Hey, kids! The Write-a-Thon is going strong!
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For the duration of the Write-a-Thon (and perhaps beyond), I will be writing ministories (i.e., stories with no more than 2,000 words) for what I’m calling “Snack-Size Stories.” The first of these, “Another Dawn,” is based on a poem I wrote last week entitled “Dawn.” The poem (itself one of my shorter works) touches on a few, potentially significant moments in the life of an assassin. The story that follows takes place approximately six months before the poem.
As always, your feedback is both welcome and deeply appreciated.
Dawn found her by degrees. In the first moments, she was merely another dark shape against the general blackness of the hotel garden, but as Eos peeled away her veils, anyone with a sharp eye could have (perhaps) picked the woman out where she crouched outside the penthouse doors. Of course, such a person would be unlikely to survive long enough to share their discovery with anyone else; she had very sharp eyes as well. It mattered little now, in any event; the dark had been needed to cover her approach, not her current position. With luck, she could be in and out of the rooms before anyone (eagle-eyed or otherwise) knew she’d been here at all. She checked her watch, and then left the shelter of the vaguely phallic topiary she’d been using for cover and slipped across the flagstones to the door.
The alarm was standard issue; a squat armored box mounted flush with the wall. Inside, she knew, were redundant connections to both the in-house security and the city police; her intel said there would be a thicker wire as well, probably a hard line to the target’s estate in Barranquilla. She reached into her small belt pack and pulled out a silver disc, centering it on the door of the armored box before pushing firmly. After ensuring it was securely mounted, she pressed the button in the middle of the disc and retreated a few feet. After a moment, the disc began to glow a soft blue, and she felt the hairs on her arms stand up as the field expanded. Three seconds later, the wide French doors and the box were engulfed in a translucent cerulean bubble; another five seconds, and the bubble vanished. From the eaves to the threshold, the door and the armored box (as well as a perfect half-moon of the opposite wall and several unfortunate ferns) now glittered in the murky pre-dawn light, permeated with microscopic threads of aluminum and ceramic by the nanite cloud. She walked up the door and gave it a hard push – it swung open silently, but no alarms were triggered; anything that had been caught inside the bubble was part of the main circuit, now, and as long as nothing broke the heavy aluminum rim that had appeared at the cloud’s boundaries, the alarm was as good as dead.
Stepping inside, she moved quickly toward the bedroom, constantly scanning all sectors of the room for ancillary defense. The target, she knew, hadn’t planned to stay here originally; he’d been moved here at the last second by a bomb threat at his usual digs over at the Four Seasons. Her assistant, Ricardo, had called in that threat from her safe house three blocks away, his voice disguised by so many layers of distortion and phreaker bullshit that the cops thought they were talking to a computer somewhere in Beijing. After that, it had been all too easy to listen to the voice traffic of the city’s other hardened hotels; after all, the Supreme Chancellor of Nuevo Colombia wasn’t likely to stay at the Radisson. The decision to stay at this hotel had been made in haste, with only perfunctory security; once his team was satisfied the bomb threat had been neutralized, they’d whisk him off to his fortress atop the Four Seasons. She closed the scanner with a small smile; there weren’t even any in-room mics or cams. Apparently, privacy was one of the few luxuries the rich were still willing to pay for. She stepped to the bedroom door and pulled another silver disc out of her pack; this one also made a bubble, but it was primed with Displacers. It wasn’t teleportation, or not exactly; what it did do was create a quantum mirror. When the bubble opened, the nanites also created a second, identical bubble somewhere else. After a few seconds, the bubbles exchanged places and dissolved. There was a theory that the Displacers simply picked another Universe along the wheel of probability and did a switcheroo, but since the nanites apparently chose the quantum pathways on their own, Displacers had proven frustratingly ineffective for transportation; even when understanding of quantum mechanics had reached a sufficient level of sophistication to understand how the pathways were connected, there seemed to be no way to ensure that one would be selected over any of the infinite others. She’d found out about the project while doing a side job for her cousin, who’d had some information he’d needed…deleted…from a government computer. She’d taken the research and the prototypes with an eye to selling them, but that was before she’d realized what they could do. Now, standing next to the target’s bed, she reached over his sleeping head, mounted the disc to the headboard, and pushed the button. That was when she looked down and saw him regarding her with black eyes full of hate.
