something new that I’m working on. A series of shorts with the same character through all of them, on a mission. you could almost consider them “episodes” I guess.
definitely Rated R for violence and language.
let me know what you think!
Once Upon A Time…
They left me for dead.
The drugs help dull the pain, but not a lot…I won’t let them put me under again, don’t want the haziness that painkillers bring…the loss of control…of memory…
Because this, I want to remember.
In The Here & Now…
The whoosh of nautilus weights hit the air rhythmically; up-down, up-down, up-down with a final clank of metal on metal. The gym was dark, save for a single overhead light in the center of the room. The scent of her own musk filled the immediate air, slightly sour and rank enough to make her nose wrinkle.
…a blur of pain, agony in every fiber of my being…every single day hurt back then…
The gym was empty, thanks to the arrangement she had with the owner for working out after hours. Sweat trickled down Charity’s neck as she rolled shoulders to loosen tense muscles, it soak into the loose strands of hair that escaped her traditional braid.
…IVs pump fluid and nutrients into my body…
She stood from one machine and walked to the next on her third and final rep of a routine so well known, she could do it blindfolded. Her body ached in a pleasant, lingering way.
… all-encompassing agony, machines keeping me alive as bones knit and lacerations healed…
As Charity reached for the handle to settle herself on the bench, a knife slid against her throat, freezing her in mid-motion. All her senses went on alert as the metal warmed swiftly to her skin, but didn’t cut. The security of her nightly session violated by an unknown. The sanctity of her privacy and the rare moments of relaxation shattered.
Lips twisting wryly, she asked, “Can I help you?”
“All your training in the dojo, all the hours spent in the gym, and I still got the drop on you,” a man’s voice stated from behind. “Ever wonder if maybe there was someone else out there waiting to finish the job? Or did a couple of years of anonymity dull your senses?”
The tone was matter-of-fact, not taunting. It piqued her interest, relaxing her just a hair. In her experience, muggers didn’t speak except to demand valuables, and psychos went right for emotional battery.
… I was in a coma the first three days after the attempted murder, but don’t remember that…
Keeping her arms loose at her side, Charity pointed out, “You haven’t actually tried to hurt me yet. I generally like to see what’s going to be on the agenda before beating the crap out of someone.”
“Confident. I like that,” the man complimented. The blade dug in, cutting just enough to draw a slice of fire, blood welling to trickle down her throat. “And if I said that I planned to beat, rape, and then kill you? What then?”
The tone shifted to cold, completely lacking inflection, telling Charity that the guy now meant business. A business with which she was all too familiar.
…I won’t run from pain again. I won’t let fear stop me from doing what I need to do, no matter what that might be…
Not waiting further, her right hand came up between his arm and her throat while her left heel slammed down on his instep. She used his distraction to take a firm grip on his hand and snapped it back, breaking bones without hesitation.
Ignoring his cry of pain, Charity grabbed his forearm and flipped him hard over her shoulder, slamming him into the floor. She pulled her foot back to kick him unconscious when all the lights in the gym went on, momentarily blinding her. Charity brought her foot down on his throat while her eyes adjusted, keeping enough pressure so that he choked and coughed.
Someone clapped from behind and she hopped over her attacker, switching feet midair to face the newcomer.
A black man in his mid-to-late thirties came towards her. He walked with an athlete’s grace and confidence, the lights above illuminating handsome, pleasant features and closely trimmed hair. An expensive, tan overcoat likely hid just as expensive a suit. He smiled as he drew near, completing the attractive picture with perfect teeth. “Very nicely done, Ms. Hampstead.”
“Thanks. Who the hell are you?” Charity demanding, heart suddenly racing. He knew her real identity, which meant this was seriously fucked up situation. She’d spent a lot of money to disappear and start over.
“Your future employer, if you so choose.”
It was about the most unexpected response possible.
A hand tugged at her sweats and she looked down at her attacker’s red face, abruptly hearing his wheezing, instead of the pounding of her own blood. Stepping off him, Charity moved out of reach and commented, “That doesn’t tell me squat.”
