‘This is how most people die,’ Jazmynde thought. ‘They die badly.’
In her office, chairs were overturned and carbon scars on the paneling behind her desk showed the discharge where the invader tried to shoot through the portal, triggering an explosive decompression.
She crouched down next to the body. The woman was certainly dead. Her eyes were staring blankly at the ceiling and already drying out. She was dressed as a technician for the base – purple jumpsuit and comfortables shoes. On her hands, Jazmynde could see the faint outlines of tattoos. The woman’s face was bloodied and smashed. She lay there on her back, head pointed towards the open doorway, eyes staring off into eternity.
Jazmynde tutted quietly and started frisking the body.
Approaching footsteps at the doorway was all it took for Jazmynde to roll towards and behind her desk, grabbing the assassin’s laser on the way. The weapon was broken, but she hoped pointing the weapon at whoever came through the door would buy her seconds.
Her assistant Iaian burst through the door followed by two soldiers. Jazmynde remained crouched behind her desk.
They looked around, then saw the dead assassin on the floor. “Marshall?” Iaian called out. “Are you here?”
“Here,” she answered, then stood up. Before they could speak, she asked, “do you really need to ask what happened?”
“Yes, she is.”
Iaian shook his head.
Jazmynde nodded. “Yes, I would like to have questioned her. She was tough. Didn’t give me much choice.”
“Marshall, I really have to ask what happened in here.”
She nodded and said, “Fine.”
I was in my office, doing paperwork as usual. Mostly reading efficiency reports. The price of being a self-sustaining colony is constantly balancing resources.
My first warning was a smell: ozone and cooking meat coming from outside my door. My poor soldiers guarding me were killed. So when it happened, I was ready.
That woman kicked open the door. She had some kind of beam weapon. I suppose it was something like a miniaturized industrial laser but heavily weaponized.
Which is an odd choice for a weapon, but makes sense for what she wanted. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Anyway, she kicked open the door. I didn’t bother to get a good look at her at first. I was more interested in getting out of the way. I dove to the side as a bright green beam the thickness of my thumb tore over my desk where I was. There was the ozone and burning smell again – ionized air around the beam and scorching against the wall.
I didn’t have a weapon with me. Stupid, I know. I was expecting something like this. Not so extreme or reckless. That’s my fault and I curse myself for it.
What I didn’t expect at first was the woman keeping the beam on and focused on a single spot on the wall. It quickly hit me that she was trying to punch a hole in the wall. It may even seem like an accident. Some structural weakness in the wall eventually giving way or something.
I guess this was a suicide mission for her. Which seemed very odd. This woman was going to die to kill me.
I don’t suppose you’ve ever worked with assassins before. You’ve been my assistant for years, but only administrative. There’s something all assassins have in common: they’re raving egotists. They will kill anyone you tell them to because there is no one more important to them than themselves. So killing other people is not an issue for them. All of the great ones – the ones who can get into a highly guarded compound to take out a target on their own – those are people who want to survive. They love themselves too much not to.
But this one… she got this far and was willing to die to kill me. Odd…
Here’s the thing about a laser like the one she was using: they don’t instantly punch through carbon steel. They’re not explosive. They weaken molecular bonds, but they’re only really effective if you tune them specifically to the materials you want to destroy. That wall is made up of multiple materials. You have to hold the laser in a single position for a time. Since this compound is hardened against grav-bombs, it’s no simple thing to puncture a hole in the side and blow out this whole room. If I gave her a minute or two to hold the thing still, it would be a different matter.
There was no way I was going to do that.
So I threw a lamp at her. Hit her on the side of the head, which is what caused that carbon scaring trailing off and upwards. She tried to search me out with the beam, but I kept moving. And here is where my drinking habit helped out.
I grabbed a bottle of Bourbon and threw it. The nice thing about that the laser is it’s large enough to make an easy target, delicate, and not liquid-proof. The bottle hit the laser and broke, splashing extremely nice Bourbon all over it. She released the contact and the gun shorted. While she was surprised, I threw another bottle of wine and it hit her on the nose. Unfortunately, the bottle didn’t break.
So I leaped up and threw her down. Simple fulcrum physics. My leg behind hers, sharp push down, follow her down with my body, arm against her chest, knocks the wind out of her.
