Catch up on the story: | Story Guide |
Shadows of the Mind Collection
By Mandi Jourdan
Hathor leaned against the railing with a practiced ease as her synthetic fingernails drummed a steady pulse against the metal.
She detested waiting. Why should she be made to wait for anyone, least of all a human?
“Which one of you was it?”
The voice came from behind and above her, from the top of the stairwell. Light filtered down the flight of steps from the door that led to the ground level and out of the decrepit tunnels Hathor’s associates had taken to using to conceal their work. A moment of silence passed in which the human must have realized that Hathor had no intention of speaking with the door open, and a sigh echoed down the steps.
The door closed with a bang. Footsteps approached her in the darkness, and then he was at her side.
“Which one of you killed him?”
Hathor inhaled deeply at the voice of Harry Masters, former Division assassin and her current informant.
“Don’t you think you’re better off not knowing?”
A thoughtful pause followed. “Probably,” Harry said at last.
She smirked. She knew the human spoke of the human President Ethan McNaire. He didn’t need to know which android had shot the man or which had finished the job in the hospital.
“How long until the next phase begins?”
“Patience,” she said curtly. “Justice cannot be rushed.”
“You might be interested to know that Hartley lied to you. Seward’s team is not in Washington.”
“What?” Hathor demanded. Her eyes narrowed, and her nails bit into her palm.
“Don’t worry,” said Harry patiently. “I’ve got it under control. I convinced Beck to assign them to guard the new president. They’re on the way here, now.”
Hathor let out a quick, relieved breath. Hartley and her lies would be dealt with, but at least the plan had only been delayed and not derailed. “Good,” she said. “Osiris will be pleased to hear it. You continue to earn your place in our new order, my love.”
Hands sought her out in the darkness and pulled her into an embrace.
“How long will we meet like this? How long will we live a lie?”
“The time for the truth is coming,” she said, her tone reassuring. “I can’t promise when it will be here, but it’s coming.”
“I trust you,” said Harry. “That’s good enough for me.”
The instant he’d finished speaking, she felt the brush of his lips against hers. Barely an instant later, a loud crash from farther down the tunnel caused him to leap backward.
“Go,” she muttered. “We will meet soon.”
Without another word, he started up the stairs. Light bathed the area once more and then disappeared along with the sound of his footsteps as the door closed.
“You know,” Hathor mumbled into the darkness, “for someone who is in on the plan, it’s obvious how much you don’t want me to do my part in it.”
“I know the role you have to play,” said her mate as he appeared beside her, “but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Please, Horus.” Hathor rolled her eyes. “You know you have nothing to fear. You know I have no more interest in the human than I do in knitting.”
“But you play the part so well.”
“Of course I do. It’s the part I was created for. I was named for the goddess of love, remember?”
Horus grunted noncommittally. “Just remember what you’re going to have to do, when the time comes. Our new order is no place for traitors.”
Hathor’s face fell, and she was glad the darkness obscured her. Yes, she knew what she would have to do. It had been part of the plan from the beginning. Then, she’d held no qualms with it. The human had betrayed the Division and his orders to kill Hathor, and he could never be fully trusted. But now… The double meaning of Horus’s words was not lost on her.
If she turned her back on the plan their leader had devised, she would be the one without a place in the new order.
Hathor pulled tight the bandage she’d wrapped around Harry’s wounded leg. Harry winced in pain, and Hathor bit her lip.
“Hold still. I just have to tie it, now.” When she’d done so, she sat back on her haunches and watched as he closed his eyes and inhaled steadily. “You’ll be fine, Harry. It’s a flesh wound.”
“Yes, a flesh wound inflicted by Osiris.”
Hathor sighed, pursing her lips. “He’s just disappointed. Believe me, if he was really angry with you, you’d know. Either that or you’d be dead.”
They sat in one of the White House parlors, Harry on the edge of the sofa and Hathor on her knees on the rug on the floor. She was no doctor, but she knew enough about anatomy to know that Osiris’s shot had not been intended to permanently handicap Harry. It was a punishment, but not one that would last.
