Blinking wearily, she studied the wooden countertop in front of her. The slave auction seemed to have happen eons ago, ot her. She could hardly remember the Megacast of the night before. However, what she could remember of it was embarassing. Kelathe had always prided herself on her self control - at least when it came to drinking. Fortunately, she had not completely made a fool of herself.
One thing she did remember was telling her boss, Vincent, that she quit. Of course, that left her without a home or an income - but it was a price she was forced to pay by her conscience, and it would accept little else but her own suffering.
Of course, there was her elven warrior to consider.
So she sat, composing a letter, taking sips from her now cold coffee. She had to wipe away a tear or two, but she managed to finish it, place it in an envelope, and seal it with a kiss.
It took her less than an hour to locate a reliable messenger service. Apparently, one could find just about anything on the streets of Rhydin. Using the last of her coin, she paid to have the letter delivered.
Pulling the hood up on her long black jacket, she stepped out of the shop, and into the afternoon sun. She slipped her purple-tinted sunglasses on, and headed down an alleyway.
The message courier hurried up to the door, a young lad who looked like they had taken a street rat and had him freshly scrubbed, his jacket brushed, and his hair combed. He knocked briskly and stood chewing his fingernail, waiting for an answer. When he received none, he slipped the letter under the door, as he was instructed to do.
The envelope read, "For the eyes of (Name edited due to permission conflict)", and was sealed with the imprint of a snake in wax.
The letter itself was written on a fine parchment paper, with purple ink. THe handwriting was spidery and shaky, and the paper showed the stain of a few tears.
My Dearest (Name edited due to permission conflict) -
These words are not easily written, but they must be said. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed our evening together after the "slave auction". Unfortunately, happiness cannot last forever. I have officially left the service of Vincent Smith, though my reasons are my own.
There are many things you do not know about me, though you have asked all the right questions.
Suffice it to say that this snake is ready to shed its old skin for a new, and make right the error of my ways.
However, there are some things my abilities will not allow me to refuse myself, and since you are a good and noble person, these things will tear us apart in the end.
So I leave you with a glad heart, filled with the memories you have given me. But I also leave you with a warning: Do not seek me out, no matter what compels you. I will acknowledge you in the ring.... and only there.
Please remember to keep me in your thoughts, as I shall you in mine,
Bearer of the White Snake
Her stomach rumbled and she flinched. A few days of nothing but berries and water was starting to wear on her. Even though no one really knew it, she was mostly a meat eating creature.
She pushed through the undergrowth, body twisting and moving through a path very few could follow. Bending backward, hair trailing the ground, she pushed into a small area she had cleared and stocked with clean leaves and a small collection of berries.
She sat, heaving a sigh, and reached into her jacket pocket. she retrieved her small, leatherbound copy of Stranger in a Strange Land, which was well worn, the leather gone soft from the many handlings. She sat with her back against a tree, and flipped it open to where she had marked it with a napkin from the Outback.
Normally, she would have been able to simply fall into the story of Michael and his companions, but she read the same line over and over, and the page began to blur before her eyes.
Disgusted with herself, she closed the book, and slipped it back into her pocket. She stared across her tiny clearing, watching the light begin to fail.
A slight rustling made her stiffen, her eyes daring to another tree, where a bushy-tailed squirrel made its way down. Darting forward with the lightening speed of a striking snake, her forked tongue flicked as she gave a hiss. She snatched the animal from the tree, and broke its neck.
It took her several moments to catch her breath. When she did, she realized she was holding the squirrel close to her body, curling around it as if she were going to start squeezing it, like a python. Disgusted with herself, she unwound her limbs, and began to collect several small twigs.
For the past several days, her sortie in the woods had caused some interesting changes. Every snake-like quality she had thought she had suppressed in her past had come back to haunt her.
She built a very small fire, and drew her dagger, skinning the animal efficiently, and gutting it. She laid the discards aside for later disposal. Her stomach rumbled louder as she spitted it, and laid it over the coals.
Sitting back, she nursed the small fire, turning the spitted meat to cook it evenly. As she did so, she unconsciously scratched at the back of her hand, where the visible skin appeared translucent, and loose.
