by Esther Velez

He still kept paper records, which was strange for the second half of the 21st century. As a member of the Morland Order, I had a lot of dealings with books and physical libraries, but the rest of the population had moved into the digital realm a great many years earlier. As I thumbed through folders and folders of thin, yellowing paper, I couldn’t help but wonder if this man was anything to be afraid of. My mission was simple: kill the New England Regional Director. The reasons, however, were not. Even still, I wasn’t sure how anyone so behind on the times could interfere with our plans.

A bright flash of pink caught my eye and my fingers froze. There it was. Director Killy Hanrue’s expansion plans for Manhattan, printed on neon pink paper, just as my research had indicated. I didn’t know what the Morland leaders wanted with these architectural designs, but it was none of my concern. This request had come in a few days before I left Kentucky for New York, and the only thing they would tell me was that I had better not return without them.

Shoving the plans into my light gray satchel, I closed the file cabinets and surveyed my surroundings. I had managed to get inside with little to no hassle, although the welt on the security guard’s eye would beg to differ. The office was large and neat, with a cluster of bookshelves to one side and the Director’s desk to another.

I stepped over to the mahogany desk, which looked fairly new, despite the fact that mahogany, or any kind of wood for that matter, was extremely rare. On the wall behind the desk was a huge screen, with a dozen different news channels running at the same time, the likes of which I had only read about. I reached out and gently touched a portion of the screen, and one of the channels enlarged and covered the entire screen. We didn’t have much technology in the Morland Temple, although we knew of its existence, and it still managed to fascinate me. The woman on the screen began to speak, her voice shrill and loud.

“Director Killy Hanrue delivered a speech last night in Old Times Square, with thousands of supporters flocking to see him discuss his plans for a greater tomorrow.”

The image suddenly shifted to my target, standing on a podium a few blocks from Altin Hall, where his office presided. His bright blue eyes gazed directly into the camera, every short black hair neatly in place. He opened his mouth to speak, revealing straight white teeth.

“My goal is to bring peace to our world, to create a New American Society in which we are not afraid to let our children play in the streets. A New American Society where we don’t have to worry about being robbed or even murdered simply because someone isn’t getting enough to eat.” The camera panned over the crowd, which featured young men and women cheering ecstatically, mothers and fathers holding their kids high on their shoulders, older folks nodding fervently. It was easy to see why the Morland Order wanted this man dead. He had such an enthralling effect on the people, as he promised what everyone wanted: the peace and safety to live their lives as they pleased.

But as a Morland Sister, I did not want peace, at least, not from a human being. Our people believed that a savior was coming, from somewhere in the vast universe, who would bring lasting peace to this demented world. He would only come, our sacred texts claimed, when the world was in a terribly chaotic state and mankind had no hope left for the future. Any man or woman who promised peace was standing in the way of our future glory, and deserved to be eliminated.

The sound stopped abruptly and the images before me slowly faded to black. I reached out to the screen, confused, when a voice from behind startled me.

“What are you doing in here, young lady?” I turned around to the speaker, my face nearly reddening with shame. How had I, the best assassin in all of the Order, how had I gotten caught with my pants down? My target stood in the doorway, right hand on the light switch, left hand still on the doorknob, staring at me.

I hadn’t expected him to look this handsome in person. In preparing for this mission, I’d spent hours watching documentaries detailing his rise from obscure lawyer to New England Regional Director, poring over dozens of photographs, but I always assumed that without makeup or special lights he’d look like a regular man. Now, I wasn’t sure if something this beautiful even deserved to die.

Cut it out, Paige. You’re exaggerating, I chided myself. Of course he deserves to die. His policies are gonna turn the whole world against you.

He gently shut the door and crossed the room to where I stood. I glanced at my watch. 7:42. I still had time. The taxi driver would be out back until 8 pm, but I wouldn’t need that long to get this menace downstairs.

“That’s an interesting necklace you have there,” he said, gesturing to the small ruby around my neck. I immediately covered it with my hand, slipping it into the neck of my black sweater. How could I have been so dumb? Today was simply not my day. If he had gotten any closer, he would have seen the two golden dragons painted on either side that identified me as a member of the Morland Order. Turn it around and he’d see the thin indented line where my new name was supposed to go.

