Copyright © 2013 W.H. Mitchell
Sitting at his desk in the command center, in front of an array of video screens, the chief of security could see every square inch of Senator Marshal’s property.
Everywhere, except directly behind him.
He felt a strange sensation running across his throat, but what really struck him as odd was his view. Instead of looking at the monitors, he seemed to be looking up from the floor. The chief saw a man dressed in black, his head clean shaven, standing behind the desk chair, holding a wire glowing white hot. As if in a dream, the chief noticed his own body still sitting in the chair, but something was missing. He tried to think what it was, but his mind was growing foggy. He kept wondering what was missing until this thoughts faded into an inky blackness.
Magnus Black watched as the eyes of the decapitated head seemed to glaze over as the life drained away. The superheated garrote cauterized the blood vessels, preventing any hemorrhaging. He reeled back the wire into its handle and stowed the apparatus into a pocket. He reached over the back of the chair and pulled the ID badge from the headless body. With that, Magnus knew he could open any door in the complex.
From the window of her study, Senator Joan Marshal could just make out the outline of the Imperial Senate between the trees in the distance. In her mid-fifties, her hair remained a fawn brown from countless nano treatments. She purposely retained a few grey strands as a testament to her experience, just in case anyone doubted the time she had spent in the Senate.
When she was young, she despised politics. Her only ambition was to marry well and have a family, but a career in law pulled her down another path. With so little time for all that was needed each day, little was left for a private life and certainly not children. After a few years, she married a charismatic lawyer and partner at her law firm. It was just as much a marriage of convenience as it was for love, but she knew Paul was infatuated with her and she could only say no to his proposals for so long before it made more sense to say yes. He was handsome, well connected, and rich. And she felt something for him too, even if only to a lesser degree than what he felt for her.
And when one of the political parties approached her husband, he came to her for advice. Joan told him it was the right thing to do, so he ran and won on the first try. The masses, the ignorant and easily manipulated masses, loved him. They never played hard to get, because it wasn’t in their nature.
They moved to Regalis, the capital city and seat of government for the Imperium, and delved into public life. The balls and receptions, the inaugurations and the parties with people of substance and grace, the high born and outright royalty, filled the days and nights. It was more than Joan had known, but she liked it once she got a taste. She was someone important now, if only because her husband was a man with power. Little did people know that it was Joan who had the Senator’s ear, counseling him on matters of state that affected billions of citizens for five hundred light years in every direction. He loved her and seemed genuinely happy to make her happy, and she was happy to let him.
Joan smiled, gazing through the window at the Senate, its walls bleached by the floodlights surrounding it. A shape appeared, reflected in the glass.
Joan’s grin beamed as she turned. A boy, dressed in silk pajamas, walked further into the study. The Senator threw her arms around him and drew the teenager old close to her.
“David,” she said, feigning disapproval. “You should be in bed.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” he confessed. Tall for his age, he was nearly eye-to-eye with his mother.
Joan released the boy, but kept a firm grip on his shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
“I had a nightmare about when Dad died.”
“You couldn’t remember the accident. That was before you were born. In fact, I nearly miscarried you when they told me the news.”
“Do you miss him?” David ask.
“Of course. He was such a great man, but when he died, I knew his legacy would live on. I can see a lot of him in you.”
“I know,” David said, looking down at his toes. “But I’m afraid.”
“Don’t be scared of anything, David,” his mother said. “I’ll always be here for you. Even when I retire and you’ve taken my place, I’ll still be there to advise you, just like I did with your father.”
“I wish sis was still alive too.”
Senator Marshal scowled. “Your father died trying to make the Imperium a better place. And your sister, well, when she got sick, I was heartbroken. The only thing that kept me strong was knowing that I still had a son. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know if I could’ve gone on without the others. It makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.”
“Your father and I have worked very hard for a very long time. It’s hasn’t been easy being a commoner in a government where every high-born imbecile thinks it’s their birthright to take everything for themselves. In the Senate, first your father and then I carved out a better life for not only our family but for millions of others. It’s our greatest gift, even if we’ve paid dearly for it. Never forget that. Don’t let the deaths of your father and sister be in vain.”
David grinned, slightly embarrassed. “I won’t.”
Through the window, but from the other side, a face peered out of the darkness. Hanging upside down, suspended by a rope tied off on the roof, Magnus Black watched the people inside like a spider observing his prey.