His eyes were open, she saw as she pushed the button. Open and alert. She turned, already sprinting, meaning to leap away, to clear the bubble and book it to the zipline she had prepped at the roof’s edge underneath another one of those unsettling topiaries. But then he was up, faster than she could believe, and she knew he wasn’t asleep, had never been asleep – he was raising an old-fashioned firearm at her, not a maser or laser but an actual gun. Why wasn’t the Bubble going off? How could the door be so far away? Then she saw the blue powder on her fingers and she knew. The bastard had put SlowMo on the door, the walls – hell, every surface except the bed, probably. And now she was feeling its effects. The powerful psychotropic drug was pulling her toward immobility; she’d eventually grind to a halt, like a wind-up toy with broken gears, and then it would be a simple matter for him to hold her for the cops or – more likely – send her off to one of those godforsaken slave rings that had made his fortune. He was reaching for the switch on the Bubble even as he raised the gun; her best chance was to make him kill her. She used the last of her energy to stagger toward him; smiling contemptuously, he fired. There was a flash of white, then red, and then, for a long while, nothing at all.
She awoke to light and a strange splashing sound. The light was diffuse and still faint; the sun was slow this morning. She groaned and sat up stiffly – she’d been lying in a standing position, like a discarded mannequin, until the SloMo finally wore off. Wary of further exposure, she pulled her gloves from her pack and slipped them on, then rose. She was in the doorway, not five feet from the bed – or where the bed had been, at least – and, she suddenly realized, soaking wet. Knowing she should already be gone, knowing that there were probably security men already making their way up with her target’s breakfast, she stared, unable to look away.
The room was undisturbed except for a ten-foot sphere in its center, where it looked like a hungry giant had taken a melon baller to the architecture. The exposed beams were cooling from white to red; the walls were burnt black where the Bubble had swapped itself for its distant twin. And in the spot where the bed and the floor beneath it had been, the last of the nearly 4,000 gallons of the Pacific Ocean that had taken their place was draining away to the floors below. The splashing that had awoken her was coming from a deep puddle where the water had been trapped between two struts and the steel underfloor; from within, a hammerhead shark regarded her balefully, its black eyes shining, so much like the target’s that for a brief moment she thought some strange metamorphosis had taken place – but then she saw the bits of coral scattered everywhere, and a few other fish flopping listlessly, gasping their lives away on the unfeeling metal. And on the floor in front of her, right at the edge of the Bubble’s black boundary, was the gleaming tip of a hollowpoint bullet, edges neatly sheared and glowing the same dull red as the girders. She shuddered, just once, and then picked it up. She dipped it in the water, keeping a wary eye on the shark, and then stuck it in her pocket and ran for the zipline. Below her, she could hear voices rising in confusion and alarm; heavy boots were pounding up the stairwell as she dashed past without looking back. By the time the first guard, maser rifle in hand, staggered to a halt inside the penthouse, she was on the street and gone.
Luci was toweling her hair dry when the doorbell rang; she sighed and wrapped her auburn tresses in the thick cotton, tying it atop her head like a turban. She smiled at herself in the mirror; Cat always called her “Eryka Ba-don’t” for some reason when she came out of the shower like that; she’d asked her why once and Cat had just rolled her eyes and said something about the burdens of robbing the cradle. Luci had slapped her playfully – ten years wasn’t THAT much difference – and Cat had grinned and kissed her, and that had been the end of discussion for the rest of the evening. Now, she checked the viewer and smiled again. “Speak of the devil,” she said, opening the door. “Hey, sweetie, how was Cairo? Did you sell the account to…” She trailed off, taking in Cat’s torn, soaking wet clothing and wide eyes. “Jesus, Cat, what…?” The other woman cut her off with a shaky embrace, shivering even though it was high summer. “Baby, I think we need to talk,” she said, and pressed something small and metallic into her hand. “I’m not in advertising.”
Behind them, the dawn was breaking.