Once, in a magical land, far, far away...
"Hold up. For one thing, it's not far, far away. Or wait. Maybe it is. But only in time. And it's not magical either."
"Well, if you're going to debate me, do it yourself."
Um. Okay. Sorry reader. Let's try this again.
Once, there was a girl.
Cat sighed—inwardly, of course. Her current employers were hardly tolerant of such overt displays of emotion. Outwardly, she presented the façade of the ideal personal assistant: the young woman stood just behind and to the left of the Director, lightweight tablet held ready in her manicured hands. Alert, yet composed, she dressed in proper office-wear for this era. She hoped. The black pencil skirt, blouse, low heels and nylons the Company had advised her to don didn't allow for much freedom of movement, but at least she looked the part. She had also been forced to grow her hair longer than normal, to give her stylist something to work with. The stylish twist had been fiercely debated—Cat hated both the length and weight it presented, but had eventually surrendered to the stylist's ministrations with bad grace. She remembered the hairdresser's increasing irritability with a small flare of amusement. Abruptly, the resume of conversation broke into her mental broodings, and she returned her attentions to the matter at hand.
"You promised three tons of raw copper by the end of the week. And yet, you bring me, what? News of a quarter ton, no more? I'm disappointed, Governor." The Director's voice was one which easily quieted rooms he frequented. His casual listeners broke off their own conversations to attend to the man's quiet, cultured voice—deep, yet laden with a subtle purr which somehow alluded to a panther's deadly grace. In this instance, he let a shred of annoyance creep into his normally cool tone. "This won't happen again."
"No, milord," said the man sitting tensely in front of the Director's desk, his nervousness given away as he restlessly fiddled with a handsome pen, the barrel slipping across damp palms. "I will personally ensure the delivery."
"By the end of the week."
"But--!" The man's plea died on his lips as the Director gently raised a hand slightly off the oaken desk. "The end of the week, Governor. Do not disappoint me."
The Governor bowed his head in defeat, even as his eyes communicated a mixture of hatred, fear—and something Cat couldn't immediately place. It looked, upon further reflection, like a sort of grudging respect. Not that Cat was surprised that the Director inspired such emotions in his subordinates: the man worked with glacial efficiency, and accepted no dissent from any of his lackeys. Even his political peers he met with that cool expertise, though they were allowed freer rein over their tongues. As the chagrined man departed, pen in hand, the Director wrote a brief note upon the crisp notepad awaiting his graceful handwriting.
"Miss Najmi." Cat started a bit: she had forgotten she was still technically functioning under the Middle-Eastern alias. "Yes, Director?"
"Your impressions of our friend the Governor."
Cat frowned slightly, though the Director still faced towards the closed door. "I doubt he means to deliver. He'll most likely take what copper he's managed to extract, and disappear."
"I had him tailed," responded the Director quietly, slightly turning his desk chair to assess his assistant's expression. "And I think the same. If he shows any intention of such action, eliminate him under the Sahani alias."
"But for now..." The Director gracefully came to his feet, the motion more a continuous unfolding of his tall frame than the series of somewhat jerky movements most earthen denizens used. He leisurely strolled the short distance from his chair to where his assistant stood, tablet still held between slim fingers. Cat watched his advance with calm, resigned eyes: he particularly liked her Middle Eastern façade. He took the tablet from her hands and placed it upon the desk, then proceeded to lightly grasp her around the waist. "You never allowed me to continue, Miss Najmi."
"Nor will I, Director. The Company has informed you before of the limitations of my contract."
He raised a brow slightly, still holding her in place. "I doubt the Company will begrudge me a bit of casual sex."
Cat replied with a small shrug. "Regardless, my first duty is to my employers. I apologize."
An ironic smile graced the Director's lips for an instant. "So devoted to the Company, my dear. One would think that you would have forsaken such ideals long ago."
"It gives me something to hold to. But perhaps you don't understand such sentiments."
The Director only smiled, leaning down and softly kissing Cat, which she suffered patiently.
"As you wish, Catarina. But consider the offer, at least."
