in the teller’s counter, bumping the half height swinging divider shut behind me. Levi was leaning, flirting with a college girl named Susannah. Dov was giving them both a reproachful look that he broke only when I came near. Office drama, I could smell it brewing. “If you’ve time to lean, you’ve got time to clean, Lieberman.”

“Huh? Oh. Uh. I wasn’t leaning. I was just… helping train Susie.” Levi said, quickly straightening up to smooth his hands down the front of his sky blue button down. It matched his eyes. I couldn’t say he wasn’t pretty. At the very least I understood why Eeva had a crush on him.

“I trained Susannah myself. She’s an incredibly independent and capable young woman. She’ll be fine, I’m sure.” I told him with a pleasant smile. It was that sort of boss smile that doesn’t quite get to the eyes and says, quite plainly,
Don’t **** with me. With some sort of mumbled apology or other, he found something to busy himself with. Susannah had turned a brilliant shade of red as she drifted to the drive thru window despite the fact there were no cars to serve. Satisfied, I turned to Dov. He was a nice guy, mid-twenties and always quick to help out. In his hands he held a squat package with a generic courier label slapped on top. “What’ve we got here?”

“Something local, no return address though. Courier said he was paid to bring it straight here. Want me to open it up and check it out for you?” He asked. I scoffed, giving him a skeptical look as I took it from him gently and tucked it under my arm.

“I’ll open it in a bit. Thank you for signing for it, Dov.” Pleasantries exchanged, I retreated to the safety of my office, closing the door behind me but leaving it unlocked. The blinds were drawn already, mostly to disguise my chair spinning earlier in the day. Box in hand, I sat down and gave it a contemplative look. We hadn’t been expecting any shipments and the label said quite clearly that it was addressed to me rather than the bank itself. Ever cautious, I held it up to my ear and listened. Nothing seemed overtly amiss but that was never a guarantee so I carefully slipped a fingernail along the edge of the tape to split it wide. Once open, I kept the flaps down for a handful of heartbeats then opened them one at a time, the box’s opening held away from my face.

Nothing happened.

Satisfied, I dipped a hand into the package, fishing through crumpled newsprint to pull free the wooden box inside. Polished cypress with brass hinges, smooth and pleasant to the touch. In the top, my name had been engraved in a laser precise script. An additional, smaller box sat inside the main package along with what felt like a packing slip. The craftsmanship was remarkable but my curiosity for what was within was greater than my need to admire the outer shell. Easing open the lid, I found myself oddly surprised by its contents.

The handgun set securely inside, offered to me like a shiny new toy. Built similarly to a Sig Sauer P320, it was much lighter than the Sig had ever been in my hands. The lines were clean, streamlined and precise. An ergonomic grip had been fashioned out of what also looked to be cypress wood and engraved in much the same fashion as my name on the box, a precise Star of David had been etched into the wood. Sporting a quicksight fiberoptic sight and a rail for accessories, it was an exquisitely tasteful firearm. Turning it over in my grasp, I found neither a serial nor a manufacturer’s stamp. In the slide, another Star of David had been stamped though beneath which E.C. had been emblazoned in the metal.

“Gorgeous… absolutely gorgeous… but where did you come from?” I mused aloud. The handgun was put back in the wooden box and the cypress box set aside. Digging through the paper, I found the second box, a cardboard thing that rattled when shaken. Full of .40 S&W rounds, the inside of the box’s lid carried a handwritten label of All Occasions in Rhydin. That would make for an interesting teardown later. Finally I found the note inside the package, less a packing slip and more an explanation. It laid out the modifications and features of the gun as well as the rounds. Attached at the bottom was a small card, similar to the ones they include in floral arrangements. I couldn’t help but feel my cheeks turn red as I read it. A knock at the door drew me from my awkward embarrassment just as the door opened. Dov stood there, looking concerned though it was likely just a mask for his curiosity.

“Oh, you opened it. Did we figure out where it came from?” He asked, assuredly trying to pick up as much information as he could. For as well as we played at normalcy, there was nothing normal about any of it. I gently closed the lid of the cypress box.

“Yes, just a friend brightening my day. I think I may head out a little early to take care of a few things. Can you forward those broker reports to me by the end of the day?” Diversions, diversions, diversions. I didn’t want to share and Dov knew it. But he also knew better than to question it, bobbed his head, and ducked back out of my office. It left me with my gift and more questions than answers so I packed up and left, hopefully without looking too eager to make my escape to New Haven.

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2017 1:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“What’re you gonna name it?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet.”

“Just don’t name it something dumb.”

“Oh come on. Never have I ever given my weapons a stupid name.”

“None of us have.”

“Thank goodness.”

“Do you remember that one guy though?”

==================================================

Moscow, Russia

“Of all the words in the English language, I’m almost certain that word is among the worst. Third after ‘moist’ and ‘masticate’,” I firmly told my older sister as we briskly navigated the south side of the riverbend, careful to traverse the brush without revealing ourselves too much. Really it was pointless. Our target knew we were coming and really that’s why we had to chase him. From afar. Through snow and mud and the cover provided by the opposite bank. “I can’t even see him, El.”

“He’s right there. We can cross at the bridge, it’ll be fine,” she reassured me. I was less than comforted. My pants were cold and wet to my knees and I was definitely regretting the sleek couture jacket that I had put on instead of a heavier coat. It was Russia in March, what was I thinking. Elia looked back at me with a grin. “And regardless of how terribly uncouth it is, ‘chode’ is an excellent insult.”

“It’s so cringe worthy though!” I protested with an appropriate expression to emphasize my point. By then she wasn’t looking my way anymore. Instead we were faced with a short climb up onto the overpass that crossed the murky Moskva that separated us from not only Vitomir Vakhrov but also from the Luzhniki Palace of Sports where Eeva was competing. It was an indulgence that the Institute granted each of us in our own separate ways. Eeva had her skating, Elia had her clothing. Me, well, I still haven’t quite figured that out. “Here, I’ll give you a leg up then pull me up.”

“Be quick about it.” Her hands to my shoulders, I cupped my hands for her to step into. Cringing at the mud and muck that covered my fingers, I boosted her until she could grab the lip of the overpass. She hauled herself up in one smooth motion then leaned over the edge, one hand out. I backed up as much as I could to get a running start at the wall. That’s hard when you’re running through ankle deep, melting snow, but I managed it with only a bit of struggle as Elia’s hand closed around my wrist. Clapping my hand round hers in return, she hauled me up until I could tumble up over the concrete side less than gracefully. It wasn’t pretty but it got me on my feet in short order. At the hour, the traffic was minimal though it would assuredly pick up as the event let out a few blocks away.

“El, ****, he’s coming this way!” That wasn’t the plan. We were going to chase him down and take care of him. Instead Vitomir, a double agent who had sold out a few of our own to some very, very bad people, was dashing down the bridge toward us at breakneck speed.

“Hmm. Well then, that’s not good,” she said smartly. Ever appreciative as I may have been for my sister, Captain Obvious, I pulled her over between the the barrier that separated the pedestrian walk from the road. Stooping into a crouch, I quickly checked the assortment of weaponry at my disposal. Elia knelt beside me, her eyes cresting just over the barrier’s lip to keep an eye on Vitomir’s progress. “One hundred paces out, Ev.”

“We can’t do this here, El. There’s too many people.” I muttered. It would be worse in an hour but even with minimal witnesses, it was still the sort of conflict that bystanders would inevitably be drawn to. Unlike others, there would be no easy fading into the crowd once people began to gather.

“We may not have a choice,” Elia answered. “Fifty and closing.”