If you don’t hurry up and kill him, you’ll never get your name.

My conscience was very vocal today, but it spoke the truth nonetheless. The Morland Order was the strictest sect of the Chestani religion, with only two mandates: remain celibate and murder your targets. Each Morland Brother and Sister received a new name after their tenth successful mission. This name was said to be delivered by the Giver of Life, our greatest deity. No one was allowed to share their name, or a curse was said to be placed on them. I was eager to get my name, for I knew that once I had it, my Sisters would accept me again.

“Sir, I came up here because I was afraid.” I had practiced this line a thousand times, and I delivered it as flawlessly as I’d hoped. He smiled and reached out his hand, expecting me to take it. Instead, I shoved my hands in my pocket and looked away, casting him a nervous glance, almost as though I was scared.

“Young lady, there is nothing to be afraid of. My goal is to make New York City safe again.” He paused and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. “Do you want me to take you home?”

Goodness, I thought to myself, is this guy too trusting or what? And does he think I would really let him take me home?

“That’s a generous offer,” I replied, smiling slightly. I stepped around the desk to his side and he laughed.

“You can’t be more than 19 years old. What are you doing all the way in Old Times Square by yourself?” He led me over to the door, his hand grasping my sleeved arm. If it’d been bare skin, I would have killed him right there and then. I’ve learned a few things maintaining my celibacy, and chief among these was limiting physical contact with males.

I didn’t answer him, but stepped out into the hallway. The security guard with the welt on his eye stood there, arms to his sides and eyes blazing. I hadn’t expected to see him again.

“There you are, you little liar!” He lunged at me with both hands, but I was faster, ducking and landing a quick punch to his stomach. He swung wildly at me, but I kneed him in the groin, sending him doubled over in pain.

“What is the meaning of this?!” The Director shouted, grabbing the security guard by the shoulders. Another security guard stood at the end of the hall and he rushed toward me when he saw his partner go down.

Let’s do this.

The guard pinned me against the wall, hands clasped on my shoulders. I didn’t feel a thing, though, as my mind raced through the steps my trainer Alexi had hammered into me. First step: determine which of his targets are vulnerable to attack. His hands were tied up with me, so that left his eyes, chest, armpits, that piece of flesh under the forearm . . . this guy was sloppy. Next step: determine what weapons are available for me to use. Both my hands and my feet were free. This guy was going down.

Lifting my left leg off the ground, I kneed him in the groin, bringing my right arm around from the back to catch him in a headlock and twist his body around. I pulled off the handcuffs from his belt in a split second, working them over his wrists as he struggled to free himself from my grasp.

“Quit squirming,” I muttered, clicking the metal rings into place. I pushed him away from me and he whirled around, anger lighting his pale blue eyes. He lunged at me with bound hands, but I stepped out his path and he crashed into the wall. I pulled out the pistol tucked in my jeans – I hate guns, but they’re effective – and shoved the barrel into the back of his head.

“One more move and you’re a dead man,” I snarled as he raised his hands in surrender.

“Hey, young lady, I’d like to know what is going on here!” The Director released the first security guard, the one who was supposed to be my accomplice but seemed to have forgotten our agreement, and stepped over to my side.

I turned the gun toward him, my eyes still on the second security guard.

“You’re coming with me, Director, and if any of your guards try to do anything about it, you’re a dead man.” Of course, he was a dead man either way, but there was no use telling him that.

He stared at the side of my face for a full ten seconds then sighed and shook his head.

“Guys, thanks for your help, but I’m going to go with her.”

I gestured to the elevator at the end of the hall.

“Let’s go.”

***

The elevator doors slid open on the ground floor. I stepped out into the deserted lobby and turned to my hostage. He had been silent for the ride down here, but his mouth opened when he met my gaze.

“If my guards are any good, they’ll have phoned the police by now.”

I laughed and gestured with my head for him to step out of the elevator.

“The security guard that attacked me was ready to sell you out for a few bars of gold. Only reason he didn’t stay downstairs was because I hadn’t left him any payment.”

“Where are you taking me?”