"I will... think about it. Good day, Director."
Cat broke from the Director's light embrace, retrieving the discarded tablet from the desk as she left the room. The Director sighed slightly, and returned to his chair.
Cat stood over the body of the Governor, dark brows slightly drawn together in distaste. As always, the Director had correctly predicted the actions of his underlings. After a year of close association with the man, Cat no longer found such an ability remarkable—it was simply part of who the man was. Detached, compelling and completely in control of all situations. The Director was what Cat yearned to be, yet fell short of. She was only a knife: a mercenary, the perfect, supposedly emotionless killer.
But who's ever heard of a compassionate assassin? Cat thought blackly.
For there were times like today when she looked at bodies, those she had personally ripped life from, and felt—something. Others, like her trainers, would have written off such emotion. In fact, expressing slight protest had sent her back to the Butchery more than once during her training. It wasn't that she had voiced objections about the single daily kill each trainee made. She had simply questioned the brutality required.
Only twice had she committed such an error. Cat still remembered the screams of the men she had been forced to torture as her punishment.
Briskly, she shook herself from her remembrances. It did no good to stand brooding over a corpse. She had wrenched the location of the copper from him before she had let him die: that was enough. She was something of an expert in... coaxing information from stubborn lips. Stepping back from the Governor's blood-sodden form, Cat quickly marked the Governor off the 'Current Targets' list gently pulsing on the small screen implanted into her forearm, and absentmindedly sent the recording that contained the copper's location to the Director.
He could use a few screams to brighten his day, she thought sardonically. Especially if valuable information is among them.
Powering the screen off, Cat took out an acid sheet, merely glancing at the cheery instructions of use on the wrapping.
The Patented Quick-N-Easy Way to Remove Evidence! Recommended by 9/10 Master Mercenaries! Simply Tear The Easy-Ripp™ Packaging, Place Over Body, And Watch The Evidence Disappear!
Carefully, holding the unfolded sheet by the untreated corners, Cat placed the sheet over the prone body before her, wrinkling her nose in genteel disgust as the reek of burning flesh boiled up from beneath the sheet. Luckily she had been supplied with the new Quick-Melt™ variety, which destroyed flesh and bone twice as quickly as its predecessor. A ten minute wait—a vigil over dissolving remains. Once the corpse had been disposed of, Cat coolly lit the sheet on fire as it began to eat into the blood-spattered ground, watching the unnaturally olive-coloured flames roil over the rapidly deteriorating surface. Governor and sheet gone, Cat left the secluded valley where she had caught and tortured the unfortunate man.
The Director looked up.
"Is there something you need, Miss Sahani?"
Cat stood on the opposite side of the desk today, having just delivered her latest report. The Director had just dismissed her for the day, but she lingered. Forcing a somewhat pleading look, she hoped the Director would take the hint. His forehead creased almost imperceptibly as he took in her expression. Slowly, he nodded towards the guard who waited just inside the doorway.
"Leave us, Johnson."
He waited, eyes still fixed upon Cat's face as the guard departed, pulling the door shut until the lock engaged with a soft click from the inside.
She closed her eyes.
"I need to kill. Soon."
"That can be arranged."
"I may be defective. I felt compassion today," said she, spitting out the syllables as she opened her eyes again.
The Director said nothing.
She hurried on. "Apparently the Company didn't rid me completely of such attributes. But I promise you, I can free myself of them. You may have to supply me with daily victims for a time until I can get myself under control. I apologize for my lack of control," she added, humbly bowing her head to her superior.
He sighed, running a hand through his militaristic cut in a rare display of frustration. "We will simply have to be more careful, Catarina. You will be supplied with targets and short-term missions until you can suppress such detrimental emotions. I had a number of tasks arranged for you—I will move those entailing death of the target to your Com tonight. You will be flying to Europe under the Menniti alias in the morning. Prepare yourself accordingly."
Cat meekly bowed her head again, as much as it pained her to inform the Director of her failures. The Company, however, had promised him the perfect assassin. And she was going to reclaim that title, regardless of the cost to her pride.