“Alright, we’ll wing it.” With a terse huff, I ran through a number of scenarios in my head as quickly as I could in the short time I was given. My contemplation was soon broken by the sharp shout through the chilled air, gravelly sounding Russian calling to us from afar. “Wait. What’d he say?”

“He said… to show ourselves so he can give us…” Elia was trying really hard to keep a straight face which confirmed exactly what I thought I had heard. “A dose of pain.”

“Seriously?” I groaned and leaned my back against the cold concrete. What the hell had we gotten ourselves into? It was like a bad cartoon or something. “Who
is this guy?”

“You’re the one who said yes to the job,” she reminded me. Right. She was absolutely correct. Eeva had her skating. Elia had her clothes. I had my job. Man, I needed to get a hobby. Maybe I could take up crocheting.

“It was supposed to be easy,” I whined. A moment later we were showered with the dust and debris of the top edge of the cement barrier as it was blown apart by a single shot. That must have been his
shot of pain he was talking about. See what I did there? Back on track here, it left Elia and I down on the ground just as a wiry figure came diving over the barrier with a barrage of bullets. He smacked into the far side of the walkway and rolled to try and get to his feet. What he clearly hadn’t counted on was Elia and I being ready for him. At the same time we pounced and the three of us became a whirling knot of guns and limbs. I’m pretty sure El kicked me right in the ribs at one point but that was neither here nor there.

The chattering Russian clashed with less than ladylike answers on our respective parts though it was cut in half when he whirled a kick hard enough to send me crashing hard into the already crumbling cement barricade. The air was sapped from my lungs and my head spun with stars as I tried to will myself to get up. Elia could hold her own but that didn’t mean I wanted to leave her alone with this lunatic. My sense of purpose was invigorated when I saw him loom over her.

“And now I give you Raznoglasiya and Stradayushchiy,” he said in broken English and leveled a pair of massive fifty cal Desert Eagles down toward my older sister. It was then that I got back up to my feet, unsteady but determined as I brought my own gun up to bear. It was a far more sensible Jericho 941, sleek, modern, and definitely not the gold plated gaudiness being pointed at my sister.
Raznoglasiya and Stradayushchiy, I puzzled over the words for a few moments before it clicked.

“Strife and Suffering? You seriously named your guns
Strife and Suffering?” I asked, the suppressor aimed at his center of mass. Vitomir started but didn’t turn away from Elia.

“Da. They bring only pain to my enemies.” Even without being able to see his face I could hear the curl of his lip, derision in his snarl. From still to a sudden whirl of motion he spun toward me. Before he could mow me down, I beat him to the punch thrice over. His body jolted with each impact and he stumbled backwards toward the bridge’s edge. By then Elia was back on her feet and a single shot to the head from her sent him toppling over the hip high railing.

“What a chode,” I declared as he plummeted into the icy water below. By then cars had stopped and pedestrians had gathered into loose throngs on either end of the bridge. Elia caught me by the wrist and tugged me along back the way we had come from. It would mean missing Eeva’s performance but it would also mean hopefully getting away without being questioned by authorities.

“See, I told you it totally works,” Elia said smugly as we shoved through the smaller gathering on the south end of the bridge. The north would have been a nightmare so close to the sports complex but the south was no picnic either. There were voices and calls to keep us there, to stop us from leaving, but it seemed nobody wanted to take the steps needed to restrain two women who had just shot a man on the bridge. Truthfully, I didn’t blame them. Russian people as a whole were hearty survivors. They didn’t get where they were by taking on such conflicts unprepared.

“Okay, fine. I’ll give you that.” Conversely, my sisters and I hadn’t made it this long without having a trick or two up our sleeve too. Once we were free of the crowd, we ran. We ran until I tugged on Elia’s arm to slow down and it was only then that we found a more permanent getaway solution. The Lada Classic was an old thing which made it easy to get into. Elia pried the steering column cover off, found the wiring harness connector, and pulled aside one of the bundles of cables. Once she found the battery wires, she used a barrette to strip them partway down and then twisted them together. Her precision under such circumstances was always something to behold and sure enough, as soon as she touched the battery and ignition wires, the dash lights came on.

“Alright, girl, let’s do this,” Elia mumbled. Sparking the starter wire to the battery wire, she revved the engine a few times until it finally caught. She gave the wheel a firm jerk to unlock the steering column and with a whoop of triumph, she threw it into drive and once more we were off. “When executed properly, it’s a most excellent insult.”

“No, insulting was that guy’s insistence on using not one but two of those ugly things.” I forwent a seatbelt since we’d be dumping the car once it was safe to do so and Elia’s driving was safe enough (on most days at least).

“Right? Gold plated, who does that?” My sister grinned.

“Chodes, evidently.” Rhetorical as it may have been, I still answered for her amusement.

“See, that word is going to grow on you,” she looked over at me and laughed.

“Oh let’s hope not.”

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 27, 2017 12:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Vacation, hmm? Where are you headed to Lenny?”

“Old lady and I are heading back to Earth via one of those… portal things. Going to visit family then spend a week in Greece for our anniversary.”

“Well Happy Anniversary then! Are the kids going with?”

“Ha, not this time. Ari and Micha are going to keep the shop running while we’re gone.”

“Even better. I hope you and Shira have a fantastic time. Athens, I presume?”

“Santorini, actually. Have you been?”

“Never to Santorini, no. But the Mediterranean is beautiful. You’ll have a lovely time, I’m sure.”

================================================== ===================================

Sardinia, Italy

Castelsardo rose like a fortress from the sea, an impressive monolith that watched over the Gulf of Asinara and beyond that the Mediterranean Sea. It was a far cry from Greece and its white beaches but it was more than beautiful in its own right. Before Rome had ever risen to prominence on the mainland, Sardinia had developed its own vibrant culture, the likes of which are still marveled over by archaeologists in the present era. I had agreed to come on condition of work though it inevitably turned into a personal vacation upon conclusion of our mission. It meant working with Ezra once more and as always, he knew just the things to say to bring me to my knees in the worst ways.

I remember him standing in the doorway of the room we shared under the guise of honeymooning newlyweds. For three days prior he had slept on the floor and I in the over-plush queen sized bed alone. We had fought earlier in the day over logistics. Tactics and the like were always such touchy things. It’s why I hated working with him. One of the reasons at least. But the door opened and there he stood and it was like all color had been sapped from the room. Everything but red. There was so much of it beneath his unbuttoned suit jacket. His or someone else’s I wasn’t sure and I couldn’t question him when he stumbled through the doorway. I lurched to my feet to catch him, keeping him from falling and just barely kicking the door shut behind him at the same time.

“Ezra. Look at me, what happened?” I asked, his weight proving too much and forcing us both to sink to the floor. That he had made it back to the hotel without attracting attention surprised me unless he had kept his jacket shut and passed for a tourist drunk instead.

“It’s done.” He said hoarsely, a mirthless laugh catching the tail end of his declaration. I pushed aside his jacket and looked his torso over. There were smears and splotches of red in varying shades of darkness and a darker, more saturated stain just above his belt, turning his crisp white shirt into a garish display of spilled blood, a violent Jackson Pollack canvas stretched taut over the firm definition of his body. I ran my hands down his chest, feeling for holes in the fabric at the darker points.

“Looks like it got complicated.” As if it weren’t obvious, I pointed it out just the same. Seldom were our marks straightforward. Rarely did we get out clean. But there was so much blood. My hands came to a stop on his lower abdomen, my fingers hooking on his belt. “Don’t get any ideas but I’m undoing your pants.”