Ignoring his question, I looked across the linoleum flooring, and through the glass double doors by the entrance, I could see flashing blue and red lights. The guards had called the police, and they mobilized very quickly. I sighed and glanced at my watch. 5 minutes until 8 pm.

“We need to hurry,” I said, lifting the gun to his face. “We’re heading for the kitchen, but I don’t want any problems.”

He nodded and lead the way into the cafeteria, which was tucked in a small corner of the lobby. A few men dressed in suits eating dinner stood to their feet as we walked past, but the Director merely smiled at them and moved on. They didn’t seem to notice my gun, which was just as well. I didn’t feel like killing anyone extra tonight.

The kitchen was empty, save for one small, plump woman, singing as she cleaned some pots and pans. The Director led the way to the back entrance of the kitchen, then paused and looked at me. I lightly shoved him aside.

“Follow me.” The taxicab should still be out there, considering how much I was paying the taxi driver to stay put. I pushed open the heavy metal door and peered out into the black alley where he had parked. The taxi was on idle, but the driver was nowhere to be seen.

I heard the door shut faintly behind me and turned to see the Director, squinting in the dim light. Heated voices filled the air, but I could make out only a few phrases.

“She’s got a gun!” It was the taxi driver’s voice.

“Are you certain his life is in danger?”

“Officer, I’m certain my life is in danger!”

I grabbed the Director’s arm and tugged him toward the taxi.

“That guy sold me out! I told them I didn’t need any help, but they insisted!” I yanked open the passenger door and pushed him inside, although I noticed that he didn’t protest. Running around the hood of the car, I climbed into the front seat and stepped on the gas before the door had even shut behind me.

Strange vocals filled the space of the car, and I glanced at my passenger. He fiddled with the radio, and the sound ended abruptly.

“What, you don’t like European music?”

The alley stretched for a few blocks, and I didn’t bother to turn around to see if the taxi driver had returned for his car. I focused on the road before me, switching off my headlights so as not to draw attention to myself.

“You know, I’m not doing a bad thing.”

I nearly hit the brakes.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, not daring to look at him.

“Well, with my policies. I just think that all of us should learn to get along, despite our differences. I don’t think that any one group should lord it over the rest of us.”

This was one of the reasons our leaders wanted him dead so badly. He didn’t understand that our way was the only right way, and so he insisted on dismantling several of our Temples. But his comment was a bit unsettling.

How does he know I’m of the Morland Order? I wondered.

“So, can you tell me where we are going?”

I looked into his face, and in the dim light, I saw what amounted to fear. He looked so vulnerable at that moment, almost as though he finally realized his life was entirely in my hands. Goodness, if it wasn’t for the sake of my Sisters, I could totally have fallen for him, right then and there.

***

Riverside Park stood at the end of the alley, illuminated only by a single broken street lamp and a thin sliver of moonlight peeking through the clouds. It was our final destination, and it seemed as though the Director was starting to pick up on it. Sweat lined his brow and his face had turned white as we walked along the gravel path to a pre-selected park bench. He had spoken almost non-stop during the ride over here, and he had no intention of changing that.

“What do you know about New York, huh? What do you know about all the things we’ve had to deal with this last decade alone? From the rising waters to the spread of strange and powerful drugs, we’ve had a lot of tough things to deal with.”

The bench I was leading us to was wooden, and it had been a full year since I last sat on it. High grass rose around the bench legs, but I could clearly see the folded body bag tucked under it. So, my homeless friend had not chosen to desert me. He would be here any minute now to collect his earnings, but hopefully, I wouldn’t be around to deliver.

“Sit down,” I said, nodding to the chair. The Director sat down quickly, his mouth still chattering.

“You know, I don’t think you realize that I’m actually not that different from you.”

Somehow, I had managed to ignore everything he had said for the past fifteen minutes, but no longer. I looked him in the eyes and laughed.

“Yeah? What do you know about me?”

He took a deep breath and held my gaze. “You’ve gained a lot of confidence because of your position, but you don’t know the first thing about killing people.”

I reached into my satchel and delicately pulled out the knife I’d been preparing for this particular occasion. It had never touched human flesh, but I was eager to try it out. I lifted it to his face.