Which makes me wonder…
Nevermind. I knocked her down. I heard a familiar clicking sound – some kind of blade weapon. Luckily the wine bottle was close to me. I grabbed it and smashed in her skull. I wanted to render her unconscious, but I am afraid I hit her too hard. And too often.
I admit I regrettably lost control a little, to my shame. Again, I was expecting this, but not a suicide attack. Not something that clumsy. I thought it was insulting, like a very bad liar lying to you. Like whoever sent that assassin to me thought so little of me that they sent that clumsy thing. I let the anger get the best of me.
“Not long after, you came here,” Jazmynde said.
The two soldiers knelt down by the body and started checking it. “Two knives, a small needle gun – compressed. Alloy. No explosive device.”
“Marshall,” Iaian said, shaking his head, “I had no idea you knew self-defense.”
Jazmynde nodded absentmindedly, then looked thoughtfully at Iaian. “Well, there’s no point in leading armies if you can’t defend yourself. Plan for every contingency.”
“No chance of questioning her,” Iaian said as the soldiers raised their weapons. “Good.”
They pointed the weapons at Jazmynde. He looked up at her and said, “It’s a pity she didn’t finish the…”
Jazmynde barked out the words, “Bat sub star run stifle.”
Iaian and the two guards stiffened, then fell to the ground rigid, trembling, and silent.
Jazmynde circled around her desk and stood over Iaian and the two guards.
“You should’ve just shot me, Iaian,” Jazmynde said. “You shouldn’t have needed me to know that you betrayed me. Gloating betrays a serious character weakness.”
She shook her head sadly and pointed to the dead woman on the floor. “She wasn’t a very good assassin. She was clever and dedicated. Suicidal, but not one deserving of my level. I would expect the best to be sent after me. Unless she was a feint – a test. She was to show how vulnerable I could be, and if she failed, well… there’s always the real assassin. You three.”
Iaian’s eyes swiveled up to Jazmynde, focusing on her through his pain.
She nodded. “Yes, I added a couple of extra flourishes to the subcutaneous ident chips everyone has. Now you know why they were implanted into the base of everyone’s neck, right next to a lovely cluster of nerves close enough to the brain stem to give me some kind of control in case something like… well exactly like this happens.
“Mind you, I didn’t expect your betrayal, Iaian. I just prepared for it.”
She kneeled down next to him. “This horrendous pain you’re feeling is going to last until I stop it, Iaian. And I don’t think I want to stop it. Sure, the chip will run out of power eventually. I think eleven years or so.”
She sighed and looked away thoughtfully. “So, suicide attack meant to kill me, and if she failed – and of course she would – you could kill me at a vulnerable moment. I don’t have many of those, so why not fabricate one?
“Unless Iaian… unless you were meant to fail as well. That’s why you shouldn’t have played at this level. Every pawn is told they are a bishop. It was obvious when you came here so quickly after it was over. It was also plain considering how quickly she got here without interference.”
She sat down on the ground casually. “I was wrong, Iaian. I expected Wilhelm to send the assassin first. After all, he was just here a few days ago. He could’ve seen the layout of the place himself, then given the command to kill me. But oh, that is not how Wilhelm works. He considers himself a man of ‘honor,’ whatever that is. He would have played to his strength and invaded the place, or sent a competent assassin. The assassin he sent would’ve been a reflection of what he thinks of himself – something excellent and effective. Not clumsy. And he would have never taken the time to plant you, Iaian, or seed my guards with his people, or have a contingency.
“And Yumi… she would’ve played to her strengths as well. She would have killed me like she meant it, or send an assassin who thought they were working for Wilhelm to divert the source and drive me to her in anger. To send a clumsy assassin and have rings of agents in place to catch the mess… that’s not what she does. She can’t muster that kind of loyalty out of her people. ”
Jazmynde laughed. “I was so wrong about all of this, Iaian,” she said, patting his spasming leg. “Contingency plans are not for Wilhelm or Yumi. It’s Mara. Mara the Turtle. It pays to be audacious when one has the reputation for caution.
“Wilhelm and Yumi knew me better personally but neither of them ever comprehended how I thought. I might as well have been a witch to them – something supernatural and mysterious. Mara is the only one who understood how I thought. And she knows that rather than run, I will go straight to her.”
