“Is he dead?” It’s a girl’s voice that filters into the darkness that I live in now. At least it feels like I do. I sort of recognize it. I think.
“Sadly, no.” This time a man speaks, one that usually uses grunts. Doc.
“Be nice! The girl is concerned!” A woman. Her voice is older and made harsh by a lifetime of cigarettes. Kate.
I open my eyes and find that I am correct. There are indeed three faces around me, leaning in. That girl that saved my life is here, started with a N I think. I open my mouth to speak but a dry, cracked noise comes out instead. Someone presses a straw between my lips and I get to suck back ice water to sooth the feeling of sucking on cotton for the past two days. I do it until someone chastises me and pulls the straw away.
Then I speak, this time sounds come out.
“You’re dead.” I say to Kate. Her wrinkled face splits with a smile.
“I just feel it, but it’s always nice to reminded that I look it too. Lucky for you, I’m just a retired vet that happened to be able to save your ass. And less dead than previously reported.”
Kate used to be the Agency surgeon for the area around Cleveland, Boston, and Washington. Given the nature of Washington D.C., and the sheer number of Agency contracts taken out in the area, she was widely considered the best in North America. Until she died, two or three years back.
“The report of your death was an exaggeration.” I mumble, leaning back on the table and closing my eyes. There’s a searing pain swirling through my body that I try to will away.
“I didn’t know you could read.” Kate says it, to my surprise, she was always so sweet. For an assassin doctor.
“Don’t tell anyone, it will ruin my reputation as a moron.”
“Nothing can ruin that now.” That would be Doc, since it’s more hurtful than amusing. “Agency put a hit on you for ‘failure to carry out assigned contract’ and ‘conspiring to aid a target’. Fancy words for a quarter mill payout. Open bid on her too. Five hundred thousand. One million for any hitter than can bring you both in at the same time.”
I open my eyes. That’s bad. It’s so very bad.
“Should have died this time, Avery.” Doc says, just to me. “Would have saved a lot of grief, you’re just a walking corpse now.”
“Christ, Doc, I’m already down. Stop kicking.”
His meaty palms hit the table I’m on and his face gets real close. I’m sure if I was standing he’d be jabbing a thick finger under my nose.
“They killed her foster family, Avery. All of them. Sounds like they were good people too. Parents, kids, even the fucking dog. She’s alone and now you have every damn hitter in the western hemisphere coming for you. You’re going to meet people you never heard of, you’re going to have to have your head on a swivel, you’re going to need boxes upon boxes of bullets just to keep them away. You dragged me into it by showing up at my fucking door.”
I’m stuck on this table with three holes. Doc might be thinking that two bodies buys him out of a mess. Our bodies. I can feel Nova tense up. I like Kate but there’s no way I can trust her. She wanted to be dead and here I am on her table. She might just as well want me to quit breathing and leave her alone. I might already be dead, some obscure poison coursing through my veins.
“Why bother with all this?” I hear myself ask. “Why save me?”
“Kate.” Doc leans back, his breath off my neck and the palpable fear I was feeling easing just a bit.
“He said you suggested taking on the Chairman.”
Kate rolls a chair to the side of the surgery table, which I am rapidly becoming sure is a steel table for dogs or cats to be on while she checks their balls or something. Gross. I hope it was wiped off before I ended up with my head on it.
“Yeah. I did.”
“Do you know why he’s after this child?” She asks, leaning on her forearms and looking at me.
“Then why help her?”
“I was bait. I don’t like being bait. Puts me in the same boat as her. So, I did what any self-respecting moron would do. I started bailing.”
Doc mumbles something about ‘fucking idiot’.
Doc grunts. Almost an apology grunt, I think.
“You know where the Agency comes from?” Kate interrupts whatever it is they were doing. “They were active back in the late 1600s, at least that’s where they gained some notoriety. They’d been doing this sort of thing well before that. But, hunting ‘witches’ doesn’t bring in the money. Like any smart business they diversified.”
“Witch hunters?” I would laugh if it didn’t hurt so bad. Breathing hurts. Being alive hurts, it’s just constant pain. And that’s before you get shot three times.
“Things out there we can’t explain, Avery, this is just one of them. And it’s right here in front of your damned eyes, boy. Just open them.” Doc says.
I watch the girl. Nova.
She’s sitting in a chair and toying with what looks like a crumpled piece of lead. A bullet. She finally looks up at me and smiles. Girl was wearing a vest and that’s the bullet meant to kill her. She rolls it between her fingers and then holds her palm flat. It floats up, buoyed by some invisible force. It’s airborne, floating and twirling there above her hand. Impossible. If it wasn’t happening. I watch it, mesmerized and terrified in equal parts. I didn’t have time to really process it until right now. There wasn’t time to think about how dangerous she is. What this means.
“When did all…that…start?” I ask.
It leaps higher into the air and tumbles back down to her hand, she watches it the whole way. She closes her fingers around it in a hard fist and her eyes darken. There are bad memories there. Shouldn’t have asked. I blame whatever meds Kate pumped into me. Could be my nosy ass nature too.
“I was six. When did you killing kids for money?”
“Avery.” Kate steps in, before I get my ass handed to me. “You fell ass over ears into shit creek without water wings, never mind a canoe or a paddle. If you’re serious about taking them on, you got to know what she is. What she can do.”