Kelathe forced herself to wait until the meat was well cooked, but nearly burned her fingers off trying to peel the meat from the bones. She gobbled the food down, wiping the grease from her face on the back of her sleeve.
After she finished, she slipped on her gloves, gathered the bones, skin, and entrails, and headed away from her little campsite, after she buried the coals.
She buried the remains about a mile from where she was staying, crossing herself, a habit she was hard pressed to break.
Night had fallen by this time, and she headed out to the water, finding a clear area to strip, swim and wash her clothes. After cleaning herself up, she redressed, and headed into town.
Kelathe made her way through Badside. She stopped, sniffing the air, her tongue flicking, as she listened. A disturbance was heard in one of the many darked alleyways.
She faded from view, and slipped into the alleyway, drawing her dagger. Two men were beating a third, the hard thunk of boots meeting flesh echoing against the brick walls, and sending shivers through her flesh. She came up behind one of the men doing the beating, and she merged with him, placing her awareness with his.
The man was angry, filled with hatred and rage. Images raced through her mind. She shivered again in pleasure, watching as the man began to use his hands to pummel his victim. He was completely unaware of her presence, spying through his eyes.
Stepping out of him, Kelathe moved to the victim, curling her invisible body around him, and invading his mind's privacy, and sharing his pain.
Kelathe stumbled down the street, giggling. Her eyes were slightly glazed, and her hands shook as she pulled her jacket closer.
Behind her, the sound of the beaten man's sobs filled the night air, but Kelathe moved on, into the better lighted areas of Rhydin.
The desk attendant grinned at her. “Long time, no see.”
Kelathe merely shrugged, slipping a luxuriously purple envelope out of her jacket pocket, and laying it on the counter.
“Pleassse deliver thisss to Mr. Ssssmith.”
She made no attempt to hide the hiss in her voice. Her tongue flickered once, and she turned, walking briskly back through the lobby and out the front door. The desk attendant took the letter, and picked up the inter-hotel phone.
My quitting of your employ was a rash and rather foolish act on my part, especially in the midst of a drunken stupor. My reasons, if they aren’t clear, are something we can discuss, but of little import.
What concerns me now is finding a place to live and funds to live on. My skills are as they are, and thus far you are the only person who has come to some advantage because of them.
However, in the interest of my own sanity, I must request that the next time a person is supposed to die, I do the job myself. I expect you can help me with the training I need in that aspect.
The terms and conditions of my employment to you are yours to decide, but please keep in mind that the free time I receive is essential.
Until our next meeting,
Bearer of the White Snake
Kelathe laid in her pile of bedding, halfway between the world of waking and the world of dreaming. Her body alternately burned and itched, but the dark spot that had formed on her forehead had disappeared, only to be replaced with a milky white, loose patch of skin.
Kelathe had stripped bare to sleep, and the air felt wonderful on her skin. She shifted a little, but in her doze she was completely unaware.
As she wriggled and writhed in her bedding, she shed the top layer of her skin. When the last bit fell from her body, Kelathe began to shiver, but real sleep claimed her at last.
She ran a finger over the now dry ink, and with a sigh, she closed it. When she wasn’t trailing on the heels of the Boss or running through the assassination training program, she would slip into her room to write a little more. She hoped that writing about it would do something to heal the past, but she wasn’t so sure it was working.
Standing, Kelathe grabbed her jacket, and slipped it on, her hands only shaking a little. She didn’t bother to hide the little journal, but she didn’t dare carry it with her.
She turned out the lights, sticking the plastic keycard into a pocket, then slipped out into the hallway, looking for her nightly fix and some food.
Curling up in its embrace, she pulled one of the books she had found into her lap, and began to read. However, her restlessness had her up and pacing again.
She had never expected to end up in such a position of power and responsibility, and it made her nervous. But she adapted.
Kelathe’s addiction was now being well nourished by the feelings she received through her new found connection to the earth. She shivered in violent pleasure, wrapping her arms around her ample chest. It was quite difficult to block these feelings, so she spent most of her time in the Tower now, setting Rhydin back to right after the previous holder’s rule.