She stood up and wiped her hands together as if removing dirt. “Here I am talking when I have travel plans to make. I hope you didn’t mind me wool-gathering with you and your friends. I rarely get to unburden myself. Needless to say, as usual, this conversation is not to leave this room. I am presuming you are not the only three planted here, so I am going to leave a message for your boss for when you compatriots come looking for you. And for me, I presume.”
She looked down angrily at Iaian. “I would like you to know that I sincerely regret what I am about to do to my carpet.
“Bat sub star run you’re fired.”
Iaian and the soldiers’ necks snapped upwards. There were three little pops as the chips in their necks exploded, nearly severing their heads. Their bodies instantly relaxed, blood and brain fluid leaking out of the holes in the backs of their necks.
She sighed and looked at her desk, then walked over casually. She pulled out a piece of paper and her pen. “Might as well do this in as classy a way as possible,” she muttered. She leaned against her desk and started writing a message. Then she folded the paper into an origami lily and on one petal she wrote in fine writing “To Mara.” She placed the lily on Iaian’s body.
She snuck through the corridors of her own home, avoiding anyone she could. Despite her blood being up, she didn’t enjoy killing Iaian or her soldiers. She may have planned for it, but she regretted its necessity.
“Millions of deaths on my hands,” she thought to herself. “What’s another three?” But she didn’t feel it. Those millions of deaths were what drove her to do what she did all those months ago.
It was something she could never tell anyone.
Since she helped designed the facility, she knew the shortest way to get to her personal craft – a personal cruiser capable of high sub-luminous speed, fast enough to tear through the solar system, but slow enough to prevent too much time dilation. It was a well-regarded, customized ship meant for one of the mightiest Marshalls in the whole system.
It was ostentatious and obvious, which was why she avoided it like it was radioactive.
She was certain that there were more people who Mara had suborned, although she had no idea how many. They would watch her ship closely. Or Iaian could have tampered with it himself. Or any number of the crew on board could be Mara’s. There was no way she was going near that ship.
She did her best to hide from any personnel she could hear. She could run any number of subroutines she wanted to immobilize, torture, or kill anyone who worked in her home and came near her, but she wanted to avoid it. She didn’t want to hurt any innocents. And she didn’t want to leave a trail leading to her secret.
She had a smaller, less flashy, and far faster ship in a private hangar that no one else knew about. It looked like a beaten-up courier ship but could outrun most vehicles she could think of, including personal fighters and drones. It had few offensive capabilities because it favored speed and defense. The hangar was listed as a room containing spent plutonium rods and toxic waste.
She had often said that if one wasn’t terribly paranoid at the height of power, they were insane.
She made it to the hangar unobserved, sealed the hangar, and started preparing her ship for take-off – a task she could handle herself easily. It was a feature she specifically requested when having the ship secretly designed.
“Mara,” Jazmynde muttered. “The Turtle.”
‘We all discounted you so easily.’ she thought. ‘This is fitting revenge for underestimating you.’
Mara was personally the most distant from Jazmynde of all, and yet the most similar. She was a largely quiet woman, used to keeping her own counsel, waiting until she had something amazing incisive to say at any strategy meeting. The Leader knew that if he needed an impregnable fortress or a retreat strategy, Mara was the one to call.
She was not a glory hound like Wilhelm, desperate for recognition like Yumi, or, admittedly, overly-complicated like herself. Mara made herself a cipher, a blank screen on which everyone could project their image or worry, which is how her reach grew so long.
One thing Jazmynde could not figure out with all her ability for analysis: when she arrived at Mara’s home on Titan, would Mara kill her or be killed. Jazmynde was certain she was doing exactly what Mara assumed she would: come straight to her. But to run, hide, or strike back would all be futile, and fleeing to Wilhelm or Yumi would reduce her to the most comfortable slavery they could design.
It was futile to do anything else.
Mara reduced her to one avenue of action. ‘That, at least, is a woman I can respect,’ Jazmynde thought to herself, ‘even if she kills me. I cannot honestly say I deserve any less.’
Rather than shoot through the sky and into the void, Jazmynde’s ship hugged the surface of the moon. She was gradually gaining altitude. The coordinates were already locked in as she climbed into orbit. She was going to use the gravity of the moon to boost her speed.
As she rounded over the barren ash-gray of the moon, the Earth rose over the horizon, a beautiful white and blue ball suspended in total silence. Her breath caught a little.
“Someday,” she whispered, then she prepared for her long trip to Titan.