“True,” he agreed. “If you would care to change and accompany me to dinner, I will explain everything.”
She laughed. “Right. This guy attacks me and you expect me to just go with you?”
That smile returned and he gave a careless shrug, telling her, “I expect nothing. I do know, however, that you’re drifting here with nothing to do. You don’t need to work, but I believe that you’ll want to at least hear me out.”
There was something to his well-educated voice that interested Charity, as if he automatically stifled an accent of some kind. His attitude was calm and his gaze met hers without any seeming duplicity. There was more involved here than a simple job offer, that she knew without being told.
Most annoyingly, he was right. She’d been bored out of her skull for months. There was only so much time to be spent working out. She finally nodded and headed for the locker room.
Other men entered the previously empty gym, going immediately to the man she’d injured. One of them knelt down to help him up, cradling the broken limb. Her assailant caught her gaze and half-grinned as he offered, “No harm, no foul, eh?”
Just who are these people that breaking someone’s wrist is no big deal? she wondered, continuing on her way.
Pulling off bulky sweats that hid a body taut with muscle, Charity didn’t linger in the shower. She wanted to find out more about her mysterious company as soon as possible and so rinsed and soaped off within five minutes, forgoing her hair for later. It was too long to get clean under such rushed circumstances anyhow. Wrapping it in the towel to soak up the excess, Charity dressed in clean underwear, jeans, and t-shirt, the fabric sliding easily over her. It was good to have a permanent locker, not worrying about extra clothes at any given time.
Charity yanked off the towel and tossed it in her locker, shaking out the dirty-blond hair and swiftly braiding it. Footwear was last, but certainly not least. She picked out lightweight sneakers that allowed for the most flexibility, should a bad situation arise. They had the bonus of a hidden button inside that, when pressed, pushed off the heels to reveal sharp, metal cleats. She’d become something of a tinkerer in the last couple of years, with nothing but time on her hands.
Putting on her denim jacket, Charity checked that her specially made plastic knives were in place before buttoning up. They came in handy, not showing up on metal scans. Made of a reinforced polycarbonate, they were sharp enough to be just as dangerous as a real blade.
…Pipes and sticks, simple items taken from anywhere, leave distinct bruise patterns…
Just because the man claimed to not be a threat didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous.
On reentering the main gym, she found that only the black man remained, which reminded her that she didn’t even know his name.
“Ryan Willows,” he preempted, holding out a hand.
Charity took the hand and found it gripped just firmly enough.
Ryan released her hand and gestured towards the door with an easy, “Shall we go?”
Nodding, she started towards the exit and discovered him adjusting to her pace; another mark in his favor. He waited as she locked the gym behind her and then they continued on to a brand new Cadillac Towne Car. There was a driver in front, which she found rather pretentious. She offered a brief smile to the man who wasn’t introduced and climbed in the back seat.
The short ride was accomplished in silence and ended in front of a small, Italian restaurant that she went to all the time. It was a family run, hole-in-the-wall place with incredible lasagna that she got almost every time. A place she trusted.
And that means they’ve been watching me for a while now. They know my habits and haunts, she thought, more irritated than scared.
They left the car for the restaurant which was, not surprisingly, empty.
Raul greeted her with a smile on his rounded face, as always. “Charity! How are you this fine evening?”
Charity smiled in return and answered, “Just fine, Raul, thanks.”
He motioned to the many tables, offering, “Sit where you like.”
She picked the table against the wall, leaving Ryan with his back exposed. Not that he seemed at all concerned about it; he probably had people watching them. He took off his overcoat and placed it on the coat rack near the table, revealing a suit that was, indeed, of an expensive, fitted cut. He joined her at the table, taking the seat without a word.
Raul came by immediately with a bottle of very nice red wine, which he poured for them, and then took their orders before hustling off to the kitchen. Leaning back in her chair, Charity studied her new companion, but there were no obvious clues as to his true intentions or background, not even the subtle bulge of a holstered gun.