In a non-descript mall several miles east of the Imperial Senate, a shop called Sadira Flowers sat nestled between a fashion boutique and a bakery selling designer cupcakes. Busy with their midday shopping, few noticed the tall man in a long, leather coat walking into the flower store. The girl inside was busy organizing an assortment of carnations and angel’s breath, but stopped when she heard the bell above the door chime. She greeted Magnus Black with a warm smile.
“How can I help you?” she inquired.
“I’d like to buy two dozen white lilies, please,” he said in a deep voice.
“A death in the family.”
After a pause, the girl asked “Would you like that gift wrapped?”
She nodded and took a quick glance at the curtain behind her. “Come with me, sir.”
The girl pivoted and stepped toward the curtain. She pulled the cloth aside, revealing a hallway beyond. She beckoned and Magnus followed her a short distance to a flight of stairs going down. Together, they descended into the heavy fragrance of lilacs that wafted up from below. At the bottom, Magnus saw another hallway, this one lined with crates stacked against the walls. Past the boxes, they came to an archway draped with expensive-looking silk.
“Please wait in there,” the flower girl said. “She’ll be with you momentarily.”
She smiled again, leaving Magnus alone. He crossed the archway and found himself in a medium-sized room arranged tastefully with antique furniture and an assortment of glass vases. He didn’t wait long before a man twice his size entered as well, stationing himself on one side of the arch. The newcomer didn’t say a word, but didn’t look like he needed to. Magnus knew muscle when he saw it.
A few minutes later a woman appeared, practically flowed into the room, the train of her amber gown trailing behind her. Magnus estimated she was in her 40s, but surgery and nano treatments always made age a relative thing.
“Mr. Black, I presume?” she said, tossing her fox-colored hair off to the side of her face.
“Yes,” Magus replied.
“My name is Lumiya Delste.”
She seemed pleased. “Does my reputation precede me?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, I’ll take what I can get, I suppose,” she quipped.
“I got your message, but I’m a little confused why you’d contact me,” Magnus said.
“The Red Lotus syndicate has enough assassins of their own that I doubt my services would be much use to you.”
“True, our ladies are nothing if not…skillful.”
Magnus bowed slightly. “In many ways, I’m sure.”
“But there is something that you can do for us,” she continued. “It’s something that requires help from outside the Red Lotus. Something that we’re bound by contract not to do ourselves.”
She nodded toward her bodyguard who left, only to return a short time later with a young woman. The girl was pale with sunken, brown eyes that fell immediately on Magnus as she entered the room.
“This is Revana,” Lumiya said. “She’s the one who’s hiring you.”
“You’re a lot younger than most of my clients,” he told the girl. “My skills aren’t cheap.”
Revana looked at Magnus with a searing intensity. “I’ve been saving my whole life for this.”
“Working for the Red Lotus?”
“Revana is a hostess at one of our gambling establishments,” Lumiya replied. “She’s been with us for quite some time.”
The girl’s expression soured, although it was sullen to begin with. “I’m a foundling,” she said.
“An orphan?” Magnus asked.
“It’s complicated,” Lumiya answered for her.
“I want revenge,” Revana said bluntly.
After a long pause, Magnus spoke first. “Why?”
“I have my reasons.”
“I’m sure you do, but if someone’s going to die, I’d like to know the justification.”
Lumiya softly put her hand around the girl’s arm. “Perhaps I can explain.”
Revana went to a sofa surrounded by vases and rested her hands in her lap.
“About fifteen years ago,” Lumiya went on, “a woman came to us with a proposal. Her husband had been a senator, but had died suddenly. She wanted to pick up where he left off, but her lack of experience made winning the election difficult. The other candidate was probably going to win unless something was done.”
“And she wanted you for that something?”
“Besides illegal gambling, the Red Lotus is predominately known for two other things: prostitution and extortion. As it happens, the woman’s idea involved both of those things.”
“How convenient,” Magnus remarked.
“Essentially she wanted us to entrap the other candidate in a compromising position, forcing him to drop out of the race.”
“I assume you were able to accomplish this?”
“Oh yes,” Lumiya laughed. “We used multiple holofeeds to record him with one of our most talented girls. He was married, so once we presented him with the evidence, he would’ve done just about anything. Ultimately, the client won the election and she’s been a senator ever since.”
“Where does the girl come in?”
“Well, that’s the complicated part. When the client first came to us, she confessed that she didn’t have the money we required upfront, so she offered to leave something valuable as collateral instead.”
Magnus glanced at the girl on the sofa. “Her own daughter? How old was Revana at the time?”
“She was six years old,” Lumiya said. “The contract stated that if the client didn’t pay the money after completion, we would keep the child.”
“So what happened when the contract was fulfilled?”
