Algeria, 1st April, 1956.
The Rue Larbi Alik, Holiday Residence of Jacques Dupuy.
Even in the airless transport vehicle, she could smell the delicate scent of the blooming peonies that lined the manicured streets of the Algerian capital’s streets. The Rue Larbi was a particularly rich area of Algeria; though Algiers was already considered the home of the upper 10%. That had factored into their briefing. Private security was a dime a dozen, and the political climate’s turbulence as of late meant that the rich and famous were getting antsy.
Her partner was still in the midst of his pre-service, silver arm glimmering under the light of the technician’s torch. He, as always, seemed unaware of the work upon him, despite the discomfort she knew he felt if they weren’t careful. And they usually weren’t. The faint buzzing of her collar and cuffs was barely audible over the quiet rumble of the truck engine, but she could still feel it – just on the edge of pain, keeping her in place. Their handlers were talking quietly, but she didn’t care to listen in. If she needed to know, she would know. Anything else was irrelevant to her, to the mission. And there was nothing but the mission.
“мы прибыли.” We’re here. Her partner’s handler spoke in Russian, casting his eyes over both of them.
Her handler approached her. His usual cold stare was firmly in place, tempered with the warning he always instilled in his watery blue eyes before a mission. He was getting towards his midlife. She could see the weakness in him, even if his rank belied it. He greyed at his temples, and she suspected he was developing a cataract in his left eye. But she did not care, and the information was merely filed away, like everything else.
“Это должно выглядеть грязно.” It must look messy. He reminded her, taking out the master key for her cuffs. The back door of the van was opened, and in one smooth movement, her partner stood, taking his weaponry and jumped to the ground. He stood, waiting. “Нет пощады.” No mercy.
“Никогда.” Never. She agreed lowly and got to her feet. It was only after she joined her partner on the road, that she felt the sudden freedom, the electric current running through her absent.
It was 03:11. They had until 06:00 to complete their objective and meet back at their rendezvous point. Time was ticking.
The holiday home of their target was as opulent as the rest of his lifestyle. Jacques Dupuy wasn’t overly qualified for the role of French Defence Minister; his father was the one who had served in the military, and it was his vast influence and presence in Algeria that was the most likely clause for his election. Considering the discontent within the lower classes of Algeria, and the general dislike of French rule; it was more than likely that the French government had elected someone who knew the lay of the land. Though from what their intelligence suggested, Dupuy spent more time indoors than truly exploring and experiencing Algeria. His holiday home received an exorbitant amount of… female visitors, and other unsavoury company.
She wondered briefly if his wife and children knew the extent of his debauchery. It was likely his wife knew – though rather than risk the loss of her lifestyle, she probably kept it to herself.
The rumble of their transport faded into the warm night, and they were alone on the dark street.
Her partner had his eyes on the windows and the balconies; no doubt calculating how many guards were active, what their watch pattern looked like. She kept her eyes on the tall wall ahead of them, and the security cameras lining the impressive structure. The first obstacle.
It was second nature, ingrained in her now, like muscle memory; to reach out for him, fingers making contact with the cool metal of his arm – and phase them both out of sight, out of touch.
It used to be difficult; already straining to keep herself invisible, and or, intangible – she had to then take him with her too, all his hulking frame and gear and hide them both. The first time she had done it with any acceptable level of success, she had been out of action for days – body pushed beyond its limit.
Now – it was a distant exhaustion, a dull pain, like running a marathon on a sprained ankle.
She stretched her awareness to all of him, to every fibre of his being, down to his muscles, his bones, his marrow, his blood, his cells. And she took every inch of him, and pulled it into her own field of strange energy that she didn’t understand – and phased them out of awareness of the world around them.
It was a strange sensation. It was cold, and everything went shades of grey when she phased – like she truly wasn’t in the mortal realm; just some sad imitation of it. But it was peaceful. Sounds and scents dulled, making everything just that little bit easier.
It was like being put into cyrosleep – but she could control this.
They melted through the wall, past the entrance camera, and through the front door before she had to release him. She came back to visibility and tangibility, looking to him, catching her breath and staying the faint dizziness. His eyes were hidden beneath his visor, but she knew he was analysing her, considering her state of ability.
It was second nature to her as well. If he wasn’t functioning then he was a liability, and she had to adjust accordingly.