“We deal in percentages,” Ryan began. “Probabilities with such a high statistical disposition that the outcome is a virtual certainty.”
Raul returned with bread just then, discreetly leaving right away.
Ryan continued with, “The Company for whom I work spans the globe. It reaches into every corner from the Alps to the Namib Desert to the Arctic Circle to right here in the States, unencumbered by country borders. It is a multi-billion dollar entity thirty-four years old and will be around for, well, a very long time to come.”
Eyebrows lifting, Charity asked, “And I should care, why?”
He leaned forward, hands folding primly together, resting on the table as he replied, “Because this is a chance for you to make a real difference, Ms. Hampstead. We protect people, important people. I don’t mean important monetarily, but because of the contributions they can, and shall, make to humanity at large.”
“Protect them from what?” Charity prompted.
A simple, elegant shrug and Ryan answered, “Everything. Anything. The world is a cruel place, as you well know, Ms. Hampstead.”
Charity didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, she questioned, “And how do you know what makes these people special?”
“I told you. Probabilities and percentages.”
“You can’t know everyone’s future from that.”
“And what do your percentages say about me?” she challenged.
A faint smile graced his sensuous lips. “That you’re at a crossroads. You need a purpose in life, Ms. Hampstead, one that we can give you. You’ve had a harder life than most, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, it forged you into a weapon. You can use your skills to help those unable to help themselves.”
Stirring words, but Charity didn’t trust anyone. Not anymore.
…technically, I did die, but some good Samaritan found me and gave me CPR, bringing me back from…wherever…
Raul interrupted the charged moment with a cheerful, “And here we are!” as he placed plates in front of them both.
Charity smiled at him and complimented, “It smells wonderful, Raul, thanks.”
“Yes, thank you, Raul,” Ryan echoed.
Raul frowned at the dark undertone, but merely nodded and left them again.
Charity observed, “Mocking my friends is hardly going to make your case.”
“But he isn’t your friend,” Ryan countered. “He owns the restaurant in which you eat. You chat about very non-personal things. You have no friends. No ties that bind. You made sure of that yourself when you left Chicago without a trace.”
The carelessly uttered, but accurate words cut more than they should have. Charity sliced up her aglio e olio with more vigor than necessary until calm again. She glanced at him and asked, “How do you know so much about me?”
“We have almost unlimited resources, Ms. Hampstead,” Ryan informed her.
Charity grimaced. “The question should have been, why?”
Another careless lift of the shoulder as Ryan told her, “I’m afraid that’s above my pay grade. I was merely told to recruit you, not why.”
“And you didn’t ask.”
Now that, she believed.
“You would go through a specific training program to augment the skills you already have. This would cover firearms, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance techniques, anything to make sure you are as well equipped as possible to protect those under your care.”
“And I would report to you?”
“Who else do I work with?”
Charity took a bite of her food, but didn’t really taste it. She did notice, however, that Ryan ate in small, entirely manageable bites and wondered if it had been trained into him or if he’d always been that OCD. Washing the food down with a healthy sip of the wine, she considered both his words and his demeanor: cool and certain with no room for doubt.
“You will, of course, have as much time to think this over as you need,” he finished.
Sitting back, she asked, “And how will I contact you if I decided to do this?”
He pulled a cell phone from his pocket and set it midway between them on the table, next to the olive oil and grated cheese. “Speed dial one is a direct line to me. I’ll send a car and you will come to what will be your base of operations.”
“So I’ll be sent out all over the world?”
“Just like that. I’ll be someone’s bodyguard for as long as you decree?” she demanded, incredulous.
His mouth curved into a conspiratorial smile as he leaned forward once more to say, “For as long as the Company decrees, at least. I’m merely the messenger.”
That, however, she doubted. Ryan was no ‘mere’ anything. His air of power was subtle, but very much present. Offering her own wry twist of the lips, she replied, “And what kind of retirement plan do you have? Bullet to the back of the head?”