“At least buy me a drink first, Ev, oy.” Ezra winced as I tugged at his belt, undoing it and his pants all in the course of a few moments. It gave me the freedom to pull his shirt free of its tuck and get a better look at the oozing wound in his flesh. Puckered like a clean bullet wound, sticky vitae seeped from the entrypoint. I slipped a hand around to his lower back to feel for an exit and found none.

“Why isn’t it closing? Why isn’t the bleed stopping?” I asked, gingerly touching around the single opening. He was Unbreakable. He was supposed to be able to shake off such a shot like it was nothing.

“Fantastic question. Let me call the
ben zonah that shot me.” He was gritting his teeth and his typically tan skin was pale. A light sheen of perspiration dotted his brow. “Must have been a hell of a round.”

“I need to get it out then.” I told him. He sucked in a tight breath but after a moment of consideration, he nodded. Carefully I got him to his feet and together we staggered into the tastefully opulent bathroom of the suite. He sat on the stool and I went through our various supplies to find just what I needed. This far from any sort of safe house, our support was limited. I could call it in, of course, but what if by then it was too late? Ezra had a wet cloth in his mouth, pulled tight for the sake of biting it instead of his tongue as I fished out the slug in his abdomen.

“Ev…” He groaned, a shudder racking his body as I wriggled it free. It was as if I had released an unbearable weight from his chest. He sucked in a deep breath and slumped sideways against the counter. Captured in the tongs of the long tweezers, I held it up to eye level. Deformed as it was, I could tell it was no ordinary round. What was off about it, I couldn’t be sure, but I soon regretted my callous handling. Dropping it into my palm, the reaction was instantaneous. It was as though I had dunked my hand into a vat of acid, the flesh of my hand turning bright red then oozing away to expose the meat underneath. With a sharp yelp, I dropped it, shaking my hand out. Ezra shot to his feet, unsteady still but more intent on my pain than his own.

“What the *** is that thing?!” I snarled. He grabbed me by the wrist to examine my hand before jerking it under the sink’s faucet. Lukewarm water gushed over my skin, soothing the feeling of the burn while my body worked to repair the damage done.

“A major problem, I’d say.” Ezra sat me down where he had been only moments before, carefully tending to my hand until he could ensure that the cells would regenerate as expected. My fingers twitched and shivered of their own accord, out of my control while the wound healed.

“That was inside you… We should get you checked out…” A chill washed its way up my spine and then back down before passing. Ezra wrapped my hand with a clean towel and shook his head.

“I feel better already. Breaking contact seems to fix things. We’ll lock the round up and have the lab examine it once we get back.” It was hard not to be reassured by his rumbling baritone, soft and soothing as it was. The color was returning to his cheeks little by little as he looked down at me. Even in the bathroom’s unflattering light he was a beautiful specimen. Why did he have to be so damned pretty?

“I dropped it, I don’t know where it went.” Pulling my gaze from his, I looked at the floor to see if I could find it. His pants were still undone, right in front of me and terribly distracting. He found it first, stooping to pick it up with the tweezers I had used to get it out of him to begin with. After assuring me that he had it under control, he locked it up and came back to me in the bathroom.

“I’m going to get cleaned up. It’s late, why don’t you get some sleep?” He checked out my hand again and ushered me to the bathroom’s door.

“They’ll want a sitrep.” I told him, lingering there on the threshold. He brushed a few strands out of my face and smiled. It was that charming, borderline cocky smile that I hated and loved and hated.

“In the morning. Sleep well, Ev.”

I didn’t sleep well. Neither of us did. I know now that it was an after effect of what we now call Breaker rounds. I didn’t even realize that Ezra had woken up before I did but I was aware of his presence when I awoke with a start, my heart racing and the sheets soaked with sweat, tangled around my legs. He had shaken me awake, an act that had me swinging at him out of reflex. Narrowly he caught my hand and wrapped me up in a hug to keep me from doing it again.

“Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay. It was a dream. Breathe. You can breathe,” he told me.

“How… how’d you…” I gasped, my hand pushing between us to rub at my throat. Welts, some broken open and bleeding, scored my neck on both sides, as if someone had been clawing at my skin.

“You were thrashing and gasping like you couldn’t,” he said gently. “You’re okay though, I promise.”

“It felt so real,” I whispered weakly. So seldom did I dream that when I did, it was hard to tell where the line between fiction and reality was. This was a whole different monster though, it was as if there had been hands around my throat, squeezing tightly until my head spun with hypoxia.

“I know. It’s okay, you’re okay. Try to get some sleep…” Ezra released me and stood up straight but not before I reached for his hand to catch him.

“Don’t go. Stay. I can’t sleep after that, just… don’t go.”

We talked for hours, dozing here and there as we fought sleep. He sat beside me in bed. No sex. No kissing. The only touching was by his hand on mine. It was strange to say the least. It had been years since we had done such a thing. Granted, this was ten years after Paris and five after the last time we had been together. It was inevitable, the way we always came back together. Each as we were had impossible circumstances. Normalcy would never be within our grasp. I digress though. That morning we made the call to fill in the Institute on how things had gone. They were interested in the round we had collected but agreed it could wait until we made it back to the mainland. Surprisingly they granted us a few days worth of leave to “recuperate”, as they said.

On the second day, I stood on the balcony that overlooked Castelsardo’s harbor. The sun was setting in the west, lighting up the horizon with a brilliant display of pinks and oranges set over the azure bay. In the east, twilight stretched across the sky, painting its own contrasting collage of indigo and starlight. We had barely left the room. Room service had taken care of the rest. With a picture perfect view before me, I smoked another cigarette and considered just how far I had come. Behind me I heard the balcony door open.

“Evia?” Ezra asked. I ashed the cigarette over the balcony’s edge and turned around ready to answer him. He knelt before me on one knee with his forearm crossing the other. The balcony was so small that there was barely any space between us and as I looked down at him, he captured my hand, stealing my cigarette from my grasp. He took a few drags then stubbed it out before looking back to me.

“Ezra, what’re you doing?”

“Something I should have done a long time ago. Something I should have done in Buenos Aires. Something I should have done in Paris. Something I should have done in Munich. Just… hear me out. From the moment I met you, I knew. I knew and it scared me. Very little does that and I couldn’t fight it so instead I ran. It was the biggest mistake of my life but I’m done with that. I’m done denying what we’ve always known. I’m meant to wake up next to you. I’m meant to kiss you every morning and every night. I’m meant to find every shade of brown in your eyes and every freckle on your skin. I’m meant to make you happy and to lift you up when you’re not. To make you laugh with my bad jokes and to laugh at the silly songs you make up in awkward situations. To dance with you in our living room. To go beautiful places and spend the whole time in the hotel because what’s in my arms is far more perfect than anything outside. And I think… no, I know, that you were meant for me too. You’re my today, my tomorrow, and my forever. So what I think I’m trying to say is… marry me, Evia.”

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Evia
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Is baseball a thing yet? Or is it not time?"

"A week or two. Preseason is wrappin' up. You a fan?"

"It's not bad. I like it better than basketball. They say it's the great American pastime right?"

"It's what they say, though commercially it's been surpassed by football the last decade or so... You more of a soccer fan? I love baseball, it's the one thing from home I could still get into when I was in Japan."

"Football. They don't even really use their feet. I spent a little time in the US when I was young. They watched a lot of baseball. But Japan, hmm?”

"Once or twice. Settlin' for something more steady never seemed like a good idea."

"It never is."

==================================================

Minsk, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic

When I was a child, my course in life was straightforward and simple. Go to school, find a nice Jewish boy in the community to marry, maybe get a job, have plenty of babies, get old, and watch my family grow. It was easy. A lot of that went out the window after camp though. We left Oświęcim with our lives, which was more than could have been said for many others. Most got to go home, or what was left of it. We were different. They were
interested in us. We went first to Krakow for wellness checks and given everything else they had found along the way, they found it most curious just how well we were doing. Two weeks later we were taken to Lviv then north to Minsk shortly after.

