Chapter 1 – The Contract
The assassin’s target stood near the rear entrance of the city bus. A week of observation revealed that the man’s behavior in the morning was always the same. He boarded the nearly full bus every morning at the same stop. There was usually no place to sit, so he stood with one arm around a pole to balance himself while skimming through a morning tabloid. His attire rarely varied, and there were no surprises this morning in his choice of a light-colored jacket and dark jeans.
The assignment had started with a simple message from the assassin’s employer: Within a week, take out this man in a public place and make sure that it is obviously a professional hit.
“So far, so good,” Hope thought, as she watched her mark and kept track of the other riders on the bus. She would have completed her mission yesterday, but a man on crutches at the rear entrance increased the chances of slowing her getaway. She changed her disguise daily as the police were sure to review security video. They would see that the killer was a young man in his early twenties, wearing a denim jacket, baseball cap, and glasses. If the security camera resolution was good enough, and the police reviewed previous days’ footage, it would show the week’s progression from clean-shaven to scruffy with evidence of a slight scar on his right jaw.
As the bus approached the university, Hope started to close the distance between her and her mark, and with practiced skill went through a checklist of items that would immediately abort the operation. The jacket that the man wore would shield the blood spatter, and there was no unusual activity on the bus or at the stop it was approaching. She had picked the morning ride for the hit since the crowd was comprised of university students and office workers with no children present. She did have rules, including no killing of children or in front of them.
Satisfied that everything was all right, she tapped on the rim of her eyeglasses to turn on the camera for a live feed of the event. She waited a few seconds until a small green arrow came up on the HUD of the glasses indicating that they were functioning properly. The bus neared the stop and a small group of people gathered around the rear exit door. The mark was still standing in his original spot as his stop came after this one. He had progressed to the comics section and seemed oblivious to everything around him.
She moved passed the man, looking down as she lightly bumped against him. During this brief contact, she extended the long, narrow blade concealed in her sleeve and expertly plunged it into him at an upward angle just below his rib cage. After a slide twist of the blade, she withdrew it quickly, knowing that it had punctured his heart. She moved swiftly towards the rear door, turned off her eyeglass video feed, and was off the bus and walking down the street before the man fully realized he had been stabbed.
Thirty minutes later, she sat at a café window seat across the street from the university waiting for a latte to be made. She rubbed her fingertips together to get rid of the thin, plastic film she had used to conceal fingerprints.
“Triple tall latte for Hope,” the barista called out.
She got up and collected her coffee and returned to her seat. She noticed a fire truck go by, probably to put out the small fire burning her disguise in an alley a few blocks away. After exiting the bus, she had followed a route that avoided security cameras. She entered a washroom in one of the university buildings where lectures would not begin for a few hours. Ensuring it was empty, she pulled a doorstop from her pocket, jammed it into place to ensure privacy, and spent the next ten minutes transforming herself back from a mid-twenty, thin, unshaven man to a stunning thirty-year-old female with long, blonde hair. She left the washroom and discarded the disguise near a trash bin behind the building, sprinkled lighter fluid on it, and struck a match.
At the same time, Mikhail also was looking out a window, but instead of busy city streets his view was an ocean panorama from his penthouse office. He had just watched the live feed of the murder. He felt no real emotion; this was something that had to be done. He turned away from the sight of lapping waves on the sandy beach, hastily typed an encrypted message, and pressed Send.
At forty-five years old, he was a driven individual and would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. He had accepted this assignment even though it meant living halfway across the world from his home in the Middle East because it was ideally suited to what he wanted to achieve. As head of the research division, he not only held the responsibility of ensuring that schedules were maintained, but managed several aspects of the project that were kept secret from the public and the government. For the first two years, things had gone well, but now, nearing the final year, there were increased opportunities for information leaks.
He saw the acknowledgment that his message had been sent. Another six months and I’ll have all that I need.
Hope picked up her tablet, scanned her fingerprint, and logged into her crypto-currency account. She wasn’t surprised to see that Mikhail, her employer, had already deposited a good-sized bonus. With a few keystrokes, she transferred ten percent to her favorite charity, The Pleasant Belief Foundation. She smiled at the irony of the donation then scanned the local news feeds to see if there were any headlines on the murder that she had just committed.
Diane learned about her brother’s death from the Internet. At first she thought it was someone else with the same name, but as she read further, she knew there was no mistake. In a daze, she checked her email and found a message from her brother’s wife, Gwen, sent only a few hours before, telling her the news and asking her to call.
As reality struck her, she felt the world collapsing around her. With both her parents gone for some years, her older brother was all the family she had left and had been the cornerstone of her life. He was always there for her, regardless of what trouble she got herself into. She was almost the complete opposite of him. As she grew up, she never could fit into the mold according to the expectations of her parents and society. Now, at twenty-five years old, with a slim build, short light colored hair, piercings, and tattoos, things were not any different.
Throughout high school, she found little use for several compulsory subjects and had been unable to convince her parents to enroll her in any extracurricular activities that she preferred. After high school, she spent a few years at a trade school, taking classes that appealed to her, such as welding and fabrication. She worked at several part-time jobs to support herself. She cringed at the thought of living within the rules of established society but didn’t know what she really wanted either. She felt lost, knowing that there had to be some purpose to her life, yet she had no idea what that was and had spent the last few years drifting in search of it.
Through her tears and sobs, she thought back to how her brother had been their parents’ favorite. He had worked so hard in school to please them, achieving a teaching position at a prominent university while doing microbiology research. Regardless of how busy his schedule was, though, he contacted her regularly, and she thought back to the last time she saw him a few days earlier.
She picked up her cell phone and called Gwen to say she would be there in a few hours, after which she spent the next few minutes picking loose items up. Then she went to the front of her RV, started it, and drove away from the side street where she had parked overnight.
Who would want to kill my brother? The thought ran through her mind over and over. Gwen had said “murdered” several times. Sadness slowly turned to anger, and as she fought to stay in control, she clenched the steering wheel hard, vowing to find out who had done this and make them pay.
In addition to espionage and murder, the story lays the foundation for a series of books that explore our social structure and partnership with the planet. The second book in this series, 2222, is available now.