He laughed softly, a warm, strangely genuine sound at odds with his corporate exterior. “No, not at all. You’ll find our 401k matching very competitive and our health benefits excellent.”
Arch, she challenged, “For nights when you come home with a broken wrist?”
“Something like that,” he agreed, still smiling. “Of course, you would be required to sign confidentiality agreements about what you see while working for the Consortium. Trade secrets are kept under lock and key and we are very serious about enforcing policy.”
“Of course you are,” Charity murmured.
That crooked smile returned and he commented, “We are a security corporation. Wouldn’t do to let our own employees run about spilling our practices, would it?”
Charity ate a bit more of her meal, mulling over his words.
Setting his silverware down moments later, Ryan dabbed at lips that didn’t need cleaning and then told her, “Time for me to go. Use the phone. Join us and have a purpose. Stop drifting, Ms. Hampstead. You survived all that you did for a reason…”
…five broken ribs, severe concussion, punctured lung, broken nose, broken jaw, fractured ankle, dislocated shoulder, thirty-three stitches, sprained knee…
“…and I believe that reason is to help others who will benefit humanity. We all have our parts to play.”
She watched him stand and pull out a fifty, fastidiously placing it on the table, not tossing it as another might.
“Enjoy the rest of your meal. I hope we speak soon, Ms. Hampstead.”
“Good night, Ryan,” she replied easily.
Names were a form of power. He used her former, and formal, one to show that he knew her secrets. She used his given name to show equality, assumed or otherwise.
Ryan nodded to her in apparent respect and picked up his overcoat on the way out.
Not long after, Raul walked over and observed knowingly, “You can do much better than him.”
* * * *
Metallic clicks and the slither of the chain going home echoed through the empty loft as Charity automatically closed and locked the door behind her. She walked through the main room over to the kitchen area, unbuttoning her jacket as she went. Sliding it off and then draping it on the futon, Charity barely noticed how it landed solidly on the cushion, not just a garment. The weapons were a given for her now; everything except a gun.
She pulled out a bottle of water, downing it in two long gulps and then spinning to toss it into the recycling bin on the other side of the kitchen. It clattered down on the other bottles and she half-smiled, muttering, “Two points.”
Walking over to the large window on the east wall, she gazed out at the city without really seeing it. She’d been there for the last two years and it still had the same furniture with which it had been furnished. Nothing existed in the apartment to show that she lived there, save perhaps her clothing. It was just as empty and pristine as the day she’d rented it.
Ryan had been right in that she had no friends in the city, but not that she had none. There were two people left in the world whom she trusted and they knew how to get in touch with her if necessary. They also knew that she needed time and would contact them if she ever wanted to reclaim her old life.
Protecting the helpless. It sounded like something out of Robin Hood of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but appealed to her with a strength that surprised her. Charity wasn’t all that sanguine about Ryan’s spiel about contributing to humanity, but then, she didn’t have to share his view.
Yours is not to reason why, yours is but to do or die.
Charity huffed in dark amusement when the old saying ran through her mind and rested her forehead against the cool glass. A small cloud splayed out from the point of contact, heat and cold colliding in the glass. It was for sure that she was just marking time. Something had to change before her soul began to wither and die.
The phone rang, startling her from the reverie and she just stared at it for another ring before swiftly crossing the room to pick it up, answering, “Yes?”
“Good evening, Mrs. Charity, this is Roger from Sheldon Visa with an offer…”
Charity hung up on the telemarketer and placed the phone down, thinking, She doesn’t live here anymore.
She pulled out the cell that Ryan had given her, staring at it thoughtfully, her mind a million miles away.
* * * *
The building stood near the shore of the Chesapeake; a plain, slate gray office building that blended with the rest of the office park. The main signpost read simple, ‘GSC.’ Charity stared at the main entrance for a long moment, observing the men and women in their perfectly normal business suits going in and out; some were on cell phones, others had briefcases, and still more wandered out to lunch in groups of three or more.