I don’t consider myself all that smart. I don’t even consider myself all that moral. But there is a thought I have that rankles in the back of my brain. Something that doesn’t sit right. I don’t mind putting down some corporate stooge that stands in the way of an acquisition. I don’t mind a politician takedown or some military commander that needs to be out of the way. I don’t mind ex-wives or husbands that want some sweet vengeance. Those I can stomach. Everyone’s guilty of something.
But Doc said that kids didn’t make it far. He’d never seen one so advanced. Kate said they’d been operating since the 1600s. So that leaves me with a question.
“How many have they killed?”
“One in three hundred thousand are born like her. It’s a lot, Avery. A lot.”
I close my eyes and think about it. Hundreds of kids every year are somehow tracked down by my former employer. Hundreds of scared kids that don’t understand why it’s happening. I turn my head and ignore the pain to look at Nova.
“You were the first kid contract I ever took. I didn’t have a choice but that’s not really an excuse, is it?” I would take the high road but that’s not so easy when your highest road is buried six feet down. I move to turn my head and feel a pain and tightness in my chest.
“I hope you don’t mind if I say this kid but I kind of wish I hadn’t met you.” I say, giving a wave towards the fresh bandages.
She lifts her shirt to reveal a mass of purple and black bruises on her abdomen. Vests help with bullets, but they don’t stop the kinetic energy. It’s unpleasant and painful.
“Goes both ways old man.”
I laugh. Despite the searing pain that it brings.
“Alright, this is all hilarious but what the fuck is your plan? Huh, Avery? Got one of those? Or is this a seat of your pants sort of ride?”
Doc is pissed. Nova ignores the cursing, maybe she’s got used to it while I’ve been out. Then Doc surprises me.
“Sorry, kid, language.”
“You managed to teach Doc manners? If you’d done that a year ago maybe we wouldn’t have had that falling out.”
“You tried to blow up my house!” Doc looks like he might shove a sausage finger into one of my bullet holes. I would not like that.
“And shoot you. Okay, that doesn’t sound better. You asked about a plan.” It’s my feeble attempt to change the subject before doc uses the three holes in my chest to turn me into a bowling ball. “My plan is to get the hell out of this mess.”
“And such a detailed, well thought out plan it is. You need to be on rest for at least six weeks, not to mention the physical therapy.” Kate prods my chest and I let out a yelp. Of course, I do, there’s three fucking bullet holes there. I growl at her and she swats me.
“How about three weeks and some pushups?” I offer as bargain.
“Better deal than I thought I’d get. Fine. Just take lots of these and try not to tear anything open again.”
She stuffs a pill bottle in my hand filled with the beautiful little pain killers. They’re my version of skittles, at least for a few weeks. It’s not like bullet holes are something you just get over. Hollywood gets that and grenades all sorts of wrong.
“What about her?” Doc asks. Nova sits on her rolling chair and makes that lead dance above her hand again.
I like the kid, Nova, she seems like a capable girl. She chewed up those goons well enough. If I’d stayed in the car I bet things would have turned out differently, she’d have been gunned down. I just blindsided the hit squad. That’s teamwork.
Which means that I made my decision. Maybe I could pop her right now, drag her back to the Chairman and beg on all fours for him to not put a bullet in my spine. He’s not the forgiving type. I’d end up in a gutter somewhere, bleeding out from all sorts of holes that a human body isn’t supposed to have.
“Hey kid.” She looks up at me, dropping the lead on the floor. “You got a dollar?”
She scowls at me and shakes her head.
“Doc. Lend her a buck?”
He grunts and pulls a crisp bill from his wallet and shoves it into her hand.
“Kid. Nova. If you want, I’ll take you on the run. I can’t promise anything there. Whatever you are, whatever your abilities, they want you dead. When I got out of my car I stepped into it, up to my fresh new bullet holes in it. I’m not coming back from it. I’m not so much a self-absorbed douche that I’d leave you alone on this. Unless you ask. So, Option A, that’s the running.”
“Is there an Option B?” She asks, quietly, staring into my eyes.
“You and me, we take on the Agency. A multi-billion dollar killing corporation with nearly endless hired guns, resources, and intel. You get to decide. That dollar hires me, if you want.”
There’s a heavy silence. Doc won’t move, again. Like the Agency is a T-Rex that relies on movement. Nova stares into my eyes. Kate is unreadable. I feel the bill in my palm and there is a look in her eyes that I remember. I remember when my dad didn’t come home from a job and someone offered me a similar choice. I wanted blood.
The corner of her mouth turns up and our contract is made.
“So, kid, what’s your poison?”
“Teach me to kill them all. Let’s fuck them up.”
“Language!” Doc and I say in unison.
I lean back on the pseudo hospital bed and think of a plan, or the workings of one. Somewhere to hide out and do some training. I know a place, off the grid and out of the way. Doc won’t come. I understand that. Kate won’t either. I can’t allow that.
“Oh hey.” I lean back and close my eyes, feeling the bruising pain spreading through my chest. “You’ll get to meet Ronnie!”
I guess I’m a foster parent, sort of. Foster mentor? I don’t know. Probably a foster mistake, assassins have never been great role models. Though I was always fond of that movie.
I’m just a survivor. Maybe she is too.
Or we’ll die. I prefer…well not that…but life has a way of shitting on plans.
I guess we’ll find out which way the dice fall.