Another interesting thing Kelathe realized was that she was no longer afraid of her body. In fact, she spent most of her time in this most natural state, without a care of who could be watching.
Of course, she was grateful for her new wardrobe.
The Earth sometimes recoiled when Kelathe hungered for meat. She had taken, as she had in the old days, to eating her meat raw.
Rhydin shuddered with the violence of her feeding, but Kelathe - Mother Earth - prospered.
A bright flash, and a scream. Kelathe backed against a concrete wall, staring at the devastation around her, but her eyes fixed on her hands. Her usually pale skin was splattered with blood and other gore. She bit back a scream, but the crimson of blood seemed to fill the room like a flood, until she was drowning....flailing for her life....
And falling from her hammock, jolting awake and instantly filing herself with as much of Earth’s power as she could hold. The world trembled as her eyes darted frantically back and forth. Finding no enemy posed to strike, Kelathe took a deep breath, and released the power.
She dropped into a cross-legged position on the floor, her head in her hands, and began to sob.
It was a pretty day outside, the sun shining. Kel blinked and slipped on her sunglasses. Her sensitive crimson eyes couldn’t handle so much light. She stood, walked to the window, and looked down. Several of the kids in the neighborhood were out and about, riding bikes, swimming, mowing the lawn.
At thirteen years old, Kelathe still did not know what it was like to do any of those things. She couldn’t play outside for fear of a terrible sunburn that would put her in the hospital, again, and the teasing and stares of the other kids would be unbearable. So she sat indoors, working on homework her mother had given her.
Kelathe had been home-schooled her entire life, but she knew, by public school standards, she would be a senior in high school, about to graduate, five years earlier than most normal kids. And she would be doing so, alone.
In her reverie, she missed her mother’s first soft knock at the door. But at the second, Kelathe turned insubstantial, and moved through the wall, to stand next to her mother in the hallway.
“Yeesss, Mother?” Her forked tongue flickered slightly, even though she fought to control it.
“There is someone here to see you, Kelathe,” her mother said, unable to suppress the shudders, or hide the fear she had of her only child.
Kelathe only knew her father through the occasional birthday cards, and the child support check that came every month. From what her mother told her, he had happily remarried, and now had two perfectly normal children. Kelathe did not mourn the loss of her father in her life.
She moved down the stairs, taking measured steps, looking expectantly towards the living room to try and catch a glimpse of her visitor. The door was angled in such a way that left her completely disappointed.
She was surprised that her mother didn’t follow her down the stairs. She heard her mother’s bedroom door slam shut, and she almost turned to find out what was wrong.
“Leave her be, Kelathe. We need to talk. Now.” The voice was low and persuasive, and it came from the living room. Kel took one look back up the stairs, and moved down the rest of the stairs, and into the living room.
And nearly turned around, and ran back into her bedroom. Later on in live, when she thought back to this moment, she would realize that what happened would have happened whether or not she was willing.
The man who confronted her, seated on the couch with his briefcase at his feet, was an almost perfect representation of the stereotypical government man. He wore an impeccable gray suit with a matching tie. A pair of sunglasses was tucked into an outer pocket. Kelathe figured that the odd bulge under one side of his jacket would be a standard-issue government pistol. Her gaze flicked over his hand, noting a class ring that she couldn’t identify at this distance.
“Sit down,” he said, his voice soft enough that she had to strain to hear it.
She found the armchair with the backs of her knees and sat, folding her limbs in a protective position in the oversized chair. The man spent a moment studying her slender, almost waifish form, and nodded as if deciding something.
“You may call me Mr. Jacobs for now, Kelathe. I know all about you, so you won’t need to say much . . .”
Kel interrupted him, “How? Doctors have a privacy contract with their patients, and they’re the only ones who know . . .” The fact that she didn’t doubt what he was saying bothered her only for a moment.
“Your father,” Mr. Jacobs said, “is very concerned for your welfare. He called us”
“And who exactly is us, Mr. Jacobs?”