It certainly didn’t seem like a global security firm shrouded in mystery, but then, how better to hide than in plain sight?
Charity strode forward, entering the building with a mask of calm that belied the nervous clench to her stomach. The damp heat from outside vanished swiftly under the fierce temperature control that blasted cold air from vents not that high above. She shivered at the too-sudden change, goose bumps erupting over her flesh.
Ryan stood waiting in the lobby, just as perfectly dressed as he’d been the month before. He offered a smile of greeting. “Good to see you again, Ms. Hampstead.”
Holding out a hand, she corrected, “It’s Charity.”
“Of course,” he agreed easily, shaking her hand briefly. “If you’ll come this way, Charity?”
She followed him out of the lobby to a single elevator down a short hall which opened the moment Ryan touched his thumb to a small metal plate on the wall.
“Once you’ve gone through orientation and been cleared, the elevator will open for you as well. Until then, you must be accompanied by a GSC employee at all times in order not to trigger an alert,” he warned.
Charity nodded to show that she understood as they stepped onto the elevator. There was no small talk, for which she was grateful. Now that she was there, all she wanted to do was get into the thick of things. Niceties could wait for when she had a grip on her job and the scope of the company that seemingly didn’t exist. She hadn’t been able to track down any information on GSC or Ryan himself. Charity knew she wasn’t exactly hacker material, but she had picked up a few things over the years. Whoever this company truly was, it did indeed have nearly unlimited resources, as her new boss had claimed.
It had been partially that which had intrigued her enough to go through with making the call. After three weeks of a concerted effort bringing up nothing but dead-ends, Charity had decided she needed to see things for herself. On top of that, the offer of being in a position to help others had sunk into her mind until she could hardly think of anything else.
The elevator doors opened a few seconds after closing and she blinked in surprise at the bizarre area that met her gaze. Instead of a continued, bland corporate decoration schema, Charity found sleek metal and silver accents on glass walls and a massive, single room with quite possibly a couple of hundred plastic, or maybe glass, partitions forming cubicles and offices of various sizes.
Everywhere she looked as they walk through, people used the latest technology for everything. Some items she couldn’t even identify, but didn’t have a chance to linger as Ryan didn’t slow down. No introductions were made. There were no smiles or nods in greeting from others. No one even looked at them. It was as though they didn’t exist.
There certainly weren’t any donuts or soda cans hanging around some common area, like in most businesses. Then again, this obviously wasn’t like any other corporation.
They stopped at an empty ‘cube’ where Ryan motioned her to sit in the strange, but ergonomic chair. She knelt forward on the knee rest and then settled back against the cushioned bar that fit at the small of her back. He brought armrests around from the back and helped her lean forward on them, chest supported by another cushioned support-bar. It was more than comfortable enough if she had to be there a while.
She jerked away from Ryan when he placed a cold, round piece of metal against her throat, but he assured her, “It’s simply to monitor your vitals.”
“Not usually something you hear on the first day of work,” she observed, nervousness escaping in the form of humor.
Ryan handed her a set of yellow, visor-like glasses and told her, “We’re going to start with your technological skills, which aren’t nearly as up to par as they need to be.”
Charity’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh yeah? And how do you know that?”
“You were very clumsy in your attempts to find us. It’s clear you’re not very knowledgeable in that area,” he informed her.
Grimacing, insulted despite the truth in his words, Charity admitted, “Computers aren’t really my thing.”
“They will be,” Ryan promised, the hint of a smile present. “Put on the glasses.”
With a shrug, she put them on and watched him reach out to the small, silver box on the desk. Charity jumped in shock when everything went dark and then, seconds later, she found herself sitting at a half-desk in a traditional classroom, complete with chalkboard and white-haired professor with glasses at the front of the class.
Jumping to her feet, she demanded, “What the hell is going on here?”
The man smiled pleasantly at her and greeted in a warm, English accented voice, “Welcome to orientation at Global Security Consortium, the leader in security concerns the world over.”