For six months we called that hospital home. We saw not the sky nor the light of day save for what came through the sparse windows in the offices of doctors who poked and prodded as they tried to figure us out. Meanwhile, word spread through the underground that the Red Army had kept for their own a few select gems, precious things that would be worth more than anyone could estimate. I saw my sisters only in passing at first. They ran us through diagnostics, both physical and mental evaluations at first. Then came the tests. Long, grueling tests to stretch us to our limits.

Nothing quite compared to camp of course. We were stronger and more resilient than we were back then. This was a cake walk. But they kept us separated for the first three months. Our rooms were in a row but we weren’t allowed to interact, at least not on their watch. It would ruin whatever sort of investigation they were claiming to complete. At least until the night that Eeva’s crying kept the whole floor awake for hours until Elia couldn’t take it anymore. She threw everything she had into the door until the frame gave way and half the door splintered from the impact. It broke her collarbone in three places but I didn’t hear her shed a single tear as she pounded on Eeva’s door.

“Let me see her! She’s crying, she needs me!” I could hear her yell at the orderlies tasked with trying to rein her in. A chaotic din made it impossible to make out much more than that, her yells drowned out by a pained masculine cry and my younger sister’s sobs. It seemed to take forever for things to calm down but finally I heard Eeva’s door unlatch. There was only a wall and a door between me and them, enough to keep me away but not enough to keep me from hearing their collision as they hugged each other. Outside of my door I could hear the doctors talk.

“Tell me how you let a thirteen-year-old girl cause such damage?”

“I don’t know, Sir. I think perhaps…”

“You don’t think. You are not paid to think.”

“I know, Sir. But please, if I may be so bold as to say that perhaps allowing them contact may lessen these outbursts…”

“...Go clean the mess up. One will reside in Three’s room for the evening only.”

“And Two?”

“Has she been raising a fuss?”

“Not to the extent of One or Three.”

“Then leave her until morning.”

The next night all three of us were allowed to stay together and we all crammed together into Eeva’s bed, a tangle of gangly arms and legs making for an uncomfortable knot of sisters beneath a single blanket, heads cocked to try and claim a little corner of the one pillow. I woke up with a crick in my neck but it was the best night of sleep I’d had in months. We slept like that every night after that until we were once more moved. We had no advanced warning, if only because the hospital staff had none either. I woke up first, the sound of shattering glass and surprised yelling down the hall rousing me from unpleasant dreams. Elia woke next, her arm crossing over us protectively.

“Under the bed.” Eeva whispered. I hadn’t even realized she had woken up. Awkwardly, the three of us crammed ourselves underneath the bed in the dark, watching the changing lights in the hall. There were heavy boots, gunfire, and crashing doors. Elia’s room, the first of our three, two doors down was searched fruitlessly. Were they looking for us? The thought didn’t occur to me until they repeated the same with my room. A broken down door, swearing in English. American accents, or at least what I thought they might sound like. We spoke Russian any time we interacted with the hospital staff and Polish or Hebrew when we talked to each other. Hebrew got us in trouble with the higher ups for reasons I didn’t quite understand at the time. They didn’t like not understanding us.

“Where are they?” A man’s voice said just outside of our door. Only a moment later, a harsh kick forced the door open and three pairs of feet came stomping in. Golden beams from flashlights cut sweeping paths around the room, grazing the shadows beneath the bed where we lurked. A quiet sound slipped my lips and Eeva quickly put her hand over my mouth but by then we were found out. One man dragged the foot of the bed to one side, revealing our hiding place where we cowered. I was certain we were going to die.

“Got ‘em.” One of the three, the same one we had heard a moment earlier said. “Alright girls, you’ll be coming with us. Can you get up?”

Of course we didn’t understand any of it. Suddenly I understood why the doctors didn’t like when we spoke Hebrew. The man reached a hand for us and Eeva cried out, kicking a bare foot at him. He pulled back with a grunt. Another beam of light shone down on us from one of the other men. Behind it, he tugged down a cover over his mouth.

Poydem so mnoy, budet vam. My zdes' chtoby pomoch' vam.” He said gently and offered a hand out, palm up. Come with us, we’re here to help. He had kind eyes and a soothing voice even with the gunfire down the hall. “My dolzhny uyti seychas.”

We had to leave. Now. Barefoot and wearing nothing but our nightgowns, we were ushered out of the hospital while the firefight raged on. Our detail kept close to us, shielding us from anything that might come our way until we made it outside. The grass of the hospital’s front lawn was wet with early morning dew, fanned flat by the whirling blades of the waiting helicopter. It was the first time I had felt actual grass in years. They loaded us up and took us far from Minsk. I’m not quite sure where we went from there because as soon as we landed, we were carted off to another plane for a long, long flight over the Atlantic. But we wanted for nothing en route. Our protective detail was incredibly attentive despite the language barriers. The majority of the ride was spent with an interpreter trying to coax answers out of us in regards to if we were hungry or thirsty or bored. Mostly I was just tired.

I fell asleep an hour before we landed and awoke to the landing gear connecting with a short runway between Baltimore and Washington D.C. Nearly toppling out of my seat, I lurched forward and found a sturdy arm crossing in front of me to restrain me. It was the same man that had convinced us to leave the hospital with him. A patch on his jacket declared his last name Donowitz. He gave me a sympathetic smile and explained that we had reached our destination. We would disembark and from the tarmac head straight to our final stop. I asked him if they were going to hurt us but he assured me that nobody was going to hurt us anymore. He even promised.

Promises are a big deal.

They took us to a secure facility on the edge of Waldorf where we were met by a wholesome looking man and woman who could have easily passed for husband and wife. She had the swoopy whooshy curler set hairstyle that was all the rage at the time, perfectly coiffed and a golden shade of blonde. He wore a crisp suit with shiny cufflinks that I remember even after all this time. Their names were John and Helen and they were our “
house parents”, they said. Parents, like we didn’t have ones of our own. Well, at that point we didn’t. Mama had died not long after we went to camp and Papa succumbed to typhoid six months before we got out. Regardless, we didn’t need them. We had each other.

They tried though, I’ll give them that. We barely spoke to them for the first month we were there, even as we were taught English and given the sort of schooling that we had missed out on. There was a lot to catch up on and they were patient and kind even when the men in suits came to watch us, making notes in little black books all the while. Helen made cookies and sang songs we didn’t recognize. John taught us math and played guitar for Helen and the three of us. They even awkwardly helped us celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur despite the cross necklace that Helen always wore around her neck.

Summer gave way to Fall and Minsk gave way to America and with it, everything that made America great. The crackle of the radio met my ears on Saturday afternoon, drawing me away from my room to see what it was. John sat in the living room beside the stand up radio, intent on the broadcast.

“What is on?” I asked from the hallway. John looked up, a bright grin lighting up his face as he beckoned me in. Though I hesitated, I eventually shuffled into the room.

“Baseball. Have you ever heard of it?” He asked, sipping from a tumbler filled with ice and amber liquor. I shook my head. He patted the seat next to him. “Then come on over. The Browns didn’t make it into the postseason again so I don’t really have to pay too much attention. It’s looking like the Series will be between the Cubbies and the Tigers. They’re both pretty much garbage but sit down, I’ll teach you all about it.”

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Evia
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Strange. Knew a bunch a twins as I was growin' up. Never went really far without tha others. Changed when they grew up and got married. But none a you three are. Must be nice findin' a little slice a yerself most nights."