She straightened, and gave him a small nod. He turned from her, and gestured to the stairs. “Найди его, я разберусь с остальными.” Find him, I'll deal with the rest. It would split the time in half – still giving them the ability to stage a vicious attack, rather than an assassination orchestrated by an outside party. The followers of the Algerian Nationalist Movement were the people, the middle and lower class without access to the kind of killing they specialised in. It had to look a certain way – and after the doctored footage would be released, there would be no uncertainty about the nature of the attack.
She phased out of sight, ghosting past him with the faintest brush against his right arm to let him know she was on her way. He moved behind her, splitting off to clear the nearest room, as she moved swiftly towards the staircase. The blueprints of the house indicated the master bedroom was on the top floor, and she bypassed several guards on her journey upwards.
The hallway lights were down low, the artificial chandelier candles setting off a soft glow. It was clearly having an effect on the guards posted outside the bedroom door. One of which was yawning widely, the other’s eyes closed, cheap earphones spilling the rendition of a French pop song into the hall.
There was always something that flared in her whenever she appeared so suddenly in front of someone that they reacted. It was in the way they shrieked, or flinched, or jumped away. The yawning guard gave a strangled scream, reaching hastily for his jacket pocket as she flickered into sight.
She didn’t give him time to aim – disappearing again as his pistol came out, his shaking hands holding the weapon as he scanned the corridor with wide, fearful eyes. She moved towards the other man, waiting.
The other guard blinked awake slowly, taking in his friend’s position with confusion. “Que se passe-t-il?” What’s going on? He asked, pulling out his earphones and standing. She held her breath, no more than an inch away from him.
“Il y avait un-” There was a- She didn’t let the man finish, unsheathing her favoured hunting knife – and slashing viciously at the still-sleepy guard. His friend screamed as he buckled beside him – seemingly struck from nothing, his throat gaping open.
She stepped back dispassionately as he keeled forwards, clutching desperately at his throat. Then, she turned visible again, the sudden flux of sensation flooding her with adrenaline as the man fired at her wildly – but she was already dropping to her knees, rolling towards him with the ease and grace of a thousand hours of practice, and stabbing him in the kneecap. He dropped his pistol as he fell, howling so loud she winced beneath her face mask.
She caught the weapon as it fell, bringing it up swiftly to fire a single, silencing shot under his jaw. She stood, the corpse falling with a dull thud. She could hear commotion beneath her now, the odd scream of pain and near constant gunfire and pounding feet. She paid it no mind. Her partner had it under control.
She moved towards the large oak door, ornately carved, with gold and crystal handles. Beautifully impractical. She phased right through, and entered the quiet room. Soundproofed – both ways. Of course.
The bed was huge, taking up a third of the massive room; four posted and done up in emerald silk covers. A lump of a body was slumbering – and she took a silent step closer, close enough to make up the spread of long blonde hair splayed across the plump pillow. A woman. She scanned the room for the actual target – eyes catching on the strip of light under the discrete en-suite bathroom door in the corner.
She made no noise as she crossed the room, and pressed her ear to the door for a moment. There was masculine humming, the sound of liquid splashing, and her hand crept for the handle.
There was a moment of stillness in between her bursting through the door and the realisation of Dupuy that there was a stranger in his home. He was urinating, striped boxers around his ankles, and his eyes went wide – mouth falling open in a sudden and unexpected shriek. She scowled, and leapt for him, bringing up her knife in the same motion, and slamming it into his sternum. All it did was make him scream louder, and she drew back the knife again, stabbing it into his lungs this time – making him wheeze in shock, blood bubbling at the corner of his lips.
The momentary chaos had been enough to distract her – and as something pierced her outer uniform and ripped through her shoulder; the main sensation she felt was not pain – though that was very evident as whatever had stabbed her, went right through what felt like her axillary nerve and into her deltoid – but instead, a burning irritation. Foolish. She thought, dropping Dupuy bodily, knife still stuck in his torso – and turning to grab at the blonde woman who had stabbed her.
She was already shrieking and wailing at an unimaginable volume before she had reached her – fleeing back into the bedroom, stark naked and crazed. She caught up to her quickly, fisting her good hand in her bleached blonde hair, and dragging her harshly to a stop. She clenched her jaw, fighting the warring anger and pain to find her cool. Nothing but the mission.
She kept her grip on the woman’s hair, and slammed her head into one of the bed’s posters hard enough to knock the woman unconscious, slumping over onto the floor as she released her.
She took a moment, gritting her teeth and breathing hard through her nose. She was bleeding through her uniform; though it was ruined the moment the weapon stabbed through it. She’d hear about it from her handler later. She turned, lumbering back towards the dying man in the bathroom.