So far, the plan had gone almost flawlessly. Osiris had led the strike on the human capital and seized it for his own base of operations, and the only snag had come in the form of Hathor’s informant, who had been responsible for ensuring a particular Division task force was led out of the way.
Harry pushed himself to his feet, gritting his teeth in visible agitation. Hathor stood to help steady him, but he waved her off with a shake of his head.
“I didn’t lie to him. You know that. Seward’s team was outside. How did Osiris feel when the bodies were identified and he realized he’d killed the wrong team?”
Hathor shrugged weakly. “He wasn’t happy. It didn’t really matter that the other team was dead. They weren’t our main targets, but they were part of the Division. Killing them affected the other side, but it wasn’t as devastating a move as we needed to break them apart completely. I don’t think he blames you. Not now.”
“Good to know.”
Without another word, Harry stormed from the room. Hathor stared after him for several long moments before sinking with a groan onto the sofa.
Even when we win, I lose, she thought. The relative peace surrounding her since the successful execution of the plan to scatter the members of the government organization that had created her and then sought her destruction had allowed her time to pause and evaluate herself. Though she was an excellent actress and would continue to play the part of loving Harry, her heart truly belonged to Horus. They were created for one another, two halves of one being. Without him, she had no idea who she would be or what her purpose was. Though they had been programmed to feel something for one another, it was what had occurred between them in the years since their birth that had become this deep love she knew could not be entirely credited to their creators. They’d been united against the creators who had turned on them—united against the world.
Since that fateful day when Harry had been assigned to kill her by the Division and decided not to go through with it, Hathor had taken a liking to him that was difficult to explain. She’d tried to convince herself that she had only begun to believe her own lies, but she knew it was more than that. As much as she tried to think that she could never feel anything but hate for a human, she knew that was untrue. She didn’t love Harry, but she had come to view him as a friend, and friends were not a luxury she could typically afford. The other androids were all she had ever known, apart from killing.
Truthfully, some small part of her mind had begun to question what she was. If she’d acknowledged that one human was good for something other than cannon fodder, what of the rest of them?
Enough, Hathor, she chastised herself. You’re not allowed to think that. You were created for one purpose: to destroy. The Division’s enemies, at first, but you were too good at that to be allowed to continue. And now what have you destroyed?
Her eyes stung. For the first time in her life, she was faced with a feeling of sickening emptiness she could not explain. A terrible trail of water had begun to trickle from the corners of her eyes. Was this what it felt like to cry?
Why would they add this to my programming?
She leapt to her feet and wiped furiously at her face, unwilling to accept this weakness. She was better than this, better than human. She was perfection. She was exactly what the Division had made her.
If what it had made her was a monster, that wasn’t her fault.
Fools, she thought. All of them.
At the sound of the scream from the hallway, Hathor moved at the top speed her physiology allowed toward the noise. She found the captives Osiris had used to draw out their Division colleagues a few yards from where she’d emerged. Desdemona seemed to be unconscious, cradled against the chest of Edward, who was clearly attempting to seem more composed than he felt, as the poorly bandaged cuts he’d sustained from Osiris’s interrogation had begun to bleed again. Beside them stood an agent Hathor didn’t recognize, who was staring at a body on the floor wearing a Division uniform, and Kat Seward, the head of the task force Harry had been entrusted with dispatching.
They could’ve gotten away, if they weren’t so fragile.
It was then that Hathor recognized the dark hair and permanently resigned expression of the fifth member of the group.
Clarisse Mitchell, the Division’s founder. The woman responsible for Hathor’s creation. The one who should’ve fought to protect her and her kind but who had, instead, turned assassins on them when they couldn’t be adequately controlled.
Hathor had no time to react before Horus was at her side. He moved in a blur to stand beside Clarisse, gripping her wrists and twisting until she dropped her gun.
“Hello, Mother.” Horus smiled, his pointed features made sharper by the uneven light of the chandelier above him. “It’s nice to see you.”
Pushing away her feelings of betrayal with a shake of her head, Hathor rushed to stand beside Kat. She grabbed the agent’s arm and twisted it backward, effectively disarming her and slipping the plasma gun she’d recovered into her own jacket pocket. She held Kat’s arm firmly in place and spoke to Clarisse, wishing Osiris’s plan didn’t restrict her from harming the woman, whom he believed still possessed too much valuable information to risk.