"It's needed, I think. It helps keep us close, strangely enough. There's the fact that we live within ten steps of each other's front doors, that helps too, but otherwise we've had enough time to kind of... I don't know... figure out our respective selves."

"You seem way too well put together to need figurin' out darlin'. And I don't mean.. Those nice clothes you wear."

"It came with time. And necessity, I suppose. We lost our parents so it became grow the **** up or fall apart. The former is obviously far more favorable than the latter."

"But family. First, foremost, and always. You did more than alright fer yerself darlin'."

"I like to think I did. But absolutely right. Family, however you make it, it's good for keeping things together. Strength in numbers or some other fortune cookie wisdom."

==================================================

La Paz, Bolivia

In the early days, I had only Elia and Eeva. Even after the Institute took us in, for a long time they were my only source of social interaction. As sisters do, we loved and fought with one another as easily as night turns day or spring into summer. It was an ever present give and take that became a comfortable tide pulled between the three of us. At their sides I learned everything that the Institute sought to teach us. First with all of the basic schooling we had missed and then the specialized coursework. Weapons training, hand to hand combat, additional languages, the art of infiltration and extraction, they were there every step of the way. Our earliest assignments were awkward collaborations of fawns just getting their legs but we could lean on one another until the pieces fit together. Sometimes they fit together in a rather sloppy fashion, but a fit was a fit.

As we got older and more refined in our skills, we were slowly introduced to other operatives that gave us a taste of something more than the Cohen Method. It was like seeing the world in a whole different light. We had long since resigned ourselves to strange life we were forced to lead but never had I really considered just how different it could be once we were allowed to step outside of the protective bubble of constant Institute oversight. Where the norm had been missions consisting only of the three of us and our handlers, eventually they became solo gigs and collaborations became the exception rather than the rule.

Such a thing is what found me high in the Andes mountains while my sisters remained a world away in Tel Aviv. In the shadow of Illimani, I had spent days staking things out with a pair of twin brothers named Simon and Saul. At the very least I had known them for years though this was one of the first assignments that I had actually gone on with them. The Institute was like one massive family and while my blood sisters were back home, I was a little less alone thanks to the boys.

“That way, go! She just slipped through that break!” I told Simon, dashing past him and squeezing through the throng of people that filled the occult market. As I ran, I could feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, insistent in its need for my attention. It would have to wait. “Not now, I’m busy!”

Our target had been masquerading as a
yatiri in a group that should have known better. The fact alone had me convinced that most of them were frauds and hacks, intent on taking the money of the naive tourists that frequented such sideshows in search of cures to all that ailed them. Want to attract money? Put on this perfume. It smells awful but you’ll be rich in no time. Dying of an incurable disease? Drink this frog smoothie, you’ll perk right up. Give us your money and we’ll give you the world.

Right.

A dark hat amongst dark hats slipped out of view. I swore and pushed through a pair of bead adorned shamen who cast dirty looks my way for my rudeness. There was no time to stop and apologize. Already we had linked two dozen ritualistic deaths to this woman with more on the way assuredly. The rumor mill said that she was planning a summoning of some sort. Just what she wanted to rouse, I had no idea, but nothing good ever comes from such things.

“Got her,” Saul called, shoving through a gauzy curtain that divided one booth from another. I was shortly behind him while Simon took up the rear of our pursuit. Our weaving through the crowd eventually broke in favor of the dark streets that led up to the market, the chase taking us in out of the interspersed puddles of light emanating from streetlights only half lit. She was fast but Saul was faster, tracking her down to the end of a narrow alley and up over a rickety chain link fence that blocked the way. As I scrambled over it after them, I tumbled off the top, a practiced sort of roll that had me losing little momentum by the time I hit my feet again. I didn’t make it much further than that though as something caught me in the throat and swept me clean off my feet. I heard Simon land behind me and soon the same malady caught him, sending him to the slick pavement as he clutched at his throat.

“What was that?” I croaked, looking up to see what had caught us both. But save for a slight shimmer in the twilight, there was nothing to be seen. Rubbing at my bruised throat until I could breathe properly again, I got to my feet to look for Saul. Neither he nor our target were anywhere to be seen but just around a corner, a brilliant flash of green light exploded and soon after a heavy crunch of bone against brick met my ears. “Saul…”

Bent at the knees, I crept low toward the corner of the building until I could peek around. Saul was in a heap on the ground. Ida Ludwig stood over him, her arm extended and her palm levelled at him.

“Come out from your hiding place, girl, or your unbreakable little friend will see just how fragile I can make him,” she barked without looking away from Saul. The woman didn’t appear to be armed but we knew better. Behind me, Simon nudged my arm. I glanced back long enough for him to slip a small metal disc on an elastic band into my grasp. It was soon slipped over my fingers until the disc set in the middle of my palm. Standing upright, I offered my empty hand out in a wave around the corner.

“I’m here. No need to hurt him. I’m stepping out now, my gun is holstered. We’re going to talk through this and come to an agreement, right?” I called, stepping slowly from behind the wall’s edge. Just as I had said, I bore no visible weapon. Ida turned to keep Saul and I within equal view.

“You,” she whispered. I nodded twice and took another step closer.

“Me. You know what this means then, yes?” Calm as I may have been, my heart rattled a frenetic beat in my bones, broken only by a renewed humming of phone in my pocket. Later I was going to throttle whoever it was.

“No. No, they can’t have me. No!” Ida screeched, swinging her palm my direction. I barely ducked the blast in time. Green shot over my head and blew a crater in the edge of the wall where Simon was still crouching. Dust and bits of brick rained down on his head but I had no time to check on him since a second volley soon followed. I may not have been as fast as Saul and Simon but I was agile and far more reckless to boot. As I rose back up, I threw myself at Ida to tackle her to the ground. She didn’t go down easily, her elbow connecting with my jaw on the way. The sharp pinion resulted in a wet crunch in the side of my face, excruciating pain lighting up the left half of my head. But as dangerous as her elbows were, they couldn’t quite compare to the nastiness she could pack into her fingertips. We struggled for positioning, rolling amidst the discarded detritus of the alley as I tried to get ahold of her. Every time I seemed to get an advantageous grip, she managed to slip away.

It gave Simon time to get his arms around Saul to haul him up into a fireman’s carry to take him out of the alley. I barely noticed at the time but I can’t say I blame him. Had it been either of my sisters in the same position, I would have done the same. Ida’s knee dug into my rib cage, pushing a grunt out of me but finally giving me the opening I was seeking. With the sweep of one leg up and over, I flattened her back to the ground, jerked her leg awkwardly until she had no choice but to comply, and quickly positioned myself over top of her. The crackle of malevolent arcane energy hummed around her fingertips but before she could pop me with another shot of what she was slinging, I slammed my hand down against the back of her bare neck.

The metal disc connected with her skin and sparked to life. Hooked teeth protruded from the circular edges and dug their way into her flesh as I slipped my hand out of the elastic loop. Try as she might to paw the damper off, she could do little when the electrical current coursed through her spine, extending through her limbs until her entire body convulsed. The Elmo’s Fire dancing between her fingers was snuffed and I rolled off of her.

“You good, Ev?” Simon called distantly.

“Yeah… call them in. I’ve got her subdued.” Ida twitched and jerked on the ground, pink froth coating her lips. “Poor thing might’ve bit her tongue.”

I wasn’t too concerned. What I
was concerned about was the incessant buzzing of my phone. Sure not to take my eyes off the downed woman, I stepped a few feet away and slipped my phone free. Nine missed calls, six new text messages, four voicemails. All from Elia. Before I could check any of them, a new call came in. On the second ring, I punched the answer button.