“Mr. Hanrue, can I call you that?” I didn’t wait for his answer. “Mr. Hanrue, I brought you to this park to kill you. But this place is much more than just the site where I completed my tenth mission. This place has seen more death than any one place ever should.”

“So why add to it?” His voice turned into a whine. He didn’t look at the knife, but he knew that any second now and it would drive right through his throat.

“Mr. Hanrue, you don’t understand. I have to kill you. It’s the only way to make all of this right.” I didn’t care what I told him. He was going to be out in the middle of the ocean by tomorrow morning, and there was no one for him to tell. “My parents took me to this park when I was little girl, back when they still cared about each other. I saw them . . .” my voice trailed off, but I willed myself to speak. “I saw them kiss each other, and I thought that if a man ever kissed me, it’d mean I’d be just as happy as my mother was. I was a foolish child.”

The Director was desperate, I could see it in his eyes. He leaned forward and tried to kiss my cheek, but I simply laughed and stood up, my knife still leveled with his throat.

“I gave up that dream when I became a Morland Sister. I found happiness in my work, in preparing the world for my savior.” I paused and blinked back a few tears that had somehow managed to squeeze out of me.

What is wrong with me today? I’m usually much stronger than this.

I wondered then if bringing him here was the best thing to do. It had only been a year since I sat here with Adrian, the Morland Brother, the Librarian. I remembered how his hand felt, gently touching my arm, how his lips felt, gently touching my own. We weren’t supposed to do it, we knew, but I was the only one to take the fall. All those months in rehabilitation, and I thought I was finally over it.

I shouldn’t have brought him here.

But the deed needed to be done. My Sisters had never forgiven me for what had happened. Every day since the incident here in this very park, I had walked around in shame, unable to partake in any of the friendships I had spent so many years forging. But this mission, this tenth and final mission, was all I needed to earn their respect again. When I walked through the Temple, my new name pressing against my neck, everything would be right again.

“Listen, I don’t want to die. I haven’t even lived for fifty years. Look, we could run away together. They wouldn’t know that you were gone, and I could keep my life.” He tried to stand, but I pushed him back. He started to cry, shaking as though he’d lost someone close. “You gotta let me keep my life. I know you don’t want this. I know you don’t.”

“You’re pathetic. What makes you think you know anything about me, anyway?” I didn’t wait for a response, but instead drove the blade into his neck. His eyes held mine for as long as they could until I removed my blade and he slumped forward.

It was finished.

I stood beside Hanrue’s fallen body, scanning the empty park for any sign of the homeless man who was due any minute. I had nothing to offer him, so I had to hurry, otherwise, I’d have to kill him too. I was finished with killing. I had done my ten, and that was all my duty required.

Bending down, I fished out the large black body bag which was rolled into a ball under the seat. When I stood up, the homeless man sat on the bench, hand on the Director’s back.

“So this was him, huh?”

I didn’t bother answering him; instead, I began unraveling the bag. The homeless man looked at me, long dark hair swaying in the wind.

“You owe me something for that bag, you know that right?”

“Of course.” He might like the gun, I thought to myself. I could offer him that.

“Does he have any money on him?”

“You can have it if he does.”

The man stood and pushed the body onto the floor. The carcass landed with a thump. He turned it over onto its back, and began feeling the pockets. I watched with mild interest. I wanted nothing more than to get back home. The homeless man began pulling out small notebooks, a few crumpled wads of bills, and a small green package.

“What do you suppose is in that?” I asked, my interest suddenly captivated. I didn’t know why I was interested in a little green box, but I felt as though I had to know before I left.

The homeless man tossed it to me, and began removing the dead man’s shoes.

I held the box in my hand and gently lifted the tiny flaps. On a cotton pillow sat a small red jewel, attached to a golden chain. I pulled out the chain and held it to my face, squinting to make out tiny letters on one side.

“Killy Hanrue,” it said. Suddenly, I gasped. My fingers held a Morland necklace, just like the one I wore around my neck. The man that I had just killed had been a part of the Morland Order, and he had shared his new name with the world. I dropped the necklace onto the ground. He had profaned our religion, and somehow, he expected to escape death?

“Killy Hanrue,” I said softly, shaking my head. “The world is better off without you.” I stood and picked up the body bag, wondering to myself what my new name would sound like.

 

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