“We’ll get to that, I promise. For now, I have an offer for you,” he said, leaning forward to pick up his briefcase.
Kelathe tensed, wrapping her arms tighter around her knees and peering suspiciously over the tops of her legs.
Mr. Jacobs thumbed open the briefcase, ignoring the girl’s obvious discomfort. He retrieved two folders, one thick with papers, and one thin.
“This,” he laid his hand on the thick folder, “is all the information we have collected on certain individuals with unique abilities such as yours. Out of thirty-five candidates, you are the last we have come to. So far, only four others have accepted this offer of mine. The rest were given whatever help could be given to make their lives more . . .normal.”
He slid the other, thin folder across the table to her.
“Before you read this, there is something you must know. If you accept, your life changes forever. You will leave today, as soon as you can pack a small bag of personals and say goodbye to your mother. You will not be able to see her again. You will effectively disappear off the face of the earth. But, you will be with people who are more understanding of your mutation, and others who are like you. You will be given whatever you need. You will be given the best of education. In return you will, once your training is done, be given missions and orders. You will obey these orders, and you will be rewarded. Now, open the folder,” Mr. Jacobs finished, settling back against the couch.
Kelathe flipped the folder open and studied the single sheet of paper within. It read much like what she had been told, but with the official United States seal, and a place for her to sign.
Mr. Jacobs pushed a pen across the table towards her and waited.
Kelathe looked up and around the living room, running over the familiar objects. She looked back at the sheet of paper and picked up the pen.
The only thing she ever really wanted was a place to belong, where people did not fear her, or hate her for her differences. And who could help her with understanding who and what she was.
She signed without hesitation. Mr. Jacobs grinned, taking the pen and folder away from her. “Even though you are a minor, this will bind you until you turn twenty-one, when you will be asked this question again. Now, send your mother down. You have twenty minutes. Please, take only the things that cannot be replaced for you. Everything else will be obtained for you.”
Kelathe dissolved, moving invisibly up the stairs, and only turning visible again to knock at her mother’s bedroom door. Her mother opened almost immediately, studying her only child, her face streaked with tears, and her hair mussed. Kelathe swallowed hard, and pointed down the stairs. Her mother only nodded, and turned to walk away.
“Mom?” Kelathe’s voice choked, tears brimming. Her mother froze, hand on the banister. “It’s for the best. I love you.”
Her mother shuddered and walked down the stairs. Kel could hear Mr. Jacobs greet her, and the low murmur of the conversation.
In the end, very little went into the bag. Her collection of journals she’d kept since she could hold a pen (the squiggled nonsense of lines and circles eventually became lines from books she was beginning to read), burnt CD’s with all of her personal documents from her computers, and a couple dog-eared, marked up copies of her favorite books. A leather-bound copy of “Stranger in a Strange Land”, her most prized and expensive possession, which represented long hours of searching for a dealer, and much pleading to her mother on her part.
She tucked it into the pocket of her favorite jacket, then took a long hard look at the bedroom she had cultivated as her sanctuary for the past ten years or so. She clicked off the light and floated herself and her things through the floor, landing crouched next to the sofa in the living room. Neither her mother nor Mr. Jacobs reacted.
After a brief, awkward hug from her mother, but no last parting words of wisdom, Kelathe slipped on her purple tinted sunglasses and stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight. A sleek looking black Mercedes waited for her.
Mr. Jacobs opened the door, and Kel climbed inside, keeping her satchel close to her, and watching Mr. Jacobs climb behind the driver’s seat.
Her mother did not stay outside to wave her off. Kel felt a piece of her heart go cold as ice and stay there.
After they had driven for quite a while, Kel spoke up.
“Where, exactly, is this place located?”
Mr. Jacobs chuckled, “La Grange Point.”
Kel didn’t speak again until they pulled in to the small local airport.
Kelathe had never really traveled out of the town where she resided with her mother. She sat forward, looking out the window, a look of curiosity on her face as they were waved through a back security gate by two very military looking gentlemen holding two very big looking guns, with pistols strapped in holsters on their waists.