“El, I’m in the middle of a big task. What’s up?”

“It’s Eeva. She had another episode in the field. She needs you home.”

“Oy… Bad?”

“It’s bad, Ev. Where are you.”

“Bolivia.”

“****.”

“Yeah… I will just have the boys finish up. I’ll be home in twenty hours.”

“The sooner, the better.”

“I know. Bye El.” With my phone back in my pocket, I looked to the alley’s mouth, awaiting the backup that was on its way to take Ida into custody. She knew too much for us to neutralize her right off the bat. If we could crack her, we could open wide an entire network of practitioners working for the very people I had been after for most of my life.

“Fragile. So fragile.” Ida groaned, the twitching finally turning into partial paralysis, her muscles going rigid.

“Shut up.” I nudged her with my foot. She didn’t move but a too wide grin did split her lips, squished by the ground that pressed against her cheek.

“No such thing as unbreakable,
romach.” She giggled. My lip curled and the nudge turned into a light kick against her ankle.

“I said shut up.”

“Not you. Not your Shield. No weapon, no matter how strong, can withstand the pressures of time. A dull spear serves no purpose. Do you know what they do with blunt spears?” Ida asked. In the moment I wished I had stuck the damper to her forehead instead just to include her mouth in its effects. “They’re broken down and thrown away. Maybe if you’re lucky, locked up and forgotten about.”

“The only one getting locked up here is you. Shut your mouth before I kick your teeth down your throat.” I turned to pace her, nearing her head instead of her feet. Right as I did, the pounding of feet on slick cobbles dissuaded me from venturing closer. Simon led the way, bringing with him a cadre of plainclothes backup who moved in to surround Ida. With a sneer, I stepped away, finding Simon nearby. “How’s Saul.”

“She knocked him pretty hard but they’re getting him taken care of. You all good?” He looked me over head to toe in a way that was purely clinical rather than lecherous.

“I’m fine but I need a lift out of here as soon as possible. I need to get back to my sisters.” I told him. His gaze found mine, dark and concerned as he studied me.

“They can look after Saul. C’mon, I’ll get you set up.” Before long, the alley looked as if we had never been there and Simon and I were heading for a landing pad on the edge of La Paz. He asked but I told him little about just why I had to go. He may have been like us, but acknowledging out loud just what Eeva was experiencing was more than I could handle. Instead he gave me silence, a fact I’m grateful for to this day.

The flight home was an excruciating example of how time passes unevenly in the worst of times. I was given twenty hours of silence to reflect and worry. I’m not sure which I did more of. At one point I reveled in the assignments that took me far, far away from everything I had ever known but now… now I wasn’t so sure that I could bear it.

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Evia
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"How’s she doing?"

“The fever broke… she’s resting now.”

"So she’s getting better then?"

"There’s no… getting better. She’ll never get better.”

“Then what’s going to happen?”

“There’s just not getting worse.”

“And then?”

“I’ll show you… it’s going to be cold so dress accordingly.”

================================================== ======

Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway

By the time Dov and I arrived at Longyearbyen’s airport it was nearly nightfall. We had gone from Rhy’din to Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv to Oslo, and Oslo to Svalbard, all via private charter in hopes of expediting the trip. He hadn’t believed me when I said it would be cold, but halfway between Norway’s northernmost mainland and the North Pole, even in April it was freezing. It had been raining when we left Rhydin but the skies were clear over Svalbard when we arrived. It was too cold for new snow but the existing snowpack meant deep drifts that swept high around the tiny community’s buildings.

“So this is it, huh?” Dov asked as we made our way through the little airport. It had a single runway and its hanger was frozen into the permafrost. Half the time it was inaccessible due to snow and ice, but we had lucked out in our timing. I had flown many a time but never were the flights as nerve wracking as they were to Longyear. Maybe it was the context, I don’t know. I shrugged my backpack up onto my shoulders a bit more and led Dov to where we would be meeting our escort.

“Almost,” I told him. We still had another hour or two to go, depending on if the weather held up. Two agents met us just before the exit. Identification was traded by all parties and once satisfied, they led us out to what I can only assume was Russia’s answer to navigating Siberia. The SUV for all intents and purposes was normal, a heavy body painted in glossy black, but its undercarriage had been modified and fitting with what looked like tank tracks. “Well this is new.”

“Newly approved,” said one of the agents, his English heavily accented. He was smiling though, a boyish and almost charming thing that was easy on the eyes. I’ve forgotten his name already, but that face? Unforgettable.

“Boys and their toys,” I mused, prompting a chortle from Boyish Smile and a roll of eyes from Dov. He was always such a dud, why did I bother taking him anywhere? The other agent was behind the wheel, Blumenthal his name was. He was quiet, wrapped in black from head to toe so that only a swath of tanned skin could be seen in the gap between his knit hat and the scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face.

“Is your companion familiar with protocol?” Boyish Smile asked. Dov and I traded glances before I gave the agent a nod.

“Extensively. Will we make it there this evening?” There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, definitely a good omen. It made the starry sky reflect pinprick twinkles between the drift ice in the fjord to my right. It became a blend of black and white, stark and colorless like much of the arctic landscape surrounding us.

“We should, barring any unforeseen roadblocks.” The heavy clickity-clack of the tracks that carried us through the snow served as reassurance that we were on our way, slow but steady. For an hour we progressed, cutting a deep path through drifts to the south of Longyearbyen until we reached a bend in the coastline, around which was a cleared helipad. Upon the asphalt square, a chopper sat primed and ready to go.

“Been awhile since I’ve taken a helicopter ride,” Dov remarked. We made sure we had our bags and there Blumenthal said goodbye. Boyish Smile on the other hand was intent on accompanying us to our final destination. It left little shoulder space on the bird, but the small talk was a nice distraction from where I was taking Dov. Forty-five minutes later we landed just outside of Grumant.

For all intents and purposes, Grumant had been abandoned for over fifty years. It had been a mining town once. Now it was home to what looked to be a pair of abandoned, crumbling houses, but more importantly to an underground labyrinth hidden from the world. The Institute had long since claimed it for its own with cooperation from the local government. Just how much money changed hands for such a thing, I’m not too sure. But long of the short, it was one of the most secure places in the world. No sooner were we out of the helicopter before we were ushered out of the icy wind and down a narrow spiral staircase that took us deep underground. There we passed through a thick metal door into the receiving area. Our bags were checked and we were forced to disarm before we could proceed. Dov was straight forward; two handguns, a knife, extra magazines. I unloaded three handguns, six magazines, and three knives, and still beeped when I went through the metal detector. Dov stood on the other side, an incredulous look on his face as I passed back through again. The shrill beeps called me back a few steps to face the unamused looks of the men tasked with running reception.

“Is that everything?” One man asked as I laid out the metal picks that had been hidden in my hair. I’d nearly forgotten about them until the pass of a wand lit up like a Menorah behind my head. With no lacking amount of sheepish annoyance, I patted myself down. My holsters were empty, my hair was down, my belt was off. What was I missing?

My shoes.

It’s always the shoes.

The chic snowboots were the pinnacle of fashion and function, laden with metal studs on the underside and concealed in the toes, a thin stiletto blade in each, engaged with the kick of a heel and press of a toe. I pulled each one off and extracted the blades from each, handing them over with reluctance. “I better get those back on the way out.”

Here my threats held little heat. After all, some day this would be my home too. Flanked by two men on either side, Dov and I were escorted through another blast proof door, loaded onto a claustrophobia inducing railcar for a short, smooth ride further down into the labyrinth beneath us. My heart was pounding by the time we stepped off. Dov caught my elbow to steady me, a fact I’m quite grateful for.