“We’re allowing you to live, Clarisse,” said Hathor. “Be grateful.”
“Why? So I can watch you destroy the world?”
A shout of Horus’s name from a room down the hall arrested his attention and Hathor’s, and after exchanging a glance, both of them nodded.
“Take care of them,” said Horus with a nod to the humans. He pulled Clarisse along with him as he strode away down the hall.
“Where is he taking her?” demanded the male agent Hathor didn’t recognize. “Why are you keeping her here, if you’re not going to hurt her?”
“I said we’re letting her live,” said Hathor flatly. “That’s not the same thing as not hurting her.” She returned her focus, at last, to where Edward stood. Her eyes lingered on his for a moment and then drifted to Desdemona, and her mouth pressed into a thin line as she saw how pale the woman had become. Hathor knew firsthand how cruel her leader’s methods could be, and she worked hard to push the twist of regret away before she could think on it too heavily. “That one doesn’t seem to have much time left.”
Edward opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Desdemona lifted her head slightly.
“I wonder which of you will be next,” she said, her voice strained.
Hathor took a step toward her, maintaining her grip on the agent all the while, and Edward stepped backward. Desdemona let out a pained hiss, and her eyelids fluttered. Edward glanced down at her before returning his focus to Hathor.
“Please,” he insisted. “Please, let us go.”
The android stopped in her tracks, her nose crinkled and her brows drawn. “Why in the world would you expect me to do that?”
“If Horus were in danger, wouldn’t you do anything in your power to keep him safe?”
The android’s expression slid back into carefully guarded neutrality. “What does that have to do with anything? Horus is perfectly fine.”
“But if he weren’t?” Eddie challenged. “Would you lay down your life for him?”
Hathor simply stared at him.
I would. Of course I would.
“Eddie,” mumbled Desdemona, “what are you doing?”
He did not answer her. Instead, he continued to speak to Hathor.
“I would like to make a request.”
Hathor responded with a tight laugh but said nothing, continuing to watch him curiously.
“Take me. Keep me here, do what you like with me—kill me, I don’t care. But let Kat and Beck take Desi out of here. If you let them go, I will do whatever you ask.”
Desdemona frowned and opened her mouth, presumably to protest, but he squeezed her shoulder.
It was clear to her how deeply these two humans felt for one another. She’d only begun to understand how their kind worked, but even so, she could imagine Harry making a similar plea for her life. Horus… of course he would, wouldn’t he?
Hathor turned away from the humans and pulled in a long breath.
“Go,” she ordered.
The corridor was perfectly still.
“Get out of here!”
At her shout, the humans started toward the front doors. Hathor ignored the thanks Edward called to her and lowered her head into her hands.
“Has she given you any trouble?”
At the sound of Osiris’s voice from outside the door, Hathor gripped the sheets so tightly she heard the material rip.
I knew I shouldn’t have let them go. But how was I supposed to know he’d turn on me?
“She hasn’t said a word since you left.”
The door opened, and Hathor caught sight of several guards standing outside as Osiris entered. His eyes were the same emerald as her own—the same color she’d seen reflected back every time she looked at Horus, who she knew was now being similarly held in a room a few doors down the corridor.
Hathor kept her jaw set obstinately and her brows raised in an unspoken challenge to Osiris’s authority as she sat at the edge of the bed in the room she’d been locked in since he’d found out she’d allowed the humans to leave.
“Would you like to explain your actions?” The threat in his words was unconcealed.
“Not particularly, no. I don’t believe they require explanation.”
Osiris shifted his weight and began again. “What could possibly have driven you to let the humans leave when you were under orders to execute them if they attempted to escape?”
At this, Hathor allowed her façade to fall away completely. She launched herself from the bed and moved in a blur to stand inches away from Osiris, not bothering to hide her fury.
“What purpose would their deaths have served? Edward could have proven useful to you. The girl could have been your best bargaining chip, if any situation required one, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that any leverage one can have over the enemy is worth whatever it costs to keep it. Keeping them would have cost you nothing. Killing them, however, would have eliminated whatever sway you held over the Division.”