Mr. Jacobs pulled up next to a small jet, shut the engine off, and got out. He talked to several more military personnel, who then began loading up the small jet. He opened Kel’s door for her and helped her out.
She felt a sharp prick on her hand, and startled, looked at Mr. Jacobs, who was handing a hypodermic needle to the person next to him.
“Your training starts now,” he said, as Kel’s world began to get dark. “Lesson number one: Never let your guard down, even around people you trust.”
Kel fell into the darkness, and another piece of her heart hardened.
A room, painted in a “pleasing” shade of eggshell blue. A flash of an IV bottle, half-filled with an attached pouch with a line feeding into it.
She still could not move, but when she tried, she could feel rough straps holding her in place. When she first made this realization, she attempted to make herself insubstantial, and thus, free herself.
Nothing. Not even a flicker. What had become instinct was taken away from her. It felt like a hollow pit in her stomach, and emptiness she just couldn’t stand.
She couldn’t find enough tears. A clock, just halfway in her vision, nearly drove her mad with the ticking away of the second hand, at least as far as she could see.
Screaming did no good; only making her throat raw and aching. And no one answered.
No one answered.
With a few more choking sobs, she fell into a deep sleep.
A door opened behind and to the right of the bed Kelathe was laying in, and a nurse entered, along with a fully armed military guard. She checked the IV, changed the medicine pouch, and then they disappeared back through the door.
Kelathe slept so deeply, she never heard them.
Kelathe was finally startled awake by a soft brush of fingers across her forehead. Her crimson eyes flew open, her body jerked in the straps, her cries only a hoarse whisper.
Once she recovered from her shock in waking, she focused her eyes on Mr. Jacobs, who stood over her bed. Kel hissed, unable to spit in his face for the dryness in her mouth.
“Now, now. No need for that, Kelathe,” he said, his tone almost kind. “Welcome to La Grange Point. I’m sorry for all this,” his wave taking in the entire room, “but it was necessary to get you here undetected.”
He began to loosen straps, and Kel flexed her aching muscles, trying to return some life to them. As stiff as she was, she could not lash out at him, no matter how much she wanted to.
“Now that we are here, you may call me Ev,” he said, removing her IV, and putting a band-aid on her arm. He reached to a tray sitting next to him, raising her bed so she could sit up, before handing her a glass of water. She eyed him warily, but took it greedily.
“Welcome home, Kelathe. Now that you are here, your training begins. After you get your strength back, you will go into physical training. We want you to reach your physical peak. And we want you to learn.”
Kelathe cleared her throat, “Learn what?”
Ev looked her in the eye, dark eyes slightly unfocused, “Everything.”
Kelathe sat at her desk, hunched over her terminal, studying the lines of numbers that scrolled past her screen. One hand lingered over the mouse, while the other gently massaged her temple. Coming to the end of the line, she sat back, rubbing her crimson eyes, underneath her newly acquired reading glasses.
A light hand tapped at her door, and she touched the intercom button. “Who is it?”
“Ah, come on, Kel. Who else would be knocking at your door at this hour?”
Kel smiled and touched another button, the door to the room swishing open. A shuffling, ruffling sound behind her announced the entrance of her new found friend, one of the other “special” students at La Grange Point.
Marco was a petit female, with golden eyes, and a long braid of copper hair, which fell to her waist. She was from one of the broken countries near Russia, so torn and return that the original name was lost in history. She wore a long skirt, hiding the lower half of her body. Her legs were as a canine’s, with sharp claws that ticked slightly against the metal floor.
Marco was here for her amazing speed, not only running and climbing, but of her mind. Her ability to assimilate information made a straight-out-of-the-factory mainframe look like a Lite-Brite by comparison.
Marco blinked, her long pointed ears twitching as she sat on the only other chair in the room.
“So,” Marco began, her voice lilting, “Have you figured out who the fifth mutie is yet?”
Kel simply shook her head, “It’s gotta be a crew member. Or someone in the restricted areas. I suspect Jacobs.”
Marco’s eyes glazed slightly, “Possibly. It would make sense. But why did he let that little fact slip?”
“I don’t know,” Kel tapped her fingers lightly on the desk. “Maybe to throw us off?”
