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Chapter 1 - Mella Seventeen

            Just as expected, the door was unlocked. The busy street felt a world away as she made her way into the hallway, lined with photos of unfamiliar places. The soft carpet made no sound beneath her boots as she let the door swung shut. Her eyes flicked from the hallway to the stairs and then to the doorway directly ahead, leading on into the kitchen. No one had seen her arrive.
            Her pace quickened now. She headed straight on, listening for any sound that she might have been given away, but there was nothing. The whole house was silent. Approaching the next doorway, she froze and reached behind her for the cold, modified semi-automatic wedged into her belt. It slipped free as it always did, at home in the palm of her hand. She’d done this too many times now. It was all becoming too easy.
            She allowed herself one short, sharp intake of breath before throwing herself around the corner. Gun raised and eyes wide, she was faced with little more than last night’s washing up. The slightest of sighs escaped her lips as she followed the path through the house, pausing in every entrance, searching every room. Finally, she found herself where she’d started, at the foot of the stairs. Her shoulders were tense now, veins bulging like dragonflies on the back of her hand as she held the gun tighter. She’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this.
            One step at a time, she crept up the stairs. She didn’t dare breathe as she got ever higher, waiting in nervous anticipation for something to give her away. Whether it was the sleeping cat on the top step or that lone creaky floorboard, it was always something. It was always the stairs.
            This time it wasn’t the cat. It wasn’t even the floorboards. The house rang with the piercing sound of the Uplink that was sat innocently beside the front door. Her breathing was fast and hard and now, her finger poised on the trigger as she made her way to the stop of the stairs. She looked left first, then right. Her gaze fixed on the turning of a handle. This would be her target, walking straight into her path like blinded prey.
            She found herself staring straight into a pair of olive eyes. There was a second of pure silence, the moment adrenaline production went into overdrive. It was fight or flight. Her finger tightened on the trigger and the weapon kicked back against her right shoulder without a sound. The shot had followed its path, her target collapsed to the floor, and the Uplink continued to ring in the background.
            “Mella?” she called out.
            There was no reply. She inched closer to the body, her gun now loose in her left hand. The girl sprawled on the ground was dead, she was sure of it. There was no blood to leave the stain of her work behind. Instead, the bullet was charged with a current that had stopped her heart on impact. It was instant and it was clean.
            With one boot, she rolled the girl over. Her lifeless eyes were hidden by closed lids and the hair that was strewn across her face. She looked barely out of her teens, but her file had revealed her to be twenty four years old. Marked in black across her hip was a name: Drew. Somewhere in the world, with Mella’s death, Drew had died too. He died without knowing his name was marked on her skin. She had not chosen to be with him and so she had to go, to put Drew out of his misery, and to sustain the natural way of the world. This was her purpose. She had to restore order. She had to kill the Deviants.
            As she turned away from the body, she allowed herself a glance at her own hand where the word Mella was clearly visible. This hadn’t been her Mella. The corpse was not her birthmatch and so her search would continue. She pushed the thought from her mind. Now was not the time. She took her personal Uplink from her back pocket and raised it to her ear.
            “It’s done.”
            “Good,” there was a pause. “Is the body ready for pick-up?”
            “Yes, I’m leaving the site now,” she replied.
            “I’ll send the car.”
            And with that, the line went dead. Another mission complete, another Mella gone, and so too was her birthmatch. She leaned against the doorframe, staring out into the street as her car rolled into place. It was time to go home. She didn’t look back as she followed the garden path out onto the pavement, sliding into the backseat without a second thought. She sank back against the leather, breathing in the rich scent that filled the car.
            “Ready to go?”
            “Yeah,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
            The engine purred beneath her as the car moved away. She knew the journey would be long and so the Uplink still in her grip seemed like the perfect distraction. There was always the Connection. There was always something to read about.
            The Connection contained information, new and old. Constantly updating, it buzzed with life and she found herself immersed it after every mission. She’d even used it to choose her name, taken from stars studied by the old ones. Orion’s belt, stars had long since died. She had chosen to stick with Orion. It was unique, original, and dissociated from either gender. That was just the way she liked it.
            “Not your Mella then?” the driver asked.
            “No,” Orion replied. “It wasn’t.”
            “How many is that now?”
            “Sixteen,” she glanced down at her Uplink. “No, wait. She was the seventeenth. Why are there so many Mella’s?”
            “Popular name, I s’pose,” he said with a cough. “Better luck next time, eh?”
            “Here’s hoping.”
            The driver laughed a short, barking laugh. This conversation had been had many times beforehand, starting after the first Mella. It became easier each time, mundane even, and somehow brought Orion back down to earth. She let out a long sigh of relief. She'd be fine now, it was finally over. 
            Trees flew past the window in an emerald blur. Orion’s head rested against the glass. 

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