I hate trains.

“Miss Cohen, we’d not expected you! It’s so good to see you.” Familiar as the voice was, I still cringed when I heard it behind me. Turning, I found a short, pale man in a white jacket and wire rimmed spectacles. He was mostly balding save for a horseshoe of greying hair around his skull. Doctor Nowak was pushing sixty and had been a part of Svalbard Project for nearly forty of those years.

“Truthfully I hadn’t expected to come… but it was necessary.” I told him, shrugging. I could feel Dov’s discomfort at my side or maybe he was merely mirroring mine. “Olaf, this is Dov Friedman. Dov, this is Doctor Nowak. He’s in charge here.”

“Ah, yes. The Institute briefed me prior to your arrival. It’s nice to meet you.” The men shook hands and Dov gave me a furtive look. It was as if he couldn’t quite see just where we were going with things but after a moment, the doctor and our cadre of hangers on were soon leading the way down a sloping hallway lined with solid, sliding doors, each locked with a biometric pad sporting blaring red lights.

“Dov has been my right hand at our current posting for some time now. With… recent developments, I thought it pertinent that he understood just what we’re dealing with here.” I explained to Olaf as we walked, my strides long and swift but still paling in comparison to the towering monoliths at our sides.

“Yes… it’s easy to read it on paper, isn’t it? But it’s quite different to see it with your very own eyes.” Nowak agreed, turning a corner to bring us to the broad plate glass windows of what looked to be a wide observation chamber. The windows were just dark enough to tell me that anyone on the other side wouldn’t be able to see us even if we could see them. For now the chamber was empty. “How is your sister?”

“Stable. Very stable. No signs of degeneration or other cause for concern save for a brief temperature spike a few days ago. Just a cold, I think.” I told him. It was sort of true but I didn’t dare express my concerns to Nowak of all people. Inevitably he would find out the full truth but for now, protecting my sister was more important than being honest.

“I see. You’ll have to send them both my regards when you return. Where is it you’re posted currently?” He asked.

“I couldn’t say, sorry Doc.” My smile was apologetic. My tone wasn’t. He didn’t press the subject. “Can we see Helena first?”

“Mm, Helena… yes, we should be able to do that.” He depressed a button on a nearby panel and spoke into the receiver. “Please bring H. Ehrlich to observation room three for standard battery, please?”

Six minutes later, the doors within the chamber opened to permit three bodies. Two were clad in outfits made of thick grey canvas that covered them from throat to ankle. Between them, a thin brunette woman was held at her shoulders. They guided her further into the room, letting go only when the doors securely closed behind them. No more than thirty, the woman was sallow skinned and exhausted looking. Her eyes were hollow as they stared at the glass we stood behind. I think she knew we were there.

“Helena is one of our most promising residents. After reaching end stage degeneration, we’ve been successful in the furthest reversal to date.” As Olaf explained, mostly for Dov’s benefit, just what they had done, the pair inside the chamber ran the young woman through a series of cognitive tests. Dov spoke up a moment later.

“So how far of a reversal?” He asked. After I had told him there was no getting better for Eeva, I dreaded this very question. Setting my jaw, I waited for the doctor to respond.

“Nearly sixteen percent! It’s amazing.” Though Nowak sounded excited about it, I didn’t have it in me to match his enthusiasm. Dov cast a glance aside, one I met with a lift of my brows.
See, told you so. There is no getting better, there’s only not getting worse.

“And this is best case so far? What does the worst case look like?” Dov asked. I was already cold but his question sent a chill through my blood. Tests concluded, they ushered Helena from the observation room under the watchful eyes of her doctors.

“Depends. Typically progression goes one of two ways. Violent or catatonic. In rare cases you may see both.” Despite the subject matter, Olaf spoke with a clinical detachment that I couldn’t help but marvel at.

“How is Hirsch?” I asked after a few moments. It must have been quiet because the two men kept talking as if I hadn’t said anything. Finally I cleared my throat and asked louder. “How. Is. Hirsch?”

“Miss Cohen…”

“I want to see Hirsch. Please.” Insistent, I met his unsure gaze with steel. He swallowed hard enough to make his Adam’s apple bob then nodded twice.

“Very well. He’s on Sub-Six. Emile, take us there please.” Nervous, Olaf shuffled after the agent named Emile and reluctantly stepped into an elevator that would take us even further into the frozen earth. In passing, Dov squeezed my shoulder. It wasn’t a reassuring thing, not after hearing just where we were going.

“What’s on Sub-Six?” Dov asked on the ride down. Nowak stumbled over the answer so I supplied it.

“The worst case scenarios that you wanted to see.” I told him. “Sub-Six is where those who can’t die go to spend the rest of their days, far below the surface, well away from anywhere they could hurt themselves or someone else.”

The rest of the ride was a stuffy sort of silence, a fact I almost regretted. Several stories down, it’s all sterile air and uncomfortable awkwardness. But Dov had asked and I promised him answers before we got here. The elevator stopped on Sub-Six where both Emile and Olaf had to press their hands to the biometric scanner before the doors would open. When they did, we were met by the muffled din of anguish, a violent cacophony of screaming and moaning and pounding.

“Welcome to Sub-Six.” I muttered darkly to Dov. He frowned and stuck closer to my side as if I could do something about the feral sounds assailing our ears. We were taken through two heavy steel doors and into the main corridor. The sounds got louder, punctuated often by metallic banging and pounding coming from the doors on either side of us. Next to each one, the occupant’s name was printed in black block handwriting on yellowing paper.


M. Strittmatter

E. Vahlen

I. Ludwig

B. Gegenbauer.

The list went on and on. I recognized many of them. Some were friends, some were foes, and in the end they all ended up down here. We came to a stop by a door labeled H. Ehrlich. Olaf entered a string of commands upon which a small six inch by six inch viewing window slid open. A thick piece of gorilla glass covered the opening, broken only by a line of tiny holes.

“Hirsch, we have visitors. Will you come say hello?” Olaf coaxed near the window without looking in. There was the shuffle of movement inside followed by a low groan. The doctor turned back to us. “The sedative gas should keep him complacent for a short time if you wish to talk to him.”

For all of my adamant desire to see the man inside, I dreaded the thought of peeking in the window. I had known Hirsch for a very, very long time. To see him down here… it was hard to think about. Still I took a deep breath and stepped up to the window. “Hirsch… it’s Evia Cohen.”

The sudden bang from inside startled me into taking two steps back. Dov caught me by the shoulders and kept me steady as I steeled my resolve and stepped up again. A rasp filtered through the pinprick holes in the glass. “Ev...ee...a.”

“Yes, yes, it’s me, Hirsch. Can you hear me?” On my toes, I tried to look for him. Another thud followed by the dragging of shoulder to wall soon announced his upright arrival. He was gaunt, thin through the cheeks and dark beneath the eyes. His eyes, dark and wild, were unfocused as he tried to look at me through the glass.

“You came back…” He mumbled, his voice rough like gravel. His shoulder jerked with irritation. “Helena. Where’s Helena?”

“She’s okay. She’s good, Hirschy. It’s okay, it’s all going to be okay.” I said as soothingly as I could muster.

“What do you know about okay… you left us. You left us, Eeva.” He growled, banging a fist against the door beside the window.

“I’m here now. It’s okay. I just saw Helena, she says hello.” I mumbled near the holes.

“Liar! You lying bitch!” Spittle sprayed the window but thankfully didn’t make it through the little gaps in the glass. He trailed off into a slew of rapidfire German composed predominantly of the most vile insults he could come up with interspersed with what I could only surmise was jibberish. He punched the door again and let out a howl of anguish. “Liar! LIAR! LIAR!”