“You know, you could always . . .” Marco trailed off.
“No, I can’t. You know that. They have an electrical field in the walls and doors. And besides which, I made a promise,” Kel said, countering Marco’s thought before she could finish the suggestion.
Marco shook her head, “You and your honor, Kel. I thought you would have given up on that by now.”
Kel gave a soft smile. “But that’s exactly what they want me to do, Marco. Breaking down my morals would make me the monster they want me to be.”
She smiled, her slightly pointed canine teeth showing, her forked tongue flickering in the recycled air.
“And that, I most definitely, am not.”
Within seconds, she was wide- awake. The e-mail said one thing, “Lab 3A.” In the three months since she had been here, she had only received one other message like this, and the “lesson” had proven quite interesting.
Kelathe dressed quickly in a pair of jeans and a loose button-up cotton shirt. There was no dress code at La Grange Point, a fact she was extraordinarily grateful for. She just as quickly pulled on her boots and headed into the hallway towards the lift.
Marco met her there, looking remarkably sleep-rumpled, and still blinking her eyes in the bright lights.
“Either of our fellow students get the call?” Kel asked quietly.
“I don’t think so,” Marco answered. “They do like to keep us paired off, after all.
Marco was right, Kel thought. Except for certain classes, she and Marco trained separately from the other two “muties”. Of course, that could be done simply because the “uppers” didn’t want teenage hormones to run completely rampant. The other two students on the ship were male, and had been in the program longer. Kel only knew that both were in their early twenties, and that they were even allowed planet-side for missions on occasion.
Kel entered the lab’s observation room first. The lights in the main room were off. The “lab” was more like a police interrogation room. There was recording equipment placed under the one-way glass.
Ev sat in front of the equipment, ignoring the jumping dials and idly smoking a cigar. He motioned to two other seats in the room, and the two students took them. He turned toward the one-way glass and flipped a couple of dials, seemingly at random.
The room beyond faded into view, and the low sounds of panting filled the small booth. A young-looking woman was seated in a chair, manacled to it. Blood ran from a cut somewhere in her scalp, which had been raggedly shaved. Her lip was busted, and an eye had already started to purple.
The woman was naked, some sensors on her flesh monitoring her vital signs. At this point, though it was obvious that someone had worked her over, there was no one else in the room with her. She looked definite, despite her injuries.
“She was caught trying to sneak across the Palestinian border. She is on a highly classified list of a major terrorist organization’s top agents. She has information on hidden weapon stockpiles that could potentially be used against our nation,” Ev rattled this off in a monotone, quietly enough that the two girls had to lean forward a bit to hear him.
“Kel, we need you to run her memories for us. While we ask her question. She doesn’t need to know you are in there. Marco, we need you to analyze the information, and find it on the maps for us. We need to move in as fast as possible, before they realize that she is missing.”
Kelathe and Marco nodded simultaneously. Kel was unable to search a person’s memory, but when the person was asked questions that brought information to the front of their mind, Kel could “read” it.
Kelathe was going to take special pleasure in this particular assignment.
In the booth, the sound of another door opened, and flesh began to pound flesh, a question whispered harshly by a male voice soon after. The recording equipment ticked and hummed quietly.
She was eighteen now, not that her birthdays were marked by anything more than a restaurant style dinner, and a day without training. Still, she had nights where her bones ached from growing pains. Every three months, she had a full physical, with special tests for her abilities.
All this and more floated through her mind as the old truck rambled across the desert to make the rendezvous point. The driver didn’t pay much attention to her gritted teeth or white-knuckled grip on the door.
Kel’s orders were to meet up with her “host”, who she would be riding in on, at a hotel in New Mexico. She would then “attach” herself, with equipment, and ride him until the meeting two days from now in Egypt.
When she reached the hotel, she was ushered quickly through a back delivery door, and the back steps, to a hotel room lavishly furnished. Her host sat with his back to her, eating dinner at the room’s only table. It was set for two, and the businessman waved from over his shoulder for her to take a seat.
