Three Short Stories
by G. Connor Salter
Other TTTV stories by G. Connor Salter
“The Best in the Business”
“You can leave now, or you can die. And no, I don’t negotiate.”
She cocked her head to one side, sizing the man up. She had seen plenty of bodyguards in her line of work. This guy didn’t fit the bill. He was muscular, but no athlete. His black clothes were clean but very casual. No signs that he carried any weapons. Yet he sat there on the floor, his back leaning against the oak doorway, with an expression that said, “Give me your best shot.”
She made one step forward, scratching her back with one hand. The client had given her an exceptionally large sum for this job. A single bystander wouldn’t make much difference.
“What’s your stake in this?” she asked. “The girl on the other side of that door, she’s a trust fund baby. No one will miss her. And the locals say her daddy’s creepy as hell, does witchcraft in his spare time and pays almost nothing to the hired help.”
He smiled, folding his arms. “Actually, the old man does alchemy, not witchcraft. Pretty neat stuff. And I get paid fine, better than anything you can match. You wouldn’t believe the fringe benefits I get around here.”
“Really. You get free dental work?”
“No. Just immortality.”
“…Uh-huh.” She shifted her weight from one foot to another.
“That’s quite a necklace you’re wearing.”
He looked down, examining the silver pendant resting on his collarbone. “Yeah, got this when I started. They said it’s been in their family for years. The snake’s head represents death, and the left wing represents speed -”
Her hand whipped out the pistol. Four cracks and four hollow points tore into his chest. His head went limp and sagged to the side.
She lowered the pistol. Almost too easy.
His head slowly rose.
Molten metal seeped from the holes in his shirt. Then he stood, his hands opening like claws. Huge claws.
“Like I said. You could leave or die.”
“That Cold Embrace”
The richest man on earth looked down from his balcony. Six stories below, his wife of twelve thousand years was walking across a courtyard to her mother’s escort. Her green silk dress practically glowed against the harsh white snow. Persephone was leaving him again.
For an unguarded moment, Hades remembered their first meeting. The war with the Titans was over, Zeus was the new lord of the pantheon. Celebrations were in order, and since Mount Olympus wasn’t finished, Poseidon had offered his home. One night, standing against a pillar in the ballroom, Hades saw Persephone chatting with the other young goddesses.
Younger gods moved aside as he walked over to her. She smiled after he introduced himself, then held out her hand when he turned toward the dance floor. They twirled, they laughed, they drank the best wine at the banquet table. Sometimes, when Hades was sentimental or just tired, her eyes seemed to glow the way they had that night.
He probably hadn’t needed to steal her. Truth be told, Hades still wasn’t sure why he had. Maybe because she was young and beautiful, and even then by most standards he was not. Maybe because, as his brothers had shown many times, one intimate night didn’t prove anything in an Olympian’s world.
Or maybe Hades just done it because he was oldest. Others might forget, but the king of Olympus was not the Titan king’s firstborn. Hades had come first, and firstborn sons don’t let their baby brothers take everything and leave them with leftovers. True firstborns take what they want and dare others to stop them.
Hades supposed he’d beaten them in the end, in his own way. If he hadn’t lost her in the process, he might have found that comforting.
Water plinked against Hades’ forehead. He shook his head and looked up. Icicles along the balcony roof were dripping water. One of them looked ready to fall off. When Hades looked down to the courtyard, he could already see the white snow disappearing.
Then he noticed the escort hadn’t left yet. The carriage door hung open, revealing a cave-like hole. A wisp of green silk escaped from the hole and rose into the air. It fluttered in the breeze.
Something inside Hades ached. He knew this was no accident. He also knew he could be down there in an instant.
Hades tugged his bathrobe closer around his chest and turned. The balcony doors snapped shut behind him as he returned to his rooms.
As Hades dressed, he heard a long scraping noise followed by a crash. Melted snow was sliding off the palace roof. The staff would want instructions about which grounds to shovel first, which tapestries he wanted for spring decorations, and countless other details. He didn’t care. Springtime held no charm for him.
There should be guards, I think as I ooze through the vent. No motion detectors react as I slide to the floor and reform. I look down the hallway. My sensors analyze every inch for security devices. No results. Not even basic burglar alarms.
I creep across the hallway toward two oak doors. Architectural blueprints show the room beyond is the main study, but give no other details. Knowing the target, there will be defense systems inside. I move my right hand toward the lock, then stop. I think about the target, what I know about his work. Images flicker in my brain, memories from my training, from when I woke up. I think there was a time before I woke up…
Stop. My brain clears. These considerations are not relevant to my mission. My mission is my first priority. I raise my hand again and stick it into the lock. A cluster of throwing darts forms in my other hand. Based on average response times, the darts can eliminate as many as six opponents before they try any defense maneuvers.
The lock clicks. I push the door open. My scanner shows one person – male, late sixties – sitting by a fireplace. I duck and roll, expecting projectiles to fly over me. Nothing. I stand, left hand out and darts twitching.
Logs crackle in the fireplace. Slowly the target’s chair turns toward me. A wheeled side table holding an oxygen machine hums as it moves alongside the chair. I raise my left hand and aim for his heart. He doesn’t seem to notice.
“So you’ve come,” he says. I know from past missions that targets should be frightened. My sensors indicate this target is not even sweating.
“I knew you’d come sometime,” he adds. “Too many secrets, too many dirty stories that Central doesn’t want me to tell to the wrong people.” He shifts in his seat a little, moves his head so his oxygen helmet fits more comfortably against the headrest. Then he stares at my face.
“You’re a Model Nine, aren’t you?” He says.
My hand falters. I slowly nod.
He smiles. “I helped Jensam design the nanoblades for the Model Nine. Wonderful team we had at the Compound. Somehow we accomplished more back then with basic tools and not enough money, than we did after Washington fell and we had anything we could ask for.”
He stares at the darts. “Don’t remember making the parts move around like that. Seems a little unnecessary, too dramatic. But what do I know?”
A strange warm sensation creeps down my back. My left hand trembles. The Compound. Before the war really started.
Before the waking up?
My left hand lowers. I walk forward until I’m almost face to face with the target.
“…How long ago?” I ask.
The target’s face contorts. “Thirty, forty years ago I guess. No, the Compound moved to Langley in ‘53, so that would make it thirty-five years.” He shakes his head. “My, I’m losing a lot.”
His eyes look up and down my body. “You’re much more streamlined than the originals, too,” he adds. “They really listened what we said about re-aligning spinal structures for added flexibility. Looks good on you.”
He coughs, then hacks. Blood flies from his mouth onto his shirt. I turn to the second chair by the fireplace. I sit and watch him try to clean the red stain with a tissue. More blood follows as he hacks again. I reactivate my sensors and take a deeper look at his chest. The tinted scan shows a fluorescent green substance in the lungs.
“You’re dying,” I say.
He nods. “Small cell lung cancer. I’ll be dead any day now. Alrik and his boys just want it to happen on their schedule.” He wipes his mouth, then leans his head back. One of the fireplace logs crumbles.
“You know, it’s strange that I never saw this coming,” the target mumbles. “I knew we’d snuff the old guys out, of course. We needed that. Can’t rebuild until you clean out the trash. And in war, who cares that a few more people land on the trash pile as long as they were the right people?” He stares at the fire.
“It’s funny.” He talks more quietly now. “When you’re the one running things, you never thing about who the next guy will pick for the trash pile list.”
He starts coughing again. I look at my left hand. The darts retract into my palm. I recognize what I am doing. I know this action violates my mission.
I look back at the target. My sensors show the green substance slowly filling his lungs. I stay with him.