She stabbed him a few more times for good measure, with different blades. The more people looked involved, the better. She turned him over, preserving just a little of his modesty and dignity, and stood.
The dulled gunshots had stopped, and she turned – and as if on cue, the bedroom door opened; her partner stepping through. “Законченный?” Finished? He asked, approaching the unconscious woman and crouching beside her, looking her over. “Женщина?” The woman? He cast her a look, stilling slightly at the sight of her wound.
She shook her head. “Никто. Осложнение.” Nobody. A complication. She responded, and he stood, pulling out his gun – firing one shot without looking. The woman twitched, blood blooming across the carpet.
“Вы не очистили комнату?” You didn’t clear the room? He asked her, and she could practically see his frown behind his face mask. She hoped he could sense her own scowl as he approached her, turning her roughly around to examine her shoulder. She didn’t flinch, though his probing made pain flare white hot down her arm.
“Конечно я сделал. Она не была угрозой.” Of course I did. She wasn't a threat. She spat, and wrenched herself out of his grip.
He let her go, but moved to the bathroom, stepping over Dupuy as if he was a carpet and rummaging through the cabinets, emerging with a bandage. “Вы должны были нейтрализовать ее.” You should have neutralised her.
She was already undoing her uniform as he approached her, and she shrugged it off her shoulder violently, the fabric tearing further. His hands weren’t gentle, but they were careful as he eased the weapon out of her shoulder, dropping it into her waiting hand. She eyed the ornate hairpin covered in her blood. It was made of gems, and covered in gold leaf. She pocketed it.
He wrapped the bandage tight, both hands ghosting over her skin and under and around her arm. The differing temperatures between the metal and his flesh made goose bumps rise on the back of her neck. They were both silent as she redid her uniform, watching him go through the room one last time, staging the scene.
The rest of the house looked like the aftermath of a horror film – bullets, bodies and blood strewn through the otherwise immaculate rooms. She examined the work critically, and he waited behind her, until she nodded and they kept moving. They left out the back – him with one hand on the back of her neck squeezing her slightly, keeping her focussed, her with one arm dangling uselessly and her other hand clenched into a fist.
It was a struggle to get them both out and away unseen – and as soon as they crossed the back wall out into the parkland behind the property, she released the phase, nearly collapsing into the grass, gasping for breath. She swayed unsteadily, folded in half. Her heart was pounding behind her eyes, the edges of her vision grey.
Her partner waited.
Eventually, she straightened. She was glad, suddenly, irrationally, for the trees around them, sparse and thin though they were – they gave her an odd sense of security, like it had hidden her weakness.
“У нас сорок пять минут.” We have forty-five minutes. He said quietly, turning to the stretch of road just visible through the parkland. “Мы должны бежать.” We’ll have to run.
She clenched her jaw in frustration. If not for the woman, they’d be on schedule. She nodded once, letting him lead the way out of the trees, picking up speed as they approached the road.
He was faster than her. It was just… the way it was. Just like she phased, he was impossibly strong and fast – a by-product of whatever they had done to him, along with his metal arm. She sometimes wondered if he had been one-armed all of his life, or if they’d taken it. She supposed it didn’t really matter. Nothing really mattered but the mission.
He had to slow for her, hanging back on corners to make sure she was still following, casting quick looks over his shoulder on the straights. Returning without her wasn’t an option. And she couldn’t ever leave him behind either. They weren’t just partners – they were each other’s guarantees. They’d been trained to keep each other in line; with extreme prejudice. She wasn’t sure what he knew about her, just as he didn’t know how she’d been taught to take him in.
But they made it – they always made it.
Her handler moved to her quickly, casting a cursory look at her bound injury before strapping her collar back on and powering up her cuffs. She held his disapproving gaze as the sudden flux on electricity made her tired limbs twitch. “Слоппи.” Sloppy. He hissed distastefully, and jerked his head in the direction of the van. She clambered in slowly, struggling to find her balance in her exhausted state.
The medic moved to her, shoving her roughly around to gain access to the wound. She grunted, biting down on her bottom lip to prevent any other sounds to escape. Her partner took a seat next to her, and she stared hard at the red outline of the star on his shoulder, blinking away tears welling up in her eyes automatically. The image of it was already so familiar, but now it imprinted itself behind her eyelids as she sat through their debriefing silently, forcing herself to stay conscious.