Olaf closed the window. Inside, Hirsch’s hands and feet and forehead pounded against the walls and door as he trailed off into muffled screams and wails, almost animalistic in their pain. Only inches away from the closed window, I could feel the reverberations each time he hit the door until finally Dov tugged me away from it. He and the doctor had been talking but I didn’t make out much of what either of them had said.

“I think I’ve seen enough.” Dov said quietly. We were escorted the way we came, Hirsch’s screams echoing after us. Here and there he called my name, betrayal and venom filling each and every insult he slung. It wasn’t until we made it onto the elevator that I could finally block it out.

Dov says I was quiet all the way back up. He and Doctor Nowak spoke more on things but I don’t remember any of it. All I remember is being ushered back into the reception area where they gave me my weapons and bag back. I didn’t say a word until we landed in Tel Aviv, nearly catatonic in my barely concealed grief. Back at the Institute, we stood before the portal back to Rhydin.

“Ev… I just wanted to say I’m sorry…” He mumbled aside to me as they queued the gate to Rhydin’s frequency.

“What for?” I asked, numb, robotic.

“That they did those things to you and your sisters.” He answered. I couldn’t look at him. Instead I stepped up to the blue glow of the portal.

“I am too.”

_________________

For by wise guidance you can wage your war -Proverbs 24:6
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Evia
Young Wyrm
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Can Be Found: Cohen Bank & Trust, Old Temple
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 7:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Ray died…”

“Ray…?”

“Rogers.”

“The MI6 agent from the Morocco mission?”

“The very same.”

“That’s… I’m surprised he made it this long.”

“I’m not. Raymond C. Rogers, aged eighty-two, passed away peacefully on Sunday at his home in Alderley Edge. Ray, as he was known to his many friends, is survived by his four children, Phoebe, Jasper, Arlo, and Evette. He also leaves behind, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.”

“Prolific.”

“He was, wasn’t he. Services will be held this Friday at St. Philip’s in Amberley Edge at three PM.”

“Do you want to go?”

“Oh no… I’d not want to impede on his family’s grieving time.”

“You’re smiling. Are you okay?”

“Perfectly. Never have I ever met a more amazing example of what it is to live. I’ll remember him fondly.”

===========================================

Tangier, Morocco

Once upon a time, the Maghreb coast port city of Tangier was a gem. A shady gem, but a gem just the same. It was so called international zone free from the influence of any particular government while held under loose control of a vague conglomeration of more European interests. Where Africa threatened to kiss Europe across the Strait of Gibraltar, glamorous stars and lowkey expats alike sought the comforts of alcohol, drugs, and endless parties.

Eventually Tangier’s heyday passed and it slipped into seedy obscurity, a crumbling shadow of what it once was. Toward the end of that era, I met Ray. He was a tall drink of well dressed water at a dusty bar by the harbor where they trafficked illicit substances and sometimes world worn women too. He was here for the former, I for the latter. A lead brought me to Morocco in search of one of several branches of traffickers funneling girls and women to Europe and the Americas from Africa and Asia. On paper it was run of the mill recon and neutralization but seldom were things as they appeared. Rumors whispered talk of a man in Argentina seeking particular women for medical trials. Sounds innocent, right? If it were, he wouldn’t have to illegally obtain his subjects. Normally trafficked women were used for everything from sex and companionship to indentured housekeepers. You didn’t often hear about those forced into medical experimentation.

Nobody was surprised when I volunteered to check it out. The leads in Manila and Johannesburg came up short but Tangier… Tangier had promise. So long as I didn’t get distracted by a sharp suit, a sharper accent, and the most razor’s edge wit I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

It was inevitable.

I got distracted.

We drank, we danced, we screwed like there was no tomorrow. And when he thought I was sleeping soundly, he dressed and left, leaving behind a velvet lined box in which sat a pair of earrings, saltwater pearls set in rose gold. I still wear them from time to time. But I still had a job to do, so shortly after he left, I too dressed and left my room at the Hotel El Muniria behind. I became vaguely aware that I was being followed only three blocks later. The hour was late (or was it early) and the foot traffic had dwindled. I was likely the only woman for miles out and about. It wasn’t safe for most women after all.

I’m not most women.

I let my path take me through less desirable parts of the port until the non-functional streetlamps were more common than the working ones. It was there in a puddle of black that I turned a corner into the waiting barrel of something shiny and well taken care of. Up close, I could just barely detect the tang of gunpowder. It tickled my nose and made me sneeze, one hand up and the other covering my nose and mouth.

“Who do you work for?” The gun’s wielder asked, a smooth, familiar accent greeting my ears. My brows lifted as I leaned back, both hands up.

“Come again? Ray… you were literally just in my room. You left these.” I slipped a hand slowly for my jacket’s pocket. It could have gone one of two ways. He would shoot before I could draw anything out or I could play the damsel card and present him with what I claimed to be bringing.

I never was much for the damsel schtick.

Before he could blink, he found himself on the receiving end of my own steady pistol. Now, before we continue, let it be known that there is nothing advantageous about a double hold up like this. Often times one or both people fail to walk away from such an encounter, but I had an advantage that he didn’t. I had a smile he couldn’t resist.

“Trust me, if you pull that trigger it will be the last thing you do. So you can either tell me who you really are, Ray Rogers, or I can put an end to this quite quickly.” Because what kind of a name was Ray Rogers? It was very clearly made up. “Are you with Nasiri?”

“Nasiri?” If that was fake confusion on Ray’s face, he should have won an Oscar. I lifted my chin and scrutinized him further.

“Why were you following me?” I asked him without budging.

“Following you? You can see I’m in front of you,
wardat alsahra’. Not behind you.” Ray said with a bemused smile. It was a smile that left quickly when thunder split the air. Just a single whipcrack bang as I was thrown forward into Ray. He pulled me around the corner and pushed me up against the cold limestone of the wall. “Who’s following you, Evia?”

“Nnnn, I’m gonna guess that’s Nasiri…” Or at least someone associated with him. Slipping my free hand behind my back, I felt where the slug had torn through my vest and dug a hole into my back. That stung. Ray fired blindly around the corner, unconcerned with whom he might hit. I fixed him with a skeptical look and, still leaning against the wall, pulled a compact mirror from my jacket. I flipped it open and angled it around the edge. “Twenty meters, my seven.”

Without looking, Ray fired again. We heard a startled cry and a dull thud. I edged my compact over to see the heap of a man on the ground just shy of twenty meters out. A slight adjustment revealed no other followers, at least in the narrow slice of street it showed us. With a slight groan, I shut the compact and looked back to Ray. “Section Six?”

“Who
are you?” He asked yet again.

“You left your earrings.” The velveteen box was withdrawn and held out.

“Those’re for you, luv.” It was the sort of lilt that said it was a general term of affection rather than something specifically attributed to me. That was fine by me. I didn’t need anyone’s love. I slipped them into his jacket pocket and smiled.

“I’m after a bigger prize.” I told him and winced as I straightened. Now, I know what you’re thinking, I said I still wear those earrings. You’re right. I do. And that’s because despite the fact that we had almost shot each other, he was still a spectacular lover, a point proven several times again after that. He even took me dancing while I scouted out the trade routes. Of course it meant he could make contact with his mark too. A mutually beneficial tango, you know? We never really talked about who we were or what we were doing but there seemed to be an unspoken understanding. Espionage has a way of doing that to a person, it’s a language all of its own.

I saw three times after that, twice in London and once, randomly mind you, in Beirut. We lost contact some time after that but his was a career that I couldn’t help but admire from afar. It isn’t often that you meet truly good people in this field but Ray? Ray was one of the best.

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