Kelathe had no reason to be leery around this man, but she had been taught suspicion the hard way. She kept him in her line of sight as she sat her briefcase down next to the chair, and folded herself into it.
Pretending to ignore her host, she lifted the cover on her food, noting that everything on the plate was prepared to the exact specifications of her diet.
She took a deep breath over the still steaming food, giving the businessman a toothy grin, elongated canines and all. He grimaced, and sat back in his chair, pushing his nearly empty plate away from him. She picked up the knife and fork, and began to cut her steak into more manageable bites.
“So,” the man said, “How exactly is this thing you do supposed to work? Do you shrink down or something?”
In answer, Kelathe simply faded out of and back into view, and began to eat, smiling inwardly at his increased and quite visible nervousness.
“As for getting in, I will ride inside of you. With my equipment, I am impossible to detect in that manner.” She kept her tone slow and even, as if she were explaining the situation to a child.
“Will it hurt?” The man looked rather apprehensive.
“Only if you make me hurt you, sir. Stick to the plan, and you won’t even know I’m there. Nor will you know when I’m gone. I would be quite cautious if I were you.” She smiled again, quietly finishing her meal.
The businessman shrugged and stood up, momentarily moving out of her sight. Somewhere in the suite, she could hear him noisily using the toilet to void his bladder, so she entered the bedroom and locked the door.
Kelathe made a quick but thorough search of the room, looking for anything from hidden entry points to concealed listening devices. Satisfied that there were none, she cracked open the briefcase and began removing her gear, and laying it out on the bed. After changing into her “shadow suit”, a many-pocketed single-piece suit that fitted snugly to her body, she took a quick inventory:
* Two 9mm Beretta pistols, with two spare clips apiece in each hip-holster.
* A balaclava and face paint, as well as a matching set of long gloves for her suit.
* Six poly-ceramic knives, in a matte black finish, with sheaths.
* Twenty feet of nylon climbing rope.
* One small GPS unit.
Kelathe also had a small recording device that automatically transmitted via compressed pulse to a satellite whatever she heard. She was also able to record her own observations by subvocalizing into the pickup. She quietly tested the device and got an affirmative ticking noise to show it was online and transmitting.
It was then that she noticed the envelope taped to the inside top of her briefcase. She carefully removed it, turning it over and over in her hands, looking for any identifying marks that would give her a clue as to who sent it, and why.
Taking one of her knives, she very carefully slit the top of the envelope open, holding it away from her body. She lifted it over the bed, and shook it slightly. A single piece of paper fell out.
Using her fingernails, Kelathe very carefully flipped it over, and opened it. Once she saw who the letter was from, she smiled. Until she actually read the letter.
The letter trembled in her hands as she read:
I know this is not normal operating procedure for starting a mission, but you and I are partners. More than that, we’re friends. So I thought that you should be warned about something I happened to “overhear”.
They’ve planted a slow release cyanide capsule somewhere in your body. If you are not at the hotel on time to get the anti-toxin, it will kill you.
So please, be careful and make it back safe. And get rid of this letter. We don’t need Ev breathing down our necks about this. Oh, and bring me back a souvenir from planetside.
Until our next meeting,
Kelathe could only stare for a moment. She took a deep breath, then went into the small bathroom, slowly shredded the note into pieces, and flushed the bits down the toilet, taking extra caution to get every scrap. Another moment to gather her aplomb, she returned to the bed and strapped on her gear, applying the paint to her skin where it would show from the balaclava. Tucking the briefcase under her arm, she went back to the main room.
The businessman sat waiting patiently, his hands folded in his lap. He gave her a cursory glance, and then looked away, his face a mask of conflicting emotions.
“It’s time, sir,” Kelathe said as she set the briefcase on the table and faded from view.
True to her word, the businessman felt nothing. Nor did he see anything out of the ordinary. He picked up the empty briefcase, put some of his own papers inside, and calmly left the room to check out of the hotel.
Kelathe rode, watching through his eyes, trying to become accustomed to “wearing” another person’s body, even though she had no motor control over it. Especially since this would be the first time she’d ridden inside anyone for more than twenty-four hours.
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