Charity gaped at him. “What? How?”
“This is a virtual classroom, Charity. You’re not really here, but rather secured in the cubicle back at the office. What you do here has no bearing on your body. Just like you’re not really standing up,” the man told her.
She struggled to find something to say, but couldn’t come up with anything. This was so far beyond what she’d expected that there was no comparison.”
“As you may now suspect, we are not your typical twenty-first century company. While the history of the Consortium is available only to those of a Bristol Clearance or higher, the future of the Consortium is not. The future of GSC is you, and others like you, Charity. Why don’t you get comfortable, my dear? It’s going to be a long day.”
Charity recovered enough from the shock of being mentally transported to a virtual classroom to do as suggested. She had no idea how long this would take, but figured that with this level of technology, life had suddenly gotten very, very interesting.
The Semi-Distant Future…
Stumbling from bathroom to bedroom, Charity managed not to pass out from the blood loss. Her shoulder throbbed angrily, the awkwardly bandaged wound ready to spring a leak at any wrong movement. She’d left the bathroom a bloody mess, but didn’t care. It was a two-bit motel that had probably seen more than its share of blood, spunk, and bad karma; a little more wasn’t going to do anything.
Not anything that hadn’t already happened, anyhow.
Charity panted from the exertion of forcing her body that short distance, collapsing carefully onto the ugly bedspread. Her entire body hurt and her mind skittered away from remembering the remains of her most recent charge. Sharra had been…obliterated…and it was all her fault. She’d thought they were safe, but instead the Consortium had waltzed in like they’d owned the mountain cabin hideaway.
They’d made her watch, Ryan had made her watch, as pieces of the young woman had been carved from the soft, too-yielding flesh. The start of her punishment. His dark eyes had remained on her the entire time, she’d known that without being able to look and see. Sharra’s screams still echoed in her ears, hours later; they would until her dying day.
Probably not that far away, she thought, caught between wanting it to end, and burning for vengeance. I don’t deserve it to end. I don’t deserve peace.
She still didn’t know how they’d been found. Charity had used every trick at her considerable arsenal to hide them from GSC. Staring sightlessly at the ceiling, she ran through every possible configuration that could add up to a leak or betrayal and came up blank.
The true betrayal had happened long ago.
Knowing that her mind would keep her awake when she needed to rest, Charity forced herself upright once more and fumbled for the bottle of pills on the bedside table. Aside from the bullet hole in her shoulder, there were broken and/or cracked ribs to keep her up, along with cuts and too many bruises to count from her fall down the mountain. With GSC agents on her ass, Charity had taken the lesser of two evils and jumped off the ledge by the cabin where she’d rolled several hundred yards before skidding to a halt at a smaller ledge.
She remembered flying after her second jump, bitter cold air buffeting her body, the free-fall twisting her stomach into near nausea. Even though there’d been very little chance of surviving, she had jumped the second time without hesitation. Charity no longer feared death. The Consortium had taught her all about percentages and probabilities and survival, all of it the hard way. Certain death at her back in the form of Ryan and his squad, or the four percent survival rate of not breaking her neck, back, or puncturing a vital organ on some random sharp edge as she rolled down the steep slope.
Shaking off the memory, Charity swallowed the pills dry, unable to summon the strength to get up for water. Dropping back on the flat pillows that didn’t deserve the name, she thought about her next step. There were thirty-seven more names on the list. Thirty-seven people slated for a death not issued by Fate or God, but by GSC, the bastards who ruled time itself.
Thirty-seven more chances to get it right.
Her breathing slowed as the painkillers took effect, overcoming the jagged remnants of the overdose of adrenaline in her system. Muscles shook with fatigue, even in her prone position. Dehydration was second on her list of things to worry about, right after finding out how to get to Mike Ridgley and spirit him away from his zero percent survival rate. Chance number two waited for her, but he wouldn’t wait long; Ryan would see to that.
Only one thought lingered as darkness took her… They aren’t going to win. I’m going to stop them no matter what.