Osiris seemed to consider her words for a long moment, and then he smiled. Hathor blinked and frowned, certain this couldn’t bode well.
“I almost believed you,” Osiris said. “I suspect you’ve been formulating that little explanation since they left, and I’ll admit, it was very convincing. But you left out the very important bargaining chip we still have: Clarisse. It’s easy to let minor details slip when you’re trying to cover your own ass.”
Hathor scowled. She knew it was pointless to deny the truth of Osiris’s words. What remained was the decision as to what would be done with her, now that her deception had been uncovered.
“I have a little test for you,” said Osiris. He left her in suspense for a moment as he stepped out into the hall. “Bastet,” he called, “if you aren’t busy, could you bring in the one we talked about?”
Osiris returned to Hathor’s side, and an instant later, the petite, stern-faced Bastet appeared. She shoved a man down to the carpet beside Hathor and took a step backward, obstructing the path to the door.
Hathor rolled her shoulders backward and allowed herself to examine the man who had been deposited in front of her.
She felt the emotions seize her face one by one—shock, confusion, fear. She cast them all aside as quickly as she could as she regained control of herself and looked away from the panicked grey eyes of Harry Masters to meet the gaze of Osiris.
“I don’t understand,” she said flatly.
Osiris laughed. “Yes, you do. If I know you at all, you’ve seen this coming for longer than you’ll care to admit. But, Hathor, the time has come. We have succeeded in our plans. Our little spy is no longer necessary.”
Alarm was etched in every line of Harry’s human face as he looked to Osiris.
“I can still help you,” Harry said quickly. “I’ll do whatever you need me to, be whoever you want. They think I’m dead—they’ll never suspect me, if I infiltrate the Division or the Secret Service or whatever else might be needed.”
His voice was pleading, it took every ounce of Hathor’s composure to keep her from striking Osiris for forcing this on her.
“Hathor, end him.”
She held Osiris’s gaze for a long moment and then took a step toward Harry.
“Hathor, you can’t seriously be considering this.” The human’s voice was frantic now, hovering on the edge of hysteria. “What about everything you told me? What about everything we planned to—”
“Plans change, Harry.”
“But feelings don’t!”
Hathor laughed cynically as she grabbed his shirt and lifted him from the ground. “Of course they do. More than anything else.”
As threatening as her stance and her words appeared, her mind was still working at a breakneck pace toward any sort of solution that could allow her to avoid harming Harry.
“Just know this, Hathor,” Osiris told her: “if you don’t kill him, I will.”
The screams of every human Osiris had ever tortured and mutilated at the front of her mind, Hathor knew she had no choice.
I’ll make it quick, she thought, wishing more than anything that Harry could hear her.
In one fluid motion, Hathor raised her free hand to grip his hair and pulled, snapping his neck and killing him instantly. She dropped him to the floor and, breathing heavily, looked to Osiris. It took every bit of her self-control to keep from launching herself at him.
Osiris drew one side of his mouth upward in a half-smirk and addressed Bastet. “Prepare her for reprogramming. If she resists, keep control of the situation.”
Hathor’s eyes widened in terror, and she made a bid for the door. Her movement was arrested by the combined efforts of Bastet and the guards who rushed in to assist, carrying her from the room and restraining her no matter how hard she thrashed against their grip.
“I know the truth!” Hathor shouted, hoping everyone in the android’s commandeered home could hear. “You’re just using all of us, Osiris! We’re all just pawns playing your sick chess game, and you’ll sacrifice us the second we think for ourselves!”
Before she could hear his reply, a blow to the side of her head rendered her unconscious.
About the Author
Mandi Jourdan studies Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her prose has appeared in four anthologies by Sinister Saints Press, Coming Around Again by the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers Group, Quickfic, Beyond Science Fiction Digital Magazine, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Theme of Absence, the 2015 and 2016 editions of Grassroots Literary Magazine, and the Kaskaskia College Scroll. She has stories forthcoming in 9Tales, Digital Science Fiction, and the 2017 edition of Grassroots Literary Magazine. She can be found on Amazon and on Twitter (@MandiJourdan), or at Whatever Our Souls (whateveroursouls.com), the literary magazine she co-edits.