“After the election, the client told us she wouldn’t pay the money she owed.”
“What about Revana?”
A meek, almost pathetic noise came from the other side of the room. “She said I wasn’t needed anymore,” Revana sobbed. “She said they could keep me because she was pregnant with a son.”
“I don’t understand,” Magnus said.
“Apparently,” Lumiya explained, “the client always wanted a son and, knowing she carried one, viewed Revana as nothing more than a bargaining chip. While distasteful, the contract was fulfilled and payment was already in hand. We could do nothing against the client since she didn’t break the agreement.”
“So why now?” Magnus asked. “Why wait so long for revenge?”
“Rules,” Lumiya replied. “We couldn’t move against the client ourselves, but Revana could as she pleased once she reached adulthood.”
“And when was that?”
“She turned twenty-one last week.”
“Which I guess means she can hire me without breaking the rules.”
Magnus appraised the girl on the couch. “Are you sure about this, Revana?”
The girl got up, straightened her dress, and tried unsuccessfully to appear confident. “For a long time I thought it was my fault. I thought maybe she didn’t love me because I did something wrong, that somehow I deserved what happened. Then one day I realized my mother threw me away because she got what she wanted. Nothing else mattered to her.”
“And now you want your revenge,” Magnus said.
“Yes, Mr. Black,” she answered, the light in the room reflecting off her moist eyes.
Magnus nodded his understanding. “That’s all I needed to know.”
The charges molded into the frame of the window exploded, sending wood and shards of glass spilling into the Senator’s study. Joan Marshal and her son instinctively threw themselves to the floor, shielding their faces from the flying debris. With their heads down, neither noticed the man slip into the room like a shadowy apparition.
Magnus drew a blaster pistol from its holster. “Get up,” he commanded.
Timidly, they obeyed, their attire shimmering like diamonds from the glass fragments. Joan straightened, realizing that Magnus was alone. “How dare you attack an Imperial Senator! My security detail when be here in seconds.”
“They’re already dead,” Magnus said. “If you were a noble, the government would’ve assigned more experienced guards. I guess they don’t value commoners like ourselves quite as much.”
“Who are you?” David asked.
“Let me handle this,” his mother responded, half under her breath. “If it’s ransom you want, they won’t negotiate with terrorists.”
“I’m not interested in terror,” the assassin replied. “I’m more of a contractor.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your daughter sent me.”
The Senator’s face contorted as if Magnus was talking gibberish. “My daughter died a long time ago.”
“Actually, she’s very much alive.”
“But she died when I was a baby,” David said.
“No,” Magnus spoke coldly.
“What’s he talking about?” the boy asked his mother.
“He’s a madman,” she said. “Don’t listen to him.”
“Then you explain it to him,” Magnus went on, waving his weapon for emphasis. “Tell him or I’ll kill you both. Really, it’s the least you can do.”
David looked directly at the Senator’s face, scanning her eyes for truth, but saw that they were turned away from him.
“Tell me what happened,” he pleaded. “Is she still alive?”
“She might be,” Joan said. “I haven’t seen her for fifteen years.”
“Why? What happened to her?”
“It’s irrelevant, David. She’s just as dead to me as if she really died.”
The boy shook his head, disbelieving. “I don’t understand.”
“Sometimes there’s a price to pay and I used her to pay it. I had you, I didn’t need her anymore. I wanted a son and once I was pregnant with you, that’s all that counted. Everything I’ve done has been for you. You’re my legacy!”
A piercing ray of light illuminated the room. The Senator was blinded momentarily, but as her vision cleared, she quickly examined her clothing for the wound she expected to see. Did he miss, she wondered? But the assassin’s shot was true.
David spoke so quietly that only the Senator actually heard it. “Mother?” he said and crumpled to the floor.
“David!” she screamed, dropping to her knees. She cradled the boy, but his body lay lifeless in her arms. “You can’t be dead. You have to carry on my work. It’s your destiny!”
“There’s no destiny except death,” Magnus said. “Your legacy is dust.”
The Senator, her greying hair dangling in a tattered mess around her tear-soaked face, hugged the dead boy even as she glared with hatred at Magnus standing over her. “Why did you kill him and not me?”
“You were never the target,” he told her. “Your daughter made it very clear that you weren’t to be harmed. “
“But why David?”
“He was the thing you cherished the most, him and your precious legacy. Now you have neither.”
Magnus put away weapon and slung one leg over the window ledge. Before he disappeared into the deepening night, he remembered something and stopped. “One more thing,” he said.
“Your daughter sends her love.”
And with that, Magnus was gone.